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Brother Against Brother

Cover art for The Man Who Would Not Be WashingtonCover art for Marching HomeOne of the great paradoxes of history is Robert E. Lee’s decision to fight for the Confederacy rather than defend the Union. Jonathan Horn explores the great battle Lee fought within himself in The Man Who Would Not Be Washington.

 

Robert E. Lee was the son of a renowned Revolutionary General, the son-in-law of Washington’s adopted child and the keeper of the flame of Washington’s legacy. He graduated second in his class at West Point, fought for his country during the Mexican-American War, and was considered the natural choice to command the Union Army. Despite a lifetime defending the Constitution against all enemies, he could not bear arms against his neighbors. Horn’s extensive research follows Lee through his personal and professional life, illuminating the deep ties of family, affection and history that bound the Washington and Lee families. It is this one, fateful decision that has shaped our perception of Washington and created the American story.

 

Our nation’s story is not simply about the generals, but also the private soldiers. In Marching Home: The Union Veterans and Their Unending Civil War, Brian Jordan shatters the legend of the constantly faithful, overly sentimental soldier who attends reunions and speaks fondly of brothers-in-arms. Rather, the soldiers were tormented by wounds and memories. A new fight began after the war — the fight for dignity, fair compensation and recognition of their accomplishments. Determined to put the war behind them, civilians were unprepared for the return of shell-shocked veterans and unwilling to deal with their needs. Using pension records, diaries, letters and regimental histories, Brian Matthew Jordan has brought into stark relief the needs of veterans and the vast gulf between the home front and the battlefront.

 

Two great reads for Civil War devotees — from one Civil War nut to another!

Leanne

 
 

A Perilous Reunion

A Perilous Reunion

posted by:
March 16, 2015 - 8:00am

Her by Harriet LaneIt seems innocent enough in the beginning, the budding friendship between Nina and Emma in Harriet Lane's new psychological thriller Her. Nina is the well-heeled 40-something artist who outwardly seems to have it all. The pregnant Emma, on the other hand, has an understandably chaotic and messy life with a demanding toddler in tow. So when Nina takes a soothing interest in the harried Emma, the young mother is smitten and even a little flattered.

 

Lane wants readers to get nervous about this one-sided friendship that seems to take hold when the sophisticated Nina spots Emma on a London street one day. She recognizes the younger woman, but Emma doesn't recognize her. And the pursuit is on. What happens next is difficult to figure, as Nina deftly worms her way into the nucleus of Emma's life. When the complicated Nina lures Emma's small son away from his mother in a park, she instigates a parent's worst nightmare, but why does she do it? For sure, Nina's subtle and sinister cruelties hint of the Hitchcockian drama to unfold.

 

British author Lane, whose first novel was Alys, Always, seems keen on manipulative protagonists. In Her, she uses restraint in shifting the story from the alternating perspectives of the two women. With a simmering plot and plenty of questions to answer, the ending will sneak up on you and accomplish what a psychological thriller is meant to do: stay with you. Readers of Gone Girl and also-new The Girl on the Train will want to sit down with this tautly written gem that will also hit the spot.

Cynthia

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Trapped by Fear

Trapped by Fear

posted by:
March 12, 2015 - 8:00am

Die Again by Tess GerritsenFamous for her taut, gripping, forensic thrillers, Tess Gerritsen once again leads us to the edge in Die Again.

 

Seeing a dog in the window of a home with a human finger in his mouth, a mailman immediately contacts the police. Boston homicide detective Jane Rizzolli and forensic pathologist Moira Isles discover the body of a big-game hunter, trussed hanging upside down, and ultimately the victim of a large cat. Leon Gott has hunted big game and is considered the finest taxidermist in the business, but it looks like the animal kingdom has decided to redress the difference. Isles believes this case is tied to a series of suspicious incidents involving hikers in remote areas. All of those killings involved big cat attacks, and some were dismissed as unfortunate encounters with nature. The investigation leads to a link between the taxidermist and a group on safari in Africa victimized by a leopard.

 

Six years previously, a group of vacationers seeking a unique African experience joined a safari. Expecting exotic adventures, fabulous sights and romantic evenings by the fire, they instead faught for their lives in a world that was ruled by “eat or be eaten.” Told through the eyes of Millie Jacobson, a London bookstore owner, we travel alternately between the murder investigation in Boston and the growing horror in Botswana, as each vacationer is attacked and dragged away, one by one.

 

Gerritsen is a master at weaving grisly details into her forensic science, and the result is a suspense-filled trip through terror. The writer is also ably adept at drawing believable, deeply human characters who struggle with the normalcy of daily life while facing the worst human nature can provide. The complex relationships among the investigating team as they struggle to unearth the truth and unmask a killer add to the realistic portrayal.

 

Fans of Kathy Reichs, Patricia Cornwell and Jeffery Deaver will find this a deeply satisfying read. There is also a television series featuring Rizzoli and Isles. Just remember, this trip is not for the faint of heart.

Leanne

 
 

Moonraker

Cover art for Star Wars: A New DawnSince the Clone Wars, Emperor Palpatine’s reach spans as far as Star Destroyer warp drives can extend. For some, the tumultuous peace is just another inevitable hardship of border planet living, but other galactic citizens aren’t as keen to bend to the Emperor’s will. In Star Wars: A New Dawn, longtime comic and Lucas Books writer John Jackson Miller introduces two new characters who are poised to become lingering thorns in Palpatine’s side as they rally their own rebellion, one refugee at a time.

 

Planet Gorse is only inhabited by holdout colonists clinging to a declining mining trade. They spend their days harvesting thorilide, a commodity for droid and weapons manufacturing, and their nights drinking away their hard-earned credits at Okadiah’s planetside cantina. Working to impress the Emperor, ruthless and cunning business mogul Count Vidian arrives on Gorse to survey the thorilide supply and optimize what little industry remains. His investigation leads him to Cynda, Gorse’s moon, which is also laden with thorilide. The trick is that extracting thorilide from beneath the moon’s surface is time-consuming, and both Vidian and the Emperor are unwilling to wait for the materials to trickle in from border space.

 

Kanan Jarrus is a Cyndan miner seemingly like all the other holdouts, but he is able to draw exceptional strength and willpower from the pain of loss he has been harboring since childhood. Jarrus notices the out-of-place Vidian marching around with his clone soldier escorts and takes it upon himself to keep the other miners safe by any means. He runs into Hera Syndulla, a Twi’lek spy who has been trailing Vidian across the galaxy, and the two ally to combat the encroaching Empire. Can they stop Vidian from hatching a nefarious plan to harvest Cynda’s resources in a highly unethical and ultimately lethal manner?

 

Kanan and Hera continue their adventures in the animated series Star Wars Rebels which has spawned numerous Star Wars books for children. Adult and teen readers who enjoy A New Dawn should round up their children, brothers and sisters for a Star Wars party!

Tom

 
 

The Ride of Your Life

The Ride of Your Life

posted by:
March 6, 2015 - 8:00am

Cover art for The Girl on the TrainPaula Hawkins debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, delivers a suspense-driven plot filled with complex characters exploring memory and meaning, fantasy and reality.  

 

Rachel could be like any commuter, scanning the scenery from the train as they slide by, aimlessly viewing the same landscape day after day. Except that Rachel has created a whole other world out of the window — finding a favorite house on a favorite block of Victorian homes, creating an entire persona around a golden couple she names Jess and Jason. They are the couple that Rachel and Tom used to be, before the alcohol, the scenes and the recriminations. They are everything Rachel had, until she turned to cocktails to dull the pain of infertility. Jess and Jason live only a few doors down the street from the house Rachel and Tom furnished with so much anticipation. Only now, Tom lives there with his new wife, Anna, who is pregnant with their first child.

 

The fantasy couple are really Megan and Scott, and they have problems just like everyone else. Megan is emotionally scarred by two tragic events she can’t reconcile. Scott senses she is hiding something, possibly another man, and his jealousy scars their relationship. Rachel sees Megan kissing a man that is not her husband, and shortly after, Megan disappears.

 

This book is told by three narrators: Rachel, the obsessed, delusional alcoholic struggling to make herself heard; Anna, the new young wife consumed with creating a perfect family; and the ill-fated Megan, propelled by the past she can’t relinquish and a future she can’t embrace. Gripping, suspenseful, an irresistible read, The Girl on the Train explores all facets of human nature, our understanding of the past and our perception of the present. Hawkins is a master storyteller, weaving a tale that is as compulsively readable as it is electrifying. If you enjoyed Gone Girl, hop on board. You are in for the ride your life.

Leanne

 
 

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’s Sister?

Cover art for Vanessa and Her SisterFew collectives of the 20th century grabbed as much attention or gathered as much talent as the prolific Bloomsbury Group. Made up of luminaries of the art, literary and academic world, their indelible stamp on the thoughts and trends of the turn of the century still resonate with fans today. Much has been written and dissected of the Group’s offerings, particularly the writing of E.M. Forster and Virginia Woolf. While Virginia’s remarkable career and personal struggles may consume most of the spotlight, author Priya Parmar has delved into the mind of Vanessa Bell, Virginia’s sister, in her novel Vanessa and Her Sister.

 

Told through a series of fictional diary entries, letters and telegrams, Vanessa attempts to carve out her painting career amidst the chaos of falling in love, having children, grieving and dealing with Virginia’s violent and troubling moods. Vanessa often feels on the outside of the literary world she is forced to inhabit. While her friends are off having love affairs and traveling the world at large, she wonders if she is meant to fall behind because of her family obligations. Her creative mind will not allow her to give up on her art. As it becomes clear that Virginia’s jealousy extends beyond Vanessa’s artistic talents and moves to her family life, she grapples with the knowledge of how devious and manipulative the very people she loves most can be.

 

Rich in characterization and detail, fans of the Bloomsbury Group and of novels like Michael Cunningham’s The Hours will find this sumptuous novel a treat for the brain.

 

Jessica

 
 

Bewitching Legends

Bewitching Legends

posted by:
March 4, 2015 - 8:00am

Cover art for WildaloneKrassi Zourkova’s debut novel Wildalone will leave readers eagerly awaiting her next literary venture. A novel filled with Greek mythology, Bulgarian legends and romance, Wildalone is a stunning debut. Thea Slavin, a Bulgarian student, has just begun her freshman year at Princeton University. She immediately wows the Princeton community with her piano skills, giving a Chopin concert shortly after she arrives at school. As Thea is thrust into the spotlight, she must balance her musical ambitions with her school work, campus job, social life, mysterious family history and enigmatic love interest.

 

Before Thea begins her education at Princeton, she finds out that she had a much older sister, Elza, who attended Princeton years before and mysteriously died there. This doesn’t stop Thea from attending the illustrious school. Rather, she decides to investigate her sister’s death in between classes, concerts and dates. Meanwhile, she becomes enraptured with Rhys, an older, captivating man who reveals little about himself, keeping Thea in the dark throughout much of the book. Zourkova weaves in stories from Greek mythology and Bulgarian legends, and as the reader reaches the climax of the novel, the story ties in with the legends seamlessly.

 

Wildalone is a bewitching story that leaves readers enraptured with Thea, as well as the more minor characters. Fans of Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy series will enjoy this new novel and debut author. Reader beware, Wildalone ends on a cliffhanger!

Laura

 
 

Here Be Some Very Bad Dragons

The Great Zoo of China by Matthew ReillyPuff the Magic Dragon conjures up a saccharine image, kind of like a winged Barney. A dragon named Melted Face with hide like Kevlar is more a feature of nightmares. Unfortunately for herpetologist CJ Cameron, Melted Face and his cronies have her in their sights in the rip-roaring action thriller The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly.

 

CJ is flying to China. The Chinese government is sparing no expense to bring her, along with influential politicians and reporters, to premiere their nation’s newest attraction: a phenomenal zoo designed to make the Disney’s amusement empire look rinky-dink. As they arrive at the park, located in a remote no-fly zone, CJ is stunned to see Greyhound bus-sized mythical creatures soaring through the sky. The official announcement? “Welcome to Great Dragon Zoo of China.”

 

Like a surreal Sea World, the visit starts with the equivalent of a dolphin show. A cute handler prompts dragons through tricks, explains they were were hatched from ancient eggs buried miles beneath the earth’s crust and ends by saddling up a sweet yellow dragon and flying into the clouds. CJ, however, sees both grim intelligence and simmering resentment in the lizards’ eyes, and this public relations visit quickly turns into a blood-soaked battle for survival as hordes of angry dragons turn their captors into prey. Furiously paced and laced with reptilian scientific factoids, The Great Zoo of China is an adrenaline-charged adventure of a tale.

Lori

 
 

Failure Is an Option

Failure Is an Option

posted by:
February 27, 2015 - 3:18pm

CraftFail: When Homemade Goes Horribly Wrong by Heather MannEvery DIYer out there has a story or two about a project that ended up going awry. Heather Mann compiles hysterical craft disasters in CraftFail: When Homemade Goes Horribly Wrong. Spanning the worlds of food, home décor, fashion and kids, Mann’s entertaining collection will amuse non-crafters and comfort those dedicated crafters who have all experienced hiccups despite the best laid plans.

 

Mann, creator of the popular blog CraftFail.com takes a look at what happens to those of us who aren’t Martha Stewart. The effort and good intentions are definitely there but, sadly, the end result doesn’t match. Photographs of craft failures, including new ones not seen on the blog, include glitter shoes that look like a puddle of sparkling slop and spaghetti-stuffed garlic bread which is anything but appetizing. These projects all sounded cool and seemed attainable, but the outcomes were decidedly dreadful.

 

Mann’s funny look at crafting gone wrong also serves as a celebration of the creative process. Failure is always a possibility, but that shouldn’t be a barrier to inspiration and imagination. The photographs and sharp writing all combine to create a humorous homage to the internal HGTV designer inside each of us who perseveres and keeps on crafting. This charming collection also highlights two important imperatives all crafters should adopt as a mantra when starting any project — follow directions and don’t substitute!

Maureen

 
 

Gamblers, Ghouls and Gold

Gamblers, Ghouls and Gold

posted by:
February 26, 2015 - 8:00am

The Body Snatchers Affair by Marcia MullerMarcia Muller and Bill Pronzini take you on a journey as twisted and complex as the streets and alleys of San Francisco’s Chinatown in their latest work The Body Snatchers Affair. John Quincannon and Sabina Carpenter, former Pinkerton detectives now operating an independent detective agency, have seemingly unrelated cases. John is searching the back alleys for illicit opium dens in the hope of finding a prominent attorney who has gone off the rails. Sabina is trying to retrieve a corpse snatched from the vault of a recently bereaved wealthy family and foil the blackmailers’ ghoulish scheme. Operating in Chinatown under the imminent threat of a tong war, John and Sabina must negotiate the corruption in both the police department and the city’s underworld. They are also negotiating their increasingly complicated relationship as Sabina is wooed by a prominent gold engineer and John deals with his jealousy. Lurking in the shadows is a crackbrain character claiming to be Sherlock Holmes.

 

Rich with the atmosphere of late 1890s San Francisco, the author’s passion for the city’s culture and history shines through every page. They are the only living married couple to be named Grand Masters by the Mystery Writers of America. Marcia Muller is considered to be the mother of the female hardboiled detective genre, introducing Sharon McCone in Edwin of the Iron Shoes in 1977. Bill Pronzini is known for his Nameless detective series set in San Francisco. The Body Snatchers Affair is the third entry in this series, but is an excellent read even without reading the previous titles. Fans of Shirley Tallman, Victoria Thompson and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle will enjoy the period, while fans of Agatha Christie will enjoy the plot twists and turns.

Leanne