Monday, October 14, 2019

Book Review: Shadow Scent by P. M. Freestone

Shadow Scent by P. M. Freestone book cover and review
Shadow Scent introduces us to a new fantasy world that has been compared to An Ember in the Ashes. I think that is a pretty good comparison.

Scents are everything in Aramtesh, and Rahil has a very good nose. Scents are status symbols and religious artifacts. Rahil will do anything to save her father who is suffering from a disease that is literally rotting him away. Her only chance is to leave her father and go to the capital to compete to become a perfumer.  With the skills and money she would earn as a perfumer, she could provide the best treatment for her father. She bargains with the devil, and even though she has the skills to win, she is tricked and ends up a slave to the head priestess. It turns out that this situation may not be as bad as it seems. The priestess knows more about Rahil than she realizes, and some revelations cause Rahil to question everything her father has told her.

Ash is the Shield to Prince Nisai and will protect him at all costs. But there is an unusual bond between these two based on deep secrets about Ash’s true identity. Nasai spends much of his time trying to figure out how to contain what is a secret part hidden inside of Ash, barely contained. Nasai chooses to undertake a long journey and visit one of their lands during a very special blooming of a mysterious dark flower that only happens once a generation.  Ash fears for the Prince's safety, and rightly so.

Chaos ensues, the head priestess is killed, the Prince is afflicted with a deadly and mysterious disease, and Ash and Rahil become unlikely conspirators. They are on the run with the army in hot pursuit, trying to find the antidote that will save the Prince’s life. The tasks seem impossible, but somehow these two always manage to figure out the very obscure hints they are working with. Romance eventually blossoms between Ash and Rahil, as they face insurmountable odds, but also get closer to solving the riddles and finding the cure.

Loaded with tension, drama, life-threatening situations, and romance, readers will easily become enraptured with Rahil and Ash. Some surprising and imaginative twists and turns add to the drama. Although Shadow Scent stretches the imagination at times, it is a fantasy after all. We are left with an open-ended and heart-wrenching conclusion, clamoring for a sequel. Recommend Shadow Scent to fantasy-loving teens.

Published by Scholastic, November 5, 2019
ARC obtained for review
368 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Thursday, October 10, 2019

Audiobook Review: The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston

The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston book cover and review
The Lost City of the Monkey God was a bit detailed, but the audio version kept my interest, and it is a fascinating story.

The Lost City of the Monkey God is the true account of Preston's adventure into previously unexplored territory in the Honduran jungle in search of a legendary lost city. There is a lot of history and perspective before this journey actually begins. That is what I mean by detailed. But I believe most of it is necessary, and since I was listening, it was much easier to get through.

And then, they go on this amazing (and frightening) adventure, and there is still much of the book remaining.  That is because many of those on the trip ended up with a nasty parasite, leishmaniasis, that is truly horrifying.

I must first admit that I have a profound, paralyzing, and (I know) totally irrational fear of snakes. So the snakes described in this book are the stuff of my nightmares. I've always been told that "they are afraid of you," but these snakes (fer de lance) put that notion to shame. So just be warned if you fear snakes, this book will not help.

The rainforest they explored was previously unexplored not only because of the wildlife, but because it is so thick that it is almost impenetrable. Trying to hike is so slow and difficult that no one previously has been able to make it. These scientists used a relatively new technology called Lidar mapping to isolate specific areas that might contain the city. I also cannot imagine dealing with the insects, other wildlife, discomfort, constant mud, and wetness that is required to make a journey like this. It is just totally out of my comfort zone. So I was a bit distracted by all that when reading about their discoveries. And their discoveries are fascinating!

Also adding to the intrigue is that these discoveries, the methods used, and what has happened since is all very controversial in the scientific community. Of course, we are only getting one biased perspective here, so you may be interesting in further research after reading Preston's account.

As far as nonfiction goes, The Lost City of the Monkey God rates pretty high in my book. And the audio narrator, Bill Mumy, is superb. It is written in the first person, and he is spot-on with the drama and emotion of the narration.

I'm also left with some sadness, concern, and curiosity about how all of these people are faring since some of them are still (and probably will always) battle leishmaniasis.

I recommend The Lost City of the Monkey God, especially the audio version.

Published by Grand Central, 2017
Audiobook obtained from the library
336 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Book Review: Rebel by Marie Lu @Marie_Lu

Rebel by Marie Lu book cover and review
I really enjoyed Lu's Legend series and couldn't pass up the chance to read Rebel. I was not disappointed.

Day (now called Daniel) and June are some of my favorite characters ever, and even though Rebel is about Daniel's brother, Eden, both Daniel and June play a big part. Eden and Daniel live in Ross City in Antartica. They moved to this domed, high-tech city because it is supposed to be the new perfect system. Eden is about to graduate from the academy and is a top scientist. Daniel works for this new government as a detective -- like an FBI agent.  Who would have thought?

Everything seems perfect. If you work hard, you earn points. If you don't get into trouble, you earn points. If you cause trouble, you lose points. The more points you have, the better access you have to the finer things in life. It all seems like a great system.

But there are secrets. There is an underworld of people who have few or no points, and it is impossible for them to raise themselves. It seems not only are luxuries withheld, but for these people, they must do without basic necessities--like food, shelter, and medicine. This low level is, of course, full of crime and corruption as well.

I don't want to say too much more. Eden gets involved in the underworld and ends up associating with a very powerful, bad man. A man that Daniel has been trying to find and arrest. The brothers don't get along very well and don't communicate. They are both having nightmares about their past life in The Republic, but they don't help each other. Daniel thinks his most important job is to protect Eden from anything evil. Eden just wants Daniel to trust him and let him grow up and use his talents.

Of course, they end up fighting for their lives and the life of Ross City. They plot and scheme to make the world a better place.  And June, who works for The Republic, ends up involved.

Rebel wasn't as tense as the Legend books, but it was dramatic enough to keep my interest. And Rebel provided a nice, comfortable conclusion to the series. I'm glad I read it, and if you have read the Legend series, you should make sure you get your hands on Rebel.

Published by Roaring Brook, October 1, 2019
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
384 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Monday, September 30, 2019

Audio Book Review: The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor

The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor book cover and review
The Chalk Man did keep me guessing until the end. And that's a good thing!

Eddie is our narrator, using a dual timeline -- his childhood in 1986 and the present in 2016. Eddie has a close-knit group of friends that get in all sorts of predicaments, as children will. When one of the group gets chalk for his birthday, these clever kids devise a language of secret chalk man symbols that they draw on the sidewalk outside each other's houses to send coded messages. Each member of the group has their own color.

One day, the messages send them all into the woods, where they find the body of a dead girl. The presumed murderer is their albino teacher, who has befriended Eddie, so this is troubling, to say the least.

In 2016, Eddie, who still lives in the same sleepy town barely keeps in touch with a couple of the group. Until they all end up getting notes containing the chalk man. Then one of the group dies under mysterious circumstances. Is the murderer still out there? Is he coming after the group for fear that they might know more? Eddie is compelled to find the truth.

There is a bit of a supernatural element, but very light. Eddie has dreams (or is he awake?) where some of the dead people appear. I thought this added to the story and was not over the top. The Chalk Man meanders a bit in the middle but ramps up the tension nicely at the end. There is an interesting resolution. Even though it totally makes sense, I never saw that coming. Well--it doesn't all make sense but that just adds to the intrigue.

The audiobook was well done by Euan Morton. The variation in voices was good and not overpowering. I, as usual, sped up the narration.

Stephen King gave The Chalk Man big props. It does have a resemblance to The Body aka Stand By Me, although it has been years since I've read that. I didn't find it quite as much of a page-turner, but definitely easy to get through.

Published by Crown, 2018, Random House Audio, 2018
audiobook obtained from the library
288 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Friday, September 27, 2019

Book Review: The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett book cover and review
I've read several books by Ann Patchett and mostly enjoyed them, so The Dutch House was an automatic request for me. I was not disappointed.

Danny is our narrator, and this is a story of his family, especially his relationship with his older sister, Maeve. When Danny was very young, his mother abandoned the family. His father made a killing in real estate and bought this huge, ostentatious house outside of Philadelphia called The Dutch House as a surprise for his wife. She absolutely hated the house. Is that why she left?

The people who knew her, those that cooked and cleaned for her, said she was a loving, caring mother. So why did she leave? The story is really an examination of the lives of these siblings and how their mother leaving and other events affected them. And what a strong pull the past still has on these two.

Their father remarries and odd woman, who may have married him just for the house. She brings along two small daughters. I don't want to say too much more, but eventually, Danny and Maeve are kicked out of the house and are penniless.

The blurb for The Dutch House states it is "filled with suspense." I beg to differ. This is a meandering tale, rich with characterizations that become a part of the reader. You do want to find out how these characters fare after this nontraditional upbringing. The reader feels what they feel. That's what it is all about. Patchett is just a good writer that pulls you into their lives. And sometimes makes you want to strangle them!

I didn't enjoy The Dutch House as much as State of Wonder (my favorite adult book of 2014), but I enjoyed it more than Commonwealth (which I didn't finish). If you enjoy Patchett, you should read The Dutch House.

Published by Harper, September 24, 2019
eARC obtained from NetGalley
352 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Monday, September 23, 2019

Book Review: Verify by Joelle Charbonneau @jcharbonneau

Verify by Joelle Charbonneau book cover and review
Compelling and a bit scary, Verify is a book that needs to be read by many teens.

Meri's world, a future Chicago, is as close to a utopia as any city has ever been.  Everyone and everything is safe. There is no poverty and very little crime. The environment has been preserved, partly by getting rid of paper. All communications are done electronically. Miri believes everything she hears on the three TV channels that have been provided by the government. What else is needed? Citizens are paid for turning in any books or paper they find and must pay a tax to use paper for anything. It is much better for the environment--or at least that's what they want you to think.

Since Meri's mother died in a freak accident, Meri's father has pretty much checked out. Meri meets some people who don't necessarily think the world is a better place at all. In fact, they are convinced the government is controlling everything you see and hear. But is that such a bad thing? Look how happy everyone is. But is everyone really happy? Meri wants to find out why her mother died and why she had become so distant in the last weeks before her death, so she begins to question everything she has believed.

Think about a world without paper. No books. Everything online. If someone were controlling what is released online, what is to stop them from eliminating words (such as "Verify") from the dictionary? Or entire chapters from textbooks. Or entire books.

If you are interested in relationships, it seems there might be a romance developing, but in no way does this relationship take away from the story. We'll have to see about this in future installments. (Something to look forward to.) The characters are interesting and the situations eye-opening. Verify has been compared to Fahrenheit 451 and 1984 and would be a great addition to any curriculum studying those texts.

Things are not all they seem in Meri's world, and she is in for a rude awakening. The tension mounts nicely as we reach the conclusion. I got through this one very quickly. And, sure to be a series, Verify leaves the reader wanting more! Charbonneau certainly has another winner in Verify.

Published by HarperTeen, September 24, 2019
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
320 pages

Rating: 5/5

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Monday, September 16, 2019

Book Review: The Widow of Pale Harbor by Hester Fox #TheWidowofPaleHarbor

The Widow of Pale Harbor by Hester Fox book cover and review
The Widow of Pale Harbor offers a unique blend of creepy mystery surrounded by a touching romance.

Sophronia is the widow. Everyone in the little Massachusetts town of Pale Harbor thinks she killed her husband. And that she is a witch. She has secluded herself in Castle Carver, with her maid and close companion, Helen.

Strange things begin to happen in town--witchlike things. Dead animals and such. Sophronia finds strange messages and dead ravens outside her door. Who is doing this?

Gabriel is running from his past and trying to fulfill his dead wife's wishes by becoming the pastor of a small church in Pale Harbor. When he meets Sophie, he feels an instant attraction. Sophie's gardener dies because of a weird fall, and of course, everyone in town thinks Sophie killed him. Gabriel tries to convince the townspeople that Sohpie is innocent -- of everything. But the strange incidents continue to escalate, and Sophie and Gabriel realize every event can be linked to one of Edgar Alan Poe's popular stories.

Gabriel's and Sophie's relationship begins to heat up, as Helen becomes more and more distraught. Sophie is actually leaving the house at times, which means Helen can no longer protect her. The tension builds slowly as the romance heats up. It becomes a fight for survival--and true love.

The characters are deftly described, and I was cheering on their romance (as well as their survival!) The culprit is not clear until the end, and I was surprised. The pace isn't breakneck but moved enough to keep my interest. I was pleased with how quickly I moved through The Widow of Pale Harbor. It is an average length book (which in this day of bloated behemoth books is a good thing!)

If you like a dark, mysterious drama, with a strong romantic element, The Widow of Pale Harbor is your book!

Published by Graydon House, September 17, 2019
eARC obtained from Edelweiss and NetGalley
352 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Book Review: Where the Light Enters, by Sara Donati

Where the Light Enters by Sara Donati book cover and review
I had some difficulty sinking into Where the Light Enters, but once I did, I was hooked.

It is 1884 and Dr. Sophie Savard is trying to rebuild her life after the death of her husband from tuberculosis. She returns to New York, a wealthy woman, and with the help of her cousin, Anna, who is also a physician, she begins to bring her dreams to fruition.

It is difficult being a woman and a physician in the 1800s. But Sophie is also mixed race, and her dark skin closes a lot of doors. Because of her husband's wealth, their marriage was scandalous, and Sophie wants to keep a low profile and mourn in peace.

There is a lot going on, plot-wise, and I won't tell you all of it. Anna has two "adopted" orphans taken away from her because of religious reasons. Anna's husband, Jack, is a police detective. There is an old case where young, pregnant women were deliberately given botched abortions which resulted in their deaths. This case remains unsolved. Now a couple of new cases of missing persons have been discovered, and another death of a woman under mysterious circumstances. Anna and Sophie are consulted for their medical expertise. There are intermittent, seemingly unrelated, newspaper articles about scandals and crimes throughout the story.

There are many other characters, Aunt Quinlan, Elise (a medical student staying with her), the Lees (housekeepers), and Jack's partner, Oscar, to name a few that complete Where the Light Enters. I thought the depiction of life for women physicians might have made it look a bit too easy. Even though they were dismissed by many, to me they seemed to be more accepted than I would have believed. Money helps, I'm sure. And the stories about disturbing medical procedures, the conditions of orphanages, and depictions of the homeless were, no doubt, startlingly accurate.

Be warned: The first thing in the books is an extensive, four-page list of characters that is quite daunting. Followed by a family tree and a map! I almost put the book down right then. But my approach to these books is to just dig right in. If that list is really necessary, I'll end up putting the book down. In this case, it wasn't needed, so don't fret.

I had a hard time determining where the story was going. What is the main plotline? Is it the police investigations? Is it the orphans that are now staying with a relative of Anna? Is it Sophie's plans to use her house and finances to help other young women become doctors? And what do all those news articles mean? I persevered, and eventually, I could feel a rhythm to the tale. And it truly is about all of the above, but I guess mostly about the police investigations.

At the end of the book, the author's note states: "The newspaper articles tucked into various corners are all composites of actual accounts...You may wonder what those women have to do with the Savards, Quinlans, Verhoevans, and Mezzanottes; eventually, you will find out." Then she talks about the notes written for the previous novel in the series. This was the first indication that this was the second book in a series! I had seen "by the author of The Gilded Hour" when reading about Where the Light Enters, but not once does it indicate anywhere that this book is part of the same series! Now I need to go back and read The Gilded Hour. 

The characterizations are what makes Where the Light Enters and what makes me long for more stories. If you are a fan of historical fiction you should let Sophie and Anna and Jack (and everyone else) into your heart too.

Published by Berkley, September 10, 2019
eARC obtained from NetGalley
672 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Book Review: The Hive by Barry Lyga, Morgan Baden

The Hive by Lyga & Baden, book cover and review
I loved Lyga's I Hunt Killers series, so I couldn't pass up The Hive. I had a few issues, but for the most part The Hive was entertaining, and I think teens will love it even more than I did.

Cassie is having a hard time since her father died. She and her mother have had to move, and Cassie is entering a new school. Her father was a famous internet hacker, and taught Cassie almost everything he knew about coding, but since his death, Cassie has lost her passion for coding and hasn't done any.

Social Media is now governed by The Hive, a new justice system developed by the government to stop online bullying. Cassie believes in The Hive and its ability to mete out justice according to approvals (or disapprovals) by society. According to how many disapprovals a post gets, the person responsible is assigned a level (1 through 5) and assigned a punishment. Hundreds (or thousands) of people can meet this person and help decide an appropriate punishment. Should they have to wear a sign all day? Should they have to disrobe and be naked for a day? These are some of the minor punishments -- it gets worse as the level rises.

When Cassie, trying to fit in at her new school, is goaded to post a funny (but tasteless) comment about the president's new grandchild, no one could predict what happens. Suddenly Cassie is on the run and trying to find a place to hide in order to save her life.

I thought The Hive took a while to get going, but once Cassie is on the run, it gets very exciting and the pace moves quickly. It is very far-fetched, but as my eyes rolled, I was swiftly swiping pages to see what was going to happen next. So, for the teen audience, The Hive will be a good one.

I think the authors were trying to send a message about the dangers of social media, but I'm not sure it comes through very strong because of the improbable plot. But still, it is compelling.

Recommend this to your techie teens.

Published by Kids Can, September 3, 2019
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
416 pages

Rating: 4/5

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