Friday, August 16, 2019

Summer Reading - Book Reviews

In honor of National Book Lovers Day, I wanted to give a shout out of awesomeness to several really great books I've had the pleasure of enjoying lately. Thank you to Atria Books, Tin House Books, William Morrow and Alfred A Knopf for the books.

I love Joshilyn Jackson's books. I do. They are a joy to read and I love her quirky characters. Never Have I Ever was a similarly enjoyable experience. Since it begins with a neighborhood book club I 
was immediately sold and intrigued and glad that the only thing that really got us worked up in my former book club was disagreeing about cub scouts. Because the newest member of the book club hosted at Amy Whey's house is a problem, a big problem.

I liked the characters and I liked the twists and turns that kept me guessing. Sometimes I guessed correctly but more often than not, I was surprised. I read it on the beach and it really was the perfect beach read.

Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson is published by William Morrow and released on July 30, 2019.

We Are All Good People by Susan Rebecca White starts in 1962 when Daniella and Eve become roommates and best friends at college. The novel follows their friendship through the turbulent years of the 60s and 70s--the fight for civil rights and the Vietnam War. 

I found the historical aspects of the novel fascinating. It was interesting reading about those who went to the south to help fight the Jim Crow laws and Vietnam War protestors and radical groups that formed in the counter culture. White has done her research and it definitely shows.

The character development was lacking and I never felt a huge connection to any of the characters as they navigated their lives through the history. The novel was overall enjoyable though and a thought provoking read. What makes "good people"?

We Are All Good People Here by Susan Rebecca White is published by Atria Books and released on August 6, 2019.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

If You Want to Make God Laugh - Book Review

Thanks to G.P. Putnam's Sons for the complimentary copy
 of If You Want to Make God Laugh.

The end of Apartheid. Nelson Mandela has been elected the president of South Africa. AIDS is becoming an epidemic.

Seventeen year old Zodwa lives in a squatter camp with her sick mother. Zodwa is expecting a baby she doesn't want and hiding a secret that could get her killed.

Dee is helping children in an orphanage in Zaire but when she gets word that Daniel is dying she return home to South Africa for the first time in over forty years.

Ruth stages her own suicide attempt to win back her husband but he is unmoved and she has no where else to go except home to the farm she hopes to sell. But her sister has returned and has no intention of selling the home she left as a teen to become a nun.

Binding them all together is a baby boy.

*  *  *  *  *

I very much enjoyed Bianca Marsais's novel Hum If You Don't Know the Words that released in 2017 so I was thrilled to get the opportunity to read her newest novel If You Want to Make God Laugh. Besides the long titles, the books stand out with the colorful covers and call to me. They immediately draw me in with the South African settings and their rich characters.

If You Want to Make God Laugh captured my attention from the first page and the pacing of short chapters kept me turning the pages late into the night. The plot is emotional and thrilling but the characters, broken and determined, made me fall in love with the novel. I read with my heart in my throat as they struggled to make the best of the terrible situations. Each character was motivated by love and they felt deeply human.

It's a world without fairy tale endings, but If You Want to Make God Laugh offers hope. It is a journey of emotion--a beautiful book that tells a story I won't soon forget.

If You Want to Make God Laugh by Bianca Marais is published by G.P. Putnam's Sons and released on July 18, 2019. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The Song of the Jade Lily - Book Review

Thanks to William Morrow and Harper Collins Publishers for a 
complimentary copy of The Song of the Jade Lily.

Alexander goes home to Australia to say goodbye to her dying grandfather before beginning her new work assignment in Shanghai. Her grandparents, Romy and Wilhelm raised her after her parents died in an accident and she loves them dearly but she's always felt a part of herself missing. Her mother was adopted from China and she hopes to fill in the blanks and find her birth family while in Shanghai.

Romy and her parents arrived in Shanghai in 1939, fleeing their homeland after the infamous Kristallnacht. Romy meets the beautiful Li with the incredible singing voice and the two become close friends. But the war comes to Shanghai and soon their lives are threatened and their friendship is torn apart.

A copy of The Song of the Jade Lily by Kristy Manning has been sitting on my shelf for a few months but I didn't get to it before it's release date and it got bumped by other novels. So when I saw the audio come available on my library app, I decided to listen instead. I was pretty quickly immersed in the world of Romy and Li. World War II stories are almost always intriguing and the setting of Shanghai gives it a unique and new feeling--setting it apart from many other World War II stories.

Shanghai was fascinating and the characters were so vulnerable and yet resilient. Romy, especially, captured my heart and she tried to exist in the new reality of life in a new country and the war that found her. Manning has written a thoroughly enjoyable novel filled with love, danger and secrets.

The novel is long but it moves at a steady pace and it was very good as an audio book. The narrator, Saskia Maarleveld, did a good job bringing the story to life.

The Song of the Jade Lily by Kristy Manning was published by William Morrow and released on May 14, 2019.

Monday, July 22, 2019

The Golden Hour - Book Review

A big thank you to William Morrow and Harper Collins Publishers 
for a complimentary copy of The Golden Hour.

In the early years of World War II, Lulu Randolph has been assigned to report on the comings and goings of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The glamorous couple have captured the world's attention and all the gossip magazines after he gave up the throne of England to marry the divorcee Wallis Simpson. Recently widowed, Lulu is thrilled to move to Nassau. It's a fresh start for her and a plum assignment covering the rich and famous.

But things in the Bahamas aren't just elegant parties in a tropical paradise. Lulu begins to unravel the dangerous secrets of espionage, bad financial deals and murder all while falling in love with the brilliant Benedict Thorpe, botanist and possible spy.

I enjoy Beatriz Williams's novels. They all involve lots of layers to the plot and stories that weave together in surprising and wonderful ways. Her newest novel, The Golden Hour is the same. It has delicious story telling with epic love stories and loads of intrigue and danger. They're all a little fantastical but I admit that I fall for the romance.

Like her other books, The Golden Hour has split timelines with two distinct stories weaving together at the end. Sometimes the back and forth is exhausting for me as a reader and I can only read the novel in stretches of time before I need a break. I just can't sprint through her novels even when I'm completely enjoying them. I especially reveled in the closer look at the Windsors.

The Golden Hour delivered just what I wanted and expected from a Beatriz Williams novel.

The Golden Hour by Beatriz Williams is published by William Morrow and released on July 9, 2019.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Saturday Night Ghost Club - Book Review

I got a complimentary copy of The Saturday Night Ghost Club from Penguin. Thanks!

Jake Baker is an awkward twelve year old with no friends and too many bullies. He spends most of his free time with his Uncle C who owns a novelty shop specializing in the occult in the 1980's town of Niagra Falls. That summer Jake will befriend the new kids to town and even though he suspects they will become his tormentors as soon as school starts, he enjoys welcoming the siblings into his Saturday Night Ghost Club.

Craig Davidson is an amazing storyteller. The Saturday Night Ghost Club is a fun and emotional coming-of-age story that was simultaneously thrilling and thought provoking. Set in an era, when kids still roamed the streets on bicycles and came home only for dinner, the book allows the young characters to be vulnerable and adventurous with freedom to roam. It was a great read to quell the hole after I finished watching Stranger Things 3.

The novel is short but so packed with skilled storytelling. And while it sets up as many coming-of-age stories, Jake, Billy and Dove are unique characters richly developed and bursting with adolescence and the coming adulthood. The Saturday Night Ghost Club wraps up in ways I didn't expect but left me marveling and changed.

The Saturday Night Ghost Club by Craig Davidson is published by Penguin and released July 9, 2019.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Milady - Book Review

I received a complimentary copy of Milady by Laura L. Sullivan from Berkley Publishing.

I heard about the new book that would tell Milady de Winter's side of the story several months ago and thankfully it was enough time for me to get and read Alexandre Dumas's The Three Musketeers in preparation.Though I hadn't read it yet, I was somewhat acquainted with the reputation of Milady and I was intrigued by the idea of telling the story from the famous villainess's perspective. The Count of Monte Cristo is one of my very favorite books so I was expecting a lot from The Three Musketeers. I ended up alternating between reading a paper copy, an ebook and listening to the audio version over the past few months and finally finished it last week. As soon as I was finished, I picked up Milady.

Milady by Laura L. Sullivan gives voice to one of literature's most wicked characters. In the classic novel, using her wiles and the men that fall for her seductions, Milady kills with abandon and skill. But how did she become this evil woman? Sullivan starts at the beginning.

So different from what I usually read, I wasn't sure what to expect but I found myself totally taken in with Lady de Winter and her story of intrigue and deception and how a once innocent girl became the agent of the Cardinal and the nemesis of Artagnan and his musketeers. Sullivan weaves an exciting tale that pulled me in and made me question everything I knew of the "heroes" of Dumas's famous novel. The story has everything.

It was definitely helpful that I had recently become acquainted with The Three Musketeers. I think Milady could stand alone but I feel Sullivan has written a story that means more with the background information from the original novel. If you haven't read The Three Musketeers yet, get a copy from the library just so you can enjoy Sullivan's novel.

Milady by Laura L. Sullivan is published by Berkley Publishing and released July 2, 2019.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The Gifted School - Book Review

Thanks to Riverhead Books for the complimentary copy of The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger.

A new exclusive gifted school is being built in the pristine town of Crystal, Colorado and every parent wants the opportunity for their child. To gain admissions into this elite school, children must first test high and if they get through that first round, they must submit a portfolio with their accomplishments. Parents in Crystal are anxious to get their children admitted, including Rose and her three best friends. The group has been close friends since they met at a Mommy and Me swim class eleven years ago but now this new school and the pressures to get their kids admitted may split them apart.

The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger was a delicious read. The toxic behavior of the parents is despicable and yet all too familiar. While we've been judging Hollywood moms for paying huge bribes to get their kids admitted to colleges, we can't dismiss the bad behavior of  "snowplow parents" helping to get their kids in the best schools and on the best teams and in the best programs. Holsinger's novel explores this parental behavior in his compulsively readable novel.

I packed The Gifted School with me to the pool. It's a great summer read with all its drama, satire and bad behavior from people who should know better. It also has a lot of valuable themes for analysis. It's not only a beach read but would make a fabulous novel for a book club discussion.

I really enjoyed the novel. There was one reveal in the end that didn't work for me even though there had been plenty of foreshadowing and I saw it coming. I've had a few days since I finished reading the book to mull over my thoughts about the ending and have decided that it didn't ruin the novel. It was a lot of fun and it's for sure the best "parents behaving badly" novel since Moriarty's Big Little Lies.

The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger is published by Riverhead Books and released on July 2, 2019.

Monday, July 8, 2019

After the End - Book Review

Thanks to Putnam for a complimentary copy of After the End by Clare Mackintosh.

Max and Pip love each other and their precious son. Their marriage is strong--built on years of deep friendship and understanding. But when their son is sick and is still sick after so much treatment, the doctors put the decision in the parents' hands. Max and Pip can't agree.

After the End by Clare Mackintosh moves in a pace similar to her previous thrillers but is an emotional and tender journey. I read the majority of the book one Friday night and then woke early on Saturday morning to finish. Mackintosh created characters who are deeply human--they love and they mourn and they strike out at those they love when they are hurting. The story is very real and very haunting. It's a compelling and heartrending journey.

Mackintosh employs an interesting and surprising structure halfway through the book that initially caught me off guard but that I found to be an intriguing study of "what ifs". I have enjoyed Clare Mackintosh's thrillers but After the End stuck with me.

After the End by Clare Mackintosh is published by Putnam and released on June 25, 2019.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Two Five Star Books - Book Review

**I received complimentary copies of A Bend in the Stars and The Poison Thread from the publishers.**

Life is stressful. Sometimes life is overwhelmingly trying. For years, I have found stress relief in reading. It's cathartic to lose myself for a few hours in someone else's story. However, for the last few months I haven't really been able to quiet my own mind enough to really engage with a novel (or a movie or TV show, for that matter). I've read and listened to lots of books but it's been awhile since I've been in love with a book. I'm distracted by my own worries or the more immediate indulgence of online social media.

But I just have to make an increasingly rare stop at the blog to tout the virtues and qualities of two very different books that have recently captured my attention; kept me reading late into the night and brought moments of relaxation even in the midst of stressful times.

A Bend in the Stars by Rachel Barenbaum surprised me with the intensity of the story and the quick pace. World War is looming. Jews in 1914 Russia are being persecuted and abused and conscripted into military service. Miri Abranov is a brilliant young woman trying to prove herself as a surgeon. She's engaged to her handsome surgeon instructor, Yuri. Her grandmother and her scientist brother Vanya are trying to find a way to get them all out of Russia and to America and safety. Vanya is in a race to prove Einstein's theory of relativity. If he can just get a picture of the stars during the next eclipse and work the equations, he can earn passage to America and a place at Harvard. The mission is dangerous but Vanya is obsessed and Yuri is willing to accompany and aid him in his quest.

I was entranced by the beautiful writing and loved the characters are their obsessions. Miri and Vanya are faced with so many major decisions and actions. They are noble and flawed and easy to root for their success. There was so much life threatening danger that was thrilling and horrific and kept the pace moving rapidly. The chapters are short and I couldn't help turning the pages even late into the night. I worried that the science and math would be tedious or boring but it was presented in a way that was continually fascinating even if I didn't always understand the intricacies.

The story has it all--danger and intrigue, love and romance, adventure and intellectual stimulation. I devoured this novel and would recommend it to anyone. It is just so so good. Barenbaum is a genius story teller.

A Bend in the Stars by Rachel Barenbaum is published by Grand Central Publishing and released on May 14, 2019.

I really enjoyed Laura Purcell's The Silent Companions last year. It was a wonderfully ghost story. So I was thrilled to receive a copy of her newest novel The Poison Thread. Dorothea Truelove is a young and beautiful benefactress who prefers to serve in the prisons. While helping those imprisoned, she is fascinated by their crimes and the size of their heads. Hoping to prove her theories of phrenology, she meets with a young murderess awaiting trial.

Ruth is a talented seamstress who was sold as an indentured servant to a cruel and barbaric dress maker. Ruth believes that with her stitches she can kill and maim with carefully placed stitches and her wicked, revengeful thoughts. Dorotha becomes obsessed with Ruth's story of murder and suffering in this incredibly well-plotted, sinister novel.

The twists and turns in The Poison Thread kept me delightfully on edge throughout the entire novel. Purcell has sewn a plot that reveals itself slowly and surprisingly and left me gasping at the end. Could it be the perfect novel? I loved every gruesome word.

The Poison Thread by Laura Purcell is published by Penguin Books and released June 18, 2019.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

A Dangerous Collaboration : Book Review

Many thanks to Berkley Publishing for a complimentary copy of A Dangerous Collaboration.

In the fourth book of the Veronica Speedwell series A Dangerous Collaboration, Veronica has recently returned from Madeira and is ready to finally confront her conflicted feelings for Stoker, her colleague and friend. But almost immediately, his brother Lord Templeton-Vane convinces her to pose as his fiancé at a house party hosted by his friend Malcolm Romilly on his family's island. With the promise of a rare butterfly, Veronica jumps at the chance. Besides, she can put off facing Stoker and his brooding silence.

Besides the beautiful and extraordinary butterfly, Veronica is especially delighted to discover that there is a mystery on the island. Veronica loves a mystery.  Malcolm Romilly's bride vanished on their wedding day. Now, he has gathered his closest friends and family with the aim of discovering the truth of his bride's inexplicable disappearance.

Veronica is only too happy to help uncover the truth.

It's not a secret that I enjoy the Veronica Speedwell series. I like Veronica's spunk and feistiness and I adore Stoker and all his pent up emotion. The two make an absolutely captivating pair as they get themselves into dangerous situations and work out the mysteries they manage to get involved in. Deanna Raybourn absolutely delivered all the fun bantering and sexual tension that I've come to expect from their relationship.

The remote island and the family castle setting added a perfect atmosphere and set the stage for a very entertaining story. It was a fast paced novel with plenty of perilous and uncomfortable predicaments for Veronica to get herself into. The twists and turns of the plot kept me guessing. Raybourn really delivered with this one.

If you haven't already, get your hands on this series and enjoy the absolute pleasure of reading them for the first time.

A Dangerous Collaboration by Deanna Raybourn is published by Berkley Books and released on March 12, 2019.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Tomorrow There Will Be Sun : Book Review

Many thanks to the Pamela Dorman Books for the complimentary copy of Tomorrow There Will Be Sun by Dana Reinhardt. After a long winter, I was looking forward to this novel. The cover was drawing me in with it's promise of warm beaches and sunshine.

Jenna has been planning this vacation for months. They are celebrating the 50th birthdays of her husband Peter and his long-time friend and business partner Solly. She researched extensively the location and found the perfect Mexican beach villa for her family and Solly's family. It is beautiful, spacious and comes with an accommodating staff. It will be the perfect week. It better be for the amount they are paying.

Immediately, Jenna is on edge. She wants the holiday to be perfect but she is uncomfortable with Solly and his second wife and mostly how Peter always concedes to Solly. Solly and Ingrid get the master bedroom. Solly picks the entertainment. Solly picks the activities. Solly chooses the restaurants. Solly changes the plans.

I read the entirety of Tomorrow There Will Be Sun waiting for something to happen. You know when someone tells you all the details of their vacation to some beautiful and exotic and warm place while you've spent a long winter indoors hibernating. They want you to commiserate about the three hour delay at the airport and you just can't feel too bad for them. That's pretty much how I felt about Tomorrow There Will Be Sun. Even though Jenna's trip is legitimately worse than a three hour delay, I found her whiny and irritating. The entire book, we're on the edge of something almost happening but then not happening. For some reason I was expecting a thriller or a mystery or something slightly interesting.

Fortunately, Tomorrow There Will Be Sun is a quick read and I didn't waste days.

Tomorrow There Will Be Sun by Dana Reinhardt is published by Pamela Dorman Books and released on March 12, 2019.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Library App

Guys, I got a library card.

This shouldn't be surprising. I'm a book lover. All book lovers have library cards. Right?!

Long story short, I haven't checked out a book from a library in so many years that I can't quite remember the last time. **Cringing**

But I moved to New Hampshire and I happened to move to the town with the first tax-supported "free" public library in the world. It was built in 1833. I mean, how cool is that? And I was even brave and pulled up my introvert boot straps and went to a book club meeting at the library last October. (Through a long series of fortunate and unfortunate events I haven't been back yet, but I will.)

Anyway, I also got a library card and with the library card I got access to the app. My library uses Hoopla. And it has blessed my little world. Because I am addicted to audio books. I listen to them almost constantly during the day while my kiddos are at school. I listen to them while I'm getting ready for my day. I listen to them while I'm driving through the woods on my way to the school or the grocery store. I listen to them while I'm cleaning. I listen to them while I'm folding laundry or even when I'm just laying around.

Hoopla has a fairly good selection of audio books and ebooks. What I love most is that I'm finding books that have been on my TBR list for years and some of the newer releases. And, you know, they're free.

And last week, my mom got a library card too.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Where the Crawdads Sing - Book Review

Thanks to the generosity of Putnam Publishing, I've had a copy of Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens sitting on my shelf since last spring. With all the drama of a move across the country, I didn't read it before it released last August. So it sat quietly neglected on my shelf. But I keep hearing about it. Reese Witherspoon chose it for her book club. The online book world was still a buzz about it even six months after its release so last week I finally read it. "It starts slow," they told me. "But then, it's amazing."

Over the years, one by one, young Kya has been abandoned by members of her family until she is alone in the shack. She knows the marsh better than anyone and can outwit the social workers and school officials who come to check on her well being. The people in town call her the Marsh Girl and she survives only on her own smarts and the charity of the black community.

The Marsh Girl is fascinated by her surroundings--she loves and understands the birds, plants and other wildlife. She is also beautiful and a few young men, honorable and not-so-honorable, are drawn to her. When a man is found dead in the marsh, Kya is the only suspect.

Despite what others told me, I actually enjoyed the beginning of Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Reading about how Kya used her wits and her swiftness to outfox the town officials and how she struggled to find enough food to eat was fascinating. She was left in a nearly impossible situation and yet she managed to survive and even thrive in her surroundings. Owens is a lyrical writer. Her descriptions of the marshes of North Carolina made the area come alive.

As Kya grew up, the novel focused more on her relationships with the men and then the murder trial. I found it less believable and I didn't care much about the characters. I didn't even really like Kya as an adult. I don't mind not liking characters in books, but I feel like for this particular book to work, the reader needed to be fully engaged and on Kya's side. By the end, I was terribly underwhelmed by the novel. More than anything, Where the Crawdads Sing fell victim to hype. Often, the books that the masses just "love so much", don't impress me to the level that I am expecting (see also anything by Kristin Hannah).

Overall, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is a decent novel. Take it to the beach. Read it for book club. See what everyone else is talking about. It didn't knock my socks off.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is published by Putnam Books and released in August 2018.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Suspect - Book Review

Thanks to Berkley book who provided a complimentary copy of The Suspect by Fiona Barton. The following review reflects my honest opinions.

The Mother. Lesley and her husband haven't heard from their daughter in a week. Alex is traveling in Thailand with a friend. She was supposed to call to get the results of her A level tests and she missed it. They're worried but as soon as they call the police, it will become real--something has happened to their daughter.

The Reporter. Kate is always after the next lead for a story. The news cycle is dull when she hears about two missing girls in Thailand. Kate's own son has been in Thailand for the last few years and maintains minimal contact. Kate is determined to find out what happened to the girls and maybe even reestablish a relationship with her son.

The Detective. Bob has so much on his hands. His wife is dying of cancer and now there are reports of two British girls who have gone missing on their holiday in Thailand. He's sure they will turn up like most reported missing vacationers. But as time goes by, this case is going to demand more of his time.

The Suspect by Fiona Barton is the third novel featuring journalist Kate Waters. I haven't read The Child or The Widow. The Suspect certainly stands on its own. Barton weaves a smart mystery about these young adults, freshly exploring the world on their own for the first time. The world ends up being a lot more dangerous than they ever imagined.

The Suspect is intriguing. I found it a little slow in the middle. I just didn't care about the detective or his dying wife. Perhaps it's because I hadn't read the earlier books and wasn't invested in them personally. However, as the investigation picks up speed so did the pace of the book. I promised Rand that I would only read a few more chapters and then turn out the light but I couldn't stop turning the pages.

The Suspect is intense without being gratuitous or too scary. I enjoyed the surprising plot twists and found it to be a solid and satisfying mystery. I'll definitely pick up Barton's future novels.

The Suspect by Fiona Barton is published by Berkley and released on January 22, 2019.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Last Romantics - Book Review

I loved Tara Conklin's novel The House Girl (read my review *here*) so her newest novel The Last Romantics was definitely on my radar. I was excited when the audio book was available on my library app. (We can talk about my surprising and new-to-me use of the library app later.) I listened to it quickly and finished it earlier this week.

The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin is the story of four siblings dealing with the untimely death of their father and their mother's subsequent descent into depression. Unlike The House Girl, this novel is set in the recent past and contemporary time period as the siblings navigate their lives together and separately. I love novels that are heavy on characterization and the study of people and their relationships so The Last Romantics was really intriguing for me. The few sections set in the future didn't resonate with me and didn't seem to fit with the story. There were a few angles that I wish had been given a little more attention. But the problems were few and I very much liked the novel overall.

I enjoyed the audio version. The narrator was good and I found her easy to listen to. The Last Romantics is getting a lot of buzz right now and I feel it is deserved. Whether you listen or read, give The Last Romantics a chance.

The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin is published by William Morrow and released on February 5, 2019.

Friday, February 15, 2019

I've Been Reading, A Little

I have relied heavily on audio books for the past seven months--I will write more about some of those  amazing books later. During that time I have read exactly three books in paper form. All three are latest releases from some of my very favorite contemporary authors. I was super lucky and blessed to get ARC copies from the publishers. Thanks so much Atria Books and Putnam for the opportunity to read these lovely novels.

I adore Kate Morton novels. I love the detailed story telling that takes the reader through generations of character development and the atmosphere of the old romantic settings. I read her newest novel The Clockmaker's Daughter back in October when it released and loved that it was just the right amount of spooky for me during that fall season.

Elodie is an archivist and finds some interesting items in the collection. Not only does the picture of the manor spark her own memories but they don't seem to fit with the other items in the collection. She's intrigued and anxious to find out who they might really belong to. She soon discovers that a mystery surrounds the pictured woman--a muse to a successful artist, the young woman disappeared from his rural England home the night the artist's fiancé was murdered. Now, Elodie wants to discover the truth.

I enjoyed the novel. It was the first book that I picked up in several months that I was able to read and stay engaged with for long periods of time. Morton's characters were dynamic and exciting and the twists in the plot kept me guessing. Her novels take the time to build the worlds and fully flesh out her characters and the plot. I was not disappointed in her most recent offering.

The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate Morton is published by Atria Books and released in October 2018.

Lyndsay Faye is an expert at writing in the vernacular of the time period and her unique style is on full display in The Paragon Hotel. Set right in the middle of Prohibition and the 1920's, Alice James's adventures take the readers from the streets of New York where Alice has been mixed up with the mob to an all-black hotel in Portland, Oregon. Alice hopes to recover from a gunshot wound in the seemingly quiet hideaway but racial unrest and a missing mulatto boy sparks her need to help her new friends.

Drawing on historical events, Faye shows an unsafe world for Portland's black citizens. Terrorized by the Ku Klux Klan, the amazing characters that inhabit the world inside the doors of the Paragon Hotel   must simply survive while trying to carve out an existence for themselves in a city that doesn't want them.

The Paragon Hotel is an entertaining novel. Faye is brilliant at having poignant, powerful moments mixed with humor and laughs and plenty of action. She doesn't shy from the violent details of the mobs or the Klan. Her clever use of language keeps the reader engaged and on their toes. I am still a huge fan of her novels and The Paragon Hotel earned its place on my front room shelf.

The Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye is published by Putnam and released on January 8, 2019.

I loved The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield so much that after lackluster reviews I didn't even dare read her second novel and it has long sat on my shelves unread. However, a copy of her recently published new novel Once Upon a River landed in my lap thanks to SheReads and Atria Books and I just couldn't resist. 

The novel immediately captured my attention and imagination. A soaking wet and injured man stumbles into a crowded tavern late one night. His nose is broken and he is barely breathing. Everyone rushes to his aid. In his arms he carries the body of a small, dead girl. They've surely come from the river. The local midwife is called and after she attends to the severe injuries of the man she checks on the dead child. The tiny perfect child shows no signs of what may have killed her and as the midwife stands pondering, the child begins to breathe again. The once dead and now living girl sparks the imagination and story-telling skills of the community. 

I thoroughly enjoyed Once Upon a River and about half way through the novel even found myself staying up way way past my bedtime to binge read until the ending and I haven't done that in many, many months. I loved the mystical and other worldly elements of Setterfield's story. She weaves a story by focusing on the characters and setting and I love feeling immersed in her worlds. Setterfield has won be back with her newest novel and I highly recommend it.

Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield is published by Atria Books and released on December 4, 2018.

Well Hello There

Hi. Hello. Is anyone still there?

I've been absent from the blog for awhile. Obviously. 

A quick summary of what we've been up to :

1. In August 2018, my husband accepted a position at a university in New Hampshire. So we gave away and threw away a lot of stuff and loaded what was left in a Penske truck and drove across the country.

