Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Ghostly War Bride Mystery Compelling and Hopeful

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

In the devastating aftermath of World War II, Europe's battle-ravaged citizens are looking to the future.  They're rebuilding demolished communities, healing torn relationships, and piecing together their shattered souls.  For thousands of young women in England, France, Belgium, and other nations, hope lies across the ocean with their American G.I. husbands.  Ships, including the luxurious RMS Queen Mary, are commissioned to transport these women to the U.S.  On the vessel's maiden war bride voyage, more than a thousand eager wives and their children sail toward New York Harbor.  Among them is Annaliese Kurtz, a German ballerina married to a sadistic Nazi.  She carries a stolen passport and identification papers belonging to a dead woman.

Seventy years later, another woman at a crossroads in her life boards the Queen Mary.  Brette Caslake, a 34-year-old newlywed, hides a special gift.  She's able to communicate with Drifters, lost souls who hover in "thin" places.  While doing a favor for a friend aboard the ship, she encounters an otherworldly presence unlike any she's met before.  This Drifter points her toward a name: Annaliese Kurtz.  Official sources indicate the woman threw herself off the Queen Mary in 1946; the Drifter says otherwise.  Brette refuses to "indulge" ghosts, but this one is different.  This one demands a truth only Brette can find.

The more Brette learns about Annaliese Kurtz and the Queen Mary's war brides, the more intrigued she becomes.  Learning about their hopes and heartaches helps her face her own struggles.  In their courage, she might just find her own ...

Stories that oscillate between past and present always appeal to me, especially when they revolve around important historical periods or events.  A Fall of Marigolds, Susan Meissner's novel about two women living in New York City—one during the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911, the other during the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2011—intrigued me for that very reason.  After enjoying that novel, I was thrilled to learn that Meissner has a new book out, especially since it employs a similar format to the one used in A Fall of Marigolds.  In A Bridge Across the Ocean, Meissner indeed uses a back-and-forth-in-time structure to tell the story of a German woman desperate to escape at any cost.  Having Annaliese stow away on the Queen Mary allows Meissner to bring attention to a World War II footnote that often gets overlooked—the thousands of European war brides whose lives changed irrevocably because of their (often hasty) marriages to American G.I.'s.  While Brette's situation is interesting enough in its own right, it's the history that I found most interesting about A Bridge Across the Oceans.  There's plenty to enjoy about the book, however—sympathetic characters, tense situations, a compelling mystery, sweet romance, etc.  Although the novel deals with some dark issues, overall it's hopeful and uplifting.  I enjoyed it and look forward to reading more from this engaging author.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, blood/gore, scenes of peril, and sexual content (not overly graphic, although there is a rape scene)

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of A Bridge Across the Ocean from the generous folks at Penguin.  Thank you!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Gothic Mystery Eerie, Compelling

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Nestled in the Adirondacks, The Heart Lake School for Girls holds little but bad memories for Jane Hudson.  Once a scholarship student at the boarding school, she fled the institution after a spate of suicides that resulted in the deaths of her three best friends.  Two decades later, she's a single mother looking for a new start.  As Heart Lake's new Latin instructor, she'll live on site while teaching.  As apprehensive as she feels being back, she's hoping for the best.

It doesn't take long, though, for sinister reminders of Jane's tragic Heart Lake past to surface.  Someone seems to know exactly what happened when she was a student.  But who?  Everyone concerned is dead.  Has one of Jane's new students somehow gotten hold of the journal she kept back then?  Are the girls playing a cruel trick on their new teacher?  Or is something more ... otherworldly going on?  When a new rash of suicides starts plaguing the school, Jane is terrified that the past is coming back in the most awful way possible.  Can she figure out what's going on before more people die?  Heart Lake has already taken so much from Jane.  Will it finally strip her of everything that's important to her?

The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman is an atmospheric mystery with eerie Gothic undertones.  Its premise intrigued me, as did its back-and-forth-in-time storytelling.  Although the plot kept me engaged, I saw most of its twists and turns coming, which made Jane seem very slow on the uptake.  Still, I raced through this dark, compelling novel, eager to see what was going to happen.  In the end, I didn't love The Lake of Dead Languages, but I did enjoy it overall.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other books by Carol Goodman, including River Road, Arcadia Falls, and The Ghost Orchid)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a half dozen or so F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, blood/gore, and sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Eden's Newest Regency Romance Full of Author's Trademark Warmth and Wit (With a Giveaway!)

