Inland by Tea Obreht


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From the Publisher: In the lawless, drought-ridden lands of the Arizona Territory in 1893, two extraordinary lives unfold. Nora is an unflinching frontierswoman awaiting the return of the men in her life—her husband, who has gone in search of water for the parched household, and her elder sons, who have vanished after an explosive argument. Nora is biding her time with her youngest son, who is convinced that a mysterious beast is stalking the land around their home.

Meanwhile, Lurie is a former outlaw and a man haunted by ghosts. He sees lost souls who want something from him, and he finds reprieve from their longing in an unexpected relationship that inspires a momentous expedition across the West. The way in which Lurie’s death-defying trek at last intersects with Nora’s plight is the surprise and suspense of this brilliant novel.

Mythical, lyrical, and sweeping in scope, Inland is grounded in true but little-known history. It showcases all of Téa Obreht’s talents as a writer, as she subverts and reimagines the myths of the American West, making them entirely—and unforgettably—her own.

Obreht’s storytelling is at its finest in this magical and gritty tale of two unlikely heroes who inhabit entirely different worlds. Obreht moves back and forth between Nora, a frontierswoman possibly abandoned by her husband and adult sons trying to keep herself and young son alive during a drought and Lurie, an orphan, outlaw, and cameleer trying to stay a step ahead of the law and alive.

Both Nora and Lurie navigate their way through life aided by “ghosts.” For Nora, it’s the ghost of her dead daughter and for Lurie, it’s primarily the ghost of his adopted brother who died of typhoid. Nora’s ghost, Evelyn, acts as a sounding board for Nora, allowing her to test ideas and often tempering her wilder ideas. Lurie’s ghost, Hobb, goads him into theft by instilling an undeniable want that Lurie cannot resist.

While I kept expecting the two stories to come together sooner and in a stronger way, the way things turned out was really pretty perfect. This stands tall along with recent American West stories News of the World and Whiskey When We’re Dry. Recommended.

Praise for Inland

“As it should be, the landscape of the West itself is a character, thrillingly rendered throughout. . . . Here, Obreht’s simple but rich prose captures and luxuriates in the West’s beauty and sudden menace. Remarkable in a novel with such a sprawling cast, Obreht also has a poetic touch for writing intricate and precise character descriptions.”—The New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice)

“Beautifully wrought.”—Vanity Fair

“Obreht is the kind of writer who can forever change the way you think about a thing, just through her powers of description. . . . Inland is an ambitious and beautiful work about many things: immigration, the afterlife, responsibility, guilt, marriage, parenthood, revenge, all the roads and waterways that led to America. Miraculously, it’s also a page-turner and a mystery, as well as a love letter to a camel, and, like a camel, improbable and splendid, something to happily puzzle over at first and take your breath away at the end.”—Elizabeth McCracken, O: The Oprah Magazine

Publication Date: August 13, 2019
Published By: Random House
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Dead Voices by Katherine Arden


cover165699-mediumFrom the Publisher: Having survived sinister scarecrows and the malevolent smiling man in Small Spaces, newly minted best friends Ollie, Coco, and Brian are ready to spend a relaxing winter break skiing together with their parents at Mount Hemlock Resort. But when a snowstorm sets in, causing the power to flicker out and the cold to creep closer and closer, the three are forced to settle for hot chocolate and board games by the fire. Ollie, Coco, and Brian are determined to make the best of being snowed in, but odd things keep happening. Coco is convinced she has seen a ghost, and Ollie is having nightmares about frostbitten girls pleading for help. Then Mr. Voland, a mysterious ghost hunter, arrives in the midst of the storm to investigate the hauntings at Hemlock Lodge. Ollie, Coco, and Brian want to trust him, but Ollie’s watch, which once saved them from the Smiling Man, has a new cautionary message: BEWARE.

Horror for kids is not an easy genre, but with this second book featuring Ollie, Coco, and Brian, Katherine Arden cements her place as the Queen of Shivers for middle grade readers. Picking up a couple months after the events of Small Spaces, we find our plucky trio trapped in a remote ski lodge by a doozy of a snowstorm. As the action progresses, the three find their courage and friendship tested again by the Smiling Man and a gaggle of ghosts.

Arden is adept at creating an atmosphere that will leave you shivering and glancing over your shoulder at every little sound. She makes this old ski lodge seem like the creepiest, scariest place ever, and that’s before she opens another dimension. The horror is countered by the solid friendship enjoyed by Coco, Ollie and Brian, and by the growing affection between Coco’s mother and Ollie’s father.

Arden also focuses the action on the kids using their brains to think their way out of the scary situations. Coco and Ollie especially rely on deductive reasoning to ultimately defeat the Smiling Man.

With this second entry in the series, Katherine Arden takes her place on my scary story bookshelves with Mary Downing Hahn, R.L. Stine, and Patricia Clapp. Recommended.

Publication Date: August 27, 2019
Published By: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson


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From the Publisher: An unexpected teenage pregnancy pulls together two families from different social classes, and exposes the private hopes, disappointments, and longings that can bind or divide us from each other, from the New York Times-bestselling and National Book Award-winning author of Another Brooklyn and Brown Girl Dreaming.

Moving forward and backward in time, Jacqueline Woodson’s taut and powerful new novel uncovers the role that history and community have played in the experiences, decisions, and relationships of these families, and in the life of the new child.

As the book opens in 2001, it is the evening of sixteen-year-old Melody’s coming of age ceremony in her grandparents’ Brooklyn brownstone. Watched lovingly by her relatives and friends, making her entrance to the music of Prince, she wears a special custom-made dress. But the event is not without poignancy. Sixteen years earlier, that very dress was measured and sewn for a different wearer: Melody’s mother, for her own ceremony– a celebration that ultimately never took place.

Unfurling the history of Melody’s parents and grandparents to show how they all arrived at this moment, Woodson considers not just their ambitions and successes but also the costs, the tolls they’ve paid for striving to overcome expectations and escape the pull of history. As it explores sexual desire and identity, ambition, gentrification, education, class and status, and the life-altering facts of parenthood, Red at the Bone most strikingly looks at the ways in which young people must so often make long-lasting decisions about their lives–even before they have begun to figure out who they are and what they want to be.

There are few writers who can tell the real, deep story of a family as beautifully as Jacqueline Woodson. Here, she takes a seemingly simple story of 16 year old Melody and her “coming of age” ceremony and uses it to reveal the passion, desire, betrayal, trauma, and love that led to the moment she descends the stairs of her grandparents home to the instrumental music of Prince.

Woodson exposes family history with a scalpel – lifting up a flap of skin to reveal the bloody but strong sinew underneath which tethers a family together. She does not shy away from hard things like racism, violence, sex, and lost opportunities but uses those common experiences across generations to demonstrate how damn hard it is to keep your children from repeating your own stories.

Give this book to every teen you know.

Highly recommended.

Publication Date: September 17, 2019
Published By: Penguin
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

A Tale of Witchwood Park by S.W. Develin


cover171821-mediumEmily Spellmaker is missing. She didn’t return to Witchwood Park Elementary and Kendra, the shy little girl she befriended, is heartbroken. Kendra waits alone after school each day until the Tuesday a troll walks out of the woods. He chooses Kendra, Jimmy (the school bully), and Daniel (an outcast) to come on a magical journey where they must overcome an evil queen and her Army of the Faceless to free an enslaved land. In the process they learn who they really are and what friendship means, while getting closer to solving the mystery of Emily Spellmaker.

This lovely tale about the power of storytelling will appeal to early-mid level readers who cut their teeth on animated fantasies like Frozen, Rapunzel, and Brave. We’re drawn in to the story as a troll appears in a schoolyard, looking for a Queen, a Knight, and Something Else. He connects with three misfits – Daniel, the boy who never gets picked for soccer; Kendra, a quiet little girl who can’t seem to function when around people; and Jimmy, the bully who can never do anything right.

The story moves quickly, as the troll leads the children into the Witchwood, where an amazing adventure awaits. Each child discovers something extraordinary about themselves as they work together to save the magical kingdom they’ve found.

I thoroughly enjoyed the premise that the Witchwood and the events of the story itself were created through Kendra’s storytelling, which she uses to cope with her every-day life. Relatively short, with a quick, action-packed pace, this will appeal to boys and girls alike.

Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

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cover161593-mediumFrom the #1 New York Times bestselling author of In a Dark, Dark Wood, The Woman in Cabin 10, The Lying Game, and The Death of Mrs. Westaway comes Ruth Ware’s highly anticipated fifth novel.

When she stumbles across the ad, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss—a live-in nannying post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan Caine arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten—by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare—one that will end with a child dead and herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.

Writing to her lawyer from prison, she struggles to explain the unravelling events that led to her incarceration. It wasn’t just the constant surveillance from the cameras installed around the house, or the malfunctioning technology that woke the household with booming music, or turned the lights off at the worst possible time. It wasn’t just the girls, who turned out to be a far cry from the immaculately behaved model children she met at her interview. It wasn’t even the way she was left alone for weeks at a time, with no adults around apart from the enigmatic handyman, Jack Grant.

It was everything.

She knows she’s made mistakes. She admits that she lied to obtain the post, and that her behavior toward the children wasn’t always ideal. She’s not innocent, by any means. But, she maintains, she’s not guilty—at least not of murder. Which means someone else is.

Ruth Ware is one of those authors who delivers clever, imaginative stories again and again. Turn of the Key joins her earlier work and more than lives up to the hype and anticipation surrounding its publication. With nods to classics like Turn of the Screw and Rebecca, Ware tells an imaginative tale of an emotionally damaged young woman dropped into the middle of one of the strangest family situations I’ve read in a very long time. Ware takes the remote-old-house trope and drags it into the 21st century by adding smart-house technology, thereby creating a truly all-seeing, electronic “Mrs. Danvers,” which is enough to make anyone shiver in their boots.

As she does, Ware drops bombs of information gradually throughout the story, which serve to keep the reader saying “just one more page,” and which had me reading well into the night. The final bombshell was one that I had thought about but dismissed as too awful, but there it was…making me put the book down, close my eyes, and sigh deeply.

One of the things I appreciate about Ware’s writing is her subtle but well-crafted attention to characters and their relationships. In Death of Mrs. Westaway, the relationship between siblings was key; here it’s the relationship between fathers and daughters that sparks and drives the action, creating layer upon layer of plot.

I look forward to more from Ms. Ware’s imagination! Recommended.

Publication Date: August 6, 2019
Published By: Gallery Pocket Scout
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates


cover165563-mediumFrom the National Book Award–winning author of Between the World and Me, a boldly conjured debut novel about a magical gift, a devastating loss, and an underground war for freedom.

From the Publisher: Young Hiram Walker was born into bondage. When his mother was sold away, Hiram was robbed of all memory of her—but was gifted with a mysterious power. Years later, when Hiram almost drowns in a river, that same power saves his life. This brush with death births an urgency in Hiram and a daring scheme: to escape from the only home he’s ever known.

So begins an unexpected journey that takes Hiram from the corrupt grandeur of Virginia’s proud plantations to desperate guerrilla cells in the wilderness, from the coffin of the Deep South to dangerously idealistic movements in the North. Even as he’s enlisted in the underground war between slavers and the enslaved, Hiram’s resolve to rescue the family he left behind endures.

This is the dramatic story of an atrocity inflicted on generations of women, men, and children—the violent and capricious separation of families—and the war they waged to simply make lives with the people they loved. Written by one of today’s most exciting thinkers and writers, The Water Dancer is a propulsive, transcendent work that restores the humanity of those from whom everything was stolen.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a remarkable and important writer, perhaps one of the most important to emerge in the last few years. His first foray into fiction writing is a heartbreaking, uplifting, lyrical masterpiece. Family is the one thing that can keep people going, even through the hardest of times. Family today can mean many things, and people find family where they can. Coates gives us an intimate view of what family meant to slaves living on plantations in the South in the 19th century, where a child or a parent could be sold and sent away at any time. Try to imagine living under a condition like that. I cannot fathom it, and that makes me more aware of the science and research around post-traumatic slave syndrome.

Here, Hiram loses all memory of his mother when she is sold away, and he spends his life trying to recover from that loss. Along the way, he comes to understand that his people, the Taskers, have a unique relationship to the earth, the sky, the water, and to each other. Coates tells a story imbued with the magic of creation and re-building as we follow Hiram from South to North and back again, driven and guided by his own gifts and spirit.

This is not to be missed. Highly recommended.

Advance praise for The Water Dancer

“In prose that sings and imagination that soars, Coates further cements himself as one of this generation’s most important writers, tackling one of America’s oldest and darkest periods with grace and inventiveness. This is bold, dazzling, and not to be missed.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Coates brings his considerable talent for racial and social analysis to his debut novel, which captures the brutality of slavery and explores the underlying truth that slaveholders could not dehumanize the enslaved without also dehumanizing themselves. Beautifully written, this is a deeply and soulfully imagined look at slavery and human aspirations.”—Booklist (starred review)

Publication Date: September 24, 2019
Published By: Random House
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Old Success by Martha Grimes


9780802147400_250cdFrom the publisher: In The Old Success, the twenty-fifth mystery in the bestselling Richard Jury series by MWA Grand Master Martha Grimes, an unlikely trio of detectives teams up to solve three puzzling murders that span three counties across England.

When the body of a French woman washes up on a wild inlet off the Cornish coast, Brian Macalvie, divisional commander with the Devon-Cornwall police is called in. Who could have killed this beautiful tourist, the only visible footprints nearby belonging to the two little girls who found her?

While Macalvie stands in the Scilly Islands, inspector Richard Jury–twenty miles away on Land’s End—is at The Old Success pub, sharing a drink with the legendary former CID detective Tom Brownell, a man renowned for solving every case he undertook. Except one.

In the days following the mysterious slaying of the Parisian tourist, two other murders take place: first, a man is found dead in a country estate, then a holy duster turns up murdered at the Exeter Cathedral. Macalvie, Jury and Brownell set out to discover whether these three killings, though very different in execution, are connected. Written with Grimes’s signature wit, sly plotting, and gloriously offbeat characters, The Old Success is prime fare from “one of the most fascinating mystery writers today” (Houston Chronicle).

Reading an advanced review copy months before publication is always tricky. Sometimes the text is well developed and edited; other times you find the skeleton of a plot with some muscle and sinew but little flesh. That’s what I found with The Old Success.

The plot is classic Martha Grimes, featuring several mysterious deaths all eventually tied together by one long thread which is slowly untangled by the cast of characters. There is the usual witty repartee between series regulars Jury and Plant, mouthy kids, deceitful killers, and appearances by the Long Piddleton crew, the gorgeous Carolanne Palutski, and my favorite detective Brian Macalvie.

However, there’s so much connective tissue missing here that it’s like reading the graphic novel version.

As a decades-long Grimes reader, I can see the strong bones here and plan to buy this when it’s published, hoping that I will find a fully fleshed out story. The plot is every bit as clever as my all-time favorite Grimes book, The Old Fox Deceiv’d, and I do enjoy Jury & Plant in any form, but this needs more words. One final caveat: this is not a stand-alone novel since it references events and characters from previous books.

Publication Date: November 5, 2019
Published By: Atlantic Monthly Press
Thanks to Edelweiss for the review copy

Mayhem, Murder & the PTA by Dave Cravens

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Parker Monroe is a tough-talking investigative reporter used to writing headlines, not being the subject of them. When a key source vanishes on a politically toxic story, this single mother of three finds herself at the center of a media storm and out of a job. Ready to reset, Parker moves her family back to the rural town where she grew up. But a gossip-filled PTA, a tyrannical school principal and a gruesome murder make adjusting to the “simple life” anything but. Parker Monroe is about to chase the story of her lifetime…

If you like your protagonists irreverent and bold, Parker Monroe is for you. She is confident and assertive, even in the face of the abject and complete failure she faces at the beginning of the story.

It’s interesting to see how the author takes the rough-and-tumble, take-no-prisoners Chicago journalist and plants her back in her small hometown where the most exciting and challenging project she takes on is reinstating the music program at her children’s school. Leave it to Parker Monroe, though, to turn that mundane task into something horrifying.

The story is a romp, full of larger than life characters. However, I found the author’s interpretation of how a woman speaks and behaves, even one as irreverent as Parker, to be a little off. I’ve been known to drop an F-bomb or two, but the author takes Parker to a whole other level of swearing that I find just a little unbelievable. Maybe I lead a sheltered life, but I have never said, nor heard any other woman exclaim “Are you butt-f-ing me” aloud in a coffee shop. Not even in Chicago. But despite the over-the-top vulgarity, this is still a fun and intricate story that will appeal to mystery readers.

Book Details:

  • Book Title: Mayhem, Murder and the PTA by Dave Cravens
  • Category:  Adult Fiction, 434 pages
  • Genre:  Mystery / Thriller
  • Publisher:  Amazon
  • Release date:   May 20, 2019

Buy the Book: Amazon.com

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Dave CravensMeet the author!
As a child, Dave Cravens planned to grow up to be a superhero, the first person to capture Bigfoot and Nessie on film, pilot experimental aircraft out of Area 51, develop cold fusion, and star and direct in his own blockbuster action movies so he could retire at the ripe age of twenty-five and raid tombs the rest of his life. Instead, he got a degree in journalism, which he hasn’t used at all other than to justify his incredibly insightful and valid complaints about the state of journalism. During his twenty-two years in the video game business, he’s written for award winning franchises, directed TV commercials and movies, sprained his ankles numerous times in ultimate frisbee games and published three original novels.

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Almost Lost Arts by Emily Freidenrich


9781452170206This book is a celebration of tactile beauty and a tribute to human ingenuity. In-depth profiles tell the stories of 20 artisans who have devoted their lives to preserving traditional techniques. Gorgeous photographs reveal these crafts people’s studios, from Oaxaca to Kyoto and from Milan to Tennessee. Two essays explore the challenges and rewards of engaging deeply with the past. With an elegant three-piece case and foil stamping, this rich volume will be an inspiration to makers, collectors, and history lovers.

The subtitle of this book is “Traditional Crafts and the Artisans Keeping Them Alive,” which accurately reflects the content, but does not come close to expressing the sheer joy and steadfast commitment these artisans find in their work.

As a librarian, I was pleased to see a chapter devoted to Donald Vass, the “Book Mender” for the King County Library System in Issaquah, Washington. Book mending is truly a lost art in libraries, given the relatively low cost and low quality of the books being published today. It’s cheaper to buy a new one than fix a book with a broken spine. Most library systems, including mine, eliminated the Book Menders years ago. It brings me joy to see Mr. Vass carefully attending to these broken books, and the photo of the “century-old cast-iron board cutter” leaves me envious. It also makes me sad to read “he has worried that the program will dissolve with his retirement.” I’m betting that’s true.

There are lots of “lost arts” books out there right now, but this one features some artisans and skills I did not expect. There’s

  • Peter Bellerby, who makes custom globes that are works of art;
  • Brittany Nicole Cox, the Antiquarian Horologist who repairs vintage and ancient clocks and timekeeping devices;
  • Wet plate photographers who actually create *new* tin types;
  • Steve Stepp & Robert Coverston, who create new cassette tapes;
  • Image colorists Matt Loughrey and Grace Rawson who bring new details to life in vintage photos through exacting coloring techniques.

Almost Lost Arts introduces you to these and so many more people across the globe who are keeping the old crafts and arts alive. There is a good balance of text and color photos which blend together to describe the history and the current application of the particular art. The descriptive text is fascinating and well-researched.

I have only two technical issues: there are some editing issues in the advanced copy I received (page 67 in the wet plate photography chapter has some misspelled words, and sentences that repeat); and something that annoys me in books that rely on photos and words to tell the story – when you have captioned photos on a page, end the text block with a period. Don’t make the reader go to the next page to finish the sentence/paragraph then have to go back to read the photo captions.

Other than those two minor quibbles, this is a fabulous book. Beautiful and informative. Buy it for every maker you know who loves the old ways. They will not be disappointed.

Publication Date: September 3, 2019
Published By: Chronicle Books
Thanks to Chronicle Books for the review copy

Great Jewel Robbery by Elizabeth McKenna

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Mystery with a splash of romance…Chicago Tribune reporters Emma and Grace have been best friends since college despite coming from different worlds. When Grace is assigned to cover an annual charity ball and auction being held at a lakeside mansion and her boyfriend bails on her, she brings Emma as her plus one. The night is going smoothly until Emma finds the host’s brother unconscious in the study. Though at first it is thought he was tipsy and stumbled, it soon becomes clear more is afoot, as the wall safe is empty and a three-million-dollar diamond necklace is missing. With visions of becoming ace investigative journalists, Emma and Grace set out to solve the mystery, much to the chagrin of the handsome local detective.
This is Nancy Drew for the 21st century! Grace and Emma make a fabulous team, and their first foray into mystery-solving is definitely a hit. The women play off each other’s strengths and each contributes to solving the crime. They are daring, smart, and driven to prove themselves to their editor and to each other.
This is a quick, light read – perfect for a day at the beach, or on your porch sipping an iced tea (or something stronger!). Fans of Kate Carlisle and Juliet Blackwell will enjoy Elizabeth McKenna’s mysteries.

Book Details:

  • ​Book Title: The Great Jewel Robbery: A Front Page Mystery Book 1 by
  • Elizabeth McKenna
  • Category: Adult Fiction, 204 pages
  • Genre: Cozy mystery
  • Publisher: Elizabeth McKenna
  • Release date: May 28, 2019
  • Tour dates: August 19-30, 2019
  • Content Rating: PG-13 (There is no profanity. There is drinking, desire, and a kiss.)
To read more reviews, please visit Elizabeth McKenna’s page on iRead Book Tours.

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 Elizabeth McKenna’s love of books reaches back to her childhood, where her tastes ranged from Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys to Stephen King’s horror stories. She had never read a romance novel until one Christmas when her sister gave her the latest bestseller by Nora Roberts. She was hooked from page one (actually, she admits it was the first love scene). She combined her love of history, romance, and a happy ending to write the historical romance novels Cera’s Place and Venice in the Moonlight. Her contemporary romance novel, First Crush Last Love, is loosely based on her life (she eventually married her first crush)

The Great Jewel Robbery is her debut cozy mystery, and she hopes readers will like it as much as they have enjoyed her romances. Elizabeth lives in Wisconsin with her understanding husband, two beautiful daughters, and a sassy Labrador. When she isn’t writing, working, or being a mom, she’s sleeping.

Connect with the author: Facebook ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram

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