Sundays are for Writing #88

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.







Sundays are for Writing #125

This has been a tough week. I’ve decided to change jobs, and the stress from putting in my notification really drained me this week, so I didn’t get much writing done. Two book reviews, and several videos from the hope writers class. I’ll be re-doing my weekly routine with the new job, so I’ll have to figure out the writing/book review thing all over again.

Happy writing!

Book Review: Death on the Night of Lost Lizards, by Julia Buckley

Image belongs to Berkley.

Hana Keller and her tea-leaf reading grandmother are used to finding the perfect savory treats to pair with a delicious cuppa at her family’s tea house but when a local professor is killed, she uncovers a serving of suspects instead…

Hana Keller is getting ready for a lovely holiday season. She decides to host a tea at her apartment for her closest friends. During the cozy get-together, one of Hana’s friends gets a call that a murderer is on the loose and that the women should be careful. Hana soon learns that Sandor Balog, a professor of Hungarian Studies at the local college, has been viciously killed.

Hana gets one of her visions that she is going to be pulled into the professor’s death somehow. When Erik, her handsome detective boyfriend, finds several suspects at the Tea House, Hana knows she must now investigate. And when the wrong man is arrested, things come to a boil and Hana finds herself in the path of the real killer.

I enjoyed this read! The characters and setting—a Hungarian family-owned tea house—is unique, and I kind of want to hang out with these people. Actually, this book almost made winter and lots of snow sound appealing…which is saying something, for a lifelong southerner.

To me, the murderer wasn’t glaringly obvious, which is great, as “mysteries” where the culprit is clear are boring to read. Hana and her circle of people are fun and people I genuinely would like to spend time with. Definitely read this!

Julia Buckley lives in the Chicago area and teaches high school English. Death on the Night of Lost Lizards is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Berkley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Time for Murder Is Meow, by T. C. LoTempio

Image belongs to Beyond the Page Publishing.

When her TV series is canceled, struggling actress Shell McMillan considers it a blessing in disguise. A beloved aunt who recently died left her a pet shop in her will, and she sees it as the perfect chance to walk away from Hollywood and make a fresh start in the sleepy town of Fox Hollow.

But adjusting to small-town life won’t be easy, as Shell realizes when the head of the museum board is found murdered not long after Shell had a very public argument with her. And when the new kid in town is fingered for the crime, she’ll have to rely on her own wit and pluck and the kindness of strangers to get herself off the hook.

Desperate to exonerate herself and catch the real culprit, Shell begins digging into the lives of the local residents, and she quickly discovers that the victim had no shortage of enemies. As the suspect list grows and time runs short, Shell and her cats will have to claw their way out of danger—and it’s meow or never . . .

This was an okay read, the beginning to a series I won’t be reading any more of. I’ve read some enjoyable cozy mysteries featuring pets, but this one…well, for one thing, the cats are too humanized. I’ve had cats my entire life, and I have yet to have one point at something. Repeatedly. Talk back, yes, but actually point at things? No.

The characters were also just so-so to me. Shell has a tendency to completely overreact to things, and that she got so angry at the museum board for not wanting to sue her aunt’s memorabilia was a little too over-the-top to me. This just wasn’t a good fit for me.

T. C. LoTempio lives in New Jersey. The Time for Murder is Meow is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Beyond the Page Publishing in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Warsaw Orphan, by Kelly Rimmer

Image belongs to Harlequin/Graydon House.

TitleThe Warsaw Orphan
Author Kelly Rimmer
Genre:  Historical fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

In the spring of 1942, young Elzbieta Rabinek is aware of the swiftly growing discord just beyond the courtyard of her comfortable Warsaw home. She has no fondness for the Germans who patrol her streets and impose their curfews, but has never given much thought to what goes on behind the walls that contain her Jewish neighbors. She knows all too well about German brutality–and that it’s the reason she must conceal her true identity. But in befriending Sara, a nurse who shares her apartment floor, Elzbieta makes a discovery that propels her into a dangerous world of deception and heroism.

Using Sara’s credentials to smuggle children out of the ghetto brings Elzbieta face-to-face with the reality of the war behind its walls, and to the plight of the Gorka family, who must make the impossible decision to give up their newborn daughter or watch her starve. For Roman Gorka, this final injustice stirs him to rebellion with a zeal not even his newfound love for Elzbieta can suppress. But his recklessness brings unwanted attention to Sara’s cause, unwittingly putting Elzbieta and her family in harm’s way until one violent act threatens to destroy their chance at freedom forever.

I’ve read a number of books about World War II, but I’m not sure I’ve ever read one set in Warsaw. With the different points-of-view, the reader sees what life is like inside the ghetto, but what it looks like outside the ghetto, too. This was an engrossing read, and although not a light or happy one, there were some glimmers of light peeking through.

I recommend this read, for illustrating a slightly different aspect of the World War II tragedy. The characters are believable and I was invested in what happened to them and how they learned and grew from their experiences.

Kelly Rimmer is a bestselling author. The Warsaw Orphan is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/Graydon House in exchange for an honest review.)

Sundays are for Writing #124

It’s been an excellent writing week! Six book reviews + my May reading post and also a post about the best books I read in May (Spoiler alert: there were several.). No fiction. Things are very up-in-the-air at work, and I’m also working through a course from Hope Writers.

Happy writing!

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Stepsisters, by Susan Mallery

Image belongs to Harlequin/MIRA.

TitleThe Stepsisters
AuthorSusan Mallery
Genre:  Women’s fiction
Rating:  3.8 out of 5

Once upon a time, when her dad married Sage’s mom, Daisy was thrilled to get a bright and shiny new sister. But Sage was beautiful and popular, everything Daisy was not, and she made sure Daisy knew it.

Sage didn’t have Daisy’s smarts—she had to go back a grade to enroll in the fancy rich-kid school. So she used her popularity as a weapon, putting Daisy down to elevate herself. After the divorce, the stepsisters’ rivalry continued until the final, improbable straw: Daisy married Sage’s first love, and Sage fled California.

Eighteen years, two kids and one troubled marriage later, Daisy never expects—or wants—to see Sage again. But when the little sister they have in common needs them both, they put aside their differences to care for Cassidy. As long-buried truths are revealed, no one is more surprised than they when friendship blossoms.

Their fragile truce is threatened by one careless act that could have devastating consequences. They could turn their backs on each other again…or they could learn to forgive once and for all and finally become true sisters of the heart.

I’m actually kind of surprised I finished reading this. The rather dramatic opening scene was solid, but I took an almost instant dislike to Sage, which took a while to turn into acceptance. I didn’t care for Cassidy at all. She was too whiny and dramatic for me.

I liked Daisy and sympathized with her struggles, but I can see how growing up with her would have been difficult. She always has to be right and watching her being doted on by her father probably wasn’t easy to take, either. Sage’s “careless act” was more of a “deliberate and ruthless act” than anything and would be almost impossible for anyone to forgive, much less someone she had such a tenuous family relationship with.

Susan Mallery is a bestselling author. The Stepsisters is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/MIRA in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: Legends of the North Cascades, by Jonathan Evison

Image belongs to Algonquin Books.

TitleLegends of the North Cascades
AuthorJonathan Evison
Genre:  Fiction        
Rating:  3.5 out of 5

Dave Cartwright is already living on the edge, with a blue collar job he hates that barely pays the bills, a house on the verge of foreclosure, a failing marriage, and the recurring memories of three tours in Iraq. His only bright spot is his sometimes too-wise daughter, Bella, who sees and understands much beyond her years. When the unthinkable occurs, Dave makes a seemingly over-the-top decision to move with Bella to a cave in the wilderness. As they embark on this compelling and challenging backcountry adventure, Bella’s reality takes an unforeseen turn, retreating into the ancient world of a mother and son who lived in the cave thousands of years ago at the end of the last Ice Age. What unfolds amidst the struggle to survive is a meditation on both the perils of isolation and the human need for connection.

I’m not 100% sure what I think about this book. Excellent writing and the setting was vivid and vibrant, but…honestly, I finished the book and thought “What was the point?” I felt sympathy for Dave and his struggles—and I actually agree with him about wanting to shut the world out because of the toxicity and hate—but we didn’t get to see his moment of epiphany.

The ending was very abrupt, and I didn’t even care if Dave lived or died. I cared about Bella, yes, but what was the point of her flashbacks into the ancient past? Why did they even happen—and how? No answers, sadly.

Jonathan Evison is a bestselling author. Legends of the North Cascades is his newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Algonquin Books in exchange for an honest review.)

Best Books I Read in May (2021)

In May, I read 29 books, bringing my total for the year to 107 books. I actually DNFed nine other books, which is an usually high number for me. However, I also read some fantastic books in May. Actually, it’s too hard to narrow it down to three, so I’m going to go over a bit.

The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman, by Julietta Henderson. This started off a little bit slow, but it ended up being so, so good! Norman is an awesome character, and I loved his mom and her struggles, too.

New Girl in Little Cove, by Damhnait Monaghan. I was enchanted with this from the very beginning. The setting is just as much a character as any of the actual people in this story, and it was so vividly described I could almost see it.

The Summer Seekers, by Sarah Morgan. I loved all three main characters of this and couldn’t put it down!

The Girl in His Shadow, by Audrey Blake. This historical set when women in England couldn’t practice medicine was engrossing—and mildly infuriating—but so good.

Lady Sunshine, by Amy Mason Doan (review forthcoming). I ended up being completely sucked into this novel from the very beginning. It was so unexpected, yet so riveting and I couldn’t wait to find out what happened.

Blog Tour: The Summer of No Attachments, by Lori Foster

Image belongs to Harlequin/HQN.

TitleThe Summer of No Attachments
AuthorLori Foster
Genre:  Romance
Rating:  DNF

Summer flings with no strings mean nobody gets hurt.

At least, that was the plan…

After putting the brakes on her dead-end relationship, local veterinarian Ivey Anders is ready to soak up this summer on her own terms. The way she sees it, no dating means no disappointment. Why complicate life with anything long-term? But when she meets Corbin Meyer—and his troubled young son, Justin—Ivey’s no-strings strategy threatens to unravel before she can put it into practice.

Trust doesn’t come easy for Ivey’s best friend, Hope Mage, a veterinary-clinic assistant who’s affected by an incident that’s colored every relationship she’s had. Though Hope’s happy for Ivey, she can’t quite open her own heart to the possibility of love. Not just yet… Maybe not ever. Soon, however, she’s faced with a dilemma—Corbin’s older brother, Lang. He’s charming, he’s kind…and he may just be the reason Hope needs to finally tear down her walls.

And as the sweet summer months unspool, the two friends discover love won’t give up on them so easily.

I read about 25% of this before DNFing it. I found the characters low-key annoying, especially Ivey’s dramatics. If I wouldn’t want to hang around these people at all, what’s the point of reading about them? The dog and her elderly cat were almost enough to keep me reading, but in the end, I decided it wasn’t worth it.

Lori Foster is a bestselling author. The Summer of No Attachments is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/HQN in exchange for an honest review.)

What I Read in May (2021)

Books Read in May: 29

Books Read for the Year:  107/250

Topical Books/Monthly Goal Books:

A Wicked Conceit, by Anna Lee Huber (TBR). Another great entry in this series!

How to Eat Your Bible, by Nate Pickowicz (spiritual).

A Court of Mist and Fury, by Sarah J. Maas (TBR, re-read). Okay, I’m really mad I never read more than the first book in this series before. Enthralling.

Brother Odd, by Dean Koontz (re-read). I’m so glad I decided to re-read these (and read the latter ones, that I haven’t read.). Odd Thomas is such a great character.

A Sorrow Fierce and Falling, by Jessica Cluess (TBR). I enjoyed this conclusion to the trilogy.

For Review:

The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman, by Julietta Henderson. This started off a bit slow, but I’ so glad I kept reading! This ended up being a wonderful read with quirky, relatable characters I’d cheerfully read more about.

New Girl in Little Cove, by Damhnait Monaghan. Another lovely read! The setting is as much a character as anyone else, and, as long as I kept in mind the when (the 80s), I didn’t roll my eyes at the Madonna references. Much.

Confessions from the Quilting Circle, by Maisey Yates. Nope. This is the last book by this author I’m reading. Her characters are just unlikable to me, whiny and entitled and they ruin any possible chance of me liking the story.

The Woman with the Blue Star, by Pam Jenoff. This was an interesting read. Not a happy read, though. I can’t imagine surviving a war by living in a sewer.

The Clover Girls, by Viola Shipman. I enjoyed this, although the 80s flashbacks really brought back some memories (Sort of. I was pretty young in the 80s.).

The Summer Seekers, by Sarah Morgan. I loved this read! It was just so much fun, and all three main characters were relatable and I couldn’t wait to find out what happened with each of them. Made me want to take a road trip—and I don’t even like road trips!

Isabelle and Alexander, by Rebecca Anderson. This ended up being such a sweet read, with a bit of a Jane Austen feel to it.

Counting Down With You, by Tashie Bhuiyan. I enjoyed this, but the male lead was way too good to be true for a 16-year-old boy.

Ariadne, by Jennifer Saint. I generally love novels that bring mythology to life, but this was just depressing.

The Girl in His Shadow, by Audrey Blake. I really enjoyed this historical read about a young lady with a gift for medicine…when it was illegal for women to practice medicine.

Talk Bookish to Me, by Kate Bromley. This was a fun, snarky read, even if the male lead was a hard no for me.

The Newcomer, by Mary Kay Andrews. I honestly didn’t care for this much. The retirees were pretty much nosy, rude busybodies, the “romance” was superficial at best, and I just didn’t really care about the characters.

Rising Danger, by Jerusha Agen. This was a decent exes-who-don’t-like-each-other romance with the threat of bombs added in.

The Last Thing He Told Me, by Laura Dave. This didn’t end up being what I expected at all. Solid read.

The Secrets We Left Behind, by Soraya M. Lane. I thought this was sad, but it was a good read.

The Summer of Lost and Found, by Mary Alice Monroe. I probably won’t read any more of this author again. I’m not a huge fan of the characters, among other things.

Dead Sprint, by Caroline Fardig. I’ve been looking forward to reading this 3rd novel in a the series, and it did not disappoint!

You Will Remember Me, by Hannah Mary McKinnon. Frankly, I feel like the author did not deliver on the promises made to the reader, and I will not read anything of hers again. No mystery at all about who the bad guy was, on top of the lack of delivery thing.

Legends of the North Cascades, by Jonathan Evison (review forthcoming). This was kind of a “meh” read for me. Excellent writing, but I was left wondering what the point was.

The Stepsisters, by Susan Mallery (review forthcoming). I finished reading this, but, of the three sisters, I couldn’t stand one of them, only sort of liked another, and mostly liked the third.

Lady Sunshine, by Amy Mason Doan (review forthcoming). I really loved this! It was a very unexpected, engrossing read!

The Warsaw Orphan, by Kelly Rimmer (review forthcoming). This was a solid, albeit sometimes sad, read.

Just Because:

Draw the Circle, by Mark Batterson.

Grace is Greater, by Kyle Idleman. I love this author’s voice: he makes heavy topics relatable.

Left Unfinished:

Hurricane Summer, by Asha Bromfielder, by Asha Bromfield. I was really looking forward to reading this, and I made it about 30% through, but in the end, the patois slowed down the flow so much that I just didn’t care anymore.

A Summer to Remember, by Erika Montgomery. I made it about 15% of the way through this, then realized I hadn’t made a connection with the characters and I didn’t care what happened to them.

A Good Mother, by Lara Bazelon. I didn’t make it very far int his. The MC was just…not a likable person to me.

The Rooftop Party, by Ellen Meister. I only read about 15% of this before stopping. Dana comes across as vapid and self-absorbed, and the other characters were about the same, so I just couldn’t continue reading. And…if Dana is supposedly so smart and savvy, would she really have left a drink beside a guy who creeped her out and then returned for it a few minutes later and drank it? Really?

Local Woman Missing, by Mary Kubica. I read about 20% of this before giving up. The writing was solid, but the style just wasn’t for me. I found the switches between timelines and points-of-view to be clunky and confusing, and I just didn’t feel a connection to any of the characters.

The Photographer, by Mary Dixie Carter. The voice of this just wasn’t for me.

The Whitby Murders, by J. R. Ellis. I made it about 20% before DNFing this one. I just didn’t feel a connection with the characters, so while the premise was cool—a locked room murder in a panic room setting—I just couldn’t get into it.

The Summer of No Attachments, by Lori Foster. I read about 25% of this, but the characters basically got aon my nerves.

Canaryville, by Charlie Newton. The first 10% of this felt like a bad cop movie and I just couldn’t do it.