Friday, January 13, 2012

Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan

The blurb:
In this thrilling first installment, a violent battle separates two young lovers on a ship bound for New Earth. Will they find a way backk to their ship--and each other?  And most importantly, will they survive and preserve the future of the human race?

I had wanted to like Glow but it didn't speak to me. The book is science fiction, set in the far future with humans bound for New Earth. The original ship has people of all ages living in reasonable harmony. There are hints of small abuses of power, but considering that hundreds of people live in a spacecraft, contained and isolated, the ship is run well and fairly. A surprise attack by another ship results in all the young girls of childbearing age being taken away.

As the young girls adjust to their new lives in this "raiding ship" the remaining occupants of the old ship must recover from the attack and establish order. With most of the adults isolated and injured, the boys are left to their own devices. The old skills and alliances break down and there's something similar to Lord of the Flies occurs. Society doesn't break down completely, but it's basic fabric is frayed.

Meanwhile, the girls in the second ship try to sift through the deception and lies in their new home. As they learn to assert themselves, new leaders and alliances develop.

The ideas behind the story are intriguing but I found that I didn't care about the actual characters, I wasn't invested in their success.  However, many other readers and reviewers loved Glow, if you're intrigued by the story - check it out and let me know how you find the book.

Ages 12 and up.
ISBN-10: 0312590563 - Hardcover $17.99 
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin (September 13, 2011), 320 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

About the Author:
Amy Kathleen Ryan grew up in Jackson, Wyoming, reading and adoring books by Madeleine L'Engle, Susan Cooper, and Judy Blume.  She studied anthropology at the University of Wyoming and received her MA in English literature at the University of Vermont.  From there she went to the New School Creative Writing for Children Program. She is also the author of two widely acclaimed young adult novels, Zen and Xander Undone and Vibes.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons

The blurb:
It's the spring of 1938 and no longer safe to be a Jew in Vienna. Nineteen-year-old Elise Landau is forced to leave her glittering life of parties and champagne to become a parlor maid in England. She arrives at Tyneford, the great house on the bay, where servants polish silver and serve drinks on the lawn. But war is coming, and the world is changing. When the master of Tyneford's young son, Kit, returns home, he and Elise strike up an unlikely friendship that will transform Tyneford-and Elise-forever.

There's that sense of surprise, delight and unjustified accomplishment in finding a gem of a debut novel.  I read Natasha Solomons' Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English a the start of 2010 and loved it.  At the end of the year, I was not surprised to find that it was still one of my favorite books of the year.

When her second book came out, I was excited and slightly apprehensive that my expectations might be too high.  The House at Tyneford offers a grand out house, echoes of Downton is a story of young Elise - the cosseted daughter of Viennese Jewish intellectual elite.  Her mother is a renowned beauty and opera singer - in a country where her skill is celebrated.  Her father is equally well respected as the strikingly handsome and internationally respected novelist.  Her younger sister is a famous musician in her own right.  At the rise of National Socialism, their family prepares to leave Austria.  Her parents, sister and brother-in-law are headed for the United States.  Since Elise doesn't have the necessary sponsors for America, she takes a different route and applies to work as a servant in a big house in England. 

Elise wasn't prepared for life as a servant in England, but there is little that she could have done to prepare. She had packed a copy of Mrs. Beaton's famous book, sewed jewelry into her clothing, and carried a duplicate of her father's latest novel hidden in her sister's viola.  She had her education, her sharp intellect, her determination to be reunited with her family, and her sense of humor.  She was fortunate to come to the Rivers family and Tyneford.

The book opens with Elise's recollections of Tyneford the first time she saw it.  We learn the story of her life there, of her family's experience during the Nazi occupation of Austria and of how World War II destroyed the life that they knew. I loved The House at Tyneford and couldn't put it down.  It is an engrossing read. If you read Natasha Solomons' earlier novel or if you love Downton Abbey, you must read The House at Tyneford.

ISBN-10: 0452297648 - Paperback $15
Publisher: Plume; Original edition (December 27, 2011), 236 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine Program and the publisher.

About the Author:
Natasha Solomons is a screenwriter and the internationally bestselling author of Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English. She lives with her husband in Dorset, England.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Disturbance by Jan Burke

The blurb:
Despite her reporter's nose for trouble, Irene Kelly's life has almost returned to normal -- the Las Piernas News Express wobbles along in defiance of its financial woes, and with the help of her husband, Frank, and a good therapist, she's recovered from the debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder that haunted her after her near-fatal encounter with Nick Parrish. Until she receives some unwelcome news: Parrish, once thought permanently paralyzed by the injuries he sustained fleeing recapture, is walking again.  And the rumor among the Moths, Parrish's online fan club, is that he's coming after Irene.

Suddenly, Irene is on the other end of the microphone, being hounded by the media for interviews and plied with questions she'd hoped never to have to answer again.  She tries to believe that she is safe from Parrish, who is imprisoned in a maximum security facility, and that the growing stream of threats from the Moths is all just talk.  But an unnerving prank soon lets her know that someone, at least, wants her to be afraid.  And when a young woman's body turns up in the trunk of a car near her home -- naked, frozen solid, and decorated from head to toe in elaborately painted moths -- it becomes clear that Irene will once again find herself pitted against a brutal murderer. She knows the twisted hunter who is stalking her all too well...or does she?

This was my first time reading one of Jan Burke's Irene Kelly novels. Disturbance opens with Irene Kelly recovering from her traumatic capture and attack by serial killer Nick Parrish.  Clearly, the convicted killer is still obsessed with Irene - after all, he was nearly paralyzed when she was rescued. 

The book doesn't focus on the killer's twisted thoughts or plans, which makes Disturbance a much more satisfying sort of thriller.  Instead of the killer's thoughts, the book is told from the point of view of Irene and this stranger Donovan.  Donovan has a link to Parrish but he holds himself apart.  While Donovan seems to assist Parish in his attacks on innocents, he views Irene and her companions with respect and sympathy.

I don't want to reveal much of the plot.  It's an unusual thriller with a serial killer that doesn't focus on the violence but instead on the impact of the attacks on likable characters.  Highly recommended!
ISBN-10: 1439152845- Hardcover $26
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (June 21, 2011), 368 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

About the Author:
Jan Burke is the author of a dozen novels and a collection of short stories. Among the awards her work has garnered are Mystery Writers of America's Edgar® for Best Novel, Malice Domestic's Agatha Award, Mystery Readers International's Macavity, and the RT Book Club's Best Contemporary Mystery. She is the founder of the Crime Lab Project ( and is a member of the board of the California Forensic Science Institute. She lives in Southern California with her husband and two dogs. Learn more about her at

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Affairs of Steak (A White House Chef Mystery) by Julie Hyzy

Affairs of Steak (A White House Chef Mystery) by Julie Hyzy

The blurb:
White House executive chef Olivia Paras just wants to create first-class cuisine for the First Family. Unfortunately, dangerous politics keep spoiling her recipes. . .

Assigned to work with her arch nemisis, Peter Everett Sargeant, the White House sensitivity director, Ollie must find a venue for an event to honor the secretary of state.  Instead they find one of the First Lady's assistants and the chief of staff, both murdered--and Ollie and Peter may have witnessed the killer making his getaway.

News reports suggest that the assistant and the chief of staff were having an affair, but no one on the staff believes the rumor.  Now, with their jobs--and their lives--in jeopardy, Ollie and Peter must depend on each other to learn who killed their colleagues and why--before they become the next victims of a merciless assassin with a secret agenda. . .

In Affairs of Steak, executive chef Ollie Paras must work with the persnickety social secretary Peter Sargeant.   Ollie keeps her sense of humor and tries to make the best of a difficult situation but things get exponentially tougher when the two come across the corpses of fellow White House employees.   The loss of co-workers is hard on everyone but when the White House loses employees, this means additional security and a need for secrecy.

Ollie's day gets progressively worse.  As she heads home, she realizes that she's being followed and is in danger.  Her quick thinking and powers of observation save her, but the danger remains.   Ollie merits protective detail - which adds a layer of romance and humor to the story.  Her current romantic prospect is Agent Gavin Scorroco with the Secret Service and her ex-boyfriend Tom MacKenzie is the head of the local Police Department.

Ollie continues with her hectic schedule at the White House kitchen, keeping her staff occupied and in good spirits while tamping down the rivalry with the First Family's personal chef.  The office rivalries and jealousies show us just how kind Ollie can be -- I would have welcomed her lashing out against the more competitive and petty characters.  In between the meals and banquets, Ollie carries on her own investigations.  Ollie's sleuthing somehow leads her to murderer in a roundabout and satisfying way.  Julie Hyzy's Affairs of Steak delivers an endearing sleuth and an absorbing mystery.

ISBN-10: 0425245837 - Paperback $7.99
Publisher: Berkley; Original edition (January 3, 2012), 304 pages.
Review copy provided by Kaye Publicity and the publisher.

About the Author:

Julie Hyzy is the national bestselling author of the White House Chef Mysteries and the Manor House Mysteries. She won the Barry and Anthony Awards for Best Paperback Original for State of the Onion in 2009, and several other awards for her novels and short stories. Her first Manor House Mystery, Grace Under Pressure, earned a Starred Review from Publishers Weekly. Julie loves to read, eat out, and watch old movies and TV shows with her husband and three daughters. They live near Chicago with two rambunctious cats, Kitka and Violet.