Tag: books

Book Review: The Butterfly Effect, by Rachel Mans McKenny

Image belongs to Alcove Press.

Title: The Butterfly Effect
Author: Rachel Mans McKenny
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 4.0 out of 5

Is there such a thing as an anti-social butterfly? If there were, Greta Oto would know about it—and totally relate. Greta far prefers the company of bugs to humans, and that’s okay, because people don’t seem to like her all that much anyway, with the exception of her twin brother, Danny, though they’ve recently had a falling out. So when she lands a research gig in the rainforest, she leaves it all behind.

But when Greta learns that Danny has suffered an aneurysm and is now hospitalized, she abandons her research and hurries home to the middle of nowhere America to be there for her brother. But there’s only so much she can do, and unfortunately just like insects, humans don’t stay cooped up in their hives either–they buzz about and… socialize. Coming home means confronting all that she left behind, including her lousy soon-to-be sister-in-law, her estranged mother, and her ex-boyfriend Brandon who has conveniently found a new non-lab-exclusive partner with shiny hair, perfect teeth, and can actually remember the names of the people she meets right away. Being that Brandon runs the only butterfly conservatory in town, and her dissertation is now in jeopardy, taking that job, being back home, it’s all creating chaos of Greta’s perfectly catalogued and compartmentalized world.

Once I got past the idea that Greta was just an unlikable person, I enjoyed this book. But yeah, Greta is kind of a jerk. I mean, I get her being uncomfortable around people and not having any idea what to say, but…being deliberately mean and unfeeling is a bit much.

Good writing here and I like the concept—entomology fascinates me, and I’d love to work in the rainforest or a butterfly conservatory—but Greta was unlikable enough to detract from the read. And…the cover makes this look like a light rom com read, but it’s not. It’s really much more a journey of discovery for someone who’s never bothered to care about anyone besides herself.

Rachel Mans McKenny is from the Midwest. The Butterfly Effect is her debut novel.

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

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: Murder is a Must, by Marty Wingate

Image belongs to Berkley.

Title: Murder is a Must       
Author: Marty Wingate
Genre: Cozy mystery
Rating: 4 out of 5

Hayley Burke, curator of Lady Fowling’s collection of first edition mysteries, is settling into her position at the First Edition Library in Middlebank House. She’s even made progress with Lady Fowling’s former secretary, the ornery Miss Woolgar. The women are busily preparing for an exhibition that will showcase Lady Fowling’s life and letters. Hayley knows the exhibition is a huge undertaking and decides, against her better judgement, to hire Oona Atherton, her former boss from the Jane Austen Centre to help with the planning.

Oona is known for being difficult, but all seems to be going swimmingly until she and Hayley uncover a one-page letter that alludes to a priceless edition of MURDER MUST ADVERTISE signed by several Golden Age of Mystery authors. Oona feels this book could be the focal point of the exhibition and becomes obsessed with finding it.

When they find clues that appear to point to the book being somewhere in the First Edition Library, Oona is certain she’s unraveled the mystery and texts Hayley the good news, but upon arriving back at Middlebank, Hayley finds her old boss dead at the bottom of the stairs. Did her discovery of the rare book get her killed or was it some angry shadow from her past? Hayley must read between the lines to catch a malicious murderer.

I hadn’t read the first book in this series, but that wasn’t a problem. This was a solid cozy mystery read, but not a surprising one. I’ll admit the over-the-top character in the teal suit was a bit eccentric, but there really had to be one colorful character in this novel, didn’t there? This was an entertaining and fun read.

Marty Wingate is a bestselling author. Murder is a Must is her newest novel.

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

What I Read in November (2020)

Books Read in November: 24

Books Read for the Year:  294/200

Topical Books/Monthly Goal Books: 

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott (classic re-read). I love this book so much!

Pretty in Punxsutawney, by Laurie Boyle Crompton (TBR). Light and fluffy read.

The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Tough, by Neta Jackson (TBR). I’m enjoying this series.

As Sure as the Dawn, by Francine Rivers (TBR). I loved this whole trilogy!

For Review:

Tsarina, by Ellen Alpsten. This was a solid historical read, though the characters were horrible to each other, and the culture was bit much for me.

The Forgotten Sister, by Nicola Cornick. This is two stories in two different timelines, and I enjoyed the one in the past much more than the present-day one, although the present-day characters showed a lot more growth.

Glimmer as You can, by Danielle Martin. I really wasn’t a fan of this. It felt rather disjointed and the characters were distant.

Claiming the Rancher’s Heir, by Maisey Yates. Eh. I didn’t really care for this. Another case of feeling distant from the characters, and they didn’t show much growth at all.

Once Upon a Mail Order Bride, by Linda Broday. This was a solid romance read, set in a town settled by outlaws. It’s the last in the series of linked standalones, and I’d probably go back and read them all.

Defending the Galaxy, by Maria V. Snyder. Loved this! I’m a huge Maria V. Snyder fan, and I’ve enjoyed this sci-fi trilogy so much!

Murder is a Must, by Marty Wingate (review forthcoming). I hadn’t read the first book in this series, but this was a solid cozy mystery.

The Butterfly Effect, by Rachel Mans McKenny (review forthcoming). If you can get past how unlikable the main character is through the first 75% of the novel, this was a good read. But…the cover makes it look like a light, funny read, and it definitely is not.

The Mermaid from Jeju, by Sumi Hahn (review forthcoming). This cover is gorgeous! I really enjoyed reading this book, based on something that really happened, but it was not an easy read.

Awaken My Heart, by Emily Wilson Hussem. Wonderful devotional!

A Princess by Christmas (review forthcoming), by Julia London. I’ve enjoyed this series, but why are all the women so deliberately unconventional…and yet still marrying royalty/high society? That’s not terribly believable.

Happily This Christmas, by Susan Mallery (review forthcoming). This was a good read. Loved the banter and sarcasm.

The Last Christmas Cowboy, by Maisey Yates (review forthcoming). I enjoyed this more than the previous book in the series.

Truth, Lies, and Second Dates, by MaryJanice Davidson (review forthcoming). Sigh. I know this is supposed to be poking fun at tropes, but…I still didn’t care for it. Or the MC.

The Last to See Her, by Courtney Evan Tate (review forthcoming). I am ambivalent about this one. Solid writing, but not really a fan of the characters.

Just Because:

Glorious Appearing, by Tim LeHaye. Finally finished my re-read of this series.

Treasure & Treason and Ruins & Revenge, by Lisa Shearin. I love the Raine Benares series, so when I recently realized these two books existed, I was all over them. Excellent choices!

Little Shop of Found Things and The Chocolate House, by Paula Brackston. I had to go back and read these, after I read the third one. I’m still not 100% sure if I’d read them before, but I loved them!

Left Unfinished:

Before the Coffee Gets Cold, by Toshikazu Kawaguchi. I tried. I read 20%, but I just could not get into this. It felt super slow and the MC was…both over-dramatic and boring.

Strange Fire, by John MacArthur. This was my spiritual book for the month, until I realized MacArthur believes some things that aren’t biblical (not the main subject of the book, but very important). That makes this a big NO for me.

Book Review: Awaken My Heart, by Emily Wilson Hussem

Image belongs to Ave Maria Press.

Title: Awaken My Heart
Author: Emily Wilson Hussem
Genre: Devotional
Rating: 5 out of 5

Do you feel as if you are running on empty? Have you fallen asleep to the glory of God and his love being revealed to you each day?

Bestselling and award-winning author and popular YouTuber Emily Wilson Hussem has been there too. She invites you on a year-long transformational journey of practicing gratitude, becoming more closely aware of God’s presence in your every day and serving others in his name. These fifty-two reflections will help you cultivate a deeper prayer life, find freedom from the frenzy of tasks and the noise of the culture, and discover the lasting joy that can only blossom in a heart awakened to the beauty of God’s quiet, loving presence.

Awaken My Heart is an invitation to become aware of the presence of God in your life. Emily Wilson Hussem provides a roadmap for replacing busyness and distraction with intentional moments of noticing God’s abiding love and practicing gratitude for his many gifts—big and little blessings such as a visit from a friend, a call from your sister, the laughter of your children, a setting sun, or crumbs on the floor. These fleeting moments and everyday happenings can seem insignificant, but when you behold them with intention and thank God for making them possible, you’ll find yourself in regular conversation with Jesus, the lifeblood of your deep connection with God.

This fifty-two-week devotional blends spiritual insights, authentic vulnerability, and wise guidance for women of every age who want to have a heart fully awakened to God’s presence and the beautiful bouquet of blessings he’s put in your life. The reflection for each week includes a specific focus for the upcoming seven days. With stories, challenges, and insights into scripture, each reflection is designed to draw you deeper into awareness of Christ’s love and the love he is calling you to share with the world. Wilson Hussem also offers practical ways to choose to love—visiting the elderly, calling your mom, or pausing to pray for a special intention—that are simple enough for even the busiest lifestyle.

This is an excellent devotional! The illustrations the author uses are relatable and actionable. She’s not preaching, she’s just talking to you and telling you about things she’s experienced. There’s a reflection for the week, a soul exercise, and a prayer. This book invites you to deepen your relationship with Jesus while exploring what’s truly in your heart.

Emily Wilson Hussem lives in California. Awaken My Heart is her newest book.

(Galley courtesy of Ave Maria Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Unbound, by Byna Whitlock

Image belongs to the author.

Title: Unbound
Author: Byna Whitlock
Genre: YA
Rating: 4 out of 5

Laura Curtis is ready to step out of her shadowed past and into a promising future. With close friends, a prospective romance, and college opportunities pushing her forward, life is finally looking up!

But when a bizarre attack at Central High School sets the world spinning into apocalyptic chaos, Laura is driven into hiding, wanted by the government for reasons unknown to her.

Despite her efforts to stay out of the spotlight, a mysterious stranger hunts her down. Claiming to be a renegade CIA agent, he declares Laura is a key figure in the fight against the virus that’s ravaged civilization.

As the two embark on a deadly cross-country road trip in a race for the cure, Laura seeks to uncover the truth while battling her haunted past. Can she fight her demons while navigating a new world rife with zombie attacks, espionage, and the attention of a man who may not be who he seems?

The answers are slippery, hidden in layers of deceit. In this high-stakes mission, she finds not only is her life in danger… so is her heart.

Time is a relentless enemy.

I do enjoy a good dystopian read and throw in the zombie apocalypse and my attention was definitely caught. Laura and Brandon were quirky characters—his obsession with energy drinks made me laugh, and the way she checked every food expiration date made me roll my eyes a bit—and the gradual way they got to know and trust each other was believable and well-done.

This wasn’t a “scary” zombie book to me, and the focus was more on the espionage and the hope for a cure than gore and chills. A solid read and I’d be interested in reading more in this world.

Byna Whitlock lives in Texas. Unbound is her newest novel.

Book Review: Once Upon a Mail Order Bride, by Linda Broday

Image belongs to Sourcebooks Casablanca.

Title: Once Upon a Mail Order Bride
Author: Linda Broday
Genre: Romance
Rating: 4 out of 5

Accused of crimes he didn’t commit, ex-preacher Ridge Steele is forced to give up everything he knew and make his home with outlaws. Desperate for someone to confide in, he strikes up correspondence with mail-order bride Adeline Jancy, finding in her the open heart he’s been searching for. Upon her arrival, Ridge discovers Addie only communicates through the written word, but he knows a little of what trauma can do to a person and vows to stand by her side.

Addie is eager to start a new life with the kind ex-preacher and the little boy she’s stolen away from her father–a zealot priest of a terrorized flock. As her small family settles into life at Hope’s Crossing, she even begins to find the voice, and confidence, she’d lost so long ago.

But danger is not far behind, and her father will not be denied. While Addie desperately fights the man who destroyed her childhood, a determined Ridge races to the rescue. The star-crossed lovers will need more than prayers to survive this final challenge…and find their way back to each other again.

This is the fourth installment in the Mail Order Brides series. I haven’t read the others, but it’s a standalone, so that’s no big deal. I thought this was a solid read, a standard HEA-romance. I enjoyed the setting, and I’d probably read the other books in this series if I had time, as I enjoy linked standalones and getting glimpses of characters’ lives after I finish reading their story. Addie and Ridge are both interesting characters, and I enjoyed reading their journey as they struggle to overcome the scars of their past.

Linda Broday is a bestselling author. Once Upon a Mail Order Bride is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: Claiming the Rancher’s Heir, by Maisey Yates

Image belongs to Harlequin.

Title: Claiming the Rancher’s Heir
Author: Maisey Yates
Genre: Romance
Rating: 3.0 out of 5.0

Wren Maxfield hates Creed Cooper, but now she’s working with the wealthy rancher over the holidays! Those strong feelings hide undeniable chemistry…and one wild night results in pregnancy. Now Creed vows to claim his heir. That means proposing a marriage in name only. But as desire takes over, is that a deal they can keep?

This was a quick read, but that’s about the only truly redeeming quality I found. There wasn’t any explanation for the Hatfields-and-Mccoys style feud/hatred the Coopers and the Maxfields had for each other. Wren’s main personality trait seemed to be confusion/being erratic, and Creed’s was being an alpha male. Everything here seemed strictly superficial, without getting close to the characters or examining why they did things.

Maisey Yates is a bestselling author. Claiming the Rancher’s Heir is her newest novel.

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

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: One of Our Own, by Jane Haddam

Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title: One of Our Own
Author: Jane Haddam
Genre: Mystery
Rating: 4 out of 5

Gregor Demarkian, former FBI agent and police consultant, returns for his final case—a surprising murder and an attempted murder, which threaten the safety of his Philadelphia neighborhood.

A mysterious black van is spotted by several people at various times in the area around Cavanaugh Street, Philadelphia’s Armenian-American enclave. Presumed by some to be related to the increasing ICE raids around the area, the mystery deepens one night when a body falls out of the back of the van when speeding through the neighborhood.

So…I’ve actually never read any of the previous 29 books in this series. I know. Despite that, I didn’t have any problems stepping into this story. The mixture of cultures in this story was fascinating, and I would definitely read the other books in this series.

I had no idea what was really going on here, but to me the novel was about the characters anyway, not so much the mystery aspect—and what was really going on was pretty cool. Vivid characters, solid writing, I’d say this series is worth checking out.

Jane Haddam was a mystery writer. One of Our Own is her last novel, the final book in the Gregor Demarkian Novels series.

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