YA Book Review: The Seer of Shadows by Avi

I recently picked up “The Seer of Shadows” by Avi when I was in my favorite bookstore. It looked interesting and quick to read and, to be honest, I hadn’t read a YA book in a while. The story centers on young Horace who is apprenticed out to a photographer in the late 1800’s in New York City. His employer creates a way to double expose pictures so that it seems that a ghostly presence is in the picture as well as the subject. However, in his quest to dupe grieving patrons, a real ghost gets released and wreaks havoc; and only Horace can see and understand her.

This was an interesting, almost gothic, read. It went quickly and had lots of interesting details about photography of that time period. While some young readers may find some of the ghostly parts scary (this was one angry, abused ghost), there was a nice resolution to the story (though I wasn’t overly fond of the ending). The “bonus section” of the book had additional materials and information on photography as well. Avi, once again, does not disappoint. What amazes me about Avi is the range of his writing — from the Poppy books to Charlotte Doyle to Nothing but the Truth to something like this — he constantly reinvents his niche as a writer and has proven himself to be versatile and interesting.

I may be getting this one for our school library! I’d give it 4 Stars!

Audiobook Review: Odd Hours by Dean Koontz

When I started this blog last year, I planned to NOT post any reviews on things I did not enjoy. Somehow saying I disliked someone’s work made me feel uncomfortable. This year I decided would be different. If I didn’t like something, I would say it. My opinion was just (and only) that — my opinion.

Well – having just listened to “Odd Hours” by Dean Koontz  (borrowed from the library) I have to say it — I did not like it. I found it hard to follow, too much introspection for a listening CD, humor not my kind of humor, and felt the plot was far-fetched. And my biggest disappointment: I just love reading Dean Koontz! Normally, I love his books – they’re a bit of a guilty pleasure (his “Watchers” with the brilliant dog “Einstein” is my favorite). I can only think that perhaps if I had come in on the Odd Thomas books at Book One – as opposed to this one, Book Four – I would have enjoyed it better.

Anyhow, if you’ve read it, let me know. If you’ve read the other Odd Thomas novels by him — I haven’t – let me know.

Now I’m off to the library!

Review: Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

After reading all the great reviews of “Saving CeeCee  Honeycutt” by Beth Hoffman, I knew I had to get it from the library and read it right away. It sounded like the type of book I’d love. It did not disappoint!

“Saving CeeCee Honeycutt” starts with twelve-year-old CeeCee living and trying to deal with her mentally ill mother (who constantly relives her crowning glory as Vidalia Onion Queen of 1951). CeeCee learns to handle her mother’s mood swings and instability by hiding in books, while struggling with the fact that her father is never around and, with the exception of the kindly next door neighbor, most people laugh or make fun of her mother and her. When her mother dies in an accident CeeCee goes to live with her great-aunt Tallulah (Tootie) and her cook/housekeeper Oletta in Savannah. What follows is a summer of healing and growth for CeeCee as she learns to find herself, to grieve her loss, and to live life for the first time.

I loved this charming book. It was an easy read and often a “laugh-out-loud”. CeeCee’s character spoke to the resilience of young people. You couldn’t help but cheer for her. In some ways, though, I wanted the book to be longer. I would have loved even more character development of some of the other characters in order to understand what made them tick.

I would give this book 4 Stars!

REVIEW: Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran

Our online historical fiction bookclub’s pick for this month is “Cleopatra’s Daughter” by Michelle Moran. If you read my blog you know I LOVE her books! This one was special to me as I won it online in a giveaway and it’s signed to me by Michelle.

“Cleopatra’s Daughter” tells the story of Cleopatra’s surviving children after her and Marc Antony’s death in Egypt. Twelve-year-old twins Selene and Alexander are taken by Roman ruler Octavian to Rome and raised as part of his family, along with his daughter Julia, named heir Marcellus, “spare heir” Tiberius, and a host of other characters based on real life counterparts. Selene and Alexander’s life is a mix of trying to retain the dignity and value of their Egyptian heritage, while dealing with the daily triumphs and tribulations of being teens. Friendships, burgeoning sexuality, and a strong sense of loyalty to their mother often leaves them in conflict and confusion. Their life over the several year period they were in Rome is told in Michelle Moran’s incomparable fashion: you will feel you are there. Ancient Rome comes alive, as do her characters. I highly recommend this book to those who like to read of ancient times and who like strong and interesting characters based on fact.

I give this book 5 Stars! I can’t wait  for your next novel, Michelle!!

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

I had heard many great things about “The Postmistress”, so I pre-ordered it from Amazon. When it arrived I just knew I would love this book, so I took my time reading it. I actually tried stretching it out over a few weeks so that I could savor it (where normally I plow through a book I love as quickly as possible). This was such an interesting and thought-provoking book, and I have to say – I loved it!

“The Postmistress” starts with a question at a dinner party: what if someone chose not to deliver a letter? And what if it was during WWII where letters were the primary form of communication for many people? What effect can it have on those people’s lives?

The story follows the WWII experiences of three women: Emma, a young newlywed living on the Cape in Massachusetts, whose husband has gone to London to be a medic; Iris, the town’s postmaster, who is in love with Harry, the town watchdog; and Frankie, a female radio reporter, covering the war for America in Europe. But this is just the surface. Each of these characters are deep and well-developed, and their stories intertwine and overlap in a surprising way when Frankie encounters Emma’s husband in London and is given a letter for Emma (no more than that or I’ll spoil it for you!).

Now I love historical fiction, and I particularly like stories of WWII. I thought this novel was so well-written. I particularly loved the descriptions of the town of Franklin (the fictional Cape Cod town — though there really is a Franklin, Mass., but it’s not on the Cape). You could hear and feel it. I also thought that the inner selves of each of these women, particularly of Frankie, were written so beautifully and believably. In sum, I loved this book (but next time, I’m plowing through – I hated saving it over 3 weeks!!).

I think this novel would be an excellent choice for a book group. There are lots of questions here about why characters acted the way they did – and of course the whole question about the letters. What would YOU think if someone chose not to deliver a letter??

I give this book my rare but lofty “5 Star” award!

What’s On My Nightstand….

Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran — yes, it’s been there for a while but now I’m really getting to read it!!!

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman — many friends have recommended it!

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin — about the original “Alice”

Audiobook Review: Raisins and Almonds by Kerry Greenwood

This past week I listened to another audiobook from the “new releases” section of the library.  “Raisins and Almonds” is a historical mystery featuring the intrepid Fryne Fisher – a 1920’s flapper detective in Australia. I had never read a Fryne (pronounced Fry -ah -nee) Fisher novel before, but have discovered that she has her own Wikipedia entry with info on the series and her background. While this audiobook was in the new release section, the novel was published in the late 1990’s.

In this story, Fryne gets involved with a murder of a young Jewish man who occurred in a bookstore. As she sets off to prove that the supposed murderer is innocent, she uncovers an intricate web of international proportions, dealing with alchemy, Judaism, Zionism, arms dealing, poisons, and bookstores. This was a carefully plotted mystery that kept me guessing until the end. While I would consider it a cozy mystery, it was a bit more graphic than other cozies and it certainly had more “adult” scenes in it than most cozies do. (Fryne is a woman who appreciates her lovers – enough said!).  I really enjoyed listening to this story and will look for more Fryne Fisher mysteries at my library!

I give it 4 Stars!

Murder on Waverly Place by Victoria Thompson

I love the gaslight mystery series by Victoria Thompson! In these historical cozy mysteries, Sarah Brandt, a midwife in Edwardian era New York, solves mysteries with her friend Frank Malloy, an Irish policeman. “Murder on Waverly Place” is the 11th installment in the series. In this one, Sarah and her mother attend a séance as her mother seeks to reach out to her deceased daughter’s spirit. When an attendee winds up murdered when the lights come up, Sarah works to solve the crime.

Like most cozy mysteries I’ve read, I enjoyed this book a lot. I’ve read all in this series – and I find it helps to read them in order. The first ten books had an underlying theme of Sarah trying to solve the murder of her own husband, a doctor. I love the scenes of 19th century New York and also the precision which Thompson uses to explain the specifics of Sarah’s and Malloy’s careers. These books read quickly and are light and enjoyable. I often am surprised by the ending! My copies come from the library.

I’d give this series 4 1/2 stars!