Saturday, October 31, 2020

November Reads: Wait--It's November?! What?!

 It's going to take me a week or so to realize November is here. 2020 is certainly a year which feels like it is endless. With two months to go, I don't have the mental energy to even contemplate what else is just around the corner. 

I've been pretty low key the last week, staying home for a week of vacation and not doing much. I have realized the benefits of vacation the week of Halloween-I get to watch as many paranormal shows as I want, anytime of the day or night. It's also a good week to do some decluttering around the house to get ready for holiday decorating. I'm not one to put up my tree until after Thanksgiving, so I've still got some time to keep chipping away at the accumulated "stuff". Thankfully this time around my decluttering does not include cleaning out my home library. 

October's reads were a lot of thrillers, and I will admit I got a little burnt out this last week. I realized I haven't been reading much historical fiction at all and it's my favorite genre! So I went down the Edelweiss rabbit hole and quickly accumulated a few ebooks to read on my Nook. I'm halfway through The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly and it's just what I needed to push through my reading blahs. I'll have a review up for that in a few days. 

I've been accumulating a few holiday reads in preparation for December and I have resisted the temptation to start reading them early. I've got about ten books left to read by the end of the year to hit my reading challenge on Goodreads. There have been a lot of articles and posts about reading challenges and the pressure to reach goals. I know plenty of folks who read dozens more books than me each year, and hey, good for them. I don't pay much attention to numbers-just like at the gym, I don't look at other people in class and how much weight they're picking up, or how fast they're rowing. To each their own. Read however much you want, and read whatever makes you happy. I personally like to set a reading goal each year to keep myself accountable. And it helps me remember everything I've read all year, too. 

I've got a lot of books to read this month, mostly because they're sitting around my house and I want to read them and pass them on to family and friends. Here's a few that I'm planning on reading and reviewing in November:

I've eagerly awaited this novel and wanted to read it in October but didn't get to it. The cover is stunning, and I expect the read to be fascinating, too! 

I'll confess: I usually don't read Jodi Picoult novels. This one, however, features Ancient Egyptian history, which has fascinated me since I first saw King Tut featured in National Geographic years ago. Archaeology, alternative lives, and wondering what if? 

Another October read I didn't get to...I started it but got sidetracked. I've been waiting for this for months, so I'll dive into Addie Larue's deal with the devil that gives her eternal life, but at a price. 

Rebecca Roanhorse is an amazing writer, and this fantasy novel is getting huge accolades and buzz. A Native American writer who creates a whole new world and mythology. 

This book isn't out until March, 2021 but I'm lucky to have an ARC. Historical fiction about a tragic ship sinking. A bit of American history that has been forgotten over time.

A book that combines the outdoors, survival, and a race against a killer.

Phew. That's a lot for November. Happy Halloween everyone! 

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The Night Swim by Megan Goldin

 My partner asked me yesterday if I planned on reading a book a day while on vacation this week. While I would love to, I told him I probably wouldn't be able to read quite that much--the lure (or my guilt feeling) of cleaning out closets and decluttering in preparation for the holidays has me feeling like I can't just read all day--I MUST do some kind of housework. Ugh. 

However, I did finish The Night Swim last night and did spend a lot of Monday reading it. It's not an easy read in that the subject is about rape. Not just one rape, but the story about two women, 25 years apart, who were raped. One ended up dead, and the other has divided the town with her accusation against the town star athlete. Both take place in the same small coastal town of Neapolis, North Carolina. 

Told mainly by Rachel, the host of a popular true crime podcast; and Hannah, the sister of the first victim, Jenny Stills, interspersed with podcast script episodes, it is a disturbing look at crimes against women and the price they pay whether they go public or keep silent. Jenny's story is painful to read, and is the backbone of the novel. Twenty-five years before, she was found drowned in the ocean. Hannah, ten at the time, was traumatized by the event, and soon after lost her mother to cancer. She was adopted and left town. Now she's back, and wants justice for Jenny, whom Hannah claims was murdered. Rachel, in Neapolis to cover the rape trial of golden boy Scott Blair, accused by Kelly Moore, at first is reluctant to even think about Jenny's story. Hannah keeps leaving notes for Rachel, telling her the story of Jenny, and what happened to her that long ago summer. That story is slowly spun throughout the contemporary story of the rape trial of Scott Blair. Both similar, yet very different. Both horrible acts against women who were helpless to protect themselves or fight back. Both vilified by the people around town. 

The question throughout Jenny's story is who was the ringleader that summer, and why was her death never investigated? Why do so many of the townsfolk of Neapolis still, all these years later, treat Jenny's memory so badly? And, is the murderer of Jenny still there? 

I didn't think of this as a thriller but more as a evolving story that didn't hold a whole lot of surprises. However, it was compelling, and I couldn't stop reading-even through the awful experiences of Jenny. You never get her perspective, and maybe that's on purpose-we only see what happens to her through Hannah's eyes. Kelly's story is, unfortunately, fodder for social media, gossip, and endless stories in the press. It's all about what Scott is losing because of this accusation, not whether he's guilty or not. Kelly's suffering is moot. 

Rachel's podcast certainly makes space for a series that could involve other cases she explores each season, so I wouldn't be surprised to see another novel in the future. 

Rating: 4/6 for a haunting, chilling dual tale of two young women who are raped and left to deal with the fallout. One ends up dead-was it murder, or simply an accident? This novel could be difficult to read for those who have experienced sexual assault or rape, so be aware of that before you pick it up. 

Available in hardcover, audio, and ebook. 

Sunday, October 25, 2020

No Offense by Meg Cabot


I took a break from reading my haunting reads this month for a sweet romance between a children's librarian and a sheriff. It was what I needed to kick off vacation week! It's a staycation, of course. But I've got things to do around the house, and a big stack of books to read all week. I'm excited for a much needed break, and a little bit of solitude. I'll be working really hard to not give into my desire for a key lime pie, thanks to this book! 

Molly Montgomery is the new children's librarian in Little Bridge Island, Florida. A pretty sweet tourist spot that is beautiful, surrounded by the ocean, and small town enough that everyone knows everyone's business. Molly loves her job, and one day finds an abandoned newborn in the women's bathroom. Not the usual librarian duties, for sure. The Sheriff arrives, and sparks fly immediately. John Hartwell is handsome and swoon worthy, even if he does clash a bit with Molly. Who's baby is this? Another case to solve for John, who is already trying to solve the case of the high school thief, who keeps breaking into homes. He's stymied by this case, and frustrated. John knows who is doing the breaking in, but can't catch him. 

Baby Aphrodite brings Molly and John together; as the case evolves, circumstances find them both at odds with each other. However, they are still falling for each other quickly, and their romance is sweet, hot, and quite believable. Book lovers will enjoy all of the book references-not only from Molly, but the Sheriff, too. The community of Little Bridge Island is full of characters that bring this little paradise to life. I hope Meg Cabot writes more about this community. 

I'll confess-I am pretty sure this is my first Meg Cabot book. I bought it because it was about a librarian, and took place in a small Florida community. An escape from a chilly October here in Iowa. It did the trick-took me away for a few hours, and was perfectly enjoyable and a quick read. Definitely a feel-good read!

Rating: 4/6 for a delightful romance between a librarian and a sheriff. Their clashes are brief but provide a good opportunity to highlight the importance of getting to know someone beyond the physical attraction, and working through those differences. Good chemistry, engaging characters, and a plot that keeps moving towards resolution. I'll be reading more Meg Cabot!

Available in paperback, hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Sanctuary by V. V. James

 Shocking, I know--I finished two books in one weekend. Now I can't wait to dig into the other books I've got lined up for the rest of October. This novel continues the magical theme I have going for October. It's definitely getting darker out earlier, and now when I get up early to hit the gym, it's still dark when I leave the gym--and I do miss that sunrise on the drive home. 

I first saw this novel pop up on Goodreads. I looked at what people had to say, and while I was interested, I wasn't running out to grab it. I was perusing the new release tables at B&N and saw it there, and decided I had to read it. I'm so glad I paid attention--usually when a book keeps popping up around me, I take it as a sign that I should read it. I wasn't disappointed in this magical suspense novel. 

Dan Whitman is attending a high school party at a rented home when he falls to his death and a fire erupts, burning down the house and causing all the kids to flee in terror. Dan is Mr. Popularity at high school and had just secured a football scholarship for college. He was on his way to fame and fortune. 

Dan's death stirs up a whole lot of bad stuff in the town of Sanctuary, Connecticut. Witchcraft is legal in the U.S., but there are strict laws on those who practice it. Sarah Fenn is the town witch, and her daughter Harper was Dan's ex-girlfriend. Sarah and Dan's mother Abigail, along with Julia and Bridget have been friends  for years. The three women also are Sarah's coven. Rules dictate that only the person who has been certified as a witch may use their powers, so the other three women do not have any magical talents. But Sarah uses their energy to create spells that help folks around town. Her family has lived in Sanctuary for generations. However, with Dan's death, a whole lot of bad energy starts to take ahold of Sanctuary. 

That bad energy starts with Abigail. She's destroyed with grief over the death of her only son. Dan's friend brings forth allegations that Harper caused Dan's death through witchcraft, and claims to have it all recorded on his phone. Along with that, there is an edited sex tape going around of Harper and Dan. Detective Maggie Knight has been called in to investigate Dan's death, and she quickly realizes she's stepped into a brewing, tension-filled town. 

This is more than just a novel about witches and magic. At the heart of the story is a mystery--how did Dan die, and who was responsible for it? Was it just an accident, or deliberate? And as Maggie digs, she slowly uncovers a whole lot of secretive history amongst Sarah and her friends-and their children, too. It's also a tale of hysteria, and people swallowing utter bullshit and becoming absolute sheep and turning into a murderous mob. And it's a tale of friendships that are always on the tipping point. 

The tension in the novel slowly increases, as the days go by and Abigail moves from grief to rage and a thirst for revenge. Sarah, always doing good for all, is just not quick enough to realize the danger she is in as Abigail slowly turns the town and the media against Sarah and Harper. Maggie is in a race to uncover just what happened at the party-who does she believe, and what does the evidence tell her? Maggie's viewpoint is the best, actually. She is you the reader, trying to figure it all out with the evidence and clues she has at her disposal. You may think you have an idea, but I bet you won't quite figure it all out until it's revealed at the end. 

The story is told from multiple viewpoints: Sarah, Maggie, Abigail, and Harper. It keeps you guessing the whole way through, and there are surprises aplenty. The back cover of the novel says it is a mix of Big Little Lies and Practical Magic, and I'd say that's fairly accurate. This would make a really, really good TV movie. I think it would also make a really good book group discussion. So much to talk about. 

Rating: 5/6 for a slowly building tension-filled thriller that mixes modern witchcraft, law, death, family, friends, and age-old prejudices into a hard to put down tale. So good! 

Available in trade paperback, ebook, and audio. 

Saturday, October 17, 2020

The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix


I've read a few Garth Nix novels over the years and he remains one of my favorite YA and children's authors. This novel got me just by the title. I was a bookseller for 25 years, and those many years sharing my love of reading and books gave me some of the best memories and made me feel like I made some impact, however small it might have been.

Have you ever heard of a runner's high? That thing that happens when you hit a time during a run where it feels effortless and magical and you could run for hours? Well, I would get that feeling at work when I talked to people about books. Not all the time, but boy, when it did happen, it was pretty awesome. I'd actually come home exhausted and feeling pretty drained from all of it. I still get that feeling sometimes when I talk to people about what I've read, or what I'm reading. It fills me up when I'm running low. 

Anyhow, back to this novel. It took me a few weeks to read it, and I wish I'd just kept plugging away and finished it in a few days. I am also reading a few other books at the same time, and kept bouncing around and not accomplishing much. But I buckled down and finished it this morning. I was reminded again how much I love British mythology and magic. It's one of my favorite fantasy elements to read about when I'm looking for something to read. This definitely fit the bill. And made me long to return to England for a visit. Someday. 

This novel is set in 1983 London. Susan Arkshaw has just turned eighteen and is moving to London to attend art school, and also to look for her father. She's never met him, and her mother is very vague about who he is and where he went. Susan doesn't even have a name to go by. But, her mother does have a few connection in London and Susan decides to start with one of those connections. And that is where Susan's story takes off. 

Crime boss Frank Thringley has invited Susan to supper, but something wild happens and Frank ends up dead-actually turned to dust by a pin prick. The person who did the deed is a young man named Merlin, who dresses with a whole lot of flair and wears a glove on his left hand. Merlin quickly rushes Susan out of Frank's house, telling her if they stay she will be killed. Susan's time in London quickly spirals into a world she was unaware of, but one in which she may belong. Merlin and his sister Vivien are booksellers; Merlin a left handed one, and Vivien a right handed one. They have magical powers; Merlin is a fighter, and Vivien, as a right handed bookseller, uses her intellect. Together they, along with hundreds of  other booksellers, keep the peace in England. 

However, someone wants Susan dead, and she's thrown into wild adventures with Merlin and Vivien as they connect Susan's mother with the murder of their mother years ago. Who killed their mother? And how does Susan's father factor into all of it? And why is Susan in danger? 

The magical elements in this novel were a big hit for me. Old world magic and New World magic battling for control; ancient rituals and connections to the earth and elemental beings--all the stuff I love! I can't wait for more. I hope there is more! 

This is written as a YA novel; if that makes you hesitate, please don't let that stop you. Garth Nix writes such a good story any age will dive right in and gulp it down. Reading this has me thinking that I probably need to rediscover some of Mr. Nix's previous works. He has just the right blend of action, adventure, and darkness to keep you engaged. His characters are well developed and interesting, too. 

Rating: 4/6 for the start of a what I hope is a new series. Booksellers, London, magic, and ancient powers all blend into a novel about a young woman who wants to find her father. Plenty of action, mythology, and book talk to keep you reading late into the night. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Monday, October 5, 2020

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig


I absolutely loved this book. It delivers a pretty simple message. We are so preoccupied with the "what ifs" and the "If onlys" that we sometimes forget to look at the lives we have and understand the gift they are-and continue to be as our lives unfold. Unfold in a way that should continually amaze us, but instead sends us sometimes into unhappy places. Has us trying to live a life that will make others happy, and not really make us happy. 

This is Nora Seed. She's thirty-five, single, and works in a music store. She's depressed a lot and takes anti-depressants to get through her days. Her parents are dead and her older brother is very distant. The final straw is finding her cat dead. She realizes her life is empty of love and really anyone caring about her, so she decides she's done and drinks a bottle of wine and take a bunch of pills. 

End of story, right? Kind of gloomy, you think? Nope. Nora wakes up in an amazing place: a library. It's a library like she's never seen, and only one other person is in it: her old school librarian Mrs. Elm. The one person who, when Nora needed it the most, showed her kindness. Mrs. Elm explains to Nora that she's in an in-beween place; a sort of holding spot for those who are on the cusp of dying. This is one last chance to read her book of regrets, and then choose a life to live-a life that may help Nora erase some of her life regrets. And if that life doesn't fix it, Nora can leave it and find herself back in the library to try again with another life book. Endless possibilities. 

At first, Nora is caught up in the what could have been lives: an Olympic swimmer, the lead singer in a famous rock band-all aspects of herself that could have been, if only she'd pursued her natural talents. However, each life quickly reveals the not so great parts to Nora, and she finds herself returning to the Midnight library over and over. It's an interesting theory about multiple lives all operating in parallel universes; thousands of you living thousands of different lives-all because you made a few different choices. All those little choices add up to drastically different lives--not only for Nora, but for all the people she knows.

Now it's up to Nora to see if she can find that one life that is the one she always wanted. If she finds it, can she stay there? What of her old life, the one she was so ready to leave? 

I've followed Matt Haig on Twitter and understand he's battled with depression. It clearly shows in the novel. Nora is someone we all know; that one person who slips through the cracks. We're so busy we don't pay attention. So busy making sure we do all the right things. But the message here is about potential. Realizing we have potential to do so many wonderful things in life. Embracing all the messiness of life. Instead of worrying about about what everyone else is doing, focus on yourself. Look at your own potential-explore and develop your talents. Revel in the possibilities. 

This was a quick read, but an impactful one. Nora will stay with me for a long time. A pick me up novel that arrived in my hands at just the right time. 

Rating: 5/6 for a powerful look at life, choices, regrets, and potential. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio.