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Ghosts, Moors and Village Secrets

Beneath the ShadowsA couple and their infant daughter move from the hustle and bustle of London to a remote cottage in North Yorkshire. Soon after, the husband Adam disappears, leaving the baby in her carriage on the front doorstep. So begins Sara Foster’s debut novel, Beneath the Shadows. A haunting, psychological tale, the reader is transported to a beautiful but desolate English village, complete with secretive townspeople and a history of ghosts and unexplained occurrences.  

 

When the wife, Grace, returns to the village the next year, she begins talking to the locals and discovers more about her husband’s boyhood. She also learns about more unsettling issues, including hauntings, characters from local folklore and even strange details about the cottage her husband inherited from his grandparents. Her city friends and family are encouraging her to sell the cottage and run, but Grace cannot yet bring herself to do that. Even as an unknown person or people are sending her increasingly sinister warnings to leave, she needs to know the fate of Adam and if he really did abandon his family.  

 

This book has all the elements for a good autumn read: the moors, cold weather, snowstorms threatening to cut off the village, hints of the paranormal and the ever-present danger of harm coming to a mother and daughter trying to rebuild their lives. Fans of the Bronte sisters, Daphne du Maurier or Jennifer McMahon will be intrigued by this story which slowly unravels to lay bare a town’s and a family’s history and secrets.  

Melanie

 
 

American Horror Story

American Horror Story

posted by:
September 24, 2012 - 8:15am

BreedNational Book Award nominee Scott Spencer tackles the emotionally charged world of fertility treatments in Breed, written under his pseudonym, Chase Novak. Alex and Leslie Twisden lead the ultimate in charmed lives with wonderful jobs, a beautiful home on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and a loving marriage. The only thing missing in their picture perfect world is the pitter-patter of little feet, and each unsuccessful infertility treatment ratchets up their desperation for a baby. When they hear of a miracle doctor in Slovenia named Dr. Kis who has helped other couples with his fertility enhancement, they immediately hop on a plane. Alex and Leslie don’t think twice about undergoing the treatment which turns out to be an unusual and painful procedure. That pain is quickly overlooked, when Leslie becomes pregnant with twins and their family is complete. But at what price? 

 

Fast-forward ten years, and we meet Adam and Alice, the adored twins, who are much loved but are also becoming more aware of some strange goings-on in their house. They are locked in their rooms at night and hear disturbing and violent sounds coming from their parents' bedroom. Fear leads the twins to run away and find out what is really happening to their parents. They are on a quest to find Dr. Kis and get answers to their questions. But even as they seek to discover what really happened during that fateful time in Slovenia, their family and very existence are threatened.

 

This fast-paced story is sometimes gory but always thrilling, and readers looking for more will be happy to learn that Spencer/Novak is hard at work on a sequel – Brood. To get a sense of the high creepy factor throughout this book, check out Entertainment Weekly’s exclusive look at Breed’s book trailer here.  

Maureen

 
 

No One Said it Would Be Easy

The Gift of Fire/On the Pead of a PinFans of renowned mystery author Walter Mosley’s distinctive prose and earthy characters will likely associate the author with his iconic Easy Rawlins series. Yet in this first dual installment of his planned Crosstown to Oblivion series, Mosley turns his imagination away from private eye noir to the realm of SciFi Fantasy. Twin novellas, The Gift of Fire and On the Head of a Pin, are combined in a single volume and are uniquely packaged in a flip-to-read format, with one cover featuring each title and related imagery.

 

In The Gift of Fire, the god Prometheus breaks free of his chains to deliver to humanity a second gift – to lead mankind’s souls from darkness to a place where they can become one with the godmind. To do so he must find a soul capable of being imbued with the gift of such powerful Knowledge. In On the Head of a Pin Joshua Winterland is chronicling the development of a new ground-breaking animatronics technology known as “the Sail”, intended to revolutionize the entertainment world. To Josh’s surprise and the consternation of the innovators, the Sail offers more than it was intended to and soon Josh finds himself connecting with beings and events in time and dimensions far removed from his own.

 

The stories as presented are largely unconnected and could easily stand on their own. The singularly significant link between the tales is an underlying theme of Humanity’s brush with the Divine and the consequences which might result. It is an ambitious theme which other authors might shy away from exploring in the novella format. Yet where others might hesitate, Mosley boldly unites philosophy and entertainment in a winning duo. Those who have already read and enjoyed Gift of Fire and On the Head of a Pin may also appreciate the next twofold installment in Mosley’s Crosstown to Oblivion series, Merge and Disciple, to be published in October, 2012.

Meghan

 
 

Antarctica or Bust

Antarctica or Bust

posted by:
September 21, 2012 - 8:01am

Where'd You Go BenadetteBernadette Fox—mother, wife, one-time architectural prodigy—has disappeared, and it’s up to her thirteen year-old daughter Bee Branch to put together the clues as to her whereabouts. Where’d You Go Bernadette is a brash satirical novel, told in a series of emails and other correspondence from various characters that relay the circumstances leading up to Bernadette’s flight.

 

Bee’s reward for a perfect report card throughout middle school was her own idea: a family trip to Antarctica. (She’d much rather have an expedition than a pony.) But her parents don’t quite share her enthusiasm. Bernadette, the recipient of a MacArthur genius grant at the beginning of her career, suffered a crippling setback when her Twenty Mile House (built from materials sourced within 20 miles of its location) met a vengeful demise. She retreated from the world of architecture, setting up house with her husband Elgin Branch, a techie wunderkind project manager for Microsoft whose TEDTalk is the fourth most viewed video on YouTube. Increasingly antisocial and generally testy, she abhors dealing with her fellow Galer Street School moms, a petty group she refers to as “gnats.” No one in Seattle knows that Bernadette is a genius in self-imposed exile who has hired a virtual assistant in India to deal with the overwhelming details of her life. How can she handle Antarctica? How can Elgin take a vacation when his team is working overtime on Samantha 2, a brain-computer interface?

 

Author Maria Semple, a former sitcom writer for shows including Arrested Development and Mad About You, has written a wickedly entertaining sendup of over-doting parents, the politics of private schools, the importance of keeping up appearances, the zeitgeist of Microsoft, and all things held sacred by the upper middle class Seattle intelligentsia. But at the heart of this novel are the relationships between a mother and daughter, and a husband and wife who appreciate each other in spite of it all.

Paula G.

 
 

Love Triangle in the Texas Panhandle

Love Triangle in the Texas Panhandle

posted by:
September 21, 2012 - 7:03am

TumbleweedsTumbleweeds by Leila Meacham is one part romance, one part saga and one part character study, but in all parts a ripping good read. Cathy Benson is orphaned while living in California, and sent to live with her grandmother in Kersey, Texas. There she is befriended by John Caldwell and Trey Don Hall, two boys who also have absent parents. They become her protectors. In high school, the boys become the stars of the Kersey football team and seem destined for greater things. Kathy shows a knack for science and medicine and throws herself into her studies. Both boys are deeply in love with Kathy, but it’s Trey who makes the first move, and he and Kathy become high school sweethearts. A secret between John and Trey threatens their futures and their friendship, and an unexpected event changes the lives of the three friends forever. The novel follows the threesome through high school, college and careers, and ultimately their return to town at age forty for a reunion.

 

Meacham creates three sympathetic characters, and the reader is privy to information that each character knows but seems unwilling to share with the other two. This builds suspense as the reader waits for the secrets to be revealed. There is enough information and character development to strengthen the motivations of the characters, and each decision stays within believability.  Readers will enjoy getting to know the three friends, spend time with them, and care what will happen to them in the future. Tumbleweeds is a wonderful look into a world of small town dreams, friendship, love, and growing older. Meacham’s previous novel, Roses was also a reader favorite, and she is a writer to keep on any must read list.

Doug

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A Journey through Time

A Journey through Time

posted by:
September 20, 2012 - 8:30am

Shadow of NightShadow of Night, the second book in Deborah Harkness’s All Souls trilogy, was released this summer to the delight of her fans. It continues the story of historian/witch Diana and geneticist/vampire Matthew who met and fell in love in A Discovery of Witches. They go back in time to Elizabethan London to continue their search for the alchemical manuscript Ashmole 782. Upon their arrival, they meet Matthew’s friends from the School of Night, all well-known historical figures like Sir Walter Raleigh and Christopher Marlowe. Their spellbinding journey takes readers to England, France, and Prague. Diana continues her magical education while facing the dangers of being a witch in that time period, and much more is revealed about Matthew’s past and his family.

 

This series has enchanted readers with its blend of magic, history, and romance. Shadow of Night picks up right where the series-starter A Discovery of Witches left off, so readers new to the series will need to start with the first book. The series is flavored by rich historical detail. The author’s passion for history comes as no surprise, though. Harkness is a professor of history at University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Some of the lingering questions from the first book of the series are answered in Shadow of Night, but many more are left to be explained in the final book of the series.

 

Harkness’s knowledge of wine is evident in her novels, especially A Discovery of Witches. Many readers may not realize that in her spare time, she shares her love of wine on her award-winning blog Good Wine Under $20.

Beth

 
 

A Banquet for the Senses

Alyssa Harad has a secret: she is obsessed with perfume. She owns a dizzying array of tiny bottles of scent, tucked away in shoeboxes, drawers, and what she calls her “perfume closet”. She plans her vacations around visiting exclusive boutiques stocked with the rarest and most coveted perfumes, elixirs so precious that she can barely dream of affording a sample, let alone an entire bottle. She became so entranced that she wrote a book, Coming to My Senses: A Story of Perfume, Pleasure, and an Unlikely Bride, that describes her gradual emersion into the decadent world of perfumery. 

 

Harad is not the most likely person to develop a fixation for such a sensuous and rather commercial subject.  After spending years obtaining a PhD in English, Harad thought she knew who she was—literate, feminist, more likely to spend money on books than on beauty supplies.  But she was also drifting, aimless, searching for an avocation that would spark her passions. Oh, and did she mention she was getting married? To distract her from her life and her upcoming wedding, Harad embarked on a voyage into the mysterious and complex realm of perfume, where she found a community of bloggers, commenters, perfumers, and retail salespeople who share her preoccupation with all things olfactory. Her descriptions of how the different notes of a perfume unfold over time are exotic and imaginative. She can paint images, evoke memories, and plunge into the unknown, all from a single drop of fragrance.

 

As her wedding date draws near, Harad reconciles her conflicting feelings over her marriage and her obsession, leaving her more grounded and more fully present in her own life. Coming to My Senses is a personal journey of rediscovery, remembrance, and recognition that will tease your senses and soften your heart.

 

Rachael

 
 

Downton Abbey’s Competition

Call the MidfieBBC’s new series based on Jennifer Worth’s best-selling memoir Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times broke viewer records when it attracted 9.8 million viewers for its opening episode. The show’s popularity only grew from there with later episodes overtaking Downton Abbey’s record ratings. The ensemble cast, including Jessica Raine and Vanessa Redgrave, brings to life the harsh living conditions in London’s poorest slums in the 1950s. The memoir that inspired the series was recently rereleased in time for the show’s US television premiere.

 

At age 22, Jennifer Worth moved into an Anglican convent to work as a midwife to the poorest women in East London. The world she describes is almost unimaginable to modern audiences. Few people had cars, so children typically played in the smaller side streets where there was no traffic. Large families lived in small two-room apartments, many of which had cold running water but no indoor bathrooms. Antibiotics were new and rarely used, and nearly all births took place in the patient’s home.

 

Armed with only a bicycle and bag of supplies, Worth and the other midwives from Nonnatus House delivered 80-100 babies per month in their patients’ homes. Although the details of her patients’ lives and their living conditions are sometimes difficult to read, Worth also brings humor and hope to the stories. Told in her unique voice, Call the Midwife is filled with colorful characters from the nuns and midwives to the patients themselves. This frank and sometimes graphic memoir brings to life a fascinating piece of history. Call the Midwife will air in the US on PBS beginning Sunday, September 30th, and will be released on DVD in November. To get a taste of the show, check out this trailer.

Beth

 
 

Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time

posted by:
September 19, 2012 - 7:55am

Fairest of AllBeauty and the Beast: The Only One Who Didn't Run AwayYoung readers who fondly remember fairy tales will fall in love with two new titles that add a modern spin on classic childhood favorites.

 

In Fairest of All by Sarah Mlynowski, ten year old Abby and her younger brother Jonah discover an antique mirror in their new house. The magical mirror sends them back into the Snow White fairy tale and the duo is responsible for tangling this tale so that there might not be a happily ever after. Mlynowski’s version is funny and contemporary with enough changes to spice things up. Three of the seven dwarfs are women and one has pink hair! Comical hijinks result as the two kids try to fix what they botched, resulting in a hysterical read. The swift pace combined with Abby's quick wit and a real sibling relationship will grab readers from page one. This is a wonderful start to the Whatever After series which promises future magical adventures behind the looking glass.  

 

Wendy Mass also fractures a favored tale with Beauty and the Beast: the Only One Who Didn’t Run Away, the third entry in her popular Twice Upon a Time series. Beauty is a twelve year old dealing with self-esteem issues and a name which she thinks doesn’t reflect reality.  Prince Riley is a gangly bagpipe player who ends up on the wrong end of a witch’s spell and suddenly starts growing fur and sharp nails. Both have superstar older siblings who outshine them in everything. Mass set her version of the story in a medieval kingdom, but her two protagonists are pleasantly modern and relatable. Told in alternating chapters by Beauty and the Prince/Beast, the pace of this quest story is quick and filled with adventure and romance.

Maureen

 
 

It's Not Personal, It's Business

Mr Big: a Tale of Pond LifeMr. Big: a Tale of Pond Life, the cover reads. But when one delves into it, the reader finds this graphic novel by Carol Dembicki and Matt Dembicki is so much more. It begins innocently in springtime as the pond comes to life. The authors show the inhabitants of the pond in a natural light, reminding the reader that life and death are regular parts of the pond ecology. Nighttime in the pond is illustrated using stunning artwork to describe the nocturnal inhabitants’ hierarchy. This simple lesson about life in a pond suddenly twists into a dark tale of revenge when Mr. Big, the resident snapping turtle, quite naturally eats two curious young fish that swim too close. Just another example of the cycle of life in the pond? Not this time. The mother of the young fish refuses to take this one lying down. She pulls together some other pond dwellers – the frogs, other turtles, even the ladybugs – and puts a hit out on Mr. Big. A murder of crows is up for the job, but do they have an ulterior motive? Soon there are ominous sightings of a monstrous fish that can walk on land and fly through the air!

 

Throughout the story, the authors weave together layers of drama and intrigue. The hypocrisy of the frogs as they blithely swallow insect after insect while condemning Mr. Big for eating other creatures; the danger a little mosquito can pose; and the damage done by the introduction of non-native animals to an ecosystem are all subtly imparted to the reader. The rebelling animals remain nameless, yet their thoughts and fears are imparted to the reader via thought bubbles and dialogue. Mr. Big, the only named character, is silent, yet the reader is left with the impression that for Mr. Big "It’s not personal, it’s business." Adults and older children alike will find something to enjoy in this nuanced graphic novel about the perils of messing with Mother Nature.

Diane