In this tale, which is part-fable and part-historical fiction (with a fair amount of magical realism), several young people are joined together by a hIn this tale, which is part-fable and part-historical fiction (with a fair amount of magical realism), several young people are joined together by a harmonica which helps them to survive dark times--Nazi Germany, Depression-era America, World War II.
In Germany, Friedrich, his father, and his uncle find themselves in the crosshairs of the newly-risen Nazi regime, and must find a way for each to escape on their own yet be reunited in another country. In Depression-Era Pennsylvania, Mike struggles to find a way to keep his little brother, Frankie, with him, but the options are limited for two orphaned boys. In 1942 California, Ivy and her migrant-farming family may have finally found a permanent home, except that suspicions and racial tensions surround their diverse community and threaten their plans and hopes. These three young people turn to music--to a harmonica that surfaces, then re-surfaces, again and again, to give hope and joy and possible escapes, even during dark times.
This is an excellent book for introducing children to some unhappy truths about history and life, while still giving them hope, too. ...more
Death can be a curious release for some, and it certainly has been for Veronica Speedwell. Not that she's dead, of course; no, she's as hale and heartDeath can be a curious release for some, and it certainly has been for Veronica Speedwell. Not that she's dead, of course; no, she's as hale and hearty as she has always been. But her adoptive aunt, the only family Veronica has, has finally passed away, and now Veronica--a nonconformist who is poorly suited to the society of 19th century England, and an intrepid explorer--is free to carry on with what she loves best: explorations into the wilds of other countries, where she can study natural history.
All of those plans are chucked right out the window when she returns to her home after her aunt's funeral, only to catch someone in the middle of burgling her. The robbery soon turns into a botched kidnapping, and while Veronica was fending off her assailant quite competently, thank you very much, the intervention of a gallant Teutonic stranger is not unwelcome. But that's just the beginning--the stranger informs her she is in grave danger, and convinces her to come with her to London. Once there, he leaves her in the care of his friend Stoker, an unspeakably cross man of few words and fewer manners. The sudden death of their German friend, however, and the suspicion of murder, force these two together to discover the killer, and to find out how Veronica has gotten caught up in this mess, and what it has to do with the mystery of her unknown parentage. If there's anything Veronica enjoys, it's a discovery to be made--but she has to stay alive long enough to make it. The real question is, if she does get killed, will it be Stoker, driven mad by her incessant questions and irreverence, or the people who don't want her ancestry to see the light of day?
If you enjoy your mysteries with a (VERY) strong female lead, and don't mind that Victorian London isn't a grim, hulking monster, this is a new mystery series you might enjoy....more
I'm not sure I'm ready to talk about this yet. I stayed up very late Saturday night, gobbling this book down. And I spent all day Sunday, thinking aboI'm not sure I'm ready to talk about this yet. I stayed up very late Saturday night, gobbling this book down. And I spent all day Sunday, thinking about it. And now I am torn--I want to go back and buy all three of the books, or else find the author and beg her for more of this story.
Here's where the story ends.
The Kingdom of the Tearling has never had much good luck--plagued with a lack of resources, a fractious population, a bloated religious institution, and irresponsible nobles, as well as a continuously unstable leadership, it's struggled and limped along for centuries. When Kelsea Glynn inherited the throne, she comes to it with high ideals, firm convictions, a solid education, and the determination to confront these problems. All of this inevitably lead to a lot of conflict, and by the beginning of this final book in the trilogy, she's landed herself in the clutches of her greatest enemy, the Red Queen of Mortesme. While her loyal Guards are trying to mount a rescue, the Tear Kingdom begins to rote from the inside out, even as a new evil begins to close in from all sides.
The ending broke my heart. I knew from a book review that the ending was going to be bittersweet, and it was, but not at all in the way I anticipated. It twisted up my heart and stabbed it a few times for good measure. Did it have to end the way it did? No, of course not, but it ended, cleanly and neatly. I'm not sure any other ending would have been a true ending; it would have dragged this series on and on (which I would be so okay with). But as The Mace would say, "Better to die clean."...more
So writes the author in the afterword of this collection of eccentric stories about eccentric people liv"Britain really is an immense lunatic asylum."
So writes the author in the afterword of this collection of eccentric stories about eccentric people living in an eccentric village. The author is right, of course, but I feel like the same could be said of any town (or, writ large, any large metropolitan area), at least in the Western Hemisphere, where our relative wealth and freedoms allow us the the ability to express our eccentricities. The inescapable fact is, we are all of us eccentric, with our delightful/charming/annoying/potentially odoriferous quirks. I challenge each of you to have a seat wherever you like to do your writing, and start jotting down some of the people you may know in your life, in your workplace, in your town, who would be splendid characters with splendid backstories in a book.
In this particular book, the characters and their stories take place throughout the 20th century; the author bounces back in forth in time to tell the tales of the various peasants, lords of the manors, rectors, farmers, hedging and ditching men, pensioners, spinsters, mediums, romance novelists, widows and widowers, and intrepid boys who populate the village and the pages. What emerges is not a heap of random stories, but rather a collection of inteconnected vignettes that, once woven together, tell the story of the village of Notwithstanding, a village that seems to be both an echo of the distant, rural past of England and an astute reflection of the island of today. If you are one of those that enjoyed Circle of Friends or Tara Road by Maeve Binchy, the Harmony series by Phillip Gulley, or--heck, even Bill Bryson's stuff, chances are you will dig this work, too.
"Most people don't listen with the intent to understand. They listen with the intent to reply."
(Initial Thoughts)I'm consuming this text via audiobook"Most people don't listen with the intent to understand. They listen with the intent to reply."
(Initial Thoughts)I'm consuming this text via audiobook format, which, while it has its problems (difficult to bookmark passages) has provided me with an interesting realization. Several times, when listening to the narrator/author reflect upon America (particularly the America that identifies as "white"), I found myself thinking (and wanting to say) "But that's not me! I don't feel/think/behave that way!" But there's no one to interrupt with this disclaimer, no one to listen or absolve me. So I beat the thought down and go back to being a passive audience, and go back to listening for the sake of trying to understand.
Having finished listening to this awesome, humbling work, here's what I can tell you: in this book, which is an open letter to the author's son, the author tells what it is to be a Black Man in America today--and what it has meant in the past. He speaks of the ongoing peril to which black bodies are exposed, and how much more fragile they are--exposed as they are to state-sanctioned discrimination, and state-created and -enforced ghettoes and the crime that has taken root within them. He speaks of the liberation that came from attending Howard University, the searing pain of realizing how far out of the American Dream was and is to people of color, heirs to the economic handicaps that came from slavery and Jim Crow and white flight. He speaks of his hopes and his fears for his son, and his people, and it's hard not to feel one's self as being indicted in his searing words. And the indictment is a true one.
It's not an easy book to read or listen to--who ever wishes to hear of the ways in which they have (even unconsciously or unwillingly) benefited from the oppression or exploitation of a person or group of people?--but it's an absolutely essential text to consume. Our ignorance does not excuse us, so we may as well be informed, so we can at least acknowledge the injustice that still exists today. ...more
Oriel has never understood her father's unaccountable contempt for her, but after her brother Lionel is killed in the Crimean War, it ceases to matterOriel has never understood her father's unaccountable contempt for her, but after her brother Lionel is killed in the Crimean War, it ceases to matter: her father disowns her, casts her off, and gives her a mere month to secure her future. It's only the intervention of a previously unknown aunt--a rformer duchess, no less--that keeps Oriel from a state of obscure poverty.
Swept up into her new family, whisked away to their seaside manor, treated with more kindness and generosity than she's ever known before, Oriel is almost overwhelmed by her rags-to-riches good fortune. However, she hasn't had her head turned so much that she doesn't notice certain tensions running through her new family: her aunt, who has been recently widowed and remarried in an unseemly amount of time, is oblivious to the fact that her son and heir, Herron, believes that someone killed his father, the former duke, and that the killer lurks in the loving bosom of their family. It's difficult to tell if Herron has justifiable suspicions, or if he is simply going mad from his grief, but when Oriel begins to do her own bit of questioning and investigating, she turns up some chilling information that puts her at risk, and could possibly destroy her entire family as well.
There are a couple of things that surprised me about this book--first, the rather cheap binding and cover hide a deceptively decent story. The other thing is this: usually, when Oriel observed, overheard, or experienced something (with one major exception), she didn't keep the information to herself, as characters so often do (thereby creating more deceptions and secrets). It was a refreshing change from the usual trajectory of plots. ...more
When Amory Ames accepted an invitation from an old paramour, Gil, to join him at a seaside resort, she wasn't expecting much to happen except to talkWhen Amory Ames accepted an invitation from an old paramour, Gil, to join him at a seaside resort, she wasn't expecting much to happen except to talk Gil's sister out of her upcoming marriage to a ne'er do well, and to possibly contemplate ending her own unhappy union with her playboy husband. But in short order, one of the people in their party is dead, Gil is suspected of being the person responsible, and Amory has her hands full--not only with proving Gil's innocence, but in figuring out why her husband has decided to appear at this rather awkward juncture.
It's a fun read, set in the middle of Britain's "long weekend" between the two world wars, not quite a cozy, and I am maybe intrigued enough to read the second in this series. Suggest to people who enjoy the "Miss Fisher" series by Kerry Greenwood. ...more
Life Lesson of the Day: Don't piss off the faeries.
Many, many years ago, the Aes Sídhe (faeries) were banished from the Emerald Isle to a place of bleLife Lesson of the Day: Don't piss off the faeries.
Many, many years ago, the Aes Sídhe (faeries) were banished from the Emerald Isle to a place of bleakness--a grey, hostile place--and they've never forgiven the Irish for it. A generation prior to the beginning of the story, the Sídhe succeeded in cutting Ireland off from the rest of the world, and now wage a brutal war on the Irish by "calling" their teenagers--literally, disappearing them to the Faerie Otherworld, where the teens arrive, naked and vulnerable and forced to flee from the cruel Sídhe. If they catch you, they'll play with you and kill you. Or send you back, after a day, horribly maimed and traumatized. 9 in 10 teens don't make it.
To adjust, Ireland has established "survival schools" in which the teens endure brutal training and privation to up their chances of living through The Call. Nessa is one such teen--but her odds are even worse, as she is crippled from a case of childhood polio. It's her fierce determination to survive which keeps her going, but it might not be the Sídhe she needs to survive. Her school is filled with power-hungry bullies who feel the resources are wasted on people like Nessa--and even worse, the Sídhe appear to be infiltrating their world in new ways, through betrayals and ever more ruthless acts.
Think of Hunger Games and Divergent set in Ireland, with a magical flare and very very little hope. Don't expect more than the bleakest of happy endings. But DO expect a book that's hard to put down....more
I don't actively avoid Christian or faith-based fiction, but it's not high up on my priority list, either. I didn't thinkSneaky, sneaky Bethany House!
I don't actively avoid Christian or faith-based fiction, but it's not high up on my priority list, either. I didn't think to note the publisher/imprint of this book, but those of us in the know would have seen "Bethany House" and it would have been a dead giveaway. Because it sure wasn't from the blurb! "A sparkling British historical romance"...missing heiress, mother dead under mysterious circumstances, rare treasures...okay, I'll bite.
So, in the beginning, young and (of course) lovely Brook is thought by many to be the illegitimate daughter of a Monaco Prince. But she sends her devoted friend Justin to England with some scant evidence about her mother's family, and soon learns that she is a baroness, a missing heir to a wealthy lord who has spent many years searching for her. So to England she travels, and is confronted with a family who soon accepts her as one of theirs (or do they?) and a host of servants who are less than welcoming. But there are mysteries afoot, and an attack on her body draws her new family, friends, and servants closer to her--but it might be too late.
Also, at the beginning, very little talk about religion or God or faith. (And to be very fair, throughout the book there's little-to-no-talk about organized religion or denominations.) It took me a good third-to-half the book to realize that it was in fact a Christian-based novel. But by the end, there were many Biblical references, lots of praying, and plenty of folks trusting in the Lord to keep them in His plans and sights. It didn't quite come off as unbelievable, but I've spent many years in the more worldly circles of Downton Abbey, where the characters usually keep their faith at a comfortable distance from their day-to-day toils and big-picture plans. Somehow, I can't imagine Mary or Edith Crawley turning to their Bible or Anthony Stallen promising he will pray unceasingly.
Throughout, the language of the book avoiding what we call "swear words", and while there were a few incidents of violence and references to sex, the plot remained interesting, and not anesthetized. I enjoyed the book enough that I will happily read the next in the series. ...more
Honestly, I wanted to like this book. Having grown up in Florida--which to many is a lovely place, but to me always was and always will be a dead-endHonestly, I wanted to like this book. Having grown up in Florida--which to many is a lovely place, but to me always was and always will be a dead-end swamp--I was eager to read this novel of a young woman who grew up in a trailer and made stupid choices and persevered and managed to meet a decent fellow and get employed by a rising political power couple. But this book--it was just bad from beginning to end.
Why? The plot is riddled with gaps in its timeline--the book fast-forwards a year and a half from one chapter to the next. Crucially interesting things are glossed over. Poor editing and proofreading plague the text. The authors tell, they don't show, and as a result, when characters do certain things, it doesn't feel real because we never really experienced them doing the things they did. And it's hard to connect to the characters anyway, so when two people (the politician for whom she works, and her grandmother) fail her (one of them spectacularly, one of them sort of resignedly, but still surprisingly, because it was out of character) it's very difficult to care.
In the midst of Victorian London, St. Saviour's Infirmary might not stand out from the rookeries, brothels, and filth that fill the city, except for tIn the midst of Victorian London, St. Saviour's Infirmary might not stand out from the rookeries, brothels, and filth that fill the city, except for the fact that the denizens of said city do love a good murder, and St. Saviour's, already in the midst of bringing its skeletons out of the closet (quite literally), suddenly offers up more than one. These deaths seem to be connected to a gruesome discovery that the resident apothecary, Jem Flockhart, has made of six tiny, empty coffins, and reluctantly, Jem and Jem's friend, Will, are drawn into the investigation, although each clue they uncover seems to only lead to more questions. Answers are hard to come by in this murky part of London, and venal and ambitious doctors, sanctimonious doctors' wives, less-than-orderly orderlies, and a rumored ghost are all potential suspects. The number of people Jem and Will can trust is dwindling--not only because people connected to St. Saviour's keep dying, but also because one of these people is the killer.
Beloved Poison unflinchingly looks at the nasty underbelly of London, and as far as atmosphere goes, can't be beat. There's more than one intriguing character here, and I'm delighted to see that there appears to be the promise that some of them will return for a sequel.
Who is the murderer? One of the arrogant doctors who ...more
This is an entertaining but, at this point, formulaic story about what happens when a girl meets a guy and the girl (Jules, an insanely driven and ambThis is an entertaining but, at this point, formulaic story about what happens when a girl meets a guy and the girl (Jules, an insanely driven and ambitious high school senior) has a hard time believing the new guy (Alex, a former member of a one-hit-wonder Boy Band) is into her. Just when she lets herself think that she can make room in her packed schedule (student council, school newspaper editor, volunteer goody-goody) for a fella, he does something that, in her eyes, is tantamount to betrayal of her present life and future ambitions--he joins the school's rival media committee. By this point, Alex has insinuated himself into their group of friends, and so there's no escaping him. Of course, because this is a Teen Novel, they'll clear things up, but not before Jules alienates a few people and screws up a few times along the way.
Only things really remarkable about this book were that Jules' parents are both female (LGBTQ teen novels are a thing, yes, but how often do we encounter teen novels with LGBTQ parents!), and that this is set in L.A. (sigh), which the author does a fairly solid job of depicting. ...more