Blog Posts by Alisa S

Posted by Alisa S on 08/27/19
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The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson is a straightforward historical novel based on real life events. I think many readers will enjoy this tale of a blue-skinned (due to a hereditary blood disorder)  Appalachian woman who becomes a pack horse librarian as part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Work Progress Administration.  The plucky daughter of a dirt poor coal miner, Cussy Carter has been ostracized her entire life due to the color of her skin and her impoverished upbringing. Becoming a "book woman", travailing mule-back on hazardous mountainous trails to deliver reading materials to isolated and often distrustful customers, has given her life purpose and a measure of dignity. 
Despite Cussy loving her job and her independence, her father remains determined to marry her off, with disasterous results. There is just enough danger and romantic intrigue to keep one turning the pages.
I listened to the audiobook version of the novel through Hoopla, and the narrator does an excellent job with the Kentucky accents and vernacular.
On a side note, British author JoJo Moyes is covering the same period of history, and the Kentucky traveling library program, in her soon to be released novel The Giver of Stars. It should be very interesting to compare the two books.
Posted by Alisa S on 07/20/19
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The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin is a family saga that spans almost a century, starting in the not so distant future and looking backwards, as famous poet Fiona Skinner reflects on her life. An environmental crisis has significantly altered life on earth, but this is not a dystopian novel. Instead, we spend most of our time with the four young Skinner children, who first lose their father to a sudden heart attack, and then their mother to “the pause”, what the kids have dubbed her long period of severe depression that essentially leaves them parentless for several years. This rudderless childhood forges strong bonds between the siblings, but also impacts each of them in ways that will haunt them throughout their lives.
The Last Romantics movingly conveys all  the messiness, heartbreak, and beauty of what makes up a family,and ultimately,  what constitutes love.
Posted by Alisa S on 06/26/19
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The River by Peter Heller is one of the best books I've read so far this year, but it is hard to classify. It is in parts a riveting suspense tale, an outdoor adventure, and an elegiac ode to nature.  But mostly this novel is a beautiful, heartrending story of friendship between two young men. Best friends and avid outdoorsmen Wynn and Jack are on a canoe trip in Northern Canada when everything starts to go horribly wrong. They must call on all their survival skills and instincts as they are forced to outrun a vicious forest fire while simultaneously trying to save the life of a woman who has been brutally attacked. Facing constant danger from fellow men and nature, both Wynn and Jack must confront their deepest held values, revealing fault lines in their friendship. The River would make an awesome action film...I'm already casting the two main characters in my mind.
Posted by Alisa S on 05/29/19
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Murder,dance girls, killer tigers, missing fingers, and more!  The Night Tiger by Yangze Choo is a beautifully written tale, part family drama mixed with mystery and folklore, set in 1930s Malaysia under British rule. Ji Lin is a young woman forced to moonlight as a dance hall girl to help pay off her mother's secret gambling debts, while her adored stepbrother Shin gets to go to medical school in Singapore. Meanwhile, an orphaned young houseboy named Ren is on a mission to recover a missing finger that belonged to his former master, a British doctor who has passed away. There is a magical thread that links together the main characters, putting them in grave danger as a man-eating tiger roams at night and people start
mysteriously dying around them. This novel is steeped in magical realism, pulling from Chinese and Malay folk tales, numerology, and superstitions. 
Fans of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, another romance with plenty of magic, should also greatly enjoy The Night Tiger.
Posted by Alisa S on 04/22/19
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The first stand alone novel from down under author Jane Harper, The Lost Man is a slow simmering mystery that masterfully transports the reader to another place.
In the remote and brutal Australian Outback, three brothers stand to inherit the vast cattle ranch where they were raised.  But when the middle son, “golden boy” Cameron, is found dead under bizarre circumstances, everyone becomes a potential suspect. Harper gradually reveals the dark family secrets that may have lead to Cam’s death; abuse, grudges, jealousy, forbidden romance, and more.
The Lost Man is a character driven mystery, as the reader grows to understand what lies beneath the surface of each of the brothers, extended family members, and employees on the cattle station. But the overarching “character” is Australia itself...namely the enormous, harsh landscape of the Outback, where the closest neighbor might live three hours away. The enforced isolation adds to the growing sense of dread.
I’m a big fan of Harper’s earlier thriller series, which follow detective Aaron Falk. But I believe  The Lost Man is by far her best work yet.
Posted by Alisa S on 03/24/19
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Imagine taking a DNA test as a lark, only to have the results shatter the very foundation of your identity. This is what happened to author Dani Shapiro, who movingly tells of this seismic event in her latest book, 
Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love. Shapiro was raised in an Orthodox Jewish home, the only child of an adoring father and a difficult mother. After she receives some shocking results from her mail away DNA test, she begins to uncover long held family secrets that force her to question the core of her being.  With both her parents long dead, she must become a genealogical sleuth as she pieces together her past.
As DNA kits are becoming more affordable and accessible to the public, many people are receiving surprising details about their heritages. This makes Inheritance an extremely timely book to read now. It is  beautifully written, though at times feels a bit indulgent as Shapiro comes to grips with her discovery.
Posted by Alisa S on 02/23/19
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Calling all Jane Austen Fans! The new novel Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal is a lively retelling of Pride and Prejudice, set in modern day Pakistan. Alys Binat and her older sister, Jena, are schoolteachers living in genteel poverty with their ineffectual father, overbearing mother, and three younger sisters. It is their mother’s soul desire in life to see her daughters well married, especially the eldest, who she believes  have crossed into old maid territory. When two wealthy ,eligible bachelors and their entourage arrive in their small town, the plot is set into action.
While the storyline of Unmarriageable very closely follows that of the beloved classic,  Alys’s strong identity as a feminist (in a patriarchal society) and the exotic backdrop of Pakistan make this most recent retelling fresh and fun.
Posted by Alisa S on 02/08/19
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Set against the backdrop of Apartheid South Africa, Bianca Marais' Hum If  You Don’t Know The Words is a story of love and friendship between an orphaned
white girl and the grieving black woman who becomes her caretaker. After young Robin has lost her parents to an act of violence, she comes to live with her loving but irresponsible aunt. Meanwhile, village dweller Beauty Mbali arrives in Johannesburg to search for her daughter, a student  who has gone missing in the chaos of the Soweto Uprising of 1976.  A sympathetic friend finds Beauty a position as Robin’s nanny, and the two must grow to trust one another under very frightening circumstances.
This story is both moving and suspenseful.  While the action occurs over forty years ago, the themes of racism and redemption are more relevant now than ever.
Posted by Alisa S on 12/26/18
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It is always a pleasure to discover a new mystery series that is not only well plotted but features engaging characters, and
The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan, while only first in a planned series, holds much promise. This debut, set in both gritty Galway and the more bucolic Irish countryside, follows police detective Cormac Reilly as he tries to unravel a cold case involving a suspicious death that haunts him years later. 
McTiernan, a former Irish lawyer now residing in Australia, has drawn comparisons to fellow Irish crime writer Tana French. The Ruin, with its complex characters, page-turning mystery, and evocative sense of place,  proves that McTiernan is worthy of this comparison. 
Posted by Alisa S on 11/26/18
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A sweet and serendipitous tale of love at first sight, One Day in December by Josie Silver is sure to please fans of contemporary romance novels. Laurie first spies Jack on the street from a fogged up window of a London doubledecker. While she is sure they had a meaningful connection in that split second, he seems lost to her forever once the bus pulls away. But fate brings them together in the most awkward of ways, and the novel follows their star-crossed relationship over ten years, as the rigors and realities of adulthood further complicate their lives.
This book is a light read that is perfect for the hectic holiday season. 
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