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Monday, October 23, 2017

HFVBT Review: The Murderer's Maid by Erika Mailman

Title: The Murderer's Maid
Author: Erika Mailman
Format: ARC
Publisher: Bonhomie Press
Publish Date: October 30, 2017

What's the Story?:

From "The Murderer's Maid interweaves the stories of two women: one, the servant of infamous Lizzie Borden, and the other a modern-day barista fleeing from an attempt on her life.

Trapped by servitude and afraid for her own safety, Irish maid Bridget finds herself an unwilling witness to the tensions in the volatile Borden household. As Lizzie seethes with resentment, Bridget tries to perform her duties and keep her mouth shut.

Unknowingly connected to the legendary crime of a century ago, Brooke, the illegitimate daughter of an immigrant maid, struggles to conceal her identity and stay a jump ahead of the men who want to kill her. When she unexpectedly falls in love with Anthony, a local attorney, she has to decide whether to stop running and begin her life anew."

My Two Cents:

"The Murderer's Maid" is the dual story of the infamous Lizzie Borden, who brutally murdered her father and stepmother at the end of the 19th century and the present day story of Brooke, a young woman on the run from the danger of her past. Brooke finds that she is related to Lizzie Borden and finds herself drawn to the mystery of her past almost as an escape from her present on the run. 

What a book to read right before Halloween! You want creepy? You've got creepy with this book. While I enjoyed both stories, I loved the atmosphere that the author created around Lizzie Borden. Certainly any book about a woman who murders her parents in cold blood would be chilling but the way the author foretells of Lizzie's brutalness is amazing. I don't want to give anything away but man, the pigeon scene! That scene was so well done and gives us so much insight into what kind of person Lizzie is and how she could be capable of really evil things. 

As you can tell from the title of the book, the story is seen through the eyes of Lizzie Borden's family maid, Bridget. Bridget is Irish and faces discrimination in her town. When she lands a job at the Borden house, she has bad feelings from the very beginning but a job is a job so she takes it. I loved seeing the story through her eyes. She's just trying to make a living and to do a good job. It was fascinating to see how she deals with the craziness that goes on in the Borden household and how she stays even after the murders.

Like I said, both stories in the book are super interesting. Brooke, the woman in the present day story, is solving a few mysteries of her own. She has a connection to Lizzie Borden and following her as she unravels that mystery makes for great reading. She is also on the run from her past and her own perhaps part in a crime that has haunted her ever since and has kept her on the run.

This book has so many twists and turns in both story lines! This was a great, atmospheric read. I loved the way that the author was able to create such suspense, even with a story that may be familiar to a lot of people. This was a good read!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Review: A Column of Fire by Ken Follett

Title: A Column of Fire
Author: Ken Follett 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Viking
Publish Date: September 12, 2017
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "In 1558, the ancient stones of Kingsbridge Cathedral look down on a city torn apart by religious conflict. As power in England shifts precariously between Catholics and Protestants, royalty and commoners clash, testing friendship, loyalty, and love.

Ned Willard wants nothing more than to marry Margery Fitzgerald. But when the lovers find themselves on opposing sides of the religious conflict dividing the country, Ned goes to work for Princess Elizabeth. When she becomes queen, all Europe turns against England. The shrewd, determined young monarch sets up the country’s first secret service to give her early warning of assassination plots, rebellions, and invasion plans. Over a turbulent half century, the love between Ned and Margery seems doomed as extremism sparks violence from Edinburgh to Geneva. Elizabeth clings to her throne and her principles, protected by a small, dedicated group of resourceful spies and courageous secret agents.

The real enemies, then as now, are not the rival religions. The true battle pitches those who believe in tolerance and compromise against the tyrants who would impose their ideas on everyone else—no matter what the cost."

My Two Cents:

"A Column of Fire" is the third book in Ken Follett's Kingsbridge series. I have not read the first two books but after reading this one, I really want to go back to read those two books as well as some of Follett's other books! That being said, this book works rather well as a standalone book. Standing at over 900 pages, you are in Follett's very capable hands so the pages fly by! This is a historical fiction epic.

The book takes place during a tumultuous time in England's history: the late 1500s and early 1600s. The country is going through a major identity crisis as to whether it is a Catholic or a Protestant country. Should everyone be in the same mold or can they have more freedom? Who is the rightful ruler of the country? Who can that ruler trust?

This was a time period that was familiar to me but what I appreciated is that for the most part, Follett's characters are just on the edge of history. We meet rulers through them like Queen Elizabeth and Mary, Queen of Scots. We see how calculated each move must be for even these edge-of-history characters in order to be on the "right" side at the "right" time.

This book is action packed and kept me on my toes. In some ways, it reminds me of a soap opera. There's a huge cast but each character has their own unique story. Large casts can often be an issue for me because of the likelihood of characters blending together but Follett really does a good job of creating different storylines that intertwine in surprising ways.

