Monday, September 18, 2017

The Way to Bea by Kat Yeh


The Way to Bea by Kat Yeh
  • ISBN-10: 0316236675 - Hardcover $16.99
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (September 19, 2017), 352 pages. 
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Reviewers Program.


Review:
I loved The Way to Bea for many, many reasons. First, Kat Yeh writes beautifully.  There are moments when I'd just stop and reread a paragraph just for the pleasure of it.  Her main character Beatrix (Bea) comes back from summer with family in Taiwan to find that her best friend distant and ignoring her.  Bea is heartbroken but she doesn't want to worry or involve her parents.

Bea's mother is a famous artist, pregnant, and deeply absorbed in her latest series of paintings. Her father is a graphic novelist whose latest creation has been optioned for a movie.  Her parents are loving, but busy and deeply absorbed in their own lives and in each other. Bea's learned how to distract them, to keep them for asking probing questions about school and her friends.  She's able to hide her loneliness and the loss of her best friend S.

But Bea's heartbreak and loneliness are so relatable - Kat Yeh captures so well those times that we've all gone through.  Yeh also captures the excitement of the possibility of finding new friends and interests.  Bea's art is poetry and she lives it, loves it, keeps it to show to those she trusts and cares about.  While Bea becomes Poetry Editor of the school magazine, she keeps her own poems for private consumption. She also hides messages and poems in this old stone wall/portal - the poems and messages are written in invisible ink to an unknown friend to whom she shares her heartache and hopes, her sense of who she wants to become and the process of becoming.

The Way to Bea is beautiful -- it captures the joys and pains of the deep friendships of childhood as well as the excitement that comes with learning one's strengths and craft.  Bea's message encourages strength, courage and hope - and also kindness.  It's a book to enjoy and to share.

About the Author:
Kat Yeh is the author of the critically acclaimed middle grade novel The Truth About Twinkie Pie. She grew up reading, writing, and dreaming in Westtown, PA. She currently lives with her family on Long Island, where she can see water every day.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Deadfall by Linda Fairstein


Deadfall by Linda Fairstein
  • ISBN-10: 110198404X Hardcover $
  • Publisher: Dutton (July 25, 2017), 400 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Netgalley.


The Blurb:
A wild heart beats within New York City. Amid concrete and skyscrapers, the Wildlife Conservation Society works to preserve and protect the animal kingdom both within and beyond the borders of the five boroughs. But dangerous creatures don't always have claws and fangs, as Assistant DA Alexandra Cooper and NYPD detectives Mike Chapman and Mercer Wallace know all too well. Predators lurk close to home, and in the aftermath of the shocking assassination of an iconic public figure—someone Alex has worked with for years—the trio must unravel the motive behind the shooting to discover who is the bigger snake: the killer or the victim.
 
The murder investigation provides more questions than answers, as a tangled mess of secrets slowly comes to light. From street gangs to secret societies, from big-game hunting to the illegal animal trade, from New York City zoos to the highest offices in city government, Alex has her work cut out for her—especially since the task force handling the investigation, led by the US Attorney, seems to be more against her than with her. As tensions rise between Alex and the feds, she must determine just how far she is willing to go to uncover the truth—and uphold the integrity of the office she has so proudly served.


Review:
I thoroughly enjoy Linda Fairstein's Alex Cooper series and eagerly devour her novels as they come out every year.

This year's Deadfall opens with Alex Cooper witnessing and being interrogated for a high profile murder.  She's off the case and possibly at risk herself. It's uncertain whether she might have been a target or has become a target because of what she discovers as she continues an unauthorized investigation.  

There's plenty of politics -- dealing with a grandstanding, incompetent mayor (who is much like the current mayor of NYC), with the head prosecutor, the FBI and her own allies in the NYPD.  Alex is still recovering from the trauma of having been kidnapped and the added uncertainty threatens to take her over the brink.

In Deadfall, Linda Fairstein delivers another satisfying NYC thriller.

About the Author:
Linda Fairstein was chief of the Sex Crimes Unit of the district attorney's office in Manhattan for more than two decades and is America's foremost legal expert on sexual assault and domestic violence. Her Alexandra Cooper novels are international bestsellers and have been translated into more than a dozen languages. She lives in Manhattan and on Martha's Vineyard. www.lindafairstein.com

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Bring Her Home by David Bell


Bring Her Home by David Bell
  • ISBN-10: 0399584447 Paperback $16
  • Publisher: Berkley (July 11, 2017), 464 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Netgalley.

The blurb:
Just a year and a half after the tragic death of his wife, Bill Price’s fifteen-year-old daughter, Summer, and her best friend, Haley, disappear. Days later, the girls are found in a city park. Haley is dead at the scene, while Summer is left beaten beyond recognition and clinging to life.
 
As Bill holds vigil over Summer’s bandaged body, the only sound the unconscious girl can make is one cryptic and chilling word: No. And the more time Bill spends with Summer, the more he wonders what happened to her. Or if the injured girl in the hospital bed is really his daughter at all.
 
When troubling new questions about Summer’s life surface, Bill is not prepared for the aftershocks. He’ll soon discover that both the living and the dead have secrets. And that searching for the truth will tear open old wounds that pierce straight to the heart of his family...
 


Review:
I had planned to read just a few chapters of Bring Her Home and found myself unable to stop.  A single father raising his beautiful headstrong daughter rushes to the hospital after having received word that she's been found after having disappeared for days.  She's been beaten and is barely recognizable but her best friend is barely recognizable from her deadly beating.

The police investigation leads the father to discover the crazy risks that his fifteen year old daughter has been taking.  He can't stay angry with her, he just wants her to wake up healthy.  

As the story progresses, there are even more uncomfortable discoveries.  He has to face the final days of his wife's life and that what he'd expected and understood might have been completely wrong.  

Bring Her Home is a well crafted and a thoroughly engrossing read! 

About the Author:
David Bell is a bestselling and award-winning author whose work has been translated into multiple foreign languages. He’s currently an associate professor of English at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where he directs the MFA program. He received an MA in creative writing from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and a PhD in American literature and creative writing from the University of Cincinnati. His previous novels are Since She Went Away, Somebody I Used to KnowThe Forgotten GirlNever Come BackThe Hiding Place, and Cemetery Girl.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Many Worlds of Albie Bright by Christopher Edge


The Many Worlds of Albie Bright by Christopher Edge
  • Age Range: 9 - 12 years
  • ISBN-10: 1524713570 - Hardcover  $16.99
  • Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (May 30, 2017), 176 pages.


The blurb:
Stephen Albie Bright leads a happy, normal life.  Well, as normal as it gets with two astrophysicist parents who named their son after their favorite scientists, Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein.

But then Albie's mother dies of cancer, and his world is shattered.  When his father explains that she might be alive in a parallel universe, Albie knows he has to find her. So, armed with a box, a laptop, and a banana, Albie sets out to do just that.

Of course, when you're universe-hopping for the very first time, it's difficult to find the one you want.  As Albie searches, he discovers some pretty big surprises about himself and our universe(s), and stumbles upon the answers to life's most challenging questions.

Review:
The Many Worlds of Albie Bright is the story of middle schooler Stephen Albie Bright, the son of two astrophyscists who named their sone after their favorite scientists, Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein.


When we meet Albie, his mother has just died. After the funeral, he overhears his grandfather blaming his mother's cancer on her research.  Albie hadn't spent much time alone with his father; his father was busy with his research on cold fusion, on his popular television series on science, and his bestselling books.  Albie had always spent much of his day with his mother. Another chance conversation about quantum physics leads Albie to the theory that parallel universes exist -- Albie hopes that he can find the parallel universe where his mother is still alive and well.

The school librarian, more a "book doctor who can prescribe the right book to anybody" steers Albie to one of his father's books.  With research, his mom's laptop and research journals, Albie somehow pieces together a contraption that takes him to new worlds.  Albie's adventures in these worlds hat are surprisingly similar but with small important differences helps him find a solution of sorts.

The Many Worlds of Albie Bright reminded me of one of my favorite books, A Wrinkle in Time.I loved that Christopher Edge incorporated science into the meat of the story and that he gave us awkward and believable Albie.  The story is told with humor, kindness and delivers a unique adventure.

