Thursday, September 11, 2014

GUEST REVIEW: The Ninth Wife by Amy Stolls

Tonight we have a special guest review from a new library employee! But Donna isn't new to Book News & Reviews; in 2012, when we Donna was simply a library patron, she contributed reviews of Home at Last by Bonnie Leon and Siobhan Fallon's linked short story collection You Know When the Men Are Gone. Glad to have you back, Donna!

Donna's Rating:4/5 Stars
Genre: Mainstream Fiction/Love Story
Audience: Adult

Summary: Thirty-something Bess Gray despairs of ever finding "the one." Then she meets a charming Irish musician and becomes instantly smitten. After a couple of months of dating he proposes. The problem? Rory has already been married EIGHT times before. Before deciding whether to follow her heart and leap all in, Bess embarks on a journey to meet each of the past wives and learn where Rory's past marriages went wrong.

Donna's Review:
It took a little bit to get used to the jumping back and forth from the his and her viewpoints during the reading of this book. Once I got past that, the story did stick its fangs into me. It kept me coming back for more. I wanted to know all about the hows and whys of Rory’s eight wives. How in the world did he end up being married that many times? More than one is not that uncommon in modern times, but eight?

I liked getting to see Rory mature with each of his wives, what could have been just relationships if not for his very giving and romantic nature. I also liked seeing how Bess came to terms with each of them, as she definitely wanted to know about each of them. As we women all do, she wanted to see if each one was prettier than her, smarter than her, etc. Bess’s grandparents and gay friend, Cricket, liven up the main story line.They show the  reader there are always different shades of gray in relationships.

I think the end could have gone either way, or any way, and I don’t want to spoil it for you! The whole story, and for me, Bess’s thoughts, were something that any woman would want to think about. Every woman wants to know about her predecessors and sometimes ends up finding out too much about them. This book might change the way some women think about finding out too much information. In my opinion, this book is a 4-star read. It is funny, sad, and has much romance to offer while showing the loneliness and vulnerability of people, whether single or in a relationship.


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Saturday, September 6, 2014

REVIEW: Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

Rating: 4/5 Stars
Series: Lumatere Chronicles #1
Format: Audiobook/Book on CD
Genre: High Fantasy/Epic Fantasy
Audience: Young Adult/Adult Crossover

Summary: Exiled from his homeland after the royal family was slaughtered and a dying woman cursed the land, Finnikin is determined to find a new home for his people. He was only a child at the time of the murders of his friend Prince Balthazar and the rest of the royal family, but Finnikin struggles with feelings of guilt related to a cryptic prophecy. Then he meets a young novice who goes by the name of Evanjalin who says the prince lives and there is hope of reclaiming Lumitare from the impostor king who butchered the royal family. Finnikin is skeptical, but Evanjalin remains stubbornly committed to her course and the two set off on a mission that take them across kingdoms, collecting allies and exiles along the way back to Lumitare.

First Line: "When it finally appeared in the distance, Finnikin wondered if it was some phantom half-imagined in this soulless kingdom at the end of the world."

Tracy's Thoughts:
This novel has been on my to-read list since its publication in 2010, and I'm kicking myself now for not reading it sooner. Of course, having waited, I have the added benefit of not having to wait a year for each of the sequels to be released. So if I look at it that way, perhaps I did myself a favor because now I can't wait to begin Froi of the Exiles!

I listened to this book on audio, and initially I thought I would never get through it. The novel jumps straight into the action and provides key back story right away, and all of the places, characters, and relationships were a little overwhelming. Unlike with a traditional book, it wasn't easy to flip back several pages as a reference point. I think this is a recurring issue for me with rich fantasy series like this one or Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, but at least with A Game of Thrones I had the TV show to orient myself (yes, I was late to the game there too). Here I was on my own, but within the first few chapters I was utterly hooked and gradually the pieces came together. Of course, there were still plenty of intentional plot twists and turns to keep me guessing. I usually listen to my audiobooks in the car, and more than once I sat in my driveway listening long after arriving home, absorbed in a particularly well-written passage.