This was a great read!


Thursday, October 19, 2017

Review: Glow by Megan E. Bryant

Title: Glow
Author: Megan E. Bryant
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Albert Whitman Company
Publish Date: September 1, 2017
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "When thrift-store aficionado Julie discovers a series of antique paintings with hidden glowing images that are only visible in the dark, she wants to learn more about the artist. In her search, she uncovers a century-old romance and the haunting true story of the Radium Girls, young women who used radioactive paint to make the world's first glow-in-the-dark products—and ultimately became radioactive themselves. As Julie’s obsession with the paintings mounts, truths about the Radium Girls—and her own complicated relationships—are revealed. But will she uncover the truth about the luminous paintings before putting herself and everyone she loves at risk?"

My Two Cents:

"Glow" is a dual timeline story about Julie, a young artist with a penchant for finding interesting things in thrift stores, and three sisters living during World War I who all get jobs painting dials of clocks for the troops overseas. This practice uses radium, which at the time was seen as actually having health benefits although we recognize it as being quite harmful these days.

There has been a crop of books that have come out over the past few years that have been about the infamous radium girls. In this book, the historical story of the sisters working in the factory takes a backseat to the modern story of Julie discovering the historical mystery. While we get to hear directly from Julie in a more forward fashion, the story of the radium girls in this book is told through letters and diary entries, which while interesting made the history feel further away. I wanted to know so much more about the sisters and what they thought about what they were going through in the factory and about the choices they made even when those choices could prove to be dangerous.

Although the focus on the modern day story does takes precedence over the historical story, there is still some really interesting historical facts. I just wanted more there. I wanted to get to know the historical characters better and wanted more detail about their lives and the difficulties they faced from working in the factory.

This book is geared for young adult readers and while mystery lovers will enjoy how Julie uncovers the secrets of the past, this book only gives you a tiny taste of the story of the radium girls but that taste is still good.


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Review: The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For by David McCullough

Title:  The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For
Author: David McCullough
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Simon Schuster
Publish Date: April 2017
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "Over the course of his distinguished career, David McCullough has spoken before Congress, the White House, colleges and universities, historical societies, and other esteemed institutions. Now, at a time of self-reflection in America following a bitter election campaign that has left the country divided, McCullough has collected some of his most important speeches in a brief volume designed to identify important principles and characteristics that are particularly American. The American Spirit reminds us of core American values to which we all subscribe, regardless of which region we live in, which political party we identify with, or our ethnic background. This is a book about America for all Americans that reminds us who we are and helps to guide us as we find our way forward."
My Two Cents:

I didn't realize what "The American Spirit" was about really when I picked it up but David McCullough is one of my very favorite historians and he is definitely on my automatic read list. This book is filled with speeches that the author has given everywhere from in front of Congress to commencement speeches in front of college students. This book is filled with inspiration and stories of parts of American history that it was good to be reminded of as well as stories that I was unfamiliar with.

This book is good for both those are familiar with McCullough's work and those that are not. Those that are familiar with McCullough will appreciate his special brand of storytelling that his fans are familiar with. His ability to link stories together into lessons for today and the future is fantastic. Those not familiar with all of these things are in for a treat as they experience him for the first time.

The speeches in this book are really good and touch a lot of different subjects. This book is good balm for these recent times when things seem so off kilter, strange, and strained in our country. I enjoyed this book!


Monday, October 16, 2017

Review: Satellite by Nick Lake

Title: Satellite
Author: Nick Lake
Format: ARC
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publish Date: October 3, 2017
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "He’s going to a place he’s never been before: home.

Moon 2 is a space station that orbits approximately 250 miles above Earth. It travels 17,500 miles an hour, making one full orbit every ninety minutes. It’s also the only home that fifteen-year-old Leo and two other teens have ever known.

Born and raised on Moon 2, Leo and the twins, Orion and Libra, are finally old enough and strong enough to endure the dangerous trip to Earth. They’ve been “parented” by teams of astronauts since birth and have run countless drills to ready themselves for every conceivable difficulty they might face on the flight.

But has anything really prepared them for life on terra firma? Because while the planet may be home to billions of people, living there is more treacherous than Leo and his friends could ever have imagined, and their very survival will mean defying impossible odds.

My Two Cents:

"Satellite" is the story of Leo who was born on a space station. He wasn't supposed to be born there but his mother's circumstances made it so she didn't find out she was pregnant until she was in space and it would have been too much for her and the baby to reenter the Earth's atmosphere. The small space station is the only home that Leo has ever known. Now, his body may be finally developed enough to go home.

This was a really interesting premise. Every once in awhile there seems to be talk of humans someday being able to live in space on various planets (I'm looking at you, Mars). This book takes this idea and turn it on its head. Leo and the twins Orion and Libra are not supposed to live in space but they end up being the first humans to do so and it's not at all what the space agency involved expected.

This is a coming of age story with a twist. Leo thinks he knows the whole story as to how and why he's on the space station but he finds out that there is much more. The adults in his life haven't told the whole story. I really liked how the author was able to slowly drop clues to keep you wanting to read about the true reason that Leo, Orion, and Libra are on the space station. This was a good read that would appeal to young adult readers who like sci fi.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Review: Mischling by Affinity Konar

Title: Mischling
Author: Affinity Konar
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Lee Boudreaux Books 
Publish Date: September 6, 2016
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "Pearl is in charge of: the sad, the good, the past.

Stasha must care for: the funny, the future, the bad.

It's 1944 when the twin sisters arrive at Auschwitz with their mother and grandfather. In their benighted new world, Pearl and Stasha Zagorski take refuge in their identical natures, comforting themselves with the private language and shared games of their childhood.

As part of the experimental population of twins known as Mengele's Zoo, the girls experience privileges and horrors unknown to others, and they find themselves changed, stripped of the personalities they once shared, their identities altered by the burdens of guilt and pain.

That winter, at a concert orchestrated by Mengele, Pearl disappears. Stasha grieves for her twin, but clings to the possibility that Pearl remains alive. When the camp is liberated by the Red Army, she and her companion Feliks--a boy bent on vengeance for his own lost twin--travel through Poland's devastation. Undeterred by injury, starvation, or the chaos around them, motivated by equal parts danger and hope, they encounter hostile villagers, Jewish resistance fighters, and fellow refugees, their quest enabled by the notion that Mengele may be captured and brought to justice within the ruins of the Warsaw Zoo. As the young survivors discover what has become of the world, they must try to imagine a future within it."

My Two Cents:

"Mischling" is the story of two identical twin sisters who are sent to Auschwitz during World War II  with their mother and grandfather. As they are twins and identical twins at that, the infamous Dr. Joseph Mengele becomes incredibly interested in studying them in the concentration camp. Pearl and Stasha see themselves as two sides of the same coin. It means they share in the good but that they also must share the bad, which makes Mengele's experiments more insidious than they already were (hard to imagine to be sure).

Being the mother of identical twins, this book definitely frightened me and made me think a lot. I really like the way that the author was able to capture capture the bond between both of the sisters. It's through their incredible bond that they're able to protect their minds from all that they see in the concentration camp. It's incredibly powerful and definitely made me sad in a lot of places. This is the first fictional book that I have read that takes on Mengele's experiments and it is frightening!

The author uses a lot of detail which while uncomfortable, gives you a good sense of what people went through with regard to human experimentation. The narrative is divided up by the twins and how they see things a little differently, which I thought was good touch and definitely engaged me.

This book is very powerful and it's definitely a book that I have been thinking about long since I got to the last page.


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Review: We Can't Be Friends: A True Story by Cyndy Drew Etler

Title: We Can't Be Friends: A True Story
Author: Cyndy Drew Etler 
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publish Date: October 1, 2017
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "For the readers of GO ASK ALICE, TWEAK, and DEAR NOBODY, Etler details her turbulent readjustment to life at home and high school after spending sixteen months in Straight, Inc. Advertised as a rehab program for troubled teens, in reality, Straight subjected Cyndy and her fellow Straightlings to cultlike brainwashing and bizarre “treatment” methods. There was no privacy, no freedom, and no room for error. But when Cyndy is finally released, she discovers she’s living by an entirely different set of rules than her peers. What new extremes will she go to in order to fit in?"

My Two Cents:

"We Can't Be Friends" is the story of Cyndy, who ends up in Straight Inc. as a young teenager. Straight Inc. is billed as being a way to rehab kids so that they never do drugs or drink again but the program has a dark side. The program relies on some pretty harsh tactics and the reader is left questioning what cost Cyndy's sobriety (if you can really call what she was doing before an issue) came at.

I felt so much for Cyndy throughout this book. Because of some of the sort of brainwashing she goes through in Straight, she seems to have a lot of issues functioning in the real world once she's there again. She is constantly worried about the people around her and whether or not they are going to lead her back into addiction. This prevents her from making a lot of the connections that are so important to getting through the teenage years.

I had never heard about Straight before this book and it was terrifying. I think we can all agree that rehab is necessary and a good thing to have access to but Straight often seemed to hurt more than help. It was really eye opening to see what Cyndy went through.

I did wish that the book would have talked more about some of the specific tactics that Straight used to better understand some of what happens later on in the book. The Straight part goes by very quickly and the book mostly has to do with happened after. Overall, this was an interesting picture into a world that was unfamiliar to me!

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