Monday, May 20, 2019

Warm, Engaging MG Novel Has Feel and Appeal of Timeless Classic

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Billie O'Brien has a busy summer ahead of her.  Not only will the 12-year-old be harvesting her bees' honey to sell in town, but she's also got to check her fishing traps, help her friend scoop llama poop (lots of llama poop), assist her dad with cheese making, and—most importantly—grow the biggest, best pumpkin she can so she can beat the socks off her former BFF in the pumpkin race that happens every fall on Madeline Island.  Sam Harrington cheated her out of her win last year and she can't forgive him for that.  The only way to get her revenge is to skunk him fair and square this year.

Of course, things aren't going to go smoothly when you've got cucumber beetles gorging on your pumpkins, an ex-BFF sabotaging your growing efforts, storms churning up your favorite fishing spot, and a mysterious stranger whose sudden appearance throws your family into a confusing whirl.  Can Billie survive a summer full of unpleasant surprises?  Can she beat Sam in the race?  As Billie stumbles through three months of hard work, stinging disappointment, trying challenges, and unexpected revelations, she will learn some valuable lessons about family, friendship, and, forgiveness.

The Pumpkin War by Cathleen Young is a warm, engaging novel that has the feel and appeal of a timeless classic.  Its bucolic rural setting offers readers a unique, insider's view of farm life while emphasizing the value of kids helping out and working diligently to achieve their goals.  While The Pumpkin War is a slim novel, it's got lots going on inside.  It tells a fun, exciting story that's also touching and real.  Readers of any age can pick this one up and enjoy.  I certainly did.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of books by Cynthia Lord)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for scenes of peril

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

Friday, May 17, 2019

Alaskan Debut Novel One Strange Ride

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Tracy Petrikoff would rather be out in the thick woods surrounding her Alaskan home than anywhere else.  Especially school.  The 17-year-old can't stand being trapped inside when there is a forest to explore, food to be hunted and gathered, and training to be done for the Iditarod.  As soon as she turns 18, Tracy plans not only to enter the race but also to become a dog sled racing champion like her father.  

When strange things start happening in the forest, Tracy feels decidedly unsettled.  Then a teenage boy comes wondering out of the trees, looking for work.  Although Tracy's father hires him on the spot, Tracy can't get a handle on the odd stranger.  She becomes especially nervous as the boy worms his way into the Petrikoffs' insulated lives.  Tracy knows Jesse is hiding something, but what?  With her senses sharply honed from a lifetime of stalking animals, Tracy knows danger is near.  Is the trouble coming from without?  Or, much more likely, from within?  

It's tough to describe The Wild Inside, a debut novel by Jamey Bradbury.  On one hand, it's an atmospheric thriller which is both unique and compelling.  On the other hand, it's an odd, unsettling, often nauseating story that is sometimes so blood-soaked it made me want to vomit.  I enjoyed learning about what it takes to compete in the Iditarod and I would have found this book much more appealing had it just been a story of a plucky teenage girl determined to win the big race.  Instead, The Wild Inside takes some weird turns that left me scratching my head.  Overall, the novel is depressing, and, in the end, just felt pointless.  The plot engaged me enough that I finished the book, but man, what a strange read!  

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


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 a finished copy of The Wild Inside from the generous folks at HarperCollins in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Evocative Mystery/Thriller Keeps Me Riveted to the Page

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Colleen Mitchell knows she needs to let her 20-year-old son live his own life, but she can't help but question Paul's sudden decision to drop out of college and waltz off to the middle of nowhere to work on an oil rig.  Now, her worst fears have been realized.  She hasn't heard from Paul in over a month.  Not even a one-word text.  Maybe she's overreacting—probably she is—but something feels off.  No longer able to stand the anxiety of not knowing what's happened to Paul, she flies to rural North Dakota to find her son.  What she discovers is that she's right.  Her son is missing from the "man camp" where he and the other workers live.  No one knows where he's gone.  Or so they say.  

There's only one person in bleak little Lawton willing to believe that anything shady is going on and that's because her son is missing, too.  Shay Capparelli is Colleen's opposite—she's penniless but scrappy and tenacious, willing to do whatever it takes to find her own son, who's also nowhere to be found.  Just like Colleen, Shay knows there's something more to the story behind their sons' disappearances.  She's convinced the oil company is hiding something.  

The two women become unlikely allies in their plight to locate the boys they love.  As they dig deeper and deeper into the oil company's practices, Lawton's ugly underbelly and the secrets their sons kept under wraps, the duo uncovers some unsavory truths.  What really happened to Paul and Taylor?  Can their mothers solve the mystery before it's too late?

The Missing Place by Sophie Littlefield is an evocative, compelling read that I could not put down.  With an atmospheric setting, well-drawn characters, and a twisty mystery, it kept my attention riveted to the page.  I know some reviewers felt misled by some of the story's plot turns.  Not me.  The set up kept me guessing, which is what I dig in a psychological mystery/thriller.  Despite the book's grimness, I ended up enjoying this one quite a lot.  I'll definitely be picking up more books from this intriguing author. 

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


If this were a movie, it would be rated:  

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

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Miranda's Newest Another Twisty, Engrossing Thriller

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In picturesque Littleport, Maine, there are two kinds of people—wealthy summer visitors and the locals who inhabit the resort town year-round.  With the livelihood of the latter dependent on the former, there's a natural divide between the two groups.  Their members simply don't mix.  That's why Littleport resident Avery Greer was so surprised when rich, sophisticated Sadie Loman befriended her ten years ago.  Having grown closer to Sadie with every passing summer, Avery is horrified when she learns that her friend's body has washed up on the shore.  With an apparent suicide note in their possession, the cops declare that Sadie stepped off a steep cliff of her own volition.  Case closed.  Avery's not the only one who doesn't believe bold, unapologetic Sadie would take her own life; she's also not the only one some people in town consider a suspect in the woman's death.  

Sure that someone (or multiple someones) knows more than they're admitting, Avery launches her own search for the truth about Sadie's death.  The deeper she digs, the more dirt she uncovers.  It soon becomes obvious that Avery's revealing secrets someone would kill to keep buried.  Can she find out the truth before it's her dead body that washes ashore?

I'm sure you've noticed by now that I love me a tense psychological thriller, especially one that's set in a cozy little town that's hiding big, juicy secrets.  The Last House Guest (available June 18, 2019), the newest suspense novel from Megan Miranda, delivers on all fronts.  The setting is atmospheric, the plot compelling, and the mystery twisty.  Just the way I like it.  Yes, the book is depressing as all get-out, but it's also an engrossing read that kept me totally riveted.  I've enjoyed all of Miranda's books and this one is no exception.  If you're looking for an absorbing summer thriller, look no further.

(Readalikes:  Hm, I should be able to think of lots of titles, but nothing's coming to mind.  You?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

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

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of The Last House Guest from the generous folks at Simon & Schuster via those at Edelweiss.  Thank you!

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

True World War II Stories Both Fascinating and Moving

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I've read tons of World War II novels, but not too many true accounts.  So, when I heard about Jerry Borrowman's new book, Invisible Heroes of World War II, I knew I wanted to read it.  It's a slim volume and yet, the stories he recounts speak volumes about the bravery, dedication, and sacrifice exhibited by ordinary humans in an extraordinary time. 

Borrowman highlights a variety of individuals and groups who served valiantly in the war, although their contributions were not necessarily known in their day or recognized as much as they should be today.  Among these are people of various ethnicities, nationalities, cultures, and backgrounds.  Both soldiers and civilians, they were also engineers, laborers, spies, pilots, communications experts, journalists, etc. What results is a kaleidoscope of stories, all interesting in their own way.  The one I personally found most intriguing was that of Dickey Chappelle, the courageous war photographer pictured on the book's cover.  She's a fascinating woman, one whom I'd never heard of but would love to read more about.

If you're interested in learning more about some of World War II's unsung heroes, definitely pick up this intriguing book.  It's a quick read, but one that is both fascinating and moving.  I enjoyed reading these untold stories, which made me marvel once again at the remarkable ability of human beings to survive and even thrive in the face of unimaginable cruelty and unspeakable horror.  The people portrayed in Borrowman's book are truly heroes with incredible stories just waiting to be heard ...

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Women of the Blue & Grey by Marianne Monson


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

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

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Invisible Heroes of World War II from the generous folks at Shadow Mountain in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

Friday, May 03, 2019

Haunting Outback Mystery Another First-Rate Australian Page-Turner

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Despite being both brothers and neighbors, Nathan, Bub, and Cameron Bright don't come together often.  Nor will they ever again.  For the first time in months, Nathan and Bub meet at the fence line that divides their expansive cattle ranches in the lonely Queensland outback.  Cameron, the middle brother, lies dead at their feet.  A victim of the brutal landscape and unforgiving weather, he's been killed by exposure.  The question is, how?  And why?  As a lifelong resident of the place, Cameron knew better than anyone not to stray into the miles of empty outback without proper supplies.  What was he doing out there?  Nothing about Cameron's death makes any sense.

Nathan's got enough problems dealing with issues at his own ranch, trying to communicate with his estranged teenage son, and keeping his distance from the tiny town that banished him long ago, but he can't stop obsessing over his brother's strange death.  The more he questions those that spent the most time with Cameron—his wife, his daughters, their mother, a long-time employee, and two seasonal workers—the more Nathan begins to suspect that something sinister is going on under the placid surface of Burley Downs.  Someone knows more about Cameron's death than they're saying, but who?  And why would anyone want to harm the ranch's charming manager?  The more questions Nathan asks, the more disturbing are the answers he finds.  As long-buried secrets come to light, Nathan will come to realize that the people closest to him, both physically and emotionally, might be the ones he knows least of all ...

Jane Harper's popular debut and sophomore novels are installments in an intriguing mystery series starring Federal Police investigator Aaron Falk.  Surprisingly, her newest does not continue the series.  Although it riffs on similar themes as her first two books, The Lost Man, her third, is a standalone.  At first, I was disappointed to find out it wasn't a Falk book, but it didn't take more than a few pages to convince me that The Lost Man would be just as good as Harper's others.  Maybe even be better.  Like the author's previous novels, this one features interesting, complex characters; an atmospheric, unforgettable setting; and a twisty, compelling mystery.  All of these elements combine to create a first-rate page-turner, which is as engrossing as it is haunting.  Although the story it tells is undeniably sad and depressing, The Lost Man held me completely captive as I raced through its pages to see what would happen next.  If you enjoy the Aaron Falk series or just intriguing crime fiction in general, you'll find this one a riveting, satisfying read.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of The Dry and Force of Nature, both by Jane Harper)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

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

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

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Creepy Scottish Mystery Offers a Shivery Spring Thrill

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After her mother dies, London tv producer Ailsa Calder inherits an imposing home in the Scottish Highlands known as the Manse.  Although she lived in the house as a young child, the place gives Ailsa the creeps.  Big time.  Ailsa can feel it watching her, eyeing her every move with sinister intentions.  Even the local wildlife and neighborhood pets refuse to set foot on the property.  The townspeople whisper about the haunted Manse, saying it's a strange, in-between place where time moves differently.  Crazy as it sounds, Ailsa almost believes them.  If she had inherited the entire house, she would sell it without hesitation, but the other half belongs to her father—and he's been missing for 27 years.  Before she can unload her unsettling inheritance, Ailsa has to prove her dad is dead.

For convenience's sake, Ailsa decides to live in the Manse while preparing the paperwork necessary to sell the old pile.  Carrie, the half-sister Ailsa barely knows, becomes her erstwhile roommate.  As the two women get to know each other and the locals—some of whom are kind and welcoming, others of whom view the sisters with suspicion and distrust—it soon becomes apparent that the Manse isn't the only entity that wishes Ailsa harm ...

I'm sure it's more than evident by now that I love me a shivery mystery/thriller featuring an ominous, atmospheric backdrop; an eerie old house; and a dusty old skeleton (literal or otherwise) hiding in a closet, just waiting to be discovered.  The Missing Hours by Lexie Elliott has all this and more.  It's a compelling and engrossing page-turner that offers mystery, suspense, and a hint of the supernatural.  The plot is a teensy bit slow, but I didn't mind that a bit.  The Missing Hours held my attention, keeping me feeling slightly off-kilter (in a good way) throughout.  I didn't love Elliott's debut, The French Girl, but her sophomore attempt is much, much more to my liking.  I very much enjoyed this creepy, entertaining novel.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of books by Carol Goodman, Jennifer McMahon, and Hester Fox)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language, violence, blood/gore, references to illegal drug use, and disturbing subject matter

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

McMahon's Newest a Creepy Ghost Story With a Uniquely Compelling Twist

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Most people buy old homes, inheriting their ghosts without realizing it.  Not Nate and Helen Wetherell.  They're building a haunted house from scratch ...

Wanting to get out of the rat race in the city, Helen and Nate buy a picturesque property in small-town Vermont with the intention of building their dream house themselves.  Despite having to live in a tiny, dilapidated trailer during construction, they're thrilled about taking on the ultimate DIY project.  Rumors of their land being haunted gives the prospect a quaint, even humorous glow.  But when strange things start happening around the building site, Helen feels more than a little unnerved.  Could there be some truth behind the townspeople's whispers?  Have the Wetherells unintentionally disturbed haunted land?

A former history teacher, Helen's curiosity prompts her to start researching the land upon which she's building.  Turns out, it does have a chilling history, one that seems to be seeping into the present.  The more Helen looks into the subject, the more obsessed she becomes.  In an effort to communicate with the ghost she's sure is haunting her new home, Helen begins collecting relics to build into its structure.  Nate's sure Helen has gone completely mad, but then he's also having strange experiences.  Are they both crazy?  If the spirits are truly reaching out to Helen and Nate, what do they want?  And how far will they go to protect their haunting grounds?

Jennifer McMahon writes creepy books that tend to crawl right under my skin.  Her newest, The Invited, is no exception.  Its unique premise caught my attention right from the beginning and the plot twists and turns kept me reading, even though I saw a lot of them coming from a mile away.  Still, the novel's engrossing, compelling, and creepy—three things I love in a ghost story.  The Invited will make a perfect Halloween read, but why wait?  Pick it up now for a shivery, can't-put-it-down Spring thrill.  

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other books by Jennifer McMahon as well as those by Carol Goodman)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

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

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of The Invited from the generous folks at Penguin Random House via those at NetGalley.  Thank you!

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Compelling New Zealand YA Novel a Cult Classic

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Kirby Greenland is used to "parenting" her flighty mother.  At 14, she's the one who watches the budget, pays the bills, does the shopping, and handles the laundry.  Still, she loves her ditzy guardian and their unconventional but happy life together.  That's why Kirby is so stunned when her mom announces she's going to spend two years on a medical service mission in Africa.  Starting immediately.  Kirby will be moving away from the city and living with Caleb Pilgrim, an uncle she never knew she had.  Distraught, Kirby begs her mother not to go.  To no avail.

Before she can even process what is happening, Kirby has been swept into the Pilgrims' strict religious cult.  Renamed Esther, she is no longer allowed to wear "heathen" clothing, watch television, or read books other than scripture.  Worst of all, as week by miserable week passes by, she hears nothing from her mother.  Kirby now understands why her mom never talked about her own bleak childhood among The Children of the Faith, but why would she abandon Kirby to the same fate?  It makes no sense.  Like her mother before her, Kirby wants nothing to do with the strange cult.  Is escape possible?  She's about to find out ...

I don't know why, but I find cults/cloistered societies absolutely fascinating, so when Stephanie, my go-to girl for all things cultish (in a fictional sense only), recommended I Am Not Esther by Fleur Beale, I knew I had to read it.  While it's not as immersive as other novels of its ilk, it's vivid enough that the reader can really feel Kirby's confusion, frustration, and helplessness as she tries to make sense of her terrifying new living situation.  Kids will relate to those emotions as well as her ensuing identity crisis.  They'll cheer as Kirby fights to stay true to herself and find a way to freedom.  While I didn't love this book and probably won't continue with the series (there are two more novels set in the same religious community, just with different protagonists), I did find it compelling and thought-provoking.  I'd recommend it for teens who are interested in the topic, since it's pointed but not as graphic/disturbing as similar novels.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams, The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes, and Gated by Amy Christine Parker)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (no F-bombs), violence, and references (not graphic) to sex, rape, etc.

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of I Am Not Esther from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: The Books That Started It All

Ever feel like you use the same books over and over and over for your Top Ten Tuesday lists?  I do, which is why I'm super excited about this week's topic.  Before we get to that, though, I just want to encourage you to hop on board the TTT train.  It's a fun way to find new blogs to love, grow your own audience, and, of course, add more awesome books to your TBR pile mountain mountain chain.  What's not to love?  All you have to do is click on over to That Artsy Reader Girl, read a few instructions, make your own list, and start spreading the love around the book blogosphere.  It's a good time, I promise!

Today's topic is (First) Ten Books I Reviewed On My Blog.  Isn't that a fun prompt?  I started blogging waaayyyy back in August of 2006, so it was fun to see what I was reading back then and ponder how my reading tastes have changed and not changed over the 13 ensuing years.  Kick back, relax, and let's take a little stroll down the BBB memory lane ...

(First) Ten Books I Reviewed On My Blog:   

1.  The Peacegiver by James L. Ferrell (reviewed August 13, 2006):  My husband and I read this inspirational book at the same time and had some great discussions because of it.  The book uses a fictional frame story about a couple struggling to keep their marriage together to teach the reader about the Atonement of Jesus Christ.  Verdict:  According to the review I wrote of The Peacegiver, both my husband and I found this one enlightening, even though it was a little cheesy and not all that well-written. 

2.  The Known World by Edward P. Jones (reviewed August 14, 2006):  This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is about a former slave who earns enough money to buy his own plantation, complete with a passel of slaves.  When he dies, his widow tries to keep everything running smoothly, but it's not long before the whole operation descends into chaos.  Verdict:  While I didn't love this one, it offered a unique view on slavery that I appreciated.   

3.  Break No Bones by Kathy Reichs (reviewed August 18, 2006):  I've long been a fan of Reich's Temperance Brennan series.  This is the 9th book starring the intrepid forensic anthropologist and while it wasn't my favorite of the bunch, I enjoyed it.  There are now 17 books in the series, although it has been stalled due to the author's ill health.  Verdict:  This is still one of my very favorite crime fiction series.

4.  The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards (reviewed September 1, 2006):  This bleak novel concerns a doctor who, because of a fierce snowstorm, is forced to deliver his own twins, one of whom has Down syndrome.  While his wife is still under heavy anesthesia, the man gives the child to his nurse, imploring her to take the baby to an institution.  The nurse can't bear to leave the infant; instead, she leaves town and raises the girl on her own without telling the doctor.  The story is about the consequences of the doctor's action and how it affects all involved parties.  Verdict:  I found this novel compelling and thought-provoking, but couldn't quite get over how depressing it was.  

5.  Peace Like a River by Leif Enger (reviewed September 13, 2006):  I loved this beautiful novel about family and faith.  It features a sibling pair who run off to the Badlands in hot pursuit of their outlaw older brother.  Verdict:  This novel left a deep impression on me.  I loved the characters, the writing, and the messages.  As much as I adored this book, I haven't read anything else by Enger.  Weird. 

6.  Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns (reviewed October 15, 2006):  I've always loved Southern novels and this one is a classic.  It's about a huge scandal in a small town—a widower of only three weeks marries a Yankee and sets every tongue in town to wagging.  Verdict:  This novel is laugh-out-loud hilarious, but it also has moments of great poignancy.  I loved it.

7.  Two Little Girls in Blue by Mary Higgins Clark (reviewed November 2, 2006):  Clark has kept me entertained with clean, but compelling mysteries since I was a teenager.  Her newer books aren't nearly as good as her older ones, so I haven't read her much lately.  This book is about toddler twins who are kidnapped.  Verdict:  Tame and predictable, but still a page-turner.

8.  The Ruins by Scott Smith (reviewed November 4, 2006):  I made the mistake of reading this creepy novel on Halloween night, which made me jump at every little sound!  It concerns a group of friends who venture into a Mexican jungle to check out some old ruins.  Mayhem ensues.  Verdict:  This is a super spooky page-turner, which I enjoyed in spite of an ending that just didn't satisfy.

9.  The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean (reviewed November 30, 2006):  This memorable historical novel features a Russian woman who finds herself trapped in the art museum where she works while war rages around her.  As she fights to survive, she also works to save precious masterpieces.  Verdict:  This is a beautifully written story with vivid details and a unique perspective on World War II.

10.  Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear (reviewed December 18, 2006):  I enjoyed this series opener about a former WWI nurse who opens a detective agency in 1929 in London.  Her first case has her following a woman suspected of having an extramarital affair.  Although the case seems pretty routine, Maisie soon discovers there's more going on than meets the eye.  Much more.  Verdict:  This is an intriguing start to a series that now has 15 installments.  It's got a little bit of everything—history, romance, adventure, and humor.  Although I enjoyed this first book, I haven't continued on with the series, something I need to remedy.

So there you have it—the first ten books I reviewed on my blog.  Have you read any of them?  What were the first ten you reviewed?  How have your reading tastes changed/not changed over the course of your book blogging career?  I'd truly love to know.  Leave a comment on this post and I will gladly return the favor.

Happy Top Ten Tuesday!

Monday, April 22, 2019

Inspiring MG Novel Lauds the Power of Friendship

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Gabriel Haberlin's life is already pretty great, but when he gets a shiny new bicycle for his 12th birthday it gets even better.  He's taking his present for a spin around little Birdsong, South Carolina, when he comes face-to-face (tire-to-tire?) with the town's worst driver.  Just as Gabriel starts to fret that his 12th birthday will be his last, someone rushes in front of the speeding car and pushes Gabriel out of the way.  The stranger, a black man named Meriwether Hunter, not only saves Gabriel's life but he also fixes up his mangled bicycle so it looks as good as new. 

Wanting to repay Meriwether's kindness, Gabriel talks his father into hiring the fix-it man to work at his auto shop.  Not everyone in the segregated town is happy with that hiring decision, but Gabriel is thrilled with the opportunity to get to know Meriwether better.  When he finds out the black man's intriguing secret, Gabriel becomes even more fascinated with his new pal.  If more people knew about Meriwether's war service and heroism, surely they would treat him better.  But, even in small, safe Birdsong secrets and forbidden friendships are dangerous things, things that will open Gabriel's eyes in ways they've never been opened before ...

The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA, by Brenda Woods is a touching, thought-provoking novel about growing up and facing the sometimes ugly truths that can exist in even the most placid of places.  It's a story about finding hidden depths, both in yourself and other people.  The tale, which features an interesting historical setting, likable characters, and tight prose, also teaches many valuable lessons about friendship, family, and forming one's own opinions in spite of what anyone else might think.  It's an enjoyable and important book that's easy to read, but difficult to forget.  

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a bit of Jericho Walls by Kristi Collier)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for violence and disturbing subject matter

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

Friday, April 19, 2019

Sluggish "Thriller" Not Really ... Thrilling

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Biologist Marian Engström has always been better with animals than humans, so it's no surprise when she finds her life's calling as a dog handler.  During training, she falls in love with charismatic Tate Mathias, who regals her with tales of his many adventures.  While he's not one to settle down, Marian hopes the two of them will have a bright, happy future together.  That dream shatters when 35-year-old Tate dies after being savagely mauled by a bear while on a job in Washington State.  

Stricken with grief, Marian ruminates on all her interactions with Tate, only now freeing some of the misgivings she had about her enigmatic boyfriend.  One of his stories, very vividly told, had him heroically discovering the body of a murdered woman.  With more killings happening since that one, Marian can't help but wonder, did Tate have more to do with the victim than just discovering her corpse?  Enlisting the help of a retired forensic profiler/psychologist, Marian vows to figure out just who Tate Mathias really was.  Was he simply an adventurer who enjoyed exaggerating his exploits for entertainment value?  Or was he a compulsive liar turned serial killer?  She will not rest until she knows the truth.

Although The Last Woman in the Forest by Diane Les Becquets is billed as a mystery/thriller, it really ... isn't.  It's more of a literary suspense novel, just without a whole lot of suspense.  The story unfolds very slowly, weighted down by lengthy descriptions of nature and dog handling.  It's a character-driven novel for sure; the plot only really only gets "thrilling" toward the end.  As you can imagine, this makes for a sluggish read that gets dull at times.  Overall, I found the book compelling enough to finish, but also easy to put down.  For all these reasons, The Last Woman in the Forest turned out to be just an okay read for me.  

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


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

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

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of The Last Woman in the Forest from the generous folks at Penguin Random House via those at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

Thursday, April 18, 2019

An Artless Demise Newest Installment in an Intriguing Historical Mystery Series

Back in 2017, Lark mentioned her love of the Lady Darby mystery series by Anna Lee Huber.  She always gives out great recommendations, so I immediately bought a copy of The Anatomist's Wife, the series opener.  I enjoyed the book immensely and proceeded to read Mortal Arts.  Although I've got copies of the next five books in the series, I have not had a chance to read them yet.  So, unfortunately, I can't post a review of the newest Lady Darby novel, An Artless Demise, as I was supposed to do today.  Instead, I'm going to hit you with a spotlight and encourage you to give this fun series a go.  If you like historical mysteries that are well-written, not too graphic, set in intriguing locales, and peopled by likable, interesting characters, this series is right up your alley.  Give it a try.  You will not be disappointed.

Before I give you the plot summary, be warned that there is a spoiler in the first line.  It's a fairly obvious one, but one all the same.  Just so you know.

An Artless Demise: 

Lady Darby returns to London with her new husband, Sebastian Gage, but newlywed bliss won't last for long when her past comes back to haunt her in the latest exciting installment in this national bestselling series.

November 1831. After fleeing London in infamy more than two years prior, Lady Kiera Darby's return to the city is anything but mundane, though not for the reasons she expected. A gang of body snatchers is arrested on suspicion of imitating the notorious misdeeds of Edinburgh criminals, Burke and Hare—killing people from the streets and selling their bodies to medical schools. Then Kiera's past—a past she thought she'd finally made peace with—rises up to haunt her. 

All of London is horrified by the evidence that "burkers" are, indeed, at work in their city. The terrified populace hovers on a knife's edge, ready to take their enmity out on any likely suspect. And when Kiera receives a letter of blackmail, threatening to divulge details about her late anatomist husband's involvement with the body snatchers and wrongfully implicate her, she begins to apprehend just how precarious her situation is. Not only for herself, but also her new husband and investigative partner, Sebastian Gage, and their unborn child. 

Meanwhile, the young scion of a noble family has been found murdered a block from his home, and the man's family wants Kiera and Gage to investigate. Is it a failed attempt by the London burkers, having left the body behind, or the crime of someone much closer to home? Someone who stalks the privileged, using the uproar over the burkers to cover his own dark deeds?

Purchase your copy of An Artless Demise here or wherever books are sold:

Barnes & Noble

Have any of you read the Lady Darby series?  What do you think?

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

A Cozy Mystery Featuring a Genealogist Uncovering Long-Buried Secrets? Count Me In!

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Lucy Lancaster loves her job as a professional genealogist.  Not only does digging into people's family histories keep her research skills sharp, but it also keeps her in tacos.  Especially when she's working for wealthy people like her newest client, Gus Holloran.  The Austin billionaire wants to know the real cause of his great-great grandfather's untimely death back in 1849.  He offers Lucy a large sum to solve the mystery.  Which she does.  Kind of.  She knows Great-Great Grandpa Halloran was murdered by someone with the initials "C.A."; however, she's got two suspects who could fit the bill.  When Lucy accidentally announces the identity of the murderer without having absolute proof, she sets more dastardly deeds in motion.  Soon, she's running from a killer who will do anything to keep the secrets of the past hidden away forever.  

Although I managed to keep the plot summary of Murder Once Removed—a debut novel and the first in the Ancestry Investigations mystery series by S.C. Perkins—to one paragraph, the story actually gets fairly complicated and confusing.  I found myself lost on more than one occasion just trying to keep track of who was who and what was what.  It's a wordy, overwritten tome as well, which drove me a little nuts, truth be told.  That being said, though, I enjoyed the book's fun Southern setting, quirky cast, and genealogy theme.  Although I saw a few of the tale's twists coming, I didn't guess the killer until the very end.  Overall, then, I enjoyed Murder Once Removed and will give the next installment a try.  I'm banking on the series getting better as it goes along.

(Readalikes:  Um, nothing's coming to mind.  You?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

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

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Murder Once Removed from the generous folks at St. Martin's Press in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Hopeful MG Novel Provides Boost for Kids With Messy Life Situations

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Everything in Kate Mitchell's life falls apart when her dad, who's suffering from severe depression, moves out.  The 11-year-old hasn't heard from him in months.  Before he took off, the family loved to make music together—Kate would sing while she and her father both played the guitar and her mother tickled the ivories.  Now, the music is gone.  Although Kate has tried to sing and strum, she just can't.  Not anymore.  

At least Kate has her BFF to help her through.  Now that Sofia is hanging out with another girl, though, Kate feels more alone than ever before.  Add to that the fact that her paternal grandma, whose dementia is getting worse every day, has moved in with Kate and her mom, and her life feels like it's spiraling way, way out of control.  When her grandma tries to help by spilling the secret of everyday magic, Kate is skeptical.  As she puts the principles into practice, however, amazing things do start to happen.  Can Kate hocus pocus her life back together?  Can she bring her dad and Sofia back?  Anything is possible with a sprinkle of everyday magic, right?  
The Three Rules of Everyday Magic, a debut novel by Amanda Rawson Hill, is a sweet, hopeful story about forgiveness, kindness, and finding one's inner strength.  The tale doesn't come to a neat, tidy end (spoiler alert!), which helps the book stay authentic.  Still, it's an empowering novel that will give children with difficult challenges and messy life situations a bit of a lift.  While its plot seems a little meandering and unfocused, overall I enjoyed The Three Rules of Everyday Magic.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of lots of novels, but no specific titles are coming to mind.  Help!)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for difficult subject matter (parental abandonment, depression, etc.)

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-copy of The Three Rules of Everyday Magic from the generous folks at Boyds Mills Press via those on The Whitney Awards Committee to facilitate contest judging.  Thank you!
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