Friday, April 17, 2015

Straight-Shooting, What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get Problem Novel Sends Powerful Message

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

After years of being imprisoned and abused, Joy Nielsons is finally free.  With her mother behind bars, the 15-year-old should feel safe.  Especially now that she's living with the perfect family—Aunt Nicole, Uncle Rob and their kids, Tara and Trent—in their perfect Seattle home.  And yet, Joy can't stop the panic attacks and terrifying flashbacks that continue to plague her.  She longs for a normal life, but worries it's not possible.  Maybe she's just too broken.  

As Joy settles in, even opening up to a few friends, she makes gradual progression.  All her steps forward, however, are put into jeopardy when she's faced with the biggest hurdle of all—testifying against her mother in court.  Can Joy find the strength to endure such a traumatizing ordeal?  Or will the very thought destroy her, erasing any chance at the happy, healthy future she's trying to create for herself?

Given its title and synopsis, you can probably tell that Stronger Than You Know by Jolene Perry is a straight-shooting, what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of novel.  Joy's story is simply that—her story.  It describes her journey to heal from hellish abuse by learning to trust other people as well as herself.  That's about it.  Her budding romance with Justin adds a little subplot action, but other than that, the novel revolves around Joy's recovery.  Which is inspiring, as it sends a powerful message (You're stronger than you know!).  Truth is, though, I got a little tired of the extreme focus on the victim-trying-to-overcome-past-abuse plot line.  Call me heartless, but I wanted more to happen in this story.  I especially would have liked to see Joy acting, (maybe reaching out to help someone else as a way of healing), instead of just reacting all the time.  Despite that—as well as the book's many copyediting issues that kept pulling me out of the story—I did find Stronger Than You Know to be a powerful read.  It deals with tough issues, but does so in a sensitive, stirring way.  Like other problem novels, it creates awareness of a disturbing—and all too common—issue, while promoting empathy for its victims.  I wanted more from it, yes, but overall, it's an honest, hopeful novel with a strong, important message.  
 
(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other novels about victimized teens trying to find healing, but no specific titles are coming to mind.  Any ideas?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), depictions of child/sexual abuse, sexual innuendo, and depictions of underage drinking

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Haven Lake Compelling, Though Not Completely Satisfying

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Haven Lake has always been a place of refuge for drifters, draft dodgers and down-on-their-luckers.  In the '60s, its idyllic Berkshire setting provided the perfect backdrop for a peace-touting, free-lovin' hippie commune.  Like all the children who lived there, Sydney Bishop pranced naked through its fields and forests, wild and free as a wood sprite.  It was only as a teenager, after twin tragedies shattered not just her community, but also her family, that Sydney ran away from Haven Lake, vowing never to return.  Desperate to leave her past, with all its dark memories, far behind her, Sydney's kept her promise for two decades.

Now 36, Sydney finds fulfillment in her job as an educational psychologist, her quaint cottage on the shore, and her upcoming marriage to Gary Katz, a handsome surgeon.  Soon to be a stepmother, she's worked hard to get to know Dylan, her fiancĂ©'s 16-year-old son.  When the troubled boy runs away from home, Sydney's sympathetic, but shocked when she learns he's holing up at Haven Lake with Sydney's mother, Hannah.  Her astonishment turns to anger when Hannah offers to let Dylan stay and help her with the sheep farm.

Dylan's problems, mixed with Hannah's interference, and Gary's increasingly alarming mood swings, create a toxic cocktail that has Sydney questioning everything about her life.  The raging turmoil inside her can't be assuaged, she realizes, until she finds out the truth about what happened on the night her childhood best friend drowned in Haven Lake.  Facing the hurt that defines her past may be the only way for Sydney to find future happiness.  But, what happens when everything you remember is wrong?  And the future you've always dreamed of no longer feels right?  As Sydney confronts her haunting past, she'll have to decide whom to believe, whom to trust, and ultimately, whom to blame for the terrible events that turned Haven Lake into a hell of sorrow, guilt, and pain. 

