Wednesday, January 31, 2018

February Reads: So Much Good Stuff, It's Hard to Choose

February always trips me up.  I think I've got plenty of time, and before I know it, March is knocking at the door.  Who'd think a few missing days at the end of the month would create such havoc in my reading world?

I started 2018 off with a roar, spending plenty of weekends and nights unapologetically reading.  It was wonderful.  I'm going to try to do the same in February, but life has a way of taking my plans and turning them upside down.  

February may be a short month, but that doesn't stop me from trying to read as many books as I can before the end of the month. I'm currently reading two books that I won't list here, but they'll probably show up as reviews in the next week.  Here's what I've got planned to read in February:

I've read about the Halifax explosion before, but this new book looks to be fascinating!

A historical novel about Mary Pickford and her friendship with Francis Marion in early Hollywood.  

Ahhhh!!  This book!  I can't wait to read it!!  

A publisher review book from the author of My Name is Mary Sutter.  Cannot wait to dive in!

I had such a hard time deciding which books to show on this post.  I've got another 5 or 6 demanding to be read this month.  Clearly impossible (unless I take a nice, two week vacation) but nevertheless, they egg me on to at least try.  We'll see.  

On the book group front, I finally got together with a group I affectionately call the book nerds.  There are six of us, and we meet every month and talk about what we're reading.  We've been meeting for probably 6 years, and recently took a hiatus and finally regrouped last night.  We always have such a good time.  I had to write down a few more titles that appealed to me, and even took a book home.  We've made plans to meet again in early March, and we'll have even more books to talk about.  What I love about our group is that there's no pressure on what to read, but rather an exchange of books that we've each read over the previous month, and what we did or did not like about them.  Usually the rest of us end up reading the same books, and it's fun to discuss what we each thought of the books.  Such a great way to hear about a lot of books from friends who have different tastes.  

We have a member who loves to read mysteries and young adult, another who is the most well read person I know--she reads fiction that usually involves other countries, current issues, and important moments in 20th century history.  Another reads multi-cultural books that she also shares with her high school English students; another just buys ebooks on his Nook that are daily specials and reads them. He enjoys family dramas. Our final member reads a lot of young adult novels (and listens to them on audio with her son), mysteries, and non-fiction centered around the Catholic faith.  All of us are open to reading different genres, authors, and ideas.  And we all know I read just a bunch of stuff; whatever appeals to me.  

Happy February everyone, and let me know what you're reading.  I always love to hear from you!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Still Me by Jojo Moyes

Well, since After You had me bawling at the end, I had to wait months before I found out just what adventures awaited Louisa Clark in New York City.  Yes, this is the third book with Louisa Clark, who became a very well known character when Me Before You became that novel you had to read, even knowing it would completely wreck you. Well, the follow up, After You, wrecked me, too.  I felt hopeful reading Louisa's adventures in New York City, and expected they would end happily. 

I'm not going to tell you if that is what happens, because that would just spoil the whole book for you.  What I will tell you is that Louisa is still on her journey to discovering just who she is, and just what makes her happy.  She's decided to accept a job, working as the assistant to a very rich woman-Agnes Gopnik- leaving Ambulance Sam, who helped her grieving heart heal.  A very new relationship, it will need to stand the test of long distance.  Anyone who's had a long distance relationship knows just how damn hard, if not impossible, they can be.  As Louisa is thrown into her job and a world of wealthy New Yorkers, she struggles to adjust to a new life and still hang onto Sam, who is a bit bewildered without Louisa.  And then there's Josh, an American who looks heart-stoppingly like Will.  And he's got an obvious interest in Louisa.  

Still Me is a fitting conclusion to Louisa's journey of heartache, love, and just plain growing up.  There's no age where we're suddenly grown up.  For Louisa, well, it appears that she still has a lot of decisions to make, and some of them will break her heart. Again. 

Jojo Moyes portrays New York City is all its vibrant, messy, busy energy. The tension in the Gopnik apartment was palpable, and while that was a large part of the plot, I preferred the last half of the novel, where Louisa's life is really shaken, and she gets to know the elderly neighbor, Mrs. De Witt, much better.  Their relationship was a gem, and one of the best parts of the novel.  

So while I won't give much of the plot away, I will say this:  Louisa comes full circle, and it's been a journey.  At times you want to shake her; other times, you  get just what she's thinking.  Will she get her happy ending?  Where will she end up? Read Still Me and find out.  At a time where women are standing up, pushing themselves forward, and demanding to live life on their terms, this novel seems very timely.  Louisa is learning to do just that, even if it means she may have to say goodbye to her chance at everlasting love. 

Ah, I always love reading Jojo Moyes' novels.  Overall, I was happy to have a conclusion to Louisa Clark's journey.  If you've read Me Before You, and After You, well, geez, of course you have to read Still Me! Please, read the other two first. It will give you a full understanding of Louisa, and how far she's come. 

A big thank you to Pamela Dorman Books/Viking for a review copy.  I don't think I could have waited any longer for this!  

Available January 30th in the U.S. in hardcover, large print paperback, ebook, and audio. 

Rating:  4/6 for a satisfying conclusion to Louisa Clark and her journey of grief, love, and starting over.  And dang it, this one made me cry, too.  

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Hug Chickenpenny: the Panegyric of an Anomalous Child by S. Craig Zahler

Well, this novel made me ugly cry.  I'm not going to lie.  Sob, actually.  I was asked to review this novel, which was recently snagged by the Jim Henson Company to create what I imagine will be a visually incredible, moving film.  It was not at all something I would have picked up and read otherwise, but oh, I am so glad I did; Hug Chickenpenny is a character I won't soon forget. 

First of all, "panegyric" means a public text in praise of someone.  You could say an ode, a tribute, or a story. "Anomalous" is defined as something that is out of the ordinary, not normal; something unexpected.  Hug Chickenpenny is one unusual little boy.  His mother dies at birth--which happens in a strange, abandoned house late one night. Hug is sent to an orphanage, and is physically odd, and frightening to the other children.  Two different eyes-one red, one brown, that do not blink together; slits for a nose, a flipper for one arm, and a badly bent leg.  A head that is large and bumpy, with white hair.  He shrieks so loudly that it pierces the ears.  No one cares for him except for Georgie, a caring man at the orphanage. Along comes a doctor, who adopts him and adds him to his collection of odd, anomalous creatures.  Poor Hug.  He's only seven, and even though he's treated badly by most everyone who meets him, he radiates kindness and innocence.  He always tries to be helpful and see the good in everyone.  He doesn't understand that he is different.  He dreams of building a rocket ship and flying out to space, to return to a home he only knows from his dreams.  

Hug's luck shifts eventually, and he finds a home and family that love him and don't see his physical differences, but accept him as he is, and he blossoms.  Until tragedy happens, and Hug is once again spun out into a cruel world.  Yet he still retains his big heart, and his belief that everyone can be good even if all they've shown him is cruelty.  I seriously did sob at the end of this novel.  I can say this is one memorable story that will stick with me for a very long time.  Read Hug's story, and I bet your heart will grow just a bit bigger. 

Here's some information about S. Craig Zahler, the author of this wonderful tale:

About the Author:
S. Craig Zahler is an award-winning screenwriter, director, novelist, cinematographer, and musician. He wrote, directed, and co-composed the score for the breakout 2015 film Bone Tomahawk, starring Kurt Russell, which was nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards. Zahler most recently wrote and directed Brawl in Cell Block 99, starring Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter, and Don Johnson, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival and went on to critical acclaim from screenings at Toronto, Fantastic Fest, and many more festivals before being released in October 2017; and Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn star in Zahler’s gritty cop thriller Dragged Across Concrete, currently in post-production. 

Zahler is also the author of several novels, including A Congregation of Jackals, nominated for both the Peacemaker and the Spur Awards; Mean Business on North Ganson Street; and Wraiths of the Broken Land, which 20th Century Fox recently announced will be a major motion picture with Ridley Scott directing. In addition to writing and directing, Zahler has founded and played in several bands, including Binary Reptile, a synthesizer project that provided the music for the audio drama movie, The Narrow Caves. He lives in New York City.

And some reviews from the press:

Advance Praise:
"S. Craig Zahler is certain to become one of the great imaginers of our time."
―Clive Barker

“Complex, well-drawn characterizations, compelling imagery and a well-ordered story arc complete a trifecta of literary accomplishment here that is achieved by few elsewhere. Five-plus stars to Hug Chickenpenny.”
Publishers Daily Reviews

"An exceptional, original, and inherently fascinating read from beginning to end."
Midwest Book Review

“At its heart, this is a book about looking beyond the exterior and being patient with those who fail to do so, and the way in which the author lays that path before his audience is captivating and unforgettable.”
U.S. Review of Books

"Hug Chickenpenny is much more than literature. It's an experience."

"I was intrigued (and still am) by the cover art on this new book. Detailed and beautiful, the
cover is a good segue into what to expect from the story. (In case you’re wondering, the little boy looking off into the distance is Mr. Hug Chickenpenny. What is he looking at, I wonder?) Learn about Hug’s life by venturing into this aptly written wonder of fiction. You won’t regret it. "
―Michael Rodriguez, Harvard Book Store Staff Pick

Like Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands and David Lynch’s Elephant Man, the appeal of Zahler’s hero is his extreme duality: a monstrous form encapsulating a sweet, innocent soul…a daring, evocative work that defies categorization.”
Dallas Observer

Hug Chickenpenny is reminiscent of A Series of Unfortunate Events, not in plot, but in tone. It takes place in its own time, and blends archaic terms with modern conveniences. It’s definitely not steampunk, but I imagined that it took place in the 1970s with Dickensian flavors scattered about — best of all it’s written well. Hug Chickenpenny is different from anything I’ve read — it’s certainly different from Zahler’s other work — and as someone who sees a lot of the same tropes consistently, Hug Chickenpenny is refreshing.”
Diabolique Magazine

Well.  All I can say is grab a copy of this book, and read it.  You will love it.  Certainly appropriate for teens and tweens.  

Rating:  6/6!  Yes, a 6/6 for a novel about kindness always winning out over ugliness, hope, love, and looking beyond the physical.  Being different is what makes us all special.  

Available in paperback.

A big thank you to Wunderkind PR for providing a review copy of this novel.  It has a permanent place on my bookshelf.  

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Year One: Chronicles of The One Book 1 by Nora Roberts

Nora Roberts delves into the world of apocalyptic fiction with her latest trilogy, Chronicles of The One.  I didn't want to wait for it at the library, so I bought it--and there it sat.  My usual MO, right? When I started it earlier this month, I made it to about page 60 before I set it down for a few weeks. This past Sunday, it was gloomy outside; I finished another book and saw this staring me in the face.  

And I was hooked.  Completely hooked.  It's a fast read, and full of characters that you do care about.  The basic premise is this:  one man, out pheasant hunting during the week before New Year's on his Scottish farm, kills a pheasant, and somehow, with that one act, unleashes what's called The Doom onto the world.  People swiftly die of a horrible flu, and it spreads so fast, within two months the world has completely gone to shit. TWO MONTHS and 80% of the world's population is dead.  It's chaos, with those folks who have survived divided into the good guys and the downright horrible guys.  Two of the main characters, Lana and Max, live in New York City.  Lana, a chef, and Max, a popular author, are both talented in white magic.  As they escape New York City for Pennsylvania, they join others who also show some strange abilities: elves, empaths, faeries (yes, folks who can sprout wings and fly).  Somehow, this horrible destruction has amped up powers in survivors that they either didn't know existed, or were very weak before the Doom.  They are known as the Uncanny, and there are the purity warriors who want them dead.  It's a modern witch hunt against any who have powers. A big theme in this novel is prejudice, judgement at first glance, and the ugliness that fear can generate. 

Lana is the crux of the book; she carries the key to a new world. There are plenty of purity warriors and those who have chosen the dark side of magic that want her dead. Can Max keep her safe?  

I loved all the characters in this novel:  Lana, Max, Fred, Chuck, Arlys, Rachel, Katie, Jonah.  So many more, but they are the biggest supporting characters.  Some gifted, some not.  Oh, the government (what's left of it) is busy rounding up as many survivors as it can--to study them.  So not only does this group  have to avoid the dark side, the purity warriors, and raiders, they have to avoid the government, too. Bad things happen to good people. Not everyone who survives the Doom survives the fallout.  

Of course the story ends with so much more to tell, and I have to patiently wait for the second novel.  I've read some reviews online that compare it to Stephen King's The Stand. I've read The Stand, and it is, in my opinion, the best apocalyptic novel around-hands down.  In no way does this even approach the complexity and downright awesomeness of Stephen King.  But, it is a good read, and fans of Nora Roberts won't be disappointed.  She always writes a pretty solid story. Yes, there is romance, but it takes a back seat when the world is dying.  This is not a romance novel, but more along the lines of fantasy or maybe even fiction. 

Rating:  5/6 for a solid, well written novel about the destruction of life as we know it, and the aftermath.  Mingling magic and the modern world, this was a quick read (even though it clocks in at over 400 pages) and, quite frankly, hard to put down.  I will try to be patient and wait for the story to continue...

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

This Love Story Will Self-Destruct by Leslie Cohen

Ah, relationships.  Relationships in our twenties.  Fun times.  Some of us are still with that person we met in our younger years, and have had a lifetime of commitment, ups and downs, and more to come.  Some of us are just fresh in a relationship, and still figuring things out.  I think we all look back and examine  past relationships under a microscope, wondering how they shaped us, how they led us to where we are now, and the person we eventually found and loved. This novel, by first time author Leslie Cohen, reminded me of all of that relationship "stuff" that can drive us all crazy, but we can't help ourselves, sometimes.  

Eve and Ben attended Columbia College together, and were only vaguely aware of each other in a large group of friends and friends of friends.  Eve's relationship with Jesse is a bit of a mess, and while it causes some angst, it's what Eve expects in a relationship, and she's not comfortable without it. Plus, Jesse is a musician, and Eve wants to write about music. Seems like a natural match, but Jesse uses drugs, is full of angst, and has no problem being unfaithful to Eve and very noncommittal in a future together. 

Eve is a young woman who has definitely been affected by her childhood:  her father left when she was young, her mother died on 9/11, leaving Eve and her sister to have only each other and their stepfather, who has an apartment where the girls crash in-between jobs and apartments. She's a solitary figure surrounded by the hustle and bustle of New York City. 

Years later, Eve and Ben meet again at a bar with old college friends.  This time, they feel a connection.  Ben, a civil engineer, is working on the new Freedom Tower.  He's everything Eve doesn't want: stable, thoughtful, steadfast.  Yet somehow, through many stops and starts, they fall for each other.  But as we all know, relationships take work; they startle us sometimes with discoveries about our partner; sometimes we make bad choices and pay the consequences.  Just how much Eve grows and matures is evident as the novel moves along. Her deeply seated belief that if she anticipates bad things happening, they will happen and she'll be prepared, leads to bad decisions.  We all know that person who believes if they ever feel happy, something is sure to come along and ruin it.  Eve is that person.  Ben is not.  He calls things as they are, and lives in the here and now with a optimistic view of life.  

I would compare this novel to the novels of Rainbow Rowell.  It is more than a novel about young relationships, but also an ode to New York City, where anything is possible; to the generation who grew up with 9/11.  Mostly, I felt,  it speaks to everyone who is afraid to be happy. You deserve a healthy relationship. Get out of the one that's making you miserable. Enjoy the ride.  Love big.  Don't be afraid to be happy; it makes the hard times bearable.  

A big thank you to Simon & Schuster  and Gallery Books for a review copy.  This novel will be available for sale on January 23rd in the U.S in paperback and ebook.  

Rating:  4/6 for a modern look at love, and all the pitfalls the latest generation has to conquer.  A colorful, loud look at New York City, and the lingering devastation of 9/11 on our national psyche.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

That Time I Finally Read Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Yes, I know this has been out for a few years.  I bought the hardcover as soon as it was released, and it sat on my bookcase.  I even picked it up at one point and read about 30 pages before putting it down.  Not because it's awful, not because the writing is bad or I couldn't connect to the characters.  I avoided it mostly because I adore Ruta Sepetys' novels, and they stomp on my heart every time.  I knew this would be the same. 

But, I finally sat down and read it this morning before work.  I've got a book club next week that is reading it, so I knew my time had come.  This is a young adult novel, but it packs a wallop.  Ruta's imagery, if written solely for an adult audience, could be taken up a notch in the graphic department, and cross over into just horrible scenes of death and destruction.  She writes for a young adult audience, and while for some the scenes of life being treated so cavalierly, so without worth or care, are disturbing, I find them even more so because of her spareness of words, and the matter of fact way she writes about them.  Growing up in a time of peace (Cold War as a child-yes, but nothing like a World War) in the United States, I simply cannot imagine how people not only survive(d) war, but how they cope with the after effects.  I just don't think I could bear it.  I don't imagine anyone thinks they can, but they do.  I marvel at that.  

This novel is told through four different people, all on the same mission.  It is early 1945; Russia is making huge inroads into German territory, and the end is near.  The Russian army is ruthless as they plunder, rob, murder, and rape across Poland, Lithuania, Prussia, and Germany.  It's a mad dash to the Baltic sea, where Germany is trying to conduct a massive evacuation of troops and German citizens before the Russians arrive.  In Salt to the Sea, we have Joana, a Lithuanian nursing student who is in German territory and trying to get to her family; Emilia, a Polish teenager hiding a terrible secret, who is rescued by Florian, a German young man who is also carrying a huge secret, and has been wounded by shrapnel. There is Alfred, who is a German solider with illusions of grandeur that become more and more outlandish. There's also Heinz, the shoe poet--an elderly shoemaker who has befriended a little boy (known as the wandering boy) on the road to safety.  There are a few other characters that round out this group of rag-tag refugees, starving, freezing, and trying to avoid both Russian and German troops, all while enduring bombing from Allied aircraft on a daily basis.  It's just simply intolerable, but tolerate it they do-the struggle to survive is fierce. Mistrust and  language barriers create a lot of tension between the characters, as they find themselves on the same journey to safety, but not knowing if it will be safety or death when they arrive.  I felt cold, tired, and worn out just reading about their journey.  

The novel takes places over, I'd say, a few weeks time.  Joana is so tough, so resourceful.  Emilia, bless her, just makes your heart ache.  Florian is torn between his duty--which is actually revenge--his growing feelings for Joana, and his reluctant concern for Emilia.  The shoe poet is a kind old man who sees all, and is the voice of wisdom through it all.  

All of this culminates in the short voyage and terrible tragedy of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a German ship that was packed with 10,000 soldiers and refugees, and torpedoed by the Russians mere hours into their journey to safety.  Over 9,000 people died, in what is the worst maritime tragedy ever--outdoing the Titanic by thousands of lives lost.  Most people never stood a chance.  And guess where our characters have landed? On the Wilhelm Gustloff.  Who lives, and who dies?

Oh, this was such a good novel.  I unashamedly admit to crying at the end.  War is so damn ugly.  It destroys not only countries, but the best of humanity.  There is no bouncing back from experiencing war.  It stays with you forever.  I am so glad Ruta Sepetys finished this novel with closure that helped in the mourning process for me.  Yes, I actually had a bit of mourning for the characters.  I was very touched by this novel, and now I'm deeply interested in learning more about the Wilhelm Gustloff.  Unfortunately, there isn't much out there.  The Germans certainly didn't want anyone to know about such a blow to their empire, and the Russians could have cared less about the horrible death toll.  The Wilhelm Gustloff still lies at the bottom of the Baltic Sea, a massive grave to so many who were trapped as the ship went down within 10 minutes.  Thousands survived the initial sinking, only to die in the freezing waters.  Over 5,000 children perished.  Haunting.  

This is what I love about Ruta Septeys.  She writes history for young adults, but it's so very personal to her in her quest to understand her Eastern European roots.  It's some of the best historical fiction I've read. I am looking forward to her next novel, and have the patience to wait until she delivers it to the world.  

Rating:  5/6 for an amazing novel that culminates in the portrayal of the worst maritime disaster in history, where over 9,000 people perished the Wilhelm Gustloff sinking during World War 2.  She puts a face to the tragedy, the horror of war, and the decisions people make to survive and retain their humanity. You'll be turning towards history books and your computer to explore more after you've turned the last page.  

Available in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audio. 

Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen

Well.  I told myself I wouldn't read anymore of the husband/wife/marriage/insanity/thriller genre that has become so dominant since Gone, Girl (which I haven't read, but I know the story).  I read a few last year that were pretty good, but I was satisfied with those few and decided that there wasn't much more that could be done that would surprise or even interest me.

Enter The Wife Between Us.  I seriously underestimated this novel.  While I did figure out one of the big twists early on, there were a few other twists that I didn't figure out, and when they were revealed, I looked like this: 


The story is told through alternating voices:  Vanessa and Nellie.  Vanessa is a mess.  She's divorced from Richard, living with her Aunt Charlotte in New York City, and is an alcoholic.  She works as a personal shopper at Saks and struggles to get to work on time and actually be present while she's there.  Her life is an unending routine of depression, sneaky drinking, and popping sleeping pills to conquer her insomnia.  She's not very likable.  She also seems obsessed with the woman who is newly engaged to Richard, and will be marrying him soon.

Nellie is a young, newly engaged woman who works as a preschool teacher in New York City.  She's excited and a bit nervous about leaving her job and her apartment to begin a new married life with...Richard.  He's nine years older, suave, handsome, and a big muckity muck who makes some serious cash in the New York financial world.  He is kind but controlling.

Vanessa, I wasn't a big fan for a big chunk of the book. I always have anger issues with female characters who let life rattle their cages so much that they become incapable of getting out of bed. I just wanted to shout at her.  Until I figured things out. Nellie certainly seemed very likable, but I felt sorry for her struggle to be herself while learning how to operate in Richard's much more sophisticated world. The issues she'd had in college that made her afraid to be alone and pretty much uneasy at every little noise made me think she just needed a good "put your big girl panties on and deal with it" kick in the pants.  I was wrong. I'd like to insert a swear word here: _______ you, Richard. You'll see. Just read the book. 

There are some pretty good twists in this story.  I can't possibly even begin to reveal anything at all, because I want you to enjoy the moments of discovery.  There's so much going on; I was constantly mentally apologizing to Vanessa and Nellie for thinking badly about them.  Yes, I was apologizing to fictitious women.  I will say, the ending is satisfactory, sad, and creepy.  The epilogue is a cherry on top of the sundae.  There are a whole lot of power struggles, mental manipulations, and just plain scare tactics happening throughout the story.  I know I'm being vague, but just trust me.  Read the book.  You'll enjoy it.  You'll especially enjoy the changes in Vanessa.  She finally walked past her fear and took control.  Bravo.

This novel will be for sale in the United States on Tuesday, January 9th.  Available in hardcover and ebook.  

Rating:  5/6 for a very clever novel about marriage, relationships, and the damage we do to each other. Fantastic--read it!
Thank you to St. Martin's Press for an advanced copy.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Sweet Tea and Sympathy (A Southern Eclectic Novel) by Molly Harper

I picked this novel out at my library and decided to read it last weekend while the temperature outside had a high of -10 (without the wind chill) and I went deep into hermit mode. I reluctantly left the house Sunday morning for a grocery run, and then returned, not leaving until Tuesday morning for work.  January through March, I prefer to stay home every night, out of the cold.  The bitter cold Iowa has had for the past week or so has made it even easier to just say "Nope, not going out!" and plopping myself on the couch.  I haven't even turned the TV on; preferring quiet and a good book. 

I recognized Molly Harper's name from the years of shelving romance novels at Barnes and Noble.  She's pretty popular, and has fun, paranormal romance down.  I may have even read one or two of her books in the past, so I was willing to give this one a try.  The subtitle: A Southern Eclectic Novel had me wondering just what the heck that was--does it go along with country sophistication?

I think I figured it out.  It just means you're going to read about a big family and a town that has some oddballs in it.  And yes, running a funeral home/bait shop is unusual.  Margot Clary lives in Chicago, and is a successful event planner, on the cusp of getting a huge promotion.  But then what should be a successful party turns into a disaster after the chef disregards her directions and serves shrimp to the crowd, not understanding that one of the big-wigs is allergic to shrimp in a horrible way.  Cue the allergic reaction, waiters tripping, fire starting, and media there to capture the whole disaster.  She's fired, and basically blackballed from the industry.  

Margot is saved by a phone call from her Aunt Tootie, living in Georgia in the small lakeside town of Sackett.  Margot's paternal cousins (and her father) are complete strangers to her, but she's got nowhere to go, and Tootie's offer of a full-time job and a place to live have Margot leaving Chicago for Georgia.  It's the typical big city girl moves to small, rural Southern town schtick, and there are no surprises here as Margot puts her foot in her mouth, dresses inappropriately for the hot, humid weather, and realizes she's actually working in the town's funeral parlor.  There is the hot principal that she meets on her second day in town; he's an intriguing guy.  There's Margot's difficult relationship with her father, who she hasn't heard from or seen since she was a very small child.  And there are the small town politics she needs to navigate.  It's a pretty formulaic novel with no surprises, but that's okay.  My only beef was that it seemed as if every character just had to be quirky and endearing in some way; I got exhausted and went looking for just a normal, small town character.  I didn't really find one.  But, I enjoyed the novel enough that I want to read the second in the series, coming out in June: Ain't She a Peach, which focuses on Frankie, Margot's cousin, the colorful and quirky mortician.  Yes, that's what I said: colorful and quirky mortician.

If you like to read light southern fiction with a big splash of romance, this is your cup of tea.  Or your glass of sweet tea.  

Rating:  3/6 for a light novel about finding family and your place, along with plenty of quirky characters and a small town struggling to survive.  I felt that there were too many quirky characters, and longed for just your average Joe.  I will, however, read the sequel, coming out in June.  Cause I'm quirky that way. :)

Available in paperback and ebook. 

Monday, January 1, 2018

A New Year, A New Reading Goal, and the Temptation of Gift Cards

My boyfriend is a pretty wonderful man. Every year for the past 15 years, he has given me gift cards to Barnes & Noble at Christmas.  I always ask for them, because I want to play it safe and make sure they're on my list.  He's generous, but it still only it takes me about one month to spend all the gift cards.  Last year I made it to mid-February.  This year I'm going to try and stretch them out to at least April.  Working at a public library helps keep my spending down, but I still can have a hard time controlling myself at a bookstore.  

2018...you're the year I will read new titles, but also tackle my bookcases.  They are now filled with more books that I haven't read than books I've read. That is a problem. I can't give any away to friends until I've read them. Trust me, I've tried to pick out books I could give away, but I just can't do it without reading them first.  Pulling from my bookcases, here's what I'm going to read this month:

Ready to give Nora Robert's futuristic tale a try.

Reading for a book group.  Love Ruta Sepetys; I know it's going to be a tissue kind of novel. 

A fun romance and first in a series--and my only library book on the list!

Book review for publisher.  Intrigued. 

Book review for publisher.  And heck yes, I can't wait to read it!
I'd better get cracking.  Look for the review to Still Me later this month, as the novel will be published in the U.S. on January 30th.  

As for my reading goal this year, I'm sticking to 100 books.  I always do a much better job of focusing when I've got a solid goal to reach for, and this year is no different.  Now to just have some discipline with those gift cards...

Happy Reading Year!