Saturday, May 31, 2014

Just Jennifer

The Black Hour by Lori Rader-Day (Seventh Street Books, July 8, 2014)

Thirty-eight-year-old sociology professor Amelia Emmet is returning to the classroom on the Chicago campus where she was shot ten months ago.  The shooter, a student she never met, one with whom she had no contact with whatsoever, also shot himself.  While recuperating and rehabilitating for the last ten months, Amelia continued to ask herself Why?  Why did Leonard Lehane shoot someone he didn’t know, why her, and then why did he turn the gun on himself.  Nathaniel Barber, a graduate student and Amelia’s new teaching assistant, is obsessed with violence in society, especially in Chicago and is obsessed with Amelia’s case; Nath, as Amelia comes to call the awkward young man, hopes his dissertation topic will help Amelia answer some of her questions, but as he quickly grows to realize, Amelia also needs to heal, mind, body and soul, and there is only one person who can do that…Amelia herself.  Forming an uneasy, unorthodoxed alliance, the two work together, and separately, to uncover the answers to why Lehane chose Amelia to shoot, or did he? And why he took his own life.  As they begin their inquiries, they find themselves in some very dark places at the prestigious Rothbert University and some very dark places in their own lives, all leading to a very surprising conclusion, one that even after it seems finished has one last surprise for readers.  The sharply written prose and dialog seems to fit the crisp fall semester that is before Amelia and Nath.  Both have demons of their own, unrelated to the shooting that must be faced if each hopes to heal and move on with their lives.  A fast-paced narrative keeps the plot moving and the high-tension will keep pages turning until the shocking, and emotional end is reached. 

Just Jennifer

The From-Aways by CJ Hauser (William Morrow, May 2014)

Leah has left the comforts of her home in New York City and has followed, even encouraged, her husband Henry back to his hometown of Menamon, Maine where his family has lived, and where his sister still lives, for generations.  Leah leaves her job as a reporter for a big city daily with hopes of getting something at a local paper, maybe even uncovering a scoop that will set the town on its ear; Henry’s sister Charley is the editor of the local paper, is clearly not as enchanted with Leah as Henry, but agrees to give her a chance.  Already writing for the paper is Quinn, who has also drifted into Menamon with the purpose of looking for the father she never knew after the death of her mother; Quinn is also looking for a big story and together, the two women might just summon enough energy between the two of them to find the story that has touched most residents of Menamon, mostly not for the better, a story that will end in a way no one can see coming, an end that has irrevocable consequences for everyone involved.  Though Leah and Quinn are from as different of backgrounds as they can be, they are more alike than either would guess; they are both adrift, looking for something, hoping, expecting even, to find it through love and roots in a place that isn’t their own, a place they would like to make their own, but may not be interested in them.  Full of love, laughter, fear and tears, The From-Aways is a story of friendship, a story of love and marriage, and a story of expectations, ours of others, others of ours and ours of ourselves, but above all, it is a story of two women searching for something and finding it in a place called Menamon.  

Just Jennifer

Peter Pan Must Die by John Verdon (Crown, July 2014)

Once again, John Verdon has written a seemingly impossible to commit crime that will take brilliant puzzle solver Dave Gurney to solve.  Gurney recently retired as a top homicide cop from the NYPD and moved to upstate New York with his wife Madeleine, yet finds himself dragged back into investigations by Jack Hardwick who is not on the mayor’s list of most favorite detectives, but who has good instincts when it comes to things that just don’t feel right.  And the conviction of Kay Spalter for shooting her husband, a real estate mogul who planned to run for governor, while he was giving the eulogy graveside at his mother’s funeral doesn’t feel right.  Mrs. Spalter was arrested and charged with attempted murder, but when Spalter died during the trial, the charges were amended to murder and Mrs. Spalter is now doing twenty-five to life.  Hardwick is convinced that Mrs. Spalter was set up by a dirty cop and is innocent, at least of shooting her husband.  Gurney is convinced that Hardwick is out for revenge against a system he feels has not done right by him, but cannot resist a challenge and agrees to look at the files in spite of his wife’s protestations.  Gurney quickly discerns that the investigator in the case was in fact corrupt and finds himself in the middle of an odd group of people including a very welcoming mob boss, a pint sized assassin who has earned the nickname Peter Pan, and a wife who insists she didn’t commit murder, a wife who Gurney finds himself believing: in spite of all her other faults and shortcomings where her husband is concerned, Gurney doesn’t believe she is a murderer.  The more layers of the case Gurney peels back, the more he is convinced there is only one answer, an answer that is so unbelievable, even Gurney can’t accept it, even as it stares him right in the face.  Gorgeous prose is juxtaposed against violet, gruesome, unimaginable crimes.  Madeleine, who is willing to accept retirement gracefully, has a calm, that is almost preternatural, that is in sharp contrast to Gurney as he is always in motion, always thinking, a partnership that may not be working for both of them in bucolic New York State.  With puzzles that are diabolically clever, well-wrought characters and a serene, calm setting waiting for when Gurney is ready, Peter Pan Must Die will win new legions of fans for John Verdon and satisfy those who have been with him from the beginning. 

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Friday, May 30, 2014

The Christmas Wedding Quilt

Author: Emilie Richards
Stars: 2
Review by: E.L.

Okay story by 3 different writers. Love stories, wished it was more about the quilt.

The Giver

Author: Lois Lowry
Stars: 3
Review by: Flynn197

It was a good book.  Just typically something that I wouldn't read.  There is a movie coming out this summer and my children wanted to see it so I thought I would give the book a read.

Gritty Cities: A Second Look at Allentown, Bethlehem, Bridgeport, Hoboken, Lancaster, Norwich, Paterson, Reading, Trenton, Troy, Waterbury, Wilmington

Author: Mary Procter
Stars: 4
Review by: E.L.

Written in 1978, it is about the cities of Hoboken, Paterson, Allentown, Trenton and others. The black and white pictures are interesting.  Trenton was the tire capital of the country between 1905-1920. The Liberty Bell was hidden in Allentown during the Revoluntion.

Where Nobody Knows Your Name

Author: John Feinstein
Stars: 3
Review by: Bob E

A book about life in the minor leagues of baseball, focusing on several key players, managers, and umpires at the fringes of their careers.  Exhibits a love for baseball and a keen sense of emotional intelligence not otherwise found in the sports genre.

Porch Lights

Author: Dorothea Benton Frank
Stars: 4
Review by: Barb

I love reading the books of Ms. Frank about the Low Country. They feel like a mini-vacation. These characters are interesting and fun, someone you might want for a friend. It's kind of nice when a story has a happy ending.

Scandal in Skibbereen

Author: Sheila Connolly
Stars: 2
Review by: laz

The first of this series (Buried in A Bog) was charming. This one, not so much. The characters did not develop any further than they had been in the first book. The story was long and drawn out, with an ending that was not worth reading to the end for. Disappointing.

Come Home to Me

Author: Brenda Novak
Stars: 1
Review by: bandit

Too ridiculous.

This Is How You Lose Her

Author: Junot Diaz
Stars: 3
Review by: Sandy

In a string of short stories centering on love, loss and Dominican identity, Diaz gives us a glimpse into the aftermath of the wrong afterglow.  The first line of text declares "I'm not a bad guy." and I believed it. Through the stories with women's names as titles, through the descriptions of poverty and immigration, even through the brother's cancer battle; I believed it. That is until the last story's description of our "hero's" physical and emotional collapse.  Am I expected to understand a man's choice of self-destruction? Am I supposed to feel sorry that he is now alone? No, but the reader is taken on a journey and seduced by a good guy making bad decisions.  Enjoy the tour, but don't believe everything the guide says.

We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Young Family, a Broken Down Zoo, and the 200 Wild Animals That Changed Their Lives Forever

Author: Benjamin Mee
Stars: 1
Review by: Mandy Apgar

Firstly, anyone expecting a situation anything like the film do not bother. Writer and psychologist / amateur animal behavior therapist Benjamin Mee lives with his wife and two young children in France's wine country when he gets word that his parents are going to sell their large home in an exclusive London suburb. Relocating the family to England, they decide to invest their collective savings in an area zoo and begin the process of rehabilitation. Doing most of the work themselves, the Mees cope with the loss of Benjamin's wife and periodic animal escapes (a jaguar, tiger, etc.) after which they open the zoo to great acclaim. Hosting none of the film's bratty son backstory, subplots with sick animals or the tacked on romantic interest, the book is simply Mee and his story. Which in itself is great, however; if the events of the film were improbable, the book was still downright dull. Events are drawn out for too long and with a very small book with large print it is too often sidetracked and loses its charm.

Winter Chill

Author: Joanne Fluke
Stars: 1
Review by: mystery lover

This book by Joanne Fluke is one of her earlier books. I know that some books will be different than others by the same author but this one is different in general. It's good, just not a cozy mystery.  Some one else might like better than I did.  The title seems to suit the story.

The mystery doesn't have to be a cozy mystery to be good.

Chestnut Street

Author: Maeve Binchy
Stars: 2
Review by: ADAR

Not her usual really good story.  Her characters connect in all previous books, but in this one they are just individuals.  Very disappointed.


Author: Amanda Maciel
Stars: 4
Review by: Tartu

A YA novel, Tease tells the story of a high school senior who, with four friends, has been charged in connection with the suicide of a classmate. While Sara will admit she and her friends were not very kind to Emma, she doesn't see herself as responsible for Emma's death and doesn't understand why everyone in the town is treating her as an outcast.  An interesting look into high school bullying and harassment and watching Sara grow and learn from her participation in Emma's unhappiness and ultimately death.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Author: Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
Stars: 4
Review by: Nancy W.

I have had this book on my shelf for quite awhile. I was inspired to read it by a recent Holocaust anniversary program. It is about a little known WWII event. The island of Guernsey, in the English channel was occupied by the Germans. This book takes clever form of a series of letters following their lives in and about the island, in 1946, shortly after the end of the war. It was an easy read, pleasant stories, interspersed with the horrors of the war they had just lived through.

The Rise of the Tudors: The Family that Changed English History

Author: Chris Skidmore
Stars: 2
Review by: Mandy Apgar

An account of the British Tudor dynasty from its beginnings within an upstart Welsh family to its first established sovereign Henry 7th. Focuses mostly on the events leading to the Battle of Bosworth, where Henry's forces fought those of Richard III to a successful conclusion. Would have been better if it, although the event certainly had massive implications long term, focused more on the earlier members of the family instead of Henry like so many other texts. Also, went a bit too much almost into Richard, partly because of his body's recent discovery beneath a parking lot reviving interest in the battle.

Tesla's Attic

Author: Neal Shusterman & Eric Elfman
Stars: 4
Review by: Marianne S.

A fun read, first in a series for middle grade readers. What would happen if an attic full of Nikola Tesla's inventions was unleashed upon an unsuspecting Colorado town? Killer asteroids and zombies, of course.

The Lindbergh Case

Author: Jim Fisher
Stars: 4
Review by: Mandy Apgar

A rather good account of the Lindbergh kidnapping, although not the best I've read. It still manages to cover things pretty well without getting into the "Hauptmann was set up/ did this / etc." revisionism that so many books today try to do. Just a nice clear presentation of what happened.

The Son

Author: Jo Nesbo
Stars: 5
Review by: BigDa

Couldn't wait til the retribution was exacted.

The Story of the Jersey Shore

Author: Harold F. Wilson
Stars: 1
Review by: Mandy Apgar

God was this dull. A rather old book I found, it gives little detail about anything. Divided into three time periods, it spends too much of its all too brief volume (133 pages with really big print) going into this or that person instead of the shore itself - its history, geology, etc. Very little on Cape May especially and boardwalk amusement parks.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Graveyard Preservation Primer

Author: Lynette Strangstad
Stars: 3
Review by: Mandy Apgar

 A basic account of graveyard preservation. It gives an account of tombstone symbolism, early attitudes towards planning cemeteries, and gives advice on historic preservationists and hopefuls as to how to properly care for various kinds of memorials. Good, but a bit too simplistic for those who already have an interest. P.S. folks - do not make rubbings! It damages the stones and is the author's (and my) pet peeve within the field.

The Nasty Bits: Collected Varietal Cuts, Usable Trim, Scraps, and Bones

Author: Anthony Bourdain
Stars: 2
Review by: Mandy Apgar

Semi-celebrity chef, writer, and traveler Bourdain gives more accounts of his life in No Reservations and career as a NYC chef. Not nearly as snarky as I like him, little bit of a spark missing from this book that could be from being a collection of various articles instead of something he wrote cohesively.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Just Jennifer

Everything to Lose by Andrew Gross (William Morrow, April 2014)

If you take half a million dollars from a dead man who has probably stolen the money in the first place and no one would ever find out about it, is it okay? Especially if it is to help your autistic son get the proper care he needs?  Thirty-six-year-old Hillary Blum has just lost her job, can’t get her deadbeat husband to pay his back child support and has just witnessed a car run off the road late at night.  Hillary stops to help, realizes that the man is dead but that he has a satchel containing half a million dollars.  Knowing that this money will help her keep things afloat until she is able to get another job, Hillary gives into temptation thinking no one will ever find her.  Until the man who also witnessed the accident is murdered and Hillary realizes the money did not belong to the dead man but to someone else who will stop at nothing to get it back.  Hillary finds the dead man’s son, a cop from the part of Staten Island that was destroyed by Sandy and is still fighting to make a comeback, a man to whom a half a million dollars would also be a big help.  Suddenly, a decades old murder surfaces and things spin quickly out of control.  Everything to Lose is as fast paced thriller with not only a determined heroine, but a desperate one facing a moral dilemma.  All the seemingly desperate strands are woven together in this tightly knit narrative with strong characters and a well-written plot.  

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Just Jennifer

The Shelf: From LEQ to LES by Phyllis Rose (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, May 13, 2014)

Literary critic and biographer Phyllis Rose spent a year reading Proust and chronicled it in her book A Year of Reading Proust.  She decided her next Extreme Reading challenge would be to read a shelf from the New York Society Library.  As Rose perused the shelves and considered her options, she came up with a list of rules for selecting a shelf, rules she quickly discarded or amended as she needed.  The shelf she chose included books such as A Hero of our Time by Mikhail Lemontov and The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux, Edwardian detective novels, novellas from an almost unknown Austrian writer and modern day authors John Lescroart and lesser known novelist Rhoda Lerman  Rose not only discusses the titles she reads, but delves into the lives of the authors, the role of women writers in history, the role of libraries and their acquisition/weeding habits and the role of readers and book buyers (mostly women) in shaping the reading taste of society.  Part social history, part literary criticism and history, this book will fascinate, inspire; you will never browse a shelf of books the same way after spending time with Phyllis Rose.