This has been a rather hectic writing week, as I crammed everything into four days instead of five. But: five book reviews, finished up the last four lessons in the Maggie Stiefvater class, and a bit on the Chasing Shadows revision, so I’m happy.
I’d like to give a bit of explanation for my ratings in the reviews I write. I probably should have done this when I started rating reviews…but it seemed self-explanatory. Except my ratings are more nuanced than five stars=a spectacular book. I read a lot. Like, a lot. But just because I loved a book, doesn’t mean you will. And just because something bothered me in a book, doesn’t mean it will bother a single other person on the planet. A review is an opinion, and we all know what they say about opinions.
It’s highly unlikely you’ll ever see a one- or two-star rating on a review here. Because if I think the writing is that bad, or I dislike the content that much, I won’t finish reading the book. (It took me years—most of my life—to embrace the freedom of not finishing a book that was a bad choice for me.) Writing is hard work, and I refuse to give a bad review to a book just because I don’t like it a bit. That’s disrespectful to the author and the work that went into creating the book. And, just because I don’t care for the book, doesn’t mean you won’t, either.
So, as a general guideline:
-5 stars means I loved the book. It might have a few issues, but I loved it anyway.
-4 stars means I liked the book, possibly loved parts of it. A solid read.
-3 stars means I thought it was good enough to finish—but there was something I
didn’t really care for (could have been a writing issued, could have been a character
I found annoying). The writing might have been superb—which I’ll mention—but if
the MC is whiny and annoying, that detracts enough that it knocked the rating
-anything with a decimal number means it leaned towards the next number up (So,
the character was annoying, but not that annoying.).
Again, my reviews are my opinions. We don’t all have the same tastes or pet peeves or preferences. That’s what makes us individuals. If you think my 3-star rating is wrong on a book, please tell me why. Maybe your insight into the character I disliked will change my mind. Anything is possible.
Bath, England, 1891. Mr. James Harding was a lot of things–businessman, well-to-do, probable scoundrel–but a drinker he most assuredly was not. So when Harding is believed to have drunkenly fallen to his death into the icy River Avon, Lord William Wethington is immediately suspicious. Finding Lord William’s name on a letter in the victim’s pocket, the local constabulary summons William to identify the victim. Police detectives learn that William had been one of Harding’s business clients–and undoubtedly not the only client the dead man had cheated.
William entreats Lady Amy Lovell, a fellow member of the Mystery Book Club of Bath, to help him deduce what really happened to the late Mr. Harding. Lady Amy, a celebrated mystery author herself, once called on William to help her solve a real-life mystery, and now she fully intends to return the favor. But it won’t be easy.
Practically every one of Harding’s many clients had ample reason to want to do him in. And there’s precious little time to narrow down the list: William and Amy soon become prime suspects themselves when the police discover them ruffling through files in Harding’s house. Lady Amy will have to be as clever as her characters if she’s to save William from the gallows…and herself from Harding’s real killer.
I’m really liking this series so far! The Victorian setting is a lot of fun, with Amy struggling to make her own place in the world and do what makes her happy—not what everyone else thinks she should do. William is also quite likable, and I like this unique setting for a cozy mystery series. Definitely a fun read!
Callie Hutton writes historical fiction. The Sign of Death is the newest book in the Victorian Book Club Mystery series.
(Galley courtesy of Crooked Lane Books in exchange for an honest review.)
How do you start a new chapter when you haven’t closed the book on the last one?
Eighteen months ago, Autumn Divac’s husband went missing. Her desperate search has yielded no answers—she still has no idea where he went or why. After being happily married for twenty years, she can’t imagine moving forward without him, but for the sake of their two teenage children, she has to try.
Autumn takes her kids home for the summer to the charming beachside town where she was raised. She seeks comfort by working alongside her mother and aunt at their quaint bookshop, only to learn that her daughter is facing a life change neither of them saw coming and her mother has been hiding a terrible secret for years. And when she runs into Quinn Vanderbilt—the boy who stole her heart in high school—old feelings start to bubble up again. Is she free to love him, or should she hold out hope for her husband’s return? She can only trust her heart…and hope it won’t lead her astray.
I think there was a little too much going on here to give any one thing the benefit of full development: the missing husband, the new love interest, the mystery of Autumn’s father, what’s going on with her mother, the multiple issues with her daughter…In the end, it just came across as rather crowded and chaotic, and I couldn’t enjoy any one thing fully. Solid writing, and I loved the setting, but this ended up being just a so-so read for me.
Brenda Novak is a bestselling author. Bookstore on the Beach is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/MIRA in exchange for an honest review.)
August 1939: London prepares for war as Hitler’s forces sweep across Europe. Grace Bennett has always dreamed of moving to the city, but the bunkers and blackout curtains that she finds on her arrival were not what she expected. And she certainly never imagined she’d wind up working at Primrose Hill, a dusty old bookshop nestled in the heart of London.
Through blackouts and air raids as the Blitz intensifies, Grace discovers the power of storytelling to unite her community in ways she never dreamed—a force that triumphs over even the darkest nights of the war.
It seems like every World War II novel I read is sad, but this one proved to be an exception. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely sad and horrifying moments, but the overall message of this novel is hope and helping others. I thought it was a wonderful touch that initially Grace isn’t even a reader, so we get to experience her falling in love with books as she grows to love the bookshop and its patrons. This is a lovely read!
Madeline Martin is a bestselling author. The Last Bookshop in London is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/Hanover Square Press in exchange for an honest review.)
This was a good writing week: three book reviews, and three fiction sessions—mostly new stuff, which makes me very happy. It’s time to feel my way through the new setting I’ve come up with.
Dessa, a single mom, is enjoying a rare night out when a devastating earthquake strikes. Roads and overpasses crumble, cell towers are out everywhere, and now she must cross the ruined city to get back to her three-year-old daughter, not even knowing whether she’s dead or alive. Danger in the streets escalates, as looting and lawlessness erupts. When she witnesses a moment of violence but isn’t able to intervene, it nearly puts Dessa over the edge.
Fate throws Dessa a curveball when the victim of the crime—a smart-talking 15-year-old foster kid named Beegie—shows up again in the role of savior, linking the pair together. Beegie is a troubled teen with a relentless sense of humor and resilient spirit that enables them both to survive. Both women learn to rely on each other in ways they never imagined possible, to permit vulnerability and embrace the truth of their own lives.
I like Beegie quite a bit, but Dessa…not so much. She is far too passive for me, letting life—and the people in it—treat her however it will without standing up for herself. Like, passive to a pathetic degree. Solid writing and description—I’ve never experienced an earthquake and I’d like to keep it that way—enough to place me firmly in the scenes, but my dislike of Dessa was a big problem for me in reading this.
Bridget Foley lives in Idaho. Just Get Home is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/MIRA in exchange for an honest review.)
The girl, the monster, the prince, the queen.
They broke the world.
And some things can never be undone.
I’ll admit, the blurb for this novel is a big sparse, but the novel itself is not. Like the rest of this trilogy, this is a very dark and fantastical story. Dark. Very dark. The cultures, the history, the people, are all brimming with life and magic and so vibrant they leap off the page.
But this is not a fluffy bunny story (and if there were any fluffy bunnies, they’d probably die a gruesome and tragic death immediately). Instead, it’s full of chilling sensory details (seriously, maybe read this on a hot summer day) and definitely read the other two books first. This is a compelling and engrossing novel, just don’t expect sweetness and light.
Emily A. Duncan is a bestselling author. Blessed Monsters is her newest novel, the final installment in the Something Dark and Holy series.
(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)
This was a good writing week again! Three fiction sessions, three book reviews, and also my March reading post, as well as a post about the best books I read in March. I’m very happy with this week.
With a past like hers, Jessica Clayton feels safer in a life spent on the road. She’s made a career out of helping others downsize—because she’s learned the hard way that the less “stuff,” the better, a policy she applies equally to her relationships. But a new client is taking Jess back to Cape Sanctuary, a town she once called home…and that her little sister, Rachel, still does. The years apart haven’t made a dent in the guilt Jess still carries after a handgun took the lives of both their parents and changed everything between them.
While Jess couldn’t wait to put the miles between her and Cape Sanctuary, Rachel put down roots, content for the world—and her sister—to think she has a picture-perfect life. But with the demands of her youngest child’s disability, Rachel’s marriage has begun to fray at the seams. She needs her sister now more than ever, yet she’s learned from painful experience that Jessica doesn’t do family, and she shouldn’t count on her now.
Against her judgment, Jess finds herself becoming attached—to her sister and her family, even to her client’s interfering son, Nate—and it’s time to put everything on the line. Does she continue running from her painful past, or stay put and make room for the love and joy that come along with it?
This was a solid read. I’d really love to live in a house right by the ocean like this! I actually enjoyed reading about Rachel and her struggles more than Jess, although I can’t totally relate to her struggle to control everything. A solid read, but not a standout. Perfect for an easy weekend read.
RaeAnne Thayne is a bestselling and award-winning author. The Path to Sunshine Cove is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/HQN in exchange for an honest review.)
In March, I read 21 books toward my goal of reading 250 books this year. Normally, I re-cap the best three books I read each month, but this time there are more than three.
I Don’t Wait Anymore, by Grace Thornton. This book spoke to me on so many levels! Very uplifting, motivating, and full of hope.
The Sweet Taste of Muscadines, by Pamela Terry. I love well-done Southern fiction, and this one was top-notch. The voice was just incredible, and the settings were so vibrant I felt like I was there.
Namesake, by Adrienne Young. I loved the first book in this duology, and I enjoyed this one just as much. What’s not to like about adventure on the high seas?
Odin’s Child, by Siri Pettersen. This is a bestseller finally translated into English, and it’s a phenomenal read! The mythology and culture are wonderfully realized, and I loved the characters so much.
Firekeeper’s Daughter, by Angeline Boulley. I’m not really a sports fan, but even the bits of this book about hockey were engrossing. The cultural details and struggles this book is about were very well-done, and the main character—and the women surrounding her—were strong and determined.
Books Read in March: 21
Books Read for the Year: 55/250
Topical Books/Monthly Goal Books:
I Don’t Wait Anymore, by Grace Thornton (TBR). This books. Man. All the feels.
The Secret Keeper, by Beverly Lewis (TBR). I genuinely love Amish fiction—and I have no idea why. This is an excellent read!
The Circle Maker, by Mark Batterson (spiritual). This book is wonderful.
The Love That Split the World, by Emily Henry (TBR). I loved this. The characters are fantastic.
A Million Junes, by Emily Henry (TBR). Okay, I am just now this very second realizing that Emily Henry wrote both these books—and I adored both of them! Looks like she’s now an auto-read.
The Jigsaw Man, by Nadine Matheson. I feel like this took me a looong time to read, but it was a busy week. I enjoyed this, although the crime scene descriptions were pretty revolting.
The Last Garden in England, by Julia Kelly. I enjoyed all three timelines in this novel a lot, which is unusual. I loved reading about the lives of these determined women and what they experienced.
Falling Down Under, by Errin Krystal. This is billed as a romantic comedy, but I wouldn’t really call it comedy. More of just a light read. The MC showed a lot of character growth, and I enjoyed that, but the secondary characters—undoubtedly slated for their own romances later in the series—were fairly one-dimensional.
Good Eggs, by Rebecca Hardiman. This had a Fredrik Backman feel to it—except set in Ireland—and I enjoyed it quite a bit. The grandmother is quite a character.
The Bounty, by Janet Evanovich. I do love the Stephanie Plum series, and I think I read the first book in this series, too. This was a fun read, but it felt like a big-budget action movie with lots of convenient occurrences and the characters never really in danger.
The Sweet Taste of Muscadines, by Pamela Terry. This book. I’m not sure I have the words to convey how much I loved this. The voice is phenomenal. I mean “Growing up in the South is not for the faint of heart.”…How wonderful is that sentence? This really was a fantastic book!
The Memory Collectors, by Kim Neville. This was a bit odd, I’ll admit, and I really disliked one of the characters, but it was a solid read.
Namesake, by Adrienne Young. Fantastic read! More adventure on the high seas in this sequel to Fable.
Danger in Numbers, by Heather Graham. Yep, I’m definitely not going to visit the Everglades anytime soon. Cults and life on the edge of nowhere? No, thank you. A decent thriller read, though.
Tell No Lies, by Alison Brennan. There was a lot going on here in this thriller set in the desert—the landscape was as much a character as any of the people—but I was totally invested in what was happening.
Odin’s Child, by Siri Pettersen. This was a phenomenal read! I loved all of it and can’t wait to read the rest of the trilogy.
The Girl Who Stole an Elephant, by Nizrana Farook. I don’t usually read middle-grade, but this was cute.
Firekeeper’s Daughter, by Angeline Boulley. I enjoyed this so much! I love how vividly—and well—the culture was portrayed.
Checking Out Crime, by Laurie Crass. This was an easy cozy mystery. I haven’t read any of the others in the series, but that wasn’t a problem.
The Path to Sunshine Cove, by RaeAnne Thayne (review forthcoming). This was a decent read, but not a standout.
A Mind Set Free, by Jimmy Evans.
Just My Luck, by Adele Parks. I think I made it 15% in this, but the characters were just unlikable, so I put it down.
Strongheart, by Jim Fergus. I didn’t make it very far in this at all. I wasn’t a fan of the MC or the voice.