The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley
Natasha Pulley's books will never be considered a quick read but they are thought provoking and her world building is first rate. This is an alternate history fantasy with themes of slavery, gay romance, adventure on the high seas, and playing with European history around the Napoleonic Wars. Joe has a case of epileptic amnesia and the only clue he has about his life after stepping off the train is a 100 year old postcard of a lighthouse signed M. France won the war making England a colony and slavery is thriving. Joe heads to Scotland (still a country of rebels) to search for clues at the lighthouse in the photo. Once there he will embark on a journey through time in search of his life. The multiple timelines take some getting used to but her books are always so full of interesting tidbits and fascinating worlds.
I am biased because the book is based on some of my favorite artists but the combination of time travel and Renaissance history is a delightful journey. It starts with a cat who travels through a wardrobe to be adopted by a young man held hostage in the Pope's palace in Rome. When Frederico befriends a strange man who also comes through the wardrobe, the fun begins. Stolen art , petty artists and another time traveler who just wants to help her neighbor back home in New Jersey all play a role in setting history to right. A wonderful pick for middle grade readers raised on the Magic Treehouse books or Blue Balliet's art mysteries will dive into this historical mystery with a twist. 4 1/2 fun stars for summer reading.
Dixie is a talented photographer. Dixie is a warm, caring person who loves children and many of the families she is hired to photograph. Dixie is also a liar. Wanting or assuming she means more to the talented designer couple and their daughter was her first error in judgement. Convincing them that she is their best friend and savior is her ultimate goal. A dark and intense journey into obsession for a lonely photographer who thinks she can photoshop her way into the life she wants. Lovers of thrillers that keep you up at night will jump right into this one. 4 stars
Footnotes by Caseen Gaines
Most performers are nervous on opening night on Broadway but few are worried that the evening may result in violence and possibly death. This was indeed the case when Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake's first all- African American cast musical played Broadway in 1921. Thankfully, there was much applause and the success of "Shuffle Along" grew into a long running hit. In a time where the only entertainment showing African Americans was done by white actors in black face makeup, this show broke barriers and introduces theatre goers to the real African American experience and talent. These brave men and women whose careers were launched from that show were fortunate to finally have a showcase for their considerable talent. They still faced racism, inequality in pay and recognition. A solid choice for those interested in early Broadway and African American performers. 5 stars
Katherine Johnson was a pioneer on so many levels and crossed barriers due to her skin color and the fact that she was a woman as well as helping to launch the US into space. Following the movie "Hidden Figures" she became well known overnight as we learned of her long career with NASA as a black female mathematician. She was who John Glenn wanted to check the calculations before he would climb into the tin can that would hurl him into space. She also worked hard to break barriers outside of NASA and was active in civil rights. All this coming from humble beginnings in West Virginia in a family where education was everything. She led a full life and shares her hopes, joys and defeats in this sweet memoir that mixes the history of the space program with the civil rights movement and stressing the importance of a good education and perseverance. 4 stars
Day Zero by C. Robert Cargill
It is a new day in futuristic Austin and another day of fun for 8 year old Ezra and his A.I. tiger nanny Pounce. But when a law decries setting the A.I. free and a tragic event takes place, humans and their machine help are suddenly at war. Pounce loves Ezra and is programmed to protect him no matter what against any danger. Ezra feels the same towards Pounce but he will be forced to grow up very quickly if he wants to stay alive. This is a fresh take on the subject of family vs. employee and A.I. vs human love.
This cautionary tale is as violent as it is heartfelt and shows what could happen. Imagine the Terminator as a fully upright tiger and you have a good picture of Pounce. The author does a great job of describing the Texas Hill Country as an apocalyptic war zone. 5 crazy stars
Two sisters with very different backgrounds deal with a bad situation and learn a bit about themselves in the process. Peyton is very successful Morning talk show host with a great husband and teen daughter who is leaving the nest for college. Skye is super mom working on every committee, room mom, Girl Scout Leader and about to open a house for underprivileged city girls once she has the last bit of funding. She is also happily married and has a precocious daughter and supportive of her niece.
Peyton does the unthinkable and pays a bribe to get her daughter into Princeton. Her husband takes the fall to keep Peyton's career intact but soon it along with her marriage is in free fall. Skye is keeping a secret or two of her own. A summer of discovery, complicated family relationships and a madcap romp to fix what she broke - this story will resonate with fans of her other books and WHERE 'D YOU GO BERNADETTE. 4 stars
Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau
Coming from a conservative Brady Bunch household where her mom cooks every meal and church is attended in Sunday best every week, Mary Jane wasn't prepared for the chaos of the Cone's household.
She is hired to be their five year old's summer nanny but ends up managing all their lives. In return the Cones and their secret patient guests open up her world and fill it with laughter, music and freedom. For some this is a sweet trip down the memory lane of our childhoods and for others it is insight into a time that left little room between the conservative middle class and the free thinking, rock loving, fight for your rights liberals. My favorite character (which was difficult because they are all perfect cast) is Izzy whose innocent take on the adults around her is infectious. Pick up the groovy book, get out your 70's vinyl and get ready for a wild trip. This is the perfect read for anyone who loved the zany antics in NOTHING TO SEE HERE or enjoy coming of age stories served with a healthy dose of humor and compassion. A Lead Read for good reason - this will be big. 5 Tiger Beat stars
The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz
We all know that there is no such thing as a truly original plot and since the former student who had the idea is dead and never made it into a book why shouldn't Jacob Finch Bonner use the idea and write the novel? This is indeed what happens and it boosts Jacob's failing writing career to the best seller list and international acclaim. It is the best time of his life until he gets the first message calling him a thief and a liar. Frantic Jacob first tries to ignore the taunts but then he realizes he must find this person before he loses it all. This is a slow starter and one that uses an abundance of parenthesis but by the time the book tours begin you are fully engaged and with each sample chapter of the stolen story you have more suspects and questions until the jaw dropping conclusion. Thriller lovers will be skipping meals and calling in sick for this one. 4 1/2 stars
How Lucky by Will Leitch
Daniel is slowly losing his life to a degenerative disease called SMA. He needs help to do most things we take for granted and it is only going to get worse but in spite of this he is one of the most optimistic and positive people on Earth. Working from home on the computer as a Customer Service Rep for an airline with one of the worst records, he is used to a steady dose of abuse. His days are going to get worse as soon as he sees a young woman get into a car - a woman who is now missing. He does whatever he can to find her or her captor and in the process begins a dangerous journey. This book starts off funny and uplifting and then smacks you in the head. An empowering book for anyone with challenges and a great reminder to the rest of us not to let the disability get in the way of seeing the person behind it. It is also a love letter to the Southern college football way of life. Will Leitch has created characters and a story that is sort of a love match between Pat Conroy and Fredrik Backman. 4 1/2 stars
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