Review: The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books (April 1, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 1616203218
  • Source: Publisher

A.J. Fikry is…to put it gently, a curmudgeon.  After his wife passes away, he discovers his life isn’t as he planned. The small independent bookstore the couple owned on the small island of Alice is suffering. It’s peak season is summer when vacationers visit the store to stock up on their beach reads. A.J. isn’t your typical bookseller, to say the least. He’s quite particular in the books he stocks, not taking risks by only shelving what he knows will sell.  His wife’s death has left him a bitter, angry man.

When his prized book, a rare collection of Poe stories, is stolen, A.J. doesn’t think his life could get any worse. Everything changes when an item of the most unusual sorts is left behind at his store.  This delivery changes A.J., giving him the inspiration and guidance to seek a more fulfilling, happy life.  Although the life he is now living is certainly not what he expected, it is more than he could have ever dreamed.

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is a story meant to be read and cherished by lovers of books. Never could I have imagined the vast beauty contained within one book. It had me laughing one minute, crying the next. By the time I finished reading it, my heart was full with emotion and the satisfaction of reading a book so poignant and brilliant.

The characters Zevin creates are so genuine it’s hard to believe they aren’t real people. At the onset, I despised A.J.’s character. He was mean  and callous, uncaring about who he offended. At the end, however, he was transformed into such a tremendous character, one of my favorite fictional characters I have ever come across. As I finished reading, I wanted to plan a trip to Fikry’s bookstore and to meet the people who played such a big part in his life. While that’s an impossible notion for obvious reasons, I am comforted to know that I can reunite with them at will, simply by opening up the pages of this tremendous book.

I don’t know if I can think of an audience that would not appreciate The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry. It is a book readers will devour and fall in love with, a book you will want to talk about with everyone around you. The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is a book about second chances, love, redemption and the love of books. Highly, highly recommended!

The audiobook production of this title is narrated by one of my favorites, Scott Brick. Guess what I’m listening to next?! Listen to a sample here.

 

 

TSS: A Month in Review: March 2014


Books Reviewed

Total books read: 10

Pick of the month: 

I’m actually making it a conscious effort not to pick more than two favorites each month. Let’s see how long I can life up to this challenge!  So, because of the lasting impact these books had, my favorite books of the month are The Bear by Claire Cameron and Above by Isla Morley. Two very different books, both very impactful!

Most popular post of the month (based on comments):

Most visited post of the month: 

Special posts: 

Out in the Blogisphere:

Where else have I been blogging this month? Two different locations in March:

Whew! What a busy month! How was your reading month? What were your favorite books read?

Frightful Friday: Runner by Patrick Lee

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week. This week’s featured title is the audiobook production of Runner by Patrick Lee:

  • Listening Length: 8 hours and 39 minutes
  • Program Type: Audiobook
  • Version: Unabridged
  • Publisher: Macmillan Audio (February 18, 2014)
  • Source: Personal copy

Sam Dryden is taking a nightly run when he runs into a young girl. The look of terror on her eyes instantly has his undivided attention. When it becomes obvious that the men chasing after her have deadly intentions, Dryden uses his skills as a retired special forces operative to help her evade capture.  After her attackers flee, Dryden learns that this eleven-year-old girl, Rachel, was held captive in a secret prison. She remembers only the last two months of her life, nothing of her existence outside the prison.

Dryden lost his wife and daughter in an accident five years ago. Seeing the genuine terror and fear in Rachel’s eyes, he vows to help her get answers.  Little does he realize how much his experience in a black-ops will help them in their attempt to elude her captures.

What they learn in the next few days is life altering, for both Dryden and Rachel.  It’s quite possible that the memories Rachel is desperately trying to recover are of a danger so unimaginable that millions of lives are at stake.

I’m intentionally being quite vague in my summary of this title for it is best to be experienced first hand, without any preconceived notions of what may transpire. The best way to put it would be a combination of the thrill of a Jack Reacher novel meeting the science-fiction-esque aspect of a Joe Ledger novel. What results is a novel jam-packed with a unique thrill and intensity.  Each time I paused in my listen of this audiobook, my heart would be pounding.  I made every excuse I could to listen to more, including taking the longer route home or sitting in front of my  house listening to just a few minutes more.

