Thursday, March 31, 2016

Reading the Alphabet, Part Q ...

Author: Gaellen Quinn
Title: The Last Aloha

Top 3 reasons why I chose this book:
1.  It was on the Q shelf.
2.  I like the cover.
3. It's set in 1886 in the "exotic islands of Hawaii."
(And Hawaii is ALWAYS a good idea.)

Top 3 reason why I'm glad I did:
1.  Laura Jennings is a charming heroine: sympathetic, independent, intelligent, and strong-willed. When her father and fiance are killed in a carriage accident in San Francisco, she goes to live with her father's missionary relatives in Honolulu. Only they're not missionaries any more; and Hawaii is not at all what she expected.

2.  Good writing! Here's a sample:
Down the moonlit path, they stopped next to a lily pond. The full moon, reflected in the still water, made the dark trees and pale lily flowers stand out in black-and-white relief ... Past a grove of sandalwood trees, the illumined foliage gave way to a vista of glistening sand, and beyond, the promised sterling sea. A swath of moonlight rippled on the water, and all around was mystic silver, all colors blended into one.
Laura looked at the shimmering ocean, which extended into the oblivion of deep night. Back there somewhere, in some direction, was the life she'd left. Bustling San Francisco with the clanging cable cars, her admittance papers to medical college still in some folder in a file cabinet, waiting to be thrown out. The little dry goods shop on Kearny Street with the upstairs apartment, now inhabited by strangers, and two fresh graves with small headstones among the marble monuments at Laurel Hill Cemetery.
3.  The Hawaiian setting.  Not only does the story take place on the beautiful island of Oahu, but through Laura's friendship with Queen Lili'uokalani, it also relates the sad history of the last king and queen of Hawaii, and the turmoil created by the wealthy elite of the Missionary Party as they worked to overthrow the monarchy, push the royal family from power, and make Hawaii part of the United States.  Sadly, the second half of the novel bogged down for me because it moved away from Laura's story and concentrated on the politics of Hawaii's history and its royal family. I really wish the author had concentrated more on Laura, and what happened to her, but I did end up learning a lot.

Happy Reading!

Monday, March 28, 2016

On a Lark...

Out of curiosity, I decided to do a search for books with my name in the title. Here's what I found:

Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson
Lark by Tracey Porter
The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather
Mansfield Lark by Katie Oliver
The Lark's Lament by Alan Gordon
Lark Rising by Sandra Waugh
Lark and Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips
Lark by Sally Watson

It's not a long list, but it seems to be a nice mix. The only two that I've read are The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather and Sally Watson's Lark, but I was thinking that it might be fun to read some of the others. Only I'm not sure which one to try first. Any suggestions?

Happy Reading!

(P.S. What books have your name in the title?)

Friday, March 25, 2016

A little bookish fun ...

As a kid I used to love reading those Choose Your Own Adventure books because I got to decide what happened next in the story. Some of my adventures ended in happily ever after, others in death, but from the first page to the last they were always a lot of fun. So when I saw Ilyse Mimoun's Choose Your Own Love Story: (Mis)Adventures in Love, Lust, and Happy Endings I could not resist.

According to the front cover, this book has one beginning, 50 choices, and 20 possible endings. As I chose my own love story, I had some happy endings, and some not-so-happy endings. But with every choice I made, I had a lot of fun. What I loved most about this book is Mimoun's humor. Especially regarding relationships and dating. Here are a few of my favorites bits:

  • Getting ready for a date with someone you might like is a terrible thing. ... The act of getting ready for a date is a prayer, like people who dance so that God will make it rain. It conjures the hope you've worked so hard to keep dormant in the innermost chamber of your heart. It brings that hope rushing right back up, so if it doesn't go well, the disappointment is crushing. 
  • This is what separates the winners and loser in the dating world--who can keep their crazy quiet the longest.
  • From that point on you keep dating but stop hoping. It's amazing how many dates you can line up in a single week, even though they are mostly boring and exhausting. And sometimes you DO like a guy (or at least are willing to entertain liking him), and those ones never call you again. You never know why. Romance is a deep and annoying mystery.
Happy Reading!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Girl 4

         The first three girls took a lot of planning, but even with my letters, my clues, the tip-offs, only one detective seemed concerned. But they'll start to take me seriously after Girl 4; they won't have a choice.
         So I write another letter. I give them the chance to stop me before it happens.
         How long will it take them to piece everything together? I give them everything they'll need apart from the name.
         Girl 4.
         She changes everything.

 So begins a cat-and-mouse game between Detective Inspector January David and an elusive serial killer. The pieces of this chilling psychological thriller come together in a masterful puzzle of mystery and suspense. I really liked the way Will Carver weaves together his different narrative voices. And it reads fast! January David is a complicated character:  he's imperfect, drinks too much, and has visions, but he's completely dedicated to his job and solving these horrific crimes, even as the serial killer continually stays two steps ahead of him. I liked him. Be warned, though, this novel is dark and parts of it are a little graphic. But it's still a good read and there's a twist at the end I did not expect. (Which makes it a good choice for my "Twisted" Reading Bingo square.) All in all, I'd read Carver again, especially with D.I. January David as the main character.

Happy Reading!

Similar read:
     Five by Ursula Archer

Sunday, March 20, 2016

March's Bookish Art...

Charles Louis Baugniet
"Books are not about passing the time.  They're about other lives.  Other 
worlds.  Far from wanting time to pass, one just wishes one had more of it."
--Alan Bennett, The Uncommon Reader

Thursday, March 17, 2016

R Shelf Serendipity...

Author: Vaddey Ratner
Title: In the Shadow of the Banyan

Smoke was everywhere, as black as the soldiers' clothes. On sidewalks, books and papers burned in piles. Ashes flew up into the air, like burnt butterflies. I wondered why they were called Khmer Rouge--"Red Khmer." There was nothing red about them ... I wondered what they were really. Soldiers or peasants? Children or adults? They looked neither like devarajas nor rakshasas, the mythical gods and demons I'd imagined them to be; in those plain black clothes they looked more like a race of shadows, each one a repetition of the others.
Raami is seven when the Khmer Rouge overrun Phnom Penh and her family's life of royal privilege quickly comes to an end. They're forced to leave their home in Phnom Penh and flee to the country. Then the Kamaphibal, the leaders of the Revolution, make them move again. And when they discover that her father is Sisowath Ayuravann, a well-educated prince and poet, they take him away. Raami, her mother, and her little sister are soon separated from the rest of their family and sent to a poor village among the rice paddies to work. Raami is bereft without her father, as is her beautiful mother. Somehow they must learn to survive in a Cambodia they no longer recognize.
Lightning struck, the sky roared, and the night cried a giant's tears, thunderous and inconsolable.
Ratner based her novel on her own life and her writing is magical. If I tried to write down all of my favorite passages I'd end up copying the entire book. It makes my own words feel so inadequate. Saying that this novel is compelling and powerful; sad, but somehow still full of hope, does not do it justice.  Ratner's writing is storytelling at its finest.

Needless to say, I loved this book. I was lucky enough to visit Cambodia six years ago and reading this book brought it all back:  theBuddhist temples, the tall gum trees, the thatched houses on stilts, the ox-carts, the rice fields, and most of all, the resilient people. This is definitely one of the best books I've read all year!
Words, you see, allow us to make permanent what is essentially transient. Turn a world filled with injustice and hurt into a place that is beautiful and lyrical.

Happy Reading!


Monday, March 14, 2016

Bookish first impressions...

These first lines made me want to read more; see if any make you want to read more, too.

"Kell wore a very peculiar coat. It had neither one side, which would be conventional, nor two, which would be unexpected, but several, which was, of course, impossible."
Title: A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab
(Surprisingly compelling, this fantasy adventure with its four different Londons--Red, Gray, Black and White--is lots of fun. I loved it!)

"The obsession began on June 12, 2008 around 11:23 a.m."
Title: Intertwine by Nichole Van
(Emme Wilde travels back in time to England, 1812, to meet her soul-mate in this time-travel romance.)

 "I suppose a lot of teenage girls feel invisible sometimes, like they just disappear. Well, that's me --Cammie the Chameleon. But I'm luckier than most because, at my school, that's considered cool. I go to a school for spies."
Title: I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You by Ally Carter
(My niece recommended this entertaining YA novel; AND it fills the "spies" category for me on Reading Bingo!)

"Amy Grimes was bored with her life. She was bored with school, bored with her parents, bored with most of her friends, and had been well on the way to being bored with her boyfriend, Simon Church, until he suggested that they just pack up and leave this very boring little town."
Title: Fear the Dark by Kay Hooper
(Hooper's novels of psychic suspense are always page-turners, and this one is no exception.)

"Christmas crept into Pine Cove like a creeping Christmas thing: dragging garland, ribbon, and sleigh bells, oozing eggnog, reeking of pine, and threatening festive doom like a cold sore under the mistletoe."
Title: The Stupidest Angel by Christopher Moore
(An irreverent and quirky "tale of Christmas terror" with an incompetent Archangel, a dead Santa, a boy's Christmas wish, and zombies. It's awesome.)

Happy Reading!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Wolves of Andover

"Blowing out the candle, Martha pulled both of the blankets close under her chin and lay in the dark. Here I am, she thought, traded like a kettle to yet another family. She knew it was not just for the wages ... it was to find a husband."
 It is 1673 and Martha Allen has been sent to Billerica, Massachusetts to help her pregnant cousin, Prudence, while her husband, Daniel Taylor, is away. Martha is a hard worker, but at nineteen, she's already considered a spinster. One of the hired men working on the farm, a tall Welshman named Thomas Carrier, soon catches her eyes. But he's older. And he is hiding a secret from his past, a secret that goes back to Oliver Cromwell and the execution of Charles I. He is also aloof and taciturn; not that Martha is a paragon.
"She had seen her reflection in a bucket of water often enough to know she had a kind of beauty, mirthless though it was; her skin was clear and unspotted, her forehead high and sloping. Her black hair ... was no doubt her glory, but she knew her brows knitted together too often to be pleasing, causing a deep well to form between them. But beyond all of that, she feared she had too much force, too much animal vitality, to be winning; at least to any civil, unprotesting sort of man."
The other story line running through this historical fiction novel concerns the five mercenaries sent by Charles II to Massachusetts to hunt down the regicides, those men who brought about the death of Charles I, especially the one called Thomas Morgan. The chapters alternate between Martha's story and that of these five men, although I would have preferred it if Kathleen Kent had focused solely on Martha and Thomas. (I found myself skimming the other chapters.) Kent includes a lot of interesting historical details; and I was also glad that at the end of the novel she explains which parts of her story are based on fact, and which are based on legend, rumor and supposition. Martha's a strong character, but I found her to be a bit prickly and not always likeable. And I while I liked Thomas, I wish his character had been fleshed out a little more. As for the rest of the novel, I liked it, but I didn't love it. Still, it's set in Massachusetts, which means I've filled another category in Lory's Reading New England Challenge. I only have two more states to go!

Happy Reading!

Monday, March 7, 2016

From the R Shelf...

Author:  Michael Robotham
Title:  Say You're Sorry

How it begins:  "My name is Piper Hadley and I went missing on the last Saturday of the summer holidays three years ago. I didn't disappear completely and I didn't run away, which is what a lot of people thought ... I didn't disappear alone. My best friend Tash was with me. I wish she were here now.

The main players:  The two missing girls, Piper Hadley and Natasha McBain; clinical psychologist Joe O'Loughlin who's been asked by the Oxford police to consult on a related case; ex-cop Vincent Ruiz who helps Joe with his investigation; and the man who took the girls, a man they call George.

My thoughts:  Talk about a serendipitous find from the R shelf! I loved this book. It's suspenseful; it's got memorable characters; it's very well-written; and it kept me guessing until the very end, which every good mystery should. The chapters alternate between Piper and Joe as Robotham skillfully weaves together the past and the present. It was in the hopes of stumbling upon amazing novels like Say You're Sorry and even more amazing authors like Michael Robotham that made me start Reading the Alphabet in the first place. I can't wait to read Robotham's other psychological thrillers. I understand Joe O'Loughlin is the main recurring character, which makes me glad because I like him. In fact, I liked everything about this book.

Happy Reading!

Similar reads:
The Edge of Normal by Carla Norton
The Whisperer by Donato Carrisi
In the Woods by Tana French

Friday, March 4, 2016

Be Happy!

The 'decision to be happy' is actually the decision to stop being unhappy.
--Barry Neil Kaufman

Most people are about as happy as they 
make up their minds to be.
--Abraham Lincoln

Change your thoughts and you change your world.
--Norman Vincent Peale

Remember happiness doesn't depend upon who you are or 
what you have; it depends solely on what you think.
--Dale Carnegie

Be cheerful in all that you do. Live joyfully. Live happily.
Live enthusiastically, knowing that God does not dwell in
gloom and melancholy, but in light and love.
--Ezra Taft Benson

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Ghostly suspense...

"Somebody's living in this house. I heard them earlier. Whispering. When I turned round there was no one there. But there was still whispering."

Lieutenant Dominic Lancaster and his younger sister, Octavia, are sent to their family's summer home near Ullswater to escape the London blitz. Dominic is still recovering from losing his left leg in the war; Octavia is almost completely deaf. They're supposed to be safe in the England countryside, but Hallinhag House is not the sanctuary they hoped it would be.
"The house seems more than quiet. Downcast ... It's full of forgettings ... When I have been here before, the house has seemed filled with light; but that was always the summer, and it is winter now. Perhaps the house has picked up my mood, sensed my new vulnerability, and knows how useless I am. Can houses sense what we feel? Do they feed off all the emotions that have been experienced between their walls? Octavia says there are ghosts here. I admonish her, and I watch her when she comes to this room. She might be serious, but I doubt it. She has no names for these ghosts. Maybe they are silent, like her. 
Told in diary form, Jonathan Aycliffe's The Silence of Ghosts is a quiet tale of Gothic suspense. The house affects Octavia first, but Dominic is not immune. Neither is his nurse, Rose. They all see the children, but it's Octavia that the ghosts want.

I love a good ghost story, especially one set in a house with a mysterious past like Hallinhag House. And while this particular novel isn't the best ghostly tale I've read, it's pretty good. I liked the World War II setting, and the romance between Dominic and Rose. Octavia is a spunky and fun character. And the history of Hallinhag House is unexpected ... and a bit unsettling. All of which makes The Silence of Ghosts a nicely eerie, not too scary, read.  (Though I'm still not sure how I feel about the ending.)

Happy Reading!

Similar Reads:
     The Silence by Sarah Rayne
     The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
     The Fate of Mercy Alban by Wendy Webb
     The Poisoned House by Michael Ford