Monday, March 2, 2015

Whistling Past the Graveyard

Whistling Past the Graveyard
Susan Crandall

Whistling Past the Graveyard

Genre: Historical Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): The summer of 1963 begins like any other for nine-year-old Starla Claudelle. Born to teenage parents in Mississippi, Starla is being raised by a strict paternal grandmother, Mamie, whose worst fear is that Starla will turn out like her mother. Starla hasn’t seen her momma since she was three, but is convinced that her mother will keep her promise to take Starla and her daddy to Nashville, where her mother hopes to become a famous singer—and that one day her family will be whole and perfect.

When Starla is grounded on the Fourth of July, she sneaks out to see the parade. After getting caught, Starla’s fear that Mamie will make good on her threats and send her to reform school cause her to panic and run away from home. Once out in the country, Starla is offered a ride by a black woman, Eula, who is traveling with a white baby. She happily accepts a ride, with the ultimate goal of reaching her mother in Nashville.

As the two unlikely companions make their long and sometimes dangerous journey, Starla’s eyes are opened to the harsh realities of 1963 southern segregation. Through talks with Eula, reconnecting with her parents, and encountering a series of surprising misadventures, Starla learns to let go of long-held dreams and realizes family is forged from those who will sacrifice all for you, no matter if bound by blood or by the heart.

Marcie's Review:  It took me a while to get into this book; I wasn't sure I enjoyed Starla's voice, and I felt like too many things were happening without getting a good understanding of the characters.  But about a third of the way into it, the book clicked, and I didn't want to put it down.

This is a Southern coming-of-age story, set in pre-civil-rights era Mississippi.  Starla is a spunky, sassy, adventurous nine year old, who ends up learning some tough lessons about family, race and segregation.  She ends up traveling with Eula, an abused black woman, who struggles to come to terms with her past.  It was difficult to read about how Eula was treated in the deep south, and hard to believe that those things happened only 50 years ago in our country.

My two complaints about this book are that Eula's behavior at the start of the book seemed unrealistic for the time, and that the lessons Starla learned about race seemed too adult for her young age.  A point could be made that she approached differences in race with the innocence of a child, but her character was able to verbalize her thoughts well beyond what I would expect of a nine year old.

But I still loved Starla's connection with Eula and her desire to do the right thing.  The ending was satisfying in every way.

Marcie's Rating: 4.5 stars

Becky's Review:  This book took a while to get into but once I did, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.  I loved the connection between Starla and Eula.  Eula needed someone to love and Starla needed someone to love her.  My heart ached for Starla as she tried to find someone who would accept her and love her as her family.  She was a nine-year-old looking for acceptance and learned about kindness in the least expected places.  My heart also ached for Eula as she was bound to do the right thing but up against the obstacle of race relations.  There were moments of the book that were hard to read because of the way Eula was treated even though I imagine this was a very honest portrayal of how life in the South would have been in the 1960s.  I love how the author brought everyone together at the end but perhaps it was not the most realistic of endings.

Becky's Rating: 4 stars

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Lakeshore Christmas

Lakeshore Christmas
by Susan Wiggs
Lakeshore Christmas (Lakeshore Chronicles, #6)

Genre: Romance

Synopsis:  The prim librarian is finally getting her chance to direct Avalon’s annual holiday pageant, and she’s determined to make it truly spectacular. But it might just require one of those Christmas miracles she’s always read about.

The problem is her codirector is recovering former child star Eddie Haven, a long-haired, tattooed lump of coal in Maureen’s pageant stocking. Eddie can’t stand Christmas, but a court order from a judge has landed him right in the middle of the merrymaking.

Maureen and Eddie spar over every detail of the pageant, from casting troubled kids to Eddie’s original—and distinctly untraditional—music. Is he trying to sabotage the performance to spite her? Or is she trying too hard to fit the show into her storybook-perfect notion of Christmas?

And how is it possible that they’re falling in love?
from the book jacket

Review:  I've been in the mood for quick and light reads lately, so I've picked up some of Susan Wiggs' Lakeshore Chronicles series.  I've enjoyed most of them, but this one fell flat.  The romance between Maureen and Eddie didn't feel real; I couldn't see these two characters connecting.  I was more interested in Daisy Bellamy's story, but that was disappointing as well, since it basically just stopped partway through the book. 

Rating: 2.5 stars

Dark Witch

Dark Witch
by Nora Roberts
Dark Witch (The Cousins O'Dwyer Trilogy, #1)

Genre: Romance

Synopsis:  With indifferent parents, Iona Sheehan grew up craving devotion and acceptance. From her maternal grandmother, she learned where to find both: a land of lush forests, dazzling lakes, and centuries-old legends.


County Mayo, to be exact. Where her ancestors’ blood and magic have flowed through generations—and where her destiny awaits.

Iona arrives in Ireland with nothing but her Nan’s directions, an unfailingly optimistic attitude, and an innate talent with horses. Not far from the luxurious castle where she is spending a week, she finds her cousins, Branna and Connor O’Dwyer. And since family is family, they invite her into their home and their lives.

When Iona lands a job at the local stables, she meets the owner, Boyle McGrath. Cowboy, pirate, wild tribal horseman, he’s three of her biggest fantasy weaknesses all in one big, bold package.

Iona realizes that here she can make a home for herself—and live her life as she wants, even if that means falling head over heels for Boyle. But nothing is as it seems. An ancient evil has wound its way around Iona’s family tree and must be defeated. Family and friends will fight with each other and for each other to keep the promise of hope—and love—alive…
from the book jacket

Review:  When I am in the mood for a romance novel, I usually look for a Nora Roberts books.  This first book in her newest series did not live up to my expectations.  The characters were flat, the romance was lackluster, and the witch aspect too dark and reminiscent of her Three Sisters trilogy.  Instead of reading this to completion, I chose to pick up something that sounded better.

Rating: Abandoned

The Burning Room

The Burning Room
by Michael Connelly
The Burning Room (Harry Bosch, #19)

Genre: Mystery

Synopsis:  Detective Harry Bosch tackles a cold case unlike any he's ever worked, in the new thriller from #1 New York Times bestselling author Michael Connelly.

In the LAPD's Open-Unsolved Unit, not many murder victims die almost a decade after the crime. So when a man succumbs to complications from being shot by a stray bullet nine years earlier, Bosch catches a case in which the body is still fresh, but any other evidence is virtually nonexistent.

Now Bosch and his new partner, rookie Detective Lucia Soto, are tasked with solving what turns out to be a highly charged, politically sensitive case. Starting with the bullet that's been lodged for years in the victim's spine, they must pull new leads from years-old information, which soon reveals that this shooting may have been anything but random.

In this gripping new thriller, Michael Connelly shows once again why Harry Bosch is "one of the greats of crime fiction" (New York Daily News).
from the book jacket

Review:  I got this book as a blind date from the library, meaning that I checked it out without knowing what it was.  I would not have picked this book up on my own, given that it is number 19 in a series of mysteries involving the same character.  While it was a stand alone book, it was obviously part of a series; random characters were introduced for no real reason, and Bosch's back story was alluded to without being detailed.  It was an enjoyable mystery read, and I quite liked the characters of Detective Harry Bosch and his new partner Lucky Lucy. 

Rating: 3.5 stars

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Night Gardener

The Night Gardener
by Jonathan Auxier

Genre: Juvenile fiction

Synopsis: The Night Gardener follows two abandoned Irish siblings who travel to work as servants at a creepy, crumbling English manor house.  But the house and its inhabitants are not quite what they seem.  Soon, the children are confronted by a mysterious stranger-and an ancient curse that threatens their very lives.
from the book jacket

Review: This would not have been a book that I would have picked up on my own but it was picked for a book club with sixth graders at my school and I decided to participate.  I'm glad that I read this book because it was very engaging, mysterious, and suspenseful.  The book was fairly dark but definitely enjoyable.  I thought the descriptions in the book were fantastic and really gave me good images of what the tree and the night gardener looked like which made the book even more creepy!  The students that I spoke to really enjoyed the book and had great discussions.  I did feel that some of the language (Molly and Kit were the Irish siblings and they spoke with an Irish accent-if that makes any sense) might be hard for some younger readers of this book.

Rating: 4 stars

The One & Only

The One & Only
by Emily Giffin

Genre: Chick Lit

Synopsis:  Thirty-three-year-old Shea Rigsby has spent her entire life in Walker, Texas-a small college town that lives and dies by football, a passion she unabashedly shares.  Raised alongside her best friend, Lucy, the daughter of Walker's legendary head coach, Clive Carr, Shea was too devoted to her hometown team to leave.  Instead she stayed in Walker for college, even taking a job in the university athletic department after graduation, where she has remained for more than a decade.

But when an unexpected tragedy strikes the tight-knit Walker community, Shea's comfortable world is upended, she begins to wonder if the life she's chosen is really enough for her.  As she finally gives up her safety net to set out on an unexpected path, Shea discovers unsettling truths about the people and things she has always trusted most-and is forced to confront her deepest desires, fears, and secrets.
from the book jacket

Review:  I had picked this book up multiple times at the library off the new fiction shelf and then put it back.  I finally decided to check it out since I was drawn to it.  I wish I had just put it back.  This book was just plain awkward.  In my opinion Shea's crush was just wrong and quite disturbing knowing the relationship that Shea and her crush had throughout her whole life.  I don't know why her crush would return her feelings wither considering he had just lost his wife.  He did virtually no grieving for his wife of 30 plus years.  I felt a little uncomfortable while reading this book and I'm not sure what made me keep reading.

My other problem with this book is football.  Shea lives, breathes and dies football, especially football in Texas.  I have zero interest in football and don't know much about the game and I felt like I really should have been somewhat interested in the sport to enjoy the book.  I'm not sure who the target audience for this book was.  Everyone in this book (well most everyone) takes football far too seriously and there was WAY too much football talk for me.

I would not spend your time reading this book as you will just walk away feeling grossed out by the story.  After the somewhat incestuous relationships started I read some spoilers and then skimmed the rest of the book just so I could finish it and count it as a finished book.

Rating: 2 stars

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Little Mercies

Little Mercies
by Heather Gudenkauf

Genre; Fiction

Synopsis: Veteran social worker Ellen Moore has seen the worst side of humanity-the vilest acts one person can commit against another.  She is a fiercely dedicated children's advocate and a devoted mother and wife.  But one blistering summer day, a simple moment of distraction will have repercussions that Ellen could never have imagined, threatening to shatter everything she holds dear and trapping her between the gears of the system she works for.

Meanwhile, ten-year-old Jenny Briard has been living with her well-meaning but irresponsible father since her mother left them, sleeping on friends' couches and moving in and out of cheap motels.  When Jenny suddenly finds herself on her own, she is forced to survive with nothing but a few dollars and her street smarts.  The last thing she wants is a social worker, but when Ellen's and Jenny's lives collide, little do they know just how much they can help one another.

A powerful and emotionally charged tale about motherhood and justice, Little Mercies is a searing portrait of the tenuous grasp we have on the things we love the most and of the ties that unexpectedly bring us together.

Review:  Heather Gudenkauf is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors to read.  I know that I will enjoy her books and that they will be quick reads that are hard to put down.  I literally read this book in just over a day and that included me going to work and sleeping at night!  I started reading this book and I just couldn't stop so I stayed up too late.  I knew what tragic event was going to happen to Ellen and I almost couldn't keep reading because I didn't know if my emotions could handle it.   But I kept going and I felt heartache for Ellen and her family.  There were times that I teared up while reading her story.  I felt a connection to Ellen as a mother and as an advocate for children.  I liked Jenny's storyline and how she fit into Ellen's story but I did think that there were some unrealistic aspects of Jenny's story.  I didn't feel the emotional connection with Jenny's story.  I read through her chapters so that I could get back to Ellen's story.  There were a couple secondary characters who lacked depth and their actions just seemed thrown into the story, Ellen's daughter Leah being one of them.  Overall I really loved reading this book and I would definitely recommend it!

Rating: 4.5 stars