Tuesday, May 31, 2011

FAITH by Jennifer Haigh

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

In Sheila McGann's Irish-Catholic family, it is still an honor to have a priest in the family.  Her older half-brother, Art, is a popular priest in a large Boston parish.  It is 2002 and the wave of Catholic priest abuse cases has hit. It does not pass by the McGann family.  Sheila comes home to discover that Art has been accused of molesting a young boy.  As she rushes to her brother's defense, Sheila's mother is in denial, her brother Mike has already damned Arthur in his heart and her brother Art won't defend himself.  Sheila takes it upon herself to interview everyone related to the case in order to find out the truth and finds out many long-buried family secrets as she discovers that the truth can be the most complicated thing of all.

This is a powerful book that reminded me a great deal of Dennis Lehane's MYSTIC RIVER.  As readers, we are confronted again and again with our own assumptions about what really happened.  Haigh keeps you guessing until the end.  It is not so much a story about a priest and an accusation as it is a story about a family and that family's secrets.  It is also a story about our society and the consequences of what we as a people have become.  Haigh does an excellent job letting the reader see all sides to this story and how everyone is affected.  It is a thoughtful and moving work.

BOTTOM LINE:  Highly recommended.  An incredibly moving and thoughtful story that you will want to discuss with others.  This would be a great book club selection as it is sure to generate lots of talk!

Monday, May 30, 2011


I received a copy of this book through the Amazon Vine program.

Tess Dyer impulsively moves to a small Maine town after her difficult divorce in order to attempt to escape the fallout from her marriage, her troubled past and her damaged and difficult relationship with her mother. The day Tess moves into her apartment, she feels a connection with her younger hunky neighbor named Brian. Tess immediately falls into a passionate affair with Brian and despite her best efforts to keep their relationship on a sexual level only, she falls in love with him. Although she is happy in her new life, Tess constantly battles the demons from her past that involve her own feelings (or lack thereof) of self-worth. She must come to terms with her past in order to have any kind of a future.

There is much to like in this book. Tess is a truly conflicted person with a painful and tortured past. The effects of that past have far-reaching consequences.  She values herself very little and the way she approaches relationships and other people make it difficult to like her at first.  Her problems are real, however, and I appreciate how Keller brings such a complex person into the novel.  No one in this book has it easy. Everyone is dealing with their own demons and everyone has a story to tell.  Keller is at her best and most poignant when she is presents the consuming drug problem of one of the characters. It is one of the most tragic cautionary tales about drug addiction that I can remember in recent years.  However...

While there are nuggets of really great stuff in this book, it fails as a novel. Most of the characters aren't likeable or relatable. Tess' relationships with Brian seems a bit far-fetched and over the top. The sex scenes were written in a way that made them feel completely embarrassing.  Keller could have edited those scenes out completely and the book would have been much more effective.  The story takes way too long to develop and I often found the narrative extremely tedious. I had to push my way through to finish.  I appreciate what Keller was trying to do but it just didn't work.

BOTTOM LINE: NOT recommended.  While there are some great ideas here, the story and pacing are a bit of a mess.  With some better editing, it is possible this book could be saved but with so many of the plot points ranging from far-fetched to downright unbelievable, I'm not sure it is salvageable.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Not New but Notable----A SICK DAY FOR AMOS MCGEE by Philip Stead

I am adding a new feature to my blog called NOT NEW BUT NOTABLE. Although I try very hard to keep up with all the latest and greatest book titles, sometimes I miss a few that are worth a mention.

Today, I would like to submit for your approval a wonderful children's picture book and Caldecott Award Winner: A SICK DAY FOR AMOS MCGEE by Philip Stead.

This is a truly wondeful and whimsical tale with amazing and detailed illustrations.  Noodlebug received a bookstore gift certificate for his birthday a week ago and we picked up this title on a whim.  We both love it!!!

Amos McGee is a man of routines.  He is a zookeeper and spends his days lovingly taking care of his many animal friends at the zoo. When Amos gets a terrible cold and is unable to make it to the zoo, his friends come to him.

The drawings are intricate and detailed with several fun surprises.  I loved the little details such as a penguin that wears socks and an owl that wears glasses. Noodlebug and I both laughed many times and enjoyed watching the fun unfold.  It is no surprise that this book won a Caldecott Award. It really is wonderful.

BOTTOM LINE:  HIGHLY recommended. An endearing and fun book about friendship.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

TIGER, TIGER by Margaux Fragoso

This is a very difficult book to review because of the subject matter.  TIGER, TIGER is Margaux Fragoso's unflinching memoir about her relationship with a pedophile from age 7 until his suicide when she was 22.  I had heard good things about this book but, more than anything, I wanted to get some understanding as a parent about how things like this happen.

Fragoso's mother was a very damaged person---most likely schizophrenic.  Her alcoholic father stayed away from home as much as possible due to his unhappy marriage and was hyper-critical and quick to anger. In their search for a peaceful retreat, Margaux and her mother befriended Peter Curran at a public pool. Curran's home gave Margaux's mother a safe place to act out on her neuroses and to escape from the criticism and anger of her husband. Margaux loved the fantasy world that Curran created in his home full of exotic pets and lack of rules. While her mother was lost in the haze of her mental illness, Margaux would venture into the basement of Curran's house where the sexual abuse began.  The fact that Curran's home was Margaux's refuge from her parents complicated her feelings about what was happening to her.  She thrived in Curran's attention and praise---things that were lacking in her home life.  Fragoso slowly unspools her story and the complexity of her relationship with Curran and how it affected her in other aspects of her life. And how she finally broke the cycle of abuse.

This is such a painful book to read. It is hard to believe that any parent could be so unaware of what was happening to his/her child.  We warn our children about the danger of strangers but the fact remains that this kind of abuse most often happens at the hands of people who are well known to a child and his/her parents.  Margaux's mother went with her to Curran's house and was sitting upstairs while all of this was happening. Margaux's father even suspected something was amiss but did no more than tell his daughter that if she WAS "involved" with Curran, he would disown her. This child had no adult champions other than her abuser.  The very person who robbed her of her childhood.

It is very hard to separate out my feelings about the subject matter of this book versus the written word. I think Fragoso does a very good job demonstrating how this relationship came to be and its impact on her life. Curran isn't a clear-cut villain either.  He clearly struggles with his impulses and Fragosos recognizes that fact. I applaud her honesty and forthrightness about this subject.  It can't be easy to open up about something like this. She clearly does so to make us all aware about how this kind of thing can happen. She also offers sources of support for potential abusers at the end of the book in the hope that they will get help before hurting someone.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended with reservations. The subject matter is unflinching. This is a very difficult book to read. However, it is well done and brings to light some important truths about pedophilia and child abuse.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


I received an advance copy of this book through the Amazon Vine Program.

MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN offers a unique premise in that it combines a story with vintage photographs to present a tale that is both whimsical and chilling. I loved the idea of this book. 16-year-old Jacob grows up listening to the tales of his grandfather's childhood in an orphanage filled with children with unusual powers and evil monsters lurking in the shadows. As Jacob grows older, he begins to doubt the veracity of his grandfather's tales believing that they grew out of his grandfather's struggles under the Nazi regime. When Jacob's grandfather is killed under mysterious circumstances, Jacob decides to investigate his grandfather's past by going to the orphanage where he grew up. Once there, Jacob discovers that the people...and monsters...might be real after all.

The vintage images in this book are haunting and set the tone perfectly. The mystery is creative if a bit inscrutable. I loved Jacob's search for the truth but the explanations were fuzzy and the bad guys a bit over the top. I was a little disappointed that the book wasn't MORE whimsical. It seemed to get a bit too caught up in its structural device without working more on character development. I wish the author had developed the story a bit more. I would have given it a higher rating. Still, it has a lot of mystery, action and suspense. I am divided on whether I will continue to reading the series. However, I would still recommend this book to most young adult readers looking for something unusual and different to read. It's worth it for the photos alone.

**PARENTAL ADVISORY (with spoilers)**

The creatures in this book are truly creepy and they commit murder.  A lot.  Jacob's grandfather is ripped apart, beloved teachers are threatened and the peculiars (often children) are in constant threat of being murdered and consumed.  This is not a book for younger readers.  The book is quite creepy.


BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended with reservations.  I really wanted to like this book. And I did but it didn't quite fulfill its promise for me.  Something was missing that I can't quite put my finger on.  The author needs to spend a bit more time on character development and less on "gimmick."  Still, it is an unusual and clever book that begins a promising series.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Galley Roundup

These books hit my porch this week:

THE SISTERS by Nancy Jensen


IRON HOUSE by John Hart

ROBOPOCALYPSE by Daniel H. Wilson


Such great variety!!!  Just when I thought my TBR pile was thinning out...

(what a nice problem to have!)

Monday, May 09, 2011

A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES by Deborah Harkness

Historian Diana Bishop comes from a long line of witches but she has no desire to pursue witchcraft. Instead, she focuses on her career as she does research on historical manuscripts about the move from alchemy and magic to science in Oxford. One day, Diana calls up a manuscript that is clearly magical and draws the attention of creatures everywhere. The world is full of much more than witches...there are also vampires and daemons living secretly among us.  It turns out that this manuscript has been lost and is a sort of "holy grail" for witches, vampires and daemons alike. Now, everyone wants to get their hands on it and Diana may be the key.  In her search for the truth about the manuscript and her attempts to escape from the other creatures, Diana makes an unlikely ally in vampire Matthew Clairmont. Could their relationship be more destiny than coincidence?

I was skeptical about this book because I wasn't sure there was anything knew to say on the topic of witches and vampires.   I was disappointed that THE PHYSICK BOOK OF DELIVERANCE DANE didn't deliver on its promise and was worried that this would be more of the same.  Harkness cleverly introduces us to world where witches, vampires and daemons live among us.  They go about their lives in an uneasy truce with one another but they are all looking for the ancient manuscript that will provide the key to their origins or the chance to become supreme.  Diana is an interesting character in that she is a truly gifted witch who only wants to be "normal."  She is complex and interesting and has a terrific backstory. All the characters in the book are interesting and the story moves at a very good pace. My one complaint would be the love story. Every time the love story came into the tale it slowed the whole narrative down. I felt the love story was silly, overwrought and kind of unnecessary. This is plenty going on without having this over-the-top love angle. Still, I found the book hard to put down. I was disappointed when it ended and I'm looking forward to the next book in this planned trilogy.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended.  Harkness could have toned down the love story a lot and the book would have been much better. Still, there is much to enjoy here. It's a very creative and fast-paced story and definitely leaves you wanting more. A great vacation read.

Friday, May 06, 2011

LBC Library Appreciation Month

(Image Source)
This month at Life By Candlelight, we will be celebrating the public library. I'm going to set aside my pile of galleys and Advance Reading Copies and focus on library books.  I got a really great pile of library books a week ago and I am attempting to plow my way through it.  None of them are renewable so I may not finish them all but here are a few in the pile:

A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES by Deborah Harkness
TIGER, TIGER by Margaux Fragoso
THE PEACH KEEPER by Sarah Addison Allen
THE TRAGEDY OF ARTHUR by Arthur Phillips

I have also been pleased at all the wonderful programs going on at our local library.  So many wonderful events and speakers and it's ALL FREE!!! Fits perfectly into my budget.

I encourage you to head to your local library this month and see what treasures you can unearth.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Better Book Titles Strikes Again

Have I ever told you how much I love BETTER BOOK TITLES? Yeah, I have.  This is just what I needed today:


Tuesday, May 03, 2011


‎"I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."

Martin Luther King Jr.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Books, Booze and.....

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HarperCollins has a terrific blog for librarians and library workers called Library Love Fest. I am an avid follower because they always have great scoop on upcoming titles to watch for.  They will soon be adding a new feature to their blog that will bring readers new titles to read whilst sipping (adult) beverages. They wanted to call it Books, Booze and .... and sent out a call to blog readers to help name their penguin/shaker mascot. 

They selected my entry.

So, the new feature will be called BOOKS, BOOZE and BARNABY!!!

Read all about it here.

In the meantime, I am frantically trying to finish several library books. I am currently working on A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES and it is a bit of a chunkster.  I promise to have new reviews for you soon!