The Reveal: Blind Date with a Book #1 (2018)

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Photo Credit: kerrimaniscalco.com

And now for the big reveal! If you were thinking it was Dracula, you were close and if you like that kind of scary story, this one will not disappoint.

Hunting Prince Dracula

Author: Kerri Maniscalco

Publisher: Jimmy Patterson Books, Little Brown and Company, 2017

Source: Personal Purchase

Audrey Rose Wadsworth and Thomas Cresswell (both characters introduced in Maniscalco’s book Stalking Jack the Ripper) are on their way to the Academy of Forensic Medicine and Science, housed in Bran Castle in Romania. Audrey Rose is about to enroll as the first female student; Thomas has been asked to join her as a chaperone (along with one sleepy-headed Mrs. Harvey – just to keep things proper) by her uncle who has fallen ill. That’s Bran Castle, home of Vlad the Impaler, Prince Dracula himself.

On the train to the school, a dead body is found with a stake through the heart. At the school, one of Audrey Rose’s fellow students is found dead – and drained of blood. As more bodies accumulate, we are brought deeper and deeper into a mystery, and it seems as though Drac has been resurrected. That, or there is one clever and terribly evil murderer on the loose.

This is a dark and disturbing mystery. Yes, there is the romantic tension that takes place between Audrey Rose and Thomas, but it is even more important that they stop the crimes. Without each other’s help, it is unlikely that either of them will survive.

It’s handy that this story is set in a forensics school. There are lots of opportunities for morbid reminiscences about the Jack the Ripper case, grisly descriptions of the new murders (they actually autopsy their fellow students and friends), and frankly scary wanderings through dangerous tunnels and caves – at night. Even the imagery used is dark and foreboding, with things like “leaves the color of dried wounds” (pg. 41) and “moments bled together” (pg. 257). So if this is the type of stuff that keeps you awake long into the night while pulling the covers up over your head as some feeble protection, this book should probably be a pass for you. If you don’t worry about such things, it’s an intriguing mystery and you should go for it. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

 

 

 

Review: Speed of Life

speed of lifeReview:

Speed of Life

Author: Carol Weston

Publisher: Sourcebooks, Inc., 2017

Source: Personal Purchase

Since her mother’s sudden death in April, Sofia has been grieving. There’s so much she still needs to talk to her mom about, things like boys, dating, going to parties, personal issues. She’s got her dad and plenty of friends, but no one really understands.

Fortunately Dear Kate, advice columnist for Fifteen Magazine, makes a public appearance at Sofia’s school. It gives Sofia an idea. There is someone she can ask about all her most private and confusing issues.

However, having someone to talk to doesn’t stop Sofia’s life from becoming more complicated. It’s one thing to worry about her own dating problems. It’s another to have to worry about her dad starting to date. Although he hasn’t talked with her, she is sure there is a MW (Mystery Woman) in his life. Is it one of her closest friends’ mom or possibly someone else?

Speed of Life has a complicated, twisted plot and is so true to real-life that you will forget you are reading and think you’re talking with a close friend. The warning at the beginning of the book says this is a sad story. I’ll be honest. It’s not a tear-jerker. It’s sometimes poignant, sometimes juicy (think Judy Blume’s Forever) and always keeping the reader wondering what is going to happen next.

 

Review: Murder, Magic, and What We Wore

murder magic and what we woreReview:

Murder, Magic, and What We Wore

Author: Kelly Jones

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, 2017

Source: Personal Purchase

Sixteen-year-old Annis Whitworth and her Aunt Cassia are stunned by the news: Annis’s father (Cassia’s brother) is dead. As he was a relatively young man, it was quite unexpected. However, the situation gets even worse. All his money has gone missing, and Annis and Cassia both must find immediate employment suitable to genteel but impoverished women. Yet nothing appeals less to Annis than possible employment as a governess or lady’s maid. Instead, she decides to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a spy (Annis had long-since guessed his real occupation; I guess he wasn’t as secretive as he should have been), especially since she has discovered what was undoubtedly his final message to his superiors.

Annis makes a bold move. She decides to go to the War Office, reveal the message, and announce her plans. Just as she is preparing to do this, she discovers she has an unexpected talent. She is a glamour modiste; she can sew magic dresses. “A glamour, people said, could make a person unrecognizable – could make them disappear even” (pg. 20). With Annis’s determination, perseverance, and, most especially, her useful new talent, Annis will make a wonderful spy! Too bad Mr. Whitworth’s superiors don’t take her seriously.

Annis is not daunted by her rejection. She determines to open her own shop to earn her living. As her skills at casting glamours increases, she is pulled further into the mystery involving her father’s death. With a plot that twists and tangles more easily than thread, from one moment to the next Annis is in increasing danger.  After all, she’s not the only one with secrets and magical abilities.

Fans of Regency novels will love this delightfully fun mystery in which Nancy Drew meets Harry Potter. My one complaint was that I wanted more: more magic, more dresses (described in minute detail, if you please), and truthfully, more romance.  As it seems likely that there is at least a sequel planned, I am already waiting anxiously!

 

 

Review: Wink Poppy Midnight

wink poppy midnightReview:

Wink Poppy Midnight

Author: April Genevieve Tucholke

Publisher: SPEAK, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, 2016

Source: Personal Purchase

Welcome October! It’s the month of ghosts and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night for us here at Two BookWorms Blog. I am starting off with a story that, although it is not a hack-and-chop or monster-type story, does have deliciously dark and disturbing paranormal undertones. I will let you know right off that I finished this book in a single day.

Midnight and his father have moved to a new home. His mother has taken his brother and moved to France and left him and his father behind. Midnight’s new home is next door to the Bell family, which includes Wink and several other siblings. It is two miles from his old house which he hopes will be a good thing because it means he is also two miles away from Poppy.

Midnight is in love with Poppy (well, he’s at least very attracted to her), but Poppy doesn’t care about Midnight at all. She’s cruel and heartless, just sneaking into Midnight’s bed each night mostly to defy her parent’s image as “their little angel.” But Poppy may not be as heartless as she seems, for she is in love with Leaf Bell, Wink’s older brother. Leaf has no use for Poppy and so she sleeps with Midnight and torments and bullies all those around her, in hopes that he will at least notice her.

Now that he lives next door to Wink, Midnight becomes her friend and seems to be replacing Poppy in his heart. However, Poppy is not so very far away and this situation leads us into the mystery of the story. Who is the good guy (hero) and who is the bad guy (villain)? Who is telling the truth and who is telling the lie? It’s a truly tangled web that keeps the readers ensnared right to the end.

Review: The Lottery (The Authorized Graphic Adaptation)

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Review:

“The Lottery” The Authorized Graphic Adaptation

Original Story by Shirley Jackson

Graphic Version Author/Illustrator: Miles Hyman

Publisher: A Novel Graphic by Hill & Ward, a division of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2016

Source: Library

If you loved (or at least could never forget) Shirley Jackson’s classic short story “The Lottery,” check out this graphic novel adaptation. It was illustrated by Miles Hyman, who happens to be Jackson’s grandson, and although many adaptations fall short, this one does not.

As regular readers of this blog will be aware, I am not a big fan of graphic novels. There are always exceptions. This interpretation, with its mostly somber colors (with the notable exception of blood-red end pages) and moody scenes, uses pictures to slowly build the same feelings of foreboding that lead to the horrifying end. In this instance, the use of graphic illustrations only intensifies the feelings, making it truly unforgettable.

Check out more of Miles Hyman’s work at: https://www.mileshyman.com/youngreaders

 

 

 

 

Short Story Grab Bag

Since May is short story month, I’ve reviewed a short story collection earlier this month and tomorrow I have a special feature concerning a particular short story. Before making my selections, I did some research by searching for things like “best short stories for middle grade (or high school)” or “classic short stories.” The lists that popped up contained much of what I expected. Here are a few of the most recommended stories:

 

“To Build A Fire” – Jack London

“The Ransom of Red Chief” – O. Henry

“The Tell-Tale Heart” – Edgar Allan Poe

“The Lottery” – Shirley Jackson

“The Rocking-Horse Winner” – D. H. Lawrence

“A Sound of Thunder” – Ray Bradbury

 

Most of these writers had several stories on the list. I have read all of these choices and agree: they are fantastic stories. However, while these are the classics that show up repeatedly, I feel there are some missed opportunities here. There are many writers, perhaps more well-known for their novels, who have written some equally wonderful short stories. So here are a few suggestions that might give readers some food for thought.

 

“A Haunted House” – Virginia Woolf

“Rikki-Rikki Tavi” – Rudyard Kipling

“Skin” – Roald Dahl

“Back Windows” – Louisa May Alcott

“The Brother Who Failed” – L.M. Montgomery

“Mr. Edward” – Norah Lofts

Mother West Wind “Where” Stories – Thornton Burgess

“The Sphinx at Dawn” – Madeleine L’Engle

“The Prank” – Gregory Maguire

 

Once again, most of these writers have several – or many – great stories.

Check back tomorrow for an interested take on a well-known short story!

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Armageddon Summer

Armageddon SummerReview:

Armageddon Summer

Authors: Jane Yolen and Bruce Coville

Publisher: Scholastic Inc., 1998

Source: Public library

For my next Jane Yolen story, I chose a YA selection. Armageddon Summer tells the story of two teenagers, Marina and Jed. They meet when Marina’s mother and Jed’s father both become members in Reverend Beelson’s Church of the Believers. What do they believe? That on July 27, 2000 (which happens to be Marina’s birthday) the world is going to end. Only 144 people will be left after Armageddon and Reverend Beelson’s congregation is preparing to be the ones.

In preparation, the Believers go to a mountaintop camp where they are collecting provisions and making necessary arrangements. Once they reach their required number, no one else will be admitted. And for Jed and Marina, questions really arise when they realize that preparations include guns and an electrified fence. No one is going to come in – or go out.

To add to the tension, they realize that the outside world is aware that the Believers are at the camp due to a laptop that Jed had smuggled in with him. And when a man shows up at the gates claiming his daughter was abducted by the group, the situation is going to spiral out of control.

I loved this story. It’s got everything: adventure, drama, romance. It’s one of those books that I had to speedread my way through because I just had to know how it ended. It is so believable and the story brings up so many questions about faith and trust and beliefs and truth. These are big issues, and though the book provides no definitive answers, the reader – like Marina and Jed – can begin to sort out the complexities of life and find their own answers to life’s big questions.

Review: The Star-Touched Queen

Star Touched QueenReview:

The Star-Touched Queen

Author: Roshani Ghokshi

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, 2016

Source: Personal Purchase

Mayavati has grown up the knowledge that her horoscope is one of death and destruction. She is a daughter of the Raja, and living in the harem with his wives and other unmarried daughters, she is subjected to cruel gossip and treatment. She dislikes the stars that have imprisoned her to such a fate and in such a world; she dreams of escape to other worlds.

However, as the daughter of a Raja, she has an important role. Her marriage can help create an alliance with other nations. Her father decides that there will be a swayamvara, a practice where she will choose her husband from a lineup of suitors. However, the night before the ceremony, her father comes to her bearing a gift, “One to set you free from this marriage.” (pg. 49) It is poison.

Escape is out of reach – or is it? Just as she is about to take the poison, an expected suitor offers her a chance. Amar of Akaran carries her off to the world of the Night Bazaar and offers her his kingdom and his heart.

But is Maya ready for all that Amar has to offer? Who is he really? Is she prepared to be the Queen he claims she can be? And once she betrays him, can she find a way to save them both?

Fantastically magical, Choskshi has created worlds filled with treachery and adventure, romance and desire.

To learn more about Roshani Chokshi, go to http://www.roshanichokshi.com/books/. For those who fall in love with this book, you will be excited to learn of her work that tells the story of Maya’s sister, Gauri.

Review: Mosquitoland

MosquitolandReview:

Mosquitoland

Author: David Arnold

Publisher: SPEAK, an imprint of Penguin Random House, 2015

Source: Personal Purchase

Mary Iris Malone – or Mim, for short – has recently been moved from Ashland, Ohio to Jackson, Mississippi. Her parents divorced, her father remarried the waitress from the local Denny’s, and she has had to move with him all within a few short months. And suddenly even the letters from her mother have stopped.

Eavesdropping on a private conversation between her father and stepmother with her principal, Mim hears her stepmother say, “She’ll beat this disease. Eve’s a fighter.” So in an instant, Mim knows where she needs to be. Her mother’s last known address is in Cleveland, OH, and without another thought, Mim is on her way.

She stops at the house before heading to the bus terminal and finds some very incriminating letters that her stepmother has been hiding, along with a wad of cash that will get her to where she needs to be. And so begins a road trip full of twists and turns, surprises for both Mim and the reader, some pleasant, some not so much.

This debut novel has been called a “laugh-out-loud” story and “hilarious.” And Mim, in her sassy way, is indeed funny. But I will warn readers – and parents of those readers – that this story has a very dark side. Mim is doing the kind of things that gives most parents heart failure. I was strongly reminded of Going Bovine as I read this novel. Both books have important messages and while I enjoyed them very much and feel they were handled in a positive manner, I also feel the subject matter may not suit younger readers.

For more about David Arnold: http://davidarnoldbooks.com/

 

Review: Lost in a Book

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Disney Beauty and the Beast: Lost in a Book

Author: Jennifer Donnelly

Publisher: Disney Press, 2017

Source: Personal Purchase

We begin this version of Beauty and the Beast with a wager between two sisters, Love and Death. Death claims that the Beast has no heart, but Love claims that there is still hope for him. Belle, with her heart of gold, may be just the one to release him from the curse. But Death hates to lose and is not above stacking the deck in her favor. So she places a magical book in Beast’s library, one in which Belle can literally be lost.

Belle stumbles upon the magical book Nevermore one day after she, the Beast, and the other usual characters have been cleaning the library. The situation is hardly a way for Belle’s or the Beast’s dreams to come true. That’s why Nevermore is so tempting. The book grows large enough for Belle to enter and once inside she finds everything she ever imagined. She’s wearing elegant clothes and jewels, a handsome and charming young man escorts her to a grand party where she can dine on mouth-watering confections. Nevermore’s mistress, Madame Comtesse, offers Belle wonderful experiences, education, a chance to see her mother and father again. It’s too much for a young girl to resist. What’s the harm with a little break from her mundane and not terribly comfortable life with the Beast? Though Belle leaves Nevermore, it’s lure grows stronger with each visit she makes.  And little by little Belle (and the reader) learns exactly what the harm is because Madame Comtesse, aka Death, is playing the game to win.

Although the classic Beauty and the Beast story is central to this version, I have to say that it is overshadowed by the competition between Love and Death. The battle between the two sisters adds so much dramatic tension to the story that this version became my definite favorite. I was kept on the edge of my seat because who could possibly win against Death, especially when she is cheating? It certainly seems as though Death will win over Love. Of course, as we race to the conclusion we are given hope. As Death says to Belle when Belle fears all is lost, “Be glad you didn’t tangle with her (Love), my dear. She’s merciless. An utter savage… Love is so strong, so ferocious, that she frightens even me.” (pg. 250) A great line in a great book!