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100 Pages A Day...Stephanie's Book Reviews

I absolutely love historical fiction and read a lot of it; I love to learn history this way.  I also enjoy reading science fiction, fantasy, horror, thriller and non-fiction science.

The Lost Vintage

The Lost Vintage - Ann Mah

"And suddenly I knew- as sure as the laws of chemistry- that remaining passive is no longer prudence.  It has become cowardice."


Kate is attempting to pass the demanding Master of Wine examination in order to move up in her career in California.  When the restaurant she works for closes suddenly, she takes her mentor's advice to return to the land of her roots- and her family's vineyard in Burgundy to brush up on her French wines. While staying with her brother and sister-in-law, Kate once again comes in contact with neighbor and once fiancee, Jean-Luc.  To clear her mind, Kate agrees to help clean out the family cave or basement.  While sifting through a hefty amount of junk Kate finds many items from an unknown family member, Helene Marie Charpin. Kate is rebuffed by her Uncle when she asks about Helene.  However, a trip to the library gives a clue about the family secret, Helene was prosecuted as a collaborator during WWII.  This sends Kate and sister-in-law Heather on a hunt to uncover the truth.  While digging, they also uncover a secret cave, untouched since the war and filled with priceless vintage wines.


A family secret, a historical mystery and a romance round out The Lost Vintage. This story has many notes that were brought together like a fine wine.  I was drawn in by the beauty of France, the descriptions of the vineyards, grapes, wines and traditions.  Then I was intrigued by Kate's broken romance with Jean-Luc.  Then the historical mystery found me and I was captivated by Helene and her long lost journal.  Lastly, the suspense of tracking down the missing wine pulled me in even further.  The point of view switched between Kate and Helene's journal, I am a sucker for dual-time stories, so this suited me perfectly.  The plot did pick up for me when Helene's mystery was introduced.  I enjoyed learning more about the French resistance as well as the 'horizontal collaborators' and their fate.  Helene's story made me think about our choices for survival, making this a relevant story for many people during the present. I was pleased to find out that Helene's story was inspired by Resistor, Agnes Humbert, who I will be looking farther into.  Overall, an intricate story that mixes past with present, romance and mystery for a delectable read.


This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

The Underground River

The Underground River: A Novel - Martha Conway
May Bedloe is the seamstress for her famous actress cousin, Comfort Vertue.  May has been with Comfort since her parents passed away and feels secure in her routine and Comfort's knowledge of May's irregularities.  May has always been very direct in her speech and has a hard time with anything that isn't exactly the truth.  May's life changes when the steamboat she and Comfort are travelling on explodes on the Ohio River in 1838.  May and Comfort lose everything.  Comfort is soon snapped up by benefactress and abolitionist Flora Howard who will have Comfort speak for her cause. May is not included in this plan; so she decides that she will find employment on her own.  May is hired on Hugo and Helena's Floating Theatre; but she needed to use the money Flora gave her to go home in order to get established.  May soon finds herself an integral part of the Floating Theatre and comes into her own.  When The Floating Theatre and Comfort's speaking tour cross paths, Flora uses May's place on a boat traveling from south to north for her own deed of transporting people to freedom, jeopardizing May's place in the Theatre.
 
The Underground River is a different look at how the Underground Railroad functioned and some of it's players.  Interesting characters and the unique setting pulled me in.  May's character has several quirks and might be on the autism spectrum if she lived in the present.  Her directfulness and untouched insight gave a very honest look at the people around her;  abolitionist Flora Howard is a bully using others to further her own cause, even Comfort kept May hidden and kept putting her down in order to raise herself up.  The true heroes, Leo, Donaldson and Hugo shine through May's eyes.  Though the book is about the Underground Railroad, the process and danger of the transport is really only half the story.  Most of the story revolves around life on the river and the theatre.  Through May's perspective, we get a good look at how the towns along the river in the North and South are all pretty similar except for the presence or absence of slavery and peoples attitudes about it.  There is also an intimate look into theatre life and the distinctiveness of a riverboat theatre.  The teamwork, diligence and creativeness of the entire crew is apparent.  I do wish May had been a willing player in the transport instead of being blackmailed, she had the compassion for the job and believed in the cause, but the fact that she is being forced marred my view a bit.  Overall, an exciting and insightful historical fiction read about the Underground Railroad and Theatre life.
 
