Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Invention of Wings / Sue Monk Kidd / 373 p.

Multiple reviews and several recommendations led me to this title.  I was also familiar with Kidd's popular title The Secret Life of  Bees. When I spied this audio version on the shelf, I decided to give it a try.

This book is beautifully written; beautifully read. This fictionalized account of the sisters Grimke illuminates both what has been worst and best in our country's history. I was totally unaware of the important role the sisters played in the history of our country. Born into Southern aristocracy in the midst of slavery, Sarah and Angelina became staunch, out-spoken abolitionists and leaders in the push for women's rights. The story is told by Sarah and by fictionalized slave, "Handful." The two actresses narrating the story do a fabulous job with Kidd's flowing style.

Readers who liked Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini would also enjoy this title.

Anatomy of a Misfit, Andrea Portes, 328 pages

Anika is the third most popular girl in school and must work hard to maintain that position, especially when the number one most popular girl, Becky, insists on calling her immigrant. Does it really matter that Anika's father is from Romania?  After all he spends half his time teaching at Princeton.  Here in Nebraska, Becky tries to stir up trouble where she can and happy to use Anika's ethnicity.  As the school year begins, enter Logan, on a Vespa, looking not at all nerdy anymore.  And so begins the cat and mouse chase as Logan and Anika try to outwit Becky.  Along the way Anika learns some disturbing things about Logan and his family life.  What is Anika to do when Jared, number one popular boy expresses an interest in her?  The book held my interest through out.  It was a good  look into the high school politics of popularity.   I did think the ending just perpetuated the 'mean girl' attitude rather than defeating it.  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Only Enchanting/Mary Balogh/ 400 pp

In this latest installment of the Survivor’s Club series, Flavian, Viscount Ponsonby, meets his match.  While visiting a fellow survivor he meets Agnes Keeping -- a young widow, who is average in every way.  Flavian is wary of love because his fiance broke her engagement with him and married his best friend when he came home from the war with brain injuries.  Now he deals with a stutter, difficulties with his memory and debilitating headaches when he tries to remember what he has lost.  Agnes is immediately taken with the viscount but she too is wary of passion.

Balogh fans will enjoy this deeper look into the life of a character that has been introduced in earlier books.  Although I liked both main characters, I didn’t find their story to be as satisfying as previous stories.  He wanted to marry her because he felt “safe” with her and she was in love with him after one waltz but didn't want more than memories of that dance. If you have read the previous books in the series, you will want to read this one as well.

The Lace Reader/ Brunonia Barry/ 385 pages

This is touted as the story of a lace reading story in Salem.  It was a good story with an interesting twist.  However, I was disappointed with the amount of lace reading and the lack of witchcraft.  Otherwise, it was good book.  Towner has come home after her aunt has passed away and gets involved with another mysterious disappearance.  Can they find the next missing person before it's too late?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Found/Harlan Coben/326 pages

Mickey Bolitar's life has been a series of ups and downs since he saw his father died following a terrible car accident. His mother is in rehab, and he's living with his Uncle Myron. For the first time in his life, he is attending high school and trying to fit in. His new friends, Spoon, Ema and Rachel, have things going on in their lives too, but they all want to continue on with the work they are doing with the Abeona Shelter.

Another great addition to the Mickey Bolitar series. I wish we could have more Myron in the story, but Coben keeps the focus on Mickey. The YA community should thank Coben for adding stature to the genre.

The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee/Marja Mills/278 pages

Marja Mills was a Chicago Tribune reporter and feature writer when she was assigned to interview Harper Lee and her sister Alice for Chicago's initial foray into a book club starting with To Kill a Mockingbird. The Lee sister are notoriously private, so she was surprised when Alice invited her into talk. She must have liked Mills because she introduced her to Nelle Harper Lee. After the story was published, Mills continued the friendship and eventually moved into the house next door. She buddied around with the sisters and their friends until her illness forced her to move back to family.

Harper Lee has released several statements denying that she cooperated with this book. She cited her sister's advanced age (over 100) to dismiss any signed statement contrary to her claim. The book doesn't really reveal anything that would upset most of us. There are a couple of cute stories, but it could almost be labeled a love letter to the Lee sisters instead of a true biography.

I Work at a Public Library/Gina Sheridan/157 pages

The subtitle tells it all: A Collection of Crazy Stories from the Stacks. Sheridan is a librarian in St. Louis, so chances are we've all waited on the same people. The stories certainly strike a chord. There are many laughs for those of us who have worked with the public. For people who haven't, there's bound to be lots of head shaking and "no way anyone said that." Luckily the crazy stories, while memorable, only constitute a small percentage of the day, although, some days, it doesn't feel like that.

Odd Thomas / Dean Koontz / 480 pages / Horror

Mr. Odd Thomas is indeed one of the nicest characters you will meet in the world of fiction. The young man is humble, a talented fry cook, head over heels in love with his girlfriend, and his only ambition is to move on from frying eggs to selling new tires at the local tire store. By today's standards, he would be considered a first class loser in anyone's book. But there is something special about Odd Thomas, and that is the fact that he can see and communicate with the dead.

As he explains in the narrative, sometimes the departed have a hard time moving on to the next world, whether it be because of unfinished business, a sentimental attachment to the living, or an unawareness of their deadness; Thomas is always there to help if his help is required. In fact he believes it is his moral duty to aid the dead, otherwise why would he have this gift in the first place? The plot unfolds when he spots a strange looking individual who enters his place of work, the Pico Mundo Grille, and orders breakfast.

Surrounding the stranger are bodachs, entities that appear like swimming shadows, which only manifest when death, chaos, blood and destruction will occur sometime in the future. Odd's sixth sense, including the swarm of bodachs, tells him that something is terribly wrong and he begins his investigation. What Odd discovers is chilling and continues to be chilling to the very last page.

