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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. 




Sunday, June 12, 2022

Summer Reading 2022: The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle by Jennifer Ryan

 

If you're looking for gentle World War 2 fiction, Jennifer Ryan is your person. I've read two of her novels and enjoyed them both for the very fact that they are just good historical novels that give a flavor of the time from the women on the home  front. 

This novel takes place in 1942 in the small village of Aldhurst, outside of London. England is deep in World War 2, and rationing is in full force. Not only food, but clothing is in short supply. 

A group of women in the village gather each week to sew and repurpose (the "make do and mend" program) second hand clothing, along with knitting socks for the troops. Violet is the daughter of the manor, and niece to famous clothing designer Cressida Westcott. She's only interested in finding a titled man to marry. 

Cressida's home and shop are bombed in London, and the only place for her to go is her family home in Aldhurst. Reluctant to return to her childhood home, she doesn't have much choice and can't wait to return to London. 

Grace is the vicar's daughter, and engaged to be married to another vicar. It's not a love match, and it's pretty clear her fiancé is looking for a helpmate and not necessarily a wife. She's vaguely unhappy, but believes this is her calling and a way to have a family of her own. 

These three women are the main characters in the novel. There are other players, of course, and it's pretty interesting how much each of the women change over the course of the novel. Violet is petulant and a bit of a brat; she's been conscripted to join the women's war effort and believes her upper class standing will make it a smooth ride for herself. She is wrong. 

Grace runs into Hugh, the lord of the manor (and Violet's brother). Childhood friends who haven't seen each other in years, both are dismayed to find the other completely different from their carefree days as children and best friends. There's more here to unpack, for sure. 

Cressida meets up with Grace's father, Vicar Ben. Cressida's fiancé was killed in World War I and was Ben's best friend. Cressida left Aldhurst to begin her career as a designer and never fell in love again. Ben married, had Grace, and lost his wife. They strike up a friendship again; could it be more than that after all these years?

Besides all the stories going on with these three women, the sewing circle has begun something pretty fantastic and unique: helping women who are getting married have a white wedding dress. Since clothes rations leave little room (as in none!) for special clothing, women are getting married in their uniforms and every day dresses. What starts with Grace's wedding dress blooms into a movement to have wedding dresses available for any woman in the country who is getting married. It's an amazing part of the novel, and brings home the willingness to work together, to share, and give selflessly so others may have even a tiny bit of happiness. There was no "me", it was all "us". 

I liked all the characters and especially the growth of each woman as the six months of the novel go by. A lot of self discovery, confidence building, and understanding of love and the precious time we all have in which to be happy and lead fulfilling lives. 

Kate Quinn's World War 2 novels are a bit more intense than Jennifer Ryan's novels, even though both take place at a dark time for the world. I've read both, and would say Jennifer Ryan's novels are more wholesome and less anxiety inducing! 

Rating: 4/6 for an entirely likable cast of characters, a unique movement in British home front activity, and the message of uniting together and doing what's right for all instead of being selfish. Another theme is discovering the life you want to live and going for it, even if it means leaving the familiar to forge into the unknown. And finally, loving someone for who they are, not what they have. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 



Monday, June 6, 2022

Summer Reading 2022: The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas

 

I took a few days of vacation to make a long weekend and was determined to finish a few books in my summer TBR list. This novel has been in my pile for a few months. I started it in May, got distracted, and put it down. Yesterday I picked it back up and got swept away pretty immediately. 

Beatriz needs to get married to escape the awful life her and her mother are in after her father is taken away in the night and murdered for plotting against the Mexican government. It's 1823 and women have limited choices. She married Rodolfo Solórzano, a wealthy man who takes her to his home, the Hacienda San Isidro. 

Beatriz isn't greeted with much enthusiasm by the servants at San Isidro, nor Rodolfo's sister Juana. She's the second Doña Solórzano, and yikes it's not the welcome she was hoping for. The first wife of Rodolfo was a horrible woman who treated the servants terribly and made everyone's life miserable. She died from typhoid a few years before. 

However, the moment Beatriz steps into the hacienda, she feels something is terribly, terribly wrong. The house seethes with bad energy; cold air sweeps through in waves; doors slam, and there are those terrible red eyes peeking through the darkness. Rodolfo leaves for business in the capitol, and Beatriz is terrified to live in the house alone. She hears voices, sees terrible visions, and is afraid to sleep. 

