Friday, October 16, 2020

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles


The Paris Library is based upon true events that took place during WWII. The main focus is the American Library in Paris and those who were employed or volunteered there. Some characters were based on real staff. Central to the story is Odile who has finally secured her dream job of working at The American Library.  Through her eyes, readers meet a wide and varied cast of supporting characters, each of whom offers a lens through which the events and effects of the war as it reached Paris can be viewed.  But that setting is only part of the story.

The author, Janet Skeslien Charles, has woven two stories within the book. Readers are offered parallel threads that intersect: Odile's story that begins in 1939, Paris, and Lily's story set in 1983, Montana.  Within the past are mysteries that are slowly revealed.  The reality of war and the way it slowly turned people against one another is masterfully portrayed. No one is free from grief as brothers, sons, neighbors are wounded or killed in war. 

Fast forward to 1983 and Lily and Odile are neighbor. Lily, a plucky high school girl manages to break through Odile's cold, reserved exterior. As Lily faces normal teen struggles, Odile offers a listening ear and sage advice.  When Lily faces a dark trial, Odile becomes the anchor to which Lily ties her soul. And then, in a foolish act of teen curiosity, Lily discovers what she believes to be a dark and shameful secret from Odile's past. Can their friendship be restored or will they each remain stubbornly enmeshed in their own pain?

The book tells a compelling story and the dual story lines reveal how various characters wage their own personal war. The book shows the good, bad and ugly that often dwells within each one of us.  Part of the good was the message that when we learn to share our pain with another person, a friendship can grow that will facilitate healing and growth.  The bad included what I considered moral failings in  Odile's younger days. I wish references could have been made without providing detailed descriptions of those lapses. Compared to the average offering on television and film, the book's content would be considered mild, but it's worth noting that I would not recommend this book for any but an adult audience. And the ugly represents the realization that we are all capable of hatred and despicable acts of betrayal.  Learning how to forgive and seek restoration is perhaps the hardest war of all, but so worth winning.

You can pre-order the book today and it will be shipped to you upon its release on February 2, 2021. In the meantime, check out the author's website for a fascinating look at some of the real lives of characters in the book.  The author has scanned images of photographs, reports and newspaper clippings, some of which detail the services that the American Library in Paris performed.  

Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of The Paris Library through NetGalley for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received. 

Monday, October 5, 2020

Premeditated Myrtle & How to Get Away with Myrtle by Elizabeth C. Bunce


As soon as I saw that Myrtle of this series was compared to the intreped Flavia De Luce, I knew she would be a kindred literary spirit. Who doesn't love a spunky, intelligent, inquisitive {a.k.a. nosy} young lady?

For this series, it is entirely appropriate to judge the books by their covers, for they are truly gorgeous! I love the little hint on the cover of what will become an essential component of the mystery. The style of cover is not only engagingly bright, but stylistically a perfect match for the historical setting.

Readers are introduced to the young sleuthing heroine, along with a cast of supporting characters (some delightful, others despicable) in the first in the series, Premeditated Myrtle. I loved that Myrtle has a companionable governess, Miss Judson, who offers a guiding influence in the absence of a mother. With a lawyer for a father, Myrtle's upbringing has involved exposure to crime and court proceedings, which has fostered an obsession with crime solving.

In book one, Myrtle's elderly next door neighbor, a creature of unwavering habit, has died under what Myrtle knows are mysterious circumstances but to her consternation, she cannot get the adults to listen to her. Which means she (and Miss Judson) must take matters into their own hands. What ensues is a lively adventure with twists, turns, and a few surprises before a highly satisfying ending. 

Book 2 takes place on a train as she and Miss Judson are accompanied by Myrtle's dreaded Aunt Helena (whose presence all but guarantees a horrid holiday).  So imagine Myrtle's delight when a jeweled tiara goes missing and she gets drawn into helping the insurance investigator. Wow--the holiday is definitely looking up...until said investigator gets rather fatally silenced and now Myrtle must find not only a jewel thief but a murderer.  Not so easily done when Aunt Helena is determined to keep her out of harm's way.

I am thrilled with this new series for young readers and recommend them unreservedly. There has been a huge gap for well-written mysteries for middle grades and to find something with no morally objectionable content or profanity is quite a rarity these days. Readers will also boost their vocabulary (often footnoted with amusing commentary). Elizabeth C. Bunce has crafted a series that will entirely beguile readers (especially those with a fondness for cats--Peony is a silent partner in the crime-solving endeavors).  I hope that Myrtle will have a number of new cases to tackle in the future--looking forward to reading every one that Bunce will hopefully create!

Throughout October, readers will want to be on the lookout for Peony as she slinks through Instagram.  Pick up her trail by checking out the hashtags #elizabethcbunce, #doublemyrtle, and #algonquinyr.  These marvelous books will launch into the world on October 6, 2020. I sugges you grab multiple copies to share with young readers this Christmas!

Disclaimer: I received free digital copies of Premeditated Myrtle and How to Get Away with Myrtle from publisher Algonquin Young Readers through NetGalley for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

A Small Fiction


A Small Fiction:An Illustrated Collection of Little Stories is a random collection of stories, the operative word being "little." As in a handful of sentences (no more than 140 characters--yes, that was characters, not words).  I started the book ploughing full steam ahead and after several pages, felt like I'd hit a brick wall. Are these page supposed to be related?  Am I just reading little previews of longer stories--sort of the teaser to get you hooked?  Um, no, those were the "stories."

Yes, you can definitely read this in one sitting or you can discipline yourself to read only one a day (sort of a literary vitamin).  If you have the proclivity to write, you may want to create some back story, or a continuation of the story and use it as a writing exercise to get your own pen warmed up. If you don't mind marking up the book, there is plenty of space to journal or jot your thoughts directly on the page. Readers may enjoy grabbing some colored pencils and coloring in the drawings, or sketching one's own picture to accompany a story. The book could even provide fun material for posting a story on an office white board as a kick start to the work day.  

Quirky, creative, and innovative all aptly describe this little volume. Readers may actually take more time puzzling out the meaning of some than it will take to read the actual words. So I guess you can call this a brain-building book. Perhaps the next best thing for maintaining mental clarity!   This could make a great coffee table book--guests can skim through a large part of the book in the time it takes you to pour the tea. This could also be a great book for anyone who claims they "have no time to read."  Or for someone who lets too much time elapse between reading so that characters get forgotten. It's a pick-up-whenever-you-have-3 seconds kind of read (e.g. a mother with 3 children under 4 years). 

There are stories for everyone: some bittersweet, snarky, brooding, or savage, while others are surprisingly tender or contemplative.  I was envisioning some selections painted on a canvas or elegantly lettered into a journal to savor and reflect on later. Some will make you laugh, others may elicit a tear, while others will require some deep thought (and could foster some interesting dicussions). Crafting a punch with so few characters takes a very finely honed pen for which I applaud the author.

Definitely a gift you can give to someone who has everything, or use as a clever hostess gift for your next dinner party. Or bring it along to read while you wait for food to be served at a restaurant. And now, you've probably spent more time reading this review than you will spend reading the book!  Pre-order your copy today (releases on October 6) and while you wait for its delivery, be sure to check out the author's Twitter feed: @ASmallFiction.   

Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of A Small Fiction from NetGalley for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received.

The Secret Garden {Audiobook}


While The Secret Garden is perhaps best known through its various screen adaptations, nothing can compare to reading the book itself--that is where the true magic lies. The audio version read by Glenda Jackson is particularly well done. Listeners will feel as though events are playing on the screen of their mind as subtle sound effects and atmospheric music plays quietly in the background. It is truly a cinematic experience for the ears.

I had read the physical book at least twice but I have to say the audio really brought out of the enchantment of the story (the only downside was wanting to stop and write down a quote--much easier done when reading a book).  The characters truly came alive under the narrator's excellent interpretation and voicing.  If you have only ever seen the movie, you must dive into the book itself.

Mary has been a pampered but largely unloved little girl who is truly the "garden" of importance (one may argue that her cousin and uncle are secret gardens as well). As readers see what happens when love and caring are planted in her heart, the results are pure magic. The supporting characters: Martha (her maid), Dickon (resident animal whisperer), Ben (the gruff gardener), and Colin (the spoiled heir) all make their impression on the wild heart being tamed. If you are a parent or grandparent, this is a must read--definitely a story to be savored together in either book or audio form. Beautiful lessons for life are waiting to be tilled and brought forth from this literary gem! 

Disclaimer: I received a digital audiobook of The Secret Garden from NetGalley for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received.

