Wednesday, November 30, 2016

50 of My Favorite Books: The Finale

I know I missed some books.  A twirl through my reading past has been such fun, and has me thinking I need to revisit some of my favorites.  And I will.  Who knows what 2017 will hold?  So I'm closing out November with my final favorite ten books.  Some of the books I've picked are favorites because they were my first introduction to serious subjects.  Others are silly, and make me smile.  They all have a special place in my heart and remind me of who I was, where I was, and what the world was like around me when I read them.  

Here they are, my final ten (in no particular order):
Western fiction at its best.

Laugh out loud stroll through the 20th century


My first chick-lit book
Read this in high school and became fascinated by the moors.
Toni Morrison.  No one matches her brilliance.

Makes me grin every time I read it!

A childhood favorite.

The story of a house that stays the same while the world around it changes.

Historical fiction about immigrants in America. 

Wherever you go, make the world a beautiful place.
 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

50 of My Favorite Books: Part Three

Laura's real life story. 
This task of figuring out my 50 favorite books has proven to be more difficult that I expected!  If anything, I've learned that keeping track of what I've read makes life for a bibliophile much easier.  I won't let a year pass by without making a list of every book I read.  Here's my next batch of favorite books--in no order of fondness:

A favorite historical-paranormal novel.

Packed a punch.  Fantastic.

I became a fan of Paula Brackston with this book.

Smart, sexy, and brilliant trilogy.

Magical realism at its best.

Combines history, archaeology, and paranormal.

Oh, this book.  Love it.

Read it as an adult and loved it

Always a favorite.

Required reading that became a memorable read

Powerful

One of my all time favorites
Had me on the edge of my seat
Love this series about Charleston and ghosts
 I think it's pretty clear I've always been drawn towards books that have an element of magic and other-worldliness to them.  I do enjoy non-fiction, and I've made an effort this year to read more of it.  What can I say?  Books are my escape from the world, and when I escape, I like to take flights to far away places.  I guess behind my everyday exterior lies the kid who still wants to lay on the floor and read all day.

Tomorrow will wrap up my 50 favorite books.  In the meantime, I hope you've started thinking about the books that have a special place in your heart.  Please comment and share some of your favorites!





Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry

This is a book that I've picked up numerous times over the past ten years, but I never could read it  for one reason or another.  I was finally compelled to read it because the sequel The Fifth Petal, is coming out in January, and I wanted to read the sequel.  Reading reviews online had me all set for a novel that I was sure to enjoy.  I was wrong. 

I'm really bummed I didn't much like The Lace Reader.  I so wanted to enjoy it, and rave about it.  But I can't.  It took me weeks to finish it, which is usually not a good sign for me.  I wasn't pushed to really sit down and dive into the story of Towner and her mother May and Aunt Eva no matter how hard I tried.  And this book takes place in Salem for pete's sake!  A book set in Salem, MA is always a winner for me.  But not this one.  

So why didn't I like The Lace Reader?  I felt like I was doggie paddling in a circle most of the time.  I couldn't tell what the story was trying to focus on:  was it a potential mystery with the puzzling drowning of Eva, or was it a family drama?  Was it a weird contemporary/historical novel?  Who is this creepy Cal guy, who is basically a cult leader who terrorizes Towner and her family?  Oh, that's right.  He's Towner's relative.  Towner herself is a mixed bag of confusion.  Returning to Salem to investigate the disapperance of her Aunt Eva is actually an opportunity for Towner to come back and confront her past.  Sounds pretty straightforward, right?  But it's not, and I found myself paging back through to try and understand just what the heck was going on--and nothing was clear until at least 3/4 of the way through the novel.  And no surprise here, but that's where you find out just how unreliable a narrator Towner actually is--she's one confused woman.  

You may put the pieces of the puzzle together much quicker than I did; I found myself bored with it all, and that's not what I was expecting from a novel that took me 10 years to finally get to, only to be disappointed.  I will, however, read the sequel The Fifth Petal just to see where Towner's life has changed.  I hope to understand her better.  There are themes of abuse, both physical and sexual in this novel, and lots of drinking and smoking pot, so keep that in mind if you're trying to decide to read it.  Don't let me review stop you.  I am certainly in the minority of people who weren't thrilled with this novel.  There is a lot of subplot/plot whirling through this novel, so you need to pay attention.  I'm deliberately leaving much of the plot out of this review to not give anything away.  Plus, it's just exhausting to think of everything moving through the pages. 

Rating:  5/10 for a confusing plot and a main character that didn't capture my emotions or attention for very long.  The sequel to The Lace Reader, The Fifth Petal, will be out in stores in late January, 2017.  

Available in paperback, e-book, and audio. 

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware


Where did November go?  Wow--it zipped by so quick I'm scrambling to get my thoughts on Christmas in just 4 short weeks!  I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving.  It was a peaceful day filled with tasty food and good company. 

Lo Blacklock, the narrator in The Woman in Cabin 10, however, cannot say she experienced good company or good food during her time spent on a luxury cruise.  As a matter of fact, poor Lo was either completely exhausted, drunk, or seen as slightly crazy throughout the novel.  I have to say I was disappointed with her character, and not terribly impressed with this novel. 

I've read plenty of novels where I didn't like the main character.  Usually it makes for a pretty compelling read, but Lo just completely irritated me.  She suffers from a chronic lack of sleep because of a break-in at her apartment, where she came face to face with the robber.  Locking Lo in her bedroom, he ransacked her place, and left her severely shaken and unable to relax long enough to sleep.  Using booze to help her cope keeps her pretty off balance.  She's given a chance to prove herself at work (she's a travel writer) by taking her boss' place on a inaugural luxury cruise on a boat that is the height of high class, and only has ten cabins.  This is her chance to finally get a promotion--if she snags the right interviews and proves herself.  Only problem is she's running on no sleep and keeps getting offered champagne that she just can't refuse.  Oh yes, and there is the free mini-bar in her cabin. 

On her first night, Lo manages to finally fall asleep, only to be awoken in the middle of the night by a splash.  Moving out onto her balcony, she sees what looks like a smudge of blood on the glass partition between her cabin's balcony, and the balcony for cabin ten.  Convinced that someone was thrown overboard, Lo sets out to notify the boat's head of security. 

Only problem is, there was no one in cabin ten.  But Lo insists that yes, there was--she borrowed mascara from the woman in cabin ten just the night before.  But a thorough search of the boat, along with interviews by every employee on the boat comes up with nothing.  Lo's deepening sense of something being horribly wrong is at war with her doubts about what she may have seen and heard.  That smudge of blood?  It's gone.  That cabin that was strewn with clothes and personal belongings from the night before?  Spotless.  Is Lo imagining things, or did someone go overboard?  Who is hiding the truth? 

Dang, I wanted to like this novel so much.  I can't get past Lo.  I found myself saying out loud "For the love of God, take a nap!"  It drove me nuts.  The whole mystery I found a bit confusing to untangle, and it just seemed to be a thin plot to me.  I had to suspend my belief quite a bit, and I didn't feel the ending was worth the effort.  Boo.  I'll give Ruth Ware's other novel In a Dark, Dark Wood a shot, because I think she certainly has potential, and I've heard a lot of good things about her debut novel.  This one, however, left me wanting my own mini-bar.

Rating:  4/10 for an annoying narrator, and a thin plot.  Just wasn't my cup of tea. 
Fans of The Girl on the Train may find this a good read. 
Available in hardcover, e-book, and audio.

Don't forget to enter to win a trio of romance novels by Kate Noble!  Contest winner will be announced December 1st:
Kate Noble Romance Giveaway

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Dare and the Doctor by Kate Noble: A Winner Takes All Novel and a Giveaway!!

Whether you're blissfully happy with your partner, dating and having fun, or someone who prefers the quiet life...we all enjoy a good romance novel. I must confess it's been a little while since I ventured into the romance genre, but I certainly enjoyed reading the just published The Dare and the Doctor by Kate Noble.  It's the third in a series which centers around three friends:  The Earl of Ashby (The Game and the Governess),  John Turner (The Lie and the Lady), and Dr. Rhys Gray.  

Dr. Gray is a handsome doctor from a society family that has seen scandal and is just now coming back into society.  He's kept up a correspondence with Margaret Babcock, a young woman (and heir to her father's large estate) who prefers to spend her days experimenting with plants and flowers and creating new hybrids.  Both have met each other before, and their mutual love of research and tinkering in labs has fostered a firm friendship via letter. Ah, the days before Facebook and even phones!  

Thanks to Dr. Gray's influence, Margaret has a chance to travel to London and present her newest hybrid rose to a prestigious horticulture society. She's out of her element, but decides she has to take the chance--plus it will give her an opportunity to visit with her good friend Dr. Gray.

Of course Margaret and Dr. Gray are meant for each other, and it seems most everyone around them gets that, but these two science nerds are fairly oblivious to it for most of the novel.  There are the usual foils that appear to keep the two apart as they slowly (very slowly!) figure out they have the hots for each other. And who am I to blame them for taking so darn long to recognize their love for each other?  It's kind of refreshing to see two people take some time and slowly realize their attraction to each other.  In our fast paced world, and our rushes to say "I love you" before we even know a potential partner, it was actually fun to watch that unfold between Rhys and Margaret.  So if you've got the patience, and want to read a good old fashioned romance, this is the one for you.  It's not necessary to read the first two books in the series to enjoy the story of Margaret and Rhys, but hey--why not?  And I've got just the opportunity for you:  a giveaway of all three Winner Takes All books!  Yes, you can win all three and have a treat to read in the coming cold months.  Giveaway winner will be announced December 1st.  A big thank you to Simon and Schuster for review copies of this delightful trio of romances. 


Enter the contest  (starts November 23rd) through Rafflecopter:

a Rafflecopter giveaway





Here's what fans have been saying about the Winner Takes All books:

Praise for the Winner Takes All Series

With her usual witty writing and exquisite flair for characterization, Noble offers [The Lie and the Lady]. The effortless manner in which she wrote. The Lie and the Lady as a separate love story while at the same time gracefully connecting it to The Game and the Governess and cleverly hinting at what is to come in the series is nothing less than brilliant.”
Booklist (STARRED REVIEW, The Lie and the Lady)

“After a scandalous escapade with John, a commoner she thought was the Earl of Ashby. Letitia returns to England as the fiancĂ©e of a somewhat older, titled widower- only to find out that her new home is right in John’s backyard . . . heartwarming.”
Publishers Weekly (The Lie and the Lady)

“The Earl of Ashby trades places with his friend and secretary in order to prove he can win a woman without the benefit of his title in The Game and the Governess…It’s a delicious treat to watch Ned grow from earl to man, and see the stalwart Phoebe get everything she deserves.”
Bookpage (TOP PICK IN ROMANCE, The Game and the Governess)

“The subtle development of romance between the devil-may-care earl and the proper governess is the impetus behind this winning novel, complete with rich characters and a multi-dimensional plotline.”
—Publishers Weekly (STARRED REVIEW, Best Summer Romance pick, The Game and the Governess)
 


WINNER TAKES ALL GIVEAWAY!
To celebrate the third in the Winner Takes All series, The Dare and the Doctor, we are hosting a giveaway and the WINNER will TAKE ALL books in the series: The Game and the Governess, The Lie and the Lady and The Dare and the Doctor! Please note, you can enter at all participating blogs but you can only win once. U.S. only.

Blog Tour

REVIEWS:
BOOKPAGE: GUEST POST NOVEMBER 21ST!

FEATURE POSTS:
THOUGHTS IN PROGRESS

Saturday, November 19, 2016

50 of My Favorite Books: Part Two

Wandering through my bookshelves  recalling some of my favorite books has been a trip down memory lane and a chance to see how many books I've got on my shelves that I still have to read.  I didn't have a library card as a child (we lived in the country and didn't have access to a library close by) and relied on my school's library to read books.  Alas, in elementary school our turn at the library only came every two weeks, but I always checked out as many books as I could each time.  This was before the era of big bookstores; Iowa just wasn't flush with bookstores at all.  I always knew Santa would bring me books each Christmas, and they were by far my favorite gifts.  To this day, I cherish the memories of carving out my space under the tree and lying there reading my new books.  It was the only time of the year that I actually received books as gifts.  I treat myself to books every Christmas season and nothing makes me happier than reading a good book on Christmas Eve.  

For this round of my favorite reads, I've got another eclectic mix of childhood and adult favorites that range from Laura Ingalls Wilder to the Vampire Lestat.

One of the best sci-fi books I've read. 

Loved Trixie Belden as a pre-teen. 

Probably one of my first "foodie" books

This cover made me love this novel before I even started reading it.

Absolutely a top favorite author of mine. 

Oh yes, I had my Anne Rice phase.  Loved Lestat!

My introduction to Laura Ingalls Wilder and my favorite of all her books.

A book that gets better everytime I read it.

Still love this and have my original copy
My first Sandra Dallas.  Fan for life.

This book made me a fan of Sherman Alexie

So good, and heartbreaking

First in her Graveyard Queen series. 

Incredible!

Seriously fantastic and heartbreaking
 

 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Yesternight by Cat Winters

 I normally don't pay any attention to cover blurbs, but I was delighted to see Simone St. James' thumbs up for Yesternight.  I've read Winters' teen novel In the Shadow of Blackbirds and started her other adult novel Uninvited so I knew what to expect--historical fiction with a paranormal twist.  Yesternight appealed to me because it added another twist:  children and reincarnation.  

Imagine my disappointment when I finished the book and couldn't figure out just what it was about the book that left me unsatisfied. Was it the main character, Alice?  Was it the ending?  What the heck was it?!

Alice Lind is a psychologist in 1925 Oregon.  She travels to Gordon Bend, Oregon to administer IQ tests to schoolchildren.  Frustrated by the doors in higher education staying firmly closed to her because she's a woman, Alice travels the country for a job that mostly leaves her unsatisfied and yearning to be accepted into a PhD program for psychology.  Alice is an intelligent, passionate young woman who has to walk a fine line between being a respectable young professional, and living her life in a way that makes her happy. So far, she hasn't found a perfect mix, and deep down her frustration has stoked quite a bit of resentment against men and society.  

Alice arrives in Gordon Bend, Oregon to administer tests, but also because she's been asked by a local father, Michael O'Daire, to look into his daughter's claims that she once lived as a brilliant young female mathematician who tragically drowned in Kansas decades before.  Alice is pretty skeptical; after all, she is a scientist, and believes she must consider all psychological possibilities before arriving at reincarnation as an explanation for Janie's odd behavior and astounding grasp of advanced mathematics.  Janie O'Daire is only seven years old.  

Gordon Bend is a dismal small town on the coast, with plenty of atmospheric storms, a hotel run by Michael that is empty during the off-season, and Janie's teacher (and Aunt) and mother who want to protect her from anyone who may think Janie is crazy.  It's an uphill battle for Alice to get Janie to confide in her and to win the trust of Janie's mother, Rebecca.  Alice's confidence that her science will explain Janie's odd behavior begins to erode away as she gets to know Janie's story, and looks for facts to support Janie's claims of a previous life.  

So why did this novel leave me with a vague sense of dissatisfaction?  Well, I don't think I liked Alice very much.  I liked her sister Bea; maybe because Bea seemed to embrace herself much more easily than Alice could accept who she was.  Alice seemed at once helpless against society's strictures, yet her whole adult life was a giant push-back against those strictures.  She was a confusing mess.  And, to add to this, the vague attraction between Alice and Michael never seemed to be believable to me.  It was a distraction, but part of the plot that made the whiz-bang of an ending possible.  Janie's story was pretty interesting, and I was glad to see that play out to a satisfactory conclusion.  But the added story of Alice's suspicions of having a past life herself seemed disjointed and didn't fit easily into the rest of the plot. Both stories seemed to be stitched together with a ragged seam.  I think Cat Winters could have made Alice's subplot a standalone novel; it could have easily been a follow-up to Janie's story.  

There were many parts of Yesternight that I enjoyed.  I'm always interested in a good reincarnation thriller.  This book has some good bones, but just didn't quite make it for me.  But, don't take this review as a "do no read" sign. Read it for yourself, and let me know what you think.  I would love to discuss this book with someone else who's read it.  

Rating:  5/10 for a plot that has some really interesting points, but falls short in character likeability and some disjointedness in the story line.  Give it a read and decide for yourself.  Fans of reincarnation thrillers will be intrigued. 

Available in paperback and e-book. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

A Creepy Ghost Story: The Family Plot by Cherie Priest

It's been quite awhile since I've read a novel that creeped me out.  It was creepy  enough that I decided to only read it during the day, on my lunch hour in a busy hospital cafeteria. Either I'm getting soft, or it was a pretty darn good ghost story.

It was a pretty darn good ghost story.

I love Cherie Priest's writing.  Her Eden More series is about restless souls; usually from the Civil War Era.  She followed that up with her steampunk Clockwork Century novels; Boneshaker really put her on the radar of a lot of science fiction/fantasy fans.  I did read Boneshaker years ago, and did enjoy it quite a bit, but her gift, to me, lies in her ability to make you uneasy in the comfort of your own home.  And that is what The Family Plot did to me. 

Music City Salvage is on the cusp of financial ruin, and one big job will save the company.  Enter Augusta Withrow, the last member of the Withrow family.  For $40,000, Music City Salvage gets all the rights to her family's estate before it's torn down.  They have a week to claim everything they can from the house, the barn, and carriage house. 

Dahlia, Bobby, Gabe, and Brad travel to Chattanooga to the Withrow estate, up a badly maintained road on the side of a mountain.  What should be a routine salvage job is not so routine as eerie things start right from the get-go.  Is the house angry at its demise, or is there something else in the house that is really, really angry?  And why is Dahlia the center of all the attention?

One thing that annoys me about paranormal fiction is a super slow buildup in tension.  Don't get that here--it starts right away, and thankfully, Dahlia, Bobby, Gabe and Brad start comparing notes on what they've experienced pretty quickly.  Showering in any bathroom at the house is a very bad idea.  Going up to the attic by yourself?  Bad idea.  Trying to reason with the paranormal?  Bad idea.  It's a race to finish the job and get the hell out of dodge for this crew.  Things start escalating as they near the end of their time at the house and start putting the pieces together to discover what, exactly, happened in the Withrow home all those years ago that has made the place a nightmare for anyone who tries to make it a home.  

The end...well... it's one of those endings where you get to decide how it should end.  

Loved the mystery of the house; it truly was enough to make me uneasy, and I don't scare easily (Unless you're a bat. Then I freak out.  Ghosts?  No.).  Sometimes the evil that is done to people sets off emotions that don't die when our physical bodies stop.  Yikes.

Rating:  8/10 for a truly chilling storyMy appreciation for Cherie Priest's writing grows with every book she writes.  

Available in hardcover and e-book.    
 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Heart of Henry Quantum

I wasn't sure what to expect from this quirky novel.  I have a few things that struck me as I read the book; ideas about love and the idea of wandering through life with purpose.  

Henry Quantum is a 40 year old man who lives in San Francisco with his wife Margaret.  It's December 23rd, and Henry realizes he hasn't purchased a gift for his wife for Christmas.  He decides he wants to buy her Chanel No. 5, and after a meeting at his advertising job, he takes a long lunch, determined to walk to Macy's and buy the perfume.  

Except Henry's simple task takes him on a journey that has him thinking about physics, the stars, buddhism, the meaning of life, and Christmas songs.  He's a bit absent minded, what with all the ruminations that continually fill Henry's mind.  His marriage to Margaret is stale; she's always busy as a successful realtor, and disappointed in Henry's unfulfilled potential.  

But on Henry's wanderings, he runs into Daisy.  Their affair ended a few years past, but Daisy still loves Henry.  She divorced her rich husband, and now lives in a modest home and is going to school for a doctorate in neuroscience.  A bump into becomes a lunch, where it's clear Daisy still has feelings for Henry.  Henry is no absent minded, dimwit of a husband to her--she sees all the wonderfulness of Henry that Margaret doesn't and perhaps never actually did see.  Will Henry take this chance meeting as a sign that there's more for him in the universe?

The story is divided up into sections narrated by Henry, Margaret, and Daisy.  It was very helpful to understand each character a bit better, and see just what drove each of them to be the people they are on that December 23rd.  I can't say I liked Margaret much, but Daisy is delightful, and Henry, while his inability to stay focused on the here and now was a bit annoying, well...he was a bit endearing, for sure.  So what starts out as a seemingly simple quest to buy perfume for his wife ends up being so much more for all three characters.

You'll just have to read it to find out what happens.  It's a short read, and close enough to Christmas to make it a holiday read.  

Thank you to Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books for an advanced copy to read.  

Rating:  7/10 for a very different, delightfully quirky novel about the choices we make in life.  It's never to late for a do-over. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

50 of My Favorite Books: Part One

This month, I'm looking back over the years and posting 50 of my all-time favorite books.  I don't have one favorite book, but I certainly have many that are near and dear to my heart.  They are the books that will never leave my house (or my heart).  Some are from childhood, others from as recently as the past few years.  God willing, I'll have another 50 years to read more amazing tales.  

Here's my first batch of favorite reads.  They are in no particular order, and run the gamut between fun romance, fantasy, and a heart-breaker that became a modern literary classic.  Some of these novels are the first in a series; I've listed just the first novel in the series, but I consider the series as one giant favorite read.

This series is everything I love about fantasy fiction!

Still makes me cry

My first Katie Fforde novel.  Fan for life.

This book made me a fan of Alice Hoffman.  Fantastic!

An out of print series that I read 25 years ago.  Still have all of them on my bookshelf.

Yes, Clive Barker wrote a teen series!  And it is awesome.  Get the illustrated editions.

Read an advanced copy of this novel and knew it was incredible from page one.

My first Christopher Moore novel.  Unconventional and hilarious.

Read this in junior high; beginning of my mythology obsession as a teen.

First read this 30 years ago; still have my original book club hardcover.  Reincarnation and history.  
 As you can see, my interests haven't changed too much over the years.  
I'll be posting another 40 favorite titles throughout November, to celebrate my **ahem** 50 years on the planet.  Honestly, I can't remember when I didn't read.  Books are such a part of my life that I can't even fathom a world without them.  

Share your favorite reads in the comments!  I love to see what everyone else has read or is reading...