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My Progress:

12 / 30 books. 40% done!

2024 Literary Escapes Challenge

- Alabama (1)
- Alaska
- Arizona (1)
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- California (3)
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- Australia (1)
- Canada (1)
- England (10)
- France (1)
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- Ireland (4)
- Italy (1)
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My Progress:

28 / 51 states. 55% done!

2024 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

My Progress:

24 / 50 books. 48% done!

2024 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge

23 / 50 books. 46% done!

Booklist Queen's 2024 Reading Challenge

My Progress:

48 / 50 books. 96% done!

2024 52 Club Reading Challenge

My Progress:

40 / 52 books. 77% done!

2024 Build Your Library Reading Challenge

My Progress:

27 / 40 books. 68% done!

2024 Pioneer Book Reading Challenge

15 / 40 books. 38% done!

2024 Craving for Cozies Reading Challenge

My Progress:

10 / 25 books. 40% done!

2024 Medical Examiner's Mystery Reading Challenge

2024 Mystery Marathon Reading Challenge

My Progress

12 / 26.2 miles. 46% done!

Mount TBR Reading Challenge

My Progress

26 / 100 books. 26% done!

2024 Pick Your Poison Reading Challenge

My Progress:

65 / 104 books. 63% done!

Around the Year in 52 Books Reading Challenge

My Progress

44 / 52 books. 85% done!

Disney Animated Movies Reading Challenge

My Progress

71 / 165 books. 43% done!
Friday, April 27, 2018

Exciting and Original, Alternate History Zombie Novel an Engrossing Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

The War Between the States was in full-swing when the country got the shock of its young life—its dead soldiers were not remaining dead.  They were rising up, hungry and rabid.  With shamblers turning everyone in their paths, war was derailed and desperate Americans had to learn to fight the growing zombie menace.  An enterprising government came up with a brilliant solution.  To create an army of monster-slayers, it passed the Native and Negro Reeducation Act, which required every Native and Negro child to attend combat school starting at 12 years old.  While certain cities have since been declared shambler-free, these "throwaway" children still have plenty of fighting to do in order to keep their betters from being bitten.

At 17, Jane McKeene is in her third year at Miss Preston's School of Combat for Negro Girls in Baltimore.  Despite being the daughter of one of the wealthiest white women in Haller County, Kentucky, Jane's mixed-race ethnicity destines her for a life of servitude.  Although her fondest desire is to return home to check on her family—from whom she has heard nothing—she's making the best of  her situation.  She's training to be an Attendant, a combination chaperone/bodyguard for rich white girls.  While such a career will hardly give her the freedom she craves, it beats harvesting cotton or slaving away in a hot kitchen.  Besides, she's a skilled fighter.  If she can just manage to keep her mouth shut and her manners in check long enough, a secure future will be hers.

When local families start to vanish, Jane's skeptical of the official "shambler attack" explanation.  Something else is going on, something much more disturbing.  Not one for leaving well enough alone, she launches her own investigation into the strange disappearances.  Before she knows it, she's embroiled in a plan more sinister than she ever could have imagined.  With her bright future, not to mention her very life, on the line, she has to escape and find her way back to Kentucky.  The shamblers aren't the only monsters Jane encounters as she fights for survival in a grim, violent world that considers her—and others like her—very much expendable.

I've been dying to read Dread Nation, a debut novel by Justina Ireland, ever since I heard about it.  I was thrilled, then, when I won a copy of it from YA author Mindy McGinnis (if you like book giveaways, you have to check out her blog).  The story gripped me from the very first page with its intriguing blend of horror, adventure, alternate history, and humor.  Jane's impossible not to like.  She's tough and sassy, but also compassionate and loyal.  It's easy to root for her as she struggles to make her way in a grisly world where her life is valued only for its sacrificial power.  With plenty of action to keep readers turning pages, Dread Nation is an entertaining novel so engrossing you almost don't recognize its allegorical nature.  Ireland definitely has some messages—about race, about individual worth, about the value of all life—that she's trying to get across.  And she succeeds without breaking the story's stride in the least.  In short, I loved this book.  I can't wait to see what happens next to the intrepid Jane McKeene.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of the Ashes trilogy [Ashes; Shadows; Monsters] by Ilsa J. Bick)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (no F-bombs), blood/gore, violence, and sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I won an ARC of Dread Nation from the always generous Mindy McGinnis.  Thank you!
Wednesday, April 25, 2018

New Picture Book Encourages Slumber-y Send-offs With Silly Kisses

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Accepting a book for review is always a risk.  What if the writing is cringe-worthy?  What if you detest the book from start to finish?  What if you hate to post a "bad" review, but can't in good conscience give it a positive one?  What if the author responds to your forthright evaluation by sending you a furious email insulting your intelligence, your writing ability, and your very existence on Earth just because you said her newest book wasn't her best (not that this has EVER happened to me—hee hee)?  

You know what poses an even bigger risk?  Accepting a book for review that is written by not just someone you know, but also someone you like and respect.  I have (no joke) lost friends/blog followers because of something I've written about their precious books 😒, even after they assured me they wanted my honest, unbiased opinion!  It's a relief, then, when I get the privilege of posting a favorable review of a book penned by a friend of mine.

Such is the case with Walrus Kisses Are Scratchy, an adorable picture book by Brent Weight, a man I've known since college.  With bright, colorful illustrations by Mar Fando, the story concerns a little girl who asks her daddy to kiss her goodnight.  In any other household, this would be a pretty straightforward request.  Not in hers!  As her dad runs through a list of different kisses (each of which is named after an animal and comes with a handy how-to graphic), the child waits and waits for her very favorite one.  Which will it be?  A starfish kiss?  A bunny kiss?  A (gulp!) spider kiss?  Which one will your child choose?
Based on the author's bedtime ritual with his four children, this fun, interactive read-aloud is sure to become a family favorite.  Its warm, playful tone sets just the right mood for bedtime.  Prepare yourself for smiles and giggles (some of which will be your own) as well as sweet hugs and silly kisses, all of which will help your little one drift off to sleep feeling secure and loved.  Of Walrus Kisses Are Scratchy, my 9-year-old daughter said, "I liked it 100%!"  You can't get a better review than that!


Walrus Kisses Are Scratchy represents Brent's first foray into the world of book writing and publishing.  Knowing how important reviews are to a book's success, he's very interested in working with bloggers to get the word out.  If you would like to review Walrus Kisses Are Scratchy, please contact Brent at

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Titular Gold in Southern Fiction

Today's Top Ten Tuesday is all about trends in book titles.  Remember the recent feminist uproar over popular mystery/thriller books using the term "girl" instead of "woman"?  That's what I'm talking about.  Titles are important and it's interesting to see how the trends change from year to year and vary from genre to genre.  The topic du jour, then, is Top Ten Most Frequently Used Words In [Insert Genre/Age Group] Titles

Before we get to my list, though, I encourage you to join in the fun.  Top Ten Tuesday really is the best time!  It's easy to participate—just hop on over to That Artsy Reader Girl, read a few guidelines, make your own list, then click around the book blogosphere and enjoy reading other people's lists.  It's a fantastic way to find new book blogs, give old favorites some love, and just enjoy chatting about our favorite subject.

Since I read so many mystery/thrillers, I started brainstorming a list for that genre.  With words like death, secrets, lies, kill, dark, etc. piling up, it quickly got too depressing!  So, I turned to a genre whose lighter nature is reflected in softer, more reflective titles that evoke memories of home, family, and summering by the seaside.  Without further ado, here's my list of Top Ten Most Frequently Used Words in Southern Fiction Titles:  

1.  Home/House—Southern novels are often about the draw of the land and how, in the end, it always lures its children home.  Think Falling Home and The House on Tradd Street, both by Karen White; Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe; A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash; Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler; etc.

2.  Sweet—Must be something in that most iconic of Southern beverages ... Think Sweet Tea Tuesdays by Ashley Farley; Sweetwater Creek by Anne Rivers Siddons; Secrets Over Sweet Tea by Denise Hildreth Jones; Sweet Unrest by Lisa Maxwell; The Sweetness of Honey by Alison Kent; etc.

3.  Girl—Think Welcome to the World, Baby Girl by Fannie Flagg; The Summer Girls by Mary Alice Monroe; The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen; The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg; etc.

4.  Glory—Southern pride being what it is, this one makes perfect sense.  Think The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder by Rebecca Wells; Glory Be by Augusta Scattergood; No Grits, No Glory by Elaine Calloway; etc. 

5.  Sister(s)—Think Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells; The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson; The Hurricane Sisters by Dorothea Benton Frank; Her Sister's Shoes by Ashley Farley; etc. 

6.  Beach/Tide/Island/Ocean/Sea—It's all about the sand and surf in the South, apparently!  Think The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy; Sea Change by Karen White; Folly Beach by Dorothea Benton Frank; The Beach House by Mary Alice Monroe; Up Island and Low Country by Anne Rivers Siddons; Beach Music by Pat Conroy; etc.

7.  Tree—I'm not sure what it is about trees in the South, but they appear to be titular gold.  Think Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns; The Beach Trees by Karen White; Peachtree Road by Anne Rivers Siddons; The Sweet Gum Tree by Katherine Allred; A Sound Among the Trees by Susan Meissner; etc.

8.  Garden—Think Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt; Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen; The Ladies of Garrison Gardens by Louise Shaffer; etc.

9.  Café—Everyone loves a warm, quirky café.  Think Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg; The Ballad of the Sad Café and Other Stories by Carson McCullers; The Second Chance Café by Alison Kent; The Calamity Café by Gayle Leeson; etc.

10.  South/Southern—Naturally.  Think South of Broad by Pat Conroy; The Widow of the South by Robert Hicks; Southern Comfort by Fern Michaels; Bound South by Susan Rebecca White; Five Miles South of Peculiar by Angela Hunt; etc.

I'm sure I've missed tons of great Southern novels.  Do you have any to add to my list?  What genre did you pick for today's list?  I'd love to know.  Leave me a comment and I will gladly return the favor.

Happy TTT!

Friday, April 20, 2018

Light Time Travel Romance Surprisingly Enjoyable

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Note:  Although this review will not contain spoilers for Outshine, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from earlier House of Oak novels.  Outshine may be read as a standalone, but I still recommend (as always) reading books in a series in order.

Despite the fact that he has chosen to live in the 1800s, there are definitely things Daniel Ashton misses about the 21st Century.  Right now, for instance, he'd do anything for access to a computer.  If only he had a laptop handy, he could solve the impossible mathematical conundrum he believes will fix the time machine at Duir Cottage.  With the contraption on the fritz, Daniel's unable to use it for his own desperate mission.  The health of a dear friend is also at risk.  Something must be done—and fast.  

At 32, Fossi Lovejoy has given up hoping for happily ever after.  Obsessed with mathematics, she's too odd, too awkward, to get on with anyone, even her own siblings.  Besides, as she well knows, "No person in England [is] more unmarriagable than a plain, aging, poor, clever woman."  Unappealing though she may be, Fossi refuses to play the shrinking violet, so when someone publishes one of her secret mathematical theorems she doesn't hesitate to confront him.  She's shocked when Lord Whitmoor (aka Daniel Ashton) not only admires her intellect, but also asks for her help.  When he makes her an offer she can't refuse, she doesn't.  Although Fossi isn't sure exactly what she's doing for Lord Whitmoor, she's intrigued by the process.  And by the man himself. 

As Fossi attempts to solve a puzzling mathematics problem, she's forced to confront an even more tangled dilemma—the state of her fragile heart.  Has she really found the love of her midlife or is Daniel just using her for her math skills?  Can she find the answers he's seeking and what will it mean if she does?  If Daniel returns to the future, where will that leave Fossi?  As one of the most brilliant women alive, she should have been smart enough not to fall in love ...

After finding Nichole Van's Brothers Maledetti series too tedious to be enjoyable, I wasn't keen on reading another book by the author.  Imagine my surprise, then, when I found myself totally engaged in Outshine.  The characters sparkle, the setting feels authentic, and the story line doesn't drag at all.  While there's nothing super original about the novel, it still makes for an absorbing, engrossing read.  Although Outshine is the fifth book in the House of Oak series, I didn't feel adrift in the tale.  Overall, then, I liked it quite a lot.  I'm not planning to read the previous books, but I've heard they're actually better than this one, so if you're into light, upbeat time travel romance novels, give these a go.  The other books in the series are likely to be just as fun as this one, if not more so.

(Readalikes:  Other books in the House of Oak series by Nichole Van, including Intertwine; Divine; Clandestine; and Refine


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, and vague references to prostitution

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-copy of Outshine from the generous folks at Fiorenza Publishing via those at The Whitney Awards.  Thank you!
Monday, April 16, 2018

Short and Satisfying, Jennifer Moore's Newest Another An Enjoyable Read (With a Giveaway!)

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

With her father and brothers away at war, it's up to Abigail Tidwell to tend to the family's isolated homestead.  Although she's more than capable of doing that and using the skills she's learned under her father's tutelage to help with doctoring needs in her small Ontario town, that doesn't mean she can't grumble about it.  Those cursed Americans.  If it weren't for them, peace would reign and life in Canada would return to blessed normality. 

As if conjured by her curses, Abigail discovers a U.S. soldier unconscious in her barn.  With an arrow stuck in his side, the bloodied man surely won't last the night.  As angry as she feels toward the Americans, Abigail knows she can't let him die.  She's a healer first.  If she manages to save the enemy soldier, then she'll do her civic duty and turn him in at nearby Fort Malden.

When Captain Emmett Prescott wakes up in a stranger's barn, he's shocked to find himself in the care of a beautiful woman doctor.  As much as he's drawn to her, however, he needs to escape and track down his men.  When he's informed that the youngest of his men is gravely ill and on the run, Emmett will do whatever it takes to save all of their lives—including forcing an enemy doctor to help.  

On opposite sides of a senseless, brutal war, both Abigail and Emmett will have to rely on the enemy if they have any hope of surviving.  

I always like Jennifer Moore's quick, entertaining historical romances and her newest, My Dearest Enemy, is no exception.  Since I've never read a book set during the War of 1812, the unique setting immediately drew me into the story.  The characters are less original, but they're sympathetic and likable, which made me root for their success and happiness.  Plot wise, the tale moves along at a clip with very little wasted action, ensuring the reader will want to keep turning pages.  At just under 200 pages, My Dearest Enemy is a fast, easy read that's clean, entertaining, and satisfying.  It's not terribly memorable or amazing, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.  

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other books by Jennifer Moore.  Also of historical romances by Sarah Eden and Josi Kilpack.)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for violence, blood/gore, and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of My Dearest Enemy from the generous folks at Covenant.  Thank you!

Would you like more opinions on My Dearest Enemy?  Click on the links below to follow along on the book's blog tour:

Would you like a copy of My Dearest Enemy for your very own?  How about a $25 Amazon gift card?  Use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter to win both:

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Friday, April 13, 2018

Despite Appealing Vibe, LDS Rom-Com Fizzles

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Svetlana "Lana" Huish can't wait to spend the summer on Nantucket Island painting under the indulgent eyes of two of the most influential art patrons in the world.  Being selected to participate in their exclusive mentoring program is a great honor and an unparalleled opportunity to make a name for herself as an artist.  More than one successful career has been launched because of the program—the 22-year-old Yale grad wants hers to be one of them.  

Upon arrival in Nantucket, Lana's shocked to discover she won't be studying on the East Coast at all.  Instead, she finds herself in the tiny backwoods town of Bluegill, Idaho, where she'll spend six weeks being tutored by an elderly cowboy who specializes in Western art.  Although Lana is immediately attracted to Walt, LeVan Hitchpost's handsome grandson, she's a little worried about the artist himself.  It's clear LeVan is in the early stages of Alzheimer's.  If her mentor can barely remember his own name, how is he supposed to teach her all he knows about art?  
Despite her initial misgivings, Lana soon becomes charmed by LeVan, a mischievous old man whose mind is a lot sharper than he lets on.  She's also completely smitten with Walt.  Although the two appear to have little in common, Lana's drawn to the compassionate, hard-working farmer.  He might not return her feelings, but she can't seem to control hers.  As Lana tries to attract Walt's attention and works feverishly to help an ailing LeVan finish the masterpiece he's frantically trying to complete before Alzheimer's steals the rest of his mind, tension boils over in out-of-the-way Bluegill, Idaho.  The tranquil summer Lana had envisioned has suddenly become anything but ...

Even though its premise is more than a little far-fetched, Brush With Love by Lisa McKendrick is a fun, captivating New Adult romance.  Not only did I enjoy its rustic setting, but I liked the novel's upbeat voice and style.  Yes, the story feels more YA than NA, but its bubbly, buoyant rom-com vibe definitely appeals.  The characters are similarly likable, although LeVan's duplicitous actions seem cruel and inconsistent with his general nature.  Plot is not this novel's strength as the story line meanders here, there, and everywhere, trying to cover too much territory, and getting more improbable as it chugs along.  Chapter 23, in particular, threw me completely.  It's so abrupt and unemotional and cheesy that I read it over a few times thinking it had to be a dream sequence!  It isn't.  Honestly, I couldn't feel any chemistry between Lana and Walt, so their romance seems insta-lovey and melodramatic.  To top it all off, my copy of Brush With Love (which might possibly be an advanced reader version?) is chock-full of typos and other copy editing errors.  In the end, then, I came away from this novel disappointed.  The book has tons of potential; it just feels to me like this a draft of a novel, not the polished, complete story it should be.

(Readalikes:  The style reminds me of LDS rom-com novels by Melanie Jacobson, Jenny Proctor, and Julie Wright)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for (non-graphic) references to sex and mild innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-copy of Brush With Love from the generous folks at Bonneville Books via those on The Whitney Awards Committee.  Thank you!
Thursday, April 12, 2018

Worth A Quick, Empowering Read (With a Giveaway!)

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

For every little (or not so little) girl who's ever dreamed of being a princess, rest assured—you already are one.  You're the daughter of a heavenly king—the most supreme being of all—and have been since before you were even born.  No matter what your earthly station, no matter what your difficulties or challenges may be, no matter what others might tell you, you are of divine and royal birth.  Nothing will ever change that.  If that's not enough to convince you how much you matter, consider this:  the Savior of the world died on the cross for you because you are worth it.  Don't ever forget that glorious and empowering truth!

In a world where we're bombarded every day with images of airbrushed beauty and Instagram-staged perfection, it's easy for women to feel degraded, depressed, and discouraged.  In an effort to buoy them up, Wendy Ellison penned her first book, Worth.  As the subtitle suggests, the volume discusses individual worth with a special focus on how remembering our divine beginnings can help us find contentment, fulfillment, and purpose, which will lead us to the promised happy endings.  Using scriptural examples, quotes from LDS leaders, and personal anecdotes, Ellison expounds on these topics and recommends ways to remind ourselves daily of our personal worth.

Although the book is specifically directed at adult LDS women, it teaches powerful lessons that apply to everyone—male or female, teen or adult, Mormon or non.  If you're a member of the Church, you won't find anything new or earth-shattering here, but Worth is still an inspiring read that will boost the morale of any woman.  At just over 100 pages, it's a quick, uplifting book perfect for Sabbath (or any time) reading. I enjoyed it.

(Readalikes:  I don't read a lot of inspirational/religious non-fiction, so I'm not sure.  Suggestions?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Worth from the generous folks at Covenant.  Thank you!


Would you like more opinions about Worth?  Follow along on the book's blog tour by visiting the following sites:

Would you like a chance to win a copy of Worth for your very own?  How about a $25 Amazon gift card to go along with it?  Use the Rafflecopter below to enter the giveaway:

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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Cute Contemporary Romance Too Meh For Me

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

As a raving Jane Austen fan with a major crush on Mr. Darcy, 26-year-old Emma Pierce can't wait to fall into the kind of swoony romance she finds between the covers of her favorite novels.  Handsome and wealthy, her current beau certainly seems like a straight-out-of Austen hero—until he betrays her with a pretty co-worker.  Realizing that real-life love simply can't compare to the fictional kind, Emma swears off romance altogether.  Clearly, Jane Austen (who never married, by the by) hasn't the faintest idea what she's talking about. 

Already a workaholic, Emma throws herself even more passionately into her job as the CMO of an up-and-coming gym company.  When a consultant is brought on to help with scouting new locations, Emma's shocked to find herself partnered with Lucas Hampton, her ex-boyfriend's younger brother.  Assuming Lucas to be as slimy as his sibling, she vows to keep her distance.  It's not long, however, before she realizes one brother is not like the other—in fact, Lucas just happens to possess every fine quality a leading Austen man should.  Hints of a troubled past aside, he might be the key to the Happily Ever After for which Emma's been searching.  But if he's the man of her dreams, why is he trying so hard to help Emma and his brother get back together?  As any Jane Austen groupie knows, love is never straightforward ...

As you can tell from its adorable cover and bubbly premise, Lies Jane Austen Told Me by Julie Wright is a cute contemporary romance.  Not only is the novel clean, but it's also upbeat and lighthearted (although it does touch on some heavy topics).  With its predictably happy ending, it's the kind of diversionary love story romance readers will probably dig.  So, why didn't it work all that well for me?  The characters aren't my favorite.  Both brothers seem cliché and personality-less, while Emma's just victim-y and annoying.  Although she has admirable qualities, they seem tacked-on, like the author is trying too hard to make her seem likable.  The story also gets tedious and saggy in the middle, with tell-y prose and contrived plot devices.  Overall, then, I didn't love Lies Jane Austen Told Me.  I really wanted to, but for the most part I'm pretty meh about this one.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of My Ridiculous, Romantic Obsessions by Becca Wilhite)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for disturbing subject matter and mild innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-copy of Lies Jane Austen Told Me for judging purposes from the generous folks at Shadow Mountain Publishing via those at The Whitney Awards.  Thank you! 

Friday, April 06, 2018

Twisty Psychological Thriller Asks What is Real?

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

As a war reporter with a finely-honed sense of danger, Kate Rafter knows something sinister is going on in the house next door.  Having just arrived back in England after a harrowing stint in Iraq, the 39-year-old is in Herne Bay to settle the estate of her recently deceased mother.  The last thing she expects is to find herself entangled in someone else's domestic drama, but when she meets the woman next door—an Iraqi refugee, who's obviously terrified of something—Kate's Spidey senses start to tingle.  Although Fida Rahmani insists she's not being abused by her husband, Kate doesn't believe her.  When she hears a child crying in the night and sees a young boy lurking in her mother's garden, she becomes even more convinced that Fida—who claims to have no children—is lying.  Kate has spent her life fighting injustice all over the world; why won't her neighbor accept her help?

No matter how much Kate tries to convince people Fida is in danger, no one will believe her.  They insist the little boy is a figment of Kate's imagination, a hallucination brought on by a horrific tragedy she witnessed in Syria.  Despite the medication she's taking to keep them at bay, the effects of her PTSD have become overwhelming and debilitating.  Still, Kate knows what she's seen is real.  It has to be.  Doesn't it?  Because if she's making it all up, then she's done.  Her career will be over and what will she have left?  An empty life of loneliness and pain, with an alcoholic sister who hates her and tainted memories of the mother she thought to be a saint.  If that's all that remains then Kate really will go crazy.  To prove she's not insane, the intrepid reporter will have to dig for the truth, a truth which may only exist inside her war-ravaged mind ...

Ever since I heard about My Sister's Bones, a debut novel by Nuala Ellwood, I've been dying to read it.  I dig stories that keep me off-balance, constantly wondering what is real and what is not.  This twisty psychological thriller fits the bill for sure.  Eerie and engrossing, it's one of those books that you just can't stop reading.  Not only is the plot taut and tense, but Ellwood's depiction of a war reporter suffering from PTSD (which is inspired by her father's experiences) remains both fascinating and heartbreaking.  The twist at the novel's end blindsided me completely, taking an unexpected turn which left me feeling even more shook.  Although My Sister's Bones gets dark and disturbing, I found it to be can't-look-away compelling.  I didn't absolutely love it, but I liked it enough to be eager for more from Ellwood.  I'll definitely be interested to see what this intriguing new author does next.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn and The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

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

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of My Sister's Bones from Target with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.
Thursday, April 05, 2018

Atmospheric Cozy Entertains Without Making You Blush or Giving You Nightmares

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

With a decade of professional pastry-making experience and a shattered heart under her belt (apron?), Juliet "Jules" Capshaw is coming home to regroup.  Not sure where to go from here, she returns to the one place that has always nurtured her soul—her family's bakery.  Run by her mother, Torte is a warm, cozy shop where folks in Ashland, Oregon, can always find a welcoming smile, a listening ear, and delectable, homemade treats that fill more than just their empty stomachs.  Being inside its walls, baking alongside her mother, is already helping to heal Jules' hurts.

Although Jules is trying to keep her personal drama on the down low, Ashland's filled to the brim with theater types preparing for the annual Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  Needless to say, smoke from a nearby wildfire isn't the only thing tainting the air.  When Nancy Hudson—a wealthy snob who's made enemies all over town—is killed after a late-night meeting at Torte, the Capshaws are shocked and concerned, especially when it appears her murderer might be lurking a little too close to home.  While police interview suspects, Jules launches her own clandestine investigation.  In the midst of trying to catch a killer, she's also attempting to sort out the tangled feelings clogging up her heart and to convince her mother to spill the troubling secret she's obviously hiding.  If she was hoping to chillax, Jules has another think coming ...

After enjoying Death on Tap, the first installment in Ellie Alexander's newest cozy mystery series, I wanted to read more by the author.  Her Bakeshop Mysteries looked fun, so I grabbed Meet Your Baker from the library.  As with Death on Tap, my favorite part of this novel is its atmospheric setting.  Although I grew up in the PNW, I've never been to Ashland, which Alexander skillfully brings to life in Meet Your Baker.  I also loved Torte—I could feel the warmth of the place as well as that between Jules and her mother.  As far as the characters and the mystery at the book's center ... they're engaging enough, but nothing super special.  Still, I liked this cozy more than most, so I definitely plan to continue with the series (in fact, I have the next two books on hold at the library).  If you're looking for a light, entertaining mystery that won't make you blush or give you nightmares, be sure to give this one a go.   

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Death on Tap by Ellie Alexander as well as other books in her Bakeshop Mystery series, including A Batter of Life and Death; On Thin Icing; Caught Bread Handed; Fudge and Jury; A Crime of Passion Fruit; Another One Bites the Crust; and Till Death Do Us Tart)


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:  Another library fine find
Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Intriguing Setting/Premise Just Not Enough in Caribbean Tale

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Tourists flock to Furnace Island, a small slice of Caribbean paradise, to soak in the sun and surf.  While they appreciate a little local color on their beach vacations, visitors prefer the dark faces of those waiting on them to be rarely seen, their voices never heard.  As a maid at the island's sparkling resort, Myrna Burre depends on the foreigners for her livelihood but resents them all the same.  They have no clue that her home's real name is Cruffey Island and that it was named for a plantation owner who used slave labor to work his land.  Not only are all the island's current residents descendants of those slaves, but the fancy resort where many of them now work is built atop the remains of the plantation that broke their ancestors' backs.  

Obsessed with the island's haunted past, Myrna spends her spare time secretly excavating the plantation ruins.  If she's found trespassing on private resort property, she could lose her much needed job.  She persists nevertheless.  When a wealthy African-American guest offers new information about Cruffey Island's past, Myrna becomes even more fixated on the plantation.  Fueled by mounting tensions between the resort's management and its local workers, she finds herself at the center of a conflict which will boil over with surprising consequences.
Fingerprints of Previous Owners, a debut novel by Rebecca Entel, offers a story about duality, racism, worth, and identity, enhanced by strong imagery.  While I appreciate the author's careful exploration of her themes, I had a difficult time engaging with the tale itself.  The characters are bland, the prose is uneven (choppy, fragmented sentences but long, dense paragraphs/chapters), and the plot meanders here, there, and everywhere.  In short, the book's boring.  Although the action picks up toward the end, not much happens throughout the rest of the story.  The only reason I ventured beyond the first couple pages of Fingerprints of Previous Owners is because I had promised to review it.  Otherwise, I wouldn't have bothered.  I still find the idea/symbolism of a hoity toity American resort built on top of a ruined slave plantation intriguing; I just wish this novel's execution had been better handled.  Oh well.

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


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

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

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Fingerprints of Previous Owners from the generous folks at Unnamed Press via those at TLC Book Tours.  Thank you!
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