Wednesday, September 30, 2020

October Reads: Putting the Boo! in Books

 This year just keeps on flying by, even when some days it feels like time is  moving super slow. I had to keep reminding myself today that tomorrow is October first, and the weather is turning much cooler and feeling like Fall. 

This month's reads are full of supernatural hijinks and I can't wait to jump in! I'm still reading Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko. Wow. It's definitely not a book I can read quickly but I'm enjoying it quite a bit. I'll confess that holiday books are starting to look very tempting, too. I'm going to try and have some self control and hang on until November before I start reading my feel good novels for the holiday season. I'm pretty sure I won't be alone reading escape fiction this winter. Is it wrong to be excited that I have a new flannel robe on the way? Holy cow my nesting vibe is hitting an all-time high. 

Here's what's on the reading list this month:

I know. It's not spooky. But I can't wait to read this novel about a librarian finding love. 

A cross between Big Little Lies and Practical Magic? Sure. This is one book that keeps popping up everywhere I look, so I took the hint and will read it this month. 

Garth Nix writes great stories. This one has booksellers who are magical, murder, and adventure. 

1902. A school for girls. Shocking murders. A modern day movie set, and a story within a story. This is a big hulking book, and I'm super curious! 

I've had two friends read this book and they LOVED it. A podcast, a small town, and a cover up. Thriller vibes! 

I've been waiting a few months for this to come out and was happy to buy my copy a few days ago. Books in a library that lies in between life and death give a woman a chance to relive her life with many different choices. If you could do it over and fix your regrets, would you?

I've got a bit of reading to do this month, so I will hop to it. Some nights it is a battle between watching holiday cooking shows and just keeping the TV off and reading for a few hours. Tonight is a TV night. 

Happy reading this month! Please share your reads with me. I'd love to know what you've discovered, and happy to get recommendations on what I should read. 

The Bookalicious Babe

Sunday, September 27, 2020

The Ghost Tree by Christina Henry

 I naturally turn to books that have the potential of keeping me up at night just as soon as the weather cools down, and Fall arrives. Halloween is my favorite holiday. I think I loved it so as a child (and still do today) because it was the unofficial kick off to the countdown towards my birthday in November, then Thanksgiving and Christmas. Now, as an adult, it's less about the build up of excitement for those holidays and more of a nesting thing. I also love to watch paranormal shows, and October is definitely the time for those to pop up everywhere. My DVR works overtime to record everything I can't possibly watch during the week. I also love to watch the Halloween baking shows on Food Network, too...which lead directly to the winter holiday baking shows! 

Onto the review. I realized as I was reading the author's bio in the back of the book that I had read Christina Henry before, and liked what I'd read. I read the first of her Black Wing series years ago, and enjoyed it enough to want to read the rest of the series. But did I?  Nope. Going on my list. What I like about Christina's writing is that she gives enough horror to make you uneasy and get you sucked into the plot, but not so much that you're grossed out. I like to read scary books, but not books where there's so much gore illustrated. Yes, there is some gore in this book, but I can handle it because it doesn't go over the top and we're not lingering over it for pages. 

Lauren and Miranda are fifteen, and have always met under the ghost tree in the woods surrounding their town of Smiths Hollow, about an hour or so away from Chicago. Their friendship is going through a rough patch, since Miranda is all about boys, and Lauren is lagging behind. One day in June, they're together in the woods, and swiftly leave so Miranda can meet a few boys in town. Lauren's not interested, but goes anyway. She's got a migraine coming on-so strong that she gets sick in the alley behind the arcade and decides to grab her bike from the woods and get home. But this migraine is different-she sees a horrifying vision of two young women being killed in the woods, by something that is not human and not a wild animal. Something that leaves the girls in pieces. When Lauren reaches her bike, she notices something terrible: a bloody handprint on her bicycle seat. A handprint that looks human, but not quite. 

Sheriff Alejandro Lopez receives a call that there are remains in a neighbor's back yard. When he arrives, he sees a terrible sight: bits and pieces of two young women, with their heads next to each other. He's recently moved his family to Smiths Hollow from Chicago, and thought he'd left this kind of violence behind. Trying to coordinate an investigation, he notices how everyone around him seems to be forgetting all about these murders. The Police Chief isn't doing anything to find out who these victims are, and Alejandro himself struggles to write down every detail he can remember. Why are people acting like nothing happened? 

