Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Thanks for the Trouble by Tommy Wallach

Miss Shayne returns with another review for the blog!

In this story, we get to view the world through the eyes of a troubled teen who cannot speak. Instead, he writes everything down. This is both his main form of communication and his hobby.  Because of his journaling, he is very introspective and observant. He also enjoys telling stories and spending time alone or stealing things from people in hotels. This is how our story begins.

Once Parker meets Zelda in a hotel (after trying to steal from her), he is immediately drawn to her because her eyes convey what he calls “prefect sadness.” For someone who looks so young, how can this be? After a conversation with her, Parker discovers that Zelda is planning on jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge once she spends all of her money. She offers to spend it on Parker if he “treats her like a teenager.” Parker is tasked with devising typical teenager activities for Zelda, not because he wants her money, but because he needs to find out why she looks so perfectly sad. Parker spends the next few days with Zelda figuring her out and trying to convince her not to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge.

This book isn’t like a lot of the books that I usually enjoy. If you can’t already tell from my previous blog posts, I enjoy books that are action-packed and filled with dangerous characters. There’s nothing really life-threatening in this book, it’s just a book about teens and the events in their lives. (The only life-threatening part is that Zelda is planning on jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge.) Everything else is about seemingly unimportant events that normal teenagers experience. However, these events are made enjoyable because they are told by Parker.

Spoiler alert: The only problem I had with this book was its immortal element. I would have rather Zelda be just another troubled teen, making up outrageous stories to help her cope with her life, as Parker originally thought. Instead, she’s immortal and doomed to live as seventeen forever.

This book is absolutely brilliant. Parker speaks to us like we’re life-long friends. He is comfortable telling us things as he sees them. His thoughts are introspective and often brazen. He is clever, funny, and thoughtful, and this helps endear him to me. Who doesn’t love a witty underdog?

This was a good read, and I highly recommend it.

--Reviewed by Miss Shayne

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell

The Madwoman Upstairs is Catherine Lowell's debut novel.

When Samantha Whipple, the world famous, last known descendant of the Bronte (yes, those Brontes) clan, matriculates at Oxford University, she receives an odd inheritance from her long deceased father.  While the literary world obsesses over the contents of a long rumored, long lost Bronte estate, Samantha knows that such an estate is just that--a rumor--and does not exist.  At Oxford Samantha finds herself assigned to a demanding, inscrutable tutor and then suddenly immersed in the mysteries of her father's past when the Bronte novels that should have burned up with her father in his library begin appearing one by one in her isolated tower room dorm.  Now Samantha must solve the dual mysteries of who is leaving the books for her and why and what they mean in terms of her past.

When Samantha discovers that the math tutor that she long thought dead is instead alive and well and teaching maths at Oxford, she believes she has discovered the person leaving her father's books on her doorstep.  A confrontation between the two women reveals that the maths tutor, who is also her father's former mistress, harbors a deep resentment and vindictiveness towards Samantha.  And Sir John Booker, curator of the Bronte parsonage museum, also nurses an obsessive resentment toward the Whipples predicated on his belief that the family is hiding a (non-existent) treasure trove of Bronte documents and artifacts that should rightfully be turned over for public consumption and scholarly study.

This novel is very steeped in Bronte history and literary tradition.  The dual mysteries of the nature of  the inheritance left to Samantha by her father as well as its whereabouts are intriguing.  This book quickly becomes an engrossing, page turning read.

One thought I had (okay, I had more than one):

Samantha's father did such a poor job of homeschooling/raising her that it borders on neglect.  Thanks to his insistence on isolation, his lack of an established curriculum in favor of one that kowtows to his own unique opinions regarding education and intellectualism, and his failure to teacher her proper grammar/vocabulary, Samantha is a socially awkward, naive young woman.

Booker is a real piece of work.  He doesn't want the fabled hidden Bronte estate so it can be studied by scholars, he wants it so he can sell it and get rich off of it.

Rebecca, the maths tutor/mistress, is a petty, vindictive woman.  She has allowed her disappointment with how her life turned out to curdle into bitterness and misplaced resentment toward Samantha.  That is all.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Winter Storms by Elin Hilderbrand

Winter Storms is the conclusion of the Winter Street trilogy.  You can read the review for Winter Street here and the one for Winter Stroll here.

It's several months after the previous installment when this novel picks up with the Quinn family's trials, dramas, and tribulations.  Rather than cover several days in December as the previous novels did, this installment picks up in the Spring and then takes us through the Summer, Fall, and into the Winter holiday with the Quinn family.  And while the family will eventually be reunited and put back together, life (and death) have a way of undoing this.  So without much further ado, let's dive back into the Quinn family drama.

Finally Patrick is released from prison much to the relief of Jennifer, their boys, and the whole family.  However, now the family must deal with Jennifer's pill addiction which was fortunately stumbled upon by Kevin and Patrick.  Unfortunately Jennifer's drug dealer was Norah, Kevin's toxic ex-wife, who has undergone some type of transformation into a designer clothing wearing, seemingly sane person.  But Norah keeps texting Jennifer even after Jennifer kicks her pill habit (messy this family is).  And Jennifer's sobriety is always ever only a one day at a time precarious situation because she is still barely hanging on by her fingertips.

In this installment life is going right for Kevin and Isabelle who have moved out of the Quinn family home and into their own small cottage as their Winter wedding approaches.  This is all thanks to Kevin's new business venture.  And life is also going right for Margaret as she marries her pediatric surgeon fiance in the Spring.

Back to the love triangle that has become Ava's life.  Sigh.  She is still torn between Nathaniel and Scott.  Okay, in Street, Nathaniel treated her like crap.  Then in Stroll Scott prioritized the sexy female colleague over Ava, and now in Storms he is dating that sexy female colleague while also still dating Ava because Ava is also dating Nathaniel.  If she can't choose between these two men, then she should jettison both of them.  There.  I solved Ava's dilemma, and she will be better off for it.  Ultimately Scott's side romance with the Italian siren English teacher, whom it turns out he can't stand, torpedoes his relationship with Ava.  And it serves him right.  And Nathaniel's move to Rhode Island effectively ends that romance.  Praise Jesus because if Ava ended up with Nathaniel, I would have never forgiven Elin Hilderbrand.  Luckily a chance meeting with a handsome stranger while on a Caribbean getaway is, hopefully, the beginning of a promising romance for Ava.

Kelley successfully battles prostate cancer only to have it metastasize to his brain practically on the eve of Bart's homecoming (finally that soldier is returning home).  Of course, Kelley decides to hide just how bad his prognosis is from his family.  And I know this will only end in grief and tears.

Just as everyone, including the long awaited and hoped for return of the Quinn family prodigal son, is about to converge on Nantucket for a Christmas wedding, the storm of the century bears down on the East coast threatening to keep the Quinn family apart this holiday.  And I swear I cannot handle this final development.  For once why can't one thing just go right for this family.  WHY.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle

The Accident Season is Moira Fowley-Doyle's debut novel.  Her next novel will be released next year.  Fowley-Doyle lives and writes in Ireland where her novels are set.

Every October brings the accident season down on the Morris family during which its members suffer inexplicable accidents that usually cause bodily harm or worse.  Some years are worse than others; there was the accident season that claimed Cara's father and the one in which her uncle Seth died.  Despite the family's extra precautions every accident season, such as adding extra layers of clothing, padding to sharp edges around the house, or replacing the gas range with an electric one, Cara and her mother, sister, Alice, and ex-stepbrother, Sam, suffer cuts, scrapes, bruises and broken bones.  And according to Cara's best friend Bea's tarot cards, this accident season is going to be the worst of them all.  Because this accident season won't just tear skin and break bone, it will reveal dark and painful emotional scars buried deep within the family's psyche.

After discovering the presence of a mysterious local girl named Elsie in every one of her photos, Cara becomes consumed with tracking her down.  However, now that Cara has stopped ignoring her existence, Elsie has inexplicably disappeared.  And no one at school really remembers her or knows where she lives despite the many years she ran the secrets booth and art exhibit in the school library.

This year Cara is questioning both her memories and the nature of the accident season.  Soon it becomes clear that not all of the injuries that her family's sustained over the years can be written off as accidents.  Because the accident season provides the perfect cover and alibi for all manner of deliberate injuries, abuse, self-harm, and even murder.  This accident season the Morris family's darkest secrets are finally being blown open once and for all.  But will revealing the truth happen too late for some of them or just in time to prevent a tragedy from which the family may never recover?

This is a lyrically told, subtly supernatural story that you won't be able to put down.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Arrowood by Laura McHugh

Arrowood is the second novel by Laura McHugh; however, it is the first one that I've read.  This novel is described as Gothic on its cover.  And it is Gothic indeed with its setting and dark portrayal of a dysfunctional family destroyed by a dark tragedy.

After her father dies, Arden Arrowood inherits the family's stately, old house in Keokuk, Iowa, that bears her family's name.  At Arrowood she hopes to forge a life, make a home, and find some closure regarding a family tragedy that occurred during her childhood.  But Keokuk is itself decaying as are most of its stately, old homes, and Arden herself is marked by the tragedy that destroyed her family and uprooted her from the only home she'd ever known.

Arden has been haunted all her life by her twin sisters' disappearance from the family's front yard two decades ago.  The last one to see them before they disappeared, she is one of two witnesses to have seen a mysterious gold car driving away from the scene of the kidnapping with her sisters in its back seat.  And in the decades since, the case has gone cold and the mystery of her sisters' fates and whereabouts remains unsolved and unknown.

The return to Arrowood has dredged up the past for Arden as she delves into her memories from that day and attempts to resolve some of the mystery surrounding her sisters' disappearance.  Spurred on by an amateur detective with a motive and an agenda of his own that includes the disappearance of his own brother, Arden begins to question the reliability of her memories of that day.  Most tellingly she identifies and tries to fill in the gaps that exist in her memory of the immediate wake of her sisters' disappearance that day.  As Arden wanders aimlessly through the old, rundown Arrowood house, she becomes plagued by the phantom sounds of running water, the appearance of a button from one of the dresses her sisters wore the day they disappeared, and phone calls from a mysterious man to the house's landline.  What does all of this mean?  What happened to her sisters all those years ago?

This is a page turning, twisted, dark, Gothic mystery.  And it's conclusion is terrifying and pulse pounding as well as dark and twisted.  The answers that Arden finds are as dark, heartbreaking, and disturbing as  her sisters' fates all those years ago.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie