Thursday, September 12, 2019

Book Review: The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis

Pages: 304
Publisher: Berkley Books
Released: September 10, 2019
Received: e-ARC from NetGalley
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars
Goodreads

I hadn't even heard of this book an probably wouldn't have read it if it weren't for the publisher sending me a link to download the book through NetGalley. So, well done, it worked. Again.

And, again, I'm very happy this happened because I really enjoyed The Vanished Bride. It's one of those books that maybe isn't perfect and has some room for criticism and improvement, but, for the most part, none of that mattered to me. I started reading the first chapter "just to see" and ended up getting completely sucked into the story.

It moved at a nice swift but not breakneck pace, and shorty chapters definitely helped with this. The point of view changed between Charlotte and Emily and I ended up liking both of them a lot even though, objectively, both probably should have annoyed me. Ah, wait, Anne is in this book (she isn't in the other Bronte mystery book). Drat. Ok, so I read another Bronte-mystery book (Always Emily) soon after finishing this one as The Vanished Bride so inspired me to delve into the Brontes and left me wanting more fictional Bronte sleuthing, and I think I may have bits and pieces of the two mixed up.

Ok, so less detail and more general impressions, because that I don't have mixed up. The mystery kept me on my toes and intrigued. The sisters were all appealing and fun to spend time with. I liked their brother, even as I was shaking my head at him. It was kind of corny but ultimately I liked all the nods the author made toward the Brontes' stories, as if the events they were experiencing in The Vanished Bride were the things that influenced the sisters' later (real) books. It was a total gimmick, but it was also one I fell for totally.

The only thing I didn't like was the bit at the end. It felt unnecessary and like it was shoehorned in just to provide an element of modern diversity and "damn the patriarchy" that didn't fit with the rest of the book. It felt out of place in a novel starring the Brontes, for a character who this seemed not aligned with her characterization during the entire rest of the book, and in a story that, up until the very, very end, hadn't even hinted at this.

But, that bit aside, I very much enjoyed this book and I definitely plan on reading the next in the series.


Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Middle Grade Book Review Round Up


Amphitrite the Bubbly by Joan Holub & Suzanne Williams
Goddess Girls #17
Goodreads

Hestia the Invisible
Goddess Girls #18
Goodreads

I was less enthused as this series started adding new Goddess Girls and stopped the rotation of Athena, Aphrodite, Persephone, and Artemis that it had started in the beginning. I loved the addition of Medusa, but I was so-so on Iris. And, even though I loved Pheme, I didn't love Pandora. So the new Goddess Girls are hit and miss for me.

Thankfully, Amphitrite and Hestia fell solidly into the "love" camp. Both of their personalities were endearing and their interests, challenges, and approaches meshed well with me. Hestia especially resonated as we're both introverts and we both enjoy cooking. Each book followed the established pattern of an action-oriented plot, heavy focus on personal growth and friendships, and a smidge of romance (they have "crushes"). Cameo appearances from previous characters, introductions of new side characters, and world-building elements are also present and all remain strong and interesting additions.

Eighteen books is a lot of books in a series, but thankfully I'm still at the point of hoping new books continue to be added. I've also experienced enough "love" for the new Goddess Girls that I don't mind and actually look forward to getting to know new characters.





Let's Mooove! by Courtney Sheinmel and Bianca Turetsky
Magic on the Map #1
Goodreads

The Show Must Go On by Courtney Sheinmel and Bianca Turetsky
Magic on the Map #2
Goodreads

This series came to me unexpectedly from the publisher and I'm glad it did. Each book focuses on a different state (so far Colorado, New York) and is filled with state facts and touristy pit-stops. They're fun. They're super short and have nice but very shallow lessons about things like friendship, family, and responsibility.

I think they'll be very enjoyable to the target age group, but as an adult I'd read another if it was sent to me, but I wouldn't seek them out otherwise. They're pretty thin, but they do what they are well. These would be perfect for mid-elementary school readers and are a fun way to learn about different states.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Book Review: Where I End & You Begin by Preston Norton


Pages: 416
Publisher: Disney
Released: June 4, 2019
Received: Finished copy from publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

Freaky Friday body-swap stories aren't unique, but I do have a soft spot for them. Last year I read and enjoyed Preston Norton's Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe and while that book was a hot mess of every issue and 90s reference plus the kitchen sink, it was also compulsively readable and hilarious (there's a Sermon Showdown. I'm still in love with that).

So, when I got this book, I was looking forward to it. It's big, yeah, but it's a super fast read. The over-the-top writing style and a zillion references were toned down here so now the writing was amusing without being eye-rolly. The gender-fluidity and romantic flexibility was a little too kumbaya and unbelievable, but in a book about magical body-swapping, I mostly gave it a shrug and a pass.

I guess maybe that's Preston Norton's thing. These books are zany and unbelievable (the real-life parts) and they have way too many "issues" packed into them with all the subtlety of an after-school special, but they have heart and witty banter. I feel happy and amused (and bemused) when I read them.

Plus, body swapping. All of the tropes of body swapping are here, and I love body swapping tropes.

Bottom line: I liked this book, even though none of it is my typical type of book. It made me happy, I enjoyed the time I spent read it, and I'm looking forward to reading Preston Norton's next book.







Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Book Review: The Ghost Tree by Barbara Erskine


Pages: 592
Publisher: Harper Collins
Released: March 7, 2019
Received: ARC from publisher
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

Barbara Erskine is an author on my TBR list, but not one I had read yet. As a first foray, The Ghost Tree is not bad. I didn't love it, but I liked it enough to still want to read more of her books. I'd class this book in the same company as Susanna Kearsley or Mary Stewart's Thornyhold type of books: British, a touch of the supernatural, dreamy, historical, great houses, a slow background romance, and a main character who is likable but not particularly stand out.

The Ghost Tree is probably more massive than it needed to be. It clocks in at 592 pages and it's not riveting or detailed enough to really warrant that. It felt like another editing pass through to clean things up would have tightened the story, shortened the pages, and made for a smoother book overall. As it was, the length wasn't much of a problem for me because the chapters are so teeny tiny (1-5 pages on average).

So, what's going on here? A lot. We follow Ruth's ancestor Thomas during the 18th century as he basically lives his life, gets married, has kids, and tries to avoid a man who decides to stalk and harry him. We follow Ruth as she is stalked by a brother and sister who develop a fixation on her. She's also haunted by the ghost of Thomas's stalker and she enlists the help of a charming chef and a tweedily attractive ghostbuster/historian. Ruth also house hops trying to avoid her natural and supernatural stalkers and each house she stays in is awesome.

While neither story is particularly gripping, both were interesting enough to hold my attention and the stalking aspect, especially how randomly something like that can happen, was horrifying and well done. I feel like I'm damning this book with faint praise. The thing is, objectively, there's a lot I was pretty lukewarm about. I liked it all, but that's it. As a whole experience, though, I enjoyed it. I looked forward to reading more, even if I wasn't staying up late to do so. 






Monday, July 8, 2019

Book Review: The Last Collection by Jeanne Mackin


Pages:352
Publisher: Berkley Books
Released: June 25, 2019
Received: Finished copy and e-galley from publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

I wasn't convinced I actually wanted to read this book when I received an invitation to the e-galley and tour. I find this time period interesting, but it's definitely not an era I read in much. So I added it to my e-reader with bland disinterest and opened it with the intention of reading a few sentences to try to hype myself into reading it, eventually.

And I was hooked. Ravenously. I couldn't stop reading. I put aside the books I was already in the middle of reading and dove in.

There was so much that just clicked with me about this book. The sense of time and place. The fabrics, smells, and tensions were thick in the air. I felt utterly immersed. We see Schiap and Chanel from the periphery and this made them both seem larger than life, known-but-mysterious. It was captivating. Their clothing collections, their political movements, their social circles, and their bitter, invigorating rivalry...ah, I loved every minute of it.

The main character is one of those somewhat bland, somewhat sympathetic, somewhat relatable characters. We see the story through her eyes, and while I often don't like this narrative device, sometimes I really love it and this is one of those times. Her own tragic story tugged at my heartstrings and her tentative and slow burn reawakening romance was quietly engrossing. I loved how both Schiap and Coco gave her clothes. This was like the sartorial equivalent of reading a book about an old Gothic mansion and vicariously possessing it.

There are almost three stories here: Schiap and Coco's rivalry, the main character's tragedy and romance, and the onset of WWII. The latter simmers in the background in the beginning, slowly pushing its way more and more into the story until it cannot be ignored, much like I imagine the onset of the war would have felt at the time. I loved the feelings of the book, the subtle and mounting tension of the war, the crackling razor edges of the rivalry, so prominent at first and then shattering under the weight of the war, the stupor of tragedy and magical awakening of love and healing. 

Another aspect I loved were the constant references to art and color. The main character is a painter, Schiap and Coco use fabric and perfume as their canvas. I Googled many paintings referenced, immersed myself in colors, imagined the feel of different fabrics, looked up images of referenced clothing collections, smelled the referenced perfumes. This book was an unexpected sensory delight.

This is definitely a book I can see having a love or hate reaction from readers. If it clicks with you like it did with me, then you're in for a fantastic treat. If not, then I can definitely see this one boring readers. In that way it reminded me of Sally Beauman's The Visitors, which is another book I was sucked into and think about long after having finished it.


Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Book Review: The Poison Thread by Laura Purcell


Pages: 351
Publisher: Penguin
Released: June 18, 2019
Received: ARC from publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

Last year I read and enjoyed Laura Purcell's creeping Gothic horror The Silent Companions and, while I didn't love it, I did enjoy it and I've been looking forward to reading more from this author.  

The Poison Thread follows a similar pattern of alternating perspectives, one character telling their story, another character learning the tragic and horrifying events of the past. The narrative device worked very well here, building tension, intrigue, and mystery. I felt for Ruth, the character telling her story as she waits in prison for her murder trial, and while I didn't love Dorothea (she's a little too naive self-righteous do-gooder for me) I was interested in the events of her life (though, I think, she picked the wrong man).

Characters and place felt real and drew me into the story. I felt for them. I felt like I was there (early Victorian England). I found myself thinking about the story when I wasn't reading it and trying to find extra time to fit in a few more pages. I ended up forgoing an earlier bedtime in order to read just a few more chapters (and given the tiny chapters, it was especially tempting to say "just one more"). Now that I'm finished, I wish I had more of the story left to read. I don't want it to be over.

The story kept twisting and turning, keeping me on my toes, and just when I thought I figured things out, we'd take another turn. There's a supernatural element, but this too is kept in question throughout the story as to whether or not it's truly supernatural or not. This was all done very well.

I like books that give me glimpses into learning about neat things. In this one we get phrenology (not my favorite subject), sewing (I did like this), and historical bits and pieces surrounding life during the early Victorian era from the perspectives of people in different classes of society (loved this).

I don't feel like my review is doing this book justice. I loved it. I can't wait to read it again (with the right reader, this would make a fantastic audiobook), and I can't wait to read Laura Purcell's next book.






Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Book Review: Remembrance by Jude Deveraux


Pages: 432
Released: 1994
Publisher: Pocket Books
Received: Library
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

Well, it's no Knight in Shining Armor. I had to start with that, because that's what I wanted from this book. I wanted a book that gripped me in that way that makes everything in life come second to reading this book. Like, yeah, yeah, I know eating, sleeping, that's important sure, but reading this book comes first. That's what I wanted.

I also wanted a swoony romance and a good historical setting. I wanted a plot that kept me turning the pages to find out what would happen next and how the problem/mystery would get solved.

That's what I wanted. And, I've learned that it's best to not put so many expectations on books and just accept and enjoy them for what they are. But, that's apparently a lesson I'm still learning.

So, what did I get? Disappointed, that's what I got. I picked this up on a total spur of the moment whim, downloaded a copy, put it right on my e-reader, decided to just try a few pages, and found myself sucked into the book entirely. Expectation number one? CHECK.

The story starts out in the present day (or, well, 1994 present day, when the book was written) where we're introduced to the main character as she's obsessively exploring the concept of past lives and discovering that her past lives are wreaking havoc on her current life. Ok, I'm on board.

Then we travel back in time and I'm still totally on board. This is great! It's everything I love about time travel books. It's funny, there's a hate-to-be-turned-love romance, and I'm emotionally invested. CHECK, CHECK, CHECK.

And then we suddenly travel back in time again. And this is where everything fell apart for me. Even the writing tanked. The main characters, ack, awful. Poorly drawn, absolute caricatures, boring, and simple...in every sense of the word. So many pages were spent just retreading and reiterating how much the two characters loved one another and couldn't be separated, and yet of course they were separated and the method of this separation was so contrived and stupid. I ended up hating the main characters (especially the man) by the time this section was over. I was actually hoping the villain would win.

Which is a shame because the "bones" of this part of the story were actually pretty good. This whole section reminded me of a fairy tale, which is a very good thing. The side characters were interesting and the villain's story was a great "reverse fairy tale" story.

I wavered with a 2.5 stars, but ultimately a 3 seems more accurate. It was fast, compulsively readable, and despite all my frustrations, this was still fun. Even the bad section told a story I liked...I just wish it had been written differently.






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