Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Indistinctive Characters + Dull Plot + 150 Extra Pages = a Meh From Me

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A legendary Hollywood agent and producer, Fritz Hudson amassed a fortune.  When he dies, his three daughters come together for the first time ever for the reading of his will.  Cara, Allie, and Des are shocked to learn that their father was married to two women at the same time and that he actually has three daughters, not two.  They're even more stunned to discover that, while all of them are poised to receive a large portion of their father's money, the payouts hinge on the completion of a special project.  The women are tasked with working together to restore a crumbling theater in Fritz's small hometown of Hidden Falls, Pennsylvania.  If they fail to complete the job, none of them will receive a penny.

None of the three women are thrilled about putting their real lives on hold to spend months living in a tiny backwater with siblings they don't know and/or can't stand.  Reluctantly, they dive into the project, vowing to get it over with as fast as possible.  Working together becomes easier as they come to love the grand old theater, discover an intriguing mystery, and get to know each other in ways they haven't before.  Can they keep up the camaraderie through their various challenges and dramas?  Or will they come together only to be torn apart again?

The Last Chance Matinee—the first book in the Hudson Sisters series by Mariah Stewart—tells a gentle, heartwarming story about an unorthodox request that becomes a blessing in disguise.  It's an uplifting, mostly clean novel that features a quaint, small-town setting and a group of likable characters.  What it doesn't have a lot of is conflict.  That, coupled with the fact that it has about 150 pages too many, makes The Last Chance Matinee feel very looonnnggg.  I almost put it down numerous times.  The fact that the spotlighted sisters lack both depth and distinctive personalities added to the novel's dullness.  I did end up plowing through the lengthy novel, but it was definitely a slog.  Needless to say, I'm not going to bother with the book's sequels.  Oh, well.

(Readalikes:  I'm sure there are a million novels out there with a similar plot, but I'm coming up empty.  Suggestions?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs) and some sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Monday, August 19, 2019

Debut Psychological Thriller Sad, But Compelling

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In the few months since her husband died in a pilot-suicide airliner crash, Tess Clarke has managed not to fall apart completely.  Yet.  Wracked with grief, she's plowing through her days with only enough energy to make meager meals for her 8-year-old son, walk him to school in her pajamas, and cry herself to sleep at night.  Despite her brother-in-law's increasingly desperate attempts to get Tess to move ahead with taking care of her husband's probate, she's too numb to make any big decisions.  All she wants is for time to reverse itself and go back to the days when life made sense.

When Shelley Lange, a concerned grief counselor, comes into Tess' life, it's as if a ray of sunshine has penetrated her gloom.  For the first time since Mark's death, she feels a glimmer of hope.  Then, strange things start happening—threatening phone calls, a shadowy form watching Tess' every move, and disturbing behavior from her brother-in-law.  As things escalate, Tess is forced to question everything she thought she knew.  Was steady, trustworthy Mark involved in something dangerous, something that led to his untimely death?  Are Tess and her son safe?  And who is Shelley, really?  Why is she, a virtual stranger, so obsessed with Tess' son?  As Tess searches for answers, she'll have to face some painful, heart-breaking truths, truths that could destroy what little sanity she has left.

The Perfect Son, a debut novel by Lauren North, is a compelling and twisty page-turner that kept me guessing until the end.  I love psychological thrillers that keep me feeling off-kilter, never quite sure what's true and what's not, and this one did that well.  Novels of this ilk are often gory, graphic, and disturbing—The Perfect Son is milder than the norm, a fact I very much appreciated.  While it's a sad, depressing tale for sure, The Perfect Son also tells a compelling, engaging story that had me reading fast and furious to find out what was going to happen.  I enjoyed it and will definitely be keeping an eye out for more from this talented debut author.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson and The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs), violence, and scenes of peril

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

Monday, August 12, 2019

Fun, Fantastical Adventure an Engaging Story Even Reluctant Readers Will Enjoy

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Everyone in the village knows the thick forest that looms at the edge of town is full of deep, dark magic.  Tales abound of strange creatures lurking in its depths, just waiting to ensnare too-curious children with their monstrous claws.  The most cynical may think the stories are only that, but even the strangest of cautionary yarns are often based in truth ...

What the townspeople don't realize is that the Wild Wood is losing its magic.  Almost thirteen years ago, a goblin named Kull was tasked with performing an ancient ritual that would restore the balance between the magical and non-magical worlds.  He botched the simple task of switching a rare and powerful goblin changeling with a human baby; the changeling so perfectly mimicked his human counterpart that no one has ever been able to tell the difference between the boys.  Whispered rumors have always hinted that one of the twins is not exactly like the other, but in a town that delights in superstitious stories and paranoid rants, what's one more?

When Cole and Tinn Burton receive a puzzling message from Kull begging for their help and beckoning them into the woods, the boys can't resist the promise of adventure.  Unaware that a dark presence is luring them deeper and deeper into danger, the twins revel in meeting colorful forest folk and enjoying the most diverting of quests.  As their journey brings them ever closer to trouble unlike any they've ever known, the boys must work together, harnessing all their courage, to save not just a magical forest but also themselves and everyone they love. 

Changeling, the first book in a new fantasy series by William Ritter, offers kids a fun read that's exciting but not too scary.  It features a pair of delightful heroes, as well as a supporting cast of intriguing story "people" to keep the tale interesting.  Through it all, the book teaches important lessons about loyalty, love, and belonging.  Even reluctant readers should dig this engaging, enjoyable adventure.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a little of the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence and scary scenes/scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of Changeling from the generous folks at Algonquin in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Second Noodle House Mystery Another Delightful Cozy

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(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Dim Sum of All Fears, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from its predecessor, Death By Dumpling.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

Waiting tables at the Ho-Lee Noodle House under the critical eye of her demanding mother was bad enough in high school.  At 27, it's literally the last thing Lana Lee wants to be doing.  Desperate times and all that.  Things are finally looking up, though.  Lana's landed a promising job interview, one that will hopefully get her out of the Asian Village shopping plaza for good.  Then her parents receive an emergency phone call summoning them back to Taiwan.  With no one else to run Ho-Lee Noodle House in their absence, Lana has no choice but to step up.  

To everyone's surprise, Lana is doing a bang-up job, keeping everything running as smoothly as it does under her parents' watch.  Then, something else goes bang, leaving the newlywed couple that runs the souvenir shop next door dead.  Lana's got enough to keep her busy without poking her nose into Asian Village's newest mystery, but she can't help herself.  Despite warnings from handsome Detective Adam Trudeau, Lana's soon knee-deep in a case that's getting more dangerous by the second.  Can she run a busy restaurant, solve a murder, and ensure her meddling mother is kept totally in the dark all at the same time?  It's a tall order, even for Ho-Lee Noodle House's favorite server.

I'm picky about which cozies I read, but I'm loving the Noodle Shop Mystery series by Vivien Chien.  The colorful Asian Village setting is appealing, the quirky characters are endearing, and the mysteries are light but satisfying.  Yes, the books are far-fetched, but who cares?  They're fun, frothy, and all kinds of entertaining.  Dim Sum of All Fears, the second installment, is just as enjoyable as the first.  I've already bought the third book and am looking forward to seeing where this delightful series goes next.

(Readalikes:  Death by Dumpling by Vivien Chien; also reminds me of cozy eatery mysteries by Ellie Alexander, Lena Gregory, and Joanne Fluke)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Despite Intriguing Premise, Crime Novel A Little Disappointing

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Fifteen years ago, two young women vanished from a Baltimore shopping mall, never to be seen again.  The sisters' mysterious disappearance baffled local police then and continues to puzzle cold case enthusiasts now.  How does someone lure away a tween and a teen at the same time?  If the girls were kidnapped and held, where are they now?  If they were killed, where are there bones?  If they ran away together, why haven't they ever returned?  The questions only lead to more questions.  

Then, a 38-year-old woman is involved in a car accident.  When questioned by the police, she claims to be Heather Bethany, the youngest of the missing girls.  Although "Jane Doe" knows enough details about the case to be convincing, the holes in her story are enough to make Detective Kevin Infante doubt the woman is who she claims to be.  The few clues "Jane" is willing to part with only lead to dead ends.  Is the woman just toying with the police to get attention?  Does she know what really happened to Heather and Sunny Bethany fifteen years ago?  Will a 15-year-old crime finally be solved?  Or will the police be left, once again, with more mystifying questions that lead absolutely nowhere?

