Thursday, October 17, 2019

Review: A Thousand Beginnings and Endings

A Thousand Beginnings and Endings A Thousand Beginnings and Endings by Ellen Oh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love retellings of stories. So when I saw this, reimaginings of folkore and mythology from East and South Asia, I said "yes, please."

I listened on audio; that was particularly satisfying, being told a series of stories. I loved the different ways the writers took the stories and made them their own, changing settings (the past; the future; science fiction; historical; the present.) Sometimes, even changing the outcome.

I was not familiar with all the source materials, but each story ended with the author talking about the tale they wrote. Especially since I was listening, I appreciated that this information was given at the end of the story, rather than at the end of the book.

Did I have particular favorites? But of course! "Olivia's Table" by Alyssa Wong and "The Crimson Cloak" by Cindy Pon.

Olivia's Table is a ghost story unlike any other ghost story I've read. Olivia's mother has died and Olivia is carrying on in her mother's steps by cooking a meal for ghosts. It's scary and cathartic. I don't know if scary is the right word: it's not horror story scary. It's, I'm not sure what will happen next scary.

"The Crimson Cloak" tells the story of love between a goddess and a mortal. It's funny and hopeful and clever; and in particular, takes a story of love trapped and makes it love chosen.

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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Review: Summer of Salt

Summer of Salt Summer of Salt by Katrina Leno
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Practical Magic meets Nova Ren Suma’s Imaginary Girls and Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap"? Of course I had to read this!

And better yet: it delivered.

It's the summer after graduation from high school. Georgina Fernweh and her twin sister, Mary, have been raised on an island and Georgina is looking forward to many things:

First, going to college on the mainland.

Second, her 18th birthday. Well, is "looking forward" the right way to phrase it? All Fernweh women have magic and their magic shows itself by their 18th birthday. Some, like Mary, have their magic from birth -- Mary can float. Others, like Georgina, wait. And wait. And wait.

Third, the annual return of a hundreds year old rare bird, only ever seen on the island in summer. Family lore says an ancestor had the magic to turn herself into a bird -- and never turned back.

Fourth, meeting a girl, because she's on a small island and the other out lesbians are either taken, someone she already dated, or someone she's not interested in.

I don't want to give spoilers, of course, but I love how the magic worked, how the family viewed their magic, and how others on the island treat these magical women. I was surprised by the sudden turn mid way through.

There are two things I figured out early, but that's more because of the type of reader I am; also, the author gave us clues and I put the dots together.

I did wonder how the practical elements worked -- I'm the type who wondered just how isolated the island was, and the infrastructure, and about how often new folks moved permanently to the island.

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Thursday, October 10, 2019

Review: Mr. Kiss and Tell

Mr. Kiss and Tell Mr. Kiss and Tell by Rob Thomas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the second Veronica Mars book (and sadly, the last as far as I can tell) Veronica is hired by a local hotel to investigate a woman's claims that she was raped on premise.

The woman was assaulted, yes; but it was so bad that she had no memory, and the hotel suspects her recent recollection isn't accurate. (So, yes, while I liked this book and love Veronica Mars, this does involve some of my least favorite things in a book. Rape, false accusations, slut shaming.)

Things I liked: how past characters were brought into the story and revisited. Which makes sense for Veronica Mars, because since she's in her home town, the place she lived her entire life, it makes sense that people from her past resurface.

Also: I totally miss guessed who the bad guy was! I'll discuss in comments, if you want.

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Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Review: Girl Made of Stars

Girl Made of Stars Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mara and Owen are twins; Owen is dating her friend Hannah. And then Hannah accuses Owen of rape.

Readers expect a certain something from a plot like that, and this delivers. Conflicts, questionings, different sides of the same story, people taking sides.

I was intrigued to read this and how the author handled this, and I was mostly satisfied.

But, with a book like this, you can't get away from at least a discussion of "girls lie" or "girls change their minds." And that's always a bit of a tough one for me to read, because it seems like in trying to be "fair" or "equal," well, it's not fair. But that is more me than the book. And the important thing is: this book says what it will do, delivers it, and also provides a satisfying conclusion.

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Thursday, October 03, 2019

Review: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line

The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's nice to read a book in a series that you are familiar with; to know the people, the places, what makes them tick.

And it's nice to see Veronica again.

This really gets her point of view, her voice.

The mystery: spring break at Neptune, two girls have disappeared. One has a surprising link to Veronica.

A solid mystery; I didn't guess the resolution. Veronica Mars' fans will like this.

I'm a bit torn about the reappearance of a certain character; and I wish more attention was paid to Veronica's student loans; and the more I read, and ponder, (and haven't seen season 4), the more I wonder... how could so many in Neptune be corrupt and Keith Mars be so good? Was there ever a darker version of Keith?

Anyway. Back to the book. Read it.

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Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Review: The Rival Queens: Catherine de' Medici, Her Daughter Marguerite de Valois, and the Betrayal that Ignited a Kingdom

The Rival Queens: Catherine de' Medici, Her Daughter Marguerite de Valois, and the Betrayal that Ignited a Kingdom The Rival Queens: Catherine de' Medici, Her Daughter Marguerite de Valois, and the Betrayal that Ignited a Kingdom by Nancy Goldstone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Look at me, reading history that isn't English!

Confession: part of the reason I wanted to read this was from watching REIGN, and loving Megan Follows as Catherine de Medici.

I liked this book and the story of Catherine and her daughter Marguerite (who I mainly know from the movie Queen Margot.)

So. I liked it, I liked the details, and I ended up mad impressed with Marguerite.

But, I wanted more about Catherine and once Marguerite came of age, this became more her story than Catherine's. And, at least in this book, Catherine isn't presented very well. (That said, it would be hard to be sympathetic to Catherine because of the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre. But, still.) And while I understand that historically speaking Catherine's sons and Marguerite were more important than the two eldest surviving daughters, so little was given about them -- well. It seemed that Catherine's biography only mattered in terms of what it meant to Marguerite. Heck, even her grandchildren are barely mentioned.

So, I want more on Catherine.

That said, this was terrific in what I learned about Marguerite. And, having watched REIGN, now agree with those who said Claude in the TV show was basically given Marguerite's life.

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Thursday, September 26, 2019

Review: Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In 1972, Jean McConville, widow, mother of ten, disappeared. Decades later her body was found. Rumors were she was an informer -- informing on the IRA to the British -- and the IRA took her and executed her for that.

That simple, sad, tragic death is the background for this book, which then proceeds to tell the story of Northern Ireland and the British and IRA.

For some reason, it takes me longer to read nonfiction than fiction. There is so much going on; so many factors, so many people, such complicated events.

This is the story of Northern Ireland. And I'm not going to even try to say what that means in a line or two, because it's almost impossible to do so.

Say Nothing focuses on a handful of people, telling those stories and those motivations. It's so much tragedy: loss of lives, loss of youth, loss of innocence.

Anyway. If you don't understand the politics and history of Northern Ireland, read this. If you're wondering why the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland is talked about, this will give some depth to understanding.

Also: if you get the chance to see it, I highly recommend the play The Ferryman, which is also about the IRA and buried bodies.

Also: No, I haven't seen Derry Girls on Netflix yet, and it's on my list.

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Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Review: Darling Beast

Darling Beast Darling Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My Maiden Lane series continues!

So, Apollo Greaves is the twin of Artemis from the previous book. The official story is he murdered three friends, and only his own title (Viscount Kilbourne) and connections saved him from the noose. Instead, he's been in prison; and in the previous book, he escaped.

He's hiding out in a theater and gardens that were burned in a previous book. He's also designing new gardens, for his friend who owns the gardens. Apollo is unable to speak, because of how he was beaten and abused in prison.

It's there he meets Lily Stump, an actress, living with her son and her maid. She used to work in the theater, and is living in the burnt out remains because she's run out of money waiting for the theater to be rebuilt. When she first sees Apollo, she thinks he's a "beast," a monster, because he's big and brawly and of course doesn't speak.

In addition to these two crazy kids falling for each other, there is the mystery to solve: what happened to Apollo's friends? Who killed them? And why was Apollo framed for it?

This was one of the better ones in this series, because I thoroughly liked both Apollo and Lily.

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Thursday, September 19, 2019

Review: The Child

The Child The Child by Fiona Barton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

To begin with, I didn't realize this was the second in a series; I look forward to reading the first. But I can say that you don't need to read the first.

Houses are being renovated; an infant's body is found.

Who is this dead baby? How did they wind up there?

Kate Waters, a journalist, is trying to keep up in an industry that is now more about clicks than research and connections when she sees the story and starts following up. Looking up reports of missing infants who were never found.

There are the couple who years ago had a newborn taken from her hospital room; haunted by that loss, and those accusations.

There is the woman who doesn't want to think about her own past, her troubled relationship with her mother.

I love how all these strands came together; and the only reason I figured out things a bit before Kate did is, well, I have the benefit of reading a book and realizing those are the dots to connect.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Review: The Lost Night

The Lost Night The Lost Night by Andrea Bartz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ten years ago, Lindsay's friend Edie died. Suicide.

Ten years ago: Lindsay, Edie, and their group of friends were centered on Brooklyn apartments that were more dorm than apartments. Post-college so everyone is over age; figuring out job and loves and life; drinking, drugging, parties.

Then, Edie's suicide. The friends group splintered. Ten years later, Lindsay has a good life.

And a friend from the past surfaces, and makes a reference to Edie's death, and suddenly Lindsay realizes that Edie may not have committed suicide. Edie might have been murdered. And ten years later, Lindsay starts investigating.

I enjoyed this book and the mystery, even if, at times, I laughed at that particular nostalgia someone in their early thirties has for their early twenties. And that even in the "now" Lindsay seems so young, so not as put together as she thinks she is. And if sometimes this seemed more like the Girls version of a murder mystery, so what?

I also appreciated how complicated it got; not in a "too complicated to be believed" way, but in a "life is messy and complicated" way. And I found myself thinking Lindsay was just too hard on herself at times.

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Thursday, September 12, 2019

Review: The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden and the Trial of the Century

The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden and the Trial of the Century The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden and the Trial of the Century by Sarah Miller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another in my continuing reading about Lizzie Borden.

And I continue to be convinced of her innocence; and intrigued by the limited facts and how often rumor is treated as fact. Also, the mix of "well documented" and "who the heck knows."

The murders and writing about the murders is more about people's assumptions than anything else. Lizzie is guilty because who else could it be. Lizzie was found not guilty because she was a woman. Both of those drive many to a certain conclusion that frames her as guilty.

I found that this book was better on certain details, such as that bodies/furniture were moved for photos. And a bit of extra explaining on what a slop bucket was and wasn't.

Part of why I'm convinced of her not being guilty is -- in addition to how much of it comes down to circumstantial evidence of "who else could it be" and "does a person act the way we think she should" -- is the lack of a bloody dress and Lizzie remaining in her home town.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Review: Duke of Midnight

Duke of Midnight Duke of Midnight by Elizabeth Hoyt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

And it's another Batman!

Another one in this series (18th century London, see other reviews) and if the previous Ghost of St. Giles had the bat cave and assistant and training; this one has the "parents murdered in front of young boy" origin story.

So, of course, this is about finding the real murderers.

But, it's also about our hero Maximus Batten, Duke of Wakefield, falling for someone unlikely: Artemis Greaves, Lady's Companion. Not the richest, not the most connected, not the most beautiful, not the best pedigree. Also? Her brother is locked up for murder!

Artemis IS the smartest, because she figures out Batman's identity and blackmails him into helping her brother. It's in the process of helping that the falling in love happens, and I quite liked the opposites attract part of this story.

I'll be honest: Maximus isn't my favorite. Far from it. But Artemis more than makes up for it.

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Thursday, September 05, 2019

Review: Someone to Trust

Someone to Trust Someone to Trust by Mary Balogh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The latest in the Westcott series (yes, you should read the others) and the basic understanding you need for this Balogh series is the Westcotts are a family shaken when a bigamist marriage and secret legitimate daughter turned a respected family topsy turvy. What is great about this story, and many of Balogh's stories, is that most folks involved are decent, understanding, kind people.

So! This story is about Elizabeth, Lady Overfield, a youngish widow, whose dead husband was an abusive alcoholic but only a few people knew. In the family, love and understanding; outside the family, what you'd expect (she drove him to drink, it's all her fault, etc.)

She doesn't want to be alone so decides she's back on the market; given her age and all, her options are limited, of course.

At the same time, she's developed a friendship with Colin Handrich, Lord Hodges, at a Christmas house party. (Balogh's Christmas House party books are awesome. Guaranteed romance! Always snow!)

So, yeah, these two belong together but the barrier? Colin is almost ten years younger than she is, and that is so not the done thing in Regency World. Also, his mother is a real terror. Yes, I said Balogh's characters are usually kind, etc., but sometimes some of them are wonderfully hateful. Wonderful because it's almost nice to be able to hate on such a terrible person. (That said, at certain times Balogh revisits characters from other books who are the bad guy and redeems them in a believable manner. That said, his mother is pretty awful.)

It's a romance, you know the ending, but it's a good journey to get there.

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Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Review: Her One Mistake

Her One Mistake Her One Mistake by Heidi Perks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Charlotte takes her children and her friend Harriet's young daughter to a school fair; and Harriet's daughter disappears.

Charlotte's perfect life unravels. Well, it wasn't exactly perfect but it looked good from the outside. And now all her choices are dissected: why weren't her eyes on the children, all the children? What was she posting on her phone?

Harriet is devastated, and she can barely function.

I LOVED this story. People aren't quite what they appear to be; there are secrets behind the facades of perfect suburbia. As more clues were shared, more told, my sympathies kept switching.

If you've read this, what did you think of the ending? As much as I liked the plotting, and the reveal made perfect sense to me, I have thoughts about it.

Because this is an extended look at the perfect school moms, with twists and turns, I think it's a good readalike for BIG LITTLE LIES.

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