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. 

Monday, March 4, 2019

Wine and Punishment by Sarah Fox

I was getting deep into my historical fiction when this hold came up at the library...and down the cozy mystery rabbit hole I went, dropping everything else to read this book. 

It's the first in a series--"A literary pub mystery". Wine, a pub, and books. Not hard to see why I wanted to read it. Quick synopsis: Sadie Coleman is a new resident of the small town of Shady Creek, Vermont. She's purchased a historic old mill, and turned it into a pub that has a literary theme to it: cocktails crafted after authors and books, along with a cozy atmosphere filled with book shelves and a few new book clubs. She's only been open a few months, and things are going well. 

However, one night her ex-boyfriend shows up at the pub. She'd broken up with him months earlier over his gambling habit. She moved away and started fresh. Now he's back and wants to see her. Slipping out the back door, she avoids him. The next morning, he's found dead, and of course Sadie is one of the suspects. With the annual harvest festival starting in a few days, with lots of tourists coming into town, it's the worst time for a murder! And to further the mystery, the same night Eric is murdered, a fire breaks out in a local antique shop. Are the two connected? What did Eric want with Sadie? 

Of course Sadie is curious, and needs to nose around. But that could put her in some dangerous situations, and somebody in town doesn't like Sadie very much.  

I enjoyed this cozy very much. I will definitely read more of the series. Characters are likable, the town is appealing, and there's plenty of build up for a romance with the ocal brewmaster, Grayson. This was a welcome diversion from a busy week. I'm really enjoying dipping into the cozy mystery genre. Only problem is there's so many I want to read, I'm having a hard time choosing my next one. Big surprise, but I do like cozy mysteries that have a literary theme to them. 

Rating: 4/6 for an enjoyable start to a new mystery series. If you enjoy books and cocktails, and someday dream of having your own literary pub, you'll enjoy this cozy mystery. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio.