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2024 Bookish Books Reading Challenge (Hosted by Yours Truly)

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My Progress:

13 / 30 books. 43% done!

2024 Literary Escapes Challenge

- Alabama (1)
- Alaska
- Arizona (1)
- Arkansas
- California (5)
- Colorado (1)
- Connecticut
- Delaware (1)
- Florida
- Georgia (1)
- Hawaii (1)
- Idaho (2)
- Illinois (2)
- Indiana (2)
- Iowa
- Kansas
- Kentucky (1)
- Louisiana (1)
- Maine (1)
- Maryland
- Massachusetts (2)
- Michigan
- Minnesota
- Mississippi
- Missouri
- Montana
- Nebraska (1)
- Nevada (1)
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey (1)
- New Mexico (1)
- New York (5)
- North Carolina (4)
- North Dakota
- Ohio (1)
- Oklahoma (1)
- Oregon (2)
- Pennsylvania (2)
- Rhode Island (1)
- South Carolina (1)
- South Dakota
- Tennessee (1)
- Texas (3)
- Utah (1)
- Vermont (2)
- Virginia (2)
- Washington (2)
- West Virginia (1)
- Wisconsin (1)
- Wyoming
- Washington, D.C.* (1)

- Australia (2)
- Canada (2)
- England (10)
- France (1)
- Indonesia (1)
- Ireland (4)
- Italy (1)
- Scotland (2)
- The Netherlands (1)

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

My Progress:

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, February 27, 2024

Top Ten Tuesday: The Birds and the Bees


It's been a hot minute since I posted on my blog, even for my favorite weekly meme. February turned into a busy month and some things had to fall by the wayside (although I did manage to post my first review of the year last week). Besides regular life busy-ness, we did a fun family road trip to Las Vegas and California. We surprised our two youngest kids (the only ones living at home these days) with tickets to see U2 in Vegas. After two days there, they flew home (poor suckers had to work and go to school) and my husband and I continued on to California for a few days. I barely cracked open the book I took with me, but that's okay. It was a wonderful vacay. Highlights included:

  • Rocking out to U2 in Las Vegas at The Sphere—between the band's iconic music and the incredible special effects, it was amazing and different than any other concert I've ever been to. 
  • Watching the Postcard from Earth video at The Sphere the next day. It was interesting to compare/contrast our two Sphere experiences. Both were phenomenal, but my husband and I enjoyed the concert more and our kids (15 and 19) preferred the movie.
  • A surprising conversation with two Las Vegas showgirls on The Strip because of the BYU jacket I was wearing
  • Surviving (in spite of a little throwing up/peeing my pants situation) a nerve-wracking drive over a surprisingly snowy mountain pass 
  • Visiting live family members in Central California and Santa Barbara and dead ones at San Bernardino's Pioneer Memorial Cemetery
  • Touring Hearst Castle
  • Watching elephant seals at the Piedras Blancas rookery beaches (more entertaining than you would think)
  • Exploring Solvang and eating delicious ebelskivers
  • Visiting two different California missions—Mission San Miguel and Old Mission Santa Inés. Despite their problematic histories, the missions are interesting places to learn about California's history, its Indigenous peoples/cultures, its early architecture and to see religious art. 
We actually did do some bookish things, come to think of it. On our way to Santa Barbara, we stopped in Solvang, a charming Danish-style tourist town. There's a bookshop there that houses a small, but informative Hans Christian Andersen museum. They also have a cute Little Mermaid statue in the center of town in homage to the beloved author. In Santa Barbara, we stayed with my husband's cousin and his family. They have five very energetic kids, who love to listen to books read aloud. It was sweet to have them draped all over us while we read them stories. I won't post the pictures to protect the children's privacy, but it was super cute.

I actually broke the book-buying ban I started in January in California as well (although I didn't even realize it until hours later). My great-great grandfather was an early settler of San Bernardino. I bought this postcard history of the city at their Historical and Railroad Museum:

My husband says that purchasing it doesn't really count against my ban because (1) It was more of a donation to the museum than a book purchase, (2) The book is for research purposes, not entertainment value, and (3) He's the one who handed over the cash, so technically, he bought it, not me! LOL. 

At any rate, we had a great time on our trip. Between that and being busy with other things, I just haven't had a lot of hours to devote to my blog. I do appreciate those of you who dropped in to check on me during my absence. It's nice to be missed.

After that TL;DR intro, let's (finally) dive into TTT (hosted by Jana over at That Artsy Reader Girl). This week's prompt is: Top Ten Book Covers Featuring Things Found in Nature. I'm always up for a nice, easy topic, although I did change it up just a wee bit. While scrolling through my TBR list on Goodreads, I was surprised to see how many of the book titles on there feature animal names, specifically birds and insects. It was a cinch to find ten for this nature-y prompt.

Top Ten Books On My TBR List With Bird and Insect Names in the Titles
- in no particular order - 

1. Peking Duck and Cover by Vivien Chien—This is the tenth installment in one of my favorite cozy mystery series. As Chinese New Year approaches, Lana Lee and her fellow business owners at Cleveland's Asia Village are getting ready for a big holiday celebration to bring in customers and good luck for all. The festivities take a dark turn when a lion dancer is murdered. Lana once again calls on her inner Nancy Drew to solve a crime.

2. Miss Benson's Beetle by Rachel Joyce—Set in 1950, this historical novel features a spinster schoolteacher who decides to shuck off the gloominess of post-World War II London and set out on a grand expedition. Determined to fulfill her childhood dream of finding the mythical Golden Beetle of New Caledonia, she and an unlikely companion discover the freedom and joy of travel, friendship, and adventure.

3. The Call of the Wrens by Jenni L. Walsh—With timelines in both World War I and II, this historical novel pays tribute to the brave British women who served as motorcycle dispatch riders on the Western Front during both conflicts. Our fictional heroines learn about courage, sacrifice, love, and resilience through their life-changing war experiences. 

4. He Should Have Told the Bees by Amanda Cox—Beekeeper Beckett Walsh loves working with her father in their family's apiary. When he dies unexpectedly, naming a woman Beckett doesn't know as a new part owner in the business, she's shocked and angry. Callie Peterson is just as flummoxed, but she needs the money selling the apiary could bring in. As the two women clash over the odd situation they suddenly find themselves in, they will untangle a knot of family secrets that will change everything for both of them.

5. The Night Raven by Sarah Painter—Urban fantasy really isn't my thing, but the Crow Investigations series sounds promising, so I'm going to give it a whirl. In this first installment, private investigator Lydia Crow is called in to head up an investigation into her cousin's disappearance. The incident is causing tension between four magical families who have been abiding by a tentative truce for almost 100 years. Can Lydia find her cousin before all hell breaks loose?

6. The Phoenix Crown by Kate Quinn and Janie Chang—This historical novel features two women—a soprano in need of a career boost and a Chinatown seamstress who's desperate to flee an arranged marriage—whose lives intersect when they are brought together by a railroad baron who owns a valuable collection of Chinese antiques. The great San Francisco earthquake of 1906 rocks all of their worlds, leaving an intriguing mystery behind for the women to solve.

7. A Hundred Crickets Singing by Cathy Gohlke—The title of this book is enough to give me nightmares (I hate crickets!), but the story sounds like one I'd like. It's a dual-timeline novel that features two women living in the same home 83 years apart. When a vicious storm rips through her Appalachian estate, revealing a hidden room and an old trunk, Celia Percy opens a Pandora's box of secrets and lies that stretch back to the Civil War and the people—both free and enslaved—who lived at the home at that time. 

8. Olive Bright, Pigeoneer by Stephanie Graves—This series debut introduces 22-year-old Olive Bright, who raises pigeons in a quiet English village. World War II is raging and she's desperate to do her bit to help. When a covert intelligence operation comes calling, asking for her pigeons, Olive gets her wish. As she does her secret work, a woman in her town is murdered near Olive's pigeon loft. Does the killing have something to do with Olive's clandestine job? Is she in danger? Olive must find the answers before she becomes the next victim.

9. Dragonfly by Leila Meacham—World War II novels are hard for me to resist. Obviously. In this one, a group of very different Americans are brought together to form an elite spy ring. Secret identities intact, they are dropped into Nazi-occupied Paris, where they are not to be in contact with one another. When one of them ends up in front of a firing squad, the others are left to question what is real and what is simply another subterfuge.

10. Locust Lane by Stephen Amidon—Emerson, Massachusetts, is a wealthy suburb full of influential families. When a teenage girl dies after a night of partying with three other local kids, a police investigation is launched. The authorities pry into their families' lives, revealing secrets, suspicions, and, finally, the shocking truth. 

Have you read any of these? What did you think? What are your favorite books that fit this theme? 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!

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Sharon Cameron's Newest YA Historical Another Glittering Gem

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Growing up in her family's art gallery surrounded by bohemian creatives has given 18-year-old Isa de Smit a colorful, open-minded view of the world. Amsterdam has always felt alive for her, bursting with beauty and vibrancy. All of that is being leached out by the Nazis who have invaded The Netherlands, crowding her hometown with their bland khaki uniforms and narrow-minded ideals. The city has become a tense, dangerous place for everyone. It's wisest to stay far under the Nazis' radar, but Isa is out of money to buy food, let alone purchase new painting supplies for her reclusive artist father or pay the taxes needed to keep their gallery home. Out of options, she decides to take an enormous risk: sell one of her father's brilliant Old Masters forgeries to Hitler's personal art agent. 

That successful transaction earns her the attention of Michel Lange, a Nazi soldier who claims he longs to desert. He'll help her sell more forgeries if she'll use her connections with the Resistance to get him safe passage to Switzerland. Isa needs his cooperation in order to raise funds to help her best friend smuggle Jewish babies out of Amsterdam. Does she dare trust a Nazi? Does she really have a choice? As Isa's plans get more daring, her every movement becomes increasingly scrutinized, her life growing more dangerous by the hour. Can she accomplish her purposes without getting caught by her deadly foe? Or being informed on by her "friends?" Will the counterfeit paintings pass muster? Or will Isa be the next to face a Nazi firing squad? Desperate to save as many babies as she can, she has to take the risk, no matter the consequences. Even if it means sacrificing her own life, which it just might...

I'm a huge Sharon Cameron fan, so it's no surprise that I loved Artifice. Bluebird is still my favorite of the author's novels, but this one—her newest—has many of the same elements that made Bluebird such a winner for me. To begin with, it features complex, interesting characters. Isa is especially easy to root for. She's wholly sympathetic, but she's also brave, compassionate, determined, and devoted to the people and the country she loves. Plotwise, Artifice starts off a bit slowly. It gains momentum as it goes, though, and quickly turns into a tense, engrossing read that kept me racing through its pages until after one in the morning. I couldn't put it down because I had so much concern for Isa, her friends, and what was going to happen to them all. Cameron always makes me care! It's true that I found the whole subject of art a little off-putting since I know nothing about that world. Most of the references to specific artists and paintings went right over my ignorant head and I found Isa's constant references to color a tad annoying. Still, I enjoyed learning about how paintings are forged, especially in relation to its collection by the Nazis. I'd never read a book on the subject before and it really is fascinating. All things considered, I very much enjoyed this beautiful, moving book, another gem from Cameron. Even if you're not an art lover, I recommend Artifice to anyone who enjoys absorbing historical fiction.

(Readalikes: Reminds me of YA historical fiction by Ruta Sepetys, Monica Hesse, Julie Berry, etc.)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

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

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

Thursday, February 01, 2024

The Bookish Books Reading Challenge: February Book Ideas and Link-Up for Reviews

It's the first day of February already. How did that happen? How's 2024 going so far for you? I'm sick with a cold that's slowing me down, but otherwise, I'm hanging in there. I hope you are well. If you are, enjoy breathing easy for me! I never think about how nice it is to breathe without restriction until I can't.

I didn't have any plans to read bookish books in January, but I ended up finishing a few anyway. Bonus: I enjoyed them all. Here they are in the order that I read them:

The Lion of Lark-Hayes Manor by Aubrey Hartman—I loved this debut novel about a girl who gets more than she bargains for when she makes a deal with a water nymph. Her wish is inspired by her love for The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.

Last Word to the Wise by Ann Claire—This is the second installment in a cozy mystery series featuring two sisters who run their family's bookshop in Colorado. When the sisters reluctantly agree to be guinea pigs for their cousin's new bookish dating service, they end up in the middle of a murder investigation, with one of them as the prime suspect.

My Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows—This YA novel is part of a series of alternate history stories starring famous females. Not all of the installments are bookish, but this one is. It features Charlotte Brontë and Jane Eyre (the "real" one) as they help to solve a murder. Oh, and Jane can see ghosts. The story is all kinds of fun! I especially enjoy these books on audio.

Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson—The hero of this clever mystery novel is an author who self-publishes guides to writing Golden Age-style crime fiction, even though he's never written a novel before. He uses all the knowledge he's gained from studying detective novels to solve a series of murders that occur at a reunion of his dysfunctional family.


I have a couple bookish books planned for February. Right now, I'm listening to another installment of the Lady Janies/Marys series:

My Imaginary Mary by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows—This novel features Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, and Ada Lovelace, who was a mathematics prodigy and a brilliant inventor. Although the two never met in real life, in this book they become friends and co-creators of an automaton that comes to life. It's not my favorite book in the series, but it's a fun listen nevertheless.

This one is my book club's pick for February. Even though I will be out of the country for the discussion, I'm still planning to read it.

Meet Me in the Margins by Melissa Ferguson—This rom-com stars Savannah Cade, a woman who secretly writes romance novels while working for a publishing company that only prints highbrow literary works while looking down its nose at romance. When she accidentally leaves her manuscript out at work, causing a mysterious editor to make astute comments in its margins, Savannah's forced to seek him out in order to get her manuscript into shape so she can submit it to the famous editor who has agreed to look at it—if it's finished before her very imminent retirement. Sounds fun!

I'm also interested in this one, which comes out on the 13th:

The Book of Doors by Gareth Brown—A New York City bookseller's life is changed when she's gifted a mysterious book by a favorite customer. It's the Book of Doors and it contains a magic that allows its owner to go anywhere via a series of doors. While experimenting with its wondrous powers, the bookseller finds that possessing such a treasure has made her a target for the dangerous people who will do anything to take it from her. 

How about you? What bookish books did you read in January? Which ones are you planning to read this month?

If you are participating in the 2024 Bookish Books Reading Challenge, please use the widget below to link-up your January reviews. If you're not signed up for the challenge yet, what are you waiting for? Click here to join the party.

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