Monday, November 12, 2018

Beyond the Books: LightView Rolling Base Magnifier Lamp from Brightech

It might surprise you to discover that I have other hobbies besides reading (gasp!). Not that I've engaged in some of them much over the past few years, but still, I want you to know that I'm more than just a reader/blogger.  I'm a well-rounded (literally and figuratively) book nerd!

The good folks at Brightech, a Los Angeles lighting company, offered to send me a free magnifier lamp (in exchange for an honest review) that would be perfect for one of my hobbies—cross-stitching.  I eagerly accepted their generous offer.  Because I cross-stitch (and read) most often while sitting in a recliner, I chose the LightView Rolling Base Magnifier Lamp, which features a dimmable LED magnifying light on a long swing arm.  This element, plus the six-wheeled base, makes it easy to move the lamp to the exact position I need.  It's simple to place it over my head, over my shoulder, or wherever it works best to light up the project on which I'm working.  The brighter settings are perfect for needlework, especially since my aging eyes have trouble seeing fine details.  It would also work well for any other craft, hobby or repair project that requires magnification.  For reading, I prefer one of the softer settings so that I can see the words on the page without straining my eyes.  Despite the bright light, you won't feel any heat coming off the lamp, which means you can enjoy reading or crafting without sweating to death!

I used to have an Ottlite lamp in a similar design and had been considering replacing it when Brightech contacted me.  Since the LightView version does everything my Ottlite did and more, I'm very pleased with it.  The product was simple to put together (my 13-year-old son did it for me), looks nice, and has lots of great features that make it very useful.  It's solid and well-constructed, which lets me know that it's something my family and I will be using for years to come.  Right now, the lamp is on sale for $108.99 with free shipping since it's over $50.  While that may seem a little pricey, it's cheaper than similar Ottlite products.  If you don't love the LightView Rolling Base Magnifier Lamp, never fear—you can return it for free.  If you do, you'll be happy to know it comes with a 5-year warranty, just in case.  I've been very happy with this lamp and would definitely recommend purchasing one if you're in the market for a high-quality magnifying lamp to use while enjoying your favorite hobbies.

(If you're not looking for a magnifying lamp right now, be sure to check out Brightech's other lighting products.  They have a large selection of table lamps, floor lamps, and string lights at affordable prices.)   

Thank you, Brightech!

I Heart Its Premise Big Time. Its Execution? Not So Much.

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Few people are tough enough—physically, mentally, or emotionally—to endure a "winter over" in Antarctica.  Not everyone can handle being cooped up in an isolated compound with the same small group of people for nine months, let alone in extreme weather and almost complete darkness 24/7.  For Cass Jennings, a 30-something mechanical engineer, working at the Shackleton South Pole Research Facility for the austral winter is a way to escape her troubled past and start over.  Her job as a vehicle mechanic/plumber/carpenter may not be glamorous or exciting, but it is essential.  Her tasks keep her mind in the present, not the past, and that's all Cass needs right now.

When the death of a colleague sets a series of mysterious events into motion, however, Cass begins to worry about her future.  The stranger things get at Shackleton, the more she starts to panic.  With little communication from the outside world, it's up to the 44 people at the facility to figure out what's going on.  The tension is already tearing people apart, filling them with a dangerous combination of paranoia, hysteria, and fear.  As rationality disappears around her, Cass fights to stay calm.  It's up to her to find the answers that will save herself and everyone left in the remote facility.  Can she do it in time?  Or will they all fall victim to an enemy even more extreme and deadly than anything Antarctica can throw at them?

I'm a sucker for thrillers set in harsh, secluded environments so when Kay mentioned The Winter Over by Matthew Iden, I knew I had to read it.  The haunting, atmospheric setting gives the novel a deliciously shivery backdrop.  Although Iden goes into a lot of detail about Antarctica, he weaves it into the story in a way that feels natural, not info-dumpy.  I found it all fascinating, much more so than the novel's characters or its disjointed plot.  Because there are so many people in this tale, I had a hard time keeping them straight or caring about any of them (most of them are unlikable anyway).  Add to that a predictable (albeit abrupt) ending and, overall, I just didn't love this one.  I heart its premise big time, but its execution leaves a lot to be desired. 

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of My Last Continent by Midge Raymond)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, and blood/gore

To the FTC, with love:  I bought an e-copy of The Winter Over on Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Bolton's Newest Not My Absolute Favorite, But a Close Second

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

It's been 30 years since Florence Lovelady joined the Sabden police force, becoming the first female officer to serve in the small town near the Pendle Forest in Lancashire, England.  She may have been a 22-year-old greenie back then, but she solved the biggest case the area had ever seen, making a name for herself.  Putting Larry Glassbrook—a coffin maker who got his kicks burying teen girls alive—in prison remains the highlight of Florence's long and distinguished career.  Now, at 52, she's the most senior serving policewoman in Britain and only months away from retirement.  

When chilling events from the past start repeating themselves, Florence is stunned.  Glassbrook is dead; he can't be pulling strings from beyond the grave.  Either they're dealing with a very skilled copycat or Florence got it wrong all those years ago.  But if the coffin maker is innocent, then who buried those girls alive?  And how can she stop the horror from happening all over again?  

It's no secret that I'm a big Sharon Bolton fan.  I've read all of her books and while Little Black Lies will probably always be my favorite, The Craftsman isn't far behind.  Why?  It's a bit different from Bolton's others—still gritty, but less gruesome and more Gothic.  The characters are intriguing, the plot's compelling, and, as always, Bolton surprised me with a twisty, unexpected finale.  I didn't suspect the real killer until the very end, which is exactly how I like it!  So, while The Craftsman may not be my absolute favorite Bolton book, it's a close second.

(Readalikes:  Other crime novels by Sharon Bolton; also reminds me of books by Jane Casey)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language, violence, blood/gore, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of The Craftsman from the generous folks at St. Martin's Press.  Thank you!

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

The Book of Essie: Intriguing Premise, So-So Execution

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"The girl sitting on the red couch next to her newly proclaimed fiancĂ© is wholly two-dimensional; she is a projection only, like light cast on the surface of a still pond or the first hint of dawn in winter as it breaks behind the barn.  She smiles when it is expected.  She says all the right things.  She is the exact combination of humble and sarcastic that gives the impression that she might actually be real.  But she isn't.  She's a fabrication.  A meticulously constructed and lifelike illusion, but an illusion all the same" (114-115).

As the daughter of a charismatic evangelical preacher, 17-year-old Esther "Essie" Hicks has been watched her whole life.  Literally.  Her family has been the subject of the hit reality show "Six for Hicks" for longer than she can remember.  Fans laud the Hicks' rock-solid faith and in-the-world-but-not-of-the-world attitude, while critics denounce their made-for-tv flakiness and the hypocrisy in their look-at-me lifestyle.  With her insider's view, Essie knows—or thinks she knows—what really goes on behind the scenes.  Sick of being in the spotlight, she longs to break free of it all.

When Essie announces she's pregnant, but refuses to name the father, the shocking news threatens to topple the entire Hicks enterprise.  The show's producers scramble to find a way to spin the unwelcome revelation, finally deciding on the most ratings-friendly option—a wedding.  Fake nuptials aren't enough for Essie's calculating mother; the marriage must not only come off as authentic, it has to be real.  Since wedding her baby's father is not an option, Essie sets her sights on 18-year-old Roarke Richards, an ambitious but penniless acquaintance.  Desperate to help his bankrupt parents and keep his own secret under wraps, Roarke reluctantly goes along with the Hicks' plan.  What he doesn't realize is that his new fiancee has her own agenda.  On a hunt for answers that could destroy her family forever, Essie won't stop digging until all their secrets are exposed.  How far will she go to win back the right to live her life on her own terms?  

The premise behind The Book of Essie, a debut novel by Meghan MacLean Weir, has fascinated me since I first heard about it.  With so much potential for juicy book drama, how could I not give this one a go?  While the story's big reveals aren't very surprising, the novel does offer some surprisingly sharp observations about authenticity, hypocrisy, media distortion, blind belief, and standing up for what's right.  Essie and Roarke are sympathetic characters, both of whom are easy to root for.  Their situation seems incredibly far-fetched, but it does lead to some interesting plot developments.  Although The Book of Essie kept my attention, I did find it disjointed and heavy-handed.  Overall, then, I didn't love it.  Despite the hype that surrounded this book, it was just an okay read for me.  

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Something Real by Heather Demetrios)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a handful of F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, depictions of underage drinking, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of The Book of Essie from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Monday, November 05, 2018

I've Yet to Meet an Armstrong Thriller That Didn't Completely Suck Me In ...

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

No one stays in the tiny dead-end town of Reeve's End, Kentucky.  Winter Crane doesn't plan to be the exception.  The minute she finishes high school, the 17-year-old will run far away to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor.  Her drunken father might miss his human punching bag, but Winter can't wait to be rid of him. 

In the meantime, Winter finds refuge in the lush forest surrounding her home.  Her temporary peace is interrupted when she finds Lennon Bishop, a teenage boy who's been badly beaten, in her woods.  He's evasive about what happened to him and before long, he's disappeared from Reeve's End.  When Lennon's older brother, Jude, comes to town looking for answers, he heads straight for Winter.  She has no idea why kids keep vanishing from town, but when she reluctantly joins Jude's quest for the truth, she's shocked to find that things in her hometown are not what they seem.  Not at all ...

Kelley Armstrong's thrillers never fail to engross me, be they geared toward adults or teens.  Missing is another YA offering from the prolific author.  Like her other novels, this one features a propulsive plot, tough but sympathetic characters, and strong, immersive prose.  I loved tough, capable Winter and definitely cared what was going to happen to her.  Because of all these elements, I couldn't stop reading Missing.  It's a riveting thriller that kept me zooming through pages until I got to the book's satisfying conclusion.  I've yet to meet an Armstrong thriller that didn't completely suck me in and this one is definitely no exception.    

(Readalikes:  Um, I can't think of anything.  You?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs), violence, blood/gore, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Saturday, November 03, 2018

YA Thriller Can't-Put-It-Down Compelling, If Not Wholly Believable

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Three years ago, Skye Gilchrist fled her hometown in the wake of a tragic school shooting that left four of her classmates dead.  One of the students was her brother, Luka.  If he had been a victim that would have been one thing, but he wasn't.  Luka was one of the shooters.  Ever since the shooting, Skye has been wracked with grief and confusion.  How could her only sibling have committed such a hateful act?  She simply can't believe Luka would have done such a thing.

Now 16, Skye has returned to live in a town still haunted by what her brother did.  She's barely stepped off the plane when she realizes Luka's sins have not been forgotten.  Not by a long shot.  Since he's not around to take the blame, Skye becomes the recipient of the town's anger.  Even though he lost his brother in the shooting, Jesse Mandal—Skye's former best friend—is the only one who shows any empathy.  Together, the two of them uncover inconsistencies about the school shooting, evidence that may clear Luka's name.  The more they dig into the past, however, the more dangerous their present becomes ...

Since I've been enjoying Kelley Armstrong's Rockton series for adults, I thought I'd give one of her YA novels a go.  Aftermath sounded intriguing and it is, although I didn't end up loving the book overall.  While I did find it a compelling, couldn't-put-it-down thriller, it also seemed far-fetched and melodramatic to me.  The fact that everyone in the mid-size town knew Skye on sight (even though she was the sister of a shooter and it had been three years since she lived there) and felt so vehemently vicious toward her just didn't ring true for me.  Also, the kids in the book didn't act like 16 year olds—they seemed much older and their parents/guardians didn't seem to care a lick what they did.  Totally unrealistic.  So, yeah, there were definitely things about Aftermath that bugged.  Still, it's a fast, engrossing read that had me burning through the pages to find out what was going to happen.  Based on this, I'll for sure read Armstrong's other teen thrillers.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult)  

Grade: 


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs), violence, blood/gore, depictions of/references to illegal drug use, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Shivery Gothic Tale Another Winner From Ware

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Working as a tarot card reader on a Cornwall pier has given Harriet "Hal" Westaway certain skills.  The 21-year-old has learned to read not just fortunes, but people.  That's how she knows the loan sharks sniffing around her booth mean serious business.  If Hal doesn't pay her dead mother's debts and soon, some very dangerous men are going to end her card-reading days forever.  

When Hal receives a notice informing her she's received a large inheritance, she knows it's too good to be true.  The letter has obviously been delivered to the wrong person.  Hal's too desperate, however, not to see this unexpected opportunity as the lifesaver she's been praying for.  With the acting skills she's honed over a lifetime of boardwalk bewitching, she just might be able to convince complete strangers to give her the cash she needs to save her life.  

As soon as Hal steps inside mysterious Trespassen House, it becomes clear that something very, very strange is going on with her newfound relatives.  She's come too far to back out now, but is the prize worth tangling herself up in whatever sinister plot is afoot in the Cornwall countryside?

I've enjoyed all of Ruth Ware's psychological thrillers, but her newest—The Death of Mrs. Westaway—is my hands-down favorite.  The story revolves around a likable heroine whose pitiable situation makes her wholly sympathetic.  Hal is intriguing, as is the situation in which she finds herself.  With creepy, Gothic overtones, the tale is a compelling and shivery one.  Its atmospheric setting, mysterious characters, and twisty, propulsive plot combine to make The Death of Mrs. Westaway an engrossing, can't-put-it-down thriller. I loved it.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other books by Ruth Ware, including In a Dark, Dark Wood; The Lying Game; and The Woman in Cabin 10)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a dozen or so F-bombs, plus milder expletives) and violence

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Monday, October 29, 2018

"Locked Room" Family Saga Sharp, But Dull

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

For the first time in recent memory, the four members of the Birch Family will be together for Christmas.  Since Olivia—a medical doctor who's been fighting the virulent Haag virus in Liberia— must be quarantined for seven days to avoid contaminating the public, the family will be closeted together for a week at their home in the Norfolk countryside.  No one will be allowed to leave the property, and no one will be allowed to enter.  It will be only the Birches, 24/7.  

To make things even more difficult, each of the Birches is hiding a secret from the others.  No one wants to ruin the upcoming holiday with troubling revelations, so the quartet will be walking on eggshells to avoid any unwanted disclosures.  Nerves are already starting to fray when Andrew Birch's secret comes knocking on the door.  As tension nears fever pitch for the housebound residents of Weyfield Hall, an implosion becomes inevitable.  What will happen when everyone's secrets are finally out in the open?  Will the Birch Family survive their catastrophic holiday intact? 

I'm always up for a sweeping family saga that promises the outing of juicy secrets that will test the bonds that tie people together.  Add in a "locked room" situation and I'm a goner.  Naturally, then, I was excited to give Seven Days of Us, a debut novel by journalist Francesca Hornak, a go.  I went in expecting a sharp, funny story and the novel delivered.  Kind of.  Through her authentic, very flawed cast, Hornak makes some fascinating observations about family dynamics.  I recognized parts of myself in the ways each of the characters interacted with each other.  While I enjoyed that aspect of the book, I did grow bored with the plot, which seems to wander all over the place without really going anywhere.  The ending didn't help, as it left me thinking, "What was the point of that?"  Overall, then, Seven Days of Us turned out to be just an okay read for me. 

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't really think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:  


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, sexual content, violence, and references to illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Seven Days of Us from the generous folks at Penguin Random House in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

Newest Kate Morton Saga Not Quite Up to Snuff

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"It occurs to me that this house is like that, too.  It remembers, just as I do.  It remembers everything."

When London archivist Elodie Winslow discovers an old leather satchel at work, she thinks little of it.  Until she finds two remarkable items within.  She's intrigued by the old photo of an arresting woman wearing Victorian-era clothes, but she's completely mesmerized by an artist's sketch of a riverside country manor that appears to be straight out of a storybook.  Although Elodie's never actually seen such a place, she's intimately familiar with the twin-gabled home nestled in a bend of the river.  Somehow, the artist has drawn the exact place where Elodie's mother set all the fanciful bedtime stories with which she enchanted her young daughter.   

As Elodie peers into the past in search of answers, she discovers that Birchwood Manor is, indeed, a real place.  Built in the 1500s, it's been an artists' retreat, a boarding school for girls, even a refuge for children fleeing London during World War II.  Its residents have experienced every emotion—grief, joy, fear, comfort, triumph, and tragedy.  The estate houses ghosts and the key to solving at least one mystery.  When Elodie learns of the mysterious events of 1862, when one woman was shot to death and another went missing from a summer artists' getaway, she knows she won't be able to rest until she finds out what really happened.  She hopes her search for the truth will reveal the answer to the most unsettling question of all—What does Elodie's mother have to do with the many sorrows of Birchwood Manor? 

It's no secret that I'm a raving Kate Morton fan.  I adore her eloquent, atmospheric dual-timeline novels featuring crumbling mansions, mysterious heirlooms, and juicy family secrets.  I've read—and loved—all of her books.  Since they only come out every 2-3 years, I wait with bated breath for new sagas from this talented Australian author.  So, to say I was excited for the emergence of The Clockmaker's Daughter would be a vast understatement.  Did Morton's newest live up to my (admittedly very high) expectations?  No, actually.  While I liked it overall, it's my least favorite of the author's books.  Why?  The story had a little different format from Morton's others, which left it feeling overly long, unfocused, and dull in places.  I loved learning about Birchwood Manor's long history, but with so many characters over so much time, I got a tad lost.  So, while I found the mystery at the novel's center compelling, the plot felt a bit loosey-goosey and a little confusing.  On the whole, I still enjoyed The Clockmaker's Daughter—just not nearly as much as I've loved all Morton's others.  


Grade:  


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for mild language (no F-bombs), violence, and mild sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of The Clockmaker's Daughter from the generous folks at Simon & Schuster via those at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Fun Premise Makes for Enjoyable Regency Reading



What happens when a crowd of eligible young lords and ladies converges in the Yorkshire countryside for a two-week long house party?  Plenty of merriment, mischief, and matchmaking, that's what!  

The Regency House Party: Somerstone series is made up of five romance novels penned by popular and up-and-coming LDS writers.  Each revolves around a different set of Somerstone houseguests, all of whom are searching for love while at the estate.  Since the stories take place simultaneously, the books can be read in any order.  While the characters in the novels intermingle, their individual stories don't intertwine enough to contain spoilers.  It's a fun device for a series, don't you think?  You can read more about it at the Regency House Party website.  

(Image from Amazon)

Despite being a lowly stable master's daughter, 19-year-old Marjorie Fairchild has been invited to the hottest house party of the season thanks to her aunt's acquaintance with its hosts.  Although her days of scampering around barefoot, climbing trees, and spying on her betters are long gone, Marjorie's still not entirely comfortable mingling with London's elite.  Still, her silly childhood fantasies all revolved around another Somestone houseguest: dashing Reginald Beauchamp.  It doesn't matter how much she's developed, Marjorie knows there's no way she could hope to snag the son of an earl, but she can't help hoping that maybe, just maybe, she might be able to catch his eye.  Even a few moments of his attention would be enough to soothe her unrequited longings.

Lord Miles Beauchamp has little patience for frivolous social gatherings, even if his earldom is in need of a Lady to refine it.  His only goal at the house party is to keep an eagle eye on his flippant, irresponsible younger brother.  When Reginald sets his fickle sights on Marjorie Fairchild, the beautiful daughter of the family's stable master, Miles knows he must step in.  He can't allow his dandy of a brother to toy with the heart of his employee's daughter.  It's not right—for many reasons.  Setting himself in the role of her protector, Miles vows to save Marjorie from Reginald, only to find his own traitorous heart hopelessly lost to the enchanting redhead.  

Can Miles successfully woo Marjorie's affections away from his charming brother?  If he can, what then?  Can a romance between two people of such different social classes ever really work?  Despite the risks, Miles is determined to find out ...

The Stable Master's Daughter—a debut novel by Sara Cardon—tells a swoony story about a woman whose yearnings for the wrong man blind her to the charms of the right one.  It's a familiar setup which leads to an obvious, predictable ending.  The characters are nothing special either, although they're mostly a likable lot.  While I definitely wanted a twistier plot and more dynamic story people from it, The Stable Master's Daughter remains a fun, enjoyable novel that's short, sweet, and satisfying.  With it, Cardon proves herself a capable writer, making her an author on whom I will definitely keep my eye!  

(Readalikes:  Other novels in the Regency House Party: Somerstone series, as well as Regency romances by Josi S. Kilpack, Jennifer Moore, Julianne Donaldson, and Sarah M. Eden)

Grade: 


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for mild violence

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Stable Master's Daughter from the generous Sara Cardon in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

Friday, October 26, 2018

Cozy Christmas Collection Provides Swoony, Light Hearted Holiday Entertainment (with a Giveaway!)

(Image from Amazon)

I haven't even put up my Halloween decorations yet, but I just finished a cozy Christmas read that put me right into the holiday spirit!  A Christmas Courting is a collection of four short Regency romances set at Yuletide.  Three popular LDS romance writers—Jennifer Moore, Chalon Linton, and Jen Geigle Johnson—are featured, as well as newcomer Heidi Kimball (her first novel, An Unlikely Courtship, came out in September).  

As you can imagine, the four short stories in this volume are warm, upbeat tales that offer the kind of swoony, light hearted entertainment you crave during the chaotic holiday season.  While I liked some of them better than others, all of the tales are clean, uplifting, and cheerful.  Some deal with more serious issues, but in the end, all the tales guarantee happy, satisfying endings:
Love and Joy Come to You by Jennifer Moore concerns a young gentleman whose peaceful holiday is interrupted by a family of rowdy houseguests his mother has invited for the holidays.  Although, at first, Lord Covington is annoyed by the orphaned children, he soon grows to love them, with an especial fondness for the beautiful, enchanting eldest.  

A Christmas Courting by Chalon Linton is about Keturah Hensley, a young lady who pines for her handsome childhood friend, Christopher.  When he asks her aid in helping him woo a wife, she worries this Christmas will be the worst she's ever experienced.  

Mistletoe Memories by Jen Geigle Johnson revolves around Lady Alice Tarrington, a young woman whose tarnished reputation has made her the center of London gossip.  When her childhood best friend, the man who swore he would return from India and marry her as soon as possible, finally comes to town, Alice fears it's too late for any kind of relationship between them. 

Second-Chance Christmas by Heidi Kimball centers around spirited Francie Lockhart, who fears her refusal of a marriage proposal from her best friend has destroyed their relationship forever.  When a beautiful guest shows up at Gerard's house for Christmas, a surprising jealousy rises up in Francie.  Has she been wrong about her true feelings for the man she's only ever considered a pal?  

While the first and last stories are my favorite, I enjoyed all four.  They're fun, playful tales set against magical, snowy backgrounds.  A Christmas Courting will appeal to any Regency romance lover and would make for an especially heartwarming read when enjoyed in front of a crackling fire, a steaming cup of cocoa in hand.  If you're not a fan but you've got one on your Christmas list, this volume would make an appealing gift.  

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other Regency romances by the above authors as well as those by Josi S. Kilpack, Sarah M. Eden, and Julianne Donaldson)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for vague references to violence and ruined reputations

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of A Christmas Courting from the generous folks at Covenant in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

-- 

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Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Touching MG Novel Asks Important Questions About Family, Foster Care, and Cultural Identity

(Image from Amazon)

When Chipeta Uncarow, an infant from the Ute tribe, is abandoned by her mother, the Twitchells gladly take her in.  A treasured member of the big Mormon family, Chipeta (known as Dori) fits in so seamlessly that the Twitchells long to adopt her.  Eleven-year-old Britta Twitchell is especially fond of her foster sister, now four years old, and can't imagine life without little Dori.  When Dori's mother reappears, now ready to parent her daughter, Britta's incredulous.  How can a woman who cared so little about her baby just waltz in and reclaim her?  Dori already has a family, a family who adores her and takes care of her.  The Twitchells can't really be expected to just hand over their beloved sister and daughter.  Can they?

Britta can't believe that soon Dori will be living on the Uintah-Ouray Indian Reservation with her birth mother.  It's so not fair!  The rest of her family might be going along with it, but Britta will stop at nothing to make sure Dori stays at home where she belongs.  However good her intentions are, however, Britta soon finds herself in real trouble.  Now, in order to save Dori's life, she'll have to think beyond—beyond the lush green of her small farming community, beyond what she wants, and beyond her limited view of what it means to be a family.

Beyond the Green by Sharlee Glenn is a touching, semi-autobiographical novel that asks some important questions about family, cultural identity, and the rights of people involved in foster care.  The tender, heartbreaking story is handled with both authenticity and sensitivity, telling an all-too-common tale with care.  Full of flawed but sympathetic characters; enough action and conflict to keep young readers engaged; and some strong, meaningful lessons; Beyond the Green is a solid read that I highly recommend to anyone who
enjoys realistic middle grade fiction.

(Readalikes:  Hm, nothing is coming to mind.  You?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for scenes of peril and some difficult subject matter (alcoholism, child abandonment, etc.)

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of Beyond the Green from the generous folks at Charlesbridge via those at Netgalley.  Thank you!

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Immigrant Tale Poignant, Thoughtful

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"We're the unknown Americans, the ones no one even wants to know, because they've been told they're supposed to be scared of us and because maybe if they did take the time to get to know us, they might realize that we're not that bad, maybe even that we're a lot like them.  And who would they hate then?" (237)

After falling off a ladder in her native Mexico, 15-year-old Maribel Rivera is left with a traumatic brain injury that changes everything for her and her family.  Desperate to get their daughter the medical care she needs, the Riveras start driving across the border.  They end up in Delaware, where Arturo finds work at a nearby mushroom farm and Alma tries to make sense of a new language and culture.  When beautiful, vulnerable Maribel catches the eye of Mayor Toro—a bullied Panamanian-American high schooler who lives in their apartment building—the Riveras worry about their budding romance.  Mayor only wants to prove to their parents that his intentions toward Maribel are honorable, but when he unwittingly causes a panic in their neighborhood, Mayor sets in motion a chain of events that will have terrible, tragic consequences.

The Book of Unknown Americans, a slim but poignant novel by Cristina Henriquez, takes a sharp and affecting look at what it means to be an immigrant in The United States.  While it doesn't offer a lot in the way of plot, the story features strong prose, interesting characters, and enough conflict to keep the tale chugging along.  While the novel is definitely thought-provoking, it's also sad and depressing.  Overall, I didn't love The Book of Unknown Americans.  I didn't dislike it either.  In the end, I just feel ambivalent about what turned out to be only a so-so read.  

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, and sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

     

Friday, September 28, 2018

The Elizas Tells a Strange Little Tale

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Eliza Fontaine has tried to commit suicide several times, so no one's all that surprised when her unconscious body is fished out of a hotel swimming pool.  When the 22-year-old comes to in the hospital, however, she claims she didn't try to kill herself this time.  Someone pushed her.  With no witnesses or security camera footage, there's nothing to prove her story true except her own memory.  It soon becomes clear, however, that her recollection is the last thing she can rely on.  With some major holes in her memory, Eliza's not sure what to believe.  

Things become even more confusing when Eliza's associates—her family, her agent, her editor, etc.—keep mixing up scenarios from Eliza's about-to-be-published debut novel with the events of her own life.  Her book is pure fiction.  Right?  The more perplexing her life gets, the more uncertain she becomes.  If she can't trust herself, who can she trust?  Will Eliza ever know what really happened the night she almost drowned?  Is someone trying to kill her or is her own damaged mind playing a cruel, cruel trick on her?

I'm still not quite sure what to think about The Elizas, a thriller by Sara Shepard.  It's an odd little tale with a heroine who's strangely intriguing but not all that likable.  Alternating between Eliza's story and chapters from her book, it's got a compelling setup, although I'm not sure it worked all that well in this particular novel.  The Elizas gets confusing and far-fetched, although it's also twisty and entertaining.  Overall, then, I'm kind of on the fence about this one.  On the whole, I found it to be just okay.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of The Weight of Lies by Emily Carpenter)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language, sexual content, violence, disturbing subject matter, and depictions of illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Kilpack's Newest Another Sweet, Uplifting Regency Romance

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

At 27, Julia Hollingsworth is an old maid, but at least she's a free one.  Although she's currently without a position, she's determined not to go back to living with her overbearing mother.  Julia may not have her own household, but she certainly has her own ideas about how she wants to live her life.  So, when a handsome widower hires her to watch his two young daughters, she jumps at the chance.  As the two bond over Peter's children as well as his canine husbandry business, they become much closer than any master and servant should be ...

Worried about her daughter being taken advantage of by a man who's way above her station, Amelia Hollingsworth will do anything to get her daughter away from Peter Mayfield.  Thirty years ago, the man's uncle broke Amelia's heart and she will not allow Julia to be hurt in the same way.  In an effort to save her daughter, Amelia confronts Elliott Mayfield, only to find that a lot has changed in the years they've been apart.  Is it possible that the family, including its patriarch, is not quite as untrustworthy it seems?

As the Hollingsworth women become entwined in the affairs of the Mayfield men, tempers flare, secrets are exposed, and romance blossoms.  Can Julia, Peter, Amelia, and Elliott untangle all the knots that complicate their lives in order to find unexpected happiness?  Or will they let their complicated pasts stand in the way of their promising futures? 

While Promises and Primroses, the newest proper romance from Josi S. Kilpack, doesn't offer a lot in the way of originality, it does tell a sweet, clean, uplifting story.  The characters are likable (even if the mother/daughter dual love story is a little odd), the story is interesting enough (though totally predictable), and the plot moves along swiftly (albeit a bit anticlimactically).  Kilpack's prose is solid and overall, Promises and Primroses makes for an enjoyable read.  Romance isn't my genre—occasionally, though, a light story with a guaranteed HEA like this one is just the ticket.  

(Readalikes:  Other Regency/proper romances by Josi S. Kilpack as well as those by Jennifer Moore and Sarah M. Eden)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for mild innuendo and subject matter most suitable for readers 12 and older

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Promises and Primroses from the generous folks at Shadow Mountain in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!



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