Reading Round-Up: October Edition

It’s been a couple weeks since I spoke to you last because I’ve had some major problems accessing this blog. But thanks to my son and my husband, I finally got back into it so I can keep posting.

I read some great books since my last Round-Up, and a few of them were perfect for spooky Halloween reading! Let’s start at the beginning.

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First up was Summoning the Winds by Cynthia Raleigh. This story, about a witch living in a Connecticut village early in colonial times, was a page-turner. Here’s the review I posted on Goodreads and Amazon:

“I think this is the first book I’ve ever read about witches (Hamlet doesn’t count). And I LOVED it. The research, the pacing, the writing, the twists and turns–all of it was masterful and fascinating. The author takes the notion of witch trials and turns it on its head with this tale of a real witch in colonial Connecticut.
Yarrow, the main character and a young adult orphan, is spunky and smart, and she uses her quick wit to advantage when danger threatens her and her sister. The story delves into the murky world of spells and hexes, and the author describes sorcery in a way that makes it both believable and understandable. You can feel the storms conjured by the witch, and you can see her when…well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out for yourself.”

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Switching gears, the next book I read was The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. Here’s my review of the classic noir mystery:

“I’ve been wanting to read this classic detective novel for a long time, and it didn’t disappoint. The societal attitudes evident from the text are definitely out of date, but the story itself is a primer in how to write great detective fiction with a message. The characters were well-drawn and Sam Spade is a highly-flawed main character. You can’t help rooting for him, though, because he’s on side of justice (even if his method of reaching it is slightly Machiavellian).”

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A different type of mystery, Black Cat and the Secret in Dewey’s Diary by Elaine Faber was an enjoyable story that took me into a sub-genre I don’t normally read. Let me explain via my review.

“This is the fourth book in the Black Cat series. I have never read a book where the reader is given access to the thoughts and words passing between two felines, but I found the idea really intriguing. These particular felines become the catalyst (see what I did there? Catalyst? Haha!) for Kimberlee, a bookshop owner, to take a second look at a diary she receives one day in a shipment of books. The diary belonged to a WWII American soldier, and as its story unfolds, Kimberlee learns of a possible treasure and a long-lost frienship. But there’s more to Black Cat’s story than the diary–there’s present-day vandalism, possible murder charges for someone close to the kitties, and a dispute about the ownership of a valuable property.

I would recommend this mystery to anyone who loves cats and anyone looking for a clean story with plenty of twists. One note–I wished I had read the other three books in the Black Cat series before beginning with this one because I missed some of the history that had passed in Black Cat’s feline and people families. I recommend starting with Book One, Black Cat’s Legacy.”

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Next up: another cat book, Molly Finds Her Purr by Pamela Wight. This story may look and read like a children’s book, but the message in it is ageless and timeless. With beautiful illustrations by Shelley A. Steinle and Wight’s lyrical language, this book was one that would be perfect for a baby shower gift. Or a baby gift. Or any gift. Here’s my review:

“A beautiful book with a beautiful lesson for both kids and adults. When Molly can’t find her purr, she goes in search of a friend who can help her. After she is turned away by another cat, a small dog, and a group of birds, squirrels, and chipmunks, she finally finds a friend to listen to her. That friend invites other friends, who… Well, you’ll just have to read the book to discover the lovely ending for yourself.”

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And then for something completely different, I read No Friend but the Mountains by Behrooz Boochani. A Kurdish-Iranian journalist, Boochani fled the fighting in the Middle East and ended up as a refugee in Australia, whereupon he was sent to Manus Prison with a large number of other male refugees. If you’ve never heard of Manus Prison, it’s a hell on earth on the island of Papua New Guinea. It is notorious for maltreatment of refugees and harsh, practically unlive-able, conditions. The author wrote the book in a series of encrypted WhatsApp messages in Farsi and it has been translated into English. Here’s my review:

“A gut-wrenching look at life inside a refugee camp, or prison, on the island of Manus in Papua New Guinea. The most fascinating part of the book is that it was written by an inmate who was inside the prison at the time of writing. At times poignantly funny, at times horrifying, at times eliciting even a boredom that excellently illustrates the boredom that must plague the prisoners behind the fence, the book gives much food for thought for societies today that wrestle with the influx of refugees to their shores. The book certainly gives a harsh lesson in how NOT to treat people By taking away the prisoners’ access to basic human necessities, by fostering a community built on fear and unpredictability, and by showing a shocking lack of empathy, the Australian government’s egregious treatment of the refugees is a history lesson the rest of the world cannot ignore.”

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And last, but certainly not least, I read Corvus Hall by Bibianna Krall. It’s the first book in the Irish Phantom Series, and I’m looking forward to more. It’s a gorgeous work of Gothic fiction and one I have recommended to others already. Here’s my review:

“This book has everything I was looking for in a work of classic Gothic fiction. There’s a haunted Irish estate, a family curse, ravens, ghosts, and plenty of spine-tingling suspense. The writing is fascinating: at times terse and urgent, at other times beautiful and descriptive, but always appropriate to the action. The main character, Mary, is a study in the importance of listening to one’s inner voices while at the same time understanding that certain actions are inevitable. I wish I could say more, but I don’t want to spoil the story!

What I found the most fascinating about the book, and the part that gave me the most delightful chills, was the author’s descriptions of a real-life trip to Ireland and the experiences that prompted her to write this story.

Highly recommended to any Gothic fiction fans!”

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What have you been reading? Care to share in the comments?

Until next time,

Amy

Reading Round-Up: September Edition

It’s the last Tuesday of September already, but there’s still almost a week left in the month! I intend to keep reading and adding to my Goodreads tally, but for this post I’ll summarize what I’ve finished reading since my last round-up. I’ve read a couple things outside my normal genres, and I was glad I did.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

This book, set in the Alaskan wilderness of the 1920s, was the author’s retelling of a fable about a man and a woman who want a child so badly that they make one out of snow. To their surprise, the snow child comes to life and…well, you’ll have to read it if you want to find out what happens. Spoiler alert: it’s not a happy ending.

Here’s the review I posted on Amazon and Goodreads:

“Sometimes I read a book and I don’t quite know what to make of it, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Snow Child is one of those books. It’s beautifully written and I could feel the raw emotions and the deathly cold of the Alaska winters as I read it.

I think I’m still processing my feelings about this enchanting book. It teaches poignant lessons about learning to love what we have while we have it, because nothing is certain in this life. It teaches us that love doesn’t mean ownership. It teaches us that hardships are easier when they’re shared.

I’m not sure I would recommend this to someone who normally reads genre fiction, but I would recommend it to someone looking for a book of literary fiction that evokes deep feelings and haunting questions.”

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From Robe to Robe by Martha E. Bellinger

This was a memoir written by a lesbian woman who spent her life on two career paths: that of Methodist minister, then that of attorney-turned-judge. Both positions exposed her to the harsh realities of LGBTQ persons in ministry (and in organized religion in general) and in government. Here’s my Amazon/Goodreads review:

“I don’t normally read memoirs, but this one fascinated me and I read it in one sitting. Judge Bellinger has penned an honest, straightforward, and compelling look at the way society has viewed Christian lesbians for decades (and, really, throughout history). The book offers LGBTQ persons and their friends, families, and loved ones hope for the future within the framework of organized religion and within the halls of political power. She also makes it clear that there are powerful forces at work against meaningful progress.

Especially given the turmoil in the United Methodist Church at present, I found this book to be timely and important (even though it was published nine years ago, it’s still highly relevant). I think this book should be required reading for both men and women thinking of entering the ministry or the field of counseling. I also think it should be required reading for politicians.”

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Cape Mayhem by Jane Kelly

This is the second book in the Meg Daniels mystery series. I started with the second book because I happened to have a hardcover copy. I’ll go back now and read the first book, Killing Time in Ocean City. I don’t think it’s necessary to read the books in order, but I know some people insist on it. 🙂

My review says it all:

“If you like capers filled with quirky characters, a lovely B&B, and a main character who has a penchant for self-deprecating humor and getting herself into all kinds of scrapes, this book is for you. It’s a fun read and what I loved most about it was the setting–if you’ve ever been to Cape May, surely you’ll recognize the places in the book. The author stays true to the special landmarks in Cape May, and it’s fun to visit them in pursuit of crime-solving!”

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People Lookin’ Half Dead by Marja McGraw

This is one of the many books I’ve read by Marja McGraw, and just like all the others, it didn’t disappoint. Marja has  a way with words that is funny, thoughtful, and full of suspense–and surprises. Here’s my review:

“There is so much to love about this book. It’s the story of Pamela and her husband Chris, who are in the process of opening a club reminiscent of an old speakeasy. In the midst of a crippling heatwave, Pamela and Chris, at the urging of Chris’ maternal grandmother (who is a dynamo), take several homeless people under their wings. Once they start getting to know these people from the streets, they learn of the mysterious disappearances of other homeless people. Naturally, they are drawn into the mystery and find that not everything is as it seems.

What I loved the most about this book is its honest, frank, and caring portrayal of homeless people. The author makes a strong point about the homeless and second chances, but manages to do it in a way that isn’t preachy or self-righteous. In addition to the mystery, there’s hope, new beginnings, and even a little bit of romance.”

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Diamond Doris by Doris Payne and Zelda Lockhart

I have mixed feelings about this last book. Written by Doris Payne, it’s an autobiographical account of the life and times of the notorious international jewel thief. I had seen the book promoted in several places, so I wanted to check it out for myself.

For the most part, I was disappointed. I don’t usually write negative reviews: if I don’t like a book, I simply won’t give it a rating. But this one is different, because I don’t think it delivered on the promise it made. Its Amazon blurb promises a book that is in the same vein as “Ocean’s 8,” “The Heist,” and “Thelma and Louise.” I didn’t find it exciting or, in many parts, even interesting. A great deal of time is spent telling side tales about Doris’ friends and coming-of-age experiences. And as for her jewel-heist exploits, many of them are glossed over as she explains that she confuses the jewelry store clerks and takes the merchandise.

The biggest problem I had with the book, though, is the author’s disingenuous attempt to get the reader to believe that she engaged in this behavior (and in other equally risky activities) to exact revenge on the diamond industry for using African slave labor to mine the diamonds she would eventually steal. I don’t believe for one minute that she broke the law for that reason. What becomes clear in the reading is that she is motivated almost entirely by greed and the thrill of getting away with something.

The one thing I admire about Doris Payne is her single-minded focus on making her own way in a world that gives black women far less respect than they deserve. Though I don’t agree with her choices or her actions, they show that she is determined to provide her small family with the life she never had growing up.

Until next time,

Amy

Reading Round-Up: August Edition

I have some fabulous books to share with you this month! I wanted to have more than four, but that’s the way it worked out. My August reads ran the gamut from funny to suspenseful to historical to classic.

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The first book I finished this month was Jeeves and the King of Clubs. If you’ve read any of P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster books, I recommend you read this one, too. It’s a great addition to the collection. Here’s my review:

“This book, written in homage to the great P.G. Wodehouse, is a laugh-out-loud caper complete with espionage, aristocratic dalliances, clever disguises, jealous lovers, and a hard-headed aunt hell-bent on upsetting the balance of power among British condiment producers. Ben Schott did an exceptional job with his back-and-forth banter between Bertie and Jeeves. I loved every minute of this book.”

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The second book I read was I Am Mrs. Jesse James by Pat Wahler. This is an extraordinary work of historical fiction about the wife of the infamous outlaw. The amount of research that must have gone into writing the story is astonishing. Here’s my review:

“I had a hard time putting this book down for things like meals and sleeping. It is one of the best books of historical fiction that I’ve read. It tells the story of Zee James, as much as possible from the scant materials written about the wife of the infamous outlaw Jesse James. Where the historical record was too thin, the author supplemented realistic and highly likely scenarios based on her extensive research and knowledge of the time period and the real-life characters. Even though I knew how the story would end, this book kept me turning pages late into the night.

I would recommend this book to anyone who loves a great book of historical fiction as well as anyone interested in American society following the Civil War.

Read this book. You’ll be glad you did.”

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Many people have read Wuthering Heights, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in thinking it’s one of the best books of the nineteenth century. Interestingly, some of the other best books of that century were written by the sisters of Emily Bronte. Here’s my review:

“*sigh* There are not many books that I will re-read, simply because there are too many great books out there, but this is one of them.

It is the story of madness, romance, and revenge–cold, brutal revenge for sins of fathers (and others). Heathcliff and Catherine are unforgettable characters that meet by serendipitous or ominous chance, depending on whom you ask. The love that grows between them is both fierce and poisonous.

Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights are characters in themselves: one is light and bright, the other dark and brooding. If you’ve never read this book, I recommend it as a great study in character and setting. And if you read it way back when (maybe in high school?), read it again. There’s something new to discover with every reading.”

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I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone who has to get up early for work the next day, because you’re going to be reading past your bedtime. I can almost guarantee it. What She Knew is a fantastic psychological thriller full of twists and surprises, and I found it almost painful to have to wait to get to the last few pages to find out whodunit. Here’s my review:

“This story gripped me from page one and didn’t let go until I had read the final sentence. I felt like I couldn’t read fast enough, that I had to get to the end to see for myself how everything turns out. It was all I could do to slow down enough to digest every paragraph.

This is the story of a young boy who is abducted, his mother’s debilitating guilt over it, secrets that have the power to destroy a family, and the power of the media and, in particular, social media. This is a story that is going to stay with me.”

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What are you reading? I hope you’ll share in the comments below!

Until next time,

Amy

Reading Round-Up: July Edition

It’s going to look like I didn’t do a ton of reading in July, but that’s because I’m currently in the middle of four other books and I’ve been reading those, too. So August should be a big month.

The first book I finished since my last Reading Round-Up was Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. A friend on Twitter suggested that I read it so we could talk about the writer’s style. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. Here’s my review from Goodreads:

“This was a haunting book, based on true events that took place in the US in the first part of the twentieth century. It’s the story of a family of river gypsies and what happened to them as a result of the corrupt and horrifying practices of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. It’s written from the point of view of two/three characters (you’ll see why I say that when you read the book), but I think that’s almost the way the story had to be told. The language is descriptive and evocative–I think this is going to be one book that stays with me.”

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You may remember from last month that I read The Merlon Murders and that it was the first book in a two-book series. Well, I finished the second book and I’m happy to report that I enjoyed it as much as the first one. The Merlon Murders II, by Victoria Benchley, is a great summer mystery. Here’s my Goodreads review:

“In this second book of The Merlon Murders, readers are treated to some exciting twists following the harrowing ending of Book One. Duncan becomes more deeply involved with the beautiful widow Menzies, he enlists the help of a Swedish expert in game theory, and he begins to form some alarming hunches about the identity of the person who killed Stuart Menzies. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves a good mystery, and especially one set in Scotland.”

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I’m becoming more and more interested in eating a plant-based diet as often as possible, so I read The Mediterranean Table, which is a cookbook of easy Mediterranean recipes. The Mediterranean diet is largely plant-based, though there are recipes in the book featuring meat, poultry, and fish, too. The recipes are not only easy to follow, but they use ingredients that are widely available. The book includes a great description of the Mediterranean diet, along with the countries making up that region of the world and their individual contributions to the cuisine of the area.

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This is a diverse collection of short stories about death. Most of the stories involve some element of whodunit, though not all of them are mysteries. The four I liked the most were by Robbie Cheadle and debut author Aly Locatelli. Cheadle’s stories are fictionalized accounts of historic events and legends and Locatelli’s story is a suspenseful read about a mysterious death. It’s an atmospheric treat that makes for a great debut.

I’m excited to get into August and finish all those books I’m working on! So many books…so little time…

Until next time,

Amy

Reading Round-Up: June Edition

It seemed like June was gone in a flash (flood–we had lots of rain), but I did manage to get a lot of reading done during the month. That is, a lot for me.

The first book I read was Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths. This was a little different from the mysteries I usually read, but I enjoyed it. It’s told from three different points of view and that kept things interesting. It was cool to see the same events from the perspectives of three characters. There are also a ton of references to other works of literature–some I knew and some I didn’t. When it’s all boiled down, the book is a murder mystery. There are some supernatural elements, which I don’t love, but I was glad the killer was a real flesh-and-blood person (and not some apparition).

Next up was The Tulip Shirt Murders by Heather Weidner. This was a great mystery, with some elements I didn’t know much about (think flea markets and roller derbies), so I learned something in the process! It features a female private investigator, which I loved, and her computer-savvy sidekick. There are a variety of red herrings, but our intrepid heroine figures things out in the end.

The Merlon Murders by Victoria Benchley is the first book in a two-book series (read: it ends in a cliffhanger, so be ready to scoop up the second book and start reading right away!) featuring a corporate investigator, Duncan, who travels to Scotland from London to check out the mystery surrounding the death of a man who left behind a fortune, an estate, and lots of questions. This book is like taking a vacation in Scotland–from the rugged mountains to the quaint villages to the culture and the food, it’s a delight for all the senses.

I also read The Anne of Green Gables Cookbook by Kate Macdonald. It has recipes AGG readers will remember from the books, like raspberry cordial and gingersnaps, and they’re easy to make. The book was geared to young cooks more than I expected, but it was still a fun, easy read.

Marilyn Meredith’s Spirit Wind is the continuation of the Tempe Crabtree mysteries, and like all the others, this doesn’t disappoint. There are Native American legends and spirits, a real-life murder, and someone who doesn’t want any of it uncovered. The book is a quick read and I learned a lot about Tehachapi, an area of California that was home to the Kawaiisu tribe of Native Americans.

Last, but certainly not least, was Robert Germaux’s More Grammar Sex, a fabulous book of essays about everything from vacation after retirement to baseball to his car’s GPS system. This was an easy-to-read book of common sense things that makes an afternoon spent reading on the patio (on one of the few days when it didn’t rain) very pleasant.

What have you been reading? I’d love to hear about it.

Until next time,

Amy

Last Tuesday Book Round-Up

I’m happy to report that I was able to get more reading done in May than I did in April. As of writing this post, I’ve finished six books so far this month and I may be able to squeeze in one more. Here’s the round-up:

Eighteen Months by Glenn McGoldrick is a short story I first heard about on Twitter. This was the first story I’ve read by this author, and I thought it was thoughtfully written and full of darkness. I can’t tell you much without giving the story away, but if you like suspense, this is a good one to check out.

Daughter of Moloka’i by Alan Brennert was the sequel to Moloka’i. You have to know a little bit about Moloka’i in order to understand what’s happening in the sequel.

The island of Moloka’i in Hawaii was widely known as a leper colony where people were sent decades ago to remove them from the general population. Moloka’i is the heart-wrenching, beautifully-written story of a woman who grew up on the island. As an adult, she gives birth to a baby girl and she and the baby’s father are forced to give up their daughter a day after her birth. Daughter of Moloka’i is the story of that little girl.

Moloka’i is an incredible novel and it was going to be pretty hard to beat it, or even match it. In my opinion, Daughter of Moloka’i doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor, but it’s still a great book and well worth reading.

Desperate Deeds by Patricia Gligor is the third book in the Malone Mystery series. In this book, Ann Kern has to deal with her husband’s unemployment, the possibility he’s drinking again, the aftermath of her mother-in-law’s death, starting a new business, and the most unthinkable thing of all, her son going missing. Here’s my Goodreads review:

“This was the fourth book I have read by Patricia Gligor, and as always, she has crafted a story that is full of characters who could be your next-door neighbors. The book draws the reader in with the promise of suspense, and there is plenty of it in this book. Following the twists and turns is fun, and I was sure I knew what would happen on more than one occasion. I was wrong, which thrilled me! Looking forward to Malone Mystery #4.”

Newsletter Ninja by Tammi Labrecque is a book that you certainly don’t need to read if you have a newsletter, but if you do, get it, read it, and keep it for future reference. I’m in the process of changing how my newsletter is discovered by readers and I’m already implementing some of the changes the book suggests. I’m very excited about it!

A friend suggested that I read Thief of Corinth and I’m glad I did. It was an interesting story about corruption in the ancient city of Corinth and how a young girl and her father face choices they must make in the face of adversity. The main character, Ariadne, is complex and, at times, misguided and angry. Watching her grow and learn about this new system of beliefs called Christianity is uplifting and inspiring.

Organized for Homicide by Ritter Ames is a great cozy mystery full of twists, turns, and…organizing advice. When two women take on the job of organizing a cross-country move for a recently-divorced father of three and at least two of his children, they’ve got their hands full. And when the ex-wife shows up dead, there are suspects aplenty, beginning with the eldest child of the couple. Here’s my Goodreads review:

“I think what I enjoyed most about this book was the friendship between Kate and Meg, two of the main characters. The mystery was intriguing, with enough red herrings, suspects, and twists to please any discerning mystery lover. Highly recommend!”

So, readers, what are you reading these days? Please share!

Until next time,

Amy

P.S. Have you seen my new book cover? Dead, White, and Blue, Book 2 in the Juniper Junction Mystery series, will be available for pre-order soon! If this is your first time seeing it, join my newsletter by clicking here! You’ll be among the first to see my cover reveals.

What do you think??

Last Tuesday Book Round-Up and Barbara Vey Recap

I just got home a few hours ago from the Barbara Vey Reader Appreciation Weekend (BVW19) and I am exhausted and still over the moon! The trip took a little longer than we planned, so when we pulled into Harrisburg, PA, at 2:30 this morning, we stopped and slept at a Hampton Inn for six hours before getting back on the road.

What an incredible experience BVW19 was! From the moment we arrived on Thursday afternoon until Sunday morning at 11:00, I was busy with events every waking minute. My favorites were the Saturday luncheon and the Sunday breakfast because I got to meet with readers in a small group. What a treat it was to spend the weekend with so many people who are passionate about books. I’d like to thank Barbara Vey and her team for the endless amount of hard work they put it to make the event so memorable and fun, and I’d also like to thank the readers for showing up and being so supportive and eager to learn about new-to-them authors. And don’t even get me started on meeting Meg Tilly, the keynote speaker and an acclaimed writer/actress/screenwriter/producer. It took me two full days to get up the courage to talk to her, but it made my day when I finally did.

I’ll be posting photos from the event on my Facebook page, so be sure to check them out!

I find that April tends to be a very busy month. For that reason, I didn’t get as much reading done as I had hoped. I finished three books, and I loved all of them. I know, I sound like a broken record, but I seem to have a knack for picking out great books.

Deadly Southern Charm, edited by Mary Burton and Mary Miley, is an anthology of short stories set in the South and featuring strong Southern women. If you read this book, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll love it. Full disclosure, I am friends with several of the authors, but I would love this book no matter what. Here’s my Amazon review:

“This was a spooky, fun, and thoroughly Southern collection of mysteries. Each one was so unique and so different from all the others that every time I should have closed the book and gone to bed, I would say to myself, “Just one more story.” So I lost a lot of sleep thanks to Deadly Southern Charm, and I’d do it again because it’s so much fun to read. Kudos to all the authors for such great writing.”

A Dangerous Mourning and Defend and Betray, books 2 and 3 in the William Monk mystery series by Anne Perry, were fabulous. A Dangerous Mourning had an ending that caught me off guard, but I realized after some thought that the ending was the only one possible. Defend and Betray deals with a pretty tough topic, and I wasn’t sure I was going to like it once I figured out what was happening. But I did, and I ended up giving both books 5 stars. They’re completely different from each other, which is a hallmark of a great mystery writer.

I’m off to clean out my email and get some sleep!

Until next time,

Amy