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: Vacation by JC Miller

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Title: Vacation
Author: JC Miller
Narrator: Curt Simmons
Publisher: JC Miller Writer
Publication Date: July 14, 2017

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Purchase Links:

Audible // iBook // Amazon

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Vacation
JC Miller
Narrated by Curt Simmons
JC Miller Writer, July 2017
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the author—

Dr. William Koval, a pragmatist with little faith in humanity, prefers to dwell in the eerily comforting microscopic realm, where he is master of his domain. But his worldview is upended when he decides to go on the English walking tour his wife had been planning before her murder three years earlier. Only when William confronts his past, including his troubled marriage, will he find a way to rejoin the living, to move forward, and perhaps love again. The real journey, he discovers, lies within.

In many ways, William is a stereotypical research physician but those close to him know he isn’t coping well with the death of his wife; rather than moving on with his life, he’s withdrawn and finds comfort in solitude. He would be content, if not happy, to be left alone but, fortunately for him, there are a few people who care enough about his wellbeing to force him to take a step forward.

A walking tour through the English countryside doesn’t seem too onerous at first, even though William isn’t used to this sort of thing or with spending time with a group of strangers, some of whom are intent on being chummy. Their Irish tour guide is a funny sort of guy who’s suspiciously inept at this and a couple of his fellow walkers are a bit irritating. Still, it’s only for a few days and William has to admit he’s feeling a kind of relaxation he didn’t expect. When a woman named Annie begins to touch his heart, he’s unprepared and, at first, resistant and when he does let himself feel again, he and Annie come up against an unbearable barrier.

Vacation is what I call a love story rather than a romance because there’s more depth to the feelings between these two and it seemed quite organic, if you will. The twist in the story bothered me some, first because I thought it was way too predictable but also because it just seems so unnecessary and I think tension could have been created in a less sensational manner. Despite that, I enjoyed this story a great deal.

A lot of my enjoyment came from the wonderful narration by Curt Simmons. I don’t think I’ve heard him before but his voice is one of the best I’ve come across with his smooth, even tones that tell the story with distinct vocalizations and a comfortable quality that makes me want to keep listening. Ms. Miller wrote a really good story; Mr. Simmons brought William and all the other characters to life.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

About the Author

JC (Jeanne) Miller is a freelance essayist, the author of five novels, including  the best-seller, Vacation. An avid reader, aspiring traveler and table tennis enthusiast, JC resides in Northern California.

  • Writer
  • Table tennis enthusiast
  • Lover of silly animal videos

Website // Facebook // Twitter

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About the Narrator

Curt lives in Seattle and produces and narrates audiobooks in his home studio. He began his performing career in college as a stage actor and radio personality. After college, in addition to acting, Curt also did voiceovers for commercials, which he also wrote, directed, and edited for broadcast TV. Following the birth of his daughter in 1984, he left the performing arts to pursue a more “stable” profession managing projects. Then, in 2014 he returned to the professional stage for the first time in over 30 years as Walter Flood in Becky’s New Car by Stephen Dietz. He has also appeared recently as Lyman in Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz and Ralph in The Last Romance by Joseph DiPietro. Vacation is Curt’s eighth audiobook.

Website // Facebook // Twitter // Goodreads // SoundCloud

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Play an excerpt here.

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Follow the tour:

Aug. 13th:
Lomeraniel (Spotlight + Audio Excerpt, Giveaway)
CGB Blog Tours (Spotlight + Audio Excerpt)

Aug. 14th:
Buried Under Books (Review)
Dab of Darkness (Review, Giveaway)

Aug. 15th:
Jazzy Book Reviews (Spotlight + Audio Excerpt, Author Interview, Giveaway)

Aug. 16th:
Between the Coverz (Review, Spotlight + Audio Excerpt)
WTF Are You Reading? (Review, Spotlight + Audio Excerpt, Giveaway)
The Literary Apothecary (Review)

Aug. 17th:
The Bookworm Lodge (Spotlight + Audio Excerpt)

Aug. 18th:
The Book Addict’s Reviews (Review, Spotlight + Audio Excerpt, Music Playlist)
Bean’s Bookshelf and Coffee Break (Review)

Aug. 19th:
Lynn’s Romance Enthusiasm (Review, Spotlight + Audio Excerpt)

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GIVEAWAY

The giveaway is for 2 free audiobooks, winner’s choice.
Open internationally! Runs August 13th – 20th.

Enter here.

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Book Reviews: Rescued by Eliot Schrefer and The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough

rescuedRescued
Eliot Schrefer
Scholastic Press, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-65503-3
Hardcover

Every child wants a pet at some time or another.  A dog, kitten, pony or orangutan.  Maybe orangutan isn’t typical, but if you grew up watching BJ and the Bear or Every Which Way But Loose, you may see the simian sway.  Whatever the animal, it is almost always up to parents to make the decision.  Children don’t always know what is best.

When John casually notes the potential appeal of ape ownership while watching an old movie, he was not actually asking for a pet.  His dad could dig the draw when he recognized the leading “man” as an orangutan because sometimes the adorable orange creatures would wander around his company’s plant in Indonesia.

In fact, he returned from a business trip bearing a baby-orangutan-in-a-barrel.  John was beside himself with wonder and joy.  His mother was also struck with wonder; but hers was the “in doubt” version, much different than the “filled with admiration, amazement, or awe; marvel” version that burst from her son. John’s wonder won and Raja became the newest member of the family for four rambunctious years.  Until divorce divided them.

The two year separation of John and Raja was torture; for both boy and beast; but paled in comparison to their last days together leading up to their final farewell.   This relationship is written so well, it is as if I actually witnessed it.  The fondness, understanding, patience, support and tolerance between the “brothers” is palpable.  The range of emotions that rocket through John as he blindly battles the hardest decision of his entire life build the ultimate reader’s rollercoaster and recalling that this is a sixteen-year-old-boy, ties a knot and truly tugs the heart-strings.

I thoroughly enjoyed each and every bit of this tiny tome and would be remiss if I did not highly recommend Rescued to those searching for reads.  While the book may  technically tip into the Middle-Grade category (for the 12-year-old and older readers), I have no doubt that there are many Teen-Aged, Young-Adult and Not-So-Young-Adult readers that will love Raja’s story as intensely as I do, and I’m confident that I’m not the only reader to learn a lot from it.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2016.

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The Game of Love and DeathThe Game of Love and Death
Martha Brockenbrough
Arthur A. Levine Books, May 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-66834-7
Hardcover

The Game of Love and Death is positively packed with particulars to ponder.  Love is a man, Death a woman. Each chooses a competitor, a term I use loosely; the chosen do not actually compete.  Most people are unaware of the Game, even while participating.  Virtually no rules, a victor is declared; but the win seems superfluous.

Flora, an amazing aviation mechanic, is also a phenomenal pilot, possibly rivaling Amelia Earhart.  It is 1937 and she “has the brown skin, and here in America, (you) pay so very much heed to that.” Besides, she can trick herself into believing that she was meant for something else.  The death of her parents created a void she valiantly tried to fill with the jazz nightclub she inherited.  Flora chose work over a high school diploma, believing “…the club was her future and most white folk were hell-bent on keeping colored folk in their place, even if they were polite about it.”

Henry hasn’t had it easy, but he is a white male.  His dream is simple: eke out a living with his beloved bass.  Instead, he works for the newspaper of his almost-adopted family, often accompanying Ethan on interviews.  When Henry sees Flora working on a plane, it is as if he had been sleep-walking through life and is just now completely awake.

The harrowing story of Flora and Henry in the The Game of Love and Death is enriched by the secondary characters.  Ethan isn’t the golden boy he seems, and his secret struggles would tarnish his image if revealed; although there is nothing to be ashamed of.  Simple spoken statements throughout, “there hasn’t been a white newspaper that’s written about the likes of us unless some sort of arrest was involved,” reiterate bigoted opinions; making the book more than just entertaining to thought-provoking, too.

Reviewed by jv poore, December 2016.

Book Review: It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble

It Wasn't Always Like ThisIt Wasn’t Always Like This
Joy Preble
Soho Teen, May 2016
ISBN 978-1-61695-588-5
Hardcover

Before I even begin to address what this book is about, I must mention how it is presented.  Emma shares her saga by keeping the reader with her for the present and reminiscing about the past.  As a person who has been keeping secrets for a century or so, the deliberation and consideration with what and how much she reveals makes her seem like an unreliable narrator.  An added layer of intrigue.

On the one hand, this ferociously independent young woman seems a bit self-absorbed,  possibly paranoid.  On the other, as Steve Earle says, “Just ‘cause you ain’t paranoid, it don’t mean they ain’t out to get ya’ !”

“Emma O’Neill was like a lightning rod for weirdness, for the dark things that most people never saw.”

Initially, Emma seemed aloof….almost unapproachable.  Perhaps, partly because of the unreliable narrator aspect, but more than that, an underlying, inexplicable anger-angst undertone emanated. Peculiar for a main character; perfect for this story.  Not only does it subtly, yet surely, secure “Present-Day-Emma” and “Past-Emma” in the reader’s mind allowing the story to flow smoothly; but it allows the reader to truly develop an understanding of why “Present-Day-Emma” is precisely the person she is.  Pure genius, Ms. Preble.

Although Emma alone could carry this narrative; the love of her life, Charlie, also forever seventeen, softens her edges.  With the good, comes the bad and Kingsley Lloyd, sometimes-successful con-man-at-best and Glen Walters, leader of the Church of Light, could give the Boogeyman the creeps.  Captivating characters tangled in a string of murders stretching out over the past century create a quick and compelling read.

Instead of attempting to articulate what the book is about, I’ll just put this out there:

The searchers for The Fountain of Youth seem to be seeking their own eternal life. 

What if the families who drank from The Fountain thought they were drinking potential polio prevention?

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2016.

Book Review: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Me Before YouMe Before You
Jojo Moyes
Penguin Books, April 2016
ISBN 978-0-14-310946-4
Trade Paperback

Well.  Now I know what all the buzz is about.

Some people may not like a book that defends suicide.  “Defend” is maybe not the most accurate word.  Perhaps it’s better said that Will’s story illustrates a different perspective.

People consider and commit suicide for essentially one actual reason: the pain of living, for that person, is unbearable.   Whether the pain is physical, mental or emotional it is indeed very real and incurable.  It overshadows everything, impacts every facet of life and if not constant, it is consistent.

Ms. Moyes presents two remarkably different sides of an age-old argument thoughtfully, beautifully and boldly.  Me Before You  is not an easy read, no matter which side of the argument the reader supports.  It is captivating and compelling.  I stayed up way too late last night because I had to finish.  And consider.  And cry.  To me, that’s precisely what makes a damn good book.

That’s why I’m writing this pseudo-review.  Not because Ms. Lelia is patiently waiting to post it; but because this topic is so important to me and it’s rare that it is written about in such a thought-provoking, considerate manner.   I wish I could carry copies with me at all times so whenever I hear someone ask “why?”, I can hand it over and say, “maybe this can help you understand”.  I wish that each and every person who has grown weary of trying to articulate his pain could have just as many copies to share for the same reason.  As the adorable and admirable Louisa Clark says, “knowledge is power”.

Reviewed by jv poore, June 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.

Book Review: The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough

The Game of Love and DeathThe Game of Love and Death
Martha Brockenbrough
Arthur A. Levine Books, April 2015
ISBN: 978-0-545-66834-7
Hardcover

Aren’t we all sometimes pawns in the game of life? Love and Death have been playing the same game over and over since the time of Cleopatra. Each chooses an infant, one male, one female who will meet when they’re older and fall in love…maybe. If love persists, Love wins, if love falters, Death wins and claims her chosen as a victim.

It’s 1920 and the latest round is about to begin, this time in Seattle with two babies who couldn’t be further apart given the times. Love chooses first by appearing in the nursery where Henry Bishop, a Caucasian, lies in his crib. Love pricks his finger and lets baby Henry suckle on his blood, thus setting his part of the game in motion.

One night later in a much poorer neighborhood, Death picks up a baby girl of African-American heritage named Flora Saudade. After carrying the child to the window where they watch snow falling, Death sheds one black tear which she captures on her fingertip, using it to write the word someday on the infant’s forehead. Thus is the game sealed.

While the rules of the game often seem arbitrary and stacked in Death’s favor, Love harbors little ill will toward his opponent (Love is male, Death, female). Both can assume whatever shape they choose, even appearing for extended periods as people familiar to their chosen players. In fact it is this very ability that factors into how both Flora and Henry interact when they meet seventeen years later.

By then, Flora’s parents have been dead a very long time, having perished when hit by a drunken police officer the night Death chose her. Henry is likewise an orphan. His mother and sister perished in an influenza outbreak and his father, terribly distraught by their loss, jumped to his death, leaving Henry to be taken in by his father’s best friend, the owner of the Seattle newspaper.

Flora has fallen in love with flying and has been taken under the wing of a French war hero who owns a fancy biplane that she maintains and flies whenever she’s allowed. Her other source of income comes from singing jazz in the club she and her uncle own, the only legacy left after her parents’ death. She’s an amazing singer, something Henry discovers when he convinces his best friend and son of his benefactor, Ethan, that they should check out the club. This isn’t the first time Henry has seen Flora. Ethan took him along when he went to do a feature on the plane and Flora was running a preflight check on it. Henry is also someone who has music in his blood as he plays the bass and loves to improvise.

While Death has never lost, there’s something about this match that worries her, so she pulls out all the stops, as if the fact that blacks and whites simply don’t mix in 1937 wasn’t sufficient to doom any sort of spark between Flora and Henry. The roadblocks thrown up in front of each lover, the direness of the times and all the gyrations both the players and their manipulators must go through by the end of the story will keep most readers enthralled. While the pace might be a bit slow for some, I loved this book, the characters and the sense of elegance it creates. Astute readers will also appreciate the relationship and insight Love and Death have with and about each other. Teens and adults who like an offbeat love story with some decidedly paranormal aspects will enjoy this book.

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