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.