Book Review – Fatal Fortune

 

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Fatal Fortune
A review by Catherine H. Armstrong

As an avid reader, one of my favorite things in the world is a book that’s part of a larger series with repeating characters. Picking up where the last book left off always feels like visiting old friends, and it’s always fun to check in with the gang to see what’s new. It’s no surprise, then, that I was excited to get my hands on the newest Abby Cooper mystery, this one entitled Fatal Fortune.

In this twelfth installment of the Psychic Eye series, Abby finds herself defending the reputation of her best friend Cassidy against what can only be described as damning evidence. Cassidy is caught on surveillance footage killing a man in cold blood. But, as Cassidy tells Abby, “It’s not how it looks.”

When even Cassidy’s FBI husband doubts her innocence, it’s up to Abby to feel out the ether and use her intuitive abilities to find Cassidy and clear her name…even if it puts her own life and freedoms at risk.

Fans of Laurie’s Psychic Eye series are sure to love this latest edition. It’s fast-paced and has the reader sitting on the edge of his seat throughout every page. The twists and turns keep the reader guessing, and it’s truly not until the last few pages are turned that the reader fully grasps the complexity of planning that casts suspicion on Cassidy in the first place.

New readers to this series can rest assured that they can pick up in the middle and not feel the gaping holes of missing background information that often accompanies a book in the midst of a larger series. One of the things Laurie does best is bring a new reader up to date on the characters without boring long-time fans with what feels like extraneous information. She gives exactly enough information to refresh the memories of old readers while bringing new readers up to date.

Fatal Fortune is definitely a good read and one I’d recommend to both longtime fans of this series and those unfamiliar with it. It’s simply a great summer read!

Summer books!

Have you made your book selections/reading list for summer yet? There is so much to chose from! And many much awaited soon to be published sequels!
These are some (20) of my (Helen McIver) favourite books so far, as well as a few I have on preorder!
Literature
**Bruce Holsinger A Burnable Book (Anyone who liked Pulitzer Prize winner Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bringing up the Bodies will love this.)
**Deborah Harkness The Book of Life (Much anticipated final chapter (gasp) Discovery of Witches trilogy)
*Nancy Horan Under the Wide and Starry Sky (interesting historical novel about Franny Stevenson wife of Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson)
*Anthony Holden Poems that make Grown Cry (You might even memorize a few!)
*Gabrielle Zevin Storied life of AJ Fikry. (Highly entertaining, thought provoking)
Mystery
Diana Gabaldon Written in my own Heart’s Blood (Long awaited next installment in the Claire and Jaime time travel saga. Don’t forget the television series in August!)
Charlaine Harris Midnight Crossing. (A new series, with a few old friends from previous series, you might end up reading something other than Sookie, and enjoying them more.)
Craig Johnson Any Other Name (Walt Longmire, legendary Wyoming sheriff)
*Charles Todd Unwilling Accomplice (Bess Crawford, WWI English Army nurse, 6th installment)
*Nicola Upson Death of Lucy Kyte (This series breathes life into Scottish mystery writer Josephine Tey. Be warned you will read all of her original novels too.)
*Jacqueline Winspear Care And Management of Lies
Romance
Amanda Quick Otherwise Engaged (Historical English romp)
Children’s /YA
Kathy Reichs Exposure (continuing the Virals series)
**Ransom Riggs Hollow City (Miss Peregrine) (The series continues.)
**Maria Semple Where’d You Go Bernadette? A MUST read book; you will thank me.
Memoir
*Janice MacLeod Paris letters (Making young love work in the city of light.)
*Carol Wall Mr Owita’s Guide to Gardening (Gardening is good for the soul, although you will need hankies.)
Science fiction
Terry Pratchett Raising Steam (Yes it feels a bit like saying goodbye to your favourite characters but don’t miss this installment.)
*Douglas Nicholas Something Red, The Wicked (Medieval mystery that grabs you and doesn’t let go. Especially if you are still missing Game of Thrones.)
Nonfiction
Elizabeth Kolbert The Sixth Extinction (Everyone needs to read this sobering environmental book. The next cataclysm is us. Look in the mirror, we are responsible, and need to be.)
* denotes great read
** denotes a MUST read!

