Thursday, March 24, 2016

Debut Titles for Spring - Part 1

I am always amazed at how many wonderful debut novels are published each year.  Although I have many favorite authors whose books I eagerly await, it is exciting to discover a new talent. I have read some great debut novels this year that I would love to share with you. 

Weina Rai Randel debuts not one, but two novels this spring.  Her Empress of the Bright Moon Duology reimagines the life of Empress Wu of China.  Empress Wu, the first woman to rule China under her own name,  has often been portrayed as a ruthless and immoral woman.  The author decided to research the life of this fascinating woman ruler and found little documentation to support this reputation.  Taking into account that the Confucian scholars at the time who were writing the history had reason to besmirch a woman ruler, the author decided to write her own version of the story. 

 The first novel, The Moon In the Palace, begins with the life of the empress as a young girl.  When Mei is 5 years old a fortune teller states that she will not only be the mother of emperors, but an emperor in her own right.  Her sheltered life comes to an end when her beloved father dies.  She is taken from her family at age 13 and accepted into the palace of the emperor as one of 15 Selects of the inner court.  Her father's lessons in history, mathematics, poetry and especially Sun Tzu's The Art of War serve her well as she finds herself entangled in palace intrigues, jealousies and deceptions.  Young Mei also finds herself in grave danger when she falls in love with a young boy called Pheasant, as she belongs to the emperor. 

The second novel continues the story of Mei's rise in the court. The looming death of the emperor puts all of his concubines at risk.  Upon his death, those like Mei who have not born him a child will be sent to monasteries, where they will live in seclusion for the rest of their lives.  But Mei still has Pheasant on her side and although she is banished to a monastery she will return to the palace in time.  A monk reveals that she will face great loss before her fated rise to power and she does indeed suffer much grief.  Still, Mei's inner strength and her true love will see her through as she finally becomes Empress Wu.





I was lucky enough to be assigned these two titles to review for Library Journal.  I also had the chance to interview Weina Dai Randel for the magazine. To read my interview, Click Here. For more information about the author please check out her website Click Here

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Thrills and Chills for October

I am not a big reader of scary books.  In high school, I read Stephen King's Salem's Lot and that gave me nightmares for life!  I remember that my parents were out when I was finishing the book at night.  I kept reading despite my fear, hoping there would be a "happy ending."  I know, silly me.

Despite my fear of the supernatural, I have read several books in the past year that would be perfect for anyone looking for some seasonal scares.

Last October, the Mansfield Library Book Club was lucky enough to win the chance to Skpye with author John Searles as part of his "50 Book Clubs, 50 States" challenge.  We had a wonderful discussion with John and met his dog Ruby, the cutest dog on Earth!  It turned out that one of our members actually grew up in the same town as John - small world.  I would highly recommend Help for the Haunted.




I admit that I was scared to read this book at night, but I loved it. It combines mystery, the supernatural and a coming of age novel. Sylvia has been searching for answers about the deaths of her parents - so called demonologists. Her older sister, Rose, is her legal guardian and they live in their family home where the basement holds their parents' collection of items from the " haunted." These include Penny, a large Raggedy Ann doll who is locked in a cage. So scary! Sylvia begins writing in a journal as she searches for the truth of what she saw the night her parents were murdered. Lots of twists and scares, as well as a story about families and belief. I read it in one sitting!

Another psychological thriller is The Ice Twins by S.K. Tremayn.



A spooky atmospheric thriller set on a small island off the coast of Scotland.  Sarah and Angus have moved to Thunder Island after the death of one of their twin daughters.  Lydia and Kirstie were completely identical twins.  The accidental death of Lydia has brought psychological damage to her parents and surviving twin.   But, was it really Lydia who died?  Why is Kirstie suddenly acting like her sister?  Did they make a huge mistake?  Meanwhile, Kirstie tells her parents that her twin is still with them and that she can see her in mirrors.  Scottish lore has it that Thunder Island is a thin place between spirit world - has a twin returned and which one is it?



Finally, there is A Pleasure and a Calling by Phil Hogan.  





