Friday, August 30, 2013

Without Beloved Characters, Deaver's Newest Might Not Be Worth the Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for The Kill Room, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from earlier Lincoln Rhyme novels.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

When Robert Moreno, an outspoken "anti-American American" is murdered in a hotel room in the Bahamas, it's clear he's not just a victim of some random crime.  He was clearly targeted.  The question is by whom.  A million-to-one sniper shot like the one that killed Moreno couldn't have been fired by any old marksman.  Nance Laurel, a no-nonsense ADA in New York City, thinks the kill order came from the U.S. government.  All she needs is proof.  Which is why she hires an independent forensics consultant.  Not just any consultant, but the brilliant Lincoln Rhyme.  The former head of NYPD forensics, Rhyme's been wheelchair-bound since being shot on the job.  Quadriplegia notwithstanding, the criminalist always gets his man using his vast experience and tireless knowledge of forensics.  Taking on the government, though, might be a little much even for Rhyme.  

Nevertheless, Rhyme can't resist a good mystery and Moreno's murder certainly is that.  With the help of Amelia Sachs, his beautiful assistant (and lover), he starts tracking down evidence in the case.  Well, trying to, anyway.  The Bahamanian police aren't exactly helpful, not even to the great Lincoln Rhyme.  When witnesses start disappearing, he and Sachs know they haven't much time to solve the case.  If they don't find Moreno's killer soon, more people will die.  They can't let that happen.  

Even as Rhyme and Sachs work the case, they've got other problems to deal with, both of a professional nature and a personal one.  Can the dynamic duo figure it all out?  Or will this be the one case they can't solve?  

Ever since I read The Bone Collector, I've loved the characters in Jeffery Deaver's popular Lincoln Rhyme series.  Both Rhyme and Sachs are interesting, sympathetic story people whose devotion to their jobs makes them admirable as well.  Deaver's plots move quickly, making his novels fast, thrilling reads made unique by their irascible quadriplegic hero and the author's ability to explain the details of forensic science in a way that's not just clear, but also exciting.  That being said, I've been a little less entranced by recent books in the series.  The newest being no exception.  The Kill Room is still a fast, twisty read, it's just kind of generic.  The secondary characters are kind of flat and so is Deaver's prose.  Without the characters I so enjoy, this one probably wouldn't have been worth the read.  With them, it turned out to be just okay for me.  Oh well. 

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other books in the Lincoln Rhyme series [The Bone Collector; The Coffin Dancer; The Empty Chair; The Stone Monkey; The Vanished Man; The Twelfth Card; The Cold Moon; The Broken Window; The Burning Wire; and XO] and the Tempe Brennan series by Kathy Reichs [Deja Dead; Death Du Jour; Deadly Decisions; Fatal Voyage; Grave Secrets; Bare Bones; Monday Mourning; Cross Bones; Break No Bones; Bones to Ashes; Devil Bones; 206 Bones; Spider Bones; Flash and Bones; Bones Are Forever; and Bones of the Lost)

Grade: 



If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence/gore, and sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Dark, Haunting Slavery Novel an Affecting Debut

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

It must be too early in the morning for writing plot summaries, because the words just aren't coming to me today.  Luckily, someone's already done the work for me.  Here's the polished, professionally-written back cover blurb for The Kitchen House:    
Orphaned during her passage from Ireland, young, white Lavinia arrives on the steps of the kitchen house and is placed, as an indentured servant, under the care of Belle, the master's illegitimate slave daughter.  Lavinia learns to cook, clean, and serve food, while guided by the quiet strength of her new family.                                                                                                                                                                                                                               In time, Lavinia is accepted into the world of the big house, caring for the master's opium-addicted wife and befriending his dangerous yet protective son.  She attempts to straddle the worlds of the kitchen and big house, but her skin color will forever set her apart from Belle and the other slaves.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Through the unique eyes of Lavinia and Belle, Kathleen Grissom's debut novel unfolds in a heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful story of class, race, dignity, deep-buried secrets, and familial bonds.    
Sounds intriguing, right?  It is.  As Lavinia's pulled into the warm embrace of Belle's family (though Belle, herself, remains standoffish), the reader comes to love them as well.  It's difficult not to become absorbed in their dramas and heartaches, of which there are, of course, many.  Lavinia's stunningly naive, sometimes too much so to be truly believable, but she's also a sympathetic character whose trials are many.  The reader feels for her as well, especially when she makes disastrous mistakes that will inevitably lead to only misery and pain.  If The Kitchen House sounds like a dark, haunting tale, that's because it is.  But it's also a rich, affecting story about the true meaning of family and the desperate lengths we will go to in order to protect those we love.  I read it in one sitting; it's that compelling.  