Francesco Tirelli's Ice Cream Shop by Tamar Meir


Francesco Tirelli's Ice Cream Shop is a charming (albeit sobering) true story about how an ice cream shop saved lives during WWII. Francesco's love of ice cream was initially fostered in his uncle's Italian shop. When Francesco grew up and moved to Hungary, he made the bold move of opening a shop of Italian ice cream (there is a fun little rhyme about ice cream flavors that gets repeated throughout the book).

Francesco's love of ice cream overflowed to a boy named Peter. When his family needed a safe place to hide during the war, Francesco came up with a brilliant plan that saved not only Peter but many others. When Peter grew up, he moved to Israel where he enjoyed telling his grandchildren about his time in that ice cream shop.  This remarkable story was written by his granddaughter, Tamar Meir. I highy recommend this book; it provides an age-appropriate way to introduce the reality of WWII to elementary-age children.

The audiobook was a very entertaining listen, but I would suggest following along with the physical book so children can delight in the engaging illustrations (the cover is a marvelous preview of the sweet things inside!).  

Disclaimer: I received a free digital audiobook of Franceso Tirelli's Ice Cream Shop from NetGalley for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Britfield & The Lost Crown {Audiobook}


C.R. Stewart has created a twist on the Dickensian tale of Oliver Twist. The male protagonist, Tom, has a younger female sidekick over which he feels a protective instinct. Suffering through the daily cruelty and persecution knits the orphans together. Prior attempts at running away have been met with swift and decisive punishment. The caretakers of the orphanage are desparate to protect their lucrative business of hoodwinking the government and embezzling the funds that were supposed to clothe and feed the children. Thankfully, a kind cook occasionaly smuggled in fresh fruit, offering a welcome change from the watered down gruel on the menu. The prospect of reading a book stolen from the caretaker's home offered small comfort (the herculean feat of procuring said book was a challenge spread out among the orphans). 

After sneaking onto the roof one night and subsequently caught, Tom narrowly escaped only to learn that Sarah had not been so lucky and was locked into the attic for punishment. After the caretaker tried to blackmail Tom into spying on fellow orphans, he decided he'd had enough and actively sought the means to escape Weatherly forever. With the help of the entire orphanage, Tom made his daring escape. Then ensues a chase like no other by varied and sometimes unusual means. They are doggedly pursued by not only henchmen of the orphanage, but also by a detective who has been outsmarted only once in his prestigous career.

Tom and Sarah are spurred on by the hope of finally being free to live their own life. Readers will go from hope to dismay as time and time again they are thwarted by ever-increasing enemies. Thankfully, they find a few kind strangers who help them--often risking their own lives. Never quite sure who to trust, Tom and Sarah find that the world is much more sinister than they imagined.  Parts of the story conclude nicely while some elements I assume will be tied up in future installments. I highly recommend the book as a modern take on Oliver Twist and eagerly anticipate a sequel. Grab your copy today through Amazon (affiliate link).

Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of the audiobook, Britfield & The Lost Crown from NetGalley for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received.

Gribblebob's Book of Unpleasant Goblins by David Ashby


Siblings Anna and Nils encounter an odd little man and his invisible dog. That chance encounter draws the children into an adventure of epic proportions.  The cover and reading level had me thinking this would be a children's fairy tale but as the story took a decidedly sinister turn, I felt it would be better suited to older middle grade readers.

The premise of the tale is that there is a "veil" that separates two worlds. People and creatures can cross over and wreak havoc in the children's world. Anna and Nils are swept up in a quest to put a stop to an evil character that preys on people while dreaming. (Note: the depiction how the villain terrorizes people in the night would definitely be disturbing for younger readers). 

While the idea of two worlds and the creatures that inhabit that alternate world, were imaginative, I felt the author plunged the reader into the action with very little background information or explanation. There were twists and turns and plenty of near-escapes and even some good old-fashioned sword fighting, but I wish there had been a bit more development of the characters.  

For those looking for a high-adrenaline fantasy this may fit the bill. I would caution parents of younger readers to either pre-read or read the story aloud to provide some reassurances (especially at bedtime). This edgy fairytale could be a good choice for an older reluctant or struggling reader. 

Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of Gribblebob's Book of Unpleasant Goblins from NetGalley for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received.

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

  The Paris Library is based upon true events that took place during WWII. The main focus is the American Library in Paris and those who wer...