Raul Esparza’s narration of this book just added to the intensity. His tone captured the feel of the moment so expertly, demanding the listener’s undivided attention.

Runner is truly one of the best thrillers I have listened to in some time. I’m new to his work and it is now a personal mission of mine to read it all. I’m ecstatic to see that this is the first in a new series. Dryden’s character is the best of both worlds: a character that is both sensitive and flawed but also intense and unrelenting. I honestly cannot wait for more. Highly, highly recommended!

 

Thank you to Bob at The Guilded Earlobe for the recommendation. Once again, my zombie-loving friend, you are spot on!

Review: Mind of Winter by Laura Kasischke

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  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (March 25, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0062284398
  • Source: Publisher

Holly Judge awakens on a snowy Christmas morning with remnants of a nightmare racing through her head. Thirteen years ago, she and her husband traveled to Russia to adopt their daughter, Tatiana.  The thought that races through her head – Something followed them from Russia – terrifies her. They were warned to name her something American, to prevent her life in Russia from following her, but they wanted to pay homage to her home country.  Now fifteen, Tatiana is a beautiful, raven-haired young woman.

The craziness of the day prevents Holly from pondering the nightmare any further. Her husband, Eric, has left in a rush to pick up his family from the airport. They are hosting Christmas dinner and the few hours they slept in has Holly rushing frantically to prepare for the day. When the blizzard raging outside prevents their guests from arriving, including her husband and in-laws, Holly and Tatiana are left alone.  As the hours pass, Tatiana’s behavior changes drastically, almost a shell of her original self. It is as if a stranger is in the house with her…

I don’t know about you, but the concept of a raven-haired orphan reminds me of one thing:

 

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I mean, the resemblance to the young girl on the cover of the book is uncanny, right?

Taking a step back, the resemblance in the appearance in the young girls is the only thing these have in common. What Holly learns as the cold, desolate, Christmas morning progresses is far more terrorizing, in my mind.  Holly reflects back on their visits to the orphanage and the experiences they have while visiting the orphanage. The cold starkness of the orphanage is reflected in the blizzard outdoors, now, thirteen years later.

The tension Kasischke is slow but heavy.  The reader knows the reveal will be quick and terrifying. And it was. In just a few pages, everything changes for this mother and child. The emotions readers face while reading this intense thriller will range from joy, to terror, and then sadness. I’m not going to sugar-coat it. The ending hits you like a punch to the gut.

So why read this novel? It’s simultaneously brilliant and terrifying. Like witnessing an accident, you can’t tear your eyes away. You’ll question everything, finding it difficult to separate truth from illusion.  Completely mesmerizing, don’t be shocked if you read this relatively short book in one sitting.

What stands out for me is how Kasischke used Holly’s self-doubt and own mental insecurities to build up and reveal the terror she is about to face. The reader follows as the life she thought was perfect is slowly chipped away and the horrific reality hits her out of nowhere.

While the premise might lead readers to believe this is a horror novel it actually isn’t. Instead, it’s a emotional, gut-wrenching, mind-altering psychological thriller. Kasischke raises the bar high for other novels like this, for it’s going to take a lot to terrify me more than this novel did.  Highly, highly recommended.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to review this title. Be sure to check out the other stops in the tour.

Review: The Deepest Secret by Carla Buckley

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam (February 4, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0345535243
  • Source: Publisher

Eve Lattimore and her family live on a quiet, suburban street. From the outside, it seems as though they live a relatively normal life. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.  Her fourteen-year-old son, Tyler, lives with a rare disease that prevents him from going outside during the day. One stray ray of sun can cause his skin to breakout into painful blisters. Eve has spent Tyler’s entire live worrying about and caring for him. During the day, he’s held captive his disease, forced to live like a prisoner in his second-floor bedroom. He can’t attend school, for that would mean he would have to go outside during daylight hours.  Instead, he Skypes into his classrooms and participates remotely. The twilight hours are his salvation; it is the only time he is able to leave the confines of his home and venture outdoors.

