We Must Be Brave #FrancesLiardet

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I’m pretty excited to be reviewing my first book for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge sponsored by Passages to the Past. I agreed to read 10 books this year for the challenge. 1/10

We Must Be Brave is a beautifully told tale set in England at the height of WWII. It is the story of heartbreak and sadness but ultimately one of love, particularly the love one has for a child.

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Because I was taught WWII history from an American perspective, it was only recently and primarily through historical fiction that I learned that massive numbers of children in England were evacuated to farmhouses throughout the countryside. The fathers were off fighting, the mothers left behind to work in the factories. These children often were abused, sometimes lost, and not always were reunited with their parents after the war was over. Only now are their stories being told en-masse. This is a fictionalized account of such a tale.

During the helter-skelter rush of evacuations, no one notices that a child has been left behind on the bus. Ellen discovers the child, Pamela, and takes her home to foster. There are trials and tribulations as Pamela grieves for the parents she has lost and troubles for Ellen, as well, as she deals with her own husband who doesn’t want the child. However, over time they fall into a routine and Ellen falls in love with the child. But, as fate would have it, the child’s father returns for his child. Ellen is heartbroken, of course.

The first half of the book is told in elaborate and beautiful detail. The facts regarding the war, the evacuations, the atmosphere surrounding war-time England and its effects on its people. It was devastating for all, those who fought overseas and those who persevered at home. Each time I read a book like this one, I learn something new and am given a new perspective. In this respect, We Must Be Brave did not disappoint.

The latter half of the book, after Pamela is removed from Ellen’s care, felt a bit rushed and disjointed. The details were scant and the imagery that was present in the first part was missing. It was as though the author had a vision for the beginning and knew where she wished it to end but wasn’t quite sure what to do with the middle. However, I enjoyed the beginning and loved the ending so much that I was able to somewhat overlook the minor shakiness sandwiched in between.

Admittedly this is not my favorite era  to read about; I’m not sure we’re quite far enough removed to be objective enough to write historical fiction about this time period. But, if you enjoy WWII fiction, I think you will like We Must Be Brave and I know you will find the historical facts fascinating.

Thank you to #Edelweiss, @PGIPutnamBooks and the author for my advanced copy of @WeMustBeBrave

 

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Defense of An Other by Grace Mead

Defense of An Other is gripping book ripped from today’s headlines. Sort of.

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Matt is an up and coming young attorney practicing in post-Katrina New Orleans for a prestigious law firm. While his career is on the fast track, his personal life is not. He has just ended a long-term relationship with his girlfriend and is exploring his attraction to men – something he has felt since he was a young boy. He has not, of course, come out to anyone, not even to himself. After a tough day at work, he decides to go to a gay club in the French Quarter where he meets Joey. The two don’t necessarily hook up but they do spend a nice, fun night at the club together. When they step out back to take a leak – the men’s room being stuffed full – they are attacked by three thugs looking to beat up some “faggots.” One of them ends up dead and Matt is arrested for the murder – first degree murder, no less. It is, after all, the south in the early 2000s – not that much has changed since then – and it is the word of the “bubbas” against “gay boy” Matt. You can see where this story is going, right?

The author is a successful attorney herself, very intelligent, and it shows throughout the book. The legal aspect of the pre-trial and courtroom drama is spot-on and captivating. I love legal thrillers and, from that aspect, Defense of An Other, is terrific and well written. I also spent half of my life in Arkansas, a stone’s throw from New Orleans, and nearly every summer of my adult life we traveled down to NOLA. The description of New Orleans, the French Quarter, the people there is vivid and real. I could almost smell the stench of the garbage and vomit of Bourbon Street and remember how amazing the Café du Monde looked and smelled at dawn. However, when it came to the actual characters of the book, I thought Mead drew up short. Matt and his mother never were quite angry enough to be believable. If it was me or my son, I would have been livid. Everyone stayed so calm, cool, collected. I have been arrested on false charges – that’s a story for another post – and my son has been arrested for protesting. I know first hand how these characters should have reacted and calm and cool were not in our wheelhouse on those occasions. You also had a mother who, in a round-about manner, just found out that her son may or may not be gay and she just shoved that discussion aside and talked about going back to work instead. Totally bizarre. From a legal stand point, the book is brilliant. From a personal perspective it was lacking and that missing element made all the difference in the world for me. The ending, too, was abrupt and unfulfilling. I’m unclear if it was meant to be a cliffhanger or if we were meant to extrapolate our own interpretation of what would come next but, either way, it simply didn’t work.  Defense of An Other is being billed as a legal thriller and LGBTQ. It is legal fiction that features a young man who was in a gay bar and is tried as a gay man. I’ve read a lot of other books featuring LGBTQ characters that were not labeled as such for the simple premise that they are, in fact, human beings just like the rest of us. I’m not sure I appreciated the distinction for this particular work. While his sexual orientation is the reason for the beating and storyline in this particular instance, Matt could just as well have been African American or a prostitute or Asian American or a liberal or Muslim or, or, or An Other that Southern Bubbas find offensive. “They” are the issue, the point – if you will – not his sexual orientation. Three stars, middle of the road, because of the great legalese versus the poor character development.

I was given this book to review by #Netgalley and #ClinkStreetPublishing.

Love Heart Lane @ChristieBarlow @HarperImpulse #snowdays

Finally! The world outside my window resembles the sparkling snow on my blog. I was beginning to wonder if winter ever was going to arrive in the Midwestern US!

Now, with the snow gently falling and everyone snuggled around the fire, it is the perfect time to read some winter cozies and I have the perfect one for you today – Love Heart Lane by Christie Barlow.

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Felicity “Flick” Simons is a bit fed up with her London retail job, more than a bit homesick for the Scottish highlands she has left behind and feeling like a loner in London despite being surrounded by throngs of people. When she receives the devastating news of her grandmother’s death, she decides that it is past time to travel home to Scotland for a few weeks no matter the reasons she left it all behind nearly a decade ago. However, her arrival home is anything except welcoming as she lands in her village in the middle of one of the worst snow storms in ages followed by a torrential rain storm that washes out the town’s bridge, cutting it off from the civilization and supplies that lie on the other side of the river. An avalanche of emotional and physical needs swarm Flick as she is forced to confront the loss of her grandmother, the closure of their family’s tea shop, the life and love she gave up so many years ago, the friends she once left behind and a village that must cope with a dwindling supply of food and coal. Can Felicity set aside her personal angst and lead her community forward? Will it be enough to save her tiny village?

Love Heart Lane is a wonderful book about community, resilience of the heart, friends and neighbors who rally together to help one another in a time of great need. While there is romance, and it is referenced often, this book is not a “rom-com” as it is billed. There is a lot of tragedy, death, and heartbreak, some of which is dealt with realistically and some of which is brushed over a little too easily – which can be somewhat expected in a cozy. However, what Love Heart Lane does have in abundance is hope and friendship and messages of second chances which, I like to believe, is something we all need to believe can be a reality for us all. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Love Heart Lane and recommend it for those who enjoy a heartwarming, cozy read. This is the first book in a series and I’m truly looking forward to the next so I can catch up with the delightful characters whom I’ve come to know and adore.

I’m grateful to @HarperImpulse, #Netgalley and #ChristieBarlow for my copy of Love Heart Lane available now.

The Stranger Diaries @EllyGriffiths

Elly Griffiths has woven together a tale of gothic suspense, psychological terror and marvelous detective work and thrown in a full measure of classical literature, all of which create a beautiful tapestry called The Stranger Diaries. Whew.

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If you think that opening line was a lot to absorb, just wait until you read the book. I’m still trying to untangle my mind from the who’s and who’s nots and what’s real and what’s not! For someone who had an imaginary playmate until she was 10 years old and still has a crush on Harry Bosch, whom I’ve been told is not a real person, trying to decipher a book within a book within a book written by fictional character written by an author with a nom de plume was a lot to comprehend. But, hand on heart, this book – The Stranger Diaries – was worth every single moment spent reading it. It is fantastic!

The book opens with a line from “The Stranger,” a gothic short story written by RM Hammond, whom our main character, Clare, is studying in hopes of writing a book about his life and works.

“If you’ll permit me,” said the Stranger, “I’d like to tell you a story.”

Clare is an English teacher at a school that is nestled in the old home where Hammond once lived. Her fellow teacher and best friend, Ella, is found stabbed to death with a note lying next to her body which reads, “Hell is Empty,” also a line from Hammond’s book. As The Stranger Diaries continues, the body count rises as does the spooky, creepy factor of the entire tale. Folded within the story itself is the re-telling of The Stranger and the more we as readers learn, the more similarity there is between current events and the haunting, gothic tale of the past. <shivers>

The Stranger Diaries reads, at once, both as a ghost story and a gothic suspense. The writing is marvelous, intelligent and might possibly have you scrambling to look up classical literature references along the way. (Note: Hammond is a fictional writer, much to my dismay.) I loved all of the characters, except the ex-husband and even he was the perfect ex. In all, this is a terrific mystery, ghost story, gothic tale that crosses multiple genres and can enjoyed by many. I highly recommend it.

Thank you to #Edelweiss, #HoughtonMiflinHarcout and #EllyGriffiths for my copy of The Stranger Diaries. 

 

A Slice of Magic @AG_Mayes

A Slice of a Magic is, yes, a magical, sweet story that will leave you hungry for more….

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Over the holidays I grew accustomed to peppering light, happy books throughout my rather grim readings and found, after the first of the year, that I missed the lighter diversions. It was a habit that I didn’t want to give up just because the holidays had ended. Luckily, I found a wonderfully delightful book to fill the niche: A Slice of Magic. 

Susanna hasn’t heard from her favorite aunt, Erma, in twenty years – not since her aunt suddenly disappeared from her life – but now she has received an urgent message begging Susanna to come and help Erma at her pie shop. Taking a leave from her job, out of curiosity about her aunt’s past as well as her current situation, Susanna heads out to the town of Hocus Hills only to discover that her aunt is no where to be found. She has left Susanna to run the pie shop and unravel the mystery of her aunt’s disappearance – again.

This is, at once, a wonderfully charming cozy mystery as well as the age old tale of a family in need of forgiveness and second chances. It is filled to the brim with quirky characters whom you will adore, conniving ones you will love to hate and a pooch that will steal your heart. There also is a fair amount of magical influence throughout Hocus Hills that makes the town sparkle and entice you to come back for more. While this is a cozy read, there is plenty of substance within the somewhat brief storyline to make it a satisfying read. I definitely will be back for another visit to Hocus Hills!

Thank you to #Netgalley, @HarperImpulse and @AG_Mayes for my copy of #ASLICEOFMAGIC

 

She Lies in Wait #GythaLodge

Of all of the genres that I love, and I do love a lot, the one I find myself immersed in most often is police procedurals. Police Procedurals are a sub-genre of “Detective/Crime novels” and are told from the police point of view, often involving several, often unrelated cases that seemingly come together in the end. I give you this definition because She Lies in Wait is, honestly, a perfect example of a British police procedural done well.

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Thirty years ago, six teenagers went camping in the woods. Only five of them would awaken the next morning. Now, the body of the sixth friend, Aurora, has been discovered in a “grave” in the woods and it is up to DCI Jonah Sheens and his murder squad to uncover the details of what really happened that horrible night, a night filled with too much booze, drugs, consensual and non-consensual sex. Was one of the campers the killer or was it someone who knew they and the drugs would be at the campsite? They aren’t talking which leaves only the 30-year old, decomposed body of Aurora to tell her tale.

She Lies in Wait is a slow burning, methodical detective story where every clue, every person, every detail is thoroughly looked at and discussed. This is not a “thriller” or a “suspense” novel, it is procedural where you – the reader – are along for the ride with the police as they go through their investigation. If you go into this book expecting “edge of your seat” excitement, then you will be slightly disappointed. If, like me, you love and adore well written, hard core detective books, then this will be a winner! Lodge has crafted a story that has a lot of back-story in these once-teens/now-adult characters who have remained unusually close for thirty years. In addition, DCI Sheens was on the peripheral  edges of the group and appears to have a bit of history with them as well, something he would like to keep hidden from the remainder of his squad. His squad, in turn, are an interesting group. The two men are complete opposite of one another: one quiet and thoughtful, the other gregarious, and the newest member, a female, has a few secrets of her own. The intrigue of all of the characters helps to push the storyline along.

I really do hate for books to be compared to one another, but I often thought that She Lies in Wait was quite similar to Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series. No doubt fans of that series would disagree, but the writing is similar and, of course, the methodology of the squad itself is the same. In addition, the way that both authors sink into the personal lives of the characters and weave it into the main story felt familiar to each and it was something I enjoy in both series.

If you enjoy police procedurals, particularly British ones, then I highly recommend She Lies in Wait. If you like a good mystery, I think you will enjoy it as well.

Thank you to #Netgalley, #RandomHousePublishingGroup and @thegyth for my copy of She Lies in Wait which will be published in the US on January 8, 2019.

 

More Than Bones @CraigDSinger

More Than Bones will take you on a roller coaster ride that you won’t soon forget! It was not at all what I was expecting but far exceeded all of preconceived silly ideas! A tale of self-exploration with a steep learning curve, it is a perfect read to start your new year!

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Dr. Emily Norton has relocated to Baltimore to begin her residency program at a Catholic hospital in order to be closer to her fiancé. She has rented a room – the attic space – in a gorgeous older home owned by a rather odd, effusive gentleman also named Norton – his first name, not last – and immediately is charmed by the elderly next door neighbor, Frank, who insists on gifting her a large, rather chunky, but quite expensive amulet that is hanging around his cat’s neck. It’s all rather strange, I know, but told in a such an amazing manner that you get wrapped up in the story from the very first line. Trust me! The amulet comes with a warning never to take it off – ever! Of course, Emily’s only faith is in science and facts and she promptly hangs the necklace on her skeleton – a gift from her new landlord. She has lived her life having religion crammed down her throat and the only thing she believes in is the here and now – thank you very much. Aaaahhh, but soon Emily finds herself without a fiancé, friendless, in the middle of a city-wide scandal, jobless and the “bad luck” is increasing by the day. Finally, she puts the amulet on and, voila, her luck begins to change. Or does it?

While on the surface this appears to be a story of magical realism, a story about a magic amulet that has brought good fortune to its owners throughout history, it is more the tale of a person being the master of their own fate, of coming to terms with their own beliefs, either with or without religion, either with or without science, and what consequences those beliefs might lead to in our lives. It the coming of age story of a young woman who has been raised without a mother by a somewhat tyrannical father who has to find her own way as an adult. It a story of which I am quite familiar and many of the questions that Emily was asking herself were ones I have grappled with over my own lifetime.

The characters in More Than Bones are hilarious, quirky, humorous, hateful, vibrant and I loved them all – even Norton’s mother! Singer does an amazing job creating people that I feel like I have known my entire life. In fact, I think I have known someone just like them. There are so many areas covered from science to religion, suicide to health care, the LGBTQ community to breast cancer and yet each one of these topics is handled with a deft hand. I was raised on southern literature with eccentric characters from Flannery O’Connor and Fannie Flagg to Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. More Than Bones reminded me of all of the good qualities of that genre – the humorous, somewhat over-the-top characters mixed with hell-fire and brimstone religion pulling against the modern world of science and religion – all combined to make a thoroughly marvelous, enjoyable, thoughtful book, one that I highly recommend!

Thank you to #Netgalley, #TwinRabbitBooks and #CraigDavidSinger for allowing me to read this amazing book!