She attends church, and asks for a blessing. Snubbed by the older, crabby Padre, she meets Padre Andrés, a young priest who grew up at San Isidro and has returned to take care of the village outside of the hacienda. He agrees to bless the hacienda, and oh boy, what he feels and sees when he visits is exactly what Beatriz experiences: an unholy, terrible, evil force. 

Who's that force? Why, the first Doña, of course. Beatriz is frantic to fight the evil-she just isn't strong enough to do it herself. Andrés has a few surprises of his own that may just be enough to fight the evil that inhabits the hacienda. It may kill them first, though. 

There's a lot going on here with back story and the aftermath of the Mexican War of Independence. Generations of people working on the same land; generations of the same land owners treating those people poorly and taking advantage of them. People who can't get away because of the class system that keeps them down. A priest who is also a witch, and must be careful to not be exposed. A woman who thought she was marrying a man who would give her a home, only to realize the home, and her husband, are awful. Cut off from any help, she only had Andrés to turn to. The folks around the hacienda know something dark is there, but are too afraid to do anything about it. 

This was a spooky story--I could feel that numbing cold rolling down the hallways. Author Isabel Cañas does an excellent job building tension and terror and ramping it up. This is evil that is vicious and nasty. Can you imagine what this woman was like when she was alive?! I raced through this horror novel, and was tense every time Beatriz had to be in the hacienda alone. 

A horror novel of a different kind, set in 1823 Mexico. The setting was well drawn and I could picture it all in my mind. Beatriz was smart, tough, and stalwart in her belief that there was something very wrong in the hacienda. Padre Andrés was a complex character torn by guilt as a priest and the power he was born to use for good. 

Rating: 5/6 for a tense, atmospheric horror novel with a historical setting. Once I got into it, I was hooked. 

A big thanks to Berkley for an ARC of the novel. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 


Friday, June 3, 2022

Summer Reading 2022: Book Lovers by Emily Henry

 

I'm chipping away at my summer reading pile, and I just finished Book Lovers by Emily Henry. I wanted to give her another chance after I read Beach Read a few years ago and had mixed feelings about that novel. Enough mixed feelings that I didn't read People We Meet on Vacation, her follow up. 

I'm happy to say I had a different experience with this novel. It could be I liked the characters much more in Book Lovers.  Nora and Charlie both live in New York City. Nora is a literary agent, and Charlie is an editor. They meet briefly to discuss one of Nora's clients. Charlie doesn't like the book, and Nora doesn't much like Charlie. Neither makes a good impression on the other.  

Fast forward two years later, and Nora is taking a month long vacation to the town of Sunshine Falls, North Carolina with her pregnant sister Libby. They are extremely close, but Nora has felt some distance in their relationship. Libby isn't happy with Nora's career taking all of her time; Nora is afraid their relationship may be damaged because of it. 

Nora runs into Charlie in Sunshine Falls. Oh--did I mention Sunshine Falls is the setting for the novel Charlie dissed two years before? And that novel was a HUGE hit? Surprise, surprise. Charlie actually is from Sunshine Falls. He's there taking care of his parent's bookshop and helping his father recover from a stroke. Charlie hates Sunshine Falls. They run into each other, and it's clear their short meeting two years before was just the start of something big. 

Nora and Charlie begin working on editing a novel that has the potential to be a blockbuster. They both know it and are completely in sync with each other about the work it will take to shape the manuscript and get it ready to sell. 

Nora and Charlie also are irresistibly attracted to each other, and their chemistry is off the charts! I'll say Emily Henry hit the nail on the head as Nora finds the little things about Charlie so darn hot. That's exactly how it works. I'm partial to my dude's dimples. They get me every time. I love his chin. Weird, I know, but darn it all he's got a great chin. Anyway...Nora and Charlie just are so good together. I loved reading their texts; they just get each other. Smart, snappy, sharp conversations that make their relationship very believable. 

Charlie's attraction to Nora is also so. well. done. I loved the evolution of their relationship. A great match; great dialogue. 

Nora's relationship with her sister Libby is a bit complicated, and Nora's quirks and issues get a deep dive into her past. Charlie brings out the best in her. 

A big theme in this novel is the idea of happily ever after, and how sometimes it doesn't always happen the way we want it to happen. Life is not a Hallmark movie; tough choices have to be made. Sometimes your happy is not the same happy for others you love, and you have to make a choice. It's also about loving someone enough to let them go so they can be happy. 

I'm not saying how this novel ends, because the journey is important. It's a good journey, however, and while this is a romance, it's also a story about family, sacrifice, personal happiness, and healing. 

Okay. So I'm onboard the Emily Henry train. Book Lovers was a great read, a solid romance, and an examination of being happy in your life versus just being okay in order to make someone else happy. 

Rating: 5/6 for two engaging characters: Nora and Charlie. Darn it all, Charlie sure is appealing! The story moves along at a good pace; all of the strands of this plot come together neatly. A good novel to take on vacation. 

Available in paperback, hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Summer Reading 2022: The Change by Kirsten Miller

 

This novel is definitely going in my top ten for 2022. I picked it as one of my Book of the Month selections for May and I'll just keep patting myself on the back the rest of the year. I was up reading this book at 3 AM last week because I couldn't stop thinking about it. 

Three women live in the Long Island town of Mattuck, New York. Harriett is an executive in advertising; Jo owns Furious Fitness, and Nessa is a widow who's two daughters have just left for college. Three women who don't seem to have anything in common on the surface. 

They all have something in common: the change. We know it as menopause, and those of us who have experienced it know it brings all sorts of interesting physical changes. Pretty much anything that goes haywire with your body once you hit 40 can be attributed to pre-menopause or full blown menopause. It does a number on your body. 

Harriett, Jo, and Nessa are at the age where change is happening, but not in the way you may think. For Harriett, it's finding her calling with gardening, growing herbs, plants, and all sorts of interesting things in her garden. Using those plants to help or punish others. She's so in tune with nature she just stops wearing clothes around her yard--which is safely hidden by  rose bushes that have grown big and thorny and impenetrable. 

Nessa hears the voices again, after decades of not tuning in. Her gift has been handed down in her family: she can hear and see the dead. One voice is very, very loud. 

Jo, after years of battling with her period, her body, and the patriarchy bullshit she dealt with at work, turns that rage into immense strength. She can feel it bubbling up under her skin, and the sweat pours off of her. Running miles each day just to work off the energy. 

All three women come together in Mattuck to stop a serial killer. Young women are disappearing, and the three women follow Nessa's pull towards a local beach. In the brush along the road by the beach, they find a bag, and inside, a dead girl. That's the tip of it all, and wow the book takes off after that.

This is an all-out war between corrupt men and the women who aren't going to take it anymore. The exclusive gated community near Mattuck that houses billionaires during the summer is the bullseye for corruption and may very well be where the serial killer lurks. There's danger everywhere for the women, and their very lives may be in danger as they begin poking around. 

What I loved about this novel was the "F**k around and find out" attitude the trio give-especially Harriett and Jo. Nessa is a little more timid, but is compelled to keep moving forward. Harriett is my favorite of the three--she's just magnificent. Jo's hot flashes are so intense she can literally start fires with a touch of her hand. Her simmering rage is certainly understandable. After decades of having to put up with men who treat them as less than, the women have come into their own with a roar!

Oh, I hope someone buys the rights to this novel and turns it into a movie. I'd see it in a second. I absolutely love Kirsten Miller's take on menopause and aging women who certainly are not done with achieving their potential--heck, even finding new potential. Menopause isn't the end, but the glorious beginning. 

Put this on your summer read list. I raced through it, and carried it with me to work to read at lunch, and even was up late the other night at my partner's house, reading while he peacefully slept in the other room. I couldn't wait to finish it. And oh, it's got a heck of an ending. 

Rating: 6/6--yes! A book that grabbed me from the beginning and kept me smirking, giggling, and heck yes, a bit pissed off until the end. But oh, do the punishments fit the crimes. Hell hath no fury...

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

READ THIS ONE!


Saturday, May 21, 2022

Back to the Prairie by Melissa Gilbert

 

As soon as I as Melissa Gilbert had written another memoir, I just had to read it. I did gulp it down in one weekend (which is something I haven't done in a long, long time). 

