Sunday, December 29, 2013

My Top Ten Reads for 2013

I am here!  Survived finals and retail Christmas; now I have a few days off and plan on relaxing with my sweetie and making a list of all the things I have to do before school starts again in a few weeks.  But in the meantime, I have compiled my favorite ten reads of the past year.  This was really hard to do; I had to whittle it down from twenty.  I'm glad that's a problem; it means I read some really good stuff!  So….without further ado…here are my favorite reads of the past year, starting with #10:

#10  A brilliant, funny, whimsical novel

#9 Not kidding--this was really good, with a whiz-bang ending!

#8  A serial killer jumps through time in Chicago.  Creepy and clever.

#7 First in a series about a medieval woman with a healing touch.

#6 Someone is killing cops in 1889 London.  Victorian murder and forensics.

#5 Amazing historical novel that tells the tale
of  intertwined families. 

#4 First in a mystery series--forensic archaeologist
helps solves murders in England.

#3 Loved this!  Paranormal, serial killer, and a touch
of romance all combine to make this one you should read.

#2 Meet Frederick and Jetta and their great American dream.
Absolutely wonderful historical novel!
 And finally……my absolute favorite read of 2013:

#1 Life After Life by Kate Atkinson!  Woohoo!!  I read this way back in February and it set the bar extremely high for this year.  It has stayed with me all year, firmly set at "the best book I've read so far this year" status.  If you haven't read this, pick it up.  It's out in paperback in January 2014.  Meet Ursula Todd, her amazing, wonderfully realized family, and her many many "lives".  Yes, Ursula lives, dies, lives, dies over and over from 1910 through World War 2 in England.  And every time she pops back, in the same spot where she died, she makes a slight change that sets her path on a different route.  Just go with it, be patient, and accept the fact that she keeps living and dying.  It is so amazing you will not be able to put it down.  I cannot tell you how much I love this book.  It is funny, heartbreaking, and thoughtful, and I don't know how the heck Kate Atkinson wrote it, but she did, and she has a permanent place as a favorite author of mine.  

So there it is, folks.  Looking at my list, I see I have a bit of a blood thirsty bent to my reading this year and less of a fun, romantic liking.  I'm not sure what caused this look to the dark side, but I suspect grieving all year for my sister has something to do with it.  I didn't want to read fun and happy.  I don't know what this next year holds as far as reading patterns, but I know I'll be reading some of my favorite authors:  Sarah Addison Allen, Alice Hoffman, and Paula Brackston.  And….I'm pretty sure I'll be dipping into some massive tomes, too.  

What are you looking forward to reading in 2014?  I love the start of a new year; so many possibilities that I am giddy with anticipation.

So on that note, I'm off to read!  Have a wonderful New Year!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Finals Finished and a Great Book Review: The Secret Rooms by Catherine Bailey

I'm pretty happy I managed to survive my first semester at grad school.  It was messy, stressful, and tear-inducing, but I learned quite a lot and look forward to starting a new semester in January armed with more wisdom and better time management skills.  

But…I was lucky enough to receive a copy of The Secret Rooms by Catherine Bailey from Penguin and in between finishing up the semester and working, I've been reading it and loving every drama that unfolded.  Anyone who's interested in English history, particularly World War I and the aristocracy, will want to pick this book up and dive into the saga of the Rutland family.

John, the 9th Duke of Rutland, had a few things in his life that determined the path he would take before dying alone amongst the family archives in 1940:  the death of his older brother as a young boy, and an interfering mother who could write letters like a machine.  

Catherine Bailey first came upon the intriguing story of John and the Rutland family while looking through the archives at Belvoir Castle, the Rutland family estate.  She was interested in writing about the soldiers from the area who had fought in World War 1.  It was a big deal for her to be given access to these archives; the five rooms they occupied has been closed off to everyone since John, the 9th Duke of Rutland, had died in 1940.  John had spent the last years of his life (he died relatively young of pneumonia) working on the family history, and amassing archives that were priceless.  Not only did he organize the family history, but he collected other written treasures of English history that went back to the 11th century.  His work creating these archives is just amazing and became his life's obsession.

While Catherine was looking through the archives, she found a few peculiar things missing:  family correspondence from three particular times:  months in 1894, months in 1908, and a five-month period in 1915, when John was involved in World War 1.  Not one bit of information was found for these three time frames.  Catherine came to the conclusion that only John could have removed the letters from the family archives. But why?  Her search and tenacity are amazing, as she uncovers family secrets that haunted John all his life, and shaped the man he became.  Family intrigue, a manipulating mother, a father who was on the brink of financial ruin, and an uncle that John adored all come alive in the letters Catherine finds in the archives.  

This is a really entertaining book, and of course the photos in the book put each person's face in your mind as you read the letters they wrote each other through the years.  It really is hard to believe that the machinations that occurred were not made up fiction, but really happened.  Violet Rutland (John's mother) is one character you won't soon forget.  

Fans of Downton Abbey, World War 1, and anyone who enjoys a bit of history will find this book intriguing and a bit sad, too.  It's available in a few weeks, in paperback.  It would make a great read on a winter's night.  

Rating:  8/10 for readability and a fascinating story researched by Catherine Bailey.  

Available in paperback and e-book.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Reached My Reading Goal and Other Stuff

source: source:christmas
The past few months have been a challenge for me in terms of reading whatever and whenever I want.  Starting school again in August severely curtailed my reading habits and I can confirm I've become a crabbier person because of this very reason.  Reading is my form of relaxation and meditation, and when the world is too much, I have to retreat and read!  

Well, the world has been overwhelming, going to school and work both full-time.  And now that Christmas is here, I'm in my final week of classes, with one take home final due on December 20th.  And being a manager at a bookstore means working extra hours before Christmas day.  I am running on coffee and the sugar from all the cookies people have gifted me this week.  Tired is such an overused word for me, but let me just say I'm beyond tired.  Stumbling around and misplacing things has become a regular occurrence!  I don't think I can have a coherent conversation with anyone anymore.

So, I am taking the next few weeks off on this blog to finish my semester of school and get through retail Christmas season #23.  Yep.  23 years of retail is enough to exhaust anyone.  This is why I'm going back to school.  I'd like to enjoy Christmas again.  

I'll be posting my favorite top ten reads for 2013 after Christmas, and before the New Year.  And I have planned many blissful hours of reading before I start school again in January.  Oh, I can't wait to see what's in store for 2014.  I've already got a huge list of 'must reads' compiled.  I'll be revealing that list soon, too.  

Have a wonderful Christmas.  I hope everyone receives at least one good book to read over the holiday season.  I've already purchased 6 new books (thanks to employee appreciation days) and downloaded heaps from Edelweiss onto my Nook.  I'll be a busy gal lounging around and reading.  Now all I need is a good blizzard!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

City of Lost Dreams by Magnus Flyte

These books are so much fun to read!  City of Lost Dreams by Magnus Flyte (actually authors Meg Howrey and Christina Lynch) is the follow up to last year's City of Dark Magic.  You do need to read City of Dark Magic first or the second novel won't make much sense.  

In City of Lost Dreams, Sarah Watson finds herself traveling to Vienna to meet with a specialist, hoping to find a cure for her friend Pollina, a young piano virtuoso.  Pollina is slowly dying and Sarah and friends are frantic to find a cure.  

But Vienna is just as mysterious as Prague was in City of Dark Magic, and Sarah is soon entangled in a mystery surrounding a missing doctor, two brothers desperate to keep their family home, and murder.  Throw in Nico, a four-hundred year old dwarf and Sarah's love, Max, and it's a madcap adventure set in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  

Flyte's first novel concentrated a lot on Sarah and Max's irresistible sexual chemistry; this novel is more about Pollina and her otherworldly ability to write music and sense the magic surrounding her.  We get to know the characters and what drives them.  Nico especially is one character that develops into a favorite, and Sarah discovers some important talents she never knew she possessed.  

I would recommend these novels to anyone who wants to read a fantastical adventure that combines history, alchemy, and music, but isn't science fiction.  There's also a great love story that keeps evolving and has you cheering for Sarah and Max.  I can't wait to read another adventure by Magnus Flyte.

Rating:  8/10 for a sequel that is even better than the first novel.  Vienna as a character makes this one a hard to put down read!

Available in paperback and e-book.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Janus Stone: A Ruth Galloway Mystery by Elly Griffiths

I reviewed The Crossing Places in August of this year, and I've been wanting to read more of the adventures of Ruth Galloway, forensic archaeologist.  Finally, I had an excuse to read the second in her series, The Janus Stone.  And when I finished it, I immediately bought the next two.  I can't wait for Christmas break so I can devour them!

This novel begins about 3 months after The Crossing Places ends.  Ruth is nearing the end of the academic year at her college, and there's a dig going on in the area involving Roman finds.  What looks like a general dig soon turns into a mystery when Ruth is called to investigate another place:  an old mansion is being demolished to make way for a new set of apartments, and the skeletal remains of a small child have been found.  Both areas become entwined as Ruth and her friend, Max, find similar clues at each dig that indicate something foul is afoot.  Who is so fascinated with sacrifice and the god Janus?  

Oh, I so enjoyed this mystery!  And you have to read The Crossing Places first, since there are continuing story lines from that novel.  Detective Nelson is firmly in the thick of this mystery, too.  He certainly becomes a more well-fleshed out character in this novel, and a genuinely likeable man.  

As I've said before, I'm not much of a mystery gal, but I'm slowly dipping my toes into the genre.  I find it fascinating that now, after all these years of reading, I am interested in mysteries.  Haven't quite figured out why yet.  When I know, I'll let you know!  In the meantime, if you like mystery, England, and archeology, try Elly Griffiths.  

Available in paperback and e-book

Rating:  7/10

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Tulip Eaters by Antoinette van Heugten

This is a novel that revisits the Nazi occupation of Holland during World War 2, and how it effects people 30 years later and a world away.

Move forward to 1980.  Nora de Jong returns home from work as a pediatric surgeon in Houston, Tx,  to find her mother murdered and her baby, Rose, missing.  Her mother has been shot in the head and her hair hacked off.  There is also a dead man lying in the house; someone Nora has never seen before.  The police quickly descend and try to discover just who this man is, and who would want her mother dead.  First and foremost, however, is Rose.  Obviously there were two people involved in this murder; why take Rose?  Nora is frantic to find her daughter and uncover her mother's murderer.

Nora's parents both came from Holland after World War 2, and never talked about their life in Holland, or their families.  Nora discovers  a metal box containing evidence that puts her mother in the dreaded NSB, a Nazi organization Nora's grandfather helped run with a ruthlessness towards Jews living in Amsterdam.  Was Anneke, Nora's mother, really part of this group?  And Nora's father--accused of murder and condemned to death after the war.  What happened?  

Nora quickly realizes the answer to her daughter's disappearance is tied to her parent's past, and she goes to Holland.  Of course, the father of Nora's baby lives in Holland, and he's the only person who can help Nora uncover her family's mysterious past.  

Meanwhile, the kidnapper is a bit of a bumbling person, terribly unsuited for the drama he's been thrust into.  And he has a nasty woman, literally scarred from her experiences in World War 2, bent on revenge and determined to stop Nora from finding her daughter.  

The novel is fast paced, a bit brutal in a few spots, and full of information about  Holland and Amsterdam's occupation by the Nazis during World War 2.  I think the novel being set in 1980 kept the bitter feelings of Nazi survivors  alive and   revenge stewing until it reached a boiling point.  The war wasn't so far away then as it is now in 2013.  Anyone who likes contemporary novels with a bit of a historical mix, anything about World War 2, or just a good novel about a women determined to find her daughter will enjoy this quick read.  

Rating:  7/10 for the historical background of Amsterdam and Holland during Nazi occupation; quick pace, and strong female character.  

Available in paperback and e-book.  Thanks to Harlequin/Mira for a review copy!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Sweet Expectations: A Union Street Bakery Novel by Mary Ellen Taylor

 If you haven't read the first novel in this charming series, The Union Street Bakery, you must stop right now, borrow or buy it, and read it.  

If you have, then you'll be happy to know there's another tale about the McCrae family and their bakery.  Beginning just after the end of The Union Street Bakery, this time the bakery is closed for a few weeks in order to undergo renovations to the kitchen.  Daisy has managed to turn the bakery around, and now her and Rachel are working really hard with Jean Paul, the new French baker, to finish renovations quickly.  While knocking out a wall, they find a metal box with recipes and photos of a young girl and two soldiers from the 1940's.  Who's Jenna?  And how is she connected to the bakery?

Daisy's life seems to be going along smoothly, but a major bump in the road is 
quickly making itself apparent.  Her plans are all up in the air and Daisy doesn't know what to do.  And Rachel is making the process of moving into the life of a single woman and away from a grieving widow.   

I have to say, when I first saw the The Union Street Bakery last year, I fell in love with the novel and talked about it in my book talks and had it on my staff recommends bay at work for quite awhile.  And I'm happy to report other people embraced the novel, too.  It did my heart some good when I saw a woman buying Sweet Expectations and I asked her if she'd read The Union Street Bakery.  "Oh I did, and I can't wait to read the sequel!".  

Here's my review of The Union Street Bakery.  Trust me, read it first; when you dive in to Sweet Expectations it will feel like you're visiting old friends.  Now just to wait for the next novel….

Rating:  8/10 for a feel good novel that portrays real issues, a mini mystery, and evolving characters.  And baking!

Available in paperback and e-book.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Finding Colin Firth by Mia March

Mia March has written a lovely novel about women making choices.  For Veronica Russo, it meant giving up her baby for adoption when she was a young sixteen year old mother.  For Bea Crane, it means traveling from Boston to the little town of Boothbay Harbor, Maine to find her birth mother.

How are they connected?  Well, Veronica is Bea's birth mother.  It's been 22 years, and Veronica has returned to Boothbay Harbor to face the place where she grew up, fell in love with a high school boy, got pregnant, and had her parents disown her and leave her at a home for unwed mothers.  She's always felt she did the right thing giving her baby up for adoption, but has always hoped to meet her daughter.  She's left her name, address, and phone number at the adoption agency every time she's moved around the country, but never received a call.  Now it was time to face the part of her life that has haunted her.  She's a waitress and is famous for her "elixir" pies: happiness pie, shoo-fly pie (drives someone out of your life), and amour pie.  People in town love them, and she's carving out a pretty good life in Boothbay Harbor, despite some people remembering the scandal from so long ago.

Bea finds out she's adopted a year after her mother has died, via a letter written on her mother's deathbed.  She goes through many emotions:  anger, despair, disillusionment.  Why did her parents never tell her the truth?  She's decided she has to find her birth mother and get some answers.

A film company is in Boothbay Harbor, and Colin Firth is rumored to be coming to film scenes for his movie.  Cue the crazy Colin Firth fans!  They're all gathering in town to spot a glimpse of the swoony actor.  Can Veronica find her own Mr. Darcy?  Can Bea come to terms with her true past?  And Gemma, a journalist from New York, who's come to escape a lost job and a surprising pregnancy.  How can she find happiness in Boothbay Harbor?

This was a good mental break book.  It touches on serious subjects:  teen pregnancy, adoption, and keeping secrets.  Throw in the film and all the craziness it brings to town, and the resulting references to all that is Colin Firth, and the story stays away from becoming maudlin.  It's all about embracing life, not being afraid to take chances, and knowing it's never too late to find happiness--even if you have to compromise with those you love in order for everyone to be happy.

Rating:  7/10; an enjoyable novel set in a charming small town with likable characters and tons of Colin Firth references.  From the author of The Meryl Streep Movie Club.

Available in paperback and e-book

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Halloween is Here! The Small Hand and Dolly by Susan Hill

Oh, what a creepy little doll.  It's just daring you to pick up this book and start reading.

I had to read a horror novel for this week's Resources for Adults class, and I didn't want to read the usual zombie/gore/apocalypse-by-vampires stuff that seems to be all over the place.  I wanted to read a good old fashioned ghost story.  And in this novel by Susan Hill, I got two stories.

The first story, The Small Hand,  is about a Adam.  He's a rare book dealer, living in London and traveling the world in search of books that clients want and are willing to spend a lot of money to add to their libraries.  While leaving a client's country home, he gets lost and winds up in front of a decrepit place called "The White House".  It was obviously once a place that welcomed visitors; a ticket booth sits outside, and the remains of what were once  spectacular gardens are all around the house.  Adam finds himself wandering around, and when he stops to look and listen, something truly frightening happens:  he feels a small hand in his.  But there's no one there.

This haunts Adam, and while the story unfolds, he has many frightening experiences.  This small hand is not a good thing.  But what is it?  And how is it tied to the White House?  Is Adam going crazy?

The next story, Dolly, is a lesson to every young girl out there--do not get pissed off when you don't get  the doll  you want.  Edward and Leonora are two cousins sent to spend a summer at their Aunt Kestrel's home, Iyot House, out in the wilds of England.  Leonora is a spoiled brat who travels the world with her mother; Edward is parentless and very quiet.  Leonora has always wanted a particular doll, and her mother won't give it to her:  an beautiful indian princess, dressed in velvets and jewels. She even describes it in detail to Edward, who draws a picture for her.  Her birthday arrives, and Aunt Kestrel has made an all day trip to London to bring back a doll for Leonora.

It's a baby doll.  Oops.

Leonora pitches a fit and throws the china baby doll against the fireplace, cracking it's head.  Edward is creeped out by the doll, so he ends up burying it in the cemetery.  Oh--the doll also makes weird rustling sounds at night.

Well, this all comes back to haunt the both of them, as they grow up, move around the world, and have children of their own.  Not telling anymore, cause it really is a pretty good story and I don't want to spoil it for you!

Rating:  7/10 for just sheer fun reading during halloween week.  Love reading 'horror' novels that rely on noises, whispers, and building of uneasiness rather than blood and gore.

Available in paperback and ebook.

Happy Halloween!!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Far Far Away by Tom McNeal

So I've been prepping like mad for a librarian talk I'm giving at work this morning.  School has kept me from reading much at all for pleasure and I've neglected reading teen novels.  

Far Far Away grabbed me because of two things:  the cover, and the fact that it's on the list for National Book Award nominees.    And the reviews for this book are phenomenal, so I just had to see what all the hype was about.  I'm glad I did! 

Young Jeremy Johnson Johnson lives in Never Better, a small town that is fairly typical.  He goes to high school with Ginger, a young red head teen that he's secretly crushing on, but hasn't the guts to do much about it.

Jeremy Johnson Johnson (as he is always referred to in the novel) lives with his father in a bookstore that carries only one book--his grandfather's autobiography.  As you could guess, they are in danger of being foreclosed on by the bank.  His father lays in bed and watches tv all day, every day.  And Jeremy Johnson Johnson goes up to his attic room and reads fairy tales.  Heaps of them.  

He also talks to Jacob Grimm.  Yes, that Jacob Grimm.  He's a ghost that talks to Jeremy Johnson Johnson, keeps him company, helps him through rough spots, and is there to protect Jeremy Johnson Johnson from the Finder of Occasions.  This Finder of Occasions would disrupt Jeremy Johnson Johnson's life and destroy him.  And Jacob Grimm is there to stop it.  If only he could figure out who in town is the Finder of Occasions.  

Oh, this story started out a little slow, with a few candidates for the Finder of Occasions.  But it kicks into high gear, and you, along with Jacob, are astonished to see just who has plans for Jeremy Johnson Johnson--and how those plans are very reminiscent of a Grimm's fairy tale.  

Can Jacob save Jeremy Johnson Johnson in time?  And why can't Jacob move on in his journey?  What does he have to come to peace with before he can leave Jeremy Johnson Johnson for good?

This is a magically written novel; so clever, thoughtful, and wise.  It's about not fitting in, regret, guilt, and forgiving not only others but yourself.  It's about evil living among innocence, with a smile that fools and keeps people from looking deeper.  

Such a good book!  I would recommend this to older teens and certainly adults.  Anyone who is a fan of the Brothers Grimm and fairy tales in general will eagerly dive into this gem.  

Rating:  8/10 for writing, an imaginative plot, and a layered storyline.  

Available in hardcover and e-book.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Asylum by Madeleine Roux

Aw heck.  I really wanted to like this teen novel, but it fell short of my expectations.

Asylum by Madeleine Roux is similar in look to Miss Peregrine's School for Peculiar Children (which if you haven't read, please do now!).  But unfortunately, the story was a bit jumbled and not compelling enough for me to be super excited over this novel.

Asylum takes place at a college in New Hampshire that just happens to have an old asylum on the premises.  The New Hampshire College is tucked away in a small town and hosts a summer program for high school students to participate in classes and potentially become future students at the college.  It's a beautiful place, but it is surrounded by the evil that took place at Brookline, the asylum, over fifty years before.

Enter Dan Crawford.  He's sixteen, adopted, and is eager to have a fun summer exploring his interests at the summer program.  He soon meets Abby and Jordan, two other students who click with Dan.  Dan's roommate, Felix, shows Dan a few pictures he found in the basement of Brookline:  photos of a man with his eyes scratched out, and pictures of patients.  They are disturbing, and soon Dan is drawn into investigating the basement of Brookline--which is strictly off limits to the students.  Because the regular dorms are undergoing a renovation, the summer school students are housed in Brookline on the upper floors.  It's a bit of a creepy idea, and I'm not sure an actual college would ever do that.  But it keeps Dan, Abby, and Jordan in close proximity to danger.  

Strange notes, texts on Dan's phone, and nightmares begin plaguing all three kids.  What is going on at Brookline?  And is Dan simply crazy, or is the warden haunting him?  

It's all there to be a good novel.  Unfortunately, the action doesn't really move much at all until the last 50 pages.  The photos in the books are interesting, but don't really add too much to the storyline.  And so many questions are left unanswered that it's obvious a sequel is required to answer them.  Which leaves me dissatisfied.  Lots of strings left untied that just left me losing interest.  

Rating:  4/10 for a great idea, but a weak story.  

Available in hardcover and e-book.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss

I love to read "food writing" books.  While I am no expert in the kitchen, I do love to cook.  Sometimes I have a winner, sometimes things don't work out quite the way they should have--undercooked chicken, a sauce that I over-seasoned, and just plain "please don't make that again" from my boyfriend.

This memoir is chock full of recipes, so if you get the itch, you can try a few.  But before you do that, sit down to an enjoyable tale of a young woman who finds her way home through cooking.

Luisa was born in West Berlin to an American father and an Italian mother.  Their marriage doesn't last, and Luisa moves to Boston with her father very early in life.  Every summer, she flies to Berlin to spend time with her mother; sometimes they head to Italy to stay at her grandfather's home, eat fantastic meals prepared by her family, and playing with her cousins.  Sounds like a dream life, right?

But Luisa is torn between what she calls her "European self" and her "American self".  And as she grows older, she yearns for Berlin and ends up moving back to live with her mother and graduate from high school in what is now a unified Germany.

Luisa stays connected to her far-flung family and friends by cooking recipes that evoke memories of holidays, special moments, and home.  But where is home?   As life takes her to Paris (and a possible true love) and New York, she is always quietly searching for her home.  As someone who never really had one stable home, it is difficult for her to feel truly comfortable in any one place--she's always yearning for that one place that will make her happy.  To cope,  she keeps cooking through heartbreak, job changes, and travel.  

Does she find happiness and home?  You'll just have to read this and find out.  If you don't usually read non-fiction, this is a perfect start:  a sweet memoir that takes you traveling through Europe and New York, has a funny yet thoughtful narrator, and maybe, just maybe, a happy ending.  

Rating: 7/10 for a swift read, yet more in depth that you would think.

Available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Outcasts by Kathleen Kent....And A Shout Out To Followers

Before I begin my review, I have to say "Welcome!" to all my new followers.  Golly, I am so pleased you decided to read my reviews.  I read a mix of things:  historical fiction, science fiction/fantasy, contemporary fiction, and some non-fiction, too.  And yes, I do read Teen novels.  Whatever catches my fancy.  So welcome, and thank you for reading my reviews.  I hope you find something wonderful to read :)

Kathleen Kent.  A wonderful writer.  I read The Heretic's Daughter a few years ago and just loved it--what an emotionally wrenching novel!  I was pleased to see this new novel sitting on our new release table at work, and it fit neatly into my class assignment for reading a western.  Yes, a western.  Kathleen Kent jumps from witch hunts in New England in The Heretic's Daughter to the Texas Frontier in 1870 in her new novel.  

Center stage are two characters:  Nate Cannon, a Texas lawman, and Lucinda Carter, a prostitute who suffers from debilitating epileptic seizures.  Lucinda is a complex character; a woman who was put into an asylum as a child, and has a knack for geometry and complicated mathematics.  She's also been forced into working at a brothel and meets a man who promises her a way out.  But first she must follow his plan.  

Nate Cannon is a young lawman who is assigned to send news of an escaped criminal and notorious murderer--McGill--to two lawmen who have been chasing him for years.  Dr. Tom and  and Deerling are two seasoned lawmen who, for personal reasons, are determined to find and capture McGill.  You soon quickly learn that McGill is an unrepentant, cold-blooded, horrible man who will kill anyone for money--or just because he can.  Nate finds himself bonding with the two men and helps them on their journey through Texas and into Louisiana on a breathless chase to find McGill before he kills again.  Once again I am amazed at how long people could ride a horse and how far they could travel.  Exhausting and hard work.

So what's the connection between Lucinda and Nate?  Lucinda's mysterious man is McGill himself.  Does she realize he is a murderer and go along with him anyway?  I'll leave that for you to decide.  Lucinda is a study in a woman who does what she needs to in order to survive, yet at the same time is yearning for a quiet life and some peace.  She is complex, sorrowful, yet devious at the same time.  Will she end up as McGill's next victim?

This was a really good novel; Lucinda's character has equal time with Nate's character as both move closer to the inevitable meeting in New Orleans.  Nate is an example of always being tested; he struggles to keep his sense of fairness and honesty as he delves deeper into the ugly side of life.

Kathleen Kent's The Outcasts is a blend of western action, female struggle, and making choices for good or bad.  Lots of action; great characters both major and minor.  You will turn the last page and take a deep breath.  

Rating:  8/10 for an action novel that features a complex female lead; an ending that neatly ties up loose ends yet leaves you wanting more.  

Available in hardcover, e-book, and audio.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Returned by Jason Mott

The world is turned upside down when the dead begin to show up everywhere, all over the world in a seemingly random way with no explanation.  What would you do if your deceased loved one appeared on your doorstep one day?  Where are the answers to all of the questions?  What would the world do?

The story centers around Harold and Lucille, both in their 70's, living in the small town of Arcadia.  In 1966, their only child, Jacob, drowned on his birthday.  He was only 8 years old.  Harold and Lucille have lived with their grief for 50 years; sometimes it is hard for them to even remember being a parent.

And then one day a man appears on their doorstep, holding the hand of a little boy.  

It's Jacob.  He suddenly appeared on a riverbank in China, not knowing where he was--he just knew he wasn't home and he wanted his parents.  

This is not an action packed story.  It is much more a reflective story about how we, as humans, treat the 'returned'.  They are quickly outnumbering the 'true living', and resentment is building.  Some people don't want to see their loved one returned.  And who returns?  Soldiers, children, murder victims, dementia-laden old women--it doesn't matter--they are all coming back.  And why are they returning?  Is it a test from God, a sign of the end times, or something else?  Who can answer that question?  

The author leaves a lot of questions unanswered; the point of this novel is not how or why they come back, but how we feel about them coming back.  We all have loved ones who have passed on; what would you do if you had another chance to talk to them, and be with them?  Would you take it?  Would you still love them the same?  

This novel certainly raises a lot of questions.  Lucille does what she thinks is right, with results that you may or may not agree with.  It's a great conversation piece, because we all have different opinions--and let's face it--the possibility of this happening is so remote that we never do think about it.

But what if it did happen?

Rating:  7/10 for a thoughtful, timely novel about grief, love, prejudice, and the meaning of life.  

Available in hardcover, e-book, and audio.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Year We Left Home by Jean Thompson

I will start out this review by saying I had to read this book for school.  I've looked at it many times in my bookstore; I've even had a friend who read it and absolutely loved it.  

I did not.  As a matter of fact, it depressed the hell out of me.  My personal feelings have nothing to do with the fact that this is an extremely well written novel about the trials and tribulations of an Iowa small town family over a 30 year period.  I issues with reading about families.  Especially when all sorts of stuff happens to them in a not so funny way. Slap them in a comedy and I'm on board.  

My family issue just comes from the fact that I don't like to read family sagas.  I have a large family--lots of brothers and sisters, and we live in a soap opera, so I don't like to read about them.  "As the Gerth Turns" is what we call our lives.  Something is always happening to someone somewhere.  It is exhausting but the only life I know.  Happiness, tragedy, grief, love, triumph--all are mixed in our everyday lives.

That is how I felt reading this novel.  Jean Thompson's portrayal of the Erickson family in a small Iowa town is painfully vivid and stark.  The 1970's were the beginning of the end for many farmers, and this story definitely incorporates the decline of the family farm and how it affected small towns in the Midwest during the 1980's and beyond.  It left holes in lives, people, and places.  This novel is told through the eyes of the Erickson siblings: Anita, Torrie, and Ryan.  Blake makes a few appearances, but Ryan is the main narrator.  It all begins in January, 1973 at Anita's wedding reception.  Ryan is a teenager, and he's pretty restless.  Seeing his family through his eyes, and his desire to get out (also strongly felt by Torrie, with tragic consequences) into the world is something we can all identify with when we were teens and eager to leave the nest and explore.  Anything was better than staying at home--especially if it was a small Iowa town where nothing happens.  Ryan's path is college, but it is not easy and he soon finds himself living in Chicago on a completely different path.  

As their lives move on, Anita and Ryan find themselves examining their lives, the people that surround them, and what it means to be "home".  Can we ever leave where we came from?  Just how much does it shape who we are?  

Don't get me wrong--this is a great novel.  There is a lot to say, and Jean Thompson does an excellent job.  It is the All-Iowa Reads novel  for 2013 and has accumulated accolades and awards.  It's just not the kind of novel I can look at without the weight of family on my shoulders.  

Rating:  7/10 for excellent writing and plot.  Book club book, for sure!
Available in paperback, e-book, and audio

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Reading for School, Book Talks, and Me--Can it be Done?

I forgot just how much reading there is for school.  Even more so this time around.  Lots of articles online.  One class I have is called Resources for Adults.  It's a great examination of popular reading--genres--and how they fit into libraries and what exactly they mean in the book world.  

It means I will be reading a lot of stuff.  Most importantly, I will be required to read one particular genre book each week for class.  This is normally not a big problem for me--I already have my first two books picked out, thanks to my very own library at home.  All those titles I bought and haven't had a chance to read--well, now I have a reason to read them this semester.  

However, I've been in school for two weeks, and I haven't managed to read much more than school stuff just yet.  Time management is something I have to work on and get together PRONTO or this chicky won't be posting too many book reviews.  And that would be a crime.  

Meanwhile, my book talks at work have blossomed--I have two more lined up in the next month, plus a librarian talk scheduled in October for local librarians.  I had a great customer service experience last night at work.  A woman asked me for help with a list of books for potential book club choices, and told me I had helped her before and one of the books I had recommended became their favorite read.  But she couldn't remember what the book was--hey--I'll take that victory anyway.  She was very interested in coming into the bookstore for a book talk, so I gave her my card and told her to get in touch to arrange something.  I do love talking about books to people!  So with all of these book talks coming up in the near future, I have a lot of books to try and read and recommend.  

This will be an interesting marriage of what I have to read with what I want to read with what I think others would like.  A trifecta of reading that I've never attempted before.  

 But anyway, I am currently reading The Returned by Jason Mott and I can't wait to review it for you! Look for the review sometime early next week.  If I don't get it finished before that--I am having a hard time not wanting to just sit down and read it all in one gulp.  

Friday, August 30, 2013

Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines

I saw this book in hardcover last year and just didn't get to it on my reading list.  Now it's in paperback, so I have no excuse not to pick it up and read it.

This is my first Jim C. Hines book, but it probably won't be the last.  He's got a quirky sense of humor, and combine that with the ability to pull objects out of books to make magic and you've got me pulled in without any question.

Libriomancer is the first book in the Magic ex Libris series.  Book two, Codex Born, just came out in hardcover a few weeks ago.  If you are a lover of books--and any kind of books--you will enjoy this novel about Isaac, a libriomancer.  Libriomancers are people who belong to an organization founded by Johannes Gutenberg to keep the world safe from all of the creatures found in books.  As more and more people read a book, their belief and imagination fires up that book, and those creatures and objects in the books become magical.  A libriomancer can literally pull them out of a book.  And so can the bad guys.  Some books are so dangerous that Johannes Gutenberg has locked them magically forever, so no one can use them for nefarious purposes.  

But someone has been very busy, and Johannes Gutenberg is missing.  Did I tell you he's still alive after all these years?  Yep.  Put that down to the magic of books.  I won't tell you more so you can discover for yourself how this all happens.  Once you start thinking about all the books you've read in a magical sense, it can become dizzying to ask the question: "What if I could reach in and pull out, say, a pot of gold?  Or a magic sword?  Or even a light saber?"  

All this magic has a price to pay, and Isaac has been banned to a small library in Michigan after making a huge error as a libriomancer a few years before.  He is forbidden to practice magic, and has followed the rules.

Until vampires show up and try to kill him.  Vampires from books, you see.

This was a fun read, chock full of authors and books you will recognize no matter what you read.  It gets a bit convoluted so you really do have to pay attention.  And Isaac's love interest (which fits nicely in the story)  Lena, a dryad who is one with trees, makes an interesting flip side to natural magic.  She's also on the cover of the second book.  

I think teens would enjoy this, along with anyone who has a life-long passion for books.  You don't have to be a sci-fi/fantasy fan to pick this up.  So go give it a try!

Rating:  7/10 for a brilliant idea about books and magic, room to grow the story in a series, and characters you enjoy and care about.  

Available in paperback, hardcover, and e-book

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Rest of the Year: A Challenging Reading Goal and Learning Excel So I Keep My Sanity

Learning Excel is one of my goals in the next few months.  I realize it is an excellent tool to use for most anything; especially trying to organize my books in some kind of order.  I think I'll be asking my sister for some quick lessons on Excel...

Going back to school is no doubt going to cut into my reading time.  I like to be organized, but will only take it so far.  I try and plan my reading, but then something shiny and pretty comes along and bumps the rest of the books back a few spaces in my "to be read" mental file.  And then they disappear into the stacks on my shelves and on the floor. I figure the discipline of school will push me into being a bit more organized and working from a plan for reading, reviewing, and blogging about my books.

So....I'm still going to read what I want to read.  I've gone through the stacks on my floor and listed all the books on Excel.  That's as far as I've gotten in that process, since I am clueless on spreadsheets.  But not for long!  And when that happens, I am going to go down my list, one by one, and read what I've got, post reviews, and either keep the book, give it away, or sell it.  I culled many titles earlier this year from my bookcases, but they've gotten away from me again.  Funny how books multiply, right?  And I rarely only buy one book at a time, so the stacks quickly pile up.  And when my boyfriend Bud comments on the books, I know I need to take action.  He's not a reader, and rarely says anything about my books--so a notice from him is a heads up to clean up my space.  

School, upcoming book talks at work, and my blog will certainly keep my world of books hopping.  I'm sticking with my goal of reading 100 books this year; I'll hit 80 by the end of August (fingers crossed!).  I'm glad I lowered my goal from last year; I simply won't be able to read as much as I want.  Retail Christmas usually means the whole month of December I stumble home from work and fall asleep on the couch at 5 PM.  I give myself through November to hit my yearly goal for this very reason.  Even though I so want to read, I just can't keep my eyes open in December.  

With that being said, I'm off to read before I head to my first day of classes this afternoon.  A review will be up by the end of the week!  

How do you keep your books organized?  Do you even try?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison

Well.  This one is certainly worthy of a book club discussion or two.  The "wife" in this novel is Jodi, who has lived with Todd for 20 years.  They've never married; Todd wanted to get married, Jodi never did due to issues with her childhood.  No kids.  Again, Jodi didn't want them.  She keeps a tight reign over her emotions, her life, and her part-time practice as a psychologist.  She lives a good life with Todd as long as she ignores his chronic cheating.

Todd is struggling through bouts of depression; his inability to stay faithful to Jodi is never an issue with him.  It's just the way he is and he offers no excuse for it.  They have an unwritten rule:  it's never talked about directly; innuendoes are used to refer to his overnight trips and weekends away; and unbeknownst to him, Jodi gets back by doing little things to Todd that make his life miserable for brief moments of time.  He has no idea Jodi is behind such small things; small blips that disrupt his daily schedule.

Until the day his young girlfriend tells him she's pregnant and they have to get married.  

This is the turning point in the story; this is the beginning of the descent on the highest hill of the roller coaster.  Todd and Jodi are nuts.  Plain and simple.  Both are so fundamentally damaged they can't even begin to see it.  And this will cost them both.

This novel is a quick read; you will find that you don't like anyone in the novel.  Not one person.  There is no one to like.  It makes you wonder just how many people are clinging to a life they think they want and ignoring all the wrong things that are in it.  

Read it.  Discuss it with someone.  It is a page turner, and it will leave you dwelling on the story of Todd and Jodi for a long time.

Rating:  8/10 for a few twists and turns, and characters that are deeply flawed and don't even know it.  

Available in paperback and e-book

Monday, August 19, 2013

And the Winner of The Girl You Left Behind is.....

The winner of The Girl You Left Behind is......


Ashley, please email me your address and full name so we can get you your copy of this hard to put down novel.  My email is:  supersue66@gmaildotcom.

Thanks everyone for entering the contest.  Keep reading and watching for more giveaways in the future.

If you didn't win, read this book anyway!  It's out tomorrow, August 20th in hardcover and e-book.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Love and Lament by John Milliken Thompson

This novel got my attention because it's about a young woman growing up in the post-Civil War South and follows her life into  a new century and World War I.  I didn't realize quite how much I would connect with Mary Bet Hartsoe until the very end of the novel, when this very moving sentence had me reaching for the tissues:

"It would have to be enough, then, to know, as her father did, that grief lasts as long as memory, though the tissue of life grow around it like a wound protected from the world and shielded from the heart.  Grief and love are the only things that endure."

Oh Mary Bet, I understand completely.  She's a wonderful character:  honest, strong, and independent.  She comes from a family of 9 children, and as she reaches the age of 15, most of her siblings are dead.  I come from a family of 10 kids; a brother and a sister passed on years before I was even a thought; they've been gone since the 1950's--what seems like so long ago.  Only my oldest brother and sister remember Kim and Mark.  

Mary Bet  finds herself and her brother Siler the only remaining siblings; Siler is older and attends a school for the deaf 150 miles away.  He's always been extremely talented in fixing things up around their home; they have a way of using their hands to speak to each other--their own sign language.  He's a smart young man, but tormented by the idea that he may end up losing his mind like their father and grandfather.  Does grief affect their minds, or is it really mental illness?  How do you know?

Siler's decision to take a walk on railroad tracks one day haunts Mary Bet for years afterwards.  Why did he do that?  What was he thinking?  Did he deliberately not feel the train coming, or was he so lost in thoughts that he was caught off guard? Was it an impulsive decision, or long thought out?  She feels guilty, like she missed a sign from Siler.  When my sister Patti passed away last October, so suddenly, so heartbreaking,  with so many unanswered questions, I didn't think I would ever know peace about it.  And maybe I still don't--maybe that road is still unfolding, and the journey I need to take is not over.  I get Mary Bet.  I'm sorry if I spoiled a bit of the story for you, but Siler's  story so resonated with me that I had to share that with my readers.  It is a crucial turning point in the novel and connects you to Mary Bet's grief and love.

This novel came at a good time for me.  I don't think I could have read it a few months ago without putting it down and not returning to finish it.  It was at times painful to read--how does someone keep moving on with all that sorrow? I've never wanted to think about losing any of my siblings, but it did happen sooner than any of us expected.  While I have always held a spot in my heart for my brother and sister born and died so long ago, long before I was born, losing Patti was painful on a level I had never experienced before.  I do not want to experience that again.  I plan on all my brothers and sisters staying healthy and vital until we're each in our 90's.  

So.  I did love this novel.  It was a bit healing for me to read about Mary Bet, her family, and her life in North Carolina.  At the end, she is hopeful. And really, that is all we can ask for sometimes.  I would recommend this for anyone who loves to read about the South, young women finding their voices in the early 20th century, and a well written, sweetly sad story.

Rating:  7/10 for wonderful characters--especially Mary Bet and her father; a quick pace, and a peek into life as a single woman in the early 1900's.  

Available in paperback and e-book.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Girl You Left Behind by JoJo Moyes--Giveaway!!

I have found another author that I love.  Yep.  JoJo Moyes.  I read The Last Letter from Your Lover a few years ago and throughly enjoyed it; but really this novel firmly puts her on my list of authors that I will keep reading faithfully every time a new book comes out!

And you, lucky reader, can enter my contest to win a copy of The Girl You Left Behind!  It is on sale Tuesday, August 20th.  I was lucky to receive a review copy from Penguin/Viking--they are awesome people.

I won't tell you much about the novel, cause I want you to discover the stories of Sophie and Liv--two women who live almost 100 years apart and are connected by a painting of Sophie lost during World War I.  Sophie's story of a German occupied France is heartbreaking; the choices she makes to find her husband make you wonder:  what would you do to find the man you loved?  And Liv, a widow still grieving over her husband years after his death.  Sophie's painting is the only thing that keeps her connected to David--and it is the subject of a tug of war between Liv and Sophie's relatives.  How do two women living 100 years apart have anything in common?  You'd be surprised.  

I am a new found fan of JoJo Moyes.  Her writing will quickly pull you into the lives of her characters; you'll laugh, cry, and keep reading with fingers crossed for a happy outcome.  This novel is particularly interesting because it  deals with stolen art from World War I.  Most of us are familiar with all of the claims from families who lost significant pieces of art to the Nazis during World War 2; we see that it didn't start then; this is something that has happened throughout history.  It also delves into the complicated motives behind the reparation business--are people merely trying to find family pieces to put the past to rest and have justice?  Or are they only out for the money the art brings at auction?

So.  I believe this novel could be your next favorite read.  And you can win a copy from me!  How awesome is that?  Here's what you do:

Leave a comment on this post.  What author have you discovered this year that has become a favorite?  

Please make sure that if you enter, you check back to see who wins!  

Winner will be announced on Monday, August 19th.  

Open to U.S. residents only.  

Good luck!  

Rating:  8/10; compelling story.  Your heart will ache for Sophie and you hope like heck that Liv can find happiness again.  

Available in hardcover on August 20th; also available as an e-book.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen by Lindsay Ashford

Once again, I've delved into the mystery section of our bookstore.  And again, I have been pleasantly surprised.  

This is a short review.  I like to keep mysteries mysterious!

What if Jane Austen was murdered, and didn't die from an unknown illness?  How would it ever be proved, and who would be able to do it?

Meet Anne Sharp, close friend of Jane, and former governess to Jane's  brother Edward and his wife Elizabeth's young children.  Meeting Jane at Godmersham, Edward's estate, in 1805 began a firm friendship that was tested by suspicion and untimely deaths in the Austen family.  

Starting 26 years after Jane's death, Anne begins to start putting the pieces together, remembering back to her time with the Austen family and what she saw--were her suspicions of Henry, Jane's brother, correct?  How much does Jane know, or does she wish to remain oblivious to her brother's shenanigans?  Does Anne dare to confide in Jane?  

Oh, this mystery is quite entertaining.  We think of Jane as a figure that everyone loves, but there may have been some who did not--in fact, they wished her dead.  But why?  

This novel was published in the UK and "sparked an international debate and uproar."  What few facts are known about Jane's death are mysterious, indeed.    You will read this and want to delve into biographies about Jane and her family--she had a sister and at least 3 brothers; many nieces and nephews, and so many friends and acquaintances.  Lots of intrigue, forbidden love, and frustrations as clever, gifted women are left languishing on the side; unwed and deemed old maids by the age of 25.  

Read this if you're a fan of Jane Austen--and even if you're not.  Historical mystery lovers will enjoy this, too.  It's smartly written and leaves you wondering....how did Jane die?  

Rating:  7/10 for an interesting plot, characters that are well developed and complex, and an ending that leaves you eager to explore the world and life of Jane Austen.

Available in paperback and e-book.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Can I Possibly Read Everything This Month?

I spend pretty much most of my spare time reading.  I can't help myself.  And just when I think I may be actually catching up, I find more books to read and end up with a huge pile of books lying next to my bed.  The current pile has doubled in the past week alone.  I can't seem to sit and read any one book for more than a day or two before I pick up another one.  I am out of control!  I think I have about 6 books started, half finished, and almost-finished.  

The reason for my book freak out is because I am starting graduate school in 3 weeks and I am trying to cram in as much reading as possible before school starts.  I have no idea just how much school work I will have--but I suspect it will be enough to seriously put a dent into my reading.  And with every day of the week either working or at school, I won't have a huge chunk of time to just sit and read.  Unless I learn to live on no sleep at all.  Has anyone figured out how to do that?  Let me know, please!

For now, I'm attempting to read all of these books by the end of next week:

Book giveaway next week!!

Wow.  I didn't realize how much I have on my plate.  I am going to be giving away a copy of JoJo Moyes' The Girl You Left Behind next week, so watch for details and enter!  Contest will start on Monday, August 12th.  

I think this is a good mix of stories for this week.  What are you reading?