It's no secret that I'm a complete sucker for a good damaged-woman-returns-to-her-hometown-to-confront-her-past novel.  With a premise like the one I summarized above, it's no surprise that I wanted to read Haven Lake by Holly Robinson.  The question is, did it deliver the kind of rich, redemptive story for which I generally go ga-ga?  Answer:  yes and no.  Although the characters are a sad, depressing lot, Robinson takes time to build them into complex, knowable beings.  Thus, I felt for them and cared about what happened to them.  Plot-wise, the novel roams here and there, with plenty of superfluous subplots that distract from the mystery at the heart of the book.  A tighter, more focused story would have made the novel feel more suspenseful and polished.  Likewise, I could have done without the graphic language and sex scenes, which, for me, detracted from the overall appeal of the book.  In the end, I found Haven Lake compelling, though not completely satisfying.   

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other novels with similar premises, although no specific title is coming to mind.  Help?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, sexual content, violence, and depictions of illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-galley of Haven Lake from the generous folks at Penguin via those at NetGalley.  Thank you!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Signed, Skye Harper: Carol Lynch Williams Keeps It Real

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Winston Fletcher should probably be angrier about the way her Momma abandoned her in pursuit of a glam Hollywood career.  Truth is, Winston's used to not having her mom around.  She prefers it that way (that's a half truth).  For the past eleven years, the 15-year-old's been getting along fine with just Nanny (her maternal grandmother) and their animals (1 rooster, 13 chickens, 1 dog).  Their lives in small town New Smyrna Beach, Florida, might not be glittery enough for Judith Lee Fletcher (a.k.a Skye Harper, a.k.a mom), but they're alright with Winston.  So, when Nanny receives an urgent letter from Miss Hollywood herself, begging her mother to come get her, both Nanny and Winston feel as ruffled as Denny the Rooster.  What should they do?

Nanny may be a penny-pinching, chain-smoking grump, but she's also a mother.  And a resourceful one at that.  After "borrowing" a slick new RV from an out-of-town friend, she hustles Winston, Denny and Thelma (Winston's dog) aboard the craft and takes off for Sin City.  Unbeknownst to the quartet, they've got a stowaway—cute Steve Simmons is not only the RV owner's son, but also the boy who makes Winston's heart pound like a bongo drum.  Winston's flustered enough over road-tripping in a stolen vehicle to retrieve the mother she hasn't seen in over a decade—now she has to spend the whole time trying to keep it together so she doesn't humiliate herself in front of the guy she likes?  Unbelievable.

Will Mission: Bring Skye Harper Home be a success?  How will Winston deal with having her larger-than-life mom around again?  And what will happen between her and Steve when their unlikely journey together ends?  With so many emotions ping-ponging around inside her, how will Winston cope with it all?  

The thing I love about YA author Carol Lynch Williams is that she does real so very, very well.  Signed, Skye Harper, her newest, is no exception.  Despite the novel's quirky humor, the story remains achingly authentic.  Steve, for example, is probably the most realistic teen boy I've ever encountered in YA fiction.  Yes, his hormonal behavior makes him less likable, but it also makes him more real.  More important are Winston's tender, heartbreaking emotions as she reacts to the upending of her ordered world as well as the highs and lows of falling in love for the first time.  Teens, especially, will relate to the roller coaster of feelings as she rides out her anxiety, confusion, sorrow, and fear.  After such a whirlwind trip with a girl like Winston, it will be impossible for anyone not to cheer as such a memorable heroine finally finds a place in her topsy-turvy world.  Heartwarming, but real, Signed, Skye Harper is just an all-around good read.  I loved it.  

(Readalikes:  Reminded me a little of Sway by Amber McRee Turner)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs), sexual innuendo, depictions of illegal drug use, and lots of talk about "bosoms"

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Signed, Skye Harper from the generous folks at Simon & Schuster because of my position as a judge for the Association for Mormon Letters (AML) Awards.  Thank you! 

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Tragedy Paper A Quiet, Atmospheric Mystery

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

A student's last year at New York's prestigious Irving School is about one thing:  traditions.  There are the gifts graduates leave in their dorm rooms for the incoming occupants to find, the clandestine game/prank the most popular seniors secretly organize and carry out, there's the dreaded "tragedy paper" assigned by the school's toughest teacher and, of course, there's the curse which guarantees that each year, one senior will leave school for some mysterious, inexplicable reason.

Duncan Meade, a senior from Michigan, can't wait to begin his final year at Irving.  Although the tragedy paper already weighs heavily on his mind, he's anxious to get his room assignment and find what's been left behind for him.  He's dismayed to learn he'll be living in the most undesirable room in the dorm, the former home of an albino named Tim MacBeth.  Most unimpressive is the lame stack of CDs Tim left for him—it's not even music, just the boy talking about his "downfall."  It's only when Duncan begins listening to them that he becomes entranced by Tim's story, which promises to reveal the truth behind the tragic incident that marred the former school year and led to a senior's mysterious leave-taking.  While unraveling the secrets of Tim MacBeth, Duncan must deal with his own dramas—and come to terms with the part he played in the grim events that changed Tim's life forever  

As you can probably tell from the cover, if not its plot description, The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan is a quiet, atmospheric mystery.  Featuring authentic, sympathetic characters, its plot unfolds slowly, building tension all along the way.  Comparatively, the novel's climax is a bit of a disappointment.  It's rather, well, anti-climactic.  Still, the novel kept me turning pages.  Sure, I would have liked smoother prose, a more dramatic ending, and a subtler overall story, but all in all, I enjoyed this one.

(Readalikes:  The publisher compares it to 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher and Looking for Alaska by John Green.  I haven't read the latter, but I agree the former is similar.)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, and mild sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Thursday, April 09, 2015

New Regency Romance Surprisingly, Touchingly Deep

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

With her gleaming mane of auburn hair, her twinkling green eyes, and her charming manners, it's no wonder 19-year-old Amber Sterlington is the Rage of the Season.  Men of the ton—single or otherwise—fall over themselves to win her attention, while the women seethe with jealousy at her ability to command a room with her natural charisma.  Confident in her ability to snag whomever she pleases, Amber is aiming for the bachelor with the highest title and biggest fortune.  She'll step on whomever it takes in order to get what she wants.  

Thomas Richards, the third son of a Northern baron, knows he has no chance with a debutante like Miss Sterlington.  She's not what he's looking for, anyway—someone as glamorous and vain as Amber could never be content as the wife of a gentleman farmer.  And yet, Thomas can't stop thinking about her.  Even though he's seen—all too vividly—how far beneath her notice she considers him to be.

When Amber suffers a shocking, very public abasement, she's knocked off her high society pedestal with a force that leaves her reeling.  Banished by her disgraced family, she's packed off to an isolated cottage in the wilds of Yorkshire.  Humiliated, Amber hides herself away, vowing never to show her face again.  For, who could ever love the hideous creature she's become?

What Amber doesn't know is that there's one man who's never forgotten her, one man who would gladly give her everything she desires ... if only she could find the courage to let him in.

I often dismiss Regency/Proper romances as trite, silly affairs appealing only as entertaining fluff between "real" books.  Maybe that's true (at least for me) in many—even most—cases, but not when it comes to A Heart Revealed by Josi S. Kilpack.  Although the novel's premise sounds as frivolous as any other Regency romance, it's got more going on beneath the surface than you'd think.  True, the topics it explores—the fickleness of the gentry, prejudice between social classes, gender inequality, physical attractiveness vs. inner beauty, etc.—are common to its genre.  That's not what makes A Heart Revealed stand out.  No, it's Kilpack's careful attention to character development and her skill at building realistically imperfect relationships that makes her story special.  Because of this, Amber's evolution from a selfish, spoiled brat to a concerned, capable woman is not just believable, but also touching.  Same goes for her interactions with the people around her.  It's all so authentic that I felt Amber's pains, ached for her sorrows, and longed for her happiness.  Her story kept me thoroughly engrossed, surprising me with its depth.  Honestly, I didn't expect to enjoy A Heart Revealed as much as I did, but I loved it.  It's a clean, complex, tearjerker of a romance—one that spoke straight to my heart.  

