Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Home Sweet Lair : "Destruction of Obsession" by Catherine Miller

The Recommender's husband recently commented on the Recommender's preference for reading Phantom fiction "How can there be that much to say about 3 characters?"  Indeed. The variety of Phantom fiction knows no bounds! I was scrolling through Amazon to see what I hadn't read and a title caught my eye. Destruction of Obsession,  by Catherine Miller, which turned out to have originated, as many great Phantom stories have, on a Fanfiction site. So, I downloaded it immediately!
It is a charmingly different follow-up to Leroux's classic. Christine has turned the scorpion and made the choice to save her beloved Raoul's life and marry Erik, her Angel of Music and the mad man who has wreaked havoc on the Opera House at large. And, so begins their life together. Can she learn to truly love the man who will now be her husband? She made her promise to him and being good to her word she attempts to fit into his world. He is kind to her and prepares her meals but doesn't force himself on her as she fears he might...and then, though he sees no need for it, to make her happy, Erik arranges for a real wedding, to be presided over by an actual priest. Hoping that this gesture will help her accept him as her true husband. That the priest is blind doesn't negate the bond that now legally unites Christine and Erik. When his lovely bride is attacked by the carriage driver on their return to the lair, after Erik leaves her alone... he rescues her and kills the driver. An act for which she finds she feels no remorse.
As she heals and he cares for her they make their way towards a comfortable domesticity and although Christine felt she could not open her heart to any but Raoul...she slowly seems to find that there is far more to the Phantom than she thought.
Using Leroux's third person self referencing voice for Erik, Ms. Miller brings him to life with all his passion and pain, his genius and madness. Christine begins the story as a frightened and confused girl of 16 and over the course of this story grows to be a young woman with passions of her own.
There are moments that might surprise you and, if you love the Phantom and will be caught up in the author's original interpretation of this great love story. If you are in the mood for a Phantom fix... then be sure to treat yourself to this thoroughly addictive read!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

"Chanson de l'Ange: The Angel's Song" by Paisley Swan Stewart

Paisley Swan Stewart wraps up her truly epic revision of the Phantom of the Opera with the Angel's Song. I reviewed the first part here. That version has been out of print and sought by Phantom fans for a while but the good news is that the whole saga is now available as a trilogy and any serious lover of the Phantom's story will want to own this gorgeous collection. I confess, I fell in love with Ms. Stewart's Erik right from the beginning and in the final book, without giving anything away, let me just say that he is, here, a complicated man and musical genius whose madness may shock you but whose longing and love for Christine will break your heart. He is a great romantic who would do anything, anything possible to win her but whose obsession might be too much, too grown up, for a young girl to deal with.
This story is beautifully imagined and truly romantic and the author breathes new life into the characters of Louise Giry and Meg and Raoul. The Paris Opera House comes alive with all its workings and drama on stage and behind the scenes and in the rehearsal halls. Erik's grotto is a unique take on his lair and described in such detail you can practically see the candles flickering and hear the organ playing and Ms. Stewart has written Erik some lovely music, music that you can imagine Christine singing and captivating the jaded Opera audience.
Christine has grown, over the course of this trilogy, from the little orphan girl taken in by Madame Giry to an amazingly talented young woman who is trying to sort out her feelings for the man who has been her Angel, teacher and protector and who she may not be able to live with but knows she can't live without.
I've read many Phantom books and the ones I've read I've loved. I've loved each take on Erik and each author's vision for the life he might have led, after the Leroux ending. Ms. Stewart's Chanson is like the Gone With the Wind of Phantom fiction. It's a journey that takes you to some dark places but is also filled with hope and light. It may make you cry out "Oh No!" (and it probably will. Just warning you!) and it may make you weep all over the pages (or e-book). It may make you feel a lot of things, but most of all, it is a testament to love and a love story that never dies.

 (video from Youtube, a Phantom of the Opera fanfiction-based video created at the request of Swansong/Swansinger. Music by Nathan Allen Pinard; sung by Bonnie Anne Pinard)

Friday, December 6, 2013

Phantom / Phantom Give Away!!!!!

Here's some exciting news!!! As part of the Pagan Writers Press 21 Days of Solstice Event, Author Laura DeLuca  and I have teamed up to bring you a fabulous Solstice giveaway!  Laura and I met a few months back when I reviewed her fantastic novel, Phantom. I LOVED her character Justyn Patko who plays the Phantom in a high school production in the book. You can read my review here and below is the illustration I did based on the story.
Since that initial correspondence, Laura and I have become virtual friends and we especially bonded over our mutual love of The Phantom of the Opera. To celebrate the holidays, we decided to join forces and bring one lucky winner to the Point of No Return with an amazing Phantom giveaway!

Some of you know I have an Etsy shop called  Saturday Chick, where I create unique and beautiful Phantom inspired jewelry. For the blog hop, I've  designed an amazing, one-of-a-kind charm necklace! Check out the photos to see all the details!
In addition to the necklace, Author Laura DeLuca is also offering a signed copy of her great YA Thriller Phantom! You'll fall in love with Justyn just like I did!  To enter, just fill in the Rafflecopter form below. This giveaway will end on 12/21/13. The winner will be notified via email and will have 48 hours to reply. Thanks again to the sponsors for offering this fantastic prize.

