Thursday, November 14, 2019

Review: A Skinful of Shadows

A Skinful of Shadows A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I do enjoy a Frances Hardinge book! Always different and fresh; but also always with so much depth and complication.

1640s. England. Makepeace, twelve, lives with her mother and her aunt's family in Poplar, a village outside of London. OK, first of all: Poplar! This is the Poplar that becomes the Poplar of Call the Midwife. Every time I heard it I smiled. I'm not sure if that was on purpose or not but I loved it.

Makepeace was born out of wedlock; her mother lives in compliance with rules and morals and beliefs of their Puritan community. It's not so much that her mother believes it: but it's where they live, the times they live. Where they hide -- from their past. From where her mother, unwed, pregnant, fled.

Makepeace has nightmares: ghosts attack her, at night. Her mother offers no sympathy: she wants her daughter to toughen up.

Then the unthinkable happens: Makepeace and her mother are caught up in a riot against King Charles in London, and her other dies. Before, one word is whispered about where her mother had come from, and Makepeace, full of grief, is sent to her father's home. A great home, a great family, and Makepeace is one of the illegitimate children given a home. A home as long as she works, of course.

It is here she learns the family gift: they can absorb ghosts. The ghosts become part of them. Only some in the family have this talent, and that - not compassion, not love - is why homes are offered to children like Makepeace.

And that's just the beginning! What does it mean to have a ghost within you? What does it do to the host and to the ghost?

Meanwhile all this is playing out against the battles between Parliament and King, between the different forms of religion practiced.

Makepeace: what can I say. She is determined and loyal and smart. And her adventures!

And, of course, now I want to know more about the English Civil War. As an American reader, I know the generalities, and I felt it was enough to understand the story and what was going on. That said, I imagine someone with a greater knowledge of that time period would get more out of it, have a deeper appreciation of the politics Makepeace observed.





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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Review: Blanca & Roja

Blanca & Roja Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So much going on, all good, but so hard to do justice.

Blanca and Roja, the del Cisne sisters, born into a cursed family. Two sisters are born, and one is always turned into a swan. Always.

This is a world set in the present, with cars and ice cream and high school bullies.

It is a world of magical realism, where girls can turn into swans and boys into bears.

It is a retelling of fairy tales: retelling, re-imagination, reinterpretation.

It is a story of families and competition and rivalry, and of love.

It is a world with prejudices and suspicion.

Blanca is fair haired and light skinned; Roja's hair is red and her coloring darker. Blanca is the good girl, the princess; Roja is tougher, the witch. They are close and vow to be the set of sisters who both survive, where neither get taken. But then the swans come and it becomes clear, one must be taken, and will this turn the sisters against each other?

Two local boys disappeared earlier this year: Barclay Holt, from one of the richest families in town. Page Ashby, whose family owns orchards. Best friends. Barclay had a fight with a cousin and went into the woods, became part of the woods, became a bear, and now is back. Page followed into the woods, and also now has returned. Barclay fled his family because of lies and violence. Page because Page isn't seen as they want to be seen: Page is a non-binary trans boy, tired of having to explain, of not being seen.

Blanca is told that she can save them both if a blue eyed boy falls for her. Barclay is blue eyed. But Page, Page is the boy Blanca has been in love with despite never talking, the boy Blanca wants.

And Roja: Roja knew Barclay as a yearling bear, still calls him yearling.

And so much more! How blue eyed is viewed as better than brown. How the sisters are treated in school, how Roja is treated differently than Blanca because she is the darker sister. How they love and compete. How their parents see them, how their town see them.

Can these two girls win? Or will the swans?







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Thursday, November 07, 2019

Review: The Disturbed Girl's Dictionary

The Disturbed Girl's Dictionary The Disturbed Girl's Dictionary by NoNieqa Ramos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow. I listened to this and man, it was tough at times.

Because Macy.

Macy.

Macy tells her story in a dictionary, starting with "a." She jumps around a bit in time, telling now but also giving glimpses of her past so you understand, a bit more, her now. Now: her father is in prison. Her mother moves from one "Mr. Guest" to another. Macy cannot stand these men, but she doesn't want her father to know. Her brother has been "kidnapped" by child services and Macy wants him back. Her best friend is mad at her because Macy doesn't want to go to her friend's big birthday party.

This is a look at people who have very few resources. Macy's mother became a mother at fifteen; her own mother had abandoned her, and while Macy hates many of the things her mother does, she also knows that her mother had no role model on how to be a mother.

That Macy's life is difficult is an understatement. Which is part of the reason I had a hard time reading it.

Macy's school calls her "disturbed" and they aren't wrong, in that Macy is headstrong, stubborn, often willing to bite off her nose to spite her face, more in the now than the future which means in the future she deals with consequences. She is also loyal, logical, cynical, loving, and smart. She can be her own worst enemy. But it's also clear that from her life, "now" is the only time you can rely on.

This is a snapshot of a year in her life, of what she will do to regain her brother; but also what she will do when her best friend is threatened.

A tough read; yes. But worth it.







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Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Review: Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree

Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Written by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, a Nigerian journalist, and Vivianna Mazza, an Italian journalist.

We are introduced to the teenage girl narrating this book by what she wants; what her dreams are. A new pair of red shoes. A good harvest. A scholarship to university. Becoming a teacher. Getting married to a good man.

For the first half of this book, we learn of her life, the daily life of her village and family. She has dreams; she loves her family; she has a crush on her boy. She and her family are Christian, but one of her best friends is Muslim. Violence exists elsewhere in their country because of the terrorist group Boko Haram, but in their village, people of different religions get along.

Halfway through the book, Boko Haram attack the village. The narrator and her friends are among a group who are kidnapped. At first, she thinks she is lucky: she is not dead, like the rest of her village. Like some of her family.

The second half is her life as a captive. Boko Haram force all the captives to follow their own radical beliefs. She watches as friends are beaten; her name is changed; she is forced into a marriage. It is heart breaking.

This is a work of fiction, based on the real life kidnappings in Nigeria, and the real stories of some of the girls who have been kidnapped. I fell in love with this girl and her world and her voice, and I hope the world is kind to her.

A note on the violence: yes. It’s there. But it’s not explicit. Don’t get me wrong – it’s horrifying. But it’s the “one sentence” description, not pages of description.






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Thursday, October 31, 2019

Review: Monday's Not Coming

Monday's Not Coming Monday's Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Claudia returns from her summer vacation at her grandmother’s looking forward to seeing her best friend, Monday; and not looking forward to eighth grade. Her best friend, almost sister, will make being at school better.

But Monday isn’t at school. And there’s no answer at her house. Her mother and sister are around, and Claudia hears different stories: Monday is at an aunt’s. Monday is at her father’s. Monday is being homeschooled. Monday doesn’t want to be her friend anymore.

Claudia’s worry grows, even as the adults around her dismiss her concerns.

This is told beautifully, in different sections of time: Before. Before (that is, last year.) And After. Claudia is telling the story, always, but from different points of time: now, then, flashbacks. It is confusing at times, but Claudia is also confused, as she tries to find her best friend and tries to see if there were clues in the past, and also tries to survive a year without her best friend – a year without her only friend, to be honest.

In addition to a chilling mystery that made me go back and start rereading immediately, this is also a story of a close working class family in Washington DC, full of local details about places, music, food. Part of the details includes how willing the police and other adults are to ignore the pleas of one young black girl to find another young black girl.

Tiffany D. Jackson is now one of my favorite mystery authors. I recommend this highly; and to sneak in another recommendation, her book ALLEGDLY about a nine year old accused of killing an infant.







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Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Review: Agatha Christie: A Mysterious life

Agatha Christie: A Mysterious life Agatha Christie: A Mysterious life by Laura Thompson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A biography of Agatha Christie.

Christie was born in 1890 and died in 1976. I love a biographies because they tell about a person I'm interested in, but also, in so telling, tells me about the times they lived in. For example, I'm always intrigued by the certain class of folks who were not rich yet had servants, because there's no way one would do their own cleaning or cooking. Or, the education that women did or did not get. Or, I guess I should say, the formal education.

Reading this inspired me to read and reread Christie's mysteries.

Some background on me: I was one of those who, as a teenager, went through an Agatha Christie phase. Now, I know that the books were sent when they were written; or, in other words, decades before I read them. Some were written closer to when I read them. But I have to say I never quite realized that; that sometimes, I was being show a lifestyle that no longer existed.

Anyway, now I'm going to read and reread; and I've decided to start with Miss Marple.





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Thursday, October 24, 2019

Review: Leah on the Offbeat

Leah on the Offbeat Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A companion to Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda; center stage is one of Simon's best friends, Leah.

It's senior year; Leah is bisexual, but hasn't come out to her friends. So she's going through her senior year -- people assuming she's only into boys -- working out friend dynamics -- and having a crush on a girl who is straight. Or is she?

I love how Leah addresses Leah's being bisexual, and why coming out matters, and how having this secret means she is never wholly herself around others.

I love Leah's crush and the heartbreak and how it resolves.

This book also addresses the particularities of a high school friends group and those dynamics. I'll be honest: as an adult reading this, I just wanted to say at times "folks, you all need to chill a bit." But this book isn't written for me, a fiftysomething adult.

But a teenager reading this will identify so much. Of particular, how invested friends can be in each other's relationships, and that so-and-so have to be together always, and what it means to the connections if so-and-so break up. The intense feelings and drama. The belief that it's all for always and forever. (Now that said... some couples were indeed together at the end, implying a certain amount of always and forever.)







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Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Review: The Cheerleaders

The Cheerleaders The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Five years ago, five cheearleaders died in Sunnybrook.

Two were in a terrible car accident.

Two were brutally murdered.

And the last, distraught over the loss of so many friends in such a short time, killed herself.

The high school no longer has cheerleaders.

Monica is almost seventeen, a member of the dance team. Dreading the fifth anniversary, because of the reminders. The fifth cheerleader was her older sister.

This year is tough for Monica for many reasons. She and her boyfriend broke up because he left for college; she had a hot, secret summer romance with an older guy at her summer job that had consequences. She's feeling a bit disconnected from her friends, in part because of the secrets she kept from them.

And now -- Monica's discovered her sister's phone. And the questions she couldn't ask five years ago, the questions she didn't know to ask, are suddenly all around her.

What really happened five years ago? Did her sister really kill herself? Is there a murderer still out there?

I love Monica's investigation, in part because at time it is sloppy and doesn't always make sense, which makes sense for a teenager who isn't a detective. It's more intuitive; it's not realizing the questions to ask, the roads to follow, because she's not used to doing this.

As a reader, I had figured out certain things earlier than Monica, but that's because this isn't my first mystery. If someone is introduced into a book . . . well, there's going to be a reason for it. It's not just side candy.

Well worth the read; and I look forward to reading more of the author's mysteries.






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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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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

Pirates!

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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