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of other stories about slavery and class/racial struggle, like The House Girl by Tara Conklin; The Cutting Season by Attica Locke; The Help by Kathryn Stockett; and others)

Grade:

 If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence, sexual innuendo/content and other mature subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of The Kitchen House from Costco (I think) with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.  

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

YA Family Drama Sweet and Satisfying

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When Sheridan Wells decorates a cake, she loses herself in the process.  Completely.  All of her problems recede as she focuses on creating the perfect confectionary centerpiece, whether it be for a wedding, a birthday party or an anniversary.  Around St. Mary, her tiny hometown on the shore of Lake Michigan, 15-year-old Sheridan is known as "Cake Girl."  And with good reason—when it comes to cakes, she's sort of a genius.  If only her other troubles were so easily solved ...

And Sheridan does have troubles.  Her dad, for starters.  He's a busy chef who runs the most popular restaurant in town.  She barely sees him as it is and now he's being offered his own t.v. show, which will require not just more working hours but also a move to New York City.  Sheridan's dad is ecstatic; Sheridan's devastated.  She can't imagine leaving the place where she's lived her entire life, can't fathom jetting away from her friends (especially Ethan, who's finally paying some attention to her), her grandma and her booming cake decorating business.  

When Sheridan gets a viable lead on the whereabouts of her too-busy-to-write-or-call-for-two-years mother, she knows she's found a way to keep them all in St. Mary.  Pulling this off will require more work and determination than any cake project she's ever tackled, but she has to make it happen.  It's either that or lose everything that's important to her.  Sheridan knows how to save a cake from sure disaster—can she do the same for her crumbling-to-pieces life?

The Sweetest Thing, a debut novel by Christina Mandelski, takes all the right ingredients—family drama, boy problems, friend trouble—in all the right amounts and mixes them up into a sweet, satisfying story that's just as scrumptious as its cover would suggest.  Is it wholly original?  No.  Predictable?  Totally.  Pitch perfect?  Not really.  But, who cares?  It's a light, fun, engaging read and I, for one, found it pretty darn delectable.  

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

Grade:

If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (no F-bombs) and mild sexual innuendo/content

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of The Sweetest Thing from the generous folks at Egmont, via those at NetGalley.  Thank you!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

TTT: Second Best? I Don't Think So!

Content has been a little scarce here at BBB, mostly due to a HUGE book organizing project I've been doing.  It turned out beautifully, though, and I will definitely be sharing pictures in the near future.  In the meantime, I wanted to join the lovely ladies over at The Broke and Bookish in celebrating the third day of the week with my favorite bookish meme, Top Ten Tuesday.  This week's topic stumped me a little bit, but after some thinking I finally came up with this list of Top Ten Most Memorable Secondary Characters:


1.  Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger (from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling)—Yeah, yeah, I know these two are going to be on everyone's lists.  For good reason, though.  Harry could not have defeated Voldemort (time after time after time) without Ron's loyal aid and Hermione's brains and bravery.  They're both lovable, admirable characters.  The HP books simply would not be the same without them!


2.  Hagrid (from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling)—HP's chock-full of memorable secondary characters, but Hagrid's one of my very favorites.  This gentle giant has just the right amount of gruffness, sensitivity and warmth.  Who doesn't love Hagrid?


3.  Samwise Gamgee (from The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien)—Another no-brainer.  Sam is a funny, kind and devoted friend to Frodo.  A perfect sidekick.


4.  Manchee (from the Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness)—I usually don't like books that feature talking animals, but this series is a huge exception.  In the books, all living things can read each other's thoughts.  Therefore, Manchee the dog can "talk" to his master, Todd Hewitt.  The canine's thoughts are much simpler than those of the humans around him, but his personality and dogged loyalty to Todd comes out through his thoughts loud and clear.


5.  Willie Woodley (from Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys)—Willie, the no-nonsense owner of the French Quarter's most popular brothel, really shouldn't be such a lovable character.  She's bossy, she's crude, she's greedy and she makes her living from an industry most would agree is morally reprehensible.  So, why do readers lavish her with such fierce adoration?  It's because of her loyalty, her intelligence, and the way she protects Josie, even at her own peril.  Oh, yeah, and she's funny, too.