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

http://www.blogginboutbooks.com/p/lds-authors.htmlWith Napoleon destroying her beloved Spain, 19-year-old Mariposa Thornton flees her native land with only her elderly abuela in tow.  Before she left, her English father instructed the scattered family to reunite at his ancestral home.  He died before being able to give them more detailed directions.  Mariposa has fought her way to England, but now she's lost.  Somewhere in this vast land, her mother and young brother are hiding from a vicious family enemy.  How can she find them in a large country without drawing unwanted attention to the Thorntons' desperate plight?

Mariposa hatches a bold—probably ridiculous—plan to get help from Jason Jonquil, a London solicitor.  She can't tell him the true reasons behind her request.  In fact, the success of her mission depends on playing an exaggerated role, one that will camouflage her true identity and purpose.
As the son of an earl and a man striving to become a fine gentleman in his own right, Jason feels duty-bound to help the damsel in distress.  He can't make heads or tails of silly Mariposa.  Jason can't quite believe she's as ditzy as she seems, but then why the show?  The more he gets to know the infuriating female, the more intrigued he becomes.  Soon, Jason finds himself traipsing across the globe to help her find her family.  Along the way, he finds—inexplicably enough—that he might just be losing his heart to the enigmatic seƱorita

If you've ever spent time in the company of Sarah M. Eden, you know she's a petite woman who's big on spunk, humor, and charm.  If you've read her books, you know her sparkling personality comes through very strongly in her stories.  Her newest, A Fine Gentleman, is no exception.  The Regency Romance exudes Eden's trademark warmth and wit.  Yes, it deals with serious subjects (war, loss, mental instability, etc.), but overall the novel provides a light, fun, romantic read.  Although it reaches a very predictable Happily Ever After, there's enough substance in A Fine Gentleman to keep the story interesting.  You won't find a lot of originality here, nor will you be blindsided by shocking twists in the tale.  But, if you're looking for a bright, swoony story that's clean and ultimately satisfying, this one should serve you very well.  

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a little bit of Lady Emma's Campaign by Jennifer Moore)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

  
for scenes of peril and mild sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of A Fine Gentleman from the generous folks at Covenant Communications in return for my participation in the book's blog tour.  Thank you! 

--

Would you like to get your hands on your own copy of A Fine Gentleman?  How about a $25 Amazon gift card?  How about both?  Fill out the Rafflecopter widget below to enter the giveaway: a Rafflecopter giveaway
 

Follow along on the blog tour for A Fine Gentleman:
March 10thhttp://booksaresanity.blogspot.com/http://literarytimeout.blogspot.com/,

Monday, March 06, 2017

Mormon Mentions: Carol Goodman

If you're not sure what a Mormon is, let alone a Mormon Mention, allow me to explain:  My name is Susan and I'm a Mormon (you've seen the commercials, right?).  As a member of  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (commonly known as the Mormon or LDS Church), I'm naturally concerned with how my religion is portrayed in the media.  Because this blog is about books, every time I see a reference to Mormonism in a book written by someone who is not a member of my church, I highlight it here.  Then, I offer my opinion—my insider's view—of what the author is saying.  It's my chance to correct misconceptions, expound on principles of the Gospel, and even to laugh at my (sometimes) crazy Mormon culture.

--

Nan Lewis, the main character in River Road by Carol Goodman, teaches creative writing at a college in upstate New York.  At the end of the novel, she's describing pieces written by her students.  She says:

An exchange student wrote a funny, irreverent piece about growing up Mormon in Scotland (270). 

There's not much to this passage, but a few things come to mind:
  • I would totally read a memoir (probably even an irreverent one) about growing up Mormon in Scotland!
  • The LDS Church was introduced in Scotland in the mid-1830s.  Over the next 2o years, almost 10,000 people joined the church.  More than 7,000 emigrated to the United States to join with Mormon pioneers from the U.S. and other countries on the trek to Zion.
  • Although I couldn't find any current statistics for church membership in Scotland alone, there are 186, 423 members in the U.K. (according to MormonNewsroom.org).

Intriguing Premise + Sympathetic Heroine + Compelling Plot = Riveting Psychological Thriller

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Six years ago, Nan Lewis lost everything because of a drunk driver on River Road.  Her daughter's death shook her world, paralyzing her with grief and anger.  Unable to pen another word, Nan's career as a novelist stalled.  Her marriage crumbled as she curled in on herself, becoming a virtual hermit.  With her social life revolving mainly around her cat, the professor drinks too much while spending long, lonely hours brooding inside her rotting farmhouse.  The only thing that really matters to her is her job teaching creative writing at a college in upstate New York.  And now she's been denied tenure.  Things can't get much worse.

Then, they do.

While driving home from a faculty Christmas party on snow-packed River Road, Nan hits a deer.  Although her car is dented, she sees no sign of the dead animal.  Shaken, she just manages to fight her way through the heavy snow and park her mangled car at the bottom of her driveway.  She receives another shock when a policeman shows up on her doorstep the next morning informing her that one of her students—Leia Dawson—was killed the night before in a hit-and-run on River Road.  Because of Nan's damaged car, she's just become a suspect.  Despite her horrified protests, the overwrought professor can't be entirely sure of her own innocence.  She had been both upset and "slightly" intoxicated when she got behind the wheel.  Nan hit something with her car—was it a deer or something much, much more disturbing?  

As she becomes even more of a pariah in her small community, Nan searches her cloudy memories for the truth of what really happened that night on River Road.  When eerie tokens recalling her daughter's accident start showing up on her doorstep, Nan becomes even more unhinged.  What really happened to Leia Dawson?  Nan's (almost) convinced she had nothing to do with the young woman's death.  But if she didn't, who did?  As the stakes grow ever more perilous, the professor must figure out the truth.  Before it's too late.

With a premise like the one at the heart of River Road by Carol Goodman, how could I resist?  The novel opens with a bang and keeps up the intensity all the way through to its satisfying end.  Nan is a sympathetic character with realistic flaws that make her both relatable and root-worthy.  Myriad twists keep her story interesting.  Although I saw the killer coming from about halfway through the novel, I literally could not stop reading until I knew for sure what had happened to Leia.  River Road is that compelling.  Even though I've read a few more of Goodman's books since this one, River Road remains my favorite.  

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language, violence, blood/gore, mild sexual content, and depictions of illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Don't Worry ... Be Happy!

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Are you happy?  What makes you that way?  What keeps you that way?  According to Hank Smith, a popular writer and speaker, humans are hard-wired for happiness.  In the introduction to his new book, Be Happy, he writes: "The desire to be happy is ingrained in you.  The Lord put it there.  You might think of it as His fingerprint on your brain" (2).  If that is so (and it is—it's in the scriptures), then why are so many people so unhappy?  What makes them that way?  What keeps them that way?

Smith proposes that, in most cases, we are what is making us unhappy.  By banishing behaviors that lead to unpleasant results, we can create more joyful lives for ourselves.  Smith is quick to note that cases of clinical depression are a different ballgame, but for those with garden-variety unhappiness, small lifestyle changes can have a big impact on one's general outlook.  Being happier is not about our circumstances, insists the author, but in how we deal with those circumstances.  Using examples from scripture as well as counsel from notable leaders, thinkers, scientists, etc. the author offers practical advice on paving a happier path.  Everything from meditating to identifying stimuli in order to better control our reactions to it to keeping a gratitude journal to eating better to laughing more to serving other people can help us be happier on a daily basis.

If you've heard Hank Smith speak, you are familiar with his positive, upbeat style.  This engaging voice infuses Be Happy, making it a quick, funny read that will keep you smiling.  The advice he gives is solid, though, and definitely worth putting into practice.  Even people who would describe themselves as naturally happy can find tips to make their existence even more joyful.  Overall, this small book is a gem.  It's an easy, helpful read that should bring light to anyone who's feeling down.  I enjoyed this fun pick-me-up and would recommend it to anyone who needs a little happy in their life.

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Be Happy from the generous folks at Covenant Communications.  Thank you!

Thursday, March 02, 2017

A Quirky Girl Meets a Quirky Boy and They Fall in Quirky Love ...

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Two years ago, Petula de Wilde killed her little sister.  Intellectually, the 16-year-old knows Maxine's death wasn't her fault—not entirely—but she can't quite convince her aching heart.  Nothing's been the same since Max died.  Not Petula's parents, who can barely stand each other.  Not her friendship with Rachel; the two no longer speak.  Not Petula's fragile psyche, which can't stop seeing death in every pothole, germ, and hamburger patty.  Petula used to be normal.  Now, she's a freak with such limited social skills that she's stuck doing preschool projects in art therapy class with the all other weirdos at her high school.

Then, Petula meets the Bionic Man.  Jacob Cohen, a 17-year-old amputee, has just moved to Vancouver from Toronto.  For reasons the budding filmmaker refuses to divulge, he has also been placed in "crafting for crazies."  For reasons just as mysterious, Jacob seems to find Petula oozing with friend potential.  She can't understand why a nice, normal guy like him would think her appealing, but he's slowly pushing through the defenses she throws up against everyone else.  Before she knows it, Petula and Jacob have become closer than she could have ever imagined.  Petula's told him all her deep, dark secrets, so why is Jacob so reticent with his?  What is he hiding?  When the truth finally comes to light, everything will change.  Including a tenuous relationship between two very broken teenagers ...

Yesterday when I was reading Optimists Die First, a YA tragicomedy by Susin Nielsen, my 15-year-old daughter asked what the book was about.  Without really thinking, I replied, "A quirky girl meets a quirky boy and they fall in quirky love."  And you know what?  That's a pretty apt description, if I do say so myself.  Petula, a craft and cat fiend with myriad neuroses, defines quirky.  Her oddities keep her interesting, while her voice—which is strong and real—makes her relatable.  She's a sympathetic character, one readers want to see succeed.  Gentle Jacob appeals in much the same way.  In fact, this could be said of all Nielsen's story people.  They're a likable lot.  Which makes Optimists Die First fun to read.  It's a sad book, yes, but it's more hopeful than not.  Although there were parts I wasn't so keen on (hello, bizarrely lax parenting!), overall, I enjoyed this novel about friendship, forgiveness, and finding hope in even the darkest of crafting disasters.

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

Grade:

    
If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs), sexual content, and references to drugs and underage drinking (references are non-graphic and used mostly in a cautionary way)

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Optimists Die First from the generous folks at Random House Children's Books.  Thank you!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

At the Pulpit Ground-Breaking, Awe-Inspiring, Faith-Promoting


I know murder and mayhem seems to be business as usual around here, but occasionally I do tackle serious books.  The shock!  The horror!  When my husband saw me reading At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-Day Saint Women—highlighters in hand—I think he shed a real tear at this so-obvious sign of my literary (and spiritual) maturation!  Although I find myself consuming books mainly as a form of entertainment (hence the mystery/thrillers), like any religious person, I enjoy reading things which inspire me, uplift me, and strengthen my faith.  Dense, heavy tomes rarely keep my attention, so I prefer this kind of literature to be on the lighter side.  While I believe At the Pulpit qualifies as such, it is by no means fluffy or insignificant.  In fact, it's an incredible collection of words by LDS sisters that provides a penetrating peek at the kind of smart, passionate, devoted women who have always filled the Church with their faith, fortitude, and fidelity.  

Edited by Jennifer Reeder and Kate Holbrook—both historians with the LDS Church History Department—the book includes 54 discourses (selections come from talks, meeting notes, informal testimonies, songs, etc.) that were given by LDS women between 1831 and 2016.  Presented in chronological order, each installment includes a biographical sketch of its speaker as well as a note about the historical context in which the discourse was given.  Photographs also accompany some of the selections.  Together, these articles provide a fascinating timeline of the evolution of the Church's Relief Society program while also offering proof of the vital role women always have—and always will—play, not just in that organization, but also in every one that exists within the Church.  Anyone who believes women and their contributions are not appreciated in the LDS Church needs to read this book.  

Probably my favorite part of studying At the Pulpit involved discovering and re-discovering the amazing women who've been part of the Church since its very beginning.  Emma Hale Smith's vision was extraordinary.  Eliza R. Snow's practical pioneer wisdom rang out loud and clear every time she spoke.  Alice S. Smith's simple testimony of visiting teaching struck a chord.  I wept over the conversion story of Irina Kratzer, a Siberian convert.  I laughed at the "cheekiness" of Judy Brummer, a South African who was instrumental in bringing the Gospel to the Xhosa people.  Elaine Jack helped me to "Get a Life." Jutta B. Busche reminded me never to feel inferior, remembering always that I am a daughter of God.  Sheri L. Dew made me laugh over inaccurate addition and bad hair days at the same time she taught me valuable lessons about listening to the Holy Ghost.  And Elsie Talmage Brandley—whom I'd never heard of before—blew me away with a talk about the "The Religious Crisis of Today."  It couldn't have been more timely, even though it was written in 1934! 

Reeder and Hobrook make a point of including as much variety as they can in these discourses and truly, it's remarkable, how different are these women.  Some hail from the United States, some from Africa, some from Latin America, and beyond.  Some are single, some are married, some are plural wives, some are widows.  Some are mothers, some are grandmothers, some are favorite aunts.  Some are teachers, some are poets, some are social workers, some are authors, some are businesswomen.  What do they have in common?  All are sisters.  All are women of God.  All are devoted to their faith, their families, their nations, their neighborhoods, their fellowman (and woman).  All promote what is good, what is Christ-like, what is right.  

When I received At the Pulpit for review, I started reading 1-3 selections from it every night along with my scripture study.  That nightly devotional sustained me.  It was inspirational and awe-inspiring.  I'm anxiously awaiting volume 2 in the series (which, as far as I know, is only wishful thinking on my part) so I can continue what has been, for me, a transforming experience.  Bottom line: I love this book and highly recommend it to anyone.  Anyone at all.

For more information, please visit the book's website, where you can read about At the Pulpit and enjoy a number of the published discourses, as well as several bonus selections, for free.   The book can be purchased through the Distribution Center, as well as at Amazon, Deseret Book, Barnes & Noble, and other retailers.  

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-Day Saint Women from the generous folks at the LDS Church History Department.  Thank you!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Promising New-to-Me Series Starts With a Bang

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"Maybe Hell wasn't anything to do with places.  Hell was all to do with people.  Maybe Hell was people" (44).

The very last thing Ellie and her friends expect when they emerge from the bush is to find their world irrevocably changed.  After a week of camping in the wilderness outside their hometown, all they're really thinking about is hot showers and home-cooked meals.  But, while they've been gone, an unknown enemy has taken over their small town.  Wirawee—and maybe all of Australia—is overrun with armed, foreign soldiers.  All of the kids' friends, neighbors, and family members have been imprisoned.  Homes sit empty.  Farm animals are dead in their corrals.  Stores have been ransacked.  The sound of gunfire echoes through the still air.  This, the teens are shocked to discover, is a war zone.

Ellie and her six best mates soon realize they may be Wirawee's only hope for rescue.  They've been joking all week about "going bush" and "going feral."  It's no longer a laughing matter; hiding seems like the best—the only—way to avoid capture.  From the safety of the bush's natural camouflage, they can figure out what to do next.  The terrified teens can't imagine how to do it, but they know it's up to them to save the world—or at least their little corner of it.

Tomorrow, When the War Began is the first installment in John Marsden's addictive Tomorrow series.  The Australian author published the initial volume in 1993; it, and all the subsequent books, have been popular ever since.  It's easy to see why.  Narrated by strong, sympathetic Ellie, the novel tells an exciting story full of action and adrenaline-fueled adventure.  While it's sometimes difficult to distinguish one member of Ellie's posse from another, the characters are still intriguing.  They get more fleshed out in later books; Tomorrow, When the War Began focuses more on plot.  Still, the tale offers an engaging cast of story people, all of them interesting and root-worthy.  That, coupled with lots of heart-pumping action, makes for a fast, engrossing read.  The tale's not without its quiet, contemplative moments, which gives it more depth and authenticity.  This balance creates a round, layered story that's not just a good yarn, but a poignant one as well.  Tomorrow, When the War Began hooked me right away—since the books weren't readily available at my library, I bought the whole set from Amazon through a U.K. seller.  That's how invested I already am in this promising series!

(Readalikes:  Other books in the series, including The Dead of The Night; A Killing Frost; Darkness, Be My Friend; Burning for Revenge; The Night is For Hunting; and The Other Side of Dawn)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs), violence, scenes of peril, and sexual innuendo

(Note: The 2010 Tomorrow, When the War Began film [viewable right now on Netflix] is rated either PG-13 or R, depending on where you're looking.  Netflix says R.  Amazon has two different listings for the DVDs, one with a PG-13 rating, one with an R rating.  I won't watch the film until after I finish the books; if you have, enlighten me about the content, won't you?  The 2015/16 t.v. mini-series version [available for purchase on Amazon through Australian retailers] is NR for not rated)   

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Tomorrow, When the War Began from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Ketchup Clouds As Laugh-Out-Loud Funny As It Is Weep-Out-Loud Sad

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Someone once called me the Simon Cowell of book blogging, a title which I proudly embraced.  I'm notoriously hard to please, but guess what?  There's someone out there who's even pickier than I am!  You're shocked, I know.  Jenny, who runs Alternate Readality, is that blogger.  I've been a fan girl for a long time because I can always trust Jenny to tell it like it is.  She's got a sharp wit, a refreshing honesty, and an abiding loyalty to her blogging friends.  I love her.  She rarely gushes, so when she posted a rave review of a book I'd never heard ofKetchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher—I knew I needed to give the novel a go.  In the end, I didn't love it as much as Jenny did, but I did enjoy the book and would definitely recommend it to anyone who digs contemporary YA.

Here's the low-down:

Few people know what it's like to bear responsibility for the death of someone they love.  Few people get how it feels to lug around guilt that big, that crushing.  "Zoe"—a British teen—can't reveal her dark, dirty secret to anyone.  No one would understand how she fell for two boys, ripped one's heart out (figuratively) and killed the other (literally).  No one except another murderer.  Desperate to confess to someone, "Zoe" chooses the one person who might get what she's feeling—an inmate on Death Row in a Texas prison.  Through the letters she writes late at night, she tells Stuart Harris everything.  He may never receive her epistles, but that doesn't really matter.  What matters is "Zoe" coming to terms with the horrible thing she's done, the terrible pain she's caused, and the excruciating grief that will be her lifelong penance.  

Like Jenny, I appreciate the balance that Pitcher achieves in Ketchup Clouds.  Parts of the story are (believe it or not) laugh out loud funny.  Other sections are weep-out-loud sad.  The narrator's voice is so authentic that it resonates no matter what part of her tale she's telling.  All the teens in the story seem step-right-off-the-page genuine—they are realistically thoughtless, impulsive, and fickle, which makes what happens to them all the more poignant.  With impeccable pacing, Ketchup Clouds also manages to be tense and suspenseful.  I never read story endings first, but I was tempted to in this case because I really, really wanted to know what happened with this ill-fated love triangle.  Overall, then, Ketchup Clouds makes for a compelling read.  Not a happy one or a hopeful one, but a thoughtful one that will make you think—about guilt, grief, remorse, and the eternal sting of regret.  I guarantee you'll still be pondering this one long after you read its last page.

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs), sexual content, and depictions of underage drinking

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Despite Familiar Plot, Intriguing Premise Produces Compelling Page Turner

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

It has always been difficult for 15-year-old Nico Morris to live in the shadow of her older sister.  Beautiful, popular, and brimming with self-confidence, Sarah is everything Nico is not.  Even though Sarah has been gone for four years—she vanished from the Pennsylvania park where she was meeting her older boyfriend when she was 15—her presence still lingers.  The disappearance shattered the girls' parents; Nico, however, has felt only relief.  No one knows how cruelly Sarah treated her younger sister.  The daily taunting, the constant belittling, the never-ending bullying—no, Nico definitely does not miss Sarah. 

Then, a miracle occurs: Sarah has been found.  Suffering from retrograde amnesia, the 19-year-old can't explain where she's been.  She can't even remember the plot of her favorite book.  Obviously traumatized, this Sarah is malnourished, shy, and tentative.  Most shocking of all, she's nice.  Not sure what to make of the stranger beside her, Nico becomes convinced that the interloper isn't Sarah at all.  But if she isn't Nico's sister, then who is she?  If she is, then Nico has some serious questions for her.  What really happened to Sarah Morris?  Everyone is asking, but only one person knows the truth ...

I've read a couple books lately with the same premise as the one at the heart of The Stranger Game by Cylin Busby.  It's a fascinating idea, one different authors have explored in different ways.  Although the plot of The Stranger Game is almost identical to one of the "readalikes" I list below, I still found it to be a compelling page turner.  It's tense and twisty, with the kind of ending that makes you go, "Huh."  I'm still not sure what I think of it!  I do know that I whipped through The Stranger Game in a few hours, anxious to see how it would wrap up.  In the end, I liked the book, didn't love it.  Still, it's an engrossing psychological thriller that will appeal to fans of Gillian Flynn and Ruth Ware

*A couple interesting tidbits about this book and author:

—Busby has a disappearance story of her own, which she writes about in a memoir called The Year We Disappeared.

The Stranger Game was inspired by the fascinating true case of Nicholas Barclay, a Texas boy who disappeared when he was 13.  Warning: to avoid spoilers, read about Nicholas only after you've read The Stranger Game.


Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a few F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, and depictions of underage drinking

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Monday, February 13, 2017

Absorbing and Atmospheric, Historical Novel with Big Sur Setting Makes for a Compelling Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Gertrude "Trudy" Swann knows exactly what to expect from her future.  After graduating from the Milwaukee College for Females, she'll marry sweet, straightforward Ernst, settle into a house not far from her parents', and rear a brood of well-tended children.  It will be a pleasant life, placid and predictable.  If only Trudy could settle for that!  But, no, the 19-year-old longs for adventure, something more than mundane Midwestern married life.  

When Trudy meets Ernst's cousin, Oskar, she's smitten with his charming, ambitious nature.  Despite her family's misgivings, the couple marry and set out on what promises to be a thrilling endeavor in California's rugged, remote Big Sur.  Point Lucia, the untamed island on which Oskar will be working as an assistant lighthouse keeper, is more primitive than the newlyweds ever could have imagined.  The only other people on the island are the Crawleys, an enigmatic family with plenty of secrets.  Immediately taken by the Crawley children, Trudy becomes their teacher, playmate, and co-explorer.  As she and Oskar adjust to their hardscrabble island existence, trouble soon surfaces in paradise.  Between Mrs. Crawley's constant disapproval, Oskar's increasingly unsettling behavior, and a shocking secret hiding in the rocks, Trudy's little adventure will turn into an extraordinary experience destined to change her life forever.

The Edge of the Earth by Christina Schwarz is a quiet, but compelling novel about finding oneself in the most unexpected of places.  Big Sur makes for a vivid, exotic setting.  Details about marine life and lighthouse keeping give the story authenticity without dragging it down.  Trudy, Oskar, and the rest of the cast are complex, intriguing characters.  I definitely wanted to know what was going to happen to them all.  Although The Edge of the Earth tells a sad story, I enjoyed this absorbing novel about the nature of a marriage, the nature of an island, and the nature of a woman on the cusp of discovering the person she is truly meant to be.  

(Readalikes:  Reminded me a little of At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Friday, February 10, 2017

Unassuming Mystery Series Opener a Delight

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

One of the things I love most about reading book blogs is discovering new books that I wouldn't have picked up without a strong recommendation from a trusted blogger.  Kay over at Kay's Reading Life is my go-to source for mysteries/thrillers; she never steers me wrong.  Recently, she recommended the Alafair Tucker series by local author Donis Casey.  Granted, I might have given the first installment, The Old Buzzard Had It Coming, a look based on its title alone.  The unappealing cover art, however, would have been a big turn-off for me.  I trust Kay, though, so I gave this one a go.  And you know what?  I loved it.
Set during the early 1900s, the series features Alafair Tucker, a hard-working farmer's wife living in rural Oklahoma.  As the mother of nine children, she has her hands full with family, chores, and helping her neighbors when she can.  The Old Buzzard Had It Coming revolves around the Days, who live on the neglected farm next door.  Harley Day is a selfish alcoholic reprobate, his wife a beaten-down mouse who scurries to do her husband's bidding before he beats her.  Perpetually starving and dressed in rags, the couple's eight children are a fearful, wary lot.  When Harley Day is discovered dead in a snowdrift no one is surprised.  Or mournful.  It's generally agreed that, whatever happened to him, he deserved it.

It's assumed that Harley died of exposure until Alafair notices something suspicious: a bullet wound in the dead man's neck.  Plenty of people had reason to kill Harley Day, but who actually did the dirty deed?  With a plethora of suspects, Alafair can't help herself from wondering about the murderer's identity.  The most likely person is not-so-secretly dating her daughter.  Alafair doesn't want it to be kindhearted John Lee Day; to clear his name, she'll have to help the sheriff (who just so happens to be her brother-in-law) find the real killer.  Even if it means putting herself in grave danger.  Which it most assuredly will.

At just over 200 pages, The Old Buzzard Had It Coming is a short, enjoyable mystery that's clean, atmospheric, and fun.  Alafair makes a perfect heroine—not only is she smart, capable, and compassionate, but she's also fiercely devoted to her husband and children.  A practical, down-to-Earth woman, she's easy to like, simple to cheer on.  While I did identify the murderer before Alafair did, it took me awhile.  All in all, then, I loved this first installment in what promises to be an entertaining series.  Less than halfway through The Old Buzzard Had It Coming, I put the next two Alafair Tucker books on hold at the library.  That right there should tell you how much I enjoyed it!

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Alafair Tucker series [Hornswoggled; The Drop Edge of Yonder; The Sky Took Him; Crying Blood; The Wrong Hill to Die On; Hell With the Lid Blown Off; All Men Fear Me; and The Return of the Raven Mocker] by Donis Casey)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Intriguing Premise Falls Flat in Debut Sci Fi-Ish Teen Drama

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

With her best—and only—friend off on an exciting foreign exchange student adventure, Tara Krishman is starting her junior year alone.  As the only person of color (Tara's dad is Indian, her mom Caucasian) in her posh Connecticut high school, she already feels out-of-place.  Without her BFF by her side, Tara knows it's going to be a long, lonely year.

Then, something incredible happens: a new planet is discovered.  Terra Nova seems to mirror Earth, even down to individual people.  Tara can't help but imagine another Tara in an alternate world.  Is Other Tara friendless or popular?  Shy or bold?  Scared or courageous?  

Weirdly, a small shift has occurred in Tara's real world.  When she receives an unexpected invitation to a party at the home of a super popular girl, Tara's thrown into the "it" crowd.  Suddenly, relationships she's only dreamed of are becoming real.  At the same time, things at home are changing.  Obsessed with Terra Nova, Tara's mom runs off to join a doomsday cult.  Her dad can't cope; neither can Tara, not really.  How can her life be going so wrong at the same time it's finally going so right?  How will these events, both cosmic and domestic, alter the course of Tara's life?  What will they teach her about family, friendship, and who she is as a person?

I grabbed Mirror in the Sky, a debut novel by Aditi Khorana, off the shelf because it had been voted a teen favorite by patrons of my local library.  The premise sounded interesting, so I decided to give the book a shot.  And?  Well, it was interesting, just not quite as interesting as I wanted it to be or interesting in the way I wanted it to be, if that makes sense.  Although the story sounds very sci-fi, it's not.  At its heart, Mirror in the Sky is a story about an ordinary teen girl trying to navigate her way through what is fast becoming an extraordinary year.  It's a blend of family conflict, friend drama, and awkward teen romance.  Terra Nova exists in the story only as a tool for reflection.  Bummer, that, because I found the mirror planet to be the most intriguing aspect of the novel's plot.  Tara and her friends just aren't that engaging—almost to a one, they are selfish, whiny, negative, petty, melodramatic, etc.  Also, unrealistic.  What teens have this much freedom (where are their parents?)  and vocabularies that allow them to toss around words like heteronormative and matrilineal in casual conversation?  Anyway, for me, the most compelling aspects of the novel remained the least developed.  In the end, then, Mirror in the Sky left me feeling unsatisfied.  It may be a teen favorite, but it didn't do a whole lot for me ...

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a dozen or so F-bombs, plus milder expletives), sexual content, and depictions of underage drinking and illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find
Blog Widget by LinkWithin