Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Book Review: Keep This to Yourself by Tom Ryan

Keep This to Yourself surprised me. And that's a good thing in a mystery.

It has been a year since The Catalog Killer terrorized the seaside town of Camera Cove, killing four people including a teenager, Connor. Mac and three other kids from the same neighborhood were friends with Connor since they were very young. Now they are graduating from high school and still very much missing Connor.

Mac, in particular, is having a difficult time.  The killer was never caught but is believed to be a drifter that left the area. Mac decides to open a bag of comic books that Connor left him on the day he was killed. Mac hasn't been able to look at them. Now, when he opens the bag, he finds a note from Connor asking him to meet him that night. Mac feels guilty -- maybe he could have saved Connor from the murderer? Mac takes the note to the police but doesn't get any reassurance that it will help them find the serial killer, who left a picture from a catalog with each of his victims.

This begins Mac's determination to begin his own investigation into what happened to Connor and the other victims.

The story has many twists, as Mac finds little clues that cause him to change his mind several times about who the killer might be. He teams up with the cousin of another victim, Quill, who also wants to find out what happened. Quill also provides the romantic aspect of the plot. Mac also gets some assistance from Connor's other friends.

Mac is homosexual and the relationship is cute, well done, and doesn't overpower the plot. It is nice that both sets of parents are totally supportive of their sons. The writing is easy to read, and the plot moves quickly making this appropriate for younger teens.

I was totally blindsided by the eventual revelation of the killer.  Well done, Mr. Ryan! Teen mystery fans will enjoy this one very much.

Published by AW Teen, May 21, 2019
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
320 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Monday, April 29, 2019

Book Review: The American Heiress, by Daisy Goodwin

I'm not sure where I got The American Heiress, but I know the reason I wanted it is because it has been compared to Downton Abbey. It wasn't the same as Downton, but I understand the comparison.

It is the late 1800s, the Gilded Age, and Cora Cash is a very, very rich American heiress. Her mother takes her to England because she wants Cora to marry a man with a title.

And she does. After falling off her horse, Cora is rescued by Ivo, the Duke of Wareham. One of the issues I had with The American Heiress is the insta-love between these two. But they do fall in love and get married.  It is no secret that Ivo needs money. His estate is falling apart, and Cora is definitely going to help him financially.

Most of the book is about Cora's struggles to fit into English society. Her mistakes and indiscretions are numerous. The marriage is rocky, and at times Cora is convinced that Ivo really did just marry her for her money.

Not much else happens. Some of the characters are not what they seem. There are some secrets to be revealed. And they get a visit from the Prince of Wales.

The American Heiress definitely kept my interest, but it wasn't unputdownable. Cora is a sympathetic character and that helps. If you are interested in the time period, The American Heiress should be added to your list. The book is also appropriate for teens interested in royal romances.

Published by St. Martin's, 2011
Personal copy
468 pages

Rating: 3.5/5

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Monday, April 22, 2019

Book Review: American Wife, by Curtis Sittenfeld

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld book cover and review
American Wife is a fictionalized account of the life of an unlikely First Lady of the United States, Alice Blackwell. It is loosely based on Barbara Bush, but very loosely, in that she is First Lady during the time period that Bush was president, and Alice may have had some of the same beliefs that Barbara did but a different background. And her husband, Charlie, had a much different background also.

But, American Wife was entertaining for the most part. It is the story of a childhood, a romance, a marriage, and ultimately a political career. But the presidency doesn't happen until the last 120 pages. A lot of the story is about their marriage, at times struggling, and Alice fitting into Charlie's very affluent family after her middle-class childhood.

Alice's first-person narrative flips back and forth in time quite a bit, and this technique worked well for me. Especially during the presidency years, she is very introspective about fame and how it changes a person and how she fought these changes. Somewhat repetitive, I still found these insights helped the reader relate to this very unique situation.

American Wife would not fit into my "must read" category, but it certainly was not a waste of time. If you are interested in seeing the rise of a political career from the First Lady's perspective, this is a good one. Sittenfeld did a lot of research into first ladies of the time period, and I felt her observations were authentic.

Published by Random House, 2008
Copy obtained from my personal library
558 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Book Review: Courting Mr. Lincoln by Louis Bayard

Courting Mr. Lincoln by Louis Bayard book cover and review
Courting Mr. Lincoln is the fictionalized account of the story of two very important people in Abraham Lincoln's early life - Joshua Speed and Mary Todd.

Mr. Speed is the man that Lincoln ended up boarding with - literally sleeping in the same bed with - when he arrived in Springfield. Speed was a shop owner, and they lived above the shop. They became very close, and Speed had a great deal to do with turning Lincoln into a proper gentleman that would be accepted by society, given his backwoods upbringing.

Mary Todd comes to Springfield to find a husband. Really. She was one of many siblings, and her older sister, who lived with her husband in Springfield, was sending for her sisters one at a time to find them suitable matches in Springfield. Mary proved a difficult case. She was introduced to Speed and Lincoln but never dreamed of a relationship. Well, if one was possible, it was certainly to be with Speed, and not the awkward Lincoln.

The story is told in alternating points-of-view between Mary and Speed. Living in Illinois, I found the history of Springfield to be particularly interesting. The romance between Lincoln and Mary was very tumultuous. At first, it was secret since Mary knew her sister would not approve, and then after they became engaged and everyone knew, they broke it off. Which meant that Mary was "used goods" and destined to be a spinster. All very dramatic.

The story flows easily, even though sometimes we get the same events told by the two different narrators, it worked well and I never lost interest. The relationship between Speed and Lincoln was particularly interesting. Speed had a hard time accepting that Lincoln was getting married -- they had both made a pact that they never would.

The narrative ends shortly after Lincoln becomes President, and really it skips from their marriage to the beginning of the presidency, which was almost twenty years. So this is the story of the "Courting" and not much else. We do get a glimpse of the end of Mary's life, back in her sister's home in Springfield, as well as a sentence or two about what happened to each of the other main characters.

All in all, a very interesting story and I really enjoyed it. However, I am profoundly disappointed that there isn't an author's note at the end explaining the variances from the truth. This seems to be required in a fictional account of a true story. Hopefully, this will be included in the final copy, because it almost made me not want to recommend Courting Mr. Lincoln. You will need to do some research, if you are like me, and need to know! Especially about the event that brought Lincoln and Mary back together after their engagement was over. Is that really what happened?

Courting Mr. Lincoln is marketed as an adult book, but I think teens who are interested in an entertaining historical romance will enjoy this one too.

Published by Algonquin, April 23, 2019
eARC obtained from NetGalley
352 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Audiobook Review: A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman book cover and review
Ove is such an interesting character that I couldn't help thoroughly enjoy his story, A Man Called Ove.

Not much happens. But everything happens. The story takes place in Sweden (and is a translation). Ove is an older man who recently lost his wife and then was forced to retire. He doesn't think he has anything left to live for, so he tries to commit suicide. Several times. But always, he gets interrupted by something that becomes important to him.

That's the whole point. That this cantankerous, unpleasant man can end up finding joy. Even if he can't admit it.

As the story progresses, we also learn about Ove's past. His childhood, how he met his wife, and their life together. Especially one particular tragedy.

The people (and cat) that enter Ove's life are flawed themselves. All the more reason Ove needs to assist them.

The narrator, George Newbern, was just too slow for me. I listened at 1.25x speed. Not that he didn't do a good job. I always think if I can't think of anything to say about the narrator, that's a good thing. The story should shine through. And it does.

The story made me laugh and cry. The writing is exceptional, and that's what makes A Man Called Ove compelling and well...brilliant. This isn't a story you can really explain. You can only experience it. And you should.

Published by Washington Square, 2013, audio: Dreamscape, 2014
Audiobook obtained from the library
337 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Book Review: The Raven's Tale by Cat Winters @catwinters

The Raven's Tale by Cat Winters book cover and review
I thoroughly enjoyed Winters’ delightfully macabre tale of the life of Edgar Allan Poe, The Raven’s Tale.

Poe had a difficult upbringing. His mother, an actress, died when Poe was very young, and he was taken in by the Allans. His new mother always loved him, but life with his father became very difficult. The more Poe became interested in writing, the more his father tried to dissuade him. Poe was accepted into the University of Virginia, but because he wouldn’t give up his writing, his father threatened to not allow him to attend, and in the end, made Poe’s short stay at the University almost impossible.

Winters writes the story as if it were written by Poe. She ads a character that is Edgar’s muse, a creepy woman Edgar names Lenore, who he can’t live without. She begins to grow feathers and is evolving into a raven. 😉 His father goes so far as to try to kill her. During his tenure at the University Poe has another muse vying for his attention, a man who wants Poe to stop writing the scary stories about death and write something that would make a name for him.

It is interesting how when Lenore is around, lines from Poe’s poetry pop into his head. Makes you wonder if this is really how it happened?? The tale is deftly told and kept my interest, and I felt such compassion for Edgar and his troubled life. I haven’t even talked about his doomed love life, which is also a large part of this sad story.

Those who are interested in Poe’s life can’t go wrong with The Raven’s Tale. As you probably are aware, Poe did come to know success and some happiness eventually. Winters adds a helpful Author’s Note that adds to the information given in the book. There’s a bibliography for further reading, as well as copious notes about where every line of poetry in the book came from. Some is written by Winters herself, in the style of Poe, which is excellent. I've read all of Winters' novels and am always impressed. She's a "must read" author for me. The Raven’s Tale would be an excellent addition to any curriculum examining the works of Edgar Allan Poe.

Published by Amulet, April 16, 2019
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
368 pages

Rating: 5/5

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Monday, April 1, 2019

Book Review: Dreaming Darkly by Caitlin Kittredge

Dreaming Darkly by Caitlin Kittredge book cover and review
Dreaming Darkly did score well as far as the creep-factor, but you have to suspend some disbelief.

Seventeen-year-old Ivy's mother has committed suicide. She doesn't feel like she's lost much since she and her mother had a hard life, and at one point, her mother had tried to kill Ivy.  For real. Ivy is surprised that she has an uncle who lives off the coast of Maine in a huge house on an island.  She goes to live with him and plans to just bide her time until her 18th birthday when she can leave. Things are very weird and creepy around this house and on the island. There is a feud with the only other family living on the island. Ivy's great-grandfather killed six people. Her grandmother was in an asylum before she died.

Once on the island, Ivy begins to have very realistic dreams and hallucinations. And she's discovering a lot about her mother's life on this same island. She thinks her episodes have to do with the family history of mental instability. Is she like her mother?  Is she going crazy?

Dreaming Darkly is a quick read that is quite compelling and parts were very spooky. The atmosphere is very dark. The mysteries are abundant. But many of the plot twists are very convenient. However, I didn't really know what was going on until Ivy did. So if you can just go with the flow, it is a fun reading experience.

Teens who enjoy gothic mysteries with some creepiness will enjoy Dreaming Darkly.

Published by Katherine Tegen, April 9, 2019
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
368 pages

Rating: 4/5

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