Monday, July 23, 2018

The Ones We Choose

The Ones We Choose: A Novel by Julie Clark. New York: Gallery Books, 2018.  344 pages

Reviewed by Brenda G.

In this, Clark’s debut novel, she presents a geneticist as her protagonist. Paige Robson is a single parent of an 8-year old son Miles. Paige is unmarried; her son was conceived using a sperm donor. Miles has questions about his biological father and is unwilling to accept Paige’s friend as a substitute father for a camping trip. Miles also seems out of place and friendless in his new school.

The story, as are most, is multi-layered. Paige’s relationship with her own father is almost nonexistent; he abandoned his family repeatedly during Paige’s childhood. Her mother always accepted his return, as did her sister. Paige cannot. Yet he is back, once again. He seems to have inspired Paige’s life work. That work deals with parenting, specifically looking for a genetic reason for the disengagement of some biological fathers.

Then Miles forms a close friendship with a classmate, and almost simultaneously, Paige meets the new friend’s mother, and the two women become fast friends. The classmate’s father includes Miles in family activities, and strong bonds are formed. All seems rosy, but tragedy looms.

I do not want to share the details, but the ending is satisfactory and answers multiple questions. This is an enjoyable family story with scientific insets which add fascinating insights. I enjoyed reading both the book and the science information presented in entries parallel to the text.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Walking on My Grave by Carolyn Hart

Reviewed by Kristin

Carolyn Hart is obviously an Agatha Christie fan, as she often mentions the Grand Dame of Mystery in her Death on Demand series.  Quite often, Hart’s mysteries unfold in the same methodical way:  She lays out the clues, has an investigator build dossiers for various characters, waits for the reader to choose a favorite suspect, then exposes the culprit with a grand dénouement.

Annie Darling runs the most charming little mystery bookstore in the southeast—Death on Demand.  Annie is kind and thoughtful, with clear gray eyes, and always falls into the investigation of every murder on Broward’s Rock Island off the coast of South Carolina which certainly must be a dangerous place to live.  Her husband Max runs Confidential Commissions, ready to ask questions or to find lost things.  Technically, Max isn’t a private investigator, just someone who might be called upon to provide assistance when a resident or visitor to their lovely island has a need.

As this case opens, Annie’s friend Ves Roundtree is troubled.  Her wealthy late brother entrusted her with his estate for the remainder of her life, with the understanding that after her own death it would be divided between several other worthy recipients.  Now what better way to paint a target on someone’s back?  Possibly quite foolishly, Ves invites all the prospective heirs to a dinner to announce their future good fortunes.

Soon, Ves has a bad fall.  The suspects spout off their alibis, but someone must be lying.  Never mind that there is a local police presence, it’s Max and Annie to the rescue.  With sidekicks Laurel (Max’s elegant but dreamy mother,) Emma Clyde (a mystery author known for her heroine Marigold Rembrandt,) and Henny Brawley (Annie’s best mystery buying customer,) the Darlings question suspects and bring them all together for a great reveal.

Walking on My Grave is Hart’s twenty-sixth installment featuring the lovely Annie.  I recently read that Hart had considered the series complete after 2014’s Death at the Door.  But Annie and Max just wouldn’t leave the author alone, so she picked up her pen and continued writing.  I for one am glad that Annie is still around to sell books to tourists, pet her sleek black cat Agatha, and solve the mysteries that continually cross her path.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Nevermore: Understanding Israel, Force of Nature, Lilith's Brood, Lady Elizabeth, Fascism, Winter Sisters

Reported by Ambrea

This week, Nevermore started off with How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less by Sarah Glidden.  In this graphic memoir, Glidden recounts her “Birthright Israel” tour.  Over several weeks, Glidden explored Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Golan Heights, Masada, and other locations throughout Israel, learning about the local culture and shattering her preconceived beliefs about the country she thought she knew.  Our reader said How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less was an excellent graphic novel, noting it was the first one she’d ever read in her life.  She said she became so involved with Glidden’s journey, and she found herself drawn in by the author’s realizations.  “It’s worth reading,” our reader concluded, saying she believed it was worth reading for the insight it provided on Israel.

Next, Nevermore checked out A Force of Nature by Jane Harper, a suspenseful novel about a missing hiker—and the betrayal that led to her disappearance.  Federal agent Aaron Falk is tasked with finding the hiker, who went missing on a corporate retreat; however, as he travels deeper into the forest, he uncovers a tangled web of personal and professional friendship, competition, and suspicion.  Our reader said A Force of Nature was a very good book, a real page turner.  It often flipped between alternate perspectives, providing a very surprising twist at the end.  She highly recommended it to her fellow mystery lovers.

Nevermore also looked at Lilith’s Brood by Octavia E. Butler, a science fiction compendium featuring DawnAdulthood Rites, and Imago.  Lilith Iyapo was in the Andes when the world ended.  Centuries later, she is reawakened by extraterrestrial beings known as the Oankali.  Drawn to humanity and their dying planet, the Oankali are set on saving the Earth—but at what cost to humankind?  Our reader originally picked up the trilogy to read Dawn, but she quickly became engulfed by the story and devoured the remaining novels.  She said she was addicted to Lilith’s Brood, and she praised Butler for her wonderful writing and her incredible stories.

Next, Nevermore visited the Elizabethan era with Alison Weir’s novel, The Lady Elizabeth.  Following the life of Queen Elizabeth from her toddling years to her eventual transformation into the Virgin Queen, The Lady Elizabeth is a detailed and riveting novel that draws together real historical detail and a dramatic, engaging story.  Our reader was thrilled with Weir’s novel, calling it a wonderful book that offered glimpses into the complex political and social dynamics of the era.  She also called the author’s note excellent, saying it was lovely to see Weir’s insight into Elizabeth’s life and her dedication to getting the history right.

Skipping closer to the present, Nevermore took a look at Fascism:  A Warning by Madeline Albright.  Albright’s latest book scrutinizes the twentieth century, offering terrifying insight into the fascists of the early twentieth century—Hitler, Mussolini, and others—and their impact on contemporary leaders, like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un.  Our reader said Fascism:  A Warning was an interesting book.  Although the chapters were not incredibly detailed, they offered an interesting argument that fascism certainly did not die at the end of World War II.  Overall, she rated the book very highly and recommended it to her fellow readers for its intriguing study of past rulers and modern leaders.

Last, but certainly not least, Nevermore presented Winter Sisters by Robin Oliviera.  When two little girls go missing after a snow storm decimates the city of Albany, Dr. Mary Sutter, a former Civil War surgeon, sets out to find them.  They are the daughters of close friends who were killed during the storm, and she refuses to let them simply disappear without a fight.  However, when the little girls’ fates are finally revealed, their recovery has the potential to tear apart the city, exposing dark secrets and destroying reputations.  Our reader, who is a fan of Robin Oliviera’s novels, said Winter Sisters was an excellent book.  Although she noted it was a bit of a complex story, she said it was riveting and kept her tied to the pages from the first chapter.

Monday, July 16, 2018

A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole

Reviewed by Ambrea

Naledi Smith is balancing two jobs, graduate school, and an epidemiology practicum that could completely change the course of her academic career.  She doesn’t have time for fairy tales—or questionable emails claiming she’s betrothed to nonexistent African princes.  She clicks delete and moves on with her life.  But when Prince Thabiso drops in to find his recalcitrant future bride, he discovers that Naledi has no recollection of him or her homeland.  Mistaken for an average fellow, Thabiso can’t resist the temptation to find out more about Naledi—and the unexpected chemistry between them—without his royal lineage looming over them.

A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole is a fun twist on the traditional Cinderella story, drawing together threads of fairy tales and stories of lost-and-found royals and African culture.  Although the story is slow to start, it’s interesting.  It’s a bit predictable in that way that most romance novels are predictable—girl meets guy, girl and guy fall in love through many trials and tribulations, before finding a happy ending—but I was surprised by the undercurrent of political intrigue throughout the novel.

Plus, I really loved how Naledi was not a traditional princess.  She’s smart, capable, independent, and highly intelligent.  She’s a scientist, she hopes to work in epidemiology and uncover cures for terrible diseases, root causes for illnesses; she wants to understand the world down to the molecular level—and she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty to reach her goal.  I really liked her, and I even liked her budding relationship with Thabiso.

Admittedly, I couldn’t stand Thabiso at first.  Arrogant and selfish and domineering, he’s a terrible love interest; however, as I learned more about him and his kingdom, I found him to be a pretty likable prince.  He’s not afraid to admit when he’s wrong, he’s genuinely concerned about his country, and he seems like a nice, generous guy.  He treats Naledi with respect, which is more than I can say for love interests in other romance novels, and he admires her intelligence.

I also may or may not have imagined him as Chadwick Boseman.

Overall, A Princess in Theory is a lovely little romance novel.  It’s sweet and fluffy, like most romances, but I admired it for the way it took me in a different direction from the usual romances I read.  Although I felt like it reminded me a lot of Black Panther (Thesolo sounded very similar to Wakanda), especially since I kept imaging Thabiso as Chadwick Boseman (aka T’Challa), it stands on its own merits and it kept me interested from beginning to end.  I will be looking forward to finding more novels from Alyssa Cole.

Friday, July 13, 2018

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

Reviewed by Jeanne

We’ve all seen the little inspirational biographies of young athletes in the media: how the child developed a passion for baseball or soccer or ice skating and the parents sacrificed and saved to help the child achieve his or her dream.  In Megan Abbott’s You Will Know Me, we get a close-up view of what that’s like.  Kate and Eric Knox’s daughter Devon is a gymnast—a very gifted gymnast, possible Olympic material.  The Knoxes are one of several couples with daughters in the program, all parents who want their daughters to have the best chance of reaching the heights, and Devon is the engine who is going to pull the rest of the girls along with her.

The BelStars Gym parents are a close-knit group, so when Coach Hailey’s boyfriend is killed one evening by a hit and run driver, everyone –parents and gymnasts—are shaken to the core.  Practices are cancelled, girls see their performances slip, and parents begin to get very nervous.  They have invested a lot in time, money, and effort and there’s a major meet coming up soon.  They need for the gym to get back on track.

But when the police keep asking questions, it begins to look as if someone connected with BelStars may know more about exactly what happened that night.

Abbott has been lauded for her well-crafted psychological portraits of young women, and this book is no exception. Told primarily from Kate’s point of view, the reader gets a vivid picture of the family dynamics; how Eric and Kate met, the accident Devon suffered as a child, the struggle of a middle-class family among some big spenders, how having an exceptional child has changed everything about their lives.  Abbott also explores how well we can know other people. . . and even ourselves.

I enjoyed how this book slowly but steadily ratcheted up the tension as Kate begins to wonder about any number of things she’s never had cause to question—and the reader begins to have doubts about some of Kate’s own choices.  The layers of mystery and motives (not just for crimes) are revealed slowly but surely.  Even though I had a number of things I needed to do, I found myself reading “just one more chapter.”

I’ll be reading more Megan Abbott in the future. I’ll also never watch gymnastics quite the same way again.