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My Progress:

12 / 30 books. 40% done!

2024 Literary Escapes Challenge

- Alabama (1)
- Alaska
- Arizona (1)
- Arkansas
- California (3)
- Colorado (1)
- Connecticut
- Delaware
- Florida
- Georgia (1)
- Hawaii
- Idaho (2)
- Illinois (2)
- Indiana
- Iowa
- Kansas
- Kentucky (1)
- Louisiana (1)
- Maine (1)
- Maryland
- Massachusetts (2)
- Michigan
- Minnesota
- Mississippi
- Missouri
- Montana
- Nebraska (1)
- Nevada (1)
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York (4)
- North Carolina (4)
- North Dakota
- Ohio (1)
- Oklahoma (1)
- Oregon (2)
- Pennsylvania (1)
- Rhode Island (1)
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- Tennessee (1)
- Texas (3)
- Utah
- Vermont (2)
- Virginia (1)
- Washington (2)
- West Virginia
- Wisconsin (1)
- Wyoming
- Washington, D.C.* (1)

- Australia (1)
- Canada (1)
- England (10)
- France (1)
- Indonesia (1)
- Ireland (4)
- Italy (1)
- Scotland (2)
- The Netherlands (1)

My Progress:

27 / 51 states. 53% done!

2024 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

My Progress:

22 / 50 books. 44% 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:

39 / 52 books. 75% done!

2024 Build Your Library Reading Challenge

My Progress:

26 / 40 books. 65% 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

25 / 100 books. 25% done!

2024 Pick Your Poison Reading Challenge

My Progress:

63 / 104 books. 61% done!

Around the Year in 52 Books Reading Challenge

My Progress

43 / 52 books. 83% done!

Disney Animated Movies Reading Challenge

My Progress

68 / 165 books. 41% done!
Saturday, February 03, 2018

Gold Seer Ender Offers a Smashing, Satisfying Finale to a Favorite Series

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Into the Bright Unknown, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from previous novels in the Gold Seer trilogy.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.

Ever since she fled her home in Georgia, life has been one big adventure for Leah "Lee" Westfall.  The 16-year-old has survived innumerable threats, accumulated more wealth than she could ever have imagined, and found a happy home among friends who feel more like family.  Now that Glory has become a more established town, Lee's ready to settle down to a simple life with her childhood best friend and husband-to-be, Jefferson Kingfisher, by her side.  Despite all the hardships she's been through, she's more content than she's ever been. 

Of course, peace can never last in the Wild West.  The riches Lee and her friends have made have attracted the attention of a greedy, unscrupulous billionaire.  While the group from Glory is in San Francisco, he keeps a sharp, suspicious eye on Lee, making her fear that he knows her secret.  With a mysterious companion whose uncanny abilities feel very familiar, James Henry Hardwick may be an even more sinister foe than Uncle Hiram.  Several of Lee's friends have troubles of their own in The Golden City.  Can the merry band survive their woes and make it back to Glory in one piece?  After more trials and tribulations than any person should ever have to encounter, will Lee finally get her happily ever after?

It's no secret that I adore the Gold Seer books by Rae Carson.  They're clean, exciting, well-crafted, and just all kinds of enjoyable.  Into the Bright Unknown, the final installment in the trilogy, is no exception.  It wraps up the series with a smashing, satisfying conclusion.  My only complaint with it is that I'm now forced to say goodbye to these characters whom I've come to love so much.  It's been a delightful ride and I cannot wait to see what Rae Carson does next.  


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, scenes of peril, mild sexual innuendo, and brief, non-graphic references to prostitution and rape

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find 

Sad, Sweeping Alaska Family Drama a Gripping Tour-de-Force

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Leni Allbright has never really known a normal life.  At 13, she lives a transient, poverty-stricken existence with her parents, whose volatile marriage has only gotten more violent.  Her father, Ernt, suffers from PTSD thanks to his recent stint in the Vietnam War.  Tormented by paranoia and anxiety, he can't hold a job, which only makes him more mercurial.  Despite escalating abuse from Ernt, Cora Allbright refuses to leave the husband she loves, even if he's no longer the man she married.  Caught in the middle, Leni can only hide herself in books and pray for better days.

When Ernt receives a letter informing him that he's inherited a cabin in Alaska from a dead war buddy, he makes the impulsive decision to move ASAP.  Both Leni and Cora are leery, but hopeful the change of scenery will soothe Ernt's troubled soul.  When the Allbrights reach Kaneq, a remote town accessible only by boat (except at low tide when it's completely cut off), the women begin to understand just how woefully unprepared they are for homesteading in the middle of nowhere.  Despite the help they receive from the ragtag bunch who populate Kaneq, Leni's anxiety continues to grow.  As winter comes on with its dark, endless days and brutal, isolating weather, what will happen to Ernt's already erratic moods?  Cora wears the evidence of his rage all over her body—how much more can she stand?  When the changing whims of the Alaskan wilderness become less dangerous than the perils within her own home, Leni knows only she has the power to save herself and her disintegrating family.  Is she strong enough to survive in a place so inhospitable that only the toughest—or craziest—people have the audacity to live there?  She's about to find out.

One of my favorite WWII novels is Kristin Hannah's 2015 best-seller The Nightingale.  That epic tale swept me away and I've been waiting with bated breath for its author to give a repeat performance as brilliant.  Although her newest, The Great Alone (available February 6, 2018), differs from The Nightingale in time, place, and theme, it's just as sweeping, just as engrossing, just as impacting.  Atmospheric and haunting, this is a sad but beautiful book about resiliency and redemption.  I loved everything about it.  

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

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

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

Magical Prequel Compelling Enough

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"...whoever they were, whatever their history might be ... They were not like anyone else" (13).

For centuries, the Owens Family has lived under a curse that taints their lives and, especially, their loves.  By leaving behind the witchery that has earned her family its dubious reputation, Susanna hopes to live a normal life.  After a modeling career in Paris, she marries a psychiatrist and bears three children: Franny, Jet, and Vincent.  It's obvious from the get-go that the kids are more Owens than anything else.  Franny can commune with birds, Jet can read minds, and Vincent can see the future.  Desperate to keep her family's secrets, Susanna admonishes the children to avoid magic at all costs.  

When the children are summoned to the Owens' ancestral home in Massachusetts, Susanna knows her efforts have been in vain.  Under the tutelage of Aunt Isabelle, the kids begin to uncover the secret of who they really are and why they can do the remarkable things they do.  With that knowledge, the three must learn how to cope with their unique gifts in a world that can't understand them.

Back in the Dark Ages before this blog was even a twinkle in my eye, I remember enjoying Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman both as a novel and as a film.  When I heard the author was publishing a prequel, I snatched it right up.  The Rules of Magic isn't quite as charming as I thought it would be (actually, it's super depressing), but it's still mostly enjoyable.  The characters are complex and interesting, though not always likable.  While there's not a ton of plot going on in the novel, it's compelling.  Overall, then, I liked The Rules of Magic, didn't love it.

(Readalikes:  Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman)


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:  Another library fine find

Little House in the Big Woods a Happy, Nostalgic Re-Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Like legions of girls, I became a rabid Little House on the Prairie fan as a child.  I devoured the books, inhaled the television series, and spent hours imagining what it would be like to live Laura's seemingly-charmed life.  Although I've been meaning to revisit the books as an adult, it's taken me a long time to do it.  I finally picked up Little House in the Big Woods a few months ago and enjoyed the nostalgic re-read.

If you've been living under a rock and you don't already know, Little House in the Big Woods is the first book in Laura Ingalls Wilder's autobiographical series about growing up in Wisconsin during the late 1800s.  Full of fascinating details about homesteading and life on the prairie, the novel doesn't have much of a plot.  It's very episodic, highlighting the Ingalls' experiences with inclement weather, wildlife, farming, family, and eking out a life in the wilds of Middle America.  Overall, it paints a fairly cozy, romantic picture of life in that place and period.  

