Friday, November 14, 2014

SCCCLD November Challenge

In honor of Day of the Dead, the November Book Challenge will be to read a book written by an author who has died, or a book written about an author who has died.

Why Day of the Dead?  

We might have missed a challenge or two this year, so you will earn 3 bonus points for each book.  So brush off those copies of Patriot Games, Hawaii, All Creatures Great and Small, Romeo and Juliet, the list could go on and on!


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Murder of a Needled Knitter/ Denise Swanson/ 258 pages

Murder of a Needled Knitter is the next book in the Scumble River Series written by Denise Swanson.  Find this on our catalog

If you like cozy mysteries, cruises,or are an alumni of the University of Illinois you will enjoy this book.

Sky and Wally are looking forward to getting away from Scumble River and having some together time on their first cruise together.  Wally got a great price as part of a group rate, but will the members of the group impact their fun?  Or will that be up to the dead body Sky finds.

If you like this mystery you might also like Denise Swanson's  new series A Devereaux's Dime Store Mystery  In the SCCCLD /website

Christmas at Tiffany's/ Karen Swan/ 582 pg

Christmas at Tiffany's is a romance novel written by Karen Swan.

If you like romance with a little adventure and a touch of mystery you will enjoy this book.
Cassie's ten year marriage has come to a sudden end.  With the help of her three friends, she begins the task of rebuilding her life.  The plan is to spend four months living with each friend, beginning with Kelly in New York, Anouk in Paris and ending with Suzy in London.  Will Cassie make it through the year?

Check this out in our catalog

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Mansfield Park / Jane Austen / 346 pages

Never having read Jane Austen, I thought I'd try a classic.  I listened on cd in the car and found myself driving around to hear more.  The time period is early 1800's in North Hampton, England.  The story is about Fanny Price, the poor cousin of Maria and Julia.
She comes to live at Mansfield Park, the home of very wealthy Thomas and his wife, Fanny's aunt.  Fanny is just summarily shipped off to the house at nine years of age.  She is not familiar with any of the family and even though they treat her kindly, but slightly less than their own children.  The story is a total slice of life with the girls and finding the "right" husband ie: one with money and not too old.  Only Fanny is steadfast in her love for her cousin Edmund. (yes, cousin love was okay back then apparently)  
Contrasting the morals of the early 1800's with today is quite different, but the human desires were still present; just repressed as much as possible. It makes a great story. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Bare Bones / Kathy Reichs / 306 pages

This is the first of Reich's books that I've read.  I was expecting a book very similar to the Bones TV series.  While my expectations weren't met, I wasn't disappointed.  The Temperance Brennan in Bare Bones couldn't be any more different from the character in the TV series.  In the book, she is loving and warm, and often driven by emotion.  The only similarities between the two seem to be the habit of running around with cops and getting into life-threatening situations.  At the beginning of Bare Bones, Brennan is hoping to take a much needed vacation with her current love interest, who seems to be the first man she's dated since becoming estranged from her husband.  While attending a barbecue with her college-age daughter, Brennan finds the first of a string of corpses that will delay her vacation and make her fear for her life.

Dark Tower VII / Stephen King / 845 pages

This last installment of Stephen King's Dark Tower series goes a long way toward making up for the awful 6th book, Song of Susannah.  King appropriately chastised himself for succumbing to metafiction, both in the text of the story and in his author's note at the end.  He wrapped up all the loose ends of this story, though he seemed to be heading toward a Shakespearian-type tragedy by killing off all the characters.  Overall the series was enjoyable, and I loved the characters, especially the billy-bumbler Oy.  This last book had some of the best illustrations of any of the series, so well worth looking at just for those.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Unbroken/Laura Hillenbrand/406 pgs.

The subtitle says it all: "A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption." I had a difficult time getting through this book. It is Louis Zamperini's story from a young boy to his survival as a Japanese POW, and beyond. It is unbelievable the torture, both mental and physical, that Zamperini and the other prisoners of war survived--or in many cases, didn't survive. It's a very disturbing read--but a testament to how much the human spirit can not only withstand, but flourish in the end. It's a powerful  story; I'm glad I stuck with it! BTW: the movie version comes out this Christmas.

The Perfect Witness/Iris Johansen/342 pgs.

Teresa Casali has a "gift"--she can read memories. Her father, a mob boss, uses Teresa's gift to his advantage:he has her read his competitors' memories. When Teresa witnesses her "gift" resulting in a mobster's death, she realizes how valuable she is to her father's success. In trying to escape, she is saved  by a stranger--Andre Mandak. He claims to be able to help her control her gift; he, too, has an agenda. Teresa goes into Witness Protection, and becomes Allie Girard. Her life takes on some normalcy, until her true identity is discovered. Mandak's reason for helping Allie is revealed, and it's a race to the end! There is suspense, betrayal, romance, and an interesting story line.

I've Got Your Number/Sopie Kinsella/433 pages

Poppy Wyatt is having a very bad day. First, her antique engagement ring disappears during a fire drill at a hotel champagne tea. After searching and contacting the police and hotel personnel, Poppy leaves the hotel to regroup and decide how to tell her fiancĂ© about the mishap. Before she starts dialing, her phone is grabbed by a youth on a bike. Now, even if someone finds her ring, they won't be able to contact her. She goes back into the hotel to explain her newest problem. While waiting in line, she discovers that someone has thrown away a perfectly functional phone in a nearby trash can. Finders, keepers, Poppy decides. When the man whose PA tossed the phone calls and demands that she return the phone, Poppy negotiates a deal. She'll forward all his business and personal items if she can use the phone and number to try and get her ring back and keep her wedding plans on track. What could go wrong?

A fluffy and fun romp of a story. Poppy seems quite ditsy at first, but she grows on you. There were a couple of times I was very moved by her plight. A nice change if you've been reading heavier things.

Video Kill/Joanne Fluke/447 pages

Tony and Erik have a great idea for screenplay. They want to make a movie about a serial killer. The only studio that will consider it takes a year option to buy. Eleven months later, the script is still sitting on the shelf until a real serial killer starts terrorizing Los Angeles. The script becomes hot property especially when it starts mirroring exact details of the murder. With details only known to the police and the killer, how can the rewrites on the script be so spot on to the actual crime?

Fluke is known for her Hannah Swensen mystery series. This novel moves away by just a bit from a cozy mystery. It has a great premise that could have been a little more suspenseful, but it was still entertaining. The ending was a little too "romance" for my tastes, but that didn't spoil the whole book for me.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Gaby, Lost and Found / Angela Cervantes / 220 pages / 8 Maids a Milking Challenge

Gaby Ramirez Howard believes she has something in common with the dogs and cats at the animal shelter where she volunteers with her class.  She, too, needs a good home.  Her mother was recently deported to Honduras and her dad may be involved in some shady dealings and is seldom there for her.  Gaby is the shelter scribe and writes catchy profiles for each of animals to facilitate their adoption.  Her attempts to rescue a cat, Feather, from unfit parents traps her in a web of lies that could seriously impact her friendships, her job at the shelter, and her integrity.  Gaby's writings would be an excellent writer's prompt and the treatment of bullying, Honduras, and illegal aliens put this a cut above the rest.

Mark Twain Preliminary Nominee 2015-16

The Hypnotists / Gordon Korman / 232 pages

This is the first in a series guaranteed to be a hit!  Young Jax Opus discovers that he is a hypnotist, descended on both sides of family from the same.  The ability/talent had skipped a generations and, because of some rather negative repercussions due his grandfather's use of the power, was never revealed to Jax.  Jax decides to attend the Mako Institute to lean how to maximize his newfound powers.  The leader of the Sandmen - a group of hypnotists who have sworn not to use their powers for selfish purposes/personal gain, urges Jax to proceed with caution.  Perhaps Dr. Elias Mako isn't what he appears to be.  Jax is instrumental to Mako's plan.  Will he succeed?  Although the beginning is a bit slow and feels a mite contrived, Jax's integrity, the electoral process connection, the tw3elve step-like sandmen who overcome weaknesses to do good, the non-stop action, and the open-ended conclusion make this a definite recommenced read.  The author's name will be an automatic draw for many!

Mark Twain Award Preliminary Nominee 2015-16

An Army of Frogs / Trevor Pryce / 273 pages

Darel, a young frog, lives by the warrior code and longs to be a Kulipari, an "elite squad of poisonous frog warriors to sworn to defend the Amphibilands."  He works harder than anyone and is brave, loyal, and he never gives up.  He believes he must train daily to be ready should the scorpions and spiders attack again.  He also despises bullies and often lands himself in trouble as he attempts to defend his friends.  The spiders and scorpions have not been good stewards of their land and water.  They have used everything up and now they want what the frogs have so carefully husbanded.  Although this is an intriguing, creative work with an excellent theme and captivating comic-like full-page color illustrations, I'M a bit unsure of its appeal to fourth to sixth graders.  Perhaps the author's reputations as a NFL football player will entice some to pick it up...but frogs as heroes?!?

Mark Twain Award Preliminary Nominee 2015-16

Al Capone Does My Homework / Jennifer Choldenka / 212 pages

In this last book in the Alcatraz trilogy, Moose Flanagan's father is promoted to associate warden.  While this is a source of pride for Moose and his family who live on Alcatraz Island, it engenders jealousy and resentment from certain cons and guards.  When a fire destroys much of the Flanagan apartment while Moose and his older, autistic sister, Natalie, are home alone, some blame Natalie.  She is even suspended from her special school.  Moose is certain Natalie is innocent, but he had fallen asleep so he can't say for sure.  Moose and his friends determine to discover the identity of the true firebugs and become involved in much more.  This is an engaging mystery, an informative picture of life on Alcatraz Island in the 1930's and its most famous inmate -  Al Capone, a look at the complexities of friendship and first love, and an honest, empathic portrayal of the prison of autism.

Mark Twain Award Preliminary Nominee 2015-16

Doll Bones / Holly Black / 244 pages

This is a most timely ghost story.  Written by Holly Black, author of The Spiderwick Chronicles, it is just scary enough to be interesting, believable, and frightening.  Do have an antique bone china doll at your house?  Do you know her history?  Have you ever dreamed about her?  Young Poppy does and in compelled to right a great wrong.  She enlists the assistance of her two best friends, Zach and Alice.  The trio have been friends forever, and have enjoyed playing one continuous, ever-changing game involving pirates, thieves, mermaids, warriors, and a queen.  Is this quest Poppy has set them on a continuation of their make-believe game...or is it real?  Zach is dealing with issues with his part-time dad, and Alice is trying desperately to please her grandmother.  Sometimes, however, we are bound by honor to do the right thing, regardless of consequences.

"Was growing up finding out that most stories turn out to be lies?"

Mark Twain Award Preliminary Nominee 2015-16

In Search of Goliathus Hercules / Jennifer Angus / 350 pages / April Challenge Rain

This is a fantastic adventure story, well-packaged with an arresting cover, end paper maps, photographs, and delightful insect appointments.  Our main character, ten year old Henri (Henry, not On-Ree) Bell, can talk to insects.  He has been sent to live with his great aunt in America after his father has disappeared while working for the British East India Company in Malaya.  His mother has gone in search of her missing husband.  Henri has run away to the circus to escape his great aunt's neighbor, Mrs. Black.  Unfortunately, the circus has a fortune teller, Madame Noir, who bears a frightening resemblance to Mrs. Black.  Despite his success with the circus (He's in charge of the fleas...), he feels compelled to search for his father and the Goliathus Hercules, and fears that Madame Noir is after the same thing...for very different reasons.  Why does she have a mourning pin with a picture of Henry's father and a label that reads "George B."  It is often said that embarking on an adventure can be a life-changing experience.  Out protagonist indubitably undergoes a radical change...and demonstrates spectacular respect for life/elders, friendship and family ties.

"Great scientists and explorers must possess imagination.  It's what allows them to speculate and theorize."

Mark Twain Award Preliminary Nominee 2015-16

What We Found in the Sofa and How It Saved the World / Henry Clark / 355 pages

Freak, River, and Fiona find an abandoned sofa on the sidewalk near their bus stop.  The sofa has dragon claw feet, a slash along its back, and a red stain that looks suspiciously like blood.  The kids postulate about the sofa's history and search its interiors for found objects.  This yields one zucchini crayon and a two-headed coin among other things, fueling other speculations.  Fiona does Internet research on the crayon and discovers that during World War II Crayola made a box of 16 crayons called Victory Garden.  All were vegetable colored.  During manufacture, the zucchini crayons were left out and two rutabagas were put in instead.  The zucchini became collector's items and extremely valuable.  Fiona decides to put the crayon up for auction and is astounded by the $7000 bid.  River's conscience tells him the crayon is not theirs but belongs to Mr. Underhill who put the sofa out.  When the three friends visited Underhill Mansion, they discovered that the 97 year old Mr. Underhill died in a tobogganing accident.  (The toboggan fell on his head.)  Alf had bought the mansion and its contents, so the crayon was his.  He enlists the kids to help him trap Dissan, a fugitive with a compulsive collecting disorder... and ties to other worlds.  This is a zany kind of tale involving aliens, orphans, underground fires, flashmobs of citizens who spontaneously burst into singing show tunes...  It's hyperdiculous!

Mark Twain Award Preliminary Nominee 2015-16

P. S. Be Eleven / Rita Williams-Garcia / 274 pages

Continuing the story begun in One Crazy Summer, P. S. Be Eleven recounts the experiences of the Gaither sisters when they return home from spending the summer with their mother.  "After soaking up a power to the people mindset" in California, Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern return to Brooklyn with a newfound streak of independence.  Pa has a girlfriend; Uncle Darnell is home from Viet Nam and has brought home some serious problems; and the girls are saving all their money to attend a Jackson Five concert at Madison Square Garden.  This is a time machine to the radical changes occurring in the 1960's.  Delphine's letters to her mother, and her advice not to grow up too fast, provide an intimate, moving, sometimes humorous spotlight on a turbulent time/family.

Mark Twain Award Preliminary Nominee 2015-16

The Water Castle / Megan Frazer Blakemore / 344 pages / April Challenge Rain

Do you believe in the unbelievable?  Do you believe in the Fountain of Youth?  Young Ephraim Appledore-Smith would have answered no to both of these questions...before his father has his stroke.  His family moved to their ancestral home in Crystal Springs, Maine, to be closer to doctors who might help his father recover.  Water Castle was part of an amazing resort featuring curative waters.  The town enjoys unusually good health and the children at local schools are almost all gifted.  Can the waters cure Ephraim's dad?  Ephraim teams up with two local kids to find the Fountain of Youth.  Both have historic ties to the house and family.  Mallory Green's ancestors have always been caretakers and Nora was assistant to the doctor who discovered the secret of the water.  Will Wylie's family was accused of starting the fire that destroyed much of the resort.  While trying to solve the mystery of the water, the kids are researching North Pole explorers for school.  The story alternates between past and present references to said explorers, Edison, Tesla, and the Appledore family and their associates.  This is a creative approach to imparting scientific and historical information in a captivating, motivating, inspiring, this-could-be-you format.

Mark Twain Award Preliminary Nominee 2015-16

The Great Trouble, A Mystery of London, The Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel / Deborah Hopkinson / 249 pages

This is a marvelous story of a young boy's adventures during a cholera epidemic in London in 1854.  Eel is an orphan with a wicked stepfather whom he has escaped.  He fears running into Fisheye Bill and hopes to keep his secret, his younger brother, safe.  Formerly a mudlark - a river scavenger, he secured a position as a messenger which earns him enough to keep his secret safe.  When Mr. Griggs -  the tailor, falls ill, Eel appeals to Dr. John Snow for help.  Snow makes Eel his assistant in his attempt to prove that cholera is spread by unclean water not bad air.  The Great Trouble is "part medical mystery, part survival story, and part Dickensian adventure, a story with a hard-working, right-minded protagonist who deals with life as he finds it...and makes it better."  Along with Florrie, his best friend, he provides indispensable aid to a just cause.

Mark Twain Award Preliminary Nominee 2015-16

The Misadventures of the Magician's Dog / Frances Sackett / 178 pages

"The trouble started at dinner the night before Peter Lubinsky's twelfth birthday." " Peter was the quiet one, the one who avoided drama and conflict."  But when his sisters, Izzy and Celia, were so upset missing his dad, who was serving his third deployment in seven years, Peter knew he had to say/do something to break the web of sadness.  He said he wanted a dog for his birthday...He was scared to death of dogs!  But a stray at a local shelter, who is in reality a magician's dog, has somehow spoken to Peter to say he wanted a dog and manipulated Peter to choose him from the pound.  Not Darling needs Peter to work magic on his change him back from the rock he has become.  The dog has promised Peter that perhaps the magician will then help him bring his dad home or at least keep him safe.  The problem is that Peter, as the magician himself, must be mean and angry for the magic to work.  Will Peter be forced to be forever the magician?  Will he be successful?  Will his father return?  This story certainly tugs at the heart strings...and the funny bone...

"You can't find the right answers unless you ask the right questions."
"Everyone feels fear...but fear isn't what matters.  It's the choices you make when you're afraid that matter; that's what you can control."
"Don't let other people tell what's a problem or impossible."

Mark Twain Award Preliminary Nominee 2015-16

Will in Scarlet / Matthew Cody / 260 pages

This is a most readable, enjoyable retelling of the Robin Hood legend.  While explaining familiar aspects of the story, Matthew Cody has maintained an atmosphere of intrigue and danger and filled it with heroism, evil blackguards, and true friends portrayed as each played an integral role in the development of the Robin Hood character.  This is a delightful, satisfying adventure story.

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/ Big Library Read

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