In Finnikin of the Rock, Marchetta introduces a world rich with intrigue and secrets, where characters are far more than they first appear. Most of them are wonderfully complicated, both light and dark. Take the secondary character of Froi, for example. Froi is a young thief with a bad attitude and no outward compassion or loyalty toward his fellow man. He is crude and mocking, and yet he also gradually shows redeeming qualities that make readers care about him even as they are appalled by his actions. Marchetta does an excellent job showing the toll Lumatere's terrible history (aka the Five Days of the Unspeakable) and subsequent curse has taken on its people, and no one embodies this better than Froi, although the story of Finnikin's father Trevanion and Lady Beatrice is heartwrenching.

Though the novel is published as YA and does not have any particularly graphic scenes, it has a very adult sensibility in that it deals frankly with issues like violence, rape, and sex. The violence of war is neither glossed over nor glorified, and the characters act like real people rather than one-dimensional archetypes. Marchetta's world-building is well done and the various kingdoms and their history have me intrigued to learn more. Like A Song of Ice and Fire, the series has a historical-style setting with hints of magic, but this is a fantasy series that will appeal even to readers who generally don't like fantasy. The magic here is more mystical than fantastical, and the storytelling is wonderfully compelling.

For readers like me, it may take a bit of patience to become acclimated to the world of Finnikin and Evanjalin—not to mention sorting out all the different characters. But the effort is well worth it. I can't wait to visit Lumitare and its inhabitants once again and am looking forward to discovering more about the treacherous kingdom of Charyn, which, like Marchetta's characters, will likely be far more nuanced and surprising than we might expect.

Monday, July 28, 2014

2-for-1 REVIEW: The Coincidence of Callie & Kayden and The Redemption of Callie & Kayden by Jessica Sorensen

So, lately I've been on a New Adult reading kick. A patron request for college-age romances prompted me to create a new board on our Pinterest site all about New Adult fiction (and a handful of memoirs), and then I decided to see what all the fuss was about for myself. I had already read Jamie McGuire's Beautiful Disaster and Walking Disaster and Tammara Webber's Easy, all key titles in the newly popular category and all books that I enjoyed. But there were lots of other notable New Adult authors that I hadn't read, and I felt it would be a good idea to expand my knowledge a bit. Hence the recent reading spree. Jessica Sorensen's Coincidence series is just one of my new finds, but be assured I have more to share about New Adult fiction in another upcoming post.


Tracy's Rating: 3/5 Stars
Genre:
New Adult/Realistic Fiction/Contemporary Romance
Audience:
New Adults (older YAs/twentysomethings)
Series: Coincidence #1

First Lines: "Life is full of luck, like getting dealt a good hand or simply being in the right place at the right time. Some people get luck handed to them, a second chance, a save. It can happen heroically, or by a simple coincidence, but there are those who don't get luck on a shiny platter, who end up at the wrong place at the wrong time, who don't get saved."


Tracy's Rating: 3/5 Stars
Genre:
New Adult/Realistic Fiction/Contemporary Romance
Audience:
New Adults (older YAs/twentysomethings)
Series: Coincidence #1

First Lines: "I want to breathe."






Tracy's Thoughts:
First off, these books are in desperate need of the services of a good copyeditor. Initially, I thought the punctuation errors and unfortunate uses of "one's" in place of what should be a simple plural construction "ones" would drive me to tear my hair out. And that's only the tip of the iceberg, as the saying goes. But despite the flaws, Jessica Sorensen's saga of Callie and Kayden is compulsively readable.

Callie is a loner with a dark secret and a fear of being touched by others. When she was younger, she suddenly chopped off all her hair and started wearing baggy clothes. At least her family found the transformation sudden and inexplicable, and now, years later, they continue to be puzzled by her "difficult" behavior and social isolation. To outsiders, Kayden is the all-American boy, a football jock with decent grades, a tendency to party, and a hot cheerleader girlfriend. But, like Callie, he has secrets.

