Book Review: The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence

First line: It was a large canvas, big enough that it had taken two men to carry it into Il Magnifico’s chambers.

Summary: Simonetta, a new bride to Marco Vespucci, is considered the most beautiful woman in Florence. When she meets the rising star, Sandro Botticelli at the home of Lorenzo de Medici, she becomes the muse for the artist. He uses her as the model for one of his most famous works, The Birth of Venus.

Simonetta in The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli

Highlights: I really enjoyed the story. I love the time and the history of the Medici family. They were leaders of the Republic of Florence as well as supporters of the Renaissance in Italy. I had never heard of Simonetta Vespucci before reading this but since I have Googled her to see the paintings done by Botticelli. The writing was well done and flowed nicely. This is a good example of historical fiction. It has just enough history to learn from but is not filled with facts. I plan to read the author’s debut novel soon.

Lowlights: I got tired of the repetition of her being the most beautiful woman and being used to having people stare at her. It is the title of the book. It was too much. I did not need to be reminded.

FYI: Check out the artwork of Botticelli. It is amazing!

Book Review: Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions

Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart

First line: On the morning of her arrest, Edna Heustis awoke early and put her room in order.

Summary: In the third book of the Kopp Sisters series, Constance, the first lady deputy, strives to find justice for the women that are brought to the jailhouse. These women were arrested on morality charges but Constance is out to prove that these women are just trying to provide for themselves and have a little freedom. At the same time she has to find her sister, Fleurette, who runs away to join the stage show of May Ward and her Dresden Dolls.

Highlights: I love that this is based on true stories. As I was skimming through the historical notes at the end of the book, I saw that the news articles about Constance Kopp appeared in the Wichita Beacon. As the first woman deputy, she had to fight the constant backlash from the people that believed a woman should not and could not be a deputy. She proves them wrong. Norma makes me laugh with her straightforward speech and tough demeanor.

Lowlights: I feel that the story is slow moving with multiple storylines intertwined. The story could have been condensed and made a little shorter.

FYI: Check out the libraries database, Newspapers.com, and search for Constance Kopp. It is very interesting to see the real life woman and her stories. 

Book Review: The Last Tudor

The Last Tudor by Philippa Gregory

First line: I love my father because I know that he will never die.

Summary: The story of the three Grey sisters, heirs to the throne of England. The story is broken into three parts following each of the sisters as they struggle to survive during the reign of their Tudor cousins. Jane is named Queen of England on the death of her cousin, King Edward VI. However, her reign lasts only nine days. Katherine is a young beauty who can only think of love and becoming the heir to the throne. Mary, an invisible member of the court is constantly watching and learning from the mistakes of her sisters.

Highlights: I loved the flow of the narrative. This story felt more like Gregory’s earlier novels. It was more novel than facts and occurrences. I had recently become more interested in the Grey sisters. It was great to have my favorite author cover their lives and loves.

Lowlights: Elizabeth was portrayed as a very vindictive woman. I am sure that she had many faults but part of me wants to continue to think of her as the great queen.

FYI: Long book but very good.

Early September new releases

The holiday weekend means I’m a little behind this month, but here are some new releases we’re looking forward to this month. I hope you found some time to get some reading in on that last great weekend of the summer.

Yesterday really did seem to be our last blast of summer with temperatures in the Wichita area hovering near 100 degrees. Today feels like the beginning of fall with much cooler temperatures and a cloudy sky! But for us readers, that just means that we can move our reading indoors with a cup of our favorite warm beverage (librarians here are split between coffee and tea, although my favorite is hot cocoa).

Take a look at the titles below and see if something here grabs your interest. You can click on the title of the book to find it in our catalog.

Cover of Lie To Me by J. T. Ellison
A tale of a relationship built on lies, and how it can unravel.

Sept. 5: Lie to Me by J.T. Ellison
Where does a life built on lies get Sutton and Ethan Montclair? Not very far it turns out. While it appears that the couple is made for each other, the truth is much darker. They have been consumed by troubles, both personal and financial, and the two both love and hate each other. When Sutton disappears, leaving a note that directs people not to look for her, the lies begin to unravel and Ethan finds himself at the center of the gossip and questions. A thriller full of twists and turns that will have you turning pages.

Sept. 5: All That Makes Life Bright by Josi S. Kilpack
This romance tells the story of Harriet Beecher and her relationship with Calvin Stowe. Harriet has a strong faith in God and believes that God will help her accomplish everything she is meant to be, including a wife, mother, and writer. When Calvin is called away on a European business trip, Harriet begins to wonder about her place in his life as she knows he still misses his first wife. Even when Calvin returns, life is much harder as Harriet tries to fulfill her many roles.

Cover of The Golden House by Salman Rushdie
A new tale from a literary master.

Sept. 5: The Golden House by Salman Rushdie
Another masterful tale from Rushdie, this novel tells the story of the Golden family, from the perspective of their Manhattanite neighbor, confidant and aspiring filmmaker, Rene. Nero Golden is a real-estate tycoon with three adult children. They move into a mansion in downtown Manhattan after immigrating to the United States under mysterious circumstances. Rushdie calls on pop culture, cinema, literature, and current events to tell this story.

Cover of Lines by Suzy Lee
A magical picture book explores the designs a young skater makes on a frozen pond.

Sept. 5: Lines by Suzy Lee (picture book)
From Goodreads: “And magic once again flows from the pencil and imagination of internationally acclaimed artist Suzy Lee. With the lightest of touches, this masterwork blurs the lines between real and imagined, reminding us why Lee’s books have been lauded around the world, recognized on New York Times Best Illustrated Books lists and nominated for the Hans Christian Andersen Award, the highest international honor given to children’s book creators. This seemingly simple story about a young skater on a frozen pond will charm the youngest of readers while simultaneously astounding book enthusiasts of any age.”

Sept. 12: Warcross by Marie Lu (young adult—not yet on catalog, but is on order)
For those who log in every day, Warcross is more than just a game. Emika Chen is a teenage hacker who also works as a bounty hunter, searching for those who bet on the game illegally. She needs to make some quick cash, so she takes a risk and hacks into a game, but accidentally glitches herself into the action. She’s convinced she’s going to be arrested, but instead ends up on a mission for the young billionaire creator of the game.

Sept. 12: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Cover of Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Celeste Ng creates a simmering suburb in this story of how a secret can upend a community.

Shaker Heights is a carefully planned suburb of Cleveland, from the layout of the roads to the color of the houses. Elena Richardson embodies the ideas behind the suburb perfectly, as she absolutely believes in following the rules. But when Mia Warren moves in — an artist and single mom — and rents a house from the Richardson, life in this carefully ordered community gets upended.

Book Series like Downton Abbey for Kids

Secrets of the Manor Book One: Beth’s Story by Adele Whitby

Before Game of Thrones ignited our TVs with swords fights, dragons, and bloody battles, another television show was charming audiences across the globe. In 2010, Downton Abbey made everyone, including me, wish to be British. From sipping tea in the parlor to donning glamorous early 20th century dresses at parties to Maggie Smith’s snappy comebacks, the world of Downton inspired us with stories of lords and earls and the secret world of the servants below the stairs. When the show ended its sixth and final season in 2015, I definitely felt a Britain-sized hole in my daily life until I found the most wonderful book series that any BBC fanatic would enjoy.

We have all eight books available at the library!

The Secrets of the Manor series by Adele Whitby is best described as a Downton Abbey story told by the children of the era.  The series, written for 4th – 7th graders but great for any age, starts with the Chatswood family at Chatswood Manor. The series spans across England, the United States, and France with each book revealing hidden family secrets about love, betrayal, and power.

Beth’s Story, set in 1914,  is the first book in the series.

Beth’s Story, the first in the series, follows the great-granddaughter of the family matriarch as she prepares for her twelfth birthday and the gifting of the coveted family heirloom, the sapphire Elizabeth Necklace. When Beth’s lady’s maid is accused of a terrible crime, Beth embarks on a quest through both the manor and her own family history to clear her name. The series continues on to tell the story of Beth’s cousin, Kate, their great-grandmothers Elizabeth and Katherine, and Beth and Kate’s children.

This series will delight any historical fiction lover or even a reluctant reader in search of some adventure, travel, and friendship. The series would be an excellent read-aloud story for the whole family or a great choice for school projects. Of course, the series is also excellent for adult readers seeking a quick but engaging read.

There are a few downsides to the series that I should point out. While each book could act as a stand-alone, it is best to read them in order. Many of the main characters traditionally have the same name, but use nicknames to distinguish them among each other. Despite the book including a family tree, the names of the characters and how they are related can get confusing. The series also ends abruptly at book 8 and the author Adele Whitby must be a pseudonym with no means of contacting her. I became so obsessed with the series that I actually tried contacting the publishers to ask if they’ll release more books, but I haven’t heard back from anyone. If I do, I’ll definitely let you know!

Despite these minor issues, the Secrets of the Manor series is a remarkable collection of stories set in an enchanting place and time. Laced with history, family drama, and warmth, the series is sure to delight you and make you crave a cup of tea.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Valiant

The Valiant by Lesley Livingston

First line: The steam rising off the backs of the cantering horses faded into the morning fog.

Summary: Fallon is the daughter of a king.  She has trained her whole life in order to join her father’s war band and avenge the death of

her sister, who died at the hands of Julius Caesar.  Instead, she is captured by slavers and taken from her home in Britannia to Rome to be sold as a gladiatrix, a female gladiator.  Knowing that the only way to escape her life as a slave is to buy her freedom or death, she decides to become the greatest gladiator that Rome has ever seen.

Highlights: An exciting historical action book filled with fighting and bravery.  I liked Fallon from the beginning.  She is a strong female lead character that fights for herself rather than relying on men to help her.  I am ready for the second book to be released already.

I have visited Rome and seen the Colosseum.  It is breathtaking in how large the arena is and that it is still standing two millennia later.  Gladiators and animals fought and died in the arena for  the entertainment of thousands of Romans.  It could be filled with water for sea battles.  Many underground tunnels and rooms can be seen below the floor of the building.  Even though this story takes place before the Colosseum was built, I can imagine that the spectacle was quite impressive.  

Lowlights: I felt that a few plot points were a little predictable but the author did not seem to rely too much on these reveals.  The relationship with Cai seemed to evolve a little quickly but in YA this seems to be a normal process especially when the story is not focused on this and the plot has to move along.

 FYI: If you loved the movie Gladiator this is a great read.

Early August new releases

It’s nearly time for the kids to be back in school and summer is coming to a close. Those long, lazy days by the pool (did you actually get any of those?) are soon to be a memory, but there are plenty of good books coming out the first two Tuesdays in August, that I wish I could have endless days by the pool to read!

Here are eight (eight!) picks that we think will be satisfying reads for the end of summer. Our next new releases blog post will cover new releases for Aug. 15, 22 and 29. Click on the title of the book to go to the library catalog, where you can see if it’s available and place it on hold.

Aug. 1: The Address by Fiona Barton
From the author of The Dollhouse comes a compelling story, set around New York City’s most famous residence: The Dakota. It’s 1884 and Sara Smythe, who is working her way to head housekeeper at a posh London hotel, has a chance encounter with Theodore Camden, one of the architects of a grand new apartment building in New York. In 1985, Bailey Camden, once an interior designer and huge party girl, finds herself fresh out of rehab, homeless and needing a new start. One hundred years apart, Sara and Bailey face similar struggles, and Bailey’s discovery in the basement of the Dakota could change everything she thought she knew.

Aug. 1: The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor
If you are familiar with the story of two young women who convinced the world through their photographs in 1917 that faeries existed, this novel reimagines their story. But 100 years later, Olivia discovers that her life intertwines with the lives of Frances and Elsie. Olivia finds an old manuscript in her grandfather’s bookshop, but when she also discovers an old photograph, past and present begin to blur and Olivia’s understanding of what is real and what is imagined begins to blur.

Aug. 1: Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta
Eve Fletcher is 46, divorced and her only child is moving away to attend college, leaving Eve trying to figure out what comes next in her life. One night her phone lights up with an intriguing text from an anonymous number: “U R my MILF!” Over the next several months, she becomes obsessed by the message and a website called MILFateria.com, about the sexual exploits of middle-aged women like herself. Meanwhile, her son is struggling with his own issues at college, where his hard-partying lifestyle isn’t quite as welcomed as he’d hoped.

Aug. 1: The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley
A former East India Company smuggler is stuck at home after an accident leaves him with a broken leg. Then he begins seeing things that shouldn’t be happening and his brother says he must be mad. When presented an opportunity to go to the jungles of South America in search of quinine, he knows he shouldn’t. After all, everyone who has ever gone to Peru on a similar expedition has ended up dead. Despite barely being able to walk, he sets off against his better judgment.

Aug. 8: Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert
Suzette attends boarding school in New England, but when she goes home to L.A., she doesn’t want to go back. Her brother needs her support when he is diagnosed with bipolar disorder. And besides, L.A. is where her family and friends are. She’s settling into her life again, but finds herself confronted with the knowledge that she is falling for the same girl her brother is in love with. As her brother’s illness threatens to overwhelm him, she has to find a way to help her brother and confront her own mistakes.

Aug. 8: The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter
A new thriller from a No. 1 bestselling author. Sisters Samantha and Charlotte Quinn had their lives torn apart 28 years ago, when a brutal attack on their family home left their mother dead and their father devastated. Charlie has followed in her father’s footsteps and become an attorney, when her small town is plunged into terror once again. Charlie find herself besieged by memories that she’s tried to keep buried.

Aug. 8: Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker
Sisters are a theme in this thriller, where two sisters go missing and one comes back. Forensic psychologist Abby Winter looks deeper into the dysfunctional family, and from what she sees, something just doesn’t add up.

Aug. 8: Paper Girls Vol. 3 by Brian K. Vaughan
This is the collection of issues 11 through 15 in the popular graphic novel series. From Goodreads: “The multiple Eisner and Harvey Award-winning series from BRIAN K. VAUGHAN and CLIFF CHIANG continues, as newspaper deliverers Erin, Mac and Tiffany finally reunite with their long-lost friend KJ in an unexpected new era, where the girls must uncover the secret origins of time travel… or risk never returning home to 1988.”

Book review: A Talent for Murder

A Talent for Murder by Andrew Wilson

Cover of the book A Talent for Murder by Andrew Wilson
“A Talent for Murder” by Andrew Wilson imagines what might have happened to Agatha Christie during her 11-day disappearance in 1926.

This book actually gets 4.5 stars from me. Click on the title above the cover to get to the book in our catalog.

First Lines: Wherever I turned my head, I thought I saw her: a woman people described as striking, beautiful even. That would never have been my choice of words.

Summary: One of Agatha Christie’s most famous mysteries has never been solved: her mysterious disappearance for 11 days in December 1926. She left her home on a Friday evening and one of the largest missing person hunts in history was launched. This novel imagines what might have happened during those days. It begins as she leaves her literary agent and is preparing to board a train in London. She feels a hand at her back that pushes her as an oncoming train is arriving, and pulls her back just before she falls in front of the train. Her rescuer, however, is no hero. Rather, he insists that she is going to commit a murder.

Highlights: I have loved Agatha Christie’s books since I first read What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw when I was in seventh grade. This book is gutsy in taking on telling a story of what may have happened to Dame Agatha during those days she was missing. The story is cleanly told, from varying points of view. Don’t gloss over the “Editor’s Note” before the first chapter, and then go back and read it again after you’ve finished the book. It will be that much more enlightening. This book has a truly vile villain, other interesting characters, and a plot line that completely works for me.

Lowlights: I had just a little difficulty getting into the first dozen pages or so. Honestly, that could have been me rather than the writing. I fully expected a Chrsitie-esque unraveling at the end of the book of how the whole story went down, but that doesn’t happen. However, that didn’t hurt the story at all for me. And there’s a little information that isn’t completely cleared up at the end, so if you like every little thing all tied up in a neat little bow, you won’t get that here.

Just a little more: This is a great imagining of what could have happened during Agatha Christie’s disappearance. I recommend it for anyone who loves a good mystery, and especially for fans of Dame Agatha. I received an advance e-copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Early July new releases

Wow, it’s almost Independence Day, and the year is already half over! Where has the time gone? My reading list has been dented pretty well this year, and I’m staying on track with my Goodreads goal. How about you? Are getting as much reading time in this year as you would like? Let us know how your reading goals are going in the comments below.

And if you need some help finding something new to read, here are a few books that will be released this week and next. Click on the title of the book to find it in the library catalog.

July 4: The Lightkeeper’s Daughter by Jean Pendziwol
This story explores the relationship between an elderly woman, Elizabeth, and a teenager, Morgan, as they explore journals of a lightkeeper written decades before. The journals were written by Elizabeth’s father, and while the discovery sheds light on Morgan’s family mysteries, it makes Elizabeth question who she really is.

Cover of The Reason You're Alive by Matthew Quick
“The Reason You’re Alive” tells the story of a Vietnam veteran trying to return something he stole from a fellow soldier.

 July 4: The Reason You’re Alive by Matthew Quick
The newest novel from the best-selling author of The Sliver Linings Playbook is the story of Vietnam veteran David Granger. After Davis crashes his BMW, he learns he has a brain tumor, which he attributes to his exposure to agent orange during the war. After surgery, he decides to return something to one of his fellow soldiers, and the journey takes some challenging turns.

July 11: Where the Light Falls by Allison Pataki and Owen Pataki
Paris during the French Revolution, and the lives of Sophie, a young, aristocratic widow; Jean-Luc, a young lawyer; and Andre, a nobleman’s son, become intertwined in this period of hope and freedom. The story moves from the battlefields to the courtrooms and even into the alleyways of Paris, three years after the storming of the Bastille.

Cover of the book Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson
“Almost Sisters” is the latest novel from best-selling author Joshilyn Jackson.

July 11: The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson
Leia comes from a conventional Southern family, with everything that entails, and when she finds herself pregnant at 38 after a one-night affair, she is faced with telling her family not only about being pregnant, but that the baby is biracial. On top of that, her sister’s marriage is falling apart and her grandmother has been hiding dementia. When Leia goes home to help put her grandmother’s affairs in order, she learns of a dangerous secret that dates back to the Civil War.

July 11: Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown
Billie Flanagan disappeared a year ago in the Desolation Wilderness a year ago, and her husband, Jonathan, and daughter, Olive, are coping as best they can. Then Olive starts having waking dreams that her mother is still alive. Jonathan is worried about Olive’s mental health, until he learns some secrets about Billie that have him questioning if he ever really knew her.

Book Review: Alex and Eliza

Alex and Eliza by Melissa de la Cruz

First Line: Like a latter-day Greek temple, the Schuyler family mansion sat atop a softly rounded hill outside Albany.

Summary: Eliza Schuyler is the daughter of a wealthy general.  Alexander Hamilton is the right hand man of General George Washington.  When the two meet at Eliza’s home, the first encounter is not the one of fairy tales.  However, when they meet up again several months later their friendship grows and a romance for the ages is born in the midst of the American Revolution.

Highlights: This is a very quick read and great for a first book about Alexander Hamilton.  With the popularity of the musical, Hamilton, this book is appearing at just the right time.  I know very little about the man who had a key role in the establishment of our country.  I am a huge fan of Melissa de la Cruz.  I think she does a good job of bringing this story to readers in a YA version.

Lowlights: The book is almost more juvenile than YA usually are.  I expected a little more surrounding the war.  I do plan to read the next one as well.

FYI: Perfect introduction into the story of Alexander Hamilton.