Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Book Review: The WIfe Upstairs, by Rachel Hawkins

The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins book cover and review
I was easily drawn into The Wife Upstairs and pleasantly surprised by a twisted ending.

Jane has found a pretty good job walking dogs for several people in a wealthy subdivision in Birmingham, Alabama. She has secrets -- but no one needs to know what her life in foster homes was like, or what she is running from.

She doesn't make enough money to pay her sleazy housemate his rent, but the rich women she works for don't notice when they lose an earring or some other bobble once in a while. 

She runs into Eddie, whose wife has recently died in a boating accident. Eddie becomes interested in Jane, and before she knows it a serious relationship is beginning, and she is moving in with him. All of a sudden the women who she has worked for must try to accept her as one of them. Jane has never known such luxuries and can't believe her good fortune. She even feels comfortable telling Eddie a little bit about her past.
We get a few morsels from the POV of Bea, the "Wife Upstairs," who Eddie has locked up so she can't tell anyone what happened on the boat. And then Bea's death is determined a homicide, not an accident, and the police are asking questions.

 That's pretty much all you are going to get. There are a lot of details about Jane's life - past and present - and the lives of others in this neighborhood that add to the intrigue. And like I said, I loved the twisted ending. If you've enjoyed Hawkins' other books, or enjoy these popular twisty domestic mysteries, put The Wife Upstairs on your list.

Published by St. Martin's Press, January 5, 2021
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
304 pages

Rating: 4.5/5

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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Book Review: The Engineer's Wife by Tracey Enerson Wood

The Engineer's Wife by Tracey Enerson Wood book cover and review 

The Engineer's Wife is an interesting historical fiction, based in truth, about the building of the Brooklyn Bridge.

The building of this amazing structure was no small feat, taking decades to construct. It was also a very dangerous undertaking, causing many permanent injuries and even several deaths. The men had to spend much time in an underwater enclosure and were subject to the bends due to the pressure. Of course, in the 1800s, no one knew anything about this condition and subjecting themselves to this day after day caused many men to be permanently affected.

Washington Roebling was one of these men. And he was in charge of building the bridge. When he became so ill that he could no longer be at the building site, he sent his wife, Emily, with instructions and decisions about how to proceed. Emily took it upon herself to become knowledgeable about the design and engineering of the bridge so she could make decisions on her own.

The book starts out with Emily's and Washington's courtship and marriage. Washington's illness also caused a huge rift in their relationship, and Emily became friends with and eventually fell in love with P.T. Barnum.  Many other famous people make appearances in the novel.

Many of the descriptions of the building of the bridge were difficult for me to understand without pictures. These served to heighten my interest rather than frustrate me as a reader. I now intend to watch Ken Burns' documentary about the building of the bridge so I can better understand what the book was trying to describe.

It was an interesting story, however, it took me many weeks to get through it. Part of that was just because I didn't feel like reading, but maybe I didn't feel like reading because the book was a bit slow-paced.

Emily's feats are fascinating, and of course, she got little credit for her essential part in the completion of the bridge.

If you are interested in the subject, The Engineer's Wife won't disappoint.

Published by Sourcebooks Landmark, 2020
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
356 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Book Review: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, by Kim Michele Richardson

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, by Richardson. Book cover and review
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek depicts a time and a place that I knew little about. I found it touching and compelling. And I'm a sucker for books about librarians...

In the 1930s, in the deep hills of Appalachia, Roosevelt's Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project hired women to deliver library materials to the most remote and isolated people in the state. Cussy is one of these librarians.

Her father is determined that Cussy get married since he is her only family. Cussy knows that she will lose the job she loves since married women can't be packhorse librarians. She also knows that no one will want to marry her since her skin is a shade of blue unlike most anyone else. She is the last of her kind, one of the blue-skinned people of Kentucky.

Cussy survives many hardships, many having to do with the discrimination against the blues, but also just because she is poor. Her father's life is a horrific one, working in the coal mines every day.

The depiction of Cussy and the people she meets is eye-opening and fascinating. Minor characters are a bit muddled-I had a bit of trouble keeping track of who was who-but I needed to find out what happened to all of them. And some of it is very sad.

