Upcoming Book Reviews

Collage

Until I actually write the reviews, here’s a preview of what to expect:

 

The Raft by Fred Strydom.  Slow but intriguing.

The Sorcerer’s Daughter by Terry Brooks.  Another disappointment.  Brooks needs to hire me as his editor NOW.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler.  Wow.  Just finished this one on my break today and plan to read Parable of the Talents this weekend.  Wow.

The Last One by Alexandra Oliva.  Gripping.

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones.  Fun.

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Murder at the 42nd Street Library

Murder at the 42nd Street LibraryBook Review:  Murder at the 42nd Street Library by Con Lehane

Raymond Ambler is the curator of the crime fiction collection at the New York Public Library.  He has a reputation for curiosity, particularly regarding homicides, so when someone is murdered inside the library, everyone knows that he’s going to look for answers.  And practically everyone has something to hide.

I wanted to like this book.  The author clearly loves libraries and librarians and has done his research.  But . . . this book annoyed me.  There’s the relationship between Raymond and Adele; I’m not fond of romances when one person is old enough to be the other’s parent.  Ick.  Then, there’s Harry, the ex-priest.  I really take issue with religion placing more importance on the rule rather than what’s right.  I don’t understand the thinking that God cares more about the sanctity of the confessional than alerting Child Protective Services when it’s confessed that a child is being sexually abused.  Even in a fictional setting,  this situation makes me livid.

Adding to my annoyance is the relative ease with which everything comes together.  I could have wrapped my head around the fact that a group of people who knew each other thirty years ago came together again around a specific collection at the 42nd Street Library.  But the missing daughter has just been blocks away the whole time?  And she somehow received her dad’s letters when he didn’t know where she was?  And she’s being protected by a thug who originally meant to kill her?  And she’s closely connected to Raymond as well?

The characters are worse.  There’s not a likable character in our small group of sexually charged scholars.  Emily’s would-be murderer isn’t developed enough for me to believe that he would spare her or care about her well-being.  And why is everyone so determined to save Max?  What little character development there is of our scholars doesn’t lend itself to believing that any one of them would place another’s safety above their own.

And then there’s the whole sexual abuse of a child storyline.  It’s a difficult topic and honestly, I would have avoided the book if I’d known that it was central to the story.  As difficult a topic as it is, it can be handled differently; Nevada Barr’s Hard Truth made me physically ill but it didn’t feel salacious; the details of Emily’s story did.

 

 

 

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Station Eleven

Station ElevenBook Review:  Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

A flu pandemic devastates country after country, causing civilization as we know it to come to an end.  Moving forward and backward in time, Mandel introduces us to the lives of a handful of characters, showing us glimpses of their lives before and after the pandemic.  This approach works well for this storyline.

It was an interesting premise and Station Eleven has received rave reviews.  I liked it but I didn’t love it.  I liked the zoomed-in perspective of events in each person’s life; I  just didn’t connect with any of the characters.

 

 

 

 

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Here Lies the Librarian by Richard Peck

Here Lies the LibrarianBook Review:  Here Lies the Librarian by Richard Peck

A tornado sweeps through a small town in Hendricks County, Indiana and does more than just wreak havoc in Buelahland Cemetery.  Interest in its aftermath brings four library students from nearby Butler University on a roadtrip to see the damage.  The town will never be the same; nor will the lives of Peewee and Jake McGrath.

A couple of squeamish moments aside, this was a fun book.  I loved Peewee and Jake’s relationship — parentless from a young age, they share a deep bond and look out for one another.  Their house may not be the tidiest and their best meals may come from neighbors, but Jake does his best to look out for his younger sibling.  Together they run a small garage and try to fend off the ne’er-do-well Kirbys who run the town’s other, less reputable garage.

Having attended Butler University myself, although long after they discontinued their library science program, I was delighted when Irene Ridpath and her sorority sisters entered the scene. Daughters of wealthy men, whose fathers collectively purchase their librarian positions for them, their lives of privilege are a stark contrast to the McGraths’.  We get to know Irene the best.  While her background may be difficult to relate to, her kindness, generosity, and independence make her an incredibly likable character.  Highly intelligent, Irene is also quick enough with her responses to make a Gilmore Girl proud.  Set aside any librarian stereotypes — Irene is the quintessential librarian.

Set in 1914, today’s teens may find themselves hitting the dictionary for terms like chiffonier, but even without a dictionary, it’s an easy read.  The characters are quirky, the language is folksy, and the humor is laugh out loud. Car enthusiasts will appreciate Jake’s determination to build his own car, Peewee’s first driving lesson in a Stoddard-Dayton, and a detailed account of a ten-mile stock auto dirt-track race.  Highly recommended.

 

 

 

 

 

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Upside Down Magic by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins

Book Review:  Upside Down Magic by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily JenkinsUpside Down Magic

Nory has a strong talent for transforming into animals but can’t limit herself to one species at a time; instead of turning into a kitten, she’s likely to turn into a dritten (dragon/kitten) or a bitten (beaver/kitten).  She thinks that’s bad but Bax can’t manage transforming into animals at all; he transforms into stone.  And instead of charming animals, like other Fuzzies, Pepper terrifies them.  Together with Andres, Elliot, Sebastian, Marigold, and Willa,they are the first students in Dunwiddle Magic School’s class for Upside Down Magic.  Unlike many other educators, including Nory’s own father, Miss Star insists that unusual magical abilities are nothing to be ashamed of and encourages her students to embrace their unique talents.

My 8 year-old and I love this book!!!  It’s perfect for kids who are grappling with the pressure to be like everyone else, who are struggling with feeling like they are the only ones who can’t quite get it right, or who worry that they are disappointing their loved ones.  My daughter recently suggested that she and I have our own book club and this was an excellent choice for our first title!  The story is fun but it also lends itself well to talking about real issues kids find themselves facing, often with a great deal of uncertainty.  Click here for discussion and activity ideas.