6.  Piper Williams (from the Alcatraz series by Gennifer Choldenko)—The always-scheming warden's daughter makes for a fun secondary character, especially considering what a stick-in-the-mud Moose Flanagan can be.  Piper confuses him so much that, in Al Capone Does My Homework, he says he likes her on the outside, just not so much on the inside.  Ha ha!  Piper's a great character.


7.  Roar (from the Under the Never Sky series by Veronica Rossi)—Everybody loves the fierce, but funny Roar.  His complete devotion to his friends (especially Liv) makes him the kind of character you wish you knew in real life.


8.  Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert (from the Anne of Green Gables books by L.M. Montgomery)—What's not to love about this down-to-earth brother and sister, who take in the indomitable Anne Shirley when no one else will?


9.  Templeton the rat (from Charlotte's Web by E.B. White)—I love irascible characters whose goodness hides under a gruff exterior, surprising even them when it reluctantly emerges.  Templeton's an excellent example.  Though he doesn't mind getting "paid" for his services, he'd do anything for Wilbur and Charlotte.


10.  Grammy (from The Lorax, 2012 feature film)—So, I know this is a film character, not a book character, but whatever—the film's based on a book, so that counts, right?  Anyway, I think this charming old lady is summed up perfectly by Audrey, who exclaims to Ted, "How cool is your grandma?"  So cool.  

Well, how'd I do?  Do you agree with my picks?  Which characters made your Top Ten list?

P.S.  Book images are from Barnes & Noble; other images were taken from Tumblr and other sites around the Web.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Shivery Setting + Compelling Premise Should = Intriguing Ghost Story, Right? Eh, Not So Much.

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

A lifelong resident of Roanoke Island, Miranda Blackwood's heard the story of the lost colonists a million times.  As an intern at the Waterside Theater, the 17-year-old even spends her evenings reenacting the tale for eager tourists.  It's not passion for local history that drives her (although her family has its own place in Roanoke lore), it's desperation—she (almost) literally has nothing else to do.  The name Blackwood is synonymous with witchcraft, sorcery and freaks.  Friends aren't exactly pounding on Miranda's door, eager to hang out.  With only her golden retriever to keep her company, she leads a lonely life of work, school and babysitting her alcoholic father.  

Then, Miranda sees something strange: the ghostly outline of an old-fashioned ship sailing through the night sky.  She tries to shake off the frightening image, but when island residents—114 of them, to be exact—start disappearing, she can't deny that something odd is happening on Roanoke Island.  Again.  The number of missing cannot possibly be a coincidence.  Something terrible happened to the colonial settlers and something equally as disturbing is happening now.  Is some ancient evil stalking the people of Roanoke?  And why?  What does it want from the island?  With the unlikely help of a reform school dropout who hears the voices of the dead, Miranda's determined to find out.  And fast.  Before this new crop of victims vanishes, never to be heard from again.  

I love me a good ghost story, especially one set in an already mysterious locale like Roanoke Island.  An intriguing setting, plus an original premise should be enough to lift any tale from so-so to stupendous.  In the case of Blackwood, a debut novel by Gwenda Bond?  Eh, not so much.  The plot moves fast enough, but it's full of holes and predictable moves by characters who just aren't that compelling.  Plus, it's far-fetched.  And I'm not even talking about the ghosts.  So, yeah, while I loved both the setting and the premise of Blackwood, I didn't care much for the rest of the novel.  A bummer, because I really, really wanted to love this one.  Ah, well.    

(Readalikes:  Hm, nothing's coming to mind.  Suggestions?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (1 F-bomb, plus milder invectives) and violence

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of Blackwood from the generous folks at Strange Chemistry via those at NetGalley.  Thank you!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Atmospheric Family Secrets Novel Falls Flat for Me. Somehow.

(Image from Book Depository)

After her young daughter dies in a freak accident, photographer Clare Porterfield struggles to move on.  Consumed by grief, the 30-year-old can't summon the energy to save her collapsing marriage, let alone dig herself out of the deep, dark hole of sadness in which she's been wallowing since her daughter's death.  So, when she receives an invitation from a wealthy philanthropist to put together a photography exhibition in her hometown of Galveston, Texas, she welcomes the chance to flee.  

The peculiar rhythm of life on the island comforts Clare, even as it reminds her how out of synch she now is with the place she once called home.  Rifling through historical photographs of Galveston reminds her why she loves the island, a spot still as vivid and mysterious as it's always been.  She's particularly fascinated by the story of Stella Carraday, a local woman said to have drowned in the Great Hurricane of 1900.  The image of Stella swinging from her dining room chandelier, her long hair tangled in the crystal light fixture, has always haunted Clare's imagination.  Somehow, she knows there's more to Stella's oft-told story.  As she digs into the dead woman's history, Clare can't help but reflect on her own dealings with the enigmatic Carrady Family.  Secrets, old and new, swirl in the air of their grand old house, secrets Clare vows to bring to light.  

