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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.