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My Progress:

13 / 30 books. 43% done!

2024 Literary Escapes Challenge

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

35 / 51 states. 69% done!

2024 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

My Progress:

29 / 50 books. 58% 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

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42 / 52 books. 81% done!

2024 Build Your Library Reading Challenge

My Progress:

29 / 40 books. 73% 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

17 / 26.2 miles (2nd lap). 65% done!

Mount TBR Reading Challenge

My Progress

30 / 100 books. 30% done!

2024 Pick Your Poison Reading Challenge

My Progress:

74 / 104 books. 71% done!

Around the Year in 52 Books Reading Challenge

My Progress

50 / 52 books. 96% done!

Disney Animated Movies Reading Challenge

My Progress

84 / 165 books. 51% done!
Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Top Ten Tuesday: The Best Novels I've Read So Far This Year

I'm not much for book boyfriends—I've been married to my real-life sweetheart for 24 years as of yesterday and that's better than any fictional romance!—so I was going to skip this week's Top Ten Tuesday.  Then I realized that as tomorrow is September 1, we're official 2/3 of the way through 2021.  With only four months left in the year, I started thinking about what I've read so far and what I still want to get to before 2022.  Of the 135 books I've read, only a handful have been really stand-out reads.  So, I decided to share with you the ten (well, eleven) best novels I've read so far.  Since I'm not feeling very inspired by next week's topic either, I'll post my ten non-fiction picks then.  

Before we get to that, be sure to click on over to That Artsy Reader Girl and give Jana, our lovely TTT hostess, some love!

Top Ten (Okay, Eleven) Best Novels I've Read in 2021 (So Far)

- not including re-reads and in no particular order - 

1.  The Girls in the Stilt House by Kelly Mustian—This historical novel set in 1920s Mississippi features two young women living hardscrabble lives who must team up to cover up the unintentional murder that brings them together.  Absorbing and atmospheric, this is a beautifully-written debut.

2.  The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny—No surprise here.  I adore the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series and this installment, the 11th, is particularly intriguing.

3.  Bluebird by Sharon Cameron (available October 5, 2021)—I've enjoyed all of Cameron's books, but this YA World War II novel is my favorite.  It has everything I love in a good hist-fic read: an atmospheric setting, a compelling plot, lovable characters, and excellent writing.

4.  Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty (available September 14, 2021)—I was thrilled to get a paper ARC of this up-and-comer from an author whose books I've enjoyed.  Not gonna lie, her last few have not been up to snuff.  This one, though?  It's a gem.  A family saga + a mystery + a funny, upbeat plot.  What's not to love?  

5.  The Bone Code by Kathy Reichs—Another no-brainer.  The long-running Tempe Brennan series is one of my favorites.  This installment, the 20th, has our intrepid heroine digging into the mystery of a storage container with two corpses stuffed inside that washes up during a South Carolina storm at the same time a horrifying flesh-eating bacteria is rearing its ugly head around the U.S..  It's another riveting page-turner from Reichs.

6.  If It Rains by Jennifer L. Wright—I just finished this debut, which tells a rich, powerful story about the Dust Bowl.  It's technically a Christian novel, but the religious elements are well-woven into the tale and never get preachy or cheesy, at least in my opinion.  It's moving, hopeful (in the end, at least), and faith-promoting.

7.  The Length of a String by Elissa Brent Weissman—This middle-grade novel was one of my first reads of the year.  I loved the story about an adopted, mixed-race girl who has to learn to come to terms with her different ethnicities, cultures, and families.  

8.  Dark August by Katie Tallo—Also read early in the year, this gritty mystery/thriller set in a mysterious ghost town, kept me turning pages late into the night.  I just saw that a sequel is being released in 2022.  Can't wait!

9.  The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner—This historical, about an Irish immigrant who travels to San Francisco to become the wife of a man she's never met and finds herself in the middle of the famous 1906 earthquake, is another atmospheric, absorbing read.  I've enjoyed lots of Meissner's books, but this one is my favorite (I think).

10.  The Lion of Mars by Jennifer L. Holm—I tend to read mostly darker, more serious fiction, so it's always nice when I come across a book that's just a fun, feel-good read.  That's exactly what this middle-grade gem is! 

11.  A Distance Too Grand by Regina Scott—This historical is also on the lighter side.  It deals with a female photographer who is determined to take her dead father's place on an 1871 expedition to the Grand Canyon.  Along with proving herself as a photographer, she also has to survive the treacherous trip and guard her heart against an old flame.  Also a Christian novel, this one is clean, uplifting, and compelling.  It's a fun start to a series I'm very much enjoying.  Thanks to Lark for the recommendation!

There you go, eleven of the best novels I've read this year.  Have you read any of them?  What did you think?  What are the best books you've come across in 2021?  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!

Friday, August 27, 2021

Inside Trading at My Favorite Indie

I love indie bookstores, but unfortunately, there aren't many near where I live.  At least not right near me.  It takes 20 minutes each way to get to my favorite one, Changing Hands.  I visit a few times a year—always during December because the store gives a $10 off birthday discount and whenever I have a big stack of books to trade in for store credit.  My pile happened to be overflowing, plus I wanted to hit up the Trader Joe's next to Changing Hands, so I headed to the wilds of Tempe today to do some shopping.  

Here's what I took with me to trade:

These stacks are a combination of books I've received for review and those I purchased with my own money.  I do feel a little bit guilty about trading in volumes I got for free, but honestly, I donate a good 85% of my books to the library, so...

Of these 29 books, Changing Hands accepted 14 for a trade-in credit of $67.80.  I know the titles they accept depend on a lot of factors like current inventory, demand, sales, time of year, condition of the books, etc., so I'm always intrigued by which titles they take and which they don't.  The books they accepted from me (most of which were in new or like new condition) this time were:

Although you can choose to donate the books Changing Hands doesn't take for credit to the store, I always opt to take them to the library instead.  I'll be dropping what's left of my pile off there next time I go.  If you live locally and you want any of the leftovers, let me know.

What did I get with my newfound book wealth?  I thought you'd never ask!  Changing Hands sells both new and used books.  Since I prefer the latter, I picked up three new books (two are hardcovers) and one used paperback.  

  • Eat Your Heart Out by Kelly deVos—deVos is a local author, so this YA satire/zombie novel, which came out in June, is signed by her.
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo—This National Book Award winner explores poverty in India.  It sounds super sad, but also totally fascinating.
  • Thunderstruck by Erik Larson—I'm a new fan of Larson.  This 2006 book by the narrative non-fiction master explores the accomplishments of Guglielmo Marconi and the near perfect murder committed by Hawley Crippen.
  • Clark and Division by Naomi Hirahara—This historical mystery/thriller came out earlier this month.  It concerns a family of Japanese-Americans who has just been released from Manzanar and is being resettled in Chicago.  The suspicious death of a family member who was sent ahead sends them into a tailspin.
After using my trade-in credit, I paid a total of $12.07 (including taxes) for these four volumes.  Since I spent over $10 in real money, I got a punch on my frequent buyer card.  Altogether, not too shabby of a trip.

What about you?  Do you have a local indie you love?  Do they accept books for trade-in?  Have you read any of the books I just traded in or bought?  

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Top Ten Tuesday: Because If I'm Going to Read Non-Fiction, I Want It to at Least Read Like Fiction

First off, congratulations to Cheri, who won my 15th Blogoversary Giveaway for a free book.  Enjoy your prize!  Thank you to her and to all of you for being loyal readers of BBB.  I appreciate it more than you could possibly know.

Today's TTT topic is Top Ten Books I Wish I Could Read Again for the First Time.  It's a fine prompt, but one that is just not inspiring me today.  Time to go rogue?  Yes, yes it is.  

I've always been a lover of fiction, with little to no interest in reading non-fiction.  Occasionally, an inspiring self-help title would catch my eye or I'd dive into a biography of a fascinating person, but for the most part, it was all fiction, all the time.  Lately, though, I've developed a growing appreciation for narrative non-fiction because, you know, if I'm going to read non-fiction I want it to at least read like fiction!  I've especially enjoyed listening to these types of books on audio while I drive or do housework.  In an effort to find more great titles in this genre, I'm going to share my favorite examples and ask you to recommend yours.  Deal?  

Before we get to that, though, I have to give a shout-out to our host.  Click on over to That Artsy Reader Girl to learn more about TTT and to give Jana some love!

Top Ten Favorite Non-Fiction Books That Read Like Fiction   

1.  Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer—I've read a couple books by this author, but this one is my favorite by far.  It details Krakauer's harrowing climb up Mount Everest during a terrible storm in May 1996 that killed five people.  The riveting account is replete with Everest history, lore, and firsthand knowledge of what it's like to scale the beast.

2.  Dead Wake by Erik Larson—I just finished listening to this book on audio.  It tells the story of the Lusitania's last voyage, explaining how and why it sank.  Larson makes the tragedy personal by featuring various passengers and their experiences on board.  It's fascinating!

Speaking of Larson, a lot of people rave about his The Devil in the White City, which is about a serial killer who preyed on women during the Chicago World's Fair in 1893.  While the story is intriguing, I couldn't stomach the grisly details and had to stop listening.  I do plan to read his other, less disturbing books, however. 

3.  Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand—Another engrossing read, this one recounts the experiences of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner turned World War II soldier.  He experienced so much heartache and trauma during the war that it really is a miracle he survived.  This is an inspiring read on many levels.

4.  The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin—Lark from Lark Writes...on Books and Life recommended this one, which describes a freak storm that occurred in the Midwest in 1888 right as schoolkids were being let out for the day.  The unexpected blizzard wreaked deadly havoc on a lot of unprepared people, many of whom were children.  It's a sad read, but a gripping one.

5.  Columbine by Dave Cullen—This is another sad one, but it's also a fascinating and illuminating recounting of the horrific school shooting.  Very thought-provoking.

6.  The Lost Family by Libby Copeland—As a family history fanatic, I love learning about genealogical research, DNA, nature vs. nature, adoption, and many other related topics.  This book uses the story of a woman who got unexpected results back from a DNA test to ask probing questions about who we are and how our genetics and biological families affect our identities.

7.  Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand—By the author of Unbroken, this may have been the first book I read that really qualifies as narrative non-fiction.  Even though I know nothing about horses and horse racing, I found it to be a very compelling read.

8.  The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming—Like many people, I'm intrigued by the mystery of Anastasia Romanov.  This book discusses the murder of her family and the circumstances that led up to it.  Fleming uses real letters to contrast the Romanovs' luxurious lives with those of the common Russian during that period, making for an especially thought-provoking read about the lives of this royal family.

9.  The Cold Vanish by Jon BillmanLark and I share an affinity for survival stories set in remote locations, so I get all kinds of great recommendations—like this one—from her.  This book talks about the many people who go missing from America's national parks every year and what's being done to bring them home.  It's a fascinating read.

10.  The Third Pole by Mark Synnott—Okay, this one's a cheat because I just started this book today.  It's riveting, though, so I predict it will become a favorite.  The book talks about Synnott's expedition to Mount Everest in 2019 in which he and his team hoped to find the camera George Mallory and Sandy Irvine purportedly had on them when they died trying to summit the mountain in 1924.  If photographic evidence exists, it could prove that they were actually the first to top Mt. Everest via the North Col, not the Chinese team who famously did it in 1960. 

There you have it, ten narrative non-fiction reads that I thoroughly enjoyed.  Have you read any of them?  Which non-fiction-that-reads-like-fiction books have you loved?  Which would you recommend?  I'm especially interested in those that explore historical disasters, natural or otherwise.  True crime is too much for me, unless it's of the less-graphic variety.

Happy TTT!      

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Skenandore's Newest Offers Intriguing Look at Life With Leprosy in 1920's America

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

As the wife of a silent film star, 32-year-old Mirielle West lives a luxurious life full of glitz and glamour.  Her two children are watched over by a vigilant nanny so she's free to indulge in illicit drinks, glittery parties, and whatever fawning needs to be done in order to advance her husband's career.  Despite her enviable lifestyle, Mirielle is plagued by grief and guilt after the recent drowning death of her young son.  She's managing the dark moods that so often sweep over her as best she can, while trying to ignore the fact that her husband seems to be purposely spending more time at the studio than at home.  A visit to the doctor over a minor burn is the last thing she needs, especially when her physician notices a concerning lesion on her hand.  Mirielle scoffs at his diagnosis of leprosy.  A woman like her couldn't possibly have such a dirty, foreign disease!  

Even though she's certain there's been a horrible mistake, Mirielle allows herself to be shipped off to the Carville Lepers Home in Louisiana.  She and her husband have been in the tabloids enough already—she can't allow more spurious gossip to make the papers.  Sure the stay will only be temporary, Mirielle turns up her nose at everything and everyone around her.  It's clear she doesn't belong in such depressing circumstances, dwelling among the deformed and damned.  The longer she remains, however, the more she must come to terms with her new life.  Can she create a meaningful existence in such a demoralizing place?  As Mirielle tentatively begins to reach out, she discovers friendship, hope, and love in the most unlikely of places.

Besides Hawaii's Moloka'i, I'd never heard of other leper colonies in the U.S., so this novel offered me a fascinating look into how the disease was treated here in the 1920's and 30's. Not only was it interesting to read about the medical procedures used, but it was intriguing (and heartbreaking) to learn how patients were seen and treated by those in the outside world. The fact that the disease was so misunderstood by both medical professionals and the general public is especially thought-provoking considering all that has gone on in our COVID world (particularly anti-Asian sentiment). For these reasons and more, The Second Life of Mirielle West by Amanda Skenandore would make a good, discussion-worthy book club pick.

As far as characters go, the book is filled with complex and likable folk, of whom Mirielle is actually my least favorite. She's sympathetic, yes, but she's also hard to like because of her snobbery, self-centeredness, and constant self-pity. Her evolution as a character is evident throughout the novel, but I still found it difficult to really relate to her. Story-wise, this novel moves slowly without a focused plot to really keep it moving. Still, it's compelling and I definitely wanted to finish the book so I could see how it ended. While I didn't absolutely love this novel, I did like it for its intriguing subject matter, its sensitive portrayal of a devastating disease, its thought-provoking story, and its atmospheric historical setting. 


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

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

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of The Second Life of Mirielle West from the generous folks at Kensington Books via those at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

Thursday, August 19, 2021

My First Coben Novel A Meh Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When a bullied 16-year-old girl goes missing, no one seems too concerned.  Except her classmate, Matthew Crimstein, whose grandmother is a criminal attorney with her own t.v. show.  When Hester Crimstein learns about Naomi Pine's disappearance from Matthew, she enlists the help of Wilde, a man who was once a feral child found in the woods by hikers.  Now Wilde lives off the grid, interacting with others only rarely.  His almost preternatural instincts, however, make him an excellent private investigator.  He takes the case mostly as a favor to Matthew, who is his godson.  

Wilde's snooping around leads him to Naomi's bully, which in turn leads him to the dark secrets of several wealthy, influential men.  If they get what they want, will it lead to Naomi's rescue?  Or is it too late for the missing teenager?  It's up to Wilde to solve the puzzling mystery.

I find stories about feral children fascinating, so when I read the plot summary of The Boy From the Woods by Harlan Coben, that aspect of the novel drew me right in.  Unfortunately, what proves to be the most interesting part of the story is only a teensy-tiny bit of the tale, which I found disappointing.  as Wilde's past is infinitely more intriguing than his present.  While he's a sympathetic character, he's not entirely likable.  Likable characters are, in fact, in very short supply in this novel.  The only one I would care to read more about is Rola.  Plot-wise, The Boy From the Woods is all kinds of melodramatic and far-fetched.  The story was gripping enough to propel me to finish the book, but it was nowhere near as suspenseful and thrilling as I thought it would be.  Thanks to loosey-goosey crafting, an implausible plot, characters I didn't care about, and lackluster prose, I didn't exactly love this book.  I'll be generous and say it was just an average read for me, nothing more.  I've heard lots of good things about Coben, but if this book is typical of his work, I won't be reading more by him.

(Readalikes:  Um, nothing is coming to mind.  You?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (1 F-bomb, plus milder expletives), violence, blood/gore, disturbing subject matter, mild sexual content and depictions of illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Top Ten Tuesday: I Can Read Them Here and There; I Can Read Books Anywhere!

Morning, book friends!  I'm up far earlier than I need to be.  I really, really should be doing laps at the gym right now, but alas, I'm still exhausted after yesterday's adventures, which included:
  • Chauffering my son to school because his truck crapped out after he drove it down a road-turned-river during a crazy monsoon storm the other day.  It's now on a lift at the high school auto shop, where he and his friends have been having a blast trying to figure out how to fix it.  Great for them, but irritating for me since I'm now my son's Uber driver!
  • Picking up my daughter from junior high because she has a cold.  Since she's displaying symptoms that could be COVID related (stuffy nose, sore throat, and a cough), she can't go back to school until she has a negative COVID test.  So, we sat in a line at a drive-thru testing place for 45 minutes last night only to find out their computers were down and she couldn't get the test.  Ugh.  Updated to add:  She tested negative for COVID.  I'm not surprised, but I am relieved, especially since my son is now sick and I've felt a few tickles in my own throat!
  • Dropping my phone in a bowl of chocolate pudding (you can laugh, it's okay).  The charging port is wet apparently, so now my cell won't charge.  Pray that it will start working so I don't have to hit up the T-Mobile store this morning after my daughter's new COVID testing appointment.  Updated to add:  The pudding was no match for my phone.  After not charging at all overnight, it has now dried out completely and is charging like a dream.  Yay!
  • Not being able to sleep because of last night's monsoon storm.  It was cool and our desert definitely needs all the moisture it's been getting, but the thunder and rain were super LOUD.  
First world problems, I know, and nothing at all compared to the horrors happening around the world.  I have little to complain about and, really, I'm only telling you all this to explain why today's is going to be a lazy, lazy TTT post.  The topic du jour is: Top Ten Places I Love to Read.  I did this one back in 2013 and it's still pretty accurate, so I'm just going to re-post it with a few updates.  

If you want to jaw about your favorite locations for reading, click on over to That Artsy Reader Girl and join in the fun.

  Top Ten Places I Love to Read

(post originally published on April 16, 2013)

It's that time of the week again and I'm excited about today's Top Ten Tuesday topic.  Our wonderful hostesses over at The Broke and the Bookish actually did not assign a subject for today's list—instead, we were supposed to choose a prompt that we either missed out on or wanted to revisit.  I scanned past TTT topics and decided it would be fun to talk about my Top Ten Favorite Places to Read.  It was actually tough to come up with that many, but I enjoyed the process (which might mean I'm a little hard up for entertainment ...).

1.  The beach—I'm not a big water person, so I spend most of my beach time on the shore.  Which suits me just fine.  There's nothing better than curling up in a beach chair and losing yourself in a good book.  The sounds of waves crashing, seagulls bleating, and children squealing with delight provides the perfect background music to any story line!  I've enjoyed oceanside reading on the beach in Jamaica, Hawaii, California, Oregon, The Philippines, Washington State and Mexico.  Had we stayed longer on Tybee Island, I probably would have done some reading there, too!

2021 Update:  It's been a few years since I've been to a beach.  I'm thinking the last time was when my husband and I were in Concepcion, Chile.  I didn't do any reading there, but I did slip on the wet shore, bruise my behind, and scrape up my arms.  That's what happens when I explore in real life instead of in the safety of a book!

2.  The lake—Again, there's just nothing quite as peaceful as relaxing with a book in a beautiful setting.  We like to go houseboating at Lake Powell, a giant man-made reservoir that straddles the Utah/Arizona border.  My favorite thing to do there (besides zoom around on a jet ski) is lay around and read.  It's incredibly relaxing to stretch out on a deck chair with a good book and just enjoy the amazing scenery as well as the happy, laidback atmosphere.

2021 Update:  I haven't been to Lake Powell in years.  We sold our slots on our houseboat time share since we hadn't been using it enough to make it worth the money.  It was fun while it lasted!

3.  My couch—Although it's much less exciting, the place where I do most of my reading is on the brown sectional in my family room.  It's not the most attractive piece of furniture, but we bought it because all of its seats recline.  Plus, there's a convenient cup holder between the "Mommy and Daddy" seats, so I can keep a cup of ice water handy while I put my feet up and read.  It's not the beach, but it works.

2021 Update:  We upgraded a year or so ago to a nice leather sectional.  It does not have a cup holder, though, and I miss that.

4.  My bed—Way back when my husband and I were in our early 30s (okay, it was only a few years ago, but it feels like forever), we invested in a California King-sized adjustable bed.  We felt like senior citizens when we made the purchase, but oh my gosh, that was some of the best money we've ever spent!  The bed itself is super comfy (I can't sleep well anywhere else), plus you can adjust both ends of the mattress to achieve the perfect position for bedtime reading.  It's heaven.  Seriously.

2021 Update:  Still an awesome bed and one of my favorite places to read.

5.  My bathtub—Here in the Phoenix area, it's blazing hot for most of the year, so I don't spend a lot of time soaking in the tub.  When I do, though, I always bring a book.  Nothing says relaxation quite like filling my tub with hot water and scented bubbles, switching on the fireplace that sits next to the tub and just luxuriating in the cozy warmth of it all.

2021 Update:  I still don't use my tub often enough.

6.  By the pool—Since desert summers are so intense (and last for a good 9 months), we spend a lot of time in our backyard pool.  When I'm not swimming, I like to sit on the deck in whatever sliver of shade I can find and read while I keep an eye on the kids.

2021 Update:  My youngest is almost 13 now, so I don't have to keep an eye on swimming kiddos these days.  Coincidentally (or not?), I rarely read by the pool anymore.  It's just too darn hot to sit on the deck.  At the moment, it's a little too warm for swimming as well since the pool water feels like bathwater!

7.  Airplanes/airports—Okay, these aren't my favorite places to read, but I've gotten a lot of reading done both while riding on airplanes or and waiting for them to arrive.  Because that much uninterrupted reading time can be difficult to find at home, I've been known to tell people, "You can drop me at the airport a couple hours early.  I don't mind."  Or, "Don't rush to pick me up.  I'll just sit and read."  Plus, if my book starts to drag a bit, the airport's a fabulous place for people watching.

2021 Update:  Other than a recent trip to Oregon, I haven't flown much at all in the last few years.  If Europe stays open, I'm going to make up for it by flying to England in September.

8.  Waiting rooms—Again, if you gave me a choice of places to read, I'd never willingly choose a waiting room, BUT, I do a lot of reading in such places.  It makes long waits at the doctor's office much more bearable.  In fact, when I wrote an online review for my dentist recently, my one complaint was that they get me back too soon for me to get any reading done!

2021 Update:  I'm basically a senior citizen in a 45-year-old body, so I still spend a lot of time in waiting rooms.

9.  My front porch—When the weather's nice here, my front porch is actually a perfect reading spot.  It's shady, quiet and really quite lovely.  I'm not sure why I don't spend more time there—I think I sort of forget it exists.  Crazy.

2021 Update:  My husband and I actually spent a fair amount of time reading on the porch during the cooler months of quarantine.  It was a nice, relaxing way to spend time together and the porch was a nice place to do some social-distanced visiting with friends and family.  Unfortunately, that big tree you see in the photo is no longer with us.  We lost it in a monsoon storm a number of years ago.

10.  The balcony—Ditto with the balcony.  Our house actually has two connected balconies, both of which offer fair views of the city and valley in which we live.  They're particularly nice spots from which to enjoy our beautiful desert sunsets.  Again, I think the weather is so fiery here most of the time that I forget to sit outside and enjoy the nice weather when it does come around.  Silly me.

2021 Update:  I really do need to spend more time reading on the balcony.

So, there you have them, my favorite places to read.  Also, the places that aren't really favorites, just places where I spend lots of time reading.  And, a couple of spots where I should hole up with a book more often.  How about you?  Where are your favorite places to read?  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, August 16, 2021

Mystery's Chilling Premise Plays On New Mother Fears

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When I was a new mom, I had a recurring nightmare about losing my baby.  In the dream, I ran from infant to infant, frantically scrutinizing each of their faces only to realize, to my utter horror, that I had no idea what my own child looked like!  How could I rescue my baby if I couldn't even recognize them?  It was a terrifying thought.  

In Until I Find You, Rea Frey takes these common parental fears to a whole new level, creating a story that is decidedly unnerving.  It centers around Rebecca Gray, mom to 3-month-old Jackson.  As a recent widow and a new mother, Bec is battling grief, exhaustion, stress, and loneliness.  To add insult to injury, she has a degenerative eye disease, which led to the dissolution of her career as a professional cellist and has now robbed her almost wholly of her vision.  Desperate to prove her independence, Bec soldiers on, but her life is not an easy one.  

Bec thinks she's just being paranoid when she gets the odd sensation that something is not quite right.  She feels as if someone is watching her.  At home, things seem to have been disturbed the slightest amount.  A friend dismisses Bec's fears, urging her to get some rest.  She does, but when she awakes and goes to retrieve her son from his crib, she finds another baby in his place.  Sure she's going crazy, Bec checks again.  Even though she's never seen Jackson's delicate features clearly, she's positive this is not him.  A mother—even a blind one—knows her own child.  Doesn't she?  Bec has no family and her friends can't be certain whether the baby is Jackson or not.  So many infants look so alike, after all.  There has been so much upheaval in Bec's life that, really, who can blame her for becoming a little...overwrought?  Not caring what anyone else thinks, Bec plunges ahead, getting the police involved in the baffling situation.  Everyone might believe she's insane, but she's determined to find her son.  No matter what.  Is the baby in Bec's house Jackson?  If he's not, who is he?  And where has Jackson gone?

Like I said, it's a chilling premise.  It leads to an intriguing mystery, which kept me turning pages, wanting to know what was going to happen next.  True, I didn't find Bec, who's whiny and victim-y, super likable.  Still, I sympathized with her.  I did see the story's big plot twist coming, which was a little disappointing.  More so is the fact that it's totally far-fetched, which made it feel less than satisfying.  All things considered, then, Until I Find You was just an okay read for me.  It's engrossing, but I didn't love the characters and the ending irritated me.  Bummer.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Remember Mia by Alexandra Burt and The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

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

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Friday, August 13, 2021

Supernatural (or Not?) Thriller An Entertaining High Seas Yarn

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"That's the problem with summoning devils, you see.  Sooner or later, somebody else raises them against you" (340).

It's tough to describe The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton because it's so many things at one time: a historical novel (that doesn't concern itself overly much with accurate period details), a mystery, a swashbuckling pirate adventure (that's actually kind of slow), and a monster-y campfire tale.  There are also hints of romance, philosophy, and just plain ole drama.  The book's back cover copy describes it best:  "Shirley Jackson meets Sherlock Holmes in this chilling thriller of supernatural horror, occult suspicion, and paranormal mystery on the high seas."  That about covers it.

The story takes place in the year 1634 on a vessel called the Saardam, which is on an 8-month sea voyage from Batavia to Amsterdam.  On board is Sammy Pipps, the world's greatest detective, who is being held in the ship's brig for a crime he may or may not have committed.  Traveling with him is his loyal bodyguard Arent Hayes. When strange, otherworldly things start happening aboard the ship, spooking the passengers and crew, they look to Pipps for answers.  Since he's not readily available, it's up to Arent and Sara Wessel—a noblewoman healer—to figure out what's going on.  When people on board start falling victim to an unseen killer, Arent and Sara find themselves hunting down a murderer.  Between them and Pipps, they've got more than enough smarts to catch the culprit, but what if it's not exactly of this world?  Could a demon really be responsible for all the horrible happenings on the Saardam?  Or is a more human evil to blame? 

At 480 pages, The Devil and the Dark Water isn't a swift read.  It's slow in places, but overall, I found it both engaging and exciting.  I enjoyed the main characters, who are a likable bunch even if one of them has motives that are not exactly pure.  The story's supernatural (or not?) element kept me on my toes, making me question what exactly our heroes were hunting.  What I most appreciated about this novel, though, is its examination of the devils in all of us.  If you're the kind of hist-fic reader who must have all the details exactly right, you might want to give this one a miss.  Turton admits he didn't worry much about those himself, hoping the reader would let go of the fuss and just enjoy the yarn.  You know what?  I did exactly that.


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:  Another library fine find

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Top Ten Tuesday: When Minor Characters Are Majorly Lovable

You may have seen my post on Saturday commemorating the 15th anniversary of Bloggin' 'bout Books' creation.  Celebrating that milestone has made me feel super old, let me tell you!  You know how they say the memory is the first thing to go as you age?  Apparently that's true because I just wrote a whole post on the first ten books I reviewed on this blog.  As I was adding pictures of the books I read 15 years ago, I was shocked to see that I already had photos of all of them saved in my computer.  Weird!  I was minutes away from clicking the "Publish" button on my post when the déjà vu really kicked in.  A quick search of BBB revealed that I had written a post on the exact same subject only two short years ago!  Oh, boy.  I think it's just that kind of day—the Mondayest Monday I've ever Mondayed, except that it's Tuesday!  How's your day going?

Since I did a Top Ten Tuesday list about secondary/minor characters not that long ago (well, 2013), I wasn't going to repeat the topic.  Now that I'm out of other ideas, though?  I'm going to go ahead and stick to today's prompt.  Hopefully, I can come up with ten.

Before we get to that, though, two things: (1)  Be sure you go to That Artsy Reader Girl and give our TTT host some love.  If you want to hop on the TTT party train (and you do!), you can get all the details there.  (2)  I mentioned my blogiversary above.  To thank all my readers for being so loyal and awesome, I'm hosting a giveaway for one book of your choice (up to a $20 value) from Book Depository.  The store delivers worldwide, so the contest is open to international readers as well as those in the U.S.  Yay!  The giveaway will close on August 21.  Right now, there are very low entries, which means a greater chance of winning.  Definitely take a few minutes to enter to win a book on me.  All the info is in this post.

Top Ten Secondary/Minor Characters Who Deserve More Love

1.  Molly Weasley (from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling)—Since there are so many fun side characters in the HP series, I could do an entire list of favorites just from those books.  I featured several in my last list, so I'll just do Molly this time around.  She's such a warm, bubbly, caring character that it's impossible not to love her.  My sister adores her so much she named her Beagle puppy after Molly!

2.  Skinny Slidell (from the Tempe Brennan series by Kathy Reichs)—Good ole Skinny is no one's favorite detective, except maybe mine.  He's a grumpy slob, but he's also hilarious and loyal.  I missed him in The Bone Code, the newest installment of the series.

3.  Ruth Zardo (from the Armand Gamache series by Louise Penny)—A mad, foul-mouthed poet who talks to ducks, Ruth is impossible not to like.  At least in fiction.

4.  Atticus Finch (from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee)—I love lots of characters from this novel—my favorite book of all time—but calm, wise, level-headed Atticus is my favorite, after his daughter Scout.

5.  James Laurence (from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott)—Although he may appear to be a crochety old man, Mr. Laurence has a heart of gold.  He's generous, protective, and kind, a true friend to the March Family. 

 6.  Mrs. Bennett (from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen)—What's not to love?  She's hilarious!

7.  Juliet Brody (from the Amish Candy Shop Mystery series by Amanda Flower)—I guess I just find loud, demonstrative, busybody mothers funny because here's another one.  Juliet wears outrageous outfits that are perfectly matched with those of her pot-bellied pig while she bustles about bossing people around and matchmaking.  

8.  Josh Derwent (from the Maeve Kerrigan series by Jane Casey)—Detective Derwent is another gruff, no-nonsense cop who's really just a softie underneath.  

9.  Lavender Lewis (from Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery)—This imaginative, whimsical woman is a perfect kindred spirit for Anne.  Her antics make me laugh.

10.  Albus Dumbledore (from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling)—I'm running out of ideas, so back to HP.  Professor Dumbledore is wise, patient, kind, and powerful (but in a humble way).       

There you go, ten secondary/minor characters who I love to read about.  Who are your favorites?  Which do you think deserve more love?  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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