Category: reading

Sundays Are for Writing #206

Happy New Year! I hope 2023 is a good year for you.

This week, I didn’t write a single book review. But I did write my December reading post, my best books I read in December post, and my 2022 reading recap. I only read 216 books out of my goal of 250 books this year, so I think I”ll scale back next year.

Happy writing!

Book Review and Blog Tour:  The Lipstick Bureau, by Michelle Gable

Image belongs to Harlequin/Graydon House.

Title:  The Lipstick Bureau      
Author:  Michelle Gable   
Genre: Historical Fiction    
Rating:  DNF

1944, Rome. Newlywed Niki Novotná is recruited by a new American spy agency to establish a secret branch in Italy’s capital. One of the OSS’s few female operatives abroad and multilingual, she’s tasked with crafting fake stories and distributing propaganda to lower the morale of enemy soldiers.

Despite limited resources, Niki and a scrappy team of artists, forgers and others—now nicknamed The Lipstick Bureau—find success, forming a bond amid the cobblestoned streets and storied villas of the newly liberated city. But her work is also a way to escape devastating truths about the family she left behind in Czechoslovakia and a future with her controlling American husband.

As the war drags on and the pressure intensifies, Niki begins to question the rules she’s been instructed to follow, and a colleague unexpectedly captures her heart. But one step out of line, one mistake, could mean life or death…

This seemed a bit erratic, and the transitions between POV characters were clunky. I felt very distant from all the characters—they were more paper dolls than actual people. And….Niki wasn’t a very likable person. I read 38% of this before realizing I didn’t care about her or what happened to her because she was pretty cold and heartless.

Michelle Gable is a bestselling author. The Lipstick Bureau is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: Pretty Little Pieces, by Carmen Schober    

Image belongs to Bethany House.

Title:  Pretty Little Pieces      
Author:   Carmen Schober  
Genre:  Romance   
Rating:  4.5 out of 5

Ambitious influencer Georgina Havoc and her designer beau Lance Broussard have been dubbed the the next Chip and Joanna Gaines, but their happily-ever-after falls apart when Lance blindsides her with a “pause.” The show must go on, so Georgina takes on the task of renovating a forgotten cottage in the tiny, tight-knit town of Tarragon, Tennessee on her own.

Georgina has a plan to save her relationship–and her show–but a surprise drop-in from her troubled twin sister makes things extra messy. That, and the presence of rugged ex-sniper Cassidy Stokes, who throws a wrench in all her plans.

As she puts the pieces of her rippled life back together, will Georgina retreat to the familiar or embrace a new design?

This was a great read! I enjoyed the romance, as Georgina and Cassidy got to know each other. They were obviously perfect for each other! Cassidy’s ex was such a jerk, too. I loved the friendship between Georgina and her best friend—that relationship was absolutely believable and so funny! I even loved the small town of Tarragon—nosy busybodies and all.

Carmen Schober lives in Kansas. Pretty Little Pieces is her newest novel.

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

Book Review:  The Secret Society of Salzburg, by Renee Ryan

Image belongs to Harlequin.

Title: The Secret Society of Salzburg      
Author:   Renee Ryan
Genre: Historical fiction   
Rating:  5 out of 5

London, 1933

At first glance, Austrian opera singer Elsa Mayer-Braun has little in common with the young English typist she encounters on tour. Yet she and Hattie Featherstone forge an instant connection—and strike a dangerous alliance. Using their friendship as a cover, they form a secret society with a daring goal: to rescue as many Jews as possible from Nazi persecution.

Though the war’s outbreak threatens Elsa and Hattie’s network, their efforts attract the covert attention of the British government, offering more opportunities to thwart the Germans. But Elsa’s growing fame as Hitler’s favorite opera singer, coupled with her secret Jewish ancestry, make her both a weapon and a target—until her future, too, hangs in the balance.

From the glamorous stages of Covent Garden and Salzburg to the horrors of Bergen-Belsen, two ordinary women swept up by the tide of war discover an extraordinary friendship—and the courage to save countless lives.

I love World War II historical fiction. That being said, I did DNF one just a couple of weeks ago. I wasn’t ever in danger of putting this book down, though! Both Hattie and Elsa were fascinating characters, and I was fully invested in both of their stories. I wanted to see them succeed beyond their wildest dreams—and it was exhilarating seeing that happen on the page.

World War II was one of the most horrific times in world history, but seeing Hattie and Elsa jump in, determined to help Jewish people despite the danger to themselves was inspiring and uplifting. I truly loved every page of this book!

Renee Ryan grew up in Florida and now lives in Wisconsin. The Secret Society of Salzburg is her newest novel.

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

Book Review:  The Wedding Ranch, by Nancy Naigle

Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title: The Wedding Ranch      
Author:  Nancy Naigle  
Genre: Romance   
Rating:  4 out 5

When Lorri Walker’s husband gifted her with a mastiff puppy on Valentine’s Day, she believed he was recommitting himself to their marriage after going astray. Six months later, he left both her and their dog for someone else. Since her recent move to Dalton Mill to unbraid herself from the past, Lorri’s graphic design business is now flourishing, her growing mastiff, Mister, has plenty of space to romp, and her ex in Raleigh can fade to a distant memory.

Ryder Bolt is haunted by the tragic loss of his wife and young son seven years ago. Thankfully, ranching keeps Ryder busy, and spending time with his niece and nephew—whose venue, The Wedding Ranch, has become a popular tourist destination—keeps him from getting lonely.

When Lorri and Ryder met, love was the last thing they were looking for. When they’re together, smiles come easier and burdens feel lighter, and both are embracing the possibility of something deeper.

But when a long-buried revelation surfaces, the fate that brought them together threatens to tear them apart.

I enjoyed this sweet read, although Lorrie felt a bit distant and cool. I enjoyed the small-town feel and how sweet and thoughtful Ryder was—and The Wedding Ranch was a cool venue idea. I didn’t find anything surprising in this novel, but I loved how faith was woven throughout the story, and how much emphasis was put on forgiveness.

Nancy Naigle is a bestselling author. The Wedding Ranch is her newest novel.

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

The Best Books I Read in November (2022)

In November, I only read eight books. EIGHT!! I can’t remember the last month I had only a single-digit reading month. This leaves me at 198 books for the year, waaaaay short of my yearly goal of 250. Oh well. of those, one was fantastic and two were very good.

Greywaren, by Maggie Stiefvater. Man, I love these characters! I kind of feel like some old friends just moved away and left me behind now.

Never Rescue a Rogue, by Virginia Heath. This was a fun read! I enjoyed seeing more of the Merriwell sisters and their antics.

The Wilderwomen by Ruth Emmie Lang. I enjoyed this second novel, and another filled with magical realism. The older sister was a bit of a selfish jerk, and that was almost enough to make me want to put the book down, but I ended up enjoying it.

What I Read in November (2022)

Books Read in November: 8

Books Read for the Year:  198/250

Topical Books/Monthly Goal Books:

Greywaren, by Maggie Stiefvater (TBR). Man. I’m sad to see this series end. I love these characters, and I’ve enjoyed all the hours I’ve spent with them through the years. Great read!

The Handwriting on the Wall, by David Jeremiah (spiritual/TBR). This was a fascinating read.

Jane in Love, by Rachel Givney (audio, TBR). This…greatly annoyed me, actually.Jane was beyond annoying—and you don’t mess with Jane Austen like that.

Welcome to the School by the Sea, by Jane Beaton. This was such a fun read!

The Library at the End of the World by Felicity Hayes-McCoy. I enjoyed the setting of this novel immensely. The characters were a bit meh, though.

For Review:

Never Rescue a Rogue by Virginia Health. I enjoyed the first book in this series, and I loved this one, too. Quirky characters that aren’t afraid to be themselves are my jam, and the Merriwell sisters have that attitude in spades. This was a fun read!

The Wilderwomen, by Emmie Ruth Lang. I liked this read, although I wasn’t too sure about the older sister for a while. She was pretty selfish and oblivious to everyone else. I liked this author’s previous book, so it was nice to see this one live up to that. Gorgeous cover, too.

Just Because:

The 28-Day Prayer Journey, by Chrystal Evan Hurst.

Left Unfinished:

Salt and Sugar by Rebecca Carvalho. This felt very juvenile and contrived, and I made it to less than 15%.

What We Never Say, by Paulette Stout. Okay, so…the topic of this book was very intriguing. The execution? Was sub-par, at best. These characters did not feel realistic in the slightest. Kyle’s reactions felt like the reaction a woman would have in the situation, not a man. And Rebecca was selfish and completely unconcerned with Kyle’s feelings, thinking only of herself and how things would make her look.

Children of Ragnarok, by Cinda Williams Chima. I read the first 15% of this and found it boring. Very slow, and the characters just seemed tedious. Solid writing, just not a good fit for me.

The Magic Kingdom, by Russell Banks. This cover is absolutely gorgeous! The book…well, I only made it about 5% of the way into it because it felt sooooo sloooow. I’m not saying the beginning of a book needs to be at warp speed—that definitely depends on the genre—but a leisurely meander was not what was going to keep my attention.

The Hiker by M. J. Ford. I read 20% of this and it didn’t capture my interest at all. It was slow and the two sisters seemed like selfish jerks.

Defending Alice by Richard Stratton. The premise of this sounded fascinating. The reality of it was excruciatingly drawn out, repetitive, and, frankly, pointless. I love reading about the 20s, but do you really expect me to to believe that this girl of supposedly good character would describe her sex life to a lawyer she barely knows in graphic detail? Really? The repetitive details did nothing at all to enhance the plot, and I was bored in the first ten percent.

Book Review:   The Wilderwomen, by Ruth Emmie Lang

Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:   The Wilderwomen    
Author:  Ruth Emmie Lang  
Genre:  Fantasy  
Rating:  4 out of 5

Five years ago, Nora Wilder disappeared. The older of her two daughters, Zadie, should have seen it coming, because she can literally see things coming. But not even her psychic abilities were able to prevent their mother from vanishing one morning.

Zadie’s estranged younger sister, Finn, can’t see into the future, but she has an uncannily good memory, so good that she remembers not only her own memories, but the echoes of memories other people have left behind. On the afternoon of her graduation party, Finn is seized by an “echo” more powerful than anything she’s experienced before: a woman singing a song she recognizes, a song about a bird…

When Finn wakes up alone in an aviary with no idea of how she got there, she realizes who the memory belongs to: Nora.

Now, it’s up to Finn to convince her sister that not only is their mom still out there, but that she wants to be found. Against Zadie’s better judgement, she and Finn hit the highway, using Finn’s echoes to retrace Nora’s footsteps and uncover the answer to the question that has been haunting them for years: Why did she leave?

But the more time Finn spends in their mother’s past, the harder it is for her to return to the present, to return to herself. As Zadie feels her sister start to slip away, she will have to decide what lengths she is willing to go to to find their mother, knowing that if she chooses wrong, she could lose them both for good.

At first, I wasn’t sure I was going to like Zadie too much. She tended towards being self-absorbed and oblivious to how she hurt other people’s feelings. She grew on me a bit as she started to become—slightly—more self-aware. Finn seemed so young to me:  doing everything on a whim and a prayer and not bothering to think a single thing through before leaping into thin air. I really enjoyed the sisters’ relationship, and became invested in their search for their mother and finding out what happened to her.

Ruth Emmie Lang was born in Scotland but now lives in Ohio. The Wilderwomen is her newest novel.

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

Book Review:   Never Rescue a Rogue, by Virginia Heath

Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title: Never Rescue a Rogue
Author: Virginia Heath  
Genre:  Romance  
Rating:  4.5 out of 5

Diana Merriwell and Giles Sinclair only tolerate one another for the sake of their nearest and dearest. Everyone believes that the two of them are meant to be together, but Diana and Giles know that their constant pithy barbs come from a shared disdain—not a hidden attraction. Diana loves the freedom of working at the newspaper too much to give it up for marriage, and Giles is happily married to his bachelor lifestyle. But they do have one thing in common—the secrets they can’t risk escaping.

When Giles’ father, the curmudgeonly Duke of Harpenden unexpectedly turns up his toes, it’s only a matter of time before someone comes crawling out of the woodwork who knows the true circumstances of his only son’s birth. As the threat of blackmail becomes real, Giles must uncover the truth of his parentage first, or else he and all those who depend upon him will be ruined—and dogged bloodhound Diana is his best hope at sniffing out the truth. As Giles and Diana dive into his family’s past, the attraction that the two of them insisted wasn’t there proves impossible to ignore. Soon, the future of the Sinclair estate isn’t the only thing on the line…

I really enjoyed the first book in this series, and this one was a lot of fun, too. Diana is exactly the kind of character I like to read:  unashamedly herself, she goes after what she wants to do—no matter what anyone says or thinks about it. She and Giles were a joy to read about, and their witty barbs made me alight several times. This is a fun read!

Virginia Heath lives in London. Never Rescue a Rogue is her newest novel.

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

Book Review:  The Stolen Book of Evelyn Aubrey, by Serena Burdick

Image belongs to Harlequin/Park Row.

Title: The Stolen Book of Evelyn Aubrey    
Author:  Serena Burdick  
Genre:   historical fiction
Rating:  5 out of 5

What if you could write a new ending for yourself?

England, 1898. When Evelyn first married the famous novelist William Aubrey, she was dazzled by his brilliance. But their newlywed bliss is brief when William is gripped by writer’s block, and he becomes jealous of Evelyn’s writing talent. When he commits the ultimate betrayal–stealing a draft of her novel and passing it off as his own–Evelyn decides to write her way out of their unhappy marriage.

California, 2006. Abigail always wondered about her father, his identity forever lost when her mother unexpectedly died. Or so Abigail thought, until she stumbled upon his photo and a message that her great-great-grandmother was the author Evelyn Aubrey, leading Abigail on a journey to England in search for answers. There, she learns of Evelyn’s shocking disappearance and how London society believed she was murdered. But from what she uncovers about Evelyn, Abigail believes her brilliant great-great-grandmother had another plot up her sleeve.

When I first started reading this, Abby was such a self-absorbed, selfish person that I almost stopped reading. I held out until she went to England, and then, as she started growing, I got more interested. Following the mystery of Evelyn made her a much more interesting character—and learning more about her own parents, especially her messed-up mother, allowed her to work through her own issues.

Evelyn was my favorite character:  she ended up caught in a very tough situation, but she was smart enough to figure a way out. I wanted to smack her husband—and his mistress—several times, but she somehow managed to turn the other cheek and make a life of safety for herself. This ended up being a fascinating and engrossing read—despite the slow (due to a character issue) start.

Serena Burdick lives in Massachusetts. The Stolen Book of Evelyn Aubrey is her newest novel.

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