Sunday, February 28, 2021

The Children's Historical Fiction Reading Challenge Monthly Review Link-Up (February and March)

 


Since I completely spaced posting a monthly link-up for February reviews for the Children's Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, this is going to serve for both February and March.  Please include the name of the book you're reviewing along with your name, and the name of your blog.  I can't to see what you've been 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 widget there.  



Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Top Ten Tuesday: I'm Not Laughing, You're Laughing


Everyone can use a good laugh sometimes and the last year or so has definitely been some time.  Where have you turned for humor lately?  Movies?  Television?  Internet memes?  YouTube?  The comics?  The place I have not been turning to, apparently, is books because I had a tough time coming up with titles to fit today's Top Ten Tuesday topic:  Top Ten Books That Made Me Laugh Out Loud.  If you spend any time at all here at BBB, you've probably realized by now that I'm not a big reader of light, frothy, funny books.  I tend to prefer darker, moodier reads.  Which isn't to say I don't appreciate a comical character or a humorous line or a scene that makes me snort-laugh.  I definitely do.  When I searched my memory (which is, admittedly, deficient in its old age), though, not a whole lot came up.  Apparently, I need more humor in my life, so lay it on me—what are some funny reads I need to check out?

If you want to join in the TTT fun (and you definitely do), click on over to That Artsy Reader Girl for all the deets.

Top Ten Books That Made Me Laugh Out Loud  


1.  The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion—This is the only book I can think of offhand that really fits the prompt.  Here's what I said in my review:  "This is one of those books that's embarrassing to read in public.  Not because of risquĂ© cover art or a suggestive title, but because I couldn't stop laughing—out loud—at the antics of its main character.  This hilarious rom-com is so delightful that I could hardly restrain myself from smiling, chuckling, and sharing the best bits with the room at large."


2.  Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery—The titular character is an irrepressible redhead with a vivid imagination and a fiery temper, both of which lead her into hysterical scrapes. 


3.  Little Women by Louisa May Alcott—This is one of my favorite books, so I use it over and over for TTT prompts.  It has some hilarious scenes, especially those involving Jo March.  Meg's disaster with the jelly, though, is probably the one that makes me laugh the most.


4.  Little Men by Louisa May Alcott—As much as I love Little Women, I've never read its sequel for some reason.  I'm currently listening to it on audio and it also has some funny scenes, not too surprising since it's about the boys' boarding school Jo runs with her husband.


5.  The Tempe Brennan series by Kathy Reichs—This is a series of murder mysteries featuring a forensic anthropologist.  The books can be gruesome and disturbing, but Tempe's witty banter—both her internal dialogue and her verbal jousts with other characters—keep humor in the novels.


6.  The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz—It's been a long time since I read this series opener, but in my review I called it "engrossing fluff that ma[de] me laugh out loud," so I guess it's a funny book!


7.  The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson—What I remember most about this holiday novel is my taciturn third-grade teacher reading it out loud and laughing so hard she cried.  All of us terrified little kids were shocked!  It really is a hilarious book that was made into an equally hilarious tv movie.


8.  Anything by Ally Carter—Carter's books are engaging and fun.  I especially like her Gallagher Girls series.


9.  The Veronica Speedwell series by Deanna Raybourn—I love me a funny heroine and Veronica Speedwell, who is a lepidopterist, feminist, and amateur detective in Victorian England, is just that.

10.  Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey—Although I'm the resident McConaughey fan, I actually haven't read this memoir yet.  My husband did, however, and laughed uproariously through the whole thing.  He keeps urging me to read the book since it's an easy, entertaining read.  I'll get to it one of these days!    

Phew!  I made it to ten.  What do you think of my picks?  What are your favorite funny books?  Which should I pick up?  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!

Monday, February 22, 2021

Glittering White City Backdrop Makes Historical Mystery Especially Colorful and Compelling

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Note:  Although this review will not contain spoilers for Shadows of the White City, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from its predecessor, Veiled in Smoke.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.

It's been over twenty years since 43-year-old Sylvie Townsend had her heart smashed to bits by a lying suitor.  She's never quite recovered, but she has found fulfillment in mothering her adopted daughter, Rose Dabrowski.  At 17, Rose is a headstrong young lady who yearns for independence and freedom.  Although Sylvie is trying to loosen the apron strings, she fears her impulsive daughter is headed for nothing but trouble.  When Rose launches a desperate search for her birth family, Sylvie tries not to take it as an affront.  Knowing she needs to be supportive, she attempts to push her anxiety and fears away and give her beloved daughter the space she so obviously needs. 

With the colorful, chaotic 1893 World's Fair in full swing right on their doorstep, Sylvie has warned Rose repeatedly to be very careful when out and about in Chicago.  Her worst fears are realized when her daughter vanishes without a trace.  Has the young woman been abducted?  Or has she run away from home to escape her mother's suffocating watch?  Sylvie cannot rest until she knows Rose is safe.  Enlisting the help of her sister, Meg, and a multi-lingual musician named Kristof Bartok, she combs the extensive World's Fair venue in frantic hope of finding her missing child.  While the search brings her and Kristof loser together, Sylvie feels herself drifting further and further from Rose.  Can she find her daughter before it's too late?  With Chicago growing more crowded and dangerous by the day, Sylvie fears she'll never see Rose again ...

Shadows of the White City, the second book in Jocelyn Green's Windy City Saga trilogy, takes place 22 years after the first book, Veiled in Smoke.  Although Meg and other characters from the initial installment are present in the second, it's really Sylvie's story.  While she and her cohorts aren't super original story people, they are sympathetic and likable.  I definitely identified with Sylvie, especially in her plight as an adoptive mother.  Her devotion to and desperate yearning for connection with her daughter felt all too real to me.  The World's Fair makes for an exciting backdrop to the story.  Green describes it vividly, dropping all kinds of fascinating tidbits about the event throughout the novel.  As far as plot goes, the tale remains compelling to the end, even though it's significantly longer than it needs to be.  The mystery of Rose's whereabouts is not very mysterious or surprising, but it still keeps the story interesting.  Like Veiled in Smoke, Shadows of the White City is a Christian novel, so it's clean, uplifting, and faith-promoting.  Although the book is overly long with a predictable storyline, I still enjoyed this engaging read.  I'm looking forward to the final installment in the trilogy, which features Meg's grown-up daughter and the way the 1915 Eastland Disaster in the Chicago River impacts her life.  Sounds intriguing!


Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence, scenes of peril, and non-graphic references to prostitution, white slavery, opium abuse, etc.

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Shadows of the White City from the generous folks at Bethany House in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Newest Chiller is Sager at His Creepy-Crawly Best

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"'You want the truth?  I'll give it to you.  Things have happened in that house.  Tragic things...And all those things, well, they...linger'" (130).

When Maggie Holt was five years old, her parents bought their dream home.  Built in 1875, Baneberry House was spacious, grand, and surprisingly cheap.  Maggie's parents laughed off its sinister reputation and moved in, determined to turn the place into the warm family retreat they both desired.  Less than a month later, the family fled Baneberry House in the dead of night, wailing about ghosts and threatening messages from the beyond.  They never returned to the old pile, but Ewan Holt—Maggie's father—wrote a lurid tell-all about the family's terrifying experiences there.  Like The Amityville Horror, it became a hugely popular bestseller, America's favorite ghost story.

Although Maggie's childhood was financed by the proceeds of Ewan's book, she has always detested living in the spotlight of its success.  Especially since she knows the truth—her father made the whole thing up.  

When Ewan dies, 30-year-old Maggie is shocked to learn she has inherited Baneberry House, a property she thought was sold long ago.  With the keys in hand, she now has the chance to prove to the world—and to herself—that Ewan Holt was a liar, that his famous book is nothing but an imaginative hoax.  It's not long after Maggie moves into Baneberry House, intending to spend the summer fixing up the place before she puts it on the market, that strange things start happening inside its walls.  If Ewan was lying through his teeth, then what exactly is Maggie experiencing now, 25 years later?  Is it possible that she has been wrong about her father?  What if everything he wrote was the God's honest truth?  What then?  Baneberry House haunted Maggie when she was young—what if it's not done with her?  

Like Ewan Holt, Riley Sager knows how to spin a deliciously terrifying yarn.  Home Before Dark, his newest, is him at his creepy, spooky, scary best.  The novel unfolds in alternating chapters told from Ewan's perspective (sections from his book) and Maggie's, 25 years later.  It's an effective format, one which heightens tension and suspense throughout the book.  Atmospheric and unnerving, the haunted house setting creates the kind of shivery vibe that has readers jumping at every sound and cowering under the covers.  The fact that the book's already eerie cover glows in the dark is just icing on the creepy-cake.  The best part about Home Before Dark, though, is that the story keeps you constantly off balance, wondering what is real and what is not.  While I guessed some of its plot twists, others surprised me, making the book a fun, mess-with-your-head kind of read.  I'm pretty wimpy, but I still enjoy a ghostly, hair-raising read now and then and this one definitely fits that bill.  If you're up for an unsettling spine-chiller, I definitely recommend Home Before Dark.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of The Weight of Lies by Emily Carpenter as well as books by Simone St. JamesCarol Goodman, and Jennifer McMahon)    

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Family Saga Set Against Great Chicago Fire Backdrop Compelling and Uplifting

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Sisters Meg and Sylvie Townsend have a lot on their plates.  Not only do they run their family's bookshop in downtown Chicago, but they also have to keep a close eye on their widowed father, Stephen.  His experiences as a POW during the Civil War still haunt his mind and soul, making him paranoid, confused, and prone to wandering—sometimes carrying a loaded weapon.  Stephen is always warning his daughters of danger on the horizon.  This time, he's right.  As a raging fire engulfs the city, the family must scramble to save their bookshop and themselves.  Although the women get separated from their father in the chaos, their business is destroyed, and Meg suffers debilitating burns on her artist's hands, all three survive the deadly fire.  As the dazed family tries to figure out where to go from here, they receive another shock—Stephen has been accused of murder.  Witnesses say he shot Hiram Sloane, one of his oldest friends, on the night of the fire.  Since Stephen is obviously not in his right mind, he's forced into an insane asylum, despite his daughters' vehement protests.  No matter how sick their father is, he would never murder someone in cold blood.  Would he?

Meg knows her gentle father won't survive another incarceration, especially in a place as soulless as the asylum.  The only way to get him released is to prove him innocent, which Meg vows to do.  Enlisting the help of Nate Pierce, a sympathetic newspaper reporter, she and Sylvie set about investigating the murder of Hiram Sloane.  While doing that, they also have to figure out how to live with no money and little hope of rebuilding their bookshop.  With everything in ashes around them, how will they survive?  Can they free their father before what little is left of his sanity is gone completely?  As their beloved city is being rebuilt around them, can Meg and Sylvie find the strength, the courage, and the hope to go on?

I love me a sweeping family saga, so I was naturally drawn to Jocelyn Green's historical trilogy set in 19th Century Chicago.  The first installment, Veiled in Smoke, introduces the atmospheric setting as well as the likable Townsend family.  Vivid historical detail, especially concerning the Great Fire of 1871, brings the city to life while viewing it all through the eyes of our admirable, root-worthy heroes makes the event and its aftermath feel intimate and personal.  Although there is a murder mystery at the heart of this novel, it's more family saga than thriller so the story moves along at the pace of the former rather than the latter.  The tale does get overly long and the mystery really isn't very mysterious, but I still found Veiled in Smoke compelling enough to keep me reading.  Because this is a Christian novel, it's clean, uplifting, and faith-promoting.  Although it gets preachy in places, the religious themes are not super heavy-handed, which is something I appreciate when reading in this genre.  All these things considered, I found Veiled in Smoke to be an engaging, edifying novel that I liked but didn't absolutely love.  Even still, I've already read the second book and am looking forward to the third.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of I Survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 by Lauren Tarshis and The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Top Ten Tuesday: The Baby in My Mardi Gras King Cake


If you don't live in New Orleans, Louisiana, you might not realize that today is Mardi Gras.  The holiday has been celebrated annually in the city since the 1800's.  While the colorful parades and parties that typify the event have been cancelled this year due to the pandemic, the spirit of Mardi Gras lives on.  You can read all about it here.  Today's Top Ten Tuesday topic pays homage to the holiday by featuring book covers in Mardi Gras colors:  purple (represents justice), green (for faith), and gold (for power).  Since I've never experienced Mardi Gras for myself, nor do I really care to (a wild party for me is cuddling up with not one good book, but two), I'm going to go a little rogue with my TTT list today. 

On a Sunday back in 2008, my husband and I boarded a plane bound for New Orleans.  The beautiful baby girl we were about to adopt had just been born in the area and we were looking forward to getting her on Monday.  We had planned to spend Sunday playing tourists in NOLA, but then we got the surprise news that we could get our baby a day early.  From then on, the only sight-seeing we did in Louisiana was in a hospital and a hotel room. 
 
Adopting our sweet little girl was an incredible, life-changing experience.  I don't think it's a coincidence that it's a Mardi Gras tradition to bake a small baby toy into a king cake.  Whoever gets the slice with the trinket inside gets good luck and prosperity for the year.  We found our baby in Louisiana; since she has been nothing but a treasured blessing in our lives, we definitely feel like we were given the lucky slice!  

In honor of my daughter, I changed today's TTT list from Top Ten Purple, Yellow, and/or Green Book Covers (in honor of Mardi Gras) to Top Ten Books About Adoption.  I'm going to split my list into five that I've read and five that I want to read.

Before we get to that, though, I want to encourage you to join in the TTT fun.  It really is a good time and a great way to support this wonderful book blogging community that we all love so much.  Just hop on over to That Artsy Reader Girl for details.


Top Ten Books About Adoption   

Five I've Read:


1.  Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery—This book, which is one of my all-time favorites, features the mistaken adoption of a young orphaned girl by an aging brother and sister.  Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert intended to adopt a boy so they would have someone to help on their farm.  Although fiery Anne is not exactly what they had in mind, they soon find themselves thoroughly charmed by their irrepressible new daughter.


2.  How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr—This beautiful YA novel is probably the best book I've ever read about adoption.  It hit me in all the feels, let me tell you!  The story revolves around two teenage girls—one whose grieving mother decides out of the blue to adopt a baby and one who has agreed to place her unborn baby with the family.  As the birth grows nearer and nearer, the three women (each of whom has her own agenda) must figure out how to understand each other, trust each other, and, ultimately, decide what's best for one tiny human when all of their hopes, dreams, and goals are on the line.  It's a lovely read.


3.  The Length of a String by Elissa Brent Weissman—I read this middle-grade novel earlier this year and loved it.  It's about Imani, a 12-year-old bi-racial girl who was adopted by a white Jewish couple when she was a baby.  As her bat mitzvah approaches, Imani begins researching the story of her adopted great-grandmother's WWII escape from Luxembourg while also secretly trying to find her birth parents.  It's a sweet, engaging tale about one girl's heartfelt search for her "real" identity.


4.  A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley—This memoir tells the fascinating story of the author's adoption from India by a white couple from Australia.  Although his adoptive home was full of love and acceptance, Saroo felt an intense, burning need to find his birth family in India.  The fact that he was able to locate them with so little information to go on is nothing short of miraculous.  This is an incredible book, which was made into a touching film called Lion.


5.  Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda—Another beautiful novel, this one tells the parallel stories of two mothers.  One is a California pediatrician who is devastated when she finds out she is infertile.  The other is a poor woman in India who knows she can't afford to keep her newborn daughter.  When the American decides to adopt a baby from an Indian orphanage, their stories converge.    

Five I Haven't:


1.  All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung—Chung's Korean parents placed her for adoption when she was a baby.  Adopted by a white couple and raised in a sheltered Oregon town, Chung experienced the pain of racism and feeling out-of-place in her mismatched family.  Her memoir, which talks about her experiences with transracial adoption, sounds like an intriguing and illuminating read.


2.  The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson—I'm not sure how much adoption actually features in this novel, but it still sounds like a good read.  It's about a Black engineer who returns to the dying Indiana factory town where she grew up.  As she digs into her past (including adolescence, when she was forced to give up her baby), she discovers some shocking truths.


3.  The Lost Daughters of China by Karin Evans—This non-fiction book sounds absolutely heartbreaking, but also totally fascinating.  It's about the history of China's one-child policy, which led to numerous adoptions of female Chinese babies.


4.  Silent Tears: A Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage by Kay Bratt—This memoir is about a foreign woman's experience as a volunteer in a Chinese orphanage.


5.  Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata—Adopted Jaden thinks he's an "epic fail."  No wonder his parents are traveling to Kazakhstan to adopt another baby!  When they all arrive at the orphanage, they discover "their" baby has already been adopted.  As the family attempts to choose another on the spot, Jaden makes a sweet new friend and comes to some realizations about himself and his family.  

There you go, five books about adoption that I loved and five I plan to read.  Has your life been touched by adoption?  Is it a subject you enjoy reading about?  Which books have you loved on the subject?  If you did the Mardi Gras prompt, which book covers did you choose?  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!

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Locked-Room Mystery/Thriller an Engrossing, Intriguing Debut

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

After barely surviving a traumatizing abduction by a vicious serial killer while on the job in Manhattan, former NYPD detective Shana Merchant has moved upstate, taking a position with the Bureau of Crime Investigation (BCI).  Idyllic Alexandria Bay, a charming village in the Thousand Islands area, is the perfect place to lick her wounds.  With her devoted fiancĂ© by her side, she hopes to put her nightmares behind her and make a fresh start in the peaceful riverside town.  

Shana is shocked when her department receives a frantic call about a murder on an island that is privately owned by a wealthy family from the city.  With an incoming nor'easter creating stormy weather and choppy water, Shana and her partner, Tim Wellington, head out to Tern Island.  Nine members of the Sinclair family, a wealthy clan that has made a fortune in the NYC fashion industry, have been vacationing there.  One of them, 26-year-old Jasper, has vanished.  The bed in which he and his girlfriend were sleeping is soaked in blood, but there's no corpse and the girlfriend claims to have no idea what happened.  Tim thinks they're dealing with a spoiled businessman who's gone missing to get attention.  Shana's sure it's murder.  

With only a handful of suspects on the remote island, it seems clear that Jasper has not just been killed but also that he's been murdered by a member of his own family.  All of them had motive, means, and opportunity.  Which one made sure Jasper was out of the way?  And why?  As the storm worsens, isolating Shana and Tim on the island with a dysfunctional family, one of whom is a killer, the situation grows increasingly perilous.  Can Shana and her partner get the truth out of their very reluctant witnesses?  Can they unmask the murderer before someone else turns up dead?  Will that someone be one of them?  

I love me a locked-room mystery set in an isolated locale, so I was all in for Death in the Family, a debut novel by Tessa Wegert.  Atmospheric and absorbing, the mystery is engrossing and twisty.  It kept me guessing until the very end, which is exactly what I like in a mystery/thriller.  Shana is a sympathetic heroine whose vulnerability and determination make her both relatable and admirable.  The Sinclairs are the opposite.  They're snobby, greedy, manipulative, and immature, almost to a one.  In the end, the whole sorry lot pretty much gets what they deserve.  I cared about Shana, though.  That—and an engrossing, can't-look-away plot—is what kept me reading Death in the Family.  Even though it's a depressing story, I enjoyed the thrilling read overall.  I just requested The Dead Season, the second installment in the Shana Merchant series, from the library because I'm excited to see what this intriguing heroine does next.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of books by Ruth Ware, Lucy Foley, Sharon Bolton, and Jane Casey)

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

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

MG Dystopian/Survival Story a Taut, Absorbing Read

(Image from author's website)

Maddie Harrison loves her little stepbrothers, but sometimes a girl needs a break.  That's why the 12-year-old decides to spend a night away, secretly having a sleepover in her grandparents' condo while they're away.  Her friends bail on the idea, but Maddie perseveres—and it's glorious.  Until she wakes up and finds that her entire town has been emptied while she sleeps.  Everyone she's ever known and loved is gone, leaving their cell phones behind.  What could possibly have triggered the exodus?  Is she the only one who's been left behind?  With no way to contact her parents, how is she ever going to find them?  And how will she survive without them?

As the days and weeks pass, it becomes apparent that no one is coming to rescue Maddie.  The more she explores, the more she realizes that the emptiness goes beyond just her suburb.  It's apparent that, somehow, Maddie will have to find a way to keep herself healthy and safe for the foreseeable future.  With only George, her neighbor's abandoned rottweiler, by her side, she has to forage for food and water, figure out how to stay warm during the upcoming winter, and keep them both safe from the threats all around them.  With boredom and loneliness weighing heavily on her, Maddie must keep dark thoughts at bay and keep going.  But for how long?  What really happened to her parents, siblings, and friends?  Are they ever coming back?  How many more months can Maddie survive all on her own?

Alone, a debut novel by Megan E. Freeman, tells a tense, harrowing story that will appeal to anyone who loves taut survival tales.  While its premise—a young girl sleeps blissfully on while a fairly large town is completely evacuated around her—seems awfully far-fetched, the rest of the plot feels disturbingly realistic.  Told in verse, it's a fast-moving, absorbing book that I buzzed through in one sitting.  It's easy to root for Maddie, who's brave, resourceful, and likable.  Kids will find her determination both admirable and empowering.  Although the story is scary in places and does get pretty bleak for a middle grade novel, it ends on a hopeful note.  Hand this one to reluctant readers, Hatchet fans, and kids who want a soft introduction to dystopian/post-apocalyptic type literature.  They'll eat it up, just like I did.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Hatchet by Gary Paulsen and other MG survival stories like The Canyon's Edge by Dusti Bowling and Storm Blown by Nick Courage)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Monday, February 08, 2021

Of All the Historical Mystery/Romances in All the World, This One Just Doesn't Quite Live Up to the Hype

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When her abusive husband dies, Lady Katherine Bascomb breathes a sigh of relief.  Not only is she finally free from his explosive temper, but she's now a wealthy widow and the owner of a London newspaper.  As such, she's free to write the kinds of articles she wants to pen, even if the laced-up Victorians frown upon a lady reporting hard news.  Kate refuses to let that stop her from using her own intelligence and insight to try to solve a spate of murders that have been plaguing the city.  When she makes a rookie investigatory misstep that puts a young woman in danger, however, she sees just how dangerous meddling in police work can be.

A seasoned detective inspector with the Metropolitan Police, Andrew Eversham is furious when he learns that Kate has been nosing around in his case.  He becomes even more enraged when he encounters her again—this time as the discoverer of a murdered manservant at her friend's country manor.  As annoyed as he is by the beautiful Kate, he can't deny that she's smart and observant.  True, she made a dangerous mistake in reporting, but would it really be so bad to give her another chance?  Andrew needs all the help he can get to stop a vicious criminal and Kate just might make a worthy partner.  Can the duo work together without losing their tempers—or their hearts?  

Everything about A Lady's Guide to Mischief and Mayhem by Manda Collins—from its playful cover to its clever tagline to its lively plot summary—screams light, fun historical mystery/romance.  I expected to be thoroughly charmed by the novel, which I have been looking forward to reading ever since it landed on my doorstep.  Did it live up to my (admittedly high) expectations?  Not exactly.  While the book is diverting overall, it didn't enchant me the way I wanted it to.  The characters are likable without being anything special.  I get that Kate is supposed to be a forward-thinking woman, but her attitude and speech feel too contemporary to be authentically Victorian.  As far as Andrew goes, his constant distraction over Kate's looks made him seem unprofessional and less honorable than I wanted him to be.  Both are supposed to be fiercely independent and love-adverse, but neither has to work too hard to win the other over, which makes their romance seem insta-lovey and stale.  I was especially annoyed by a brief, but fairly graphic sex scene that occurs about 3/4 of the way through the story.  The swerve from PG-ish territory to R came as a disappointing surprise to me.  It didn't fit with the vibe of the novel, although perhaps I should have seen it coming since Collins' other books are, apparently, bodice rippers.  Nevertheless, it soured my reading experience of what I thought would be a light, frothy romantic mystery.  Speaking of the mystery, it does have a plot twist that I didn't totally see coming, which made for a nice surprise.  Still, the finale is pretty lackluster and anti-climactic.  All of these things considered, A Lady's Guide to Mischief and Mayhem turned out to be an only slightly better-than-average read for me.  It was engaging enough to keep me reading, but too many irritants got in the way of me really enjoying it.  I wanted to love the book and just...didn't.  As far as this genre goes, I'll stick with what I already know and love.  Sorry, but Kate Bascomb simply can't compete with Veronica Speedwell and Kat Halloway.       

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of the Veronica Speedwell mystery series by Deanna Raybourn and the Kat Halloway mystery series by Jennifer Ashley, although I'd recommend both of these over A Lady's Guide to Mischief and Mayhem)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of A Lady's Guide to Mischief and Mayhem from the generous folks at Forever Books (a division of Hachette Book Group) in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

Thursday, February 04, 2021

Does the Appealing Outweigh the Annoying in Cozy Series Opener? Maybe, Maybe Not.

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Quinn Caine has always loved her quaint hometown of Vienna, Virginia.  After attending college and teaching English abroad, the 25-year-old is back to stay.  Working as a book binder at her family's charming shop will hopefully let her make a decent living while spending time with her kin and getting reacquainted with old friends.  With her German Shepherd, Ruff Barker Ginsburg, by her side, she's all set to make a new life for herself in Vienna.

The past comes calling when snooty Tricia Pemberley goes out of her way to flash her new engagement ring in Quinn's face.  The former beauty queen, who's set to marry an old flame of Quinn's, loves to stir up drama where there isn't any.  Quinn couldn't care less about the pending nuptials, but when Tricia ends up dead, suspicion turns her way.  With the help of Sister Daria—her cousin-turned-nun—Quinn vows to clear her name.  Although Detective Aiden Harrington—her older brother's hot friend-turned-cop—warns her against Nancy Drew-ing her way into trouble, Quinn won't rest until she finds out who really killed Tricia.  Can she solve the case before she becomes the next victim?  Or will her new life in Vienna end before it ever really begins?

To Kill a Mocking Girl by Harper Kincaid is the first book in a new cozy mystery series starring Quinn Cane.  Vienna is a real Virginia town and it makes for an appealing background.  Kincaid creates a warm fictional community for Quinn that is composed of a tight-knit family, quirky townsfolk, a hip nunnery, and a lovable canine.  This is by far my favorite thing about To Kill a Mocking Girl, which is otherwise a pretty so-so tale.  The mystery is predictable, the plot is contrived, and the interactions between certain characters (Quinn and Tricia, for instance) are melodramatic and silly.  Quinn comes off as likable, but also ditzy and immature.  And she is not at all convincing as a bookbinder.  Despite these irritants, the book is upbeat, entertaining, and fun.  I'm still trying to decide whether the annoying things about this first installment outweigh its more agreeable aspects.  Will I give the next one a go?  Maybe, maybe not.  We'll see.

(Readalikes:  Most of the cozies I read are more culinary in nature, so I'm drawing a bit of a blank here.  Ideas?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Newest Meissner Historical Another Immersive, Absorbing Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

An Irish immigrant, Sophie Whalen will do anything to get out of New York City, where she lives in squalor in a crowded tenement building.  She's even willing to move to far away San Francisco and marry a man she's never met.  A handsome widower, Martin Hocking desires a living wife to give him a proper family man appearance in order to better sell insurance.  His 5-year-old also needs a mother.  Sophie steps in, figuring love or at least a warm friendship will eventually grow between her and her enigmatic new husband.  Even though she's more interested in being a mom than anything else, Sophie's still confused by Martin's cool treatment of her.  He's gone all the time, shows no desire for her physically, ignores his own daughter, and is always vague about his work.  It's becoming increasingly obvious that Martin is hiding something, but what?  

On the eve of the great earthquake that will bring San Francisco to its knees, Sophie receives a shocking visit from a stranger.  The young pregnant woman bears more questions than answers, but it's enough to make Sophie desperate to get them all away before Martin returns home.  When the unthinkable happens, she finds herself on the run in a crumbling city with a laboring mother and a terrified child.  With chaos and destruction all around them, can the trio find safety from the earthquake, its devastating aftermath, and the terrible secret that binds them together?  Will Sophie ever triumph in her ongoing quest for security, happiness, and love? 

I'm a fan of historical fiction, disaster novels, and Susan Meissner, a tantalizing trifecta that comes together perfectly in The Nature of Fragile Things, the author's newest offering.  I buzzed through this book in a day because it tells such a compelling, engrossing story.  Even though the novel really isn't about the San Francisco earthquake, the disaster makes an intriguing, dramatic backdrop for this tale about a woman's plight to forge ahead despite her devastating past and uncertain future.  Sophie is a sympathetic heroine, one who's brave, loyal, and determined.  It's easy to root for her survival and success.  What she discovers about her husband is not what I expected, but it creates a tense, suspenseful plot that kept me burning through the pages.  The Nature of Fragile Things is an absorbing read that reminds me why I enjoy Meissner's work so much.  I can't wait to see what she does next.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of The Stolen Marriage by Diane Chamberlain and of Surviving Savannah by Patti Callahan Henry)

Grade: 


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, blood/gore, mild sexual content, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of The Nature of Fragile Things from the generous folks at Penguin Random House via those at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

A Nostalgic Top Ten Tuesday, Or, A TTT In Which I Admit to Being Really Old


I'm old.  Let's just start with that.  I know I'm not the most senior book blogger out there—in age or in the length of time I've been blogging—but I'm certainly on the "aged" end of both spectrums.  Don't faint, but I was born back in the Dark Ages: 1975.  Gerald Ford was president of the United States, bell bottoms were all the rage, "Love Will Keep Us Together" by Captain & Tennille was rocking the No. 1 spot on the music charts, and James Michener held that honor on the New York Times bestseller list for his novel Centennial. The big news that year was, of course, my birth in a little tiny town in Washington State.  Just kidding, although it was eventful since I arrived in the middle of a big snowstorm that stranded my mom's ob/gyn at the bottom of the hill to the hospital, leaving an intern in charge of my arrival (which probably explains a lot about me).  Ha ha.  

If you were starting to wonder what all this rambling has to do with the price of gas (it was 53 cents/gallon in 1975), it's because of today's nostalgic Top Ten Tuesday topic:  Top Ten Books That Were Written Before I Was Born.  Since I'm so ancient, there are a lot of books that were penned long before I showed up on this earth.  I'm not a huge classics reader, so I haven't actually read most of them.  Ten favorites did come to mind, though.  

If you want to join in the TTT fun and share your own list, click on over to That Artsy Reader Girl for all the info.

Top Ten Books That Were Written Before I Was Born     



1.  To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (published 1960)—This timeless classic is my favorite book of all time.  I re-read it every few years because I love it so much.


2.  Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868)—I adore this book as well.  I've read it numerous times and am actually listening to it on audio right now.  Although it's definitely outdated in some ways, it still delights me with its warmth and charm.  


3.  Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (1936)—This sweeping one-hit wonder has always captivated me.


4.  Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (1908)—There's just no other character quite like Anne Shirley!  You have to love her fiery personality and all the many scrapes and adventures it gets her into.


5.  A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1843)—This holiday classic is the only Dickens book I've actually read (it's short), but I adore it so much that I re-read it every year to help get me in the Christmas spirit.

6.  Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene (1930-1985)—Although some of the installments were published after my birth, most of these beloved mysteries came out before I did.  They were huge favorites of mine when I was young.


7.  And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (1939)—I love mysteries, but I haven't read very many genre classics.  This famous locked-room whodunit is the exception as I've read and enjoyed it several times.  


8.  Jane Eyre by Charlotte BrontĂ« (1847)—It's actually only been a few years since I first read this classic.  I adored it and need to re-read it soon.


9.  Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1932-1971)—I was a huge Little House fan (both of the books and the t.v. show) when I was a kid.


10.  Poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (about 1839-1892)—I've never been a big poetry fan.  Most poems are too abstract for me and just make me feel dumb.  Longfellow's poetry is different.  It rhymes!  It makes sense!  Admittedly, I haven't read all of his verse (not even close), but I've always liked what I have read by him.

There you go, ten of my favorite books that were published before my birth.  Do we have any in common?  Which of your most beloved reads preceded you into the world?  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!

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