Saturday, February 28, 2015

Dark Ritual by Patricia Scott

Dark Ritual by Patricia Scott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kindle Edition, 199 pages
Published December 21st 2014 by Endeavour Press
(first published in 2007 as "Demise of a Dollybird")

A fast entertaining British police procedural. I picked this up when it was offered as a freebie on Kindle and am pleased to have found this gripping tale. Starting off with a murder that has all the signs of a pagan harvest sacrificial ritual, police have plenty of suspects who were not keen on the young journalist snooping around the small village's secrets and affairs. The book combines a police force team headed by an amiable DCI who takes up with a widowed police officer's wife who becomes his sounding board. This is a great pairing that lends an air of both the police procedural with the amateur cozy sleuth putting their heads together. I was utterly in the dark on figuring out who the perpetrator was until the twist near the end, then I must admit it became clear to me how the twist would turn once more to reveal the identity of the real killer. Behind the quite gruesome murder case is a light-hearted romance between the two main characters and I found this to be a charming British village mystery while maintaining an edgy dark side to the grisly murder case. The author has written a few other books which also look good.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Paperback, 223 pages
Published August 1st 1993 by Dell Publishing Company
(first published 1958)

This is about the third time I've read this book, but the first time giving a review. My rating is based upon this reading. I loved this book as a child and it always held special memories for me. I read it aloud about 17 years ago to one of my sons and I enjoyed it well that time also. It makes for a fine read-aloud and I got caught up in my listener's enthusiasm. This time though, reading independently as an adult I found the story somewhat slow, more of a romance than I had remembered, with a quiet plot yet extremely well-written and an easy read with flowing language. Despite the title, the book does not take place in Salem nor have a genuine plot about the Puritan witch trials. However, the fear of being thought a witch is always present in the background of the story and this is brought to a climax in one chapter close to the end. But also running through the book are themes of politics, especially the British annexing of Connecticut to Massachusetts and Connecticut's desperate plight to hide their Charter until they could rise again and fight those in England who wished to rule them from afar. Finally, the main plot centres around an outsider, her difficulties with fitting in, and most importantly the triangular love affair between 3 girls and 3 men who learn along with some painful moments, who each really loves and who is whose soul mate. A sweet, slow-moving, yet captivating historical fiction.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Everything I Need to Know About Love I Learned From a Little Golden Book by Diane Muldrow

Everything I Need to Know About Love I Learned From a Little Golden Book by Diane Muldrow

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hardcover, 96 pages
Published December 23rd 2014 by Golden Books

Little Golden Books

Wonderful book for grown-ups who love Little Golden Books. The story is not for children. It is a sweet story about grown-up love, about feeling like you'll never meet the right person, how dating can be glamorous but sometimes the simple dates are the best, when you do find true love don't leave your friends behind, then it discusses all the wonderful things that love is, and how love can end suddenly, shockingly, but it will come again, put on your big girl panties and take a chance on love again! So sweet and cute. Each page is an illustration from an old LGB from the 40-60s with all the famous artists represented and some I'd never heard of before. Each page tells you the book the illustration is from. I liked this just as much as the Christmas one! Lovely to browse through and such a sweet story.

Dear Canada: A Desperate Road to Freedom: The Underground Railroad Diary of Julia May Jackson, Virginia to Canada West, 1863-1864 by Karleen Bradford

A Desperate Road to Freedom: The Underground Railroad Diary of Julia May Jackson, Virginia to Canada West, 1863-1864 by Karleen Bradford

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hardcover, 240 pages
Published June 2009 by Scholastic Canada

Dear Canada Series

Karleen Bradford is a well-known and talented Canadian historical fiction writer for youth and teens. Needless to say, this is an entertaining and interesting addition the Dear Canada series. This particular book could be best suited to the younger end of the 8-12 age range as it is a basic story of American slaves escaping using the Underground railroad, then the troubles and successes they experience settling down in a community in Canada. The majority of the book takes place in Owen Sound, Ontario. The only weakness is that this story only barely touches upon the horrors the slaves endured and the 'escape'/Underground Railroad part of the story is over by page 25. The rest of the book deals with their Canadian experience. Bradford does manage to cover many topics in this presupposing book: the eldest brother joins the Union army once he reaches freedom, the family had three older children sold off and that effect on the family is pursued, the blacks are welcomed seemingly so open-armed at first but later a white attitude of jobs being lost to them starts to prevail, friendships between white and black children, integration between the races in general but only to a point of "knowing their place and limitations" and also the kidnapping of free slaves by bounty hunters because of the US Fugitive Slave Law. The historical note is a simple history of the Civil War, the underground railroad and the black communities in Toronto and Owen Sound. A good, well-written, atmospheric, introduction to the topic.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

How I Stole Johnny Depp's Alien Girlfriend by Gary Ghislain

How I Stole Johnny Depp's Alien Girlfriend by Gary Ghislain

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hardcover, 174 pages
Published June 8th 2011 by Chronicle Books

I was completely smitten with this book for middle-graders. I wish I hadn't taken so long to get around to reading it. The unique plot involves a visiting alien whom a step-brother/sister duo tries to help whilst risking their own lives and sanity in the process. Lots of laughs, a whirlwind of action and blooming romance. These types of boy/girl fantasies are quite the norm, but this one does provide uniqueness with it's setting in the Parisian countryside of France and the capital city itself. Whilst the odd involvement of Johnny Depp is a story grabber and all three main characters, Frog, Malou and Zelda bloom and grow throughout the story. I enjoyed the fast-paced, high-quality writing and would read this author again. A wild, funny and meaningful ride for MGs and YAs. The author is Parisian-American and due to this my warning to some parents is a note on acceptable cultural differences. The book contains smoking, wine-drinking (even while driving) and suggestive sexual interaction. Personally, I rate the book Middle-Grade and up. Age 12+

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Counting Churches: The Malta Stories by Rosanne Dingli

Counting Churches: The Malta Stories by Rosanne Dingli

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Kindle Edition, 188 pages
Published (first published March 21st 2011)

This collection of short stories just barely reaches a three for me as the author's writing style and subject are just not what I'm after as a reader. I was interested in the book to start with as I like books set in exotic locations and knew nothing of Malta previously plus I'm an avid short story reader. The author is a fine writer; her writing is serene, haunting and lyrical. But the tales are mostly descriptive and telling with often no pretense of even a plot or only a small incidental one. When the stories are describing all that is seen, heard and smelled they tend towards character studies, which I am generally fond of, however these characters are quiet ones going about their quotidian lives. Then most stories, until the last few, would suddenly end, abruptly, out of the blue. As I said, they just were not for me, not my type of literature, but I do not knock the writing as a whole, finding it very lyrical and could certainly see this having fans with differing tastes than mine.

1. The Pomegranate Tree (1994) - Hmm. A very descriptive story: the old generational house, the rain storm, the garden, the tree. I don't like descriptive paragraphs unless they add atmosphere to a plot. So I kind of lazed my way through this. I figured one of two things was going to happen as the women remembered and described. When a whiff of smoke touches a light, I knew which of my choices was the direction the story would go. Not too much into it, but did like the abrupt ending which leaves one wondering more about the narrator. (3/5)

2. Katie's Hair (2011) - Very sad tale of spousal abuse, involving a Maltese village woman who is a live-in maid in town and returns to her village occasionally for two-day visits. Started off boring, but got my attention at a certain point and turned tragic. (3/5)

3. The Summer Man (1994) - Maria lived in the saltpans and is from the Salini family who have worked the saltpans from what seems to be time immemorial. This story is Maria's thoughts as she looks back at that time and when she left. Very slow and meandering. (2/5)

4. Hymn (1994) - This is the first story in the collection that I fell into right away. Two sisters, one presumes are spinsters, have attended a funeral for their lodger and start discussing her; they had known her as a child at boarding school. Information is imparted slowly through the story. It's mostly a character study with a hint of plot, but quite haunting. It did end too abruptly for me though. (4/5)

5. The Most Fortunate Children (1995) - This story has a subheading so we go into it with some idea as to what is to come:"World War II in Malta -- an unforeseeable end". It's early days of the war and a family along with many others take refuge in the Marquis palace. Enjoyable enough story, but again an abrupt ending, but this time I didn't really 'get" it. (3/5)

6. The Girl Who Danced on Flowers (2011) - A girl narrates a specific time when she would visit her grandparents for the summer but as she does, she also describes what these visits are typically like. She is set a task while she is reminiscing and the ending shows her mind has wandered. A quiet but lyrical story. I enjoyed the love of family and Catholicity in this one especially. (4/5)

A note: at this point I can say I've become familiar with the author's style and now know what to expect from these stories. There usually isn't a real plot but more of a character study often with abrupt endings.

7. Pilgrimage (1993) - An Australian man's mother dies (or at least is in final stages of dementia) so he goes back to her homeland of Malta which she left when he was 4 months old. A description of the land as his mother told him and as he found it. No plot. Very description, hence not my thing. (2/5)

8. Rosaria's Dowry (2011) - This is the longest story at this point. I really don't know what to make of it. I hated the main character, but I have a feeling she is supposed to be admired from a feminist pov. As a youngster and young woman she is always saying she won't marry as it is assumed she will. As her aunt gets older the question rises more and more and Rosario now insists she will never marry or have children. The aunt dies and it turns out Rosario has been a shrewd business woman making herself quite rich. But then her feelings and driving forces turn out to be greed for material things and hatred of men in general. I found her to be a vile person and this a pointless story. Gets points for being well-written and not full of description like previous stories. (3/5)

9. Tickets to Malta (1992) - um ... a guy talks about how boring and comfortable his relationship is as he describes his hometown in Malta where they are going on a trip. Short, descriptive and boring. (1/5)

10.The Mother (2011) - This one was quite to my liking and much more to my tastes. A mysterious episode where a young journalist visits an older man with a past which we are never made clear about. It involves death, a woman, an assassination, this man was involved in a murder, but never charged with anything. He gives her cryptic answers and sends her off to his nonagenarian mother who is still mentally sharp. She's given answers but in the end finds them just as cryptic and the story does again end with this author's signature abrupt ending. (4/5)

11. The Glass Paperweight (2011) - A totally engaging story which I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish. The first I really appreciated in this collection. The paperweight is a symbol within the story which tells the story of a man's life from childhood. His mother dies shortly after his birth, he is raised by his grandparents and while making some independent choices of his own ends up leading a life more chosen for him than the one he wanted. At the end, we find out how he became a happy man. I appreciated the story's satisfying, finite ending and the message conveyed. a gem amongst the more mundane stories in this collection. (5/5)

12. Counting Churches (1994) - A gentle story and not one that calls out to be the titular one either. Short and simple, a woman on vacation, alone, in Malta, spends her time walking around and crossing paths with the churches. She attends Mass, thinks about Saints and ends up counting the churches. The ending has a slight nod toward the divine. This story does nicely round out the others as it concentrates on the slight, brief, lingering Catholicity nestled in the background of all the other stories in the collection, therefore making its placement at the end of the book a wise editorial choice. I've come to think through these stories that Malta is a cultural rich Catholic country though I am only going from my perceptions from these stories. Will have to google that when I've finished. (3/5)

13. Correspondence (2011) - I was interrupted a few times during this story so lost the flow, but it wasn't really holding my attention all that much anyway. Letters and glimpses back to a mystery, series of mysteries in the narrator's life that become clear by the end. (2/5)

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Forsaking Home by A. American

Forsaking Home by A. American

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Paperback, 416 pages
Published June 24th, 2014 by Plume

Home Survival series (4)

I love this series and book 4 was just as much of a pleasure as I was expecting. The writing has improved as the series progressed; and while I loved the action-packed gung-ho attitude of the first two books, at this point there is a lot more character development, personal interaction and emotional experiences between the characters. All the characters from previous books are present here (the ones who've made it alive to this point LOL) and I felt right at home with this motley crew of army men, survivalists, male and female, along with a few of their teens and children. There is a culmination of the plot that has been driving the series all along and the book finishes up on a satisfactory note that feels like the end as we imagine these people going on to live in and shape this new world they are now a part of. I'd be satisfied with this as an ending, but I know a fifth book has come out and I'll have to read that soon. Great series for people who like eotwawi, survivalist or gung-ho fiction.

My Pa the Polar Bear by Jackie French

My Pa the Polar Bear by Jackie French

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Paperback, 128 pages
March 12th, 2015 by HarperCollins
(first published in Australia January 1st, 2007)

Wacky Families (8)

I can't recommend this book. I've read a few others in the series and thought they were cute and silly. This one started off with a unique "wacky "family that I thought was going to be my favourite of them all. Then it went downhill. Briefly, the book is full of the alarmist global warming nonsense making wild statements about this political topic designed to scare and frighten the audience, small children. Outrageous "facts" are presented and during the story "global warming" is a thing that happens right before your eyes as a massive event. 'nuff said. On top of that a big deal is made of hard it is to find the polar bears because of the white bears against their white environment, but there are so many varying factors, including time of year, that go into what colour a polar bear actually appears to be to the human eye that I found it odd they were never mentioned as ever appearing to be their typical yellow colouring. Lots of bad pseudo-science hidden in a kid's fantasy story.