Friday, March 29, 2019

Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton

Reviewed by Christy
            Marisol, a Cuban-American woman, is traveling to Cuba for the first time in her life to spread the ashes of her beloved grandmother. She grew up with endless stories of Havana from her grandmother and great-aunts but those were from before the revolution. Now that Castro is dead and travel restrictions are easing, Marisol tries to prepare herself for anything. But she doesn’t expect to uncover family secrets and fall in love.
            Cleeton’s story is split between Marisol’s present day experiences as well as her grandmother’s in Cuba in 1958. Elisa, Marisol’s grandmother, falls in love with a revolutionary. She knows her sugar baron father would never approve so she keeps the romance a secret from her family and friends. When Marisol visits Cuba she too is attracted to a political activist, one who draws attention from the still controlling regime.
            This story was just ok for me. I really enjoyed the Cuban history because I knew absolutely nothing in that regard but I struggled to connect with any of the characters. In both cases, the romance felt a little too immediate. The characters also speak in very long monologues that didn’t feel entirely realistic. I saw that a lot of people enjoyed this book in the book review community of Youtube so I suppose this is just one of those times a book doesn’t live up to its hype. However, it definitely wasn’t bad, and Cleeton has another book coming out that centers on Marisol’s fiery aunt Beatriz in 1960 which I am interested in checking out.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Nevermore: Running With Scissors, American Prison, Alice Network, Broken Girls, Blood & Ivy, Becoming

Reported by Kristin

Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs has been a popular selection for various Nevermore readers over the past few years.  Burroughs had a most unusual upbringing because of his mother’s mental health issues.  At one point, his mother’s psychiatrist even took the young boy into his own home, which evolved into another bizarre circumstance.  Our reader said that the memoir was difficult to read because of the hurtful themes throughout.

Journalist Shane Bauer has written an insightful book about incarceration in the United States, American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment.  Looking into the for-profit prison industry, Bauer applied for and obtained a position at a private prison in Winnfield, Louisiana.  After four months, he wrote an exposé that won a National Magazine Award.  Prisoners were not always fed and usually did not receive proper medical care.  Our reader found the book a thoughtful work that really showed the true faces of inmates under inhumane conditions.

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn brought Nevermore to fiction as it tells two stories in different war-torn time periods.  During the Great War, Eve desperately wants to help defeat the Germans.  Trained as a spy, she dives into a world of intrigue and danger.  After the Second World War, American co-ed Charlie finds herself pregnant and is sent to Europe.  The girls’ stories are intertwined chapter by chapter and portrayed in a very realistic manner which impressed our reader.

Another reader jumped into The Broken Girls by Simone St. James, a tale of unwanted girls who are sent to a Vermont boarding school called Idlewild Hall in 1950.  Fast forward to 2014 when journalist Fiona Sheridan decides to write a story about the school’s upcoming restoration.  Skeletons topple out of closets as Fiona digs into the past with a very pointed interest, as her own sister’s broken body had been discovered near the school.  Our reader found this a very good book with strong characterization as each girl’s story is told.

From murder mystery to true crime, our next reader investigated Blood & Ivy: The 1849 Murder that Scandalized Harvard by Paul Collins.  Noted as one of the first uses of medical forensics, this case ripped the town apart with scandal.  Some townspeople had the attitude that “he couldn’t have murdered someone—he’s a HARVARD MAN” while others believed that evil could sprout anywhere.  Our reader found it sociologically interesting and was rather pleased with the resolution and who solved the crime in the end.

Finally, former First Lady Michelle Obama’s Becoming was thoroughly enjoyed and praised.  While some current political concerns are addressed, the main point of the memoir is to express how an African American girl in a working class family from the south side of Chicago was able make a difference in the world.  Beginning with her childhood, moving through her education and life as a young lawyer and advocate, then on to marriage and a growing family, Ms. Obama shares many intimate details of her life as a sometimes headstrong but compassionate woman.  Our reader called it a really sweet book.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Reviewed by Ambrea

Ten years ago, when Calamity arrived in the night sky, ordinary people were given extraordinary powers—and they became Epics.  But with incredible gifts came incredible challenges and a desire to rule over humanity.

Now, in what was once Chicago, a powerful Epic named Steelheart has taken over and turned everything to solid steel.  Gifted with super strength, invulnerability, elemental powers, and an uncanny ability to turn whatever he touches into steel, Steelheart is a powerful Epic that no one and nothing can touch.  The Reckoners, however, are a group of ordinary humans who spend their days studying and assassinating Epics—and David, a young man who grew up in the steel-riddled world of Newcago, wants in.

Steelheart killed his father; now, he wants revenge.

I loved reading Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson.  It’s action-packed, it’s interesting, and it takes everything I know about superheroes/supervillains and completely turns it on its head.  Part science fiction, part fantasy, Steelheart is a wonderfully crafted dystopian world full of detail, depth, and intrigue.

It was also a lot of fun to read.

I was particularly fascinated by the main characters, specifically the Reckoners.  David, as the narrator, is incredibly resourceful.  Although the sometimes feels like a caricature—that is, not quite real, not quite genuine—he’s surprisingly astute in his observations and he’s wildly intelligent.  I’m always surprised by what he does and what he remembers.  He’s daring, he’s unexpected, which I found made Steelheart that much more interesting.

After learning that Steelheart has a weakness, I puzzled over what that might be.  Reading the prologue again, I couldn’t imagine how Steelheart was harmed in the first place; however, when David discovers how Steelheart can be harmed, when that moment of recognition and discovery blossomed in his mind and mine, I was absolutely thrilled.  I loved the conclusion.  It surprised me, yes, but I found the irony of the situation to be very satisfying.

Although I was a little put off by the gore, I really enjoyed Steelheart as a whole and I’m intrigued to see where Sanderson’s series will go.  I will definitely be visiting the other books in the trilogy.  Firefight is up next, followed by Calamity—and I can’t wait to dive back in.

Friday, March 22, 2019

The Devil's Country by Harry Hunsicker

Today we are pleased to have Kevin Tipple as a guest reviewer.  Kevin is well known in mystery circles for his insightful reviews, and as a writer and editor. His popular blog, Kevin's Corner, features reviews and informative links.  He is the current president of the Short Mystery Fiction Society.   Here is his first review for the BPL Bookblog:

Reviewed by Kevin Tipple

Former Texas Ranger Arlo Baines was just passing through Piedra Springs, Texas, with nothing more on his mind than enjoying the peace and quiet and a good book. Haunted by the memories of his deceased wife and children, he just wants to be left alone as he drifts from place to place. With just five folks in the only bar in the tiny West Texas town, if he counted himself and the bartender, he thought the odds were in his favor. He also thought the threat posed by any of the clientele was low to nonexistent.

That was until Suzy took more than a passing interest in him. She is clearly trouble in more ways than one and is also in trouble herself. It is also obvious to the former lawman that the man she is with is a significant problem. A problem that is not just going to go away on its own as the interest that Suzy showed in him was a small piece of the far bigger issue. Predictably, it is not long before the situation has moved outside to a parking lot outside the bar. Then things really go sideways and pull the disgraced former Texas Ranger into a hideous mess involving the Russian mafia, a cult, multiple murders, and more.

The Devil’s Country is very reminiscent of a Reacher series book. Loner, with a military or, in this case, over a decade in law enforcement by the way of the Texas Rangers (the real deal and not the baseball team in Arlington), comes into town, and just wants to be left alone. Alone to nurse his drinks, his thoughts, and his haunted memories of the past. All is fine until there is a person in distress that needs help. Usually the person is a woman which triggers our loner hero’s need to be a knight in shining armor to protect the fair damsel. Upon intervening, the loner hero runs afoul of the local law (who may or may not be as crooked as a dog’s hind leg). Arrested the first time (loner hero will spend lots of time arrested) and then released for whatever reason, said loner seeks to have questions answered and garner support. As it happens, many of the local populace are either part of the unspoken nefarious deeds, criminal conspiracy, or on the outside  and powerless to stop it as they are heavily weighed down emotionally, or physically, or financially, or all of the above. Said loner begins to wage a one person war to fight back for justice and intends to destroy the evil doers so that the place can be turned back over to the few good folks living in the area. Loner hero will have some help along the way that almost always will include at least one female, who may or may not, become physically intimate with the loner as she understands him and seeks to heal him at least a little bit.

All that, like in a Reacher series novel, is certainly present in The Devil’s Country. All that being said, even when you know the framework and can predict with a high degree of accuracy how things are going to play out, author Harry Hunsicker throws a few curveballs while unleashing a fast moving and very entertaining story. Violent and complicated, the read moves forward at a rapid pace as Arlo Baines works to solve the many unspoken mysteries of Piedra Springs.

The second book in the series, Texas Sicario, was released January 2019.

The Devil’s Country
Harry Hunsicker
Center Point Large Print
April 1, 2018
ISBN# 978-1-68324-744-9
383 Pages

Material supplied by the good folks of the Dallas Library System.

Kevin R. Tipple ©2019