Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Fall Reading 2016 Fate of Flames (Effigies #1)


Imagine a world subject to attack by Phantoms - strange creatures that resemble the giant things that the Chitauri fly around on when they attack New York in "The Avengers." There are supposedly safe zones with techie defenses that prevent the Phantoms from appearing, but they sometimes fail. And all bets are off if you're outside the safe zones. Got that pictured clearly?

Now, imagine that there are defenders called Effigies. They happen to be teenage girls and there are only four at a time. Each one wields a different element; earth, air, fire, and water. When one Effigy dies, her powers are passed to a successor. The girls are trained and given tactical support by an international group called the Sect. Still pretty clear?

So, in this world, an Effigy has just died and her successor has not told anyone about her new powers. That is our protagonist, Maia. As the tale progresses, we come to see more of her world, learn a little of the history of the Phantom and Effigies, and start to have some serious doubts about whether the Sect is being honest. Imagine a group that literally has the fate of the world in their hands. Wouldn't the temptation be there to keep things from the public and maneuver for political power? Is that part of what is going on? And on top of that, the Effigies are hormonal teenage girls with all the problems that a normal teen has, plus having to battle monsters.

There are bits to appeal to lots of different types of readers. There is the urban fantasy with the monsters and the elemental powers. There is intrigue and possible conspiracy theory about the Sect, and the source of the Phantoms. There is girl power and cat fights, with Maia trying to learn how to use her powers and get to know the other Effigies. It could also be seen as a super heroine story, although they don't wear masks and capes.

For readers who enjoyed The Naturals by Jennifer Lynne Barnes, this has a similar feel. The new recruit, the jostling for pecking order in the group, the murky history and secrets. It also reminds me of the Hunter books by Mercedes Lackey.

Recommended for ages 12+.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Fall Reading 2016 Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

Reading Madeleine L'Engle is always a moving experience, whether it is one of her novels or her essays. This exploration of what it means to be an artist and, even more, to be a Christian artist, is full of the deeply thoughtful and thought-provoking. L'Engle shares stories of her family, her career, her faith, and quotes from favorite authors and theologians to illustrate what she sees as the artist's role. But she does not discuss art in isolation; she acknowledges the connection between art and life, chaos and order, faith and creativity. One particular idea she comes back to throughout the book is how children see the world and accept when inexplicable things happen, but how we lose that ability as we grow up. "The artist...must retain the vision which includes angels and dragons and unicorns and all the lovely creatures which our world would put in a box marked Children Only." It is insights such as this that make her work such a pleasure to read, and to ponder.

Highly recommended for fans of her work, and for those interested in the relationship of art and faith.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Fall Reading 2016 Under Rose-Tainted Skies


Someone looking at the subjects that are included in this book might get the impression that it will be a very depressing read, but they would be wrong. Yes, Norah has agoraphobia and OCD. Yes, she cannot leave the house or deal with odd numbers. Yes, she obsesses over possible catastrophes, germs, and possibly choking on foods such as popcorn. In short, she is like a female teenage version of the TV character Monk. 

Gornall manages to maintain the personality of a 17-year-old girl who is highly intelligent and realizes that many of her own behaviors are ridiculous, even while she cannot break out of her obsessive habits. Readers hear all her internal debates and self-chastisement, witness the close bond between Norah and her mother, and then watch the developing friendship between this strong yet fragile girl with the new boy next door. 

What makes the story so easy to identify with is Norah's way with words. While watching her mother wrestle a suitcase down the stairs she thinks, "The whole descent has the elegance of an elephant performing Swan Lake on a pogo stick." She describes her own confused mental state as, "My head is a ball of wool after it's been mauled by a kitten." And after receiving advice from her mother and her therapist, she wonders, "Why do people keep telling me to be myself? Honestly. It's like they've never even met me."

Watching Norah struggle against her limitations, seeing her try to break out of them and face the world outside the front door is heartbreaking and inspiring. The author shares in a note at the end of the book that it is a reflection of her "own struggles with mental health." After reading that note and then thinking back on the story, it makes the reader even more impressed with how difficult a fight it is to face those battles every day. 

If you enjoy realistic fiction, books with serious topics worked in (OCD, agoraphobia, cutting, etc.), and stories where boy meets girl and there are real-life obstacles to overcome (or perhaps not overcome), then you should give this a try. Not as painful as The Fault in Our Stars, but just as honest.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Fall Reading 2016 In Such Good Company

Anyone who has ever watched an episode of "The Carol Burnett Show" will feel right at home as they read this book. Carol relates the events that led to her love of musical comedy and her start in TV, then looks back on the eleven seasons of her show. She shares memories of the cast, the rest of the crew, and the special guest stars. In some cases it may just be a quick highlight about a particular episode or person. Other times she may share some of the dialogue from a skit or a plot synopsis of one of the movie spoofs they did. (Most of us who have seen the show will automatically think of their take on "Gone with the Wind" and Carol as Starlett in that dress made of drapes.)

Reading through this history of such an iconic show is like going through a list of "Who's Who" in Hollywood. Guest stars like the Lily Tomlin, Roddy McDowall, Carol Channing, Jerry Lewis, and so many others kept the audience in suspense, waiting to see what character they would portray and how they would mesh with the regular cast. Recurring characters such as Mama and Eunice, the Old Folks (Bert and Molly), and the Char Woman will also be very familiar to fans of the show. 

One of the things that might surprise people is that Carol seems so "normal" and down-to-earth, while she is dropping names like Rock Hudson, Cary Grant, Sammy Davis Jr, and Bing Crosby. She also avoids sharing any stories that make others look bad. The one guest star that really didn't work out, she doesn't even name. She just mentions that there was a guest who was not a good fit with the show and was unhappy. In this age of "tell-all" memoirs, it is refreshing to read something written with good taste and restraint. The still photographs taken from the show may be a bit blurry here and there, but they will help to jog your memory of particular characters or skits.

If you have enjoyed Carol's humor while watching her perform, then you should enjoy this just as much. Her warmth and comedic sense are just as present in the book as they are on film. This would also make an excellent gift for someone who loved her show. I highly recommend it.

Visit the publisher's website for more information on the book and the author.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Fall Reading 2016 The Christmas Tree


Looking for a short holiday story to lift your spirits? Your search is over. Salamon's tale of the search for a perfect tree to place in Rockefeller Center takes us to a convent set in the wooded countryside. It also takes us on a journey through the life of Sister Anthony, one of the nuns at the convent. When the chief gardener for Rockefeller Center spies the tree and learns it belongs to the convent, he thinks his job is done. After all, nuns would want to help people celebrate Christmas, right? His visit to the convent does not get him the tree he wants, but it leads to his friendship with Sister Anthony.

The way in which the tale has the gardener returning to the convent over the years and learning about Sister Anthony's past, makes the readers feel as if we are also forming a relationship with this nature-loving woman. We are saddened at her early losses, glad for the comfort she draws from Tree, and holding our breath to see if she will ever part with her evergreen friend and share him with the larger world. 

I imagine that this story may become part of the Christmas tradition for many readers, alongside A Visit from Saint Nicholas or watching "Charlie Brown's Christmas." 

I received an e-book from the publisher through NetGalley for review purposes.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Fall Reading 2016 Superman : American Alien


The seven stories in this book reveal Clark Kent's journey from a young boy whose powers are beginning to reveal themselves, to a young man who has begun to make his place in the world. There are many memorable scenes and quotable lines that fans will enjoy adding to their list of favorites. Perhaps they will choose his father telling him, "Who needs normal? Maybe weird is better." Or they might prefer his mother saying, "You're the best thing that ever happened to me...You're a shooting star. You're a wish that was granted." I like Oliver Queen's philosophical remark, "You can be more than who you are. That's the part that sneaks up on you. I think that's what growing up is...becoming a greater version of yourself."

Anyway, enough about the dialogue. The illustrations play just as large a role in showing the development of Clark to Superman. Scenes with Clark skimming over the Kansas cornfields capture the boyish fun of mastering his power of flight. The illustration of Superman coming through the wall of a shopping mall along with a tactical team in pursuit of a giant purple creature makes the point that he has entered the larger world, taking the side of those who protect the masses.

The stories also manage to introduce or refer to many of the main characters from the Superman saga, as well as the larger DC universe. We see Oliver Queen, Lex Luthor, Dick Grayson, Batman, and a couple of the Green Lanterns. And even in the short time they are shown, we begin to pick up on the personalities involved. Clark's friend Pete suggests that he seek out others like himself, "The red blur in Central City. That scary woman with the lasso in D.C. That fishy guy who keeps sinking whaling boats." Just that easily the Justice League members are added into the mix and ready for a future appearance.

One bonus of collections like this, besides the chance to binge read, is the inclusion of the variant covers and interior sketches. I think my favorite is the picture of Earth as seen from space. It is night, and the lights along North America form the Superman symbol. (That would make a great scene in a movie.)

Loyal readers of Superman and DC comics in general will welcome this addition and look forward to future issues from this story arc.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Fall Reading 2016 Engaged in Danger


I wonder if Jamie Quinn (or Jamie Franco, if she uses her father's name), would consider calling her office "Murphy's Law"? Because if anything can go wrong, it certainly seems to around her. Let's trot out a few examples - just as things are getting really serious with her boyfriend, he leaves for Australia for several months to save endangered wombats (yes, that's a thing); she gets mixed up in a nasty divorce case (the husband reminds me of the lawyer husband in "Diary of a Mad Black Woman"); her P.I. friend Duke gets dumped by his girlfriend; and Jamie has a huge fight with her best friend, Grace. This doesn't happen over an extended period of time, either.

If you're having a bad week, this could be a case of misery loves company, or "things could always be worse." Unless your week includes possible Russian assassins, hackers taking your computer hostage, being a person of interest in a felony, or sticking your foot in your mouth about the significant other of your bestie, you should begin to feel an improvement in your outlook after comparing your life to Jamie's. There are also plenty of opportunities to laugh; I suggest the scene with the rescue dogs and the paint canvas.

Fans of Jamie's other books will welcome this 4th installment in the series, and new readers will see what keeps people coming back for more. Great for mystery lovers who enjoy some humor and a little romance mixed in with their action and suspense.

I received a copy of the book from the author for review purposes.

Fall Reading 2016 The Other Einstein


May I just admit that I want to track down Albert Einstein in whatever afterlife he is currently enjoying and snatch him bald-headed? That might take some doing, considering the amount of crazy hair he had, but I am highly motivated. I have always looked at him as a role model for kids interested in science, but I never stopped to think about his personal life. This book made me consider that facet of his existence. Even though it is a fictionalized account of the life of his first wife, the author pulled from many historical sources to build the details of the story. If even a fraction of what she included in the story actually happened, then Einstein deserves to be snatched bald. Just saying.

If readers are able to set aside irritation with Albert and focus on the story of Mileva "Mitza" Maric, then they will find themselves drawn into the end of the nineteenth century and the dawn of the twentieth. The incredible limitations that women lived under will seem ridiculous to modern audiences. Marie Benedict does an awesome job of showing the culture and customs of the times and how they hampered women who sought higher education or careers in predominantly male fields. In the book, a conversation takes place between Mitza and another female scientist about balancing family life with scientific pursuits, and captures the gist of their struggle:

"...nothing is easy for people like you and me. We are eastern Europeans living in countries that look down upon people from our lands. We are women, who are expected to stay in the home, not run labs or teach at universities. Our expertise is in physics and math, exclusively male fields until now. And, on top of it, you and I are shy in a scientific realm that requires us to speak publicly. In some ways, managing a family has been the easiest part."

Fans of historical fiction, or fictionalized history, have a lot of meat to sink their mental teeth into with this story. Along with the feminist themes and the discrimination against eastern Europeans, there are also the growing anti-Semitic feelings, the clash of old ways with breakthroughs in science, and descriptions of European cities from a century ago. It's best to clear your calendar before starting to read, because you won't want to stop until you reach the end.

Highly recommended for YA and up.

I received an advance reader copy from the publisher for review purposes.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Fall Reading 2016 The Hanging Tree


Readers looking for some ghostly tales to enjoy over the Halloween holiday should give The Hanging Tree a try. Cash has combined several classic elements within his tale. On the one hand we have the trope of the young couple on a lonely road and the feeling that they are not alone. But he also adds in a rather nasty curse lingering from the days of the American colonies. And not satisfied with such a mash-up, he also includes the victims of the curse as a sort of Greek chorus commenting on the action. In such a short span of pages, the author manages to work in a rebellious teenager dealing with her parents' divorce and her father's new girlfriend, vengeful ghosts, the consequences of poor choices, and the possibility of redemption. How's that for a story to read while you await the arrival of the Great Pumpkin?

I received a copy of the book from the author for review purposes.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Fall Reading 2016 The Great Life Mindset: Basic Edition


Mr. Piercy has chosen to look back over the first 40 years of his adulthood and put together some advice from the lessons he has learned so far. As he puts it in his introduction, "What I'm trying to do is give you simple, easy-to-understand principles that will give you a good foundation." He begins with a discussion of finances and covers basics such as income, student loans, mortgages, and credit cards. Examples are given and explained of the outcomes different people will achieve depending on their different approach to money. The examples he gives are very common situations such as the difference between using high APR credit cards or paying and charges in full each month, or the difference between buying a new car frequently, or choosing to purchase a reliable used car instead.

The book doesn't simply talk about finances. but also tackles philosophy, health, and attitude. As you may have heard, "If you keep doing what you've always done, you'll keep getting what you've always got!" Although this book would make a good graduation gift, it would also be helpful for someone who has already been out in the working world for a while and is trying to make some positive changes to their life. Perhaps they never seem to rise above living paycheck to paycheck, and would like tips on how to break out of that cycle and start saving and investing. (And that's just one example.)

There are motivational or thought-provoking quotes scattered throughout the book. The author also shares the story of a major turning point in his own life and how it caused him to change his mindset. A list of favorite quotes on gratitude is included at the end of the book, and there is also a recommended reading list for those who want to explore more of the sources that inspired Mr. Piercy.

If you enjoy down-to-earth advice, try Piercy's tips for yourself. If you know someone who is about to leave school and move to the next stage of their life, then this could be a quick guide book to help them start off on the right foot. And another plus is that it is a quick read, so it will not take long to look at all the advice and begin to implement it.

I received a copy from the author for review purposes.    

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Fall Reading 2016 A Call to Mercy: Hearts to Love, Hands to Serve

Although I have seen Mother Teresa many times in the media, I have never read a book about her before. I am glad that I chose this one. Pulling passages from her letters, speeches, and interviews, the editor has shared Teresa's thoughts on the 7 corporal and 7 spiritual works of mercy. He has then followed each of these with testimonies from various eyewitnesses to her ministry and works. At the end of each section there is a reflection on the particular work of mercy addressed, and a prayer (many of which were prayed by Mother Teresa daily).

To describe the purpose and legacy of such a long and rich life as she lived, this seems to be a good way to organize everything that is shared. Simply reading through the quotes and testimonies we can begin to grasp how far-reaching her influence was. From Albania to Calcutta, Mexico to New York, she reached out all around the globe. Her thoughts on the nature of mercy and why we should show it to others are just as relevant now as when she first wrote them. 

This would make a good book club choice, since there is so much to discuss, or it could be used for a group Bible study. It can also be enjoyed simply as the biography of a remarkable woman. Reading it will cause you to re-examine your own life and how you are choosing to live it.

Visit the publisher's website for more information about the author or the book

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Fall Reading 2016 Wonder Woman: The True Amazon


This origin story of Wonder Woman traces back to the myth of Herakles and the golden girdle of Hippolyta. From the retreat of the Amazons to Diana's departure from the island of Themiscyra is shown. There are scenes of the women spoiling their princess, of her battles with monsters and discovery of treasures, and the fateful events that led to her exile. Yes, exile from her home and family. It's hard to imagine Wonder Woman as a selfish and willful young woman, but those are the traits she displays in this depiction. And those characteristics are what causes a tragedy on the peaceful island.

The artwork shows a variety of women in all the occupations a society needs. Some are instructors, some are advisers, some work in the stables, but they all look strong and fit and happy. The expressions on the faces clearly shows the indulgence of the women for their princess, and also captures the petulance and arrogance of Diana.

Readers who enjoy origin stories, superheroines, and tales of folly and possible redemption will enjoy this latest edition to the Wonder Woman saga.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Fall Reading 2016 Jamie Quinn Mystery Collection


Jamie Quinn may only be 5'2", but she packs a lot into that petite body. Although she is a family lawyer, she seems destined to be embroiled in danger and intrigue. Whether it is her cousin being accused of murder, the husband of a client dying of an overdose, or her boyfriend being stalked by a sinister figure - Jamie is sure to be in the thick of it. She isn't in it alone though, because she has a collection of friends and acquaintances that become involved along with her. Jamie's best friend and fellow lawyer Grace helps with her contacts in D.C. and legal smarts. Her former client and friend Duke lends his P.I. expertise as it is needed. 

Author Barbara Venkataraman has created an engaging character in Jamie Quinn. She has so many adorable quirks. Her insomnia, her grouchy cat, her complete lack of athleticism, and her quest to find her long-lost father all make a believable and very sympathetic character. How can readers resist a lawyer who oversleeps, and then rushes off to court wearing mismatched shoes? One who manages to spill the entire contents of her purse while trying to fish out her cell phone? Jamie feels as if she is someone we have always known and liked.

While there is intrigue and danger, there is also plenty of humor mixed into the stories. How many mysteries start off with a music store owner being bludgeoned to death with a didgeridoo? And when was the last time you heard of a disgruntled citizen leaving a message by mowing the words "Bite me," into the grass at a public park? Even some of the character names will have you smiling, like Marmaduke Broussard III or Commissioner Dilly Williams. (I won't repeat what Jamie changes her cat's name to, you will have to find out for yourself.)

If you enjoy mysteries with humor and a little romance mixed in, then give the adventures of Jamie Quinn a try. They are the perfect way to relax after a day at work.

I received a copy of the book from the author for review purposes.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Summer Reading 2016 Old Age: A Beginner's Guide


Although this is not my usual choice of reading material, it was described in a way that caught my attention. When I actually saw the book, the compact size was a bonus - it is easy to carry around and read when you have unexpected downtime. The title, however, is a bit misleading. Although the author does discuss aging, the title is actually drawn from his statement that living with Parkinson's disease is like going through a beginner's guide to old age. And the comparison makes a lot of sense, especially as Kinsley explains it, since the symptoms of one mimic the other.

I had never read any of Kinsley's writing before this, so I did not know what to expect of his style or his opinions and attitudes. I found that I enjoyed his view of life and his own place in it. He says things like, "Fortunately for me, one of the themes of this book is that few people get what they deserve, in this life or the next one." And for good or for ill, he is right. He also talks about the competitiveness of humans, pointing out bumper stickers like the one that reads, "He who dies with the most toys wins." Kinsley offers the idea that there are other forms of final competition in life. Besides worrying about who can accumulate the most toys before they go, we can also compete over who survives the longest, who has the best quality of life, and who has the most left of their marbles until the end. 

The author's frankness about his own diagnosis and how he has dealt with it, how it has affected him (medications surgical procedures, etc.), forms a basis to tie together the rest of his thoughts. In one chapter he delves into the difference between Baby Boomers and the generation before them, and those that come after. He discusses possible solutions for government deficits and also looks at the hope of all writers to secure a reputation that outlives them. Everything he says is well said and intelligent, often funny(although sometimes in a morbid way of whistling past a grave yard), but that reflects his life. 

If you enjoy autobiographical stories, or essays about topics relating to becoming one of the more mature ( see, I didn't say old), members of society, or have enjoyed Kinsley's writing during his long career as a journalist, then you should pick up a copy. 

"I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review."

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Summer Reading 2016 Wynonna Earp Volume 1: Homecoming


I watched several episodes of the TV series this summer, so when I saw this collection of issues 1-6, it caught my interest. The show and comics both capture a feeling that is almost "Deadpool" meets the wild west. The body count is staggering. The gore is dripping everywhere. There are plenty of snarky remarks. But there are also demons, witches, and cannibals rather than mutant villains. And Wynonna's natural talents in hunting down the unnatural enemies of mankind are a result of inheriting the family curse, not an extra options package in her DNA. The backstory of that curse and her famous ancestor (Wyatt), is revealed in small bits so that readers put together the big picture slowly, just as you do whenever you meet someone new. This new acquaintance just happens to have shootouts with demonic gunslingers and busts up black market deals for large shipments of brains.

Dealing with a family curse can make someone a bit touchy, so it shouldn't be a surprise that Wynonna tends to annoy her superior, Xavier Dolls. Then again, with a name like that, he should expect to be annoyed by people. Besides Wy and X (LOL), there are also John Henry, a questionable ally with a mysterious past, and another agent that has many years of experience (you'll have to read to find out who).

It's obvious that the writer is familiar with the Earp legend. Several of the lines spoken by Wynonna are almost identical to those spoken by Kurt Russell in the movie "Tombstone." As a fan of the movie, it was hard for me not to put the words, "I'll be your huckleberry," into John Henry's mouth, especially when he confronts Johnny Ringo (my mind kept picturing Val Kilmer and Michael Biehn). 

If you have been enjoying the TV series, then you should try the comics and graphic novels.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Summer Reading 2016 Lady Cop Makes Trouble


Amy Stewart has done it again. Luckily, she hasn't done anything illegal, and she lives in the 21st century, so Constance Kopp won't be coming after her. And what has she done? Why, write another entertaining and absorbing story of one of the first female sheriff's deputies in the U.S. This time around Constance is trying to hold onto her new job (and paycheck). When a prisoner escapes while the sheriff is already worried that there may be trouble over hiring Constance, things get very tense. Can she track down the fugitive, prevent negative consequences for herself and the sheriff, and still make it to Fleurette's theatrical debut on time?

Meticulous research has allowed the author to paint an authentic picture of life during World War I. Not only does she have the period details of the clothing, transportation, and fads (training pigeons for the war effort), but she also manages to put the right opinions and outlooks into the characters' minds. For instance, a prisoner insists on speaking to Constance in German, and it makes her uncomfortable due to the war and everyone's dislike of all things German. When she catches a criminal, the male reporters state that she tapped the man on the shoulder rather than telling everyone that she had actually tackled him. The entire worldview with the women's-only hotels and the notion that general delivery mail was in danger of being discontinued by the post office because it was being used for secret love letters seems strange to us today.

This story has a broad appeal because it does so many things well. The setting of a century ago is perfect for those who love historical fiction. Constance and her determination to prove she is capable of being a deputy sheriff satisfies those who love strong female protagonists. For those who prefer mystery or crime procedurals, there is plenty of sleuthing to uncover where the escaped prisoner is hiding. There is even a cameo appearance by the famous William Carlos Williams.

Whatever your reason for reading this second book of the Kopp sisters, you won't be disappointed.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Summer Reading 2016 The Book Club Murders


Mystery fans rejoice! What could be better than a murder mystery that revolves around a book club that only reads murder mysteries? A club called the Agathas, in honor of Dame Agatha Christie, of course. Nagel has captured the feel of suburban America perfectly. The secret affairs that everyone knows about, the social clout of the country club set, the shared history of lifelong residents is all there in the descriptions of Oakwood. And when a murder shatters the seeming calm of the town, then is followed by another, and another...it seems that someone is capable of keeping secrets after all. 

The characters are entertaining and provoke an emotional response from the readers. We may be amused by Charley and Frankie plotting over coffee, or amused at Dmitri's antics in the hair salon, and then irritated by the imperious Midge or feel sorry for Wilson in her rigidly controlled marriage. The tension between Charley and Marcus and the question of whether they will ever get together or not adds to the suspense of the murder investigation while also letting us take a break from death to roll our eyes at these two stubborn individuals. Even the secondary characters seem very real. There's the faithful caretaker Lawrence who tends to Charley's father; Marc's detective partner, Paul and his teasing that Charley is "Nancy Drew;" and even Charley's dad with his outrage at the inappropriate video that is posted on YouTube after one of the murders. Each person that the reader encounters is believable in all their strengths and weaknesses.

So, we have plot, setting, and characters that lure us in and then the twists and turns keep us guessing. Who is the real killer? Will the attraction between Marc and Charlie ever be acted on? Why isn't there an Old Hat vintage clothing boutique in my town? (Okay, maybe that last one was just me.) Readers who enjoy the Aurora Teagarden mysteries, Goldy's Culinary Mysteries, and other series where the protagonist is not an official detective will have fun with The Book Club Murders

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Summer Reading 2016: War Dogs: Tales of Canine Heroism, History, and Love


I had soggy toast for breakfast this morning. No, I'm not oversharing or complaining, the toast was collateral damage from reading this book. I reached the section of the book that shared many of the stories about wounded or KIA war dogs and their handlers and cried all over my toast while I read my way through breakfast. Frankel's look at the history of U.S. military dogs and the various missions they have been entrusted with over the years is full of accounts describing the service and faithfulness of both partners - dog and handler. It also covers the types of training the teams go through to prepare them for deployment, the types of missions they run, and the lives they save.

I respect the time and energy the author put into her work. She conducted interviews, observed training sessions, and even participated in some of the drills and marches. During the research process she made friends with many of the people who shared information with her. She became close enough that when some of the teams she had met suffered a casualty, the network reached out to her and made sure that she received the news. 

I also appreciate the way she covered the various types of military working dogs - from those that deploy with combat teams to search for IEDs or insurgents, to those that work with the medical teams as therapy dogs, and even those that are assigned to help deal with PTSD once troops come back home. Frankel also talked with teams working with TSA and Homeland Security patrolling airports and former service members who have been able to adopt their canine partners once they were no longer doing field work. And the story of Buddy, the first seeing-eye dog in America is included, too.

Along with the text, there are photos of the dogs and their handlers, which gives the narrative a more personal touch. And there are quotes at the beginning of each section from famous people or from other books about these military canines. One that really appealed to me was from Will Rogers, "If there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went." But I think one that really pertains to how these dogs help the troops even when they are not actively sniffing out bombs or guarding the men is from Robyn Davidson, "The good Lord in his infinite wisdom gave us three things to make life bearable, hope, jokes, and dogs, but the greatest of these was dogs." 

Anyone interested in military history or dogs of any sort will find this book highly interesting and a read that will capture their attention. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Summer Reading 2016: Oberon's Meaty Mysteries: The Purloined Poodle


What's not to love about a mystery story narrated by an intelligent Irish wolfhound? Add in the enticements of humor, great references to pop culture (of all ages), and the presence of the coolest druid ever and it's a shoe-in. Oberon is the canine companion of Atticus, the Iron Druid. Because of the skills he has perfected over the last 2,000 years, Atticus has been able to bond his mind and Oberon's so that they can communicate telepathically. Oberon is incredibly smart and loves to have Atticus tell him stories, discuss the plots of books he has read, or for the two of them to watch movies and television together. The result of all this exposure to human culture is that Oberon can make great references to books and videos. For instance, he shares, "Whenever I walk into a park all the other dogs are like hobbits saying, "It comes in pints?" because they have never seen a hound as big as me before." 

On this particular visit to the local dog park, Oberon and Atticus learn that there has been a crime spree of sorts in the Pacific Northwest. Grand Champion dogs of all breeds have been abducted and other dogs in those homes tranquilized with spiked treats or with a dart gun. Oberon convinces Atticus that they should look into the matter and tells him, "The game is afoot, Atticus!" Of course they have lots of funny dialogue that no one else can hear, but which made me laugh out loud frequently while reading. Oberon throws out references to Gandhi, Jack Nicholson, Sherlock, Lord of the RingsThe Great Gatsby and even Battlestar Galactica. At one point they have to do a stakeout and wait for some suspected bad guys to show up. Oberon says, "I hate waiting. I'm like Inigo Montoya that way."

Fans of the Iron Druid series will love this latest addition to the world that Kevin Hearne has created. For first-timers just encountering Atticus and Oberon, this is self-contained enough that it can be read on its own - but they should be warned that it will probably whet their appetites and pull them into the series (sort of like promising Oberon a sirloin). Seeing Atticus use his druidry for the good of dognap victims rather than fighting evil vampires or enraged trolls is a nice change of pace.

Highly recommended for current fans, urban fantasy readers, and those looking for a new series with magic, mayhem, and a handsome hound. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Summer Reading 2016 The Walled City


A city within a city. The walls of an ancient fort enclose Hak Nam, a city with its own rules. Those who want to live beyond the reach of the law stay within its walls. So do those who have no choice. Dai is a bit of both. In one tragic night he lost his brother and used a gun to defend himself, now there is a warrant for his arrest. But if he can find the information that the police outside the walls want to know, then they have bargained to give him his freedom. The problem is Longwai and the Brotherhood. They are the criminals who control much of what goes on illegally within Hak Nam. He also owns the brothel where Mei Yee and other girls are held after being sold off by their families, or snatched off the streets. She has seen other girls punished for defiance or escape attempts. Does she have the courage to help Dai get the needed information so that he can help her escape? And there is Jin, the slim runner that helps Dai ingratiate himself with Longwai. Jin has been searching for a missing sister for 2 years in Hak Nam. The money Dai pays helps to buy food and continue the search. They all have their reasons for being in the city, and for wanting to escape from it. Will they succeed? Can all of them make it out alive?

The idea of people living on the edges of society, marginalized and disenfranchised from the protection that civilization is suppose to offer, is nothing new. But the way Graudin has pieced together this intricate ecosystem of criminals, vagrants, and impoverished is masterful. The descriptions of the tenements, the tiny shops selling noodles or clothing, even the details of the litter on the ground all build the scene in the reader's mind. The way the story alternates between the viewpoints of the three main characters makes the differences in their lives very apparent. Dai has his guilty conscience and desperation to make things right. Mei Yee is stuck inside the claustrophobic walls of the brothel, only seeing daylight through a tiny barred window. Even if she escapes, she can't go home; her father would only sell her again. It is nearly impossible to keep any hope alive in such conditions. And Jin is filled with the determination to find and rescue that lost sister, powered by love and determination. They all see and react to things in such different ways.

If you enjoy thrillers with the clock ticking on the chance to make it out alive, then you should give The Walled City a try. Of the other books I have read, The Young World is sort of similar in the need to get out of a city and the fight to survive long enough to do it.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Summer Reading 2016 Murder at the 42nd Street Library


Fans of "Castle"may have a new series to follow. Murder at the 42nd Street Library features a curator of crime fiction who is an amateur detective of sorts. Ray Ambler manages the crime fiction collection, both the books and the donated papers of various authors. He also likes to help out the police by sharing facts with them. And he has even made friends with a detective on the force, Mike Cosgrove. But when a murder takes place inside the library, Ambler becomes much more involved than he could ever imagine. 

This case, and the story, has plenty of suspects, lots of complicated relationships, and secrets. What can I say without giving too much away? Hmmmm. There are two biographies being written about a prominent author, while the author himself is dealing with dementia and trouble with his current wife (who's half his age). All these folks are converging on the library along with their wives and assistants, plus the library runners who pull materials from the stacks for them, the curators, and the library's director. So how can it be that no one can describe or identify the murderer, even though the shooting took place in the director's office and the perpetrator walked right past security on the way out of the building?

Along with trying to dig up clues for the police department (whether they want his help or not), Ambler is also helping a friend cope with the death of her mother, dealing with his own son, and worrying about his position at the library being cut. His friend Cosgrove has a strained relationship with his wife and daughter and his partner on the force resents Ambler's interference in the case. Nothing is ever easy, right?

Lehane has come up with a likable character in Ambler. The bits of his history that come up help to add depth to his personality and explain his reluctance to pick up on the advances from a coworker. Each person in the story is more than just a cardboard placeholder; the other characters have their own issues - unhappy marriages, death in the family, moody teenage kids, etc. The description of the library itself is well done and captures the atmosphere of a research library with its massive stacks, requests for materials, and security procedures. The mention of various crime authors adds in another layer of enjoyment for readers who are fond of the genre. 

This promises to be an entertaining series, both in the mysteries that Ambler will become involved in and also in watching the relationships between the characters evolve.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through edelweiss.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Summer Reading 2016 Ghostly Echoes: A Jackaby Novel


At the end of their last case (chronicled in Beastly Bones), Jackaby and Rook come home to find that their ghostly landlady has decided to hire them. Jenny Cavanaugh was murdered in her home 10 years ago, the home which Jackaby now uses as his base of operations. But before they can even properly decide where to begin searching for clues, a murder remarkably like Jenny's occurs. When they approach the chief of police and the mayor about those similarities, they find that several other people are either dead or missing. The fact that all these new victims were involved in the mayor's project to update the the city is a coincidence that is hard to ignore; Jenny's fiancee was also involved in a project for the previous mayor. What exactly is going on? And is the creepy, pale-faced man that Abigail has seen around town somehow involved? After all, his photo is in Jenny's case file.

Ritter has set up another great case for our detectives to pursue. The ties to Jenny's murder lend the case a personal meaning, although we know that Jackaby would have investigated anyway. Rook continues to become more familiar with Jackaby and his odd way of doing things, while also using her own keen skills of observation and society manners. While her boss goes on about auras and energies, Abigail notices that there are diapers and wooden blocks in the house of a couple who do not have children. She picks up on cues in conversations that he misses, such as the reference to benefactors that have supported the mayor's project. When she describes a person of interest in the case, the mayor says, "It's certainly a start, Miss Rook. You should lead with her next time, Jackaby. She's better at this than you are." He means she's better at sharing facts and descriptions that other people can understand, rather than saying a suspect has "an anathematic aura with distinctly lavender accents."

Since this is only a Sneak Peek, and since I wouldn't want to spoil any of the surprises, I'll leave you to ponder Jackaby's statement that "Questions are good... Questions are to the clever mind as coal is to the stoker." We all have plenty of unanswered questions as we await this third installment in the series.

I read the Sneak Preview offered by the publisher through NetGalley.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Summer Reading 2016 Beastly Bones: A Jackaby Novel


After reading the first of the Jackaby books I said - The way the story is told from Abigail's point of view reminds me of Laurie King's Sherlock Holmes adventures told through the eyes of Mary Russell. The story-line itself is like mixing Holmes with a dash of Sleepy Hollow. I would love to see more books about this Holmes and Watson type arrangement that Jackaby and Miss Rook are forming. - Well, now I have been granted my wish.

For those who don't know, Jackaby is a detective of sorts who specializes in the supernatural. When he and his assistant, Abigail Rook first meet, she has just landed in America and needs a job. Taking the post as his assistant she helps with a case involving a serial killer. That was in the first book. Now she has settled into her role a bit more and is eager to prove that her employer has not made a mistake in hiring her. She is especially excited by a new case they are asked to consult on because it offers the chance to visit a paleontology dig. They will also be able to check in on the policeman who worked with them on the serial killer case; Charlie Barker has been transferred to a more rural post that happens to be the location of the dig site.

There are so many things going on in this story. The ghost who is the former owner of Jackaby's house is behaving somewhat erratically. A local woman calls them in because her cat, Mrs. Wiggles, has transformed into a fish and her kittens all have scales. There is a murder in town, as well as a dead body at the dinosaur dig. A sinister figure is seen outside their home and again at the train station as they leave for the country. A tracker/hunter who is a friend of Jackaby's shows up with a Stymphalian bird. Rival paleontologists are arguing over who is in charge of the dig. A newspaper reporter (picture a Nellie Bly clone), shows up to cover the story of a farmer finding fossils in his field. More dead bodies turn up, as well as livestock disappearing and strange footprints are left behind. What can be causing all this? Are they separate problems, or are some of these things related? And will Jackaby figure it out before more dead bodies pile up?

I enjoy the characters in the story. As I've said, Abigail reminds me of Mary Russell or perhaps Penelope from the Irene Adler stories. Seeing Jackaby's world and his work through her eyes makes it more understandable for us as readers. After all, we don't see auras or lingering traces of magic the way he does, so we have to go with what she sees and records. I also find Jackaby to be intriguing. Someone who quotes Darwin, but also wears a hat supposedly made from the fur of a yeti is bound to be interesting, even when he is being hopelessly clueless in social skills. And the things he worries about can be very amusing. Near the end of the story he is explaining his concern that there is a "criminal manufacturing paranormal mayhem." He worries that this villain could turn loose supernatural creatures such as redcaps and brownies, or even "Promote the adoption of the Dewey decimal system in libraries across the continent." When Abigail questions that last bit he tells her, "It's gaining popularity. I don't trust it." Could Jackaby be behind the rise of the Library of Congress cataloging system?

If you enjoy the mysteries of Holmes and Russell (by Laurie King), or Irene Adler (Carole Nelson Douglas), or other stories set in the late nineteenth century with some paranormal elements, then you really need to check out the Jackaby series.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Summer Reading 2016 The Witch Hunter


In the kingdom of Anglia magic is illegal. And in this time of swords and sorcery they don't hand out citations, they burn you at the stake. The king's uncle, Lord Blackwell has a team of witch hunters that are specially trained to find and capture anyone who uses magic. Elizabeth Grey is the only female in the group of hunters. When she is accused of witchcraft herself and sentenced to be burned, she is rescued by public enemy number 1, Nicholas, the magical counselor of the former king. When a plague killed the king and half the population, it was said that Nicholas had used his magic to start the plague because he hoped to take over the throne. So why would he bother to rescue a witch hunter from prison and death? As Elizabeth recovers from her imprisonment, she learns that the magic users aren't what she has been told. When the time comes, will she choose her old companions or the new ones who have saved her life?

If you look for stories with an historical feel - the swords and kings and peasants living in thatched huts - then the setting of this book is perfect for you. If you like stories where the protagonist goes through a shift in their world view and realizes they have been lied to about major events and their causes, then this is a book for you. If you want a strong female character who can survive tragedy and betrayal and rebuild her life, then...well, you know, THIS BOOK IS FOR YOU. Anyone who enjoys books that mix a period feel with the fantasy element of magic will find plenty that appeals to them in The Witch Hunter. From the tavern scenes, to the sumptuous gowns worn by the noblewomen, to the descriptions of the foods and the cottages, you will be pulled into a place and time very different from our own. The character of Elizabeth reminds me of Alexa in Sara Larsen'sDefy. They both have been trained to serve the rulers of their lands, and they both discover that there are hidden plots and outright lies about the past that the leaders will do anything to protect.

Highly recommended for YA readers of historical fantasy. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Summer Reading 2016 Stillwell: A Haunting on Long island


Fans of suspense movies or those who like a touch of the supernatural will enjoy this book. While set in the present, the story's characters and plot are intertwined with events set during the Revolutionary War. Paul Russo just lost his wife to a harrowing battle with cancer. As he tries to get life back to a "new normal" for himself and his three children, it seems that fate will not cooperate. His son is getting in trouble in school because he cannot control his emotions, especially his anger about his mother's death. His oldest daughter is barely eating. And his youngest daughter claims she is talking to her mother's ghost. Paul is having terrible dreams in which a demonic figure is carrying off his wife while she calls out to him for help. Everyone is having a difficult time.

Take all the issues at home and then add Paul's job. He is a successful realtor and the first big property he is asked to represent when he comes back to work is a family estate where the owners died in a homicide/suicide incident. Not the most propitious of fresh starts. It doesn't get any better when he begins to learn the history of the house and tales of it being haunted. Between not getting any sleep due to the nightmares, several unexplained occurrences at the estate, and the well-meaning idea from his sales partner to call in someone for a psychic cleansing, it seems that he has stepped into the Twilight Zone rather than anywhere near normal.

With help from friends and family, can Paul get a routine set up to meet the needs of his kids, handle the pressure at work (especially the spoiled nephew of the agency's owners who is trying to steal all the best listings), and figure out how to stop the nightmares? Are they really visions from his wife asking for help from the afterlife? And how does it all tie in to the sad history of the Stillwell estate?

In a quick read (under 200 pages), the author ratchets up the suspense, makes the grieving family believable, and mixes in ghosts and demons before wrapping things up. You will have to read it for yourself to see how he accomplishes all that. Due to its size, it makes the perfect book to pack for a weekend getaway or as a vacation read. 

I read an e-book provided by the publisher for review purposes.

Summer Reading 2016 After the Red Rain


Imagine a world with only weak sunshine for an hour each morning, if you're lucky enough to get that much. A world where the air and the water are full of toxins. A place where nothing grows and everything is covered by the crumbling remains of great cities that cover everything with concrete. That is the world Deedra lives in, the world after the red rain. No one knows what caused the rain that ended the world from the past. There are theories, of course. Some say it was aliens. Some claim it was the wrath of God. Some say the world itself turned against humanity. Now citizens live in Territories governed by magistrates who report to the City rulers, who consult with each other. Everyone is branded with the mark of their Territory and mandated to work for the good of all. Work earns rations of genetically engineered food, made from the DNA of extinct species. Air masks are worn and water is filtered before use.

Rose comes into this world. He is like no other boy Deedra has ever met, and not just because of his name. He has no brand. He shrugs off rules like curfew. He is openly curious about everything. Who is he? Where did he come from? When a murder is committed, a stranger can become an easy scapegoat. How far will Deedra go to help him? And how far will the powers that be go to maintain control?

This story evokes the dreary setting and the mind-numbing drudgery of working an assembly line for days on end. The way information is controlled and used to manipulate the citizens has hints of Bog Brother to it, and should make readers question their own habit of accepting what is presented to them without questioning it. Other stories with similar characters or themes include: Stranger in a Strange LandDivergent, and "Soylent Green." 

If you enjoy post-apocalyptic/dystopian type stories, characters that are resilient and determined, or futuristic SciFi in general, then you should give this a try.

P.S. Did you notice that Robert Facinelli, the actor from the Twilight movies (among other film credits), is one of the writers?

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 The Field Guide to Sports Metaphors

Anyone interested in language and all its twists and turns will have a great time reading through this discussion of where different sports metaphors originated. Because of the connection to athletics, it will also appeal to sports fans. Chetwynd has researched sayings from all types of activities, both team endeavors and individual events. He has traced back to the earliest recorded appearances of each idiom and explained what country and sport it can be attributed to. He also tells what writers or medium first popularized it and when it became a part of common parlance.

Everything from baseball to wrestling is listed, with the phrases attributed to each sport listed in alphabetical order. If there is some question or disagreement, then the possibilities are laid out and the merits of each one are explained. Those that cannot be satisfactorily narrowed down to a single starting point are gathered in a final section at the end labeled "Free Agents: Unattached Sports Idioms and Words." 

Something that I especially enjoyed was the author's sense of humor and the way he throws in references to popular culture. Speaking of a baseball player named "Candy" Cummings, he says that "he had a name that was more Willy Wonka than ace pitcher." Discussing the fact that wrestling rings are square, he quips, "You don't have to be a J.R.R. Tolkien expert to know that a ring is supposed to be circular." But my favorite reference has got to be during his explanation about how rounding the bases in a baseball game has come to mean scoring in a romantic sense. He says, "rounding the metaphorical bases reached iconic standing when Meatloaf used it in his 1977 rock anthem "Paradise by the Dashboard Light.""

The phrases that are included in the book range from Monday morning quarterback to wild-goose chase. Some things that you might think logically came from one sport, you learn actually came from something completely different. And some phrases come from the most unexpected places. Not just the humor, or the cool references, but the surprises will keep you turning the pages just so you can see what else there is to discover.

This would make a great gift or be handy to have around as a conversation starter.

You can find more information about the book and the author.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.