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Friday, December 30, 2022

The Bookalicious Babe's Top Ten Reads of 2022

 Here we are! My favorite reads of 2022. Let's get right to it! Starting in reverse order, ten to one:



10.  A novel that I stumbled on that is a hidden gem. A young man talks his way into driving two giraffes across Dust Bowl America to a zoo in California. Oh, this was such a delightful read. I didn't want it to end. 


9.  This is a YA historical novel that takes place during the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. It's a story about revenge, Jewish mysticism, friendship, immigration, and a whole lot more. So, so good. 



8.  This was a horror novel I couldn't wait to read, and I was not disappointed. Full on creepy! It's actually a historical horror novel, and that almost makes it even more ominous. A young woman travels to her husband's home and finds it haunted by a terrible, terrible spirit bent on revenge. 



7.  I adore novels set in 1920's through 1960's Hollywood. I had to read this, and wasn't disappointed. Evelyn Hugo is an unforgettable character, and TJR writes a showstopper of a novel. 


6.  I've read all of Heather Webber's novels, and I especially enjoyed this tale about a magical garden, a young woman who longs for a home, and the family she finds. Magic, bees, delicious food....all ingredients for a novel I will inhale. 

5.  Karen White has my heart. I'll read whatever she writes. I almost cried tears of happiness with this novel, the start of a new series that takes place in New Orleans. If you're a fan of novels that incorporate history, ghostly homes, and other worldly happenings, Karen White is the author for you. Next in the series is out in March, 2023. 


4.  Another author I adore. Simone St. James has perfected the art of writing a tense chiller. Yes, I said chiller. A cross between a thriller and a scary novel. She builds tension from page one, and leaves you a bit unsettled and looking over your shoulder. I've read all of her books and recommend her to everyone I can. She's that good. 

3.  I seem to have bounced between horror/thriller novels and feel good novels in 2022. To say I was beyond excited to have a new Sarah Addison Allen novel to read would be a HUGE understatement. I adore SAA. This was magical, sweet (it takes place on an island where there was a marshmallow factory), and also a bit sad. Classic SAA. So glad she's back. 



2.  This was almost, almost! my top pick for 2022. It came out of nowhere, grabbed me immediately, and I haven't stopped recommending it since I read it earlier this year. Three women who are at a time in their lives where women become invisible--but hold on, they're not going to take it. Involves a serial murderer, corruption, and women who aren't taking any crap from men anymore. READ IT!!

AND FINALLY....MY TOP READ OF 2022:

1.  I am so surprised this landed as my favorite read of 2022; but when I looked at my list, it just jumped to the top. It's a tiny little gem of a book that captured my heart immediately. Told in epistolary form (letters), it's about a budding friendship between two women who connect over their love of food. It takes place in 1960's California and the Pacific Northwest. Whenever I think about this novel, it puts a smile on my face. Oh, I'm so glad I found it at the bookstore while wandering around the stacks. I can't say how much I adored this novel. It has a permanent spot on my bookshelves. 


That's it! My Top Ten of 2022. I am so excited for a new year to dig into my TBR, and knowing there are some spectacular novels and authors out there I have yet to discover. I can't wait. 

The Bookalicious Babe's Honorable Mentions of 2022

 I was looking over my reads of the past year and was pleasantly surprised at how hard it was to pick my top ten. I have been a bit down thinking about all the books I didn't get to read this year, mostly due to just not having the time. Life got in the way. 

Talking to my partner last night, and going over my personal reading goals for the past 10 years, I saw there were years where I kicked it out of the park, and other years where I just struggled. And every one of those years I struggled it was due to life getting in the way--work, school, family illnesses. My partner, who I love to the moon and back, doesn't read. He's always amazed that I do read and at how much I manage to squeeze in the year. He pointed out that I actually read at least a book a week for the past 52 weeks. So heck yes, I'm feeling better! I do not review every book I read, for various reasons. Some are picture books, some are short stories, and some don't call out for a review. My Goodreads account (Sue Gerth) has everything I've read this year. I didn't make my reading goal this year, but I am happy with what I accomplished. 

Without further ado, I'll start with my Honorable Mentions of 2022. These are books that didn't make the Top Ten list but I enjoyed them so much! 

The Maid was a refreshing mystery that had me cheering for Molly, who is caught up in a murder while on the job at a hotel. She's lovable, smart, and works hard to understand the world around her. 


Anyone who has lost a parent will feel the pull of heartstrings reading this dreamy novel that takes place in Italy. What if you could meet a younger version of your parent? 



Heather is an Iowa author, and wildly popular. Her thrillers all take place in Iowa, and they are hard to put down! This one is heart pounding from the first page. 

I tried reading Emily's first novel, and didn't like it. I tried again and so enjoyed this novel about two people falling in love and working through all the issues. It felt like a grown up romance full of real life obstacles. 


Alice Feeney, you rock! This was another thriller that I gulped down. A few twists, for sure. So, so good. 

I resisted reading TJR for sooo long! But I finally did, and wow she is a superb writer. I liked everything about this novel: the Malibu setting, the 1980's vibes, the family dynamics. A great read. 


Okay, those are my honorable mentions for 2022. They almost made my top ten, but I had to make some hard choices! Top Ten post is up next, and I won't make you wait for it. 



Thursday, December 29, 2022

December Read: Flora's Traveling Christmas Shop by Rebecca Raisin

 

I only managed to read a few holiday novels this year. I still have 3-4 unread at home, and they'll have to wait until next year. I'm not feeling the Christmas vibes anymore, so on the shelf they go until next November!

I've read all of Rebecca Raisin's traveling novels and this is the first one that takes place during Christmas. Flora lives in London and just got fired from her favorite job: working at a year-round Christmas store. She's at a loss as to what to do next; she's almost 30 and just can't catch a break. Her best friend suggests she work for herself, since she keeps losing jobs because she's outspoken and shines a bit too brightly for people. 

Flora decides the best place to be is Lapland, home of reindeer, the Northern Lights, and an outdoor Christmas market. She buys a van to live, travel, and run her Christmas shop out of, and after a shaky start, settles in at the market. She's a bit of a fish out of water here, too, and has managed to already annoy the manager of the market, Connor aka Nordic God. 

Connor is not a fan of Christmas, not at all--and Flora decides it's her job to change his mind. 

This was a fun semi-romantic novel about starting over, pursuing your dream, and maybe, if you're lucky, falling in love. I enjoyed the setting and the other characters that are introduced at the market. Flora takes a bit to get used to--she just finds herself in all sorts of situations, and somehow manages to come out the other side. Most of what I enjoyed about this novel revolved around Flora's decision to pursue her love of all things Christmas and be true to herself. Instead of trying to bend her personality and ambition to fit other people's jobs and viewpoints, she decided to be herself and find a way to make her passions work for her. 

I also enjoyed the setting and can check Lapland off my list of interesting places to read about. Sounds like a wonderful place to visit. 

I'd suggest reading the other two novels in the "travelling" series: Rosie's Travelling Tea Shop, and Aria's Travelling Book Shop. Rebecca Raisin has written many other novels, as well. I enjoy her books and already have another title on my TBR pile for 2023.

Rating: 3/6 for an entertaining Christmas novel about Lapland, finding love in unexpected places, and creating a life around your passion. 

Available in paperback, ebook, and audiobook. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

December Read: The Girl from Widow Hills by Megan Miranda

 

This was my third book for the Iowa High School Battle of the Books. While it was the shortest novel out of the three, it took me the longest! 

I enjoy suspenseful, thriller fiction, but I hadn't read any of Megan Miranda's novels until this one. My hopes were high...and darn it all they were a bit deflated. 

Arden Maynor became an overnight sensation as a small child when she disappeared from home one night and days later was found clinging to a storm drain in a drainage ditch. The story was that she was sleepwalking and was swept away by rainwater, and somehow miraculously survived days trapped in this drain. Arden and her mother became famous. 

Now the twentieth year anniversary is coming up, and Arden is now Olivia, living miles away from Widow Hills. She's an administrator at a local hospital, and still, to this day, her memories of what happened are fuzzy. She only wants to forget. That fame twisted her mother, who Olivia stopped speaking to a few years back. Now she is notified her mother is dead, and a box arrives with her mother's paltry collection of things. 

Olivia has trouble sleeping, and finds herself once again sleepwalking-and one night, she wakes up outside and stumbles on a body in her yard. WHAT? 

That's where this thriller starts ramping up. It takes a while for the action to get moving, and that was frustrating to me. Olivia is the ultimate unreliable narrator, because she just can't remember anything about the past, and she's chronically tired and drinks wine to help herself fall asleep. So is she paranoid, or does she have legitimate concerns when she feels like she's being watched? Living in a house out in the sticks, with only one close neighbor also adds to her sense of isolation. 

It was only after I'd finished the book, and discussed it with another person who also read it, that I began to think "okay, it actually was a better than I thought read." Before that, I was not that thrilled with it. The end seemed rushed, after the slooooow build up of action. Not only are you trying to figure out what the heck is going on in present time, but there are bits and pieces of the story of Arden's rescue from twenty years before sprinkled before chapters to help you get a better picture of what happened. It is important to read those!

So, I am on the fence with this one. I will probably read another Megan Miranda novel to see if this was just an off read for me. It's definitely a book you will have to discuss with someone else, and pick it apart. There's a lot going on here, and a lot of dots to connect. 

Rating: 3/6 for a thriller that has pacing problems, and an unreliable narrator that makes it feel like you're walking into walls trying to piece it all together and follow the story. That may be deliberate on the author's part, but I found it to be a bit too much. It's an interesting look at how the media can affect a life and the damage it can do to ordinary people. 

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio. 


Tuesday, December 27, 2022

December Reads: Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo and The City Beautiful by Aden Polydoros




I'm a bit behind on reviewing some of the books I read in November and wanted to quickly introduce two YA novels I read for the Iowa High School Battle of the Books 2023. High school kids form teams, read a book, take a quiz, and it all ends up with a "battle" in March, 2023 between teams, along with a virtual meeting with one of the authors of the 28 books chosen this year. 
My role, as a librarian, was to pick a book I want to read and after reading it, partner with another Iowa librarian to discuss the book, create questions for the students, and get those in before the deadline in mid-December. 

I, of course, decided not to pick one book, but three. That's what I do. Hey, no problem reading three, I thought. Plenty of time to do it. Sure. no problem. 

I'll just say the only thing that saved my butt on this was getting sick and being home on the couch for most of a week. When I wasn't feeling miserable, I managed to read two of the books. I'll review the third book, The Girl from Widow Hills, in another review. 

Both Last Night and The City Beautiful are YA historical fiction and wow, did the authors hit it out of the park. I love historical fiction, and I haven't found a lot of YA historical fiction that gets me excited to read it. Until I picked these two novels from the list. I'm so glad I did. 

Last Night at the Telegraph Club takes place in 1950's San Francisco, specifically Chinatown, during the Red Scare. Lily Hu is 17 and is feeling confused. She's not interested in boys, is fascinated by the idea of space, and has budding feelings about another student-Kath Miller. Lily and Kath are worlds apart, but share similar interests in science and someday working in that field-where women are not very welcome. Lily is fascinated by the Telegraph Club, a club where a women gather to drink and watch impersonators. It's known as a lesbian club, and while San Francisco has a growing gay underground, it is definitely not something the officials want and raids are pretty common. Kath invites Lily to the Telegraph Club, where Lily realizes she's not alone in her feelings and she discovers who she really is--which goes against everything her conservative Chinese family believes in. 

Does Lily stay true to herself, or bury her feelings for Kath? It's a difficult choice, since she knows admitting the truth to her parents will mean alienation from her family and a scandal in the Chinese community. This is a story about telling the truth, being true to yourself, and living your life even when it would be easier to stay quiet. Lots of historical background, Chinese culture and family ideals, as well as the excitement of a country on the verge of incredible growth post World War 2.

The City Beautiful knocked my socks off. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I was drawn to it because it takes place during the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. 

Alter Rosen is a young Jewish immigrant living in the tenements of Chicago, sharing a room with four other young men and barely scraping by. He's working hard to save money to bring his mother and two sisters over from Romania. The Jewish community is large, with many immigrants from Romania, Russia, and Ukraine. 

Someone is killing young Jewish men, and the authorities could care less. When one of Alter's roommates, Yakov, is found murdered at the World's Fair, Alter is devastated. Helping the Jewish elders ritually prepare Yakov's body, Alter experiences horrifying visions that appear to come from Yakov's spirit. Alter becomes possessed by Yakov's dybbuk. Alter must find who killed Yakov, or he will slowly lose his soul and become fully possessed by the dybbuk. 

Wow, this novel was so rich in Jewish history, mythology, and ritual. There was so much going on politically in 1893 Chicago. The corruption was out of bounds! This novel, told from the perspective of a Jewish immigrant is powerful. It took me a bit to get into the novel, but wham! it grabbed me and I couldn't put it down. Alter and his companions are racing against time to uncover Yakov's murder (is he a victim of a serial killer?) before the dybbuk takes Alter over completely, but there is much, much more to the story. It unfolds and takes you to unexpected places. 

Both of these novels have LGBTQ themes and are rich in historical detail. Both are about the immigrant experience in the U.S.; sad to say they echo modern headlines. Both novels were so, so good. I am glad I stumbled upon them and have already recommended The City Beautiful to a few friends.  Last Night at the Telegraph Club has a sequel of sorts that I am eager to read ( it takes place 30+ years after). Both are available in paperback, audio, and ebook. 

Rating for The City Beautiful: 5/6
Rating for Last Night at the Telegraph Club: 5/6




Saturday, December 24, 2022

December Read: Christmas Scarf Murder by Carlene O'Connor, Maddie Day, and Peggy Ehrhart

 

I picked this up last minute at the library as I was reshelving new books and just finished it a few minutes ago, on Christmas Eve. Just before I turn on the tree and start preparing our eats for the evening. 

This is three cozy mystery short stories, all centered around a scarf or yarn as the murder weapon. I haven't read any of the authors; but quickly understood each story was part of cozy mystery series: the Irish Village Mystery series; the Country Store Mysteries, and the Knit & Nibble Mysteries. I didn't have any issues diving into each short story and catching up pretty quickly on characters. 

Christmas Scarf Murder takes place in Ireland. A retirement community is rocked by some unusual robberies just two weeks before Christmas, and in the course of investigating, married police officers Siobhan and Macdara get involved in a murder of one of the suspects--caused by a scarf wrapped around his neck becoming entangled in a tractor wheel. There's lots of suspects for sure, and two mysteries to solve: who stole from the retirement home, and why? And who killed Michael? Are the two connected? Travel to Ireland for the holiday season with this enjoyable mystery that has a twist or two.

Scarfed Down by Maddie Day features Robbie Jordan, owner of Pans 'N Pancakes restaurant in Indiana. Christmas is just a short few days away, and Robbie's Aunt is implicated in the murder of a local knitter who was poisoned by yarn. Yes, poisoned by yarn soaked in a toxic chemical deadly to human skin. Robbie's Aunt Adele raises her own sheep and produces special yarn from their wool; Robbie sells the yarn in her small gift shop at her restaurant. Who would want to kill Vicky, and in such a cruel way? As Robbie keeps busy at her restaurant, she's trying to put the pieces together, knowing Adele's future is on the line if she doesn't figure out who put the poison on the yarn. This was a fun mystery that was chock full of tasty food, lovely folks, and a clever who-done-it. 

Finally, there is Death by Christmas Scarf by Peggy Ehrhart. It takes place in New Jersey, and involves a knitting group that is tied to a recent murder just days before Christmas. The group knitted scarves for an auction to support the local library, and one of those scarves was a murder weapon used to kill local sour puss Carys. The winner of the auction for that scarf, Laurel, is hauled into the police station and arrested for murder--she found Carys and her explanation that she didn't pick up the scarf at the auction falls on deaf ears. Now Pamela and her best friend Bettina are determined to discover just who is behind the murder of Carys and why. 

Full of, yes, again, delicious food, good friends, and small town holiday feels, this is another interesting cozy mystery that will keep you guessing. 


I enjoyed all three mysteries, and was really happy to read short stories over the last day--easy to put down in between cooking, running errands, and braving the wind and blizzard! 

Rating: 4/6 for entertaining short cozy mysteries that were perfect to read leading up to Christmas Eve. You don't have to be familiar with these authors or their cozy mystery series to read these; you may just find another author to read!

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

December Read: Christmas at the Ranch by Anita Hughes

 

December has truly gone by so fast my head is spinning. As per my usual tradition, I always enjoy reading holiday books after Thanksgiving and up to New Year's Day. Then I put them away and aren't even slightly tempted until next November. 

Christmas at the Ranch by Anita Hughes follows along with her previous holiday reads: Christmas in Vermont, Christmas in Paris, Christmas at the Chalet, and A Magical New York Christmas. They are all stand alone titles, so you can read them as you wish.

Christmas at the Ranch takes place in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Successful author Samantha Morgan is invited to her publisher's ranch for the Christmas holiday, and saying no is not an option. Her books are a series of action novels featuring secret agent Sloan Parker, and part of the marketing around her novels features Samantha in some wild adventures--amazing what digital editing and a green screen can do! 

Trouble is, she's a homebody who prefers nothing more than to stay in her apartment with her dog. She's afraid her publisher, Arthur, will find out she's not what her agent says she is, so reluctantly she boards a plane (terrified it will crash). 

On the plane, she meets charming and kind Drew. But surprise! Drew is Arthur's son, and he's also spending the holiday at the ranch. With his fiancĂ©. 

Samantha slowly and carefully begins to enjoy the charms of the ranch and the town of Jackson Hole. She meets a lovely woman in a shop who encourages her to be brave and try new things. Her feelings for Drew keep growing, but there lies heartache. And Arthur turns out to be a pretty nice man, too. Generous and proud of Samantha's success. 

There are more subplots, but I don't want to give it all away. This is a novel that has romantic elements, but they are very mild. I just didn't get any strong sense of attraction between Samantha and Drew. Lots of designer names tossed about, plenty of hot chocolate, loads of delicious food and drinks. Amazing trips out and about to see the beauty of Wyoming and enjoy the winter season. No Christmas shopping stress, bad weather, or budgeting money here. 

If you're looking for a holiday novel that will completely take you away to a fabulous place, this is it. I was disappointed in the lack of heat between Samantha and Drew, and there was a fast conclusion to one of the subplots that just didn't flow very well. I did get annoyed at the author's use of book plots and Native American "wise words" when characters gave advice. They never had solid advice from their own experiences, and always referred to advice from a third party. It got old pretty fast.


Rating: 3/6 for a festive winter setting, a glimpse into the high life, and of course I'm always happy about novels that involve authors and books!

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

In the Middle of Hickory Lane by Heather Webber

 

I thought I'd finally post something for November! It's been a very busy month at work and then I immediately got sick for a week. On the backside of that, and finally feeling better. I did read a few books while I was at home and I'll review those later. They are both YA historical novels for a high school library project. 

This is another delightful magical novel by Heather Webber. I've read all of her novels: Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe, South of the Buttonwood Tree, and The Lights of Sugarberry Cove. She's an author I immediately buy, no questions asked. I'm guaranteed a satisfying read. 

This novel takes place in Sweetgrass, Alabama. A typical small Southern town with old homes, solid lifetime friendships, and secrets that are bound to come to light. 

Emme Wynn arrives with just a suitcase to her grandmother Glory Wynn's home. Emma has lived her short life with a mother who was a con artist, always on the run. As soon as Emme turned eighteen, she was on her own. Now twenty-six, she yearns for a family and home to call her own. Emme's got an interesting gift-she can immediately see a person's strongest characteristic. In Glory, she sees loving. In Cora Bee her cousin, she sees softhearted. It's a talent that has saved Emme from some bad situations in her past. She doesn't feel like she belongs, and is a fake, but Glory and her friends immediately draw Emme into their circle. 

What's interesting about this special neighborhood is the garden that exists smack dab in the middle of, you guessed it, Hickory Lane. It's a magical place, complete with a bubbling spring water pool that sometimes reveals the past to those who stop to gaze. There's a vibration in the earth, and flowers that bloom way beyond their lifespan. It's also the place where a sinkhole opened up, revealing the skeletal remains of someone who died long ago. Could it be Bee Gipson, who disappeared fifty years before? Bee is the sister of Glory, and the grandmother of Cora Bee. She's the one who began the magical garden on Hickory Lane. 

Using bits of Bee's diary, her story slowly unfolds as Emme slowly lets her guard down and begins to enjoy living and learning with Glory, and becoming friends with Cora Bee. Each character's secrets slowly come to light--with a little help from Cora Bee's special skills at reading people's colors. You might say the women in the family all possess some magical skills, and all help them navigate their way into new possibilities.

I thoroughly enjoyed this mix of gardening, bees, family, sweet treats, and healing. I'm a sucker for any kind of magical tale that involves flowers, gardens, and, of course, bees. Emme is a character who definitely grows in confidence and opens up in spite of her terrible childhood. Cora Bee is also on a path of healing and has a chance at happiness, too. Glory is the glue that holds everyone together through it all. 

If you're looking for a gentle read, this is it. Perfect for gifting to a friend, or for yourself. Settle down, take a break from the whirlwind of the holidays, and enjoy! You'll want to have a sweet treat, FYI. 


Rating: 4/6 for a novel that doesn't hold many surprises, but was a delight to read. The setting, the characters, and the plot all flowed easily and it was a refreshing break from a busy month. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 


Sunday, October 16, 2022

October Read: The Vicious Circle by Katherine St. John

 

Katherine St. John's The Siren  was a favorite read of mine last year, so I was excited to pick up her latest novel, The Vicious Circle. It definitely had a lot of pulse pounding moments, along with  scary cult vibes.

Sveta is a model who lives in NYC and is engaged to a wealthy young man. She struggles to fit into his family's ideal and their New Year's Eve ends with an argument and a decision by Sveta to take some time to rethink their life together.

Soon after this, Sveta learns her Uncle Paul has died, and left her his entire estate. This isn't just some small estate; it's worth $180 MILLION dollars. Paul was a well-known self-help guru who built a fortune on classes, retreats, books, and speaking tours. He also has a villa called Xanadu in the Mexican jungle, and that's where his funeral will take place. Sveta feels like she needs to travel to Xanadu to say her final farewell to her Uncle, but hoo boy, it's one weird place.

Sveta is joined on her trip by Lucas, a man she once had a memorable encounter with years before, but never heard from since. He's in charge of Paul's estate, and he's worried Paul's spiritual wife Kali is up to something. 

Once they're at Xanadu, it's pretty clear this is a cult and Kali is in charge. Not only that, she produces a will that leaves everything to her, not Sveta, and wants Sveta to sign off on a deal that gives Sveta a percent of the estate, but leaves the bulk to Kali. Conveniently, the helicopter that is supposed to pick up Sveta and Lucas the next day is mysteriously damaged and can't fly. All technology is locked up in a room where Kali has the only key; no privacy anywhere. As Sveta and Lucas start to dig around, they discover some unsettling practices and realize Kali is dangerous, and their lives are at stake. 

There's more to this, of course. It's a typical cult in that sex is always a big part of it, and giving up everything you have to join and ascend to a higher vibration. Sveta is torn between believing Kali (she's very persuasive) and believing Lucas, who has lied to her before. 

Will Sveta make the right choices and escape? Who is she going to trust? The last bit of the novel takes off and the action escalates; there are revelations all around about Paul, Sveta, Lucas, Kali, and the cult. 

I enjoyed the novel but wasn't blow away by it, as I was with The Siren. I guess the cult part felt like an old trope with nothing new to make it any different than other novels featuring cults--or heck, even the real ones we see on TV. Otherwise it was a good weekend read with no surprises I didn't see coming.

Rating: 3/6 for a novel that centered around a cult-what it was, how people got sucked into it, and how dangerous it was to break free. It's all about absolute power corrupting absolutely--and no one is safe from it. 

Available in hardcover, ebook and audio. 

Monday, October 10, 2022

October Reads: Cackle by Rachel Harrison and Small Town, Big Magic by Hazel Beck

 I've finished two more books out of my ginormous TBR pile to wrap up my staycation. Many more to go, but I feel like I have my reading mojo back again and am so happy about it. I decided to review both of these novels in this post because they're both witchy themed and definitely appropriate reads for October.

Cackle was just released in paperback with a very different cover. I bought the hardcover last year, started it, and yes, you guessed it, put it down and didn't pick it up again for months. I powered through it Friday and finished it Saturday afternoon. I'll confess I was a bit disappointed in it. I think mostly because I was expecting something more along the lines of a lighter fare witch story. It could be entirely my fault for going into it and being dismayed that it wasn't what I was expecting. It was definitely more of a "woman power" novel about finding your own strength and owning it. 

Quick synopsis: Annie is leaving a long relationship where her boyfriend thinks they're better off as friends. She's heartbroken, and leaves NYC to teach in a small upstate New York town. Rowan is a beautiful, Hallmark-esque town with friendly people and quaint shops. Enter Sophie, a beautiful woman who eagerly begins a friendship with Annie. It's weird how the townsfolk seem to be a bit afraid of Sophie and deferential to her whenever she's around. Soon, Annie is exposed to more of Sophie's life, and it's pretty odd. A giant home/castle in the woods, spiders that interact with Sophie, things appearing by magic. Sophie is a witch. And she's nice but if you cross her, she is quick to punish. She wants Annie to come into her own power, forget pining over her ex-boyfriend, and stand up for herself. She doesn't need anyone to live a happy life. Annie struggles with this--it's attractive and hard to resist. 

Will Annie fall under Sophie's "spell"? I felt this novel had some promise, but fell short of what I was hoping to read. I was disappointed in the ending and felt it went from potentially charming to a bit dark and gave me Stepford Wives vibes (I saw the original Stepford Wives movie as a kid on TV and was deeply horrified by it). I guess I don't like the conclusion that you have to be alone in order to be happy and free as a woman. 




I waited months for this to be published, and it's taken me checking it out twice and renewing it a few times from the library to finish it. Ugh! Again, another one I had huge hopes for, but was disappointed. Mostly disappointed in the main character Emerson. Bookstore owner? Love it! Independent woman-Love it! But holy cow she's a real pain in the butt. Annoying doesn't cover it. Always saying how smart she is, how capable she is, how tough she is. It gets. so. old. Emerson and her circle of friends are all witches in the small town of St. Cyprian, MO. Only thing is, Emerson doesn't know she's a witch. There's a horrible governing body of witches called the Joywood who wiped her mind clear in her teens when her powers didn't appear when they were expected. So for ten years Emerson has been oblivious to it all, while her friends have been hiding it from her and protecting her. 

Annoying asshat Mayor Skip tries to have Emerson killed by some heavy black magic, and low and behold, Emerson's hidden powers appear and she destroys the black magic. She finds out she's a Confluence Warrior, and she's meant to save the town from a horrible black magic flood that's going to destroy not only St. Cyprian, but possibly the Midwest. This black magic is concentrated in the confluence of the Mississippi and the Missouri Rivers, right where St. Cyprian is located. But Emerson must find the ritual that will stop the flood before it's too late. And she has to do it in secret, with her friends, so the Joywood don't find out and destroy Emerson. 

There's some romance, but it's low level between Emerson and Jacob, her love (she kind of remembers, but kind of doesn't thanks to the mind wipe) from high school. Still friends, and some smoldering occurs. She's got a heck of a great guy there, but doesn't seem to appreciate him as much as I'd expect. He's a peach. While their relationship progresses, it seems as though it's Jacob doing all the heavy lifting and Emerson accepting it without much giving. 

Anyway, I will read the next book, which is out sometime in 2023 just because this novel ends with a huge cliff-hanger moment. I'm interested enough in the other characters and what happens with all of them. Emerson's circle of friends are the best part of the novel. Emerson is annoying and hard to like as a character. 

Rating for Cackle: 3/6 for potential as an interesting novel about owning your own power, living your life. Fell short of my expectations. 

Available in hardcover, trade paperback, ebook, and audio. 

Rating for Small Town, Big Magic: 3/6 for a novel with a lot of potential that was almost sidelined by the annoying main character Emerson. I really liked her circle of friends and will read the second book to see where it goes. It is touted as a rom-com, but it's definitely not one at all. 

Available in trade paperback, audio, and ebook. 



Saturday, October 8, 2022

October Read: Daisy Darker by Alice Feeney

 

Another book I started a few months ago, put down, and didn't pick up again until last night. It wasn't because I didn't enjoy it, but because I  was in my reading slump. I zipped through it and throughly enjoyed it. It does require a bit of suspended disbelief but heck I had no problem doing that!

Daisy Darker is a young woman who has had a really lousy life. Born with a heart defect, she's  been told her life would be short. Her mother Nancy feels like a failure having a third daughter who is "broken", and treats Daisy pretty lousy. Her older sisters Rose and Lily were in turn smart and beautiful. Her father Frank is equally messed up, traveling constantly to conduct orchestras around the world. The only constant Daisy has is her Nana, a famous author who lives in a rambling old house on a tiny island off the coast of England. A house you can only reach on foot when the tide is out. 

The family has gathered at Seaglass, Nana's home, for her eightieth birthday--on Halloween. It's family tradition and this time, Nana has required everyone to be there because she's going to read her will. She's convinced this is her last birthday, and wants the family to know exactly what she's leaving them when she dies. 

I've never read And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, but this novel takes a page from it and every hour, someone at Seaglass dies. As a storm rages outside, and all communication with the outside world is cut off, the terror builds as the family watches VCR tapes of years gone by, revealing pivotal moments in Daisy's history. And at the ding dongs of the many clocks strike the hour, someone dies. 

Who could be killing of the family? Who is next? Will anyone survive and escape when the tide finally comes in?

This is the kind of thriller I enjoy. I'm easily able to read it and not stop to question or poke holes. I'm on the roller coaster and staying buckled in until the ride comes to a complete stop. There are a couple of WHATTT moments, but I stuck with it and thought it was a heck of a good read. Dang. Families are complicated. 

This is a perfect read for October nights. 

Rating: 4/6 for a simply enjoyable thriller with all sorts of interesting revelations and moments of WHAT JUST HAPPENED. You may figure it all out, but I didn't even try and just enjoyed the unraveling story. I may read some Agatha Christie after this. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 



Thursday, October 6, 2022

October Read: A Death in Door County (A Monster Hunter Mystery #1) by Annelise Ryan

 

The cover of this mystery caught my eye and led to me checking it out of my library. Then last week, I was at my book group and one of my friends talked about it--I made sure he didn't give the ending away because I wasn't quite done with it!

 I finished it and enjoyed traveling to Door County, WI. I'm putting it on my bucket list of places to visit. It's not terribly far from where I live now, and even though my family took vacations every summer to Rhinelander, WI when I was little, we never got to Door County. 

Anyhow. This was kind of like a cozy mystery, but one with a little more oomph to it. Morgan Carter owns a unique bookshop called Odds and Ends in Door County. Her hobby, inherited from her parents, is the study of cryptids. Crypids are creatures people are sure exist, but just have never had definitive proof: Bigfoot, Loch Ness, Abominable Snowman. New police chief Jon Flanders hires Morgan to investigate the possibility of a cryptid swimming around Lake Michigan, after two men are washed ashore drowned but showing signs of being crushed by something powerful. Could it be a lake creature? 

As Morgan begins to dig into her research, she uncovers more questions than answers. We also get to meet her employees Rita and Devon, her beloved and very protective dog Newt, and see her cautious relationship develop with Chief Flanders. There is some uncovering of Morgan's past that answers some questions of how she is an expert at cryptids, and why she has such an unusual bookstore. 

I was deep into this mystery pretty quickly. It's clear Annelise Ryan knows Door County. It sounds absolutely lovely and she painted a heck of a picture. I deliberately kept away from looking online so I could keep it all in my head. There are a few sad moments, but overall I just let the mystery reveal itself as I read. There's no "ooh, maybe this person did it" as there is in cozy mysteries. I truly had no idea until the end. 

I'm happy to say the last few sentences lead to the possibility of the next mystery in the series and I'll be picking that up--it involves Bigfoot! 

Rating: 5/6 for the vivid writing that brings Door County to life, along with a very interesting main character with a special knowledge unlike any other mysteries I've read. I like the slow development of Morgan and Jon's relationship which leaves something for more mysteries to explore. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 


Monday, October 3, 2022

October Read: The Littlest Library by Poppy Alexander

 

It's been a few months since I've posted a review, and mostly that's because I just wasn't finishing any thing I started. I've begun reading dozens of books, but just couldn't keep my interest long enough to actually finish them. I wish I could say 2022 has been a fantastic reading year, but it's been the opposite. 

I'm on vacation this week, and my goal is to  joyfully read every day (after I complete my to-do lists). I'm starting off my vacation reads with this delightful novel I discovered at B&N last week. 

The Littlest Library by Poppy Alexander reminds me of novels by Katie Fforde. It's definitely a gentle read that wraps you in comfort. Small English village? Check. Likeable characters? Check. Books? Check. Potential romance? Check.

Jess Metcalfe has recently lost her job as librarian, and is a bit lost. Her grandmother Mimi has died and left her cottage to Jess, but Jess knows there's nothing left for her in the place she's grown up. A random drive around the country finds her in the small village of Middlemass, and in front of Ivy Cottage. It's for sale! Huzzah! It's a bit rundown, but the basic bones are there--not to mention the beautiful garden and the odd red phone box just outside the front gate. Jess takes a chance and buys the cottage. It's her dream to live in a small village, be part of the community, and have a cottage where she can grow a garden and live happily ever after.

There is the problem of finding a job, eventually. Jess has enough money to last through the summer, then she's got to find a job. As she settles in, she meets Diana, an elderly woman who loves gin & tonics; next door neighbor Aidan and his daughter Maisie, and young mom Becky. She also decides to make the old phone box a little library with the boxes of books her grandmother Mimi left her. Those books are childhood favorites of Jess, and favorites of Mimi. 

What begins as a whim of a library ends up bringing villagers together, healing hurts, and creating a community center in a village that has slowly lost itself over the years. Will Jess find her happy life after all?

This novel was such a comforting read. Issues pop up, of course, but they are resolved with some strategic thinking and enthusiasm. Jess is a quiet force who makes magic in this small village. She's someone who doesn't think she can do much, but everything she does makes a huge impact. 

Book lovers will, of course, devour this novel about the power of books to connect and comfort. Aidan is properly hot and perfect romance material. I so hope there's more to come from the village of Middlemass. 

Rating: 4/6 for a novel about a lost young woman who finds her home in a struggling village, and creates the most delightful little library in a red phone box. 

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




Sunday, August 7, 2022

Summer Reading 2022: West with Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge

 

This summer has flown by so fast my head is spinning. Now it's August, and I did finally manage to finish a book! I spent yesterday cleaning my house, which I haven't done in some time. That involved gathering all the piles of books I have sitting around and putting them all in one spot. Now instead of a lot of small piles, I have just one big pile by my living room bookcase. Cleaning felt good, and helped me reset a bit. It's been a very busy work summer, and I'm definitely feeling low energy. Finishing this book, which has been on my TBR list for a long time, also helped reset my mental "can do" attitude. 

I read this book now because I was invited to be on a podcast with a local library. They discuss books with librarians from area libraries each month, and I picked West with Giraffes. When I say I enjoyed this book so so much, I'm not understating it. I even decided to add it to our library collection as a book club kit because it is such a wonderful book, and must be shared. 

WWG takes place over a two week period in September, 1938. It also bounces to 2025, where the main character Woody Nickel (yes that's his name) is 105 years old and nearing the end of his life. Woody realizes he doesn't have much time left, and he still has a story to tell. It's a story he must tell, because he's the only one left to tell it, and he can't stand the thought of the story dying with him. So Woody starts writing in notebooks in his room at the care center; feverishly writing it all down. 

The story starts out with Woody surviving the Hurricane of 1938 that hit New Jersey and killed hundreds of people. Woody is there, and survives through sheer luck. He's traveled from Texas to work with the only remaining relative he has: a third cousin who doesn't survive the hurricane. Woody is seventeen, broke, and alone. And to his amazement, he sees two giraffes on a boat that have miracularly survived the hurricane. He finds out they are to travel across country to the San Diego Zoo, their new home. Woody wants to get to "Californy" to start over--after all, it's the land of milk and honey. 

Old man is tasked with hiring a driver to take the giraffes to California. Woody, through some sheer ingenuity and luck, gets to drive the truck. He's formed a connection with the two giraffes he calls Boy and Girl. And so the adventure begins, filled with bad men, good people, danger, and a whole lot of amazing moments. 

Woody, Old Man, and Red, the beautiful photographer who follows the truck across the U.S. capturing all the special moments of the journey, are three characters that grew on me so much so that it was painful to end the journey. Each has a back story that is slowly revealed as they connect over their love for the giraffes. 

I still find myself thinking about this novel and the characters days after I finished it. It was quite unlike anything I've read this year, and exactly what I needed to read this summer. I think it would make an excellent movie on any of the streaming services. It's definitely a hidden gem that I will be sharing with everyone who asks me "what should I read next?"

Rating: 5/6 for a sneaky novel: it begins interestingly enough, but somehow grabs you by the heartstrings and doesn't let go. Characters reveal themselves and their hidden secrets and form unbreakable bonds. And the giraffes are just unforgettable. 

Available in hardcover, paperback, ebook and audio. 


Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Summer Reading 2022: Gilt by Jamie Brenner

 

I discovered Jamie Brenner last summer when a book came across my desk at the library that featured a family vineyard and Jackie Collins novels. So of course I had to read it, and Blush was an unexpected surprise. You can read my review from last year here.  

Jamie returns this summer with Gilt, and I enjoyed this just as much. Centered around a family jewelry store in Manhattan, this is the tale of three sisters, one niece, a pink diamond engagement ring, and a family curse. 

The Pavlin family has been in the jewelry business for over a hundred years, and their famous store in Manhattan was the first to market diamond rings as engagement rings. They've ridden that marketing high for decades, but now Elodie, the great granddaughter of the founder of the company, knows the store is in trouble. People don't want to shop for jewelry in a store; they can buy online. Jewelry isn't what it used to be, and the store is in the red. Elodie's only way out is to have a big splashy auction to sell famous family jewelry pieces.

Only problem is she needs the okay of her surviving sister Celeste and her niece Gemma. 

Celeste lives in Provincetown and left the family decades ago. She owns an antique shop and lives with her love, Jack. Gemma's mother, Paulina, was the famous "it" girl of the 1990's; her beauty and endless travels around the world kept the Pavlin family in the news, and business was good. Her tragic death, along with her handsome husband, left Gemma without parents and being raised by her other grandparents, the Maybrooks. She has always felt resentment for the Pavlin family because they seemingly ignored her existence. 

Now Gemma is an adult and aspiring jewelry designer. She wants the one thing she was promised: the infamous Electric Rose diamond engagement ring her mother promised to her. That ring caused a huge rift between the three sisters: Elodie, Celeste, and Paulina. 

Elodie has her work cut out for her, and heads to Provincetown to convince Celeste to sign the papers approving the auction. Gemma ends up in Provincetown to meet her Aunt Celeste and find out more about the whereabouts of the Electric Rose. 

It's a summer of complicated family issues; each woman has a lot to work through. It's a crossroads for them all; a chance to look at life and figure out where to go next. And in the center of it all is Gemma and her budding jewelry business. Her desire to have the Electric Rose ring is palpable. Not for money, but because it was the one thing she remembers her mother always wearing. But Elodie isn't saying where it is, and Gemma refuses to sign the auction papers until she has the ring. 

I dived into the novel pretty quickly, and got to know all the characters. Provincetown sounds like a pretty cool place to spend the summer. The tensions between the sisters and their niece are definitely well drawn out; the other side stories keep everything balanced and give some relief to the family drama. An  unexpected romance, another chance at a broken romance, and ooh--will Celeste finally marry Jack? 

This would, of course, make a really good Netflix movie. Perfect summer read. 

Rating: 4/6 for a novel about a family broken apart, with a chance to heal old wounds. Moving from New York City to Cape Cod this tale of three women reuniting to become family was very entertaining. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Friday, July 8, 2022

Summer Reading 2022: Other Birds by Sarah Addison Allen

 

I'm not overstating when I say knowing Sarah Addison Allen has a new book out this year brings me immense joy. I've read all of her books, and still to this day recommend Garden Spells to people.

I was being patient knowing I'd probably have to wait until Other Birds was published before I bought a copy and enjoyed it. However, a friend of mine was able to get me an ARC from Sarah Addison Allen herself (a signed one, at that!) when she made an appearance at the American Library Association Conference in June. My friend stood in line and even got there early and patiently waited. Can't thank him enough! 

You bet I set aside everything else I'm reading and dove into Other Birds and breathed a sigh of relief stepping back into SAA's magical words.

Other Birds takes place on Mallow Island, off the coast of South Carolina. Now a tourist destination, Mallow Island has a special building tucked away down an alley: the Dellawisp. Named after little blue birds that inhabit the trees around the building, it is home to some quirky residents, and the new home to Zoey. Zoey has come to the Dellawisp to live in the apartment left by her mother. She's finally left her toxic home in Oklahoma where her father and stepmother have made it clear she's not wanted. Only eighteen, Zoey is on her own, ready to start college, and trying to find a connection to her deceased mother. 

The Dellawisp is unusual, to be sure. There's magic in the air-the birds, a few ghosts, and the residents all combine to create an atmosphere of secrets, loss, love, and chances to create happiness. If only Zoey and Lucy, Charlotte, Frasier, and Mac can embrace the unknown and find the beginnings to their stories, while others (ghosts!) find the end of their stories. Each character has a chance to tell their story which I loved. There wasn't a character I didn't like, or feel sympathy for as they revealed their stories. The friendship that formed between Charlotte, Zoey, and Mac was delightful to see unfold. 

This was a much anticipated book for me, and I wasn't disappointed at all. I happily sunk into a world only SAA can create. I turned the last page with a big sigh of contentment, and a little bit of sadness that I'd finished. 

Rating: 6/6 for sheer enjoyment at reading SAA's newest novel. I adore her tales of every day people with every day problems, sprinkled in with a bit of magic. A reminder that there is still wonder in the small things; the world is a magical place if we take the time to look for it--it's right there in front of us! 

Available August 30th in the United States in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Sunday, July 3, 2022

A Dress of Violet Taffeta by Tessa Arlen

 














Followers of my blog know I'm a huge fan of historical fiction. I was asked to be part of the blog tour for A Dress of Violet Taffeta and jumped at the chance. You'll want to grab this novel when it is available on July 5th in the U.S. 

Lucy, Lady Duff-Gordon is a fascinating historical figure. She made this a hard-to-put down novel, about her rise from a scandalously divorced woman to one of the most respected and revered clothing designers of the early 20th century. Toss in surviving the Titanic, and you've got a life that seems as if it can't possibly be true-but it is.

Lucy's first husband was a loser who left her practically penniless, with a young daughter. She'd always been intrigued by clothing design, and had an uncanny ability to know exactly what colors and style of dresses would suit women the best. With nothing to lose, she begins designing dresses for the upper crust women of British society, all while making it look to all that it wasn't really "work", but a genteel woman gently giving advice to other women. She grew her business over the years, adding more staff and moving to bigger homes. 

Lucy is a remarkable woman, and her fictional tale is hard to put down. She moved women's fashion forward, and wow! she accomplished a lot. Her second married to Sir Duff-Gordon was beneficial to both, but their trip on the Titanic became a scandal. Surviving in a lifeboat that only held a few people, she was appalled at the terrible tragedy, and was one of the only passengers to testify at the hearings. Her husband became a central figure in the Titanic trials. 

I so enjoyed this novel. The fashion--oh my. Stunning descriptions of color, fabric, and style. A glimpse at a world long gone, and a way of life long gone, too. Lucy and her assistant Celia, along with Lucy's sister Elinor are three strong women, making successes in a society that frowned on strong, independent, smart women. 

Anyone interested in clothing design or fashion, the Titanic, and a woman who helped determine the fashion of the 1890's all the way into the early days of Hollywood will want to dive into this novel. It clips along quickly and I thoroughly enjoyed it. There's plenty online about Lucy, Lady Duff-Gordon--photos of her and her clothing, as well as her life. 

A big thanks to Austin PR for inviting me along on this blog tour! Also thanks to Berkley (Penguin/Random House) for a copy of the book. 

Rating: 5/6 for a solid, well researched novel about one of the earlier fashion influencers with an amazing talent and eye for color and fabric. Strong women, independence, taking chances, and female friendship are all major themes in this novel. A truly remarkable trailblazer. Grab it on July 5th!

Available in trade paperback and ebook. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Summer Reading 2022: The Cherry Robbers by Sarai Walker

 

This was one odd, haunting, dysfunctional family wallop of a novel. 

It's 1950, and we're introduced to the Chapel sisters: Aster, Rosalind, Calla, Daphne, Iris, and Hazel. The Chapel family is famous for gun and rifle manufacturing that has helped settle the West and win wars. Their father works every day, and they live in the town of Bellflower Village in an ornate Victorian home surrounded by acres of land. 

Their mother sees the ghosts of all of the victims of the Chapel firearms. She screams, like clockwork, every night. She hates her husband, but loves her daughters even though she's clearly got a lot of issues and can't be a very good mother. 

On their annual trek to the Atlantic Ocean, Aster meets a handsome young man, and after dating for a bit, they become engaged and plan a big wedding. Only problem is, the closer the wedding approaches, the more mother gets worked up, claiming if the wedding isn't postponed, something horrible will happen. Iris believes her mother, and does her part (as much as a small child can do) to try and disrupt and postpone the wedding. 

Well, it doesn't work, and Aster's wedding proceeds. It seems mother was wrong. 

Except the next morning, Aster's new husband returns with Aster, clad in a honeymoon nightgown, clearly not well. What follows is a horrible nightmare for the Chapel family, as Aster dies one day after her wedding day. To prevent a scandal, the doctor claims it was simply the flu, and Aster is buried less than a week after she walked down the aisle. 

Okay, weird. However, the pattern repeats itself...until it's very clear the Chapel sisters are cursed, somehow. There are possible explanations, of course, that go back through their mother's line; however, there's just enough fuzzy-wuzzy info to make you wonder if it's all real or just horrible bad luck. 

One daughter escapes this fate. The novel begins in 2017, when she receives a letter from someone claiming to know who she really is; her current name and fame as a well-known feminist artist are fake and she's actually a Chapel girl. It's been sixty years since those horrible days, and now she will be outed. Is it time to relive those memories, and spill the story of her bizarre family curse?

I was fascinated by this novel. The sisters were all definitely different characters and I felt they were well-drawn and strong women. The atmosphere of the entire novel was what really grabbed me: haunting, melancholy, and slightly off-kilter. Kind of gothic in flavor; I had to remind myself this took place in the 1950's. There's a lot to unpack in this novel and it would make a great book discussion novel. There's much to discuss about female sexuality, mental health, family issues, sisterhood, LGBTQ, and so. much. more. 

Rating: 5/6 for a novel that had me captivated and wondering just what the heck was going to happen next. The Chapel sisters are quite simply unforgettable, and this is one tale that will leave you pondering and thinking about it for days after you've turned the last page. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio book.