Sunday, March 29, 2020

Death in a Budapest Butterfly: A Hungarian Tea House Mystery by Julia Buckley

I first saw this mystery at my library, and decided to buy a copy for myself. I was intrigued by the Hungarian tea house and wasn't quite sure what to expect in this cozy mystery. What I found was a mystery that actually gave me a few hours of time away from  checking the news and staring at my phone. 

This is the first in a new series, and I can't wait to read more about Hana Keller and her extended family. Hana's mother owns Maggie's Tea House in Riverwood, a suburb of Chicago. Hana's family is Hungarian, and her grandmother is especially gifted at reading tea leaves for guests. Most people think she's just using it as a parlor trick, but she's actually quite gifted, as is Hana's mother (who ignores her gift), and Hana, too. Getting ready for a ladies tea, Hana is overcome with dread and reluctant to enter the tea house. And she's correct, as later on one of the women is found dead in the bathroom-by Hana. Someone poisoned her tea, but who could it be in a room full of senior citizen women? 

Enter Erik Wolf, local detective. He's handsome and professional, and sparks fly between Erik and Hana. Her family's tea house is in danger of closing, thanks to the murder that happened there-can Erik and Hana figure out who poisoned Ava Novak and why?

I loved Hana's family--her grandparents, her parents, and her brother. Close knit, supportive, and wow--the food! My stomach was growling the whole time. I would love to try some traditional Hungarian food. I'm all about noodles! 

The mystery itself was interesting, and wove Hungarian mythology into the mix. It was more of an unfolding rather than an aha! kind of a mystery, but I liked that. Lots of tradition, resentment, old histories, and love turned to hate made this murder mystery pretty darn solid. I always enjoy a cozy mystery that has a little magic involved, too. 

I'd add this one to your TBR list is you like cozy mysteries. The second in the series is due out at the end of June, 2020 in the U.S.:

If you love mysteries full of good food, strong family connections, cats, tea and an unfolding romance this is perfect for you. It was perfect for me. 

Rating: 4/6 for a delightful start to a new mystery series set in suburban Chicago. Recipes are also included so you too can try out some Hungarian dishes. 

Available in paperback, a Kindle ebook, and audio. 

Sunday, March 22, 2020

The Hunt for History by Nathan Raab

The history geek in me saw this come through the library and I just had to check it out. It was a very interesting look at history through the lens of written documents--some hidden for hundreds of years. 

Nathan Raab, along with his wife, father, and mother, runs a very successful business buying and selling historical documents. What started out as a hobby of his father turned into a home business, and eventually became a career. Nathan spends time talking about how he learned everything he needed to know to authenticate, research, and obtain historical documents from private owners and auctions. As with most skills, his developed over time, and he began to pay attention to his gut feelings. If something, at first glance, just didn't seem right, he was usually correct when he investigated later and found the document to be a forgery. With a combination of innate skills and years of honing his research skills, Nathan has been witness to many amazing documents. Documents that speak to the history of our country, and also documents that reach around the world. He speaks with never ending amazement to the chain of caretakers that keep these precious documents safe through generations, until they are finally brought to light. When you think about how casually we toss paper, cards, letters, and then think about how long some of these documents--letters, maps, speeches--have been kept safe, it's amazing and humbling. 

Nathan's book discusses some of his favorite finds, and the history behind them: a survey done by George Washington for land he purchased before becoming President; a letter from Theodore Roosevelt where he uses the phrase "Speak softly and carry a big stick" for the first time; personal letters from Ronald Reagan to his daughter Patti Davis, filled with the love of a father to a daughter in times of family turbulence. A letter from Martin Luther King, Jr, in jail--a love letter to a woman not his wife. Fascinating stories of snippets of history. 

Anyone who loves history will want to dive into this book. Each chapter is about another experience Nathan has had in his career, and how they all profoundly effect his life and his work. This is a man who sees the people and the events behind these documents, not just how much money he can make from selling them. 

Oh, my Dad would have loved this book. 💖

Rating: 5/6 for a look at history from a different perspective: the letters, memos, and documents that helped shape our nation and bring personal perspective to big moments in history. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Friday, March 20, 2020

The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes by Leonard Goldberg

This is the first in a series, and I've looked at it for a while and finally bought it a few months ago. 

I have to say Sherlock Holmes novels always make me feel like I'm just not that observant.  It's like a test on every page! And this mystery was no different. 

It's 1914. Sherlock Holmes has recently died, and Watson is an elderly retired physician, lost in the memories of all the cases he and Holmes solved in their glory days. Now Watson's son, John Jr. (a physician) makes sure his father is taken care of at 221b Baker Street, the same apartment where Holmes lived. A woman visits, asking for Watson's help. Her brother has recently died--jumped from a window to his death. She, however, doesn't believe it was a suicide, and asks for help to clear her brother's name. 

Two witnesses to the death--a young mother and her son, turn out to be Joanna  and Johnnie Blalock. Joanna is Holmes' daughter, the product of a one night affair between Holmes and Irene Adler; adopted after Irene dies shortly after giving birth to Joanna. Watson knows exactly who she is, and wow, she is as intellectual and brilliantly observant as her father and mother. 

Watson, John Jr., and Joanna soon begin digging into the mysterious suicide of Charles Harrelston, and quickly find a culprit: Dr. Christopher Moran. It seems pretty cut and dried, but this quickly became much more complicated and in-depth than I expected. There are more deaths, a secret code, old war secrets, and a race against time before Dr. Moran claims his final victim. 

My only issues were the "romance" between Watson Jr. and Joanna. It seemed kind of dumb and just thrown in for no good reason. And not much of a romance, either. Also, I was a bit annoyed at all the men being astounded at Joanna's ability to decipher clues and figure things out. Come on! Women are smart! 

I'l probably read more in the series--there are at least another 2-3 in the series after this first mystery. 

Rating: 4/6 for a good mystery that kept unfolding. A few things annoyed me, but overall a satisfying beginning to a smart series. 

Available in paperback, audio, and ebook. 

Thursday, March 19, 2020

The Dress in the Window by Sofia Grant

Hi all. Hope everyone is staying safe, taking care of themselves, and watching out for loved ones. Books seem to be even more important than ever as this pandemic unfolds and grows. 

I am at home for the next week, so my world is pretty darn small. I'm used to being alone, so that is good. But I do miss going out, seeing my work friends, and especially being with my partner. But I'm in touch with a lot of folks via facebook, texting, snapchat, and facebook messenger. My gym is amazing, and has started virtual workouts every day so I've taken advantage of that. I can officially say they are tough workouts--lots of squats, lunges, and core movements. I am sore! 

As I've on the Bookalicious Babe facebook page, I've struggled to finish any books in the past week. Really struggled. But I've been given a good kick in the butt, thanks to my job. I'm working on doing short videos reviewing books for my library. So, I've set a goal to read a book a day, and do a quick review on each one. It keeps me from watching TV (and cleaning my house) and it's a chance to read from my stacks. And that's where this book came from!

The Dress in the Window has been on my shelves since 2017. I thought it was a novel about two sisters who work together to create a design house. I was wrong. Wow. It kept unfolding and sending me in another direction I wasn't expecting. 

A short recap:  Jeanne and Peggy are two sisters in their late 20's in 1948. Peggy's husband Thomas was killed in WW2, along with Jeanne's soon to be fiancé, Charles. They both live with Peggy's mother in law, Thelma, and Peggy's young daughter Tommie. It's a struggle to make ends meet, with Jeanne working two jobs and doing sewing on the side. Peggy takes care of Tommie, but longs to put her artistic talent to work. Thelma has a few pretty big secrets she's been keeping from the sisters; one especially that could make their lives a lot easier. The dynamic between the sisters is interesting; both envy the other, yet love each other very much. Thelma is resentful of the way her life turned out--her husband died young, and wasn't exactly the best thing around, either. Her son Thomas died in WW 2, and she's got a young granddaughter who she loves, but frustrates her with her wild behavior. 

As the story moves along, you get to know each of the three women better, and understand what drives each of them. It's a tale of the changing choices in women's lives after WW 2; the frustrations of having to choose between family and a potential brilliant career, and the secrets we keep that can come out at the wrong time and destroy fragile relationships. 

It wasn't at all what I expected, but it was better than what I expected. A lot of surprises for sure!  A solid historical novel about a time that I haven't read much about. Definitely would make a good book group discussion. 

Rating: 4/6 for a novel about sisters, mothers and daughters, ambition, natural talent, and the desire to want better for yourself. A fascinating look at the changing women's fashion industry after WW 2. 

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio. 

Sunday, March 15, 2020

A Note From the Bookalicious Babe

Hi all. It's bizarre out there, isn't it? I wasn't too nervous up until yesterday, when I realized I had spent all Friday night tossing and turning, thinking about this virus and realizing it is a really big deal. And thinking about all the folks I know who are elderly, who have compromised health. How easy it is to spread something even when you don't have any symptoms and feel fine. How many people I come into contact with every day. How many things I touch, that other people touch. I'm not a super social person, but I do like to socialize, and that's usually in a bar, a bookstore, or a restaurant. 

I am fine, by the way. But I've been struggling to read the books I chose to read and review this month, and I decided today that I just wasn't going to do that anymore. I'm going to read some other books; books I've wanted to read but are way down on my list; fun books that lift me up a bit. Books to take my mind off of the current status of the world. 

So I'm putting this month's books on hold for now, and you'll see some other books reviewed. Not sure what yet, but I've thankfully got a lot to choose from here at my home. 

Take care, stay safe, and stay home. Please don't stockpile good that others need and are currently hard to get. Stay informed, but please make sure you're informed from a reputable news source. There is no social event that can't wait until the world is a healthier place. 

Take care-

The Bookalicious Babe

Monday, March 9, 2020

Midnight Blue by Simone Van Der Vlugt

This was one of those books I spotted at the bookstore and it immediately caught my eye. I bought it and promptly added it to a stack of books to be read...in 2018.

Well, I'm a few years off, but I finally read it, and am annoyed with myself for waiting so long to finally get to it. I love reading historical fiction that teaches me something I didn't know anything about before i picked up the book. In this case, it's all about the Dutch pottery industry in the 1650's. Add that to a soap opera worthy story with a smart, capable lead female character, and this was a thoroughly enjoyable read. 

Catrin has just lost her husband to a sudden illness, and she is a widow at 25. She decides to sell the farm, leave her small village, and makes her way to Amsterdam and a new life. There, she has a chance to learn a bit more about painting-something she loved to do on bits of furniture and pottery, but was never able to fully explore. Just when it looks like Catrin is settled into her job as housekeeper, her past comes back to haunt her, and she flees to the small city of Delft, where she is hired on as a painter of pottery in a local workshop. Working with Evert, the owner of the workshop, Catrin helps to develop a new kind of pottery to rival the Chinese delicate porcelain that is all the rage, but increasingly impossible to import. Has Catrin finally found her place, and another chance at love and happiness?

Catrin--I liked her from the get-go. She's brave, she's smart, and she's talented. She's a good person, and tormented by the choices she made in order to save herself. Throughout most of the novel, she is always questioning whether or not she will be punished by God for her sin, or if it's possible for God to forgive a sin that she didn't regret committing. Jacob, a former farm employee of Catrin and her husband, keeps showing up like a bad penny, threatening to expose Catrin's awful secret. He's always the catalyst that keeps the novel moving along. 

Catrin has a lot of great luck, and a lot of bad luck. But she keeps going, keeps moving forward. I found the descriptions of the pottery workshops to be very interesting, and the glimpses of Rembrandt, Vermeer and their art throughout the novel make this time period really come alive with color and vibrancy. It definitely was Holland's Golden Age. 

I've got nothing negative to say about this novel. I was happy to read about a completely different time period, and a completely different artistic movement-something I was pretty unaware of before I picked up this book. And of course the plague makes an appearance, and I find that very timely, with all the news about the Coronavirus spreading all over the world. 

Rating: 4/6 for a historic novel full of artists, larger than life characters, unrequited love, evil-doers, a fiesty heroine, and a fascinating look at the beginnings of the Delft Blue porcelain movement in 1650's Holland. 

Available in paperback. 

Sunday, March 1, 2020

The Chill by Scott Carson

This was a book that caught my eye a few months ago. I was a few spots down the holds list at the library when our "quick pick" came in and I decided to snag it. Our quick pick titles are checked out for 10 days; no renewals and no holds. So you've got to get to it and read the book. That wasn't hard to do with The Chill.

Upstate New York. The Chilewaukee "Chill" Reservoir was built over 80 years before , destroying the town of Galesburg and burying it underneath the water. Yet the people of Galesburg didn't go peacefully, and they are ready, after all these years, to bring vengeance down on the city of New York. Except they're all dead. 

Hmm. For 80 plus years, the dam has worked really well. Yet some families who live and work around it are frightened--mostly from stories told by their parents and grandparents. Murder, betrayal, and pacts were made amongst the people of Galesburg, and finally the endless weeks of rain have pushed the capacity of the Chill close to maximum. The ghosts of those who died over the years are working, silently and without stopping, to destroy the dam and extract their revenge. Their plan is to break the dam, forcing the water to flow into other unused areas of the complex water system that runs from Upstate New York to the city. If their plan works, New York City will be dry--without water--and a crisis like no other will be unleashed. All for revenge, all those years ago. 

The story unfolds fairly quickly, with a shocking start, followed by some really weird stuff. Aaron Ellsworth, son of Sheriff Steve Ellsworth, has gotten into a bit of trouble, and his father is ready to send him to rehab. He was the star swimmer of Torrance, practicing in the cold, swift waters of The Chill for years to  perfect his swimming. Now, one last swim to prove to his father he's not a loser sets in motion the story as you, the reader, come into it. 

Aaron swims downstream, and then decides to walk back. He cuts his foot badly, and sees a man on the other side of the water. Asking him for help, he's confused when the man doesn't appear to want to help him. Aaron throws a bottle at him, hits his head, and watches, horrified, as the man falls into the water and is swept downstream. Aaron dives in, and searches frantically for the man, but can't find him. While he's diving, he finds another body--this one with chains attached, wearing a black ball over it's head. Horrified, he returns to shore, calls his father, and waits to be arrested. 

Sheriff Ellsworth arrives; hears Aaron's story, and prepares to deal with his son going to jail--this time for murder. But just as Aaron finishes his story, the man he claims to have killed walks up with no marks on his face. Mick Fleming, an engineer from New York City, is perfectly fine. He has no idea what Aaron is talking about. Mick Fleming's grandfather was the original designer of the dam, and was murdered by the people of Galesburg all those years ago. Mick Fleming knows the dam is in danger of structural failure, and has been frustrated by the lack of response by the powers that be to maintain the dam. But the Mick that drove up to the dam is not the Mick that is facing Aaron and his father. What the heck happened while he was walking around the reservoir?

This book was such a great story! 

I seriously had a hard time putting it down. It's all about respecting Mother Nature; respecting the land, and understanding history. Making choices for the greater good always costs someone dearly. It's most definitely about family legends and duties passed down through the generations, and deciding to break the chain. Is vengeance worth it, when it causes more death and destruction? 

It's also a heck of a good ghost story. 

Rating: 5/6 for a thriller that mixes nature, ghostly revenge, and history. Note to self: always live above the dam. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio.