Saturday, June 22, 2019

The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister

I was pretty excited to read the latest novel from Erica Bauermeister. Her first novel: The School of Essential Ingredients was a top read for me, so I was all ready to dive into her latest project. While her first few novels concentrated on food, this novel explores the world of scent. And I'm happy to say, it's just as magical as I expected. 

At first I was a little lost, trying to figure out the story, and especially the when of the story. I think it's deliberate in this case-not being very specific on a year, a decade. But, I quickly figured out it is contemporary-first tip was a cell phone. But it starts out on a small island; a very small, isolated island somewhere off the coast of...somewhere? I'm guessing British Columbia, but I could be wrong. While this may irritate some readers, I like that it leaves me to decide. All I really need to know is Emmeline and her father are living on a small island, in a cabin, and they are quite content. 

Emmeline and her father have a magic machine in their cabin: it produces bits of paper that have fragrances on them--the scents of moments; memories captured on paper. It's like a photograph of a place, but instead of seeing a picture, you smell that specific moment in time. There are hundreds of tiny glass bottles with bits of paper sealed inside and arranged on a wall in the cabin. Each is a scent memory her father has captured. But as Emmeline grows from a small child into a pre-teen, she begins to figure out that her father hasn't been truthful with her, and her fairy-tale life on the island takes a turn that ends in tragedy and complete disillusion for Emmeline. 

Emmeline's life after the island, living with two dear souls who love her, and take care of her, is fairly peaceful-except for the constant bullying at school. Her gift for scent-being able to parse them out, bit by bit, teasing all the high, low, and middle notes, is highly unusual-but of course it's a cause for bullying. 

I don't want to tell you more, because I want you to read this and enjoy the unfolding of this story. It's so elegantly written; the fragrances of Emmeline's surroundings are so vividly written you can almost smell them. Just how much does scent play into our memories? I know when I smell a freshly lit cigarette, I immediately think of my Dad. It's a childhood memory that will never fade. The smell of freshly brewed coffee always brings me back to my Aunt Judy's house, and our Christmas visits-it always smelled like coffee, and reminds me of love, home, and happiness. 

After a bit of a long start (I couldn't concentrate long enough to dive in!), I settled into this story and then had a heck of a time putting it down. It really is a feast for your senses; I hope you also experience the magic of Emmeline's gift, and her journey to finding peace. The biggest mystery is the unexplained puzzle of her father and her mother. Who is she? Where did she come from? What does it all mean?

A perfect vacation book. It made me long for my childhood stays at a cabin resort in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. We had a cabin and we fished, swam, took boat rides, and had a wonderful time. I can still smell the exhaust from the boats, the scent of the water, and the taste of cold strawberry pop from a bottle. 

Rating: 4/6 for a novel that explores how we build our memories and sense of comfort from scents we hold dear to our hearts. Emmeline is a compelling character who grows from a small child to a young woman over the course of the novel. I hope you enjoy this read as much as I did!

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes by Ruth Hogan

I was surprised and super happy to have this novel arrive in my mail from Crooked Lane Press. I always say books find people at the right moments, and somehow, the folks at Crooked Lane Press knew I needed this book. Never doubt the magic of books.

Ruth Hogan's first novel, The Keeper of Lost Things, was published in 2017 and I happily reviewed it. She has a remarkable gift for writing that captivated me, and I'm happy to say her second novel cast a similar spell over me. Whomever designs her book covers, sheesh! They are amazingly beautiful. Can't help but pick it up just based on the cover art. 

Masha is a woman who lives with grief. Twelve years before, she lost her toddler son, Gabriel, in a freak accident. More horribly, his body was never recovered from the little creek it was presumed he fell into and drowned. Masha punishes herself by going to the local swimming pool all year round (it's outside) and dives into the deep end and holds her breath. She wants to feel what her son felt as he drowned. Masha's life is pretty colorless, except for her beloved dog Haizum and her daily walks in the local cemetery. This is a cemetery that only the English can do: a Victorian wonderland of meandering paths, glorious headstones dedicated to long lost souls, and a peace that begs people to sit and reflect. Masha sees Sally Red Shoes, an elderly woman who always wears--you guessed it--red shoes, feeds the crows, and bursts out in operatic songs. She also swears like a sailor-you just never know what you're going to get with Sally. She's a character most people would dismiss, but Masha soon forms a friendship with this wise woman. 

Masha's growing friendship with Sally has her realizing she's punished herself enough, and it's time to start living again. As Sally tells her, Masha stopped dancing to life when Gabriel died, and she owes it to Gabriel to keep dancing for him. 

Masha's slow re-entry into life means as much to her as it does to her friends and parents, who have had to change their behavior over the years to protect Masha's grief. She realizes she's done a great disservice to everyone by her unending grief, and the barriers she's placed around herself to prevent anymore pain. 

This was such a wonderful book-the characters are all so well drawn out. They're people I'd want in my life! There is another large storyline  in this novel that runs in and out of Masha's story, but I want you to discover that yourself. It's not hard to figure out what's going on, but I don't want to spoil your discovery. 

Colorful characters, a mother's slow climb out of grief, and beautiful writing all make this a charming read. It's not a sad tale at all. As Mr. Rogers said, "Look for the people who help" and there are plenty of people who help Masha regain her joy for life. This will be one of my top reads for 2019, and Ruth Hogan is definitely an author I will read again and again. 

A huge thank you to Crooked Lane Press for a chance to read and review this gem. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Rating: 5/6 for a novel that captures a woman's journey through an endless grief. When it seems all is lost, there is always a path to happiness and peace. 

Sunday, June 9, 2019

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

I love Elly Griffith's Ruth Galloway Mysteries. In fact, they are what started me on reading mysteries. I'm still dipping my toes into the mystery world, but I'm finding myself looking at them more often than I used to-both at the library and at my local bookstore. 

Elly Griffiths has written other mysteries, but this is a stand alone contemporary mystery with a bit of a gothic feel to it. And yes, I'm terrible at figuring out who did it before the end. 

The Stranger Diaries takes place in Sussex, at a school. Clare Cassidy is a high school English teacher, divorced and living with her teen daughter Georgia. Her close friend and colleague Ella is found viciously murdered in her home, and everyone is shocked. Who could possibly want her dead?

