Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Lost for Words Bookshop by Stephanie Butland

I'm always a sucker for a book that takes place in a bookshop or a library. Words like "witty" and "charming" were used to describe this novel, and I thought I was in for a lovely, summery, light read.  

It wasn't quite like that, although I did like the novel. It was certainly slower in pace and more solemn that I expected. Loveday Cardew is a young woman working in a second-hand bookshop. It is her refuge from a past that left her living in foster homes and being on her own for most of her life. She's very private, and no one knows her past as a happy little girl with two loving parents, before it all went horribly wrong when she was ten years old. Now 25, she's found her small slice of contentment, and a family with the shop's owner, Archie, a delightfully charming man who seems to know everyone and has done everything. 

Enter Nathan, who stops in the bookshop after losing his book of poetry near the bus stop. Loveday found it, and posted a note about it on the community board in the bookshop. Nathan is a magician, a poet, and knows how to give Loveday her space, while at the same time edging her towards a relationship. Rob, an ex-boyfriend of Loveday's, is a creep. He's stalking her, and won't leave her alone. As the story progresses, Loveday's relationship with Nathan slowly moves forward, as we get the history of her short relationship with Rob, and the background of her life in Whitby, a seaside town where she lived happily with her parents.  Until happily ever after came crashing down in a horribly tragic moment.

I wasn't sure what to make of this novel. Loveday is pretty prickly and withdrawn, and Nathan really is a gem: he knows when to push, and when to stand back. He's exactly what Loveday needs, and I was so relieved that she had enough sense to realize that, even if she felt she wasn't worthy of a good relationship. Her growing confidence in reading her poetry during poetry nights at the local pub, along with her unfolding relationship with Nathan, are the two plot points that keep the story moving forward. Also, I was curious as to what exactly happened to Loveday's family. It wasn't hard to figure out, but I had to wait until 3/4 of the way through the novel to finally get the full story. I also appreciated Loveday standing up to Rob, after realizing she played right into his hands. Jerk. Physical abuse is a big part of the novel; and Loveday's thoughtful insight into her experience with it explains the mindset of women who don't always leave at the first slap, and find a way to explain it away. But is also shows that sometimes, that abuser won't leave, even when a woman does stand up to them and take back their power. 

I can't say this was a charming novel. It wasn't. It was thoughtful, and a bit dark, and, for me, a bit sad. I'll leave it to you to read and discover Loveday's journey, and the role books play in her life. The ending will satisfy all who are cheering Loveday on in her journey. 

Rating: 4/6 for a novel that surprised me with themes of domestic abuse, stalking, and bullying; what they do to us as adults, and how we cope. The power of books to provide comfort, and remind us of the best things in life, are the backbone of this novel. I liked the story, but had hoped for a frothier read! Not the fault of the author, but of my expectations. Would make a good book club selection. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Dreams of Falling by Karen White

I've had a discussion with a number of people in the past few weeks about how I don't seem to have the time I used to for reading, and how it bothers me a lot.  They've all said the same thing: I just have more stuff going on day to day, and it leaves less time for reading. 

BUT I DON'T WANT IT TO. Dang it. I've eagerly awaited Karen White's latest novel, and was excited to check it out at the library last week before I took a few days off for a family visit and party. I was happy thinking I could read this book in just a few days, in the quiet of my home. 

Nope. That didn't happen. Instead, I was so busy with family, the only time I had to read was when I went to bed at night, and that lasted just a few minutes before my eyes were drifting shut.  It took me much longer to read Dreams of Falling that I expected or wanted to take. I finally finished it today when I got home from work. Phew. 

You probably know I'm a big fan of Karen White, in particular her paranormal series that started with The House on Tradd Street. But, I also love her stand-alone novels.  They usually mix a contemporary issue rooted in a story that is either one or two generations behind. Add in a Southern setting, and I'm all in for an enjoyable read. I've never been disappointed, and that includes her latest, set in South Carolina. 

Larkin Lanier is from Georgetown, SC. She's been living in New York City for the past nine years, fleeing after high school graduation; angry at her parents, her best friends, and pretty much everyone. Beautiful and loved by many, Larkin was raised to believe she could be anything, do anything she wanted-she was special, and a star. A humiliating incident with her high school crush ruined her friendship with her best friends, twins Mabry and Bennett. Now she's been called back, as her mother Ivy has gone missing, and everyone is frantic to find her. 