Looking forward to Sticks and Stones, coming out the end of May!!!

P.S.  I believe that I would test well as a Fuzzy — I’ve always been good with animals.  Miss D wants to be a Flare so that she can make smores, you know, whenever.

 

 

 

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The Cracked Spine by Paige Shelton

Cracked Spine

Book Review:  The Cracked Spine by Paige Shelton

Wanted: A bold adventurer who wants to travel the world from a comfortable and safe spot behind a desk that has seen the likes of kings and queens, paupers and princes. A humble book and rare manuscript shop seeks a keenly intelligent investigator to assist us in our search for things thought lost, and in our quest to return lost items to their rightful owners.

Delaney moves to Edinburgh, Scotland for a job at a bookshop.  The shop is eclectic, as are the people who work there.  Something is amiss though.  It’s obvious that the staff of the Cracked Spine have a close relationship with one another and it’s also obvious that there is currently some strife among them.  The strife revolves around the owner’s sister — who turns up dead soon after Delaney’s arrival and the object placed in her care, missing.

The premise was interesting, as were the characters, but the storyline needed much more attention.  The mystery was disappointing and everything fell into place much too easily.  Spoilers ahead.

We’ll start with the easiness because that’s what annoyed me most.  Delaney sends an email in response to a Help Wanted Ad, receives a phone call minutes later, nails the conversation, and is immediately offered a job in Scotland.  O-kay.  Edwin MacAlister apparently isn’t concerned with checking references and Delaney’s apparently not concerned about verifying anything either because she accepts without really knowing what her responsibilities will be, or checking out the business ahead of time, but okay.  Upon arrival in Edinburgh, her cabbie takes an immediate liking to her and offers to have her over for dinner with him and the missus.  Less of a stretch — she’s young and on her own in a new country, so I can see an older person wanting to look out for her. But back to Edwin, her new employer — he immediately shares information with her that he dares not share with his other employees even though he’s known them for years and they are like family to him. What???  And the cabbie?  Wouldn’t you know it, he and the missus just happen to have a lovely cottage available for rent and they have been holding it for just the right person.  Really???  And the gorgeous pub owner who refuses to settle down gets all quivery at the sight of her???  And the guy who has all the answers, takes an immediate liking to her and decides to step in to save her when he wouldn’t save someone who had been his friend for years???  AARGH.  It’s like reading someone’s secret fantasy about their life.

Onto to the mystery.  I don’t mind not being able to figure out who did what, in fact, I’m always impressed when the clues are so subtle that I don’t recognize them as clues.  Subtle or not though, clues need to be there if the mystery is fairly written.  Aside of plenty of discussion of Jenny’s struggles with addictions and the shadiness of her apartment building, there was nothing that made me think “Of course!  I see it now!”.  It was more like, “Oh, okay.”  It made sense — there just wasn’t anything a reader could grab onto ahead of time to lead them to the culprit.

Other complaints.  Shelton tantalizes us with Delainey’s ability to communicate with books but never makes it believable.  Shelton also tantalizes us with the possibility of ghostly encounters but aside of a quick “something”, she leaves this unexplored.  And there’s all the comments about the unusualness of the bookshop’s interior vs exterior that go nowhere.

Disappointing.

 

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Hard Truth by Nevada Barr

Hard TruthBook Review:  Hard Truth by Nevada Barr

Just days after marrying Sheriff Paul Davidson, Anna Pigeon moves to Colorado to assume her new post as district ranger at Rocky Mountain National Park. When two of three children who’d gone missing from a religious retreat reappear, Anna’s investigation brings her face-to-face with a paranoid sect–and with a villain so evil, he’ll make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. Book description from Amazon.

Horrible, gut-wrenching stuff happens to kids in this story and that made this a tough read for me.  Still an incredible book though!  Anna is one of those characters who just resonates with me.  I can relate to her love of nature, her love of animals,  and her love for the parks system.  I can also relate to her feelings about God, especially in this book.  And then there’s the fact that although she’s non-religious, she fell in love with and married a religious man — I can relate to that as well.

This chapter in the Anna Pigeon series gives us another strong character to connect with — Heath Jarrod.  A mountaineer recently confined to a wheelchair, Heath is angry with her new circumstances.  She feels helpless, isolated, and lost.  When she finds two terrified, malnourished, and barely-clothed little girls near her camp, her life changes again.  She wants nothing more than to protect them and she will not allow her physical limitations to prevent her from doing so.  Love Heath!

But back to the horrible, gut-wrenching stuff — the story revolves around it.  There’s a religious cult on the outskirts of the park — they believe in little but prayer and their leader.  Even those who have lost faith in the leader are more terrified of the government than they are of him.  And somewhere nearby, within or without the cult, is the person responsible for the two girls Heath found — and the girl still missing.  The girls are so traumatized by the experience, or terrified that they still are not safe, that they will not identify who held them.  They have good reason for their fears.  The person who held them is a psychopath who takes pleasure in degrading and dehumanizing others and bending them to his will.  His ability to appear normal allows him to escape suspicion.  The clues are there but with a more obvious suspect in the area, and other odd events happening, Anna does not make the connection until she unwittingly places herself in a precarious position.  Nearly 1/3 of the book focuses on each harrowing detail of her attempt to escape him.

Hard Truth has a dark, disturbing storyline and it’s not for everyone.  There are optimistic moments (and wolf pups), but it’s still a difficult read.  Make sure you allow time to immerse yourself in something pure and light afterwards — something that will renew your faith in the world.  You’ll need it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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