What a brilliantly creepy novel! Mr. Heming is a realtor in a small town who tries his best to blend into the background. This comes in handy because he keeps copies of the keys to all the houses he has sold and will drop in from time to time...while the owners are out - or not! Mr. Heming is a bit of an unreliable narrator, having a tendency to scatter important facts here and there. We learn about his childhood, but only what and when he wants us to know. He seems content to live through the lives of others and sees himself as a benevolent god looking over his people. From time to time, however, he becomes embroiled in situations that result in violence. Surprisingly, I found myself hoping Mr. Heming did not get caught. This one is hard to put down and will make you immediately change the locks on your home!


I hope you'll enjoy these titles - read them with the lights on!!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Hyacinth Girls



This debut novel is one that should be read by anyone who deals with teenage girls on a daily basis - parents, teachers, etc.  Lauren Frankel gives the reader a look inside bullying, from several perspectives.

Rebecca is a young woman who has taken on the responsibility of raising the daughter of her deceased best friend.  Rebecca has striven to shower Callie with all the love she deserves as well as sought to keep her mother's memory alive.  She has even made the decision to postpone her own love life until Callie no longer needs her.  So Rebecca is shocked to receive a call from the school principal telling her that Callie has been terrorizing a classmate.  Callie and her friends deny the incident and tell a completely different story about the other girl.  They tell Rebecca that Robyn was obsessed with Callie and paint a picture of a depressed and troubled girl.  But even after Callie is exonerated, Rebecca wonders if it is the entire truth.  

The novel begins from Rebecca's point of view before switching to Callie's.  The reader has the chance to experience the bully and bullying from a parent's and a teenager's perspectives. Rebecca has kept some truths about her parents from Callie that are soon unearthed.  It is a thrilling story that builds until the very end and tells the tale of two troubled girls who set of a chain reaction that leads to danger.  Filled with text messages, emails and facebook pages that tell the story of how quickly one can fall in this new world of technology.

Every parent will read this with a sense of fear.  As Rebecca asks in the prologue: "Do you know your children?"

For more information about this debut author please visit the publisher's website.

 "I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review."

Monday, August 31, 2015

Summer Beach Reads



Summer is my favorite time for reading! I love reading outside, especially at the beach. During my vacation, I was able to get through a lot of my to-be-read pile, although it is steadily building up again.  So, just in time for Labor Day weekend here are a few perfect beach reads:

Mary Kay Andrews never disappoints - I read this in one day!


Greer Hennessy is a location director for Hollywood movies. Her latest brings her to Florida in search of an untouched old-time Florida beach town. She finds exactly what she needs in the town of Cypress Keys, but the mayor Eb Thibadeaux is not keen on Hollywood upsetting his peaceful little town. Greer is also dealing with the death of her mother and the fact that her father, who she hasn't seen in 30 years, is suddenly reaching out and happens to live a hour away from the movie location. Soon Hollywood comes to the small town bringing lots of problems fro Greer to deal with from an out of control rap star making his movie debut, to backed up porta potties. This is definitely not the time to add romance to her to-do list, but Greer finds herself drawn to Eb. Mary Kay Andrews has done it once again - I couldn't put it down!

I cannot believe I have never read an Elin Hilderbrand book before.  She is now on my radar!


A beachy summer read set on the island of Nantucket. Grace and Madeline have been best friends forever, living "perfect" lives with their husbands and children. But this summer, things are going to change and the rumor mill is going to be in full gear. Madeleine, the novelist, has writer's block and rents an apartment in town to write. Grace is crushing hard on her gardener, while her husband Eddie is in financial trouble. The small island will be buzzing with rumors about both women and their families. Will friendship survive?







I always love Jane Green's books and this one really peaked my interest with the Nantucket setting.


The narrative goes back and forth in time from 1998 to the present and geographically from London to Nantucket. Since she was a teenager, Cat has relied on alcohol to get her through, but now she is facing losing everything. Her husband has had enough and she is at risk of losing her daughter. Secrets from her mother's past come to light that send Cat to the island of Nantucket.  A family secret has opened up new possibilities for Cat.  All is great, until her actions during and alcoholic blackout send her running back to London. Will Cat finally face the fact that she needs help? Can she start over without alcohol?





I hope you get a chance to do some reading over the long weekend!  I will be back soon with some historical fiction suggestions!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Sorry it's been so long between posts!

I have to remember to post in this blog more often.  I originally planned to post review bi-weekly, so I will try to get back on track.  I have been a bit overextended reading YA and children's books for the Massachusetts Youth Services Review page.  If you have children and/or teens, check out the blog here:https://ysbookreviews.wordpress.com/  The reviews are written by public and school librarians in Massachusetts.

Right now I am reading 3 books, one is a Young Adult fantasy novel, the other two are advanced reader copies of historical fiction novels.  My brother tells me that this is not normal - to read more than one book at a time, but I cannot help it! There are just so many great books that I want to read!

As a Boston born girl, I especially enjoyed these two novels.  The first is set in the North End of Boston, where I was the Branch Librarian, and only librarian, for 4 years.  This was a great place to work.  At the time, the neighborhood was still filled with Italian families, but there was also an influx of young working couples who liked the location to downtown.  The branch library was right on the Freedom Trail, so we were able to meet lots of tourists as well. The library had an indoor garden and spring would bring the gardenia plant to bloom - filling the library with its perfume!  We had a guest library cat, who would climb a tree and pop through my open office window to enjoy the sun in the garden.  A unique part of the library is a scale model of the Ducal Palace in Venice.  I loved being able to visit the local butchers, bakeries and restaurants.  At lunch, I could also stroll down to the waterfront or shop in Faneuil Hall. If you are ever in the North End, be sure to stop by this lovely branch.  Be sure to read The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant, too!



This Boston girl loved The Boston Girl! 85 year-old Addie Baum looks back on her life to explain to her granddaughter "How I got to be the woman I am today." The novel tells the story of the beginning of the 20th century through the life of one Jewish girl growing up in Boston's North End. Addie refuses to give in to conventions and expectations, so she attends high school for a while and becomes involved in the Salem Street Settlement House's Saturday Club. The other girls in her group become lifelong friends as they all take different paths to modern womanhood. Through Addie, we experience life in a tenement, the 1918 flu epidemic, WWI, the depression and WWII. Addie is a strong character who embraces all the new century had to offer women. The historical details come to life through Addie and her intelligence, humor and determination. Highly recommended!




The next Boston-based book is set in Charlestown.  Lisa Genova is the author of Still Alice, for which Julianne Moore just won an Oscar. The dvd of Still Alice will be available next week.  Lisa Genova has a real talent for portraying the effects of brain disease on families, without being morbid.  I highly recommend her books, if you havent tried one yet.

Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova

Joe O'Brien is a Boston police officer who has lived all his life in Charlestown. He married his high school sweetheart, bought a triple decker and raised 4 children, 2 boys and 2 girls now in their 20's. But his perfect life is about to come crashing down with a diagnosis of Huntington's Disease. We experience the story through two narrators - Joe and his 21 year-old youngest daughter, Katie. Joe's diagnosis effects all of his children as they each have a 50% chance of having the hereditary disease. As Joe is learning to deal with his incurable, progressive disease, his children must decide whether they want to take the blood test that will let them know their own fates. Katie struggles with the decision as she finds out the results of 2 of her siblings. Is it better to know or not know? The book does not answer all of our questions, but it gives us so much to think about regarding life, love and family. 



Well, that ends my Boston edition of this blog.  Enjoy the warm weather and stop back soon!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Snow + Cold = Reading!!!!

Wow!  The past few months have be unbelievable.  My office at the library became an ice castle - the icicles and snow outside my window made me feel that I was Elsa from the Disney film Frozen.  I am actually a bit sad that the my ice castle has melted.

Here's a look:


The only good thing about all of the snow, is that most of us were stuck inside.  That meant plenty of time for reading.  What could be better than coming in from the snow to curl up with a great book? I read so many books that it is hard to pick  the ones I want to share with you!  But here are 2 of my favorites that were published in February as well as a favorite now available in trade paperback.



A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

Once again Anne Tyler weaves a beautiful story of family. We come to know 3 generations of the Whitshank family as the novel travels back and forth and overlaps through time -much as the thread on a spool. We come to know the characters though their own memories and the observations of others. There are Junior and Linnie, their 2 children Red and Merrick, and Red's 4 children and grandchildren. It is an inter-generational story told in Tyler's unique and beautiful way. 







My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

A book that will take you back to the good old 1980s, before cell phones and video games, where life seemed much simpler and safer. This suburban idyll in Baton Rouge, Louisiana is turned upside down when 15 year-old Lindy Simpson is raped. The novel is told from the point of view of a 14 year-old boy who has become obsessed with Lindy. He readily admits that he is one of the suspects and maybe quite the unreliable narrator. We soon discover the dark secrets that lay just beneath the surface of the neighborhood. This debut will keep you guessing until the very end. Who is the perpetrator and who is the hero? I couldn't put it down!



Now available in paperback:


China Dolls by Lisa See

Lisa See is one of my favorite authors and her newest title doesn't disappoint. It is set in San Francisco beginning in 1938 and follows the lives of 3 young women. Grace is Chinese American and was born and raised in the Midwest. She leaves an abusive home to travel to California seeking stardom. Grace was raised in an all-white community and did nor have any experience with her own Chinese culture. She meets Helen, a young woman raised in a traditional family in Chinatown, and they both get jobs as dancers in a nightclub. At the auditions they meet Ruby, a Japanese American who is "passing" as Chinese. The book follows the girls lives, told in first person alternating chapters up through World War II. The perspective of 3 varied narrators adds to the story. I would highly recommend this!

See you in a few weeks!  Spring is on the way!



Friday, January 23, 2015

January's hot titles

As a librarian, I often have the chance to read books pre-publication.  This is wonderful, but the problem is that I then have to wait months to share the books with you!  This week, I want to share two of my favorite January releases, both from debut novelists.

The first  is a wonderful book that I read back in June, The Magician's Lie by Greer MacAllister. It has just been released and you need to place your hold now!  If you enjoyed Water for Elephants  and The Night Circus, this is the book for you. The novel revolves around a female magician, The Amazing Arden, whose claim to fame is her trick of sawing a man in half!


Set at the turn of the 20th century, this is wonderful story of magic, both real and imagined, love and tragedy. The book is like a version of Scheherazade, as woman tells her tale to a man in order to save her own life.  A magic show has taken place and the grand finale is the magician sawing a man in half to the amazement of the audience.  After the show, the magician's husband is found murdered - sawed in half! The magician, The Amazing Arden, is suspected of murdering her husband and is caught by a small town policeman, Virgil Holt. He brings her to the station and allows her to tell her story. He is hoping that maybe her magic is real and that she can help him. The story moves back and forth from Arden's life story to the present time in the police station. Both stories are equally compelling. The themes include love and hate, woman versus man, magic and belief. How did "The Amazing Arden" come to be? Is her magic real or just illusion? Did she commit murder? Will Virgil set her free? I did not want the tales to end! 



The next January must read is The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. A debut thriller that has been likened to Gone Girl.  If you love a plot with lots of twists and turns, join the wait list now.  I have the feeling this one is going to be a huge bestseller!



This debut novel will keep you guessing until the very end! How many of us commute by train and have the opportunity to see into the lives of strangers? Rachel is a troubled divorcee who cannot let go of her ex-husband and drinks too much. She takes the train back and forth everyday and watches her former home that backs up to the tracks. She constructs an imaginary life for a young couple in a nearby home, passing them each day on the train and naming them " Jason" and "Jess". Then the young wife, who is actually named Megan, disappears. Rachel cannot stop herself from becoming embroiled in the mystery, especially as she had a blackout that same night and knows she was on the train. The story is told by Rachel, Megan, and Anna (her husband's 2nd wife). Is Rachel an unreliable witness or does she know the truth? You won't want to put this down and you'll never look out a train window in quite the same way again.


I hope you are enjoying this new book review blog.  Please follow me to be sure to get my new posts. I am planning to post every Friday