Category: awesomeness

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Lost Apothecary, by Sarah Penner

Image belongs to Harlequin/Park Row.

TitleThe Lost Apothecary
AuthorSarah Penner
Genre:  Historical fiction
Rating:  4.5 out of 5.0

Rule #1: The poison must never be used to harm another woman.

Rule #2: The names of the murderer and her victim must be recorded in the apothecary’s register.

One cold February evening in 1791, at the back of a dark London alley in a hidden apothecary shop, Nella awaits her newest customer. Once a respected healer, Nella now uses her knowledge for a darker purpose—selling well-disguised poisons to desperate women who would kill to be free of the men in their lives. But when her new patron turns out to be a precocious twelve-year-old named Eliza Fanning, an unexpected friendship sets in motion a string of events that jeopardizes Nella’s world and threatens to expose the many women whose names are written in her register.

In present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, reeling from the discovery of her husband’s infidelity. When she finds an old apothecary vial near the river Thames, she can’t resist investigating, only to realize she’s found a link to the unsolved “apothecary murders” that haunted London over two centuries ago. As she deepens her search, Caroline’s life collides with Nella’s and Eliza’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.

I really enjoyed this novel! I loved how it switched between the historical chapters and the modern-day ones seamlessly, while leaving the reader on the edge of their seat. So much character growth, too, for Caroline. While finding out her husband was cheating on her was awful, it was a catalyst for growth and finding out who she really was and what she truly wanted out of life. I also loved the hints of magic at the resolution of the historical timeline, with the girl and the apothecary. Very well done!

Sarah Penner lives in Florida. The Lost Apothecary is her debut novel.

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

Book Review and Blog Tour: Amelia Unabridged, by Ashley Schumacher

Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

TitleAmelia Unabridged
AuthorAshley Schumacher
Genre:  YA
Rating:  5 out of 5

Eighteen-year-old Amelia Griffin is obsessed with the famous Orman Chronicles, written by the young and reclusive prodigy N. E. Endsley. They’re the books that brought her and her best friend Jenna together after Amelia’s father left and her family imploded. So when Amelia and Jenna get the opportunity to attend a book festival with Endsley in attendance, Amelia is ecstatic. It’s the perfect way to start off their last summer before college.

In a heartbeat, everything goes horribly wrong. When Jenna gets a chance to meet the author and Amelia doesn’t, the two have a blowout fight like they’ve never experienced. And before Amelia has a chance to mend things, Jenna is killed in a freak car accident. Grief-stricken, and without her best friend to guide her, Amelia questions everything she had planned for the future.

When a mysterious, rare edition of the Orman Chronicles arrives, Amelia is convinced that it somehow came from Jenna. Tracking the book to an obscure but enchanting bookstore in Michigan, Amelia is shocked to find herself face-to-face with the enigmatic and handsome N. E. Endsley himself, the reason for Amelia’s and Jenna’s fight and perhaps the clue to what Jenna wanted to tell her all along.

I loved this read! I completely identified with Amelia throughout the entire book. Her friendship with Jenna was fun and so realistic! Her grief over Jenna’s death and her struggle to find sense in a world that suddenly doesn’t contain any was heartrending.

The details of the bookstore and the small-town life were enchanting. I need this bookstore in my life!  The characters are fantastic—all of them—and I loved every single page of this. Go read it!

Ashley Schumacher lives in Dallas. Amelia Unabridged is her debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Iron Raven, by Julie Kagawa

Image belongs to Inkyard Press.

TitleThe Iron Raven
Author Julie Kagawa
Genre:  YA, fantasy
Rating:  4.5 out of 5

You may have heard of me…

Robin Goodfellow. Puck. Prankster, joker, raven, fool… King Oberon’s right-hand jester from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The legends are many, but the truth will now be known as never before, as Puck finally tells his own story and faces a threat to the lands of Faery and the human world unlike any before.

With the Iron Queen Meghan Chase and her prince consort, Puck’s longtime rival Ash, and allies old and new by his side, Puck begins a fantastical and dangerous adventure not to be missed or forgotten.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read anything set in this world. Like, a really long time. But I remember Puck. He was always a character I loved. So, it was fun to read his story. The voice of this novel is perfect for his story, too.

Of course, all of faerie—and the human world—is at stake (it wouldn’t be a Kagawa book if it weren’t), but seeing the “old” Puck, a.k.a Robin Goodfellow, was the most unsettling part of this novel. Seeing Meghan and Ash again was great, too, but I think I need to go back and re-read all the other books again, so I feel a bit more up-to-speed. This was an excellent read. A touch of nostalgia, but Puck is front and center—and larger than life.

Julie Kagawa is a bestselling author. The iron Raven is her newest novel, the first book in The Iron Fey:  Evenfall.

(Galley courtesy of Inkyard Press exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: Girlhood: Teens around the World in Their Own Voices, by Masuma Ahuja

Image belongs to Algonquin Young Readers.

Title:  Girlhood: Teens around the World in Their Own Voices
Author:  Masuma Ahuja
Genre:  Nonfiction
Rating:  5.0 out of 5

All around the world, girls are going to school, working, creating, living as sisters, daughters, friends. Yet we know so little about their daily lives. We hear about a few exceptional girls who make headlines, and we hear about headline-making struggles and catastrophes. But since the health, education, and success of girls so often determines the future of a community, why don’t we know more about what life is like for the ordinary girls, the ones living outside the headlines? From the Americas to Europe to Africa to Asia to the South Pacific, the thirty-one teens from twenty-nine countries in Girlhood Around the World share their own stories of growing up through diary entries and photographs. They invite us into their day-to-day lives, through their eyes and in their voices, in a full-color, exuberantly designed scrapbook-like volume.

This was a fascinating read! The author gives a brief overview of each girl’s life and cultural/national customs and experiences, asks each girl a few questions, and includes pictures and journal entries written by the girls themselves. Glimpsing each of the girls’ worlds through their own eyes is compelling, as is reading their story—not just the glossy and social media-ready version, but the reality of their day-to-day existence. This book is a powerful experience.

Images belong to the author/publisher. Used with permission for blog tour.

Masuma Ahuja has worked all over the world as a journalist. Girlhood is her new book, chronicling the lives of girls across the globe.

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

Best Books I Read in January (2021)

In January, I read 19 books towards my goal of 240 books this year. I also left two other books unfinished. I’m two books behind schedule so far this year…Of those 19 books, three were really good!

Girlhood: Teens Around the World in Their Own Voices, by Masuma Ahuja. This was a fascinating read! It told the stories of girls from all across the world: the history of where they live, their culture, and their lives, including journal entries written by the girls themselves. An excellent read! Lots of pictures as well, to truly bring their stories to life.

Everybody Always, by Bob Goff. I love the author’s voice as he tells stories, using everyday occurrences to make his point. The reader ends up enjoying the lesson. And, when I found out the story behind the cover illustration, it blew my mind! I’m already reading another of his books.

The Iron Raven, by Julie Kagawa. It’s been years since I read anything in this world, but I loved this! Puck was always my favorite character, so it was great to see him get his own story—with characters I loved from the other books in the background of this one.

Book Review: The Knockout, by Sajni Patel

Image belongs to Flux.

Title:  The Knockout
Author:  Sajni Patel
Genre:  YA
Rating:  5 out of 5

If seventeen-year-old Kareena Thakkar is going to alienate herself from the entire Indian community, she might as well do it gloriously. She’s landed the chance of a lifetime, an invitation to the US Muay Thai Open, which could lead to a spot on the first-ever Olympic team. If only her sport wasn’t seen as something too rough for girls, something she’s afraid to share with anyone outside of her family. Despite pleasing her parents, exceling at school, and making plans to get her family out of debt, Kareena’s never felt quite Indian enough, and her training is only making it worse.

Which is inconvenient, since she’s starting to fall for Amit Patel, who just might be the world’s most perfect Indian. Admitting her feelings for Amit will cost Kareena more than just her pride–she’ll have to face his parents’ disapproval, battle her own insecurities, and remain focused for the big fight. Kareena’s bid for the Olympics could very well make history–if she has the courage to go for it.

I thoroughly enjoyed this read! Kareena is a fantastic character:  she’s tough, determined, loves her family, and is dealing with problems on all sides with strength and courage. Kareena has always been both a rebel against her community and set on making her parents proud, so this conflict is a theme in the story, as is her finding the courage to trust people with her secrets. This is a well-written book set in a vibrant community and is an excellent read!

Sajni Patel was born in India and grew up in Texas. The Knockout is her newest novel.

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

What I Read in December (2020)

Books Read in December: 36 This was the most books I read any month this year!

Books Read for the Year:  332/200

Topical Books/Monthly Goal Books: 

When Crickets Cry, by Charles Martin (TBR). Apparently I’d read this before, although I didn’t remember it. Loved this!

Little Men, by Louisa May Alcott (classic re-read). I love this almost as much as Little Women

Redeeming Love, by Francine Rivers (TBR). This is such a powerful story

The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Caught, by Neta Jackson (TBR). Still loving this series

Dangerous Prayers, by Craig Groeschel (spiritual). Powerful.

Praying with Jane, by Rachel Dodge (TBR/spiritual). This was lovely!

For Review:

The Princess and the Rogue, by Kate Bateman. I enjoyed this romance with a princess in disguise and a man who thinks he’ll never fall in love.

Boone, by Emily March. Boone was a little bit too good to be true to be believable.

Fairy Godmothers, Inc., by Saranna DeWylde. This was almost a farce to me, frankly. The whole premise wasn’t believable, the horrible incident from the past was ridiculous, and when the characters would randomly cuss, it just felt wrong, like it was out-of-character. Nope.

Wrong Alibi, by Christina Dodd. I was solidly invested in this tale of a woman wrongly convicted of murder 10 years before who is trying to find the man who framed her…until 75% of the way through when she met the guy whose family she supposedly killed and with basically no transition he decided she wasn’t the killer, they hopped into bed, and were infatuated with each other. What? I didn’t realize this was a romance. Add that to a conspiracy that had never been hinted at before, and I lost all faith in this author.

Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder, by T.A. Willberg. This was a decent read, but it felt very slow.

You Have a Match, by Emma Lord (review forthcoming). I enjoyed this updated riff on The Parent Trap. It was a fun read with a lot of character growth.

One of the Good Ones, by Maika Moulite (review forthcoming). This is another case of me thinking I was reading a certain genre of book and finding out 75% of the way through that the author had different ideas. An incredibly powerful story and writing, but when that twist came, it negated that for me.

Roman and Jewell, by Dana L. Davis (review forthcoming). I enjoyed this quick read. It was diverse and didn’t go for the easy cliche.

The Other Mother, by Matthew Dicks (review forthcoming). Though this novel takes place over the course of two days, it felt like a lot happened! A solid read about a boy dealing with a scary syndrome.

Minus Me, by Mameve Medwed (review forthcoming). Eh, I really didn’t care for either of the MCs, so that made this only a so-so read for me.

The Lost Manuscript, by Cathy Bonidan (review forthcoming). I ended up enjoying this novel told in letters very much! Love the characters!

Aftershock, by Judy Melinke and T.J. Mitchell (review forthcoming). The second solid book in this series. Although the MC makes some…questionable…decisions, I enjoyed the read.

What’s Worth Keeping, by Kaya McLaren (review forthcoming). Loved this!

Shipped by Angie Hockman (review forthcoming). This was a fun read and would be excellent as a beach or vacation read.

At the Edge of the Haight, by Katherine Seligman (review forthcoming). The blurb made this sound like it was about a homeless teenager helping to find the person who killed a boy…but it wasn’t. Not at all.

Everything I Thought I Knew, by Shannon Takaoka (review forthcoming). I really liked this, until the twist came at about 80% through. And that ruined the entire book for me.

Deep Into the Dark, by P. J. Tracy (review forthcoming). This was an excellent thriller. I’m not usually a fan of unreliable narrators, but it totally worked for this story.

A Pairing to Die For, by Kate Lansing (review forthcoming). This was a quick, fun read, but it wasn’t totally believable because the police made an arrest within a few hours of the murder…on minimal evidence.

The Knockout, by Sajni Patel (review forthcoming). I LOVED this read! It deals with cultural issues and sexism as a girl struggles to embrace her identity in the midst of expectations.

The Girl from the Channel Islands, by Jenny Lecoat (review forthcoming). This was a good read. I don’t think I’d read anything before set in the Channel Islands during WWII or with a German soldier who wasn’t a Nazi.

Undercover Kitty, by Sofie Ryan (review forthcoming). I hadn’t read any of this series, but I enjoyed this. Elvis the cat is perfect!

Crime of the Ancient Marinara, by Stephanie Cole (review forthcoming).. This wasn’t bad, but it didn’t really work for me.

Capturing the Earl, by A.S. Fenichel (review forthcoming). I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this entire series, and this was another good read. My favorite MC so far!

Happy Singles Day, by Ann Marie Walker (review forthcoming). I thought this was a pretty standard romance. Nothing bad, but no unexpected surprises, either.

Just Because:

Tipping Point, by Jimmy Evans. Yes, this is the second time in the last six months I’ve read this.

Who is Jesus?, by Paul Kent.

Mortal Arts, A Grave Matter, A Study in Death, and A Pressing Engagement, by Anna Lee Huber. I read the first book in this series some time ago. Now I’m binging the rest of it because I love them so much!

Yearly Reads:

I read the Bible and Live in Grace, Walk in Love, by Bob Goff over the course of the entire year as well.

The Best Books I Read in November (2020)

In November, I read 24 books, bringing my total to the year for 293 books. Some of those books were really good. Here are the ones I enjoyed the most:

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I have no idea how many times I’ve read this, but I still love it! And I cry every single time.

Defending the Galaxy, by Maria V. Snyder. I am a huge fan of Snyder’s writing—I love the Study series—but everything else is great, too. This was a great conclusion to her newest trilogy.

The Little Shop of Found Things and The Chocolate House, by Paula Brackston. I read The Garden of Promises and Lies in October and thought I’d read the first book in the series and somehow skipped the second, so I decided to re-read. Now I don’t think I had read the first one, but I’m all caught up anyway. These books were really great!

Book Review: Defending the Galaxy, by Maria V. Snyder

Image belongs to the author.

Title: Defending the Galaxy
Author: Maria V. Snyder
Genre: YA, sci-fi
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Junior Officer Ara Lawrence here, reporting for duty. Again. It’s situation critical for the security team and everyone in the base – including my parents – with a new attack from the looters imminent, a possible galaxy-wide crime conspiracy and an unstoppable alien threat. But this all pales in the face of my mind-blowing discovery about the Q-net. Of course, no one believes me. I’m not sure I believe me. It could just be a stress-induced delusion. That’s what my parents seem to believe…

Their concern for me is hampering my ability to do my job. I know they love me, but with the Q-net in my corner, I’m the only one who can help the security team beat the shadowy aliens from the pits we discovered. We’re holding them at bay, for now, but the entire Milky Way Galaxy is in danger of being overrun.

With battles on too many fronts, it’s looking dire. But one thing I’ve learned is when people I love are in jeopardy, I’ll never give up trying to save them. Not until my dying breath. Which could very well be today…

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the Sentinels of the Galaxy series! Maria V. Snyder’s writing is fantastic, as always, and this universe is nicely done and intriguing. I’d never considered the effects faster-than-light travel would have on families and friendships, so that was an intriguing detail.

Ara is a lot of fun to read—smart, determined, and with enough snark to make me laugh. She trying to save the universe here, but she’s also concerned with typical teenage things like her boyfriend and what’s going on with him. Lots of action, high stakes, and characters I care about made this a riveting read!

Maria V. Snyder is a bestselling author. Defending the Galaxy is the final book in the Sentinels of the Galaxy series.

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

Book Review: The Garden of Promises and Lies, by Paula Brackston

Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title: The Garden of Promises and Lies
Author: Paula Brackston
Genre: Fiction, historical
Rating: 5.0 out of 5

As the bustle of the winter holidays in the Little Shop of Found Things gives way to spring, Xanthe is left to reflect on the strange events of the past year. While she’s tried to keep her time-traveling talents a secret from those close to her, she is forced to take responsibility for having inadvertently transported the dangerous Benedict Fairfax to her own time. Xanthe comes to see that she must use her skills as a spinner if she and Flora are ever to be safe, and turns to the Spinners book for help.

It is then that a beautiful antique wedding dress sings to her. Realizing the dress and her adversary are connected in some way, she answers the call. She finds herself in Bradford-on-Avon in 1815, as if she has stepped into a Jane Austen story.

Now in Xanthe’s time, Fairfax is threatening Xanthe into helping him with his evil doings, and demonstrates all too clearly how much damage he is capable of causing. With Fairfax growing ever more powerful, Xanthe enlists the help of her boyfriend Liam, taking him back in time with her. It is a decision that might just ensure she prevails over her foe, but only by putting her life—and his—on the line.

I think I’ve read the first book in this series—The Little Shop of Found Things—but I’m not positive, and I know I haven’t read the second book. Honestly, that didn’t detract from reading this at all. Sure, it would have added some depth, but a reader coming into this series at book three would be totally lost and unable to figure out what was going on.

I love the quirky characters—Harley especially—and find the whole basic premise fascinating, twining the past and present together like pieces of a puzzle. Brackston is an excellent writer, bringing both modern day and historical settings to vivid life and I’m now going back to read (or maybe re-read) the first two books in this series.

Paula Brackston lives in Wales. The Garden of Promises and Lies is her newest novel, the third book in the Found Things series.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)