Review | Farewell Summer

Farewell Summer by Ray Bradbury

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I’m a huge Ray Bradbury fan.  I haven’t found another writer who can accurately capture the nostalgia of childhood so perfectly.  I read Dandelion Wine for the first time a few years ago and it instantly became my favorite book of all time.  It was so perfect in fact that I decided to hold off on reading the sequel, Farewell Summer, until this year.

Farewell Summer brings readers back to Green Town, Illinois with  summer hanging on in to early October.  Doug Spaulding and his friends find a rival in school board leader Calvin Quartermain as they try to make summer last forever, starting a war between the youth and the elderly, both unable to stop the ticking of the clock.

Another powerful coming of age story full of bittersweet nostalgia eloquently written by Bradbury.  Most of this sequel was actually written at the same time as Dandelion Wine but was set aside when the publishers decided it would make the novel too long.
Fifty years later, Bradbury released this long awaited sequel, beautifully polished over the years.

Farewell Summer is a lovely final visit to Green Town with Doug.  If you’re a fan of Bradbury and/or coming of age novels, be sure and read both Dandelion Wine and Farewell Summer!

 

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Review | The Broken Girls

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

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Journalist Fiona Sheridan is haunted by the death of her sister twenty years ago.  Though her sister’s boyfriend is behind bars for the crime, Fiona often finds herself on Old Barron’s Road near the ruins of Idlewild Hall where her body was found, unable to let the case go.

Idlewild Hall was once a boarding school for unwanted girls.  It was rumored to be haunted by the ghost of Mary Hand, searching for her baby that was supposedly buried in the garden.

In 1950, four roommates at Idlewild become unlikely friends who bond over their circumstances and the ghost who haunts the halls. Then one of them disappears, never to be seen again.

When Fiona Sheridan learns that Idlewild is being restored, she cannot let the past go.  She pitches a story to the local magazine she freelances for and begins to dive into the history of the school and its students.  When a body is discovered in an old well at the start of demolition, Fiona believes there has to be a link to her sister and the secrets kept in Idlewild.

Alternating between the events of 1950 and 2014, The Broken Girls deftly weaves two compelling tales that have secrets begging to be revealed!

While there are a couple incredibly convenient events that allow the plot to follow a specific route, this was a creepy mystery with some spooky elements.
Part ghost story, part mystery, The Broken Girls is a book I recommend to readers who enjoy historical fiction and supernatural elements.

Review | Good Husbandry

Good Husbandry: A Memoir by Kristin Kimball

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I read Kristin Kimball’s first memoir, The Dirty Life, back in 2016 when my husband and I were in our third year of homesteading.  Her writing was so lovely and while she shared the good and the bad, it was written in such a way that I had hope for the future and could see our own struggles as an adventure.
Kimball was a thirtysomething writer living in NYC when she met her future husband Mark, a farmer passionate about growing and providing food for his community.  Together the couple moved to the five hundred acre Essex Farm and Kimball chronicled their first year from planting to harvesting to their barn wedding.
Romantic, ambitious, and eye-opening, I loved reading Kimball’s adventures so I was thrilled to learn about her upcoming memoir, Good Husbandry.

Kimball’s second memoir, Good Husbandry, chronicles several years on Essex Farm.  Once again her writing shines with savory descriptions and most importantly: honesty.
Through the birth of their two daughters, harsh seasons, financial pressures, injuries as well as aging; Kristin and Mark’s marriage suffered under the strain.  Kimball does not hold back when explaining both the beauty and the darkness that followed them as their lives changed in profound ways.
I loved Kimball’s reflections on motherhood and how it changed her role on the farm and shifted her perspective about Mark and their home.
Her insight into caring and providing for a community is powerful.  I appreciate her passion and mission and am thrilled to see their story continue through her evocative writing.

Thanks to Scribner for providing me with an advanced reader’s copy.  Good Husbandry: A Memoir is scheduled for release on October 15, 2019.

Review | Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts

Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts by Kate Racculia

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Tuesday Mooney is good at her job as a prospect researcher.

“A prospect researcher is one part private detective, one part property assessor, one part gossip columnist, and one part witch.” *

She works for a hospital finding wealthy people willing to part with some of their money for charitable causes.  She’s a loner who prefers to be on the outside where she can notice what others cannot and would rather stay home and watch X-Files reruns than socialize with her best friend of ten years, Dex, who has never even been to her apartment.

When the eccentric billionaire Vincent Pryce collapses and dies at a charity event, Pryce’s death is overshadowed by his final request:  an epic treasure hunt through Boston with clues inspired by Edgar Allan Poe that will lead to a share of his wealth!

Tuesday’s curiosity and skills lead her and her oddball crew (BFF Dex, teen next door neighbor Dorry, and handsome heir Archie) through a mysterious game that requires them all to face their pasts in hopes of finding Pryce’s fortune.

Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts was a fun mystery that will certainly be compared to The Westing Game.  I enjoyed the twists, the secrets revealed, and the pop culture references that added some humor.
The pace began to drag in the middle but overall this was an intriguing read that kept me guessing the entire time.

I recommend this book to readers who love games, mysteries, word play, and family drama!

Thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts is scheduled for release on October 8, 2019.

*Quote included is from a digital advanced reader’s copy and is subject to change upon final publication.

Review | The Giver of Stars

The Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes

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“Kentucky, huh. Most beautiful place on earth, and the most brutal. Sometimes I think God wanted to show us all his ways at once.” *

Alice Wright hopes by marrying the handsome American Bennett Van Cleve she will escape her suffocating life in England and begin a true adventure.  Unfortunately she finds that while location and circumstances have changed, life as a newlywed is hardly romantic with an overbearing father-in-law under the same roof.

Alice is quick to sign up to deliver books for the new traveling library in Baileyville, Kentucky and immediately finds a friend in leader Margery O’Hare, known to be tough as nails and unafraid to speak her mind.

Through the program, Alice meets a truly diverse group of people in the hollers of Appalachia and begins to understand the culture and the pride her patrons have, most refusing to accept free books without giving something in return.
Alice, Margery, and the other women running the library must overcome obstacles including prejudice and physical limitations while also contending with Alice’s wealthy father-in-law who is intent on shutting down the library.

This was a fascinating group of women and I loved each of their stories which were all full of strength and resiliency.  There is some romance in this novel but instead of overpowering the plot it enhanced the story, which most of you long-time subscribers know I rarely ever say!

The WPA’s Horseback Librarian program did exist from 1936-1943 thanks to a stellar group of women (and some men!) willing to travel through all weather and terrain to provide books to the most isolated hollers in the mountains.  It’s an interesting part of U.S. history and Moyes has created an incredible story around it.

I highly recommend this novel to readers who enjoy historical fiction, Appalachian settings, and strong female characters.

Thanks to Pamela Dorman Books and Edelweiss for providing me with a DRC in exchange for my honest review.  The Giver of Stars is scheduled for release on October 8, 2019.

*Quote included is from a digital advanced reader’s copy and is subject to change upon final publication.

Review | The Testaments

The Testaments (The Handmaid’s Tale #2) by Margaret Atwood

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The Handmaid’s Tale is a classic dystopian novel published over 30 years ago and its popularity has surged in the last few years thanks to the Hulu show.  Readers followed the story of Offred, a woman who witnessed the fall of the United States of America and the rise of Gilead and its theocracy. The story was bleak and slightly sinister, especially because so much was left to the reader’s imagination.
The TV show followed the novel’s storyline but has greatly expanded on what we know about Offred and Gilead with a large cast of characters and disturbing crimes committed in the name of religion.

Readers were shocked to learn that Atwood had finally decided to write a sequel 30+ years later.  The author admitted she’d hesitated to do so because she knew she would not be able to find Offred’s voice again.
Atwood’s answer to that problem is The Testaments, a novel set fifteen years after The Handmaid’s Tale and narrated by three women who are ready to see Gilead crumble.
Two of these women are coming of age in the first generation of the new regime; one on the inside as a Commander’s daughter and one watching safely from Canada.  The third woman has ruthlessly gained power within Gilead as a treasured Aunt and she’s had her fill of dark secrets.

While The Handmaid’s Tale was a somber narrative of events told from an isolated perspective, The Testaments is a hopeful narrative by women ready to take action.

I appreciate that Atwood created a sequel that combines what we know from both the first novel and its TV adaptation to create a compelling continuation of story lines readers/viewers are eager to know more about.

I enjoyed finding out what Atwood imagines the fates of certain characters to be though the narratives were very uneven for me.  The Aunt’s narrative was by far the strongest while the remaining two narratives felt somewhat awkward, as though they hadn’t been fully realized and were there only to further the action rather than functioning as voices with valuable information to offer.
That said, the action was fast paced—sometimes much too fast to be believable.  I get that this is a dystopian novel that requires a suspension of disbelief but when we’re looking at the timeline of Gilead’s rise, the events of this novel seem far too hasty.  I can’t really complain, however, since I devoured the entire novel in less than 24 hours.

You cannot one-up your own classic and that clearly wasn’t Atwood’s goal.  She’s given an entertaining continuation to fans of both the novel and its TV adaptation.  I think fans will appreciate the return to Gilead and even the questions that remain.

 

Review | The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl

The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl by Theodora Goss

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You all may remember that I adored a recent read, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter (read my review here) and was excited to continue with the series.  I was thrilled to receive an ARC of the final book in the trilogy and quickly checked out book two, European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman (read that review here), but unfortunately it fell short for me.  While I devoured book one, book two felt like a chore because it lacked some serious editing.

That said, I was still looking forward to the conclusion of The Athena Club series which picks up immediately after European Travel with the group searching for Mary’s kidnapped maid Alice.  They also find it alarming that Sherlock Holmes still hasn’t returned from a mysterious errand and now Dr. Watson cannot be located either.

While searching for their friends, The Athena Club uncovers a plot against the Queen that is connected to the kidnappings. Can they save their friends and the British Empire before it’s too late?

I’m very disappointed to say this was not the exciting finale I hoped for.  Instead, I began skimming before I even reached the half way point in the story.  The snappy dialogue/banter in the middle of the narrative was charming in book one, tedious in book two, and completely unnecessary in book three.
The pace is inconsistent and the plot is weighed down in unnecessary details (which was also my major issue with book two) that make the adventure greatly lag. While I adored the introduction to the extensive cast of characters in book one, there was little to no character growth over the course of the series causing some to go from charming to annoying.  This trilogy takes place over the course of a few short months but the action is always saved for the very end to tie up loose ends quickly.

I’d definitely advise readers who enjoy sci-fi/fantasy and retellings to give the first book a try but I hesitate to recommend the final two.

Thanks to Gallery/Saga Press and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl is scheduled for release on October 1, 2019.

Review | The Library of the Unwritten

The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith

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“Only books died in Hell. Everyone else had to live with their choices.” *

There is a library in Hell full of unfinished/unwritten stories.  Claire, a no-no-nonsense mortal, has been Head Librarian for a few decades now.  She repairs the books as needed and keeps an eye on the ones that grow restless.

“There were two parts to any unwritten book. Its words—the twisting, changing text on the page—and its story. Most of the time, the two parts were united in the books filling the Unwritten Wing’s stacks, but now and then a book woke up. Felt it had a purpose beyond words on a page. Then the story made itself into one of its characters and went walking.” *

Leto, a demon courier, passes on a message to Claire that an unwritten book has gone missing and is a suspected runaway.  Claire brings Leto and her assistant Brevity to Earth to track down the character that has escaped.  While it should be a routine retrieval, Claire is shocked when the fallen angel Ramiel shows up convinced that they have the Devil’s Bible in their possession.

Claire, Leto, and Brevity, and the character they captured journey across the realms attempting to track down the Devil’s Bible before another war between Heaven and Hell breaks out and the library can be destroyed.

I loved this book!  The premise is so original and the characters were entertaining with their dry humor (which I always enjoy) and the brief back stories that explain how they ended up in Hell.  I also loved a surprising connection between two characters that isn’t revealed until the last portion of the book.
While the middle hit a lull, it picked back up with a strong ending and I can’t wait to see what happens in their next adventure!  That’s right, this was only book one in the series A Novel from Hell’s Library.  I’m looking forward to finding out more about Claire’s past, the politics of Hell which are briefly discussed in this book, and Heaven’s involvement.

Huge thanks to Ace Books for mailing me an advanced copy in exchange for my honest review.  The Library of the Unwritten is scheduled for release on October 1, 2019.

*Quotes included are from a digital advanced reader’s copy and are subject to change upon final publication.

Review | You’re Not Doing It Right

You’re Not Doing It Right: Tales of Marriage, Sex, Death, and Other Humiliations by Michael Ian Black

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Comedian Michael Ian Black’s first memoir is hilarious and surprisingly poignant.  I love his brand of humor and from his writing he strikes me as the kind of friend you’d describe as, “Great guy, kind of a dick, but great.”
We all have that friend we love to death but think they can be kind of dick but really they’re just honest.  And honesty is exactly what Black brings to the table in his collection of essays.

Black covers his childhood with a brother and special needs sister, his parents divorce, his mother realizing she’s a lesbian, and the sudden and unexpected death of his dad who he didn’t have a great relationship with.  He shares it all with humor but surprised me with some really candid and honest thoughts.

Then, there’s his wife Martha.  He shares how their relationship began, their decision to move in together (she basically bullied her way in), their marriage (her idea), and eventually the birth of their two children (again, all her idea).

I related to the chapters on marriage and parenthood so much.  Black wasn’t afraid to share the raw truths that no one ever wants to talk about and share in such a way that I laughed several times in the school line to pick up my daughter.

“Occasionally, I see an article in the newspaper about parents who abuse their children. Before I had a child, I used to think, How could this happen? Now, I find myself wondering why it doesn’t happen more often. Why aren’t parents throwing their kids into Dumpsters every day? And why, God, why do people have more than one? Because after you’ve done this once, there can be no possible excuse for doing it again. The thought occurs to me that if parenthood is this hard for everybody, infanticide would be as common as public urination. The human species would have died out long ago. Therefore, our experience cannot be common. Clearly there is something wrong with him. Maybe our kid is a lemon.”

I could’ve written that paragraph myself.  I felt the exact same way after my daughter was born.  (But I was smarter, I really couldn’t find an excuse to have a second child.)

He discusses honestly the strain parenting put on his marriage and that he and Martha attended counseling to get through some of the toughest parts.  He admits to being a dick and saying hurtful things.

Then there were the surprisingly profound and brutally honest thoughts he shared.

After his son called him the best dad ever:

“Doesn’t he know how much I resented him when he was a baby, crying in the night? Or, now that he’s older, doesn’t he notice when I’m so immersed on the computer that I don’t listen to the stories he tells me about his day? Doesn’t he know that I am sometimes glad to be far away from him and his sister and his mother, all by myself, in a hotel room where nobody needs me for anything?”

His thoughts on parenting:

“There is no word for feeling nostalgic about the future, but that’s what a parent’s tears often are, a nostalgia for something that has not yet occurred. They have the pain of hope, the helplessness of hope, and finally, the surrender to hope. That’s what parenthood is, ultimately, the hope of casting a message in a glass bottle into the sea with no sense of where it will end up. We have no control, none of us.”

(I should mention that quote is taken from a chapter where he talks in great detail about how much he hates the band Creed but the song “With Arms Wide Open” changed his life.)

And the final chapter, which turned into somewhat of a love letter to Martha:

“Time moves in peculiar ways. Fast and slow at the same time. When I look at you, I don’t see whatever imperfections you see. Our faces are just geography. They tell us the story of who we are and who we used to be.  I see you as I’ve always known you: I see you at twenty-five and thirty and forty-two … I love the story your face tells me because I love you.
That is the real gift of marriage, I think. When people about about ‘growing old together,’ what they are really talking about is the desire to see somebody all the way through, to connect your life with somebody in such a deep way that the word old loses whatever scary power it might have had on us alone.”

This was a great memoir with a perfect mix of humor and honesty that pretty much everyone can relate to in some way.
I recommend this to readers who enjoy autobiography/memoir, humor, and contemporary essays.

Review | A Dream So Dark

A Dream So Dark by L.L. McKinney

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I read and adored the first book in The Nightmare-Verse series, A Blade So Black (read my review here), an urban fantasy retelling of Alice in Wonderland set in modern day Atlanta.
It was an original take with teen Alice Kingston training with Addison Hatta to battle Nightmares in the realm called Wonderland.  Readers were given an interesting history of the three Queens and then a dangerous foe arrived:  the Black Knight.

A Dream So Dark brings readers back to the action as Alice struggles to keep her two lives separate.  This quickly crumbles when the Black Knight arrives at her home with her feisty mom present.
Alice must travel to the deepest places in Wonderland to find out who the Black Knight is and who it is that he’s serving while also worrying about the fates of both Hatta and Chess.

There’s so much at stake and some shocking history revealed but this book moved at an uneven pace for me.  I love that we spent so much time in Wonderland and there were new characters and creatures introduced but none of it was fully realized as it tried to compete with the sense of urgency to find and defeat the Black Knight.
That sense of urgency fizzled out for me with a rushed ending.  We had been building to this major face-off with fates hanging in the balance and then … the climax unfolds in basically a paragraph.

Overall, this book just didn’t hold up to the first in the series and I doubt I’ll continue on with the series.  I still recommend checked out the series for readers who enjoy YA fantasy and modern retellings.

Thanks to Imprint and Edelweiss for providing me with a DRC in exchange for my honest review.  A Dream So Dark is scheduled for release on September 24, 2019.