21. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Teen Books

Gilt by Katherine Longshore, 398 pages, read by Angie, on 07/20/2014

This is the story of Catherine Howard, the doomed 5th wife of Henry VIII. It is told from the perspective of her friend Kitty Tylney. Cat schemes and plots her way to court and then into the heart of Henry. Once there she brings her girlhood friends to court with her. Her schemes don’t end with becoming queen. She continues to scheme and fool around and basically doom herself by her selfish actions. Kitty is loyal to her friend Cat, but becomes disillusioned as Cat’s plots bring them closer and closer to destruction. 

You know the ending of this story before it starts. You know Cat will not make it to the end with her head intact, but the journey there is an intriguing one. Anne Boleyn seems to be the wife that gets all the attention. The others all seem to fade into the background. It is nice to see a story about one of Henry’s other wives. This was a fun guilty pleasure type book. I had no idea until the very end whether Kitty was going to follow Cat to her end or not.

21. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Tammy · Tags:

Longbourn by Jo Baker, 331 pages, read by Tammy, on 07/10/2014

longbournAnother great read for fans of Downton Abbey or Pride and Prejudice. If you like both then it’s really great! Longbourn is the home of the Bennett family. Mr and Mrs. Bennett and their five daughters all of an age to start looking for a husband. But Longbourn is also the home of Mr. and Mrs. Hill (butler and cook), Sarah a housemaid, Polly a housemaid and James the new footman.  The overall story line follows the same events as Pride and Prejudice but everything is told from the viewpoint of the servants. As well as writing the servants as complete characters with full lives of their own.

18. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Teen Books

Velvet by Mary Hooper, 336 pages, read by Angie, on 07/17/2014

Velvet is an orphan who works in a laundry in Victorian London. She comes to the attention of Madame Savoya, a famed medium, and starts working in her household. Life with Madame is definitely different from the poor conditions Velvet was previously used to. She comes to like the finer things in life and is enamored with George, Madame’s assistant. Velvet starts out as a firm believer in Madame’s powers over the Other Side. However, she does come to suspect that Madame may not be quite as in tune with the spirits as she seems. Velvet has to decide what is more important: the truth or her new life. 

I sometimes find books like this difficult to read, not because they are poorly written or bad books but because the characters in them are so different from people today. Hooper does a great job making her characters into true Victorians. They are firm believers in spiritualism and there is an innocence in them that makes them less suspicious than modern people. As a reader I clearly saw that Madame was a fake and that there was something suspicious about George. But Velvet with her Victorian sensibilities is oblivious. I like the fact that Hooper really did her homework on how the mediums of this age practiced their art and how gullible their clients were.

17. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Award Winner, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction · Tags:

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park, 160 pages, read by Angie, on 07/16/2014

Tree-ear is an orphan in 12th century Korea. He lives under a bridge with Crane-man. They live in Ch’ulp’o, a small village on the sea that is renowned for its celadon pottery. Tree-ear becomes the apprentice of a great potter named Min. Tree-ear labors for Min hoping that one day he too will be a great potter. In order to secure a royal commission, Min sends Tree-ear on a long journey across Korea with priceless pottery vases. Disaster strikes but Tree-ear manages to complete his mission and return with the commission. 

I actually liked this more than I thought I would. I thought the characters were very relatable and the story gripping and interesting. I also liked the fact that it is based on historical facts. I had to look up celadon pottery and the Thousand Cranes Vase after I was finished reading. Both are truly beautiful and you can tell that it took great skill to make these items. 

14. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Steam-punk, Teen Books

Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, 307 pages, read by Angie, on 07/13/2014

Sophronia is being sent to finishing school. Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality to be exact. Sophronia would rather be figuring out how things work than learning how to curtsey, but her mother has other ideas. Her mother would be appalled at what she is actually learning at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s. Not only does Sophronia learn how to curtsey and act appropriately in social situations she also learns how to poison someone and the fine art of gathering intelligence. Her other skills come in handy when she and her friends must figure out what has happened to a communications prototype that is wanted by a lot of nefarious characters. 

I like this Victorian steampunk world a lot. I have read Souless, the first in Carriger’s adult series, but didn’t really remember it a lot. This series is set in that same world. The school is a giant balloon that floats across the moors. There are vampire and werewolf teachers. And there are flying skypirates who attack the school. I found the whole thing fun and ridiculous and really enjoyable. There is just enough steampunk, just enough historical fiction, just enough zaniness to make this a really fun read. 

12. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Teen Books

Going Over by Beth Kephart, 264 pages, read by Angie, on 07/11/2014

Ada and Stefan are young and in love. Unfortunately they are separated by the Berlin Wall. It is 1981 and there are still many years before the wall will fall. Ada, in the west, works at a daycare during the day and graffitis during the night. She lives with Omi (grandmother) and Mutti (mother) in a squatters flat close to the wall. She urges Stefan to make his escape when she sees him every 3 months. Stefan lives with his grandmother in the east. His mother escaped to the west and hasn’t been seen. His grandfather tried to escape and was killed. Stefan is cautious despite his love for Ada.

I have mixed feelings about this book. It is unique, which I enjoyed. I don’t believe I have ever read a teen book about Berlin during the time of the wall. I thought Ada really represented my image of a young German Punk with her cans of paint and bright hair. Stefan seemed to be her exact opposite but also somewhat of a stereotypical reserved German. I liked their love story even if I didn’t always buy its authenticity. I also liked the secondary storyline of the Turkish women and children brought into West Germany as second-class workers. I thought it helped flesh out Ada’s character and make her become more fully realized. Stefan felt a little flat to me because of the lack of more story on his part. I also liked/disliked the writing style. I liked the sparse prose but I thought it left holes in the story. I wanted more information on who these characters were, especially the secondary ones, and what their motivations were. I felt like the story lacked the details that would have made it great. 

08. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Courtney, Historical Fiction

The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert, 458 pages, read by Courtney, on 06/26/2014

In the fall of 1898, a young ventriloquist named Ferret Skeritt falls from the sky in a hot-air balloon and lands on the house of a pair of elderly sisters in rural Nebraska. He sustains a broken leg and a few other injuries, but nothing is as broken as his heart. Earlier in the year, Ferret was anticipating the beginning of the Omaha World’s Fair, much like the rest of the city. At the time, Omaha was a much smaller and rougher town. Ferret makes most of his living with his ventriloquist act, thanks in no small part to his elaborate puppet, Oscar. For extra change, Ferret offers his services as a letter writer, specializing primarily in love letters. One night, while hanging around the theater, Ferret briefly meets a young, beautiful actress named Cecily. They don’t even have a conversation, but Ferret is a man obsessed. He eventually tracks her down in the fair’s midway and they begin to fall in love. Things seem perfect for a time. Together, they explore the fair.
Enter Billy Wakefield, one of the wealthiest men in Omaha and one of the principal financiers of the fair. He takes notice of Ferret and Cecily, invites them to his fancy parties, attempts to buy Ferret’s puppet. At first, Ferret, blinded by the early onset of love, fails to notice Billy’s interest in Cecily. Later, as Cecily’s health begins to deteriorate, Wakefield intensifies his efforts, promising medications and the best doctors money can buy. Ferret isn’t sure what to believe, but he doesn’t trust Wakefield (though he does take advantage of the fact that Wakefield is willing to give him a large sum of money for his puppet, Oscar). Cecily, on the other hand, agrees to travel with Wakefield to “take the waters” at various hot springs. Ferret wallows in her absence, but naively believes she’ll recover.
The first 2/3rds of this book is fantastic. I’m an Omaha native and a bit of a history buff, so I recall visiting the local history museum as a kid and being captivated by images of the Omaha World’s Fair. When I heard about this book, I knew I wanted to read it for the historical elements, if nothing else. The details of the fair absolutely met (and probably exceeded) my expectations. I loved trying to imagine how the pavilion would have sparkled in the sun with its white paint, dusted with crushed glass. The titular swan gondolas floated upon a massive lagoon that stretched the length of the main pavilion. On the fringes were the midway; the seedier (and more intriguing) parts of the fair. As readers, we take this journey alongside Ferret. As the summer wears on, the fair begins to lose its luster, much like the love between Cecily and Ferret.
To get into my issues with the final 1/3rd of the book, I would have to spoil several plot points. Suffice it to say, the last portion reads like an extremely long epilogue that takes place in the winter after the fair. Things get convoluted and the pacing becomes inconsistent. A good deal of the last portion begins to weave in some “Wizard of Oz” references, but their inclusion doesn’t make as much sense in the context of the novel. I think that if this book had ended prior to the last section, it might have felt much more cohesive. Still, it’s a mesmerizing read with vivid detail that has hints of The Night Circus and Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s YA work.

08. July 2014 · 1 comment · Categories: Angie, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Poetry, Teen Books

Odette's Secrets by Maryann Macdonald, 240 pages, read by Angie, on 07/07/2014

Odette lives in Paris with her mother and father. They are non-practicing Jews and have a good life in Paris. Then the Nazis come into power and things begin to change. First her father joins the French Army and is taken prisoner by the Germans. Then the Nazis start rounding up the Jews of Paris. Odette’s mother is prepared however and Odette gets sent to the Vendee countryside with several other little girls. They are going to hide in plain sight not as Jews but as Christian girls escaping the violence of Paris. Odette must learn the Catholic prayers and the sign of the cross and never tell anyone she is Jewish. Odette considers this just one more secret she must keep. Her mother soon joins her in the country which makes things even more difficult. They spend the war safely ensconced in their country cottage, but suspicions still follow them. After the war they are able to return to Paris and their home, but life will never be the same. 

I really enjoy novels in verse and thought the format really worked for this book. Odette’s Secrets is based on the true story of Odette Meyer and how she and her family survived the war. Odette was able to blend in as a Christian girl and actually came to enjoy praying and different aspects of Christian life. It is amazing how adaptable people, especially children, can be. I am always fascinated by the stories of how people survived during WWII. These stories make me wonder if I would be as strong or as brave as those who fought against the Nazis and did what they must to survive.

07. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Drama, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Pamela

Be careful what you wish for by Jeffrey Archer, 387 pages, read by Pamela, on 07/02/2014

cliftonWhen Ross Buchanan is forced to resign as chairman of the Barrington Shipping Company, Emma Clifton wants to take his place, but Don Pedro Martinez plans to install his puppet, the egregious Major Alex Fisher, so he can destroy the Barrington family firm once and for all. The talented Jessica Clifton, Harry and Emma’s adopted daughter, wins a scholarship to the Slade Academy of Art and falls in love with a fellow student, Clive Bingham, who asks her to marry him. Both families are delighted and preparations for the nuptials are well under way, when Charlotte Bingham, Jessica’s future mother-in-law, has a visit from an old friend, Lady Virginia Fenwick, who drops her particular brand of poison into the wedding chalice. But then, without warning, a man no one had ever heard of takes his place on the board of Barringtons and causes an upheaval that none of them could have anticipated. Cedric Hardcastle, a bluff Yorkshire banker, quickly decides who he should support, Emma Clifton or Don Pedro Martinez, and the story takes yet another twist.

07. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell, 279 pages, read by Angie, on 07/06/2014

A baby is discovered floating in a cello case after a shipwreck. She is taken home by Charles and raised as his daughter Sophie. Sophie and Charles are not conventional people. They eat off of books because Sophie breaks plates. Sophie wears trousers even though girls are supposed to wear dresses. Children’s services doesn’t always approve of Charles’s methods, but they leave Charles and Sophie alone until she turns 12. Then they decide it isn’t appropriate for a young girl to live with a non-relative. So Charles and Sophie escape to Paris to find her mother who Sophie believes is still alive. In Paris they are thwarted by the police but not discouraged. Then Sophie meets Matteo who lives on the rooftops and introduces her to a whole new world in the sky. She enlists his help in finding her mother. 

I was completely charmed by this book. The language is beautiful and lyrical and reads almost like poetry in some places. Sophie and Charles are not conventional, but they are interesting and unique. I really loved the world Rundell created both in England and on the Paris rooftops. I think the only criticism I have of the book is that I wish the ending would have been a little more fleshed out. I wanted to know more of the whys and the what happens nexts. Other than that it was a completely enjoyable read.

07. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery, Tracy

The Limehouse Text by Will Thomas, 352 pages, read by Tracy, on 06/30/2014

In The Limehouse Text, Barker and Llewelyn discover a pawn ticket among the effects of Barker’s late assistant, leading them to London’s Chinese district, Limehouse. There they retrieve an innocent-looking book that proves to be a rare and secret text stolen from a Nanking monastery, containing lethal martial arts techniques forbidden to the West. With the political situation between the British Empire and Imperial China already unstable, the duo must not only track down a killer intent upon gaining the secret knowledge but also safeguard the text from a snarl of suspects with conflicting interests. 

Prowling through an underworld of opium dens, back-room blood sports, and sailors’ penny hangs while avoiding the wrath of the district’s powerful warlord, Mr. K’ing, Barker and Llewelyn take readers on a perilous tour through the mean streets of turn-of-the-century London.

07. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Romance, Tracy

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, 870 pages, read by Tracy, on 06/01/2014

The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon–when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach–an “outlander”–in a Scotland torn by war and raiding Highland clans in the year of Our Lord…1743.

Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into intrigues and dangers that may threaten her life…and shatter her heart. For here she meets James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, and becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire…and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

03. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Graphic Novel, Historical Fiction, Lisa

Agent Gates and the Secret Adventures of Devonton Abbey: A Parody of Downton Abbey by Camaren Subhiyah, Kyle Hilton (Illustrations), 128 pages, read by Lisa, on 06/01/2014

The hit series Downton Abbey, upon which this parody graphic novel is based, has been nominated for 16 Emmy Awards in 2012, including an acting nomination for Brendan Coyle, who plays valet John Bates (a.k.a. Agent Gates). Our book will release in January 2013, in time for the premiere of season 3 in the U.S.While the Granville family dutifully entertain their guests at Devonton Abbey, an ace team of Secret Service agents camp out as unsuspecting household staff, protecting the Royal Crown and her citizens from impending world war.

Who is aware of the international intrigue concealed below stairs? Will Agent Gates save Britain from her enemies while ensuring Devonton Abbey’s reputation is upheld? Will Lady Margaret secure a proposal from Martin Crawhill, the heir to the estate? Will Thompson and O’Malley ever get lung cancer?

23. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery, Paranormal

Constable & Toop by Gareth P. Jones, 416 pages, read by Angie, on 06/19/2014

Sam Toop lives with his father in their funeral home Constable and Toop. Sam is different from most people in that he can see and hear ghosts. He is known as a “Talker” in the ghost community. Sam is surprised when his uncle Jack, who he didn’t know existed, shows up one night. Jack is on the run after killing a copper and Sam’s dad reluctantly lets him hide out. 

Lapsewood is perfectly happy to spend his afterlife shuffling paperwork for the Bureau. His afterlife is thrown into a tizzy when he is sent into the human realm to figure out what has happened to one of the Bureau’s agents. Lapsewood discovers that someone has been exorcising the residential ghosts in London and a house without its ghosts becomes contaminated with the Black Rot. Lapsewood teams up with a rogue ghost named Tanner to figure out what is happening to the ghosts of London. 

Sam and Lapsewood and Tanner all become embroiled in the case of the disappearing ghosts and the mysterious exorcist and must figure out who is behind it all. This entertaining book gives a new look at the afterlife and what kind of bureaucracy and dangers exist for ghosts. I like the uniqueness of the story. I do however think it is a little dense and could have been pared down a bit for this age group. It is a fun story with a bit of mystery, a bit of romance, a bit of danger and a bit of horror.

16. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Kim, Romance

Lord of Hawkfell island by Catherine Coulter, 403 pages, read by Kim, on 06/14/2014

Rorik is a Viking warrior, as fierce and savage as the North Sea during the winter solstice. Mirana is a Viking woman who loves birds, is more ingenious than most men, and loyal down to her toes. Her life changes utterly one fateful day when Rorik and his men come to Clontarf, a Viking fortress on the eastern coast of Ireland, to kill her half-brother. But she is the one taken as hostage to use as a pawn against him.

Rorik is the Lord of Hawkfell, an island off the east cost of Britain. The moment he brings his captive home, it seems that everything begins to fly out his control. The women are out to teach the men a lesson with the result that food is rank, Rorik’s family is out for Mirana’s blood, a murderer is on a loose, and a huge mongrel, Kerzog, dotes not only on his master but also on his master’s captive.

Rorik and Mirana are two strong-willed people, ardent in their opinions, who will have you rooting for both of them equally.

13. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery

Twelve Minutes to Midnight by Christopher Edge, 256 pages, read by Angie, on 06/12/2014

Every night at twelve minutes to midnight the patients at Bedlam start writing. They do not awaken and do not remember what they wrote when they wake. The modern reader will recognize the writings as events of the 20th century. However, the story takes place in 1899 and the people reading the writings have no idea what they are. Penelope Treadwell is an orphan and a writer. She is the owner and managing editor of the Penny Dreadful paper and has created storytelling sensation Montgomery Flinch. Of course, Penny herself has penned all the writings so she has to hire an actor to portray Flinch in public. The readers of the Penny Dreadful would never believe a 13-year-old girl could write such amazing stories of horror and mystery. Penny is determined to solve the mystery of the Bedlam Midnight Papers. Her investigation leads her to Lady Cambridge, the Spider Lady of Kensington. Turns out Lady Cambridge is using spider venom on the Bedlam patients so they can see the future and she can control the future. Her schemes don’t stop there however, she wants to bring all of London into madness. Penny must do some incredible things in order to stop her.

I thought the majority of this book was wonderful. I loved the mystery of the Midnight Papers and how the writers could see into the future. I thought Penny was really smart and resourceful and determined. I was entertained by Monty, the actor hired to be Montgomery Flinch. I also thought Lady Cambridge was an interesting villain. Then I got to the last section of the book and I thought it all went a bit loopy. I like mysteries that are atleast a little bit believable. I can buy a mysterious spider whose venom allows the victim to have visions. That wasn’t bad. It was when another spider’s venom was ingested by the legendary writers of the day (Doyle, Wells, Haggard, Kipling, etc.) and they were able to infect everyone with the madness who read their words. That is when Edge lost me. I wish the ending could have been stronger as this book started out so well. Not sure it will bother kids as much as it bothered me, but it was still disappointing.

09. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Kim, Romance

Season of the Sun by Catherine Coulter, 384 pages, read by Kim, on 06/09/2014

Zarabeth, with hair as red as an Irish sunset, is chosen by Magnus Haraldsson, a Viking on a trading visit to York, to be his wife. She is both stunned and fascinated by his bluntness, but is soon won over by this man who makes her laugh, brings her desire, and ultimately makes her trust him with her future and that of her little sister, Lotti. But her stepfather, Olav the Vain, has no intention of setting a bride price on Zarabeth.

Zarabeth does eventually return with Magnus to his farmstead in Norway, but as his slave, not as his wife. She wears the slave collar around her neck for all to see, but bears his distrust of her and her own pain deep within her.

It is the season of the sun in Norway, the clear midnight light of summer. It is a season of growth and flowering, of treachery and malice, of love and learning.

07. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Kim, Romance

Lover's Gold by Kat Martin, 343 pages, read by Kim, on 06/06/2014

A passionate woman …
When a hired gunman came to her small Pennsylvania town, Elaina McAllister knew with one look at his glinting blue eyes that she could never love this insolent stranger. But against all will, she found herself aching for his touch …

An insatiable man …
He masked his true feelings behind a teasing seduction, but Ren Daniels knew this tender beauty had captured his heart. Destiny would tear them apart when Elaina finds a golden fortune in the Colorado hills–and becomes the toast of San Francisco’s glittering high society. But she yearns for her roguish lover, and for the fire of their everlasting passion.

05. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Steam-punk

Uncrashable Dakota by Andy Marino, 313 pages, read by Angie, on 06/01/2014

Uncrashable Dakota is an alternate history/steampunk middle grade adventure novel. During the Civil War, Samuel Dakota discovered the power of flight. Seems a certain kind of beetle really likes whiskey soaked sap. You feed it to them and they can fly. Put the beetles in a ship and the ship flies. This discovery ended the Civil War years early, started the flight industry in the 1860s and allowed Lincoln to live to be an old man. Fast forward to 1912 and Dakota Aeronautics is getting ready to launch its biggest ship ever, the Dakota. On board is the elite of society as well as the general public. The Dakota family, consisting of Hollis and his mom and her new husband and his son Rob, are ready to set sail with the ship. During the voyage the ship is hijacked and Hollis, Rob and their friend Delia have to save the day.

This was a pretty hefty book with a lot going on. Not only do we have the hijacking story, but there is also a lot of backstory for when Samuel Dakota invented flight. I thought it was pretty inventive to have beetles be the mode of flight, especially ones who like to eat whiskey sap. There was definitely a Titanic vibe to this story (giant ship, best of its kind, supposedly unsinkable/uncrashable, disaster). I do with the book would have been just a tad shorter or better edited. I think a lot of the story of the kids running around the ship could have been condensed. That being said I also wish the ending would have been expanded a bit. You have 300 pages of the hijacking and just a couple pages of the crash and its aftermath. I also thought the story of Rob and his father kind of went off the rails a bit and its ending was just about the worst thing in the book. I think the book had potential and it was an enjoyable read, but the ending was too rushed with too many loose ends for my tastes. 

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley.

05. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Award Winner, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Multicultural Fiction, Tammy, Teen Books

The Chosen by Chaim Potok , 304 pages, read by Tammy, on 06/03/2014

chosenA beautifully written story of two teenage Jewish boys who become friends even though they are from different Jewish traditions. The narrator, Reuven, is from a modern Orthodox Jewish family with an intellectual Zionist father. While Danny is an academically gifted son and heir to a Hasidic rebbe. Set in 1940s Brooklyn the two young men form a deep friendship that lasts into adulthood. They struggle through adolescence, family conflicts and crisis of faith during the Holocaust when the stories reach the U.S. together. The two fathers clash over intellectual and spiritual matters and of course have conflicts between themselves and their sons. Though the book explores religious differences between the two Jewish traditions the struggles reflect on issues we all face no matter what religion or family background.