What’s Ashley Reading?: The Huntress

The Huntress by Kate Quinn

First line: She was not used to being hunted.

Summary: Nina dreamed of becoming a pilot. When the German army attacks her native Russia, she enlists to help her country fight its invaders. As one of the all-female bomber regiment called the Night Witches, she gets her wish. Until one day when she goes down behind enemy lines and encounters the evil villainous known as the Huntress.

Ian Graham spent the war years as a war correspondent. He everything from the invasion of Omaha Beach to the Nuremburg Trials but he is determined to find and bring to justice one person, the Huntress. With a personal vendetta against the war criminal he joins an organization tasked with finding members of the Nazi party that escaped punishment.

Jordan McBride is a young girl and aspiring photographer in 1946. Her father recently married a mysterious Austrian widow but her story makes Jordan suspicious. The more she learns the less she trusts her. She is determined to find out who this woman is in order to protect her father.

Told in three narratives we piece together the story of the Huntress.

My Thoughts: From the very first chapter I was hooked. I have been a longtime fan of Kate Quinn and her newest novel does not disappoint. I think I can even say with confidence that it is her best book to date. I loved the different timelines and how each intertwine. This would be perfect for fans of historical fiction and mysteries.

Nina was by far my favorite character. She is strong woman but also has a deep seeded fear. I enjoyed seeing her change and grow throughout the story. She starts as a poor girl from eastern Russia who dreams of becoming a pilot. As the war progresses she discovers more about herself and the country she serves. I learned so much while reading her chapters. I had never heard of female bomber teams during World War II. Even though Russia has a history of being behind the times, this is a very progressive stance. And for them to be highly decorated after the war for their courage.

Read the author’s notes at the end for more background on the story. You can tell that Quinn did a lot of research to build her narrative.

FYI: This reminded me a lot of the new release movie, Operation Finale, starring Oscar Isaac. It follows the search and capture of Adolph Eichmann, the mastermind behind the Holocaust.

What’s Ashley Reading?: King of Scars

King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

First line: Dima heard the barn doors slam before anyone else did.

Summary: Nikolai Lantsov, the young king of Ravka, has spent the first several years of his reign trying to hold his country together. With the help of his Triumvirate he hopes to strengthen the borders, improve diplomatic relations and rebuild the Second Army. However, as miracles continue to happen around the country and a darkness still infects his land, he is met with more than he imagined.

My Thoughts: Nikolai was one of my favorite characters from Bardugo’s original trilogy. He has a sharp wit and charisma that lets him steal every scene. I was so happy when I learned that he was getting his own duology. Authors do answer prayers! Ha! And Nina from The Dregs Duology has a starring role as well. I loved every one of her chapters. She is daring and smart. And she does not mind causing a little trouble along the way.

“But it’s a very arduous path,” Nikolai said. “Who will carry my snacks?”

In addition to past characters we meet several new ones. I did not know how I was going to feel about them when they first entered the storyline but they surprised me. It was a fun plot twist. I am excited to see where these new characters take us.

The first half of the book was a little slower, a trait which I have noticed in the other books. But when the action picks up the story flies by. Trust me and stick with this. It is worth every minute you spend reading it.

And finally that ending! Wow! It was shocking. It literally gave me goosebumps as I was reading it. I will be highly anticipating the next book. I hope I do not have to wait too long.

FYI: I would highly recommend you read The Shadow and Bone Trilogy and The Dregs Duology before picking this one up. There are lots of characters and storylines that carry on into this latest addition to the Grishaverse.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Lisa and Lottie

I had never heard of Erich Kastner before my recent trip to Dresden, Germany.  I passed by the museum dedicated to him and his work several times.  My German sister, Elisabeth, told me that I needed to read some of his books.  I was lucky to find two on Hoopla. Luckily we have such an amazing database available for our patrons where they can find obscure books, music and movies. While I was searching I even stumbled across the fact that patrons can check out items in foreign languages as well. As I continue to work on my German I will keep this in mind to help with my study.

Lisa and Lottie is a story that is very well known but under a different name, The Parent Trap. Who knew?! Not me for sure.

*This is only available via Hoopla or interlibrary loan.*

Lisa and Lottie by Erich Kastner

First line: Do you happen to know Bohrlaken?

Summary: When Lisa from Vienna meets Lottie from Munich at summer camp, they realize that they are identical twins who have been separated at a very young age. During the weeks at camp they devise a plan to switch places without telling their parents.

Highlights: This was a fun little story that I know very well. I have watched both versions of The Parent Trap (Hayley Mills and Lindsay Lohan) and loved them. Kastner’s story is a little less detailed than the movie versions but still a fun novel for young kids. The illustrations were very simple and worked well within the story especially when we see the twins together. I am glad that I picked this up and I plan to read a few more of Kastner’s books as well.

FYI: This is only available in digital format on Hoopla or you can interlibrary loan it as well.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Finding Dorothy

Living in Kansas it seems to be guaranteed that everyone knows the story of  The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum.  However, the book and the movie (starring Judy Garland) are quite different.  But how much do you know about the man who wrote the story?  Years ago there was a made for TV movie called The Dreamer of Oz, starring John Ritter, who portrayed Mr. Baum and detailed his life and the writing of his famous novel.  In a new book by Elizabeth Letts we get a look at Maud Gage Baum, the wife of the author.

Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts

First line: It was a city within a city, a textile mill to weave the gossamer of fantasy on looping looms of celluloid.

Summary: Maud Gage Baum, the widow of the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, visits the set of the filming of The Wizard of Oz where she meets the young star, Judy Garland. Maud immediately feels a connection and need to protect the sixteen year old actress who will be portraying Dorothy. Told through flashbacks we see Maud’s life with husband, L. Frank Baum as they start out touring the country with a theater group to owning their own dry goods store to becoming a literary success.

Highlights: This was a fun jaunt through the history of one of the greatest movies/books of all time. I remember watching the movies numerous times as a child before I ever picked up one of the books. It is so much different but each are wonderful in their own ways. Nothing beats Judy Garland singing ‘Over the Rainbow’.

I know that the author took some liberties with the history to help suit the timeline and layout of her novel but the background of this iconic story is fascinating. Such a successful man (or so I would have assumed) struggled so much trying to find his place in the world. He tried multiple different careers before he wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Even though his story is entertaining, his wife was the strong one.

Maud Gage Baum was the daughter of famous suffragette, Matilda Joslyn Gage. She was a strong advocate for women’s right to vote, fighting alongside Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Maud learned from her to be bold and speak her mind. As I read I could tell that having such a strong mother helped Maud navigate her life with an eccentric husband and battling the studio to do justice to his novel.

Judy Garland and Maud Gage Baum looking at a copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

I loved every interaction that Maud had with Judy Garland. It is hard to imagine that Judy was only sixteen when she was cast in the role that sky rocketed her career. The poor girl had to deal with unbelievable things while preparing for this role including smoking 80 cigarettes a day and taking diet pills to keep her trim. It is outrageous. Maud tries to help Judy as much as possible in order to keep her promise to Frank to watch over “Dorothy”. This is the most heartwarming part of the novel, watching Maud make sure that Judy is Dorothy and Dorothy is Judy, and fighting for her.

Lowlights: There were several historical inaccuracies that are easily overlooked but at times also drove me a little crazy. One of Maud’s sisters was completely left out of the story. And the idea behind the character, Dorothy, was changed. However, the story does not suffer for any of this. Letts does a great job of weaving a fun and intricate story filled with all the magic of Oz.

FYI: Pick up the Oz books! Watch the movie!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Eleanor of Aquitaine Trilogy

I love to hold a paper book.  There is something about feeling the pages in my hands.  However, sometimes I find I like the convenience of a digital copy.  I can take it with me where ever I am using an app on my phone.  How cool is that?  Plus, we have such a great selection of books available on our Sunflower eLibrary.  The app used to be called Overdrive but is slowly migrating over to Libby by Overdrive.  It is a fantastic upgrade.  Definitely check it out if you enjoy ebooks and audio books.

*This review will be a little different because the library does not own a physical copy but only a digital one that is available on Sunflower eLibrary.*

  Eleanor of Aquitaine Trilogy by Elizabeth Chadwick

1. The Summer Queen

2. The Winter Crown

3. The Autumn Throne

First line: Alienor woke at dawn.

Summary: This is the story of Eleanor of Aquitaine (or Alienor as she is called in the book).  She was married to two kings, one of France and one of England.  She was the mother of kings.  However, she was a duchess in her own right and a very strong and determined woman.  She traveled to the Holy Lands on a crusade.  Through her the Plantagenet dynasty began.  Her life was not all easy, she faced imprisonment, war and death but managed to achieve greatness in the face of it all.

Highlights: I loved this trilogy.  This was my first interaction with Elizabeth Chadwick’s work and I was very impressed.  Chadwick brings Eleanor to life.  She shows what a strong woman she was.  I loved seeing her take on kings and prove that a woman is just as powerful.  The writing is superb.  I will definitely be reading more of her books.

I had heard very little about Eleanor before picking up these books.  As I read I learned so much about her and life in the 12th century.  Her family life was very erratic and messy.  I find it hard to believe how dysfunctional her family was.  Her sons were constantly fighting with one another and their father.  She had to be the peace keeper but also an instigator once in a while.  But I found her fascinating!  I think after Anne Boleyn, Eleanor is my favorite female historical figure.  She did so much, lived a long life and is still remembered nearly 900 years later.

 FYI: This is perfect for fans of Philippa Gregory!

 

What’s Ashley Reading?: What Angels Fear

What Angels Fear by C.S. Harris

First line: She blamed the fog.

Summary: When a young woman is found murdered on the steps of Westminster Abbey all the signs point to the young viscount, Sebastian St. Cyr. In order to prove himself innocent he uses his skills gained from his time in his majesty’s military as well as enlisting the help of his former mistress, Kat Boleyn.

Highlights: As a fan of historical fiction this has become one of my favorite mystery series. Sebastian is a smart and witty protagonist. The street urchin, Tom, is a great addition. He is fun and gives the reader a look into the darker underworld of the poor in London. I love that Sebastian is involved and cares about others unlike many of the people in the upper classes. I have read nearly all of this series so far and have even gotten my mother hooked on them as well.

The author does an amazing job of researching the time and drawing in historical figures. While reading this I can even connect it with the PBS show, Victoria, even though it happens about 25 years before her reign. In one of the most recent books we get introduced to Princess Charlotte who is the future wife of Uncle Leopold.

Lowlights: Sebastian may be a little too perfect. He knows a lot people and can handle about any situation. However, this can be said for most primary characters. It seems a little cheesy but it is easily overlooked because the story is so fun.

FYI: If you like this then try The Pink Carnation series by Lauren Willig. It is a female centered spy novel series that takes place during this time period.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Evermore

If you have not listened to our library podcast, Novel Ideas: The Library Podcast, you are missing out.  We discuss so many different things and love to chat books.  Recently Alyssa, Hannah and I spent an hour discussing our love of young adult books and the tropes that are found within them.  Most of the time they are easily dismissed because the book is so good.  How do you feel about the typical YA tropes?

Evermore by Sara Holland

First line: Tonight, I will make the Alchemist’s blood—Jules Ember’s blood—into a weapon.

Summary: Jules Ember was raised listening to stories of the Alchemist and the Sorceress. When she learns that she is the Alchemist and Caro, a lady in waiting to the queen, is the Sorceress, she must learn how much of the stories are really true. Jules is blamed for the murder of the queen and is on the run from Caro and the rest of the kingdom. With the help of Liam and Elias she is able to piece together her past and decide how to save her country.

Highlights: This cover is stunning. It is very eye catching and filled with little details from the story. I really enjoyed the first book and the idea of blood being a source of currency. Even though it is mentioned and a known entity the blood currency is rarely discussed in the sequel. But I did like that when we meet Elias we learn that other countries do not have the same issue with blood. It is only Sempera. Very interesting!

Jules is one of those characters that falls into the savior trope.  It is a commonly used idea but it can be a lot of fun. She has a secret that means she is the only one who can change the world. While Jules is searching for answers I really enjoyed the story. She takes looks back into her past lives as the Alchemist to see how her conflict with the Sorceress came about.

Lowlights: The insta-love is what brought this down for me. She loved Roan. He gets killed. She was kind of scared of his brother Liam. However, shortly after spending a little time with him they are in love. Okay. Sometimes the story needs to move along but it happened really quickly.

FYI: This is a sequel. Read book one, Everless, before picking this one up.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Midnight Riot

We have several new apps and services.  My new favorite is RBDigital Unlimited.  It has a wide selection of older audio books available to download onto your mobile device.  I love to read the new releases but sometimes there is a book that I have been meaning to read but have not gotten around to it yet.  Well this is a good way to get them off the TBR list!  The best part of this is that there is no waiting for a title.  Every title on the site is available immediately.

Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch

First line: It started on at one thirty on a cold Tuesday morning in January when Martin Turner, street performer and, in his own words, apprentice gigolo, tripped over a body in front of the West Portico of St. Paul’s at Covent Garden.

Summary: Peter Grant, a probationary constable, has hopes of becoming a detective. When investigating a disturbance he gathers some information from a witness. However, this witness also happens to be dead. With the knowledge that Peter can communicate with ghosts brings him to the attention of Chief Investigator Thomas Nightingale. He heads a special department in the London PD who deal with magic and supernatural occurrences. As a string of murders overtakes the city, Peter is thrust into the world of magic and mystical beings.

Highlights: I found this to be a mixture of Sherlock and Harry Potter. This is a fun book. As a grownup who loves to read a mixture of YA, fantasy and mysteries, then this is the perfect combination. It was originally recommended to me by my German sister, Melanie. This sat on my to be read pile for a long time but when I saw that I could listen to the audiobook using RBDigital Unlimited, I immediately checked it out. It was gritty and dark but at the same time a little lighthearted. There was humor mixed in with the murder.  One thing that I found to be new and interesting is that several of the characters are rivers in human form.  This is the name of the series, Rivers of London, but I never actually considered that they would be actual characters.  If you want something a little different than this may be it.

Lowlights: A lot of the story was building the world. Who is Peter Grant? What is the magical department and what do they do? As with all new series it takes a bit to get the ball rolling. I think this was my main issue but I will definitely pick up book 2, Moon Over Soho.

FYI: There is language and violence.

What’s Ashley Reading?: A Well-Behaved Woman

A Well-Behaved Woman by Therese Anne Fowler

First line: When they asked her about the Vanderbilts and Belmonts, about their celebrations and depredations, the mansions and balls, the lawsuits, the betrayals, the rifts—when they asked why she did the extreme things she’d done, Alva said it all began quite simply: Once there was a desperate young woman whose mother was dead and whose father was dying almost as quickly as his money was running out.

Summary: Alva Smith is from an old New York family. However, after the death of her mother and her father’s financial troubles they are nearly destitute. Through the scheming of her friend, Consuelo Yznaga, she meets William K. Vanderbilt. He is the grandson of railroad tycoon, Cornelius Vanderbilt. William is looking to bring his family into New York society and Alva needs to take care of her family by marrying a wealthy husband. With this marriage of convenience Alva appears to get everything she wants. She helps the poor, builds grand new homes and travels the world. Yet it appears that something is missing…

Highlights: Before picking up this novel I had never heard of Alva (Smith) Vanderbilt. I remember the Vanderbilt name from high school history on the robber barons but nothing specific about each individual. I was pleasantly surprised by her story. She was a woman who did so much in a time when women were still thought of as dolls that needed to be sheltered. Her drive leads to grand homes, an opera house, women’s suffrage and a title for her daughter.

I cannot imagine living the life of Alva Vanderbilt. The amount of money she had and what she spent it on. If you have time you should Google their house, Petit Chateau, on Fifth Avenue. Spectacular! The costume ball she threw in 1883 was so extravagant that they spent nearly one million dollars (in today’s money) on champagne alone. Can you imagine?

Lowlights: Alva’s story seemed to drag on a little bit with much of the same thing happening over and over again. I was a little sad that so much of her drive came with the need to be a part of society. I understand wanting to be accepted. Everyone wants to be accepted. And it could be that I just do not come from that world or lifestyle.

FYI: Check out Fowler’s first novel, Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Warcross

I am not much of a gamer unless you count Lego games on the Wii?  My sister and I have spent many an hour playing Lego Harry Potter, Indiana Jones and Star Wars.

However, for the more intense gamer there is quite a selection here at the library.  We have several hundred games for seven different systems (Wii, WiiU, Nintendo Switch, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3 and PS4).  If you are interested in checking out a game it just requires a library card.  Each patron can check out two games per card for a week each time.

Warcross by Marie Lu

First line: It’s too damn cold of a day to be out on a hunt.

Summary: Everyone plays Warcross, the virtual reality game invented by a fourteen year old boy, Hideo Tanaka. It is a global sensation. When Emika Chen, a struggling bounty hunter, glitches into the Opening Ceremonies for the annual Warcross games she becomes an instant sensation. She is invited to come to Tokyo. Fearful that she is going to be arrested for tampering with the game she is surprised to learn that the game’s inventor wants to hire her to find the person who has been threatening to bring down the game and himself. What appears to be a normal bounty hunt becomes much more when Emika is chosen to be one of the players in the championship games.

Highlights: I really enjoy Lu’s writing style. It is simple but fast paced. I recently watched the movie, Ready Player One, and was surprised how much I liked it. I found this to be very similar in themes and feel. The idea of having these virtual reality worlds is amazing but does not seem like it will be too far in the future. I would love to be able to feel like I am in another world even though I am sitting at home on the couch. How cool is that? I always dreamed of having a holodeck, like on Star Trek. I want to live inside my books and virtual reality appears to be a solution for this.

Emika is a fun character to follow. She is intelligent, determined and resourceful. She has a funny side as well. When she meets Hideo she is shy but handles it well, even throwing out a few jokes. Even the romance is very nicely done. Emika has a followed Tanaka’s career since he became a global superstar. Their scenes together were always fun and filled with romantic tension. So cute!

I like that Lu has a very diverse cast of characters. Hopefully we will get to know her fellow team mates in the next book. One character I hope we get lots more of is Tremaine. He has several key moments in the book but at the end we learn more about him and his role in everything.

I already have book two, Wildcard, on my desk. I am itching to start reading it and see where Lu takes us next!

Lowlights: Several of the twists were a little predictable. However, with Lu’s writing and the pacing of the novel it can be easily overlooked. I thoroughly enjoyed reading/listening to this story and would highly recommend it.

FYI: Check out Lu’s other series, Legend, and her standalone novel about Bruce Wayne (a.k.a. Batman), Batman: Nightwalker.