Friday, June 23, 2017

Too Lucky to Live by Annie Hogsett

Reviewed by Brenda G.

          Using numbers he and Rune, an impoverished young boy, choose, Tom Bennington III, a well-educated blind(?) man, buys a lottery ticket. He wants to prove to the child that the lottery is a waste of money. He purchases a winning ticket. Over $500 million is coming his way. Suddenly, he and the boy are targets.

          But wait! The afternoon before the winning number is announced, Tom is rescued from a crosswalk, after being startled by a honking driver and dropping his just purchased groceries. His rescuer is Allie (Alice). The pair fall quickly into like, with a little lust thrown in.

          Rune and Tom are neighbors in a tough neighborhood. Before the drawing, Rune announces his numbers in an apartment complex community room. Everybody knows. Quickly, Rune’s mother is assaulted and hospitalized, Rune is in hiding and after both Tom’s and Allie’s homes are ransacked, Tom and Allie are calling 911 repeatedly and hiding in hotels.

          Despite the murders, the blood and guts, and the precarious situations, plus some incredibly dangerous (and stupid) moves on the part of the main characters, and the occasional slow pace, the story is funny. It is easy to sympathize with the main characters despite their flaws and the foolish risks they take. Who hasn’t wondered what would happen after winning the lottery? 

This is one take. Great literature? No, but a fun read.

Scottsdale, Arizona: Poisoned Pen Press, 2017. 304 pages.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Nevermore: Islam, The Risen, Iris Grace, Wanderers, Lost Woman, Hillbilly Elegy

Reported by Ambrea

Nevermore discussed The Islamic Enlightenment:  The Struggle Between Faith and Reason, 1798 to Modern Times by Christopher de Bellaigue.  Described on the jacket as “a revelatory and game-changing narrative that rewrites everything we thought we knew about the modern history of the Islamic world,” The Islamic Enlightenment is a thoughtful and absorbing work on the political, social, and cultural history of the Middle East.  De Bellaigue examines the great enlightenment of the Islamic world through the adoption of modern medicine, female empowerment, and the development of democracy and the subsequent backlash to modernization.  Our reader said he found The Islamic Enlightenment to be interesting.  He thought de Bellaigue’s arguments were found and his work contained a great deal of information.  Although it’s not hard to read, it’s a rather long book; however, he noted it’s a great book for showing the divisions and complexities of Islam.

Next, Nevermore shared Iris Grace:  How Thula the Cat Saved a Little Girl and Her Family by Arabella Carter-Johnson.  Iris Grace has autism:  she struggles with communication, avoiding social interaction and rarely smiling, never connecting with those around her—until she meets Thula, a Maine Coon kitten named for the Zulu word “peace.”  Arabella Carter-Johnson, Iris Grace’s mother, captures photographs of her daughter and Thula, telling their amazing story of connection and friendship.  Our reader absolutely loved Iris Grace, saying it was ideal for a Mother’s Day gift with its beautiful photographs and Iris Grace’s amazing illustrations.  It’s heart-warming and incredibly moving, offering an absorbing, intimate and insightful glimpse into a family dealing with one remarkable child’s autism.

Nevermore also checked out the latest novel from Ron Rash, The Risen.  Eugene and Bill were close as boys, but, during the summer of 1969, they were driven apart by a girl—Ligeia, a free-spirited redhead from Daytona Beach—and a terrible secret.  Now, decades later, Bill is a famous surgeon in their community, while Eugene is an inveterate alcoholic.  When a reminder of the past resurfaces, Eugene is plunged back into that fateful summer and the secrets that could forever destroy his family.  Our reader said she didn’t like The Risen at the beginning of the book, but, as she continued into further chapters, she found herself more entranced by the story.  “It’s a very good book,” she told her fellow readers.  “It’s definitely worth reading.”

The Lost Woman by Sara Blaedel followed next, continuing the story of Louise Rick, head of the Special Search Agency.  In this most recent installment of her series, Louise Rick is called onto a strange case.  A Danish woman is found murdered in England, except she went missing more than eighteen years ago—and she was reported missing by none other than Eik, Louise’s colleague and lover.  Caught in the middle of her most controversial case yet, Louise must solve the mystery before a killer gets away with murder.  Our reader found she didn’t enjoy Blaedel’s latest book.  It was interesting and had an unexpected twist for an ending; however, she didn’t think it was that great.  Mostly, she found it confusing.

Nevermore decided to take a detour into space travel—or, more accurately, simulated space travel—with The Wanderers, a new novel by Meg Howrey.  Helen Kane, Yoshihiro Tanaka, and Sergei Kuznetsov are going to be the first humans placed on Mars—if they can survive seventeen months in the most realistic simulation Prime Space, one of the top aerospace companies in the business, has ever created.  But being trapped in a small space of their simulation is just as dangerous as being caught in the endless void of outer space as they struggle to navigate their quarters and each other.  Our reader said she found The Wanderers to be odd.  Fascinating, but odd.  It’s an intriguing psychological examination of the human mind when put into an increasingly stressful situation, and she thought it took an interesting direction with the story.  “[And] it kept me reading to the end,” she noted.

Last, Nevermore revisited a recent favorite:  Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance.  Hillbilly Elegy is an insightful, searing memoir that dives into the struggles and triumphs of an Appalachian transplant family in Ohio.  Vance, who recounts his personal and family history, also delves deep into the culture and heritage of Appalachian families.  He examines drug abuse, poverty, education, and other social issues, taking a long hard look at the Appalachia he loves—and the Appalachia he sees slowly deteriorating.  Our reader absolutely loved reading Vance’s memoir.  Our reader admitted she was initially hesitant to begin reading Hillbilly Elegy—anything with “hillbilly” in the title automatically put her on guard, she said—and she worried how the author would portray Appalachia.  Vance, however, doesn’t berate or condemn.  He offers an honest, intimate portrayal of his family and his culture; he treats his history with compassion and views his heritage with affection, even the worst parts.  His memoir is carefully crafted, thoughtful, and incredibly honest, and our reader enjoyed every minute.

Monday, June 19, 2017

No Cats Allowed by Miranda James

Reviewed by Jeanne

Librarian Charlie Harris has enjoyed working as an archivist at Athena College, usually accompanied by his enormous Maine Coon cat, Diesel.  Diesel is quite the hit among staff and patrons alike, but now a complaint has been brought by none other than the new library director, Oscar Reilly.  This is pretty much the last straw for Charlie:  Reilly has been nothing but abrasive to all the staff, from the professional librarians to the administrative staff.  He isn’t even a librarian, but a financial consultant and he seems less interested in the library’s function than in what assets it holds—assets that could be turned into cash.  The entire rare books and archives collection, for example.

Before Charlie can decide whether or not to resign rather than soldier on in a now joyless job, Reilly is murdered.  There’s little question that it’s an inside job, especially since he’s found crushed in the moving book stacks, but who on the staff was driven to kill?

This is the seventh entry in the Cat in the Stacks mysteries, a cozy series set in Mississippi.  Charlie is a warm, genial widower with two grown children, a housekeeper, a love interest, and, of course, Diesel.  The pace is leisurely, with time out for meals and atmosphere.  I found this one to be a particularly good entry because I enjoyed seeing Charlie take charge a bit more.  In general, he presents a gracious face even if he is angry or upset with someone; this time, he was a bit more forthright and firm which warmed my cowardly little heart.

I also particularly enjoyed the good use the author made of the library setting with some inside library jokes.  For example, one of the problem employees is a cataloger. Catalogers just have that sort of reputation in the profession, justified or not.  A couple of years ago, during interviews for the job of library director at least half the candidates chose some aspect of dealing with a cataloger to represent a professional challenge.  It’s really a double joke, though, because Miranda James is a pseudonym for Dr. Dean James, a librarian and a serials cataloger at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

However, I do wonder how many patrons are going to read the book and avoid our moving stacks in genealogy. . . .

(P.S., The cataloger with whom I work is a charming individual!)

Friday, June 16, 2017

She's No Princess by Laura Lee Guhrke

Reviewed by Ambrea

In She’s No Princess by Laura Lee Guhrke, Lucia is the illegitimate daughter of an Italian prince and a notorious courtesan.  She’s been confined to her father’s homes, convents, and schools for much of her life, but, of course, that hasn’t stopped her from being the biggest scandal of her father’s life.  Exasperated by her behavior, Lucia’s father decides it’s best to marry her off before she causes anymore trouble—and that’s where Sir Ian Moore comes in.

One of Britain’s top diplomats, Ian is renowned for his ability to end wars and broker deals between the empire and its neighbor.  Matchmaking isn’t really his forte; however, he’s never backed down from a challenge and he isn’t about to do so with Lucia.  But as he spends more time with Lucia, as he helps her navigate the challenges of British high society, he discovers he doesn’t really want to marry her off to the next gentleman at her door and he’s not quite sure what to do about it.

For some reason, I adored this novel.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I just found She’s No Princess to be wonderfully whimsical, terribly amusing, and incredibly refreshing.  You see, Lucia and Ian’s romantic entanglement is far from conventional.  I mean, of course, it has the generic boy meets girl romantic plot; however, I found that their relationship didn’t culminate in small sacrifices as usual, but a series of selfish acts, which surprised me.

Most lovers (note:  not all) usually do something foolish—or, in some cases, something selfless—that breaks apart a relationship.  He sends her away for her own protection, or she leaves him because she believes he no longer wants a marriage and she doesn’t want to foist one on him; they uncover some hidden truths and accusations fly, or they do something they will save the one they love.  It’s a tried and true scenario that has literally sold millions of books.

But both Lucia and Ian do something selfish—that is, they actively make decisions that are thoughtless and, confidentially, selfish.  That’s usually not the way of things and, honestly, I was completely unprepared for it.  It’s actually very refreshing, and it just shows that they aren’t perfect people.  While I might not have gotten the happily-ever-after I wanted or expected, I wasn’t really that disappointed by such a different outcome.  The variety made it worth it.

Besides its unconventional conclusion, I loved the relationship development between Lucia and Ian.  I think it was nice to see Luca evolve as a character and, more to the point, I think it was nice to see a passionate, rebellious young woman who really pushed her boundaries and tried to establish herself as an individual.  That doesn’t happen much in romantic historical fiction (for obvious reasons of historical accuracy), so it was nice to see a fairly believable scenario in which a young woman defied social expectations and, in some cases, tried to take her life into her own hands.

Granted, I don’t think I always understood her—and I definitely recognized her selfish tendencies—but I appreciated her.  She’s flawed, but she’s so relatable.  She’s contrary, she’s moody, she’s delightfully passionate, but, overall, she’s a good person and she’s a good character who manages to convey all the facets of the human personality, all the good and the bad, which I appreciated.  Personally, I liked She’s No Princess and recommend it to any romance reader looking for a light read with a few unexpected twists up its sleeve.