Friday, May 29, 2020

Review: The Absolution by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

The Absolution (Children's House, Book #3)
by Yrsa Sigurdardottir
Release Date; February 11th 2020
2020 Minotaur Books
Kindle Edition; 368 Pages
ISBN: 978-9250136305
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

The police find out about the crime the way everyone does: on Snapchat. The video shows a terrified young woman begging for forgiveness. When her body is found, it is marked with a number "2".

Detective Huldar joins the investigation, bringing child psychologist Freyja on board to help question the murdered teenager's friends. Soon, they uncover that Stella was far from the angel people claim, but who could have hated her enough to kill?

Then another teenager goes missing, more clips are sent to social media, and the body with a "3" is found. Freyja and Huldar can agree on two things at least: the truth is far from simple. The killer is not done yet. And is there an undiscovered body carrying the number "1" out there?

The Absolution is the third book in the Children's House series, and I have to say I am a huge fan of Huldar as well as these types of police procedurals.  I thought the book was well-plotted, with lots of twists and turns, and I definitely liked how it all came together in the end.  What actually did turn me off this one was Freyja; I wasn't fond of her before and this one didn't endear me to her either.  

The main theme of this book was bullying, something that is quite near and dear to me, especially as a teacher.  It quite literally permeates the entire book, from the main characters to the victims, from in-school bullying to online bullying, it covers the whole gamut of the horrible effects of bullying.  Personally, I am glad to see a book like this come out as I don't think there are enough discussions about bullying and the devastating consequences, some that affect people for the rest of their lives.  Freyja herself had been affected by bullying during her teenage yesrs and this case brought back memories she thought she had left behind.  

The plot itself moves rather quickly, jumping from one event to another, with one plot twist after another, in this author's classic style.  While it is always best to start at the beginning of a series, this book can definitely be read as a stand alone as there is nothing revelatory in previous novels you need to know.  I enjoy this author's style of writing and because I've read so much of her work, can easily separate the red herrings from what is truth.  
I did have a problem with a couple of things however, one being Freyja herself.  For whatever reason, I just can't seem to empathize with this character.  She seems rather selfish to me, and I am not a fan of how she uses Huldar for her own purposes. Can't get a date to her school reunion?  Other boy toy turned out to be unreliable, so let's ask Huldar to jump in, but then offer no explanations for her behaviour at said reunion.  I think we call that using someone in my world.!!  The other issue I had was with the character development, in particular, with the victims and the ones who did the actual bullying.  I really felt like the author used some pretty stereotypical modelling here and really tried to make the 'bullies' seem like 'bad guys'.  Oh, don't get me wrong, what they did was horrible and should never have happened.  But I would have liked to see the author write a broader outline of the bullying and not make it seem so narrow, or so black and white.  There is so much between in these cases that was not explored.   And I think the author is a better writer than that.

The Absolution was an interesting book about the effects of bullying and the consequences of that bullying.  I thought the plot moved rather quickly, leaving the reader rather breathless as they moved from event to event, and while I liked most of the main characters, I just could not get a handle on Freyja, something over which I felt badly, but there it is.  Do I recommend this book? Yes. I am a huge fan of this author and love that the setting is in Iceland.  She also has another series, the Thóra Gudmundsdóttirseries, that I would recommend.  If you are looking for some Icelandic crime fiction, this may be one for you.
Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Review: Buried Angels by Patricia Gibney

Buried Angels (D.I. Lottie Parker, Book #8)
by Patricia Gibney
Release Date: May 26th 2020
2020 Bookouture
Kindle ARC: 451 Pages
ISBN: 978-1838886615
ASIN: B085471N18
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Police
Source: Review copy from publisher

4.5 / 5 Stars

When Faye Baker discovers a fragile child’s skull behind the walls of her new home, Detective Lottie Parker is called to investigate. The house has been owned for years by the family of Faye’s boyfriend Jeff, so when Jeff starts acting suspiciously, Lottie wonders what he might be hiding…

Lottie doesn’t have long to dig deeper before a child’s bones are found by eleven-year-old Gavin on nearby railway tracks. The bones don’t match the small skull behind the walls, but Lottie can’t ignore the coincidence. Someone out there must be missing their loved ones and it’s up to her to put right a terrible wrong.

Unable to shake a feeling of foreboding, Lottie goes to speak to Faye, and discovers that she hasn’t turned up for work. When Faye’s body is found stuffed in the back of her car, Lottie needs to find out who wanted her to keep quiet.

As Lottie hunts for Faye’s killer, the case takes a darker turn when Gavin goes missing. Faye and Gavin are connected only by the grisly body parts they discovered. But who are these little victims and why has their killer come back? Can Lottie find the answers before another precious life is taken? 

My Thoughts
Buried Angels is the eighth book in the D.I. Lottie Parker series and is just as strong and twisty as any of the previous books featuring the Detective Inspector.  I have read every single book in this series, and have become quite invested in Lottie's ongoing struggles with her family, Boyd, and her job.  Each book has ended on a bit of cliffhanger and this one is not exception, although the endings to the mysteries themselves are nicely solved.  It's Lottie's personal life that is always in shatters at the end of each book and it is definitely that which keeps me coming back.

I have to say that 451 pages goes quite fast when you have so many twists and turns, and there is so much action happening all of the time.  As soon as you take a deep breath to absorb the new information, all of a sudden you are thrust into a new situation with new information and it is a lot to digest.  I usually pick up on the threads quite early in a book, but it took me until halfway through to really pinpoint who I thought was the killer and that is pretty good.  What I couldn't figure out was the motive.  The author really delved into dysfunctional family units in this one, and some of it may be uncomfortable to read.  I don't want to say too much as it will give away some of the plot, but there are some people who do not believe in fidelity.  Abuse also was a strong theme in this book so there are definitely some triggers of which to be careful.  

Lottie has a new boss in this one, but we don't really hear a lot from her until the very end but all of that drama is going to lead us into the next book.  I like that no all the detectives get along, but each of them is interesting in their own way.  I am not a fan of Lynch and I didn't really like what she was doing in this book, nor do I like where this is heading with her.  However, knowing the author and how she twists things, the end result should be quite interesting and fun.  I hope. As for Lottie herself, I will say it again, love that woman.  I like how the author lets her show her human side during the investigation, her tears, and her emotions over the bodies and the loss of life.  The author makes it so easy to connect with her, even when you think she is being silly.  

Buried Angels takes place about six months after the last book, and nothing has really changed for Lottie: her children are still rebelling, where she will live is still upside down, she has a new boss with which to deal, and a disgruntled detective.  And I loved all of it simply because the author has a way of hooking you in with all of the action and the suspense.  Plus, she has this way of connecting all of the characters in a way that makes perfect sense, connecting all of the random clues, until everything comes together towards the end.  This is definitely one of my favourite series, and I can't recommend it enough. 
Sunday, May 24, 2020

Review: Pumpkin Spice Peril by Jenn McKinlay

Pumpkin Spice Peril (Cupcake Bakery Mystery, Book #12)
by Jenn McKinlay
Release Date: April 28th 2020
2020 Berkley Books
Kindle Books: 272 Pages
ISBN: 978-0451492654
Genre: Fiction / Cozy Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

Life is all sugar and spice for the Fairy Tale Cupcake bakers--Melanie Cooper is engaged to the delectable Joe DeLaura, Angie Harper and her husband Tate are savoring married life, and the bakery is bustling with happy customers. Until one of their most valued cupcake connoisseurs ends up dead.

Local glass artist and cupcake lover Rene Fischer-Klein has always suffered from a wide variety of health issues. In an effort to cheer her up, her doting husband, Peter, brings her a four-pack of her favorite cupcakes every week. But when the police discover that Rene has been poisoned, there's no sugarcoating the fact that the last things she ate were the bakery's signature pumpkin spice cupcakes! With their lives and bakery at stake, it's up to Mel and Angie to find out who poisoned their artist friend and why, before their future is frosted for good.

My Thoughts
Pumpkin Spice Peril is the twelfth entry in the Cupcake Bakery Mystery series, and while it was a fun addition to the series, I don't actually think it was the best entry.  In this one, Mel is experiencing some big life changes, with her engagement and her best friend going through some life changes herself, which makes the characters much more interesting.  I do really like it when an author gives her characters a chance to grow, change, and explore. 

One of the things I have always like about these books, and it is definitely one of the main reasons I keep coming back to them as well, is the character development.  While I enjoyed Mel's continuing development and the exploration of her relationship with her fiance, I'm not quite sure I bought into the mystery in this book.  Having been friends with Peter and Rene for many years, when Mel hears that things aren't going too well between her friends, she worries about them and their relationship, as well as struggles with what she may have missed during the years as she thought they had the perfect relationship, and looked up to them.  I enjoyed the philosophical thought that came with this whole thread, especially considering Mel's upcoming nuptials, but thought the author had to work quite hard to make it sound believable.  I didn't quite buy into it though.

That brings me to the plot: a predictable murder and a quite-easy-to-figure-out murderer.  I even figured out the weapon, no brainer.  And while I usually give these books a four star or higher, I just couldn't this time because I couldn't get into the story the same way as usual, and I just didn't buy into it.  Yes, it was fun and enjoyable, but there was no uncertainty or tension at all.  Very light cozy mystery that was easy to figure out.  And while I usually love Angie's brothers, they got on my nerves in this book; she is married after all, and what used to be funny and cute was just downright irritating.  And for whatever reason, every time Joe used the term, "Cupcake", to talk to Mel, I winced, don't know why.  

Pumpkin Spice Peril is not my favourite book in this series, but it was still light and fun.  The writing and character development was still strong and present, and it is always fun to come back to a group of characters you have followed for quite a while to see what they are up to and how they are doing.  I did feel like the mystery was very predictable and it seemed like the author was really reaching for red herrings that didn't quite work.  Overall, there was a lot going on, which is fine, but the mystery kind of got lost in all the chaos. I don't actually mind change, and there will be some changes in upcoming books, so I really curious as to what the author is going to bring into Mel's world.  There is definitely a wedding in store, so I am looking forward to that.  While this was not the strongest entry, I do highly recommend the other books in this series as they are wonderful and a lot of fun.
Thursday, May 21, 2020

Review: The Last Passenger by Charles Finch

The Last Passenger (Charles Lenox Mysteries, Book #13)
by Charles Finch
Release Date: February 18th 2020
2020 Minotaur Books
Kindle Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250312204
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

London, 1855: A young and eager Charles Lenox faces his toughest case yet: a murder without a single clue. Slumped in a first-class car at Paddington Station is the body of a young, handsome gentleman. He has no luggage, empty pockets, and no sign of violence upon his person - yet Lenox knows instantly that it's not a natural death.

My Thoughts
The Last Passenger is the third and final volume in a set of prequel novels featuring Charles Lenox.  To be honest, this is the first book I've read by this author although I have most of his books, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  I don't know why it's taken me so long to dive into these books as I love a good historical mystery, but after reading this one, I will definitely take the plunge and read the rest as I am now intrigued. 

I have to say that I found the concept of this one quite intriguing and it wasn't what I expected.  What I first thought was going to be a nice procedural and investigation actually took a turn in a quite different direction and suddenly I was in the midst of a world of abolitionists, slavery, and human rights.  Now, this was fascinating stuff and the entry of the Americans was interesting and unexpected.  I like how the British and American worlds kind of collided here and we got a glimpse of the political world surrounding Charles and his family during this time period.  Personally, I don't feel like the author went deep enough, kind of erred on the safe side, and made the characters seem a little too...nice.  I can't think that anyone who has dealt in slavery can have an ounce of compassion in their bones.   

The author has a great writing style and I enjoyed his quirky sense of humour, through Charles Lenox, as well as his criticisms of London during this time period.  And even though the main character thought he was an abolitionist, the whole experience made him re-evaluate exactly what that meant as he came into contact with a former slave and heard some of his experiences first-hand.  It was interesting as it makes you realize that anyone can BE something, but you also have to PROVE you are that something, through your actions as well as your words.  And when it comes to crunch time, can you act on those words.  At this point in time, just before the Civil War in the United States, slavery was still a controversial topic both in the U.S. and in Great Britain.  And it made and broke many political careers.  

On a more social level, I enjoyed learning about Charles and his family as well as his special friendship with his neighbours, Lady Jane Grey and her husband.  Considering his choice of profession was not highly regarded in society, I commiserated with him when he was snubbed at social gatherings and such, and felt for him as he navigated the social world looking for a possible wife.  The perspectives on women and their lot in life was quite interesting as Charles was nursing a broken heart in this one, and I liked learning about that perspective about women from a woman.  Charles is an interesting character who thinks about others, but is determined to do things his way. I like that about him.

The Last Passenger was an interesting mystery that focused on slavery and one's position on abolitionism which was quite controversial at the time.  I enjoyed the characters, but particularly enjoyed Charles and his issues with society and his choice of profession.  Because I was not familiar with the current books, there was one thing I wasn't expecting and it was quite a sad moment as I had grown fond of this character.  I definitely recommend this book, and look forward to reading the other books in this series. 
Monday, May 18, 2020

Review: The Mitford Scandal by Jessica Fellowes

The Mitford Scandal (Mitford Murders, Book #1)
by Jessica Fellowes
Release Date: January 21st 2020
2020 Minotaur Books
Kindle Edition; 374 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250316806
ASIN: B07Q353P9Q
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

The year is 1928, and after the death of a maid at a glamorous society party, fortune heir Bryan Guinness seizes life and proposes to eighteen-year-old Diana, most beautiful of the six Mitford sisters. The maid's death is ruled an accident, and the newlyweds put it behind them to begin a whirlwind life zipping between London's Mayfair, chic Paris and hedonistic Berlin. Accompanying Diana as her lady's maid is Louisa Cannon, as well as a coterie of friends, family and hangers on, from Nancy Mitford to Evelyn Waugh.

When a second victim is found in Paris in 1931, Louisa begins to see links with the death of the maid two years previously. Now she must convince the Mitford sisters that a murderer could be within their midst . . . all while shadows darken across Europe, and within the heart of Diana Mitford herself.

My Thoughts
The Mitford Scandal is a really difficult book to rate simply because I feel like the author kind of lost track of what kind of book she was writing.  Don't get me wrong, the Mitford Sisters are extremely fascinating in and of themselves, and if this was a book just about their lives, I wouldn't have a problem becoming enmeshed in their lives and in their goings-ons, but the book is a mystery, one which spanned over four years, and I really feel like the mystery got lost amidst the daily lives of these interesting women.  

First of all, this time span is a long time to try and keep a reader's interest in the plot.  Oh, I know it can take years for a murder to be solved, but that is simply not the issue here.  The ultimate solution to what happened wasn't that mind-blowing and for those who read a lot of mystery novels, it was pretty obvious who the culprit was. I spent a lot of the time trying to figure out how the author was going to ever get around to her big reveal and it wasn't that exciting or mind-blowing as I think she meant it to be.  

I figured the author wanted to get Diana Mitford to the point where she met Sir Oswald Mosley, but I don't really see why.  I am quite familiar with her story and I really think it could have waited until another book for that to happen as her meeting him didn't really have any bearing on the mystery.  And then the author could have focused a lot more on the mystery and created much more suspense surrounding that event rather than focusing on Diana, whom I couldn't stand.  And if the author wanted to write a historical fiction book just about Diana Mitford Guinness, I wouldn't have a problem with that either, but mixing the two just didn't work.  I kind of felt like the author was playing a ping-pong game with herself as to what type of novel she wanted to write - mystery or fiction about Diana.  And because of this, both came up short.  

And honestly, having Louisa Cannon as a lady's maid just so she could be involved in the events didn't quite work for me.  I was trying to work out how that happened - how Louisa went from being almost part of the family, to having to enter the servants' door and being treated with disrespect.  I did like having Guy back in her life and was quite happy at the turn of events there though.  

The Mitford Scandal was an interesting book at its core, but being marketed as a mystery novel, I do have to evaluate it as such, and in that respect, it fell short for me.  However, the Mitford Sisters are such interesting people, and there is so much material there with which an author can work.  I don't quite feel the mystery worked in this book, but like I said, the lives of these women are fascinating.  And with Unity almost grown up, it will be interesting to see what this author writes about next.  Such interesting times ahead.  I would love to see this author tackle a historical fiction novel about these women that is not marketed as a mystery as I think she could do great things.  Gosh, these women were fascinating.  And with some of them developing an interest in Fascism, interesting times ahead.   
Thursday, May 14, 2020

Review: A Constellation of Roses by Miranda Asebedo

A Constellation of Roses
by Miranda Asebedo
Release Date: November 5th 2019
2019 HarperTeen
Kindle Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062747105
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary / YA
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Ever since her mother walked out, Trix McCabe has been determined to make it on her own. And with her near-magical gift for pulling valuables off unsuspecting strangers, Trix is confident she has what it takes to survive. Until she’s caught and given a choice: jail time, or go live with her long-lost family in the tiny town of Rocksaw, Kansas.

Trix doesn’t plan to stick around Rocksaw long, but there’s something special about her McCabe relatives that she is drawn to. Her aunt, Mia, bakes pies that seem to cure all ills. Her cousin, Ember, can tell a person’s deepest secret with the touch of a hand. And Trix’s great-aunt takes one look at Trix’s palm and tells her that if she doesn’t put down roots somewhere, she won’t have a future anywhere.

Before long, Trix feels like she might finally belong with this special group of women in this tiny town in Kansas. But when her past comes back to haunt her, she’ll have to decide whether to take a chance on this new life . . . or keep running from the one she’s always known.

My Thoughts
A Constellation of Roses is one of those books that I went into not really knowing anything about it, but then being pleasantly surprised by he characters, the setting, and the plot. Despite not really liking Trix at the beginning of the novel, she really grew on me, and I really rooted for her towards the end.  This is the kind of character development I like, plus it's a feel-good story, which is a plus during this time of pandemic shakedown.

I really, really enjoyed the character development in this book.  The entire McCabe family was quirky and interesting, and I really liked that the author didn't go into any detail about their 'gifts'; it was just kind of accepted that they all had them and they were part of their unique personalities.  I was really afraid the story would end up being a 'magic' story and I would probably have put down the book if that had happened.  Don't get me wrong, I love fantasy, but I wasn't interested in it here as it wasn't supposed to be that type of book.  The author did not let me down on that score.

Trix was a lost soul, living on her own, when she was caught by the police and given a choice: live with a family she never knew existed, or go to jail.  At first, she was a bit surly about the whole thing and didn't really treat those around her very well. That was to be expected as she was suddenly thrust into this loving family who made their living making 'magical' treats (pies); Auntie was a hoot, calling everyone out for their actions; Mia was the kind one, understanding  Trix' reticence to join the family; and Ember was happy to have a cousin close to her age with whom she could share her gift.  Slowly, Trix came to realize how important family was to her.  As Trix opened up to this new-found family, we also learned, through flashbacks, a bit of the horror of her life; just enough to give you an understanding of how awful it must have been and the abuse she must have suffered.  There may be some triggers in this book for people as they do discuss suicide, abuse, depression, and other things as well.  

The plot wasn't anything spectacular or original, but it was fun.  The action does move fairly quickly and I was very appreciative of the fact the romance wasn't overblown and didn't take over the story.  It was real, with some real issues, and I liked that.  And thank be, no love triangle.  It is very much a character-driven novel, but I definitely appreciated the growth Trix demonstrated throughout and I really liked her towards the end.  I am a huge fan of Ember as well and would love to learn more about her, like in a future novel? Hint!!

A Constellation of Roses was a fun, quirky book that really hit all the right spots with me.  There was good character development, a fun plot, interesting characters, and some drama, but not the overblown teen angst we see in some books.  I thought the Shane thing was a bit too much though, and was the only part of the book that didn't feel realistic; he changed way too much and way too fast to be believable.  Otherwise, this was a fun book to read and I would recommend it to anyone looking for something light at this time. 
Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Guest Post: Advice I Ignored: Stories and Wisdom From a Formerly Depressed Teen by Ruby Walker

The first book about teenage depression written by a teenager!
A self-help book for people who hate help. And themselves.

Book Details:
        Paperback: 169 pages
        Publisher: Ruby Walker (September 5, 2019)
        Language: English
        ISBN-10: 1733478973
        ISBN-13: 978-1733478977
        Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.4 x 9 inches

Advice I Ignored: Stories and Wisdom from a Formerly Depressed Teen

When Ruby Walker was 15 going on 16, she went from a numb, silent, miserable high school dropout to a joyous loudmouth in one year flat. Advice I Ignored answers the question everyone's been asking her since: What happened?
Full of stories, honest advice, fierce hope, and over 100 hand-inked illustrations, Advice I Ignored is an important resource for teens suffering from depression (which has reached epidemic proportions), parents who have one, and educators who want to help. Applicable for adults suffering too!

     4 tips on how to gain a sense of free will and finally start taking showers again
     Self-talk: 3 ways to stop bullying yourself and learn how to start talking to yourself like you talk to your friends
     7 steps to stop the hate and treat yourself right
     Opening up about sexual abuse/trauma
     Advice for parents whose teens are suffering from depression
     For parents and educators - signs to look for that a teen needs help, and what to do
     Advice on how to start exercising to fix your brain chemistry
     The importance of planning: making lots of small goals = accomplishing a big goal
     4 lies your trauma is telling you and why you must not believe them
     4 ways to find some quiet, make friends with boredom, and give yourself a break
     Art and writing as a creative outlet for coping with depression


     April is Stress Awareness Month
     April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month
     April is Counseling Awareness Month
     May is Mental Health Awareness Month
     September is Suicide Prevention Month

Ruby Walker is an 18-year-old college student, artist and writer. Ruby grew up in Austin, moved down to Buda (TX), dropped out of high school, earned herself full tuition to a private university, and is currently studying art at Trinity University in San Antonio. Advice I Ignored: Stories and Wisdom from a Formerly Depressed Teen is the only book on teenage mental health actually written by a teenager.

Author’s Website:
Author’s Twitter:

Why’d you draw that? A behind-the-scenes look into teen author Ruby Walker’s illustration process.

This illustration is from chapter six, which is all about creativity! For me, being creative is how I tell the world, “I’m here, I’m important, and I’m not going to fade away into nothing.” When I think about that kind of defiant energy, my mind immediately jumps to this Walt Whitman quote:

"I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
 I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world."


The illustration formed naturally out of that idea - the catharsis of shouting so loud, you don’t care who hears.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Review: She Has a Broken Thing Where Her Heart Should Be by J.D. Barker

She Has a Broken Thing Where Her Heart Should Be
by J.D. Barker
Release Date: March 31st 2020
2020 Hampton Creek Press
Kindle ARC: 774 Pages
ISBN: 978-1734210415
ASIN: B082787BMX
Genre: Fiction / Thriller / Fantasy / Horror
Source:: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

 After the loss of his parents, young Jack Thatch first met Stella as a child--this cryptic little girl of eight with dark hair and darker eyes, sitting alone on a bench in the cemetery clutching her favorite book. Gone moments later, the brief encounter would spark an obsession. She'd creep into his thoughts, his every waking moment, until he finally finds her again exactly one year later, sitting upon the same bench, only to disappear again soon after.

The body of a man found in an alley, every inch of his flesh horribly burned, yet his clothing completely untouched. For Detective Faustino Brier, this wasn't the first, and he knew it wouldn't be the last. It was no different from the others. He'd find another just like it one year from today. August 9, to be exact.

Isolated and locked away from the world in a shadowy lab, a little boy known only as Subject "D" waits, grows, learns. He's permitted to speak to no one. He has never known the touch of another. Harboring a power so horrific, those in control will never allow him beyond their walls.

All of them linked in ways unimaginable.

My Thoughts
She Has a Broken Thing Where Her Heart Should Be is one of those books that I had to think about for a while when I was finished because while it was not necessarily that complex, it did have a lot of layers and nuances to it that were quite captivating and a lot of genres all mixed in together.  It's a long book, but definitely worth the ride as everything comes together at the end.  If you are familiar with Great Expectations and Stephen King, the nuances will make a lot more sense as well; if you aren't, you will still have fun with this novel, just not at the same level, I think.   

First of all, I didn't really know what to think of the main character, Jack, at the beginning.  He was loyal, courageous, and good to his Aunt Jo who was looking after him when his parents were killed in a car accident, I just couldn't understand his obsession with Stella over the years.  Anyone who has followed my reviews knows I am not a fan of insta-love or anything of that sort, and I was sort of put off by that at the beginning (and probably through the middle sections) as well.  As he followed her through the years, believing himself to be in love with someone he has spoken to on a handful of occasions, I just couldn't buy into it, but decided to go along for the ride.  I'm glad I did as the other events surrounding the mysterious Stella and the search for the truth about Jack's parents was really fascinating and intriguing.  

Which brings me to the plot.  Despite the amorous nature of Jack towards Stella, I decided to focus more on the search for answers rather than the romance, and this is where the story really got interesting and I wish there had been more of it, rather than 'romance'.  We now have detectives running around the country looking for clues as to what is going on with Stella and Jack, over a time period of 30 years, and while the time period would seem like a daunting task for any author to take on, it works in this novel. We got to see Jack grow up and discover new things about himself, his aunt, his parents, his friends, and I loved how everything came together in the end.  It all wrapped up so nicely in the end.  And I have to say, I actually missed an important element that caught me off guard so I was happy about that.  Happy you say? I love it when an author can surprise me and shake up my thinking.  Kudos to him for doing that.  

She Has a Broken Thing Where Her Heart Should Be delves into some interesting and intriguing topics in this book: should scientists be tampering with the natural progression of things, and what happens to the children when their 'experiments' go badly?  This is a book where some people live in the shadows, through secret experiments and laboratories, where children are locked up because they are too dangerous to be out in the real world, and what happens when they escape.  Over thirty years, Barker develops some pretty interesting characters, but also asks some pretty brutal questions.  There is a lot of suspense, interesting characters, great development in both character and plot, fascinating twists and turns, and some creepy elements that lend themselves to a more Gothic / horror style of writing as well.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interesting in something a bit different.
Saturday, May 9, 2020

Review: Inge's War: A German Woman's Story of Family, Secrets, and Survival Under Hitler by Svenja O'Donnell

Inge's War: A German Woman's Story of Family, Secrets, and Survival Under Hitler
by Svenja O'Donnell
Release Date: April 28th 2020
2020 Viking
Kindle ARC: 318 Pages
ISBN: 978-1984880215
Genre: Non-Fiction / Historical / WWII
Source: Review copy from publisher

In this transporting and illuminating book, the award-winning journalist vividly reconstructs the story of Inge's life from the rise of the Nazis through the brutal postwar years, from falling in love with a man who was sent to the Eastern Front just after she became pregnant with his child, to spearheading her family's flight as the Red Army closed in, her young daughter in tow. Ultimately, O'Donnell uncovers the act of violence that separated Inge from the man she loved; a terrible secret hidden for more than six decades.

A captivating World War II saga, Inge's War is also a powerful reckoning with the meaning of German identity and inherited trauma. In retracing her grandmother's footsteps, O'Donnell not only discovers the remarkable story of a woman caught in the gears of history, but also comes face to face with her family's legacy of neutrality and inaction--and offers a rare glimpse into a reality too long buried by silence and shame.

My Thoughts
Inge's War: A German Woman's Story of Family, Secrets, and Survival Under Hitler was a fascinating, illuminating book about one woman's survival during Nazi Germany and how she and her family fled East Prussia as the Soviets invaded her home city.  Interwoven with the author's research on Nazi Germany as well as research on her family and interviews with various family members, the books gives a vivid portrayal of one family's plight during this difficult time.  The author also addresses German identity and shame interwoven with the trauma that many people suffered under this regime.  At times heartbreaking, this book tells the story of one family who came to terms with long-buried secrets, giving us a glimpse of what life was like on the 'other side' so to speak, when one's values clashed with the politics of one's government but felt helpless to do something about it.   

The story revolves around the author as she searches for answers to her family's past, in particular, her grandmother, Inge, who fled East Prussia and landed in Germany.  She always felt growing up that so much of her grandmother's past had been hidden and as a journalist she was determined to discover more about her past.  We get a fascinating look at how the author went about her research and then takes us back to before and during the war as she discovers secrets and truths both from her grandmother as well as archives.  Interspersed between Inge's story line is information about the war and how it affected Inge and the people, with some very interesting facts thrown in.  As a history teacher, I really enjoyed how the author included historical information about the war into the story and enjoyed learning about East Prussia and the plight of its citizens as it tends to be a bit neglected in literature.  

The human element though, was heartbreaking, which is why I could not rate this book.  The author uses family photographs, passport photos, recipes, documents, and so on to add visual context to her story. I spent some time analyzing them as it really added to the story and made the author's family more real to me. I remember looking at similar pictures of my own family during this time period, and it brought home how really strong and courageous these women had to be to survive in such conditions; it really highlighted the plight of these people during the war.  In her story, the author really began focusing on those people who were caught up in the war but who didn't have the power, or maybe the courage, to fight back against the horrors they saw every day.  She spoke about apathy, questioning whether that was worse that siding with Nazism, a very difficult question to ask.  And one of the fundamental questions she asked throughout the book, "Did you know about the Holocaust? the Death Camps?"  I found her research about these questions to be quite honest and interesting.  And as a woman, I have to say the part that affected me the most was definitely about the rapes.  She laid the facts bare and they are downright awful, even affecting her own family history in a profound way.  Sometimes when you go looking for the truth, you may not always like what you hear and find.  At the back of the book, the author listed the sources she used to write her book, and I am definitely going to be doing some further reading, no matter how horrible the subject matter.  

Inge's War: A German Woman's Story of Family, Secrets, and Survival Under Hitler is a fantastic book, thought-provoking on so many levels, and heart-breaking to the core.  The background information on the rapes, the horrors of those children dying in Denmark, the young men lost in senseless battles, are just some of the few things discussed in such a raw and unflinching manner, but also with empathy and skill.  This is one my favourite books about WWII I have yet read this year, and I highly recommend this to anyone who likes reading personal stories about the war. 

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Guest Post & Giveaway: Man of War by T.J. London

Man of War by T.J. London

Publication Date: April 14, 2020
Paperback & eBook; 681 Pages
Series: The Rebels and Redcoats Saga, Book #4
Genre: Historical Fiction
The man who wants everything gets nothing… July 1755 War is brewing between England and France. Impressed into the Royal Navy, Lieutenant Merrick, against all odds, advanced through the ranks to become an officer—but he is not a gentleman. A man with a tainted past from a traitorous family, cast down by King George—a stain no man can remove. Merrick’s thrust into the role of captain, when the HMS Boudica is attacked by pirates off the coast of Nova Scotia. On a captured enemy vessel he discovers a King’s ransom in treasure and a woman chained in the hold from passenger ship that mysteriously disappeared at sea. Beautiful, defiant, and hell bent on revenge, India makes a deal with Merrick to uncover the pirates’ scheme, promising him everything he desires: fortune, glory, and the chance to bring honor back to the McKesson name. Now, they race against time to uncover a plot that links those in the highest ranks of the British aristocracy, to a failed rebellion that is once again trying to topple the monarchy and place an old pretender on the throne. But all that glitters is not gold as passions stir and an impossible love blooms, threatening to undermine all Merrick and India have done to protect their King and a country on the brink of war.

Author Guest Post #2 Man of War Book #4 The Rebels and Redcoats Saga

Can I read Man of War first? It’s a prequel, right?

“If I am a man of war, it’s because you made me this way. Years spent under your thumb and on a ship, fighting more battles than you can possibly imagine, have made me a hard, violent man. I’ll take pleasure in killing you. I want there to be no doubt in your mind.”

Huzzah, sailors, T.J. London here! The first question I always get when people see Man of War, Book #4, Prequel to The Rebels and Redcoats Saga is: Can I read this book first or do I have to read the others before it? I love Royal Navy stories, but I don’t have any interest in the Revolutionary War. The appropriate answer is: Yes, you can read this book first; it is a prequel, and you’ll (hopefully) enjoy it, and you won’t spoil the rest of the saga. It’s technically meant to stand alone. But… I dare you to consider why I wrote a prequel as the fourth book in the saga!

Go with me for a minute. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Review: The Lost Boys of London by Mary Lawrence

The Lost Boys of London (Bianca Goddard Mysteries, Book #5)
by Mary Lawrence
Release Date: April 28th 2020
2020 Red Puddle Print
ARC Edition; 320 Pages
ISBN: 978-1734736106
ASIN: B085F222LW
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from author

4 / 5 Stars

While her husband fights the Scots on behalf of King Henry VIII, Bianca Goddard earns her coin by concocting medicines that offer relief to London's sick. Some unfortunates, however, are beyond any remedies she can provide—like the young boy discovered hanging from a church dripstone. Examining the body, Bianca finds a rosary twined around the child's neck. A week later, another boy is found dead at a different church. When Bianca's impish acquaintance, Fisk, goes missing, she fears he may become the third victim...

There are many villains who would prey on wayward, penniless boys. But Bianca suspects the killings are not brutal acts of impulse, but something far more calculated. In her room of Medicinals and Physickes, she examines the sole piece of evidence: a sweet-smelling, stained cloth. If Bianca can unravel its secret, reputations and lives will be saved. The expected hour of the next murder is approaching, and a single misstep may mean another boy is lost forever...

My Thoughts
The Lost Boys of London is the fifth book in the Bianca Goddard Mysteries and seems to pick up right where the previous book ended, with Bianca in London creating her concoctions and selling them on the streets of London through her friend, Meddybemps (I had trouble wrapping my head around that name and just started calling him Meddy), while her husband, John, was off somewhere in Scotland, having been conscripted to join King Henry VIII's army.  Being very familiar with those Scottish battles, I was very curious as to how the author was going to include them into the story, but she managed to fit John's story rather nicely into Bianca's although really, John's story really had nothing to do with the plot.  It was just a nice little extra we got as readers to show how unstable King Henry VIII's reign really was towards the end.  

The author herself mentions that she doesn't have a background in history but she certainly does a fantastic job of bringing sixteenth century London to life.  With events happening around February 1545, the  monasteries and abbeys have been destroyed for several years now, and this book explores the aftermath of that destruction and the consequences it had on the Church as well as on its people.  Henry VIII was a bit flighty when it came to religion, serving his own needs, which made his people somewhat leery of their own ecclesiastical needs as popular opinion could change at a moment's notice, something that could be deadly during this time period.  I really liked how the author showed the different factions in the churches with priests trying to gain approval over each other in order to gain back some of the material comforts they lost when Cromwell destroyed the monasteries all those years ago.  

While I have not yet read previous instalments of these books, I had no trouble following along or picking up the story.  I really enjoyed Bianca as a character and will probably read the previous books to learn more about her.  For a 16th century woman, she is quite independent, creating Medicinals and Physickes that could likely see her being burned at the stake if she is not careful.  Having grown up on the streets, she definitely understands the life these young boys face, so when a young boy is discovered hanging from a church, it is understandable that the Inspector (Patch) would ask for her help.  Through her search for the murderer, the reader gets to see another side of London that is quite different from wealthy one we often see in historical fiction and I rather like seeing the other side.  Her book reminds me a bit of the Crispin Guest Medieval Noir books by Jeri Westerson which are also known for their atmospheric settings.  

The plot was interesting, even if there were quite a few sub-plots that really had nothing to do with the mystery, but the writing is compelling and draws you into a world, while fascinating, makes you fervently glad you live in this time period.  And while I was intrigued by the mystery, there was still this small part of me that was surprised that anyone would listen to Bianca in such a male-dominated world.  And because Bianca is part of the world she is investigation, it gives her an authenticity that would be lacking otherwise. Plus, it was easy to commiserate with her on those nights when she drowned her sorrows at the local pub with friends who were also missing their loved ones in the war.  I was easily able to empathize with her and her friends.  

The Lost Boys of London was a well-written and entertaining novel, even if I thought Bianca's life kind of overshadowed the mystery.  It all blended together so seamlessly and flowed so nicely that I enjoyed all the descriptions and just immersed myself in the journey.  And while the author was able to mesh John's story line quite well into the story, I just didn't think it was necessary.  I get what she was trying to do, but I would have been just as happy having him show up on Bianca's doorway either way.  And John could have had his own story.  Anyhow, I was a little sad to learn this would be the last book in this series, but I am definitely looking forward to seeing what else the author will be doing with this time period as she has clearly stated this time period is not done with her.