YA Review: PREP SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL by Kara Taylor

I grabbed this book on a whim off Net Galley. If you read me you know I love YA and I have a special spot in my reader’s heart for stories that take place in boarding schools. I’m rather critical of these story lines since I’ve worked in independent schools since the 80’s, and quite honestly, if the administrators were as clueless/useless/evil/unavailable as they usually are portrayed, well, they’d all have gone out of business long ago! I was prepared to not really like this book – to be honest the title put me off – so I was surprised by how much I really enjoyed reading it!

PREP SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL, which is the first in a series, starts with protagonist Anne Dowling getting expelled from her toney Manhattan private school for (accidentally) setting a fire. She is shipped off to a New England boarding school in the Boston suburbs where her first order of business is to rearrange the pecking order and get herself to the top of the social hierarchy. Anne’s a tough nut to crack – she’s feisty, tough, and fearless. At the same time, though, she’s sincere and has integrity (which is more that can be said about some other characters). She quickly forms her friends and enemies. Then her roommate goes missing and is found murdered. Anne seems to care more than the administration does about finding Isabella’s killer, so she starts her own “investigation” to figure out how and why Isabella was killed.

I’m a tad embarrassed to admit it, but I couldn’t put this book down. I thought the mystery was cleverly plotted and I liked the character of Anne. I often laughed out loud at her sarcasm and humor. I would have absolutely loved this book when I was in high school. I think Ms. Taylor did well with her independent school portrayal, and I wonder if she maybe attended a school very like Wheatley in real life!

I’m looking forward to the next book in this series which will be out in 2014.

Thanks, Net Galley and St. Martin’s Press for my copy.

Quick Review: PARIS by Edward Rutherfurd

I really enjoy Rutherfurd’s books and have read most of them. I think my personal favorite is NEW YORK (see my review here: https://drbethnolan.wordpress.com/2010/07/18/review-new-york-by-edward-rutherfurd/ ). I bought PARIS for my birthday with a gift card I received. This tome weighs in at over 800 pages and it did not disappoint!

Similar to Rutherfurd’s other historical novels, PARIS follows the lineage of several families from medieval times to the 1900’s. Unlike some of his other novels, though, the timeline is not chronological, but jumps around, maintaining story lines throughout. Some readers may find this confusing, though I always find the family tree provided in the front of the book very helpful (I read a paper copy, not on my kindle).

Since Paris is one of my favorite places, it’s not surprising that I really liked reading this novel. The personal stories (fictitious) and the historical facts are interplayed so nicely, that you are learning while reading.

Review: THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS by Chris Bohjalian

I had been reading about Chris Bohjalian’s THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS all over the blogosphere, so I was more than thrilled to score a copy through Net Galley. This is a touching and beautifully written novel that leaves the reader thinking about the characters long after it is over.

THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS takes place in Italy and moves between 1943 and 1955. During WWII, the Rosati family live quietly in their villa. They are a remnant of Italy’s nobleman past and are faring better than the peasants in the area. Caught in the crossfires of the war, they must support and welcome Nazi soldiers into their home; at the same time they must aid and assist partisans in their area. The war is turning and the Germans are getting desperate, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t do their utmost to destroy all they can in their path. The marchese and marchesa are a middle-aged couple. One son is away at war and his wife and two young children are living in the villa with them. Their second son is working as an archeologist. Their eighteen year old daughter Christina lives at the villa, too. Soon she finds herself falling in love for the first time – with a Nazi officer. At the same time, partisans are living in the hills and using the property, including ancient Etruscan tombs, as hideouts. The events converge into a riveting and tragic ultimatum.

Meanwhile, ten years later in 1955, a murder occurs in Rome. It soon becomes apparent that someone is stalking the surviving members of the Rosati family and killing them. Of the police detectives assigned to the case, one is the tough and intrepid Serafina – the first female police officer in her department and a surviving partisan from WWII. Serafina is horribly scarred from the war, in more ways than one. Her involvement with the Rosati case opens up old wounds and memories.

The story is written as switching between 1943/44 and 1955. As it progresses, we hear the full story of WWII for the family, and its tragic events. We follow the events of the murders and try to figure out the murderer. I could not put this book down!

