Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Teen Spirit: "My Life As a Bench" by Jaq Hazell

The spirit of 17 year old Ren, or Lauren Bethany Miller, has taken up residence within the tribute memorial bench placed by her grieving family in a London park. There is a plaque attached to the bench with a scan code so when people point their smart phones at it... it opens a website with pictures, remembrances and videos of Ren singing, because, when she was alive, she was an amazing singer, in the style of her favorite, Amy Winehouse.
The next bench over is inhabited by the spirit of Lionel, an older gentleman, who tells her he had died of "boredom". He has been a part of this small patch of land for a long time and he is a comforting presence for Ren, and helps her to come to terms with her situation and what her spirit can and cannot do.
What Ren longs for most of all is a visit from, or even a glimpse of, her former boyfriend, Gabe. She wonders why he hasn't come to visit the bench. Then, she hears some startling information when some members of her family come to visit, that Gabe was charged with her death. As things from her past slowly come back to her she longs to reach out and make things right.
The author, beginning with this unusual premise, turns it into a moving story of a young life ending all too soon. The story cuts between Ren and Lionel's dialogues and Ren's remembrances of her past and the events leading up to her death. It is engaging, funny and also quite heartbreaking. Thank you to NetGalley and Nowness Books who granted my DRC wish! Highly recommended!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Heart of Darkness: "Blood and Silk" by Jeffrey Love

Blood and Silk , a gorgeous re-imagining of the Beauty and the Beast legend, begins with a curse. The curse is placed on a Prince, Alexiel of Ravenswood, a handsome lion headed figure, by a sorceress, Frytania, a woman whom he spurned. His casual rejection of her after their dalliance prompts her to use all her powers to destroy his life ... and destroy it she does. The only way to lift the curse would be for him to finally accept her. "If not you?" Alexiel asks her. "Then you must find a replacement." The replacement must learn to love Alexiel as he is for the curse to be lifted. Is there someone out there who could learn to love the cold hearted Prince?

Charles Alverdine, a formerly wealthy merchant, now fallen on hard times, his second wife, and 6 children have been forced to leave the city where they had resided and move to a cottage on the outskirts of a small village surrounded by forest. The merchant's older daughters grumble about the move but everyone else tries to make the best of things, including his youngest son, the beautiful Circelae, who loves the land, the flower gardens and later, after he and his father are called to meet with the town's Steward, the town library.

One afternoon, while heading home from the library, Circelae decides to find his way back through the forest. The forest that seemed to call to him. Losing his bearings, eventually he finds his way out where he is met by the Steward who gives him a stern warning to stay out of the woods.

This event will change the course of Circelae's life and that of everyone he knows. It seems he has caught the eye of a King and this King has sent word to Circelae's family that he desires Circelae's hand in marriage.

I won't spoil the mystery of this haunting tale and its exquisitely realized world and the unusual love story at its heart. If you are longing to read something that is both memorable and surprising then be sure to get a copy of "Blood and Silk" ( Oh! One more thing, it is illustrated with absolutely beautiful illustrations).

Saturday, November 19, 2016

A Whole New World: "The Gargoyle Hunters" by John Freeman Gill

Author John Freeman Gill's thrilling debut novel, The Gargoyle Hunters, takes you on an astonishing and breathtaking journey into a subculture of 1970s New York City that most of us never realized existed... the subculture of salvaging artifacts from buildings that were designed by architects and sculptors to withstand the ages. Buildings adorned with all manner of  stone and terracotta gargoyles, sea nymphs, Gods, Goddesses, animals, plant life and odds and ends that Mr. Gill brings brilliantly to life.
The narrator of this story is 13 year old Griffin Watts, a  native NYer, who loves the city and all it has to offer. He is the son of mostly estranged parents. His father, the artifact salvager -in-chief, is a man who loves lost New York and its relics maybe more than he does his son. His mother is a bohemian artist who takes in tenants, all male, and allows them to mostly freeload off her often at the expense of her children. Griffin and his older sister, Quigley, a theatre geek girl always off to the next audition, are mostly left to their own devices.
Although Griffin has friends, and a crush on a slightly older girl, he longs for his father's attention, and when his father finally focuses that attention on his only son... you begin to fear for Griffin's well being as he is swept into the life of the artifact salvagers and their obsessions that sometimes leads them to the tops of buildings and to secret worlds unseen by the unobservant passers-by.
Griffin, and his family and the amazing city of New York, its past, both recent and distant, are brought so vividly to life that this book really stays with you long after you've finished it. It is memorable and has the feel of a book you'll want to revisit every so often. This book won't be released until March but I wanted to help get the word out. A BIG thank you to Edelweiss for the DRC!

And, a mixtape review! From Disney's "Aladdin" via youtube

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Second Chances: "738 Days" by Stacey Kade

Amanda Grace was 15 when she was abducted by her school bus driver. In the 738 days that she is imprisoned and abused one thing keeps her going... a page torn out of a  magazine featuring the gorgeous visage of leather jacketed teen heartthrob, Chase Henry. Amanda imagines him encouraging her to escape, something it seems impossible to do, but when her chance comes, it's the imaginary Chase urging her on as she makes contact with a repairman from behind the locked door. The police arrive, the bus driver is killed, and Amanda is freed.

Two years later, Amanda, now back at home with her parents and two sisters, is still traumatized. Her family either treats her with kid gloves or ignores her. Therapy hasn't really helped. She is also famous for surviving the abduction and everyone knows how much Chase Henry meant to her, or at least the imaginary one did.

Meanwhile, Chase Henry, former beloved idol of teen girls everywhere, is now trying to save what he has left of a career. Fame and money had gone to his head and his reputation as an actor tanked after word of his bad behavior and drinking spread. Struggling to rebuild his career by taking a minor role in an indie flick, his publicist has an idea. Why not surprise Amanda Grace with a personal visit as her home is only a couple of hours from the film location.

What happens next in this intriguing, riveting and yes...steamy! story will keep you reading and rooting for Amanda and for Chase. These are two people you care about as they fight to overcome their demons. Highly recommended.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Stormy Weather: "Nora and Kettle" by Laura Nicolle Taylor

It's the early 1950s. Nora is the 17 year old daughter of a famous civil rights lawyer. Her mother is dead, killed in an accident falling down the stairs at home. Now there's no one else to care for her little sister, Frankie, or to come between them and their horribly abusive and bullying father. Frankie wears a hearing-aid. The direct result of some of that abuse when she was only three. Can Nora stay alive long enough to protect her sister? To escape from the prison that is their home?

Kettle is a street smart boy. He, too is 17. And an orphan living with his friend, Kin, and a group of lost children beneath the streets of the city. He is half-Japanese. A living reminder to people with a racist bent of the not too distant past of World War II. Kettle and Kin work to try to provide for the children under their protection. They call themselves the Kings and have "King" names. Each morning they fight the men desperate for work on the docks of the city. The work is hard and dangerous and often the danger doesn't come just from the work...but from the other workers who resent them for their race.

Sometimes after a hard day at work,  Kin and Kettle sleep in an alleyway adjoining a posh street. One day Kettle sees a hand reach out a window and drop something. He investigates and finds it to be a small sculpture. He hides it away. A secret treasure. In the days to come, Kettle finds many other objects, objects he also keeps hidden away. Whose was the hand he saw in the window?

How Nora and Kettle's lives intersect is something the reader will have to discover. This is a book I received from NetGalley (thank you NetGalley!) and knew nothing about. It is a hard book to read at times, because of what the lovely, brave Nora has to deal with. and Kettle is a boy you'll take to your heart. These are two people who come to vivid life on the page. People you'll care about. If you are looking for something thought-provoking and a book you'll think about long after the final page, then be sure to give Laura Nicolle Taylor's  "Nora and Kettle" a chance.

And even though this song has nothing really to do with the book, Nora and Kettle have to deal with some stormy weather of their own... so, through the miracle of youtube: the most fabulous Lena Horne:

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!