Sunday, July 21, 2013

Felicity Reads: Rose Under Fire

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

While flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England, American ATA pilot and amateur poet, Rose Justice, is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women's concentration camp. Trapped in horrific circumstances, Rose finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery and friendship of her fellow prisoners. But will that be enough to endure the fate that’s in store for her?

When I heard Elizabeth Wein was writing another World War II novel, I was excited but a little concerned, because Code Name Verity was so amazing and original that I was afraid a sequel would either be less surprising or seem derivative. Basically, I wasn't sure even such a talented writer could pull it off again. BUT SHE DID. I don't want to get into specifics, because I want to let you discover Rose and her story for yourself, but you should absolutely read this for another fascinating, moving look at young women in WWII. (And to check in on some of the characters from Code Name Verity!)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Felicity Reads: A Murder at Rosamund's Gate

A Murder at Rosamund's Gate by Susanna Calkins

For Lucy Campion, a seventeenth-century English chambermaid serving in the household of the local magistrate, life is an endless repetition of polishing pewter, emptying chamber pots, and dealing with other household chores until a fellow servant is ruthlessly killed, and someone close to Lucy falls under suspicion. Lucy can’t believe it, but in a time where the accused are presumed guilty until proven innocent, lawyers aren’t permitted to defend their clients, and—if the plague doesn't kill the suspect first—public executions draw a large crowd of spectators, Lucy knows she may never find out what really happened. Unless, that is, she can uncover the truth herself.

This debut novel is a solid traditional historical mystery set against the backdrop of religious turmoil, plague, and the Great Fire in 1665-66 London. The author has a Ph.D. in history, which is obvious both from the general accuracy of the time period in the novel* and the way the text is gently educational, sort of like an American Girl book for adults. (I mean that in a good way.) It's nice to find a traditional murder mystery that's not "cozy" but also not trying to be overly edgy or obsessed with its own clever structure. I eagerly await the next in the series, next year.

* I'm no expert, so I can't say exactly how accurate it is, but I'm reasonably well informed and few things stuck out at me as seeming wrong. (And in her notes at the end, Calkins explains why she made some of the changes she did, which I always appreciate.)

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Felicity Reads: Slumber

Slumber by Tamara Blake

When I saw that this was about a girl working as a cleaning woman at a mysterious manor house, I was hoping it would have some Gothic elements, but instead, it's pretty much straight paranormal. This was a quick read and entertaining at times, but nothing particularly memorable, and the writing and characterization were mediocre at best. There was at least one giant plot hole that bothered me, though the rules of magic in this world were consistent, which is a point in its favor. This wasn't terrible, but there's nothing in it that would make me recommend you go out of your way to read it.

(I got my copy from Netgalley.)

Felicity Reads: If You Find Me

If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch

This is the compelling story of what happens when two sisters who grew up in isolation with their disturbed mother in the woods are brought back to civilization. While I couldn't put this book down, I sort of wish it had been a little longer and slower - things seemed to be resolved too quickly and easily, and a longer book would have allowed Murdoch the space to flesh out some of the complexities of the situation. Regardless, it was a fascinating, memorable read.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Felicity Reads: The Waking Dark

Whoa. I . . . just . . . whoa.

I always tell people that Wasserman's previous book, The Book of Blood and Shadow, is like The Da Vinci Code except actually good. Well, this one is like Stephen King's Under the Dome, except better. It deals with some similar themes of power and religion and drugs and evil in an isolated small town, but the overall plot hangs together better in this one, and, more importantly to me, the depth of the characterization made me really care what happened to the teenagers at the center of the story. Wasserman does a great job of seeding the action with genuine character moments that make the horrors of the story resonate even more.

This book is not for the faint of heart, which is either a warning or an encouragement, depending on your tastes. A lot of terrible things happen, and Wasserman is pulling no punches here. There were a few times when I literally stopped, said "Did that just happen?", and reread a sentence or paragraph. But it never feels like bad or scary things are happening just for shock value - it's all earned and meaningful, never gratuitous. And the tone manages to be simultaneously bleak and hopeful, which is one of my favorite combinations.

(Disclaimer: I know Robin and she gave me an ARC, but I wouldn't say I liked something I didn't!)

Monday, July 8, 2013

Felicity Reads: Going Clear

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright

As someone who's interested in the history and sociology of religion, I found this thorough look at Scientology to be fascinating. Wright does a good job of remaining matter-of-fact and even-handed even in the face of ridiculous or alarming claims.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Felicity Reads: Destroy Me

Destroy Me by Tahereh Mafi, #1.5 in Shatter Me series

I assume that Mafi wrote this novella to make the reader more sympathetic toward Warner, but it didn't work at all, at least for me. While it offered some more specific details about Warner's life and background, they all fit into the framework established in Shatter Me (which... good, in a way), so there wasn't anything that really made me like him better. And listening to his thoughts, in his own voice, about Juliette and about the civilians in his control made me less sympathetic to him, rather than more. As is the case in too many love triangles, he sees Juliette as a prize to be won rather than a person with agency, and he goes on and on about how painful her pain is to him. Um, probably pretty painful to her, too, dude. Way to make it all about you.

That said, it's always nice to get more information about a fictional world, and I'm still interested enough in general to read the next book. But this one made me firmly Team Anyone But Warner, and I think that was the opposite of the author's intention.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Felicity Reads: Reconstructing Amelia

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

This is Gossip Girl meets murder mystery - after her daughter Amelia dies, Kate tries to uncover the secrets and scandals going on at her daughter's exclusive private school. McCreight did a very good job of using blog entries, text messages, Facebook posts, etc. to show the kids' interactions, but the timeline jumped around a bit too much - there were at least three different periods of time when things were taking place, and the scenes within each of those were presented non-chronologically, so it was something of a chore to keep it all straight. And while this was certainly a page-turner, some of the plot "twists" were very predictable, while others were never sufficiently explained or felt unearned. But the two main characters (mother and daughter) were well-developed, and it was a mostly enjoyable read overall.

(I also have to mention that the book was rife with typos, especially misspellings of a character's name and mistakes with your/you're usage. I do NOT blame the author, but I expect/hope major publishers like HarperCollins use decent copy editors. I know a few things always slip through, but when it's frequent enough that it distracts the reader, it's a problem.)

Felicity Reads: Whiskey Beach

Whiskey Beach by Nora Roberts

For more than three hundred years, Bluff House has sat above Whiskey Beach, guarding its shore—and its secrets. But to Eli Landon, it’s home… A Boston lawyer, Eli has weathered an intense year of public scrutiny and police investigations after being accused of — but never arrested for — the murder of his soon-to-be-ex wife. He finds sanctuary at Bluff House, even though his beloved grandmother is in Boston recuperating from a nasty fall. Abra Walsh is always there, though. Whiskey Beach’s resident housekeeper, yoga instructor, jewelry maker, and massage therapist, Abra is a woman of many talents — including helping Eli take control of his life and clear his name. But as they become entangled in each other, they find themselves caught in a net that stretches back for centuries — one that has ensnared a man intent on reaping the rewards of destroying Eli Landon once and for all...

Like most of Roberts's hardcover standalones, this was romantic suspense, and while the mystery itself wasn't my favorite, other aspects of the novel more than made up for it. I loved the setting (a small Massachusetts beach town), the characters (including the supporting characters, which are one of Roberts's particular strengths), and the way the romance developed - Roberts is one of the few romance authors I can think of who usually lets things develop naturally and has her characters deal with problems as they come up, which is so much more pleasant to read than the contrived Big Misunderstanding many romance authors use to keep their leads apart until the end. She's also very good at extended families (both blood and made) and creating a sense of place, and I'm ready to go pack my bags for a stay with the Landons at Bluff House, please.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Felicity Reads: Silent on the Moor

Silent on the Moor by Deanna Raybourn, book three in the Lady Julia mysteries

In Grimsgrave Hall, enigmatic Nicholas Brisbane has inherited a ruined estate, replete with uncanny tenants and one unwanted houseguest: Lady Julia Grey. Despite his admonitions to stay away, Lady Julia arrives in Yorkshire to find Brisbane as remote and maddeningly attractive as ever. Cloistered together, they share the moldering house with the proud but impoverished remnants of an ancient family: the sort that keeps their bloodline pure and their secrets close.

Young widowed Lady Julia Grey and her sometime friend and partner Nicholas Brisbane are back for a third installment, this one set in Yorkshire. I love this series and these characters in general, and this third installment had the added delight of all the trappings of a traditional gothic - a decaying manor, a mysterious aristocratic family, secrets and murder and various mayhem.

Highly recommended, but start with the first book in the series, Silent in the Grave - the mysteries mostly stand alone in this series, but trust me, you want to see the relationships develop.