Thursday, June 13, 2019

Dual-Timeline Family Secrets Novel Sad, But Impactful

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Tori Kovac knows her beloved father is not long for the world.  What she doesn't know is that he's harboring a long-held secret he's not planning to take to the grave.  When he gives Tori a letter addressed to a woman in Japan, her curiosity is piqued.  As an investigative reporter, Tori has made her living sniffing out intriguing stories—she's not about to let this one go.  Heading off to Japan, the 38-year-old is determined to uncover the secrets of her father's past.

What Tori discovers is a love story so haunting and heartbreaking that its echoes continue to reverberate in the present.  When her father, a U.S. sailor on leave in Japan, fell in love with a girl from a strict, traditional Japanese family, he had no idea what he was setting in motion.  Their forbidden relationship led to crushing heartbreak and unimaginable choices with life-altering consequences.  The more Tori digs, the more the story causes her to question everything she's ever known about her father, her family, and herself.  

I'm always down for a dual-timeline family secrets story, so once I read the premise behind The Woman in the White Kimono—a debut novel by Ana Johns—I knew I had to read it.  Inspired by Johns' own family history, the book tells an interesting, atmospheric tale about forbidden love, free choice vs. following tradition, and the consequences of both.  The characters are sympathetic and complex, the setting lush and intriguing, and the plot eye-opening and thought-provoking.  It's a sad novel and I didn't like its ending, realistic though it may have been.  Overall, then, I liked The Woman in the White Kimono, but I didn't end up loving it.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a little of Within These Lines by Stephanie Morrill)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of The Woman in the White Kimono from the generous folks at Parker Row Books via those at Edelweiss.  Thank you!

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Blogger (I Mean, City) That Never Sleeps


You probably haven't noticed, but I've been a bit absent from the blog over the last week or so.  And for an excellent reason!  I just returned from a whirlwind trip to New York City.  Neither my husband nor I had ever visited The Big Apple, so we jumped at the chance to check it out.  Even better, we got to see it with our 17-year-old daughter, who is finishing up her year of service as one of The United States' five 2019 National Student Poets.  Her excellent performance at Carnegie Hall was the highlight of our trip (notice the photo of U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith listening to our daughter recite an original poem—squee!), of course, but we also hit a lot of NYC's tourist attractions, including the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Times Square, Central Park, the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center (we weren't on the Today show, but we did get a blurry picture with Al Roker!), the 9/11 memorial, Grand Central Station, the beautiful 5th Ave/42nd St. branch of the New York Public Library, etc.  Our favorite visits were to the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side (interesting and moving) and to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Manhattan temple, which is a beautiful oasis of peace and tranquility in the middle of a crowded, noisy urban jungle!  The temple itself is not open to the public, but there is a family history center in the same building that anyone can visit.  

We did manage a stop at one NYC bookstore—The Strand.  It boasts that it houses 18 miles of books, which I totally believe!  Their shelves are soaring and crammed full.  I firmly believe that you can never have too many books in one place, but when you combine The Strand's packed, but very narrow aisles and its constant crowd of customers, it can make even the non-claustrophobic feel a little anxious.  The place isn't quite as family-friendly as I hoped it would be—if you take young kids for a visit, you might want to cover their eyes until you get them safely to the children's section.  I've never seen the F-word printed on so many tote bags before in my life! 

I'm a small-town girl at heart, so I have to admit the city was a little much for me.  Too expensive, too many people, too much noise, etc.  Sleeping in our Midtown hotel was impossible without earplugs!  I'm glad I went, but I'm not gonna lie—I never need to go back.  Been there, done that.

Blog-wise, I'm going to be playing catch-up over the next week or so.  I'm behind on reading, scheduled reviews, commenting on your blogs, and everything else there is to be behind on.  Oh well.  My kids are out of school for the summer, so in between their cries of "I'm bored!" I'll be getting caught up on both life stuff and BBB stuff.  

Have a great week!
 
P.S.  The photo of The Strand is not mine.  I found it here.   

Saturday, June 01, 2019

Debut Mystery a Riveting, One-Sitting Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

As a wife, mother, and medical student in the final phase of her program, Claire Rawlings has been running on nothing but fumes.  When the stress catches up with her, making her violently ill, it comes at the exact wrong moment.  Speeding through Chicago to get her girls to daycare on time, she makes an emergency stop at a gas station's outside restroom.  Desperately sick, Claire leaves her sleeping children in the car right outside the bathroom, rushes inside, and vomits until she passes out on the filthy floor.  When she wakes, her car has vanished—along with her two daughters.

Plagued by guilt, Claire can think of nothing but her missing children, 15-month-old Lily, and 4-year-old Andrea.  As the months and years drag on with few leads, despair replaces hope, crumbling the Rawlings' marriage and the happiness that once characterized their family life.  When Claire meets Jay White, a recovering alcoholic who claims to have inherited a gift for otherworldly "Feelings" from his Sioux grandmother, she dares to believe she may finally be able to find out what happened to her girls. 

Little Lovely Things by Maureen Joyce Connolly is a riveting, one-sitting read that kept me completely transfixed.  The characters are interesting, the plot tense, and the prose compelling.  Although this one gets an R-rating for language and violence, it's not nearly as graphic as most thrillers.  Overall, I really enjoyed this debut.  I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for what Connolly does next.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer and You Are My Only by Beth Kephart

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a dozen or so F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of Little Lovely Things from the generous folks at Sourcebooks via those at NetGalley.  Thank you!

Friday, May 31, 2019

Epic Novel About Korea's Female Free-Divers Expansive, But Intimate

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

The Korean island of Jeju boasts an abundance of three things: wind, stones, and women.  In its matrifocal society, women known as haenyeo plunge into the sea—as they have for centuries—probing its depths in search of treasures like abalone, urchins, and octopus.  These delicacies are sold at market, making money for the women, their families, and the community.  Spots on the island's various all-female diving collectives are coveted, the honor passed down from mother to daughter.  It's a risky, all-consuming line of work.  While the women engage in hundreds of dangerous free dives over their lifetimes, their men stay behind to look after their homes and children.  Husbands may be given an allowance by their wives, but it's the latter that does all the bread-winning. 

Kim Young-Sook cannot wait to follow in her mother's footsteps and become part of the Hado collective, of which her mother is the leader.  She and her best friend, Han Mi-ja, are thrilled to become "baby divers" when they turn 15.  Being inducted into this exclusive community of women means inclusion, acceptance, and belonging.  Under the warm tutelage of the older women, Young-Sook and Mi-ja learn the fine arts of diving, collecting, and surviving in dangerous waters.  As the girls become proficient divers, even traveling to different countries to take lucrative diving jobs, they become closer than ever before.  But, as they grow up, their very different lives become even more divergent, until their paths no longer cross at all.  By the time they are wives and mothers, the estranged friends are doing all they can to survive the growing violence on their island as well as the more intimate concerns of poverty, abuse, child care, increasing restrictions on diving, and the clash between tradition and modernity that will change their island irrevocably.  The friendship that could sustain—and save—them both is tenuous, but is it truly gone forever?   

The Island of Sea Women, an epic novel by Lisa See, explores the friendship between two remarkable women over the course of several momentous decades.  Rich with detail about Jeju, the haenyeo, and Korea's tumultuous history, the novel is expansive and intimate at the same time.  The culture it explores is fascinating, the story it tells heartbreaking, but empowering.  Although The Island of Sea Women isn't a quick read, it's beautiful, absorbing, and unforgettable.  I loved it.

If you're interested in learning more about the haenyeo (a tradition/culture that still exists today, although the divers are now mostly old women), there are several videos you can watch on YouTube.  The one below gives a quick peek at what the divers do, but there are others that explore the culture in more depth.  



(Readalikes:  I haven't read much about Korea at all, let alone about the haenyeo, so I'm not sure what to compare this book to.  Suggestions?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence, blood/gore, mild sexual content, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of The Island of Sea Women from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Appealing Setting and Punny Title Not Enough to Save This Cliché Cozy

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When Angie Turner inherits her grandmother's farm in little River Vista, Idaho, she sees it as the perfect opportunity to start over.  An executive chef, she decides to open a farm-to-table restaurant with the help of her best friend, Felicia Williams.  With the County Seat scheduled to open in a few weeks, the two women are scrambling to hire staff, convince local farmers to sell them produce and dairy, and make sure the restaurant's opening runs smoothly.  

Angie manages to persuade crotchety "Old Man" Moss to sell her his famous goat cheese, a real triumph.  The next thing she knows, however, the man's body is found at the bottom of a treacherous cliff.  Not only does Angie end up tending one of the deceased's lively goats, but she also can't help channeling her inner Nancy Drew to figure out the truth behind the elderly man's suspicious death.  As she comes closer and closer to solving the case, Angie's life becomes more and more dangerous.  Can she find the killer before the killer finds her?  

As much as I love the title and setting of Who Moved My Goat Cheese?, the first installment in Lynn Cahoon's Farm-to-Fork mystery series, the story just didn't work very well for me.  The characters are cliché and not well developed.  Angie Turner, for example, is as generic as her name implies.  Because neither she nor her love interest is round enough to feel real, their sparkless romance falls flat.  The mystery at the book's center isn't very mysterious and the big finale just feels ... anticlimactic.  While I appreciate this cozy for being light, fun, and clean, it didn't engage me enough to make me want to move on with the series.  Oh well.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of the All-Day Breakfast Cafe series by Lena Gregory)   

Grade:



If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for mild violence and mild sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Who Moved My Goat Cheese? from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: A Decade of Favorites


This week's TTT topic is a fun one: Favorite Books Released in the Last Ten Years (one book per year).  Since I keep lists of all the books I read each year, with asterisks denoting my favorites, I'm going to use those lists to put my own spin on the topic.  Instead of chatting about my favorite books released in a certain year, I'm going to talk about the best ones I read each year, regardless of when they were published.  That should be a little easier than Googling "Best Novels of 20--"! 

Before I do that, I want to encourage you to join in the TTT fun.  It's a good time and a great way to spread some love across the book blogosphere, find new blogs to love, and add intriguing-looking titles to your TBR pile.  What's not to love?  All you have to do is click over to That Artsy Reader Girl, read a few instructions, make your own list, and share it with the world.  Easy cheesy.

Okay, here we go with my Top Ten Favorite Books Read Over the Last Ten Years:

2009:


The Help (2009) by Kathryn Stockett—Like scores of other readers, I loved this revealing novel about a Southern socialite who decides to write a tell-all book about what it's like for the black women working for white society women in the 1960s South.  It's a warm, funny, poignant novel that makes for a wonderful read.  I adored the movie as well, which is odd since I don't usually like book-to-film adaptations.

2010:


This is the year I discovered Kimberley Griffiths Little, a talented writer who has since become a personal friend.  Back in 2010, she was writing MG novels only.  These days, she pens books for children, young adults, and adults. 

I read and loved two of her books in 2010—The Healing Spell, which came out that year, and an ARC of Circle of Secrets, which was published in 2011.  Both are atmospheric stories set in the Louisiana bayou that concern family, friendship, and finding one's place in the world.

2011:


I found another talented MG author in 2011:  Cynthia Lord.  I read both Rules (2006) and Touch Blue (2010) this year.  Rules is a sweet novel about a 12-year-old girl who's frustrated with her autistic brother and the way his condition seems to overwhelm her life and that of her family.  Touch Blue concerns an island in Maine where the state is planning to shut down the local school, forcing the island children to go to the mainland to get an education.  In an effort to save the school by increasing enrollment, island families take in foster kids.  Tess's family takes on a 13-year-old boy whose presence in their lives could be either a blessing or a curse.  I enjoyed both books and have continued to read every book Lord writes. 

2012:


Cinder (2012) by Marissa Meyer—Sci-fi isn't really my jam, so it took me a while to actually pick up my ARC of Cinder.  When I did, I was surprised to find myself totally drawn into this YA story about a cyborg Cinderella.  It's a fun, inventive novel, which I enjoyed very much.  I've since read—and loved—the whole series, which is exciting, engrossing, clean, and entertaining.

2013:


How the Light Gets In (2013) by Louise Penny—Apparently, I didn't post my "Books Read" list for this year, so I had to Google books that came out in 2013.  I've enjoyed every book in Penny's Inspector Gamache series and How the Light Gets In, which I read in 2017, is still my favorite.  It's tense and exciting, but also tender and funny.

2014:


Apparently, this was the year I discovered Kate Morton, who quickly became one of my favorite authors.  I read four of her books, all the ones she had published to that point, in 2014:  The House at Riverton (2008), The Forgotten Garden (2009), The Distant Hours (2010), and The Secret Keeper (2012).  Although I enjoyed them all, The Secret Keeper was my favorite.  All of them are atmospheric, engrossing tales about families and secrets.

2015:


Salt to the Sea (2016) by Ruta Sepetys—I didn't love Sepetys' Between Shades of Gray (2011), but I really enjoyed Out of the Easy (2013).  Apparently, I received an ARC of Salt to the Sea because I read the book in 2015, before it came out.  This WWII novel is vivid, heartbreaking, and moving.  I loved it.

2016: 


Little Black Lies (2015) by Sharon Bolton—This mystery/thriller about a string of children who go missing from a small, safe community on the Falkland Islands and the people desperate to find them, is my favorite of Bolton's books.  It kept me guessing until the very last sentence.  Literally.

2017:


The Disappearances (2017) by Emily Bain Murphy—It's hard to explain the plot of this unique novel.  The cover makes it look like a horror novel, but it's not.  Suffice it to say, I adored the story.  I've heard rumors that the author FINALLY has a new book coming out in 2020 and I cannot wait.  After The Disappearances, I want to read everything Murphy writes!

2018:


The Solace of Water (2018) by Elizabeth Byler Younts—Younts was raised Amish and while she has since left the religion, she remains close to the Amish community and her family members who still reside there.  This familiarity with their religion/culture gives Younts an insider's view that informs her fiction.  I've read a couple of Younts' books and The Solace of Water, a novel about two very different women (one is a black preacher's wife, the other a white Amish woman) who form an unlikely friendship in the 1950s South, is my favorite.  It's a powerful, touching novel which I loved.

2019:


I've read a couple books so far this year that I've marked as favorites, but the one that stands out most is The Island of Sea Women (2019) by Lisa See.  I've read and enjoyed several books by See, but this one gleams even among them.  It tells the story of a real group of women in South Korea who have been going into the sea for generations to harvest seafood that they sell to support their families.  The women are the breadwinners, leaving their husbands behind to rear the children.  It's a sweeping, epic novel that stretches across several decades, focusing especially on the WWII years.  Warm, intriguing, and memorable, it's a fantastic read that I highly recommend.

So, there you go, some favorites that I've read over the past decade.  Which titles did you choose for each year?  I'd truly love to know.  Leave a comment on this post and I will gladly return the favor on your blog.

Happy TTT!

Monday, May 27, 2019

Intriguing Crime Series Offers More to Be Explored

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When Dr. Emma Sweeney happens across the dead body of a university student while crossing campus after hours, she calls the first person who comes to mind—her boyfriend, Detective Sergeant Cormac Reilly.  As persona non grata at the Galway police station, Cormac never would have been assigned to the apparent hit-and-run.  Especially considering his relationship with the star witness.  Things get even dicier when a student i.d. in the deceased's pocket identifies the victim as Carline Darcy, granddaughter of the billionaire owner of Darcy Therapeutics, the company which funds Emma's research.  Suddenly, the "accident" is looking a lot like murder, with Emma quickly becoming the biggest suspect.  And, somehow, Cormac is the one in charge of the investigation.

With the case getting increasingly complicated, Cormac is torn between his loyalty to his girlfriend and the evidence mounting against her.  Determined to solve a murder and finally prove himself to his colleagues at the same time, Cormac will have to risk everything he has, both personal and professional, to find the truth.

While I didn't enjoy the second installment in Dervla McTiernan's Cormac Reilly series quite as much as the first, I still really liked The Scholar.  Like its predecessor, the novel is a compelling, exciting page-turner that I had a hard time putting down.  I especially like the characters McTiernan has created, all of whom are realistically complicated and flawed.  Although the story people in this series have already come alive enough for me to care about what happens to them, I still feel like each of them has hidden depths to be explored.  That's one of the reasons I'm so excited to see where this series goes.  McTiernan has impressed me so far.  I'm a big Cormac Reilly fan; I can't wait to see what happens to him next!

(Readalikes:  The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan; also reminds me of crime novels by Tana French, Sharon Bolton, and Jane Casey)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, blood/gore, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of The Scholar from the generous folks at Penguin via those at Edelweiss.  Thank you!

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Historical Insane Asylum Novel Heartbreaking, But Hopeful

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

As the daughter of a wealthy San Francisco businessman, Charlotte Smith knows exactly what's expected of her.  She's to conduct herself as a refined young lady ought, marry the man her parents select, and hold her tongue should she have any complaints.  Charlotte's prepared to follow the predictable course set out for her life—until her beloved older sister is sent away.  Phoebe might be a little different, but Charlotte knows she doesn't belong at Goldengrove, "a Progressive Home for the Curable Insane."  Determined to rescue Phoebe, Charlotte schemes to get herself sent to Goldengrove.  Shocked by the deplorable conditions at the hospital and the horrifying treatments forced on the patients, she vows to get both herself and her sister out.  But that's not nearly as simple as it may seem ...

Both heartbreaking and hopeful, Woman 99 by Greer Macallister shines a harsh light on the misunderstanding and mistreatment that characterized mental health "care" in the late 19th Century.  Depictions of life inside Goldengrove are graphic enough to make a point, but not so explicit as to elicit more than a PG-13 rating.  Still, this is an eye-opening, thought-provoking novel.  It's peopled with a host of "inconvenient" women who are brave, loyal, and compassionate.  While I liked the premise of Woman 99 and its cast, I didn't end up loving the book.  Macallister's prose is clunky, more tell than show, and the story wraps up in a way that feels convenient and inauthentic.  Overall, then, I didn't adore this one like I thought I would.  It's still an engaging read, just not as satisfying as it could have been.

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  You?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs), violence, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: Hands-On Reading


Welcome to another edition of my favorite bookish meme!  I love Top Ten Tuesday, even if today's topic—Books That I Refuse to Let Anyone Touch (too special/valuable/fragile/etc.)—doesn't really apply to me.  I'm not interested enough to collect rare books, not sentimental enough to keep nostalgic reads (at least not old, fragile copies), and not cautious enough not to let family and friends borrow my books.  So, yeah, for this topic?  I got nothing.  Instead, I'm going to spin it a little and list the Top Ten Books I'm Hoping to Touch This Summer (or, My Summer TBR List).  This will actually be the subject of the TTT list on June 25, but since I'm constantly biting off more than I can chew (er, read), I will no doubt be able to come up with another, entirely different list in a month.  No problem.

Before we get to that, though, I want to encourage you to join in the TTT fun.  It's a simple way to spread the love around the book blogosphere while adding to both your blogroll and your TBR pile mountain mountain chain at the same time.  Just click on over to That Artsy Reader Girl, read a couple instructions, make your own list, and voilá!  You're in.

Top Ten Books I'm Hoping to Touch This Summer (or My Summer TBR List, Part I)



1.  The County of Ross:  A History of Ross County, Ohio, from the Earliest Days, with Special Chapters on the Bench and Bar, Medical Profession, Educational Development, Industry and Agriculture, and Biographical Sketches by Henry Holcomb Bennett—Since February, I've been working hard to fulfill the first requirement in the process of becoming an accredited genealogist through ICAPGen.  It involves writing a lengthy research report on four generations of a family who lived continuously in the part of the world in which you are seeking to specialize.  For me, that's the Great Lakes region, where most of my ancestors settled after immigrating to the U.S. from England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland.  The specific family I'm researching has lived in Ross County, Ohio, for generations.  Thus, I'm reading this 785-page gem, which was published in 1902.  It's more scintillating than I thought it would be.  I actually stayed up until midnight the other night reading it!  #genealogynerd

That being said, The County of Ross is hardly the kind of page-turner that I'm going to be reading cover-to-cover just as fast as I can.  I'll be reading chapters in between other books (probably mystery/suspense novels that I will want to consume at warp speed) so it will likely take me all summer to finish this hefty tome.  I've got time since my report isn't due until August ... 


2.  The Good Neighbor by Maxwell King—I bought this Fred Rogers biography after seeing the excellent documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor? in the movie theater.  I found the film so inspiring that I wanted to learn more about this iconic figure whose t.v. show was a daily part of my early childhood.


3.  Educated by Tara Westover—This memoir about a woman's unconventional childhood and education has gotten all kinds of buzz since it was published.  It's been sitting on my physical TBR pile for months and I still haven't gotten to it.  Soon, I will. 


4.  Because of the Rabbit by Cynthia Lord—I love Lord's poignant children's books, so I'm excited to read her newest.  This slim novel is about a girl who's going to public school for the first time after being homeschooled and the rescue rabbit who helps her cope with all the challenges she's facing.  Sounds sweet.


5.  Amina's Voice by Hena Khan—I found this MG novel, which I've heard good things about, while browsing at the library yesterday.  The story revolves around a Pakistani-American Muslim girl and her struggles with friendship, culture clashes, etc. 


6.  After the Lights Go Out by Lili Wilkinson—This Australian post-apocalyptic novel sounds intriguing.  This is one I'd really like to get my hands on, but I can't find it anywhere, even though it was published last year.  It's not available at my local libraries and it's not for sale on Amazon.  Anyone know how to get a hold of this elusive volume without traveling to Australia?


7.  Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim—I'm reading this one for a blog tour and it looks really fun.  It's about a chef who wants to revitalize the Chinatown restaurant she inherits from her estranged mother.


8.  The Spies of Shilling Lane by Jennifer Ryan (available June 4, 2019)—I pre-ordered this WWII novel, which concerns a disgraced divorceé who travels to London to reunite with her estranged daughter.  When she discovers that, in the chaos of war, her daughter has gone missing, she launches her own investigation to find her vanished child.


9.  Her Daughter's Mother by Daniela Petrova (available June 18, 2019)—An expectant mother who becomes an unwitting stalker of the "anonymous" egg donor responsible for her pregnancy is the star of this forthcoming thriller.  When the donor disappears, the woman launches her own investigation to find out what happened to the woman to whom she owes so much.


10.  My Sister's Grave by Robert Dugoni—I came across an intriguing-looking series by Dugoni while perusing the mystery/thriller section of the library yesterday.  My library didn't have the first installment, My Sister's Grave, so I requested it from another branch.  It's about a homicide detective who's determined to solve her sister's disappearance and alleged murder.  

What do you think of my summer reading list?  Have you read any of these titles?  What books are on your summer TBR?  If you did today's topic, which books do you refuse to let anyone touch?  I'd truly love to know.  Leave a comment on this post and I will happily return the favor on your post (please make sure to leave the URL so I can find you).

Happy TTT!    

Monday, May 20, 2019

Warm, Engaging MG Novel Has Feel and Appeal of Timeless Classic

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Billie O'Brien has a busy summer ahead of her.  Not only will the 12-year-old be harvesting her bees' honey to sell in town, but she's also got to check her fishing traps, help her friend scoop llama poop (lots of llama poop), assist her dad with cheese making, and—most importantly—grow the biggest, best pumpkin she can so she can beat the socks off her former BFF in the pumpkin race that happens every fall on Madeline Island.  Sam Harrington cheated her out of her win last year and she can't forgive him for that.  The only way to get her revenge is to skunk him fair and square this year.

Of course, things aren't going to go smoothly when you've got cucumber beetles gorging on your pumpkins, an ex-BFF sabotaging your growing efforts, storms churning up your favorite fishing spot, and a mysterious stranger whose sudden appearance throws your family into a confusing whirl.  Can Billie survive a summer full of unpleasant surprises?  Can she beat Sam in the race?  As Billie stumbles through three months of hard work, stinging disappointment, trying challenges, and unexpected revelations, she will learn some valuable lessons about family, friendship, and, forgiveness.

The Pumpkin War by Cathleen Young is a warm, engaging novel that has the feel and appeal of a timeless classic.  Its bucolic rural setting offers readers a unique, insider's view of farm life while emphasizing the value of kids helping out and working diligently to achieve their goals.  While The Pumpkin War is a slim novel, it's got lots going on inside.  It tells a fun, exciting story that's also touching and real.  Readers of any age can pick this one up and enjoy.  I certainly did.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of books by Cynthia Lord)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of The Pumpkin War from the generous folks at Penguin Random House in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

Friday, May 17, 2019

Alaskan Debut Novel One Strange Ride

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Tracy Petrikoff would rather be out in the thick woods surrounding her Alaskan home than anywhere else.  Especially school.  The 17-year-old can't stand being trapped inside when there is a forest to explore, food to be hunted and gathered, and training to be done for the Iditarod.  As soon as she turns 18, Tracy plans not only to enter the race but also to become a dog sled racing champion like her father.  

When strange things start happening in the forest, Tracy feels decidedly unsettled.  Then a teenage boy comes wondering out of the trees, looking for work.  Although Tracy's father hires him on the spot, Tracy can't get a handle on the odd stranger.  She becomes especially nervous as the boy worms his way into the Petrikoffs' insulated lives.  Tracy knows Jesse is hiding something, but what?  With her senses sharply honed from a lifetime of stalking animals, Tracy knows danger is near.  Is the trouble coming from without?  Or, much more likely, from within?  

It's tough to describe The Wild Inside, a debut novel by Jamey Bradbury.  On one hand, it's an atmospheric thriller which is both unique and compelling.  On the other hand, it's an odd, unsettling, often nauseating story that is sometimes so blood-soaked it made me want to vomit.  I enjoyed learning about what it takes to compete in the Iditarod and I would have found this book much more appealing had it just been a story of a plucky teenage girl determined to win the big race.  Instead, The Wild Inside takes some weird turns that left me scratching my head.  Overall, the novel is depressing, and, in the end, just felt pointless.  The plot engaged me enough that I finished the book, but man, what a strange read!  

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language, violence, blood/gore, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Wild Inside from the generous folks at HarperCollins in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!
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