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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
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- Georgia (1)
- Hawaii
- Idaho (2)
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- Maryland
- Massachusetts (2)
- Michigan
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- Nebraska (1)
- Nevada (1)
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- New York (4)
- North Carolina (4)
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- Ohio (1)
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- Oregon (2)
- Pennsylvania (1)
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- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- Tennessee (1)
- Texas (3)
- Utah
- Vermont (2)
- Virginia (2)
- 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:

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!
Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Creepy Scottish Mystery Offers a Shivery Spring Thrill

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

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

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

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

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

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

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

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

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

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!
Monday, April 15, 2019

Atmospheric, Affecting YA Novel Teaches Powerful Lessons About Fitting In and Standing Out

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Atlanta, Georgia, feels as foreign as the moon for Upper East Side native Ruth Robb.  At first, the 16-year-old can't help comparing everything about her new home to New York City, where her family was complete and happy.  Living in her grandparents' guesthouse in the sweltering South sans her beloved father, whose sudden death has left her numb with grief, will never feel right.  Still, Ruth finds that she desperately wants to fit in with the "pastel posse," a group of wealthy debutantes whose lives revolve around weekly etiquette lessons, shopping for the perfect tea dress, and vying for the honor of being crowned Magnolia Queen.  Ruth's mother and older sister eschew such frivolous frippery; is it so wrong that Ruth longs for that life with every beat of her shallow little heart?

It's 1958 and one thing stands in the way of Ruth "passing" as a member of this exclusive club—she's Jewish.  Keeping her secret under wraps becomes more and more difficult as Ruth's eyes are slowly opened to the ugliness that lurks beneath the pastel posse's genteel veneer, a snake in the magnolia bushes that mirrors the tension simmering all over the South.  With increasing demonstrations of discrimination, hate, and violence against Negroes, Jews, and other minorities happening all around her, Ruth finds herself caught between two worlds.  When push comes to shove, which one will she choose?

In the Neighborhood of True by Susan Kaplan Carlton is an atmospheric, affecting YA novel that teaches some effective lessons about the dangers of conformity, the necessity of compassion, and the power of crusading for what is right.  With plenty of fascinating historical details, the setting comes to vivid life, helping the reader really feel the tension, hypocrisy, and confusion reigning in Ruth's world.  The characters are complex, the plot engaging, and the prose skilled.  I whipped through this engrossing novel in a matter of hours, eager to know what was going to happen next.  Not only is the story absorbing, but it's also relevant and thought-provoking.  I enjoyed it.

(Readalikes:  No specific titles are coming to mind.  You?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (no F-bombs), violence, depictions of underage drinking, and sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of In the Neighborhood of True from the generous folks at Algonquin Books in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!
Wednesday, April 10, 2019

West Point Friendship Novel Gives Broader Perspective of Females in the Military

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

It's the Fall of 2000 and three female basketball players are looking forward to a bright future at the United States Military Academy at West Point.  Dani McNalley, a dynamo on the court and in the classroom, takes college by storm, easily breaking any stereotypes her classmates might have about an African-American woman's right to be at the prestigious institution.  Hannah Speer's gentler nature threatens to fold under the pressure of homework, sports practice, and military drills.  With God by her side, however, she knows that nothing is impossible.  An unbeatable athlete at her high school, Avery Adams is finding herself to be a small fish in a big pond.  Sure, she can attract a male (or ten) without the tiniest effort, but can she prove her real worth, on the court and off?  As the trio deals with a demanding coach, exhausting physical and mental strain, as well as the added stress of being female on a mostly-male campus, they come to rely heavily on each other.  They know the unbreakable bond they formed at West Point will be the one thing that sustains them through everything that comes next.

As adulthood creeps in, with jobs, deployments, and relationships getting in the way, the three struggle to stay close.  When tragedy strikes, however, they must come together to lift up one of their own.  Will the strength of their friendship carry them through or will their sorrow and grief tear them even further apart?

Since most of what I hear about West Point and women in the military concerns sexual harassment, I was interested to get a broader perspective through Claire Gibson's debut novel, Beyond the Point.  Although the author did not attend the college, she lived at West Point for a number of years while her father was on its faculty.  She also interviewed dozens of female soldiers about their experiences in order to get an authentic insider's view.  The result is a novel that pays powerful tribute to these brave, determined women who fight prejudice, ridicule, and sexism in order to graduate from military academies and serve their country.  It also riffs on themes like friendship, family, and faith.  Although I didn't feel super connected to any of the women at the core of this novel, I still found their various stories intriguing enough that I read all 490 pages of Beyond the Point without becoming bored.  In the end, I didn't love the novel, but overall, I liked it and felt like it was a valuable read.

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


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language, violence, and sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Beyond the Point from the generous folks at HarperCollins via those at TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!


Want more opinions on Beyond the Point?  Follow along on the book's blog tour by clicking the links below:

Instagram Features

Tuesday, April 2nd: Instagram: @oddandbookish
Tuesday, April 2nd: Instagram: @simplykelina
Wednesday, April 3rd: Instagram: @giuliland
Wednesday, April 3rd: Instagram: @shelovesthepages
Friday, April 5th: Instagram: @readwithkat
Saturday, April 6th: Instagram: @jessicamap
Sunday, April 7th: Instagram: @basicbsguide
Monday, April 8th: Instagram: @writersdream
TBD: Thursday, April 4th: Instagram: @jennblogsbooks

Review Stops

Tuesday, April 2nd: Peppermint PhD
Thursday, April 4th: Broken Teepee
Monday, April 8th: Jessicamap Reviews
Tuesday, April 9th: Iwriteinbooks’s blog
Wednesday, April 10th: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books
Thursday, April 11th: From the TBR Pile
Thursday, April 11th: What Is That Book About
Monday, April 15th: Literary Quicksand
Tuesday, April 16th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom
Wednesday, April 17th: Kahakai Kitchen
Thursday, April 18th: Comfy Reading
Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Shivery Psychological Thriller Boasts Gothic Setting and "I See Dead People" Vibe

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Mattie Lane loves volunteering with Sanctuary, a non-profit group which acts as a sort of Underground Railroad for women and children in need.  The 59-year-old retired social worker has been working with the organization long enough to know its rules and protocols.  Still, when she's sent to the bus station in the middle of the night to pick up a frightened woman and child, Mattie can't bear to send them on.  Instead, Mattie breaks Sanctuary's rules and brings the pair home with her to her big, lonely house in the woods.  What she can't quite admit, even to herself, is that the 10-year-old boy, Oren, reminds her of her little brother, who died more than 30 years ago.  She can't help feeling protective, especially since something about the woman's story doesn't quite add up. 

As a winter storm bears down on upstate New York, the three hunker down in Mattie's dilapidated home.  Almost immediately, strange things begin to happen, things that have a still grief-stricken Mattie wondering if she's going crazy.  Mattie knows Alice and Oren are hiding secrets, but is it possible something otherworldly is going on?  Mattie's got her own secrets to spill—can she and her two visitors learn to trust each other enough to let them out?  With the blizzard worsening around them and danger literally banging on the door, they will have to rely on each other to make it through the night alive.

I'm a fan of Carol Goodman's eerie psychological thrillers, especially the ones with Gothic overtones and a splash of the supernatural thrown in for good measure.  The Night Visitors certainly fits the bill. The story is compelling, the plot exciting, and the characters sympathetic. Featuring a creepy old house, an isolating blizzard, and an "I see dead people" vibe, it's a shivery tale that kept me slightly off-kilter throughout. Although I saw some of the plot twists coming, I didn't see all of them, which kept the novel interesting. This isn't my favorite Goodman book, but it's a good one from an author who never fails to pull me into her stories and keep me hooked.

(Readalikes:  Other books by Carol Goodman)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language, violence, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of The Night Visitors from the generous folks at HarperCollins via those at Edelweiss.  Thank you!
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Tress of the Emerald Sea by Brandon Sanderson


The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain

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