Book Review: Scary School Book 3 – Northern Frights

9780061960987_p0_v2_s260x420Scary School Book 3:  Northern Frights
A review by Catherine H. Armstrong

A couple of years ago, I was on a mad search for a book that would appeal to my then 7-year old son.  He was going through a period where he didn’t like to read, and his attention span was so short that reading to him was not only a challenge, but pure torture for me.  I knew I’d have to find something that would capture his interest so completely that he’d be glued to the story and beg me to turn the pages.  After an endless Google search using search words like “great boy books” and “hilarious chapter books for boys,” I kept stumbling upon one title over and over:  Scary School by Derek the  Ghost.

Once the Scary School title had popped up for about the fifteenth time, I started to look a little closer at the title and found that it had received rave reviews from hundreds of different reviewers – both kids and adults alike.  It didn’t seem to have a bad review, and so I took a leap of faith and ordered the book.  The result:  It was a complete hit!  Not just for my son; but for myself…my husband…my teenage daughter…and eventually the entire 2nd, 3rd and 5th grade classes at Bamber Valley Elementary this past May when the school was fortunate enough to receive a personal visit from the author.  We just couldn’t get enough!  Teachers were reading to their students and enjoying the books; parents were reading to their kids; and kids who had professed a dislike for reading were literally devouring the book.  The school library ordered several copies of the first two books and the wait-list to check them out was so long that the media specialist wasn’t sure they’d be able to get through the list even if they’d had another few months of school.  The books were that good!  After all, who could possibly get enough of a school run by monsters, where just making it to the end of the day without being eaten was considered to be a “good day”?

Scary School is back, now with its third installment:  Scary School:  The Northern Frights.  And oh boy are readers in for a treat!

Fans of the first two Scary School books will see a return of their favorite characters:  Charles Nukid, the newest kid at Scary School; Jason Borjees, a hockey fanatic who always wears a hockey mask and just happens to carry around a chainsaw at all times; Fred Kroger, who has razor-sharp fingernails and assumes that all-things-scary must be a dream; Petunia Petals (Yup!  We learn her last name in this book!), the purple girl with the endless swarms of bees; Dr. Dragonbreath, a ginormous dragon-teacher at Scary School who is simply biding his time until you break a rule so that he can eat you; and the painfully shy Penny Possum, who becomes so terrified that she plays dead to avoid confrontation.  They’re all back, and they’re just as fun and colorful as in previous books.

New in this book is Lattie the Ninja Girl, who is hands-down my favorite character of any of the Scary School books!  Lattie was trained by a Ninja Master and is amazing!  She’s brave, swift on her feet, and can catch a spitwad from across the room with just two pencils held in her hand like a set of chopsticks.  And she’s wise, spouting off Zen-like advice reminiscent of the Karate Kid’s Mr. Miyagi.

In this newest installment of Scary School, six students are selected in an exchange program to attend the scariest school of all:  Scream Academy!  The only human student to ever survive is Scary School’s own Principal Headcrusher, and the students will need to rely on their wits – and especially each other – to come out unscathed.

Kids will love this book for the same reasons they loved the original two Scary School books:  the characters are fantastic and the story-line is fun!  Parents will love this book for the same reasons as their kids, but they’ll also find laugh-out-loud passages that carry inside-jokes that only parents of the 80s will get (i.e. Fred Kroger, Jason Borjees, and the spooky aspiring writer, Steven Kingsly).  More than that, though, parents will like this book for the lessons that are hidden within.  In order for the students of Scary School to survive Scream Academy, they’ll have to learn to work together.  There are strong themes of friendship, not judging others by how they look,  and – my favorite – not being afraid to stand up for your friends when they’re being teased or bullied.

This title was released today and is currently on order at the Rochester Public Library (and already has 3 reserves!).

Come back tomorrow for our exclusive interview with Scary School author, Derek the Ghost!  Asking some of our questions will be 9-year old guest contributor and Scary School fan, Logan Ackerman.  You won’t want to miss it!

Book Review – “Oh My Stars”

9780345468369_p0_v1_s260x420Oh My Stars
A review by Catherine H. Armstrong

I almost never re-read a book.  I’m such an avid reader that my friends find it surprising that I tend to read a book and then pass it along to someone else with no intention of ever having it returned.  The thing is, the world is too full of really great books waiting to be read that I hate to re-read a book when I could be discovering something new.

There is at least one exception to my “rule”:  To Kill a Mockingbird.  From my first memory of reading it in about 8th grade until now – some 30 years later – I’ve probably read Harper Lee’s masterpiece no fewer than about twelve times.  Unlike other books that I read and immediately pass along to other friends or donate to a worthy bookshelf, I can’t seem to part with my copies of To Kill a Mockingbird.  At last count, I had four copies; and I love the story so much that I can’t bring myself to part with any of them.

I think I may be adding another exception to that “read a book only once” rule:  Oh My Stars, by Lorna Landvik.

Wow!  What can I possibly say about a book that is dang-near poetic from its first sentence?  Landvik’s writing style is descriptive in a way that seems to come from a completely different era.  By descriptive, I don’t mean the gratuitous droning on for three pages about the landscape that eventually crosses over into the mundane and loses even the most tenacious of readers.  I mean descriptive in that her words are quite simply beautiful, yet concise.  Through the eyes of her main character, Violet Mathers,  I can actually see the colors, hear the sounds (most frequently the bees in Violet’s ears) and the smells of the universe surrounding Violet and her friends, Kjel and Austin.

Oh My Stars tells the story of Violet Mathers, a young woman who has grown up in the most unloving and emotionally deprived home imaginable.  While still a small child, her mother skips town and runs off with the local  pharmacist, leaving Violet with a father who can barely stand to look at her as her very presence reminds him of her lying and deceitful mother.

Violet’s life is simply a series of disappointments.  She’s unattractive, unloved, poor and has no friends; but she’s able to compensate for those deficiencies by throwing herself into her private world of designing and creating her own clothing.  She has dreams of becoming a famous fashion designer, but even those hopes are dashed when she loses part of her dominant arm in a freak accident involving a machine in a thread company where she finds summer employment.  Now, without even the talent that has allowed for her escape from the injustices of the world, Violet has nothing.  She decides to travel to California with plans to be the second person to take flight off of the Golden Gate Bridge.

But nothing in Violet’s life ever goes as planned, and this is no exception.  En route to California, the bus in which she’s traveling has an accident that throws her in the paths of Kjel Hedstrom and Austin Sykes, changing the course of her life – and her understanding of who she is – forever.

Oh My Stars was simply a beautiful read from beginning to end.  It’s a book that will not only find a permanent place on my bookshelf, but is one of the very few that I can see myself re-reading many times over the years.  It’s that good!

This book is available at the Rochester Public Library in a variety of formats including digital download e-book and audio, traditional format, audio CD and cassette, and even large print.

One Step Too Far – Free Kindle Download!

Readers:  It isn’t very often that we repost a blog that we’ve already run; however, today I felt compelled to do so.  Last week we Featured Tina Seskis as an Author  Spotlight and ran a review of her book, One Step Too Far.  Today only, this book is a FREE KINDLE DOWNLOAD.  To download this book to your Kindle or Kindle App, follow this link. In the meantime, I’m reposting our review of Tina Seskis’ debut novel, One Step Too Far.  Enjoy!  CHA

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17404760One Step Too Far
A Review by Catherine H. Armstrong

Sometimes a person’s life falls so completely apart that the only solution, it seems, is to simply walk away and start over. Leaving behind her husband and family, that’s exactly what Emily Coleman does…walk away. As she leaves the home she’s shared with her husband for many years, Emily carries with her almost nothing with her, except for the painful memories that she can’t seem to escape.

One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis is a story of one woman’s attempt to heal from her past in the only way she knows how: by leaving behind everything that provokes daily memories of all that she’s lost.

As a reader, you’re not really sure what Emily has lost or what provokes her painful memories, but you know it’s huge. There are hints along the way, but the author does a wonderful job of keeping the reader guessing and clueless until she’s ready to let you in on the secret. And when she finally does, the reader should be prepared for a jaw-dropper.

Seskis’ book was a wonderful read that I fully expect to quickly rise on the list of bestsellers.

This book is currently on order at the Rochester Public Library and should be shelved soon.

In celebration of the release of this book, Tina Seskis will be our Author in Spotlight on tomorrow’s blog! Come back tomorrow to read our exclusive interview with Tina Seskis. Learn about the background of this book and you’ll be surprised at the evolution of this book!

Author Spotlight – Tina Seskis

by Catherine H. Armstrong

17404760Yesterday our blog featured a book review of the debut novel by Tina Seskis, One Step Too Far – a gripping story about one woman’s loss and her journey toward redemption.  As a reader (and maybe even more as a mother), I loved the story so much that I contacted the author and asked for a Q&A interview for this blog.  She graciously accepted and I’ve had more fun these last few days with the back and forth e-mails with this amazing author. 

Tina’s book officially hit the bookshelves this past Monday and is currently on-order at the Rochester Public Library.  It is also available at amazon.com in traditional and e-book formats. While you wait for your opportunity to get your hands on a copy of this wonderful story, I hope you enjoy this Q&A with the author, Tina Seskis.

Tina close-up B copyTina Seskis – Author of One Step Too Far

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Q:  I read somewhere that you never intended to be a writer and have your work published. What changed for you and why did you take that first big leap?

A:  During one of my many career breaks(!) I decided to take a couple of months out and have a go at everything I ever wanted to do (my husband is very long-suffering), so for fun I joined a writing group, acting classes (my drama teacher said I had no potential by the way), took up yoga and tennis again, joined a choir, you get the picture.  But the two hours’ writing class was the absolute highlight of my week, although funnily enough I didn’t write at all outside of that.  And then 3 years ago we were on holiday in Venice and out of nowhere I got the idea for One Step Too Far’s big “twist” and I thought, that would make a great novel, so when I got home I started writing it down on my laptop, in between working and being a mother.

Q:  I understand that there is a backstory behind the writing of “One Step Too Far.” Can you tell us a little about it?

A:  Around the same time I’d been getting worried about my mum, who had started having pains in her legs and inexplicably losing mobility (the doctors thought she had Vitamin D deficiency), and she was getting a bit depressed about it, so to give her something else to think about I’d send her chapters to read.  So often I’d be writing in front of the telly and then propped up in bed at two in the morning so I’d have something to send her the next day.  Sadly my mum died a few days after I finished the first draft, just two months later, of cancer as it turned out.

Q:  How difficult was it for you to find someone willing to take a chance on you and see this book published? Did you find the process easy? Grueling? Exactly as you expected?

A:  I didn’t get someone to take a chance.  I sent the book out to agents in the days after my mum died (I had all this nervous energy before the funeral that I didn’t know what to do with) and the only response I got was a couple of standard rejection letters.  Then I forgot about the book for a year, until a friend of mine recommended me to The Literary Consultancy, and I paid them to read my manuscript to tell me whether it was any good or not – because if it was rubbish I didn’t want to waste time trying to get it published, it would just have remained something private that I’d written for my mum.  And TLC liked it so much they became the match-maker between myself and agents, and six or seven agents were personally offered it, one after the other, and in the meantime I wrote my second book – and then two and a half years later I still hadn’t got an agent for either book, let alone a publisher, and I looked at the publishing model and how much it had changed and decided I could do it myself.  So in January of this year I set up my own publishing company and had just two goals – make the book as good as it could be, and get it out to as many people as possible online to try to drive word of mouth.  And here it is now.

Q:  Are any of the characters in One Step Too Far based upon people in your real life? If so, can you talk about that a little bit? Maybe give examples?

A:  It sounds corny but Ben is based on my husband, he’s infuriatingly too good to be true too, and without giving too much away the very final ending is the one my mum wanted.  Many of the characters are mixes of people I’ve come across, especially the housemates, the people from advertising and the father, and some of the scenarios really happened to me (think the parachuting scene and I’m ashamed to say the lemon tart, but in my defense I was very young).  But no, no-one else is real.  I’ve always been fascinated by people, and I ALWAYS read the newspaper articles entitled things like “My husband left me for a man who used to be a woman,” so I tried to make all the characters believable because they were based on truth (and without doubt truth is stranger than fiction).

Q:  If you could go back and change any one thing about your novel, what would it be and why?

A:  Well obviously my own personal circumstances, but regarding the novel I got so much brilliantly candid feedback over the years and I was still changing it right at final typesetting proof stage.  A friend’s husband told me about a month ago he didn’t like the way Angel’s story ended, and I realized I didn’t either – so I changed it!  A lot of reviewers online said one aspect of the ending was a bit callous and I agreed with them so I changed that a little too.  And then lots of people said the end was rushed but I didn’t agree so I ignored that comment!  I was also told that I HAD to have the novel copy-edited and I did try to get a couple of people to do it, but I didn’t like having my words messed with, so against all advice (and to save money!) I did all the copy-editing and proof-reading myself (I’d never thought of myself as a control freak before…).  The only thing I’d forgotten about until too late is that I wrote a couple of chapters from Emily’s perspective once the mystery was revealed that I took out and I can’t even remember why now, so if there’s the chance to do a reprint I might look at putting those back in.

Q:  As a reader, there were so many twists and turns to the book that literally made my jaw drop open while reading. I’m wondering whether – as the writer – did you “know” those twists and turns were going to happen (i.e. did you have an outline that you were following) or did they just sort of develop and take you, as the writer, by surprise as well?

A:  I knew the big twist, but how I was going to get there I didn’t really know, I just got the ideas as I wrote them, which made some of the chapter endings a bit of a surprise to me too.  And what with the pace I was writing at I didn’t have too much time for plot development.  A few months ago I read Stephen King’s quite brilliant book On Writing and it seems like that’s how he does it too, so that made me feel a bit better.

Q:  Can you tell us a little about “how” you write. That is to say, do you have specific habits that you follow when you’re writing?

A:  One Step Too Far I literally wrote anywhere and everywhere.  If I didn’t have my laptop with me and found myself waiting for a bus or in the hospital I’d just start writing long-hand to carry on the story.  If I was writing watching the telly I’d often find something someone said would go into the book.  I’d write whilst hanging out with my friends in the garden with our children.  I don’t have a desk – just a shelf with our Mac on where I do all my “work,” but I never use that to write.  These days I write on an ipad with a wireless keyboard, as it turns on instantly and the story is always where I just left it, and I can follow the sunshine (when we get it!) around the house and sit where I fancy, often with my dog curled up next to me.

Q:  Are there any books or authors in your own life who have influenced your writing? If so, in what way(s)?

A:  I was obsessed with Agatha Christie as a child and she’s probably my biggest influence in terms of how I write, as I love twists – I read that she never knew who the murderer was until the end and I thought no wonder I could never guess.  When I was younger I also devoured the likes of Jilly Cooper and Harold Robbins for the brilliance of their page-turning ability.  But throughout my life I have always loved books that are really well-written – Salman Rushdie is probably my favourite modern author for his genius with words.  And I’m embarrassed to say that lately I’ve hardly read at all.

Q:  Besides the love of a story well-told, is there anything you’d like your readers to take away from this book? Any deep message or theme that you hope will resonate with them?

A:  I think the novel is ultimately a story about love and redemption.  I’d just like people to be a bit kinder to each other, and understand that everyone has their problems and insecurities, and be more forgiving of them.  As I’m finding out, people can be very quick to judge!

Q:  Do you have any future projects in the works and, if so, can you tell us a little about them?

A:  I’ve already written my second novel, A Serpentine Affair, which I’m enormously fond of, and which I will be dedicating to my six best friends from University in the hope that they won’t hate me forever!!  I got stuck on my third novel (working title Collision, as it’s the coming together of the story of a character from each of the first two novels) in November, and after a bit of a miserable Christmas on 2nd January I decided to give writing a break and have a go at getting One Step Too Far out there, as otherwise our finances dictated I’d have had to go and get another job in marketing…

Q:  Is there anything else you’d like to share with reader? Anything specific you’d like them to know about you, your writing, this book, etc?

A:  I can’t think of anything else for now!  Thank you for being the hosts of my first ever Q and A, and to Cathie for her feedback and support in the process.

From the Friends of the Rochester Public Library – and myself, personally – we send our deepest appreciation to Tina Seskis for her time. We wish her great success on this new novel and I am personally looking forward to reading much more from her in the future! ~  CHA

Book Review – Sh*t My Dad Says

7821447-1Sh*t My Dad Says
A Review by Catherine H. Armstrong

Last night I was looking around for something to read and was searching the library’s digital collection when I came across a book entitled, Sh*t My Dad Says.  The title alone was intriguing and – knowing very little about the book – I downloaded it and began reading.   To say that it’s exactly what I needed right now is putting it mildly.  With the winter weather droning on and on, I was in need of something light and humorous to lift my spirits.  This was definitely the book for that!!

Sh*t My Dad Says is a work of non-fiction anecdotal humor about a  young man growing up with a father that has no “filter” on what not to say.  At one point, the author refers to his father as being the least passive aggressive person he’s ever known.  If his father is thinking it, it will come tumbling out of his mouth.

Justin Halpern’s book isn’t quite a memoir so much as it is a series of anecdotes on life through his father’s eyes….and it is absolutely laugh-out-loud hilarious!  More than once I caught myself reading a passage that was so funny that I was caught in a fit of giggles with tears streaming down my face.  It’s that funny!

A word of caution to the reader, however:  when I say that Halpern’s father has no “filter,” I mean that he not only has no filter on his thoughts, but none on his language either.  The language can be a bit raw, and that can be a bit of a turnoff.  If the reader can get past the language, though, the book is absolutely hilarious and is a wonderful tribute to all of our parents who embarrass us in their own unique ways.

This book is available at the Rochester Public Library in traditional format, and through downloadable e-book format.

Bookscapes by Helen McIver

A Good Book and Chocolate – Flowers Optional
Romantic Authors

bookpile2Following the library’s (and Facebook’s) alphabetic lists of either books or authors, here is a list of authors that write romance fiction.  I, personally, never knew that Jane Austen or Garrison Keillor was considered a romance writer (searching Kindle selections). These are some of the authors I have enjoyed reading, especially classics and Regency or historical novels.

To quote Robertson Davies, “It is dangerous to condemn stories as junk which satisfy the deep hunger of millions of people. These books are not literary art, but a great deal of what is acclaimed as literary art in our time offers no comfort or fulfillment to anybody.” (From For Your Eyes Alone; the Letters of Robertson Davies, ed. Judith Skelton Grant, Viking Press)
A
Jane Austen, Jennifer Ashley, *Laurie Anderson

B
Mary Balogh, *Angela Benson

C
Gail Carriger, *Jennifer Crusie, Mary Chase Comstock

D
Christina Dodd

E
Suzanne Enoch

F
Jane Feather

G
*Diana Gabaldon, *Roberta Gellis

H
*Madeline Hunter, *Deborah Harkness

I
Iris Johansson

J
*Eliosa James

K
Lisa Kleypas, Susanna Kearsley, Lynn Kurland

L
Stephanie Laurens

M
Karen Marie Moning, *Lucy Muir

N
Brenda Novak

O
Constance O’Day Flannery

P
Mary Jo Putney, *Elizabeth Peters, * Nina Coombs PyKare,

Q
Julia Quinn, Amanda Quick

R
Karen Rose, Karen Ranney, Deanna Raybourn, *Pamela Regis

S
*Christina Skye

T
Adriana Trigiani

U-V
Joan Vincent

W
Susan Wiggs, Lauren Willig, Edith Wharton, Kathleen Woodiwiss

X-Y
*Jane Yardley, Rebecca York

Z
Mia Zachary
* Denotes authors who have a PhD in various subjects and take the romance novel to a new level.

Book of the Moment
Susanna Kearsley’s The Winter Sea

I read Shadowy Horses, Mariana and The Rose Garden, quite quickly in succession, charmed by the writing and locations. Historical Scotland, medieval England, magic as well as reminding me greatly of reading Mary Stewart as a teenager. Then I discovered Mary Stewart was one of Kearsley’s favorite authors growing up, and I couldn’t wait to read more. Her first novel Mariana won the Catherine Cookson literary prize, all of her books have become bestsellers. She also writes classic thrillers under the name Emma Cole.

The Winter Sea is her most recent book, and rumor has it her next one is a sequel (you have time to read this one before Firebird is released in June). Prepare to be enthralled: this is a beautiful and engaging work of historical fiction, with a dash of romance, tragedy, mystery in an engrossing story. She has done her research, both in richly detailed history but also in the present day settings – interesting characters, a moody sea, enchanting Scottish village and local customs.

Summary: Carrie McClelland moves to Scotland to continue to research her next book on a relatively unknown Jacobite rebellion of 1708. She is drawn to Slains Castle, rents a remote cottage and begins to dream of her characters, creating a parallel story.

If you like Barbara Erskine (Lady of Hay), Diana Gabaldon and Mary Stewart, read on.

Book Review – Hopeless

15717943Hopeless
A review by Catherine H. Armstrong

I love Facebook.  Not only does it help you keep in contact with old friends, but it’s also a great source for finding wonderful reading material.  Several of the best books I read last year were brought to my attention through the Facebook posts of my friends or pages that I’ve “liked” (such as the Rochester Public Library, Friends of the Rochester Public Library and Paige Turner).

A couple of weeks ago, author Tracey Garvis Graves posted on Facebook about a book she’d read that she couldn’t put down.  Graves is the author of On the Island, a book I reviewed for this blog some time back and which I thoroughly enjoyed.  When I first read the recommendation, I made a mental note to read it at some point in the future; however, over the next several days, her post kept popping back into my news feed with comment after comment by those who’d read the book and were just raving about it.  The book was Hopeless by Colleen Hoover.

My curiosity had been piqued and I decided to investigate further and went to my two favorite sources for all-things-books:  Amazon and Goodreads.  I was absolutely stunned to find that nearly 2,500 Amazon readers had rated this book a strong 4.5 stars, and more than 15,000 (yes, you read that correctly) Goodreads readers had also read it a full 4.5 stars.  In that moment, I knew this was a book that must be queued up immediately.

Knowing nothing about this book other than that readers seemed to love it, I purchased and downloaded it immediately.  I seriously needed to know what all the hype was about.

I’m not sure whether knowing nothing about this book was a good or a bad thing.  At first, I was terribly disappointed because the first few pages read like a YA novel.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy YA novels, but I really wasn’t in the mood to read a boy-meets-girl and crush ensues novel.  I thought I’d signed up for a really excellent adult novel with a deep plot and the first few pages didn’t give me the warm fuzzies that I was going to get what I’d hoped for.  But I kept reading, and I’m really glad I did.

Hopeless is a beautiful and intense novel about a young woman named Sky who was adopted at the age of 5 and has been sheltered for the remainder of her nearly 18 years by her single mother.  Sky has been home-schooled all of her school years, and her mother doesn’t believe in technology such as computers, telephones and televisions.   As she enters her senior year of school, she convinces her mother to allow her to attend public high school where she meets Dean Holder – a young man who will change her life forever.

As the story unfolds, the reader begins to realize that there’s something just not quite right about Sky.  She’s been sheltered her entire life and has virtually no memories of her life before her adoption.  While she is a seemingly normal teenager, there’s something not quite right about her lack of attraction to other young men her age.  To put it simply, she “tolerates” young men, but has never had the traditional teenage girl crush and has never felt the butterflies in the tummy that most young women her age experience.  Until Dean Holder.  Meeting Holder will turn her world upside down in every way imaginable.

Holder is a wonderful character in every way, but the reader realizes almost immediately that he’s holding something back from Sky.  The only thing we really know about him is that his twin sister committed suicide a year prior and he’s still struggling to deal with his loss.  And  yet the reader immediately begins to feel that there’s so much more to Holder’s story and his attraction to Sky.

The description of this books sounds like a YA Romance novel and, in some ways, it is.  And yet, it is so much more.  Though it does have moments of very explicit intimacy between Sky and Holder, there are so many more layers to this story that makes the genre classification quite murky.  The reader is constantly sitting on the edge of her seat wondering what’s coming next.  Who is Holder?  Why doesn’t Sky have any memories before her adoption?  Why hasn’t she ever had a normal teenage crush before Holder?  What in the world is Holder hiding?

Hopeless is a wonderful, shocking and sometimes painful read.  It’s also one of the few books I’ve read in a single day.  I simply couldn’t put it down.  Above all of that, it’s “real.”

This book is currently not available at the Rochester Public Library; however, I did request that it be added to our collection.  Keep your eyes open to see if it will be added!  In the meantime, this book is available through traditional booksellers in paperback and eBook formats.

Book Review – The Women’s Murder Club Series

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The Women’s Murder Club Series
A Review by Catherine H. Armstrong

As an avid reader, I love to know what everyone else is reading.  I’m always excited to hear about new authors or great books, so it’s not uncommon for me to interrupt a complete stranger’s reading moment to ask, “What are you reading?”

A while back, I asked a woman, “What are you reading?”  The woman gave me a sheepish grin and responded, “Oh, just visiting old friends.”  Probably prompted by my look of curiosity, the woman went on to explain that she breaks up her heavier reading by catching up on the books in a series by her favorite authors.  The “old friends” she referred to were the repeat characters from the books in a series by her favorite authors.

I loved that explanation!  I can’t even count on both hands how many “old friends” I have and need to catch up with.  There’s Sookie Stackhouse…Stephanie Plum…Zoe Redbird from the House of Night series…the list goes on and on. And then over the last couple of weeks, I’ve added some new friends that will need to be revisited on a regular basis:  The women of James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club series.

I’d read a few of James Patterson’s books in the past, but I’d deliberately stayed away from the books in a series for the simple reason that I was afraid to get hooked on a new one.  When I start a series, I can’t just stop after the first book.  I have to keep reading until I’ve finished the series and am on pins and needles for the next book to be released.  I suspected that if I started this series, I’d fall into a black hole of reading until the series was complete.  I wasn’t sure I was ready to commit that much time.  But I had the whole Women’s Murder Club series sitting in a box, compliments of my wonderful mother-in-law. The books were not only gathering dust, but taking up space;  so I figured I should read them or give them away.  I decided to read them and I’m so glad I did!

At the heart of the story is Homicide Sergeant Lindsey Boxer and her best friend, Medical Examiner Claire Washburn, both of the San Francisco Police Department.  The two women have been friends for nearly a decade and are bonded by their unique status as being among the few women within a mostly all-boys’ club police department.  Together with a female crime reporter from the local newspaper, and a female Assistant District Attorney, the women jokingly form the Women’s Murder Club and meet frequently at a local bar – designated as their “club house” – to give input on the crimes being investigated within the homicide department.  But, though the club started out as a joke, their effectiveness in solving murders is no joking matter.  With each member bringing her own unique investigative abilities to the group, the Women’s Murder Club bands together to solve some of the most heinous crimes to hit the streets of  San Francisco.

Very quickly, these new friends became old friends.  I couldn’t wait to read the next book to find out what happened next in the lives of the four women and those in their inner circle.

Probably one of the best aspects of these books is that they don’t have to be read in order.  Patterson has a gift of bringing the readers up to date in the lives of the characters in such a way as to not only refresh the memory of the reader who’s waited a year for the next book in the series, but also to quickly bring new readers into the loop and not left scratching their heads and wondering what they missed.  I wish more authors could do that!

Each book in the Women’s Murder Club series is a fairly quick read with short chapters, enabling a reader to pick up and read for short time spans and without stopping mid-chapter.

These books are available at the Rochester Public Library in both traditional and eBook format.  The 12th book, 12th of Never, is due to be released in April.

Making new friends and revisiting old ones.  As Martha Stewart might say, “It’s a good thing.”