Gallow’s Hill, by Charles F. French: A Review

When I saw ATY’s 2019 Reading Challenge prompt #30, a book featuring an elderly character, I instantly thought of Gallow’s Hill, by Charles F. French. I’ve had this book in my e-library since shortly after it was released, but I hadn’t yet had the chance to read it. This book, second in the series The Investigative Paranormal Society, features a group of men in their 60s who help people in their community with ghostly or demonic problems.

In this book, the members of the Investigative Paranormal Society are approached by a land developer who is interested in acquiring a certain property in order to build a casino. The property has a long history of disaster and misfortune, and there are rumors of paranormal activity. At the same time, one of their members is dealing with a personal crisis from his past that impacts his effectiveness as part of the team.

The characters is this story have depth and history. They feel like real people. I couldn’t help but get caught up with them in their investigations, especially as things took a dangerous turn. The suspense in this book is great.

I read the first book, Maledicus, some time back and though that book wasn’t quite all I’d hoped for, I was intrigued by French’s idea of a group of retired gentlemen who fought ghosts. I knew I would check out the next book, and I’m really glad I did. I enjoyed book two very much. I’m looking forward to the next installment of the Investigative Paranormal Society.

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A Soldier’s Duty, by Jean Johnson: A Review

It was not hard to find a book to fit Popsugar’s 2019 Reading Challenge prompt #20, a book set in space. I love science fiction, and my shelves are full of books that qualify. I ended up choosing A Soldier’s Duty, by Jean Johnson, book one in the series Theirs Not to Reason Why. Someone in my book club stumbled on this series and presented it to the rest of us as a really fun read. We even made arrangements for the author herself to come to one of our meetings, and so this book jumped to the top of my space book options.

In this series opener, we meet Ia, a precog who is plagued by visions of the future where her home world is devastated. In order to prevent this from coming to pass, Ia enlists in the Terran United Planets military. This first installment encompasses Ia’s enlistment, initial training and her first tour of duty.

There is a lot of world building involved in this first book, and I had some difficulty getting into the story. Still, it is well written, with a great deal of realistic detail, especially in regards Ia’s basic training experiences. I think the bigger payoff will be in the remainder of the series where the story can develop further on this foundational world building.

I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to meet Jean Johnson in person and talk with her about her books and her experiences as an author. I look forward to reading the rest of this series and more by Jean Johnson. Besides this military sci-fi novel, I also had the opportunity to check out another of Johnson’s series – a paranormal romance series, the Sons of Destiny. This series is also a lot of fun.

The Reptile Room, by Lemony Snicket: A Review

For the 2019 Popsugar Reading Challenge prompt #3, a book written by a musician, I chose to read The Reptile Room, by Lemony Snicket. I chose this book because it was the only one I found on my shelves that fit the category. I started the Series of Unfortunate Events last year, reading the books aloud with my eldest son, and he has been happy to continue it with me.

Book two finds the unhappy Baudelaire orphans in a new home with a new guardian, their Uncle Monty (who isn’t truly their uncle). Uncle Monty is a collector of reptiles, and is delighted to introduce his new charges to his passion. For a while, things seem to be going well for the Baudelaires, especially after the disastrous events of book one. They even begin to think they could be happy here.

However, it isn’t long before their nemesis, Count Olaf arrives on the scene. But he has disguised himself as Uncle Monty’s newly hired assistant, and no one but the children recognize his true identity. And so it falls once more to the children to save themselves.

I enjoy Lemony Snicket as the narrator of these books. He uses sarcasm, dark humor and a sense of the ridiculous to tell his stories. He often breaks into the story with a side note about his own woes, or to define a word or phrase. While this particular episode has not been my favorite so far, I have continued with the series, and I’m still having fun. If you enjoy a bit of dark humor, this series could be for you.

Enchantée, by Gita Trelease: A Review

I struggled to find a book for ATY’s 2019 Reading Challenge prompt #10, a book featuring an historical figure. There were few books that I already own that would qualify, and fewer still that interested me enough to add them to my list for 2019. Somewhere along the way, I encountered the book, Enchantée, by Gita Trelease and was drawn in by the premise. When I learned Marie Antoinette, of French Revolution fame, is featured in this book, I decided to give it a go.

Enchantée takes place in 1789 Paris, but an alternate Paris where magic is real. It is the story of Camille as she struggles to survive in a pre-revolution Paris. Orphaned when small pox took both her parents, it falls to Camille to care for her younger sister while struggling to protect herself from an older brother who has turned to drink and gambling. Magic is her only hope. With it, she can turn ordinary metal objects into coins with which to purchase food and other necessary supplies.

A series of events lead her to a more desperate situation where she is forced to turn to a darker magic her mother had forbidden her to use. Camille is soon drawn into a world of plotting and intrigue that she is ill prepared for.

Trelease has written a fantastic story and placed it within an intriguing location at a dangerous time in history. She’s filled this world with compelling characters, each with their own goals, desires, struggles and triumphs. There is a perfect balance of magic, intrigue and romance contained in this story. I was thoroughly charmed by this book, swept off to a magical Paris from the very first page. Quickly drawn in by the girls’ desperate situation and hooked by the romance, I finished this book in only a few days.

This is Trelease’s debut novel. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, magic, intrigue and romance. I look forward to what comes next for this author.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, by Lisa See: A Review

For ATY’s 2019 Reading Challenge prompt #49, a book written by a Far East Asian author or set in a Far East Asian country, I chose to read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, by Lisa See. I don’t remember how this book first came to my attention, but the premise intrigued me and I added it to my list. I’m glad I finally made it a priority and read it.

Set in nineteenth century China, this book tells the story of Lily. Lily is fortunate to draw the attention of a well-connected family from a nearby village, and she is matched with a daughter of that family in a traditional female relationship known as laotong, or “old sames.”

Written as a sort of memoir, the book opens with Lily at the age of 80. From this vantage, she looks back over her life and the choices she made, both good and bad. She begins with her earliest memories as a young girl, the arranging of her elder sister’s marriage, her own installation into the women’s chamber. This memoir style lends to the story a personal feel to this period of China’s history that was both deeply entrenched in tradition and on the verge of huge change.

This book is so emotionally moving and compelling. As I read it, I was horrified, amused, devastated. I found this look into Chinese culture fascinating. Though I couldn’t help but be disturbed by the way women and girls were treated – especially the graphic description of the foot binding process. Still, I was impressed by the strong relationships women had with each other

This book is amazing. I wasn’t sure at first how I felt about it. It took some time to get into the flow. But once I did, I was thoroughly engaged. I highly recommend this book.

The Borrowers, by Mary Norton: A Review

The 2019 ATY Reading Challenge includes four prompts inspired by the wedding rhyme “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.” For the “borrowed” prompt, I chose to read The Borrowers, by Mary Norton.

The Borrowers is the story of Arrietty Clock, part of a family of tiny people who live in the floors and walls of the Big House. Arrietty’s father, Pod, is a Borrower, meaning that he makes forays into the house above them where the “human beans” live, and “borrows” small objects and foodstuffs for their own use. This is a dangerous occupation, for it must be undertaken without being seen.

Arrietty is young and very curious about the world above, a place she has never been allowed to go herself. She lives with her mother and father below the floors and must obey the rules to prevent discovery. Once there were other Borrowers who lived there with them, but they have since emigrated to another location when their daughter came up missing after the humans brought a cat into the house.

Arrietty is finally allowed to accompany her father on a borrowing expedition and there encounters The Boy, an unexpected guest of the elderly women who live in the House. Arrietty and The Boy eventually strike up a friendship of sorts, but this ultimately leads to trouble for both of them.

This is a delightfully fun book, and I enjoyed it a great deal. It is part of a series, followed by four more books after this one. The Borrowers holds up well on its own, however, and I don’t know that I will pursue the rest of the books.

The Wednesday Wars, by Gary D. Schmidt: A Review

I chose to read The Wednesday Wars, by Gary D. Schmidt for the 2019 ATY Reading Challenge, prompt #5, a book written or inspired by Shakespeare. I’m not sure if the book was inspired by Shakespeare exactly, but the main character in the story is inspired by Shakespeare, so I decided it would do. Besides, I already owned a copy and it’s on the Newbery Honors list, the Shakespeare connection merely provided a place to insert it into this year’s reading list.

The Wednesday Wars is a young adult historical fiction novel featuring Holling Hoodhood. Entering the seventh grade in a school where most students are either Catholic or Jewish, Holling is a Presbyterian. This means that every Wednesday the Catholic and Jewish students each go to their respective churches for religious classes. Holling has no such class to attend, and must therefore remain alone in class with his teacher, Mrs. Baker. Holling is convinced Mrs. Baker hates him for this.

Holling is first set to work cleaning chalkboard erasers for Mrs. Baker, and then for other teachers as well, to keep him busy on Wednesday afternoons. Then, Mrs. Baker gives him the assignment to read some of Shakespeare’s plays. Reluctant at first, Holling comes to find he actually enjoys the plays.

Set during the 1967-68 school year in suburban Long Island, the Vietnam War overshadows the story. The story also includes historical events, such as the shootings of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. All of these events, along with the anti-war counterculture that existed at the time, influence and drive the story forward.

Schmidt has presented this story through the first person perspective of Holling, giving him an engaging voice that is easy to relate to. The book is both funny and very moving at times. I found myself thoroughly engrossed in this story, and would recommend it to anyone.