Although she's urged—more than once—to leave the past where it belongs, her fascination with Stella is the only thing that's keeping Clare going.  When she solves all Galveston's mysteries, she'll have to face her personal problems—a terrifying prospect.  And yet, her issues are more tied to the island than she ever imagined.  Finding the answers she seeks may just give her the closure she seeks ... or destroy her fragile psyche forever.  

Atmospheric and eerie, The Drowning House by Elizabeth Black is an evocative, assured debut.  The writing brings Galveston to life in all its complex, contradictory glory.  While most of the characters aren't particularly likable, they're definitely interesting.  The mystery of Stella Carraday's fate captured my imagination just as surely as it did Clare's.  With all of these intriguing elements, The Drowning House should have been an intense, satisfying read.  And yet, it falls flat somehow.  Maybe it's because of the novel's anti-climatic ending or its sad, depressing subject matter or maybe just the fact that so many things in the story were wrapped up in ways that felt incomplete and just clumsy.  I'm not sure exactly why, but I wanted to love this one a lot more than I actually did.  Still, considering the skill I see in this first-time novelist, I foresee some great things coming from Elizabeth Black.  And, believe me, I'll be watching for them.

(Readalikes:  Reminded me a bit of Karen White's novels)

Grade:  


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (1 F-bomb plus milder invectives), sexual content and depictions of illegal drug use and underage drinking

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Drowning House from the generous folks at Doubleday (a division of Random House).  Thank you!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Invisible Doesn't Quite Do It For Me

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Dana Carlson's in the middle of a demolition job when she gets a distressed call from her 16-year-old niece, Peyton.  Dana's got enough problems of her own—especially when a body is found in the building she just cleared for collapse—but Julie, her big sister, is dying.  It's been almost 20 years since the sisters have seen each other; still, it's Julie.  The secrets that have kept them separated all this time don't matter now.  Dana needs to see her sister, needs to see if she's a candidate for kidney donation, needs to try to save the person who once saved her.  

But she's too late.  When Dana arrives in Black Bear, Minnesota, the little town where she grew up, her sister's already gone.  Dead at 39.  Julie Kelleher leaves behind a grieving husband and a shattered teenage daughter.  Neither seem particularly eager for an intrusion from Julie's estranged little sister, but Dana's determined to stay.  She wants to know Julie's family, the only blood relatives she has left.  More importantly, she needs to figure out just what caused Julie to get sick.  Everyone warns Dana to leave it alone—her blunt inquiries around town are doing more damage than good—but she can't.  Something in Black Bear is not right and she's going to get to the bottom of it, no matter what it takes.

As Dana steps on toes all over Black Bear, she sees just how much things have—and have not—changed since her childhood days in the little town.  The residents are still tight-lipped, judgmental and very, very good at keeping their own secrets.  Secrets that could get them all killed.

Novels featuring small towns with big secrets always sound appealing to me, which explains why I picked up Invisible by Carla Buckley.  As intriguing as its premise is, though, its execution leaves plenty to be desired.  The characters aren't overly likable, the plot's pretty generic, and little about the story really rings true.  Dana's sudden interest in the goings on in Black Bear is especially odd, considering she hasn't cared a lick about them for almost two decades.  Ditto goes for her new-found concern for Peyton.  Dana swivels from uncaring to passionate so fast that the shift seems too false, too contrived.  It bugged me throughout the whole novel.  So did the predictable storyline, the wooden characters, and the gaping plot holes.  So, yeah.  Invisible didn't quite do it for me.  Ah, well.  You win some, you lose some.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of dozens of other novels, although nothing's coming to my tired mind at the moment.  Suggestions?)

Grade:  


If this were a movie, it would be rated:  

for language (no F-bombs) and brief references to illegal drug use and underage drinking

To the FTC, with love:  I purchased a copy of Invisible from Target (I believe) with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Oh, Moose Flanagan, I'm Going to Miss You So!

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Al Capone Does My Homework, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from earlier Alcatraz books.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.) 

Moose Flanagan's a worrier.  Always has been.  The 13-year-old worries about Natalie, his autistic older sister.  He worries about Darby Trixle, the prison guard who's had it in for Moose ever since the Flanagans moved to Alcatraz Island.  He worries about Piper Williams, the girl he likes on the outside, but not so much on the inside.  And, now, he's got to worry about his father, too.  Moose stressed enough when his dad was just an electrician—with his dad's new job as associate warden, the teenager's worrying slams into overdrive.  When Piper informs him about a deadly game the cons play with Alcatraz's leading men, Moose can hardly breathe, he's so scared for his dad. 

In the meantime, all kinds of weird stuff is happening on the island:  Piper's acting stranger than usual; a mysterious fire forces the Flanagans out of their apartment; Darby Trixle's more adamant than ever about kicking Natalie off the island; and the cons are up to something sinister.  With the aid of his friends (which just may include the infamous Al Capone), Moose has to figure out what's going on before it's too late for his sister, his dad, and himself.

Ever since I read Al Capone Does My Shirts, the first installment in Gennifer Choldenko's appealing upper middle grade series about life on Alcatraz in the 1930s, I've been captivated.  Not just by the unique setting, but by the colorful characters, the day-to-day problems Moose faces, and the authentic, yet entertaining ways he goes about solving them.  Each of the books in the series brings something new to the table; Al Capone Does My Homework (available for purchase on August 20, 2013) is no exception.  Choldenko just has a gift for bringing the world of Alacatraz to life in books that enchant both children and adults.  Be warned, though—the Alcatraz stories are edgier than they seem.  Still, this is one of the most original, well-written historical middle grade series out there.  My only complaint with the newest book is that it will be the last one in the trilogy.  Anyone got a tissue?  I'm really going to miss the always endearing Moose Flanagan.  


Grade:  
If this were a movie, it would be rated:


Although this book is written for middle graders, because of some language (no F-bombs) and violence, it's really most suited for readers aged 10+.

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Al Capone Does My Homework from the generous folks at Penguin Young Readers Group.  Thank you!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Mystery + Magical Realism = Another Lush, Intriguing Bayou Novel

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When her beloved Grammy Claire passes away, Tara Doucet feels like her own life has ended.  The 12-year-old can't imagine going on without her warm, vibrant grandma.  Especially when everything else around her seems to be falling apart as well.  The Doucets may be descended from one of the oldest families in Louisiana's New Iberia Parish, but their distinguished genealogy isn't helping them now—their big, old plantation home is crumbling to ruins; Mamma's taken to her bed, distancing herself like she always does; Daddy ran off a long time ago; and Tara and her 17-year-old sister Riley are at each other's throats.  Things are spinning out of control faster than Tara can say "grief."  She needs her Grammy Claire so desperately it hurts.

Then, come the butterflies.  Tara knows it's crazy to believe the beautiful creatures can understand her, that they carry secret messages from her dead grandmother.  But she does.  When a  mysterious package arrives for her from Grammy Claire, Tara's even more convinced the butterflies are trying to tell her something.  Something important.  As Tara follows the clues Grammy Claire has left her, she embarks on a remarkable journey.  It's a wild adventure that will take the preteen to the edge of the world—and change her life forever.

If you've been paying attention, you know I have a connection to Louisiana that draws me over and over again to books about that part of the U.S.  From its murky bayous to its creepy cemeteries to its vibrant celebrations of life, there's just something about The Pelican State that makes it a vivid book setting (bland state nickname notwithstanding).  And nowhere does the region come more to life (for me, anyway) than in the books of middle grade author Kimberley Griffiths Little.  Her bayou novels—which are not really a series, more like loosely interconnected stories—are family dramas set against this lush, intriguing back drop.  The setting becomes a character, as charming and complex as any of Little's others.  This is my favorite part about Little's books, but she also creates intricate plots, studded with enough (but not too much) magical realism to keep things interesting.  Her stories are warm, imaginative and well-crafted.  I *might* be a little bit of a fan girl :)

When the Butterflies Came, Little's newest, didn't, however, win my undying love like its predecessors, The Healing Spell and Circle of Secrets, did.  Why?  Mostly because of the ending.  Without being too spoiler-y (I hope), let me just say that something's revealed about one of the characters that totally changed my opinion of them.  And soured me on the book in general.  I'm kind of picky that way.  Despite my misgivings, though, I did enjoy the book overall.  Annoying ending or not, Little just writes books that speak to my heart.  When it comes to this author (I *never* name drop, but we do happen to be IRL friends), a fan girl I am and a fan girl I will always be.

P.S.  I'm not a huge lover of book trailers, but this one's kind of creepy-fun:



Grade:

If this were a movie, it would be rated:
for violence/intense situations

To the FTC, with love:  I received both an ARC and a finished copy of When the Butterflies Came from the generous folks at Scholastic.  Thank you!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

TTT: 'Cause There's Just Somethin' About the South, Y'all

It's been awhile since I participated in Top Ten Tuesday, my hands-down favorite weekly bookish meme, and I've missed it.  Terribly.  Interacting with this huge, online reading community is the best part about book blogging for me.  I love creating TTT lists, reading other people's lists, finding awesome new blogs to read, and just having a good ole time.  So, here I am.  If you haven't joined the party, do.  It's a whole lotta fun, I promise!

The lovely ladies over at The Broke and the Bookish choose a new list-y topic every week.  This week's is:  Top Ten Favorite Books With X Setting (i.e., futuristic world, school setting, during World War II, set in California, etc.).  I really had to wrack my brain for this one.  I was trying to think of something really unique so I could talk about books I hadn't highlighted before, but, in the end, I came up with this not-so-original-but-still-fun list ...

Top Ten Favorite Books Set in the American South


1.  Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell—This one's pretty much a no-brainer.  I loved the book the first time I read it, but it enchanted me even more after I'd visited Atlanta.  Touring the Margaret Mitchell House museum was one of my favorite parts of the trip.



2.  The Help by Kathryn Stockett—I know this one's gotten some flack for various reasons, but I really enjoyed it, both in book and movie form.  


3.  Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts—Another story (this one's about a pregnant teenager in Oklahoma, who's trying to rebuild her life after being abandoned by her boyfriend) that charmed me as a book and as a movie.


4.  Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler—As heartbreaking as this story about a young white girl in 1940s Kentucky who falls in love with a black man is, it really spoke to me.  A word of advice:  keep the Kleenex handy.


5.  To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee—Another no-brainer.  It's a classic for a reason, y'all.  


6.  The Temperance Brennan novels by Kathy Reichs—I talk quite a bit about this series, which features a forensic anthropologist who solves murders both in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Toronto, Canada.  


7.  Circle of Secrets by Kimberley Griffiths Little—Kimberley (she's my IRL friend, so I can use her first name—we're friendly  like that) has written several interconnecting, middle grade novels that take place "deep in the heart" of the Lousiana bayou.  I'm not sure which book is my favorite, but I love both Circle of Secrets and The Healing Spell.


8.  Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys—Another atmospheric novel set in New Orleans.  This one's teeming with colorful characters, vivid scenery and mystery.  It's a rich, absorbing read that kept me riveted from its first word to its last.


9.  The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom—Although this novel's absolutely heart-wrenching, it's also absorbing and affecting.


10.  Tomorrow River by Lesley Kagen—I love this author and Tomorrow River, a Southern novel about family and friendship, is one of my favorites.

How about you?  What's your favorite Southern novel?  I know there are tons I haven't read yet—which would you recommend?  

Monday, August 12, 2013

Underwater Middle Grade Mystery An Enjoyable, Satisfying Adventure

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

On the day Cassie Romano entered the world, her hometown disappeared beneath two hundred feet of water.  It wasn't a natural disaster that drowned Old Lower Grange, but a deliberate move intended to create a dam. The town's residents cheered the project, moving themselves to a nearby location (called New Lower Grange, naturally) with little protest.  Now, twelve years later, no one seems to care a lick about the ghost town sitting at the bottom of the lake.  No one but Cassie, who's obsessed with a place she's never even laid eyes on before.  The ruins haunt her, drawing her to them, even though she's been told all her life to stay away from that part of the lake.  

When Cassie decides to explore Old Lower Grange on her own, she realizes just how dangerous the prospect really is.  Not only is the water deeper than it seems, but trespassing there is against town law.  If she's caught, she'll be in the worst trouble of her life.  And, yet, Cassie knows there's a mystery buried under all that water.  With the help of her friend Liam Price, Cassie's determined to find out the secrets of Old Lower Grange.  There's only one thing she knows for certain:  some people will do anything to keep them hidden.  

Below, a new middle grade novel by Australian author Meg McKinlay, tells an intriguing story about a girl whose desperate need for connection propels her on an exciting, life-changing search for answers.  With its eerie setting, quick-paced storyline and sympathetic characters, the book's an enjoyable, satisfying adventure.

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

Grade:  


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for brief, mild language and intense situations

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Below from the generous folks at Candlewick Press.  Thank you!
Blog Widget by LinkWithin