Monday, March 3, 2014

The Lost Sisterhood - Anne Fortier

The Lost Sisterhood tells the story of Diana, a young and aspiring--but somewhat aimless--professor at Oxford. Her fascination with the history of the Amazons, the legendary warrior women of ancient Greece, is deeply connected with her own family's history; her grandmother in particular. When Diana is invited to consult on an archeological excavation, she quickly realizes that here, finally, may be the proof that the Amazons were real. The Amazons' "true" story--and Diana's history--is threaded along with this modern day hunt. This historical back-story focuses on a group of women, and more specifically on two sisters, whose fight to survive takes us through ancient Athens and to Troy, where the novel reinvents our perspective on the famous Trojan War.
Received an e-galley from Ballentine 

I read Fortier's Juliet pretty much in one day at the beach, so I was looking forward to seeing how she  captured the same intensity with the Amazons.  I wasn't disappointed.  I was drawn into the mystery of the story right away.  While I had some knowledge of Greek mythology and the Amazons, I found myself learning more about that civilization.

Readers looking for a romance along with a good mystery will enjoy this book.  The main characters definitely have a romantic comedy relationship (on again off again) for most of the book.  At times, I did wish Diana would be a bit stronger and thoughtful about her actions.  She did grow from a bookworm type professor into a confident and well published professor by the end of the book.

The style of the book goes between the present day and the past story. This back and forth didn't happen every chapter which sometimes confused me.  Also in the last quarter of the book, there is less past story and more present. I found myself wanting to read more about the past heroine than Diana.

Fortier delivers another strong novel with twists, turns and romance all wrapped into one.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

An affectionate pig named Wilbur befriends a spider named Charlotte, who lives in the rafters above his pen. In this story of friendship, hardship, and the passing on into time, White reminds readers to open their eyes to the wonder and miracle found in the simplest of things.
February Book Club

It was my turn to host book club this past month and I choose Charlotte's Web for the book. We've been reading our favorite books from our childhood.  I remember reading this book and feeling sad for Charlotte.

Rereading the book as an adult, I was struck by the amount of vocab words and turns of phrases that are prevelant throughout the prose. We discussed at book club how by the end of the book Fern is not really mentioned anymore.  Friendship is a key theme throughout this book and it is interesting how Wilbur's friendship with Fern is different than his friendship with Charlotte.

I found a nice appreciation of E.B. White when searching for discussion questions.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Fever by Megan Abbott

The Nash family is close-knit. Tom is a popular teacher, father of two teens: Eli, a hocky star and girl magnet, and his sister Deenie, a diligent student. Their seeming stability, however, is thrown into chaos when Deenie's best friend is struck by a terrifying, unexplained seizure in class. Rumors of a hazardous outbreak spread through the family, school and community. As hysteria and contagion swell, a series of tightly held secrets emerges, threatening to unravel friendships, families and the town's fragile idea of security. 

Read an e-galley from Little Brown

I haven't read any other books by Abbott, but something about this description and the cover of this book drew me in.  As a mysterious illness slowly starts to impact a high school class, everyone is questioning will I be next? Abbott tells the story from each character's perspective.  The confusion, the uncertainty, the gossip, the social media impact is spot on.  It's easy for the reader to relate with either the students or the parents or just as someone in the community.  I could see this book adapted into a long CSI episode - all the elements can be found.  There is even a little science fiction/fantasy element to this book.  A few times I got the chills from reading a passage here and there.  In the end the root cause is because of basic human emotions.  High school never changes when it comes to girls who like boys and boys who like girls.

King and Maxwell by David Baldacci

It seems at first like a simple, tragic story. Tyler Wingo, a teenage boy, learns the awful news that his father, a soldier, was killed in action in Afghanistan. Then the extraordinary happens: Tyler receives a communication from his father . . . after his supposed death. Tyler hires Sean and Michelle to solve the mystery surrounding his father. But their investigation quickly leads to deeper, more troubling questions. Could Tyler's father really still be alive? What was his true mission? Could Tyler be the next target?  Sean and Michelle soon realize that they've stumbled on to something bigger and more treacherous than anyone could have imagined. And as their hunt for the truth leads them relentlessly to the highest levels of power and to uncovering the most clandestine of secrets, Sean and Michelle are determined to help and protect Tyler--though they may pay for it with their lives.
There are some authors who are your go to defaults when you need a good book. For me David Baldacci is that default author.  As a library student I volunteered at a Friends of the Library bookstore and ended up finding on the shelf a David Baldacci book that was signed by the author. I became hooked from that book and always looked forward to the next adventure.

This book is the 6th in a series of books featuring business partners Sean and Michelle. I am sure there are other Baldacci fans who would LOVE to see these two characters become more than business partners.  I thought with them being mentioned in the title we would see their relationship deepen, but not much happened on that front.  There were a few close calls in this book where it looked like Sean and/or Michelle could finally get fatally injured.

Baldacci is a master with plot twists and turns and knows how to keep the reader turning those pages.  He recently was interviewed by ALA and said this about engaging the reader:

The only connection I can make with the reader on a human level is through the characters. The plot is the plot. But if they don't care about what happens to the characters, you can write a great plot with mediocre characters and no one is going to care. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Twenty-Sided Die by Brian Prisco

Dorks versus orcs! Twenty-Sided Die chronicles the trials and tribulations of a group of small-town Pennsylvania summer camp counselors and their regular Dungeons & Dragons group. Young love, nerd hate, magic, Magic: The Gathering, swords and sousaphones abound. It's one part Stand By Me, one part Clerks, and one part The Guild, shaken and served. These twenty interconnected short stories delve into the seedy underbelly of surburban life, as well as navigating the halls of high school and beyond. Marvel as our intrepid heroes battle savage Abercrombies, gun-toting hillbillies, and -- more often than not -- each other.
One new experience for me in 2013 was being a beta-reader. I was honored to be a beta-reader for this book. I always try to support debut authors as much as I can and this author just happens to be a good friend from high school.  Plus, this book is loosely based on my hometown and the author has always demonstrated great creativity.

Prisco's passion for storytelling and wit shows throughout the book.  Small town life is captured with ease and the reader is taken on a journey.  While I've never played Dungeons & Dragons, the narrative of the characters' adventures provides its own unique experience. Besides small town life and D&D, the reader is treated to stories about how underdogs can rise above their bullies and still seek revenge in some cases.

This book was financed by a Kickstarter campaign with matching funds from a benefactor.  Prior to publishing this book, Prisco also wrote Boogeymen which brings all your favorite horror film characters together for one awesome event to fight to the death.   He also was the co-creator of Cannonball Read which challenges readers to read 52 books in a year.

Black Horizon by James Grippando

** Received as Advanced Reading Copy from Harper Collins **

In Black Horizon, a riveting and timely thriller drawn from tomorrow's headlines, New York Times bestselling author James Grippando brings back popular Miami criminal defense attorney Jack Swyteck in an international case involving a devastating oil spill that pits him against his most villainous adversaries yet.
Three summers after the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, oil is again spewing into the ocean—from a drilling explosion in Cuban waters sixty miles off the Florida Keys, creating a politically complex and volatile situation. Representing an American woman whose Cuban husband was killed on the rig, Jack finds himself in dangerous waters when he discovers that his incendiary case may be lethally connected to his new wife Andi's undercover assignment for the FBI . . . and that the looming environmental catastrophe may have been no "accident" at all.
In 2014 I had decided to only write reviews for books that I gave 4 or 5 stars.  But I realized I'm still receiving advanced reading copies from publishers and I should make an effort to write up reviews for those books as well.  It turns out this book is both an ARC and a 4 star book.

Back in October 2011, I received an ARC from Harper Collins by an author named James Grippando called Need You Now.  The book was very much a ripped from the headlines book and I enjoyed the plot twists and the characters very much.  I had just read Too Big To Fail so this book paired well as a fictional counterpart.  I was excited too see on the March list of ARCs from Harper Collins another ripped from the headlines style book by James Grippando.

Working for a news organization, I learned a lot about the Deepwater Horizon spill from all different angles, so I was curious to see how Grippando could fictionalize a similar oil spill investigation.  There is plenty of political intrigue as well as romance within this book.  I haven't read any of his other Jack Swyteck books so I was worried I would miss back stories and be confused with the book.  But I was pleasantly surprised and didn't feel I lost too much by not knowing Jack and Andi's past adventures.

I was a little disappointed that Andi's side of the story wasn't flushed out more.  A significant event happens to her in the middle of the book and I felt that Grippando didn't really address what Andi might have felt about that event. Also it was really clear that when the story was told suddenly by a minor character's point of the view, something was going to happen to them.  It would have been nice to have the minor character's point of view be a little more consistent throughout the book.

Overall this book is a page turner and details how a simple action of investigating an explosion on an oil rig is sometimes more of a political game of cards than anything else.  I'm looking forward to seeing what Grippando writes next.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Reading in 2013

I had a goal of reading 70 books in 2013 as well as participating in the 5th round of Cannonball Read - reading & reviewing at least 52 books. Unfortunately, I didn't meet either of those goals.

Taking care of two little girls definitely impacted my time to write up book reviews.  My daily commute has allowed me time to read, but I still felt short of hitting my Cannonball Read goal as well as my personal goal.

I've updated my master list with all the books I did read in 2013 (44 total), but I won't be posting reviews for all of them.  Going forward in 2014, I won't be participating in the next round of Cannonball Read, but I still set a personal goal of 70 books.

Book review wise, I'm going to focus on writing up thoughts for books that I rate 4 or 5 stars, but otherwise I'll just be adding the books to my master list.  Family comes first.

Here are my favorite books of 2013 with brief thoughts on each of them:

Anonymous Sources by Mary Louise Kelly - debut novel by a former NPR colleague full of intrigue and mystery roughly based on her experiences reporting stories.  I'm hoping we see more books from Mary Louise in the future.

Anne of Green Gables & To Kill A Mockingbird - two classics that my book club read.  One was a re-read while the other was the first time I read it.  Both demonstrate why countless generations continue to fall in love with these characters over and over again.

The Husband's Secret - this book was all a buzz on Twitter and elsewhere.  The author weaves multiple story lines together in ways you wouldn't expect.  Readers can easily identify with the characters.

Sea Creatures - this book is the second book of Susanna Daniel that takes place in Southern Florida. Susanna weaves prose and shows the reader the human side of her characters.

Godiva - Nicole Galland is a master at taking a historical figure and finding the unknown stories about them. While the Lady Godiva story is well known, Galland provides a fresh look at this legend.

The English Girl - there are some authors that capture the reader's attention from the first chapter.  Daniel Silva is one of those authors. Twists and turns are aplenty as the mystery of the English girl is unraveled.

The Doll - third in the Vanessa Michael Munroe series.  I'm a huge fan of Taylor Stevens.  If you haven't read these books - you should!

The Perfume Collector - Paris in the 1950s, romance, mysterious benefactor, and a collection of jars.  Enough said - how can you not be curious?