Graphic Reaction: A Fire Story by Brian Fies

Early morning on Monday, October 9, 2017, wildfires burned through Northern California, resulting in 44 fatalities. In addition, 6,200 homes and 8,900 structures were destroyed. Author Brian Fies’s firsthand account of this tragic event is an honest, unflinching depiction of his personal experiences, including losing his house and every possession he and his wife had that didn’t fit into the back of their car. In the days that followed, as the fires continued to burn through the area, Brian hastily pulled together A Fire Story and posted it online—it immediately went viral. He is now expanding his original webcomic to include environmental insight and the fire stories of his neighbors and others in his community. A Fire Story is an honest account of the wildfires that left homes destroyed, families broken, and a community determined to rebuild.

Wow. If you’re looking for a powerful graphic novel to read, this is the one.

The 2017 fires in Northern California were absolutely devastating. I live in San Francisco, and while the fires themselves never came close to our city, the air was full of smoke for weeks — schools ending up closing, people were warned to stay inside and to wear masks while outside, and everyone had headaches and coughs from the lousy air quality. But of course, this is nothing compared to the suffering of those who perished as well as the thousands of people who lost their homes.

Author Brian Fies lived through it. A Fire Story is his memoir of the fire, starting with him and his wife waking up to red skies and the smell of smoke, grabbing a few items on their way out the door, and evacuating along with all of their neighbors — then returning the next morning to find that the entire neighborhood was just gone.

The author initially drew/wrote some of these pages in the moment, using sharpies and a pad of paper, to capture and process the experience as it unfolded. From the book’s notes, I understand that these images were initially shared online and went viral. He’s now expanded from the initial drawings to convey a more encompassing picture of what he and others went through. Sprinkled throughout are the “fire stories” of others who lost their homes, how they dealt with their losses, and how they’re still dealing with rebuilding and recovering. This is incredible stuff, truly.

Brian Fies shares his own experiences with candor and grace, and even some humor, as well as conveying the bigger picture of the reasons for the calamity and the scope of the loss — and manages to keep a focus on the human impact that can be lost when dealing with a disaster of this magnitude. We may hear about thousands of people losing their homes, but as the author points out in this excellent book, each of those thousands has a unique, individual story to tell.

For a taste of the book, check out:

From: A Santa Rosa Cartoonist’s ‘Fire Story’ Comes to Life
Kelly Whalen and Farrin Abbott, Producers for KQED Arts
Video courtesy KQED Arts

 

The author’s original postings: http://brianfies.blogspot.com/2017/10/a-fire-story-complete.html

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The details:

Title: A Fire Story
Author: Brian Fies
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
Publication date: March 5, 2019
Length: 160 pages
Genre: Graphic novel
Source: Library

Take A Peek Book Review: The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted by Robert Hillman

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

Tom Hope doesn’t think he’s much of a farmer, but he’s doing his best. He can’t have been much of a husband to Trudy, either, judging by her sudden departure. It’s only when she returns, pregnant to someone else, that he discovers his surprising talent as a father. So when Trudy finds Jesus and takes little Peter away with her to join the holy rollers, Tom’s heart breaks all over again.

Enter Hannah Babel, quixotic smalltown bookseller: the second Jew—and the most vivid person—Tom has ever met. He dares to believe they could make each other happy.

But it is 1968: twenty-four years since Hannah and her own little boy arrived at Auschwitz. Tom Hope is taking on a batttle with heartbreak he can barely even begin to imagine.

My Thoughts:

First of all, let’s be clear, while the title refers to a bookshop, this novel isn’t particularly about the bookshop. There’s a whole subgenre of bookstore fiction, sure to warm the hearts of booklovers everywhere. This isn’t one of those books.

Set in Australia, The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted tells the story of Tom, a lonely man who’s been unlucky in love. Tom is a sheep farmer who lives a contented, quiet life, until his wife Trudy deserts him and takes away Peter, the son of his heart if not his body. When Tom meets Hannah, it’s like he gets a new ray of sunshine in his life, and the two form a passionate, unbreakable bond. But Hannah’s past haunts her in ways Tom can’t quite understand, and when Peter reenters their lives, it may be more than Hannah can stand.

The story is truly affecting in parts, and I came to love Tom quite a lot. He’s sweet and good and loving, although he does seem to allow himself to roll with the punches rather than standing up to the people and events that hurt him. Tom’s relationship with Peter is lovely, so when he’s taken away, it is a heart-breaking development. The story of Peter’s experiences at “Jesus Camp” is horrible — he’s essentially trapped there by a mother who’s caught up in pastor’s cult-like community, and I was really upset by Peter’s suffering and the length of time it takes for him to finally be rescued.

We hear about Hannah’s past through chapters scattered throughout the book that show her experiences in the concentration camp and the years afterward. Of course, she’s deserving of great sympathy, but there are times with Tom and Peter that’s it hard to like her.

Overall, this is a quiet and moving book. I loved the descriptions of Tom’s farm and the Australian setting and landscapes. The writing is slow and underspoken, with a brevity that somehow makes the emotion harder to access at times.  The juxtaposition of ranch life in Australia and memories of the Holocaust makes for an unusual mix, but it works. The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted is an unusual work of historical fiction, definitely worth checking out.

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The details:

Title: The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted
Author: Robert Hillman
Publisher: G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Publication date: April 9, 2019
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Book Review: Roar by Cecelia Ahern

 

From the bestselling author of P.S., I Love You, a fiercely feminist story collection that illuminates–sometimes in fantastical ways–how women of all kinds navigate the world today.

In this singular and imaginative story collection, Cecelia Ahern explores the endless ways in which women blaze through adversity with wit, resourcefulness, and compassion. Ahern takes the familiar aspects of women’s lives–the routines, the embarrassments, the desires–and elevates these moments to the outlandish and hilarious with her astute blend of magical realism and social insight.

One woman is tortured by sinister bite marks that appear on her skin; another is swallowed up by the floor during a mortifying presentation; yet another resolves to return and exchange her boring husband at the store where she originally acquired him. The women at the center of this curious universe learn that their reality is shaped not only by how others perceive them, but also how they perceive the power within themselves.

By turns sly, whimsical, and affecting, these thirty short stories are a dynamic examination of what it means to be a woman in this very moment. Like women themselves, each story can stand alone; yet together, they have a combined power to shift consciousness, inspire others, and create a multi-voiced ROAR that will not be ignored.

Roar is a collection of fantastical stories, rooted in the real world, in which the unnamed women at the heart of the different tales experience life through a series of metaphors that have somehow become reality.

The titles of these 30 stories all begin with the words The Woman Who. Each focuses on a woman experiencing some sort of literal manifestation of the types of issues we all encounter more figuratively in our worlds.

The collection opens strong with The Woman Who Slowly Disappeared. The premise is very reminiscent of the season 1 Buffy episode Out of Mind, Out of Sight, about a high school girl whose peers never seem to notice her, and who ends up becoming invisible. In this story, the main character is a woman in her 50s who has gradually faded, becoming less seen over time as she ages, becoming unnoteworthy to the crowds of people around her:

On the worst days, she would go home feeling completely overwhelmed and desperate. She would look in the mirror just to make sure she was still there, to keep reminding herself of that fact; she even took to carrying a pocket mirror for those moments on the subway when she was sure she had vanished.

After fading away to just a glimmer, the woman finally finds hope in the care of a doctor who provides a diagnosis and treatment plan:

“Women need to see women, too,” Professor Montgomery says. “If we don’t see each other, if we don’t see ourselves, how can we expect anybody else to?”

In The Woman Who Was Kept on a Shelf, a woman’s husband builds her a shelf where he can display and admire her, but over the years of her marriage, she finds the shelf keeps her on the sidelines of the life around her.

She’s spent so many years sitting up here representing an extension of  Ronald, of his achievements, that she no longer has any idea what she represents to herself.

Other favorites of mine are the stories The Woman Who Walked in Her Husband’s Shoes, The Woman Who Was a Featherbrain, and the The Woman Who Was Pigeonholed. But really, they’re all terrific. The tales are simple. You might at first glance find the premise a little obvious, but really, taken as a whole, these fables illustrated different aspects of what it means to be a woman, how we are defined by society, ourselves, and each other, and how perception and awareness can change everything. There’s a lightness and humor in many stories, even as the situations, taken to their logical (or illogical) conclusion can be nightmarish.

In The Woman Who Wore Pink, there’s an actual Gender Police that issues warnings and fines as people step outside their prescribed gender roles, with all of one’s interactions — even down to the daily Starbucks order, being identified as either “penis” or “vagina”. It takes the woman’s six-year-old daughter’s angry argument, “If I”m not me, who else am I supposed to be?” for the woman to open her eyes and consider the pointlessness of separating all habits and options into either penis or vagina categories. There’s a particularly funny episode after the daughter is denied the “penis” Happy Meal that comes with a dinosaur, as the woman starts to question why dinosaurs are considered boy-appropriate only:

“I’m just saying. I mean, there were female dinosaurs, too, you know, and I don’t think any of them were pink.”

I ended up loving this entire collection. The thirty stories are a mix of far-fetched, grounded in the familiar, comedic, and painful. All are told in a straight-forward manner, where we take the fantastical elements as reality and are faced with considering how our world’s definitions of women’s lives and women’s roles might look if all the euphemisms and catchphrases for the assumptions and barriers facing women became literal parts of the everyday world.

Roar is a fun, thought-provoking set of stories with plenty to chew on. I think it would be a great choice for a book club to discuss. Reading this book made me wish for a group of friends with copies in their hands, so we could each pick a favorite story and compare notes — and imagine ourselves literally falling through the floor, unraveling, melting down, or discovering our very own strong suit.

Check it out!

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The details:

Title: Roar
Authors: Cecelia Ahern
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: April 16, 2018
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Short stories
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Take A Peek Book Review: A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C. A. Fletcher

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

When a beloved family dog is stolen, her owner sets out on a life-changing journey through the ruins of our world to bring her back in this fiercely compelling tale of survival, courage, and hope. Perfect for readers of Station Eleven and The Girl With All the Gifts.

My name’s Griz. My childhood wasn’t like yours. I’ve never had friends, and in my whole life I’ve not met enough people to play a game of football.

My parents told me how crowded the world used to be, but we were never lonely on our remote island. We had each other, and our dogs.

Then the thief came.

There may be no law left except what you make of it. But if you steal my dog, you can at least expect me to come after you.

Because if we aren’t loyal to the things we love, what’s the point?

My Thoughts:

A man stole my dog.

I went after him.

Bad things happened.

I can never go home.

I’ll keep this short and to the point, because it would be way too easy to veer into spoilery territory, and this book is best experienced fresh and free from a whole lot of expectations. It’s a wonderful story about love and loyalty, centered around a quest to retrieve a beloved dog, and filled with danger, unexpected alliances and moments of grace, bravery, and defiance. And yes, a little sadness too.

The title says a lot about the basics of the book. The key point is that this is a world of after — nothing is as we know it. And it’s not because of a world war or other doomsday scenario. Instead, the world basically went infertile, except for a very small percentage of people who didn’t. There was a last generation, and once they died out, the people who remained — about 7,000 worldwide — were left to live on in whatever fashion suited them. The world we know was essentially dead. Nothing new was made or created, and people survived through farming and scavenging (or, as Griz’s family calls it, “viking” — they’d go “a-viking” to see what they could find to reuse and repurpose on their own little isolated island).

Told through Griz’s first-person narration, the story takes us along Griz’s journey, across the sea and through an abandoned and alien mainland… because a stolen dog cannot be forgotten. I loved the writing, both plain and unembellished, yet full of fun word play and cadences:

And then the thing that happened happened and what happened was really three things and they all happened at once.

I really truly loved this book. It’s sad and frightening, but also lovely and inspiring. Griz is a terrific, memorable main character. The story wraps up well, neatly enough to leave me satisfied, but I still wish I could learn more about this world and the people left in it.

Highly recommended. What a treat!

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The details:

Title: A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World
Author: C. A. Fletcher
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: April 23, 2019
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Speculative/post-apocalyptic fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Book Review: The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

Mi-ja and Young-sook, two girls living on the Korean island of Jeju, are best friends that come from very different backgrounds. When they are old enough, they begin working in the sea with their village’s all-female diving collective, led by Young-sook’s mother. As the girls take up their positions as baby divers, they know they are beginning a life of excitement and responsibility but also danger.

Despite their love for each other, Mi-ja and Young-sook’s differences are impossible to ignore. The Island of Sea Women is an epoch set over many decades, beginning during a period of Japanese colonialism in the 1930s and 1940s, followed by World War II, the Korean War and its aftermath, through the era of cell phones and wet suits for the women divers. Throughout this time, the residents of Jeju find themselves caught between warring empires. Mi-ja is the daughter of a Japanese collaborator, and she will forever be marked by this association. Young-sook was born into a long line of haenyeo and will inherit her mother’s position leading the divers in their village. Little do the two friends know that after surviving hundreds of dives and developing the closest of bonds, forces outside their control will push their friendship to the breaking point.

This beautiful, thoughtful novel illuminates a world turned upside down, one where the women are in charge, engaging in dangerous physical work, and the men take care of the children. A classic Lisa See story—one of women’s friendships and the larger forces that shape them—The Island of Sea Women introduces readers to the fierce and unforgettable female divers of Jeju Island and the dramatic history that shaped their lives.

The Island of Sea Women is a gorgeous, though-provoking, emotionally powerful read. We first meet Young-sook as an old woman on the beach in Jeju in 2008, thinking back on her life and feeling somewhat amused by the tourists who now flock to her island, viewing the elders of the haenyeo diving women as a living piece of history and a novelty. When she is approached by a visiting family who seem to know who she is, Young-sook is thrust back into her long-ago memories.

We’re reintroduced to Young-sook as a 15-year-old in 1938, about to embark on her first real dive with the haenyeo collective led by her mother. In Jeju, women support their families through their diving, while the men tend the children and the home. It’s an unusual matriarchy that suits the lives of the islanders. The women are strong physically and mentally, worrying about providing for their families, and gossiping about needing to care for their men and children. The diving offers sustenance and independence, but also presents very real dangers to the women, as Young-sook learns on her very first day.

Danger also comes from the Japanese colonial presence and the constant threat that hangs over the Korean population. The end of the war brings new sorts of danger, as the division of Korea results in danger from the military rulers and right-wing government.

Meanwhile, Young-sook and her best friend Mi-ja grow up together, close as sisters, until their adult lives as married women and mothers starts forcing them apart. Something terrible happens to cause a permanent rift, but we don’t discover the awful events until about midway through the book.

I really don’t want to disclose too many of the plot points, so I’ll leave my remarks pretty brief. This book was fascinating. I knew very little about Korean history before reading The Island of Sea Women, and I certainly had never heard about the haenyeo. The culture of the haenyeo is so amazing to learn about — even without the captivating characters and their stories, the story of the divers and their lives kept me completely engrossed.

Add to that a powerful story of friendship, family, love, obligation, and betrayal, as well as sharply drawn depictions of people who feel real, and you have a book that’s absolutely worth reading, and very, very memorable.

I highly recommend The Island of Sea Women, both for fans of historical fiction as well as anyone who enjoys poignant, emotionally rich stories about remarkable people. And if you’re not familiar with the haenyeo of Jeju, or want to learn more about them, check out this video for starters:


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The details:

Title: The Island of Sea Women
Author: Lisa See
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: March 5, 2019
Length: 374 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Take A Peek Book Review: Inspection by Josh Malerman

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

J is a student at a school deep in a forest far away from the rest of the world.

J is one of only twenty-six students, all of whom think of the school’s enigmatic founder as their father. J’s peers are the only family he has ever had. The students are being trained to be prodigies of art, science, and athletics, and their life at the school is all they know—and all they are allowed to know.

But J suspects that there is something out there, beyond the pines, that the founder does not want him to see, and he’s beginning to ask questions. What is the real purpose of this place? Why can the students never leave? And what secrets is their father hiding from them?

Meanwhile, on the other side of the forest, in a school very much like J’s, a girl named K is asking the same questions. J has never seen a girl, and K has never seen a boy. As K and J work to investigate the secrets of their two strange schools, they come to discover something even more mysterious: each other.

My Thoughts:

Okay, wow, this book is weird. At first, I even thought it might be TOO weird for me, which is rather hard for a book to achieve. But eventually, I got sucked in by the weirdness and became completely hooked on the story.

So, deep in a remote forest, a group of 26 boys — the Alphabet Boys — have been raised from birth through age 12 in an all-male environment, never even knowing that females exist. It’s all part of a grand experiment by the man they call D.A.D., attempting to prove that without the distraction of the opposite sex, true genius is possible. Crazy, right?

“Ever wonder how you came into being?”

“No,” J said. “We come from the Orchard. The Living Trees.”

The boys are subject to daily Inspections, which they think is a test to see if they’ve been infected with imaginary diseases (such at Vees and Rotts) that they believe are real. The most horrible outcome is for a boy to be declared “spoiled rotten”, which leads to being sent to the Corner — and boys who go to the Corner do not come back. In reality, the Inspections are a way for D.A.D. and the Inspectors to monitor the boys’ every thought and action, alert to hints that they might have stumbled across some sign of the dreaded female. Words like girl, woman, she, and her have no meaning for the Alphabet Boys.

Meanwhile across the forest, a mirror image tower full of girls — the Letter Girls — is engaged in the exact same experiment in reverse. It’s so insane. Eventually, of course, the boys and girls have first contact behind the adults’ backs, and from there, the carefully orchestrated life in the towers spirals quickly out of control.

I ended up fascinating by this story. After somewhat ambivalent feelings early on, I got very caught up. The story really takes off once the girls are introduced at about the halfway point. The ending really went to some wild places. Whoa.

I won’t say more or give anything else away, although I may go comment in a spoiler-y way in my Goodreads review. I really have no idea how to categorize this book. It’s not sci-fi exactly. It’s not futuristic or dystopian — it’s clearly set in our world, just in a remote location controlled by some loony people. It’s a little bit horror in some ways, and has some psychological terror/thriller elements, and quick a bit of mind-fuckery. So yeah, I don’t quite know what to call this book — but I do know that I had a great time reading it!

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The details:

Title: Inspection
Author: Josh Malerman
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication date: March 19, 2019
Length: 400 pages
Genre: I actually have no idea how to categorize this…
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books on my Spring 2019 TBR List

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Top Ten Books on My Spring TBR.

SPRING IS HERE! SPRING IS HERE! SPRING IS HERE! I love it when the weather warms up enough to read out on my back porch. And here are ten of the books I plan to enjoy while soaking up the sun and smelling the flowers:

(listed here by release date… )

1) The Raven’s Tale by Cat Winters: Release date: April 16th

Seventeen-year-old Edgar Poe counts down the days until he can escape his foster family—the wealthy Allans of Richmond, Virginia. He hungers for his upcoming life as a student at the prestigious new university, almost as much as he longs to marry his beloved Elmira Royster. However, on the brink of his departure, all his plans go awry when a macabre Muse named Lenore appears to him. Muses are frightful creatures that lead Artists down a path of ruin and disgrace, and no respectable person could possibly understand or accept them. But Lenore steps out of the shadows with one request: “Let them see me!”

 

2) Roar by Celia Ahern: Release date April 16th

From the bestselling author of P.S., I Love You, a fiercely feminist story collection that illuminates–sometimes in fantastical ways–how women of all kinds navigate the world today.

In this singular and imaginative story collection, Cecelia Ahern explores the endless ways in which women blaze through adversity with wit, resourcefulness, and compassion. Ahern takes the familiar aspects of women’s lives–the routines, the embarrassments, the desires–and elevates these moments to the outlandish and hilarious with her astute blend of magical realism and social insight.

One woman is tortured by sinister bite marks that appear on her skin; another is swallowed up by the floor during a mortifying presentation; yet another resolves to return and exchange her boring husband at the store where she originally acquired him. The women at the center of this curious universe learn that their reality is shaped not only by how others perceive them, but also how they perceive the power within themselves.

By turns sly, whimsical, and affecting, these thirty short stories are a dynamic examination of what it means to be a woman in this very moment. Like women themselves, each story can stand alone; yet together, they have a combined power to shift consciousness, inspire others, and create a multi-voiced ROAR that will not be ignored.

3) Storms of Locusts (The Sixth World, #2) by Rebecca Roanhorse: Release date: April 23rd

It’s been four weeks since the bloody showdown at Black Mesa, and Maggie Hoskie, Diné monster hunter, is trying to make the best of things. Only her latest bounty hunt has gone sideways, she’s lost her only friend, Kai Arviso, and she’s somehow found herself responsible for a young girl with a strange clan power.

Then the Goodacre twins show up at Maggie’s door with the news that Kai and the youngest Goodacre, Caleb, have fallen in with a mysterious cult, led by a figure out of Navajo legend called the White Locust. The Goodacres are convinced that Kai’s a true believer, but Maggie suspects there’s more to Kai’s new faith than meets the eye. She vows to track down the White Locust, rescue Kai, and make things right between them both.

Her search leads her beyond the Walls of Dinétah and straight into the horrors of the Big Water world outside. With the aid of a motley collection of allies, Maggie must battle body harvesters, newborn casino gods, and, ultimately the White Locust himself. But the cult leader is nothing like she suspected, and Kai might not need rescuing after all. When the full scope of the White Locust’s plans are revealed, Maggie’s burgeoning trust in her friends, and herself, will be pushed to the breaking point, and not everyone will survive.

4) A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C. A. Fletcher: Release date: April 23rd

When a beloved family dog is stolen, her owner sets out on a life-changing journey through the ruins of our world to bring her back in this fiercely compelling tale of survival, courage, and hope. Perfect for readers of Station Eleven and The Girl With All the Gifts.

My name’s Griz. My childhood wasn’t like yours. I’ve never had friends, and in my whole life I’ve not met enough people to play a game of football.

My parents told me how crowded the world used to be, but we were never lonely on our remote island. We had each other, and our dogs.

Then the thief came.

There may be no law left except what you make of it. But if you steal my dog, you can at least expect me to come after you.

Because if we aren’t loyal to the things we love, what’s the point?

5) Middlegame by Seanan McGuire: Release date: May 7th

Meet Roger. Skilled with words, languages come easily to him. He instinctively understands how the world works through the power of story.

Meet Dodger, his twin. Numbers are her world, her obsession, her everything. All she understands, she does so through the power of math.

Roger and Dodger aren’t exactly human, though they don’t realise it. They aren’t exactly gods, either. Not entirely. Not yet.

Meet Reed, skilled in the alchemical arts like his progenitor before him. Reed created Dodger and her brother. He’s not their father. Not quite. But he has a plan: to raise the twins to the highest power, to ascend with them and claim their authority as his own.

Godhood is attainable. Pray it isn’t attained.

6) Storm Cursed (Mercy Thompson, #11) by Patricia Briggs: Release date: May 7th

My name is Mercedes Athena Thompson Hauptman, and I am a car mechanic.

And a coyote shapeshifter . . . And the mate of the Alpha of the Columbia Basin werewolf pack.

Even so, none of that would have gotten me into trouble if, a few months ago, I hadn’t stood upon a bridge and taken responsibility for the safety of the citizens who lived in our territory. It seemed like the thing to do at the time. It should have only involved hunting down killer goblins, zombie goats, and an occasional troll. Instead, our home was viewed as neutral ground, a place where humans would feel safe to come and treat with the fae.

The reality is that nothing and no one is safe. As generals and politicians face off with the Gray Lords of the fae, a storm is coming and her name is Death.

But we are pack, and we have given our word. We will die to keep it.

7) The Paris Diversion by Chris Pavone: Release date: May 7th

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Expats. Kate Moore is back in a pulse-pounding thriller to discover that a massive terror attack across Paris is not what it seems – and that it involves her family

American expat Kate Moore drops her kids at the international school, makes her shopping rounds, and meets her husband Dexter at their regular cafe a leisurely start to a normal day, St-Germain-des-Pres.

Across the Seine, tech CEO Hunter Forsyth stands on his balcony, perplexed that his police escort just departed, and frustrated that his cell service has cut out; Hunter has important calls to make, not all of them technically legal.

And on the nearby rue de Rivoli, Mahmoud Khalid climbs out of an electrician’s van, and elbows his way into the crowded courtyard of the world’s largest museum, in the epicenter of Western civilization. He sets down his metal briefcase, and removes his windbreaker.

That’s when people start to scream.

8) The Printed Letter Bookshop by Katherine Reay: Release date: May 14th

One of Madeline Cullen’s happiest childhood memories is of working with her Aunt Maddie in the quaint and cozy Printed Letter Bookshop. But by the time Madeline inherits the shop nearly twenty years later, family troubles and her own bitter losses have hardened Madeline’s heart toward her once-treasured aunt—and the now struggling bookshop left in her care.

While Madeline intends to sell the shop as quickly as possible, the Printed Letter’s two employees have other ideas. Reeling from a recent divorce, Janet finds sanctuary within the books and within the decadent window displays she creates. Claire, though quieter than the acerbic Janet, feels equally drawn to the daily rhythms of the shop and its loyal clientele, finding a renewed purpose within its walls. When Madeline’s professional life takes an unexpected turn, and when a handsome gardener upends all her preconceived notions, she questions her plans and her heart. She begins to envision a new path for herself and for her aunt’s beloved shop—provided the women’s best combined efforts are not too little, too late.

9) The Spies of Shilling Lane by Jennifer Ryan: Release date: June 4th

Mrs. Braithwaite, self-appointed queen of her English village, finds herself dethroned, despised, and dismissed following her husband’s selfish divorce petition. Never deterred, the threat of a family secret being revealed sets her hot-foot to London to find the only person she has left—her clever daughter Betty, who took work there at the first rumbles of war.

But when she arrives, Betty’s landlord, the timid Mr. Norris, informs her that Betty hasn’t been home in days–with the chaos of the bombs, there’s no telling what might have befallen her. Aghast, Mrs. Braithwaite sets her bullish determination to the task of finding her only daughter.

Storming into the London Blitz, Mrs. Braithwaite drags the reluctant Mr. Norris along as an unwitting sidekick as they piece together Betty’s unexpectedly chaotic life. As she is thrown into the midst of danger and death, Mrs. Braithwaite is forced to rethink her old-fashioned notions of status, class, and reputation, and to reconsider the question that’s been puzzling her since her world overturned: How do you measure the success of your life?

And finally, I’ll finish up my Top 10 with an upcoming book group read:

10. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones: (released 2018)

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.

What books are you most eager to read this spring? Please share your links!

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Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!

Book Review: A Dangerous Collaboration (Veronica Speedwell, #4) by Deanna Raybourn

Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell is whisked off to a remote island off the tip of Cornwall when her natural historian colleague Stoker’s brother calls in a favor. On the pretext of wanting a companion to accompany him to Lord Malcolm Romilly’s house party, Tiberius persuades Veronica to pose as his fiancée–much to Stoker’s chagrin. But upon arriving, it becomes clear that the party is not as innocent as it had seemed. Every invited guest has a connection to Romilly’s wife, Rosamund, who disappeared on her wedding day three years ago, and a dramatic dinner proves she is very much on her husband’s mind.

As spectral figures, ghostly music, and mysterious threats begin to plague the partygoers, Veronica enlists Stoker’s help to discover the host’s true motivations. And as they investigate, it becomes clear that there are numerous mysteries surrounding the Romilly estate, and every person present has a motive to kill Rosamund…

The house party with a twist is such a trope in old-timey feeling mysteries… and with good reason. Take a remote location, preferably in a house with some grandeur or mystique, add in a motley assortment of house guests, all invited for a variety of reasons, most of which end up being pretenses, maybe mix in some gothic family secrets… and bam! You’re all set up for a slightly claustrophobic, atmospheric whodunnit.

In the case of A Dangerous Collaboration, while the set-up is reminiscent of Agatha Christie, with perhaps a hint of Rebecca too, it’s a trope that works extremely well. We pick up with our plucky heroine Veronica Speedwell, already a world-famous lepidopterist despite being only in her mid-20s, and her dark and dangerous colleague Revelstoke Templeton-Vane, known as Stoker. The two have chemistry galore. When we last saw them in A Treacherous Curse, Veronice and Stoker had just solved a mystery involving plundered Egyptian tombs and Stoker’s notorious past… and were on the verge of a long-awaited lip-lock and possible confession of feelings, when they were interrupted by Stoker’s older brother, the Viscount Tiberius Templeton-Vane.

In A Dangerous Collaboration, we continue mere moments later. Tiberius arrives with a proposition for Veronica — to accompany him to a gathering at his friend Malcolm’s Cornish island castle, where she’ll be able to collect specimens of a rare butterfly previously thought extinct. Naturally, Veronica jumps at the chance, despite Stoker’s objections. So also naturally, Stoker shows up at the island too, where the two brothers and Veronica join Malcolm, his spinster sister, his widowed sister-in-law, and his nephew for a social gathering. At which point Malcolm informs them all that he needs their help — he wants to learn the truth of what really happened to Rosamund on their wedding day. Did she flee? Did she die? Was she murdered? There are some dark and disturbing possibilities, and all of the assembled guests, apart from Veronica and Stoker, seem to have much more at stake than is initially apparent.

The Veronica Speedwell books are utterly delightful, with their arch humor, constant sense of adventure, and layered mysteries to solve, all of which are enhanced a thousand times over by the sparks continually flying between Veronica and Stoker. While A Dangerous Collaboration felt at first a little tamer than the previous three books, probably because Veronica and Stoker did not appear themselves to be in mortal peril this time around, soon the danger grows and before long they’re once again risking life and limb to learn the truth.