 Buy Links: Amazon    Smashwords     Barnes & Noble

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Also be sure to check out all the other stops on the tour for more giveaways, book excerpts, and lots more holiday fun.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

"Sometimes Never, Sometimes Always" by Elissa Janine Hoole

Sometimes Never, Sometimes Always, by Elissa Janine Hoole, is filled with realistic characters and a thought-provoking story. It begins with The Three Best Words That Describe You, the first question on a survey making the rounds among Cassandra Randall's friends. She is at a loss as to how to answer, this, the first question... not to mention all the following ones. Cass is struggling to find her own identity as the non-religious member of a very fundamentalist religious family. Her best friend, Kayla, is leaving her behind in her wake of coolness and her brother, Eric, is harboring a secret that puts him in conflict his faith. Her family used to be kind of normal until a family tragedy brought them into the Joyful News fold that meets 3 times a week and maybe makes her parents and sister happy, but Cass is suffocating under their rules and intolerance.
Hoping to find her true self she decides to be open to new things, so when Kayla pushes her to fill in for a girl who did the layout for the student paper, but is currently in treatment for an eating disorder, she relents and takes it on, because it is a skill she possesses having worked on the Joyful News newsletter.
Then her English teacher requests the class follow Walt Whitman's example to "celebrate and sing themselves". One more thing Cass needs to deal with in trying to figure out who she is, really, on her own, outside the circle of friends and family. And, there's the boy, in the seat next to her in English class, Darin, who is funny and oddly appealing. Does he like her? Why would he?
Eric had given her $20.00 as a birthday present hoping she'll choose something she'd like rather than pick something out for her, so when Cass goes into the bookstore something unexpectedly takes her eye. A deck of Tarot cards. Are these what she needs to set her apart and make her someone unique? Someone interesting? Get a copy of Sometimes Never, Sometimes Always and follow Cassandra as she discovers more and more about herself in this engaging, addictive and highly recommended story!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

"Cobweb Empire" by Vera Nazarian

The Recommender was so excited about the sequel to Vera Nazarian's The Cobweb Bride that when I saw there was an indigogo campaign  to get it published, I had to kick something in (wish it was more!) and now I have just finished Cobweb Empire and it is epic! Ms. Nazarian is a truly magical writer. We pick up where Cobweb Bride ended and Percy, the smart and brave peasant girl, has become (sorry, spoilers for any who haven't read the first book!) Death's Champion and one of her first acts is to give her beloved grandmother the gift of final rest by uniting her death shadow with her body. She also ends the suffering of a pig who had been unsuccessfully butchered. Now, she is on a quest to find Death's intended along with a last few Cobweb Brides, the dead Infanta of the Realm, Grand Princess Claere Liguon and her murderer Vlau Fiomarre. They are accompanied by Lord Beltain Chidair, the dashing Black Knight and son of the nasty, undead ruler the Duke Ian Chidair (or Hoarfrost, as he's known). We also get an inside look at a kingdom, or, perhaps Queendom is a better description... which is ruled by a woman, Rumanar Avalais, who is so all powerful and so beautiful she is called by her subjects "Your Brilliance"! Is she as benevolent as she seems? And, she has taken Vlau Fiomarre's disgraced brother and father under her protection. To what end? We also get the POV of two aristocrats who had gone on a lark to Death's Kingdom along with their so called friend who, when they've been captured by Duke Hoarfrost's undead soldiers and thrown into a dungeon, seems to have allied herself with the dead duke! These are just a few of the events and characters you'll encounter on Percy's journey to find Death's lost love (and...perhaps find one of her own!). This is just a beautifully written and detailed series and highly recommended! I, for one, will be ready to join another indigogo campaign to get Cobweb Forest finished!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Dragonheart: "Made of Stars" by Kelley York

The Recommender is pretty picky. Usually, if a book doesn't grab me in the first couple of sentences... I move on. There are a LOT of books out there that do grab me... and I'll find myself wanting to keep reading even though there are cartoons to write and draw and working at the library and making Phantom jewelry and numerous other things, so, when I was approved by NetGalley for a recent title, I thought I'd check out the first couple of sentences. Next thing...I was half finished!  Made of Stars by Kelley York is a book that grabs you! It's the intriguing story of a half brother and sister whose father, a policeman, was basically involved with two women, one a long time girlfriend he had sort of broken up with, and the other, the woman he saw briefly after that. As Hunter says, their Dad ended up with neither woman and had two kids, instead.  From the time Ashlin and  Hunter were kids they've both spent the summer with each other at their father's home. They are very close and their alternating voices tell the story of their lives and of their friendship with Chance, a kid from the neighborhood in the Maine town where their father lives, who is around their age when they first meet him and seems like a cross between Huckleberry Finn and Peter Pan. He is charming and funny and insightful and a bit mysterious. He never seems to want to go home and they've never met his parents who are supposed to travel a lot. As a result, he becomes part of their family. Year after year, every summer,  the three are inseparable. Then, their dad is shot in the line of duty and needs time to recover. Two years go by before Hunter and Ashlin, now high school graduates, finally make it back to  spend time with their Dad and also to take a year off and decide what to do about college and ... they both want to reconnect with Chance. It's winter, now, instead of summer, and Chance doesn't just show up at the front door like in the past, seemingly psychically knowing when they've arrived. Too much time has gone by, and finding Chance isn't going to be easy. When they do finally find him...they realize there is something about their best friend that isn't quite right. As the story comes together, we learn about Chance's past along with Ash and Hunter. There are other secrets to uncover, things Hunter may have to face that he's been avoiding. Things even Ash doesn't suspect. Or does she? I won't give away any more of this moving coming-of-age story. Ms. York creates real characters you'll care about and Chance, himself, will break your heart. The Recommender says "Check this one out!" Try the first couple of sentences...

