Saturday, January 13, 2018

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew J. Sullivan

This book had me at "bookstore", sucked me in as it headed toward cozy mystery, then hooked me to the finish with the thriller/ bookstore noir developments. All this and good characters/writing too? A great start to the new year. When I turned the last page, I was genuinely distressed that it didn't go on longer so I could stay immersed in the story. What a great first novel!

tags 2018-readdidn-t-want-to-put-it-downe-bookreadread-on-recommendationsuspense-thriller-mysterythank-you-charleston-county-library 

From the Publisher (and Goodreads):
Goodreads Debut Author of the Month and an Indie Next Pick!

“Sullivan’s debut is a page-turner featuring a heroine bookseller who solves a cold case with clues from books—what is not to love?” —Nina George, author of The Little French Bistro, and the New York Times bestselling The Little Paris Bookshop

When a bookshop patron commits suicide, his favorite store clerk must unravel the puzzle he left behind in this fiendishly clever debut novel from an award-winning short story writer.

Lydia Smith lives her life hiding in plain sight. A clerk at the Bright Ideas bookstore, she keeps a meticulously crafted existence among her beloved books, eccentric colleagues, and the BookFrogs—the lost and lonely regulars who spend every day marauding the store’s overwhelmed shelves.

But when Joey Molina, a young, beguiling BookFrog, kills himself in the bookstore’s upper room, Lydia’s life comes unglued. Always Joey’s favorite bookseller, Lydia has been bequeathed his meager worldly possessions. Trinkets and books; the detritus of a lonely, uncared for man. But when Lydia flips through his books she finds them defaced in ways both disturbing and inexplicable. They reveal the psyche of a young man on the verge of an emotional reckoning. And they seem to contain a hidden message. What did Joey know? And what does it have to do with Lydia?

As Lydia untangles the mystery of Joey’s suicide, she unearths a long buried memory from her own violent childhood. Details from that one bloody night begin to circle back. Her distant father returns to the fold, along with an obsessive local cop, and the Hammerman, a murderer who came into Lydia’s life long ago and, as she soon discovers, never completely left. Bedazzling, addictive, and wildly clever, Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is a heart-pounding mystery that perfectly captures the intellect and eccentricity of the bookstore milieu and will keep you guessing until the very last page.​

The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

I'd read more in this series. I originally heard about it at YAllfest, then read an article in the New York Times about sensitivity readers, and a response in Kirkus to the kerfuffle from the starred review given. I'm writing my thoughts late, but in an era where the highest office in the USA can refer to other countries as sh!thole, and not see that this is racist, I'd say sensitivity training is a necessity.

New York Times: In an Era of Online Outrage, Do Sensitivity Readers Result in Better Books, or Censorship?

Kirkus: On Disagreement

The Washington Post: Turmp attacks protections for immigrants from shithole countries in Oval Office meeting

From the Publisher:
Elloren Gardner is the granddaughter of the last prophesied Black Witch, Carnissa Gardner, who drove back the enemy forces and saved the Gardnerian people during the Realm War. But while she is the absolute spitting image of her famous grandmother, Elloren is utterly devoid of power in a society that prizes magical ability above all else.

When she is granted the opportunity to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming an apothecary, Elloren joins her brothers at the prestigious Verpax University to embrace a destiny of her own, free from the shadow of her grandmother’s legacy. But she soon realizes that the university, which admits all manner of people—including the fire-wielding, winged Icarals, the sworn enemies of all Gardnerians—is a treacherous place for the granddaughter of the Black Witch.

As evil looms on the horizon and the pressure to live up to her heritage builds, everything Elloren thought she knew will be challenged and torn away. Her best hope of survival may be among the most unlikely band of misfits…if only she can find the courage to trust those she’s been taught to hate and fear.

Monday, December 25, 2017

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

I guess I had higher hopes for this from the author's previous books. Again, it's ordinary people in everyday situations trying to make a life, but, even with the musical references, I wasn't drawn in. Frank is a big bear of a man, devoted to keeping vinyl alive as a source of audio listening, and he has the knack of finding just the right bit of music for someone at exactly the time it is needed. He carries wounds from his past and is surrounded by a band of misfits who inhabit the street where his somewhat lackadaisical vinyl shop resides. And then, one day, a woman faints outside his shop door, and for all in the book, the world changes.

I really wish I liked this book better. Even with the references to music, the little explanations and stories attached to various pieces, and some moments of beautiful writing, I never was fully drawn into the story. But, I've liked two other works by this author, so I am not giving up on her.

Thank you to the publisher and to LibraryThing Early Readers program for sending me this copy. The book is due out January 2, 2018.

Tags: 2017-read, advanced-reader-copy, an-author-i-read, early-review-librarything, everyone-else-liked-it, mixed-feelings, ok-but-not-great, read, somewhat-disappointing, thought-i-was-gonna-like

Friday, December 22, 2017

Smoke Eaters by Sean Grigsby

When I was three, we had a house fire. I was tucked in my bed in a tiny upstairs bedroom. A fireman rescued me, and when he set me in my mother's arms, I told her "he carried me out, just like Superman." I knew a good hero when I saw one. When I was offered the chance to read an ARC of Smoke Eaters, even though I wasn't sure if this was my kind of book, I said sure, because Firefighters vs Dragons? Heck yeah.

This was a good romp in a future world, where not only has the United States devolved into city states, but a plague of dragons is pretty much boiling up from the center of the earth, hellbent on feeding, mating, and consequently ravaging everything in their path. Cole Brannigan, a firefighter for 30 years, is just about to fight his last fire, when he finds out he one of the few people who are immune to dragon smoke. He is recruited into a group called the Smoke Eaters, an elite cadre of people who can withstand the smoke, and fight the creatures destroying the civilization above ground.

Things get dicey as the dragons get stronger, and political intrigue, in the form of a dastardly plot to take over the city, is discovered. Brannigan and his cohorts spring into action to fight the baddies, be they scaled or human. It's a pretty entertaining story. Oh, did I mention there are also wraiths? And robots? And some kick-ass battles?

Aside from my early firefighter interaction, my knowledge and appreciation of these men and women grew when my own son, also age three, developed a major fire truck (and firefighters, by extension) fascination. From that experience, and the inside views a hero-struck boy was given by very kind firemen* the details Sean Grigsby used in the novel all ring true, thanks to his firsthand experience as a firefighter.

It's my understanding that this may develop into a series. If so, I think it could be something fun to follow. I'd like to see a little tightening in the descriptions and rules of the world as it unfolds (but, I do like the cicada theory) and the interactions between the former US and Canada or other countries. The strengths of the book lie in the realism of the characters and of their work in fighting fire. One can extrapolate that the techniques applied to fighting dragons also rings true, but personally, I hope we never find out. But it settles one thing. I do want a robot dog.

I received my copy from the author's agent, for which I am most grateful. The book is due out in March 2018.

*There were no women that we met as firefighters in the early 1990's, though there are many now.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Beneath the Sugar Sky (Wayward Children #3) by Seanan McGuire

I've read the Wayward Children books in a topsy turvy manner, starting with Down Among the Sticks and Bones, then Every Heart a Doorway (I actually bought another book with a similar title thinking it was this one, and by the time I figured it out, had "Sticks and Bones" in my hands so read that first). The only one I've read in order is this, and I'm so glad I did, because it answered a lot of questions I had from Down Among the Sticks and Bones.

Children disappear for a number of reasons, some nefarious, some with an element of magic. That there are doorways between worlds is accepted, thanks to wardrobes, subtle knives, portals, and other devices so many of us have come across in literature. (I personally believe books are gateways, too, but that's another story.) Sometimes those of us who leave one world and enter a different one can stay there, sometimes we come back for one reason or another, sometimes we long to return to that other place-- to find the doorway to take us back. Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children, provides a place for those wishing to return to their new world from their home world of Earth, r wait for a new door to open.

In the second book in the series, we were introduced to Eleanor West's home and some of the students living there. This book doesn't exactly take up where that one left off, though it does take place after in time. What it does do is focus on some of the other students, peripheral in the original story, and weave a story where they go on a rescue mission, taking them to a couple of other worlds.

Again, a fascinating story -- one which proves there is a place for each of us, and that maybe it's true: those who live in gingerbread houses seem to have cold, cruel hearts.

The book is due out January 8, 2018.

Thanks to friends at Tor for sending me this advanced readers copy. You're the best!

From the publisher:
Beneath the Sugar Sky returns to Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children. At this magical boarding school, children who have experienced fantasy adventures are reintroduced to the "real" world.

Sumi died years before her prophesied daughter Rini could be born. Rini was born anyway, and now she’s trying to bring her mother back from a world without magic.

Bowl of Memories

Bowl of Memories
The story goes that the level of my grandmother's cooking was so good, that she used her oven to store her mail. It never got turned on. Ever. That fabulous chicken remembered from childhood visits to her home in Brooklyn was from the deli down the street, under the El* across from Uncle Izzy's candy shop.

My grandmother was a small, but strong  woman. You had to be to run a business, raise 4 children, keep a home, and support the love of your life in his endeavors, all during the depression, and while speaking a language not your native tongue. There's even a story our uncle told us, which our mother denied, and my eldest brother adopted as a gospel truth. The icebox in one of the apartments she rented out to tenants died, and a new one was delivered, but the person who delivered it refused to take it to the 4th story walkup. It was summertime in the city. The man was no fool. Faced with a problem, and no one available to help her, my bubbe* managed to heft the thing and carried it up. By herself. Did I mention she was 5 feet tall or less? In our childhood imaginations, it was our tiny 80 something bubbe hauling the Matag refrigerator/freezer that graced out kitchen, up an impossibly long flight of stairs. Our bubbe was tough.

 Our bubbe while not the best cook, did excel at a few dishes. She made a mean chopped liver, and good gefilte fish. (Each parent claimed their mother made the better gefilte fish, which resulted in my mother not making it, and opting to buy it from the deli.) When she made these dishes, she used a wooden bowl and a hackmesser, a chopper similar to a messaluna or ulu, though not crescent shaped. This variant was from Eastern Europe; messer means "knife" in German, and hack translates pretty obviously.

Chopping Bowl
The bowl where she did her chopping was simple and wooden. And she passed her bowl and hackmesser to her eldest daughter, when her daughter got married. That daughter was my mother. The bowl and chopper were ever-present in our home. I remember chopping spinach and hard cooked eggs in it as a teenager. When my mother moved to South Carolina to live with us, it moved too. Somewhere along the line, something noxious had spilled in it, staining a portion of the inside black, sinking deep into the wood, and leaving a residue that was questionable enough that nothing further was chopped in it. Resanding didn't help. The bowl stayed with us, and after my mother died, became mine. When we moved, it moved with me, because even though it was no longer used to chop, it help all those memories.

I've struggled what to do with it-- it's a hand carved bowl, with an uneven rim, and smooth sides. The inside holds the chopping scars of a multitude of meals, and has helped make the food that nourished four generations of family. I did not want to discard it, simply because it could no longer be used for what it was originally intended.

The bowl is full again, though not of food. Though I probably enjoy cooking far more than my mother or grandmother, the bowl now contains something else that is a part of me: my art. Depicted in the design are images of the cities my grandmother and mother lived. There are representations of important aspects of the lives of both, pictures of memories. Many may only be discernible to the artist, but the artist knows they are there. It is a bowl of memories. It is cherished, still. 

*elevated rail; elevated train
** bubbe (also spelled bubebubbie, bubbeh, bobbe, bobeh and bubby)

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

A Taxonomy of Love (Hardcover) by Rachael Allen

Normally I am not that fond of novels that mix letters, emails, etc into the text as plot movers. In this case, I didn't mind, as some really fun taxonomy drawings were part of that mix. (Also, the emails/texts between Hope and her sister made sense, as they were separated by an ocean, not by an office wall or city block as often seems to be the case when electronic communications are used as a device.) Two other things endeared this book to me -- it covers the course of a relationship between the characters (and among the characters) over 5 years, 8th grade to 12th grade, showing ebbs and flows, giving room for growth or exposures of weaknesses. It also featured a main character with a disability. Spencer has Tourette's syndrome. The author uses this as a teaching tool, modeling how (and how not) to relate to someone with a disability, be it Tourette's, Spina Bifida, or Sickle Cell Anemia. The medical treatment o Tourette's was also interesting for me, as a retired RN. It really is am alphabet soup of trying to find the right drug to do the trick along with awareness of triggers/responses.

All in all, I enjoyed this story of exploring what being a friend means, and how love grows and changes over time. Thanks to the publishers who gave me this copy while at YAllfest 2017. The book is due out in January 2018.

Tags: 2017-read, advanced-reader-copy, fantasy, read, rounded-up-in-star-rating, ya-lit, yallfest

From the publisher:
The moment Spencer meets Hope the summer before seventh grade, it’s . . . something at first sight. He knows she’s special, possibly even magical. The pair become fast friends, climbing trees and planning world travels. After years of being outshone by his older brother and teased because of his Tourette syndrome, Spencer finally feels like he belongs. But as Hope and Spencer get older and life gets messier, the clear label of “friend” gets messier, too.

Through sibling feuds and family tragedies, new relationships and broken hearts, the two grow together and apart, and Spencer, an aspiring scientist, tries to map it all out using his trusty system of taxonomy. He wants to identify and classify their relationship, but in the end, he finds that life doesn’t always fit into easy-to-manage boxes, and it’s this messy complexity that makes life so rich and beautiful.