Along the way, we get to know Tiberius better and understand what makes him tick, as well as gaining insight on the highly charged relationship between the brothers. For me, the most delicious part of the reading experience was the mounting tension between Veronica and Stoker, as they creep closer and closer to the point where they’ll just have to finally admit their feelings and declare their intentions toward one another. Like I said, these two — chemistry, sparks, fire, passion… you name it. (But no, there’s no graphic physical stuff, just tension and attraction galore.)

As always, the language and dialogue in these books is so much fun. A little sampling:

“What in the name of seven hells do you mean you want to ‘borrow’ Miss Speedwell? She not an umbrella, for God’s sake.”

Her doglike devotion was appalling; any woman with spirit or strength could only feel revulsion at the notion of offering oneself up like a sacrificial lamb to the slaughter of one’s own independent thought and feeling.

Men were a joy to sample, but a mate would be a complication I could not abide.

“Does this mean you will stop torturing me by displaying yourself in various states of undress?’

“Not a chance.”


At the end of A Dangerous Collaboration, we get a hint about what Veronica and Stoker’s next adventure will be in book #5. And now I’m jumping out of my skin, dying to read it NOW. This is really a terrific series, and I encourage everyone to start at the beginning and dive in!

Want to know more? Check out my reviews of the previous books in the Veronica Speedwell series:
A Curious Beginning
A Perilous Undertaking
A Treacherous Curse
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The details:

Title: A Dangerous Collaboration (Veronica Speedwell, #4)
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: March 12, 2019
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Historical fiction/mystery
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Book Review: Woman 99 by Greer Macallister

She’s only a number now.

When Charlotte Smith’s wealthy parents commit her beloved sister Phoebe to the infamous Goldengrove Asylum, Charlotte knows there’s more to the story than madness. She risks everything and follows her sister inside, surrendering her real identity as a privileged young lady of San Francisco society to become a nameless inmate, Woman 99.

The longer she stays, the more she realizes that many of the women of Goldengrove aren’t insane, merely inconvenient — and that her search for the truth threatens to dig up secrets that some very powerful people would do anything to kep.

A historical thriller rich in detail, deception, and revelation, Woman 99 honors the fierce women of the past, born into a world that denied them power but underestimated their strength.

What a read! In Woman 99, we first meet Charlotte Smith as the pampered daughter of a social-climbing family living in 1880s San Francisco. Daughters are trained from childhood in etiquette and comportment so they can eventually serve their purpose — helping their families climb higher through an advantageous marriage. Charlotte is proper and well-behaved and subservient to her mother’s wishes…

That was what all my education had been leading to. All the lessons and lectures. We were trained into ideal wives. Daughters were assets to be traded, like indigo, like hemp.

… but Charlotte’s sister Phoebe, according to their mother, is “unmarriageable”, the family disgrace.

While the term may not have been in use at the time, from the descriptions of Phoebe, she’s clearly bipolar. She has manic episodes, full of outrageous social behavior and flights of artistic fancy, then periods of dark depression during which she’s barely functional. In between the extremes, she has periods of near “normalcy”, and no matter what, Charlotte is devoted to her older sister, whom she loves with all her heart.

When Phoebe finally goes too far (and it’s not until later that we learn what this episode was about), she’s committed to Goldengrove, the Napa Valley asylum owned by the wealthy neighbors of the Smith family. Known as a “Progressive Home for the Curable Insane”, Goldengrove is promoted through glossy brochures and the social cachet of the Sidwell family. Still, Charlotte is terrified for Phoebe and her loss of freedom, and is determined to find a way to rescue her.

Charlotte concocts a scheme to get admitted to Goldengrove under an assumed identity, anticipating that she’ll quickly find Phoebe, announce who she is and that they’re going home, and that will be that. Needless to say, things don’t go as planned. Charlotte is unprepared for the emotional and physical trials of being institutionalized, and is horrified to discover that finding Phoebe and getting back out again will not be as simple as she planned. Meanwhile, as Charlotte spends weeks in the asylum, she gets to know the other women of her ward, and learns some shocking truths — the advanced treatment methods that Goldengrove is so well known for have been replaced by cruelty and starvation, and many of the women there are perfectly sane… just problematic for their families or husbands or society in general.

It had claimed to be a place of healing, but instead, it had been a convenient holding place for inconvenient women, serving only the people outside it, never the ones within.

Woman 99 is powerful, upsetting, and incredibly descriptive, showing us through Charlotte’s struggles the restricted roles available to women, the way certain women could be so easily discarded by society, and the shocking lack of value a woman was deemed to have if she dared step outside society’s norms. It’s not at all surprising to see how terrible the conditions inside Goldengrove are. Treatment of mental health at the time varied widely from physician to physician and asylum to asylum, and while some of the treatment concepts may seem worthwhile, such as outdoor hikes or music, there are also terrible methods such as a “water cure” and restraints and isolation, not to mention rumors of women having their teeth removed because poor dental health was considered linked to madness.