When Callie accidentally witnesses Kayden at his lowest and steps out of her self-imposed isolation to save him, Kayden realizes there is more to the high-school "freak" than he imagined. And Callie sees that Kayden apparently has his own demons, though at that point she has only the barest hint of the full truth. In the moment that Callie saves Kayden and in those that follow immediately after, they forge a a strange connection, though neither chooses to pursue it. But when they meet again on their new college campus, Kayden is determined to discover more about the girl who saved him and—perhaps—changed him forever. For her part, Callie remains skittish, although a recent friendship has given her the courage to take chances (for Callie, even small things like wearing the color red and growing out her hair are a hurdle) that would have seemed impossible before.

There is little mystery for the reader about Callie's and Kayden's secrets, but it was fascinating to see how these two damaged characters were able to build the trust necessary to confide in one another. That isn't to say that everything is neatly wrapped up and tied with a pretty bow. Love doesn't suddenly make all of Callie and Kayden's problems go away; it simply makes them more confident and thus more able to cope with their respective troubles. But even then, there are setbacks. In fact, the cliffhanger ending of the first book may mangle the expectations of more than one happily-ever-after romantic.

This is an angsty, emotional read that may veer too close to melodrama for some readers, but for those who like love stories with LOTS of baggage (even Callie and Kayden's friends have some serious baggage of their own, though it remains in the background through both of these novels), this series may be perfect. That is, if the reader can overlook the comma splices, typos, and grammatical errors on every other page or so. I'm a bit of a grammar stickler, but the emotional intensity and occasionally striking imagery went a long way toward calming my irritation. For example, something about the description of one character's fight-bruised face as a "lumpy blueberry" struck me as absolutely perfect.

So if you are a fan of college-age stories like A Beautiful Disaster and don't mind iffy proofreading and heavy doses of angst, then I suggest you give Callie and Kayden's story a try. A third book focusing on the duo, The Resolution of Callie & Kayden, is expected to be released on September 30th.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

GUEST REVIEWS: Picture Book Flash Reviews

We have a couple of firsts for you today at Book News & Reviews! Today we are featuring our first reviews from BCPL's very own Ms. Cheryl as well as our first child-submitted review. Five-year-old Tabitha Beck is a soon-to-be first grader, a HUGE Dora fan, and a patron at our Lebanon Junction Library location. She graciously chose to share her thoughts with us about one of her favorite books, which she has read many times.
 

Charlie Goes to School
by Ree Drummond

Reviewer: Ms. Cheryl
Ms. Cheryl's Rating: 5/5 Stars
Audience: Ages 4–8
I am a big fan of Ree Drummond and couldn’t wait to read her children’s book. Charlie is the main character and is a Bassett Hound. The book is written from his perspective. Charlie starts off the story at the beginning of his day with how he “helps” out all the human family members. Then he discovers school and wants to have a school for all the animals on the farm. Things do not go well, and Charlie eventually gives up and takes a much needed nap. The author writes a very fun and engaging story and the illustrator did a fantastic job of illustrating the book. I really enjoyed looking at the pages and all the little characters on each page.


The Worst Princess
by Anna Kemp

Reviewer: Ms. Cheryl
Ms. Cheryl's Rating: 4/5 Stars
Audience: Ages 3–7
This book was a quick and fun read. It has rhyming words and a funny twist to the typical “Happily Ever After” princess story. The princess is a bit more adventurous than your average princess, so she is very excited when her brave and wonderful prince finally comes along. Only this prince wants his princess at home being happy with her clothes and castle. Throw in a naughty dragon that comes to the princess’s rescue, and you have a great read.

Show Me Your Smile:
A Visit to the Dentist

by Christine Ricci

Reviewer: Tabitha Beck
Tabitha's Rating: (Rating not provided, but we're guessing Tabitha gives it a 5 out of 5!)
Audience: Everyone (Publisher recommends ages 3–5)
This is a Dora book and I love Dora, the Explorer. In this book Dora goes to the dentist and I learned that it's not that scary. I would recommend this book to anyone to read. It's good to go to the dentist because if you don't take care of your teeth, you won't be able to eat. The dentist helps you keep your teeth healthy and keep your smile beautiful. I love this book.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

REVIEW: Norwegian by Night by Derek Miller

Rating: 4/5 Stars
Genre: Suspense/Crime Fiction
Audience: Adult

Summary: Recently widowed and still haunted by the death of his son decades ago in Vietnam, Sheldon Horowitz is an impatient and crotchety old man. He's a little depressed and feels alone now that all of his friends and family are dead except for his granddaughter Rhea. Believing her grandfather suffers from dementia, Rhea has convinced Sheldon to move to Oslo to live with her and her Norwegian husband. Sheldon finds the laid-back attitude of the Norwegian people incomprehensible and persists in sharing his oddball philosophical musings, thus calling his mental state into further question. Then he witnesses the murder of his Serbian neighbor and goes on the lam with her young son, believing it is the only way to protect the boy from Kosovar gangsters. Rhea and the police inspector, Sigrid Ødegård, think Sheldon has suffered a mental break, but could Sheldon's unusual actions be more wily than anyone could guess?

First Lines:
"It is summer and luminous. Sheldon Horowitz sits on a folding director's chair, high above the picnic and out of reach of the food, in a shaded enclave in Oslo's Frogner Park."

Tracy's Thoughts:
In his debut novel, Miller offers a completely different take on the Scandinavian crime fiction wave popularized by authors like Larsson, Mankell, Nesbø, Fossum, and Läckberg. Critically acclaimed but under the radar of most readers, Norwegian by Night was named by both Kirkus Reviews and The Guardian as one of the best crime novels of 2013. It's not your typically plot-centered crime novel—though there are some definite machinations and exciting bits. Instead, its focus is on Sheldon's inner thoughts and his path to redemption. Now that he has taken responsibility for this young boy, Sheldon is reminded more than ever of his son and sees this "final mission" as a way to do something that matters again and to atone for what he sees as his own culpability in his son's death.

You see, Sheldon was a marine sniper in Korea and has felt useless ever since. That is, if you believe Sheldon's latest story. On previous occasions, he always told his late wife and granddaughter a different story of his time in Korea. Sheldon, with his visions and inconsistent stories, is a bit of an unreliable narrator. Both reader and the characters in the book are left to wonder whether Sheldon is truly senile or if he's just crazy sharp, with a unique way of looking at the world. In a way, despite the fact that the protagonist is 82 years old, Norwegian by Night could be considered a coming of age novel—or perhaps a coming to terms with age novel.

Sheldon is a fascinating and insightful character, with plenty of foibles and flaws to add interest. And his journey is incredibly relatable despite the unusual circumstances. Though some of the other characters—Rhea and her husband Lars, for example—could do with some fleshing out, some of the secondary characters are also quite intriguing. Sigrid serves as a wonderful contrast to Sheldon, and some of her conversations also provide unexpected humor to the largely reflective narrative. Take this dryly comical phone conversation with her father:
     "Have you met a nice man yet?"
     Sigrid nods. "I'd been meaning to tell you. I got married and had three sons."
    "That's wonderful news."
    "Huey, Dewey, and Louie. They're delightful, but have speech impediments and very short legs."
Some of the scenes with Sigrid were my absolute favorites in the novel, particularly the Psycho bit (saying anything more could prove too much of a spoiler). And although the crime plot was somewhat understated, I was fascinated (and appalled) by some of the insight into Serbian/Kosovar hostilities and the cycle of violence. The contrast of different nationalities and ethnicities—Norwegian, American, Jewish, Serbian, Kosovar—and their effects on various characters' way of life and way of thinking elevate a simple plot into something far more.

Norwegian by Night is a a quiet thriller with literary bones. Despite a few lengthy expositions and a somewhat ambiguous ending, it offers something different and interesting to the crime fiction genre as it addresses a number of important issues—war, personal and ethnic identity, and aging—with compassion, insight, and humor.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Spring 2014 Giveaway Winners + Last Chance Giveaway

And the winners are...
# 46  Margaret
# 53  Bambi B.
# 98  Stacie Downs
# 7 Britt A.
# 81 Tara
# 2  Britt A.
# 102  Stacie Downs
# 93  Tara
# 60  KarynsPlanit
# 83  Tara
# 74  Tara
# 34  Jada Redmon
# 12  Britt A.
# 39  Jada Redmon
#79 Tara

It looks like those bonus entries really paid off for some of you this time around! :)

....But wait! We still have one unclaimed book. For those of you who didn't win, Mother, Daughter, Me by Katie Hafner is now up for grabs. Maybe you missed out on the giveaway the first time around or simply didn't list it as one of your selections in the last round, but now's your second chance to win! The book goes to the first person to leave a comment below (be sure to leave your e-mail address so I can arrange pickup!)

Ready... Set...Go!

Friday, April 25, 2014

REVIEW: Splintered by A.G. Howard

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Teen/Young Adult
Series: Splintered #1

Summary:
Alyssa grew up knowing that she is a descendant of Alice Liddell—the girl who inspired Lewis Carroll's classic—and that the women in her family all eventually go crazy. Case in point: Alyssa's mother is in a mental ward, and her grandmother killed herself by jumping out a window in a misguided attempt to fly. She's the target of jokes at school and secretly terrified she will end up just like her mom; given her strange dreams and those pesky voices she hears, it's no wonder. After all, teenage girls aren't supposed to hear the constant, dire whisperings of plants and insects. At sixteen, Alyssa's not ready to end up in a padded cell of her own, so she keeps the voices to herself and chooses to ignore them.

Then everything Alyssa ever believed about herself and her family is flipped upside down. Turns out, Alice's adventures were (more or less) true. And now, because of the havoc Alice caused in Wonderland over a century ago, Alyssa's family is cursed. At least, that is what she is told by Morpheus, a darkly seductive, otherworldly boy who seems eerily familiar. Prodded by the mysterious boy, Alyssa finds her way to Wonderland, where she must navigate a world far more dangerous than Carroll's tale let on and undo the damage Alice left in her wake. Jeb, Alyssa's childhood friend and secret crush, also comes along for the ride.

First Lines:
"I've been collecting bugs since I was ten; it's the only way I can stop their whispers. Sticking a pin through the gut of an insect shuts it up pretty quick."

Tracy's Thoughts:
First, I want to say that the covers for this series are gorgeous and perfectly suited to the stories. Bold and vibrant with a creepy edge, they reflect the cinematic, almost Tim Burtonesque quality that makes Howard's Splintered novels so appealing. Here, Wonderland and its characters are familiar and yet darker, topsy-turvy in a completely new way. The reimagining of the Caterpillar, in particular, was a stroke of brilliance. Also, the faerie-like characters seem so naturally suited to Wonderland it is easy to forget they were not a part of Carroll's original story. Howard's Wonderland has a twisted, more mature vibe, but the surreal whimsy of the original tale remains in full effect. There is a gleeful madness here, but always the reader is aware that the madness could turn deadly.

As is expected in a YA fantasy novel, there is a love triangle between Alyssa, Morpheus, and Jeb. Morpheus, with his less-than-forthcoming instructions to Alyssa, his hidden agendas, and his constant air of flirtation, is a fascinating character. Like Wonderland, he repulses Alyssa even as she is drawn to him. Jeb, on the other hand, remains Alyssa's tie to the love, comfort, and relative sanity of the human world. But Jeb isn't all lightness and perfection either; frankly, his early reactions to Alyssa's obvious feelings seemed oblivious at best and almost cruel at times. But boy oh boy, does he make up for it! The book strongly reminds me of Julie Kagawa's Iron Fey series and Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely books—and not just because of the romantic triangle.

My favorite part, though, it that the focus is not on Alyssa's romantic tangles. Instead, Splintered is a novel about a fish-out-of-water girl who discovers her true self and must then choose what self she wishes to be in the future. It is all about choice and self-discovery—all with the awesomely vivid, creeptastic backdrop of Wonderland.

FYI:
Unhinged
, the sequel to Splintered, was published in January 2014 (review to come soon!) and just happens to be one of the titles up for grabs in our latest giveaway event! The giveaway ends at 12:00 a.m. this coming Wednesday (May 30th), so if you'd like your own copy of Unhinged, you'll want to enter the drawing ASAP!
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