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.