Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Dark Season by Joanna Lowell

Dark Season
Ella Arlington flees her home when her cousin inherits and plans to commit her to an asylum because she has epilepsy. Now destitute and on the run in London, Ella attends a séance hoping to speak with her beloved father but instead has a seizure. Confusing Ella’s episode with possession by her dead daughter, Phillipa, the wealthy Mrs. Trombly takes Ella into her home to act as her private medium. During a visit to Mrs. Trombly, her daughter’s former fiancé, Viscount Isidore Blackwood, meets Ella and is furious that she has duped Phillipa’s grieving mother into hiring her services, vowing to reveal Ella as a fraud. However, Isidore’s friends are hiding terrible truths, and he will need Ella’s help to uncover what really happened the night Phillipa died. The mystery surrounding Phillipa’s death may be too predictable for some, but readers will still be enthralled, wondering if Ella’s epilepsy will be discovered and what her fate holds.

Verdict Debut author Lowell has crafted a lavish Victorian gothic romance with a rare disabled female protagonist who refuses to be a tragic victim of her time. Highly recommended for the frank portrayal of living with the stigma of a neurological disorder without sacrificing romantic tension.

This review was originally published in Library Journal Xpress Reviews: E-Originals, June 10, 2016.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker

The Animators
Mel Vaught and Sharon Kisses met in an art class in college. Mel is the self-assured wild child willing to stand up to their bullying professor. Unsure of her talent, Sharon is happy to hang out with Mel, when the two discover their mutual love of animation. Ten years later, the two hit the big time with the success of their first full-length animated film recalling Mel's disturbing childhood. Then tragedy strikes, Sharon suffers a debilitating aneurysm and must struggle to slowly recover. Always doubting her own talent, Sharon loses even more confidence in her work, and tensions arise between the two after they win an award that allows them to create a second film. This time the film will focus on Sharon's childhood and the criminal who lurked next door.

Whitaker doesn't shy away from uncomfortable, brutal truths, capturing the shortcomings of both Sharon and Mel, highlighting their multitude of problems. Despite this, Whitaker makes the strong bond of friendship between Mel and Sharon shine throughout, and their dedication to each other and their art is clear. The complexity of relationships can be bittersweet, and The Animators displays this tendency to the fullest. An excellent debut and highly recommended.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Under Her Skin by Adriana Anders

Under Her Skin
Uma is on the run and desperate for a job, which is why she’s standing at the doorstep of a woman whose ad is asking for a live-in care giver willing to put up with mistreatment. She literally has nothing but the clothes on her back, a few dollars, and her car which is close to empty. Beneath her clothing is a terrible secret, the permanent signs of her abuse.

She’s caught between her past and a very uncertain future, with no one to trust, not even her own mother. When Ivan, her new neighbor shows interest in her she’s reluctant to bare herself to anyone, let alone an ex con. But underneath his rough, handsome exterior is a compassionate guy who rescues stray, lost animals. 

Uma’s story unfolds slowly, as she begins to let Ivan into her life. Bits and pieces of her abuse slowly come together showing what a strong woman she is for managing to escape and trying to heal herself. If you’re looking for a romance with a man who understands that a woman’s scars are a beautiful part of her history and with a woman who learns to fight her own battles, this is the perfect fitUnder Her Skin is the first title in the "Blank Canvas" series.  

Monday, March 20, 2017

Dead Seekers by Barb and J.C. Hendee

The Dead Seekers
Mari has been on the hunt for the man who killed her entire family for years to get her vengeance, and finally received a solid lead to the “Dead’s Man.” But when she finally encounters him, he is not what she was expecting of the cold blooded murder. Rather, it is Mari herself who keeps saving his life while he helps save others at expense to his own well-being.

The idea of this story is fresh and original bringing a new spin on some of the popular fantasy aspects fantasy lovers are always on the lookout for: magic, shape-shifters, and ghosts. The story line is also quite interesting. The characters take most of the book to develop, so they are not why readers will want to continue reading but rather the new fantasy aspects to see how it will play out. Hopefully, the next book in the series will delve more in depth with the characters now that they’re built up.  

Sunday, March 5, 2017

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

You Will Know Me
Devon Knox was born to do gymnastics—literally. In the womb, she kicked her mother, Katie, hard enough to break a rib. As a toddler, she possessed a quiet focus and a physical ability beyond her years. When teenage Devon’s gymnastics coach asks her parents how far they will go to nurture her potential—her Olympic potential—they are willing to do anything. The Knox family devotes themselves wholeheartedly to Devon’s career, spending long hours at the gym, traveling relentlessly to meets, and spending money they don’t have on coaching and equipment. When the boyfriend of one of Devon’s coaches is killed in a hit-and-run and the coach begins making bizarre threats against Devon, Katie starts looking into the young man’s death herself. With each step closer to the truth, Katie becomes less and less certain about the one thing she thought she knew best—her family.

Megan Abbott is particularly gifted at crafting characters, making even the most minor character in You Will Know Me come to life. Her writing is taut and suspenseful, and will keep readers guessing right up to the last page. Abbott also does a masterful job of bringing the claustrophobic world of competitive gymnastics to readers who don’t know a vault from a salto.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Girl in Disguise by Greer Macallister

Girl in Disguise
Girl in Disguise is a fictional tale based on the real life historical figure, Kate Warne, who was the first female Pinkerton detective. Desperate for a way to support herself, Kate answers a classified job ad she knows was meant for a man, but she convinces Allan Pinkerton to hire her, as women can go where men cannot. Naturally, some of the male operatives in the Pinkerton Agency rail against working beside a female, but eventually, most of the men come to view Kate with respect, even if they still think she's having an affair with the boss. 

Most of the book recounts various cases Kate works. Two notable cases involve Abraham Lincoln; one was while he was an attorney in Springfield and then later on his trip to Washington D.C. for his inauguration. Little hints of Kate's traumatic past are sprinkled throughout until the latter quarter of the book, where Kate's history comes back to haunt her.

In reality, very little is known about Kate Warne's life, but Macallister does a fantastic job of putting the reader in the historical locales where this book takes place and tying in factual historical events to Kate's cases. Macallister also excels at imagining the small details in Kate's day to day life and the difficulties she encounters being the first female private detective. Recommended for lovers of historical fiction and/or pioneering women, as well as anyone who appreciates an author who clearly does her research. Also noteworthy is Macallister's debut novel, The Magician's Lie.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Dark Night: a True Batman Story by Paul Dini

Dark Night: a True Batman Story
An exceptionally well-written memoir about a brutal beating, Dark Night recounts the traumatic recovery the author survived to overcome fear, pain, and rage. Eduardo Risso's illustrations in watercolors are phenomenal and add a complementary beauty to a truly horrific survivor's tale. Dini is unflinching in his portrayal of himself and others; he is frequently a rather unlikable person yet remains completely empathetic by baring his humanity, flaws and all. The DC comics characters and other cartoon characters periodically inserted as part of Dini's imagination and thought process might jar some readers but will feel right at home and even necessary to comic and graphic novel lovers.