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.