Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The House Girl (P.S.) by Tara Conklin

Title: The House Girl: A Novel (P.S.)
Classification: Adult Fiction
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Series: P.S.
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (November 5, 2013)
ISBN-10: 0062207512
ISBN-13: 978-0062207517
Author's Website: http://www.taraconklin.com/
Notes: I borrowed this one from the library.

“My friends, this will be the largest, most important case of your careers,” he said. “I don’t care if you’ve been a lawyer for twenty years, or if yesterday was your first day at this venerable institution. This is the one you’ve been waiting for. We seek to right this nation’s largest, most enduring sin. We seek redress for hundreds of years of man’s inhumanity to man, trillions—let me say it again, trillions—of dollars in unpaid wages. The plaintiffs number, at the very least, in the hundreds of thousands, and possibly in the millions. We seek not only to compensate them for their ancestors’ sweat and blood but to memorialize, to remember.” 

A young lawyer is charged with finding a plaintiff to represent the face of slavery. An individual who has mass appeal and can win the sympathy of a jury. The person she picks is a young black slave woman who lived in the mid 1800s named Josephine. Josephine could bring controversy and publicity to the lawsuit.

'Much has been written about the early death and turbulent life of the southern painter Lu Anne Bell. An artist with no formal training, she rendered masterpieces of everyday life on the failing tobacco farm where she lived and died. Her work provokes questions of class, race, poverty, and the pernicious effects and moral bankruptcy of the “peculiar institution,” slavery in the antebellum South. She has been embraced by modern feminists and civil rights activists as a woman who, due to the constraints of the society in which she lived, expressed her beliefs in the only way she could: through her art. Or did she? Art historians now question the true authenticity of the Bell oeuvre. Famously, Lu Anne Bell signed none of her art. New evidence strongly suggests that the author of the masterful Bell works was not Lu Anne Bell but in fact her house girl, the adolescent slave Josephine.'

Now all Lina needs to do is track down a surviving relative and prove once and for all that Josephine is the artist behind the historical masterpieces. No sweat.
I really wasn't sure what to expect when I started reading this book, but I was pleasantly surprised. A large portion of the book was very compelling and suspenseful. Josephine's story and how Lina went about tracking it down was well written and thought out and kept my full attention. I couldn't wait to find out what next would be discovered. The toggling between the two main character, one in the present and one in the past, was brilliantly done and added to the suspense of it all. This part of the story was unquestionably for me a 5 star read.

While I loved Josephine's story, another smaller story within the larger one didn't seem to fit in with the rest. I understand what the author was trying to do--build another bridge between the past and present and explain why Lina was so obsessed with finding out what happened to Josephine, but I felt it just didn't work.  While I applaud her effort, ***slight spoiler*** I felt that comparing a slave to someone who didn't want to be a mother and felt trapped in her marriage was a poor choice--the two are vastly different. To me (and I'm sure the author didn't attend to do this) it belittles the tragedy of what happened to Josephine. In my humble opinion, a bridge like this needs to be of equal height/severity in order for things not to go askew and detract from the more intense and bigger story. I felt, at least in this case, you need equal footing between the two and that just wasn't the case. Josephine had no control over what happened to her. Things were done to her. The other woman chose to get married and through her own actions found herself pregnant. She had choices which Josephine did not.***end of spoiler***

Overall, I gave this one 4 out of 5 roses. I liked the suspense the author created with Josephine's story by going back and forth between the past and present. Plus, I loved learning about Josephine and the young woman won me over. While I would have loved a happier ending, I felt the author did a good job of capturing the cruelty and despair of what was happening back in the days of slavery. At times it reminded me of the book Roots by Alex Haley, although it is not quite as severe in its intensity as that book. The story makes you wonder how anyone could not see that a black person is just that--a person. Plus, it makes you see the "good old days" weren't as "good" as one would believe. Not when people were killed and tortured just for the color of their skin. It's unfathomable.

Notes to keep you in the know:
"In 2014, the Whitney Plantation opened its doors to the public for the first time in its 262 year history as the only plantation museum in Louisiana with a focus on slavery. Through museum exhibits, memorial artwork and restored buildings and hundreds of first-person slave narratives, visitors to Whitney will gain a unique perspective on the lives of Louisiana's enslaved people." For more information, check out their website at http://www.whitneyplantation.com/

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Good Guys Wear Black (Rural Gentlemen, #4) by Lizbeth Selvig

    Title: Good Guys Wear Black
    Classification: Adult Fiction
    Genre: Contemporary Romance
    Format: Paperback; 528 pages
    Publisher: Avon Impulse (November 11, 2014)
    ISBN-10: 0062370154
    ISBN-13: 978-0062370150
    Author's Website: http://www.lizbethselvig.com/
    Notes: I borrowed this one from the library.

    Dewey Mitchell once had high hopes for his life, but everything changed when he was diagnosed with cancer. He lost his shot at the NFL, his hopes of having a large family, and his wife, who couldn't come to terms with the possibility that he may never be able to give her children. But despite the hardships and disappointments life's thrown his way, he's managed to survive. When the new single librarian comes to town with her young son in tow, however, that age old longing of  yearning to have a family comes back. 

Rose Hanrehan is a single mom whose family have driven her to escape. The daughter of a US Senator, her unwed/unplanned pregnancy brought scandal upon the family that she's never been able live down. Coming to the small town of Kennison Falls is her means of escaping their attempts to marry her off, thereby, making an honest woman of her. While she isn't against marriage, she doesn't believe she should have to settle for just anyone. Whomever she decides to marry has to accept not only her, but her son who has Asperger's syndrome as well--they're a package deal. Can starting over in a small town be the new beginning she needs?
    This book had a lot going on in it--banned books, cancer, and Asperger's syndrome. I have to confess, it was a bit overwhelming with a lot to take in and felt a little heavy and yet, ironically, not heavy enough. While I loved the way the banned books and Asperger's syndrome were handled, the cancer left me with a lot of unanswered questions. I would have loved it if Ms. Selvig would have expanded the story to include more of Dewey's back story. I kept wondering when he and his ex-wife had gotten married and what type of cancer he'd had. Neither of which were elaborated upon.

    Dewey's the town's Mr. Fix-it and the middle school football coach. He's good with kids and has a heart of gold, but when he first meets Rose, he comes off as an overbearing know-it-all in regards to Jesse, Rose's son. While Dewey has some good ideas as to how to handle Jesse, I felt at times he was a bit presumptuous with his advice, especially as he had no previous knowledge about Jesse's condition. I was in Rose's corner from the beginning in her dislike of him. He was one of those characters that had to win me over and eventually did.

    Rose is a single mom who has had to learn how to deal with a child who doesn't behave as other kids do. After research, physician recommendations, and trial and error she has pretty much figured out what her child needs. Dewey, however, shakes up Rose and her son's world and her son surprisingly takes a liking to Dewey. I loved seeing how the relationships among these three (even between mother and son) grew as the story progressed. What surprised me was how real and genuine the story felt.

    Overall, I gave this one 3 1/2 out of 5 roses. At times the content was a bit heavy, but I liked the realistic feel of the story. I liked how Dewey finally realized he didn't have all the answers and did some research. I loved how when things got a bit rough, Dewey decided to tough it out and work through it. This was one of the few romances I've seen that has a few bumps on the way to a happily ever after and I rather liked that. As for the Lisarenee Romance Rating Scale, this one earned a FAN rating--the temperature in the room seems to have suddenly gone up a couple of degrees and a fan would be nice.

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Diviners (The Diviners, #1) by Libba Bray

  • Title: The Diviners
  • Classification: Young Adult (14+)
  • Genre: Paranormal Horror Story
  • Format: Hardcover; 592 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; 1 edition (September 18, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 9780316126113
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316126113
  • ASIN: 031612611X
  • Notes: Library Loan

The year is 1926 and prohibition is in full swing, the Zeigfield girls have their follies, and technological advances seem to know no bounds. Evie O'Neill has just been reprimanded by her parents for demeaning the character of a boy she knows deserved it but can't prove it. She's being sent to live with her uncle in New York and she couldn't be happier, but her happiness may be premature. In the midst of all the glamour and excitement, a dark shadow has been cast over the city as a serial killer starts stalking prey. Because of the nature of the killings, Evie's uncle has been called in to help with the investigation. Her uncle runs the Museum of American Folklore, Superstitions, and the Occult and is considered to be an expert in the field of the Occult. Due to her nosey nature and her propensity to get into trouble, Evie will find a new way to use the talent that got her into trouble with her parents. Evie O'Neill can find out a person's darkest secrets by touching an object that was once in that person's possession. With just a touch she can see into a victim's final moments and perhaps help catch a killer.

The Museum of American Folklore, Superstitions, and the Occult (aka the Museum of the Creepy Crawlies)  was constructed by Cornelius Rathbone who amassed his fortune building railroads. His sister, Liberty Anne, at age 11, was reported to have gone missing for two days. When she was found, she stated that in that lost time period she met a strange man whose coat opened to reveal the wonders and frights of the world. Her hair was completely white and for the next month before death claimed her, she made outrageous and startlingly accurate prediction about the future, most of which came true. Among them were Lincoln's assassination, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Great War,  as well as many others. It was said it was her predictions which led Cornelius to invest in steel and the railroads from which he acquired his fortune. One of her last predictions talked of  "'a coming storm,' a treacherous time when the Diviners would be needed." Diviners is a name for  people with rare and unique gifts and, make no mistake, a storm is coming. Liberty Anne Rathbone's final prediction is about to come true. The outcome, however, is anyone's guess. One thing is certain, with all the deaths in New York, something wicked is stirring. 
This was such a fun and fast paced book and a bit of a surprise. I expected a fairly typical paranormal ghost story set in the 1920's but it also had elements of Steampunk in it. The book follows two main characters and several important secondary characters who slowly come together and become friends. Many of whom, we come to learn, have Diviner like abilities.

The story begins as a terrible evil is unleashed upon New York. People are being murdered in grizzly fashion with body parts missing. Notes left with the dead along with the careful positioning of the bodies which have symbols branded upon them suggest these are some form of ritualistic type murders being methodically planned out.  Evie O'Neill's uncle Will is brought in by the police to help solve the crimes as he's an expert in field of the occult.

Evie is young, fearless, and loves being the center of attention. She can tell things about a person just by touching an object they've owned. Her talent got her in trouble and is the reason she came to be living in New York with her uncle right around the time the killings started. Her best friend, Mabel, who is almost her polar opposite, lives just down the hall and is about as smart as they come.

Memphis is a smart young black man with a love of poetry who works as a runner and once upon a time had the power to heal through touch. He no longer has the power, but his younger brother, Isiah, has the power of prophecy. Memphis does all he can to keep his brother's particular talent a secret. He doesn't want him exploited as he once was.

Sam Loyd is a 17 year old conman in the making. He can will people not to see him which is pretty handy in his line of work because he can hide anywhere. During his first encounter with Evie he steals twenty bucks from her and she hasn't trusted him since. When her uncle takes a shine to him and offers him a job at the museum, Evie is anything but pleased.

Theta is a Zigfield girl who lives with Henry, a musician. They tell everyone they're brother and sister when they're really best friends.These two befriend Evie early on and are very secretive about their pasts. They too have special abilities that will eventually be revealed,

Jared is Evie's uncle's ward. How he came to live with her uncle is somewhat of a mystery. He's a play it by the book kind of guy, but there is more to him than meets the eye. Mabel has a huge crush on him so Evie will attempt to play matchmaker.

When this motley crew comes together they will all have a hand in bringing down a murderer. Their only clue is a haunting tune which they later come to find has the following eerie lyrics:
“Naughty John, Naughty John, does his work with his apron on. Cuts your throat and takes your bones, sells ’em off for a coupla stones.”

They have the potential to save the world. For the murders are just the beginning. The worst is yet to come...

Overall, I gave this one 5 out of 5 roses. I thoroughly enjoyed this uniquely haunting story. Due to some of its content,  however, I would say this is a book is intended for the older portion of the Young Adult audience. It has some disturbing scenes that potentially could give some young children nightmares. It's a perfect book to read around Halloween or when you want a good scare.  In a word, it's Spooky.

The Book Trailer:

Notes to keep you in the know:
Make sure to read the Author's Notes at the end. I found it very interesting. Ms. Bray talks of various historical items she found that helped her create the story.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Black Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick

    Title: Black Ice
    Classification: Young Adult Fiction
    Genre: Suspense/Mystery
    Format: Hardcover; 400 pages
    Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (October 7, 2014)
    ISBN-10: 1442474262
    ISBN-13: 978-1442474260
    Author's Website: http://www.beccafitzpatrick.com/
    Notes: I bought this one.

Two friends, Korbie and Britt, are spending spring break hiking the Grand Teton Mountains. As they journey to Korbie's family cabin, a storm moves in and their jeep becomes stranded on the road. Afraid their car is not the safest place to stay in such cold weather, they go in search of shelter. When they come across a house occupied by two handsome guys not much older than they are they think they've encountered a bit of good luck, Unfortunately, their nightmare is just about to begin... Young women in the area have mysteriously disappeared and Britt and Korbie are about to find out what happened to them.
This was actually a pretty decent book, but it was slightly marred by an extremely annoying main character. I've often heard others complain about annoying main characters, but this was a first for me. Britt going on and on about how great her ex-boyfriend, Calvin, was just got on my nerves and I almost stopped reading. I kept thinking, "Seriously? The guy dumps you in a rather rude way and you can't stop going on and on about how great he is? Gah!" I get that Britt still has mixed feelings about her ex and hasn't had true closure, but still...

What I did like was the mystery behind everything going on and the way things slowly unfolded. I enjoyed the twists and turns and how not everything was as simple as it first appeared. I liked how Britt grew as an individual even though she made a lot of bad decisions along the way. Granted, there were some startling moments where realization suddenly sunk in as to what was going on and I'm not sure how I would have fared in her shoes.

My favorite quotes:
- "They never tell you that when you watch someone you once loved dying, hovering between this life and the next, it’s twice as painful, because you’re reliving two lives that traveled one road together."

-'“You’re damn right I’m jealous,” he growled. “When I kiss a girl, I like to know she’s thinking about me, not the fool who gave her up.”'

Overall, I gave this one 3 out of 5 roses. It was a fast paced suspenseful story with a very annoying main character that brought the overall rating down. When you're tempted to put your fingers in your ears and you're not listening to the audio version you know it's a bad sign. So while still a very good story that I liked, I was slightly disappointed with this one.

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