Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Book Review: Murder in Her Stocking by G. A. McKevett

Murder in Her Stocking by G. A. McKevett, book cover and review
I always want to read a Christmas story for the holidays, and this was my second attempt -- the first was a DNF.  I like a mystery as part of the story. Murder in Her Stocking was exactly what I needed.

Stella Reid loves her six grandchildren and wants to give them the best Christmas. But it isn't easy when their father is gone on the road for his job and has no intention of helping out. And their mother spends most of her time (and money) at the local bar.

It doesn't help that the local Nativity Scene has been vandalized (and the culprit is known to Stella.) Then the local tramp gets murdered, and Stella can't help but get involved. As she helps out the local police chief, it becomes clear that he has feelings for her.

So there is a mystery, a family story, and a romance to warm your heart. Yes, it's a bit cheesy, but just what I need in a Christmas story.

Published by Kensington, 2018
eBook obtained from the library
304 pages

Rating: 4.5/5

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Thursday, December 5, 2019

Book Review: Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd, by Alan Bradley

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I had skipped a Flavie de Luce Mystery! This title, Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd, comes before The Grave's a Fine and Private Place, which I reviewed at the beginning of 2018. Once I discovered this, I hurried to read.

Flavia finds another dead body (of course) hanging upside down from a contraption on his bedroom door. The situation doesn't matter. Suffice it to say, Flavia is relentless in her pursuit of the murderer. Her father is ill and in the hospital, so we don't hear from him in this story.

It took me a while to get into the book. I think because some of the quirky banter between the sisters and the discussion of bizarre chemistry that Flavia is known for was missing. It picked up, and soon I was again captivated by the character, the crazy sleuthing, and the eventual solution to the mystery. Dogger, as usual, brings some interest to the story.

I don't have much unique to say about Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd. It is a Flavia story. If you aren't familiar, you should begin at the beginning with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.  If you are a historical mystery fan in a Brittish setting and enjoy a bit of scientific sleuthing, Flavia is your girl!

Published by Thorndike, 2016
eBook obtained from the library
413 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Monday, December 2, 2019

Audiobook review: Unsheltered, by Barbara Kingsolver

Unsheltered, by Barbara Kingsolver book cover and review
Unsheltered left me with mixed feelings. The story wasn't much, but the writing, well, if you've never read Kingsolver you won't understand how enamored I am with her writing.

So, yes, I'll always pick up a book written by Kingsolver. Unsheltered follows two timelines of people who live in the same house. The first point-of-view is Willa in 2016. She lives in an old Victorian house with her husband and adult daughter. The house is literally falling down, and as the story progresses, they are confined to less and less space.

Willa is trying to get the house designated as historic, so she can get some grants to help fix it up. There is much soul searching, as she reflects on the past and how hard they have worked and still don't even have enough money to make basic repairs to the house. The stories of her two children are integral to the plot as well. Her daughter is appalled at the damage that our civilization has done, and continues to do, to the earth. Her son is mourning the loss of his wife and has left his newborn son with Willa.

As Willa is researching the historical significance of the house, she discovers (eventually) that Thatcher Greenwood, a local science teacher, may have lived in her house in the1870s. Part of the reason he is significant is because of his relationship with a renowned woman scientist, Mary Treat, who lived next door. Thatcher's house is also in disrepair, and he also doesn't have enough money to fix it. It is just as well, because his desire to teach about Darwin's theories will most likely be the end of his employment by the local conservative school.

Kingsovler does a good job switching the narration and building a connection between these two eras. Her command of prose just mesmerized me. She narrates Unsheltered herself and this is the second book I've listened to that she has narrated. I wouldn't say she's a great narrator. She's not very good at male voices--some of them just sound drunk. But I appreciate her doing it. I feel like the author alone knows the proper emphasis and emotion she wants to convey. A couple of times I think she got a little choked up.

All in all, Unsheltered is my least favorite of her offerings. I could recommend just about any other of her books before this one, but if you are a Kingsolver fan, be sure to include this in your list.

Published by Harper, 2018
Audiobook obtained from
480 pages

Rating: 3.5/5

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Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Book Review: War Storm by Victoria Aveyard

War Storm by Victoria Aveyard book cover and review
War Storm is a rather imposing book, but when you've read the previous three books, it's a no brainer.