Once back in Georgetown, Ivy is found, badly injured and unconscious at the ruins of her family's once stately plantation, Carrowmore. In the hospital, in a coma, we listen to Ivy's thoughts, as she struggles to find peace and forgiveness before she can leave her family behind. We also have Larkin's point of view, as she tries to figure out why her mother was at Carrowmore, and what she wanted to tell Larkin about her past. Ceecee and Bitty, two old friends of Larkin's grandmother Margaret, have practically raised Larkin, and before her, her mother Ivy. The fire at Carrowmore, fifty years before, killed her grandmother, and no one knows what happened. All of these things keep Ivy tied to her comatose body, and she can't leave until not only she finds peace, but Larkin figures out all of the secrets that Bitty and Ceecee have been holding since 1951. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and I wish I could have read it much faster. It's the kind of story I like to sink into, and devote large chunks of time to reading it. I couldn't wait to get back to it everyday. I thought the use of Ivy's perspective, given that she was in a coma and dying, was pretty interesting, and helped me, the reader, understand her a little better. The dynamics between Larkin and Bennett, her childhood friend turned hottie, and her strained relationship with her father helped balance the big chunk of time devoted to the back story regarding Ceecee and Bitty; their relationship with Margaret in 1951, and how they fit into both Ivy and Larkin's lives. It's definitely an interesting family dynamic-one that is not made of blood, but friendship and promises written on ribbons and tucked into a tree. 

Fans of Karen White won't be disappointed. I certainly wasn't, and darn it all, now I have to wait another year for her next novel. 

Rating:  4/6 for an intriguing family tale that spans decades. Larkin learns that never asking questions can leave you with a hollow space that should be filled with family history, and a sense of knowing where you're from and who came before you. Larkin is a bit prickly, but I warmed up to her, and you will, too. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

School for Psychics by K. C. Archer

I had high hopes for this beginning to a new series, and I have mixed feelings. I'm not sure if I really enjoyed this, or was just underwhelmed, but not so underwhelmed that I loathed it. 

I was caught up pretty quickly in the opening chapter, when Teddy Cannon, a young woman with a gift for gambling, enters the Bellagio in disguise to try her big chance at poker. She's been banned from all the casinos in Las Vegas, because she's got a pretty interesting gift: she can tell when people are bluffing. No cheating, just very good at it. But casinos don't like to lose big bucks, so she's on the outs. Unfortunately, she owes a lot of money to a local mobster, who will hurt her and her parents if she doesn't pay him back. 

Teddy's run at the table ends in disaster, and resigned to what will probably be a painful meet up with the mobster, she instead is stopped by a man who claims to have the answer for her troubles. Clint, a former police officer, claims that Teddy's gift is actually psychic in nature, and she's just the kind of person he would like to send to a special school for young psychics. He'll take care of her debt to the mobster, and she will spend the next three years in a school near San Francisco. 

Teddy is taken aback at the thought that the talent that has gotten her into so much trouble her whole life could actually be as simple as being psychically gifted. All her failures weren't failures, but a gift she didn't know about, and therefore didn't know how to control. 

Teddy is smart enough to pack a bag and head to the Whitfield Institute, where, if she survives training in psychic skills, investigative techniques, and SWAT tactics, she will graduate and work for the government. Meeting other young people who also have an assortment of gifts, Teddy realizes she's not alone in her awkward life experiences. There's the usual drinking, and a little bit of sleeping around, but nothing that really detracted from the story. Of course, there is more to the Whitfield Institute than Teddy and her fellow students realize, and it has a lot to do with the mysterious Sector Three, and Teddy's birth parents, who disappeared just after Teddy's birth. Yes, they were psychics, too. And Clint...just what is his role in all of this?

I read reviews on Goodreads, and all people could say was that it was, yawn, "Harry Potter-esque". I disagree. People also said it was a YA novel.  I disagree about that, too. I thought Teddy and her cohorts were firmly in adulthood, even if they were in their early 20's. I didn't think they were juvenile at all. Teddy makes some dumb mistakes, but hey, who didn't in their younger years? It's all part of growing up. Honestly, I get very tired of people comparing every novel that takes place at a school, and involves young people with magical or psychic gifts to Harry Potter. Let's decide here and now there are enough talented writers out there who can also write about magic and schools and make them individual enough that they stand on their own. Stop comparing everything to Harry Potter!

Anyway, I was interested enough in the novel to finish it, and I probably would read the second in the series to see where it goes. I'm not sure what I was hoping for; maybe something with a bit more action, and I was hoping Teddy would be a bit better at making decisions and seeing through the obvious weird behavior of some of her cohorts.  I kept getting muddled on trying to figure out which side was the bad side, and which side was the good side, and why. 

Rating: 3/6 for a series beginning that could possibly become much more intriguing as it continues. Not a bad start, but it has some weak spots. Supporting characters were interesting in their quirky talents, and I have hope that Teddy will mature and become a stronger woman as she faces what are surely going to be darker situations as the story progresses. 

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio book. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The High Tide Club by Mary Kay Andrews

It's been a long time since I've read a Mary Kay Andrews novel, and I'm happy to report her latest, The High Tide Club was just as entertaining as her previous novels. 

Set on an island off the coast of Georgia, The High Tide Club centers around Josephine Bettendorf Warrick, a 99 year old woman who is dying of cancer, and wants to make amends with friends before she dies. Brooke Trappnell, a young lawyer in the small town St. Anne, is called in to help Josephine with her requests. Living in a crumbling pink mansion on the island of Talisa, Josephine wants to reconnect with the ladies of the High Tide Club: Ruth, Varina, and Millie. Unfortunately, only Varina still lives, but she's a fragile 91 year old. Brooke quickly realizes there's more to Josephine's story--she's quite the sassy, bossy, and tough lady, even in her last days. 

Woven throughout the contemporary plot is the story of the High Tide Club, and a momentous evening in 1941, as Millie's engagement party takes place at Shellhaven, the Bettendorf mansion on Talisa Island. Engaged to a cruel man in order to provide for her mother, Millie is miserable, and the night of her party is a turning point for not only her, but all the girls. Russell Strickland, Millie's finance, is missing the next morning. What happened to him, and what do the friends know? How is Brooke connected to Talisa Island, and Josephine's family? Who will inherit the house and island after Josephine dies? 

I very happily settled into this novel. There were a few little twists that I wasn't expecting, and I was disappointed in the weak storyline regarding Henry, Brooke's three year old son. Brooke's reconnection with Henry's father seemed like an afterthought, and could have used more attention in the novel. But overall, I loved the characters, the plot, and the setting. A satisfying read all around. It's got me itching to read more of Mary Kay Andrews' backlist. I've missed a few over the years. 

Rating:  4/6 for an enjoyable summer read about the power of friendship, the power of money, family, and some good old scandals. Friendships between women old and young; friendships that span decades and some that are new,  built from shared experiences and connections. Pack your beach bag with this novel!

Available in hardcover, audio, and ebook.  

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Not a Sound by Heather Gudenkauf

In my quest to read more books off my shelves at home, I pulled Not a Sound off a shelf the other day. I have met Heather Gudenkauf at a few book signings at my local B&N (she's an Iowa author) and I've read a few of her novels. They're all set in Iowa, and are thrillers. I have to say this is by far my favorite, and in my opinion, her best yet. She definitely stepped it up.

Quick synopsis: Amelia Winn was a victim of a hit and run which left her profoundly deaf.  It also cost her a career as an emergency room nurse; she became an alcoholic to cope with it all and lost her marriage as a result. Still married, but separated from her doctor husband and step-daughter, Amelia is sober and living in a cabin in the woods. She has learned to lip read and has learned sign language, but is still coping with her deafness and living with her service dog, Stitch. She spends a lot of time kayaking, paddle boarding, and running. One morning she's out paddle boarding, enjoying the peace. She stumbles upon a body in the water. Horrified, she recognizes the body as a fellow nurse that she worked with at the hospital. Amelia's childhood friend Jake, a local detective, arrives at the scene and comforts Amelia. He's the one who took her to AA and taught her sign language, and their friendship is what has kept Amelia sober and straight for the past few years.  

Amelia gets deeply involved in the murder of her friend Gwen, and is determined to figure out why she was murdered and who did it. Amelia's new job, working part time scanning patient files at a prominent oncologist's office leads to clues that something big is going on, if only Amelia can piece it all together. 