Odd Thomas is a wonderful piece of storytelling with some astute observations about the human condition and our culture in general. The story's ending is very moving for the obvious reasons. An excellent read.

The Dead Will Tell: A Kate Burkholder Novel / Linda Castillo / 320 pages / Mystery

Police Chief Kate Burkholder and the Painters Mill police department have their hands full when three brutal murders occur within a short period of time. Wooden Amish dolls are found left by the serial killer with each victim, indicating a connection to the unsolved murder of an Amish family that took place over 30 years ago.

While Kate works to find the killer before more lives are lost, she must also deal with a cranky town council member who is being threatened, and her fragile relationship with John Tomasetti is threatened by an enemy from his past.

Like all of the entries in this series, The Dead Will Tell is a page-turner. I read it in one day. Kate is a tough but deeply compassionate protagonist. The only negative to this book is that the whodunnit was not a surprise, I figured it out well before the conclusion. Thus as a mystery it is somewhat disappointing, but the pacing makes it an excellent thriller.

Linda Castillo has become one of my regular pre-orders and I look forward to every new book in this series. The folks in Painters Mill better get busy making babies though, as the population declines considerably in this 6th entry of the Kate Burkholder series.

Otherwise Engaged / Amanda Quick / 352 pages / Romantic Suspense

Miss Amity Doncaster, intrepid world traveler and guidebook writer, is nothing if not self-sufficient. So when a serial killer known as the Bridegroom snatches Amity off the London streets in broad daylight, she fends him off with her lethal steel-bladed war fan and escapes. But the Bridegroom is not dead—and Amity quickly becomes the target of his insane fixation. As a safety measure, Amity agrees to a fake engagement with engineer and temporary Crown spy Benedict Stanbridge. They work to track down the killer, as their relationship deepens, taking a more passionate turn. VERDICT:   Intrigue and mystery abound in this witty, cleverly crafted tale that treats fans to a charming double romance and heralds Quick's return to nonparanormal, suspenseful historicals—at least for the moment.

Series:  Ladies of Lantern Street, Book 3

Labor Day / Joyce Maynard / 288 pages / Mainstream Fiction

I read "The Usual Rules" by Joyce Maynard years ago and just loved it. I thought then what a gift this author had for teen-age voices. Now in, "Labor Day" her prowess shines brightly and poignantly.

Henry, our 13 year old narrator, shares a most remarkable story of a Labor Day weekend. His fragile, sensitive, and deeply troubled mother, Adele and he accept an escaped convict into their minute, reclusive lives. Harboring, Frank, deepens Henry's insight into the world that exists outside four walls. Improbability may conjure, but irony plays their lives like a fine violin. Adele, Frank and Henry are all imprisoned by grief, loss, tragedy and heartbreak, but within each other find elusive freedom to hope. To try again. To explore possibilities. I will not share more as you need to read this book to interpret your own understanding of human nature and all it's idiosyncrasies.

Beautifully written descriptions, profound understanding of the human condition, irony, and a flowing story make this a book I must recommend. I know long after this book resides on my shelves, I will remember Henry and all a thirteen year old had to teach this aging skeptic.

Lovely job, Ms. Maynard.

The Silkworm (A Cormoran Strike Novel) / Robert Galbraith / 464 p / Mystery

The Silkworm is the second book (following the Cuckoo's Calling) featuring the wounded military veteran turn detective Cormoran Strike and his trusted young assistant Robin Ellacot. The crime fighting dual get caught up with the murder of a known novelist. The victim a (self-centered) author named Owen Quine disappearance and murder is tied to a scandalous novel he was composing that would reveal hidden secrets of almost everyone he knew (mostly people in the publishing business). Quine's murder is grisly to say the least and very twisted.

The victim's novel is a gothic like fiction that implicates his rivals, editor, publisher, and even his own wife & mistress. The collection of suspects is therefore small, and the author gives you intervals of hints for each character's motive to keep the story moving and interesting.  Strike will probe deep into the dead author's book for elements of proof to solve the crime; the result is a book within a book. 

This book has appeal for several reasons: 1) It is artful - meaning it has a unique structure and mix of old English literature - each chapter begins with a quotation from mostly past Jacobean plays, and Rowling's English style of writing places you in the London/Westminster area accurately. 2) Through the experiences of the very famous author, you gain a realistic perspective within the story of the strangeness of fame. 3) Ms. Rowling has further developed her lead character Detective Strike brilliantly by revealing more of the personal struggle in his life. 4) Lastly, the book is a page turner with a very clever unexpected ending - the key requirement for a crime mystery novel.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Cuckoo's Calling / Robert Galbraith / 464 p / Mystery

Let's just get it out of the way--yes, I read The Cuckoo's Calling because I'm a JK Rowling fan, but I enjoyed it primarily because I'm a fan of classic, well-crafted whodunnits.  And this is extremely well crafted--excellent tight pacing, an extremely likable protagonist in Strike, memorable characters (both major and minor), excellent and original phrasing and descriptions, and a mystery that keeps you guessing right up until the end. It's all that makes JK Rowling so brilliant--the vivid and often eccentric characters and original turns of phrase and clever depictions--mixed into a classic mystery that delivers.

Cormoran Strike is a private detective. He's big, hairy, missing a leg . . . and sharp as the finest needle. The reader follows Strike and his new assistant, Robin Ellacott, as they investigate the apparent suicide of supermodel Lula Landry. Here's the thing: it's absolutely riveting. The characters are flawlessly drawn. The dialogue for each is beautifully executed. No two characters speak in the same way. The plot is carefully and cleanly constructed and logically followed.

If you like mysteries, I'm confident you'll love The Cuckoo's Calling.  Give it a try. I'm quite certain Rowling is winning over a whole new fan base.

Take Note:  This is the first in the Cormoran Strike Detective Series with its sequel Silkworm already on the bestseller list.