About the Author:

CHRISTOPHER EDGE grew up in Manchester, England, where he spent most of his childhood in the local library dreaming up stories. He now lives in Gloucestershire, where he spends most of his time in the local library dreaming up stories. Before becoming a writer, he worked as an English teacher, an editor, and a publisher—any job that let him keep a book close at hand. He has written about encouraging children to read. When not writing, he also works as a freelance publisher and an education consultant.  Visit him at christopheredge.co.uk.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Blog Tour - Murder Between the Lines: A Kitty Weeks Mystery by Radha Vatsal

Murder Between the Lines (Kitty Weeks Mystery, #2)
ISBN-10: 1492638927 - Paperback $15.99
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark (May 2, 2017), 320 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

The blurb:
When Kitty Weeks's latest assignment writing for the New York Sentinel Ladies' Page takes her to Westfield Hall, a well-regarded girls' school in New York City, she expects to find an orderly establishment teaching French and dancing -- standard fare for schoolgirls in 1915.  But there's much more going on at the school than initially meets the eye.  Kitty especially takes note of the studies of Elspeth Bright, the daughter of a scientist heavily involved in naval technology, who has inherited her father's interest and talent for scientific inquiry.

Review:
I love historical fiction and detective novels and am excited to review the latest Kitty Weeks mystery.   Like Carola Dunn's Daisy Dalrymple, Radha Vatsal's Kitty Weeks is a journalist for a women's magazine working around the time of WWI and the years thereafter.  While Daisy lost the family estate when her father and brother died and the fortune passed to the next male heir, Kitty Weeks lives in luxury in Manhattan with her widowed father.    Kitty's social connections and wealth allow her to access exclusive circles. She's able to identify and understand incongruities that would have been lost to the less socially savvy.  Fortunately, Kitty is both likable and socially liberal so while she spends time at the Waldorf Astoria or among "The First Four Hundred" we cheer for her and appreciate the peek into the New York's high society. 

In Kitty's second adventure, Murder Between the Lines, Kitty meets a brilliant young woman scientist during her visit to Westfield Hall.  When young Elspeth Bright is found dead in the snow, her mother asks Kitty's help to find out what might have led her daughter to Central Park in the middle of the night.  Kitty's investigations take her back to Westfield Hall, to the Brooklyn Navy Yard to investigate the manufacturing and use of batteries, a new and untested technology and to suffragette meetings at the Waldorf.  Jealous girlfriends, good-looking executives, women's rights advocates and an unexpected visit from President Wilson -- Radha Vatsal brings this time period to life and delivers an unusual mystery.

About the Author:
Radha Vatsal is the author of A Front Page Affair, the first novel in the Kitty Weeks mystery series.  Her fascination with the 1910s began when she studied female filmmakers and action-film heroines of silent cinema at Duke University, where she received her PhD from the English Department.  She was born in India and lives with her husband and two daughters in New York City.

Radha Vatsal's Murder Between the Lines is the second book in the acclaimed series featuring rising journalism star Kitty Weeks.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn


The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
  • ISBN-10: 0062654195 - Paperback $16.99
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (June 6, 2017), 528 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

The blurb:
1947.  In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family.  She's also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive.  So when Charlie's parents banish her to Europe to have her "little problem" taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.

1915.  A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she's recruited to work as a spy.  Sent into enemy occupied-France, she's trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the "Queen of Spies," who manages a vast networks of secret agents right under the enemy's nose.  

More than 30 years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house.  Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn't heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth...no matter where it leads.

Review:
I enjoy historical novels but am particularly drawn to British heroines, so the brave spy in The Alice Network broke my heart.  I expected to enjoy the espionage, the adventures, the risks that these women spies undertook but was fully drawn into the world of Eve, Lilli, and their comrades.  

As Kate Quinn describes England and France after World War II and during the German occupation of World War I, it is easy to understand how the period remains such a large part of cultural awareness even as we are nearing the 100 year anniversary of World War I.  

As Quinn deftly shifts from the two periods, Eve and her past shine through.  Her companions during the "present day" 1940s are strong, determined and finding their way. The characters of The Alice Network stayed with me long after I'd finished the story.  If you enjoy period mysteries and spy novels, lose yourself in the brave women of The Alice Network.

About the Author:
Kate Quinn is a native of Southern California.  A lifelong history buff, she has written four novels in the Empress of Rome saga, and two books on the Italian Renaissance.  All have been translated into multiple languages. She and her husband now live in Maryland with two black dogs named Caesar and Calpurnia.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Flame in the Mist by Renee Adhieh


Flame in the Mist by Renee Adhieh
  • ISBN-10: 0399171630 - Hardcover $17.99
  • Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers (May 16, 2017), 416 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Reviewers program.

The blurb:
There was only ever one expectation for Mariko, a prominent samurai's daughter: that she would marry. Her twin brother was the one trained in the way of the warrior while Mariko was left to nurture her love of science and invention in secret.  But on her way to the imperial city, where she was to meet her betrothed for the first time, her convoy was attacked and everything changes.  The assassins kill everyone -- or so they think. Despite almost being burned alive, Mariko escapes.

Driven by vengeance, she flees the forest and seeks out her would-be assassins, the Black Clan, joining their ranks disguised as a peasant boy.  She's determined to discover who ordered her death and why -- and to make them pay.  Little does she expect to find a place for herself among the Black Clan.  A place where her talents and intellect are appreciated.  Little does she expect to fall in love.  And never did she expect to have to choose between them and everything she's ever known.  But when the secrets of the imperial city, the Black Clan, and her family converge, choose is exactly what she must do.

Review:
Flame in the Mist is the first in a new series by Renee Ahdieh. Set in a mythical medieval feudal Japan, it follows the story of the twins of a high ranking feudal samurai as they are starting to come into their own. The older male twin Hattori Kenshin is known as the Dragon of Kai for his courage and skill as warrior. The younger sister Hattori Mariko is chosen to marry into the Imperial family.  While Kenshin is popular and well regarded, Mariko is often seen as too intelligent and too blunt to conform to society's expectations.

After Mariko's convoy is ambushed and all her attendants and guards murdered, she runs away into the woods.  Mariko undertakes to infiltrate the closed rogue group, the Black Clan.  Before the attack, Mariko had been pampered and protected.  But with her world and resources gone, she finds that she's able to think on her feet and to save herself from dangerous situations.  Mariko is an engaging heroine with her commitment to the Code of Bushido, her creativity and resourcefulness, her determination to be honorable while being forced to remain in disguise.

Mariko pretends to be a young, penniless boy with scientific and military skills.  Okami, one of the leaders of the Black Clan, doesn't know what he finds unsettling about the new recruit  "Sanada Takeo" and he fluctuates between distrusting him to wanting to give Takeo and his inventions a chance.  Takeo/Mariko is surprised to find friendship and companionship among the Black Clan as well as a greater sense of belonging than she had as the daughter and heiress of the Hattori clan.  But Mariko must push past her discomfort and the sense that she is betraying her friends in order to discover who betrayed the Hattori, who is behind the plot to have her killed and what their true goal is.

Flame in the Mist is a deeply engrossing, fun adventure where honor, loyalty and identity force good people into heart wrenching situations. Politics, martial arts, and the code of the samurai all give this story an added level of complexity. Highly recommended!

About the Author:
Renée Ahdieh is the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling The Wrath and the Dawn and The Rose and the Dagger. In her spare time, she likes to dance salsa and collect shoes. She is passionate about all kinds of curry, rescue dogs, and college basketball. The first few years of her life were spent in a high-rise in South Korea; consequently, Renée enjoys having her head in the clouds. She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and their tiny overlord of a dog.

Lisa Scottoline's Exposed - the next in the Rosato & DiNunzio series


Exposed by Lisa Scottoline
  • ISBN-10: 1250099714 0 Hardcover $27.99
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press (August 15, 2017), 352 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine Reviewers program.

The blurb:
Mary DiNunzio wants to represent her old friend Simon Pensiera, a sales rep who was wrongly fired by his company, but her partner Bennie Rosato represents the parent company.  When she confronts Mary, explaining this is a conflict of interest, an epic battle of wills between the two ensues--ripping the law firm apart, forcing everyone to take sides and turning friend against friend.
Review:
My mother introduced me to Lisa Scottoline's legal thrillers when I was at UPenn Law school. Scottoline's thrillers center around young women lawyers, UPenn Law graduates who somehow become entangled in investigations that involve murder or a horrific crime. Scottoline has two manin heroines: Bennie Rosato - athletic (nearly made the US Olympic crew team), so focused she comes across as cold and determined, a brilliant litigator and appellate attorney, name partner in the firm. Mary DiNunzio, the younger lawyer, formerly an associate in Rosato's firm. Italian American from South Philadelphia who has strong ties to the community. She knows nearly everyone in the neighborhood and has developed a strong practice helping small businesses and individuals solve their problems. She'd prefer to settle cases than litigate them. She is great at helping people cut through red tape and regulations.

In this latest novel, Exposed, Scottoline gives both Rosato and DiNunzio equal billing as leads. The story begins with DiNunzio having been promoted to partner in the firm. When her father and family friends bring a case of illegal termination to her attention, Mary decides to take it on without doing the requisite conflicts check. It turns out that Simon, the dismissed employee, works for a subsidiary of Bennie and the firm's oldest and largest clients, Dunbarton. Bennie tells Mary that they're conflicted from taking the case, but Mary decides to dissolve the partnership instead of decline the case.

The interaction between Bennie and Mary lead us to think through the nature of partnership, of loyalty, and of individual responsibility. As the employment case goes forward, sudden violence leads to murder and both Bennie and Mary put aside the employment issues and join forces to solve the murder. Exposed is one of my favorite Scottoline novels so far. It gives us a fuller insight into both of her lead lawyers and is a testament to friendship.

About the Author:Lisa Scottoline is the New York Times bestselling author of seventeen novels including her most recent, THINK TWICE, and also writes a weekly column, called Chick Wit, for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Lisa has won many honors and awards, notably the Edgar Award, given for excellence in crime fiction, and the Fun Fearless Female Award from Cosmopolitan Magazine. She also teaches a course she created, called Justice and Fiction at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and regularly does speaking engagements. There are twenty-five million copies of her books in print, and she is published in over thirty other countries.Lisa graduated magna cum laude in three years from the University of Pennsylvania, with a B.A. degree in English, and her concentration was Contemporary American Fiction, taught by Philip Roth and others. She graduated cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. She remains a lifelong resident of the Philadelphia area, where she lives with her array of disobedient pets.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Long Run: A Memoir of Loss and Life in Motion by Catriona Menzies-Pike


The Long Run: A Memoir of Loss and Life in Motion by Catriona Menzies-Pike
ISBN-10: 1524759449 - Hardcover $25
  • Publisher: Crown (May 23, 2017), 256 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher.

The blurb:
When her parents died in a plane crash, the last thing twenty-year-old Catriona Menzies-Pike knew how to do was grieve.  One day she'd been a punked-out art student worrying about her semiotics thesis, the next she was answering questions like Where will the family live?  What will you do with the house? The following decade was a period of searching--hard drinking, bad living--and though Catriona made it through in one piece, it often felt as if she was barely holding it together.

Something changed when, at age thirty, she signed up for a half marathon. Her enthusiasm surprised no one more than her, until she recognized that during the years of her coping with her parents' deaths she had already been "preoccupied with distance and endurance."  She realized running, a "pace suited to the precarious labor of memory," was helping her to process the loss in ways that she had been, for ten messy years, trying to run from. 

As Catriona excavates her own past, she also grows curious about other women drawn to running. What she finds is a history of repression and denial--running was thought to endanger childbearing, and as late as 1967 a Boston Marathon official tried to drag a woman off the course, telling her to "get the hell out of my race" -- but also of incredible courage and achievement.  Cartoon intertwines the stories of women who defied convention with her own journey of coming to terms, in what becomes a fierce and moving testament to our power to reshape the stories the world tells about us and the ones we tell about ourselves.

Review:
The Long Run is a memoir by a young woman in Sydney who hadn't identified as an athlete or a runner.  The books and articles that she'd read about running seemed to focus on ambitious, Type A people or on self improvement or weight loss.  Menzies-Pike shares her own story of how running opened up a "new geography" of her home city.  She discusses books about running from the point of view of a reader (as compared to reading the books as a runner).  With self-depreciating humor shines through whether she discusses what first women marathoners faced in 1896 or her family anecdotes or her own travel stories, Menzies-Pike delivers an engaging, well thought-out discussion.  Her book is about running but it is also about determination, perseverance, and taking control while keeping a sense of humor.


About the Author:
Catriona Menzies-Pike is the editor of the Sydney Review of Books. She has worked in digital media for a decade and her journalism and essays on feminism, literary culture, and politics have been widely published. She holds a PhD in English literature and has taught film, literature, journalism and cultural studies units to undergraduates since 2001. In 2008 she ran her first half-marathon, and five marathons and dozens of half marathons later, she's still running.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd (A Bess Crawford Mystery)


The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd
  • ISBN-10: 0062386271 - Hardcover $ 25.99
  • Publisher: William Morrow (August 30, 2016), 304 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the Publisher.

The blurb:
France, October 1918.  Though the war is nearing its end, the German enemy refuses to go quietly. During a nighttime barrage, British stretcher bearers find an exhausted officer, shivering with cold and a loss of blood from several wounds, clinging to life at the foot of a tree shattered by shelling and gunfire.  The soldier is brought to Bess Crawford's aid station, where she stabilizes him and treats his injuries before he is sent to a base hospital.

Surprisingly, the officer isn't British -- he's wearing the tattered remains of a French uniform.  And even stranger, when he shouts out in anger and pain, he speaks in fluent German.

When Bess reports the incident to the hospital's matron, her weary superior offers a plausible explanation.  The soldier must be from the Alsace-Lorraine, a province in the west where the tenuous border between France and Germany has shifted through history, most recently in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, which was won by the Germans. Of course, Matron could be right. Still, Bess remains uneasy -- and unconvinced. What was a French soldier doing so far from his own lines. . . and so close to where the Germans are putting up a fierce, last-ditch fight? And if he is Alsatian, on which side of the war do his sympathies really lie?

Before she can inquire further, Bess is wounded while helping to evacuate soldiers from the battlefield.  Sent to Paris to recuperate, she discovers that her mysterious soldier is also in the French capital. . . but has disappeared.  Could he have been the infamous German spotter for the "Paris Gun" that is the talk of the Allied Army? It had shelled terrified Parisians earlier in the year, then fell silent. Or could he be involved in some other dark treachery?

With the unexpected help of Captain Barkley, the congenial American whose path crossed with hers once before, the intrepid Bess -- a soldier's daughter and dedicated nurse -- embarks on a dangerous hunt to find the man and uncover the truth, even at the risk of her own life.

Review:
I am an avid fan of historical mysteries in general and of these Bess Crawford mysteries in particular.  This latest novel gives us the familiar sense of frustration as Bess ignores her safety to take on obligations and make difficult promises to virtual strangers in order to fulfill her sense of honor and justice. There are junctures where I was begging her to tell Simon or another military ally what dangers she faces, but Bess is determined to assert her independence and follow her instincts.  It's both admirable and foolhardy.  Her instincts take her to considerable danger and to the dark world of espionage.

The Shattered Tree does have those heartwarming moments when Bess and character shine through. She wins the loyalty of the people she meets and many soldiers who she's treated are fiercely protective.  I find it satisfying when her personality comes across and strict officials recognize the value of the work that she does.  Bess is determined, smart, fearless to the point of being near foolhardy - she's an endearing heroine.   The Shattered Tree takes us on another satisfying adventure!

About the Authors:
Charles Todd is the author of the Bess Crawford mysteries, the Inspector Ian Rutledge mysteries, and two stand-alone novels.  A mother-and-son writing team, they live on the East Coast.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Dragon Springs Road by Janie Chang


Dragon Springs Road by Janie Chang
ISBN  0062388959 - Paperback $15.99
William Morrow Paperbacks (January 10, 2017), 400 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

The blurb:
That night I dreamed that I had wandered out to Dragon Springs Road all on my own when a dreadful knowledge seized me that my mother had gone away never to return....

In 1908, Jialing is only seven years old when she is abandoned in the courtyard of a once-lavish estate outside Shanghai.  Jialing is zazhong--Eurasian--and faces a lifetime of contempt from both Chinese and Europeans. Until now she's led a secluded life behind courtyard walls, but without her mother's protection, she can survive only if the estate's new owners, the Yang family, agree to take her in.

Dialing finds allies in Anjuin, the eldest Yang daughter, and Fox, an animal spirit who has lived in the courtyard for centuries.  But Jialing's life as the Yangs' bondservant changes unexpectedly when she befriends a young English girl who then mysteriously vanishes.

Murder, political intrigue, jealousy, forbidden love. . . Jialing confronts them all as she grows into womanhood during the tumultuous early years of the Chinese republic, always hopeful of finding her long-lost mother.  Through every turn she is guided, both by Fox and by her own strength of spirit, away from the shadows of her past toward a very different fate, if she has the courage to accept it.

Review:
Dragon Springs Road takes us to China at the turn of the century, close to the time of the Opium Wars, of foreign missionaries teaching Chinese religion and English, when women suffered foot binding and family restraints on their freedoms, education, opportunities.  

We meet our heroine when she is 7 years old, living with her mother in an remote compound.  They are friends with a "fox spirit".  Her mother has a wealthy patron who occasionally visits for an evening (during which Jialing stays out of sight).  When Jialing's mother's patron goes bankrupt, her mother leaves for a short trip -- and does not return. While Jialing stays on the estate as a bondservant of the new owners, she learns what it means to be alone, Eurasian, and poor.  Jialing is tough, positive, and loyal -- as she faces all sorts of prejudices and problems, she finds friends and ways to survive.  Dragon Springs Road delivers a satisfying tale of a young girl with ambition, smarts, and bad luck living in a quickly changing China.  Janie Chang's story drew me in from the start.  If you're interested in China in this period, it's a wonderful read!

About the Author:
Janie Chang spent part of her childhood in the Philippines, Iran, and Thailand. She has a degree in computer science and is a graduate of the Writer's Studio Program at Simon Fraser University.  She is the author of Three Souls.  

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Passenger by Alexandra Bracken


Passenger by Alexandra Bracken
  • ISBN-10: 1484715772- Hardcover $17.99
  • Publisher: Disney-Hyperion (January 5, 2016), 496 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Netgalley.

The blurb:
In one devastating night, violin prodigy Etta Spencer loses everything she knows and loves. Thrust into an unfamiliar world by a stranger with a dangerous agenda, Etta is certain of only one thing: she has traveled not just miles, but years from home. And she's inherited a legacy she knows nothing about from a family whose existence she's never heard of. Until now.
Nicholas Carter is content with his life at sea, free from the Ironwoods-a powerful family in the Colonies-and the servitude he's known at their hands. But with the arrival of an unusual passenger on his ship comes the insistent pull of the past that he can't escape and the family that won't let him go so easily. Now the Ironwoods are searching for a stolen object of untold value, one they believe only Etta, his passenger, can find. In order to protect her, Nick must ensure she brings it back to them-whether she wants to or not. 
Together, Etta and Nicholas embark on a perilous journey across centuries and continents, piecing together clues left behind by the traveler who will do anything to keep the object out of the Ironwoods' grasp. But as they get closer to the truth of their search, and the deadly game the Ironwoods are playing, treacherous forces threaten to separate Etta not only from Nicholas but from her path home forever.

Review:
Henrietta Spencer or Etta is a gifted violinist and has sacrificed much of her childhood to perfecting her skills.  On the eve of her first public solo at the Metropolitan Museum, she is suddenly uncertain.  She overhears her mother and her teacher in the middle of a heated argument which she believes to be about her ability to perform in public.  She's determined to continue with her solo and butts in angrily.  But something disrupts her performance and she runs from the stage.

Etta finds herself suddenly in the middle of an earlier time, subject to great danger and unaware of the shifting alliances.  She's forced to work within the restrictions and limitations of women in Colonial America without the buffer of wealth and family connections.  As Etta tries to find the time traveling item that can bring her back to her time, she must determine who she can trust and how to survive in this new world.  

Passenger ticks all the boxes for a fun, unusual read but I found Etta too timid. I had hoped that she'd rebel, but her actions were tempered by her caution and trust of those around her.  Though I enjoyed Passenger, I'm hoping that the next book in the series will prove more daring.

About the Author:
Alexandra Bracken is the New York Times bestselling author of The Darkest Minds series. Born and raised in Arizona, she moved East to study history and English at the College of William & Mary in Virginia. After working in publishing for several years, Alex now writes full-time and can be found hard at work on her next novel in a charming little apartment that's perpetually overflowing with books. Visit her online at www.alexandrabracken.com and on Twitter @alexbracken.