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[sticky post] Fashionista Piranha Book Blog

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.
Thanks for stopping by!
Suzi the Fashion Piranha
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Beastly Bones
by William Ritter

Book 2 in the Jackaby series

Abigail Rook has begun to settle into her role as assistant to paranormal investigator R. F. Jackaby. Vicious shape-shifters that disguise themselves as kittens and ghosts living in the bedroom are all part of a normal day's work. Life with Jackaby is never dull or routine. When dinosaur bones are discovered in nearby Gad's Valley, Abigail is eager to visit the site and indulge her love of paleontology. Jackaby is disinclined to go until former police detective Charlie Cane writes the pair, asking them to investigate a mysterious animal that has begun attacking the animals and people living around the dig site. They oblige, and soon after setting foot in Gad's Valley are swept up in an intrigue of stolen bones, scientific rivalries, murder, and an impossible creature's return to life.

One of my favorite things about Beastly Bones was the vicious competition between Owen Horner and Lewis Lamb. The characters' names are tribute to real-life fossil hunters like Richard Owen and Jack Horner, and the conflict between the two men is modeled on the behavior of 19th century paleontologists like Richard Owen, who is as remembered today for his ruthless self-promotion and brazen claims of discoveries others made before him as his contributions to the study of dinosaurs. In the book, their behavior seems so ridiculous for men of science, but that's how it was in the early days of this field.

Owen and Lamb may not be able to get along with each other, but Abigail and Jackaby continue to be a powerful partnership. They work so well together, with Abigail's simple common sense, scientific background, and observation skills complimenting Jackaby's endless store of esoteric knowledge and experience with the otherworldly. Their relationship is also refreshingly platonic; although there is some romance, the young adult staple love triangle is avoided.

Other relationships in the novel deepen, too. While the mystery of the events in Gad's Valley consume much of the book, we also learn more about Jackaby's resident ghost, Jenny Cavanaugh. Usually, she appears as a cheerful and beautiful woman, but we see a darker and sadder side of her now. Jackaby describes it as an echo, when a spirit becomes unable to move beyond their final moments. Abigail frets that Jenny may become trapped in this echo state, but they cannot help her until the ghost is willing.

A Victorian atmosphere, ghosts, and dinosaurs...how could I not love this book? It's got all of my favorite things in one neat package. Even better, Ritter handles each of these elements well, bringing them together for a story that's creative, fun, and full of surprises. The third book in the series, Ghostly Echoes, will be released towards the end of summer. I can't wait.

5 out of 5 stars

To read more about Beastly Bones, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: The Anatomy Lesson by Nina Siegal
2013: The Big Top Giveaway
2012: Fashionista Piranha on hiatus until May 24th
2011: In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant
2010: Discussion Question: E-Reading
2009: News: Digital Piracy Affects Books, Too

Review: Everland by Wendy Spinale

by Wendy Spinale

Sixteen-year-old Gwen Darling has protected her brother and sister ever since their parents were killed when bombs were dropped on London and a horrific plague unleashed. Each day they scavenge the ruined city and try to avoid the German soldiers who call themselves the Marauders. Under the command of Captain Hanz Otto Oswald Kretschmer, the Mauraders kidnap survivors and use them for desperate experiments to find the cure to the plague that claimed the lives of most adults and will eventually kill everyone else. When they take Gwen's sister, she is determined to get her back. As she sets out to pursue the soldiers, she stumbles across a boy named Pete who leads a gang of children in defiance of the Captain and his men. Pete agrees to team up with Gwen to recover her sister after realizing that she has something he needs very badly to save his family of lost boys.

I really enjoyed this steampunk spin on J. M. Barrie's classic Peter Pan. It's a darker, grittier story set in a dystopian London that has been re-named Everland. Instead of a magical island accessible through pixie dust flights, Everland is a bombed-out shell cut off from communication from the rest of the world. Anyone who was there when illness broke out died or are now unable to leave, and it's unknown what the fate of the rest of the world has been. It's also unclear just when this story is meant to take place. The fact that the German empire has invaded England makes me think it's set right around World War I, a popular era for steampunk stories, but Gwen acts so contemporary and modern that I thought she might be in the not-so-distant future. The complete lack of any version of Internet or cell phones makes me throw the story back into the past, but maybe it's just an alternate world that doesn't quite line up with anything.

Some characters remain very recognizable. Bella may no longer be a fairy, but she zips through the air thanks to steam-powered wings. Gwen and her siblings share the closeness of the original Darling children, though Gwen is far more active than her Edwardian counterpart. Individual Lost Boys may only get a few pages of story time, but their personalities shine in even brief appearances. But other characters are dramatically different. Captain Hook has transformed into a prince of the German Empire. Instead of a grown man, he's just another boy roughly the same age as Peter Pan. I have to admit that I didn't care for some of the changes to his background and story, but the core of Hook, that callous and bloodthirsty nature mixed with a frustrated childishness, is definitely at the heart of this character.

One little change that I really liked was a change to Tiger Lily's ethnicity. Instead of a Native American, she's been recast as South Asian. After all, we're in London, not a fantasy island in the sky. It makes far more sense that Lily wears a sari, not buckskins and feathers, as she leads the Lost Boys through London's secret underground tunnels.

Everland has some great plot twists and leaves the ending open for a sequel. (In fact, the author has confirmed that the book is the first in a proposed trilogy.) I love the world that Wendy Spinale has created and I'm looking forward to seeing where Gwen, Pete, and the Lost Boys go next.

4 out of 5 stars

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

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2015: Before Tomorrowland by Jeff Jensen, Brad Bird, Damon Lindelof, and Jonathan Case
2014: Bracelet of Bones (The Viking Sagas #1) by Kevin Crossley-Holland
2013: Crystal Bones (Faelin Chronicles #1) by C. Aubrey Hall
2012: Fashionista Piranha on hiatus until May 24th
2011: In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant
2010: The Big Book of Gross Stuff by Bart King
2009: Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter by R. J. Anderson
by William Ritter

Abigail Rook arrives in New England determined to make it on her own. The young Englishwoman immediately seeks employment, but the only job available is assistant to R. F. Jackaby, supernatural investigator and resident town weirdo. Jackaby agrees to take on Abigail after realizing her observation of mundane details neatly complements his own skills. On her first day, Abigail and Jackaby are confronted with a serial killer who drains his victims' blood. The police want nothing to do with Jackaby and his tales of extraordinary, supernatural killers, but if he and Abigail can not identify the person responsible he will surely strike again.

If you're looking for a strong-willed and entertaining heroine, Abigail is your girl. Born to a life of privilege in England, she abandoned it to excavate bones on a paleontological dig. When that project abruptly ended, Abigail sailed to America rather than return home to her parents and a more conventional life. Abigail is smart, funny, and modern – yet she's unusual, not impossible. She's a natural successor to spunky protagonists like Jacky Faber and other female adventurers.

Familiar with stories of Sherlock Holmes, she initially assumes Jackaby uses Holmes' rational deduction to figure out the secrets hidden by the residents of New Fiddleham. R. F. Jacaby's intuition stems from a far more mysterious place, as he can see and hear that which others cannot. He shrouds himself in mystery and even Abigail can rarely penetrate the facade. Their conversations are so much fun as Jackaby skillfully evades answering Abigail's questions. There is so little revealed about his character. Now that I'm thinking about it, I'm not even sure how old Jackaby is meant to be. Abigail describes him as a young man with eyes a hundred lifetimes old, but she definitely doesn't give the impression that they are contemporaries.

The mystery of the serial killer is one of the weaker aspects of the novel, in that the identity of the murderer is telegraphed early and frequently. Most readers will solve the mystery far puzzle than the two detectives – well, detective and his assistant – which makes Jackaby and Abigail seem a bit slow on the uptake. But the strength of the book rests not on the plot but on the characters and their interactions with each other. Abigail and Jackaby, Jackaby and his testy relationship with the local police officers, Abigail and a cute puppy dog of a policeman who helps the detectives on the case...the relationships between all of these characters add up to a fantastic, rich world that is utterly delightful to visit.

I'm glad that I discovered this series rather late because I don't have to wait for the sequel, Beastly Bones. I want to go back to New Fiddleham as soon as possible to learn more about the mysterious world of R. F. Jackaby Investigative Services.

4.5 out of 5 stars

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

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2015: Before Tomorrowland by Jeff Jensen, Brad Bird, Damon Lindelof, and Jonathan Case
2014: Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier
2013: Crystal Bones (Faelin Chronicles #1) by C. Aubrey Hall
2012: Fashionista Piranha on hiatus until May 24th...
2011: In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant
2010: O, Juliet by Robin Maxwell
2009: Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter by R. J. Anderson
Work has been very busy of late, and I haven't been able to do much reading. To give myself a chance to catch up, I'm going to put the blog on hiatus for the rest of March.

Updates should resume the first week of April.


The Temptation of the Night Jasmine
by Lauren Willig

The fifth book in the Pink Carnation series

After many years abroad in India, the Duke of Dovedale returns to England to avenge the death of a friend. Robert has barely set foot on his estate when he encounters his distant cousin Charlotte and rekindles their childhood friendship. Charlotte, a daydreamer who loves books and fairy tales, is instantly smitten and quickly convinces herself that Robert is a hero straight out of one of her stories. When his plot for revenge forces Robert to befriend the members of the notorious Hellfire Club so that he can infiltrate their organization, he breaks off his budding relationship with Charlotte in order to protect her. Devastated, Charlotte is soon distracted when she stumbles across a plot against the king and realizes that she may be the only person who can protect him.

I have to get a few disappointing things off my chest: there's no Pink Carnation in this book. In fact, very few characters from the previous novels in the series make an appearance. No Black Tulip. No Lord Vaughn or Mary Alsworthy, no Amy and Richard Selwick. While Charlotte is a sweet girl with a surprising spine of steel, she was never quite as interesting as some of Willig's other heroines. She spent too much mooning and moping over Robert, especially in the first half of the book, which was quite sluggish at times as a result.

Robert never quite matched the charm of his preceding leading men, either. He was constantly rehashing the old “I'm no good for this pure girl so I must leave her...but I love her so much that I can't stay away!” argument and it was tiresome. There was friction between him and his Dovedale relations because he wasn't raised as a member of the aristocracy, so there's so much that he doesn't know about the workings of court life. I wish we had seen more of that in the book and less of his inner waffling.

Charlotte was a side character in The Masque of the Black Tulip, one of Henrietta's closest friends, and she's appeared occasionally in other the books. She isn't quite interesting enough to hold her own, now when there are so many other interesting personalities in Willig's world.

In the present, Eloise and Colin have settled into a relationship. Their scenes are an amusing break from the melodrama of Charlotte's life. In this sitcom-like episode, Eloise realizes that she has no idea what Colin does for a living, and in imitation of her research she tries to uncover the answer by sneaking into his study at night and going through his bookshelves instead of simply asking him directly. The silliness of her situation was a welcome relief.

2.5 out of 5 stars

To read more about The Temptation of the Night Jasmine, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2015: New Releases: March 3rd, 2015
2014: Review: Who Owns America's Past? by Robert C. Post
2013: Lady at the O.K. Corral by Ann Kirschner
2012: Vacation: Weddingpalooza
2011: The Secret History of Elizabeth Tudor, Vampire Slayer by Lucy Weston
2010: Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith
2009: The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran

News: March Book to Movie Adaptations

Read the Book Before You See the Movie!

Thank you IMDB.com for providing the movie plot summaries.

Date: March 4th
Adapted From: The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Kim Barker
Starring: Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman
Plot Summary: A journalist recounts her wartime coverage in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Date: March 18th
Adapted From: Allegiant by Veronica Roth
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James
Plot Summary: The third installment of the blockbuster Divergent series franchise, ALLEGIANT, takes Tris and Four into a new world, far more dangerous than ever before.

Date: March 18th
Adapted From: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Rachel McAdams, Paul Rudd
Plot Summary: A little girl lives in a very grown-up world with her mother, who tries to prepare her for it. Her neighbor, the Aviator, introduces the girl to an extraordinary world where anything is possible, the world of the Little Prince.

Date: March 25th
Adapted From: DC Comics' Batman and Superman characters
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg
Plot Summary: Fearing the actions of Superman are left unchecked, Batman takes on Superman, while the world wrestles with what kind of a hero it really needs. With Batman and Superman fighting each other, a new threat, Doomsday, is created by Lex Luthor. It's up to Superman and Batman to set aside their differences along with Wonder Woman to stop Lex Luthor and Doomsday from destroying Metropolis.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2015: Guest Post: JANAM KUNDLIS by Michelle Moran
2014: The Scribe by Antonio Garrido
2013: Island of the Sequined Love Nun by Christopher Moore
2012: Vacation: Weddingpalooza
2011: Random Ranting: What NOT TO DO When Submitting a Manuscript
2010: Dawn of the Dreadfuls (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies prequel) by Steven Hockensmith
2009: Henry V: The Graphic Novel by William Shakespeare


News: February Book to Movie Adaptations

Read the Book Before You See the Movie!

Thank you IMDB.com for providing the movie plot summaries.

Date: February 5th
Adapted From: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith
Starring: Lily James, Sam Riley, Jack Huston
Plot Summary: Five sisters in 19th century England must cope with the pressures to marry while protecting themselves from a growing population of zombies.

Date: February 5th
Adapted From: The Choice by Nicholas Sparks
Starring: Benjamin Walker, Teresa Palmer
Plot Summary: Travis and Gabby first meet as neighbors in a small coastal town and wind up in a relationship that is tested by life's most defining events.

Date: February 12th
Adapted From: How to Be Single by Liz Tuccillo
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson
Plot Summary: There's a right way to be single, a wrong way to be single, and then...there's Alice. And Robin. Lucy. Meg. Tom. David. New York City is full of lonely hearts seeking the right match, be it a love connection, a hook-up, or something in the middle. And somewhere between the teasing texts and one-night stands, what these unmarrieds all have in common is the need to learn how to be single in a world filled with ever-evolving definitions of love. Sleeping around in the city that never sleeps was never so much fun.

Date: February 12th
Adapted From: Marvel Comics' Deadpool character
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, T.J. Miller
Plot Summary: A former Special Forces operative turned mercenary is subjected to a rogue experiment that leaves him with accelerated healing powers, adopting the alter ego Deadpool.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2015: New Releases This Week: February 3rd, 2015
2014: Giveaway: "Where Spirits Dwell" winners selected!
2013: Cool Stuff: The Best Tent Ever!
2012: Bloody Jack (Bloody Jack #1) by L. A. Meyer
2011: The Harsh Cry of the Heron (Tales of the Otori #4) by Lian Hearn
2010: News: Interview with Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbies
2009: News: On Buying Books


Anna and the Swallow Man
by Gavriel Savit

On November 6th, 1939, Anna's father leaves her in the care of a friend. He's only meant to be gone for a few hours, but he never returns for her. The man entrusted with her proves unwilling to keep her for more than a day, so seven-year-old Anna is thrown to the streets of Krakow to survive on her own. A mysterious person Anna knows only as the Swallow Man becomes her savior. Knowledgeable and clever, but shrouded in secrets, he takes the girl under his wing and leads her to a new life lived on the road and in the shadows as conflict and war escalate around them.

I loved this book. It was so beautiful and so haunting that I couldn't tear myself away for even a moment. The best way that I know to describe it is this way: before I picked up Anna and the Swallow Man, I was not interested in another World War II novel. There have been so many in the past few years that have been “must reads” that I just couldn't take yet another story set in that era. I was over it. But within the first few pages I was drawn into Anna's unsettled, disturbing life and I was hooked.

The Swallow Man is an absolutely fascinating character. Seen through the eyes of Anna, he's slightly terrifying. Although she loves him and trusts him absolutely, she never completely loses her fear of him. He's difficult to grasp, as shifting as the shadows cast by a flickering candle, refusing to give up any clues to his identity or his past. Yet he's also a mentor, a father figure who encourages Anna to ask questions and patiently answers them. When he refuses to answer, he explains why he will not. I always want to know more – who is this Swallow Man? Where did he come from? Why does he live as he does? Little drips of information leak through his facade of deception, but they only lead to greater curiosity. Anna is the perfect observer, soaking up the Swallow Man's philosophy like a sponge. The wide-eyed wonder of early chapters matures as Anna grows up. The inner strength that she has cultivated over the years shines in the heartbreaking final third of the book.

The writing in the book is simply amazing. The words are so beautiful and lyrical, yet very subtle and precise. The atmosphere created is uncertain, reality always shifting. At times the Swallow Man seems unreal, a sort of trickster or magical creature sent to protect Anna. In other scenes he's undeniably real and terrestrial. Sometimes the book reads like an ethereal dream; at other times, a scathing nightmare. Always, the prose is elegant, lean, and arresting.

It's quite early to declare a favorite book of the year, but this may be a very strong contender. I can't believe that this is the author's debut novel. Anna and the Swallow Man is too good to be his first! I can't recommend it enough. I want everyone to read it and love it as much as I do.

5 out of 5 stars

To read more about Anna and the Swallow Man, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2015: New Releases This Week: January 27th, 2015
2014: The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog (Amelia Peabody #7) by Elizabeth Peters
2013: Catching Fire (Hunger Games #2) by Suzanne Collins
2012: The Coffins of Little Hope by Timothy Schaffert
2011: Sidebar: Review Status for Books
2010: Happy Café Vol. 1 by Kou Matsuzuki
2009: Contest #6: A Tale of Romance for Valentine’s Day

New Releases: January 19th, 2015


THE PORTABLE VEBLEN by Elizabeth McKenzie
THE PORTABLE VEBLEN is set in and around Palo Alto, amid the culture clash of new money and old (antiestablishment) values, and with the specter of our current wars looming across. A young couple on the brink of marriage --- the charming Veblen and her fiancé Paul, a brilliant neurologist --- find their engagement in danger of collapse. Along the way they weather everything from each other’s dysfunctional families, to the attentions of a seductive pharmaceutical heiress, to an intimate tête-à-tête with a very charismatic squirrel. Fiction

RIVER ROAD by Carol Goodman
Nan Lewis, a creative writing professor, hits a deer while driving home from a faculty holiday party. But when she gets out of her car to look for it, the deer is nowhere to be found. The next morning, Nan is informed that one of her students was killed in a hit-and-run the night before. And because of the damage to her car, Nan is a suspect. In the days following the accident, Nan finds herself shunned by the same community that rallied around her when her own daughter was killed in an eerily similar accident. When she begins to find disturbing tokens that recall the death of her daughter, Nan suspects that the two accidents are connected. Psychological Thriller

THE ROAD TO LITTLE DRIBBLING: Adventures of an American in Britain by Bill Bryson
In 1995, Bill Bryson got into his car and took a weeks-long farewell motoring trip about England before moving his family back to the United States. The book about that trip, NOTES FROM A SMALL ISLAND, is uproarious and endlessly endearing. Two decades later, he set out again to rediscover that country, and the result is THE ROAD TO LITTLE DRIBBLING. Nothing is funnier than Bill Bryson on the road, so prepare for the total joy and multiple episodes of unseemly laughter. Memoir / Travel

William Herschel, the great composer and astronomer, rescues his sister, Caroline, from a life of drudgery in Germany and brings her to England and a world of music making and stargazing. Lina, as Caroline is known, serves as William’s assistant and the captain of his exhilaratingly busy household. William is generous, wise and charismatic, an obsessive genius whom Lina adores and serves with the fervency of a beloved wife. But when William suddenly announces that he will be married, Lina watches her world collapse. Historical Fiction

WARRIORS OF THE STORM by Bernard Cornwell
A fragile peace reigns in Wessex, Mercia and East Anglia. King Alfred’s son, Edward, and formidable daughter, Aethelflaed, rule the kingdoms. But all around the restless Northmen, eyeing the rich lands and wealthy churches, are mounting raids. Uhtred of Bebbanburg, the kingdoms’ greatest warrior, controls northern Mercia from the strongly fortified city of Chester. But forces are gathering against him. Northmen allied to the Irish, led by the fierce warrior Ragnall Ivarson, are soon joined by the Northumbrians, and their strength could prove overwhelming. Historical Fiction


Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries' seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once. At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointy as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking. Until one day, he does... As the world turns upside down and a hero is needed to save them all, Hazel tries to remember her years spent pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough? Fantasy / Young Adult

FROG written by Mo Yan, translated by Howard Goldblatt
FROG opens with a playwright nicknamed Tadpole, who plans to write about his aunt. In her youth, Gugu --- the beautiful daughter of a famous doctor and staunch Communist --- is revered for her skill as a midwife. But when her lover defects, Gugu’s own loyalty to the Party is questioned. She decides to prove her allegiance by strictly enforcing the one-child policy, keeping tabs on the number of children in the village, and performing abortions on women as many as eight months pregnant. Fiction

Broken Wheel, Iowa, has never seen anyone like Sara, who traveled all the way from Sweden just to meet her book-loving pen pal. When she arrives, however, she finds Amy's funeral guests just leaving. The residents of Broken Wheel are happy to look after their bewildered visitor --- not much else to do in a small town that's almost beyond repair. They just never imagined that she'd start a bookstore. Or that books could bring them together --- and change everything. Fiction

WE SHOULD HANG OUT SOMETIME: Embarassingly, A True Story by Josh Sundquist
Josh Sundquist only ever had one girlfriend. For twenty-three hours. In eighth grade. Why was Josh still single? To find out, he tracked down the girls he had tried to date and asked them straight up: What went wrong? The results of Josh's semiscientific, wholly hilarious investigation are captured here. From a disastrous Putt-Putt date involving a backward prosthetic foot, to his introduction to CFD (Close Fast Dancing), to a misguided "grand gesture" at a Miss America pageant, this story is about looking for love -- or at least a girlfriend -- in all the wrong places. Memoir / Young Adult

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2015: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
2014: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke
2013: Movie: Les Misérables
2012: 15 Great Works of Literature-Inspired Nail Art
2011: Closing down for end of year Festivus…
2010: News: Seriously Cool Pop-Up Book
2009: College Girl by Patricia Weitz

New Releases: January 12th, 2016


DICTATOR by Robert Harris
At the age of 48, Cicero --- the greatest orator of his time --- is in exile, separated from his wife and children, tormented by his sense of failure, his great power sacrificed on the altar of his principles. And yet, in the words of one of his most famous aphorisms, “While there is life, there is hope.” By promising to support Caesar --- his political enemy --- he is granted return to Rome, where he fights his way back to prominence. Even so, no public figure, however brilliant and cunning, is completely safeguarded against the unscrupulous ambition and corruption of others. Historical Fiction

THE DRESSMAKER'S WAR by Mary Chamberlain
In London, 1939, Ada Vaughan is a young woman with an unusual dressmaking skill and dreams of a better life for herself. That life seems to arrive when Stanislaus, an Austrian aristocrat, sweeps Ada off her feet and brings her to Paris. When war breaks out, Stanislaus vanishes and Ada is taken prisoner by the Germans, she must do everything she can to survive: by becoming dressmaker to the Nazi wives. Abandoned and alone as war rages, the choices Ada makes will come back to haunt her years later, as the truth of her experience is twisted and distorted after the war. Historical Fiction

THE LOST TUDOR PRINCESS: The Life of Lady Margaret Douglas by Alison Weir
THE LOST TUDOR PRINCESS is the first biography of Margaret Douglas, the beautiful, cunning niece of Henry VIII of England who used her sharp intelligence and covert power to influence the succession after the death of Elizabeth I. Drawing on decades of research and myriad original sources --- including many of Margaret’s surviving letters --- Alison Weir brings this captivating character out of the shadows and presents a strong, capable woman who operated effectively and fearlessly at the very highest levels of power. Biography / History

THIS CENSUS-TAKER by China Miéville
In a remote house on a hilltop, a lonely boy witnesses a profoundly traumatic event. He tries --- and fails --- to flee. Left alone with his increasingly deranged parent, he dreams of safety, of joining the other children in the town below, of escape. When at last a stranger knocks at his door, the boy senses that his days of isolation might be over. But by what authority does this man keep the meticulous records he carries? What is the purpose behind his questions? Is he friend, enemy…or something else altogether? Urban Fantasy

UP FROM THE SEA by Leza Lowitz
A powerful novel-in-verse about how one teen boy survives the March 2011 tsunami that devastates his coastal Japanese village. On that fateful day, Kai loses nearly everyone and everything he cares about. When he’s offered a trip to New York to meet kids whose lives were changed by 9/11, Kai realizes he also has a chance to look for his estranged American father. Visiting Ground Zero on its tenth anniversary, Kai learns that the only way to make something good come out of the disaster back home is to return there and help rebuild his town. Middle Grade / Children's Fiction

At the age of 36, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality. Memoir


AQUARIUM by David Vann
Caitlin lives alone with her mother in subsidized housing next to an airport in Seattle. Each day, while waiting to be picked up after school, she visits the local aquarium to study the fish. Gazing at the creatures within the watery depths, she accesses a shimmering universe beyond her own. When she befriends an old man at the tanks one day, who seems as enamored of the fish as she, Caitlin cracks open a dark family secret and propels her once-blissful relationship with her mother toward a precipice of terrifying consequence. Fiction

A GOD IN RUINS by Kate Atkinson
Kate Atkinson's LIFE AFTER LIFE explored the possibility of infinite chances and the power of choices, following Ursula Todd as she lived through the turbulent events of the last century over and over again. A GOD IN RUINS tells the dramatic story of the 20th century through Ursula's beloved younger brother, Teddy --- would-be poet, heroic pilot, husband, father and grandfather --- as he navigates the perils and progress of a rapidly changing world. Historical 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 and 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

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2015: New Releases This Week: January 13th, 2015
2014: Sidebar: Review Status for Books 2014
2013: The Lion in the Valley (Amelia Peabody #4) by Elizabeth Peters
2012: Delilah by India Edgehill
2011: Closing down for end of year Festivus…
2010: The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan
2009: Discussion Question: Buying Textbooks

News: January Movie Adaptations

Read the Book Before You See the Movie!

Thank you IMDB.com for providing the movie plot summaries.

Date: January 6th
Adapted From: Sir Conan Arthur Doyle's Sherlock Holmes character
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman
Plot Summary: Not really a movie, but the holiday special from the BBC series Sherlock will be released in movie theaters before airing on television. Set in Victorian London instead of the show's contemporary setting, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson tackle yet another case.

Date: January 8th
Adapted From: The Revenant by Michael Punke
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy
Plot Summary: A frontiersman named Hugh Glass on a fur trading expedition in the 1820s is on a quest for survival after being brutally mauled by a bear.

Date: January 15th
Adapted From: 13 Hours Mitchell Zuckoff
Starring: James Badge Dale, John Krasinksi
Plot Summary: An American Ambassador is killed during an attack at a U.S. compound in Libya as a security team struggles to make sense out of the chaos.

Date: January 15th
Adapted From: The Lady in the Van by Alan Bennett
Starring: Maggie Smith, Alex Jennings
Plot Summary: A man forms an unexpected bond with a transient woman living in her car that's parked in his driveway.

Date: January 22nd
Adapted From: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
Starring: Chloë Grace Moretz, Nick Robinson, Maika Monroe
Plot Summary: Four waves of increasingly deadly alien attacks have left most of Earth decimated. Cassie is on the run, desperately trying to save her younger brother.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2015: Subscription Box: Book Riot, January 2015
2014: Anything That Moves by Dana Goodyear
2013: A Sound Among The Trees by Susan Meissner
2012: At the Mercy of the Queen by Anne Clinard Barnhill
2011: Closing down for end of year Festivus…
2010: Sticklers, Sideburns & Bikinis by Graeme Donald
2009: News: TwiCon 2009


New Releases: January 5th, 2016


MIDNIGHT IN BROAD DAYLIGHT: A Japanese American Family Caught Between Two Worlds by Pamela Rotner Sakamoto
After their father’s death, Harry, Frank and Pierce Fukuhara moved to Hiroshima, their mother’s ancestral home. Eager to go back to America, Harry returned in the late 1930s. Then came Pearl Harbor. Harry was sent to an internment camp until a call came for Japanese translators, and he dutifully volunteered to serve his country. Back in Hiroshima, Frank and Pierce became soldiers in the Japanese Imperial Army. Before the Fukuharas would have to face each other in battle, the U.S. detonated the atomic bomb over Hiroshima, gravely injuring tens of thousands of civilians, including members of their family. History

PASSENGER by Alexandra Bracken
In one devastating night, violin prodigy Etta Spencer loses everything she knows and loves. Thrust into an unfamiliar world by a stranger with a dangerous agenda, Etta is certain of only one thing: she has traveled not just miles, but years from home. And she's inherited a legacy she knows nothing about from a family whose existence she's never heard of. Until now.
 Nicholas Carter is content with his life at sea, free from the Ironwoods --- a powerful family in the Colonies --- and the servitude he's known at their hands. But with the arrival of an unusual passenger on his ship comes the insistent pull of the past that he can't escape and the family that won't let him go so easily. Now the Ironwoods are searching for a stolen object of untold value, one they believe only Etta, his passenger, can find. In order to protect her, Nick must ensure she brings it back to them --- whether she wants to or not.
 Together, Etta and Nicholas embark on a perilous journey across centuries and continents, piecing together clues left behind by the traveler who will do anything to keep the object out of the Ironwoods' grasp. Young Adult

THE NIGHT PARADE by Kathryn Tanquary
The last thing Saki Yamamoto wants to do for her summer vacation is trade in exciting Tokyo for the antiquated rituals and bad cell reception of her grandmother’s village. Preparing for the Obon ceremony is boring. Then the local kids take interest in Saki and she sees an opportunity for some fun, even if it means disrespecting her family’s ancestral shrine on a malicious dare.
But as Saki rings the sacred bell, the darkness shifts. A death curse has been invoked...and Saki has three nights to undo it. With the help of three spirit guides and some unexpected friends, Saki must prove her worth --- or say goodbye to the world of the living forever... Middle Grade / Fantasy

SPARK JOY: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
Japanese decluttering guru Marie Kondo’s THE LIFE-CHANGING MAGIC OF TIDYING UP has revolutionized homes --- and lives --- across the world. Now, Kondo presents an illustrated guide to her acclaimed KonMari Method, with step-by-step folding illustrations for everything from shirts to socks, plus drawings of perfectly organized drawers and closets. She also provides advice on frequently asked questions, such as whether to keep “necessary” items that may not bring you joy. Self-Help


AMERICAN RECKONING: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity by Christian G. Appy
How did the Vietnam War change the way we think of ourselves as a people and a nation? Christian G. Appy, author of the widely praised oral history of the Vietnam War, PATRIOTS, now examines the relationship between the war’s realities and myths, and its impact on our national identity, conscience, pride, shame, popular culture and postwar foreign policy. History

THE BURIED GIANT by Kazuo Ishiguro
Kazuo Ishiguro, one of the best novelists working today, is also one of the most surprising. He has written drawing-room novels, dystopian fiction, surrealist works, and now a post-Arthurian tale of knights and ogres, of elderly villagers searching for their long-lost son, and of a she-dragon rumored to be the cause of a mist of forgetfulness that has plagued the land. As in past books, Ishiguro uses his story to meditate on memory and loss. Historical Fiction / Fantasy

ROGUE WAVE (Waterfire Saga, Book Two) by Jennifer Donnelly
Serafina, Neela, Ling, Ava, Becca, and Astrid, six mermaids from realms scattered throughout the seas and freshwaters, were summoned by the leader of the river witches to learn an incredible truth: the mermaids are direct descendants of the Six Who Ruled-powerful mages who once governed the lost empire of Atlantis. The ancient evil that destroyed Atlantis is stirring again, and only the mermaids can defeat it. To do so, they need to find magical talismans that belonged to the Six. As they hunt for their talismans, both Serafina and Neela find reserves of courage and cunning they didn't know they possessed. They face down danger and death, only to endure a game-changing betrayal, as shocking as a rogue wave. Young Adult / Fantasy

THE SWEETHEART by Angelina Mirabella
It’s 1953, and 17-year-old Leonie Putzkammer is cartoonishly tall and curvaceous, destined to spend the rest of her life waiting tables and living with her widowed father in their Philadelphia row house. Until the day a legendary wrestling promoter walks into the local diner and offers her the chance of a lifetime. When Leonie becomes The Sweetheart, one of America’s most infamous female wrestlers, she attracts the fans she desires but complicates all of her relationships. Historical Fiction

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2015: Fashionista Piranha will be on break for the holidays
2014: Giveaway: Where Spirits Dwell
2013: Sidebar: Books Reviewed in 2013
2012: Uzumaki: Spiral Into Horror Vol. 3 by Junji Ito
2011: Closing down for end of year Festivus…
2010: Remaining Unread: The Top Ten Reasons We Don’t Get To Certain Books
2009: When the Heart Cries by Cindy Woodsmall

Review: Ghostlight by Sonia Gensler

by Sonia Gensler

Every summer, Avery and her brother Blake are sent to their grandmother's farm, where they spin stories together about a magical Kingdom. This summer, Blake refuses to play along, telling Avery he's too old for kingdoms and magic. Initially furious, Avery is soon distracted by a boy she finds wandering her grandmother's property, looking to tell stories of his own. He asks her to help him create a movie, and Avery agrees – but once she realizes Julian is intent on making a horror movie set in Hilliard House, a derelict mansion her grandmother has forbidden her to visit, she is scared. Julian teaches Avery about making movies by showing her classic films and explaining different shots and techniques, but each lesson is accompanied by a reminder that they need access to Hilliard House so they can apply what they've learned. Avery slowly warms to Julian's ghost story, but when they finally enter the house to begin filming they uncover the house's own tragic spirit.

Every character in the story has problems that he or she is working through. For Avery, it's learning to recognize and control her temper and coping with the fact that her brother is starting to leave her behind as he grows up. Julian's father is a famous country star, and the celebrity has made it hard for him to talk about his family's problems. Julian himself has several issues that he's learning to deal with through his films.

While Avery and Julian are researching the history of Hilliard House and the identity of the spirit haunting it, they uncover other long-hidden secrets, including a secret marriage, the truth behind the death of a seven year old girl, and an insane mother who may have passed her mental troubles on to her child. Each new twist adds a layer of creepiness to the story.

This middle-grade book will teach readers a lot about film by using examples from psychological horror classics like The Haunting and The Innocents to explain how the director's choice of camera angles, lighting, and shots can shape a movie. It's especially fitting because the story often uses similar techniques to tell its own spooky stories. Julian's excitement cinema is contagious and will encourage some kids to try making their own short films.

Other children might be inspired by Avery's research into the history of Hilliard House to learn more about their own family tree and local landmarks. Her tenacity to chase down the details of what happened in the past is admirable. As she matures Avery also learns to channel her creativity beyond pure imagination into storytelling.

4 out of 5 stars

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

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2015: Fashionista Piranha will be on break for the holidays
2014: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
2013: Thermae Romae Vol. 1 by Mari Yamazaki
2012: Verily, Verily: The KJV by Jon Sweeney
2011: Closing down for the end of the year...
2010: Index of Book Reviews from June – December 2009
When the Heart Cries by Cindy Woodsmall
Goosebumps: Slappy's Tales of Horror
by R. L. Stine

Slappy the Ventriloquist’s Dummy introduces four creepy stories, based on four previously published Goosebumps books. In “A Shocker on Shock Street”, two children are given a chance to test a new theme park attraction that utilizes ultra-realistic special effects. Jamie Tolagson's graphic style recalls old EC horror comics (but child-safe, of course) and the traditional comic book style.

Gabriel Hernandez's sketchier illustrations for “The Werewolf of Fever Swamp” are in line with more contemporary horror comics. This story calls to mind works like The Walking Dead. It's set in a spooky swamp. A boy and his family have recently moved there, and the boy has adopted a large, wolf-like dog. When a rabbit is found brutally mutilated, his new pet is accused, but the boy is determined to prove Wolf's innocence, and discovers something far scarier haunting the swamp.

“Ghost Beach” is illustrated in a Japanese manga style. While the story can be chilling, the cartoon characters don't always convey it authentically. Two girls are staying with cousins for the summer, and befriend some of the local children. The locals tell the girls about a ghost haunting the nearby beach, and ask for their help in permanently ridding the town of the spirit.

I was going to describe the style of the final comic, “Night of the Living Dummy”, as Telgemeier-esque. It seemed all the more apt when I realized that the artist, Dave Roman, is married to Raina Telgemeier. Characters are rounded and cute, almost bouncing from one panel to the next – which suits the story, which revolves around two sisters feuding with ventriloquist dummies. It's Slappy's origin story, and it's an entertaining one.

I remember reading most of these stories in their original book form when I was a kid. I enjoyed them back in the mid-90s and I had fun revisiting them in this new, graphic form. I've always liked the Goosebumps franchise for its ability to introduce something unsettling into a very real-world setting and slowly build on events in a way that ratchets up the tension while remaining gentle enough that the stories don't give kids nightmares. A cartoonish sense of humor pervades all of Goosebumps, and in the four selected stories it doesn't overwhelm the spookiness. I don't know if this is meant to be the first of many graphic adaptations or just a one-off event, but it's a great way to introduce the stories to a new generation of readers.

3.5 out of 5 stars

To read more about Goosebumps: Slappy's Tales of Horror, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2015: Fashionista Piranha will be on break for the holidays
2014: Movie: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
2013: Fashionista Piranha Book Blog in 2013
2012: The Most Anticipated Reads of 2012
2011: Closing down for end of year Festivus…
2010: Summary of Book Reviews from June-December 2009
2009: The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell

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