I grew up a huge fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder (Little House in the Big Woods is my favorite book) and of course my family always watched the TV show every week. Then Melissa Gilbert dated Rob Lowe and wow I thought she was pretty fantastic outside of her role as LIW. She was part of the cool, young, rising stars set of the early 1980's. 

Then darn it all, she married Bruce Boxleitner, who I had a huge crush on in the 80's. Dang. I read her first memoir, Prairie Tale, and loved it. I thought she had managed to have a pretty sweet life. 

I was wrong. She ended up divorcing Bruce after many years of marriage, and found herself in her forties divorced, financially strapped, and so tired of living the Hollywood life. And then...she met Timothy Busfield. You know, the actor from Thirtysomething and one of the geeks from Revenge of the Nerds. That guy. The universe  works in weird ways, and they came together at the best time in their lives. Finding so much in common, and, yes, life goals to still achieve, they ended up in Michigan, and finally, upstate New York. That's where most of this memoir takes place. 

Melissa and Tim start over, and the pandemic gave them the chance to really dive into living a simple life on fourteen acres of woods in a small ramshackle home they refurbished. Melissa is definitely a city woman, but found herself embracing country life-and also discovering she's pretty darn handy at home maintenance, gardening, and raising chickens. She found fulfillment and a place to land. 

Now in her late 50's, Melissa's tale is about starting over and discovering that there's always a chance to find your happily ever after. Every mistake you make leads to your best life. She also says she finally learned she's "earned the right to her opinions". As someone in my 50's as well, I will say there's something almost magical about this age. You do let go of so much stuff, grow into who you really are, and start putting yourself first. I guess that's the trade off for hot flashes! 

Fair warning Melissa is very clear on her political views so if you're a Trump fan who can't bear to hear any criticism, don't read this book. 

Otherwise, enjoy Melissa's memoir. It's a fast read, and her voice is very strong. Her energy is apparent and I found myself hearing her voice as I read (I did not listen to the audio).  She's survived a lot of heartbreak, childhood issues, and boy oh boy, back and neck pain. I had no idea she had such such painful medical issues. 

Rating: 4/6 for an uplifting memoir about embracing life, opportunities, and always learning something new. Love and family are the center we always return to and the  foundation from which we grow. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Little Souls by Sandra Dallas

 

If you've been following my blog for a long time, you know I'm a big Sandra Dallas fan. I was thrilled to finally sit down and read her new book. Reading a novel by Sandra Dallas always feels comforting to me, and this novel was no different. 

Set in Denver during the Spanish Flu Pandemic and last days of World War One, this novel is about two sisters, Lutie and Helen. With their parents dead, both sisters moved from Cedar Rapids, Iowa (always an Iowa connection in Dallas' novels!) to Denver to start fresh. Helen is a nurse and works long hours tending to flu patients. Lutie works for a department store drawing advertisements. They own a home and rent the basement out. 

The basement residents are a couple and their young daughter Dorothy. Unfortunately, Dorothy's father is a mean, nasty man-a drunk and an abuser. When Dorothy's mother ends up a victim of the flu, Helen and Lutie take her in and decide they will raise her as their sister. It's obvious her father could care less about her, and besides, he's gone for days at a time. 

Until one day Lutie comes home and finds Mr. Streeter (Dorothy's father) dead on the kitchen floor; Helen standing over him with an ice pick. Helen confesses to killing him after finding him attacking Dorothy. Afraid to call the police, Lutie and Helen's beau Gil dispose of the body and pray he'll be mistaken for a flu victim. After all, people were dying in the streets, and so many were dying it was assumed any body left outside was a flu victim. 

With that terrible secret to bear, Lutie, Helen, and Dorothy attempt to keep moving on, but bad times just aren't through with them just yet. I don't want to say what else happens, because it would spoil the whole novel. But if you've read any of Sandra Dallas' novels before, you know there are some twists and turns, some unexpected sorrows, and always sunshine after the rain. Sandra has a talent for writing a good, solid story, with women as the central characters. This story, just like her others, is about everyday people living through extraordinary times; doing their best to survive, find happiness, and have a fulfilling life. 

I loved Lutie and Helen, and their relationship with Dorothy. There are some dark, cruel things that are explained to shed light on character behaviors, but not graphically at all and tastefully done. All in all, a quick read, and a welcome return from one of my favorite authors. 

Rating: 4/6 for a novel set in troubling times; about people who form a family, love each other through hard times, and find ways to heal old wounds. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 


Sunday, May 15, 2022

Blog Tour: Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner

 




I've got another gem of a read for you! I read The Jane Austen Society  almost exactly a year ago, and now author Natalie Jenner is back with an equally charming novel about three women who decide they're going to change the rules at their beloved bookshop. 

It's 1950's London; World War 2 is over but England is still in recovery. Not only are supplies still a bit short, but the women who took over while the men fought are getting a rude awakening: the men are back. Men have taken back their jobs, and ladies who were used to capably handling life, work, and family are finding themselves stuck back in roles they have outgrown and no longer want. 

Bloomsbury Books is a long established bookshop in London, run by men who have--yes--51 rules on how to work. They are a stuffy bunch, and Vivien and Grace are stifled by the rules and unable to see any of their ideas for improving the shop move forward. Evie soon joins the women at the shop (you'll recognize her from The Jane Austen Society) and together the three women become friends. The shop has been slowly declining in sales--mostly because the men refuse to update the inventory and cater to tourists who visit. 

I loved each of the women: Vivien is a real go-getter; a talented writer who keeps little notebooks nearby and is constantly filling them up--but has nowhere to go with her talent. Grace is a married woman who has a less than ideal domestic life and feels trapped, but longs for more freedom. Evie, of course, brings her talents and interest in cataloging books and bringing long-lost female novelists to light. 

The men who work at Bloomsbury Books are also interesting, and have stories to tell: Alec, Vivien's nemesis, who takes over as general manager and realizes it's not where his passions lie; Mr. Dutton, who has to take a leave of absence from the bookshop and has a big secret of his own. He's also the author of all those rules--archaic and impossible to follow. 

There's finally the quiet Ashwin Ramaswamy, who works in the basement of the bookshop. Evie connects with Ash and their friendship may just deepen into something more. However, Ash feels very unwelcome in London and may return to India. I found myself rooting for these two! 

Mr. Dutton's leave of absence from Bloomsbury opens the door to the women taking control and making changes to the bookshop. They make some impressive friends with authors, wives of publishers, and wealthy American women. A plan is hatched--but will the ladies succeed? 

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Any plot that involves a bookshop has my interest. I loved the setting, the different interests in the book world that propelled each of the women to work for their dreams; the friendships that developed, and also the romances that were waiting for each of them, too. This was a novel about women empowering themselves, finding their voices, and using their smarts to get what they wanted. The men thought they were in control, but they were not!

A big thank you to St. Martin's Press, Laurel from Austen Prose PR, and author Natalie Jenner for a chance to be a part of this blog tour. Bloomsbury Girls will be out in the U.S. on Tuesday, May 17th in hardcover, audio, and e-book. 

Rating: 5/6 for a terrific novel about female friendship, women navigating post-World War 2 life, and a bookshop that becomes the catalyst for BIG life changes. 



Monday, May 9, 2022

The Fervor by Alma Katsu

 

This is such a stunning cover! Props to the designer of it--there's so much to see the more you look. It gives some hints as to the plot of The Fervor. Once again, Alma Katsu creates historical fiction with a tinge of horror that just might keep you up at night. It's also a commentary on today's America. 

It's World War 2, and America has taken Japanese Americans from their homes and moved them to internment camps, all in the name of protecting America from the enemy. Meiko Briggs and her daughter Aiko are in one such camp, tucked away in a remote area of Idaho. It doesn't matter that Meiko is married to a white American man who is an air force pilot fighting in the Pacific--she's Japanese, so she can't be trusted. 

The camp is, well, what it is; however things have been fairly stable, until a deadly disease starts making the rounds. It's a really odd disease-people fall into uncontrollable rages, capable of violence. What starts out as a seemingly natural cold is clearly not that. At first it's the Japanese in the internment camps, but it quickly spreads to guards and other workers at the camp. Suddenly Army officials are coming to the camp, doing their best to contain the outbreak and keep it from spreading to nearby towns. 

Could this be something from the mysterious balloon-like objects people are finding in the woods all over Oregon, Washington, and Idaho? Is it the work of the Japanese Government? Lots of people think so, and the anger against Japanese Americans grows even more into a dangerous angry mob mentality. 

Aiko, however, draws all sorts of Japanese demons and creatures, and tells her mother they are afoot--and there are reports of men seeing a Japanese woman in random, out of the way places, holding a baby. Is she part of Japanese mythology? Has evil come to roost? And oh--the spiders! EEK

There are more characters on the outside of the camp--there's Archie, a young minister who loses his pregnant wife in a horrible accident, and Fran, a young investigative reporter who senses a story is being buried by the government. Archie is also tied to Meiko-she's the wife of his best friend, Jamie. Archie betrayed Jamie's trust and sent Meiko to the internment camp. 

Lots of complex ties here, and even the government involvement is a twisty mess. It's an interesting mix of hysteria, aggression against people who aren't white, and a whole lot of false information whipping people up into a frenzy. Sound familiar?

These lines from the novel are pretty spot on: "The fervor would ebb and flow, but it would never fully die. It had been there since long before the first explosion. She knew someday, the fervor would be back. And when it came, they'd be no readier for it than they were today." 

This is a really interesting blend of Japanese mythology, history, and bizarre weapons of war. Alma Katsu talked to family members who were forced into internment camps during World War 2, and in her afterword speaks about the violence Asian Americans have experienced since the 1800's. It's nothing new, and sadly, something that never seems to stop. 

You'll find yourself being a little more cautious around spiders after reading this novel. A novel that will keep your interest, and maybe have you digging into U.S. history. Sadly, history does repeat itself over and over. 

Rating: 4/6 for a blend of mythology, supernatural, warfare, and hysteria, along with a dark period in U.S. history. Alma Katsu skillfully weaves all of these together in a story that keeps you guessing and brushing imaginary spiders off your face. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 


Sunday, May 1, 2022

Blog Tour: The Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray

 

I'm part of the blog tour for Claudia Gray's The Murder of Mr. Wickham and I will say if you are any kind of Jane Austen fan, you must pick this up! 

I'll confess years after I first read Pride and Prejudice I will still occasionally think "I wonder what Darcy and Elizabeth are doing?" Yes. I know. This murder mystery will answer that question. Bonus: all of Jane Austen's couples from her novels are all together, in one place, for a mystery that will keep you guessing until the very end. 

Emma and Mr. Knightley, happily married, are having a house party, and they've invited a lovely group of folks: Elizabeth, Darcy and their son Jonathan, Colonel Brandon and Marianne, Fanny and Edmund, Captain and Anne Wentworth, and Juliet Tilney, the young daughter (and potential match for Jonathan) of Catherine and Henry of Northanger Abbey. It is to be a delightful party, except the weather has turned foul and rain just keeps pouring down. 

The party has barely settled in when Wickham shows up, an unwanted and unplanned guest. Why is he here? He's loathed by all, even those who don't have, at first glance, much of an acquaintance with him. He sets everyone on edge, and due to the weather, he can't leave. His latest money scheme has left many people on edge, stressed, and angry.

Sure enough, as the title indicates, Wickham is found dead late one night by Juliet. He's clearly the victim of foul play, and with so many people and so many motives to murder him, just who could have done it, and why? Juliet and Jonathan decide together they will figure it out. The magistrate is called, and the questioning begins. 

The mystery really took off at this point, and I certainly had no idea who could have been the killer. Wickham had long-reaching plans and schemes that come to light and will keep you guessing as to who had the best motive and opportunity to silence him. 




It's also quite fun to see the lives of favorite characters after their original stories have ended. Gray cleverly weaves all of the characters together so that it makes complete sense that they would all know each other and gather together for a country house party. This was a happy visit to the world of Austen, wrapped up in a whodunnit that will surprise you. A satisfying ending will have you sighing as you turn the last page. 

A big thank you to Austenprose PR for an advanced copy of the book to read and review. The book will be available in the US on May 3, 2022. It is available in trade paperback and ebook. Also thanks to Vintage/Random House. 

Publisher's Weekly has a great interview with author Claudia Gray and her inspiration for The Murder of Mr. Wickham. Click on this link to read the article. 

Rating: 5/6 for a mystery that has you putting your sleuthing cap on and pouring over clues. The gathering of Austen characters together, under one roof, is delightful and well written. Very well done, Claudia Gray! 

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Two Reviews for Two Very Different Novels: One Italian Summer by Rebecca Serle and The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley

 I've read two novels back to back that couldn't have been more different in mood, plot, and character. And that's a good thing for me. I can fall into reading the same style books over and over sometimes and it gets pretty comfortable. This was a great way to shake up my reading this month. 


I didn't read Rebecca Serle's first novel, In Five Years, but I know it had huge buzz and I may go back and read it. Author Gabrielle Zevin has a quote on the cover of this novel, and she wrote one of my favorite novels: Elsewhere (if you want an emotional punch to the gut and an ugly cry, read it). So I knew I would enjoy this novel and potentially bawl my eyes out, too. 

I didn't cry (phew!) but it certainly had an interesting concept to explore. Katy Silver's mother Carol has just died of cancer, and Katy is beyond devastated by this loss. Her husband Eric doesn't know how to reach her; her father is in a world of his own grieving. Katy's relationship with her mother was so close Katy relied on her for everything.

Katy and Carol had planned a trip to Italy, to the town of Positano to revisit a magical summer Carol spent there before she married and had Katy. Now Katy decides to go anyway, to grieve her mother and decide if she wants to stay with Eric. When I say Katy was grieving, I can't overstate her grief at losing her mother. 

Katy arrives at Positano, which is stunning and a balm for her soul. While she's there, exploring, holy buckets she comes across a woman named Carol. And yes, it's her mother, thirty years younger, enjoying Positano and vibrantly alive. Of course Carol has no idea Katy is her daughter; she thinks Katy is just another tourist. Together they explore Positano and the surrounding area, talking about life and choices women make. Katy can't figure out how this is possible, but she readily accepts this quirk in the universe and the chance to be with her mother one last time. 

I won't say more, because you just have to read it and take that leap of faith that something like this could happen, and who wouldn't want the chance to spend time with a loved one who is gone? Katy gets to see her mother as she never saw her before; a young woman with her life ahead of her, laughing, drinking, dancing, and making life choices that would, down the road, impact Katy. It also gives Katy a chance to think about her relationship with her mother, and how that lead Katy to where she is now-is she happy with Eric and their life? Could she have done more?

I enjoyed the setting (take me to Positano NOW), the exploration of grief and, of course, the chance to reconnect with someone dearly loved. That little bit of universal magic/cosmic wonder that brought Katy and Carol together in Positano is something you just have to embrace and go with or you'll lost the whole point of the novel. 


Okay-onto The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley. 


I've read The Guest List, and I really liked it. I read it at the beginning of the Pandemic in 2020. I thought I'd devour this in one big gulp. I did not. You may have seen my TikTok review of this, but if not here's my take on The Paris Apartment.

I didn't care for any of the characters, and I think that was the point. I always say sometimes the best reads are where none of the characters are likable. However, I didn't like this nearly as much as I did The Guest List

The plot: Jess calls her brother Ben, who lives in Paris, and says "hey I'm coming to visit". Ben reluctantly agrees, and says he'll be waiting for her in his apartment. Jess arrives late at night, and can't get into the building. It's a ritzy looking place, and clearly money resides there. Not at all a place her brother would normally be, but heck, maybe he got lucky. 

Jess gets in the building, and into his apartment, only to find it empty. No Ben. He won't answer the phone and has left nothing to indicate where he might be. Broke and not speaking French, Jess is at a loss as to what to do. She runs into a few of the other apartment dwellers, and they're all a bit strange, even Ben's friend Nick, who got Ben the apartment. He promises to help Jess find Ben. 

Jess, through the tiniest bits of clues and information, starts to piece together that something isn't quite right in the building. Everyone from the rich woman in the penthouse (Sophie), to the odd duck Mimi, and the really odd duck known as the Concierge know something and Jess is either getting warnings to leave or running into danger in her search for Ben. What started out as "Geez, my brother is rude" unravels into "Something is really, really wrong". Jess isn't a world class detective, and she stumbles around uncovering the trail that leads to Ben's disappearance. 

It's a really weird plot. I was compelled to keep reading, though, because I had no idea where it would lead to; the hook is definitely there. However, uncovering everything just left me with an ick feeling. So read it if you want a quick thriller, but I'm on the fence with this one. 


Ratings: 

5/6 for One Italian Summer. Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio.

3/6 for The Paris Apartment. Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio.