Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Secrets of Wishtide by Kate Saunders

From the publisher: Mrs. Laetitia Rodd, aged 52, is a widow living in Hampstead with her confidante and landlady, Mrs. Bentley, who once let rooms to John Keats, Laetitia makes her living as a highly discreet private investigator. Her brother is a criminal barrister living in the neighboring village of Highgate with his wife and ten children. Frederick finds the cases, and Laetitia solves them using her arch intelligence, her iron discretion, and her immaculate cover as an unsuspecting widow. When Frederick brings to her attention a case involving the son of the well-respected, highly connected Sir James Calderstone, Laetitia sets off to take up a position as the family's new governess--quickly making herself indispensable. But the seemingly simple case--looking into young Charles Calderstone's “inappropriate” love interest--soon takes a rather unpleasant turn. And as the family's secrets begin to unfold, Laetitia discovers the Calderstones have more to hide than most. Dickensian in its scope and characters, The Secrets of Wishtide brings nineteenth century society vividly to life and illuminates the effect of Victorian morality on women's lives. Introducing an irresistible new detective, the first book in the Laetitia Rodd Mystery series will enthrall and delight.

I am in my 50s and I enjoyed the premise of The Secrets of Wishtide. It's 1850 and the main character, Mrs. Laetitia Rodd, is a widow of 52 and of limited means. She is kind and intelligent. Her brother, a barrister, sometimes calls upon his sister as a kind of private detective to help him gather information.

I liked Mrs. Rodd, and I enjoyed her relationship with her brother and her landlady Mrs. Bentley (who is apparently based on a real person). The book was inspired by David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, which I totally did not pick up; although I've read David Copperfield I don't remember it all that well. The historical facts seem accurate.

I would have preferred that the book be told in the third person; Mrs. Rodd narrates in the first person, and sometimes her voice seemed a little too modern to me. Also, the author a few times had Mrs. Rodd pause and explain something a reader today may not understand, which pulled me out of the story. (For example, "NB Snapdragon is a game that has understandably fallen from favour; you have to pick currants out of a dish of flaming brandy, and I've lost count of all the cuffs I've burn over the years." (p. 126 of the advance reader copy) and "People don't seem to make Smoking Bishop nowadays: it's a fragrant concoction of red wine, port wine, and spices" (p. 249).)

Mrs. Rodd seems to be telling the story from some point in the future, and I found that odd and a little disconcerting. Although this is said to be the first in a series, there were references to previous cases Mrs. Rodd had worked on, and previous interactions with Inspector Thomas Blackbeard, that made me check to see if this really was the first in a series.

Still, those are not major complaints; I had no trouble staying with the story and wanted to see how it would end. There are plenty of threads left over for future episodes with Mrs. Rodd, and I expect I will pick up the next book in the series if it continues.

I read an advance reader copy of The Secrets of Wishtide. It will be published in mid-September 2016 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

In the Barren Ground by Loreth Anne White

From the publisher: In the Barrens, a vast wilderness in northern Canada bordering the Arctic Circle, night consumes every hour of the winter. Humans are scarce; ferocious predators roam freely. Locals say spirits do, too. Rookie cop Tana Larsson doesn’t mind the dark and quiet. Five months pregnant and hoping to escape the mistakes of her past, she takes a post in Twin Rivers, population 320. With her superior out of commission, Tana becomes the sole police officer in 17,500 square miles. She gets a call about the fatal wolf mauling of two students, and the only way to reach the remote scene is to enlist the help of the arrogant, irritatingly handsome Cameron “Crash” O’Halloran, a local pilot with a shady reputation and a past cloaked in shadow. When the scene they uncover suggests violence much more sinister than animal, Tana must trust Crash if she wants to protect the town—and herself—from the evil that lurks in the frozen dark.
In the Barren Ground is a violent but compelling story set in the wilds of northern Canada. A young female cop is called to the scene of two murders. Amidst the carnage of dead people and dead wolves, there are clues that the deaths may not have been due to an animal attack. The more Tana investigates, the more she believes that a serial killer is at work, setting up crime scenes so they appear to be animal attacks. When the killer feels hunted, the killer’s attention turns to Tana.

The author does an excellent job of building and maintaining tension as the threat grows. She also does a good job of ramping up the growing attraction between Tana and Crash, the local bad boy pilot. I liked Tana as the strong but flawed and vulnerable female main character. Crash was a little more stock.

The killer’s motives are not original, but overall the big reveal of the murderer’s identity was handled well. The way the author works a book about a local legend into the plot is also neatly done. I usually don’t like too much graphic violence in the books I read and found the level of detail in this one off-putting, but I was compelled to keep reading by the strength of the narrative.

I enjoyed the Canadian setting. I don’t know whether the portrayals of Native voices and customs are accurate, but I hope so. They definitely added to the story. The small village has its problems, but the people pull together when they need to. On the whole I’d describe In the Barren Ground as a feel good story of terrible violence.

Although In the Barren Ground is from Montlake Romance, the romance is not prominent. A romantic relationship forms but not quickly. This book reads like the first in a series, and I look forward to reading book 2.

I read an advance reader copy of In the Barren Ground. It will be published on August 16 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Infomocracy by Malka Older

Wow, this is hard book to classify. I found it hard to get into at first - really, really hard. It's set in a near-distant future where nations no longer exist but governments do. Every 10 years groups of 100,000 people choose which government they want to live under.

Many of the governments have formed from corporations, like Coca-Cola and Philip Morris. Others are remnants of former nation states; Liberty it seems pretty clear has sprung from the United States. There is also a global internet organization called Information that is like Facebook and Google etc. many times squared.

I had a hard time getting into Infomocracy because there are so many characters, and many had names I am unused to so I wasn't immediately able to picture even whether they were male or female. The action also jumps all over the world, and the names of all the governments were confusing. The world building was grand and chaotic, and the important characters were compelling. (Some of the characters introduced in the beginning faded away into minor importance.) 

Once I got about 100 pages in I really enjoyed Infomocracy. I wonder if my interest was partly sparked by reading this during the U.S. political conventions. There is a lot of subterfuge, and questions about who can trust who, and think I found that more interesting because there is a U.S. presidential race going on. 

As I said, this book is hard to classify. It's hard to even say, for example, that If you liked xxx, you will enjoy InfomocracyIt is a very intelligent work, and it was refreshing to read something that really, really is not English or American-centric. I recommend it to science fiction readers willing to take a chance on something a little unusual, and to readers looking to take their mind off American politics and the election by reading a book about...politics and an election.

The Galesburg Public LIbrary has Infomocracy as a print book and as an ebook.

Monday, July 4, 2016

A Murder in Time by Julie McElwain

The premise of this novel is preposterous, but if you can get past the implausibility, as I did, you might enjoy it.

Kendra Donovan is a present day, tough FBI agent. After a mission goes horribly bad, she goes rogue and takes off for England to exact revenge on one of the men to blame. While taking part in a reenactment dressed as a 19th century maid, she escapes into a secret passageway in an old English manor. Something happens, and she emerges in the same manor in the 19th century.

She plays the part of a Lady's maid at a manor house party while trying to figure out what has happened to her. She is absolutely hopeless, of course, and very American to boot. (That is used as an excuse for almost everything she does wrong.) Then a woman is found murdered, and her FBI training kicks in.

As I said at the beginning, it's preposterous to think that upper class English men of the 19th century would allow a woman, a servant no less, to investigate a murder, interview her betters, and watch post mortem exams. But the writer did a good enough job convincing me to play along that I quite enjoyed it.

There were some plot twists I did not see coming, and the interactions between the modern day American woman and the 19th century English men were a hoot. Kendra is a strong female lead who foolishly allows herself to get trapped in  a dangerous situation but gets out of it without any help from a man.

If you like mysteries, Regency romance, historical fiction, time travel, strong female leads, or some combination, you might want to read A Murder in Time.

A Murder in Time is the current Big Library Read through the Alliance Digital Media Library, the Galesburg Public Library's download service from Overdrive. Borrow and download the book now through July 7 with your Galesburg Public Library card here:

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Michael Vey: Rise of the Elgen by Richard Paul Evans

Submitted by teen reviewer Natalie:

Michael Vey: Rise of the Elgen is the second book in the Michael Vey series by Richard Paul Evans. In this book, Michael and the rest of the Electroclan have made it out of the Elgen clutches and are now heading back home to start searching for Michael's mother. Little do they know what is in store for them.

Michael finally makes it home, but the Elgen are again one step ahead of them. Michael then finds many Elgen guards waiting for him at his old apartment. In search of places to hide, they end up getting messages from an anonymous voice. This voice claims to not be with the Elgen and that it is trying to help Michael and his friends, but anyone who has information about the Elgen might not be able to be trusted. Finally they find out where Michael's mother is, but it's not anywhere close -- in fact, they have to make their way to Peru!

One of my favorite parts in the book is when Michael does decide to trust the voice. Personally I liked this addition to the series because it reminded me of someone who works behind the scenes, yet is still important to the character and the rest of the story.

I would give this book a 9 out of 10 because I really enjoyed the secret voice, but it did kind of bother me that the author didn't even give a hint of who the voice could possibly be. Age-wise, I would recommend this book to sixth and seventh graders. The book does have quite a bit of action, but nothing too bloody or gory. Not to mention I don't think many eighth graders would be interested in the plotline. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and can't wait to start on the third book in the series.

Michael Vey: Rise of the Elgen is available in libraries and bookstores now.

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage

Submitted by teen reviewer Natalie:

Three Times Lucky is about a girl named Mo who has always wondered where she came from, ever since she was found in a hurricane. But after a murder in their small town, some things have changed. Mo has always had a knack for figuring out mysteries. When a detective (who is known as Detective Starr) comes into town asking about a murder, people start acting weird and some of the closest people to Mo are disappearing. Mo decides to get into this mystery to save the ones she loves.

My favorite part of the book is when Mo realizes that she doesn't have to find her birth mother to love someone dearly. She loves the people who have raised her ever since they found her.

I would give this book a 9 out of 10. When the mystery was solved, I never would have expected who it turned out to be. I would recommend the book to anyone who enjoys a good mystery.

Three Times Lucky is available in libraries and bookstores now.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Love and Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

Submitted by teen reviewer Camellia S:

Love and Gelato is about a girl, Carolina (or just Lina). She has to follow her mother's dying wish to meet Howard. Lina assumes that Howard is her father and decides to stay with him in Italy just for the summer, and then she will go back to her boring life. In Italy next to her father's cemetery/house, she meets the dashing Lorenzo, aka Ren. The handsome soccer player makes Lina question her choice to just stay for the summer. Also another mystery pops up: her mother's journal about the year she lived in Italy, and all the secrets hidden inside it.

I absolutely enjoyed this book! The characters are full of life and they have tons of detail. The plot twists throughout this book are amazing. On a scale from 1 to 10, I would rate this book a 10. It is an adorable story about a girl learning about herself and discovering the trail her mother left behind. I hope you decide to read it and enjoy it as much as I did.

Love and Gelato is available in libraries and bookstores now.