There's so much more that happens, and I can't tell you more without giving a lot away. Let's just say Smiths Hollow is not an ordinary town, and something terrible has been taking place for decades--and Alejandro and Lauren are two keys to unlocking the mystery, and stopping the monster that stalks the town. 

At first, I will admit, I struggled to concentrate enough to get through the first few chapters. But I finally sat down Saturday and read a chunk and was hooked. I will definitely read more of Christina Henry's novels. Folks who like horror novels will definitely enjoy this book. There is some blood and blech moments, but they are short and not so horrible I was grossed out or had to put the book down. 

Rating: 4/6 for a spooky, entertaining read about a cursed town, a monster in the woods, and a young girl who may be the only hope to break the curse. You'll love Lauren and her little brother, David-they are quite the pair. 

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Orphan of Cemetery Hill by Hester Fox


Blogger upgraded and I discovered I can add more fonts. After years of using one particular font, I decided to branch out and use this font, called "raleway". Exciting stuff! 

Hester Fox has written three novels, and I've read them all. I still love her first novel the most, but this one was pretty interesting, a mix of spiritualism, grave robbers, and a secret society determined to reanimate corpses ala Frankenstein. 

Did you know there were people who were hired to sit with someone as they died, and then sit with them a few days more to make absolutely sure they were really dead? All because people were terrified of being buried alive. Can you imagine having that job?!

So. The orphan in this novel is Tabby, a young woman who, with her older sister Alice, ran away from their horrible aunt and uncle ten years before. The sisters were separated, and Tabby was forced to fend for herself as a young twelve year old in 1844 Boston. Penniless, with nowhere to go, Tabby ends up hiding out in a cemetery. There, she meets Eli, the caretaker of the rundown cemetery. 

Ten years later, Tabby lives with Eli and helps him in the cemetery. She still looks for her sister every month in the last place they saw each other. Tabby's got a special gift: she can speak to the dead. So far, nothing from Alice, which is a relief to Tabby-she knows her sister is alive somewhere. Tabby has told no one of her skill-or curse, as she sees it. Seances and spiritualists are all the rage, and most are charlatans-but Tabby is the real deal. However, she is afraid to trust anyone with her secret. 

Grave robbers are making a comeback in Boston, and Tabby has witnessed their thievery in her cemetery. She becomes entangled with a young man who is accused of murdering his fiancee, and the plot thickens--how is this murder related to the sinister late night grave robbing? 

This was an interesting plot, and for the most part it was pretty interesting. But it did feel a bit disjointed as far as the timeline moved-I couldn't get a grip on the weeks and months that passed for two of the characters, and for Tabby at the same time. Tabby's timeline didn't quite match up. The characters were all likable, except for the evil Mr. Whitby. He's clearly the bad dude from early on in the novel. 

This wasn't a frightful novel at all, but definitely gothic. A quick read, with a few continuity issues. Overall, a good book to read as night creeps closer, temperatures cool, and the dead get restless! 

Rating: 3/6 for an interesting read about the spiritualist movement of the mid 19th century in the United States; death customs and rituals, and the thin veil between life and death. 

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio. 

Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux

 Food. France. Chateau. Yes please. You know I love my foodie novels, and practically every page of this novel screams food. The kind of novel I absolutely love, and race through as quickly as possible. It wasn't hard to do just that with Samantha Verant's delicious novel. I feel very lucky to have hit two novels in a row that I couldn't put down--this one and my previous read, The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline. Two completely different novels, but loved them both. 

Sophie Valroux is a rising chef in New York City. She's working for a restaurant that has two Michelin stars and they are eagerly awaiting the announcement that they have been awarded a third star. It's her dream to be part of the team at such a prestigious restaurant. She's worked hard to get where she's at; in a field dominated by men, she's put up with a lot to stay and fight for her place. Her ex-lover Eric is a total asshat, and working together is rough. He is going to open his own restaurant and wants Sophie to work for him. She isn't interested, so Eric conspires with another coworker to sabotage Sophie's career so she'll have no choice but to accept a job at his restaurant. Her dreams come crashing down; she's a disgrace in the New York food world, and her name is trash. 

After wallowing in depression for some time, wondering if she's lost her cooking mojo, Sophie decides to reach out to her Grandmere, who lives in France. Sophie used to visit her Grandmere every summer and learned to cook from her-also an amazing chef. But Sophie's mother kept them apart, and it's been years since Sophie has visited her Grandmere. 

Grandmere's health is precarious, and Sophie flies to France to visit her Grandmere and try to make amends. What she finds is shocking: not only has her Grandmere created an outstanding business at the family chateau, but her Grandmere is a top French chef with a sterling reputation. Sophie, still reeling from her character assassination in New York City, is afraid she'll never be able to cook again. Her Grandmere, however, knows better and gets Sophie cooking and planning menus for the chateau's restaurant. The descriptions of the food are so delicious I was licking my lips. Verant does an amazing job of building a picture of the chateau, the grounds, the food--so much so that it's easy to imagine yourself there, ready to enjoy a meal. Sophie's childhood friend Remi is still here-handsome as all get out, and hostile to Sophie. There are other characters that surround Sophie, and you get to know them and their quirks along with Sophie. 

The big question is: will Sophie remain at the family chateau, or will she return to New York City to redeem her reputation? Will she keep pursuing her dream of Michelin stars, or realize family, home, and the opportunities at the chateau are the key to happiness? 

There is a lot of back story involving Sophie's mother, who died by suicide when Sophie was eighteen. The relationship between Sophie and her grandmother suffered because of her mother, and a lot of work goes into repairing that relationship before it's too late. There's a lot of emphasis on family recipes, handing down traditions, honoring the past, and seeing community as family that requires nurturing and care. Looking at dreams and examining if they are still what you want, or is it time to create a new dream?

Loved this book. Sometimes I wanted to shake Sophie out of her doldrums, and her relationship with Remi is a slow burner. But otherwise, I so enjoyed this foodie novel. I haven't read one in awhile, and whenever I do return to this genre, I realize how much of an armchair chef I am and I don't mind a bit. There are discussion questions and recipes in the back of the book, if you're brave enough to try out some of Sophie's delicious recipes. 

Rating: 4/6 for a novel that truly took me away to France. The food, the setting, the characters are all charming and definitely made this one I had trouble putting down. Pour a glass of wine, make up a bread and cheese plate, and let it take you away, too. 

Available in paperback, audio and ebook. 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline

 I was very lucky to receive an ARC of this novel, mostly because I finally just last week sat down to start it. I was browsing my bookshelves and spotted it and remembered it was out in August and I definitely wanted to read this latest from the author of The Orphan Train. I'm sure this will be wildly popular and hard to get unless you buy a copy for yourself. 

Before I give my review, I'll update you on my bookshelves, after the Great Weeding Project of 2020 that I did a few months ago. I'm still being pretty tidy, and not stacking any books on the floor. I'm still buying books, but trying not to buy too much! Now I can see everything fairly quickly, so it does make it easier to find something to read. Now to just circle around and pick up on the books I tried to read this summer and didn't for one reason or another. I'm very happy I did the work and cleaned up my books. All that clutter was making me feel like I couldn't read fast enough, but no matter how fast I read, I wasn't making any progress. Now I don't feel like that anymore. I'm settling into my Fall nesting mode. I basically just go to work, then home to read each night. It's my time of year to chill on the couch and gobble up books. 

So, let's get to The Exiles. I was very surprised at how fast I dove into it and spent a few late nights and early mornings reading it. I know I'm in a good story when the first thing I think of when I wake up in the morning is the book and if I can read for a bit before I have to face the day. This was that kind of book. Historical fiction is always my favorite genre; it wasn't hard to get caught up in the journeys of Evangeline, Hazel, and Mathinna. 

Evangeline is a governess in London in 1840 who has fallen under the spell of the son of her employer. He gifts her with a ruby ring, and she is smitten. Unfortunately, she's accused of stealing the ring, and her lover is out of the country. She's taken to Newgate Prison, and found guilty of stealing and sentenced to deportation to Australia, to serve her sentence of fourteen years in prison as a convict laborer. Evangeline is a gentle reverend's daughter, fond of poetry and has a sweet soul. She's also pregnant, with no family to save her. On board the ship, she meets Hazel, a young Scottish girl found guilty of stealing a silver spoon, and sentenced to seven years convict labor in Australia, too. Hazel has had a very rough upbringing, and is a survivor. She's also skilled in midwifery and herbal medicines. 

Finally, there is Mathinna. This young girl is the daughter of an aboriginal chief; she  has lost her mother and father. She has been selected by the wife of the new governor of Van Diemen's Land, famed Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin. Mathinna will live at the Governor's home, and be schooled in how to be a white child; losing all of her "savage" qualities. It's a cruel game Lady Franklin plays; parading Mathinna around to her friends, having her perform. Mathinna is so lost. Her story is all the more heartbreaking knowing she's just a little girl trying to navigate a very strange world that dismisses her as a human being. 

I have to admit there were quite a few times my heart jumped, as the women struggle to survive in the most hellish conditions. The treatment of women convicts was brutal, and absolutely infuriated me. They were completely at the mercy of those with power, and those with power were men. They were starved, beaten, raped, forced to live in absolute primitive conditions; giving birth to children and forced to turn them over to an orphanage until their sentence was served. 

What I can say about Evangeline, Hazel, and Mathinna is that they were so strong. Broken, yes, but still had that fire in them. I wish I could tell you there's a happy ending for all of them, but that just isn't the case. I'll leave it to you to read the novel and find out. 

This was such a good read. So good. Definitely a great selection for a book club. 

Rating: 5/6 for a powerful historical novel about women convicts traveling to Australia, and their struggles to survive and retain their dignity and sense of self in the face of overwhelming despair. It also focuses on the decimation of the aboriginal people, culture, and homeland. This novel certainly made me curious to read more about the convicts who traveled to Australia as exiles from Great Britain and the history of their experiences. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Enola Holmes: The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer


This is one of those series of books that I've seen around so many times over the years, and never picked it up. The new show on Netflix (September 23) had me deciding it was finally time to read the first in the series and see just what it was about. I had another one of those "why did I wait so long?!" moments when I finished it this morning. 

Enola Holmes is the younger sister of Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes. Years after her brothers were born, their mother produced Enola, embarrassingly at an older age when respectable women didn't have babies. Enola is now fourteen, and it's her birthday. 

She lives with her mother at the family estate, and she's had a pretty free life since her father died years ago, and her brothers have not visited in all that time. She's smart, quick, and loves to ride her bike. She's corset free, and happy about it. Until the morning of her birthday, when her mother steps out the door and never returns. 

Enola doesn't understand why her mother would leave her, and her confusion and sense of loss are a bit heartbreaking. However, she telegrams her brothers, and they arrive. Shocked by Enola's appearance (she looks a bit like a wild child) they quickly realize all the money Mycroft has been sending for years for clothes, dance lessons, horses and gardeners has been squirreled away by their mother. Enola is in need of a boarding school and proper clothes for a proper young lady STAT. 

Enola isn't having any of that, of course. On the day she is sent away to boarding school, she runs away, having planned to reach London to look for her mother. She's   no slouch in planning and observing, and using codes to figure things out. But, she is only fourteen, and some things go awry in her plan. Can she save herself, or will she be forced to contact Sherlock for help?

I know the movie on Netflix will have a bigger story than the first novel, but I watched the movie clip and it certainly looks like Millie Bobby Brown embodies all the best of Enola Holmes. I can't wait to watch it. And who can say no to Henry Cavill as Sherlock Holmes?! I certainly can't, nor do I want to. 

I wasn't sure what to expect from this first novel, and I am happy to say it was a delightful read. Not at all what I expected plot wise, so I am eager to read the rest in the series and see where Enola's adventures take her.  This series says middle school, and I would say any child who loves mysteries and is a good reader would enjoy these. Very well written; full of adventure, observation, and putting clues together.

Rating: 4/6 for a great start to a mystery series for kids that was first published in 2011. The series is still in print, and will find new readers as the Netflix movie comes out in the U.S. September 23rd. On my way to buy the rest of the series! 

Available in paperback and audio. 

Monday, September 7, 2020

Ink & Sigil by Kevin Hearne

It's been many years since I've read Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid Chronicles series, so I was delighted to see he has returned to that world with this new series. I absolutely love contemporary fantasy that mixes in old magical elements, along with a sense of humor that makes me laugh as I read. 

Set in Glasgow, with a few stints in Edinburgh and other places, this novel stars the charming Al MacBharrais, a sixty-something sigil agent who is caught up in a mystery involving the Fae. 

A sigil agent works between the human world and the Fae world, making contracts that help keep both worlds apart, yet allow for some contact between the two when necessary. Sigils are handwritten symbols of magic, made with specially created inks. It requires years of apprenticeship and there are only 5 sigil agents around the world. Al owns a publishing house, and uses it as a front for his magical work.

I loved the cast of characters and can't wait to read about future adventures. A hobgoblin that loves to steal whiskey, an office manager that has a special talent for fighting, and assorted Fae that keep things complicated. Oh, and did I mention Al has a curse on him? If he talks to people, eventually they hate him--as in turn purple with rage and try to kill him. So he's forced to use a text to speech phone to communicate with anyone he wants to keep in his life. An ongoing theme for future novels is Al's pursuit of whomever cast the curse, and finding a way to remove it. It's cost him dearly over the years, and he's done with it. 

I enjoy science fiction/fantasy, and it's been a bit since I've read anything. It was just what I needed to get me reading after weeks of not being able to concentrate. Pure fun, a good plot, endearing characters and plenty of magic. I look forward to reading more about Al and his associates. 

Rating: 5/6 for a promising start to a new series. Featuring a cast of characters both human and Fae, along with hobgoblins, ghostly dogs, and other mythological creatures, this is an enjoyable romp through a world full of magic mystery, and good whiskey. 

Available in hardcover ebook, and audio.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

The Deadly Hours: An Anthology by Susanna Kearsley, C.S. Harris, Anna Lee Huber, and Christine Trent

So I've spent every night since Sunday coming home from work and reading all night. I find myself falling asleep for a short nap around 7PM and then a few hours later, ready for bed. Except once I shut the light off my mind starts racing a million miles a minute, and I can't sleep. So on goes the light again, and reading again for a little bit. 

I'll admit my vow to start working out again this week didn't even make it past Monday morning. So darn tired in the morning I just can't get up and move. The Sue at 5 PM the night before is ready and willing to workout at 6 AM; the Sue at 5 AM the next morning is not! So I'll try again tomorrow and see if I actually do go to the gym. Even if I fail the next few days, I have chastised myself and made a vow that September 8th I WILL WORKOUT. 

All this coming home and reading had me finishing The Deadly Hours Tuesday night. Made me happy to actually accomplish something! I did enjoy the four novellas, and certainly if you aren't familiar with any of the authors, or just some of them, this anthology will give you a peak at their writing style and characters in their previous novels (and some are part of mystery series). 

The anthology follows a chronological order, from 1733 all the way up to 1944.  Susanna Kearsley is up first, and her tale sets the background of the cursed watch that is the link for all four novellas. The watch, called La Sirene, is a pocket watch fashioned from gold stolen from a church during a vicious, murderous raid by mercenaries. It's a beautifully carved watch, with a mermaid and a ship on storm tossed seas. However, the watch is cursed. Some believe it, some scoff. In 1733 it's just been around a short time, but already has a reputation. A group of people are trapped at an inn during a hurricane, and they are definitely on two different sides: one man is on the hunt to assassinate the Duke of Ormonde, who is the rightful heir to the English crown. Two couples also trapped at the inn are there to ensure the Duke is not assassinated, and must keep their true identities a secret while working to find out just what plan the assassin has...but the watch shows up, and mischief begins. Is the storm caused by La Sirene, or is it just bad luck? Is the watch really capable of killing anyone who has it in their possession?

The next three novellas follow the watch around the world, as it plays a part in a deadly sickness in Edinburgh, a string of murders in London, and the deaths of men who are working on the British side during the closing days of World War 2. In order to break the curse, the watch must endure water, earth, air, and fire. Each novella's characters do their part to break the curse, but you have to read the final story to know if the centuries old curse is finally broken. 

I liked all of the stories; in particular I very much enjoyed Anna Lee Huber's In a Fevered Hour. I had read the first few books in her Lady Darby mystery series, so the two main characters were a bit familiar to me. No, you don't have to have read any of the authors' works to follow along, but I would say you'll get curious and want to check out the series or novels written by each of the authors. Strong female characters are the center of each story, and they all use their skills to solve the mystery presented in each story. 

All in all, a great way to break my Derecho book struggle! 

Rating: 4/6 for an entertaining anthology that is tied together by one cursed watch--beautiful to look at, but terrible to own. The four authors all complimented each other's writing very nicely. If you like a little mystery, mixed with a dash of adventure and history, this will certainly entertain you. 

Available in trade paperback, audio, and e-book.