While I didn't find Little House in the Big Woods quite as engrossing as I did as a child, I still enjoyed it.  There's a reason it's a classic, a reason it's stood the test of time, and that's because it's really very charming.  I still love the story (plot-less, though it may be) and am excited to continue re-reading the series.

(Readalikes:  other books in the series, including Little House on the Prairie; Farmer Boy; On the Banks of Plum Creek; By the Shores of Silver Lake; The Long Winter; Little Town on the Prairie; These Happy Golden Years; and The First Four Years)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for some scary images

To the FTC, with love:  This is a selection from my personal library.

Depressing Family Drama Rich in Discussion-Worthy Topics

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Like Shaker Heights—the Ohio community in which she resides—Elena Richardson has structured her life with master-planned precision and care.  Predictably, she's now living the dream as a suburban housewife with a luxurious home, a successful husband, and four (almost) picture-perfect children.  Her part-time job as a reporter for the second-best newspaper in Shaker Heights gives her something to do with her spare hours, while charity work helps her feel altruistic and superior.  Elena craves order, plays by the rules, and expects everyone else in her affluent community to do the same.

The arrival of Mia Warren, a 36-year-old artist and single mother of 15-year-old Pearl, shakes up the neighborhood almost immediately.  Elena takes in the impulsive, free-spirited nomad, allowing her to live in the Richardsons' rental home.  She even hires Mia as a housekeeper, a job Mia accepts mostly so she can keep an eye on Pearl, who's drawn both to the structure and tidiness of the Richardson home and to Elena's charming teenage son Trip.  Unpredictable Izzy Richardson is the opposite.  She prefers to hang out in the casual, laid-back atmosphere of the Warrens' apartment.  As the lives of the children become more and more enmeshed, a troubling disquiet creeps over Elena's well-ordered life.

Things come to a head when a Shaker Heights couple, long-time friends of the Richardsons, adopt a Chinese baby.  The birth mother, a poor, desperate friend of Mia's, is fighting to get her child back.  As the situation escalates and people choose sides in the ensuing conflict, Elena watches her family, her community, and the shiny veneer on her seemingly perfect life crumble in shocking ways.  As Elena soon learns, behind the doors in her gleaming, privileged community—even in her own idyllic home—there are little fires burning everywhere.

Little Fires Everywhere, a sophomore novel by Celeste Ng, offers a sharp examination of some big issues—classism, racism, transracial adoption, privilege, entitlement, and what it means to be a good parent.  Book clubs will likely drool over its discussion-rich possibilities.  I've seen a plethora of rave reviews for Ng's second bestseller, but once again, I find myself a bit underwhelmed by her work.  Yes, Little Fires Everywhere offers up some interesting observations, but it's also peopled with a cast of unlikable characters and burdened with a plot that creeps along very slowly and comes to, what I feel, is a deeply unsatisfying conclusion.  Overall, the novel is just dreary and depressing.  Compelling, yes, but not a read I think of as overly engrossing or laudable.  For me, the book is just okay.  I felt the same way about Everything I Never Told You, so maybe Ng just isn't an author with whom I click.  Oh well.


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (a half dozen or so F-bombs, plus milder expletives), sexual content, and depictions of illegal drug use and underage drinking

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

Middle Grade Memoir Engaging and Empowering

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Good friends are tough to find.  Shannon learns this lesson the hard way when Adrienne, her longtime BFF, decides to hang out with Jen, the most popular girl in school.  Jen is the leader of The Group, an exclusive clique to which only the coolest, most well-liked girls belong.  Some will do anything to be part of The Group, even if it means being mean to others.  Shannon wants in, but is it really worth it if she has to do things she doesn't want to do?  If she doesn't impress Jen and Co., who will be her friend?  She doesn't want to be alone, but it's a pain pretending to be someone she's not.  Will she and Adrienne work things out?  Or is Shannon destined to be the loneliest little girl in the world?
Graphic novels are all the rage at my daughter's elementary school, with Raina Telgemeier being the reigning author-queen.  In the wake of her bestselling graphic memoirs, others have turned their stories—both real and fictional—into compelling, kid-pleasing illustrated books.  Real Friends by Shannon Hale and illustrated by LeUyen Pham, tells a true (although fictionalized when needed to fill in the memory gaps) story that will resonate with anyone who's ever felt alone.  All kids will relate to her desire to fit in and find acceptance.  Not only is the book dynamic with engaging, eye-catching illustrations, but it teaches important lessons about kindness, inclusion, and choosing friends who appreciate you for you.  A clean, endearing read, Real Friends is an excellent book to hand to young readers, especially those who might be struggling in the same way Hale did.  Authentic and empowering, I can't recommend this one highly enough.  I loved it.

(Readalikes:  similar to books by Raina Tegelmeier)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for violence and mild bathroom humor

To the FTC, with love:  I borrowed a copy of Real Friends from my daughter's elementary school library as part of my volunteer work with the school's reading program.

Classic Christie Mystery a Liked-It-Didn't-Love-It Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"Lies—and again lies—it amazes me, the amount of lies we had told to us this morning" (231).

By now, everyone probably knows the plot to Murder on the Orient Express, one of Agatha Christie's classic mysteries.  It's so simple, though, that I'll give you a refresher:

In the middle of a cold, winter's night, the Orient Express is forced to halt in its tracks because of a snowdrift in its path.  The train is full, with a variety of people from a number of different countries on board.  By morning, one of them—an American man named Mr. Ratchett—is dead.  He's been stabbed to death in his sleeping compartment, which was locked from within.  Although a window has been left open, that's the only apparent clue to the mystery.  Hercule Poirot, the famed Belgian detective, happens to be on the train and immediately begins an investigation.  As he interviews each person on the Orient Express, he comes up with more than one solution to the puzzling murder.  

Although Murder on the Orient Express is actually the tenth Poirot mystery, it's the only one I've read.  In fact, I've read only one other Christie novel—And Then There Were None—and that was a long time ago.  So, in a way, this is kind of my first introduction to her work.  For being such a reputed writer, I found her prose more business-like than beautiful.  It's very spare, very efficient.  She doesn't waste time on unnecessary details.  Because of this, I had a hard time keeping track of all the characters.  They tended to blend together.  Plot-wise, the novel takes some turns I didn't expect (as well as some I did).  Overall, it's an entertaining story that I liked, didn't love.  I've yet to see the film, but I'll definitely be interested to see how Hollywood's newest interpretation of the book plays out.

(Readalikes:  Probably other books by Christie?)


If this were a movie (and it is—several times over), it would be rated:

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

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Murder on the Orient Express from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Salty Fahrenheit 451 Unexpected and Entertaining

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Books about books never fail to get my attention.  Some are better than others, of course, but the subject of books/reading always appeals.  Naturally, then, I had to check out Dear Fahrenheit 451 by librarian Annie Spence.  The subtitle explains that the volume contains "A Librarian's Love Letters and Break-Up Notes to the Books in her Life."  It doesn't mention that these notes come with a big ole side of sass and snark.  This makes them funny and entertaining, but a lot saltier than I expected.  Spence loves an F-bomb, sprinkling them and other profanity very liberally in her letters.  For me, this takes away from the book and makes me a whole lot less likely to recommend it to friends.  Fahrenheit 451 is still an enjoyable ode to books, libraries, and reading—it's just not quite what I expected.

It's easy to connect with a fellow reader like Spence.  Many of her observations ring true to me, and I love all the terms she coins—"read rage" and "Bookdigger" being my favorite.  I also adore the lists at the back of the book.  In fact, I wish the whole book consisted of lists instead of letters.  Really, how can you resist lists titled "Excuses to Tell Your Friends So You Can Stay Home and Read" and "Books for the Lazy, the Lively, the Long-Winded, and the Lethargic."  Did I mention all the reading recommendations Spence offers up?  Although I don't agree with all her opinions, I did add a bunch of her recommended titles to my TBR pile mountain mountain chain.  So, even though I would have preferred a less salty version of this book, overall I enjoyed it.  If you like cheeky observations about books, you and Dear Fahrenheit 451 are sure to make a love connection.  My relationship with it is lukewarm, but that doesn't mean I'm going to be writing it a break-up letter anytime soon. 

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Book Lust and More Book Lust, both by Nancy Pearl)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for strong language and references to sex and illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Fahrenheit 451 from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Ann Dee Ellis' Newest a Winner in My Book

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

I usually write my own plot summaries, but I love the publisher's description of You May Already Be a Winner by Ann Dee Ellis so much that I'm going to use it instead:

Twelve-year-old Olivia Hales has a foolproof plan for winning a million dollars so that she and her little sister, Berkeley, can leave behind Sunny Pines Trailer Park.

But first she has to:

·  Fix the swamp cooler and make dinner and put Berkeley to bed because her mom is too busy to do all that

·  Write another letter to her dad even though he hasn’t written back yet

·  Teach Berk the important stuff, like how to make chalk drawings, because they can’t afford day care and Olivia has to stay home from school to watch her

·  Petition her oddball neighbors for a circus spectacular, because there needs to be something to look forward to at dumb-bum Sunny Pines

·  Become a super-secret spy to impress her new friend Bart

·  Enter a minimum of fourteen sweepstakes a day. Who knows? She may already be a winner!

Olivia has thought of everything . . . except herself. Who will take care of her when she needs it? Luckily, somewhere deep down between her small intestine and stomach is a tiny voice reminding her that sometimes people can surprise you—and sometimes your family is right next door.

There's so much to love about this novel that I don't even know where to start.  Olivia is a likable, sympathetic heroine who's quirky and kind.  Although she seems a little immature for a 12-year-old, she's very capable but also realistically anxious about her family's precarious situation.  The story takes place in Provo, Utah, a quaint college town in which I lived for six years.  You May Already Be a Winner shows a different side of the familiar city, which surprised me and made me love this tale even more.  If you enjoy poignant but entertaining middle grade fiction, be sure to pick this one up.  You won't be disappointed.

(Readalikes:  I'm so bad at this lately.  A bunch of titles should probably be coming to mind, but I'm drawing a blank.  Suggestions?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

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

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of You May Already Be a Winner from the generous folks at Penguin.  Thank you!

Twisty Psychological Thriller For Teens an Engrossing, Entertaining Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Kelsey Thomas lives in a fortress.  Her isolated home in Virginia's Green Mountains is surrounded by electrified fences and rigged with security cameras and alarm systems.  There's a well-stocked safe room in the basement.  It's hardly a crime-ridden neighborhood, but the extreme measures are what Kelsey's mother needs in order to feel safe.  After escaping abduction seventeen years ago and bearing her captor's child (Kelsey), Kelsey's mom has not left her fortified home.  It's only because of Child Protective Services that Kelsey's allowed to leave—she's now required to attend high school in town.  Frustrated by her mom's paranoia, Kelsey craves the small amount of freedom she's been given.

Although Kelsey has promised her mother she will not call attention to herself, she's involved in a dramatic car accident and subsequent rescue mission that is covered by the media.  Ryan Baker, an 18-year-old volunteer fireman, is her rescuer and a boy for whom she can definitely see herself falling.  Before Kelsey really has a chance to explore the attraction, her agoraphobic mother disappears.  Knowing she would not have left her house unless forced, Kelsey starts to panic.  That's when things get crazy.  Suddenly, she finds herself confronted by a relentless enemy and the dark truths about her mother's past.  When the safest house in Covington, Virginia, becomes the most dangerous place to be, can Kelsey make it out alive?

If propulsive psychological thrillers are your jam (and they certainly are mine), you need to check out Megan Miranda.  Her twisty novels never fail to engross me.  The Safest Lies, a psychological thriller for teens, is no exception.  The adrenaline-fueled plot kept me whipping through pages, desperate to know what was going to happen next.  Although the finale seemed a little anti-climatic given other things that happen in the book, overall I found The Safest Lies to be an entertaining and satisfying read.

(Readalikes:  Other books by Megan Miranda)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

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

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find
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