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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