Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Life on the Leash by Victoria Schade

It seems like forever since I've read something a bit lighter with a touch of romance. Gallery/Simon & Schuster sent me an ARC of this novel, and I'm so glad they knew I needed a novel about dogs, friendship, and romance before I realized it myself. 

Cora Bellamy is an ex-corporate woman who has taken her passion and natural talent for dog training and created a full-time business in the Washington, D.C. area. Her main squeeze, Fritz, is adorable, as are all the dogs she trains for well-to-do clients. Cora's world is filled with some lovely people: her roommate Maggie, their friend Darnell, and Cora's client Fran. Then there's the delicious Charlie, boyfriend of one of Cora's clients, and owner of Oliver, a dog in need of training. 

Charlie's a hottie, and he knows it. Cora is attracted, but obviously he's taken! Is he flirting with her, or is she reading him wrong? Meanwhile, Eli, a charming, quirky gentleman, is crushing on Cora, but she's got him in the friend zone. Will her hormones choose Charlie, who's clearly wrong for her, or will Eli win the day? 

Cora's chance at fame comes with the chance to audition for a new dog training show. It's her life passion, and she's damn good at it. But being on national tv is something she's not so sure about. Will what comes naturally to her--that effortless bond with dogs, translate onto film? 

I liked Cora, just hated that she let her hormones override common sense and her douche-meter. The many dogs she trains are a big part of the novel, and they are all delightful and distinctly different in personality. Cora's got a pretty great life, no doubt. But as always, change comes when it's least expected, and that's exactly what happens to Cora. I don't know much about dog training, and even though it's a big part of this novel, it's not dry and boring. There is clearly some author experience (Victoria is a dog trainer) shining through, and that made Cora a credible character. 

Love dogs? I do. I can't wait for the day when I have the space and time to have a dog again. I grew up with dogs, and haven't lived with one since my early 20's. Someday...

Rating:  4/6 for a novel full of dogs, delightful supporting characters (with a cad and an evil dog owner for contrast), a strong and charming central character, and a romance that doesn't happen quickly, but takes some time. You don't have to be a dog lover to enjoy this refreshing read. 

Available in paperback and ebook.  Thank you Gallery/Simon & Schuster for the ARC! 

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Time's Convert by Deborah Harkness

I finally finished Time's Convert yesterday afternoon, after two weeks of reading a little bit, setting it down, then coming back to it. I wanted to take my time, and enjoy it, since I've been waiting some time to get back to the world of Diana and Matthew de Clermont.  

So I'll just blurt it all out: I enjoyed it, but wasn't blown away by it. 

There. I said it. 

Settling into this novel felt a bit like revisiting old friends, and I was pretty happy to be back with Diana and Matthew, and Ysabeau, and the whole world of the de Clermont vampire family. It was pretty great to see how Diana and Matthew are fairing as parents to Becca and Philip, their adorable twins--who are a mix of witch and vampire. Where their talents will lie, no one knows. And the rarity of these two little people (witches and vampires have never been able to have offspring, and normally avoid each other) means that there will come a day of reckoning for their parents and for both of them. That is an underlying tension in the novel, but I kept saying to myself "They're just babies, so there's plenty of time."  I suspect, and I hope, Deborah Harkness crafts a compelling tale of adult Becca and Philip.  

But, the big part of this story concerns Phoebe Taylor, a warmblood, and Marcus MacNeil, a vampire. They're in love, and were featured in the first three novels that make up the All Souls Trilogy. Now Phoebe has decided to become a vampire, so she can wed Marcus and live with him for, well, a very long time. It's not just a matter of biting someone, draining their blood, and bingo! vampire presto. There's a protocol to follow, and Phoebe and Marcus aren't allowed to see each other for 90 days after Phoebe has turned. After the 90 days, they reunite, and she officially claims Marcus as her mate. But within those 90 days, she has to learn how to move through the world as a vampire. There's a lot to learn, and it's not easy. 

Marcus stays with Diana and Matthew, who is his maker, and in vampire families, that makes Matthew Marcus' father, and Diana his step-mother. Another big chunk of the novel is about Marcus; who he was as a human, how he was turned by Matthew, and what he's done until present day. It's an interesting tale that centers on the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the horrible childhood Marcus had at the hands of an abusive and alcoholic father. You get to know Marcus very well, and follow him on his journey as a young vampire. He makes plenty of mistakes, and gets in trouble with his family over and over again. Much of what he does haunts him, and he is concerned when Phoebe does drink from him, she will be disgusted at his deep secrets. Cause when you're a vampire, when you drink blood, you see everything about that person--no secret is hidden. 

There really wasn't much tension in this novel, and that was good and bad. The trilogy was so damn good, in part because Diana and Matthew as a couple were so forbidden, and Diana was struggling to accept her family history as witches, and come into her own immense power. There was none of that in this story, which I kind of missed. But seeing Diana and Matthew as parents, and happily living their lives (as well as they can as de Clermont) was sweet. It was all enough to keep me turning pages, and enjoying what I read. But it wasn't OMG THIS IS SO GOOD I CAN'T STAND IT!

Thank you, Deborah Harkness for another peek into the wonderful world you created. I am ready for more!

Rating:  4/6 for the continuing tale of the de Clermont family, and their fascinating experiences living through some of history's most dramatic and legendary moments. 

Available in hardcover, audio, and ebook. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

I had not heard of Rachel Hollis before this book was published, and I began to see other women reading it and connecting to Rachel's message. I decided to buy it, and I'm glad I did because I underlined and starred passages that particularly resonated with me. 

Rachel talks about the many lies we tell ourselves, and how they can damage our self-worth. We spend so much time comparing ourselves to other women, and think everyone has it all together in a perfect life. Rachel is here to tell us what we already know: it's just not so. We know this, she knows we know this, but sometimes we have to be reminded over and over again until it sticks. Rachel is pretty brave in telling her story; from a young girl who finds her brother after he commits suicide, to a woman struggling through her early relationship with her now husband; to her missteps and feelings of being a walking disaster. She frames each chapter with her own experience, and every "aha" moment that lead her farther down the path of self-acceptance and ultimate badass. 

Rachel believes we all need to be our own heroes. We have lived through difficult times, and yes, some really great times. All of those create who we are, but how we use those building blocks matters. Don't let anyone else determine your journey: you determine your journey, and your story. You determine how to rise above the setbacks, the tragedies. You write your own story--you are your own hero. No, this isn't easy, and yes, it can take months or sometimes years--but start now. Set goals, create a vision board that you see every day to remind yourself of your dreams. Keep that focus. Learn from mistakes. Believe deep in your soul that you are strong enough, smart enough, capable enough. And dammit, if you don't feel that, take the steps to get to it. Have your moments of crying into your coffee cup, but then get your ass in motion and make the changes. 

I usually don't read many books that would be labeled as self-improvement. Rachel's book is more of a confessional and a "this is what I've learned" approach. It wouldn't have felt as genuine if she hadn't revealed some pretty private parts of herself and her experiences. In making herself vulnerable, she turned what could have been an ordinary "you can do it!" book into something that spoke to me. Parts of it, of course, don't apply to me: I'm not a mom, and I'm not a wife, so I don't have those joys and struggles. But I do have the struggle of being a single woman, building a career, and feeling at times that I am not smart enough, not strong enough, and not knowing what I want-or knowing and struggling to find my way to it. But I will continue to savor every small victory I achieve, knowing I did that-I dreamed it, I worked hard, and I achieved it. Whatever it may be, big or small, it matters. 

I think every woman, no matter what age, should read this. You may recognize yourself in some of Rachel's chapters, and realize you've been rocking your best life for years. Or you may realize the heaviness on your shoulders isn't necessary, and you have the power to change it. Instead of looking at what keeps you down, look at how to get up and dump that crap. 

Rating:  5/6 for an empowering read that will have you reflecting on choices you've made, goals and dreams, and how you feel about yourself. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

Anyone who scoffs at the notion of reading a graphic novel simply hasn't read one. They are just as powerful and impactful as a book that's full of words, page after page. Roz Chast had me reliving some painful parental moments in her graphic novel, Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

We all hope our parents live long lives, and that we have time to get to know them as people when we grow up and become adults ourselves. But as our parents age, and live longer than their parents and grandparents did, we're faced with increasing angst as parents who always were strong, independent, sharp, and ruled the household become frail and forgetful. 

Roz Chast outlines that very situation. For her, it's even more difficult, as she's an only child who doesn't live near her parents. And her parents are a handful. Elizabeth and George have been married for decades; her mother is a force, while her father is quiet. They do everything together. They've lived in the same apartment in Brooklyn since Roz was a baby. And neither of them want to talk about death, wills, money, or future care. Their routine is set in stone and they don't like change. 

There were times when I felt like I was reliving some of the same conversations I had with my Mom when I was reading this memoir. And it's always one significant medical issue that is the start of the end, and you know it when it happens. The end can be years away, but you're aware of that one specific moment when you realize it's the beginning of the end. Roz's memoir is full of that tug of war between parent and child as their mental acuity declines, and is replaced with anger and bewilderment. Faced with cleaning out her parents' apartment, Roz is just overwhelmed, and realizes that most of it is just junk. What her parents refused to throw away, and what they thought valuable, was only valuable to them, and now they don't need it or even remember they have it. I can say going through your parent's lifetime (and your family's lifetime) of things is both frustrating and heartbreaking. It adds a permanent bit of sadness to your soul. 

Roz's relationship with her mother is a strained one, and there is one moment where she says:

I left her room. Walked through the tasteful lobby of the Place as if everything was fine. Walked to my car. When I got in, I cried. The bellowing quality of the sobbing and the depth of the sadness I felt surprised me. I was angry, too. Why hadn't she tried harder to know me? 
But I knew: if there had ever been a time in my relationship with my mother for us to get to know one another--and that's a very big "if"--that time had long passed.

**Cue the ugly cry**

I found this graphic novel to be powerful and poignant. Roz mixes in photos of her parents, along with some of her mother's poems. I'd recommend it to anyone who has aging parents, or has already gone through this process and feels they were all alone and feeling the frustrations and sadness that no one else would understand. There are plenty out there who do understand. 

Rating: 5/6 for an accurate portrayal of caring for aging parents, and the struggles both emotionally and financially that adult children face--without the guidance of those we look to the most-our parents. Don't be put off because it's a graphic novel. That's what makes it a powerful memoir. Read it. 

Available in hardcover and paperback. This was a National Book Award Finalist. That's a pretty amazing accomplishment. 

Sunday, September 16, 2018

What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman

I had this novel on my TBR list because I've got a reading group meeting Tuesday to discuss it for our September read. It's a novel I've seen many times on the shelves at my local B&N; I even stocked it on paperback tables, but never wanted to read it. This was my opportunity to do so--and wow, this is not a novel for the faint of heart. 

Told in two voices: Clara, a young upper class woman in 1929, and Izzy, a young teen  in contemporary times living with her foster parents. Clara Cartwright is in love with Bruno, a handsome immigrant who came to America to start a new life. Her father, a total asshole (sorry, but he is just horrible!) and her unfeeling mother insist she marry someone that matches her station. When she says no, her father has the police take her to an insane asylum, saying she's crazy. And from there, Clara's life takes just one horrible spiral down after another. At first, she's in a somewhat nice place, but still held against her will and not allowed any communication with Bruno. The stock market crash of 1929 creates a money shortage for her father, who writes her to tell her she has to go to another place: The Willard Asylum, which is state run. He can't afford to keep her at her current place and keep his home. Like I said, a complete unfeeling asshole. Her mother isn't any better, letting her only daughter be carted away under the claim that she's unstable. No one will believe Clara that she's perfectly sane, and her father is just mad at her for not marrying who he wants her to marry. Her pleas fall on deaf ears, and she's seen as willful and yes, mentally unstable. 

Izzy's foster parents are involved in a museum project that is collecting and studying patient suitcases found in the basement of the now defunct Willard Asylum. Izzy isn't interested in stepping foot on the grounds of the asylum; her mother is in jail for killing her father, and is considered "insane". It hits a bit too close to home for Izzy, who still doesn't understand why her mother shot her father ten years before. 

One of the trunks that they open is Clara's, and it's immediate that this is not the typical patient at Willard. Expensive dresses, postcards from Paris, a photograph of a young woman and man, both gorgeous. A journal that abruptly stops after a passage stating that Clara is going to Willard. Izzy becomes fascinated with Clara, and wants to know what happens to her. 

As the novel moves back and forth between Clara and Izzy, we experience all the horrible pain Clara goes through as time goes by and she can't get out of Willard. So much happens to her, such cruelty, that it was sometimes hard to read. And to make matters worse, it was happening to hundreds of people at Willard, too. The treatment of the mentally insane was just horrific and inhumane. So many people put in asylums who were perfectly normal, but either angered their spouse/parent, or were depressed, or fell on hard times. Nowadays they would be given counseling and medicine; and those women who spoke up? They'd be running companies and changing the world. 

I don't want to give more of the story away, because a lot happens to Clara--big things--and it's important that you find them out as you read, and as Izzy discovers bits of Clara's life. Izzy's situation involves self-harm and bullying from fellow students, but I found her and Clara both to be incredibly tough young ladies who fought to be heard and understood. Would Izzy be the one who would finally free Clara's voice?

It's a pretty good novel, but some of it may make you uncomfortable.The brutal treatment of patients considered insane, and especially the women, is hard to take. The feelings of despair and hopelessness Clara experience are just heartbreaking.You just wish so much for her to have a happy ending. 

Rating: 4/6 for a novel that will keep you up at night reading. Clara is a character you won't soon forget. Izzy is a strong young woman who, while trying to figure out her own life, decides she must uncover Clara's story and deliver justice denied to Clara sixty years before. 

Available in paperback ebook, and audio. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley

I was thinking about how to start this review, and immediately I thought I'd say "Susanna Kearsley is one of my favorite authors"-but I stopped myself, because it seems like I have an awful lot of favorite authors! But it's true, and I am always happy to add to the list of authors that I will read without question. Jane Harper joined earlier this summer, after I read Dry. My love of Susanna's novels goes much farther back; years, actually. It's not often that I find historical novels that have an element of the supernatural tied into them; not only that key (and favorite) element, but that they end up being darn good reads, too. 

Susanna Kearsley is one of those authors who digs deep into history, then spins a tale that never fails to grab me. I've read most of her novels, and was excited to see Bellewether on Sourcebook's upcoming new releases list earlier this year. I've been patient, and have been reading this on and off in between other books. I was immediately taken by the contemporary story of Charley as the new curator of the Wilde House, a historic home on Long Island; the family home of one Benjamin Wilde, a famous Revolutionary War figure. Charley's family history is also based nearby; her father rather infamously refused to fight in the Vietnam War, and fled to Canada. Her grandparents, pillars in the community, disowned him and Charley has never met or talked to her grandparents. Her brother lived in the community with his daughter Rachel, but he recently died, and Charley took the job at the Wilde House in part to help her niece navigate life without her father. 

Wilde House, near a secluded cove and surrounded by a forest, is reportedly haunted by a figure that some say is a French soldier, wandering the forest with a lantern, lighting the way safely to the cove. Other rumors of murder, and a love story that ends tragically, add to the mystery of the Wilde House. Charley is there to oversee renovations, dig into the history of the house, and improve on the story of Benjamin Wilde. She is, of course, interested in finding out more about the Wilde family, and what life was like for them during the Seven Years War. The war pitted the French and the British against each other, and saw prisoners of war housed in local family homes while waiting for prisoner trades to occur between the French and the British. This was in the decade before the Revolutionary War, when Americans were still Colonists, and had loyalty to England. 

The other part of the novel centers on Lydia, sister to Benjamin Wilde, and Jean-Philippe, a French solider who has been brought to the Wilde house as a prisoner of war to await trade negotiations with the British. Jean-Philippe speaks no English, and Lydia speaks no French. He's definitely seen as the enemy, and yet Lydia and Jean-Philippe can't help but develop feelings for each other. What will happen when he's finally taken away? Will he end up back in Quebec to fight again? How would Lydia's family feel if they found out about the growing attraction between the two? 

The two stories, separated by centuries, but tied together by the Wilde House, work well together. The complex issues of the Seven Years War are explained well enough to be clear, but not so much that you're dragged down by a history lesson. All the little pieces of information Charley finds, along with help from an unknown spirit in the house, slowly bridge the gap between what happened in Lydia's time, and what Charley knows in today's world. But oh gosh, you just don't know until the end if Lydia and Jean-Philippe have a happy ending, or if it ends in tragedy. 

I think part of what made this novel so enjoyable for me is my deep desire to actually be a curator at a historical home. That's another career that appeals to me, but I'll just have to be content to visit historical places and enjoy what others have uncovered. Lydia and Charley are both strong female characters, and both have strong counterparts in Jean-Philippe and Sam, the expert at historical reconstruction who catches Charley's eye. Overall, a good, solid historical fiction tale with a dash of romance, a bit of the supernatural, and a whole lot of history, and how we try to create truthful stories based on what's left behind. 

Rating:  5/6 for a very good historical novel with dual storylines: one set in the 1760's, another set in contemporary Long Island-and both set at Wilde House. This novel is interesting in that it delves into the Seven Years War, which I hadn't read about before. It also speaks to the importance of historic preservation, and the stories our ancestors have left behind for us to discover. 

Available in paperback and ebook. 

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Your Second Life Begins When You Realize You Only Have One by Rapahelle Giordano

I saw this little paperback at B&N a month or so ago and thought it looked like a fun little book to read. And it was! It took me longer to read it, even thought it's just over 200 pages. I finally picked it back up a few days ago and spent some time finishing it. Silly as it may sound, I think I needed to be in the right frame of mind to appreciate the message.

Camille is 38, a married woman with a young son, living and working in Paris. She's unhappy with her career, her relationships with her husband and son are strained, and she's at the end of her rope. A broken down car during a rainstorm changes her life in ways she just could never imagine. 

Camille takes shelter in a nearby home, and while waiting for help, begins talking to Claude, who tells her he's a routinologist and if she agrees to follow his instructions, he can help her change her life for the better. With nothing to lose, Camille agrees, and begins her journey to happiness by following Claude's directions. 

Camille's journey to self-awareness and making positive changes is a bit bumpy, but as she follows Claude's advice, she begins to realize that everything she's working on is starting to have positive impacts on her life. Clearing all the clutter from her home is one step to being able to think clearly and breathe deeply. Working on her relationships with her husband and son are others. Building her self confidence by focusing on the great things about herself, and not "feeding the rats" of self-doubt, fear, and the part of her that likes to complain. Being confident in her own skin. Claude's approach to each lesson is little bit different each time, but each lesson is valuable and helps Camille move along her path towards enlightenment, happiness, and success in her work and home environments. 

This is a feel-good self-help book wrapped up in a novel, and it's perfect for anyone who needs a little boost in self-confidence, or someone who is stuck and needs a little kick in the butt to get moving. The author even has a little dictionary at the back of the book with all the routinologist terms and definitions handy for you to use in your life. This novel is translated from French, and is a huge hit in Europe. Buy it, read it, and gift it to your sisters, your Mom, and your friends. 

Rating: 4/6 for an empowering, fun novel about making positive changes and the magic that will flow from them. It's true: the more good vibes you put out, the more you get back. The Universe is pretty cool that way. 

Available in paperback and ebook. 

Monday, September 3, 2018

Force of Nature by Jane Harper

This was my "last" summer read, and once again, I've got to say how much I enjoy Jane Harper's novels. 

Force of Nature is the follow up to The Dry, her first novel that is one of my top reads for the year. Once again, we join Federal Agent Aaron Falk, and his partner Carmen, as an investigation into money laundering by a well respected company turns deadly. This is a completely different novel than The Dry, but equally compelling. You can read this novel without reading The Dry, but of course it does help understand Aaron a bit if you have his background. Jane Harper doesn't go over what happened in The Dry, so this could be a stand alone.  

Aaron and Carmen have been working with Alice Russell, an employee at BaileyTennants. Long suspected of money laundering and other secretive illegal doings, BaileyTennants is a family owned business run by a brother and sister, Daniel and Jill Bailey. Their father started the business, and still keeps a hand in it. They have a sterling reputation, but underneath the gloss are illegal doings that have been going on for two generations. Aaron and Carmen are very close to having all the proof they need to put BaileyTennants out of commission, with the help of Alice. She's just got a few more key pieces of paperwork that she needs to give them. 

Only problem? Alice, along with four other women and five men, has gone on a three day corporate retreat into the wilderness--and Alice has disappeared. 
Aaron and Carmen travel to the Giralang Ranges, a rough bushland in Australia, to meet with investigators after Aaron receives a mysterious missed call from Alice on his cell phone. He's convinced something bad has happened to Alice, and it may be tied into her covert help on the investigation. 

The story bounces back and forth between the search for Alice, and the days leading up to her disappearance. This corporate retreat sounds like a nightmare. It's cold, rainy, windy, and the women and men are split up, with one map per group to find their way to checkpoints, where food and shelter await them. Both make it fine on the first night, but soon after, the women get lost, and things go from bad to worse. Add in the dynamics of the group: Jill, Alice, Lauren, Bree, and her sister, Beth. Bree is Alice's assistant, and Beth is the lowly clerk in the company. It's a mix of high up executives, middle management, and entry level positions. Each woman has issues: Alice is rude, and has the only cell phone of the group (she hid it and didn't turn it in, as required). Jill is the "boss", and Bree is trying to make a good impression so she can move up. Beth is a disaster; a recovering alcoholic with a strained relationship with her sister. Lauren has been slipping up at work, and is nervous, on edge, and painfully pale. All of the women bring something to the trip that becomes a factor in their journey. None of them like each other. None of them want to be on the retreat. 

Does anyone know Alice is working with the police? Are there other secrets each woman is keeping from the others? Does the notorious past of the Giralang Ranges as the playground of a serial killer have any bearing on their situation? 

Jane Harper makes you feel every miserable raindrop, the wet clothes, the hunger pangs, and the painful blisters as the women struggle to find their way through an ever increasing dangerous situation. Alice's cell phone is slowly losing power, and there's no service anywhere. She's desperate to get back, but why? As their situation becomes more fraught with danger, the tension rackets up and tempers blow. But what happens to Alice? 

Good stuff! It's a complete switcheroo from The Dry, where a two year drought made everything dry, dusty, and parched. Force of Nature is wet, stormy, cold, windy, and just plain uncomfortable. I found myself longing for a flannel shirt, chili, and a hot cup of coffee. In the middle of a hot and humid week in Iowa. Jane Harper is a master at setting the mood, the tone, and the feel of a place. 

Rating: 5/6 for another great novel by Jane Harper. She pulls you in, and won't let go until the last page. Anyone who likes thrillers--and these are set in Australia--will enjoy her writing. Interesting look at what motivates each of us to act, and the consequences we must live with when we do. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Summer Reading is Over; What I'm Excited About Reading in the Fall

Summer zipped right by, and here we are, September 1st. It's been a particularly hot and humid summer in Iowa, and I can't wait to shut the air conditioning off and enjoy sleeping with cooler nights. I've got a few short weeks left to enjoy my back deck, which became my favorite reading spot this summer. Nothing like sitting outside listening to birds chirp while relaxing and reading on the weekend. 

I've thought back on what I had on my TBR list for the summer, and what do you know? I didn't read a lot of those books. They're all still sitting on my shelves, waiting. But I read some great books, and discovered a few authors I hadn't read before: Jane Harper and Laura Madeline. I also rediscovered my love for John Bellairs, and read a fantastic thriller by Heather Gudenkauf, an Iowa author. So while the biography about Leonardo Da Vinci still gathers dust, and I missed reading Prairie Fires (Laura Ingalls Wilder), I did make a start on Circe, by Madeline Miller. It reminds me of my teen years, and my fascination with Edith Hamilton's Mythology book. 

I'm still plugging away at my piles, which don't seem to go down. Not a bad problem to have, right? But there are new releases coming out this Fall that have me chomping at the bit. I thought I'd share what I'm excited about reading  for the rest of 2018--new titles that are coming soon!

I can't even begin to tell you how excited I am about Time's Convert. The U.S. sale date is September 18 and you can bet I will be buying a copy that day. If you haven't read A Discovery of Witches, you are missing out! Read the trilogy, then read this. It's a branch off the original, dazzling, amazing novels. 
Kate Atkinson. Life After Life is one of my favorite novels. This novel returns to World War 2, and is a spy thriller. I can't wait to dive into the talented writing of Kate Atkinson. Due out in the U.S. September 25th. 

 I first read Signe Pike years ago, when she wrote a non-fiction book about fairies. I've been waiting to hear more from her, and here it is! First in a trilogy, a magical novel about a forgotten Scottish Queen: Languoreth.  It's out on Tuesday, September 4th.  I'm ready to delve into some magic. 

Kate Morton. Solid stories, historical novels that I've always enjoyed. It seems like a long time since her last novel. This one, set in England, involves murder, artists, and an archivist in modern day London discovering pieces to a 150 year old puzzle. Released in the U.S. on October 6th. 
It's going to be an awesome Fall with these talented authors. If I'm really good, and I read faithfully, I should be able to read each one as they come out. I'm saving my pennies because these are all novels I want to keep. 

What are you looking forward to reading?  Share!  I'd love to hear from you. 

Happy reading everyone! 

Saturday, August 25, 2018

The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis

I've read all three of Fiona Davis' novels, and every time I've followed the same pattern: start eagerly reading, get restless by page 50; put the book down, start something else, then return and devour the rest of the book. 