Taking care of a child in this condition is far from easy. Her teen daughter, Melissa, is struggling. A teen herself, she is struggling with many of the things typical girls her age face. Unfortunately, as most of her parents’ attention is focused on her brother, she feels lost and alone in the world, often wishing that she had Tyler’s disease. Eve’s husband, David, works hundreds of miles away in DC, returning home only for the weekend.   It is on one rainy night, as Eve is driving to the airport to pick up her husband, that the unthinkable happens.  Eve looks down at a text and she hits something. She assumes it is a deer but when she ventures out into the rain she discovers the unthinkable.

Fearful of what will happen to her family if something happens to her, Eve keeps the incident a secret. What she has done hits close to home; her best friend Charlotte is the most affected.  Eve is so worried about protecting her family that she doesn’t seem to realize it is crumbling before her.

You know those perfect suburban neighborhoods that seem to perfect to be true? This is most definitely one of them.  During Tyler’s nighttime adventures, he is able to see the real, hidden side of his neighbors.  It is as if his neighbors think the darkness of night shadows their true behavior. As Tyler sees his world crumbling around him, he too takes actions to protect his family, actions that are only a temporary fix to the real damage that lies beneath.

I was in a bit of a reading funk before I starting reading The Deepest Secret. I began reading it on Sunday morning and the next thing I know, two hours had passed.  From page one, I was captivated by the storyline, completely mesmerized by the characters.  While this novel is over 400 pages, it certainly didn’t feel like it. I was transfixed; unable to tear myself away for even the briefest of moments.

The characters that Buckley creates are so real, so genuine, that readers will instantly connect with them. Those of us with children, with or without disabilities, will cling to Eve as she faces the unthinkable.  That’s not to say that I didn’t have some issues with Eve; she did make quite a few decisions that made me question her motives. Things would have gone a completely different direction had she been honest up front, but as a mother myself, I constantly found myself questioning if I would have done any different in Eve’s place.

The only issue I had with this novel is that it seemed to wrap up too quickly for me. It isn’t until the very end that the truth is revealed; the rest of the novel is spent following Eve as she evades the truth.  I would have preferred that more attention be given to the “after,” and I think many others would agree. I’d grown so close to the characters that the ending just wasn’t enough for me. I wanted more; I needed closure and to know what happened to the family.

All this said, I still do highly recommend this novel. It would be perfect for a book club discussion as it attacks quite a few themes that would generate a great deal of discussion.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to review this title. Be sure to check out the other stops in this tour!

Visit Carla’s website or Facebook for more information.

 

Spring Book Preview: April 2014, Part II

Yesterday, I shared the first half of the April releases I’m most excited about. Who knew April was such a big book month!? Following is the second half of that list, including publisher’s summary and links to preorder. Get your wallets ready!

Robot Uprisings (April 8): As real robots creep into our lives, so does a sense of fear-we have all wondered what horrifying scenarious might unfold if our technology were to go awry. This anthology brings to life the half-formed questions and fears we all have about the machines we live with. With contributions by Alan Dean Foster, Charles Yu, Hugh Howey, Daniel H. Wilson, Corey Doctorow, Ian McDonald, Ernie Cline, Jeff Abbott, Robin Wasserman, and Anna North,Robot Uprisings contains meticulously described, exhilarating trips to futures in which humans can only survive by being more clever and tenacious than the rebellious machines they have unwittingly created.

Under a Silent Moon by Elizabeth Haynes (April 15): Two women share one fate. A suspected murder at an English Farm. A reported suicide at a local quarry.
Can DCI Louisa Smith and her team gather the evidence and discover a link between them, a link which sealed their fate one cold night, Under a Silent Moon? A tense, compelling and unsettling novel mystery brimming with source material and evidence set over just six days, Under a Silent Moon will keep you gripped until the very last page and asks: Can you connect the clues and name the Killer?


Ruin Falls by Jenny Milchman (April 22): When Liz wakes up one morning in her hotel room to discover her two children Ally and Reid aren’t in their beds, her mind races, imagining a million worst-case scenarios, playing out her every nightmare. When she discovers that the kids were taken, not by some anonymous monster in a ski mask but by her own husband, Paul, her frantic worries turn into desperate questions. Unable to comprehend why the man who had been her trusted partner would willingly take from her all she loves most, Liz throws herself into the search for her kids. Her investigation uncovers a disturbing incident from her husband’s past and she begins receiving ominous threats, warning her to stay away. No more able to abandon her search than stop breathing, Liz digs deeper into her husband’s secrets-only to discover that Paul’s plans are far more extreme than she ever could have imagined.

Afterparty by Daryl Gregory (April 22):  It begins in Toronto, in the years after the smart drug revolution. Any high school student with a chemjet and internet connection can download recipes and print drugs, or invent them. A seventeen-year-old street girl finds God through a new brain-altering drug called Numinous, used as a sacrament by a new Church that preys on the underclass. But she is arrested and put into detention, and without the drug, commits suicide.

Lyda Rose, another patient in that detention facility, has a dark secret: she was one of the original scientists who developed the drug. With the help of an ex-government agent and an imaginary, drug-induced doctor, Lyda sets out to find the other three survivors of the five who made the Numinous in a quest to set things right.

The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore (April 22): Venice, a long time ago. Three prominent Venetians await their most loathsome and foul dinner guest, the erstwhile envoy of Britain and France, and widower of the murdered Queen Cordelia: the rascal-Fool Pocket.

This trio of cunning plotters—the merchant, Antonio; the senator, Montressor Brabantio; and the naval officer, Iago—have lured Pocket to a dark dungeon, promising an evening of sprits and debauchery with a rare Amontillado sherry and Brabantio’s beautiful daughter, Portia. 

But their invitation is, of course, bogus. The wine is drugged. The girl isn’t even in the city limits. Desperate to rid themselves once and for all of the man who has consistently foiled their grand quest for power and wealth, they have lured him to his death. (How can such a small man, be such a huge obstacle?). But this Fool is no fool . . . and he’s got more than a few tricks (and hand gestures) up his sleeve.

Natchez Burning by Greg Iles (April 29): Growing up in the rural Southern hamlet of Natchez, Mississippi, Penn Cage learned everything he knows about honor and duty from his father, Tom Cage. But now the beloved family doctor and pillar of the community is accused of murdering Viola Turner, the beautiful nurse with whom he worked in the dark days of the early 1960s. A fighter who has always stood for justice, Penn is determined to save his father, even though Tom, stubbornly evoking doctor-patient privilege, refuses to speak up in his own defense. 

The quest for answers sends Penn deep into the past—into the heart of a conspiracy of greed and murder involving the Double Eagles, a vicious KKK crew headed by one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the state. With the aid of a local friend and reporter privy to some of Natchez’s deadliest secrets, Penn follows a bloody trail that stretches back forty years, to a shocking truth that will forever alter his perception of both his father and himself. 

With everything on the line, including his own life, Penn must decide how far he will go to protect those he loves . . . and judge whether justice is worth the cost. 

Rich in Southern atmosphere and electrifying plot turns, Natchez Burning marks the brilliant return of a genuine American master of suspense. Tense and disturbing, it is the most explosive, exciting, sexy, and ambitious story Greg Iles has ever written.

Whew! Well, that completes it! My most anticipated books of April. What did I miss? Any of the books that I’ve mentioned in particular catch your eye!?

If you do decide to read any of these, I’d love to hear about your experience. I’ll keep the comments open on this post so please come back and share!

Spring Book Preview: April 2014

Spring is just around the corner…make that meteorological Spring!  I don’t know about you, but I’m growing quite tired of the drastic changes in weather. One day it’s sunny the next day the ground is covered in snow.  The one plus to the cold weather is having more time to examine upcoming books!

Following are the first half of the April releases I’m really excited about!  I’ve included the publisher summary. If you’d like to preorder, simply click on the book image or title link:

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (April 1):  A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died; his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history; and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island–from Chief Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward him; from Ismay, his sister-in-law, who is hell-bent on saving A.J. from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who persists in taking the ferry to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, he can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It’s a small package, though large in weight–an unexpected arrival that gives A.J. the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn’t take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J., for the determined sales rep Amelia to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light, for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.’s world. Or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn’t see coming.

Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige (April 1): Somewhere over the rainbow…something has gone terribly wrong.  A twister has hit Kansas again, and this time it whisks away a girl named Amy Gumm. At first, Amy is thrilled to have left her trailer park life behind. But instead of the magical land where troubles melt like lemon drops that she knows from the books and the movies, she discovers the place has been destroyed. And it’s all Dorothy’s fault. Amy soon joins up with the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked—a group of deposed witches and warlocks who are determined to end Dorothy’s oppressive reign, and who need Amy’s help. They teach her the secrets of witchcraft and combat and then they give her an impossible mission: steal back the Tin Woodman’s heart, the Scarecrow’s brain, and the Lion’s courage. And when she’s done, Dorothy must die.

The Girl Who Came Home by Hazel Gaynor (April 1):  Ireland, 1912. Fourteen members of a small village set sail on RMS Titanic, hoping to find a better life in America. For seventeen-year-old Maggie Murphy, the journey is bittersweet. Though her future lies in an unknown new place, her heart remains in Ireland with Séamus, the sweetheart she left behind. When disaster strikes, Maggie is one of the lucky few passengers in steerage who survives. Waking up alone in a New York hospital, she vows never to speak of the terror and panic of that terrible night ever again.

Chicago, 1982. Adrift after the death of her father, Grace Butler struggles to decide what comes next. When her Great Nana Maggie shares the painful secret she harbored for almost a lifetime about the Titanic, the revelation gives Grace new direction—and leads her and Maggie to unexpected reunions with those they thought lost long ago.



Frog Music by Emma Donoghue (April 1): Summer of 1876: San Francisco is in the fierce grip of a record-breaking heat wave and a smallpox epidemic. Through the window of a railroad saloon, a young woman named Jenny Bonnet is shot dead.

The survivor, her friend Blanche Beunon, is a French burlesque dancer. Over the next three days, she will risk everything to bring Jenny’s murderer to justice–if he doesn’t track her down first. The story Blanche struggles to piece together is one of free-love bohemians, desperate paupers, and arrogant millionaires; of jealous men, icy women, and damaged children. It’s the secret life of Jenny herself, a notorious character who breaks the law every morning by getting dressed: a charmer as slippery as the frogs she hunts.

In thrilling, cinematic style, FROG MUSIC digs up a long-forgotten, never-solved crime. Full of songs that migrated across the world, Emma Donoghue’s lyrical tale of love and bloodshed among lowlifes captures the pulse of a boomtown like no other.

Be Safe I Love You by Cara Hoffman (April 1): Lauren Clay has just returned from a tour of duty in Iraq in time to spend Christmas with her family. As she reconnects with her old friends, it’s clear to everyone in their rural New York town that something is wrong with Lauren. But her father is so happy to have her home that he ignores the warning signs—her odd behavior and the repeated phone calls from an Army psychologist. Things seem better when Lauren offers to take her younger brother Danny on a trip to visit their mother upstate. Instead, she guides Danny into the glacial woods of Canada on a quest to visit the Jeanne d’Arc basin, the site of an oil field that has become her strange obsession. As they set up camp in an abandoned hunting village, Lauren believes she’s teaching Danny survival skills for the day when she’s no longer able to take care of him. But where does she think she’s going, and what happened to her in Iraq that set her on this path?

With all the boldness and intelligence she brought to So Much Pretty, Cara Hoffman ignites the dark truth about war and homecoming in this literary page-turner that is sure to linger long after its surprising secrets are revealed.

The Ballad of a Small Player by Lawrence Osborne (April 1): Set in the lushly dangerous world of Macau’s casinos, THE BALLAD OF A SMALL PLAYER is a riveting tale of risk and passion by Lawrence Osborne, author of the critically acclaimed novel The Forgiven. Doyle is a corrupt English lawyer who has escaped prosecution by fleeing to Macau and Hong Kong, spending his nights drinking and gambling and his days sleeping off his excesses. Taking refuge in a series of luxury hotels, he watches his fortune rise and fall by the moment, as the baccarat tables decide his fate. Dissolute and increasingly apathetic, he wonders whether destitution-or even death-would prove more satisfying than his current existence.At a moment of crisis, he encounters Dao-Ming, a beautiful and enigmatic native Chinese woman who seems to offer salvation, in the form of both money and love. But as his past threatens to catch up with Doyle, it may be too late. With echoes of Paul Bowles and Ian McEwan, this gorgeously vivid novel will enthrall critics and readers alike.

The Island of Doves by Kelly O’Connor McNees (April 1): Susannah Fraser lives in one of Buffalo’s finest mansions, but her husband has made it a monstrous prison. When a mysterious woman offers to help her escape, Susannah boards a steamboat for Mackinac Island. But after being a dutiful daughter and obedient wife, it is only as she flees that she realizes how unprepared she is for freedom.

An exceptional woman of early America, Magdelaine Fonteneau has overcome convention to live a bold and adventurous life, achieving great wealth and power as a fur trader. But Magdelaine has also seen great tragedy and lost all that was dear to her, and she is no longer sure her hardened heart is capable of love.

Now, Magdelaine seeks redemption by offering safe harbor to Susannah. But as their friendship grows into something miraculous, it changes each woman in unexpected ways. Each needs to learn to love again, and only together can they realize a future bright with the promise of new life…

No Book But the World by Leah Hager Cohen (April 3): At the edge of a woods, on the grounds of a defunct “free school,” Ava and her brother, Fred, shared a dreamy and seemingly idyllic childhood—a world defined largely by their imaginations and each other’s presence. Everyone is aware of Fred’s oddness or vague impairment, but his parents’ fierce disapproval of labels keeps him free of evaluation or intervention, and constantly at Ava’s side.

Decades later, then, when Ava learns that her brother is being held in a county jail for a shocking crime, she is frantic to piece together what actually happened. A boy is dead. But could Fred really have done what he is accused of? As she is drawn deeper into the details of the crime, Ava becomes obsessed with learning the truth, convinced that she and she alone will be able to reach her brother and explain him—and his innocence—to the world.

Leah Hager Cohen brings her trademark intelligence to a psychologically gripping, richly ambiguous story that suggests we may ultimately understand one another best not with facts alone, but through our imaginations.

The Remedy: Robert Koch, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Quest to Cure Tuberculosis by Thomas Goetz (April 3): In 1875, tuberculosis was the deadliest disease in the world, accountable for a third of all deaths. A diagnosis of TB—often called consumption—was a death sentence. Then, in a triumph of medical science, a German doctor named Robert Koch deployed an unprecedented scientific rigor to discover the bacteria that caused TB and soon embarked on a remedy—a remedy that would be his undoing.

When Koch announced he’d found a cure, Arthur Conan Doyle, then a small-town doctor in England and sometime writer, went to Berlin to cover the event. Touring the ward of reportedly cured patients, he was horrified. Koch’s “remedy” was either sloppy science or outright fraud.

But to those desperate for relief, Koch’s cure was worth the risk. As Europe’s consumptives descended upon Berlin, Conan Doyle returned to England to become a writer, not a scientist. But he brought Koch’s scientific methods to the masses through the character of Sherlock Holmes.

Capturing the moment when mystery and magic began to yield to science, The Remedy chronicles the stunning story of how the germ theory of disease became fact, how two men of ambition were emboldened to reach for something more, and how scientific discoveries evolve into social truths.

 

This post is just the first HALF of the April releases I’m excited about! Title releasing in mid-to-late April will post tomorrow!

What books did I miss? Which books are you excited about?

Review: The Revenant of Thraxton Hall: The Paranormal Casebooks of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle by Vaughn Entwistle

  • Series: Paranormal Casebooks of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Book 1)
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books (March 25, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 1250035007
  • Source: Publisher

Arthur Conan Doyle is the most hated man in London after he kills off the beloved character of Sherlock Holmes in “The Final Problem.”  When he is invited to come to a meeting of the Society for Psychical Research in a manor house in the English countryside, he willingly accepts the excuse to get out of the city. He’s not there merely to participate in the meeting, but to prevent a murder.  The intended victim: the lady of the house, Hope Thraxton.  A medium herself, Lady Thraxton has predicted that her own demise will take place during a seance at the manor.

Joining Doyle on this journey is his good friend, Oscar Wilde.  Together, they must painstakingly ob the observe guests at Thraxton Hall, narrowing down the suspects in an attempt to identify the killer before the murder can transpire.  Aided by his fictional character, Sherlock Holmes, Doyle soon comes to terms with the fact that things are not necessarily always as they seem.

I was immediately taken when read the premise of this novel. I’ve been a long time fan of all things Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle. Be forewarned, however…Sherlock Holmes doesn’t have as big a part in this novel as fans would hope.  His presence is just enough to serve as a reminder of his existence and Doyle’s inability to separate himself with his renowned and loved character.

That said, there is still much to love and appreciate about this first book in a new series. Doyle and Wilde’s witty banter is one of them. Doyle is living the life he created for his character, Sherlock Holmes, and does so quite willingly. He uses the skills of deduction so prominently used by Holmes.  Wilde, on the other hand, is quite the character. He seems more concerned about the well-being of his wardrobe  than of Doyle and the others.  While some might find this to be annoying, I think it added a bit of humor to their already unusual friendship.

The paranormal aspect of this novel was also quite enticing.  It didn’t monopolize the storyline, it simply added a new level of fear to an already chilling scenario.

I’m excited to see that this novel is the first in a new series. While the “whodunit” aspect isn’t all that difficult to figure out, I think The Revenant of Thraxton Hall is evidence of great potential in this new series.  Recommended to fans of good, old fashioned mystery (with a touch of the paranormal)! 

Audiobook Review: The Bear by Claire Cameron

  • Listening Length: 6 hours and 22 minutes
  • Program Type: Audiobook
  • Version: Unabridged
  • Publisher: Hachette Audio (February 11, 2014)

Five year old Anna is camping with her parents and three year old brother Alex (affectionately referred to as Stick) on a remote island. She is awakened to hear her mother yelling (“Momma never yells, except maybe twice”) and finds that the campsite is in shambles. Their father, in an effort to protect them, throws Anna and Alex into a cooler, ordering them to remain inside.  Anna, too young to contemplate what is happening, sees a big brown shape and believes it to be a big dog. The big dog is actually a bear and their campsite is under attack.

So begins this story of survival. Anna, a young child herself, is now not only responsible for her own survival but that of her  young brother as well.  Told from Anna’s point of view, the reader (or listener) gets a glimpse from the perspective of a five year old. Her innocence, her naivety, are at the same time endearing and heartbreaking.  She’s thrust into situations no five year old should ever have to experience, much less alone. Her attempts to care for her brother are admirable, finding berries to feed him, “chocolate milk” water from a puddle to quench his thirst, and leaves to clean him when he soils himself. Her knowledge for a child that age is quite admirable.

The problem with many books written to be told from the perspective of a child instead read like what an adult think that child’s perspective would be. That’s not the case with this novel. I honestly completely forgot that I was listening to a novel, written by an adult. Instead, I was instantly consumed by young Anna’s world. It felt as though I was sitting beside her, listening as she retold the tragedy that had befallen her family.

This leads me to the audio production of this book. One word: Outstanding. Honestly, I don’t think anyone else could have narrated it better than Cassandra Morris.  Her voice sounds young, perfect to voice the narration of a story told from the point of a young girl. She so beautifully captured Anna’s essence, her naivety and innocence.  I think it is her talented narration, combined with Cameron’s story, that made this audiobook stand out so much for me. I don’t know that I would have the same experience reading the print version of the book.  I don’t know that I would be able to create Anna’s voice in my  head the way it was intended. It would have been what I feared: An adult reading a story from the viewpoint of a young child.  It is for this reason that I encourage you…no implore you…to listen to the audio version of the novel if it strikes your fancy.

I originally planned for this review to be part of my Frightful Friday feature. Here’s a snippet of the publisher’s summary:

While camping with her family on a remote island, five-year-old Anna awakes in the night to the sound of her mother screaming. A rogue black bear, three hundred pounds of fury, is attacking the family’s campsite — and pouncing on her parents as prey.

Sounds terrifying, right? Except it wasn’t. At least not to me, in the format of an audiobook. Yes, the scene in which she looses her parents is quite terrifying. Save for that particular scene, the rest of the novel is actually quite devoid of terror, actually sometimes rather comical exploration of survival, love, and family.  So…not necessarily the criteria for Frightful Friday.

This novel is based on an actual bear attack in the 1990s. The author, at the time, was a camp counselor nearby.  This novel is based on her memories and subsequent research on the attacks. She obviously fictionalized the account, adding the two children survivors when the actual bear attack had none. It’s obvious that the original bear attack hit close to home for Cameron, for her fictionalized version is full of passion and what I believe would be an honest understanding of how young children would respond to such an attack.

What stood out for me, beyond all that I have already summarized thus far (Anna’s ingenuity, her passion and determination to survive) was the Afterward. The reader/listener gets to see Anna and Stick as adults, just recently understanding what transpired on that island. Knowing that they are okay, that they survived not only the bear attack but growing up without parents, was so rewarding and fulfilling.

I could honestly go on and on about this novel. It is one that still lingers in my heart and soul. A story I will not soon forget. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Spiegel & Grau (March 11, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 081299520
  • Source: Publisher

Seventeen year old Lucy Dane lives in the small town of Henbane, deep in the Ozark Mountains.  She knows loss personally and deeply,  for her own mother went missing when Lucy was an infant. Her friend Cheri, a mentally challenged young woman from a broken home, has been missing for a year. Her body was found placed in a tree in full view of the townpeople.

The townspeople of Henbane tend to keep to themselves, burying the past and all its secrets.  They have never truly accepted Lucy as one of their own.  Her mother, an “outsider” was rumored to have been a witch, for how else could she have one over the heart of the young and attractive Carl Bane?  They still see Lucy as a product of her mother.  Despite this, Lucy make sit her mission to see to it that Cheri’s killer is revealed and, in doing so, learns about her mother’s fate as well.  What she uncovers is far more dark and disturbing than she could ever have imagined, forcing her to reevaluate those individuals closest to her, including her own family.

The Weight of Blood is an absolutely captivating thriller that delves deep into the pain surrounding family secrets and the depths we’ll go to protect the ones we love.  I was astounded to learn that this is McHugh’s debut, for the talent she displayed in crafting this novel. The small town setting and the politics of small town life leap from the pages, captivating the reader from the beginning.  Told in alternating points of view and places in time, McHugh reveals just enough with each chapter to entice the reader and compel them to continue.

Lucy is a strong-willed, headstrong young woman. Her obsession with getting to the root of Cheri’s disappearance doesn’t relinquish, even if it means those close to her will implicated and punished.  She struggles to gain independence despite the fact that her father, still recovering her mother’s disappearance, attempts to prevent her from doing so. Her passion and commitment to justice is commendable. This mission takes her on an unexpected journey of discovery, of both the past and her own identity.

The Weight of Blood is certainly not a light read. It explores topics such as human trafficking, abuse against women, and showcases how small-town living inhibits many of the women who live there from seeking a life beyond the mountains.  The author used her own knowledge and familiarity with the Ozarks to build this intense story, using a real murder as the inspiration of this novel.

The Weight of Blood is a tremendous debut novel full of depth and emotion, one that leaves a lasting impression. Highly, highly recommended.