Saturday, December 30, 2017

Monsterland by James Crowley 373 pages

Charlie lost his cousin Billy a year ago.  He can't believe he's truly gone, a body was never found and Billy was such a good swimmer...  Halloween night finds Charlie following a vampire, Billy always dressed as a vampire, could it be him?  What Charlie finds instead is a world full of wonders and nightmares he's only heard about in stories.  He can't let the opportunity to try to find Billy slip away.  This puts him in the way of danger more than once, but he doesn't give up.  This was a nice story about how we all suffer when someone is torn from our life, but it was a really cool spin on traditional monster stories.  I would recommend it to kids 10 years or older for the most part. 

Friday, December 29, 2017

Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All by Allan Gurganus, 718 pages

  I knew this book was historical fiction when I chose it.
  Lucy speaks from the first sentence, chock full of personality. She has given a man who wishes to record her life’s connection with the Civil War permission to visit her in her nursing home between the time she’s up and going in the mornings and when the attendant comes to take her to lunch.
  She was once a child bride of a 40-some-year-old Civil War veteran who trekked off to fight when he was just a boy. Now pushing 100 years old, Lucy has lived through a century of incredible change. Drawing from the memories her husband recounted thousands of times, it seems as though she must have lived beyond her own lifespan, even back through the Civil War herself.
  Lucy has certainly lost her filters, if she ever had any. The woman craves attention and knows how to keep her biographer entertained in response to the questions he asks.
  I was probably 200 pages in when I remembered this was fiction instead of a biography, and I was so upset that Lucy wasn’t real that I had to set the book aside for a week or so until I could accept that and move on.
  Absolutely worth reading!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, 160 pages

I have seen "A Christmas Carol" and many movies based on the premise, but somehow had never read it.  I am so glad the Library Book Clubs are reading it. 

This is a classic that really is a treasure.  It took away any visions of scrooge I had towards this year's Christmas and entire holiday season.  I definitely recommend this slim little volume for anyone's reading pleasure in the deep dark winter. 

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Martian by Andy Weir 435 pages

My friend insisted that I had to read this one.  I am so glad she did!  The Martian has skyrocketed into one of my favorite books of all time. Okay, basic premise, an astronaut is accidentally left behind on Mars (the rest of the crew thinks he's dead) and he has to figure out how to survive as long as possible, maybe even until the next mission to Mars scheduled four years out.  You won't believe how engaging and enthralling this story is!  Watney, the astronaut, is seriously funny.  His sense of humor is one of the things that saves him, I think.  Seriously, I don't want to give anything away, just trust me and put this on your list to read!  I listened to it read by R. C. Bray and he was phenomenal.  What a fabulous story! 

Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis, 313 pages

  Since childhood, I've loved the worlds C.S. Lewis created in The Chronicles of Narnia, so I was happy recently to be pulled into the world he created in this, his last novel. The story is Lewis’ twist on the mythological tale of Cupid and Psyche, told from the viewpoint of Psyche’s oldest sister.
  I went into this read without being particularly familiar with Cupid and Psyche, and, in retrospect, I think that was best. To me, the tale was about Orual, an ugly royal girl, finding her strength in an ancient world where kings, soldiers, and Gods ordain what will be. The relationships and personalities made the book worthwhile for me. The pace moved along quickly, and the book was an easy and enjoyable read as one would hope from such a talented story teller as Lewis.
  The full mythology of Cupid and Psyche didn’t permeate the pages until the last few chapters. I’m going to have to look into the original myth and reread the end of this book to better appreciate it.

Friday, December 22, 2017

In The Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides, 454 pages

  For the record, I never ever ever ever want to explore the Arctic . . . ever.
  This is quite the story . . . and true stuff . . .  fact-is-more-amazing-than-fiction kind of true stuff . . . based on ship records and extensive research. I feel as though I must have been walking around with my ears closed to have lived in the U.S. my entire life without having heard about this arctic voyage aiming for the North Pole made on behalf of our country beginning in 1879 before now. Just wow . . . I’m awed by what the men on the USS Jeannette experienced in the name of exploration. If this were fiction, I would have said that some of the story line was a bit too much to accept as possible.
  To be honest, I don’t think I would have made it through this book if I hadn’t listened to it in my car as an audiobook. Even as a listener, I wasn’t sure I was going to have enough patience to wait for the promised journey to begin. If I remember correctly, the story of exploration itself didn’t start until sometime during the fourth out of 14 CDs. I kept listening, though, because I learned something new and interesting every five or ten minutes or so, and I decided that, alone, was worth the experience, even if the promised adventure was never addressed, which, it ultimately was, in wonderful detail.
  Now that I (and my husband) have reached the end of the USS Jeannette’s story, I highly recommend it . . . but not if you prefer generalization over specifics.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Killer Instinct by S.E. Green 272 pages

If you liked the T.V. show Dexter, you will like this book. Lane is the teenage girl version of Dexter. She has a secret obsession with serial killers. When a serial killer comes to her hometown, Lane gets involved in the hunt. 

