Pretty Girls, by Karin Slaughter

Pretty Girls, by Karin Slaughter

Pretty Girls, by Karin Slaughter

More than twenty years ago, beautiful nineteen year-old Julia Scott disappears into the night, never to be seen again. With no clues and no body, the mystery of what happened to her haunts her family still. Her two remaining sisters, Clare and Lydia, are estranged; Clare is married and rich, and Lydia is poor with a teenage daughter. When Clare’s husband, Paul, is murdered in a robbery, it is as if she has stepped into an episode of “The Twilight Zone.” The authorities and their questions are more than creepy, and with a sense of foreboding, Clare starts to look harder at the details of her husband’s life. What she finds begins to terrify her, and without knowing who to turn to, she turns to her sister, Lydia, for help. The two of them must put aside their differences in order to figure out why Clare is becoming the target for some truly frightening attention.

The last Karin Slaughter book I read was the brilliant “Cop Town,” which is a character driven police procedural set in the 1970s. I loved the fast pacing of that particular book. “Pretty Girls” has an entirely different pace and structure. “Pretty Girls” gives you the point of view of the family surrounding Julia Scott as they ponder the mystery of her disappearance, and then, you see the rest of the story unfold through the eyes of Clare and Lydia as they work together to figure out the strangeness of Paul’s life. The tension ratchets up a little more with each chapter, and soon, you literally can’t stop turning pages.

For me, I still prefer a book like “Cop Town,” for its fast moving story. “Pretty Girls” started a little slow for me, but it will likely appeal to fans of “Gone Girl” and “Girl on the Train.” I enjoyed the dynamics between the two sisters; Ms. Slaughter always writes the most compelling female characters.

Review copy received through Edelweiss. This title is released on 9/25/2015.

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The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly

Eleven-year-old Calpurnia Tate has six brothers. As the only girl in the bunch, Calpurnia is just beginning to realize that her parents’ expectations for her are much different than for her brothers. It is 1899, and she is expected to learn to cook, sew, knit, and generally be domestic so that she can take care of a family of her own one day. Thing is, Calpurnia doesn’t really like being domestic, and even when she really tries, she’s not very good at it. Calpurnia may lack cooking and sewing talent, but she has an abundance of curiosity. One day, she overcomes her fear of her imposing grandfather and asks him a question: Why are the yellow grasshoppers so much bigger than the green grasshoppers in her back yard? Her grandfather doesn’t answer the question directly, but rather he starts encouraging her to observe and record the natural world for herself so she might figure it out. And figure it out, she does, and her investigation leads Calpurnia to think about her life, her dreams, and her place in the world at the turn of the century.

This is a marvelous book. Calpurnia is smart and full of spirit. Her relationship with her grandfather develops slowly over the course of the story wonderfully well. Calpurnia yearns for a life of study as a naturalist, but she also begins to embrace the choices she has as a young woman in 1900 as she begins to understand her mother and the other women in her town. There are no easy answers for Calpurnia, but her journey of discovery is well worth the read. Thankfully, there is a second book in this series titled “The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate” so we can continue to follow Calpurnia’s journey. This is a Newbery Honor book.

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Awakening, by S. J. Bolton

Awakening, S.J. Bolton

Awakening, S.J. Bolton

Clara Benning, a veternarian who specializes in wildlife rescues in a small villiage in England, is reclusive by nature. Supremely self-concious of her appearance due to scarring left after a childhood accident, Clara avoids human contact whenever possible. Yet, when a neighbor is killed by a bite from a poisonous snake, Clara turns out to be the only local expert authorities can turn to for help. Soon, snakes are turning up all over the village, and three more people are found dead. When one of the snakes turns out to be a taipan, a snake that is not found naturally in England, it becomes obvious that the deaths are not accidental, but murder. Clara is pulled deeper into the investigation, aided by a soft-spoken neighbor and a eccentric reptile expert. The investigation prompts them to delve into tragic fire of a village church that happened decades ago, uncovering secrets that clearly someone wants to keep safely hidden.

This standalone title from Sharon Bolton is decidedly creepy with wonderful Gothic overtones. Clara Benning is a compelling character, a strong woman in spite of her disfigurement. As I read, I kept thinking this would turn into something familiar and trite, as if a Gothic tale set in the American South had been overlaid on a British mystery. To my great pleasure, this never happened, and I enjoyed the thrills and chills all the way to the end of the book. Very enjoyable, and I will likely read more of Sharon Bolton’s work.

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The Wild Inside, by Christine Carbo

The Wild Inside, by Christine Carbo

The Wild Inside, by Christine Carbo

When Ted Systead was fourteen years old, his father was dragged out of their tent and killed by a grizzly in Glacier National Park. Years later, Ted, now working as an agent for the Department of the Interior, must help investigate a crime that brings back painful memories. A man has been killed in Glacier National Park, mauled to death by a grizzly. In this new case, it is clear that the man’s death was no accident, in that he was tied to a tree, trussed up like a present for the bear. Ted tries to keep a clear head as he investigates, aiding local officials, but he has never really gotten over the death of his father and the new crime echos his past a little too closely. Ted perseveres, and the list of suspects grows. Can Ted keep his feelings in check as he considers the clues of the crime? Ted struggles to solve the mystery as the pressure from park officials mounts to come to a quick solution and spare the park the unfortunate publicity. Set against the background of a wildly rugged natural setting, The Wild Inside is a complex tale involving an appealing protagonist. I enjoyed the story, though at times, Ted’s internal conflict took some of the emphasis away from the interesting mystery. This book will appeal to fans of C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett series, Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series, and Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon series. A promising mystery debut.

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Circus Mirandus, by Cassie Beasley

Circus Mirandus, by Cassie Beasley

Circus Mirandus, by Cassie Beasley

It is a rare event when I read a book and know it will be an award winner, but Circus Mirandus by debut author Cassie Beasley is going to win awards. The last book I was so certain of winning acclaim was The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, and of course, it won the Newbery. In Circus Mirandus we meet Micah Tuttle. Micah’s grandfather, Ephraim Tuttle is very sick and Micah’s Great-Aunt Gertrudis has come to help care for them both. As her name suggests, Great-Aunt Gertrudis isn’t a very nice person, and Micah wants more than anything for his grandfather to get well so she will leave. For years, his grandfather has told Micah about Circus Mirandus, a magical circus that he visited as a youth. The Man Who Bends Light at this circus owes his grandfather a miracle. Micah has hope that somehow, the magic circus is real, and the Lightbender’s miracle can save his grandfather.

This is an utterly charming tale, magical and yet with depth as Micah faces the death of his grandfather. Micah, Ephraim, and the Lightbender are complex, wonderful characters. The only negative comment I can make is that the book is too short. I hope that this author offers us a sequel, if only so I can see more of Chintzy, the cantankerous parrot. This book will appeal to younger readers who enjoyed Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo and The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.

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Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery, by Henry Marsh

Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery, by Henry Marsh

Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery, by Henry Marsh

I don’t usually like to think about medical things since I’m a bit squeamish in nature. However, I was eager to read “Do No Harm” by Henry Marsh, because to me, those who perform surgery on the brain are great explorers on the same level as astronauts. Brain surgeons operate on people knowing they are cutting into their thoughts, their dreams, and their very personalities; yet, they control their fear of the process and try to improve the lives of their patients in spite of it. Henry Marsh is an expert in his field, a top British neurosurgeon, and his insights in this book are both wonderful and terrifying. He not only provides medical information about the successes and failures of his work, but also shares his personal insights into his own life and into the lives of his patients and their families. I found his insights to be the most fascinating part of this book. How do you break the news to a family that their loved one will likely die, or at best, be horribly impaired? How do you talk to a patient and their family after a routine surgery goes terribly wrong? When is surgery not the right option, and who should decide this, the surgeon or the family? How do you put past failures behind you so you can focus on the present day surgery? Henry Marsh lays out his struggles with such issues with extreme candor and humility. He also shares his trials and tribulations with the British medical system, where surgeries are often cancelled because patients will not have beds to recover in afterwards. In a time where management of our own medical system is a controversial topic, Dr. Marsh’s commentary is especially well-timed.

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A Court of Thorns and Roses, by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Thorns and Roses, by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Thorns and Roses, by Sarah J. Maas

Feyre may be only nineteen years old, but she is an experienced hunter and the only person keeping food on the table for her sisters and her father. Life is hard, and Feyre is angry over a great many things, including over how her sisters spend the money earns them and how her father seems unable to exert any effort to benefit his children. One particularly desparate day, Feyre’s anger is instrumental in her decision to shoot and kill a large wolf, even though she suspects the unusual animal may be one of the shapeshifting, immortal fae. And indeed, it turns out that the beast is one of the fae, for shortly afterwards, a large, clearly magical beast, arrives to escort Feyre back to the magical land of the fae to serve the fae as punishment for her crime.

Once she is in the land of the fae, Feyre learns that the beast who came to claim her is also a shapeshifter named Tamlin, and in his human form, he is incredibly handsome. Tamlin’s home is beautiful, but it is clear that a cloud of doom hangs over the place. Dangerous magical creatures are invading Tamlin’s land, and Tamlin is having a harder and harder time in driving them away. Yet, when Feyre tries to find out the problem, Tamlin and his friend Lucien give her half truths and riddles in answer to her questions. On the day of one of the faes’ great fesitivals, Feyre meets Rhys, and from his veiled comments and from the events of the evening, she begins to piece together the puzzle.

Feyre only begins to glimpse the real danger before the danger comes for her. Feyre finds herself in deadly peril, at the center of a magical power struggle. And surprisingly, Feyre may be the only one who can save Tamlin, Lucien, and even enigmatic Rhys.

I love Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series, which is clearly a young adult series. This new title is steamier and darker, and should be considered a New Adult title. Ms. Maas writes compelling characters, and creates tension that moves you quickly though the story. Feyre is a strong female character, and I enjoyed her adventure. The only negative comment I can make is that Feyre reminded me very much of Celaena Sardothien from her young adult series. Both characters are angry, strong-willed young women. However, I enjoyed the story so much that I don’t really care. Ms. Maas creates vibrant fantasy worlds filled with wonderfully realized people. A very enjoyable read, and I will certainly read the next book in this series on the day it comes out.