I'm still thinking about Cussy and her life (and feeling thankful). I think that says a lot about a book. If you are interested in history, and in particular the hardships endured by these people, you should check out The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek.

Published by Sourcebooks Landmard, 2019
eBook purchased
320 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Monday, December 21, 2020

Book Review: Pretty Things by Janelle Brown

Pretty Things by Janelle Brown book cover and review
I was pleasantly surprised by the twists and turns that Pretty Things contained.

Nina and Lachlan aren't especially nice people. They swindle the ultra-rich out of their treasures. Nina feels forced to continue her high-stakes swindles since her mother's cancer has reappeared and her only hope is some experimental treatment and they have no insurance.

As the reader is taken back to Nina's childhood, and finds out about her dysfunctional mother, we find out about a relationship she had with Benny, in Lake Tahoe when she was a teen. Benny comes from a well-known rich family and when his father finds them in a compromising situation, he kicks her and her mother out of town.

There is more to the situation, but I don't want to give away too much. Lachlan and Nina decide to swindle Bennie's sister, Vanessa, who is a famous Instagram influencer now living at the family's old estate in Lake Tahoe. Things don't go as planned and the wheels come off. I don't want to say too much more.

The writing is interesting as we get the perspective of all three main characters and learn about their histories.

I love the characters, but with that said there is a lot of character development and setup before anything really happens.  But that's probably why I love them. And I had to know what happens. And I never could have guessed all that happens. Which is also a good thing.

After "the marriage" (I don't want to be too specific) things really got interesting, secrets were revealed, the pace picked up, and I had a hard time putting Pretty Things down. And when I did, I was thinking about it.

Pretty Things was a win for me. If you like a twisty book about con games that go all different directions, and if you can be a little patient, you will certainly enjoy this one.

Published by Random House, April 21, 2020
eBook purchased
496 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Monday, November 23, 2020

Book Review: The Rooster Bar, by John Grisham

The Rooster Bar by John Grisham book cover and review

I can never go wrong with a John Grisham book, so of course, I enjoyed The Rooster Bar.

There are three law students who are one semester from graduating. They have dismal job prospects, huge piles of debt, and very little chance of passing the bar. They have discovered that the school they attend is a sleazy for-profit law school that advertises falsely to get students to sign up and then rakes in the money while most of the students flounder.

They decide to quit school and pretend to be lawyers while hanging around traffic court and picking up clients. Maybe hand around hospitals and fish for accident victims. They figure they know enough about the law and can pick up the techniques by watching other lawyers. And they aren't wrong. But they have difficulty flying under the radar when they pick up cases that aren't basic courtroom appearances.

Also, one of them has parents and a brother who are illegal and are being deported back to Somalia. This may seem insignificant, but in the end, it is not.

There is more to the story, and as usual, I enjoyed the twists and turns. The Rooster Bar doesn't spend too much time in the courtroom, which sometimes I don't like as much, but in this case, I didn't mind. Grisham uses short chapters and simple sentence structure that can be annoying but also allows for very fast reading. Just what I needed.

If you enjoy Grisham's books, there is no reason you should pass up The Rooster Bar.

Published by Doubleday, 2017
Copy borrowed from family
368 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Tuesday, November 10, 2020

DNF Thoughts: Moonflower Murders, by Anthony Horowitz

Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz
I have been in a reading funk, so I'm sure that was part of the reason I did not finish Moonflower Murders. These are just a few thoughts for you. 

I stopped after reading 42%, which is farther than I usually go if I'm going to DNF. Part of the reason is that I thought I had read Magpie Murders, and thought that I ought to like this one too. But I was confusing it with The Word is Murder, so there you go. 

Anyway, I don't read every day anymore, and I was finally getting into the grove, and improving my pace when the novel within the novel began. And I lost it. Totally new characters--every time I picked up the book, I couldn't get oriented. So I gave up. I have plenty of books I want to read, so I decided I should pick something I had a better chance of liking. I'm really trying to get my reading mojo back, so I can' afford to get slogged down in a book I'm not enjoying.

