Friday, September 29, 2017

Purr M for Murder by T.C. LoTempio

Reviewed by Jeanne

Sydney McCall’s sojourn in the Big City came to a crashing end when she caught her fiancé cheating—with her best friend, no less.  (There’s a lot of that going around in cozies these days.) So naturally she heads home to Deer Park, NC to lick her wounds and start afresh.  Sydney’s sister, Kat, is director of the local animal shelter and she needs Sydney’s advertising expertise to help with fundraising and pet adoption.  Their first idea seems very promising:  partner with a local café to offer snacks and introductions to adoptable cats and kittens. Trouble begins when the café’s landlord threatens to shut down the event and to raise the rent on the shelter.  Intemperate words are spoken, so naturally when the landlord turns up dead, Kat and Sydney are suspects.

What else to do but follow the lead of her childhood hero Nancy Drew and play detective?

This is a first in series book, so there is a fair bit of introducing the town and the characters which does tend to slow the book down a bit.  The cats are cute and of course Sydney ends up with a new furry friend at the end.  The basic plot was good; the motive was clever and believable.  However, for me the pacing was off:  a clue introduced very early on and mentioned occasionally during the course of the book isn’t really followed up on until 200 pages later, after which the mystery is quickly solved. The animal shelter angle is fresh enough, but so far the characters aren’t especially memorable. 

As mentioned above, Sydney’s motives for returning are pretty much standard for today’s cozies, as is her spunky can-do attitude and her attraction to the local cop. The rest of the characters are rather standard issue as well but I’m hopeful that will change as the series progresses and more time is devoted to developing rather than introducing characters. As it is, it’s not a bad way to spend a couple of hours, especially if you’re interested in animal rescue.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Nevermore: Gaiman, Vowell, Du Maurier, Perotta, Bergner

Reported by Ambrea

Nevermore kicked things off with Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.  In Neverwhere, readers meet Richard Mayhew, a plain man with a good heart and an ordinary life—until he helps an injured girl he finds bleeding on a London sidewalk.  Now, Richard is caught up in a world he never knew existed, a dark and shadowy world beneath the streets of London.  A world that could be the death of him.  Our reader admitted he didn’t care much for Gaiman’s novel, noting “it’s totally fiction, purely fantasy.”  While he thought Gaiman was a decent writer, he simply wasn’t a fan of the content.  Since he enjoyed Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, he decided he had probably read the wrong author—and he would soon pick up a book by Terry Pratchett to see how they compare.

Next, Nevermore checked out Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell, which explores the history of the Marquis de Lafayette—General Lafayette to a fledgling America—and his incredible contribution to the Revolutionary War.  Vowell also explores the roots of the United States, shining a light on both the bickering and infighting of America’s past and the unexpected friendships that developed between the Americans and their French allies.  Our reader praised Vowell’s book highly, saying, “[The author] tells it so well, writes so well.  She is just so witty.”  She recommended it to her fellow historians, calling it a delightful and insightful look at the United States that is “on target” for historical accuracy.

Nevermore also looked at a classic tale of romance and suspense by Daphne Du Maurier:  Jamaica Inn.  Mary Yellan travels to the cold, rainswept Cornish coast on a mission to honor her dying mother’s wish that she join her Aunt Patience and Uncle Joss Merlyn at the Jamaica Inn.  But when Mary arrives, she has a sinking suspicion that the Jamaica Inn will only bring her trouble.  Our reader, who received Jamaica Inn as a recommendation, had nothing but praise for Du Maurier’s novel.  Darkly gothic and chillingly suspenseful, Jamaica Inn is an incredible novel by an author who has a real talent with descriptions—and ways to keep readers on their toes.  Our reader said of this novel, “You can tell who is bad, but not who is good.  So who can you trust?”

In The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta, the world is in the midst of a crisis.  Reeling from the “Sudden Departure,” in which thousands of people simply disappeared—suddenly and with no explanation, no rhyme or reason—the citizens of Mapleton are struggling to repair the damage.  Kevin Garvey, Mapleton’s new mayor, wants to help his community; however, he’s not sure where to begin now that his family lies in ruins.  His wife, Laurie, has left him to join the Guilty Remnant, a homegrown cult whose members take a vow of silence; his son, Tom, has dropped out of college and taken off to follow a sketchy prophet named Holy Wayne; and while his daughter, Jill, remains in town, she’s not the happy young girl she used to be—and Kevin fears he’ll soon lose her too.  Uncertain what to do or where to turn, Kevin tries to make the best of a very bad situation and heal the wounds that the “Sudden Departure” has left on all of them.  Our reader said The Leftovers was an interesting, if slightly bizarre, novel.  Although she didn’t love it, she liked it enough to finish the story and find out what happens to Kevin and his family as they struggle with their own personal demons.

Last, but certainly not least, Nevermore shared Sing for Your Life:  A Story of Race, Music, and Family by Daniel Bergner.  Bergner’s book tells the story of Ryan Speedo Green, who, despite the hardships he endured as a child, eventually became a member of the New York’s Metropolitan Opera.  In Sing for Your Life, Bergner chronicles Ryan’s incredible journey from an abusive childhood in southeastern Virginia to his winning performance, at the age of twenty-four, for the Metropolitan Opera.  Our reader definitely enjoyed learning about Ryan Green.  She said it was “such an uplifting, [inspirational] story,” and she gushed that Bergner was a wonderful writer.  She highly recommended it to her fellow Nevermore members.

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore

Reviewed by Ambrea

The Palomas and the Corbeaus are enemies, locked in a violent feud that has lasted for more than a generation.  Although both families make their living as traveling performers (the Palomas as part of a mermaid exhibition, and the Corbeaus, who are former tightrope walkers, as fairies walking amongst the trees), they avoid one another and clash when they can’t.

Lace Paloma knows the Corbeaus are trouble.  They have magia negra, black magic, that means death to anyone it touches.  But when a disaster strikes the small town where both families are performing, it’s Cluck, a Corbeau boy, who saves Lace’s life.  She thinks his touch means the end of her life, the end of her world, and, in a way, it does; however, meeting Cluck opens her eyes to a world she never knew existed—and a truth that has blackened their families for years.

Oh, this book.  I think I lost my heart to this book.

To start off, The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore runs almost parallel to William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  It has feuding families (Corbeaus versus Palomas), star-crossed lovers (Cluck and Lace), and tragic undertones (escalating tensions between the families, violence, lies, sordid secrets, etc.).  However, The Weight of Feathers isn’t just another Romeo and Juliet remake; rather, it’s a modern love story that incorporates elements of Shakespeare’s tragic play and subtle hints of magic.

Personally, I loved reading Anna-Marie McLemore’s novel.  It was fascinating and lyrical; it was the kind of book that made my heart swoon, but kept my interest piqued with its humor and heart and magic.  The Weight of Feathers is woven with threads of magic and fantasy, but it remains firmly grounded in reality, dealing head-on with personal tragedy and tough truths that will break your heart.

It’s emotionally intense, especially as Cluck and Lace slowly grow closer and realize the truth of why the Palomas and the Corbeaus are mortal enemies.  (It’s like a soap opera.  No joke, it has that level of intensity—and I couldn’t help gasping when I learned the truth of the Paloma-Corbeau feud.)

But, most of all, I loved the writing.  I read a review that noted that McLemore’s YA novel is “beautifully rendered,” and I found that rings true throughout the book.  I absolutely loved the way The Weight of Feathers was written.  While it did take some time for me to sink into the story, to understand the cadence and the style, I gradually grew to love the way the author described the setting and verbalized feelings and told stories about the Palomas and the Corbeaus.

I loved the way the words simply flowed.  The book is beautiful, like a song, even when describing terrible tragedies; it describes things in a different way, utilizing the English language and turning it in different ways; it creates candid, complex characters.  Honestly, I just loved everything about it, like these lines:

·         “The rain burned into her.  She curled up tighter, cheek against her sleeve.  She shut her eyes tight enough to see comet trails of light.  She tried to keep out the feeling that the rain was a million lit matches.  And the strange smell in the air that was a little like apple cider if apple cider was the venom of some night creature, the rain and stars its teeth.”

·         “Her mouth left a smudge of lipstick on his.  She rubbed it away.  He closed his eyes and held her hand there, kissed her thumb and took it lightly between his teeth, holding onto it.  It trembled the veins that held her heart, that feeling of his teeth on her thumb pad and fingernail.”

·         “He wore his loneliness like a scar.  Most of the time his sleeves covered it, but when she cuffed them back, he couldn’t hide it.  She wanted to tell him she was not afraid of what he was, this red-streaked thing in all the pure, perfect black.  But the words dissolved between their lips like ice crystals.”

·         “Lace couldn’t hear what they were whispering.  But now they were all witnesses to this thing she and Cluck had made them see.  They would have to carry the truth, whether or not they spoke it.  It would cling to them like the burrs off sticker grass.  If they twisted it, it would pinch them back.”

Like I said, I lost a piece of my heart to this book and these words.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Bake-Off by Beth Kendrick

Reviewed by Christy H
            I picked up Beth Kendrick’s The Bake-Off for two reasons. 1.) I needed something light after reading a couple of heavy books in a row. 2.) I am obsessed with baking competition shows. Specifically the "Great British Baking Show" (or "Great British Bake Off" in the UK) and its American counterpart, as well as the Food Network’s Baking Championship series which includes a Holiday, Kids, and Spring edition.  I don’t know what it is but I find them so engaging and relaxing. And it helps that the contestants are almost always nice and helpful to one another.
            In The Bake-Off two sisters enter a brand sponsored competition in the hopes of taking home the prize money for their grandmother’s recipe for szarlotka – essentially a Polish apple pie. Amy, the married older sister, is there to appease their beloved grandmother and take advantage of a kid-free zone. Linnie, the child prodigy turned ne’er-do-well, has entered solely for the shot at the prize money which she desperately needs. Right away there are obstacles.
            Amy and Linnie haven’t spoken to each other in years because of something Linnie did as a teen. Neither sister particularly knows how to bake. And to make matters worse their Grammy warns them of the ruthless repeat champions Ty and Tai – a married couple who will stoop to sabotage to win. So much for friendly competition!
            Kendrick’s book was predictable but fun. Some of the situations become over the top wacky but it never really loses its charm. I loved the sister storyline, and while I was partial to the “fun sister” Amy, Linnie is interesting as well. She’s very analytical about everything, and I enjoyed her scientific breakdown of baking. Kendrick even includes recipes for the two main dishes featured in the novel. I’m glad I read it, and when my baking shows aren’t airing I think I’ll hunt down more baking themed books in the future to get my fix.