Cassie is a natural profiler, learning to read people from her “psychic” mother. After her mother disappears and is presumed dead, Cassie moves in wit...moreCassie is a natural profiler, learning to read people from her “psychic” mother. After her mother disappears and is presumed dead, Cassie moves in with her paternal grandmother but never feels like she belongs with the large Italian family. When she’s approached by another “natural” to join a small group of teens trained by the FBI to solve cold cases, she jumps at the change, hoping to solve her own mother’s cold case. The book introduces four naturals besides Cassie, prepping for a series of books featuring the agents-in-training.
The Naturals is a fast and enjoyable read. It is similar to watching a procedural drama on television and certainly does not tax the brain, but pleasure reading should be just that—pleasurable. (less)
Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me was definitely not what I expected. After reading a few descriptions of the book, and the “mysterious letters” main...moreRebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me was definitely not what I expected. After reading a few descriptions of the book, and the “mysterious letters” main character Miranda receives, I was expecting a mystery.
Miranda, a sixth grader living in New York City with her single mom, does indeed receive mysterious letters, but this book is not a mystery or thriller. It is the kind of book that makes references to Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.
If you are a fan of L’Engle, you will likely be a fan of When You Reach Me. If you did not enjoy A Wrinkle in Time, you may not connect with this book. I am not a fan of L’Engle, or science fiction in general, so I was left feeling a bit disappointed by this Newbery Medal winner.(less)
The best way to describe Susan Hill’s novellas The Small Hand and Dolly is moody. Hill does an excellent job of creating an unsettling mood in both st...moreThe best way to describe Susan Hill’s novellas The Small Hand and Dolly is moody. Hill does an excellent job of creating an unsettling mood in both stories. In one, a rare book seller is haunted by the feel of an invisible, small hand in his. In the second, two cousins are haunted by a childhood experience with a porcelain doll. As I read the stories, I could imagine them as chilling movies that would make the audience edgy with suspense.
Unfortunately, mood is not enough. The stories tend to ramble and seem filled with unnecessary detail. Where the plots are going is often unclear, and the journey is more tedious than pleasurable. The novellas simply are not page turners, and I found myself plodding through them out of a sense of obligation rather than enjoyment. (less)
Elliot Holt’s You Are One of Them has an intriguing premise. Sarah’s best friend, Jenny Jones, died in a plane crash not long after visiting Soviet Ru...moreElliot Holt’s You Are One of Them has an intriguing premise. Sarah’s best friend, Jenny Jones, died in a plane crash not long after visiting Soviet Russia. Ten years later, Sarah receives an email from Moscow, claiming Jenny is still alive.
The delivery, unfortunately, is not nearly as intriguing. Much of the book focuses on the failed relationships in Sarah’s life: with her older sister, with her father, with various lovers. Part of the book flashes back to Sarah and Jenny’s friendship. The latter half covers Sarah’s experiences in Moscow.
Anyone expecting a mystery will be disappointed by the final revelation. This book is not genre fiction and fails to follow any generic formula. However, One of Them is a nice example of literary fiction. Sarah moves to Moscow during the mid-90s. Having lived in Ukraine during the late 90s, the descriptions of the post-Soviet era ring true for me. Holt’s descriptions of places, people, and attitudes feel accurate.
Read this book for the writing and setting and not for the mystery. (less)
**spoiler alert** Charlotte Doyle is a proper early 19th-century 13-year-old girl. When her family moves from England to the United States, she plans...more**spoiler alert** Charlotte Doyle is a proper early 19th-century 13-year-old girl. When her family moves from England to the United States, she plans to join them after her school term. However, she soon discovers that the plan has gone awry when she boards the Seahawk, one of her father’s ships. The families she was supposed to travel with have suddenly canceled, and the crew gives her several cryptic warnings to stay away.
Thus begins The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. I wanted to root for Charlotte and her adventures. I wanted to embrace True Confessions as a treatise for female empowerment (and racial equality), but I just could not suspend my disbelief long enough to do so.
I know this Newbery Honor Book is written for children, but I could not get beyond the fact that Charlotte, a female, is alone with a crew of men for months at a time. Charlotte abandons her traditional role as an upper-class female, and is a fine example of a girl throwing off gender restrictions, but it is impossible for me to believe that the crew, particularly in the early 1800s, would ever really accept and view her in a non-sexual manner. The anachronisms of the plot left me so disbelieving that I could not enjoy or recommend the book. (less)
As an American woman who spent several years living in and traveling to Turkey, I was intrigued by the title of Katharine Branning’s memoir: Yes, I Wo...moreAs an American woman who spent several years living in and traveling to Turkey, I was intrigued by the title of Katharine Branning’s memoir: Yes, I Would Love Another Glass of Tea: An American Woman’s Letters to Turkey. Branning, a fellow librarian, has traveled and researched in Turkey since 1978 and has a clear love for and affinity with the country. However, the book does not do a good job of showing that love. She tells about her love, she gives lists and details about different topics relating to the country, culture, and people, but she does not paint a clear picture of her Turkey. I wanted less telling and more stories. I wanted concrete examples to support her claims. I wanted to feel Turkey and enjoy her personality, but she failed to bring color to her essays. In addition, the book is framed around letters to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who is known for her letters written from Turkey in the 18th century. However, this device was more distracting and clunky than helpful.
Overall, I was quite disappointed with the book . . . until I read the last essay. In her final chapter, Branning describes her journey from Istanbul to New York City on September 11, 2001. For the first time, she shows her story, she reveals her feelings and emotions, and she finally connects with the reader. Even a dozen years after the event, I found myself overwhelmed by emotions: my own, Branning’s, and the Turks that embraced her at the time. If only she had been willing to expose herself in a similar fashion throughout the book. (less)
One of my sisters suggested we read Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America so we could...moreOne of my sisters suggested we read Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America so we could discuss the book together.
I dutifully read, and even enjoyed, the book, but I could never shake the feeling that I was not reading one book but at least two. Larson interweaves the story of Chicago’s World's Columbian Exposition with that of H.H. Holmes, a serial killer active during that time. I kept waiting for Larson to make a connection between the stories. What does a history about architecture, building, and the economy have to do with a serial killer? Turns out, not a whole lot.
Larson is an incredible researcher and the book is full of vivid details (and he takes quite a few liberties imagining those details). I found both stories (architecture and murder) to be quite interesting but an ill-fitting pair. At almost 400 pages, Larson would have better served his readers by writing two separate books. (less)
Chris Bohjalian’s The Sandcastle Girls is the story of Elizabeth Endicott, an American who travels to Aleppo, Syria with her diplomat father in 1915 t...moreChris Bohjalian’s The Sandcastle Girls is the story of Elizabeth Endicott, an American who travels to Aleppo, Syria with her diplomat father in 1915 to aid Armenian refugees driven from Ottoman Turkey. She meets and falls in love with Armen, an Armenian engineer who is suffering from the loss of his wife and child.
Unfortunately, Bohjalian couches Armen and Elizabeth’s story within that of their American granddaughter, Laura, who is learning about her grandparents’ history. Not only is Laura not an interesting character, but her story is jarring and distracting from the heart of the narrative. In addition, her existence takes away from the book’s dramatic tension since it is clear from the beginning that not only do both Elizabeth and Armen survive but they also marry and reproduce.
I wanted to like this book more than I did. Part of my discontent is because I did not find Elizabeth an attractive or appealing character. I couldn’t imagine what about her personality was compelling enough to bring Armen out of his emotional comma. Part of it is because Bohjalian does not just let the horror of history provide the book’s painful drama. Instead, he concludes with a dramatic, and unnecessary, scene that detracts from the historical context and left me with a deep feeling of unease. (less)