Sunday, December 17, 2017

Secrets and Lies: "Emma in the Night" by Wendy Walker

Wow! This book kept the Recommender up reading till all hours! Wendy Walker's Emma in the Night is so good, and so compelling and is a seriously great read! It is a chilling look into the lives of two sisters living with their self absorbed mother and  begins with Cassandra, the younger sister informing us that one night, 3 years ago, she and Emma both disappeared.
What happened to the girls that night will be revealed in alternating chapters told by Cassandra and Dr. Abigail Winter, a forensic psychologist with the FBI, who had been on the investigative team looking into the girls' disappearance.
As we slowly unravel the layers of domestic drama and psychological games that made up much of the sisters' lives before they went missing we begin to realize there may have been a good reason, initially, for their departure that night.
Let me just say that I have a no spoiler policy of reviewing and recommending so no more details except to say this is a book that I hadn't had any advance notice of and saw it in NetGalley's title list and when I started looking at it to see what is was about... it immediately grabbed me! If you're anything like the Recommender, it will grab you, too! Thank you, NetGalley! Highly recommended!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

You've Got a Friend: "Prelude: Allegro" by J.M. Smith

J.M. Smith is the author of one of my very favorite Phantom books, The Secret Door, so the Recommender was thrilled and excited to get a brand new book by J.M.
Prelude: Allegro takes us back to the beginning of a story that we get glimpses of in the Gerard Butler version of the musical, that of how Erik and Madame Giry became acquainted.
Annie Laramie is a 12 year old girl living in bondage to a cruel step-father. One night she sneaks out and makes her way to the Gypsy fair where she pays her way into the tent housing The Devil's Child who, it turns out, is a boy not much older than her, who is caged and  treated cruelly by the gypsies exhibiting him for a facial deformity that makes women faint or scream and brings in the cash for the Gypsies. Annie is shocked by this mistreatment and astonished that this boy possesses the singing voice of an angel.
Returning to the fair she sets out to befriend him. Suspicious of anyone, this tall, thin boy, has never known friendship or affection and is distrustful of Annie's motives. What follows is the touching and gradual relationship and true friendship that blossoms between them. How these two escape from their circumstances to lead a life that we know will eventually bring them to the Paris Opera House is a story you will want to follow as it is beautifully imagined and the first chapter in a new series I will be looking forward to.
Not Andrew Lloyd Webber, but this James Taylor classic perfectly illustrates the relationship of Erik and Annie in this story (to me, anyway!)! Thank you, Youtube!


Sunday, November 12, 2017

"The Romance Reader's Guide to Life" by Sharon Pywell

The Romance Reader's Guide to Life will take you into the lives of  the Terhune family, especially that of the sisters Naeve and Lilly, their little sister Jane and their older brother Snyder.
 In 1936,  when Naeve is eleven, she is offered an opportunity that will change her life. Snyder turns down a request from an older neighbor, Mrs. Daniels, to read to her. Instead, Naeve  jumps at the chance. She will be paid a nominal amount, but being able to get her hands on some of the more enticing titles in Mrs. Daniels library makes it worth her time and before long the two of them have become companions enjoying everything from the Odyssey to articles in magazines. But Neave has her eye on the romance titles and sneaks away the book that will come to be something of a bible to her, The Pirate Lover.
Here, the book takes a delightful turn as The Pirate Lover sweeps Neave  off on a romantic adventure and the story will now be told in alternating chapters with that of the Terhune sisters. We follow the tale of the very beautiful, but poor, Electra Gates and eventually to the dashing and somewhat piratical, Basil Le Cherche, and to Neave's channeling of the lessons she learns from its pages.
As the sisters mature there will be great achievements in their lives, and some shocking, dark moments. There is a wonderful, noble dog introduced. It is also a ghost story of sorts. And the love story of Electra and Basil. Who wouldn't do well to follow the lessons of the Pirate Lover?
If you are looking for a book to keep you engaged, entertained and even gasping in suspense... then grab a copy of Ms. Pywell's The Romance Reader's Guide to Life!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

After the Ball: "Midnight Dance" by Nikki Katz

12 girls, all similar in visage, like sisters, train in a special academy, the Grande Teatro, to dance and be graceful and ever mindful and respectful of their dashing, handsome Master. They even bore the special tattoo of  his elite chosen ones.
Penelope, or Penny as she prefers to be called, is beautiful and gifted, and yet, she feels different than her "sisters". Not as engaged in catching the Master's eye, though he always seems to be watching her. Much to the consternation of Bianca, who is flawless at everything she does, and jealous of the Master's attention to Penny.
And what of Cricket, the attractive kitchen boy, who brings Penny special treats while some of her sisters advise her that they must watch their weight.
Penny also suffers from mysterious, debilitating  headaches which necessitate her vising her grandfather for help.
What is the story behind this special school with all its rules, and its handsome, but controlling Master? Penny slowly tries to uncover its secrets and will take you, the reader, along with her as she makes some unsettling discoveries in Ms. Katz's compelling Midnight Dance which was described in the blurbs as a combination of The Twelve Dancing Princesses and Phantom of the Opera. What could be better?

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Thorns and Roses: "RoseBlood" by A. G. Howard

Rune has dark secrets. And visions she can't quite account for. Her beloved father died and her mother has decided to send her to a boarding school in the French countryside called RoseBlood. Her Aunt Charlotte, a wealthy former prima ballerina, has pulled some strings to get her niece a spot at this exclusive school. Her generous donations to its running have allowed Rune to bypass others on the waiting list for acceptance.

Rune also has a beautiful voice and the ability to sing anything she hears. This can be a problem, as she has to contain herself so she doesn't burst into song at inopportune moments. RoseBlood is a place that may nurture her talents, if she can survive among the other girls living there, some of whom view her with suspicion. And what of the tales of a mysterious Phantom who may haunt the halls of the building. Could it be the Phantom of the Opera? RoseBlood was designed in the 18th century by a Parisian emperor and supposedly it is where the Phantom myth originated, the one made famous in Gaston Leroux's novel. Is this Phantom man or myth?

As the limousine her Aunt sent, to retrieve her and her mother from the airport and deliver them to the school, enters the grounds, Rune's eye is caught by a figure, a gardener perhaps, working in an overgrown rose garden. There is something about him that seems familiar, his copper eyes, she shouldn't be able to make them out from that distance, and yet, they catch her gaze. His face is half covered by a hood. From what she sees, she can tell he is not much older than herself. Why does she feel so drawn to someone she's never seen before?

Ms. Howard's RoseBlood is a very unusual twist on the Phantom of the Opera but a fascinating and compelling one, none the less. If you are looking for  something different to  keep you up reading this Halloween season (or, well, anytime!), give Roseblood a chance. Militantly recommended! Also, this book has an exquisite cover by Nathalia SuelleN. One of my all time favorite covers!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Magic is Afoot: "A Green and Ancient Light" by Frederic S Durbin

A Green and Ancient Light is one of the most exquisitely beautiful and magical books that I've read in a while. The narrator looks back at a summer when he was nine and he is sent away to stay with his grandmother. He is sent by his parents because war rages in some unspecified part of the world and his father is off fighting it. They want a peaceful summer for their son and the chance to know a relative he hasn't met before.
This boy is smart and curious. He loves his parents and little sister and misses them terribly but as he gets to know his grandmother, an older woman full of surprises, she opens up his world beyond the charming seaside village where she resides.
For instance, you should never let your neighbors know what you are planning to grow in your garden. Everyone knows everyone's business so sometimes you have to keep some things secret. Like exploring the woods beyond his grandmother's house.
One night, in early summer, the boy  and his grandmother are awakened by someone rapping at the door. After telling him to stay where he was, she goes to investigate and finds it to be someone she knows. Together, she and this dark stranger step into the garden, the boy noticing it was odd that his very proper grandmother was entertaining this person in her night-clothes.

Not long after, she returns and tells him to dress quickly. She gives him instructions on certain items to fetch and she gathers them together and then tells him they are going to "the grove of monsters". The man who had visited them was an old friend. He had gone on ahead. Where they are headed will transform the narrator's perceptions of the world and open it to things he never dreamed of as Mr. Durbin takes the reader off on a most wondrous and memorable adventure.

Highly recommended! Two of my co-workers at the library had also read this captivating book and all of us loved it and recommend it. So 3 thumbs up from Librarians, as well!

This song captures a certain mystery that is shared by this lovely book. Buffy St. Marie singing the words of Leonard Cohen.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

On the Beach: "Grief Cottage" by Gail Godwin

Eleven year old Marcus Harshaw suddenly finds himself orphaned after his mother never returns from fetching them a pizza for dinner. After a stint in foster care he is sent to live with his only relative, his Great Aunt Charlotte, an artist, who lives in a beach house on a South Carolina island.
Beautifully told in Marcus's words as he looks back at this new life on the beach,  a place that sounds so perfect, that the Recommender is ready to relocate!  Marcus explores the island and meets some of the locals including a very charming gentleman who is a close friend of  his Aunt's.
Before Marcus's arrival, Aunt Charlotte had lived a solitary existence and Marcus wonders how he will fit into her home life as she often barricades herself in her studio coming out only for more wine, the occasional banana or cup of yogurt.
He worries that she may tire of him and yet, all who meet him are impressed by his intelligence and his open and inquisitive nature.
Almost at once, Marcus is sent off to walk the beach, and to eventually make the acquaintance of Grief Cottage, a derelict beach shack that was long ago the scene of a tragedy during a hurricane, and the subject of so many of his Aunt's paintings that it helped to pay her bills.
Drawn to the cottage after reading its history about an un-named family that perished during that storm, one of whom was a teenage boy, Marcus believes he senses a presence there, perhaps the ghost of the boy. Is this a menacing spirit? Or one trying to connect with him, another boy, who may be able to help him.
Whether this ghost boy is real or something Marcus imagines is only one aspect of this appealing story. If you are looking for something more thoughtful to read on vacation than the usual summer fluff, look no further than Ms. Godwin's Grief Cottage.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Long, Strange Trip: "The White Road" by Sarah Lotz

Simon Newman and his American friend and roommate, Thierry, are trying to build up their website Journey to the Darkside, a site that attracts viewers who want to see such sensational posts as images and video of dead bodies that no one has filmed before, like some students who died in an infamous cave in Wales.
Researching spelunker sites, Simon finds a guide who has been to these caves and knows where the bodies are buried, so to speak. Contacting him they arrange a clandestine meeting and exploration of the caves.
When Simon makes the trip and meets the guide, a seemingly derelict individual named Ed, he almost thinks about turning back. After all, he had survived a climbing fall that put him in the hospital for weeks. Did he want to risk his life again?
What happens in the caverns stays in the caverns... or does it? How does Simon go from the depths of the earth to scaling the most intimidating mountain in the world? You will have to follow his journey on The White Road,  yourself, to uncover these and other mysteries in author Sarah Lotz's addictively un-putdownable new novel.
 Ms. Lotz knows her stuff, too, as she brings to these diverse places a thrilling and breathtaking reality.
The Recommender is a big fan of the Three and Day Four (see these titles previously reviewed here) and the White Road is right up there with these memorable titles. Thank you to NetGalley for the DRC!

And a song that is kind of apt for certain parts of this story! Thank you Youtube, Tammi Terrell and Marvin Gaye:

Friday, May 5, 2017

Day for Night: South Pole Station by Ashley Shelby

Ashley Shelby's captivating South Pole Station may have been written before the current political "climate" but it will be released into it and has a lot to say about science, climate change and the people who winter over in the furthest, coldest corner of the world proving it exists...or, in some cases, that it doesn't.
South Pole Station is a place you have to pass a psychological test before being allowed to spend time there. Cooper Gosling, a former art prodigy, hopes to find inspiration in the place she has heard about all her life. Her father, fascinated by arctic explorers, brought up Cooper, her twin brother and their sister on the survival stories of those expeditions.
 A family tragedy propels Cooper into applying for a grant from the National Science Foundation’s Artists & Writers Program. This grant will take her far from home and away from her problems there and into the midst of a dynamic group of South Pole residents or Polies, that includes scientists, carpenters, engineers, cooks and a lifestyle lived on the edge.
Will Cooper be inspired by the men who lived and died making their way to this isolated spot? Will she be accepted by the teams inhabiting the Station? Find out for yourself in this smart, funny and completely original story that will keep you reading, laughing and even yelling "What! Oh no!" at your kindle. This might very well be the Recommender's favorite book of the year! 5 stars! Thank you, NetGalley, for the DRC!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Stand Together : "The Divide" by Jolina Petersheim

So, if you have read Jolina Petersheim's beautifully written story The Alliance, then you know that Leora, Jabil and the rest of the Mennonite community had been trying to survive in the aftermath of an EMP, a disaster that destroys all technology and the dependence our society has on it. When the farm they lived was under attack by armed looters, they are forced to flee.

The Mennonites are pacifists and don't believe in taking up arms, but the Englischers or outsiders, such as Moses, the pilot whose plane had crashed in their midst, and a couple of others, have stayed behind to try to hold back this assault on the community's perimeter. Leora and Moses have come to care deeply for each other and yet Moses sends her out of harms way and into the keeping of Jabil, the man who also loves Leora.

While the community rebuilds and regroups, Leora waits for some word of Moses, who unbeknownst to her, has been wounded, and cared for by Sal, a woman with a questionable past that Leora had once helped and who had hidden during the fight and came to his aid.

As time passes, Jabil and Leora grow closer, though her heart still belongs to Moses, who, now healed, has joined a local militia based at a shut down airport. How these two and their friends and family face this new and perilous world will keep you reading and hoping for their survival.

I have to say, Jabil Snyder is such a commendable and caring man that while I found myself hoping for Leora and Moses to reunite, my heart also ached for Jabil. I can't recommend these books enough. 5 stars. A BIG Thank You to Edelweiss for granting me the DRCs!
The Nickleback song below this illustration seemed to capture the spirit of this story! Thank you Youtube!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

End of the World as We Know It: The Alliance by Jolina Petersheim

This is a book that seemed to come out of nowhere and quickly became one of the Recommender's favorites.  I've read a lot of post apocalyptic fiction, some of it amazing and plausible and Jolina Petersheim's The Alliance is one of the most original and captivating in this category. Although, it is so good it hardly seems fair to limit it that way. If you're looking for a good story with memorable  characters that you'll care about... then, look no further!
A small plane crashes on the grounds of an Old Order Mennonite community in Montana . The pilot, Moses Hughes, is rescued by members of the community and cared for by Leora Ebersole, a young woman who lives with her grandmother, and younger brother, Seth, and sister Anna who is mentally challenged.
As Moses heals, Leora and the others begin to understand that something has happened outside the community. Something big. There's no electricity at the Field to Table, the community's bulk food store and restaurant. Customers' cars won't start and none of their cell phones are working either. It seems the plane crash and the power outage may be connected. Moses theorizes that it could be an EMP or electromagnetic pulse. He explains it as "a special warhead, probably set off hundreds of miles above earth that wipes out technology because of how the pulse reacts to the earth's magnetic field". This event can throw civilization in the affected areas back a couple of hundred years.
"How do we fix it?" Leora asks. "We don't" is Moses reply.
As the outside world rather quickly becomes chaotic, the Mennonite leaders, including Jabil Snyder, a young man who has feelings for the independent Leora, are pacifists. Their faith encourages them to welcome those without and share what they have. Can they survive in a society that may bring  aggressors into their midst? And what of the outsiders trapped and unable to get home?
 Told in the alternating voices of Leora and Moses who find themselves drawn to each other as they try to help the community deal with this challenging new landscape and the threats it may hold.
Ms. Petersheim has created wonderfully believable characters and a compellingly real world. This is such a thought provoking story and Ms. Petersheim such a great writer I found myself thinking about those characters months later.
And, the good news is, there is a sequel! I was delighted to find that Edelweiss was listing the DRC which, fingers crossed, I requested, and Yay! received it (thank you, Edelweiss!) and read immediately. That review will follow, so, SPOILERS AHEAD don't read that review until you have a chance to get a copy of The Alliance!

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).