Saturday, July 21, 2018

Calculating the Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal


I absolutely adored the The Lady Astronaut  of Mars byMary Robinette Kowal, featuring the same lead character as this book. I kept waiting for this Elma to grow into that one-- and undoubtedly she will, though it will be in the period between the end of this book and the beginning of the novella. Either way, there still was a lot to enjoy about this story, and the premise has given me lots to think about-- a meteorite strikes the east coast of the US in 1952, wiping out cities and lives, setting the world up for drastic climate change. It also causes drastic changes in the timeline for the US Space program.

Things I liked about this book: the relationship the two Drs York have, both the playfulness, and the support they give each other, how Elma's eyes are slowly opened to the inequality to those Americans not fortunate enough to be born white or male, the friendships that existed and the strength many of the characters showed. Yes, this is an alternative history, and the science behind that "what if" is fascinating, but like Kowal's other books, it is the relationships between the characters that drives the story.

I did listen to the audio version, read by the author, and I admit to willing suspension of disbelief when she tried to do what she thought would be a Charleston accent speaking Yiddish or Hebrew.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Childhood treasures

Amy and Abby, 1959. Is it weird that I still remember that hat?
My three best friends, when I was a girl, were Abby, Morgan, and Cindy. Abby lived on the next block from my family. I was born 12 hours ahead of her, almost to the exact minute, but as my birth time was in the evening and hers in the morning, our birthdays fell on different days. Childhood memories are filled with adventures with Abby, everything from swing sets, snow days, swimming, and secret clubs. We stayed friends even as we grew older. I moved away, and we still kept in touch. I was at her wedding, but she wasn't at mine. Her excuse was pretty good, though. She'd given birth the night before to her eldest child. After my mother and brother died, Abby has been one of the only people who still calls me the Yiddish affectionate version of my name: Amele (pronounced Aim-a-la). She is still one of the people in that "best friends" group for me.

Amy and Morgan 1959
Morgan came to me even before Abby, but not by much. Morgan is a plush toy dog, that I only recently discovered has some sort of connection with the Gary Moore show.  Apparently, he was the perfect gift for a newborn girl in 1956, because I received two. The story is that my mother was delighted, because when the first one wore out, she pitched it and gave me the second one. She couldn't understand why I wept inconsolably for several days at the loss of my stuffed dog, and refused to give any notice to the pretender. But eventually, the new Morgan dog became the pillow that caught my tears, and we bonded. Morgan had a nose that squeaked, soft satiny ears, button eyes, and my deep love.


Amy and Cindy at YellowStone 1963

 Cindy came to me the year I started Kindergarten. A baby doll, with a soft body, and blond hair, she accompanied me on a trip across the country that my family took in 1962. Unfortunately for Cindy, by 1963, Pebbles Flintstone had been born and I took to putting her hair up in a barrette to imitate the  cartoon baby. Cindy (like the first Morgan) got rather battered from constant loving, so my mother decided to replace her. Rather than suffer the indignities of a wailing child for several weeks, she thought that involving me in the replacement process would be a good idea. So, my parents and I went off to Toys R Us and wandered the aisle until we found an updated Cindy doll to be a replacement. I promptly named her Daisy, and much to my mother's chagrin, refused to give up Cindy, because now, with the addition of Daisy, Abby had a doll to play with at our house, too. My mother embraced the idea, and that year, for holiday gifts, presented both dolls with handmade gowns, embroidered with their names. The girls have them still and wear them proudly.

Elanor, Amy, and a whole lotta well loved toys
Sadly, the younger generation in my family has shown little interest in my old toys. But recently, Cindy, Daisy, and Morgan, as well as my whole collection of "foreign dolls" (foreign in quotes because included in the collection are Native American, Hawaiian, Amish, and unspecified American dolls as well as ones from Holland, Japan, China, Greece, Italy, Germany, France, Denmark, and some other places in between) have come to find a new heart to love them all. The daughter of a dear friend, she's a strong girl: bright, compassionate, artistic, and lively. Her favorite song is It's a small world. When asked if she was interested in the dolls, learning that they were well loved and old, she said it doesn’t matter if dolls are older or newer, it only matters what their personality is. This large hunk of my childhood  (including Daisy, with Abby's blessing),  now resides in the childhood of another girl, blossoming and growing into new experiences. Thank you Elanor; I know these beloved companions will bloom in the garden of your love. 

