Friday, September 12, 2014

Leaving the Nest: "the Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt

I liked the Goldfinch. Mostly. This is not my usual 100% LOVED IT recommendation because the author, Ms. Tartt, may not have made the choices for her lead character that the Recommender would have liked. "Oh Nos" were yelled at the Kindle, and much worrying on behalf of the characters was done. But who is the Recommender compared to the Pulitzer Committee??? They seemed to like these choices. It is up to you whether you want to invest hours in these characters and see what all the fuss was about.
The opening was one of the most powerful and almost visually stunning beginnings of any book, ever. 13 year old Theo and his  smart and beautiful Mom, a former model and art lover and such a warm, true presence in both Theo's life and ours, the reader's, duck into the Metropolitan Museum of Art on a rainy day to take in an exhibit of Northern Masterpieces of the Golden Age. They are too early for a meeting with Theo's school principal... so they make their way around the exhibit, taking in Rembrandt's the Anatomy Lesson and then, Carel Fabritius’s  the Goldfinch, the title painting, and one of his mother's favorites.
Theo is taken with a girl who he's seen going round the exhibit with someone who seems to be her grandfather, and when his mother dashes back for another look, while Theo heads toward the gift shop to wait for her, keeping an eye open for the girl and then KABAMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM! Theo wakes up amidst the rubble of what had been an exhibition hall.
This is SUCH a believable scene and if you've ever spent any time at the Met you can picture the mayhem and destruction.
Everyone knows that Theo ends up with the title painting through circumstances you will have to read the book to get ALL the details. Unable to find his mother, wounded and alone he makes his way home, the meeting place if they are ever separated, and waits, and waits and... the book is about Theo's loss, his scramble to find a safe place, with the family of a rich friend and then with his father, who had walked out on the family a year or so earlier. What he goes through, where he ends up and with whom is all part of this journey. My favorite character, bad influence that he might be, is Boris, a Russian teen Theo meets at his new Las Vegas high school. Boris is left alone a lot by his father, a brutal mining engineer who travels the world dragging Boris with him. These two boys on the loose get up to all kinds of things, but often hope for something as innocent as a real home-cooked meal. So, in fact, yes, I am recommending "The Goldfinch" because it's something of an epic and the characters you meet along the way will make it worth your while.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

50 Shades of Erik: "A Rose in Winter" by Catherine Miller

In this Bizarro Phantom world... Christine is an urchin out on her own in the pitiless streets of Paris and being sexually abused by various louts until she is rescued by the passing Erik, who at first mistakes her for a whore!
So, this is indeed an unusual take on our favorite characters. Erik makes quick work of the current offender and rescues the little stray. He takes her home with him until he decides what to do and as she is both starving and scruffy, he covers his furniture to keep her rags from the fabric and fetches her some food which she devours. Is this the beginning to one of the great love stories of all time? It is, just quite, quite different.
I am already a fan of Destruction of Obsession by Ms. Miller, and this one doesn't disappoint as we watch these two circle round each other and learn to trust, each with their own scars and issues, and slowly allow one another to see what lies inside their hearts, their secret hopes and dreams. Erik is his brooding, tempestuous self... but driven to bake biscuits to keep his adorable Christine content. And as they become closer, and let their guards down... let's just say those guards are really, really let down...  much love is expressed in many and varied ways. Oh, those two!
Ms. Miller's Erik and Christine, in both of her books, have a delightful Victorian air about them and the way they speak, which is charming. Will Christine become an opera star in this story? Is there a Raoul waiting in the wings? Or will Erik win out and have his happy ending? You will just have to read it and see!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Don't You Need Somebody to Love: "The Seventh Mother" by Sherri Wood Emmons

