Thursday, March 29, 2012

Read Off The Shelves Challenge: How Did I Do?

I decided in January that I had purchased too many books and just popped them on my bookshelves "to be read later".  Sometimes that "later" became months, then years.  Eek. My challenge through March was to read as many books off my bookshelves as I could.  I then upped this challenge to putting $5.00 in my vacation fund for every one of those said books.  

How Did I Do??

Not too bad.  Could have done better.  I read 11 books off my bookshelves.  Since I have read 40 books this year, this is less than half of what I've read.  Dang it! What did I learn from this experience?

I still have too many books.

I must continue to work at those bookshelves.

I had some great reads sitting on my shelves.  So glad I finally got to them.  

I like tying reading into my vacation fund.  After all, that's what I like to do on vacation.  Read.

I've been reading so many wonderful book blogs, and many people are reading books that I have sitting on my shelves--ARCS that I've had for months!  So that's firing up my enthusiasm and keeping the fire burning.  

What's my next challenge?

Three more months of reading off the shelves:  goal is 24 books.

These are 24 books I already have; lordy me!  How will I manage to accomplish this task?  

Discipline.  And plugging my ears and singing to myself when someone tells me about a new book.  My goal for total book reading for April, May, and June is another 45 books.  And half of those must be what I've already got at home and on my Nook.  

I can do this.  Yes I can.  I'm off to add to the vacation fund.  

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Two Reviews in One! A Ghost & Jack The Ripper

I have a secret:  I love to read books about:
A) Jack the Ripper
B) Ghosts

These are two obsessions which first appeared when I was a mere child and have continued over the years without any sign of disappearing.  I share this obsession with a sibling or two, so I don't feel quite so weird--just a little.  If I could spend my free moments as a ghost investigator, I would be blissfully happy.  

And yes, I have dragged friends along on a Ripper tour in London.  At night.  In the cold.  A tad bit disappointing, since most of the places are gone, and Mary Kelly's spot is now a parking garage.  Oh well.

There are quite a few Ripper novels out for teens lately, and I've been busy reading them.  I have to say, each one is so very different, and I haven't been disappointed yet!  Such imagination in every story.  The Ripper by Amy Carol Reeves takes us into the heart of the Ripper murders:  Whitechapel.  Arabella Sharp has arrived in London to live with her wealthy Grandmother, who decides she needs to teach Arabella how to appreciate all that wealth can offer a young woman.  Grandmother tells Arabella she will be volunteering at Whitechapel hospital--surely this will curb Arabella's wanderlust!

Instead, Arabella quickly discovers she loves working at the hospital, which treats mainly prostitutes and very poor women.  She becomes friends with two young physicians:  William and Simon.  Her thoughts begin to turn towards attending medical school, with the hopes of becoming a doctor.  But prostitutes who have been patients at the hospital are starting to turn up murdered in the alleys of Whitechapel.  Is there a connection?  And what about Arabella's strange visions of men in robes, and chanting?  Does Jack the Ripper have supernatural powers?  

Jack is a creepy man--that's been well established.  But in this novel, the creep factor is turned up a notch.  Arabella can see Jack in her visions--and he's climbing down buildings sideways and knows she's watching him.  Super chilling!

Loved this book.  Can't wait for a sequel.  Rating:  4/5 for imaginative storyline, strong female character, and the struggle for women to break into the world of medicine.  Thanks to NetGalley for a review copy!

My next review is about a ghost story set in England.  I know--not so original, right?  But it is, and I thoroughly enjoyed this quick read.  The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James is set in post-World War One England.  Sarah Piper is a very poor young woman living in London, working temp jobs and just existing.  She gets a call to work for a young man--Alistair Gellis--who investigates hauntings.  He's been called to Waringstoke to remove a ghost from a barn. This ghost is a young woman--Maddy Clare--who hung herself in the barn on the property where she worked as a servant.  And this ghost is one angry ghost.  So angry that she's destroyed the inside of the barn.  

What's the story with Maddy?  As you move along the story, you discover she appeared one rainy night at the doorstep of Mr. and Mrs. Clare, bloody, beaten, muddy, and unable to say a word.  No one knows where she came from, and she's been molested.   She stays with the Clares and becomes part of their household.  Until seven years later, when she hangs herself in the barn.  Why?

Sarah and Alistair are soon joined by Matthew Ryder, Alistair's assistant-and they attempt to communicate with Maddy.  This goes horribly wrong--Maddy is so strong and hates men so much she is a threat to them all.  Why is she so angry?  The three investigators are up against a village that is suspicious, a secret kept for years, and a ghost that is determined to exact revenge one way or another.

I really enjoyed this novel, and am looking forward to another next year.  The time period really set the mood--early 1920's.  The effects of World War One are still resonating throughout England, and Alistair and Matthew are vets who can't quite escape the horrors of what they saw as soldiers on the front line.  

A ghost story with that lovely gothicky tweak I so enjoy; a not so typical ghost, and all sorts of unpleasant people trying to hide something.  A quick read for a stormy night.
Rating:  3/5; Good story, but felt Sarah could have grown a spine a bit quicker in the story.  

Saturday, March 24, 2012

New Podcast: Imagine by Jonah Lehrer

This is one non-fiction book that everyone should read.  If anything, it will make you go "Hmmm".  And that "Hmmm" may be a breakthrough in your imagination!

Rating:  5/5 for writing, great real life stories, and leaving me with a new appreciation for creativity.  

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

True Sisters by Sandra Dallas

I have read all of Sandra Dallas' novels, and once again she has written one that kept me glued to the pages and even waking up at 5 AM to finish it this morning.  

True Sisters is about the Mormon Handcart debacle of 1856.  Mormons recruited many people from Europe to come to America to eventually reside in Salt Lake City (aka Zion).  In order to get there, immigrants had to travel to Iowa City, IA, where they were to load up handcarts and walk--yes--walk the 1300 miles to Salt Lake City.  All before the snow flew in early Fall.  Not only did they have to walk, but they had to push and pull these handcarts along the way.  Why?  Because most immigrants could not afford the money for a wagon and team, so in order to get as many people to Salt Lake City, the Mormons decreed that this would be how they would get there--much less costly for the immigrants. Only problem is that the handcarts were made out of green wood, and held 17 pounds of worldly goods for each family.  They were prone to breaking down because the wood was poor and the distance was long.  Can you imagine walking 1300 miles?  And so many women were pregnant, and gave birth along the trail.  Makes complaining about walking across a parking lot to your favorite store seem pretty pathetic, doesn't it?  

The story centers around some of the women of the last group that left Iowa City:  Anne, an Englishwoman who's not embraced the Mormon faith; Louisa, who's married to Thales, the charismatic leader of the group; Ella and Nannie, two Scottish sisters; and Jessie, a single young woman traveling with her two brothers.  Only Jessie and Nannie are single women on this journey, sure in the knowledge that they will be married once they arrive in Salt Lake City.  

The trials each of these women go through on this four month journey are heartbreaking and would test anyone's faith and fortitude.  Horrible weather, lack of food, tragedies happening every day--all of these test the women's certainty that giving up their homes to travel to Salt Lake City was the right thing to do.  

And how about the men in this story?  They are all strong, deep in their Mormon faith, and expect their wives to do what they ask of them.  In 1856 a man was the head of the household, and made the major decisions for a family--often against what the wife wanted.  I can say some of the actions the men take in this novel will irritate you--but they do it out of a sense of duty, and a profound belief that what they are doing is part of God's plan.

You will love this book.  I recommend reading some non-fiction about the Mormon Handcart episode in American History.  It is one of those forgotten moments in our times that should be re-examined and discussed.  You may feel that Mormonism is portrayed harshly in this novel, but I didn't think so.  The Saints (as the Mormons call each other) are kind, loving people who go out of their way to help each other--sometimes at their own peril.  Sandra Dallas examines how we use faith to justify our actions, make decisions and accept what seems like more than a person can bear as part of God's Plan.  

You'll feel happy, sad, and anxious for the safety of the characters in this book.  You'll come to love these women as I did, and I'm so glad the author added an epilogue at the end to tell you how they all ended up.  This novel has reawakened my interest in pioneer women!  I must start looking for more books about these incredibly strong and resilient women who helped shape our country.

This book will be out at the end of April in hardcover.
Rating:  5/5 for a well written historical novel based on true events.  Characters are well rounded and very human.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Revenge of the Radioactive Lady Podcast

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I have no clue why it's taken so long to produce another podcast.  Apparently I had to wait until I worked late, then come home and yap into a microphone until midnight.  But it's done!  I also talk about upcoming new releases that I just can't wait to read.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Gilly Salt Sisters by Tiffany Baker

My manager discovered this book for me one day while we were looking through the Ingram book release magazine for March, and I immediately marked it as a definite "to be read ASAP" book.  And what do you know, just a few days later, it appeared magically in my hands one day while putting out new releases in my store.  It was an effort to be patient until I could go home and begin this tale.  After all, it has one of my favorite things in life in the title:  salt.

Once again I've fallen into the sister theme this year, but I don't mind with this book.  I thoroughly enjoyed this novel about two sisters, Jo and Claire, who grow up on a salt farm outside the small town of Prospect on Cape Cod.  Jo is the eldest, and works herself hard every day gathering the salt from the ponds her family has created over the decades.  It's women's work, and men do not last long as Gillys:  there's a small graveyard nearby with all the graves of those males in the family who've died too young.  

And there's the townspeople, who gather every December Eve to burn a huge bonfire, then have one of the Gilly sisters throw salt on the fire to see how what the future holds.  They firmly believe there's magic in the salt, and ruin will come to anyone who does not use the salt at home or in their business.  The Gilly sisters are not a welcome part of the community, but a necessary part of it.

Claire wants nothing to do with the salt farm.  She's pretty, vivacious, and hates salt.  The love of her teen years shatters her heart, and she's quickly swept up by Whit Turner, the son of the leading family in town.  Whit and Jo have a past that went sour, and now Whit has become the latest Turner to want the salt farm, convinced all his problems will be solved if he owns it. 

The novel meanders around, from Jo and Claire's early childhood in the 40's and 50's to the early 80's.  Dee, a young teen who arrives in town with her father, quickly becomes part of the tangled history of the Gilly sisters and Whit Turner.  Her story is what carries the book forward, and offers the Gilly sisters a chance at forgiveness and healing.

This is a novel reminiscent of Alice Hoffman; no one really knows what magic the salt holds, and what the faceless Virgin Mary at the local church can really do for those women who leave offerings and light candles in prayers to her.  I liked the timelessness of Prospect, the two sisters who are so very different, and most of all, the salt.  This is not table salt, but gray, red, and pure white snow flake salt that tastes different to everyone, and evokes different memories when it touches the lips.  Who knew salt could be so mysterious?

Rating:  3/5:
An entertaining, light novel that is a quick read.  

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark

Woohoo!  Another "Read off the shelf" book.  Shamefully, this ARC I've had since February 2011 and I just picked it off the shelf to read last week.  

I went a whole year without having this wonderful novel in my brain.  

The Sandalwood Tree is set in 1947 India, when England is pulling out, and India is being partitioned--Hindus will live in India, and Muslims will be forced to move to a new country, Pakistan created from part of India.  Not such good news for those who've lived in villages for generations, who must now pack up and leave their way of life to start over in a new place.

Evie and her husband Martin have arrived from Chicago to live in Masoorla, a small village far away from the larger cities where trouble is brewing.  Martin is a historian working on his Ph.d and has been awarded a Fulbright scholarship to write about the partition going on in India.  He is also a World War 2 vet who has come home shattered and emotionally distant from Evie and their young son Billy.  Evie is at a loss as to helping her husband heal from the war and once again become the loving man she was married to before he fought in Germany.  She insists on coming to India with him, and soon finds herself caught up in a mystery from the 1850's.  

In a furious bought of cleaning, Evie finds a hidden compartment in the kitchen wall, and inside it are a few letters from the 1850's, written between to young ladies:  Adela and Felicity.  There's not much to go on, but Evie soon becomes entangled in the intriguing story of Adela and Felicity--what happened to them, and why were two young Englishwomen in India during a time of great turbulence between the Raj and the people?  

I really enjoyed this novel.  I loved the setting--something I have never read much about.  The India of 1947 is lush with sights, sounds, smells, and tastes that I suspect are still found today in small villages and the countryside.  Evie is a strong character; fighting for her husband, bravely traveling to temples, churches, and along the villages to find more information about Adela and Felicity.  She's also a loving mother who worries she made a mistake bringing 5 year old Billy along on this trip.  Her battles to cling onto her previously happy marriage are parallel to the unrest going on around her, as violence breaks out and the safety of foreigners is not guaranteed.  

Adela and Felicity are two brave young women who's story is told by Evie and by the letters and journals found as Evie searches for answers--why are they in India?  What happened to the women?  90 years later, the answers are not easy to find.  

I highly recommend this novel.  It was engaging, colorful, and at the same time a poignant reminder of the horrors of war.  You will find yourself rooting for Evie and dreaming about a trip to India. 

Rating:  4/5 for writing, characters, and plot.

This novel will be out in paperback at the end of March, 2012. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Kingdom by Amanda Stevens

The Kingdom is the second book in a series by Amanda Stevens--the first book came out in 2010 and it was called The Restorer--the first in the Graveyard Queen series.

When I saw the second one on NetGalley I promptly dropped everything to dig into the world of Amelia Gray--a cemetery restorer who travels around the country bringing old neglected cemeteries back to their original condition.  Amelia's got a bit of a gift, though--she can see ghosts.  The problem is that if the ghosts are aware she sees them, they will attach themselves to her, draining her energy so they can stay in our world.  She's learned from her father how to deal with this gift, and never ever acknowledges ghosts or lets them know she's aware of them.  

In the second novel, we find Amelia traveling to a small town called Asher Falls to restore a graveyard.  Asher Falls is a dying town; the man who "owns" the town made a deal whereby a reservoir was put in, effectively cutting off the town from highways and only making it accessible by ferry.  What Amelia soon finds out is that when this was done, the original cemetery was not moved, but is underneath the lake created by the reservoir.  Graves, statues, crypts--all under the water.  However, there is a second cemetery, and that's where her job lies.  But who hired here?  We don't know.  Yet.

But Asher Falls is one creepy town--not much going on; unfriendly people who all seem to be watching Amelia, and an unsettling feeling that seems to ooze through the town and the woods that surround it.  Oh--and there are ghosts galore!  Especially a young blonde woman, who appears on the dock of the house Amelia is staying at--on the lake.  What does she want?  

What connection does Amelia have to this town?  Why does she feel so drawn to the area, and what the heck is going on in this town?  Who brought her here?  And what connection does she have to the Asher family?

Oh, this book was even better than the first one.  I could not put my Nook down!  It answers some of the questions from the first book, but still leaves her relationship with Devlin on hold.  You should read The Restorer first so you can understand this novel.  I am so happy the third book is on NetGalley and already on my Nook so I can dive right back into Amelia's world.  It's a fascinating place.  These are spooky, but not overly scary, have some romance, but not enough to be annoying; and are chock full of that wonderful gothic Southern ghosty feel that I so adore.  It's coming out at the end of March in mass market paperback--$7.99; and The Restorer  has just been reissued as a mass market paperback, too.  The third book in the series, The Prophet finds Amelia tangling with Devlin again.  It is out in mass market paperback at the end of April.  I'm so glad the publishers decided to put the last two out fairly quickly.  You will too--cause once you start, you won't be able to stop.  

I'm off to read The Prophet--courtesy of NetGalley.  

Rating:  4/5; hard to put down, creepy and fun.