Saturday, October 19, 2019

The Last Seance: Tales of the Supernatural by Agatha Christie

Well, if I've done anything in 2019, it was to finally read some Agatha Christie. Another author I've admired from afar, but never felt compelled to read. This new short story collection caught my eye, and I'm so glad it did. 

First, I'll say this book isn't a casual, read it in a few hours collection of stories. It's actually quite lengthy--over 350 pages. Just goes to show how prolific Agatha Christie was in her writing career. Only one of the stories had never been published in the U.S.: The Wife of the Kenite. All the other stories had been published multiple times in short story compilations and magazines over the years in both the U.K. and the U.S. The publishing reach of Agatha Christie was astounding. 

There are twenty short stories in The Last Seance, and each was gripping and smartly written. I quickly fell victim to Agatha Christie's style of writing, and I couldn't even begin to pick one of the stories as my favorite. Some were straight out murder mysteries; others had a paranormal bent. People murdered for money or spite, others were frightened to death. Clever killers were outdone by simple deductive reasoning from some of Agatha's prime characters: Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. Each story was fairly short, and that made it easy to read a few, take a break, then return for more. I don't read many short story collections, but when I do, I realize how much I enjoy the built in breaks between stories. 

This collection has it all: haunted houses, mysterious characters, marriages gone wrong, and sly con artists. It was a fantastic introduction to Agatha Christie's style of writing and her world of mysteries. She's got me hooked. 

Rating: 4/6 for a solid collection of short stories that keep you trying to figure out the whodunnit before the characters do. Short stories that dive right into the meat of the mystery, and keep you wanting more. I can't wait to read more Agatha Christie! 

Available in paperback and ebook. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The Widow of Pale Harbor by Hester Fox

I was excited to finally dig into this novel, the second by Hester Fox. Her first novel, The Witch of Willow Hall, was published last year, and it was outstanding. So of course I expected her sophomore novel to be just as good. 

While I did enjoy reading The Widow of Pale Harbor, it didn't match my expectations. Gothic, yes, certainly. A small town--Pale Harbor, Maine is the backdrop for this tale of a woman who lives in a large mansion, alone with her companion Helen, who is reviled and treated poorly by the townspeople. Four years before, Sophronia's husband Nathan had died in a carriage accident, and the town blamed her for his death. The town didn't know Nathan was a cruel, vicious husband. 

It's 1846, and Edgar Allan Poe's short stories are wildly popular. Sophronia has taken over running her late husband's magazine, and deciding which stories will be published. So many Poe copy cats are out there, trying to make it into this popular magazine, and Sophronia fears she has angered someone by rejecting their stories. Strange things have been happening around town, and at her home, the Castle Carver. Dead ravens left on her doorstep, stuffed dolls left in trees...combine that with the endless fog, damp days and rain, and you've got a pretty atmospheric plot. Enter Gideon Stone, a man posing as a minister, who has traveled to Pale Harbor to open a new church. He's not a minister at all, but is doing this all out of guilt for letting his deceased wife down--and he's determined to be successful as a minister to somehow heal his guilt. Poor Gideon. He's no minister, that's for sure. He's a hard working man, large of stature, and he has no business trying to pass himself off as a minister. He knows he's hopeless at it, but struggles to carry on and find inspiration. 

Gideon meets Sophronia, and sparks fly. Both quickly succumb to their attraction, as all the while things are taking a darker turn in Pale Harbor. Now bodies are piling up, and the town blames it all on the Widow Carver. Some say she's a witch. The race is on to figure out who's behind the cruel notes, the mysterious deaths, and the clues that are straight out of Poe's famous stories.

I liked a lot about this novel, but I was a bit surprised at how much romance was center stage. Gideon and Sophie's romance burned pretty bright right from the start, and much of the storyline involved the two of them briefly fighting their feelings, then deciding to give in and admit they loved each other. It did help to have Gideon be the catalyst to understanding Sophronia's character; her background, her terrible marriage, and her complicated relationship with Helen, her companion. Helen is an interesting character, and a bit dark, too. However, I was a bit disappointed in finding out who was behind all the terrible things, and what their motive was--it seemed a bit far-fetched. I was hoping for something a bit more paranormal, I guess. This was definitely a gothic tale, but far more a historical romantic thriller than a spooky nail bitter. 

I'll read more of Hester Fox, for certain. A fun read for my cool and windy October nights.

Rating:  3/6 for a gothic romantic thriller that had an interesting idea in the plot, but fell short at the end. I was hoping for something more out of this world. You may, however, find yourself in a swoon over Gideon. He's pretty swoon-worthy. 

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio. 

Saturday, October 12, 2019

The Invited by Jennifer McMahon

A friend loaned me her copy of this novel (months ago, I shamefully admit) and I decided now was the time to read it. Jennifer McMahon has had me curious for quite some time. I know her novel The Winter People received great reviews, but of course I didn't get a chance to read it. 

I've been tussling over what to read for my book group this next week. I'm supposed to read something that scares me, and I've got to tell you, not much scares me in the reading world. It's a rare book that unnerves me. I was hoping The Invited would at least make me slightly uneasy at night, but it didn't. However, it was an excellent tale and I couldn't put it down. 

Helen and Nate are two school teachers that decide to leave their jobs and move to Vermont to pursue their wish to start over. Using Helen's inheritance money, they purchase some land outside the small Vermont town of Hartsboro. Forty acres of mostly woods and bog, and one perfect spot to build their dream house. The realtor laughingly says the land is haunted, and Helen's ears perk up. She's a historian, and she longs to create a place that has some history attached to it. A haunted piece of land will certainly help. 

Helen and Nate begin building their home-yes, by themselves. Helens' father built houses, and Helen often helped him. Saving their money, doing most of the labor themselves, Helen and Nate should stretch their money to build the house and live off the land. Living in a crappy trailer on the land while they build their home, things start to get tense pretty quickly. It's a lousy trailer, and neither sleeps well at night. Tools begin to go missing, and money, too. The bog is very tempting, but dangerous. Nate begins getting into watching the wildlife (he's a science teacher), and Helen becomes intrigued in the story of Hattie Breckenridge, who lived on the land they now own, and was hung by the townspeople for witchcraft in 1924. Yes, I said 1924. Hung by a mob, next to the bog. They then burned her home down. Hattie was known by all to have a gift--she could see the future, and while everyone was afraid of her, they also came to her for help, too. But a tragic fire at the schoolhouse kills three children, and Hattie had warned the town that something tragic would happen. They blamed it on her, and killed her for it. Now everyone believes Hattie haunts the bog. And they believe Helen and Nate have invited her back with their purchase of the land and building their home. 

Olive lives not far from Helen and Nate's land, and she's also really mad they are there. Olive, a young girl, and her mother Lori heard the tales of buried treasure on Hattie's land, and were convinced they were meant to find it. However, Lori disappears (everyone says she ran away) and Olive is not only traumatized by her mother disappearing, but the gossip in town, and her father's constant renovating their home. He thinks if he keeps fixing it up, Lori will come home. Olive keeps searching for the treasure, and making mischief for Helen and Nate. 

However, Olive isn't all to blame. There is some weird stuff happening, and the more Helen uncovers the dark past of Hattie's murder, the more she's convinced Hattie is there, leading Helen to solve a mystery. 

This was a really good blend of mystery, history, and paranormal. The story of the Breckenridge women was the best part of the novel-and the most tragic, too. Olive is a spitfire, and one smart young lady. Helen is teetering on the edge-the deeper she digs, the more fascinated she gets, and it's putting a strain on her relationship with Nate. It seems that Hattie wants her help, but someone else doesn't want her around at all. She feels an increasing sense of urgency to put all the pieces together, before someone else ends up hurt. 

This had just the right amount of spooky moments without going overboard. The land itself played a big part in creating the atmosphere. The brief chapters that go back to Hattie and her descendants, and show what happened to each of them from their viewpoint are key to putting things together, and provide a good break from the present day plot. 

I'd recommend this novel to anyone who wants a slightly haunting tale of righting wrongs, familial love, and tenacious women. The past always remains with us, and restless souls need closure. 

Rating: 4/6 for a solid novel about ghosts, a dark town secret, the thin line between science and the unknown, and the restless dead. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

The Ghost Manuscript by Kris Frieswick

This was an excellent mix of thriller, history, antiquities, libraries, and action-adventure. I wasn't sure what to expect when I started this, after picking it up at the library on a whim. 

Carys Jones is a rare book authenticator who works for an auction house. She's worked on tracking down British Dark Age manuscripts for John Harper, a super rich man who has created a one of a kind library at his estate. 

Harper has been committed to an insane asylum because he's been hallucinating and insisting he's talking to a monk who was the personal holy man to the man known today at King Arthur.  Carys has been called in to look over the collection and to catalog it and prepare it for sale. Harper's son JJ is selling the library, along with the estate. 

Carys thinks she's just there to prepare the library for sale, but her meeting with Harper reveals something a bit too hard to believe: a rare manuscript written by a monk telling the true story of King Arthur, and his burial site. That site contains priceless treasures from the Dark Age, when Britain was under attack by Anglo Saxons and under constant siege. If this manuscript is the real deal, the world may finally know for sure that King Arthur was an actual person, not a myth. And it will contain treasures of a long lost age. 

Carys digs deeper and deeper, and soon finds herself being chased from Boston to Wales, where the manuscript leads her on a wild chase. There's so much to this story, I can't possibly tell you everything. It's pretty wild. Is Carys also falling prey to hallucinations, or is she really conversing with the long dead monk? Will the bad men chasing her, determined to kill to get the manuscript, succeed in tracking her down? Who can she trust? 

Oh, it's so good! I love novels that explore legends, ancient mysteries, and lost treasure. This novel is chock full of history and mystery, and I was enthralled. There were a few plot twists that gutted me, for sure. I was very invested in Carys' journey, and the supporting characters are such a part of the plot I had a few stressful moments in the thick of the action. Let's just say no one is safe in this adventure. The bad men are really bad, and will stop at nothing to succeed. 

I would highly recommend this novel for anyone who is a King Arthur fan or a  history buff. For sure I'd recommend it for fans of Clive Cussler, James Rollins, and Dan Brown. It's a solidly written tale that will keep you breathless. I hope hope hope there's a sequel, because there's room at the end for more adventures. 

Rating: 5/6 for a thrilling dive into the legend of King Arthur, set in contemporary Boston and Wales, where history could be rewritten if long lost secrets come to light. So good!  

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio book. 

Sunday, October 6, 2019

No One's Home by D. M. Pulley

I finally sat down and finished this novel after having it checked out from the library for quite some time. Sometimes I get in trouble starting too many books and then have to finish them all in a big readathon. Part of my lagging on this novel was due to my hot and cold feelings about the plot. 

The plot switches back and forth between four families who have each lived in Rawlingswood, a rambling old mansion in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Moving from the early 1930's through 2018, each family has had plenty of bad experiences. The Rawlings family built the home, and Walter Rawlings overextends himself, and the failing stock market dooms his financial security. His wife and young son pay the ultimate price for his failings, setting the state for the dismal history of the home. The Klussman family also deals with tragedy. Frannie's marriage has ended with her husband leaving because he can't cope with their special needs child, Benny. Benny has to be locked in his room to protect himself from leaving the house and hurting himself. But Benny sees something outside that leads his mother to wrong conclusions, and disaster follows. Next up is the Martin family; Toby and Ava are foster children left alone with their foster father while their foster mother travels for work. Papa Martin is not a very nice man. No indeed. 

And finally, there are the new owners of Rawlingswood, the Spielman family. Myron and Margot, and their teenage son Hunter, arrive from Boston. Myron is a doctor with a new job, leaving a scandal behind in Boston. The house has undergone a lot of renovations and there is still the original, unsettling third floor attic, which were servants quarters decades before. There's something weird about the space...the bathroom light keeps turning on, footsteps are heard overhead, and the family keeps finding the attic door open. There's a sense of being watched...The tragic history of the home slowly unfolds, as we watch the Spielman family realize things just aren't quite right in the house. 

Well. I thought the family histories were interesting, and at first I was convinced this was going to spin out into a paranormal thriller. I think the author had great intentions, but I feel like there's just too much stuff in this plot. It seemed a bit cumbersome and bulky. Too many stories, background info, and characters make it seem like a slog sometimes to get through it. I had to keep reminding myself which family was what for every new chapter. The bones were good, but just too much plot. And the conclusion just seemed a bit far fetched and bizarre. 

So. I will give this author another chance. I almost would have preferred that this novel did take a good paranormal spin. It felt like it was moving in that direction, until the last moment, when it took a sharp turn and got a little too out there. Darn it. I'd hoped this would be a good spooky read for October, but it wasn't. 

Rating: 3/6 for a really long book about a whole lot of unhappy families living in one very troubled house. Dysfunction abounds, and what could have been a thriller about a house that is out of the ordinary instead became a laundry list of really messed up folks. 

Available in paperback. 

Monday, September 30, 2019

October...Cooler Nights, Yes, But No Snow Yet Please!

Well, I failed getting all of my books read in September. I just couldn't dig in and pay attention long enough to read Their Eyes Were Watching God, so back on the shelf it goes. I will read it. It's become a personal goal for me. I started What We Talk About When We Talk About Books and became stuck pretty fast. I may return to it when it's in paperback. I did read Nora Robert's Blood Brothers, and liked it enough to want to read the two other books in the trilogy. I've read a few of her trilogies, and unfortunately they all seem very much alike, so unless she pulls something out of her hat, I may not read anymore. I'll finish this one, and review all three together soon. 

October was always the gateway to the fun part of the year for me as a child. Halloween, quickly followed by my birthday, then Thanksgiving and Christmas. So much candy, treats, and yes, birthday cake! I still love the last few months of the year, even if they are a bit frantic sometimes. October is also a great reading month, too. I get to snuggle down and relax at night. Here's what I'm reading this month:

I'm almost done with this novel--a contemporary quest to find King Arthur's actual resting place--and the treasure people will kill to obtain. Loving it! 

A widow is accused of witchcraft, and someone is playing tricks on the town with inspiration from Edgar Allen Poe's short stories. Eek! Gothic goodness. 

YA novel about a mysterious road in the woods that leads to...nothing good. Nope. Ghosts, thrills, and teen horror. 

An apocalyptic tale set off the coast of Ireland. A young teen has to leave the island to save her mother...will they survive what has killed humanity?

A collection of Agatha Christie's supernatural short stories, with a bonus story included. Perfect for Halloween! 

Of course, I'll have a few other titles to talk about. If you haven't like my Facebook page, please do--I put up videos where I blab on about what I've picked up at the bookstore and the library. 

Take care everyone! Let me know what you're reading this month! 

The Bookalicious Babe

Saturday, September 28, 2019

The Bakeshop at Pumpkin and Spice by Donna Kauffman, Kate Angell, & Allyson Charles

Fall has been reluctant to arrive in Iowa. Today, finally, it feels like it. Chili in the crockpot, slight chill in the air, but not enough to not wear a t-shirt outside-just remember to bring a jacket for later. Ah. While I enjoy the ease of summer, I do get tired of it, so I'm ready for cooler nights, comfort food, and  not doing any yard work!

This trio of romances is pure fun. I caution that you'll probably want to eat your weight in cookies and scones while you read it. But if you're looking for a fun read full of feel good romances and happy endings, this is your ticket. 

Moonbright, Maine is a delightful small town that goes all out for Halloween. As in having a huge parade, everyone in town dresses up, shops are open late at night, and it's one big party. Bellaluna's Bakeshop is a family business run by Sofia and her granddaughter, Abriana. The bakeshop is known for out of this world sweets, and if you're someone special, you might just get the special Italian cookie that is sure to bring you your true love. Abriana (Bree) keeps trying to make the cookies, and failing. They taste awful. Until one day, when Caleb stops in to introduce himself and Sofia offers him one of the cookies. Before Abriana can stop him, he bites into it and swoons. No, it doesn't taste awful...it tastes like heaven. Bingo! Abriana tries one, and darn it all, it tastes pretty wonderful for her, too. Attraction sizzles for these two, but a few obstacles stand in the way of happy ever after. 

The second story also takes place at the same time, with Cassie trying everything she can to make her boss notice her. She's decided he's the one, but he has no clue. Sofia has given Cassie two of her special cookies to take back to the office, and before she can get her boss to eat one, Chip, a hot home flipper, eats one. He's pretty taken with Cassie, who, despite her attraction to Chip, stubbornly keeps trying to snag her boss. When a Halloween project puts Cassie and Chip together, sparks fly. Will Cassie see what's right in front of her eyes? 

And finally, there's the story of the Mayor, Jack, and Lara. Recently dumped by her oaf of a boyfriend, she's also been notified her rent is going up, and her part-time job at the antique store is probably going to end. Running into the Mayor at the bakeshop, they both eat one of Sofia's special cookies, and what has always been an attraction to each other kicks into high gear. Jack offers Lara a position with the city as events coordinator. He's overwhelmed by organizing the Halloween parade, and needs help. Lara is a natural. They've known each other since high school, and both secretly crushed on the other, but nothing happened until now. Their love story moves pretty fast!

There are a few recipes included at the end of each story. Kind of made my mouth water. The men are hot, hot, hot! And while the cookies may prove magical, they only bring couples together long enough to get that spark started. 

Snuggle down with your blanket, hot cocoa, and a delicious pumpkin or apple treat. I'm glad I'm trying to maintain some healthy eating habits, because otherwise I would have inhaled a loaf of pumpkin bread and some apple cider donuts while reading this delightful seasonal novel. There is a previous novel called The Cottage on Pumpkin and Vine, but I could only find it offered as an ebook. I may end up getting the ebook and reading that, too. 

Rating: 3/6 for a simply sweet trio of stories about a magical town in Maine, true love, and some tasty treats. Pure fun for when you need a little escape. 

Available in paperback and ebook. 

Monday, September 23, 2019

The Whisper man by Alex North

This month has been a tough one for getting through books. I've struggled, when I usually zip through a few a week. I started reading The Whisper Man a few weeks ago, and kept putting it down, picking it up. I just couldn't get my head into a novel about a serial killer of little boys. But this weekend was rainy and gloomy, and I decided to buckle down and finish it. There was much more to it, and the deeper I got into the story, the more gripping it became. 

Tom Kennedy and his little boy Jake are moving to the small town of Featherbank to start over after Tom's wife and Jake's mother dies unexpectedly, leaving both in the depths of grief. Jake is a quiet boy; he loves to draw, and is always having conversations with his imaginary friend, a little girl who keeps him company. A new house, a new school; Tom hopes Jake will come out of his solitude and make friends. Tom, a published author, is stuck trying to begin a new novel, but he's suffering from writer's block. 

Their new house, unbeknownst to Tom, is known as the haunted house in Featherbank. He's uneasy living there, but just isn't sure why. Jake picked out the house, and it was the only house he was excited to move to, away from the only home he'd known. Tom and Jake are still navigating life alone, and they have some miscommunication that leaves Tom feeling like a horrible father, and Jake feeling pretty alone. 

A little boy has disappeared in Featherbank, eerily similar to a horrible case 20 years before, when Frank Carter, known as the Whispering Man, kidnapped and murdered four little boys. Local detective Pete Willis is haunted by his inability to get Frank to tell him where the last little boy's remains are...and Frank likes to dangle that over Pete's head. Frank is a pretty horrible man, and the stuff of nightmares. Locked away in prison, he rules the prison and has a deep hatred of his wife and son, who witnessed much of the horror, and finally turned him in to the police. 

Pete, a recovering alcoholic, and suffering all these years later with guilt for not finding the last little boy, is horrified to think that the Whispering Man is back, and that Frank had someone helping him all those years before. 

What connection does Tom's house have to the Whispering Man? Who is the little girl who talks to Jake? Is Jake the next victim of the Whispering Man?

At first, this started out a little slow for me, and I blame that on not reading enough of it before putting it down for awhile. Once I started again, I plowed through, and the tension and uneasiness grew with each page I turned. I had no idea what to expect, but there are definitely a few twists I didn't expect at all. I figured out who the Whispering Man was, but didn't quite connect the dots until the big reveal. And the end...oh gosh. Terribly sad on many fronts; but also a gut punch that haunts you. I keep thinking about certain phrases and what they mean--the kind that make me go "Oh! Now I see!" for hours after I've turned the last page. 

This was a really good thriller. There are no gruesome depictions of murder, but the subject matter is a bit tough to swallow. However, a story that will keep you up late at night, racing to the end. Definitely one to discuss! 

Rating: 4/6 for a police thriller, a family drama, and a chilly look at the mind of a serial killer. It picks up speed about halfway through, and then you can't put it down. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

Oh, it took me a while to get through this novel. I made the mistake of reading some of the reviews about it, and that influenced me (I admit this reluctantly!). There were a few times when I was ready to just throw in the towel, but I persisted and finished the book, and I'm glad I did, even if I do have mixed feelings. 

So. Ivy is a private investigator in San Francisco. She's your stereotypical PI: just barely hanging on, investigating cheating spouses and small time criminal activity, and likes the bottle. She's called on to investigate a murder at an unusual place: The Osthorne Academy, a secret school for witchcraft and wizardry. This is no run of the mill murder, either; it's rather gruesome. Sylvia, a teacher at the academy, is found in the library, literally split in two, head to toe. The school wants to know what exactly happened--this is big, big magic--the kind of magic that isn't actually possible. So did Sylvia try something, and it went horribly wrong? Or was she murdered by another mage?

Ivy has a few issues. First of all, her twin sister, Tabitha, is a teacher at the academy. Yes, her sister got all the magic, and Ivy got none of it. It's caused a rift between the two sisters, even more so after their mother died of cancer and Ivy blamed Tabitha for not saving her. Another issue: everyone at the academy assumes Ivy has magical abilities, and she, wanting to finally fit in, doesn't tell them any different. The only person who knows she's not magical is Tabitha, and she's not telling anyone. As Ivy stays on campus, investigating the murder, she begins to uncover some big secrets between students, teachers, and yes, even her own sister. Was Sylvia's death murder, or a magical mishap?

I had a few issues reading this story. First of all, Ivy, get over yourself. Sheesh. Over and over, we're reminded that she's not magical. Over and over, we're reminded that she's really angry at her sister. I got a little confused, because it seemed like there were a few instances where Ivy appeared to have some small magical talent--or maybe I was just reading it wrong. She seemed to be able to figure out some big magical stuff that the folks with all the talent couldn't. The cast of characters were okay, but I was perplexed by the fact that this secret magical academy existed, but the regular world didn't seem to have a clue. Where did these students go, once they graduated? How did this whole thing work with the regular world? I was left with a whole lot of unanswered questions. And the final reveal? Well, I wasn't surprised at the who, but the why was interesting. Brought up a whole bunch of ethical issues, for sure. And it turns out, we are all just human beings after all--magic or not. 

I've got mixed feelings about this book. I'm glad I finished it. There were moments of ho-hum, and moments where it got really interesting. A lot of peaks and valleys. I'd probably try another novel by this author; either a stand alone, or a continuation of Ivy's story. There was a lot left unanswered. 

Rating: 3/6 for a novel that explores magic in the modern world, sibling relationships, and ethical issues. I'm on the fence with this one. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio.  

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Three Children's Novels That Have Been Banned or Challenged: Banned Books Week

My book group meets tonight, and our theme for September is to read a book that was either challenged or banned in the United States. Challenged means someone tried to have a book removed from a library or a school curriculum  because they objected to subject matter or felt the book was inappropriate for children or young adults. It doesn't mean the book was removed. Banned, of course, means the book was successfully removed from a library (or libraries) or a school curriculum. Unfortunately, this continues to happen regularly. Spending my adult life working in a bookstore, and now a library, I am a HUGE advocate for no censorship regarding reading material. 

I don't have children; however, if I did, I would certainly not limit their reading. If I was even slightly worried that they wanted to read something that they might not be emotionally ready for, or have trouble understanding, I would want to read it with them, or read it before they did--and have a conversation! I can tell you from my experience, denying a child a book only makes them want to read it more, and by golly they will find a way. I bought a Stephen King novel in my teens(!) with my babysitting money, and my Mom found it and took it away. It simply disappeared one day. I found it later hidden in her "secret" drawer, where she put everything she didn't want us to have. I also tried to buy the novel Endless Love--remember the movie with Brooke Shields?! Yes, I bought  that book. My mom caught me, and made me return it to B. Dalton's before we even left the store. I was soooooo angry. I vowed then and there to never, ever do that to my future children. Oh, it still makes me mad to think about it, all these years later. 

So, for my group, I was going to read Their Eyes Were Watching God. Unfortunately, I started too late, and can't give the book the time and attention it deserves. I'm still going to read it, but not for tonight's group. Instead, I looked at lists of challenged/banned books for children, and picked three--and off to B&N I went to buy them and read them on my day off. Here's a quick review of the three I chose:

I love Mary Downing Hahn. I wish she had been writing when I was a child. Her books usually involve ghosts and unsolved mysteries. This one was different-it's about two friends who find a dead body in a creek, and how they figure out who may have murdered the man. Published in 1990, it has been challenged over the years. It has themes that explore murder, drugs, and gun violence. I thought the friendship between Matt and Parker, and Parker's determination to save his mother from the bad men (and stay true to his instincts) far outweighed the other issues. I'd say it would be a good novel to read with your child, and answer any questions. It does seem a bit tame, compared with what we see, read, and hear every day in 2019. 

I've wanted to read this novel for years! Finally did. Loved it. The Watsons are a loving family living in Flint, Michigan in 1963. Byron, the oldest son, is a bit of a troublemaker--always making bad choices. His parents decide to return to Alabama for a visit, and to leave Byron there with Grandma for the summer, in hopes that her no nonsense attitude will mature Byron. His father also wants Byron to get a taste of what it's like to be a black man in 1963 Alabama, and to see the challenges and issues he will face coming of age in a turbulent America. This is a loving family, seen from the eyes of Kenny, the younger son. Full of humor, love, and hope, I loved this novel. I'm guessing people had issues with the content, the bullying the occurs to Kenny at school and by his brother, and the terrible scenes of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing on September 15, 1963 that killed four young girls. A wonderful book that should be read and discussed with children. 

What??  Scary Stories was banned or challenged?  Yep. It still shows up on lists! I read the first of three, and now it's a movie. I've even read a few reviews that said it was more frightening than It 2. Huh? 

This trio of scary stories by Alvin Schwartz has been around for years and years-first published in 1981. It says something to the popularity of the scary tales that it remains so popular with kids. Filled with short tales and poems, accompanied by super chilling illustrations by the incomparable Stephen Gammell, I have to admit, some of these tales are gruesome and a little creepy--especially if you're sitting around a campfire on a chilly Fall evening. However, they are just the kind of stories sure to thrill! I'm guessing it's regularly challenged due to some of the tales being a bit gruesome. Just the kind of book I would have loved to read as a kid! 

These are the three books I'll be discussing tonight with my group. Each quite different than the other two, but all on lists of books that have been challenged or banned over the years. You can find lots of information, including the most challenged books of 2018, at bannedbooksweek.org.  Goodreads also has lists of books banned or challenged by year. 

Make it a point to read books that are controversial. Discuss them with peers, or if your children want to read something that you're not quite comfortable with, do yourself a favor and read it with your child, or read it before your child does-and have a conversation with them about the book. Be open and honest with your kids. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Ingredients of Us by Jennifer Gold

Sometimes a book that you think is going to check off of all your boxes ends up being one that leaves you with a lingering feeling of disappointment and dissatisfaction.  The Ingredients of Us was one of those books. Maybe I went into the book thinking it was going to be a fun-filled novel about a baker, and recipes, and a bit lighthearted, with just enough drama to keep it from being sappy. 

Instead, I struggled to finish it, and it took me a few weeks. It's the story of Elle and Tom, married for 8 years, and Elle has recently discovered Tom has had an affair. A busy woman with a popular bakery, she's consumed by her love of baking--so much so that it usually takes priority in her life, even over Tom. Feeling neglected, he cheats. And this is the main plot of the novel--how they cope with his infidelity while deciding if saving their marriage is something they want to do. 

We see their relationship from the earliest stages up to the days and weeks following Elle's discovery of the affair. While it was important to understand where they came from as a couple, it was a bit too much bouncing back and forth, back and forth, between "7 years and 3 days before Elle finds out" to "Four weeks after Elle finds out". I'm never one to complain about plots zipping back and forth between the before and the after, but this seemed a bit overdone. The  looks back were a bit all over the place, so it was hard to settle in and see where in the relationship Elle and Tom were and what it had to do with what was going on in present time. One big issue was children--Tom wanted them, and Elle wasn't ready. Was she ever going to be ready? It's a pretty big deal, and I'm not really sure it was ever laid to rest as I turned the last page. 

So while I was looking for a lighthearted read, I didn't find it here. The recipes and baked goods sounded divine, but the writing of the recipes seemed completely at odds with the tone of the novel--they seemed a bit out of place. 

This wasn't the read I was expecting it to be, and maybe it's my fault for being disappointed in the result. If you want to read about a marriage and all the trials and troubles that add to it, and potentially destroy it, this is the novel for you. It just wasn't my jam. 

Rating: 2/6 for a novel about two people navigating the choppy waters of infidelity. Too much jumping around was jarring, and the bakery setting and foodie parts didn't seem to jive with the seriousness of the rest of the novel. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Old Bones by Preston & Child

This is just the kind of story I love to dive into, and even though it was my first Preston & Child novel, it won't be my last. 

First of all, bless Grand Central Publishing for taking the time to list all of Preston & Child's novels by series! Makes reading their previous works much easier. I wish every publisher did this for prolific authors. Old Bones is another new series, with characters from previous novels, but this is the first in the Nora Kelly series. I can't wait to read more. 

This novel involves the mystery of the Donner Party, and the Lost Camp. After the Donner party became lost and stuck in the Sierra Nevada area in the winter of 1847, they became part of western legend and lore. Very few people survived the months long ordeal as they starved, survived blizzard after blizzard, and some resorting to cannibalism to survive. The party was broken up into three camps, each a distance away from each other. One camp, known as the Lost Camp, remained  undiscovered over a hundred and fifty years later. 

Archaeologist Nora Kelly is called in to lead an expedition up into the wilds of the Sierra Nevadas to attempt to discover the "Lost Camp". Traveling with Nora is Dr. Clive Benton, a historian (and descendant of one of the Donner party families) who has discovered Tamzene Donner's long lost diary, which describes the location of the lost camp. Finding this lost camp, and the remains of the people who died there, would be a huge historical find, and answer a lot of questions. There is also a big chance that twenty million dollars in gold coins is also somewhere in the camp, stolen from one of the Donner party men, who was murdered by two men who died at the lost camp. 

Another interesting addition to this story involves FBI Agent Corrie Swanson. Just learning her job, she's assigned to a simple case: investigating the murder of a man found in a recently disturbed grave. Doesn't seem like it would have anything to do with the Donner lost camp, but oh, it does. It seems that someone has been digging up graves and making off with parts of the remains. Corrie makes a connection between seemingly random events, but no one believes her--it's rookie enthusiasm, after all. 

Yet, there is a big link to these two big events, and that is what is most fascinating about this novel. I seriously couldn't put it down. The blend of archaeology, legend, lore, and history hooked me good. I've always been interested in the Donner tragedy and have read a lot of books about it. That's what  drew me to this novel, too. I wasn't disappointed. It was a heck of a good read, and a great introduction to Preston & Child novels. 

I've had friends tell me how much they enjoy Preston & Child novels, and now I know why. I'll be working my way through all of them, and looking forward to the next Nora Kelly novel. I liked both Nora and Corrie--two strong women,  navigating through the politics and machinations of their chosen fields. Both experts in what they do, they make a great team. Did I say I loved this novel?! I sure did! Fans of historical mysteries, anthropology, archaeology, and police procedurals will enjoy this one. I'm a fan of Ellie Griffith's Ruth Galloway mysteries, which also feature historical mysteries and forensic archaeology. I'm excited to have found another series with all the elements I enjoy. 

I know I read a lot of magical realism, foodie, and contemporary women's novels, but oh, the nerdy history and forensics girl in me loves this type of novel, too. 

Rating: 5/6 for a thriller that combines history, action, adventure, archaeology, forensics, and a race against time. The Donner Party tragedy continues to echo down through the years. It's never too late to bring peace to those who died tragically in the most horrible of circumstances. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Chase Darkness with Me by Billy Jensen

First read for September is done! I do like to read about true crime; usually I prefer to read forensic books about how crimes are solved through analysis, forensics, and good old fashioned smarts. However, this one is a bit different, in that Billy Jensen doesn't use forensics, but Facebook and Twitter to help solve crimes. 

Billy is a journalist, and for years he wrote about murders that remained unsolved. He partnered with Michelle McNamara, the author of I'll be Gone in the Dark, who sadly died suddenly before her book was finished. Michelle was obsessed with finding the serial killer she dubbed The Golden State Killer. Billy worked with her on a few crime podcasts and shows, and formed a firm friendship. Crushed by her sudden death, he turned his grief into action. He decided that he would pursue the killers of unsolved crimes after the police had given up. 

In this non-fiction crime tale, Billy talks about a few of the cases that began his new career as a crime solver. Each one of them is heartbreaking. Once case involved a Polish immigrant who became the only other murder in New York City on 9/11. Another involved a man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and was hit so hard by a stranger he fell into a crosswalk unconscious, and was subsequently run over by a taxi cab and killed. All captured on cameras. But not so easy to identify the killer and bring him to justice. Billy used a new crime solving tool: Facebook. Paying for ads, he created Facebook posts and targeted them to audiences that were near the areas the crimes took place. Sometimes he was successful, sometimes not. He realized he had to do more than just put the word out, and hope someone, somewhere would help. 

This was a very interesting read, especially concerning the use of social media, and the evolution of DNA testing and finding killers based on something brand new: tracing them based on family genetics via Ancestry and 21 and Me results. And this..this was how the Golden State Killer was finally caught, two years after Michelle's death, and many years after raping and murdering dozens of people and terrorizing a city. We are in a new era of crime fighting and soon new tools will be available that will make it even harder for criminals to hide. Crowdsourcing to fight crime is happening, thanks to social media. 

Now I've got an itch to check out a few true crime podcasts. I am horrified and disgusted at the disregard of human life so many people show; there is another part of me that is grateful there are people like Billy Jensen out there who work tirelessly to solve what was previously unsolvable. Thousands of murders go unsolved each year, but solving even just one brings closure to those left behind, and justice to those who died at the hands of others. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Rating: 3/6 for a behind the scenes look at the evolving science of crime solving through the lens of journalism. Crimes that are haunting, and the people who take it all on to provide answers for families left behind to grieve. 

Sunday, September 1, 2019

September Reads: Cool Nights, Lots of Coffee, and the Lure of Fall

It's unseasonably cool for August in Iowa. Freakishly cool. I wasn't in a frame of mind for the conveniences of summer to be over just yet-no coats, slip on sandals, and lots of fresh basil for the picking just outside my kitchen door. But this past week has really kicked in the Fall feels for me and I think everyone else  in Cedar Rapids. It doesn't hurt that college football started yesterday, too. 

As per my usual reading habits, I always love to dive into my creepy, spooky, thriller-ghosty stories as the nights get longer and Halloween approaches. I'm going to be good this season and not eat bags of Brach's pumpkins. It's going to be tough! I know Halloween is still 8 weeks away, but the thrill of it is the build up to it, so I'm starting now. 

My picks for September are a mix of library books (I've got to read them STAT!), new buys, and a few that I've had on my shelves at home:

It's been sitting on my bookcase for 4 years. Shame on me. Reading this for a September book group where banned or challenged books are our theme. 

Modern day magic in San Fransisco. I haven't read any reviews, so I'm not sure what to expect! Diving in with an open mind. 

I've had this sitting at home for months! Just moved a pile of books and found it. First in a trilogy by Nora Roberts. Magic, three brothers, and a terror in the woods. 

I'm not going to lie: this one may give me the major creeps! A serial killer who lures his victims outside with whispers. Yikes! Keeping the windows closed while reading this one. Getting lots of buzz. 

Non-fiction about unsolved murders and a man determined to solve them. 

Books aren't dead! In fact, they're thriving. Book lovers, we know this.

I've never read a Preston & Child novel, but this one--oh, heck yes. It involves the Donner Party! One of my obsessive historical mysteries. I can't wait to read this. It may lead to a whole lot of Preston & Child novels in my future.

I've got a few other titles on my list, so we'll see how far I get. This time of year, I like to be home at night, and make few social plans. The Great Fall 2019 Hunker Down and Read is beginning soon! 

The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs by Katherine Howe

I read as fast as I could, but I didn't quite get all my August reads done before midnight last night. However, I did finish this novel last night at 11:30! Wahoo! I managed to finish 7 out of 11 books, with one extra tossed in, and I'm part way through The Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis. I've spent the last few days staying home and reading, and reluctantly folding laundry. 

This is Katherine Howe's follow up to The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. A few things made this read a little more of a struggle than it should have been, and they were absolutely my fault. It's been a number of years since I read Deliverance Dane, and I forgot a lot of the book. I know I enjoyed it, and it was really good, but I couldn't remember much of the plot. When I started this sequel, it was taking me a lot of time to remember what had happened, and where the characters were now. As a rule, I don't go back and re-read books, but it probably would have been smart to do in this case. In any case, I did catch on after awhile. I also kept putting the book down, then picking it up days later. This didn't help me stay on track, either. Connie Goodwin is a professor of American history in Boston, and is on a tenure track at her university. She's living with Sam, her partner and a main character in Deliverance Dane. Connie is busy mentoring a new PhD student-Zazi, and putting together her tenure papers. One of her major projects is finishing a book about magic and witchcraft, but she's still looking for that special something that will complete her book. 

Everything changes when Connie realizes she's pregnant. Visiting her mom at the old family home in Marblehead, her mom knows what's up-after all, both are descended from magical women, and both have some pretty amazing gifts. Only problem is that the women in Connie's family can't keep their husbands and their children. Connie knows, through her research, that the men in the family always die tragically, and early. Terrified to lose Sam, she has to find a way to break the cycle. Only one woman's husband lived to a very old age-Temperance Hobbs. How did she break the cycle? Connie's in a race against time to uncover family secrets, find the spell, and free Sam from a certain early death before she tells him she's pregnant. On top of that, she's got a previous student pushing her to recommend him for a big job at Harvard, and tension with Sam because she's refused to marry him. 

