All I Want For Christmas is a Cowboy by Jessica Clare

Book – A sweet romance, All I Want For Christmas is a Cowboy by Jessica Clare is a wonderfully cozy romance of two strangers who meet by chance during the holiday season.  Cassandra needs to escape her life for the holidays.  Her boss’s boyfriend has been harassing her since she met him and it seems like there’s no escape in sight.  The solution?  A Christmas in solitude spent alone at her parents’ cabin.  Driving through a snowstorm, Cassandra flies off course in an accident.

Eli is a real cowboy, living alone on his ranch tending to the cows and his dogs.  He’s content with his life the way it is, and is happy to spend the holiday in his reclusive home.  Ready for another Christmas in solitude, Eli’s plans are drastically altered when he finds an injured woman stranded in the blizzard from a car accident.  As any gentleman would do, Eli takes her to his home and tends to her wounds.  But when Cassandra awakens, she has no memory of who she is, or any reminder of her life before the accident.  As the two learn to cohabit the Christmas season together, Cassandra’s amnesia becomes less of problem, as they grow closer.  Separated from the chaos of her previous life, Cassandra thinks maybe this is her Christmas wish come true.  But life always seems to get in the way of things.

 

Grace and Fury by Tracy E. Banghart

Book – I have spent far more time thinking about Grace and Fury than it deserves, because it’s a perfect illustration of a strange truth: writers who are good at one part of their craft are not necessarily good at others, and a book can therefore be both a good book and a bad book at the same time.

A brief overview to start: Grace and Fury is a dystopian YA novel best described as a cross between The Selection Series and The Hunger Games with a topical dash of The Handmaid’s Tale. In a society where women are forbidden to read, one compliant young woman has been trained all her life for the prestigious role of “Grace,” an official mistress to the future king, while her rebellious young sister is expected to act as her servant.  Naturally, the wrong sister is chosen for Grace, landing in the middle of court politics she’s deeply unprepared for–while her elder sister is banished to a prison island where she’ll have to fight to survive.

I’ll start with the rough stuff, to get it out of the way.  The characterization in Grace and Fury is weak at best, and the plotting is downright bad.  Coincidence is allowed to drive the story far too often.  The characters are forced to change by their circumstances, but their growth usually isn’t believable or earned.  Characters are divided strictly into ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’–a particularly sad vice in a dystopian story, where there’s infinite room for complicity born of fear and similar shades of gray.  Worst of all, the story is full of moments when the audience will cotton to secondary characters’ motives long before the naive heroes do, even though we’re not given any information that the heroes don’t have.

But here’s the kicker: the worldbuilding isn’t terrible, and the pacing is actually pretty excellent.  I knew early on that this wasn’t the book for me, but I kept reading it, because the author does know how to write a hook.  It’s a quick, easy read, and I mean that as a compliment–making a book that the reader is compelled to keep reading is a skill that many authors would envy.

I think that a lot of popular books–Dan Brown’s novels and the Twilight series, for a start–excite comment and controversy for existing at exactly this intersection of high readability with weaker quality in other areas.  And I don’t mean to sound like I’m knocking anybody who enjoys those books, or this one.  Different readers read for different reasons, the same reader can read for different things at different times, and everybody has their own guidelines for which literary flaws constitute their deal-breakers.

I happen to be an intensely character-driven reader, so for me, Grace and Fury was a bust.  But I bet it’ll be popular with readers anyway, because lots of people rate pacing more highly than I do in a reading experience–and I hope those readers find this book, because they deserve a read they’ll love.

The Exorcist: Season 1 (2016)

TV Series – Father Thomas Ortega is an up-and-coming young priest in Chicago, rebuilding his long-neglected parish and working with the bishop and a local fundraising committee to organize the Pope’s visit to the Windy City. His neat professional trajectory is interrupted when Angela Rance, one of his parishioners, comes to him with a request: her daughter is possessed by a demon, and she wants him to do an exorcism. Rebuffed by the bishop, Ortega turns to Father Marcus Keane, a renowned exorcist who Ortega has never heard of — until the fellow priest appeared in his dreams. Meanwhile, Angela struggles to keep her family together as the demon’s power over her daughter grows more malevolent by the day.

