Blogging for a Good Book
Most of us run a little wild at times as teenagers, but Joshua Gaylord’s When We Were Animals takes us to a town where this idea is not just a figure of speech but a literal truth: the teenagers, for a time that varies for each, but usually just a year or so, spend a few nights each month running naked and wild through the streets of their small town and surrounding countryside. They commit acts of sex and violence, following primal urges while adults and young children stay inside and keep the secret from the outside world.
Our heroine is Lumen Fowler, who recalls her youth from the vantage of middle age. As a girl, Lumen was a devoted daddy’s girl and late bloomer, well-behaved, fiercely intelligent, and overachieving, she was determined not to “breach” as other teens in her town did. She’s surrounded by a believable cast of other teens who one-by-one give into the strange call–a best friend who turns into a rival, a “mean girl” type who tries to dominate the other, a charmer of a boy who all the girls have crushes on, and a rough poor kid whose raw behavior frightens them all. Through it all, Lumen stays determined to follow in the footsteps of her deceased mother, who Lumen has been told never succumbed to the wild behavior.
This blend of Gothic horror and coming-of-age story can be enjoyed on the literal level of its exciting story or as an extended metaphor about the teenage years and the pull of darker instincts. The tone is haunting, but beautiful, and the sympathetic heroine as luminous as her name suggests. One can see the direction where the story is going, but it doesn’t make the conclusion any less powerful.
If you enjoy this as much as I did, Gaylord has written other books under the pseudonym Alden Bell, most notably The Reapers Are the Angels.
Check the WRL catalog for When We Were Animals.
In south and east Asia in the nineteenth century, opium was everything, not just a drug that had a social impact on society, but the basis of a large economy and the source of fortune for colonial empire builders. That’s the world where Amitav Ghosh sets his epic historical trilogy that begins with Sea of Poppies.
One has to enjoy being immersed in a new and complicated setting to enjoy these books. As the story opens, we quickly meet many characters: a young wife whose ex-soldier husband is so addicted that he can no longer work his job in the opium factory, their low-caste neighbor who is a gigantic ox-cart driver, a mulatto American seaman making a surprising rise in the world, an orphaned Frenchwoman, a somewhat pampered raja whose riches and position have become precarious, and many others. As these characters come from many social levels, ethnic backgrounds, and occupations, even their language is a riot of different styles, jargon, and levels of formality. It’s a rich story that engages all of the senses and hurls the readers headlong into a very different time and place.
My advice? Enjoy the swim. Use the glossary to solve your worst confusions and let the novel flow forward. It eventually coalesces, as all of our major characters find their way to the Ibis, a ship crossing the sea to China where some go as criminals, some as coolie workers, and others as soldiers to fight in the Opium Wars. On the ship, their stories come together into a more central strand. Ghosh has begun a masterwork, an epic tale about an epic subject that most readers won’t find familiar, featuring character types they haven’t before encountered. It works because it is an involving story and its hard not to sympathize with the plights of the characters. The language is lush and finishes the trick: transporting the reader successfully away.
Check the WRL catalog for Sea of Poppies
Or try it as an audiobook on compact disc
What if you had worked your whole life, based on the hope of a better world for your children, and then discovered that the better world already existed, and that you weren’t allowed in? And what if that better world was built on the captive labor of you and thousands of others like you?
That’s the premise of Red Rising, the first novel in a trilogy by debut author Pierce Brown. Young Darrow, a member of a social class called the Reds, has toiled for his entire life on the bleak interior of Mars, mining raw materials that are to be used to terraform the surface someday. But after a string of events that turn his life upside down (I don’t want to give away too many plot points), he is brought to the surface and discovers that the terraforming is already done, and that the Golds, the top class in a society where different colors have different places, live there in godlike luxury.
The trouble is that the Golds also have godlike bodies and minds, leaving the rest of society without the tools to revolt against them. But the Sons of Ares, the secret organization that has brought Darrow to the surface, have the surgical skills to build him into someone who can pass as a Gold. Darrow is to infiltrate the company of other young Golds and try to rise to a powerful position in their society, a position from which he might be able to foment a civil war. To reach that point, Darrow will have to compete in a contest of savage war games with shifting rules between houses of young Golds, many of them with almost godlike physical and mental powers.
This is science fiction, but it reads like epic fantasy. If you’ve been looking for a book that blended the worlds of The Hunger Games and an epic fantasy like Game of Thrones, you’ll love it. Brown builds his world in a way that seems effortless but is completely satisfying. His characters are diverse and intriguing. Unlike many epic works, the story here takes off quickly, and readers will be pleased to find that they don’t have to wade through hundreds of pages before they start getting the payoff. Best of all, whenever it starts to look like the story will get predictable, Brown finds a major twist to raise the stakes for Darrow. One warning, Brown has created a violent world, and if you don’t care for that, make another reading choice.
I’ve finished the second book of the series, Golden Son, and it’s every bit as exciting as the first. I’m not always quick to read series, but I’ll be in the line when they release Morning Star in 2016.
Check the WRL catalog for Red Rising
The news is full of stories about cybercrime, but how does it really work, and who are the thieves turning online information into ill-gotten gains? It’s a complicated matter, and difficult to explain in terms that those without a technical background can understand, but in Kingpin, Poulsen not only succeeds in telling the story, but he manages to make keyboard crime exciting as well.
This is the story of Max “Vision” Butler, a Montana native whose hot head and illegal computer skills landed him in trouble early. He recovered and found some success working for Internet startup companies, offering his skills as a “white hat,” a hacker who discovered the loopholes exploited by criminals and made them public. In doing so, he secretly played both sides of the law, and eventually landed in trouble.
In prison he met people who could turn stolen credit card numbers and other information into hard goods, and upon release they joined forces, with Max doing the hacking. His skills grow, and eventually he is outmaneuvering other “carders,” taking over the bulletin boards where they do business, and exposing both rival criminals to law enforcement and law enforcement moles to the criminals when it suits his needs.
Poulsen tells the story of Butler’s rise and fall well, eventually detailing how a sometimes lucky, sometimes intrepid FBI brought him to justice. I left this book with a sense of surprise at how disorganized this area of “organized” crime is, or at least how chaotic it was in the years described. It makes one shudder to think at what we might be in for as these criminals become more disciplined or when their turf battles become more violent. If you have even a basic understanding of how the Internet works, you should be able to follow Poulsen’s suspenseful story to your own interesting conclusions.
Check the WRL catalog for Kingpin
The assassination of the Romanovs is re-worked into an exciting period thriller in this series opener by Sam Eastland. The Eye of the Red Tsar is both the title of the book and the nickname for the lead character, a Finn named Pekkala. The novel opens in 1929, eleven years after the death of the Tsar. Pekkala, once Nicholas II’s right-hand man in matters of secrecy and security, has been held in a work camp, kept available to Stalin should the right opportunity present itself. As the book opens, it has: New evidence about that night has come up, and only Pekkala has the inside information to confirm or deny it.
To complicate matters, the man sent to fetch Pekkala from imprisonment is his own estranged brother, a ne’er-do-well now risen in the Soviet bureaucracy. With great reluctance Pekkala is lured to the case, partly by curiosity, partly through the possibility that one of the Romanovs may have survived. But is he just being used to lead Stalin to the Tsar’s never recovered treasure?
It’s a fascinating premise, and Eastland re-creates the atmosphere of the early Stalinist period believably. He alternates between a journey across a strange Russian landscape (one of my favorite bits involved a show town, built to show off the successes of socialism to visitors) and flashbacks to the story of how Pekkala fell out with his brother, came to Tsar Nicholas II’s attention, and then followed him until the fateful night.
Eastland has continued his series through five books to date, following Pekkala’s charmed but difficult life up to WWII times so far. It’s a consistently enjoyable exploration of a time and place in history where one didn’t have to look far for suspenseful twists of fate.
Check the WRL catalog for Eye of the Red Tsar
Or try it as an audiobook on CD
Charlaine Harris is the author of several popular adult fiction series (Sookie Stackhouse, Aurora Teagarden, and the recent Midnight, Texas series). In this adult graphic novel, Cemetery Girl, she teams up with author Christopher Golden, who has written both adult and teen fiction (Secret Journeys of Jack London), and illustrator Don Kramer, who is known for numerous projects at Marvel and DC Comics. The team has created an engaging and dark story about a girl who calls herself Calexa Rose Dunhill.
The story opens with the girl being dumped in the cemetery — presumed dead. When she wakes up a few panels later, she only has fragmented memories of her previous life. It is enough for her to realize someone wanted her dead. She is scared to call the police or even leave the cemetery because she doesn’t know who was after her or why.
While she’s working out how to find food and stay safe, she witnesses a group of young people performing a black magic ritual in the cemetery. In their efforts to bring a friend back from the dead, they kill the friend’s sister as a blood offering. Calexa has to figure out how to tell the girl’s family what happened without putting herself in danger.
The plot moves quickly and is well-illustrated to add a sense of danger to the story. I particularly enjoyed the disjointed images from Calexa’s memories. There is a frustration in not having everything clearly seen that made me feel connected to what Calexa must be feeling.
This is the first in a trilogy. Looks like Book 2 will be available in October 2015. I can’t wait!
Check the WRL catalog for Cemetery Girl
Violet Ambrose has been hearing sounds, or seeing colors, or smelling smells that others can’t for as long as she can remember. She calls them “echoes,” and they come from dead things. Vi’s cat, Carl, helped her figure out that the echo is a unique signature of the thing that died. That same echo clings to the one that did the killing. Poor Carl got kicked out of the house many times because Vi couldn’t stand the smell attached to the cat after it killed a mouse or a bird.
Violet, for the most part, has become used to the extra sensory information. There was only one time, when she was younger, that the echoes compelled her seek out the source and she found the remains of a young girl. That changes when a serial killer appears to be hunting in her hometown and Violet finds the hidden remains of another teenager. She decides to test her abilities to identify the killer — which puts her in danger.
If that’s not enough to complicate a teen’s life, Vi has suddenly noticed her best friend, Jay, in a new way. The awareness speeds up her heart rate and makes her stomach do flips. She’s not sure what changed over the summer, but it’s hard now to just be casual best friends. It’s also tough because other girls have noticed him, too.
The “real life” aspect of school, friendships, first love, and family provide an appealing contrast to Violet’s special abilities. She’s a normal teen with normal problems, who also senses echoes of dead people. Part of the story is told through the point of view of the killer, which is appropriately creepy, particularly as Violet gets closer to uncovering his identity.
This is the first in the Body Finders series.
Check the WRL catalog for The Body Finder
I picked up this Young Adult book for the new themed book discussion we have going at the library. April’s topic was Elizabethan England. The English invasion of Ireland, and Ireland’s support by Spain provide important plot points for the book.
Maeve is the daughter of a fisherman. One night while walking home, she sees a lady in white who gives her two potions – one to protect her mother and the other to protect herself. An unfortunate encounter with the town bully breaks the bottle with her mother’s potion. Without the potion to protect her, Maeve’s mother eventually falls into a coma-like state. When her sister succumbs to the same condition, Maeve must go on a quest to save them.
Maeve’s quest to free her mother and sister is intertwined with an ancient conflict between the goddess Danu and the Valkyrie warrior Uria. The story was made richer by these elements of Irish folklore.
The book has a lot going on. Her brothers join the resistance fighting English solders; a Spanish ship is wrecked off the coast, and Maeve nurses one of the sailors back to health. On top of it all she keeps firm her belief that her mother will get well. All the little details and descriptions made the story more enjoyable for me. And I liked the way the myths and Maeve’s current day mixed and influenced one another.
Looking for books with quests, princesses, or mythology? You may also enjoy:
Check the WRL catalog for The Fire Opal
When I’m in the mood for a good story that will make me laugh as well as cry, I check to see if Cathy Lamb has written anything new. After finding this 2014 publication that I had missed somehow, I eagerly settled in for an escapist read.
Grenadine Scotch Wild decided to disappear from her old life. She left her husband, her house, her job, and her high society lifestyle after she was arrested for aiding her husband in questionable business investments.
She picked a small town in Central Oregon to start over. It didn’t take long for her to find a job as a bartender and make a few friends.
It did take some time and a bit of luck to earn enough money to afford to live somewhere besides in her car. But once that was settled, her talent for design and outgoing personality took her to a new level of success. If only that court case, made worse by her husband’s demands to move back home, wasn’t hanging over her head…
I liked the supporting characters of the book — from the quirky bar patrons to the hunky boss to the unscrupulous husband to the creepy killer. This outstanding cast complemented the page-turning story.
Lamb skillfully weaves back story with current story to complete a tapestry of Grenady’s life. This is more than one woman’s search for career success, it’s her search for answers and justice. I liked Grenady, and rooted for her all the way to the last page.
Check the WRL catalog for What I Remember Most
This urban fantasy/science fiction novel started as a free serial on the Ilona Andrews web site. The authors — Ilona Andrews is the pen name of a husband and wife writing team — wanted readers to have a chance to comment on the story as it developed. They published the weekly entries as a book in 2013.
Dina Demille runs a bed and breakfast in a small Texas town. When she pulled out her broom to fight off an intruder, I assumed she was a witch. But the story surprised me. The Inn is lodging for otherworldly visitors, and Dina is an Innkeeper, someone whose duty is to provide sanctuary.
When something evil begins killing family pets, Dina encourages her new neighbor (whom she suspects is a werewolf, another alien lifeform) to take care of his territory. The arrogant (and handsome) man pretends he doesn’t know what she’s talking about, so Dina takes it upon herself to get involved even though it means risking her neutrality. She can’t sit by and let a vicious killer hurt her human neighbors.
Dina discovers that the enemy forces are too powerful for one person to handle. She ends up forming an alliance with her werewolf neighbor and a vampire soldier to kill the intruders and find out who sent them to Earth.
This was a quick read with lots of fast-paced action and witty banter. The unexpected alien aspect of the story was engaging. Part of me wanted to keep reading just to figure out how all this galactic stuff fit together. And part of me kept reading just because Dina was such a “normal” character in extraordinary circumstances.
The second book of the Innkeeper Chronicles is being developed on the web site, but catch up on the story by reading Clean Sweep first.
Check the WRL catalog for Clean Sweep
The brilliant teacher is Lou Volpe, a forty year veteran of the teaching wars, nearing the end of his career, a man who took over a drama program even though he had no experience as an actor or in teaching acting. He simply loved the theater, and taught himself how to mount major productions. By the time of his career on which the book focuses, he is so accomplished that major Broadway producers like Cameron Mackintosh ask him to test edgy or complicated shows to see if they can be licensed to high schools and small theaters.
The struggling town is Levittown, Pennsylvania, a former steel town struggling to maintain its economy and population. It’s a surprising place to find a great drama program. Usually that elite status is reached only by private schools with lots of wealthy and talented parents who can pay for expensive production elements and donate their time to teach top level skills. But Volpe’s students aren’t the typical drama kids, the edgy and emotional types, and they certainly aren’t affluent. They’re working class kids who make choices like whether or not to continue with a sports team or underdogs who struggle to be in a show while they keep a part time job that helps out the family. This gives them an affinity for some characters that wealthy, artsy kids can’t always find. They’re also the kind of students Volpe has and knows, and he makes the best of them. He’s built a program so good that many of his students find their way to scholarships and professional careers.
The magic of theater is displayed through the productions that Volpe stages during the year in which author Sokolove is a regular presence in the classroom. Where most high schools are still performing the same twenty shows that schools were performing in the sixties or seventies, Truman High is tackling contemporary theater. In particular, there’s Spring Awakening, a musical with a historical setting but very modern teen morals, and Good Boys and True, an edgy drama that Volpe’s students hope to perform well enough to take to national competition. (I won’t spoil the story and tell you whether or not they make it.) Rising to the occasion of performing well in emotion-laden, high-quality productions puts a lot of pressure on the kids, but most of them grow and even flourish with the challenge. If there’s one weakness to this kind of book, it’s that it will leave you wishing you could see for yourself the productions that Sokolove describes.
There’s also a “can you go home again?” appeal to this story. Sokolove was a student of Volpe’s long ago, in days when Volpe was a young, charismatic and influential English teacher, not yet a drama teacher. He remembers when Volpe was married to a likable woman (that status has also changed, but again, I won’t spoil the story) and motivating students like himself to journalistic careers. Volpe’s subject has changed, and Levittown has declined since Sokolove’s youth, and his own attempts to come to grips with the changes are part of the drama.
If you like theater, or underdog stories, or inspirational tales of any kind, you’ll find something to like in Drama High.
Check the WRL catalog for Drama High
Some volcanoes are world famous; everyone has heard of Mount Vesuvius, which destroyed Pompeii in the time of Pliny. Iceland’s volcanoes are less known, although they were in the news a few years ago when unpronounceable Eyjafjallajokull spewed out enough ash to disrupt European air travel for weeks. Eyjafjallajokull may be more present in modern consciousness but it isn’t the only, the largest, or even the most dangerous of Iceland’s many volcanoes. Recently, scientists and historians have been focusing their attention on Iceland’s fissure volcano Laki, which evidence suggests may have disrupted world climate for years after it started erupting in 1783.
Island on Fire’s long subtitle, “The Extraordinary Story of a Forgotten Volcano the Changed the World” sums up the problem with its history: this eruption occurred in a sparsely populated part of the world before the advent of easy international travel or communication. Nonetheless new research using techniques such as ancient ice cores suggests Laki’s eruption affected the climate all over the world. This lead to crop failures and famine and, depending on how you calculate it, may have killed millions of people. In a long eruption that continued over months Laki spewed out enough toxic gases to poison the entire lower atmosphere, especially over Europe. From all over Europe numerous newspaper accounts from the summer of 1783 report a “dry fog” that made it difficult for people to breathe.
Much of the surviving eyewitness account from Iceland comes from Jón Steingrímsson the ‘fire priest’ who famously gave a sermon while lava was bearing down on his village church. His journal reports unbelievable devastation and destruction, including the horrific symptoms in people and livestock from months of exposure to fluorine gas.
A compelling, if sometimes disturbing read, Island on Fire includes plenty of maps and black and white photos. The interested reader can also find color visuals of Iceland’s wonderful landscape, and the story of Laki’s eruption in the documentary Doomsday Volcanoes. For those interested in volcanoes in general try the documentary series Mega Disasters.
For another fascinating book about the historic effects of a major volcanic eruption try Tambora, by Gillen D’Arcy Wood. And for a gripping teen trilogy about the worldwide effects of an apocalyptic eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano I heartily recommend Ashfall by Mike Mullin.
Check the WRL catalog for Island on Fire.
Having farm animals is fun. They are cute and fun to watch, but (to put it as delicately as possible) they, um, poo a lot. Managing Manure may be about an impolite topic, but to those of us who live in the long-polluted Chesapeake Bay watershed it is an important one.
Apart from the obvious problems involving shoes, manure is, as author Mark Kopecky puts it, “Brown Gold”. From Managing Manure I learned that much of the nutrients a farm animal eats are excreted. For example, an average of 70 to 80 percent of the nitrogen goes right through, so manure is vital for recycling nutrients.
Based on solid research from many universities, Managing Manure is filled with practical information aimed at small farmers and gardeners. It does have some mild humor, such as a chapter sub heading of “Number One or Number Two?” but generally takes its important subject very seriously. It is a small book of a hundred pages with instructions on things like how to store, compost and use your Brown Gold. It includes line drawings throughout and a useful glossary, resource list and index.
Managing Manure is from Storey, the well-regarded publisher of farm and country lore which produces go-to books for all gardening and small scale livestock enterprises. This is the very newest of their books owned by Williamsburg Regional Library. Other books in our collection to look out for include titles such as Storey’s Guide to Keeping Honey Bees: Honey Production, Pollination, Bee Health, by Richard E. Bonney and Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of All Time, by Craig LeHoullier.
Managing Manure is a great book for readers interested in gardening as naturally as possible, such as people who enjoyed Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way: 18th Century Methods for Today’s Organic Gardener, by Wesley Greene. It will also appeal to readers interested in raising livestock who pored over Link to the Past, Bridge to the Future: Colonial Williamsburg’s Animals, by John P. Hunter. You will learn much scintillating information such as the consistency of cow manure will depend on the quality of the food the cow eats.
Check the WRL catalog for Managing Manure.
Anyone coming from Winnipeg is well aware that the most famous of all bears, Winnie-the-Pooh, was named after that Canadian city. Many people know that the real Christopher Robin visited the real Winnie Bear at London Zoo, but London is thousands of miles away from Winnipeg, so the connection back to Canada is not well-known, even to fans of the Bear of Little Brain. Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh sets out to change this grave lack!
For the youngest of readers as well as for the staunchest of fans the book does a wonderful job of capturing the amazing details of Winnie Bear’s life. It all started during World War I when a Canadian solider, Harry Colebourn, impulsively bought an orphaned bear cub when his troop train stopped briefly in Ontario. Despite the astonishment and doubts of his officers he promised to look after their new, small, brown mascot, named Winnipeg after their regiment’s home city. Harry was a veterinarian and his job was looking after the army’s horses and to his surprise Winnie fitted in well with the normally skittish horses. Harry’s regiment took Winnie along with them on their troop ship to England, but thought France would be too dangerous for the small bear, so Winnie lived out his days at London Zoo, as a bear so friendly that children were allowed to ride on his back.
Warmly illustrated by Jonathan D. Voss, this short book is a must-read for Winnie-the-Pooh fans of all ages. It is great for the whole family to share as older readers will enjoy the author’s note and pore over the historic photographs of the real bear and his real people. Very young Winnie-the-Pooh fans will be fascinated by the connection between their bear who is a toy and a real wild animal.
Check the WRL catalog for Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh.
With just a few words per page Coming Home captures the excitement and the anxiety, but mostly the joy, of a military homecoming. An elementary-school-aged boy is waiting at the airport with many other families, all smiling, but with tension showing in their body language. When the plane full of military personnel lands, all the waiting families run out to the runway, and then the hugs and happiness start. As the pages turn the boy witnesses many happy reunions but he gets more anxious as he searches for and fails to find his own loved one.
The warm earth tones of Coming Home’s expressive full-page spreads contrast with the action of the boy’s red shirt. The angles of view highlight his emotions, from the close up of the anxiety on his face to his isolation as he searches through the crowd, to his joy as he finally hugs his loved one.
Coming Home is spare and hopeful in its focus on the short period of the homecoming rather than the long wait. A much darker picture book about a child’s view of military deployment is Year of the Jungle, by The Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins. Coming Home is a great book to be shared with any lap-sized child, either a small military child or any child who has ever waited for anything and finally got their heart’s desire.
If you are interested in other books about military family lifestyles, look at my website Books for Military Children.
Check the WRL catalog for Coming Home.
Six-year-old Jamie Morton is playing in his front yard on a hot summer day when he meets Reverend Charles Jacobs for the first time. Jacobs has come to the small town of Harlow, Maine to preside over the local church, and Jamie is immediately intrigued by the enigmatic young preacher. After all, the Reverend is passionate about electricity and creates cool gadgets like a miniature landscape with a walking Jesus figurine. Reverend Jacobs peppers his sermons and youth group lectures with stories and metaphors drawn from electricity’s mysterious properties.
When a horrific tragedy befalls minister Charles Jacobs, Jacobs delivers a shocking sermon that leads to his banishment from Harlow. And, as Jamie gets on with the business of growing up, Jamie’s memory of his former minister fades. After discovering a talent for guitar-playing at the age of thirteen, Jamie eventually goes on to lead a nomadic life playing gigs across the country with a succession of rock and roll bands. Unexpectedly, Jamie meets up with Charles Jacobs again; this time Jamie is in his mid-thirties and drugged out, abandoned, and desperate. Jamie’s acceptance of Jacobs’ help, based on the former minister’s now full-blown obsession with electricity, sets both of them on a course with terrifying consequences for Jamie. The two will meet once more, but it is unclear whether Jamie will make it out alive this time.
Like so many of King’s works, this book has heart. It is just as much a story about growing up and growing old as it is a story about the consequences of one man’s dangerous obsession. The horrifying events that unfold really just serve as a backdrop for greater contemplations about the course of life. Coming of age, sex, romance, addiction, loss, faith–all of these facets of life make an appearance in Revival, and they often had me thinking about my own life’s journey. Score this book another home run for Stephen King.
I also highly recommend the audiobook, as David Morse does an excellent job of bringing the book’s characters to life.
Check the WRL catalog for Revival
Or try Revival as an audiobook on CD
Well, I had the book I was going to write about all picked out but then I read A Murder of Magpies and knew that I had to change my book. A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders is a page-turning, fun and funny mystery set in the publishing world of present-day London.
The heroine of the story is Samantha “Sam” Clair, a single, “middle-aged, middling-ly successful” book editor at the publishing house of Timmins & Ross. The story begins when Sam arrives for work and several strange things happen during her day. The first strange event is when police Inspector Jake Field shows up to speak with her to see if she was expecting a delivery of a package. A bike courier was killed in a hit-and-run accident and his deliveries were missing. Sam’s name was on the courier’s delivery list. Unfortunately Sam has no idea what the missing package could have contained. After a busy day at work, which included playing phone tag with Kit Lovell, one of her authors, the second strange event happens when she arrives home to find out from her neighbors that some workmen tried to access her apartment—workmen Sam didn’t order.
Sam finally gets in contact with Kit Lovell that night. Kit is a gossipy fashion writer whose newest book is an exposé on the death of Spanish fashion designer Rodrigo Alemán and his relationship with the fashion house Vernet. Sam finds out that Kit’s typist might have sent a copy of his manuscript to Sam via the courier who was killed that morning. Kit also discloses that his apartment had been broken into and searched. Kit feels that he is being targeted by someone who wants to stop publication of his book.
The next day, Sam becomes worried when Kit doesn’t show up for a lunch meeting and she grows increasingly frustrated and worried by not being able to get hold of him through the rest of the afternoon. When she still can’t get in touch with him the next day, Sam calls Inspector Field and fills him in on the book, the break-in, and her missing author. When Inspector Field doesn’t seem very interested in finding her author, Sam decides to do some looking on her own.
It’s all in a day’s work as Sam discovers money laundering schemes, gets pushed down the stairs by someone who broke into her apartment, goes to Paris for a fashion show, and deals with her most successful author’s new book, which seems to need some work in order for it to be another bestseller. Sam gets help in her search for Kit from her glamorous mother, a London tax attorney, Sam’s Goth assistant, Miranda, and even Sam’s reclusive upstairs neighbor, Mr. Rudiger. Also as the investigation goes on, Sam and the Inspector discover that there is definitely romantic chemistry between them. The investigation, though, takes a serious and urgent turn when an unidentified body is pulled from the Thames and until the DNA analysis comes in, the assumption is that the body might be Kit’s.
Sam is comfortable with herself, her job and her life. She’s protective of her friends and while she might be new to the detection business, she’s determined and smart. Fortunately she seems to keep her sense of humor throughout the story and I enjoyed her wise-cracks which she keeps to herself–mostly. I don’t know if there will be more Sam Clair mysteries, but I hope so!
Check the WRL catalog for A Murder of Magpies
Also available in Large Print format
Floral design was on my bucket list. Flower arrangements? Why? I love making things—working with my hands keeps me from talking too much. I would spend hours making paper and silk flowers—only to have my flower arrangements look awful. I just could not get my arrangements to look resplendent, dazzling, or gorgeous.
I conquered floral design when I accepted the task of making flower arrangements, corsages, and boutonnieres for a banquet. “Since you make such beautiful flowers, this is the perfect job for you,” the banquet committee members said. However, they did not know floral arrangement was extremely challenging for me.
Design Star: Lessons from the New York School of Flower Design by Michael Gaffney was the solution to my dilemma. In this book, Gaffney demystified the art of arranging flowers. He states: “Putting flowers together in a beautiful way is much like working a Rubik’s Cube; it is a formula to be followed more than an artistic creation.”
This book has easy to understand instructions and formulas that anyone may use to make flawless floral designs. Gaffney teaches the rules of design and gives tricks and tips to make each piece unique. The “6-5-1”, wiring and taping, boutonnieres, corsages, and the triangle design lessons were lifesavers. These lessons allowed me to create everything with ease. If you want to make beautiful floral arrangements, read Gaffney’s book. This book has something for everyone from the novice to the professional florist.
Check the WRL catalog for Design Star
At the end of the Second World War there were many Australian war brides waiting to be reunited with their new British husbands. JoJo Moyes’s newest book, The Ship of Brides, chronicles the fictionalized journey. Based on the HMS Victoria’s 1946 passage from Sydney, Australia to Plymouth, England, the 650 female passengers, expecting transport via more luxurious accommodations, find themselves aboard a naval aircraft carrier, complete with planes, arms, and naval officers, heading towards their new life.
The four central characters of the story could not be more different: Jean, a teenager; Avice, a socialite; Frances, a former war nurse; and Margaret, a pregnant farm girl. This foursome, assigned to the same berth, is suddenly thrust together in intimate living quarters and faces the long, six-week voyage to their new lives. Add all-male officers and ship crew to the mix, along with a small group of WSO (Women’s Ship Officers) sent to chaperone the War Brides, and you have an interesting setting to explore the trials and tribulations faced by the temporary residents aboard the HMS Victoria. As with all groups of strangers, each individual brings his or her past, gradually revealed as their time together elapses.
Excerpts from newspaper articles, journal entries, ship’s logs, and other documents provide historical grounding for this fictionalized account of a true event. I recommend The Ship of Brides as a book group selection. The story provides a glimpse into the war brides’ anticipatory journey, filled with the hopes, dreams, and fears in a world yet unknown to them.
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“The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones: the sycamores are cut down, but we will change them into cedars” Isaiah 9:10
Although Jonathan Cahn’s The Harbinger is a work of fiction, it has real life connections. From 9/11 to the leading up of The Great Recession the author shows a connection between ancient Israel to a present day warning of coming destruction to America. The author stresses that before God judges a nation, He will send a warning. However, just like ancient Israel, America has not responded with repentance, but defiance which is the focus of the scripture that man has taken out of context (Isaiah 9:10)
In Cahn’s tale, a mysterious stranger who I can only assume is an angel gives a man nine harbingers. These are the same harbingers or warnings that were given to ancient Israel before its final destruction by the Assyrians and makes a parallel between each and the events of 9/11. At some point you will put this book down and open the bible, visit your library or search the internet for more information. I still remember the first time I had to step away from this book for a day or two, when I saw numerous videos of our past and current politicians quoting a scripture with no understanding of its true meaning. After the attacks of 9/11 the politicians said, “The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones: the sycamores are cut down, but we will change them into cedars.” Fiction mirrors reality, forcing us to think about the possibility of Cahn’s story coming to pass.
Check the WRL catalog for The Harbinger