Saturday, December 31, 2022

Book Review: The Villa by Rachel Hawkins

The Villa by Rachel Hawkins book cover and review
It took me a while to get into The Villa, but it was entertaining enough.

Emily and Chess are lifelong friends who decide to spend a summer at a villa in Italy. The trials of adult life have caused them to drift apart, so they are looking forward to reconnecting.

This is the same villa where in 1974 a group of five people spend the summer at the same villa and one of them ends up dead. Out of this group, one was already a rock star. One records a best-selling album, another writes a book (suspiciously about a murder in a villa), and the other is convicted of the murder. These aren't spoilers, as this information is given fairly early. Part of the narrative is also passages from the book that was written during the summer of 1974 (which involves more characters!)

Emily, an author, gets interested in the history of the villa and begins to research what happened. Chess is also a self-help author and begins to press Emily to let her help write a book about it. Emily doesn't want Chess's help, tensions build, and things go south from there.

So it takes a while to sort it all. There are a lot of characters and two time periods. Hawkins is a good writer, so it all makes sense, but I thought it all went on a bit too long. I had read about the "twists," and was looking forward to them. But it takes about 80% of the book before anything twisty begins to happen.

Don't get me wrong--there are more twists than you realize. I suspected something of the sort...for a while, but it kept going farther than I ever imagined.  

I would recommend The Villa. The characters are interesting, even if the buildup goes on a bit too long. (and I just realized this book is less than 300 pages. Seemed longer...) The twists are clever and worth the wait.

Published by St. Martin's, January 3, 2023
eARC obtained from Edelweiss+
288 pages

Rating: 3.5/5

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Friday, December 16, 2022

Book Review: We Deserve Monuments, by Jas Hammonds

We Deserve Monuments by Jas Hammonds book cover and review
I don't read as much Young Adult Literature these days, but I'm glad I chose We Deserve Monuments

In the interest of time and clarity I'll copy the description here because I think it does a better job than I can at describing the main plot ideas:

Seventeen-year-old Avery Anderson is convinced her senior year is ruined when she's uprooted from her life in DC and forced into the hostile home of her terminally ill grandmother, Mama Letty. The tension between Avery’s mom and Mama Letty makes for a frosty arrival and unearths past drama they refuse to talk about. Every time Avery tries to look deeper, she’s turned away, leaving her desperate to learn the secrets that split her family in two.

While tempers flare in her avoidant family, Avery finds friendship in unexpected places: in Simone Cole, her captivating next-door neighbor, and Jade Oliver, daughter of the town’s most prominent family―whose mother’s murder remains unsolved.

As the three girls grow closer―Avery and Simone’s friendship blossoming into romance―the sharp-edged opinions of their small southern town begin to hint at something insidious underneath. The racist history of Bardell, Georgia is rooted in Avery’s family in ways she can’t even imagine. With Mama Letty's health dwindling every day, Avery must decide if digging for the truth is worth toppling the delicate relationships she's built in Bardell―or if some things are better left buried.

We Deserve Monuments gave me a lot of "feels." The teen romance was sweet, although the realities of a lesbian relationship are also apparent. Mama Letty was a great character, and I must admit I shed a tear for her (which is unusual for me.) The mystery aspect didn't intrigue me as much, but still added to the story. 

YA reads are usually quick, and We Deserve Monuments is no exception. So if you are in the market for a brand-new YA story, you should pick this one up. But you don't need to take my word. It is a current bestseller.

Published by Roaring Book Press, November 29, 2022
eARC obtained from Edelweiss+ and NetGalley
384 pages

Rating: 4.5/5

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Friday, December 2, 2022

Audiobook Review: Varina by Charles Frazier

Varina, by Charles Frazier book cover and review
Varina, the story of Jefferson Davis' wife, was fascinating.

Many years ago I read Cold Mountain, and I remember learning quite a bit about the Civil War era. So when I saw Frazier had written Varina, I had to check it out. I also read Nightwoods, which I didn't even remember until I looked it up. I didn't like that one as much...

There is so much I didn't know. Their marriage wasn't that happy, in fact, they spent much of it apart. She was much younger than him. They took in a black child that Varina found on the street and raised him as their own. This black child is the impetus for Varina telling her story. If it wasn't for Jefferson catching up with them, Varina and the children probably would have made it to Cuba -- to which all the leaders of the Confederacy tried to escape.