I’m not usually a huge fan of religious horror, and I didn’t much care for the original Exorcist – I just don’t find it all that scary. But while the TV series has just as many jump scares and gross-outs as the movie, with a whole season it has time to do some more interesting things, too. The Rance family dynamics are fascinating, even before the demon shows up, and Father Thomas and Father Marcus are polar opposites in the classic tradition of buddy-cop dramas. There’s conspiracy and ominous foreshadowing; there’s tension over what it means to be a priest; there’s discussion of Gnostic heresies and the dangerous influences of Ouija boards. Most interesting, though, is the portrayal of demonic possession from the point of view of the girl being possessed, letting you see both the power it offers her and the subtle ways it makes her suffer. I really didn’t think you could make a feminist version of The Exorcist, but I think this show has pulled it off.

As You Wish by Chelsea Sedoti

Book – In As You Wish, author Chelsea Sedoti crafts a novel about the power of wishing.  In the small, boring town of Madison, the residents have a secret.  It is a secret they work hard to keep hidden from the prying eyes of the rest of the world, lest they be made a freak attraction.

In Madison, everybody gets a wish—one wish that will come true.    On your eighteenth birthday, you are led to the cave of wishes where the deed is done.  If it sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is.  The residents spend their youth conjuring up the perfect wish–to be the most beautiful, the best sportsman, to have the unconditional love and devotion of their chosen mate.  Many have made wishes that they will regret for the rest of their lives.  But there are no takebacksies.  No wish can be undone.

For 17 year old, Eldon, his upcoming wish is a source of stress and despair.  He fails to relate to the giddy excitement of his fellow classmates and friends as their wishing days also draw closer.  He is pressured constantly by his mother to do the right thing, to make a wish that will help his family and support those he loves.  What Eldon desires more than anything is to just ignore the whole tradition altogether and never make his wish.  Through the stories of other wishers and their mistakes, Eldon tries to understand how to make the best decision, a decision that could change his entire life for better or worse.  He’ll do anything he can to not make the same mistakes as those around him.

The President is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson

Book – I have to be honest, I’ve never been a James Paterson fan (gasp).  I’ve read a few of his books and thought they were “OK”.  However, when The President is Missing came out co-authored with Bill Clinton, I decided to find out what all the hype was about and see what kind of fictional tale our former president had to tell.  Well, it ended up being a suspenseful and thrilling page-turner.

President Duncan is facing impeachment.  He is accused of not taking action against Suliman Cindoruk the leader of a terrorist group. But Duncan truly has a noble reason that he can’t disclose. Unbeknownst to the rest of the country, the President must go undercover in a covert mission in order to disable a computer virus that Cindoruk is threatening to unleash. This cyber-attack, code word “Dark Ages” would potentially cripple the United States.  The President puts himself in personal danger to save the nation.  However, he does not act totally recklessly, since he is a war hero – a former Airborne Ranger in Desert Storm and a P.O.W and assembles a team of experts to assist him.  The tensions builds as the clock is ticking down to put a stop to the virus and an assassin stalks Duncan.  In addition, he realizes that there is a traitor in his administration.  Will the traitor be revealed?  Will the President be assassinated?  Will this act of cyberterrorism be quashed?  You can find out for yourself!

Even though there is currently a hold list for this title, we have numerous regular copies, a large print copy, an audiobook, and an eBook on Overdrive, so hopefully your wait will not be long.

 

 

 

The Brand New Testament (2017)

Movie – To give mankind the awareness of their own death may be an inapprehensible phenomenon, but Ea has done just that. The Brand New Testament is a dark yet humorous film about God, who, by the way lives in Belgium with his wife and daughter. God creates inconveniences and atrocities to all of mankind out of his own boredom. His daughter Ea is not very fond of it and has had enough. After discovering her father’s malicious intentions are being controlled through a dated computer, she rebelliously sends out the death dates to everyone on Earth. What would you do if you knew when your last breath would be? Would you leave the job you dread? Would you spend your life’s savings? Or would you not change a thing? Six very different lives answer just that in Ea’s search for additional apostles to add to the New Testament.
This French film was incredibly thought provoking and had an amusing spin on all things biblical. Although it was in French (English subtitles provided), the dialogue was light enough to truly enjoy the essence of the sheer artistry. The cinematography and plot were engaging. It’s no wonder that the film was up for numerous awards and was generally favorable among critics. If you’re looking for something different but nonetheless refreshing, this is one to see.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

Book – When the weather cools and the air turns crisp, I am ready for some spooky reads. I grew up watching Sabrina the Teenage Witch on ABC’s TGIF so I was immediately intrigued to see a more grown up version of a childhood favorite. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Vol. 1 is a re-imagining of Sabrina’s origin story. Sabrina isn’t the bubbly and wholesome witch I grew up with, there are no funny magical mishaps nor life lessons learned in this graphic novel rendition. Sabrina and her terrifying aunts, Hilda and Zelda, are dark, vicious and callous. The Spellman family show little compunction to bloody murder and satanic worship. But don’t be scared away by this! Aguirre-Sacasa lends an interesting plot to this intense read and the artwork matches the intriguing plot. The story is set in New England in the 1960s, a nod to the original Archie comics where Sabrina was introduced back in 1962. Sabrina’s 16th birthday is upon her and she must decide if she wants to become an immortal witch and join the coven or to be simply a normal teenage girl. Unfortunately for Sabrina, her tragic and grisly origin will literally come back to haunt her making her decision rather bleak.

If you’re looking for a spooky read to welcome the Halloween season you won’t be disappointed. Can’t get enough of Aguirre-Sacasa’s spooky retellings? He also wrote the graphic novel Afterlife with Archie, available through Hoopla! Also, keep an eye out for the television series based on The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina coming later this fall.

Jagannath by Karen Tidbeck

Book – A call center routes calls to the afterlife. A bereaved daughter writes to her recently deceased father about her missing mother. A girl puts on her great-grandmother’s wedding dress and disappears into the mountain. A society of symbiotes living and working inside their mother begins to crumble. Told in beautiful, spare prose, Jagannath is a remarkable collection of short stories from Swedish writer Karen Tidbeck.

Tidbeck translates her own work, and there’s a lovely essay in the back of the book about how the process of composition and translation differs between languages. But if you didn’t know these were translations, you’d never guess. The pictures these stories draw are so vivid, so crisp and clear, you feel you could walk right into them – even the strangest of stories, like those about the ever-increasing aunts who grow their successors inside their own hearts. If you’re only familiar with Nordic literature from the dark thrillers that have become so popular in recent years, give this collection a try.

A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas

Book – What’s a young woman to do when she’s possessed by a singularly brilliant mind and a distinct disdain for social conventions? If the young woman in question is Charlotte Holmes, main character of Sherry Thomas’ A Study in Scarlet Women, the answer to that question is; deliberately be caught behaving scandalously to avoid being forced to marry, move in with former actress and well-to-do widow Mrs. Joanna Watson, and set up a private detective agency under the fake name “Sherlock Holmes.” After all, no one in Victorian London would come to a lady consulting detective.

A Study in Scarlet Women is both a character study and mystery novel. However, as a mystery, the pace moves fairly slowly at first. Readers should be aware that for the first third of the story the actual murder mystery takes a back seat to character development. But with characters like these, it’s worth waiting for the plot to pick up. Thomas does an excellent job exploring the many ways Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and John Watson would be very different characters if they’d been born and raised as middle class women in an extremely male dominated society, inured in all the strict social guidelines that women were expected to abide by. This extra care and consideration makes for three dimensional characters that practically leap off of the page. And when the mystery plot does take off, watch out. It becomes hard to put the book down as Thomas throws misdirections and surprise twists at the reader, concluding in a startling and highly enjoyable finish. Readers who enjoy Sherlock Holmes adaptations and books that focus on strong character development should definitely check out A Study in Scarlet Women, by Sherry Thomas.

The Girl from Rawblood by Catriona Ward

Book – The Villarcas are tied to Rawblood, their estate in the Devon countryside. If they stay away from it too long, they sicken and die. But if they stay home, they are tormented by her, a curse of the Villarca bloodline, the ghost of a tortured young woman who tortures the residents of Rawblood in turn. At the turn of the twentieth century, young Iris Villarca is determined to find a way out from under the curse. Decades earlier, her father does his best to push his lover away to keep them both safe. In Italy, Iris’s grandmother finds herself strangely drawn to – and repulsed by – a Spanish expatriate. In the end, the curse ties them all together.

The Girl from Rawblood is a classically Gothic novel with all the trimmings: a huge empty house, a ghost, a family curse, a series of mysterious and unread letters. (And, unfortunately, quite a lot of that peculiarly English racism against European foreigners.) Pulling the Gothic all the way into 1918 is a particularly nice touch: while I liked the history of the family, Iris’s story, wrapped up in World War I, was by far the most fascinating. If you like your ghost stories equal parts frightening and heartbreaking, this is the book for you.