Monday, November 28, 2016

Eerie, Atmospheric Setting Makes Shetland Murder Mystery Even More Compelling

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(Note:  Although this review will not contain spoilers for White Nights, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from its predecessor, Raven Black.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

It's an unsettling time of year on the Shetland Islands.  Summer daylight stretches past midnight, creating interminable "white nights."  It's enough to drive a person crazy, hence local terms like "midsummer madness" and "summer din."  Perhaps it's the eerie weather that drives a stranger to burst into a local art show, break into tears, then disappear as mysteriously as he appeared.  Later, the man is found dead in a nearby boat shed.  Although suicide is first expected, it soon becomes apparent that the stranger has been murdered.  Who is the dead man?  What was he doing in an isolated community like Biddista?  Who killed him?

Detective Jimmy Perez is tasked with answering these questions.  His investigation focuses on a colorful local artist, although he deems all residents of the seaside community suspect.  The arrival of a slick city detective intent on showing up the local yokel complicates matters.  As does Jimmy's new romance with single mom Fran Hunter.  When more remains turn up, Perez finds himself digging through not just Biddista's present dramas, but also the secrets of its past.

I enjoy a good mystery set in an exotic locale and White Nights by Ann Cleeves certainly qualifies.  The second book in her Shetland series, the thriller is tense and compelling, with a spectral setting that gives it an extra layer of creepiness.  Although the story sags a little in the middle, the plot kept me turning pages.  The identity of the murderer surprised me, which is always a bonus!  All in all, I enjoyed this one and am eager to read the next book in the series.  

(Readalikes:  Other books in Cleeves' Shetland series, including Raven Black; Red Bones; Blue Lightning; Dead Water; Thin Air; and Cold Earth)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (1 F-bomb plus milder expletives), violence, and mild sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Gentle Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire/September 11th Story Thoughtful and Compelling

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It's been ten years since the Twin Towers collapsed, killing hundreds of people including Taryn Michaels' husband.  Although working at a specialty fabric store and raising her 9-year-old daughter have kept her busy, Taryn still grieves the man she lost too early.  When a 9/11 anniversary story in the newspaper gives her a clue to solving the mystery that's haunted her for a decade, she leaps at the chance to do achieve some closure in the hopes of finally being able to move on with her life.  As she traces the history of a lovely, antique scarf given to her by a heroic stranger, Taryn finds herself drawn in to a century-old story with strange similarities to her own.

In 1911, Clara Wood works as a nurse on Ellis Island.  Living in the hospital dormitory means she rarely has to enter New York City, a place too haunted by memories of the man she loved and the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that stole his life.  It's while caring for a feverish patient who's mourning the recent death of his wife that Clara becomes intrigued by a colorful scarf bearing the name "Lily."  As Clara tries to unravel its mystery, she makes startling discoveries about the article, its owner, and herself.

Two remarkable women—separated by a century, but united by a shared mission—will discover truth and rebirth in a city full of both hope and heartache. 

After reading Margaret Peterson Haddix's Uprising, I wanted to learn more about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.  A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner came up in a Google search and I'm so glad it did.  It's a compelling novel full of interesting characters with engrossing dilemmas.  The story's gentle, but impacting.  It's an enjoyable read and one that has stuck with me.  This is my first Meissner book and I'm looking forward to exploring more of the author's work.

(Readalikes:  Reminded me a little of Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs)

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Gripping YA Novel Brings Historic Workplace Tragedy to Vivid, Mesmerizing Life

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Until 9/11, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire had the dubious distinction of being the worst workplace disaster in New York City's history.  And yet, I knew little about it.  Uprising, Margaret Peterson Haddix's excellent novel about the incident, changed that.  The affecting tale puts a very human face on the fire—its causes, its effects, and the disastrous toll it took on the city's most vulnerable citizens.  It's a fascinating story based on horrifying true events.

Uprising features three very different young women: Bella Rossetti, a starry-eyed Italian immigrant whose dreams of a shiny new American life are quickly being shattered by the grimy reality; Yetta, a 14-year-old Jew from Russia, who attends union meetings in an attempt to create a better working environment for her and the other girls at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory; and Jane Wellington, a bored society girl who seeks illicit excitement at the front of the picket line, only to find herself sucked into a cause that will change her forever.  The fates of the three intertwine in the days leading up to the tragedy.  

On March 25, 1911, Bella, Yetta, and Jane are all inside the Asch Building when fire breaks out in its upper floors.  Through their eyes, we see the panic that ensued.  Workers, who were regularly locked inside the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory to prevent theft, struggled to get out of the burning building.  With bulky sewing equipment to dodge, one fire escape for the whole structure, and few other safety features, it was a death trap.  The blaze spread rapidly, ultimately leading to the deaths of 146 terrified employees.  In grim detail, Haddix brings these events to vivid life, creating a picture that will linger in readers' heads long after they finish Uprising.  It's no wonder this preventable tragedy continues to haunt us—even 100 years later, the horror of it all is difficult to process.  Haddix recounts it brilliantly in this mesmerizing, compelling tale featuring a trio of brave, resilient young women who symbolize the real people who suffered poverty, pain, and privation in pursuit of the American dream.  If you're up for a gripping, very affecting historical novel, look no further than Uprising.

(Readalikes: Reminded me of These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly and of A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence, sexual innuendo, vague references to prostitution, and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Seventh Armand Gamache Mystery As Appealing as the First

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(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for A Trick of the Light, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from earlier Armand Gamache mysteries.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

While the good folks of Three Pines are gathered at the Morrows' home celebrating the opening of Clara's solo art show, something sinister is happening in the garden.  Lillian Dyson, a venomous art critic, is dead, her neck broken.  The woman's presence is almost as shocking as her death.  What was Lillian, an uninvited guest universally hated in the art world, doing at a casual, small town party?  Why did no one see her until her until her corpse was discovered in the garden?  Plenty of people (including Clara Morrow) had reason to want Lillian dead, but who put their murderous thoughts into action?

Armand Gamache, Chief Inspector of the SĂ»cretĂ© du QuĂ©bec, is as flummoxed by the case as everyone else.  In an industry bursting at the seams with ego and artifice, he knows, little is as it seems.  To find a killer, Gamache must do what he does best:  "Gamache went there.  To the end of the known world and beyond.  Into the dark, hidden places.  He looked into the crevices, where the worst things hid" (110).  As he digs into the motives of his Three Pines friends and their colleagues, Gamache will, indeed, discover some shocking secrets.  One of which led to cold-blooded murder.

I adore Louise Penny's Armand Gamache novels, so it's no surprise that I enjoyed A Trick of the Light, the seventh book in the series.  It's always interesting to visit Three Pines and discover more of what lurks beneath its placid surface.  Armand Gamache is a consistent pleasure to be around—his kind, gentleman-ly ways make him a unique character in crime fiction.  I especially liked all the reveals and surprises in A Trick of the Light, even though some of them made me sad.  This series just keeps getting better for me and I can't wait to read the next book.  And the next, and the next ...

(Readalikes:  Other books in the series, including Still Life; A Fatal Grace; The Cruelest Month; A Rule Against Murder; The Brutal Telling; Bury Your Dead; The Hangman [novella]; The Beautiful Mystery; How the Light Gets In; The Long Way Home; The Nature of the Beast; and A Great Reckoning)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language and violence

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Monday, November 07, 2016

Shetland Islands Series Opener A Twisty, Atmospheric Mystery

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New Year's Eve on the Shetland Islands is a time of cheerful celebration.  On hogmanay night, it's a tradition for friends to call on one another, sharing food, drink, and conversation as they ring in the new year together.  For eight years, Magnus Tait has waited for visitors to call on him.  No one ever has.  Until now.  

The next morning, one of those visitors is found dead.  Catherine Ross, a 16-year-old incomer from Yorkshire, has been murdered.  Is slow, reclusive Magnus to blame for her death?  There seems to be no other explanation.

As Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez investigates the crime, he delves far deeper into town history and Shetland's past than is comfortable for the people of Ravenswick.  Will long-buried secrets explain what happened to Catherine Ross?  Is someone willing to kill in order to make sure they never come to light?

There's nothing I like better than a twisty murder mystery set in a rugged, remote location.  Raven Black, the first in Ann Cleeves' series of thrillers set in the Shetland Islands, is exactly that.  With an atmospheric setting, more-than-meets-the-eye characters, and a complex plot, it makes for a very compelling read.  Cleeves' examination of Shetland history/culture enrich the tale, adding to its originality.  While I saw some of its plot surprises coming, I still found Raven Black to be an engrossing, entertaining mystery.  I've already read several more books in the series and definitely plan to catch Shetland, the BBC drama based on them.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other books in the Shetland series by Ann Cleeves [White Nights; Red Bones; Blue Lightning; Dead Water; Thin Air; Cold Earth] as well as Sacrifice by Sharon Bolton)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a few F-bombs plus milder expletives), violence, and mild sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Whistling Past the Graveyard A Compelling Family Drama with a Side of Southern

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Starla Claudelle has already been on restriction twice since school let out.  If her Mamie finds her sneaking out of the house on the Fourth of July, the 9-year-old will surely be grounded for life.  Not willing to risk that fate, Starla makes good on the threat she's been taunting her grandmother with for years—she runs away.  She can't appeal to her father, who works on an oil rig in the Gulf.  He'd side with his mother anyway.  That leaves Starla's mom, who left six years ago to pursue a singing career in Nashville.  Surely, she's a rich, famous crooner by now, one who will graciously welcome home her long-lost daughter.

Before she gets anywhere close to Nashville, Starla is picked up by Eula, a black maid traveling with a white baby.  Little James isn't the only thing Eula's hiding.  Pretty soon, all three of them are on the run, hoping to find safety in Tennessee.  Along the way, they'll encounter plenty of trouble, redemption, and, maybe, a little of the salvation of which all of them are in need.  Marked by adventure, hardship, heartache, and joy, it's a road trip that will forever change Starla's life.  

Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall is a warm Southern novel set in 1963 that explores the many meanings of family.  Starla is a bright spitfire of a girl, a mischievous heroine who's pretty much irresistible.  Her spot-on narration, plus an engrossing plot make this novel an enjoyable read.  Although the story brings up some hard issues, for the most part Whistling Past the Graveyard is an upbeat, heartwarming tale that will appeal to anyone who enjoys family dramas with a side of Southern.  

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of Signed, Skye Harper by Carol Lynch Williams and The Help by Kathryn Stockett)

Grade:



If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (1 F-bomb, plus milder expletives), violence, and disturbing themes (child abuse, racism, attempted rape, etc.)

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Whistling Past the Graveyard at Target with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Life's Trials Got You Down? Try This Inspirational Collection for a Quick, Encouraging Boost.

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In a world so full of chaos and struggle, it's easy to get bogged down by life.  Teens, especially, have a difficult path to navigate.  As they try to figure out the answers to life's big questions while, at the same time, creating their own unique identities, well, it's easy to get lost, discouraged, and depressed.  Sometimes it's a comfort to know that others have trod the same trail.  Often, it's inspiring to hear their stories.  Frequently, it's buoying to learn how others have overcome their own trials.  

The aim of You've Got This!, a new compilation of essays by popular LDS authors/speakers, is to lift up the hands that hang down.  Especially geared toward teens, it features eight selections by a variety of people who've experienced a wide range of life struggles.  From Chad Hymas, who became a quadriplegic after being crushed by a 2000-pound hay bale; to Tamu Smith, who was snubbed after her friends found out her mother was in prison; to Al Fox Carraway, who was shunned by everyone she knew after joining the LDS Church, the writers are well acquainted with grief. They're also familiar with the steps that need to be taken in order to turn that sorrow and despair into triumph over the challenges that have gotten them down. 

Because the authors featured in this collection are religious people, their stories emphasize reliance on God and faith as sources of strength.  Still, you don't need to be LDS to appreciate their counsel.  If you are a member of the Church, you will especially appreciate Zandra Vanes' stories about Mr. Lee and Carraway's stories about feeling like a fish out of water at church.  Really, though, these essays can uplift and inspire anyone, regardless of age or religion.  If you know a teen who's in need of a boost, this short, easy-to-read collection might be just what they need.  Despite a few copyediting issues, it's a gem.

(Readalikes:  Other inspirational essays by popular LDS speakers/writers, including John Bytheway, Brad Wilcox, Hank Smith, Emily Watts, etc.)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for nothing offensive

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of You've Got This! from the generous folks at Cedar Fort.  Thank you!

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Niven's Newest About Being Yourself, Being Brave, and Being Kind

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Libby Strout has already lived through her worst nightmare.  After a massive weight gain following her mother's sudden death, Libby had to be cut and craned out of her home.  The videos went viral, earning her the nickname "America's Fattest Teen."  A 300+ weight loss has given the 16-year-old some confidence and Libby's ready to give real life a do-over.  At 351 lbs., she knows she'll still be a target, but maybe this time, her classmates will look beyond her weight and get to know her for the smart, spunky person she really is. 

Jack Masselin goes to great pains to be the cool guy around school.  If the 17-year-old can fake it well enough, no one will know about the secrets he hides.  His prosopagnosia makes recognizing people—even his own family—almost impossible sometimes.  No one can know about this freaky little side effect of his screwed-up brain.  He hides it, as well as problems at home, by being smooth, charming, and sometimes, a class A jerk.

When a horrifying prank ends with Libby and Jack in detention together, the two make a surprising connection.  Libby doesn't trust Jack's new attentiveness and Jack's not sure his cool factor can survive an unwitting attraction to the resident fat girl.  Can two very different teens look past their own anger, anxiety, and prejudice to really see each other?  If they're honest with each other, can they finally be real with themselves?  

Holding Up the Universe, Jennifer Niven's newest contemporary YA, tells an affecting story about two teens searching for themselves in the confusing corridors of high school.  Libby, of course, is wholly sympathetic.  Bold and sassy, she's easy to cheer on, easy to root for.  Jack's initial jerkiness makes him a little less appealing, but his vulnerability and changed ways makes up for it in the end.  While Holding Up the Universe definitely has its dark moments, overall it's a bright, encouraging story that teaches important lessons about being yourself, being brave, and being kind.  The plot gets idealistic, also a tad unrealistic as Jack (eventually) shows way more maturity than any high school boy I've ever known.  A PG-13 version of this book would have been more enjoyable for me (and easier to recommend), but all in all, I enjoyed Holding Up the Universe.

(Readalikes:  Wonder by R.J. Palacio; Butter by Erin Jade Lange; Skinny by Donna Cooner; and A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, sexual innuendo, and depictions of illegal drug use and underage drinking

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Holding Up the Universe from the generous folks at Penguin Random House.  Thank you!
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