Paris Wife / Paula McLain / 352 pages / Historical Fiction

Before Ernest Hemingway was ERNEST HEMINGWAY - one of the most revered, studied, analyzed, and parodied authors of American literature - he was a young man with a burning talent, staking his claim to a bright future.

And part of this future included Hadley Richardson, his first wife, a woman who was his equal in many ways - a risk-taker, adventurer, and big drinker. Paula McLain - in an addictive and mesmerizing debut book - breathes life into their life together in Paris in the 1920s, when everything was just starting to come together.

Yet the book is always, definitively, Hadley's to narrate - and indeed, she does so quite sympathetically, in the first-person. In many ways, it is a re-telling of Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, as Ms. McLain pushes deeper into the lives of her characters while remaining true to the facts.

Ms. McLain eloquently captures the innermost feelings of Hadley as well as the Paris life at a heady and exhilarating time. Years later, Ernest Hemingway - who married four times in all - writes of Hadley, "I wish I had died before I loved anyone but her." I closed the pages of this book wondering how much better his life might have turned out had he remained with the woman he called "the best and truest and loveliest person I have ever known."

Recommended Reads:  A Moveable Feast (Ernest Hemmingway), Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald (Therese Ann Fowler), Loving Frank (Nancy Horan), The Aviator's Wife (Melanie Benjamin)

Skin Game: A Novel of the Dresden Files / Jim Butcher / 464 p & Audio(13cds) / Fantasy

"Skin Game,” the fifteenth book in the Dresden Files-series, has all the ingredients a Dresden-junkie needs: larger-than-life battles, crafty plot twists, Harry perpetually being outmatched and outgunned, and everything spiced up by his trade-marked sardonic humor and the snappy one-liners we’ve all come to love from the only professional wizard who’s in the Chicago phone book. I’ll give the bare bones of the story, and try to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible.

So here’s Harry, having another bad day… He’s stranded as warden on the island penal colony of Demonreach and oh yeah, Harry has this parasite in his head that is giving him migraines of the killing kind. But no worries. As he’s Winter Knight to the Queen of Air and Darkness, his boss Mab is willing to help him get rid of it. Is there a catch to this offer? Of course. Before you know it, Mab has him up ‘fecal matter’ creek without a paddle because to pay off an old debt, she loans out his services to Nicodemus and his Denarian followers.

You remember Nicodemus Archelone, last seen in “Small Favor”? Well, this time he’s out to break into one of Hades’s vaults in the Underworld and grab the most famous chalice in recorded history. And Nicodemus, one of Harry’s most dreaded and despised enemies, has assembled an Ocean’s Eleven-type group of supernatural villains to bring off this caper. A group that consists of Deirdre, his psychotic daughter; Binder the Summoner, last seen in “Turn Coat;” a warlock named Hannah Ascher; a shape-shifter named Goodman Grey… and of course, our reluctant Harry.

French Kiss (Movie) / Meg Ryan (Actress) / Six Degrees of Film & Books


French Kiss - A woman flies to France to confront her straying fiancĂ©, but gets into trouble when the charming crook seated next to her uses her for smuggling a stolen necklace.

A Fish Called Wanda - In London, four very different people team up to commit armed robbery, hide their true identities and then try to double-cross each other for the loot.

True Lies - Harry Tasker is a secret agent for the United States Government. For years, he has kept his job from his wife and leads a double life, but is forced to reveal his identity when his wife is swept into the world of espionage.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith - A bored married couple is surprised to learn that they are both assassins hired by competing agencies to kill each other.

RED (Retired and Extremely Dangerous) - When his peaceful life and new budding romance is threatened by a high-tech assassin, former black-ops agent Frank Moses reassembles his old team in a last ditch effort to survive and uncover his assailants while pursuing the “woman of his dreams”.

Kate & Leopold -   A modern day scientist finds a rip in the fabric of time near the Brooklyn Bridge.  Leopold --a man living in the 1870s-- follows the scientist back through the time gap to present day and meets the “woman of his dreams”.  Time proves to be an obstacle.  

*Which links back to French Kiss through common themes of mismatched couples brought together against all odds/fate and actress Meg Ryan.

Defending Jacob / William Landay / 432 pages / Mainstream Fiction

Andy Barber has been an assistant district attorney for two decades. He is respected. Admired in the courtroom. Happy at home with the loves of his life: his wife, Laurie, and their teenage son, Jacob.  Then Andy’s quiet suburb is stunned by a shocking crime: a young boy stabbed to death in a leafy park. And an even greater shock: The accused is Andy’s own son—shy, awkward, mysterious Jacob.

Andy believes in Jacob’s innocence. Any parent would. But the pressure mounts. Damning evidence. Doubt. A faltering marriage. The neighbors’ contempt. A murder trial that threatens to obliterate Andy’s family.  It is the ultimate test for any parent: How far would you go to protect your child? It is a test of devotion. A test of how well a parent can know a child. For Andy Barber, a man with an iron will and a dark secret, it is a test of guilt and innocence in the deepest sense.  How far would you go?

Read alikes :  The Dinner ( Herman Koch),  Gone Girl ( Gillian Flynn), We Need To Talk About Kevin (Lionel Shriver), Nineteen Minutes (Jodi Picoult), Presumed Innocent (Scott Turow)

The Tragedy of Arthur: A Novel / Arthur Phillips / 368 pages / RA - Literary Fiction

Front Cover
The Tragedy of Arthur is an emotional and elaborately constructed tour de force
from “one of the best writers in America” (The Washington Post). Its doomed hero
is Arthur Phillips, a young novelist struggling with a con artist father who works
wonders of deception. Imprisoned for decades and nearing the end of his life, 
Arthur’s father reveals a treasure he’s kept secret for half a century: The Tragedy 
of Arthur, a previously unknown play by William Shakespeare. Arthur and his twin
sister inherit their father’s mission: to see the manuscript published and 
acknowledged as the Bard’s last great gift to humanity . . .unless it’s their father’s
last great con. By turns hilarious and haunting, this virtuosic novel, which includes
Shakespeare’s (?) lost play in its entirety, brilliantly subverts our notions of truth,
fiction, genius, and identity, as the two Arthurs—the novelist and the ancient king--
play out their strangely intertwined fates. 

