Review | The Night Tiger

The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo

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I read The Ghost Bride last year after it gathered dust on my TBR since 2011 and I’m still amazed that I waited so long to read it.  (You can read that review here.)  As soon as I finished reading that, I pre-ordered Choo’s upcoming release The Night Tiger and knew that I wouldn’t be waiting seven years to read it!

Ren is an eleven-year-old boy houseboy tasked with locating the missing severed finger of his deceased master, Dr. MacFarlane.  He has 49 days from the date of the doctor’s death to bury the finger in MacFarlane’s grave so he can be whole and at rest.
Ren arrives at the home of surgeon William Acton with a letter of recommendation from MacFarlane, who told Ren before his death that he believed Acton will still have the finger that was amputated during an exploration years before.

Ji Lin is an apprentice dressmaker working at a dance hall for extra income to pay off her mother’s mahjong debt before her abusive stepfather finds out.  One evening a dance partner brags about his upcoming good luck and accidentally leaves behind a gruesome charm:  a severed finger preserved in salt.
With the help of her step-brother Shin, Ji Lin searches for clues to the owner’s identity and why the man at the dance hall carried it.

Ren and Ji Lin’s paths begin to cross as they are both unknowingly on the same journey and at the center is William Acton, the doctor who is having a string of bad luck with former patients and lovers dying in gruesome ways.
It seems there is a tiger prowling the area and Ren fears the wandering spirit of his former master may have taken the form of a tiger.  The natives fear a weretiger is in their midst; a beast who chooses to put on human skin and leave the jungle to prey on humans.

Choo is a masterful storyteller and once again draws readers into a world full of magical realism and superstition with a fascinating look at Malayan culture and history.

I found both the mystery and characters to be compelling and the connections between characters were clever and well-executed which fueled the story in surprising ways.  I also appreciated an extremely brief mention of characters from The Ghost Bride; it was exciting to see the two novels connect for an instant.

If you enjoy historical fiction, mystery, and immersing yourself in culture and superstitions, this is a fantastic tale!  Choo has certainly become an auto-buy author for me.

The Night Tiger was released on February 12, 2019 by Flatiron Books.

 

 

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Review | The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

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“This old land.” Jackson stared off. “It sure makes a man yearn for it and want to flee it altogether.” *

Cussy Mary Carter hasn’t had an easy life.  She’s isolated deep in a Kentucky holler, her mama’s dead and her father is dying thanks to the conditions in the coal mines.  Not to mention the fact that she’s blue.  No one understands why, but her folks and her all have an unknown condition thats been passed down through kin that leaves their skin tinged blue.  The local doc has been hounding Cussy and her daddy for ages to let him run some blood work and figure out their condition.

Their blue skin leaves them outcast in Troublesome Creek.  Folks are afraid of them, religious people seem to think they’re an abomination.  Cussy is perfectly content to live at home with her father and bring in extra money as a pack horse librarian, thanks to Roosevelt’s WPA program.  She loves reading and it brings her joy to travel the hills and bring books to folks so isolated they’d never have an opportunity to look at a book otherwise.  Unfortunately for her, Cussy’s father made a promise to her mama that he’d make sure Cussy married and had a stable life.

Readers follow Cussy on her route and get to know her patrons who begin to welcome visits from “Book Woman”.  Still, Cussy is careful never to offend or touch her patrons, many who remain fearful of her blue skin.

“Well, them cloths are a lot like folks. Ain’t much difference at all. Some of us is more spiffed up than others, some stiffer, and still, some softer. There’s the colorful and dull, ugly and pretty, old, new ‘uns. But in the end we’s all fabric, cut from His cloth. Fabric, and just that.” *

Cussy’s married off to a cruel local man but karma swiftly knocks him down …dead.  She’s only too happy to return to her home but before long her dead husband’s kin,  the local preacher, begins following Cussy on her work route, accusing her of being evil because she’s different.

When the preacher turns up dead on Carter land, the doctor knows a second dead Frazier man involved with the Carters will look suspicious.  He uses the preacher’s death to take advantage of the situation and Cussy agrees to the testing the doctor wants to perform if he’ll keep Frazier’s death a secret.

The doctor’s testing leads to a diagnosis: methemoglobinemia, a genetic defect in an enzyme with reduced oxygenation of tissue, hence the blue skin tone.

Cussy wants nothing more than to belong.  When the doc offers a pill that will temporarily turn her skin lily white, she jumps on the chance to fit in with the folks in Troublesome.

“Those that can’t see past a folk’s skin color have a hard different in them. There’s a fire in that difference. And when they see you, they’ll still see a Blue. No city drug’s gonna change small minds, what they think about peculiarity. For them like-minded folks, there is no redemption for our kind.” *

Pride is a powerful thing, even in a small town where folks are dying daily from starvation and refuse a hand out.  Some may see Cussy as an equal but most remain prejudice against what they can’t understand.

Cussy takes her job seriously and feels it is an honor to teach folks how to read and offer them books either as an escape or a way to learn.  Her patrons appreciate her and she becomes a part of their lives in a small but powerful way.

Then comes the day that Cussy arrives at a patron’s home and discovers a man hanging from a tree, a baby wailing at his feet.  What follows is a captivating tale of perseverance, love, and hope.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek was heartbreaking and captivating!  I loved how Richardson managed to take two groups from Kentucky history, Pack Horse Librarians and the Blue Fugates (“The Blue People of Kentucky”), and create a fictional tale that shares the grim truth of life for many in Appalachia during the 1930’s:  prejudice, isolation, starvation, pride, coal mines, and the intimidating company stores that kept families in danger and in debt.

If you appreciate Appalachian history, historical fiction, and unusual stories, this is a read I recommend!

Thanks to Sourcebooks Landmark and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is scheduled for release on May 7, 2019.

*Quotes included are from a digital advance readers copy and are subject to change upon final publication.

Review | Furious Hours

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep

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I was fascinated with the character of Scout Finch in Harper Lee’s masterpiece To Kill A Mockingbird when I was a kid.
When I re-read the novel for my high school lit class, I was in awe of the layers of the story and its topics that are only complicated by growing up.  Scout kept it honest and that’s what made her the perfect narrator; the adults are what complicated matters.

I knew Harper Lee had never published another novel but when I decided to look into work she’d done in the following years, I immediately hit a dead end in the age of Google.  Lee valued her privacy above all else and stepped out of the spotlight almost immediately after the publication of To Kill A Mockingbird, which brought with it instant wealth and fame.  While she was quick to reply to letters from readers, she rarely gave interviews or attended events.

I wondered if she’d written TKAM and decided it was her one and only masterpiece and put down her pen, if she’d written privately for years but never shared because she feared or resented the spotlight, or if she simply became overwhelmed at the thought of a follow up to such an important novel.

After turning in her final draft of TKAM to her publishers, Lee accompanied her life-long friend Truman Capote to Kansas where she assisted in researching the shocking murder of the Clutter family.  The notes taken by the pair later became the true-crime novel In Cold Blood, which is considered Capote’s masterpiece.

Little did I know that Lee learned about a serial killer in her home state of Alabama and a case that was so compelling she decided to write her own true-crime novel which she tentatively called The Reverend.

Lee (as far as we know about the secretive writer) didn’t write that true-crime novel but now author Casey Cep has pieced together the facts of the case that Lee spent years researching in the upcoming novel Furious Hours.

Readers are given the history of the small Alabama town where rural preacher Reverend Willie Maxwell grew up and what little is known about his early life.  Then, things take a curious turn.  Five of Maxwell’s family members die over a short period of time, all under highly suspicious circumstances, while Maxwell holds multiple life insurance policies on each.  With the help of lawyer Tom Radney, Maxwell is found not guilty of the murder of his first wife and manages to collect large sums from the life insurance companies who were refusing to make payment because of the blatantly obvious crimes.  In each case, the police never gather enough solid evidence to charge Maxwell with murder.

At the funeral for his last victim, Maxwell is shot dead by Robert Burns in front of hundreds of witnesses.

Robert Burns is aquitted… with the help of Tom Radney, the same lawyer who had previously defended the Reverend.

Writer Harper Lee is sitting in the courtroom during the trial, taking notes on what she hopes to be her next novel.

When Lee sat down to figure out how to write The Reverend, she realized she needed a protagonist, and set her sights on lawyer Tom Radney, who worked both sides of the curious case for years.  Radney was willing to help Lee in any way he could to get the book written and more importantly, he was an ideal morally complex character.  Radney had kept Maxwell out of prison and profited from the multiple insurance litigations and then in a surprising turn of events went on to win an aquittal for Maxwell’s murderer.

The problem was that Radney wasn’t a reliable narrator.
Lee wanted accuracy and it was maddening to find that her protagonist misremembered events of both the case and his own life.
Looking into the early life of Maxwell was equally troublesome because there were so few records of his life before the murders.

Short on facts, worried about the writing process and possible implications, Lee’s writing floundered.  While those close to the private author knew never to ask what she was working on, she had offered information through the years on The Reverend, and the vague details given turned into myth as people have attested to wildly different levels of its progress.

Furious Hours is divided into three parts: The Reverend, The Lawyer, and The Writer.

Casey Cep gives us the solid facts on the life of the Reverend, from the sparse details of his beginning to his dramatic end at the funeral of his final victim.

Next, we learn the facts of Tom Radney’s life leading up to his work in the cases involving Willie Maxwell.  Cep was able to gather a wealth of information about Radney, who passed away before she began researching this book, thanks to the help of his family.

Last but certainly not least, Cep sticks to the facts of Nelle Harper Lee’s notoriously private life.

The mystery surrounding Lee’s life and work has fascinated me to no end since I was a teen so when I learned last year that someone had taken the time to research both and that at the center of that mystery was a true crime story, there are no words for the level of excitement I experienced.

Casey Cep did an exceptional job of researching the case of Willie Maxwell and Harper Lee’s surprising involvement.  Lee did not write the true-crime novel she set out to but thanks to Cep’s research, the dramatic case has finally been placed into the hands of readers with what I believe to be the same fair and accurate reporting that Lee would’ve given.

Both a fascinating true crime story and a candid look at Harper Lee’s life and effort to write a second novel, Furious Hours is a compelling novel that does justice to both stories told.

I have been anticipating this novel for months.  I cannot possibly thank Knopf Publishing Group and the First To Read program enough for the opportunity to read and review an advance copy in exchange for my honest review!

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee is scheduled for release on May 6, 2019.

Review | Inheritance

Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro

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I think people put too much value on book ratings, especially because everyone seems to have a different rating system.  That being said, I’m pretty stingy with five stars.  Five stars for me personally means that the book changed my perspective on a particular topic, placed me firmly in someone else’s shoes to consider how I would handle a situation, or it was just so powerful that I can’t stop thinking about it and feel the story will appeal to literally everyone, no matter what genre they favor.

Inheritance was a five star book for me and those are so very few and far between.

“It turns out that it is possible to live an entire life—even an examined life, to the degree that I had relentlessly examined mine—and still not know the truth of oneself.”

Dani Shapiro spent years writing about her life and her family and had published four memoirs when she received results from her Ancestry DNA test.

In a matter of moments, her entire life was completely changed when an unfamiliar name popped up listed as her first cousin.  Confused, she compared her kit with her half sister’s and found that there wasn’t a possibility that they were half siblings.  The man that Dani Shapiro knew as her father was not in fact her biological father.

Surrounded by photographs of her ancestors, she sat in stunned disbelief.

“These ancestors are the foundation upon which I have built my life. I have dreamt of them, wrestled with them, longed for them. I have tried to understand them. In my writing, they have been my territory—my obsession, you might even say. They are the tangled roots—thick, rich, and dark—that bind me to the turning earth.”

Shapiro, raised a devout Orthodox Jew, cannot fathom that her parents could hide her true identity from her.  In the days following her discovery, she begins to remember comments from her childhood, memories of not quite fitting in, wondering if she somehow knew something then without realizing.

There are small clues, half hidden in the memory of passing conversations she had with her mother, who she had a strained relationship with, that lead her to discover an institute in Philadelphia that specialized in infertility before it closed its doors.  The small leaf on her computer screen when she logs in to Ancestry allows her to discover a family that she is biologically related to.  With the help of her husband, Shapiro finds the man she believes to be her biological father.

This book absolutely devastated me.  Shapiro’s previous memoirs have discussed the tragedies in her parents’ lives and the unhappy marriage  they had while raising her.  She shares her history, her grief, and writes with such honesty about her family.  She was never close to her mother but shared an unbreakable bond with her father who passed from injuries shortly after a tragic car accident.

Suddenly, she is searching not just for answers to her paternity but wondering how much her parents actually knew about their fertility treatments.  If they were aware of a sperm donor, how did they justify that according to their strict religious beliefs?

Shapiro considers the fact that half of her family medical history has always been inaccurate and is overwhelmed to consider how that could’ve played a huge part in her son’s incredibly rare seizure disorder as a child.

She speaks about the awkward subject of anonymity in sperm donation and how the age of DNA testing is offering up a shock to both donors and the biological offspring who were left in the dark.

She starts a dialogue with her biological father through e-mail and they begin an uneasy correspondence.  It was obvious to me he worried about the privacy of his family and that Shapiro may be simply out to write a good story rather than on a search for answers. Over time it seems he understands her true motives and a less guarded relationship begins.

Inheritance is the compelling story of a woman whose entire identity —from her memoirs to her very faith — is thrown into chaos with a simple home DNA test.  She struggles with what her father’s remaining family will think of the truth, how the church will handle this complicated matter, and how it affects her son.  Most of all, it seems, she struggles with the realization she’ll never know if her father knew the truth.

Fascinating, raw, and honest, Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love is a genuine look at Dani Shapiro’s search for her biological father and a journey to make peace with her identity.

“My birth certificate will remain the same. Daneile, daughter of Paul. In Hebrew that would be Daniela bat Pinchas. That piece of history, more true than not, can never be altered.”

I think this will be a fascinating read for practically everyone, but especially if you enjoy memoirs/autobiographies, genealogy, and family secrets.

Review | The Hummingbird Dagger

The Hummingbird Dagger by Cindy Anstey

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Cindy Anstey’s latest novel The Hummingbird Dagger caught my attention when I saw it described as Regency literature for YA.  You all may remember I decided to give the YA genre a fair shot last year and was pleasantly surprised by what I found.

So when I saw a book written in the style of Jane Austen full of mystery, mistaken identity, and an MC in grave danger who has lost her memory, I was all in.

The new Lord James Ellerby is stunned to witness his young brother Walter racing carelessly into the path of an oncoming carriage near Hardwick Manor.  The carriage accident leaves a young woman injured.

Lord Ellerby finds the situation curious and instead of leaving the lady to continue on her journey, he brings her to his manor to be seen by the local physician.

Upon waking, the woman finds she has no memory of who she is or why she was traveling by carriage.  She suffers the same terrifying nightmare each night, about a dagger shaped like a hummingbird dripping in blood.

Lord Ellerby’s sister Caroline believes the unidentified woman to be a lady and that her family will soon come to find her.

“‘Her people will inquire after her, James.’ Caroline said, as if reading his mind. ‘I think we will be surprised by her circumstances. Her voice and manner seem educated. She might even be a gentleman’s daughter.’ 
No bonnet or gloves, a torn gown and filthy hands,  traveling alone. This did not sound like any lady James knew.  Still, he did find her direct gaze intriguing; it was almost a challenge. Yes, there something about her, something . . . interesting.” *

While waiting for her memories to return, the Ellerby family calls the young lady Beth and she becomes Caroline’s companion for the time being.

Beth’s identity becomes more confusing when a man arrives in town claiming that he is her brother.  It is thanks to the kindness and protection of the Ellerbys that she isn’t sent away with the man, who quickly disappears.

“Beth was almost certain that her past was painful—the circumstances of her arrival shouted of danger, disaster, and ruin. Her nightmares reinforced that foreboding. Yes, something had happened. Were her injuries all a result of the carriage accident or something else?” *

With the death of a young maid in the manor, a failed attempt to grab Beth and Caroline on horseback, and eventually an attempt on her life, Beth realizes the intent is not to recapture her but to kill her.

“A proper lady was not hounded; a sensible woman did not travel alone. She might regain her memories and wish to God that she hadn’t.  The longer she had no name, the longer she endangered the family.” *

James and Caroline will not give up on finding Beth’s real identity and who and why someone wants her dead.  They soon find that someone is willing to risk everything for a vote in the House of Lords and Beth may not be the only lady in danger.

The Hummingbird Dagger is heavy on mystery but light on action.  Most of the story is simply conversations about discoveries made by the characters, who never fully develop.

This will be a fun book for readers who enjoy Regency, mystery, and/or historical fiction.  It’s listed as YA but it doesn’t quite fit in the genre in my opinion.

Thanks to Swoon Reads and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  The Hummingbird Dagger is scheduled for release on April 16, 2019.

*Quotes included are from a digital advance reader copy and are subject to change upon final publication.

 

Review | Internment

Internment by Samira Ahmed

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Layla Amin is your typical seventeen year old American:  she loves tennis, has a great boyfriend, she binge-watches Doctor Who with her parents… and she happens to be Muslim.

The president has declared Muslims to be a threat to America.  It began with a census registry, then the book burnings started, and suddenly Muslims were being fired from the public-sector and Exclusion Laws were enacted.

A van arrives in the Amin’s driveway one night, marked as Exclusion Authority.

“Under order of the Exclusion Authority and by the powers vested in the secretary of war under Presidential Order 1455, we are here to serve notice and carry out your relocation.”

The government has been watching everyone on the Muslim registry and the Amin family’s loyalty to the U.S. is in question all because of a poem Layla’s dad, a professor and poet, wrote titled ‘Revolution’.

In a matter of minutes the family is taken to a train station where they’re given reassignment documents and permanently stamped on the wrist with an ultraviolet ID number.

They arrive at Mobius, the first Muslim internment camp.  They’re under constant surveillance, even in the mobile home they’re assigned to known as a Mercury Home.

“I have no idea what to do next. I know I need to busy myself, because if I continue standing here, I’ll slowly fade away until I cease to exist. I wonder if that’s how they did it, the Japanese Americans who were sent to camps in World War II. Maybe they survived by going through the motions. Day by day. Waking. Counting the hours. Eating dust. Sleeping. That’s my immediate plan for now: Get through it. Survive the madness. Keep my eyes open.”

Layla is stunned to see her family so fearful that they go along with every rule set forth by the hateful camp leader known as the Director.

Disappearances begin.  People simply disappear and never return, especially those who are brave enough to speak out against the Director.

Layla’s parents feel they have no choice but to hope that they will be released soon but until then, continue life with some level of normalcy.  Layla refuses to pretend that anything happening is normal.  She’s only one person; a kid, but she’s determined to reveal to the world outside Mobius what is happening.

With the help of a guard named Jake, Layla is able to contact her boyfriend David and secure his help in getting information to the outside.  It’s a dangerous game that she’s playing, especially now that the Director is keeping a close eye on her.  Her attempts to speak out put herself and everyone she loves in danger. She has to decide how far she’s willing to go for freedom.

The concept of this story is fantastic.  We like to think that events like this would be impossible, and yet we have history books filled with information on the Holocaust and even the Japanese internment camps right here in America.

The internment of hundreds of thousands of Japanese Americans was considered a patriotic act necessary for the safety of the United States, yet half of those placed against their will were citizens of this country.

Is it too far-fetched to consider the possibility it could happen again: the prejudice against a specific group of people without any proof of wrong-doing?

So yes, this story was terrifying because these events have occured in the past, even right here in my own country.  It’s an important look at how quickly things can progress when fear becomes ammunition for an already present prejudice.

While the idea for Internment is gripping, the execution was mediocre for me.  I appreciate that the main character is a teen willing to fight for her freedom, it’s an important and powerful message.
Unfortunately, I found the idea of Layla meeting a guard willing to take so many unneccesary risks to help her get alone time with her boyfriend extremely far-fetched.
Also, while Layla wants her boyfriend to help her get messages to the outside, she seems a bit too preoccupied with the romance for someone on a mission to free everyone from an internment camp.
The characters were too one-dimensional for me, especially the Director who felt like a caricature at times.
The world building felt incomplete and the events Layla and her friends plan to stand up to the Director never take off so I went from anticipating a tense action scene to wondering where in the world the idea went or why it was given barely a full page to unfold.

Overall, I appreciated this story but the execution fell flat.  I expected more grit in the delivery with more believable characters (seriously, I’m stunned at how generic the villain was).

Internment is an important and highly relevant book with a terrifying premise.  There’s a lot of potential here and it’s still a book worth reading though it didn’t live up to my expectations.

Review | Underground Airlines

Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters

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“Freedom is a matter of logistics.”

In Underground Airlines readers are introduced to an alternate modern day America where slavery continues in four states known as “the Hard Four”:  Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Carolina (which is not divided as North/South).

“Under the Fugitive Persons Act, those who escape from service are to be captured and returned, anywhere they are found in the United States, slave state or free. All law enforcement agencies are obliged to assist in these operations when called upon (as, indeed, ‘all good citizens’ are so obliged), but it is the US Marshals Service that is specifically charged with the job.”

A young black man works as a bounty hunter for the US Marshals Service. In exchange for his freedom, he must capture runaway slaves, known as Persons Bound (PBs).  A tracker implanted in his body accounts for his location at all times while he travels and he remains in regular phone contact with an agent known as Bridge.

“Since 1970, African American law enforcement officers are allowed to claim nonparticipation under the Moore amendment.
The US Marshals Service, therefore, has needed to find other means of pursuing its mission.
That was me. I was ‘other means.’ A man with no name, a quasi-employee of a clandestine branch, moving from city to city, job to job, under the supervision of a voice on a Maryland telephone. Bridge assigned me my  cases, but my tactics were up to me. I pursued my cases efficiently and effectively, and as long as I did that, my own past remained buried. I remained in the North and free. Give and take. Negotiation and conciliation. Compromise.”

Our bounty hunter calls himself Victor while he works a job in Indianapolis attempting to infiltrate a local abolitionist group known as the Underground Airlines.  He’s in search of a PB known as Jackdaw but there’s something different about this case.  The case file is too vague and Bridge seems to be hiding more than usual.

Victor is getting to know the right people to lead him to Jackdaw’s location but this case proves unusually complicated.  The Hard Four can no longer trade with the rest of America because of their use of PBs but they have found ways around that.  Now, however, there seems to be a secret that the Hard Four and the U.S. government want to work together to contain.

With the help of a young woman he meets along the way, Victor will return to the Hard Four for answers, in hopes of changing the course of history while saving himself.

This book kept me on the edge of my seat!  I enjoy alternate history and this was a horrifying look at modern day slavery where plantations are now giant factories and slaves are tattooed with plantation logos to show who owns them.  The author did a great job of creating this alternate America, describing its history and how things work between north and south as far as trade and the attitudes of free people toward PBs.

“Six amendments and four resolutions, preserving slavery where it was, preventing its extension elsewhere; balancing northern sentiment and southern interest, northern principles and southern economic welfare. And the clincher, inscribed here in marble as it is inscribed in the Constitution: the Eighteenth Amendment, making the whole rest of them permanent and everlasting. Eternal compromise. The great legislative Hail Mary: No future amendment of the Constitution shall affect the five preceding articles…”

Underground Airlines is a fascinating alternate history/dystopia with a dark and uncomfortable (necessary) commentary on race. It manages to also be a gripping thriller where we never know what side someone is on and our main character has to solve a mystery while navigating deeply divided cities, determining people’s true intentions, and double crossing the government.

The best part is that while the book has a conclusion, there’s opportunity for an interesting sequel in the future!

If you enjoy alternate history, historical fiction, and sci-fi, Underground Airlines is a solid book to add to your stack!09

Review | The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted

The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted by Robert Hillman

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Tom Hope wakes up one morning to find that his wife Trudy has left him.  In the days that follow, he writes down things he would do to make Trudy happy if she were to ever return.

Trudy does return … pregnant by another man.  He may not be much of a farmer or a husband but Tom is a wonderful father to their son, Peter.
Trudy eventually takes off again, leaving Peter with Tom when she joins a holy roller community that Tom calls “Jesus Camp”.

When Trudy returns for Peter a couple years later, Tom is devastated.  He has no legal rights to the child and watches helplessly as Peter is taken from him.

Tom is soon hired to fix up some signs for the new bookstore run by the town’s newest resident, Hannah Babel.

Hannah and Tom fall in love and marry, surprising their community. The pair are busy running their farm and bookshop when Peter shows up unexpectedly, having run away from his mother and Jesus Camp.

Peter’s return stirs up many emotions for both Tom and Hannah.  Tom doesn’t want to lose Peter again and Hannah isn’t willing to love another little boy again.

Readers discover that Hannah had a son named Michael during WWII.  The family arrived at Auschwitz and were immediately separated from her husband.  Hannah and Michael were taken to the side by an officer.  Exhausted Hannah fell asleep for a split second only to awaken and find her son missing.  Her husband and son both died in the gas chambers within a week of their arrival.

Tom feels he must choose between his love for Peter and Hannah.  Hannah feels that caring for Peter will somehow diminish the love she has for Michael.

When Peter’s life with Trudy takes a dangerous turn, Tom and Hannah both have choices to make to restore their broken hearts.

The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted is a tough book for me to rate.  The story is heartbreaking and it reads quickly (I read it in a single afternoon).  It’s well-written but yet in a way that I felt I was only being told a summary instead of being in the story where I could learn about the characters and understand their emotions.  So while the story is incredibly compelling it’s execution fell flat for me due to the one dimensional characters.  The book covers two time periods so readers can learn the stories of Hannah and Tom but there was no character development or descriptions to gain insight and better understand their thoughts and emotions.

Thanks to G.P. Putnam’s Sons and Edelweiss for providing me with a DRC in exchange for my honest review.  The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted is scheduled for release on April 9, 2019.

Review | Dreaming Darkly

Dreaming Darkly by Caitlin Kittredge

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Ivy Bloodgood is aged beyond her seventeen years thanks to a rough childhood with a mentally ill mom with a transient lifestyle.
Ivy is shocked to learn after her mother’s suicide the surprising secrets that were kept from her; most of all that she has an uncle Simon on Darkhaven, an island off the coast of Maine, living in the crumbling Bloodgood mansion.  Her mother’s childhood home will now become her own.

As soon as Ivy steps foot on Darkhaven there is a sense of foreboding.  The creepy housekeeper Mrs. MacLeod doesn’t exactly make a great first impression and is quick to lay down some ground rules:

“This island is seven miles long, but for your purposes the road ends at three and a half. You stay on the Bloodgood side of Darkhaven, am I clear? The Ramseys don’t like trespassers, and the state of Maine gives them ample right to shoot you if you cross the property line.” *

The Ramsey family has lived on Darkhaven as long as the Bloodgoods though there is a serious feud between the two that spans generations.  Of course Ivy immediately wanders the island without considering its property lines and runs into Doyle Ramsey, the resident cocky high school guy and sworn enemy of her family.

It’s Doyle who begins to share with Ivy the history of the Bloodgoods and the Ramseys, which includes some cold-blooded murder and a good old-fashioned curse.

Ivy begins an uneasy friendship with Doyle while trying to get her uncle Simon to open up with the truth about the family curse and her mother’s illness.  Simon seems to be just as skilled as her mother with keeping secrets so she enlists the help of Doyle to find out the truth… and quickly, because Ivy fears she’s beginning to battle the same inner demons as her mother.

“And it was clear to me there was something dark about my family’s island, something that gathered tragedy to it like a magnet. Thirty years ago four people had vanished without a trace. My great-grandfather had massacred the Ramseys. My mother had gone mad there. And now Neil Ramsey was dead, and near as I could tell, somebody was following me, on Darkhaven and now the mainland.” *

Dreaming Darkly was an impressive YA gothic mystery full of family secrets, curses, and rumors that had me glued to my reading chair!  I loved the atmosphere and the mystery.

I’m going to sound like a broken record here if you’ve read several of my previous reviews in the YA genre:  my only complaint is that the story suffers slightly because of the fast pace and lack of character development.  We get a lot of history since it’s important to the plot but would’ve been even better with more detail.  Also, the instant attraction between Ivy and Doyle is believable but the trust Ivy immediately places in Doyle is tough to believe because of her past; I would’ve appreciated further character development.  I adore that the author didn’t give us a romance because it would’ve been completely out of place in this story.

If you need a creepy gothic mystery in your life, this book is worth picking up!

Thanks to Katherine Tegen Books and Edelweiss for providing me with a DRC in exchange for my honest review.  Dreaming Darkly is scheduled for release on April 9, 2019.

*Quotes included are from a digital advance readers copy and are subject to change upon final publication.

Review | Mera: Tidebreaker

Mera: Tidebreaker by Danielle Paige, Stephen Byrne (Illustrator)

mera_tidebreaker

Mera: Tidebreaker is a YA graphic novel that offers up the origin stories of DC characters Mera and Aquaman.

Xebel princess Mera is tired of living under Atlantean rule and under the watchful eye of her father.  The King wants nothing more than to protect his daughter and see her marry her childhood friend Larken who can rule Xebel and protect Mera.

The King gives Larken orders to find the lost Atlantean prince Arthur and bring back his head.  When Mera overhears this, she decides she’s going to find the prince herself and earn her right to the throne.

When Mera reaches land she makes immediate contact with Arthur. She’s too weak from surfacing on land to kill him but he’s kind enough to bring her back to his home to recover, no questions asked.

Once she regains her strength, Mera puts off killing Arthur because he’s so… well, nice. It’s obvious he has no idea that he is heir to the throne of an underwater kingdom.  The war between Xebel and Atlantis has nothing to do with Arthur.
Mera struggles with her determination to rule Xebel and overthrow Atlantis and laments the fate of the innocent Arthur.

If Arthur learns who he truly is, can the two change the fate of their kingdoms?

This read more like a middle grade graphic novel than YA for me.
If this is meant to be an introduction for young readers to the characters Mera and Aquaman, I think it should’ve given some back story on why the kingdoms of Xebel and Atlantis are at war.

Also, it is not explained beforehand that the prince of Atlantis is in hiding and doesn’t even know who he truly is.  It seemed like Mera left the ocean and chose the first Arthur she happened to meet.

Annnnnd… the instalove.  I know this is YA and because it’s a graphic novel the plot is more brief but I’m so tired of characters falling in love after two days and the love becoming the main focus.

Although there are plot holes or what feel like plots holes because of vague or missing explanations, the story still started strong:  Mera wants to rule her kingdom and be a strong warrior like her mother was and she isn’t going to stand by and let other people decide her future.
When she takes her future into her own hands, she immediately falls in love and all those fierce beliefs take a back seat to Arthur, causing the story to suffer and the ending to be anticlimactic.

Overall, this was a decent graphic novel that targets middle grade/YA readers to introduce the characters Mera and Arthur (who will later become Aquaman).  I would’ve appreciated more of the story and a much stronger conclusion but this will appeal to young readers interested in the DC Universe.

Thanks to DC Ink and NetGalley for providing me an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  Mera: Tidebreaker was released April 2, 2019.