Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Death of a Wandering Wolf: A Hungarian Tea House Mystery by Julia Buckley

Cozy mysteries are my go-to books when I need something in between heavy books or when I just need something that easily grabs my attention and takes me away for a bit. This series has quickly become a favorite of mine after only two books. 

Death of a Wandering Wolf is the second in this series by Julia Buckley. I'm a bit bummed that now I'll have to wait for awhile before I can read the third. I may check out a few of her previous series while I wait. 

The Hungarian Tea Shop Mysteries center around Hana, her mother and grandmother. They own and operate a tea shop in the suburbs of Chicago. They are Hungarian, and many of the folks that live in the community are also either first or second generation Americans. Their tea shop is pretty popular, and  a big part of their community. There's also the interesting angle of Hana's grandmother: she reads tea leaves with eerie accuracy. And that little gift of magic has also been passed down to Hana-which she's quickly becoming aware of in the first two mysteries. That magic is helping her solve some murders. With the help of handsome Erik Wolf, a local detective, she's quickly realizing that there are many connections between her family and the community they live in-connections that go back decades to Hungary. Those connections are putting Hana in danger. 

This mystery revolves around the sudden murder of local well known artist William Kodaly--a man Hana just met at a garage sale, where she purchased a few of his paintings and a ceramic wolf. Hana collects antiques, and the wolf caught her eye. Kodaly was happy to sell it on the cheap, because he said it gave him bad vibes and he wanted it gone. Shortly after Hana leaves the sale, someone murders him. And when Erik discovers a tracking device on the wolf, Hana realizes this murder was not random, but deliberate. Now she's got to figure out who murdered Kodaly, and why. 

The list of suspects is large, thanks to Kodaly's romantic past-he dated a lot of women. Does one of his paintings point to the murderer? 

Besides the murder mystery, we continue to see Hana and Erik's relationship evolve, and Hana's decision to accept her magical gifts and develop them into something she can use and understand. And the food! Oh, the food. All the talk of sour cream and paprika had my mouth watering. My stomach is growling just thinking of it. 

I've really enjoyed both the first and second novels in this series. I certainly hope there are more to come. This series has me looking at other cozy series and expanding my TBR list for cozy mysteries. 

Rating: 4/6 for an entertaining read full of delicious food, warm and likable characters, and a mystery that isn't easily solved. Love this series. 

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio. 

Monday, July 27, 2020

The End of Her by Shari Lapena

This is the second Shari Lapena novel I've read, and wow! she can really spin a heck of a domestic thriller. 

The End of Her is about Patrick and Stephanie, a happily married couple and new parents to twin girls. Patrick is a partner in an architectural company, and Stephanie has left her job to stay home with the girls. Both are struggling with having two colicky babies that don't sleep and cry all the time. Stephanie is so sleep deprived she forgets to shut off the stove, and sometimes leaves the front door wide open. She just can't remember doing those things. There's not enough coffee in the world for her to stay functioning normally. Visits to a pediatrician for help don't really go as planned; the girls' doctor simply says they will stop being colicky sometime, and it will end abruptly. Meanwhile, Stephanie, and Patrick, too, are having major sleep deprivation. 

One day, a woman from Patrick's past appears, and threatens to blackmail Patrick if he doesn't pay her off. Erica knows Stephanie has inherited a few million dollars, and she wants money. Who is Erica? She's a woman who had an affair with Patrick years before, in Colorado. She was Patrick's first wife's best friend. And that first wife? Lindsey? She died, along with their unborn child, in a freakish accident. But Erica says she knows Patrick deliberately killed her. WHAT?!

Patrick tells Stephanie about Erica, and Stephanie refuses to give her money. Things are going to get sticky for everyone...and Erica is determined to get her way. She's not afraid to make some noise, and make a whole lot of trouble for Patrick. Erica makes enemies wherever she goes. 

This was such a good thriller! I raced through it. So many twists and turns. Shari writes about seemingly average couples; however they're really hiding a lot of secrets, and capable of doing terrible things. Things they may never have imagined doing just a few short weeks before--it's amazing what people will do to protect themselves. Look a little closer at domestic bliss and you'll find it's usually pretty dark, and not so blissful. 

It's only taken me two novels to become a firm fan of Shari Lapena. Thanks to NetGalley and Viking/Penguin for the advanced ebook. This novel is out in hardcover on Tuesday, July 28th in the U.S. Shari has plenty of novels, and they are all stand alones, so you don't have to read them in order. You'll be hooked in no time!

Rating: 4/6 for a twisty-turny domestic thriller that will keep you guessing who to believe--and an ending that will leave you with just one more surprise!

Available Tuesday, July 28th in the U.S. in hardcover audio, and ebook. 

Saturday, July 25, 2020

The Peacock Emporium by Jojo Moyes

I've read quite a few of Jojo Moyes' novels and haven't been disappointed in any of them. I have to say, however, The Peacock Emporium fell a bit flat for me. It was a novel I've had on my shelf for about a year, and after clearing off my bookcases, I found it again and added it to my summer reading list. But darn it all, it was a struggle to read and I'm still scratching my head over it after finishing it late tonight. 

Reading the back cover, I thought this would be about a delightful young woman running a shop and dealing with a mother who is a bit overbearing. The delightful young woman would find her way by being a successful shop owner, and eventually connect with her mother. That's what I got out of reading the back cover. 

Oh heck no, I was waaaay off. Honestly, I spent a lot of my time a bit confused as to where this plot was going. It seemed to be a jumble, as if the author couldn't decide which set of characters to concentrate on, so she tried to fit them all in. It didn't work for me. 

The novel starts with with Vivi and Douglas in 1963 going to a big fancy party in the English countryside. Vivi is in love with Douglas, who remains oblivious. At the party, Douglas falls for Athene Forster, who is wildly beautiful, troubled, and a bit out of control. Vivi is devastated, of course. Then the story swings to 35 years later--and Suzanne Peacock. Suzanne and her husband Neil have left London and moved back to Suzanne's hometown due to some bad financial mistakes Neil made--they are getting back on their feet very slowly. Suzanne is gorgeous and a bit spoiled. She's not interested in visiting her parents, who own a family estate outside of town. And guess who her parents are? Yep--Vivi and Douglas. 

Suzanne is the kind of character who doesn't make you feel warm fuzzies at all. She's completely lost, resentful of everything, and decides to open a small shop in town to help her pass the time. The Peacock Emporium is a bit of a mishmash of a coffee shop and a store that sells higher end bits and bobs. Suzanne just hangs out there, and meets Jessie, a young mother who boldly decides to work part-time at the shop and show Suzanne how to engage with the public. Jessie and Suzanne become friends, and all seems to be going well. 

However, there's a bit of a mystery involving Suzanne and her family. Suzanne is unhappy in her marriage, and not sure how to get out of it. And there's a new man in town from Argentina who is growing on Suzanne's heart and mind. 

Tragedy happens and that was the one thing I didn't see coming. Not at all. Not sure why; maybe to move the plot forward? I'm not sure. It definitely took the wind out of my reading. I had to put the book down for a week before I could return to it. I finally finished it today. 

I don't know what to tell you about this novel. It seems like it was all over the place, and I wasn't sure what the heck I was reading-was it Suzanne's story, was it Jessies? Was it Vivi and Douglas' story, or was it Athene's? I spent a lot of time trying to understand what exactly was going on, and not enough was going on to keep me glued to the pages. This novel was written in 2004, and released in the U.S. in 2019. So I think it is one of Jojo Moyes' earlier novels. Darn it all, I was all set for a great story, but this one just wasn't it. 

Rating: 2/6 for a disjointed tale of one woman's journey to understanding her place in her family, and finding happiness for herself. I usually don't have any trouble following dual storylines involving different decades, but this one jumped all over and I couldn't piece it all together very easily. I'll still read Jojo Moyes because she is quite good, but this one, an earlier novel, definitely wasn't a favorite of mine. 

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio. 

Friday, July 24, 2020

South of the Buttonwood Tree by Heather Webber

Heather Webber has written more than twenty-five novels-most of them are cozy mysteries and light romances. However, she has found her sweet spot in her previous novel Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe, and her newest novel, South of the Buttonwood Tree. I can't say it strongly enough how much I enjoy novels imbued with magical realism. 

This is not a sequel, but a stand alone novel about Blue Bishop and the people she calls family. Set in the small town of Buttonwood, Alabama, Blue is a children's author and illustrator, and has a series of books about a bunny that have made her famous. However, her family name has made her infamous in her hometown. Blue and her sister, Persy are the only two left in the Bishop family; her brothers all died tragically and under unhappy circumstances, her father left the family and died; her mother Twyla willed herself to death after losing her sons and husband. Growing up with little money, the family did what it could to survive-often getting into trouble with the law. Blue, however, stayed on the straight and narrow (except for that one incident in high school). She's been working hard and saving money so she can start the process of adopting a baby. It's what she's wanted for so very long. 

Blue has a gift: listening to the wind, and following it to find lost things. But there remains one thing that is lost that she needs to find before she can move away from the town that has caused her a lot of heartache. So every day she walks the woods to the Buttonwood Tree, searching for that lost thing. This time, she hears a baby crying, and finds a newborn tucked under the tree, with a button from the tree saying "Give the baby to Blue Bishop" tucked in her blanket. 

Everyone knows if you ask the tree a question, it will answer with a wooden button and one sentence of advice.  If you don't follow the tree's advice, you're doomed to unhappiness. 

Blue's dream seems to be coming true-a newborn baby girl left specifically to her. Quickly arranging guardianship, Blue names the baby Flora. While gossip swirls around town and the police investigate the appearance of the baby, Blue's close circle of friends celebrate with her. However, there is Ginny Fulton. She despises Blue and the whole Bishop family, and she will do what she has to in order to take the baby away from Blue. Ginny's daughter, Sarah Grace, is unhappily married, and her husband and her mother both want her to have a baby (the unhappily married part is a secret). She doesn't want one, and knows that Blue will make the best mother for Flora. She has a secret friendship with Blue, and doesn't understand why her mother loathes Blue so much. 

Sarah Grace has a few secrets of her own, too. Big secrets that may damage her father's run for Governor. Sarah Grace has her own business-flipping houses, then renting them to folks who don't have much money. Sarah Grace has the most interesting gift: she can hear the houses talking to her. They tell her all kinds of things-the history, the happiness, the sorrow; they let her know what's wrong with them and who is invited to stay. And she wants the old Bishop house. It is calling to her. 

There are a few other people in Buttonwood who have some special gifts, too. I'll let you discover that. There's also quite a few secrets, and some are doozies! Will Blue get to adopt Flora, or will the town turn against her? Will Sarah Grace find her way out of her unhappy marriage? It seems as though baby Flora has stirred the pot, and set in motion a whole lot of truths that need to be told. There's romance in the air, too for more than one character. It always seems that life's changes all come in a flurry,  and that is definitely the case for Blue and the folks in Buttonwood. 

I absolutely loved this novel, even more than the Blackbird Cafe. Alice Hoffman's earlier novels, along with Sarah Addison Allen's novels are similar to Heather's, and I'm so glad to have found another author who write magical realism that I enjoy so much. Step into Buttonwood, Alabama, and discover the Buttonwood Tree. 

Rating: 5/6 for a novel that had a few surprises, and a lot of warm characters. Believe in the magic. Perfect for a reading session in a hammock. 

Available in hardcover, audio and ebook. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Well, I tried unsuccessfully to put my facebook video on this here blog, but it wouldn't play nice. So, I'm writing my review. If you're interested in my video review of Mexican Gothic, head on over to @Bookaliciousbabe on Facebook to watch it. 

So, Silvia Moreno-Garcia's previous novel, Gods of Jade and Shadow, was one of my top reads of 2019. I'm always up for a tale of mythology; I loved mythology as a child, and that love has never faded! Now I'm enjoying the plethora of new novels about so many different cultures and their mythology.

Moreno-Garcia takes gothic and puts one heck of a spin on it; I tell people this is gothic horror. And not slasher movie horror, but that horror that seeps into your bones and makes it a little hard to sleep at night. 

So, onto a brief plot summary: Noemi is a smart, beautiful, upper class Mexican living the good life in 1950 Mexico City. She's finishing college and having fun attending parties. Her cousin Catalina sends a letter to Noemi's father that causes some concern: she claims her husband and his family are keeping her locked up, she's seeing things in their home, and she's afraid. So Noemi's father makes a deal with her-if she'll travel to High Place (Catalina's home) and check on her cousin, her father will pay for her to go to school for a Master's degree. Noemi packs her bags and heads to the mountains and High Place. 

High Place is one weird place. Catalina's new family are English, and own silver mines in the region. Those mines are closed down due to the revolution, and the family is hurting financially. Their home--High Place is one dank, damp, moldy and dark place. Definitely gothic. And the family; well, Virgil is coldly handsome (Catalina's husband), Francis is Virgil's cousin and a nice young man; Florence is Francis' mother and the daughter of Howard, the head of the family. Howard is also dying, and quite frankly a hot mess physically. Repulsive would be an understatement. Noemi settles in for a visit, and immediately knows there's something just not right about the place or the people. She also is shocked by Catalina's appearance and behavior. 

Noemi starts having nightmares--they feel completely real, and she wakes up wandering around the house. As she digs into the family history, everything becomes more unsettling and weird--but you have no idea just how unsettling and weird until the last 50 pages or so. 

I can't tell you more, because this is definitely a novel you have to read and discover for yourself. It's also one that you should discuss with others. This is an author to watch--she's on my list of authors I'll immediately read without hesitation. 

Rating: 5/6 for a truly out of bounds novel that combines the best of gothic with a twisty horror story that truly is imaginative. And yes, there is a little bit of ick, so be prepared. 

Available in hardcover ebook, and audio. 

Monday, July 13, 2020

The Cold Vanish by Jon Billman

I stumbled on this book late last week as I was working at the library and knew immediately it was something I had to read. Lucky for me, no one else was waiting for it, so I took it home and spent a large chunk of Saturday reading it, finally finishing it Sunday morning. 

Author Jon Billman is a writer for Outside magazine, and started the quest that makes up the bulk of this book while working on a story for the magazine. Jon has written about other people going missing in our national parks and vast wilderness areas, but had no idea just how high the number was until he stared looking deeper into it--and found out no one actually keeps track of this disturbing trend. In April, 2017, Jacob Gray takes off on his heavily packed bike to explore the Olympic National Park. He's got plenty of food, a tent, clothing, and survival gear. Yet his bike is found just one day after he takes off, on the side of the road, with no sign of Jacob. What follows is the heartbreaking frustration his family and friends go through as red tape keeps organizations from stepping in and helping in the search that begins with the assumption that Jacob decided to just walk away. He's an adult, after all, so he could have done what many people do--walk away from their life with no word to family or friends. Yet his father and family persist in searching for Jacob, through all sorts of weather, in really rough conditions. Randy Gray is willing to explore every possibility and theory that might lead to his son, no matter how outlandish it may seem.  This story is the framework for many more stories about men and women who vanished with no clue what happened to them. Some were runners going out for a short run; others were at national parks in full view of other people, yet never returned to their cars and simply vanished into thin air. For some families, there is closure, but usually not for quite some time. For others, there is never closure. As long as there is no body found, they remain hopeful. The disappearance of a loved one is something they never move past, and never "get over". The unanswered questions never go away. 

What I found so very interesting is the fact that this is something that happens a lot in national parks and wilderness areas. And depending on where you disappear, there may be a lot of resources to help look for you; or if it's in a county that has little money, it may simply be a few days of looking for you, then it's left to family and friends to continue the search. It's beyond ridiculous that we have no federal or state procedures in place to address these disappearances--and no budgets, either. It's a case of too many agencies, large egos, and not enough money. 

I found this book hard to put down. I did get a bit turned around in the many descriptions of up the mountains, down the mountains, ridges, sight lines, rivers. I would be a classic case of someone lost in the woods who couldn't find their way out. 

Rating: 4/5 for a look at an epidemic of missing people that most of us are unaware of: people lost in the wilds of America. Theories abound around vortex areas, Bigfoot, UFO's, and time slips--but most of the time it simply boils down to being unprepared or a fatal slip on rocks or a slippery slope. For those who never come home, their story has no ending. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

The Lost and Found Bookshop by Susan Wiggs

I'm pretty sure I haven't ever read a Susan Wiggs novel before this one. I was pleasantly surprised. Of course, this novel had me at bookshop (as they all do!) and even though I've had an ARC of this book for months, I finally decided to finish it today, after stopping and starting a few times a few months ago. 

I'll confess I was cruising along with my books, and suddenly this past week I hit a wall again. Just couldn't get through anything. So I am glad I picked this back up again, because I hit that magical place in the book that had me focusing in and forgetting about anything for awhile. Even though I didn't do anything for July 4th but stay home and cook out, I was still feeling a bit of a holiday hangover today. After watering my flowers outside and getting laundry started, I was happy to just stay inside and read. 

This novel really is a nod to booklovers everywhere. Natalie Harper grew up in a bookstore; her mother Blythe operates a family bookshop in a building that has been in the Harper family for 100 years-a coveted building in fashionable San Francisco. After a horrible tragedy, Natalie returns to San Francisco and the bookshop, to take stock of its future, and to take care of Grandy, her grandfather. He'd recently fallen and broken his hip and was now showing signs of early dementia. Natalie had been successful at a wine brokerage firm and while she didn't love her job, she was good at it. But it wasn't hard to leave and return, if only to help her Grandy take care of next steps. 

Those next steps aren't as easy as Natalie expects, when she finds out her Grandy owns the building and the bookstore, and will not sell, even after Natalie realizes they are deep in debt and behind on taxes. What's a bookstore manager to do, but try and build up the business with a huge author event that could help pay bills and give the store much needed advertising?

Natalie also meets Peach Gallagher, a local "hammer guy" who specializes in fixing old buildings. Her mother had arranged for Peach to fix a few things in the building, and Peach is one good looking man. He's also a really decent man, with an adorable daughter who frequents the bookstore. His friendly and calm attitude helps Natalie as she struggles between grief, understanding her grandfather's failing health, and the tough decisions she has to make. 

So we've got a few things running through this story: the struggle to save the bookstore, an ailing grandfather, a potential romance, and a story that's been handed down over the generations about a treasure that's hidden somewhere in the building, left by Grandy's grandmother, who died in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Is it just a fanciful story, or is there treasure lurking somewhere-treasure that could save the business?

I read this novel pretty quickly, and enjoyed it very much. No surprises, just a gentle unfolding of the story. I loved all the book references, and the peeks into what it takes to run a bookstore. Definitely a good vacation book!

This book is out in the U.S. on July 7th in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Rating: 4/6 for an enjoyable novel about life when it makes a few sharp turns, the importance of family, and of course, the life changing magic of books. Some parts made me a little teary-eyed, so you may need a tissue! 

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

We've Made It To July! And Cleaning Out My Bookcases: A Tale of Powering Through an Overwhelming Task

June came and went like so quickly I'm still thinking it's just mid-June. I had to keep reminding myself today was July 1st. Wow. Pandemic has taken away my sense of time, seasons, and I usually can't remember what day it is on any given day. Every day feels like rinse and repeat. 

I spent a few days in June cleaning out my three bookcases and my stacks of books that took up space in my living room, my bedroom, my spare room, and my dining room. I just had to do it. Of course I made a bigger mess and at one point was tempted to just lock my door and drive away to escape, but I stuck it out and after a few days I had pulled through the project. I gave so many bags of books to family--I gave my whole collection of true ghost story books to my niece and my sister; a boxed set of Harry Potter books--the whole series in hardcover (still wrapped in shrink wrap!) to my niece (she is one of the biggest HP fans I know), and lots of books to other family members. Goodwill was sick of seeing me come with a trunk full of books to donate. I've still got a few bags of books to send out into the world, but when all was said and done, I feel good about it. 

I'll confess, I had a mini-meltdown as we pulled away from Goodwill. Luckily I wasn't driving, and I told my boyfriend I just needed a few minutes to grieve and then I'd be okay. And I was. 

The great thing about cleaning out my bookcases is that I discovered some books I really want to read! They were hidden, and now I see them--I guess they just had to be patient for me to find them again. Today I stopped at B&N and bought a book. It felt weird to only buy one book. I usually have 3-4 in my hands. But I wasn't tempted with more than the one I bought. So...as I read the books on my shelves, I will continue to weed my collection. Only books or series that I really cherish get to stay. 

Anyhow, I'm still working on a lot of the books I talked about in my summer reading video on my FB page @bookaliciousbabe. But I've also picked out a few more from the shelves that I am lining up for July:

I've had this on my bookshelves for a few years. A look at race and the history of cooking in the Old South. I've always been fascinated by culinary historians and expect this book to be one of my favorites this year. 

Another book I bought last year and lost it on my overstuffed bookcase. A woman struggles to come to terms with her mother's colorful past in a small town. Jojo Moyes' historical fiction is just as good as her contemporary novels. 

I'm reading this one now, and let me tell you--it.is.weird. So weird! Gothic with a capital G! 1950's Mexico, a rundown estate, and some really odd people. 

True story: my boyfriend, who does not read at all actually told me about this book. He heard the author talking on the radio yesterday and gave me enough information that I could find the book. And heck, the book was just released on Tuesday, and I ran to B&N after work today to purchase it. It's about an amusement park in New Jersey and, as the back cover says "In the 1980's, people didn't just visit Action park. They survived it." Written by the park owner's son, this wild tale of the amusement park with the nickname "Traction Park" is sure to be a wild and crazy ride. I can't wait to read it! 

I've got a few other books I'm working on from June. Trying to ride the wave of actually getting through my stacks and not giving in to my need to play solitaire on my phone for hours at a time (I may have done this last night). 

Happy July reading everyone! 

The Bookalicious Babe