Wow. I was sucked into this novel very quickly. Amelia is such a strong character. The author's descriptions of Amelia's world of silence are so well written, you get a very good sense of what it is like to live with no sound all. How isolating it can be, how frustrating it can be. I can't imagine suddenly losing my hearing; how do you cope with that? How do you grieve that loss? One day you're a professional nurse, doing good work, living a happy life; the next you're profoundly deaf and have lost your career and life has changed completely. How do you rebuild your life? Just goes to show the kind of character Amelia is-she's human, and has her weaknesses, but she is one tough woman. 

I thought the mystery was fantastic, and how Amelia figured it out was through hard work and paying attention with all of her other senses. The last fifty pages were a thrill, and I was on the edge of my seat. Amelia is the first deaf main character I've encountered in a novel, and she is pretty impressive. 

If you like Jodi Picoult, I would recommend Heather Gudenkauf. She centers her novels around contemporary issues that are making headlines; one of her strengths is her ability to write about these issues in a small town setting--people face crime, ethical issues, and family issues in every walk of life. Her novels are a quick read and hard to put down. 

Rating:  5/6 for one of the most compelling characters I've come across in a long time. Gudenkauf's heroine is likeable, strong, and introduced me to a world of silence. Great plot, action, and really hard to put down. 

Available in paperback and ebook. 

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Where the Wild Cherries Grow by Laura Madeleine

This novel came into my reading life in a roundabout way.  I had purchased The Confectioner's Tale by the same author, and started reading it.  Not quite 100 pages in, I got restless (my usual MO). I looked to see if she had written anything else, and Where the Wild Cherries Grow popped up, and not only that, my library had it available.  Bingo! And thus began my summer reading with a lovely novel and a new author. 

Sometimes an unexpected book comes along that is a delightful surprise. That's how I feel about this novel, and author Laura Madeleine. It was a refreshing read full of crisp smells, the tang of the ocean, the heat of the sun, and oh! the food!  

Where the Wild Cherries Grow is the story of a young woman who runs away from home to the South of France, and 50 years later, the young legal clerk who is assigned the task of finding out what happened to her. It's 1919, Emeline Vane has suffered too much loss in her short life: two older brothers have died in World War I; her mother, unable to recover from the loss, has died. Emeline, suffering overwhelming grief, is unable to cope and her Uncle Andrew pushes her to sell the family home and send her young brother Timothy off to relatives to live. Emeline is sent to France, on her way to a psychiatric hospital in Switzerland, when she has a brief moment of realization, and jumps off the train. Where does she go, and is she still alive in 1969?

Forward to 1969, and London. Bill Perch, a young solicitor still living with his parents and working for a cheesy law firm, is given the task of confirming that Emeline is dead. Her relatives want to sell the family home to a development company, and since her mother left the home equally to Emeline and Timothy, she must be declared dead for the deal to move forward. Timothy has been ill, unable to communicate with his children, and in the hospital. He is convinced Emeline is still alive, and refuses to declare her dead. 

Bill Perch is a character that I just grew to like more and more. A young man in 1969, he's unsure of himself, awkward, and seems removed from the tumultuous time he lives in.  His transformation to a determined, living by the seat of his pants kind of person is one of the best parts of the novel. I kept cheering him on every time he took a chance and went with what he felt was right. He becomes Emeline's champion against those who would dismiss her. Both Bill and Emeline change from sheltered young people, restricted by family expectations, into who they are both meant to be.  The setting in the small seaside town of Cerebre felt magical and timeless. Bill's experience at Emeline's family home is another magical place, another timeless place that of course would generate change in anyone who was restless and ready for new experiences. 

I loved both Bill and Emeline's stories, and they dovetail together nicely.  Oh, so good!  This novel engages all your senses, and while it had a bit of sadness, I think of it as a bright, happy novel about finding your true self, and in doing so, finding happiness.  Sometimes taking chances can lead to wonderful people, places, and opportunities. 

This is a perfect armchair travel novel, and one you'll want to read while sipping a refreshing drink and nibbling on bread, cheese, and fruit. 

Rating:  5/6 for a delightful historical novel that captured me from the first chapter. Loved everything about it!

Available in hardcover and ebook.