Pumpkins, Ghosts, and Goblins, Oh My

Hello readers! ‘Tis the season for spooky stories and if you’re like me you’re always on the lookout for good ones. I especially love haunted house stories, which is why I wrote one. Here’s an excerpt from my novel Magnolia Run to get you in the mood for Halloween. If you like it head over to Amazon or B&N and pick up a copy. Happy reading!

It was pitch dark on the mountain.  He had his father’s flashlight but it was still difficult to see the path in front of him.  He stepped carefully, afraid of snakes.  The woods were dense on either side of the narrow road and clouds obscured the moon.  He heard thunder rolling in the distance but he didn’t care if it rained.  He had come this far and he wasn’t turning back.

Private James Adams had been eager to enlist in the army.  He went to the movies to see the newsreels more than anything else.  He saw the soldiers already overseas battling the Germans, taking the fight to Hitler.  He and his friends talked about how they would be once they got there, bantering about how many Germans they would kill and how many French women they would kiss.  As soon as he turned eighteen James went to the nearest recruiting office and began his journey to immortality.  Surely he would be in a great battle and surely people would write songs about his battalion.  He joined the airborne and he finally made it to France but he didn’t do much kissing.  The war was loud and frightening and very real.  His friends from basic were dying all around him that day.  He huddled in a fox hole praying for it to be over.  It was muddy and damp and the earth under him smelled foul.  He heard his commanding officer yell for them to advance.  Everything inside him resisted but he knew it was his duty to follow the order.  People on the home front were counting on him.  Seeing the faces of family and friends back home, he leapt out of his fox hole and joined the other sprinting soldiers. 

Suddenly, he was on the ground.  His ears were ringing, he couldn’t see, and pungent smoke filled his nostrils.  He didn’t know how long he lay there.  It was as if time was standing still.  Then very faintly he heard someone yelling, “Medic!”  Hands grabbed his shoulders and legs, lifting him onto a gurney.  They were running with him, away from the gunfire and the screams, the horrible screams.

He woke up in the hospital, his eyesight and hearing restored, but something else was missing.  The explosion had taken his left arm clean off at the shoulder.  All that remained was a raw stump and a bloody bandage.  He eventually traveled home and his parents met him at the station.  His mother wept and his father just shook his head.  There wasn’t anything to say really.  After the war he found work as he could, whatever anyone would let a one-armed vet do.  He despaired of ever finding a girl to marry.  Who would want damaged goods like him?  The nights were the worst, though.  That’s when he felt it.  He would wake in the night with shooting pain down his left arm and he would clap his right hand down expecting to feel flesh there but he just felt the bed sheet.  He knew his arm was gone yet he could still feel the pain.  Doctors gave him sad looks and told him merely to “give it time.”

It was this pain that had driven him out of his house, out into the black woods and the gathering storm.  He had heard of a woman who could cure people.  Two men in the back of the barber shop had been whispering about her three days before.  When he approached them, they tried to put him off but he insisted.

“She lives up the mountain,” one of the men said.  “She’s got a little cabin up there.  They say she can make a potion that can cure whatever ails you.  You just tell her about it and she’ll make it up right there.”

“What does it cost?” James asked eagerly.  He didn’t have much but it would be worth it if this woman could help him.

The man hesitated.  “No one whose been up there ever talks about what they had to pay.”  He cut a look at his companion who looked away hurriedly.  “Let’s just say it’s expensive.”

James thanked them and turned to leave when the other man grabbed his bereft shoulder.  “Son, you were in the war.  You’ve already lost enough.”

James pressed on down the road.  He heard the terrified squeak of a small rodent.  An owl had found dinner.  It felt as if he had been walking forever and he was starting to think those men were having him on when he finally saw a small rectangle of light in the distance.  His heart leapt.  There was a cabin up here.

He shone his flashlight over the gate.  It was tilted and rusty and squealed when he swung it open.  He could only see the front steps and door of the house in the yellow circle of the flashlight as he approached.  It looked old, like it had been there since the 1800s.  As he drew near the porch, he stopped and listened.  It was deathly quiet.  There was no thunder or sound of animals, only a light breeze rustling the leaves on the trees and he was suddenly afraid.  Something was telling him to turn back.  He did turn around but then caught himself.  This is ridiculous, he thought.  She’s just an old woman.

“I’ve been waiting for you.”

James cried out and dropped his flashlight.  He whirled around and saw a black figure standing on the porch.  The door was open and a dim light was pooling around the figure’s feet.  He could barely make out that it was a woman.  She turned and headed through the door, seemingly confident that he would follow.  He hesitated, a chill running through his body but then he felt a twinge in his phantom arm and scurried up onto the porch and into the cabin.

The front room was lit only by a fire in the grate.  The woman walked over to the chair next to it and sat down.  She turned to look at him and he could see her face properly.  She was older but not as old as he expected.  She looked to be in her sixties.  Her drab brown dress was oversized but he could see she was round in the middle and her shoulders were stooped.  Her dark hair was pulled back in a bun with frizzy lengths falling around her wrinkled face.  Her eyes were a very dark brown.  To James they looked black and very deep.

“Come and sit.”  She gestured to the chair on the other side of the fire place.  He could hear an accent but he wasn’t sure what it was, possibly Russian.  He sat.

“I brought some money – “ he started but she waved her hand.  “I care nothing for money,” she said.  Thunder cracked outside and James jumped.  The storm was closer now.  The woman stared into the fire.  “I know why you have come.  Your arm hurts you.”

“Well, yes, but not this one.”  James held up his right arm.  “The other one,” he finished sheepishly.  The doctors he had seen hadn’t understood his problem and he was worried the woman would think he was crazy and maybe laugh at him.

“I know that,” she snapped.  “Would you have come all the way up here if it was that one?”  She sounded insulted.  “Idiot doctors can handle that.  You require something more.”  She turned and stared into his eyes.  As he looked back, her left eye slowly turned back towards the fire but her right one continued to bore into him.  “Isn’t that right?”

“Y-yes.”  He shifted in his seat.  “Can you help me?”

“Perhaps.”

It had started to rain and the wind beat it against the window.  Lightning flashed, briefly lighting up the rest of the room.  James wasn’t sure what he had seen out of the corner of his eye but a chill went up his spine.  He stared into the dark corner straining to see.  When he turned back the woman had closed her eyes and was chanting in a foreign language, rocking back and forth gently.  As the thunder rolled and the woman chanted, James started to get the feeling they were no longer alone in the room. 

She suddenly stopped chanting and opened her eyes.  “The spirits say they can help you.”

The mysterious presence seemed to be getting closer to him and he could feel eyes watching him.  Terror was rising in his chest.   He felt rooted to the chair and was too scared to look around.

“I told you I don’t care for money,” the woman was saying.  “There is something I value.  If I ask the spirits to heal you, you must give me something in return.”

“What – what is it?”  It was sweltering by the fire but James shivered.  He felt like he had a fever and he was starting to feel queasy. 

The woman smiled.  It was a horrible smile.  Her teeth were yellow and slightly pointed at the end.  James thought that might be his imagination.  He was feeling a little light-headed.  Again he sensed someone moving closer to him across the room.  She reached up to the mantle and pulled down a small wooden box.  She held it out to him and opened the lid.  He leaned forward and peered into the box.

The scream that escaped him was foreign even to his own ears.  It was worse than the screams of the dying men on the battlefield.  It seemed to come from a place he didn’t know he possessed.  He jumped to his feet knocking over the chair and staggered to the door, jerking it open and dashing out into the rain.  He tripped on the flashlight he had dropped in the yard and went face first into the mud.  He screamed again, certain the shadow in that room was pursuing him.  He scrambled to his feet and bolted out the gate and ran full speed down the road not caring if he collided with anything.  He knew he had to get away from that cabin at all costs.

Inside, the woman chuckled to herself.  She closed the lid and set the box back on the mantle.  “There won’t be anything tonight,” she said.  She felt that she was again alone in her cabin.

Reading Roundup – Goodbye to Summer

Tomorrow is the official first day of Fall and I’m ready for it.  I live in the Southeast, so we don’t usually get as much fall weather as I’d like, but I’ll take 80’s over 90’s.  This summer was eventful.  I got to go on a much-needed vacation where I stayed at a lovely B&B and saw some history in the low country. I also shot a gun for the very first time.  Equal parts terrifying and exhilarating.  I’m a member at the range and plan to exercise my Second Amendment rights as soon I find a gun I like (and can handle).

So, let us say goodbye to Summer and round up the best (and worst) books of the season.

Our Woman in Moscow by Beatriz Williams

I’ll read Beatriz Williams anytime of the year, but this was a great way to kick off summer reading.  I was lukewarm on her last two, but this one I loved. It reminded me more of A Hundred Summers in tone and snarky fourth wall breaking. The Cold War isn’t my go-to for historical fiction, but I wouldn’t mind another story with Ruth and Sumner.  I continue to marvel at Ms. Williams ability to write so many good stories that balance pacing and characterization.  Bring on the next one.  (That’ll be the next installment of the Wicked Redhead series in October.)

56 Days by Catherine Ryan Howard

I was wary of reading anything that featured the pandemic and I much prefer it be ignored, especially if it doesn’t have anything to do with the actual story. This story promised that the pandemic was the reason for the mystery, so I said, “Ok that could work.” But sadly, it just didn’t. I was expecting some cabin fever tension and really it was just some unlikeable and pretty boring characters, who spent a good bit of time apart and outside the apartment during this “lockdown.” The story was bleak and the detectives in present day seemed like they were there to bring some comic relief, but I found them annoying. A female detective constantly eye-rolling at her male sex-game loving partner was just a cliche. It spent a lot of time going over the same material to cover two perspectives, which I really hated. I just read it.  I don’t want to read the entire scene again.  And the descriptions of the lockdown and the pandemic were long and boring. I know all this because I was, you know, there. This was a disappointment.

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

This was my first of her books and I’m going to be spoiled now because this one was just so good.  I hesitated to get this one from BotM because it isn’t my usual speed.  But I’m so, so glad I did.  It’s a family drama set in the 1980’s in Malibu that just sucks you in.  I love a story that hooks you with how it’s going to end and then makes the journey getting there immersive and exciting.  A house party that ends in flames, a family with way too many secrets, and an author who knows how to pull it all together.  Well done, Ms. Reid.  I’ll be looking out for your next one.

Imposter Syndrome by Kathy Wang

This was another one that isn’t in my usual genre.  In fact, what genre would you put this one in?  Spy novel, social commentary, general fiction?  It’s really all these things. It’s a story about a Russian spy placed as a CEO in  Silicon Valley and the IT cube dweller who figures it out.  It’s not high action or anything but it does give a bit of insight into the culture around big tech.  I enjoyed the book for what it was but ultimately, I couldn’t really figure out what it was trying to be.  It’s an enjoyable read it you’re looking for something outside your usual, but it didn’t wow me.

Confessions on the 7:45 by Lisa Unger

I’ve enjoyed Lisa Unger’s books in the past, but I initially gave this one a pass because the premise sounded like it was riffing too much on Strangers on a Train.  A woman tells a stranger on her commute that her husband is sleeping with the nanny and then the nanny disappears.  But I was looking for an audiobook and this one was available, and one thing led to another, and I ended up really liking it.  I don’t want to spoil anything but it’s not as much like Strangers on a Train as you might think.  There’s a lot going on with both these women.  Lisa Unger does a great job of weaving a mystery that keeps you guessing without falling into the same old tropes.  When I’m in the mood for a thriller that’s going to give me something different, I turn to Lisa Unger.  I recommend the book, but if you like audiobooks, this is a good one.

Some Choose Darkness by Charlie Donlea

I’m a sucker for interesting characters and Charlie Donlea has created a good one in Rory Moore.  She’s introverted and OCD but she’s the best in the business at crime reconstruction.  This was a well-crafted mystery that kept me interested throughout, which is a feat these days.  The plotting and pacing were good, and I enjoyed spending time with Rory.  I devoured this one in a weekend.  I highly recommend if you’re tired of the same old same old in mysteries.

That’s it for summer reading.  Now, on to Fall and all that will come with it.  And as always, happy reading, y’all.

Audiobooks Revisited

Remember when I said I had a love/hate relationship with audiobooks?  It was a while ago, I know.  A lot has happened since then.  A lot.  And then some.  But anyway, I decided I wasn’t into audiobooks at that time.  But I’m older and wiser now, and I’ve decided I really like audiobooks.  And I’ve discovered it’s really good at keeping bad thoughts away.  If I’m working on something that doesn’t require a ton of concentration my mind wanders and that’s not a good thing.  I muse on things I shouldn’t, so the soft drone of the audiobook keeps me from going to those dark places.  So, here’s what I’ve been listening to lately.

Michael Connelly

I love the Bosch Series.  It’s my favorite Amazon Original and LA noir is always up my alley.  And I was stoked to hear they’re going to spin it off and focus on Bosch and Maddie because, in my opinion, the father-daughter relationship was the best part of the later seasons.  So, I got the most recent Bosch audiobooks even though I’ve already seen some of the story lines on the show.  I gotta say, the show really improved on the books.  (Sorry, the-book-is-always-better people.)  Not this time.  Bosch is a hard cookie in the books and doesn’t have many personal relationships.  I think the Bosch on the show is much more likeable and the cast of characters around him is so much more enjoyable on the show.

I also binged the Lincoln Lawyer series.  I enjoyed Mickey Haller’s legal thrillers, although the court scenes do get a bit long.  I like how Michael Connelly explains what’s going on without talking down to the reader.  I know a good bit more about police procedure and trial lawyer tactics than I would otherwise.

The Virgin River Series

The Netflix series premiered late last year, and I needed something to listen to, so I decided to do these simultaneously.  It was actually an enjoyable experience.  The series departs wildly from the books so they’re really two different experiences.  I’m not normally one for romance books but these were good.  I recommend them for a light read but like many series, it started to get repetitive.  I got to the fifth book and decided I’d had enough romance.  But I’m looking forward to the second season of the show because you really can’t go by the books, and I need to see what happens to Jack. 

There were also some good one-offs like When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger.  It was just a good romp and I think I enjoyed it more when it was being read by someone in the characters’ voices.  Another was The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand.  Same case.  But a book like Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James could only be tolerated as an audiobook.  Life’s too short to read Jane Austen and it’s really too short for Jane Austen sequel books. 

So, I’m on the next one.  Happy listening, y’all.

Book Review: Broken (in the best possible way) by Jenny Lawson

What is there to say about Jenny Lawson?  She’s just great.  Really.  There aren’t many authors who can make me actually laugh out loud.  In fact, she might be the only one.  But I did while reading her newest memoir, Broken (in the best possible way), often and long.  She has a singular talent to make the mundane absolutely hilarious.

I’d been waiting for this book because I loved her first memoir Let’s Pretend This Never Happened.  I love to read about people who are struggling but make it funny.  Because we’re all struggling in some way, maybe not the way she is but we can all understand it.  When she describes her battles with depression, I get it.  Especially when she said it makes her feel “scooped out.”  I’ve actually used those words myself.  Virtual five!  So, yeah, we’ve all been there in some way as evidenced by all the mortifying slips of the tongue and misunderstandings submitted by the Twitterverse.  And I love the stories about her childhood and her conversations with her husband Victor. 

She understands the universal truth that we need to laugh and cry and laugh again because we’re all just doing the best we can.  Sometimes we’re scared and sometimes we just do it anyway and sometimes we can’t get out of bed in the morning but then we get up the next day.  She has more struggles than some, but she captures the ebb and flow of life in amusing and entertaining essays. 

I may not be buying any of her products from Shark Tank, but I will be buying her next book.  I wish you well, Jenny.  Be safe and take care and keep doing what you do.  You’ve got a fan in me.  Five enthusiastic stars.

Thanks to Goodreads giveaways for the ARC of this book.

Reading Roundup – The Buzz

This post (no comments about the length of time since the last one) is dedicated to the books I’ve read recently because there was buzz about them.  You know how they show up everywhere because some famous person has them in a “book club”?  Yeah, I usually don’t get pulled in by that, but a few times I did.  With varying results.

Writers & Lovers by Lily King

Let’s head back to summer 2020 (oh, come on, you’re not that traumatized) to when I picked up this little book.  There’s really not a lot to say about this book because not much happens. A girl waitresses at a fancy restaurant. Then she writes some. Then she goes on dates with two different guys. Then she worries about her finances. And then she sells her book, ta-da! And all her problems are solved because her book is the best one ever written, and she can name her price, and everybody can shut up about how she should have given up and gotten a real job a long time ago. This book just felt like some writer’s fantasy.  It was not the least bit realistic or interesting for that matter.  Because it doesn’t happen that way.  It really doesn’t.  I only finished this one because it was short.  I don’t recommend it.

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

The cover got me on this one.  It’s just so intense and melancholy and beautiful.  And it was everywhere on Goodreads, so I gave it a go.  It’s definitely not something I would normally pick up but I’m really glad I did.  A story about a teen who starts a sexual relationship with her teacher and then a decade later has to decide if she was a willing participant or a victim could easily go melodramatic.  I can see many a YA book going full A Fault in Our Stars on that, but this one didn’t.  I was pleasantly surprised to read about a fully rendered character dealing with a difficult situation.  I totally got the mixed emotions, the need for acceptance, the absolute vulnerability of that age.  And the questions about what would make you a victim.  What part did Vanessa actually play and what is her culpability?  It was written with grace and understanding and even though I’ve never been in any situation like that, I got it.  Kudos to Ms. Russell for a graceful book about a really tough subject.  I’d recommend it but give a caveat about teen sexual abuse.

The Holdout by Graham Moore

I went for this one because I love mysteries and crime novels and the occasional legal thriller.  This one was billed as all three because it’s about a jury who got sequestered on a super high-profile case ten years ago and are coming back together to do a documentary on the case.  But then one of them ends up dead.  The titular holdout is our narrator Maya who convinced her fellow jurors that the defendant was not guilty.  We go back and forth between the past and present as Maya tries to clear her name for the other juror’s murder.  I finished this book but just barely.  It started off all right but quickly went off the rails.  The premise stretched credulity to begin with, but by the end I was rolling my eyes.  I’ve read a lot of mysteries and this one just doesn’t hold up.  Sorry, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

I hate a book with an agenda.  I’m really confused as to what was supposed to be the focus of this book.  We’ve got a lot of characters all vying for our attention, but no one who’s really our POV.  We’ve got the interplay between the privileged suburban family and the itinerate bohemian artist and her daughter who blow into town and cause some strife, but that storyline was really cliched.  And there’s the whole story of the white family trying to adopt a Chinese girl while her mother tries to win her back after abandoning her.  I can’t reconcile how these two storylines were supposed to fit together.  Were the Richardsons villains and Mia and Pearl heroes?  Were we supposed to pull for the Chinese woman to get her daughter back from the white couple because they would cut the baby off from her birth culture?  The author left these things open, but I feel like there was a “right” answer lurking beneath the surface.  Maybe I just didn’t get it, but this is one Reese’s Book Club pick I wish I had skipped.

So that’s what I have for the talked-about books I’ve dabbled in.  Since three out of four didn’t hit the spot it’s safe to say there probably won’t be many posts about buzzy books.  I’m guess I’m just too contrary for the mainstream.

Until next time (no, I don’t know when that will be, stop asking) happy reading, y’all!

Reading Round Up: End of Summer

It might be the unofficial start of fall this weekend but it’s still plenty hot here in SC.  I’m planning to stay inside and read my Book of the Month books if they get here in time.  Fingers crossed.  Here’s some reviews so you can start planning your weekend reading.

When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisburger

I never read The Devil Wears Prada but I saw the movie so I figured I could read this sequel with no problem.  And I was right.  I listened to the audiobook and while that’s not my preferred method, I absolutely loved this presentation.  This book is delightfully bitchy.  It’s like a girl-talk gossip session with no guilt because the people aren’t real.  I wouldn’t want to know Emily Charleton in real life, and I think she makes some bad decisions but she’s a thoroughly entertaining book character.  And getting even with a man who does a woman wrong was an unusually satisfying plot.  This book wasn’t really relatable in the details of the people’s lives, (Upper class NYC and Greenwich bunch) but you know people like this wherever you are.  I’m sure of it.  Because we all have a little bit of bitch in us.  If you’re looking for pure escapism, I recommend it.

Her Last Flight by Beatriz Williams

New Beatriz Alert!  If you’ve been reading this blog, you know I love Beatriz Williams and will preorder anything she writes.  It’s rare to find an author who can do it all and this one didn’t disappoint.  It focuses on a female aviator in the early twentieth century a la Amelia Earhart.  I wasn’t sure that would interest me, but in Ms. Williams’ capable hands it kept me turning pages.  Janey, a journalist, tracks down the missing aviatrix Irene Foster in Hawaii.  An exotic setting, beautiful writing, and characters with ulterior motives make this a compelling read.  If you haven’t checked out her books, you need to.  I recommend this one.  Obviously.

A Good Marriage by Kimberly McCreight

I wasn’t that impressed with Kimberly McCreight’s earlier work Reconstructing Amelia, but when her new book came up on Book of the Month, I thought I’d give her another chance.  And I’m so glad I did.  A Good Marriage is part mystery, part legal thriller, and part domestic drama.  A lawyer gets pulled in by a client she’s apprehensive about representing while clinging to a crumbling marriage.  I was super impressed that she wrote a 400 pager and managed to avoid the soggy bottom.  The characters felt real and developed and I didn’t feel cheated by the ending.  So, a big win for Ms. McCreight.  I’ll be keeping her on my radar, and I recommend this one for sure.

The Last Flight by Julie Clark

This was a Book of the Month dice roll.  Historically, that hasn’t worked out too well for me but this time I’m happy to report it did.  This wasn’t your typical mystery.  Two women trying to escape bad situations meet in a chance encounter where one ends up assuming the identity of the other.  But she has no idea what awaits her when she starts trying to live someone else’s life.  It makes you think about just how hard it is to disappear in the modern world and how appearances are usually deceiving.  I found both sides of this story engaging and enjoyed the plot twists.  I’d pick it up if you’re spending your weekend avoiding the heat.

Stay cool and enjoy the holiday.  And as always, happy reading y’all!

Reading Roundup: Yikes

It’s that time again.  That’s right, Reading Roundup!  Wha, wha!  So, in accordance with the current state of affairs in this world this post is dedicated to being negative.  These are the books I’ve wasted time on recently.  Will I be recommending them to anyone?  Spoiler: no.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Thank God I got this from the library because I’d be demanding my money back.  I thought this might be an enjoyable read for a long weekend what with its magic and lost manuscripts and forbidden love.  It might have been if I was really into descriptions of dusty manuscripts and libraries and wine and yoga and wine and tea and more wine.  If he’s a vampire and all he really likes is blood, why does he have so much wine?  And why does this author think we want to read about characters doing nothing but drinking wine and going to yoga and riding horses and hanging out in the library and drinking WINE?  Our main character is pretty chill for somebody who’s in immediate danger.  Is she in danger?  Yeah, I couldn’t really tell so I gave up.  Don’t waste your time and please don’t waste your money.

The Hilarious World of Depression by John Moe

The title is ironic because depression isn’t hilarious.  Or is it?  Let me tell you what isn’t hilarious: this book.  If you’re looking for funny memoirs by people who suffer from mental illness, allow me to direct you to Carrie Fisher or Jenny Lawson.  While this book does have some good info about depression and it may help those “normies” out there understand our old friend “Clinny D” a little better, it just wasn’t that interesting.  He really lost me in the middle when he spent a lot of time on how his brother’s suicide affected him.  I’m sympathetic, but I just didn’t get how that really had to do with his depression.  All of his reactions sounded just like any person dealing with something that horrific.  I’ve seen BuzzFeed articles with tweets and Insta’s about depression that are way funnier than this book.  And if you’ve been there, you know you need a sense of humor to get through it.  A dark sense of humor, but a sense of humor, nonetheless.

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell

I usually love Lisa Jewell’s books and I bought this one thinking I’d like it too.  But it just didn’t cut it.  It was a strange book.  There was a family, but they didn’t live upstairs.  They lived locked in a house and they were a cult or trying to be a cult.  And a baby disappeared back then and now she’s an adult playing the violin on the street in France… or something?  Yeah, this book was just a mess.  It was really hard to follow and not very interesting.  I’m surprised I made it all the way through actually.  For a good time, see other Lisa Jewell books.

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

I’m puzzled as to why this is getting made into a TV series.  I know Big Little Lies is awesome and deserves an HBO series, but this book really isn’t thought-provoking or funny or even interesting.  The characters come together for what they think is a wellness retreat but actually it’s the experiment of a wacky Russian-Australian doctor who started to resemble The Brain from Animaniacs more than a legitimate villain.  Don’t think that was what Ms. Moriarty was going for.  I didn’t make it through this one.  Just watch Big Little Lies.  Trust me.

All right, you kids be safe and don’t watch the news.  See you next time and happy reading!

Reading Roundup: Out on a Limb

It’s that time again.  That time when I realize I haven’t written anything for this blog in a long time and I start kicking myself.  It’s also that time when I realize no one’s actually waiting for this blog so I stop kicking myself.  But all the same here’s some reviews.  I chose to cover the ones over the past six months that I went out on a limb for, meaning they aren’t my usual fair.

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

A girl gets a free ride to Yale because she can see ghosts.  Um, what?  I took a chance on this one from Book of the Month and I’m really glad I did.  Trust me it all makes sense when you get into the world of Alex Stern.  She reluctantly takes a position monitoring the secret societies of Yale who don’t just party.  Alex has the ability to see ghosts which is really useful when you’re policing frat boys dabbling in the occult.  And when a town girl is murdered, she’s the one with the heart to pursue the case.  This is intended as a series and I actually can’t wait to see what happens to Alex and Darlington.  It’s a little bit Harry Potter and a little bit Veronica Mars and I’m in.

The Banker’s Wife by Cristina Alger

This one is half whodunit and half international espionage.  I’m not usually a big spies and governments fan but this one was okay.  Our character Annabel is a naïve wife of a banker who goes missing.  Determined to find out what happened to him, she’s pulled into a web of high finance and offshore accounts.  Unknowingly aided by Martina, an intrepid journalist, she risks her life with terrorists and blood money.  I listened to the audiobook and enjoyed it.  I would recommend it, but I enjoyed Alger’s new novel Girls Like Us more.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katerine Arden

In January I was in the mood for something completely different, so I got this one from the library.  Set in a fantasy medieval Russia, this story reads like a fairy tale where a girl must fight for her identity and to save her village.  Like all fairy tale stepmothers, Vasilisa’s is cold and unloving and against anything having to do with the old magic.  But it’s the old magic that Vasilisa must tap into to stop the evil that’s threatening her home.  Rich language and tons of atmosphere make this a fun read for a cold winter night.  I recommend it if you’re looking for something off the beaten path.

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

I love the Big Little Lies series on HBO.  So, I decided to see what else Liane Moriarty had.  I have to say I was bit disappointed.  This one started out good with the non-linear timeline circling the events of a barbeque attended by three couples.  We gradually learn their secrets and motivations culminating in a traumatizing event.  I think this book just went on too long.  I kept waiting for it to end and it seemed like it just wouldn’t.  Are we going to just keep following these people forever?  Some editing would have helped.  I don’t think I would recommend this one.

Beartown by Frederik Backman

This is another one that’s pretty out there.  I loved Backman’s A Man Called Ove, so I wanted to see what else he had.  He spends a good bit of time introducing his characters which works here because then he hits you over the head with tragedy and it hurts.  It really does.  It’s really impressive how he makes you care so much about what happens to this tiny town in the woods and about hockey.  This is a book about people and no matter what sports we’re playing or where we are in the world, we can relate.  I recommend it and going in knowing as little as possible.

That’s it for now.  Until next time, happy reading y’all!

The Pursuit of History: The Monarchy

I’m on a mission.  I’m attempting to learn about all the English kings and queens from the Battle of Hastings to Elizabeth II.  Why?  No idea.  It’s just something I’ve become interested in.  Probably because of all the shows they’ve been creating about different historical figures.  There’s The Crown, The Tudors, Victoria, The White Princess, The Spanish Princess, and my personal favorite, The Hollow Crown.

PBS’s The Hollow Crown is approximately fourteen hours of Shakespeare history plays spanning the Middle Ages from the deposition of Richard II to the death of Richard III at Bosworth Field.  (A lot of Henrys in between, by the way.)  I guess that’s what got me interested in knowing what the story was, all the kings and the players in between.

That led me to Dan Jones last year.  I started with The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England.  It’s a great overview of the Middle Ages up to the Wars of the Roses.  Dan Jones is fantastic at making history palatable for the lay reader.  So many non-fiction books are dry, but he definitely has a gift.  This volume gives insight into the time and condition in England and explains some of the things I had only glanced over before like the Crusades and the legend of Richard the Lionheart and the stories of Robin Hood.  (He wasn’t real, sad to say.)  And the stories of the people involved were fascinating.  If you can keep them all straight.  Between the Richards and the Henrys and the Catherines and the Marys I wasn’t always sure who was plotting against who, but it was a great read.  It definitely got the lineage of the monarchy straighter in my head than it’s ever been.  The sequel, The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors, was just as good.

 I understand not everyone wants to read 1000 pages of Medieval history, but I did.  And I thought I would share because there might be some other person out there who wants to make the British monarchy their new obsession.  Now all I need is for Dan Jones to get out of the Middle Ages and write a history of the Stewart dynasty and the Georges who ruled in the 18th and 19th centuries because that’s where my gap is right now.

Anyway, whatever literary pursuit you take on next, happy reading, y’all!

Reading Roundup: General Fiction

I am sooooo behind on my book reviews.  I know you’ve all been clamoring for one.  Not really, but I’m going to say that because it makes it sound like I have real readers.  So, without further ado (or needless self-deprecation), here it is.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

This one has been hovering around my Want To Read shelf for a while.  I kept putting it on and taking it off and putting it back on again.  Finally, this summer it stuck.  I love stories told in unique ways and this one is really clever in that it tells its story through a dossier of emails, letters and news stories.  Bernadette Fox is a reclusive genius architect who runs away when her daughter wants her to go to Antarctica on a family trip.  Her daughter is desperate to find her and she’s the only one who doesn’t think her mom’s crazy.  I thought it was amusing and a light read.  I recommend it for squeezing in between those Scandinavian thrillers.  You know the ones.

The Golden Hour and The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams

I’m endlessly impressed by Ms. Williams’s productivity.  Her new one-off historical novel The Golden Hour came out this summer and the follow-up to The Wicked City will be released in December.  I’m lucky if I get a blog post written every two months.  But anyway, The Golden Hour, set in the Bahamas during WWII, was a bit of a disappointment.  We’re following a gossip journalist in the inner circle of the former king of England and his wife Wallace Simpson.  What I didn’t get was that our POV character has the inside scoop, but she doesn’t share it with the reader.  I always felt like I was missing something, and I didn’t like that.  In preparation for the next installment of the 1920’s series, I picked up The Wicked City.  It’s got an interesting main character and I look forward to seeing more of her, but the current day storyline seemed extraneous.  Just because it’s historical fiction doesn’t mean we always have to have two timelines.  Just saying.  It wasn’t the best Beatriz by any means, but I have a soft spot for the 20’s so I’m going to continue the series.  Bottom line, I wouldn’t recommend The Golden Hour because it just couldn’t keep my attention.  I thought The Wicked City ran a little long, but it’s got potential for the series.  If you love Art Deco like me, pick it up.

The Garden of Small Beginnings and The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

I picked up Abbi Waxman this summer and I’m so glad I did.  She’s hilarious, y’all.  In The Garden of Small Beginnings we meet Lillian, a widow with two little girls.  She’s an illustrator who’s sent to a gardening class to get up-close and personal with her subject.  Not everyone could make a story about moving on from the loss of a spouse funny, but Ms. Waxman does it brilliantly.  She has a wry wit that really speaks to me.  And that wit was on full display in The Bookish Life of Nina Hill.  I loved this book.  Nina is a bookworm who doesn’t like people and has no problem not having any family.  So when the father she never knew dies and leaves her with a ton of relatives and a mysterious inheritance, she’s thrilled!  Just kidding.  I recommend both these books with relish.  You can read Nina Hill without having read Garden but the characters overlap and I thoroughly enjoyed that.

Until next time.  Happy reading!