Saturday, May 30, 2020

Missing Persons Thriller Engrossing, But Unsatisfying

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

In a quaint Indiana community, 3-year-old Alice Fine was kidnapped from her front yard.  Luckily, she was rescued less than 24 hours later by her policeman father.  Although Alice was not hurt in the ordeal, the family was traumatized enough to remove themselves to Illinois in an attempt to put it all behind them.  Although she has not accomplished a lot in the three decades since her abduction, Alice is passionate about her work with the Doe Pages, a website that encourages amateur sleuths to study missing persons cases with the goal of finding the lost, giving their families closure, and bringing criminals to justice.

On one of her frequent website searches, Alice is shocked when a photograph of her abductor flashes on the screen.  Although it's deleted almost immediately, Alice can't forget what she's seen.  With the help of other Doe Pages devotees, she launches her own investigation into the man's identity.  When she meets another woman, 30-year-old Merrily Cruz, who is searching for the same man, the two form a tenuous partnership.  Who is the man they seek?  As they set about answering that question, both will discover shocking secrets, lies, and deceptions that will change everything they know about themselves and each other.

I love me a good psychological thriller and Lori Rader-Day has written several that I've really enjoyed.  The Lucky One—her latest—is, however, a bit of an exception.  The characters are almost entirely unlikeable.  Our "heroines" are hot messes, who are immature, unambitious, self-centered, and just not all that appealing.  Plotwise, the story starts off slowly, carefully building up the tension and suspense.  Unfortunately, a rushed ending spoils the effect, leading to a disappointing finale that left me with lots of questions.  The story is unfailingly depressing but also undeniably engrossing, including some twists I didn't see coming.  Overall, though, it just didn't come together well enough to satisfy me.  All things considered, The Lucky One was just an average read for me.

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Lucky One from the generous folks at William Morrow (an imprint of HarperCollins).  Thank you!

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Luminous and Lovely, The Last Blue Captures Both My Interest and My Heart

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"At her expense, readers will snatch up magazines and entertain themselves, using her as a measure against their own deficiencies, as a consolation for their incredible fortune of being ordinary" (161*).

Despite winning a Pulitzer Prize for a photograph depicting the grimness of The Great Depression, 32-year-old photographer Clay Havens is feeling uninspired.  His creative juices have turned to sludge and he's fairly sure his newest assignment isn't going to provide the spark to get them flowing again.  As part of President Roosevelt's plan to sell his country on his New Deal, he's sending journalists into Appalachia to "capture the rugged, steadfast nature of hill people, whether they possess it or not, and to portray their hardship in a way that will make the public sympathetic to their plight and ready to cast their votes accordingly" (14*).  Feeling more like a propagandist than a photographer, Havens nevertheless travels to eastern Kentucky with his reporter friend, Ulys Massey.  Another prize-winning photo may not be hiding in the hollers, but at least the assignment will keep Havens and Massey out of the breadline.

When the pair arrives in Chance, an offhand remark from one of the small town's more unsavory residents piques their curiosity.  Rumors of a scorned family of people with blue skin send them traipsing through the woods to Spooklight Holler.  Havens is immediately entranced when he and Massey come across a skittish young woman with skin the color of a robin's egg.  A deadly snakebite lands Havens in the extended care of the woman's family.  As he and Massey spend more time with the infamous Blues, they become fascinated by their way of life and horrified by how the family has been treated by their White neighbors.  While Havens spends his time wooing kind, gentle Jubilee, Massey's itching to sell the Blues' remarkable story to the highest bidder.  Reluctant to oust the already hunted people who have been so good to him, Havens searches frantically for a way to stop his partner from causing more trouble for Jubilee and her family.  The city slickers' presence has already prompted violence locally; what will happen if Jubilee's beautiful blue face is splashed across the cover of Time?  Caught between duty and love, Havens scrambles frantically for a solution that will stop Massey, protect the Blues, and convince Jubilee to give him a chance with her fragile heart.  With Chance's White population already whipped into a heated frenzy against the Blues, Havens' time is rapidly running out ...

Earlier this year, I read and adored The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson, which featured the Blue people of Kentucky.  So, when Isla Morley contacted me about reviewing her newest novel, which was inspired by the same fascinating clan, I jumped at the chance to grab myself an Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) of The Last Blue.  I'm so glad I did because just as The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek did, this one immediately captured not just my interest but also my heart.  I loved everything about it, from its engaging heroine to its atmospheric setting to its tender love story to the ending that almost undid me entirely.  While the book touches on issues of prejudice, fear, exposure vs. exploitation, identity, family, and self-discovery, at its heart, it's really about love in all its messy, life-changing glory.  If you, too, are intrigued by the Blue people, or if you just enjoy rich, immersive historical fiction, I absolutely recommend picking up a copy of this luminous, lovely novel.

Intrigued?  Good.  Learn more by checking out this interview with Isla Morley:


(Readalikes:  The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson and Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (two F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, disturbing subject matter, scenes of peril, and mild sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of The Last Blue from the always generous Isla Morley.  Thank you!

*Quotes are from an uncorrected proof and may be changed in the final version of The Last Blue

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Top Ten Tuesday: Famous (But Not Always Fabulous) First Lines


Happy Tuesday, everyone!  How are things going?  Did you do anything fun for Memorial Day?  We had a small family BBQ/swim party to celebrate the holiday and my daughter's graduation from high school last week.  Warning, proud mom bragging ahead:  The little smartie ended up 10th in her class of 730 seniors.  We're super proud of her hard work.  She'll be attending a state university on a four-year, full-ride, Arizona-based scholarship.  Anyway, having a crowd of people at my house sitting elbow-to-elbow (social distancing is tough while playing game after rousing game of Dilbert Corporate Shuffle) was a little weird, but it was also good to be around family again. 

Speaking of family, I always take a moment on Memorial Day to remember the men (we haven't had any female soldiers, although our military wives definitely deserve a shout-out) from my family who have served and sacrificed for this country.  My ancestors have served in nearly every war involving the U.S., with deaths in all, but this is the guy I've heard the most about throughout my life:


My 22-year-old Uncle Joe (the man on the left) was killed in action in Vietnam on March 5, 1967, when he saved several members of his platoon and took the most direct hit from the land mine that threatened them all.  His bravery and sacrifice deserve to be remembered and honored.  R.I.P. to my family's favorite hero.

On a lighter note, it's time for Top Ten Tuesday, my favorite bookish meme.  It's always a good time, so I definitely encourage you to participate.  Click on over to That Artsy Reader Girl for all the details.  Today's topic is a fun one:  Top Ten Opening Lines.  You can talk about book openers that you love or hate; those that made you laugh, cry, think; or whatever.  I love a great opening line as much as the next reader, but my memory is terrible so the only one that comes quickly to mind is "It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times."  So, I decided to use Google to check out the first lines of ten of my all-time favorite novels.  Funny enough, most of them aren't that intriguing, profound, or memorable at all!  Some of them you will no doubt recognize; others not so much.  Hint:  half of them are from traditional American or Canadian classics, while the other half are more modern. 

Top Ten Opening Lines From Some of My All-Time Favorite Novels:

1.  "When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow."

2.  "The librarian and her mule spotted it at the same time."

3.  "If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are."

4.  "'Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents,'" grumbled Jo, lying on the rug. 

5.  "Mrs. Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped down into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies' eardrops, and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of old Cuthbert place; it was reputed to be an intricate, headlong brook in its earlier course through those woods with dark secrets of pool and cascade; but by the time it reached Lynde's Hollow it was a quiet, well-conducted little stream, for not even a brook could run  past Mrs. Rachel Lynde's door without due regard for decency and decorum; it probably was conscious that Mrs. Rachel was sitting at her window, keeping a sharp eye on everything that passed, from brooks and children up, and that if she noticed anything odd or out of place she would never rest until she had ferreted out the whys and wherefores thereof."  

6.  "Marley was dead, to begin with."

7.  "Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much."

8.  "Nothing endures, not a tree, not love, not even a death by violence."

9.  "Mae Mobley was born on a early Sunday morning in August, 1960."

10.  "I want something of hers."

Answers:

1.  To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
4.  Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
5.  Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
6.  A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
7.  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
8.  A Separate Peace by John Knowles

How'd you do?  How about you—what are your favorite (or least favorite or whatever) first lines?  I'd truly love to know.  Leave me a comment on this post and I'll return the favor on yours.

Happy TTT!

Monday, May 25, 2020

Secret Sister Novel Pleasant, Enjoyable

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Although they're as different as three women can be, Liza, Maggie, and Tricia have always formed a tight trio.  The Sweeney Sisters—daughters of the universally-beloved literary lion, Bill Sweeney—were a familiar sight around the small, seaside town of Southport, Connecticut, where they grew up.  Now that they're adults, the women have spread their wings, with Tricia working as a hotshot lawyer in Manhattan, Maggie attempting to make ends meet as an artist-in-residence in western Connecticut, and Liza trying to balance marriage, motherhood, and ownership of a successful Southport art gallery.  Tension and distance have strained relationships between the sisters.  When their father dies unexpectedly, the threesome is reunited in their hometown for a raucous goodbye party and the reading of Bill's will. 

The presence of a mystery woman at Bill's wake causes some confusion, then utter shock.  Unbeknownst to Liza, Maggie, and Tricia, their father had an affair with a neighbor that resulted in another Sweeney Sister.  Serena Tucker, a 38-year-old investigative journalist, grew up next door to her half-sisters without any of the girls knowing they were related.  Until a DNA test Serena took six months ago revealed the truth.  Suspicious of Serena's timing, the original Sweeney Sisters aren't sure what to think of the new addition.  What does the woman want from them?  Is she after an inheritance?  Or does she want the memoir Bill was reportedly writing, the juicy tell-all that could expose all the family secrets and make its finder a very wealthy woman?  As the four women hunt for the manuscript together, they will make some surprising discoveries about each other, their father, and what family and sisterhood really mean.  

I love books involving family secrets, family history, and DNA discoveries, so I was excited to give The Sweeney Sisters by Lian Dolan a go.  While I didn't end up absolutely loving the novel, I did enjoy it.  This is a character-driven story, with four interesting women at its heart.  Each is well-crafted, empathetic, and admirable in her own way.  I enjoyed reading about all of them.  There's not a lot of action in The Sweeney Sisters, but there was enough to keep me turning pages.  In the end, I found this tale to be a pleasant, funny, and entertaining read, even if I didn't fall head-over-heels in love with it.


Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a handful of F-bombs, plus milder expletives) and mild sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of The Sweeney Sisters from the generous folks at William Morrow (an imprint of HarperCollins).  Thank you!

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

TTT: How Do I Love Thee, Goodreads? Let Me Count the Ways ...


It's Tuesday again and things in the world have changed a little bit.  Has your state or country started opening up?  What do you think about it?  Here in Arizona, a few more places (restaurant dining rooms, movie theaters, public swimming pools, salons, etc.) have been given the green light to reopen.  I'm still a little leery about the whole thing, but I'm not going to lie—I'm happy to have a hair appointment next week and to have been able to reschedule several doctor's appointments that had been postponed due to COVID-19.  I'm a homebody by nature, so I plan to stick close to home no matter what.  I just hope things can get back to a new normal that will feel stabilizing and safe.  This has certainly been a strange Spring, hasn't it?

On a lighter note, it's time for my favorite weekly meme.  This week's topic is a nice, open one that should lead to lot of interesting lists:  Top Ten Reasons I Love ______ (insert your favorite book, author, genre, etc.).  I'll tell you what topic I chose in a sec, but first I 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 through some brief instructions, craft your own list, and then spend some happy hours hopping around the book blogosphere.  It's a great way to spread the love around our wonderful community!

I've always been a list-making type of person.  There's just something so satisfying about corralling my thoughts into neat columns, adding to it when needed, and then crossing out accomplished tasks.  I began keeping track of the books I read and those I wanted to read in the back of a paper journal in college.  When Google Docs became a thing, I switched to a spreadsheet.  While I've used Goodreads here and there since its creation, it hasn't been until the last few years that I've made it my number one tool for keeping track of what I read, what I want to read, and what I think about what I've read.  So, for today's list, I'm going to tell you why I love the site so much.  

Top Ten Reasons I Love Goodreads (in no particular order):

1.  I can keep track of what I read.  Yes, I could do this on a Google spreadsheet, but I like GR's interface.  It makes tracking easy and fun.

2.  I can rate what I read.  Like many, I have some issues with GR's limited star-rating system.  Half-stars should totally be a thing!  Still, I like being able to rate a book using a simple system.  I can always explain my reasoning in my review.  

3.  I can review what I read.  For the most part, I review every book I read on my blog.  However, sometimes it's months before I actually get around to doing it!  I'm good about ticking off the books I read on GR right away, though, and typing up a quick review on the site.  It's really nice to be able to look back at what I wrote about a book when my thoughts were fresh to remind me of what to write in my blog review.

4.  I can see ratings and reviews from other GR users.  As always, I take other readers' opinions with a grain of salt, but I still appreciate being able to see what other people thought of a book.  Both ratings and reviews help me decide which titles to add to my always-growing TBR lists and which to leave on the shelf.

5.  I can follow my friends and acquaintances.  It's fun to follow my friends on GR so I can see what they're reading as well as the titles on their TBR lists.  My favorite feature under the "Friends" tab is "Compare Books."  It's always interesting to compare/contrast my thoughts on a book with those of my friends.

6.  I can make endless "Bookshelves."  This is a GR feature that I should use more.  Right now, I have only three bookshelves:  Adult Fiction TBR, MG/YA Fiction TBR, and Non-Fiction TBR.  Originally, I only had one bookshelf for all genres, but when the shelf was loaded up with more than 5000 titles, GR would no longer let me organize them in want-to-read order, so I split my main shelf into three.  I could have organized my TBR list by genre or favorite author or setting or whatever, really.  Other people do this a lot more than I do and it's fun to see their lists, some of which are very handy, creative, and entertaining.

7.  I can organize my books in want-to-read order.  This is my favorite GR feature by far.  There are a number of ways you can organize your bookshelves in GR, but I like to have mine in order of most excited to read to least.  In fact, I'm a *tad* obsessive about this.  I spend a fair amount of time making sure the first 30 books on my shelves are in want-to-read order.  Because I can pull up GR wherever I may be, this prioritizing helps when I'm browsing for books at the library or bookstore.

8.  I can take GR with me wherever I go.  See above.  Bringing up a Google spreadsheet on my phone when I'm at the library or bookstore is not easy.  Firing up GR is simple.  The site helps me see what books are on my TBR list as well as find other authors/books when I'm on the go.  Super helpful.   

9.  I can participate in GR's annual reading challenge.  I love me a reading challenge, so I've had a ball with this GR feature.  The site makes it a cinch to set a personal reading goal and keep track of your progress.  GR even gives me a fun widget to put on my blog so everyone can see how I'm doing.  Who cares if I never actually reach my GR goal?  I still have a good ole time with it!

10.  Everything else.  GR has tons to offer book lovers.  You can follow favorite authors, interact with authors and other readers, enter book giveaways, join groups of like-minded bibliophiles, vote for your favorite reads in the annual Goodreads Choice Awards, etc.  There are tons of great features on GR, probably more than I'm even aware of.  It's an awesome website that I definitely recommend using.  If you haven't checked it out yet, do it!  And if you want to follow me, just click on the GR icon on left sidebar of my blog.  Easy peasy.

There you have it, ten reasons I love Goodreads.  Do you use GR?  What do you think of it?  What are your favorite features?  I'd truly love to know.  Leave me a comment on this post and I'll return the favor on yours.

Happy TTT! 

Monday, May 18, 2020

Unconvincing Mystery/Thriller Not Super Satisfying

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Considering it's named for the dark, serpentine cave system that lurks at its edge, it's not all that surprising that little Grotto, Iowa, is hiding big secrets.  The largest surrounds the vicious murder of a teenage girl twenty-five years ago.  Found inside one of the caves, her battered body revealed she had been beaten and strangled.  Although several suspects were investigated at the time, no one has ever been charged for the murder. 

When new evidence is discovered in the cave, the case of Eve Knox's murder is reopened.  This time, Detective Maggie Kennedy O'Keefe—the daughter of the police chief who initially spearheaded the investigation—is in charge.  Despite the fact that she's 8 months pregnant after a decade of miscarrying, Eve's childhood best friend, and the person who found her friend's dead body 25 years ago, Maggie insists she's up to the task.  As she revisits evidence, she's reminded of the many people who could have been responsible for Eve's death, from the girl's abusive boyfriend to her creepy younger sister to a neighbor who would kill to keep her from talking.  As Maggie tries to untangle the truth from the lies, she must face the secrets she's been keeping.  Risking the disintegration of everything good in her life, Maggie persists—even with her own life and that of her unborn baby on the line.

My favorite setting for mystery/thrillers is small towns like Grotto.  They're always concealing such juicy secrets!  Unfortunately, while the premise of This Is How I Lied by Heather Gudenkauf appealed to me, its execution didn't so much.  The novel is peopled with unlikeable characters, implausible plot points, and a heroine who isn't all that convincing as a detective.  Despite these irritants, I did finish the book because I wanted to know what was going to happen.  In the end, though, I found This Is How I Lied to be depressing, far-fetched, and not all that satisfying.  It turned out to be just an average read for me. 

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of books by Catherine McKenzie and Erin Kelly)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of This Is How I Lied from the generous folks at Harlequin.  Thank you!

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Slow, Introspective Dystopian Novel a Bit of a Slog

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

With floodwaters rising steadily over the last 100 years, the world has dwindled to a string of small colonies perched on the mountain peaks that used to soar far above civilization.  Oceans of dark, impenetrable water are all around, forcing many to live solely on the water, stepping on land rarely and only to gather news and supplies.  Ever since the floods swallowed what was left of Nebraska, Myra has lived on a 15-foot long, 5-foot wide boat with her 7-year-old daughter, Pearl.  Although her life is focused mainly on keeping Pearl fed and out of danger, Myra has another purpose guiding her actions.  She's desperate to find her older daughter, Row, who was stolen from Myra by her husband seven years ago.  

Just when Myra is giving up hope of ever finding Row, a stranger claims to have spotted her in a remote Arctic Circle colony.  Is it true?  Even if it is, can Myra really make the long, arduous journey to such a far-flung spot?  Regardless, she has to try.  But such an undertaking will require getting help from strangers and she stopped trusting other human beings long ago.  Desperate, she throws her lot in with a group of pilgrims looking for the perfect place to create a utopian society.  Even in a bigger ship, with a crew of people who seem trustworthy, Myra feels anxious.  Can she keep herself and Pearl safe all the way to the Arctic Circle?  What if Row isn't there?  With the trip becoming more dangerous with each mile, Myra has to decide what is more important—keeping Pearl safe or finding Row—because the farther she travels, the more apparent it's becoming that she can't do both ...

Of all the dystopian worlds I've encountered in books and movies, I'm most creeped out by the watery ones.  There's just something about the fathoms below ... With its unsettling setting and sad, introspective vibe, After the Flood, a debut novel by Kassandra Montag, is a haunting read in more ways than one.  It's not a page-turner by any means; in fact, there are only occasional spurts of action.  This made the story a bit of a slog for me.  I also had a little trouble with the characters.  I found them an interesting lot, but they were written in a way that felt removed, which made it tough to connect with them.  Nevertheless, I found Montag's prose assured, the world she created fascinating, and her heroine intriguing.  I finished the book because I wanted to know what was going to happen to Myra and her daughters.  In the end, though, After the Flood turned out to be just an okay read for me.  Bummer.

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of After the Flood from the generous folks at William Morrow (an imprint of HarperCollins).  Thank you!

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

It's a Quarantine Top Ten Tuesday. Again.



Well, it's another Tuesday in quarantine.  How are you all holding up?  We're doing fine over here.  Not a lot has changed since last week and the week before that and the week before that, although apparently, things are going to start opening back up here in Arizona this week and next.  My husband and sons are readying our jet skiis to hit the lake as soon as the gates open on Saturday.  I know they're ready to bust out of quarantine for good, but I'm still not sure if a grand reopening of the world is a solid idea.  It makes me nervous, I have to say.

In less controversial news, it's Tuesday again, time for my favorite bookish meme.  If you haven't joined in the fun of Top Ten Tuesday yet, you really should.  It's a great way to get involved in the book blogging community, visit favorite blogs, find new ones, discover fantastic-sounding books, and keep yourself entertained (something we all need right now).  Click on over to That Artsy Reader Girl to get all the details.

Not gonna lie, I'm not totally feeling today's topic of the Last Ten Books I've Abandoned.  I prefer to keep TTT a positive thing.  Also, there's the little problem of my faulty memory—I honestly wouldn't be able to dredge up the names of the last ten books I DNF'd if I tried!  Since I couldn't think of a creative way to spin the topic du jour, I'm just going to chatter generally about the Top Ten Reasons I Might Abandon a Book (in no particular order):

  • The story is moving way too slllloooowwwwwlllllly and I'm bored with it.  I've gotta have some action to keep me awake!
  • The characters have no personality or they have personalities that grate on my nerves.
  • The plot is too gory, violent, graphic, or disturbing.  I DNF'd a book last night and one last week for this reason.
  • The writing is unskilled, unpolished, or just downright terrible.
  • My own moodiness.  Sometimes books that would otherwise grab me just don't at a certain time, for no particular reason other than my mood.
  • Too much cheese!  When it comes to food, there is no such thing.  Books are different, though.  Too much corny, saccharine, or eye roll-worthy prose and/or dialogue and I'm out.
  • Serial OCD.  I've abandoned (or, rather, postponed) a number of books I've randomly grabbed at the library because I later discovered they were part of a series.  I refuse to read books in a series out of order, even when other people swear up and down that they don't need to be read in order.  Yes, they do, Karen!  YesTheyDo.
  • I just don't care.  Have you ever been in the middle of a book only to realize you really couldn't care less what happens next?  This occurs to me fairly often, usually because the characters are unlikable or just too flat to really make me interested in what happens to them.
  • Certain topics.  There are topics I just don't like to read about, either because they make my blood boil or my stomach turn or my head/heart hurt.  If I encounter these subjects in a novel, I almost always jump ship.
  • Variety.  I like to read several different genres, shuffling between them to keep my reading life interesting.  If I start with a book and realize it's too similar to something else I've read lately, I'll usually abandon it, even if just for the time being.
So, there you have it, ten reasons I might abandon a book.  Do any of my reasons resound with you?  What makes you stop reading a book?  Which have you DNF'd lately and why?  I'd truly love to know.  Leave me a comment on this post and I'll gladly return the favor on yours.

Happy TTT!

Monday, May 11, 2020

Book Woman an Atmospheric, Evocative Novel About the Transformative Power of Reading

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Cussy Mary Carter is a woman who stands out for many reasons, not just because she's the last of her kind.  The 19-year-old is one of Kentucky's famous Blue people, the only one still living.  It's not just her blue-tinged skin that sets her apart, however.  She's also one of the few women courageous enough to venture into the rugged mountains and deep hollers of Appalachia to deliver books to folks living in the most remote areas of her community.  As a rider for the Pack Horse Library Initiative, Cussy braves everything from nasty weather to ill-tempered recluses to snooty, prejudiced society women to bring the joy of reading to her far-flung neighbors.  Scorned by those who think hers is not a job suitable for a lady, let alone a Blue, Cussy perseveres.  Although she's already experienced more than her fair share of violence and fear, Cussy will battle every snowstorm, every fist shook in her face, every filthy name hurled in her direction, every haint whistling through the holler, and every tumble off her horse to bring the magic of books to those who need it most ...

Sometimes you can tell just by the title of a book that it's one you're going to love.  Add in an evocative cover and an intriguing plot summary and that's it, you're a goner.  Such is the case with me and The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson.  I love everything about this lush, touching novel.  The setting is so atmospheric that I could see, hear, smell, and touch the Appalachians and her people in all their glorious beauty and impoverished desperation.  Cussy, herself, is so well-drawn that I felt instantly for her, even while admiring her kindness, humility and determination.  As heartbreaking as this novel is, it tells a beautiful, touching story that has stayed with me even though it's been months since I read it.  If you love historical fiction or tales of Appalachia or books about the transformative power of reading or any combination of the three, you absolutely must pick up this book.  It might just be my favorite read of the year so far! 

(Readalikes:  I'm guessing The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes and The Last Blue by Isla Morley are similar, but I've yet to read either [although both are on my TBR mountain chain].)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

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

Saturday, May 09, 2020

Summery Friendship/Secrets Novel Gets a Meh From Me


(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Six years ago, three strangers flew to Italy to enjoy a surprise vacation on the stunning Amalfi Coast.  Each of the women expected to soak in the picture-perfect scenery, dine on delectable cuisine, and relax on the sparkling beach.  None of them foresaw meeting the others at a ramshackle villa and becoming instant, lifelong friends.  What Kim, Colette, and Annie experienced in Italy—from friendship to romance to the start of a successful business—changed their lives.

Now, Kim is bringing them back to Italy for the grand re-opening of the villa that started it all.  A well-known wellness guru, she's had the place renovated and turned into a health spa.  She can't wait for her old friends to join celebrities, investors, and other influencers at what will certainly be the most glamorous event of the season.  It soon becomes apparent, however, that someone is out to sabotage Kim by exposing a ruinous secret she thought no one knew about.  She's not the only one worried about what could happen in Italy.  Annie has her own secret to hide.  She's also got her own reasons for needing to be at Kim's fancy party—and it's not to pat Kim on the back for a job well done.  Then there's Colette, who fell madly in love with a local while in Italy and subsequently had her heart dashed into a million pieces.  Although she's been happily married to another man for five years, she can't help but wonder what happened to the one that got away.  Luca will no doubt be at Kim's party.  What will happen when she sees him again?  

When the three women reunite on the Amalfi Coast, shocking secrets will out, old resentments will flare, and, once again, the friends' lives will be forever changed by what happens in Italy ...

Old-friends-coming-back-together-to-deal-with-past-secrets-that-are-threatening-to-come-to-light is one of my favorite mystery/thriller tropes.  I figured I'd dig it in a contemporary romance/women's novel as well.  Unfortunately, The Summer Villa by Melissa Hill didn't pull me in like such thrillers usually do.  The story started slowly and took its time getting to the juicy parts.  As much as I loved the book's sparkling setting, I found the characters, the prose, and the plot pretty meh.  All of the starring women irritated me with their immaturity—even their adult selves were childish and petty.  Even though I saw the plot twists coming, I did want to know what was going to happen in the story, so I finished it.  In the end, though, The Summer Villa was just an average read for me.  Nothing special.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other summer friendship novels, but no specific titles are coming to mind.  You?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a few F-bombs, plus milder expletives) and sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of The Summer Villa from the generous folks at HarperCollins.  Thank you!

Friday, May 01, 2020

Book Spotlight: The Heirloom Garden by Viola Shipman


I didn't get a chance to read The Heirloom Garden by Viola Shipman (which is actually a pen name used by Wade Rouse, who writes under his late grandmother's name as a way to honor her) in time for my blog tour stop, so I'm just going to do a little spotlight today.  According to the back cover summary, here's what the book is about:

In her inimitable style, Viola Shipman explores the unlikely relationship between two very different women brought together by the pain of war, but bonded by hope, purpose…and flowers.

Iris Maynard lost her husband in World War II, her daughter to illness and, finally, her reason to live. Walled off from the world for decades behind the towering fence surrounding her home, Iris has built a new family…of flowers. Iris propagates her own daylilies and roses while tending to a garden filled with the heirloom starts that keep the memories of her loved ones alive.

When Abby Peterson moves next door with her family—a husband traumatized by his service in the Iraq War and a young daughter searching for stability—Iris is reluctantly yet inevitably drawn into her boisterous neighbor’s life, where, united by loss and a love of flowers, she and Abby tentatively unearth their secrets, and help each other discover how much life they have yet to live.

With delightful illustrations and fascinating detail, Viola Shipman’s heartwarming story will charm readers while resonating with issues that are so relevant today.

Have you read The Heirloom Garden?  What did you think?

Thanks to the generous folks at Harlequin (a division of HarperCollins) for sending me an e-ARC of The Heirloom Garden!

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Loved Waaaayyyy Back in the Day

It's Tuesday again, time for my favorite bookish meme.  I always look forward to this weekly event, especially now when there are so few ways to distinguish one day from all the rest!  How's everyone doing this week?  Are you surviving the quarantine in good spirits or starting to go stark raving mad?  Are you whipping through a book a day or finding it difficult to concentrate on reading when the outside world is still in chaos?  We're doing okay over here.  All of us have cabin fever, but we're being as cautious as we can by staying home, social distancing, washing our hands, etc.  We've had excessive heat warnings here in the Phoenix area—it's supposed to be in the upper 90s and low 100s all week.  Oh, joy!  I'm not a fan of hot weather, but at least I have air conditioning and a backyard swimming pool.  I really can't complain (I mean, I can, but I shouldn't).  For now, I'll just continue reading, cross-stitching, blogging, and attempting to keep my house from becoming a complete shambles.  I hope you all are doing well and keeping you and yours safe and healthy.

Today's Top Ten Tuesday topic is a nostalgic one—Top Ten Books I Wish I Had Read As a Child.  I don't know about you, but I have been a voracious reader for my entire life.  As a kid, there was nothing I loved more than visiting our town's teensy tiny library.  When I couldn't convince my mom to drive me into town, I made the two-mile round trip on my own two feet.  The walk down wasn't so bad since it was all downhill, but the hike back up was a killer, especially in the summer heat with my arms full of all the books I could carry!  Needless to say, I was thrilled when I got my driver's license.  Not only could I drive myself to town whenever I wanted, but I could also cross the bridge into Oregon and check out books from a nearby town that had a much larger library.  I inhaled so many books in those days that, besides the Harry Potter series (which didn't come out until I was in my late 20's), I couldn't think of any that I wished I had read as a child.  I could, however, think of many that I loved back then, so I'm going to twist the topic du jour and list the Top Ten Authors/Books/Series I Loved As a Child.

Before we get to that, though, I have to give a shout out to Jana, our Top Ten Tuesday host.  If you want to join in the TTT fun, head on over to her blog, That Artsy Reader Girl.  You can find all the info you need on her lovely site.

Top Ten Authors/Books/Series I Loved as a Child (in no particular order)


1.  The Berenstain Bears series by Jan and Stan Berenstain—As a kid, I devoured this beloved picture book series about a bear family that lives in a quaint treehouse.  I was so caught up by the idea of dwelling in a tree that I spend many happy hours designing my own treehouse home on paper.  Funny enough, when I started reading the books to my own children, I found them wordy, didactic, and a bit dull.  My kids enjoyed the PBS television series based on the books, but never cared much for the written version.


2.  Shel Silverstein—My family owned several of Silverstein's books of poems.  Some of his verses aren't very PC and would probably be frowned upon in today's more sensitive climate ("[Sister] For Sale" comes to mind), but his poems are fun, silly, inventive, and wholly entertaining.  My siblings and I loved them.

3.  Dr. Seuss—Like most children, I adored books like Green Eggs and Ham and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.  I'm glad to see that these classics have endured and are still being enjoyed by today's kids.


4.  Choose Your Own Adventure series by R.A. Montgomery—Oh my goodness, did I gobble these books down!  I had so many wild adventures through this series.


5.  Amelia Bedilia series by Peggy Parish—I loved this series about a very literal-minded housekeeper and her many adventures.  Parish died in 1988 and her nephew, Herman Parish, continued writing Amelia Bedilia books starting in 1995.  I haven't read any of the newer books, but I loved the older ones.


6.  The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder—I was mad about everything Little House on the Prairie when I was a kid.  I devoured both the books and the t.v. show, which appealed to my love of history and pioneer stories.


7.  Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene—Even as a young'n I loved mysteries.  This famous female sleuth was my absolute favorite!



8.  The Boxcar Children series by Gertrude Chandler Warner—These simple mysteries were also among my favorite reads as a child.  I've re-read some of them as an adult and although they're written in a very basic way, I can still see why they're so appealing to kids.


9.  Christopher Pike—I read a lot of Pike when I was in middle school and even high school.  His mystery/thrillers kept me up way past my bedtime on many nights in the late 80s and early 90s.  My young heart was absolutely crushed when I wrote him a gushing fan letter and never received a response! 


10.  Mary Higgins Clark—My dad introduced me to Clark, his favorite mystery author, when I was a teenager.  Her clean mystery/thrillers kept me up late on numerous occasions, turning pages far into the night.  I enjoyed her books more as a teen than as an adult, but I have great respect for Clark, who continued to write bestselling novels until she died in January at the age of 92.  

There you go, ten authors/books/series my child/teenaged self couldn't get enough of.  Were you a reader as a kid?  Which books did you love back in the day?  Which do you wish you had read then?  I'd truly love to know.  Leave me a comment on this post and I'll return the favor on yours.

Happy TTT!

Monday, April 27, 2020

Depressing Vacation-Gone-Wrong Novel Doesn't Appeal

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Jenna Carlson has planned the perfect getaway to celebrate her husband's 50th birthday.  The bestselling YA novelist has rented a luxurious villa right on the beach in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.  It will be the perfect place for the couple and their moody 16-year-old to relax and bond.  Peter's best friend and business partner, Robert "Solly" Solomon, has also been invited along with Ingrid, his beautiful, much-younger wife, his teenage son from his previous marriage, and his 5-year-old autistic son from his current one.  Solly's exuberance can be a bit much, but the vacation won't be as much fun without his larger-than-life personality.  All in all, Jenna is patting her back for organizing what is sure to be a flawless trip, the vacation of a lifetime.

The Carlsons have barely stepped foot on the beach, however, before tensions start running high.  Jenna's gritting her teeth over her daughter's surly attitude, Ingrid's insufferable begging for advice on novel-writing, Solly's irritating monologues, her husband's clandestine phone calls, and a budding romance between teenagers Clementine and Malcolm.  Jenna wants everything to go smoothly, but her perfect vacation is slowly turning into a perfect nightmare ...

Back in February, I made a Top Ten Tuesday list about vacation-gone-wrong novels that I wanted to readTomorrow There Will Be Sun, a debut adult novel by YA writer Dana Reinhardt, was on that list because it fits the bill.  While the problems the Carlsons experience on their getaway trip were interesting enough to keep me reading, I can't say I really enjoyed this book.  The characters are almost wholly unlikable, Jenna being especially obnoxious.  Although they do learn some valuable lessons from their beach vacation, the overall vibe of Tomorrow There Will Be Sun is negative and depressing.  When I closed the book, I found myself asking, "What was the point of that?"  It's not that I think the novel is poorly written—it's not—it just didn't appeal much to me overall.  Bummer.

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language, violence, and sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Top Ten Tuesday: Curbside Checkout, Here I Come!


It's Tuesday again.  I think.  I don't know about you, but these days, my Tuesdays don't look much different from my Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays!  Nothing much has changed here except I've read a few more books, cross-stitched for a few (okay, a lot more than a few) more hours, and watched more episodes of The Middle.  I did have a Zoom meeting for my church "job" this morning, so that added some excitement to my day.  Other than that, it's the same ole, same ole around here.  I'm not complaining—we're all healthy and staying (more or less) sane at my house.  An extended member of our family died last week of COVID-19 after several weeks in the hospital, so that was a sobering reminder of why we're all sheltering in place.  Please keep yourself and your loved ones safe and healthy!

On a lighter note, it's time for Top Ten Tuesday.  If you're not familiar with this fun meme, you really should be.  Head on over to That Artsy Reader Girl for all the info.  Today's topic is Top Ten Book Titles That Would Make Great Band Names.  I love music as much as the next person, but I'm just not feeling this one today.  Instead, I'm going to give you a glimpse into my obsession with organizing my main Goodreads TBR list.  Because I reached the limit of how many books you can have in a bookshelf (5000, if you're curious), I had to make separate lists for non-fiction and children's books.  EDIT:  I'm so sorry if I freaked anyone out with my unintentional lie about Goodreads bookshelf limits!  What I meant to say was that if you go over 5000 on a single bookshelf, Goodreads will no longer let you put those books in want-to-read order (at least I can't figure out how).  Since ordering my books is my favorite part of GR list-making, I keep my lists under 5000.  Does that make more sense? So, today I'm focusing on the books on my adult fiction "bookshelf," listing the entries in want-to-read order.  I'm going to briefly mention the titles I've talked about recently or repeatedly and spend more time on those I haven't highlighted yet.

Here we go with Top Ten Books on My Goodreads Adult Fiction TBR List:



1.  The Sea of Lost Girls by Carol Goodman—I already talked about this book here.  I've also lamented the fact that a copy of it is being held hostage at my county library, gathering dust on the "Holds" shelf.  Well, good news!  I just learned that the library will start curbside checkout tomorrow.  I'm stoked.  I've been wanting to read this book ever since I heard about it, so yay!  I will liberate my on-hold book as soon as I can tomorrow morning.


2.  The Girl From Widow Hills by Megan Miranda (available June 20, 2020)—I enjoy Miranda's thrillers and this one sounds as intriguing as her others.  It involves a woman who achieved celebrity status as a child when she miraculously survived a near-drowning.  As the 20th anniversary of the event approaches, the girl—now a woman living under a different name—starts experiencing strange symptoms that link her disturbing past to her threatened present.  Can't wait!


3.  All the Ways We Said Goodbye by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White—I highlighted this title here.


4.  In Five Years by Rebecca Serle—talked about it here


5.  The Cutting Place by Jane Casey—Maeve Kerrigan is one of my favorite fictional police detectives.  In Casey's newest, the 9th installment in the series, Maeve is sent to investigate the death of a young female journalist who was killed while working on a story about an elite gentleman's club.  I'm in for anything Maeve!


6.  The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate—I've talked about this one before.  I'm in the middle of the novel right now and I'm really enjoying it.


7.  The Good Turn by Dervla McTiernan—I'm not sure what's going on with the U.S. publication of this book.  It came out in Australia in February but is not available for a reasonable price anywhere else as far as I can tell (there is a $40.87 copy listed on Amazon and a $30.36 one on BookDepository).  Presumably, the hang-ups are because of COVID-19.  Hopefully, The Good Turn will be more widely available soon. 

This is the third installment in the DI Cormac Reilly series, which I enjoy.  The story begins with the suspected kidnapping of a young girl.  Short-staffed and hindered by red tape, Cormac and his partner make a horrible mistake in the case, which leaves the former suspended and the latter banished to a small town where he discovers some odd findings in a murder case that has supposedly been solved ...


8.  Please See Us by Caitlin Mullen—An Atlantic City boardwalk psychic starts having strange visions that she thinks are related to two recent murders.  When she launches her own investigation into the killings, she puts herself right in a killer's path ...


9.  Reviving the Hawthorn Sisters by Emily Carpenter (available October 20, 2020)—I enjoy Carpenter's immersive thrillers and her newest sounds just as intriguing as her other books.  This one revolves around Eve Candler, a woman who has kept her grandmother's secrets for years.  No one else knows that the revered evangelist and faith healer was a complete fraud and a con artist to boot.  When an even bigger secret about her grandmother surfaces, Eve risks everything to find out the truth.


10.  Before Familiar Woods by Ian Pisarcik—I love the big lies in small towns trope, so naturally, I find the premise of this book appealing.  It has to do with the murders of two boys and the subsequent disappearances of their fathers.  It's left to one mother to figure out what is happening in her not-so-quaint little town.

There you go, the top ten books on my adult fiction Goodreads TBR shelf.  Have you read any of them?  What are the most tantalizing titles on your TBR list?  I'd truly love to know.  Leave me a comment on this post and I'll return the favor on yours.

Happy TTT!
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