I think this is probably a great mystery if you can spend some time with it, but it wasn't for me at this time.

Published by Harper, November 10, 2020
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
255/608 pages

Rating: DNF

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Monday, October 19, 2020

Book Review: Practical Magic, by Alice Hoffman

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman book cover and review
I love the movie version of Practical Magic and have always wanted to read the book. I'm so glad I finally did.

I don't usually do this, but I'm just going to include the blurb, in case you don't know the premise: For more than two hundred years, the Owens women have been blamed for everything that has gone wrong in their Massachusetts town. Gillian and Sally have endured that fate as well: as children, the sisters were forever outsiders, taunted, talked about, pointed at. Their elderly aunts almost seemed to encourage the whispers of witchery, with their musty house and their exotic concoctions and their crowd of black cats. But all Gillian and Sally wanted was to escape. One will do so by marrying, the other by running away. But the bonds they share will bring them back—almost as if by magic...

The book has very much the same tone as the movie, and it was easy to picture Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman as I read the story. The aunts were my favorite in the movie though, and I was a bit disappointed that, although they were introduced at the beginning of the book, they didn't appear again until the very end. In the movie, they were around most of the time.

It is a light-hearted feel-good story with a happy ending. Not your typical Halloween chiller/thriller, but I would still recommend Practical Magic as perfect for this time of year.

Published by Putnam, 1995
eBook purchased
244 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Thursday, October 15, 2020

Book Review: My Way to You, by Catherine Bybee

My Way to You, by Catherine Bybee book cover and review
I saw My Way to You as a Kindle Daily Deal, and for some reason, it jumped out at me and I bought.  Both the ebook and audiobook. I really enjoyed reading and listening to it. First time I've tried the combination formats.

Parker, in her mid-20s, has for two years been taking care of her younger sister and brother as well as their house and substantial property after the sudden death of her parents. Now, to add to the stress, a California wildfire threatens their home.

The home survives, but the surrounding canyon is devastated. And the rains are coming, which can cause debris and mud to devastate both Parker's and her neighbor's properties.

Colin works for the public works department, and his job is to create dams and structures to control the runoff from the rain. It is a huge project and requires a huge disruption to Parker's life and threatens her security. It doesn't help that Parker is a control freak and needs to know everything and be in charge of everything.

Colin is a "too good to be true" guy. And I got a bit tired of the "poor Parker" interludes, but otherwise this was an interesting, dramatic, and heartwarming story that kept my attention. I rooted for the relationship's development and was happy with the way it played out. 

Apparently, this story is somewhat autobiographical from Bybee. There are two more books in the Creek Canyon series, and I enjoyed My Way to You enough to seek them out. (The third book doesn't come out until November.)

Published by Montlake, March 10, 2020
eBook and audiobook purchased
367 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Thursday, August 27, 2020

Book Review: One By One, by Ruth Ware

One by One, by Ruth Ware book cover and review
I've really enjoyed some of Ruth Ware's previous books, and even though One By One took a while to get going, it did not disappoint.

I've never read And Then There Were None, but my impression is that One By One is the same type of story. There are ten characters alone in a ski chalet. Two of the people are the employees who are there to cook and clean and generally take care of the guests. The other eight are part of a group from a high tech software company. Well, seven of them are current employees. One is a former employee who doesn't seem to quite fit in. A former personal assistant, she doesn't exactly run in the same circles as the employees.

Turns out they are on a retreat, but also voting on whether to accept a buyout deal. The employees are evenly divided, and it turns out the ex personal assistant is the deciding vote.

Then there's an avalanche that strands them all -- and people start dying.

The first 30% of the book is introduction of characters and setting, and even after all that, I still got some of the characters confused. But it didn't really matter. The narrators were all well defined and interesting.

I didn't really figure out what was going on (or who the "bad guy" was), and that was great. There were a few possibilities, and one of my suspects was indeed the culprit. The story kept me on my toes, until a pretty spectacular climax.

If you enjoy the "stranded people being killed off" trope, One By One is worth your time.

Published by Gallery/Scout Press, September 8, 2020
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
384  pages

Rating: 4/5

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