MLA Platinum Award Press Release

Reviews by Peggy K. (San Diego, CA)

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Father of Lions: One Man's Remarkable Quest to Save the Mosul Zoo
by Louise Callaghan
Desert zoo (10/22/2019)
Abu Laith had a dream. This poor mechanic wanted to create a zoo in Mosul right in the middle of a war. Nothing would stop him despite the cultural dislike of animals.

What slowly became a reality became a race to save these animals in the aftereffects of war. With the help of a sympathetic scientist he is able to succeed and this book is his story.

A well written, if a bit slow, tale. Readers 16 and up may enjoy this story. Book clubs may want to talk about home grown zoos.
The Volunteer: One Man, an Underground Army, and the Secret Mission to Destroy Auschwitz
by Jack Fairweather
The Other War (4/23/2019)
This book is a stunning tale of the depths to which men sink in times of war and the heights that some of them reach to save others. This is a tale of Auschwitz from the beginning. That a man would volunteer to go inside a camp where death was the only escape is amazing. It is easy to see why this chapter in the history of WWII has been erased in Poland.

It is indeed a page turner and this is somewhat surprising for a non fiction book but the author has put it all together in a way that you simply cannot stop turning the page. This is a book that should be read by everyone especially today's youth. Book clubs will be able to find so many questions to discuss about this book and the time it represents. It clarifies so much about what came later when the killing was unstoppable.
Red, White, Blue
by Lea Carpenter
Agency Scars (7/5/2018)
This is a very analytical book. It is the story of a daughter's search to know who her father really was. Anna's father was not who he seemed to be and only a chance encounter after his death reveals the truth. It isn't Anna's story alone. There is the young agent, the protégé who perhaps was the reason for her father's downfall in the Agency. There are two conversations going on here, one with that agent talking about the process of becoming a spy and Anna's search for herself through understanding her father.

It is a fascinating journey with much information about the murky world of espionage and what being an agent does to a person over that period of time. It would appear that Anna's father wanted her to know about his real life. The question in the end is will finding out the truth make Anna stronger and allow her to make her own life.

In today's world this is an idea that is full of questions about truth and what justice really is and how far we can go for our country.
The Travelling Cat Chronicles
by Hiro Arikawa, Philip Gabriel
Cats and Friends (5/14/2018)
A delightful collection of stories that will entertain all pet lovers. While these stories all involve a cat they also give us a deeper look into relationships with family and friends. They show how our connections with animals shape so much of our actions. Take this book with you to read on vacation or in front of a fire on a cold winter day. There is a lot of humor here but also many touching moments.
The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After
by Elizabeth Weil, Clemantine Wamariya
Loss of Identity (2/20/2018)
This is a breathtaking and heartbreaking novel. It may be hard to understand completely unless you have experienced such a traumatic event but everyone would benefit from reading this tale. Rwanda was and still is a horrific thing. While we may only touch the surface in understanding it can provide one with a window into that world. There are so many questions open to discussion with a book like this and nothing should be taken for granted. Each event like this is different as noted by the author. We cannot compare one tragedy to another but we can learn from discussing what happened here and what has happened elsewhere. Some of us know a little bit about lose of identity but generally it is a small part of our lives . Refugees are an everyday thing in our country now and there isn't much understanding of what it is like to try and survive in these countries. I was very happy that I decided to read it.
The Chalk Man
by C. J. Tudor
Children's Games (12/11/2017)
I was struck by the resemblance to Stand By Me which also involved a group of young kids. This story involves a group of young kids who have formed together to find adventure and protect each other from bullies. They create a way to message each other by using chalk figures.

It is a great game until a figure leads them to a murdered young girl.

In the present we find one of the kids, Eddie, now grown. He is leading a fairly normal life when one of the group returns to town and is later found murdered. Suddenly the past returns with a vengeance and to save himself and his friends Eddie must find out what happened all those years ago.

This is a rather creepy twisted tale and full of surprises along the way and especially at the end.

Readers from 16 and up will enjoy this tale but perhaps it is most enjoyable for those of us who grew up in a quieter time when playing with friends meant getting out and not sitting in front of a computer.
The French Girl
by Lexie Elliott
Secrets (9/4/2017)
Kate Channing has made a lot of her life in the past 10 years. The week in France with friends that ended with the break up of a relationship still stings but barely. She has almost forgotten the French girl who disrupted it all.

Then the girl's body is found and remaining friends come together and Kate is haunted by the past and her imperfect memories.

Nicely written novel that grows from a mystery to dangers that Kate could never have imagined. She looks closer at each friend and begins to wonder what really happened 10 years ago. What does she really know about each of them and their deepest secrets? For that fact what does she really know about her own?

Readers will come to the end of this story wondering about these characters and then perhaps relating to their own friends in the same way. Do we ever really know someone and how far they might go to protect their own secrets?

Good discussion panel here to delve into the idea of what friendship means and how much you really should or need to know. Good reading for ages 16 and up.
The Essex Serpent
by Sarah Perry
Superstition (2/17/2017)
For me this is a rather dark and dour novel with a main character who is somewhat unappealing. Few of the characters really grab the reader. The main character is an intelligent young woman married to an abusive man and his death is a relief. The storyline however remains far too dark for this reader. Cora joins forces with a vicar to investigate the mysterious return of a legendary serpent but the story truly is about the Victorian era and its mores.

Older readers may find this book interesting for its discussion about the mid nineteenth century and superstition. Younger readers might find it a bit too dark and gothic.

Book clubs would concentrate on discussing how different this era was but how superstition and the natural world collided as the century headed towards its end into the modern world.
Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, Russia, 1917 - A World on the Edge
by Helen Rappaport
Red October (10/15/2016)
Gripping story of the Russian Revolution seen through the eyes of visitors, diplomats and other foreign nationals. Having nowhere else to go really they were witnesses and sometimes victims at the beginning of this revolution. The book reads like fiction in that it feels unbelievable but this is a very real story of the disintegration of a nation.

This book opens up the events of the Russian revolution in a way none has before. It should appeal to all history lovers but also for the young students today who often think that history is boring.

Book clubs will love this book. So many questions here to be fielded and discussed.
The Secret Ingredient of Wishes
by Susan Bishop Crispell
Wishes (7/8/2016)
A delightful romance but one also with topics of importance in life. Who hasn't wished that all they wanted could be granted or that their secrets could be hidden away? It sounds so good but in this lovely story we can see the pitfalls of having that ability. Readers of all ages can simply enjoy the romance and the idea of it all but reader clubs can find a gold mine here to talk about in just what it might mean to be able to grant wishes at will. We can see the damage that can be done to the person who has this ability as well as the effects on those that wish. Hiding secrets baked in a pie might look like a great idea too but again there are many pitfalls here and one thing affects another sometimes to the good and sometimes to the bad. I don't read romances often these days but I found this one to be very enjoyable and I think readers will as well.
Crazy Blood
by T. Jefferson Parker
Competition on the Slopes (1/4/2016)
Mr. Parker normally writes mysteries but I believe he will find new readers as well with this book. I found it quite enjoyable to read. Characterization is very strong and despite a plotline that isn't all that original it is still refreshingly new. Readers will also learn a great deal about the sport of skiing and competition.

This book will appeal to many male readers but that isn't to say that females won't enjoy it as well. At its base it is the tale of two families and two brothers who hate each other.

Book clubs may want to ask what drove the writer to create this story. Then there may be a discussion of family and the complexity that it involves. Some may have questions about skiing and what makes a truly great skier and what drives them.

I don't think anyone will be sorry that they chose this book to read.
The Devil in Jerusalem
by Naomi Ragen
Twisted Faith (7/11/2015)
This is an excellent drama. At the start it appears a simple case of child abuse but before you finish the first chapter you know that there is far more going on. A young couple come to Israel to make a new life for themselves and their religion. Instead the female becomes involved with a charismatic man who will take her faith and nearly destroy her life.

The author builds up the tension from the start and the reader can't stop turning the page what could possibly have made this woman allow her children to be abused in the name of God.

Readers 17 and up will find this tale fascinating. The stage is set in Jerusalem and the author truly brings that city to life. The characters are haunting. I found myself somewhat disliking the main character but I couldn't stop reading either.

Book Clubs will truly enjoy this one as it offers up so many views about religion and how it can take over completely in a negative way. Questions about faith, domestic violence and cults will also be asked and discussed.
What Doesn't Kill Her: A Reeve LeClaire Series Novel
by Carla Norton
Killer Designs (5/8/2015)
Whether you have read Carla Norton's first Reeve Leclaire mystery or not, this book will keep you turning the pages and going back to read the first book.

This is a real thriller with an incredibly brave young woman still struggling to recover from her own touch of evil and an escaped psychotic she knows so well. Readers are drawn in by this frightening tale but it will also provide great insight into the mind of a true psychotic.

Readers from 17 and up who love mysteries and thrillers will find this a truly frightening and haunting tale. The terror that Reeve feels as she tries to save someone else from the man who tortured her will stay with you long after you finish the book. Book clubs can easily put together a number of questions about the characters especially regarding being kept in captivity for years.
The Wild Girl
by Kate Forsyth
Magical Tales (4/8/2015)
This was a very interesting book in so many ways. Most readers know a bit about the Grimm brothers but it is safe to say that few may know the story behind those books of fairytales.

Dortchen Wild grew up in Cassel and though she knew the Grimms there was some restriction by her father in association. Both families were poor but the Grimms were already trying to put together a book of tales and Dortchen Wild provided many of them.

Napoleon's Army was laying siege to Europe and fighting was a constant. This might account for the desire by the Grimms to save the folk tales and for Dortchen it may have been part of her love for Wilhelm.

This is a book about that love but it is also a story about growing up in a small town like Cassel. Dortchen's father did not like her association with the Grimms and certainly not her attraction to Wilhelm but this is a very strong willed young woman and she was determined to have that love.

Readers will enjoy watching that love unfold and at the same time learning about how Napoleon changed Europe forever. The characterization in the book is wonderful and you get a real feel for the times.

Book clubs can discuss the war and what it did to the common folk and why these fairytales came to life as they did and how they still matter today. We see them as sweet and romantic tales but in truth they were anything but that.

So pick up the book and be prepared to lose yourself in this world and fall in love with Dortchen and Wilhelm.
The Life I Left Behind
by Colette McBeth
Friendship (11/3/2014)
Interesting psychological mystery. Attacked and left for dead by a close friend, Melody Pieterson no longer trusts anyone. She has locked herself away from the world.

Now her attacker is free and there is a new victim. Melody can no longer hide from the rest of the world. This new victim, Eve, will raise questions in Melody's mind about what really happened to her all those years ago and whether the wrong person went to prison.

Readers will get a narrative done by Melody and by Eve. The question of how much one can truly trust friends will strike a chord with many readers.

This is a great book for Book Clubs. There should be discussions about how women view friendships and just how much trust we put in our friends. Do we perhaps not think as much about safety and security with friends. Security criteria should be the same whether for friends or acquaintances.

This is a good read for ages 16 and up.
Bitter Greens
by Kate Forsyth
Timeless Tales (8/8/2014)
This is a beautifully written book about three women. The youngest is the center of a well known fairy tale. The second will be her tormentor and the narrator a French aristocrat imprisoned herself in a convent.

The truth behind the fairy tale is very different and this story will change forever the way you see the tale of Rapunzel. Readers will be caught up in the story of each of these women and perhaps there is some compassion to be shared for the evil witch.

The book will appeal to teens and adults. Once picked up you won't want to put it down until you know the whole story. It is a great read for any time. Book clubs can discuss the harshness of life in those times and how this story became the fairy tale we all know.

I am very glad that I asked for this book.
The Quick
by Lauren Owen
Shadows (4/19/2014)
This is a rather long story that doesn't get to its main plotline for some chapters. For myself it was simply too slow. On the plus side characterization is very well defined and in that it is a bit like reading Dickens. I like a good mystery and this one has an interesting take on an old story but I felt it took too long to get there.

Readers of Anne Rice will enjoy this tale an book clubs may find it useful to throw out a discussion about the differences in these two authors.

I would recommend this book to older readers who enjoy such detailed writing and a slow work up to the actual story.
The Venetian Bargain
by Marina Fiorato
The Four Horsemen (12/26/2013)
The Venetian Bargain is a beautifully written love story with great depth. The main character, Feyra, is so well written and attractive that readers will find her hard to forget even after the last page.

There is such quality to the details about Venice, Constantinople and the 14th Century with the Doges and of course the Sultans and their Harems.

I enjoyed the book immensely and I don't often read love stories these days. Readers ages 15 and up who want to immerse themselves in a great love story with history attached as a bonus will find this a great read.

It is also a great book for bookclubs. The 14th Century is tied to the plague in a way no other century has ever been. That topic alone is worth many hours of discussion. One could also discuss the cultural differences between Venice and Constantinople.
Where Monsters Dwell
by Jørgen Brekke
Mystery Within a Mystery (11/16/2013)
This was one of the most unsusual mysteries I've read this year. First off you have two murders seemingly committed by the same person in two different countries related to another murder committed hundreds of years ago. Then you have a cast of characters who aren't your ordinary sort of folk. One might say they are all rather odd ones but fascinating to study. Woven throughout all of this is the life and books of Edgar Allan Poe so you have a little bit of something for everyone. All in all it makes for a great read for ages 17 and up and for anyone who loves a true mystery. Book clubs should love it as it will generate discussions about characterization, bookmaking and the life and times of Edgar Allan Poe.
Letters from Skye
by Jessica Brockmole
Love in the Air (6/21/2013)
What a truly beautiful story and actually you get two stories for the price of one in two different eras. It would seem hard to develop a real story using letters as the main course but it works very well here and I believe this will appeal to ages 14 and up in females. Overall though I believe that most who read this book will enjoy the characters very much. I liked Elspeth and Margaret but felt closest to Elspeth. It does indeed celebrate the written word and that is something that is losing its power today. This is a topic for Book Clubs certainly. Letters are not as important as they were and in this book one can see what is being lost. Take this book to the beach this summer and enjoy the love.
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