Today's Grateful List/31 December 2015

  • Going to get answers no matter what

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Forgotten Room

Where to begin with this absolute gem of a book? It's a sweeping tale of love found, love lost, and mystery surrounding a room in a mansion in New York City. It's centered around families and blooming where you are planted, as it were. But it's soul stirring and well written and just beautiful. The fact that three different authors contributed seamlessly to the story is just the icing on the cake. You won't be able to tell the difference in styles and the characters never suffer from a lack of continuity.

The story is told from three points of view:  Olive, a housemaid in 1892, seeking to revenge her father against the owner of the mansion in which she works; Lucy, Olive's daughter, who is a secretary in New York in 1920, seeking to find the truth about her paternity; and Kate, Lucy's daughter, a nurse during World War II, looking to find acceptance in a male-dominated field and to fight her attraction to the handsome patient in her care. We go from one point of view to the next and the next and then circle around again, each time bringing the story forward and laying groundwork for exposing mysteries. All three women live in the Pratt mansion at different times, and all three struggle with life choices and following their hearts. There are layers and layers and as you read on, nothing is really what you thought it would be.

I cannot write enough good things about this book. It is gripping and well written, and the storyline, while not necessarily unique, is well plotted. I found myself reading well past my bedtime in order to find out "one more thing" about one of these three thoroughly engaging young women. Pick it up and treat yourself. It's a pleasure.


Friday, November 13, 2015

The Highest of Recommendations

Ruta Sepetys is one of the finest writers, young adult or otherwise, writing today. Her two previous novels, Between Shades of Gray and Out of the Easy, held me enthralled through every page. Now comes Salt to the Sea, and it is everything and more that the others are. But a word to the wise up front...have tissues close by.

There are four points of view telling the story of Salt to the Sea, and each is distinctive, secretive, and profound. We have Emilia, a young Polish girl of fifteen who has faced untold horrors of World War II, and is saved early on by the "knight", Florian. Florian has a major secret of his own; he is carrying something very valuable and is trying to get away to safety while simultaneously exacting revenge on those with whom he worked. Distracting Florian, however, is the young nurse, Joana, a Lithuanian who is leading a rag tag group to the safety of a ship leaving Germany now that Hitler has deemed it all right in the final months of the war. Finally, there is Alfred, a young sailor in the German navy who "writes" letters in his head to his love, Hannelore, while avoiding work and planning a dazzling future.

Though these are the voices we hear, there are so many others involved and each one will wrap themselves around your heart, in particular the Shoe Poet and the Wandering Boy who are assisted in getting on the liner Wilhelm Gustloff along with the others. They are stunning examples of man's inhumanity to man and yet the power of hope and the determination to survive. Sepetys gives them lives that represent so many more who experienced as much trauma or even worse.

So much happens that you will find yourself wanting to totally inhale this story, but make yourself slow down and feel the ache of hunger, the biting cold, the long walks, the deceptions and the triumphs. Sepetys has done her research meticulously and it shows in every word. I cannot rate this one highly enough and I urge you to read it and remember it.


Sunday, November 08, 2015

Second in the Series

Where to start on The White Rose? It picks up almost precisely where The Jewel left off, with Violet in big trouble with her mistress over her affair with the companion, Ash. As he is sentenced to die, the Duchess visits unbelievable cruelty on Violet, and it's apparent that she and Ash must escape pronto. Luckily, there is Lucien and Garnet there to secret them, along with Raven, out of the Jewel. But it's a long journey to safety, and once there, will they truly be safe, really?

First admission:  Not really a fan of a second book that spends a good deal of time traveling. Ash and Violet make some ridiculous mistakes along the way, and occasionally I felt as though the author was purposely prolonging the story. It's certainly not bad, and I admit I was turning those pages fairly quickly. I just wanted it to end so I could get to the *good* part. 

Second admission:  The "talents" the girls have sort of brought to mind images of the House of Night series by P.C. and Kristin Cast. Not bad, but not fully believable, either. But I'm still on board because it is intriguing.

So, final thoughts: It's a good sequel and has a killer cliffhanger that will definitely have me waiting for the final in the series. It's a good set up for a revolution, and I mostly like all the main characters. It does suffer a bit from middle book syndrome, but I did enjoy it and am definitely looking forward to the ending of the series. 


Sunday, November 01, 2015

Excellent Historical Fiction

Sisters of Treason is a delightful surprise; in a world that is glutted with Tudor fiction, this one is a cut above as it looks at two of the forgotten females of the tenuous succession:  Katherine and Mary Grey, younger sisters of the tragic Lady Jane. I have to admit I was hopeful but skeptical that this novel would be something new and interesting, and was very pleasantly surprised when it exceeded expectations in almost every way.

The focus of the novel is, of course, the Sisters Grey, and the very tight line they had to walk in order not to follow their elder sister to the block. Just by virtue of their births and blood, there were many who looked to Lady Katherine in particular as an alternative to both Catholic Mary I and possibly illegitimate Elizabeth I. Told from the polar opposite points of view of both Katherine and Mary, we see how frustrating life at court could be and the chafing it caused as both girls longed to live as they pleased. Katherine comes across as flighty and flirtatious, and it's those characteristics that eventually lead to castrophe. Mary, on the other hand, is serious and intellectual, but having been born with a hump back, she is seen as a liability by many. In the end, both sisters suffer for who they are and what they stand for.

Also mixed into the story is that of Levina Teerlinc, a portraitess whom Fremantle gives strong ties to the Grey family. There is some evidence that Levina did have access to at least four of the Tudor monarchs, and her story brings a depth to the tale as time passes and hard choices are made. While I liked Levina, I did find the third person present tense of her narrative a bit annoying; I would have preferred for her to tell her own story just as the sisters did.

The writing in this novel is active and the girls' story is tragic, intriguing, and harrowing. I'm inspired to learn more of the Greys and their unfortunate place in history, and am highly pleased to be able to recommend this novel for anyone who is a fan of historical fiction.


Sunday, October 11, 2015

An Historical Winner

Marguerite de Valois is one of history's shadowy figures who truly deserves to be brought into the light and given a voice of her own. In Sophie Perinot's new historical novel, we discover a young woman with a backbone as strong as her formidable mother's, and an ability to matter in a way females often couldn't during the 1500s.

Starting from her late childhood, we are introduced to Marguerite as she watches her mother, Catherine de Medicis, and her older brother, Charles, rule Catholic France with an iron hand. Marguerite dreams of the day she will be able to join Court and fulfill her destiny to marry well, and when she is twelve, she is finally given the opportunity. Quickly making lifelong friends with two young women, and basking in the adoration of both her brother the king and her brother, the Duc de Anjou, Margot is the center of attention for everyone except her mother. Her eye falls on the young Duc de Lorraine and the two scheme ways to be together until everything comes crashing down and Margot finds herself back on the fringes of her family, forced to do their bidding and marry where they say.

Perinot has done her research and it shows in her grasp of characters and events. Marguerite is no shy, retiring flower, despite her lack of acknowledgement by other authors; she continually is shown to know her own mind and manipulate events as best she can in a time when most women weren't thought capable of such. Among the flamboyant figures of the day, Margot was able carry on a love affair and save her husband's life, despite her mother's machinations. Not that everything she did was perfect or even heroic; Perinot captures the desperation of a young girl's determination during a tumultuous period of her life and also in France's history.

Be prepared as you go in to understand that the role of religion not only shaped Margot but all of life, and that the de Valois family had their own personal demons to wrestle. At least one of Perinot's interpretations of what happened among the family may raise some eyebrows, but as addressed in the author's notes, it makes sense. Also, this is not really a young adult novel, even though most of the novel finds Margot in her teens. In the 1500s, many people were married in their early teens, and few were naive about relationships. Margot, while sheltered to some degree, soon finds her own sexuality, as do most of the cast of characters. The subject matter, however, is more about the historical context and Margot's place in it than it is about prurient interests. In that, Perinot excels. I could picture scenes and situations perfectly through her exquisite writing, and I'm very hopeful we have not heard the last of Marguerite from Perinot. Bump this one up to the top of your To Read Next pile. It's an absorbing winner.


Saturday, October 03, 2015

Nine Lives: A Lily Dale Mystery

I admit that I hadn't read others in this Lily Dale series before picking up Nine Lives, but apparently that's not a necessity, luckily for me. The premise sounded good and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, so I decided to give it a go. And all in all, I'm glad I did.

This is the story of Bella, whose husband Sam has passed away, leaving she and her young son at loose ends. When she's laid off from her teaching job, she feels her only option is to move from New York to Chicago to live with her cold, disapproving mother-in-law. But along the way, her car breaks down in Lily Dale. Yes, THE Lily Dale, home to psychics and mediums, but Bella is at its mercy for a place to stay. Somehow she finds herself in a bed and breakfast, filling in for the owner, who has recently passed away herself. But the kindliness of the townspeople and the appearance of a very pregnant cat--which may or may not have shown up at Bella's former home days earlier--keep Bella and Max in the town while her car is repaired. It sounds like a good thing, but there are some decidedly odd events going on, and Bella becomes certain that Leona, the previous owner, was murdered. Will she and Max be safe here, even for a few days.

There's a lot to like in this story. Bella's determination to get on with her life despite her losses makes her easily sympathetic and Chance the Cat is a good anchor for the home and for both Bella and Max. There are some very odd people in Lily Dale, but most are believably written, especially when one considers the setting for the story. There are some weird occurances, and Bella's unsettled nature fuels a sense of urgency. But it's the idea that everything happens for a reason that lends a heart to a murder mystery.

My biggest issue with the book is the fact that it's written in third person, present tense, leading to sometimes clunky sentences that seem superficial rather than in-depth. Several times I was pulled out of the story because of the writing style, though I did settle into it about mid-way. Personally, I felt the plot would have benefitted greatly from a first person view point, but that is just my preference because I don't feel the two styles gel particularly well. Overall, however, I ended up liking the book and will probably seek out others in the series.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

How Everyone is Feeling At Work This Week

When you walk in and see your shitty section

Posted by Server_life on Sunday, 23 August 2015

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Scorpion Rules

I just finished The Scorpion Rules, and I have to say I really enjoyed it! I wasn't sure going in, especially since I'd read some not flattering reviews ahead of time (I really need to stop doing that). But it pleases me to no end to be able to give this one two big thumbs up!

Greta is one of the Children of Peace: Rulers in the post-apocalyptic world must give their heirs to a Precepture, sort of a holding camp, from the age of five until the heir turns eighteen. This is done to ensure that no country will wage war on another; if it happens, the heir is killed. It's a mostly successful system, one thought of by the great Talis, an AI who basically rules the world. As the story opens, Greta is certain that the approach of a Swan Rider means she will be killed, but the unfortunate punishment goes to a classmate instead. If she's momentarily relieved, it's fleeting; a new hostage, Elián, comes to the Precepture, and he is nothing but non-compliant. The AIs in charge must make an example of him, and by extension, those in his age group, which includes Greta and her roommate Da-Xia. That alone would be bad enough, but things go from bad to worse when Elián's country invades the Precepture in order to force Greta's country into terms for water. Greta's life hangs in the balance, and there's the reality that someone will have to account for the countries' actions.

There's a lot more going on, of course, including the daily life of study, gardening, and herding goats, but Greta knows her life is forfeit if her country becomes involved in a war. Dealing with AIs also involves torture and the expectation of a certain, reserved behavior, but when your life is on the line, it's hard to stick to all the rules. And with teenagers, there is, of course, a romantic aspect, but in this case, it's not necessarily what you think it's going to be.

Like I said, I really enjoyed this novel. I think Greta is entirely believable, and I found the circumstances surrounding the invasion of the Precepture to be realistic and horrific enough to ring true. There's torture and there are forbidden relationships; there are people who seem to be one thing and others that are just evil. I was a bit worried at first that Talis would become annoying, but surprisingly, I grew to enjoy his interactions. It's a good, edge of your seat story, and I have no problems recommending it to anyone who likes dystopians.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

For a while while I was reading Delia's Shadow, I didn't think I was enjoying the story. I mean, the idea of the story was great--young woman moves back to San Francisco a few years after her parents' deaths in the big quake, but that's not the big thing. No, Delia's biggest problem is that she sees ghosts, and now one has decided to attach itself to her until she solves the mystery of the ghost's death. It sounded cool, and when some rather grisly murders were added in, (necessitating a handsome, grieving police detective), I figured it was a can't miss.

And yet...the storyline felt clunky. We meet Delia's best friend, Sadie, who is getting married and whose mother is dying, and she accepts Delia's problem with no issues whatsoever. I could almost get on board with that, and I did love Gabe, the detective, who lost his wife in the earthquake. I think my biggest problem was the addition of Isadora, a woman who also communes with ghosts but mostly just came off as an irritating drunk. Had she been left out of the story entirely, I would probably be giving the book five full stars.

Don't be mistaken, the longer I read this book, the more I liked it. I could nitpick how the murderer was "found out", but it's a paranormal mystery so that would be pointless. Though I figured out where the story was headed, I was thrown for a loop by a big twist in the murders late in the story, and the friendship between Delia and Gabe blossomed nicely into a full on romance. While the murders were described in rather gory detail, I ended up finding myself caught up in the story and stayed up past my bedtime to finish. I'll be looking for the sequel, but hoping Dora finds a job in another country so she won't be making an appearance.


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

True to my word, I didn't wait long after finishing The Chaos to dive into Infinity, the third book in the series. I've got to was almost as good as the other two, and definitely another page turner. If you haven't picked up this series yet, you need to. Let me tell you why.

Infinity picks up two years after The Chaos, and Sarah and Adam are living in a tent, roaming about after an earthquake has devastated London. Along with them they have Sarah's two younger brothers and Mia, Sarah's daughter. When they chance upon a community that seems inviting, Sarah, who is pregnant, really wants to stay, but Adam fears he is still being hunted for his ability to see "numbers"--when a person will die. As it turns out, he's got every reason to be worried, because three men on motorcycles show up looking for him, and they take Mia in order to get to him. Taken to an underground bunker, Adam is separated from Mia and Sarah (who has gone after her daughter), and it's obvious that the men are not the kindly souls they are pretending to be--they want something and they're willing to go to great lengths to get it.

My biggest issue with this installment was the fact that I could never truly understand how the men knew about Mia's number swap--I went back over it and even though I could see why they wanted Adam, I felt like more explanation was needed. I do think the way the story is ultimately resolved was brilliant--the author certainly threw a curve I wasn't expecting, and I loved it! I literally raced through this one, and am sad that the series is done. Creative and riveting, this entire series is an absorbing read. Give it a try.


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Rat Pack Again

So, at first I was a little let down by It Was a Very Bad Year...The initial part of the story was redundant of an earlier story, and there seemed like there was no big mystery after all. But I should have known my Eddie G had way more up his sleeve than just finding some racy pictures of an actress. Eddie G and Big Jerry never let me down, and they certainly didn't in this Rat Pack Mystery.

To recap: Eddie is approached by the on-screen wife of Joey Bishop, Abby Dalton, to help retrieve some pictures she made early on in her career that wouldn't uphold her current good girl status. Naturally, Eddie agrees, and since Big Jerry just happens to be in town with his nephew, he enlists the hit man into intimidating the photographer holding the pictures. While there's some breaking and entering involved, this portion of the story resolves quickly and is a bit ho-hum. And then...Frank Sinatra calls. His son, Frankie Jr., has been kidnapped, and he needs his buddy Eddie to help handle the situation. It should come as no surprise that the earlier bit of the story is woven into the second half, and things are not at all what they seem.

It never ceases to amaze me how adeptly Randisi intertwines actual events with those of the fictional Eddie G, and in this case, he has Eddie helping the FBI make the case against the real-life kidnappers. The way Randisi writes the tale, I am almost convinced this is how it really, truly happened. Eddie and Jerry are delightful as always, and the appearances of the Rat Pack and other celebrities add completely to the atmosphere. Bookended by a short narrative of present-day Eddie looking back, this is a fun entry that will keep you turning the pages.


Monday, September 07, 2015

I read Numbers a few years ago and loved it. Went out and bought The Chaos, and put it in my To Be Read pile...where it languished, unread, for far longer than it should have. Recently the book began calling to me (true readers will understand that) so I picked it up and immediately got sucked in. I was thoroughly and totally reminded why I loved Numbers--the chill of impending doom and the inability to make anyone understand because you are so different that others will only think you are crazy.

Adam is the son of Jem (the main character in Numbers). He's inherited her "gift":  He sees people's death dates simply by looking into their eyes. At age fifteen, it becomes apparent to him that something big is going to happen on January 1, 2027, because there are so many people with that date reflected in their eyes. But Adam has no idea what to do about it: he's already too much of an outsider, and before she died, his mother warned both he and his Nan that they should not be in London on that date.

Sarah knows something awful is happening, too, because she continually has nightmares where a boy takes a baby from her and walks into the fire with it. When she meets Adam, she's stunned to realize he's the boy from her dreams--and she is pregnant. Her life harbors much worse secrets, however, and she takes off, but is she able to outrun what's coming?

This book is a page turner from the start, and Adam is a heartbreaker--everything he tries to do ends up coming out wrong somehow. Told in both his and Sarah's points of view, you get the feeling that it's all going to crash down around them, but it does seem to take longer than it should. However, the story is so captivating, and the outcome so expected yet unexpected, I literally inhaled the story. I also ordered Infinity, the final book in the trilogy, but don't worry: It's up next in my reading queue. I won't make the same mistake twice.


Monday, August 31, 2015

Total Brain Candy (Just When I Needed It!)

Be forewarned...if you are looking for deep, meaningful reading, The Bourbon Kings is not the book for you. But if you are interested in good escapist fiction that sucks you into the lives of privileged, spoiled rich people, you're going to be pleasantly surprised. I know I was.

First, let's be clear: There is nothing paranormal about The Bourbon Kings, unlike Ward's uber-successful Black Dagger Brotherhood series. This first book in the series instead relies on a deeply dysfunctional family whose ancestors began the Bradford Bourbon Company; a family that features one daughter and three brothers with deep-seeded scars at the hands of their strict, unfeeling father and emotionally distant mother. The main character is Lane, third son, who has had nothing to do with his family for over two years; he's left the old Kentucky home of Easterly and lives in New York, playing poker and avoiding life. But with a phone call that the woman he feels is his true mother is dying, Lane takes a flight back and ends up staring down his demons:  his father, the family business, the woman he loves, and a wife who somehow is still living with the family despite the estrangement between them.

The points of view shift around a bit in this novel, with Lane and Lizzie (the woman he loved and lost), taking the most pages as family secrets, lies, and outright cruelty take center stage. But there are also chapters from Edward, the oldest brother, now physically incapacitated and well on his way to being a full-on alcoholic; Gin, the youngest sister whose libido attacks first and asks questions later; and Sutton, the daughter of the rival bourbon company. I found myself fully engaged each time the point of view moved, ready to find out what atrocity was looming and whose life was about to implode next.

Sure, the storyline is overly dramatic but there's some base satisfaction to be had in knowing that the rich have problems, too, and Ward deals them out in spades. As Lane tries desperately to win Lizzie back, other ugly truths begin to rear their heads, and he realizes the family's problems go way deeper than his being married to a someone he hates. There are several mysteries thrown in, and some flashbacks give insight into what put the dys- into dysfunctional. Life is complicated and overwrought and yet you cannot look away.

There are a few negative points, including the way Ward "borrows" things like the Kentucky Derby and renames them...Yes, I'm aware she probably needed to do so to avoid getting in trouble, but it's still annoying. There are also some misunderstandings that are silly, and everything is over the top. But it's that very thing, the over the top bit, that pulls you in and keeps you turning those pages to learn more.

I admit I'm hooked. It's the whole Dynasty vibe, and it's got me loving the fun. Don't pick it apart; just give it a go for what it is and enjoy the ride.

Blogger isn't letting me upload the I'll give you a link instead.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Pros and Cons

I finished this book last night and admittedly spent too much time afterwards trying to decide how I was going to review it. I've finally decided that the best way to do this is a Pros/Cons list because I'm about equally divided in my thoughts right now.

Pro:  Strong start. I roared right through the first 75 pages or so, needing to know what the big secrets were and how Nina fit into it. GREAT beginning.

Con:  And then...and then...the dragging bit happened. Nina, our heroine, must try to rescue her sister, Melanie, from the clutches of the Church, which runs everything in the demonically possessed world. And we hear about this...and hear about this...and hear about this...

Pro:  Nina is determined to do the right thing, no matter the cost. And sometimes the right thing involves doing some really bad stuff, but you know she's only thinking of what's right.

Con:  Nina's not very likable, unfortunately. She is abrasive and single-minded, even while she is determined and focused. 

Pro:  The whole Church twist is great. It's almost a throwback to the Inquisition, and it's truly scary to think that this could happen (minus the demons). Everyone is taken in, and everyone believes, or is forced to believe. Nina is part of the whole until she realizes what's really going on, and then it's almost too late.

Con:  I really hate Devi.  I know I'm not supposed to like her at this point, but I really hate her which makes me not want to read further. In fact, I'm not a big fan of any of the gang with which Nina aligns.

Pro:  I like the Finn twist. Unique and unexpected. I'd like to see how this ends up.

Con:  The whole exorcist thing.  Where does it come from? Without being too spoiler-y, I will say that I understand that it's the focal point of Nina's story, but I don't get where it came from (though I suppose I'll learn this later on).  I just felt like some parts of it were way too conveniently accepted by Nina, a girl who normally rejects everything.

Pro:  It's a great premise and may yet be really interesting.

Con:  Too many people I just do not care about. I doubt I'll read the next one, which is a shame, as I normally love Rachel Vincent. the math.  I'm giving 3 solid stars for good idea but a sort of messy climax with people I didn't care for. You may come away with more excitement than I did, but I'm just not that enthusiastic.


Saturday, August 01, 2015

Fly Me to the Morgue

Love this series and love Eddie G.! In book 6 of the Rat Pack Mysteries, Fly Me to the Morgue, Eddie's newest life-threatening problem comes when he accompanies Bing Crosby to look at a possible race horse the celeb may want to buy. Having impressed Bing with his horse knowledge a year earlier, Big Jerry is asked along for the ride, but naturally it's far from a regular visit to look at a horse. Instead, the trio meet with the body of the guy selling the horse, and while that's not their fault, one thing leads to another. Once again, members of the Rat Pack and their friends become involved, along with the Mob and other unsavory characters.

This mystery, like the others, isn't particularly deep but it is so engaging, and so page-turning, that I thoroughly enjoyed myself and raced right through it. All our favorites are back, including Eddie, Jerry, Danny, as well as Frank, Dino, and various other celebrities. Randisi continues to weave Eddie seamlessly into the Vegas of the 60s, and I continue to love these books. This one is just as good as the others, and the addition of Bing to the storyline is just icing on the cake. Why aren't you reading these books? They're too much fun!


Friday, July 31, 2015

The Boy on the Wooden Box

Wow.  Just wow. This is the true story of Leon Leyson, a young man whose family lost almost everything in Poland during the Holocaust, yet made it through alive thanks to Oskar Schindler and his famous list. This is a story of the survival of humans through the generosity of those who seem least likely to offer it, and it is a story of bold chances taken and grateful, hopeful people. 

From the first words, Leon draws us into his story of life as a young boy in Krakow, and how that life changed as the Nazis invaded; how his family managed to stay together (mostly) for the duration of the war, and how he was reduced to digging through garbage for food and lying to soldiers to stay alive. But it is a fortuitous meeting of Leon's father with Schindler that ultimately keeps Leon's family alive; one by one they are taken from their camp and brought to work in Schindler's factory. The fact that young Leon, small in body from his years of starvation, was taken into Schindler's group attests to the good this one man was able to do right under the noses of the Nazis hungering for death for all Jews. Leon is mindful of his good fortune but doesn't shy away from the hard, brutal details of life in the Krakow ghetto and the internment camp. The fact that many times it all might have gone even more horribly wrong than it already had is proof of the triumph of spirit, and it is beautiful.

Leon Leyson was a gifted storyteller, and his story is one that will capture you, enlighten you, and uplift you. This is a look at Schindler's List from one of the workers who was saved, and it's a story that we need to know.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Sad Tale of Typhoid Mary

We've probably all heard someone use the term "Typhoid Mary", but many of us likely don't know the truth behind the words. Typhoid Mary was a real person, a cook in the early 1900s, who was accused of spreading typhoid to many through her skills as a cook; she was tracked down, harassed, and imprisoned until the end of her life, though others with similar issues were allowed to remain free. Susan Campbell Bartoletti brings the story of Mary Mallon to life in her children's book on the subject.

I've read a bit about Mary Mallon in the past, and I have to say that Bartoletti's story is well researched and well written; the author doesn't shy away from the more upsetting facts (Mary was demanded to give all sorts of bodily samples, even being locked away in a room until she could no longer wait) and she gives us as much background on the situation as is known. It's very clear that Mary was oppressed by those who should have been in the business of helping her, including the New York Department of Health, and it's also clear that Mary wasn't going down without a fight. Bartoletti provides a balanced view of a horrible situation, with an objective hindsight that gives the reader a sense of the times and a feeling for Mary's personality and circumstances. Well done.


Monday, July 13, 2015

Rat Pack Mystery...Again!

Before I go any further, I have to admit that I absolutely adore the Rat Pack Mysteries: They sweep me away into the Vegas era of the 1960s, with the Rat Pack and various mobsters front and center.  And Eddie G.! What a guy. Okay, I'm done now.

This installment features Ava Gardner, Frank Sinatra's ex-wife. Somehow, Ava turns up after a 40 hour drunken binge, covered in blood with somebody dead. She goes to Frank, but since he's with his children, she tries to quietly slip out of town, but since she's Ava Gardner, that doesn't go quite as planned. Of course our Eddie G is called in to find out what's going on, so he tracks her down in LA, only to find himself in danger now as well. Enter our friend Jerry Epstein, always ready to protect and eat, and soon the trio is traveling around looking for places to hide Ava from whomever is following her while Eddie tries to find out what took place in those missing hours.

This is standard fare for our hero, Eddie, and his pals, and throw in appearances from Frank, Dino, and Sammy, and you've got the perfect mix for a mystery. Randisi name-drops with the best of them, and it's easy to envision strolling through a Beverly Hills Hotel and encountering all the performers of the 60s. The mystery itself develops nicely and involves all our favorites with a couple of interesting surprises thrown in. Definitely another winning entry in this series that has me fully engaged.


A Little Bit of Nightfall

Fourteen years of Day, followed by fourteen years of Night...that's how the inhabitants of Martin's Island have lived for ages. They stay on the island in homes built by someone else, for fourteen years of Day, but as twilight falls, they prepare to leave to travel to the Desert Lands to live. Before they leave, however, they must go through some rather odd preparations, including "leaving the houses without stain." No one questions it; it's just what they do.

Marin and her twin Kana have lived their entire lives on Martin's Island, knowing they would leave at the next Nightfall. Kana's always been slight and blind, but with the oncoming Night, his vision begins to clear and he can feel himself  growing stronger. As they prepare to leave on the few boats coming to take them away, their friend Line disappears, in danger of being left behind. The twins set out on a search and rescue that ultimately leads to all three missing the boats...and being left alone. It doesn't take long for them to realize that something is out there, and something does not want them on their island.

This book has a great premise, and at times is very creepy indeed, especially when the teens are left behind and it becomes increasingly obvious that something is stalking them--and there's no waiting for daylight for things to get better. While I enjoyed it overall, I was left with some big questions, including....spoilers've been warned....what precisely the things are, where they came from, and why anyone would want to live on an island for fourteen years, just to move back and forth as the world changes. I didn't like what was going on with Kana, and found that no matter what, he was the least likable of the three. In fact, none of the teens were particularly engaging. I also felt there were too many coincidences that made things right; these youngsters were remarkably lucky throughout, even though they'd somehow managed to get themselves left behind. Mostly however, my biggest issue is the rather simplistic writing style. This is not a book older teens will get lost inside; sentences like "Line was very sick" seemed out of place and juvenile.

If there is a sequel to this book--and the jury is still out, based on the ending--I'm not positive I'd read it. Though I liked the general plot and the premise, there was just something vital missing in the execution and style of writing that kept me from feeling fully engaged. It's not a bad book, but it's not one I'd feel comfortable recommending to anyone over age fourteen or so. I really wish I'd like the main characters more, but it is what it is.


Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Fairest (The Lunar Chronicles)

Having finished Fairest, a novella of the Lunar Chronicles, I do feel as though I have more insight into Lunar Queen Levana's behavior as we see it in the other books. Fairest follows her from the time she's sixteen and has just lost her parents to assassins; her sister Channary has been named queen. That's less problematic to Levana than the fact that her crush, palace guard Evret Hayle, is married and unavailable. When his wife dies, Levana uses her gifts to ensnare him, but obviously that's not the way to make a happy relationship. The relationship between the two is the main focus of Fairest; the way Levana chooses to ensure that she becomes queen and remains that way is the second, lesser sub-plot. In a short novel, it's easy to see where the plot is going but it's the insight into Levana's thoughts that make this more than just a throwaway story.

All that said, I really wasn't all that thrilled with Fairest. Levana is, of course, the villain in the Lunar Chronicles, but her own self-delusion is really pitiful and her mistreatment of others places her on the same level as the sister she dislikes. I'm aware that I'm not supposed to like her (and I don't) but there was almost a time when I felt sorry for her. It seems whatever she wants, she cannot have, and she takes all this out on the situations and people around her. By the time I was done with the book, I definitely wanted to see her destroyed, not just redeemed (not that I think that's possible). This is a fast read, but not really one that made me think, "Wow, so there's a whole, well-rounded backstory to Levana." I wish it had given me a more multi-dimensional feeling for Levana, because that would certainly have made for a conflicted, exciting next installment.  Instead, it simply reinforces my low opinion and makes me ready to get to Winter...which, I suppose, was the author's intent all along.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Anya's Ghost--A Graphic Novel Adventure

Anya's Ghost is a good graphic novel that pulls the reader into the story quickly, and keeps you turning the pages to find out just what is up with this ghost...Is she really just a friendly ghost who wants out of the well where she's been stuck for nearly a hundred years? Or is there something slightly more sinister going on? 

Built around Anya, a teenager whose mother emigrated from Russia to America when Anya was a child, we follow her through a normal, teen-angsty type day, wherein the boy she likes has no clue she's alive and school is such a bore. Then she trips and falls into an old well, and unable to make herself heard, she realizes she's not alone--there's a skeleton in there, with its ghost still attached. Turns out the ghost belongs to Emily, who died nearly a century ago, and now wants to experience more than her hole in the ground. When Anya is rescued, she finds that somehow she's brought Emily's finger bone home with her, thus enabling Emily to leave the well. The thing is, Emily is pretty handy, helping out in school and giving advice on how to make Sean take notice. But Anya wants to help solve the mystery of Emily's murder, and it's this fact that changes everything.

The story itself is good, and the characterizations are spot on. I really enjoyed the artwork; Emily's pupil-less eyes give a definite creepiness to her appearance, and the black and white theme adds to the ambiance. This graphic novel would most definitely appeal to teens who feel isolated in social situations, and it's got enough depth to the story to make even a reluctant reader want to keep going. I wasn't such a fan of Anya's friend Siobahn (still not really sure what her purpose was, to be truthful), but I loved the way Anya's confidence grew over the course of the story, and I liked the idea that she had difficulty fitting in because she came from another country.  This is one graphic novel with a good story that can easily be recommended to anyone who wants to escape for a bit.


Monday, June 29, 2015

The 19th Wife

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff is really two stories, something I didn't realize when I initially began reading. Not that that turned out to be a bad thing, but going in I thought I was just getting the story of Ann Eliza Young and I ended up with that and more. I'm still not sure the present-day story was needed, or even all that good, really. But interesting? Yes, indeed.

So...This is the story of Ann Eliza, who became the nineteenth wife of LDS leader Brigham Young and later divorced him amid much public turmoil and sensation in the 1870s. We follow the story of her mother, Elizabeth Webb, who was the first wife of Chauncey Webb, and whose faith is strongly shown in her life and the way she raised her children. Ann Eliza is very headstrong, however, and quickly marries James Dee once she's an adult; that marriage, though disastrous and ending in divorce, produces Ann Eliza's two sons. Interwoven with Ann Eliza's problems are those of her brother, Gideon, who ends up at the mercy of Brigham and convinces his sister to marry the leader, even when she does not want to. All of these stories are told from differing points of view, some in several chapters and some in only one, and we even have Brigham's voice telling us his doubts and desires. It's obvious Ebershoff did his research thoroughly and well in the way he illuminates the tenets of the LDS Church and the problems and interests of polygamy.

Bouncing in and out of this story is the present-day mystery of Jordan Scott, whose mother (Number Nineteen in her own marriage) is accused of the murder of her polygamous husband. Jordan doesn't buy this story because he knows his mom; she's not unhappy with her conservative, fundamentalist lot and there are other wives/people with more motive than she has. Jordan, traveling with his dog, Elektra, goes to the town of Mesaville to see what he can discover and finds out that not only is he unwelcome, he's not wrong, either. While he investigates, he also becomes involved with a new boyfriend, Tom, and a fellow runaway/former "First" child, Johnny.

The story of Ann Eliza is well done, and the focal point for most of the book. I loved how we moved among the important people in these events. Ebershoff uses a variety of methods, including newspaper clippings, narratives, and even a wikipedia entry to get his points across, all to good effect. He's brought Ann Eliza to life and given us a fairly accurate (or as accurate as can be) portrait of a woman who had finally had enough and wished to be more than just a number in her husband's harem. She wasn't always likable, and she had her own issues, to be sure, but without her interference, polygamy might have taken much longer to not be recognized in the LDS. 

The modern day story is good, in that it points out that there are still sects that practice polygamy and the subjugation of women, and the children of those unions often turn out disenfranchised and forsaken. I just never really liked Jordan all that much, and didn't get very involved in the overall story. There were too many characters I didn't really care about, and maybe the intention of alerting the  reader to the continuing problem should have been the focus rather than a murder story. It's not bad, and I did find myself trying to figure out what happened. I just don't think it was a necessary component to the overall success of the novel.

If you don't know much about the history of polygamy in the United States, this book will do a pretty fair turn at informing you in such a way as to give several sides to the story and making you think about how/why it happened. It's well written and engaging, and will probably have you looking up more information once you close the last page. I'll be thinking about this one for a while.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Another Day

I admit that I read and loved Every Day by David Levithan a couple of years ago, so when I learned there would be a companion book, I went on NetGalley and requested it. I was so excited when I was able to download it, but also a little know how it is when a book gets inside you and you're afraid the sequel won't live up to your expectations? Yep, I know you do. So let me set your fears at rest right now...Another Day is every bit as good as Every Day, and possibly even a bit better. Booyah!

I say sequel, but actually, Another Day is the same story as Every Day, except this time the story is not told from A's point of view, but instead from Rhiannon's. If you've read Every Day, you know the basics, and nothing is changed in this one; Rhiannon is still dating Justin, still blaming herself for every little problem, still looking for herself by trying to be everything to everyone. It's really illuminating being inside her thoughts as she tries to hang onto her relationship while realizing that perhaps A is really what he says he is. I absolutely loved how her character developed throughout the course of this book; she goes through so many stages of growth and it all feels realistic and complex. I don't think it's a spoiler to say that Rhiannon's  transformation is both stunning and emotional, and having her as the main character sheds so much light on the whole experience. If it's possible, I liked this companion book even more than the original, and I'm excited to see where this story goes.


The Rat Pack Mystery That Features Marilyn

Okay, yes, I admit it:  I am addicted to these fun novels about the Rat Pack! This time, our Eddie G. is asked to help a friend of Dean' Marilyn Monroe. What red-blooded male of the early 60s would turn down such a gig? Not our favorite pit boss. Marilyn feels someone has been following her, so Eddie agrees to look into it. Unfortunately, he receives word of the passing of his mother back in New Jersey, so Eddie turns the job over temporarily to detective buddy, Danny Bardini. Things take a turn for the worse when the funeral doesn't go well and Danny disappears. Along with sidekick Jerry, Eddie becomes determined to discover what happened to his friend and also to keep Marilyn safe. Suffice it say, nothing goes as planned and someone ends up injured and someone ends up...dead.

The portrayal of Marilyn in this mystery is handled sensitively yet realistically; it's great to see Eddie react with care and concern for Marilyn's worries, and to see her portrayed as sexy yet vulnerable. Along with Marilyn, Frank comes off particularly well in this installment, agreeing to help Eddie G out more than once. I can feel the relationships developing here, deepening into true friendship. Jerry is a delight as usual, and it's great to see Eddie relying more on his friend, and realizing just how important Jerry is to him. The story does go off in an unexpected way, but more icons of the 60s are involved and it's easy to see how seamlessly Randisi weaves personalities into his story. Particularly poignant is the ending; you'll start to believe it all truly happened this way. And that is the true beauty and fun of this novel. So much fun!


Back With Mia

I love Princess Mia, and I've loved all the Princess Diaries books. Yes, I even love the movies though the changes didn't make me very happy. So, after years of having read all about Mia's insecurities and foibles, I was a little apprehensive to dive into this one. Was the magic still there? Could she possibly come across well as an adult? I'm very relieved to say YES, this is just as much fun as the other titles, and I'm just as happy with the story.

It's been five years since Mia last wrote, and in that time she's graduated college and moved into an apartment in the Genovian Consulate. She's still with Michael and still balancing her princess duties with her real life; she's involved in causes she's always espoused but is also waiting for Michael to pop the question (even though they'd agreed they'd wait until life calmed down for both). Mia has a stalker so it's even more important that she watches where she goes, and her grandmother is as obnoxious as ever. She keeps an eye on her Rate the Royals rating and the stress of her father running for office in Genovia has caused her eye to twitch. Just when she thinks she's going to lose it, Michael whisks her off to a private island and...well, you can guess the rest. Enter Grandmeré, who wants to take everything over, but also has a major announcement about Mia's father that will impact all their lives.

There's so much more--there always is with Mia--but it's so much fun to visit with her and hear her thoughts as her world goes haywire. I liked that while it's still basically the same Mia, there's a more adult edge to the story, in both situations and language. If there's some parts that work out a little too conveniently, that's all right because hey, it's Mia, and it's a fantasy. I love how it worked out and I'm hopeful we haven't seen or heard the last of the POG.  


A Little Outlander To Tide You Over

I'm a Lord John fan. I admit it and embrace it. So I was thrilled to find this novella about his adventures into the Canadian wilderness to stand up for his friend (but also to get out of England for a bit following a duel that went awry). It was nearly the perfect length for a recent flight, and took me right into the Outlander universe as well.

I won't waste time recounting the entire plot, other than to say Lord John finds it expedient to get out of town and when he's asked to stand up for his friend, he takes it. Once he's made it to Canada, however, he finds his cousin's husband has disappeared...after creating his own second family with a Native American woman. Lord John is nothing if not a beacon of integrity, and he does his best to set things right in this regard, and ends up taking part in a British raid on a French fort (which also involves Simon Fraser). If you are looking for a happy, upbeat slice of Lord John's life, this isn't it, but it is gritty and real.

There's a lot packed into the novella, and while it doesn't really illuminate more of the overall story, it's an excellent glimpse into what Lord John stands for and it strengthens the backstory of his life in general. I love how Gabaldon has given us a hero, although one with many secrets, who stays true to himself as best he can in any circumstance in which he finds himself. This novella will keep you engrossed with its wry humor and believable twists. Recommended.


Friday, June 19, 2015

Hey There! (A Rat Pack Mystery)

By the time you get to the third book in the Rat Pack Mysteries, you pretty much know what you're going to get: a Rat Pack member (or two) with an issue that our hero, Eddie G., can help discreetly, but things go awry and bullets fly. This time it's Sammy Davis Jr., who has the problem: a roll of film has disappeared from Sammy's home and it contains some photos Sammy would prefer not be made public. Of course the situation calls for the utmost care and discretion, and Eddie G., pit boss at the Sands in the 1960s, is called upon to act as a go-between for Sammy and the blackmailers holding the photo. It doesn't take long for the incident to take a deadly turn and soon Eddie finds himself, along with his buddy Jerry Epstein, into things much, much deeper than an embarrassing photo for Sammy. Indeed, it becomes clear that there is something else on that roll of film that people in very high places need to make sure does not get out. But can Eddie maneuver his way through the obstacles and stay alive?
It's no secret that I love these books, and this one is no exception. When I think I have things figured out (and I did feel pretty smug about this one), I find out that I'm not as smart as I thought I was. Randisi does an admirable job of weaving people and events of the times throughout his novels, and  he evokes the era clearly in his descriptions. I'm totally hooked on this series and highly recommend it to anyone, but especially those with an interest in the heyday of Frank, Deano, Sammy, and the gang.


Monday, June 08, 2015

Luck Be a Lady, Don't Die

About six months have passed since the last escapade Eddie Gianelli found himself involved in, and he's finally gotten over almost being killed while helping out Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra in Las Vegas of 1960. Still, life's been a bit dull as a pit boss at the Sands hotel, until the Rat Pack arrives back in town for the premiere of Ocean's 11. Then a girl friend of Frank's disappears from her hotel and he wants Eddie to discreetly look into the circumstances. Eager to help and a bit flattered by the attention, Eddie calls Jerry from New Jersey  to help him find out where the girl has gone. It's about that time that bodies begin turning up and it becomes very clear that Eddie is not the only one looking for Frank's girl.

Just as in the first Rat Pack mystery, the action is fast and the settings are perfect. I was easily swept back into Las Vegas of the 60s with the slang, descriptions, and actions of all the characters; Randisi's writing style is engaging and true to the era. It's fun to read a mystery that doesn't rely on today's technology to solve every detail, and adding in celebrities we think we know is just an added bonus. Eddie G admits he's not a detective, but the regular cast of characters who surround him help this man about town solve everything just in the nick of time. Just enough humor and excitement in the short chapters to keep me thoroughly entertained.


Friday, June 05, 2015

So Ruta Sepetys Is The Bomb

Confession Number 513: I was absolutely certain I would not like Out of the Easy as much as Between Shades of Gray. I read Between... a few months ago and loved it, with its gorgeous writing and important message presented so artfully through Ruta Sepetys's imagination. Even though a couple of friends assured me that they loved this one even more, I just doubted it would turn out that way for me.

So...I love Out of the Easy even more than Between Shades of Gray. Which is not to take anything away from Between..., but Out of the Easy wormed its way into my consciousness and soul and I know I will never let go of these characters.

With that confession, I'll tell you what makes this book so outstanding. First and foremost is the main character, Josie Mortain, living in New Orleans in 1950. Josie's mother is a prostitute in a local brothel, and it's very obvious that 1) this woman should never have had a child, and 2) Josie has had an unusual upbringing. While Josie's mother is after anyone who will show affection or money, Josie cleans for the brothel's madam, Willie, who obviously cares for Josie in her own, gruff way. Hiding out in a local bookstore as a child, she eventually is given a room there by Charlie, the bookstore owner, and she begins to work for him as the years progress. The story picks up with Josie being eighteen, unsure of her feelings for the bookstore owner's son, Patrick, and longing for any sort of indication that she is meant for anything more than what her life now offers. When she meets a young woman who attends Smith College, Josie allows that to become her dream, but there's also a murder in town that somehow weaves itself around her life.

There's so much more to this story and I want to touch on it all, but it's just not possible. Josie's story is touching and real, hopeful and devastating, menial and ethereal, all at the same time. But it's not just Josie, it's her "family": it's Charlie, Patrick, Willie, Cokie, and the girls who work for Willie, all of whom have strong voices and personalities that shape Josie's world. The murder mystery opens up so much of Josie's personal hopes and dreams, but it also obviously is worrisome with its insinuations and unsavory characters. I so wanted Josie to succeed; I so wanted her life, and the lives of those close to her, to become more. I found myself unable to go to sleep last night as I lay awake wondering how Josie's story could resolve itself without her getting hurt. She's gotten attached to my soul, darn it.

Sepetys has a gift for drawing the reader in and revealing bits of the story in such a tantalizing way that, as a reader, you keep thinking, "Okay, just one more chapter" until you realize it's an hour past your bedtime and you still aren't ready to let go. The beauty of this novel (and it is beautiful, even with a brothel and a murder), is that the people are real and alive and tangible. Even the ones you hate are so well-developed that you can picture them intimately as they move through the story; heck, even the city thrives as a character contributing to Josie's shattered dreams and hopeful aspirations. It's not an easy story to read, and it sure won't be an easy one to let go.


Wednesday, June 03, 2015

The Space Between

I'm still not precisely sure what to think of The Space Between, having just finished it last night. Definitely raises a lot of questions, and gives us glimpses into some side characters of the Outlander Universe; a page turner in some ways and a bit of a slow burn in others. We're quickly introduced to recent widower Michael Murray, son of Jenny and Ian Murray, who is accompanying Joan McKimmie, daughter of Laoghaire and step-daughter of Jamie, to Paris in order to become a nun. Joan is a sweet girl with a big secret:  spoiler ahead..........she hears voices that compel her to do things, and she sees a sort of mist around those who are fated to die soon. She's hopeful that becoming a nun will help her find peace with her "gifts", while Michael is just hoping to survive without his wife.

There's so much more going on, and much of it involves the Comte de St. Germain and Master Raymond, characters we first met in Dragonfly in Amber. There's also some mistaken identity problems, some mystical stuff, and references to La Dame Blanche (Claire).All of this aligns into an interesting story, but if you are looking for great answers about anyone, you are going to be disappointed. Instead, you are going to get engaging characters with Outlander ties and a story that will leave you unsettled (in a good way).  Michael is thoroughly lovely, with his determination to do the right thing and his heartbreak over the wife he lost; Joan is sweet but unsure of herself. Of course it's wonderful to see the Comte and Master Raymond but there are no big clues here, just confirmation of what we've suspected that neither redeems nor demeans either. Mostly my appetite is whetted for more stories and more information. Gabaldon never disappoints in her writing, and this novella is a good way to tide you over the spaces between full novels.


Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Rat Pack Lives

If you're looking for a light but engaging mystery that is gonna take you to a time of crooners, mob ties, and glamor,, then look no further. The Rat Pack Mysteries fit the bill perfectly, and this first one sets the stage for all that is to come.

In Everybody Kills Somebody Sometime, we meet Eddie Gianelli, pit boss and friend to many of the Names of Vegas of the 60s. Eddie gets asked by his boss, Jack Entratter, to solve a private matter involving Dean Martin: Dino's getting death threats. Eddie's not an investigator; he's just a former New Yorker who has found his calling at the famous Sands Hotel and Casino. Still, he reluctantly takes on the case, enlisting his PI friend Danny to help him figure out what's going on. Along the way, he becomes friends with the other Rat Packers, and finds at least three not what he'd signed up for. By then, he's in too deep and needs to see the whole thing to its conclusion, if he can stay alive long enough to do so.

Confession time:  I read these last three books of the series before reading this one, so I'm aware of what's ahead for Eddie G. Still, there was major delight for me in being introduced to Jack, Danny, Jerry, and the Rat Pack, and seeing them in their early days, and I found that I loved them just as much. The mystery is pretty light, though it doesn't become clear until late in the book who the culprit(s) is/are.  As usual, I was turning the pages, enjoying the atmosphere evoked and imagining myself sitting in the Copa Room as the Rat Pack played for a packed house.

I don't know, however, if it was because this was the first book in the series or what, but the story is littered with errors:  There are punctuation, spelling, and syntax errors that pulled me out every time I came across one. I still loved the story and am happy to report that these lessen as the series goes on.

I also admit that I spent time looking up some of the characters and events mentioned, and they are all right on the money for accuracy. Rindisi has done his research and it shows. He weaves Eddie G and friends seamlessly into the backdrop of the Sands, giving us a taste of the powerful behind the scenes. If you haven't tried any of these excellent, fun mysteries, do yourself a favor and make them a part of your summer reading plans.


Sunday, May 24, 2015

Well, That Wasn't What I'd Hoped

I had high hopes for The Heir because I read and loved all the books in The Selection series. How could I not love the continuing story of America and Maxon and their kids? Turns's possible not to. Unfortunately.

I didn't hate this book. It's a fast, easy read, and yes, we still get interactions with those we've grown to know and love. The problems lay mostly in Eadlyn, the main character. She never loses a chance to whine or complain. Born first so she gets the crown? Complain. So much work to do? Complain. Have to have a Selection to appease the population? Complain. Complain, complain, complain. She's obviously immature and someone who should not be contemplating marriage in any shape, form, or fashion (not that she wants to). Eadlyn keeps thinking she has figured out ways to go through with the Selection without actually committing herself to anything, but every time she does, a disaster (usually of her own making) happens. Which honestly serves her right in most ways, but doesn't make her endearing on any level.

I just have so many questions...Why, with two parents who were so likable and committed, does Eadlyn not get that her actions have consequences? Why are her parents not the fiery couple we'd seen spar so often in the previous books? Why is Eadlyn left to devise her own solutions at such a young age? How is that the Selected young men weren't vetted thoroughly? Why is Marlee and her family living in the palace? (Sure they would have wanted a place to call their own!).

Some of the young men involved in the Selection are charming, but many seem either manipulative or just plain boring. I get it; Eadlyn didn't want to do this, so she didn't take much time to get to know any of them. The first elimination is a disaster and a huge opportunity was missed when her parents actually let her get away with her shenanigans. I kept wanting to like her, wanting to cheer for her...she's America's daughter! She should be behaving better. What's with all the walls she's built around herself? Surely being a part of such a loving family would have allowed her to be less reserved.

Still, there's fun and some growth, even if it's minimal. Eadlyn is best when she's not trying so hard. I'm just not sure why, twenty years on, we have a nation that is still fighting itself and a young girl who is expected to deflect major problems by dating. This book is missing a light, fun core that was so evident in the earlier books. I am hopeful that Eadlyn will find herself behaving better after the cliffhanger ending, and this second part to the series will eventually make me feel both sympathy and hope for her. I'm hopeful this book was just laying groundwork for major changes ahead. Otherwise there won't be much point in cheering for a very cheerless princess.


Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Replaced

The Replaced picks up with Kyra wondering what's happened to Tyler after leaving him for the aliens to take and, hopefully, cure. She's back at the camp with Simon and the others when word comes in that a young man has been taken to the Daylighters' headquarters, and Kyra's convinced it must be Tyler. A major rescue mission is launched and Kyra discovers even more frightening facts about herself and her abilities, all while looking for Tyler's Return.

There's more, of course, but unwilling to do spoilers, I'll be careful with any more information. Kyra's desperation to find Tyler fuels most of the book, and there's another side to the story when they end up at a camp where Thom and Simon used to live and work. Run by Griffin, Kyra's instantly skeptical and oppositional in her new home, but she's in for bigger surprises when it becomes apparent that Kyra's not just Returned, she's Replaced. And that has even more dangerous connotations for the group.

What I liked: I love Kyra, and I love her feelings for Tyler. I love that she recognizes her shortcomings but still goes ahead anyway. I loved the whole rescue attempt and the ending especially. The twist of having a spy is good and sets us up for the final book. I'm eager to see what's going to happen next and if Kyra can regain everything she's lost since she came back. She's got some hard truths ahead of her and I can only hope we get the happy ever after ending we want.

What I didn't like: I don't like love triangles, and possible love quadrangles. I don't like being set up for one relationship and then having another maybe, possibly, mean something. Not be spoilery, but Simon bugged the snot out of me the whole time I was reading. Give it a rest already! I also felt like the book dragged at times and maybe it was supposed to since Kyra does spend a good deal of time waiting. I also disliked the whole Griffin scenario; I felt like I was getting a Walking Dead vibe of total power and it just didn't work.

But, yeah, this is a good sequel, and I enjoyed it. The writing is good, and Kyra's voice is strong. I like how some historical events seem to be woven throughout, and I'm eager to see what happens with all of the characters. While it may not have been quite the page turner the first book was, it's still a decent sequel and one that moved the stories along purposefully and creatively.


Avoid This One

I really wanted to love The Rules because the premise is awesome: Popular, privileged kids go on a scavenger hunt where it turns out there's more on the line than just winning a fabulous prize. The main character, Robin, is not a member of the clique, so obviously she's the one you want to root for. But then people start turning up dead or injured, and it becomes very apparent that someone has much bigger issues to resolve...and those include death and pain. Pretty good set up, right?

Honesty compels me to say that this book is so poorly executed that I wanted to give up almost immediately. But having stuck with books I disliked initially in the past, I felt honor-bound to continue. Unfortunately, it never got better, and what should have worked to be scary and fiendish turned out to be just a bunch of too stupid to live moments. People who obviously have no clue (pun not intended) do ridiculous things like splitting up and making out rather than worry that their very lives are at stake. There's no one to feel any sympathy for, and many I just wanted to go ahead and die already because they were just so unappealing. Even Robin, our heroine, falls far short of using her brains. I truly didn't care if she lived or died.

A huge turn off for me in the beginning was the jumping into points of view of random characters; it would have worked far better if there had been a core group whose heads we could get inside, rather than glimpses of the phobias and manias most of the characters seemed to have. I was also less than impressed with the style of writing itself; the phrases and the wording reeked of amateurism when it should set us up for the drama to follow. Do I really need to be told that Jinny is Robin's mom as the woman walks into the room? Nope.

Still, there were a couple of moments that keeps this one from getting the dreaded one star, including the groundwork of August's sister's death and the atmosphere of horror that sort of permeates the plot. However, I hate to be harsh, but this is one book I say you can avoid and not feel badly about skipping.


Saturday, April 25, 2015

LOVED This Book!

Identical twins Ella and Maddy are involved in a horrible wreck, and when Ella comes to, she cannot remember who she is until her sister's boyfriend Alex calls her Maddy. Confused and upset, Ella is sure she is the social butterfly her sister was instead of the bookish artist she is in reality. Even after the awful truth is forced upon her--she's Ella, not Maddy--Ella cannot imagine breaking everyone's heart by taking Maddy away from them. In an instant, she decides she must *be* Maddy, to give her dead sister the life she would never have, to give her parents the twin she is sure they would have preferred to live. She will put aside her intellect, her artistic ability, herself, forever, because she cannot overcome her guilt. It doesn't take long for her to realize, however, that being an identical twin might mean that no one can physically see the differences in the sisters, but that doesn't mean their lives were anywhere near similar, and Maddy had secrets all her own.

When you first think of this premise, it seems a bit far-fetched. How could parents not know their own daughter? But a couple of things made me realize it could actually happen. Anyone who knows identical twins--truly identical twins--knows there are moments you have to stop and think...Which one is this? Especially in moments of high stress, it's plausible. The second reason I could believe this was the case a few years ago when unrelated girls were in a van wreck and two entire families did not realize they were wrong about who had survived. So, with a family that is just happy to have one daughter alive, it might be easy to overlook changes in behavior and confusion in actions. Going with this idea, I fell for this story hook, line, and sinker.

There is something about Ella's voice, her struggles and her conscience, that pulled me in from the start. My heart was literally broken for her, especially for thinking her parents would have preferred Maddy to live. In such a traumatic event, Ella only wants to fix what she thinks she can. Of course, her choice leaves her best friend, Josh, utterly devastated, and her torment just increases when she begins to realize that Maddy wasn't who she thought she was in lots of ways. Is it too late to fix things? How can she go on?

I was emotionally wrapped up in this story from the first pages, and the author does such a good job of showing the complex relationship between twins who seem to be polar opposites in everything except looks. I was impressed in how she covered the bases so that it was easy for the paramedics, the medical staff, and the friends and family could believe it was Maddy who survived. Ella is a heartbreaking character; she's a good person who is nearly crippled by guilt and her own expectations. I loved how she came to realize that things might not be what she'd assumed, and that there were layers to her sister she'd never considered. I rarely feel so strongly about a book, but this one just grabbed me with its unusual premise and its heartfelt story. I totally loved it and can highly recommend it.


Yeah, Yeah, Yeah

This picture book on The Beatles is definitely written for kids, and that's not a bad thing at all. It hits all the high points, following the Fab Four individually (but superficially) from just before they meet and form the World's Greatest Band until the break up. There are no big revelations that most adults wouldn't already know, and no references to drug antics or general nastiness. While the drawings are more on the cartoonish side, I could actually see some influence of Lennon's art work in them, and felt they did a good job illustrating the action. It's all very clean and general, and a good guide for anyone wanting to introduce the next generation to the Beatles.

Two things did jump out at me, however. One is the mention, in a small frame about Strawberry Fields Forever, of how Lennon "escaped" to a remembered happy place. But it's the addition of the information that modern therapy techniques urge us all to visit a safe place in our heads when are worrying about something that pulled me totally out of my enjoyment of the reading. It was unnecessary and not a good extension for the story. Secondly--and this is something at which I just have to smile--there is an explanation of what a "single", an LP, and an EP are, including descriptions of the A side and B side. I am officially old.

This is a good picture book that will gently give the outline of the rise of the Beatles, and most adults will enjoy it as much as any child.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Battle of the Bulge

Battle of the Bulge by Rick Atkinson is apparently an adaptation of an adult series, reworked for a much younger audience. I haven't read the adult books, so I have only my reading of this book for reference. I chose this book from Amazon Vine because I like learning about World War II and this is one episode I admit to knowing little about.

What I Learned: A lot. For someone who didn't know much, I now understand Hitler's reasonings for this offensive, and how the Allies reacted to it (sometimes valiantly, sometimes waiting too long). There were some wonderful quotes that put things in perspective, particularly from Eisenhower. There was a lot of detail to show how individual soldiers were lost and how some refused to go down without a fight. I definitely came away with a clearer understanding of the Battle of the Bulge and a deeper respect for those who thwarted Hitler's last major ground offensive.

What I Didn't Get: There is almost no way the average 8-12 year old would find this book interesting, though I know a few might. The details that an older person would love often weigh the narrative down, creating an atmosphere of just too much intricate information. The back and forth of the chapters from either the Allies' or Hitler's points of view is often jarring; maps scattered throughout might help, though I did appreciate the ones that were included. For this book to appeal to this age group, a smaller focus would definitely help keep the reader engaged. After a while, even this interested reader began to let all the names of people and places run together. If I was trying to engage a ten year old in all the wonder, madness, and tragedy of World War II, I don't think jumping from place to place and person to person would be the way.

There is a lot of useful information in this book, and the photos are especially captivating. While I personally liked it, I feel that the targeted audience would most likely find it dull and confusing. I would suggest perhaps a 13-14 year old target is more appropriate, and then mostly for research purposes.