When eleven year old Jenny Bohner and her handsome father, Brannon, set up their camper at an Idaho campground where he's found work for the season, she has no reason to suspect this summer would be any different than any other. They move from camp to camp and sometimes he works at a factory over the winter months. Jenny is home schooled and occasionally makes friends with other kids who live the same sort of nomadic existence they do.
Her mother died when she was three, or so her father told her. She can hardly remember her. So it's been just the two of them ever since. Except when he finds a new girlfriend. And then, none of the past girlfriends ever stuck around for very long.
Now, there's Emma. Emma with her red hair and her friendliness towards Jenny, she even lets her come help her with the camp's horses, one of her jobs. Emma can't resist Brannon's  rugged good looks. Not many women can, it seems. Even Zella Fay, who owns the diner near the campground comments on it, but she also warns Emma not to leave a job and place she loves for a man she hardly knows. Emma, running from a mysterious past, is ready to make a leap into the unknown and risk everything by going with Brannon... and Jenny.
The chapters alternate between Jenny's and Emma's viewpoints, Jenny hoping Emma will stay and become the mother she's longed for, and Emma, who is looking for a home and someone to love her. She may get more than she bargained for in this riveting, unputdownable story that draws us into Jenny and Emma's lives on the road  with Brannon, the perfect Daddy, and so handsome it's easy to overlook his darker side. Will he be the man of Emma's dreams? Or her nightmares? Buy, borrow or download a copy of  Sherri Wood Emmon's The Seventh Mother and discover their secrets, yourself! The Recommender highly recommends this one! Thanks to NetGalley for the DRC!

Once again, pairing a great book with a fitting great song!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Haunted by the Ghost of Your Love: "The Barter" by Siobhan Adcock

 Bridget is a wife and mom. She was once an attorney but gave up her career to stay home with her delightful, darling little daughter Julie, and become enmeshed in the local stay at home mommy culture. Her husband Mark works for a software company and is the sole provider for his family, working late, often coming home to sleep and leave again. Bridget has lots of time to think. About life, motherhood...and death. Then, one day, there is a scent in the house. A scent of earth and springtime...and decay. It becomes a scent that Bridget becomes all too familiar with as it is a smell that precedes a ghost.
The Barter also tells the story of Rebecca Mueller, a century ago. Rebecca was the beautiful, smart  well loved daughter of a local physician whose spinster cousin, Frau Adeline,  helps to raise her. Frau was an adept story-teller, adept especially at stories about Rebecca's beautiful mother who died young. Rebecca marries a man she has known since childhood, a kind, handsome farmer. Theirs should have been a happy ending. Instead, it is a story of mistakes and misunderstandings that cannot be undone. What is the connection between these two women who live their lives a hundred years apart? You will have to get a copy and see.
Ms. Adcock is an adept storyteller, herself, an author who makes you care about her characters and fear for them. She has written a book that manages to be both a charming insight into motherhood and a chilling ghost story. It is a book that will keep you up reading until the last page. There's no higher compliment.

And... not that this has anything to do with this book specifically, but I love this song and it seems apropos:

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Don't Be Afraid, You Can Call Me (or Text!): "idrakula" by Bekka Black

Bekka Black's thoroughly modern take on the classic Dracula, idrakula, manages to be very funny while also maintaining the creepy spirit of Bram Stoker's original. Told through e-mails, browser screens and text messages, we are swept along in the correspondence between Mina Murray, her beau, Jonathan Harker and her BFF Lucy Westenra, whose boyfriend, Randolph Renfield, has been carted off to Bellevue, an insane asylum in NY for, among other things, biting the head off a mouse.
With Randolph out of action, his father implores Jonathan to take his son's place in meeting with an important client (guess who!) in Romania, so, he's off on his first trip ever out of the USA. Meanwhile, Mina follows his trip online while researching everything from Romanian recipes to romantic getaways. He's going to miss her jujitsu tournament, but that can't be helped.
What awaits Jonathan on his journey? How will it affect his and Mina's relationship? Will Lucy get it on with that handsome pre-med student, Abe Van Helsing? I don't want to give anything away that might spoil the pleasure of  this dark delight! You'll just have to buy, borrow or, better yet, download it and enjoy this completely addictive read yourself!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Both Sides Now: "The Secret Door" by J. M. Smith

J.M. Smith's The Secret Door is one of the most charming, romantic, unusual and absolutely laugh out loud funny Phantom books the Recommender has read! That's saying a lot. I have read many wonderful and outstanding works of Phantom fiction, and if they are reviewed here, you know I loved them, because the Militant Recommender only posts reviews of books I can passionately recommend!
The story begins in 1884 with Erik discovering a young girl weeping who somehow  touches his heart. It is, of course, his first encounter with Christine.
Suddenly, we are in present day 2014. Jenna, a young nurse who works in a New York City hospital, goes home early with the flu and surprises her cad of a boyfriend in an act of indiscretion with another young lady! Devastated, she returns to her car and drives away from the shock and betrayal she has just experienced. The rain matches her emotional state as she drives along the Hudson, then, out of nowhere a horn blares and she swerves to avoid an accident and instead... plummets into the river.
How do these two stories align? Back to Erik's lair. He has just returned after the Christine incident to find the Daroga, Omid Javed, his dear and only true friend, though he never admits it even to himself, enjoying his hospitality. Ms. Smith has created a very entertaining love/hate relationship for Erik and Omid. Some of their repartee is deliciously funny! In the midst of Erik scolding Omid for raiding his larder  they hear a crash and a scream. Making their way to the underground lake they find a girl, filthy, injured and clutching her ankle. "Where am I " she asks.
Where, indeed!
Back to 2014 where Jenna is being wheeled into the emergency room after the accident. She is unresponsive. A young neurology Doctor who recognizes her cleans her head wound. "We're going to get you better" he promises her.
The action switches back to Erik and Omid wondering if a mental patient has just showed up on their doorstep, as she claims to have arrived via an invisible door.  This mysterious girl is none other than Jenna. Can she be in two places at once? And what about Christine? How did  these worlds collide and what can it mean for our favorite masked man? Ms. Smith has truly captured the soul and spirit of Erik as he tries to make sense of it all and find his heart being pulled in two directions. And Jenna is someone we care about right from the start. She's brave, sassy and smart and can stand up to Erik as no one else has been able to do before! This is a book that entrances you from start to finish and one you don't want to end.  If you are a Phantom Phan, be sure to get a copy, and if you're not...this book just might make you one!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Walk on the Wild Side: "My Best friend, Maybe" by Caela Carter

Colette was once very best friends with Sadie. At one time, when they were little girls,  they were inseparable. They both loved to swim. They each had two brothers, though Sadie's were adopted from Haiti. There were other differences, too. Sadie's Mom was loving and laid back (and there's no Dad in the picture). While Colette's family is very religious, particularly her judgmental Mom. But both girls felt comfortable at each other's homes and go on vacations together and, somehow, Colette's Mom seems to share secrets and laughs with Sadie in ways she doesn't do with Colette.
Then, when they were in Middle School, suddenly their friendship falls apart. The closeness they once shared now Sadie is sharing and whispering and laughing with other girls. She has moved on and left Colette behind.
Flash forward three years, Colette and her boyfriend, Mark, are looking to spend the summer in Costa Rica with their church youth group. Mark is then heading off to college and Colette and her non-churchy best friend Louisa will be looking at starting their senior year. Her life is very normal and safe and... boring.
Boring, until Sadie whirls back into her life with an invitation to join her and her family in Greece for her cousin's wedding. In fact, Sadie has bought "Coley" as she has always called Colette, a plane ticket!
And, before she even has time to think it over, she's telling Sadie that she'll go. That she has missed her one time best friend and Sadie's warm and fun family and maybe it's time to find out who she really is, away from being the good, safe, sensible daughter, friend and girlfriend everyone wants her to be.
My Best Friend, Maybe is a realistic look at what it means to have had the closeness of a best friend and the pain of losing that friendship. Sadie and Colette are complex   characters. Both are angry and hurt and ready to blame the other for the past. What was the misunderstanding that caused the rift? Can they ever regain what was lost? And, Greece is another character in the story. Beautiful, exotic and filled with possibilities. This is a wonderful book to enjoy on a summer's day and perfect to bring along on vacation. It's not light reading. It's thoughtful and insightful but also completely addicting! Highly recommended!