Sunday, December 31, 2017

Christmas Traditions in Boston (Book Review)

Title: Christmas Traditions in Boston
Author: Anthony M. Sammarco
Publication: Fonthill/Arcadia Publishing, paperback, 2017
Genre: History/Illustrated Nonfiction
Description: This is a warm and delightful description of the celebration of Christmas in Boston from 17th century Puritan days to the present. Anthony Sammarco, a Boston native who spends all of his free time researching, writing, and speaking on iconic historical aspects of local history Is a delightful raconteur, both in person and through his books. He describes the restrictions on celebration in the Bay Colony’s early history, followed by the development of new traditions as Anglicans and Catholics emigrate to and settle in the Boston area.

I was particularly interested in Lydia Child, a writer and abolitionist known for having written “Over the River and Though the Woods to Grandmother’s House We Go.” While many readers may already know that Germans such as Prince Albert popularized the Christmas Tree in England and the United States, I did not know it was a German-American in Cambridge, Harvard professor Charles Follen, who had one of the first Christmas Trees in Boston 1830s, or that Prussian-born Louis Prang (1824-1909) introduced the Christmas card after settling in Boston and establishing a lithograph business (Prang is also known for supporting women artists). I do enjoy old fashioned Christmas cards!
Reading these stories about Christmas traditions being inspired by Germans reminded me of Louisa May Alcott who may have known some of these individuals (not just the poor Hummel family). Anyone who ever read Little Women (spoiler alert) knows that moment of betrayal when the reader realizes (a) Amy March is marrying Laurie instead of Jo, and (b) that Jo gets stuck with dumpy Professor Bhaer. I went to my mother in horror who, although not yet a librarian, always knew everything. She explained to me that German immigrants and culture were very influential in 18th and 19th century America – Germans were the second largest immigrant group after the English - that they were intellectual and very influential as to the development of American culture, and that Jo March was attracted to Professor Bhaer’s intellect and kindness. That is, alas, not what your 9 or 10 year old wants to hear. It will be interesting to see if the new BBC/PBS series can manage to make him appealing.

Audience: Fans of Boston history and those who enjoy Christmas decorations and traditions. Those who enjoy this book should join the Lost Boston group on Facebook where Anthony leads discussions about historic Boston and iconic institutions of the past. He also shares his speaking schedule there and I recommend attending one of his events, if you are in the area.

Both the Boston Globe and Herald have covered the publication of this book, and you can see Anthony himself on youtube.

My Impressions: This book is a treasure trove of knowledge about locations and traditions in Boston which we sometimes take for granted, and is almost as much fun as hearing Anthony in person. I loved hearing about bell ringing on Beacon Hill and the sign on Boston Common near a crèche in 1963 that asked passersby to stop for a moment in memory of President Kennedy. The photos are plentiful and delightful: one of my favorites is of the infamous Mayor James Michael Curley, at home next to his Christmas tree, with his wife and son, all examining a drum. Their gifts are wrapped in plain white paper with ribbons (pre-scotch tape). My mother will like the part about Ted Marier who founded the Archdiocesan Choir School at St. Paul’s Church in Cambridge (growing up my sister and I were not fans of the incense but we always enjoyed the singing).

Source: I purchased a copy at an author event held at the beautiful Crane Library in Quincy, Massachusetts. I know Christmas is over but you don’t need to wait until next year to order this charming book.

This is my last review of 2017!  Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Into the Night (Book Review)

Title: Into the Night, Killer Instinct #2
Author: Cynthia Eden
Publication: Harlequin, paperback, December 2017
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Plot: Two FBI agents are caught in a merciless vigilante’s crosshairs in New York Times bestselling author Cynthia Eden’s new Killer Instinct series

Sheltered in the shadows of the Smoky Mountains is the suspect who has summoned FBI agent Macey Night’s fears to the surface. Every day that the “Profiler,” a vigilante serial killer, escapes justice is another day she’s reminded of what it is to be a ruthless predator’s prey. Capturing him is a craving deeper than anything she’s felt in a long time. But Agent Bowen Murphy, equal parts sexy and volatile, seems hell-bent on changing that. Working together—needing, living and breathing each other—they’re entwined to distraction.

Bowen’s used to operating on impulse: act, don’t feel. Now Macey and the controlled terror behind her beautiful eyes have him rethinking everything, including his rule to never get close to a colleague. He’s willing to fight for a future with Macey, but the consequences of love could be deadly.

Audience: Fans of authors such as Suzanne Brockmann (I love her Troubleshooters series, although it is one of very few series in which I suggest not beginning with book 1), Tami Hoag, Lori Foster (see my review of Close Contact)

From Cynthia Eden: "My 'Killer Instinct' series . . .focuses on dark and sexy suspense–but suspense with a definite romance element. All of the books in this series feature characters who’ve had up-close and personal experiences with killers…the killers have been their friends, their lovers, their family members. Because of this closeness, the characters in my “Killer Instinct” books have a unique understanding when it comes to serial killers…and catching those predators."

Heterochromia images
copyright to 9GAG.com
My Impressions: I thought this was a much stronger installment in the series than the first book I read where the main character had been in denial most of his life that first his father and then his brother were serial killers. Macey is a former doctor who barely escaped the rogue surgeon at her hospital, a serial killer known as “The Doctor”, and she is now an FBI agent, part of the undoubtedly special team assembled by Samantha Dark (the most interesting member of the team). They are all profilers but with an unusual twist – each one has a very personal connection with a serial killer. This is creepy and makes chitchat about their pasts problematic but is supposed to help them with the behavioral analysis aspect of the job. While there is a prohibition on romantic entanglements among team members, that does not prevent Macey and her teammate Bowen from hooking up when they should really be getting sleep or concentrating on the many possible suspects . . . that is one of the challenges of fast-paced romantic suspense – making the romance plausible during a stressful period, and Eden handles it by showing the glimmers of attraction existed before Macey and Bowen are thrown together.

Part of Macey's appeal to serial killers is that she has two different colored eyes (heterochromia).  This condition, which is usually benign, does not run in families but fans of Anne of Green Gables will recall that it features as a major plot device in Anne's House of Dreams involving Leslie Ford's husband.
Source: I was provided a pre-publication copy of this book by the publisher for review purposes. Thank you to TLC Book Tours for including me - please visit other stops on the tour by clicking below:
December 28th: Book Nerd
December 29th: Evermore Books
January 2nd: Jathan & Heather
January 3rd: Books a la Mode – excerpt
January 4th: A Fortress of Books
January 5th: Deborah Blanchard
January 8th: Book Reviews and More by Kathy – excerpt
January 8th: From the TBR Pile
January 9th: Books & Spoons
January 10th: Moonlight Rendezvous
January 11th: Becky on Books
January 12th: Cheryl’s Book Nook
January 16th: Books & Bindings
January 17th: Mystery Suspense Reviews
January 17th: Nightbird Novels – excerpt
January 18th: Stranded in Chaos
January 19th: Natalie the Biblioholic
January 22nd: Smexy Books
January 24th: Buried Under Romance
Wednesday, January 24th: Girls in Books – excerpt
Monday, January 29th: Romancing the Readers
Wednesday, January 31st: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers – excerpt
TBD: The Sassy Bookster
TBD: What is That Book About – excerpt

Friday, December 22, 2017

A Relative Stranger (Book Review)

Title: A Relative Stranger
Author: Anne Stevenson
Publication: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, Hardcover, 1969
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Plot: Julie, a freelance artist, living in London, has had a hard time concentrating on her career since her much older brother Richard disappeared nearly three years ago. Involved in some kind of espionage, Richard is being held in a prison by unspecified bad guys. But when Richard is released, Julie is asked to help identify the aloof stranger and she isn’t quite sure it’s her brother. Then the mysterious but attractive Stephen Archer appears at her front door with a postcard from Richard just as Julie receives on herself, and she really doesn’t know who to trust . . .

Audience: Fans of Mary Stewart. While there will never be another Mary Stewart, there are a few good wannabes and Stevenson, who wrote seven novels in the 70s and early 80s, was one of them. My mother introduced me to both authors.  In return, I have introduced her to Susanna Kearsley who is definitely the best substitute Stewart currently writing (her books are quite different in some ways but certainly appeal to Stewart fans).

These books have quite the gothic look
My Impressions: I never mind rereading books that are dated but there was one scene in particular that really came across as inappropriate, given the current climate! Julie is visiting the publishing company she freelances for and the art editor who is her boss flirts with her very casually in front of his secretary Anne:

He had known Julie for more than a year and professed himself enraptured by her legs. . . 

“Hey, Anne ---“ He pulled his secretary around by the skirt as she passed his desk.

“When are you going to marry me, Julie?”
She shook her head, smiling.
“Well, if you won’t marry me, when are you going to sleep with me? This afternoon – I’ve no appointments this afternoon, have I, Anne?”

It turns out he roomed with Julie’s brother at university which surely makes his flirting even less acceptable (and remember, a freelancer is often totally dependent on his/her one contact to secure additional work) although I know it was a different world then.

Source: I remember enjoying A Relative Stranger back in the day and picked it up at the Brookline Library recently for a reread. Now, of course, I am trying to recall which of her books I read and which were never at my library in those pre-Internet, pre-Inter Library Loan days, and how to obtain some of the more obscure titles.   Note: there is another Anne Stevenson who is a British poet.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Waking in Time (Book Review)

Title: Waking in Time
Author: Angie Stanton
Publication: Switch Press/Capstone, hardcover, 2017
Genre: YA Timetravel
Plot: Abbi is excited to begin her freshman year at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, although it is bittersweet because she recently lost her grandmother, an ardent alumna who had encouraged her to apply. But one morning she wakes up in 1983 and realizes she has gone back in time, but is still a student at Wisconsin – in fact, in the same dorm and same bed. Frightened and afraid she might not be able to return to present day, Abbi makes two important friends: handsome Will, another time-traveler, born several generations before her, but moving forward in time instead of backward like her; and a geeky college professor who might hold the key to Abbi’s ability to regain control of her life.
Audience: Fans of YA fiction and/or of time travel; University of Wisconsin alumni.

My Impressions: I have always been a fan of time travel, and the unusual college setting added an element of appeal to this book. Because the book is written in the first person, the reader really suffers with Abbi as she tries to navigate the past and determine whether there is some reason she is having this adventure. I would have liked more plot development and more description of her classes and college life but at least the author provides some vivid depictions of the girls Abbi befriends in the past.  Even Abbi's grandmother attended college substantially after Betsy Ray and Carney Sibley but their experience is still of great interest.

A couple years ago I was at a big crew race in Worcester and wound up talking to some University of Wisconsin rowing fanatics. They were very proud of the fact that crew was Wisconsin’s first varsity sport, dating back to 1874. That made me enjoy Will’s devotion to crew even more and gave it plausibility as the one constant while he moved about in time.
Fun Historical FactClick here for a great look at Dorm Life in 19th century Wisconsin.  Women were first admitted to Wisconsin in 1863 and degrees were awarded in 1869. In contrast, my alma mater, Radcliffe College, was not even founded until 1879! 

Source: My sister lent me this book which she had checked out of the Newton Free Library. I am especially pleased to have found a novel published by Capstone, which is headquartered in Mankato, MN, the ancestral home of Maud Hart Lovelace. I recall John Coughlan, the founder, was a big supporter of MHL (I seem to remember that he came briefly to one of the Betsy-Tacy conventions and I was introduced to him by the talented Kathy Baxter). I know the publishing company has continued to thrive after his retirement but as much of Capstone's output is nonfiction I have not had much exposure to it.   I do have to laugh, however, that this time travel novel is classified as Realistic Fiction on the publisher's site!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Close Contact (Book Review)

Title: Close Contact, A Body Armor Novel
Author: Lori Foster
Publication: Harlequin Paperback, November 2017
Genre: Romance

Plot: After inheriting her grandmother’s isolated farmhouse, Maxi Nevar is trying to make it her home despite some odd events that make her wonder if she has a poltergeist. But when she wakes up in a nearby field with no memory of how she got there, she is smart enough to realize she needs professional help. Unfortunately, the logical choice, Miles Dartman, is the man with whom she had several one night stands, then ignored, so it is more than a little awkward to pursue him to his new employer. It turns out that Matt, a former Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Fighter, has just become a bodyguard with Body Armor, a personal security agency, run by the glamorous Sahara Silver. Although Miles is still angry that Maxi blew him off, he is immediately protective of her, plus can’t wait to have sex with her again, so is all too willing to move in with her. From that point, while the stalking and other dangerous events keep on coming, at least Maxi is pleasurably distracted by her own personal martial arts expert while they try to figure out who wants her to disappear. . .

Audience: Fans of romantic suspense. Enter the Rafflecopter Sweepstakes for a chance to win a copy:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound

My Impressions: Lori Foster is one of those authors I always meant to read so I was pleased when TLC Book Tours invited me to participate in this tour. This was a fun, quick read with appealing characters, who have abundant chemistry, and a dramatic denouement. Although a big sports fan, I had to look up MMA and am amused by the concept of a bodyguard company consisting of martial arts experts, somewhere near Kentucky (given this is a series, there is clearly a lot more going on in this part of the world than I would have guessed to occupy this group of excessively attractive men!). In this instance, a private investigator would have been more useful in determining which of the people in Maxi’s life was tormenting her - although he might not have been as sexy as Miles (tell me, however, why it is considered appealing for a man not to wear underwear?). Where Foster is most successful is in depicting the friendship among this group of guys, most of whom appear to be former fighters and were featured in previous books in the series (you may want to go back and start this series in proper order but it stood alone fairly well).  Foster did a good job in creating motives for several potential bad guys although the real perp was fairly obvious to me, if not to Miles and the oddly named Maxi. While the haunted house/stalker plot was not very exciting, the book passed the test of making me want to read more of the series – Sahara was the most intriguing character in the book, both her personality and her determination to find her missing brother, and I will definitely read her story when it comes out, next in the series!
Source: Thanks to TLC Book Tour for providing me a pre-publication copy of this book by the publisher for review purposes. Please check out other stops on the tour below:
Monday, November 20th: From the TBR Pile
Tuesday, November 21st: Bewitched Bookworms
Wednesday, November 22nd: Recommended Romance
Thursday, November 23rd: Books, Coffee & Passion
Friday, November 24th: What Is That Book About – excerpt
Monday, November 27th: Evermore Books
Monday, November 27th: Books a la Mode – excerpt
Monday, November 27th: Stranded in Chaos
Tuesday, November 28th: Cara’s Book Boudoir
Tuesday, November 28th: Sultry Sirens Book Blog – excerpt
Wednesday, November 29th: Reading Reality
Thursday, November 30thThoughts of a Blond
Friday, December 1stSmexy Books
Monday, December 4thThe Sassy Bookster
Monday, December 4thNatalie the Biblioholic
Tuesday, December 5thOMG Reads
Tuesday, December 5thOf Pens and Pages
Wednesday, December 6thJathan & Heather
Thursday, December 7thAll Things Bookaholic.
Friday, December 8thCheryl’s Book Nook
Monday, December 11thMoonlight Rendezvous
Monday, December 11thNightbird Novels
Tuesday, December 12thBooks & Spoons
Wednesday, December 13thMystery Suspense Reviews
Thursday, December 14thBooks and Bindings
Friday, December 15thBecky on Books

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Not Now, Not Ever (Book Review)

Title: Not Now, Not Ever
Author: Lily Anderson
Publication: Wednesday Books/Macmillan, Hardcover, 2017
Genre: Young Adult
Interview: I am so pleased to interview Lily for Staircase Wit!

SW: I loved The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You, and am eager to read your new book which I know is inspired by The Importance of Being Earnest, my all time favorite play. What inspired you to do retellings of classics?
LA: I have always loved retellings—pretty much since the first time I read Jon Scieszka’s Stinky Cheese Man picture book when I was little. Even now, I read pretty much every fairy tale and classic literature retelling I come across. But I wasn’t finding retellings of the things that I loved—plays. I’m a lifelong theater geek. Certain plays—like Much Ado About Nothing and The Importance Of Being Earnest—have stuck around just as long, if not longer, than other stories being retold. Their themes still resonate with audiences all over the world, every day. It seemed silly to me that they weren’t being transformed into YA novels. And I waited and looked around before I decided to do it myself! 
 
SW: You seem to understand the ups and downs of teen friendship. Do you have any friends who have lasted since teendom?
LA: I actually have a lot of friends that I met when I was a teen! My group of closest friends all met doing youth theater together and we’ve stayed close ever since, which means that we have been through the highest highs and lowest lows between middle school and adulthood. Teen friendships can be hard because everything is SO INTENSE when you’re a teen, but finding the right group of people who won’t bail when things get hard is key. 

SW: What were your favorite books when you were a teen?
LA: Whew. Well, get ready for me to date myself because I was into some early aughts club bangers. I loved The Princess Diaries, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and Francesca Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat books. I was super obsessed with The Outsiders (although I somehow never saw the movie?). And I was reading a lot of comics and manga—mostly Ranma ½, Kodocha, and anything from the X-Men universe.

SW: From your website, I can make some guesses about books you like to recommend as a librarian – are there any hidden gems you can share?
LA: I’m an elementary school librarian, so I get kind of shouty about great middle grade novels. Everyone should be reading Anne Ursu, Grace Lin, Varian Johnson, Natalie Lloyd, Sheila Turnage, Kat Yeh, Megan Morrison, and Mac Barnett. 

SW:  Great, some new authors for me!  I also see you are a fan of Little Women (if you have never visited Orchard House, I volunteer to take you on a tour when you next visit Boston), have you read one of my favorites, The Diamond in the Window by Jane Langton – also set in Concord?
LA: OMG, visiting Orchard House is literally my greatest dream. I’ve never been to Massachusetts—I actually only visited the East Coast for the first time this year when I went to New York Comic Con!—but I will get there and will totally take you up on that tour guide. I haven’t read The Diamond in the Window, but I will put it at the top of my TBR! I love old-school kids’ books.

SW: What do readers tell you is their favorite thing about your books?
LA: I usually get people repeating back their favorite jokes from the book, which I love because those are also my parts I like best, too. 

Thank you, Lily!   Keep me posted on your travel plans to Boston!
Click to enter a Rafflecopter giveaway through 11/22/17.

Plot: Elliot Gabaroche does not want to spend the summer at home in Sacramento or attend mock trail camp at UCLA. And she certainly isn't going to the Air Force summer program on her mother's base in Colorado Springs. What she is going to do is pack up her attitude, her favorite Octavia Butler novels, and her Jordans, and go to summer camp. Specifically, a cutthroat academic-decathlon-like competition for a full scholarship to Rayevich College, the only college with a Science Fiction Literature program. And she's going to start over as Ever Lawrence, on her own terms, without the shadow of all her family’s expectations. Because why do what’s expected of you when you can fight other genius nerds to the death for a shot at the dream you’re sure your family will consider a complete waste of time?

My Impressions: This book is so new I don’t yet have a copy – can’t wait! You can buy it from Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, Amazon, or at your favorite bookstore.

About the Author: Lily Anderson is an elementary school librarian and Melvil Dewey fangirl with an ever-growing collection of musical theater tattoos and Harry Potter ephemera. She lives in Northern California, far from her mortal enemy: the snow.

Please visit other stops on the Fantastic Flying Book Club tour:

November 14th

November 15th

the bookdragon - Review

November 16th

YAWednesdays - Guest Post
Amanda Gernentz Hanson - Review + Favourite Quotes

November 17th

BookCrushin - Guest Post
Book Munchies - Review + Favourite Quotes

November 18th

November 19th

We Live and Breathe Books - Review + Favourite Quotes

November 20th

The Mind of a Book Dragon - Review + Playlist

November 21st

Boricuan Bookworms - Review + Playlist

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Whispering Mountain (Book Review) #1968Club

The 1968 Club is a meme created by Simon from Stuck in a Book, who chose a literary year and has encouraged other bloggers to read up and post on books published that year.  Check out all the reviews here!  When I realized the other book I had chosen, Cousin Kate, had been reviewed by several people, I wanted to pick something not previously included, hence:
Title: The Whispering Mountain
Author: Joan Aiken
Publication:  Jonathan Cape, hardcover, 1968
Genre: Children’s fantasy/historical fiction/speculative fiction – part of the twelve book Wolves Chronicles that begins with the beloved The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Cousin Kate (Book Review) #1968Club

What is the 1968 Club, you ask?  It is a year mostly remembered for tragedy.  Simon from Stuck in a Book chose a year, 1968, and has encouraged other bloggers to read up and post on books published that year for the #1968 Club.  This is a fun way to be exposed to a lot of interesting books, some of which I have heard of and some not.   The last time I participated it was 1951 and I reread All-of-A-Kind Family.
Title: Cousin Kate
Author: Georgette Heyer
Publication: Dutton Hardcover, 1968; my edition is a Bantam paperback
Genre: Historical Romance/Regency/Gothic

The first copy I read
Plot: Kate Malvern is the intrepid but impoverished daughter of a deceased military officer who left nothing but debts. Trying to make her living as a governess, Kate has been dismissed from her position after her employer’s brother made improper advances (as my Latin teacher used to say, there is nothing new under the sun, nihil novi sub sole). Kate is lucky that she has somewhere to go in a crisis – her old nurse Sarah, now married into a family that runs a London inn. Sarah is worried about Kate’s future so writes to the aunt Kate has never met, and soon Aunt Miranda, Lady Broome, has arrived, full of affection, and brings Kate home to Staplewood, where she lives with her husband, Sir Timothy, and son, Torquil. Kate tries to adjust to a life of luxury but begins to suspect something is not quite right about her new home. In the meantime, Sir Timothy’s attractive nephew Philip is suspicious of her motives in accepting Lady Broome’s hospitality and Kate’s banter with Philip distracts her from her worries about Staplewood. Yet soon Kate finds herself at the heart of a diabolical scheme, cut off from Sarah with only her own good sense to protect her.

Audience: Fans of the divine Georgette, regency lovers, gothic fans (however, she mostly disdained her fans - lucky for her she lived in an era where her publisher didn't urge her to go to romance conferences and bond with her readers)
Georgette Heyer
My Impressions: How I love a good orphan story! Kate is the perfect heroine: plucky, self reliant, loyal, full of humor, and attractive. As an unmarried young lady of good family, Kate has limited options which include the genteel occupations of governess or lady’s companion, or to be taken in as a drudge by distant family. While Sarah Nidd, her old nurse, is extremely fond of her, Sarah knows it is not suitable for Kate to live in a common inn. On paper, Kate is thus very fortunate to be rescued by her unknown Aunt Minerva. The mystery of the book is the secret of Staplewood, why Kate’s aunt is so eager to offer her a home, and whether Kate can withstand the forces working against her.
My Heyer shelves

“You were going to say that you wonder why she did invite me,” [Kate] supplied. “Torquil said the same, yesterday, and I wonder what you both mean. She invited me out of compassion, knowing me to be a destitute orphan – and I can never be sufficiently grateful to her!”

He stammered: “No, indeed! Just so! Shouldn’t think you could! Well, what I mean is – Did you say, destitute, ma’am?”

“Forced to earn my bread!” she declared dramatically. She saw that he was quite horrified, and gave a gurgle of laughter.

“You’re shamming it!” he accused her.

“I’m not, but you’ve no need to look aghast, I promise you! To be sure, I didn’t precisely enjoy being a governess, but there are many worse fates. Or so I’ve been told!”

Cousin Kate is Heyer’s one gothic novel but is not as well executed or as convincing as her more traditional regencies. I can understand why some dislike it because of its unrealistic portrayal of mental illness. Moreover, I think her books got weaker towards the end of her life and this was one of her last four books.

What makes the book appealing to me is the minor characters, beginning with the Nidds, a vivid cockney family devoted to Kate, from the irreverent grandfather to the inarticulate grandsons. Lady Broome is not a sympathetic or convincing character as she plots to use Kate for her fell purposes but if you can suspend disbelief a little, it is not impossible to understand her quandary – having devoted herself to her husband’s family it is heartbreaking to her that the line might not continue. Her elderly husband, Sir Timothy, is also interesting: he welcomes Kate to his home and becomes genuinely fond of her, and loves his nephew Philip. But he turns a blind eye to his own son’s unhappy situation and does not interfere in Lady Broome’s or the doctor’s treatment of Torquil. Kate and Philip (well suited in an understated romance) are very fond of Sir Timothy despite his flaws.

Source: I own nearly every book Georgette Heyer wrote, and happen to have several copies of Cousin Kate – the edition I am rereading (above right) has a particularly lurid cover; I like the Fawcett one better.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Jonica's Island (Book Review)

Title: Jonica’s Island
Illustrator: Corinne Malvern
Publication: Julian Messner, Hardcover, 1945
Genre: Juvenile Historical Fiction
Plot: Back in 1660 when New York was Nieuw Amsterdam, a struggling settlement on the edge of the wilderness, Evanthus and Hielke Van de Voort were raising a family of six boys. When 13 year old Jonica Kleiger’s ne’er do well father is banished from the village for repeated drunkenness, Jonica is threatened with the almshouse. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Lois Lenski, Storycatcher (Book Review)

Title: Lois Lenski, Storycatcher
Author: Bobbie Malone
Publication: University of Oklahoma Press, hardcover, 2016
Genre: Biography/Children's Literature
Description: Many 20th century children – including, surprisingly, Oprah – grew up with Lois Lenski (1893-1974) as author and illustrator, and as a writer she expanded the experience of American children by writing regional fiction which depicted the ordinary lives of children from diverse backgrounds throughout the country. In this goal, she was supported by her editors and also by children who read her books and wrote to her, inviting her to come visit their communities so they could share their stories. Lenski won the renowned Newbery Medal in 1946 for Strawberry Girl and probably should have won it for Indian Captive in 1942 (both Indian Captive and Little Town on the Prairie were runners up to The Matchlock Gun (seriously)).

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Joan Howard's The 13th is Magic! (Book Review)

Author: Joan Howard
Illustrator: Adrienne Adams
Publication: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co., Hardcover, 1950
Genre: Juvenile Fantasy
Description: New York is a magic city where almost everything can happen - especially if you live on the 13th floor of an apartment building on Central Park West.  Now of course, as most people are superstitious there is no real 13th floor in hotels or apartment houses, and the one where Ronnie and Gillian live, although it is right about the 12th, is called the 14th.  It is not until the day they find the black cat Merlin that they discover the magical 13th floor where the hall wallpaper is a pattern of bats, owns and broomsticks, with borders made of old charms and incantations. In the various apartments on this floor live a remarkable group of characters that the children meet and then see more of in the adventures that follow on the 13th day of every month.

Like all New York children, Ronnie and Gillian play in Central Park, ride on the Staten Island ferry, and visit the fascinating shops near Broadway.  But not all children are lucky enough to have a little box of daylight savings time to open in a fog, and not all New York children can whistle up a snowstorm that falls only on Central Park while the rest of the city is bathed in dazzling sunlight, or ride with the Comet cleaners through the sky.

Their mother could not understand why such extraordinary things happened only to the Saunders children, and not to other families.

“Perhaps they do, my dear,” their father told her.  “Perhaps they do and the other people just aren’t telling.”

Audience: The dust jacket (from which the above description comes) says ages 6-10 but I love this book nearly as much as an adult as I did when I checked it out frequently from my elementary school library!

My Impressions:  As a little girl growing up in Boston, my knowledge of New York came from this book and The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright, All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor, and From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and I never dreamed I would one day live there myself. From my home in the suburbs, I was intrigued by apartment living, a talking cat adopting two children, and the mysterious missing 13th floors.  Surprisingly, this reread revealed that Ronnie and Gillian’s apartment was on Central Park West which was actually one of my addresses (although my building was physically on West 97th, this is what is called a vanity address) although in my mind I had pictured their building on the Upper East Side.   I loved the adventures that took place on the 13th of each month and the quirky characters, especially Mr. Weatherbee, formerly of the Weather Bureau, and Mrs. Wallaby-Jones, whose tail reveals she is a kangaroo!  Of course, I especially liked the fact that a cat could bring magic to an ordinary family.  I might not live in a magic apartment building but I certainly had a cat!
As an adult, I have several times recommended this book for reprint to editors seeking hidden gems of the past.  It is very hard for the book's diehard fans to find an affordable copy - AbeBooks currently has one at $665!.   Adrienne Adams, the talented illustrator, also has admirers. Unfortunately, I am afraid a chapter involving the children’s Indian head pennies all turning into half-naked Indians who say, “Howgh!” would disqualify this book from reprint, which is a shame as it is otherwise very charming.  It was quite popular in its day, with at least 9 printings.  I wish that Joan Howard aka Patricia Gordon aka Patricia Prud'Hommeaux were still alive so she could tweak that chapter to make it acceptable to a 21st century audience. I did find some grandchildren. Maybe I will make another attempt.

By the way, "fascinating shops near Broadway"? Hardly. That is not the only dated reference in this book but the charm of the characters and setting outweigh these flaws.
Mrs. Wallaby-Jones joined the children in Central Park
Source: The John Ward School copy is long gone (I hope it is being cherished somewhere and was not tossed) but I was lucky enough to get the book from Eastern Connecticut State College via InterLibrary Loan.  I once read the sequel, The Summer is Magic, which is less known but nearly as hard to obtain.

Images copyright to Adrienne Adams/Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, Co.

Monday, October 2, 2017

13 Minutes (Book Review and Casting)

Title: 13 Minutes
Author: Sarah Pinborough
Publication: Flatiron Books, Hardcover, October 2017
Genre: YA suspense
Plot: Natasha doesn't remember how she ended up in the icy water that night, but she does know this - it wasn't an accident, and she wasn't suicidal. Her two closest friends are acting strangely, and Natasha turns to Becca, the best friend she dumped years before when she got popular, to help her figure out what happened.  Natasha's sure that her friends love her. But does that mean they didn't try to kill her?

13 Minutes is a young adult thriller from internationally bestselling author Sarah Pinborough.

Audience: Fans of Lauren Oliver and Gayle Forman

My Impressions: This is a deliberately paced psychological novel of suspense set among a group of spiteful teens that was a great introduction to a new (to me) author. Much of the story is told from Becca’s point of view: the friend who was dropped by Natasha, and although still bitter by the years-ago betrayal, is flattered when Natasha asks her to help find out how she came so close to dying. The two girls used to be good at chess – now they are playing a complicated game with a killer. The author introduces numerous red herrings, and the pace of the book picks up as Becca begins to guess what really happened. The police detective assigned to the case is fairly useless and (hello, conflict of interest!) starts dating someone who is involved in the case himself.

Unlike most of the books I have read in this genre, 13 Minutes is set in England. Unsurprisingly, mean girls are the same in every country but I was struck in this book how unpleasant every character is and it seemed as if they used much cruder language than American girls of that age.  Unlike American teens, they spend a lot of time on Facebook (which advanced the plot but may not be realistic), and they certainly don’t study much – math and art come into play more than any other subject, and after school drama. Although we have probably all been in the same situation – being dumped by someone we thought was a close friend, it is hard to like Becca. She is rude to her parents, cruel to her only friend, smokes and uses drugs, and not only dates the creepiest guy but also is desperate to keep him (cringe, cringe when they break up and she acts pathetic). I wished the author had made her more likeable. No one in this book knows the old saying that to have a friend you have to be a friend. Natasha, the Queen Bee, is the most interesting and developed character, but so mean the reader is tempted to wish one of the attempts on her life would be successful. An entertaining read with a dramatic ending.

Dream Casting: How would you cast the movie? I came up with some possibilities but you need to work with me a little to imagine them all the right age…

Natasha (as a brunette) - Nina Dobrev from Vampire Diaries
Becca – Aubrey Plaza from Parks & Recreation
Hayley - Dianna Agron from Glee
Jenny – Julianne Hough from Dancing with the Stars
Hannah – Liza Weil from Gilmore Girls and How to Get Away with Murder
Aiden – Cole Sprouse from Riverdale
Jamie McMahon – Scott Cohen from Gilmore Girls
Inspector Caitlin Bennett - Jennifer Anniston
Dr. Annabel Harvey – Laura Innes from ER

Source: I was provided a pre-publication copy of this book by the publisher and the Fantastic Flying Book Club for review purposes. Please visit the other stops on the tour at one of the links below to enter a contest to win an ARC (I could not make the rafflecopter work - my apologies):
September 27th
The Unofficial Addiction Book Fan Club & Pink Polka Dot Books - Welcome Post

September 28th
Confessions of a YA Reader - Review
Rurouni Jenni Reads - Review
Ginger Mom & the Kindle Quest - Review

September 29th
Smada's Book Smack - Review
everywhere and nowhere - Review
Tara's Book Addiction - Review
My Thoughts Literally- Review

September 30th
A Dream Within A Dream - Review
Here's to Happy Endings - Review
The Petite Book Blogger - Review

October 1st
Reading Wonderland - Review + Favourite Quotes
Never Too Many To Read - Review
Donnie Darko Girl - Review

October 2nd
The Bibliophile Confessions - Review + Favourite Quotes
Stephanie's Book Reviews - Review
Hauntedbybooks13 - Review

October 3rd
The Candid Cover - Review + Playlist + Dream Cast
Supercalireader - Review