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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Thursday, August 22, 2019

Review: Lord of Darkness

Lord of Darkness Lord of Darkness by Elizabeth Hoyt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My Maiden Lane series reading continues and with this one....

It's 18th Century Batman.

No, really.

Past books have included the "Ghost of St. Giles," a legend, yes; but also a real person, masked. In this book, the fake Ghost of St. Giles is, well, Batman. A rich man, with an exercise routine to keep fit, a mansion, a faithful manservant, a secret entrance and a bat cave (OK a basement type thing connected to his house.)

Honestly, once I realized this I didn't pay much heed to anything else. The anything else is Batman, er, Godric St. John is rich and has a tragic backstory. His beloved wife died; then he married a young woman for reasons (she was pregnant and needed a husband and well reasons that make sense in the books); but she lost the baby and has been living at his country house with some of his relatives.

Except now his wife, Margaret, has come to town, with those relatives (basically stepmother and half-sisters he's estranged from).

Complications: she blames the Ghost of St. Giles for the death of her beloved (aka the baby daddy who got her pregnant and then died.)

So she hates his secret identity! Oh, spoiler: the ghost didn't kill the beloved, and the mystery here is about who did, and why. It's connected to the rich folks of London who take advantage of the poor - a theme in a few of these books, in one way or another. Sometimes it's the evil gin; sometimes it's prostitution, sometimes it's sweat shops.

And to make it spicy, Margaret wants a baby something fierce so has decided she'll seduce her husband.

I was so-so with some prior ones, but this one more than made up for it.

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Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Review: See What I Have Done

See What I Have Done See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've read a couple of the Lizzie Borden nonfiction books; so I wanted to read this historical fiction about the case.

Turns out, I read this when it originally came out and somehow forgot I had! See what happens without Goodreads.

What really worked: the atmosphere. The feeling of three grown women trapped in a small house. Not "trapped" in the sense of "someone has locked you in somewhere," but, rather, trapped in the sense that for that time period, they had little or no options in life and all where tied to each other, tied to that house.

For Lizzie -- in her early thirties, and, for her time, something strange and other: an unmarried woman, a -- gasp -- spinster. Not a wife, not the "homemaker" in charge of the house, yes, a daughter, but an older daughter. No real options for work or education.

For her stepmother: yes, in charge of the house, yes, married, but with no children of her own and stepdaughters who called her "Mrs. Borden." Tensions around money. What power did she have, or not have? And what role did she have, with no children to take care of, no job, just a house to run, a house she shared with three adult women: Lizzie, her older sister Emma, and the maid, Bridget/Maggie.

For Maggie: an Irish immigrant, with literally no power, the servant in the house who does all the grunt work but where else can she go? What are her other options? Heck, they won't even call her by her own name. Instead, it's the name of a previous maid.

So I think this captured a world where grown women are sharing a common space and have neither the words nor the options to navigate that space.

Anyway. Murder.

Spoilers would be telling Schmidt addressed that, because it's why you're going to read the book, right? So yeah. Not doing it.

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Thursday, August 15, 2019

Review: The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy

The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another fun romp of an adventure, set in 18th century Europe. A sequel to The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue (go, read it, it's amazing.)

Felicity is the younger Montague sibling, serious and studious, with dreams of becoming a doctor. All you need to know about the first book is Felicity and her older brother basically ran away from home and set out for themselves. Felicity's reasons were basically that she wanted to pursue an education, rather than being a lady and getting married and becoming a wife.

What pushes Felicity in this book is her ambition: and her ambition leads her on a series of adventures, with other equally strong young women. This is a book about choices; about friendship; and adventure. And yes there are petticoats and piracy.

If I had to explain the plot simply (which is a bit tough), Felicity decides to go to Germany to see a childhood frenemy because the frenemy is marrying Felicity's doctor-hero, and Felicity believes that somehow she can get a job with the doctor that will help Felicity become a doctor. Things don't work out as she expected, anticipated, or wanted.

Things I liked included the adventure, the friendships, old friends showing up, unexpected twists and turns, and that romance was not a big thing because Felicity is asexual.

Things I liked less, but understand how and why it was in the book: Felicity is very much a "I'm not like other girls" girl, and -- without spoilers -- she does get called on it; and it also does make sense why she thinks that way, and why she has to think that way, to survive the society she is in and follow the dreams she has.

Last thing: listened on audio and it was great. And I wish there were more books.

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Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Review: Between the Lines

Between the Lines Between the Lines by Nikki Grimes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A companion to Bronx Masquerade and I have to admit, I don't remember if I read Bronx Masquerade. So, this passes the "stand alone" test.

i listened to the audio, which used multiple narrators for the multiple teens telling their stories. What they have in common? The same high school English teacher, writing poetry and getting ready for a poetry slam.

I enjoy these types of books: different people telling the story, with their different perspectives. There's always one you identify with a bit more than others, one you learn more from than others.

I'll say this is less about poetry and more about connection, communication, and connections -- letting people in. It's about learning about oneself and about people you think you know, but don't.

The two who stuck with me the most: Genesis, a foster child, whose future is uncertain (or, rather, certain: she's by herself and about to age out of the foster system). Marcel, whose family was fractured when his father was arrested on a trumped up charge.

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Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Review: Thief of Shadows

Thief of Shadows Thief of Shadows by Elizabeth Hoyt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

OK, so in book 1, we had 18th century murder mystery and the intro to the 18th century London slums and our nobles/every day folks. Book 2, had the love triangle and pushing against an arranged marriage and touched a bit on the problematic sources of money for nobles: the "oh we don't actually work" with the "ugh, but what you do for work to get money is so unseemly." Book 3, was the pirate king who is the reformed kind of bad guy.

And now, book 4! Here is another romantic mix up (he's the virginal school teacher who runs the orphanage and only wears black! She's the rich and titled widow who likes pretty things!) with a side note that he's secretly one of the ghosts of St. Giles who help the poor and desperate.

This one more than made up for some of my "eh" feelings for other books. Probably because I liked the tension between the two because of class and money, and how those things were overcome because of shared interests and passions. Is he really a stick in the mud? Is she really flighty? Wearing black doesn't make him a no fun puritan and enjoying clothes doesn't make her uninterested in serious things!

(Actually I would love more backstory on Winter's family, because of the puritanish names, the dedication to helping the poor despite the risks and lack of resources, etc.)

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Thursday, August 01, 2019

Review: The Trial of Lizzie Borden

The Trial of Lizzie Borden The Trial of Lizzie Borden by Cara Robertson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Did anyone with the name Lizzie grow up and not have the "Lizzie Borden" rhyme chanted at them?

It's made me endlessly fascinated by the Borden murders. (For the record: I adore the Christina Ricci movie & TV series with Ricci as Lizzie.)

In the late 19th century, Andrew and Abigail Borden were found murdered in their home. Both had been killed by multiple blows from an ax; the scientific evidence said that Mrs. Borden was dead for about two hours before Mr. Borden. Only Lizzie, in her early thirties, and a twenty something maid were at home when the murders took place. Lizzie was arrested, tried, and found not guilty.

And I'll say from the start: No, I'm not convinced she did it.

It's amazing both how much we know and how little we know. And how much the science of the 19th century is relied on.

As per the title, this book relies heavily on the trial transcripts. It's a fascinating, deep look at the trial and how both sides played on the views people held back then, of what women were supposed to be like or what they were supposed to do or not do. Did Lizzie react the right way to the murder of her father and stepmother? Was her alibi suspect because it was a bad alibi, or because folks couldn't believe how a spinster spent her days?

Recommended; and yes, one day I'd like to go to the house were the murders took place.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Review: The Clockmaker's Daughter

The Clockmaker's Daughter The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate Morton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love Kate Morton.

In the past: 1860s, and a group of artists spend a summer at magical house. It ends in a robbery and murder.

In the present: an archivist finds an old sketch book and a photograph and finds herself drawn to the house it depicts. She is also about to be married, but uncertain about what it is she does or doesn't want from life.

Birdie, the clockmaker's daughter, was part of that group of artists and her ghost tells her story and the stories of others who come to the house. At times, it's a school for girls with a lonely young girl; a place for artists, where a damaged World War I veteran goes to research and to hide away; a refuge for a family who have left the dangers of London during the Blitz.

And now the present, with Elodie, and her discovery that she has links to the house.

All these stories weave together and it's just wonderful and tragic and hopeful and beautiful. And I both want to read all of Morton's books at once, and also delay it, so that I'll always have some left to discover.

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Thursday, July 25, 2019

Review: Scandalous Desires

Scandalous Desires Scandalous Desires by Elizabeth Hoyt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


So, in book 1, for reasons, Silence (the youngest sister of the main character) went to beg the local crime boss, I mean pirate because it is the mid 18th century, to do something for her husband.

The pirate was handsome so I knew of course somehow they'd end up together.

This is that book.

I have to say, part of me was "ugh" because of his earlier treatment and manipulation of her. How was he redeemed? Well, partly because he's a self made man in a time when there are little options for someone born into poverty, with all that involves. Partly because his manipulation was to the wider world: he made it appear as if he'd slept with her, but did not, and said to her: if your family and husband love you, they'll believe you when we say we didn't have sex.

Guess what? They don't believe her.

So, yeah, he's pretty much redeemed, but I'm a bit torn on how this series is treating women who are sex workers. Many are shown as being pushed into it, because of poverty, because of the men in their life, because they are children without choices. But, even then, there is so much dismissive talk of the women who are free with their favors and sell themselves -- maybe a future book will take that type of woman as a main character and I'll see a more nuanced view.

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Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Review: Sugar Pine Trail

Sugar Pine Trail Sugar Pine Trail by RaeAnne Thayne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So, I skipped book 6 because my library doesn't have it.

She's a librarian who for reasons, is renting the second story apartment to a handsome pilot playboy.

This was the first time there wasn't any real sickness or accidents involved; or any secret parents/children.

I like that she presents at first as drab enough that he's met her a number of times and doesn't remember her.

I like that it's not so much as she's drab as for many reasons, her life has been on hold for years, mainly caring for sick parents. The death of both her elderly parents has left her alone, but it's also freeing her to pursue her own desires, her own wish list.

What brings this couple together? Well, I guess there is sickness and accidents. Two young boys are in need of a temporary foster home: father died in military, mother is sick, and for reasons, librarian Julia is the only possible one who can take them in. But, as an only child, she has limited experience with kids and pilot Jamie, who is from a large family, steps in to help and save the day. I loved the two boys, because they are portrayed very real. Which means, sometimes they are as annoying as heck.

Characters from earlier books appear, sometimes wed, sometimes with kids, so the "happy ever after" happens -- but it doesn't happen at the end of the book. I'd call most of the endings as "happy for now," in that the two folks are together and yes, it's love, but it's not engaged/married/pregnant.

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Thursday, July 18, 2019

Review: Snowfall on Haven Point

Snowfall on Haven Point Snowfall on Haven Point by RaeAnne Thayne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So, Andie works from home, some sort of website design.

Marshall Bailey is the Sheriff in the next town over and he's been in a recent accident so is stuck at home and doesn't want help.

But! Andie is besties with Marshall's sister, Wyn, so she's going to bring him food and comfort.

So. What I like about this series: people are introduced in earlier books, but because a whole community is created, it's never clear who the stars of the next book will be. Here, Andie is friends with Wyn, from an earlier book, and in that book we learned that Andie's first husband, a police officer, died in the line of duty and his partner, under the guise of "helping," stalked and then raped her, so she left town and was kind of in hiding and then Wyn, her boyfriend, and her brother -- Marshall -- were all involved when the rapist found her and attacked her again.

So, yes, Andie has a tragic backstory, but it's not the point -- it's part of who she is, yes, but, like Wyn's story, it's treated well.

This book continues the trend of folks in Haven Point having something health related going on -- here, it's Marshall's broken leg from a car accident.

BUT I also realized there is something else going on in many of these books! Secret parents/children! In one earlier book, the heroine was a secret love child who was brought into her father's family after her mother died. In another, someone learned that their emotionally abusive dad wasn't their dad after all. And someone else was the father of two kids and he suspected he wasn't the father of the younger boy, but darn it, he loved that kid and it was his son, gosh darn it.

Here, it turns out Marshall has a secret son! And again, I didn't realize until this book that secret/hidden family members were a recurring thing.

What else? Christmas solves so many problems. You have no idea. The next book isn't available from my public library, so I'll be skipping ahead in the series.

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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Review: Notorious Pleasures

Notorious Pleasures Notorious Pleasures by Elizabeth Hoyt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Both folks are titled here, and it's pretty much an arranged marriage but then she falls for his rake of a brother instead.

I have to say, this is the book that made the series just 3 stars for me.

So, triangle: heroine, fiance, hero who is fiance's brother. And there is some interesting stuff going on, in terms of the fiance having a mistress and double standards and also some family drama because of his hate for his brother.

But, at one point the fiance reacts violently about something and while he is forgiven in the book, I just can't with that type of violence. Both that it happens, who shrugs it off, and who forgives and why.

I also disliked the heroine's brother, who goes from "arranged marriage but I want you to be happy" to "marry who I say or else" and he's not supposed to be a bad guy.

There's also an interesting side story about gin: both the damage it's doing to the working poor but also how things like making gin support the fancy lives of the rich and I'm curious as to how this plays out as the series goes on.

There's something about this series so I continue!

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Thursday, July 11, 2019

Review: Shelter in Place

Shelter in Place Shelter in Place by Nora Roberts
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Only Nora could pull off a romantic suspense book against the backdrop of a mass shooting.

Why it works: it's set over several years. So this isn't romance after a trauma; it's about folks who survived something, how that shapes them, and then how as healed adults they come together.

It's no spoiler to say one of the folks behind the mass shooting survives, and plots their revenge, viewing themselves as the victim. This was a strong point of the story, in that their identity is known by the reader fairly early on so that the reader isn't guessing who the killer is. But, for me it was also a weak part because I really disliked the person and spending so much time with them was just ugh.

Things I like about Nora's books in general are here, also: the main characters are strong characters with backstories that make sense, they are independent, and they have sexual pasts and aren't shamed for it.

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Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Review: Wicked Intentions

Wicked Intentions Wicked Intentions by Elizabeth Hoyt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Historical Romance, mid 18th century, centered around the slums of London, specifically St. Giles.

She's the widow running the orphanage her family started; he's the noble looking for the person who murdered his mistress.

Future books are around their family and friends, and one thing I really liked about this book was the intersection between the workers and the nobles.

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Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Review: A Big Mooncake for Little Star

A Big Mooncake for Little Star A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another beautifully illustrated book. I want to frame each page.

Mama makes a mooncake and hangs it in the sky; she tells Little Star not to touch it until Mama says.

That night, Little Star can't help herself. She gets up and nibbles just a little -- so little hardly anyone will notice.

And the next night she nibbles a little more.... and then a little more...

And so we see the reason behind the phases of the moon. It's Little Star nibbling away each night!

And when Mama sees what she has done and the mooncake is no more.... they create a new one.

Now, of course, I want to eat a mooncake.

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Thursday, June 06, 2019

Review: Alma and How She Got Her Name

Alma and How She Got Her Name Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alma thinks her name is entirely too long! When she writes it out on paper, she needs to tape two pieces together. Her name? Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela. A mouthful, right?

But then her father explains to her the story of why each name was chosen: who is Sofia, and what she meant to him, and why he included it in her daughter's name, and Alma embraces that name.

And who is Esperanza.... and Jose....and so on.

The illustrations are beautiful; the story is sweet; and it is all about learning more about yourself, about your heritage, and being proud of it.

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Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Review: Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish

Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish by Pablo Cartaya
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Eighth grader Marcus Vega looks like a grown up. He's tall, he's big, and at first glance some may think he's an adult... or that he's a bully.

He's not an adult, but he does have a lot of responsibility. His mom works a lot, leaving Marcus to take care of his younger brother, Charlie. Charlie is only one year younger than Marcus; Charlie is also a kid with Down syndrome, so part of the role Marcus takes on is being his brother's protector from school bullies.

Folks may think Marcus is a bully, because he's so big. Instead, though, he's turned that into in a plus: he's the kid who protects others from bullies. And, since his mom is struggling financially, he charges for the service.

When the real school bully picks on Charlie, using the R word, Marcus can't help himself -- he punches the kid. And earns a suspension. And his mom, not sure what else to do, and decides they all need a change of scenery so takes the boys to Puerto Rico to visit her ex-husband's relatives.

Here's what you need to know about her ex: he left ten years ago. He hasn't been in touch since. And Marcus believes in him. Believes that if he just sends the right email, says the right things, his dad will show up and somehow fix things. Fix it so his mom doesn't struggle, so they don't have to worry about how Charlie is treated at school, fix it so that Marcus can be a kid again. This last one is something Marcus doesn't realize, doesn't say, but it's clear to the reader that Marcus is tired of being the responsible grown up.

Marcus was born in Puerto Rico, but he's been raised outside of Philadelphia, he doesn't speak Spanish. The five day trip to Puerto Rico is fantastic -- they reconnect with family, his mother relaxes and also gets a clearer view of her life and what has been happening with her sons, and Marcus tries to track down his father. It's clear to everyone but Marcus that Marcus has created a fantasy about his father -- but Marcus has to learn the hard way.

A great book about how family both supports you, but also lets you down. And about somehow you have to take a little vacation from your life to get a clearer picture of who you are and what you want.

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Thursday, May 30, 2019

Review: The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What I like about historical true crime is the combination of true crime and an examination of the lives people lived in the past - a snapshot into the daily lives of regular people. Regular, that is, until someone is murdered and they are held up to critical examination and it's revealed that things are not so regular. Or, one could argue that any "regular" life will, upon examination, show lives of secret; private lives that don't match to public lives; and that the myths of the past are just that, myths.

So on one level: the brutal murder of a three year old child in 1860, and the investigation into it.

On another: the start of police work, and detectives, and how different things were, and in some ways the same.

On another: a look at the life of an upper middle class family of 1860 and the "truth."

I'm still not sure what the full "truth" of the Kent family was. But this was a fascinating look at the murder and the people around the murder investigation.

One thing, though -- I wasn't sold on why the suspect became the suspect, even when the confession was revealed. Admittedly, even the investigators thought the confession was incomplete. And maybe they are just smarter than me. And maybe it's not being of the time - I'm not able to completely understand what they saw that was off, that led to their suspicions.

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Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Review: The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer

The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer by Kate Summerscale

A combination of my non-fiction interests: true crime, Victorian history, murder, child murderers, the life of working people, mental health, punishment, rehabilitation.

So! The mystery is not what happened. The mystery is why. In 1895, Robert Coombes, age 13, murdered his mother; left her rotting body in her bedroom; and he and his younger brother, age 12, did what two boys on their own would do. Go watch some sports events, play, pawn a few things to get more money. Family members and neighbors were suspicious, and when they came and smelled something and found the body, Robert pretty much confessed right away.

The mystery is why: and in looking at why, Summerscale looks at both Robert's family but also the times he lived in. His trial, and what happened after.

It was both surprising and actually a bit hopeful. The primary documents answer some questions and leave others unpursued, so it's to the reader and the author to connect the dots and make some guesses. Part of my surprise was, well, how sympathetic some people were; and how rehabilitation mattered as much as punishment.

Definitely recommended.

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Thursday, May 23, 2019

Review: The Season of Styx Malone

The Season of Styx Malone The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summer is the season that Caleb, 10, and his older brother, Bobby Gene, 11, meet Styx Malone. Styx is 16 and to Caleb, Styx is everything: cool and worldly and smart, clever and smooth and independent.

Summer at age 10 and 11: when life is both simple and oh-so-complicated. Caleb and Bobby Gene get into enough trouble on their own, and not necessarily on purpose. They didn't mean to trade their baby sister for a bag of fireworks, but somehow it happened, and who can say no to fireworks?

Styx introduces them to the concept of the escalator trade: a series of trades that slowly escalates the value that you hold, so that you start with a paper clip and end with a house. Or, for Caleb, Bobby Gene, and Styx, you start with fireworks and end with -- well, I'll let you find out.

Styx's bravado results in the boys having a magical summer of adventure, but there are some serious things going on. Things that the reader may realize before Caleb does.

Styx, like Caleb and Bobby Gene, is a black kid in Indiana. Caleb and Bobby Gene's father is protective of his sons -- worrying about what will happen in the world outside their small town -- to the point where he doesn't even want his sons to leave for a school trip. He wants them safe and the boys -- well, at least Caleb -- longs for the world outside his small town. Styx represents that world, and Caleb doesn't realize that Styx, a foster child, is not so much independent as a child alone. Caleb doesn't see what he has that Styx does not.

This is a great story -- a story of a summer full of swimming holes and fishing and bike rides. A story of friendship and family and trust. A story of a boy taking the steps to being a man. (In some ways -- and to me this is a great compliment -- this reminded of Stephen King, and how he writes about that time in childhood, a time of innocence and knowledge and darkness and light. But, of course, there are no monsters here.)

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Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Review: Spooked!: How a Radio Broadcast and the War of the Worlds Sparked the 1938 Invasion of America

Spooked!: How a Radio Broadcast and the War of the Worlds Sparked the 1938 Invasion of America Spooked!: How a Radio Broadcast and the War of the Worlds Sparked the 1938 Invasion of America by Gail Jarrow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Spooked! is about the 1938 radio teleplay broadcast by Orson Welles, which updated H.G. Wells' The War of the World by making it contemporary to the time (1938) and location (the US), using a mix of real places and fake names. For various reasons, some listeners did not realize that it was a play and thought that the Martians were invading.

Spooked!, a middle grade nonfiction book, takes an in-depth look at the creation of the play, how listeners responded, why, and the aftermath. It's the type of book that shows why I like middle grade and young adult fiction, and recommend it to others: it's in-depth but at the same time a quick read, and sometimes you want to read on a specific topic but don't want to do it in a 500 page book with small print.

Being from New Jersey, I always enjoy books that are "my" local history. For various reasons, the teleplay set the initial invasion landing in Grover's Mill, NJ. So it's a topic I'm familiar with; and still learned so much from this book.

Other good parts: links to the actual production for folks to listen to, an examination of why people believe something like this in the context of "fake news," and lots of primary documents.

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Thursday, May 16, 2019

Review: Front Desk

Front Desk Front Desk by Kelly Yang
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ten year old Mia and her parents immigrated from China two years ago. Her parents moved for the freedoms the US offered. They have freedom, yes; but it's been hard. Very hard. If they are lucky, the jobs barely pay the rent; if they aren't lucky, they are living in a car.

Their luck changed when they saw the job posting to manage a hotel -- with an apartment included! They jumped at the chance, but the reality is a bit different from what they hoped.

Yes, there is an apartment: a tiny one bedroom, with Mia's parents sleeping in the living room so they can be on call 24/7. They are responsible for everything, including cleaning the rooms, and in order to get all the work done, they both can't be staffing the front desk. And that is how a ten year old ends up running the front desk.

Mia's parents face other challenges, including a hotel owner who relishes underpaying them and not spending any money -- including when the washing machine broke.

Meanwhile, Mia is happy to be at school -- except she likes English but everyone (even her mother) thinks that being Chinese means she should be good at math, not English. The richer kids make fun of her clothes. The worst is the boy who is the son of the hotel owner. She makes a friend -- and isn't one friend enough?

Especially when she has other friends: the "weeklies," the handful of folks who live full time at the hotel. And the other Chinese immigrants who visit her parents, with stories of their own struggles, who find comfort in friendly, familiar faces and the free, empty hotel room her parents offer.

Mia has ups and downs as she works the Front Desk. And along the way, she tries to figure out a way to make her family the success they hoped for when they got on the plane from China to the US.

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Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Review: The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Can I give this six stars? I want to give it all the stars and then double it.

Stop what you're doing and read this book.

Of course I "know" Jack the Ripper, thanks to movies, TV shows, and documentaries about the 1888 murders in Whitechapel. The poor prostitutes of Victorian London.

Mind blown by this book. Rubenhold has researched the lives of the five women killed by Jack the Ripper and it turns out, poor, yes. Prostitutes? Their individual lives were complex and two did engage in sex work. But no, not all. And that realization could alter how one thinks about who Jack killed and why -- but no. This is not a book about Jack. It's for another to use this to look at Jack the Ripper; this book is about the women.

Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine, Mary Jane. One by one, their stories are told, starting with their births. Their deaths are not described; the mourning, the impact on family and friends, is.

Put aside the murders; this is of interest to look at lives that history normally ignores. Women who are poor. Or, rather, whose lives end in a place of poverty.

This book is heartbreaking, not just because each of these women are murdered. But because for each of them, it was a tragic slide into poverty, a life of bad luck, few choices, no opportunities. It wasn't that there was "one thing", but so many things.

Unhappy marriages with no ability to divorce and no real spousal support and no opportunity to make money to earn a living. Deaths of parents that shift a family from close and loving and struggling, to one divided between family members at best or in the work house at worst. Alcoholism, and the impact across generations. Single women getting pregnant and the punishing consequences.

So many, many things --but some universal commonalities. The lack of a social services. The work it takes to survive while poor. The lack of work opportunities. A world view that sees women as either saints or whores, so that those that fall out of one role of course have to be in the other.

Also, the original research! The primary documents! The checking of workhouse records to see where people stayed, even if just for two nights, in the days and months and years before they died.

This is not a book about a murderer; it is not a book about murders; it is not a book about depth.

It's about five women who were alive, and loved, and did the best they could. And it gives back the dignity they lost.

Read this; you won't regret it.

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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Review: Hurricane Child

Hurricane Child Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Twelve year old Caroline, living in the U.S. Virgin Islands, was born during a hurricane. Her mother told her the story of her birth to celebrate Caroline; but Caroline later learns from others that a "Hurricane Child" is a curse, "I won't have an inch of luck" and "sadness will follow me wherever I go."

Caroline may seem unlucky: at school, she has no friends, and is even treated poorly by the teachers at school. Her mother left, and after sending postcards, doesn't even do that any longer.

Caroline rejects the label of "unlucky" and decides to take charge of her own life -- and to find her mother. Oh, and she also wants to do something about the ghosts she sees.

In no particular order, what I loved about this book: the depiction of everyday life in the Virgin Islands. The prejudices Caroline faces. How lonely Caroline is. The wonder of her friendship with a new girl in school, Kalinda. How Caroline realizes that she has feelings for Kalinda. The mystery of what happened to Caroline's mother, and that adults are shown with complexity.

I enjoyed this being shown from Caroline's point of view, and as the book went along, how the adults in her life changed -- or rather, how her view of them changed.

And I liked the resolution: about Caroline creating friendships and families.

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Thursday, April 25, 2019

Review: The Wall in the Middle of the Book

The Wall in the Middle of the Book The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So, there is a wall in the middle of the book.

I read this as an ebook; I assume that in the print book, the wall is in the middle/gutter of the book.

The person telling the story is on the right; and the reader can see on both sides of the wall, while those in the story cannot. This is a book where the images add to the story, so that the reader sees things the knight doesn't, reaches their own conclusions.

On the left, a knight, repairing the wall and talking about how the wall protects him. On the other side, animals. As the knight talks about the danger on the other side of the wall, and as we see animals and then an ogre, on the knight's side there is water slowly rising -- and the knight doesn't realize at first the danger -- and then some scary, dangerous things in the water.

It's clear that protection the wall provides is an illusion; that the knight sees danger on the other side, ignoring the danger on his own side. It's a children's book -- eventually (spoilers) the knight realizes the danger he is in, is forced to go to the other side, and realizes things are pretty good over there.

One weird observation, though. In making the point that we fear the other; that we don't see the danger in what we are familiar with; that danger can creep up on you; there is also the point that those we fear may be the ones we go to for safety. That we may become the refugees. And... at the end... while the knight was wrong that "the other side" was dangerous, by the end of the story, there is one side of the wall that contains danger (the rising waters and dangerous sea creatures). It's not about two sides wrongly fearing each other; it's about being mistaken about which side to fear.

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Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Review: Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World

Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first few chapters were terrifying.

It's late at night and Ivy, 12, is drawing in her journal. Minutes later, her father is there, rushing her out of her attic room. There's a tornado warning. At first I thought his fear was Ivy is in the attic, and he has to get his family -- his wife, 16 year old daughter, and twin infant sons - to the basement.

Except the basement is a storm cellar, and it's across the yard. And the tornado is right. there.

The family makes it to the storm cellar, and all six are safe. But the house, all they own? Is gone.

This is about Ivy and her family, living through the loss of everything. But Ivy had had loss before this: the addition of her baby brothers changed the family dynamic, and her relationship with her parents have changed. And then there is Layla, her sister, who she trusted and looked up to, until Ivy overheard Layla and her best friend argue -- because the best friend is dating a girl. And now Ivy can't trust her sister, can't talk to her, because Ivy is realizing she doesn't like boys the same way her friends do. It's girls that make her feel that way.

This is a wonderful book: about Ivy finding herself, and finding her friends, and who she can trust. It's Ivy feeling that she is lost and abandoned, because she's lost the family she had before her brothers were born, and she's lost her home, and she thinks she's alone in her feelings and emotions.

This is a beautiful LGBT story for younger readers.

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Thursday, April 18, 2019

Review: Riverbend Road

Riverbend Road Riverbend Road by RaeAnne Thayne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Things I like about this series and the author: it may sound like I'm making fun, and I kind of am, but honestly, that the backstory is there but not over done is refreshing. It means, also, the reader can bring their own interpretations and depth to it. And, as I think I mentioned, with the books focusing on the "start" of romances, there can be heat but since it doesn't go beyond kissing/making out, this satisfies those who want romances without sex, but don't want Amish or religious romances; they want romances in the real world with real people.

With this book, I realize that every couple so far has had at least one dead parent.

So! She's Wyn (short for Wynona and man suddenly I like this name) and he's Cade, and I also realized her that there was such a lost opportunity because the men in the first 3 books were Aidan, Ben, and Cole.... why wasn't this Dade?

She's a police officer, he's the chief of police, so that means he's her boss, and I really liked how the author handled this, to establish the feelings were consensual and that both were aware of the problems with the power dynamic.

OK! Backstory, which of course also includes some medical stuff because I think that's been almost every book.

Wyn is a police officer, daughter of the former Chief of Police, and it's basically the family business. Her twin brother (police officer) was killed in the line of duty (hit by a car), her father recently passed away. He was shot in the head a couple of years ago, and for two years was in a nursing home because of the traumatic brain injury he suffered.

And Wyn is also a rape survivor. Years ago, in college, she was date raped; she's never told her family, but she did press charges and help the police catch the guy and it's one of the reasons she became a police officer. And what I liked about this is that it's both a big deal and not a big deal. It's part of Wyn but she is still Wyn. She's not broken. Cade is not there to heal her or fix her. She's already fixed herself.

Cade is the only good son from a family that is bad -- his mom died years ago, the rest of the family are basically criminals, including his father, and Wyn's father became a father figure to Cade. One of her brothers is Cade's best friend. Cade is trying to help his own younger brother out, but that brother (while married with kids) also has a drinking problem.

So Cade is attracted to Wyn, and has known her since they were both kids (he's just a handful of years older), so there is a relationship independent from the boss/employee dynamic. Plus, he also feels undeserving, both because he still views himself as "the bad kid from the bad family," and he has SECRETS from the night her father was shot.

Also, I liked the ending here in part because the HEA involves Wyn pursuing her career dreams.

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Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Review: Evergreen Springs

Evergreen Springs Evergreen Springs by RaeAnne Thayne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Devin is the town doctor, sister of McKenzie from the last book. Her backstory is she's a cancer survivor whose treatment included a total hysterectomy. As you may remember, McKenzie is her half sister from her dead father's affair. Don't worry, that part of the backstory really doesn't matter because she and her sister are best friends and cold mom is off on a cruise.

Cole is a former rodeo kinda star, whose a recovering alcoholic who served time for beating someone up pretty badly. His ex-wife just died, and now he has custody of his two kids with her, plus he's running the family ranch, plus his estranged dad shows up wanting a relationship, plus his sister has left her husband because he doesn't want kids and she's having twins. Oh, and she sprained her ankle. Which means she's in the hospital on bed rest.

Oh, and it also turns out that one of the kids may not be his, but don't worry, that part of the backstory doesn't really matter and never really gets mentioned.

He doesn't think he's good enough for her! She's afraid of making connections! Will these two crazy kids make it work?

Weird part of the story that I wonder about: he loves his house in the mountains, she loves hers on the lake, what will happen? Who will move? One fun thing about these books is that the HEA is the couple is together. Yes, the couples in books 1 and 2 show up as engaged and married in these later ones, but books are about the beginnings of relationships and don't rush to marriage & babies just to give the HEA. For example, couple number 2 live in two different states and as of this book, they're a long distance couple. And that's also why it's mainly kissing.

I cannot wait for the next one.

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Thursday, April 11, 2019

Review: The Night Diary

The Night Diary The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved the author's first book, so was looking forward to this and was not disappointed!

Nisha and her twin brother, Amil, live with their Papa, grandmother Dadi, and their beloved cook, Kazi. Kazi gives her a diary on her twelfth birthday, and every night she writes in it. About her wish for a friend, about her brother's difficulty reading and their father's frustration with that, about how busy their father, a doctor, is, about how she loves to help Kazi in the kitchen, about the loss she feels for her mother, who died when the twins were born.

She also writes about the politics that adults are talking about. It's 1947 and India is about to become independent. It's an exciting time, except that a boundary will drawn between the Hindu part -- India -- and the Muslim part -- Pakistan.

Nisha and their family are Hindus. They live in the section that will be Pakistan.

Nisha tells of how splitting the country and creating a border creates an "us" and "them" that then creates violence. The family has a growing fear that their neighbors will attack them. Nisha's mother was Muslim; Kazi is a Muslim, and Nisha doesn't understand the hate.

The four leave their home behind, and I'll admit: the journey and the difficulties made me want to skip ahead to find out what happens to them, to make sure they are safe. It's a tough journey and it's scary, and their is kindness and cruelty, but it's all at a level that is aware of it's middle school audience.

In addition to an adventure, and a family story, it's also a good portrayal of what happened in India in 1947.

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Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Review: Be Prepared

Be Prepared Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a kid, I loved books about kids going away to camp - I remember reading Laura's Luck by Marilyn Sachs, and now I realize I should reread these books because I didn't realize they were historical fiction.


In this graphic novel, Vera is the poor kid in her group of friends, as well as an immigrant from Russia, so there are funny foods and language issues and all that. One thing she latches onto is all her friends go to camp, why can't she? And then she finds out there is a Russian summer camp!! She imagines camp as some type of always-fun place where she will have all the friends.

Camp isn't what she imagined. Some girls are mean. The toilets are outhouses. Everything is in Russian, and she can speak it but really can't read it.

This is a classic type of story -- Vera finds out more about herself, makes some bad choices, has some unexpected fun.

I'm hoping there is a sequel!

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Thursday, April 04, 2019

Review: Redemption Bay

Redemption Bay Redemption Bay by RaeAnne Thayne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The meet-cute here is McKenzie and Ben knew each other as teens. Now? She's the mayor of a town that blames Ben for their current financial woes. After his father died, Ben closed down the family boat-building business, the main employer in town. He also inherited a lot of commercial real estate, and left a manager to run them. The properties were neglected, adding to the town problems.

Now he's back! And while the town hates him, they also hope that he may somehow bring back prosperity.

Link to book 1: Hero in book one bought all that property from Ben and is the owner of a tech company, so they are both tech gazillionaires.

Last book had a kid with a heart condition and a hero recovering from brain surgery. The health issues here: Ben's younger sister died from cystic fibrosis as a teen.

Backstories of the main characters that left me going "ok, that's interesting." McKenzie was raised by a single mother, and after her mother died (oh, another health issue, diabetes) McKenzie, about ten, went to live with her father -- who didn't know about her! He's married, with a daughter a couple of years older than McKenzie, and a wife, who, yeah, he was married to when he had an affair with McKenzie's mother. The sisters are close, the mother (stepmother?) is cold to McKenzie -- or at least, not warm. Oh, and McKenzie's mom was Mexican, and McKenzie changed her name from Xochitl Vargas to McKenzie Shaw to fit in better. I KNOW. This last fact in particular is treated as "oh yeah and that happened."

Ben kinda hates his mom because his dad was verbally and emotionally abusive to both of them, but his mom stayed around until his sister died, so Ben has tons of resentment that he pretends he doesn't. BUT it turns out that when Ben's mom was a teenager she slept withe her boyfriend who left town for the army and college so OF COURSE she had to instead marry Ben's dad and pass of Ben as his, and Ben's dad didn't become an asshole to his son until the DNA tests taken because of the sister's CF. Did I mention her reasons included her father being a Baptist minister and helping to raise her younger sisters because her mom had died? (I think cancer, because there are a lot of dead parents who died before the story began: McKenzie's mom and dad, Ben's sister and father, Ben's mother's parents.)

So, does Ben somehow begin to bring prosperity to the town?

Do Ben and McKenzie get together?

Do Ben and his mother reconcile?

Does McKenzie and her stepmother get along?

Yes, yes, yes, no.

These are for readers who want romance with little spice: just kissing.

Final note: despite my wowing the backstories, I am addicted to this series. I want to see how the town pulls out of the economic issues. I want to meet McKenzie's cold but not mean stepmother.

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Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Review: Snow Angel Cove

Snow Angel Cove Snow Angel Cove by RaeAnne Thayne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A quick, entertaining read but what a weird meet-cute!

Aidan literally knocks Eliza off her feet when his rented SUV skids on ice and hits her, after narrowly missing her five year old. Don't worry, though, it's only bruises and she barely needs ibuprofen after. (It's the type of book where Eliza feels like even that is some weakness, but to give her credit, she realizes later that was a bit too much.)

And Eliza is widowed (long enough ago to be totally ready to fall in love again even though she doesn't want to for reasons). She's also a hotel manager, but she literally moved to town that day, arriving in time to see the place that just hired her go up in flames. Oh, did I mention her daughter's heart condition?

Aidan is a tech billionaire and there is a very light connection to Eliza's dead husband. Enough for Eliza to feel slightly conflicted, all lower case. Oh, and the accident was totally not his fault because ice, black ice, on a patch that the city should have salted or sanded or whatever, plus it was a rental so it's not his fault the tires were terrible.

Will I read the rest of the series? OF COURSE. Haven Point is small town that is dying, and this book seems to be setting up that Aidan, Eliza, and the folks they meet will somehow change the economics of the town. I'll be honest: usually business stuff in books isn't treated very realistically, so I know I should be realistic in my expectations. Still, I love books set in small towns (probably because I don't live in one), and so I am very intrigued in how the series is going to show the town recover.

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Thursday, March 28, 2019

Review: The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle

The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A mystery, told to us by Mason Buttle. The mystery is about Mason's friend, Benny, who died just over a year ago.

Mason tells the story. He can tell a story but he's not that good at actually reading or writing. What becomes clear to the reader is that Mason has a lot going on, and has lost a lot the last few years. His mother died, his best friend died; his uncle sold a lot of the family apple orchard, so they have less property and aren't working the property they have; the house is falling down around Mason, his grandmother, his uncle, and the young woman his uncle has invited into their home.

Mason is goodhearted -- almost too kind, because he doesn't quite comprehend that the boys at school who bully him are pretty terrible and are being horrible to him. It was painful to read Mason not realize this -- and painful when Mason finally realized just how terrible they are.

That, though, was balanced by the good: Mason's joy at finding a new friend. A supportive teacher at school. And his family coming together, getting out of their joint depression, in a realistic and hopeful way.

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