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Hugh

The Falcon of Sparta by Conn Igguldon (2019)

More than 100 years before Alexander, Greek mercenaries from Athens and Sparta join Cyrus, younger brother to the Persian ruler Artaxerxes in an attempt to gain Cyrus' rightful place in the Kingdom. Events do not go well for Cyrus nor the mercenaries and they are left with only Xenophon, a young Greek officer to lead them away from the Persian hordes seeking their destruction. Xenophon reminisces about his earlier conversations with Socrates as he leads the remnants of his army out of reach of the Persians and into the mountains controlled by savage tribes. During their flight, both the Persians and mountain tribes gain great respect for the skill and ferocity of the Spartan warriors.

In his latest epic historical adventure, The Falcon of Sparta, Conn Igguldon explores war in ancient Persia. Readers may also enjoy novels from Bernard Cornwell.



Mary P.

The Weight of a Piano by Chris Cander (2019)

In 1962, in the Soviet Union, eight-year-old Katya is given a Blüthner piano. She brings this beautiful instrument with her when she later marries an engineering student and settles in California with their young son. Katya's life is difficult and her marriage brutal, but her piano remains an escape throughout it all.

Clara receives a Blüthner from her father for her 12th birthday. Her parents die in a tragic fire soon after, but she clings to the piano, even though she cannot play it. As an adult, she impulsively rents the piano to Greg. Then, she has second thoughts, causing her to follow him and the piano to Death Valley, where he is using it in a series of photographs.

Their time together results in the unburdening of their family stories and links them in ways they never dreamed. It's a compelling story that features a piano as both a gift and a burden. You'll want to keep reading to see how the parallel stories connect in Chris Cander's The Weight of a Piano.



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Lora

Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson (2019)

Artist Henrietta "Hen" Mazur is convinced her next-door neighbor Matthew Dolamore is a killer. While at Matthew's home for dinner one night, Hen sees a fencing trophy that she believes belonged to murder victim Dustin Miller, who lived down the street from Hen when she lived in Cambridge. Hen isn't sure what to do because she has bipolar disorder and is doing well now, but while in college she had an episode and was arrested for attacking another student because Hen believed the student was a murderer. Hen feels the police won't believe her now, but when Hen begins to follow Matthew, she becomes a witness to his violence and her and Matthew's lives become forever intertwined.

I always look forward to a new Peter Swanson novel and this one doesn't disappoint. Before She Knew Him is a page-turner in the style of Alfred Hitchcock.



Jennifer

The Bride Test by Helen Hoang (2019)

No sophomore slump here! Following The Kiss Quotient, Helen Hoang delivers another sparkling gem of a romance. Khai is autistic, doesn't think he can love, and avoids relationships. So his mom returns to Vietnam and finds Esme: a hardworking single mother with a limited education and fewer opportunities. I loved watching this nuanced pair grow as individuals and as a couple--and learning about Vietnamese culture. The Bride Test presents a modern twist on the arranged marriage trope.



Judy

Series Spotlight: The Critter Club by Callie Barkley

Four friends – Amy, Ellie, Marion, Liz – have created a club to help "critters" such as pigs, puppies, mice, chickens, and cats. Amy's mother, a veterinarian, is instrumental in helping the girls with their adventures at the Animal Rescue Center in Santa Vista.

Each book features one of the four friends but all four girls are in each book. The Critter Club has problems to solve and they always find a good solution. In Amy on Park Patrol, the girls work to keep the town park for animals—not more stores. The girls help find a home for Plum the Pig in Ellie and the Good-Luck Pig. The girls start a pet sitting service – Critter Sitters – in Liz Learns a Lesson.

This is a great series for a reader who loves helping animals! Each book in the series of 18 books (so far!) is about 120 pages with black and white illustrations on most pages (book 1 is Amy and the Missing Puppy). Sparkles on some of the paperback covers add to the charm of the stories. The Lexile scores range from 460-630.

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Kathy

Elevation by Stephen King (2018)

Stephen King takes us back to the fictional town of Castle Rock in his latest novella, Elevation, where we are introduced to Scott Carey, a good-hearted, hard-working man, who, as is the case in all of King's works, discovers something rather unusual is happening.

What's most disturbing to Scott is that the unusual thing is happening to him. He's losing weight at a rapidly increasing rate, yet his size doesn't change, ever. No matter how Scott tries to weigh himself down, the number on the scale continues to decrease. As Scott's journey toward weightlessness progresses, the lightness he feels helps him see things more clearly, which inspires the town to go through a kind of lightening as well.

This odd little tale lacks the usual Stephen King horror, so makes for a pretty, quick, dare I say, fun read.


Hugh

Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King (2018)

Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes travel to Fascist-controlled Venice to find a patient (Lady Beaconsfield) missing from the Hospital of St. Mary of Bethlehem (Bedlam). Mary finds it to be a great lark mingling with the idle rich on Lido beach while Sherlock takes a more serious slant to their search and considers the finer points to their investigation. Yet Mary prevails as Lady Beaconsfield and her nurse attendant also enjoy La Doce Vita and often venture from their island hideaway to join the gang at Lido. Mary concocts a clever scheme to rescue Lady B from her Fascist older brother who is more interested in the Lady's inheritance than her welfare.

Follow the latest adventure of this pair in Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King (and to see where it all starts, check out my review earlier this month of The Beekeeper's Apprentice).



Jennifer

Fumbled by Alexa Martin (2019)

Another smart sports romance from newcomer Alexa Martin. This second chance romance is filled with sparkling wit and vivid characters (along with serious discussions of brain injuries in football). Fumbled is engaging and memorable. For fans of Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jasmine Guillory, and Rachel Gibson.




Mary P.

Lost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly (2019)

Martha Hall Kelly's newest novel, Lost Roses, focuses on Eliza, the mother of Caroline Ferriday (who you may remember from Lilac Girls). Kelly brings to life the story of Eliza traveling to St. Petersburg with Sofya Streshnayna, a cousin of the Romanovs. The two met years before and Eliza is excited to see Sofya's home, but Austria declares war on Russia and the Imperial dynasty starts to fall. Eliza escapes back to America while Sofya and her family flee to their country estate, putting themselves in mortal danger. Eliza tries to assist fleeing white Russian families to resettle, but fears the worst when she stops hearing from Sofya.

Lost Roses is a beautiful, well-researched tale of women's strength and friendships and surviving perilous times. Excellent choice for fans of historical fiction.



Catherine T.

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon (2019)

I loved this epic high fantasy from Samantha Shannon. Yes, it is a big book, but it is a standalone novel, so no waiting for a sequel and the nonstop adventure will make the reading quick.

Taking inspiration from old legends, Shannon has created a world with hints of our own and includes a wonderful collection of mythological creatures. This world is currently facing the imminent return of  'the nameless one,' 1000 years after he was trapped in the abyss. Will Sabran, Queen of Inys, produce an heir to protect her country from this threat? Ead Duryen has been sent from the South to infiltrate the court to protect the Queen, but can she maintain her anonymity whilst attacking cutthroats and wyrms? Across the abyss in the East, Tane is preparing for her trials in the hope of becoming a dragon rider, but will the appearance of a stranger put her future in danger?

The Priory of the Orange Tree is an incredible tale full of assassins, religious differences, legends, ancient magic, political intrigue, dragons and pirates. And it has a fantastic cover too!

Lora

A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts by Therese Anne Fowler (2018)

Alva Smith's family's declining fortunes have ruled out marrying for love. With the help of friend Consuelo Yznaga, Alva settles on rich William Vanderbilt and they soon marry. The Vanderbilts are happy for the union because the Smith's standing in society is long-established and could help elevate the Vanderbilt name.

A Well-Behaved Woman chronicles Alva's life over thirty-five years, from newlywed and mother as she navigates upper-class hierarchy in New York, through her efforts to find a good marriage match for her daughter, ultimately showing how Alva finds love and happiness for herself. A fascinating novel by Therese Anne Fowler that had me intrigued and researching the Vanderbilt family.



Judy

Series Spotlight: Ada Lace by Emily Calandrelli

Ada has two turtles: Oxygen and Hydrogen. For children who know why Ada used those names…this is the series for them! Author Emily Calandrelli is a graduate of MIT and works with Bill Nye, The Science Guy. She knows children, science, and technology.

Ada, a third grader, uses science to solve mysteries. She keeps a field guide noting what is happening all around her. The field guides are an important tool for Ada. Maybe the reader of these books will start a field guide?

The first book in the series (Ada Lace, On the Case) finds Ada watching Mr. Pebbles' apartment and she wonders…is there a dog in the apartment? Another adventure (Ada Lace Sees Red) finds that Ada has programmed a robot – George – and he does what she asks (think Alexa)…but not without problems. In Ada Lace, Take Me to Your Leader, Ada's neighbor gives her a ham radio. Ada is trying to connect with someone/something. Her friend Nina thinks aliens are answering but are they really?

At the end of each book, a "Behind the Science" section explains several of the issues and concepts in the book. There are five books in the series so far. Each book is about 118 pages with black and white illustrations on most pages. Lexile scores range from 570-610.

And…could there be a connection between Ada Lace and Ada Lovelace? This is a good opportunity to practice research skills!



Kathy

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (2018)

Oyinkan Braithwaite's debut novel is a classic tale of sibling rivalry with a dark twist—one of the sisters happens to be a serial killer. In its darkly humorous telling, this book explores universal questions about the relationship between two sisters and how their lives intertwine in ways that can never be undone. My Sister, the Serial Killer is a character study, a love story, and a family drama all rolled into one. Oh, and given that one of the sisters can't seem to avoid murdering any man that shows interest in her, it's also a bit of a crime drama too.

This is a book about love and loyalty that asks the question: How do you choose between doing the right thing and doing what you know to be right?



Hugh

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King (1994)

In the first entry in Laurie R. King's series featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Homes, the reader is introduced to 15-year-old Mary as she encounters the retired Sherlock at his country home where he tends to his honeybee hives. Sherlock is amazed at the intelligence of this young girl and soon brings her in as an apprentice for disguise and deduction. Soon the game is afoot as the two work together to find a kidnapped daughter of an American senator and then encounter a descendant of an old foe eager for revenge.

Start with The Beekeeper's Apprentice, and check back later this month for my review of the latest entry in the series.



Elizabeth

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult (2018)

Whether your personal beliefs are pro-life, pro-choice, or undecided, you will find this book captivating, heartbreaking, and impossible to put down. A Spark of Light is told in reverse chronological order. A distraught father storms into an abortion clinic in Mississippi, opens fire, and takes everyone inside hostage. Hostage negotiator Hugh McElroy is called in to try to defuse the situation. He quickly finds out, via text, that his own daughter is inside.

The strong bond between fathers and their daughters is a constant theme throughout this book. Also, expect a few surprises at the end. A very good read. Jodi Picoult has once again done extensive research in preparation for writing this thought-provoking novel.



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