The Blackhouse – Peter May

BlackhouseThe annual tradition of collecting guga (gannet hatchlings) from the rocky isle of An Sgeir off the Isle of Lewis in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides dates to before the Middle Ages.  Today it is a rite of passage for young men of Ness.

A murder on Isle of Lewis has gruesome details similar to one that occurred in Edinburgh recently, so Fin Macleod has been sent to see if there is a connection.  He has been investigating the Edinburgh murder and, as it happens, he was born and raised on Lewis.  Fin had escaped to attend the university in Edinburgh years ago and except for a brief visit for a funeral had never come back.  As soon as he stepped off the plane, the memories hit him.  And they kept haunting him.

This is a beautifully crafted book, with chapters alternating from the present to the past.  The story told in the present is brisk and factual, a typical mystery style.  The chapters from the past are full of melancholy, of regret, of an aching that can’t quite be defined.  The focus soon changes from solving the mystery to uncovering Fin’s past, and the guga hunt seems to be the key.

I enjoyed being transported to the barren, windy, Scottish isle peopled with crusty, rugged individuals.  This is the first of a trilogy and I am eagerly looking forward to the next book.

eGalley review      Publication date 8.5.14

Posted in adult, mystery

Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered – Dianne Hales

Mona LisaLeonardo’s Mona Lisa is probably the most famous painting in history.  Songs have been written about her.  She’s often been copied by other artists. Suitors have left her flowers, poems, love notes.   She has been kidnapped and returned. Twentieth century artists have taken liberties with her and she has traveled to the U.S. and Japan for visits.   Her life has been the focus of novels.  But biographies have been difficult.  Very few facts have survived the centuries.  She was born to Antonmarie Gherardini and Lucrezia in 1470, married in 1495 to Francesco del Giocondo, had six children and died in 1542.  That’s it.

And so, this book is mostly about the author’s time in Florence tracking down bits of Lisa’s life.  There is a lot of background and history, giving the reader knowledge of what a woman like Lisa might have done, and giving the reader a feel for how she might have lived.  I enjoyed going along with the author and watching her dig out tiny nuggets of information.  When she describes dancing in excitement at seeing the baptismal record of the child of Antonmarie Gherardini,  I could share the moment.   This is a very well researched book. Her familiarity with Florence and its language allowed her to interview family descendants and view primary sources.  But more than that, this book is filled with the excitement Dianne Hales felt while doing all of that research.

There is a nice timeline at the end of the book that helps place Lisa in the affairs of the world around her and a list of the relevant people.  I enjoyed the book and highly recommend it.

eGalley review        Publication date 8.5.14

Posted in adult | Tagged

The Kiss of Deception – Mary Pearson

the kiss of deceptionPrincess Lia must marry a prince she has never seen or met to broker a peace between two kingdoms.  Lia is not a big fan of that whole ‘sacrifice happiness for the good of the kingdom’ thing.  So Lia and her best friend, Pauline hatch a last minute plan to run away.  They make their way to an inn that was Pauline’s childhood home in a peaceful seaside village.  Quickly settling into life in the busy inn, Lia lets her guard down.  Two travellers wander into the inn; both become enamored of Lia and decide to stay a while.  One is the jilted prince, determined to track her down and angry because she bolted before he did.  The other is an assassin sent by a neighboring kingdom tasked with killing Lia to start a war.

The chapter title tells the reader if it is the Assassin, the Prince, or Lia who is telling the story.  Ahhh, but which man is the assassin and which is the prince?  I am a gushing fan of Mary Pearson and adore The Miles Between.  This is also quite excellent.  A delicious adventure with a tingle of romance and deceit.  This will be quite popular and ends with a cliff hanger.  I eagerly await the next book in this new series, The Remnant Chronicles.  Highly recommend.

eGalley review     Publication date 7.15.14

Posted in fantasy, highly recommend | Tagged

The Sacred River – Wendy Wallace

the sacred riverLuxor is wonderful.  The air is dry, clear, and for the first time in her life, Harriet can breathe.  For the first time she truly feels alive.  The noxious fogs of Victorian London made Harriet’s asthma life threatening, so her mother finally agreed to take her to Egypt for her health.  Harriet has been fascinated by all things Egyptian for most of her twenty-three years, teaching herself to read hieroglyphics and occasionally using them to create charms.  She doesn’t care whether or not her health improves, just to see Egypt will make her life complete.  At the request of her father, Yael, her father’s spinster sister, goes with them.  This is the story of three women, released from society’s constraints, becoming themselves, each in her own way.  It is beautifully written, with the atmosphere of Egypt filling the pages.  I could feel the heat and dust of Alexandria and the cooling breezes of Luxor.  The characters were well drawn, always properly Victorian, never stepping out of the 19th century.   I enjoyed the book, and recommend it.

eGalley review      Publication date 7.1.14

Posted in adult, realistic fiction | Tagged

The Body in the Woods – April Henry

body in the woodsA teen unit within a search and rescue group receives the alert for their first assignment to find a missing man in the woods.  Instead, they stumble upon the body of a teen recently murdered and realize they must have passed the murderer on the trails.  They piece together the recent murder of homeless teens and try to prevent the next murder.  The Body in the Woods is a slight departure from the author’s highly popular suspense novels in that much of the text is devoted to crime solving techniques.  The suspense is ever present and the use of alternate points of view is well executed.  The three teens are each dealing with their own issues while reluctantly coming together to solve the crime.  Girl Stolen is still my favorite book of the author to recommend to middle school readers, but this book will find a following too.

eGalley review      Publication date 6.17.14

Posted in mystery, suspense | Tagged

Circa Now – Amber McRee Turner

circa now

Circa’s parents own a photography studio.  Her mother photographs family portraits and her father is amazing in restoration photography.  He taught his daughter, Circa, intricate techniques to add detail into photos.  Circa’s father is delivering a photograph in the middle of a violent storm and he is killed.  Circa’s mother already battles depression and has difficulty leaving the house so the cruel weight of her husband’s death is almost too much.  But soon after the tragedy, a young boy with amnesia shows up at their house.  His plight gives Circa and her mother new life.

While the plot sounds heavy, the story is full of life and small joys.  The magic of manipulating photos, the steady friendships, and strong-willed Circa bring this story together with a smile.  And Miles, the mystery boy, is the symbol of rebirth that so many long for.  Engaging, heart-warming, and uplifting.  Highly recommend.

eGalley review      Publication date 5.27.14

Posted in highly recommend, realistic fiction | Tagged ,

Say What You Will – Cammie McGovern

say what you willAmy and Matthew are high school students with unique sets of personal challenges. Amy has Cerebral Palsy and needs a walker to move around and a computer-like machine to voice her thoughts. Matthew struggles with OCD and anxiety. When Amy decides she’d like to have student helpers during her senior year, she encourages Matthew to apply, and they develop a wonderful, supportive, and encouraging friendship. They keep one another balanced and help each other grown and heal. The story is beautifully told and has unexpected twists and turns that keep the reader enthralled. Say What You Will is an inspirational story that shows how strong, caring, and brave people can be when faced with challenges. The is a refreshing read and quite excellent. Highly recommend.

eGalley review   Publication date 6.3.14

Posted in highly recommend, realistic fiction | Tagged , ,