Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Story of Ruby Bridges (Book Review)

Title: The Story of Ruby Bridges
Author: Robert Coles  
Publication: Scholastic Hardcover, 1995
Genre: Picture Book/Nonfiction
Plot: This is a children’s version of the real story about Ruby Bridges, a six-year-old African American who integrated the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans in 1960. Each day she had to walk by angry, vicious protesters as she was escorted by federal marshals to her classroom. The white parents kept their children home so Ruby was taught alone by Barbara Henry. Brought up by a religious family that was proud of what they realized was her place in history, Ruby handled the pressure with dignity and grace beyond her years, praying for the protesters as she passed them each morning. Eventually, other African American children joined her at the school, and after several years, the white families sent their children back to school. Ruby graduated from this elementary school and from high school, and brought up her own family in New Orleans as well.

Audience: This is a great story to introduce civil rights issues to small children, as it is a dramatic story with a winsome heroine that hints at the underlying violence but is not too scary.
My Impressions: This is a wonderful story for all ages about the brave Bridges family: a mother who was determined her daughter would make history, and had brought up this small child to pray for her enemies and have the strength to walk by them every day. Coles captures both the incredible loneliness of Ruby’s situation and her great dignity, as she marched past her tormentors, clutching her lunch box. I am not sure a modern child used to an integrated classroom could even begin to understand why it was such a volatile issue or comprehend the viciousness of the adults who yelled death threats at Ruby. Of course, my own City of Boston had its own shameful episode during its court-ordered desegregation when white adults threw rocks at buses bringing African-American children to South Boston. As in this book, people blamed the judge instead of their own racist attitudes.

The existing teachers from the Frantz School refused to teach in an integrated school, so Ruby was taught by the amazing Barbara Henry, a teacher from Boston, whose sons later went to school with my brother. Mrs. Henry taught Ruby alone for a year before other children joined the classroom. Here is a link to the Boston Globe interview about her experience. I knew Mrs. Henry as a kind family friend long before I learned about her courage and willingness to sacrifice her own safety to advance the civil rights of African American children in the South. I love that she attributes her outstanding education at then Girls’ Latin in Boston as instilling respect for all, regardless of race or background. My sister-in-law’s niece Parker is a seventh grader at Boston Latin Academy, as it is now known, and I hope her experience there will be as enriching.

Last year, the Friends of Roslindale Branch Library, of which I am part, formed a Racial Justice and Inclusiveness Committee to plan educational events, discussions, and presentations related to race, ethnicity, religion and culture. We have had good attendance at the first events and are considering a children’s event which inspired me to read this book. Click here for more information and a schedule of events.

Note that on March 30, 2017 the Roslindale Library will be discussing Spectacle by Pamela Newkirk which was highly recommended by one of our committee members.

Ruby Bridges was escorted by federal marshals to her classroom each day
Source: I checked out this book from the Boston Public Library. There are a number of books about Ruby Bridges but I recognized the name of Pulitzer-prize winning Robert Coles, so chose this one. I did not know that as a child psychiatrist he had offered to provide counseling to Ruby and met with her weekly during her first year of school (he was stationed in Biloxi). One of my greatest academic regrets is not taking advantage of the opportunity to study with him in college.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Widow's House (Book Review)

Title: The Widow’s House
Author: Carol Goodman
Publication: Trade Paperback, William Morrow, 2017
Genre: Suspense
Purchase LinksAmazon, Harper Collins, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound
Plot: When Jess and Clare Martin sell most of their belongings and leave Brooklyn to move to the Hudson Valley, they both hope it will jump start Jess’ writing career, which has faltered after one high profile novel. The area they choose is familiar to them because it is Clare’s home town and is near Bailey College which they both attended. In fact, the professor they admired, Alden Montague, needs a caretaker for his property, Riven House, so they move into his gate house. Soon Jess is writing again and drinking with Montague, and while Clare is relieved to see him in a good mood, her own spirits have suffered after hearing a disturbing story about Montague’s father and a young woman he betrayed. Clare’s parents are gone but even as she tries to reconnect with old friends, including her high school boyfriend, the atmosphere around the house becomes so disturbing she begins to wish she had never returned. . .

Audience: Fans of romantic suspense, including authors such as Susanna Kearsley and Daphne Du Maurier (coincidentally, I chose Du Maurier’s The Scapegoat for my book group to read this month, and it too was dark and suspenseful).

My Impressions: The Widow’s House is a modern gothic which I found so compelling that I read it in two sittings. Clare is an appealing heroine, and Goodman has created memorable major and minor characters. Having visited my share of small colleges in upstate New York, I enjoyed the depiction of Bailey College and its aspiring literati, as well as the arrogant (if sometimes charming) professor who flirted with his students (hard to believe it was acceptable in my grandparents’ day). Readers will enjoy Goodman’s effortless prose and vivid descriptions of the Hudson Valley (the apples can almost be tasted) and its inhabitants, past and present, and will lose themselves as I did in a mysterious ghost story that leads to the discovery of numerous family secrets.  I give her extra credit for surprising me with some of the twists at the end; I need to reread later to see if there were clues I missed.  Just don’t do what I did – I read it late at night in bed as the snow came down and I felt very isolated!
  
I had always meant to read Carol Goodman so when I noticed that the heroine of this book shares my sister’s name I was intrigued and made that my excuse to be included in this blog tour.

Five of five stars - recommended!  I may also buy her new middle grade novel, The Metropolitans, which looks enjoyable, for my nephew's birthday.
Source: I was provided a pre-publication copy of this book by the publisher for review purposes.

Please join Carol Goodman, author of New York Times bestseller, The Lake of Dead Languages, as she tours the blogosphere with TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, March 21st: Caryn, The Book Whisperer
Thursday, March 23rd: Tina Says…
Monday, March 27th: Booksie’s Blog
Tuesday, March 28th: A Chick Who Reads
Wednesday, March 29th: Bibliotica
Wednesday, April 5th: Why Girls Are Weird
Tuesday, April 11th: From the TBR Pile
Thursday, April 13th: Book by Book
Wednesday, April 19th: Unabridged Chick
Thursday, April 20th: Jathan & Heather

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Hollywood Star (Book Review)

Title: Hollywood Star (Gloria Whitcomb, #3)
Author: Gladys Malvern
Publication: Julian Messner, Hardcover, 1953
Genre: Young Adult
this blurry cover was all I could find
Plot: Gloria Whitcomb, a talented but unknown ballerina from New York, has been cast to play Anna Pavlova in a movie, and heads to Los Angeles for the filming, chaperoned by her mother and young brother. It is hard for Gloria to leave her handsome fiancĂ© behind in Manhattan, and she doesn’t realize the studio will want to promote her as glamorous and single. The stresses of acting for the first time before people who doubt her and being thrown into the company of handsome actors (with dubious motives) strain her performance and her relationship with Doug. Can Gloria triumph over Hollywood’s petty jealousies and stay true to the man she has loved for so long?

Audience: Young adult readers, fans of ballet fiction and of career novels

My Impressions: As a pre-teen I loved all of Gladys Malvern’s books, at least those found in the Newton and Brighton libraries. Most of her books were historical fiction, ranging from surprisingly compelling biblical fiction (Behold Your Queen, The Foreigner) to books set in colonial America. The Boys and Girls Library in Newton Corner had copies of the first two books in this series, Gloria Ballet Dancer and Prima Ballerina, and I read them many times, without knowing this third book existed until I was grown up. It is the weakest of the three but Gladys was clearly trying to convey as much as she could about the movie business for eager teens. She does a good job conveying the spite and backbiting that go on when an outsider is cast for a big part (luckily, Gloria has retained her girl next door personality and usually wins people over sooner or later), and she depicts two gossip columnists who must be based on Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, rivals who together had an audience of 75 million in their heyday.

On the movie set, Gloria is upstaged and belittled by her co-star, an actor who thinks he can take advantage of her lack of experience. She is assisted in standing up for herself by his rival, Jules Fletcher, not because he cares about Gloria but because Jules doesn’t want a rival male actor to gain in popularity. It is a sign of Gloria’s cluelessness that she never figures this out, and disappointing that her mother is too intimidated by Hollywood and Gloria’s success to provide the sensible mothering needed.

Those of us who suffered with Gloria during years of wondering if Doug Gardiner cared for her will not enjoy seeing her squabble with him or flirt with another man. It’s a little like when you think Betsy Ray and Joe Willard have finally worked out their differences and then you learn that in a book which doesn’t even exist, Betsy was flirting with Bob Baryhdt at the U*!
Anna Pavlova
Source: I obtained a copy of this book via Interlibrary Loan. Thank you to Rowan University in New Jersey for preserving and sharing it. This is one of what were called a Career Romance for Young Moderns. My library had only a handful because they were already dated in the 70s but I read them and so did @sadiestein.

* Maud Hart Lovelace always referred to the University of Minnesota as the U, so I did too. When I was about ten, some friend of my parents asked where I wanted to go to college, and when I said, importantly, “The U,” she asked, puzzled, “Which U?”

Saturday, February 25, 2017

A Divided Spy (Book Review)

Title: A Divided Spy (Thomas Kell #3)
Author: Charles Cumming
Publication: Hardcover, St. Martin’s Press, 2017
Genre: Suspense
Plot: Thomas Kell is a British spy, forced into retirement and, thus, at loose ends. His former colleague, Amelia Levene, is now chief of Britain’s Intelligence Service, and twice she has been the cause of Kell being dragged back into undercover activity. One of these episodes ended with the death of a woman the divorced Kell had begun to care for. As this book begins, Kell learns that the Russian agent who caused that death has an illicit relationship that can be used against him. Kell wants revenge but he also wants to “turn” the Russian agent and deliver him to Amelia and her sneering minions who either enjoyed his downfall or simply don’t take him seriously. And then he wonders if he is the one being played. . .

Audience: Fans of sophisticated espionage or suspense, such as John LeCarré, Anthony Price, Alan Furst.

My Impressions: This is the third book I have read about Thomas Kell, and each has provided an absorbing, compelling, and, at times, frightening story. There is no glamour in the lives of these spies: Kell acknowledges that his lifestyle and obsession with work ruined his marriage and the incident that destroyed his career is something that would likely have been swept under the rug for someone better politically connected. Instead, he is depressed and low in funds. However, Kell is talented and his disdain for others’ opinions, while it has not won him any popularity contests, seems to help him analyze and anticipate how the enemy will react. This is why Amelia and her ilk come to him for help with international situations, although they find him insubordinate. One of the things I have enjoyed in all three books is the detailed descriptions of surveillance: the set up, the long hours watching (and tedium), the details that can and do go wrong, and the exhilaration when events start moving.

The author is skilled at creating minor but vivid characters as Kell’s foil. My favorites, in this book are very different: Rosie, a shop girl who has unwittingly been dating a terrorist, and Marquand, a high level intelligence agent who acts as if meeting with Kell “is an interruption in his day that he could have done without.” When the meeting is over, “[t]here had been no trace of the years they had spent together as colleagues, no acknowledgment of the awkwardness of the situation, nor of Marquand’s role in exacerbating it.” I know I am often forced to work with people like this and pretend I don’t notice their arrogance. It is a testament to Kell’s skill that he is (eventually) able to persuade Rosie and Marquand to trust him.

I wasn’t entirely convinced by the basic premise of this book – Minasian’s illicit relationship – but I was willing to suspend my disbelief for a great read.
Source: I first learned of Charles Cumming by reading a glowing review in Publishers Weekly and highly recommend this series, ideally by beginning with the first book, A Foreign Country. A pre-publication copy of A Divided Spy was provided to me by the publisher for review purposes.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Tough Justice: Countdown (Book Review and Giveaway)

Title: Tough Justice: Countdown (part 1 of 8, currently priced at $.99 each)
Author: Carla Cassidy
Publication: Harlequin Intrigue, ebook, February 2017
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Giveaway: I can give away one digital copy of Book 1 - see below
Plot: Tick. Tock. BOOM.

FBI Special Agent Lara Grant had thought that she’d put her past behind her—finally—with her last case. But now a serial bomber is targeting Manhattan’s elite power players, offering them a choice between saving hundreds of lives or seeing their darkest secrets exposed. Lara is working with the Crisis Management Unit to stop the bomber, but how will she react when she’s the one who has to choose between truth…or death?

Part 1 of 8: an explosive new installment in the thrilling FBI serial from New York Times bestselling author Carla Cassidy and Tyler Anne Snell, Emmy Curtis, and Janie Crouch.  Note that it looks like the first installment's title was originally Exposed and is now Countdown.

Audience: Fans of romantic suspense. You can *meet* the authors here.

My Impressions: This is a fast paced story told in eight installments of about 85 pages told by several of Harlequin’s popular authors. Lara is an intense, attractive, and flawed FBI agent who, in a previous case, went undercover to infiltrate the Moretti crime ring. As the story continues, we learn that Lara made some serious mistakes on that investigation and actually had a child with the notorious drug lord. To keep the child safe, Lara gave her up for adoption but this decision has caused her enormous grief. It is unclear how long ago that was (or if there are books about Lara’s previous case) but since then Lara has continued to throw herself into her work and has a passionate on again/off again relationship with her partner, Nick Delano. As this story begins, Lara and her team are tasked with investigating a killer who is using homemade bombs to terrorize New York. This is just the first installment but Lara comes across as superwoman tough yet vulnerable. As yet it is hard to distinguish between the other characters and their personalities but I look forward to learning more about her complicated back story and the interrelationships with other members of this elite FBI team.
About the Series: Harlequin launched a serialization publication with the debut of this Tough Justice mystery-suspense series. The eight-part digital-first serial is a multi-author endeavor that sees all the episodes in the series published simultaneously and are available as ebooks and as audiobooks. Each installment is currently priced at $.99.   Click here for purchase links and here for more info about the series.

I have one digital copy to give away.   If you are interested, please leave a comment below and I will pick one at the end of February.

Source: I was provided a pre-publication copy of the first installment of this book by the publisher for review purposes. Thank you to TLC Book Tours and Harlequin for including me in the launch of this series.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Law and Disorder (Book Review and Giveaway)

Title: Law and Disorder, Book 1, The Finnegan Connection
Author: Heather Graham
Publication: Harlequin Intrigue, paperback, January 2017
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Plot: Kidnapped while visiting her family home in Florida, Dakota “Kody” Cameron has no one to turn to – except the unexpectedly attractive man holding a gun. Outnumbered and trapped in the deadly Everglades, she has little recourse, but something in this captor’s eyes make her believe he is not as evil as the other men threatening her. Does she dare trust him?

Undercover agent Nick Connolly met Kody briefly in NYC where they both work and is afraid if she recognizes him the bad guys will kill them both. Though determined to maintain his cover, he can’t let Kody die. And his decision to change his own ruls of law and order are about to cause all hell to break loose. . .

Audience: Fans of romantic suspense; readers who like Jayne Ann Krentz, Nora Roberts, and Kay Hooper.

My Impressions: This fast paced and, at times, humorous story begins on a historic estate in Florida, once owned by a 20th century mobster named Anthony Green. Kody, an aspiring actress in New York, is home briefly visiting her family, who nominally own the Crystal Manor, when she is kidnapped by a group of thugs dressed up as historic gangsters. Their leader, going by the name Dillinger, believes Kody can find lost treasure, reputed to have been hidden by Green years ago. He threatens to kill Kody and the staff managing the estate if Kody, who has always been fascinated by the history of her home, cannot locate the treasure.

Kody is a very resourceful heroine who doesn’t back down to thugs, but perhaps it’s a little over the top – given that people have been searching for 80+ years – how quickly she deciphers Green’s papers to deduce where the treasure is buried in the Everglades. Personally, I think having a gun being pointed at me while I researched lost treasure might inhibit my creativity! Add the fun of a kidnapper whose “deep, dark, blue and intense” eyes engender trust and make Kody yearn to get to know him better, even when he seems to be threatening her and her friends. While the reader assumes Kody will be rescued or save herself, this is a romp of a book that reveals Heather Graham’s love of history and her home state. So long as Heather doesn’t make me stumble about in the Everglades hunting for treasure amongst snakes, alligators, and goodness knows what else, I will continue to enjoy her books from the safety of an armchair.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

About the Author: New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Heather Graham has written more than a hundred novels. She’s a winner of the RWA’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Thriller Writers’ Silver Bullet. She is an active member of International Thriller Writers and Mystery Writers of America. For more information, check out her websites: TheOriginalHeatherGraham.com, eHeatherGraham.com, and HeatherGraham.tv. You can also find Heather on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Source: I was provided a pre-publication copy of this book by the publisher for review purposes.
Please join Heather Graham, author of Love and Disorder as she travels with TLC Book Tours.
Tuesday, January 17th: The Sassy Bookster – excerpt
Wednesday, January 18th: A Holland Reads
Thursday, January 19th: Bewitched Bookworms
Friday, January 20th: A Chick Who Reads
Monday, January 23rd: Patricia’s Wisdom
Tuesday, January 24th: Mama Vicky Says
Wednesday, January 25th: Books a la Mode – excerpt
Friday, January 27th: Books and Spoons
Monday, January 30th: A Bookaholic Swede – excerpt
Tuesday, January 31stSnowdrop Dreams of Books
Wednesday, February 1stStranded in Chaos 
Monday, February 6thBook Reviews and More by Kathy – excerpt 
Monday, February 6thFrom the TBR Pile 
Wednesday, February 8thDog Eared Daydreams 
Friday, February 10thNot in Jersey 
Monday, February 13thBecky on Books 
Wednesday, February 15thReading Reality

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Plaid and Plagiarism (Book Review)

Title: Plaid and Plagiarism: Book 1 in the Highland Bookshop Mystery Series
Author: Molly MacRae
Publication: Pegasus, Hardcover, 2016
Genre: Mystery
Description: Janet, a middle-aged librarian from Illinois, her friend Christine, Janet’s daughter Tallie, and Tallie’s friend Summer, have moved to Inversgail in Scotland to run a bookstore, Ye Bonnie Books. Janet and her evil ex had bought a vacation home in Inversgail (which she got to keep after the divorce), and when the ladies go to check on the house, they find a dead body in the garden shed. As they settle into their new village, this intrepid foursome tries to help the local police solve the crime, in this first of a new series.

Audience: Fans of cozy mysteries, those who like books about books, and those yearning to go manage a bookstore in the Highlands (or anywhere else).

My Impression: I read a great review of this book and wanted to love it because I am definitely one of those people who romanticizes moving to a small village to run a bookshop (and with my luck, there would definitely be a dead body in my garden shed). However, having worked in publishing for 17 years, I also know that even one person can barely make a living owning/managing a bookstore so in addition to wondering how these characters (one is Scottish by birth so perhaps retained her citizenship while in the US) obtained work permits to move to Scotland, I wondered how they were going to pay for the mouthwatering scones they enjoy, not to mention everything else – Janet’s alimony was described as generous but it seemed unlikely her academic ex-husband had very much to spare.

Logistical quibbles aside, I would have liked more of a sense of place. The premise was fun but the delivery was weak.  These characters could really have been anywhere, not a quaint town in Scotland, and a few mentions of plaid and haggis were insufficient to set the scene, although there were quirky characters galore. Other than Janet being headstrong and bitter about her ex-husband and several mentions of the careers each had abandoned for Inversgail, there wasn’t enough about the four women to really distinguish them from each other. As a result, I did not care much what happened to them. The mystery itself was secondary to the women’s eagerness to help solve it. There were many red herrings (to go with a number of peculiar individuals whose behavior was never fully explained) – I am not sure if I fell for one or conjured it up on my own, but I certainly did not figure out who the killer was or guess why the murder had occurred.

Last year I read about a bookstore in Wigtown, Scotland where one can have a working holiday by renting a week at a bookstore through Airbnb.  Of course, I yearn to go to the Open Book and keep shop - what a combination of Maida's Little Shop and the bookstore dreams I am too practical to have.   Wigtown has been officially designated Scotland's National Book Town so I suppose it would be fun to visit even without getting to live above a bookstore - the waiting list for the Open Book appears to go through 2018, alas!

Source: I requested this book from the Boston Public Library after reading about it in Publishers Weekly.