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Stranger in Paradise: "The Sultan's Favorite" by Anne Burnside

Romance, intrigue, murder... when you start with a hero like Erik you are bringing a lot of baggage to the table. There are a lot of loyal Phantom Phans out there who want authors to stay true to Erik's character and I want to say The Sultan's Favorite, by Anne Burnside, delivers! Erik is back working for an Eastern ruler, (remember the shah of Persia and those rosy hours of Mazenderan?),  this time a sultan , the ruler of the Ottoman empire. Erik has distanced himself from Paris and his loss of Christine to Raoul, though he still feels angry and hurt, and throws himself into his passion for architecture by designing the sultan a magnificent palace.
This sultan appreciates Erik, and accepts his quirks, and the mask he always wears and even his bad tempers, because he sees the genius behind it. Though their cultures clash, the sultan often tries to show his appreciation by offering Erik select girls from his harem. Which Erik disdainfully declines, often to the relief of the girls who cringe from his mask.
Things seem to be going smoothly, Erik getting along particularly well with the sultan's first wife, not so well with wife # 2. Then, surprise! The sultan is taking on a new wife, # 3! This is Alexandria, the widow of a friend whose kingdom he will now be ruling, and taking on this young woman will secure his place with the subjects of that kingdom.
Alexandria was the ruler's only wife and he adored her and educated her and never resorted to a harem or concubine, as he wanted only her by his side. The sultan develops a fondness for Alexandria, who then becomes the Sultan's Favorite!
Erik is tasked with working with Alexandria to design her suite at the new palace, something Erik does not relish. Or...does he? She is smart and lovely and... well read. She is also lonely and in need of a friend, someone who will appreciate her for her mind and not just her gorgeous body.
Ms. Burnside has created a world you can lose yourself in . I adored her Erik and the many sides of him she portrays in this lavish and sensual  novel. And Alexandria is every bit as captivating as Christine. There are alliances you never expected and surprises along the way. The Sultan's Favorite is a great addition for any Phan to add to their library, and one that might become one of your own favorites!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Skulduggery Pleasant, the Author, the Artist and the Very, Very Good Narrator

Working at the library I've checked probably thousands of things in and out and standing out amidst all those books and movies and magazines and what not... there were a series of books that grabbed me. The covers said "read me". The covers were delightfully animated looking and nicely designed and featured a rather dapper skeleton. This was Skulduggery Pleasant. But taking on a new series seemed daunting! My co-worker, Emily, suggested John and I listen to the audio-books. She said the narrator was amazing. We were going on a road trip and listening to a book seemed like a good idea to pass the time, something John normally doesn't agree to as he says it makes him drive off the road.
On our way to our destination we started listening and let me say, the narrator IS amazing!!!  His Skulduggery was exactly perfect! As was his Stephanie / Valkyrie and all the numerous other characters that make up the world created by fabulous Irish author Derek Landy. John and I were so addicted that we have been inter-library loaning (Thanks, Donna!) any of the series on audio we can get. I had to buy # 4, Dark no other library around seemed to have it. And WHO was this brilliant narrator? His name is Rupert Degas and he and his voice have been all over the place from acting, to voice overs, to  winning awards for his audiobook narrations! Here, listen to this snippet from Youtube (credit below) and see/hear for yourself!

(Rupert Degas reading from book 2 from Youtube: uploaded by DontGivinGaDanm )      
For some reason, there is a change in the narration of Skulduggery with some of the later books, but we aren't there yet, so, we'll see how that goes.
Back to the covers, they are the brilliant creations of illustrator Tom Percival. 
I am completely in love with his interpretation of Skulduggery (and with Rupert Degas's Skulduggery voice!). I have only one question... no t-shirts? No prints? I would love a Skulduggery shirt or even a watch! There's a market out here, guys!
Mr. Percival is SO good... it was a bit intimidating to add an illustration to this review, but since that is what I do with books I LOVE, below is my interpretation of Skulduggery, Tanith, Stephanie (perfect name for a super heroine!) and China Sorrows.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

"Streaks of Blue" by Jack Chaucer

"Streaks of Blue" by Jack Chaucer is an intriguing take on one of the darker aspects of our society. School shootings. It's sub-title is  How the Angels of Newtown Inspired One Girl to Save Her School. Nicole Janicek is 17. Her long, dark hair is highlighted with streaks of blue dye that is one of her distinguishing features. She loves hiking in the New Hampshire White Mountains with her best friend, Candace. They revere Cheryl Strayed , author of the memoir "Wild". On their last hike before the start of their senior year at High School, Nikki longs to camp out at the Lakes of the Clouds above the tree line even though it's not allowed. When a hut crew member shows up to warn them about what they're doing, Candace makes a deal with him to let Nikki stay if she spends the night in the hikers hut. He agrees, as it's hard to say no to the 6 foot tall, gorgeous girl.
Nikki spends the night looking up at the stars. That night...she has an odd dream. A little girl appears in her tent... the girl tells her that her name is Star. She asks Nikki to accompany her to her classroom which is outdoors under the stars. She notices an older boy, the girl tells him his name is Adam. Adam Upton. Nikki remembers him from elementary school where they used to be friends. Then the teacher turns to Nikki and asks her for her help. They tell her Adam is planning something bad. The teacher writes a figure on the chalkboard. 12:14. They tell her to bring Adam back before it's too late. Nikki asks for the address and is told Star will give her a note, so she'll remember. It's a blue sticky note with stars on it. It says 14th & Stardust.
She wakes up in her tent. What could the dream mean? She searches in her pack to find her notebook...and finds a baggie she doesn't remember. Cookies from her mom, with a note. Contained in her mother's note are the date 14th, and the word stardust.
 Was it just a dream? Or a premonition? Adam is a boy often referred to by other students as trailer-trash. His best friend is Thomas "Lee" Harvey an angry, sneering loser who identifies with the original Lee Harvey (Oswald). Are they planning something? Will she reach out to Adam? Despite  Candace's objections?
I won't give away too much of the story. While the subject matter might have been trite or exploitive in other hands, Mr. Chaucer treats it with sensitivity and his characters sympathetically. It's tense, moving and thought-provoking. Nikki is an amazingly strong, smart and brave young woman. She's a great, realistic role model for girls (or anyone!). Give this one a try!  Plus, this is just up on the author's website: "And remember, no matter how or where you buy “Streaks of Blue,” I’ll be donating half of the proceeds to the Newtown Memorial Fund. So here’s a chance to read my best novel yet AND help a worthy cause all at the same time!"

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Both Sides Now: "Hyde" by Laura DeLuca

This is the third (but we hope NOT last) of the theatre themed Dark Musicals books featuring everyone's favorite Goth hero, Justyn , make that LORD Justyn, Patko. This story begins with Justyn and Rebecca once again portraying the roles that brought them together...the Phantom and Christine. This time they are college students. After the final performance... Justyn, still in costume, surprises Becca with a proposal, which she, of course, accepts. Who wouldn't?
In order to save money for their off-campus apartment for their senior year at college, Becca and Justyn accept summer jobs starring in the musical "Hyde" at a dinner theatre in Cape May, New Jersey. Also along for the fun, and part of the cast, are their high school friends Carmen and Tom. Besides acting, they will also be earning extra income as wait-staff at local restaurants. With so much on their plate will the friends survive the summer?
As the leads in the play, and new to the cast, Justyn and Becca feel resentment from the more experienced, adult cast regulars. A couple of them are downright nasty. And, if that wasn't enough to deal with, there's also a theatre ghost, Grace Hamilton, the murdered bride of a doctor who originally owned the theatre. Plus, as they throw themselves into their roles and get ready for opening night, Justyn seems to be slowly identifying with the role he's taken on. There are also secrets and surprises, mysteries to solve, crimes committed and family issues to deal with. Will all this stress get to them? Grab a copy, or download one and follow our favorite couple as the curtain comes down on this addicting series!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Tell Tale Heart: "Mrs. Poe" by Lynn Cullen

Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen is a dark and sweepingly romantic fictionalized account of the life of Edger Allan Poe, his young wife, Virginia, and a woman poet, Frances Osgood, who may have meant more to Poe than just being a colleague.
As a kid, the Recommender read all of Edger Allan Poe's works I could get my hands on. Those stories stay with you, as do his poems of loss and longing. I didn't know much about his personal life... but thanks to this  gorgeously written and imagined book he comes alive as a grand, romantic and troubled genius. A man who married his 13 year old cousin when he was 26. The book is primarily about Frances Osgood, called Fanny,  who besides being a gifted poet and famous for her translation of "Puss in Boots", is also the mother of two girls who has been abandoned by her portrait painter husband and taken in by her friends, the Bartletts (the husband of this couple, John Bartlett, will go on to become the author of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations). Fanny is in dire need of earning her own income after her husband's desertion. As the book begins, she is making the rounds of publishers hoping to sell some of her poetry, but a new fad is taking the New York literary scene by storm. Everyone, it seems, is mad for Mr. Poe's "The Raven". Fanny is advised by a publisher to write a scary story or verse geared toward the ladies.
As for Poe, he is the rock star of 1840s New York and everyone who's anyone wants him at their event or salon.  As it happens, Fanny is invited to attend a salon where all the literary notables gather (including Horace Greeley, Walt Whitman, John James Audubon and many others) and where Poe is to make an appearance. Which he does...with the now 23 year old Virginia. We will learn more about the Poes as Edger and Fanny become acquainted and realize they may have much in common, and then Virginia seemingly reaches out to befriend Fanny as well. What can it all mean? I won't give away any of the pleasure or mystery of reading this addicting story for yourself.
The author vividly recreates the New York of the 1840s with all its sights and sounds and smells. In that, it reminds me of my all time favorite 1800s New York book, Time and Again, by Jack Finney, although that book is pure fantasy and Mrs. Poe is filled with all the riches, and gossip and celebrities of that bygone era and also depicts the poverty and illness that caused so many early deaths and in the author's afterward, you will learn what became of all our leading players. I found this book unforgettably haunting and one that stayed with me for days after reading it. If you want to lose yourself in another time and place and become wrapped up in the drama of the life of literary New York and the characters who populated it  then look no further. Mrs. Poe is a treasure and one you'll want to reread and research and remember.

(from mactubesteak's channel on Youtube: Jeff Buckley performing Poe's "Ulalume")

Sunday, July 28, 2013

"Fangirl" by Rainbow Rowell

(cute, cute cover!!!)
If you've ever read or written fan fiction and you know when an author hasn't done with her/his characters all that they could have... then the absolutely delightful Fangirl is for you.  Cather and Wren are 18 year old identical twin sisters. They spent a good part of their teen years writing fan fiction based on the beloved Harry Potter-esque characters created by author Gemma  T. Leslie about the orphan Simon Snow and his room-mate and sometime nemesis Baz (short for Tyrannus Basilton Pitch) and their adventures at the School of Magicks. There have been 7 blockbuster bestsellers in the series and number 8, the final book, is forthcoming.
The twins are starting their first year at college and...suddenly, Wren wants to do things differently. She has applied to live in a different dorm, has a room-mate all picked out and is leaving the Simon Snow stories behind.
Cather is hurt and confused and not ready to abandon the hordes of fans she has following her take on Simon and Baz, say 35,000 of them, and they comment and encourage her to keep going, but can she do it without her sister's support? She's trying to finish her S & B epic before the release of the final book and will she be able to do it here, in a new place, with a new and somewhat grumpy room-mate, and her tall, skinny, very talkative and, for Cath, overly friendly boyfriend Levi. 
(Let me just say, right here, in the zillions of books I've read over the years I've found that women authors can write believable guy characters because they create the kind of men that women like. And Levi is a very, very likable guy!).
Ms. Rowell is such an amazing writer she has you completely believing in the reality of the bestselling Simon Snow and Cath's use of the characters and the differences in their approaches is sheer genius. Cath is SO good at immersing herself in Simon and Baz and her passion for her writing is so all consuming that the reader, well, this reader, felt herself joining Cath's fanbase!
The Recommender LOVED Fangirl and as someone who reads "Phantom" fan fiction (and has written the occasional short story based on Phantom!) I thought it treated fan fiction affectionately and with a lot of respect. I've read some really great books this year as you can tell by the reviews and this is one of my new favorites! It's a wonderful book, and works on several levels, the fan fiction, the college story, the home issues with a Dad who has raised them on his own and... a love story. It doesn't come out until September... so add it to your Amazon wish list, place your order at the local bookstore, or put a hold on it at your library. You'll be very glad you did!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Life in the Fast Lane: "The Corner of Bitter and Sweet" by Robin Palmer

The fantastic "The Corner of Bitter and Sweet" by Robin Palmer is so clued in to the behind the scenes life of a former top TV star, Janie Jackson and her teen age daughter, Annabelle, it reads like a memoir.  Janie walked away from a hit TV show to pursue her art and a movie career which tanked with 3rd rate comedies. She drinks, a LOT, and takes pills and lives by a whole library's worth of self-help and New Age feel good books which she can quote whenever the need arises.
Annabelle narrates her traumatic life story and her attempts at normalcy and her hope that some day maybe her mother will start being a breakfast serving, cookie baking type of Mom instead of having her mug shot for DUI plastered all over the gossip mags and show biz sites, which is where our story begins. In the Santa Monica Police Station with Annabelle and her mother's lawyer and family best friend, Ben, waiting to bail her out.  What happens to Annabelle as she tries to make sense of all the drama makes for one of the most insightful, funny and poignant books of the year.

 The author, Ms. Palmer, worked in Hollywood and the TV industry for 10 years and that knowledge pays off through Annabelle's insiders look at the world she lives in. The world of  Hollywood stars and has-beens, of the exclusive school where her vapid friends fill their days with gossip, eating disorders and shopping and where she tries to fit in, but once her cache of having a superstar mom seems to have vanished... she finds those friends avoiding her.

Will Annabelle survive the craziness of living life in her mother's spotlight? She does have one thing of her own that helps to keep her sane, (and not the hilarious Play Doh huffing and Barbie head sniffing she retreats to when things get overwhelming). She's a photographer. One with her own personal POV. Will that be enough to save her? Grab a copy and find out, because this is a book you'll want to own, and re-read and quote from, it's that good!!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Devil You Know: "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" by April Genevieve Tucholke

Violet lives alone with her brother, Luke, in a huge, rambling old mansion overlooking the sea called Citizen Kane, or the Citizen, for short. Their grandmother Freddie, whose house it was, had died several years before, but her spirit is ever present in the d├ęcor and the portraits of her that cover the walls. Their parents, artists, have gone to Europe, leaving them to fend for themselves with their ever decreasing fortune. As Violet puts it "They loved us...but they loved art more".
Luke and Violet are artists, too, but have lately lacked the inspiration to paint. Instead, they pass the summer with their neighbor, the lovely, languid Sunshine, drinking iced tea on her porch and meandering to town and back. Luke and Sunshine flirt. Luke also sees a girl in town. It's all casual and dreamy and Violet is an enchanting, smart and insightful narrator. A girl you could spend all day (and 368 pages!) with. She has a keen sense of herself, her past and everything around her. She dresses in Freddie's vintage clothes and Freddie's words of wisdom and warnings about life and being wary of the devil are an ever present part of Violet's imagination.
The dwindling fortune is a worry so Violet decides to take matters into her own hands and rent the Citizen's guest house. She puts up a notice in town... and almost instantly a car drives up, a new, old car, and a boy gets out. A lean, tan, dark haired, crooked smiling boy whose face Violet likes on sight.
He is River. River West. And he is there to rent the guest house and change everyone's lives and shake things up and ... let us pause, here, because this is a book where I didn't know what was going to happen as I was fortunate enough to read a Netgalley review edition, so I am not going to give anything away. I completely fell in love with Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea! It is compelling, and romantic and... down right scary! It is a book you know you are going to like by the end of the first sentence and it is a very special author that can draw you into her world and immerse you in her story so easily. A sequel is coming in 2014. I can't wait!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Reality Ends Here by Alison Gaylin

The reality show that is at the heart of the terrific new YA book Reality Ends Here by Alison Gaylin could actually be the sort of guilty pleasure  program you'd tune in to. The blended family of  6 year old sextuplets, their older sister Estella, and their Brady Bunch Mom and Dad is called Seven is Heaven. Every aspect of their life is filmed and has been since they were born. They are wildly popular, much to Estella's chagrin, because every one of her most embarrassing moments have been filmed, TiVoed, blogged about and commented on.
Not only that, her wardrobe has been chosen strictly by what looks good on TV, she's got a personal bodyguard, and the directors often mess with reality by creating scenarios that will work on TV like Estella's interaction with her red-headed camera savvy siblings, plus, much of what they eat is supplied by sponsors.
This book is often hilarious and at times touching and also has some drama. You buy into the premise and what someone involved in a reality show might have to deal with behind the fame and the cameras. The Recommender does not like to spoil surprises or ruin the fun of this very entertaining book, so I'll just mention you will meet some former child stars who could fill in for any former child star you can name...including a rather dreamy boy band member.
Reality Ends Here is engaging right from the start and would be a perfect book for summer or make that anytime you need a break to escape from your own reality!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Love Lift Us Up Where We Belong: "Chanson de l'Ange" by Paisley Swan Stewart

Chanson de l'Ange : Book One: The Bleeding Rose is a lush, romantic reinterpretation of  The Phantom of the Opera. In Ms. Stewart's version Erik hears a voice, from far below in the cellars, he is riveted by it. It is amazingly beautiful and he is haunted by it until he finally discovers who this heavenly instrument belongs to. A sad and lonely little girl, recently orphaned and taken in by the Ballet Mistress, Madame Louise Giry to train as a ballerina and chorus girl and be raised by her alongside her own daughter, Meg. It is, of course, the young Christine.
Erik is drawn to her. He keeps watch over her and hears her prayers to her father from behind the enormous two way mirror that hangs in her room. She begs her father not to leave her alone, but to send her the Angel of Music he promised her.
Angel of Music? Despite his cynicism, Erik's heart is touched. Here is a challenge. A project! Something to distract him from his isolation living 5 stories below the Opera House, where, although he has his music and all the things anyone could need... he doesn't have someone to care for and to care for him.
He goes to Madame Giry, his one friend at the Opera, and the one who brought him there as a boy when she was a young girl. He wants to provide for Christine. He wants to be her mentor, musically, and arrange to give her voice lessons, although, he does not want his masked visage to frighten her, he decides to teach her from the chamber behind the mirror.
In this story, Erik is a commanding figure, impeccably dressed, a musical genius and an artist, condemned by his face to live with that genius unrecognized. Christine is a lovely, warm and talented girl who grows to be a stunningly beautiful woman. And, of course, there is the dashingly handsome Raoul reaching out to the girl he knew by the seaside, who stole his heart back then and never let it go.
Without giving away any of the drama, let me say that Ms. Stewart has brought her Erik and Christine to life in a complicated dance of love and trust and learning that sometimes you can't always get what you paraphrase the Rolling Stones, no matter how much you want it.
The author has said that Chanson de l'Ange will be republished as a trilogy and will wrap up, hopefully, what took place in this addictive saga. I will be waiting and if you haven't had a chance to read the one volume edition, if you love the Phantom as much as I do, you'll want to pre-order this series or put it on hold at your local library and then lose yourself in this dark, passionate and beautifully realized world!
There is also a companion musical CD in the works:
Chanson de l'Ange: Original Music Inspired by The Phantom of the Opera

