Saturday, August 31, 2019

Contemplative Post-Apocalyptic Novel Absorbing, Thought-Provoking

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"It was as if the building itself had drawn us to it from the most far-flung corners of the world.  And when we arrived, the world had ended" (143).

In Switzerland for an academic conference, Jon Keller—a history professor at Stanford—is staying at L'Hôtel Sixième.  Featuring 1000 rooms, breathtaking views, and a fading elegance, the isolated resort sprawls on acres of lovely country land in the middle of nowhere.  This becomes a problem when frantic news reports announce that nuclear bombs have fallen on major cities in both Europe and the U.S.  Panicked guests stampede to the door, speeding toward the nearest airport and train station.  With no transportation left, Jon and a handful of others become stranded at the hotel.  As news stations and the Internet shut down, they're left with zero information, no viable means of escape, and little hope for survival.

Two months after the disaster strikes, Jon is one of 20 or so people still living in the hotel.  Some have since wandered off or committed suicide; those who remain eke out a semblance of a life, trying to stave off the boredom and cabin fever that rules their lives.  With supplies dwindling, the guests also must figure out how to find more food, protect themselves against roving bands of desperate survivors, and whether or not it's time to move on from what has been a relatively safe haven.  While these conflicts plague the hotel community, another problem arises—the body of a young girl is discovered in one of the building's water tanks.  Horrified, Jon vows to find out what happened to her.  The situation at the resort is bad enough without having a cold-blooded murderer among them.  As their patchwork society crumbles around them, Jon and his comrades search for the killer among them while battling to hold on to not just their sanity but their very humanity.

The Last by Hanna Jameson is an intriguing genre mash-up that combines a compelling murder mystery with a tense dystopian/post-apocalyptic survival tale.  It's not a pulse-pounding thriller, but more of a contemplative study of human nature.  Which isn't to say it's boring.  It's not.  In fact, it's an engrossing novel that asks some interesting questions about right and wrong, self-interest vs. community, what truly matters when the world has gone to hell, and what makes us human.  While I didn't end up loving The Last, I did find it an absorbing, thought-provoking read.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language, violence, blood/gore, depictions of illegal drug use, sexual content, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of The Last from Barnes & Noble with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Medieval Rags-to-Riches Romance an Intriguing, Epic Tale

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Despite the thin stream of noble blood that runs through her, Rosamund Tomkins belongs neither here nor there.  Especially after the death of her beloved grandmother, a gentlewoman who was teaching her the pretty manners of a lady.  When Rosamund is subsequently taking in by her common, disinterested mother and her greedy, abusive stepfather, she becomes little more than a servant at the family's inn.  Then, a chance encounter with a wealthy London businessman changes the 17-year-old's life in an instant.  Suddenly, she's not just a wife, but also a woman with status and a title.

When Sir Everard Blithman introduces his new wife to his latest business venture—the opening of a chocolate house—Rosamund is immediately entranced.  She's never tasted the exotic beverage, but from the get-go, she proves to be a dab hand at helping to mix it in just the right combinations to entice customers into the shop.  Although having a titled woman so involved in business is considered vulgar by London's wagging tongues, Rosamund feels more at home at the chocolate house than she does anywhere else.  While she senses there is much more going on beneath the surface of her marriage, her husband's mysterious family, and her new friendship with a handsome journalist, she doesn't realize the truth until she finds herself hopelessly entangled in a complex web of deception that threatens to destroy not just Rosamund's beloved chocolate house but everything good in her new life.  With both the business and the fates of the people she's come to love on the line, Rosamund will risk everything to save them.

Although I've been enjoying a grand love affair with chocolate for decades, I knew little about its history.  Thus, I found myself intrigued by the subject of Karen Brooks' new novel, The Chocolate Maker's Wife.  The book's colorful Medieval setting, complete with castles, knights, and the Plague, is likewise intriguing.  Naive, but kind and determined, Rosamund makes for the kind of likable, admirable heroine for whom it is easy to root.  At a hefty 551 pages, The Chocolate Maker's Wife is hardly a page-turner; it did, however, move along fast enough to keep me interested.  Despite a Big Reveal that was obvious from the get-go, the plot offered a few surprises I didn't see coming.  While I didn't end up loving this book, I did enjoy the read overall.

(Readalikes:  Reminded me a little of Chocolat by Joanne Harris)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of The Chocolate Maker's Wife from the generous folks at HarperCollins via those at TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

--

Would you like more opinions on The Chocolate Maker's Wife?  Follow along on the book's blog tour by visiting the sites listed below:

Tuesday, August 20th: BookNAround
Tuesday, August 20th: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books (postponed to August 30th)
Wednesday, August 21st: A Chick Who Reads
Thursday, August 22nd: Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile
Friday, August 23rd: Broken Teepee
Monday, August 26th: Jennifer ~ Tar Heel Reader
Tuesday, August 27th: Based on a True Story
Wednesday, August 28th: Reading Reality
Thursday, August 29th: Laura’s Reviews
Friday, August 30th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Monday, September 2nd: Jathan & Heather
Tuesday, September 3rd: Tina Says…
Wednesday, September 4th: Book by Book
Thursday, September 5th: bookish bliss and beauty
Friday, September 6th: Real Life Reading

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: My Beauty and the Beast (Dream) Library


It's Tuesday, time for my favorite weekly book meme!  I've skipped the last couple topics either because I was out of town or because the topic du jour had me stumped.  This week's prompt, Top Ten Books I've Read That I'd Like in My Personal Library, is problematic, too, since I don't even need a complete sentence to answer the question—ALL the books, people, ALL the books!  So, I'm going to twist it up a little bit and go with Top Ten Personal Libraries I'd Love to Call My Own.  Gazing at beautiful home libraries is always a good time, so I'm excited to show you some favorites from my Internet trolling.

Before we get to that, though, I just want to urge you to join in on the TTT fun.  All you have to do is click over to That Artsy Reader Girl for some brief instructions, make your own list, then hop around the book blogosphere checking out other bloggers' lists.  It's a good time and a great way to spread the love around our awesome online book community. 

Okay, here we go with Top Ten Personal Libraries I'd Love to Call My Own

Apparently, my dream library is one of two types—either the traditional Beauty and the Beast version like the first five below or the light, bright libraries with a view a la the last five.  If I had my druthers, I'd build myself one of the former, with gleaming wooden shelves (that I'd hire someone else to dust), a roaring fireplace, a comfy chair, and, of course, floor-to-ceiling shelves.  Since the latter is more practical (let's be honest), I could definitely "settle" for bright white bookshelves, a big window showcasing a lovely view, and a cushy armchair (my back wouldn't be able to handle a window seat).  I guess it's a good thing I don't have libraries like these in my house because I'd never leave them ...












How about you?  What would your dream home library look like?  I'd truly love to know.  Leave me a comment on this post and I will gladly return the favor on yours.

Happy TTT!

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Appealing Heroine and Twisty Mystery Make Series Debut an Engaging Start

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Although Jazz Ramsey has a job she enjoys as an administrative assistant at St. Catherine's Preparatory Academy, a girls-only school in Cleveland, her real love is training cadaver dogs.  One night, while running drills with a clever canine in an abandoned building, Jazz is shocked when Luther discovers a dead body.  The remains are those of a young woman wearing Goth clothes and makeup.  Underneath all the camouflage, Jazz is stunned to see a girl she recognizes.  Kind of.  Florentine "Florrie" Allen had a much more subtle appearance while she attended St. Catherine's, but there's no doubt it's her.  What was she doing in the old, deserted building?  Who hated the girl enough to strangle her to death?  And what happened to Florrie to cause such a dramatic change in her appearance?

Jazz's ex-boyfriend, Detective Nick Kolesov, warns her to let the police handle the investigation, but she can't get Florrie out of her mind.  She has to know what happened.  While her amateur detecting brings her closer to the truth, it also puts her own life in danger.  Can Jazz crack the case before the killer strikes again?  Or will Luther be sniffing out her corpse next?

Kylie Logan has authored several cozy mystery series; The Scent of Murder is her first foray into more serious crime fiction.  I'm glad she made the jump as this novel features an appealing heroine, a twisty plot, and dynamic prose, all elements I very much appreciate.  It's an engaging whodunit that's compelling and fast-paced, but remains PG-13 in content, an unusual feat for books in this genre.  I enjoyed Logan's descriptions of Cleveland's vibrant Tremont neighborhood as well as the warm relationships she creates between Jazz and her family.  I'm also interested to see what happens between her and Nick.  The Scent of Murder is the first book in the Jazz Ramsey series; I can't wait to see what happens in the next one!

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of A Borrowing of Bones by Paula Munier)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  Honestly, I can't remember where I picked up my copy of this book.  Sorry, FTC.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Indistinctive Characters + Dull Plot + 150 Extra Pages = a Meh From Me

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

A legendary Hollywood agent and producer, Fritz Hudson amassed a fortune.  When he dies, his three daughters come together for the first time ever for the reading of his will.  Cara, Allie, and Des are shocked to learn that their father was married to two women at the same time and that he actually has three daughters, not two.  They're even more stunned to discover that, while all of them are poised to receive a large portion of their father's money, the payouts hinge on the completion of a special project.  The women are tasked with working together to restore a crumbling theater in Fritz's small hometown of Hidden Falls, Pennsylvania.  If they fail to complete the job, none of them will receive a penny.

None of the three women are thrilled about putting their real lives on hold to spend months living in a tiny backwater with siblings they don't know and/or can't stand.  Reluctantly, they dive into the project, vowing to get it over with as fast as possible.  Working together becomes easier as they come to love the grand old theater, discover an intriguing mystery, and get to know each other in ways they haven't before.  Can they keep up the camaraderie through their various challenges and dramas?  Or will they come together only to be torn apart again?

The Last Chance Matinee—the first book in the Hudson Sisters series by Mariah Stewart—tells a gentle, heartwarming story about an unorthodox request that becomes a blessing in disguise.  It's an uplifting, mostly clean novel that features a quaint, small-town setting and a group of likable characters.  What it doesn't have a lot of is conflict.  That, coupled with the fact that it has about 150 pages too many, makes The Last Chance Matinee feel very looonnnggg.  I almost put it down numerous times.  The fact that the spotlighted sisters lack both depth and distinctive personalities added to the novel's dullness.  I did end up plowing through the lengthy novel, but it was definitely a slog.  Needless to say, I'm not going to bother with the book's sequels.  Oh, well.

(Readalikes:  I'm sure there are a million novels out there with a similar plot, but I'm coming up empty.  Suggestions?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Monday, August 19, 2019

Debut Psychological Thriller Sad, But Compelling

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

In the few months since her husband died in a pilot-suicide airliner crash, Tess Clarke has managed not to fall apart completely.  Yet.  Wracked with grief, she's plowing through her days with only enough energy to make meager meals for her 8-year-old son, walk him to school in her pajamas, and cry herself to sleep at night.  Despite her brother-in-law's increasingly desperate attempts to get Tess to move ahead with taking care of her husband's probate, she's too numb to make any big decisions.  All she wants is for time to reverse itself and go back to the days when life made sense.

When Shelley Lange, a concerned grief counselor, comes into Tess' life, it's as if a ray of sunshine has penetrated her gloom.  For the first time since Mark's death, she feels a glimmer of hope.  Then, strange things start happening—threatening phone calls, a shadowy form watching Tess' every move, and disturbing behavior from her brother-in-law.  As things escalate, Tess is forced to question everything she thought she knew.  Was steady, trustworthy Mark involved in something dangerous, something that led to his untimely death?  Are Tess and her son safe?  And who is Shelley, really?  Why is she, a virtual stranger, so obsessed with Tess' son?  As Tess searches for answers, she'll have to face some painful, heart-breaking truths, truths that could destroy what little sanity she has left.

The Perfect Son, a debut novel by Lauren North, is a compelling and twisty page-turner that kept me guessing until the end.  I love psychological thrillers that keep me feeling off-kilter, never quite sure what's true and what's not, and this one did that well.  Novels of this ilk are often gory, graphic, and disturbing—The Perfect Son is milder than the norm, a fact I very much appreciated.  While it's a sad, depressing tale for sure, The Perfect Son also tells a compelling, engaging story that had me reading fast and furious to find out what was going to happen.  I enjoyed it and will definitely be keeping an eye out for more from this talented debut author.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson and The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

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

Monday, August 12, 2019

Fun, Fantastical Adventure an Engaging Story Even Reluctant Readers Will Enjoy

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Everyone in the village knows the thick forest that looms at the edge of town is full of deep, dark magic.  Tales abound of strange creatures lurking in its depths, just waiting to ensnare too-curious children with their monstrous claws.  The most cynical may think the stories are only that, but even the strangest of cautionary yarns are often based in truth ...

What the townspeople don't realize is that the Wild Wood is losing its magic.  Almost thirteen years ago, a goblin named Kull was tasked with performing an ancient ritual that would restore the balance between the magical and non-magical worlds.  He botched the simple task of switching a rare and powerful goblin changeling with a human baby; the changeling so perfectly mimicked his human counterpart that no one has ever been able to tell the difference between the boys.  Whispered rumors have always hinted that one of the twins is not exactly like the other, but in a town that delights in superstitious stories and paranoid rants, what's one more?

When Cole and Tinn Burton receive a puzzling message from Kull begging for their help and beckoning them into the woods, the boys can't resist the promise of adventure.  Unaware that a dark presence is luring them deeper and deeper into danger, the twins revel in meeting colorful forest folk and enjoying the most diverting of quests.  As their journey brings them ever closer to trouble unlike any they've ever known, the boys must work together, harnessing all their courage, to save not just a magical forest but also themselves and everyone they love. 

Changeling, the first book in a new fantasy series by William Ritter, offers kids a fun read that's exciting but not too scary.  It features a pair of delightful heroes, as well as a supporting cast of intriguing story "people" to keep the tale interesting.  Through it all, the book teaches important lessons about loyalty, love, and belonging.  Even reluctant readers should dig this engaging, enjoyable adventure.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a little of the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence and scary scenes/scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of Changeling from the generous folks at Algonquin in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Second Noodle House Mystery Another Delightful Cozy

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Dim Sum of All Fears, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from its predecessor, Death By Dumpling.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

Waiting tables at the Ho-Lee Noodle House under the critical eye of her demanding mother was bad enough in high school.  At 27, it's literally the last thing Lana Lee wants to be doing.  Desperate times and all that.  Things are finally looking up, though.  Lana's landed a promising job interview, one that will hopefully get her out of the Asian Village shopping plaza for good.  Then her parents receive an emergency phone call summoning them back to Taiwan.  With no one else to run Ho-Lee Noodle House in their absence, Lana has no choice but to step up.  

To everyone's surprise, Lana is doing a bang-up job, keeping everything running as smoothly as it does under her parents' watch.  Then, something else goes bang, leaving the newlywed couple that runs the souvenir shop next door dead.  Lana's got enough to keep her busy without poking her nose into Asian Village's newest mystery, but she can't help herself.  Despite warnings from handsome Detective Adam Trudeau, Lana's soon knee-deep in a case that's getting more dangerous by the second.  Can she run a busy restaurant, solve a murder, and ensure her meddling mother is kept totally in the dark all at the same time?  It's a tall order, even for Ho-Lee Noodle House's favorite server.

I'm picky about which cozies I read, but I'm loving the Noodle Shop Mystery series by Vivien Chien.  The colorful Asian Village setting is appealing, the quirky characters are endearing, and the mysteries are light but satisfying.  Yes, the books are far-fetched, but who cares?  They're fun, frothy, and all kinds of entertaining.  Dim Sum of All Fears, the second installment, is just as enjoyable as the first.  I've already bought the third book and am looking forward to seeing where this delightful series goes next.

(Readalikes:  Death by Dumpling by Vivien Chien; also reminds me of cozy eatery mysteries by Ellie Alexander, Lena Gregory, and Joanne Fluke)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Despite Intriguing Premise, Crime Novel A Little Disappointing

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Fifteen years ago, two young women vanished from a Baltimore shopping mall, never to be seen again.  The sisters' mysterious disappearance baffled local police then and continues to puzzle cold case enthusiasts now.  How does someone lure away a tween and a teen at the same time?  If the girls were kidnapped and held, where are they now?  If they were killed, where are there bones?  If they ran away together, why haven't they ever returned?  The questions only lead to more questions.  

Then, a 38-year-old woman is involved in a car accident.  When questioned by the police, she claims to be Heather Bethany, the youngest of the missing girls.  Although "Jane Doe" knows enough details about the case to be convincing, the holes in her story are enough to make Detective Kevin Infante doubt the woman is who she claims to be.  The few clues "Jane" is willing to part with only lead to dead ends.  Is the woman just toying with the police to get attention?  Does she know what really happened to Heather and Sunny Bethany fifteen years ago?  Will a 15-year-old crime finally be solved?  Or will the police be left, once again, with more mystifying questions that lead absolutely nowhere?

I find the missing returned trope utterly fascinating, so I'm always drawn to novels like What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman.  Perhaps it's because I've already read several novels with similar plots that I found this one a bit disappointing.  True, What the Dead Know is a tense, fast-paced thriller that kept me frantically turning pages.  Still, with its unlikeable characters, predictable end, and depressing vibe, I didn't end up loving this one.  I didn't hate it either; I just feel kind of ... ambivalent about it.  I've enjoyed other books by Lippman, but What the Dead Know just didn't quite do it for me.  Bummer.


Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find
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