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.