2. We fell in love with New Hampshire again. Rand and I lived near the seacoast region for three years right after college. We're in the Monadnock region now. It's so beautiful and charming and really really expensive.

3. The kids are adjusting.

4. In the middle of December I got sick. I thought it was the flu. Rand finally made me go to the hospital. I had kidney stones that had gotten lodged. I had a kidney infection and then sepsis. It was a pretty miserable Christmas season. 

5. Our seventeen year old son went back to Utah in January to start school at the University of Utah. It's a weird adjustment having him off on his new adventure.

6. I went to Utah with him and when I came home, I was sick again. I spent most of January battling sepsis and then finally having surgery to get the stones removed and the stent out.

7. February has been cold and lovely and I'm feeling so so much better and ready to jump back into the book blogging world (does it still exist? I guess I will find out.)

8. Watch for lots of changes on the blog. It needs a lot of updating. Hopefully I can convince you all to come visit me in my lovely New Hampshire.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

She Loves You (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah) - Book Review

I didn't know what I was in the mood for, so last night I sat down with a stack of books and the intent to read a few pages of each. I started with She Loves You (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah) by Ann Hood. Before I knew it, I was over halfway finished with this lovely and endearing novel. It's intended audience is middle grade children but this Beatles fan was immediately enraptured.

Trudy Mixer is the president of the Robert E. Quinn Junior High Fan Club. Until recently it has been the most popular club at the school with 24 members but suddenly the students and Trudy's best friend Michelle are flocking towards Future Cheerleader Club. Now there are only four members of the club, including Trudy. The other three members are the nerdiest, weirdest kids and Trudy is determined to win back her popularity and her best friend. When she hears that the Beatles are coming to Boston in concert, she cooks up a plan to meet Paul McCartney.

She Loves You place in 1966 when the world was changing. Stuck in the middle of the upheaval of the Vietnam War, the Hippie movement and Beatlemania, spunky sixth grader Trudy Mixer is dealing with the trauma of junior high. She's an adorable character with about as much charm as most sixth graders. She's been dumped by her best friend who has moved on to newer, cooler friends and more exciting pursuits than writing fan mail to John Lennon. Trudy's love for the Beatles is pure and will be recognized by any who has been a true fan of anything. You're going to cheer for her and her little group of fans.

Ann Hood is an excellent writer who strikes just the right note in her newest book for younger audiences. I was fully transported to the 60s even as I recalled my own middle school years in the 1980s. Middle school is middle school is middle school. That is one universal truth. I'm excited to share She Loves You with my middle school aged children when they finally wake up from their summer sleep ins.

She Loves You (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah) by Ann Hood is published by Penguin Workshop and releases June 26, 2018.

Friday, June 22, 2018

We Begin Our Ascent - Book Review

Solomon has been focused and dedicated on achieving his goal as a professional cyclist. Now, he's part of the team that will help star Fabrice win the Tour de France. The only thing that has ever distracted Sol from his success on his bike, is his wife Liz and their new baby son. But Liz and Sol are supportive of each other's careers. Liz will do anything to help Sol get ahead, even help transport illegal performance enhancing drugs. Soon, the young couple is in way over their heads.

Several years ago, I read and loved Gold by Chris Cleave. His novel focused on dedicated and competitive athletes hoping to win Olympic gold in track cycling. I was suddenly intrigued by the sport that I previously knew very little about. Cleave successfully told a brilliant and thoughtful story with the sport as the backdrop. I was hoping for something similar with We Begin Our Ascent by Joe Mungo Reed.

Once I started Reed's debut novel, I was on the fast speed bike descending down a steep hill and holding on tight. You can't brake on the descent and so I couldn't stop. I read the novel yesterday and didn't sleep until I had finished the last page. Reed tells a moving and exciting story of passion, competition and a willingness to do almost anything to win. Woven throughout the exciting bike race, Sol muses on his relationships with his wife Liz and his new baby son.  The writing is beautiful and compelling and I am a going to shout this book's praises to anyone who will listen.

We Begin Our Ascent by Joe Mungo Reed is a fabulous summer read. I was thrilled by the details of the races and all that goes in to winning. I will definitely be watching the Tour de France this summer with a lot more understanding and interest.

We Begin Our Ascent by Joe Mungo Reed is published by Simon and Schuster and released on June 19, 2018.

Friday, May 25, 2018

May Reading - Mini Book Reviews

Technically, May isn't over but today is the last day of school so I already know my time to read will be limited for the next few months. Here are some mini reviews of the books I've read or listened to this month. Thanks to Blue Rider Press, Putnam and Penguin for the review books.

Dead Pretty by David Mark is a police procedural following Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy. He's determined to find out what happened to Hannah Kelly. The missing girl has gotten into his mind and he can't rest until she is found. In the meantime, McAvoy's boss Trish Pharaoh is getting too close to Reuben Hollow who has been released from prison after testimony against him is found to be tainted. Pharaoh's reputation is at risk.

Dead Pretty is part of a series following McAvoy and though it reads fine on its own, I'm sure people invested in the series will like it better than I did. I think I'm just really tired of police procedural detective stories right now. I'm not sure why I decided to read so many this spring but it might be awhile before I pick another one up.

The mystery moves along at a fairly steady pace and there are moments of real terror. I never got invested in it and finished only because I wanted to see if I had accurately solved the mystery, which I had. Fans of the series will probably continue to enjoy this next installment.

Dead Pretty by David Mark is published by Blue Rider Press and released May 8, 2018.

**I received a complimentary copy of the novel. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Tin Man by Sarah Winman is the beautiful and haunting story of a deep friendship between Ellis and Michael. Meeting as children during a turbulent time in both of their lives, they forged a bond that was profound but not immune to the hazards of life.

I picked up Tin Man late at night with the intention to read for a few minutes before my eyes insisted on finding sleep. However, I was literally compelled to continue turning the pages. The emotion and lovely writing was intoxicating and I too fell in love with Ellis and Michael and Annie. It's a short novel but packed with so much tender and sensitive emotion.

Tin Man is an empathetic novel filled with love and grief and hope. The language is lyrical and captivating. I loved it.

Tin Man by Sarah Winman is published by Putnam and released on May 15, 2018.

**I received a complimentary copy of Tin Man. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed is about a young Pakistani girl who dreams of going to college and becoming a teacher. However, an incident at the market with a powerful man puts her family at risk and she must become a servant on his estate to pay the debt. Living and working in his house, Amal becomes aware that the village rumors about the Khan family being dangerous and vicious are more than true. She will have take action to protect her own future.

Written for a young middle grade audience, Amal Unbound is a moving story about a young girl's plight and her desire to continue her education. It is a quick read and Amal faces a variety of trials to overcome from her mother's depression after the birth of another baby to a jealous fellow servant who is constantly trying to get Amal in trouble.

Amal is an admirable character of bravery and hope. It's a valuable story for all young people to recognize the plight of other children around the world. I read it quickly and will hand it off to my children.

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed is published by Nancy Paulsen Books and released on May 8, 2018. 

**I received a complimentary copy of the book. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

I also listened to Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell and Beartown by Fredrick Backman on audio this month. Enjoyed them all. I haven't read Gone With the Wind since I was a young teenager and it is definitely a different experience as an adult. Beartown was gripping and important. Station Eleven was fascinating and completely different than what I expected. I couldn't help comparing it to Stephen King's The Stand.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Love and Ruin - Book Review

Martha Gellhorn is young, ambitious and already a writer when she has a chance encounter with Ernest Hemingway in a bar near the home he shared with his wife and sons in Key West, Florida. That initial meeting would begin as a mentor that could help Martha pursue her career goals and soon became a passionate and dangerous love affair with the famous writer. Paula McLain, who wrote about Hemingway's first wife in her novel The Paris Wife, revisits that iconic legend in her newest novel Love and Ruin.

I first fell in love with Ernest Hemingway when I was a sophomore in high school and read A Farewell to Arms. It's one of the few books that I regularly reread. Later I would read more of Hemingway's works and would count For Whom the Bell Tolls as my favorite.  The first thing that intrigued me about Love and Ruin and it's focus on Martha Gellhorn, Hemingway's third wife is that they spent their early romance in the midst of the Spanish Civil War which is the setting For Whom the Bell Tolls. Love and Ruin by Paula McLain tells their love story from Martha's perspective. A successful writer and an award winning journalist covering many of the wars from the twentieth century, Martha is a fascinating character.

Love and Ruin is intriguing and so well written that I was captured up in the tales of Martha's aspirations and energy. She is an amazing woman and frankly deserves to be known for her own achievements and not only as the wife of Ernest Hemingway. McLain gives her voice and power to tell her own story. The novel is romantic and dangerous and passionate as Gellhorn and Hemingway have their adventures around the globe.

I very much enjoyed learning more of Martha Gellhorn in Love and Ruin. Martha and Hemingway's tempestuous and ardent love story makes an exciting and raw novel and McLain does Martha justice.

Love and Ruin by Paula McLain is published by Ballantine Books and released May 1, 2018.

**I received a complimentary copy. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Two Thrillers - Book Reviews

*Thanks to Berkley and Dutton publishers for providing two thrillers this week.

Gemma owns a real estate business and is a wife and mother. It's taken years of hard work to build her life and she's very happy. After a weekend away at a business conference, Gemma is receiving disturbing messages--pictures and videos that could destroy her family. She remembers drinking more than usual at dinner and visiting with a client but beyond that her memory is hazy or completely gone. On her own, Gemma must fight for her everything she loves.

The Girl I Used to Be by Mary Torjussen started building the suspense right away but it never really ramped up to an intense level that left me breathless. The plot is revealed too early and I had a hard time pushing myself to finish. I didn't particularly care for the characters. The ending is exciting but overall this wasn't as gripping and frantic as I like my psychological thrillers.

The Girl I Used to Be by Mary Torjussen is published by Berkley and released April 24, 2018.

Detective Chief Superintendent Frankie Sheehan has just gotten back on duty after a frightening brush with a killer, when she is assigned to a suicide. The woman has hanged herself but something doesn't feel right and evidence from the autopsy, shows that Eleanor Costello has been murdered. The most like suspect, Eleanor's husband is missing. Then a girl from Frankie's hometown is murdered and there are connections to the Costello case. Frankie is willing to take all the risks to solve this case before someone else is killed.

Too Close to Breathe by Olivia Kiernan kept me up late into the night reading each frantic page as Frankie Sheehan chased down the killer. Every now and then I love a thrilling police procedural and Too Close to Breathe delivered the intensity I desired. There are plenty of twists and turns as the police uncover evidence that leads them closer to the killer and his disturbed group on the Dark Web. Not only is this fast paced and riveting, but the characters are well crafted. Frankie is smart and determined but also vulnerable and troubled. This is Kiernan's first novel and I hope it won't be her last.

Too Close to Breathe by Olivia Kiernan is published by Dutton and released on April 3, 2018.

**I received complimentary copies of the books. The reviews reflect my honest opinions. No compensation was received.*

Monday, April 16, 2018

Go Ask Fannie - Book Review

Thanks for the free book, Putnam!

The Blairs should be renamed the Bickersons. Even after they've grown up and moved away from each other, Ruth, George and Lizzie cannot stop fighting with each other. Their father, Murray, has requested that they all spend a weekend together at his New Hampshire farm and they're already at each other's throats. It's going to be a long weekend. Murray wants his older to kids to help dissuade Lizzie from dating her much older and married boyfriend. Ruth wants to convince her father to moving into a rest home. They all have a different agenda but they are united in their anger when Lizzie's boorish boyfriend ruins their mother's cookbook--the cookbook with all her written notes. It is their prized possession.

This family of four used to be a family of six. The death of their mother and brother Daniel years earlier rocked this family's core. The pain and heartbreak of that loss still lingers and effects each one of the Blairs. Perhaps this weekend, the kids can finally come to know their mother's story.

Go Ask Fannie by Elisabeth Hyde is an inviting and engaging family drama. I love the cover. After a few dark reads, this cover called to me. I loved the setting of New Hampshire since it brought back memories of our time living in the Granite State. The characters are strong and flawed and changed from the trauma of their mother's death. Even now, they are influenced by the loss of their mother in the individual choices that they make. The siblings' constant picking at each other did become tiresome. Ultimately, I found the sections focused on Lillian, the mother, the strongest and most captivating.

Hyde is a strong writer with an easy style that flows. She's serious. She's light and humorous. She captures the mundane and the delightful aspects of a family that is real and absolutely believable. It's easy to just keep turning the pages.

Go Ask Fannie by Elisabeth Hyde is published by Putnam and released on April 10, 2018.

**I received a complimentary copy of the book. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Friday, April 13, 2018

Books, Books and More Great Books

I listened to two audio books in the last week and a half. Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan and The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck were both excellent books and I talked about them constantly with my family. I would highly recommend both books.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan is based on the true story of Pino Lella. A bright teenager in Italy who loves to ski and hang out with his friends, he wants nothing to do with the Nazi who occupy his country. He's a trustworthy kid and soon he's enlisted to help the resistance. He will give up nearly all that he loves to fight against the Nazis. It's a moving and powerful book. There are a few issues with the writing style in the beginning but the books improves as it goes a long and it is definitely a valuable story from the Italian front of World War II.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan was published by Lake Union in May 2017.

I knew absolutely nothing about The Women in the Castle before I started listening to it. I honestly thought it was a ghost story or a thriller. I was pleased to discover that it is historical fiction regarding three widows who live together in a Bavarian castle following World War II. Marianne von Lingenfels is the wife of a resister. Her husband and her closest friend were executed for their roles in an assassination attempt on Hitler. After the war, Marianne sets to find a rescue her friend's wife and son and the wives of the other men involved in the failed plot. Marianne, Benita and Ania and their children make their home in Marianne's castle while Germany tries to recover from the war.

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck is so emotional and so amazing. As it discusses morality, guilt, love and redemption, it is a powerful novel that I will not soon forget. The audio version was fabulous. Cassandra Campbell delivered a wonderful performance that gave the book the right atmosphere.

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck was published by William Morrow in January 2018.

Why Kill the Innocent by C.S. Harris is the newest mystery in the Sebastian St. Cyr series. I jumped into this without reading any of the previous novels. It was fine as a stand-alone. There's a lot of intrigue and twists in the story. Any number of individuals may have killed Jane Ambrose, the musician and piano teacher to the young Princess Charlotte. My favorite part was learning more of the history of Princess Charlotte and her intense parents--the Prince Regent and his despised wife Princess Caroline.

It's always a chance to read a book late in a series and not surprisingly I missed out on much of the characterization of the St. Cyr and his wife Hero that surely has happened in previous books. However, the mystery was fun and well plotted and learning more of the history was worth it.

Why Kill the Innocent by C.S. Harris is published by Berkley Publishing and released on April 3, 2018.

**I received a complimentary copy of the book. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Yesterday, I drove up to the Salt Lake Public Library for the semi annual used book sale. It's like Christmas for me. I went with a list of books that I wanted to buy (mostly books I listened to on audio or read on my kindle and loved enough to buy hard copies) and I only found one book from my list. However, I found lots of other books to enjoy. Now that I'm looking closely at the stack, I may actually own at least one of these books already. The book sale continues through this weekend.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Peculiar Savage Beauty - GIVEAWAY!

Peculiar Savage Beauty is the story of a headstrong and fiercely independent young woman who charges into the heart of the wind- and drought-ravaged Great Plains in the 1930s, intent on battling the dust and healing the land. As a geologist working for the U.S. government, Rosa Jean “RJ” Evans must find her place in a small farming town that welcomes neither a woman in authority nor changes to their way of life. Inspired by actual historical events during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl environmental disaster, Peculiar Savage Beauty is a parable about man’s quest to dominate the land and nature’s refusal to be conquered, about unlikely alliances and unexpected love. The novel will be available in hardback and e-book on April 17, 2018 wherever books are sold.  

Jessica McCann worked for more than 25 years as a professional freelance journalist and corporate writer. Her articles have appeared in Business WeekThe WriterRaising Arizona KidsPhoenix and dozens of other magazines. McCann’s debut novel, All Different Kinds of Free, won the Freedom in Fiction Prize and was published by Bell Bridge Books. Her second novel, Peculiar Savage Beauty, will be available in hardcopy and ebook April 17, 2018. She lives with her family in Phoenix, Arizona.

I am hosting a give away of a copy of Peculiar Savage Beauty by Jessica McCann on my Instagram account. Be sure to enter there to win a copy of this exciting historical fiction novel set during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. The book releases on April 17, 2018 and is published by Perspective Books.

Connect with Jessica online at: