Tuesday, May 31, 2016

June by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

June by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

Cassie flees her life in New York for a crumbling mansion in St. Jude, Ohio.   Her beloved aunt June, who raised her after her parent’s death when she was eight, left her the house.  Cassie is directionless and ignoring the phone and the mail while the house falls apart around her, that is about the only plan she has.  After months of inactivity and almost total avoidance of the outside world there is an insistent visitor on her doorstep; a man who is there to tell her that she has been left the entire fortune of Hollywood legend Jack Montgomery.  

Sixty years ago in St. Jude Hollywood came to town to film Erie Canal starring Jack Montgomery and Diane de Soto.  Lindie, a tomboy, gets a job as a runner for the film, and tries to use her position to bring Jack and her best friend June together.  Lindie thinks that June’s fiancĂ© isn’t good enough for her, but a movie star would suit nicely.

Both storylines take a turn in this book and even Twin Oaks, the crumbling mansion, has a say in the action.  There are plenty of subplots and, as in all good romances, misunderstandings, as well as villains and the curse of bad timing play a role.  The jumps between time periods makes the story flow and there are a few shocking reveals at the end.

Those who are not fans of time periods switching back and forth won’t have trouble keeping track of when they are in this book.  The time periods are sixty years apart and so different it’s impossible to confuse the two. 

A good beach read with some substance, this is more than a romance; it has elements of historical fiction and mystery as well.  Fans of all these genres will find this an enjoyable read.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Redemption Road by John Hart

Redemption Road by John Hart

Adrian Wall is paroled after thirteen years in prison for the murder of a woman ritually placed on the altar of a church.  He always swore he was innocent.  His time behind bars was hard on him not only because he was a cop. 

Elizabeth Black is a cop in trouble.  She is facing murder charges after shooting two men who sexually assaulted a teenage girl over the course of almost two days.  Elizabeth and the victim are white, the two dead men were black and they were shot eighteen times, but the way they were shot has the word “torture” is being whispered behind closed doors.

Elizabeth always thought Adrian was innocent.  She can’t see the man who saved her life guilty of leaving a body on the altar of her father’s church.  But another woman is found placed on the altar of the now abandoned church in the exact same way, days after Adrian is released.  Was Adrian actually guilty? 

Hart is a master at interweaving plot lines seamlessly.  Like most novels you know that the storylines will tie together at the end but his stories come together at different points in the narrative slowly binding them all together and it just feels so organic.  Nothing is even forced.  Did I guess who did it at the end?  Nope.  And I was sure I know who it was!  But at the final big reveal it all was made clear.

Don’t like mysteries and thrillers because you want solid well-developed characters?  It might be time to try this author.  He writes characters that you get to really know, who behave in ways that make sense, even when their logic is beyond our understanding.

I have been a John Hart fan for a few years now and I can’t wait to read what he writes next.  I enjoyed this book on audio, but I read the last 150 pages because I had to know how things would end and couldn’t want to get back in the car to find out.  And wow.  What an ending!  Pretty sure this will be my favorite southern mystery/thriller/book of the year!

Sweet Lamb of Heaven by Lydia Millet

Sweet Lamb of Heaven by Lydia Millet

When Lena was born Anna started hearing the voice.  The voice would recite dictionary entries, song lyrics and poems whenever Lena was awake.  As soon as Lena started to speak the voice stopped. 

We meet Anna and Lena when the girl is six years old and they are living in a seaside motel on the coast of Maine in the off season.  Anna took her daughter there after leaving their last temporary home, moving to avoid her husband Ned whom she left years ago in Alaska.  But now Ned is running for office and he needs to have his wife and daughter by his side for the campaign.  But will he let them go, safe and sound, once the election is over?

Okay, I should have known this was going to be really weird.  After all I read her Mermaids in Paradise last year and that was definitely the oddest one I read in a while and I mean that mostly in a good way.  This book got great reviews so I figured I would give the author another try.  Now I really like weird books.  But this one, not so much.  The philosophical musings on the origin of the voice were really neat, but in the end I don’t think things were resolved, or at least not to my liking. 

If you like book that make you suspend belief and ponder the fabric of the universe you may enjoy this one, if you’re looking for something a down to earth with just a touch of the “other” this one probably isn’t for you.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Eleanor West runs the Home for Wayward Children, a last hope for the children who reside there.  All the residents believe that they have visited a land where they truly belonged and have through banishment or mistake ended up back in this world: think Wonderland or Never Never Land or even Oz.  All the children want is to return to the land that no one but they can accept as real.  Or at least that is what they thought until they meet the other residents of Eleanor’s home – every resident has been elsewhere, each one a different elsewhere and they desperately want to return.  And Eleanor understands having left a land she loves and will try to get these children where they belong or give them safe haven in our world.

Things seem fine in the Home until shortly after the newest arrival, Nancy, begins to settle in to her new surroundings.  First one student is found murdered and mutilated, then another.  Who is to blame?  Can the school remain open?  Will anyone ever find their doorway home?

More proof that good things come in small packages.  I honestly don’t know what the difference is between a novella and a short novel, but at 173 pages I think this book could fall into either category.  Whatever it is it is an enjoyable short read, especially for fans of Neil Gaiman’s dark urban fantasy.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

A young girl goes running through the nearby woods as she often does.  But this time something is different.  She is found hours later slowly awakening in the palm of a giant hand wheich was recently, and quite mysteriously, unearthed resting in a hole/room in the ground.  Years later that same girl is an adult, a scientist of some renown, working on the hand and the glyphs on the walls of the room the hand (and she) were found in when she was young.  It is her job to figure out if the giant hand belongs to a giant body and where the other pieces may be buried, and how to unearth them and reassemble the giant.  How did the giant come to be buried on Earth thousands of years ago?  Is there a reason she (the robot seems to be female) is discovered now?  How will mankind react to a giant robot and the questions it creates?

I’m not a fan of politics, but this was fascinating.  How would world powers react to a giant alien robot?  How would the average person?  And if there is one giant robot, are there others?  And why does it exist, here on our planet, in the first place?   

I am a huge fan of books that play around with format.  This one is told mostly as interviews with an unknown, but extremely intriguing and cool, interviewer but there are journal entries and other things as well.  This is one of those books that when you finish you just sit there stunned that there are no more pages to read and immediately check to see when the next one will be out – which will unfortunately be this time next year.  ARGH!

Yes, it’s science fiction, but it’s present day science fiction so think more Michael Crichton than Star Wars.  Fans of The Martian and World War Z will really enjoy the format and the science.  

Remember (Film -- Starring Christopher Plummer and Martin Landau)

Remember (Film -- Starring Christopher Plummer and Martin Landau)

Zev is an Auschwitz survivor currently living in a nursing home suffering the not-quite-so-early stages of dementia.  He promised his wheelchair bound friend and co-resident that he would find the Nazi guard who murdered their families and kill him, but only after his dear wife Ruth has died.  Ruth has just passed away and with a detailed letter in hand Zev sets off to exact revenge.

It is hard to watch someone with dementia struggle with his surroundings every time he awakens, either from sleep or a short nap, but the letter keeps him on task and his moments of lucidity are nice to see.  The two survivors only have an assumed name to go by to track the killer, so Zev needs to visit a few men before finding the one he is looking for.  His adventures along the way are poignant and shocking, but it is the ending that will hit you like a shot to the gut and keep this film in your memory long after you finish watching.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Forest of Wonders by Linda Sue Park

Forest of Wonders by Linda Sue Park
Something Completely Different!  A Book for Grades 4-8

This is the first book of the Wing and Claw series; a colleague will be talking about books for this grade range during a presentation and I figured I’d expand my reading horizons and give one a shot.  I don’t think I’ve read anything for this age group since I was a part of it!

Twelve year old Raffa is an apprentice apothecary with a natural gift for creating poultices and infusions.  When he finds a badly injured bat by his house he asks his parents if he can do his best to heal it.  They agree, and Raffa goes into the woods with his best friend and cousin to find a vine rumored to have amazing healing properties which hasn’t been seen in decades.  So begins the journey.

This book has a little bit of everything.  A child prodigy, jealousy, revenge, good intentions twisted, rich people, poor people, talking animals, trustworthy adults, non-trustworthy adults, and because of the audience a bunch of kids getting in trouble way over their heads setting out to save, not quite the world in this case, but the animal kingdom.  Kids will like that the story is about peers, adults reading it will like that while the main character’s parents are portrayed as staid and unadventurous Raffa begins to appreciate them when they are not around.

My only complaint is the ending!  I feel that a book that is part of a series should still have an ending.  This was more of a “to be continued” like you have in two part television series but the sequel is nowhere in sight.  A bombshell is dropped on the characters (actually more than one) and part of the group is separated from the rest, oh and they are being pursued into the wilderness and BAM! the book ends.  Not cool Linda Sue, not cool.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Glory Over Everything: Beyond the Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

Jaime Pyke has established himself as a successful silversmith in Philadelphia, but his world is about to come crashing down around him.  His servant Pan has gone missing, mostly likely taken by slavers on the docks and Pan’s father is begging Jaime to go get him back.  For Jaime this is a difficult request for although he looks white, his mother was a former slave and he knows that there could still be slavers hunting for him down south.  But how can he leave Pan to suffer as a slave?  On the other hand things are looking really bad for Jaime in Philadelphia right now; he has to get out of the city and fleeing south with purpose might be the best thing he could do.

Fans of the The Kitchen House will be thrilled to read about characters from that book again, but this novel works really well as a standalone.  I couldn’t really remember some characters, but that was fine, the author wrote as if they were new characters the reader was meeting for the first time. 

I’ve read a number of historical fiction books taking place during the time of slavery, but this was the first book I’ve read of the struggle of a person who could pass as white living under constant fear that his parentage would be revealed since his secret is know by a few people in the area.  The society of “free” Philadelphia wasn’t that kind to former slaves no matter the shade of their skin.

It’s an enlightening view of the times, especially how treacherous the lives of former slaves in free areas still were, and the workings of the Underground Railroad.

Phoenix (Foreign Drama - German)

Phoenix (Foreign Drama - German)

Nelly a survivor of a concentration camp, horribly injured to a shot to the face, undergoes reconstructive surgery.  She looks similar to her former self, but definitely not as she did before.  Her wish is to find her husband; thoughts of him kept her going in the camps.  But her friend and confidant, the only one who knows that she is alive, advises her against reuniting with him. 

Nelly does find her husband but since he doesn’t recognize her, but admits she looks similar to his dead wife, he offers her a place to stay in exchange for impersonating his dead wife so they can collect, and then split, her inheritance.  Could it be that Nelly’s husband is the one that revealed her hiding place to the Nazis?  Will she be able to find out without revealing her identity?

This is a very slowly building movie that is atmospheric and haunting.  The actress playing Nelly is amazing.  Her movements perfectly illustrate the pain and suffering she has, and continues, to endure.  Fans of psychological suspense and noir should give this one a try, but only on a dark, dreary night.  This is not a sunny movie.

Tricky Twenty-Two by Janet Evanovich

Tricky Twenty-Two by Janet Evanovich

Stephanie Plum and the gang get into loads of crazy trouble trying to reschedule court dates for Vincent Plum’s Bail Bonds in the twenty-second (!) installment of the series.  This one is a little more serious than most, the craziness is still there and the cars still get ruined in unique ways, but Stephanie doesn’t fare well physically, but mentally I think she’s maturing.  The conversations are a little deeper between characters and we finally find out why Lula is such a bad shot.  And the ending… I’ll just say fans will be thrilled.

As usual a great choice on audio; I listened to it on Playaway and had a great time walking in the woods laughing.  At least the squirrels heard me coming!