Friday, December 23, 2016

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

I will admit that I knew nothing about this book but the title when I picked it up. I assume that I will love any book about books and libraries, and I am rarely disappointed. That being said, The Invisible Library was an especially fun ride for me because the librarians were not just book lovers, but undercover book stealing spies!

Irene works for The Library, a repository that exists outside of time and space where Librarians work to collect and store all works of fiction written in the many alternate worlds of the multiverse. Irene and her new assistant, Kai, are sent to a world to retrieve an original manuscript written by the brothers Grimm. Unfortunately for them, this particular world has become infected by “chaos” making it that much more dangerous and unpredictable. Add in a rogue colleague, a nefarious fairy, giant mechanical insects, and a master villain intent on destroying the Library, and you’ve got an action packed adventure like none other. Fans of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series will enjoy the quick banter, peculiar worlds and entertaining plots, though The Invisible Library underlines its quirkiness with a sense of foreboding.

It’s hard to believe that this is Cogman’s first novel. The characters are well-rounded, the settings written with such detail that I felt like I was there, and the plot was engaging and suspenseful. What’s not surprising is that this book made a number of “Best of” lists for 2016.

-Portia Kapraun

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Imagine Me Gone

Adam Haslett's novel Imagine Me Gone is the story of a family dealing with mental illness. It is written with clarity and compassion and feels honest and true. Margaret marries John, even though he struggles with crippling depression for which he is hospitalized, and they build a life together and have three children. The oldest of these children, Michael, struggles with his own mental demons and is frenetic and obsessive. He is brilliant and musical and yet cannot keep a job or stay in school or maintain healthy relationships. John succumbs to his depression by committing suicide, and his family members each deal with that in their own ways. Most of the book is focused on how the family copes and cares for Michael. His siblings, Celia and Alec, have very different personalities and approaches to life and to dealing with Michael. Celia is very rational, and Alec wears his feelings on his sleeve. Michael forms the center around which Margaret, Celia, and Alec revolve. The love and caring they show for him is deep and real, but this is not a candy-coated story of love conquers everything. Because it doesn't. This is a sad book, but it is heartwarming, too, because you see the love and the ways in which these very complex characters express it and struggle with it. They try, and that is what matters.

Reviewed by Kelly Currie

Thursday, December 01, 2016

New Pompeii by Daniel Godfrey

The science fiction/fantasy books I enjoy incorporate world building or time travel.  The New Pompeii by Daniel Godfrey is a bit of both. NovusPart, an energy giant has developed a new technology that can transport objects, and people  just before they die.  Of course before they accomplished this feat, some who thought they were safe had to die so they could perfect the technology.  One who doesn't die when she should have is Kirsten who is not sure what has happened or who is to blame.

Nick Houghton takes a job at NovusPart as an historical advisor.  In spite of his father's warnings about the company's ethics, he is excited by by the prospect of seeing how the Pompeians lived.  NovusPart has built a replica of Pompeii in Russia and transported Pompeians just before they are killed by the volcano from Mount Vesuvius. Nick walks among the citizens and begins to notice their angry and questioning looks.  He becomes uneasy as they seem to know he is not one of them and wonders what happened to his predecessor.  Do the Pompeians believe the outsiders when they are told why they cannot stray far from the compound? Of course not.  Integral to the plot is the belief on the part of NovusPart that the citizens they have imported are stupid.  A big mistake!  Exciting coliseum showdown involving saber tooth tigers!  And a big surprise starring Kirsten.  Can't wait for the sequel!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel’s 2009 Man Booker Prize winner, Wolf Hall, is a gloriously well-researched and executed piece of historical fiction.  It came as no surprise to me, upon finishing the novel, that Mantel is the first woman, and the first Britain to win the prize twice (her second award earned in 2012 for the following book in the Thomas Cromwell Trilogy, Bring up the Bodies).  Wolf Hall is an account of Tudor intrigue, encapsulated in the years 1527-1535.  Many a tale has been told of the volatile and infamous life-and-times of King Henry VIII, but Mantel’s story is a novel one.  All the key figures of the day are present: Cardinal Wolsey, Anne and Mary Boleyn, Thomas More, Stephen Gardiner, Thomas Howard, yet one distinction sets this version apart, the indomitable Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell, the book’s narrarator-at-large, notable for his humble beginnings as the son of a ne’er-do-well blacksmith, brewer, and notorious bully, sets out to make his own way in the world at fifteen.  It is his shrewd gaze that colors the political and social climate of the day in a wholly original hue. At turns a hard man, who never forgets a slight, and a generous soul with always a place in his bustling and successful household for one in need. Mantel’s Cromwell is imminently likeable.  At times, I found myself rooting for a man long-dead these 476 years.  I would highly recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction. You don’t need to be an expert on 16th century English history to enjoy it, as it is peopled with a colorful cast and written with a fine grasp of wit and storytelling.

