Monday, July 2, 2018

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein, by Kiersten White



From the publisher: Elizabeth Lavenza hasn't had a proper 
meal in weeks. Her thin arms are covered with bruises from her "caregiver," and she is on the verge of being thrown into the streets . . . until she is brought to the home of Victor Frankenstein, an unsmiling, solitary boy who has everything--except a friend.

Victor is her escape from misery. Elizabeth does everything she can to make herself indispensable--and it works. She is taken in by the Frankenstein family and rewarded with a warm bed, delicious food, and dresses of the finest silk. Soon she and Victor are inseparable.

But her new life comes at a price. As the years pass, Elizabeth's survival depends on managing Victor's dangerous temper and entertaining his every whim, no matter how depraved. Behind her blue eyes and sweet smile lies the calculating heart of a girl determined to stay alive no matter the cost . . . as the world she knows is consumed by darkness.


This Young Adult novel retells Mary Shelley's Frankenstein from the perspective of Elizabeth Lavenza, a fairly minor character from the original novel who is the fiancĂ©e of Victor Frankenstein, the mad scientist who creates the infamous monster.  Although the novel may be best read as a companion to Frankenstein, it also works quite well as a standalone read for those who have not read the original.

Seventeen year-old Elizabeth is a ward of the Frankenstein family. She was adopted as a child to be a companion for their eldest son Victor, who (to put it mildly) is a little unusual and doesn't relate well to other people. Elizabeth, eager to escape her current "caretaker" who regularly abuses her, quickly figures out who she needs to be in order to become inseparable from Victor and sets about shaping herself into that person. It works - she grows more and more attached to him, holding onto him as a lifeline.  Despite her close attachment (or perhaps because of it), she copes with a constant fear of being rejected and abandoned, believing that Victor's father would toss her out onto the street at the slightest provocation.

As the story begins, Victor has been away at university for about two years, leaving Elizabeth behind with the family since as a woman in 19th-century Europe, she cannot attend university herself. Victor wrote to her regularly at first, but she has received no word in many months. Desperate to learn what has become of the young man she regards as her only hope for a future, Elizabeth sets out from the Frankenstein home to find Victor and bring him home. 

Anyone familiar with the story of Frankenstein should be able to figure out what she discovers, but even once the full horror of the situation becomes clear, things are not necessarily what they seem. This is where the novel really starts to put a twist on the original Frankenstein story.

Without getting into specifics, Elizabeth's tale suggests that the events Victor relates in the original novel might not be what really happened. Modern readers tend to see Dr. Frankenstein as the true villain already, rather than the monster he created, and this novel plays with those expectations in new and interesting ways.

Whether or not the reader finds Elizabeth relatable, it's easy to see why she believes and acts as she does. It's clear that Kiersten White did her research and is quite familiar with the source material, the time period, and the setting. Though Frankenstein turned 200 years old this year, this book feels like a believable companion to the original novel.  

This book should appeal to fans of the original, as well as horror readers in general and fans of compelling female protagonists.  I read an Advance Reader Copy of The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein. The book comes out September 25th, and will be available in print at Galesburg Public Library.

Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett


From the publisher: Sancia Grado is a thief, and a damn good one. And her latest target, a heavily guarded warehouse on Tevanne’s docks, is nothing her unique abilities can’t handle. But unbeknownst to her, Sancia’s been sent to steal an artifact of unimaginable power, an object that could revolutionize the magical technology known as scriving. The Merchant Houses who control this magic have already used it to transform Tevanne into a vast, remorseless capitalist machine. But if they can unlock the artifact’s secrets, they will rewrite the world itself to suit their aims. 




“Any given innovation that empowers the individual will inevitably come to empower the powerful much, much more.” (p. 493)

Foundryside is engrossing, inventive, and fun. The characters have depth and much room to be explored in later books, and the plot caught me by surprise a number of times. Not everyone is what they seem, and there are many gray areas to their personalities.

Although set in a fantasy world, Foundryside has things to say about life in our world. I particularly liked this quote:
You have to understand, kid, that you’re wading into the depths of a war that has raged for time beyond memory – a war between those who make and that which is made, between those who own and those who are owned. (p. 484)

One of the things I liked is that the author has more original ways than using and overusing the F word to show that his characters often swear and can be coarse. I also liked that when he sets up a surprise twist, he doesn’t hide that something is happening. Although I didn’t guess what was coming the author made it possible for me to do so. (I hate it when authors keep knowledge from the reader just so they can create a surprise twist.) Also, at least so far, there aren’t any ancient texts or prophecies proclaiming Sancia to be a chosen one.

There is a bit of insta-love – meh – but at least there is no love triangle. Although the ending is wide open for sequels, this particular book also wraps up neatly. I’ll be looking forward to book 2.

Foundryside reminded me a little of the Abhorsen series by Garth Nix, although I found it easier to follow. If you enjoy thought-provoking fantasy with a lot of action and interesting characters, you might want to read Foundryside. I read an advance reader copy of Foundryside; it is due out on August 21 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library as a book and an ebook.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer

From the publisher: Vice President Joe Biden is fresh out of the Obama White House and feeling adrift when his favorite railroad conductor dies in a suspicious accident, leaving behind an ailing wife and a trail of clues. To unravel the mystery, “Amtrak Joe” re-teams with the only man he’s ever fully trusted—the 44th president of the United States. Together they’ll plumb the darkest corners of Delaware, traveling from cheap motels to biker bars and beyond, as they uncover the sinister forces advancing America’s opioid epidemic.

