Friday, January 23, 2015

Becoming Lady Lockwood

Becoming Lady Lockwood
By Jennifer Moore
Covenant Communications, 2014. 199 pages. Romance.

Amelia Beckett is a widow before she even meets her husband. When her father sends word to her on her Jamaica estate to sign the marriage contracts, she finally agrees only to get a modicum of freedom from the strictures of society. But being a widow seems to be an even better life for her than an arranged marriage - until her new brother-in-law, Captain Sir William Drake, arrives in Jamaica full of accusations that she is trying to illegally take possession of her dead  husband's estate. Forced to sail with the captain to England to attend the legal proceedings, will Amelia find that her brother-in-law is more amiable than he first appears?

Okay, I will admit up front that most of the basic premises of this novel are patently improbable. Is it possible to be actually married to someone who lives on a different continent by signing a piece of paper and without any kind of legal ceremony? Would Regency laws really consider it illegal to marry your dead brother's wife because you were now brother and sister? Is it even possible to fit 6 bottles of rum and 2 pistols under anything less than a Civil War-era hoop skirt with any hope of going undetected?? And yet, in spite of the horribly irrational plot, I was completely entertained by this book. The characters were fun, there was some action to balance out the romance, and the pace moved quickly. This is a great book for a lazy afternoon read.

JH

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Rosie Effect

The Rosie Effect
By Graeme Simsion
Simon & Schuster, 2015. 344 pages. Fiction.

In the sequel to 2013's surprise hit The Rosie Project, geneticist Don Tillman and his new wife, Rosie, are living happily in New York City, with Rosie working on her Master's thesis at Columbia and Don teaching genetics and both of them moonlighting as cocktail-makers extraordinaire. Don applies his usual scientific method to saving his friend Dave's business, helping his neighbor George manage his industrial beer refrigeration unit and, the most important project of all, The Baby Project, which will help Rosie take perfect care of herself and her fetus in her unexpected (to Don) foray into motherhood. But will Don and Rosie's marriage be able to stand up to the problems facing them from all sides?

I really enjoyed Simsion's first book and was looking forward to his sequel until I happened upon a less-than-favorable review of it. So when I finally got it in my hands, I was a little apprehensive. But I found that it had a lot of the same qualities that I loved in the first book. Don's character is hilarious, even more so because he doesn't see why the way he reacts to things is so out of the ordinary or humor inducing. The author was able to remain true to the character he introduced at the beginning of the series while still reflecting the growth that Don was able to make, both in the first book and in the course of the second. My only quibbles with the book were that sometimes the conflict seemed a bit manufactured - if they had both sat down and actually talked for a minute they could have worked things out pretty quickly, I think - and the conclusion wound up pretty fast for the amount of time the conflict carried over. But, overall, I enjoyed every minute of this book.

JH

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin's Snuff Box to Citizens United

Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin's Snuff Box to Citizens United
by Zephyr Teachout
Harvard University Press, 2014. 376 pp. Non-fiction

Written as a response to recent Supreme Court decisions, the author describes and evaluates how leading political and legal figures have thought of and addressed the problem of corruption since the founding of the country. Those of us who follow current events might remember Zephyr Teachout (such an awesome name!) for her unsuccessful Democratic gubernatorial primary run in New York. In this fascinating book, she thoughtfully and concisely argues that corruption should be regarded as greater and more complex issue than the quid pro quo exchange of money for favorable political acts as recent judicial decision would narrowly define it. Rather, the author contends that gifts, donations or other remunerative exchanges should be closely scrutinized and regulated with a more realistic framework and understanding of how money can distort political decision making.

CHW

Friday, January 16, 2015

First Impressions

First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen
By Charlie Lovett
Viking, 2014. 308 pages. Fiction.

To say that Sophie Collingwood loves books would be an understatement. Books have been her life since her Uncle Bertram first introduced her to the mystery of them as a child. But in an instant, everything in her life falls apart. Her uncle is found dead at the bottom of a staircase, the victim of an unfortunate incident. All his books are sold without her permission. And two different men suddenly request a copy of a very rare book, one of them threatening her life if she can't come up with it. What had Uncle Bertram found in the family library? And how will it all relate to Jane Austen's most famous work, Pride & Prejudice?

Lovett has done an amazing job going between two time periods, alternating a fictional narrative from Jane Austen's life with the modern happenings with Sophie and her desperate attempt to find an almost unknown book that could change the course of Austen history. His historical fiction is so well blended with fact that is hard to tell where the fact leaves off and the fiction begins - always a sign of a well-written historical fiction novel. (I actually had to scour the author notes at the end to satisfy my curiosity.) And the pace is kept up throughout, leaving the reader just as confused as Sophie as the various unimportant trails of the story slowly weave together to bring about the conclusion. A fascinating piece of both historical and contemporary fiction.

JH

Breakfast Served Anytime

Breakfast Served Anytime
By Sarah Combs
Candlewick Press, 2014. 261 pages. Young adult fiction.

It's the summer before her senior year and Gloria is spending a month at a camp for gifted students - Geek Camp - taking a class called Secrets of the Written Word. Cut off from all electronic devices and social media. Gloria and the three other students who compose the class find themselves forming a special bond as the learn about each other and appreciate their talents and differences. And Gloria is finally able to come to terms with her own grief over the recent death of her grandmother and come to terms with her future.

This book was nothing that I was expecting. Young adult books tend to be very straightforward in plot and writing, but this was written with an almost stream of consciousness fluidity. The plot is really subservient to the poetical nature of the prose and Gloria's self-analyses and epiphanies. It is a book that is hard to describe, but beautiful to read. A fascinating debut.

It is, for the most part, a clean read, but does have some strong language.

JH

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Pride, Prejudice, and Cheese Grits

Pride, Prejudice, and Cheese Grits
By Mary Jane Hathaway
Howard Books, 2014. 314 pages. Fiction.

Shelby Roswell is a Civil War historian at  a small liberal art college, desperate to write an article that will ensure her tenure. Ransom Fielding is a famous historian, visiting faculty member...and the man who skewered Shelby's pride and joy in a national magazine. But as the two are thrown together in the small history department, will they learn to get along? This is a great modern retelling of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

I can sometimes be skeptical of modern retellings of classics - why read a poor variation of what has already been done amazingly well? But what I really liked about this book was that she was not slavishly attached to the original story. She took some basic story points - their mutual antipathy that grows into respect and even love after they get to know each other; a dramatic family situation that has Ransom coming to Shelby's rescue; a point when Shelby is sure that Ransom cannot love her after what has happened, etc. - and but definitively makes her own story around these basic ideas. I especially like that her characters are not even named Elizabeth and Darcy (or any variation of the names). What Hathaway has done is create an independent novel that is an homage to the Austen original but tells its own story.

JH

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

There Was and There Was Not

There Was and There Was Not
by Meline Toumani
Henry Holt and Company, 2014.  284 pgs. Nonfiction

Who remembers the Armenians? Hitler famously declared in the expectation that no one would care, by and by, for his extermination of the Jews since no one much noticed or cared what the Turks did to the Armenians in 1915.  Meline Toumani is an Armenian-American who grew up in New Jersey and though she grew up among a people obsessed with Turkey's being called to account on an international stage for the Armenian genocide and diaspora, she decides to find out for herself whether the Armenian refusal to let the past go is justified and necessary.  So she moves to the Heart of Darkness, Istanbul. What follows is a beautifully well-written, carefully nuanced consideration of right and wrong, good and evil, indifference and zeal, and the nature of making peace. At the heart of her narrative lies the story of Hrant Dink, an Armenian newspaper editor living in Turkey, who is assassinated because when he wrote that Armenian hatred of Turkey was a "poison in the blood of the Armenians," word got around that he had said Turks had poison blood. With a good man dead, everything in Toumani's investigations becomes more serious, fraught with an intensity that can no longer be cloaked with dispassion. Toumani is a fine, fine writer, clear-eyed about herself and others, and "There Was and There Was Not" was well-chosen as one of the New York Times' Best Books of 2014.

LW

Moriarty

Moriarty
by Anthony Horowitz
HarperCollins, 2014.  285 pgs.  Mystery

Second in a series of neo-Holmesian works approved and supported by the Conan Doyle estate, Moriarty tells a story that lies in between Holmes' supposed death at the Reichenbach Falls and his later reappearance. In this narrative, Frederick Chase, a Pinkerton agent, has arrived at the Falls in hopes of finding some clue to the whereabouts of Clarence Devereux, a criminal mastermind from the States who is thought to have been courting Professor Moriarty before his death to join forces in a terrible consortium of crime in England. A waterlogged cipher on Moriarty's body suggests such an alliance was in the offing and soon Chase and Scotland Yard Inspector Athelney Jones are on the hunt for Devereux and his brutal minions. Though Inspector Jones is a devotee of Sherlock Holmes and tries to use his methods, it is hard to be totally satisfied with a Holmesian story without Holmes or Watson in it.   Still, Horowitz spins a good yarn, and thought one suspects and unexpected ending, things may turn out even more differently that you might imagine.

LW

Rescue of the Bounty: Disaster and Survival in Superstorm Sandy

Rescue of the Bounty: Disaster and Survival in Superstorm Sandy
by Michael J. Tougias and Douglas A. Campbell
Scribner, 2014.  232 pgs. Nonfiction

When the skipper of the tall ship "Bounty" tried to skirt the edge of Hurricane Sandy in pursuit of safe haven in Florida, bad things happened. The bilge pumps, already working at half capacity, couldn't handle the enormous influx of sea water, the storm was ever so much larger than the captain and crew had anticipated, and everything everyone could do was not enough. This, coupled with a delay in ordering the abandonment of the ship left two people dead and the rest of the crew and their rescuers fighting towering seas and furious winds to reach safety. As is his tradition, Michael Tougias writes a fine sea story here, filled with both terror and courage, major mistakes and extraordinary skill. The narrative takes a good long while to get to the action, but when it arrives, hold your breath and hang on.

LW

What If?

What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions
By Randall Munroe
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. 303 pgs. Nonfiction

The creator of the popular website xkcd.com and former NASA roboticist Randall Munroe has compiled a book based on the "What If" section of his website.  Readers can ask absurd hypothetical questions (From what height would you need to drop a steak for it to be cooked when it hit the ground?), and Munroe will do his best to legitimately answer the question.  He will run computer simulations, solve equations, research scientific publications, and consult with experts in various fields. Not only does he answer the questions, but he delivers the information in the most interesting way possible, often pushing things to extremes in order to see what would happen if things got really crazy.

His explanations are also full of fascinating information:
"The ISS moves so quickly that if you fired a rifle bullet from one end of a football field, the International Space Station could cross the length of the field before the bullet traveled 10 yards.*"

And often he adds hilarious interjections or observations:
"*This type of play is legal in Australian rules football."

When contemplating reading this book, I wasn't sure I would enjoy it or be able to understand everything.  Instead I was surprised at how readable and entertaining it was.  Everything is explained in easy (and often hilarious) ways to understand, and in the process you can learn really interesting things about how the universe works.  I am now a committed reader of the "What If" section of xkcd.com and I can easily recommend this book to anyone looking for an interesting, fun read.

BHG

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Rose Garden

The Rose Garden
by Susanna Kearsley
Sourcebooks Landmark, 2011. 441 pages. Romance.

Eva Ward, mourning the loss of her sister, takes her ashes back to the estate on the coast of Cornwall where the two spent happy summers as children before their parents were killed in a tragic car accident. Now alone in the world, Eva decides to spend another summer enjoying the slower pace of Cornish life before deciding where to go next. But walking through the grounds of the estate, she suddenly finds herself transported to 1715 and into the life of intrepid smuggler Daniel Butler and his quest to oust the Hanoverian King George from the throne. As Eva becomes more and more caught up in her life in the past over her life in the present, will she decide that perhaps the past is where she is supposed to stay, after all?

I know what you're thinking: Is time travel realistic? Would anyone choose to live in 1715 over today? Isn't this just a novelistic version of the 1980 movie Somewhere In Time? And my only response is that you should still read this book because it was amazing.

Susanna Kearsley has an exceptional way of writing both contemporary and historical fiction and is able to blend the two together seamlessly. She specializes in the Jacobite rebellions of the early 1700s (many of her books feature this time period) and she puts a lot of detail into everything that is going on. In addition, her prose is exquisitely crafted and her characters are fascinating. Is a time travel plot realistic? No, but this one is definitely worth reading. There may have been some strong language used a time or two, but I'll be honest and say that I was so caught up in the plot, especially by the end, that I didn't even notice.

JH


Puppy Love

Puppy Love
by A. Destiny and Catherine Hapka
Simon Pulse, 2014. 217 pages. Young adult fiction.

Lauren has always wanted to have a dog and, when her dog-allergic sister moves away to college, she finally takes the dog by the leash and purchases a beautiful Sheltie puppy. But who knew that puppies were so much work? Lauren decides that she needs help and enrolls Muckle in a puppy kindergarten class. But is her crush on cute instructor Adam making it hard for her to teach her puppy some new manners? Or distracting her from noticing how much fellow student Lamar seems to like her?

While the approach to this book is formulaic, the writing is engaging and the characters are fun, especially for avid dog lovers. It also has a great theme, reminding teens (and adults, too) that personal connection is a lot more important in a relationship than appearance. Readers who are looking for a little more depth in the writing may be a little annoyed at the superficial treatment, but this is a great read for someone who is looking for a book that is just good, clean fun.

Be warned: some readers may have to try to tune out a young Donny Osmond singing "Puppy Love" in their heads while reading, as I did.

JH

Friday, January 2, 2015

A Man Called Ove

A Man Called Ove
By Fredrik Backman
Atria Books, 2014. 337 pages. Fiction.

Ove is a grumpy old man. That's really all that can be said about him. But as you see Ove's curmudgeonly interactions with his neighbors, you also learn his past and the things that have made him who he is.

I love Ove! The writing in this book is so real, so personal, that you will forget that Ove is a fictional character. I listened to the audiobook (downloadable on Overdrive) and was entranced the whole time. The reader is amazing and, combined with the wonderful writing, draw you completely into Ove's world. There isn't an exciting plot or lots of action, but people who are looking for great characterization will fall in love with the Ove and his neighbors just as much as I did. A simple book, but lovely, humorous, and deeply touching.

JH

The Lost Sisterhood

The Lost Sisterhood
By Anne Fortier
Ballantine Books, 2014. 608 pgs. Fiction.

Diana Morgan is a lecturer at Oxford University and is an expert on Greek mythology. She is obsessed with the Amazons and her grandmother claimed to be one. Diana is offered a job interpreting ancient text in a recently uncovered temple. She discovers the history of the first Amazon queen and their journey to free her kidnapped sisters. There are so many characters and groups involved in the present as well as past as the narration switches from Diana's sometimes dangerous search for the Amazons, and Myrina's quest for her sisters and a place of their own.

The story is long and has a lot of historical detail, and as mentioned above, characters. The book is interesting, but it does drag at times and the dangerous situations Diana gets in are hard to believe. If you like Ancient Greek history, archaeology , or are interested in a story of the Amazons, this will give you all that.  The beginning starts slow and the end throws in some romance that makes for a sweet ending but may not suit the entire story overall.

EW

The Blind Man's Garden

The Blind Man's Garden
Nadeem Aslam
Vintage Books, 2014. 367 pages. Fiction.

Pakistan, 2001. American troops have just invaded Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and Jeo, a young medical student, has decided to cross into the war zone to help care for the wounded. His foster brother, Mikal, decides to join him to protect him from danger. Neither can know that what starts as a charitable action will have long ranging consequences for both them and their families.

Aslam's novel is not an easy read, but it is an important story to be told. The writing is poetic and lyrical, even when describing the atrocities endemic in post-9/11 Pakistan and Afghanistan. With the war on terror still going strong, this book presents a unique view of a very troubled region, presents a culture in startling color, and will provide a perspective in counterpoint to events most have seen only in the news. The reader cannot avoid the violence that is a part of life in the region, but the author has written the terrible atrocities that happen with as much compassion and restraint as possible.

JH

Leaving Time

Leaving Time
By Jodi Picoult
Ballantine Books, 2014. 416 pgs. Fiction.

The newest book of this bestselling author is completely unique from her other works. Picoult addresses family relationships, romantic relationships, and even human and animal relationships in this touching story of a girl looking for her mother. The story is told from the multiple view points of a 13 year old girl searching for a long gone mom, a psychic that has lost touch with her abilities, a detective that failed at being a cop, and the journal entries of Jenna's mother. The setting is mainly an elephant sanctuary in New England and is full of touching moments with the elephants and their handlers. The answers they get from their investigating aren't necessarily the ones any of them wanted, but it helps them heal in ways they had given up on.

The book is full of facts about elephants, accurate descriptions of research life in Africa and on a sanctuary, and emotional turmoil as all the characters face hard truths. I love elephants, so really enjoyed the author's descriptions of their behaviors and how they interacted with the people that cared for them. The diary entries combined with the present day search created a subtle mystery and I wanted things to turn out for everyone by the end. Picoult writes a fascinating book about motherhood, mourning, and loss. This was definitely one of my favorites from her.

EW

Not My Father's Son

Not My Father's Son
By Alan Cumming
Dey Street Books, 2014. 304 pgs. Biography.

Alan Cumming started working with producers on a popular reality show about discovering famous people's heritage. When he starts to dig in to his past, he starts to also confront issues and facts abut his own father. Alan's success and life have finally normalized for him for the most part, when a family secret about his grandfather brings out more than he ever thought. His painful childhood is narrated, alternating with the present, and this is done smoothly and with enough suspense that I finished the book in one day.

I have become a fan of Alan Cumming after his work on The Good Wife. I thought this book sounded interesting because it focuses on a very specific part of his life. He reads the audio in his wonderful Scottish accent which makes this book even more enjoyable. His emotion, love of his mom and brother, and anecdotes about his work all combine with his awful experiences with his father. He tries to accept everything as he learns of his past and the heartbreak in this book is equal to the times I laughed.

EW

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Winterspell

Winterspell
By Claire Legrand
Simon & Shcuster Books for Young Readers, 2014. 464 pgs. Young adult.

Claire Legrand has rewritten a magical version of The Nutcracker by creating an entirely new world and characters based off the ballet. When Clara's mother is murdered in a steampunkish version of New York City, she wants to find out who is responsible. Her father is a gang lord but not helpful or concerned, and Clara can't take the gang or the disintegration of her city. This leads her on an adventure to a world filled with mages and fairies and some pretty intense and scary moments. She is joined by her godfather's nutcracker statue that has turned in to a man, and meets some delightful friends on her way. Clara's struggle for what she has to do is palpable and I couldn't wait to see what Clara decides to do in the end.

The book reads a lot like an enchanting movie with strange robots, evil characters, and a heroine you can't help but love. The combination of the two worlds and Clara's involvement in both was exciting. I liked that this was taken loosely from The Nutcracker but was completely different. I also got to Skype with Claire for the teen book club and she is so awesome. If  you like fantasy, winter, action, or want to try something different, try this. There are some pretty steamy moments, so if romance isn't your thing, just be warned.

EW

The Aftermath

The Aftermath
By Rhidian Brook
Vintage, 2014. 352 pgs. Historical fiction.

This novel takes place in Hamburg after Work War II. The plot follows Colonel Lewis Morgan as he tries to make a home for his wife and child as the British army rebuilds the city. Morgan decides to allow the family that owns the home to stay, where procedure usually forces the family out. The Hamburg that Brook has built is completely destroyed and pitiful with homeless children begging for food, the people that have stayed to clean up rubble for food vouchers, and the British soldiers that have been brought in to "help".  The two families being blended is the main source of the strife and the grief they are all experiencing is for different reasons but is just as sad and lonely.

This was a great historical novel with a different viewpoint. I see few books that are after the War or told from a rebuilding stand point. The idea that these two families have to learn to live together in a devastated city, as well set aside the very differences that ruined the city, makes for a tense read. Each character had a story to tell and the author does a great job telling it.

EW

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden

The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden
by Jonas Jonasson
Ecco Press, 2014. 387 pages. Fiction.

How does an illiterate black girl from the slums of Soweto, South Africa in the 1960s end up saving the King of Sweden from republicans with an atomic bomb in 2007? Meet Nombeko Mayeki, who starts life as a sanitation expert at the ripe old age of 5 and soon finds herself (and her expert mathematical skills) as the cleaning lady to a nuclear engineer with no mathematical knowledge and a mandate to build 6 nuclear bombs. Confused yet? Just add 2 Mossad agents, identical twins Holger (One) and Holger (Two) who were raised to avenge their father's shocking disgrace at the hand (and cane) of Gustaf V of Sweden, three expert Chinese forgers, a faux countess, and a very angry young woman to the mix to make Nombeko's journey to Sweden and her destiny unforgettable.

This book is a farce in the truest sense of the word. All of Jonasson's characters find themselves in absurd situations that serve to point out the problematic nature of society and government at all levels. Both humorous and insightful, this book will make you both laugh and think as Nombeko tries again and again to bring the world to rights. The author does use a lot of strong language.

JH

The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy

The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy
by Jacopo della Quercia
St. Martin's Griffin, 2014. 384 pages. Fiction.

Everyone who's read the history books knows that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in Ford's Theater by John Wilkes Booth, a passionate Confederate who wanted to avenge the South. But when Lincoln's only surviving son, Robert Todd Lincoln, finds a mysterious gold pocket watch which his father had stored in a safe deposit box 40 years after his death, he unwittingly starts a chain of events that could lead to the downfall of President William Howard Taft and the Constitution of the United States itself.

What made this book so fascinating was the way the author was able to use actual historical fact to support his own plot. della Quercia has supplemented the action with newspaper articles and reports (footnoted and documented) that shore up every bit of evidence he presents, no matter how preposterous it may seem. He's even succeeded in making William Howard Taft, the president so obese he is rumored to have gotten stuck in the White House bathtub, a plausible action hero. While the history may get a little convoluted and the plot may have the occasional hole, the action moves forward well and keeps the reader interested, particularly after the entire cast of characters has been introduced and the premise set up. Readers will have a hard time discovering where fact leaves off and fiction begins again. This is a 99.9% clean read, with a handful of instances of strong language.

JH

Friday, December 26, 2014

Texts From Jane Eyre

Texts From Jane Eyre: And Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters
By Mallory Ortberg
Henry Holt and Co., 240 pgs. 2014. Nonfiction.

If you want a quick couple hours read with not a lot to a plot, you must read this. Unless you are a literary purist. You may not like Amy texting Beth about how she is so dramatic about dying. There are texts from Moby Dick characters, The Great Gatsby, Gone With the Wind, and more. You have not experienced Scarlett O'Hara until you have read her texts to Rhett Butler. The conversations range from the bizarre to the accurate as each character interacts with someone else, or sometimes, like any texter, waits for a response by texting more.

I was hysterically laughing so often, that I ended up reading them out loud to anyone that listen. When John Keats starts texting about how pretty an urn is, I almost had to put the book down to catch my breath. This is purely entertaining, and expect some swearing as they are placed in modern text conversations and not their original characters. The conversations were humorous, and the book just an easy, fast read. If you love literature, you will appreciate the author's knowledge of their behavior and how she moves them in to a text speech so easily.

EW

Compulsion

Compulsion
By Martina Boone
Simon Pulse, 448 pgs.  2014. Young adult.

This young adult novel drew me in based on the description of the Southern Gothic setting. Barrie is a teen from San Francisco that is sent to live on her family's estate on Watson Island in South Carolina after her guardian's health rapidly declines. Her parents have both passed away and she doesn't know much of their past, but after arriving on the island she discovers they both harbored some secrets.  Barrie sets out to help her aunt, find out about her family, forgive her mother, and of course fall in love. In the meantime she also picks up on her magic abilities that are passed down from generations.

The romance, magic, paranormal twists, and mystery were a good combination for a young adult book, even thought the plot became somewhat complicated and the teen angst more than what I can usually handle. There are magical creatures that ruin her aunt's house, headaches that keep Barrie from leaving the island and a whole lot more that really seemed like it would go a different direction. I have high hopes for the second book as this one did have a lot I enjoyed, but just seemed to be too much in one book. If you like paranormal books or even the South or romance, you would probably like this one.

EW

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Silkworm

The Silkworm
By Robert Gilbraith
Mulholland Books, 464 pgs. 2014. Mystery.

Owen Quine is a novelist who goes missing and his wife asks private detective Cormoran Strike for help finding him. At first it was more because she figured she knew where he was, and was just avoiding the family. However, it soon turns out to be a grisly murder that is related to his not-yet published book. The novel would create a lot of problems for a lot of people if published, so Strike starts to investigate who would brutally murder him.

I actually liked this one so much better than the first. The pacing and the content was more entertaining to me, and I think I just grew to like the characters more. Comoran Strike is a gruff, sometimes cranky person but puts his whole heart in to his investigations. I liked the role his assistant, Robin, played in this one and I liked that it got more in to their personal lives. It was a good mystery, and the audio was great!

EW

They All Fall Down

They All Fall Down
By Roxanne St. Claire
Delacorte Press, 352 pgs. 2014. Young adult.

First off, let's talk about the cover. The cover really drew me in to read the description and get this book. It is unique in the plot that ten girls are chosen for something every year at their high school. When this list is published, Kenzie believes she was not supposed to be on it. She is not like any of the other girls and she definitely has no idea what his list means. It is a hot list basically, but with a twisted history. The mystery and the danger of being on this list create a suspenseful teen novel as Kenzie tries to save herself and at the same time, figure out which guy is for her.

I had high hopes for this book. I enjoyed a lot of the creepy parts of the story as far as what the list meant and how Kenzie was in danger. I liked the angst even of deciding between two boys. I could not get past some of the more unbelievable moments. And I am pretty easily entertained. There were too many parts that I just was not buying. It was however a very quick read, had some nail biting situations, and the main character was likable. Just go in knowing that some parts (especially the end) may not be what you expected.

EW

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Wedding Cake

Wedding Cake (Culinary #12)
By Josi S. Kilpack
Shadow Mountain, 2014. 288 pages. Mystery.

In the final book in Kilpack's Culinary Mysteries, intrepid investigator Sadie Hoffmiller is finally marrying retired police officer, Pete Cunningham. But while making her final wedding preparations, Sadie receives a disturbing text message from her stalker, Jane, from whom she hasn't heard in two years. Will Sadie and Pete find Jane before their wedding plans go up in flames?

Kilpack has ramped up the action in her final book, making this one of the fastest-moving books in her series. This will be a great conclusion to fans of the series, but don't try to read it if you haven't read the rest of the series, as the author brings back a lot of characters from her earlier books. On top of the action, devotees of the series will be glad to see a conclusion to the long-term relationship between Sadie and Pete. This is a fun and exciting read for lovers of the series.

JH

Friday, December 19, 2014

Charlie Glass's Slippers

Charlie Glass's Slippers
By Holly McQueen
Atria Paperback, 2014. 451 pages. Fiction.

Charlie Glass has always been at everyone's mercy: taking care of her terminally ill father; taking the abuse heaped on her by her stepmother and stepsisters. But after Charlie's father dies and leaves her the majority stake in his world-famous shoe company, she decides to create not just a new shoe line to revitalize the company but a whole new persona to front it. Ten weeks in the California desert leaves her lean, sleek, and coiffed - and in the sights of one of London's most eligible bachelors.

As the title implies, this is a very modern retelling of the classic Cinderella story. But what I liked best about it was not so much Charlie's physical transformation but her interior transformation as she comes to value herself as a person and to find the people who also value her for more than her appearance. McQueen creates interesting characters and has some really witty writing going on. I would recommend this book for readers who like Sophie Kinsella, Emily Giffin, etc. The book does have quite a bit of strong language and innuendo.

JH

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Lock-In

Lock-In
by John Scalzi
Tor Books, 2014. 336 pgs. Science Fiction

In a not so distant future, a global flu pandemic strikes, killing hundreds of millions of people. However, the disease is not universally fatal. Those who survive this plague fall into two groups: the Lock-Ins, people whose bodies become totally paralyzed while still retaining full mental capacities; and the Integrators, people who are able to allow a locked-in person to assume control of his or her body for short periods of time. In this brave new world, freshly minted and locked-in FBI agent Chris Shane and his seasoned former Integrator partner solve a bizarre murder.

His books are clever fun reads, and this one is no exception. He does a good take on the current trend in post-apocalyptic novels. His imagined pandemic wipes out millions, but the human race is largely intact. I like the concept of the lock-ins. It makes for a interesting sci-fi take on the future of human existence, coupled with our fascination with robots, virtual/online life, etc. And of course, there is the police procedural, making for a fun, well rounded and engaging read.

CHW

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Sweetshop of Dreams

Sweetshop of Dreams: A Novel with Recipes
by Jenny Colgan
Sourcebooks Landmark, 2014. 422 pages. Fiction.

When Rosie Hopkins' mother asks her to go help her great aunt Lillian in the country to recover from hip surgery, Rosie is reluctant to leave behind her London life for even a few weeks. After all, she has a job as a nurse she finds rewarding, if sometimes difficult, a long-term boyfriend who has yet to propose. Sure, it might be a bit boring, but that's what being a grown-up is, right? But as Rosie starts to breathe new life into her aunt's dusty candy shop and to get to know the people in the village, she starts to learn that maybe a bit of an adventure was just what she needed to be happy.

I've always enjoyed Jenny Colgan's books and her writing seems to get better with each book. This story introduces a lot of lovely characters and makes you want to go live in the English countryside, riding a bicycle on dirt lanes while wearing sensible tweeds and brogues. And, even though the premise is fairly predictable, she does manage some twists and turns that the reader is not expecting. A very enjoyable read for lovers of Sophie Kinsella and Hester Browne. This book does have a fair amount of strong language and some sexual content.

JH

The Skeleton In My Closet Wears a Wedding Dress

The Skeleton in my Closet Wears a Wedding Dress
By Sally Johnson
Covenant Communications, 2014. 252 pages. Romance.

Sophia Davis is beautiful, young, intelligent. She's also divorced, her husband leaving her out of the blue after 4 months of marriage, and going back to a singles ward on BYU campus and getting involved in the dating scene is the last thing she wants to do. With her heart bruised and battered, will she be able to heal and trust herself - and men - again?

I will admit up front that this book was going to have to work hard to win me over. I found the title abysmal (but I object to most titles that could make a complete sentence) and the cover was almost offensively pink. The editing was terrible. For some unfathomable reason, the author chose to make her characters cook in terrycloth aprons. Even more unfathomable was that this fact has stuck firmly in my mind for the course of the entire book. I would like to have a discussion with the author about what terrycloth is and why it is unsuitable apron material, but great for bathrobes.

So this book had an uphill battle with me. And, yet, in spite of all of my preconceived and mid-reading biases, I actually found this book quite enchanting. The plot tackles a difficult issue - divorce - head on, focusing a lot on Sophia's depression and sense of loss, especially in a community that focuses so much on marriage. Her healing is the focus of the plot, not her return to the dating community, giving it a theme that most readers will be able to relate to in one way or another. A surprisingly engaging read - once you can get past your hangups.

JH