Book Review – When

A Review by Catherine H. Armstrong

One of my favorite things as a reader is an author who is versatile.  There’s nothing more fun than having a favorite author and then discovering that the author not only writes things that you enjoy as an adult, but books that can be enjoyed by your children as well.  Such is the case with Victoria Laurie.

Laurie is the prolific author of the Psychic Eye series starring Abbie Cooper, and the Ghost Hunter series starring M.J. Holliday, both of which are adult mystery/thrillers that I’ve enjoyed reading over the years.  A few years ago, I was thrilled to notice that Laurie had published a trilogy of juvenile fiction books –  The Oracles of Delphi Keep – that would appeal to young readers like my 10 year old son and his cousin.  It was so much fun to be able to share an author I enjoyed so much with the little ones in my life, and now the only thing that was lacking was a YA novel that would appeal to my 18 year old daughter.

20338342Well, Laurie is back again with her newest novel, When, set to be released in early 2015, and this time she’s set her sights on yet another generation of readers:  The YA readers.  To my complete delight, Laurie has outdone herself and may well have released her best novel to date.  I simply cannot wait to share this book with my daughter and all of her friends!

When tells the story of a young woman with the ability to see the death date of any person, alive or deceased.  This unique talent brings more misery than joy, and she becomes somewhat of an outcast at her school as those who know of her talent think she’s either lying or a freak.

To help make ends meet and to support her mother’s alcohol habit, Maddie Fynn charges clients to read their death dates. Life moves along smoothly for Maddie until she predicts the death date the following week of a client’s son, and the client sees the prediction as a threat more than a warning of what’s to come.  When Maddie’s ominous warnings are ignored and the teenage boy is found brutally murdered, Maddie and her friend Arnold suddenly find themselves the focus of an FBI murder investigation.

This book far surpassed my expectations.  It was fast-paced and nothing short of fabulous.  More than a few times, I found myself holding my breath in anticipation of what would happen next, and hoping against hope that Maddie and Arnold would be vindicated.

Maybe the best part of this book was with the “big reveal” – that moment when the real bad guy of the story is revealed to the reader.  Many times this “big reveal” is nothing more than a copout and makes no sense.  Not so with When.  As the story unfolds, the reader starts to suspect several different characters; but the one character that crossed my mind as a possibility was quickly and completely discarded.  Imagine my surprise when I realized who the culprit was AND his reasonings made complete sense!  No copout there!  Laurie had created the perfect villain, and not only was it unexpected, but his motives were reasonable and made perfect sense!  Score one for Victoria Laurie!

I heard recently that this book has already been optioned for a television series, and I’m thrilled to hear this!  I can completely see Maddie Fynn as the heroine of a long-running television series that would appeal to both teen and adult audiences alike.

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Book Review: What I Remember Most

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What I Remember Most
A review by Catherine H. Armstrong

There is nothing I love more than the anticipation of reading a new book by a favorite author. I mark my calendar far in advance and begin counting down the days about two weeks before launch date. The only thing that comes close to equaling that excitement is when I’m surprised with the the opportunity to review a copy in advance in the form of an Advanced Reader’s Copy from the author or publisher. Recently, I had the opportunity to get my hands on an ARC of Cathy Lamb’s newest novel, What I Remember Most.

As an avid reader and fan of Lamb’s work, I walked into this book expecting a good read. I’ve read everything she’s released, and so there’s a reason why I always anxiously await her next book. With that said, though, I had no idea the huge treat that was in store for me. Simply stated, this book was absolutely beautiful and probably the best book Lamb has released yet. It was without any doubts one of the best books I’ve read so far this year.

As with many of Lamb’s books, What I Remember Most is filled with a strong female leading character surrounded by a close-knit group of quirky friends. But what sets this book apart and above all others is the grit and determination of the main character, Grenadine Scotch Wild. She’s a young woman who has been knocked down by life and by the system her entire life, and yet she refuses to give up. She refuses to be beaten and she refuses to accept defeat. She keeps her chin up and her head high as she plows forward through life in search of the peace and fairness she deserves. She’s tender-hearted, yet tough as nails and unafraid to stand her ground against those who would take advantage of her. And through all of this, she’s intensely likable and the kind of person we all wish was among our inner circle of friends. She’s the kind of character that a reader falls in love with, and the one who lingers in your memory long after the last pages have been turned.

When an author starts with a character as appealing as Grenadine, she has a responsibility to that character not to drop the ball on the storyline. Luckily Cathy Lamb was up to the task and brings the reader an unforgettable story of a young orphan as she navigates through the foster care system and then, later, the real world. It’s a story of love, loss, survival, determination, perseverance, friendship and new starts.

This is a book that I will be recommending to every one of my friends, and one that you won’t want to wait any longer than necessary to read.  This book is not yet available at Rochester Public Library, but a request has been sent to purchase it for their shelves.

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”

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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.