Thursday, April 2, 2020

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

Apparently I need to read a thriller about a wedding and a murder on an island to get into my reading groove. But it worked, and I discovered a new author I like. Win win. 

The Guest List is Lucy Foley's latest novel; her previous novel The Hunting Party (which I will read as soon as I can), which was published last year, got a lot of buzz. I received an advanced copy of The Guest List from Willian Morrow (HarperCollins) and wow am I glad I did--it was a quick read and full of twist and turns. 

Guests are gathering on a small island off the coast of Ireland for the wedding of digital magazine creator Jules and her devastatingly handsome fiancĂ©, Will Slater. He's a rising star in television with his survival series (think Bear Grylls). Jules picked this location to honor her Irish roots, and also because it will make good copy--and she got it at a bargain price. The first wedding to take place on this remote island, it's run by wedding planner Aoife and her partner Freddy. It could make her career, too. 

The story unfolds over two days; the day before the wedding, and the wedding day. Told through a host of characters: Aoife, Jules, Olivia, Jules' sister; Hannah, a guest at the wedding, and Johnno, the best man. The narration flips back and forth between all of these characters, and as you read, it becomes pretty obvious very quickly that all is not sun-shiny and grand for this wedding. 

Each character has a whole mess of issues, and in the course of two days they all come out one after another, to a final aha! moment. We start at the beginning, with a big storm, the lights going out in the reception tent, and a horrific scream. Boom. Then we go back and forth, between characters and the two days on the island. Some may find this hard to keep track of, but I didn't have an issue. It made the build up that much more of a bang. 

My only issue, after thinking about this for awhile, is that the person who is the ultimate baddie is so bad it's kind of hard to believe someone could get away with that much for so long. Until the wedding. 

You won't be able to put this down. I was up until past midnight finishing it because I just couldn't stop. It will be published in the U.S. on May 5th in hardcover.  

Rating: 5/6 for a fast paced thriller that kept me up way past my bedtime!!

Thank you William Morrow for the advanced copy.  

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

What Does a Person Read During a Pandemic? Anything That Makes Them Happy

Yes, we're all in this together, aren't we? And the one thing that always gives me comfort isn't working all that well for me: reading books. I find myself having a very hard time sitting still long enough to read more than a few pages, and when I'm reading, my mind is just racing. Getting through my TBR pile seems so darn insignificant right now. 

I hesitated to even write an April "What I'm Reading" post, but decided maybe it would help me focus a bit. So here are a few that I'm working on this month. I tend to reach for comforting reads--yes, some cozy mysteries, some romances, and historical fiction that grabs me. And sometimes I read about that thing that really worries me--in this case, the pandemic. I am that person who sits on a plane and thinks about it crashing, so I guess I'm also that person who wants to read novels about the world in a medical crisis. It's my way of saying "you don't scare me!" even when it does. 

So, here's what I'm working on in April:

Historical fiction about a home for wayward girls and two women who form a forever kind of friendship.

Contemporary fiction set in London about strangers brought together by a book left in a cafe. 

A father and daughter are the only two humans left on the earth, and a bear that leads the daughter home. 

Out in May, a thriller about a wedding and murder-on an island. 

Alma Katsu wrote The Hunger, which was a favorite book of mine a few years back. She returns with a supernatural historical tale about the Titanic and its sister ship, the Britannic, and a woman who keeps hearing the call of the ocean--and not in a good way.

I'll probably read a few other books during the month (fingers crossed!)--whenever I need something lighter. 

I hope you are all safe, healthy, and following social distancing. Please share what you're reading (or not) during this uneasy time in our lives. As the weather warms, I'll be starting book talks again from my back deck--watch for those on the Bookalicious Babe's Facebook page. 

Take care--

The Bookalicious Babe

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Death in a Budapest Butterfly: A Hungarian Tea House Mystery by Julia Buckley

I first saw this mystery at my library, and decided to buy a copy for myself. I was intrigued by the Hungarian tea house and wasn't quite sure what to expect in this cozy mystery. What I found was a mystery that actually gave me a few hours of time away from  checking the news and staring at my phone. 

This is the first in a new series, and I can't wait to read more about Hana Keller and her extended family. Hana's mother owns Maggie's Tea House in Riverwood, a suburb of Chicago. Hana's family is Hungarian, and her grandmother is especially gifted at reading tea leaves for guests. Most people think she's just using it as a parlor trick, but she's actually quite gifted, as is Hana's mother (who ignores her gift), and Hana, too. Getting ready for a ladies tea, Hana is overcome with dread and reluctant to enter the tea house. And she's correct, as later on one of the women is found dead in the bathroom-by Hana. Someone poisoned her tea, but who could it be in a room full of senior citizen women? 

Enter Erik Wolf, local detective. He's handsome and professional, and sparks fly between Erik and Hana. Her family's tea house is in danger of closing, thanks to the murder that happened there-can Erik and Hana figure out who poisoned Ava Novak and why?

I loved Hana's family--her grandparents, her parents, and her brother. Close knit, supportive, and wow--the food! My stomach was growling the whole time. I would love to try some traditional Hungarian food. I'm all about noodles! 

The mystery itself was interesting, and wove Hungarian mythology into the mix. It was more of an unfolding rather than an aha! kind of a mystery, but I liked that. Lots of tradition, resentment, old histories, and love turned to hate made this murder mystery pretty darn solid. I always enjoy a cozy mystery that has a little magic involved, too. 

I'd add this one to your TBR list is you like cozy mysteries. The second in the series is due out at the end of June, 2020 in the U.S.:

If you love mysteries full of good food, strong family connections, cats, tea and an unfolding romance this is perfect for you. It was perfect for me. 

Rating: 4/6 for a delightful start to a new mystery series set in suburban Chicago. Recipes are also included so you too can try out some Hungarian dishes. 

Available in paperback, a Kindle ebook, and audio. 

Sunday, March 22, 2020

The Hunt for History by Nathan Raab

The history geek in me saw this come through the library and I just had to check it out. It was a very interesting look at history through the lens of written documents--some hidden for hundreds of years. 

Nathan Raab, along with his wife, father, and mother, runs a very successful business buying and selling historical documents. What started out as a hobby of his father turned into a home business, and eventually became a career. Nathan spends time talking about how he learned everything he needed to know to authenticate, research, and obtain historical documents from private owners and auctions. As with most skills, his developed over time, and he began to pay attention to his gut feelings. If something, at first glance, just didn't seem right, he was usually correct when he investigated later and found the document to be a forgery. With a combination of innate skills and years of honing his research skills, Nathan has been witness to many amazing documents. Documents that speak to the history of our country, and also documents that reach around the world. He speaks with never ending amazement to the chain of caretakers that keep these precious documents safe through generations, until they are finally brought to light. When you think about how casually we toss paper, cards, letters, and then think about how long some of these documents--letters, maps, speeches--have been kept safe, it's amazing and humbling. 

Nathan's book discusses some of his favorite finds, and the history behind them: a survey done by George Washington for land he purchased before becoming President; a letter from Theodore Roosevelt where he uses the phrase "Speak softly and carry a big stick" for the first time; personal letters from Ronald Reagan to his daughter Patti Davis, filled with the love of a father to a daughter in times of family turbulence. A letter from Martin Luther King, Jr, in jail--a love letter to a woman not his wife. Fascinating stories of snippets of history. 

Anyone who loves history will want to dive into this book. Each chapter is about another experience Nathan has had in his career, and how they all profoundly effect his life and his work. This is a man who sees the people and the events behind these documents, not just how much money he can make from selling them. 

Oh, my Dad would have loved this book. đź’–

Rating: 5/6 for a look at history from a different perspective: the letters, memos, and documents that helped shape our nation and bring personal perspective to big moments in history. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Friday, March 20, 2020

The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes by Leonard Goldberg

This is the first in a series, and I've looked at it for a while and finally bought it a few months ago. 

I have to say Sherlock Holmes novels always make me feel like I'm just not that observant.  It's like a test on every page! And this mystery was no different. 

It's 1914. Sherlock Holmes has recently died, and Watson is an elderly retired physician, lost in the memories of all the cases he and Holmes solved in their glory days. Now Watson's son, John Jr. (a physician) makes sure his father is taken care of at 221b Baker Street, the same apartment where Holmes lived. A woman visits, asking for Watson's help. Her brother has recently died--jumped from a window to his death. She, however, doesn't believe it was a suicide, and asks for help to clear her brother's name. 

Two witnesses to the death--a young mother and her son, turn out to be Joanna  and Johnnie Blalock. Joanna is Holmes' daughter, the product of a one night affair between Holmes and Irene Adler; adopted after Irene dies shortly after giving birth to Joanna. Watson knows exactly who she is, and wow, she is as intellectual and brilliantly observant as her father and mother. 

Watson, John Jr., and Joanna soon begin digging into the mysterious suicide of Charles Harrelston, and quickly find a culprit: Dr. Christopher Moran. It seems pretty cut and dried, but this quickly became much more complicated and in-depth than I expected. There are more deaths, a secret code, old war secrets, and a race against time before Dr. Moran claims his final victim. 

My only issues were the "romance" between Watson Jr. and Joanna. It seemed kind of dumb and just thrown in for no good reason. And not much of a romance, either. Also, I was a bit annoyed at all the men being astounded at Joanna's ability to decipher clues and figure things out. Come on! Women are smart! 

I'l probably read more in the series--there are at least another 2-3 in the series after this first mystery. 

Rating: 4/6 for a good mystery that kept unfolding. A few things annoyed me, but overall a satisfying beginning to a smart series. 

Available in paperback, audio, and ebook. 

Thursday, March 19, 2020

The Dress in the Window by Sofia Grant

Hi all. Hope everyone is staying safe, taking care of themselves, and watching out for loved ones. Books seem to be even more important than ever as this pandemic unfolds and grows. 

I am at home for the next week, so my world is pretty darn small. I'm used to being alone, so that is good. But I do miss going out, seeing my work friends, and especially being with my partner. But I'm in touch with a lot of folks via facebook, texting, snapchat, and facebook messenger. My gym is amazing, and has started virtual workouts every day so I've taken advantage of that. I can officially say they are tough workouts--lots of squats, lunges, and core movements. I am sore! 

As I've on the Bookalicious Babe facebook page, I've struggled to finish any books in the past week. Really struggled. But I've been given a good kick in the butt, thanks to my job. I'm working on doing short videos reviewing books for my library. So, I've set a goal to read a book a day, and do a quick review on each one. It keeps me from watching TV (and cleaning my house) and it's a chance to read from my stacks. And that's where this book came from!

The Dress in the Window has been on my shelves since 2017. I thought it was a novel about two sisters who work together to create a design house. I was wrong. Wow. It kept unfolding and sending me in another direction I wasn't expecting. 

A short recap:  Jeanne and Peggy are two sisters in their late 20's in 1948. Peggy's husband Thomas was killed in WW2, along with Jeanne's soon to be fiancĂ©, Charles. They both live with Peggy's mother in law, Thelma, and Peggy's young daughter Tommie. It's a struggle to make ends meet, with Jeanne working two jobs and doing sewing on the side. Peggy takes care of Tommie, but longs to put her artistic talent to work. Thelma has a few pretty big secrets she's been keeping from the sisters; one especially that could make their lives a lot easier. The dynamic between the sisters is interesting; both envy the other, yet love each other very much. Thelma is resentful of the way her life turned out--her husband died young, and wasn't exactly the best thing around, either. Her son Thomas died in WW 2, and she's got a young granddaughter who she loves, but frustrates her with her wild behavior. 

As the story moves along, you get to know each of the three women better, and understand what drives each of them. It's a tale of the changing choices in women's lives after WW 2; the frustrations of having to choose between family and a potential brilliant career, and the secrets we keep that can come out at the wrong time and destroy fragile relationships. 

It wasn't at all what I expected, but it was better than what I expected. A lot of surprises for sure!  A solid historical novel about a time that I haven't read much about. Definitely would make a good book group discussion. 

Rating: 4/6 for a novel about sisters, mothers and daughters, ambition, natural talent, and the desire to want better for yourself. A fascinating look at the changing women's fashion industry after WW 2. 

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio. 

Sunday, March 15, 2020

A Note From the Bookalicious Babe

Hi all. It's bizarre out there, isn't it? I wasn't too nervous up until yesterday, when I realized I had spent all Friday night tossing and turning, thinking about this virus and realizing it is a really big deal. And thinking about all the folks I know who are elderly, who have compromised health. How easy it is to spread something even when you don't have any symptoms and feel fine. How many people I come into contact with every day. How many things I touch, that other people touch. I'm not a super social person, but I do like to socialize, and that's usually in a bar, a bookstore, or a restaurant. 

I am fine, by the way. But I've been struggling to read the books I chose to read and review this month, and I decided today that I just wasn't going to do that anymore. I'm going to read some other books; books I've wanted to read but are way down on my list; fun books that lift me up a bit. Books to take my mind off of the current status of the world. 

So I'm putting this month's books on hold for now, and you'll see some other books reviewed. Not sure what yet, but I've thankfully got a lot to choose from here at my home. 

Take care, stay safe, and stay home. Please don't stockpile good that others need and are currently hard to get. Stay informed, but please make sure you're informed from a reputable news source. There is no social event that can't wait until the world is a healthier place. 

Take care-

The Bookalicious Babe