Monday, January 30, 2017

When, by Victoria Laurie

Maddie is 16 and has an incredible gift. She knows the date a person will die by reading numbers on their forehead that only she can see. When Maddie was much younger, her policeman father died in a shootout with a drug gang. Unable to warn him because at that time she didn't understand the numbers she saw on his head, Maddie has felt guilty ever since and her mother has drowned herself in bottles of vodka. Unable to hold onto a job, she and Maddie have relied on funds provided by her uncle Donny, an attorney. In order to get extra money to cover her vodka needs, her mother has hired Maddie out for "death date" readings. When one of Maddie's clients freaks out at the death date assigned her son, and her son is then murdered on that date, Maddie's world comes crashing down.

Victoria Laurie's writing is clear, crisp, focused and appropriate for high school age and older.

* Age Range: 12 - 17 years
* Grade Level: 7 - 12
* Paperback: 336 pages
* Publisher: Disney-Hyperion; Reprint edition (September 6, 2016)

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Rise: How a House Built a Family, by Cara Brookins

Cara Brookins and her young children rose from being victims of terrible domestic abuse by building their own beautiful home. Relying on YouTube DIY videos, they built a sanctuary, called Inkwell Manor, one concrete block and one piece of plywood at a time, without the help of a building contractor. Cara tells their story in her memoir, "Rise."

Her family had been the victims of two domestic abusers, both ex-husbands. One, Adam, a paranoid-schizophrenic, who, despite a divorce, and restraining orders, still managed to terrify the family by making death threats, chasing their car, torturing their dog, rearranging furniture and leaving psychotic messages. The second man, Matt, had subjected Cara to frequent violent, life-threatening rages and, as most batterers do, blamed Cara for his rages.

Cara describes the abuse in chapters interspersed with others describing the building of the house. At first, the lack of chronological order was a little confusing. Nonetheless, since Cara's story is not linear, the way she unfolds it makes sense. Her family had been deeply scarred by the abuse. Removing the abusers from their life did not, by itself, remove the fear or the scars. Building their house together, however, as rough and exhausting as it was, helped to exorcise the bad experiences. Indeed, placing the abuse stories between chapters describing the building of their home seems akin to burning sage in a new house to remove bad karma.

During the build, the family's transformation from victims to joyful house builders was not without humor. Astonished to learn that a neighbor could save them days of work by cutting out the windows and doors with a chainsaw, Cara writes: "Five minutes later, he fired up his chain saw in my bedroom. I shook my head: There’s a thing not every girl can say with a straight face."

At the end of the day, Cara's memoir makes clear that she and her children dealt head on with the many hardships and obstacles that came their way, and they succeeded in a task that many thought was impossible, they built themselves a home.

(I received this copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Press (January 24, 2017)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1250095662

Cara Brookins in the library she and her children built.

Inkwell Manor

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Mystery Mile (Albert Campion), by Margery Allingham

Albert Campion, eccentric gentleman investigator, made his first starring appearance, along with Magersfontein Lugg, his butler/valet/bodyguard, in this novel, first published in 1930. While onboard a ship, Campion saves the life of an American judge and learns from him and his adult children, that there have been several other attempts. Although at first they think he is a buffoon, the Americans ask for his help in desperation after yet another attempt on the judge's life. Intent on finding a safe refuge for his new acquaintances/clients while he brings down the would-be murderers, Campion convinces his oldest friends, Biddy and Giles, to lease the Americans their out-of-the-way Manor House located in the rural village of Mystery Mile, somewhere on the marshy coast of Suffolk, England.

Originally intended to be a comic version of Dorothy Sayer's detective, Lord Peter Whimsey, Allingham apparently grew attached to her creation and, as a result, Campion is more British eccentric than clown. Although he speaks with an English school-boy, P.G. Wodehouse-type of jargon, there is no question that Allingham created a smart character capable of great emotion. Similarly Campion's "man," Lugg, a rough and tumble cockney, Great War veteran with few manners, is no comic figure. Instead, when least expected, he shows himself to be a man with hidden depths. When the judge disappears and key villagers succumb to an unexplainable kind of evil miasma, Campion and Lugg use all of their talents to unravel a dense mystery and save the American's life.

Reading one of Margery Allingham's Campion mysteries is like escaping to a time between the wars where you have nothing more pressing to do than lounge in a well-worn comfy chair on a sunny day in a well-stocked library, with tea and biscuits. I was sorry the book ended.

(I received this copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

* Print Length: 226 pages
* Publisher: Bloomsbury Reader; 1 edition (May 6, 2014)
* Publication Date: May 6, 2014
* Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Buzz Books 2017: Spring/Summer: Exclusive Excerpts from 40 Top New Titles,* By Publishers Lunch

Buzz Books 2017 is an amazing menu of the new books that will be released this spring and summer. Take a look yourself: Publishers Lunch has made this gorgeous list available for free at any major ebookstore or at

It would take weeks for me to synopsize the hundreds of great books listed and excerpted in this Buzz Books for Spring/Summer, so I will focus on a few of the forthcoming books that I am anxious to read and review.

The Marsh King’s Daughter, by Karen Dionne (G.P. Putnam’s Sons). The protagonist, Helena Pelletier, has a great family and a successful business, but all of that is at risk when she learns that her father has escaped from prison. This father abducted and raped her mother when she was a teenager, then kept both mother and child prisoner for many years. With echoes of the Jaycee Dugan story, this novel appears to have much to say.

Soleri, by Michael Johnston (Tor). Michael Johnston promises an elaborate, vast story that is based both on ancient Egyptian history and King Lear, and that involves "a world of ancient and elaborate rites, of unseen power and kingdoms ravaged by war, where victory comes with a price, and every truth conceals a deeper secret."

The Mystery Knight: A Graphic Novel,
by Ben Avery (Adapter), George R. R. Martin (Author), (Bantam). Billed as prequel to The Game of Thrones, this book is sure to be a bestseller.

Come Sundown, by Nora Roberts( St. Martin’s Press). Nora Roberts has written another blockbuster of a stand alone novel. An aunt, long considered dead, suddenly appears at her family's ranch in Montana. Her appearance resurrects old mysteries, and her dark past seems to be the reason murders are being committed.

The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple, by Jeff Guinn, (Simon & Schuster). The same author who wrote about Charles Manson now takes on Jim Jones, the man responsible for the Jonestown Massacre, which is still considered the largest murder-suicide in American history. I think this is a book that will challenge what we know about Jim Jones and cults in general.

The Velveteen Daughter: A Novel
by Laurel Davis Huber (She Writes Press). This novel is about Margery Williams Bianco, the author of The Velveteen Rabbit, and her daughter Pamela. Although fictionalized, it is based on a true story.

The Radium Girls: They paid with their lives. Their final fight was for justice, by Kate Moore (Sourcebooks). Although they were assured that radium was safe, many women who thought they were helping America in the WWI effort, lost their health and their lives. This is a story that is long overdue.

I'd Die For You: And Other Lost Stories
by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Author), Anne Margaret Daniel (Editor) (Scribner). Apparently, F. Scott Fitzgerald was not finished with society, and these new stories echoing his take on his wife and the social mores of the 1920s and 1930s, just might have a greater impact today than if they were published 80 years ago.

Dragon Teeth: A Novel , by Michael Crichton (Harper). Yes, you read that correctly. A new Michael Crichton novel has been recently discovered and it is being published posthumously. And it is about the Old West in 1876, and "two monomaniacal paleontologists [who] pillage the Wild West, hunting for dinosaur fossils, while surveilling, deceiving and sabotaging each other in a rivalry that will come to be known as the Bone Wars." This novel is sure to spark the interest of the millions of viewers who loved HBO's remake of Crichton's "Westworld."

Fallout: A V.I. Warshawski Novel (V.I. Warshawski Novels), by Sara Paretsky (William Morrow). V.I. Warshawski is back with a new case that will lead her and her dog "from her native Chicago... and into Kansas, on the trail of a vanished film student and a faded Hollywood star."

The Painted Queen: A Novel,
by Elizabeth Peters (Author), Joan Hess (Author) (William Morrow)
This is the final book in the wonderful mystery series involving Amelia Peabody and her archeologist husband, Radcliffe Emerson. In this installment, we travel back to Egypt in 1912, to search for a stolen bust of Queen Nefertiti.

(*In return for an honest review, I received Buzz Books 2017: Spring/Summer via NetGalley.)

Monday, January 16, 2017

Book Dedications

Thank you "For Reading Addicts," for posting the wonderful article, Ten Book Dedications to Make You Smile (click the link for the article). Please read the article; my favorite is this dedication to "The Bookshop Book," by Jen Campbell.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Summer Before the War, by Helen Simonson

As we approach the 100th anniversary of America's entry into WWI, it's a good time to reflect on the state of the world on the eve of that war as Helen Simonson sets out to do in her novel, "The Summer Before the War."

Beatrice Nash is our protagonist. A scholar in her early 20s, Nash has agreed to stay a spinster in order to become the latin teacher at the local school in the English coastal town of Rye. Having been her professorial father's assistant for many years, Beatrice has been left with almost nothing after his death. Used to her independence, she is now beholden to her father's distant, cold family for money from her trust and subservient to the Victorian-era school board as to whether or not she is spinsterly enough for the teaching position.

In the early summer of 1914, as Beatrice settles into Rye, England was suffering from a hide-bound ruling class that hunted down and imprisoned homosexuals, and that was unable to deal with the pressure of a rising working class, and a strong suffragette movement. While England "was dreaming under summer skies, . . wrapped in her mantle of marshes and calm channel waters," the old feuds between Queen Victoria's grandchildren were also exploding; the assassination of the Archduke in Sarejo simply lit a fuse that was ready to burn.

Although Henry James claimed this was "the most beautiful English summer conceivable," its beauty and innocence were paper thin. The slaughter of British troops in the Crimea and the Boer wars with their merciless battles and blood soaked fields, was still a recent memory. As was the bloody civil war which Simonson's character, Tillingham, (based on Henry James), clearly remembers, telling Beatrice: "I have been remembering the great American conflict of my youth. Not a hundred years from gaining our independence, we tore each other apart—brother against brother, patriot against patriot—the wheat fields dressed in the blood of young farm boys, towns burned to the ground by neighbors. Most of all I remember that what begins with drums and fife, flags and bunting, becomes too swiftly a long and gray winter of the spirit. . . .Some argument must be made as to whether America, if it stands by while all that is fine and ancient in the civilized world is put to the sword, can still hope to build its own shining city.”

"The Summer Before the War" is a wonderful, enjoyable novel that, on the one hand allows us to pretend, for a moment, that Edwardian England was all roses and innocence in the summer of 1914, and on the other hand forces us to look at the shattering of Edwardian society during and after the war as England came to grips with the wholesale slaughter of a generation of young men, including child-soldiers who often ended up as fodder for bloody battles that won nothing, with many executed by their own leaders for the crime of being afraid or too shell-shocked to follow orders.

Unfortunately, the lessons of WWI are still, for the most part, unlearned and 100 years later, we are still a long way from building that "shining city."

Print Length: 497 pages
Publisher: Random House; Reprint edition (March 22, 2016)
Publication Date: March 22, 2016
Sold by: Random House LLC

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Ripper's Shadow: A Victorian Mystery, by Laura Joh Rowland

Laura Joh Rowland skillfully weaves facts with fiction in her convincing take on the Jack the Ripper murders. As her tale unfolds, she also demonstrates that the 21st century holds no monopoly on vicious killers or on odd-sock families created not by blood but by warm friendship.

Sarah Bain is thirty-something and unmarried, which in the London of 1888, means she is considered a spinster. After her father died, Sarah kept his photography business going in the heart of the East End of London. Photography has become both her profession and her life, and her views of the world are often through the lens of her camera.

Running a business in Victorian times was extraordinarily difficult for a single woman, and even more difficult for Sarah because her late mother convinced her that everyone will betray her. Friendless, with no family, and desperately needing funds to stay in business, Sarah agrees to a plan proposed by local prostitutes to photograph them in various states of undress and then split the profits from the sale of the photos. To Sarah's surprise, these ladies slowly befriend her. When Sarah discovers that two of the victims of a brutal murderer, labeled "the Ripper," are her ladies, she desperately sets out to uncover the murderer and save her remaining friends.

Along the way, Sarah casts off the lonely paranoia instilled by her dead mother as she is befriended by the Lipskys, Russian Jewish immigrants grieving for a lost child, Hugh, an aristocrat who relies on Sarah to keep his sexual orientation secret, Mick, a young, street-wise boy with no home or parents, and Catherine, one of her photography models who is surprisingly naive. Together this odd crew forms an equally odd family as they seek the murderer.

The premise of "The Ripper's Shadow" is fascinating: a female photographer in late Victoria London on the trail of the most famous serial killer in history. It is the iconoclastic characters, however, and their interactions with each other, that sets this novel apart from other Victorian era mysteries.

(In return for an honest review, I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.)
Print Length: 368 pages
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books (January 10, 2017)
Publication Date: January 10, 2017
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Old Man and the Princess, by Sean Paul Thomas

Never judge a book by its title. Sean Paul Thomas made me remember that adage after I finished his novel, "The Old Man and the Princess." The title just doesn't do justice to the story, which is very compelling.

Sersha, an Irish, street-smart, 15 year old orphan who has spent her life bouncing from one wretched foster home to the next in Galway, is kidnapped. Her kidnapper, Derek, is an old man, with more strength and ruthless tendencies than is expected at first glance. Slowly, he wins her over by insisting she is a princess from a distant planet that they are able to reach only by going through Scotland. He tells her she must come with him to take her throne and meet her real parents. Desperate for adventure and family, Sersha goes along.

Sean Paul Thomas is a talented writer. His clever plot exposes the reader to many different "truths," which means we are unable to put the book down until we learn which truth is actually true. Nothing about this novel was cliched or predictable, including the ending which had a definite O. Henry aura about it. Without question, Thomas has his own unique voice and style. Five stars, I really enjoyed this book.

* Print Length: 148 pages
* Publisher: Paul Thomas Publishing; 1 edition (September 30, 2016)
* Publication Date: September 30, 2016
* Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations: Time Lock, by Christopher L. Bennett

Christopher Bennett once again delivers an exciting adventure involving the United Federation of Planets, Department of Temporal Investigations (DTI).

In this short novella, the DTI's Eridian Vault, a high security storage facility for dangerous time travel artifacts, is under attack. If the attackers, Vomnin mercenaries led by an extremely intelligent, non-Vomnin, humanoid female, succeed in removing the artifacts, the future of the entire universe may be in danger. DTI Agent Gariff Lucsly and Doctor T’Viss, an elderly Vulcan temporal physicist, fight back by triggering a time lock safety mechanism. This has created a time dilation problem for the invaders--time is slowing down inside the vault compared to time outside of it. The DTI agents are prepared to allow centuries to pass inside the time lock rather than allow the marauders to succeed, but will the mercenaries be willing to never see their families again?

Reminiscent of the Flash Gordon Saturday matinees of the 1930s and 40s, this bite sized adventure definitely will have readers wanting more.

(In return for an honest review, I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.)

Print Length: 88 pages
Publisher: Pocket Books/Star Trek (September 5, 2016)
Publication Date: September 5, 2016
Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc

Monday, January 2, 2017

Witch Miss Seeton, A Miss Seeton Mystery (Book 3), by Heron Carvic

Few writers have been able to capture the dynamic and humor of a small village in rural England as well as Heron Carvic. In his skillful hands, Miss Seeton's village, Plummergen, comes to life with all of its warmth and hysterical lunacy.

In this third book of the series, retired art teacher and sometime sleuth, Miss Seeton, unknowingly has caused the village busybodies to conclude that she is practicing witchcraft, which practice, coincidentally is on the rise in England. More than that, however, the police are concerned over a fraudulent but growing cult called Nuscience, which claims, among other things, that true believers can travel to other planets at will.

Scotland Yard Superintendent Delphick, known as the Oracle, wants to shut down this cult, and he suspects that the rise of witchcraft and the growth of Nuscience are connected. He believes that only Miss Seeton, because of her unrelenting belief in the goodness of others, and her uncanny ability to suss out the truth in her drawings, can determine the true intent of the cult.

After he sends Miss Seeton to a Nuscience event to take notes and report back, the head of the cult, called the Master, orders his young male followers to steal Miss Seeton's notes as she leaves the meeting. But the Master has not counted on Miss Seeton's famous umbrella, which once stopped a murderer. As the young men descend on her, Miss Seeton believes her purse is being pulled by the exiting crowd and, unwittingly, she dispatches her umbrella. As her victims nurse broken noses and bruised ribs, Miss Seeton innocently wanders away, purse in hand.

Despite the humorous situations she often finds herself in, Carvic never allows his reader to believe that Miss Seeton is truly dotty. Instead, Miss Seeton often is depicted as the only person able to see the truth, including the true talent, of those around her, and it is her naive but always insightful honesty that makes the Miss Seeton novels so attractive and long-lived.

(In return for an honest review, I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.)

Print Length: 272 pages
Publisher: Farrago; 3 edition (June 2, 2016)
Publication Date: June 2, 2016
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC