Review: A CONSPIRACY OF SILENCE by Martha Powers

My new Kindle gives me ads all the time when I turn it on or off. Of course this means I am purchasing WAY more things than I used to for my Kindle! One of these purchases was for A CONSPIRACY OF SILENCE by Martha Powers. In this story, news reporter Clare Prentice discovers after her mother’s death that she is adopted, and she takes on the mission to discover who her biological parents were. She travels to Minnesota supposedly to interview a popular author, but instead opens up an old mystery and starts nosing around to find out about who her birth mother was, how she was murdered, and what happened to her birth father. Of course the real killer is still lurking about, and is not about to let Clare uncover past deeds!

I enjoyed reading this story, though at times I found it a bit improbable. It is described as a cozy mystery romance. It was a fun read and I enjoyed guessing who the killer was. There were a few surprises at the end!

Ms. Powers has written several books and I might just have to look some more up at the library!

You can see this book on Amazon, where I got mine, and where it is currently $3.99:


Kids’ Review: AL CAPONE DOES MY SHIRTS and AL CAPONE SHINES MY SHOES by Gennifer Choldenko

A while ago, someone asked me if I had read the “Al Capone” series for kids. I hadn’t and she said I should check them out as they were good. A few weeks ago we were at the library doing homework and my daughter saw “Al Capone Does My Shirts”. We took it out and I ended up stealing it from her. I then read the next book in the series, “Al Capone Shines my Shoes”, and I plan to read the third, “Al Capone Does My Homework”.

In these books, it is the mid-1930’s, and Matthew “Moose” Flanagan and his family live on the island of Alcatraz in the San Francisco Bay where the notorious gangster Al Capone is doing his time. Moose’s dad works as an electrician on the island. Moose befriends the other children whose fathers work as jailers, wardens, plumbers, and the like. Moose has an older sister, Natalie, who has some developmental delays and differences (similar to autism). Part of this book is Moose’s adventures with the other kids, the scrapes they get into, the prisoners they try to interact with, and their every day life at home and school. The other part of the novel is the relationships between Moose and the others, and especially with his sister. The character of Natalie and her interactions with Moose and their parents are so sensitively and touchingly portrayed that at one point they brought tears to my eyes. (Gennifer Choldenko writes in the author’s notes that she had a sister with developmental differences and Natalie is in part based on her).

I just loved these books! I think middle grade and middle school readers would enjoy them, both boys and girls. They are fun and exciting, yet realistic and sensitive. The characters are so true to life, I think, because they are basically portrayed with their flaws and weaknesses showing. I have recommended them for our school library.

REVIEW: DEFIANT by Alvin Townley

Last month, my friends at St. Martin’s sent me a copy of Alvin Townley’s DEFIANT, which is subtitled The POWs Who Survived Vietnam’s Most Infamous Prison, the Women Who Fought for Them, and the One Who Never Returned.  All I can say is – WOW.

I was a little kid when the Vietnam War was happening. I remember it used to be on the news at night and I was terrified, so I would go up to my parents’ room and watch “I Love Lucy” on their black and white instead. My cousin had an ID bracelet she wore with the name of a young man on it – a POW. I was in second grade and I remember being both fascinated and scared by this. How could someone be “missing”? Were they dead or not? What must that be like for their family? For years I’d ask her when I saw her if they had found that young man. They never did.

In DEFIANT Alvin Townley tells the store of the “Alcatraz 11” – eleven men held, tortured, and survivors of the most notorious and harsh captivity recorded during the Vietnam War. Held at the Alcatraz block at the Hanoi Hilton, these men were separated out due to their leadership ability, their strong mental toughness, and their will to survive. They endured an amazing amount of torture and horrific conditions, and after years, returned home to America. Sadly, one additional soldier in their group died in captivity. DEFIANT tells the story of these men and their experiences, but it also tells of their wives and families at home and the battle they waged to keep their husband’s stories front and center, to keep them in the public eye, and to fight with the government to get them home safely.

Personally, I could not put DEFIANT down. I started reading it and suddenly it was 2 am and I was still reading. I read the whole book in one night (which I don’t really recommend because it’s over 400 pages) and I cried so hard at the end when the men came home that my sobbing woke up my husband.

My friends at St. Martin’s recommended this book to me since I really enjoyed The Astronaut Wives’ Club by Lily Koppel. I would recommend to those who enjoyed that book, or who enjoy reading non-fiction about the Vietnam War.

KIDS’ REVIEW: Emerson’s Attic – The Blue Velvet by Kathleen Andrews Davis

I selected EMERSON’S ATTIC from Net Galley as it looked like something that would be good for our school library (K-8). This is the first in what will be a series. Emerson is a teen who is pretty typical. One day while having to clean out the attic of their older home, she finds a blue velvet hat, puts it on, and is transported back in time to the 1800’s to England. Poor Emerson has no idea what she is doing there (except working as a housemaid), and she keeps having dreams of her grandfather, who seems to be guiding her on her journey. Why is she there? And what must she do in the past to preserve the future?

I just loved this sweet book. It reminded me of the type of book I would have read as a child. I always loved time travel books! This is a real winner for our school library as it’s appropriate for younger readers, as well as middle schoolers. A study guide is also available (though I did not receive it). I look forward to reading more from Ms. Davis.

Thank you, Net Galley, for my copy.

Coming my way — REVONTULI by Andrew Eddy

My friends at Booktrope are sending me a review e-copy of REVONTULI, historical fiction taking place in Finland during WWII. It’s been likened to one of my fave books of 2013: THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS by Chris Bojhalian, so I can’t wait to read it! It is also on special through Book Bub — the kindle version for a few days is only 99 cents! (less than a cup of coffee at my favorite shop!).

REVIEWING: Two middle grade novels by Mary Casanova

I recently received some books to review from UMP (University of Minnesota Press) Marketing and two were by Mary Casanova (author of FROZEN, another great book I reviewed here:

RIOT, which is based on true events, follows the story of Bryan Grant, a sixth-grader, whose father gets involved in some violent occurrences when non-union workers are brought in to work at his father’s work, leaving his dad unemployed. Bryan befriends a young girl in his class, but then discovers that her father is one of the non-union “rats”. Meanwhile, tensions escalate and violence breaks out. Ultimately, Bryan needs to decide if he will do the right thing.

Casanova does a great job, as always, in creating realistic characters and situations. Bryan is a likable and sympathetic character, and one ends the book asking, “What would I do?” I think this would be a great choice for a classroom discussion, and it would also engage reluctant readers.

The other book by Casanova that I received was CURSE OF A WINTER MOON. This takes places in the 1500’s in France. Twelve-year-old Marius tries to protect his little brother who villagers are scared could be a werewolf (because he was born on Christmas Eve). There is a strong subtheme in this book of going against the establishment, and Marius’ father is accused of being a heretic as he reads the Bible and has sympathies for Martin Luther. There’s lots to discuss in this book, which can be read on several different levels. My ten-year-old is enjoying it now as an exciting adventure, but I would also use it with middle schoolers to discuss life in 1500’s Europe and the events leading to the Reformation.

Saturday Snapshot: Ski Lesson

Today was a beautiful 50 degrees, but we still have a ton of snow on the ground, so we took the kids to a nearby ski resort and they had their first lesson!

photo (38)SKI


They had a good time! Dad took a lesson, too. (I read my Kindle – lol).

You can participate in Saturday Snapshot – hosted by Melinda at

See her site for participation rules! 🙂


Amy Tan has done it again.

I believe I’ve read all of her books, so I made sure to purchase THE VALLEY OF AMAZEMENT last fall when it came out. I was a little backlogged with due reviews, so I read it in pieces over time (plus it is over 600 pages!). I loved this historical fiction, set in the past and also tied to the present, of turn of the 20th century Shanghai.

In the early 1900’s, Violet is the spoiled, young, half-American/half-Asian daughter of Lulu, the owner of a popular courtesan house in Shanghai. Violet is in the middle of everything, and though young, has a keen eye to the ways of courting done by the girls and her mother’s sharp business practices. A terrible event separates them, however, and Lulu goes to America thinking Violet is dead, while Violet is sold to a courtesan house and her virginity auctioned off when she is fifteen. The bulk of the story is Violet’s telling of her life and loves, from her childhood to her time as a courtesan, to her first love, her beloved husband and child (who is taken from her), and her disastrous second marriage. Violet is a smart woman and strives to maintain her dignity and her independence. Along with her lifelong friend, they struggle to break free of their oppression, and Violet dreams of being reunited with both her mother and her child.

While some of this story is also told from Lulu’s point of view, particularly the story line of how she met Violet’s father, most is told through Violet. I loved the character of Violet, who was plucky and fierce and courageous. I found the details of life as a courtesan quite interesting – I had always considered courtesan and prostitute as synonymous, but this story showed the subtle intricacies of being a courtesan, as well as the cultural differences and expectations of Chinese versus American experiences. I also learned of the political climate of the time (which I knew little about). One thing I would have preferred, though, was to have Lulu’s back story earlier in the book (it came in the last third and thus felt anachronistic to me). Also, after so much story, the ending seemed to wrap up rather quickly.

If you like Amy Tan’s writing, and have some time, then I recommend THE VALLEY OF AMAZEMENT.

I got mine from Amazon, where you can get yours, too!

Quick Review: DEATH OF A POLICEMAN by MC Beaton

Regular readers will know that I love MC Beaton’s cozy mysteries. Her latest Hamish Macbeth book just published. In this one a bothersome police officer has been put on assignment by Hamish’s nemesis Blair to track Hamish and to try to catch him slacking off so he can look bad. Unfortunately, the police officer ends up murdered. Hamish and his sidekick Dick need to figure out who the murderer is, and why people are suddenly showing up dead all over Lochdubh.

This is typical Hamish Macbeth fare — his pets, his work, the village characters, Hamish’s dismal love life. Poor Dick deals with an unproductive love life in this story, too. I know that some folks might find these stories too incredible (police procedure is enthusiastically broken) or the characters too caricaturish (e.g. Blair), but that is one reason why I like these stories. They make me laugh. Plus I love a good mystery!

I remember seeing the series on the BBC (via Netflix) and I wish they would make more of them. Robert Carlyle was the perfect Hamish!

If you love getting your Hamish fix, you will most probably  like DEATH OF A POLICEMAN.

Thank you to Net Galley and Grand Central Publishing for my review copy.