Today's Grateful List/31 December 2015

  • Going to get answers no matter what

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.