Spoilers if you haven't read the series. Stop now. Cal and Mare are apart after Cal gives up Mare because he wants to be a King. But they can't be totally apart, because they have to work together to defeat Maven.

So, I don't want to spend a lot of time relaying each move -- you can read War Storm for that. They work together to get enough support to go after Maven, but Cal and Mare's relationship is strained. Especially given he is betrothed to Evangeline. But the battle seems to go their way, and then it doesn't.

The multiple points of view make the story interesting and easier to read. But this is a loooooong book. It kept my interest, and I had to finish it because I needed to know. And that's the goal of the author, right? You have to read it. But I felt a kind of resentment for dragging it out.

So, I have mixed feelings. It was well written, easy to read, and interesting. So why am I complaining? I don't know.

The Red Queen Series is one of my favorites. The characters are intriguing, and I really became attached to them. The whole Reds vs. Silvers concept is well done. I liked the world and the writing. Who cares how long the books are? (I keep telling myself that...)

If you have read the series, like I said, you have to read War Storm. If you haven't read any of them, start with Red Queen and see what you think. I think it is worth it, and teens love these.

Published by Orion, February 21, 2019
Copy obtained from the library
662 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Audiobook Review: The Whistler, by John Grisham

The Whistler by John Grisham, book cover and review
I haven't read a Grisham for quite a while, and I must say I'm a little disappointed in The Whistler.

Lacy isn't a police officer or even a detective. She investigates corruption in judges. She is approached by a man with an unbelievable story of corruption by a sitting judge that is extensive in its scope. This judge is apparently being paid massive amounts of money by a casino run by an Indian tribe in Florida. This is in return for her favorable judgments on all things related to the construction and running of this massive project.

This has been going on for years and involves a previously unknown crime organization run by a man who has lived for years without an identity. No social security number, no address, and not many people even know what he looks like.

An intriguing story that becomes quite dangerous for Lacy and her partner. The FBI eventually gets involved. The investigation and entrapment of these criminals is interesting. But my disappointment stems from the fact that The Whistler isn't at all "a high-stakes thrill ride" as advertised in the blurb. It isn't without some violence, but I expected all this tension and danger at the end, and it never materialized. The last 20 minutes of The Whistler is a listing of who was indicted and on what charges. Then an account of the sentences handed down.

The narrator, Cassandra Campbell, does a great job. I totally don't remember anything about her voice, and as I write this, I couldn't even remember if it was a male or female narrator. That's a good thing. I don't like to be distracted by the audio.

The Whistler reads like a true-crime exposé, and that isn't what I expect from Grisham. He writes well, and I won't give up on him. Hopefully, The Whistler was a fluke.

Published by Doubleday, 2016
Audiobook obtained from the library
384 pages

Rating: 3.5

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Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Book Review: The Royal Nanny by Karen Harper

The Royal Nanny by Karen Harper book cover and review
As I wait for the release of the new season of The Crown, I decided to experience The Royal Nanny to satisfy my thirst for all things related to the royal family.

The novel is based on a real person, Charlotte Bill (nicknamed Lala), the nanny to the Duke and Duchess of York's children beginning in 1897. So those are the Duke and Duchess that became King George V and Queen Mary, grandparents of the current Queen Elizabeth II.

The story starts out dramatically as, upon her arrival, she gets the current head nanny fired because she is abusing the children (David and Bertie--the Duchess was pregnant with Mary at the time.) Instantly, Lala is promoted to head nanny. If you are keeping track, David is the one that abdicated the throne for Wallis Simpson. And Bertie becomes King George IV and father of Queen Elizabeth II.) So she is the nanny to two future Kings of England.

The lives the children (and their nanny) lead is interesting and unusual, of course. It is astounding to realize that all of the monarchs of England were pretty much raised by their nannies. Think of the influence. Lala's influence was a good one. She tried unfailingly (and without much success) to change David's belief that he was deserving of special treatment, lauding over everyone. A true example of the "born with a silver spoon in his mouth" idiom. He was a little tyrant and didn't think much of his younger brother Bertie. Not that their father helped much. He, also, was a tyrant and didn't show much affection for his sons. They did get spoiled and loved, however, by their grandparents.

The Duchess went on to bear four more children, the cornerstone of the story being the last child, Johnny, who had severe epilepsy and potentially some sort of autistic disorder. As Johnny's seizures get worse, Lala and Johnny are banished to a small house on the Sandringham estate (where the children spent most of their childhoods.) Lala truly loved Johnny as her own and resented that he was mostly hidden from the public and not included in most of the family activities.

Lala's personal life, including a romance, add to the story, although this part is not necessarily historically accurate. Harper describes the lives and settings of The Royal Nanny so that you can understand the trials of Lala's position, as well as that of some of the other servants and of course, the children. The Author's Note gives some detail about the facts and embellishments of the story and includes an interesting note about the current royal children. It seems Prince William and Duchess Catherine decided their children would not have a nanny, but quickly changed their mind after the birth of their first child. It seems the reality of their royal duties just take too much time to be able to care fulltime for their children.

If you are at all interested in the royal family, I highly recommend you add this one to your list.

Published by William Morrow, 2016
EBook purchased
384 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Monday, October 28, 2019

Book Review: South of Broad by Pat Conroy

South of Broad by Pat Conroy book cover and review
I've been told by several people that I should read a Pat Conroy novel. I finally got around to it and was not disappointed. I chose South of Broad because I own it -- by "hand-me-down." Not sure who gave it to me.

Our narrator, Leo, loves his home town of Charleston, South Carolina. Leo had a traumatic childhood. He finds his older brother dead from a suicide, wrists slit open, in the bathtub. His life spirals after that. His mother seems to not care about Leo, he ends up being arrested for a crime he didn't commit, he spends some time in a mental institution, and he does his community service by taking care of a cantankerous old man.

His mother is the principal at the high school Leo attends, and in the 1960s desegregation is just beginning. Leo becomes friends with an unlikely group of kids. New neighbors, Trevor and Sheba, who live with there alcoholic mother. Starla, Niles, and Betty live in an orphanage in town. Ike is the son of the new (African American) football coach. And Chad, Molly, and Fraser are from rich, upperclass families from South of Broad, who got in trouble at their private school and must now attend Leo's school.

South of Broad switches back and forth from the 60s to the 80s, as Leo outlines the progression of the relationships within this mismatched group. There seem to be more "downs" than "ups" for most of them. From the racial tensions of the 1960s South, to the aids epidemic in 1980s San Francisco, to Hurrican Hugo in 1989, the story is a saga, as well as an homage to Charleston.

Conroy's writing draws you into the lives of these people and the atmosphere of Charleston in the 60s. If you haven't read any of his novels, I will recommend him -- as he was recommended to me. South of Broad was not one of his better-received novels, although certainly a best-seller, so I'll be sure to seek out another of his novels soon.

Published by Nan A. Telese, 2009
Copy obtained from a gift
514 pages

Rating: 5/5

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Monday, October 21, 2019

Book Review: Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory

Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory book cover and review
Royal Holiday is a delightful, romantic story. Just what I needed.

Vivian is busy. As most hard-working people are. When her daughter, Maddie's work takes her to England over the holidays, she is determined to take her mother with her. Vivian is resistant but eventually goes along. Maddie will be working as a stylist for a Duchess of the royal family at their castle at Sandringham.

Vivian is delighted when she meets the Queen's private secretary, Malcolm, and he offers to give her a tour of the grounds and castle.

Malcolm has never given private tours before and doesn't really understand what has come over him. But he is definitely attracted to Vivian, so he continues to find excuses to see her. The romance develops pretty quickly--well it needs to, since Vivian is only in England until January 2.

I enjoyed the easy banter between these two. I appreciated that these were not "20 somethings" but older adults. I enjoyed the Christmasy aspect of the story, although it wasn't too sappy. I enjoyed the Sandringham (I had to look it up on Wikipedia) and London settings.

I read this in a little more than one day. I was in the mood for a cute, fluffy holiday story and Royal Holiday definitely fit the bill. You should check it out.

Published by Berkley, October 1, 2019
eARC obtained from NetGalley
304 pages

Rating: 4/5

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