I find the missing returned trope utterly fascinating, so I'm always drawn to novels like What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman.  Perhaps it's because I've already read several novels with similar plots that I found this one a bit disappointing.  True, What the Dead Know is a tense, fast-paced thriller that kept me frantically turning pages.  Still, with its unlikeable characters, predictable end, and depressing vibe, I didn't end up loving this one.  I didn't hate it either; I just feel kind of ... ambivalent about it.  I've enjoyed other books by Lippman, but What the Dead Know just didn't quite do it for me.  Bummer.


Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, sexual content, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Friday, July 26, 2019

Sophomore Novel Not As Dynamic or Engaging As Debut

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There's not a lot of hope on the grim streets of Arlington, Texas, for the women society has cast away.  Addicts, prostitutes, unwed mothers, and others of their ilk have nowhere to go for protection or to get a hand up—at least not without selling their bodies and souls in exchange.  

When Mattie B. Corder, a penniless single mom with a sick toddler, hears about the Berachah Industrial Home for the Redemption of Erring Girls, it seems like a trick.  Could there really be a refuge for women like her, a cost-free place that would shelter her and help her learn a trade, all while allowing her to keep her child?  When Mattie makes her way there, she's shocked to discover the home is exactly what it says it is.  Which isn't to say it's paradise.  Still, there she finds friendship, a purpose, and hope for her future.  As she gets to know Lizzie Bates, a former heroin addict and prostitute, the two women form an unbreakable bond that will see them through the tough times ahead.

Over 100 years later, librarian Cate Sutton stumbles across a mysterious cemetery.  When she learns that the graveyard contains the bones of former residents of a home for troubled women, her curiosity is piqued.  Inexplicably drawn to the place and its fascinating history, Cate becomes obsessed with finding out more.  Doing so may just help her come to terms with her own rocky past and find redemption, just like the Berachah women of so long ago.

Since Julie Kibler's debut novel, Calling Me Home, was one of my favorite reads of 2013, I jumped for joy when I heard the author would finally be publishing a second book.  The premise behind Home for Erring and Outcast Girls (available July 30, 2019) sounded appealing, so I eagerly downloaded an ARC from NetGalley.  Unfortunately, Kibler's sophomore attempt didn't enthrall me quite like her first book did.  While I appreciated the new novel's themes of kindness, compassion, second chances, and sisterhood, the story dragged for me.  It's lengthy, meandering, and peppered with prose that just isn't very dynamic.  The characters are sympathetic, but not fleshed out well enough to feel real.  In the end, then, I had a hard time getting through Home for Erring and Outcast Girls.  I wanted to love it, especially since I adored Kibler's debut so much; overall, though, this was just an okay read for me.  Bummer.

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of Home for Erring and Outcast Girls from the generous folks at Crown (a division of Penguin Random House) via those at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

Thursday, July 25, 2019

New Domestic Drama by Beloved Women's Fiction Author Too Dime-A-Dozen For Me

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For 42-year-old Amy Whey, life is beautiful in its happy simplicity.  Her days revolve around caring for her professor husband, their adorable baby, and her teenage stepdaughter.  On the side, she teaches scuba diving lessons and helps her BFF, Charlotte Baxter, run their neighborhood book club.  It may not be anything truly enviable, but for Amy, this stable, pleasant life represents everything she's ever wanted.

When beautiful, seductive Angelica Roux glides into the neighborhood in her flashy red sports car, alarm bells start ringing in Amy's head.  Before she knows it, "Roux" has slithered her way into not just the neighborhood, but also into Charlotte's beloved book club.  When she proposes a secret-spilling drinking game to the attendees, it seems like harmless fun—to everyone but Amy.  It soon becomes apparent that, as unwilling as Amy is to part with her deepest, darkest secret, Roux already knows it.  And she's ready—even eager—to shatter Amy's happy little world in order to get what she wants.  With everything on the line, can Amy beat Roux at her own game?  Or is her perfect life about to implode, hurting everyone she's ever loved?

I'm a big fan of Joshilyn Jackson's trademark Southern novels, in all their sweet, sassy glory, so I'm always eager to read her latest and greatest.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered her newest is a bit of a departure; instead of a heartfelt family drama, Never Have I Ever (available July 30, 2019) is a chilling domestic thriller.  While the novel stars a Southern setting, relatable characters, and juicy secrets, it lacks a lot of the warmth that saturates Jackson's other stories.  It's also less unique, more generic, just another domestic/psychological thriller among many.  That being said, Never Have I Ever is a compelling page-turner.  I found myself thoroughly engrossed in the tale, but not charmed in the way I usually am with Jackson's fiction.  While I appreciate her efforts to branch out, I'm really hoping Jackson returns to her roots for her next book.  It's with her quirky, earnest women's fiction that she really shines.

(Readalikes:  I feel like I've read a million books with a similar premise, but no titles are coming to mind.  Help?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, sexual content, depictions of/references to illegal drug use, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of Never Have I Ever from the generous folks at HarperCollins via those at Edelweiss.  Thank you!

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

TTT: "Atmospheric," You Say? I'm There!


The topic du jour for my favorite weekly meme is all about book settings.  I love a vivid, well-developed backdrop and will pretty much always want to read a story described as "atmospheric."  While our lists today are supposed to be about settings we'd like to see more of, I'm just going to go with my favorite settings because, naturally, those are the ones I would like to see more of, right?  Incidentally, I created a similar TTT list back in April about topics/settings that always lure me in. 

Before we get to that, I just want to encourage you to join in the TTT fun.  All you have to do is click on over to That Artsy Reader Girl, read a few simple instructions, create your own list, then spend some happy hours hopping around the book blogosphere.  It's a great way to find new blogs to follow, drop in on old favorites, and, of course, add to ye olde TBR pile.  What's not to love?

Top Ten Settings I Love and Would Like to See More Of


1.  Wild West/Pioneers/Homesteading—Between my Mormon pioneer heritage and my love of genealogy, it's probably no surprise that I love me a good pioneer/homesteading story.  They always entertain me while leaving me in awe of the courage, determination, and strength it took for ordinary people to take on the extraordinary task of venturing into the wild, untamed west and trying to eke out a life there.

Favorite Examples:  Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson; the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder; the Gold Seer trilogy by Rae Carson; and Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee


2.  Creepy old houses/Gothic—Give me a crumbling old mansion by the sea or a spooky plantation home on the bayou or an abandoned cottage hidden in the woods and I'm a happy reader.  I always love a shivery haunted house story.

Favorite Examples:  Pretty much anything by Kate Morton or Carol Goodman


3.  At Sea—As a high school exchange student, I once spent an entire day puking my guts out on a voyage across the Philippine Sea and I'm not sure I've quite recovered!  Landlubber that I am, I do possess a healthy appreciation for—and fear of—the raw and magnificent power of the ocean.  For this reason, I love a good "at sea" setting.  Be it a harrowing Titanic tale, a rollicking pirate yarn, or a good, old-fashioned shipwreck survival story, I'm all in.

Favorite Examples:  The Watch That Ends the Night by Allan Wolf, the Bloody Jack series by L.A. Meyer, and Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys     


4.  Isolated/Insular communities—I also find cloistered communities intriguing.  From gentle Amish settlements to sinister cult compounds to free-spirited hippie communes to religious retreats to secret societies, these types of settings always pique my interest.

Favorite Examples:  the Rockton series by Kelley Armstrong, Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix, The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams


5.  Small towns (especially if they're hiding BIG secrets)—Because I was reared in a quaint little town, I'm naturally drawn to these types of book settings.  I especially love it when these placid villages are hiding juicy secrets that are about to crawl out of the closet to wreak a little havoc.

Favorite Examples:  the Armand Gamache series by Louise Penny; the Big Stone Gap series by Adriana Trigiani; the Grace Valley and Virgin River series by Robyn Carr; and just about anything by Joshilyn Jackson


6.  Australia—I've really been enjoying novels from Down Under lately.  I especially love those set in the Outback, where daily survival is not necessarily an assured thing.