Comparable titles suggested:   Big Fish by Daniel Wallace and Theft by Peter Carey.

I Am Malala - The Girl Who Stood Up For Education And Was Shot By The Taliban / Malala Yousafzai / 321 pages / RA - Biography/Autobiography

When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education.  On Tuesday October 9, 2012, she almost paid the ultimate price. When she was shot in the head at point blank range while riding the bus home from school, few expected her to survive.

Instead, Malala's miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in Northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she has become a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest ever nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize.

I AM MALALA is the remarkable tale of a family uprooted by global terrorism, of the fight for girls' education, and of Malala's parents' fierce love for their daughter in a society that prizes sons.

It will make you believe in the power of one person's voice to inspire change in the world. 

Similar Suggested Read-alikes:  Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof,  Blasphemyby Asia Bibi, First Darling of the Morning by Thrity N. Umrigar.

Let's Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) / Jenny Lawson - The Bloggress / 315 pages / RA - Biography/Autobiography

Front Cover
Her readers obviously don't care whether her book is fact or fiction.  The memoir debuted at the top of the Washington Post and new York Times nonfiction bestseller lists, and in her introduction, Lawson writes, "This book is totally true, except for the parts that aren't".  Lawson relishes revealing plenty about her life, except just how much she may exaggerate about it.  She is hugely popular online where she's detailed her life on the Web for years.
The book skims through a series of comic essays, akin to Sedaris if he were an anxiety-stricken Texas mother with a fascination for taxidermy and the zombie apocalypse.  Her writing may be an acquired taste for some, especially with the high animal body count, the constant cursing and the occasionally disjointed manner.  But for her many fans, the randomness will only add to the charm.  The tale is meandering, though never boring and she finds her footing in the world of blogging, where quirkiness is queen.

Similar suggested titles:  Any books written by David Sedaris;  Sippy cups are not for Chardonnay by Stefanie Wilder-Taylor;  My Boyfriend Wrote a Book About Me by Hilary Winston, or Chelsea  Chelsea Bang-Bang by Chelsea Handler . 

A Strong West Wind / Gail Caldwell / 226 pages / RA - Biography/Autobiography

Front CoverA Strong West Wind is a memoir of culture and history - of fathers and daughters, of two world wars and the passionate rebellions of the sixties.  It is a memoir written for each of us who longed to move away from our hometowns, knowing that something better just had to be around the corner.  Caldwell, who grew up in the Texas panhandle, artfully uses the metaphor of the wind to steer us through the passages of her life.   Hooked by her first line "How do we become who we are?",  hers is a story of growing up with more questions than answers, that you could be sad and half crazy and still have a life that meant something, that sometimes these definitions are concealed or shrouded in a brighter truth--what looked like an off-road ditch might be another, better path.

Caldwell artfully weaves disparate themes of literature, war, growing up in the 1960's, and her special relationship with her father into a colorful tapestry. As an avid reader, I particularly enjoyed how she cited lines and characters from favorite books to correspond with scenes in her life. Caldwell is at ease discussing a broad spectrum of authors from classics like Shakespeare and Tolstoy to more modern writers, Faulkner and McCarthy. It is clear how important reading is to her life from her first visits to her hometown library "a generous old Georgian mansion with two sets of stone steps up to its wide verandas." Caldwell aptly describes herself as a child "bored beyond measure without a book in my hand."

From girlhood to middle-age, the wind carries us through these spaces in Caldwell's life--a life like so many of our own.

Similar Read-alike suggestions:  The Longest Trip Home by John Grogan,  All Over But the Shoutin' by Rick Bragg, The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer

Any Duchess Will Do / Tessa Dare / 375 pages / RA - Romance

Tessa Dare has crafted one of the most pleasurable books I've read. If you’re looking for a fun, sexy Historical Romance, then you’ll not want to miss this! I thought it perfect escapism.
Oozing humor, it’s filled with witty dialogue and the banter is ever flowing. It also has very sensual love scenes and offers a story that flows faultlessly from beginning to end. There’s no wading in; from the get-go it grabs you and will have you laughing out loud and anxious for more. This talented author touches on one of the most devastating losses anyone could experience, and yet the tone and mood is perfectly balanced carrying the reader forward. I loved it all!

The story begins:  Thirty four year old Griffin Eliot York, eighth Duke of Halford, better known as Griff to his friends and family, is determined to stop his interfering mother’s plans to see him wed. In her latest scheme of kidnapping and spiriting him away to Spindle Cove, he finds the perfect solution. When told to choose any of the ladies with a promise issued that she’ll have them shaped into “Duchess” material within a few weeks, He turns the table. Instead of a proper lady visiting this quaint sea side town, he chooses instead a local; twenty-two year old Pauline Simms. She’s the daughter of a farmer, serves as barmaid at the tavern and her first impression left much to be desired. It doesn’t take long before Griff and his mother learn there’s much more to Pauline Simms than her untidy first impression. This is a very lovable heroine. It’s rare to find a hero and heroine that add equally to the enjoyment of a romance. When that happens, it’s like finding gold. She’s smart, gutsy, feisty, determined and has a dream for better. Life hasn't been easy for Pauline and with the secret deal Griff offers, she finally can envision a future of brightness for not only herself, but her special and much loved younger sister.

Part of the Spinster Cove Series:  1-A Night To Surrender   2-A Week To Be Wicked  3-A Lady By Midnight   4 - Any Duchess Will Do 

Similar titles:  The Bridgerton Series by Julia Quinn,  The Cynster Novels by Stephanie Laurens,  The Survivors' Club Septet by Mary Balogh

Crystal Gardens / Amanda Quick / Audio Book 9 discs / RA - Romance

Crystal Gardens by Amanda Quick is not your typical historical romance as the main characters are plagued with paranormal gifts that prevent them from leading a normal societal life.

Our protagonist is Evangeline Ames, a female author and private investigator who has left London for the calm life of a country village after an attempt on her life. Her employers have forced her to take time out to recover her wits, enabling her to work on her novel.  However, trouble seems to follow wherever she goes, and when we first meet her she is fleeing out of her window from a man who wishes to murder her. This second attempt on her life sees her escaping from her cottage onto the grounds of Crystal Gardens, the country house owned by the mysterious Lucas Sebastian.  Whilst our heroine is investigating who could be behind the attempts on her life, Lucas is trying to discover who murdered his uncle, the previous owner of Crystal Gardens.  It becomes clear that their investigations could be linked, making Lucas and Evangeline work together to decipher the truth.

Crystal Gardens is for readers who enjoy their historical romance with strong paranormal elements. This was my first experience with the paranormal-romance genre and I found I enjoyed listening to this book on audio. The narrator had a very dramatic way of reading it, though sometimes her voice sounded a little odd (especially when she narrated the male characters).  Her British accent was authentic and each character sounded distinctive.  Quick's books seem to lend themselves well to audio books. Her style is very focused on the mystery components, but the romance seemed to take a bit of a back seat at times.  That is not to say that the romance wasn't good. It was. I just expected more. I do feel that she emphasized the paranormal elements a bit too much, using the term 'psychical' excessively. Readers get the point about the paranormal energies and she could have added depth by building up the story in other ways. Descriptively, Quick excelled in her portrayal of the Crystal Gardens and its otherworldly atmosphere, truly transporting the reader there.

This title is the first in the Ladies of Lantern Street Series.

Similar Titles:  Touch of a Thief  by Mia Marlowe, Heart of Iron by Bec McMaster, Firelightby Kristen Callihan

Hull Zero Three / Greg Bear /307 pgs / RA - Science Fiction

Multiple Hugo and Nebula winner Bear (City at the End of Time) sets this difficult but rewarding short novel on an interstellar colony ship gone astray. Teacher was supposed to be awakened just before landfall. What he finds when he gains some semblance of consciousness, however, is a dangerous and chaotic environment, with monsters roaming the ship's corridors and no one in charge. As he and a small band of equally ignorant crew members attempt to reach the gigantic ship's control center, they travel through a series of labyrinthine spaces, uncovering a variety of clues to the disaster that has destroyed large parts of the starship and damaged the controlling AIs. Not for those who prefer their space opera simpleminded, this beautifully written tale where nothing is as it seems will please readers with a well-developed sense of wonder.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Edge of Eternity, Ken Follett, 1098 pages

Edge of Eternity is the final installment of Ken Follett's Century Trilogy.  The author follows several families post World War II through the Cold War, free love, and the American Civil Rights Movement.  Follett presents coverage of the Cuban Missile Crisis from both U.S. and Soviet Union points of view.  Likewise, life in West Germany and the U.S. is contrasted with life in East Germany and the Communist Bloc.   Through the entirety of the book Follett examines the issues facing Black Americans.  Unlike the previous two books, little is said regarding British politics  and the rampant inflation and taxes of the 1970's.  Much coverage is given to the politics and wrong doings  of  John and Robert Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, but almost nothing is said about Jimmy Carter and the Iran Hostage situation is totally ignored.  After reading the Fall Of Giants and Winter of the World, I felt I had a better insight into the events leading up to World War I, the war itself and history up to the end of World War II.  Having lived most of the history of this third volume, I felt less compelled to accept Follett's version of history knowing that some important even had been glossed over or even omitted.  It was enjoyable following the history of the families from the 1960's through 2008.  The reunion of the Franck family was especially satisfying.    

Festive in Death/J.D. Robb/389 pgs.

Right before the Christmas holidays, Lt. Eve Dallas is called to a grisly crime scene: personal trainer Trey Ziegler has been murdered. Not only has Ziegler been murdered, but a kitchen knife has been stuck in his chest with the message, "Santa says you've been bad!!! Ho, Ho, Ho!" As the investigation progresses, it turns out Ziegler was more than just a personal trainer, and quite a few people had reason to celebrate his death! This series is always entertaining, and the development of Eve Dallas's character, and that of her husband, Roarke's, adds to the fun. Highly recommended series!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Christmas Keepsakes / Mary Balogh, Julia Justiss, Nicola Cornick 410 p.

Julian Dare is handsome, wealthy and the heir to an earldom; in short he has everything but a wife...and Verity Ewing has plans.

To ease a dying soldier's mind over the fate of his step-family, Edwina Denby agrees to marry Miles Hampden.  When she nurses him to full recovery, he wants to continue the marriage; but she agreed to a temporary one.

Rich heiress Clara Davenport is besieged by rakes; and almost compromised into marriage.  So for advice she turns to the most rakish rake she knows, Sebastian Fleet.  But the tutelage doesn't quite go as planned.

Christmas Stories / Curtiss Matlock, Marianne Willman, Victoria Pade 379 p. Dec. Challenge 5 gold rings

Christmas time romance is the theme for each of three short stories.

Rancher Monroe Locket has to deal with a mail-order bride of his now deceased partner.

Ellen Shepard is bound for Jamaica to find her brother when she enters the luxury world of the aristocracy, posing as a royal herself.  And then robbery's occur and all passengers are suspect.

Linnie Rhode loved the rogue Drew Dunlap.  But he left her years and years ago.  And not a word since. When he comes back, ready to court her, she is not bursting with Christmas cheer.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Quiet Gentleman / Georgette Heyer 497 p.

The new Earl of Erth returns to his home after glory at Waterloo.  There he finds everyone seems to have an agenda involving him.  Marianne Bolderwood wants him.  His half-brother seems out to get rid of him.  His step-mother long thought her son to be the next Earl.  Who knew that Gervase would return from the war unscathed.  Only Drusilla, a very level-headed girl, is his ally.  She has resourcefully bailed him out of several bad situations.  Not to give away the entire plot, but this romance takes on a mystery turn when someone attempts to murder Gervase.  Told with great humor...many places to laugh out loud and fun as Heyer is expert at.

Venetia / Georgette Heyer 577 p. Dec. Challenge 5 gold rings

Venetia Layton is living a very quiet life, secluded in the country with her lame brother, Aubrey.  When rakish Lord Damerel returns to his home, next door to the Layton's, Venetia makes the choice to acknowledge Damerel when Aubrey is taken to Damerel's home to recover.  Venetia makes an amazing discovery, Damerel is quite the gentleman.  Both Venetia and Aubrey become friends of his.   Others take great exception to this friendship.  The story is complicated by Venetia's older brother failing to return home promptly from war.  Instead comes his bride and her indomitable mother.  This love story is told with humor.  This is a delightful read to be enjoyed again and again.

O'Hara's Choice / Leon Uris 392 p. American historical fiction challenge

Zachary O'Hara, son of a legendary Marine (as well as one of the first), practically grew up in the Marines.  He is dedicated to the Corp. as was his father Paddy. Paddy won the second Congressional Medal of Honor.  Every year men Paddy saved during battles have a reunion.  Now that the Civil War is over, the Marines are being downsized.  Zachary joins the struggle to keep the Marine Corps alive after the Civil War.   He takes on a giant task that will greatly promote his career.  What he doesn't count on is falling in love with Amanda Kerr.  Both his commanding officers and her rich father are against this relationship.  When she breaks off all contact with him, she develops into a strong woman determined to build a women's college.  Interwoven into the plot, is his desire to keep a deep, dark secret.  The story jumps back and forth in history to tell the need and abilities of the Marine Corp, the fight to keep the Corp alive, the future warfare and battle plans, and the love story.  This was Leon Uris last novel, published after his death.  For a great story about the Marines, turn to his early work, Battle Cry.

Dick Francis's Gamble / Felix Francis 352 p. Dec. challenge 5 gold rings

Felix Francis is continuing the style of his father, Dick Francis.  Nick Foxton experienced a career ending accident ended his world-class jockey life.  When he returns to Aintree as a spectator nothing prepares him for the point-blank murder of his co-worker Herb Kovak.  As a financial advisor, he is so far from murder and mayhem.  In quick time, he must figure out what the killer wants and thwart him.  Because now they are after him.  And Kovak has left him little to draw upon; but many puzzles to solve.  And he has much to protect besides himself.  As usual, there are plot twists and side plots.

Man of My Dreams / Sherrilyn Kenyon and others 339 p. Dec. Challenge 5 gold rings

Four writers come together to write about the romance of meeting the perfect man.  The anthology features Fire and Ice by Sherrilyn Kenyon; Daydream Believer by Maggie Shayne; Shocking Lucy by Suzanne Forster; and Midsummer's Night's Magic by Virginia Kantra.  These are sensual stories, some fantasy, all romantic.

Wedding Dress / Rachel Hauck 343 p. Dec. Challenge 5 gold rings

Charlotte owns a chic Birmingham bridal shop.  Brides are her business, so why can't she find the perfect dress for her own wedding.  Does she have doubts about her marriage to Tim?  When she goes up the mountain to meditate, she ends up at an estate buying an antique wedding dress in a old trunk.  Charlotte goes on a quest to learn the gown's history.  She comes to know each of the women who have worn the dress.  Emily was the first in 1912; with, Mary Grace in 1939, followed by Hillary in 1969.  Interwoven are the stories of each of the brides along with their Christian faith.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Light in the Ruins/Chris Bohjalian/305 pages

The story begins in the countryside of Florence, Italy with war raging all around, the Rosati family  believes that the walls of their ancient villa will keep them safe from harm. Ten years later, there has been a brutal murder, a serial killer targeting the Rosatis. The investigator Serafina, finds herself digging into a past that might also include her own tragic history.  It seems the author at times was trying to write a romance and then other times a murder mystery, and not really developing the story line of either. Very vivid picture of Germany's occupation of Italy during the war and how it affected the people. It was heartbreaking for families trying to do whatever they could just stay alive.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Husband's Secret/Liane Moriarty/394 pgs.

Cecilia Fitzpatrick has an ideal life, until she discovers a letter written by her husband, John-Paul, which is to be read only upon his death. Circumstances compel her to read the letter even though John-Paul is still alive, opening up a can of worms like no other! Jump to the secret Tess O'Leary encounters: her husband, Will, and best friend (and cousin), Felicity, have fallen in love. This prompts Tess to leave with Will and her son, Liam, to help her mother recuperate from a broken ankle. Then there is Rachel, who is still mourning the loss of her daughter, Janie--a victim of an unsolved murder as a teenager. Moriarty leads the reader through a maze while trying to show the impact one secret has on many people's lives. It is a very interesting and thought provoking read. Highly recommended.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The 5th Wave / Richard Yancey / 457 pages

The aliens have attacked earth.  The destruction came in five waves.  In the first three waves, 97% of earth's 4 billion people were killed.  The first wave was a cataclysmic EMP which rendered all machines useless.  The second was destructive tsunamis which wiped out coastal cities, forcing remaining citizens to the interior.  The third wave was a virus called the Red Death or Red Tsunami.  Things moved to a more personal level with succeeding waves.  The fourth wave mandated a collection of earth's children and eradication of adults.  Silencers, humans attacked from the insides by embryonic aliens, have been dispatched to seek out and eliminate stray humans.  Cassie Sullivan lost her mother to the plague, witnessed her father gunned down and watched her little brother, Sammy, bussed to a survivor's camp on an U.S. air force base.  She is on the run and vows to find Sammy and return bear.  Cassie is aided/impeded in her quest by Evan, who holds several seemingly deal-breaking secrets.  (He's one of the Silencers.)  As luck would have it, seventeen year old ex-sports-star, Zombie, is also trying to save Sam (Nugget), a new recruit in a brutal boot camp that represents the fifth wave - humanity's eradication by fellow human beings.  This first in a series is "a post-apocalyptic adventure story that mixes high-energy action with sharp psychological tension."  "The format of the narrative mimics the escalating tension of the characters as they are forced to make increasingly rapid choices as they navigate between individuality and conformity and between loyalty and paranoia." (Book Page Reviews, 2012)

Gateway Award Preliminary Nominee 2015-16

The 14 Fibs of Gregory K. / Greg Pinkus / 226 pages

"Some days you just need pie.  The creeping realization that this was a pie day began at breakfast for Gregory Korenstein-Jasperton."  His father, an electrical engineer, asked each of his children how math could improve their secret hero powers.  Greg, who hated math, was clueless and made a quick exit.  Luckily he has his best friend to help him with his homework.  They work at The Slice, the perfect to place to get that pie.  Greg and Kelly want to attend a six week author camp this summer, but Greg is failing math (yes!), and if he can't bring his grade up he will be going to Math Is Magic Camp instead.  Kelly and her mom are moving over one hundred miles away, so it is even more important that the two of them meet at Author Camp.  With the help of Mr. Davis, his math teacher, inspiration from Parson Weems, and a creative commitment to his craft, Gregory masterminds a unique solution to his problems. This book will be loved by your mathematicians and writers alike and will provide excellent examples for dealing with difficult family dynamics and the foibles of friendship... Greg's fibs are not at all like what you would expect....

Mark Twain Award Preliminary Nominee 2015-16

Dorko the Magnificent / Andrea Beaty / 213 pages

Grandma Melvyn (who is no one's grandma) has a wicked wobble eye and calls everyone Trixie.  She has come to stay with the Darko family while she anticipates and recuperates from knee surgery.  She is given Robbie's room because its the only room without stairs.  She makes an already difficult situation even more challenging.  Robbie's dad has lost his job and the new one requires him to travel a lot.  Because his pay is less, his mom has taken a job so they can pay their mortgage.  Robbie must share Ape Boy's bedroom.  His younger brother chews on everything and climbs on anything.  Robbie is a magician whose knowledge and skills help him to navigate the pitfalls of family and fifth grade.  He blames Harry Potter (whom he loves) for people's misunderstanding of magicians and their confusion with wizards.  (He even provides a table on page 45 to enumerate the differences between wizards and magicians.)  He wants to perfect his magic for the Hobson Elementary Talent Show.  Grandma Melvyn (my dad's name, so I'm really partial to her) agrees to give him magic lessons...for a price.  Who is the Grandma Melvyn?  This is an absolutely delightful, humorous, heart-warming, informative story.  It would make a great read-aloud!  Although the cover art is bright and attention-grabbing, it may be off-putting to fifth and sixth graders.  Fans of Dork Diaries and Diary of a Wimpy Kid should love this one.

"The magician's job is to make people believe impossible things."
"Don't waste your time with whiners and wannabes."

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library / Chris Grabenstein / 291 pages

"Spending time in your local public library can be very rewarding."  This is book obviously written by a bibliophile for bibliophiles...and non-bibliophiles.  Kyle Keeley is a gamer.  Its the only way he can compete with his two brothers - one a total jock and the other a braniac.  When he discovers that Mr. Lemoncello, the world's most famous gamemaker and designer of the town's new library, is sponsoring an invitation-only lock-in in the new library, Kyle is determined to be there.  How he qualifies and succeeds is a tale sure to please.  Filled with suspense, references to books encased in wily dialogue, clever enumeration and elucidation of the Dewey Decimal System, and important life lessons, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library is a must read!!   Great read-aloud!

The book jacket says that Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library is "like the Hunger Games, but without the bows and arrows."

Mark Twain Award Preliminary Nominee 2015-16

Jinx / Sage Blackwood / 360 pages / April Challenge Rain

"In the Urwald you grow up fast or not at all.  By the time he was six, Jinx had learned to live quietly and carefully, squeezed into the spaces left by other people."  His father died of werewolves and his mother was carried off by elves.  His stepfather took him into the woods to abandon him to certain death.  His greed and malice attracted the trolls who carried him away.  Jinx was rescued by Simon, a wizard, whose invisibility spell enabled them to escape the notice of the trolls.  Simon allows Jinx to live with him and his part-time wife, Sophie.  Sophie live in Samara and she and her KNip temple are opposed to magic.  When Simon performs a spell on Jinx, he (Jinx) loses his magic - his ability to see people's thoughts/emotions, although his ability to hear the trees' thoughts has increased.  Twelve year old Jinx is determined to run away to reclaim his magic.  So, with a gold bird talisman and five silver pennies he begins his journey to freedom.  Along the way he encounters Reven, a robber/prince, and Elfwood, the daughter of a witch, whom he has been viewing through the Far-seeing Window.  Both have curses upon them.  Together they venture to the evil wizard Bonemaster.  This adventure story is filled with fantasy, friendship, respect for nature, and the meaning of loyalty/love.  The witch's mode of transportation is quite innovative/unusual!!

"Magic is something you do, not something you have."
"Once you've said things, it's impossible to unsay them"
"Knowledge is power."
"All magic requires two things - power and concentration."

Mark Twain Award Preliminary Nominee 2015-16

The Sasquatch Escape / Suzanne Selfors / 215 pages / 8 Maids a Milking Challenge

The Imaginary Veterinary Book 1
Do you know how to capture a Sasquatch?  Well...chocolate is important!  Ben Silverstein is sent to spend the summer with his grandfather in the small town of Buttonville.  He has no hope whatever of this being a fun time.  Ben is a storyteller (liar?) and his parents sent him away so they can work on their problems.  Grandpa runs an exceptionally loose household where junk food is a staple.  When Barnaby, Grandpa's cat, brings home what appears to be a baby dragon, Ben's summer is suddenly looking up.  He is befriended by a local trouble maker, Pearl Petal, and they take the dragon to the only vet available - Dr. Woo, at the Worm Hospital...and the fun begins...  When Ben accidentally leaves a door open and a Sasquatch escapes, Ben and pearl are charged with his recapture.  At the end of the book there are numerous suggestions for writing, art, and science activities that help readers discover more about the mythological creatures featured in the book...including a recipe for homemade chocolate pudding!!  Excellent illustrations!!

Mark Twain Award Preliminary Nominee 2015-16

Brotherhood / Anne Westrick / 359 pages / American Historical Fiction Challenge

It's been two full years since the War Between the States, "Two full years since the surrender of the greatest general the world had ever known, Robert E. Lee...two full years of Yankees patrolling Richmond's streets.  Fourteen year old Shadrach Weaver hates them.  "Before that there had been four years of fighting and food shortages and hotels turned to hospitals for men blown to bits by shrapnel and canons."  Shad had joined the Brotherhood - the Klan.  "He'd joined to get tough like Jeremiah, to prove himself, grow up, be a man, make mama proud, make daddy proud.  All of those reasons and a whole lot more.  But at the time - Lord God Almighty - at the time, Shad didn't have any notion what he was getting into."  He thought the Brotherhood protected people, he thought brothers rode the streets at night, keeping evil away.  When he learned differently, he decided to do the right thing.  This is an excellent portrayal of Southern sympathies, quandaries, and attempts to deal with a patently unfair situation and the moral uprightness of one young man.

Mark Twain Award Preliminary Nominee 2015-16

I Am the Weapon / Allen Zadoff / 337 pages / 7 Swans a Swimming Challenge

The Unknown Assassin Book 1
Zach Abram, Boy Nobody, is a teenager (16), so people often underestimate him.  "It's good to be underestimated.  It's what's known as a tactical advantage."  One he uses frequently in his assassin role for The Program.  The Program tells him one thing, but his memories tell him another.  "It's enough to make all [his] memories suspect, to make the past a mystery from which [he] cannot escape."  His current assignment is to assassinate the mayor of New York City.  He in embedded in a prestigious high school which is attended by the mayor's daughter.  He makes a play for Samara, a popular, beautiful girl with a tragic past and secrets of her own.  This assignment is like no other.  This teen spy novel will keep you on the edge of your seat.  Read it in one time block if at all possible.  Great focus on friendship, family, bullying, patriotism, etc.

"We all make choices, and they have repercussions."
"Situational awareness is progressively diminished with substances in your system, plus it just makes you stupid!"
"Change can be your friend or your enemy.  Make it your friend."

Burning Sky / Sherry Thomas / 449 pages / April Challenge Rain

Sixteen year old Iolanthe Seabourne's life is radically changed when she attempts to repair an elixir gone bad.  She is an elemental mage of middling power charged with lighting the path for a friend's wedding.  When she summons lightning, she attracts the attention of villainous Inquisitors...and teenage Prince Titus Elberon, the figurehead ruler of The Domain.  Titus instigates a plot to secret Iolanthe by disguising her as a boy attending Eton College in 1800's London.  In true romantic fantasy fashion, each save the other's life and work to defeat a common foe.  Iolanthe is a character inspiring much admiration for her adaptability, her humility, her common sense, and her fearlessness.  Titus is a heartthrob hero, who is very lucky to have Ioanthe by his side.

First in a series.
Gateway Award Preliminary Nominee 2015-16

Winger / Andrew Smith / 439 pages / 7 Swans a Swimming Challenge

"Everyone has that little part that's outside the overlap of everyone else, and a lot of people zero in on that one little thing they can't get over...some people are better than others about not getting that outside overlap part noticed"...but not Ryan Dean West. He is fourteen, two years younger than anyone else in his class...and he's only one hundred forty-two pounds, small for his age.  This is a big deal because he wants to be more than friends with his best friend, Annie Altman.  He is a junior at Pine Mountain Academy in the Cascades.  He has been sentenced to O-Hall for hacking into a teacher's cell phone.  He is determined to secure his release, be a star on the rugby team, and hook up with Annie.  Unfortunately, the fates are frowning on West, and the first day of school finds him hungover and sick from a late night poker game instigated by his roommate, a senior and a bully.  West gets his revenge by making out with Chas Becker's girlfriend.  Basically...West is one of the good guys...He is certainly loyal to his least until they hit on his girlfriend.  Although humorous at times, this book has limited appeal and shocking language!

Gateway Award Preliminary Nominee 2015-16

Escape from Eden / Elisa Nader / 271 pages / April Challenge Rain

This is an absolutely riveting tale reminiscent of the Jim Jones mass suicide debacle.  When Mia's father abandoned the family, her mother took her and her little brother, Max, to live in Edenton, a strict, self-sufficient compound deep in the jungle of South America.  The village and its inhabitants are strictly controlled by Reverend Eden, who even decides who shall marry and to whom.  He has become increasingly rigid and cruel, and armed guards now patrol the perimeter.  Are they to keep the outside world out or the followers in?  Mia has always chafed against the rules, keeping her sketch book secret when no one is allowed personal possessions.  Reverend Eden punished greediness with poisoned cookies, made millions by nefarious means, and holds a sinister plan should the perimeter ever be breached.  Mia and Gabriel, a young man with a devastating secret, sacrifice for the good of all.  Beware...definitely YA/Adult due to sexual content/language.

Gateway Award Preliminary Nominee 2015-16