Monday, June 17, 2013

Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall

9 year old Starla Claudelle is smart and outspoken and sticks up for even a girl in the neighborhood she doesn't like. Mamie (her grandmother) sees it differently, though, she's always getting on Starla to act like a lady and not to sass back and giving her restrictions, like she can't go to the 4th of July picnic and fireworks. Living with Mamie is cramping her style. Her Daddy's working on an oil rig and is hardly ever home and her mother Lucinda, or Lulu as she now wants to be called, had taken off for Nashville when Starla was still a baby, so she could get her big country music career going.
There's a lot going on in the news, too, this summer of 1963, what with all the civil rights coverage and the unfairness of things, it seems to Starla, but Mamie says the colored people like things the way they are with separate drinking fountains and bathrooms and whatnot.
Missing out on the July 4th festivities and feeling unloved Starla decides to run away and find her mother, probably now famous, since Starla found a record Lulu had once sent her and Mamie had thrown in the trash.
 Starla packs her bag and sets off for Nashville on a hot, hot day. Finally, she accepts a ride from Eula, a nice African American woman driving a beat up old truck who says she'll help her and who turns out to have a white baby sleeping in a basket also along for the ride.
So begins this funny, thoughtful and sometimes frightening journey that opens Starla's eyes to the world around her and what it is exactly that makes a family. "Whistling Past the Graveyard" could very well sit on your shelf along side "To Kill a Mockingbird", "The Secret Life of Bees" and "Huckleberry Finn". Starla's definitely good company and someone you can enjoy spending a hot summer afternoon (or anytime!) with as she takes you on this literary road trip!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

In Tune: "Eleanor & Park" by Rainbow Rowell

Fictional love stories range from the classics to those books with cowboys or Scottish guys in kilts on the covers and hey...who's to say what's right or wrong when it comes to love or who those characters should fall in love with?
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell is a very believable love story, set in the 80's,  about two people who seem to have nothing at all in common until fate steps in and makes them share a bus seat.

Eleanor is a curvy, red haired girl who is starting high school in a new place. She dresses differently, doesn't look like a super model and just doesn't fit in or so the kids on the school bus seem to think and your heart  breaks for her as she is shunned by kids seat after seat until there is just one space available... next to a surly half-Korean boy who moves away from her and closer to the window as she sits down. The kids at the back of the bus hoot and ridicule her and she tries to ignore it and ignore the way she's treated in gym or the halls. Her home life is, if anything, worse than school and worse than you can even imagine. She shares a narrow bunk-bed with a sister and younger siblings sleep on the floor. Her Mom is beautiful but never there for her or the kids as she cowers or placates her nasty loser of a husband. He is a bully and someone the author makes you dread and fear for Eleanor throughout this story.
Such is Eleanor's life. She notices the boy, now her bus seat-mate, reading comics day after day. And he notices her trying to read, he begins slowing down and leaving the pages open so she can read them, too. One day, he leaves a comic for her to borrow. From borrowing comics they progress to music and poor Eleanor can only dream of hearing the bands she's read about. She has written band names on her notebooks. The boy, whose name is Park, begins to make her cassettes. Is there anything sweeter than having a boy make you a mix-tape of the music that's close to his heart? They bond and Park begins to see the real Eleanor, a warm, caring girl with a quick mind who is capable of sarcasm and wit and is someone who is just fun to be with. She gets Park. Gets that he's different, too.
I won't spoil the pleasure of reading this beautifully written story by giving away too much because the Recommender hates going into a book with too much information. I like surprises! And so do you, I bet! So you'll have to buy it or borrow it from your library. Then be prepared to laugh... and cry. And clutch your book and yell "NO"! And fall in love with Eleanor and Park as they, slowly, fall for each other.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

My Love Affair With NetGalley!

Sometimes dreams do come true! When I was a kid and went to see 101 Dalmations 101 times... who would ever have thought it possible that one day you might be able to actually OWN a copy of it and watch it at home in your own living room??? VCRs were a dream come true back in the day.
And for a reader, book reviewer and librarian whose life is pretty much ALL about reading and recommending... when my librarian daughter told me about NetGalley, I was "WHAT???? This sounds like the best thing ever!!!!!!" . An online service that allows you to choose the titles, if approved by the publishers, of new and upcoming titles that you hope you'll love and review and recommend like crazy!!!!
Some of my very favorite new titles were NetGalley finds that uploaded to my Kindle and now have found their way to our patrons either on the shelves or through our downloadable service! It is a win/win for everyone!
Hooray for NetGalley and the wonderful staff who keep those suggestions coming! I don't review every title I read because the Militant Recommender tries to review a book a week and they have to be the best of the best...but that doesn't mean those titles don't get recommended at the library. They do! And to friends and other librarians and sometimes, if I can do it in between everything else, on Goodreads!
So, NetGalley, I LOVE you! Thanks to you I read "Code Name Verity", "Hawk Quest", "Cobweb Bride", "Break My Heart 1,000 Times" and "Fangirl" to name a very few of the outstanding works I've read and raved about. I am taking the Netgalley "Wellness" Pledge which I hope will keep me on my toes as far as posting reviews! Plus access to webinars!  If you are a librarian, book store staff or a reviewer, then check out the wonder that is NetGalley!!!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Summer Secrets: "On Little Wings" by Regina Sirois

Jennifer is 16. She lives a happy life with her parents in Nebraska. She is surrounded by wheat fields and has the golden coloring of the waving grains...according to her mother, and a nose full of freckles. She has a beautiful and smart friend, Cleo, who is almost like a sister, as Jennifer is an only child. As are both Jennifer's parents.
One day, while leafing through an old paperback she comes across a photo stuck in its pages. She loosens it and pulls it out and feels like she's looking at a skewed version of herself. A golden girl in a ballet leotard leaning against a car. With a nose full of freckles.
She shows the photo to her parents, and...World War III! The photo is Jennifer's Aunt Sarah! Here she thought she didn't have any relatives. Her mother said she was an only child, and she had a beautiful big sister she never spoke of except now she is screaming and yelling things about Sarah like "She killed my mother!" Jennifer retreats to Cleo's and fills her in. "You have to call her!" Cleo insists and after scanning through the Sarah Dyers (her mother's maiden name) and narrows it down to one who lives in Smithport, Maine. Cleo gives her some privacy and Jennifer calls. A woman answers. They connect! 
After a lot of argument from her mother, Jennifer buys her own ticket to go an meet her only other relative. Sarah turns out to be the most awesome relative a girl could have. She lives on the beach, has been a teacher for years and helps out her neighbor's very bright kids including Nathan, a brooding, handsome teen boy who spends time at Sarah's on a nightly basis reciting, quoting and even writing poems, essays, and whatever has words with meaning that will launch a discussion on that given evening. It's a world that Jennifer finds more and more intriguing as she uncovers her family secrets and learns her heritage bit by bit in this charming coming of age novel. If you are looking for a perfect summer book then you couldn't go too far wrong taking along On Little Wings in your beach bag!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Into the Woods: "Some Kind of Fairy Tale" by Graham Joyce

Some Kind of Fairy Tale  by Graham Joyce is a book that makes you
believe in fairies... or, at least in the existence of some unusual beings, at any rate. It flawlessly blends a missing person mystery, the investigation into that disappearance, and the return of a girl who may have been gone 20 years but looks the same age she was when she vanished.
It alternates in viewpoints between Tara, the lost girl, her brother Peter, now father of a large family, her parents, her teen-age boyfriend, now also much older and the therapist given the job of deciphering the whole mixed bag of truth, lies, reality and fantasy. We won't give all the details away.
The descriptions of the the Outwoods, the site of Tara's disappearance and the Bluebell fields are so vivid you can practically smell them and the land where she claims to have spent what she thought was six months... is also exquisitely brought to life... and quite a different sort of life it is. Again, we will leave it to you to be surprised and enchanted (or possibly disturbed) by this other world in a story that will keep you up reading till the end... the Recommender's favorite kind of book!
bluebell fields from google images

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Love and Death: The Cobweb Bride by Vera Nazarian

 The Cobweb Bride by Vera Nazarian is a haunting, beautifully written story that reads like a legend, it is so well told. From the first pages the author weaves a spell that draws the reader into the world she has created.
It is an imaginary European Renaissance world of cold, ice and snow. In the Kingdom of Lethe, one of three kingdoms of the Imperial Realm, an old queen lays dying. Her family in attendance notice a dark shadowy figure. It is Death in the guise of a man, a Spaniard, he moves away from the queen and proclaims he has come for his Cobweb Bride and will take no others until he has her by his side. In other one will die until he finds her.
This has dire consequences for those, like the queen, suspended in their final moments...and even worse for those, like the knights and soldiers involved in battle between two warring Dukes, Duke Hoarfrost and Duke Goraque who bludgeon and strike each other to the death, hacking off arms, legs and even heads!...and yet, none of the mortally wounded fall, they keep fighting, including a knight who receives a final blow from Hoarfrost, himself, who then rises and spears the Duke in the back... killing him, and sending him through the ice of a lake from which he returns, one of the new undead, whom his brave son, Beltain, must now serve.

Meanwhile, another old woman is waiting to meet her end in the little village of Oarclaven. The grandmother of the Aryen clan. One of her three granddaughters, Persephone (called Percy), sees a dark shadow waiting by the bedside. When she mentions it to her mother she angrily demands Percy leave the house.

And in another part of the kingdom, in the Silver Court, the daughter of the Emperor, Claere Liguon, the Infanta, is about to turn 16, and everyone but everyone is at court to celebrate. She is about to receive a gift that will change her life...forever.

Back to the dying queen. The prince issues a proclamation requesting every family in the kingdom with daughters of a marriageable age, must send one to be the possible Cobweb Bride and to seek Death in his keep in the Northern Forests of the realm. Percy chooses to sacrifice herself and go forth in quest of Death's domain, as she knows she is her mother's least favorite daughter, being a plain girl and not a great beauty like her sisters.

Then, there is Death, himself, the mysterious presence, both shadow and man. His desire for the mystery woman has brought the known world to a halt and all its inhabitants to become momentarily immortal... a state of being abhorrent to some... but deeply coveted by others.

Thus begins this captivating story (plus it has a stunningly beautiful cover!) , which is the first of a trilogy. I loved the author's gorgeous imagery and her wonderfully realized characters who come to life, or unlife, on the page and thoroughly involve you in their destinies.   I can't wait to return to this world in the next two books!