Monday, November 26, 2018

Review: Much Ado About You

Much Ado About You Much Ado About You by Eloisa James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Historical romance, first in a series about the Essex sisters.

Tess is the oldest of four sisters. Their father just died, and they've gone to live with a guardian.

Their father was loved by them; but their father loved his horses and the result is that the young women haven't been introduced to society (so explains why they are older and still single); and don't have much money, so their value on the marriage market is charm, beauty, pedigree, and oh, yes, the horses their father left to them.

Their guardian, the Duke of Holbrook, was a last minute choice by their father, and so unexpected all the way around that the Duke thought four little girls were coming to live with him. He's not prepared for young ladies to introduce to society, but he adjusts quickly. As a side note: this is the type of book where the Duke and his friends may be tipsy or rogues, but they are the good kind, not the rapey kind.

This first book is about Tess, the oldest, but most of it is actually introducing all four sisters as well as Rafe (the Duke) and his circle. Tess's romance begins as something practical -- her duty to marry to help the others on their way. But love happens, of course. A younger sister falls for someone already engaged. I was both sympathetic to the younger sister and annoyed at her.

All in all, a good read; the only thing is that all the sisters were oh so gorgeous.

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Monday, November 19, 2018

Review: I've Got My Eyes on You

I've Got My Eyes on You I've Got My Eyes on You by Mary Higgins Clark
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoy Mary Higgins Clark, and especially the New Jersey settings!

Unfortunately this fell a bit flat: the killer was pretty obvious, a few characters who were supposed to be likable I found annoying, and some of the main character's choices so soon after her sister's death felt off.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Review: The Woman in the Window

The Woman in the Window The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anna Fox doesn't leave her house. Hasn't for almost a year. She gets everything delivered, included wine -- lots of wine. She doesn't say why she won't.... the clues come slowly, the truth not revealed to close to the end of the book.

Something happened, something bad.

She now lives alone, talking on the phone to her husband and young daughter. Drinking wine. Watching old movies. Drinking wine. Watching her neighbors.

She lives in New York City, in a brownstone, and the neighbors she watches are just across the street or the garden.

Anna has had a few glasses of wine when she looks out the window and sees someone murdered.

The combination of wine, her agoraphobia, and other parts of her story leave Anna and the reader wondering what, if anything, Anna actually saw.

This is a great thriller, a mystery that had me guessing, and also a sad look at a broken survivor of a terrible trauma.

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Thursday, October 25, 2018

Review: P.S. I Still Love You

P.S. I Still Love You P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The sequel to To All The Boys I've Loved Before, which I read years ago and just watched on Netflix.

I adored the movie so much I had to return to the books.

This takes place immediately after the first book ends. It has some elements that the movie used, leaving me to wonder about what the movie sequel (if there is one) will be like.

Short version: Lara Jean and Peter navigate their now-real relationship. Continues to be charming and sweet and romantic and real.

The move from pretend to real, and how Lara Jean addresses her feelings, emotions, wants, and desires is terrific. Part of that includes addressing her jealousy about Peter's ex-girlfriend (and her own ex-best friend.) Part is her insecurity in that this is her first real relationship, yet it is not Peter's. And it's not just about expectations about sexual intimacy -- it's about learning about each other, and learning what it means to be a couple.

To be honest: I'm not that thrilled with how the Lara Jean - Gen dynamics are shown, particularly at the beginning. It's a bit too "mean girls" for my taste, especially as it falls into a particular story line I'm not a fan of, because if Gen is so terrible, why were she and Lara Jean friends, why did Peter date her for so long, and why is Peter still friends with her? This does get addressed, a bit, with the idea of Lara Jean realizing that her perspective of people and events is not always the right one. Still, I would have liked that to be stronger.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Review: The Governess Game

The Governess Game The Governess Game by Tessa Dare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tessa Dare is one of my favorite writers; and her books really highlight, to me, what is so wonderful about Regency (and Regency adjacent) Romances. Yes, there is a certain structure, certain things to expect (a happy ending, for one.) But there is a lot that a writer can do within that structure.

The Governess Game is part of a series, Girl Meets Duke. So, that tells you the plot in a nutshell, right? Except not so much. In The Governess Game, for example, the "governess/employer" storyline is twisted a bit by a few things: first, Alexandra isn't a governess. I mean, she is - but her profession, her career, sets and repairs clocks. Self-employed. For various reasons, she finds herself taking the short-term job of governess to two young girls.

Chase Reynaud is the guardian, and a rake, etc. But here's the thing: it's clear from the start he is a good guy because of all the efforts he is making for these two young orphans. His interactions with them show the reader that he's more than "a rake."

The employer/employee interaction isn't problematic in part because the power is more in Alexandra's hands than Chase's. He's gone through several governesses because the girls keep acting out; yes, she needs the money but she's negotiated a huge salary, it's short term, and she has friends (the other ladies from the "Girl Meets Duke" series) so she has options and isn't beholden to Chase. He needs her more than she needs him; and she has options; so it's a more equal footing.

Anyway, I won't get into the particulars of why she ends up having to be a governess; or the ins and outs of the romance. That's the fun of reading the book. But yes, highly recommended!

And like the best of these series -- yeah, you're going to want to read the other ones. But it really isn't necessary to read in sequence, because you know the girl is going to get her duke so it doesn't matter if you read the romances out of order. (In my opinion.)

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Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Review: Never Deceive a Duke

Never Deceive a Duke Never Deceive a Duke by Liz Carlyle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Enjoyable historical romance.

She's the widow of the recently deceased duke.

He's the long lost and very reluctant heir.

There is backstory angst. Antonia has buried two husbands, and there is heartache and betrayal in her past. And, her family while not terrible isn't very supportive (in part because the times and sexism.) But she's basically had loss and her own demons, even if she is beautiful, rich, and from the upper class.

Gareth is a self made man who has basically been on his own since he was about 12 or 13. His earliest childhood was good -- loving grandparents and mother. But then his father died, and then his mother, and his grandfather lost his money, and the relatives who should have taken care of him did not. And that's just the start of it. He does not view being the duke as a good thing.

In addition to these two getting together, and helping each other, there is also a murder mystery!

I like that this touched on issues of class, and sexism, and the value of work, and responsibility. Honestly, the best part of "long lost heir" stories isn't the "and now I'm rich and powerful, wowza" bit but the "huh, there is responsibility here." Because, especially for this time period, being a duke is equivalent to being a CEO. And how most of these stories approach that aspect is to have the person take it seriously. (Bad guys and villians and bad fathers tend to focus on the "rich and powerful" part and irresponsibility leave the estates, and those dependent on it, in a terrible place.)

Other bits: Gareth's mother is Jewish, and the prejudices of the time are part of the story.

Also: Gareth spends time on a ship and there is abuse. Not a lot of detail about it, but a heads up because that's a big "no" for some readers.

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Friday, September 28, 2018

Review: Sharp Objects

Sharp Objects Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I saw the HBO miniseries and had to read the book.

Camille is a journalist who returns to her home town to report on a child murder, and a missing child. She has secrets, the town has secrets, and her home and family and the town is a freshly painted house that is rotten inside but darn, it looks good on the outside and isn't that what counts?

For the record, that always works better for me -- so I typically enjoy the book for the additional details, and can appreciate how the film/TV series interpreted the book. The other way around usually leaves me wondering about what was left out.

I appreciate how closely the miniseries followed the book; and also how certain background things were filled in, so that the watcher saw things earlier than the narrator in the book revealed them -- or, also, saw things that the narrator never saw or realized herself.

One thing I had difficulty with in both the book and the series is the timeline of it all. I'm a timeline person, and in both, Camille's own fractured telling, and her unreliable memories, make it a bit difficult to pinpoint when and where things in her past happened. But, I think it's on purpose, to keep things on edge and uncertain, and it's why the series used dreams and memories so much.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Review: Wicked and the Wallflower

Wicked and the Wallflower Wicked and the Wallflower by Sarah MacLean
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoy MacLean's historical romances! This one is sent in 1837 London.

This is the first in a series (The Bareknuckle Bastards) but has characters introduced in earlier books and series. That said, you don't have to read any of the other books -- these stand alone. In point of fact, I had forgotten the character (Felicity) who was in an earlier book. And it was A-OK.

Felicity is unmarried, and a bit of an outcast in the social circles. It bothers her, because she used to be in, but well, for one reason and another her former friends are her current enemies.

Devil is the illegitimate son of a Duke. As the introduction tells us, the Duke had three illegitimate sons, and one legitimate daughter (born to his wife, but not his child), born on the same day. The series is named for these children: The Bareknuckle Bastards. Because in one way or another, they have had to fight: for life, for a place, for safety, for money.

Devil has revenge on his mind; and Felicity wants a marriage to bring her status and love. She's seen love, and won't settle for anything else. Devil promises her he can get an eligible Duke to propose and to fall in love -- Felicity accepts, not realizing that it's part of Devil's revenge and he has no intention of meeting his promises.

It's a romance -- of course they fall in love! And Devil is keeping secrets and thinks his birth status as well as his income sources (not entirely legal) makes Felicity out of his reach. Felicity still has a bit of wanting social acceptance, and other reasons drive her choices, but most importantly she wants love.

I eagerly look forward to the next book!

(that said, what I would also like are books about Victoria and Valerie, the sisters of Penelope from A Rogue by Any Other Name. All their siblings got love, and they didn't, and I am haunted and fascinated by them.)

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Friday, September 07, 2018

Review: The Party

The Party The Party by Robyn Harding
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

An entertaining look at the dynamics in an upper class neighborhood.

Something happens at a sixteenth birthday party, and the aftermath reveals and illuminates the truth about the parents and children and teenagers.

The reason it's only "OK" is that, well, I found all the people at best, annoying, and at worst, pretty horrible. Both adults and kids.

Still, I was curious as to what exactly happened at the birthday party, and why. And I was interested in just what people would do and how they would react, and why.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Review: The Distant Hours

The Distant Hours The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love multiple stories told over time - the story of Edie, in 1992, as she figures out her life, her career, her relationship with her parents.

Edie's favorite book as a child leads her to tour the castle where the book was written, and to meet the three sisters who live there, the daughters of the author. They are all old women now, living in a run down house, with history and each other but little money.

Edie discovers that during WWII, her mother was a child evacuee. And where was she evacuated to? That castle, when those three sisters were younger.

The stories unfold, in 1939, in 1941, in 1992 -- and before, also. A mystery, several mysteries.

Without spoilers, I'll also add that it was a relief to read a book that was a mystery that did not involve sexual abuse, rape, and babies. Seriously, one of my recent historical reads had plot/character development centering around so many various unplanned/ out of wedlock babies that it got a little ridiculous.

Also, I would love to read the fictitious book that was at the center of this book. It sounded amazing.

Finally, the time period that most of the book is about -- Britain during WWII -- was fascinating. I want to read more.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Review: What Alice Forgot

What Alice Forgot What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alice is in her late 20s, expecting her first child, in love with her husband.

Until she wakes up on the gym floor -- she fell, hit her head, and is 39, with three kids, in the midst of a messy divorce.

I loved Alice discovering her current life: adjusting to three children, finding out her best friend is no longer in her life, finding out about the person she has become.

Twentysomething Alice doesn't always like present-day-Alice or the choices she's made.

It's a fascinating concept and it's done very well. A twentysomething judging the person she becomes; bewildered by the person she now is. I confess, maybe someone younger would have a different view, but at times I found Alice (the 2o something Alice) a bit too annoying and frustrating. Almost, even, stupid, in her failure to sympathize with her older self. To understand her.

That said, there was also something sweet and hopeful in the younger Alice, the Alice who wasn't so hurt by life, and how she tried living, and fixing, the life she found herself in.

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Friday, August 10, 2018

Review: Under the Harrow

Under the Harrow Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nora is visiting her older sister Rachel. When she walks into her sister's house, she finds her sister's body.

Rachel has been murdered.

About 15 years ago, when both girls were teens, Rachel was brutally attacked. The person was never caught. So Nora stays around her sister's town, investigating, not trusting the police.

Nora is a bit of an unreliable narrator, and she holds back certain information from the reader. I'd go, wait, what, and then realize that Nora holds some details back. And the way Nora tells the story -- sometimes it's almost dreamlike. In that Nora thinks "if only." Pretends alternates. Like, if Rachel was still alive. Or, what if I do this. So now and then -- including at the end -- I wasn't sure what was real and what Nora was hoping was real.

One more thing, and I don't consider this a spoiler. I like mysteries but I hate how often teen girls or women are Victims. Not in, the victim the story revolves around; but in how victimized they are. Rachel is a victim without being a Victim.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Review: Someone to Care

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

I so adore all Mary Balogh books.

Viola is in her early 40s and lived her life the way she was told do. Married the person her parents wanted, and so got the title and the money and the whole perfect Regency life. Book #1 starts with her husband dead, and the family finding out Viola wasn't his first wife; and that his first wife was still alive when he married Viola. Yeppers! She was never his wife, her three children are illegitimate, and it's Regency England so it's scandalous and terrible and the worst things ever.

So. In this book, Viola meets Marcel: they had met years ago, when she was unhappily married and he was a known flirt. She was proper the whole time, never disclosed her emotions and feelings, and sent him away. So now they are both single and both decide, hey we're grownups... and read the rest yourself.

What I like about this book is what I like about Balogh books: most of the people are good, decent, and kind. The example here is that all of Viola's friends and family -- including her not-really-husband's family -- are as loving and welcoming to her as always. The worst person is the dead not-really-husband. Even among Marc's family, when I first thought "oh this is going to be the person who causes trouble because of x or y or z" -- they turned out to be good folks, even if often of differing opinions on how things should be.

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Monday, August 06, 2018

Review: Then She Was Gone

Then She Was Gone Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Half mystery: what happened to Ellie, who disappeared ten years ago at age fifteen?

Half a look at a mother's grief over a lost child: how Laurel has put together a life, in the ten years since, but it's not a complete life. How can it be?

Like many others, I'm the type of reader who adds "Ellie disappeared ten years ago" and "Laurel's new boyfriend has a nine year old daughter who looks like Ellie" and gets four.

Then She Was Gone is about what happened to Ellie and what is happening to Laurel. And yes -- I skipped to the end to find out what happens, in part to reassure myself about how it would end. And then I went back and read it to see the why of how it got there and the motivations.

And while there is a mix of grief and hope, and love and forgiveness, there is also evil.

I need to find mysteries that don't involve bad things happening to teen girls.

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Friday, July 27, 2018

Review: The Outsider

The Outsider The Outsider by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love Stephen King -- but his favorites have been his earlier books. I confess that I stopped reading around Tommyknockers, except for short stories.

But, excerpt in Entertainment Weekly really intrigued me, so I started this -- and couldn't put it down. It was wonderful, and I see this is now part of a series, and I look forward to reading the first three.

What I particularly liked is how the supernatural was so gradual -- it didn't really show up until a good way into the book. But, I guess, it was always there -- but, for the folks in the book, they just thought they were living their regular, non supernatural lives.

Heck, I was half convinced that there wasn't going to be anything supernatural.

I also enjoyed how the band of investigators came together; and that they were mainly older folks. It's not just teens or twentysomethings fighting the evils. Of course, this probably reflects the author himself, realizing as he gets older that the protagonists he writes about can be older as the fight the big bad, sometimes winning, sometimes losing.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Review: The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton

The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton by Elizabeth Speller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Even better than the first Laurence Bartram mystery. Disappointed to discover there are only two books in this series.

In addition to the time period, I liked the character growth and nuances across the series. I also liked that this book took place a couple of years after the events in the first.

The ending gutted me. It made sense but what a heartbreaker.

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Friday, July 20, 2018

Review: Arcadia Falls

Arcadia Falls Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s an entertaining mystery - a good summer read. Loved the setting.

But who finds a mysterious journal and then just takes months to read it?!?

Since “changeling” and identity are part of the story, I guessed one major reveal fairly early and was frustrated that the narrator hadn’t figured it out herself. Also, what happened to her own parents? The way they were barely mentioned felt very YA to me.

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Monday, July 16, 2018

Review: A Cottage By The Sea

A Cottage By The Sea by Ciji Ware. Sourcebooks. 2010.

The Plot: Blythe Barton Stowe flees to Cornwall after a bitter divorce. She walked in on her movie director husband Christopher with someone else -- and while she's getting a nice settlement, the money hardly makes up for the pain, the loss, the betrayal.

Her grandmother says their family came from Cornwall, so Blythe decides to do some exploring in addition to hiding out from the press. She rents a cottage on the estate of "Barton Hall," that may or may not be linked to her family. She meets the handsome widower who is the current owner, struggling to make ends meet.

And she also finds herself having visions -- of an eighteenth century Blythe Barton, who had a husband named Christopher. What wil l the past tell her about the present? And her future?

The Good: I enjoyed this book -- a nice romance, and the supernatural aspect was nicely interwoven into the present story. I like a story that is about a person picking up the pieces and reinventing themselves, and Blythe does that -- and also has to deal with the complicated feelings from her divorce.

And the setting! All very Poldark.

Main drawback: most of the other women are viewed and portrayed as competitors for first her husband, then her boyfriend. Very old school romance -- it seems the books I read in high school always had a snobby posh girlfriend (or practically girlfriend) for the love interest, who was terrible yet somehow the guy never realized it.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Review: Caroline: Little House, Revisited

Caroline: Little House, Revisited Caroline: Little House, Revisited by Sarah Miller
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mixed feelings. Very well written and will be enjoyed by adult fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder. And has some of those “how people did stuff” details that I love about the Little House books. Here, it answers all those questions about going to the bathroom or childbirth.

And sometime I got a chuckle out of Caroline’s thoughts, like when she realizes Mary can be a bit annoying by being good to get praise.

The “buts”. But, in matching the time period to the Kansas LHOP book, it leaves untouched some fascinating and interesting questions about Caroline’s childhood, especially how shaped she was by poverty, and the early years of her marriage lived in other people’s houses and with such a long time without a baby.

When the poverty is touched on, it’s sad in that Caroline believes she’s creating a better life for her girls when she isn’t. But, that’s knowledge brought by the reader who knows what the future will bring. And the opportunity to dig into her belief to be satisfied by what one has, rather than try for more, is passed by - as well as the negative consequences of such a belief structure.

The biggest “but” is the racism. It matches the source material and the history, yes - but it still resulted in a lot of problems for me as a reader. Any judgement about it is mainly from the reader, not the text. This could have been explored deeper, even if the result was uncomfortable.

And still - there was a lot I liked in how Caroline saw things, what made her tick. I’m interested in reading more from Caroline’s viewpoint.

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Experimenting with GoodReads

I'm going to be playing around with using GoodReads and this blog.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Monday, June 18, 2018

Review: The Sacrifice Box

The Sacrifice Box by Martin Stewart. Viking Books for Young Readers. August 2018.

The Plot: 1982. Five friends find a box in the woods and each put a treasure in it, and tell themselves the rules: Never come back to the box alone. Never open it after dark. Never take back your sacrifice.

Four years later ... something is coming after them.

Someone broke the rules, the box is not happy . . . and something is coming after them.

The Good: I read the publisher pitch for this and was sold: "A horror story about friendship, growing up, and finding a place in the world: Gremlins meets The Breakfast Club by way of Stephen King and Stranger Things."

I was sold. And did The Sacrifice Box deliver?

Well, this is my first post in almost two years.

Which means I either loved it. Or hated it.

And the answer is.....

Loved it!

I was reminded of the horror books I loved as a teen, by Stephen King and Peter Straub. And since I was reading those books in the 1980s, the 1980s time period makes perfect sense.

Two sets of kids find the "sacrifice box," that speaks to them and whispers the rules in dreams. One, in the early 1940s; another in the 1980s.

Both groups find that breaking the rules can be deadly; for them, and for others.

I enjoyed the group dynamics, good and bad, for the two groups of kids. The kids live on an island, and Sep - the primary main character in the 1980s group - just wants to leave for the mainland. One reason? He has no friends. He's a loaner who doesn't quite fit in. He can only really remember fitting in once, and that group of friends sealed their friendship with a sacrifice at the "sacrifice box." But it turns out, that was a group who came together one summer because, well, they were the ones who were around. It wasn't anything more than that... at least, that's what Sep tells himself.

And now.... now something has crawled out of the sacrifice box and Sep and those who once were his friends have to get together and figure out who broke the rules and whether they can be fixed.

As I said, great group dynamics. And very, very creepy -- including some giant crabs and I do not want to know if they are based on something real. Also good use of setting -- the isolated island an d the mix of folks who like the small village life and those who can't wait to escape, to those who see it as comforting and those who see it as limiting. Also, it goes "there" -- folks die. Which, yeah, for me -- horror has to have some skin in the game. Dead things, not just pets.


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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy