Mastering the Art of French Eating
04 Dec, 2018

Mastering the Art of French Eating

/ posted in: Book ReviewFoodies ReadReading Mastering the Art of French Eating Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris by Ann Mah
on September 26, 2013
Pages: 288
Genres: Cooking, Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Pamela Dorman Books
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: France

The memoir of a young diplomat’s wife who must reinvent her dream of living in Paris—one dish at a time

"Excellent ingredients, carefully prepared and very elegantly served. A really tasty book."—Peter Mayle, author of The Marseille Caper and A Year in Provence

When journalist Ann Mah’s diplomat husband is given a three-year assignment in Paris, Ann is overjoyed. A lifelong foodie and Francophile, she immediately begins plotting gastronomic adventures à deux. Then her husband is called away to Iraq on a year-long post—alone. Suddenly, Ann’s vision of a romantic sojourn in the City of Lights is turned upside down.

So, not unlike another diplomatic wife, Julia Child, Ann must find a life for herself in a new city. Journeying through Paris and the surrounding regions of France, Ann combats her loneliness by seeking out the perfect pain au chocolat and learning the way the andouillette sausage is really made. She explores the history and taste of everything from boeuf Bourguignon to soupe au pistou to the crispiest of buckwheat crepes. And somewhere between Paris and the south of France, she uncovers a few of life’s truths.

Like Sarah Turnbull’s Almost French and Julie Powell’s New York Times bestseller Julie and Julia, Mastering the Art of French Eating is interwoven with the lively characters Ann meets and the traditional recipes she samples. Both funny and intelligent, this is a story about love—of food, family, and France.

Goodreads

I had this book on my iPad for a long time.  I had started reading it and then wandered off as I so often do.  However, I realized I had this while on my recent riverboat cruise in France, so I decided it was the perfect time to dust it off and finish it up.

I was actually on the outskirts of Lyon when I picked the book back up just in time for the chapter on Lyon. Lyon is known as gastronomic hot spot in France.  Their claim to fame are small restaurants that were started by women catering to working class people.  They are called “bouchons”.  They still exist and are considered some of the best places to eat.  I appreciate this book for explaining that they still feature tripe heavily in their meals.  Vegetarian-friendly is not a concept most of these have grasped.  A few days later I was standing in old town Lyon turning in a circle looking at all the bouchons.

Whispering to the husband – “We aren’t eating anywhere that says bouchon.”

Him – “Why?”

Me, muttering like just saying the word would manifest it in front of me – “Tripe”

Him – “What?””

Me – “It is sort of like restaurants who claim they are Family Restaurants in the U.S.”

He understood my theory that any restaurant that claims that title is using recipes from some old lady who cooked meat and potatoes without any spices and believed that the way to cook vegetables is to boil them until they give up.  Also, the soups are totally made with meat broth and if you order vegetable soup anyway odds are 50/50 that there will be unexpected chunks of meat in it.  Yes, I am a vegetarian foodie snob.

I was inspired by her chapter on beef bourguignon.  Once we got home I made a yummy mushroom version from Smitten Kitchen

I would recommend this book for anyone who likes reading about local food traditions in combination with a memoir.  She decides to write this book to distract her from the fact that she’s been left in France alone for a year.  They just moved there.  She knows no one.  You see her personal growth over the year as she reaches out of her comfort zone to make friends. 


So what did we eat in France?  Stay tuned for that post in a bit.

08 Oct, 2018

Right on the Monet

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Right on the Monet Right on the Monet by Malcolm Parnell
Genres: Fiction
Format: eBook
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher

New York
Claude Monet painting is stolen
Mediterranean
Of all the things Harry Chase had imagined in his life, being a drummer on a cruise ship band was not one that would have occurred to him. And yet, there he was. Centre stage, behind a young female singer along with his mates, Dave, Tony and Steve.
Which meant that getting involved in a jewellery theft, an on-board massage parlour and the hunt for an Old Master was even further from his mind as he cracked the snare drum.
And yet, this was exactly how he found himself being questioned by Interpol …..

Goodreads

 


This is the third book in a series but enough context is given to allow you to pick up the story if you are starting with this book.

The story line was inventive.  The mystery was complicated enough with enough red herrings to sustain the whole book. There was a fairly large cast and I was able to keep the male characters straight because they each had distinct personalities and character traits.

It did drive me batty that every time they went into a new country on this cruise all they did was shop. Who does that? You are supposed to go sightseeing.  But that story choice leads into my main problem with this book — its lazy characterization of women.

At heart this is a male fantasy where all the women are attracted to the main character and try to get him to have sex with them even though they know his partner.

One of the first things I noticed about this book is how many breasts were in it.  I know this because they were pointed out every time they appeared in a scene. I sighed and reminded myself that I don’t read a lot of male fiction authors and sometimes these authors are distracted easily.  Also every female character was introduced not by her purpose in the narrative or her relationship to other characters but by her appearance and sexual desirability. Then I got to this line.

“Like Clem, Liz was blonde and although approaching her mid-forties was still a very attractive woman.”

 

No, sir. Nope. Done. Automatic DNF from this 45 year old hag. It puts me in mind of this:

733959447

But alas, this is not the real world, this is a review book so I soldiered on.

“I looked at the five women sitting around the table and realised that any man would give his eye teeth to spend a night with any one of them;”

 

At the time the people were having important conversations but that’s ok, ignore that and focus on reducing them to your sexual fantasies.

 

The resolution of the plot isn’t even allowed to escape.

“Within minutes two squad cars containing plane (sic) clothes detectives had arrived along with two cars carrying uniformed police; one of whom was a very attractive WPC, and I made a mental note to somehow get Cara a police uniform.”

 

At one point there is this description:

“The barman was small and effeminate, his head was shaved at the sides, and he wore a black ponytail tied up in a top knot. The badge on the lapel of his bright red waistcoat said Sam. He seemed vaguely familiar. “I haven’t seen you guys in here before,” he said holding out a limp wrist. His accent was either American or Canadian.

I shook his hand, and his fingers collapsed in my grip; a similar experience to squeezing a soft rubber ball. “No, first time,” I replied surreptitiously wiping my hand on my trouser leg.”

 

If that isn’t bad enough, he is referred to later in this conversation.

“It’s a good picture of that bloke’s arse,” Steve added, “maybe we could take it to Sam, the barman, he might recognise it.”

 

Contrast this to the treatment of one of the main characters who is a lesbian. Of course there is absolutely nothing wrong with that in this book, except for one character’s repeated attempts to sleep with her because all lesbians just need a man to show them what they are missing, right? /sarcasm.  Even she is interested in having the main character watch her have sex. (Sadly, not even joking.)

If you like your mysteries served with a large topping of sexist banter on top, then you might enjoy this one. 

Right on the Monet Full Tour Banner

04 Oct, 2018

The Ravenmaster

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Ravenmaster The Ravenmaster: Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London by Christopher Skaife
on October 2, 2018
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: England

The first behind-the-scenes account of life with the legendary ravens at the world’s eeriest monument

The ravens at the Tower of London are of mighty importance: rumor has it that if a raven from the Tower should ever leave, the city will fall.

The title of Ravenmaster, therefore, is a serious title indeed, and after decades of serving the Queen, Yeoman Warder Christopher Skaife took on the added responsibility of caring for the infamous ravens. In Ravenmaster, he lets us in on his life as he feeds his birds raw meat and biscuits soaked in blood, buys their food at Smithfield Market, and ensures that these unusual, misunderstood, and utterly brilliant corvids are healthy, happy, and ready to captivate the four million tourists who flock to the Tower every year.

A rewarding, intimate, and inspiring partnership has developed between the ravens and their charismatic and charming human, the Ravenmaster, who shares the folklore, history, and superstitions surrounding the ravens and the Tower. Shining a light on the behavior of the birds, their pecking order and social structure, and the tricks they play on us, Skaife shows who the Tower’s true guardians really are―and the result is a compelling and irreverent narrative that will surprise and enchant.

Goodreads

I’ve been following the author on Twitter for a while so I was familiar with his job and what it entails.  Despite that, this is still a fascinating look at the care of the ravens at the Tower of London.

If you aren’t familiar with the story, there is a legend (which the author casts doubts on) that if the ravens leave the Tower of London, then England will fall.  There are seven ravens who live in the Tower.  They are free during the day to mingle with the tourists, steal food from the tourists, and observe the general hub bub.  At night they have an enclosure to help protect them from the foxes who also live in the tower.  

“In the past the Ravenmasters preferred to put the food out around the Tower, but the problem was that a seagull might take a nice juicy piece of ox liver, say, that was intended for a raven, have a little nibble on it and then casually drop it on a visitor from a great height.”

 

The ravens aren’t pets.  They aren’t tame.  They don’t work on your schedule.  They don’t sit nicely on the bench when David Attenborough wants to film with them.  They are prone to killing and eating pigeons (not always in that order) in front of the tourists.  Most of the Ravenmaster’s time seems to be taken up with getting them where they are supposed to be and getting them out of places where they shouldn’t be. 

“[m]ore than once I’ve seen a raven chasing the Tower’s many resident cats and dogs.” 

 

Readers of this book will find out not only lots about ravens but about what it takes to be a Yeoman Warder.  He discusses The Story – the official tour group talk that takes people about 6 months to learn perfectly before they can start to change it by adding in their own embellishments.  The Story is standardized so any Yeoman Warder can step in and take over a tour if the original guide has to step away to help someone (like if they faint after watching ravens murder other birds.)  

The book is written in short chapters in a very conversational style which makes it a very quick and entertaining read.  I enjoyed this more since I have been to the Tower and could visualize most of the places that he is discussing.  If you haven’t been there, looking at a map of the grounds would be helpful to understanding the story. 

There are several stories of the deaths of some of the ravens from illness, accidents, and old age.  They made me a little teary as did this last line of the acknowledgements about Munin, who hated him from day 1. 

“A very special thank-you to Munin. During the publication of this book, sadly, Raven Munin passed away due to complications of old age. Her presence at the Tower will be greatly missed by her partner, Jubilee; by Team Raven; and by all staff at Historic Royal Palaces.”

 

13 Sep, 2018

The Gin Shack on the Beach

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Gin Shack on the Beach The Gin Shack on the Beach by Catherine Miller
on June 5th 2017
Genres: Fiction
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: England

When octogenarian Olive Turner is persuaded by her son to move into a retirement home, she congratulates herself on finding the secret to an easy life: no washing up, cooking or cleaning. But Olive isn’t one for mindless bingo with her fellow residents, and before the first day is over she's already hatching a plan to escape back to her beloved beach hut and indulge in her secret passion for a very good gin & tonic.

Before long Olive’s secret is out and turning into something wonderful and new. Only a select few are invited, but word spreads quickly about the weekly meetings of The Gin Shack Club. Soon everybody on the beach wants to become a gin connoisseur and join Olive on her journey to never being forced to grow older than you feel.

Goodreads

I picked up this book because it is precisely a genre that I don’t think we can ever have enough of – old lady chick lit!

Give me stories of older women in charge of their own lives; finding new passions; doing whatever they want!  I’ll read them all.  Give me more old ladies defying their fussy children and skinny dipping at the beach. 

This book also made me really, really want a beach hut even though I don’t live by the beach and even if I did, they aren’t a thing here. 

Olive moves into a home where everyone cares about safety to the point of not allowing the residents to live.  This is actually a huge problem for older people.  If you can’t do anything other than what is super-safe, you don’t get to do anything fun.

I was intrigued by the gin combinations that are discussed here.  I wish there were some recipes for the cocktails discussed.  I don’t drink so I have no idea if I like gin or not but this book made me want to try some.  I feel like I wouldn’t like a gin and tonic at all but the gin with violet syrup that tasted like candied violets sounded interesting.  I’m not sure if the rhubarb one sounded good or not but they were fans of it in the book. 

I didn’t care much for the bit of mystery in the book.  I was just here for the characters and their adventures!

06 Sep, 2018

Matrimonial Advertisements

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Matrimonial Advertisements The Matrimonial Advertisement by Mimi Matthews
on September 4, 2018
Series: Parish Orphans of Devon #1
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Love & Romance
Format: eBook
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: England


She Wanted Sanctuary...

Helena Reynolds will do anything to escape her life in London, even if that means traveling to a remote cliffside estate on the North Devon coast and marrying a complete stranger. But Greyfriar's Abbey isn't the sort of refuge she imagined. And ex-army captain Justin Thornhill--though he may be tall, dark, and devastatingly handsome--is anything but a romantic hero.


He Needed Redemption...

Justin has spent the last two decades making his fortune, settling scores, and suffering a prolonged period of torture in an Indian prison. Now, he needs someone to smooth the way for him with the villagers. Someone to manage his household--and warm his bed on occasion. What he needs, in short, is a wife and a matrimonial advertisement seems the perfect way to acquire one.

Their marriage was meant to be a business arrangement and nothing more. A dispassionate union free from the entanglements of love and affection. But when Helena's past threatens, will Justin's burgeoning feelings for his new bride compel him to come to her rescue? Or will dark secrets of his own force him to let her go?

Goodreads

I have pretty strict rules about the historical romances that I will read. Generally they need to be recommended by some trusted sources on Twitter.  When I pick them myself I tend to get horrible books that I DNF.  That’s why I’m so excited about this book.  I chose this one from the description on the book tour and I absolutely loved it!

Helena is on the run but she isn’t flighty or impetuous.  Her escape from her family has been well planned.  She needs to get married in order to wrest control of her inheritance from her relatives.  She is unable to control it herself because she is a woman so she is in desperate need of a husband.

Justin returned from being a prisoner of war in India and in an act of pure spite, managed to seize control of the largest house from its impoverished gentleman owner.  Now he is hated by the community and just wants to be left alone.  His secretary and a lawyer friend though have advertised for a bride for him.  He’s ignored them up to now when his friend in London sent him a woman who is obviously in trouble.

I loved that these were both sensible, no-nonsense people.  There was a real threat that Helena was running from based on newspaper accounts of the time.  This was a great way to get actual historical issues into the story. 

This book felt comfortable from the opening pages.  I was pulled directly into the story.  This is the type of historical romance that I love and I’m looking forward to reading more of this series. 


Giveaway

During the Blog Tour we will be giving away a signed copy of The Matrimonial Advertisement! To enter, please enter via the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on September 18th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to US residents only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

The Matrimonial Advertisement

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03 Sep, 2018

Mistress of Pennington’s

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Mistress of Pennington’s The Mistress of Pennington's by Rachel Brimble
on July 1, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Format: eBook
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: England

Elizabeth Pennington should be the rightful heir of Bath's premier department store through her enterprising schemes and dogged hard work. Her father, Edward Pennington, believes his daughter lacks the business acumen to run his empire and is resolute a man will succeed him.

Determined to break from her father's iron-clad hold and prove she is worthy of inheriting the store, Elizabeth forms an unlikely alliance with ambitious and charismatic master glove-maker Joseph Carter. United they forge forward to bring Pennington's into a new decade, embracing woman's equality and progression whilst trying not to mix business and pleasure.

Goodreads

This book takes place in 1910 in Bath.  I read a lot of historical fiction but I don’t see many books set in this time period.  I was interested to read about a woman who is trying to take over her family business at a time when this was not an acceptable thing to do.  This is also a time of great changes in retail.  Ready to wear clothing is becoming more popular.  Being able to touch the merchandise without a clerk helping you is a new idea.

I had a bit of a hard time getting into this book.  In the beginning the writing was a bit clunky.  There was a whole lot more description of what people were thinking than showing their actions on the page.  I set the book aside for a while because of this.  I don’t know if I would have picked it back up if it wasn’t a review book for me and if I wasn’t really interested in the premise.

I’m not sure if the writing improved as I got into the story or if I just accepted it as I went along but it didn’t bother me as much as I got deeper into the book.  There are several conflicts here:

  1. The heroine who wants to run the store versus her father who wants her to marry and live the life of a rich housewife.
  2. The hero who wants to expand from a small family store to selling their merchandise in department stores over his father’s objections.
  3. There was conflict between the heroine and hero’s families in the past.
  4. Should department stores continue to cater to the wealthy or should they bring in lower price clothing for the new middle class customers?  Would the wealthy continue to shop there if you let lower classes in the same stores?

 

It was interesting to see the ideas that were considered so progressive (and potentially alarming) that are commonplace now. The anti-woman rhetoric was as expected. Women aren’t smart enough to be in business. Suffragettes are just rabble-rousers causing the downfall of society.

This is a good book for anyone who loves historical fiction where you learn a lot about a topic.

The Mistress of Penningtons Full Banner

21 Aug, 2018

Romance Reviews

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Romance Reviews A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole
on July 31, 2018
Pages: 384
Series: Reluctant Royals #2
Genres: Romance
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: Scotland


Award-winning author Alyssa Cole’s Reluctant Royals series continues with a woman on a quest to be the heroine of her own story and the duke in shining armor she rescues along the way…

New York City socialite and perpetual hot mess Portia Hobbs is tired of disappointing her family, friends, and—most importantly—herself. An apprenticeship with a struggling swordmaker in Scotland is a chance to use her expertise and discover what she’s capable of. Turns out she excels at aggravating her gruff silver fox boss…when she’s not having inappropriate fantasies about his sexy Scottish burr.

Tavish McKenzie doesn’t need a rich, spoiled American telling him how to run his armory…even if she is infuriatingly good at it. Tav tries to rebuff his apprentice—and his attraction to her—but when Portia accidentally discovers that he’s the secret son of a duke, rough-around-the-edges Tav becomes her newest makeover project.  

Forging metal into weapons and armor is one thing, but when desire burns out of control and the media spotlight gets too hot to bear, can a commoner turned duke and his posh apprentice find lasting love?

Goodreads

Alyssa Cole is an autobuy author for me for both her contemporary and historical romances.  This is book 2 of her contemporary Reluctant Royals series.

Do you have to read the first book to read this one?

Not really as long as you can just accept that her best friend is a Princess. (But you should read the first book because it was wonderful.)

Portia has always felt like she is a failure.  She comes from a highly successful family.  Her twin overcame a life threatening illness and now runs a very successful website.  Her family is pushing her take a job with the family company just so she does something stable.   Instead she took an internship with a Scottish sword maker, because that’s a practical life skill.

Her skills are a big help to the company though.  She increases their social media profiles so they get more business.  She redoes their website.  It is in doing research for the website that she finds out about her boss’s relationship to a former Duke.

I liked that the conflict keeping them apart in the story was a logical one.  He’s her boss and it is inappropriate and wrong to hit on interns.  People should remember that.

This was a fun read that I finished in a few sittings.  I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.


Romance Reviews Primrose and the Dreadful Duke by Emily Larkin
on August 7, 2018
Pages: 355
Series: Garland Cousins,
Setting: England

He's inherited more than just a dukedom...

Oliver Dasenby is the most infuriating man Primrose Garland has ever known. He may be her brother’s best friend, but he has an atrocious sense of humor. Eight years in the cavalry hasn’t taught him solemnity, nor has the unexpected inheritance of a dukedom.

But when Oliver inherited his dukedom, it appears that he also inherited a murderer.

Oliver might be dreadfully annoying, but Primrose doesn’t want him dead. She’s going to make certain he survives his inheritance—and the only way to do that is to help him catch the murderer!

Goodreads


Emily Larkin’s Baleful Godmother books are also autobuys for me.  This is the first book in a new series but it is set in the same world as her previous books.

Do you have to read the other books to read this one?

The premise of these books is that a long time ago a woman helped a fairy.  In exchange all her female descendants are granted their choice of a magical power at some point in their mid-twenties.  Each book can be read as a standalone.

Primrose’s power is teleportation.  That’s a good choice.  That’s the power I would choose.  I like that she is first seen using it to go get a book she forgot at her house.  However, her magic doesn’t really affect the story a lot.  The same story could be told without it.

Oliver was an Army officer who came home after he inherited a title.  He was far out of the line of succession but several relatives have died unexpectedly in the last year.  Now someone seems to be trying to kill Oliver too.  The mystery of who it is the main story of the book.  It is quickly narrowed down to two suspects but the story twists and turns to keep you guessing.  

All the action takes place at a house party where Oliver is the fresh meat being dangled in front of several marriageable ladies and their mothers.  He is trying to stay out of their clutches but the marriage hunt is deadly serious.  

Primrose and her brother are Oliver’s childhood friends who are trying to keep him safe.  Their relationship develops because Primrose is the only woman who likes him for himself instead of his title.

 

26 Jul, 2018

Baker Thief

/ posted in: Book ReviewFoodies ReadReading Baker Thief Baker Thief by Claudie Arseneault
on June 26, 2018
Pages: 424
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Format: eBook
Source: Owned

Adèle has only one goal: catch the purple-haired thief who broke into her home and stole her exocore, thus proving herself to her new police team. Little does she know, her thief is also the local baker.

Claire owns the Croissant-toi, but while her days are filled with pastries and customers, her nights are dedicated to stealing exocores. These new red gems are heralded as the energy of the future, but she knows the truth: they are made of witches’ souls.

When her twin—a powerful witch and prime exocore material—disappears, Claire redoubles in her efforts to investigate. She keeps running into Adèle, however, and whether or not she can save her sister might depend on their conflicted, unstable, but deepening relationship.

---------------BAKER THIEF is the first in a fantasy series meant to reframe romance tropes within non-romantic relationship and centering aromantic characters. Those who love enemies-to-lovers and superheroes should enjoy the story!

Goodreads

I picked this up because it combined a baker and a fantasy mystery.  There really isn’t as much baking content as I would have liked because Claude the baker is off being a superhero and keeps needing to close the bakery.

What I Liked:

  • This is a fantasy world based in a French worldview.  The author is from Quebec and it shows in the French blended into this story.  I don’t know that I’ve seen another book where this is so well combined.  Place names, official titles, etc are French.
  • There are witches in this world but they have been driven underground by persecution in the fairly recent past.  Nonmagical people think they are safe now because witches are gone.  Witches are not gone.
  • The main character is Claude/Claire.  They are genderfluid.  Generally, he is Claude during the day when he is baking and Claire at night when she is a thief.  That schedule of genders was working well until recently when Claude is starting to regret not being comfortable working during the day as Claire or spending the night as Claude depending on which gender feels most comfortable at the time.
  • It tackles issues relating to aromanticism and asexuality.  There are several characters at different places on the spectrum of aromanticism and asexuality so you don’t get a single point of view of these topics.  It shows how aromantic people have relationships which is important if readers aren’t familiar with this aspect of queerness.
  • The rest of the cast is also very diverse.  Many genders, sexualities, disabilities, and races are represented.  It is also very good at body acceptance of various sizes of people.

Things that are slightly off:

  • This isn’t the author’s fault but there is a major part of the plot that is very similar to part of the plot of Witchmark.  I loved that book so much and I read it first, so what should have felt like a surprising plot point felt like, “Oh, this again?”  The books came out about just about the same time so it is just a coincidence but it decreased my enjoyment a bit.

Things that I’ll probably get yelled at on the internet for criticizing:

  • Sometimes the supporting characters were very awkwardly introduced.  The author was working hard to include characters from many different backgrounds which is good but it turned every character introduction into a descriptive list.  It is a case of telling the reader instead of showing the reader through the character’s actions.  For example, you wouldn’t necessarily be told when being introduced to your new boss what her sexual orientation was or that she was polyamorous.  Maybe you would see pictures on her desk or it would come up in conversation later.  
  • Sometimes the plot seemed to be set aside in order for a lesson about identity.  The worst instance of this was when Claire ran into a burning building, past a female-presenting witch who was setting the place on fire, and into a room where other witches were being held captive, in order to rescue them.  The witches inside ask their friend is ok.  Claire refers to her as “Fire girl” in her explanation.  At that point, she is informed that the witch is agender and not a girl.  My thought reading that passage was, “This is why conservatives laugh at us.”  You are being rescued from a building that is literally on fire.  You were trapped and needed a person with super strength to get you out.  Now, while the fire is about to drop the whole ceiling on you, you take the time to admonish your rescuer for misgendering a person they literally saw in passing.  Run first – then figure out the proper pronouns of strangers you’ve never spoken to.  This book sometimes felt like an educational tome on identity more than a fantasy story.  That’s fine if that was the author’s goal but I would have liked to see both aspects blended together more seamlessly. 

 

25 Jul, 2018

Unfit to Print

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Unfit to Print Unfit to Print by K.J. Charles
on July 10, 2018
Pages: 145
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Love & Romance
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: England

When crusading lawyer Vikram Pandey sets out in search of a missing youth, his investigations take him to Holywell Street, London’s most notorious address. He expects to find a disgraceful array of sordid bookshops. He doesn’t expect one of them to be run by the long-lost friend whose disappearance and presumed death he’s been mourning for thirteen years.

Gil Lawless became a Holywell Street bookseller for his own reasons, and he’s damned if he’s going to apologise or listen to moralising from anyone. Not even Vikram; not even if the once-beloved boy has grown into a man who makes his mouth water.

Now the upright lawyer and the illicit bookseller need to work together to track down the missing youth. And on the way, they may even learn if there’s more than just memory and old affection binding them together...

Goodreads

I read this book immediately after A Gentleman Never Keeps Score.  The two fit together nicely because they share the theme of sexual abuse/exploitation of teenage boys due to poverty.

Gil is a bastard child of a rich family.  When his father died, his older half-brother cut off his education and funds.  In order to survive he was a prostitute.  Now he runs a bookstore that sells pornography, which is illegal.

Vikram is a lawyer who takes some pro bono cases in London’s Indian community.  He knew Gil at school where they bonded over being the only dark-skinned people.  He has always wondered what happened to his friend when he suddenly left school but no one would answer his questions.  Vikram is investigating the disappearance of an Indian teen who worked as a prostitute.  The only clue is a studio photo that the boy’s parents had.  There is no way he could afford to have bought it.  Vikram guesses he may have been modeling for erotic photographers and was given the formal portrait as partial payment.

There is a bit of over the top serendipity in the main characters meeting.  It is like, “I’m searching for this lost boy because it reminds me of my former best friend who went missing.  I’ll go to this bookstore.  Oh, look!  There is my missing best friend.  Imagine that!”

Vikram wants to renew his friendship with Gil but has a very hard time accepting the world Gil lives in.  He is uncomfortable with the life his friend was forced to lead while he continued his comfortable life in school and university.  Gil is cynical about Vikram’s desire to help people because in his life he hasn’t seen many people with that motivation.

This is a novella but there is a good amount of character growth in it.  It was interesting to find out all about the Victorian pornography trade.  I haven’t seen that as a basis for a romance before.  

24 Jul, 2018

A Gentleman Never Keeps Score

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading A Gentleman Never Keeps Score A Gentleman Never Keeps Score by Cat Sebastian
on July 10th 2018
Pages: 384
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Love & Romance
Published by Avon Impulse
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: England

Once beloved by London's fashionable elite, Hartley Sedgwick has become a recluse after a spate of salacious gossip exposed his most-private secrets. Rarely venturing from the house whose inheritance is a daily reminder of his downfall, he’s captivated by the exceedingly handsome man who seeks to rob him.

Since retiring from the boxing ring, Sam Fox has made his pub, The Bell, into a haven for those in his Free Black community. But when his best friend Kate implores him to find and destroy a scandalously revealing painting of her, he agrees. Sam would do anything to protect those he loves, even if it means stealing from a wealthy gentleman. But when he encounters Hartley, he soon finds himself wanting to steal more than just a painting from the lovely, lonely man—he wants to steal his heart.

Content Warning from Author: This book includes a main character who was sexually abused in the past; abuse happens off page but is alluded to.

Goodreads

It is not strictly necessary to read the first book in this series to understand this book but it helps to gain understanding of the family background.  Hartley is the oldest brother.  He tried to make a prosperous life for his brothers by attaching himself to a rich man who was interested in him.  At the time Hartley was a teenager and the relationship was abusive.  At the beginning of the book, he has inherited his abuser’s house in London.  Relatives of the abuser let details of the relationship out and Hartley is now shunned in society.  He is living in a house where most of the servants have left because of the scandal.  He is dealing with the psychological aftermath of an abusive relationship.  

I love Cat Sebastian’s writing.  Her plots are original and include people and situations that aren’t often seen in traditional historical romances.  Sam is a black man who formerly was a boxer.  He is trying to make a living running a pub but he is being harassed by a policeman who is convinced that there are illegal boxing matches in the bar.  His brother wants to marry a woman but she is stalling.  She tells Sam that she once posed for a naked painting for a rich man.  She doesn’t feel right marrying a respectable man when that painting is still out there somewhere.  Sam decides to track down the painting to steal and destroy it.  The trail leads him to Hartley’s house because it was painted for his abuser.  

This book highlights found family.  Hartley assembles a rag tag staff of people from London’s underworld who have nowhere else to go.  His valet is a former male prostitute.  The valet brings home a cook/maid who was thrown out of her house for being pregnant.  Slowly he realizes that piecing his life back together doesn’t mean that it has to look the same as it did before.  He looks to rebuild his ability to trust and love that was severely damaged in his previous relationship.  He needs to deal with the anger he has about being forced to prostitute himself for his family, who are uncomfortable with him now because of it. 

I love all the characters in this story.  The author does a wonderful job of making them each well-drawn, three dimensional people.  No one is just a side character there to advance the plot.  I’m looking forward to the next installment of this series.

19 Jul, 2018

Trail of Lightning

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Trail of Lightning Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
on June 26th 2018
Pages: 287
Series: The Sixth World #1
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Published by Saga Press
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: Arizona

While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters.

Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last—and best—hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much larger and more terrifying than anything she could imagine.

Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel to the rez to unravel clues from ancient legends, trade favors with tricksters, and battle dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.

As Maggie discovers the truth behind the disappearances, she will have to confront her past—if she wants to survive.

Welcome to the Sixth World.

Goodreads

I’ve been excitedly waiting for this debut novel ever since I read Rebecca Roanhorse’s story, Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience.

The book did not disappoint.

When most of the world flooded, the elders raised a magical wall around Diné land.  The gods and mythological beings are back.  Some people are manifesting clan powers.  Maggie’s clan powers make her a powerful monster killer.  She was taken in and trained by a mythological warrior after a tragedy until he left her a year ago.  Now she is a deeply emotionally damaged monster hunter for hire.

Now she is on the trail of monsters that she has never seen before.  They are wiping out whole towns.

This book reminds me a lot of the early seasons of the TV show Supernatural, if the lead was a no-nonsense Diné woman driving a 1972 pickup.  There are different groups of monster hunters.  There is even a safe house/bar/weapons depot/first aid station run by a older black woman and her children.

I loved a scene in a nightclub where Maggie is able to see the patrons as embodiments of their clan powers.  That is the type of imagination that I love to see in books.

The ending is magnificent and just a little bit of a cliffhanger.  I’m looking forward to the next book in 2019.

(There is a lot of graphic violence depicted including violence against children so if that bothers you a lot you might want to skip this one.)

17 Jul, 2018

The Vanished Child

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Vanished Child The Vanished Child (Jayne Sinclair Genealogical Mystery #4) by M.J. Lee
on February 23, 2018
Genres: Fiction
Format: eBook
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: England

Every childhood lasts a lifetime. On her deathbed, Freda Duckworth confesses to giving birth to an illegitimate child in 1944 and placing him in a children’s home. Seven years later she went back but he had vanished. What happened to the child? Why did he disappear? Where did he go? Jayne Sinclair, genealogical investigator, is faced with lies, secrets and one of the most shameful episodes in recent British history. Can she find the vanished child?

Goodreads

This is the fourth book in this series of mysteries solved by a genealogical researcher.  I hadn’t read the previous ones but I didn’t have any trouble following this book.  I do think this is an interesting angle for a mystery.  I love watching genealogy shows on TV and researching my own family history.

This book hits hard on one of my push button issues – the horrific treatment of unmarried women with children at the hands of Christian churches.  I spent my whole time reading this book muttering to myself about how abusive the church is and how it always seems to be coming up with new ways to be awful.  It was not unusual for unmarried women to be separated from their children because it was considered better for the children to be raised elsewhere away from their immoral mothers.  This book looks at the practice of shipping English children to Australia to be trained as domestics and laborers.  Yes, it was considered better for them to be raised as virtual slaves than to stay with their mothers.  People were told they were orphans and they wanted to believe that so they dismissed the children when they talked about having mothers at home in England.

The whole book is pretty heartbreaking but it highlights some British history that isn’t well known.  If you want to continue your outrage after this one, check out the movies Philomena or The Magdalene Sisters.  The first one is sad but has funny moments.  The second is just deeply horrifying.

The Vanished Child Full Tour Banner

21 Jun, 2018

Robots and Tea Shops and Magical Bakers!

/ posted in: Book ReviewFoodies ReadReading Robots and Tea Shops and Magical Bakers! The Cybernetic Tea Shop by Meredith Katz
on March 16th 2016
Pages: 65
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Fiction
Published by Less Than Three Press
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Setting: Washington

Clara Gutierrez is a highly-skilled technician specializing in the popular 'Raise' AI companions. Her childhood in a migrant worker family has left her uncomfortable with lingering in any one place, so she sticks around just long enough to replenish her funds before she moves on, her only constant companion Joanie, a fierce, energetic Raise hummingbird.

Sal is a fully autonomous robot, the creation of which was declared illegal ages earlier due to ethical concerns. She is older than the law, however, at best out of place in society and at worst hated. Her old master is long dead, but she continues to run the tea shop her master had owned, lost in memories of the past, slowly breaking down, and aiming to fulfill her master's dream for the shop.

When Clara stops by Sal's shop for lunch, she doesn't expect to find a real robot there, let alone one who might need her help. But as they begin to spend time together and learn more about each other, they both start to wrestle with the concept of moving on…

Goodreads

This novella tells the story of a humanoid robot who is keeping her former owner’s beloved tea shop running almost 300 years after her death.  Robots like her have since been outlawed.  Robotics technician Clara is thrilled to meet Sal and offers to help fix up her ailing software.  What does she want to have changed though?  What makes her HER? 

This book features a f/f romantic, asexual relationship.  


Robots and Tea Shops and Magical Bakers! Batter Up by Robyn Neeley
on June 15th 2015
Pages: 172
Setting: New York

Bakeshop owner Emma Stevens has a secret. A delicious premonition she shares every Monday evening with the bachelors of Buttermilk Falls as they gather at the Sugar Spoon bakery for Batter Up night.

Investigative reporter Jason Levine just found himself as the man candy for a bachelorette party in Las Vegas. Roped into attending the Vegas nuptials, was he hearing things when the groom shares that the only reason he’s getting married is because a small town baker conjured up the name of his soulmate in her cake batter?

Sparks fly when Jason tries to expose Emma as a fraud, but reality and logic go out the window as he begins to fall under her spell.

Goodreads

 


This is a fun read that works if you just suspend disbelief and embrace the magical realism of the idea.  Emma knows one spell.  There really isn't an explanation for that. 
I also wondered how they have Batter Up night every week in this very small town and never run out of bachelors who want to commit.
It is a fluffy, light romance with fade to black sex scenes and magical cupcake batter so if you are looking for an escapist quick read this one might be for you.
08 Jun, 2018

Never Stop Walking

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Never Stop Walking Never Stop Walking: A Memoir of Finding Home Across the World by Christina Rickardsson, Tara F. Chace
on June 1, 2018
Pages: 249
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: Brazil, Sweden

Christiana Mara Coelho was born into extreme poverty in Brazil. After spending the first seven years of her life with her loving mother in the forest caves outside São Paulo and then on the city streets, where they begged for food, she and her younger brother were suddenly put up for adoption. When one door closed on the only life Christiana had ever known and on the woman who protected her with all her heart, a new one opened.

As Christina Rickardsson, she’s raised by caring adoptive parents in Sweden, far from the despairing favelas of her childhood. Accomplished and outwardly “normal,” Christina is also filled with rage over what she’s lost and having to adapt to a new reality while struggling with the traumas of her youth. When her world falls apart again as an adult, Christina returns to Brazil to finally confront her past and unlock the truth of what really happened to Christiana Mara Coelho.

Goodreads

This is a heartbreaking story of a child living in extreme poverty on the streets in Brazil.  The things that happen to her are horrific including witnessing the murder of her best friend by the police, seeing numerous rapes, and killing another child in a fight over food. 

Because this all happened as a child she didn’t clearly know or remember the reasons why they lived like they did.  All she knew was that her mother loved her and her little brother but that there were also times when she wasn’t around.  The children were taken to an orphanage where they were eventually not allowed to have contact with their mother and then were adopted by a couple from Sweden. Nothing that was going on was explained to her.

As an adult she decides to go back to Brazil to try to find her mother and to find out what really happened to make sense of her childhood memories. 

She examines the disconnect she feels about being grateful for her good life in Sweden that wouldn’t have happened if she wasn’t forcibly taken from her mother but also being angry about being separated from the person who loved her. 

The book is very simply written or translated.  That makes it a very stark read.  It is very sad but I think it is necessary to know what is going on in the poorest parts of society.  Once again in reading this book I was struck by how often male sexual violence towards women and children is considered to be an everyday thing.  I hate knowing that there are women who have to submit to being raped because they are told that it is her or her child.  Books like this just make me want to have a moratorium on men for a while.

19 Apr, 2018

One Hundred and Four Horses

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading One Hundred and Four Horses One Hundred and Four Horses by Mandy Retzlaff
on August 15th 2013
Pages: 288
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by William Collins
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Zimbabwe

‘A letter is handed to you. In broken English, it tells you that you must now vacate your farm; that this is no longer your home, for it now belongs to the crowd on your doorstep. Then the drums begin to beat.’
As the land invasions gather pace, the Retzlaffs begin an epic journey across Zimbabwe, facing eviction after eviction, trying to save the group of animals with whom they feel a deep and enduring bond – the horses.
When their neighbours flee to New Zealand, the Retzlaffs promise to look after their horses, and making similar promises to other farmers along their journey, not knowing whether they will be able to feed or save them, they amass an astonishing herd of over 300 animals. But the final journey to freedom will be arduous, and they can take only 104 horses.
Each with a different personality and story, it is not just the family who rescue the horses, but the horses who rescue the family. Grey, the silver gelding: the leader. Brutus, the untamed colt. Princess, the temperamental mare.
One Hundred and Four Horses is the story of an idyllic existence that falls apart at the seams, and a story of incredible bonds – a love of the land, the strength of a family, and of the connection between man and the most majestic of animals, the horse.

Goodreads

What would you do if you had to leave your home in a few hours?  Could you leave your animals behind knowing that animals left on other farms had been killed?  That was one of the issues facing farmers in Zimbabwe when Robert Mugabe’s government instituted a series of land seizures.

The Retzlaff family didn’t leave Zimbabwe right away like many of the other white farmers they knew did.  They moved farm to farm but the chaos followed them.  As they moved across the country over a series of years, they collected animals.  Eventually, they moved to the neighboring country of Mozambique.

I imagine that this is a book that could have a hard time finding an audience.  Readers who care more deeply about people than animals might be offended by the effort and resources that went into moving and housing the horses when so many people were suffering.  Horse lovers don’t like to read books where horses are mistreated.  Horse lovers do need to be warned.  Most of the horses you meet in this book don’t survive until the end.  Many bad things happen to them regardless of the efforts of the Retzlaffs.

Another issue in this book is historical accuracy versus personal experience.  Reading the book, the land reform movement seems to come on suddenly.  I’ve been looking a bit more into the history because I assumed that there had to have been some colonial shenanigans that resulted in all these large landowners being white people.  Yes, Rhodesia (the former name of Zimbabwe) had favored whites in land distribution.  The black population was put onto the least productive land. 

“Following Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence, land legislation was again amended with the Rhodesian Land Tenure Act of 1969. The Land Tenure Act upended the Land Apportionment Act of 1930 and was designed to rectify the issue of insufficient land available to the rapidly expanding black population.[3] It reduced the amount of land reserved for white ownership to 45 million acres and reserved another 45 million acres for black ownership, introducing parity in theory; however, the most fertile farmland in Regions I, II, and III continued to be included in the white enclave.[3] Abuses of the system continued to abound; some white farmers took advantage of the legislation to shift their property boundaries into land formerly designated for black settlement, often without notifying the other landowners.” 

“In 1977, the Land Tenure Act was amended by the Rhodesian parliament, which further reduced the amount of land reserved for white ownership to 200,000 hectares, or 500,000 acres. Over 15 million hectares were thus opened to purchase by persons of any race.[3]Two years later, as part of the Internal SettlementZimbabwe Rhodesia‘s incoming biracial government under Bishop Abel Muzorewa abolished the reservation of land according to race.[3] White farmers continued to own 73.8% of the most fertile land suited for intensive cash crop cultivation and livestock grazing, in addition to generating 80% of the country’s total agricultural output.[3]”

“The Lancaster House Agreement [1980] stipulated that farms could only be taken from whites on a “willing buyer, willing seller” principle for at least ten years.[4] White farmers were not to be placed under any pressure or intimidation, and if they decided to sell their farms they were allowed to determine their own asking prices”

“Between April 1980 and September 1987, the acreage of land occupied by white-owned commercial farms was reduced by about 20%.” – all quoted from Wikipedia

Ok, so they can’t say they didn’t know this was coming.  They talk a little about the politics of it and how they weren’t paying any attention.  They mention the vote on a referendum in 2000 only because their black workers asked to borrow transportation so they could all vote.   It was the day before voting and they hadn’t really considered it?

The government organised a referendum on the new constitution in February 2000, despite having a sufficiently large majority in parliament to pass any amendment it wished. Had it been approved, the new constitution would have empowered the government to acquire land compulsorily without compensation. Despite vast support in the media, the new constitution was defeated, 55% to 45%.” Wikipedia

Screenshot (2)
It was after this failed that the government started to encourage mob violence to steal land without compensation.  I understand that they were both born and raised in Africa and felt protected because they legally owned their land but the writing was on the wall.  Things were about to get ugly and they were completely unprepared.  

What happened as a result of the seizure of white-owned farms was a complete disaster.  They were given as gifts to friends and family of powerful people who didn’t know the first thing about farming.  Zimbabwe’s economy was based on farming and when the farms collapsed it collapsed.  So no one is saying that this was a good and just plan but it couldn’t have been completely unexpected.

There are also some other statements that come across as very colonial.  One time when they move to a new farm she discusses her family moving into the farm house and then talks about her workers settling into the huts around the property.  She also has this quote – “John’s was a good old-fashioned cattle ranch of the kind the first pioneers in this part of the world had kept.”  Sure, they were the first people in the area if you ignore millennia of existence before then.  The author has commented negatively on reviews on Goodreads that bring up these aspects of the book.  That’s never a good look.

As a horse person I wish there were more details.  They talk about sometimes transporting horses in trucks.  Where did the trucks come from?  How many trips did you make?  How many horses did you have at any given time?  The synopsis refers to over 300 but the book doesn’t talk about that number.  How are you affording all this?

What happened to this family is bad.  But I can’t muster 100% sympathy for them.  I would have liked to see a bit more self awareness.  This book would have benefited from including the perspectives of the black workers who traveled with them.  A few of these people are mentioned once or twice by name but generally they are described as a faceless group of grooms.  That’s a big oversight in a book that describes many different white horse owners in detail.  

06 Apr, 2018

Spring at the Little Duck Pond Cafe

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Spring at the Little Duck Pond Cafe Spring at The Little Duck Pond Cafe by Rosie Green, Berni Stevens, Cara Armstrong
on March 2018
Pages: 127
Genres: Fiction
Format: eBook
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: England

Fleeing from a romance gone wrong, Ellie Farmer arrives in the pretty little village of Sunnybrook, hoping for a brand new start that most definitely does not include love! Following an unscheduled soak in the village duck pond, she meets Sylvia, who runs the nearby Duck Pond Café. Renting the little flat above the café seems like the answer to Ellie's prayers. It's only for six months, which will give her time to sort out her life, far away from cheating boyfriend Richard.

But is running away from your past ever really the answer?

Clashing with the mysterious and brooding Zack Chamberlain, an author with a bad case of writer's block, is definitely not what Ellie needs right now. And then there's Sylvia, who's clinging so hard to her past, she's in danger of losing the quaint but run-down Duck Pond Café altogether.

Can Ellie find the answers she desperately needs in Sunnybrook? And will she be able to help save Sylvia's little Duck Pond Café from closure?

Goodreads

Spring at The Little Duck Pond Café

Books set in cafes in England are my favorites. This story features both a bakery and a cafe.

This is the first of a planned series of three books in this small town.  This section has the task of setting up all the characters and situations which is a lot to do in such a small space.  As a result it felt a bit like the author was ticking off the boxes of what is expected in this genre. 

  • A woman who just was dumped by her long term boyfriend for another woman
  • A conveniently single man at her new location complete with an adorable child
  • An aging proprietor of a failing cafe who wants to take in a total stranger

The story was enjoyable but it never rose above the predictable.  There wasn’t enough depth of emotion in the story to draw me in fully.  This may be a series read best when it is all completed so the characters have room to develop and grow. 

I’m most interested in seeing the development of some of the secondary characters like the secret baker who is learning to stand up for herself. 

 

Spring at the Little Duck Pond Cafe Full Banner

03 Apr, 2018

Lady Helena Investigates

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Lady Helena Investigates Lady Helena Investigates on March 14, 2018
Pages: 391
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Mystery & Detective
Format: eBook
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: England

1881, Sussex. Lady Helena Scott-De Quincy’s marriage to Sir Justin Whitcombe, three years before, gave new purpose to a life almost destroyed by the death of Lady Helena’s first love. After all, shouldn’t the preoccupations of a wife and hostess be sufficient to fulfill any aristocratic female’s dreams? Such a shame their union wasn’t blessed by children . . . but Lady Helena is content with her quiet country life until Sir Justin is found dead in the river overlooked by their grand baroque mansion.

The intrusion of attractive, mysterious French physician Armand Fortier, with his meddling theory of murder, into Lady Helena’s first weeks of mourning is bad enough. But with her initial ineffective efforts at investigation and her attempts to revive her long-abandoned interest in herbalism comes the realization that she may have been mistaken about her own family’s past. Every family has its secrets—but as this absorbing series will reveal, the Scott-De Quincy family has more than most.

Can Lady Helena survive bereavement the second time around? Can she stand up to her six siblings’ assumption of the right to control her new life as a widow? And what role will Fortier—who, as a physician, is a most unsuitable companion for an earl’s daughter—play in her investigations?

Goodreads

AMAZON | BARNES AND NOBLE

 


04_Lady Helena Investigates_Blog Tour Banner_FINAL

I loved Helena.  At the beginning of the book she has just been widowed for the second time although she is only in her early 20s.  She is the youngest daughter in a large family.  Because of that she has always been treated as a child.  They even call her “Baby” although her brother is younger than her. 

Helena is shocked by the death of her husband and is starting to get angry about the way her family has swooped in assuming that she is a problem that needs to be managed again.  She declares that she is not going to be married off again.  She is going to manage her own estate.  She is not going to be pushed out of her own life any more. 

Then her late husband’s doctor tells her that he doesn’t believe his death was accidental but that the other men on the inquiry panel ruled against him.  Most of those men are related to her.  What are they trying to hide?

There are several plot lines in this book.

  • How did Helena’s husband actually die?
  • Helena standing up for herself with her family
  • A tenant farmer’s death

I enjoyed reading about Helena’s relationships with each of the people in her large family.  She’s always accepted the surface version of things but now that she’s starting to dig deeper into her life, things aren’t always as she assumed.  Her little brother is overbearing and too enamored of his status as the head of the family but he isn’t always wrong about what she should do with her life.  Her mother and father may not have had the idyllic marriage that Helena imagined.  There may be more to her free-spirited artist sister than she expects.  All these relationships set up storylines that can continue into other books in the series. 

The book dives into disability during this time period also.  Helena’s mother is in the late stages of dementia.  She has a full time nurse but the mental toll on family members and on Helena’s mother is discussed in ways appropriate to the time period.  Helena’s brother reads as autistic.  At this time, that wasn’t a described condition so he is mostly considered odd and sometimes offputting.  But, his wife loves him and understands him and helps him interact with his family and the rest of the world.  Helena has a physically disabled nephew who she loves but who is treated as feeble-minded by his parents even though he is not.  She helps him learn to stand up for himself as she learns it for herself.

I’m not a fan of books where lay people investigate crimes unless the story sets up a good reason why the authorities can’t be involved.  In this case the authorities of the area are all family members who may be involved.  The doctor is French and may be a spy.  You never know quite who you can trust. 

I will definitely read the next book in this series. 

 


Giveaway

During the Blog Tour we will be giving away two eBooks of Lady Helena Investigates by Jane Steen! To enter, please enter via the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on April 13th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to US residents only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

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About the Author

Jane Steen was born in England and, despite having spent more years out of the British Isles than in, still has a British accent according to just about every American she meets.

Her long and undistinguished career has included a three-year stint as the English version of a Belgian aerospace magazine, an interesting interlude as an editor in a very large law firm, and several hectic years in real estate marketing at the height of the property boom. This tendency to switch directions every few years did nothing for her resume but gave her ample opportunity to sharpen her writing skills and develop an entrepreneurial spirit.

Around the edges of her professional occupations and raising children, she stuck her nose in a book at every available opportunity and at one time seemed on course to become the proverbial eternal student. Common sense prevailed, though, and eventually she had the bright idea of putting her passion for books together with her love of business and writing to become a self-published author.

Jane has lived in three countries and is currently to be found in the Chicago suburbs with her long-suffering husband and two adult daughters.

For more information, please visit Jane Steen’s website. You can also find her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and Goodreads.

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, March 12
Feature at Passages to the Past

Tuesday, March 13
Feature at To Read, Or Not to Read

Wednesday, March 14
Review at Pursuing Stacie

Thursday, March 15
Feature at Encouraging Words from the Tea Queen

Friday, March 16
Interview at Let Them Read Books
Feature at What Is That Book About

Tuesday, March 20
Feature at Donna’s Book Blog

Wednesday, March 21
Review at Rachael’s Ramblings
Feature at The Lit Bitch

Tuesday, March 27
Review at View from the Birdhouse

Wednesday, March 28
Feature at Susan Heim on Writing

Friday, March 30
Review at History From a Woman’s Perspective

Tuesday, April 3
Review at Based on a True Story

Wednesday, April 4
Review at SilverWood Sketches

Thursday, April 5
Feature at A Bookaholic Swede

Wednesday, April 11
Review at What Cathy Read Next
Feature at A Literary Vacation

Thursday, April 12
Feature at Teaser Addicts Book Blog

Friday, April 13
Tour Wrap Up at Passages to the Past

 

14 Feb, 2018

A Mother’s Reckoning

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading A Mother’s Reckoning A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold
on February 15, 2016
Pages: 336
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Format: Audiobook, eBook
Setting: Colorado

On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Over the course of minutes, they would kill twelve students and a teacher and wound twenty-four others before taking their own lives.   For the last sixteen years, Sue Klebold, Dylan’s mother, has lived with the indescribable grief and shame of that day. How could her child, the promising young man she had loved and raised, be responsible for such horror? And how, as his mother, had she not known something was wrong? Were there subtle signs she had missed? What, if anything, could she have done differently?   These are questions that Klebold has grappled with every day since the Columbine tragedy. In A Mother’s Reckoning, she chronicles with unflinching honesty her journey as a mother trying to come to terms with the incomprehensible. In the hope that the insights and understanding she has gained may help other families recognize when a child is in distress, she tells her story in full, drawing upon her personal journals, the videos and writings that Dylan left behind, and on countless interviews with mental health experts.

Goodreads

As soon as I heard about this book I knew that it was a book I needed to read.  I turn into a tower of rage whenever I hear “Where were their parents?” in response to a teenager committing a crime.  I feel this because I know that someday this accusation is going to leveled at me concerning my stepdaughter.

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t read this book to get into the mind of a mass murderer.  I wanted tips about what to do after a child commits a crime.  Knowing that I wanted this felt awkward so while reading this book I broached the subject with my husband.

Me:  “So…… I’m reading Sue Klebold’s book about the aftermath of Columbine.  I sort of wanted to know what you do after a crime.”

Him:  “Yeah.  (long pause)   So what did you find out?”

Me:  “Lawyer up and grab the pets and go into hiding with relatives who don’t share your unusual last name.”

Him:  Looks concerned at me while we contemplate our very unusual last name.  We’re screwed.

The Klebolds had a very different experience than parents of mentally ill children do.  She addresses this at one point.

“I have heard many terrible stories of good people struggling to parent seriously ill, violent kids. I have nothing but compassion for them, and feel we must rehabilitate a health care system that too often leaves them out in the cold. If you want to feel sick to your stomach, listen to a mom tell you about the day her volatile ten-year-old narrowly missed stabbing her with the kitchen shears, and how it felt to call the police on him because she was worried the lock on his younger sister’s bedroom door wouldn’t hold against his rage. Too often, parents of seriously disturbed kids are forced to get the criminal justice system involved—even though it is drastically ill-equipped to manage brain illness—simply because there is nowhere else to turn.”

 

One thing I was surprisingly shocked to read was how many lawsuits were filed against the families of the shooters.  It wasn’t like they helped their kids stockpile weapons and then drove them to the school.  How were they at fault?  I think it is a sad commentary on our society feeling like someone has to take the blame for anything that happens and if the people responsible are dead, then the victim’s families just wanted someone else to blame.  There are excerpts of letters written to her by parents of the victims years later blaming her for not talking publicly so people could see if she was showing enough remorse.  They talk about wanting to know if she has learned anything.  This hounding from the victims’ families is part of the reason she wrote this book.  The proceeds are all being donated to mental health research.

I found Sue Klebold’s descriptions of herself and her parenting to be an example of the type of parent that drives me to exasperation.  It is the overinvolved yet absolutely clueless type.  These are the perky women who tell you that they have a great family and will fight to the death to uphold their belief that their precious little munchkin would never do anything wrong while you know that their child is the local drug dealer.  I’ve known a few of these types of mothers. They are exhausting.  I switched halfway through the book from audio to ebook because listening to her talk about the time before the shooting was irritating.  I understand it though.  The parents’ letters ask if she ever hugged her child or had a sit down meal with him.  People want to think that if they do everything “right” then their child will never commit a crime.  She admits that she thought like this too until her son went on a rampage.

Few of these parents ever have their illusions shattered as horrifically as this author did.  But she admits that she was able to shield herself from hearing anything about the crime for months so she was able to persist in her denial that her child did anything wrong.  She convinced herself that he was drugged or kidnapped or really a victim or was being threatened with danger to his family.  She was willing to believe anything except that he was a killer.  She persisted in this belief until the police laid out their whole case for them about 4 months after the murders.  Here is a horrible example of how she tried to justify her thinking.

This wasn’t the drug-riddled inner city, or some supposedly godless corridor like New York or Los Angeles.

 

Her solutions are jarring.  They are based in the idea that parents should know everything about their children.  She is obviously an extrovert who says that she loves to talk about issues.  If only you could force your children to tell you everything, you could prevent problems.  I can feel my poor little introvert soul shrinking when she talks about this. 

I’ve even imagined barricading myself in his room, refusing to leave until he tells me what he’s thinking.

 

She advocates searching rooms to find hidden journals or papers.  She says this knowing that her son hid weapons and bombs from her while she was actively searching his room.  They hid things so well that the police didn’t even find some of the hiding spots until they watched videos Dylan and Eric had left behind explaining how they had hid everything.  If a kid doesn’t want you to know something, you aren’t going to know it.

She brushes over the practical aftermath of the shootings for her family in one paragraph.  Basically, they were sued over and over and over and lost their house and went bankrupt for a crime they didn’t commit.  They also eventually divorced after 43 years of marriage because she is active in suicide prevention and he wanted to leave all of this in the past. 

I think she dismisses the bullying that Dylan and Eric had at school too much.  She doesn’t talk about it much at all.  Other sources have talked about how toxic Columbine High School was.  I did appreciate this statement in the book.

Larkin also points to proselytizing and intimidation by evangelical Christian students, a self-appointed moral elite who perceived the kids who dressed differently as evil and targeted them.

 

So much was made after Columbine in evangelical circles about the targeting of Christian kids.  It was used as proof that the shooters were evil.  Maybe the Christian community also needed to look at the behavior of their kids.

That’s ultimately the point of this story.  Everyone wants to demonize the parents of murderous kids because if you find the thing they did wrong, then it won’t happen to your family.  No one wants to admit that that isn’t the case.  Until society admits that it could happen to anyone, real help won’t happen.

 

 

 

13 Feb, 2018

Andorra Pett and the Oort Cloud Cafe

/ posted in: Reading Andorra Pett and the Oort Cloud Cafe Andorra Pett and the Oort Cloud Café by Richard Dee
on June 15th 2017
Pages: 234
Genres: Mystery & Detective, Science Fiction
Published by 4Star Scifi
Format: eBook
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

Meet Andorra Pett; with her trusty sidekick, she's taken over a derelict cafe. On a mining station. It just happens to be orbiting Saturn! She's hoping for a fresh start, away from all the drama of her old life. It's a chance to relax and start again in a place where nobody knows anything about her or her past. But the cafe holds a secret, and secrets have a habit of coming out; whether you want them to or not. And being accident prone doesn't help. The more you try to pretend that you know what's going on, the worse it gets. Andorra's plans for peace and quiet get lost amid the revelations and skulduggery and she soon realises that the fate of the whole station lies in her hapless hands. In space, you can still trip over your feet; the question is, will you land upright?

Goodreads

I’m not usually a cozy mystery fan because it always drives me crazy when people don’t report crimes to the police and decide to investigate themselves.  I decided to give this one a try though because of the twist on the genre.  This cafe owner who is investigating a crime is living on a space station.

Andorra and her friend Cyril moved to a space station near Saturn.  It is there to support mining in the rings of Saturn.  The previous owner of the cafe left suddenly.  When cleaning the cafe to reopen though, they find his body.  Not knowing who to trust on the station because they are new, they keep him in the freezer.

The book gets into issues of sexual harassment and infidelity because the previous owner was known for seducing many women on the station and then keeping records that could be used to blackmail them.  Anyone could be a suspect. I was reading this book just as all the accusations of sexual harassment in Hollywood were coming to light. It was a jarring juxtaposition to see this plotline at that time. It made it feel very timely and topical.

I liked the world building.  Andorra is taken all over the station to see how life on the space station works.  It was well thought out and logical.  I love that there is a farm.

The book takes place an unspecified time in the future when Mars has been colonized for a long time.  Unfortunately, there still is homophobia on the space station.  That surprised me because usually I don’t see that in sci-fi I read.  It made me uncomfortable because I kept thinking that we should be over that by then.

 Overall I did enjoy this story. I would be interested in reading more in this series.  Check this one out especially if you enjoy both cozy mysteries and sci-fi.

Andorra Pett and the Oort Cloud Cafe Full Banner

Blog tour through Rachel’s Random Resources

Linking up to Foodies Read

About Richard Dee

A native of Brixham in Devon, Richard Dee’s family left Devon when he was in his teens and settled in Kent. Leaving school at 16 he briefly worked in a supermarket, then went to sea and travelled the world in the Merchant Navy, qualifying as a Master Mariner in 1986. Coming ashore to be with his growing family, he used his sea-going knowledge in several jobs, including Marine Insurance Surveyor and Dockmaster at Tilbury, before becoming a Port Control Officer in Sheerness and then at the Thames Barrier in Woolwich. In 1994 he was head-hunted and offered a job as a Thames Estuary Pilot. In 1999 he transferred to the Thames River Pilots, where he regularly took vessels of all sizes through the Thames Barrier and upriver as far as H.M.S. Belfast and through Tower Bridge. In all, he piloted over 3,500 vessels in a 22-year career with the Port of London Authority. Richard was offered part time working in 2010, which allowed him to return to live in Brixham, where he took up writing and blogging. He retired in 2015, when he set up and ran a successful Organic bakery, supplying local shops and cafés. The urge to write eventually overtook the urge to bake but Richard still makes bread for friends and family. Richard is married with three adult children and two grandchildren.
He can be found at www.richarddeescifi.co.uk
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/RichardDeeAuthor
Twitter – https://twitter.com/@RichardDockett1

23 Jan, 2018

Heroine Complex

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Heroine Complex Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn
on July 5th 2016
Pages: 378
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Published by DAW
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: California

Being a superheroine is hard. Working for one is even harder.
Evie Tanaka is the put-upon personal assistant to Aveda Jupiter, her childhood best friend and San Francisco's most beloved superheroine. She's great at her job—blending into the background, handling her boss's epic diva tantrums, and getting demon blood out of leather pants.
Unfortunately, she's not nearly as together when it comes to running her own life, standing up for herself, or raising her tempestuous teenage sister, Bea.
But everything changes when Evie's forced to pose as her glamorous boss for one night, and her darkest comes out: she has powers, too. Now it's up to her to contend with murderous cupcakes, nosy gossip bloggers, and supernatural karaoke battles—all while juggling unexpected romance and Aveda's increasingly outrageous demands. And when a larger threat emerges, Evie must finally take charge and become a superheroine in her own right... or see her city fall to a full-on demonic invasion.

Goodreads

Annie and Evie have been friends since Annie first stood up for Evie against some bullies in elementary school.  Now as adults, Evie is Annie’s personal assistant.  Annie is San Francisco’s only superhero Aveda Jupiter.  She’s all about the glory.  She dumps everything else on Evie who takes it because she feels like she owes Annie.

Annie/Aveda is truly abusive to Evie.  Everyone sees it but her.  When Evie is forced out of the shadows she needs to rely on her own powers to save the city and find a life for herself outside of Aveda Jupiter’s orbit.

Good things about this book:

  • Asian female superheroes – Annie is Chinese and Evie is half-Japanese
  • The menace is fairly lighthearted and fun.  It starts with demons taking the form of cupcakes that bite and ends with demonic minions who complain about everything the boss demon does.  I could imagine this whole book as a technicolor comic strip.
  • Evie learning to stand up for herself is wonderful.

Annoying things:

  • Evie has been suppressing her emotions in order to keep her powers under control.  When she starts to get in touch with her feelings, the first one that she notices is lust.  She refers to her lack of lustful feelings as the Dead Inside-o-meter.  The idea that she hasn’t had sex in three years is considered proof of emotional problems.  I’m not a fan of stories that consider either asexuality or celibacy as the weirdest thing that ever happened.
  • Evie’s teenage sister is the worst person ever.  Well, maybe second worse next to Aveda.  It is hard to tell but then they start hanging out together and amplify each other’s behavior and it is everything horrible.  They are selfish and childish but Evie is supposed to be seen as no fun for objecting to it all.
  • I didn’t like the romances in this book.  They just seemed added because you have to have a sexual partner (see complaint 1).  Suddenly, she has feelings for a person who annoys her all the time?  The fact that someone annoys you is actually stated as proof that you probably deep down want to sleep with them.  No, maybe they are just annoying and you have the good sense to stay away from them.

 

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