Help Me Choose a Book Club Read

I’m hosting book club again in September! You know what that means: you all get to decide what book we read. There are five books listed below, and down at the bottom, a poll where you can cast your vote for the next book club read. As I did last time, I’ve provided the cover and the Amazon blurb for each book, so read through them and let me know which title you choose. I’ll announce the winner next Tuesday.

And thanks for your help!

***

Florence Adler Swims Forever: A Novel by [Rachel Beanland]

Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland. Here’s what Amazon says about it:

Atlantic City, 1934. Every summer, Esther and Joseph Adler rent their house out to vacationers escaping to “America’s Playground” and move into the small apartment above their bakery. Despite the cramped quarters, this is the apartment where they raised their two daughters, Fannie and Florence, and it always feels like home.

Now Florence has returned from college, determined to spend the summer training to swim the English Channel, and Fannie, pregnant again after recently losing a baby, is on bedrest for the duration of her pregnancy. After Joseph insists they take in a mysterious young woman whom he recently helped emigrate from Nazi Germany, the apartment is bursting at the seams.

Esther only wants to keep her daughters close and safe but some matters are beyond her control: there’s Fannie’s risky pregnancy—not to mention her always-scheming husband, Isaac—and the fact that the handsome heir of a hotel notorious for its anti-Semitic policies, seems to be in love with Florence.

When tragedy strikes, Esther makes the shocking decision to hide the truth—at least until Fannie’s baby is born—and pulls the family into an elaborate web of secret-keeping and lies, bringing long-buried tensions to the surface that reveal how quickly the act of protecting those we love can turn into betrayal.

Based on a true story and told in the vein of J. Courtney Sullivan’s Saints for All Occasions and Anita Diamant’s The Boston Girl, Beanland’s family saga is a breathtaking portrait of just how far we will go to in order to protect our loved ones and an uplifting portrayal of how the human spirit can endure—and even thrive—after tragedy.

 

***

Mexican Gothic by [Silvia Moreno-Garcia]

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Here’s the blurb:

After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find—her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.

Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.

Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí, but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness.

And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind.

 

***

The Last Train to Key West by [Chanel Cleeton]

The Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleeton. Here’s what Amazon says about it:

For the tourists traveling on Henry Flagler’s legendary Overseas Railroad, Labor Day weekend is an opportunity to forget the economic depression gripping the nation. But one person’s paradise can be another’s prison, and Key West-native Helen Berner yearns to escape.

After the Cuban Revolution of 1933 leaves Mirta Perez’s family in a precarious position, she agrees to an arranged marriage with a notorious American. Following her wedding in HavanaMirta arrives in the Keys on her honeymoon. While she can’t deny the growing attraction to her new husband, his illicit business interests may threaten not only her relationship, but her life.

Elizabeth Preston’s trip to Key West is a chance to save her once-wealthy family from their troubles after the Wall Street crash. Her quest takes her to the camps occupied by veterans of the Great War and pairs her with an unlikely ally on a treacherous hunt of his own.

Over the course of the holiday weekend, the women’s paths cross unexpectedly, and the danger swirling around them is matched only by the terrifying force of the deadly storm threatening the Keys.

 

***

The Glass Woman: A Novel by [Caroline Lea]

The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea. Here’s the blurb:

Rósa has always dreamed of living a simple life alongside her Mamma in their remote village in Iceland, where she prays to the Christian God aloud during the day, whispering enchantments to the old gods alone at night. But after her father dies abruptly and her Mamma becomes ill, Rósa marries herself off to a visiting trader in exchange for a dowry, despite rumors of mysterious circumstances surrounding his first wife’s death.

Rósa follows her new husband, Jón, across the treacherous countryside to his remote home near the sea. There Jón works the field during the day, expecting Rósa to maintain their house in his absence with the deference of a good Christian wife. What Rósa did not anticipate was the fierce loneliness she would feel in her new home, where Jón forbids her from interacting with the locals in the nearby settlement and barely speaks to her himself.

Seclusion from the outside world isn’t the only troubling aspect of her new life—Rósa is also forbidden from going into Jón’s attic. When Rósa begins to hear strange noises from upstairs, she turns to the local woman in an attempt to find solace. But the villager’s words are even more troubling—confirming many of the rumors about Jón’s first wife, Anna, including that he buried her body alone in the middle of the night.

Rósa’s isolation begins to play tricks on her mind: What—or who—is in the attic? What happened to Anna? Was she mad, a witch, or just a victim of Jón’s ruthless nature? And when Jón is brutally maimed in an accident a series of events are set in motion that will force Rósa to choose between obedience and defiance—with her own survival and the safety of the ones she loves hanging in the balance.

 

***

These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901

These is My Words by Nancy Turner. Here’s the Amazon blurb:

A moving, exciting, and heartfelt American saga inspired by the author’s own family memoirs, these words belong to Sarah Prine, a woman of spirit and fire who forges a full and remarkable existence in a harsh, unfamiliar frontier. Scrupulously recording her steps down the path Providence has set her upon—from child to determined young adult to loving mother—she shares the turbulent events, both joyous and tragic, that molded her, and recalls the enduring love with cavalry officer Captain Jack Elliot that gave her strength and purpose.

Rich in authentic everyday details and alive with truly unforgettable characters, These Is My Words brilliantly brings a vanished world to breathtaking life again.

***

Now you choose!

 

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.

***

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.”

***

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.”

***

 

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.”

***

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.”

***

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.”

***

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.”

***

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. 🙂

***

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.”

***

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.”

***

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.”

***

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!”

***

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.

***

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.”

***

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).”

***

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.”

***

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.”

***


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.”

***

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!”

***

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

Until next time,

Amy

A HUGE Milestone to Share!

The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor_ebook cover

My editor called me this morning to tell me that The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor is now on the USA Today Bestseller list!!

Thank you to everyone who has read the book, read Secrets of Hallstead House, read my blog, visited me on Facebook or Twitter, and/or reviewed either of my books–it means the world to me!

Until next week,

Amy