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Archive for the ‘Christine's Picks’ Category

strikingdistanceLaura Nilsson is slowly rebuilding her life after being rescued from eighteen months of captivity in the Middle East. No longer interested in being in front of the camera, Laura works as a newspaper investigative journalist in Denver. Life is not perfect, but Laura is slowly putting the pieces back together, regaining her professional confidence and trying to regain her confidence as a woman. Javier Corbray hasn’t forgotten his brief and intense weekend getting to know Laura in Dubai before her kidnapping. In fact, she is never far from his thoughts, but he keeps his distance out of respect for her trauma.

While visiting friends in Denver, Javier is surprised, but thrilled, to see Laura at a friend’s barbeque. Laura is happy to see Javier but is less certain about picking up where they left off before her kidnapping. Laura longs to be the confidant woman Javier once knew, but she has secrets that she can’t share for her and her daughter’s safety. Javier won’t be deterred; he values Laura as a friend and a woman, and when she is targeted by a bomb he makes a point to be there to protect her.

Striking Distance is a great combination of character, romance, and suspense. Laura and Javier are both adults dealing with life’s harsh realities. They respect each other as people and take the time to get to know each other. They don’t deny their sexual attraction but neither do they overlook Laura’s trauma. Instead, the focus is on romance and creating a relationship based on trust and respect. Javier is a Navy SEAL, so you’ll have to suspend a little bit of disbelief over the action sequences. Just know the action never overshadows the story nor is it way over the top. The suspense is a great counterbalance to Javier’s and Laura’s budding relationship.

Striking Distance is a part of a series and previous characters appear, but it can be read independently and is one of the best in the series. Pamela Clare is a great writer and creates characters and romance that only make the genre better.

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somenerveSome Nerve: Lessons Learned While Becoming Brave is part self-help and part memoir and a pleasure to read. Patty Anker was fast approaching forty when she realized that she said “no” to a lot of new experiences. She didn’t say “no” because she wasn’t interested, it was because she was afraid. Not wanting to leave a legacy to her daughters of not trying new things due to fear, she took up the gauntlet to approach her fears head on. Patty learns to swim, ride a bike, and surf but she also helps her friends tackle their fears of heights and driving too.

This is not a book about surviving big fears like being lost at sea or in the desert or being buried alive. It is a story about tackling the “little” and “common” fears that can have a significant impact on our quality of life and often prevent us from enjoying some of the simple pleasures in the world, such as going to the beach or enjoying the view from above or taking a drive just because you can.

With humor and grace Patty shares her own fears and insecurities interwoven with research and interviews by psychologists, clergy, and authors. She illustrates through her own story and others how tackling fears can make life more vibrant. The confidence gained by approaching fear head on often transfers to other aspects of life. Once you’ve read Some Nerve, you’ll recognize the courage it takes to tackle the small jobs and that the rewards are great, even if you “fail.”

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signatureAlma Whittaker is born into a life of privilege just outside of Philadelphia, PA in 1800. Her mother is a wealthy, practical, highly educated Dutch woman. Her father is an uneducated, unrefined Englishman who rose from poverty to become one of the wealthiest men in the United States. Together they raise Alma as a highly educated, practical, scientific, and lonely woman. Both fiercely independent in her thinking and loyal to her family, Alma continues in the family trade of botany with her own unique focus of studying mosses. Alma doesn’t sound too interesting, does she? Don’t be deceived.

Alma both anchors and drives The Signature of All Things and as a reader I was vested in her well-being. However, this book is so much more. It is a book about science and faith. It is a glimpse at history in England and the United States in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It is a fascinating travelogue of Tahiti and adventurous ocean voyages. It is a story of how the world can change so quickly and so slowly all at the same time. It is a story about love, grief, and personal growth. It is a story that is well worth the time to read and moves so swiftly you’ll wonder how you breezed through 499 pages (or listened to 18 discs) so quickly.  I’ll admit that in the middle of the book the plot took a turn that I didn’t expect, and I almost quit reading. I wondered how anything could possibly be resolved in a satisfactory way. But if you persevere, it will all come together, just have a little faith.

Juliet Stevenson narrates the audio version of The Signature of All Things, and her narration brings to life the myriad of characters with authenticity. The characters had distinct voices, and the animation in her voice made you feel like you were right in the midst of the vigorous debates that take place in the novel. I loved her accents and especially appreciated how well she brought the men to life without making them sound too feminine or artificial. Whether you read or listen to The Signature of All Things it will be an experience that you are sure to enjoy.

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Check the WRL catalog for The Signature of All Things audiobook on compact discs or downloadable audio.

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danceacademyLike many little girls I took dance class as a child. Dressed up in my pink tutu, tights, and soft leather shoes, I would pirouette around the room until I would collapse in giggles on the floor from dizziness. Dance was a fun way to move around but never blossomed into a desire to be a dancer, plus I never had the passion or natural skill to commit to the endless hours of practice. Nevertheless, I remained fascinated by dancers and their dreams to pursue dance professionally, especially ballet. So when I came across the Australian television show Dance Academy, I had to check it out.

Tara Webster’s first dream is to fly, but since gravity gets in the way she takes up dancing instead, because in the moment dance feels like flying. So at age 16 Tara auditions for and is accepted to the prestigious National Dance Academy in Sydney. Little does she know that her education isn’t just about how to be a ballerina but also how to live away from home, work, love, and bounce back from disappointment. She’ll have to assess her dedication to her craft versus her desire to be a normal teenager.

Tara and her friends love to dance for various reasons and work hard to pursue their dreams. They are also typical teenagers living in a metropolitan city, testing their boundaries and their mettle to be professional dancers. The show includes the requisite girl next door, the bad boy, the catty nemesis, and the rebellious best friend, and they have the experiences of the first crush, first love, and first betrayal. But the show also illustrates the hard work and dedication it takes to succeed in dance, incorporating hours of repetitive practice and the drama of competition. Dance Academy doesn’t rely on profanity or shock tactics to navigate the challenges of adolescence. It’s a show that manages to be wholesome without being saccharine and dramatic without devolving into diabolical soap opera machinations. Enjoy this show with the dancers in your life or enjoy it for being a fun glimpse into the world of a professional dance school.

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jadedAlana Wentworth is a temporary contract librarian in Walkers Ford, South Dakota. She’s always wanted to work in a library, but she has remained loyal to her family’s non-profit, putting her degree to work as their primary researcher. When the position in Walkers Ford came open, Alana couldn’t resist giving librarianship a try, and she is learning that working in a small town library is her passion. She loves helping people.

Lucas Ridgeway spent childhood summers in Walkers Ford and returned for good as the sheriff after a decade stint on Denver’s police force. Lucas was a good cop and is a decent sheriff, but his passion is less about helping people and more about enforcing the law. As Alana gets more involved in the community, she also becomes entangled with Lucas. They both know it can’t last, but for the few months Alana is in town they will make the most of their budding romance.

This is a small town contemporary romance, but Anne Calhoun has created a story that is peopled with characters that are realistic and multi-dimensional. There is no need for sinister danger lurking around the corner or a vindictive ex-lover out to sabotage a new relationship to move the plot along. Calhoun incorporates the everyday relationships and interactions in a small town to help create the foundation for romance. The secondary characters are your neighbors, friends, and family that add layers to the story. We have a hero that is a good man but is no longer willing to be vulnerable and a heroine that can’t help but get involved in the community but doesn’t consider what will happen when she has to leave. It is the interplay between Lucas’s and Alana’s personalities and their roles in the community that make you wonder how they can make their relationship work.

Anne Calhoun is an author to watch. Her small town romance has substance and style while still providing the essential happy ever after. Calhoun writes with purpose and offers a little something extra I can’t define that makes me enthusiastic to read romance again.

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houndedAtticus O’Sullivan looks a youthful 21, with blond hair, charming grin, and a trace of surfer dude attitude.  Atticus enjoys the sunshine of Tempe, Arizona, has a close connection with nature, and enjoys hunting with his Irish Wolfhound Oberon.  He owns his own business and has a relaxed, carefree life.

Atticus is the last of the Druids; he’s made it 2,000 years by keeping a low profile and communing with nature.

So far Atticus has managed to stay far ahead and hidden from a crazy Celtic god, but his luck is about to change.  Aenghas Og has found Atticus and wants his sword, Fragarach, back. This time he won’t quit until he has beaten Atticus, even if it includes unleashing a few demons to get his way.

There are other magical beings in this world, including many from Celtic mythology.  The author adds the requisite vampires, werewolves, witches, and fairies to flesh out Atticus’ story, but they aren’t the main focus.

Hearne weaves old mythology, popular references, puns, and witty repartee to create a funny, action-filled story.  If you enjoy urban fantasy but have been looking for something that feels fresh and different, while also providing a sense of comfort  familiarity, this is the book to pick up.

Prepare to put your feet up for a few hours of laughs, action, and a refreshing new perspective of a modern magical world.

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wonderI admit it; I occasionally hit a reading slump.  I’m surrounded by hundreds of thousands of wonderful stories, and sometimes I am unable to find one book that will pull me down the rabbit hole.  So I turned to a fellow librarian for advice.  I asked for the one book she had read that she just could not get out of her head. Her response was immediate — R.J. Palacio’s Wonder.  No hesitation, no thought, no second guessing, she laid Wonder at my feet and I’m so glad she did.

Ten-year-old August Pullman will be starting public school for the first time after being homeschooled his entire life.  Auggie happens to have a combination of rare genetic mutations that cause severe facial abnormalities.  Because Auggie is so obviously different on the surface it is hard to see that he is just like many other boys his age — intelligent and funny and passionate about Star Wars.  Needless to say going to public school will be an adventure filled with friends, enemies, middle school wars, laughter, joy, and pain.

I don’t want to give details of the plot because Wonder is a story about everyday life for someone that happens to be ordinary with an extraordinary face.  These details are best appreciated and understood as revealed by Auggie.  Wonder weaves together the shifting perspectives of Auggie and his friends and family to reveal the joys and challenges of life with compassion and humor.

Wonder is magic that will pull you in and won’t let go.  For me it’s the very best kind of book, one that makes me love being in the rabbit hole, but also able to appreciate the world around me a little more when the story has ended.  There will be moments this book will make you cry, but it is worth every teardrop.  This is a book that will stay with you for a long, long, long time.

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We’ve all done it, everyone does it. It is fun, interesting, and only takes a few minutes of your time. You almost can’t help yourself, the lure is too great. You find yourself ensnared. You open yourself to the possibilities and believe all that you’re told. You decide when you’re done that you’ll never, ever take dating advice from a magazine article again.

In What’s Your Number? Anna Farris plays Ally Darling, a woman who reevaluates her love life after reading an article in a woman’s magazine that states that a woman is doomed to be alone if she goes beyond the magic number of boyfriends. Unwilling to jeopardize her future by exceeding the number, Ally sets her sights on tracking down all of her old flames to find “the one” that got away.

Colin Shea, played by Chris Evans, is Ally’s playboy neighbor. Not interested in commitment, Colin has a bevy of beautiful women in and out of his apartment. In most cases Colin hides out until the poor girls get the clue that one night with him does not make a relationship. So the two broker a deal. Colin will hunt down Ally’s exes, and Ally will do her part to get the girls packing sooner rather than later.

In some ways this is the typical romantic comedy.  You’ll get a few laughs, a few “aw” moments, and a girl that finds herself and love in the end. But what I enjoyed most about this movie was that the humor didn’t solely rely on crude jokes. There were jokes but mostly about the pitfalls of dating and life. Ally and Colin were equally matched and played by two funny and endearing actors. The chemistry worked and I found myself wondering how things would play out even though I knew I was guaranteed a happy ending. There is a small deception. After all, you need conflict even in a romantic comedy, but you are saved from the “Big Secret” that makes you wonder what the script writer was thinking. This is a fun movie that’s not too sweet to watch with your significant other or to enjoy with girlfriends so you can commiserate over all the bad dating advice you ever took from a magazine.

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In Cover Me, Catherine Mann writes about the pararescuemen of the United States Air Force and offers a fascinating look into this distinct band of brothers. The motto of pararescuemen is “That Others May Live,” and their training in emergency medical, combat, and survival skills allows them to uphold this motto. Their extensive training prepares them to go anywhere in the world to rescue those in need no matter the environment.

Wade Rocha is training off the Aleutian Islands and heading back to base when his unit receives the call about stranded climbers. With no hesitation, Wade parachutes into a blizzard to rescue the trapped climber. He has no clue that Sunny Foster is quite capable of taking care of herself in this blizzard. Sunny is not just any hiker; she runs a wilderness outfit and is herself well-trained in the art of survival both in the wilderness and living in a small off-the-grid community. Sunny is returning home after escorting members of her community back to “civilization” when she’s stranded by weather. Trapped together first by weather and then by the discovery of dead bodies, Wade and Sunny work together to figure out who’s killing former members of Sunny’s community.

The strength of this novel is not in the mystery but the characters. Mann draws a vivid portrait of Wade, a dedicated pararescueman, and Sunny, a well-rounded woman and business owner who happens to have a very isolated life. The chemistry between the two is compelling, and there’s also a wonderful secondary romance that will keep you turning the pages.

Today’s military romances typically do not feature the work of men and women in the armed services outside of war. Given the world we live in, that is not unexpected. We are curious about how our heroes are before, during, and after experiencing war. As romance readers, we have the belief that love can heal all kinds of wounds and that life can and does go on. But it is refreshing to occasionally read stories about the armed forces that highlight the work being done outside of war.

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Lord Benjamin Archer has wanted to possess Miranda Ellis from their first encounter in the dark streets of Victorian London. But her youth, innocence, and father force Lord Archer to bide his time before claiming his heart’s desire. With all the time in the world, Archer patiently waits, and three years after their first meeting he arranges to make Miranda his bride. Reminiscent of many historical romance novel plots where a powerful older man of title seeks to make a nubile, young woman his possession, in Firelight not everything is as it seems.

Miranda Ellis is a beautiful, intelligent, and strong-willed woman, but she is also born with a curse that sparks her family’s ruin and destroys any chance she has to make a good life for herself. Lord Benjamin Archer is a rich and powerful man but is cursed with a disfigurement that relegates him to living in the shadows and hiding behind masks. The two feel a powerful attraction for each other, and their courtship is filled with seductive tension and verbal jousting, but the secrets they keep threaten their one chance at happiness.

Callihan has written an engrossing story that crosses all boundaries, weaving together romance, mystery, historical, and paranormal. The tension comes not only from two captivating characters but also from the magic and murder that surround them. As you fall under the spell of Miranda and Archer, Callihan slowly lets clues to their secrets creep from the shadows. Callihan gives you just enough to keep you coming back for more. Nothing is what you expect. You will come to the point where you think the suspense will kill you and want to skip to the end, but don’t—keep reading, because there’s not another paranormal on the market like this and you should savor the anticipation to the end.

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Life has not always been easy for Lucy, but she has found fulfillment in her work as a glass artist and happiness with her live-in boyfriend Kevin. But Lucy’s world shatters when she discovers that her boyfriend and sister have been having an affair. Kicked out of her home and nursing a broken heart, Lucy has nothing left except her work and her friends.

Sam Nolan takes pleasure from few things in life, mainly his vineyard, the occasional beautiful woman, and helping to raise his young niece. His life is full and uncomplicated and most importantly unattached to any particular woman. On the whole Sam is quite content until Kevin steps in and turns it upside down.

Neither Sam nor Lucy is looking for an attachment. Lucy no longer trusts her own judgment and Sam is married to his vineyards. But when the two are thrown together by Kevin’s manipulation and an accident, neither can deny their intense attraction to one another. Although Lucy and Sam are slow to trust, they begin to explore the world of possibilities they create when they are together.

In a lesser author’s hands, Rainshadow Road would fall apart as too sweet and too charming, but Kleypas deftly weaves magic, romance, and reality to create a wonderfully rich contemporary romance. If you enjoy the magical stories of Sarah Addison Allen mixed with the depth of women’s fiction and the romance of the very best love stories, then Rainshadow Road is the perfect introduction to Kleypas’s contemporary romances.

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Emma Shaw is a successful businesswoman stuck between a rock and a hard place. An only child raised by her grandmother, Emma has finally convinced Grandma Shaw to move to Florida and enjoy retirement. But grandma can’t stop worrying about Emma and is contemplating moving back to New Hampshire. So Emma does the only thing she can to ease Grandma Shaw’s mind and to keep her from moving back home, she fakes a fiancé. Unfortunately Emma’s fake fiancé is pretty real, back in town, and not amused by her deception.

Sean Kowalski is finally done with the Army after 12 years and is looking forward to spending time with his family and figuring out what he’s going to do next with his life. After only a few hours in town, Emma Shaw knocks on his door and informs him that they are engaged and grandma is coming to visit for a month. Since Sean is still figuring things out and Emma is more foolish than crazy, he’s willing to play along until Grandma Shaw heads south again. After all, neither of them has anything to lose and everything to gain.

The third in the Kowalski series but the first one I read, Yours to Keep is a wonderful contemporary romance filled with humor, snappy dialogue, and a great cast of secondary characters. It’s not the plot that will keep you engrossed but the great romantic tension that is built as Emma and Sean try to figure out how to be a convincing couple while remaining strictly platonic. Their banter will keep you on your toes, and you’ll love how Stacey incorporates clan Kowalski into the mix to show how great family can be while being a complete pain in the derriere at the same time.  Shannon Stacey is an author to watch.

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We close this week’s posts with a blog from Christine in Circulation.

Abigail Lowery, formerly Elizabeth Fitch, is a successful computer programmer and business woman running a private security firm from her home in the Ozarks.  With her faithful dog by her side and a secluded home tucked securely into the hills of the Arkansas Ozarks, Abigail has finally settled down and started her new life hiding out but no longer running from the Russian mafia.  But Brooks Gleason, local police chief, won’t let Abigail settle for too much longer.  As Abigail tries to create a quiet life and stay under the radar she only accomplishes the exact opposite.  After a year of politely rebuffing the locals’ conversations, keeping to herself, and shopping online rather than in town, Abigail’s actions only fuel the interest of the police chief and her small-town neighbors.  Following his gut, Brooks sets out to discover Abigail’s secrets.

The other night I caught a brief snippet of a show on HGTV that was talking about set design on the drama “The Good Wife.”  One of the designers made a comment about how the set design was based on the sensibilities of movies from the 1940’s and 1950’s where sets were opulent and grand in order to heighten the senses of the viewer.  Everyday life for most people is not filled with plush offices with designer furniture, boldly-colored accent walls, and elegantly sophisticated bric-a-brac.  So when you tune in to “The Good Wife” you are instantly drawn in by the world that the writers, set designers, and actors have created and are willing to come back for more.

So how does this tie-in with “The Witness?” When the designer made this comment, I couldn’t help but think about this book.  From the moment I picked it up to read I found myself unable to put it down.  The world and the characters Roberts created are grand and amplified.  The heroine is brilliant surviving on wits and instinct for years as she builds a life on the run.  The hero is charming and intelligent with a keen intuition. Abigail and Brooks are reminiscent of other memorable duos, i.e. Nick and Nora, Bones and Booth, but with their own style. The backdrop of the Ozarks and the sense of community and family bring the story full circle.  The fact that Roberts’ focuses on the couple and not the threat of Abigail’s past only enhances the suspense.

Roberts’ 200th title incorporates all her hallmarks of writing but it all comes together so seamlessly that reading this book was effortless fun and rates this book in the top three of Roberts’ oeuvre for me.  If you’re looking for the familiar with a little bit of over the top for your spring and summer reading, this is the book for you.

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Martha Russell has just been widowed, and has learned that she will have to give up her husband’s estate to her brother-in-law unless she gives birth to a male heir.  Given that her husband is dead and she’s not pregnant, Martha has a big problem on her hands. Unwilling to let go of her servants and estate without a fight to a man with a dishonorable reputation, Martha is determined to get pregnant as soon as possible.

Theophilus Mirkwood has been banished to the country to learn responsibility. Theo has frustrated his father one too many times with his carefree life of wine, women, and careless disregard for money.  So Theo is determined to do what he can to get back into his father’s good graces and back to London as soon as possible.  It makes no sense for Theo to become involved with Martha’s scheme, but what is a man to do when a willing widow throws herself on his mercy?

In no way should this storyline work as a romance. After all, given the times, Martha had everything to lose if her deception were ever discovered.  So why would she even embark on such a risky venture? On top of that, men of the time were not inclined to have illegitimate heirs running about the countryside, laying claim to a false inheritance.  Finally, Martha takes no enjoyment from Theo’s attentions so how can the two possibly fall in love?

It is because of these problems that the romance does work. Theo is baffled at Martha’s lack of enjoyment and strives to find ways to get her interested in their intimacy.  Martha is fascinated by the intricacies of estate management that Theo is learning and finds ways to help him along his path. All this effort to help the other out leads to conversations not typically found in historical romance. Theo and Martha have to take time to get to know each other, and therefore spend a lot of time trying to find what makes the other one tick.

If you want a historical romance that’s different, this is the one to try. Cecilia Grant is a talented writer who has created a book with wonderful characters, wonderful writing, and a story that you’ll continue to wonder about as you try to guess how she’ll bring it all together.  Slowly you’ll find yourself falling for these two disparate souls, and learn some things about the harsh realities of country life during the Regency era that you may not have considered before.

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Don’t read this book; listen to it.  Trust me, it will be well worth your time.

Anne Heche is one of those actresses I have a hard time watching on screen.  She always seems to be teetering on the edge of a place that I find painful and embarrassing to watch.  She’s a good actress but more often than not seems too vulnerable, too immature, and just barely maintaining control, much like a teenager on the precipice of change, for better or for worse.  But while this kind of performance doesn’t work for me on screen it definitely worked in this audiobook.  Heche’s aching vulnerability, childlike innocence, and quiet intelligence brings Trish McFarland to life in a way that will linger with you long after the story ends.

On yet another forced Saturday outing to get out and “do things,” Trish McFarland, her mother, and brother are hiking one of the many trails on the Appalachian Trail.  The forced family bonding and the push to get past the divorce and adjust to life in Maine inevitably leads to another unending fight between Mom and brother Pete.  Wrapped up in battle, the two soon forget everything around them, including Trish.

Tired of the fighting and trying to get their attention, nine year-old Trish makes a much-needed mental and physical pit stop.  In her attempt to catch up, Trish makes the pivotal decision to take a shortcut that leads her further into the woods and away from family, home, and safety.  Unwilling to give up the fight to get home, Trish–armed with her radio and her love of the Red Sox pitcher Tom Gordon–battles her fears, uses her head, and maintains hope that she’ll make it back from her perilous journey to everything important.

Listeners will enjoy the description of the Appalachian Trail, its beauty and its dangers.  They will root for Trish as she runs out of food, sustains injuries, and battles the elusive presence that is shadowing her, anxiously “turning the pages” to discover if Trish’s fortitude and faith in Tom Gordon will get her out of the forest or if she’ll remain forever lost.

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Annie O’Sullivan is like any other young, vibrant, 32 year-old woman in the world today balancing career, love, and family.  She has good and bad days but on the whole life is on an upswing.  She’s on the cusp of winning a major real estate deal that will push her into the big leagues and her boyfriend is crazy about her: what more could a girl ask for? Does this sound like the plot of a lighthearted, chick-lit novel? It’s not.

At the end of a slow open-house Annie is packing up when a promising prospective buyer arrives at the last minute.  But David is more interested in Annie than the house.  In an instant Annie’s whole world turns upside down and the reader sits back and watches the aftermath unfold.

Following her kidnapping and year of imprisonment, Annie must try to pick up the pieces after her escape from a madman.  Like a voyeur, the reader observes as Annie slowly opens up to her psychiatrist about her ordeal, escape, and recovery.  It’s a wonder that Annie functions at all.  After a year of isolation where everything in her life is controlled–including when she is allowed to use the bathroom–and then winning her freedom, all Annie wants to do is lock herself away.  But at her core she is a strong woman, and we see her fight to reclaim her life and work with the police to find the person responsible for her ordeal.

With a gripping plot, intense pacing, and emotional turmoil it only takes a few pages (or a couple of audio tracks in my case) to be completely enthralled by Annie’s story.  I started listening to the audiobook one day and sat in my car for just one more track (actually, six more) because I couldn’t break away.  The next day I took a long road trip, and reached the last few chapters, but I had to buy it for my Kindle because my friends would not let me sit in my car to hear the end.  If you’re looking for a thrilling novel that has nothing to do with espionage, terrorism, lawyers or big business, this is the story for you.  Try it on audio or in print form: you won’t be disappointed.

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Childhood is different for everyone: some are idyllic and others are filled with heartache.  If you’re lucky, you grow up in a house with loving parents, siblings, and extended family.  There will be good friends, plenty to eat, a roof over your head, a solid education, and entertaining family vacations.

But what if your childhood was spent moving between countries and continents? Your scholastic education ended at 12 years old? To put food on the table, you had to beg on the streets? Chores involved supporting hundreds of people? What if your family was labeled a cult? What if a child who grew up in a cult broke free and started writing stories? Author Taylor Stevens did grow up this way, and she used her childhood experiences to create Vanessa Michael Munroe, the informationist.

Michael (as she’s known to her clients) is in the business of information.  Hired by corporations, governments, and those individuals who can afford her services, Michael gathers intelligence for them by inhabiting foreign countries and infiltrating all echelons of society.  In The Informationist, Michael is hired to find out how and where a Texas billionaire’s daughter went missing in Africa.  She’ll have no choice but to use all of her expertise and knowledge of modern Africa–and to confront her own personal demons–in order to reach her goal.

Stevens has created a fascinating character who speaks 22+ languages, can blend in anywhere by manipulating her androgynous features, and has an intelligence and ability to read people that makes her a force to be reckoned with.  Michael’s fierce instinct for self-preservation, unpredictable fatalistic tendency, and frightening efficiency blended with vulnerability make her an irresistible protagonist.  You’ll love this book if you enjoy the action, pacing, and intelligence found in the Bourne Legacy movies or if you find the victim/survivor nature of Lisbeth Salander’s character from the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy utterly compelling.  Not to mention, you’ll never look at the landscape and culture of Africa quite the same way again.

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Karou is just like any other 17 year-old girl.  She goes to school.  She hangs out with her friends whenever she’s free from work.  She’s recovering from the heartbreak of first love.  But Karou is also different as much as she is the same.  Her blue hair isn’t just a dye job, it grows from her head that way.  Karou attends art school in Prague and hangs with her friends at the Poison Kitchen, a place known for its WWI gas masks and tables made from coffins.  As for her first love, she’s getting over him even though he keeps trying to win her back by jumping from the shadows pretending to be, what else, a vampire.

As for her parents, well that’s where things get interesting.  Karou doesn’t exactly have parents, she has the Chimaeras.  Brimstone is larger than life with rams’ horns and the ass of a lion.  Issa is apparently a Victoria’s Secret model on top but her bottom half is a little cold-blooded, being mostly serpent.  Twiga has trouble with low ceilings, having the neck of a giraffe and Yasri might snap with her sharp beak.  Not the kind of family you bring your friends home to meet.  But the Chimaeras are the only family Karou has known and she loves them and works for them gathering teeth from all over the world using portals to move from city to city…

By this point, I hope you’re at least a little intrigued by Karou because I certainly was and am glad I opened the pages to this wonderfully fantastic and lyrical novel.  With its old world aura, Prague’s atmosphere suggests that any shadowy doorway may open to an unknown and unexplored world.  Adding to Prague’s mystery, and layering her story, Taylor’s exquisite writing and turn of phrase draws the reader in with her expressive style, flashes of humor, and empathy.  It is easy to get lost in the pages and wake up Elsewhere… Whether in our world or another, it’s always important to find acceptance and make your own place.

Check the WRL catalog for Daughter of Smoke & Bone

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