As Detectives Harbinder Kaur and Neil Winston begin investigating Ella's murder, suspicions swing to the head of the English Department at school: Rick Lewis. Clare knows a secret Ella shared with her: that she had a quick affair with Rick, and ended it weeks before. Harbinder knows Clare has more information than she's willing to reveal, and digs deeper. 

Clare has a few things troubling her: the diary she writes in daily has been tampered with; someone is leaving her notes. That someone is also closely following the plot of one of Clare's favorite novels: The Stranger. Who else is in danger? 

This was an easy to get sucked into mystery. Chapters are told through alternating voices: Clare, Georgia, and Harbinder. There are suspects a-plenty, and it seems that the mystery gets murkier before clues start coming together. Harbinder is the most interesting character, and I hope the author writes a few more mysteries with Harbinder as the investigating detective. I'd like to see more of her story. Clare is simply a woman trying to raise her daughter and be a good teacher. What others see her as is part of the whole plot. Appearances are most definitely deceiving in this tale of murder, mystery, and yes, a touch of madness. 

Rating: 3/6 for an interesting mystery. I thought the addition of the old short story sometimes interfered with the mystery; sometimes I had to get through bits of that in order to return to the meaty part of the story. Overall, a satisfying read.

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane

I finished this novel early this week, but wanted to take a little time to think about it--and then the week hit, and holy heck it was a busy one! Now it's Friday evening, and before I make a cocktail and have date night with my boyfriend, I'm going to tell you about this unexpectedly sweet novel about friendship and trees. 

May Attaway is a forty year old single woman who still lives in the home she grew up in; her father lives downstairs, and she has the top half of the house. She's part of the grounds crew at the local university, and she's  an expert at cultivating trees and plants. She's a bit of an introvert in that she goes to work, spends a minimal amount of time in conversation every day, then goes home. Her friends? Well, she doesn't really have any close friends. 

A surprise gift from the university (a month of paid time off) has May ruminating on how to spend that time. She begins noticing people all around her who have friendships: the two elderly ladies in the coffee shop, the folks in the neighborhood who not only know each other by sight, but are actual friends. She thinks a lot about friendship: how it is cultivated, nurtured, and sustains the people in it. She decides she will visit the four women she once considered friends, to reconnect and see just what friendship is all about. 

May is a bit of an old-fashioned woman, in that she believes friendship is a face to face relationship, and the digital age has left people too many ways to say they are friends with so many folks. But, the important parts of friendship are neglected by the simple fact that people never visit each other and spend time  talking in person, enjoying each other's company. As May makes her trips to her friends, she finds joy and reaffirmation in simple things: a walk together, conversation at night over a glass of wine; a trip for ice cream. She sees each of her friends and their lives--all different from each other, and each friendship is different, too. Not better or worse, just different. 

There's more to the story, but it is worth savoring and reading for yourself. I found myself settling in and loving May's journey. The references to trees, flowers, and plants were wonderful, too. It's a quiet book, but worth reading. You'll be surprised at how much you enjoy it, and it will make you pause to reflect on the importance of friendship for each of us, and what we do to nurture it, or to neglect it. 

Rating:  4/6 for a novel to savor slowly. There's not a ton of action, but that never bothered me at all. A surprising little gem!

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Saturday, June 1, 2019

June Reads: Friendship, Frauds, and Flowers

June 1st almost slipped by without my to read post. After a very soggy week, today was a beautiful day (a little on the humid side :{) and I spent time in my yard and took a long walk in a local park. Thinking about how I'm going to restrain myself when I buy flowers tomorrow--it's so darn hard to not want them all! But I've just got a few spots to fill, and a few containers, so I hope that keeps me under control. 

I suspect June will fly by, and it's already filling up with things to do and people to see. And, lots of books to read. Many of my library books became available all within the last week, so I've got a chunk to get through quickly. Here's what I plan on reading and reviewing this month: 

I've been waiting for this for awhile. I love Elly Griffith's Ruth Galloway mysteries, so I'm interested in this new murder mystery. 

Publisher review. Two women meet on a plane and their lives become chaotic in this new thriller. 

The School of Essential Ingredients is a favorite novel of mine, so I was beyond excited to see Erica Bauermeister has a new novel! Sure to be a highlight of my summer. 

An exploration of friendship: how we make friends, keep friends, and cherish friendship. 

I read Ruth Hogan's The Keeper of Lost Things and thought it was wonderful. Happily surprised to receive an advanced copy of her latest. The cover...I just LOVE the cover! A woman forms a friendship after suffering loss, and it opens up a whole new world to her. 

Happy June everyone! Create your comfy outdoor reading nook. I hope you can spend as much time as possible reading and relaxing. 

The Bookalicious Babe

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Poison Thread by Laura Purcell

I started this novel on Saturday and found myself sucked into the story very quickly. Laura Purcell's second offering (after The Silent Companions) is one heck of a ride, combining a Dickensian atmosphere with elements of a horror novel, a thriller, and of women caught in the rigid structure of early Victorian rules and expectations. I simply couldn't put it down. 

There are two main characters: Dorothea Truelove, a young, wealthy woman approaching her 25th birthday, and Ruth Butterham, a young woman imprisoned and waiting trial for murder. Dorothea visits prisons to offer comfort to incarcerated women, and it also gives her a chance to explore her obsession with phrenology: a study of human behavior traits expressed through the shape of the skull. Yes, if you have bumps in a certain location, or your skull is shaped a certain way, it shouts to the world exactly who you are: a deep thinker? A worrier? A murderer?

Ruth's story is just plain awful. Only sixteen, she's lived the past four years in complete hell. Skillful with a needle, she's convinced her skill has given her the power to affect anyone who wears the clothing the makes--and by affect, I mean deadly. I don't want to tell Ruth's tale, because it is so compelling, and every other chapter is Ruth telling her story, from the age of twelve, being tormented by the girls in her school because she's poor. It seems like Ruth never had a chance at a normal life, and now she's facing execution. Dorothea quickly becomes obsessed with Ruth, all while trying to avoid her pushy father, who wants her to marry (she's becoming an embarrassment at her advanced age), and also because he wants to marry again-an odious woman Dorothea despises. There's a bit of a mystery between Dorothea and her father, and oh boy does that slowly unravel to a surprise--you probably figure it out before Dorothea does, but it's still "Whoa!". 

I love this novel-it was pretty dark, but so enthralling. Ruth's story unfolding slowly, entwined with Dorothea's story gives you two plots that satisfyingly conclude together, with a few surprises that really give the novel a bang of an ending. Both women, at the mercy of other's whims, struggle for one thing: happiness and love. Do they get it? Read to find out! 

This novel will be published in the United States on June 18 in paperback. It's already published in England under the title The Corset. A huge thanks to Penguin for providing an ARC for review. 

Rating: 5/6 for a gothic thriller that I simply couldn't put down. Ruth is such a compelling character, your heart bleeds for her. Dorothea--she's quite the character, too--as you shall see. A perfect read for those who enjoy dark, atmospheric thrillers. 

Monday, May 20, 2019

Trail of Lightning: The Sixth World, Book One by Rebecca Roanhorse

I've been itching to read a good fantasy novel for a while. My book group meets tomorrow night, and we have chosen to read a book that is either written by a Native American author, or has a Native American theme. I took this as as opportunity to find a fantasy novel with a Native American theme, and found this very creative and well written first in a series by Rebecca Roanhorse. 

Set in the near future, the world as we know it has been destroyed by the Big Water, which pretty much wiped out much of the United States, caused an energy war, and has reborn the Navajo Nation, known as the Dinetah.  

Gods and heroes of the Dinetah are real, and so are monsters. Maggie is a monsterslayer. She's young, beyond tough, and has a huge ax to grind. And you can't blame her one bit for it. Surviving a horrific night of torture and the death of her beloved grandmother, her clan powers are ignited: she is one who kills. The power rushes into her, she sees just how she will kill and she does it with skill, strength, and some supernatural power. She's also feared, alone, and nursing a broken angry heart from her mentor and lover, Neizghani-a God himself. 

Maggie is called on to hunt down and rescue a little girl snatched from her home by a monster. This begins Maggie's journey to find out who is creating these monsters, and why. Visiting Tah, her medicine man "grandfather", she meets Kai Arviso, who is Tah's actual grandson, and someone who has clan powers of his own. What they are...well, you'll have to read to find out. Together Kai and Maggie venture out into a hostile land to stop the monsters from terrorizing and killing across Dinetah, and stop whomever or whatever is creating them. 

There's much more to this, of course. But I have to leave you plenty to discover on your own. I read this in stops and starts, and I wish I'd read it in bigger chunks and a shorter amount of time. I enjoyed it-it's pretty dark. The world is not a good place. I kept hearing the end music from Terminator in my head, as Sarah Connor is driving towards the mountains and the growing storm. Da da dada da. Da da dada da.  I found the Navajo culture and mythology fascinating, and the idea that clan powers are real and something that is handed down through the generations, and a gift to be honored, no matter what form it takes. 

I will read the second in the series, since book one leaves you wanting answers. Book two is Storm of Locusts, and more adventures for Maggie Hoskie await. I like Maggie. She's so tough, but inside there's an insecure young girl who wants peace and love, and is afraid she's not worthy of either of them. She both embraces her clan powers, and loathes them.  I'm really hoping her further adventures with Kai will lead her to a better place. 

Rating:  4/6 for a new series that centers on the Navajo people, a post-apocalyptic world where fuel and water are in short supply, and gods and monsters are very, very real. If you like mythology, you'll like this series. 

Available in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audio.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michelle Richardson

I've been a bit behind in my reading this year. Books are so much a part of my life, it's hard for me to imagine not having them within easy reach whenever I want one to read. This wonderful book reminded me that so many people love books and reading, but often times don't have access to a library, much less afford a trip to a bookstore. 

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is definitely one of my top reads of 2019. It's going to take a pretty amazing read to knock it off the #1 spot. Yes, I've still got 6 months to go, but it's such a good story! I'm not sure where I first saw this novel; I think I was reading an email from Sourcebooks (the publisher) and spotted it. Sourcebooks always publishes the best books! From there, I ordered the book from my local B&N. It's taken me a few weeks to finish, but not because it wasn't interesting. It was just so darn good. 

Cussy Mary Carter lives outside of Troublesome Creek, Kentucky in 1936. Poverty is overwhelming for the folks; coal mining kills the men, and food is hard to find. Cussy is one of the local Pack Horse Librarians, part of a WPA project created by FDR to put people to work during the Depression. The librarians rode horses and mules up and down the Appalachians, through all kinds of weather, to deliver books, newspapers, and handmade scrapbooks to schoolchildren and families. She lives with her father, a coal miner suffering from lung disease, and lives a very isolated life because she's blue. As in blue-skinned. 

Cussy and her father suffer from a disease that turns their skin blue. Unknown at the time, it is a genetic condition of the blood. What folks around Troublesome Creek see is a woman who is different-not white-and therefore shunned, treated badly, and treated as lesser-than in everything. Cussy, however, is smart, educated, beautiful, and tough as nails. But a lifetime of being singled out, left out, and treated badly have left their mark, and she yearns to be able to fit in, find love, and be accepted. 

This novel is about Cussy's travels as a librarian; the people she meets on her route--hard working, good people who don't see Cussy's skin color, but see her as she is, and appreciate her work bringing them a bit of the world every week. The local doctor is eager to study Cussy and her father, and figure out why they are blue skinned, but Cussy is reluctant to be poked and prodded, until Doc makes her an offer she can't refuse. And when it looks like Cussy finally has her wish to fit in come true, it comes with consequences that she didn't expect. 

Kim Michelle Richardson has written a novel that is steeped in local lore, history, and well developed characters. It was oh so easy to slip into Cussy's world. All the little details-food, clothing, housing, and the books. The author skillfully weaves it all together into a novel that was hard to put down! You will want to explore the world of pack horse librarians (or book women, as they were called) after reading Cussy's story. NPR has a fantastic look at this WPA program.  

Rating: 5/6 for a wonderfully written novel about pack horse librarians in Kentucky. Cussy Mary Carter is a character you won't soon forget. This is your summer novel to read! 

Available in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audio. 

Monday, May 6, 2019

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

I've seen so many reviews about this novel, and still it took picking it for a book group before I finally read it. This group is one that usually reads historical fiction, or novels that are chock full of symbolism and meaty discussions. Well, I decided we'd read this as an end to our last meeting before our summer break. I'll be honest, I got some grumbles. And I've had a few tell me it wasn't to their liking or taste. So I thought I'd made a horrible mistake. 

I was wrong-I didn't make a mistake, and I relish the upcoming book discussion. I like to remind book club members that book clubs are all about reading books that take them out of their usual reading groove; books that introduce them to another genre, or books that they would never pick up for any other reason. I'm always amazed at the books I've read that turned out to be very memorable, or books that I so enjoyed that I was happy I "had" to read it for a book club. It's too easy to fall into a reading rut, and only read what makes you comfortable, or what you come to expect in every book you read. The Kiss Quotient was decidedly different from my usual reads, and I loved it. 

Yes, it has some pretty steamy sex scenes. Hot hot hot scenes. Yes, some terms are used to describe physical anatomy that aren't what I'm used to reading in what I consider a romance. I'm not one for erotic romances; I find myself skipping over all of that and getting back to the story. I'm not offended, just not interested. However, this novel, while I consider it a romance novel, has some special qualities that make it memorable, and I can see why it's been a hit this past year. 

Stella Lane is one smart woman. She's a thirty-year old at the top of her game, as a econometrician who creates algorithms to study why people buy what they buy. It's fascinating work, and often times she works seven days a week, for hours on end. Stella is also on the autism spectrum, which makes it hard for her to socialize, break out of set routines, and have a healthy romantic relationship. Her mother insists Stella find herself a date for an upcoming gala, so Stella, in her methodical way, decides to hire someone to help her be better at sex, and that will lead to finding a romantic partner who understands and accepts her, quirks and all. 

Enter Michael. A gorgeous young man, frustrated fashion designer, and part-time male escort. He's hired to give Stella a few lessons in the bedroom, but instead, instant attraction hits. And Stella, for all her difficulty in forming relationships, is smitten by this kind man who treats her so carefully. Yes, he's a male escort with a heart of gold. A man who is working this job in order to pay his mother's medical bills, and get the family out of the debt left by his conniving father. Can Stella and Michael find their way to a solid relationship?

I was pleasantly surprised by this novel. Anyone who knows someone on the autism spectrum will just want to hug Stella. She struggles every day to be "normal", but her charm is that she has her quirks, and it's what makes her so unique and lovable. Michael is a good guy, who just can't resist Stella. But his self-confidence is beaten down, and he needs someone like Stella to make him see he's good enough, and not his father. 

I found the romance between Stella and Michael to be charming, and all of the supporting characters charming, too. The course of true love never runs smoothly, and there are plenty of obstacles in the way for Stella and Michael. I was cheering them on the whole way to the satisfying conclusion. 

Rating: 5/6 for a surprisingly modern, sexy, and solid romance about two people who don't quite fit in, but find their perfect matches in each other. It was refreshing to read about a heroine who is not run-of-the-mill. 

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio. 

Friday, May 3, 2019

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

The Five is a long overdue look at the women who were Jack the Ripper's known victims: Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elisabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly. We know all the horrid details of their murders, but all we know of them is what's been handed down by newspapers and stories: they were all prostitutes, drunks, and roaming the streets of Whitechapel when they each crossed paths with Jack the Ripper. 

However, as is usual in sensational murders, the victims are often swiftly overlooked, soon becoming less-than. Hallie Rubenhold, a social historian, decided it was long past time to correct what we've all thought about these women. She researched each woman, and tells the stories of their lives. These women were sisters, daughters, mothers, lovers, and wives. Two were known prostitutes; the other three were victims of circumstance and some really incredibly stupid laws in Victorian England. Laws and social customs that kept women down, unable to improve their lives, or even divorce. Marriages broke down, and since divorce was not an option, women oftentimes walked out of their grimy, crowded, disgusting homes and went to the workhouse for assistance. There, they joined thousands of others in drudgery in exchange for a place to sleep and food. Husbands were required to pay a small monthly fee to their wives, but if they could prove their wives were unfaithful, that small payment could end, as it did in the case of a few, leaving them in even more dire straits. 

Hallie Rubenhold has really dug deep into research on each of the women, and it is fascinating stuff. It's also a very sobering look at the lower middle class and poverty level population of England in the 1800's. Childhood, if survived, was brief before children had to go to work to help support the family. If the male head of house was injured, died, or walked away, women and their children were left destitute. So many didn't have any reading or writing skills, it made everything that much more terrible. Polly, Annie, and Catherine all had attended school and knew how to read, write, and have basic skills in math. However, unable to break the cycle of poverty, they didn't have any chance at a better life. Elisabeth Stride was raped as a young girl, contracted syphilis, and the treatments forced on her caused her to give birth to a stillborn daughter. Branded publicly as a prostitute at 18, she was humiliated and never recovered from it all. 

Alcohol numbed each women's pain over losing their children, failed marriages, and poverty. Most of them also lost one or both parents very early in life, leaving grief and no way to cope with it. I found myself getting so angry at the circumstances each woman found themselves in, and the laws that limited them from getting the help they needed, and the laws that branded them as loose, unvirtuous, and not worthy. 

I found this a very interesting book, and yes, it's long overdue. Each of the women, forgotten by society for so long, and now infamous for how they died, deserves this telling of who they really were, the people they loved, and the families they left behind with so many unanswered questions. 

Rating: 5/6 for an incredibly well researched story about five women who became infamous for all the wrong reasons in 1888. These victims deserve to tell their stories, and Hallie Rubenhold is their voice. Whether you are a true crime fan, or a women's history devotee, or just interested in a really good book, pick this one up. You'll never look at Jack the Ripper's five victims: Polly, Annie, Elisabeth, Catherine, and Mary Jane, quite the same way again. And that's a good thing. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Sunday, April 28, 2019

May Reads: Making Time to Read When I Really Should be Mowing the Yard

One positive about winter is that I don't have any yard work to do for months. Now that Spring has sprung, my yard is looking pretty ragged, and is going to require some time to fertilize, pull weeds, plant bulbs, and add grass in spots that used to be garden spaces. The days of spending all afternoon outside puttering in my yard are, sadly, gone. Now it's all about cultivating a few lovely spaces that don't take an enormous amount of time for upkeep. And most importantly, spaces I can view from my deck. 

And the deck, well, that's my summer reading spot. I can't wait to pull out my pillows, umbrella, comfy chairs, and put some tropical foliage around to create my perfect place of peaceful reading. 

My April reads were slightly better than my March choices, and I know May will be even better. I'm way behind in my reading goal, and that's all down to what I'm reading, and how much time I have to read. Too many nights I've come home from work and just sat on my couch, zoned out. Fresh air, warmer days, and that energy Spring brings will help me focus on reading more. 

Here's the mix of some of the reads I have planned for May:

 The first in a series about a Native American woman who hunts monsters in a post-apocalyptic America. Reading for a May book group. 

 Currently half-way through this meticulously researched book about the five women who were the victims of Jack the Ripper. The author focuses on their lives-who they were, where they came from, and the circumstances that brought them to Whitechapel. Fascinating and long overdue.

 Just ordered this from B&N! A novel about a woman who rode horses to deliver library books in Appalachia. Can't wait to read this. 

Received this from the publisher to review. A woman claims her children have been switched with "somethings" that aren't right. No one believes her. A novel about changelings. Eek!

Reading this for another book group. I've been warned there's lots of hot sex, but so far I'm finding this to be a romance that is a step above the usual hot and heavy modern love stories. So far, so good. 

I'm already deep into two of these titles, so I hope that leaves me with a little wiggle room to read more in May. I'll be posting my most anticipated summer releases in a few weeks, so stay tuned!

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl

Ruth Reichl saved me this month. She got me out of a reading funk. When my life is a bit hectic, and I'm feeling stressed and just blah, I like to read something light and fun. If it includes food, even better. 

Ruth's memoir centers on her time as Editor in Chief of Gourmet magazine for ten years, up until the day it suddenly folded. Known as the New York Times food critic, she ate out 14 times a week, was rarely home at night, and conscious that her son was growing up and she wasn't spending time at home with her family. Approached to take the job at Gourmet, she was a bit flabbergasted. She had no experience with magazines; she'd been a journalist, writer, and food critic for years-but no magazine experience. Gourmet magazine held a special place in Ruth's heart. She had begun reading the magazine as a young girl and yes, even tried some of the recipes for her family. Now she had the chance to be the editor of the magazine! Still uncertain, she finally listened to her friends, who all said "Of course you can do this job. What are you waiting for?!"

Ten years at Gourmet magazine taught Ruth a lot about the magazine business, and how to play the game. She turned Gourmet from a stuffy, out of touch food magazine to one that reached out to every day people who loved to cook, and embraced the changing American food landscape. Hiring the best people, giving her staff a chance to run with their creativity, she made bold choices that could have ended in disaster. Gourmet, unfortunately, ended suddenly-Ruth and her staff were given one day's notice it would be shuttered. The declining economy, the disaster of Wall Street, people losing jobs...Gourmet was one of the victims of the economic downturn of 2009. 

I love the way Ruth writes. She certainly has a gift; her descriptions of food are scrumptious. What I got the most out of this memoir was Ruth's willingness to take chances, her enjoyment of the small moments, and the pleasure in eating out for the sheer joy of it instead of as a career and a job requirement. Her faith in her staff was refreshing to read. Most of all, her ability to stay true to herself in a world where so many people played the game spoke volumes about the person she was-and that's what made this such an interesting memoir. 

I can't wait to read more Ruth Reichl. You don't have to be a foodie to enjoy this memoir. It is about a talented woman who took chances, was vulnerable, loved her staff, and never forgot the wonder of reading Gourmet as a little girl. That wonder kick-started her love of food writing at a very young age. 

There are also a few recipes in the memoir that are some of Ruth's favorites. 

Rating: 4/6 for an inside look at how a magazine works, the beautiful and talented writing of Ruth Reichl, and of course, all the food. The rise and fall of Gourmet magazine, which published for 60 years, is, quite frankly, sad. 

Available in hardcover audio, and ebook. 

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

I read this novel a week ago and discussed it with my book group last Tuesday. Even time away from it, and our group discussion, doesn't help my "meh" opinion about this thriller. 

Some readers absolutely do not like to read novels where they can't find a character likable, and that certainly was the case for a few of my fellow book group members. I prefer to like characters; but I've also found that disliking one or more (or in this case, all) of the characters can make for an interesting read. Or not. I was really hoping this would be a good thriller, but it was full of holes, characters that didn't learn a darn thing from previous screw ups, and left a very unsatisfying ending. 

Four women are brought together after many years apart when a body is unearthed on a beach near the English seaside village of Salten. Seventeen years before, the women, then young teens, had become fast friends while attending boarding school. Kate, Thea, Fatima, and Freya had a game-the 'lying game' they played on their fellow classmates, villagers, and anyone they could fool. They had rules, too: tell a lie, stick to your story, don't get caught, never lie to each other, and know when to stop lying. Some lies were pretty innocent, but others were damaging. The girls quickly gained a reputation around school that they were distrustful and mean. Kate's father, Ambrose, was a beloved art teacher at the school, and her stepbrother Luc attended a school for boys in a nearby village. Living at the Mill, a rundown building next to the water, Kate often had the girls sneak out of school at night and come to the Mill to hang out, swim, and spend time. Her father, Ambrose, was delighted to have Kate's friends there, and they in turn adored him. Freya, who narrates the story, is deeply in crush with Luc. All seems well...

Until one night Kate insists the girls come to the Mill. Ambrose is dead; a suicide note is left behind. What to do? Kate is only fifteen, and she can't take the risk of being sent to a foster home. She'll be sixteen in just a few months...

Well. The actions the girls take that night come back to haunt them, and as the reader, you're pulled along while they try to figure out just what to do all these years later. Do they keep lying? And who knows what they've lied about?

So. Sounds good, right? Well, as I said before, with the exception of Fatima, the main characters aren't very likable. Even Freya, who is a new mom, is unlikeable. They're all kind of pathetic. Fatima is the only one who has actually moved on the best-she's a happily married mother and doctor, and has returned to her faith. She's the most solid of the ladies. Kate is a mess; still living in the Mill--which is slowly falling into the sea and seems to be held together by spit and a wish. Thea is a drunk, never eats and smokes like a chimney. None of them have learned their lesson regarding lying and the toll it takes. 

I'll not tell you more of the plot. Even though it's pretty thin, it does have a few twists (you'll figure out the major twist all on your own) that will have you hoping maybe, just maybe, there is a chance the women will learn something from this whole disaster! I was disappointed in the end...Freya...ugh. 

I've read two Ruth Ware novels, and been disappointed by both. Thin plots, not so surprising thrillers. I feel that with some effort, they could have been good, meaty reads, but fell short. Do I expect too much? I don't think so. I have another Ruth Ware novel at home, and I'm going to give it a try sometime this year. We'll have to see if it breaks free of the ho-hum thrillers I've already read. 

Rating: 3/6 for a thriller that wasn't much of one at all. Some plot devices just fell flat, the characters weren't memorable, and the only interesting thing about the whole dang story was the decrepit Mill that was slowly falling into the sea. 

Available in paperback, large print, audio, and ebook. 

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut

I've never read a Kurt Vonnegut novel before, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I bought Galapagos on the recommendation of my brother. Uh...I bought it a few years ago, and it's been sitting on my bookcase. But once again, a book group spurred me on to pick it up and finally dive into a truly odd tale.

Published in 1985, Galapagos is told from the viewpoint of a ghost. Yes, a ghost. He's connected to the story through a ship that becomes, in a weird way, a modern Noah's Ark. Oh, and the story is told from a million years in the future.

It's A.D. 1986, and an apocalypse is brewing all over the world. A group of guests have gathered at the El Dorado Hotel in the city of Guayaquil, Ecuador. These guests are all bound for a trip to the Galapagos Islands for a spectacular cruise aboard the Bahia de Darwin. Little do they all know that in the space of a few short hours, two will be dead, one will be dying, and a new human race will come down to one man, a high school science teacher, and six indigenous young girls. Oh--and there's a woman who will give birth to a furry baby girl on the island that becomes ground zero for the new human race. 

It sounds pretty goofy, and it is-but there is a point to all of it. Vonnegut talks about the "big brains" that humans have in 1986, and how much trouble they are; humans are only concerned with food, shelter, and money. If they are successful, their brains keep them from ever thinking about life without food, money, and shelter. Being oblivious to need, they don't realize there are people in the world who don't have one, two, or all three of those things. Blinded by money and a full stomach, they just don't see the signs of impending doom as economies collapse, people riot, and those with happy trigger fingers declare war on each other and start unloading nuclear bombs. 

The story travels back and forth between 1986 and a million years into the future, when humans aren't really human anymore--rather, they've evolved back into fishy-type things that have smaller brains, fins, and hit their peak at age six. Utter nonsense, right? It was actually quite fun to read. Timing, slight adjustments in plans, and plain old dumb luck (or not) all play a part in the survival of the human race. Adapt, adjust, survive, until a shark eats you and you go into the blue wiggly after-life tube that everyone enters when they die. Is the human race even human a million years from now? What does it mean to be a human, after all?

This was definitely not at all what I usually read, but I'm glad I finally dipped my toe into the writing of Kurt Vonnegut. I will be interested in reading more of his novels. He's funny, thoughtful, pointed, and writes a story that kept me involved-even when I knew the ending (because he keeps telling it to you all throughout the book!). 

I don't think I'll ever think of Darwin quite the same again. 

Rating: 4/6 for an odd novel, for sure. But it's funny, in a very pointed way, about the obsessions we have that are really not worth much, and usually keep us from paying attention to what's really going on. I would love to discuss this novel with one of my reading friends, so I'll be nagging someone to read it soon! Interesting characters, a truly imaginative plot and plenty of moments where I laughed out loud. 

Available in paperback, audio, and ebook. 

Sunday, April 7, 2019

The Trial of Lizzie Borden: A True Story by Cara Robertson

I'm always interested in reading about Lizzie Borden, her life, and of course the infamous murders of her father and stepmother in Fall River, Massachusetts on August 4, 1892. Not only was she found not guilty of their murders, but Lizzie and her sister Emma inherited their father's modest fortune, and she never left Fall River. Instead, she bought a large house, named it Maplecroft, and lived the life of a shunned citizen until her death in 1927.  

The Trial of Lizzie Borden is an examination of the murder, inquest, and trial that took place in 1892-93. What I like about Cara Robertson's approach is that she doesn't try to solve the mystery--did Lizzie do it? If not who did? Instead, she presents all the evidence, the trial transcripts, and all of the newspaper headlines and articles of the day. You decide, at the end, whether you believe she committed the murders-and if she did, if she acted alone, or was in cahoots with her sister. 

What I find fascinating about this book are the parallels to today's social media and how we treat people in the news, especially those accused of a crime. Poor Lizzie--newspaper reporters (both male and female) have no problem describing her as plain, unattractive, short, dumpy...you name it, they went out of their way to comment on her looks. The only compliment she got was for her thick hair. At times portrayed as cold and unfeeling, she was  also a delicate female who had unimaginable courage in the face of such a horrible accusation. The papers definitely had no problem deciding her fate before the jury did--the majority of people felt she was not guilty. Of course, they had no explanation for who could have killed Mr. and Mrs. Borden. The evidence shoddily gathered, and testimonies that changed resulted in just a botched mess. People couldn't remember who was where, which door, if any, was unlocked, where Lizzie was while her stepmother lay dead upstairs and her father was being killed in the sitting room. The stereotypes of women-especially educated, upper-middle class women- as creatures ruled by their menstrual cycles, delicate constitutions, and inability to kill in such a brutal fashion made me want to vomit. 

Seriously! A bucket of bloody clothes/cloths were in the cellar. When asked about them, Lizzie said she was on her cycle, and the detective and policemen quickly avoided looking in the freaking bucket. WTH! A bunch of bumbling idiots.   Lizzie was, to some, unjustly accused, and the crowds who came to watch the trial were very large-and often were made up of many women (the newspapers were quick to point out they weren't very attractive women, too). 

Yet after all was said and done, Fall River quickly disowned Lizzie, and she spent the rest of her days isolated in the town where she decided to stay. Some wonder why she stayed, but others think it was simply because she had no where else to go, or because she felt guilty that she'd gotten away with murder. 

It's all pretty fascinating, and this was my first real look at the trial and the circus it created. Photos of the main players, sketches from the actual trial, and detailed accounts of lawyers questioning witnesses on the stand make it all fascinating. And it leaves you to decide for yourself--did she do it?

I think she did. 

If you want to go a step further, watch the show Seeking Spirits on the Travel Channel. They just had a fascinating show about Maplecroft, and the current owner's desire to open it up to tours. Someone is not happy about it...could it be Lizzie? I'll say, it's a pretty fabulous and compelling hour of paranormal investigation. 

Rating:  4/6 for an in-depth look at the Borden murders, Lizzie Borden's trial, and the fascination people found in all of it. It may change your mind about Lizzie, or reinforce your belief in her guilt or innocence. True crime fans will enjoy this one!

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio.

Friday, April 5, 2019

The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick

I was pretty excited to get my hands on this novel. I'm always geared up to read about libraries, bookstores...anything to do with books. This was a gentle novel that I'm glad I read before I dip into The Trial of Lizzie Borden. I needed a little light before I hit the heavy. 

Martha is a middle-aged librarian in a small English town near the sea. She lives alone after caring for her aging parents for years. In caring for them, she lost her chance at marriage and having a family of her own. She's always saying yes to people who ask her for favors. So much so that her home is filled with all sorts of projects she's taken on  and never seems to complete: hemming pants, fixing a paper mache dragon; and yes, even doing someone's laundry. Add to that all the boxes of her parent's belongings that she still needs to sort through. All that clutter has cluttered her mind. The man who runs her library (from an office in a neighboring town) has turned her down multiple times for a full-time position at the library, saying she just doesn't have the drive and skills a younger person could bring to the library. No matter that she's passionate about the people, the library, and it's her absolute love. She's got oodles of ideas to make improvements, but she never gets the chance. 

Martha thinks her Nana died in 1982, but she finds a book on the steps of the library that changes her entire life. It's a book of fairy tales-her fairy tales. She wrote most of them (others were stories her Mother told her) as a young girl, yet here they are in a book, with a note to her from her Nana dated 1985. How can that be, if her Nana died in 1982? And why does her sister Lilly tell her to leave it alone and forget about it?

Martha digs a bit deeper, and in doing so, her life changes dramatically. There are some big growing pains, some truths to absorb, and some anger to work through. All of this forces Martha to take a look at her life, and decide she needs to focus on herself, and what she wants. No more saying yes to everyone else. 

I don't want to give any of the story away, so you can discover for yourself the secrets Martha uncovers. It was a pleasure to watch Martha's character grow a spine, get pissed, and take some action. It is never too late to change your life, live for yourself, and do what makes you happy. And if you're a person who feels like you have to say yes to everyone, STOP IT. 

Rating: 4/6 for an entertaining novel about a woman who finally stops putting others before herself, discovers a few truths that change her perspective, and redefines what family means. Anyone who loves stories that focus on books, libraries, and the absolute joy of reading will connect with this sweet tale. 

Available in hardcover, large print, audio, and ebook. 

Saturday, March 30, 2019

DNF's and Letting Go of a Disappointing Month; April Reading Plans

I will be the first to say March sucked for me as a reader. Ugh. I always have time carved out in my days and weeks for reading, since it's not only my biggest passion, but it's part of my job and because I love posting on my blog. It's sort of a part-time job with compensation paid in books. And it does take a lot of time. March was a terrible reading month for me. Yes, I read 5 books (which for me is just not my usual) but I was very disappointed in myself for not being able to read more on my list. I also miscalculated the time it would take to read a few books for book groups, started them late, and didn't even make it to 100 pages in one book. The other I finished only because I had to power read the last few days to get it done. March was just a very active month; my usual reading times-weekends and nights--were just not there. There were a few weeks where I wasn't home at night for most of the week. That stuff will drain me, and when I don't get to read, I really become drained and a bit crabby. I'm a homebody that likes to be out and about about 30% of the time. March was definitely about 75% of the time. March spit me out.

April is just around the corner, and I've decided I am going to start fresh and shake off my disappointment. When all is said and done, it's just books, right? Those reads will come around again. So here are a few titles I'll be reading in April:

My book group is tasked with reading a classic for April. I've had this on my shelf for over a year; my brother recommended it. I consider anything Kurt Vonnegut wrote a classic! 

My other book group is reading The Lying Game for our April pick. I did not like The Woman in Cabin 10 at all. But, I've started this and so far I'm liking it. Four friends gather together after 17 years and a terrible lie that comes back to haunt them. 

I'm so excited to read this! I loved her first novel, The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper. Had to buy this the day it came out. A librarian, a book of fairy tales, and clues to uncover a family mystery. 

Two of my all-time interests: Lizzie Borden and Jack the Ripper. I have yet to visit the B&B that occupies Lizzie's family home, but I did get to go on a Jack the Ripper walking tour while in London years ago. That was a definite bucket list item! A new non-fiction book about Lizzie's trial. I've never read anything in-depth about her trial, so I'm ready to dive into this. 

I know I'll be reading other titles as well, but I'll leave that up to the whims of April. My daffodils are starting to peek out of the ground, my yard needs some serious attention, and the lure of trying to start running again (and listen to podcasts while I do it) are all in front of me. I hope you can find the time to sit a bit, read a bit, and relax. 

Happy reading friends!

Saturday, March 23, 2019

99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne

I wanted to read a contemporary, fun romance in between my historical fiction reads this month. I picked this up at B&N and thought it looked like fun, but after starting enthusiastically, I had some struggles with all 100 percent of it. 

The plot: twins Darcy and Jamie Barrett have inherited their grandmother's cottage with directions to have it fixed up and sold, splitting the profits between them. Jamie isn't talking to Darcy because she turned down a developer and his boatload of cash, and now Tom, their childhood friend is the contractor Jamie has hired to give the cottage a facelift. 

Tom is the only man Darcy has ever loved. And I mean LOVED. She's been in love with him since they were kids, but never felt she could do anything about it because Jamie claimed him as his best friend. And Tom has been dating (and is now engaged) to a stunner of a women. To cope with her feelings, Darcy has been traveling the world, has the potential to be a top photographer, and now works in a bar. She's a bit of a mess. She's had plenty of sex, but it never means anything because it's not Tom. Now Tom's back, and Darcy is going to stay and help with the cottage renovation. Oh, did I mention Darcy has a heart condition that pops up randomly?

Sounds pretty reasonable, right? Well it all is a bit of a mess. I found myself floundering around trying to understand just what the heck was going on. Lots of lust, for sure. Darcy is ready to jump Tom pretty much 24/7. Tom, a big, handsome, kind man, seems to waffle back and forth between being possessive and lusting after Darcy, and standoffish. Talk about mixed signals. It was kind of exhausting trying to follow their conversations and get a handle on what exactly was going on. I also thought it was a bit extreme that anyone would travel the world non-stop and never come home just to avoid the one person they love. I can't say Darcy was a favorite character of mine. She was a mess. Yes, there is a happy ending, but I felt like that could have happened a long time ago, if only they both had been honest with each other early on, and Darcy had told her brother Jamie to stuff it, she was in love with their childhood friend. Sheesh. So much time wasted!

There's some spice for sure--Darcy raises the temperature high with her constant (well hell, I'll just say it) horniness and imaginings of being in bed (or against a wall) with Tom. When Tom turns up the heat, he's pretty hot, I'll say that. 

Apparently Sally Thorne's first novel, The Hating Game, is fantastic, and I think I'll read it. Reviews of 99 Percent Mine compared the two, and by far her first novel is the favorite. Reviewers were on the fence with 99 Percent Mine. Some loved it, some had issues with it like I did, but haven't fallen off the Sally Thorne fan wagon. I'll certainly give her another chance. 

Rating: 3/6 for a contemporary romance that had potential, but seemed to be a bit of a muddle. The characters seem to have trouble with communication, Darcy is permanently horny, and Tom is a bit wishy-washy. 

Available in paperback and ebook. 

Monday, March 18, 2019

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

My usual two books a week has been completely derailed the past few weeks by a busy schedule and two long books I started too late. The Alice Network is a novel I've quite frankly been avoiding ever since it first came out, mostly because I just didn't have the energy to read another World War 2 novel. But tomorrow my book group is discussing this book, so I thought I'd finally read it and be able to talk about it with a group. Only problem is I didn't realize it was almost 500 pages! 

There's a part of me that avoids reading novels that involve women in dangerous situations, and this definitely fit the bill: it centers around the women who were part of the Alice Network, a ring of British and French spies that worked to bring the German Army down in World War 1. Bouncing between 1915 and 1947, we experience the story of Evelyn Gardiner, a young woman who becomes a spy for the British war effort during World War 1. She learns to use her stutter and her ability to speak and understand German to become a waitress at a restaurant run by a super creepy, horrible French man--Rene Bordelon--who is ruthless and so cruel it's hard to read any parts of the story that involve him. He soon becomes obsessed with Evelyn--known as Marguerite, and she is walking a tightrope between safely spying and getting information through the Alice Network, and keeping her self together and keeping Rene from becoming suspicious. Oh, the scenes between Marguerite and Rene are so tense and high strung, I almost had to read them with my hand over my eyes!

Then there's 1947: Charlie St. Claire is 19, pregnant, and on her way to Switzerland to have her "problem" taken care of, thanks to her wealthy parents. She's shamed the family with her behavior at college, and now in a few days she will be able to return home and start all over. Except Charlie can't do that-she's convinced her cousin Rose is still alive, somewhere in France, after World War 2. She's got information that will help lead her to Rose, and she leaps at the chance to escape from her mother and travel to England to hunt down...Evelyn (Eve), who is connected to Rose's fate during World War 2 and is the only link Charlie has on what could be a wild goose chase. 

There's a whole lot going on in this novel, and it is such a good story. The absolute terror, hopelessness, rage, anguish, and terrible loss that war creates permeates the characters; for me, this made it hard to read without taking breaks. Evelyn is a shell of the strong, fearless woman we read about in 1915, and you have to go back to see her story revealed, a little at a time. Charlie is strong, but suffering from grief, worrying about her pregnancy, and determined to find her cousin Rose. I honestly don't know how the world managed to carry on, pick up the pieces, and rebuild after not one war, but two. I will always be in awe of the strength of will it took to survive all of that horror. 

I know I'm late to the game with this novel, and I can see why it's been a popular book group choice. Kate Quinn writes a powerful story, with flawed characters who keep you rooting for them and on edge until the last page. The bad folks are definitely bad, and the good folks are definitely tormented souls. 

If you're looking for an intense, on the edge of your seat read, The Alice Network is for you! 

Rating: 5/6 for a fascinating historical novel about female spies during World War 1, the risks they took to save the world, and the price they paid for their courage. It's also a novel about empowered women, standing up for yourself, staring fear in the face and remaining strong, and deep, unbreakable friendship. 

Available in hardcover, paperback, large print, audio, and ebook.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

The Woman in the Lake by Nicola Cornick

I'm diving back into reading again with some great historical novels this month. In a previous post, I talked about discovering Nicola Cornick's historical fiction, and checked out all three of her latest paperback novels from the library. The Woman in the Lake is her newest, just published this year. 

At first, I was a little confused as I was reading, trying to get all my ducks in a row. It took about 40 pages before I felt on solid ground with this plot. One of my favorite plot devises is dual timelines and this one bounces from 1765 to 2014 and involves spousal abuse, love affairs, murder, and smuggling. And the one thing that links both timelines is a golden gown that has a dark power over anyone who possesses it. 

1765: Lady Isabella Gerard has just been viciously assaulted by her husband after refusing to wear his latest gift: a golden gown he had made special for her. Their marriage is downright toxic; he is always parading mistresses and spending money he doesn't have; she is trapped and has illicit affairs with members of the aristocracy. Isabella's maid, Constance, is Lord Gerard's spy; she keeps tabs on Isabella and reports her every move to Lord Gerard. He's both filled with obsession and hatred for his wife. 

2014: Fenella is starting her life over after a divorce from a possessive and abusive husband. As a teenager, she stole the gold gown from Lydiard Park while there on a school visit. The gown has an unhealthy hold on Fenella, causing her worst trait to manifest. She hides the gown in her grandmother's home and eventually runs away at sixteen to start life away from home. Now an adult, a teacher and a vintage antiques dealer, she receives the gown in the mail after her grandmother has died. Once again, the gown exerts an unnatural hold over Fenella...

The novel moves back and forth between the two timelines, and after settling into the story, I quickly became engrossed. At first I wasn't a big fan of Fenella, but as I read more of the novel, my opinion changed and I became a fan. When Hamish enters the picture, and romance is a possibility, I had big hopes for the both of them. What I really liked was Fenella's decision to confess to Hamish and her friend Jessie the odd happenings both now and as a teenager. This helped push the plot forward. I am not a fan of characters keeping key issues quiet for a long time. Spill it! In this case, it made Fenella's experiences valid and helped build her relationship with Hamish. 

There's magic, time travel, deadly plots, stalking, and a bit of historical interest all mixed into this novel. Just the kind I like! Oh--and dysfunctional families. That's another big part of the novel: loyalty, missed opportunities to make things right, regret, and acceptance. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and can't wait to read more of Nicola Cornick. Fans of Susanna Kearsley, Barbara Erskine, and Kate Morton will want to add Nicola Cornick to their list of favorite authors. 

Rating: 4/6 for an intriguing plot, twists galore, and just enough other-worldliness to make things interesting. Can an object hold intense emotion from the past and influence the present? 

Available in paperback and ebook.