Saturday, January 30, 2021

Third Installment in Appealing Historical Mystery Series Another Compelling Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for The Stills, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from its predecessors, The Widows and The Hollows.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order. 

As sheriff of Kinship, Ohio, Lily Ross is sworn to protect and serve her small Appalachian community.  She takes her responsibilities seriously, striving to uphold the law in a fair, consistent manner.  When it comes to the popular past-time of making moonshine, however, pragmatic Lily has been known to look the other way a time or two in spite of increasingly restrictive Prohibition laws.  Then, a young boy gets dangerously sick after drinking tainted home-brewed alcohol while guarding a local still.  Lily is appalled.  She vows to find out who is poisoning the moonshine and why.

That's not the only problem on Lily's plate, however.  A special agent from the Bureau of Prohibition who was supposed to show up in Kinship has not yet arrived.  The man is at least missing, possibly dead.  In a move that can't be a coincidence, Lily also discovers that her nefarious brother-in-law, Luther, is working undercover for the Bureau in an effort to take down her least favorite businessman, George Vogel.  Although Lily doubts Luther's intentions, she has a vested interest in seeing Vogel imprisoned.  His new wife, Fiona, seems to feel likewise.  Can she trust Luther and Fiona to help her put their boss and husband behind bars?  Or is Lily just a pawn in their bigger game?  As she attempts to locate a missing agent, figure out just what Vogel is up to, and keep her town safe from tainted alcohol, she also has decide how she feels about a new suitor as well as an old friend who's breaking the law with the habits she swore she'd left behind for good.  Can Lily find a way to solve all the problems in a quaint little town with some big issues?  

I enjoyed the first two books in Jess Montgomery's appealing Kindship series, so I was naturally thrilled to get an early copy of the third installment, The Stills (coming March 9, 2021).  The books feature an atmospheric Appalachian setting, likable characters, and intriguing mysteries.  Although females were extremely rare in law enforcement in the 1920's, Lily makes a believable sheriff.  She's brave, determined, and unfailingly loyal to her community.  In The Stills, she shines once again as she's pitted against powerful men with sinister intentions.  The resulting plot is interesting and exciting, which makes the novel an engrossing read.  While this third book in the series is probably my least favorite, it's still a compelling, well-written historical mystery that I very much enjoyed.

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Kinship series, including The Widows and The Hollows; also reminds me of the Bell Elkins series by Julia Keller)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

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

Friday, January 29, 2021

Mormon Mentions: Katie Tallo

If you're not sure what a Mormon is, let alone a Mormon Mention, allow me to explain:  My name is Susan and I'm a Mormon (you've seen the commercials, right?).  As a member of  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (commonly known as the Mormon or LDS Church), I'm naturally concerned with how my religion is portrayed in the media.  Because this blog is about books, every time I see a reference to Mormonism in a book written by someone who is not a member of my church, I highlight it here.  Then, I offer my opinion—my insider's view—of what the author is saying.  It's my chance to correct misconceptions, expound on principles of the Gospel, and even to laugh at my (sometimes) crazy Mormon culture.

(Note:  In 2018, Russell M. Nelson—president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saintsmade an impassioned plea to members of the Church and to the media to always use the full and correct name of the Church instead of referring to it by its various nicknames.  This led to the renaming of many Church entities, including its famous choir, which is now The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.  Although I have been trying to think up a clever new name for this feature that is more in line with President Nelson's request, for the moment it remains "Mormon Mentions.")

---

Whenever I read a book that is set in a real place, I'm always curious to know which details about it are  true and which are made-up to suit the story.  Elgin—a town in Ottawa, Canada—plays a big role in Dark August by Katie Tallo.  The way she describes it, especially as an abandoned village decimated by a toxic waste explosion, makes it sound like a fascinating place.  Unfortunately, she did not include an author's note explaining what in the book is factual and what is not, so I had to do some digging on my own.  Here's what I found:

While Elgin is, indeed, a real place, the whole toxic waste explosion/ghost town thing is 100% fiction.  If you Google the town, you will see that it's a teensy (population: about 300) village southwest of Ottawa that appears to be a quaint, lovely place to live.  

On the second page of Dark August, Elgin is described as "a settlement carved from nothing in the 1830s by Mormon missionaries."  This bit of history appears to be true-ish.  This website attributes the town's founding to members of the Halladay Family, but it does mention that missionaries from the Church arrived in the area in the 1830's and, in 1834, a large group of converts left the area for Mormon settlements in the United States.  Church history websites (like this one) confirm the presence of missionaries there, who converted many people in the area.  Genealogical information from FamilySearch also confirms that Halladays were prominent in the area in the 1800's.  However, it appears that Tallo's characters were not based on real members of the family. 

If you know anything about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you probably know that it has always valued both community and missionary work.  A number of towns and cities in the United States (especially in Utah, Idaho, Arizona, and California) as well as several in Mexico and Canada were, in fact, settled by early pioneers, missionaries, and members of the Church.  The city I live in is one of them :)

Dark August An Absorbing Small Town, Big Secrets Thrill Ride

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When Augusta "Gus" Monet learns that her great-grandmother has passed away, she feels sad knowing she has no living relatives left, even if she had no great love for the lady herself.  Although the bitter old woman took in 8-year-old Gus after her mother died in a car accident, the crone had little use for children, and immediately sent her ward off to boarding school.  At 20, Gus has become a lonely grifter, following her con artist boyfriend around from city to city and mark to mark.  The inheritance of her great-grandmother's house in Ottawa represents a chance for Gus to make a clean start, sans loser boyfriend.  Without telling him, she goes "home" and takes up residence in a dilapidated house with a loyal mutt named Levi.  

As Gus explores her new digs, she comes across a box of old case files that belonged to her police detective mother.  She remembers her mom spending hours poring over these same papers and photographs, obsessing over the wrongdoings of Kep Halladay, a powerful, small-town senator whose guilt she was desperate to prove.  When Gus starts studying them for herself, she becomes just as caught up in the mystery, just as eager to bring the missing senator—whom she is sure is responsible for her mom's "accident" (among his many sins)—to justice.  Shannon Monet risked her reputation, her career, and eventually her life trying to take the man down.  Can Gus accomplish what her mother couldn't?  

Ignoring ominous "No Trespassing" signs, Gus hikes in to Elgin, the idyllic village where the Halladys once ruled supreme.  Abandoned in the wake of a toxic waste explosion, the place is now a ghost town, its charred streets and storefronts spooky in their post-apocalyptic emptiness.  As Gus explores the ruins, she comes to see that Elgin is not as unoccupied as it seems.  The secrets of the town's tortured past still linger in its poisoned air and someone will go to great lengths to make sure no one—especially not the too curious daughter of a nosy policewoman—sniffs them out.     

My library is open for limited browsing of a small, "curated" selection of books, one of which was Dark August, a debut novel by Katie Tallo.  I hadn't heard of it before but found the plot summary's mention of an abandoned town too intriguing to pass up.  While the setting captured my initial interest, the story sucked me in from word one.  Gus and Levi make an appealing duo and I definitely wanted to know what they were going to do next and how everything was going to turn out for them.  In addition, the plot of Dark August is complex and twisty, the setting is atmospheric and unique, and the vibe is tense and creepy.  How could I not be completely riveted by this well-crafted thriller?  While I did see a few of its plot curves coming, overall I found this novel an absorbing, satisfying read.  As you can imagine, Dark August is not the easiest, most uplifting book in the world, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.  

(Readalikes:  A million titles should be coming to mind, but I'm drawing a blank.  You?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language, violence, blood/gore, disturbing subject matter, and references to illegal drug use, sex, etc.

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Fourth Amish Candy Shop Mystery Just as Frothy and Fun As Its Predecessors

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Toxic Toffee, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from earlier Amish Candy Shop mysteries.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.

It's Springtime and the town busybody of Harvest, Ohio, has come up with yet another brilliant scheme to lure tourists to the quaint little town.  For the Easter Days festival she's dreamed up, she wants Bailey King, resident chocolatier, to craft the world's largest Easter bunny—out of toffee.  And she needs it done yesterday.  Bailey reluctantly agrees.  Minutes after saying yes, she's stunned when a man keels over right in front of her.  Stephen Raber, a rabbit farmer who looks like an Amish Santa Claus, is dead of an apparent heart attack.

When Aiden Brody, Bailey's sheriff's deputy boyfriend, informs her that Stephen really died because he ate a piece of poisoned toffee, she's shocked all over again.  Everyone in town agrees that Stephen was a jolly, kind-hearted man.  Why would anyone want to murder him?  When a skittish young man surprises Bailey at home with a plea to find Stephen's killer—and a bunny—she knows it's time to channel her inner Nancy Drew once again.  The Amish are mistrustful of the police, but they seem to believe in Bailey's detecting skills.  She doesn't want to let them down.  

With a giant bunny to craft, a real-life rabbit to watch, and a murder to solve, Bailey's got a lot on her plate.  Can she figure out who used Stephen's notorious sweet tooth against him?  Or will she become the next victim of someone with sour intentions?  

The books in the Amish Candy Shop Mystery series by Amanda Flower always make me smile.  They're light, fun, and entertaining, and honestly, that's all I want sometimes!  Sure, they're far-fetched, even silly, but when I'm looking for a diverting read, this is where I turn.  Toxic Toffee, the fourth installment, is just as enjoyable as its predecessors.  It features the usual likable characters, interesting English/Amish dynamics, and an intriguing enough mystery.  I was introduced to at least one facet of Amish life that I wasn't familiar with and found very intriguing (I won't tell you what to avoid spoilers).  While I noticed a couple of inconsistencies in the plot/writing, they weren't enough to deter me from enjoying Toxic Toffee.  It made for a fun, frothy read in between heavier books.  Given my taste for these sweet, clean mysteries, you won't be surprised to find out that I already have the next installment out from the library.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other books in the series, including Assaulted Caramel, Lethal Licorice, and Premeditated Peppermint as well as cozy mysteries by Vivien Chien, Ellie Alexander, Eve Calder, Kylie Logan, etc.)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Top Ten Tuesday: 2020 New-to-me Author Discoveries


As much as I love reading books by my favorite authors, I also enjoy discovering new writers, so I always try to mix it up.  Case in point:  in 2020, just over half of the 191 books I read were by authors whose work I had never tried before.  Although not all of them turned out to be winners for me, I did find a number of new authors that I liked and definitely want to read more from.  Since today's Top Ten Tuesday is all about those discoveries, I'll share ten of mine in just a sec.

Edit:  After crafting this whole post, I realized I made a similar TTT list back in July that included several of these authors.  Oops.  I'm too lazy to change out the duplicates.  Sorry!

First, though, I want to encourage you to join in the TTT fun.  All you have to do is buzz on over to That Artsy Reader Girl, read some quick instruction, make your own list, then spend some happy hours clicking around the book blogosphere.  It's a great way to spread the love around our fabulous community while getting great reading recommendations at the same time.   

Top Ten New-to-Me Authors I Discovered in 2020:


1.  Riley Sager—creepy adult mysteries/thrillers
Book(s) read in 2020:  The Last Time I Lied; Lock Every Door 


2.  Nic Stone—YA and middle-grade contemporary, featuring Black characters
Book(s) read in 2020:  Clean Getaway


3.  Julie Lee—middle-grade historical, featuring Korean characters
Book(s) read in 2020:  Brother's Keeper (debut)


4.  Alyssa Maxwell—adult historical mysteries
Book(s) read in 2020:  Murder at the Breakers
Book(s) read since:  Murder at Marble House


5.  Janae Marks—middle-grade contemporary, featuring Black characters
Book(s) read in 2020:  From the Desk of Zoe Washington (debut)


6.  Aida Salazar—middle-grade contemporary and historical, featuring Latinx characters
Book(s) read in 2020:  Land of the Cranes 


7.  Dusti Bowling—middle-grade contemporary and mystery
Book(s) read in 2020:  The Canyon's Edge


8.  Diane Chamberlain—adult historical and contemporary 


9.  Tea Cooper—adult historical and historical romance, set in Australia
Book(s) read in 2020:  The Woman in the Green Dress


10.  Ben Oliver—YA sci-fi and dystopian
Book(s) read in 2020:  The Loop (debut)

There you have it, ten new authors I found in 2020.  Have you read any of them?  Which new authors did you discover in 2020?  I'd truly love to know.  Leave me a comment on this post and I will gladly return the favor on your blog.

Happy TTT!

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Middle Grade Historical Offers a Vivid, Heart-wrenching Portrayal of Life in a Leper Colony

(Image from author's website)

Culion Island is a lush Filipino paradise boasting sparkling blue water, sweet-smelling flowers, trees hanging with ripe fruit, and a peaceful quiet.  It should be overrun with eager beachgoers.  But, high on a cliff, an eagle made of white flowers warns outsiders to keep away from Culion.  It's a one-way island; people can come, but no one ever leaves.  Those who are "touched" with leprosy are brought to Culion to keep them isolated while their bodies slowly deteriorate and die from the contagious disease.  

Amihan "Ami" Tala was born on Culion after her pregnant mother was diagnosed with leprosy and brought to the island.  Although the 12-year-old is herself untouched, the leper colony is her home—everything she's ever known and loved.  She has no desire to leave.  When Narciso Zamora, a sneering government official, comes to Culion to enforce new segregation laws, which will force the "clean" away from the "unclean," everyone is shocked.  Not only will many new sufferers be brought to the island, but the untouched children will be forced to leave.  Although the policy is supposed to be for the children's benefit, Ami cannot see how being taken from her mother and their tight-knit community could possibly be a good thing.  

With little choice in the matter, Ami is sent to an orphanage on nearby (but not near enough) Coron Island.  Subject to Mr. Zamora's cruelty and teasing from the other children, Ami knows she can't stay.  Together with a new friend, she vows to return to her home, no matter what it takes.  Can she get back to Culion safely?  With her mother's health declining rapidly, will Ami make it home in time?  Will she be allowed to stay?

I'm familiar with Moloka'i, Hawaii's famous leper colony, but I had never heard of Culion before, even though it held the largest leprosarium in the world for decades, starting in about 1906.  In The Island at the End of Everything, Kiran Millwood Hargrave brings the place to vivid life.  Through the eyes of Ami, she helps readers see and understand what it must have been like for Culion's residents when the government began enforcing divisive policies that separated spouses, families, and friends.  The tension makes for an intriguing but heartbreaking story.  Ami is a sympathetic heroine for whom it's easy to root.  Her story is filled with terror, adventure, and suspense, which keeps The Island at the End of Everything from getting dull.  In fact, the novel is compelling as well as poignant and hopeful.  While the ending is predictable, I still very much enjoyed this insightful middle grade novel.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Moloka'i by Alan Brennert)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence, disturbing subject matter, and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of The Island at the End of Everything with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Upbeat MG Novel More About Capability Than Disability


(Image from Amazon)

Aven Green was born with no arms.  The 12-year-old is used to getting stares when she's in unfamiliar places, but she's lived in the same town for so long that no one at school or in her community gives her a second glance anymore.  Her classmates see her use her feet to do all kinds of ordinary tasks—eat, turn pages in her textbooks, write, even play the guitar.  No big deal.  They know she can do pretty much anything they can do, even without arms.  

When her dad announces that he's taken a new job as the manager of an amusement park in Arizona, Aven is not thrilled.  She doesn't want to move to the desert, leave her friends behind, and start over at a new school.  Doing so is just as awful as she thinks it will be.  Stagecoach Pass is a grungy, derelict old place; her family's new apartment is teensy; her classmates gape at her torso and make rude comments; and Aven's taken to hiding out in the school bathroom to avoid their stares.  Things start to improve when she meets two boys who feel just as outcast as Aven—Connor has Tourette Syndrome and Zion is overweight.  With her friends by her side, she sets out to prove anew that challenges or no, they can do anything, even solve the mystery of Stagecoach Pass's missing owners!

It may not sound like it, but Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling is a funny, upbeat book.  Really!  Our heroine, who likes to make up fantastical stories about how she lost her arms and play practical jokes on gullible, unsuspecting folks, is downright hilarious.  Although she's well aware of the limitations imposed on her because of her disability, she's determined not to let them stand in her way.  Which isn't to say she doesn't sometimes feel humiliated and angry or engage in self-pity.  She does, but she also shows that she's just as capable, determined, and clever as anyone else.  While the novel is humorous, it also offers a poignant, intimate portrayal of what it's like for a child to be different.  The story is empathy-inducing and moving without being saccharine or preachy.  It's easy to see where the book's plot is going, but even still, the tale is fun and engaging.  For all these reasons and more, I very much enjoyed this appealing, entertaining novel.  

A note:  I listened to Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus on audio.  The book is read by Karissa Vacker, whose performance I didn't love.  She tended toward a Valley Girl/mean girl accent when voicing Aven and other young females, while employing a mopey/dopey tone for Aven's male pals.  Thus, the girls all sounded like snots while the boys just sounded dumb.  I'm an audiobook novice, so perhaps I'm way too picky about narrators, but Vacker drove me a little nuts.  I got used to her after awhile, but I came close to abandoning the audio version because her voice grated on my ears, especially at first.  Just sayin'.

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Jazz Age YA Mystery an Appealing, Engrossing Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Learning to be a proper society lady—even in the enlightened year of 1924 in the modern city of Chicago—can be downright dull, especially for someone like Piper Sail.  Her tongue refuses to be curbed, she can't sew worth beans, and the silly pranks she pulls off at school are the stuff of legend.  She may be headed to college in just a few months, but she still hasn't quite learned to control her penchant for mischief.  Piper's best friend, Lydia LeVine, is the opposite.  She's a sweet, obedient girl whose only sin is her desperate crush on her family's chauffer.  Although Piper has warned Lydia not to do more than flirt with a man so far below her station, Piper worries her pleas are falling on deaf ears.  When Lydia disappears, Piper is certain she has run off and eloped.  With each day that passes with no word from her best friend, however, she becomes more distressed.  Where is Lydia?  Her naiveté and epileptic seizures would have made her especially vulnerable to anyone's nefarious schemes.  Piper fears something terrible has happened to her friend.

Although handsome detective Mariano Cassano is on the case, he's not finding answers fast enough for Piper.  With the reluctant help of a couple friends, she launches her own investigation.  As she explores Chicago's ugly underbelly, so full of corruption and crime, she realizes for the first time just how dangerous her hometown really is.  In a gritty city run by mobsters, anything could have happened to a woman as young and innocent as Lydia.  Piper's own neck is on the line as she follows a perilous path littered with disturbing clues.  Will she find its end in time to save Lydia?  Or will she become another rich girl mysteriously disappeared from swanky, secretive Astor Street?

I love me a good historical mystery, so I was naturally drawn to The Lost Girl of Astor Street, a YA novel by Stephanie Morrill.  The colorful Jazz Age setting makes for an appealing backdrop to a compelling story.  Piper and her associates are warm, sympathetic characters who are easy to like and root for.  While I saw a lot of the plot's twists coming (unlike Piper, who's a little slow on the uptake), it offered enough surprises to keep me reading.  The tale's structure is a bit loosey-goosey with extraneous characters (Walter, for instance) and story lines that don't really go anywhere (like Piper's flirtation with Jeremiah).  Perhaps Morrill left some possibilities dangling for a potential sequel?  I'd read that!  In spite of these small irritants, I enjoyed The Lost Girl of Astor Street.  It's an engrossing, entertaining mystery that kept me reading.  

One last note:  The Lost Girl of Astor Street is published by Blink, a division of HarperCollins that specializes in clean, uplifting literature for young adults.  Although there's no graphic content in the book, it does refer to issues like prostitution, white slavery, mob violence, etc. which warrants a PG-13 rating (at least in my opinion).  Also, while my library put a "FAITH" label on the novel's spine, I wouldn't really consider it Christian fiction.  Praying and going to church is mentioned a couple of times in the story, but religion isn't really discussed.  If you're put off by the "FAITH" distinction, don't be.  There's nothing preachy here.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a bit of These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Top Ten Tuesday: 2020 Seasonal TBR List Rollovers


I don't know about you, but there are a lot of books I meant to get to in 2020 but didn't.  Like a lot.  Some of them didn't happen because I lost interest, others got pushed aside for more pressing reads, and still others just didn't make the cut when my mood caused me to reach for one genre over another.  For whatever reason, there are hundreds of titles I meant to read in 2020 and didn't.  This week's Top Ten Tuesday topic is just that:  Top Ten Books I Meant to Read in 2020 But Didn't Get To.  Since I don't want to list four hundred forgotten books, I'm going to take one of the prompt's suggestions and look back at the seasonal TBR lists I created in 2020 and see how many of those books I actually read.

First, though, I want to encourage you to participate in the TTT fun by hopping over to That Artsy Reader Girl, where you can find all the info on how to join up with this diverting weekly meme.

Top Ten Books On My 2020 Seasonal TBR Lists That I Still Need to Read 

Because I did not do a Fall list, but created two lists each for Spring and Summer, I had a total of 50 books on last year's seasonal TBR lists.  How many of them did I actually read?  Drumroll, please ... 19!  Not too shabby, really.  Let's break it down by season and see which titles I still most want to read:

Spring:

Books on list I still want to read most:


The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat by Edward Kelsey Moore


A Good Neighborhood by Therese Ann Fowler

TBR List, Part Two—read 3/10
Books on list I still want to read most:


All the Ways We Said Goodbye by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White


Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn

Summer: 

TBR List, Part One—read 2/10
Books on list I still want to read most:


Home Before Dark by Riley Sager


The Answer Is: Reflections on My Life by Alex Trebek

TBR List, Part Two—read 7/10
Books on list I want to read most:


All the Greys on Greene Street by Laura Tucker


Splinters of Scarlet by Emily Bain Murphy

Winter:

TBR List—read 1/10
Books on list I want to read most:


The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman


Death in the Family by Tessa Wegert

There you go, ten books from my 2020 seasonal TBR lists that I still want to read.  Have you read any of them?  What did you think?  Which books are you rolling over from your 2020 lists?  I'd truly love to know.  Leave me a comment on this post and I will return the favor on your blog.

Happy TTT!

Monday, January 18, 2021

Unlikable Characters Make Engrossing Thriller a Depressing, Dissatisfying Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Former whistleblower Nora Trier has built a successful career as a forensic accountant.  For the last 15 years, she has spent her days combing through financial records searching out fraud, but she's still surprised by her newest case.  Strike, a billion-dollar home-grown premium athletics brand, is on the verge of hosting a huge kickboxing competition with an unprecedented prize—the winner earns $20 million and the chance to be Strike's new spokesperson.  The problem?  The coveted prize money has gone missing.  Strike's owners, Gregg Abbott and his wife, famous kickboxing champion Logan Russo, have suspicions about where it might be and who might have taken it, but no one knows for sure.  With one week before it's to be awarded, the money needs to be found.  Gregg is convinced that only Nora has the expertise to find it.

Nora prides herself on her objectivity, but she has more than one secret connection to Strike.  Can she investigate the company fairly?  The further she delves into its financial transactions as well as the personal lives of its owners and employees, the more concerned she becomes.  With whispers of embezzlement, betrayal, and sabotage in the air, Nora's not sure what to believe.  All she knows is that the evidence is leading in a disturbing direction.  As she gets closer and closer to the truth, Nora's position becomes more and more dangerous.  Someone doesn't want her to find out what's really happening at Strike.  Who would do the unthinkable to keep the truth hidden?

I enjoyed the two books I've read by Mindy Mejia, so I picked up her newest assuming it would be just as enticing.  Strike Me Down definitely sucked me in and kept me reading.  I whipped through its pages because I wanted to know what was going to happen next.  The plot kept me guessing, which is something I always appreciate in mysteries/thrillers.  Unfortunately, though, I just could not stand any of the novel's main characters.  Nora and Logan are both cold, selfish women who are admirable in some ways but still almost wholly unlikable.  Gregg is greedy, unfaithful, and overly obsessed with Strike.  By the end of the novel, I found all of them so repulsive that I didn't care much what happened to any of them.  So, while Strike Me Down is an engrossing page turner that held my attention, for me it ended up being a depressing, dissatisfying read because I hated the characters so much.  Bummer.

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language, violence, blood/gore, sexual content, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Noodle House Mystery Series Always Fun, Entertaining

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Egg Drop Dead, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from earlier Noodle Shop mysteries.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.

Lana Lee is always looking for ways to promote her family's Chinese restaurant, Ho-Lee Noodle House.  As manager, it's her responsibility to keep the place running smoothly as well as look for new ways to bring in business.  Offering catering services seems like a good idea.  Especially when Lana sees just how swanky their first catered party really is.  Wealthy guests are eating up all of Ho-Lee Noodle House's delicious offerings and promising to use the restaurant for their own fancy galas.  Everything is going swimmingly until a dead body is found in the backyard pool.

Donna Feng—the party hostess and co-owner of the Asian Village shopping center where Ho-Lee Noodle House is located—swears she has no idea how her children's nanny ended up dead.  Everyone heard Donna screaming at the young woman earlier in the party.  Everyone knows Donna hasn't been quite right since her husband died.  Everyone seems convinced that the widow snapped and killed Alice Kam in a fit of rage.  Lana seems to be the only one who believes Donna, an old family friend whom she's known for years, is innocent.  True, the woman is not exactly who she says she is.  Still, Lana knows she isn't capable of murder.  So, who did the dastardly deed?  It's up to Lana to find out...

Vivien Chien's Noodle House Mystery series is one of my favorites.  The books don't take themselves too seriously which makes them fun, entertaining reads.  Lana is a spunky heroine whose natural curiosity leads her into plenty of far-fetched but exciting mystery-solving adventures.  Her relationship with her colorful, complicated family adds humor and tension to every book.  While Egg Drop Dead isn't my favorite installment in the series, it's still an enjoyable romp that kept me smiling while I zipped through its pages.  Even though the killer in this one is pretty obvious and Lana's boyfriend, Detective Adam Trudeau, drove me crazy with his condescending "dollface" comments, I still liked Egg Drop Dead.  I'll continue with the series, no question, because it really is a whole lot of fun!

(Readalikes:  Other books in the series, including Death By Dumpling, Dim Sum of All Fears, Murder Lo Mein, Wonton Terror, Killer Kung Pao, Fatal Fried Rice, and Hot and Sour Suspects; also reminds me of culinary cozies by Ellie Alexander, Amanda Flower, Kylie Logan, and Eve Calder)

Grade:


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:  Another library fine find

Thursday, January 14, 2021

The Children's Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2021 Monthly Review Link-Up (January)


I'm a *little* late on posting this monthly link-up for January.  Sorry about that! For those of you who are participating in the challenge, this is where you can post reviews for this month.  Please include the title of the book you're reviewing along with your name and the name of your blog.  I can't wait to see what everyone's reading!

If you haven't "officially" signed up for the challenge, it's not too late.  Just go to this post and add your name to the Mr. Linky there.





 

Poignant, Compelling MG Novel My Favorite Read of the Year So Far

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Imani Mandel is used to nosey questions from strangers.  The 12-year-old has spent her whole life fielding them.  Why is she Black when her parents are white?  Who are her real mom and dad?  How can she be Jewish when she's Black?  Shouldn't she be celebrating Kwanza instead of Hanukkah?  

Imani has grown up in an adoptive Jewish family, so her life makes sense to her.  Still, she can't help but wonder about her birth family and the truths that are hiding in her DNA.  For her upcoming bat mitzvah, Imani gets to choose a "big" present.  She knows what she wants—her parents' permission to search for her birth family—but she doesn't know how to ask for it without gutting them.  

For her bat mitzvah, Imani is supposed to do a research project about the Holocaust.  When her great-grandmother dies, leaving her many books to her grandchildren, Imani is shocked to discover a diary forgotten among the other volumes.  Even more amazing, it's the journal her great-grandmother Anna kept when she was forced to leave her native Luxembourg in 1941.  At 12 years old, she fled to America by herself, reluctantly leaving her parents and five siblings behind.  As Hitler's campaign to destroy the Jews heats up, she worries constantly about the family she left in Europe.  What happened to Anna's family?

As Imani becomes immersed in her great-grandmother's story, she begins to understand her place in her adoptive family, her legacy as a Jew, and what it truly means to be her own unique self.  

I had never heard of The Length of a String by Elissa Brent Weissman until I came across Afoma Umesi's wonderful list of 67 Best Middle-Grade Historical Fiction Books.  As the adoptive mother of a mixed-race daughter and a lover of World War II stories, I was immediately drawn to the novel's premise.  It promised a compelling story about themes I find intriguing: identity, family history, heritage, adoption, DNA, etc.  Did it deliver?  Absolutely!  The characters are sympathetic and likable, the plot is exciting and interesting, and the overall story is poignant and moving.  When it comes to dual-timeline novels, I'm usually way more invested in the past story than the present.  Not so with The Length of a String; I was equally intrigued by both story lines.  Although the book deals with some difficult subjects, overall it's upbeat, uplifting, and empowering.  So far, this is my favorite read of the year.  I loved it.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen and other children's books about the Holocaust)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Blog Widget by LinkWithin