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Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures, by Maggie Stiefvater and Jackson Pearce

Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures, by Maggie Stiefvater and Jackson Pearce

Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures, by Maggie Stiefvater and Jackson Pearce

Pip Bartlett is a girl who can talk to magical creatures, and they can talk to her. The problem is, no one believes that Pip has this wonderful talent. On career day at school, when Marisol Barrera’s family bring their unicorns as a part of their career day display, Pip gets a chance to use her talent, and she uses it to ask permission of a unicorn for a ride. Things go quickly awry, and career day becomes chaos day. What does Pip learn? She learns that unicorns like to be the center of attention, yes…but most importantly, she learns they are bad listeners.

After the Unicorn Incident, Pip finds herself spending the summer with her Aunt Emma, a veterinarian for magical creatures. Pip is in heaven, and soon finds herself conversing with Lilac-Horned Pomeranians, HobGrackles, and Silky Griffins.  She also meets a new friend named Tomas who is allergic to almost everything in the most interesting ways. Soon, Pip and Tomas are in a race to save the town of Cloverton from an invasion of Fuzzles. And since Fuzzles burst into flames when they are stressed and the Ms. Dreadbatch wants the Fuzzles exterminated, Pip and Tomas must find a way to save them too. Can they do it? Perhaps, with the help of some magical, wonderful creature friends.

This is a juvenile fiction title that will appeal to younger readers. The action is fast, creatures are fabulous, and there is a promise of more adventures in the future. A very fun read.

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An Ember in the Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir

An Ember in the Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir

An Ember in the Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir

Laia loves her brother, but she knows he is pushing the limits of their marginal life. She fears her brother is involved in the Resistance, a group that is actively trying to bring down the Empire. When Darin is arrested and her grandparents killed, Laia makes the decision to save her brother, no matter the cost. And the cost is that Laia must become a slave of the Empire, her role as a spy for the Resistance her only hope to free her brother.

Elias is a son of the Empire. One of their elite, he is being trained to become a Mask, a ruthless fighter. Yet, Elias is as much a slave as Laia, for he hates how the Empire treats its people, how he is expected to kill without remorse for their purposes. His only hope is escape, his plan carefully thought out.

Laia and Elias think they have different goals. But as their paths cross and their stories weave together, it seems they may not. Together, it seems, they may achieve something more. For change, they are told, is coming. It is foretold.

“This life is not always what we think it will be,” Cain says. “You are an ember in the ashes, Elias Veturius. You will spark and burn, ravage and destroy. You cannot change it. You cannot stop it.”

At first glance, you might think this is another retelling of a dystopian society story, aka “The Hunger Games.” In that, you would be wrong. This story is unique, the world built in the form of Rome, complete with swords and brutality and their own form of gladiators. The language is lyrical and compelling. The story builds slowly, but in such a gripping way that you can’t put it down. Laia is a strong female character, driven by her quest to free her brother, the only family she has left in the world. Elias has family, a mother who seems to hate Elias to the depths of her soul. Elias, a product of hate, sees the hate and violence around him, and tries to understand his place in it. His struggle gives him a complexity, and you sense that he is the keystone to change the entire world.

I loved this book. I loved Laia and Elias, and the only thing I did not love was the book’s ending. While initial information at publication indicated that this might be a standalone title, it is clear that another book must follow. Elias Venturius must be allowed to burn and ravage and destroy. The story would not be complete without it. (Do you hear me Sabaa Tahir? There must be another book!)

This is a young adult title, but it is a strong enough story that it will certainly have adult appear. I should know. I’m an adult, after all. 🙂

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The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat, by Edward Kelsey Moore

The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat, by Edward Kelsey Moore

The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat, by Edward Kelsey Moore

Odette, Clarice, and Barbara Jean have been friends since they were young, their favorite meeting spot is their table at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat Diner. Labeled “The Supremes” by the folks of the town, the trio have grown up with the wise advice of Big Earl, who presides over the All-You-Can-Eat with wisdom, humor, and good food. The story begins with the death of Big Earl. His death sets the Supremes on a course to reflect on their 40 year friendship, and to reflect on the choices they’ve made in their lives. Odette, the fearless one, has to face something fearful. Clarice must make peace with her marriage and her husband’s wandering ways. But it is Barbara Jean who must face the greatest challenge of all….she has to set right a wrong, track down a lost love, and find a way to ease the desperate grief she still carries over the death of her son.

This story unfolds gently, giving us glimpses of the past and of the present as the heart of each of the Supremes is revealed. We meet the members of the Plainsview, Indiana community, and come to love them as the Supremes do. It is a story filled with warmth, friendship, humor, ghosts, tragedy, and hope. How the author is able to so capture the hearts and souls of the three central characters–who are aging, black women–is astonishing. This is a wonderful tale.

Edward Kelsey Moore was born in Indiana, and received a Bachelor of Music degree from Indiana University. While he now lives in Chicago, his novel is filled with the essence of a small Indiana town. His website says he is working on his second book, and I am already looking forward to it.

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