Tuesday, October 31, 2017

RIP Mini-Reviews: Round 2

Happy Halloween, friends! May you have more tricks than treats and may there still be candy left at your house after all the kids have come by. This year, I went trick-or-treating with the 11th Doctor from Doctor Who and one butterfly fairy princess.

Today is the last day of Readers in Peril, where readers indulge in the spookiest horror stories and mysteries. I confess to being a bit of a wimp when it comes to being scared, so I am always happy to read a good mystery with surprising twists and turns that still allows me to sleep at night!
                                                         Sept. 1 to Oct. 31

Kendra Donovan is very good at what she does. But when an FBI raid goes terribly wrong, she discovers a mole has been working alongside them the whole time. After she recovers from her own gunshot wound, she vows to avenge her murdered colleagues and finds the man responsible. Before she can kill him, she finds herself whisked back to 1815. At first, Kendra is determined to keep her head low until she can find a way back to her own time. But when a young woman is found murdered, she can't keep quiet. Kendra utilizes every tool at her disposal to find a 19th century killer before he murders again.

When you read books with a time travel plot, you have to engage in a certain suspension of belief. In this case, Julie McElwain hinges the entire plot on the murder of a team you never really get to know. The reader has to trust that Kendra was close enough to these people to feel compelled to murder someone on their behalf. As a 21st century FBI agent, Kendra acts very differently than the women she encounters once she goes back to the 19th century. Aside from a passing thought where Kendra realizes that unusual women of that time are often sent to an asylum, she never seems in any real danger of being sent away in spite of her knowledge of future events and techniques and the shocking way she speaks to the men around her. That being said, if you can get past the first few chapters and suspend your belief a bit, this is a really fun ride. There are several possible suspects and McElwain really keeps the pace moving as you race toward the end to see who is responsible. A Murder in Time is the first in a trilogy and I will certainly be picking up the second book to see what happens next.

A Murder in Time
By Julie McElwain
Pegasus Books April 2016
320 pages
From my shelves

Susan Ryeland is an editor who is all too familiar with Alan Conway and his charming murder mysteries; after all, she has been his editor for years. The Atticus Pund series keep her publishing company afloat, so she puts up with his obnoxious behavior. When Susan gets the newest mystery, she has no reason to expect that this new installment will be any different. But this book seems to be missing the final chapter and when Susan goes to track it down, she discovers that the author is dead under mysterious circumstances. Are the answers to Conway's death in his latest story?

Magpie Murders is a giant book with an entire mystery novel inside a murder mystery. The manuscript that Susan is reading is a careful celebration of the cozy English manor mystery that we all know and love. There are secrets, nosy neighbors, and class battles on every page. Anthony Horowitz has done his homework in paying homage to beloved mystery authors of the past, while also putting his own unique and intriguing twist on a murder mystery.

Magpie Murders
By Anthony Horowitz
Harper October 2016
496 pages
From the library

Friday, October 27, 2017

Review: The It Girls

Elinor and Lucy Sutherland were the original "it girls." They challenged what was acceptable for women in their day and rose to prominence in their fields. Lucy ignored the rules that said women of a certain class could not work and became one of the most beloved fashion designers of her time in several countries. Her sister dared to dream of being a famous author and transported her readers with tales of women who traveled the world and pursued their men instead of waiting demurely to be pursued. The two women fought for and with each other, but their lives spanned some of the most fascinating times and places of the 20th century.

Karen Harper has taken on a gargantuan task as she takes readers through fifty years of two women's lives. This means that there is a lot of ground to cover, but unfortunately it leaves readers with only a few pages to spend with secondary characters. It occasionally feels like name-dropping when Elinor chats with Charlie Chaplin or Lucy makes a gown for a lady heading to an event at the palace. But it also makes it difficult to really know the people in Elinor and Lucy's lives--their mother, their lovers, and their children. Harper has divided the book up into sections, with each one covering several years and switching perspective between the sisters. This means that when the two sisters do interact, they often spend pages filling in their sister and the reader on things that the other probably would have already known.

The It Girls is a good choice for someone who wants an overview of the huge changes that happened in the 20th century. It also reminds us of the restrictions and expectations that were placed on the women who came before us, as Elinor and Lucy fight to make their own decisions about their careers, lives, and families.

The It Girls
By Karen Harper
William Morrow Paperbacks October 2017
384 pages
From the publisher for TLC Book Tours

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Monique Grant is a small-time reporter at a magazine, so she is shocked when infamous actress Evelyn Hugo says she will give an interview only to her. Monique goes to the interview and is informed that Evelyn will tell her everything about her life, but she can't ask why Evelyn has chosen her. Evelyn starts at the beginning of her life and reveals her rough childhood, her calculated ascension to stardom, and her marriages to seven different husbands. As she talks through her life, Monique will come face-to-face with the devastating truth that her life and Evelyn's are forever intertwined.

Taylor Jenkins Reid does a wonderful job of showing the reality behind the scenes of Hollywood and just how steep the cost of fame can be. This book clocks in at 400 pages, but it moves fast. Evelyn's story is a fascinating one, although it is probably familiar to many actresses of the era. She recounts being a young woman desperate to break away from her poor neighborhood and abusive father. But Hollywood of the 1950s demands certain things from its starlets--an appearance of purity and goodness from the slender, blonde, white women who light up the screen. Evelyn dyes her hair, disavows her Cuban heritage, and begins a string of relationships carefully calculated to turn her into American's sweetheart.

Evelyn's story by itself would be compelling, but it becomes a book that you can't put down because you desperately want to know what happened to the people in Evelyn's life and to find out why she chose Monique to reveal her life story. I understand why The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is one of the most popular books of 2017; Taylor Jenkins Reid has so thoroughly transported you into the glamour and pain of Evelyn's life that you won't want to leave until you turn the last page.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
By Taylor Jenkins Reid
Atria Books June 2017
400 pages
From the library

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

RIP Mini-reviews, Round 1

Sixteen-year-old Jacob's boring life is completely turned upside down when his grandfather is mysteriously killed. He swears he saw a horrible monster attack his grandfather, but no one believes him. Jacob decides it is time to take his grandfather's crazy stories seriously and seeks out Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. He is determined to uncover what happened to his grandfather and what is going on with all of these students who are unlike any people he has ever met before.

I think I'm one of the last people to read this book. Since coming out six years ago, it's been a very popular choice for teen and adults looking for a bit of a creepy tale. The cover draws you right in, and Ransom Riggs used strange photographs throughout to add to the story. I am sad to say I found myself in the minority of readers who didn't love it. (Minor Spoilers Ahead!) The concept is so interesting: a group of people stuck in a time bubble where they repeat the same day over and over and those people happen to have special, magical abilities. But the idea never went anywhere, the writing didn't transport me into the story, and the characters fell flat. This story would be a good choice for someone looking for a book that is just creepy enough to count for a Halloween read without keeping you up all night, though.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
By Ransom Riggs
Quirk June 2011
352 pages
From my shelves

One night, Miranda and Eliot's mother is away on a trip. Eliot turns to his sister and tells her that they cannot sleep; if they sleep, their mother will die. Surely enough, when they wake up the next morning, their mother has been killed in a faraway act of violence. The children and their father attempt to live a normal life going to school and operating the family bed and breakfast. But there is a dark current running through their home--Miranda wastes away as she refuses the food her father prepares in favor of chalk and plastic. And the house itself is determined to protect Miranda, even at the cost of the people around her.

If you have read anything by Helen Oyeymi, you know that she excels when writing about the strange and supernatural. It's not unusual for a reader to not be 100% sure what is going on and that is true for White is for Witching tooThe book rapidly switches narration between the siblings, a friend you don't meet until halfway through, and the house itself. White is for Witching is rarely terrifying but it is always eerie. It's bizarre and unsettling and shows how powerful and fascinating Oyeyemi is as a writer, even in her early stories.

White is for Witching
By Helen Oyeyemi
Nan A. Talese January 2009
230 pages
From the library

Saturday, October 21, 2017

24 Hour Readathon (Fall 2017)

Closing Survey! 
1. Which hour was most daunting for you? I don't know if I would call it daunting, but it was frustrating when making dinner took longer than I expected.
2. Tell us ALLLLL the books you read! Magpie Murders, Petty Theft, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Ella Minnow Pea, Paper Girls volume 1, Aya
3. Which books would you recommend to other Read-a-thoners? Ella Minnow Pea is a great readathon choice, and you can't go wrong with comics. I really enjoyed Magpie Murders, but it clocks in at 500 pages so you're dedicating a big chunk of the day to one book. 
4. What’s a really rad thing we could do during the next Read-a-thon that would make you smile? Having the readathon makes me smile!
5. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? Would you be interested in volunteering to help organize and prep? If I am home, I am always readathoning and I can help out too! 

        Ella Minnow Pea     Paper Girls, Vol. 1 (Paper Girls, #1)

10 Years in 10 Books
2007: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows
2008: People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
2009: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
2010: The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
2011: Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy
2012: Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway
2013: This Is The Story of A Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
2014: The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
2015: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
2016: Moonglow by Michael Chabon
2017: Word by Word by Kory Stamper 

Mid-Event Survey
1. What are you reading right now? We Have Always Lived In The Castle
2. How many books have you read so far? Two
3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon? Paper Girls and Ella Minnow Pea
4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those? Went with it, because I love those kids of mine. 
5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far? I don't know if I'm surprised, but I'm pleased that time is moving at a normal pace. It doesn't feel like 8 hours went by in 20 minutes of reading!

Hour 8 Update
Hi everyone! I meant to do an update at hour six, but some children and one awesome husband came home so I needed to play My Little Pony and hear about video games for a bit.

I went and read outside for a while, because it's beautiful out and a change of scenery always works well.

So far, I've read all of Petty Theft (100 pages), about 300 pages of Magpie Murders, and 40 pages of We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

Now it's time to find a quiet corner of the house and get back to reading! What are you reading right now?

Reading in bed with coffee for the Books and Beverage Challenge (and because it's awesome).

It Begins!

Good morning, fellow readathoners! Who's excited to read?!?

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today? I live in New Jersey and I am reading from the comfort of my bed because I have a cold and the kids are downstairs following that most sacred tradition of watching Saturday morning cartoons.

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? I'm excited to finally read We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? I made pumpkin bread last night. It's also possible that there might be some Ben and Jerry's in the freezer...

4) Tell us a little something about yourself! This questions gets increasingly tough when you answer it twice a year...I'm wearing a Star Wars t-shirt, I hope to take a break at some point today to fit in some yoga, I've worn glasses since I was seven, and I celebrated my 10th wedding anniversary this year.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to? I don't know! We'll see what the day brings!

I've got a tall glass of water and Magpie Murders, my first book for today, and we're off!

Friday, October 20, 2017

One Day More! (Until the 24 Hour Readathon)

Bookish friends, you probably know that tomorrow is one of the most wonderful days of the year. If you haven't signed up for the 24 Hour Readathon yet, there's still time--go now!

Some years I have more time to read, and some years things are a little crazier. This time around seems like there will be less time to read. Husband will be at a conference for a good chunk of the day and we have plans to go out for dinner. Plus, I have those beautiful children who will inevitably want my attention. We will have to see how much reading gets done!

Here is my potentially over-ambitious stack of books:
The comics:
Paper Girls
Petty Theft 

The novels: 

I picked up some veggies and hummus (and ice cream, because life is all about balance). I'm going to try to make a batch of pumpkin bread or muffins tonight and I think I'm ready to go.

What are your plans for Readathon? What snacks are waiting for you? What books are you looking forward to reading?

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Review: The Alice Network

Charlie St. Clair's wealthy parents are ready to take over. They can discretely go abroad and "take care" of the pregnancy she is hiding from the world and they are more than happy to ignore the fact that Charlie's cousin Rose went missing during WWII. But Charlie suddenly realizes that she doesn't want her parent's money and prestige to take care of everything. She runs away instead, determined to find her beloved cousin and figure out what to do about her pregnancy. Along the way, she finds an unlikely and reticent ally in Eve Gardiner, a WWI spy with tremendous guilt about her past and a score to settle. The two women team up to find the man who might give them the answers they both need.

Every time I go to write a historical fiction review set around this time period, I feel the need to state how much I love books set in this era. Many of them have dual narratives, where a contemporary descendant finds a letter or a diary and sets off to solve a mystery from the 1940s. In The Alice Network, Kate Quinn sets the present action right after WWII. This allows readers to see how little time passed between the two world wars and how devastating that was for the people who lived through them both.

The two women in the story play against each other well as the pampered, sheltered rich girl and the older woman haunted by what she experienced. Charlie's wealthy family protected her from many of the horrors of war. Conversely, Eve was on the ground in France collecting information with the risk of being captured and killed around every corner. Through her, we see an honest portrayal of the toll of war--she becomes a drunk haunted by her past and unwilling to engage in the present. In the beginning of the story we are stunned by how angry and withdrawn she is but, as she reveals the story of her past, we understand how she got this way.

Both storylines feel immediate because the horror of war is so recent and both women are looking for something that they can find in the present. It can by satisfying when a character solves a mystery from the past, but it has an even greater impact when there are repercussions in the present. This is one of my favorite historical fiction novels that I've read this year and I will certainly be reading a story by Kate Quinn again soon.

The Alice Network
By Kate Quinn
William Morrow Paperbacks June 2017
503 pages
From the library

Sunday, October 15, 2017

It's Monday and I need to get organized!

Hello, bookish people! How are you?

It's been a busy week, but I did have the chance to spend most of Saturday with two of my sisters and my mom. Now it's time to focus on getting organized this for the week, including some events at our church and the 24 Hour Readathon!

This week, I read Shalom Sistas: Living Wholeheartedly in a Brokenhearted World and White is for Witching. I also finally finished listening to Lab Girl. I borrowed the audiobook from my library way back in May, but didn't get to finish it before it had to go back. I got it back in my library queue a few weeks ago and I'm so glad I did. What a beautiful and unexpected story!

        White Is for Witching  Lab Girl

Now I'm reading A Murder in Time and assembling my stack of books for the readathon this weekend. What are you reading?

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Review: Sourdough

Lois Clary's life revolves around her job as a software engineer at a hip tech company specializing in robotics. Her only non-work interaction is with the brothers who run a local restaurant; she talks to one on the phone when she orders and sees the other when he delivers her food. She adores their spicy food and sourdough bread, but her happy dinners come to an abrupt end when the brothers have to leave the country. They come to say goodbye and leave her a strange gift--their sourdough starter. Lois learns to bake and soon she is baking bread for her company's cafeteria and then for an underground farmer's market that combines cooking and technology. Lois' routine life is about to become very surprising.

This is my second foray into a Robin Sloan novel and I had a wonderful time reading both books. They are heartfelt, quirky, and smart, and I love the way that Sloan looks at both the limitations and promise of history and technology. This story is like nothing you've ever read before and the author will take you on a wild and really fun ride, while subtly making you think about what makes a good life and whether tradition and technology can live together.

Lois herself is a great character, but Sloan really goes to town in creating his secondary characters which include a group of women all named Lois, a haughty restauranter, a man who herds goats and makes radioactive cheese, and a bibliophile who only collects books about food. There is a bit of magic that lives in this book and in the sourdough starter; it occasionally goes a bit too far but mostly makes for a delightful addition to this story.

Now while you go get this book, I'm off to bake some bread.

By Robin Sloan
MCD Farrar, Straus, and Giroux September 2017
262 pages
From the library

Monday, October 9, 2017

It's Monday and we're jumping into another week!

Hello there, ladies and gents! How is it going?

I'm going to keep it short and sweet this morning. I need to get to the grocery store and back with little girl before her big brother gets home from a half day of school.

This week, I read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. Now I'm almost through Parable of the Sower. Somehow it's taken me 30 years to read a book by Octavia Butler, but I'm finally here!

               The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo   Parable of the Sower (Earthseed, #1)

Next up for me is Shalom Sistas by Osheta Moore. What are you reading this week?

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Review: A Beautiful Poison

Allene Cutter fought hard for her childhood friends Jasper and Birdie to come to her engagement party. Her father doesn't think they are acceptable company for a young woman about to be married into one of New York's wealthiest families. When a woman at the party drops dead, the three friends are pulled into a mystery. Are the people dying all around them victims of the Spanish influenza or is something more sinister at work?

Lydia Kang transports readers into 1918 New York City, from the most opulent mansions to the clock factory where Birdie spends hours each day carefully painting dials. The mystery is a slow burn as our intrepid trio of friends try to decode the messages left with each body, armed with Allene's knowledge of chemistry and Jasper's access to the local morgue. This is one of those books that can easily send you down a bookish rabbit hole. It is easy to read about Jasper working in the morgue or Birdie painting clock faces with radium and jump right into a book like Bellevue or The Radium Girls

The author makes a bold choice, as none of the main characters is particularly likable. As eighteen year olds, they make selfish and bad decisions often. In certain books, you can tell the good guys from the bad guys. In A Beautiful Poison, almost anyone could be guilty because they all do terrible things to the people in their lives. Each time you think you might know who is behind the mysterious deaths, new information changes everything. I didn't see the ending coming at all. If you love a good mystery and a trip 100 years into the past, this is a great read.

A Beautiful Poison
By Lydia Kang
Lake Union Publishing August 2017
350 pages
Read via Netgalley

Monday, October 2, 2017

It's Monday and I'm reading all the new releases!

Oh September, you were a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad month. But I'm trying to be hopeful about October. I have a giant stack of books that came in from the library and it is definitely the time of year to bake all the delicious things.

This week, I read Escaping Peril. My son and I are exchanging books each month, so he picked that one for me to read in September. Then I jumped into the giant stack of library holds that came in all at once and read Chemistry and The Alice Network

            Chemistry   The Alice Network

Next up for me is The Seven Husbands of Evelyn HugoWhat are you reading this week?