Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Secret Love: "If You, Then Me" by Yvonne Woon


16 year old Xia Chang is something of a computer prodigy. She has created an AI program called "Wiser" that replies to your questions with the advice you might give yourself  when you're older. She lives in Massachusetts with her Mom, a political science professor, who is hardly home, as she works at 4 different colleges.

Except for her neighbor, Gina, Xia is pretty lonely and created Wiser to keep her company. Knowing Wiser is a unique creation, Xia has applied to a school for tech prodigies called "The Foundry". The unthinkable happens and Xia gets a call from the Foundry's director inviting her to join them in California's Silicon Valley at the institute, where all her expenses will be paid as she works on further developing Wiser.

While she waits to break the news to her mother who is going to be a tough sell, she has someone else to share her good news with. ObjectPermanence, her online soulmate, someone whom she's shared her secrets and hopes with, well, while using her own online persona U/ARRAYofLIGHT.

Once her mother finally agrees and Xia is off to the Foundry, we'll share her adventures as she joins the other 19 teens from around the country as they work to build their creations in hopes of startup money and becoming coding rockstars.

I loved this book!  You felt you were part of the new world Xia has entered, and were cheering her on from the sidelines. Xia experiences so much in her new school, and is stronger than she thinks, as she faces the sexism of the largely male tech world and works at trying to fit in and make friends with classmates who are also competitors. There's also the verbal bullying from a couple of entitled white boys who delight in humiliating her right from the start. And there may be a boy, who seems to be someone who "gets" her. Could there be more to him than he seems? Does he like her... or is he just trying to find out the secrets behind her AI?
Then, something happens that takes her in an unexpected direction, at a party,  Xia has a casual meeting  with a young woman, famous for the apps she created, and whom Xia had idolized. What happens next and throughout the rest of Xia's whirlwind trajectory from nonentity to notoriety in this unputdownable story is something you've got to find out yourself!

I haven't read Ms. Woon's previous books, but she has created one of my favorite characters ever in Xia, a young woman so smart and resilient and quick and funny that you'll find yourself wondering about her and her future long after you've turned that last page. This is highly recommended, and one I'll be Militantly Recommending! Thanks to NetGalley and Harper Collins for the DRC!

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Ghosted: "Haunted" by Laura DeLuca

 I am always excited when there is a new "Dark Musicals" book by Laura Deluca, especially when it stars one of my all time favorite fictional characters, Lord Justyn Patko, and his lovely, smart and brave wife Lady Rebecca Hope-Patko! 

There may be spoilers ahead for anyone who hasn't read this series, so be aware and if you haven't read the series begin with Phantom, and meet Lord Justyn and Rebecca at the beginning of their relationship!

So, when Haunted was released, I couldn't wait to download it (and might have to get this one in print!)
Lord Justyn and Lady Rebecca are huge stars of the stage. They are beloved as the Phantom and Christine, which they have starred in on Broadway winning raves and devoted phans all over for their performances. Now they have been invited to England to headline the Woman in White musical being filmed there with an all star cast. Even their son, Erik, will have a bit part. 
They arrive and check into their hotel and at once there is a mystery, a woman dressed in white, has left them a welcome basket. Was it a publicity stunt? No one at the hotel seems to know.

They make their way to the set and meet all the other cast members, each famous in their own right, (one particularly stands out, Stephanie Piro, a huge star, nominated for 16 Emmy Awards as a daytime soap Diva, plus she has a way with younger men!) (and also making an appearance as a co-star is another memorable character, Emma Kathryn!)! 
One of their best friends, Frankie, has a part and they are happy to see him, but the Director of the film, Kyle Whelan, is another matter. He is bossy and demanding. He orders his assistant around and bullies anyone who doesn't do as he asks.

This might be a problem, but Rebecca's bigger concern is the way Justyn has been acting. The love of her life has been distant and elusive since their arrival. What could it mean? Was their marriage in trouble? Before this trip, Justyn saved Becca's life by taking another, and he has been plagued by nightmares ever since. Was he blaming her? Maybe Darlene, her mother-in-law, can help her figure things out when she arrives with Erik and their baby daughter Harmony.

Will things improve for this devoted couple? And will they survive the filming, as trouble seems to follow them wherever they go and mysterious things seem to be happening on set. Be sure to grab a copy of Haunted and follow Justyn and Rebecca as they deal with everything this seemingly cursed movie tries to involve them in!

* Heads up, too, Dark Musicals fans, at the end of Haunted, there is a preview of a new series with Erik Patko as the lead. The preview was enough to have me waiting for the whole book, it was that grabby and gripping!

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Backstories : "Confessions on the 7:45" by Lisa Unger

This is a keep reading till the end kind of book, which, I confess, I listened to and the narrator  (Vivienne Lehenny) was so good that I went back and forth between listening on my phone and on the computer, so I could keep following the story, no matter what I was doing!

This is the first Lisa Unger book I read/listened to, and it was quite addictive! Who doesn't love a story that starts out on a train? Selena Murphy is a working wife and mother. She has two boys and a handsome, though recently unemployed husband. She also has the world's best nanny, Geneva. That is... until she moved the nanny cam and caught Geneva and her husband in a compromising position. Multiple positions! And she has caught them at it, more than once, while checking in from work.

Wondering how to tackle this situation, she misses her train and catches a later one. The 7:45. Looking for a seat, she sees an empty one next to a beautiful woman. The train has some issues which delays their departure and Selena finds herself chatting with the woman who introduces herself as Martha. After a while, Martha produces some mini bottles of vodka, and after a couple, Martha confesses some of  her troubles. She's been sleeping with her boss. Selena finds herself confiding her problems to Martha, in turn. "Wouldn't it be nice if your problems could just go away?" Martha asks. 

 Once the train starts moving again and eventually the women reach their destinations and depart, Selena never expects to see or hear from Martha again. She finds herself wondering about Martha's seemingly innocent question. When the question becomes a reality, suddenly Selena's perfect life begins to crack open in ways she never expected. And what of Martha? Will we find out more about this mystery woman and her affair with her boss? You'll have to grab a copy (or download one!) of this super twisty, super suspenseful and surprising  tale! I didn't want it to end, it was THAT good! With hints of Patricia Highsmith's (and Hitchcock's) Strangers on a Train, but with a spin all its own, this is one I highly recommend. And if you're busy and don't have a lot of reading time, don't let that stop you! Hoopla is a great source of audiobooks! 

Monday, November 2, 2020

Trouble in Paradise: "The Jumbee" by Pamela Keyes

 Having read a LOT of Phantom based fiction over the years, many reviewed here, I can say that The Jumbee was a very different and fascinating retelling. Set on a West Indian island called Cariba, it centers around a young woman who has come to the island to finish out high school. 

Esti Legard is a talented actress. She is the daughter of the great Shakespearean actor, Alan Legard. He was so well known on stage and screen, that it was hard for her to be an actor in her own right, being forever in his shadow. She had played Juliet in a Public Television production with her father, and he seemed to imply that she didn't live up to his high standards. Afterwards, she began to separate from him, no longer going along to all his events. When he dies after a brief illness, she feels guilty and that she must prove to herself that she can still make it as an actor.

No sooner had she and her mother settled on the Island and Esti started at the Manchicay High School, renowned for its theatre program, than she is witness to a fatal accident. A student told her she'd never make it as Juliet and minutes later, he falls from the stage's catwalk. Questioned by the police, she turns to leave, when it seems as if a voice emanating from the walls is quoting Shakespeare to her. Is she losing her mind?

Not long after she tries out for the lead in Romeo and Juliet, but realizes there is a crew of popular kids who've had the lead roles forever and aren't very welcoming. Despite that, she holds her own and makes a couple of friends who aren't part of the inner circle. She also learns that a boy she knew as a girl back in the states was coming home to Cariba, where his father helped organize talent agents and scouts to come to the school's productions. He has quite a reputation among the Island's girls.

Meanwhile, the voice she heard has spoken to her and she is so taken with it's beauty and mastery of Shakespeare that she agrees to come to the school at night to allow this mysterious entity to coach her. 
Who could this invisible presence be? As I mentioned, this is a very different spin on the Phantom story and one that kept me reading. The characters are colorful and the island dialect seems to resonate from the pages, as does the voice of the mystery Jumbee, or Island ghost. If you are in the mood for a story that will take you on an island journey and give you a "Phantom" you'll remember long after the final page, then give Ms. Keyes' The Jumbee a try!

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Good Neighbors: "The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires" by Grady Hendrix

This one 
grabbed me right from the first few sentences. The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix is the perfect book to read this time of year or any time, because it's that good and that original!
 Beginning in 1988, Patricia Campbell is a good Southern housewife and mother. She and her equally good housewife friends live in a safe, nobody locks their doors suburban community of Charleston, South Carolina, and belong to a proper book club, where it turns out nobody actually read the classics the host imposed on them. Leaving the final meeting, one of the ladies suggests they read “real” books, the kind that everyone really wants to read, true crime! Everyone enthusiastically takes part, and after months of reading, they’re pretty much experts on the details of what to look for if you were ever in a similar situation to the victims. Still, they feel pretty secure, as they look after the homes and children while their husbands are out earning a living. Or are they as safe as they believe? One night, something shocking happens to Patricia! This Is when the story begins to take some unexpected twists and turns as the characters wake up to the fact that not all is pleasant in Mt. Pleasant.

I loved the author’s style of writing. And this is a fun read with some real scary surprises, I mean, given the title, I expected something, but not the author’s take on “vampires”. It also has aspects of feminism, as these women have to worry about, or answer to their husbands about the every day decisions they make. I highly recommend this one.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Persuasion: Of Love and Violence: Tainted Love Book 3 by Kayla Lowe


Spoiler Alert! If you haven't read Kayla Lowe's Tainted Love series from the beginning, don't read any further, because you want to follow the love story of 18 year old Sarah MacKenzie and the man she thought was the answer to her dreams, the much older Bruce, right from the start.

After dealing with her family's disapproval of Bruce, who, as it turned out, was even older than her Dad, Sarah agrees to go with him to Florida, where he was from, to begin a new life. They take an endless bus journey and arrive to find Bruce's buddy, Ron, waiting for them. They are happy to see each other, and Sarah feels a pang of regret at how close she and her cousin Addison used to be. 

Ron seems nice and is friendly to her and she notices he's handicapped, missing one arm and part of a hand, due, she finds out, from a work related accident. He drops them at a motel for the night and the next day, they move into an older apartment building, and Sarah learns, much to her consternation, that there are two bars attached to the hotel, one a hip hop bar and the other, a country bar. So begins Sarah's life in Florida. Would they ever be able to afford to live at the beach, as Bruce had promised?

Her issues with Bruce drinking only increased as he  and she were to spend more and more time at Ron's. Ron's brother, Ken, a creepy sort of character, also lived there. While Ron had a pool and Sarah enjoyed swimming there, she also noticed the guys seemed to drink more when they were together, and smoke like chimneys. They hung out in Ron's garage, and she caught Ken watching her swim and ogling her bikini.  The more time they spent at Ron's, the more money Bruce seemed to spend on drinks and smokes. To justify his drinking, he begins to buy alcoholic drinks for Sarah. More and more she falls into drinking a bit to keep Bruce company. 

Sarah is such a nice girl, pretty and raised to do the right things. Now, here she is, hanging out with men so much older than her, and finding Bruce was more and more possessive of her, fuming whenever another guy looks her way or compliments her. Is this what she signed up for? A year before, she was an  A college student, enjoying all the fun of living with Addison and college life. Will Sarah and Bruce's relationship be all she hoped? Would her family ever accept her decision and the man she abandoned them for? 

Be sure to read Kayla Lowe's addictive Tainted Love Series from the beginning to follow Sarah and Bruce's story. Sarah is a realistic young woman and you can see how she finds Bruce attractive. Of Love and Violence takes us deeper into their relationship. What happens after... we have to wait for the next book to find out!

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Heart of Darkness: "Into the Heartless Wood" by Joanna Ruth Meyer

In Into the Heartless Wood Joanna Ruth Meyer has created a world that is magical and horrifying and somehow a world that is completely believable.  It's a world in which the woods are alive and the stars predict the future. It also has one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful love stories I've read in ages. 

 Ms. Meyer draws the reader in from the very first sentence, in which one of a stand of birch trees is brought to life to be the daughter of the Gwydden, who is a kind of  goddess that is all powerful, and merciless, and that is neither woman nor tree and who rules the wood around her. This new daughter is one of her mother's monsters, sirens whose song is so beautiful and enticing, it lures whoever hears it into the forest to be destroyed by these creatures. 

Bordering these woods is a cottage in which resides a young man, Owen, his two year old sister, Awela, and his father, an astronomer who secretly charts the stars for the king of their region. Owen's mother was lost to the wood a year or so before. Devastated by her loss his father has built a wall between the cottage and the woods so his children will be marginally safer. As time passes, the branches begin to reach over the wall.

One day, Owen convinces his father that he could help him by taking the train to the city to file his father's star charts. He had heard warnings that the forest was encroaching the train tracks. Still, things seemed calm until suddenly the train is derailed, passengers flung this way and that, and the song of the sirens surrounds them. He manages to get out of the wreckage to find, to his horror, the tree sirens are murdering the victims of the accident, bodies lying all through the surrounding area.

When a siren comes upon him, something strange happens, her song pinning him to the ground, she stares at him and then tells him to run. She has let him go. And what happens after this gesture is something you will have to read to find out. The Recommender found this to be a book I couldn't put down. I had to stay up late to finish it and I will just warn you that at moments you may find yourself weeping on your kindle or book pages. The Recommender did! 5 stars for this one! Order it, download it or borrow it from your Library. You will not be disappointed! Thank you to NetGalley for the DRC!