Book – How can a mother abandon her seven year old son at an orphanage with promises that she will return for him and still leave him there for years after she is famous and prosperous? Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford tells the story of William, now 12, a resident of Seattle’s Sacred Heart Orphanage in the 1920s. He still has loving memories of his ah-ma and is certain that a woman named Willow Frost that he sees in a film advertisement is his actual mother. William is determined to track her down wanting to know why he was abandoned. He tries to escape the orphanage with dreams of re-uniting with his mother. This book follows the trials and stories of both William and Liu Song (Willow Frost). This is a wonderful story of a “boy with dreams for his future and a woman escaping her haunted past—both seeking love, hope, and forgiveness” ~ from the book jacket. Ford also does a great job of conveying a vivid sense of the time period and atmosphere. A thought provoking novel that would be great for book discussion groups. If you enjoy this book you should also read Ford’s first book Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.
Books – With the centennial of WWI upon us and that of the Russian Revolution soon to come, the last imperial family of Russia has been a popular subject recently. Two important histories were published in 2014.
The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport, a book for adult readers, is an intimate and personal family history that accomplishes the difficult task of making its royal subjects individual and relatable. As the title suggests, its highlight is the degree to which it addresses with the four Romanov grand duchesses–Olga, Tatiana, Marie and Anastasia–as unique personalities, avoiding the tendency of onlookers (during their lifetimes and since) to lump them together into one unit. The treatment of the family, its personalities and their actions, is neither sentimental nor condemnatory, providing a detached authorial perspective that allows readers to make up their own minds.
The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming, intended for teen audiences and up, distinguishes itself from The Romanov Sisters by the strength of its narrative thread and breadth of its scope. Rather than limiting itself to the Romanovs, The Family Romanov features a series of “Beyond the Palace Gates” sections that describe broader events in Russia and the world. Even for older readers who may have some familiarity with the history of the period, this context is a thoughtful addition that enriches the story. Fleming is also adept at exploiting the inherent tension of her tragic subject to keep readers on edge and eager to continue. That said, Fleming has much more of an authorial agenda than Rappaport. Readers of The Family Romanov will emerge with a very clear sense of her opinions and point of view (not necessarily either a good or bad thing).
Both books are well-written, deeply researched and engaging; I would have no hesitation in recommending either one. If I were forced to choose between them, however, my verdict would come down in favor of The Family Romanov, whether for adult, tween or teen readers. It is more readable and memorable, and the added background into the lives of everyday Russians and famous historical figures outside the royal family adds an extra layer of depth.
Book – Gillian Flynn is becoming a household name, due to the success of the recent film adaptation of her suspense novel, Gone Girl. But before Gone Girl took over the big screen, Gillian debuted her first novel, Sharp Objects.
Sharp Objects is a phenomenally demented mystery. It centers on reporter Camille Preaker, a woman still struggling with her past and a tormented inner self. When an assignment sends Camille back to her childhood home to cover the murder of two young girls, she is forced to confront everything she tried to leave behind. Back in her childhood home, things are not as they appear and Camille soon discovers that there is far more at stake than simply uncovering the truth behind the murders.
I strongly believe the power of Gillian Flynn’s writing comes from her leading ladies. In each of her novels: Gone Girl, Dark Places, and Sharp Objects, it is the strong female lead that first pulls you into her dark world. There is something sinister about all of these women and the pasts that burden them. In Sharp Objects specifically, it is the relationships between the women that I found most compelling, and again, sinister.
Dark and emotional, I couldn’t put this book down. I discovered Gillian Flynn awhile ago, when I was going through an intense murder-mystery phase. As a reader who generally favors fantasy and romance–more lighthearted tales–Sharp Objects was a gulp of fresh air into this wonderful genre, and I encourage booklovers of all genres to give it a shot.
Also, as a side note to all the Gillian Flynn fans, get psyched, because both Dark Places and Sharp Objects are scheduled to hit the screen! The film adaptation of Dark Places recently finished shooting and is set to be release in August of 2015. The cast looks wonderful, starring Charlize Theron; from first glance, it seems that this film will not disappoint. Meanwhile, Sharp Objects will be produced as a television series by Entertainment One, though there is still limited information regarding the specifics of the project. Just knowing that there are TWO more Gillian Flynn projects coming out…there’s a lot to be excited about!
Book – This award-winning audiobook will appeal to fans of British accents and British mysteries. The narrator Robert Glenister does a wonderful job of bringing to life a variety of characters, especially the star of this detective series, Cormoran Strike. This is the second book in J. K. Rowling’s series that started with The Cuckoo’s Calling, and which she published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. In this book we get to see further into Cormoran’s background, and his mentoring relationship with his assistant Robin adds enjoyable color to the tale.
The primary case in this book is brought to Cormoran by the wife of a missing writer. The investigation reveals an unpublished, incendiary book by the missing writer that may be related to his disappearance. The publishing world, obviously well-known to Rowling, provides an intriguing background for this story, and the characters from that world have depth. I’ve enjoyed this series despite the fact that the red herrings are a bit obvious and the villains not that hard to detect. Because The Silkworm has a more complex plot, interesting twists, and more cozy details of British life that Rowling captures well, I liked it more than The Cuckoo’s Calling.
Book – Lord Peter Wimsey, the famous amateur detective, will do just about anything in the pursuit of an interesting case. This time, he’s gone incognito to take a job at an advertising agency where, several weeks ago, one of the employees had a suspiciously convenient accident on the spiral staircase. He flings himself into the work with gusto – both the investigation, and the writing of advertising copy, at which he proves surprisingly adept.
This is the eighth book starring Lord Peter Wimsey, but it really doesn’t matter; it’s one of the ones you could read in any order. Dorothy Sayers first created Lord Peter in Whose Body? in 1923, where he appears as the usual kind of Golden Age detective, a younger son of the nobility with a useful servant and an unusual hobby. He stands out from the Hercule Poirots and Roderick Alleyns of the genre, though, as he develops in psychological complexity throughout the series. We learn about his shell shock from the War, his reluctance to turn over criminals to the law when it will mean their deaths, and his sensitivity to the double standards faced by women of his era.
Murder Must Advertise is one of my favorites of the series, although I admit it’s probably not the best one – but it’s just so much fun. It’s a delightful peek into the pre–Mad Men era of advertising, which Lord Peter is learning along with the reader. There’s also a wonderful cricket game toward the end of the book. I’ve read it five times now and I still don’t understand cricket, but everyone’s having a marvelous time.
Book – In ancient Athens, one of the pupils of Plato’s Academy is found dead. His teacher Diagoras is convinced the pupil’s death is not as accidental as it appears, and asks the famous Heracles Pontor, the “Decipherer of Enigmas,” to investigate. As the death toll rises, the two men find themselves drawn into the dangerous underworld of the Athenian aristocracy, risking their own lives to solve the riddle of these young men’s deaths.
The Athenian Murders is more a game than a novel. It’s a novel, too – if it weren’t it would be intolerably tedious, like the Greek fiction it’s pretending to be – but the point of it is the game, not the fiction. While Heracles Pontor and his employer are getting into trouble with the Academy and the families of the murdered youths and eventually a rather ominous cult, the really interesting stuff is happening in the footnotes. You see, the novel we are reading is being translated by an unnamed Translator from a transcription by an earlier scholar. And the Translator is sure that this is an eidetic text, in which the original author has hidden images that combine to form a second, hidden meaning. His colleagues tell him he’s going crazy with this obsession, and he starts to believe them – until he’s kidnapped and forced to finish translating both the manuscript and the eidesis.
To tell any more would be to give away the twist, and to do that would be to spoil the whole book. Just know that the mystery, while serviceable, is not really the point here. If you’re as intrigued by the sound of eidesis and mysterious translators as I was, though, give it a try – this is a book that rewards intellectual curiosity.
Book – The Thorn of Dentonhill by Marshall Ryan Maresca is the first in a new series, and what a series!
As a magic student at the University of Maradaine, Veranix Calbert should be busy enough. However his past won’t allow him to only study, go to class and gallivant like the other students. Shrouded in secrecy, his mission is to avenge his parents and shut down the drug trade found in the city. When he starts to needle and annoy the drug lord Fenmere, he is christened “The Thorn” and a city finds a possible hero. But can he handle the pressures and the danger?
A fantastic cross of Arrow, Batman, and Harry Potter, this story brings us to the seedy streets, the rarefied towers of academia, and the secret societies of mages all working in the city of Maradaine. I picked this book up on a whim and am very glad I did so. It does read a bit on the young adult side, but that adds to its charm. There’s no smut in a book that could’ve gone that route. Instead the author depends on a fast-moving story and characters that are well-thought out and written.
Book – Cinder is a cyborg mechanic earning wages in New Beijing to support a very unkind stepmother and two stepsisters. All around her, people are dying of a strange plague while under constant threat of invasion or annihilation from moon-dwelling people called the Lunars. And while Cinder can fix nearly anything, she cannot find a way to make her life her own.
When Prince Kai asks her to repair his broken android, she agrees and manages to keep her mechanical aspects hidden. As they begin to spend more time together, Cinder finds that she has been volunteered by her truly wicked stepmother to serve as a test subject. Under the care of a strange doctor, Cinder begins to uncover secrets about herself and her origins. But time is running out if she is to save her world and her prince from the Lunars and their diabolical queen.
It has been ages since I read such an interesting mash-up of classic fairy tales. It was really fun trying to spot the similarities between details in Cinder’s world and those found in other fairy tales, but I really enjoyed all of the differences along the way. I can’t wait to read Scarlet, Cress and Fairest.
If that is not incentive enough, Cinder is a 2016 Rebecca Caudill Award nominee. The entire Lunar Chronicles series is available in both print and on our Caudill Award Kindle.
Book – Jon Ronson started out investigating a hoax being played on a group of neurologists, but ends up exploring the depths of what he calls the “madness industry.” A top psychologist teaches him how to recognize the signs of psychopathy in others, and he sets out to explore his new knowledge in the corridors of power.
This a was fun, funny, casual read. And therein lies the problem: I felt that the fun, funny parts of the book were distracting severely from the actual serious parts of the book. While the implications of psychopathy as a category (that is, deciding it’s a real thing and treating psychopaths as people different from the rest of humanity) range from interesting to downright scary, Ronson kind of mentions this in passing and then goes on to spend quite a lot of time with the weirdest people possible, from the criminal who insists he can’t be a psychopath to the psychiatrist who insists that that insistence proves that he is. (Confused yet?)
Maybe I’m just weird in not liking nonfiction that doesn’t seem to teach you anything. But Ronson seems to me to have caught the “objective journalism” disease – he doesn’t give away any opinions on anything. No opinions other than “these guys are weird,” that is, which is pretty much the only opinion I don’t like my authors to have. Okay, they’re weird, but nobody ever thinks of themselves as irredeemably weird, so what else is going on here? Ronson never gets to the what else.
Book – A fabulous introduction to the Cynster world and those who live in it. By Winter’s Light is the story of Daniel and Claire, a tutor and a governess for the next generation of Cynsters. Their romance is overseen and manipulated by their charges amidst a family holiday season in Scotland. With her usual deft style, Stephanie Laurens weaves a fun holiday tale that gives you insight into the personalities and abilities of the up and coming generation. I was delighted by the interactions between the cousins and really pleased with the romance that was built between Daniel and Claire. Both storylines meshed well and it was neat to see the older generation in love and happy all around.
This is the 21st book in the Cynster Saga, but they can all be read as stand-alones. I just enjoy revisiting ‘old friends’ as I continue to read about the exploits that only Cynsters seem to have and revel in.