Sunday, August 29, 2021

A Cup of Silver Linings (Dove Pond #2) by Karen Hawkins


You know how you wait and wait for something, then it finally arrives, and instead of jumping on it and being happy it's finally here, you dink around and put it off for a bit? That's exactly what I did with this novel, the sequel to 2019's The Book Charmer (you can read my review here).  

I just can't get enough of novels that involve magic. Add in a small town and a family of sisters, and that's pretty much an irresistible trio for me. 

Even though I couldn't wait to read this, I started it earlier this month and didn't get far before I got distracted--and thought oh no! I'm not going to enjoy this. That lead me to setting it aside and reading a few other books. This past week I picked it up again and decided I was going to dive in and finish it before I read anything else. So I did, and it didn't take long before I got over my stuck-ness and bam! I was back in Dove Pond with the Dove sisters and right in the thick of things. 

This, the second in the series, focuses on Ava Dove. She's opening a new tea room and working hard to get it ready. Helping her is teen Kristen, who has just lost her mother Julie to cancer. Ellen Foster, Kristen's grandmother, has arrived and has told Kristen she's selling the house and Kristen will move back to Raleigh with her. Kristen, still deeply grieving her mother, is determined to never leave Dove Pond, nor the house she grew up in and holds so many memories of her mother. Ellen, estranged from Julie and Kristen for years, struggles to grieve and understand her granddaughter. It's a rocky road for the two of them. 

Ava, meanwhile, is having some issues because of a secret she's kept for years and years. That secret is in a box under her bed, wrapped in ribbon and bound tightly with some Dove magic. However, that box has been thumping, pounding, moving around, and causing Ava horrible headaches and sleepless nights. That secret wants to come out. Will Ava have the courage to spill her secret before something horrible happens? And what's going on with the special teas Ava creates for folks who have ailments (both physical and those of the heart)? Three people have returned teas saying they didn't work correctly and had some disastrous results. What could have gone wrong? Ava's reputation is on the line. 

Once I got past my reading block, I inhaled this novel. It took me a bit to familiarize myself again with the Dove sisters and the town. It wasn't hard, and you could read this without reading the first in the series. There are hints of potential romance, and a big change for Sarah and her painful reaction to the town sheriff. 

Themes in this novel involve grief, cancer, death, betrayal, secrets, looking for a biological parent, forgiveness, and friendship. It's a gentle read, and I loved it so much! It was wonderful to return to Dove Pond. I hope I can be patient and wait for the third in the series. There's quite a bit left to discover about the Dove sisters (there are 7 of them!) and the town of Dove Pond, North Carolina. 

Rating: 4/6 for a delightful sequel to The Book Charmer. Characters from the first novel appear, but new characters take center stage--and we find out a big secret that could change everything for Sarah Dove. 

Available in paperback, audiobook, and ebook.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Agatha Arch is Afraid of Everything by Kristin Bair


I picked this up at Barnes & Noble last month based on the cover and title. Then I read the blurb on the back and decided it sounded like a fun book. It was entertaining, but also did have some touching moments that I didn't expect from Agatha.

Agatha lives in New England in a lovely home with her husband and two boys. She's an author and oh, she is one sassy Facebook Mom Page commenter. She's not short on snark!

Agatha's happy life comes to an abrupt end when she finds her husband and the local dog walker going at it in their garden shed. She takes a hatchet and proceeds to destroy the shed, leaving the mess in her yard, which quickly makes the rounds of the Facebook Mom page. Before the hour is out, streams of cars are driving past her house to check out the carnage. Agatha, meanwhile, is lying on her front porch, devastated and the victim of a skunk spray. 

Agatha's husband moves in with the dog walker, and her boys spend half their time at her house. Agatha's promised thriller manuscript is not even started, as she can't bring herself to climb the stairs to her office. Bear Gyrlls is her hero, and she carries a bobblehead of him around to give her courage. She decides the best thing to do is to spy on her husband and his girlfriend, so she outfits herself with spy pants, spy gear, and a plan. 

Agatha is a mess. 

Agatha is also endearing, funny, and hurting pretty badly. As she battles with her neighbor over the increasingly overgrown and messy pile of shed garbage in her yard (it's ruining the neighborhood!), battles with other moms on Facebook, and visits her shrink, she is trying really hard to cope with her sudden life change. 

I liked Agatha and the cast of characters. Agatha was funny, annoying, and at times did things I probably would do, too. You'll find yourself hoping Agatha will be able to move forward with her life and find joy again--and be brave. 

This reminded me of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (which I loved!). Contemporary fiction fans will enjoy this novel. 

Rating: 4/6 for an endearing main character going through some pretty big life changes. Join Agatha on her journey to peace and finding joy again. A cast of characters that flesh out the community Agatha lives in, along with her loving relationship with her two sons all add up to a satisfying read. 

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

The Guilt Trip by Sandie Jones


This book wasn't on my TBR list at all, but as I was cataloging at my library it came across my desk and I thought it looked like a good domestic thriller and a quick read. Boom! Perfect summer read.

This novel takes place in Portugal and involves five friends: Jack and Rachel, Noah and Paige, and Will. Jack and Will are brothers, and they are all gathered to celebrate the wedding of Will and Ali--who really irritates the hell out of everyone but Will. She's bubbly, wears clothing that really accentuates her curves, and is an attention seeker. Will's gaga over her, but no one else really cares for her. Especially Jack. He appears to loathe her--but you're just not sure why. 

The story is told from Rachel's point of view. She's happily married to Jack, and they have a 19 year old son. Rachel and Noah were college friends--and secretly slept together just once, confessing their love for each other. It ended with Noah begging Rachel to leave her then new relationship with Jack and come away with him. She refused. Now, twenty years later, they are both married to different people, but that love is still there. That's just one of the things that will bubble over in Portugal. 

As the wedding day draws near, Rachel becomes convinced Ali and Jack are having an affair. What should she do? Confront both of them? How can she let Ali marry Will? Then Ali overhears some pretty explosive stuff between Noah and Rachel, and oh crap what if she tells Jack and Paige? Paige, Rachel's best friend. 

Rachel's thoughts are swirling around and around, and oh boy there is a lot at stake. Wedding day dawns and it will all come crashing down--and not in the way you expect. Not at all. 

This was a quick read, but it wasn't an edge of your seat kind of read. A lot of the novel is spent in Rachel's thoughts and guesses about what is going on. The end kind of fell flat for me. 

Rating: 3/6 for a novel that had some great potential, but just didn't quite make it. Fans of domestic thrillers will want to read this--it's an interesting read about friendship, marriage, past secrets, and making assumptions that prove to be deadly and just plain wrong. 

Available in hardcover ebook, and audio.

Monday, August 16, 2021

When the Reckoning Comes by LaTanya McQueen


This is a short novel, but it packs a wallop. When the Reckoning Comes takes place in a small Southern town where Mia has returned reluctantly to attend her childhood best friend's wedding. Mia had escaped Kipsen ten years before, along with the horrifying memory of a trip to Woodsman, an abandoned plantation deep in the woods. 

Mia doesn't want to return but Celine, her only white friend growing up, calls and begs her to attend. Celine, Mia, and Jesse all grew up poor and on the outs with the kids of Kipsen. Celine and Jesse stayed, and now Celine is marrying a rich man at the newly renovated Woodsman plantation. 

Mia arrives, and is horrified by what she sees at the plantation: all black servers, reenactments of slave labor, and a basic white-washing of all the terrible history of Woodsman Plantation. Rumors of ghosts of the slaves still abound, and it's definitely a place that looks beautiful but is rotten at the core. There have been a few weird deaths on or near the plantation over the years, and rumors that the slaves have returned from the dead to exact revenge on townspeople who are descended from the white people who worked and lived at the plantation. Can they be true? And what does Mia believe?

As the wedding morning arrives, Celine is missing from her room and no one can find her. Tensions start to rise, and Jesse and Mia frantically try to figure out what happened to Celine, all the while conscious of supernatural activities ramping up. It appears the ghosts have arrived, and they are angry.

This was truly a spooky read. The horrors of the plantation and the absolute depravity of plantation owner Roman Woodsman made me cringe a few times. The anger of the dead slaves is palpable, and wow I'd be bent on revenge, too. After all, it is said their blood soaked into the soil and has remained there all this time. Not even graves for those who died. 

It's short, brutal, and oh so good. Wow. A powerful novel about slavery, the attempts we have today to gloss over the horror of it; the way it decays a town and poisons generations. The tension in this novel slowly bumps up until your heart just about leaps out of your chest. 

I haven't read horror for a bit, and this was a great way to dip my toe back into this genre. History and horror are an interesting mix. 

Rating: 5/6 for a terrifying novel about revenge, racism, the afterlife, and how true history will always comes out. Some things should be left to rot in the woods. 

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio. 

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner


Well it feels kind of fitting to finish a book about a  natural disaster on the one year anniversary of a natural disaster that hit my hometown on August 10, 2020: the Derecho. An inland hurricane in Iowa. One year later we are still dealing with recovery. And wouldn't you know, we've had one severe storm today, and I can hear rumblings of another getting ready to break tonight. To say folks around here are a bit jumpy wouldn't be an exaggeration. 

The Nature of Fragile Things is about two natural disasters: the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, and the natural disaster of one horrible man causing heartache and havoc (with a side of murder) in the lives of three different women. 

Sophie Whalen arrives in San Francisco ready to marry Martin Hocking and become mother to his young daughter. She's been living in New York after arriving from Ireland, and was miserable living in a tenement and working at a factory. Answering a mail order bride ad in the newspaper brings Sophie to San Francisco and the hope of a new life. Martin Hocking is handsome, no doubt, but there's something just a bit off about him. He's all work and there's not an ounce of warmth in him. His daughter Kat doesn't speak much at all after the death of her mother. Martin makes no attempts to help Kat through her issues and gladly hands her off to Sophie. Sophie of course loves Kat to bits and embraces her role as a mother. 

Things with Martin get even more strange when a woman named Belinda arrives on their doorstep, asking for help. Here's where things get really odd, and the story starts to unfold. But first, there's a major earthquake to survive--but does everyone survive?

Sophie starts out as what seems to be a innocent young woman, just so relieved to finally have a safe place to land. However, it quickly becomes apparent that she's one tough lady, not afraid to protect herself and Kat by any means necessary. Sophie is no pushover. There are hints about her life in Ireland, but it remains in the shadows-you know something happened, just not sure what. 

The story takes a few dips and twists--some which aren't really surprising, but it's an interesting plot. I was a bit disappointed the earthquake wasn't more prominent, but I will have to read some non-fiction books about it to fill my interest in all of it. 

There is a final chapter that helps close some of the questions left in the story; it offers a glimpse of what becomes of Kat, Sophie, and Belinda years down the road.  

An interesting novel that read quickly. The women are all strong, and remain so through their trials and low points. Martin is the true bad guy, who just keeps showing new unpleasant sides to his personality and motives. 

Rating: 3/6 for an interesting historical novel about surviving the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. It's a reminder of the strength of women to overcome bad marriages, abusive spouses, and disappointments; surviving it all to keep going. It's also a novel about female friendship, unbreakable bonds, and the love of a mother and child.  

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Returning to a Favorite Author: A Country Escape by Katie Fforde


My bestie Candace and I share a love of Katie Fforde novels. We've been reading them for--oh gosh, about 20 years? Maybe more. First discovered her when B&N featured her novel Wild Designs way back in the 1990's. I bought the hardcover (still have it) read it super fast, and decided I would always read Katie Fforde novels whenever I could. 

Unfortunately, they can be hard to get in the U.S. I told Candace we needed to visit the UK just to stock up on novels we can't easily get here. She's up for it. 

I bought a used copy of A Country Escape and I'll confess I stayed up way past my bedtime Monday night so I could finish it. There is something comforting about Katie's novels--almost like having a cozy blanket wrapped around me. Her novels usually involve a female main character who is a bit older (not in her early 20's) and has an interesting career or finds herself doing something completely out of her normal life. In A Country Escape, Fran finds herself leaving London and her career as a chef to move to a small farm she just may inherit if she can keep it going for a year. Fran's distant Aunt Amy has moved to a care home and has asked Fran to take over her farm. What makes this farm special is the herd of cows that Amy has kept on her farm for decades--they are special cows and must not be sold or bred outside of their breed. Lucky for Fran, the farm comes with the brilliant Tig, the gruff yet friendly brilliant keeper of the cows. 

When Fran is faced with an overwhelming amount of milk that may be tossed out, she decides to make soft cheese, hoping she can sell it and keep the farm from going under. That starts her on an interesting path using her chef skills to save Hill Top Farm from a greedy relative who is also trying to inherit the farm. Who will Amy leave the farm to in her will? 

Of course there is romance for Fran--but it's subtle and refreshing. The cast of characters are all charming and heck, I'd love to visit Hill Top Farm myself one day if I could! 

It's been awhile since I've read a Katie Fforde novel, and I kick myself for missing a few over the years. I'll be trading books with Candace as we both try to catch up. These are perfect novels for anyone who wants a charming, quick read with  a full cast of characters who are all pleasantly pleasant. 

Rating: 4/6 for a delightful novel about taking a chance at a new life, using life skills to create opportunities when presented with set backs, and the rewarding, yet hard working life of a farmer. Brew a pot of tea, settle back, and enjoy the British countryside. 

Available in hardcover and ebook. 

Sunday, August 1, 2021

August is Here and Quite Frankly I'm in Denial Summer is Almost Over

 While I have been enjoying some aspects of summer: not wearing a coat, early morning wake ups, and no warming up the car! I do get weary of the warm, sticky, icky weather. I also get a bit crestfallen when I see all of my flowers start to wither under the unrelenting heat. Flowers have done pretty well, but the last few weeks of super hot days have taken the fight right out of them. Iowa hasn't had much rain at all this summer, and it shows. We need rain!!

I woke up this morning and told my partner "Do you realize it's August 1st?" What he said isn't repeatable, so let's just say he was shocked to realize we're in another month. 

August is here, and wow it showed up fast. I've been reflecting a lot on my incredibly slow reading pace this year; sitting with it and thinking about the why of it all. Some of it has to do with being unable to concentrate and really dive into a story. Some of it has to do with spending much more time with my partner than I have in past years. My time to myself has shrunk a bit--not a huge amount, but enough to keep me from reading all weekend like I used to do. I definitely do think some of it has to do with phone distraction. It's too easy to read a page, then check the phone. So starting this month I'm going to put the phone away every night after 6 PM and not look at it. 

I still read every day. I never miss a day. It's not something I can do--it will put me in a crabby mood if I don't read even a few pages. So I squeeze in time early in the morning, try to read at lunch if I can. Always read before bed at night. I've been reading a lot on Twitter other book bloggers who also are struggling with reading since Covid. So I'm hoping next year my reading may return to a more normal level for me. 

Last month I started quite a few books and didn't get through them. I'm reading The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris and I'm having a hard time sitting and reading chunks of it. Mostly because I know something unpleasant is going to happen, and I'm anticipating and dreading it! But I plan on finishing it this month and getting a review out. Some other titles I've got in the hopper:

I just had to grab a Katie Fforde novel. This one is about a young chef who inherits a farm and a herd of very impressive cows. Will she succeed or fail and lose the farm?

AHHHHHH Alice Hoffman!!  This is the sequel to Practical Magic and I was lucky to receive an ARC. I've already started it and cried. This is being published in October. 

I've had a few people recommend this book. Baby steps to creating new habits. I can definitely get onboard with this. 

I picked this up at B&N and thought it looked fun. A woman with huge anxiety is pushed out of her comfort zone when she decides to spy on her husband and a woman she suspects are having an affair. 

OOH!! I've been waiting for this sequel to The Book Charmer for months. It's finally here! A return to Dove Pond and the magical Dove sisters. 

I've had this book in a pile for months and keep forgetting to start it. I need some historical fiction, and this is the ticket. One of the periods in history that fascinate me: the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. 

I've also got a few books on hold at the library, and you know I'm easily distracted by new titles. I'm making myself wait until later in the week before I visit B&N to pick up some new releases. 

Here's to August, the comfort of books, and starting new habits.