Reading Round-Up: August Edition

For the entire month of August, I’ve been thinking that the last Tuesday was actually next week. Imagine my shock when I learned it’s today. Luckily, over the past month I’ve been working on this post each time I finish a book, rather than waiting until the day before the last Tuesday and then writing the whole thing.

Anyway, August was a good month for reading! I’ve finished seven books since my last Reading Round-Up, and it’s an even more eclectic bunch than last month. Let’s get started!

 

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark T. Sullivan

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan. I read this for my book club, and if it hadn’t been assigned, I might not have chosen to read it. I think World War II stories are important, but I have to read them really far apart from each other or I just find them too overwhelming.

Let me start by saying this book is very closely based on a true story, which I find absolutely incredible. I highly recommend it, but only before and after you’ve read something very light-hearted. If you’re looking for a happy book, this isn’t the one for you. It takes a lot to get me to cry while I’m reading, and this reduced me to a puddle. Read my review here.

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Dead Man’s Prayer: A gripping detective thriller with a killer twist (DI Frank Farrell, Book 1) by [Jackie Baldwin]

Dead Man’s Prayer by Jackie Baldwin. I first heard about this book, the first in the DI Frank Farrell series, on Twitter when I started following author Jackie Baldwin. I was intrigued at first because I love books set in Scotland, but once I started reading the intrigue factor jumped into the stratosphere and I couldn’t turn pages fast enough. Are you looking for a thriller that will leave you breathless? You’ve come to the right place. Read my review here.

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Out of the Woods by Patricia Gligor. This is the third book in the Small Town Mystery Series. In this book, Kate Morgan confronts the man who left her, a pregnant teenager, eleven years ago. For the sake of their daughter, she tries to make the best of the situation, but his return causes some problems, not the least of which is the reaction of her fiance. And when questions arise about the man’s possible involvement in a number of horrifying home invasions, what will she tell her daughter?

This is a great book and although it’s classified as a mystery, it crosses genres into women’s fiction, family drama, and suspense. It’s got it all. Read my review here.

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Sea Wife: A novel by [Amity Gaige]

I really looked forward to reading Sea Wife by Amity Gaige. Billed as psychological suspense, it’s the story of a family (husband, wife, two young children) who leave their lives behind for a year and sail around the Caribbean. Unfortunately, it’s all psychological and no suspense. The main character, Juliet, suffers from depression and, it would appear, anxiety, and the story ends up being a morose tale of a marriage that has gone stale and the disturbing thoughts of a woman who doesn’t think she was ever meant to be a mother. I gave the book 3 stars and you can read my review hereAs I noted last month when I shared a book I didn’t really like, don’t let my review put you off from reading the book. There are plenty of glowing reviews for this work of literary fiction.

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The Orchardist: A Novel by [Amanda Coplin]

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin was a book club pick. I’m glad I read it, but I didn’t like it. It was depressing, entirely bereft of any semblance of happiness for any of the characters, and looooong. As in, almost 600 pages. The book spans many years, and I often felt like I was reading it in real time. On the other hand, in taking a look at the many reviews this book has garnered, I am clearly in the minority. There are lots of people who think this book is beautiful, moving, and melancholy in a good way. It’s just not my cup of tea. I think it’s because I like my reads to have at least a little bit of action and some character growth, and I saw almost none of that in this book. If you like a character-driven story, this might be for you. Read my full review here.

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Untamed by Glennon Doyle is a work of art. I listened to this memoir on CD, and hearing the book read by the author was a great experience. This is the first time I’ve heard a book (at least, not a children’s book) read by the author and though I have my doubts about fiction writers voicing their own work, for a memoir it was a wise choise. Read my review here.

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The Jane Austen Society: A Novel by [Natalie Jenner]

This book has been on my radar for a while, and I was eager to read it. The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner doesn’t disappoint. Read my review here.

What have you read this month? I hope you’ll share your reads in the comments.

Until next time,

Amy

 

 

Reading Round-Up: July Edition

I’m pleased to say that I was able to read a variety of genres in July, and the three books I’m reading now, which will be in next month’s Reading Round-Up, just add to that diversity. Even though a couple of the books are out my preferred genres, I’m glad I read them. Which leads me to ask: how often do you deviate from the genres you most enjoy? Do you think it’s important to do that or not?

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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

First up was The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. This is one of those outside-my-normal-comfort-zone books, and wow. I was amazed at how much I enjoyed it. The book was a selection for my book club (which I actually forgot to attend), and I’m so sorry I missed the discussion, because I had really looked forward to it. Read my review here and please ignore the typos. 🙂

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The Man from the Train: Discovering America's Most Elusive Serial Killer

I was really excited to read The Man from the Train by Bill James. Here’s the premise: there was a serial killer stalking families that were living near railroads across the United States in the early twentieth century. The author, a well-known baseball statistician, makes the tantalizing claim that he knows who the killer was. This book presents the evidence in support of and against his theory. I thought this was going to be a fascinating book leading to a dramatic unveiling of the killer. Parts of it were fascinating, yes, but the unveiling of the killer wasn’t as climactic as I thought it would be. In the end, I gave this book 3 stars because of the way it was presented, the author’s use of language, and a “subplot” that added nothing to the book. Read my review here

Please note that I had to think long and hard about whether to include this book in my post. My policy is to post a review of any book that I would rate 3 or more stars, so I included this in keeping with that policy. As many of you know, I almost always love the books I read. I was disappointed in this one, but that doesn’t mean someone else wouldn’t love it. Indeed, this book has plenty of 5-star reviews online.

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The Crown for Castlewood Manor (My American Almost-Royal Cousin Series Book 1)

Moving right along, next I read The Crown for Castlewood Manor, the first book in the My American Almost-Royal Cousin series by Veronica Cline Barton. What a treat! If you like cozy mysteries set in the English countryside with manor drama, murder, and parties fit for royalty, you’ll love this book. Check out my 5-star review here.

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The Silver Dollar Connetion: A Sandi Webster Mystery (The Sandi Webster Mysteries Book 13) by [Marja McGraw]

Last, but certainly not least, I read The Silver Dollar Connection by Marja McGraw. As I’ve noted before, Marja McGraw is on my auto-buy list because I love everything she writes, and this book didn’t disappoint. It’s the latest installment of the Sandi Webster mysteries, and in this one Sandi and her husband, Pete, are asked to help an older PI (Rocky) who has some serious family issues going on. His estranged son is being threatened and doesn’t even know it, and things are about to take a turn for the worse. But it’s not just a mystery you’ll find in this book. You’ll also find characters who are dealing with friendship, mental health issues (including PTSD), aging, and isolation. You’ll find my review here.

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That’s my list for this month. Care to share what you’ve been reading?

Until next time,

Amy

 

Reading Round-Up: February Edition

This is a short month, even with the extra day, and my reading list reflects that. I’ve only finished three books since my last update, so this will be a quick post.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

This is the one my book club is reading, thanks to everyone who voted in my recent poll. We meet on March 1st, so we haven’t discussed the book yet. But I loved it and I’m eager to talk about it with the group. Here’s my review:

“There is so much to love about this book, even with the heartbreak that runs through it like a river. Cussy Mary, the main character, is as strong a woman as I’ve seen in a novel, and her determination to bring books and learning to the hill folk of rural Kentucky is inspiring. The Book Woman is a beautiful tribute to the Pack Horse librarians of the WPA and to the ‘blue people’ who lived in Kentucky.

This book taught me a lot about the Depression-era sacrifice and the hardscrabble lives of the people in that unforgiving land, and I am happy to recommend it to anyone who loves books and libraries, anyone hoping to learn more about a group of people that I hadn’t heard of until I started reading the book, and anyone who loves a great story.”

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Callie’s Kitchen Mysteries Cookbook

Author Jenny Kales will be here in April to talk about this fabulous cookbook, and I couldn’t wait until then to read it. I’m going to make one of the recipes in it this week for my family, so I’ll be able to report back to you in April. Here’s my review:

“I am going to make every single recipe in this book. I can’t wait to get started! The Greek recipes sound fabulous and the Greek-inspired tweaks to Midwestern American foods are just that–inspired! This book is a great addition to any cook’s repertoire.”

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Under the Tuscan Sun

It took me almost a month to read this book and I will confess, I didn’t review it on Goodreads or Amazon because I just couldn’t give it a review of three stars or more. I finished it because by the time I got halfway through it, it had become a challenge and I’m no quitter.

The book is comprised of the musings of a professor from San Francisco who bought an old house in Tuscany and spends summers and winter breaks there. I found the writing pretentious. It tried way too hard to be poetic and it ended up sounding corny and off-putting. If the author implied one more time that she came from wealth by mentioning the cook her family had when she was young, I would have screamed. What could have been a fun story about the pitfalls of restoring an old house in a faraway land turned into a collection of so many lists of things to be done and excruciating details of some of the more expensive renovations.

The book did, on the other hand, encourage me to put Italy on my bucket list. I don’t know if I’ll ever get there, but I would like to visit Tuscany someday.

If you have read the book, please let me know what you thought of it. I am definitely in the minority of people who didn’t like it.

What have you been reading this month?

Until next time,

Amy

Book Club Winner and Reading Round-Up for January

The votes are in! Thanks to everyone who participated. The book my book club will be reading is…

The winner took 31%, followed by Woman Enters Left and Mystic River, each of which took 24% of the vote. Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker came in at 14%, and Between the World and Me brought up the rear at 7% of the vote.

Now, on to my January Reading Round-Up. January got off to a slow start with reading, but I managed to pick up the pace for the second half of the month.

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First up was The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. Here’s my Goodreads review:

“If I had read this book 120 years ago, I would have liked it more. The story itself was intriguing and had a wonderful Gothic feel to it, but the endless exposition and introspection made me put the book down countless times out of sheer boredom.

With that being said, the book is considered a classic by many. It was revolutionary at the time of its publication, so I can understand why it was eventually labelled that way. But this is the 21st century and I believe there are other books out there more worthy of being read widely–books that aren’t based in bigotry and cultural misunderstanding.

If anything, this is a good book to read to marvel at how far we’ve come as a society. And I’m glad for it.”

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The second book I finished was The Yellow House by Patricia Falvey. I highly recommend it for anyone who loves a great story. Here’s my review:

“I just finished reading this book and although I haven’t had time to fully process it, I couldn’t wait to write a review.

I loved The Yellow House. It was heart-wrenching, joyful, tear-jerking, infuriating–I got all the feels when I read it. The main character is a flawed woman with a staggering amount of anger inside her that has built up over years of brutal struggle. Her family is torn apart by religious violence, grief, and secrets. How she manages to hold onto her dream of returning to The Yellow House is testament to her warrior will.

There were a couple parts of the book where I felt Owen’s actions didn’t make sense, but I don’t want to spoil anything by mentioning them. You have to read this book for yourself.”

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Next up was The Winters by Lisa Gabriele, an homage to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. I LOVE the story of Rebecca and I was reluctant to read another writer’s riff on it. But I was pleased with how this author created an updated story that carried much of the same Gothic-style suspense that readers love in the original. Here’s my review:

“This was a really interesting take on the classic Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. In this version, you’ll find the unnamed main character, Max, a cast of other characters akin to those in Rebecca, and a magnificent home secluded from prying eyes. The book even starts with a reference to a dream.

The story held my interest, and the pacing was excellent. The main character had just the right mix of naivete, courage, and compassion, and her personality was a perfect foil for the other characters.

If you liked Rebecca, I think you’ll like this updated version.”

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I chose my next read, Very British Problems by Rob Temple, because I needed something light. And I was not disappointed. Here’s my review:

“If you’re British, know anyone who’s British, have ever visited England, want to visit England, are an Anglophile, are a non-British introvert, or just love funny books, find a copy of Very British Problems and find a place to read where your laughing out loud will not disturb anyone.

This book is chock-full of hilarious little bits of wisdom that will help you determine whether you have a mild, moderate, or severe case of being Very British. It’s a love letter to the quirks that one finds in Britain, and it’s done in a way that’s…sorry…apologetic and tongue-in-cheek.

There are quite a few repeats from the author’s Twitter feed, or else I would give this book 5 stars. But it’s definitely worth a read if you’re looking for something light and fun.”

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And continuing with my love for all things British, I next read Eating Royally by Chef Darren McGrady. Here’s my review:

“This is a gorgeous book, filled with recipes that Chef McGrady cooked for England’s royal family over the years of his employment for them and with anecdotes of the royal family. He later became private chef for the late Princess Diana, so the latter part of the book mostly talks about her and what it was like to work for her.

The photography in the book is exquisite. Not just the food, but the castles and the areas surrounding the royal residences.

I’m eager to try many of the recipes, though some are not to my liking. There are plenty of dessert and main dish recipes.

I do wish the author had shared an anecdote for every recipe. He shares stories for many of them, so when he left out the stories for quite a few, I was disappointed. It’s fun to know how the recipe came about, for whom he cooked it, and what people may have said about it at the time.

I highly recommend the book to avid cookbook collectors and fans of English food.”

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The last book I finished in January was The Guilty Party by Mel McGrath. Here’s my review:

“The premise of this book reminded me very much of the Kitty Genovese story every Psych 101 student learns, but the author took the psychological question in a different direction. This is the story of four friends who did nothing to help a woman they witnessed being brutalized. The reader learns what happens to their own psyches as a result of the attack and their failure to help the victim.

The story is told from different points of view in the third person, so that was interesting. The author addressed some very intriguing moral questions and it really got me thinking.

This book is not for the faint of heart. There’s some kinky activity that’s discussed frequently in the book and some readers may find it offensive.”

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I hope you’ll take a moment to share in the comments what you’ve been reading this month.

Until next time,

Amy

Reading Round-Up: November Edition

This will be a short post for two reasons: first, I didn’t get much reading done this month because I’ve been so busy working on Be My Valencrime, and second, because it’s Thanksgiving week in the United States and people are too harried to read long posts over the next few days. 🙂

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The first book I finished in November was The Death of Mrs. Westaway (Ruth Ware) which I’d wanted to read since it was released in May, 2018. It has a Gothic-y cover and a creepy housekeeper and a forbidding mansion on a neglected estate, so I figured it was right up my alley. I didn’t think it lived up to its hype, but I enjoyed it. Here’s my review:

“I enjoyed this story, with its creepy old house, its Mrs.-Danvers-like housekeeper, and its twists and turns. I didn’t give it five stars because I felt the mystery was a little forced and contrived in some places.”

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You know I love cookbooks. And I LOVE eggs. So when I saw Sunny-Side Up by Waylynn Lucas on the New Releases shelf at the library, I knew I had to read it. It has some great recipes, and there are tutorials on how to make a perfect egg, which I actually found enlightening. I tried the author’s trick of making creamy scrambled eggs by adding a wedge of Laughing Cow cheese to them, and the results were delicious! Here’s my review:

“This book has some unique recipes using eggs, but I was hoping for a little more oomph in the savory department and a little less oomph in the pancakes/waffles department. I’m looking forward to trying many of the recipes. Gorgeous photos.”

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Make Your Bed: Little Things that Can Change Your Life…and Maybe the World by Admiral William McRaven (Ret.) is another book I’ve wanted to read since it came out in 2017 and I heard about it on a news program. The book was smaller and shorter than I expected, making it a quick read that it completely satisfying. Here’s my review:

“I loved this little book. I don’t normally read inspirational stuff, but this one was full of stories about perseverance, heart, and courage. I highly recommend it.”

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And last, but certainly not least, was Still Life by Louise Penny. This author has won award after award for her writing, and I’m embarrassed to say I had never read anything written by her. A friend gave me a copy of Penny’s first Inspector Gamache book and I’m so glad she did. Though I didn’t enjoy the first 50 pages or so, I found the rest of the book riveting and I’m glad I pushed through the beginning to reach the middle. Here’s my review:

“I enjoyed this book, the first in a series. I had a tough time with about the first 50 pages, but I’m glad I stuck with it because Inspector Gamache is a delight. I hope to see Agent Nichol in upcoming books, and I hope she learns some lessons about knowing when to keep her mouth shut. She was a great character–complex and compelling, yet aggravating in a good, literary way. I would love to visit Three Pines!”

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What have you been reading? Share your recent reads in the comments!

Until next time, Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends!

Amy

 

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