Category Archives: Book Reviews

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

18801904

West Hall, Vermont, has always been a town of strange disappearances and old legends. The most mysterious is that of Sara Harrison Shea, who, in 1908, was found dead in the field behind her house just months after the tragic death of her daughter. Now, in present-day, nineteen-year-old Ruthie lives in Sara’s farmhouse with her mother, Alice, and her younger sister. Alice has always insisted that they live off the grid, a decision that has weighty consequences when Ruthie wakes up one morning to find that Alice has vanished. In her search for clues, she is startled to find a copy of Sara Harrison Shea’s diary hidden beneath the floorboards of her mother’s bedroom. As Ruthie gets sucked into the historical mystery, she discovers that she’s not the only person looking for someone that they’ve lost. But she may be the only one who can stop history from repeating itself.


Okay, so I finished this book early this morning, but I had to head to work so I couldn’t sit down to write a proper review, so here it goes!
I loved, loved, loved this book. Definitely a contender to my top 5 books of 2020 so far. It is apparent that Jennifer McMahon has gotten most of her inspiration from reading Stephen King (more specifically–Pet Sematary). Although I’m a huge fan of Stephen King, I don’t always enjoy other authors who try to write in the same style. Let me clarify this! McMahon is not really writing in a Stephen King style. She has a style of her own, and it’s a pretty good one.
The book is told from different POVs, Sarah–a woman living in the early 1900s, Ruthie–a nineteen-year-old living with her widowed mother and little sister, and Katherine–a woman in search of explanations regarding the last hours of her dead husband. Although the story is told by multiple POVs, it never feels choppy. McMahon is able to maintain the suspense throughout the novel. There were some pretty awesome hair-raising and goosebumps-behind-your-neck moments, and the writing was superb. I definitely recommend it to fans of this genre. Solid 5 stars.


Format: Kindle edition
Published: February 11th, 2014 by Doubleday
ASIN: B00EMXBD4S
Source: Library loan
Rating:  5 stars
Genre: Mystery, Horror-Thriller

The Little Bookshop of MURDER by Maggie Blackburn

Summer Merriweather’s career as a Shakespeare professor hangs by a bookbinder’s thread. Academic life at her Virginia university is a viper’s pit, so Summer spends her summer in England, researching a scholarly paper that, with any luck, will finally get her published, impress the Dean, and save her job. But her English idyll ends when her mother, Hildy, shuffles off her mortal coil from an apparent heart attack. Returning to Brigid’s Island, NC, for the funeral, Summer is impatient to settle the estate, sell her mom’s embarrassingly romance-themed bookstore, Beach Reads, and go home. But as she drops by Beach Reads, Summer finds threatening notes addressed to Hildy: “Sell the bookstore or die.” Clearly, something is rotten on Brigid’s Island. What method is behind the madness? Was Hildy murdered?


Little Bookshop of Murder is the first book in a new series by Maggie Blackburn. The story follows Summer Merriweather (no kidding!) as she returns to a small island off the coast of North Carolina after the death of her estranged mother. Upon arriving at Brigid’s Island, Summer finds her mother’s sudden death a little suspicious, so with the help of her aunt Agatha, they start an investigation of their own.

I like to start my reviews by pointing out the positives in a book. This book has all the right elements for a sweet cozy mystery. An excellent (although not novel) premise, a lovely cover, and who can resist books about cute bookstores? So, you are probably wondering why I gave such a dismal rating?

The first issue I had with this book was the fact that I could not relate to nor like Summer. It could be because this is book number one, and the author is rushing to introduce all the main players and somehow forgot to elaborate on her main character. But Summer is just simply put the flattest and most unsympathetic character in this book. Here we have a woman whose mother just died. She spends the entire book reminding us of how hard it is that her mother is dead, however, very little–if any, emotion is elicited from the pages. The reader does not get a feeling that this character is missing her dead mother, nor that she even truly cared about her mother. To make matters worse in the likeability rating, we get information early on in the story that Summer left some poor chap standing in the altar, but very little explanation as to why.

So, after you decide you are just going to ignore the poorly written main character and plow through the rest of the book, what you end up with is a very so-so mystery and a complete feeling of disappointment.

On a more optimistic note, this book is number one in a series, and the author has plenty of chances to make it up in the subsequent installments.

Little Bookshop of Murder is scheduled to be published on July 7th, 2020. I want to thank Crooked Lane Books and NetGalley for providing me an advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Format: Kindle edition
Published: July 7th, 2020 by Crooked Lane Books
ASIN: B0818ZX2NY
Source: Free copy provided by the publisher, Crooked Lane Books, and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review
Rating: 2 ½ stars
Genre: Mystery, Cozy-mystery

The Adventure of the Murdered Midwife by Liese Sherwood-Fabre

52402618. sy475

Before Sherlock Holmes became the world’s greatest consulting detective…
A Scandal rocked the Holmes family. A cache of documents has been recently discovered detailing, in Sherlock’s own hand, his early forays into a criminal investigation. With The Adventure of the Murdered Midwife, the game begins as Sherlock faces his first case.
Only weeks into his first year at Eton, Sherlock’s father calls him and his brother back to Underbyrne, the ancestral estate. The village midwife has been found with a pitchfork in her back in the estate’s garden, and Mrs. Holmes has been accused of the murder. Can Sherlock find the true killer in time to save her from the gallows?


The Adventure of the Murdered Midwife is narrated in the first person by a young teenager we know as Sherlock Holmes. If an author takes another author’s beloved character to make a spin-off, is that considered a ding in creativity? The jury is still out, in my opinion. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it just doesn’t.

In the case of this book, the story starts with Sherlock, a young teenager, studying at the prestigious Eton College when he learns that his mother has been accused of murdering the village midwife. Holmes and his brother Mycroft return home, and it’s now up to young Holmes, to help prove his mother’s innocence.

Some things worked well in this book. Sherwood-Fabre captured the beautiful, witty essence of Sherlock Holmes and his complicated relationship with his brother Mycroft. Fans of Conan Doyle’s books will quickly recognize Holmes’s sharp, logical mind even at a young age. The mystery, however, left much to be desired. The story starts strong, and somehow the mystery becomes too predictable, and the ending fails to yield the sort of excitement you get with Doyle’s books.

I still recommend this book for both fans of Sherlock Holmes and fans of this genre. This book is volume one in a series, so there is hope that the stories will develop more with future books

The Adventure of the Murdered Midwife is scheduled to be published on June 30th, 2020. I want to thank BooksGoSocial and NetGalley for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Format: Kindle edition, 344 pages
Published: June 30th, 2020 by Little Elm Press
ASIN: B085WB5GGP
Source: Free copy provided by the publisher, BooksGoSocial, and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review
Rating: 3 stars
Genre: Mystery

The Familiars by Stacey Halls

THE FAMILIARS: Halls, Stacey

Young Fleetwood Shuttleworth, a noblewoman, is with child again. None of her previous pregnancies have borne fruit, and her husband, Richard, is anxious for an heir. Then Fleetwood discovers a hidden doctor’s letter that carries a dire prediction: she will not survive another birth. By chance, she meets a midwife named Alice Grey, who promises to help her deliver a healthy baby. But Alice soon stands accused of witchcraft. Is there more to Alice than meets the eye? Fleetwood must risk everything to prove her innocence. As the two women’s lives become intertwined, the Witch Trials of 1612 loom. Time is running out; both their lives are at stake. Only they know the truth. Only they can save each other.


The Familiars by Stacey Hall was an interesting work of fiction based on events and people from the real Pendle Witch Trials of 1612. The story is told by Fleetwood Shuttleworth’s point of view. Fleetwood is a noblewoman who is anxious to have a baby after having had several miscarriages.

Fleetwood soon meets Alice Gray, a midwife who assures Fleetwood she can help her carry her pregnancy to term. They start a friendship in the midst of the Witch Trials and Alice is accused of being a witch and practicing witchcraft.

This book had several very good points from a feminist point of view. It elicited issues of female powerlessness in a society that expected women to behave in a certain way and the power that a patriarchal society exerted over them. I also really enjoyed Fleetwood and Alice’s friendship.

Where the book fell short for me was in the slow pace of the narrative. Divided into four parts, I struggled with the pace until the middle of part two. Also, Fleetwood’s alienation and naivete got on my nerves at times.

Overall, I recommend this book to anyone interested in witch trials, and the oppressive rules women in 17th century England were subjected to.

She is a midwife, like her mother before her. Are you like the king now, thinking all wise women and poor women and midwives are carrying out the Devil’s work? Why, he must be the largest employer in Lancashire.


Format: Paperback, 420 pages
Published: February 4th, 2019 by Zaffre Publishing
ISBN: 1785766139
Source: Purchased
Rating: 3 stars
Genre: Historical Fiction

Lock In by John Scalzi

21418013. sy475 Not too long from today, a new, highly contagious virus makes its way across the globe. Most who get sick experience nothing worse than flu, fever and headaches. But for the unlucky one percent – and nearly five million souls in the United States alone – the disease causes “Lock In”: Victims fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus. The disease affects young, old, rich, poor, people of every color and creed. The world changes to meet the challenge.


Lock In is my sci-fi book club pick for the month of August. I had never read anything by John Scalzi, and I wasn’t very sure where I was getting myself into. I was hooked right from the first pages. The premise that a highly contagious virus, worse than the flu, rendered its victims in a state of “lock in,” where victims are fully awake and aware but unable to move or respond to anything, was an absolutely horrifying concept. Victims of this virus are affected by Haden’s Syndrome, named after Margaret Haden, the first lady of the United States of America. In a way, this book reminded me of the board game Pandemic.

What I found to be a great thing about this book was the fact that this is much more than just a great sci-fi story. I have noticed a trend in mix genres, and I personally love it. However, if you are a hard-core sci-fi fan looking for a typical sci-fi book, Lock In might not be for you.

One of the great things about this story is that it reads much like a crime novel. We follow Chris Shane and Leslie Vann as they investigate what appears to be a Haden-related murder. The suspect is called an “Integrator” — someone who lends their physical bodies to locked in victims.

Part sci-fi and part whodunnit, Lock In is a fast-paced novel that will undoubtedly entertain the fans of both genres.


Format: Paperback336 pages
Published: August 4th, 2015 by Tor Science Fiction
ISBN: 076538132X
Source: Library Loan
Rating: 4 stars
Genre: Sci-fi/Crime/Mystery

Forgotten Bones by Vivian Barz

42931506When small-town police officers discover the grave of a young boy, they’re quick to pin the crime on a convicted felon who lives nearby. But when it comes to murder, Officer Susan Marlan never trusts a simple explanation, so she’s just getting started. Meanwhile, college professor Eric Evans hallucinates a young boy in overalls: a symptom of his schizophrenia—or so he thinks. But when more bodies turn up, Eric has more visions, and they mirror details of the murder case. As the investigation continues, the police stick with their original conclusion, but Susan’s instincts tell her something is off. The higher-ups keep stonewalling her, and the FBI’s closing in. Desperate for answers, Susan goes rogue and turns to Eric for help. Together they take an unorthodox approach to the case as the evidence keeps getting stranger. With Eric’s hallucinations intensifying and the body count rising, can the pair separate truth from illusion long enough to catch a monster?


Forgotten Bones is not your average crime thriller, and I will go over why. The premise of the book is excellent. Susan, a young detective upon responding to a car accident scene, comes across the body of a young child. Police quickly attributes the crime to a local pedophile. However, Susan is suspicious that there is more to the story and decides to embark on an investigation on her own. Parallel to Susan’s story we meet Eric, a geology professor going through a turbulent divorce who moves to California to get away from his ex-wife who dumped him for his brother.

Eric settles in at the new college and town in an attempt to rebuild his life. Eric is a known schizophrenic, and although he’s entirely compliant to his medication regime, he starts to worry that his illness is getting worse as he starts to have visions of a little boy in overalls. Eric and Susan’s paths will cross, and together, they will fight to discover the truth regarding the death of this little kid.

Barz alternates chapters between Susan’s story and Eric’s story. A technique that for most of the time, tends to chop the flow of the story. The reason this book is not your typical crime/mystery book is the fact that there are no red herrings. What you see, or better yet, who you suspect all along, is in fact, the culprit(s).

By the time I got to sixty percent of the book and had the mystery pretty much figured out, there was very little interest in the rest of the story. I honestly do not understand the author’s intention with making the answers to this crime so visible right off the bat. I kept hoping that the story was going to turn out a bit like a Scooby-Doo cartoon where the obviously mean, greedy, and weird were innocent, and the super lovely characters turn out to be the guilty ones.

Unfortunately, no! This novel was written with the intent to make the guilty quite evident from the start. The pitfall, however, is that once the reader has the mystery figured out there’s very little substance to carry on the rest of the book.

Some important trigger warnings to mention are pedophilia (although not explicit), child abuse, and neglect.

Forgotten Bones is scheduled to be published on August 1, 2019. I would like to thank Thomas and Mercer publishing and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Format: e-ARC, Kindle 298 pages
Published: Expected publication August 1st, 2019 by Thomas and Mercer
ASIN: B07KF46YBG
Source: Free copy provided by the publisher, Thomas and Mercer, and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
Rating: 3 stars
Genre: Crime, Suspense, Mystery

 

 

Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

36809135For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.


We meet Kaya in 1952, and when Kya was only 6 years old, her mother ran away and left Kya alone with an abusive father. We follow this coming-of-age story of an abandoned young girl who survives on soda crackers and grits. Kya raises herself by the marsh that becomes her family and safe haven.

Faces change with life’s toil, but eyes remain a window to what was, and she could see him there.

Where The Crawdads Sing is Delia Owens’s debut novel and what a beautiful debut it is! I’m not sure I agree with how this book has been marketed as part coming-of-age, part mystery. The mystery part of the book is minimal. This lovely novel is a wonderful example of literary fiction. Kya is a great character, and we follow her on this journey as she grows and survives the things she does. Kya’s loneliness and abandonment make her a very sympathetic character. Owens’s poetic prose and brilliant descriptions of nature overshadow the unrealistic portions of the story and the chronological back-and-forth between the chapters.

Go as far as you can–way out yonder where the crawdads sing.

This is a beautifully written novel that deserves all the hype and recommendations it has received.


Format: Hardcover, 370 pages
Published: August 14th, 2018 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons
ISBN:0735219095
Source: Purchased
Rating: 4 stars
Genre: Fiction

The Song of The Jade Lily by Kirsty Manning (Tour Stop)

40042053In 2016, fleeing London with a broken heart, Alexandra returns to Australia to be with her grandparents, Romy and Wilhelm, when her grandfather is dying. With only weeks left together, her grandparents begin to reveal the family mysteries they have kept secret for more than half a century.  In 1939, two young girls meet in Shanghai, the ‘Paris of the East’: beautiful local Li and Viennese refugee Romy form a fierce friendship. But the deepening shadows of World War Two fall over the women as Li and Romy slip between the city’s glamorous French Concession and the desperate Shanghai Ghetto. Eventually, they are forced to separate ways as Romy doubts Li’s loyalties. After Wilhelm dies, Alexandra flies to Shanghai, determined to trace her grandparents’ past. As she peels back the layers of their hidden lives, she begins to question everything she knows about her family – and herself. A compelling and gorgeously told tale of female friendship, the price of love, and the power of hardship and courage to shape us all.


The book starts in Vienna in 1938 with Romy Bernfeld and her family attempting to flee Hitler’s reign and hatred towards the Jewish people. Unfortunately, immigrating to other countries in Europe turns out to be much harder than the family anticipated, so after suffering a horrible tragedy Romy and what’s left of her family is finally able to leave Europe and immigrate to Shanghai, China.

The Song of The Jade Lily is a story told in the third person with alternating chapters between 1938 and 2016 Australia. In 1939 we are introduced to Li, a beautiful Chinese girl who becomes Romy’s best friend. We follow their childhood, their troubles, and the horrors of war that loom over them. 2016, Alexandra leaves London to be with her grandmother Romy and her dying grandfather Wilhelm. Alexandra is determined to find the truth about the heritage of her adoptive mother, Sophia.

There were many beautiful parts of this book that I adored. I knew very little about Jewish refugees in China and was delighted to learn more about it. At times I felt the book’s alternating chapters format, and short chapters broke the flow of the narrative a bit. There were many characters introduced at the same time, which made it confusing at times.

Overall, Manning managed to magically weave this beautiful and compelling story of love, loyalty, secrets, and friendship amidst World War II.

I’d like to thank TLC Book Tours for providing me a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble


About Kirsty Manning

Kirsty Manning grew up in northern New South Wales, Australia. She has degrees in literature and communications and worked as an editor and publishing manager in book publishing for over a decade. A country girl with wanderlust, her travels and studies have taken her through most of Europe, the east, and west coasts of the United States as well as pockets of Asia. Kirsty’s journalism and photography specializing in lifestyle and travel regularly appear in magazines, newspapers, and online. She lives in Australia.

Find out more about Kirsty at her website, and connect with her on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.


Format: Paperback, 480 pages
Published: May 14th, 2019 by William Morrow Paperbacks
ISBN:0062882015
Source: Free copy provided by the publisher, William Morrow Paperbacks, and TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review
Rating: 4 stars
Genre: Historical Fiction

Last Summer by Kerry Lonsdale

42303291Lifestyle journalist Ella Skye remembers every celebrity she interviewed, every politician she charmed between the sheets and every socialite who eyed her with envy. The chance meeting with her husband, Damien; their rapid free fall into love; and their low-key, intimate wedding are all locked in her memory. But what she can’t remember is the tragic car accident that ripped her unborn child from her. Ella can’t even recall being pregnant. Hoping to find the memories of a lost pregnancy that’s left her husband devastated and their home empty, Ella begins delving into her past when she’s assigned an exclusive story about Nathan Donovan, a retired celebrity adventurer who seems to know more about her than she does him. To unravel the mystery of her selective memory loss, Ella follows Nathan from the snowcapped Sierra Nevada to the frozen slopes of southeast Alaska. There she discovers the people she trusts most aren’t the only ones keeping secrets from her—she’s hiding them from herself. Ella quickly learns that some truths are best left forgotten.


Ella Skye is a journalist who wakes up in a hospital with no recollection of her recent past, including the unborn baby she was carrying and lost during a tragic car accident. Resolved to understand the reasons behind her selective amnesia, Ella embarks on a journey through her past and events leading up to the fatal accident.

Last Summer is my first novel by Kerry Lonsdale, and I have to say that I really enjoyed it. I wasn’t sure about it going in. I felt the premise of the book was a bit over the top, and honestly, I was getting tired of this book genre. Much to my surprise, this book turned out to be a great page-turner that I just couldn’t put it down. I liked the characters, and I felt the dialogue was dynamic and well-paced. The plot was intriguing and full of twists and turns. I don’t want to give too much away as this book has an ending you won’t see coming.

I would like to thank Lake Union Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Format: e-ARC, Kindle 297 pages
Published: Expected publication July 9th, 2019 by Lake Union Publishing
ASIN: B07HNSYCGG
Source: Free copy provided by the publisher, Lake Union Publishing, and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review
Rating: 4 stars
Genre: Chick-lit, Suspense

 

The Madonnas of Echo Park by Brando Skyhorse

8942147“We slipped into this country like thieves, onto the land that once was ours.” With these words, spoken by an illegal Mexican day laborer, The Madonnas of Echo Park takes us into the unseen world of Los Angeles, following the men and women who cook the meals, clean the homes, and struggle to lose their ethnic identity in the pursuit of the American dream.


The Madonnas of Echo Park is a collection of short stories by Mexican American writer Brando Skyhorse. Although I seldom review short stories on this blog, I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to pay homage to such beautiful work of literature.

Having won both the PEN/Hemingway Award and the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction, this novel really lives up to its hype. Each chapter is a different story told in first person in a beautifully crafted prose highlighting the intersections and clashes of American and Mexican culture.

In Los Angeles, you could rent an apartment, buy groceries, cash checks, and socialize, all in Spanish.

The Madonnas of Echo Park tells the stories of Mexican Americans in the constantly changing landscape of Los Angeles’s Echo Park neighborhood, a predominantly Latino community. This novel compiles a collection of interrelated stories that are heavily character-driven and that leave you contemplating the themes present in each story long after you finish reading the book.

“Faith is a luxury for those who are able to ignore what the rest of us must see every day. Pessimism, distrust, and irony are the holy trinity of my religion, irony in particular.”

“The time between your first major fight with your best friend until you make up is, for a teenage girl, about as long as it took for God to create the universe. . . . It’s excellent training for having a boyfriend.”


Format: Paperback240 pages
Published: February 8th, 2011 by Free Press (first published June 1st, 2010)
ISBN: 1439170843
Source: Purchased
Rating: 4 stars
Genre: Fiction