A run of the mill mystery elevated by the fact that it's narrated by a (fictional) Joe Biden, kicking around with nothing to do and missing his BFF Barack Obama. When a friend from his days riding Amtrak is killed, Obama shows up at his house, secret service agent in tow (poor Biden no longer qualifies for secret service protection).

Biden and Obama (and the dour secret service agent) get pulled into solving the mystery and busting a drug running ring. Obama is cool but heroic; Biden is self reflective and self deprecating. Everything we loved about those Obama/Biden memes is captured in this book. Biden jokes with the clerk at a convenience store about the weather; when she responds with "global warming," Obama counters with a lecture on climate change. 

Hope Never Dies got a big draggy, but it's worth continuing for those golden Obama/Biden moments. Recommended for those who miss their presidential bromance.

I read an advance reader copy of Hope Never Dies; it will be available at the Galesburg Public Library as an ebook and in print in July,

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Bluff by Michael Kardos

A very entertaining novel about a twenty-seven year old magician - Natalie Webb - who is trying to make a comeback in the business after being shunned by the magic world. Things go horribly wrong at one of her gigs in the very first chapter and that sets the stage for this novel. Natalie is incredibly talented with sleight of hand card tricks and she meets a skilled poker player, who also happens to be a card cheat. Natalie is offered the chance to pull off a $1.5 million magic trick that they are sure to get away with, but she has to cheat, which goes against everything she's been taught and knows about magic. A well-written novel, full of suspense, twists, turns and a brilliant con game!

Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

This debut novel by Alice Feeney was a great read. The story opens with the main character, Amber Reynolds, in the hospital and in a coma. She can hear and understand what's going on around her, but she literally has no idea how she got there or what had happened to her. She knows that she is in a coma, she knows that she is married and she knows that sometimes she lies. These are the only three things she knows for sure. The author skillfully weaves this tale between the present (Now), the immediate past (Then) and 25 years ago (Before.) The writer sets this story up in such a clever way and there were a few times where I had to set the book down and applaud her brilliance. Each of the three settings (Now, Then and Before) lay the groundwork to come up with an explanation as to what happened to Amber. It's a thrilling and twisty psychological thriller. I couldn't put it down. A spectacular debut novel!

Monday, April 30, 2018

Miss Wilton's Waltz by Josi S. Kilpack


From the publisher: Lenora Wilton has spent her life hiding behind the keys of her beloved pianoforte and the vibrancy of her younger sister, Cassie. But Lenora is ready for a change and begins her journey of self-discovery by traveling to Bath to live with her Aunt Gwen and teach music at an all-girls’ boarding school. She is different in Bath and enjoys the freedom and independence of her new life there. When Lenora meets Aidan Asher, she finds herself attracted to him; unexpected feelings that become more complicated when she learns that Catherine—Lenora’s newest and most troublesome student in the school—is Mr. Asher’s niece.

Miss Wilton’s Waltz is a sequel to The Vicar’s Daughter. Both are part of Shadow Mountain’s Proper Romance series of clean romance stories. Author Kilpack writes gentle romance novels that feature characters with issues. In the first book, Lenora was a secondary character dealing with social anxiety. She gets the spotlight in this book, still coping with social anxiety and learning how to be independent and successful. Catherine, the troubled student, turns out to be dealing with a learning disability.

I enjoyed this book more than the first. The characters were more developed, the plot was smoother and more believable, and the messages were not so heavy handed. I recommend it for lovers of historical romance.

I read an advance reader copy of Miss Wilton's Waltz. It and other books by Josi S. Kilpack are available at the Galesburg Public Library.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley

From the publisher: It's late summer, war is raging, and families are torn apart by divided loyalties and deadly secrets. In this complex and dangerous time, a young French Canadian lieutenant is captured and billeted with a Long Island family, an unwilling and unwelcome guest. As he begins to pitch in with the never-ending household tasks and farm chores, Jean-Philippe finds himself drawn to the daughter of the house. Slowly, Lydia Wilde comes to lean on Jean-Philippe, true soldier and gentleman, until their lives become inextricably intertwined. Legend has it that the forbidden love between Jean-Philippe and Lydia ended tragically, but centuries later, the clues they left behind slowly unveil the true story.

This is my first book by Susanna Kearsley, but it won't be my last. This compelling novel switches back and forth in time - from the present, where a young woman is helping turn a Long Island home into a museum, to the past, where a hard-working family lives their normal lives as best they can in a time of war.

I really enjoyed the scenes from the past and was intrigued to see where the plot was going. I found modern day character Charley a little annoying, with a life too filled with drama of various sorts (broken romance, potential new romance, estranged grandmother, recently deceased brother, depressed niece). I could have done with a lot less Charley. I actually skipped her chapters a few times to jump ahead and see what happened next with Lydia and Jean-Philippe (although I always returned to read Charley's chapter before going too much further).

I found the book a bit draggy in the middle; editing out some of the modern day drama would have improved the novel. However, overall I enjoyed the writing style, the plot, and the characters. A definite recommend for fans of Kate Morton and other present/past historical mysteries.

I read an advance reader copy of Bellewether. It is scheduled to be published in August 2018 and will be available through the Galesburg Public Library.

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.