12 February 2018

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: 5 Books for Winter Reading

5 Books for Winter ReadingLast week was the Super Bowl, this week it's the Olympics. I'm afraid I'm going to totally forget what's going on in Victoria (PBS), Frontier (Netflix), and whatever else we were watching.

I've started my annual period of working 10-hour days, 7 days a week, so watching a little ice skating, curling, or skiing makes for good escape. I usually don't get a lot of reading done in February and March, but you wouldn't know if from this week. How I managed to get through 5 books is a mystery.

Here are my thoughts on last week's books.Completely unplanned, I picked two boarding school books. One I listened to, and one I read. (Thanks to the publishers for all the review copies, print and audio, except the JD Robb audio, which I bought.)

Review: People Like Us by Dana MelePeople Like Us by Dana Mele (Putnam, Feb. 27): Our protagonist, Kay, was not born to be an It Girl, but her family sends her to the prestigious Bates Academy after her best friend committed suicide and her brother died after being hit by a car. There she thrives as one of the most popular girls. But after she and her group discover the body of one of their own floating in the lake, Kay's life spins out of control: she's suddenly the victim of blackmail and is being manipulated into carrying out a revenge plot to destroy the lives of the other cool girls. This was a fast-paced double mystery (whodunit and what's Kay secret) and has all the good parts of a prep school thriller plus a couple unexpected twists. I went back and forth in guessing who could be trusted and who was telling the truth and thought the ending was very cleverly done. The LBGTQ characters were handled casually and naturally. I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Listening Library; 9 hr, 18 min), read by Erin Spenser. She did a fine job with the teenage voices--both male and female--and she delivered on Kay's full range of emotions.

Review: S.T.A.G.S. by M. A. BennettS.T.A.G.S. by M. A. Bennett (Delacorte Press, Jan. 2018): Greer, not to the manor born, has earned a scholarship to St. Aidan the Great School (STAGS), the oldest school in England. With her northern accent and working-class background, Greer has no friends at her new school and is especially isolated because STAGS is an anti-technology institution: no television, no cellphones, no Internet, no laptops. That means she can't text her dad or call her old mates. When she's invited to join the cool kids on a weekend outing to one of their estates (think Downton Abbey or Brideshead), she says yes, even though she knows absolutely nothing about the "huntin' shootin' fishing' " promised by engraved invitation. Turns out two other plebeians were also asked to join in. Need I say that the visit is anything but a relaxed outdoorsmen (outdoorsperson) adventure? Greer soon learns the sinister side of upper-class privilege and finds herself in a deadly game of survival. Lots of things to like in this thriller, including Greer's down-to-earth but realistic reactions to the snooty kids at STAGS and her many pop movie references. Vivid descriptions of the estate and suitably creepy servants add to the atmosphere, and the plot includes a few surprises. A worthy entry in the prep school thriller genre.

Review: The Stowaway by Laurie Gwen ShapiroThe Stowaway by Laurie Gwen Shapiro (Simon & Schuster, Jan. 2018): I'm not sure what I was expecting from this true story of a teenage boy who attempted to stowaway on one of the ships Richard Byrd was taking to explore Antarctica in the late 1920s, but I ended up wanting something more. Billy Gawronski, son of a Polish upholsterer, yearned for an adventurous life. He sneaked aboard ship three times before Byrd, and Billy's father, agreed to let the boy join the expedition. The well-researched book goes into Billy's family history, life on the ship, and how the explorers used the boy for good publicity. Although the focus is on Billy, we also learn a little bit about three other men in Byrd's crew: a Jewish aviation mechanic, a black stowaway, and an Eagle Scout. America fell in love with Billy--the plucky kid who wouldn't take no for an answer--but their interest faded with the deepening economic depression after the mission was completed. The book ends by telling us about Billy's involvement in World War II and his later life. Shapiro is a good writer and tells a compelling story, but I'm not sure there was enough material here for a whole book. Still, I was happy to get to know Billy Gawronski, and I'm glad Shapiro brought him back into the spotlight. I alternated reading and listening to this book. The unabridged audiobook (Simon & Schuster Audio; 6 hr, 27 min) was nicely read by Jacques Roy, whose soft, straightforward delivery kept my interest and suited the book. His Polish accent sounded believable to me, but I'm not sure I'd know the difference.

Review: Holiday in Death by J. D. RobbI also listened to the unabridged audiobook of J. D. Robb's Holiday in Death (Brilliance Audio, 1998; 10 hr, 21 min) read by Susan Eriksen. Eve Dallas, murder investigator for a futuristic New York City, is tasked with finding the link between a deadly Santa and a dating service. I got fooled by some of the red herrings and will be looking askance at men in Santa suits from now on. I continue to enjoy Eve's relationship with the very sexy (and rich) Rourke and am happy to see their marriage strengthen. I had to laugh at Eve's take on the whole holiday shopping phenomenon; apparently nothing really changes in the future. I also liked seeing what her assistant, Peabody, was like when she wasn't on duty. I'm seven books in and am still looking forward to reading the rest of the series. At this point, I don't think I can think of more things to say about Eriken's narration. Just believe me that audiobooks are the way to go for the In Death series.

Review: The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell JohnsonTyrell Johnson's The Wolves of Winter (Scribner, Jan. 2018) is a mashup of thriller and dystopian. Set in the not-too-distant future (and kind of spookily believable), worldwide nuclear war is brought to a halt by a deadly flu pandemic. The McBride family has moved from small town Alaska to the wilds of the Yukon to hide: from the flu, from marshal law, and from the U.S. government. Besides one unsavory neighbor, 23-year-old Gwendolynn (Lynn) has seen only family for years, so when she spots a harmless-looking man and his dog in the woods one day, she succumbs to loneliness and invites him home. Naturally, her family is upset and suspicious--good survivalist instincts in a world gone haywire. That one chance meeting sets off a series of events that change all of their lives forever. This novel is full of adventure, beautiful descriptions of the northern woods, and realistic scenes involving a family that must stick together or die. The truth of the stranger's background, the journey through the snow, Lynn's conflicted feelings, and the family's decisions all ring true. You don't have to be a dystopian fan to find a lot to love in this novel, which is more Station 11 or the Dog Stars than it is Hunger Games or Pure. I highly recommended this novel.


Sarah (Sarah's Book Shelves) 2/12/18, 7:09 AM  

Ooooh - STAGS looks right up my alley!

Susie | Novel Visits 2/12/18, 9:11 AM  

Prep school thriller...I'm intrigued about STAGS, too. How have I missed it?

Daryl 2/12/18, 9:31 AM  

gosh i loved Dog Stars .. adding Wolves of Winter to the TBR

Kay 2/12/18, 9:54 AM  

I love books set at schools. Not sure why, but I do. The Wolves of Winter also sounds like a good one. And you know that I love me some J.D. Robb. LOL

bermudaonion 2/12/18, 10:30 AM  

I've been looking forward to S.T.A.G.S. so I'm glad to know you liked it.

Laurel-Rain Snow 2/12/18, 10:38 AM  

People Like Us sounds really good. Enjoy them all, and thanks for sharing...and thanks for visiting my blog.

Have a great week!

Mae Travels 2/12/18, 10:53 AM  

That's a tempting collection of stories -- it is definitely stunning that you read so many books so quickly.

best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

Unknown 2/12/18, 11:16 AM  

I am DEFINITELY adding People Like Us to my list and maybe STAGS, too? I love good boarding school drama - ha! I've been curious about The Stowaway, so thanks for eliminating that one for me; I'm sorry it didn't pan out. Ten hour days, seven days a week? WHOA. You sound like us healthcare people - ha! Hang in there!

Emma at Words And Peace / France Book Tours 2/12/18, 11:19 AM  

I hate the cold and the snow, but The Wolves of Winter sounds good

Kathy Martin 2/12/18, 12:04 PM  

These all sound great. I love the In Death series so much. The relationship between Eve and Roarke is my favorite. Come see my week here. Happy reading!

sherry fundin 2/12/18, 12:22 PM  

Lot of good looking books and you can't go wrong with JD Robb.
sherry @ fundinmental

Nise' 2/12/18, 2:04 PM  

I agree, Susan Erickson is the voice of Eve and Roark! Definitely adding The Wolves of Winter to my TBR stack.

Greg 2/12/18, 6:34 PM  

Wow those are long days! I'm looking forward to People Like Us and I'm glad to hear the mystery is well done. And I totally agree of course about The Wolves of Winter- it was SOO good.

Aj @ Read All The Things! 2/12/18, 9:00 PM  

The Wolves of Winter sounds awesome. Have a great week!

Aj @ Read All The Things!

Mystica 2/13/18, 6:05 AM  

All new to me. Enjoy them all.

Martha Eskuchen 2/14/18, 9:36 PM  

I've read Holiday in Death but the others sound good. I am especially interested in Wolves in Winter. Thanks for sharing these.
BTW- I love your header! (It's been a while since I have visited so it probably has been up for a while.) Happy Reading!

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