This was read by Emily Woo Zeller. 

Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco 336 pages

Being a fan of historical fictional and true crime, I was fascinated with this book. Audrey Rose Wadsworth is not your conventional lord’s daughter. She is fascinated more with science and death than teas and dress fittings. As Jack the Ripper’s victims turn up on her uncle’s autopsy table, Audrey Rose is determined to find their killer.

This was read by Nicola Barber. 

Jackaby by William Ritter 304 pages

Jackaby is a quirky detective story that is a mixture of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who, which I am a fan of both. It takes place in New Fiddleham, New England in 1892. Abigail Rook needs a job and discovers a flier for an assistant job for R.F. Jackaby, an investigator with the ability to see the supernatural.

This was read by Nicola Barber.  

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter 511 Pages

**I want to start by saying that this is a very dark, disturbing novel. Parts were EXTREMELY difficult to read, so this is definitely not for the faint-hearted.**

All of that aside, I devoured this book. Karin Slaughter quickly jumped to the top of my “Favorite Authors” list after reading The Good Daughter. I laughed out loud, cringed, cried (even full-on ugly cried at one point), and felt like my heart was breaking while reading this one. This book completely sucked me in, in the best way. The prologue alone had my heart pounding so hard that I contemplated not continuing the novel.  

Teenage sisters Charlie and Sam experience a life-changing tragedy in their home that scars them literally and figuratively for the rest of their lives. Flash forward almost 30 years later, and another horrific event, once again, rattles their small town. This forces Sam to return to the town she swore she’d never come back to, and Charlie finds herself right in the middle of the drama, in the ultimate wrong-place-wrong-time scenario. Secrets quickly come to the surface, and the girls are forced to face the present situation, and their past, head-on.

I seriously cannot praise this book enough. Like I said, it’s extremely disturbing in some parts, but it was a fantastic read.  

Welcome to Wonderland: Home Sweet Motel by Chris Grabenstein 284 pages

I really like Chris Grabenstein.  He's an excellent author for middle grade books. Having said that, I have to tell you - DO NOT listen to this book.  Rather, let me ask you, do you think you'd like listening to Casey Kasem as a young person read an entire book like one long top 40 list?  No?  Well, neither did I.  It was distracting and horrible.  The story itself was something about an imaginative kid who loves making up stories trying to save his family's hotel (and home) from being taken from them, but the reader was so difficult to suffer through, I can't even tell you if it was a decent story in and of itself.  On the bright side, it is only 4 discs long, which is why I stuck with it.  Knowing Grabenstein, it was probably really funny and enjoyable, but yikes.  If you love Grabenstein, grab this book, but read it with your eyes and not your ears!  You've been warned.

I listened to it read by Bryan Kennedy. 

Esau by Philip Kerr, 372 pages

   Ahh . . . some light fiction that took me mountain climbing in the Himalayas. Not only did I get to imagine mountain climbing through treacherously icy terrain in the wake of a dangerous political climate (something I would never do), I also got to imagine searching for archaeological clues with a diverse team to shed light on the discovery of a unique skull (something I would absolutely do if the opportunity arose in a warmer climate). 
  Apparently the author, Philip Kerr, has written several novels. I’ll look for more of his work when I’m in the mood for a safe adventure.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Bedlam: A Novel of Love and Madness by Greg Hollingshead, 386 pages

   I hated this novel, not the writing, but rather how characters with mental illness or who were political prisoners were treated by society and the medical profession. I read it thoroughly because of human history I think people today and in coming generations should know and remember.
   This is a novel, but the larger depiction of the 18th Century London insane asylum is, unfortunately, true to what is known of Bedlam. Names of characters and the larger pieces of their stories in the book also existed and are part of Bedlam’s known history.
   I found myself a bit lost in the way the flashbacks were told at first, but some rereading of parts did the trick. Most of the book flowed smoothly enough. The book was definitely worth the time to read, but stay far away from it if you're looking for a feel-good escape from reality.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel, 203 pages

   I had no idea that a man, just a little older than I am, lived outdoors on a hidden piece of land in Maine for 27 years without human interaction (with the exception of saying “hi,” one time when a hiker unexpectedly passed by him in the woods). But, then again, without this biography, why would I know? He lived off the grid. Not even his family knew . . . until he was arrested in 2013 for stealing food to keep himself alive.
   Journalist Michael Finkel authored this book based on interviews with Christopher Knight, people familiar in various ways with Knight’s case, research on hermits throughout history, and related psychology.
   The book was fascinating and made me ponder a way of life I’d never considered. I wish Christopher Knight well, almost feel guilty for intruding upon his craved solitude by reading his story, and know that I’m not cut out to be a hermit. 
   While I listened to this book on CD, I would have preferred to curl up . . . completely alone . . . with a print version.

The League of Beastly Dreadfuls by Holly Grant 336 pages

What a bizarre little story.  It had a feeling to it, rather like the Series of Unfortunate Events, but with hints at magic.  Poor Anastasia is pulled from school one day and told her parents were in a terrible vacuum cleaner accident and she must go live with her two great-aunts.  They take her to a crumbling former asylum, St. Agony's Home for the Criminally Insane.  It doesn't take a lot of imagination or insight to see that these two aren't actually her relatives, and Anastasia's hero is a Francie Dewdrop, a mystery novel series character.  Anastasia sets out to solve the mystery of the asylum, before she's really sure there's even a mystery there to be solved.  The whole story just had such odd and quirky characters and occurrences it was never something where I felt completely invested in the story, but it was a very interesting ride!  I would say that if you have a 2nd - 6th grader who loved the Unfortunate Events series, you could definitely recommend this one to them.  Please note that at this time, the library only owns this book on audio CD, but the reader, Rosalyn Landor, was exceptional.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, 276 pages

  I listened to Kerry Shale read this book on CD, and I'm so happy I did!
  Much of the conversation hinges on challenges of people communicating between cultures and languages with histories that, in earlier times, might have made them hated enemies or beloved fellow countrymen rather than strangers to each other. Hearing Shale read the dialogue made me laugh so much that I listened to the book in entirety twice in a row. My English-only speaking family found ourselves in Ukraine for several months a few years after the setting of this story, and while I could understand how the dialogue may seem contrived to many American readers, it hit the mark with me as surreally hysterical, more than quite possible, and wonderful.
  The book is the story of a young American Jewish man travelling in Ukraine shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union in search of his family roots. The main character bears the name of the author. His story meets up with the life story of a young Ukrainian man near the author’s own age who becomes his guide, translator, and the second main character. Their present stories are woven together with a strong dose of a Jewish tall tale that serves as Jonathan's ancestral history and that ultimately impacts the lives of both main characters.
  The writing is fresh, fun, heart-breaking, and thought provoking.
  This is Foer's first published book. Since this one, he has published other work, including Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close that was released as a movie I enjoyed in 2011. I'm ready to get my hands on another of his books.

Monday, December 11, 2017

There's Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins 289 Pages

I was pleasantly surprised with this one. While it was a very generic horror story, it was a quick and fun read if you're interested in the horror genre. This book definitely reminded me of the Scream movies- a little bit cheesy, but enough scary moments to keep me interested. I am not a fan of gore, and there were parts of this that were really pushing me to my limit in that aspect. 
 Makani moved to Nebraska to get away from her troubling past, but finds herself in the middle of something more sinister than what she was running away from. Someone is killing off her classmates one by one, and the police are having a painfully hard time figuring out who the culprit is. I genuinely enjoyed Makani and Ollie, and found myself rooting for them early on. I also really loved the friendship between Makani, Ollie, Darby and Alex- it reminded me of the kind of group of friends I wish I had had in high school.  I was a little disappointed with how quickly you find out who the killer is, and the reasoning behind the murders was a little lackluster in my opinion. There was romance tied into this story, which I didn't mind, but would have if there was any more added in there. 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Wool by Hugh Howey, 509 pages

   I found Wool to be a quick and absorbing read. It is a post-apocalyptic, coming-of-age, science fiction novel. 
   Juliette, Lukas, and their entire society live underground after the earth’s surface has been made uninhabitable. Their system of living, the life each had experienced prior to the story at hand, and the situation they must try to survive kept my interest. You’ll find action, mystery, and suspense in this one, the first book of a trilogy with several additional volumes stemming from it. 
   I look forward to stepping back into the world created by Hugh Howey in books that follow someday, perhaps when I’m holed up inside to stay out of winter weather.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide By Robert Jay Lifton, 561 pages

  When I received this book, I thought I would hold onto it for browsing and reference, but the first page of the foreword pulled me immediately into the introduction and quickly through to page 20 when the research report actually began. One chapter led to another, leaving me disappointed whenever I had to put the book down, until I’d read the entire study (except for the index) within a few weeks. 
  Ever since I was a high school student who turned my first term paper into an argument that people living in Germany had to have known of the Nazi concentration camps and Jewish genocide happening in their midst, I’ve been intrigued by the psychology of societies and individuals who allow unspeakable crimes against humanity to occur. The main questions of this book are how and why did so many in the medical profession (healers) became crucial participants in Nazi orchestrated mass murder. 
  If you are brave enough to face the psychological darkness and vile actions reported in the book and are also willing to come face to face with how such evil relates to the rest of us, then I suggest that this research may help build your own psychological ability to recognize, face, and fight against human atrocities in our world today. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

Journey's End by Rachel Hawkins 286 pages

Welcome to Journey's End, a charming village on a coast in Scotland where there is a massive fog bank that just might eat you if you get too close to it!  Not exactly the best travel brochure tagline, but it makes for a really fun story.  I love the accents, the atmosphere and the mystery that this book had in spades.  Listening to it was nice, because the reader had a nice Scottish accent.  The three main characters were relatable, joining forces to solve a centuries-old mystery that starts out just as a fun bit of lore, but ends up being far more dire.  It never got terribly dark or scary, so it's fine for young readers, too.  I recommend this one for 3rd to 5th graders primarily, but anyone who likes the idea of a new Nessie-like legend should enjoy this.  I get the feeling it is the first of a series, and see lots of possibilities.  I listened to this one read by Saskia Maarleveld. 

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Bondwoman’s Narrative: A Novel by Hannah Crafts; Edited By Henry Louis Gates, Jr.-338 pages

  I’ve never before encountered a book with an introduction that goes up to one unnumbered page beyond lxxiv . . . which means 75 pages (I know because I Googled Roman numerals to double check) that I actually read and then felt ended too abruptly. The story by Hannah Crafts is a good story and something that I would have been glad to read, but, thanks to the introduction by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., this is a book I want to keep on my shelves to read again.
  The story: fiction with action and suspense, told by a female slave about her life on a southern plantation and her attempted escape toward freedom in the northern U.S.
  The introduction: the true story of how Crafts’ unpublished manuscript made it into the hands of Gates and how he came to believe that “Hannah Crafts” was a real, pre-Civil War, literate female slave.
  The story itself is published as the manuscript was written, complete with some crossed-out words. A few publisher’s additions appear in brackets to help the reader. If the author of the story was, indeed, who Gates believes her to be, “The Bondwoman’s Narrative” is the earliest known novel to be written by an African American woman and the only known novel to be written by a female slave without having gone through the filter of white abolitionists. I expect to reread the story (and the long introduction) again one day.

Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe by Robert Matzen, 400 pages

Jimmy Stewart was an academy winning actor when World War II broke out.  This biography details his life, but focuses mostly on his military service during the war.

Being a fan of World War II history and Jimmy Stewart, I really enjoyed this book.  Stewart was a decorated officer and pilot of B-24 bombers during the war.

This book might not appeal to someone who simply enjoys a Hollywood biography.  However, those interested in World War II history will not be disappointed. 

Christmas in London by Anita Hughes, 288 pages

35926180I love armchair traveling especially at Christmastime. I have been lucky enough to see London at Christmastime in real life. It's been years but I can see it like it was yesterday. The first main character you met, Louisa Graham, is a baker. Reading about her concoctions made me so hungry I actually made brownies (from a box...she'd probably be ashamed that they weren't from scratch). I'm not always the biggest fan of dual stories but I really liked Kate, the producer of the TV show that brings Louisa to London to bake for the annual Christmas Eve Dinner TV special at Claridge's. Thanks to the dual main characters you have story lines for two types of of second chances and fans of new love. But as everyone knows there's no guarantee that you'll get a happily ever after.