Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Ghostly War Bride Mystery Compelling and Hopeful

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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

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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!)

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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! 

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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.

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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!

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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 ...

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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!
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