There is much more. Varina, in her old age, tells the story of her escape, as well as how she came to be married to Davis, to her long lost "son."  It is a wonderful story that easily kept my attention.

I do wish there were an afterword about what was real and made up. Where the author found his information. How reliable is this account, etc. I love historical fiction but always want to know what facts I can rely on!

The narrator of the audio is Molly Parker, a familiar voice to me. I had to look her up on IMDB and found that she is the actress I thought. She does a great job. 

If you want to learn more about the Civil War and its aftermath, I highly recommend Varina.

Published by Ecco, 2018
Audiobook obtained from
368 pages

Rating: 4.5/5

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Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Book Review: Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver book cover and review
I have really enjoyed every Kingsolver book I've read, but Demon Copperhead just didn't do it for me. And to be perfectly honest, I skipped part of it.

From the blurb: Set in the mountains of southern Appalachia, Demon Copperhead is the story of a boy born to a teenaged single mother in a single-wide trailer, with no assets beyond his dead father’s good looks and copper-colored hair, a caustic wit, and a fierce talent for survival. Relayed in his own unsparing voice, Demon braves the modern perils of foster care, child labor, derelict schools, athletic success, addiction, disastrous loves, and crushing losses. 

Kingsolver writes well. Her text is interesting. But this book was such a downer. For the first 1/3, I slogged through and then was so happy that things were looking up for Demon. But there was a lot of book to go, so as I continued, at about 60% I realized things were going to get depressing again. I went to the reviews. There are many stunningly glowing reviews. Maybe because this is supposed to be a modern retelling of David Copperfield. (I've never read it.) But when I looked at the more harsh reviews, I realized many people felt the way I did. People who were Kingsolver fans. But I did see that the book's ending was worth reading. So I skipped ahead and read the last few chapters.

I was able to glean pretty much what had happened in the part that I skipped. And, as I suspected, it was horrifying. The book is TOO LONG. It just goes on and on. Same stuff over and over. Same complaints. Same hardships. Lots of substance-abuse-related deaths.

Demon Copperhead wasn't for me. Maybe if you are prepped and in the right frame of mind, you will love it, as many others did. 

Published by Harper, October 18, 2022
eARC obtained from Edelweiss+
370/560 pages

Rating: 3/5

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Friday, October 21, 2022

Audiobook Review: Fairy Tale by Stephen King

Fairy Tale by Stephen King book cover and review
Stephen King's latest, Fairy Tale, is a bit different than his usual horror-ish stories, but as I have often said, I will read anything he writes because he can write about anything!

It's a story about a boy, Charlie, who ends up in a fairytale land and must save that land from the evil king who possesses it.

But of course, there is so much more. Charlie ends up befriending the local "old guy with the mean dog whose house is haunted." When Charlie hears the man crying out for help, he calls an ambulance and ends up taking care of the man's dog, Radar. Radar is just a sweet, aging German Shepherd that can hardly make it up the steps to his house. And Charlie soon falls in love with him.

After his convalescence in the hospital, the man, Mr. Bowditch, comes home and Charlie takes care of him, as well as Radar. Bowditch begins to confide in Charlie about his life, his past, and secrets that Charlie can tell no one. One secret is about what is in the shed in Mr. Bowditch's backyard.

Now you can probably see where this is going, and I really don't want to tell you much more. It is a fun adventure story, with lots of danger and many references to fairy tales we are all familiar with -- but this isn't a retelling. King, of course, adds his own twists and turns.

The narrator, Seth Numrich, is perfect. The voices are distinct, but not too much. King, himself, narrates a certain part of the book, and it's amazing. I highly recommend the audio version, if you like audiobooks.

Don't go in expecting the usual spooky, twisted, scary tale that you usually get, and you will be highly entertained by Fairy Tale.

Published by Scribner, September 6, 2022, audio by Simon & Schuster
Audiobook obtained from
608 pages

Rating: 5/5

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Monday, October 17, 2022

Book Review: The Prisoner, by B. A. Paris

The Prisoner, by B. A. Paris book cover and review
After reading a few books by Paris, she is fast becoming a go-to author for me. The Prisoner sealed the deal.

