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Welcome to Fashionista Piranha Book Blog, where a good book is always your best accessory!  Life is too short to waste reading bad literature, especially when there's so many good books out there. If I can keep you from reading one atrocious novel, I've done my job. But if I help you find something you'll enjoy, even better. I've achieved my goal.

I have been reading, writing and reviewing since 2008, so there's a lot to see here.  To read the latest reviews, simply scroll down; in the sidebar to the left I also have the reviews grouped chronologically.  If there's a specific title or series you have in mind, I also have the reviews indexed by the author:

Book Reviews by Author, A-H
Book Reviews by Author, I-P
Book Reviews by Author, Q-Z


Sometimes I will wander off-topic and talk about theater productions I've seen.  Usually - but not always - it'll be Shakespeare-related (most commonly the plays from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival) or a stage adaptation of a classic book.  But if I see a show and I'm super-excited about it, odds are that it'll show up on Fashionista Piranha.  Less frequently, movie adaptations of books will make a similar appearance.

I always enjoy hearing from visitors to the blog, so please feel free to leave comments or email me at fashion_piranha @ livejournal.com.  This includes you, publishers and authors!  I am always happy to discuss your projects with you; feel free to check out my review policies here and drop me a line.
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Suzi the Fashion Piranha
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Sapphire Blue
by Kerstin Gier


Book Two in the Ruby Red trilogy.
This review contains spoilers for Ruby Red , the first book in the series.


In less than a week, Gwen Shepherd has gone from perfectly normal teenager (with a talent for seeing ghosts) to the Ruby, the last time traveler needed to complete the Circle of Twelve. Forced to involuntarily travel back in time for a few hours every day, Gwen is slowly adjusting to her new life by taking lessons in eighteenth century etiquette and memorizing endless historical facts. No one in the secret society will tell Gwen about her role in the organization, although her cousin Charlotte takes great pleasure in pointing out Gwen’s failings as the Ruby. But thanks to the Googling skills of her friend Leslie and eavesdropping by the invisible demon Xemerius, who adopts Gwen as a sort of pet after realizing she can see him, the society’s desires and goals emerge. If Gwen’s infatuation with Gideon, another time traveler, doesn’t consume her every thought she may be able to uncover the secrets of the Circle of Twelve.

While many people would be thrilled to gain the ability to travel into the past, Gwen definitely isn’t one of them. While she’s not stupid, her interests are all very contemporary: musicals, movies, and other areas of pop culture. As a result, she’s pretty irreverent about the past and doesn’t overly trouble herself with blending in when she time travels. Sometimes this can lead to some pretty funny moments, like when she performs a stirring rendition of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Memories” at a fancy ball two hundred years before the song was written. At other times, it can be very poignant; when Gwen meets a young version of her beloved grandfather, she immediately latches on to him, nearly going to tears because she’s so happy to see him alive once more. They form a friendship and on later visits, her grandfather helps fill her in on the details about the secret society governing her modern life.

Don’t all these interactions with the past threaten to create a paradox? Those familiar with science fiction and fantasy might wonder, but such thoughts never cross Gwen’s mind. So far, none of her actions seem to have caused any harm to the time continuum, but of course how would the reader know if it did? The story’s told from Gwen’s point of view.

Gwen’s crush on Gideon explodes into undying love as only the passions of a teenager will do. She’s constantly thinking about him, wondering whether he likes her or is just toying with her. Indiscriminate smooching in churches and flirtatious banter make it seem like Gideon’s into her one minute, but the next he’s ignoring her completely. As I read the story, I feel the same annoyance that always descends when I watch a production of Romeo and Juliet: You’re both teenagers! You’ve known each other less than a week! Of course he doesn’t love you -it’s all hormones and infatuation at this point! But I know that for many readers, the romance is the key draw of the book, not a source of irritation, so to each its own.

It sounds like I’m being really hard on Gwen, criticizing her for being uninformed about history, prone to silliness, and much too obsessed with Gideon. So I just want to make it clear: I like Gwen. I like her a lot. She’s a terribly amusing narrator, constantly coming up with the most interesting phrases to describe events. She’s very warm and affectionate, especially to her young siblings. True, Gwen’s often rather ditzy, but she also manages to be quite clever at times. Her sense of humor really shines through as she’s swept up into a destiny she never expected, making her far more fun than her cousin Charlotte, who grew up into a very serious young woman when she believed she had a special role to one day fulfill.

The book ends on a killer cliffhanger without answering many of the questions first brought up in Ruby Red. I’m so glad I can go out and pick up the last volume today instead of having to wait a year like those who read the book when it was first published.


3 out of 5 stars


To read more about Sapphire Blue, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.





Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014:
2013: Photos: Library Photos from the 1960s
2012: Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde: A Graphic Novel
2011: Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde
2010: Pearl of China by Anchee Min
2009: Gilded Age Contest Winner!

New Releases: May 26th, 2015

Any Chuck Palahniuk fans in the audience? My personal interest in him began and ended with Fight Club but I know he's got a devoted following. Check out his new short story collection!
Honestly, though, it seemed like a quiet week in new book releases.  Did I miss something interesting that hit the shelves today?

NEW RELEASES IN HARDCOVER


MAKE SOMETHING UP: Stories You Can't Unread by Chuck Palahniuk
Representing work that spans several years, MAKE SOMETHING UP is a compilation of 21 stories and one novella (some previously published, some not) that will disturb and delight. In "Zombies," the best and brightest of a high school prep school become tragically addicted to the latest drug craze: electric shocks from cardiac defibrillators. In "Knock, Knock," a son hopes to tell one last off-color joke to a father in his final moments, while in "Tunnel of Love," a massage therapist runs the curious practice of providing “relief” to dying clients. Fiction/Short Stories

OUR SOULS AT NIGHT by Kent Haruf
Addie Moore pays an unexpected visit to a neighbor, Louis Waters. Her husband died years ago, as did his wife, and in such a small town they naturally have known of each other for decades; in fact, Addie was quite fond of Louis’ wife. His daughter lives hours away in Colorado Springs, her son even farther away in Grand Junction, and Addie and Louis have long been living alone in houses now empty of family, the nights so terribly lonely, especially with no one to talk with. Fiction

REMEMBER ME THIS WAY by Sabine Durrant
A year after her husband Zach’s death, Lizzie goes to lay flowers where his fatal accident took place. As she makes her way along the road, she thinks about their life together. She wonders if she has changed since Zach died and if she will ever feel whole again. At last she reaches the spot. And there, tied to a tree, is a bunch of lilies. The flowers are addressed to her husband. Someone has been there before her. Lizzie loved Zach, but she’s starting to realize she didn’t really know him. Or what he was capable of. Psychological Thriller

NEW IN PAPERBACK


THE BOOK OF LIFE by Deborah Harkness
In this conclusion to the All Souls Trilogy, Diana Bishop and Matthew Clairmont are back in the present and about to face their worst nightmares in the form of their families. There’s still resistance to their marriage, the issues with the Congregation have yet to be resolved, and --- to add to their list of problems --- a long-abandoned son of Matthew’s begins reigning terror on the de Clermont family and the public at large. Urban Fantasy / Paranormal

