Book Review: The Secret Diary of Lydia Bennet by Natasha Farrant

The Secret Diary of Lydia Bennet
Natasha Farrant
Chicken House, October 2016
ISBN: 978-0-545-94031-3
Hardcover

First a confession. I have never read anything by Jane Austen, so I wasn’t encumbered or biased by feeling as though I had to compare the plot and characters to those in her work. Lydia is the youngest of five daughters. While their bloodlines are good and of a quality to allow the girls and their parents a place in English society, the family finances are such that there’s a push for all five sisters to marry well and into wealth. Each sister has a distinct personality. Mary is bookish and could care less about a husband. Kitty qualifies as boy crazy, while Jane is the ‘adult in training’ as the eldest. Kitty is easily led, particularly by Lydia. As for Lydia, I found myself alternating between admiring her free spirit and wanting to shake some sense into her.

Shortly after the story opens, Redcoats come to encamp in a nearby town. As soon as the sisters learn of this, they finagle a visit to their aunt in town so they can view these new young men. While their parents admonish the girls about soldiers not being suitable husband material, for Lydia, at least, the warning slides off like water on a duck. As a result, she meets and begins a connection to a handsome fellow named Wickham. He’s dashing and suave, but his tendency to lose frequently when gambling, coupled with an instinctive sense of which females to con, make him doubly dangerous.

Fast forward to Lydia getting invited to spend time with her new friend Harriet in Brighton on the seashore. When Harriet takes her to the beach where they are to try the bathing machines (contraptions where ladies change and are hauled into the water where they jump in and freeze), Lydia not only takes to swimming, but she’s entranced by a red haired girl and her brother who strike her as extremely exotic. She soon learns they’re survivors of the war with the French and have spent time in India where their stepfather still lives. Enter Alaric and Theo. Theo is determined to make a name for herself as a dressmaker, while Alaric is rather flighty and somewhat of a romantic.

It isn’t long before Lydia has herself convinced that Alaric is her soul mate, but what ensues makes for a neatly twisted plot that involves her getting ever deeper in a swirl of untruths, acting completely unlike a single lady of her time is expected to, followed by an inevitable return to reality. When that happens, it is of a magnitude that would break many ladies of her time, but Lydia, for all her faults, is a resilient lass. Read the book and find out exactly what did happen. You won’t be disappointed.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, January 2019.

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Book Review: Crow Mountain by Lucy Inglis

Crow Mountain
Lucy Inglis
Chicken House, June 2016
ISBN: 978- 0-545-90407-0
Hardcover

Sixteen year old Hope lives in London with her extremely feminist, scientific researcher mom. She has very little contact with her actor father who took off with his pregnant co-star around the time Hope was born. Mom is extremely controlling…Of Hope’s schooling, her diet, what she can do, pretty much everything.

When Mom heads off to do an ecological study on a Montana ranch, one of the few remaining unspoiled ones that practices environmentally friendly ranching, she drags her daughter along, even though Hope wants to stay in London and be with her friends.

Crow Ranch has been in operation since the 1870s and run by the same family. When a handsome young man, Caleb, the owner’s son, meets Hope and her mother at the airport in Helena, she feels an immediate attraction, but her shyness keeps her from saying anything. When they stop in Fort Shaw and the local sheriff harasses Cal, as he prefers to be called, while hinting to Hope about unsavory behavior in Cal’s past, it’s her first inkling that there’s trouble ahead.

It doesn’t take long for Cal and Hope to start talking and become very aware of their growing mutual attraction. After he shows her the room above the barn where she can hide out from her mother, Hope discovers a diary written by a girl named Emily who was on her way to an arranged marriage in San Francisco via Portland Oregon, by stagecoach in the early 1870s. She’s fascinated by the story and takes the diary with her the following day when she and Cal head off through back country roads in the national forest on a trip to get Cal’s mother who has been caring for her sister in law following a broken bone. They’re also hauling a horse trailer as they’re to bring back a couple horses.

At this point, the book begins to alternate chapters between Hope and Cal following a scary accident, and diary entries telling the story of Emily and the mysterious young man she first sees outside her hotel room in Helena, as they encounter an eerily similar fate. To say more might spoil the plot, but I can say that first off, I bought this immediately following my reading of her other book City of Halves, which is equally stellar.

This is an excellent book, part adventure, part love story, part historical fiction and a book that forces you to keep reading because of the tension and uncertainty facing both couples. It’s one that deserves a place in many libraries, both school and public. If you like it, read her other book, City of Halves.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, June 2018.

Book Review: The Baby by Lisa Drakeford

The Baby
Lisa Drakeford
Chicken House, November 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-94027-6
Hardcover

When I opened The Baby, I anticipated a quirky, mystery-comedic-misadventure of baby-sitting gone hilariously wrong.  With a dash of adolescence adoration.  I was grossly mistaken.  Instead, I plunged into a pertinent plot involving important issues.  The depth of this quickly captivating story, seemingly centered on Olivia’s seventeenth birthday celebration, surprised and delighted me.

The look into Olivia and Jonty’s relationship reveals a rarely addressed, but true tribulation.  A hard, honest survey of such a sensitive subject, seen from multiple points of view and various perspectives, proves that even with all of the pieces; a puzzle may not be easily solved. As Olivia better understands Jonty’s world and how it has affected his actions, he learns to analyze and address his issues.

Nicola is sweet and funny.  Also, she is insecure and almost desperately eager to please.  She makes a mistake. In a real-life kind of way, she makes the same mistake more than once.  She was not alone in an ethical error, but solely shouldered the consequences.  Initially.  I would be remiss if I did not mention Nicola’s mother here, as I definitely dig a reminder that “mature” adults still have room to grow.

Ben is the bond that brings it all together.  Being a bit accustomed to the prejudiced cold shoulder, he is a pillar for Nicola as she adjusts to her new life in the public eye.  Just as tight with Olivia, he’s even at ease with Alice, her eccentric younger sibling.  Maybe he and Jonty are not mates, but neither are they mortal enemies.  Besides, they are teenagers; generally open-minded and adaptable creatures.

Ms. Drakeford magically meshes tough topics, tenacious teenagers with the pleasantly peculiar to display a beautiful, big picture that is neither black nor white, but grey in The Baby.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2017.

Book Reviews: Eden Summer by Liz Flanagan and Longbow Girl by Linda Davies

Eden Summer
Liz Flanagan
David Fickling Books, July 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-12120-9
Hardcover

Words are influential, able to constructively and destructively affect both the speaker and the audience. Final words feel eerily efficacious; especially when there is absolutely no expectation that they are indeed, last words. Vicious, venomous verbalizations can compound an already catastrophic event. In and of itself, crippling in its cruel randomness; devastating and gut-wrenching when choked with guilt.

A cloud of culpability completely cloaked the sun inside of Eden just as its rays tentatively began to reach out again.  Regret remained whenever she recalled begging her bestie, Jess, to walk her to the bus stop in a dismal downpour months ago.  Of course, she did not commit the heinous hate-crime, nor could she have stopped it; but that knowledge isn’t enough to alleviate feeling at fault.

Being the best nurse-cheerleader-therapist-buddy that she could be, Eden was instrumental in Jess’s healing and found that she was also helping herself move forward and focus on the important matters.  After all, she is a normal teen girl and she did catch the eye of the admittedly adorable Liam that Jess was always talking about.

Liam and Jess, comfortable chums and coffee-shop coworkers, both love Eden with the all-encompassing, unconditional, wholly-heart-felt love of fierce friendship. The bond built from “…looking after Eden all summer.” seems strong enough to support Eden indefinitely, until she disappears.  Will their devotion, even when paired with resilient determination and dogged belief, be enough to find Eden?

“She’d gone inside herself, somewhere a long way down, and I didn’t know how to follow.”

Wonderfully woven with stunning, unique, yet complimentary, threads; Eden Summer is a familiar, but fresh fabric.  Ms. Flanagan’s finesse in tackling two terrifying topics results in a relatable, engaging read that is as enjoyable as it is significant. Fast-paced with flashbacks filling in details, the story quickly captivates and keeps hold, even after “the end”.

Reviewed by jv poore, June 2017.

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Longbow Girl
Linda Davies
Chicken House, March 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-85345-3
Hardcover

One of the coolest things about Longbow Girl is that while the events happen in present day, one character lives in an actual castle and another on a working farm; so it feels a bit like it is set in the past.  A pretty groovy way of lending an authentic feel to a story entrenched in history.

When an old tomb is inadvertently uncovered, Merry discovers an old book that appears to be one of the tomes from the Middle Welsh collection known as Mabinogion.  Although some folks believe whole-heartedly that the narratives are filled with truths, many others insist there are only myths.  Either way, there is no argument as to the value of the text.  Merry’s find may be the very thing to save the farm that has been the life and heart of her family for more than seven hundred years.

Of course there are challenges with having the artifact authenticated and obstacles in the way of proving it was found on her family’s land.  Weighing heavier than the legal red tape is the unshakable feeling that disturbing the grave will exact a higher price than the book could bring.  Nothing about this “solution” is sure or easy.

Fortunately, Merry is vibrant, fierce, cunning, and strong.  Often, a heroine struggles to come to terms; drum up courage to conquer that which seems insurmountable. Merry does not.  It’s not that she’s oblivious.   For her, doing the right thing is intuitive.  She is aware of the risks and possible loss, personally; but that is of small consequence when compared to the potential greater good for the masses.

Longbow Girl is a spectacular smash-up of Historical Fiction, Action and Adventure, Mystery and Suspense, with a shot of Science Fiction that features heroes, heroines and horses and touches on relatable social issues, family feuds and friendships.  And that’s just a few of the things that I dearly loved about it.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2016.

Book Reviews: Lifers by M.A. Griffin and When My Heart Was Wicked by Tricia Stirling

 

lifersLifers
M.A. Griffin
Chicken House, February 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-06553-4
Hardcover

Particularly pertinent in current political climate, this fresh Middle-Grade mystery-adventure is a phenomenally fantastic read for all ages.  Mace may be a bit of a conspiracy theorist, but when weird news of missing teens and strange sights at night hits close to home, even practical Preston is pulled in.  Also….he is pretty sure he is partly to blame for the most recent disappearances.

Attempting to trace Alice’s steps, Preston walks the night streets of Manchester and senses a spooky truth to the recent rumors.  He enlists Mace to delve deeper and the two stumble onto a pseudo-futuristic-sci-fi scene.  Children are trapped in a prison prototype with dwindling supplies and absolutely no way out.  The only way in, is scheduled to be permanently shut down in less than twenty-four hours.

The juvenile delinquents are not completely alone.  One young lady is the daughter of a recently deceased politician, her “crime”: doubting that her father’s death was an accident.  She is not going down until the guilty party pays.  Two Urban Explorers snuck into the prison to help facilitate an escape and two workers who never wanted their creations to be used in this manner will fight for freedom.

The story plays out in a matter of days; the pace is very quick and quite captivating.  A bit of sharp wit, an unexpected kindness keeps the book from becoming bleak.  Many questions are answered, but nothing is too pat; there’s plenty to think on…..in a sneaky kind of way.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2017.

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when-my-heart-was-wickedWhen My Heart Was Wicked
Tricia Stirling
Scholastic Press, March 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-69573-2
Hardcover

Lacy is clearly conflicted and completely compelling. At the tender age of sixteen, she has become so very good in spite of her tumultuous, tangled life; but, things change. The loss of a parent is heart-breaking and often life-changing.  When that loss is followed by an abrupt and unwelcome custody change, the downward spiral spins out of control.

Flashbacks and memories reveal the characteristics of Lacy’s parents allowing the reader to understand Lacy’s influences.  The vibes emanating from the recollections reach from the pages to raise the hairs on the back of your neck.  Parents are palpable presences and when Lacy thinks of her father, sunshine shoots from the pages.  She is light, happy, hopeful……joyous and buoyant when considering her father and his charming hippie-chick wife, Anna.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Lacy’s mother, Cheyenne.  Her unique “teaching techniques” and willingness to spend weeks without electricity did not result in a nurturing home.  Rather, she burned her daughter’s wrist for asking “too many questions”, tied her to a tree to prevent “wandering”, then completely vanished without a word, leaving a broken 13-year old girl all alone.

When My Heart Was Wicked is a captivating and quick read that bravely tackles taboo topics such as “cutting”.  More than merely acknowledging the existence of a disorder that plagues so many teens, by offering an answer to the common question: “why?” On some level, problems that plague Lacy are the same, or at least similar to the challenges every teenager faces.  The importance of identity is not easy to address, but Ms. Stirling demonstrates how strong will, determination and knowledge can carve a unique path, even when it seems all forces are fighting to make you march down a different road.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2016.

Book Review: Breaking Butterflies by M. Anjelais

Breaking ButterfliesBreaking Butterflies
M. Anjelais
Chicken House, August 2014
ISBN: 978-0-545-66766-1
Hardcover

When we think of arranged marriages, what usually comes to mind are child brides in foreign countries or royalty in olden days. For Sphinx and Cadence, things were different, very much so, in fact. Their connection began when their mothers, Sarah and Leigh, met when they were seven. Leigh was the leader, Sarah the follower. As their friendship blossomed, Leigh began scripting everything that would happen to them, beginning with what they’d have as careers, that Sarah would have a girl, while she would have a boy and the two would bond, eventually marrying and provide another connected generation.

Leigh’s plan worked until it didn’t. Both married and got pregnant two months apart. Leigh had a boy, Sarah a girl and they were raised together. Like their moms, one took the lead, the other became a follower. Cadence thought up the best games and Spinx was happy to follow. Happy until the day Cadence took out a knife and sliced her face open.

Sarah’s father was furious, more at not heeding his suspicions about Cadence, raised when at age five, the boy crushed a butterfly and showed neither emotion or remorse. Leigh was devastated and hauled her son off to her house in England where her marriage soon fell apart.

Fast forward to when the kids are sixteen. Spinx has a modest social life, but has never had a boyfriend. She’s mostly content playing soccer and spending time with her girlfriends. Every morning, however, she sees the thin scar on her cheek before applying concealer and it reminds her of Cadence and her still conflicted feelings about him and what he said the day it happened.

A phone call from Leigh, who has remained friends with Sarah, starts in motion a strange journey for Spinx, one that’s both physical and emotional. Cadence has an aggressive form of leukemia and wants her to come see him before he dies. Despite her fear, she realizes that something inside is telling her she has to do this, so she and Sarah agree to come to England for one week.

Despite Cadence’s abruptness and rudeness, Spinx comes to believe that coming was the right thing to do and when it’s time to go, she convinces her mother to let her stay until Cadence dies.

What transpires as she waits for his passing, particularly in terms of her growing insight and understanding make for a compelling read. I expected this to be more of a horror story, but it’s sad and Spinx’s growing awareness of how intertwined the two of them really are is quite insightful, particularly in terms of portraying Cadence and what’s really wrong with him.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, July 2016.

Book Review: Crow Mountain by Lucy Inglis

Crow MountainCrow Mountain
Lucy Inglis
Chicken House (UK), September 2015
ISBN 978-1-910002-35-3
Paperback
Chicken House (US), May 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-90407-0
Hardcover

Sixteen year old Hope lives in London with her extremely feminist, scientific researcher mom. She has very little contact with her actor father who took off with his pregnant co-star around the time Hope was born. Mom is extremely controlling…Of Hope’s schooling, her diet, what she can do, pretty much everything.

When Mom heads off to do an ecological study on a Montana ranch, one of the few remaining unspoiled ones that practices environmentally friendly ranching, she drags her daughter along, even though Hope wants to stay in London and be with her friends.

Crow Ranch has been in operation since the 1870s and run by the same family. When a handsome young man, Caleb, the owner’s son, meets Hope and her mother at the airport in Helena, she feels an immediate attraction, but her shyness keeps her from saying anything. When they stop in Fort Shaw and the local sheriff harasses Cal, as he prefers to be called, while hinting to Hope about unsavory behavior in Cal’s past, it’s her first inkling that there’s trouble ahead.

It doesn’t take long for Cal and Hope to start talking and become very aware of their growing mutual attraction. After he shows her the room above the barn where she can hide out from her mother, Hope discovers a diary written by a girl named Emily who was on her way to an arranged marriage in San Francisco via Portland Oregon, by stagecoach in the early 1870s. She’s fascinated by the story and takes the diary with her the following day when she and Cal head off through back country roads in the national forest on a trip to get Cal’s mother who has been caring for her sister in law following a broken bone. They’re also hauling a horse trailer as they’re to bring back a couple horses.

At this point, the book begins to alternate chapters between Hope and Cal following a scary accident, and diary entries telling the story of Emily and the mysterious young man she first sees outside her hotel room in Helena, as they encounter an eerily similar fate. To say more might spoil the plot, but I can say that first off, I bought this immediately following my reading of her other book, City of Halves, which is equally stellar.

This is an excellent book, part adventure, part love story, part historical fiction and a book that forces you to keep reading because of the tension and uncertainty facing both couples. It’s one that deserves a place in many libraries, both school and public.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, October 2015.