Monday, May 20, 2019

Trail of Lightning: The Sixth World, Book One by Rebecca Roanhorse

I've been itching to read a good fantasy novel for a while. My book group meets tomorrow night, and we have chosen to read a book that is either written by a Native American author, or has a Native American theme. I took this as as opportunity to find a fantasy novel with a Native American theme, and found this very creative and well written first in a series by Rebecca Roanhorse. 

Set in the near future, the world as we know it has been destroyed by the Big Water, which pretty much wiped out much of the United States, caused an energy war, and has reborn the Navajo Nation, known as the Dinetah.  

Gods and heroes of the Dinetah are real, and so are monsters. Maggie is a monsterslayer. She's young, beyond tough, and has a huge ax to grind. And you can't blame her one bit for it. Surviving a horrific night of torture and the death of her beloved grandmother, her clan powers are ignited: she is one who kills. The power rushes into her, she sees just how she will kill and she does it with skill, strength, and some supernatural power. She's also feared, alone, and nursing a broken angry heart from her mentor and lover, Neizghani-a God himself. 

Maggie is called on to hunt down and rescue a little girl snatched from her home by a monster. This begins Maggie's journey to find out who is creating these monsters, and why. Visiting Tah, her medicine man "grandfather", she meets Kai Arviso, who is Tah's actual grandson, and someone who has clan powers of his own. What they are...well, you'll have to read to find out. Together Kai and Maggie venture out into a hostile land to stop the monsters from terrorizing and killing across Dinetah, and stop whomever or whatever is creating them. 

There's much more to this, of course. But I have to leave you plenty to discover on your own. I read this in stops and starts, and I wish I'd read it in bigger chunks and a shorter amount of time. I enjoyed it-it's pretty dark. The world is not a good place. I kept hearing the end music from Terminator in my head, as Sarah Connor is driving towards the mountains and the growing storm. Da da dada da. Da da dada da.  I found the Navajo culture and mythology fascinating, and the idea that clan powers are real and something that is handed down through the generations, and a gift to be honored, no matter what form it takes. 

I will read the second in the series, since book one leaves you wanting answers. Book two is Storm of Locusts, and more adventures for Maggie Hoskie await. I like Maggie. She's so tough, but inside there's an insecure young girl who wants peace and love, and is afraid she's not worthy of either of them. She both embraces her clan powers, and loathes them.  I'm really hoping her further adventures with Kai will lead her to a better place. 

Rating:  4/6 for a new series that centers on the Navajo people, a post-apocalyptic world where fuel and water are in short supply, and gods and monsters are very, very real. If you like mythology, you'll like this series. 

Available in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audio.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michelle Richardson

I've been a bit behind in my reading this year. Books are so much a part of my life, it's hard for me to imagine not having them within easy reach whenever I want one to read. This wonderful book reminded me that so many people love books and reading, but often times don't have access to a library, much less afford a trip to a bookstore. 

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is definitely one of my top reads of 2019. It's going to take a pretty amazing read to knock it off the #1 spot. Yes, I've still got 6 months to go, but it's such a good story! I'm not sure where I first saw this novel; I think I was reading an email from Sourcebooks (the publisher) and spotted it. Sourcebooks always publishes the best books! From there, I ordered the book from my local B&N. It's taken me a few weeks to finish, but not because it wasn't interesting. It was just so darn good. 

Cussy Mary Carter lives outside of Troublesome Creek, Kentucky in 1936. Poverty is overwhelming for the folks; coal mining kills the men, and food is hard to find. Cussy is one of the local Pack Horse Librarians, part of a WPA project created by FDR to put people to work during the Depression. The librarians rode horses and mules up and down the Appalachians, through all kinds of weather, to deliver books, newspapers, and handmade scrapbooks to schoolchildren and families. She lives with her father, a coal miner suffering from lung disease, and lives a very isolated life because she's blue. As in blue-skinned. 

Cussy and her father suffer from a disease that turns their skin blue. Unknown at the time, it is a genetic condition of the blood. What folks around Troublesome Creek see is a woman who is different-not white-and therefore shunned, treated badly, and treated as lesser-than in everything. Cussy, however, is smart, educated, beautiful, and tough as nails. But a lifetime of being singled out, left out, and treated badly have left their mark, and she yearns to be able to fit in, find love, and be accepted. 

This novel is about Cussy's travels as a librarian; the people she meets on her route--hard working, good people who don't see Cussy's skin color, but see her as she is, and appreciate her work bringing them a bit of the world every week. The local doctor is eager to study Cussy and her father, and figure out why they are blue skinned, but Cussy is reluctant to be poked and prodded, until Doc makes her an offer she can't refuse. And when it looks like Cussy finally has her wish to fit in come true, it comes with consequences that she didn't expect. 

Kim Michelle Richardson has written a novel that is steeped in local lore, history, and well developed characters. It was oh so easy to slip into Cussy's world. All the little details-food, clothing, housing, and the books. The author skillfully weaves it all together into a novel that was hard to put down! You will want to explore the world of pack horse librarians (or book women, as they were called) after reading Cussy's story. NPR has a fantastic look at this WPA program.  

Rating: 5/6 for a wonderfully written novel about pack horse librarians in Kentucky. Cussy Mary Carter is a character you won't soon forget. This is your summer novel to read! 

Available in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audio. 

Monday, May 6, 2019

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

I've seen so many reviews about this novel, and still it took picking it for a book group before I finally read it. This group is one that usually reads historical fiction, or novels that are chock full of symbolism and meaty discussions. Well, I decided we'd read this as an end to our last meeting before our summer break. I'll be honest, I got some grumbles. And I've had a few tell me it wasn't to their liking or taste. So I thought I'd made a horrible mistake. 

I was wrong-I didn't make a mistake, and I relish the upcoming book discussion. I like to remind book club members that book clubs are all about reading books that take them out of their usual reading groove; books that introduce them to another genre, or books that they would never pick up for any other reason. I'm always amazed at the books I've read that turned out to be very memorable, or books that I so enjoyed that I was happy I "had" to read it for a book club. It's too easy to fall into a reading rut, and only read what makes you comfortable, or what you come to expect in every book you read. The Kiss Quotient was decidedly different from my usual reads, and I loved it. 

Yes, it has some pretty steamy sex scenes. Hot hot hot scenes. Yes, some terms are used to describe physical anatomy that aren't what I'm used to reading in what I consider a romance. I'm not one for erotic romances; I find myself skipping over all of that and getting back to the story. I'm not offended, just not interested. However, this novel, while I consider it a romance novel, has some special qualities that make it memorable, and I can see why it's been a hit this past year. 

Stella Lane is one smart woman. She's a thirty-year old at the top of her game, as a econometrician who creates algorithms to study why people buy what they buy. It's fascinating work, and often times she works seven days a week, for hours on end. Stella is also on the autism spectrum, which makes it hard for her to socialize, break out of set routines, and have a healthy romantic relationship. Her mother insists Stella find herself a date for an upcoming gala, so Stella, in her methodical way, decides to hire someone to help her be better at sex, and that will lead to finding a romantic partner who understands and accepts her, quirks and all. 

Enter Michael. A gorgeous young man, frustrated fashion designer, and part-time male escort. He's hired to give Stella a few lessons in the bedroom, but instead, instant attraction hits. And Stella, for all her difficulty in forming relationships, is smitten by this kind man who treats her so carefully. Yes, he's a male escort with a heart of gold. A man who is working this job in order to pay his mother's medical bills, and get the family out of the debt left by his conniving father. Can Stella and Michael find their way to a solid relationship?

I was pleasantly surprised by this novel. Anyone who knows someone on the autism spectrum will just want to hug Stella. She struggles every day to be "normal", but her charm is that she has her quirks, and it's what makes her so unique and lovable. Michael is a good guy, who just can't resist Stella. But his self-confidence is beaten down, and he needs someone like Stella to make him see he's good enough, and not his father. 

I found the romance between Stella and Michael to be charming, and all of the supporting characters charming, too. The course of true love never runs smoothly, and there are plenty of obstacles in the way for Stella and Michael. I was cheering them on the whole way to the satisfying conclusion. 

Rating: 5/6 for a surprisingly modern, sexy, and solid romance about two people who don't quite fit in, but find their perfect matches in each other. It was refreshing to read about a heroine who is not run-of-the-mill. 

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio. 

Friday, May 3, 2019

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

The Five is a long overdue look at the women who were Jack the Ripper's known victims: Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elisabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly. We know all the horrid details of their murders, but all we know of them is what's been handed down by newspapers and stories: they were all prostitutes, drunks, and roaming the streets of Whitechapel when they each crossed paths with Jack the Ripper. 

However, as is usual in sensational murders, the victims are often swiftly overlooked, soon becoming less-than. Hallie Rubenhold, a social historian, decided it was long past time to correct what we've all thought about these women. She researched each woman, and tells the stories of their lives. These women were sisters, daughters, mothers, lovers, and wives. Two were known prostitutes; the other three were victims of circumstance and some really incredibly stupid laws in Victorian England. Laws and social customs that kept women down, unable to improve their lives, or even divorce. Marriages broke down, and since divorce was not an option, women oftentimes walked out of their grimy, crowded, disgusting homes and went to the workhouse for assistance. There, they joined thousands of others in drudgery in exchange for a place to sleep and food. Husbands were required to pay a small monthly fee to their wives, but if they could prove their wives were unfaithful, that small payment could end, as it did in the case of a few, leaving them in even more dire straits. 

Hallie Rubenhold has really dug deep into research on each of the women, and it is fascinating stuff. It's also a very sobering look at the lower middle class and poverty level population of England in the 1800's. Childhood, if survived, was brief before children had to go to work to help support the family. If the male head of house was injured, died, or walked away, women and their children were left destitute. So many didn't have any reading or writing skills, it made everything that much more terrible. Polly, Annie, and Catherine all had attended school and knew how to read, write, and have basic skills in math. However, unable to break the cycle of poverty, they didn't have any chance at a better life. Elisabeth Stride was raped as a young girl, contracted syphilis, and the treatments forced on her caused her to give birth to a stillborn daughter. Branded publicly as a prostitute at 18, she was humiliated and never recovered from it all. 

Alcohol numbed each women's pain over losing their children, failed marriages, and poverty. Most of them also lost one or both parents very early in life, leaving grief and no way to cope with it. I found myself getting so angry at the circumstances each woman found themselves in, and the laws that limited them from getting the help they needed, and the laws that branded them as loose, unvirtuous, and not worthy. 

I found this a very interesting book, and yes, it's long overdue. Each of the women, forgotten by society for so long, and now infamous for how they died, deserves this telling of who they really were, the people they loved, and the families they left behind with so many unanswered questions. 

Rating: 5/6 for an incredibly well researched story about five women who became infamous for all the wrong reasons in 1888. These victims deserve to tell their stories, and Hallie Rubenhold is their voice. Whether you are a true crime fan, or a women's history devotee, or just interested in a really good book, pick this one up. You'll never look at Jack the Ripper's five victims: Polly, Annie, Elisabeth, Catherine, and Mary Jane, quite the same way again. And that's a good thing. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Sunday, April 28, 2019

May Reads: Making Time to Read When I Really Should be Mowing the Yard

One positive about winter is that I don't have any yard work to do for months. Now that Spring has sprung, my yard is looking pretty ragged, and is going to require some time to fertilize, pull weeds, plant bulbs, and add grass in spots that used to be garden spaces. The days of spending all afternoon outside puttering in my yard are, sadly, gone. Now it's all about cultivating a few lovely spaces that don't take an enormous amount of time for upkeep. And most importantly, spaces I can view from my deck. 

And the deck, well, that's my summer reading spot. I can't wait to pull out my pillows, umbrella, comfy chairs, and put some tropical foliage around to create my perfect place of peaceful reading. 

My April reads were slightly better than my March choices, and I know May will be even better. I'm way behind in my reading goal, and that's all down to what I'm reading, and how much time I have to read. Too many nights I've come home from work and just sat on my couch, zoned out. Fresh air, warmer days, and that energy Spring brings will help me focus on reading more. 

Here's the mix of some of the reads I have planned for May:

 The first in a series about a Native American woman who hunts monsters in a post-apocalyptic America. Reading for a May book group. 

 Currently half-way through this meticulously researched book about the five women who were the victims of Jack the Ripper. The author focuses on their lives-who they were, where they came from, and the circumstances that brought them to Whitechapel. Fascinating and long overdue.

 Just ordered this from B&N! A novel about a woman who rode horses to deliver library books in Appalachia. Can't wait to read this. 

Received this from the publisher to review. A woman claims her children have been switched with "somethings" that aren't right. No one believes her. A novel about changelings. Eek!

Reading this for another book group. I've been warned there's lots of hot sex, but so far I'm finding this to be a romance that is a step above the usual hot and heavy modern love stories. So far, so good. 

I'm already deep into two of these titles, so I hope that leaves me with a little wiggle room to read more in May. I'll be posting my most anticipated summer releases in a few weeks, so stay tuned!

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl

Ruth Reichl saved me this month. She got me out of a reading funk. When my life is a bit hectic, and I'm feeling stressed and just blah, I like to read something light and fun. If it includes food, even better. 

Ruth's memoir centers on her time as Editor in Chief of Gourmet magazine for ten years, up until the day it suddenly folded. Known as the New York Times food critic, she ate out 14 times a week, was rarely home at night, and conscious that her son was growing up and she wasn't spending time at home with her family. Approached to take the job at Gourmet, she was a bit flabbergasted. She had no experience with magazines; she'd been a journalist, writer, and food critic for years-but no magazine experience. Gourmet magazine held a special place in Ruth's heart. She had begun reading the magazine as a young girl and yes, even tried some of the recipes for her family. Now she had the chance to be the editor of the magazine! Still uncertain, she finally listened to her friends, who all said "Of course you can do this job. What are you waiting for?!"

Ten years at Gourmet magazine taught Ruth a lot about the magazine business, and how to play the game. She turned Gourmet from a stuffy, out of touch food magazine to one that reached out to every day people who loved to cook, and embraced the changing American food landscape. Hiring the best people, giving her staff a chance to run with their creativity, she made bold choices that could have ended in disaster. Gourmet, unfortunately, ended suddenly-Ruth and her staff were given one day's notice it would be shuttered. The declining economy, the disaster of Wall Street, people losing jobs...Gourmet was one of the victims of the economic downturn of 2009. 

I love the way Ruth writes. She certainly has a gift; her descriptions of food are scrumptious. What I got the most out of this memoir was Ruth's willingness to take chances, her enjoyment of the small moments, and the pleasure in eating out for the sheer joy of it instead of as a career and a job requirement. Her faith in her staff was refreshing to read. Most of all, her ability to stay true to herself in a world where so many people played the game spoke volumes about the person she was-and that's what made this such an interesting memoir. 

I can't wait to read more Ruth Reichl. You don't have to be a foodie to enjoy this memoir. It is about a talented woman who took chances, was vulnerable, loved her staff, and never forgot the wonder of reading Gourmet as a little girl. That wonder kick-started her love of food writing at a very young age. 

There are also a few recipes in the memoir that are some of Ruth's favorites. 

Rating: 4/6 for an inside look at how a magazine works, the beautiful and talented writing of Ruth Reichl, and of course, all the food. The rise and fall of Gourmet magazine, which published for 60 years, is, quite frankly, sad. 

Available in hardcover audio, and ebook. 

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

I read this novel a week ago and discussed it with my book group last Tuesday. Even time away from it, and our group discussion, doesn't help my "meh" opinion about this thriller. 

Some readers absolutely do not like to read novels where they can't find a character likable, and that certainly was the case for a few of my fellow book group members. I prefer to like characters; but I've also found that disliking one or more (or in this case, all) of the characters can make for an interesting read. Or not. I was really hoping this would be a good thriller, but it was full of holes, characters that didn't learn a darn thing from previous screw ups, and left a very unsatisfying ending. 

Four women are brought together after many years apart when a body is unearthed on a beach near the English seaside village of Salten. Seventeen years before, the women, then young teens, had become fast friends while attending boarding school. Kate, Thea, Fatima, and Freya had a game-the 'lying game' they played on their fellow classmates, villagers, and anyone they could fool. They had rules, too: tell a lie, stick to your story, don't get caught, never lie to each other, and know when to stop lying. Some lies were pretty innocent, but others were damaging. The girls quickly gained a reputation around school that they were distrustful and mean. Kate's father, Ambrose, was a beloved art teacher at the school, and her stepbrother Luc attended a school for boys in a nearby village. Living at the Mill, a rundown building next to the water, Kate often had the girls sneak out of school at night and come to the Mill to hang out, swim, and spend time. Her father, Ambrose, was delighted to have Kate's friends there, and they in turn adored him. Freya, who narrates the story, is deeply in crush with Luc. All seems well...

Until one night Kate insists the girls come to the Mill. Ambrose is dead; a suicide note is left behind. What to do? Kate is only fifteen, and she can't take the risk of being sent to a foster home. She'll be sixteen in just a few months...

Well. The actions the girls take that night come back to haunt them, and as the reader, you're pulled along while they try to figure out just what to do all these years later. Do they keep lying? And who knows what they've lied about?

So. Sounds good, right? Well, as I said before, with the exception of Fatima, the main characters aren't very likable. Even Freya, who is a new mom, is unlikeable. They're all kind of pathetic. Fatima is the only one who has actually moved on the best-she's a happily married mother and doctor, and has returned to her faith. She's the most solid of the ladies. Kate is a mess; still living in the Mill--which is slowly falling into the sea and seems to be held together by spit and a wish. Thea is a drunk, never eats and smokes like a chimney. None of them have learned their lesson regarding lying and the toll it takes. 

I'll not tell you more of the plot. Even though it's pretty thin, it does have a few twists (you'll figure out the major twist all on your own) that will have you hoping maybe, just maybe, there is a chance the women will learn something from this whole disaster! I was disappointed in the end...Freya...ugh. 

I've read two Ruth Ware novels, and been disappointed by both. Thin plots, not so surprising thrillers. I feel that with some effort, they could have been good, meaty reads, but fell short. Do I expect too much? I don't think so. I have another Ruth Ware novel at home, and I'm going to give it a try sometime this year. We'll have to see if it breaks free of the ho-hum thrillers I've already read. 

Rating: 3/6 for a thriller that wasn't much of one at all. Some plot devices just fell flat, the characters weren't memorable, and the only interesting thing about the whole dang story was the decrepit Mill that was slowly falling into the sea. 

Available in paperback, large print, audio, and ebook.