THE GOOD SPY: The Life and Death of Robert Ames by Kai Bird
Though a legend in the CIA, Robert Ames is unknown to the general public. But his story, and that of his friend and opposite number Ali Salameh, contains critical lessons for anyone seeking to understand the origins --- and future --- of the War on Terror. Using hundreds of recently released documents and conducting in-depth interviews with those who knew Ames best, Kai Bird tells his story in full for the first time. Biography

THE SMOKE AT DAWN: A Novel of the Civil War by Jeff Shaara
New York Times bestselling author Jeff Shaara returns to the Civil War terrain he knows so well, with the latest novel in his series that started with A BLAZE OF GLORY and A CHAIN OF THUNDER. In THE SMOKE AT DAWN, the last great push of the Army of the Cumberland sets the stage for a decisive confrontation at Chattanooga that could determine the outcome of the war. Historical Fiction





Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014:
2013: Royal Mistress by Anne Easter Smith
2012: All the Flowers in Shanghai by Duncan Jepson
2011: Tighter by Adele Griffin
2010: Eleanor the Queen by Norah Lofts
2009: Hidden Voices by Pat Lowery Collins

Review: The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

The Gracekeepers
by Kirsty Logan


Callanish lives in isolation as a gracekeeper, one who lays the dead to rest. When someone dies at sea – and in her post-apocalyptic world that Callanish lives in, nearly all the world is covered in water – the gracekeeper performs the ceremonies of the dead and maintains the watery graves. She is teased by the memory of a long-ago circus, one that starred a dancing bear that went rogue and killed its trainers. Across the sea, the daughter of the bear-dancers continues to perform in the circus. Called North, she lives with a nautical troupe of circus performers and travels from one island to the next, dancing with her bear to the delight of island-dwelling landlockers. She is betrothed to the ringmaster’s son, although neither young person is in love. She is desperate to escape the marriage before the secret North guards so carefully is revealed. When tragedy brings Callanish and North face to face, a connection is formed between the two young women that will eventually lead them both to freedom.

The world is split into two classes: the landlockers, who live on the island archipelagos, and the damplings, who live on boats with no permanent home. Ostentatiously, the landlockers are better off than those at sea, but their power is largely symbolic. Both groups suffer from want and lack, recycling even the smallest scraps because there is very little manufacturing and even if new things were available, no one could afford them.

North and her fellow circus performers are unwelcome on land, tolerated only for the entertainment they bring with each performance. The ringmaster’s dream is to own a piece of land large enough for a small house for his son, a fact known to all in the circus. The ringmaster’s pregnant wife, however, believes he means the son in her belly and not his adult son Ainsel. When she realizes her mistake, all her anger and frustration turns on Ainsel’s betrothed, North, and the disharmony threatens to tear the small circus apart.

The drama and excitement of the traveling circus contrasts sharply with the quiet, ascetic life of Callanish. Callanish spends her days caring for the birds that play an important role in her ceremonies, and conducting her ceremonial gracekeeper duties. She’s basically a nun. Days can pass without seeing a soul. In exile because she failed her mother, Callanish writes endless letters that she cannot bear to send.

Each character in the book wrestles with some form of loneliness. But something about the two main characters held me back; although I could clearly sense the connection between the two of them, that link did not extend out to me, the reader. I always felt distant and held somewhat at length from them.

Logan has a lovely writing style, gentle and soothing like the rise and fall of waves. When great events happen, her words speed up, whipping the reader like a storm, but always returning to that calming rhythm. It gives the story a mythic quality even before people blessed – or cursed – with selkie-like qualities recall old Scottish folklore. It also suits the world of the circus, enhancing the illusion and make-believe and mystery.

But it is very, very slow. Too slow, at times, so that my attention would wander and I’d start thinking about what I should cook for dinner or whether I’d remembered to buy stamps at the grocery store. So it’s a lovely story, but not an engrossing one.


3.5 out of 5 stars


To read more about The Gracekeepers, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.





Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014:
2013: I'm off to Alaska!
2012: Fashionista Piranha on hiatus until May 24th...
2011: Bending the Boyne by J. S. Dunn
2010: Band of Angels by Julie Gregson
2009: Extraordinary Engines edited by Nick Gevers

New Releases: May 12th, 2015

Not much caught my eye this week, but last week I forgot to mention The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris. That's right, the author of Chocolat wrote a book about the trickster of Norse mythology. That's gonna be sweet!
But as for this week...


NEW RELEASES IN HARDCOVER


THE MILLIONAIRE AND THE BARD: Henry Folger's Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare's First Folio by Andrea Mays
Today it is the most valuable book in the world. Recently one sold for over five million dollars. It is the book that rescued the name of William Shakespeare and half of his plays from oblivion. THE MILLIONAIRE AND THE BARD tells the miraculous and romantic story of the making of the First Folio, and of the American industrialist whose thrilling pursuit of the book became a lifelong obsession. History

A LUCKY LIFE INTERRUPTED: A Memoir of Hope by Tom Brokaw
Tom Brokaw has led a fortunate life, with a strong marriage and family, many friends, and a brilliant journalism career culminating in his 22 years as anchor of the “NBC Nightly News” and as bestselling author. But in the summer of 2013, he received shocking news: He had multiple myeloma, a treatable but incurable blood cancer. Brokaw takes us through all the seasons and stages of this surprising year, the emotions, discoveries, setbacks and struggles --- times of denial, acceptance, turning points and courage. Memoir

GROW YOUR VALUE: Living and Working to Your Full Potential by Mika Brzezinski
Mika Brzezinski, Morning Joe co-host and New York Times best-selling author of Knowing Your Value, has built a career on inspiring women to assess and then obtain their true value in the workplace. In her books and in her conferences, Mika gives women the tools necessary to advocate for themselves and their financial futures. But that is only the first step; once you know your value, you need to grow it—both professionally and personally. Drawing on deeply revealing conversations with powerful and dynamic women, input from researchers and relationship experts, and her own wealth of experience, Mika helps women pinpoint their individual definition of success. She advises her readers to define the “professional value” that encompasses their worth in the workplace, and the “inner value” made up of their core beliefs and goals. Business

TEAM OF TEAMS: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World by Stanley McChrystal
When General Stanley McChrystal took command of the Joint Special Operations Task Force in 2004, he quickly realized that conventional military tactics were failing. Al Qaeda in Iraq was a decentralized network that could move quickly, strike ruthlessly, then seemingly vanish into the local population. The allied forces had a huge advantage in numbers, equipment, and training—but none of that seemed to matter. McChrystal and his colleagues discarded a century of conventional wisdom and remade the Task Force, in the midst of a grueling war, into something new: a network that combined extremely transparent communication with decentralized decision-making authority. The Task Force became a “team of teams”—faster, flatter, more flex­ible—and beat back Al Qaeda. Military / Business

ELLIE by Mike Wu
The zoo is closing!
Ellie and her friends want to save their home, but Ellie's just a baby elephant, and she doesn't know what she can do to help.
While the other animals are busy working, Ellie finds a brush and some paints, and gives the zoo a big splash of color! Will her bright new talent be enough to keep the zoo's gates open for good? Children's

NEW IN PAPERBACK


EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU by Celeste Ng
Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, who are determined that their middle daughter will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. However, when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together tumbles into chaos, forcing them to confront the long-kept secrets that have been slowly pulling them apart. Fiction

THE FEVER by Megan Abbott
The Nash family is close-knit. However, their seeming stability is thrown into chaos when Deenie's best friend is struck by a terrifying, unexplained seizure in class. Rumors of a hazardous outbreak spread through the family, school and community. As hysteria and contagion swell, a series of tightly held secrets emerges, threatening to unravel friendships, families and the town's fragile idea of security. Thriller

CARSICK: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America by John Waters
John Waters is putting his life on the line. Armed with wit, a pencil-thin mustache, and a cardboard sign that reads "I'm Not Psycho," he hitchhikes across America from Baltimore to San Francisco, braving lonely roads and treacherous drivers. But who should we be more worried about, the delicate film director with genteel manners or the unsuspecting travelers transporting the Pope of Trash?  Before he leaves for this bizarre adventure, Waters fantasizes about the best and worst possible scenarios: a friendly drug dealer hands over piles of cash to finance films with no questions asked, a demolition-derby driver makes a filthy sexual request in the middle of a race, a gun-toting drunk terrorizes and holds him hostage, and a Kansas vice squad entraps and throws him in jail. So what really happens when this cult legend sticks out his thumb and faces the open road? His real-life rides include a gentle eighty-one-year-old farmer who is convinced Waters is a hobo, an indie band on tour, and the perverse filmmaker's unexpected hero: a young, sandy-haired Republican in a Corvette. Memoirs / Travel






Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014:
2013: A Curious Man: The Strange & Brilliant Life of Robert “Believe It or Not!” Ripley by Neal Thompson
2012: Fashionista Piranha on hiatus until May 24th…
2011: In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant
2010: Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach
2009: News: Digital Piracy Affects Books, Too
Ten Most Memorable Moms in New Fiction
by Andrea Lochen

What better time of year than Mother’s Day to showcase some of the most memorable fictional mothers in some of the best new novels? From loving, supportive mothers to complex, trailblazing mothers to selfish, vindictive mothers, this list has it all!

1) The Perfect Son by Barbara Claypole White (Lake Union, July 2015)
Ella Fitzwilliam, the mom in THE PERFECT SON, quit a successful career in jewelry design to be full-time parent, mental health coach, and advocate for her son, Harry, who has a soup of issues that include Tourette syndrome. She has devoted 17 years of her life to his therapy, to educating teachers, to being Harry’s emotional rock and giving him the confidence he needs to be Harry. Thanks to her, Harry is comfortable in his own skin, even when people stare. After Ella has a major heart attack in the opening chapter, her love for Harry tethers her to life. But as she recovers, she discovers the hardest parenting lesson of all: to let go.

2) Rodin’s Lover by Heather Webb (Plume, January 2015)
In RODIN’S LOVER, Camille’s mother, Louise Claudel, is spiteful, jealous, and disapproving of Camille’s pursuit to become a female sculptor in the 1880s. She also shows signs of mental illness. Because of this relationship, Camille struggles with all of her female relationships the rest of her life, and ultimately, to prove to her mother that she’s truly talented.

3) Imaginary Things by Andrea Lochen (Astor + Blue Editions, April 2015)
In IMAGINARY THINGS, young single mother Anna Jennings has a unique power that most parents only dream of—the ability to see her four-year-old son’s imagination come to life. But when David’s imaginary friends turn dark and threatening, Anna must learn the rules of this bizarre phenomenon, what his friends truly represent, and how best to protect him.


4) The Magician’s Lie by Greer Macallister (Sourcebooks, January 2015)
In THE MAGICIAN'S LIE, Arden's mother is remarkable both for what she does and what she doesn't do. As a young woman, she bears a child out of wedlock and runs away with her music teacher, never fearing the consequences. But later in life, her nerve fails her—just when her daughter needs her most.

5) Five Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer (Putnam, 2014)
In FIVE DAYS LEFT, Mara Nichols is, in some ways, a typical mother: she loves her daughter fiercely, thinks about her constantly and goes to great lengths to balance her high-stress legal career with her daughter’s needs. But there are two ways in which Mara isn't typical at all. First, she adopted her daughter from India, making good on a lifelong promise to rescue a baby from the same orphanage where Mara herself lived decades ago. And second, when Mara is diagnosed with a fatal, incurable illness that will render her unable to walk, talk or even feed herself, she has to make the kind of parenting choice none of us wants to consider—would my child be better off if I were no longer alive?

6) House Broken by Sonja Yoerg (Penguin/NAL, January 2015)
In HOUSE BROKEN, Helen Riley has a habit of leaving her grown children to cope with her vodka-fueled disasters. She has her reasons, but they’re buried deep, and stem from secrets too painful to remember and, perhaps, too terrible to forgive.

7) You Were Meant for Me by Yona Zeldis McDonough (Penguin/NAL, 2014)
In YOU WERE MEANT FOR ME, having a baby is the furthest thing from Miranda Berenzweig’s mind. She’s newly single after a bad break up, and focused on her promotion at work, her friends and getting her life back on track. Then one frigid March night she finds a newborn infant in a NYC subway and even after taking the baby to the police, can’t get the baby out of her mind. At the suggestion of the family court judge assigned to the case, Miranda begins adoption proceedings. But her plans—as well as her hopes and dreams—are derailed when the baby’s biological father surfaces, wanting to claim his child. The way she handles this unforeseen turn of events is what makes Miranda a truly memorable mother.

8) The Far End of Happy by Kathryn Craft (Sourcebooks Landmark, May 2015)
In THE FAR END OF HAPPY, Ronnie has hung in there as long as she can during her husband's decline into depression, spending issues, and alcoholism and he will not accept her attempts to get him professional help. She is not a leaver, but can't bear for her sons to witness the further deterioration of the marriage. She determines to divorce—and on the day he has promised to move out, he instead arms himself, holes up inside a building on the property, and stands off against police. When late in the day the police ask Ronnie if she’ll appeal to him one last time over the bullhorn, she must decide: with the stakes so high, will she try one last time to save her husband’s life? Or will her need to protect her sons and her own growing sense of self win out?

9) Your Perfect Life by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke (Washington Square Press, 2014)
In YOUR PERFECT LIFE, long-time friends, Rachel and Casey wake up the morning after their twenty year high school reunion to discover they’ve switched bodies. Casey is single with no children before becoming an instant mom to Rachel’s two teenagers and baby. Despite her lack of experience as a parent, and her often comedic missteps with the baby in particular (think: diaper blow outs and sudden sleep deprivation) Casey’s fresh perspective on her new role helps her connect with each of the children in a very different way than Rachel. And when the oldest, Audrey, is almost date raped at her prom, it is Casey’s strength that she draws from an experience in her own past that ultimately pulls Audrey through. Although it is hard for Rachel to watch her best friend take care of Audrey when she so desperately wants to, she realizes that Casey can help her daughter in a way she can’t. And Casey discovers she might have what it takes to be a mom to her own children someday.

10) The Life List by Lori Nelson Spielman (Bantam, 2013)
Elizabeth Bohlinger, the mother in THE LIFE LIST, is actually deceased. But she still has a big presence in her daughter's life—some may say too big! With heartfelt letters, Elizabeth guides her daughter, Brett, on a journey to complete the life list of wishes Brett made when she was just a teen. Like many mothers, Elizabeth has an uncanny ability to see into her daughter's heart, exposing buried desires Brett has long forgotten.


Andrea Lochen is a University of Michigan MFA graduate. Her first novel, The Repeat Year (Berkley, 2013), won a Hopwood Award for the Novel prior to its publication. She has served as fiction editor of The Madison Review and taught writing at the University of Michigan. She currently teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha, where she was recently awarded UW Colleges Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Her second novel, Imaginary Things (Astor + Blue Editions, 2015) is recently released and has garnered wonderful praise. With features on Barnes & Noble.com, Huffington Post, and Brit + Co., her work is being introduced to thousands of new readers. Andrea currently lives in Madison with her husband and daughter and is at work on her third novel. For more information visit www.andrealochen.com




Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: Bracelet of Bones (The Viking Sagas #1) by Kevin Crossley-Holland
2013: The Iron Daughter (Iron Fey #2) by Julie Kagawa
2012: Fashionista Piranha on hiatus until May 24th…
2011: In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant
2010: Brilliance of the Moon by Lian Hearn
2009: News: Using Digital Techniques to Recover Ancient Manuscripts

New Releases: May 5th, 2015

Lots of popular books from last summer are returning as paperbacks this week. That's exciting. Personally, I'm very intrigued by Sarah J. Maas's new novel - I haven't checked out her previous YA series but it's been so popular at our bookstore that I want to give her a chance.

NEW RELEASES IN HARDCOVER

AMERICAN WIFE: A Memoir of Love, War, Faith, and Renewal by Taya Kyle, with Jim DeFelice
Chris and Taya Kyle’s remarkable story has captivated millions through the Academy Award-winning film American Sniper, and because of Chris’ bestselling memoir, in which Taya contributed passages that formed the book’s emotional core. Now, with trusted collaborator Jim DeFelice, Taya writes in never-before-told detail about the hours, days and months after his shocking death when grief threatened to overwhelm her. Then there were wearying battles to protect her husband’s legacy and reputation. Memoir

joan-rivers-book-435THE BOOK OF JOAN: Tales of Mirth, Mischief, and Manipulation by Melissa Rivers
Joan and Melissa Rivers had one of the most celebrated mother-daughter relationships of all time. If you think Joan said some outrageous things to her audiences as a comedian, you won’t believe what she said and did in private. In THE BOOK OF JOAN, Melissa shares stories, bon mots and life lessons from growing up in the Rosenberg-Rivers household. She relates funny, poignant and irreverent observations, thoughts, and tales about the woman who raised her and is the reason she considers valium one of the four basic food groups. Memoir

THE WRIGHT BROTHERS by David McCullough
On a winter day in 1903, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, two unknown brothers from Ohio changed history. But it would take the world some time to believe what had happened: the age of flight had begun, with the first heavier-than-air, powered machine carrying a pilot. Who were these men, and how was it that they achieved what they did? David McCullough, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, tells the surprising, profoundly American story of Wilbur and Orville Wright. History

A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES by Sarah J. Maas
When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin-one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world. As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she's been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow over the faerie lands is growing, and Feyre must find a way to stop it...or doom Tamlin --- and his world --- forever. Young Adult

SAINT ANYTHING by Sarah Dessen
Sydney has always felt invisible. She's grown accustomed to her brother, Peyton, being the focus of the family’s attention and, lately, concern. Peyton is handsome and charismatic, but seems bent on self-destruction. Now, after a drunk-driving accident that crippled a boy, Peyton’s serving some serious jail time, and Sydney is on her own, questioning her place in the family and the world. Young Adult




NEW IN PAPERBACK

ENDURING COURAGE: Ace Pilot Eddie Rickenbacker and the Dawn of the Age of Speed by John F. Ross
ENDURING COURAGE is the electrifying story of the beginning of America’s love affair with speed --- and how one man above all the rest showed a nation the way forward. Eddie Rickenbacker was an innovator on the racetrack, a skilled aerial dualist and squadron commander, and founder of Eastern Air Lines. He showed a war-weary nation what it took to survive against nearly insurmountable odds when he and seven others endured a harrowing three-week ordeal adrift without food or water in the Pacific during World War II. Biography

THE INVENTION OF WINGS by Sue Monk Kidd
Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. On her 11th birthday, Sarah Grimke is given ownership of Handful. We follow their remarkable journeys over the next 35 years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies, and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love. Fiction

THE MOCKINGBIRD NEXT DOOR: Life with Harper Lee by Marja Mills
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is one of the best loved novels of the 20th century. But for the last 50 years, the book’s celebrated author, Harper Lee, has said almost nothing on the record. Journalists have trekked to her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, where she has lived with her sister, Alice, for decades, trying and failing to get an interview with the author. But in 2001, the Lee sisters opened their door to journalist Marja Mills. It was the beginning of a long conversation --- and a great friendship. Memoir

REVIVAL by Stephen King
In a small New England town, over half a century ago, a new minister named Charles Jacobs will transform the local church. However, when tragedy strikes the Jacobs family, this charismatic preacher curses God, mocks all religious belief and is banished from the shocked town. Years later, a grownup Jamie Morton meets Charles Jacobs again, with profound consequences for both men. Their bond becomes a pact beyond even the Devil’s devising, and Jamie discovers that revival has many meanings. Thriller







Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: Swallowing the Earth by Osamu Tezuka
2013: City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster
2012: Fashionista Piranha on hiatus…
2011: Magical JxR Vol. 1 by Lee Sun-Young
2010: Bronte Sisters Action Figures
2009: Mr. Darcy’s Dream by Elizabeth Aston
The Blood of Olympus
by Rick Riordan


Book Five in the Heroes of Olympus series. It is set in the same universe as the Percy Jackson series and The Kane Chronicles.
This review contains spoilers for previous books in the series.
MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE BLOOD OF OLYMPUS BELOW.


Gaea is waking, and unless the crew of the Argo II can stop her the world will end in just a few short days. Nico, Reyna, and Coach Hedge take the sacred Athena Parthenos back to Camp Half-Blood in the hope that restoring the statue will stop the civil war stirred up by Octavian while the other seven demigods hurry to Athens to prevent the giants from completing the ceremony to raise Gaea. Many obstacles rise to challenge the demigods, and without the help of the gods there will be no victory. But Olympus remains silent…

I’ve generally been a fan of Rick Riordan’s demigod stories, but something about this book just didn’t work for me. My first objection was to the unnecessarily high number of narrators. I’ve complained about Riordan’s jumping viewpoints before; although he scaled back from The House of Hades with only five narrators instead of Hade’s seven, it’s still a few demigods too many. I mean, it made sense. There’s so much going on in so many locations in such a compressed span of time that the narrative has to jump around to keep up. But some characters were horribly underdeveloped in this story, like Hazel Levesque, the magic-wielding daughter of Pluto who never gets a turn at narrating. Others are just fan favorites – was anyone else disappointed that Riordan never used the POVs of Percy and Annabeth?

Another thing that disappointed me was the inconsistency of the size of the giants. I mean, they’re described as being twenty, thirty, even forty feet tall – but when you read descriptions of their battles with the teenage demigods they sound like regular, human-sized enemies. The kids recover far too easily from physical blows and don’t seem to have much trouble injuring their oversized enemies. Every time Percy or Jason is described as leaping onto the back of a foe, I just wonder “How the heck did they manage to launch themselves thirty feet off the ground? I mean, I know demigods are stronger than regular humans but still…” So that was a constant distraction during many of the battle scenes.

Some of the little godling’s powers are strange. Piper suddenly fights like an Amazon warrior and sings as hypnotically as a siren…odd, I don’t remember her ability to do either of these things in the previous book. Nico’s personal anguish is apparently so potent that he can wield it like a weapon strong enough to kill…um, what? Really? The son of Hades has Emo powers based on the feels? I’m all for demigods progressing and increasing in strength, but some of these “level ups” just don’t make sense.

Another thing I’ve always wondered about: the crew of the Argo II are able to track the activities of the Romans, the giants, and other enemies through their dreams. I used to think that Percy was just special, but apparently every demigod has this gift – so why aren’t their enemies ever clued into their plans? That seems very unbalanced. Sure, the giants anticipate the demigods arrival in Athens, but that seems based on simple strategic planning, not on nocturnal visions.

Even the quality of the writing has dropped. Is Riordan trying to churn out too many of these books too quickly? I wonder. There’s an especially painful scene where Annabeth and Piper engage in a little ‘girl talk’ and the conversation sounds forced and faked. It wasn’t realistic for the characters and not for teenage girls in general.

Finally, happy endings are important at the end of a hero’s adventure, but considering this was a massive war with the entire world at stake, the fact that every major character got one was really unrealistic. I’m sorry, but someone should have died. Possibly several someones. We got that in The Last Olympian, but here Riordan went out of his way to find happiness and acceptance for every single character. I like many of these characters, but with two major battles raging there should have been more blood spilled than a couple of drops from Percy Jackson’s nosebleed.

I’m glad I read The Bloody of Olympus and finished everything up nicely, but I hope that next time Riordan feels the need to visit the world of the demigods, he focuses on a smaller group of protagonists. His scattered focus really weakened the storytelling. In the end, the book was a disappointing end to a series that had a lot of potential.


3.5 out of 5 stars


To read more about The Blood of Olympus, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.





Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: TV Shows: The White Queen
2013: Nobody's Secret by Michaela MacColl
2012: Fashionista Piranha on hiatus until May 24th…
2011: Dreadfully Ever After by Steve Hockensmith
2010: One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
2009: Local Bookstores Bank on Customer Loyalty

Review: Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Still Alice
by Lisa Genova


An expert in linguistics at Harvard University, Alice Howland has achieved much and looks forward to continuing to push her field forward. But when her memory begins to fail and she finds herself experiencing brief spells of disorientation, Alice is willing to do anything to get her life back on track. When her illness is finally diagnosed, it’s devastating: early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. With no cure and treatments that can only delay, not stop, her deterioration, Alice is forced to suffer the disintegration of her memories. Meanwhile, each member of her family reacts in a different way, and the loss of those relationships pains Alice even as she is unable to recognize her children and her husband.

When I was in junior high, my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Being a callous young person, I never really tried to see the disease from her perspective, and at times I even resented having to spend time with a woman who had no idea who I was anyway. It’s something I always regretted, years later, and I wished that I had made more of an effort to understand her. Still Alice acts as a gateway into the mind of a woman with Alzheimer’s, and one of the book’s strengths is how clearly it illustrates the effects of the disease. On “good” days, Alice can interact with her family and friends nearly as well as she did before. But the disease is always present. First reading medical journals becomes too taxing, than novels, and eventually movies become too difficult for Alice to follow. It’s quite heartbreaking, and difficult to read. As the chapters progress, Alice’s advanced vocabulary and attention to detail devolve as she is no longer able to place events in context.

Equally sad is the breakdown in her relationships. As her independence is stripped away, Alice begins to realize that something is broken in her marriage. Something is missing from her relationship with her husband. Before, she was so busy that she didn’t notice, and now that she just wants to spend time with him, he’s the one who always has somewhere to be and no time to just relax at her side. This fosters such an intense solitude and loneliness that even Alice’s disorientation can’t displace. On the one hand, I felt such an intense guilt as I read these pages because I remembered pushing my grandmother away in a similar fashion. On the other hand, my grandfather was devoted to her and spent most of his time caring for her with love and compassion, so I know she never felt this same sorrow as Alice, and that is a comfort.

SPOILERS TO FOLLOW:
Early in the disease, Alice takes care to provide herself with a “way out”, leaving detailed instructions for her future self to follow when too much of her memory is gone. This preparation for suicide seems cold-hearted, but it’s also hard to deny her that death with dignity that she craves. Ultimately, Alice is unable to fulfill the tasks laid out in the suicide instructions, but in the epilogue she is shown as not unhappy. Perhaps her healthy self would have hated the foggy, blurry life epilogue Alice lives, but she is at peace and content with her days as she finds them. It’s a hopeful note to tend on.

That hope doesn’t erase the fact that Alzheimer’s is an awful, tragic disease. But Still Alice helps articulate the suffering of those with the disease and will help readers emphasize with those who are afflicted with it.



5 out of 5 stars


To read more about Still Alice, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.





Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: Ballad of a Shinigami Vol. 1 by Asuka Izumi
2013: Discussion Question: World Book Night 2013
2012: Fashionista Piranha on hiatus until May 24th...
2011: The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger
2010: Across the Nightingale Floor (Tales of the Otori #1) by Lian Hearn
2009: The Book of the Night Women by Marlon James

New Releases: April 21st, 2015

A new Toni Morrison and a new Jon Krakauer?  Whether you like fiction or non-fiction, there are some good books out this week...

NEW RELEASES IN HARDCOVER

THE BONE TREE by Greg Iles
THE BONE TREE is the highly anticipated second installment in Greg Iles’ epic trilogy featuring Southern lawyer Penn Cage, a tale that explores the conflicts and casualties that result when the darkest truths of American history come to light. It puts us inside the skin of a noble man who has always fought for justice --- now finally pushed beyond his limits. Just how far will Penn Cage, the hero we thought we knew, go to protect those he loves? Thriller

GOD HELP THE CHILD by Toni Morrison
At the center of Toni Morrison’s first novel to be set in our current moment is a young woman who calls herself Bride, whose stunning blue-black skin caused her light-skinned mother to deny her even the simplest forms of love. There’s also Booker, the man Bride loves but loses to anger; Rain, the mysterious white child with whom she crosses paths; and Bride’s mother, Sweetness, who takes a lifetime to come to understand that “what you do to children matters. And they might never forget.” Fiction

MISSOULA: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer
Jon Krakauer chronicles the searing experiences of several women in Missoula --- the nights when they were raped; their fear and self-doubt in the aftermath; the way they were treated by the police, prosecutors, defense attorneys; the public vilification and private anguish; their bravery in pushing forward and what it cost them. Krakauer’s dispassionate, carefully documented account of what these ladies endured cuts through the abstract ideological debate about campus rape. True Crime

MEMORY MAN by David Baldacci
Amos Decker returned from a stakeout one evening and entered a nightmare --- his wife, young daughter and brother-in-law had been murdered. His family destroyed, their killer's identity as mysterious as the motive behind the crime, and unable to forget a single detail from that horrible night, Decker finds his world collapsing around him. But over a year later, a man turns himself in to the police and confesses to the murders. Decker must endure the memories he would much rather forget --- and may have to make the ultimate sacrifice. Thriller


NEW IN PAPERBACK

BIRDMEN: The Wright Brothers, Glenn Curtiss, and the Battle to Control the Skies by Lawrence Goldstone
Wilbur and Orville Wright are two of the greatest innovators in history, and together they solved the centuries-old riddle of powered, heavier-than-air flight. Glenn Hammond Curtiss was the most talented machinist of his day --- tackling first the motorcycle and later turning his eyes toward the skies to become the fastest man aloft. But between the Wrights and Curtiss bloomed a poisonous rivalry and patent war so powerful that it shaped aviation in its early years and drove one of the three men to his grave. History

BOURBON: A History of the American Spirit by Dane Huckelbridge
Few commodities figure as prominently or as intimately in the story of the nation as bourbon whiskey. First brewed by pioneers in the backwoods of Appalachia, bourbon whiskey has become a modern multi-billion-dollar international industry today. As Dane Huckelbridge reveals, the Kentucky spirit --- the only liquor produced from corn --- is the American experience, distilled, aged and sealed in a bottle. In telling the story of bourbon, Huckelbridge takes us on a lively tour across 300 years. History

LIVING WITH A WILD GOD: A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth About Everything by Barbara Ehrenreich
In middle age, Barbara Ehrenreich came across the journal she had kept during her tumultuous adolescence and set out to reconstruct that quest, which had taken her to the study of science and through a cataclysmic series of uncanny --- or, as she later learned to call them, "mystical" --- experiences. A staunch atheist and rationalist, she is profoundly shaken by the implications of her life-long search. Memoir





Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: The Daring Ladies of Lowell by Kate Alcott
2013: Written in Red (The Others #1) by Anne Bishop
2012: Fashionista Piranha on hiatus until May 24th...
2011: The Girl Who Became a Beatle by Greg Taylor
2010: The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen
2009: News: Dan Brown Returns in September with 'The Lost Symbol'
The Myrtles Plantation: The True Story of America’s Most Haunted House
by Frances Kermeen


In 1980, Frances Kermeen bought the Myrtles Plantation in Louisiana with the intention of restoring the mansion and using it as a B&B. Joining her in the venture was her new husband, Jim, and her best friend Charles. The three of them soon realized they weren’t the only ones in the house; it wasn’t long before even skeptical Jim was forced to admit the house was haunted. As spirits moved through the house, Frances became frightened, but her determination to succeed forced her to dig in her heels and keep working. But as the years passed, it became increasingly clear that the house itself was wicked, and changing all of them for the worst…

The book starts off well enough. My interest perked up when I realized the author was from my hometown; she mentioned that she’d renovated several homes in Los Gatos and San Jose and I wondered if I’d ever seen one of the buildings she’d worked on. She described the early days at the mansion, when bumps in the night and shimmery apparitions often startled her to the point that she fled the home to stay with friends. All good, all good. It was spooky, but just believable enough that it seemed SOMETHING unnatural was happening at the Myrtles.

Then the book jumped the shark, so to speak, into a realm of ridiculousness. Joanie, a young friend from California, moves out to the Myrtles to work for Frances and soon reports that she is having sex with one of the ghosts.

Sex. With. A. Ghost. WHAT?

Despite this bizarre claim and Joanie’s obvious shift in personality, Frances doesn’t send her away or seek professional help for her troubled young friend. That bites her in the ass later, when she catches her husband having sex with Joanie.

This isn’t the only weirdness with the story; it’s only the beginning. In the early pages of the book, Frances’ friend Hamp provides guidance into the world of the spirits and helps Frances understand how to pacify the ghosts. When he dies a few years into their acquaintance, Hamp becomes one of the mansion’s ghosts, occasionally manifesting as a comforting spirit. She describes him as a gentle giant of a man. I have a bit of a problem with this. First, if I’m following Frances’ timeline correctly, Hamp’s age is somewhere around fifteen-seventeen when he dies. This makes me question why he’s hanging around the much older Frances all the time instead of being in school or spending time with kids his own age. More seriously, why is Frances electing a young teenager as her spiritual advisor? That seems ill-advised to say the least.

In the introduction to the book, Frances admits that she combined several people into a single individual to streamline the story. I assume ‘Hamp’ is one of these constructions. Fair enough. But in this instance, the character created isn’t realistic at all, and calls into question the reliability of the rest of the narrative.

I can hear some of you scoffing, “Dude, it’s a ghost story. ‘Reliability’ was already thrown out the window!” Whether you believe in ghosts or not, in this account you’re certainly meant to accept they exist. Frances is making this difficult by proving herself to be an unreliable narrator.

She also mentions multiple times that incredible pictures have been taken of the ghosts at the Myrtles, but not a single photograph is included in the book. That was disappointing.

The second half of the book really shifts focus away from the hauntings and their physical impact – unexplained sounds, people appearing and disappearing, etc. – and turns into a litany of complaints. Charles’ personality changes and his friendship with Frances becomes strained, eventually severed. Her marriage falls apart. Frances describes her fight with a deep, serious depression that sometimes leaves her unable to do little more than stumble about the property in her pajamas. Frances blames other people, the house, everything except herself for the problems in her life. All I could think was how much of the haunting was ghosts and spirits, and how much was just an overwhelmed woman with a struggling business making excuses to justify why things weren’t working the way she planned? By the final pages, I was definitely leaning away from the former and toward the latter.


1.5 out of 5 stars


To read more about The Myrtles Plantation, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.





Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Ultimate Guide by Mary-Jane Knight
2013: The Iron King (Iron Fey #1) by Julie Kagawa
2012: Zombie Cop by Joe Mariotte
2011: Tokyopop Shutting Down US Publishing
2010: Beatrice & Virgil by Yann Martel
2009: Bound South by Susan Rebecca White

New Releases: April 14th, 2015

I didn't see anything especially exciting on the bookshelf this morning, but that F in Exams series has been a great seller at the bookstore so I was happy to see a new volume. I bet that'll be a hot title around graduation time.


NEW RELEASES IN HARDCOVER


DAYS OF RAGE: America's Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence by Bryan Burrough
The Weathermen. The Symbionese Liberation Army. The FALN. The Black Liberation Army. The names seem quaint now, when not forgotten altogether. But there was a stretch of time in America, during the 1970s, when bombings by domestic underground groups were a daily occurrence. The FBI combated these groups and others as nodes in a single revolutionary underground, dedicated to the violent overthrow of the American government. History

THE RESIDENCE: Inside the Private World of the White House by Kate Andersen Brower
A remarkable history with elements of both In the President’s Secret Service and The Butler, The Residence offers an intimate account of the service staff of the White House, from the Kennedys to the Obamas. America’s First Families are unknowable in many ways. No one has insight into their true character like the people who serve their meals and make their beds every day. Full of stories and details by turns dramatic, humorous, and heartwarming, The Residence reveals daily life in the White House as it is really lived through the voices of the maids, butlers, cooks, florists, doormen, engineers, and others who tend to the needs of the President and First Family. History

MICHELLE OBAMA: A Life by Peter Slevin
An inspiring story, richly detailed and written with élan, here is the first comprehensive account of the life and times of Michelle Obama, a woman of achievement and purpose—and the most unlikely first lady in modern American history. With disciplined reporting and a storyteller’s eye for revealing detail, Peter Slevin follows Michelle to the White House from her working-class childhood on Chicago’s largely segregated South Side. Biography

BETWEEN YOU & ME: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris
Between You & Me features Norris's laugh-out-loud descriptions of some of the most common and vexing problems in spelling, punctuation, and usage—comma faults, danglers, "who" vs. "whom," "that" vs. "which," compound words, gender-neutral language—and her clear explanations of how to handle them. Down-to-earth and always open-minded, she draws on examples from Charles Dickens, Emily Dickinson, Henry James, and the Lord's Prayer, as well as from The Honeymooners, The Simpsons, David Foster Wallace, and Gillian Flynn. She takes us to see a copy of Noah Webster's groundbreaking Blue-Back Speller, on a quest to find out who put the hyphen in Moby-Dick, on a pilgrimage to the world's only pencil-sharpener museum, and inside the hallowed halls of The New Yorker and her work with such celebrated writers as Pauline Kael, Philip Roth, and George Saunders. Grammar / Reference

NEW IN PAPERBACK


F IN EXAMS: POP QUIZ: All New Awesomely Wrong Test Answers by Richard Bensonpopquiz
Will some students ever learn from their mistakes? We hope not! This all-new collection of hilarious, totally wrong, real test answers serves a fresh batch of A+ wit misapplied to F- quiz scores. A little studying would reveal that the most powerful light source known to man isn't "lightsabers," nor do we salt the roads when it snows "to make them taste better." But where's the fun in that? From the same wellspring of failure as the million-selling F in Exams series, this special pop quiz collection will amuse and entertain anyone preparing to face down a test paper as well as those just glad to be far away from a classroom. Education / Humor

EUPHORIA by Lily King
English anthropologist Andrew Bankson has been alone in the field for several years, studying the Kiona river tribe in the Territory of New Guinea. He is on the verge of suicide when a chance encounter with the controversial Nell Stone and her Australian husband, Fen, pulls him back from the brink. When Bankson finds them a new tribe nearby, the artistic, female-dominated Tam, he ignites an intellectual and romantic firestorm among the three of them that burns out of anyone’s control. Historical Fiction

THE QUEEN OF THE TEARLING by Erika Johansen
On her 19th birthday, Princess Kelsea Raleigh Glynn sets out on a perilous journey back to the castle of her birth to ascend her rightful throne. Around her neck hangs the Tearling sapphire, a jewel of immense magical power; and accompanying her is the Queen’s Guard, a cadre of brave knights led by the enigmatic and dedicated Lazarus. Kelsea will need them all to survive a cabal of enemies who will use every weapon to prevent her from wearing the crown. Fantasy / Adventure

THE NARROW ROAD TO THE DEEP NORTH by Richard Flanagan
August, 1943. In the despair of a Japanese POW camp on the Thai-Burma Death Railway, Australian surgeon Dorrigo Evans is haunted by his affair with his uncle's young wife two years earlier. His life is a daily struggle to save the men under his command from starvation, from cholera, from pitiless beatings. Until he receives a letter that will change him forever. Historical Fiction





Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: The Day of Revolution Vol. 1 by Mikiyo Tsuda
2013: Exposure by Kim Askew & Amy Helmes
2012: Absurdistan by Gary Schteyngart
2011: Cynical Orange, Vol. 1 by Yun JiUn
2010: The Town That Food Saved by Ben Hewitt
2009: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Subscription Box: Comic Bento, March 2015

Subscription Box: Comic Bento, March 2015
CLOAK AND DAGGER


Comic Bento is a monthly graphic novel subscription box to which my husband subscribes. Each box claims a minimum $60 value, and subscriptions start at just $20.00 per month (plus shipping) so it's a pretty good deal. Each box typically arrives a few days after the end of the month – for example, the January box came in the first week of February.

This month, the theme is Cloak & Dagger. The enclosed comics focus on espionage and spycraft. Why spies? Moss explains:

When it comes to danger and intrigue, no one's life is quite so harrowing as a spy. Though they may be armed with the latest in gadgets and weapons, the Spy is often left to their own devices behind enemy lines, with no backup and no goal save one: Complete the mission.

Be it for Queen and country, a big payday, or simply to right a wrong, no one captivates our imaginations quite like a spy. They work in the shadows, are maters of deception and can fade away as if they were never there, clutching the information or artifact they were sent to retrieve or leaving a trail of bodies in their wake.

This month's Cloak & Dagger box examines spies and espionage inside real-life events and countries, as well as those that work under the cover of darkness for themselves, not a government. After all, a spy's sense of loyalty is paramount, because no one is treated with more scorn and considered more dangerous than a spy who's turned!


I know there's a superhero title called Cloak and Dagger but it doesn't sound like the storyline fits the theme of the box. So what comics did make it into March's Comic Bento?

The Shadow Vol. 1 by Garth Enn & Aaron Campbell (Dynamite Entertainment): Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows! It's 1938 and The Shadow returns in a tale of blazing action and deadly intrigue, as a night of carnage on the New York waterfront plunges the mysterious vigilante into a conspiracy involving the fate of the world itself. As storm clouds gather across the globe, American Military Intelligence meets with a certain Lamont Cranston, determined to beat a host of spies and assassins to the greatest prize of all... but what that might be, only the Shadow knows. Collecting the first six issues of the hit series written by Garth Ennis and drawn by Aaron Campbell, featuring a complete cover gallery with art by Alex Ross, Jae Lee, John Cassaday, Ryan Sook, Howard Chaykin, and more. $19.99

The Coldest City by Antony Johnston & Sam Hart (Oni Press): November 1989. Communism is collapsing, and soon the Berlin Wall will come down with it. But before that happens there is one last bit of cloak & dagger to attend to. Two weeks ago, an undercover MI6 officer was killed in Berlin. He was carrying information from a source in the East - a list that allegedly contains the name of every espionage agent working in Berlin, on all sides. No list was found on his body. Now Lorraine Broughton, an experienced spy with no pre-existing ties to Berlin, has been sent into this powderkeg of social unrest, counter-espionage, defections gone bad and secret assassinations to bring back the list and save the lives of the British agents whose identities reside on it. $19.99

Hit List by Ralph Tedesco & Sami Kivela (Zenoscope Entertainment): Threats exist all around us and the lives of so many have been ruined by others evil deeds. Now one man will seek vengeance for all those who share in his pain. When a group of professional killers is brought together in order to take out a crew of gangsters, what starts as a seemingly good plan spirals into something more threatening and deadly than anyone saw coming! $15.99

Unity Vol. 1: To Kill a King by Matt Kindt & Doug Braithwaite (Valiant Entertainment):
To kill a king... they created an army. The world's most dangerous man, Toyo Harada, has been struck by the one thing he never thought possible - fear. Halfway across the globe, a new power threatens to topple modern civilization and, to preempt the cataclysm that is to come, Harada will unite the most unforgiving team the world has ever known - UNITY. Their mission: defeat the threat responsible for the destruction of MI-6, the decimation of an alien world, and the occupation of Eastern Europe... and unseat the warrior king armed with the universe's most powerful weapon - kill X-O Manowar! Collecting UNITY #1-4 by New York Times best-selling writer Matt Kindt (Mind MGMT) and superstar artist Doug Braithwaite (Justice), discover the greatest heroes of the Valiant Universe right here with the landmark first arc of the chart-topping series that Ain't It Cool News calls "completely satisfying." $14.99

My husband and I were a little bummed to realize that Unity Vol 1. was one of the titles we picked up at WonderCon.  If we'd known it was in Comic Bento, obviously we would have chosen another title.  But you can never predict what will show up in these subscription boxes.  Seanie was pleased with The Shadow, as he's rather fond of the old radio serials in a nostalgic sort of way.  Spy thrillers aren't my cup of tea, so I'm glad he was pleased.  I'm rather looking forward to next month's theme: MIX TAPE.




Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: William Shakespeare's Star Wars by Ian Doescher
2013: The Iron King (The Accursed Kings #1) by Maurice Druon
2012: The Burgermeister’s Daughter by Steven Ozment
2011: The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
2010: Angel and Apostle by Deborah Noyes
2009: Discussion Question: At what point do you give up on a book?
The Secret History of the Pink Carnation
by Lauren Willig


Book One in the Pink Carnation series.

Harvard graduate student Eloise Kelly has finally gained access to historic papers that claim to prove the identity of the Pink Carnation, an English spy who succeeded the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian as England’s master of espionage in France. These documents, from the family archive of the descendants of the Purple Gentian, have never been made available to scholars before. As Eloise plunges into the papers, the reader is thrown back in time to the era of the Napoleonic wars as a plucky young woman named Amy leaves rural England so that she may return to France, land of her birth, and avenge her father, who was murdered by the French government. Amy’s plans are thrown into chaos when an English antiquarian steals her heart, a turmoil that would only grow if she knew that the dashing young lord was also the Purple Gentian.

Sometimes you get sucked into a book series that you wouldn’t want to admit to reading in public. For me, the Pink Carnation series definitely qualifies. As a general rule, I’m not a big fan of romance novels, even when thrown into a good historical setting. Perhaps it’s just my fondness for Baroness Orczy’s classic The Scarlet Pimpernel and fictional spy rings, but something about The Secret History of the Pink Carnation is so irresistible that my normal objections are tossed aside.

The book is really two stories in one. The first story is a modern day chick-lit starring Eloise Kelly, an insecure American obsessed with the Pink Carnation. Her research puts her at odds with Colin Selwick, the disgruntled heir of the Purple Gentian’s papers. Their flirtation intrudes on the historical romance starring clumsy, silly Amy, a pretty young thing who wants to fall in love with the Purple Gentian and have merry swashbuckling adventures. In fact, Amy’s been practicing her whole life for that career. She’s goofy and impractical, big on imagination but lacking in subtlety. Both Amy and Eloise come off as slightly dense; each woman taking so long to uncover the secret identity of the spy at the center of her obsession that the reader is left wondering about their powers of observation and deduction. But despite their goofy awkwardness and occasional ineptitude, the two heroines are entertaining and it’s fun to follow them around.

Meanwhile, the two heroes, Colin and Richard Selwick, prove that blood may indeed run thicker than water, so similar are their personalities. They’re initially distant and aloof, but quickly settle into a cheerful brotherly humor that makes sense give that they’re both protective older brothers. They’re good-looking and fiercely intelligent, leading to a slight arrogance that vexes the heroine, who is prone to getting into fights with them. Sound familiar? Well, it’s not a new trope, especially in romance novels, but Willig’s witty dialogue and fantastically outlandish situations keeps these familiar roles amusing.

I first read this book back in 2007, and I half-expected my older, cynical self to be disappointed when I revisited the story. If anything, I enjoyed it more the second time around. The Secret History of the Pink Carnation may be a guilty pleasure, but it’s still one I enjoy.


3 out of 5 stars


To read more about The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.





Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: Howards End by E. M. Forster
2013: The Iron King (The Accursed Kings #1) by Maurice Druon
2012: The Green Man by Michael Bedard
2011: Wither (Chemical Garden Trilogy #1) by Lauren DeStefano
2010: Angel & Apostle by Deborah Noyes
2009: Etta by Gerald Kolpan
The Ape Who Guards the Balance
by Elizabeth Peters


Book Ten in the Amelia Peabody series. Click here to read reviews of earlier books in the series. This review may contain spoilers for previous books in the series.

At a suffragette’s rally in London, Amelia Peabody Emerson catches sight of her family’s arch-nemesis, the Master Criminal Sethos, and is nearly kidnapped. However, Amelia eludes capture and soon she and her family are en route to Egypt to resume their research. As Emerson and Amelia excavate a tomb in the Valley of the Kings, the Peabody children try to uncover the source of a stunning stolen papyrus they’ve acquired on the black market. Unfortunately, Ramses, David and Nefret aren’t the only ones interested in the ancient scroll, and the entire family is in mortal danger. Again.

There are now two generations of Egyptologists in the family, and Amelia is learning to recognize that her children are now all adults. It is a challenge for her, to put it mildly, since she has grown used to being in charge and obeyed. Actually, it’s rather charming how much the children humor her need to play the boss (or is Ramses genuinely frightened of his mother?) but the growth both they and Amelia experience in the novel is quite rewarding to those who have followed their adventures through the previous nine books.

One of the more touching moments comes when Amelia is forced to confront an ugly prejudice she didn’t even suspect she carried until family drama pushes it to the foreground. She realizes that the negative feeling is based in nothing rational, and feels awful that she has this prejudice – but it still takes her time to process her way through it. Luckily, the affected parties are patient with her, trusting in her good character, and in the end she comes around and recognizes that the most important thing is the children’s happiness. She’s a good mother, but the episode reminds readers that she’s still human and far from perfect. (Not that we needed a reminder, bless her and all her many flaws.)

With the adult children also come two new narrators: Ramses in the form of “Manuscript H” and Nefret in a series of letters. Adding their point of view really helps round out the narrative and ramps up the adventure and derring-do as David and Ramses constantly throw themselves into danger. Of course, young passions and young hormones also lead to a few romantic triangles and entanglements; these scenes did occasionally lead to eye-rolling since it’s pretty obvious how it will all be sorted in the next volume or two. (I hope Peters didn’t drag it out past that point or the drama really will be unbearable.)

Many of the characters in the book return from previous stories, including Sethos and some of his talented henchmen. Although it’s fun to see these characters again, they seem to fall into a secondary role, and the mystery itself feels very familiar and repetitious of previous adventures. The pleasure in this story comes not from piecing together clues, which are few and far between, but from the characters’ growth and their interactions with each other. So if you’ve grown to love Amelia, Ramses, Emerson and all the rest, it’s a delightful read. If you’re in this for the murder mystery, it’s a disappointment, despite the high body count.


3.5 out of 5 stars


To read more about The Ape Who Guards the Balance, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.





Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co. #1) by Jonathan Stroud
2013: The Iron King (The Accursed Kings #1) by Maurice Druon
2012: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
2011: Waiter Rant by The Waiter
2010: The Dead Travel Fast by Deanna Raybourn
2009: Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans by Dan Baum

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