Favorite Examples:  the Tomorrow, When the War Began series by John Marsden, anything by Jane Harper, and books by Liane Moriarty


7.  Antarctica—This unforgiving setting is another one that garners my endless fascination—and fear.

Favorite Examples:  My Last Continent by Midge Raymond 


8.  Bookstores and Libraries—I think people who love to read are naturally drawn to a bookish setting.  I am for sure.

Favorite Examples:  The Bookshop on the Corner and The Bookshop on the Shore by Jenny Colgan and The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee


9.  Obscure States, U.S.A.—Every year, I keep track of the states where the books I read are set, sometimes as part of an official reading challenge, sometimes just on my own.  Guess which states are the most difficult to cross off my list?  Inevitably, it's places like North Dakota, Nebraska, Rhode Island, and Delaware.  According to my records, there is one state that has never made an appearance in my reading:  Arkansas.  So, if there's one setting I feel is underrepresented it's the less sexy states like poor neglected Arkansas. 

Favorite Examples:  I got nothin', which just proves my point!


10.  Scotland—I have some strong Scottish roots plus a keen interest in moody, broody settings, so this one is pretty much a given. 

Favorite Examples:  anything by Peter May or Ann Cleeves and the Lady Darby series by Anna Lee Huber 

There you have it, ten settings I enjoy reading about and which I'd like to see more of.  What do you think?  Do we have any favorite settings in common?  Which would you like to see more of?  Can you think of any great books I need to read in the categories above?  I'd truly love to know.  Leave me a comment on this post and I will gladly return the favor on yours.

Happy TTT!

Monday, July 22, 2019

Exciting Action/Adventure Storm Novel Perfect for Fans of I Survived Series

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Tropical storms are just a part of life in Puerto Rico, so Alejo isn't really worried about Valerie, the latest one to blow in.  The 12-year-old is helping at the fancy seaside resort where his uncle works as the groundskeeper when the wind and rain really start to pick up.  Before he knows it, Valerie has been upgraded to a mega storm and the whole area is under evacuation orders.  With his uncle off on an errand, Alejo is stuck at the resort watching in horror as his world descends into chaos around him.  Although he knows it's smarter to hunker down in the hotel until help arrives, Alejo can't stand the thought of Padrino Nando—his aging uncle and guardian—out in the storm alone.  Against his better judgment, Alejo ventures out into the one they're calling la tormenta del siglo, the storm of the century ...

In New Orleans, Emily's not too concerned about Valerie either.  She's too busy trying to get the attention of her distracted mother, whose only focus has been on Emily's cancer-ridden brother.  When a little sniffling gets her kicked out of her germ-free house, Emily decides to run away to an island in the middle of Audobon Park.  Hiding out in her calm, secret fortress, she doesn't notice the storm brewing all around her.  By the time she realizes what's happening, it's too late ... like Alejo, she's stuck.  New Orleans is being evacuated around her and Emily has nowhere to go.

As the fates of two storm-tossed kids collide, Alejo and Emily experience the most terrifying, deadly adventure of their lives ... 

Storm Blown, an exciting middle-grade action/adventure novel by Nick Courage, is sure to win over even reluctant readers.  It's an adrenaline-fueled survival story starring two brave kids caught in a chaotic situation that grows crazier by the second.  Readers young and old won't be able to look away!  Courage throws in interesting storm facts that heighten the tale's suspense without bogging it down with unnecessary details.  Hand this one to fans of the I Survived series and other action-packed survival stories.  They won't be disappointed by this engaging, pulse-pounding read.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of the I Survived series by Lauren Tarshis, Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes, and Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence, scary situations, and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Storm Blown from the generous folks at Random House Children's.  Thank you!

Friday, July 19, 2019

Big-Hearted Hattie Novels Warm, Exciting, and Upbeat

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Hattie Ever After, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from its predecessor, Hattie Big Sky.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

Back in 2008, I raved about an engaging YA historical novel called Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson.  It concerns a 16-year-old orphan who receives a surprise inheritance from an uncle she never knew she had.  He bequeaths her his Montana homestead—if she can "prove it up" in the next ten months, she will become its proud owner.  With nothing to keep her in Iowa, Hattie heads west.  Over the course of the novel, she has countless adventures in the wilds of Montana as she makes a go of homesteading, which proves to be a whole lot tougher than it seems.

I adored Hattie Big Sky when I read it, but I didn't realize—until just a few months ago—that Larson had penned a sequel.  Hattie Ever After came out in 2014.  The newer novel picks up where its predecessor left off, with Hattie deciding to leave Montana after failing to prove up Uncle Chester's cabin.  She's always dreamed of being a reporter, so she heads to San Francisco where she's sure she'll immediately be hired by the best newspaper in town.  Like homesteading, getting the coveted job turns out to be a little more difficult than she thought it would be.  Nevertheless, determined to make her dream come true, Hattie uses her pluck and wits to make a name for herself in the cutthroat world of journalism.  Along the way, of course, she has all kinds of adventures that test her mettle.  Will she find success?

While I didn't love Hattie Ever After quite as much as I did the first book, the sequel is still a warm, fun, exciting novel.  With colorful historical details, a lively cast, and an entertaining plot, it's an enjoyable read.  I loved learning Uncle Chester's back story and finding out what happens to Hattie after her exploits in Montana.  If you dig clean, upbeat, engaging historical fiction, you can't go wrong with Larson's heartwarming Hattie novels.


Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for scenes of peril

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

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: It's Amateur Hour On BBB!


The topic du jour for my favorite bookish meme is Top Ten Auto-Buy Authors.  Since I feel like I talk about the authors I love constantly here at BBB, I'm going to go off-script today and do the freebie topic that's actually scheduled for July 30.  I'll be in Utah attending a genealogy conference that day anyway, so it works.  Last week's character freebie inspired me to list My Favorite Super Sleuths of the Book World, which was fun, but I focused on the pros—real detectives and enforcement officers as well as other professionals who work with them (criminalists, forensic scientists, etc.).  Since the book world is full of amateur sleuths as well and they're just as entertaining to read about (sometimes more so), I'm going to focus on them today. 

Before we get to that, though, I have to give a shout-out to our lovely host Jana.  You can find her over at That Artsy Reader Girl, where you can also get the 4-1-1 on all things Top Ten Tuesday.  Join in by reading some brief instructions, crafting your own TTT list, then clicking around the blogosphere to spread the love among a ton of fabulous book blogs.  It's a great time to revisit old favorites, discover new sites, and, of course, add to your always-growing TBR pile mountain mountain chain.  What's not to love?

Okay, so here we go with my Top Ten Favorite Amateur Sleuths of the Book World.  These are the folks who have no (legitimate) reason to investigate crime, although mysteries just keep falling into their laps!  Their careers range from housekeeper to archaeologist to restaurant server to journalist, but their side gigs are the same—crime solver.  Because of this, their stories are often far less believable than those of their professional counterparts, but, as I said above, no less entertaining.  I'm including the cover to the first book in their respective series so you know where to start.

Who are your favorite amateur sleuths of the book world?  Who do you love reading about, whether their crime-solving is totally, ridiculously far-fetched or not?

Top Ten Favorite Amateur Sleuths of the Book World:


1.  Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene—Nancy is probably the most well-known sleuth in this category and, as a kid, I inhaled any book that starred her.  I haven't read a Nancy Drew book in years, so I don't know what I'd think of them now, but I used to adore Nancy—and definitely wanted to be her!


2.  Encyclopedia Brown by Donald J. Sobol—Another childhood favorite, Leroy "Encyclopedia" Brown is a boy who helps his police chief father solve crimes in their small town.  He's whip-smart (hence his nickname) and always gets his man.  This is another series I ate up as a kid.


3.  Veronica Speedwell by Deanna Raybourn—Among the amateur sleuths I've encountered as an adult, Veronica is definitely one of my very favorites.  She's a Victorian woman, but an unapologetic one who defies convention and just does what she pleases.  For work, she sells rare butterflies and spends her days cataloging a museum full of treasures for a wealthy friend.  Along with Stoker, her handsome, querulous partner, she stumbles on all kinds of mysteries begging to be solved.  Veronica is smart, funny, and just a delightful character all-around.


4.  Dr. Ruth Galloway by Elly Griffiths—Ruth is an archaeologist in Norfolk, England, who prefers the solitude of her isolated home and her own company to anywhere and anyone else.  When the police ask for her help with a discovery of bones near her property, Ruth becomes a consultant to the department and goes on to have many adventures.  She's an understated character, but one whose intelligence and wit make for enjoyable reading.


5.  Amelia Peabody by Elizabeth Peters—Another unconventional lady, Amelia is a wealthy spinster living in late 19th Century England.  She has a disconcerting, scholarly obsession with Egypt, which leads her to many adventures and mysteries involving the ancient land. 


6.  Kat Halloway by Jennifer Ashley—This new kid on the block is a sought-after cook in a posh mansion in Mayfair.  Her central position in the household means she's a key witness to all kinds of wrongdoing.  Kat's efficiency and no-nonsense ways make her not just a master of the kitchen, but also a pretty darn good detective.


7.  Lady Kiera Darby by Anna Lee Huber—As the wife of a cruel anatomist, Kiera was made an unwitting partner in her husband's unnatural schemes.  Now a widow, she's trying to put her past behind her.  And yet, she keeps finding herself at the center of mysterious happenings.  Using her intelligence, her powers of observation, and her natural curiosity, she and an enigmatic friend are earning themselves a reputation as a detective team that is second to none.


8.  Lana Lee by Vivien Chien—After her temper gets the better of her at her lucrative corporate job, Lana's empty pockets force her to return to Ohio.  The last thing she wants is to wait tables at her parents' Chinese restaurant under her mother's shrewd eye, but she has little choice.  Turns out, life in the Asian Village strip mall is a lot more exciting than one would think.  An alarming amount of dead bodies are turning up in the small community, and Lana's keen powers of observation are coming in handy for the handsome detective assigned to investigate the crimes.  Lana's spunky but self-deprecating, making her a fun heroine to follow.


9.  Jazz Ramsey by Kylie Logan—Jazz, a cadaver dog trainer, only has one book under her belt, but I'm excited for more to come.  She's smart, brave, and caring, all traits I love in an amateur sleuth. 


10.  Nichelle Clarke by LynDee Walker—I just "met" Nichelle, an investigative reporter in Richmond, Virginia, in Front Page Fatality, but I'm enjoying the book and its heroine.  Nichelle is skilled, confident, and not afraid to take a risk.  So far, she's making an excellent amateur sleuth.  I can't wait to read more of this series.

There you have it, ten of my favorite fictional amateur sleuths.  Who are yours?  I just realized that all of mine (but one) are females.  Are there any great male amateur sleuths out there?  I'd love to know.  Leave me a comment on this post and I will gladly return the favor on yours.

Happy TTT!     

Monday, July 15, 2019

Cute Bookish Rom Com a Fun Romp

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Usually, I write my own plot summaries, but I think the one on the back cover of The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman sums things up perfectly, so I'm not going to bother reinventing the wheel.  Not this time, anyway.

Meet Nina Hill: a young woman supremely confident in her own shell.

The only child of a single mother, Nina has her life just as she wants it: a job in a bookstore, a kick-butt trivia team, and a cat named Phil.  If she sometimes suspects there might be more to life than reading, she just shrugs and picks up a new book.

When the father Nina never knew existed suddenly dies, leaving behind innumerable sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews, Nina is horrified.  They all live close by!  They are all—or mostly all—excited to meet her!  She will have to...Speak.  To.  Strangers.  And as if that was not enough, Tom, her trivia nemesis, has turned out to be cute, funny, and deeply interested in getting to know her.  Does he not realize what a terrible idea that is?

Nina considers her options:

1.  Completely change her name and appearance.  (Too drastic, plus she likes her hair.)
2.  Flee to a deserted island.  (Hard pass, see: coffee.)
3.  Hide in a corner of her apartment and rock back and forth.  (Already doing it.)

It is time for Nina to come out of her comfortable shell, but she is not convinced real life could ever live up to fiction.  It is going to take a brand-new family, a persistent suitor, and the combined effects of ice cream and trivia to make her turn her own fresh page.  

Cute, right?  Although Nina is not quite as adorkable as the summary makes her sound, she's still a highly relatable character, one in whom any book lover will recognize themselves.  It's easy to root for this introverted bluestocking as she navigates the rocky worlds of family, romance, and newfound wealth.  The Bookish Life of Nina Hill is chock-full of fun, interesting characters.  It also features an engaging, upbeat plot and some life lessons that are especially pertinent to those of us who are wont to stick our noses in a book and ignore real life.  While the novel has a couple raunchy parts that will stop me from recommending it as widely as I otherwise would, I still enjoyed this light, entertaining, bookish read.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:



for language (1 F-bomb, plus milder expletives), mild sexual content, rude humor, illegal drug use, and innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Bookish Life of Nina Hill from the generous folks at Penguin Random House.  Thank you!

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