Jennifer Wilson

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

Fans of mysteries, thrillers, or young adult novels will love Lynn Weingartens Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls. What I thought was just contemporary fiction with a story about a girl who loses a friend, turned out to be so much more.

Friends since Kindergarten, June and Delia were always affectionate and had a deep connection that some people would mistake for true love. They shared everything with each other and were never apart, until their falling out one year ago. June has been dating Ryan the past year and he is part of the reason June and Delia grew apart. After a strange night of drinking went too far, June starts to distance herself from her best friend and pushes her out of her life.

After returning to school in January, June finds out that Delia has committed suicide. Feeling extremely guilty for not being friends with Delia when she clearly needed it the most, June investigates the death of her former best friend. She seems to think that Delia was not the type to end her own life and after talking to Delias latest boyfriend, she realizes it had to be murder. She learns that not everyone in her life is who they seem to be and comes to find out who truly cares about her the most.

Finding out what truly happened to Delia will keep you on the edge of your seat and lead you to a conclusion that caught me completely by surprise. Filled with emotion, suspense, action, and mystery, Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls is captivating until the very end.


Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Mistletoe Secret by Richard Paul Evans

     Dear Universe, 
        Is anyone out there?

      Richard Paul Evans has written another holiday novel about two lonely people who are looking for love in this, the third book of "The Mistletoe Collection."
      Alex Bartlett has found himself alone and lonely after his wife, Jill, left him for another man.  Alex was a salesman for a company called Traffix, which sells traffic management systems for transportation departments. His position requires him to spend a lot of time away from home and he believes it has taken a toll on his marriage.  Alex has two best friends, Dale and Nate, and they encourage him to explore online dating. After joining an online dating service, which doesn't work out well at all, Alex notices a blog, "Dear Universe, Is anyone out there?" He finds himself falling for this sensitive, vulnerable woman whose feelings mirror his own. Thinking no one is reading her blog, she writes about her most personal feelings, especially her overwhelming loneliness.  Alex finds himself reading the blogs posted by LBH daily and is looking forward to reading her next one.  He's reading her posts in Daytona Beach, Florida.  Alex decides to find out more about this blogger.  Following a trail of clues LBH has laid, he discovers that she lives in the small town of Midway, Utah.  He decides to go to Midway, Utah, just after Thanksgiving to find this person.
     After arriving in Midway he discovers that all the information he has to go on is this woman's initials. Instead, he finds a woman named Aria, a waitress at the Mistletoe Diner, who encourages Alex in his search while serving him pie and some much-needed sympathy and companionship.
     In the end Alex does find his blogger LBH, and it becomes complicated because he can't get his feelings for Aria out of his mind. Alex has traveled to Midway, Utah to find one woman and now he has two. Which one will he choose?
    "Dear Universe, Is anyone out there?" Yes, there is always someone out there, don't give up!

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

News of the World

Despite many positive reviews, I didn't have any intention to read this book. Historical fiction is not my favorite. But when it made the short list for the National Book Award, I had to see what the fuss was about. Wow! For such a slender book, it packs in plenty of history, humor, and tenderness to satisfy any reader who appreciates quality, contemplative writing. We travel with Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, an elderly widower who wanders through 1870s Texas, earning a living by reading the news to rural populations who are hungry for it. Along the way he is hired to deliver a 10-year-old Texan girl who had just been freed from four years of captivity by the Kiowa Indians. At this time in history, barely after the Civil War and while the Indian Wars are still rumbling, the country, especially the west, is a rough and raucous place. The Captain and his young charge Johanna have some narrow escapes, and their bond grows stronger every day. She calls him "Kontah" (Grandfather). They make a wonderful pair, but keep in mind, this is not your average "buddies on a road trip" novel. The writing is spare like the landscape, but not so much that the complexity of the characters is not revealed. Here is my favorite line, which seems to me to be the crux of the book: "Maybe life is just carrying news. Surviving to carry the news. Maybe we have just one message, and it is delivered to us when we are born and we are never sure what it says; it may have nothing to do with us personally but it must be carried by hand through a life, all the way, and at the end handed over, sealed." The message of this book: compassion. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Kelly Currie

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Like a River From its Course

A beautiful character in this book, Baba Mysa, told her granddaughter: War gives us much "to be hurt and angry about, but there are things to love, too."

Like a River From Its Course is a stirring story of WWII seen through the eyes of four people tragically affected by the circumstances, chaos and heartache of war. First, Maria Ivanovna is a young Ukranian girl taken from home along with her sister. She suffers the brutality of the Germans, yet finds not all the enemy are monsters. Ivan Kyrilovich is a father and a good man who suffers for his good actions. Frederick Herrmann is a German soldier, driven to do horrendous things because he wants to please his father. And finally, Luda Michaelevna is another young girl who suffers much at the hands of German soldiers, yet falls in love with one. Four amazing stories - excellently written. Interesting, but none of the four main characters are Jewish, which is a new twist for a book about the Holocaust.

The stories are based on true life stories that the author, Kelli Stuart, researched for 15 years. They  are chilling, upsetting, tragic, but yet inspiring and beautiful.  ~ Reviewed by Patsy Scott

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

Just 6 months until a giant asteroid (nicknamed Maia) is scheduled to destroy the Earth, Detective Hank Palace is assigned to investigate the death of Peter Zell. Most of the police force has given up on working too hard, and none of them think Palace should bother with what they believe is clearly a suicide. Something about the scene leads Palace to believe Zell has been murdered, and he is soon on a one man crusade for answers. As many people around the world are leaving their jobs, responsibilities, and even their families behind, Palace insists on working diligently to bring the killer to justice. As he pursues this case to the bitter end, his life is further complicated by his sister, Nico, and the shady characters with whom she has aligned herself.

Although there are myriad post-apocalyptic books to be read, few authors explore a pre-apocalyptic world. Here, the imminent destruction of the world is not just a backdrop, but an integral part of the mystery. People are no longer just living their lives day to day, they are desperate, unpredictable, and forced to make decisions they never thought they would have to face. This is the first book in an engrossing trilogy that will make you start to question what you would do with the knowledge that the whole world is going to end. Would you pursue your chosen career just as diligently as Palace does? Would you run off to New Orleans and party the time away? Or would you do everything you could to ensure your family survived until the last possible moment?

Winters has recently gained a lot of well-deserved praise for his new book Underground Airlines, a thriller set in an alternate current-day America where slavery still exists. Having loved that book, I was interested in reading this award-winning trilogy and was not disappointed. In this trilogy as well as his newest book, Winters uses the sometimes formulaic genre of mystery to take his readers on an existential roller coaster ride.

Posted by Portia Kapraun

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

    The Underground Railroad is a story about a young slave girl named Cora.  Cora is a slave on the Randall plantation, a cotton plantation in the state of Georgia.  Cora was born on the Randall plantation, and this is where her mother and grandmother were also slaves.  The book doesn't tell Cora's age but lets you believe she is about fifteen or sixteen years old.  Her mother ran away when she was a child and Cora resents being left behind to fend for herself.
    The one thing Cora does own is "a plot three yards square and the hearty stuff that spouted from it."  This plot was passed down to her mother from her grandmother and then to Cora once her mother ran away.  Cora has to defend her right to this ground more than once and learns to stand up for herself and what is hers.
     Caesar, a new arrival on the plantation, offers Cora an opportunity to accompany him on the Underground Railroad, but she is hesitant.  But when leadership on the plantation changes hands and Cora's circumstances get even worse, she decides to take a chance and flee with Caesar.  Not one to let his property get away, Terrance Randall sends a determined slave catcher, Ridgeway, after the duo.     As Cora and Caesar embark on a horrifying journey through the heart of America in search of freedom, the dangers of being caught are always at the forefront of their minds. Their journey takes them through the states of Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Indiana.
   The Underground Railroad is a tale of one woman's strong will to escape the horrors of bondage.
   Good read. This book just made the shortlist for the 2016 Andrew Carnegie Award.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Nightmares! by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller

October is the perfect time to read this entertaining, scary novel written by Jason Segal and Kirsten Miller. Nightmares! Is packed with monsters and other creatures only found in the Netherworld. You can read this story with your entire family and would be a great read-aloud.

Charlie and his little brother follow his father to a new house after his father remarries, after the death of his wife and Charlies mother. The new house is a giant, old mansion that gives Charlie the creeps. He also does not like his new stepmother, mainly because he feels that she may be a witch. After moving into the mansion, Charlie begins having the same recurring nightmare and he becomes suspicious of the house. Nobody seems to believe Charlie about his suspicions or his nightmares until his nightmare begins to terrorize the town. Already suspicious about the mansion, Charlie and his friends begin to explore when they come upon a portal to the Netherworld, which Charlie has unknowingly opened. Inside the portal are everyones nightmares and they can escape if the portal is not closed. Leader of the Netherworld, President Fear, works hard to make sure they cannot close the portal. Will Charlie be able to close the portal and save the town from continuous nightmares?

I recommend this story to families who have children in upper elementary to middle school. Some of the scenes can be frightening to young children or those who are fearful or do not enjoy scary stories.
This is the first book in the Nightmares! Series. The second book is The Sleepwalker Tonic. The third book, The Lost Lullaby, has not been released yet. 


Thursday, October 13, 2016

We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge

A stunning debut novel, Kaitlyn Greenidge’s We Love You, Charlie Freeman, is a gripping tale of loneliness and betrayal.  The novel opens in 1990, as witnessed from the point of view of 14 year-old Charlotte Freeman.  The Freemans, Charlotte’s father, mother, and nine year-old sister, have been selected to take part in an important research study at the reclusive Toneybee Institute.  The family, specifically Charlotte’s ambitious mother Laurel, are fluent users of sign language, though they are neither deaf, nor mute. In turns crushingly earnest and insouciant, Charlotte is the “experiment’s” first skeptic. The research goals are suspiciously vague, and it soon becomes apparent (if only to the reader) that the study has far more psychological aspects than linguistic ones. The general idea is that the family “adopt” a young chimpanzee named Charlie.  Charlie had been abandoned as an infant by his adolescent, cage-reared mother, and it is the belief of the research team that, if he becomes fully integrated into a family setting, it may lead to ground-breaking data with regards to language acquisition and interspecies communication. The Freemans believe that their unique gift with sign language secured them this prized spot on the Toneybee team, but all is not as it seems. What none of the family can predict, as we learn as Greenidge gives each member their own narrative voice, is the toll the experiment will extract from all concerned.  Startling secrets, both within the family, and the institution itself, will keep you turning pages far past your bedtime!

-Jennifer Wilson

Monday, October 03, 2016

Ashes of Fiery Weather

Until Goodreads told me so after I finished it, I hadn't noticed that I began reading this book on September 11. The novel is about six generations of an Irish American family, many of whom are firefighters, in Ireland and New York. Although 9/11 is not the focal point of the book, no one who lived in New York, especially firefighter families, was left untouched by that day in 2001. This gave me a proper chill in my bones. Aside from that, this book really moved me in many other ways. The story is told by multiple female narrators, jumping around in time from 1897 to 2012. Only one of the narrators, Annie-Rose, the first generation born in the US and the earliest generation to speak in the book, is given a first person narration. I'm not sure why that is, and I'd like to ask the author that question. Maybe because Annie-Rose was the first true Irish-American in the family, and everyone else's voices were made possible by her? I don't know, and I suppose it doesn't matter, because we are still given peeks into multiple family members' lives and are privy to so many motivations and struggles. A firefighter's family lives always under the shadow of tragedy, and the Devlin-Keegan-O'Neill family is no exception. They deal with loss repeatedly, and we grieve with them. There are good moments too, and we see how resilient and strong and supportive large families can be. This is my favorite kind of book, because it reveals patterns in families that are very hard to see when you're on the inside of your own family. Reading a book like this makes me feel more empathy for people who are coming from a different place than I am. And aren't we all coming from different places? Well done, Kathleen Donohoe!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Among the Wicked

Another great suspense read by Linda Castillo.

Kate Burkholder, who was raised Amish, becomes the chief of police in Painters Mill, Ohio.   Kate is asked to go undercover in an Amish community in upper New York to solve the murder of a 15 year old girl, Rachel Esh.

Once settled in the Amish community, Kate sets out with her new identity and tries to get other Amish women to discuss the death of Rachel.  Everyone speaks highly of the bishop, but he gives Kate chills that have nothing to do with the cold winter they are experiencing.

Whenever Kate gets close enough to get people talking to her, something always happens that causes them harm or even death. With the help of Marie, Rachel's best friend, Kate is able to uncover some very deep secrets, a series of shocking crimes and finds herself alone and trapped in a fight for her life.

 Facts that the reader does not get until the end of the novel will leave you shocked!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech

This story captivated me from the first chapter and would be a great chapter book to read aloud with your family. The mystery of a young boy who shows up on a young couple’s porch one morning, hooked me immediately.
A young married couple who never had children, John and Marta, learn about unconditional love, happiness, and compassion when they take this strange, mute child into their home. Learning to communicate with him was a challenge but instead of feeling frustrated or giving up, they persevered and found a way to interact with him. Family does not have to mean blood relation and will not always look the same as another. The main characters realize that love and support are what create a family.

Not being able to speak, the young boy cannot convey his story or explain where he came from to John and Marta. The couple know they must find out where he came from and how he a young boy appeared on their porch. Not only does the mystery of this book keep the reader intrigued, seeing the young couple go through a life-altering journey together and learn lessons that only the love of a child can provide, make the story worthwhile. 


Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Night Bell by Inger Ash Wolfe

Inger Ash Wolfe is the pseudonym of Canadian author Michael Redhill.  These mysteries center around Detective Inspector Hazel Micallef who is in her sixties, a curmudgeon and often too independent for her bosses.  She  heads a small police station in Port Dundas, Ontario, is divorced and lives with her cranky mother, a former mayor of the town who is now suffering from dementia.  In several of her books she has to contend with her ex-husband and his new wife.
There are four books in this series: The Calling, The Taken, A Door in the River and her recent book The Night Bell.  To her staff, Hazel is not only a well respected detective, but also a mother figure to her youngest officer, James Wingate.  As with most police mysteries, Hazel has to manage crimes of revenge, serial killers and abuse and neglect.
It would please me if Michael Redhill would write a few more of these quickly.  Hazel is an interesting older character with quirks and doesn't suffer fools which makes her interactions interesting. The surrounding characters are realistic and the plot of her latest brings together past and present.  There are needed but some unwelcome changes at the station and in Hazel's life.  More is learned about her childhood and other members of her immediate family.  These are not cozy mysteries, and the murders can be quite vicious and bloody.  But if you want interesting characters and story lines check her out.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

Coming November 15th 2016!
Spanning over twenty years and two continents, Zadie Smith’s new novel Swing Time is a charming account of one woman’s coming-of-age during those bygone heydays when video was still killing the radio star.  Smith’s unnamed narrator, a mixed-race child of a striving Jamaican mother and a peaceable, hard-working white father, lives in one of London’s many low-end housing units.  She meets Tracey, her first and only best friend, during dance class at their community center.  The two are bonded over the shared experience of being poor and “brown” in a class that is predominantly white, but an increasing gap in talent and two very different home lives begin to draw the girls apart before puberty even finishes its ravages. As the two stumble towards womanhood, the differences become more stark and divisive, and their friendship is ultimately fractured by what the storyteller perceives as Tracey’s final, unforgiveable act. The past and present simultaneously unfold through the narrator’s musings on her childhood, college days, and finally, her career as an assistant to the long-time pop idol Aimee.  Demanding and charismatic, Aimee requires total submission.  The protagonist’s success in this role is telling, and of a piece with her tendency to allow dominant women to manipulate her life: her mother, Tracey, and Aimee.  She seems content in her subservience until she begins to question the true cost of “privilege” during her time overseeing Aimee’s project, a school for girls, in Africa. This book will appeal to lovers of character-driven fiction because, despite the author’s hints at past hurts and scandal (doled out with a sweet slowness), it’s not the suspense that keeps you coming back. Swing Time is much like a favorite friend whose visits you anticipate, not because of their exploits, but because you simply enjoy their company.

-Jennifer Wilson

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

We first meet Wavy Quinn as she's being placed into her aunt's care by child services following the arrest of her parents.

Wavy is just a slip of a girl ; tiny, neglected and distrustful of most. She refuses to speak or eat meals and is prone to sneaking out at night ; wandering the streets, slipping into peoples homes and taking small objects or food. Due to this behavior, her aunt has a meltdown and Wavy is passed on to her grandmother where she resides until her parents are released from jail.

One evening while stargazing, she happens to startle a biker while on a country road and he loses control of his motorcycle, wrecking on the loose gravel. The accident victim is Jesse Kellen and as it turns out, he happens to work for Wavy's father. A friendship is soon forged between the girl and the thug who becomes the one true, consistent and stable force in Wavy's life.

Greenwood's writing style was very enjoyable ; as the characters narrated each chapter. Honest, very raw, beautiful and yet uncomfortable and troubling,  this book will have you questioning your own opinion regarding love, loyalty and overstepping boundaries.

Cathy Kesterson

The History of Great Things

Structured as an interweaving of two faux-biographies, The History of Great Things by Elizabeth Crane is the most refreshingly honest portrayal of a mother and daughter relationship that I've read in years. Lois's career as an opera singer has always been her driving force in life. Unfortunately, this force has left little time for developing a close relationship with her daughter, aspiring writer, Betsy. When Lois falls ill, it appears the clock is ticking on this strained relationship, inspiring Betsy to perform an experiment - the two will write each other's life story, as they imagine it would have happened. Piecing together the facts they know about each other and filling in the holes with the fiction they believe could have happened, a mother's and daughter's true feelings about each other begin to shine through.

Taking the story one step further, Crane brilliantly structures the novel as if each author is taking her turn reading their chapter to their subject, and adds in the conversational objections, questions, and clarifications the mother-daughter duo interject at their defenses. This takes the reader beyond a simple view of the women through each other's eyes and actually shows them the depth of their strained relationship via their interactions. It becomes clear very early in the novel which character has paid more attention to their subject's actual life and personality - or at least which one imagines they have - though the reader can certainly sense a shift in the women's understanding of each other as their stories unfold to reveal Lois's illness and continue on to reveal their predictions for the future.

This novel was at times touching, hilarious, and frustrating. Sometimes it was all of these at the same time as I tried to sift through the fiction to reveal the facts and decide for which character I should feel more sorry or more hopeful. However, as wonderfully as Crane portrays this mother-daughter dynamic, what she does even better is force the reader to further evaluate their own relationship with their parents. A must-read, if you aren't afraid of what you may discover.

Monday, August 22, 2016

A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar

Alternate history often explores the darker what-ifs of our past. A popular theme is “What if Germany won World War II?” In his book, Tidhar flips that idea on its head and asks “What if Hitler and the National Socialist Party lost the 1933 election to the Communist Party?” Sounds good, right? No Hitler. No Nazis. No racist ideologues. Not quite.

A Man Lies Dreaming is alternate history told in the style of Raymond Chandler. It’s 1939, and London has become a place of refuge for Germans (including former Nazis) escaping Communist Germany. Wolf, a former-Nazi-leader-turned-private-detective, is so hard-up for cash that he takes a case from Jewish heiress Isabella Rubenstein, whose sister was to be smuggled in from Germany weeks before. During his search for the young woman, Wolf finds himself dealing with former Nazi colleagues, human traffickers, Jewish extremist groups, and even a serial killer. This is all set against a backdrop of the rise of British Fascists and Oswald Mosley’s imminent election as Prime Minister. Mosley has risen to power on a xenophobic, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic platform. Eerily reminiscent of Nazi storm troopers, his Blackshirts are terrorizing Jews and immigrants, beating them in the streets without provocation or cause. In a strange twist of fate, Wolf finds himself more closely allied with the Jewish immigrants than with the fascists who had once looked to him for inspiration.

Tidhar’s account of Wolf (a thinly disguised Hitler) is both a deeply unsettling tale of the depth of human depravity and the blackest of comedies. Wolf’s lot in life is not an easy one, and at times it is easy to find oneself empathizing with him. Readers might find it difficult to reconcile finding common ground with someone who we know perpetuated such terrible acts, but it is in this humanizing of the monster, watching him become a victim of the laws he would have enacted, that we are reminded that tyrants do not come to or hold power on their own. There is a good chance A Man Lies Dreaming will make you uncomfortable at times, but it will also make you think.  
-Portia Kapraun

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Harvest of Rubies by Tessa Afshar

I have made a wonderful discovery: Tessa Afshar! She is amazing and I want to gobble up everything she writes. Her stories are tender, humorous and full of spiritual pearls (lessons for life). She researches well the times she is writing for, and she makes her characters come alive. Another of Tessa's novels is Land of Silence, which I highly recommend too.

Harvest of Rubies is a biblical historical novel taking place in the time of Nehemiah the prophet. Sarah is the main character, an unusual woman for her time because she can read and write, knows many languages and can keep the books of her father's business. The problem is is that she is a woman.

As time progresses, Sarah finds herself in the Persian court, serving as a scribe. Her story is enthralling in its development especially when she is given a husband not of her choosing.

Sarah evolves throughout the story and eventually learns how rubies are made and that she is a ruby herself, formed by the Lord. It is a beautiful story and I wanted to re-read it as soon as I finished, wanting more of Sarah and Darius her husband. Much to my delight, there is a book 2: Harvest of Gold! Can't wait to read it.  ~ Review by Patsy Scott

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Out of the Darkness: My Journey Through Foster Care

This was a very touching story.  I personally know several girls who could have written this book.                                                    

   Kailamai was from a family of deep depression, misery, heavy drinking, drugs, and abuse. She lived with her mother, sister Amanda, and her mother's many boyfriends.  Kailamai found her safe haven in school and books.  While overweight, she was often bullied. The school counselor, Deborah, was able to get Kailamai to trust her, and there was something about Deborah's sincerity that soothed Kailamai.  The floodgates holding back her pain were bursting at the seams and she could no longer hold it in.   After that, Kailamai's life was never the same.

  She was in 14 different foster home by the age of 16.   Her first home was with Daniel and Laura and their daughter, Crystal. Being with a close-knit family was confusing at first but she soon felt Daniel and Laura's love during her 18 months there. Kailamai always felt guilty for not being with her birth mother, although every time she returned home, she would end up in hospital and placed in another foster home.

Kailamai worked hard to get herself through school with help from foster parents Scott and Loretta. She graduated from college with an Associate's degree and is currently in her senior year majoring in Business Administration, with a double minor in Justice Studies and Communication.  She now helps many children who are living a lifestyle similar to what she experienced throughout her childhood. 

Author's note:
Forgiveness is powerful.
It is beautiful

Saturday, August 06, 2016

This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

A harrowing tale of violence that unfolds in a high school, This is Where It Ends tells the story of 54 minutes of terror caused by a school shooter. Told from four different perspectives, Nijkamp delivers a captivating story that engrosses the reader until the last page.
Typically, I do not enjoy reading novels told from more than one perspective but it gives this story more depth and detail that draws you into the drama that has been going on between the main characters and the shooter. One of the main characters had dated the shooter and reminisced on their relationship and the signs she may have missed that showed something deep was happening with this individual. They had a deep connection and intense relationship and it brings up confusing and hurtful feelings for her.  Another main character is the sister to the shooter and although they were not always close, she is able to explain their upbringing and explain possible triggers that may have led him to snap. Not only do you find out about the hardships the shooter went through, you see a few different views of why this could have happened. There is never an excuse as to why young people bring guns to school and kill, but when these things occur everyone does want to know why and find out who they were and how they were raised.
One of my favorite parts of this story was the relationships between all of the characters. They were not all friends but during this situation, they fought for and protected each other. The selflessness that some of the characters showed was incredible. I could never imagine being in such an emotional and devastating event but they do happen in this world often. These situations tear families, friends and communities apart and reading about one, even fictional, is an emotional experience. Overall, this book is not for anyone who cannot handle violence or death but was a story that engrosses you while provoking thoughts and emotions.


Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Don't Believe a Word by Patricia MacDonald

     Eden Radley has just received word that her mother has killed herself and her severely disabled young son.  Eden has had a strained relationship with her mother since her mother left her father, Hugh Radley, and her nine years ago to run off with a much younger man, Flynn Darby.

     Eden's mother, Tara, and her stepfather had moved to Cleveland, Ohio.  The reason for the move was to be closer to medical help for Tara's and Flynn's severely disabled young son, Jeremy.   Tara had reached out to Eden on the night of her death by texting Eden and wanting to talk to her.  Eden had not answered her mother's text, and now that Tara and Eden's half brother are dead, Eden is riddled with guilt.                                                                                                                                                                                                         
      Eden decides to go to Cleveland, Ohio, for the funeral and discovers there is so much she did not know about her mother and her half brother and of course, Mr. Flynn Darby. The more she learns about Flynn Darby the more Eden is determined to prove that her stepfather has killed her mother and her disabled half brother.

     Don't Believe a Word is a chilling fast-paced psychological thriller with twists and turns that keeps you wanting to learn more about the main characters and why they are doing the things they do.  How do you know who to trust and what the outcome to the story will be?  A good book worth reading and an ending that is a real shocker!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan

In her 2016 Newberry Honor Award-winning book, Echo, Pam Munoz Ryan weaves together four different story threads, and sprinkles them with a bit of magic.  In the book’s unnamed preface, the reader is introduced to young Otto Messenger (a German boy who’s tale takes place 50 years before World War II) who, after the purchase of a mysterious fairytale book about three cursed prinesses, loses his way in the woods.  His way home is found, and his life saved by the magic of three young women, identical in name and circumstance to those in the fairytale book he purchased from a gypsy (who also pressed upon him a harmonica). The girls themselves have become trapped in the forest, and estranged from their family, by a vengeful witch. They tell Otto that they will lead him from the dark forest, if he will take with him the magical harmonica which they each take a turn at playing, and promise that one day, he will pass it along to one who’s life is in peril.  He stumbles through the forest, almost losing heart until he plays the harmonica and feels the courage and solace of the three sisters run through him with each note until he is found by near the end of the path by his frantic family.

The novel next picks up its next thread with young Friedrich Schmidt, in a small town just outside the Black Forest. Friedrich is a talented musician, who fantasizes about conducting his own orchestra and often pretends to do so with hand-waving and great gusto, much to the chagrin of his older sister Elizabeth.  Friedrich, bullied for such eccentricity, is pulled from school and taught by his father and co-workers at the local harmonica factory where he goes to work. One day, on his lunchbreak, he discovers a very special harmonica in an area believed by the other workers to be haunted. Despite his talent and obvious intelligence, the large port wine stain covering half of his face marks him as “undesirable” in what is becoming an increasingly hitler-ized community, where differences are not only frowned upon, but also dangerous. Friedrich’s eccentricities and birthmark, which is viewed as a deformity, in addition to his father’s status as a “jew lover” place them all in jeopardy, and he is forced make some brave decisions.
The novel’s next section, set in Pennsylvania in the summer of 1935, focuses on eleven year-old Mike and his younger brother Frankie. Both were orphaned by a series of unfortunate events that took first their father, then their mother, and finally their aging grandmother.  Their grandmother was a devoted music lover and piano teacher, and insisted, on her death bed, that Mike and Frankie be placed in a boys’ home that had a piano, and that they never be separated.  The director of the home, Ms. Pennyweather, takes a dislike for the boys and this is exacerbated by their antics (brought on when potential families seem inclined to split up the pair), and plans to ship young Frankie off to the state home and put Mike out to hire at local farms.  A rescue materializes in the form of two attorneys sent on behalf of a mysterious benefactor to test various orphans for musical ability.  Attorney Howard agrees to take both of the boys when Frankie seems on the verge of melt-down after their successful audition at the orphanage’s rickety upright.  Mike soon discovers that their benefactor, a former concert pianist herself, is not at all pleased to learn that, instead of a talented young girl, she is now the mother of two young boys.  His suspicion that all is not as it seems is further roused when he learns that the adoption didn’t stem from the most altruistic of motives in the first place.  The more he learns, the more desperate he becomes to make sure Frankie is alright, even if it means taking himself out of the picture. Practicing with the almost magical-sounding harmonica purchased for him by Mr. Howard, Mike is determined to find placement for himself with Hoxie’s Harmonica Wizards, but even that may just not be enough to save them both.
 The novel’s fourth section, taking place just after Pearl Harbor, with Ivy Lopez, the young the daughter of two migrant parents in California’s Fresno County.  Thanks to a northeastern charity drive, Ivy receives a harmonica, and soon displays an uncanny talent.  She is so advanced that she, along with her class, is set to perform live on the radio.  Unfortunately, before she is able to make her broadcast debut, her father receives a job offer, an opportunity he can’t refuse. The family quickly packs up and heads for the Yamamoto farm, a place where, if things work out, her father has been promised a supervisory position on the farm with a home and land of his own.  All of this hinges on the Lopez family’s ability to manage the farm successfully. The Yamamotos’, Japanese-Americans, have been interned, and their property and home lies empty. Kenny, their son, a marine interpreter, is set to arrive and evaluate their success in caring for the property in his family’s absence.  Standing between the Lopez family and their dream, is a vandal who seems bent on undoing all of their improvements, and an angry neighbor who remains convinced that the Yamamotos are Japanese spies and saboteurs. Ivy, possessing a secret that could make all the difference
 With such a wide and reaching narrative arc, the author deftly negotiates the different voices in her story to impart a theme of hope and redemption during a time of great upheaval. While the war is, to some extent, a presence in each tale, as is the harmonica, the true meat of the story is the hopefulness, bravery, and idealism of each of the characters.  This is a heart-warming piece of historical fiction sure to please both parents and children alike.

Jennifer Wilson

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Excellent Lombards

It's about the time of year when I start thinking of all the good things that come with autumn. One of my favorite fall things is a sweet, crunchy apple. The Excellent Lombards, Jane Hamilton's newest novel, takes us to an apple orchard in Wisconsin run by, you guessed it, the Lombard family. It's an extended family that owns the orchard, and our particular view of this pastoral setting comes from Mary Frances "Frankie" Lombard, whose father and uncle are sharing the responsibility of running the orchard. Like any farm, it requires a lot of  hard work. And Frankie dives right into it. She loves her life on the orchard to such a great extent that she cannot imagine leaving it. She dreams that she and her brother William will in fact never leave; they will stay there together and run it forever. This does not take into account her uncle, her cousin, or the hotshot farmhand her uncle hires. Suddenly Frankie's future fears threatened. This is a beautifully written book of a girl growing up and figuring things out. Reading it, you may remember what it felt like to gradually see the nuances of life that you missed as a child. Some of those realizations are bittersweet. But that apple you'll want to munch while reading, well that one will be perfect.

posted by Kelly Currie