I'm not sure why I do this, but I do know one thing for certain: I absolutely love her novels. Her unique driver: taking a historical, quintessentially New York landmark, and crafting a novel around it. This time around, The Masterpiece centers on the Grand Central Terminal in the late 1920's and 1974, when the Grand Central Terminal was in very real danger of being destroyed to make room for a new, modern building. It was considered a crumbling old mess, full of homeless people, drug deals, and criminal activity. No one cared about it. Except one group of people, including Jackie Kennedy Onassis, who insisted that it be saved, deemed a historical landmark, and brought back to its original, stunning beauty. 

We follow two women: Clara Darden and Virginia Clay. Clara is an illustrator trying to break into the New York world of art and fashion, working at the famed Grand Central School of Art. She's a young woman in 1928 New York, determined to succeed, but struggling against the prevailing attitude that illustrators aren't really artists--and even more disdain because she's a woman. She's very talented, and with some help, slowly starts to make her way towards recognition. But she disappears from the New York art scene in 1931, and now, in 1974, no one knows who she was, or really cares. 

Virginia Clay is newly divorced; a breast cancer survivor and a single mother. She ends up working at the information station at the Grand Central Terminal in 1974 with a rag-tag group of people who have seen it all happen from the windows of their information booth. Virginia's struggling to create a new life vastly different from her previous life as a lawyer's pampered wife with no money worries. Her daughter Ruby has dropped out of her first year of college, and wants to be a photographer. 

Virginia gets lost on her first disastrous day at her new job, and instead of finding a restroom, she unlocks a door that completely changes her life. Inside that door is the long shuttered Grand Central School of Art. It looks like time stood still, and Virginia wanders around, stunned at the rooms full of art, left behind when the school closed during the Depression. 

The novel moves back and forth between Clara and Virginia; we see the Grand Central Terminal is all its amazing beauty, and we see it decades later, faded, filthy, and in danger of destruction. But underneath those layers of dirt the elegance and craftsmanship is just waiting to come back to life. Will Virginia have a hand in the salvation of the terminal, and maybe perhaps solve the mystery of Clara Darden?

I liked both women; maybe Virginia even more so than Clara. Virginia doesn't give up, keeps going and persevering. She sees her mistakes and works to correct them. Clara is one tough lady, who has more talent than those around her, but isn't appreciated as she should be. She works hard to become independent and successful, until it all falls apart tragically. 

I so enjoyed this novel. Now I want to find more information about the Grand Central Terminal. I'm hoping there's a documentary somewhere; I've got some research to do!  

The plot of The Masterpiece moved along fairly quickly; all of the characters were well developed; the art scene of the 1930's was fascinating and undergoing tremendous change. And who would have thought an art school would be in the Grand Central Terminal?! 

Rating:  5/6 for a solid, well-crafted novel about the rebirth of Grand Central Terminal. It's also about the rebirth of two women who, fifty years apart, are drawn together by the history, art, and people who made the Grand Central Terminal a vibrant, unforgettable New York landmark. And the cover art is stunning!

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Notes from a Public Typewriter by Michael Gustafson & Oliver Uberti

This delightful little book found its way to me through a book group friend. She graciously let me borrow it, and I read it in today's early morning hours. It's a quick read, but you will want to linger.

Michael Gustafson and his wife Hilary own the Literati bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In a town that loves bookstores, and especially independent bookstores, the Literati bookstore has a particular hook: an old fashioned typewriter that sits in the store, ready with paper, for anyone to sit down and type whatever comes to mind. Michael collects the papers, and after many pushes and prods from friends, he decided to share some of those simple, profound, sad, graceful, and uplifting messages.  

One man used the typewriter to type "Will you marry me?" to his girlfriend; another began a pen-pal relationship with a man who dresses up as a werewolf and plays the violin around town. Some message speak of heartbreak and loneliness; others whimsical and fun. There's something very satisfying about typing on an old manual typewriter. The strike of the keys resonates in the deepest part of yourself, and the effort it takes to type puts your whole body and mind into what you're trying to say. 

I learned to type in high school, in a typing class in the early 1980's.  We had electric typewriters, which were a huge improvement over manual typewriters, but they were still a bugaboo. I was impressed with myself that I could actually type fast. That one little typing class has provided a foundation for typing that has seen me through many years of work and college degrees. Oh, I remember having a meltdown when my typewriter ran out of ink and I was halfway through a paper, unable to finish--and it was due the next afternoon. I look back at those papers, and I see the correcting fluid, the messed up margins; nothing compares to the effort it took to use a typewriter! I did get my paper finished in time, by the way. 

I loved this little reminder of a past that wasn't so long ago. Michael's connection to typewriters, and one in particular, strengthens his connection to his grandfather, and he keeps his grandfather's typewriter on display at the Literati. People bring old typewriters to him and he displays them in the window of the bookstore. Ah, books and typewriters. 

This would make a sweet little gift for aspiring writers, bookaholics, or anyone who loves how whimsy can sometimes  bring out our deepest feelings. 

Rating:  5/6 for a delightful little find on a lovely bookstore, the people who call it home, and the people who find a sense of themselves sitting at the typewriter. 

Available in hardcover. 

Monday, August 20, 2018

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou was an amazing poet. That's about the extent of what I knew about her; that and Oprah Winfrey pretty much worshipped this woman. I can see why. 

An upcoming book group theme:reading a memoir, spurred me to finally read the first of Maya Angelou's many memoirs. Long considered a classic, I was ready to dive in and discover just what shaped such an extraordinary woman. 

Marguerite Johnson started life in California, but at a very young age was sent, with her brother Bailey, on a train to Stamps, Arkansas to live with their Grandmother, whom they called Momma. This was in the early 1930's, as the nation struggled with the Great Depression. Marguerite and Bailey settled in with their Momma and Uncle Willy. Momma ran a general store for their community and the children were expected to work there, go to school, do chores, and attend church. Momma ran a tight ship and was a respected member of the community. She kept her store open and thriving during the Depression through sheer grit and smarts. Marguerite's life with Momma was stable, but the times were troubling. The arrival of their father from California brought change. He took them to St. Louis to live with their beautiful, glamorous mother, and there Marguerite was raped by a man at the age of eight. She told her brother, and he told her mother. The resulting arrest and trial, and shortly thereafter murder of her rapist was more than she could bear. She decided that by speaking, she had murdered that man, so she stopped talking. Once again, Bailey and Marguerite were sent back to live in Stamps with Momma. 

There's much more to Marguerite's early life, but I couldn't get over how much had happened to her in such a short life. She identifies Mrs. Flowers as the first person who really saves her and starts her on a path towards the rest of her life, simply by reading classics to Marguerite and encouraging her to keep reading. Books and libraries were safety nets for Marguerite and Bailey and they spent a lot of time in libraries or at home reading. The power of storytelling and the written word are evident throughout this memoir. This memoir also speaks to the mood of America, the treatment of African Americans, and probably the most poignant and heartbreaking moment is when Bailey realizes what it means to be a young black boy in America. Maya's observations of the poor folk around her, and their belief that living this hardscrabble life will be rewarded in heaven are pretty profound for a young girl. 

Maya Angelou's writing is a gift. Her observations of life around her show a depth of maturity and wisdom rarely seen in one so young. Knowing where life will take her, and the people, places, and experiences she will have added to my interest in her early life-what made her and why? 

So glad I finally read this amazing memoir. I'm curious to read more, and to understand her relationship with her brother Bailey and her mother, the beautiful yet troubled woman who was in and out of her early life. To think this little girl would one day be reading her poetry at a presidential inauguration is pretty astonishing, and shows just how courageous a woman that little girl became and how far she traveled from Stamps, Arkansas. 

Rating:  5/6 for the language, writing, and simply amazing young life of Maya Angelou. She writes in a way that is more storytelling than in a cut and dried "these are the facts", which makes her young life experiences more impactful and from the heart. 

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio. 

Friday, August 10, 2018

The House Swap by Rebecca Fleet

The House Swap is another entry into the psychological relationship thriller. It does, however, have quite a different twist on it; one where you just don't see it coming for quite some time. 

Told in two storylines: 2013 and 2015, you would think not much could happen in a few years. You'd be wrong, especially when it comes to the relationship between Caroline and Francis, a couple who's marriage has been slowly disintegrating due to Francis' addiction to pills, and the resulting affair Caroline has with a coworker. A mess, right? It's a bit sad to see what was once a solid relationship erode over time, and neither participant seems to know how to fix it. 

Move to 2015, and Caroline and Francis are house swapping for a week to get away and continue to repair their relationship. The house is oddly bare of any personal touches; it's neat as a pin and pretty much empty of anything-more like a hotel. Making arrangements only through email, the owner of this home is staying at Caroline and Francis' home for a week. Heck, people do this all the time!

Except this one is weird. Caroline's affair may be long over, but she's still haunted by it, and odd little things around the house jolt her into remembering key scenes from two years before. Of course she can't tell Francis, since their relationship is still fragile and this whole getaway was meant for them to spend time together. Is she just projecting, or are these little things: certain flowers in the bathroom; a photo of a park that Caroline visited during her affair--are these things a deliberate poke at Caroline? Amber, a woman across the street--seems oddly determined to get to know Caroline. Is her ex-lover the one she's swapped houses with?! Is he trying to drive her mad?

There's not a huge amount of action here; it's definitely one where a lot is spent on feeling, reflecting, and remembering. Caroline is a bit of a tortured soul, and you have no idea the depths until much farther along in the plot. The big reveal is something you won't see coming at all, because there's just not any way you could--a deliberate twist out of nowhere. Let's just say Caroline's instincts that something's not right, and someone is deliberately tormenting her, are spot on. But who you think it might be--well, that's the big surprise. Francis' thoughts are also a big part of the novel, as we see addiction from his point of view; the hopelessness, the aching, the need to just take the pill and make everything okay. We see how easy it is to slip down that slide, and how it can wreck a family. 

The cover of this novel has a quote from Lee Child, saying this is a "domestic noir".  Yes it is. It's a bit dark, and all you can do is hang on and hope Caroline and Francis come out the other side still together and with a better understanding of their relationship. It's a pretty good thriller! Wow, the depth and work the person bent on revenge goes to is pretty thorough.  

Rating:  4/6 for a very different thriller that slowly unravels and gives you tidbits along the way, keeping you guessing and biting your nails. 

Thank you to Pamela Dorman Books/Viking for an advanced copy of this novel!

Available in hardcover and ebook. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Dry by Jane Harper

Wow. Just wow. This was a really great read--I zoomed through it in a few days when I realized I had to return it to a friend at our book club tonight. I finished it a mere 30 minutes before we were meeting, and I couldn't wait to talk about it to my friends. Seriously--this was the book I stayed up late to read, woke up early to get more pages in; read during my lunch hour at work. 

A quick plot recap: Aaron Falk, a federal agent in Australia, returns to his hometown of Kiewarra for the funeral of his childhood friend  Luke, his wife Karen, and their little boy Billy. Everyone believes it was a murder-suicide caused by the unrelenting 2 year drought, money problems, and the slow madness of the heat. Why would Luke kill his family so savagely, then turn the gun on himself?  The only survivor: Charlotte, Luke's baby girl. 

Aaron means to leave quickly, since he and his father were run out of town 20 years before after Aaron's friend Ellie was found drowned in a nearby creek, rocks weighing her body down. All eyes turned to Aaron, who was innocent of any wrongdoing, but Ellie's abusive, drunken father made sure someone was to blame. But Luke's father tells Aaron "I know you lied."  Whaaaat???!! Well geez, now Aaron has to stay and figure out just what that means. 

Aaron is joined by local police office Raco in doing some off-duty investigating of the Hadler family's murders, and little by little, they find things that just don't add up. Meanwhile, Aaron's lingering in Kiewarra is stirring up some anger, old feelings, and a lot of trouble. Can he stay long enough to find out what happened to Luke and his family that horrible afternoon?

Well. Jane Harper can write a hell of a story. The dust, grit, heat, parched throats; clothes sticking to skin--she's got that nailed down. It's guaranteed to give you a short fuse just reading about it. The atmosphere of simmering rage in Kiewarra is evident everywhere, and all it takes is one small flame to send it out of control. The repeated small mentions of the fire hazard signs pointing to high danger; the crunch of dirt; the continual desire for a glass of water or a cold beer; it's all part of a background that settles you deep into the story, and makes you feel acutely aware of the edge there is to the cast of characters. I kept thinking, "Tread lightly Aaron!" I felt like he was going to get jumped at any time.  I won't tell you what people do to try to drive him out of town, but geez, these people can really take it up a notch. 

There's so much more to this thriller, but I'm mentally wiped out from the tale. Trust me. Pick it up and read it. I immediately checked out the second in the series, Force of Nature. I need to take a day or two or five to get over The Dry before I start on it. Jane Harper is working on her third novel-yay!

I won't tell you anymore. Discover the brilliance of The Dry for yourself. 

Rating:  6/6 for an excellent thriller that didn't let me down. Such good writing, and a story that pulled me along until I was left reeling at the end. An excellent book club choice, with a reader's guide at the end to help facilitate discussion. Yes, it deserves a solid 6/6!

Available in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audio book. 

Sunday, August 5, 2018

The Patchwork Bride by Sandra Dallas

It's a lucky year for me when Sandra Dallas has two novels come out within months of each other. I reviewed Hardscrabble in May, and now it's time to review The Patchwork Bride.

What I love so much about Sandra's novels are the female characters. They are all strong, capable women who face hardships and tragedy straight on. They work hard, love well, and see the joy in the quiet moments of life. They always have stories to tell. 

This novel was no different. Ellen is an elderly  woman living and working on the ranch she shares with her husband, Ben. He's a cowboy through and through, but he's becoming more forgetful, and Ellen's heart isn't as strong as it used to be. They may have to sell the ranch and move into town, and that would be the death of both of them. Ellen's making a wedding quilt for her granddaughter's upcoming wedding, and her granddaughter has come to the ranch because she's having second thoughts about marriage. This all takes place in the early 1950's, but most of the story told by Ellen takes place in the late 1890's. Seeking to counsel her granddaughter, Ellen tells June about a woman named Nell, who ran away from marriage three times.  

Nell, a young woman in the late 1890's moves to New Mexico Territory to work on a ranch with her Aunt. She's seeking a husband, but unlike other women at that time, isn't broadcasting it loudly. She's not at the ranch for long before one of the cowboys catches her eye. Buddy is not like the other cowboys; he's quiet, educated, and doesn't flirt with Nell. Love slowly develops, but anger and misunderstanding break Nell and Buddy apart, and Nell moves back to her grandparent's farm in Kansas to heal her heart. And that begins Nell's search for love with a good man. 

I like the way the novel is a story wrapped in a story. Nell is a young woman at a time when women were beginning to step out of traditional roles and become more independent, yet there were still societal expectations that could work against them. Nell is independent, smart, and has already worked as a teacher. She's so much more, but finds herself limited by being a single woman in a world where a woman's reputation could be ruined by one minor incident. She wants to get married and have a family, but it's proving much more difficult than she imagined. Buddy still lingers in her mind...is there any way they will find each other again?

I have to say Ellen and Ben's relationship, after fifty years of marriage, was so endearing. Simply holding hands, reminiscing, and riding out to special spots on the ranch were, at the end of the day, the heart of their love for each other. Heartbreaking to think about leaving the ranch, and Ben's memory fading away. As Ellen thinks in the beginning of the novel, she will die, and all her memories will go with her, because there's no one to tell, and no one to remember.

You'll guess the obvious in this novel, and that's okay. I don't believe the author meant it to be hard to figure out. Finding your true love, that one person who fits perfectly into your puzzle, is what this sweet tale is all about. Make the memories. Enjoy the ride. Love fiercely. Tell those stories. 

Rating:  4/6 for a sweetly told tale of searching for love, making mistakes, and passing on those stories to the next generation. 

Available in hardcover and ebook.   

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Case of the Green-Dressed Ghost by Lucy Banks

I came across this book while shelving in the library. Actually, I came across the second in the series, The Case of the Deadly Doppleganger and was ready to check it out before I discovered it was actually the second in the Dr. Ribero's Agency of the Supernatural series. I'm happy to say I've discovered a series that I thoroughly enjoy.

Kester Lanner has recently lost his mother, and she has left instructions for him to travel to Exeter, in England, to a rather run-down building, to meet Dr. Ribero. Kester finds out Dr. Ribero is actually his father, and he runs a very odd company, with a small crew of argumentative people: Ms. Wellbeloved, Pamela, Mike, and Serena. And by argumentative, I mean they're all continually squabbling. Sheesh, talk about a toxic work environment! But underneath it all lies a firm foundation of togetherness. Dr. Ribero and crew run a supernatural agency. 

Kester, an overweight, pale, delicate sort of young man, relies on facts and reality, and he's thrown a curve meeting his father and the crew. In fact, he's actually dreadfully frightened of the unknown. But, he's inherited a skill from his mother: his ability to open a door to the spirit world that spirits just can't resist. It's a rare gift, and one that Kester hasn't mastered at all. The agency has a bit of an unusual job: a haunted portrait that enchants men and terrorizes their wives. If they don't solve this haunting, and capture the spirit, they will have to close the doors of the agency for good. Will Kester help them, or be the end of them?

So aside from the constant bickering between Serena (geez, she's got an attitude) and Mike, I liked the small crew at the agency. Pamela and Ms. Wellbeloved were the anchors, and quite lovely women, with their own particular talents. Serena is the one who can capture spirits in water bottles, and Mike is the techno guy who is constantly trying to fix, improve, and create technology to help them with their jobs. Dr. Ribero is a quirky, mysterious leader, and a father Kester never imagined. Kester is the most interesting. He's a sad sack, barely ever leaving home, loves to read, is great at research, but hasn't lived a life at all--until he meets the crew. Waffling between being terrified and interested in capturing spirits, he's a man-child on the cusp of potential great change, if only he can get up the courage to jump. 

I read reviews of this novel on Goodreads, and I'd say roughly half the folks either gave up, or complained about the argumentative cast of characters. I loved it, and it reminded me a bit of Simon Green's Ghost Finders series. I am heading to work today, hopeful the second in the series in still on a shelf waiting for me to check it out. Anyone who enjoys series with a supernatural twist will enjoy this one. I can't wait to see what trouble the crew get into, and see Kester mature. It's a contemporary novel, but the feel to it kept me thinking it was not contemporary; but that didn't really bother me. I thought the ghost story was pretty clever, and I can tell the author put some thought/research into the legend of that particular spirit while developing the novel. 

Yay! Another series I like. I'm continually surprised that I keep happening upon new series. I can't promise I'll always read every book in the series-sometimes they just go on for too long--(Laurel K. Hamilton, Charlaine Harris, Patricia Cornwell, Jim Butcher). But for now, I'll continue to enjoy Dr. Ribero and his unique agency. 

Here's the second in the series, out now:

Rating:  4/6 for an entertaining start to a new supernatural series. I am looking forward to reading more! 

Available in paperback and ebook. 

Sunday, July 29, 2018

The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel

I consider myself more of a solitary person than one who has to be in the midst of people all of the time, but I certainly can't imagine living by myself in the woods for 27 years and avoiding any human contact. That's just what Christopher Knight did when, at age 20, he parked his car, left his keys on the console, and with little more than the clothes on his back and a tent, walked into the Maine woods. 

He never contacted his family, and until he was caught stealing from a camp in 2013, he lived a solitary life in a camp secluded enough that no one ever found it, but only a few miles away from popular lakes and cabins that had plenty of people around during the Maine summer months. He survived by breaking into cabins and stealing food, clothing, supplies, and propane tanks to melt snow for water. He took books and spent all of his time sitting still in his camp, reading and listening to the radio with headphones. His desire to be alone wasn't caused by mental issues; Christopher found himself most happy and alive living a solitary existence in nature. Some call him a hermit; others a thief. Some question his mental stability; others recognize in Christopher his deep introversion and inability to live in a world full of chaos and noise. We all seek those times of solitude in order to think, clear our brains, and recharge our batteries. Studies have shown spending even a short time outside in the woods can calm our blood pressure, relax our minds, and infuse us with a sense of wellbeing and peace. For Christopher, it was essential to his survival; even the hardest of times during the winter contributed to his sense of satisfaction and contentment. 

I found this a fascinating tale, written by a man who visited Christopher in jail and before he was taken to court. Michael Finkel's attempt at understanding Christopher's life in the woods was pretty satisfying to me; surrounding his tale with some of the history of hermits, anchorites, and others who chose to live a solitary existence throughout history. It helped frame the extraordinary tale of Christopher. And it is extraordinary, that this man walked away from one life and created another by sheer hard work and determination.

 Reading this book reminded me of the importance of solitude. I certainly feel after a day of being surrounded by people: the noise, the personalities, the emotions; that coming home to a quiet house becomes increasingly necessary for me to balance myself. Luckily, my partner feels the same way, and is a man who finds his sense of self and extreme peace in the quiet of the woods, away from people. It literally recharges his mental batteries; I've seen the change in him time and again after a day spent by himself in nature. I think for me, reading quietly at home is my own escape that refreshes me and is a balm to my soul. It helps prepare me to put on my "game face" and walk back into my everyday busy world. 

This is a short book, and quick to read. I had to check online to make sure Christopher is still alive and well, and he is, but I have to wonder if he is happy living again around people. I can only imagine his grief at losing that solitary existence. 

Rating:  5/6 for a intriguing look at one man's desire to live a life of solitude, and an author's attempt to understand the driving force behind that desire. 

Available in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audio. 

Monday, July 23, 2018

The Late Bloomers' Club by Louise Miller

I was thrilled to receive an advanced copy of The Late Bloomers' Club in the mail last week. I absolutely loved Louise Miller's first novel, The City Baker's Guide to Country Living.  Set in the little town of Guthrie, Vermont, this novel has the same warmth and delicious baking that made CBGTCL one of my favorite reads of 2016. 

Nora Huckleberry owns and runs the town's beloved Miss Guthrie Diner; first started by her parents, and inherited by Nora after her mother dies of cancer and her father falls apart. Taking care of her younger sister Kit as a teenager, Nora has always done what she should do, rather than what she wants. The diner is popular, but always has something that needs fixing, and takes up so much of Nora's time she has little for her real passion: creating art. When a local cake baker, Peggy Johnson suddenly dies and leaves her house and land to Nora and Kit, it starts a whole new chance for the town, and Nora, to begin a new life. 

Elliot, a representative from HG Corporation, had been in talks with Peggy before her death on purchasing her land for a new big box store. Nora and Kit could sell the land, pay all their bills, and have some extra cash. It would help Kit with her struggling film career, and help Nora get ahead of diner bills. But Peggy's home includes an old growth orchard and some surprises in the woods. As Nora discovers what Peggy kept hidden from the town, she falls in love with the comfort, quiet, and sense of home Peggy's place provides. And darn it all, Elliot is a cutie, too. Nora has to not only think about what would benefit her, but what a big box store would mean to the town of Guthrie and all the small shop owners who make their living from tourists. It would change the makeup of Guthrie permanently, and while there are benefits, are they worth it?

There's so much more to this novel; I don't want to give any of it away. Cakes are a big part of it all, and like a great cake, you should savor every bite. Peggy's life may have seemed quiet, but she had a lot going on behind the scenes, and those secrets effect Nora and Kit's choices. 

This was such a lovely book to read, especially after The Hunger. The town of Guthrie must surely exist somewhere, and all the wonderful folks who make Guthrie a special place are out there, too. Characters from The City Baker's Guide to Country Living populate this novel, and it felt like a continuing story, with hardly any time gone by. 

A big thank you to Pamela Dorman/Viking for an advanced review copy. Just what this gal needed in the dog days of summer. 

Rating:  5/6 for a delightful return to the small Vermont town of Guthrie. It's never too late to realize your dreams.  And the cakes! Oh, the cakes. Yum. 

Available in hardcover and ebook. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Hunger by Alma Katsu

I've posted a video review of The Hunger on my Facebook page @bookaliciousbabe.  

I'll just say this was an unexpected find during a visit to Barnes & Noble; I went to work the next day and it came across my desk; that meant I had to read it! 

A real thriller/chiller retelling of the Donner Party Tragedy of 1846-47 with a supernatural twist. I consider this a horror novel.  I even go so far as to say it would make a good book club discussion book.  

American pioneers were an extraordinarily brave group of people, traveling across unknown territory hundreds of miles with only a hope that the end resulted in a place they could settle, raise a family, and create a new life. That's tough enough, but imagine if on the way (which you started months too late to safely get through before the snow starts flying), something is stalking you. Something that is not natural; something that looks human but isn't quite--was it ever human? Imagine that there's more than one of these creatures, and as you become more desperate as food runs low, tempers flare, hope begins to fade, you realize something horrible is out there, waiting to strike. 

The tension ramps up in this novel, and Alma Katsu masterfully blends the past with the present situation for each of the main characters. Everyone has secrets they are running from, and this wagon train to California forces those secrets out. Just how far will people go to survive?

Take a look at my video review; hope you enjoy it. I tend to just start recording and whatever falls out of my mouth, well, that's it. That's how I review books. 

Rating:  5/6 for a thriller that kept me on the edge. Even knowing what the actual outcome of the Donner Party was, I still kept hoping something would change. Throw in a horrible supernatural slant, and the story takes on an even darker edge. It's been optioned for a film, and I hope it happens--I'll go see it!

Available in hardcover and ebook.