Sunday, May 22, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 Shadow Rider


Fans of Christine Feehan's blend of intrigue, action, and paranormal romance will now have a new series to keep up with - Shadow Rider is the first in her Shadow series. The story features Stefano Ferraro and Francesca Capello as the main romantic interests, but the entire Ferraro family and other characters from their neighborhood play a large part in the story. The Ferraros live in Chicago and Francesca attracts Stefano's attention soon after she arrives to see her friend Joanna Masci and apply for a job in the deli owned by Joanna's uncle. Stefano isn't just attracted because Francesca is a beautiful woman, but because he realizes that she has the ability to be a shadow rider just like his family. The chemistry between them is explosive, even though Francesca suspects that his family is part of the Mafia.

It's true that Stefano, his siblings, and even his extended family of cousins are involved in something outside the law. They use their secret ability of traveling through the shadows to do the impossible and they work hard. The paparazzi documents that they certainly play hard, but that is all part of their plan. Just as a stage magician might use some sleight of hand and some razzle-dazzle to distract the audience from his secrets, the Ferraros use their glitzy life style to make sure that no one will ever suspect what they really do. With the trauma and betrayal that lies in Francesca's past still following her, will she be able to accept the secrets and strict rules that being in Stefano's life will require?

Feehan's talent for creating strong male protagonists who have heavy responsibilities, extraordinary abilities, and a hard-wired need to protect women and children is evident in her latest new series. Stefano and his family all have abilities that place them outside the range of "normal" humans and their family traditions require them to train and follow expected roles. Their work includes a heavy emotional burden that finding a soul mate can help them to bear. Just as the Carpathians have a lifemate, the Leopard people have a mate that they find lifetime after lifetime, and the Ghost Walkers have a destined mate that perfectly matches their abilities, the Shadow Riders can also sense when someone is compatible and would be able to produce children with them to carry on the family "business." But just because something is fated, doesn't mean that it will be easy. Then again, if you don't have to work for something, you might be tempted to take it for granted.

Readers who enjoy paranormal romance in general and Feehan's style in particular will be happy to add this series to their shelves.

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

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 Jefferson's America: The President, the Purchase, and the Explorers Who Transformed a Nation

Did you ever have to write a report on a president when you were in school? I remember writing about Thomas Jefferson when I was in third grade. I was impressed with all his accomplishments, and had a hard time figuring out the pronunciation of Monticello. But the only sources back then were the biographies in the school library, or the family edition of World Book Encyclopedia. Those books barely mentioned the explorers he sent out to map the Louisiana Territory, mostly just their names and the dates of their expeditions. If you had the same experience, there is now a cure for our lack of information - Jefferson's America by Julie M. Fenster.

In her book, Fenster traces the events and world politics that led up to the Louisiana Purchase. She explains the personalities involved - Jefferson, Napoleon, Carlos IV, Talleyrand, Godoy, Grenville - and the posturing and empire building they were attempting in North America. Mixed in with the international scene, there were also the internal politics of the United States. Jefferson's service under Washington, his own presidency, the famous Burr-Hamilton duel, and other events and relationships are painted in as the backdrop of the action along the western frontier. 

It seems amazing that so many people had so many different schemes and personal agendas. When we look back at the times of the founding fathers, we tend to imagine that everyone was pulling together for the good of our fledgling nation. We are surprised to hear that the government was run by human beings rather than saints, and that they played power games and backed pet projects just as politicians do today. And it may seem callous to us that Jefferson would send men out to explore when he knew that the other nations with territories outside the U.S. borders might kill them on sight. But each man who answered his call "was hungrier than all those he left behind to see the New World of his generation - the American West."

Jefferson's explorers were successful to varying degrees, and they received varying amounts of fame and recognition for their efforts. Some became household names, like Lewis & Clark. Others, such as Thomas Freeman, tend to be forgotten outside of history classrooms. They were not just filling in blank spaces on a map, or meeting native tribes and establishing lines of communication. These men were helping the president to "bring forward in place of his words the color of the rock, the words of the chiefs, the direction of the water, and the fact that the American mind had met its frontier." Jefferson needed to appease the critics who disagreed with the money spent on the territory, as well as feed the popular curiosity about what the west was like. 

The text of the book does a wonderful job of making the personalities of these historical figures come alive, and to toggle back and forth between the various expeditions to give a sense of how much was going on in so many different directions at once. It is easy to see why some details were left out of the World Book articles. Most parents wouldn't approve of their children learning about the reputation Sacajawea's husband had for "interfering with underage girls." And Ellicott's ploy of bringing his own "harlot" on a surveying mission by passing her off as his washerwoman wouldn't really be a fact to include in an elementary school report.

Along with all the details about the explorers and what they found, the author also puts the whole situation into a context that modern minds can appreciate. Yes, these men risked their lives to travel where few Europeans or their descendants had gone, but it was more than that. As Fenster puts it, this was a cold war of the early nineteenth century. "In the last part of the twentieth century,the entry into space served the same purpose in a climate just as tense between the United States and the Soviet Union." A-ha, now we get it.

Anyone interested in general U.S. history, early American heroes, or the Jefferson presidency will enjoy this thoughtfully written text. Some readers who do not normally turn to nonfiction may find themselves absorbed in the tales of pirogue portages (say that three times quickly), log jams, and grizzly bears.

There is more information about the author and the book available on the publisher's website.

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

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You

The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You

Nerd-vana, here I come! As the blurbs say, this is a retelling of the Bard's "Much Ado About Nothing" set in a contemporary private high school for gifted students. What they may not mention is that the characters are wonderfully written, with quirks and foibles to make them normal teenagers despite their above-average intelligence. If Shakespeare were alive today, he would have written them with "Dr. Who", "Firefly", and "Buffy" references and arguments over the merits of Marvel versus DC comics. Since Will is no longer with us, Lily Anderson has graciously done the deed. All the bits and pieces of the original play have been carefully transplanted into a current-day setting. There are cell phones, Netflix, tofu, AP exams, and Slurpees along with devious plots, true love thwarted, and the verbal jousting between Beatrix and Benedict.

If you enjoyed "Ten Things I Hate About You," or love books that make great use of pop culture references, then you must read The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

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

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 Booked by Kwame Alexander


OH. MY. GOODNESS. What an incredible book. It takes middle school, a soccer crazy boy, his best friend, his parents, his crush, two bullies, and a couple of teachers (including an awesome librarian), and then presents it in poetry. But it doesn't even register in your brain as poetry because you are so caught up in what is happening to Nick. There are confrontations with the bullies. Working up his nerve to ask April out. Soccer games leading up to the Dallas Cup. His parents and their trial separation. His mother taking a job out of state. And conversations with Mr. Mac, the former rapper who is the librarian at Langston Hughes.

I love the character of Nick, with his love of soccer and his grumbling about being forced to read his father's dictionary of unusual words. Of course the English teacher loves having him in class with his "wordsmith" abilities, but he would rather be playing video games or practicing soccer than reading. The amazing librarian is probably my favorite in the book. His shirts with their wacky sentiments such as "similes are like metaphors" or "I like big books and I cannot lie," show his personality so clearly. This is someone who knows and cares about the kids and wants to connect with them, and also to connect them with the right book to get them hooked. 

Although Nick's father collects unusual words, and Nick himself has an amazing vocabulary, it is the author himself who is the true wordsmith. His poetry captures so much of being a young teenager so well. When Nick learns of his parents' separation, the text reads, "It does not take a math genius to understand that when you subtract a mother from the equation what remains is negative." Could the situation and Nick's reaction to it be stated any more clearly? Rather than chapters and chapter headings, each poem has its own title. I especially liked "Books You Find on Google" (which is made up of book titles), and the Langston Hughes allusion, "What happens to a dream destroyed?"

After reading a book written in verse, Nick has the same reaction to it that I had to Booked: "The poems were cool. The best ones were like bombs, and when all the right words came together it was like an explosion."

Fans of Alexander's Newbery winning The Crossover, as well as those who enjoy other books in verse like "All the Broken Pieces" and "Out of the Dust," will be adding this to their list of favorites. A recommended read for anyone who enjoys books in verse, soccer, or realistic fiction.

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