Tag Archives: Books

The Other Guest by Helen Cooper, a Review

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I got this book in a book swap at a book club meeting. I may not have otherwise discovered it so I’m glad the luck of the draw was with me that night.

A domestic suspense novel set partially in Italy and partially in Derby, UK. Chapters alternate between three women. Leah, Joanna, and Amy each tell their stories in turn and we root for each one.

The death of a young woman nine months before the story starts is integral to the book. A family torn apart by death, suspicion of a bartender who left Italy after the death and an aunt who wants answers mix together in Italy. A woman nursing a broken heart and beginning to recover from it in Derby is another mystery as the book opens. What she has to do with the family in Italy is one of the conundrums the reader is faced with in reading the tale. Figuring out her connection to a place far away where she’s never been is part of the initial fun of the read.

I liked the way the author alternated the story with present day Leah and Johanna and wove what they were going through separately eventually to the denouement. The flashbacks with Amy added a poignant element to the tale.

Both Joanna and Leah get into dangerous situations in the book, some due to their own making which ramped up the anxiety on their behalf. Some were due to their natural curiosity and helpful natures. Each of them acted in a way to endanger themselves on occasion. This reader enjoyed the anxiety for their safety in those scenes. The author did an excellent job crafting the suspenseful parts of the tale. The way she tied the diverse elements together was very satisfying.

I read this one in part of an evening and part of a morning. It was a quick read, yet packed with fully drawn characters, suspense and convincing action.

A Noble Cunning: the Countess and the Tower by Patricia Bernstein

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This novel is based on and inspired by the real life bravery of a Scottish countess in 1715. Her name was Winifred Maxwell, Countess of Nithsdale. She saved her husband from certain death by smuggling him out of the Tower.

The character in the book is Bethan Glentaggert, Countess of Clarencefield. When she was a child, her family fled to France with King James II (A Stuart king) when William of Orange and Queen Mary (Stuarts) took the throne. Her family was Catholic and lived in exile for many years. She married at age 27 and moved to Scotland with her husband. They lived happily for a while, having three children, but eventually, when the first Jacobite rebellion (to restore James to the throne) occurred, her husband joined in, taking many of his tenants with him into battle.

With the rebels’ loss at Preston, her husband was taken prisoner and held in the Tower of London awaiting trial. The countess sent her children to safety and traveled to London to try to save her husband.

We, as readers, make the journey with her. Through a terrible winter storm. One of the worst in years. The author did an excellent job with the descriptions and the travails of the trip. A lesser woman might have given up. The countess had to leave her companion at one point and continue on her own. As a modern day woman, I can’t even imagine how scary that was—first, with the weather and then when alone, worrying about cutthroats and robbers. A woman alone was very vulnerable, but she persevered.

Once she arrives in London, she visits her husband in the Tower and gets him legal counsel to try to fight the treason charges. She also tries to plead to the king to let him go free. She hatches a back-up plan to try to save him if the legal case doesn’t go well.

The book was full of historical details and the author did an excellent job of painting the reader a picture of the era. It was as if we were there with the intrepid countess in the snow and in the Tower. The feeling of fear she felt for her husband and what would happen to him read very real.

The only disappointment I had with the book was the ending. I wanted more information about what happened when the countess joined her husband at the culmination of her brave and daring plan. I guess I’ll have to read one of the books in the bibliography at the end of the novel to learn more about the real life lady who took on the British establishment.

Review: Christmas by the book by Anne Marie Ryan

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I was attracted to this book by the blurb and, ultimately, it didn’t disappoint. It did take me a while to get into, though. The first chapters introduced a lot of characters in a short period of time. I’m someone who has a hard time with names in real life so it’s better for my reading enjoyment to be introduced with a cast of characters in a more drawn out process. I had to keep going back a few pages to recall who was who.

Once everyone was established in my head, though, things got better and I enjoyed the story more.

The protagonist’s mother founded a book shop in a small English village when the protagonist was young. The bookstore with the flat on the second floor is the only home she’s known for her whole life. She didn’t have a father in her life as she grew up.

The heroine’s husband was raised by a wealthy family in London and he’s always been a disappointment to his father as he chose to marry the heroine and help run the bookshop and not run the family business.

The husband had a heart attack a few months prior to the events in the book and the heroine has been babying him and keeping secrets from him about the health of the revenues of the business. They have one child who is on her gap year.

They bought a copy of the book that covers the Christmas Day soccer game between the Allies and Germany in WWI when they were very newly married. It has never sold. Until the day a man comes in looking for that very volume for his grandson who has leukemia.

This action plants the idea for them to give away six books to people in their area. They ask on Twitter for people to nominate a deserving recipient.

They choose books and wrap them.

When the six people are chosen, the wife randomly addresses the books without knowing which will go to whom.

The reminder of the book is introducing us to the people chosen and the impact on their lives of the book they were randomly gifted as well as how the heroine and her husband deal with the pending sale and closure of the store since they owe massive taxes.

The one issue I had with the book was the secret keeping the wife did. The store got in deep financial trouble over a period of many months and she didn’t tell her husband. That bothered me. A lot.  They seemed to have this perfect marriage which I thought made it completely unforgivable that she would keep such a big secret. That they were going to lose their home and livelihood based on her failure to be a good steward to the business and lying about it. It was a massive problem for me. And he forgave her way too easily.

The story itself, other than the lying to the spouse, was lovely and shows the power of the written word. How it can make a difference in a life. It was a worthwhile story as well as entertaining. A warm, fuzzy, Christmas read with life lessons for all six recipients as well as the bookshop owners.

4 stars.

The Bookshop of Second Chances by Jackie Fraser

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This was another book I read quickly like the last one I reviewed. The main character’s (Thea) life implodes when she loses her job in the same week she finds out her husband has been having an affair with one of her friends. As she’s in the process of moving out of the home she’s lived in with him for fifteen years, she receives a letter from a lawyer in Scotland informing her that she has inherited her great-uncle’s house and contents along with a sum of money.

Taking this chance to leave Sussex where the shattered pieces of her life are causing her to continue to grieve and work herself into a stupor of not moving from her bed, she and her best friend decide to head to Scotland for two weeks to check out the house she inherited.

They arrive and find the cottage to be charming and filled with antique books, many first editions. She thinks she should sell some of them.

Thea gets the name of the owner of the local antiquarian bookstore who is the brother of the local lord. The store owner is the elder of the two but relinquished the title. The brothers are sworn enemies.

As the book moves along, Thea finds that she likes both brothers as people. The bookstore owner is a bit of a curmudgeon, but she finds ways to make him laugh. The lord is unfailingly polite and, even though he’d like to buy the cottage from her, he’s cordial and even invites her to a party at his home.

When it’s time for her friend to return home, Thea decides to stay a bit longer and takes a job in the bookstore when the young man who works there leaves for university.

The story is excellent. It felt like I knew this woman and the brothers. They were so realistically drawn and fully fleshed out. They all seemed like someone I’d like to have a drink or meal with. Like they could be my friends.

The banter between Thea and the bookstore owner was fun. Both were witty and smart. Once in a while, some of their dialogue was a bit too much, but overall, I really liked their scenes. Thea was a clever lady, but sometimes she spoke in a stream of consciousness way that made me wonder about her. LOL

Thea learns and grows over the course of the book. She becomes stronger and has more insight into herself.

The bookstore owner brother has a journey of his own and Thea is the catalyst for that growth. Even the lord brother has a mini character arc which was nicely done.

I enjoyed this one. Another 5 stars from me.

Legacy Witches- by Cass Kay- A Review

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Vianna Roots is a reluctant witch from a Salem family with a long history of witchcraft.  She also sees the dead which is not a normal characteristic of a witch. She never fit in—either with the town or her family and had a bad relationship with her mother. As soon as she was able, she escaped in the middle of the night and had no intention of ever returning to her childhood home.

Fate had other plans for Vianna.  Her mother died and she had to return home to take part in the ritual of the burial of her mother. But Vianna has other plans than performing the ritual as it is supposed to go. She wants to tie her mother to the grave so she can’t come back and harass her like her other dead relatives do—especially her grandmother Susannah.

When Vianna arrives in Salem, she has an accident in her old truck with, of all things, a local policeman.  Then, when she gets to the house she inherited and can’t wait to sell off, the house won’t let her in and things continue to go downhill for her from there.

She doesn’t want to wear witch robes to the cemetery and chooses a red dress from her mother’s closet which turns out to be the dress her mother wore when she was initiated into her role as a witch. Something Vianna is determined not to let happen to herself.

At the cemetery, we meet a number of other characters who all have distinct personalities and who do not much care for the rebel Vianna. The scene is set for more drama in her life.

Vianna ties her mother to her grave and once she returns home, she starts to clear out some of the old things lying around. In searching a drawer, she finds a rotting hand. A vision of a woman reliving her death in the bathroom shows her where the hand originated. And now Vianna is on a quest to help this spirit to rest—a spirit she happens to know quite well. But she doesn’t plan to embrace her legacy as a witch. She is going to solve this issue with this spirit and sell the house and leave again as soon as she can.

Along the way to her goal, Vianna goes on a date with a man she had a crush on in high school. She finds, not only is he weird and possessive, but his mother has issues, too. He’s persistent and annoying. She’s mystified about why he’s suddenly attracted to her. Old school mates wreak havoc in her life, and, when danger arises, she even has to head back to the cemetery to dig up another ancestor and get a bone from her—not because she wants to embrace her legacy, but because it’s necessary to do so.

The cemetery caretaker is someone she knew in the past who is not welcome in the witching community either and they strike up a friendship. I loved their relationship. It was nice to have someone that the heroine could rely on and who was a great character. She offered some relief from the gloomy atmosphere and danger the heroine was in.

This book was delightful to read. A lot of great action, a mystery about some paintings and a dead girl in the bathroom as well as the friendship that arises between two people who don’t fit in makes for a great story. The author also gives us fans of the macabre and light horror a lot of great, descriptive scenes.  This is no white witch, light comedy type story that glosses over some of the darker sides of the craft. I quite enjoyed the change of pace from those type stories.  

I recommend this one as it is chockful of great scenes, some humor and a compelling story, not least of which is how misfits can find their place and make the home/family they need.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders- A Review

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In the Tibetan religion, the bardo is the place between lives. I didn’t know this until I picked up this book. It’s sort of what I think some western religions call purgatory. I’m not 100% sure since I’m Methodist and we don’t have that concept in our theology. Nevertheless, this was a fantastic read. Mr. Saunders, a professor at Syracuse University is a brilliant, witty writer. 

This story starts with the last illness of Willie Lincoln, the son of Abraham Lincoln. We are also introduced to a variety of characters in the bardo itself. They don’t know they are dead. They think they are in “sick boxes” and waiting to recover and go back to their families. 

The conversations and actions of the men and women in the bardo are repetitions of what they did in life. Some retell the same stories over and over. 

We have three main protagonists there. One a reverend, and one a man who was a printer who died when a rafter hit him in the head and one who slashed his wrists when his lover took another lover, who is still “waiting” for his mother to discover him and take him to the hospital. They show us, through their points of view, the others in the bardo. Some of the conversations are poignant and some are quite amusing. Sometimes, people leave the bardo with a flash and bang when they look at a light but our main characters resist the light as they don’t want to disappear to who knows where. They are waiting for their families to come take them home and they sure want to be there when it happens. 

Interspersed between the scenes in the bardo are some quotes of various members of the public and newspapers regarding the huge party the Lincolns threw when their son was upstairs gravely ill in the White House. Many thought they were wrong to have the party that had been planned for a while. Many thought the child’s parents were to blame for his illness as they allowed him out in the snow and cold with his little pony. It was interesting to read those comments. It appears as if they are from real articles of the time. I didn’t research to be sure of that, but they read as true. Which makes the story even more poignant. If they are fiction, it increases my admiration for the author’s cleverness.

The boy eventually dies and, after a funeral, is taken to the cemetery. He arrives in the bardo and our cast of characters assure him he’s only in a sick box and will soon rejoin his life and see his father again. 

Lincoln comes to the mausoleum where Willie’s body is and the boy tries to make contact with him. Of course, Lincoln can’t hear him. 

The main characters of the bardo become worried about the boy when he’s devastated that his father can’t hear him. They are determined to help him. Maybe he should try to escape the bardo? The young ones usually do, but Willie is determined to reunite with his father and plans to stay around. 

The rest of the story is about how they try to help Willie and lessons are learned for all of them. Well, most of them, as there will always be some who choose other paths. 

This book was a quick read that pulled me in and I found myself turning pages in thrall with the story and the talent of this writer. He encourages the reader to think about life and love of family and how we, as humans, are tied to our lives. It’s sometimes hard to let go of things and this book is a lesson in how we often have to make decisions where we might put ourselves at risk. The author teaches us these things in an amusing as well as heart-rending way. His talent in switching from one to the other is beautiful and make this a very worthwhile read.  I highly recommend this one. 

A Haunted History of Invisible Women by Leanna Renee Hieber and Andrea Janes- A Review

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Interesting, informative, and sometimes insulting.

I am somewhat torn about this book. There were some things to love about it and some things to hate as well.

Being someone who is intrigued by the spiritual and historical and having read/enjoyed some of Leanna’s fiction work, the premise and authors of this book intrigued me and led me to want to read it.

Quite a number of the ghost tales were known to me—in fact, one of them was very well known as I spent a semester at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama in high school in a program called Step Ahead where incoming high school seniors could take two classes (for credit) in the summer. I was pleased that one of the first tales told in this book was about the red lady from there. That summer I lived on campus, we used to walk down to the dorm (Pratt Hall) where the poor girl supposedly died and talk about how tragic that was. A few times, it seemed there was a face at one of the windows on the top floor. Perhaps a flight of fancy since we were told the room had been boarded up. Nevertheless, it was nice to see the story in this book.

Clearly, the authors did a wonderful job fully researching the various stories they chose to share. The way the tales were sorted into categories made sense and the organization was well done. The book had a nice flow to it and a good variety of stories.

Some of the prose was a bit too woke and strident for me. There were also some places that it seemed as if the authors were lecturing or looking down on the reader. It was odd to me for them to basically attempt to shame the very demographic of people who would be attracted to reading the subject matter of this book. It was also strange since one of the authors owns a ghost tour company and the other one leads ghost tours. If you make your living from the industry, how can you legitimately look down on your customers? Seems a bit cynical to me. I almost stopped reading a couple of times because of this, but eventually picked it up again as the actual ghost stories and histories of the places were intriguing.

Overall, I enjoyed this one. I recommend the book for the stories and thorough historical research. Just skim over the parts where the writers’ judgment of the reader is problematic. I’m giving this one 3.5 stars for the historical detail and quality of the tales.

I received a copy of the book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review. September 27, 2022 release date.

The Magnolia Palace- Fiona Davis

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This was a quick read that was enjoyable. I found it interesting that the main character was inspired by a real person. I knew the family who owned the Magnolia Palace were real –The Frick family. Mr. Henry Clay Frick was an industrialist as well as an art patron and eventually, he left his home to the city to make into a museum. Audrey Munson was the woman who inspired the heroine, Lillian, in this story. Audrey was used by many sculptors of that era as a model for many of the statues around the city of New York. Many call her the first super model.

The novel begins with Lillian being in the wrong place at the wrong time and she is questioned in the murder of her landlord’s wife. She flees and ends up in a job interview to be the assistant to Mr. Frick’s daughter.

The action swings back and forth from the gilded age to the 1960s where we meet a model named Veronica who has come over from England to be part of a photo shoot at the Frick mansion which is now a museum. She meets a young man who is interning at the museum.  They accidently get locked into the museum overnight in a snowstorm and blackout.

Back in the gilded age, Lillian works for the daughter of the industrialist and tries to help her in her love life as the woman’s father wants her to marry. There’s a lot of interesting psychological undertones in Frick’s son and daughter’s interactions with him as well as each other.

Lillian finds herself falling for the young man who has been chosen to be her employer’s fiancé and he falls for her as well. The daughter goes out of town with her family and sets a kind of treasure hunt around the house for her intended husband in order to amuse him while she’s gone. Lillian helps him in the quest and they draw closer together.

In the 1960s, Veronica finds the clues for the treasure hunt in the house/museum and she, along with the intern start to follow them while they are stranded in the house.

The rest of the story continues to move back and forth between the time periods and the two heroines. A murder occurs and the excitement builds in each era. I won’t say much more as I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but it’s a unique and interesting story. I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it if you like art, the gilded age, the 1960s, mysteries and a fictionalized look at the past in an exciting way.

Issues of racism and prejudice against women with ambition are two of the themes of this story as well as family love and conflict.  Overall, I think it’s a good story.

The Girl from Bletchley Park by Kathleen McGurl

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A tale of two protagonists. One from the 1940s and WWII era, Pam, and one from modern times, Julia, her granddaughter. The story alternates chapters between the two women. This book was an easy read as the author’s style was straightforward and uncomplicated. I found myself yelling at the modern woman for the way she allowed her husband to treat her and talk to her. I wanted to smack him for his nastiness and his thoughts that all she was basically good for was to cook and clean for him while he lolled about.

The girl from WWII who worked at Bletchley Park was naïve and a little bit too sweet for my taste but I did enjoy her storyline. She found herself working as a code breaker and signed the Official Secrets Act as part of her job. She took that very seriously although she almost messed up a few times as the story went on.

Pam was a popular girl, making friends easily and having two very different men attracted to her. She met them both when she was billeted at Woburn Abbey. One was the gardener there and the other was a young man who worked with her at Bletchley. Adventures ensue and she has to make some hard decisions, but eventually figured out her true feelings about the things happening in her life.

The modern protagonist had a lot go wrong in her life, but she drew strength from her children She was pitched a lot of curveballs as the story unfolded.

While I solved both storylines pretty early on in the book, it was still an enjoyable read and I think it is a good story for people interested in that time period as well as readers who like stories that tie together the past and the present. 

Chances Are – Laurie Ryan- a Review

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I’ve been in the throes of writing the first draft of my latest book and haven’t taken time to read for a month. I started reading Chances Are at the end of October, but was only a couple of chapters in before I went on my forced diet of no reading. It was an intriguing story from the start —the hero was particularly compelling. I could actually picture him leaning against the doorway in all his macho glory. J I wasn’t sure about the heroine as she was a lawyer and I’m always leery of lawyer characters and/or law based stories. Being one myself sure can wreak havoc with my enjoyment of a book, movie, or television show. I’m hyper critical of mistakes when the law is involved. J

When I picked the story back up this weekend, I was pleasantly surprised to find the legal issues to be well done—except for a few moments of anxiety which were put at ease almost as soon as I started to twitch. J

The story was fast paced and enjoyable. The hero and heroine had great chemistry and the supporting characters (some of whom have been in other books of this series) were fully developed and delightful. I did guess one character’s secret pretty early on, but I really enjoyed her parts.

As to the villain, having known some people who had similar experiences with bad apples, the villain didn’t seem over the top to me. It could easily have gone to a situation where reality was stretched there, but didn’t. Sadly, there are too many people in the world who place blame for their situations on others. Ms. Ryan nailed that aspect of things.

Overall, this was a great read. Steamy in spots, exciting drama, and true friendships and love were shown by the main cast of characters. The next book is being written now and I’m sure it’ll be more of the same—hoping we’ll see these characters, Jackson and Aimie, again as friends with the new hero and heroine. Small town romances are the best as it’s always a possibility to run into someone you already know. Willow Bay seems like a great place to live.