This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

Ghosts & Exiles

Ghosts & Exiles - Sandra Unerman

Hugo is being tormented by ghosts. They are the ghosts he summoned himself in hopes they would befriend him and keep him company at his boarding school. However, the ghosts have done anything but, causing Hugo to become even more of an outcast and act out. Hugo's uncle, Stephen has become concerned about him and has turned to the mother of the two boys who have seemed to befriend Hugo at school. Tilda Gray and her boys, Nicholas and James seem to understand Hugo's problem more than Stephen can comprehend. Tilda Gray's husband came from the land of Spellhaven where magic was used regularly, a gift from the spirits and unseen inhabitants of the land. However, Spellhaven is no more. The spirits are now free and there are those who would like to use their powers again. When Hugo's ghosts attract the attention of a Spellhaven native who is using the spirits for evil. the boys, the Gray's and Stephen get pulled into the world of the Spellhaven natives, the Exiles club and the Unseen spirits that still roam then land.

I did not realize that this was a second book in a series and I think it would have helped me a lot to read the first book, however I was still able to understand everything. I was pulled in by Hugo's ghost problem, although it is Tilda who pulls everything together for me. Her nature was sweet and surprising considering the danger her children were in. I enjoyed the fantasy elements with the ghosts and the spirits, especially Tilda's interactions with Thistlebeard. I did get confused for a few parts in the middle especially with Lyulf, but was able to pick things back up. Part of the suspense was not knowing who to trust throughout the story, although I'm still not sure about a few characters. Overall, Ghosts and Exiles is a good combination of suspense and fantasy for young adult to adult readers. 

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

All The Ever Afters

 All the Ever Afters: The Untold Story of Cinderella’s Stepmother - Danielle Teller

Agnes is the third daughter born to a serf in an English village. When she is still a child she is sent to work at Aviceford Manor in town as a laundry apprentice. The laundress she works for simply gives Agnes all the work there is to do. While things seem hopeless Agnes cuts out a place for herself and chooses to work wisely instead of hard. Through her intelligence and cunning, Agnes finds her way up in the world to serve the abbesses mother, Lady Wenslock at Ellis Abbey. While at the abbey, Agnes is wooed by the messenger, Fernan and becomes pregnant. Together, they are sent away and Fernan is ordered to care for her. Agnes once again creates a better life for herself by learning how to brew. Due to unforeseen circumstances, Agnes is once again forced back to Aviceford Manor as a servent, this time she is an adult with children of her own and she is able to be a nurse to the master's daughter, Elfida or Ella as everyone calls her. Still endeared to Sir Emont, Agnes soon finds herself as Ella's stepmother. Ella proves a wistful child, lost in her own mind and intentions and is given anything she wants by her father. Agnes tries her best to temper Ella with hard work and life lessons like her own daughters, but Ella's beauty and station in life eventually get her everything she wished for. 

Set within history and the confies of women's roles, duties and expectations at the time, the story of Cinderella's step-mother unfolds. I have always enjoyed fairy tale retellings especially when they are rooted in reality. Agnes' story reveals how traditional beauty is favored, how your station and gender affect opportunity and choice and most of all how stories evolve. With lavish writing and elegant prose, I was pulled me in to Agnes' world. I was constantly impressed with Agnes' ability to pull herself up and carve out a place for herself in a world where she could have easily been forgotten. In this harsh time in history, we are pulled out of the fairy tale element by the realities of Agnes' life. Most of all, by her want of freedom and never seeming to quite achieve it. Cinderella's 'ugly' step- sisters were also given context. Charlotte and Matilda were enchanting in their own right and I would love to see where their life went as well. By seeing Agnes' background, it provides a stark contrast to Cinderella in every way as well as a basis for the injustices that Cinderella had endured. Through seeing the other side of the story, we go deeper than good vs. evil and the tale of happily ever after; perhaps, Cinderella isn't the only one to receive her ever after. A meaningful story that combines history, fairy tale and strong female leads, All the Ever Afters is one of my favorite reads so far this year. 

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.
 

A Handbook For Beautiful People

A Handbook for Beautiful People - Jennifer Spruit

Marla is a 22 year-old waitress/ medical assistant who has had a difficult life. Born to a addicted mother, Marla has partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and her younger brother, Gavin is deaf. Marla bounced around in foster homes and worked as a prostitute until she found a friend in fellow outcast, Dani. Now, Marla and Dani look after each other. Marla is finally beginning to feel like an adult while holding down her two jobs and entering into a relationship with Liam. However, Marla soon finds herself pregnant and looking through the options of abortion, adoption and motherhood. Marla invites Gavin to visit when she is pregnant and getting ready for the arrival of the baby. With Gavin's arrival, she learns that his life has not been easy for him either. Gavin and Dani also enter into a relationship further complicating the balance. Despite everything Marla is doing to keep her head above water, the world has other plans and everything takes a turn for the worse all at once.


A Handbook for Beautiful People provides a raw look into the lives of very real and heartfelt characters. I was very interested in reading a book from the perspective of someone with fetal alcohol syndrome. Marla is an astonishing and well written character. At every turn, Marla's surprised me with her faults, accomplishments, missteps and decisions she was able to make. Though it seemed as if her life were a series of mistakes and drama, Marla was able to shine through. More than once, it seemed as if Gavin might steal the show. Gavin is strong and supportive, but is still working on who he is while being hearing impaired. Gavin's journey was amazing in itself, I think there could be a whole separate story there. My only complaint was that the writing style quickly changed points of view, and it would sometime take me a few sentences to make sense of everything again. The supporting characters around Marla and the events in her life create one big beautiful mess. With twists, turns, breaks, floods, a baby and a decision, Marla's journey is unique and satisfying.


This book was received for free in return for an honest review.
 

Heavenly Bodyguards- Trainee in Action

Heavenly Bodyguards - Trainee in Action (Heavenly Bodyguards, #1) - Rebecca  Lange
Joelle is dead; but she is just beginning to find out her purpose.  Joelle is hit by a vehicle while saving a child.  When she dies, Joelle is welcomed into heaven and immediately told that she will be serving as a guardian angel.  Joelle's trainer, Josh delivers Joelle to her first assignment, a twelve year old girl in Scotland named Hannah.  Joelle's job is to give Hannah a helping hand as she navigates life in an orphanage.  Joelle may also help Hannah get adopted into a loving home.  However, as Joelle and Josh spend time with Hannah and a potential adoptive mother, Joelle learns of evil angels that may turn her plans awry.  
 
This is a book aimed at the Young Adult crowd with a religious leaning.  I could guess from the title that this book would involve religious figures, there was just a little too much religious ideology for me to really enjoy it.  The author makes it known from the beginning that she is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and creates Joelle as a member of the Church also.  Many tenants of the religion are placed throughout the book such as modesty and good overruling evil.  As the author's first book, some of the writing was a little clunky and I felt there were some parts that were really not necessary for the plot, like an angel that constantly hit on Joelle and did n't seem to take no for an answer.  Although the religious tones overwhelmed me a bit, I did enjoy the overall story.  Joelle's personality was strong and she changed the way guardian angels were trained. I was compelled to find out how she was able to help Hannah and untangle the mess that has befallen her and her potential adopter, Ruth.  The end was very exciting and suspenseful and carried me through.  Although I may not be quite the right audience for this book, I do believe someone in the  YA audience with a strong sense of spirituality would enjoy this book as well as the rest of the series. 
 
 
 
This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

To Love A Spy

To Love A Spy - Laura Beers

Lady Elizabeth Beckett's sister, Lady Kate Camden has finally been released from the clutches of her fake and abusive marriage to the French spy posing as Lord Camden. Kate is now learning how to live independently and trust the people around her. Kate has made a refuge for herself at her country estate and is being protected by Adrien, Earl of Camden and Agent of the Crown. Adrien wants to help Kate come out of her shell; he is desperately trying to break in, but is falling for her at the same time. Meanwhile, Adrien, Eliza and Johnathan receive a new assignment as Agents of the Crown. The British have been warring with Napoleon and it seems as though French spies have introduced a bill to Parliament to end the War against the French. The French have been abducting female relations of Parliament members in order to force the vote in their favor. After some digging, it seems that Kate holds the key to eliminating the French spies, but she and Eliza are abducted soon after the conspiracy is broken. 

To Love A Spy continues the story of the Beckett family with Eliza's sister Kate. I love that these are a perfect blend of historical spy thriller and regency romance with well balance scenes of sweet adoration and action-packed danger. Kate has made appearances in the past two books in the series, but we now learn what a tremendous impact her false marriage to a French spy has made on her life. I enjoyed seeing Kate's transformation from someone terrified to leave her country manor and untrusting of anyone but her own staff to someone who is independent, advocates for herself and contributes ideas. The romance was infatuating and wholesome with a lot of respect from both sides. Through his courtship of Kate, I got to know Adrien's character better and his abilities as a spy. It was interesting to find out about his time in France and how he carried out his present mission. My favorite part, however, was continuing to see how Eliza's life is now with Benedict and how she and Kate were able to navigate through the French spy ring. Overall, To Love A Spy is a wonderful read with plenty of romance, surprises and spy operations. I highly recommend reading the first two books in the Beckett Files first, it is a wonderful series to dive into. 

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

Cocoa Beach

Cocoa Beach: A Novel - Beatriz Williams

Virginia Fortescue bravely maneuvered her Red Cross ambulance through artillery fire and nighttime rescues during World War I. While transporting patients, Virginia meets British army surgeon, Captain Simon Fitzwilliam. Virginia is enchanted, but hears rumors that he is already married. However, Captain Fitzwilliam is enchanted and promises Virginia a divorce from the wife he was forced to marry for family money. The two are married in secret, but Virginia hears of more devastating rumors about her husband and decided to return to her father's home after the War. Virginia soon gives birth to a wonderful baby daughter, Evelyn and continues to receive letters from Simon who is renovating a family orchard and running a shipping company in Cocoa Beach, Florida. It isn't until a letter arrives that informs Virginia of Simon's death that she travels to Cocoa Beach to take over the business that she discovers the true nature of the lies and deceptions of the Fitzwilliam family. Cocoa Beach proved to be irresistible as soon as I dug in; combining the elements of danger in the prohibition age with romance and a menacing mystery. I have read Beatriz Williams' other books with some of the same characters, including Virginia and was glad to pick up her story again. While I loved The Wicked City and A Certain Age, it is not necessary to read those first. Virginia enters the scene in Cocoa Beach like a fighter; as a woman in 1922 and now a widow, Simon's lawyer figures she will be uninterested in the business that Simon carried out. Virginia makes it known that "...my wishes are your business now..." and I knew that Virginia would be a formidable character. I enjoyed that the writing switched back and forth between Virginia and Simon's time during World War I and 1922 in Cocoa Beach. Through these scenes I was able to know Virginia as a hero and an independent woman, I was also able to form an opinion about Simon. I was amazed at Virginia's fortitude as an ambulance driver and appreciated the compassionate love story despite the many times others attempted to derail it. The mystery is written with many layers and twists, I thought I knew where it was heading, and yet other elements kept getting thrown in for surprise after surprise. I was also pleased to see that the story will most likely continue as there is a cliffhanger at the end. This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

Trouble in Glamour Town

Trouble in Glamour Town - S.R. Mallery

Rosie Paige is an actress in 1926.  She has been pushed into the rush of 1920's Hollywood by her mother, Beatrice who believes that making Rosie a starlet will solve all of her own problems.  Rosie would much rather spend time with her pets and her boyfriend, Eddie who helps out on set.  When the Chester Harris is suddenly shot and killed on the set of a movie Rosie is in, Eddie is considered a prime suspect.  However, with several similar shootings in the past, the police department needs to solve the case quickly and is willing to blame just about anyone in order to call the crime solved exposing the corruption, greed and political influences of the time.

Trouble in Glamour Town is a fast-paced historical mystery set within the mystique of 1920's Hollywood.  This book caught my attention right from the start with an intense look at the murder from the killer's point of view.  After that moment, we still have no idea who committed the crime and the mystery builds.  From that point, Rosie took center stage.  She is a strong character from the start making herself stand apart from the other Hollywood starlets that she is surrounded by.  Despite Rosie's strength of character, she struggles to find her independence due to her dedication to her mother.  Beatrice is the ultimate stage-mother taking a job as a seamstress to be close to Rosie as well as get all the inside gossip.  Beatrice also uses the guilt of Rosie's father leaving them to oversee the comings and goings of Rosie's life along with their superintendent, Walt.  Along with the murder mystery and the suspense of having Eddie as a suspect, this was also a coming of age story for Rosie.  The shooting acted as a jumping point for Rosie to think about getting out of the corruption of Hollywood; she begins to think about her own dreams rather than her mother's and push back.  The mystery itself grows gradually until the end. Along with adding suspense, the killing exposes many nuances of the time period including prohibition, sexuality, and crime.  With an exciting and unexpected conclusion, Trouble in Glamour Town provides a fun and fast historical mystery. 

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

The Deadliest Sport

The Deadliest Sport - June Trop
Miriam bat Issac lives in Alexandria in the first century CE.  She is awaiting the return of her twin brother, Binyamin as he prepares for his last gladiatorial fight.  Miriam currently serves as the head of the household after her father passed, taking care of the family business and overseeing the household.  When Binyamin returns, he is rowdy, unkempt, harsh and demanding.  He wants his share of his father's inheritance in order to open his own ludas or gladiator school in Alexandria.  When Miriam tells him that the inheritance was relinquished when he became a gladiator, Binyamin is furious.  Meanwhile, Miriam's charge, Amram is dying and the family's former scribe is found murdered in an unseemly part of of town.  Miriam knows that the events are connected and somehow her brother is involved, it is up to her to place the pieces together. 

A fun adventure and mystery in early Alexandria.  I absolutely loved Miriam, she is very forward thinking, straightforward and brave.  Miriam was given a difficult path in life and constantly decided to meet issues head on.  I was very interested in the gladiatorial way of life and how men found their way into the sport as well as the fighting techniques.  For all of Binyamin's brusqueness, he was well versed in understanding of the sport and training techniques.  The mystery picked up about halfway through the story and captured my interest, what seemed like a simple plot thickened as new players arose.  I enjoyed that I was able to see the mystery from two points of view and was pleased at how  Miriam handled the indiscretion.  Overall, a quick read for lovers of historical mystery with a strong female character.

 
This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

All the Way to Italy

All the Way to Italy - Flavia Brunetti

Little has grown up in San Francisco, but is a native of Italy. For a good portion of her childhood she was raised by her Aunt Sira in the States. Little and Sira packed up and left Italty after an incident happened concerning her mother and father that caused Little's mother to leave them. Now, Little's father has died and Sira has asked Little to come back to Italy. Little reluctantly returns to her home knowing that she must help sift through her father's things. Little's return also brings back partial memories, things she can't piece together from her time with her mother and father-a symbol, an argument. Little tries to piece together what secret her father was hiding and what made her mother leave; however, the one person who could tell her is no longer alive and Sira is keeping her mouth shut. Little embarks on a trip around Italy trying to figure out the secrets her family has kept, but may unlock more within herself.

A journey of self-discovery and family secrets, All The Way to Italy is a fascinating adventure. With poetic writing, some of the first lines drew me in: "She wanted to tap the man's shoulder and ask him if a place can ever shake off the people who had belonged to it, or if those tendrils would feed her nostalgia forever..." I was also immediately curious about Little; we never find out her real name and her situation is unique. Sira was an immediate favorite with her sage advice and marvelous attitude. Through Sira, there are glimpses of what Little's father was like along with amazing stories of the siblings during WWII. However, Sira is reluctant to give up her brother's secret, setting Little on a trip around Italy. With Little's adventures, we get a very intimate view of some wonderful places around the country that are usually left out of the travel guides. I loved Little's description of Rome as " a city that had adapted to modern times without losing its antiquity." Through Little's trip, Little does not figure out anything about her family, although she does discover more about herself and what she would like to do in life. I do wish the story line with Little's mother, Delila was fleshed out a little more as well as some of the historical sections. There are a few hops back through time to when Sira and Little's father were children during World War II and it seems like there was a lot of potential to build the context of the mystery with Little's father. Overall, a heartwarming and beautiful story of finding your way. 


This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

Owen: Book One of the Tudor Trilogy

Owen: Book One of the Tudor Trilogy - Tony Riches

After the Welsh revolt of  Owain Glyndŵr, Owen Tudor is taken into the English Court as a servant.  He soon finds himself appointed as Keeper of the Wardrobe to the newly widowed Queen  Catherine of Valois.  In his position, Owen finds himself close to the lonely Queen as he runs the ins and outs of her daily life.  He is also very close with the infant King, Henry.  Owen is soon asked to spy on the Queen for the appointed Protector of the Realm, Duke Humphrey of Gloucester.  With loyalty to the Queen first and foremost, Owen lets Catherine know of the duplicity and becomes one of her most trusted men.  As the infant King grows, Queen Catherine's position becomes less stable and Owen stays beside her.  Through a secret marriage, children, a sorrowful death and an English uprising, Owen Tudor's lineage will become essential to England's future.

As someone who loves all things Tudor, I did not know much about Owen Tudor except for his parentage of Edmund and Jaspar.  Not much historical fact is known about Owen Tudor's life; however, Tony Riches has done a wonderful job filling in.  Rich detail of the time period and everyday life in Queen Catherine's household gives background for their romance to take place and for the Tudor lineage to begin.   One of the themes throughout the book is Fortune's Wheel.  Fortune's Wheel turns many times for Owen throughout his life.  I was continuously surprised at his ability to get back on his feet after tragedy or bad luck fell upon him: Owen marries Queen Catherine, but in secret, they are in hiding for many years, have several healthy children, but one birth will take Catherine's life, Owen receive the pardon of the King, but is still imprisoned.   Through Owen's eyes I had an honest look at Queen Catherine, a young woman who showed strength and resilience throughout her life but fell to the same illness as her father, Charles VI of France.  I was also very interested in Owen and Catherine's third son, Owen, who may or may not have lived.  Overall, an exciting and engrossing foundation to the Tudor trilogy.

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

Come From Away

Come From Away - Genevieve Graham

Near the end of 1939 in East Jeddore, Nova Scotia the three Baker brothers don uniforms and head off the fight against the Germans. Their sister, Grace is left behind to tend the local general store. At times, Grace feels as if she is not doing enough and she is constantly worried about her three brothers, Eugene, Harry and Norman. Then, the war comes close to her home as Grace finds out that German U-Boats are lurking in the waters around East Jeddore. Grace's frustration with the war and hatred for the Germans rise as she finds out further news about her brothers. As Christmas approaches Grace finds hope, with Eugene home for the holidays, the siblings attend a Christmas dance. At the dance, Grace is approached by a stranger; after one dance together Grace is enchanted. However, the stranger seems to be from far away and she doesn't even catch him name. Time passes, and the U-Boat that has been threatening Jeddore's shore has been found and bombed. After that, Grace's mystery man shows up at the general store for supplies. She finds out that his name is Rudi and he is trapping along the shore, but everything else about him remains a mystery. When the truth about Rudi comes to light, it will force Grace and her family to make difficult decisions in the light of the war. 

Written with wonderful atmosphere and memorable characters, Come from Away blends history, the effects of war and romance into a story of hope and change. I was so happy to continue the story of Daniel and Audrey from Tides of Honour. This story of course focuses on their children, the three boys they rescued and their daughter, Grace and can be read as a standalone. It is very interesting and informative for me to read about Canada's role in World War II, as it is something often forgotten or glossed over in US education. I absolutely loved that one little know fact was the basis for Grace's love story and change of perception. At the end of 1942, several men from a U-Boat did indeed attend a dance along the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia. From this fact, Genevieve Graham creates Rudi. The writing bounces back and forth between Grace and Rudi's point of view. Through this style, I was not only anxious to find where their stories would intersect, but I gained perspective on a German Nazi soldier trained from his youth to carry out the job he was given as well as a young women whose life is changing around her due to a war far away. The most important message in the story is one that still has a lot of impact in the world today, compassion and fighting stereotypes. I enjoyed watching Grace grow and her relationship bloom. Overall, a well written historical romance that digs much deeper than love during war. 

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

Good Neighbors

Good Neighbors - Joanne Searling

In the idyllic suburb of Fair Lawn of group of neighbors has formed a loose friendship based on their proximity in their cul-de-sac and their children's age.  However, each neighbor has carefully hidden secrets or simply pieces of their past that they have kept to themselves if it does not fit into the cookie cutter lifestyle that they have envisioned.  When one set of neighbors, Paige and Gene unexpectedly announce that they will be adopting a four-year-old girl from Russia, they upset the fragile structure that the neighbors have become used to.  When the adopted Winnie comes into her life, neighbor Nicole can't help but become attached.  Nicole quickly puts aside all of Paige's strange behaviors in order to become close to Winnie.  As time passes Paige's behavior and Winnie's behavior don't seem to line up, other neighbors notice and the friendships become strained. Nicole doesn't want to see what she does not want to believe.  Bonds break,hard questions have to be asked of the neighbors and decisions made about the neighbors around them.  

This was a very insightful and ominous look into the everyday life of people around us.  In reading, nothing out of the ordinary really happens.  Narrated from Nicole's point of view, there is a feeling of anxiety and strain cast over all the interactions.  We are never quite sure if everything is all right or if Nicole just wants it to be that way.  She tries to keep the group of neighbors together as a group of friends despite what they really think of each other.  Through Nicole's eyes Paige is someone who she would like to see as cooky but harmless, however, even when Nicole describes Paige, it seems like she is trying to hide something from herself.  When Winnie enters the picture, perceptions begin to tilt.  Something just seems off; but because of the fragile nature of the friendships created, no one really seems to dig into what it is and get the full story.  I thought this was very interesting and opened up a lot of questions about what I would do in this situation, do you decide to be nosy and possibly embarrass yourself, or do you ask the tough questions and figure out the truth no matter what?  Throughout the story there is also a plot line of how Nicole's life is not as perfect as she presents, I really wish this was developed more or each neighbor's secrets were revealed.  With and exciting and unexpected ending, Good Neighbors is an exciting and uneasy look into the lives of others.

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

Star City

Star City - Edwin Peng

Aliens have come to Earth. The Ba'ren have come to Earth looking for peaceful diplomacy, trade and to help with medical research. Part of the diplomacy efforts include two human student ambassadors paired with two Ba'ren ambassadors at the University of Nebraska where ongoing osteosarcoma treatment is taking place that the Ba'ren believe they have a cure for. Emma Smith has been chosen to be one of the student ambassadors to the Ba'ren; as a freshman, Emma hopes to advance her career in biomedical engineering and get to know the Ba'ren. Sepporinen is one of the Ba'ren ambassadors chosen. Unlike Emma, he has no desire to meet another species. Sepporinen would much rather explore the mining opportunities of the asteroids that orbit our Solar System. Emma and Sepporinen are paired together for classes and diplomacy for better or worse, and things quickly get worse as some humans push back against the Ba'ren's involvement on Earth. Things take another strange turn as Emma and Sepporinen find themselves inexplicably drawn towards one another.

Star City is an interesting Young Adult Science Fiction story that follows a story line that we know well, boy meets girl, boy hates girl and then boy and girl and girl fall in love. One aspect that makes this story unique are the reasons why they fall in love. Emma and Sepporinen are both unlikely candidates for the student diplomat positions, the reasoning is not clear until the end, but creates another layer of suspense throughout the story. Another aspect of the story that created tension throughout was the very realistic way that the human population responded to the Ba'ren. There were many parallels between the perception of the Ba'ren coming to Earth and any change that we try to implement on Earth. When the Ba'ren attempted to help humans, there were factions of people that became violent and racist, people that protested, people who responded with fear as well as governments from other countries that attempted to interfere with the way the USA interacted with the Ba'ren. I was very interested in the Ba'ren, their planet and the many cultures and technology that they have. I hope that this is explored more in the second book. I did like the diversity in the book as well, although I felt that Emma's character could have been fleshed out a little more. The uncertainty between the two species reaches it's apex near the end and the truth of the relationship that each species wanted with the other comes out. Overall, Star City complements inter-species romance with plenty of action and adventure and I can't wait to read the next installment.

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl - Stacy McAnulty

Middle School is hard enough, but it is going to be an even more difficult year for 12 year old Lucy Callahan. Four years ago Lucy was struck by lightning while playing outside. Lucy's heart stopped for a few minutes, but more importantly, it changed the way her brain worked. When Lucy recovered, she had developed Acquired Savant Syndrome for math. Lucy became a whiz with number, doing complex calculations in her head, she could also see math, numbers have a color and a shape. With her acquired savant syndrome also came a few quirks, Lucy now has a germ phobia and has to toe tap three time and do a stand-up, sit-down routine three times before taking a seat or the numbers of Pi will invade her head. With her new skills and quirks, Lucy's Nana pulls her out of traditional school and helps Lucy earn her GED at 12 years old. Now, when Lucy should be looking at colleges, her Nana and Uncle Paul decide that Lucy could use some real world skills and enroll her in Middle School where Lucy is tasked to make one real friend, join one activity and read one book that is not a textbook. 

A surprising, fun and unique middle grade story that quickly captured my heart. Even though Lucy is a math genius, her challenges make her relatable to anyone who has ever had to navigate middle school. The writing flows effortlessly and accurately describes a middle school experience. I was also impressed with how well the processes of Lucy's quirks and math logic were described. They did not seem like a handicap, just part of Lucy's life. Lucy's classmates and soon to be friends, Windy and Levi help round out Lucy's middle school experience. With these two very different friends, Lucy is pushed to grow, learn and relate to people in unique ways. When the trio of friends has to take on a service project, Lucy is pushed even farther. I did love that Lucy was able to combine her love of math, Levi's love of photography and Windy's love of pet philanthropy into one project to help a pet shelter. Overall, a distinct and easy to devour book featuring a diverse cast and a great message that middle grade readers to adults will enjoy.

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.