I love when a book jumps right in and grabs you from page one. Amelie has been kidnapped and is in a pitch-black room. She can't understand why she has been kidnapped but knows that she might be safer here than if she is freed and must face her husband, Ned, who she is certain will kill her.

We get flashbacks to find out how Amelie met her friends, and through them, her future husband. And the strange way he became her husband. And, then, how she began to fear for her life.

Ned is everything a reader wants in a creepy, dangerous guy. But everything is not as it seems. I was surprised when the kidnapping ends about halfway through the book. The second half is about finding out who the kidnappers were and why. Paris throws in twist after twist and it's a page-turning rollercoaster ride.

As you can probably tell, I thoroughly enjoyed The Prisoner. And if you enjoy thrillers, you should get your hands on a copy. Sure, it's a little far-fetched at times, but I hardly noticed. The surprises make up for it.

Published by St. Martin's, November 2, 2022
eARC obtained from Edelweiss+
304 pages

Rating: 4.5/5

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Thursday, October 6, 2022

Book Review: The Good Left Undon by Adriana Trigiani

The Good Left Undone by Adriana Trigiani book cover and review
The Good Left Undone is a beautifully written, heartwarming story. Just what you would expect from Trigiani. I have difficulty writing reviews for literary books such as this, so here is the blurb:

Matelda, the Cabrelli family’s matriarch, has always been brusque and opinionated. Now, as she faces the end of her life, she is determined to share a long-held secret with her family about her own mother’s great love story: with her childhood friend, Silvio, and with dashing Scottish sea captain John Lawrie McVicars, the father Matelda never knew. . . .

 In the halcyon past, Domenica Cabrelli thrives in the coastal town of Viareggio until her beloved home becomes unsafe when Italy teeters on the brink of World War II. Her journey takes her from the rocky shores of Marseille to the mystical beauty of Scotland to the dangers of wartime Liverpool—where Italian Scots are imprisoned without cause—as Domenica experiences love, loss, and grief while she longs for home. A hundred years later, her daughter, Matelda, and her granddaughter, Anina, face the same big questions about life and their family’s legacy, while Matelda contemplates what is worth fighting for. But Matelda is running out of time, and the two timelines intersect and weave together in unexpected and heartbreaking ways that lead the family to shocking revelations and, ultimately, redemption.

I pretty much agree with that assessment, although I'm not sure the revelations were "shocking." It took me a while to get into the book. There is a rhythm between Anina's perspective in the present and Domenica's in the past. It's not just one generation, but three. Dominica is Anina's great-grandmother. Once I figured out the characters and their relationships, I really enjoyed the story.

The Good Left Undone is a love story, a survival story, a war story, and a great story of family. If you are a fan of Trigiani, I would recommend this one. It isn't my favorite of hers (that still remains The Shoemaker's Wife), but I really enjoyed it.

Published by Dutton, April 26, 2022
eARC obtained from Edelweiss+
448 pages

Rating: 4.5/5

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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Audiobook Review: Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune

Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune book cover and review
TJ Klune's take on the afterlife in Under the Whispering Door is creative and entertaining.

Wallace is a pretty nasty person. He's a lawyer who only thinks of himself and the bottom line. He has alienated any family or friends he ever had. When he finds himself dead, he simply cannot believe it. He is met by a reaper, who escorts him to a tea shop which is a waypoint between life and death.

Hugo, the owner of the tea shop, and the reaper, May, are there to help Wallace (and others) accept their new state and transition to the afterlife (which is through the Whispering Door on the fourth floor.)

Other residents of the tea shop include Hugo's grandfather and his dog who both are dead, but for some reason have never gone through the door.

The setting and story are very creative and stories of others who have passed through the tea shop, as well as "live" customers, add to the entertainment.  And the budding romance between Hugo and Wallace adds the romantic element.

Kirt Graves is the audiobook narrator and is absolutely perfect for this story.

It isn't sad, and the ending provides more happiness than is maybe deserved. Under the Whispering Door will make you think about death in a different way.

Published by Tor, 2021, Macmillan Audio
Audiobook obtained from Cloud Library
 384 pages

Rating: 4/5

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