The politics in academia are a big part of this novel, and so much of what gives Connie her stress. I loved the setting in Boston, and the background of early American history. And of course, I'm always fascinated by the magic and witchcraft aspect. There is a part of me that wishes I had taken the deep dive into academia, and pursued graduate degrees in American history. This book certainly poked at that dream a bit! 

So. I would recommend reading Deliverance Dane first, then read this novel. Too much time had passed for me to remember and connect the dots quickly. I was a bit frustrated with Connie at times; she should have confided in Sam sooner than she did, way at the end of the book. The back and forth between Connie and her ancestors, and their experiences as healers was really interesting, and I of course loved the history of it all. The cast of characters were solid, and I liked them all--I even understood the angst of those seeking to succeed in the academic world, where the stakes are high, and competition is tough. Mostly, the setting reminded me of my college years, living in Pennsylvania, surrounded by all that wonderful history. Oh, I miss that, even after all these years. 

Rating: 3/6 for a sequel to a novel that had just too darn much time in between. It made it tough to remember the important bits from Deliverance Dane that trickled into Temperance Hobbs. However, the story did kick in towards the end, and I loved the rich history of it all, along with the strong characters. Magic, history, secrets and gifts passed down through generations are all elements that drive this tale to a satisfying conclusion.

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Friday, August 30, 2019

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

Another novel that involves books, bookstores, literary references, and quirky characters. They are my reset kind of novel, when I need a mental break from the daily "stuff" and pure escapism. My partner finds that in movies, I prefer books. 

Nina is a 29 year old women who lives with her cat Phil, works in a bookstore, and is so organized it makes my teeth hurt. Plus, I'm a little envious of the organization, I've got to admit. But Nina is a little too organized, and her mind is running a million miles a minute. She's on a trivia team, and her head is stuffed with bits of facts about everything. Life is pretty good for Nina, until she finds out that the man who was her father has died, and she's in his will. 

This man was someone Nina never knew. Her mother, a world traveling photographer, had a quick fling, found out the man was married, and that was that. Except Nina arrived 9 months later. She had an unusual childhood-she was raised by a nanny while her mother roamed around the world, checking in but really leaving Nina to be raised by her beloved Lou. Lots of things contributed to grown-up Nina's love of being alone, anxiety, need for order, and overwhelming love of books and reading. 

Now, she finds out she's got a family she never knew about, and darn it all, that cute guy Tom on an opposing trivia team is giving her a look that's hard to resist. So much potential change is giving Nina a bit of anxiety. Just how much can she handle? Is she ready to open up her heart, and her life, or will she let her safe life continue the way it is?

Nina's internal dialogue is witty, and her quips with Tom are sweet. And what really got my heart was the fact that Nina loves books--absolutely loves them, and Tom doesn't really read much at all. That's my fate in life, too. Books are a HUGE part of my life, and by golly I love a man who hasn't read a book since high school. And yet, he gets me and my book obsession. Phew. I think if we both were avid readers, we'd probably never talk about anything else but books, so it's good we've got lots of other stuff to talk about. And he remains impressed when I randomly spit out bits of information and facts that "I read somewhere". 

I just realized Abbi Waxman also wrote The Garden of Small Beginnings , which I bought a few years ago, and still sits on my bookcase, unread. I'll be sure to read it now. I thoroughly enjoyed Nina's tale, and had moments of chuckling out loud while reading. Of course it had a satisfying ending, and I didn't expect anything else. 

Rating: 4/6 for a fun, lovely little tale about books, reading, trivia, romance, and finding your tribe. Conquering anxiety even when it wants to pull you down. Knowing that all those little baby steps can lead to some place wonderful, if you can just be brave enough to try. 

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton

As if I didn't have enough to read this month, I had to add this tale, mostly because my hold came up at the library. I finished it just in the nick of time, as it's due back tomorrow, and I know there are plenty of folks waiting to read it--and hopefully love it just as I do. It's a novel that grows and grows on you after you've finished it and have spent some time ruminating on the big themes, and the lovable animals that populate the pages. 

At first, I chuckled as I was introduced to S.T. (short for Shit Turd), the domesticated crow who lives with Big Jim and his bloodhound, Dennis. Something odd is happening to Big Jim--his eyeball just falls out one day, and then it all rapidly goes downhill from there. Trapped at home with Big Jim as he descends into a ravening, decaying mess, S.T. realizes really quickly that it's time to leave and venture out into the great unknown--also known as Seattle. Taking Dennis, they set off to discover that what's happening at home is actually a small part of a really big apocalyptic crisis. Humanity is attacked by a virus (I won't tell you what causes it, but you betcha Mother Nature is pissed) and people are turning into ravening zombies that slowly decay into blobs of...ugh...stuff. Nature is taking over, and animals are roaming around. S.T. and Dennis realize there are many domesticated animals that are trapped in their homes, unable to get out, and doomed to die of starvation, so their mission is to rescue as many as possible. 

S.T., domesticated to the point that he feels almost human (or Mofo, as he refers to humans), almost forgets his bird-ness when he needs it the most. His relationship with Dennis was one of my favorite highlights of the novel. There's so much more to this tale than a misfit duo trying to survive in an apocalyptic world. S.T. discovers a much bigger connection to his fellow crows, nature, and the ebb and flow of Mother Earth as he slowly starts to let go of his 'Mofo-ness' and isolation. It's a cautionary tale of losing our connection to nature, and our place in the great chain of life. I know you'll come to love S.T. and Dennis as much as I did, along with the supporting characters: dogs and cats of every kind, elephants, murders of crows, and one bad-ass bald eagle. 

Rating: 5/6 for a surprisingly wonderful novel that will have you laughing, weeping, on the edge of your seat, and cheering on a rag-tag bunch of animals battling to survive a crazy, crazy world. This one will stay with me for quite some time. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Monday, August 26, 2019

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

In my desire to read so many books this month, I soon found myself in a book glut. I think I had six books going all at once, and I wasn't making headway on any of them. Argh! 

But, I'm seeing a bit of light, and I sat down and finished this novel yesterday after mowing, yard work, and putting up a video on my Bookalicious Babe Facebook page. Now I'm still a bit in the weeds, with less than a week to go before September hits, but I'm going to do my best to power through my remaining August books. If only I could get by on 4 hours of sleep each night, I'd be caught up and reaching for more books. 

So. Back to this novel, which I first saw a few months ago and became intrigued because it was so very different than my usual reads. I don't expand my reading universe nearly enough to include more diverse unique authors, cultures, and settings, and shame on me. But this novel, oh, it had me at first glance. Mayan mythology and 1920's Mexico? A heroine who is one tough cookie, even though she's had a lousy life? I couldn't wait to read it. So I began it along with all of my other books, and it took me a few weeks to finish it. But that wasn't because I didn't like it--I loved it. 

Casiopea Tun lives in her grandfather's large house, along with her jackass of a cousin Martin, her mother, and other family members. Her mother returned to her father's house after her husband died, and she had no where else to go. Casiopea's father was of a lower class, and that's reason for treating her mother poorly, and Casiopea as a lowly servant. She's eighteen, and dreams of someday leaving the small town of Uukumil and exploring the world. A conservative town run by the Catholic church, women are expected to cover their hair and faces, be modest in everything, and obey the men. Grandfather spends most of his time in his bedroom, being demanding, cruel, and just an all around jerk. 

Casiopea is punished and had to stay home while the rest of the family goes away to the hot springs for a few days, and she's not happy about it. She's in her grandfather's bedroom when she notices the box he has sitting at the end of his bed. He forbids anyone to touch it, and he wears the key around his neck at all times. Except when he goes to the hot springs. Curiosity gets the best of her, and she finds the key and unlocks the box. 

Inside are bones, which kapow! soon form a grown man-a really good looking man. He is Hun-Kame, the God of the Dead, and he's been locked in the box for centuries by his brother, Vucub-Kame, who has taken over the underworld, known as Xibalba. **By the way, I've completely made up pronunciations in my head for all of these Mayan names, and I'm pretty sure they're nothing like the actual, correct pronunciations** Hun-Kame is missing a few body parts: an eye, an ear, a finger, and a very important jade necklace. Casiopea is now his partner as they travel across Mexico to recover all of the parts of his body, helping him restore himself to his rightful place as the Supreme Ruler of Xibalba. Casiopea has little choice in the matter, because she carries a shard of Hun-Kame's bone embedded in her hand, and he literally draws life from her in order to function in the Middleworld (Earth). She's dying, slowly, and he's becoming more human the longer he stays in the Middleworld and relies on her to sustain him. If he completes his quest and takes back his kingdom, Casiopea gets whatever her heart desires, and her life back. 

I loved learning about Mayan mythology, and a similar theme I've seen in other mythology based stories also popped up here: the old Gods are losing their power as people move farther away from old beliefs and closer to modern technology. If no one believes in you, how do you continue to exist?

There's a deadly game between the two brothers, and Casiopea is stuck in the middle. I enjoyed watching her become a stronger woman as she traveled with Hun-Kame and gee, fell hard for the handsome god. Who wouldn't? And Hun-Kame...he is awesomely God-like, but as he travels with Casiopea, he becomes more human. The quest makes up most of the plot, and I settled in for a fantastic tale, getting slightly anxious as they neared the final showdown with Vucub-Kame. Who would come out the winner, and what would that mean for humanity? 

Ah, this was a great story. A magical tale, full of demons, witches, fantastical creatures, powerful Gods, and an underworld that is straight up kind of crazy/stuff of nightmares. I'd definitely recommend this to anyone who loves mythology. 

Rating: 5/6 for a tale of magic, mischief, quests, and what it means to be human. I had a hard time putting it down and was immediately engrossed in Casiopea's journey through Mexico and beyond. Ah! good stuff. Mexican folklore brought to life. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Saturday, August 17, 2019

The Book Charmer by Karen Hawkins

Well, this book was charming for me. A quick read that hopefully is the beginning of a series of tales about the people in Dove Pond, North Carolina. 

Karen Hawkins is a romance author, and when I first saw this book, I knew her name was familiar to me-probably because I shelved her romances for years while I worked at B&N! But, fear not. Yes there is some romance in this novel, but it most definitely isn't a romance novel. More of a feel good, Sweet Home Alabama-Reece Witherspoon-ish kind of novel. Yes, it could find a place on the Hallmark Channel. That being said, I'm not a huge fan of Hallmark movies, in that they just are a little too perfect. The folks in Dove Pond, and the two lead female characters, most definitely aren't perfect. 

Sarah Dove comes from a long line of women who have special talents. Sarah's talent is one that I think every book lover would wish for themselves: the books talk to her and tell her who they should go to next. Sarah hears them, loud and clear, and they can be kind of nagging, too. But she gives those books to folks, and by golly somehow they do end up needing whatever is in that book. She's the town librarian, and she knows, thanks to a cranky old history of Dove Pond, that she's going to be responsible for saving the town. Dove Pond, like a lot of small towns, is slowly dying: people are moving away, businesses are closing. 

Grace arrives in town with her niece Daisy and her foster mom, Mama G. She's left a high powered job to bring Mama G back to the small town she grew up in, and as Mama G's Alzheimer's progresses, it's the best place to take care of her. Daisy is a little girl full of anger and grief, after Grace's sister and Daisy's mother, Hannah died recently from a drug overdose. So much grief to carry, and Grace is full of it, and feels the pressure of taking care of Mama G and trying to be a mother to her niece. And start all over in a small town. She's determined that she'll only be in Dove Pond for a year, and then she's moving back to Charlotte and her old life. She's got a job as the town clerk, and it's pretty horrible. The Mayor fishes all the time, and is terribly irresponsible. Grace isn't out to make friends, and Sarah--oh, she wants to be Grace's friend. 

Grace is going to save the town--this is what the old history book of the town tells Sarah. A little put off that she's not going to be the town savior, Sarah eventually realizes that it will take both her and Grace to do it together. Sarah has to convince Grace to care enough about the town to stay and save it. 

There are romantic interests for both ladies, and the folks of Dove Pond are a cast of characters that really flesh out the story and make Dove Pond feel like it really exists outside of this novel. There is a lot left open at the end of the book, so yes, there will be more to come. It was a fast read, and a gentle one, at that. Anyone who has dealt or is dealing with a parent suffering from memory loss, and declining in health, will feel Grace's anguish. But lucky for Grace, she has a whole town holding her up. If only every caregiver could experience that gift. 

Rating:  3/6 for a quick read introducing the people of Dove Pond, the magical Dove sisters, and the power of community to heal and help. 

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio.