Monday, January 7, 2019

Light and Shadow: "Godsend" by John Wray

John Wray's brilliant Godsend is the story of a young American who becomes a radicalized Muslim and sets off on a journey to Pakistan in hopes of eventually joining a jihadist group. That this person is a girl of 18 who has disguised herself as a boy in order to become a part of this movement is what makes this story such a compelling read.
Aden Grace Sawyer and her sometime boyfriend Decker have planned this adventure together. Both are able to speak Arabic and both are dedicated to the study of Islam. She has shaved her head and bound her breasts to make herself believe in her masquerade as much as anyone she encounters. They arrive in Pakistan and travel to a small Madrassa, a school for the study of the Quran, and which is close to the border of Afghanistan. She is accepted as Brother Suleyman and often just called Little Brother. She excels here and becomes a favorite of the Mullah. Though Decker will keep her secret he still has an attraction for her that she discourages. As the story unfolds we are taken deeper into the world of this school, its students and the call and attraction of the militant group, the Taliban, who are fighting just across the border. There are life changing choices confronting Aden and Decker. What happens to them will keep you riveted to the very end. Highly recommended!

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Cabin Fever: "Last Time I Lied" by Riley Sager

Riley Sager's the Final Girls kept me up till all hours because I needed to know who did what. This new book, Last Time I Lied, if anything, kept me up even later!
13 year old Emma Davis is sent to spend the summer at an exclusive girls' camp called Camp Nightingale. Her wealthy and neglectful parents have forgotten to even tell her she was going and as a result arrives so late there may be no cabin available to house her for the six weeks she will be there.
Then, the owner of the camp, Francesca Harris-White, or Franny as she wants to be called, a wealthy widow with two adopted sons, has an idea. She'll put her in the last space left, a bunk in a cabin with 3 older girls. These girls, Vivian, Natalie and Allison, will take her under their wing, especially Vivian, whose attention Emma craves. These girls and this summer will change Emma's life forever.
Fast forward 15 years. Emma is now an acclaimed artist. Her huge paintings each contain a secret. Painted beneath the trees and forest scenes three girls are hidden. The painted buried images of the beautiful and engaging Vivian and her two cabin mates are now all that remains of them, a mystery of three girls who disappeared that summer, and one that has haunted Emma ever since.
Could Emma have saved them? Was it her fault they vanished? What about the things she said, the accusations that ended up closing the camp and altering lives?
At a gallery exhibition a woman approaches her. It's Franny, the wealthy owner of the camp on the shores of a man-made lake called Lake Midnight. She has a proposition. Would Emma consider returning to the scene of what has traumatized her for those 15 years?
Franny is planning to reopen the camp and take the emphasis away from it being a camp for wealthy girls. It will now be free and merit-based. She would like Emma to be the art teacher. She has been forgiven for her part in that mystery.
Will Emma return for closure and maybe, just maybe, find out what happened to the girls who vanished from her cabin one night, so long ago?
If you're looking for the kind of intense read that grabs you and doesn't let you go until the very last page, then Last Time I Lied is the book for you!
Thank you to NetGalley for the DRC!
*note: in case you're interested, Riley Sager is the pen name of author Todd Ritter.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

On the Road: "The Phantom's Witness" by Catherine Miller

Catherine Miller has written several Phantom based novels and this one, The Phantom's Witness, is a modern take on the story that works very well.
Christine, a lonely young woman, is part of the chorus at a theatre. Her father, who was head violinist there, died not that many years before and though she has a friend in Meg, another girl who works there, she rarely joins the other members for after show drinks or dinner.
She wears her father's ring on her thumb as a memento of her love for him and after a performance realizes she must have lost in on stage. So, searching for it around the stage and in the prop room, she is witness to a frightening scene, a man being strangled by a masked figure. Frozen in horror, she is unable to cry out or move. The masked man, now aware of her presence, turns his eyes toward Christine who is spurred into action and runs through the theatre and straight into Raoul, a former childhood friend who is a patron there.
Together they summon the police, led by Detective Abdul Nadir, who questions her, and asks if she's ever heard of the Phantom, whom the theatre people refer to as the Ghost. She replies that everyone has heard of him, but never believed he was real.
 Nadir , cautioning her with tales of the very real Phantom's other crimes, mentions she might need witness protection, as she was a valuable witness to the murder, and that he'd be in touch with the U.S. Marshals service about her safety. He finally allows the exhausted young woman to return home with police protection. 
After several days holed up in her apartment as requested by Nadir and the police, there's a knock on the door. A commanding voice says  "U.S. Marshal Service" and commands she open the door. Surprised that she wasn't given a warning that she was going to be relocated, she is told to hurriedly pack and before she knows it she has hit the road with the Marshal. Destination unknown. As they drive, Christine queries the law man, "What can I call you? Marshal?" "
"You may call me Erik" is his reply.
And off we, the reader, go on a thrilling adventure as Christine and Erik travel the country, and learn more about each other and what fate might await her, the witness to a murder, and he, the murderer.
If you love Phantom based fiction or just a great story, try The Phantom's Witness, because you don't have to be a Phantom Phan to enjoy this one. Highly recommended!

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Dance of Love: "Prelude: Andante" by J.M. Smith

J.M. Smith brought something new to the Phantom of the Opera canon, the relationship of Erik and Antoinette (Laramie, here) Giry. Something hinted at in the musical and the film version which gave us some intriguing imagery of Antoinette helping Erik escape from the Gypsy camp.
Prelude began the journey of these two friends, who more and more find themselves drawn to each other in a closeness that can't be helped or denied. Andante continues the story.
Arriving in Paris, where, at Erik's insistence, Annie will be auditioning for the Paris Opera House's ballet corps, while he hopes to find employment.
While searching for housing, the two are denied as they are not married and even pose as brother and sister in the hopes that someone will rent them a room. Just when it all starts to seem hopeless, a gentleman overhears Annie explaining that she will be able to pay rent because she has a job at the Opera House.
"You do?" asks the gentleman. "Well, I hope to..." she stammers. He seems kind and is quite handsome. He tells her he would remember her and it turns out he can offer Annie and her "fire-scarred brother" a place to live, a beautiful cottage, and the ability for Annie to audition as he is the Opera House Head Manager. He introduces himself to the pair, Giles Giry!
Can their luck be changing? Will Erik find an employer willing to hire someone with such an amazing variety of skills and talents and look beyond that mask? Will Annie fulfill her dream of dancing professionally? And what about Monsieur Giry? How will Annie make the leap to become the Madame Giry we all know and love?
Will we find out in this sequel? Get a copy and see for yourself! The good news is... there's more to come! We just have to wait for the next chapter of this series for this fascinating love story to continue!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Living Dangerously: "Lessons in Gravity" by Megan Westfield

The Recommender is a big fan of Megan Westfield's Leaving Everest, and couldn't wait to read her first book, Lessons in Gravity, which I have now finished. Ms. Westfield really captures the life of people who live on the edge and engage in sports that most people can only read about.
April Stephens is a film school student who needed an internship and thanks to a student film she'd made she was able to snag a place with Walkabout Films an outdoor documentary film company who are currently stationed in Yosemite National Park to film a well known rock climber, Josh Knox, who is about to free climb, that is, without ropes,  one of the most treacherous mountains in the park, the Sorcerer.
April, though, is dealing with some issues that might get in the way of her dream to become a film maker and the amazing opportunity she has accepted. She suffers from anxiety due to witnessing her father die in a horrible accident. He was a stunt pilot whose plane crashed at an airshow in front of hundreds of people.
The film crew, however, know nothing of April's past and encourage her to join in the filming by interviewing Josh, the "talent" or star of the film, on camera.
The handsome rock climber seems to find April and her questions annoying, and she has trouble dealing with the surly star. Plus, her boss wants her to learn to climb so she can be more a part of the process.
Will April be able to put her fears aside and fit in with the crew. Can She and Josh get past their mutual personality problems and work together? You will have to read this beautifully written, breathtakingly romantic story for yourself to find out!

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Aftermath: "Fever" by Deon Meyer

"Fever" by Deon Meyer, is a riveting, epic story of survival after a global pandemic fever has wiped out a good percentage of the world's population. Set in South Africa, it is primarily the story of Nico Storm and his father, Willem. Written in the form of a memoir looking back on this time, and as Nico says in the opening paragraph, it is also the story of his father's murder. Nico's narration takes you back to their first days after this devastation. Having survived the outbreak Nico, then aged 13, and Willem travel across the land in a tractor trailer in which they haul the remainders of their lives, food, books, medicine. As they travel, Willem teaches Nico about everything from the cloud formations to history lessons, to, probably his most useful lesson of all, how to shoot. As they pause to refuel at an abandoned fueling station, Nico's eye catches movement. Before they can react a pack of wild dogs is upon them, cutting Willem off from the truck where he has sent Nico to safety, and fighting them off with a wrench, instructs his son to get the pistol and shoot them which he does, helping to hold them off until his wounded father reaches the truck, and takes the gun wiping out the rest of the pack. Taken ill by the dog bites he's suffered, Nico and Willem seek refuge in an empty house, where Willem rides out the fever brought on by the carrion eating animals. Holed up in the house, terrified for his sick father, Nico hears the unsettling sound of human voices. Peering through the window he sees two men investigating their truck, and then peering through the windows eventually deciding to shoot off the door locks before turning away and driving off in a jeep in which they also have a woman, their apparent hostage. What happens next will change Nico forever, it will make him look at his father in a different light. We will, also, soon meet characters whose stories begin to intersperse with that of Nico's, including Domingo, someone who will become a major influence on Nico's life, and his father's, as they set about trying to create a new world. This is a book I was so immersed in I had to stay up late for many nights to follow the story. It is so memorable you will find yourself thinking about it long after you've finished it. And Domingo! What a fantastic, brave and colorful character. I could read a whole book just based on him. If you love a good story and one that will keep you up and wondering what will happen then look no further than Mr. Meyer's brilliant novel!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Love at the Top: "Leaving Everest" by Megan Westfield

Emily Winslowe's life has been one of adventure, following her mountaineer Dad to some of the highest, most dangerous peaks in the world, and she has been able to hold her own, summiting even Everest, alongside him and the climbers who he guides through his company Winslowe Expeditions. She loves the mountains and can't imagine a life without having access to them.
There's one other thing that she enjoys, a game of filming a 360 degree video panorama of her summits called #YCCM and checking those of someone else, those of Luke,  a boy she has know most of her life who is now attending college in the US.
This summer is looking to be a challenging one for Emily. There's the Everest climb with her Dad, and finding a way to tell him she has decided not to go to Washington State to attend a college where she has a free ride. She has already taken a gap year. Her dream, instead, is to climb the top 5 mountains in the world.
 Returning from a climb, the Father and daughter take a break at the home of Mingma, a Sherpa woman friend and the widow of a man who had been an associate of her Dad and his company, killed in a climbing accident. She is also the mother of Luke, and a younger son, Pasang.
Emily has been longing to see Luke. He is not only her best friend, but someone she dares not tell that she has secretly been in love with him for years. Her heart stood still when she started noticing an American girl show up in some of Luke's videos.
As they are preparing for a meal at Mingma's, suddenly, there is someone leaning in the doorway. Emily can hardly believe what she is seeing. Is it really Luke? How can he be here and she not have known?
And so begins a heart-stopping adventure story and a completely believable love story set in a part of the world most of us only get to in movies or books and Ms. Westfield makes you, the reader, a part of the expedition. You will experience what it's like in the build up to making the attempt to climb the most treacherous mountain in the world and get caught up in Luke and Emily's love story, one of unspoken feelings, secrets and surprises. This is a book you will want to revisit, and characters so real you want to follow their journey beyond the pages of this wonderful story. Plus, I LOVE the cover! 10 Stars (and 10 mountain peaks)!  Highly recommended! Thank you to NetGalley for the DRC!