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The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie.

Cassandra Leung has grown up in a family that genetically engineers sea creatures/monsters.  These sea creatures are trained to safekeep ships from pirate attacks.  The earth’s water levels have risen resulting in much less land.  Cassandra is thrilled to go out on her first expedition with her beloved sea monster, despite the fact that her monster is experiencing some tremors.  When pirates attack, Cassandra does NOT swallow the suicide pill, that all reckoners (or sea monster trainers) are given.  Instead she becomes a captive of the pirates and is forced to train a hatchling sea monster that the pirates have somehow acquired.

This is a dark  fast paced tale with morally ambiguous characters.   All the characters engage in problematic behavior, even if it is for good reasons.  I enjoyed the romance, and how natural the protagonist’s sexuality.

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Serpent of Venice

New York Times bestselling author Christopher Moore channels William Shakespeare and Edgar Allan Poe in this satiric Venetian gothic that brings back the Pocket of Dog Snogging, the eponymous hero of Fool, along with his sidekick, Drool, and pet monkey, Jeff

Venice, a long time ago. Three prominent Venetians await their most loathsome and foul dinner guest, the erstwhile envoy of Britain and France, and widower of the murdered Queen Cordelia: the rascal-Fool Pocket. This trio of cunning plotters-the merchant, Antonio; the senator, Montressor Brabantio; and the naval officer, Iago-have lured Pocket to a dark dungeon, promising an evening of sprits and debauchery with a rare Amontillado sherry and Brabantio’s beautiful daughter, Portia.

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

This book was wonderful, and I highly recommend listening to the audio book because it adds so much more character to the story.

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Luther and the Radicals

In their zeal to tell the true story of sixteenth-century radicalism, some sympathizers of the Anabaptist movement have portrayed the once maligned individuals and groups as innocent, pious people who suffered cruel persecution at the hands of the wicked state-churchmen. Their side of the story is thus often as one-sided as was the story of the enemies of Anabaptism.

This book, written by a Mennonite scholar, seeks to understand the reasons for the clash between Luther and the radicals, a point often neglected when one or the other side is emphasized. The study keeps Luther, however, in a central position, exploring the issues which led to the Reformer’s attitude toward the radicals and analyzing the principles that were at stake in his struggle with the dissident groups

–from Goodreads

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Radical Religious Movements in Early Modern Europe

This work is the second in a series whose professed aim is to keep history up-to-date and, as its editor J. H. Shennan states, to do so “with judgments and interpretations which will no doubt in turn form part of the synthesis of future scholarly revisions.” Michael Mullett’s contribution to the series reevaluates the importance of radical religious sects to the world in which they developed, and even beyond, into present day.

–Jean Dietz Moss, The Catholic University of America

Mullet moves beyond the handful of religious sects that many Reformation historians focus on. While a bit grandiose in theory, Mullet has done extensive research for this book and provides an excellent bibliography. Covering three centuries, Mullet looks at the background and setting of the radical movements that helped to change the face of western religion.

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Radical Tendencies in the Reformation

The Reformation was more than Martin Luther calling out the Catholic Church for the sale of indulgences. Most historians now agree it was  accident in the first place. But the idea of revolution and reformation took off like wildfire. The Reformation may have been started by a group of radicals, but they weren’t radical enough for others. The Anabaptists were a group of radicals who, after studying the Bible, decided there was no Biblical structure set out for infant baptism. Instead, the Anabaptist believed that baptism should only be done when an adult understands and consents. For this crime, thousands were put to death. The radicals also had insane ideas such as perhaps being allowed to choose their own preachers and teachers and that maybe they should have some say in where and how their taxes were spent. However, to be fair, some went far into the radical zone. In the city of Munster, one radical group set up their own kingdom. They kicked anyone out who did not agree with them, established, polygamy, elected a king, and began a commune. All the surrounding cities gathered together to lay siege on Munster. The radical tendencies of the Reformation are interesting to read about because they really do range from mundane to spectacular.

Luther and the Peasants War

Kirchner is one of the leading historians on the German Peasants War. It wasn’t until later that historians started looking at the social causes and ramifications of the Peasant War. In the framework of the European Reformation, most historians were interested in Martin Luther’s response to the Peasants War. Spoiler Alert: He wasn’t very happy. He wrote a response to the peasants titled “On the Murderous Thieving Hordes of Peasants.”

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The German Reformation

In recent years, new approaches to the history of the Reformation of the Church have radically altered our understanding of that event within its broadest social and cultural context. In this concise study, R. W. Scribner provides a synthesis of the main research, with special emphasis on the German Reformation, and presents his own interpretation of the period. The second edition of this successful text now includes a new Introduction, a supplementary chapter and a supplementary bibliography by C. Scott Dixon.

— From Goodreads

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German Peasant War 1525: New Viewpoints

Historian Robert Scribner attempts to make new revisionist history more accessible to students, teachers, and really anyone who is interested. His books are short and to the point. They detail what changes historians have found over time and discusses new conclusions. The Peasant War of 1525 was heartrendingly horrible and brought the deaths of hundreds of thousands who were searching for something deeper than what they had been taught was their only lot in life. History paints the peasants as savages and many used the Peasant War to denounce the radicals of the European Reformation. Scribner takes a new view demonstrating that their movement was not all that different than what many were pursuing at that time. The brutality came because of the specific circumstances surrounding the towns they were gathering in.

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay

I loved reading this book! When I went to the movie I was so focused on the beasts, I missed a lot of the story. I learned things in this screenplay I had missed. Plus pronunciation and character rang a bell. Now I can’t wait to go see the movie again for all I missed. It was not hard to follow if you get past the fact that it’s a script and not a novel. I am always ready to dive back in to any part of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter world!

When Magizoologist Newt Scamander arrives in New York, he intends his stay to be just a brief stopover. However, when his magical case is misplaced and some of Newt’s fantastic beasts escape, it spells trouble for everyone…

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them marks the screenwriting debut of J.K. Rowling, author of the beloved and internationally bestselling Harry Potter books. Featuring a cast of remarkable characters, this is epic, adventure – packed storytelling at its very best.

Whether an existing fan or new to the wizarding world, this is a perfect addition to any reader’s bookshelf.

Goodreads.

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Opportunity Knocks

Alison Sweeney is one of my favorite soap opera actresses. I have enjoyed her books which give a peek inside the life of television. I always try to figure out who her characters are based on or at least who they remind me of since that is half the fun. This story takes place mostly in New York which is a different setting. I liked it because it is fun to see the media taken down a notch and to see the little guy win, no matter how unrealistic it may be. It was fun and a quick read.

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS for a fledgling make-up artist as Alison Sweeney – actress, TV host, producer, and author – delivers a new book on a subject she knows well.

Alex Cleary has 48 hours to resolve the nightmare her dream job has become…and the clock is ticking. Alex Cleary has careened from one dead-end position to another. But suddenly the ingenious makeup artist finds her distinct talents are valued by none other than lifestyle-empire mogul Hillary P. — renowned for her golden touch in broadcast and print media, as well as for her hair-trigger temper. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to join the daytime television scene that Alex is determined not to screw up. Then a frank work in the wrong ear puts Alex’s job on the line. Alex anticipates Hillary’s rage, but she can’t believe that this multimillionaire is holding her newest staffer to a nondisclosure agreement that demands reparation of 5 million dollars. Alex has only 48 hours to repair the damage. And with a vengeful Hillary P. watching the clock, the devil will have her due…

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A Season with the Witch: The Magic and Mayhem of Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts

J.W. Ocker’s A Season with the Witch: The Magic and Mayhem of Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts chronicles his one  month of living and embracing the culture of what is Salem, Massachusetts today during the month of October. He researches and interviews many of the characters he comes into contact with during those 31 days to get their take on what living in Salem is like, everyone from the old cemetery security guard to the Mayor of Salem. His book details the joys of living in Salem, as well as its trials and tribulations during the Halloween season. Salem is forever tied to its history of the witchcraft hysteria of 1692 which continues to affect Salem and its citizens today and has become an integral part of its identity. Through Ocker’s eyes we get a personal tour of Halloween in Salem and he becomes our own personal tour guide throughout the city and its  history and historic sites. He also introduces us to the curious characters he meets along the way including street performers, psychics, and the real witches of Salem.

I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed reading this book! It is loaded with information for the Halloween enthusiast. The only thing I objected to throughout was the book’s lack of careful spell-checking. There were multiple grammatical errors throughout its pages and many times the year 1692 was inverted to 1962. However, I could not fault the author on his research. He knew his history and his style of writing was fun and fast-paced and eye-catching.

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Heartless

Catherine was the daughter of the Marquis of Turtle Rock Cove but the last thing she wanted was a title or an arranged marriage. She had dreams of opening a bakery and becoming the best baker in all of Hearts. Then she captured the eye of the King of Hearts and her path to Queendom seemed paved with her mother’s intentions. Enter Jest, Joker of Hearts, and the King’s own court jester who was also taken with Lady Catherine and she with him. How in the world of Wonderland would they ever be able to be together when the king was set to propose?
The latest book by Marissa Meyer, author Lunar Chronicles, a science fiction take on fairytale princess stories, is the backstory of the Queen of Hearts before she became  the cruel and cold figure from the “Alice” of our childhood and this story of her life before the crown failed to deliver, in my opinion. The characters were flat and two dimensional,  the plot was thin and the pages were stuffed with redundant descriptive detail of the world of Wonderland which was unnecessary because we already have those images in our imaginations as Meyer’s Wonderland varied little from Lewis Carroll’s. In short, I found this book boring. The story didn’t really take off until page 267 or so out of a little over 400. I only finished it because I so loved The Lunar Chronicles that I kept thinking it would get better. Pages upon pages of descriptions of balls, tea parties, outlandish characters that didn’t move the plot forward but just seemed to be there to add color and pages caused what little plot there was to get lost completely. I vote this book biggest disappointment of 2016.

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Faithful

This book was not at all what I was expecting from the blurb I had read that sparked my interest. That’s not to say I didn’t like it; I just had to rethink what I was expecting. Shelby’s life before and after the car accident are as different as night and day. But on top of the guilt she feels having walked away from the crash while her best friend is in a permanent coma, is added trauma from time in a mental institute, parents who don’t know what to do with her, and her own desire to retreat from the world. Her guardian angel finally sparks a bit of life and she heads to New York and a whole new set of problems and guilt. Following her journey from desperation to hopefulness to validation is multi-layered, but well worth the trip. A book that will make you think about what you value and appreciate what you have.

Versatile and best-selling Hoffman’s (The Marriage of Opposites, 2015) latest novel is a moving redemption story. A horrific car accident halts the flow of 18-year-old Shelby Richmond’s life and leaves her best friend in a vegetative state. Wracked with guilt because she was driving the car when it spun off the road, Shelby suffers a nervous breakdown and ends up in a mental institution, where she is sexually assaulted repeatedly by a sadistic orderly. Finally she escapes this waking nightmare, more damaged than before. Shelby shaves her head and refuses to believe she deserves happiness of any kind. But life won’t let her give up. The local boy who sells her weed confesses his love for her, and a mysterious person she thinks of as her angel sends her postcards encouraging her to reengage with the world. So Shelby sets off for New York City, where, to her surprise, she finds friends, both four legged and human, and a second lease on life. In a tale at once heartbreaking and uplifting, Hoffman explores a young woman’s recovery from tragedy with sympathy and grace.

Kristine Huntley, 2016 Booklist, American Library Association.

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Goldenhand by Garth Nix

We are introduced to new characters and welcome back old characters.   Ferin a young woman from the north carries an important message.   A message for which she is being hunted to death.  This  message will warn the kingdom of the warpath Claw of the North is planning.  The message is intended for Lirael and it comes from her long-lost mother, Ariel.  Lirael has found new confidence since she helped defeat Oranis the Destroyer.    She is also adapting to her new hand (which she lost in the book Abhorsen) and getting to know Nickolas Sayre better.

One reviewer wrote that this is  more of an epilogue than a complete novel.  It wasn’t as exciting as the first novel Sabriel, but I really enjoyed it nonetheless.  I liked meeting up with old characters, especially Moget the cat!  I love the atmosphere that Nix creates, especially in the Abhorsen’s chambers in the Clayr.

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Stolen Songbird

For five centuries, a witch’s curse has bound the trolls to their city beneath the mountain. When Cécile de Troyes is kidnapped and taken beneath the mountain, she realises that the trolls are relying on her to break the curse.

Cécile has only one thing on her mind: escape. But the trolls are clever, fast, and inhumanly strong. She will have to bide her time…

But the more time she spends with the trolls, the more she understands their plight. There is a rebellion brewing. And she just might be the one the trolls were looking for… (–Goodreads.com)

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Saga (Volume #4)

From the Eisner Award-winning duo of Brian K. Vaughan (The Private Eye, Pride of Baghdad) and Fiona Staples (Mystery Society, Thor), SAGA is the sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the universe. As they visit a strange new world and encounter even more adversaries, baby Hazel finally becomes a toddler, while her star-crossed parents Marko and Alana struggle to stay on their feet. (–Goodreads.com)

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Saga (Volume #3)

From the Hugo Award-winning duo of Brian K. Vaughan (The Private Eye, Y: The Last Man) and Fiona Staples (North 40, Red Sonja), Saga is the sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the universe. Searching for their literary hero, new parents Marko and Alana travel to a cosmic lighthouse on the planet Quietus, while the couple’s multiple pursuers finally close in on their targets. (–Goodreads.com)

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Saga (Volume #2)

 

From award-winning writer BRIAN K. VAUGHAN (Pride of Baghdad, Ex Machina) and critically acclaimed artist FIONA STAPLES (Mystery Society, Done to Death), SAGA is sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the universe. Thanks to her star-crossed parents Marko and Alana, newborn baby Hazel has already survived lethal assassins, rampaging armies, and horrific monsters, but in the cold vastness of outer space, the little girl encounters her strangest adventure yet… grandparents.