Sunday, December 3, 2023

December Read: The Twelve Dogs of Christmas by Susan Wiggs


This is a quick, feel-good holiday romance complete with lots of doggies. The cover art is just so stinkin' cute! 

Brenda Malloy does not like Christmas. Not anything about it; especially now that she's found out her husband is cheating on her on Christmas Eve. She used to love Christmas as a child, until a family tragedy one Christmas Eve left her feeling guilty and full of grief. Now she's starting over again, and a volunteer gig with the local animal shelter is going to change her world. 

Brenda volunteers with a dog rescue organization in Houston, Texas. It's been a year since her terrible Christmas Eve, and she's divorced and moved on--kind of. A series of mishaps within the dog rescue organization give Brenda a chance to travel with twelve dogs to their new adoptive homes in Upstate New York--just in time for Christmas. Loading up the van and traveling with her friend Dolly, all seems to be going well until a snowstorm sends the van off the road and Dolly into the hospital. Now Brenda has to coordinate the delivery of all twelve dogs to their forever homes, get the van fixed, and drive home to Houston by herself. 

Enter handsome paramedic Adam Bellamy, who is immediately attracted to Brenda and is also the new owner of Olaf, a big doggie that loves to run, jump, and play. He's divorced, a single father, and ready to take a chance on a new love. If only Brenda wanted to stay in Avalon, and get into the Christmas spirit...

This was just pure fun to read. Lovely characters; the dogs are all sweet and add to the festive atmosphere. The town of Avalon is very Hallmark-ish and there are some bumps in the road to happily ever after, but it's a fun journey. If you want to read a gentle holiday romance, this is your ticket. 

Rating: 4/6 for a quick romantic holiday read chock full of dogs and holiday spirit. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio book. 

Thursday, November 30, 2023

November Read: Inheritance: The Lost Bride Trilogy Book 1 by Nora Roberts

 November has been a hot mess for me reading-wise. I'm working on a bit of a project that is taking up a lot of my reading time and I blinked and tomorrow is December first. 

I have read a few of Nora Robert's trilogies over the years and I always enjoy them, and the fact that they are just a trilogy and not a series. I couldn't wait to read this, her newest trilogy that combines a bit of romance, a bit of history, and a bit of the unexpected in a family curse, an evil witch, and a whole lot of dead brides. 

Sonya MacTavish lives in Boston and has just gotten out of a terrible relationship mere weeks before she was set to be married. It turned her world upside down, but she's moving on and making plans. Her plans are disrupted by a visit from a lawyer from Poole's Bay, Maine. He tells Sonya that she's inherited a majestic home and investments from her unknown until now Uncle Collin Poole. Collin and Sonya's father Drew were twins who were separated at birth; neither knew the other existed until Collin found out as an adult, but too late to meet Drew, who died in an accident. Now Collin is dead, and he's left the family legacy to Sonya. She has to move to Maine and agree to live in the home for three years--all expenses paid. Overnight she's become a wealthy woman. 

With nothing to lose, Sonya moves to Maine and immediately falls head over heels for the home. She sets up her freelance business as a graphic artist and starts settling in, but quickly discovers some unsettling things about the home--it is haunted. Not by just one spirit, but by a whole group. And there is one nasty spirit who is determined to push Sonya out by any means possible. 

So who are the spirits? The family history paints a terrible picture of tragedy after tragedy for generations. Once each generation, a Poole woman dies either on her wedding day, or within the first year of marriage. All manner of deaths--but each is a murder, and those murders are done by a woman who was rejected by the first Poole man for his true love. She's still in the house, and at night Sonya wanders the house, looking into the events leading up to each of the seven brides and their tragic deaths. What do they want with her? And why does the evil witch take the wedding ring off each woman as they lay dying? 

This was just a fun read, and classic Nora Roberts. The house is fascinating; the premise of the family curse is interesting, and I have to say I do love the reaction of Cleo, Sonya's best friend, to the evil witch and her attempts to scare the women. A few "F*** You" quotes fly through the air, and honestly, if I was in Cleo's place, I'd probably say the same thing, too. This witch has had centuries to hang around, but she hasn't met any modern women--and she has met her match. 

Sonya gets involved with Trey Doyle, a lawyer in town who has a family history with the Poole family and grew up and around the house. He's well aware of the history and the hauntings. Sonya's best friend Cleo is also a treat--and I suspect her relationship with Owen Poole, Sonya's cousin, will be the second book in the trilogy. 

This one ends suddenly and boom! Done. Not even a teaser for the next book. I surely hope it comes soon, because it definitely left me hanging. So yes, suspend belief; enjoy the little dog named Yoda, the copious amounts of wine drinking between Sonya and crew, and the glorious home Nora Roberts created for us to enjoy. I can't wait to read more and watch Sonya destroy the family curse so she can live happily ever after and not become the next lost bride. Wrench those stolen wedding rings off that hag's hand, Sonya!

I don't see any dates or anything at all about the second book in the trilogy. Stay tuned. 

Rating: 5/6 for sheer entertainment, a clever story, and characters that are easy to get to know and enjoy. The romance is light and sex is tastefully done and exactly what a modern grown up couple would do and say.  I will be trying to wait patiently for the second book. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

November Read: Bright Lights, Big Christmas by Mary Kay Andrews


The cover of this novel was irresistible to me. Well, and the fact that it's Mary Kay Andrews. I knew I was in for a treat. 

I actually read this book way back in October when I had a very short window of opportunity to read it. It's a short novel; around 300 pages, so you can definitely read it in one day. 

Kerry Tolliver is reluctantly agreeing to join her brother in hauling the family mini-trailer to New York City from North Carolina for their annual Christmas tree pop up shop. It's something Kerry's father has been doing for years and years, but this time his ill health prevents him from going, and the operation definitely needs two people. Kerry arrives in New York City with the trailer, waiting on her brother, who is bringing all the trees from their tree farm. She runs into a problem immediately: someone is parked in their spot--the one spot they've always parked the trailer and set up shop. 

Patrick lives just down the street, and once he moves his car, sparks fly between him and Kerry. But she's only there for six weeks, or until all the trees are sold. Is it worth even getting to know him?

Meanwhile, it's brutally cold outside, and the trailer is cold and cramped. The days are long, sitting outside, taking turns with her brother. They operate late into the night. Sales are slow, especially when the competition shows up kitty-corner from their lot, selling inferior trees at cheap prices. If Kerry doesn't sell out of trees, their farm will be in danger. 

There are a lot of characters in this novel, and each one adds to the story in a way that makes it charming and cozy. Queenie is brother Murphy's dog, and she's a character all unto herself. There's the older gentlemen who Kerry meets who seems sad and alone, but doesn't want to share his story. There's the folks who run the Italian restaurant just down the street who welcome Kerry with open arms and plenty of hot soup. It's a charming slice of Manhattan, and I definitely got the holiday vibes. 

This was a great way to kick off my holiday reading (even if I did read it before Halloween!). There's a lot to be said for shorter holiday novels; you get a complete story but aren't overwhelmed with trying to read a huge book. In a busy time of the year, it's a great way to treat yourself in between shopping, baking, and decorating. 

I love Mary Kay Andrews and have been reading her novels for *gasp* decades. I am so thrilled she's turned to short holiday novels.

Rating: 5/6 for a delightful look at the Christmas tree industry; a sweet love story, and a slice of a New York Christmas. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio book. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

November Read: The Christmas Guest by Peter Swanson


It's been a bit since I last posted, but I swear I've been very busy reading! I'm in the throes of reading a lot of YA novels for a special project. I snuck this one in tonight for a quick read. 

Yes, I usually don't read any holiday books until after Thanksgiving, but I'll confess this is my second holiday book already. This was a great little novella that I read in one sitting this evening. 

The Christmas Guest is a mere 93 pages and because of that, it was a refreshing read. Okay, it's a murdery kind of book, but it was a switch from my usual cozy and romantic holiday books. The perfect palate cleanser before I dive into all the happy holiday reads. 

Peter Swanson packs a lot into this novella about a young American college student spending Christmas week with a new friend. Ashley Smith is all alone in London; a Californian who has no family and has traveled to London to attend college. Befriended by Emma at school, she's pleased to accept Emma's invite to her family home in the countryside. After all, she was prepared to spend Christmas alone in London, and heck, why not have an authentic English Christmas in the countryside?

Ashley travels to Starvewood Hall, and is instantly smitten with Emma's twin brother, Adam. He's gorgeous and brooding--and also a suspect in the recent murder of a local woman, found dead near the family home. Clearly she was murdered. Adam has an alibi, but it's pretty weak. That doesn't stop Ashley from falling hard and crushing on Adam. 

Ashley spends the week leading up to Christmas hanging out at the family home, witnessing the horrible relationship Emma has with her toxic parents, and walking to and from the village pub, drinking and having fun. She writes it all down in her trusty diary. Until Christmas Eve, and whoa the story takes a sharp turn. 

This novella spans thirty years, from 1989 to present day (give or take a few years). It seems pretty straightforward, until it's not. I loved it--even if it's not the usual sweet tale of holiday celebrations and family love that I enjoy so much.

Rating: 5/6 for a novella that sucked me in pretty quickly! A setting that has all the hallmarks of an idyllic Christmas celebration turns dark and what happens echoes down through the years. If you like short stories and thrillers, this is for you. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Sunday, October 29, 2023

October Read: The Stranger Upstairs by Lisa M. Matlin


What I expected going into this novel and what it was were very different. I'm still processing. 

It takes place in a small town in Australia. A town where houses are expensive and everything is gorgeous and perfect. Except for Black Wood House. It sits empty since a shocking murder forty years before, when the owner of the home murdered his wife while she lay in bed, and chased his daughter out the door. The daughter survived, but her father returned to the home and killed himself. Susan and Bill were beloved in the neighborhood; the horrible murder/suicide left a stain on the community. They all want Black Wood House to be torn down. 

Enter Sarah Spade and her husband Joey. Sarah has a popular website, a bestselling book about "being your best self", and is eager to turn the Black Wood House into a show-stopping flipper that will sell for millions. 

Except Sarah's not what you'd expect, and wow I did not expect her character or the novel to take the turns it did. For one, Sarah is not likable. Her marriage is on edge, and oh, the secrets she has to keep in order to maintain her perfect image. Only problem is, once she moves into the house, her life starts to fall apart. She can't sleep, she's finding notes around the house, there's someone walking around in the attic, and her husband won't stay at the house. 

As Sarah slowly unravels, as a reader you're kept wondering: is she losing her mind? The possibilities are all over the place: is someone trying to drive her out of the home? Are the neighbors spying on her? Is the house haunted? Or is there something else?

The turns it took were all over the place. The ending leaves you rethinking everything. It's at turns unsettling, suspenseful, and a bit bewildering. It's a whole lot of stuff going on, and I couldn't figure out what the heck was going on at all. If you want to read a novel that will keep you scratching your head and thinking you've got it figured out (you won't), pick this one up!

Rating: 4/6 for a wild ride where no one can be trusted--even the house. At times suspenseful, at times downright spooky, this is a blend of thriller/horror/suspense that will keep you guessing. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Monday, October 16, 2023

October Read: The Ghost Illusion by Kat Martin

 I switched from magic and witches to paranormal. It is October, after all. I love that it's getting darker earlier and I've broken out my fall candle.  Made pumpkin bread. Chili is on the horizon. I've also started watching my ghosty shows on Discovery. I'm all in!

I haven't read Kat Martin before, but in my years of bookselling and librarianship I've seen her name oodles of times and have ordered her books for the library. She's consistently popular and I'd say she's romantic suspense. This book definitely reminded me of Heather Graham and her Krewe of Hunters series. I'd love to see more with this group of ghost hunters. 

Eve St. Clair has recently moved to England to live in a family home she's inherited. She spent many summers there as a child and loves the home. Only problem is she's terrified. Every night there are running footsteps, cold spells, and voices arguing. She reaches out in desperation to Paranormal Investigations, an American group that travel the world helping people with paranormal issues. To her relief, Ran King, owner (and darn good looking, and rich) agrees to bring his team to Sunderland, England to help out Eve. 

Of course sparks fly between Ran and Eve. They both fight it, knowing this is just a short term meet and Ran will eventually return to Seattle once the ghost issue is resolved. But the pull is irresistible. 

Meanwhile, the ghostly phenomenon happening in Eve's home ramps up and is putting the team in harm's way. Eve seems to be the only one who can connect with the spirits, especially a young boy named Wally. The evil spirit that's keeping Wally and others trapped is bent on keeping the spirits there forever, and it will destroy anyone who tries to send them to the light. Can Ran and his team stay safe and solve the ghostly happenings? Is there a happy ending for Ran and Eve?

This was what I classify in my mind as a comfort read for me. I'm always up for a ghost story that involves a bit of history and the romance was a nice touch. Nothing surprising at all, and that was just fine with me. There was enough action moving forward that kept me reading and enjoying the plot and the characters. 

I'd read more of Kat Martin and probably will look into her other novels--she has a lot! But I really do hope she writes more involving the Paranormal Investigations team. 

Rating: 4/6 for an interesting ghost story, hot romance, and enough character building that keeps you invested but leaves the door open for *hopefully* more novels with this team. Fans of Heather Graham will enjoy this novel. 

Available in hardcover, ebook and audio book. 

Monday, October 9, 2023

October Read: Starling House by Alex E. Harrow


I'm enjoying reading books that are equal parts fairy tale/gothic/slightly spooky/fantasy. It could be this time of year, when the night creeps in earlier, and the air is cool enough at night you just want to huddle on the couch and be cozy.

Starling House fit the bill, and while I wasn't quite sure what to expect, I was willing to take the ride. There's a lot going on here.

Opal lives in Eden, Kentucky-a small town limping along and prone to bad luck. Opal and her teenage brother Jasper live in room twelve of the local hotel. It's the only home they've had for years. Opal struggles to make ends meet and her one desire is to get her brother out of Eden. She'll do anything--lie, steal--to keep him safe and his asthma under control. Their mother died tragically years before in a car accident, where Opal survived, but remains haunted by leaving her mother to die. 

Then there's Starling House, that oh so very strange mansion surrounded by woods and closed off by a big metal gate. Sometimes there's a light in the uppermost window, but no one is ever seen coming and going. Opal walks by the home frequently, and is a bit obsessed with it and the legend of the author who built it- E. Starling. 

One day Opal finds out who lives there, when Arthur makes an appearance at the gate, warning her to leave. He's a disheveled young man who looks like he's battling something ominous. Opal is intrigued. She wants in. Arthur reluctantly offers her a housekeeping position, and Opal can't resist.

Starling House is unlike anything she could have imagined-the house itself is alive. It shifts, it reacts; it is helpful and sometimes it's not. Opal and Arthur get to know each other, but very slowly. Arthur is fighting literal monsters in order to protect the town of Eden.  The house is sitting on a horrible, horrible secret that only Arthur, as the Warden of Starling House, can destroy. Unless it kills him first. 

Ooh, there are layers in this novel. Home is a huge theme--the hunger Opal has for a home of her own-a place to feel safe. Home also means someone to come home to, which Opal and Arthur both desperately need. The town's horrible history of bad luck and tragedy, directly linked to the Gravely family and their coal mining operations and greed. Poisoning the ground for profit. A young girl creating a world that will protect her and punish those who used her. The strength of friendship and a made family. 

I loved the mix of fairy tale and horror. Opal is one tough cookie who never gives up on her desire for a home and a place to keep Jasper safe. When evil arrives in the form of Elizabeth Baine she is torn between protecting Jasper or giving up the secret of Starling House and betraying Arthur. 

I don't want to say anymore because this is a book that needs to be experienced. I'd say there's plenty to discuss in a book club setting. 

Thank you to Tor for an advanced copy to read and review! 

Rating: 4/6 for an intriguing novel about dreams, monsters, home, and a haunted town. The monsters in your dreams can be real! 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Thursday, September 28, 2023

September Read: :How Can I Help You? by Laura Sims


I don't know too many librarians who don't want to read this novel--about a librarian, set in a library, written by a librarian. Oh, and it includes murdering misbehaving patrons. SHHHH.

Dear Margo. She's a nondescript middle-aged woman who's worked as a circulation librarian at the Carlyle Library for the past two years. She's efficient, helpful, and keeps to herself. Her past as Jane, a nurse, is far behind her. She still seethes a bit over the injustice of hospital administration and how she was treated, but she's managed to simmer down and build a new life far away from all of that. 

And then Patricia (Pa-tree-see-a) walks in--young and polished; the new reference librarian. Margo doesn't really care for Patricia at first-she is a change in the pleasing, calming routine Margo has created for herself. She's a ripple Margo doesn't need. 

Patricia is a newly minted librarian, and this is her first job. She's escaped a dismal relationship in Chicago, along with the crushing failure of a rejected novel she's written and no one wants to publish. Desperate to try something new, she's moved to Carlyle--a dull, boring, Midwest town. 

Margo is intrigued by Patricia--what exactly does she do all day at the reference desk? Why is she always writing in her little notebook? Patricia is also intrigued by Margo--those odd flashes of coldness in her eyes; the careful stillness about her. Not to mention that very weird episode in the women's bathroom, where a patron died and Patricia saw Margo acting very, very strange. 

It doesn't take Patricia long to figure Margo out--and oh, what a story to write! But she's torn--does she tell the police now, or after she's finished writing her novel? Will it ruin her chances at a successful novel? 

The tension increases between the two women, even as they share tidbits of their lives with each other. Margo's restlessness is coming back, and she's itching to return to those heady feelings of helping folks...die. 

This was one heck of a short novel. Margo is truly a psychopath, and her mental dialogue along with her belief she's innocent are disturbing. Patricia seems like a harmless person, but her inner dialogue definitely makes you a bit uneasy, too. Two peas in a pod? 

Most of the action takes place in the library, with a few key scenes at the apartment complex both Margo and Patricia live at; the library references are spot on and the patrons--well, yes, they're definitely shaped by real-life interactions as a librarian. 

If you want to read a quick thriller, this is the one. Margo/Jane is truly one unsettling character. I found myself lingering over her chapters, trying to dig a bit deeper to figure her out. Patricia is someone you think you want to know, but by the end, I'm not so sure. It would be an interesting book to discuss with a group. 

Rating: 5/6 for a psychological thriller that builds in tension, so much so that I was almost reluctant to turn the pages! "How Can I Help You" takes on a whole new meaning in this small town library. 

Available in hardcover, audio, and e-book.

Monday, September 18, 2023

September Read: Dead Mountain by Preston & Child


I've come to anticipate the newest novel in the Nora Kelly series by Preston and Child; mostly because they take place in New Mexico. I visited New Mexico many times when my brother and sis-in-law lived there, and it holds a special place in my heart. There's nothing like it. So it's easy for me to picture the mountains and the landscape while I'm reading this series. 

You can read each book as a standalone, but it does make it a little bit easier if you read them in order. This is number four, featuring FBI agent Corrie Swanson and renowned archaeologist Nora Kelly.

Two men driving in the mountains get lost in a snow storm. Abandoning their vehicle, they find a cave to wait out the storm, drinking booze to stay warm and smoking joints to stay calm. Imagine their fright when they discover a skull sticking out of the ground. Rescued soon after, the FBI are alerted to the possibility of a murder and are called to investigate. 

What they find is two-fold: not only do they find a rare burial site of a local Native American tribe from centuries before; they also find the more recent desiccated remains of two men--could they possibly be two of the missing Dead Mountain hikers from 2008?

In 2008, nine college students with plenty of mountain hiking experience set off on an adventure. They were never seen alive again. Instead, when a search party was sent out, they found a bizarre scene: a ripped open tent, along with the bodies of some of the hikers--unclothed and obviously dead from exposure in a brutal blizzard. The next spring, they find two more, crushed and missing eyes down near a creek. Now it's been fifteen years, and there are still members missing. 

Corrie is lead investigator, along with FBI Agent Sharp, her new partner. There was an intensive investigation done fifteen years before, but nothing ever came of it--except the retirement and disgrace of the agent in charge. Why? What happened to the hikers? Theories abound: Yeti, aliens, genetic superhuman attacking the camp. It's all out there, and it's up to Corrie with the help of Nora to piece it all together. 

People are reluctant to talk, and the more Corrie shifts through the evidence and probes deeper, the more questions she can't answer. Conspiracy theories, government agencies, bitter parents, and lots of dead ends create a plot that keeps shifting until the exciting end. 

This was another excellent thriller from Preston & Child. They wrote this novel based on the infamous case of nine Russian cross-country skiers who died in 1959 in the Ural Mountains under very, very strange circumstances. I've read about this case, and it is truly bizarre, and still unsolved to this day. I'm happy the story they created has a solution, and the twisty road to it makes this novel a fascinating read. 

Rating: 4/6 for a clever, complex, and twisty plot that features man vs. nature, man vs. self, and of course man vs. government. Enjoyed this very much!

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Thursday, September 14, 2023

September Read: Enchanted to Meet You (The Witches of West Harbor #1) by Meg Cabot


Yes, another witchy-lit book! I could keep reading them for months, but I've got to pivot after this one to some of the other titles I've got stacked here at home. So please indulge me with this latest read by beloved author Meg Cabot.

This novel is definitely a romance with one spicy scene in particular but overall just the right amount of simmering heat throughout between Jessica Gold and the charming Derrick Winters. He's definitely swoon-worthy!

Jessica calls herself a cottage witch--one that creates simple spells to help folks and overall make everyone happy and content. She owns a clothing boutique in the lovely village of West Harbor. Yes, witches exist, but they don't announce it to many and mostly keep it quiet. Jessica's high school nemesis Rosalie is also a witch who controls the weather--and when she's mad, the weather takes a turn. 

The village's annual harvest celebration is just around the corner, and a few strange things are starting to happen-bad weather, accidents; just enough for those who are sensitive to wonder what is going on. Enter Derrick, who approaches Jessica at her boutique one day to tell her she's The Chosen One and he needs her help. Doesn't hurt he's gorgeous and has a very healing way with his hands. It's a definite mutual attraction, but can Jessica trust Derrick? He's definitely not telling her the whole story.

They're under a time crunch to find The Bringer of Light--the one who, with Jessica, can save the village from destruction the night of the Harvest Ball. Restless demons are gathering strength to ruin the village for past sins. Only Jessica and The Bringer of Light can hope to save the village. And The Bringer of Light? That's Esther, a local high schooler who is probably the coolest, most chill teenage girl I've ever come across. 

I'm happy to know this is the first in the Witches of West Harbor series. I know there are oodles of Meg Cabot fans out there; I have only read a few of her books but I always enjoy them. Her romantic characters are well written and certainly believable in their attraction and their troubles. Supporting characters--Jess' friends and other village residents gave this a cozy feel and I can't wait to return for more stories with Jessica and crew. 

Rating: 4/6 for a cozy romance filled with a bit of spice, Italian comfort food, good friends and a race to save a village from some nasty demons. Romance is just right!

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook. 

Friday, September 8, 2023

September Read: The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna


Finally, Fall is in the air here in Iowa! After an early September heat wave it appears we're heading into more comfortable weather. Phew. I've been done with summer for a few months! 

I'm a big fan of "witchy lit". Always have been; one of my favorite books is The Witch of Blackbird Pond. The surge in novels featuring magic and witchcraft has given me plenty to choose from, and this novel is one I've had on my radar for a bit. 

I can't tell you how much I enjoyed this novel. It's definitely what I'd call a cozy light fantasy/romance novel. Yes, one of those novels that don't quite fit neatly into one category. It has the feel of a few other novels I've read in the recent past: The House in the Cerulean Sea and Legends and Lattes. Cozy reads where the characters are all likable, there are no dramatic horrible plot twists, and they leave you with a sigh of happiness. In other words, novels that don't twist your heart or send it into palpitations. A perfect read after a long day.

Mika Moon is a witch. She's darn good at potions. She's also young, single, and alone. That's the way it is with witches; they have to stay under the radar and are absolutely not allowed to show their magic or be friends. It's a dangerous world out there, even if it's today's world. And sadly, witches have been cursed: any witch who has a child is not long for the world. Witches become orphans rather early in life. Mika struggles with being alone. She longs for friends, a steady relationship with a man, and a place to call home. 

Mika's YouTube channel where she creates potions--all done in a way that leads people to think it's special effects--draws the attention of Ian, an older man who lives in a home tucked away in the countryside. Along with Ian, there's his husband Ken, Lucie the housekeeper, and Jamie the handsome but cranky librarian. And three little girls who are all witches, and not in control of their magic. Ian sends Mika a message, wanting to hire her to help the girls control their magic before the family solicitor visits in December. If he arrives and something wonky happens, they will be in trouble. After all, no one can know witches or magic exist. How Ian and crew know about magic is one of the major storylines. 

Mika arrives with Circe her dog, a koi pond, and a greenhouse--all neatly tucked into her car. Magic is a wonderful thing when you're moving. She's a bit leery of this opportunity, but decides to accept the job and moves into the home and begins to teach the three girls: Rosetta, Terracotta, and Altamira. And this is where the magic does truly happen.

Mika has found her family, but it's a bit of a rough go as trust issues, childhood trauma, and a few secrets lie in the way of a happy resolution. Loneliness is a key theme in this novel. People need people, and people need a place to call home. Mika has found just those people to be her family, along with her home--she just has a bit of work to do to reach that happy ending. And Jamie--oh, the sparks fly between them! 

The authors description of magic as a living thing that has moods, along with the physical description of it as shimmery gold mists that swirl around was one of my favorite parts of the novel, as well as Mika's absolute joy as a witch who fully embraces her magic. All of the characters are delightful, and make this novel the perfect read for a Fall evening--and most definitely break out the tea! 

Rating: 5/6 for a lovely cozy novel about the magic of home, the magic of the world around us, and the magic of finding your people. 

This book is available in paperback, ebook, and audio book. 

Thursday, August 31, 2023

August Read: The Vaster Wilds by Lauren Groff

 I finished this novel a week ago and had to take some time to deal with all the book emotions it gave me. It's one of my top ten books of 2023. 

I haven't read any Lauren Groff books before this and from what I understand this one is a bit different from her previous novels. The buzz around this novel is accurate and if you're going to read any book this year, make it this one. 

Two things you'll notice pretty quickly: there is no dialogue, and you don't know the narrator's name. In fact, you finally find out the narrator's name towards the very end, and that in itself is a heartbreak. 

This short (less than 300 pages) novel centers around a young woman who has fled from a colonial settlement in America in the dead of winter. Carrying only a knife, a flint, a tin cup, leather gloves and a few blankets, she runs into the vast wilderness, bent on survival. She's leaving a terrible situation: there's no food, and people are either starving to death or dying of small pox. There's also another reason she's fleeing, but you don't know exactly what that is until the last bit of the book. 

The novel follows the narrator as she journeys far into the wilderness, struggling to survive. She's resourceful and smart, and given her limited resources, she's able to keep going when most of us would have just given up. During her journey she encounters wild animals, horrible weather, indigenous people, and one wild man who is so unsettling I was holding my breath reading that chapter.

Along the way, the narrator looks back over her short life and the journey that brought her to "the vaster wilds". Deserted as a baby, she was brought up in an orphanage in London until she was picked out at age four to be a servant in a wealthy household. There she encounters some stability, but also a few awful things. Her employer remarries a preacher man who is cloaked in handsomeness but is actually pretty awful. He decides they need to begin again in the new world.

I don't want to tell you any more, because I'll give too much away. Nature vs. man is a HUGE theme; the wonder this character finds in her surroundings even as she battles to survive. She has some pretty deep soul-searching moments, and a lot of those reflections apply to today's world. Man's determination to conquer the unknown, women feeling unsafe and powerless in a man's world; finding spirituality in nature. It's all there. 

This novel sent me on an emotional journey. The end is as it should be. I hope this novel wins all the awards. It is stunning. 

Rating: 6/6 for a short but powerful novel about survival, regrets, female power and our connection to nature, which can sustain or destroy us. 

This novel will be out on September 12th in the U.S. in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook. A huge thank you to Riverhead Books (Penguin/Random House) for an ARC. 

Monday, August 28, 2023

Blog Tour for What Would Jane Austen Do? by Linda Corbett


I've read a few dark novels in the past couple of weeks so I definitely needed something refreshing to read, and What Would Jane Austen Do? was the perfect solution. 

Maddy Shaw is a huge Jane Austen fan and advice columnist for a magazine in London. She loves her job, and is crushed when she is fired by the new manager. Keeping her commitment to appear on a podcast, she gets into a war of words with mystery writer Cameron Massey over romance novels. He's nice to look at, but a bit of a crab.

Maddy finds out she's inherited the country home of her distant relative Nigel, who has a few stipulations for Maddy: she has to live in the home for twelve months before she can sell it. If she doesn't, the home goes to someone else in the village. 

Maddy, at loose ends and unable to afford living in London, decides to move to the country home and try a new life. And surprise! who lives nearby? Cameron Massey AKA Luke. He's having some remodeling done at his home, and needs a quiet place to write his next novel. Maddy has a huge home and needs some extra income. It doesn't hurt that Luke has an absolutely lovable dog who quickly captures Maddy's heart. 

This was a gentle romance, and if you love English contemporary romances, this will definitely be on your TBR list. Enemies to Lovers, starting over, and a bit of a family mystery concerning Nigel all keep the plot moving along. There's no explicit sex scenes so if you like your romance to build slowly with a  few bumps along the way, you'll enjoy this novel. 

I did enjoy the story of Nigel, who is a big part of the novel, even though his death is the catalyst for Maddy's move. A bit of family history and a lesson in not believing family stories passed down without doing some fact checking. 

Jane Austen quotes highlight every chapter, and Maddy's love for Jane Austen does shine through--she even challenges Luke to write a romance, since he thinks they are so easy to do. He finds differently, of course!

Thanks to Harper Collins for a chance to read this novel. A perfectly lovely contemporary romance that takes you to the English countryside. The book is available on Kindle and in paperback.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

August Read: The September House by Carissa Orlando


I haven't read a knock down, in-your-face horror novel in a very long time. Wowza. Horror fans will inhale this novel and come out the other side with a few choice words. I read it over the space of the weekend in between cooking and running errands. Thankful for a steaming hot day today that--oh darn--kept me inside reading. I'm not one for always reading horror novels, but when it comes to haunted houses, I am in it! 

September House is about a beautiful Victorian home where married couple Hal and Margaret live. Finally, they have the home of their dreams. Doesn't matter the basement is creepy and smelly, and they got it super cheap. 

Now it's been a few years, and it's September again. The month where the moans start softly, then build to piercing screams. Where blood begins to drip down the walls, slowly oozing all the way down the stairs. And there's the pranksters, all the little children who clearly died horrible deaths, hanging around the house, pointing at the basement. I can't stress enough--if you are squeamish, pass this novel by. If you, like myself, have the ability to see the dark humor in all of this, you'll be able to wince, but keep on reading. 

It seems Hal and Margaret have a haunted house. Sure, it's nice to have a housekeeper (Fredricka) who makes you tea and cooks you supper--don't mind the horrible ax wound she has on her face. And in September, well, Fredricka goes on a bender and moves things all around the house. Once September ends, things quiet down. But no way do you go in the basement. Master Vale lives there. 

Hal is done. He can't take anymore, and leaves. Margaret--well, she's lived with Hal and rules their whole marriage, so if she just follows the rules in the house, she'll be okay and get through another September. After all, it's her house and she's not leaving. 

Katherine, Hal and Margaret's adult daughter, is concerned her Dad is gone and won't respond to phone calls and seems to have disappeared. Katherine decides she's going to come to the home (she's never been) and get to the bottom of her father's disappearance. Margaret is distressed--after all, it is September. How will she manage cleaning up the blood, and how will Katherine sleep with all the screaming every night? Not to mention the pranksters...

Dang, this was one heck of a novel. If you're squeamish, avoid this novel. If you like very dark humor mixed in with a heck of a haunted house and a really nasty evil presence, step right up! The end is AMAZING. 

There's also other stuff that's brought to light, along with the escalation of concern over Hal's disappearance and Katherine's concern for her mother's mental health. There's backstory about Margaret's marriage and Katherine's childhood that frames the story, and certainly fleshes out Margaret's character and the choices she makes. It also sets up the last thirty or so pages, where you're breathlessly turning the pages and cheering Margaret on as she battles Master Vale. It's a bloody, brutal fight. 

This novel will be out in the U.S. on September 5th in hardcover, audiobook, and e-book. Thanks to Edelweiss and Berkley for a chance to read before publication. It will definitely go on my Best of 2023 list!

Rating: 5/6 for one hell of a paranormal/haunting/horror novel that builds in tension and explodes in action the last 1/4th of the novel. Fall readers who like a spooky read will grab this up. Warning: harm to children and violence make up a large part of this horror novel. Dark humor--yes, there is plenty. 

Saturday, August 19, 2023

August Read: The Witch of Wild Things by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland


I'm not going to lie: I've been in a whirl of new books lately. As in, trying to read a whole lot of ARCS, library books, and um...the bags of books I bought over the past few weeks. I had a book frenzy moment and now, in the aftermath, I'm trying to catch up. 

I gulped this novel down in just a few days (in between working and reading another book). If nothing else puts me in the mood for Fall, this book certainly did, and that's part of what made me enjoy it so much. 

Set in Virginia, this novel is about three sisters and their Aunt. The Flores sisters: Sage, Teal, and Sky all have gifts: Sage is the "plant whisperer"; Teal can summon up a thunderstorm or the sunniest of days, depending on her mood; and Sky has the gift of communicating with animals. It's been eight years since Sage was home, but now she's returning after losing her job. Returning home to her Aunt Nadia's house also means living with Teal and facing the grief from losing Sky eight years before. Only Sky is still around, haunting Sage every time she cries. Sky doesn't know why she's sticking around. 

Sage returns to her previous job at the Cranberry Rose Company, growing herbs and nurturing plants as only she can do. And unfortunately for her, Tennessee Reyes also works there--the very object of her love years ago in their teen years. Dang it all if he isn't even more handsome as a grown man! Tennessee sure likes the look of Sage, and has no idea all those years ago his AOL messenger pal was Sage. 

Sage has her work cut out for her: dealing with her feelings for Tennessee, trying to connect with her sister Teal, and figuring out why exactly Sky keeps hanging around, acting very un-ghostly. It's a homecoming that is an opportunity for healing, growth, and a happily ever after, if only Sage can hang on and see it all through. 

I loved Sage's gift with plants and Mother Earth. The best gift to have, in my opinion! I'll say Sky's story is a bit odd, and did throw me for a loop. Just keep reading and let the magic of the novel make you a believer. Teal is a pill and dang she is frosty as hell. Themes in the novel are embracing your gifts, not letting men push you around, and, of course, family. There's a couple of steamy sex scenes but otherwise it's pretty mild. 

Thanks to Edelweiss and Penguin Publishing Group for the ARC. This paperback will be out in the U.S. on September 12th. Also will be available as an e-book. Cover art is fantastic! 

Rating: 5/6 for an entertaining novel about a family of witches who struggle with everyday problems just like the rest of us. A magical novel about finding love again, healing old wounds, and accepting your own badass self. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

August Read from the Shelves: I'm Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy


I've been dilly-dallying between four books the past few weeks and not finishing any of them. When that happens I do what's probably counterintuitive and pick up a whole different book and read it. I've had this memoir in my stacks for a few months and decided to dive in and reset my reading mojo.

Whoa. Lots and lots of some pretty hard stuff in this memoir. Not a read for people who may have experienced physical or mental abuse; eating disorders, or alcohol abuse. I've read a few interviews with Jennette and she said she decided on this title because she wanted it to grab people's attention, and also because she knew her three brothers would immediately get it and understand. I think it's safe to say there are plenty of other people who also get it and understand. 

Jennette McCurdy's acting career wasn't something I was aware of; I was long grown up and not watching Nickelodeon when she was on iCarly. To think of her years on that show, and how miserable she was, is heartbreaking. This kid went through some stuff.

Jennette's mother decided when Jennette was six years old that she should become an actress. Mostly because that's what her mom always wanted to be. Jennette wanted to make her mom happy, because she mostly wasn't-so she said "sure". Dragging Jennette around to auditions, being a pushy stage mom, using her past breast cancer diagnosis to illicit sympathy and open doors eventually got Jennette a starring role on what was to become a very popular kid's show: iCarly. 

What people may not have known was Jennette's home life was a disaster. Her mother constantly worked to keep her children (Jennette has three older brothers) dependent on her and always cried that she didn't want them to grow up. Jennette's dismay at puberty had her mom sharing her "calorie restriction" methods on an eleven year old who developed full blown anorexia, followed by years of bulimia and a dysfunctional relationship with food. This woman was the worst mother. So awful. What's sad is Jennette believed everything her mom said, and worked so hard to not disappoint her mom. This kid was completely lost, naive, and had no chance to figure out who she was, as long as her mother was in control. 

Jennette's mother died from cancer when Jennette was 21. She's free, you think. But no, years of terrible harm to herself required extensive therapy, and a lot of ups and downs. It speaks to Jennette's incredible strength that she's come out whole on the other side. Not only as a child of abuse, but a child actor in a terrible industry that isn't kind at all. 

Jennette's writing is spot on--she's got talent, and I hope she continues to thrive. This was a powerful memoir and I'm so glad I read it, even when it became uncomfortable. 

Rating: 5/6 for a moving, powerful memoir about a young woman's traumatic childhood and her struggle to find her voice. If you have a chance to watch one of her interviews about this book, please watch! 

Available in hardcover, ebook and audio. 

Monday, July 31, 2023

July Read: At the Coffee Shop of Curiosities by Heather Webber


Y'all know I love Heather Webber novels! I was so excited to read her latest and it did not disappoint. 

Ava is a young woman who has travelled to Driftwood, Alabama from Ohio to interview for a job as caretaker to a man who needs some help at home. It's a huge step for Ava, as all her life she's been protected and fussed over after being diagnosed with epilepsy as a child. One serious seizure came with an unexpected gift:  Ava's senses of smell and hearing are amplified way beyond what a normal human can sense. 

Ava's also got another reason to travel to Driftwood: her ex-boyfriend has recently died and this is his hometown. She's convinced he's instrumental in guiding her to Driftwood.

Maggie is a late 30's woman who runs the Magpie coffee shop in town--it's the heartbeat of the town, where locals and tourists gather every day for gossip and coffee. Maggie's life has been spent in Driftwood and since her mother disappeared years before, she's just waiting for her mother to come back; keeping the coffee shop just as her mother ran it. Her father, Dez, has been acting out of character lately, and rumors are swirling he's going to sell the coffee shop. Maggie is devastated, and her father won't give her a straight answer.

Ava and Maggie have a lot in common, and chapters are told in either Ava's voice or Maggie's. There's so much packed in this gem of a book that it took me a bit to get all the characters straight--and there are so many delightful, unique characters. Driftwood is truly a magical place. 

Butterflies, the ocean, sea glass, baked goods, and a special collection of things meant just for that special person are all bits and pieces of the magic that makes this novel work. Relationships grow and blossom; some even get a fresh start. Grief takes a turn, as well as letting go and starting anew. It's the best kind of book-one that made me sigh happily as I finished the last page. It will make you long for an ocean breeze and a sandy beach. 

This novel is out in the U.S. on August 1st in hardcover, audio, and ebook. 

A big thank you to Forge Books (Tor Publishing Group) for a chance to read this ahead of publication. If you haven't read Heather Webber, you're in for a treat. 

Sunday, July 30, 2023

July Read Off the Shelf: The Time Collector by Gwendolyn Womack


I reorganized my book stacks last week because they were getting out of control and I was forgetting books I wanted to read--it's so easy for them to get lost in the shuffle. 

This novel has been on my bookcase for about three years. I've looked at it countless times but finally picked it up a few days ago. I've read Ms. Womack's two previous novels and absolutely loved them-she writes novels that have elements of fantasy, history, and thriller, also with a bit of romance, too. Perfect combination for me. 

The Time Collector is about Roan West and Melicent Tilpin. Roan is a commanding presence who always wears black--and gloves. There's a reason for the gloves-Roan is a psychometrist. His talent lies in touching items and seeing the past-who owned them, what happened to them; he sees all the lives that held that object. It can be overwhelming, but it's also lucrative. He can say that yes, this is an original, or this was owned by this famous person. He's made a living out of it, even if it has cost him close relationships.

 Melicent is a young woman in Los Angeles who is struggling to make ends meet after her mother dies and leaves Melicent to raise her younger brother. Melicent also has the gift of psychometry and has just been featured on Antiques Roadshow with a rare pocket watch--worth millions. She's not quite sure why she has this talent, and what it is, but knows she may have found a way to provide for herself and her brother. 

Her appearance goes viral, and Roan sees it and immediately knows he has to visit her to make sure she's safe. Someone is preying on fellow psychometrists in Roan's circle, and he's afraid Melicent could be next. But who is this silent stalker, and what could they want? It all has to do with "ooparts": out of place artifacts that are challenging known history and timelines. 

This novel takes you all around the world as Roan and Melicent's relationship grows and the danger ramps up. It's a fascinating mix of history, physics, mysticism, and romance. You definitely have to suspend belief for a bit, especially at the end, but dang it's a clever novel and I loved every bit of it. 

I will read anything Ms. Womack writes, but she hasn't written anything recently, dang it! She's on my list of favorite authors. If you're a history geek like myself, and fascinated by mysticism (yep, like myself), you'll enjoy this novel. I found it in the bargain section of my local B&N. 

Rating: 5/6 for a refreshingly different novel about time, history, physics, the universe, and our place in it. Toss in an adventure around the world, romance, and some pretty interesting object histories and you've got a read you won't be able to put down. 

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

July Read: The Soulmate by Sally Hepworth


This was my first Sally Hepworth novel and I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Domestic thriller, yes--but other than that I went in blind. 

We travel to Australia and join Gabe and Pippa Wright, who have moved to a small coastal town with their two young daughters, Freya and Asha. Starts out seemingly innocent, with a solid marriage. Pippa is a lawyer who works from home; Gabe is the stay at home parent to the children. He's handsome and charming and madly in love with his wife. Gabe has also become semi-famous for preventing people from jumping off the infamous cliff behind their home. It's a well-known spot for suicides to leap to the rocks below, but Gabe spots them and spends time talking them down and has saved seven lives since they moved into their cottage. 

On this day, there's another one. Gabe goes out to talk, while Pippa calls the police (it's their drill). However, this time, she looks up and sees Gabe standing in shock, arms up and hands out--and no person. Did they jump, or were they pushed? 

The story is narrated by Pippa and Amanda, before and now. Amanda is the victim, and her "now" is her as a restless spirit who can travel around and sees all that's going on--she's our clue that all is not as it seems. All sorts of stuff begins to be revealed-in both Amanda's marriage to Max, and Pippa's marriage to Gabe. The perfect marriage is anything but, and the two women are connected in one messy knot. 

I've got to say this was one soap opera of a ride. Sheesh. I didn't really like any of the main characters: Pippa, Gabe, Max, and Amanda. They're all self-absorbed and certainly Pippa and Amanda make a ton of excuses for poor behavior in their relationships. There's mental illness, underhanded business deals, infidelity, and one heck of a secret that isn't revealed until nearly the end. Honestly, I didn't even care too much for their daughters! Each woman loves their husband so much they're willing to overlook obvious signs and work even harder to make the marriage smooth sailing. Appearances of happy couples on the outside are not the reality on the inside. What really is a soulmate? Does it mean you have to take the bad with the good?

Interesting look at marriage and all the complexities. Also demonstrates the stress of mental illness not only on the one suffering, but those who love and care for them. 

Rating: 4/6 for a whiz-bang thriller than has so many oops! reveals I actually said aloud "Oh Come ON!" at one point. It's a quick read, and definitely interesting. I may try another Sally Hepworth novel soon. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Monday, July 24, 2023

July Read: The Only One Left by Riley Sager


This one is a thriller that hooked me from the first few pages and honestly I was so happy to be reading a book that I couldn't wait to get back to every day. Some books are slow burns, but others you just have to read immediately and this was one of those for me. 

This novel takes place in 1983, which threw me for a loop a few times as I had to keep telling myself it wasn't taking place in 2023. I kept doing the mental math games in my head at first until it finally sunk it and the character's ages made sense given it was 1983 and the 1920's were only 60 years before. I think I've gotten used to reading too much contemporary fiction. 

Onto the novel! It's 1983, and Kit McDeere is a home health care worker returning to her employer after being off for six months due to an investigation regarding the death of her last patient--you'll find out soon enough who that was and why it was so devastating to Kit. 

Kit is out of money and has no other skillset to find other employment, so back she goes to her old job. She's left with no choice but to accept the job offered: care for Lenora Hope, who was suspected but never charged with the murders of her parents and sister one horrid night in September of 1929.  Lenora's last nurse has mysteriously left in the middle of the night, and Lenora is not only mute but partially paralyzed and requires full time care. Kit reluctantly takes the job and arrives at Hope's End, the family mansion set on the cliffs overlooking the ocean. Up close it's clear the mansion is decaying and it certainly has the creep factor built in! 

Kit takes on the care of Lenora and while she's at first frightened of Lenora, she slowly builds a relationship with Lenora. A relationship that involves finding out exactly what happened that long ago night in 1929. Was Lenora guilty of murder? If not her, who then? And why did Mary, Lenora's pervious nurse, suddenly leave in the middle of the night, leaving all her clothing and personal possessions behind? 

The story is told from Kit's point of view, as well as the typed story Lenora painstakingly worked on with Mary's help, one keystroke at a time. So you, as the reader, know things that Kit doesn't know. As Kit digs deeper, and Lenora's story slowly reveals the Hope family dynamics, the mansion itself is creaking and groaning more and more, shifting ever closer to the edge of the cliff. It's a character in the novel as well as the others who live in the mansion: Jessie, the young maid; Carter, the young man who lives in the cottage on the grounds and attends to general maintenance; Archie, the older man who has been with the family since his teenage years; and Mrs. Baker, the housekeeper. 

There are twists to this thriller all the way up until the very last pages. I loved it! I've only read a few Riley Sager novels but I will definitely read more. I especially liked this one because of the time period and the setting. 

Rating:  5/6 for a thriller with twists and turns aplenty. A touch of gothic, a bit of suspense and it's hard to put down!

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Thursday, July 13, 2023

July Read: What the Dead Know by Barbara Butcher


I've been behind reading non-fiction, and I was glad to grab this title from the library new releases shelf. I can't overstate how much forensics and medical examiner reads completely captivate me. It's been a source of interest to me since my teen years. I could not do the job, but I love to read about it--how they put the puzzle together to bring closure to loved ones and bring victims justice. 

Barbara Butcher lays it all out and her ups and downs are compelling. A recovering alcoholic, she takes a vocational test and has two choices: a poultry veterinarian or a coroner. With a Master's in public health and a deep interest in medicine, she decides to pursue the path of coroner. In a stroke of luck, she walks into a job with the New York City Medical Examiner's Office as a death investigator. She's one of a crew (and the only woman) who is called to a death to take photos, make notes, and examine the body and make a brief statement about the cause of death. 

Barbara's experiences are wide ranging; from horrible suicides and murders to accidents and unattended deaths in locked apartments. She sees all of New York City--usually the worst parts. She learns to keep her composure and use humor to combat the overwhelming job of being surrounded by death every day. Always a recovering alcoholic, she also struggles to stay away from the bottle and find other ways to cope. 

Barbara was on hand for 9/11 and dedicates a few chapters to her experiences working through that devastating tragedy. Years of being exposed to death was no preparation for the sheer overwhelming awfulness of 9/11. And that was really when Barbara's  inability to balance her work with a healthy private life begins to send her into a downward spiral.  

Barbara's tales of investigations and the inner workings of the medical examiner's office are all so very interesting. It takes a strong, compassionate person a lot of inner strength to do this job professionally every day. It inevitably takes a toll, as it did for Barbara. 

If you are a fan of true crime, or, like me, forensics, this is a must read. It's also a study in human behavior and coping mechanisms when faced with the dark side of humanity every day. 

Rating: 5/6 for a very readable and compelling look at a woman's career as a death investigator for New York City. Her ups and downs both professionally and personally shine a light on the hard work public workers do, often without recognition, or the tools to help them cope. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Monday, July 10, 2023

July Read: Crow Mary by Kathleen Grissom


It's been a hot minute since I read historical fiction! I read this over the weekend and wow it was a huge shift from what I've been typically reading over the last few months. 

Crow Mary is the fictional tale of a historical figure who is known as Crow Mary. She's a young woman living with the Crow tribe in Montana in 1872. Her father is the chief of the tribe, and her grandmother was married to a "yellow eyes", Mary's beloved grandfather. Before she was Crow Mary, she was named Goes First. She was smart, brave, and one heck of a shot. She was happily living with her parents when Abe Farwell arrived in the area looking to trade and possibly find a wife. 

Abe was taken with Goes First, and after reflecting on his offer, Goes First decides to accept his proposal, even though it means leaving her family and traveling to Canada to Abe's trading post. She feels marrying Abe is her calling and in doing so she can escape sad memories and help her tribe by marrying a white man. 

At first, things are going well. Goes First is given the name of Mary once they reach a fort where being an Indian meant trading pelts for whiskey and being cheated out of a fair trade by the white men. They were seen as such non-people that all Indian women were named Mary instead of honoring their native names. So now known as Crow Mary, or Mrs. Farwell, she begins to settle into her married life and make friends with other women in the area. 

Crow Mary and Abe travel to Canada and begin to build their trading post. This is where things take a turn, and Abe's decision to take a stand will haunt him and Crow Mary for years to come. 

I was fascinated by the Crow traditions and respect for family. Crow Mary was such an intriguing character; I couldn't help cheering her on when confronted with men who were just so nasty to her. While I would have wished for an easier journey for Crow Mary, everything she experienced made her a stronger woman. 

I attempted to find more information on Crow Mary, but was unsuccessful in my quick search on the internet. Her great-granddaughter writes the foreword to the novel, and the prologue is a definite circle around scene--you'll just have to wait and read the book! 

All in all, a satisfying peek into the life of a woman who took risks to save others, build a home, and raise a family. Author Kathleen Grissom (The Kitchen House) did a lot of research and it shows in her meticulous and well crafted descriptions of life on the prairie. Rape, kidnapping children to send to Indian schools in Pennsylvania; violence and murder are all part of this novel. 

Rating: 4/6 for historical fiction that brings Crow customs and lifestyle to life in a well written novel about a strong, resilient woman who became a legend. If you are a fan of Western fiction, or heck, even the TV show 1883, you will enjoy this novel. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

July Read: The Senator's Wife by Liv Constantine


I picked up this novel at the library to read over the July 4th holiday and had a few good reading days where I got into the story and far enough along that I just had to finish it and miss neighborhood fireworks (which are illegal in my city, but people do them anyway).

Enter the world of wealthy political figures in this novel that is a twisty-turny thriller that isn't difficult to figure out. Sloan Chase is a wealthy philanthropist who, after the tragic death of her senator husband two years before, marries another senator-Whit Montgomery. Whit was married to Peg, who was the cousin of Sloan's husband and was also involved in the tragedy. 

Phew-got it? Sloan and Whit have known each other for years and the tragedy found them comforting each other and then marrying. Now it's two years later, and Sloan is scheduled to have a hip replacement due to her ongoing lupus issues. She's kept her lupus under control for years, but she's afraid the surgery will create a flare up. Whit arranges in home care for Sloan, and Athena arrives. Athena is not only a qualified and capable at-home care giver, she's also experienced in charities and will help Sloan manage some of her correspondence while she's recovering at home. She's also gorgeous--and Whit is one handsome dude who likes beautiful women. 

Sloan returns home from surgery, and pretty quickly her recovery turns south and she's having terrible lupus issues--lethargy, nausea, pain in her joints, and even hallucinations. She's confused, weak, and every week she's worse. She begins to question her own sanity as she doesn't remember things Whit tells her happened. Athena falls under suspicion, too. Is she doing something to Sloan to make her ill? Can Sloan get help before something horrible happens?

Each chapter is told through a different character: Sloan, Whit, and Athena. You know from the beginning Athena has ulterior motives but you're not quite sure what or who is her target--Whit or Sloan--or both. Whit seems like a loving spouse, but he's got Sloan fooled--he's a real asshole. Sloan seems to be a smart woman, but boy it takes her a long time to get smart about her husband. 

As a reader, you know more than Sloan does, because you've got the inside peek at Whit and Athena. But it all comes together quickly at the end. It's not much of a surprise, but there are a few clever points that build up the "Gotcha!" moment at the end. 

If you like domestic thrillers with a little bit of politics thrown in, along with the glam life of the ultra wealthy in DC, you'll enjoy this novel. I'm willing to read more of the backlist of the writing duo Liv Constantine. 

Rating: 3/6 for an entertaining thriller that kept me turning the pages. Lots of brand names for the wealthy thrown around (Hermes, Tiffany, etc) to hammer home the absurd money that folks have and spend. A peek into the politics of a government and the politics of a marriage that is not what it seems. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Friday, June 30, 2023

June Read: The Bookshop by the Bay by Pamela Kelley


Bookshop, summer, beach...yes, I'm a sucker for it! I've read Ms. Kelley's Nantucket Restaurant series so I knew I would enjoy this summer read that takes place on Cape Cod. It's a place I've had on my travel radar for a long time. For now, I'll have to do armchair travel.

Jess is married to Parker and they're both lawyers in a thriving firm in Charleston. Their daughter Caitlin still lives with them as she bounces from job to job, unsuccessfully trying to find a career path. She's a hard worker, but never a "good fit".

All is not great in the marriage; Jess has noticed they're more friends than partners after 30 years of marriage. Before she can bring up divorce, she discovers her husband's been unfaithful with his secretary and now is expecting another child. Jess is DONE. She decides to return to her hometown of Chatham on Cape Cod for the summer to visit her mother and think about what she wants to do, and Caitlin decides to come along. It's a life changing trip for both of them. 

Jess' best friend Alison still lives in Chatham and works for a magazine that is in financial trouble. She's looking for a part-time job and finds out the local bookshop, which has been a staple in Chatham for decades, may be for sale. It's been her dream to own a bookshop and here's her chance, if she can pull the finances together. 

Along comes Jess with time on her hands, an impending divorce, and the means to invest in the bookshop and become co-owner with Alison. Soon Caitlin has taken over managing a defunct coffee shop next door to the bookshop, and the summer really kicks in! Plenty of characters are introduced and smaller plot lines run alongside the main bookshop/divorce storyline. 

All three women are going through life changes--all involving career changes as well as romantic. Although Jess and Caitlin have set October as a deadline to return to Charleston, will they stay in Chatham for good?

This is what I call a gentle novel. What makes a novel gentle (to me) is when there are no big plot twists; characters are all likable, and the story moves along at a gentle pace. Everyone is likable and the setting is a place that's perfectly perfect. No big surprises, but a satisfying read. 

I enjoyed this read, mostly because it was a relaxing one. My only slight beef was Caitlin expressing over and over how she was going to return to Charleston. It got old after a bit, especially when you, as a reader, knew there was nothing in Charleston to return to except shallow friends and temp jobs. It took her a bit too long to figure it out. 

Romantic interests for all, delicious food descriptions, and a seaside town that sounds like a dreamy place to live. And of course we can't forget the bookshop. I can't think of a more satisfying career than to own a bookshop in a seaside town. 

Rating: 4/6 for a perfectly enjoyable summertime read. Women enjoying their friendships, figuring out life, and realizing that you can go home again. And--you can love the ocean and not swim in it!

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio.