Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Top Ten Teen Reads of 2012: Some Pretty Good Stuff Here!

I don't know what it is about Christmas, but it seems to suck all the time out of my life and leave me ragged and only wanting some quiet time.  I've put together my list of my ten favorite teen reads of 2012.  They run the gamut--which says a lot about the quality of the novels I'm finding in the teen section of our bookstore.  They are amazing!  And so many that I just didn't get to read in 2012.  Add 'em to the 2013 list....it's already impossibly long.  

Without further ado.....here's my top ten:


Prudence sets out to help find the source of a deadly typhoid outbreak in New York City, and sets the course for a showdown between emerging modern medicine and old beliefs.  Loved this! 

9.  Oh, this was good!  Young Victor Frankenstein suffers an horrible loss, and decides to travel down a dark path to achieve the impossible.  Fantastic, well written, and oh so good.

8.  Young Sherlock Holmes is 14 in 1868 when he's sent to his Uncle's home for the summer and gets tangled up in a mystery that threatens the security of England.  Clever and fun mystery. 

7.  Set in White Cemetery near Chicago, this novel is told chapter by chapter by  different teen ghosts that remain trapped near their graves. They've all died odd deaths from the 1860's to present day.   Smart, interesting, and great for late night reading.

6.  Oh, a very smartly written novel about a young girl's race against time to save her town from a horrible horrible fate--courtesy of the medicine show that decides to stop for a visit.  

5.  A novel that lingers with you and keeps you unsettled long after you've finished it.  Young Charlie climbs out a window late one night to help Jasper, and gets entangled in a mystery that will rock his small town.  Brilliant writing.

4.  Young Lina finds herself, her mother, and brother on a train bound for Siberia during World War 2.  Lithuania is not a safe place, after all.  Great historical fiction that will leave you haunted and in tears.  

3.  Laini Taylor can imagine worlds that take your breath away.  Join Karou in Prague as she learns about her past--and the dangers it represents.  Simply amazing!

2.  Sherman Alexie can write one hell of  story.  Add in art by Ellen Forney, and Junior's story about leaving the Indian reservation school to attend the white kids' school miles away will make you laugh, cry, and never forget Junior.  One of the best teen books I've ever read.  Twice.  

1.  Seraphina, you pulled me in, and I knew I was reading something special within a few pages.  Dragons, secrets, learning who you are, unlimited love, and devious people are all mixed up in this magical, musical novel.  A must read for anyone who loves to read about dragons.  Rachel Hartman has created a world you won't want to leave. 

So there you have it!  I can't wait to dig into my reads for 2013.  What were your favorite teen novels of 2012?  What are you looking forward to reading the most?  

Monday, December 17, 2012

My Top Reads of 2012: Adult Fiction

Looking back over my list of read books for this year, I was taken aback by all the wonderful stories I read.  I had a hard time picking my top favorites; there were so many that I throughly enjoyed and lifted my heart into that happy realm that only a good story is capable of doing for me!

Anyway:  here are my Top Ten Favorite Fiction Reads of 2012:  Starting with #10:

#10:  The Twelfth Enchantment by David Liss

Magic, Lord Byron, and the English Industrial Revolution.  Delightful surprise read.

#9: The Healing by Jonathan Odell

 The Satterfield Plantation is the scene for young Granada's entry into the world of healing during pre-Civil War America.  An excellent novel about the Old South.  

 #8 Sister by Rosamund Lipton

Bee searches for answers to her sister Tess' untimely death.  Heart wrenching psychological thriller about what it means to be a sister.

#7 The Book of Lost Fragrances by M.J. Rose

An famous old french perfumery family is at the middle of this novel about a lost fragrance that imparts special powers, reincarnation, Ancient Egypt, and a sister seeking answers to her brother's disappearance.

#6 The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

A young couple living on an island make a choice that will rock their world for
years to come.  A great book club book that will lead to lively discussions.

#5  The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window... by Jonas Jonasson

This delightful novel will make you laugh out loud as you follow Alan's adventures after he escapes a retirement home.  Brilliant.

#4  Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

The second in a trilogy about Diana and Matthew.  Kept me on the edge of my seat!  Smart, sexy, and highly entertaining.

#3 True Sisters by Sandra Dallas

A group of Mormon followers travel to Salt Lake City in deteriorating conditions that strengthen the bonds between 4 women on the journey.  Great novel about a little known episode of American history:  the Mormon Handcart Disaster.

#2  Sarum by Edward Rutherfurd

My gigantic read of the year!  I have found an author that is truly a gifted historical writer.  This novel travels a 10,000 year road of history surrounding Salisbury, England.  Follow the lives of 5 families that survive, thrive, and become part of the very core of this amazing novel.

#1  The Island House by Posie Graeme-Evans

Ah.  Love at first page.  A young archeologist travels to a small island off the coast of Scotland only to discover a mystery surrounding her father's work and the island's past.  Vikings, Pagans, Christians all come together to weave the past (AD800) and the present in a wonderful novel.  Just so damn good!

And.....My top 10 is actually my top 11!  My favorite book of 2012 is....

It came to me at the end of the year, but it was worth waiting for!  Intrigue, other-wordly creatures, lost memory, and a delightful main character all wrapped up in a British bow.  You MUST read this book!

So there you have it.  I cannot wait to see what 2013 brings.  What was your favorite read this year?  

And...coming soon:  My favorite teen and young adult reads of 2012.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Anyone with the name of Eowyn Ivey is required to write a magical, timeless novel set in the Alaskan wilderness in the early 1920's.  It's a given.  So glad she did--and I thoroughly loved it!

Jack and Mabel have come to the Alaskan wilderness to start over after a miscarriage ends their hopes of having a child.  It's the early 1920's, and Alaska is such a wilderness only the most brave and optimistic people tackle the land.  And those who want to flee heartbreak.  That's Jack and Mabel.  They are not youngsters with a dream in their minds and a gleam in their eyes; they are running away from all they know to start in the middle of nowhere in a land that does not suffer fools gladly.  

One snowy winter evening, Jack and Mabel pull themselves out of their rapidly spinning thoughts of failure, starvation, and ever present grief--and run outside to build a snowman in the swirling snow.  They quickly dress the snowman--now a snow child--with red mittens, and a red scarf.  It's a moment of serene beauty, quiet, and peacefulness in this novel that reminded me of being much younger, skating out on the lake behind our house at night--quiet, quiet, quiet.  Shhhh.  That is what this novel is about--quiet.  Nature.  The indifference of weather, the icy blast of wind, the unbelievable beauty of a single snowflake caught in the palm of the hand.  It's about grieving, healing, retaining hope, and learning to love again--or for the first time.  

The next morning, the snow child is ruined.  The mittens and scarf are gone.  And soon, Jack spies a young girl in the woods, wearing those very mittens and scarf.  She looks like she was created out of nature itself--was she?  Her name is Faina, and she is the center of this story--she is the fixed point from which this story progresses.  

I really did love the writing in this novel.  It truly is magical, and hopeful, and gives such an ode to Nature that it makes you want to run outside and play in the snow--or just take a silent walk during a snowstorm, enjoying the hush hush and the sound of falling snow.  It  is a great reminder of how connected we are to Nature--from which everything comes and returns.

Available in paperback, hardcover, and e-book.  

Rating:  4/5 for writing style, well drawn characters, and a lovely story.  

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Rook by Daniel O'Malley: Most Awesome!

Lately, not much gets me excited.  I've found myself reading the same type of book over and over, and quite frankly I became bored with myself.

And then The Rook decided I needed to read something so fantastic, so clever, so damn funny, that it would leave me a happy camper for a few hours.

I am a happy camper.  I loved this book.  Seriously, loved it.  I can imagine it as a BBC series full of quirky characters in that beloved quirky place, London.  There's something to be said for a city that is a gazillion years old--you do believe pretty much anything can happen there.  And in the center of this craziness, you meet Myfanwy Thomas (pronounced Mifany).  She's lost her memory, and is surrounded by a ring of dead people; she's in a park and completely gobsmacked.  This begins Myfanwy's journey as she pulls out a letter from her coat, reads it, and quickly discovers she's a Rook--a top notch member of the Checquy--Britain's secret supernatural agency.  It keeps all of Great Britain safe from all the supernatural stuff that goes on all day, every day.  Most people are oblivious to it, and the Checquy likes it that way.  Imagine Emma Peele with amazing abilities to control people's nervous systems just by thought.  That's what Myfanwy does.  Except the Myfanwy that wrote that letter (and many more for the new Myfanwy) is known as meek, mild, and top notch with numbers.  The new Myfanwy isn't quite that way, and as she navigates her first day at work--bluffing the whole time--she soon discovers her powers have been underutilized and she's pretty pissed at whomever took her memories.  

Follow Myfanwy as she works to find out who stole her memories, why, and what it's got to do with what the old Myfanwy uncovered during her routine paperwork duties.  You will love the new Myfanwy--who's not afraid to swear, stand up for herself, and kick some ass.  You'll also come to know the old Myfanwy, who knew something was going to happen to her and took the time to build a file full of information for the new Myfanwy.  All of the players in this novel are so much fun to get to know, and Daniel O'Malley's ability to construct such an amazing, crazy, convoluted, oh-so-British world full of supernatural creatures and situations will keep you glued to the pages.  

Quite simply, this book is one of my favorite books of 2012.  Maybe, just maybe, it could take the top crown for this year.  This book is perfect for anyone who loves science fiction/fantasy, all things British, and wants to read a rollicking good story.  I found myself snickering quite a bit.  

Rating:  5/5 for an amazing, imaginative novel.  Please do not stop writing, Daniel O'Malley.  

Available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Message of Hope from the Angels by Lorna Byrne

This book came to me the week after my sister passed away.  I went to work a few days after her funeral to check in with my manager and talk about things, and when I went into my office, this was sitting on my desk.  My manager told me it had come in as a free copy that week with my name on it.  

I took this as a sign, but it's taken me a few weeks to pick it up and read it.  It's a slim book, but one you want to linger over and take your time reading.  Some people may think this is all a load of bunk, but really--who wouldn't want to believe that Angels are all around us, all the time?  Angels that comfort, guide, help, and lend us unwavering loving support 24/7.  Guardian angels that are with us all our lives, never leaving us, and leading us when it's our time to go back "home".  I'm all on board with this.  I've always believed in Angels, but this cemented my belief.

This book is written very simply, and would not stand up to a rigorous book review on flowing sentences, structure, and a strict outline.  That is what makes it so satisfying to read.  Lorna Byrne is an Irish mystic--she's been seeing angels since she was a little girl, and for most of her life, never told a soul what she could see and hear.  Now, after her first book, Angels in My Hair was published a few years ago, she's become a beloved figure to many who are looking to understand our world, our purpose, and how we can overcome our problems to make ourselves and the world a better, loving, more open place of light.  Heck yes, sign me up!  I am wide open to believing I have an angel with me all the time.  I am wide open to believing I can say something as simple as "Help me be more confident and courageous today" and know that someone is listening, and doing their best to give me that courage and confidence.  Angels cross all boundaries of religion, belief, culture, education, and lifestyle.  They are there for each soul on this planet with unconditional love and support.  That's a pretty amazing thing.  

So this book came at a critical time for me, and it has given me a small nugget of happiness and comfort.  I have already ordered Lorna's first book, Angels in My Hair and can't wait to read her life story and her experiences.  You don't need to read that before you pick up A Message of Hope...  

If you are looking for a special Christmas present (or any other religious holiday that's celebrated this time of year--we can all use this book!) or a book of comfort for someone who is having a difficult time in their lives, pick up this book and gift it.  The Angels will be happy you forwarded their message of love and strength to someone you love.

Available in hardcover 
Rating:  4/5 for an inspirational message written simply, yet sincerely.  

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Plans for 2013 Reading Extravaganza!

I have been very guilty of buying too many books this year.  My few "extra just in case" books have grown to around 200 extra--unread--brand new--books.  I was going to buy Life of Pi until I realized I already had it on my Nook and bought it on sale months ago.  Oops.  

Having a life altering event happen to me always makes me stop and reflect on what I've been doing, what I'm going to do, and how do I get myself moving again.  Because of course I have come to a complete halt in my usual schedule, and I'm finding that not only am I having a difficult time diving back into my reading routine, I don't really care much about it.  I know my perspective will change as I progress in my grieving for my sister, and I will once again be turning to my books for the comfort only a book can provide.  They truly ask no questions of you, wait patiently, and amazingly--there are many many kinds to fit whatever mood you're in at the moment.  Luckily through my purchasing in 2012 (and 2011!), I have many kinds of books to choose from when I get on the reading wagon again.

I've been thinking about what reading goals I want to make for 2013 with the understanding that I usually don't manage to keep them.  Pretty much as soon as I make the goal, I change it within hours.  I irritate myself that way! 


Get it here
I think this will be the year of Sci-Fi/Fantasy for me.  I have accumulated so many novels in that genre that I can quite happily read them all year and probably not have to buy one more.  I know I will, though.  I love this genre and always buy more books but don't have time to read them.  This will change in 2013.  Of course, doing book talks for my bookstore means that I do need to keep reading other fiction and non-fiction titles, so I have a good mix to talk about at a moment's notice.  But Sci-Fi/Fantasy will be top dog in 2013!!  

A friend of mine had a great idea, and I've seen this idea on many blogs.  I think it's time I do this myself:  make a list of books to read in 2013, and cross 'em off as I read them.  It's a great way to read those classics, those dusty books on the shelves, and have a goal that's not only fun to reach, but chock full of good reads.  Since I'm also exploring my "spiritual" side, there will probably be a sprinkling of New-Agey titles in here, too.  Can't wait.  

I've managed to make my Good Reads Reading Challenge for this year, and I'm happy with that.  Yes, I could frantically read more in the next month--but quite frankly I can't concentrate long enough on one book to finish it, and I don't want to.  There.  I don't want to.  Blah.  

Stick with me, people!  I'll be gathering my list together of must reads for 2013 and post it on my blog, so you can see my progress.  I hope to have it up by Mid-December, and of course I will have my favorite reads from 2012 coming up shortly.  

Monday, November 19, 2012

Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women's Literary Society by Amy Hill Hearth

I picked this book up a few months ago, began it, then set it down to read other books.  Just today, I picked it up again and finished it.  It's the kind of book that thoroughly entertains, lets you escape for awhile, but has a great message all at the same time.  At this time of year, there is so much going on, and it can be hard to sit still long enough to read without falling asleep.  This is perfect book for a quick escape!

Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women's Literary Society takes place in the small town of Naples, Florida in 1962.  Women are still expected to get married, raise a family, and be content as a housewife.  The South is still mired in segregation, the KKK, and old ways--and they don't like Northerners.  Especially Jackie Hart, a red-headed spitfire from Boston who's moved to Naples with her husband and her three kids.  She's a bit of a mystery to most people in town, and does not fit in well.  She decides to start a literary society at the library, and the cast of characters that show up make up a delightful group of people that you quickly grow to love:  Priscilla, the young black woman who works for the rich white family ( and is incredibly smart and well-read), Mrs. Bailey White--an older woman recently released from jail for killing her husband; Plain Jane, an unmarried middle aged woman who write poetry for a living, Miss Lansbury, the local librarian; Robbie-Lee, the only man who joins--and is clearly gay, but doesn't know it's so obvious; and Dora, a divorced young woman who works in the post office and is the narrator of the novel.  

Oh, at first they are all a little wary of each other, and that Southern politeness keeps them from sharing their secrets.  But little by little, things happen, Jackie shakes up Naples, and they all soon bond together in a friendship that many of us never experience but still desire.  

This book is all about dreams--how it's important to have them, how it's important to dream big, and how it's important to share them with others.  You never know who or what will help you make that dream attainable.  This is a great book for a group of friends or a book club to read and discuss over a good dinner and a few drinks.  There's sure to be laughter and maybe, just maybe some secrets spilled.  

Available in paperback and as an E-book.  

Rating:  4/5 for sheer enjoyment, quick read, and memorable characters.  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Girl on the Cliff by Lucinda Riley

The Girl on the Cliff by Lucinda Riley is one of those books that caught my eye at the bookstore because it kept selling out.  That always gets my attention and had me reading reviews and deciding I should probably add it to my reading list.

Two families are at the center of this novel, which mostly takes place in contemporary Ireland, with a side story taking place in Ireland and England during and after World War I.  Grania Ryan is a young woman who has fled New York City and her boyfriend, Matt, after suffering a miscarriage.  She's arrived home in Ireland to stay with her parents on their farm.  Her refusal to talk to Matt has left him confused and completely at a loss in New York.  His hesitation in coming to Ireland to talk to Grania sets in motion a huge shake up in Grania's life.

Grania meets a young girl, Aurora on the cliffs near Dunworley House, a magnificent home owned by Aurora's father, Alexander.  It has been in Aurora's family for decades, and holds many secrets and much unhappiness.  Lily, Aurora's mother, jumped from the cliffs a few years before, and Aurora claims to see her mother wandering on the cliffs every night.  Grania quickly becomes involved in Aurora's life, and finds herself agreeing to stay at Dunworley House while Alexander travels for business.  

But all is not as it seems, and Grania's mother, Kathleen, soon tells the story of her great grandmother Mary, and her connection to Dunworley House and Aurora's family.  It has brought nothing but pain to the Ryan family, and Grania is quickly finding herself unable to separate herself from Aurora despite warnings from her mother.

This was an interesting story about two families, their history, and what people do for love--both between a man and a woman, and between a woman and a child.  Lucinda Riley combines ballet, Russian history, World War I, and contemporary New York together in a story that keeps you reading.  Aurora is not your average child, and she is the one who moves the story along.

An entertaining story, with some sad moments, some uplifting moments, and I have to say some kind of sappy moments.  But overall, it's an enjoyable read and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading about World War I, England, Ireland, and has an interest in family sagas.  

Rating:  3/5 I found Grania a bit irritating in her desire to throw away her life in New York so easily; and Aurora--while a lovely character, was a bit too much to take sometimes.  

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Book Of Comfort

I am sorry to say that my sister Patti unexpectedly died on October 19th.  She was only 48.  My family is heartbroken, and feel the loss more deeply every day.  Her funeral service was full of wonderful funny stories about Patti growing up, being a Mom, having fun with friends, and all the love she gave and received over the years.  I have always loved the book The Next Place by Warren Hanson; I recommend it to many customers in our bookstore when they need something that can explain where people go when they die.  I never thought it would become so personal.  My brother Dan read this aloud at Patti's service, and it perfectly sums up where all my brothers and sisters, and Patti's kids feel she is now:

The Next Place
By Warren Hanson
The next place that I go 
Will be as peaceful and familiar
As a sleepy summer Sunday
And a sweet, untroubled mind.
And yet . . .
It won't be anything like any place I've ever been. . . 

Or seen. . . or even dreamed of
In the place I leave behind.
I won't know where I'm going,
And I won't know where I've been
As I tumble through the always
And look back toward the when.
I'll glide beyond the rainbows.
I'll drift above the sky.
I'll fly into the wonder, without ever wondering why.
I won't remember getting there.

Somehow I'll just arrive.
But I'll know that I belong there
And will feel much more alive
Than I have ever felt before.
I will be absolutely free of the things that I held onto
That were holding onto me.
The next place that I go
Will be so quiet and so still
That the whispered song of sweet belonging will rise up to fill
The listening sky with joyful silence,
And with unheard harmonies
Of music made by no one playing,
Like a hush upon breeze.
There will be no room for darkness in that place of living light,
Where an ever-dawning morning pushes back the dying night.
The very air will fill with brilliance, as the brightly shining sun
And the moon and half a million stars are married into one.
The next place that I go Won't really be a place at all.
There won't be any seasons -- 
Winter, summer, spring or fall --
Nor a Monday, Nor a Friday,
Nor December, Nor July.
And the seconds will be standing still. . .
While hours hurry by.
I will not be a boy or girl,
A woman or man.
I'll simply be just, simply, me.
No worse or better than.
My skin will not be dark or light.
I won't be fat or tall.
The body I once lived in
Won't be part of me at all.
I will finally be perfect.
I will be without a flaw.
I will never make one more mistake,
Or break the smallest law.
And the me that was impatient,
Or was angry, or unkind,
Will simply be a memory.
The me I left behind.
I will travel empty-handed.
There is not a single thing
I have collected in my life
That I would ever want to bring Except. . .
The love of those who loved me,
And the warmth of those who cared.
The happiness and memories
And magic that we shared.
Though I will know the joy of solitude. . .
I'll never be alone. I'll be embraced
By all the family and friends I've ever known.
Although I might not see their faces,
All our hearts will beat as one,
And the circle of our spirits
Will shine brighter than the sun.
I will cherish all the friendship I was fortunate to find,
All love and all the laughter in the place I leave behind.
All these good things will go with me.
They will make my spirit glow.
And that light will shine forever In the next place that I go.

You can find this poem at this link, and the book is available at all fine bookstores:

Patti Wolfe 1964-2012

Needless to say, this has derailed my life for a bit.  I will continue to post reviews, but for now I am trying to absorb, grieve, and have some peace.  Books are normally my comfort for everything; they will continue to provide some mental space, but this may take some time.  Thanks for understanding--I will be back soon!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The 100 Year Old Man..... by Jonas Jonasson

Fun fun fun book.  I first noticed it on our new paperback table at work, and watched it disappear rather quickly each time we restocked it--so I had to check it out.  And then I had a customer come in  and specifically ask for it by name!  By that time I had bought the book, and started on it, so I quickly shared my thoughts with this customer, who ordered a copy and left happy.

What can I say about this delightful book?  It's the perfect novel to give for the holiday season to anyone you know--Mom, Dad, Grandparents, friends--men and women alike will enjoy this novel by Swedish author Jonas Jonasson.

Allan Karlsson is sitting in his room at a retirement home, awaiting his 100th birthday party.  He's sharp, mentally alert, and physically in great shape for his age.  

And he doesn't want to go to his party.  So he climbs out his window and begins his adventures across Sweden.  Those adventures include drug money, an elephant, a suitcase, a hot dog stand owner, and lots of vodka.  While Allan is off on his adventure, which keeps unfolding in quirky ways, we learn about Allan's life leading up to his 100th birthday.  And what a life it is!  Allan's rules are simple:  he doesn't take sides in politics or religion, and things will happen the way they are supposed to happen.  His rules will find him learning to make explosives at the age of 10; working for the US government as a spy, traveling through the Himalayas on a camel, meeting Einstein's not so smart half-brother, and sharing a mexican lunch (complete with tequila) with Vice-President Truman.  These are just a few of the many places and situations Allan finds himself in--moments of history that are incredible and unforgettable--and many that Allan unwittingly begins and ends by his actions and words.

So what happens?  I can't tell you.  Just trust me--read this book and have a few laugh out loud moments.  Allan is a very sweet, funny, and incredibly smart man who has lived a life that seems impossible to believe, but makes perfect sense.  Allan's that kind of guy.  

This is available in paperback and as an e-book.

Rating:  4/5.  Quirky characters, great historical moments, and made me laugh out loud.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Book Talks Next Week! What I'm Reading For Them

A really fun part of my job is giving book talks.  I can't seem to shut up about reading, so I guess it's easy to say "I would love to talk to your group about books--where and when?"  And next week, I have two talks in one day--a luncheon crowd at a private home, and a book club meeting at my bookstore that night.  I sometimes feel a bit of a pinch to talk about brand spanking new books, but have learned to incorporate books I've already read into my talk.  This way I'm not stressing myself out by trying to read gobs of books right before my talks.  And, I have to remember that the people I'm talking to do not know all the books that are out there--they don't work at a bookstore like I do.  I see waaaaay too many new books every week!  Temptation is always staring me in the face.  

Anyway--here are three books I'm going to be reading this week so I can add them to my book talks next week.  I've already created my "talking" list, but I'm really looking forward to these stories--have to add them--and I hope to hit my Good reads 2012 challenge by next week, too.  These were novels that peaked my interest, so I just have to fit them in--and talk talk talk about them, too:

I have heard such mixed reviews of The House I Loved that I must read it.  I haven't read her other two titles--which seems to be the center of most of the so-so reviews for this one.  Since I have nothing to compare it to, I think I'll be able to read it from a different perspective.  I never got a chance to read it in hardcover, so I bought the paperback last week.  I also have heard wonderful things about The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.  A fun, fresh adventure story featuring a 100 year old man who escapes his nursing home and relives his life.  And since I read so many novels by women, I want to enjoy some novels written by men.  The Sisters grabbed my attention as I was putting it out on a new paperback table at work.  I read the author's interview at the back of the novel and decided it would be a fascinating read about a tragic break up between sisters--I have 4--what would happen if I didn't speak to one of them ever again?  And what would cause such a chasm?  It will definitely be one to recommend to book clubs.  

Add these three to my book talk next week.  I've already read plenty of other titles, so my list is complete.  I've found most groups prefer to read paperbacks, so that's what I aim for--and for those who don't mind the format, I usually sprinkle in a hardcover or two.  It's always refreshing and fun to have free reign in my book talks.  

What are you reading this week?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman: A Different Magical Story

Another book I bought in July and it just sat on the shelf.  I had heard rave reviews, and I hadn't read a good dragon story in a very long time.  Dragons are magical.  Can't be helped.  Good or bad, they belch fire, eat people, and always always have some kind of mystical power.  

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman had a lot to live up to when I first opened the pages.  I kept waiting patiently for that "gotcha!" moment, cause I could tell from the first few pages that it was coming--that moment when you settle into a story and know to the tips of your toes that it's going to wrap itself around your brain and not let go.  That moment occurred for me when Seraphina reveals her biggest secret to the reader.  I won't tell you what it is, but it comes early and explains Seraphina inside and out.  It also explains how not everything is black and white, and even if we so desperately want to tell the truth, sometimes a lie has to be told instead.  

Seraphina is a young teen girl living in the kingdom of Goredd.  It's a medieval type of place, full of cathedrals, alleys, and houses built across narrow cobblestone streets.  It is ruled by Queen Lavonda, a monarch who 40 years previously made a peace agreement with the dragons, led by their leader, Ardmagar Comonot.  The 40th anniversary of the agreement is rapidly approaching, and Comonot is coming to town to help celebrate.  Seraphina's extraordinary gift of music (you'll find out where this comes from) has put her in the palace as the assistant to the court composer--who suffers from gout and leaves much of the musical arrangements to her.  Her gift is pretty darn amazing, and it brings unwanted attention to her rather quickly.  On top of all this, the queen's son, Prince Rufus, was recently found murdered on a hunt--his head missing.  This is a clear sign of a dragon murder, and it starts stirring those who do not want peace with the dragons.  Can Seraphina, working with young Prince Lucian Riggs (whos grandmother is the queen) figure out what's going on before disaster strikes?  And how does she keep all her secrets, but protect those she loves?  

There are many themes in this novel:  keeping secrets, feeling abandoned, not having a mother to nurture you--and the conflicting emotions that brings up.  It's about standing on your own, being strong, and owning yourself.  Seraphina is an admirable young heroine, and Prince Riggs is the same--both are great role models for any young teen reading this book.  

I certainly enjoyed this novel.  It's not just a teen book--it's perfectly suitable for adults, too.  Anyone who loves to read about dragons, and how two races of beings  so different, yet sometimes alike--struggle to maintain peace and understanding while still remaining true to themselves.  It would make a great book group book for science fiction groups or teen groups--heck, a high school lit class would have great discussions on this!  And maybe inspire a future author...

Rating:  5/5 for originality, superb writing and characters, and a fierce young lady named Seraphina.  Can't wait to read the next one!
Available in hardcover and e-book format.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio

I've been eagerly awaiting Sarah Jio's latest paperback, Blackberry Winter.  I gobbled it right down.  What I like about Ms. Jio's novels are the settings--mostly around Seattle or the islands off the coast of Washington State, and her mix of the past and present to find answers to mysteries that have colored people's lives for decades.  Her two previous novels Violets in March and The Bungalow are just as enjoyable as Blackberry Winter.  I'm a fan and will continue to read anything she publishes.

If you are someone who loves a really great, hard to figure out mystery, these aren't for you.  It's fairly easy to solve the unanswered questions.  In this novel, Vera Ray is a very young unwed mother, struggling to provide for her 3 year old son, Daniel.  She's dirt poor in 1933 and must leave him alone at night in their apartment while she works as a chambermaid at the ritzy hotel in Seattle.  It's the Depression, and Vera struggles to eat and pay rent.  Her landlord is threatening to evict her and she has no money and no where to go.  After working one night, she steps out in to a freak winter snow storm in early May.  It's called a Blackberry Winter, and is very rare.  As she finally gets home, frost-bitten feet and chilled to the bone, she finds Daniel missing.  Hysterical, she runs outside, searching for him everywhere.  She only finds his teddy bear, dropped in the snow.  The police don't really care about the case and say he's run away.  Vera, in shock, stays with a friend, but quickly returns to her apartment to find new tenants live there.  She has no job, no where to go, no money, and her child is missing.  What happens to Vera?

Vera's story really is so sad.  She just can't win.  Claire Aldridge Kensington is a present day reporter in Seattle for her husband's newspaper.  She's recovering from a horrible accident that cost her something very precious.  It's been a year, and she can't get her life together.  Her marriage is falling apart.  And then a freak snow storm hits, exactly 80 years to the day of the last Blackberry Winter storm in 1933.  Her editor gives her the assignment to write about the storm.  Feeling like a huge loser, she begins to check into the storm, and finds out about Daniel going missing, and it peaks her interest.  Through Claire's painful research, she begins to find the answers to Vera's torment and Daniel's disappearance all those years ago.  

It's a great read; the characters are easy to connect to, and Vera just tugs at your heart strings.  I felt Ms. Jio really did a great job making Vera's desperate situation very clear and very believable.  Claire has more in common with Vera than she realizes, but by the end of the novel, she finds peace and acceptance because of what Vera went through, and does solve the mystery of Daniel.  

Rating:  4/5 for just sheer enjoyable reading and a clever story.  It's easy to figure out the "mystery" but I loved reading it all the same.  Perfect for Moms, Grandmas, and traveling!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Hello, Goodbye, Hello by Craig Brown

This was a fun, entertaining book that reminded me of all the ways we briefly come in contact with so many people over the years.  

In Hello, Goodbye, Hello by Craig Brown, he demonstrates this by telling stories of actual meetings between famous people throughout the years.  Some of them were surprising:  Houdini actually does an act for Nicolas and Alexandria, the Tsar and Tsarina of Russia (and fools them, too).  Mark Twain meets Helen Keller and immediately becomes absolutely enchanted with her.  Harpo Marx and Rachmaninoff find themselves living at the same hotel in Los Angeles in 1931.  Their meeting was not so wonderful.  

Some of the people in this book I was a bit unfamiliar with, but the author does take the time to fill you in on who they are--many were famous British artists and politicians.  Each story is short  and has footnotes that quickly become an addictive part of the read!  

What I enjoyed about this book were the short stories about each meeting; where and when they met, and how utterly improbable some of these meetings seemed at first, but ended up making perfect sense.  A lot of the meetings happened because one person admired the other and wanted to meet them; others happened because both were at the same party, house, or event, knew the same people, or had a connection.  Some, like Houdini and Theodore Roosevelt, happened because they were both traveling on a ship at the same time.  

In any case, I found this quite entertaining, and a reminder once again of just how small our world can be.  I can't say that every meeting between these famous people was spectacular, life changing, or even pleasant.  Many walked away throughly disgusted, uninterested, or completely disliking the other person, while some experienced a life changing event.  Just goes to show that even with celebrity status, we're all just human beings who, at the end of the day,  love, laugh, and  sometimes abhor each other's company.

Rating:  3/5.  A easy book to read in bits and pieces; fun stories about people you would never know have briefly touched each other's lives.

Available in hardcover and as an e-book.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Not Enough Hours In The Day! And Other Very Wrong Things In My Book World

I am convinced time is hiding from me.  It especially slips away when I'm reading blogs or writing one of mine.  I think it ratchets up to warp speed.  Next thing I know, two hours have passed and my to-do list is gathering dust.

I didn't get all the books read this past week that I had listed to read last week.  Boo hoo. I've even taken up riding the bike at the gym more often each week so I have 30 minutes of reading time at the gym.  Kinda hard to read while lifting weights, so I won't try.  But trust me--I have put some thought into the possibility.  I could make millions if only my brain would produce a useful idea for this!

And why, oh why can't I run this body on just 4 hours of rest?  It would make my reading time that much longer.  And that darn lottery--I really should win so I can buy all the books I want, build a house for them, then sit there and read whenever I want.  I'm sure it's just a matter of time before I become a lottery winner.  Meanwhile, I'll just keep compiling my list of books for that little house.

What am I reading this week?  Well, here are a few I have on my list:

Amish vs Vampires

Meetings between famous people

Murder at a plantation 

Jazz Age New York and magic
I'm still working on the books I didn't finish last week.  With a teen book talk coming up in a few weeks I'm focusing on reading more teen novels--and then I have two book talks in one day later in October, so trying to read for that audience, too.  Luckily these are all books I want to read--no list that I have to adhere to for these talks.  Talking about books I love and have read makes standing up in front of people and giving speeches a little less horrifying!

What are you reading this week?  Are you going to read Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling when it goes on sale Thursday?

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Finally, a teen book that has a different story--one that I would have gobbled up as a teen myself, and found myself reading with building excitement the past few days.

The Raven Boys is the kind of book that I love, and brings out the nerdy, geeky mythology/psychic/otherworldly kid in me.  Blue is a young teen who lives with her mother and a whole houseful of eccentric psychics.  Blue herself doesn't have one drop of any psychic gifts, but what she does have makes her valuable:  she can amplify the psychic abilities of those around her.  She's like a battery with extra zip.  All her life she's been told by countless psychics (and her mother) that the true love of her life will die if she kisses him.  Not interested in boys, Blue hasn't really thought too much about it.

Until she meets Adam and Gansey, two of the Raven Boys.  They both attend the local boys school Aglionby Academy--a well do to school located in the tiny town of Henrietta.  What makes this story take a turn is that Blue has seen the spirit of Gansey on St. Mark's Eve, the night when the spirits of people who will die that year walk the dead road.  He's the only spirit Blue has ever seen, and she's told it's because he is either the love of her life, or she'll be the death of him.  Oops.

Blue soon finds herself befriending Adam, who's one of Gansey's close friends.  Blue likes Adam, and to keep things safe, won't let him kiss her just in case she got it wrong and he's the love of her life.  There's no kissing happening in this book, which was refreshing!  The "romance" was not the center of this story.  It is an integral part of the story, but this is by no means a paranormal romance like most teen novels in that sub-genre.

What I so enjoyed was the obsession Gansey has with finding Glendower, an Welsh King who is rumored to be buried somewhere along a ley line that runs through Henrietta.  He's quietly slumbering, waiting for someone to find him.  That someone is Gansey--he's filled a journal with his research, spends all his time outside of school looking for the ley line, and has drawn his small circle of friends into the search.  It's his life mission.  Gansey and his friends are all very complex characters that Maggie  Stiefvater has drawn very well--she leaves you with lots of questions, but enough hints about the boys' backgrounds that you're not frustrated.

This is a good thing, since this is the first in a series.  I loved the moody atmosphere, the legend of Glendower, the mystical forest, and the ancient magic that's involved.  The characters are all well drawn, and Blue is a great female lead.

Rating:  4/5 for an intriguing story, great characters, and a well written novel.  Can't wait for the sequel!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Power of Poppy Pendle by Natasha Lowe

This was the cutest little book!  Poppy Pendle is a young girl who was born in a bakery.  From that moment on, she's loved to bake, and has an extraordinary talent.  

But she's a witch.  A really good witch.  Her parents (particularly her mom) are so excited she's a witch, they enroll her in the local school for witches-Ruthersfield Academy.  It's a big deal to be enrolled at the academy, and Poppy has such a natural talent for spells and flying on a broomstick she's soon at the top of her class.

But she hates being a witch.  She just wants to bake.  Her parents aren't understanding at all, and Poppy runs away to stay at the patisserie in town with Marie Claire, the owner and baker.  

But there's trouble, and Poppy's unhappiness explodes into a disastrous event.  Can she find happiness and also make her parents happy?

I loved this book!  Poppy is adorable, and her passion for baking shines through the story.  This book is a great reminder to young readers to follow your passion.  It also includes recipes at the end of the book for all the goodies Poppy whips up throughout the book.  

Rating:  4/5.  A cute young reader book for the little baker in your life.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Boneshaker by Kate Milford

I have missed reading my young reader books!  It seems like I have so much adult and teen books waiting in the  piles around my house that the young reader novels fall to the wayside.  I may have to dedicate a month to reading kids books in 2013.  

But!  I have been reading other book blogs, and The Boneshaker  by Kate Milford has popped up a few times--with the kind of reviews that peaked my interest.  And at the super deluxe cheapo price of $6.99 you too can read a great book that will keep you and any young reader up late into the night.  

I will say this is a book that should be geared towards kids along the ages of 10+. There are some terms and ideas in here that might be a bit confusing for the younger crowd.  I myself had to page back a few times to re-read a few scenes to get them clear in my mind.

With that said, I loved this book.  The back cover says it is reminiscent of Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes and I have to agree on that point.  A small town in Missouri--Arcane-- set in early 20th century. Not too far away, the old ruins of the original Arcane--set at a crossroads.  A young girl, Natalie, who's currently engrossed in building the perfect automaton, mastering riding her red bike, and working with her Dad in his garage full of wheels, gears, and all sorts of wonderous things.  She's the kind of girl most of us wanted to be at 13:  smart, tough, and courageous.  

Enter in Limberg's Nostrum Fair and Technological Medicine Show.  A traveling show full of odd--very odd-characters, lead by Dr. Jake Limberg--a creepy red haired man who wears leather gloves and sets Natalie's weird radar on high alert.  There's something not quite right about this traveling show, and only a few people in the town of Arcane recognize evil when it rolls into town and set up shop in an abandoned field.  It's up to Natalie to figure out just what's going on before it's too late to save Arcane.  

Loved the characters in this story, and the great feel of small town America at the turn of the 20th century--when people still believed in magic potions, guitars that played otherworldy music, and most important of all--the power of storytelling.  

My rating:  4/5 for an original story--golly, I wish I could write like this!  And the black and white pencil drawings throughout the novel add to the story.  

And just in time:  the prequel to The Boneshaker is out!  The Broken Lands takes place on Coney Island in the 19th century.  Oooh, can't wait to read it!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

What I'm Reading This Week-Sept 17th

I love Fall.  Nights start earlier, cooler temps, hot tea and muffins.  And books. I've received a lot of ARCS the past few weeks, and have an overstuffed Nook full of books to read, too.  So this week I'm focusing on these wonderful books:

Reading this right now--love it!

On my Nook

Jasper Fforde's first novel for teens

Creepy forest, people trying to get out!

ARC received! Out in October

I've got an awful lot of good stuff to read.  Bring on the gloomy days, chilly nights, and plenty of quiet time to read. Let's hope I can stick to my list--always another book to distract me.   What are you reading these days?