Over the course of the book, I really came to care about Charlotte, and appreciated how much she risks for her sister and the other women she meets inside Goldengrove. Charlotte’s initial act of rebellion is spurred on by her love for her sister, but she really has no idea what she’s getting herself into or how much danger she’ll be in. She gains strength and determination through her ideal, and emerges as a woman who’s no longer willing to meekly accept her mother’s plans for her future.

I highly recommend Woman 99. It’s a terrific, inspiring, moving read. And hey, bonus points for the San Francisco setting!

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The details:

Title: Woman 99
Author: Greer Macallister
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication date: March 5, 2019
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Book Review: The Lieutenant’s Nurse by Sara Ackerman

November, 1941. She’s never even seen the ocean before, but Eva Cassidy has her reasons for making the crossing to Hawaii, and they run a lot deeper than escaping a harsh Michigan winter. Newly enlisted as an Army Corps nurse, Eva is stunned by the splendor she experiences aboard the steamship SS Lurline; even more so by Lt. Clark Spencer, a man to whom she is drawn but who clearly has secrets of his own. Eva’s past—and the future she’s trying to create—means that she’s not free to follow her heart. Clark is a navy intelligence officer, and he warns her that the United States won’t be able to hold off joining the war for long, but nothing can prepare them for the surprise attack that will change the world they know.

In the wake of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Eva and her fellow nurses band together for the immense duty of keeping the American wounded alive. And the danger that finds her threatens everything she holds dear. Amid the chaos and heartbreak, Eva will have to decide whom to trust and how far she will go to protect those she loves.

Set in the vibrant tropical surroundings of the Pacific, The Lieutenant’s Nurse is an evocative, emotional WWII story of love, friendship and the resilient spirit of the heroic nurses of Pearl Harbor.

First, can we take a moment to appreciate the beauty of this book’s cover? Ah, the colors! I needed this book in my life even before reading the synopsis.

Fiction set in and around Pearl Harbor comes with a particular challenge. How do you create a story that can hold readers’ interest when the real-life events are more dramatic than anything made-up could be? The Lieutenant’s Nurse tries very hard to give us an epic love story that complements and is complemented by the historical events, but the love story elements just can’t really hold a candle to the the factual story of Pearl Harbor.

Not that The Lieutenant’s Nurse doesn’t have a lot going for it. Let’s start with our main character, Eva Cassidy. From the first, it’s clear that Eva has secrets. She’s traveling across the Pacific to an army nursing assignment in Hawaii, expecting gorgeous beaches, interesting medicine, and above all, an escape from a traumatic situation back home. The truth comes out in bits and pieces over the course of the novel, but we learn early on that Eva is traveling under an assumed name, that she’s fleeing a hospital scandal that gained her notoriety, and that her long-distance boyfriend has arranged to get her stationed in Honolulu, where’s he’s also stationed with the army.

On the ocean voyage, Eva is immediately drawn to the gorgeous naval officer Clark Spencer, and he seems drawn to her as well. As an intelligence officer, there’s a lot he can’t share, but he does warn her that war may be imminent, and that the Hawaiian islands may not be the peaceful haven she expects.

When the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor takes place, Eva has only just arrived, but rushes to the hospital alongside the other devoted nurses to tend to the horribly wounded men. Meanwhile, she keeps an eye out for Clark, who’s brought in with injuries as well, and has to deal with the boyfriend, Billy, once she realizes that he’s not the man she truly loves.

On top of the love triangle drama, there’s intrigue as we learn that Clark became of aware of the impending attack days ahead of time, but that the report he submitted was blocked and discarded, eliminating the possibility of striking first against the approaching Japanese fleet or at least giving the fleet at Pearl Harbor a chance to prepare. When Clark tries to follow up, both he and Eva receive warnings from a pair of thugs who threaten their lives and also threaten to reveal Eva’s secrets.

While the descriptions of the sea voyage and the Hawaiian islands are lovely, the characters themselves rarely feel like more than cookie cutter figures. Eva is sympathetic, Clark is handsome and mysterious, and the resolution of the love triangle is predictable. Honestly, I’d say the plot didn’t need the extra complication of the spy games and the thugs (who were not all that effective — why didn’t they just shoot Clark when they had the chance rather than letting him off with a warning? As international conspiracies go, it was a little hard to take seriously.)

Still, I found the depictions of the nurses and their dedication to their patients quite moving and inspiring, and the author does a lovely job of giving personalities and individuality to the soldiers and sailors who come to the hospital in the aftermath of the attack. Because we see the events of Pearl Harbor through Eva’s eyes, we don’t move much beyond the hospital confines, so the destruction of the fleet seems to happen at a bit of a remove.

The story of Pearl Harbor is so tragic and dramatic that it’s hard to care about anything else happening at the same time — so yes ,the love story and Eva’s personal background might be engaging, but they seem kind of small in comparison to the historical events unfolding here. The Lieutenant’s Nurse is a quick read with some touching moment, but ultimately the plot — especially the love triangle and the spy business — doesn’t really stand out as truly special.

I’d say this is a solid 3-star read for me.

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The details:

Title: The Lieutenant’s Nurse
Author: Sara Ackerman
Publisher: MIRA
Publication date: March 5, 2019
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley