Brew or Die, by Caroline Fardig

brew or die
Image belongs to Alibi.

Caroline Fardig is the USA Today best-selling author of Brew or Die, book four in the Java Jive Series.

Juliet Langley has turned over a new leaf. She’s been dating a new guy, John, a detective, and she’s much calmer these days, with no trace of the Angry She-Devil in sight. She just received her P.I. license, and now she gets to work a few cases with her friend Maya, trying to expose liars, cheaters, and other run-of-the-mill criminals. Her best friend Pete encourages her new pursuits, especially when their friend Shane comes to Juliet with his suspicions about his fiancé’s drug-related death.

Sound Juliet finds herself investigating the party planning company where Shane’s fiancé worked, and some suspicious goings-on at a local business. When she runs into her ex, Ryder, on one case, her calmer demeanor vanishes, as she’s still angry at his abandonment when she was attacked by a killer. But Ryder is a new man:  calm, collected, and in therapy for his issues. Most surprising of all:  he actually apologizes for his behavior, and tries to make amends, so Juliet finds herself working with him as they try to get to the bottom of one of the cases. Soon Juliet realizes that someone close to her is far more involved than she imagined, and the cops need her help to break the case…a far cry from her past role as murder suspect/super sleuth extraordinaire.

The Java Jive Series is light-hearted and funny, with Juliet always getting into one mess or another, (like Stephanie Plum). This time, Juliet’s moving on with her life when her past shows up with a vengeance in the form of the reformed Ryder. Between wedding gowns, wigs, and the wild side of Nashville, Juliet’s got more than she can handle without questions about her ex. Besides, she’s got a new boyfriend that she prefers…right? I love this series, and Brew or Die is a great addition to it that will make you laugh at Juliet’s adventures as she bumbles her way through life.

(Galley provided by Alibi.)

Book Review: Beartown, by Fredrik Backman

beartown
Beartown, by Fredrik Backman. Image belongs to Atria Books.

Fredrik Backman is a New York Times best-selling author who lives in Sweden. Beartown is his newest novel.

Once upon a time, Beartown was a bustling town where things happened. Now it’s dying as the forest slowly creeps in closer. But the old ice rink is the center of hope for the town, as the boys’ junior hockey team makes it to the national finals. If the boys win, it will breathe new life back into the town.

Tensions run high, and a lot of pressure rests on the shoulders of boys. After the semi-final game, the unthinkable happens, and a teenage girl is traumatized from the violent act. When accusations surface, and the entire town takes sides, it becomes a question of truth:  is she telling the truth, or is he?

Beartown is about hockey, but it is about so much more:  small town life, expectations, family, and gender. The culture of the town is vibrant in its smallness, but secrets will tear it apart, as well as divide families and friendships as the truth comes to life. This was not a happy book to read, but it is well-worth reading, with gripping characters that the reader truly cares about. I don’t even like hockey, and I was rooting for the Bears! (I don’t dislike hockey, either, though.)

Caveat:  This isn’t an easy book to read, either, especially if physical violence towards women is a trigger for you. This book is not “just” about hockey, but about rape and rape culture (Seen in action in the backlash the girl experiences in this book.). One brief review I saw online said, “This story is a charmer. It’s about a hockey-loving town in which residents all root for the junior team competing in the national semifinals.” NO. This story is NOT “charming.” It’s tough to read, especially the last half. And it is not just about a town rooting for its hockey team. But Beartown is a very, very good book, and I highly recommend it.

(Galley provided by Atria Books.)

 

 

Book Review: A Twist in Time, by Julie McElwain

 

a twist in time
A Twist in Time,
by Julie McElwain. Image belongs to Pegasus Books.

Julie McElwain’s newest novel is A Twist in Time, part of the Kendra Donovan Mysteries series.

Former FBI agent Kendra Donovan’s efforts to return to the 21st century fail, leaving her stranded in 1815. Her protector, the Duke of Aldridge, believes it’s because she must help save his nephew, Alec, who’s been accused of brutally murdering his mistress.

The trail of the bizarre murder—Lady Dover was found stabbed with a stiletto, her face carved—leads straight to the Ton, London’s elite class, where things are never as they seem. As Kendra uncovers Lady Dover’s relationships with various men, sordid details about her past also emerge, leading a crime boss to threaten Alec. Now Kendra must learn the truth about the murder—before Alec is found guilty of a crime he didn’t commit.

A Twist in Time was an entertaining, fun read. I have not read the first book in the series, but I would, gladly. Kendra is a great character—tough, smart, and independent—stuck in a society where women are treated like property incapable of intelligent thought. I cannot imagine her frustration with the culture and with society, but the similarities she finds to modern times are disturbing, showing that our culture is not necessarily the better of the two.

(Galley provided by Pegasus Books via NetGalley.)

2 Books I Stopped Reading, 2 Books I Loved (Not a Review)

Life has been super busy for me lately, so I haven’t written a book review. I’ve been reading—some—just haven’t progressed to the review state of things.

I have actually stopped reading two books lately, which is hard for me. Normally, once I start reading, I’ll finish the book even if it’s just sort of “meh.” I finally broke that habit a couple of years ago.

The first book I stopped reading was The Idiot, by Elif Batuman. I didn’t stop reading this because the writing was horrible or anything like that. It’s set in 1995, when the internet was new, and that was kind of fun. But I could not feel a connection to the main character, and the whole disembodied and theoretical email relationship between the MC and her love interest just felt so awkward and forced that I couldn’t deal with it anymore. The Amazon page has a quote from GQ that this is “Easily the funniest book I’ve read this year,” and I…must not have gotten to the funny parts, despite having read about half the book. Or possibly I’m not smart enough to catch the humor?

The second book was The Dhow House by Jean MCNeil. I wanted to like this book. The writing was fantastic. But the MC was so…out-of-it that I couldn’t really care. The setting was fascinating, but so outside of my realm of experience that I couldn’t really picture it, and the MC’s family was so superficial that I had to put the book down. I read about a third of this before stopping.

I did stumble across two books in B & N on Sunday that caught my eye:  H2O and The Storm, by Virginia Bergin. These are dystopian books about what happens when rain becomes almost-instantly fatal. In England, no less. The MC, Ruby, is a completely normal teenager whom I found slightly annoying in the first book, but still likeable, if superficial. She’s pretty young, I think. I enjoyed her much more in the second book, and would gladly read more of these books if they existed.

 

Book Review: All the Forever Things, by Jolene Perry

all the forever things
All the Forever Things, by Jolene Perry. Image belongs to Albert Whitman & Company.

Jolene Perry lives in Alaska and writes young adult fiction. Her newest books is All the Forever Things.

Gabe’s family runs a funeral home, so she knows about death and the truth about life:  everything ends. Gabe has embraced her reputation and her Wednesday Addams-vibe, complete with vintage clothes and an I-don’t-care attitude. Her best friend, Bree, is all she needs, someone who understands the weirdness of her life and loves her anyway.

But when Bree starts dating a boy who is the epitome of everything Gabe—and Bree—has hated for years, she wonders if the really knows the truth, or if she knows Bree at all. The only one she can turn to is new boy Hartman, who doesn’t know quite what to make of Gabe, but who gets Gabe out of her shell anyway. Driving a hearse to prom will change Gabe’s life more than she ever imagined.

All the Forever Things is an enjoyable read. Gabe is a character I both loved and sympathized with, and her faux pas and missteps made me laugh and cringe at the same time. Her friendship with Bree broke my heart, and made me hope everything would work out for the two of them, and Hartman is a wonderful contrast for Gabe. If you love young adult books, definitely pick this one up.

(Galley provided by Albert Whitman & Company.)

The Yellow Envelope, by Kim Dinan

The yellow envelope
Image belongs to Sourcebooks.

In May 2012, Kim Dinan and her husband sold all their stuff, quit their jobs, and headed out to travel the world. The Yellow Envelope is their story.

On the surface, Kim Dinan had it all:  a good marriage to a husband she loved, a good job that paid well, the home she’d dreamed about filled with friends and activities that she enjoyed. But inside, she wondered:  is this all there is? Kim concluded that no matter how great her life looked, she would never be truly happy if she didn’t reach for her dreams.

So, she and her husband, Brian, sold their house, quit their jobs, and set off to travel the world. Before they left, they were given a gift: a yellow envelope containing a check and instructions to give the money away as they saw fit. Through Central America, Nepal, India, and beyond, Kim and Brian encountered the world in all its splendor and squalor, overcoming obstacles to their dreams, their travels, and their marriage, as they learned the truth behind their quest for happiness—and how to give.

The Yellow Envelope is about a woman reaching for her dreams, and finding happiness along the way. The travel stories are inspiring, but not as inspiring as the way Kim goes after what she knows will make her truly happy, even in the face of overwhelming opposition. The message behind the actual yellow envelope is also life-changing and worth embracing. I recommend reading this if you’re looking for a bit of inspiration, want to travel, or simply need a change.

(Galley provided by Sourcebooks via NetGalley.)

What I Read in March

I read 10 books in March, bringing my total for the year up to 33, about 1/3 of my goal of 100 books for the year.

traveling-with-ghosts-9781501107795

Traveling with Ghosts, by Shannon Leone Fowler. (Read to review.) This was sad, but a good read. Definitely made me want to travel.

the bone witch

The Bone Witch, by Rin Chupeco. (Read to review.) Nice fantasy read, and I’d be interesting in seeing more of the series.

if not for you

If Not for You, by Debbie Macomber. (Read to review.) I do love this author’s books, and this book is part of a linked standalone series I like. A pleasant, quick read.

YONC

Year of No Clutter, by Eve. O Schaub. (Read to review.) A funny book dealing with a not-so-funny subject. The author’s voice is fantastic.

the rules do not apply

The Rules do not Apply, by Ariel Levy. (Read to review.) I found this one just “meh,” as the author seemed to criticize everyone around her, and ignore her own shortcomings.

the orphan's tale

The Orphan’s Tale, by Pam Jenoff. (Read to review.) A dark read, but a good one, dealing with the Holocaust and circus life.

A Long Way Gone, by Ishmael Beah. (Cultural book.) This is a memoir about a boy soldier’s life in Sierra Leone. Not for the faint-of-heart.

quests of kings

Quests of the Kings, by Robert Evert. (Read to review.) Another “meh” book. I found the main character to be a major pain, but to act like everyone else was the pain. Also pretty distant.

The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton. (Classic book.) I enjoyed this, but I know by now that Wharton’s characters don’t ever get happily-ever-afters. Not that there should be one in an affair.

Not a Fan, by Kyle Idleman. (Spiritual book.) I love Idleman’s voice. He says hard things, but his voice makes it so much easier to hear.

Walking to Listen, by Andrew Forsthoefel

Walking to Listen
Image belongs to Bloomsbury USA.

 

After he graduated from college, Andrew Forsthoefel decided to walk across America, really listening to what the people he met had to say. Walking to Listen is the tale of that journey.

Andrew Forsthoefel went out the door of his home in Pennsylvania with a backpack and a sign that read “Walking to Listen.” He’d just graduated college and was ready to start his adult life…but he didn’t know how. So, he decided to walk across America, wrestling with the hard questions he asked himself every day. Everyone he met would be his guide.

From winter in Appalachia to Death Valley in August, Andrew experienced the true breadth of American geography, but it was the people he met that truly inspired him. He met kindness and fear, diversity and prejudice as people told him their stories. He faced loneliness and fear, but love and hope carried him through his amazing journey.

Walking to Listen is the story of one man on an incredible journey, but it is more than that. The people he meets, the encounters he has are truly inspiring and bring hope for the future amidst the darkness permeating our culture. This book…sure, it’s narrative nonfiction about a journey, but it is so much more than that. The people Andrew met gave me so much hope, and made me want to reach for more. Not only does this book showcase the true diversity of this nation, but it gives a face to the human experience. I highly recommend reading this.

(Galley provided by Bloomsbury USA via NetGalley.)

Quests of Kings, by Robert Evert

quests of kings
Image belongs to Diversion Books.

Robert Evert is a professor. His latest novel, Quests of the Kings, is a young adult fantasy.

Natalie is a 16-year-old peasant girl who works every job she can find to support her mother and her siblings, but options are limited for girls in her society. Natalie is determined to make a better life for her family, and dreams of the exciting life of an adventurer. But Natalie runs afoul of Brago, one of the most famous adventurers, and finds her life in danger.

While on the run, Natalie seeks help from Sir Edris and his squire, the only ones powerful enough to go up against Brago. She joins the kings’ quest for a golden harp, and starts to feel safe with her new friends. But Brago isn’t about to let Natalie—or those she loves—off that easily.

Quests of Kings had potential. A brave young woman, working to support her family in a culture that places little value on women in general:  there’s a lot of potential there. Except Natalie comes across as being needlessly defiant, thoughtless, manipulative, and a liar. There’s a lot of action in the book, but it’s mainly due to Natalie’s thoughtlessness. When people put their lives in danger for her, she just takes advantage of them and treats them however she wants. She is not a likeable protagonist, being almost as cruel as Brago—albeit just out of carelessness and thoughtlessness than sheer evil.

(Galley provided by Diversion books via NetGalley.)

The Rules Do Not Apply, by Ariel Levy

the rules do not apply
Image belongs to Random House.

Ariel Levy is a staff writer for the New Yorker. Her newest novel is The Rules Do Not Apply.

Ariel Levy grew up watching her mother come alive for a man besides her husband, and then watching that relationship stall out after her parents’ marriage ended. It was only after the end of these two relationships that her mother—eventually—found herself. Ariel decides she will love whomever she wants—and proceeds to do that, disregarding the fact that the other woman is already in a relationship when they meet.

A few years later, Ariel is pregnant, married, and secure in her own life when she heads to Mongolia to cover a story. When she returns, she is none of those things. Reeling from her loss, she discovers her partner’s alcoholism, which is too much for her to deal with. So, Ariel must decide—once again—what she wants, so she can go after it.

The writing in The Rules Do Not Apply is solid and evocative, but the author seems to be keenly analytical of other people’s flaws…and not her own. She went through a horrifying experience, one no woman should ever have to experience, and dealing with that grief is the most honest part of this book. The rest of the novel seems more about blame and veiled criticism of others, along with some scathingly accurate cultural analysis.

(Novel provided by Random House via NetGalley.)