An Act of Villainy

Title:  An Act of Villainy Revenge (Amory Ames 5)
Author:  Ashley Weaver
Publisher:  Minotaur Books
Publication Date:  2018
ISBN:  978-1-250-15975-5

Book Summary:
Gerald and Georgina Holloway seem to have the perfect marriage. This adventurous couple travels the world to exotic locales, goes big game hunting, and despite marrying young, seems completely devoted to one another. However, when Amory and Milo run into Gerald after an evening at the theater, Amory realizes that all is not what it seems. A theater aficionado, Gerald has written and is producing his own play, A Place of Victory, starring London theater’s newest darling, Flora Bell, who also happens to be, much to Amory’s shock and dismay, Gerald’s mistress. Gerald reaches out later to Milo to invite the couple to a dress rehearsal of the show. As devoted as Amory is to his wife, she can’t help but be intrigued when she learns of Gerald’s ulterior purpose. It appears someone isn’t a fan of Miss Bell and is sending threatening letters to her at the theater.

Amory and Milo watch the performance and despite her disapproval of the liaison, Amory must admit to Miss Bell’s mesmerizing ability to take control of the stage and completely enthrall the audience. Her ability to connect with Christopher Landon’s heroic character and Balthazar LeBeau’s villain engages the audience’s attention so much that it is impossible to not become caught up in the story. The chemistry on stage doesn’t transfer though into the everyday lives of the actors. Discord between the performers includes not only the leading men, but also Flora’s jealous understudy, Dahlia Dearborn.

As riveting as the performance is, the letters received by Miss Bell are ominous. Tension escalates as another letter arrives taking the threat level even higher. It becomes apparent that the theatrical subtext runs much deeper than the performance and it is unclear when and if the acting ever stops and reality begins. Amory and Milo unknowingly become involved a bitter chase of cat and mouse where the final curtain could be someone’s last.

Book Commentary:
Squeak! I absolutely love, love, love this series!! I’ve missed Amory and Milo and it is so delightful to be back with them, like old friends. This fifth installment of the Amory and Milo series embraces their detecting skills and proves that their involvement in these cases is helpful but can also be quite dangerous. Each character’s own talents, be it in the drawing room of the finest houses in London or the gambling den of the Gentleman’s clubs, has evolved, and these contrasting perspectives enable them to view the threats through different lenses. I really feel that Amory and Milo have solidified their relationship and partnership. This current challenge forces them to truly listen to one another, their understanding of themselves, and their own fears and vulnerability.

In this book we are introduced to Amory’s mother and she is a force to be reckoned with. I sincerely hope she makes a reappearance in future books. Her intense pride in the social requirements of her status come into conflict with her insatiable curiosity and the ensuing outcomes are delightful to read.

I must also admit that I am quite in love with Milo. As suave and debonair as he presents himself and his seemingly unconcerned attitude toward the sanctity of marriage, a greater depth to his character is revealed as Amory sees him through the eyes of others and is able to appreciate him as a husband, a partner, and a really talented detective. He too begins to go beyond the acceptance of his wife’s inquiry skills and truly appreciates the talent she has in seeing the inner souls of others.

Who might like this book:
I have recently become hooked on the Australian television series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, which is based on a book series. It embraces a time period a few years prior to the Amory Ames’ series, but it helps to provide a visual to the clothing, architecture, and transportation of this time in history.

The Amory Ames mystery series is a great, well plotted mystery series with engaging characters and intrigue that includes all the necessities of love, revenge, jealously, and greed. As always, don’t even talk to me if you aren’t going to read them in order. A true appreciation of Amory and Milo’s relationship and partnership must be developed through its evolution.

Check out my reviews for previous books in the series:

Murder at Brightwell
Death Wears a Mask
A Most Novel Revenge
The Essence of Malice

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Dickensen Academy

Title:  Dickensen Academy
Author:  Christine Grabowski
Publisher:  The Wild Rose Press
Publication Date:  2018
ISBN:   978-1509221233

Book Summary:
High school brings a lot of change and uncertainty but for 15-year-old Autumn Mattison, the start of her freshman year introduces more than just new teachers and new friends. After an invitation-only application and summer filled with testing and interviews, Autumn is surprised to be accepted at Dickensen Academy. Nestled in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest, the remote location ensures few distractions, spotty cell-service, and some distance from the high expectations of her father.

Swept in the usual courses of Algebra, Science, and Language Arts, Autumn makes connections with her roommate Adita and Ben, the boy she met at the summer testing. The students however quickly realize that there is much more to their fine arts education than painting and writing. Creative Core presents challenges beyond students honing their artistic and creative skills; it shows them the power of dreams. Soon, their educational classes take on greater depth with incredible experiences through their field trips, and a world of possibilities opens up. Yet, when the line between reality and memory becomes blurred, sometimes dreams become nightmares.

Autumn and her friends begin to question why freshman aren’t allowed to leave campus, what happens to students who cannot master the skills, and what does the Fence keep out . . . or in. When a devasting accident occurs, Autumn must decide what matters most to her and whether her abilities truly can be deemed worthy as a student of Dickensen Academy.

Book Commentary:
I received an advanced copy of this book and really enjoyed the story. What most intrigued me was how magical the books were without the use of magic. The power of dreams and thoughts presents a wealth of options for insight and reflections, but Grabowski has taken them one step further and applies their usage to educational experiences. Often times, however, I was unclear as to whether the actions and events were real or part of a dream. It was this uncertainty that fueled my imagination and created a captivating story.

I really liked how the power of perception and memory conflicted and made the reader uncertain about what was real and if the characters could really be trusted. Although the book is not a thriller in the traditional sense, this element of uncertainty can play tricks on the reader and force them to question their perception and understanding in their own lives. I think this would be a great book for students with a science interest; the cognitive power and ability to manipulate the human brain opens the door for discussion about brain research, the trustworthiness of memory, and the ethics of control.

Who might like this book:
Dickensen Academy will appeal to middle school readers, as they can relate to the stress of school, the pressures of family expectations, the uncertainty of friendships, and the flutter of a first crush. Fantasy novels are so popular with young adult readers; this book asks them to view the magic in themselves. This unique perspective may encourage young readers to consider the powers that they possess themselves.

I hope this book will be the first of a series as I feel that there is much more that can be explored with the power of dreams in many future adventures for these characters. This book is available on September 12, 2018.

Walk on Earth a Stranger

Title:  Walk on Earth a Stranger (The Gold Seer Trilogy 1)
Author:  Rae Carson
Publisher:  Greenwillow
Publication Date:  2015
ISBN:  978-0-06-224292-1

Book Summary:
Although gold has been found in the hills of Georgia, most prospectors agree that the land has dried up and in 1849, the rush is bound for California.  Fifteen-year-old Leah Westfall is content in her loving happy home with her father and mother.  Times are tough and her father’s lingering cough and lack of another male in the household necessitate Leah mucking out the stalls, hunting for fresh meat, and helping her mother with the daily chores.  Leah’s father “Lucky” Westfall has a small store of gold that is parceled out sparingly to help support the family.  The secret that the family keeps is Leah’s ability to divine gold; her witchy-sense directs her to the precious mineral found deep in the earth.  Her best friend is half-Irish, half-Cherokee, Jefferson.  With a mean drunk father, Jefferson grasps an opportunity to escape and head West in the quest for gold and asks Leah to go with him.  But, she is reluctant to leave her family and the home that she loves.

Although the family lives poorly, someone else has sensed the bag of gold dust hidden under the cabin and Leah returns home one evening to discover her mother and father murdered and the gold missing.  At the funeral, Leah learns that her Uncle Hiram has inherited the homestead; estranged from her father, her uncle welcomes her into her own home with warmth.  But there is a deeper purpose to Hiram’s attention and Leah soon realizes that he knows about her ability and wants to control it.

Dressing as a boy and sneaking her beloved horse Peony and her father’s gun out of the house, Leah becomes Lee and flees West.  Along the way, she is robbed, works on a flatboat on the Tennessee River, reconnects with Jefferson, and joins a wagon train heading West.  The adventure, the struggles, and danger have only begun as the group travels toward the rich, fertile California life . . . and gold.

Book Commentary:
When I picked up this book, I had no idea it was a young adult book.  The depth of characters, historical details, and intricacies of the plot make this a very engaging and exciting story.  At the front of the book is a map of the United States that shows the journey that Leah takes.  As she faces hardship and loss, her depth of character and her self-reliance grows.  She is a fantastic literary role model for young girls, and there is a wonderful blend of fact and fiction, adventure and reality, magic and mystery that would entice any reluctant reader.

In the author’s note, Rae Carson describes herself as a writer of “adventure, magic, and smart girls who make (mostly) smart choices.”  Leah is admirable but believable.

There are a number of secondary characters who help the story along but this is essentially Leah’s tale.  Her magical ability to divine gold is referenced but is often not used as the primary purpose of finding gold.  The story ends with a hint that this won’t be the case in the future.

Who might like this book:
In addition to having a strong female protagonist, this story presents a realistic fictional account of the trek across the country for the Gold Fields of California.  It presents history in a dynamic and appealing story.  This would be a great fictional read to accompany a study of the United States in the 1840’s.  I’ve always felt that history truly can come alive through believable stories of the time period.

I think this book is very appropriate for middle grades and up.  As a woman, Leah is very naïve and presents her views of the world around her in an innocent way.  There is a little romance and a bit of violence, but the reader views everything through Leah’s naïve perspective.  Two other books follow in the Gold Seer Trilogy: Like a River Glorious and Into the Bright Unknown. I enjoyed the first book immensely and look forward to continuing with the series.

The True Tails of Baker and Taylor

the-true-tails-of-baker-and-taylor

Title:  The True Tails of Baker and Taylor
Author:  Jan Louch
Publisher:  St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date:  2016
ISBN:  978-0-250-08107-0

Book Summary:
In the early 1980’s, a new library was built in Douglas County, Nevada.  As is often with new construction, there were mice.  Unpleasant in any place, mice present a more dangerous problem in a library.  Attracted the glue, mice will eat through books and the taxpayer’s investment.  So, librarians and cat lovers Jan and Yvonne decide the best solution would be to get a cat.  With the library board’s approval, a purebred Scottish Fold named Baker joined the staff.  Such begins the true tale of two amazing cats and the people who loved them.

Baker quickly became a fixture of the library; his presence seemed to deter mice and so his job expanded to Official Greeter.  Patrons young and old would scratch him behind the ears as they were checking books out, and when he wasn’t at the circulation desk, they would seek him out in the sunniest spot they could find.

Jan and Yvonne purchased Baker and paid for all this needs – food, toys, litter, vet visits – out of their own personal salaries.  As much as they wanted a companion for Baker, time was need for more funds to be saved.

Baker & Taylor is a worldwide distributor of books; Bill Hartman, the sales and marketing director for the western division of the company, stopped in the library every few months to talk about books.  A few days after a visit, Jan and Yvonne received a surprising call from Bill.  Baker & Taylor wanted to buy “Taylor” for the library.  In exchange, the company wanted to take some pictures of the two cats to use in their marketing campaign.  Taylor arrives at the library and after a week or so of adjustment, the library was more relaxed and happier because of Baker and Taylor.

The story goes on to tell of the impact that these two cats made on the lives of these librarians and the library patrons.  As the ad campaign became successful, Baker and Taylor were known throughout the world.  Children would write letters to the cats and tourists would stop to see them on their travels.

Through changing economics, new technology, and diverse populations, Baker and Taylor remained a fixture for what makes a library so magical.  A room full of books, a warm sunbeam, and a cozy cat curled up next to you.  Heaven.

Book Commentary:
I laughed and I cried when I read this book.  It is a beautiful tribute to two incredible felines and the woman who cared for them.  It is also a reminder of enjoying the simple things in life.  The reader gets a feel that the library patrons who filtered in and out of the library over years were touched and enlightened by the presence of these two cats.

As a college student, I spent a few summers working at Robin’s Bookshop in Geneva, Illinois.  It was truly the most perfect job I have ever had, surrounded daily by books, and it is one of the places that my love of mysteries developed.  One of my favorite jobs at the store was to unpack and catalogue the new books that arrived.  Every morning, a pile of Baker & Taylor boxes sat on the doorstep and my anticipation would heighten; what magic might those boxes contain.

Growing up, we always had a menagerie of animals – cats, dogs, a ferret, a guinea pig, a turtle, fish, and even a snake . . . although not while I was living at home.  I enjoyed the animals but never felt a compelling reason to have any of my own.  Fast forward to my oldest daughter whose first words I think were “I want a cat;” we finally caved almost seven years ago, and are the proud servants (because yes, you are, when you have cats) of Merlin and Arthur.  I couldn’t imagine life without them now and as my children get older, they have truly become my other children.  And according to my kids, more spoiled!

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Who might like this book:, 
If you like cats or books or libraries or a really, up-lifting good story, check this book out.  The author has a very engaging and straightforward prose that is a delight to read.  The subtitle of the book, The Library Cats Who Left Their Pawprints on a Small Town . . . and the World, truly says it all.

 

The Rosie Project

the-rosie-project

Title:  The Rosie Project
Author:  Graeme Simsion
Publisher:  Simon & Schuster
Publication Date:  2013
ISBN:  978-1-4767-2909-1

Book Summary:
Genetics professor Don Tillman is what you might call a genius.  Highly intelligent and logical, he tends however to lack some basic interpersonal skills . . . okay, a lot of basic interpersonal skills.  He systematically and logically arrives at the conclusion that it is time to get married so he devises a sixteen-page questionnaire that prospective wife candidates will complete.  Scientifically designed to link Don with the most ideal mate, it is the perfectly logical solution for this socially awkward academic.  After a date or two, Don tweaks the questionnaire to fine-tune his desired outcome.

In walks Rosie Jarman.  She quickly fails the questionnaire: she smokes, she drinks more than Don’s allotted amount of daily alcohol intake, AND she is a vegetarian.  For a man who has specific meat based meals for each day of the week, this is a deal breaker.  She is all wrong for him.  However, Don becomes involved in Rosie’s life as he helps her on her quest to find her biological father.

Rosie pushes Don out of his comfort zone and grudgingly a friendship begins to develop.  From spontaneous trips to New York (they live in Australia) to moonlighting as a bartender, Don begins to spread his wings and look at the world through different glasses.  Friendships, love, and relationships don’t always follow the rules of science; sometimes, they just are.

Book Commentary:
I so loved this book!!  It made me laugh out loud while also causing me to cringe at some of the comments and actions of the characters.   A bit socially awkward myself, I could relate to Don’s discomfort; however, his complete obliviousness to the ramifications of his words and actions were truly entertaining.

The author does a fantastic job at showing Don’s growth as both a person and a human through his interaction with others.  The book could have gone with a very stereo-typical character, but instead there is depth and layer to who Don is.  His relationship with his family and friends, his status among his colleagues, his perception of his students and who they see him to be all grow and develop independently of one another while building on the character that he is.

Rosie is a delight herself but her own growth is seen through Don’s changing perception of her.  I am not sure if she actually changes herself, but his view of her makes it seem as though her own character evolves.

The fact that the author is a former IT consultant and author of two non-fiction books on database design adds a completely separate dimension to the story-telling.  I think that the author might be able to well relate to Don.  And it is quite admirable that at age 50, he decides to try his hand at fiction and the book is the result.

Who might like this book:
If you are a fan of Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory or love Zach Addy from Bones, I guarantee you will love Don Tillman.  Very intelligent, very nerdy, and very enduring.  Readers will find themselves rooting for Don while cringing at his mistakes.  The second book in the series, The Rosie Effect, is also available . . . and happens to be sitting in my Amazon shopping cart.

 

 

The Light of Paris

the-light-of-paris

Title:  The Light of Paris
Author:  Eleanor Brown
Publisher:  G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Publication Date:  2016
ISBN:  978-0-399-15891

Book Summary:
Caught in an unhappy life, Madeleine has always allowed herself to be molded by others.  First, her mother shaped her school activities, scoffed at her love of painting, and created a persona that Madeleine struggled to maintain.  Her marriage to Phillip is no different; he dictates what she wears, criticizes her body image, and expects her to follow the standards of a high-society wife.

When she feels that she is at the breaking point, Madeleine escapes to her hometown.  Although her mother’s house has never seemed a refuge, Madeleine hopes for a sense of balance.  She is shocked to discover that her mother is preparing to sell the family home.  Swept up in helping to clear out over 50 years of memories and treasures, Madeleine discovers a diary written by her grandmother.  Although she passed when she was just a child, Madeleine remembers her grandmother as elegant and refined.  What she finds in the diary is a journal of one epic, memorable Parisian summer.

As Madeleine reads about her grandmother Margie’s exploits and awakenings, she too begins to explore who she was and who she had wanted to be.  Picking up a paintbrush for the first time in years and reconnecting with acquaintances from high school help Madeleine recognize the changes, challenges, and joys in everyone’s lives.  Before she can find her own dream and destiny, Madeleine must decide who she wants to be and what life she wants to live.

Book Commentary:
As I have been on a Parisian obsession recently, this book quickly caught my eye.  What made me read it however was the author, Eleanor Brown.  Her previous novel The Weird Sisters detailed the lives of three sisters whose father was a Shakespearean scholar; I loved this book and enjoyed the fluid and engaging writing style but I had to pick up this new book.

The Light of Paris is a bit different; both Madeleine and Margie’s stories are told separately, but the personal growth and discoveries parallel one another.  The author wrote Margie’s stories as though Madeleine retold them after she read the diary; it was an interesting perspective and style.  I am not sure if I liked it but it reflected how the primary story of Madeleine was influenced by Margie’s own evolution.  At times, I felt that Madeleine’s interpretation of Margie’s story was a bit biased but it provided great insight on Madeleine’s progress of self-discovery.

Who might like this book:
Although I didn’t feel as immersed in Parisian culture as some other novels I have read, The Light of Paris delves into the artists of Paris in the 1920’s.  I really liked the descriptions of the artwork through Margie’s innocent eyes and Madeleine’s artistic knowledge.

This would be a fun book for a book group.  There is ample fodder for discussion about life goals and the people and situations that both assist and interfere with their attainment; however, it is truly a story about the choices people make and that ultimately we must take charge of our own destiny.

The Battle of Hackham Heath

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Title:  The Battle of Hackham Heath (Ranger’s Apprentice: The Early Years 2)
Author:  John Flanagan
Publisher:  Philomel
Publication Date:  2016
ISBN:  978-0-399-16362-6

Book Summary:
Although Morgarath has been discredited to many and escaped treason by hiding out in the Mountains of Rain and Night, the kingdom of Araluen has not found peace.  King Duncan ascends to the throne after the abdication of his father.  King Oswald never fully recovered from his capture and mistreatment by Morgarath as he attempted to discredit the King and his future lineage to the throne.  Duncan is young, but fair, and his experiences have made him cautious and intelligent.  Unfortunately, not all the Barons are able to comprehend Morgarath’s deceit and some of them have chosen to align themselves with the fugitive.  Also, under Morgarath’s previous control, the Rangers, a group of skilled archers who have perfected the art of unseen movement, were disbanded and discredited.  As the eyes and ears of the kingdom, the Rangers are essential for securing peace and maintaining trust and honor for the new King.

Crowley, the Ranger Commandant, and his fellow Ranger Halt, were instrumental in restoring Duncan’s right to the throne.  Now they work together to reform and rebuild the Ranger Corp as they are ever vigilant about the happenings and mutterings in the Kingdom.  When a rumor starts about Morgarath’s building of an army, Halt braves the treacherous Three Step Pass to spy on the exiled Baron.  Three Step Pass is the only access to the Mountains of Rain and Night and is heavily guarded.  Halt’s climbing ability serves him well as he ascends the steep cliff side.  What he discovers is horrifying.  Morgarath has found a way to enslave and command an ancient group of creatures – the Wargals.  Part bear, part beast, these savage, simple-minded creatures will follow the order to kill to its culmination, or perish trying.  Araluen’s weakened defenses and army have no recourse against these terrifying monsters.

In addition to dealing with the uncertainty of Morgarath’s next move toward impending war and the unease in the kingdom, King Duncan does have one bit of joy in his life.  He has married the beautiful Lady Rosalind and she now carries the heir to the throne.  The stakes in this battle have been raised and the future of the kingdom and its rulers lies with the Rangers and their king as they must fight against an unrelenting foe.

Book Commentary:
Sigh.  This is one of those series that makes me so happy!  John Flanagan fans will not be disappointed.  The same attention to detail, witty humor and banter, and enduring characters are present as in all of his books.  Flanagan truly is a master storyteller; his description and focus on detail create true pictures in the reader’s mind while still finding just the right balance of action and exposition.

In some ways, I feel that this book is written for the fans, as we learn the answers to some questions that have plagued readers throughout the series: questions about Duncan’s wife, the discovery of the Wargals, Halt’s early relationship with Lady Pauline, and Halt’s future apprentices.  The dry and wonderful banter between Halt and Crowley and Halt and Abelard are truly at their finest.  A delightful book throughout that I finished in a single day.

Who might like this book:
I have said this before, but really, there is no better way to explain this:  This is a book for all ages, but you MUST . . . seriously, I won’t talk to you ever again if you don’t . . . read the entire series in order.  It is kind of like the Star Wars saga: read the books in the order that they were written, not in chronological order.

The Ranger’s Apprentice Series in Order:
Book 1:  The Ruins of Gorlan
Book 2:  The Burning Bridge
Book 3:  The Icebound Land
Book 4:  The Battle for Skandia
Book 5:  The Sorcerer of the North
Book 6:  The Siege of Macindaw
Book 7:  Erak’s Ransom
Book 8:  The Kings of Clonmel
Book 9:  Halt’s Peril
Book 10:  The Emperor of Nihon-Ja
Book 11:  The Lost Stories
Book 12:  The Royal Ranger

The Ranger’s Apprentice: The Early Years
Book 1:  The Tournament at Gorlan
Book 2:  The Battle of Hackham Heath

Additionally, John Flanagan wrote (and is still writing) a spin-off series to the Ranger’s Apprentice that focuses on Skandia.  Those books have some overlap to characters and settings to the original series.

Brotherband Chronicles
Book 1:  The Outcasts
Book 2:  The Invaders
Book 3:  The Hunters
Book 4:  Slaves of Socorro
Book 5:  Scorpion Mountain
Book 6:  Ghostfaces