Sunday, September 18, 2016

All You Need is Love: "Disfigured" by Wendy Coles-Littlepage

Sylvie Bessette, the narrator of this swoon-ily romantic re-telling of Leroux's classic, is an independent young woman, a divorcee', and also an orphan. Wanting to stand on her own two feet and not be dependent on any man, she rents a store-front with rooms above and sets about starting a catering business. Her hope, being the daughter of a doctor and a caring mother who was also a great cook, is to prepare meals for invalids. She renovates and supplies her kitchen and then places ads in the local paper in hopes of attracting clients.
Attract them she does! Her first client is a Doctor who arrives at her shop accompanied by a nun. He is the physician in charge of a "private" hospital. Would she consider supplying meals for nine patients and delivering them on a daily basis? It is a dream come true for Sylvie. She would make enough to keep her in business. Before this negotiation is settled, the Doctor asks her to take an oath of secrecy regarding what kind of hospital she would be working for. An oath which she agrees to. What could it mean? We shall see!
A little while later, Sylvie is shopping at the local street market, and by chance makes an acquaintance that will change her life forever. She witnesses a woman get knocked down in the street by a donkey. Coming to her aid, she invites her home to freshen up and to stay for tea. This woman is none other than Madame Giry!
Sylvie and Celestine Giry become friends. Celestine learns that Sylvie cooks for the hospital and that her clients there are scarred and disfigured. After querying her about her feelings towards these patients, and hearing that Sylvie has no problem with their physical differences, she presents the case of her friend, a man who also suffers from a "disfigurement" , and invites Sylvie to take him on as a client. She assures her that this gentleman would pay well depending on his satisfaction with her cooking. She agrees, though, once again, she is presented with a set of rules she must follow. And follow them she does. Until her curiosity gets the better of her. Who could this mysterious new client be?
Can you guess? Yes! It is Erik, the Phantom of the Opera! As she delivers his dinners to his designated spot, we see and hear about the Phantom and the events that unfold at the Paris Opera House through Sylvie's eyes.
This is a captivating concept as sometimes we only hear second-hand, as Sylvie does, about Erik's exploits, things familiar to any Phan, and that take place "off stage" so to speak. And MS. Coles-Littlepage has given us a darkly romantic Phantom, one who seems to come to life on the page, and a man that the reader (if you are anything like the Recommender!) will fall in love with along with Sylvie.
This book was recommended to me (thank you, Lisa!) and I am, in turn, recommending it to you! If you are a Phantom Phan or just someone who likes a good story, then be sure to add Disfigured to your collection!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Big Bang: "Learning to Swear in America" by Katie Kennedy

Katie Kennedy's Learning to Swear in America is a must read for anyone who craves something different, something completely original and with a lead character who will win you over from the first page. Yuri Strelnikov is that character. Ms. Kennedy brings him to life so brilliantly that the reader wishes he were actually alive and could maybe take charge of some other problems besides the asteroid that is hurtling towards Earth.
This asteroid is aiming to take out a good chunk of North America. It has a name. The BR1019.
 17 year old Yuri Strelnikov is a boy genius from Russia who has arrived at NASA's Near Earth Object Program (part of its Jet Propulsion Laboratory) based in Pasadena, California, to share his input on how to stop it from destroying California, among other things.
The scientists, professors and Military personnel working on this project are all much older, some much, much older, than Yuri, who holds a Doctorate and works at a university in Russia. His time will be spent at the lab and at the hotel he's been booked into.
One morning, as he pours himself a coffee at work, he sees a girl walk into the room. She was around his age and very striking what with all her dangly jewelry and unique hair color. She was looking for her father. Not a scientist, the janitor. A guard escorts her out. Angry at the guard's treatment of the girl, he follows her out bearing coffee and donuts. They seem to connect... but then she spots her Dad and takes off.
Will Yuri ever see the girl again? Will the asteroid crash into Earth ? These are questions that will all be answered in this stunningly delightful debut novel. Ms. Kennedy is a terrific story teller and I guarantee you will fall in love with Yuri. The Recommender certainly did. 5 stars! Make that a whole galaxy of them! A BIG thank you, NetGalley for approving this DRC!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Truth and Lies: "Unhooked" by Lisa Maxwell

What can I say? I am almost always attracted to the fictional outlaws and bad guys and the anti-heroes like... the Phantom, Dracula, and...pirates! in the books I read.  One pirate in particular: Captain Hook! The Recommender LOVES Peter Pan based novels and has read some really good ones. I just finished Lisa Maxwell's very intriguing take on the Captain and LOVED her depiction of that character.
But, let us start at the beginning. Gwen Allister has lived all her life on the move. Her mother, an artist, has dragged her from place to place seeking to avoid "the monsters". Could all this be part of her artistic sensibility, as she takes commissions and creates art, or could she suffer from some sort of delusions? Gwen isn't sure. So when they end up in London and take up residence in an old house, Gwen and her friend Olivia, who is spending the summer with the Allisters, don't know what to make of her mother's reactions to a mural on the wall. The faded painting seems to portray a group of  dancing fairies. Why should this bother her mother? And then, there's the bracelet her Mom gives her, blue-gray stones, to protect her, but...from what?
After they are finally settled, taking the room with the mural, and wondering at the landlord's warning about turning off the light that hangs above the bed, Olivia suggests they go for a run. After their run and unfamiliar with their surroundings, Olivia approaches a girl to ask for directions. Gwen sees the girl as a threat, with pointed teeth and dark, strange eyes, but Olivia just sees someone normal, wondering why Gwen is dragging her rudely away.
And later, in bed, dismissing the warning about the light, Gwen turns it off.
Not long after, she is abducted by winged creatures, flown through the night, and dropped into the sea!
It is when she comes to, rescued, and finding herself on a ship, of all things, that she comes face to face with the man who commands it. Captain Hook. A man not so much older than her, it seems, and yet with an air of authority, a scar across his attractive face and a mechanical hand instead of the mythical hook.  His crew is made up of a variety of young boys, all armed.
Is she as delusional as her mother? This can't all be real...can it?
You will have to see for yourself whether Gwen survives her ordeal and what else lies in store for her and those she loves. And, you ask, what about Peter Pan? He's there, too, in a very interesting incarnation. But it is Hook you will remember...long after the final page is turned.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Gone Hollywood: "Be Frank With Me" by Julia Claiborne Johnson

Sometimes you just fall in love with a character when you read a book. And you will do just that with Frank, the little boy referenced in the title of this charming debut novel.  It's the kind of book that's so good you don't want it to end.
Alice Whitley works at a NY publishing house as an assistant to editor Isaac Vargas, who, back in the 70's had discovered a manuscript by a young woman that became a world-wide and continuously in print best seller. Think "To Kill a Mockingbird" or "Catcher in the Rye". The book "The Pitcher" was that huge and had been made into a movie, as well.
The author of that best-seller never wrote another word and became a kind of recluse living in California with a wall around her compound to keep her fans at bay. After making some bad investments and losing a lot of her savings, M.M. (or Mimi) Banning realizes she's got to produce another book and contacts Mr. Vargas. She also requests he send her an assistant. Mr. Vargas decides Alice is the girl for the job.
 What Alice finds waiting for her is not, as she thought, the transcribing of the cranky Ms. Banning's manuscript as she writes it... but rather to be the caretaker of her 9 year old son, Frank.
To say Frank is on a spectrum doesn't do him justice. He's on his own spectrum. One that includes a very full and extensive knowledge of golden age Hollywood movies and every bit of dialogue or trivia that goes along with them.
Plus, he has a sense of style to go along with the leading men he admires and a huge wardrobe of suits and costumes for any role he feels like inhabiting on any particular day. He also has issues which Alice must learn to navigate while also keeping tabs on his mother, typing away behind closed doors, and keeping notes for her boss in case he needs any information on how she's doing.

The Recommender won't spoil the pleasure of this engaging story by giving away too much about the trials and triumphs of Alice and Frank. You'll want to discover them for yourself. And Ms. Johnson deserves some kind of special award for giving us Frank and Alice and the rest of the characters that inhabit her endearing world.


Tuesday, May 31, 2016

What Doesn't Kill You: "The Last One" by Alexandra Oliva

Right from the opening sentence, which tells us that the first one on the production team of the new reality series In the Dark to die will be the editor, we know we are in stay up all night and read this to the end territory!
At the beginning of this blockbuster reality show the producers have nicknamed their chosen 12 contestants according to their physical attributes or skills or sometimes by both. Zoo, a wild life educator whom the editor has pegged as "fan favorite",  Tracker, a man with a winner's expert survival skills,  Black Doctor, Airforce, Carpenter Chick, Waitress, Rancher, Banker, Cheerleader Boy, Biology, Engineer and Exorcist. We will learn more about each of them as they face the group and solo challenges to come.
They have been given a safety phrase, and anyone who wants out at any time, is to say "Ad tenebras dedi" (Latin for "To the night, I surrender" ) and be whisked away. Those words must be said in order for them to be able to leave. With that in mind, the competition is on. Will anyone break and say them? Who will make it to the end? You'll find out as the book weaves back and forth between the action in the woods and Zoo's perspective of her challenges. We, the readers, will learn that something happened outside the massive setting of In the Dark and while these contestants fight to survive there is an even greater survival challenge awaiting them.
This is Ms. Oliva's first book and one that's sure to make her a "Fan Favorite"! It is so visually written you might feel as if you've been watching In the Dark instead of reading The Last One! The Recommender cannot recommend this book enough!  If you read one book this summer... this should be it! Due out July 12th. Thank you, NetGalley, for the DRC!

And a music video that seems to capture "Zoo's" spirit...Kelly Clarkson singing "Stronger" thanks to Youtube!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Bad Blood: "Obsession" by Nora Roberts

When you work in a library you get to know what patrons like and over the years the Recommender has checked out and in a heck of a lot of books by Nora Roberts (plus another heap by J.D. Robb)...and yet, I had not read a single one.
I was perhaps falsely under the assumption that anyone who is THAT popular and can write THAT many books... may not be as good as people claimed.
All that changed when a co-worker (Jessica) said "I think you'd like this book. It's dark."
Me? Like something by Nora Roberts? I have a reputation for reading "dark"??? (I do like subject matter that deals with the world ending or missing people or vampire romances or, of course, Phantom of the Opera themes, so yes, that part is true!).
The book that caused me to realize Ms. Roberts is a writer that grabs you right from the start...or at least her latest book Obsession did. It's a book you don't want to put down and it begins with a brave little girl. One who performs an act so daunting and heroic and one that changes her life and the lives of her extended family.
Naomi Bowes, unable to sleep because of the heat one summer night, watches out her window and sees something odd. Her father going into the woods with a flashlight.
Could he be going down to the creek to cool off? Scrambling after him she follows behind, not to the creek, but deeper into the woods. She watches him uncover something, then disappear into the ground.
What could he be doing down there? Maybe putting together a new bicycle for her birthday. She hides until he leaves, but there is something about her father, a strict religious man who was an upstanding member of the community... that frightens her.
Holding her breath, she waits until he is out of sight, then opens the door in the ground and makes her way down, following a series of strange sounds. Maybe he got her a puppy, she thinks, but it is no puppy awaiting her. Instead, she sees a naked teenage girl. One who was beaten and bloody and tied up with tape over her mouth.
Without hesitation Naomi releases the girl who is so injured and weak that Naomi must help her to navigate the woods into town and to the police dept. In her search for something to free the girl from her restraints, Naomi finds evidence of other crimes. Crimes too horrible to imagine.
We'll stop there. This is already too much information, but the book jacket gives you this much right up front. And like most of the books the Recommender looks for, it is one that will keep you up all night. Naomi is a wonderful, admirable character and the reader will follow her through this ordeal and into the future. You'll have to get a copy of Obsession to see what Ms. Roberts has in store for Naomi.
Needless to say, I have a lot more respect for Nora Roberts and all those checkouts!

And in another mix/tape review, this song, 'Bad Blood' by Alison Mosshart, was featured on "The Walking Dead" as a theme for Carol and it seemed to fit Naomi as well. Thank you Youtube!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Reach Out of the Darkness: "The Rainbow Comes and Goes" by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt

A lot of us remember when Anderson Cooper reported from New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and how he seemed truly concerned for the victims. That was just one instance in a long career, but it showed a compassion rare in today's media market.
Gloria Vanderbilt has been in the eye of the media for most of her life. From the time she was born into a wealthy family, through a world famous custody battle. The media covered her marriages and her design career, her ups and downs. She survived some things that many others might not.
Anderson is Gloria Vanderbilt's son, and for those who never knew that, this book celebrates that relationship.
In a year long e-mail conversation, these two make public some very intimate details about their lives. It is a brave, heartbreaking and enlightening endeavor, for Mr. Cooper and Ms. Vanderbilt ... and for the readers.
As someone who has admired both Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt (I have always adored her beautiful art and collage work) this book was a look into their lives, in their own words. It's an idea many could embrace, or wish we could still reach out to those whose lives we'd like to know more about. It's never too late to open the door to a conversation like these authors did. After all, Mr. Cooper was in his late 40's when they began. Ms. Vanderbilt was 91.
The title comes from a poem by William Wordsworth. It can be read here:
Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood

This song seemed apropos: Reach Out of the Darkness by Friend&Lover (thank you, Youtube!)