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a little of Becoming Bayley by Susan Auten)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for mild sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of A Heart Revealed from the generous folks at Shadow Mountain in exchange for my participation in the book's blog tour.  Thank you!

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Hawaii: One Girl's Dream, Another Girl's Nightmare

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

For most people, moving to Hawaii probably sounds like a dream come true.  Not for Peggy Sue Bennett.  The 12-year-old Texan couldn't feel more out of place in The Aloha State.  Not only is she haole (white), but this is 1960 and her classmates are not shy about telling her just what they think of uppity non-natives.  Every day.  And not in a kind way either.  Kiki Kahana, an Eighth Grade bully, even threatens to kill Peggy Sue if she doesn't help her pass home ec.  

Peggy Sue's misery is compounded by the fact that her precious cat, Howdy, has been impounded by the Hawaiian government; her mother has a serious case of the blues; and Peggy Sue's best friend from back home seems to have forgotten all about her.  Things can't get any worse—until a terrifying tsunami threatens Peggy Sue's Honolulu home.  The disaster shows her her own strength and courage, which just might be the keys to finally finding her place in her new home. 

I'm sure I'm not the only one who's vacationed in lush, exotic Hawaii and wondered what it would be like to live there.  Anywhere but Paradise, a new middle grade novel by Anne Bustard (available April 14, 2015), gives readers a little taste of that daydream.  Filled with references to Hawaiian culture, mythology, traditions, etc. it's an atmospheric tale that will appeal to anyone who's ever felt the pain and loneliness of being an outsider.  Although the story is a little unfocused, it's authentic, enjoyable and, ultimately, hopeful.  

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for intense/scary situations

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Anywhere but Paradise from the generous folks at Egmont USA.  Thank you!

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

TTT: Where Are They Now?


So, I wasn't planning to participate in Top Ten Tuesday this week because I already posted a review today, plus this week's TTT topic is, well, tough.  Some of the topics inspire dozens of answers to pop into my head, others just ... don't.  Still, I didn't want to miss out on the fun, so I just twisted the prompt to suit my needs a little better.  If you want to liven up your Tuesday a little, click on over to The Broke and the Bookish to get the skinny on how to participate.  It's easy!  It's fun!  It will give you clear skin and firm thighs!  Well, maybe not that last bit ...

Anyway, this week's topic is: Top Ten Characters You'd Like to Check In With.  Since I could only think of ones I figured would be on everyone's lists (Scout Finch, Scarlett O'Hara, etc.), I decided to focus my list on characters whom I can check in with, but whom I've been neglecting of late.


1.  "Bloody" Jacky Faber (Bloody Jack series by L.A. Meyer)—You've heard me rave on and on about how much I love Jacky.  She's a fantastic, larger-than-life heroine who makes me laugh.  As much as I adore her, though, I've only read half of the books in the series.  I need to pick up My Bonny Light Horseman soon and see what crazy adventure Jacky's on this time!


2.  Amelia Peabody (Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters)—Amelia Peabody is more understated than Jacky Faber, but she's also a heroine who has great adventures.  Her shocking actions/demeanor make me laugh.  I haven't read a Peabody mystery in some time and might have to re-start the series so I can remember who's who and what's what.  Or, I might just start where I left off (Book 5?  Book 6?).


3.  Percy Jackson (Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan)—Percy Jackson is one of my kids' favorite heroes.  I enjoyed The Lightning Thief, but never moved on with the series.  I think I need to drop back in and see what the young demi-god is up to these days.


4.  Peter, Susan, Edmond, and Lucy Pevensie (The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis)—I loved The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when I read it in elementary school.  Why I never read the rest of the series, I really don't know.  I've regretted it ever since and should really finish it up.  I have at least two sets of the books on my shelf, so I have no excuses ...  




5.  Mel, Jack, Preacher & Co. (Virgin River series by Robyn Carr); Hank Cooper & Co. (Thunder Point series by Robyn Carr)—I love Carr's romance novels with their small-town settings and big-hearted people.  I've read over half of the former series, but only the first of the latter.  I've got some catching up to do, for sure!


6.  Hannah Swensen (Hannah Swensen series by Joanne Fluke)—Yes, I realize these are the silliest murder mysteries in the history of murder mysteries.  I blame my friend Tara for turning me on to them.  She's right, though, they're useful when you want to read a light, easy mystery that won't turn your stomach or tax your brain.  Also, there are the recipes.  So, yeah, I definitely need to pop back into this series to see what's going down with the cookie baker turned amateur sleuth.


7.  Cammie Morgan & Co. (Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter)—I love this outlandish, warm-hearted series.  It's just fun.  The girls always have something crazy going on, so visiting them is a guaranteed good time.  I need to start Number Three, Don't Judge a Girl By Her Cover, soon.


8.  Don Tillman & Rosie Jarman (Rosie series by Graeme Simsion)The Rosie Project made me laugh out loud (many times) and root for this unlikely pair.  I'm curious to see what happens to them next.  Good thing I'm already on the library's waiting list for The Rosie Effect.


9.  Odd Thomas (Odd series by Dean Koontz)—Although I was not happy with the ending of Odd Thomas, the first installment in this popular series, I enjoyed the book.  Considering what happened to poor Odd in the first novel, I definitely need to check in with him and see if he's okay.


10.  Ruth Galloway (Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths)—Okay, so I just barely left this English archaeologist, but I'm ready for another visit to the salt marshes she loves so much.  Especially since the first novel ends not in a cliffhanger, but in an intriguing twist.  I definitely want to see where it leads!

So, there you have it.  I'm obviously horrendous at completing series.  The worst thing is, I feel like I've left all these characters hanging, like they've just been suspended in time until I open their books and release them.  When will I stop neglecting these poor story people?  Hopefully soon.  Which fictional characters have you been ignoring?  Which are you still wondering about?  Who would you like to catch up with?  I'd love to see your TTT list.

Happy reading!

*All book images from Barnes & Noble

New Regency Romance Predictable, But Fun (With a Giveaway!)

(Image from Deseret Book)

Living in an ancient English castle sounds a lot more exciting than it's actually turning out to be.  Margaret "Meg" Burton, a fiery redhead from the American South, had hoped it would be full of moaning ghosts or long-forgotten treasure or, at the very least, some juicy family secrets.  No such luck.  Thornshire, her cousin's boring old fortress, holds only one mystery: the Spanish prince who resides somewhere on the property.  Although Rodrigo de Talavera is the brother of Thornshire's mistress, he doesn't deign to dine or mingle with Meg's host family or their guests.  If he's that high and mighty, Meg doesn't want to meet him anyway.  Never mind that the only reason she's in
England is to find a husband who's wealthy enough to save her parents from financial ruin.

Meg's forthrightness as well as her adventurous spirit and unladylike interest in world politics are not earning her many points with the aristocratic Englishmen she's supposed to be impressing.  There's only one man who seems to appreciate her for who she is—Carlo, a handsome stablehand.  As the friendship between them blossoms into something stronger, Meg worries about the dangers inherent in such a forbidden relationship.

Of course, Carlo is keeping his own secrets, number one being that he is not the lowly servant Meg assumes him to be, but the prince whose lofty behavior Meg so heartily despises ...

I don't read a lot of Regency romances because while they're fun, I also find them clichĂ© and predictable.  You pretty much know what's going to happen just from reading the back cover copy.  Miss Burton Unmasks a Prince, the newest from Jennifer Moore, is no exception.  Its basic plot points (mistaken identity, marrying to save the family name, an outsider fumbling through a London Season, etc.) have been done—again and again and again.  Originality, thus, is not the novel's strong point.  And yet, it's a well-written romance with a fun (if not particularly well-developed) cast, amusing banter, and a light, upbeat tone.  Its strong (but not overbearing) message is an important one—to thine own self be true (which, as Lord Featherstone would no doubt [mis]inform you, is a famous line from Shakespeare's Macbeth :]).  Also significant is the fact that Miss Burton Unmasks a Prince is a clean romance, one you could hand to your 13-year-old daughter or your 103-year-old grandmother with equal confidence.  So, while the novel contains few surprises (I wanted some family secrets, too, dang it!), it still provides a sweet, swoon-worthy read that's both clean and enjoyable.  If you're a fan of this genre, you can't go wrong with Miss Burton Unmasks a Prince as well as the other books in Covenant's line of proper romances.  

(Readalikes:  Similar to other books by Jennifer Moore as well as those of Sarah M. Eden and Julianne Donaldson)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for mild violence and mild sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Miss Burton Unmasks a Prince from the generous folks at Covenant Communications as part of my involvement in the book's blog tour.  Thank you!

--


If you'd like more opinions on Miss Burton Unmasks a Prince, please visit the
other stops on the book's tour:


--

 Last, but not least, be sure to enter to win a $25 Amazon gift card, plus your own copy of Miss Burton Unmasks a Prince:
   
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, April 06, 2015

Winner, Winner, Easter Dinner!

I hope you all had a wonderful Easter weekend.  Despite a little drama from an unhappy author, mine was peaceful and uplifting.  I especially love it when my church's General Conference falls on Easter—not only do we get to attend church in our pajamas (no need to buy Easter finery—score!), but we get to hear inspired sermons about the importance of Jesus Christ and all He did for us.  All this emphasis on the Savior does my soul good.  If you missed Conference or are curious what it's all about, visit LDS.org.

In between watching Conference, playing Easter Bunny, baking cinnamon rolls, and cleaning up dog poo, I also chose a winner for the giveaway sponsored by Book Buckles that has been running here at BBB.  Actually, let me clarify:  when I say I chose the winner, I mean that I let Random.org or Rafflecopter.com (the latter in this case) choose.  Winners are never based on the entrant's identity or the cleverness of their comments or flattering words about BBB (not that that should stop you ...)—it's completely random.  That's the fairest way I can think of to run contests.

So, who did Rafflecopter select this time?  It's none other than:


Congratulations, Annette!   

Thanks to all who entered the giveaway.  I loved hearing all of your thoughts on bookmarking.  A giant thank you goes to Book Buckles for offering such a generous prize.  If you're looking for a beautiful, sturdy bookmark, be sure to check out their website.  

Since it's the LDS literary award season, I wanted to share something hilarious I found today at ByCommonConsent.com.  I'd never heard of this website until I went in search of the perfect cinnamon roll recipe to bake up for my family during Conference.  I happened upon this one, which is indeed perfect.  My cinnamon rolls turned out beautifully and they are so, so good.  Since I left the site as soon as I printed the recipe, I thought ByCommonConsent.com was an LDS mommy/homemaking blog.  Not so.  I've still not had a chance to explore it thoroughly, but it seems to be a website containing articles written by 20 or so LDS writers who discuss all kinds of Mormon topics in an open, but positive forum.  I loved the topic of today's post by Michael Austin:  Eight Hideously Bad Mormon Novels You Should Read Because Perfect Awfulness Is Its Own Kind of Good.  I haven't read any of the books he lists (the authors are all long-dead), but they sound hilarious ...

That's all for today.  Have a great rest-of-your-Monday.  Come back tomorrow for my Top Ten Tuesday post.  In the meantime, happy reading!

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Scandalous Sisterhood A Zany, Madcap Adventure

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

The students at St. Etheldreda's School for Young Ladies have little love for their cantankerous headmistress, Mrs. Plackett.  Or Mr. Godding, her odious brother.  Still, when the two keel over during a routine Sunday dinner, the students are a little disheartened, for the dual deaths by poisoning have come at a most inconvenient time indeed.  If anyone in the small village of Ely were to discover the girls living at the school unchaperoned, all seven students would surely be sent home
.  Perish the thought.  None of them want to return to the confining pressures of family life, especially since doing so would mean losing contact with one another.  Naturally, they cannot allow this to happen.  Obviously, they'll have to hide the corpses and pretend that everything at St. Etheldreda's is as proper as ever.

Of course, it will not be easy.  Especially as the townspeople begin to suspect that something is not quite right at the boarding school.  As keeping up the deception grows more and more difficult, the girls become more and more suspicious—not just of Mrs. Plackett's various associates, but also of each other.  When the clues finally start making sense, the girls begin to see what really happened.  But can they unmask the murderer in time to save themselves and their school?  Or will they be done in by their own dishonesty?

I like an author who keeps me guessing.  Julie Berry fits the bill.  I've read two of her books and they're very different from each other.  Her first YA novel, All the Truth That's In Me, is a spare, but lyrical story about a young woman's quest to find her voice.  The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place, her newest, is a middle grade Victorian murder mystery.  It's a wild, zany caper that's clever, funny, and enjoyable.  The girls' somewhat blase attitudes about the deaths of their supervisors is a touch disturbing.  Overall, though, the novel is a delightful madcap adventure.  Far-fetched, of course, but that's half the fun.  If you're looking for a light, engaging read that's both clean and amusing, look no further than this AML Award winner and Whitney Award nominee. 

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:  


for violence and mild sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place from the generous folks at Macmillan.  Thank you!

Friday, April 03, 2015

Missing Voice of Childhood Tess Leads to Less Appealing Adult Tess Novel

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Surviving childhood with a mother like Louise ("To her love-thirsty girls, she was an oasis that would appear and disappear at will" [79]) took courage, determination, and strength.  As a child, Tess Blessing had them all in spades.  Now 49, she's a dowdy, paranoid housewife who keeps the scars of her traumatic growing-up years buried deep, where she doesn't have to examine them too closely.  She's got enough adult problems to deal with, like her daughter's eating disorder, her husband's growing disinterest, and her estranged relationship with her beloved younger sister.  Then comes a shocking diagnosis: breast cancer.  

Sure she's on her deathbed, Tess vows not to put off for another second the things she really needs to do:  make peace with her sister, finally spread her mother's ashes, rescue her daughter, and reignite the spark that used to burn so brightly between herself and Will, her husband of nearly thirty years.  It won't be easy, especially the parts that involve digging deep into her injured heart and soul.  Unbeknownst to Tess, she has a special guide—Grace could be an angel, a pretend friend, or some other figment of Tess's overactive imagination, but she's there—to help her endure the pain.  As Tess tries to make headway on her challenging bucket list, she'll need all the aid she can get.  Can she tap into the tenacity that defined her as a child in order to move past the heartaches of life?  Or will she die without ever accomplishing the things she most longs to do?

As much as I love Lesley Kagen's books, I have to say The Resurrection of Tess Blessing is not my favorite.  I fell in love with the title character after reading The Undertaking of Tess, a prequel that offers a glimpse of Tess as a child.  Vintage Kagen, the novella shines because of its narrator's strong, engaging voice.  Because of that, I was looking forward to another adventure with this unique character.  Unfortunately, the voice that spoke to me so strongly is almost non-existent in The Resurrection of Tess Blessing.  Although I liked the concept of a guardian angel/imaginary friend telling the story of adult Tess (who remains an uncommon individual), I found Tess's childhood self so much more appealing!  Still and all, The Resurrection of Tess Blessing is not a bad novel.  In fact, it's sympathetic, funny, and relatable.  It just doesn't have the spark I expected after reading The Undertaking of Tess.  Despite some copy editing issues, I enjoyed the novel overall.  Just not as much as I wanted to.  


Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language (a half dozen or so F-bombs, plus milder invectives) and sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Resurrection of Tess Blessing from the generous folks at Book Sparks.  Thank you!
      

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

TTT: Recent Additions to My TBR Mountain Chain


A couple weeks ago, the Top Ten Tuesday topic was books on my Spring TBR list.  Today's isn't much different, but that's okay.  I love TBR lists in any form.  Book recommendations come at me all the time from all kinds of sources, so I'm happy to share them with you.  I love seeing yours as well. Joining the fun is simple:  click on over to The Broke and the Bookish for instructions, then create a TTT list on your blog, and share it with the rest of us.  Easy peasy.

This week's topic:  Top Ten Books You Recently Added to Your TBR List



1.  The Sin Eater's Daughter by Melinda Salisbury—I just finished a Christian novel about a sin eater in Appalachia and found the idea fascinating.  This YA book continues the theme, but in a completely different way.  It will be interesting to compare/contrast the two stories.


2.  Something by Kristin Hannah—I just finished Hannah's newest novel, The Nightingale, which I enjoyed.  I'm looking for something else by her.  Any recommendations?  I already have Fly Away, so I'll probably start with it.


3.  Kick Back by Chelsea Cain—I try to avoid the type of "gory thrillers" Cain writes, but I got totally sucked into One Kick.  The novel features Kick Lannigan, who was famously kidnapped as a child.  Now a tough, paranoid adult, she's roped into helping find children missing in the Portland, Oregon, area.  As gruesome as the book is, it's also a compelling, adrenaline-rush of a read.  I'm anxiously awaiting the publication of Kick Back, the next installment in the series.


4.  Mind of Winter by Laura Kasischke—This one has been getting so-so reviews, but I'm still intrigued by the premise.  A couple adopts a little girl from a Siberian orphanage.  A short time later, in the middle of a blizzard, the child is acting mysteriously and her mother begins to wonder just what she's brought home.


5.  One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis—My kids' elementary school has a homegrown reading program that requires lots of volunteers, of which I am one.  Because of that, I spend a couple of hours each week at the school library.  As you can imagine, the topic of books often comes up among the volunteers, teachers, librarians, etc.  During one such conversation, one of the librarians mentioned how much this book kept her guessing.  I like a good psychological thriller, so I stuck One Step Too Far on ye olde TBR list pile mountain mountain chain.



6.  The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths—I need to stop perusing Kay's Reading Life because Kay's always got great-looking recommendations.  My TBR mountain chain can't take it!  She loves Griffith's series about a forensic archaeologist who helps to solve mysteries.  The Crossing Places is the first installment.


7.  Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan MeissnerBookbub.com recently published a Top Ten list of their favorite WWII novels.  The Nightingale is among their selections, as is this novel about an American scholar interviewing an elderly woman who has dark secrets connected to the war.  Not the most original premise in the world, but one that always manages to hook me nonetheless!


8.  Fig by Sarah Elizabeth Schantz—I noticed this YA novel while perusing Scholastic's catalogs on Edelweiss.  It's about a girl dealing with her mother's schizophrenia and her own emotional/mental issues.


9.  Fifth Avenue Fidos by Holly Schindler—I always enjoy Schindler's books, so I'm looking forward to reading her first new adult novel.  Fifth Avenue Fidos is a fun love story about two lost souls—and their dogs.  Sounds super cute.


10.  All About Aussies: The Australian Shepherd From A to Z by Jeanne Joy Hartnagle-Taylor—Speaking of poochies ... The breeder from whom we bought Rory, our Aussie puppy, really recommended this book as a great guide to the breed.  Unfortunately, it's out of print.  None of the libraries in my area have it, nor can I find a copy online for less than $30.  Boo hoo.  I really want to read it.

So, there you have it, ten books I've recently added to my TBR list.  How about you?  Have you gotten any good recs lately?  Any great titles I should be snatching up?  Leave me a comment and I'll be happy to stop by your blog to check out your list.

Oh, and before you go, don't forget to enter my giveaway for a $20 Barnes & Noble gift card and two Book Buckles.  A winner will be chosen (randomly, via Rafflecopter) on Easter Sunday, so don't miss your chance to win!

*All images from Barnes & Noble or author websites
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