Tag: reading

What I Read in February (2021)

Books Read in February: 36

Books Read for the Year:  36/250

Topical Books/Monthly Goal Books:

This Present Darkness, by Frank E. Peretti (TBR, re-read). I’d basically forgotten this entire thing, so it was like reading it for the first time.

Love Does, by Bob Goff (TBR). His books are so inspiring!

Hope in the Dark, by Craig Groeschel (spiritual). This would be excellent for someone going through a dark time.

The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Decked Out, by Neta Jackson (TBR). I’m sad to see this series end!

Jesus Among Other Gods, by Ravi Zacharias (spiritual). I’m not 100% sure I’m smart enough to truly understand Ravi’s books.

For Review:

We Run the Tides, by Vendela Vida. This was not a good fit for me. The writing was great, but the story felt like a weird mix of lit fic and YA, with some Mean Girls thrown in for good measure.

Amelia Unabridged, by Ashley Schumacher. This was a wonderful read! I enjoyed it so much! I want to visit this bookstore. Or live there. The friendships in the story were lovely.

Furbidden Fatality, by Deborah Blake. This was a quick read. A fairly lighthearted cozy mystery set at a pet rescue.

The Lost Apothecary, by Sarah Penner. I really enjoyed this historical fiction with half the story line set in the present. Character growth, mystery, and a tiny bit of magic made this an engrossing read.

Bright Burning Stars, by A.K. Small. This was a gritty look at an elite ballet school—and the things dancers will do.

To Catch a Dream, by Audrey Carlan (review forthcoming). This really didn’t work for me. The male lead was overbearing, and the female MC was just wishy-washy and inconsistent. Despite the solid writing, I didn’t care for this at all.

The Castle School (for Troubled Girls), by Alyssa Sheinmel (review forthcoming). This ended up being not what I expected—in a very good way!

Float Plan, by Trish Doller (review forthcoming). I LOVED this! So much character growth, set amidst tropical islands and adventure. Highly recommend!

The Nature of Fragile Things, by Susan Meissner. This historical fiction novel had a lot going on, but its pace felt leisurely. This was a solid read.

Every Last Fear by Alex Finlay (review forthcoming). I enjoyed this murder mystery/suspense novel. Told in multiple POVs and timelines, it all weaves together to make an engrossing read.

A Game of Cones, by Abby Collette (review forthcoming). This is the second in a cozy mystery series…and I won’t bother reading any others.The characters were one-dimensional and it was just too over-the-top and dramatic for me.

Her Dark Lies, by J. T. Ellison (review forthcoming). This was a decent suspense read, but the MC was a bit unreliable. Like the reveal about her past that comes towards the end of the book. It felt convenient and deus ex machina, not realistic and believable. And there was never much mystery over the psychopath causing problems, not to mention leaving the question of did her fiance kill his first wife or not was never answered.

Left Unfinished:

The Love Proof, by Madeleine Henry. I read about 12% of this, but it felt so slow, I just couldn’t get into it (the irony of a book about time being slow is not lost on me). Solid writing, just not a good choice for me.

Ladies of the House, by Lauren Edmondson. This sounded promising–a modern retelling of Sense and Sensibility? But I read about 20% of it and just could not get into it. Half the characters were vapid, the other half were hateful and ugly and I just don’t need that sort of negativity in my life.

Book Review and Blog Tour: Bright Burning Stars, by A.K. Small

Image belongs to Algonquin.

Title Bright Burning Stars
AuthorA.K. Small
Genre:  YA
Rating:  4 out of 5

Best friends Marine Duval and Kate Sanders have trained at the Paris Opera Ballet School since childhood, where they’ve formed an inseparable bond forged by respective family tragedies and a fierce love for dance. When the body of a student is found in the dorms just before the start of their final year, Marine and Kate begin to ask themselves what they would do to win the ultimate prize: to be the one girl selected to join the Opera’s prestigious corps de ballet. Would they die? Cheat? Seduce the most talented boy in the school, dubbed the Demigod, hoping his magic would make them shine, too? Neither girl is sure.

But then Kate gets closer to the Demigod, even as Marine has begun to capture his heart. And as selection day draws near, the competition—for the prize, for the Demigod—becomes fiercer, and Marine and Kate realize they have everything to lose, including each other. (less)

This was a bit hard for me to read. The writing is excellent, and the characters were great, but reading about the dark side of the ballet world was a little depressing, frankly. I believe it’s a realistic portrayal, sadly, because I can’t image what these girls put themselves through:  the abuse their body image takes and the physical and emotional demands they put on themselves.

Marine’s issues were scary, but at least she eventually realized it. Kate’s issues…her sometimes completely unfounded obsession with guys was just sad. She definitely has some delusions and mental health issues, in addition to her drug problem. It was sad that she didn’t realize that, though.

A.K. Small was born in Paris. Bright Burning Stars is her debut novel.

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

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: The Nature of Fragile Things, by Susan Meissner

Image belongs to Berkley.

TitleThe Nature of Fragile Things
AuthorSusan Meissner
Genre:  Fiction, historical fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

April 18, 1906: A massive earthquake rocks San Francisco just before daybreak, igniting a devouring inferno. Lives are lost, lives are shattered, but some rise from the ashes forever changed.

Sophie Whalen is a young Irish immigrant so desperate to get out of a New York tenement that she answers a mail-order bride ad and agrees to marry a man she knows nothing about. San Francisco widower Martin Hocking proves to be as aloof as he is mesmerizingly handsome. Sophie quickly develops deep affection for Kat, Martin’s silent five-year-old daughter, but Martin’s odd behavior leaves her with the uneasy feeling that something about her newfound situation isn’t right.

Then one early-spring evening, a stranger at the door sets in motion a transforming chain of events. Sophie discovers hidden ties to two other women. The first, pretty and pregnant, is standing on her doorstep. The second is hundreds of miles away in the American Southwest, grieving the loss of everything she once loved.

The fates of these three women intertwine on the eve of the devastating earthquake, thrusting them onto a perilous journey that will test their resiliency and resolve and, ultimately, their belief that love can overcome fear.

This was a very good read! I know almost nothing about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, so finding out more was very sad. I cannot imagine how terrifying that must have been!

Meissner is superb at sprinkling tiny hints and clues throughout the novel without giving away the truth:  I only had vague ideas about the truth of Sophie’s past and the secrets she was hiding—and I was never sure exactly what happened with Martin. I will say, I loved the ending and thought it very appropriate, tying up all the lose ends at once. Definitely a solid read!

Susan Meissner is a bestselling author. The nature of Fragile Things is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: Furbidden Fatality, by Deborah Blake

Image belongs to Berkley.

TitleFurbidden Fatality
AuthorDeborah Blake
Genre:  Cozy mystery
Rating:  4.0 out of 5

Kari Stuart’s life is going nowhere–until she unexpectedly wins the lottery. The twenty-nine-year-old instant multimillionaire is still mulling plans for her winnings when trying to rescue a bossy black kitten leads her to a semiabandoned animal shelter. They need the cash–Kari needs a purpose.

But the dilapidated rescue is literally going to the dogs with a pending lawsuit, hard to adopt animals, and too much suspicious attention from the town’s dog warden. When the warden turns up dead outside the shelter’s dog kennels, Kari finds herself up a creek without a pooper-scooper.

With the help of some dedicated volunteers, a cute vet, and a kitten who mysteriously shows up just when she needs it, Kari must prove her innocence all while trying to save a dog on death row. Now she just needs to hope that her string of unexpected luck isn’t about to run out.

This was a cute cozy mystery to start off a new series. There were several moments I thought the main characters was a little too naïve or oblivious—I’m sorry, but if I knew there were bears around, I would not go wandering around at night unarmed and alone when the dogs started barking, nor would I ever venture outside at night alone after finding a dead body and repeated vandalism. So, no, she’s not the brightest light in the room, but she’s likable enough, and the background characters are quirky and fun. The hint of romance isn’t overdone, either, so that/s nice. I’d definitely read more of this series.

Deborah Blake lives in New York. Furbidden Fatality is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: Of Silver and Shadow, by Jennifer Gruenke

of silver and shadow
Image belongs to North Star/Flux.

Title:  Of Silver and Shadow
AuthorJennifer Gruenke
Genre:  Fantasy
Rating:  5 out of 5

Ren Kolins is a silver wielder—a dangerous thing to be in the kingdom of Erdis, where magic has been outlawed for a century. Ren is just trying to survive, sticking to a life of petty thievery, card games, and pit fighting to get by. But when a wealthy rebel leader discovers her secret, he offers her a fortune to join his revolution. The caveat: she won’t see a single coin until they overthrow the King.

Behind the castle walls, a brutal group of warriors known as the King’s Children is engaged in a competition: the first to find the rebel leader will be made King’s Fang, the right hand of the King of Erdis. And Adley Farre is hunting down the rebels one by one, torturing her way to Ren and the rebel leader, and the coveted King’s Fang title.

But time is running out for all of them, including the youngest Prince of Erdis, who finds himself pulled into the rebellion. Political tensions have reached a boiling point, and Ren and the rebels must take the throne before war breaks out.

I was entranced by this book from the very beginning! Ren’s attitude and brashness is a little much at ties, but I feel that’s a growth opportunity to grow for her, and I did enjoy her sass. Even the secondary characters are vivid and vibrant—like the prince—and the settling felt realistic and almost-visible to me. A fantastic read!

Jennifer Gruenke grew up in California and now lives in Charlotte. Of Silver and Shadow is her debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of North Star/Flux 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: We Run the Tides, by Vendela Vida

Image belongs to Ecco.

TitleWe Run the Tides
Author: Vendela Vida
Genre:  Fiction
Rating:  3 out of 5

Teenage Eulabee and her magnetic best friend, Maria Fabiola, own the streets of Sea Cliff, their foggy oceanside San Francisco neighborhood. They know Sea Cliff’s homes and beaches, its hidden corners and eccentric characters—as well as the upscale all-girls’ school they attend. One day, walking to school with friends, they witness a horrible act—or do they? Eulabee and Maria Fabiola vehemently disagree on what happened, and their rupture is followed by Maria Fabiola’s sudden disappearance—a potential kidnapping that shakes the quiet community and threatens to expose unspoken truths.    

This clearly wasn’t a good fit for me. Solid writing, but I found it on the edge of boring. I know it’s about young teenage girls, but it veered between over-the-top dramatic and bland and I just didn’t care about the characters. At all. The author did a wonderful job of bringing the setting—ritzy neighborhood, private school—to life, but I found it almost impossible to relate to the characters.

Vendela Vida is an award-winning author. We Run the Tides is her newest novel.

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

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Vineyard at Painted Moon, by Susan Mallery

Image belongs to Harlequin.

TitleThe Vineyard at Painted Moon
AuthorSusan Mallery
Genre:  Fiction, romance
Rating:  3.0 out of 5

MacKenzie Dienes’s life isn’t perfect, but it’s as close as she could ever hope to get. Her marriage to Rhys, her best friend’s brother, is more friendship than true love. But passion is highly overrated, right? And she loves her job as the winemaker at Bel Apres, her in-laws’ vineyard. So what if it’s a family business and, even after decades of marriage and incredible professional success, she’s still barred from the family business meetings? It’s all enough…until one last night spent together leads to an incredibly honest—and painful—conversation. Rhys suggests that they divorce. They haven’t had a marriage in a long time and, while he wants her to keep her job at Bel Apres, he doesn’t think they should be married any longer. Shocked, MacKenzie reels at the prospect of losing the only family she’s ever really known…even though she knows deep in her heart that Rhys is right.

But when MacKenzie discovers she’s pregnant, walking away to begin a new life isn’t so easy. She never could have anticipated the changes it would bring to the relationships she cherishes most: her relationship with Barbara, her mother-in-law and partner at Bel Apres, Stephanie, her sister-in-law and best friend, and Bel Apres, the company she’s worked so hard to put on the map.

MacKenzie has always dreamed of creating a vineyard of her own, a chance to leave a legacy for her unborn child. So when the opportunity arises, she jumps at it and builds the Vineyard at Painted Moon. But following her dreams will come at a high price—one that MacKenzie isn’t so sure she’s willing to pay…

Susan Mallery is an excellent writer and creates realistic and believable characters. I haven’t read too many of her novels, but I’m familiar with her work. However…I did not like this novel. For one reason:  so many of the characters were awful people. They were believable enough and consistent—no dramatic changes in heart or personality—they were just completely unlikable.

MacKenzie was likable enough and totally sympathetic, and I like Stephanie and Four (another sister-in-law) and Bruno, but Barbara was truly a terrible person, and her third daughter wasn’t far behind. Both of them were spiteful, hateful, vindictive, and petty. And Rhys ended up being not far behind them—which was a bit of a surprise, as he was perfectly nice and reasonable to begin with, then became a jerk when his freedom was threatened. It’s extremely difficult for me to read books about characters like this, so it’s a testament to the writing quality that I even finished it.

Susan Mallery is a NYT-bestselling author. The Vineyard at Painted Moon is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: Killer Content, by Olivia Blacke

Image belongs to Berkley.

TitleKiller Content
AuthorOlivia Blacke
Genre:  Cozy mystery
Rating:  3 out of 5

Bayou transplant Odessa Dean has a lot to learn about life in Brooklyn. So far she’s scored a rent free apartment in one of the nicest neighborhoods around by cat-sitting, and has a new job working at Untapped Books & Café. Hand-selling books and craft beers is easy for Odessa, but making new friends and learning how to ride the subway? Well, that might take her a little extra time.

But things turn more sour than an IPA when the death of a fellow waitress goes viral, caught on camera in the background of a couple’s flash-mob proposal video. Nothing about Bethany’s death feels right to Odessa–neither her sudden departure mid-shift nor the clues that only Odessa seems to catch. As an up-and-coming YouTube star, Bethany had more than one viewer waiting for her to fall from grace.

Determined to prove there’s a killer on the loose, Odessa takes matters into her own hands. But can she pin down Bethany’s killer before they take Odessa offline for good?

Blacke has some solid writing chops, but this just wasn’t a good fit for me. Odessa was quirky, but it was so over-the-top that it felt like a farce. The other characters felt like cookie cutters, and none of them were distinct enough to feel real. Odessa was also super-judgey, especially of her boss, who she basically treated like an idiot because he was older than her and “clueless.” Actually, Odessa’s personality bothered me more than her quirkiness:  she just wasn’t a nice person. Nosy, condescending, and self-centered, she acted even more immature than her age.

Olivia Blacke has lived all over the U.S. Killer Content is her newest novel.

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