YA Review: Gift by Andrea Buchanan

As a teen, I loved, loved, loved creepy, supernatural stories, where teens had weird abilities or talked to ghosts or were haunted and such. Truth be told, I still enjoy this genre as an adult! I got “Gift” from Net Galley. It tells the story of Daisy Jones, a young girl who lives quietly with her mother, except for the fact that she seems to have supernatural powers. Daisy emits some sort of energy that affects electrical appliances, cell phones, computers, etc. Daisy has worked hard to keep her “power” under control. Then one day her English teachers send her to check on a female student, Vivi, when she hasn’t returned from the bathroom, and Daisy discovers Vivi only semi-conscious. This event draws the two girls closer together and Daisy begins to get to know the strange and ethereal Vivi, discovering that she has been “haunted” by a young man, Patrick, her whole life. When Daisy, her best friend Danielle, and Vivi start having similar dreams in which they all are together in the past, she realizes that her powers are drawing the spirit to her, and giving him power. Her boyfriend, Kevin, is determined to help the girls figure out what’s going on and save Daisy before it’s too late.

I would have loved this book as a teen! The funny thing is that I have heard of people who have trouble with computers, phones, etc. due to a “charge” they seem to carry. At times this made the story more believable than it would have been if it was just a teen ghost story. I’d recommend it for the high school set. It also has a graphic novel and diary as added features.

Thanks, Net Galley and Open Road Media for my kindle copy!

Quick Review: The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

I had heard of this book and was thrilled to find it in the new release section of our library. At just over 120 pages, it is  quick read and I read it in a few hours. Julie Otsuka has told the story of Japanese “picture brides”, coming to America (California) to their new husbands, marrying and having families, and then enduring the hardships of WWII and relocation. What makes this book so unique is the voice – or voices – that Otsuka writes in. Described as “incantory”, the voice is each individual voice of the women, along with being all of them. As each voice has a story, collectively they tell a story. While I’m sure some readers may not enjoy this technique, I thought it was quite brilliant. It makes the book read almost like poetry and reinforces the fact that each person’s story is their own. Otsuka is the author of “When the Emperor Was Divine”, which I’ll need to read!

Quick Review: The Mozart Conspiracy by Scott Mariani

I grabbed this novel off the “new releases in large print” shelf at the library, and I’m so glad I did!

“The Mozart Conspiracy” centers on Ben Hope, former British Special Agent, as he helps his old flame, Leigh Llewellyn, to solve the mysterious murder of her brother. A pianist, Oliver had been working on a book about Mozart and his untimely death at the time of his own death. Oliver’s theory focused on a splinter group of Freemasons who may have killed Mozart to keep their secrets – well – secret. Leigh and Ben cover several countries, working to solve the mystery of the Mozart Letter, the Mozart Conspiracy, and Mozart’s – and Oliver’s – death; all the while they are running for their lives!

I just loved this book which reminded me of “The DaVinci Code”. The characters were interesting. The plot was complex but not too intricate. The action was fast-paced. The violence was not overwhelming. I have read that it is also the start of a series – which would explain the somewhat puzzling end (puzzling as in “why would an author end it this way??). I would recommend it to those who like Dan Brown, though there is not a focus on puzzles/ciphers. I did think there’s be more historical information on Mozart, but it’s pretty focused on the present day.

Have you read it? Let me know!

REVIEW: The Whipping Club by Deborah Henry

I received this novel through Net Galley and was excited to read it. Taking place in the 1950’s and 60’s in Ireland, it tells the story of a young, Catholic woman, Marian, who finds herself in love with a Jewish colleague at the school where they teach. When she discovers she is pregnant, she goes away to a “home” to have the baby and then puts the baby up for adoption, thinking he will have a better life in America. Ten years later, and now married to her then boyfriend and with a young daughter, she discovers that their son has lived in a nearby orphanage all his years. Marian and her husband try to get custody of their son, Adrian, and work to fit him into their family, even as they continue to struggle as an inter-faith couple. But first they must convince the establishment that they are capable and worthy of raising their son.

While I really enjoyed this book, and particularly couldn’t put it down in the last few chapters, I was a bit disheartened at the portrayal of the religious people in this book as fanatical, sadistic, and depraved (full disclosure: I’m Catholic). I guess I’m just tired of reading books and seeing movies where 99% of the nuns/priest/brothers are portrayed as evil. That said, I know that deplorable conditions existed in some places (anyone see the movie “The Magdalenes”??).

Beyond that, I found the main character portrayals and the depth of emotions in the main characters the strengths in this novel. How would it feel to find your son after all those years? How do you unite a family that has never been a family yet? How much does our religion guide our lives and relationships?

A thought-provoking book! I’ll look forward to more from Ms. Henry.

Thanks for my copy, Net Galley and T.S. Poetry Press!!

Quick Review: Lois Lenski’s “Indian Captive”

My friends at Open Road Publishers and Net Galley kindly sent me a digital download of “Indian Captive” by Lois Lenski to review. This middle grade novel was originally published over 50 years ago, and Open Road re-released it in December. It tells the story of Mary Jemison, a young Pennsylvania girl taken by Indians when she was ten. Mary lived many years with the Seneca, and grew to love her Native American family, ultimately choosing to never leave them.

I had first read this book as a young girl in the 1970’s. I was struck by how much of the story stayed with me and seemed familiar as I re-read it a few weeks ago. It is at turns terrifying and interesting, all the more so since it is based on a true story. Lenski spent months doing meticulous research for this novel and it was a Newbery Honor book. I’d be curious how many current day adult readers had mixed feelings over the events portrayed in this novel – which occurs at the time of the French and Indian War.

Younger readers may find the text challenging and the story lengthy. I’d recommend it for grades 5 and up – and stronger grade 4 readers.

Thanks, Net Galley and Open Road for my copy!

REVIEW: On Gold Mountain by Lisa See

If you read my blog, you know I love, love, love Lisa See’s writing (“Snow Flower and the Secret Fan”, “Shanghai Girls”, etc.). Last month I was trolling around on my Kindle, looking for something new to buy, when I came across “On Gold Mountain”. I knew this was a memoir of Ms. See’s family, but that’s all I knew about it. The price was inexpensive, so I purchased it. I was so glad I did!

“On Gold Mountain” tells the history of Lisa See’s Chinese relatives in America, starting with her great-great grandfather, who came to work on the Transcontinental Railroad, and focusing on her great-grandfather, Fong See, a Chinese peasant who grew to become a respected and wealthy businessman and leader of Los Angeles’ Chinatown, while marrying a Caucasian woman (which was against the law at the time). See tells her family’s story of hard work, love, loss, racism, and the immigrant experience through her unique and flawless writing style, often causing this reader to step back to remind herself that this was not historical fiction, but a memoir. Truly real life can give us the best stories!

I saw that “On Gold Mountain” is releasing this week in what appears to be a new edition, so my reading couldn’t have been timelier!

Quick Review: Pauline Kael – A Life in the Dark by Brian Kellow

I was thrilled to get this book as a freebie from Net Galley, as I’ve always admired, though not always understood, Pauline Kael. Kellow brings us through Pauline’s life, from her early humble years to her tumultuous years at The New Yorker magazine. I found this book so interesting and easy to read, as I came to better understand Pauline – one of the harshest critics of film that I have ever come across. Years ago, in the 1980’s, when I started reading The New Yorker, I would often ponder: “Why is it that Pauline Kael never likes the movies I like? What does she like??” and I was often taken aback by her blunt attacks, particularly on films that were popular. Reading this book helped me to better understand and respect her. One thing is for certain: Pauline Kael’s impact on the field of film criticism was far-reaching and continues today.

Thanks, Net Galley and Viking Adult Publishers for my copy!