I just loved this book. I found it so well-written and it evoked such strong images of the Tuscan countryside, along with such emotion. The word that comes to mind is heart-breaking. I couldn’t stop thinking about the story and its characters afterwards.

I also loved the choice of title. The “light in the ruins” can be the light in the Etruscan tombs where they hid, or the light that shined through in the aftermath of the devastation of WWII. Or it can be that small light that shined within those who were most damaged by the events of the war.

Brilliant! Buy it! Borrow it! But whatever you do – read it!

Thanks to Doubleday Books and Net Galley for my copy!

Review: FOR RANSOM by Sarah McClain

A few weeks ago, Sarah McClain contacted me to ask if I would read and review her new novel FOR RANSOM. It was presented as a Christian suspense mystery, which sounded interesting to me, so I offered to read it.

In FOR RANSOM, eighteen-year-old Hailey Bennett is kidnapped and held for ransom. Her bodyguard and boyfriend, Eli, works to beat the clock in order to find her. Her father is a distant and preoccupied British government official who appears to know more about her abduction than he is letting on. Her mother is sincere and caring and willing to do whatever she can to get Hailey back.

This story read very quickly for me — I finished it in a few hours. The storyline centered around Hailey’s abduction and her rescue. While I liked the characters of Hailey and Eli, and found them plucky and courageous, I had some problems with the other characters. Hailey’s mother Anne was very one dimensional to me. Her father was even more one dimensional – in fact I couldn’t get into his head at all and found him almost a caricature. I would have liked to have seen more development of these two. I think it would have made them more believable to me.

I like the idea of “Christian suspense” as a genre. The main characters of Hailey and Eli had great faith and used it to get them through the hard times. The book could be considered less violent than other mysteries, though I thought it had some pretty serious physical stuff in it. Poor Hailey gotten beaten repeatedly by her captors and I found that disturbing.

I thank Sarah for sending me a galley of her novel. Best of luck with it!

Saturday Snapshot: FRUITLANDS!

photo (2) FRUITLANDS

A couple of weeks ago my dear friend, Pat, and I went to Fruitlands, a museum in Harvard, MA (above). Fruitlands is one of the many places that the Alcotts lived (in 1842). It is so very beautiful there! We enjoyed the view, went through the Alcott farmhouse museum (red farmhouse down the hill) and the art museum, and ate lunch at their scrumptious cafe. They also have an emphasis and exhibits on Native Americans and on Shakers.

Here’s a robin, just taking off!

photo (2) ROBIN

Here’s Pat posing by some art they had on display: metal dresses!

photo (2) SILLY PAT

SATURDAY SNAPSHOT is hosted by Melinda of www.westmetromommy.blogspot.com. You can participate by taking a picture and posting it to Melanie’s site. Appropriate content please!

Review: THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB: A TRUE STORY by Lily Koppel

Earlier in the summer, I heard Lily Koppel being interviewed on NPR about her new novel. Then it seemed that wherever I looked, her book was there. I luckily got a copy of it from Net Galley to review. I found the story of the astronaut wives in the early years of the space program downright fascinating!

I was three years old in 1969 when men first walked on the moon. I have a vague memory of that moment – watching it on television with my family. I don’t have any real memories of the space program of that time, or the race to get men on the moon. But I do remember the culture of the 70’s, and what it was like to grow up then. Reading THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB I was transported back to that era. Lily Koppel does an excellent job in capturing the essence of that time. Though this book is non-fiction, it reads very conversationally and is a quick and easy read (sometimes a little too easy – I did not appreciate reading that one astronaut “bought the farm” in an accident!). I often could not put it down because I found it so interesting.

Koppel follows the astronauts who were instrumental in the US space program by highlighting their wives and families (from the Mercury 7, Gemini, and Apollo programs). The reader becomes intimate with each woman (particularly the Mercury wives) – her background, her likes and dislikes, her strengths and weaknesses. We feel their trepidation when their husbands are in space, their relief is palpable when they return, and for those times when tragedy strikes, we can only imagine their pain and grief.

One of the striking things in this book for me was reading just how completely the wives had committed themselves to their husband’s careers. At the same time, I was rather disillusioned to read of how many of the husband’s were chronically unfaithful to their wives. I’d love to see another book written from the “astrokids” point of view!

Thanks, Net Galley and Grand Central Publishing for my copy!