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Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill (audio)

Source: Purchased

Audible, 11+ hours

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Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill, narrated by Stephen Lang, is a ghost story from the beginning to the end, but Judas Coyne (formerly Justin Cowzynski) is an unlikable character with a penchant for collecting macabre items. This penchant is what gets him into a big mess — all of his sins come to roost as he battles the unseen man tied to a suit he buys online in a heart-shaped box. He has effectively retired from public life after his bandmates have either killed themselves or died, but little else has changed with his life — still moving from woman to woman and collecting oddities on the underground web.

Lang is a decent narrator no matter the character and he has the timbre to create a creepy atmosphere.

Jude and his latest woman (like all his women are called by their former state of residence) find that they are locked together in a battle against a ghostly man who is out for revenge. It’s clear this ghost hasn’t had a lot of practice with revenge from beyond the grave, but Jude gets some help from his former girlfriend who has been dead for some time. Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill, narrated by Stephen Lang, is a dark tale of beyond-the-grave revenge.

RATING: Quatrain

The Great Upending by Beth Kephart

Source: Purchased

Hardcover, 272 pgs.

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The Great Upending by Beth Kephart is a story with mystery, family, and lives turned upside down in unexpected ways that will create long-lasting bonds. Sara and Hawk Scholl are siblings living on a rural farm in Pennsylvania, a farm that has seen its share of troubles and there’s no end in sight to them. Twelve-year-old Sara has Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects the body’s connective tissue, and she needs a rather expensive operation that her financially strapped parents cannot afford.

The farm in this story is alive with animals running, prize birds escaping, and a Mister renting out the family’s converted silo. The kids have chores and the parents are praying for rain to end one of the worst droughts they’ve ever experienced. The Mister is a mystery, and even though they are told to keep their distance, they can’t help by spy on him from the roof or a nearby tree. Kephart’s prose is as poetic as always, even as she describes a disease that can mean an early death for many who have it.

“It all comes down to glue. I’m a body built out of stretch.” (pg. 29)

“The only rain that’s anywhere is the rain that rains eyes to chin, over the long stretching stretch of my thinking, and now, downstairs, I hear Mom and Dad talking. I hear the number we need: twenty grand for Sara’s surgery.” (pg. 78)

“I take a picture, which is like a seed, the way it keeps its beauty folded in.” (pg. 205)

From the love of reading to the vivid, wild pull of imagination, Sara and Hawk are drawn into their own mystery and start making plans to help the stranger who is helping them, even if the money from his rent is not enough to cover the bills or the dream of surgery her parents carry for Sara. These siblings are tied by the bond of family, but they’re also conspirators in a tale of salvation and preserving the thrill of imagination. The Great Upending by Beth Kephart is gorgeously rendered and brings to life the beauty and hardship of farm life and the struggles a young girl with Marfan syndrome can face, but how those hardships are only part of the story.

RATING: Quatrain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Beth Kephart is the author of twenty-two books, publishing memoir, young adult literature, a corporate fairytale, an autobiography of a river, and an essay/photography collection.

Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir (Gotham), based in part on Kephart’s teaching at Penn (where she won the 2015 Beltran Teaching Award), won the 2013 Books for a Better Life Award (Motivational Category), was featured as a top writing book by O Magazine, and was named a Best Writing Book by Poets and Writers. Small Damages (Philomel) was named a 2013 Carolyn W. Field Honor Book and a best book of the year by many publications. Going Over (Chronicle) was the 2014 Parents’ Choice, Gold Medal Winner/Historical Fiction and a Booklist Editor’s Choice. One Thing Stolen (Chronicle) was a 2015 Parents’ Choice Gold Medal winner. Kephart’s 2014 Shebooks e-memoir is Nest. Flight. Sky.: On Love and Loss One Wing at a Time. Her 2013 middle grade historical novel, Dr. Radway’s Sarsaparilla Resolvent (Temple University Press), was named a top book of the year by Kirkus.

Kephart is a National Book Award nominee and a winner of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fiction grant, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Leeway grant, a Pew Fellowships in the Arts grant, and the Speakeasy Poetry Prize. She writes a monthly column for the Philadelphia Inquirer, is a frequent contributor to the Chicago Tribune, has given keynote addresses on the state of literature and teaching, and served as a judge for the National Book Awards, the National Endowment for the Arts, and PEN. 

Kephart was one of 50 Philadelphia writers chosen for the year-long Philadelphia’s Literary Legacy, exhibited at the Philadelphia International Airport. Excerpts from her Love: A Philadelphia Affair were the subject of a six-month Airport exhibit. She is a Radnor High Hall of Fame.

Kephart is the co-founder of Juncture Workshops, offering memoir workshops and resources to writers across the country.

Rational Creatures edited by Christina Boyd

Source: Publisher
Ebook, 486 pgs
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Rational Creatures edited by Christina Boyd is a collection of stories that explore the rational side of Jane Austen’s characters, delving deep into what makes them tick. From Louisa Musgrove who leaps from the Cobb and is severely injured to Hetty Bates, the spinster who chatters away. Sixteen Austen-inspired stories are within the covers of this anthology, and each one will shed light on some of Austen’s most modern thinking characters. But don’t be fooled by the title because this collection also has the romance many Austen readers desire.

Imagine Elinor Dashwood sketching her beloved knowing he belongs to another, pouring her deep passion and melancholy into his visage with such care. “He has found it, she thought, not daring (not wanting) to break the intensity of his gaze. Could he see, in that drawing and in her face, all she wanted of him? What would he do if she were to reach out and touch him — to feel for herself the line of his jaw, the arch of his brow, the fullness of his bottom lip?” (from “Self-Composed” by Christina Morland)

Readers also get a glimpse into Charlotte Lucas and her thoughts on marriage and her longing for a life like her friend Elizabeth Bennet — a life filled with love. We find that Hetty Bates may be more like Elizabeth Bennet than we’d think, having spurned a marriage proposal. Perhaps Ms. Bates is Ms. Bennet’s alter ego, had Mr. Darcy not strove to improve himself and hope she’d accept him. Even Fanny Price, who many see as weak, is brought into a new light in “The Meaning of Wife” by Brooke West. “Edmund did not truly know her at all, choosing only to see the young woman he expected her to be. It struck her as darkly amusing that for years she had longed for Edmund to look upon her with desire but, now that his heart had found his way to her, she could find none of the expected joy.”

Rational Creatures edited by Christina Boyd offers so much in these short stories but at it’s heart is about women who are searching for their own love stories, even if they are ridiculed, hated, and ignored by others. Isn’t love the most redeeming for us all. Each of these characters is given new life by these authors and their stories are as beautifully engaging as the originals written by Jane Austen herself.

Rating: Quatrain

Cloud Hopper by Beth Kephart

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 332 pgs.
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Cloud Hopper by Beth Kephart is a novel of adventure in the eyes of three teens who have found their own family among one another. K, Wyatt, and Sophie look to the skies as Sophie’s Grandma Aubrey wove tales of her namesake, Sophie Blanchard, aeronaut extraordinaire. A cloud hopper comes to life in a young migrant girl who falls from the sky one summer as the trio are watching. When they scramble to save her from the wreckage, the trio begin a journey of self-discovery and shared secrets that has little to do with the hopper herself. Sophie must become more at ease in the air, like her namesake, if she is to come terms with all that happens in this novel.

Kephart’s lyrical prose creates a sense of urgency to find the migrant girl’s family without them being caught by ICE or worse, as the hospital will only keep her so long as she heals. Sophie’s grandmother’s multiple sclerosis is progressing at the same time. Sophie is pulled between her friends and the mission and the love of her grandmother who needs her most. What Kephart does so well is create a vivid scene in each moment, making the reader feel they are there on the forest floor searching, in the Cessna circling, at the hospital appeasing, and striving for a resolution and a happy ending, even if they know not all endings are happy.

“You pick the best people for your life, Grandma Aubrey always says. And you stick with them.” (pg.78)

“‘Nothing that is not to be expected,’ she says, but it takes her way too long to say it, and my thoughts are worries, and my worries are like the black storm in the sky that came upon the hopper and threw her to the ground.” (pg. 129)

Like many other Beth Kephart books, readers will be swept into a new world — a world that is both real and fantastical. It’s poetic, it bends the rules, and it soars. Cloud Hopper by Beth Kephart is like the hopper, flying perilously toward danger without a safety net, but the journey is well worth the unpredictability.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Beth Kephart is the author of twenty-two books, publishing memoir, young adult literature, a corporate fairytale, an autobiography of a river, and an essay/photography collection.

Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir (Gotham), based in part on Kephart’s teaching at Penn (where she won the 2015 Beltran Teaching Award), won the 2013 Books for a Better Life Award (Motivational Category), was featured as a top writing book by O Magazine, and was named a Best Writing Book by Poets and Writers. Small Damages (Philomel) was named a 2013 Carolyn W. Field Honor Book and a best book of the year by many publications. Going Over (Chronicle) was the 2014 Parents’ Choice, Gold Medal Winner/Historical Fiction and a Booklist Editor’s Choice. One Thing Stolen (Chronicle) was a 2015 Parents’ Choice Gold Medal winner. Kephart’s 2014 Shebooks e-memoir is Nest. Flight. Sky.: On Love and Loss One Wing at a Time. Her 2013 middle grade historical novel, Dr. Radway’s Sarsaparilla Resolvent (Temple University Press), was named a top book of the year by Kirkus.

Kephart is a National Book Award nominee and a winner of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fiction grant, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Leeway grant, a Pew Fellowships in the Arts grant, and the Speakeasy Poetry Prize. She writes a monthly column for the Philadelphia Inquirer, is a frequent contributor to the Chicago Tribune, has given keynote addresses on the state of literature and teaching, and served as a judge for the National Book Awards, the National Endowment for the Arts, and PEN. 

Kephart was one of 50 Philadelphia writers chosen for the year-long Philadelphia’s Literary Legacy, exhibited at the Philadelphia International Airport. Excerpts from her Love: A Philadelphia Affair were the subject of a six-month Airport exhibit. She is a Radnor High Hall of Fame.

Kephart is the co-founder of Juncture Workshops, offering memoir workshops and resources to writers across the country.

Daughter of Black Lake by Cathy Marie Buchanan

Source: publisher
Hardcover, 320 pgs.
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Daughter of Black Lake by Cathy Marie Buchanan is like the oral tales of old where facts are distorted by the story teller from ear to ear. During the Roman invasion of Britannia, we meet the Smith family in which Hobble is a runt because of her gait issues, her mother is a healer for the tribe at Black Lake, and her father is the blacksmith. Like the lake with its dark, unknowable depths, much of the nature-based religion and philosophy of the Druids leaves the village’s families tentative in their dealings. With certain families currying favor with hunted meat and others who are too meek to stand up to a dying religion, there are mysteries lurking.

The Smith family was once considered among the best and most generous, but their fall from First Family has left Devout, Hobble, and Young Smith doing their best to appease the lone druid who comes to Black Lake and the Hunter family, who now holds that coveted place in society, are just waiting to pounce and reclaim their place.

Hobble has been training with her father to run fast despite her disability. Weak members or runts are considered possible sacrifices to appease the gods if needed. Devout, her mother, has a secret, and like the Black Lake she is impenetrable, at least in Hobble’s eyes. Their relationship is muddied by the secrets she holds, even as Hobble displays a gift of foresight and an ability to “see” the truth. She is unique compared to the other bog dwellers, but her vision of the invading Romans becomes a serious concern for her family, the village, and the lone druid who comes to seek brave men to join his rebellion.

“Though we do not speak of my birth, I can describe the deep blue veins webbing my mother’s breasts, the slight tremble of my father’s hand as he clenched his knife, and above all, the way she hid the crescent from his view. The finer points of the scene glinted before me with the exactness of a sharpened blade, same as they had for that vision of R0mans at Black Lake.” (pg. 3)

This mystical tale is woven like a tapestry with each strand hard to hold onto until it comes together with the other colors to create a full scene of village life under the druids and the change that hovers on the horizon under Roman rule. In the backdrop the struggle for power plays out just as it does in the foreground between the Smiths and Hunters where the power shifts from one to the other. Buchanan’s story unfolds in a deliberate way to immerse the reader in this ancient time when even writing was not done and knowledge was passed from person to person. Daughter of Black Lake by Cathy Marie Buchanan is a struggle for survival amid a world of secrets and lies, political gains and losses, and magic.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

Photo Credit: Heather Pollack

About the Author:

Cathy Marie Buchanan is the author of the nationally bestselling novels The Day the Falls Stood Still and The Painted Girls. She lives in Toronto. Find out more about Cathy at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.

 

EXCERPT:

Join us for a fun tour with reviews accompanied by progressive excerpts on the blogs and a game of finding out your “Black Lake name” on Instagram beginning Oct. 8!

Please use the hashtag #daughterofblacklake, and tag @tlcbooktours, @riverheadbooks, and @cathymbuchanan.

Devout was once a maiden of thirteen, wandering the woodland at the northern boundary of the clearing at Black Lake. She felt the sun reaching through her skin cape and her woolen dressas she walked, gaze sweeping the curled leaves, twigs, and fallen branches of the woodland floor. She bristled with anticipation. Now that she had begun to bleed, that very evening she would join the rest of the youths eligible to take mates in celebrating the Feast of Purification. Together they would mark the advent of a new season, and in doing so leave behind the cold, bitter season called Fallow and welcome the slow thaw of the season called Hope. At such a promising juncture, Black Lake’s boys offered trinkets to the maidens. With a polished stone or an opalescent shell, a boy made known his desire to take a particular maiden as his mate, and with that gift accepted and then a witnessed declaration, a maiden cast her lot.

Devout told herself not to beselfish, not to set her heart on holding in her cupped palms evidence of a boy’s yearning. It was her first Feast of Purification, and the possibility of a mate remained as unfathomable as the distant sea. Still, the idea of a trinket, of being singled out, of wide eyes and maidens gushing that she had drawn affection—all of it glinted like a lure before a fish.

She stooped to peer beneath a bush, looking for the bluish‑purple petals of the sweet violet she had come into the woodland to collect. The flowerheld strong magic: A draft strained from a stew of its boiled flowers brought sleep to those who lay awake. A syrup of that draft mixed with honey soothed a sore throat. A poultice of the leaves relieved swellings and drew the redness from an eye. She touched her lips, then the earth. “Blessings of Mother Earth,” she said.

Mother Earth would come that night, and in Devout’s mind’s eye, she pictured her arrival, imagining it much like the mist rolling in from the bog. Mother Earth would glide into the clearing, permeate the clutch of roundhouses, and in doing so chase away vermin, dis‑ ease, wickedness. The cleansing put the bog dwellers at ease. Though the Feast of Purification came at a time when the days were growing longer, still night ruled. After a daythat was too short for the bog dwellers to have grown tired, they tossed amid tangles of woven blan‑ kets, furs, and skins, worry creeping into their minds. Would the stores of salted meat, hard cheese, and grain last? Was there enough fodder left for thesheep? Had slaughtering all but a single cock been a mistake? Were the ewes’ bellies hanging sufficiently low? Were their teats adequately plump?

Check out the next stop on the blog tour and the next excerpt at Lit and Life.

The Engagement Gift by Lauren Blakely (audio)

Source: Audible freebie
Audiobook, 2+ hrs.
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The Engagement Gift by Laura Blakely, narrated by Elena Wolfe and Teddy Hamilton, is a short, erotic novella in which a young engaged woman debates in her head and with her friend whether she should ask her intended for a secret fantasy. Lily is adventurous in the bedroom and so is her fiance, Finn, but there’s one thing she struggles to ask her mate to do because it could ruin the intimacy they’ve created.

For me, this novella was steamy and erotic, but the characters felt a little flat and the relationship between Lily and Finn was one dimensional. I understood that they were hot for each other and obsessed with adventure in the bedroom, but it felt like that was all there was between these characters and for a marriage, I think you’d need more than that.

The Engagement Gift by Laura Blakely, narrated by Elena Wolfe and Teddy Hamilton, is a short read and I think that was part of the problem if you’re looking for character development. If you’re looking for a quick “romp in the hay,” however, this might be for you.

RATING: Epitaph

The Institute by Stephen King (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 18+ hrs.
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The Institute by Stephen King, narrated by Santino Fontana, is a really long listen and probably would have went much faster if I had read the print book or ebook, but the audio was enjoyable. Tim Jamieson is a young man on the road, seemingly aimlessly wandering after something tragic happened. He lands in DuPrey, South Carolina, as a night knocker. But his story is put on pause once he gets there and starts talking with the police department and settling into his life. (He’s clearly a plot device)

Shifting the story to the trail to The Institute, we’re introduced to genius boy, Luke Ellis. He is the latest child taken to The Institute, which has a room that looks just like Luke’s, except there is no window. Luke is unclear what has happened and why. He begins wandering the sterile halls where he sees kids like him but who smoke cigarettes and behaving oddly. He vaguely realizes he’s been kidnapped and begins to puzzle out what has happened and what is going on in The Institute. His high intelligence enables him to determine what is going on, but when Avery Dixon comes on the scene, the ball game changes and the scales tip in favor of the kids — the kids with telekinesis and telepathy.

Luke makes friends with those kids in Front Half — Kalisha, Nick, George, Iris, and ten-year-old Avery Dixon. But like those before them, they will “graduate” to Back Half where the real work begins. From the sinister Mrs. Sigsby to Trevor Stackhouse, there are men and women pulling the strings of the institute, but there is clearly a larger organization or group of people behind the scenes. Kids are punished and given tokens when they’re good — tokens they can be used for candy, food, cigarettes, and alcohol.

The Institute by Stephen King, narrated by Santino Fontana, is part dig at Trump and the administration and the wide reaching conspiracy theories that have been bandied about for decades about secret government groups controlling the world. The only twist is that King leans on previous work like the clairvoyance and the need to save the future in The Dead Zone and other work. This one seemed too long in places and in need of editing. I think the political commentary about the current administration, though it isn’t much in the greater scheme of things (though some can draw parallels if they look hard enough), could be grating to some looking for an escape.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

Stephen King is the author of more than fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. His recent work includes Doctor Sleep and Under the Dome, now a major TV miniseries on CBS. His novel 11/22/63 was named a top ten book of 2011 by The New York Times Book Review and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller as well as the Best Hardcover Book Award from the International Thriller Writers Association. He is the recipient of the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. He lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife, novelist Tabitha King.

Other reviews can be found here.

Suddenly Mrs. Darcy by Jenetta James

Source: JAFF Get-Together Book Swap
Paperback, 168 pgs.
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Suddenly Mrs. Darcy by Jenetta James re-imagines the Netherfield Ball in which Mr. Darcy is accused of compromising Elizabeth Bennet and forced marriage takes place.How will Elizabeth cope in a forced marriage to a virtual stranger, someone she’s only sparred with verbally while tending her sick sister? What other changes will happen as a result. I really loved the plot and changes in this story to Austen’s original, but at the beginning I was put off by the exposition of the plot before the ball. I think this story could have started with minimal exposition and continued from the ball. This is told from Elizabeth Bennet’s point of view, which limits the narration and keeps readers in the dark about things Elizabeth doesn’t know or experience, which really helped build the tension in the latter part of the story.

Here Mrs. Darcy is striving to prove herself worthy and to please her husband, whom she doesn’t really know, because the situation is so new and she doesn’t want to harm their potential happiness, even if their marriage doesn’t start off well. She must learn to find her way back to her forthright self in this novel, which could be hard for some readers to bear, but given the forced marriage to a man she barely knows and certainly doesn’t understand, it makes sense that she would be more timid than she would have been as a single woman. However, I do think her better nature would have come out sooner, if in more mild ways to ensure her husband was aware of her feelings. I did love her blowout with Darcy; it was well executed.

Suddenly Mrs. Darcy by Jenetta James is a variation that makes for a quick read in the summer afternoon; I was pleased to finally read a book cover to cover in a weekend, especially since the pandemic has upended my normal reading. I really enjoyed some of the changes James made in this story, with a new marriage for Mr. Collins and a meaner/more spiteful Lady Catherine. I also loved seeing the sisterly relationship between Elizabeth and Georgiana grow. Overall a good read.

RATING: Tercet

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner (audio)

Source: Publisher
Audiobook, 9+ hours
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The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner, narrated by Richard Armitage, combines not only my love of Jane Austen and her novels, but also WWII. Armitage does an admirable job narrating all eight of the main characters from the steadfast and stoic Dr. Gray to the U.S. starlet of Mimi Harrison. Each of the characters’ lives — Adam, Adeline, Andrew, Evie, Frances, Dr Gray, Mimi, and Yardley — are revealed slowly throughout the novel and how they connect to one another reminds me of those moments in movies where chance meetings create a lasting bond. Some of these characters also mirror those in Austen’s novels, like the awkward shyness of Dr. Gray and the forward-thinking Adeline. WWII is a perfect time period for these characters because of the loss endured by those whose family die in the war and how Austen’s novels tangentially spoke about the tensions between England and France. Set in Chawton, England, what better place for a Jane Austen society to form?!

“I just feel, when I read her, when I reread her–which I do, more than any other author–it’s as if she’s inside my head. Like music. My father first read the books to me when I was very young–he died when I was twelve–and I hear his voice, too, when I read her.”

Jenner’s novel pays homage to Austen in a way that many other variations don’t. She understands the Austen characters and their motivations, but in creating her characters and their motivations they are not talking to us as Austen’s characters but fans of Austen’s words, her thoughts, her dreams. Jenner’s characters want to talk about Austen in a way that helps them deal with their own losses and pains, but they also want to preserve Austen’s great novels for generations to come and to do so by preserving her home in Chawton, even if it is against the wishes of the owner, Mr. Knight.

I loved how class lines are crossed in Jenner’s novel and how forward-thinking women drive the action, but the men can be so obtuse sometimes. The funny little moments of misunderstanding are definitely reminiscent of Austen, but I was irked that Mimi failed to see the opportunist streak in Jack Leonard after awhile. She saw it at the beginning, but once she got comfortable, she lost all sense where he was concerned.

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner, narrated by Richard Armitage, is a book not to be missed by Janeites. I really loved Armitage’s narration — he was so soothing to listen to and he carried the character-driven novel really well. Do not miss out on this gem.

RATING: Cinquain

Check out an excerpt from the audio read by Richard Armitage:

Spotify users can access a playlist for The Jane Austen Society.

About the Author:

Natalie Jenner is the debut author of THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY, a fictional telling of the start of the society in the 1940s in the village of Chawton, where Austen wrote or revised her major works. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie graduated from the University of Toronto with degrees in English Literature and Law and has worked for decades in the legal industry. She recently founded the independent bookstore Archetype Books in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs. Visit her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and GoodReads pages.

The Outsider by Stephen King (audio)

Source: Audible purchase
Audiobook, 19+ hours
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The Outsider by Stephen King, narrated by Will Patton, is superbly narrated as always by Will Patton (he’s one of my go-to narrators for audiobooks). This king novel reads more like a crime novel in the first half after a young boy is discovered in the woods, mutilated and murdered. Terry Maitland, Flint City Little League coach and English teacher, is a pillar of the community, but he’s soon a suspect and arrested in front of the whole town. Detective Ralph Anderson, partially motivated by disgust because his son was once on Maitland’s team, now finds that some of the evidence may contradict, and a solid alibi causes serious doubts.

“Reality is thin ice, but most people skate on it their whole lives and never fall through until the very end. We did fall through, but we helped each other out. We’re still helping each other.”

The second half of the novel is pure King, a build up of creepy into an underworld of darkness and strange beings that cannot be easily explained and are often ignored because they call too much of reality into question. Have you ever wondered what your doppelgänger would look like? Most of us have, but what if that doppelgänger was just evil….pure evil? You’d probably want to know before you’re arrested for their crimes. The outsider is more than just a man who looks like Maitland, and there are many dark secrets hiding in his flesh.

The Outsider by Stephen King, narrated by Will Patton, is a suspenseful horror novel, with a light horror feel for much of the novel. In the later three or four sections, the craziness ramps up and that’s when you know you’ve entered Stephen King’s world.

RATING: Quatrain

The Haunted Library: The Ghost in the Attic by Dori Hillestad Butler

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 128 pgs.
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The Haunted Library: The Ghost in the Attic by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Aurore Damant, starts where the last book left off in which Kaz is still mourning the loss of his ghost family, but is eager to help his new friend Claire with her ghost detective agency and hopefully help himself find his own family.  In their first case, Kaz and Claire have to navigate how they will get Kaz to new places to find ghosts. At Mrs. Beezley’s house, Kaz takes a trip in a water bottle so he doesn’t float away on the way to the “scene” of the haunting. The attic they check out is dusty and the woman’s home always has all of the windows open, which poses a significant danger to Kaz.

My daughter was always eager to read this book each night, sometimes reading two chapters per night. We finished it really much faster than I expected. Kaz and Claire are fun young characters that she identified with in terms of emotion and curiosity. We were a little astounded that Claire would go out on Mrs. Beezley’s roof and climb down a tree, but I suspect most kids her age would do dangerous things if their parents are not watching.

The Haunted Library: The Ghost in the Attic by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Aurore Damant, is a fun read, with delightful illustrations. We love the idea of ghost detectives and hope that Kaz finds more of his family as the series goes along.

RATING: Cinquain

Alone with the Stars by David Gillham (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 2+ hrs.
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Alone with the Stars by David R. Gillham, narrated by Hillary Huber and Emily Bauer, is a dual narrative short story about Amelia Earhart’s last flight and her disappearance and Lizzie Friedlander, a young girl who idolizes the flying heroine. This Audible original imagines what Earhart’s last hours might have been like on that flight before she disappeared over the Pacific. Lizzie is eager to be a strong woman, just like her idol — someone her teacher says she can be with a little practice.

The short story illustrates how trailblazing women and others can become role models for the youngest among us. Friedlander was ignored by the coast guard in Florida when she brought them everything she heard over her father’s radio.

Alone with the Stars by David R. Gillham, narrated by Hillary Huber and Emily Bauer, seems like a surface tale, like so much more could be explored. Lizzie’s concluding passages seem like there could be more to come with her story even in her later years. So much more could be explored with Earhart as well, but the short story is engaging.

RATING: Tercet