Tuesday, March 13, 2018

We Own the Sky by Luke Allnutt

From the publisher: Rob Coates feels like he’s won the lottery of life. There is Anna, his incredible wife, their London town house and, most precious of all, Jack, their son, who makes every day an extraordinary adventure. But when a devastating illness befalls his family, Rob’s world begins to unravel. Suddenly finding himself alone, Rob seeks solace in photographing the skyscrapers and clifftops he and his son Jack used to visit. And just when it seems that all hope is lost, Rob embarks on the most unforgettable of journeys to find his way back to life, and forgiveness.

We Own the Sky is not my usual kind of reading. It’s contemporary fiction with an issue. I accidentally requested an electronic advance reader copy from Netgalley, and since my goal is to read and review every e-ARC I request, I read it.

I’m glad I did. It’s hard to believe it’s a first novel. It’s well written and easy to read. Anna and Rob are characters with depth. Both have traits that made me like them and traits that aren’t particularly attractive. Jack was not as well drawn.

Some of the story is told through forum messages, and I found those a little tiresome at times. Also, the technical details of how Rob hacked into a forum and an email account were probably not necessary. But those are minor complaints about a great story.

The narrative moves back and forth in time – we watch Anna and Rob’s courtship, their struggle to have a child after miscarriages, and their relationship with their child. The book is sad, moving, and believable.

The author wrote this book after being diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 36, and he successfully channeled his feelings of fear, frustration, and loss into his book. If you enjoy contemporary literature, you may enjoy We Own the Sky. It is scheduled to be published on April 3 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Murder at Half Moon Gate by Andrea Penrose

From the publisher: A wealthy lord who happens to be a brilliant scientist . . . an enigmatic young widow who secretly pens satirical cartoons . . . a violent killing disguised as a robbery . . . Nothing is as it seems in Regency London, especially when the Earl of Wrexford and Charlotte Sloane join forces to solve a shocking murder.

Murder at Half-Moon Gate is the second book in a mystery series set in Regency England. It reminded me of the earliest (and best) books in Anne Perry’s William Monk and Thomas and Charlotte Pitt mystery series.

Lord Wrexford is a more sympathetic version of Sherlock Holmes – analytical and distant but willing to lay down his life for those in his small circle of friends. Mrs. Sloane is a woman with secrets who draws scathing political cartoons under a man’s pseudonym and has taken two street urchins into her home. Wrexford and Sloane solve their second mystery in this book and are clearly headed for a romance, as each struggles to hide feelings they don’t particularly want but can’t deny.

I’m not an expert in this era, but the historical details felt real to me as a reader. I found the minutiae about steam engines a bit tedious, but otherwise the characters, plot, and dialog were highly enjoyable. I will definitely be going back to read book one, Murder on Black Swan Lane. I recommend this series for lovers of Anne Perry and other historical mystery series.

I read an advance reader copy of Murder at Half-Moon Gate. It is scheduled to be published at the end of March. It and Murder on Black Swan Lane will be available at the Galesburg Public Library in print and as ebooks.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions

From the publisher: On her sixtieth birthday, Auntie Poldi retires to Sicily, intending to while away the rest of her days with good wine, a view of the sea, and few visitors. But Sicily isn’t quite the tranquil island she thought it would be, and something always seems to get in the way of her relaxation. When her handsome young handyman goes missing—and is discovered murdered—she can’t help but ask questions . . . .

Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions is a delight. Although it is the first book in a mystery series, there is a lot more going on here than is often the case with mysteries. Auntie Poldi is at a crossroads, not sure what to do with herself. She is a bit depressed and is drinking too much. When accidentally pulled into a murder investigation, she puts herself in harm’s way with a kind of indifference as to whether she lives or dies. But Poldi is a fighter who, it turns out, is not going to go gently into that good night. Along the way she finds new passion and a new lease on life.

Although translated from the Italian, I actually thought that added to the charm, in the way of Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove. The book is narrated by Poldi’s visiting nephew. I thought this worked really well. It added a hint of both unreliability and believability to the tale. Parts of the story are absurd – but they could happen, if you had the right eccentric relative to tell you about them. The nephew is supposedly an author, and a pretty bad one from what little he says about his novel in progress. Both the nephew and Poldi are Germans living in Italy, and their outsider view is ours as well. I've only visited Italy twice, but I thought the author did a great job of capturing the feel of Italy and its people. I’ve yet to travel to Sicily, but this book made me want to go now!

This is a book that does a great job showcasing a strong older woman and her zest for life, a complicated and messy but loving family, and life in Sicily.  I recommend it for fans of Fredrik Backman and Helen Simonson’s Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. 

I read an advance reader copy of Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions. It is due out in March 2018 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library in print and as an ebook.

One minor spoiler and caution: two animal deaths occur, one a stray cat and one a guard dog. 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Our Native Bees by Paige Embry

From the publisher: Honey bees get all the press, but the fascinating story of North America’s native bees—an endangered species essential to our ecosystems and food supplies—is just as crucial. Through interviews with farmers, gardeners, scientists, and bee experts, Paige Embry explores the importance of native bees and focuses on why they play a key role in gardening and agriculture. The people and stories are compelling: Embry goes on a bee hunt with the world expert on the likely extinct Franklin’s bumble bee, raises blue orchard bees in her refrigerator, and learns about an organization that turns the out-of-play areas in golf courses into pollinator habitats.

Our Native Bees is a fascinating book about Native American bees. I was afraid Our Native Bees would cover information I already knew, especially when it started off talking about honey bees. However, as the book went on I learned all kinds of interesting stuff about native bees. It's amazing how many varieties there are and how much they accomplish. I am not a scientist, but it seemed very well researched to me.

One of my favorite parts was this quote about honey bees:

Honey bees are the bankers of the bee world, working short hours and taking all the holidays off. If it’s raining, they go home. Too cold? They don’t even leave the hive. [Blue orchard bees] BOBs, on the other hand, start flying as soon as their body temperature warms up to 54 degrees F, so the ambient temperature can be considerably less if it’s a sunny day. Now, bumble bees will fly in bad weather, but their prime season comes later in the year. In early spring with the BOBs first come out, the only bumble bees alive and possibly out gathering are last year’s queens-to-be, and there aren’t going to be enough of them to pollinate an orchard (p. 64 of the advance reader copy)

Highly recommended for those interested in bees, insects, the environment, and wildlife.

I read an advance reader copy of Our Native Bees. I look forward to seeing the actual book and admiring the many bee photos in color instead of black and white.

Our Native Bees will be available at the Galesburg Public Library in February 2018.

You can help pollinators by participating in the citizen science project The Great Sunflower Project: https://www.greatsunflower.org/Pollinator_Plants

Monday, December 25, 2017

The One by John Marrs

Wow. The One by John Marrs was not what I expected and is hard to describe. I thought it might be similar to Crosstalk by Connie Willis, but it is not a romance, or at least, not a traditional romance. It is creepy and thought provoking.

In The One, we meet and follow five people who have been Matched by the newest service. Send in your DNA and it will scientifically Match you with your perfect DNA partner. You only have one Match – and the person may be older than you, or younger, or dead, or they may not have submitted their DNA yet.

What would you do if you were happily married? Would you submit your DNA to see if you married your Match? And if you weren’t, would you leave your spouse? What if you were straight and matched with someone of the same sex? Or gay and matched with someone of the opposite sex?

Although the concept of having only one perfect DNA Match didn’t seem logical to me, I got completely caught up in the stories of the five people we meet who have been Matched. Two are men, three are women, and one is a psychopathic serial killer.

Their stories were not always enjoyable, but I did want to keep reading to find out what would happen next. The stories don’t all have happy endings, and those that do may not be the ones you expect. Although I saw a few plot twists coming, there were a lot that surprised me.

This is not a perfect book; I had to pretend to buy in to some stuff that I didn't find plausible. But if you are looking for a an unusual book about love, matchmaking services, and social media, you might want to read The One.

I read an advance reader copy of The One. It is scheduled to be published in February 2018 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library in print and as an ebook.  

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Lost Plot by Genevieve Cogman

The Lost Plot is book 4 in the Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman. This series has moments of great fun for lovers of fantasy, libraries, dragons, Fae, and strong female leads.

In Cogman's world, Librarians can work a sort of magic by speaking the Language. They travel into alternate time periods and versions of our world to find rare and alternate copies of books. Irene Winters is a Librarian with a dragon apprentice and a Victorian detective friend. She gets involved in a remarkable amount of intrigue as she goes about her book finding duties.

In The Lost Plot, Irene and her assistant head to Prohibition-era New York and are thrust into the middle of a political fight with dragons, mobsters, and Fae. In a 1920s-esque New York, Prohibition is in force, fedoras, flapper dresses, and tommy guns are in fashion, and intrigue is afoot.

The tension between the Fae and the dragons adds some spice, Irene is a resourceful and intelligent lead, and there is a nice balance between character interaction and action. I really enjoyed the 1920s gangster setting of The Lost Plot.

The romantic tension and hints of a love triangle are by far the least interesting aspects of this otherwise fabulous series. I wish the author would drop the romance and concentrate on the fun.

I read an advance reader copy of The Lost Plot. It will be released on January 8, 2018, and the Galesburg Public Library will own it in print and as an ebook. If you want to get started on this fantasy series, The Invisible Library, book 1, is available at the library.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg

In The Story of Arthur Truluv, a loner teenager meets an elderly man visiting his wife’s grave and the two bond. We learn about life, love, growing up, growing old, and the meaning of family as their relationship grows and they bring others into their circle.

The story is heart-warming, if extremely predictable and manipulative, and there are some neat turns of phrase. For example, Maddy tells Arthur she feels things from the graves, “Mostly peace. Like … relief. Like, ‘Okay, that’s all, put down your pencils, even if you’re not done.’” (p. 39 of the digital advance reader copy). Another phrase I liked was a thought from Arthur on page 49: "What the kids can't do with those computers! He's seen what look like four-year-olds seated at little computer screens at the library, intent on their business as air traffic controllers." I think this novel will find many readers and will be chosen by many book clubs in the coming year.

Arthur imagines the lives of the people under the graves at the cemetery, and I was not crazy about this thought: “This one was a librarian, the prettiest thing you ever saw in spectacles….Wore her hair up in a bun that always immediately started falling down in a most attractive way.” (p. 35 of the digital advance reader copy). It may be Arthur thinking it, but it is Berg writing it, and I’m disappointed in her for continuing the old librarian stereotype. She surely could have come up with something more original.

If you enjoyed A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman and Pixar’s movie Up, you probably will enjoy The Story of Arthur Truluv. It struck me as a merging of the two

I read an advance reader copy of The Story of Arthur Truluv. It was published on November 21 and is available at the Galesburg Public Library as a print book and as an ebook.