Thursday, March 22, 2018

The House of Broken Angels ~ Luis Alberto Urrea

The House of Broken Angels by [Urrea, Luis Alberto]
Urrea, Luis Alberto. 2018. The House of Broken Angels. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, an imprint of Hachette Book Group. ISBN: 978-0316154888. $27.00 USD.

After seeing all the buzz and great reviews for this novel, I eagerly started it one weekend, and pretty much read it in one sitting.  It addresses so many important themes: families (and dysfunction therein), forgiveness, redemption and above all, love.

The day before Big Angel de la Cruz has his 70th birthday celebration, probably his last one, his mother passes away, and all the family who were coming in for the party attend the funeral first instead.  That is the set up for the novel;  but it is written in a non-linear manner, it and takes the reader into the past to create the histories of all the people who populate this big-hearted story.  We learn about Big Angel’s extended family: his father Don Antonio, who was a policeman in Mexico and abandoned the family for a white woman, leaving his wife and three children to suffer severe poverty; his brother Cesar, and sister Mary Luisa, who have their own back stories often hilariously told; his wife Perla and her two sisters Lupita and Gloriosa (ah, Gloriosa!); his children Lolo and Minnie, and most of all, his half-brother, Gabriel (aka "Little Angel:), born to Don Antonio and his American wife, Betty, through whom we witness many of of the events of the book.

There are a lot of characters in this book with formal names, nick-names and interesting connections, and I found it was helpful to create a family tree as I was reading. There are also a lot of Spanish words, and I had Google translate open most of the time I was reading, but it did not inhibit my enjoyment of the book.

The House of Broken Angels is an epic, raucous, often hilarious story that I just completely fell into.    We see the Mexican American de la Cruz family in all its amazing messiness, the good and the bad, but most of all, the love.  The quote from the book that keeps resonating with me is spoken by Big Angel near his death: “All we do, mija, is love.  Love is the answer. Nothing stops it. Not borders, not death.”

This novel expresses “inexplicable days of grace” in so many ways, and it will stay with me a long time.  Highly recommended!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Lake Silence ~ Anne Bishop

Bishop, Anne. 2018. Lake Silence. New York, NY: Ace Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House. ISBN: 978-0399587245. $27.00 USD.

What a joy to be able to escape into another novel by Anne Bishop set in the world of The Others, one of my favorite series of all time!  Once I started reading Lake Silence, I had a hard time stopping and doing the things I should have been doing at work and home.

In this book, we are introduced to a new location and new characters, but the rest of the world-building coincides with Bishop's The Others series (which begins with Written in Red). In this unique world, Namid created earth natives first, and humans later.  Some of the earth natives, also known as “terre indigene,” have learned to shift into human form, and enjoy the innovations developed by humans.  Overall, however, the earth natives are suspicious of humans and view them as edible prey.

In Lake Silence, the main character is a recently divorced human woman named Vickie DeVine who has been brow-beaten very badly by her ex-husband and his wandering "Vigorous Appendage" (so funny)!!  As part of her divorce she received some property in an earth native settlement that is recovering from a "great predation," when the Elder earth natives got really angry with the humans and wiped many of them from the face of the earth.  Vickie has a tenant named Aggie, who is a member of the Crowgard (crows who can shift into human form), but Vickie doesn't realize that until she discovers Aggie heating up a human eyeball in the microwave for a snack!

From there, a murder mystery is introduced, as well as some really bad villains, interesting interactions between the humans in the settlement and the earth natives, and some quite humorous situations as well. (Oh, and there’s something living in the local lake near Vickie's property that is curious, dangerous and extremely vengeful).

Overall, Lake Silence was an enjoyable read and a lot of fun.  I only wish I could have savored this book more instead of rushing through to finish it, staying up way too late! You will get the most enjoyment from this book if you start at the beginning of the series. Thanks to NetGalley and Ace Books for sharing an early copy with me. Always, always appreciated!!

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Queen of Hearts ~ Kimmery Martin

Martin, Kimmery. 2018. The Queen of Hearts. New York, NY: Berkley Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House. ISBN:  978-0399585050. $26.00 USD.

They say you should write what you know, and debut author Dr. Kimmery Martin has done that - in spades!  She has crafted a wonderful debut, full of engaging characters, realistic dialogue, and a hint of mystery - plus descriptions of the practice of medicine that are illuminating and informative.

Zadie and Emma have been close friends since they met in medical school, bonding over the extreme stress and hardship that such an endeavor entails. Now successful doctors with busy lives, their friendship is tested by the return of a colleague and the memories of an event that had significant ramifications for all three of them.

The Queen of Hearts is a story of friendship and families, secrets and redemption.  I eagerly turned the pages to get to the end, and after reading the author's note, I sighed with the best kind of contented pleasure I get from reading a great book.  It is hard to believe this is the writing of a debut author!  Very well done!

Monday, March 12, 2018

Dreaming in Chocolate ~ Susan Bishop Crispell

Dreaming in Chocolate: A Novel by [Crispell, Susan Bishop]
Crispell, Susan Bishop. 2018. Dreaming in Chocolate. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press, and imprint of Macmillan Publishers. ISBN: 978-1250089076. $15.99 USD.

I've always loved the Magical Realism genre (except for the first one: One Hundred Years of Solitude, I'm ashamed to admit)!  I think it goes back to my adolescence when I wished for the ability to change things about my life. I discovered contemporary Magical Realism with Sarah Addison Allen and have read many other authors and their interpretation of the genre, with pleasure.

Dreaming in Chocolate by Susan Bishop Crispell was an enjoyable read, and made me really hungry at the same time!  Penelope Dalton runs a hot chocolate cafe with her mother in a small town named Malarkey (what a name)!  In the cafe there is an apothecary table that magically provides recipes for various needs of the community.  Hot chocolate to see the future, chocolates to dream of your soul mate, and more. Penelope has given up believing in magic because the "soul mate" she saw in her dream at 18 turned her down and left her pregnant.  In addition, her daughter Ella is dying from a neurological ailment that no amount of wishes will cure. So, she vows to give her daughter the best few months that she has left, not knowing that her daughter is attempting some magic of her own.  When Penelope's soul mate returns to town, not knowing he has a daughter, Penelope tries to close her heart the best she can. But the magic isn't done with her yet.

The book has a lot going for it, and is heartwarming in a way that covers all the bases for domestic fiction.  If you like your romance a little magical, this book is for you!

Happy Reading!

P.S. This author's 2016 debut, The Secret Ingredient of Wishes, was also a great read!

The Secret Ingredient of Wishes: A Novel by [Crispell, Susan Bishop]

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Broken Girls~Simone St. James (Published March 20, 2018)

St. James, Simone. 2018. The Broken Girls. New York, NY: Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House. ISBN: 978-0451476203. $26.00 USD.

I've been a fan of Simone St. James since reading The Haunting of Maddy Clare a number of years ago.  She has a great instinct for adding just the right amount of supernatural elements to her stories to make them interesting and believable.

In The Broken Girls, the the story takes place in Vermont across two timelines: the present day and the 1950s, when a group of girls resided at Idlewild Hall, a boarding school for young outcast women.  In the present day the main character, Fiona Sheridan, who is a journalist, discovers that someone has purchased the dilapidated manor house. This creates an obsession to research the history the school as she senses it's connected to her sister's death many years ago.  She isn't convinced the whole story of her sister's murder was really brought to light, and of course she's right.

In the narrative covering the past era, four residents of Idlewild Hall are introduced who have all "seen" or "heard" something that they think may be the ghostly presence of a young woman killed at the school in the 1800s.  There are mysteries to solve in the past and in the present, and the author does a great job of tying this non-linear narrative together.  I found The Broken Girls to be a very enjoyable (and spooky!) read. It's an excellent example of this genre.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher the Advanced Reader's Copy!

Witch Creek: A Wildlands Novel ~ Laura Bickle

Bickle, Laura. Witch Creek. 2018. New York, NY: Harper Voyager, a division of HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN: 978-0062567314. Mass Market Paperback.

I'm so grateful to have had an opportunity to read the next installment in Laura Bickle's wonderful fantasy series, titled Witch Creek. It's a very unique world, and I've recommended the series over and over again. The characters are so intriguing and unusual, especially the coyote sidekick, Sig! My thanks, once again, to Edelweiss and HarperCollins for the DRC.  Reading the books in order will give you the best experience with this series (Dark Alchemy, Mercury Retrograde and Nine of Stars).

Petra Dee is a geologist who has lost a lot in her life, including a lover and her father, an alchemist (who is still sort of in the picture through...Alchemy (natch)! She lands in Temperance, Wyoming and discovers some very unusual supernatural occurrences in that small town, including some "Hanged Men" who live underneath a Lunaria tree that sustains them. All kinds of "evil-bad" guys cause trouble for Petra and Gabe, one of the Hanged Men with whom she has a number of adventures. It's hard to describe this series as a genre, as it pulls from a number of mythologies, including Native American, but I would call it Dark Contemporary Fantasy.

In this latest title things are not looking so great for the main characters:  Gabe is missing, having been kidnapped by the new heir to the land where the Lunaria was located; Petra has leukemia and has given up on treatment; and the new "evil-bad," the alchemy-created Muirenn (a mermaid-of-sorts) is on the loose and out for revenge. The way the author brings all these dire straits together is very creative, and she has left room for another novel to come (i.e. cliff-hanger)!

My advice: grab this series and get ready to binge-read!

Happy Reading!

The Recipe Box ~ Viola Shipman (Pub. Date: March 20, 2018)

Shipman, Viola. 2018. The Recipe Box. New York, NY: Thomas Dunne Books, and imprint of Macmillan Publishers. ISBN: 978-1250146779. $26.99 USD.

The Recipe Box by Viola Shipman was a special read for me, and I already have a number of library patrons, family and friends who I know will love it. Thanks to Edelweiss and Macmillan Publishers for the Advanced Reader's Copy!

The main character in this novel, Samantha "Sam" Mullins, grew up in a small town working in her family's orchard and pie shop.  She couldn't wait to leave and make her way in the "real world" of a New York bakery.  After a miserable experience as the sous chef for an egotistical celebrity baker, Sam returns home to work the summer for her family and reconnects with her mother, Deana, and her grandmother, Willa. She learns their histories as an adult and begins to see them in a different light, opening herself up to love and a future she thought she never wanted. This is a heartwarming book full of well-drawn characters, engaging dialogue and emotional resonance.

As a side note, I am of German descent and my grandmother and mother were excellent bakers and cooks.  My mother collected recipes over many years and self-published two cookbooks, with stories to go along with the recipes; many people have been blessed by her cookbooks.  And when I got married my mother, grandmother and aunt presented me with a wooden recipe box with hand written recipes filling it!  Those cards are smudged, stained and crumpled, just like the author's descriptions of recipe cards in this novel.  Lots of love expressed in my life over the years through sharing food and fellowship.

Below are pictures of my mom's cookbooks and recipe cards, some of which are over 30 years old!

Happy Reading (and eating)!

P.S. Fun Fact:  Viola Shipman is a pseudonym for Wade Rouse (who has also written The Charm Bracelet and The Hope Chest).  Rouse chose his grandmother's name, Viola Shipman, "to honor the woman whose heirlooms and family stories inspire his writing."

Wade Rouse will be an honored speaker at an author lunch at the 2018 Texas Library Association's Annual Conference in Dallas, Texas on April 4th.