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My Progress:

11 / 30 books. 37% done!

2024 Literary Escapes Challenge

- Alabama (1)
- Alaska
- Arizona (1)
- Arkansas
- California (3)
- Colorado (1)
- Connecticut
- Delaware
- Florida
- Georgia (1)
- Hawaii
- Idaho (2)
- Illinois (1)
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- New York (2)
- North Carolina (4)
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- Tennessee (1)
- Texas (3)
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- Virginia (1)
- Washington (2)
- West Virginia
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- Washington, D.C.* (1)

- Australia (1)
- Canada (1)
- England (8)
- France (1)
- Indonesia (1)
- Ireland (2)
- Italy (1)
- Scotland (2)
- The Netherlands (1)

My Progress:

23 / 51 states. 45% done!

2024 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

My Progress:

16 / 50 books. 32% done!

2024 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge

21 / 50 books. 42% done!

Booklist Queen's 2024 Reading Challenge

My Progress:

43 / 50 books. 86% done!

2024 52 Club Reading Challenge

My Progress:

38 / 52 books. 73% done!

2024 Build Your Library Reading Challenge

My Progress:

25 / 40 books. 63% done!

2024 Pioneer Book Reading Challenge

15 / 40 books. 38% done!

2024 Craving for Cozies Reading Challenge

My Progress:

9 / 25 books. 36% done!

2024 Medical Examiner's Mystery Reading Challenge

2024 Mystery Marathon Reading Challenge

My Progress

6 / 26.2 miles (second lap). 23% done!

Mount TBR Reading Challenge

My Progress

23 / 100 books. 23% done!

2024 Pick Your Poison Reading Challenge

My Progress:

58 / 104 books. 56% done!

Around the Year in 52 Books Reading Challenge

My Progress

42 / 52 books. 81% done!

Disney Animated Movies Reading Challenge

My Progress

61 / 165 books. 37% done!
Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Plot Holes and Unsatisfying Ending Make Teen Search and Rescue Novel a Disappointing Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Kira Bennett knows what it means to be a kid lost and alone in the wilderness.  The memories of her earliest years as a feral child doing whatever it takes to survive still haunt her, even though she was rescued at five years old and adopted into a loving family.  Now 17, Kira finds purpose in helping her adoptive mother train Search and Rescue dogs, so no one—especially a child—has to live the way she once did.

When Bales Bennett, Kira's estranged birth father, comes to her adoptive family asking for help locating a child who's gone missing from a campsite, Kira wants in.  Along with her adoptive mother, foster brother, and two of their friends (including the hot, but possibly dangerous Gabriel Cortez), the group of handlers head to Sierra Glades National Park with one goal: find 9-year-old Bella Anthony.  As the search grows increasingly dangerous, Kira is pummelled with crushing memories of her own past, especially as secrets about her birth parents and her new family start coming to light.  Can Kira clear her head enough to find little Bella?  What truths will she learn about herself along the way?

Books about search and rescue operations in remote wilderness settings always intrigue me, so naturally, I was drawn to The Lovely and the Lost, a YA novel by Jennifer Lynn Barnes.  It's peopled with characters who are likable, but not original or really memorable.  The teens don't speak like real kids, nor are they really treated as such since they have little adult supervision throughout the novel and are basically left to do whatever they please.  This, as well as the fact that the teens are even involved in a search and rescue operation of this kind, makes the plot seem far-fetched.  The purpose behind Bella's disappearance also seems illogical.  The story is fast-paced, though, as well as compelling, even if it doesn't always make sense.  I appreciate that The Lovely and the Lost is a clean YA novel with no annoying insta-love, but for me, there are some big holes in its construction.  Add to that a weird, unsatisfying ending and, meh, this read just didn't do it for me.  It was propelling enough that I finished the book, but I certainly didn't love it.  Bummer.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Magic Hour by Kristin Hannah and Leave No Trace by Mindy Mejia)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for violence, scenes of peril, and disturbing subject matter

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

Always Compelling Bell Elkins Series Just Keeps Getting Better

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for The Cold Way Home, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from earlier Bell Elkins mysteries.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

On probation for killing her abusive father when she was ten, 54-year-old Belfa "Bell" Elkins can no longer work as a county prosecutor.  Along with two of her colleagues—former county sheriff Nick Fogelsong and Jake Oakes, whose injury in the line of duty as a deputy has left him wheelchair-bound—she's formed a private investigation firm.  While working a case involving a missing teenager, Bell is searching an isolated stretch of land that once housed the Wellwood psychiatric hospital when she discovers a corpse.  Marks on the body suggest its owner was brutally murdered.

The remains are identified as those of Darla Gilley, a 56-year-old local who was newly divorced from her alcoholic husband.  As Bell, Nick, and Jake look into the woman's past, they discover her strange connection to Wellwood.  Sixty years ago, Darla's grandmother was also killed at Wellwood.  Her murder was never solved and Bell can't help but think the two deaths must be related.  As she digs into the family's connection with Wellwood, Bell uncovers horrifying truths about the hospital's past.  Is Bell correct in her assumption that the murders are linked?  Or is she barking up the wrong tree, one that will distract her from finding Darla's killer?  If Bell and her team don't unmask the murderer soon, will another Acker's Gap local turn up dead on Wellwood's haunted grounds?

I've been a fan of the Bell Elkins series by Julia Keller since I randomly grabbed A Killing in the Hills—the first installment—off a library shelf.  I felt immediately drawn to Bell, a tough but compassionate county prosecutor, who cares deeply about the well-being of her down-on-its luck Appalachian hometown.  Keller's descriptions of the fictional West Virginia hamlet are vivid and heartbreaking, highlighting the sad (and very real) decline of towns in that region—a place of lush and aching beauty that is being slowly but savagely destroyed by the poverty of its people and the resulting plagues of crime, opioid addiction, alcoholism, and despair.  While the town becomes a character in its own right, the series is also filled with humans who are just as intriguing and complex.  Keller can always be counted on for compelling plots filled with enough twists to keep a reader hooked.  The Cold Way Home, the series' eighth installment, is no exception.  It's engrossing, eye-opening, and surprising.  Although the killer's motive seemed a little thin to me, the murderer's identity surprised me.  I definitely didn't see it coming, which is always nice in a mystery/thriller.  It won't shock you to know that I enjoyed this newest book in a favorite series.  Keller just keeps getting better, so I'll just keep reading her!

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Stone Mothers by Erin Kelly as well as of other books in the Bell Elkins series, including A Killing in the Hills, Bitter River, Summer of the Dead, A Haunting of the Bones (novella), The Devil's Stepdaughter (novella), Ghost Roll (novella), Last Ragged Breath, Evening Street (novella), Sorrow Road, Fast Falls the Night, and Bone on Bone)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

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

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

The Downstairs Girl: There's A Reason It's One of My Favorite Books of the Year

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Few people stand out in 1890 Atlanta as much as 17-year-old Jo Kuan.  Although she was born in the U.S., her distinctive features proclaim her Chinese heritage for all to see, marking her as a foreigner despite her American speech and mannerisms.  The fact that she's a bit of an opinionated "saucebox" doesn't help her blend in.  Besides Old Gin, the elderly Chinese man who has raised her, Jo has no family to shelter her.  In fact, she and her adoptive father are squatters, living in hidden abolitionist tunnels beneath a printing shop.  

When Jo overhears her unknowing landlords discussing their failing newspaper's need for an "agony aunt" to up the rag's sales, she gets a brilliant idea.  Using a secret identity, she soon becomes an advice columnist by night.  Her day job as a lady's maid to a wealthy, obnoxious debutante gives her an insider's views into the glitzy lives of Atlanta's elite.  Using this insight as well as that she's gained from her own daily struggles, Jo uses the column to school the city about gender equality, racism, women's suffrage, and the cruel hypocrisy lurking under so many Southerners' genteel facades.  Soon, the whole city seems to be up in arms.  Everyone's dying to know the true identity of the outspoken "Miss Sweetie."  While Jo desperately tries to keep her secret under wraps, she finds an intriguing clue to the mystery of her unknown parentage.  Juggling her controversial advice column, a dangerous investigation into her own past, and even a surprising romance, Jo has more on her plate than she can handle.  Can she find the answers she's seeking?  Will Atlanta learn anything from Miss Sweetie's pleas for fairness?  Or will the lynch mobs come after her next?

The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee is a quick, enjoyable read about one young woman's fight to belong in a world where she doesn't fit in for a multitude of reasons.  It touches on a number of issues, maybe too many for one book, but still, it's a thought-provoking historical novel.  Which isn't to say it's preachy or heavy-handed.  It's not.  In fact, it's funny, engrossing, and compelling.  Jo is the kind of heroine who's easy to like and root for—she's smart, loyal, hard-working, and brave.  She's surrounded by equally interesting characters, who make for a colorful, fun cast.  With all these elements combining against a vivid historical backdrop, it shouldn't be difficult to see why I enjoyed The Downstairs Girl so much.  It's one of my favorite reads of 2019 and I highly recommend it for both adult and teen historical fiction lovers.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

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

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