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My Progress:

16 / 30 books. 53% done!

2024 Literary Escapes Challenge

- Alabama (1)
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- Australia (2)
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My Progress:

38 / 51 states. 75% done!

2024 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

My Progress:

33 / 50 books. 66% done!

2024 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge

23 / 50 books. 46% done!

Booklist Queen's 2024 Reading Challenge

My Progress:

50 / 52 books. 96% done!

2024 52 Club Reading Challenge

My Progress:

42 / 52 books. 81% done!

2024 Build Your Library Reading Challenge

My Progress:

30 / 40 books. 75% done!

2024 Pioneer Book Reading Challenge

16 / 40 books. 40% done!

2024 Craving for Cozies Reading Challenge

My Progress:

11 / 25 books. 44% done!

2024 Medical Examiner's Mystery Reading Challenge

2024 Mystery Marathon Reading Challenge

My Progress

21 / 26.2 miles (2nd lap). 80% done!

Mount TBR Reading Challenge

My Progress

30 / 100 books. 30% done!

2024 Pick Your Poison Reading Challenge

My Progress:

75 / 104 books. 72% done!

Around the Year in 52 Books Reading Challenge

My Progress

50 / 52 books. 96% done!

Disney Animated Movies Reading Challenge

My Progress

90 / 165 books. 55% done!
Monday, December 23, 2019

Clean and Cozy, Leavenworth Christmastime Mystery is an Easy, Enjoyable Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Beyond a Reasonable Stout, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from earlier Sloane Krause mysteries.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

With the chaos of Oktoberfest behind them, the residents of Leavenworth, Washington, are enjoying a lull before they gear up for Christmas festivities.  At Nitro, brewer Sloan Krause and her business partner, Garrett Strong, are experimenting with pine-flavored goodies to celebrate the season.  The microbrewery swirls with delicious scents that tickle the nose and remind everyone that soon the town will be glowing with lights, teeming with tourists, and awash in peace and goodwill.

Then, long-time city council member Kristopher Cooper announces his plans to make Leavenworth a dry town.  Local brewers are outraged.  Their businesses depend on keeping the taps open; all the merchants in town benefit from events like Oktoberfest.  Kristopher has created such a brouhaha that, when he winds up dead, there's a whole list of possible killers.  Some of Leavenworth's most prominent citizens are being accused, but who actually did the dirty deed?  When Sloan's best frenemy asks Sloan to help prove her innocence, the brewer reluctantly steps in.  Can she solve the murder?  Or will she be the killer's next victim?

Before we continue, have you seen pictures of
Leavenworth at Christmastime?  It looks absolutely magical.  Even though I grew up in Washington, I've never been there.  Seeing it lit up for the holiday is absolutely on my bucket list.  Okay, back to the review ...

Beyond a Reasonable Stout is the third book in Ellie Alexander's always enjoyable Sloan Krause mystery series.  Although in reality, Leavenworth is a very safe town, Alexander's fictional version is always erupting in murderous deeds.  I'm happy to suspend my disbelief here because I love the setting.  Although Sloan's not an especially unique or memorable character, I enjoy her adventures.  Beyond a Reasonable Stout is no exception.  Like its predecessors, it's a fun, easy read that's predictable but still entertaining.  I appreciate that the books are clean, without crass language, sex scenes, or anything gory and graphic.  They're just fun reads that make me smile.  You better believe I'm going to continue reading them!

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of the Bakeshop Mystery series by Ellie Alexander as well as other books in the Sloan Krause series, including Death on Tap and The Pint of No Return)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

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

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Safe With Me Sad, But Hopeful

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Hannah Scott's whole life changed when she conceived her daughter using an anonymous sperm donor.  It changed again, twelve years later, when her little girl was struck by a car while riding her bike and killed.  Donating Emily's organs didn't stop the pain of losing her, but it eased it just a bit.  Now, 44-year-old Hannah throws herself into running two Seattle hair salons with her best friend.  She loves her work, but sorrow and loneliness still weigh her down.

Type 2 hepatitis has taken a great toll on 16-year-old Maddie Bell.  Having grown up mostly in hospitals and at home in her pajamas, Maddie's not sure she can return to a normal life.  It's been a year since a girl died to give Maddie a new liver and Maddie's father is insisting that Maddie attend high school in person.  After a horrific first day, Maddie's mother takes her to a local salon for a mood-boosting hair makeover.  Little do they know that salon owner is the mother of Maddie's liver donor. 

When Hannah discovers her strange connection to the Bell Family, she's hesitant to say anything.  She can't help being fascinated by the mother/daughter, however, and the better acquainted she becomes with Olivia—Maddie's mom—the more complicated the situation becomes.  Especially when Hannah finds out the devastating secret the family is keeping under wraps.  Desperate to help, the grieving mother risks everything—including the newfound friendship that has come to mean the world to her—to intervene.  Can the women's bond survive when all their secrets finally come to life?  

The premise at the center of Safe With Me by Amy Hatvany is an intriguing one.  A bit contrived maybe, but still interesting.  Hannah, Maddie, and Olivia are all sympathetic characters, with realistic challenges and flaws.  Their story is sad but compelling.  In the end, it's also a hopeful tale.  I can't say that Safe With Me blew my socks off; overall, though, I enjoyed it.  I'll look for more from Hatvany.

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


If this was a movie, it would be rated:

for language (a handful of F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, mild sexual content, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Beautiful, Vivid The Fountains of Silence Another Evocative Hit From Sepetys

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Spain, 1957

As the daughter of parents accused, imprisoned, and executed for being rebels against Francisco Franco, Ana Torres Moreno knows she must keep her head down, even now.  Working as a housekeeper at the Castellana Hilton in Madrid, she performs her duties, saves the little money she makes, and does her best to support her siblings.  She has no business fraternizing with the hotel guests and certainly cannot afford to flirt with them or, heaven forbid, fall in love.  And yet, she can't help the way her heart flutters when Daniel Matheson smiles at her.

Daniel, the son of a Texas oil tycoon, is on a business trip with his parents to Madrid.  Determined to become a photojournalist despite his father's protestations, he roams the city capturing the country of his mother's birth on film.  When he happens upon several disturbing scenes, Daniel becomes enraged, determined to do something to help the poor in the struggling city.  When he shares his photos with Ana, the lovely maid in charge of keeping his room clean, he inadvertently ropes her into his risky activities without realizing just how much danger he's putting her in.

Together, Ana and Daniel struggle to make sense of a Spain still rising from the ashes after the war and what that means for them, both individually and together.

YA historical fiction author Ruta Sepetys has won my admiration as well as my loyalty as a reader by continually producing moving, well-researched, beautifully-written novels.  The Fountains of Silence, her fourth book, is no exception.  In her newest, she delves into a time and place I know little about, which made it especially fascinating for me.  Chock-full of vivid detail, Sepetys brings post-war Spain to colorful life, highlighting both its beauty and its struggles.  The main characters aren't anything super special, but they're likable and sympathetic.  Gentle but evocative and powerful, the story is also engrossing and compelling.  I'm not sure if teen readers will have the patience for its 472 pages, but I loved it.  If you enjoy intriguing historical fiction, definitely check out this book as well as Sepetys' previous three.  She's a talented author.  I can't wait to see what she does next!

(Readalikes:  The only other book I've read about the Spanish Civil War is Lady Emma's Campaign, a Regency romance by Jennifer Moore.  Beyond that, The Fountains of Silence reminds me of a number of World War II novels I've read, although no specific titles are coming to mind.)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, mild innuendo, and disturbing subject matter

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

Disturbing and Depressing, New Psychological Thriller Also Engrossing and Enthralling

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Twenty-five years ago, police were called to London's posh Chelsea neighborhood to investigate suspicious circumstances at 16 Cheyne Walk.  Inside, they were shocked to find three dead bodies, killed in an apparent suicide pact.  The four children reported to live in the mansion were missing.  Upstairs, a cooing 10-month-old lay peacefully in her crib.  What happened to the home's owners, socialite Martina Lamb and her husband?  Why did they kill themselves?  Where are the children?  And why was the baby left behind?  With more questions than answers, the authorities have no idea what to think of the strange incident.

In the present, Libby Jones, a young woman who lives in a tiny flat in St. Albans and works at a kitchen design company, turns 25.  Adopted as a baby, she's always wondered who she really is.  When she receives a mysterious letter, Libby is stunned when she finally receives the answer.  Not only does she discover she's the baby left behind at 16 Cheyne Walk all those years ago, but she also learns she's inherited the residence, which is worth millions.  Taking ownership won't be easy, however, as Libby's not the only one who believes the mansion should be theirs.  As she tries to sort out all the intricacies of who she really is, exactly what she's inherited, and what actually happened on that fateful night 25 years ago, Libby will get shocking answers that will forever change her.

The Family Upstairs, the newest psychological/domestic thriller from Lisa Jewell, tells a compelling, can't-look-away story about secrets from the past coming to horrifying light in the present.  The novel is peopled with complex, intriguing characters.  Its plot twists and turns, painting an increasingly disturbing picture of a family in crisis.  Dark and distressing, The Family Upstairs isn't a light or happy read, but it's so engrossing that it's almost impossible to put down.  I sped through its pages, desperate to know what was going to happen next.  Although I didn't absolutely love the book, it definitely held me spellbound.  I liked it, though, depressing as it is.  Not all thrillers thrill me anymore, but this one kept me on the edge.  If you're into this sort of thing, give it a go.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

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

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of The Family Upstairs from the generous folks at Simon & Schuster via those at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

Color Me In Authentic, But Has Issues

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Although she's the daughter of a Black mom and a white, Jewish dad, 15-year-old Navaeh Levitz has never had to think much about her mixed ethnicity.  With her light skin, she can "pass" as white, blending in well enough in the affluent New York City suburb where she lives.  As far as her Jewish roots, her father is not religious and has never pressed the family to attend synagogue.  All that changes when her dad's affair leads her parents to a bitter divorce.  

When Navaeh and her mom move to Harlem to live with Navaeh's grandparents, she experiences some major culture shock.  Not only is she dealing with her mom's severe depression, but she also has to listen to her cousins mock her for not being Black enough to understand the prejudice they deal with every day because of their darker skin.  As if that's not enough, Navaeh's father decides out of the blue that she needs to have a bat mitzvah.  He sics a rabbi on her tail to help her cram for the big event that Navaeh doesn't even want to have.  Stuck in the middle, Navaeh has to decide who she really is, where she fits in, and how to make the various pieces that define her come together to create a harmonious whole.  A tall order, even when you're not dealing with warring parents, in-your-face cousins, a dogged rabbi, and all the heavy emotions that come with falling in love for the first time.  What's a stressed-out, confused girl to do?

As the adoptive mother of a bi-racial daughter, I'm always interested in books like Color Me In, a debut YA novel by Natasha Diaz.  Racial identity, racism, and finding one's own voice, are themes I'm fascinated by, so this story sounded like it was right up my alley.  Navaeh's search for herself is by far the best part of Color Me In, especially because Diaz is a mixed-race woman who's no doubt struggled with the same questions Navaeh does.  It lends Navaeh's fictional experiences credibility and authenticity.  Unfortunately, our heroine does not really have a concrete story goal to drive the plot of Color Me In, leading the novel to feel overwritten and way too long.  It meanders here, there, and everywhere, touching on lots of different issues, some of which are explored in the story and some that aren't.  Add to that cliché characters, tired stereotypes, and a main character who's whiny, self-centered, and victim-y, and yeah, this debut has some issues.  While I didn't end up loving this novel, I do think Diaz writes well; I'll keep an eye out for whatever she does next.

(Readalikes:  I've seen Color Me In compared to Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo several times, although I haven't read Poet X.  The book does remind me of the following novels I have read: SLAY by Brittney Morris, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow, The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods, and Black Boy, White School by Brian F. Walker.)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (a few F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, nudity, and depictions of underage drinking/partying and illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find
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