(Botton picture is Elanor with Morgan and Raggity Ann, another childhood treasure, and me with Cindy and Daisy. Foreign doll collection is on the table in front of us.)

Sunday, May 20, 2018

By Invitation Only by Dorothea Benton Frank

Sometimes Dottie Frank has me laughing so hard I fear I may have to change my panties, other times are a total miss. Luckily for me, this time was a winner. I had the good fortune to hear the author the week before the book was officially out, when she co-hosted and spoke at the spring Books and Authors luncheon, sponsored by the Post Courier. One of the authors had to bow out at the last minute, so  Ms Frank filled in. As usual, she was warm, engaging, and downright hilarious. If you ever have the chance to hear her speak, regardless of if you like her books or not (or like me, like some of them, but are not fond of others) go hear her. For her fabulous ability to engage an audience while speaking, she is one of my favorite authors, let alone for her ability to catch elements of the lowcountry in her writing. She's got a way with words, and an eye for what makes entertaining reading (as evidenced by this book, inspired by her two children each getting married, and by the birth of her first grandchild.)

For the record, DBF had a magic way with the rules of publishing and was able to swing copies her book for the luncheon, the week before the actual publishing date. I didn't complain!

From the publishers:
In this thoughtful, timely, humorous, and bighearted tale, perennial New York Times bestselling author Dorothea Benton Frank examines what happens when a young sophisticated Chicagoan falls for the owner of a farm on Johns Island, a lush Lowcountry paradise off the coast of South Carolina-trading the bustle of a cosmopolitan city for the vagaries of a small southern town.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Lies That Bind US by Andrew Hart

Despite the fact it's taken me a few weeks to sit down at the computer and write my thoughts, it's not the fault of the book or the author. I broke my patella a month or so back, and my computer sits in a location at my home quite inconvenient to wiggling in with ambulation aids. I am loathe to do much on my iPad or phone, because I make so many typos anyway, and that number multiplies on those devices. It's really vanity speaking, because I like Andrew Hart and enjoy the few conversations I've had with him when he's used his other name, so don't want him believing me to be a total dullard. Ah vanity...
As to the book, I truly enjoyed it. A good suspense novel engages the mind and grabs the attention. This also seemed to grab my fingernails, because several are now mere nubs, when I am sure I had a full set at the start of the book. I loved the weaving of mythology and location into the story.  Mr Hart blended a intriguing tale of friendship, betrayal, and regaining of trust, along with the additional element of danger. The tension ramps up pretty quickly, especially after the fatal flaw of the main character is revealed.
Bottom line? Read the book. You'll get a good yarn, and might just learn something in the process.

From the publisher:
From a prize-winning and New York Times bestselling author comes a chilling novel of deception under the sun…

Jan needs this. She’s flying to Crete to reunite with friends she met there five years ago and relive an idyllic vacation. Basking in the warmth of the sun, the azure sea, and the aura of antiquity, she can once again pretend—for a little while—that she belongs. Her ex-boyfriend Marcus will be among them, but even he doesn’t know the secrets she keeps hidden behind a veil of lies. None of them really know her, and that’s only part of the problem.

Then again, how well does she know them?

When Jan awakens in utter darkness, chained to a wall, a manacle around her wrist, her echoing screams only give her a sense of how small her cell is. As she desperately tries to reconstruct what happened and determine who is holding her prisoner, dread covers despair like a hand clamped over her mouth. Because, like the Minotaur in the labyrinth in Greek myth, her captor will be coming back for her, and all the lies will catch up to her…

Monday, May 14, 2018

Immediate Dead by Blue Cole

love the premise of this story: Young cop gets transferred Homicide and is paired with the notorious detective nicknamed The Reaper, who has closed out far more cases than everyone else. His secret (and it is a secret from everyone he works with) is that he's able to converse with the recently dead. His prime witness is the person just knocked off. Pretty cool, huh? But even his plucky, organized, and smart new partner doesn't know his secret. Will his surly introverted nature run her off, or will they go on to become a team made in heaven (or hell, depending on how you view things)? And remember, she's plucky, organized, and smart, and intent on finding out what's driving him.

This was my first Blue Cole book, and an early one of his. The premise, as I said, wowed me. I'm looking forward to following the characters, and also watching the author evolve in his craft. Also, it was fun to see characters named after folks Blue and I both know through the ever wonderful JordanCon, a yearly fantasy con dedicated to the memory of Robert Jordan, which is fast turning into a celebration of fantasy literature and art, while remaining a heck of a good time.
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Thursday, April 26, 2018

Cold Bath Street by A.J. Hartley

I will be honest: stories that dip into horror are not my thing, but AJ Hartley is one of my favorite authors, so I decided to read this. It wasn't easy getting a copy. When I first tried, the book was not even listed on amazon (now listed, but currently sold out, as the book has gone into a second printing.), and unheard of by other booksellers. I finally tracked a copy down through Book Depository (fantastic service and free shipping to the US from UK). Was it worth it? You betcha!

Preston Oldcort's nightmare returned. The Bannister Doll, with all its ghostly horror had come after him, and he finds himself flat out on the sidewalk, waking from the terror-- only to find that it is true, and he is dead, trapped in an in-between place, where the all the horrors of the ghost world  are real.

AJ Hartley set this book in his hometown, and uses the setting, including the local legends and stories to full advantage. AS I said, horror isn't my genre of choice, but a well-told ghost story is terrific. And this is a good tale. (Plus the cover is maybe one of my all-time favorites. You have to see it in person to understand the true nature of it, though I did put up a video over at Instagram.

2018-read, a-favorite-author, great-cover, made-me-look-something-up, met-or-know-the-author, not-my-usual-read, read, ya-lit

Publisher blurb:
Preston Oldcorn is in a desolate void between life and death. In order to save his soul he must brave his greatest fear - Cold Bath Street. A gothic thriller - think Hunger Games crossed with Artemis Fowl - that will keep you gripped to the end. Stunning black and white illustrations throughout.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Everlasting Nora by Marie Miranda Cruz

Listen up all you school librarians and parents of middle school age readers: This is a beautiful book for middle schoolers. It taught me so much about a culture of which I know very little. The world can be a scary place, and bad things can happen to those we love. Yet friends can help us through those tough times and even in finding solutions. It reminds me, yet again, why one of my favorite quotes is from Aesop: No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. Thanks to Nora, and Marie Miranda Cruz, I now know more about the cemetery culture/community in the Philippines.

I received my copy from Tor Books. Sorry it took me so long to write my thoughts. Nora is a great character for the target audience. There's a great balance of threat and positive resolution, while also tackling some issues that exist in many cultures.

Tags: tor, 2018-read, first-novel-or-book, taught-me-something, thought-provoking, kids-of-most-ages, made-me-look-something-up, made-me-think, advanced-reader-copy

From the publisher:
An uplifting middle-grade debut about perseverance against all odds, Marie Miranda Cruz's debut Everlasting Nora follows the story of a young girl living in the real-life shanty town inside the Philippines' North Manila Cemetery.


After a family tragedy results in the loss of both father and home, 12-year-old Nora lives with her mother in Manila's North Cemetery, which is the largest shanty town of its kind in the Philippines today.

When her mother disappears mysteriously one day, Nora is left alone.

With help from her best friend Jojo and the support of his kindhearted grandmother, Nora embarks on a journey riddled with danger in order to find her mom. Along the way she also rediscovers the compassion of the human spirit, the resilience of her community, and everlasting hope in the most unexpected places.