Sandra

Recommendation Tuesday: Trouble is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie Tromly

Recommendation Tuesday started as a joke and is now an official thing. Basically, this is my way of making Tuesday a little more awesome. If you've got a book to recommend on this or any Tuesday, tweet me at @SarahSMoon or tag me on Instagram @sarahbethmoon and I'll help spread the word.

View all of the past recommendations over here. 

Stephanie Tromly’s first novel, Trouble is a Friend of Mine, packs clever dialog, great characters and a complex mystery into a quick paced and excellent read.

Recommendation Tuesday: Trouble is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie Tromly

Sandra's Favorite Verse Novels & Some Reflections

Novels in verse come from a tradition of putting stories into language that flows with the magic of poetry. The Iliad and the Odyssey is something that any freshman high school student can tell you about. Verse novels stem from this oral tradition dating from 1600-1100 BC; the power of verse flows like music with the beauty of epic and poetic language.

Not to neglect Old English and Geoffrey Chaucer’s raucous and rowdy tales of those on a pilgrimage, I must mention those monks of olden days who told tales that to this day make us smirk and smile. In verse, Chaucer painted tales of the good folk who laughed about and flaunted their rowdy and raucous adventures.

Sandra's Favorite Verse Novels & Some Reflections

Recommendation Tuesday: Edgar Allen Poe's Spirits of the Dead by Richard Corben

Recommendation Tuesday started as a joke and is now an official thing. Basically, this is my way of making Tuesday a little more awesome. If you've got a book to recommend on this or any Tuesday, tweet me at @FullShelves and I'll help spread the word.

View all of the past recommendations over here. 

Richard Corben captures the gothic sensibility and the fears that plagued Edgar Allan Poe in his graphic representation of the great master’s work. Poe’s soulful poem Spirits of the Dead is a fitting title for Corben’s work. 

Thy soul shall find itself alone
        Mid dark thoughts of the gray tombstone ——
            Not one, of all the crowd, to pry
                 Into thine hour of secrecy.
Recommendation Tuesday: Edgar Allen Poe's Spirits of the Dead by Richard Corben

Review: Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose

Caroline Starr Rose brings a historical mystery to life in her beautifully crafted novel in verse, Blue Birds.

It is 1587 and 117 English men, women and children are left on the lush island of Roanoke near the shores of what is now Virginia.They expected fertile soil and friendly people. They were not disappointed in the land. But, the friendly Native people had become understandably jaded. The English who came before them brought disease and death to their island. 

Review: Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose

Review: First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

She couldn’t change who she was, and she no longer wanted to, even if she could. She knew that who you are is a stone set deep inside you. You can spend all your life trying to dig that stone out, or you can build around it. Your choice.

In Sarah Addison Allen’s Garden Spells, Sydney Waverley came home to Bascom, North Carolina with her own stone embedded deep inside her. She escaped a dangerous relationship to return to her family and to her roots. She brought her daughter, Bay, to her family home where both relished a newly found security. Syndney Waverely begins building her world around her family’s heritage and the love of her life, Henry. Garden Spells wove this beautiful tale of the Waverley with sheer elegance.

The unexpected sequel, First Frost, picks up the story’s thread with the family settled and waiting for the first frost of fall and what it may bring.

Review: First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

Recommendation Tuesday: Don't Look Back by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Recommendation Tuesday started as a joke and is now an official thing. Basically, this is my way of making Tuesday a little more awesome. If you've got a book to recommend on this or any Tuesday, tweet me at @FullShelves and I'll help spread the word.

Today, Sandra is recommending a book that's straight-up fun, the always-entertaining Jennifer Armentrout's Don't Look Back. 

On its surface, Don't Look Back shouldn't be that gripping. The plot is not unique: murder, amnesia, uncertainty, danger and a dark shadow haunts the main character, Samantha Franco. But Jennifer Armentrout’s  addictive plotting make this mystery deepens into an unforeseen  denouement, an unravelling of a long-held secret.

Recommendation Tuesday: Don't Look Back by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Recommendation Tuesday: Beware the Wild by Natalie C. Parker

Recommendation Tuesday started as a joke and is now an official thing. Basically, this is my way of making Tuesday a little more awesome. If you've got a book to recommend on this or any Tuesday, tweet me at @FullShelves and I'll help spread the word.

View all of the past recommendations over here. 

Today's recommendation comes from Sandra, who loved Natalie C. Parker's much-buzzed debut, Beware the Wild.

Beware the swampy places, child,
Beware the dark and wild,
Many a soul has wandered there,
And many a soul has died.

Beware the Wild, southern gothic at its best, makes Natalie C. Parker’s debut novel a standout novel. Even better it satisfies a love of the creepy embedded into a story of love, family and friendship in the small town of Sticks, Louisiana where life moves placidly, slowly and uneventfully.

Or, so it seems to its residents who literally suffer from collective memory loss.

Recommendation Tuesday: Beware the Wild by Natalie C. Parker

Three Recent Recommended Reads

Night Broken by Patricia Briggs (Mercy Thompson series)

Night Broken, the eighth book in Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series, places Mercy in a precarious and dangerous situation.

Danger lurks as a threat to herself, her marriage and her pack.

You've all probably at least heard of the Mercy Thomson series, but for the few that haven't, here's the scoop: Mercy is both human coyote. She’s a shape shifter married to Adam, alpha male and leader of the Tri-Cities werewolf pack in Washington. A coyote and a wolf falling in love and marrying stands out as unique. They share a commitment to honor one another and their pack. They are both primal beings and human beings.

Three Recent Recommended Reads

Recommendation Tuesday: A Darker Shade of Sweden (Stories)

Recommendation Tuesday started as a joke and is now an official thing. If you've got a book to recommend on this or any Tuesday, tweet me at @FullShelves and I'll help spread the word.

View all of the past recommendations over here. 

This week, Sandra is getting in on the fun and recommending a collection of short stories she really, really enjoyed, A Darker Shade of Sweden. 

Without any sense of shame, I admit to judging a book by its cover. I laser in on a beautifully bound book. But, a book can’t get by on looks alone. Intelligent writing is what truly endears it.

A Darker Shade of Sweden edited by John-Henri Holmberg has it all: beauty and brains. 

 

Recommendation Tuesday: A Darker Shade of Sweden (Stories)

Inspiring & Hopeful - Finding Me: A Life Reclaimed by Michelle Knight

That day I disappeared in 2002, not many people even seemed to notice. I was twenty-one, a young mom who stopped a a Family Dollar store one afternoon to ask for directions. For the next eleven years I was locked away in hell. That’s the part of my story you may already know. There’s a whole lot more that you don’t.

— Michelle Knight, Finding Me

A Life Reclaimed - these three simple words give voice to the heart and soul of Michelle Knight’s memoir, Finding Me: A Decade of Darkness, a Life Reclaimed, written with Michelle Burford. Less than half the book speaks of the horror that she, Amanda Barry and Gina DeJesus faced each day while held in captivity by Ariel Castro, who Knight refers to as "the dude." 

In concise and clear words that never softens the reality of her experience nor overly dwells on it, she communicates the fear and the pain she knew as her constant companion during her years chained and held captive at the whim of the dude. She held tight to her memories of better times when she cradled her beloved son close, laughing and playing games with him.

Inspiring & Hopeful - Finding Me: A Life Reclaimed by Michelle Knight

Reflections on Trickster: Native American Tales, A Graphic Collection

A couple of years ago, Sarah and I spent a long weekend in Washington, DC. She lived there for several years during and after college, and I always enjoyed visiting the city. Returning to the nation’s capital was a real treat, since a number of new attractions opened since my last visit. While we intended to hit many of them, we instead visited the National Museum of the American Indian several times.

In the gift shop, I came upon a graphic story collection Native American tales, Trickster: Native American Tales. Leafing through it evoked memories of my own childhood, memories of beauty, memories of sunshine filled days, and memories of a gentle man, Larry of the Klickitat Indian tribe, who lifted me upon his shoulders carrying me about and speaking to me, telling me stories. He gave me beautiful memories of a singing, sparkling river, of dry pine covered mountains, of compassion, and love—all memories I hold sacred.

 

Reflections on Trickster: Native American Tales, A Graphic Collection

A Gripping Prequel to a Frustrating & Excellent Series: Lucky Day by Barry Lyga

Imagine blithely driving down the freeway when without warning your car begins shaking, rattling faster and faster; you’re doing your best to remain calm as sweat forms on your forehead and your hands tremble. Then boom, flap, flap, flap. Something’s terribly wrong, control’s barely there and you know the outcome isn’t looking rosy.

(Editor’s Note: That actually happened to Sandra last week.)

That’s akin to my experience at the conclusion of Barry Lyga’s Game, the second in his I Hunt Killers Trilogy. The first, I Hunt Killers, ended with resolution and the knowledge that the sequel was on hand, ready and waiting.

Conversely, Game ended like a blowout on the freeway. 

What in the name of all that’s creepy, frightening and gripping happened with that thrilling, brutally-cliffhangerific book? 

 

A Gripping Prequel to a Frustrating & Excellent Series: Lucky Day by Barry Lyga

Review + Giveaway: Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

Laura Marx Fitzgerald’s novel Under the Egg dazzled me with its complexity, its unexpected turns and its classic Shakespearean misdirection.

Early in the novel, I found the text interesting, yet without knowing precisely when, the depth and ingenuity of Fitzgerald’s writing crept up on me. The story is both profound and intricate and I could comfortably read it on any number of levels, each with its own kind of joy.

“It’s under the egg,” he rasped, his once-icy blue eyes now foggy. “Look under the egg.”

Theo’s bound by her uncle’s last words. She must delve into his mysterious legacy, go on a quest in search of an unknown treasure. Under the egg will lie both a treasure and a letter taking thirteen year old Theodora, Theo, into a world she pieces together like a painting, color by color, layer upon layer, as she delves into the puzzling enigma of her uncle’s secrets.

Review + Giveaway: Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

Evocative Gothic Horror: Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea

Gothic horror wrapped in mystery, intrigue and the supernatural was just the right blend in April Genevieve’s Tucholke’s Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea. And when I finished the final page, I was left tapping my fingers, thinking,

"Sequel, please. Puh-lease. I am not good at waiting. Patience is not a virute."

Well, I'll be waiting for it until August of 2014.

*taps fingers*

 

Twin teens, Violet and Luke, live alone in the once decadent mansion their grandmother dubbed “Citizen Kane.” Built by their fabulously rich and influential ancestors, Citizen Kane could comfortably settle into an Edgar Allen Poe story. Its wine cellar holds a chilling atmosphere perfect for The Cask of Amontillado.

Citizen Kane sits aloof atop a ridge overlooking the Atlantic, a crumbling tribute to a glorious past and a cold reminder of the depth of despair that is the present reality. The town of Echo situated near the dying mansion looks upon the twins' abode with scorn taking comfort in the downfall of a once rich and powerful family.

Violet and Luke's artistic parents leave them for months at a time while they pursue their dreams in vibrant oils and acrylics inspired by the art and history found only in Europe. "Here's some money," they would say on their way out the door. "Make it last until we return."

The money always lasted until it didn't.

Evocative Gothic Horror: Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea

A Solid Story Collection: The Firefly Dance by Sarah Addison Allen & Others

The title itself of this collection of novellas and short stories, The Firefly Dance, evokes an image of a warm summer evening—beautiful and breezeless, fireflies flittering in the dusk like jewels against a velvet sky. And like that quintessential summer scene, this unique collection brought me smiles, magical wonderment and even a few tears.

In My Dreams by Sarah Addison Allen

Sarah Addison Allen’s In My Dreams was the first novella I read--and the reason I snagged this collection from the library. I had read all of her novels with the exception of this one, and I couldn't bear to skip this one. I dove into it expecting a luscious read. Luscious does begin to express the beauty of In My Dreams.

This lovely tale told in the voice of Louise about her, her mother, her great aunt Sophie and a rich array of characters including her dog Lazarus that she seemingly brought back from the dead.

 

A Solid Story Collection: The Firefly Dance by Sarah Addison Allen & Others

A Fresh Shapeshifter Story: Skulk by Rosie Best

Skulk’s anything but a typical paranormal teen fiction. Shapeshifters in Rosie Best’s novel consist of foxes, ravens, rats, butterflies and spiders—no wolves need apply to this world. And, Skulk is urban fantasy in the truest sense of the term, with a rich city-focused setting of London, complete with graffiti and urban wildlife that’s not what it appears.

At the center of this story is sixteen year old Meg Banks, a teen girl who appears to have it all. Her mother’s a highly-respected member of Parliament and her father’s a genius with money. Meg attends an exclusive school that churns out students headed for only the best universities and the brightest futures. 

Except…

Meg’s perfect parents, perfect school, perfect life is nothing more than a tarnished cage locking in an unconquerable spirit who struggles to find self expression, individuality and ultimately freedom from her cruel and demanding mother and her aloof father.

Read the rest-->

A Fresh Shapeshifter Story: Skulk by Rosie Best

Teaching the Classics: The Scarlet Letter

 

Note: This is the first in an ongoing series from Sandra, retired high school English teacher and current substitute teacher in the same subject area, discussing the classic novels she taught, their relevance to today's teens and pairings with contemporary fiction.  

I taught high school literature for twenty-six years, many of the same books year after year. You’d think they would become ho-hum with a huge yawn after a few years. 

No so. 

There’s always something new and fresh that first-time readers bring to a text so it stands the test of time—meaning they relate to the characters and situations regardless of era or setting. Some books are simply universal. The Scarlet Letter, which I've written about previously, stands out for the fresh perspectives my students would bring to them each time I taught these books.

It’s all about making connections and drawing parallels.

I recall one student gingerly holding a copy of The Scarlet Letter between her thumb and index finger. The expression on her face was somewhere between horror and admiration as I shared that I had taught, and therefore read, this book every single year.

“What? You’ve actually read this at least twenty times? That’s that’s—I don’t know what is is,” my student said.

Read the rest--> 

Teaching the Classics: The Scarlet Letter

3 Recommended Creepy Reads

I enjoy novels with a bit (or a lot) of the occult and ghost-y elements. As you know, I am a fan of the creepy, so those elements fit the bill perfectly. I've recently read three that I enjoyed and thought I'd share my thoughts with you.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

•Portland, Oregon–––––October 14, 1918•
The day before my father's arrest, I read an article about a mother who cured her daughter of the Spanish flu by burying her in raw onions for three days. 

Thus begins a truly fine fantastic debut novel about sixteen-year old Mary Shelley Black. Her father’s been arrested for treason, her boyfriend’s fighting overseas, influenza threatens to deplete the population–it’s a fearsome world, a bleak reality for Mary.

Cat Winters captivated me with her unusual historical novel, In The Shadow of Blackbirds.

Interspersed throughout the book are photographs of the era. Images of this bleak period in American history bring stark life to the words skillfully woven into a story of a young girl who sees the spirit of her lost love crying out to her as she struggles to maintain her own balance in a world twisted with fear and injustice.

Read the rest! 

 

3 Recommended Creepy Reads

Review: Heart of Palm by Laura Lee Smith

Laura Lee Smith’s beautifully crafted novel, Heart of Palm is long, 449 pages, and each page illuminates the Bravo family, their home and Florida’s landscape. It captivated me with lovely language and beautiful storytelling. It’s alive, vibrant with a sense of  the people and place.

With each new twist in the novel, my admiration for Heart of Palm grew.

Heart of Palm brought me into the lives of the Bravo family, a family that at its core is like many families: difficult to define or understand, sometimes dysfunctional, yet complex with layers of love and hurt melding together. Its charm comes from characters and setting.

This is the Bravo family. Their world. Their uniqueness.

The Bravos live outside of St. Augustine, Florida in the fictional village of Utina. Their rickety and once-grand home, Aberdeen, stands along an intracoastal waterway that ebbs and flows to a slow southern rhythm. Named for the chief of the Utina tribe, the land of oaks and Spanish moss is enchantingly beautiful. Now it slowly slides into the 21st century with a culture solidly entrenched in the past. 

Real estate developers have no interest in the town’s colorful history. Instead, they have cast a hungry eye on the land, especially the Bravo’s: a marina, restaurants, Starbucks—ah, the endless possibilities to make money. The natural land must bend to progress as the moneyed class sees it. 

The plot develops less from this pull of money and more unfurls from the Bravo family, of how each has a secret that slowly unwinds toward resolution.

Review: Heart of Palm by Laura Lee Smith

A Fresh Detective Novel - Loyalty by Ingrid Thoft

I attended the American Library Association Winter Conference in January in Seattle, Washington. I’d never attended one of the ALA’s conferences and after a few minutes there, wondered why (it would have been an excellent resource when I was teaching full-time).

A new writer, Ingrid Thoft, attended the conference to promote her first novel, Loyalty. I happened to be first in line to meet her and she handed me the novel with a huge smile. Her excitement clearly showed in her eyes when she asked for my name, signed my book and handed it to me--apparently, I was one of the very first people to receive a copy of Loyalty.

Loyalty opens with a woman attempting to ascertain what she’d done to deserve being tied up, blindfolded and laid in the bottom of a boat headed out to sea.

Her arms and legs were cinched together tighter, and she was picked up off of her feet.
Then it was air.
Then water.
Then nothing.

A few pages later Fina, the daughter of a tough lawyer who’s the patriarch of an equally tough family of lawyers, meets with her father who informs her that her sister-in-law has disappeared. It’s her job to find out what happened and where her brother’s wife is.

Fina doesn’t fit her family’s mold. The brothers all finished  law school and belong to the Ludlow law firm solely comprised of members who maintain a take-no-prisoners mentality. Fina, who’s a law school drop-out, works for the family firm as the lead investigator. Her credentials for “tough” stand up to anything the rest of the family can tout.

A Fresh Detective Novel - Loyalty by Ingrid Thoft

A New Favorite, But Not for Everyone - The Diviners by Libba Bray

Libba Bray writes of the wind in the first pages of The Diviners, of how it swoops through New York City, silent witness to all that has been, is and will be.

The wind existed forever. It has seen much in this country of dreams and soap ads, old horrors and bloodshed. It has played mute witness to its burning witches, and has walked along a Trail of Tears; it has seen the slave ships release their human cargo, blinking and afraid, into the ports, their only possession a grief they can never lose ... It ran with the buffalo and touched tentative fingers to the tall black hats of Puritans. It has carried shouts of love, and it has dried tears to salt tracks on more faces than it can number. 

The wind also saw the  Roaring Twenties, a time when anything seemed possible, where money flowed as freely as illegal booze. 

Evie O’Neill felt trapped in a small town with small minds. She ached to jump out of the confines of he life into the glamour and excitement she knew waited for her. Her exuberance and sometimes her rashness made Evie a poor candidate for living happily in a backwoods Ohio community. 

One evening while partying with friends and drinking way too much, Evie stretches the bounds of acceptability for the last time by revealing a town scandal. It lands her in front of her parents with her head pounding from a hangover with mom and dad shouting their displeasure and despair.

A New Favorite, But Not for Everyone - The Diviners by Libba Bray

Review: Spirit and Dust by Rosemary Clement-Moore

Rosemary Clement-Moore’s name on a book assures me that I’m in for a delightful and clever  novel. It also translates to some late nights of reading until my eyes will no longer continue a marathon session filled with humor and a fantastical world.

The Goodnight family’s funny, eccentric, unique and lovable and they have the gift of magic. Their magic has wrapped itself around me from my first read of author Rosemary Clement-Moore’s Texas Gothic to her latest novel Spirit and Dust.

I first met the Goodnights with all their magical quirkiness Texas Gothic, which I loved for its humor and a thick coat of mystery with a few Nancy Drew references. None of the Goodnights fit neatly into predicable package, which is true of Spirit and Dust’s main character, Daisy Goodnight, who possesses a magical talent with a deadly twist.

The local cops kept staring at me. I couldn’t decide if it was the plaid miniskirt in subarctic temperatures, or the fact that they’d never seen anyone talk to the dead before.

Review: Spirit and Dust by Rosemary Clement-Moore

Review: Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler

Z is not a book for everyone.

It is a novel based on research about Zelda Fitzgerald and her life and relationship with her husband, novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Fowler states at the end of her work that it is,

Fiction based on real people [which] differs from nonfiction in that the emphasis is not on factual minutiae, but rather on the emotional journey of the characters. I've tried to create the most plausible story possible, based upon all the evidence at hand.

The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald's famous novel depicting the obsessive Jay Gatsby and his love for Daisy, is a novel I've always loved. The writing flows like a poem swirling with color, description, romance and tragedy. I do not read it as a love story, rather it’s about illusion. Illusory dreams without a touch of reality based in Gatsby’s head much as Zelda’s life with F. Scott.

Fowler’s account of Zelda’s life brought a new perspective to ponder. 

Review: Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler

Review: The Silver Star by Jeanette Walls

Jeannette Walls’ latest novel, The Silver Star, opens with Jean, AKA Bean, recounting the story of how her sister, Liz, saved her life when she was only an infant. Bean (aka Jean) and Liz are sisters, one twelve and the other fifteen, who have faced life as a team. They’ve always stuck together giving one another the stability that their mother did not or could not provide for them. When things got bad in one place, their mother would slide out of town in the dead of night taking her little girls with her.

Bean and Liz, one twelve and the other fifteen, are sisters who have faced life as a team. They’ve always stuck together giving one another the stability that their mother did not or could not provide for them. In one of their quick exits out of town, a problem arose because mom in her dash toward freedom, had stashed things in the trunk leaving her infant child in a carrier on the roof. Dash, rush, run - oops - she forgot the minor issue of said infant left in a carrier on top of the car. Three year old Liz begins screaming her baby sister’s name and pointing at the roof. It took a some time to communicate to the manic mother the state of affairs. She slammed on the brakes, the carrier slid onto the hood, baby’s strapped in, so no harm’s done. 

Their mother loved to tell the story. She thought it was hilarious. Neither child saw the humor. Mom’s version tilted itself in her favor, as always.
Mom was going through a rough period at the time of the near fatal incident. She had a lot on her mind -- craziness, craziness craziness, the girls would say when hearing the story time after time.

Like Half Broke Horses by the same author, The Silver Star is considered fiction, but draws heavily on Walls' own family. The first work of Walls I read was The Glass Castle. It’s the biographical account of her wildly eccentric family, one that defines disfunction. Her father dreamed of building glass castles for his family to live in while he traipsed from one town to the next with them in tow, often leaving under the cloak of night to avoid paying bills--they had no money, so escape was the quick solution while he wove tales of magical new opportunities that would surely appear soon.

 

Review: The Silver Star by Jeanette Walls