Sunday, August 2, 2020

August Reads: A Mixed Bag of Genres

It's so darn hard to narrow down what I want to read every month. Too many choices; and yes, I'm the "squirrel!" kind of person when it comes to new books. 
However, I've got an interesting mix this month, and I noticed that they're genre heavy this time around. I'm really happy that I am the type of reader who enjoys a wide variety of books both non-fiction and fiction. There are definitely times when I want something light and happy (romance) and other times when I want to dig into a thick historical fiction novel. I've also noticed there seems to be more novels that most would consider in the horror genre popping up every month. Maybe it's making a comeback. 

This list isn't everything I'm reading; I'm still working on Action Park and The Cooking Gene from last month. Some non-fiction takes me a bit longer to finish, but I'm enjoying both of them very much. I've also got a few books on my Nook that I'm reading, too. 

Here's my August book list:

I've had this romance sitting at home for months! A sequel is coming out this fall, so I best be reading this now. A historical romance about a woman who must convince a man of means to support the suffragette movement in England. 

A novel about a young woman living in a puritanical society who discovers she's got a bit of magic, and something in the woods is calling her...

A woman returns to her childhood home--an infamous haunted house chronicled in a tell-all book by her father. Weird things start to happen again; is it really haunted after all?

A thriller about a murdered bibliophile and the manuscript that may be at the center of her mysterious death. You can read the book two ways-straight through, or taking the cues on certain pages and reading it that way. Either way, I can't wait!

Dublin, 1918. The flu continues to kill, World War I still rages; and three women gather together on a maternity ward to care for patients and cope with a world that is full of trouble. 

A stylish plus-size blogger gets a chance to be the bachelorette on a national TV dating show. She's sure it's all a bunch of garbage; however, she's in for a few surprises. 

It's Sunday afternoon and I'm ready to start my August books. Can't wait to share my reviews with all of you throughout the month. 

Stay safe, stay healthy, and happy reading! 

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Dating Makes Perfect by Pintip Dunn

I haven't read a YA novel for a very long time. Quite honestly, I'm afraid if I start diving into YA, I'll go down a rabbit hole and never come out again! Same goes for children's fiction, too. Sometimes thinking about everything I want to read overwhelms me and I panic and hyperventilate. I kid you not. 

Sometimes, however, the book universe magic happens, and I'm given the opportunity to read a novel that ends up being so utterly charming and lovable it actually changes the course of my reading plans for the rest of the year. In a bizarre, whirly-gig 2020, what's another shift in my universe? So yes, I'll be incorporating YA into the remainder of my 2020 reading choices. 

Dating Makes Perfect had me from the first few pages. I can't say that about a lot of books. Most of the time I have to read about 50 or so pages before I get invested in a story-but Winnie and her family are so engaging I was sucked in immediately. Winnie's older twin sisters are off in their first year of college-and dating a lot. It's a bit of a backfire on Winnie's parents, who forbid their daughters from dating in high school. They wanted to spare their daughters some heartache and also respect their Thai culture. Now Mom wants her daughters to get married and have grandbabies STAT but they've announced since they couldn't date in high school, they're going to spend YEARS dating. Oops. So Mom and Dad have decided Winnie can practice date in high school, so she's ahead of the game when she goes to college.

This is great, only they've picked the young man Winnie has to practice date: Mat. Ugh. Mat and Winnie had been friends all their lives, until about four years before, when suddenly, they went from friends to enemies. And there's a new cute boy who just moved to town that Winnie has her eye on...this could spoil things. 

Mat and Winnie have such great chemistry and they sizzle on the pages. Of course their past friendship break up is based on lack of communication and hurt feelings. Mat's willing to go along with the fake dating so he can take a trip after graduation--a trip that rests on his cooperation. Dates are pretty simple: driving Winnie home from school, meeting her at a local festival, accompanying Winnie clothes shopping. However, as they spend more time together, it's apparent both have deep feelings for each other. Can they untangle those feelings and repair their broken friendship? How can Winnie reconcile her feelings for Mat with her desire to obey her parents and be a good Thai girl? 

I absolutely loved the incorporation of Thai culture into the story. I appreciated reading about a first generation Thai-American and the difficulty in navigating honored traditions and modern life. Winnie grows by leaps and bounds in this novel, from a young woman who is afraid to go against her parent's wishes, to a young woman who owns her voice and shows her family and Mat just what she wants. Heck yes, I even got a little sniffly a few times. 

This novel will be published in August in the U.S. I've already talked to a few co-workers about how much I loved it, and I will certainly be recommending it to friends and family. 

A big thank you to Entangled and NetGalley for an advanced reader's copy. 

Rating: 5/6 for a completely delightful novel full of characters you will fall in love with very quickly. The weaving of Thai culture with modern American life was so good! I will definitely read more of Pintip Dunn. The chemistry between Winnie and Mat was palpable, and their romance was realistic and full of humor, tears, and great conversations. 

Available in August in paperback, audio, and ebook. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Death of a Wandering Wolf: A Hungarian Tea House Mystery by Julia Buckley

Cozy mysteries are my go-to books when I need something in between heavy books or when I just need something that easily grabs my attention and takes me away for a bit. This series has quickly become a favorite of mine after only two books. 

Death of a Wandering Wolf is the second in this series by Julia Buckley. I'm a bit bummed that now I'll have to wait for awhile before I can read the third. I may check out a few of her previous series while I wait. 

The Hungarian Tea Shop Mysteries center around Hana, her mother and grandmother. They own and operate a tea shop in the suburbs of Chicago. They are Hungarian, and many of the folks that live in the community are also either first or second generation Americans. Their tea shop is pretty popular, and  a big part of their community. There's also the interesting angle of Hana's grandmother: she reads tea leaves with eerie accuracy. And that little gift of magic has also been passed down to Hana-which she's quickly becoming aware of in the first two mysteries. That magic is helping her solve some murders. With the help of handsome Erik Wolf, a local detective, she's quickly realizing that there are many connections between her family and the community they live in-connections that go back decades to Hungary. Those connections are putting Hana in danger. 

This mystery revolves around the sudden murder of local well known artist William Kodaly--a man Hana just met at a garage sale, where she purchased a few of his paintings and a ceramic wolf. Hana collects antiques, and the wolf caught her eye. Kodaly was happy to sell it on the cheap, because he said it gave him bad vibes and he wanted it gone. Shortly after Hana leaves the sale, someone murders him. And when Erik discovers a tracking device on the wolf, Hana realizes this murder was not random, but deliberate. Now she's got to figure out who murdered Kodaly, and why. 

The list of suspects is large, thanks to Kodaly's romantic past-he dated a lot of women. Does one of his paintings point to the murderer? 

Besides the murder mystery, we continue to see Hana and Erik's relationship evolve, and Hana's decision to accept her magical gifts and develop them into something she can use and understand. And the food! Oh, the food. All the talk of sour cream and paprika had my mouth watering. My stomach is growling just thinking of it. 

I've really enjoyed both the first and second novels in this series. I certainly hope there are more to come. This series has me looking at other cozy series and expanding my TBR list for cozy mysteries. 

Rating: 4/6 for an entertaining read full of delicious food, warm and likable characters, and a mystery that isn't easily solved. Love this series. 

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio. 

Monday, July 27, 2020

The End of Her by Shari Lapena

This is the second Shari Lapena novel I've read, and wow! she can really spin a heck of a domestic thriller. 

The End of Her is about Patrick and Stephanie, a happily married couple and new parents to twin girls. Patrick is a partner in an architectural company, and Stephanie has left her job to stay home with the girls. Both are struggling with having two colicky babies that don't sleep and cry all the time. Stephanie is so sleep deprived she forgets to shut off the stove, and sometimes leaves the front door wide open. She just can't remember doing those things. There's not enough coffee in the world for her to stay functioning normally. Visits to a pediatrician for help don't really go as planned; the girls' doctor simply says they will stop being colicky sometime, and it will end abruptly. Meanwhile, Stephanie, and Patrick, too, are having major sleep deprivation. 

One day, a woman from Patrick's past appears, and threatens to blackmail Patrick if he doesn't pay her off. Erica knows Stephanie has inherited a few million dollars, and she wants money. Who is Erica? She's a woman who had an affair with Patrick years before, in Colorado. She was Patrick's first wife's best friend. And that first wife? Lindsey? She died, along with their unborn child, in a freakish accident. But Erica says she knows Patrick deliberately killed her. WHAT?!

Patrick tells Stephanie about Erica, and Stephanie refuses to give her money. Things are going to get sticky for everyone...and Erica is determined to get her way. She's not afraid to make some noise, and make a whole lot of trouble for Patrick. Erica makes enemies wherever she goes. 

This was such a good thriller! I raced through it. So many twists and turns. Shari writes about seemingly average couples; however they're really hiding a lot of secrets, and capable of doing terrible things. Things they may never have imagined doing just a few short weeks before--it's amazing what people will do to protect themselves. Look a little closer at domestic bliss and you'll find it's usually pretty dark, and not so blissful. 

It's only taken me two novels to become a firm fan of Shari Lapena. Thanks to NetGalley and Viking/Penguin for the advanced ebook. This novel is out in hardcover on Tuesday, July 28th in the U.S. Shari has plenty of novels, and they are all stand alones, so you don't have to read them in order. You'll be hooked in no time!

Rating: 4/6 for a twisty-turny domestic thriller that will keep you guessing who to believe--and an ending that will leave you with just one more surprise!

Available Tuesday, July 28th in the U.S. in hardcover audio, and ebook. 

Saturday, July 25, 2020

The Peacock Emporium by Jojo Moyes

I've read quite a few of Jojo Moyes' novels and haven't been disappointed in any of them. I have to say, however, The Peacock Emporium fell a bit flat for me. It was a novel I've had on my shelf for about a year, and after clearing off my bookcases, I found it again and added it to my summer reading list. But darn it all, it was a struggle to read and I'm still scratching my head over it after finishing it late tonight. 

Reading the back cover, I thought this would be about a delightful young woman running a shop and dealing with a mother who is a bit overbearing. The delightful young woman would find her way by being a successful shop owner, and eventually connect with her mother. That's what I got out of reading the back cover. 

Oh heck no, I was waaaay off. Honestly, I spent a lot of my time a bit confused as to where this plot was going. It seemed to be a jumble, as if the author couldn't decide which set of characters to concentrate on, so she tried to fit them all in. It didn't work for me. 

The novel starts with with Vivi and Douglas in 1963 going to a big fancy party in the English countryside. Vivi is in love with Douglas, who remains oblivious. At the party, Douglas falls for Athene Forster, who is wildly beautiful, troubled, and a bit out of control. Vivi is devastated, of course. Then the story swings to 35 years later--and Suzanne Peacock. Suzanne and her husband Neil have left London and moved back to Suzanne's hometown due to some bad financial mistakes Neil made--they are getting back on their feet very slowly. Suzanne is gorgeous and a bit spoiled. She's not interested in visiting her parents, who own a family estate outside of town. And guess who her parents are? Yep--Vivi and Douglas. 

Suzanne is the kind of character who doesn't make you feel warm fuzzies at all. She's completely lost, resentful of everything, and decides to open a small shop in town to help her pass the time. The Peacock Emporium is a bit of a mishmash of a coffee shop and a store that sells higher end bits and bobs. Suzanne just hangs out there, and meets Jessie, a young mother who boldly decides to work part-time at the shop and show Suzanne how to engage with the public. Jessie and Suzanne become friends, and all seems to be going well. 

However, there's a bit of a mystery involving Suzanne and her family. Suzanne is unhappy in her marriage, and not sure how to get out of it. And there's a new man in town from Argentina who is growing on Suzanne's heart and mind. 

Tragedy happens and that was the one thing I didn't see coming. Not at all. Not sure why; maybe to move the plot forward? I'm not sure. It definitely took the wind out of my reading. I had to put the book down for a week before I could return to it. I finally finished it today. 

I don't know what to tell you about this novel. It seems like it was all over the place, and I wasn't sure what the heck I was reading-was it Suzanne's story, was it Jessies? Was it Vivi and Douglas' story, or was it Athene's? I spent a lot of time trying to understand what exactly was going on, and not enough was going on to keep me glued to the pages. This novel was written in 2004, and released in the U.S. in 2019. So I think it is one of Jojo Moyes' earlier novels. Darn it all, I was all set for a great story, but this one just wasn't it. 

Rating: 2/6 for a disjointed tale of one woman's journey to understanding her place in her family, and finding happiness for herself. I usually don't have any trouble following dual storylines involving different decades, but this one jumped all over and I couldn't piece it all together very easily. I'll still read Jojo Moyes because she is quite good, but this one, an earlier novel, definitely wasn't a favorite of mine. 

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio. 

Friday, July 24, 2020

South of the Buttonwood Tree by Heather Webber

Heather Webber has written more than twenty-five novels-most of them are cozy mysteries and light romances. However, she has found her sweet spot in her previous novel Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe, and her newest novel, South of the Buttonwood Tree. I can't say it strongly enough how much I enjoy novels imbued with magical realism. 

This is not a sequel, but a stand alone novel about Blue Bishop and the people she calls family. Set in the small town of Buttonwood, Alabama, Blue is a children's author and illustrator, and has a series of books about a bunny that have made her famous. However, her family name has made her infamous in her hometown. Blue and her sister, Persy are the only two left in the Bishop family; her brothers all died tragically and under unhappy circumstances, her father left the family and died; her mother Twyla willed herself to death after losing her sons and husband. Growing up with little money, the family did what it could to survive-often getting into trouble with the law. Blue, however, stayed on the straight and narrow (except for that one incident in high school). She's been working hard and saving money so she can start the process of adopting a baby. It's what she's wanted for so very long. 

Blue has a gift: listening to the wind, and following it to find lost things. But there remains one thing that is lost that she needs to find before she can move away from the town that has caused her a lot of heartache. So every day she walks the woods to the Buttonwood Tree, searching for that lost thing. This time, she hears a baby crying, and finds a newborn tucked under the tree, with a button from the tree saying "Give the baby to Blue Bishop" tucked in her blanket. 

Everyone knows if you ask the tree a question, it will answer with a wooden button and one sentence of advice.  If you don't follow the tree's advice, you're doomed to unhappiness. 

Blue's dream seems to be coming true-a newborn baby girl left specifically to her. Quickly arranging guardianship, Blue names the baby Flora. While gossip swirls around town and the police investigate the appearance of the baby, Blue's close circle of friends celebrate with her. However, there is Ginny Fulton. She despises Blue and the whole Bishop family, and she will do what she has to in order to take the baby away from Blue. Ginny's daughter, Sarah Grace, is unhappily married, and her husband and her mother both want her to have a baby (the unhappily married part is a secret). She doesn't want one, and knows that Blue will make the best mother for Flora. She has a secret friendship with Blue, and doesn't understand why her mother loathes Blue so much. 

Sarah Grace has a few secrets of her own, too. Big secrets that may damage her father's run for Governor. Sarah Grace has her own business-flipping houses, then renting them to folks who don't have much money. Sarah Grace has the most interesting gift: she can hear the houses talking to her. They tell her all kinds of things-the history, the happiness, the sorrow; they let her know what's wrong with them and who is invited to stay. And she wants the old Bishop house. It is calling to her. 

There are a few other people in Buttonwood who have some special gifts, too. I'll let you discover that. There's also quite a few secrets, and some are doozies! Will Blue get to adopt Flora, or will the town turn against her? Will Sarah Grace find her way out of her unhappy marriage? It seems as though baby Flora has stirred the pot, and set in motion a whole lot of truths that need to be told. There's romance in the air, too for more than one character. It always seems that life's changes all come in a flurry,  and that is definitely the case for Blue and the folks in Buttonwood. 

I absolutely loved this novel, even more than the Blackbird Cafe. Alice Hoffman's earlier novels, along with Sarah Addison Allen's novels are similar to Heather's, and I'm so glad to have found another author who write magical realism that I enjoy so much. Step into Buttonwood, Alabama, and discover the Buttonwood Tree. 

Rating: 5/6 for a novel that had a few surprises, and a lot of warm characters. Believe in the magic. Perfect for a reading session in a hammock. 

Available in hardcover, audio and ebook. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Well, I tried unsuccessfully to put my facebook video on this here blog, but it wouldn't play nice. So, I'm writing my review. If you're interested in my video review of Mexican Gothic, head on over to @Bookaliciousbabe on Facebook to watch it. 

So, Silvia Moreno-Garcia's previous novel, Gods of Jade and Shadow, was one of my top reads of 2019. I'm always up for a tale of mythology; I loved mythology as a child, and that love has never faded! Now I'm enjoying the plethora of new novels about so many different cultures and their mythology.

Moreno-Garcia takes gothic and puts one heck of a spin on it; I tell people this is gothic horror. And not slasher movie horror, but that horror that seeps into your bones and makes it a little hard to sleep at night. 

So, onto a brief plot summary: Noemi is a smart, beautiful, upper class Mexican living the good life in 1950 Mexico City. She's finishing college and having fun attending parties. Her cousin Catalina sends a letter to Noemi's father that causes some concern: she claims her husband and his family are keeping her locked up, she's seeing things in their home, and she's afraid. So Noemi's father makes a deal with her-if she'll travel to High Place (Catalina's home) and check on her cousin, her father will pay for her to go to school for a Master's degree. Noemi packs her bags and heads to the mountains and High Place. 

High Place is one weird place. Catalina's new family are English, and own silver mines in the region. Those mines are closed down due to the revolution, and the family is hurting financially. Their home--High Place is one dank, damp, moldy and dark place. Definitely gothic. And the family; well, Virgil is coldly handsome (Catalina's husband), Francis is Virgil's cousin and a nice young man; Florence is Francis' mother and the daughter of Howard, the head of the family. Howard is also dying, and quite frankly a hot mess physically. Repulsive would be an understatement. Noemi settles in for a visit, and immediately knows there's something just not right about the place or the people. She also is shocked by Catalina's appearance and behavior. 

Noemi starts having nightmares--they feel completely real, and she wakes up wandering around the house. As she digs into the family history, everything becomes more unsettling and weird--but you have no idea just how unsettling and weird until the last 50 pages or so. 

I can't tell you more, because this is definitely a novel you have to read and discover for yourself. It's also one that you should discuss with others. This is an author to watch--she's on my list of authors I'll immediately read without hesitation. 

Rating: 5/6 for a truly out of bounds novel that combines the best of gothic with a twisty horror story that truly is imaginative. And yes, there is a little bit of ick, so be prepared. 

Available in hardcover ebook, and audio.