Blogmas · Reviews

Catching Christmas {Review}

I accidentally read a Christian Christmas Romance novel, guys. I found this book while wandering the aisles of my local library and the book jacket only talked about the fact that there’s a taxi driver who has to ferry an old lady with dementia around town.

It was pretty cute though. The last half was definitely  heavier on religion than the first half, though. The main character/taxi driver/ex-chef is pretty funny in his determination to be mean while failing at it completely. He also has the deepest hatred of Uber that I’ve ever encountered. 

Miss Callie (the old lady with dementia) is a terror, and while she’s adorable in the novel, in real life I’d hate encountering her in real life. In the novel she’s a character that everyone loves and supports. Though her son-in-law kept her from seeing her granddaughter for most of her life (for good reason, really). That’s fairly glossed over.

I really love the trope of hating each other then loving each other, and Catching Christmas does that one really really well. The author does misunderstandings really well, too. They have a very realistic ‘bumping of heads’ in the beginning and get over it in a realistic way as well. 

There’s a moment where the book went from normal story to Christian fiction and it’s a fairly small part of the novel overall. This book is a really sweet Christmas tale that involves the elderly, a taxi, and a sweet romance. 

-S-

Blogmas · Reviews

The Christmas Tree Farm Mysteries {Review}

Thanks to NetGalley.com for giving me a copy of Twas the Knife Before Christmas in return for an honest review.
Cover for Twelve Slays of Christmas

I got a copy of the second book in this series (‘Twas the Knife Before Christmas) from NetGalley and decided to read the first book as well. It wasn’t super needed, since the second book is fairly independent of the first. 

I really like both books, by the way. They’re very sweet little cozy murder mysteries with a likeable main character named Holly (her cat’s name is Cindy Lou Who, which I enjoy) who lives in a Christmas obsessed town on a Christmas obsessed tree farm/tourist attraction. She’s super nosy and has to investigate the Christmas-related murders, even though her life is threatened on the regular. Holly can just not trust law enforcement, even though the sheriff (who has a seemingly unlimited number of deputies for the size of the town) is a homicide detective from Boston. I really think that he’s better at the whole death investigation than she is.  There’s a wee bit of romance that’s very much a side story and is honestly mostly forgotten about in the second novel. Which is oddly the only thing that got on my nerves.

The author stuck with the conceit that Mistletoe, Maine only has murders at Christmas, so Twas the Knife Before Christmas is set a year after the end of Twelve Slays of Christmas. Nothing has seemed to move forward for Holly, though. She’s still living in her parents’ guesthouse (though they’re building an inn) and isn’t sure if they guy she’s been dating for  year is her boyfriend or if they’re exclusive. I feel like that’d be a conversation you’d have over a year-long relationship. Could be wrong, but it feels weird, especially since he’s weirdly jealous/possessive. He just doesn’t seem the type to leave her ‘available’. There’s a semi-explanation given, and I like the story line, but the effect on their relationship doesn’t seem real. 

Overall, I enjoyed both books – I’ll read anymore that Jacqueline Frost rights, for sure. They’re adorable little Christmas cozy murder mysteries that are all resolved neatly and there are some quality death threats thrown in there. I definitely suggest reading these for some light Christmas reading!

Blogmas · Reviews

Home for Christmas by Holly Chamberlin {Review}

Red Christmas ornament on white background - cover of Home for Christmas by Holly Chamberlin

Solid 2 stars. 

This is my least favorite 2018 read.  I really really hate giving less than 3 stars since the author wrote a book! That’s more than I’ve ever done. I only gave 2 stars to one other book this year – the third in a far-too-macho end of the world series. At the same time, I realize that my 2 star book might be someone else’s 5 star book and I need to review on if I liked it or not.

I just could not connect with the main character. She was too much – too sad, too pushy, too timid, too everything. It was basically an entire book about her trying to get her kids to define her and then suddenly they make all her dreams come true. At one point a daughter says “Why would we ever spend Christmas anywhere else?” (okay, that’s a paraphrase, but you get the point.) and it was just too cutesy. And that’s one example of many, many, many too sweet moments that came out of nowhere. 

I think a lot of my issue stems from the disconnect between me and the protagonist. Which is a rare thing for me – I regularly read about all kinds of people in all kinds of different situations, points of life, etc. I mean, I read books on alien planets or novels of magic which is the opposite of my life. I’ve been thinking about it over the past few days and I think it boils down to my wanting to read strong women characters. Even in the romance I read, the women characters are strong women. They may be naive and fall in love in like 3 days, but they’re generally not weepy or morose. I’m morose enough, thanks. 

I will say that, even though I hate her transformation is triggered by a man, I enjoyed the romance sub-plot in this. They have a history together instead of being complete insta-love, which is refreshing. 

I’m probably not going to read the other books in this series, to be honest.

~Sarah

Blogmas · Reading · Reviews

Christmas with You: Gabriel’s Angel / Home for Christmas {Review}

Cover image of Christmas With You by Nora Roberts

3 Stars because half the book wasn’t even about Christmas. It was wintery, but not Christmas.

Gabriel’s Angel is a really cute story and predictable in the best way. I love a good ‘rescue from a snowbank’ and this one delivered. It was a little bit ‘insta-love’, but I feel like that’s really due to the length. I wish it was about 150 pages longer. Everything just moved way too quickly. The resolutions were too fast, too unsatisfying, and just not super believable. 

Home for Christmas, the actual Christmas story, is next. Look, this is not a novella for those who want twists to come out of nowhere. I could tell you the big reveal within a few pages. But it’s a sweet ‘the one who got away’ and ‘we should probably have just had a simple conversation a decade ago and saved ourselves a lot of time and angst’ story that makes you believe that the two main characters are legit in love. I dated losers in high school so I don’t have that connection, but I’d say that if Shane bounced for an understandable reason (can’t think of one, but still) I’d still be in love with him if he showed up a decade later. So I can buy that, to a point. I wouldn’t say it’s the most likely scenario – it’s more likely that they’d have to fall back in love, but it’s groovy. 

Overall, I’d give it a 4 star rating *if* both of the novellas dealt with Christmas. I’d definitely recommend it for some fluffy, light, wholesome vacation reading. If you need something to do while avoiding your weird uncle, this is a solid option.

PS – I thought about giving you the description from Goodreads, but it’s honestly not a big deal. 

Reviews

House of Ashes {Review}

3 out of 5 stars (remember: 3 stars is a positive review)

Goodreads has this to say (I edited it heavily, though):

Painter Cassandra Mitchell is the fourth-generation to live in the majestic Battersea Bluffs, originally built by her great-grandparents, Percy and Celeste Mitchell, and still standing despite tragedies. Local lore has it that there was a curse placed on the family and the house is haunted, though opinions are divided on whether it’s by malicious or benevolent spirits. Cassie believes the latter―but now she stands to lose her beloved home.


Salvation seems to arrive when a nomadic young couple wanders onto the property ―until they vanish without a trace, leaving behind no clue to their identities. Cassie is devastated, but determined to discover what’s happened to the young couple…even as digging into their disappearance starts to uncover family secrets of her own. Despite warnings from her childhood friend, now the local Chief of Police―as well as an FBI agent ―Cassie can’t help following the trail of clues (and eerie signals from the old house itself) to unravel the mystery. But can she do so before her family’s dark curse destroys everything in its path?

I thought this was going to be…spookier. There’s just not a ton of haunting for a story with ghosts in it. The romance aspect was weird and somehow there was an out-of-left-field love triangle for like…20 pages, then disappeared. There was the weirdness of her sister refusing to visit because….smells? She can’t just stay somewhere else in town?  I couldn’t completely buy into one plot line because there were so many. Not all of them got resolved satisfactorily – at least for me. 

Cassie comes off (to me) as really naive, sheltered, and a bit spacey. I just didn’t really connect with her, but she grew on me over the course of the novel. The plot was full of strange disconnected threads that didn’t really have much to do with each other and it almost seemed like I should be reading two different books – one about the missing couple and one about her family shenanigans. 

However, it was an easy read and nothing made me angry. You know how sometimes you just get mad at a book for whatever deficiencies it has? That didn’t happen here. I was interested in the novel for the entire time and bought the resolution to a couple of the plot threads. I liked the Police Chief, and sympathized with the FBI agent. Everyone gets mad at the people who are trained to find out what’s happening, and poor guy is just doing his best. 

I definitely don’t regret reading this over a weekend, but I don’t think I’ll be reading any more books in this series. She hasn’t written any more yet, but I have the feeling it’s a series. 

Big thanks to NetGalley and Crooked Lane Books for the eARC in exchange for a review. 

Blogoween · Reading · Reviews

The Right Hand of Evil {Review}

Book Cover for The Right Hand of Evil by John Saul

7 out of 10? I really liked it but didn’t love it.

This is probably the first (only?) actual horror novel I’ve read for Blogoween. I used to love John Saul books, and this one has just sitting on my shelf, begging to be read. I finally gave in because I needed a not-just-Gothic-or-semi-creepy-but-actually-horror book in my October lineup. I’m really glad I did! I definitely remember why I love John Saul books and I’m not sure why it’s been so long.

The basic plot (without giving too much away) is that an alcoholic’s aunt dies, he inherits a house, moves his family in, and then everything goes insane. There’s a lot of Catholicism which I don’t really connect with generally but was a nice counterpoint to the evil going on. I absolutely have to mention that there’s violence against animals. Like, fairly graphic violence against animals. Almost quit reading, to be honest. I held out though, and while it wasn’t my favorite part of the book, I got past it.

John Saul has a talent for making me continue reading a book even if I’d normally roll my eyes at whatever’s happening. Hell? Demon faces beneath normal faces? Usually I’m out, but I stayed interested here. There’s a ton of hallucinating in this book and the images he paints are bananas. There’s a lot of atmospheric creepiness, which I always adore.

This is a legit horror novel that lingered in my mind and somehow pushed past the normal suspension of belief I have for the supernatural. I definitely recommend it.

A final note:
Last weekend at my mother in law’s farm I was there alone and had to go outside. I spooked myself because I realized that anyone could be lurking in the pines and the Farm Dog would probably not even notice. Also, I had a nightmare Tuesday night that wasn’t actually related to the novel at all, but as I walked to and from the bathroom for water all I could think of was that there could be people just standing in the apartment and I wouldn’t be able to see them. That fear is directly related to the novel, so thanks for that John Saul.

Blogoween · Reviews

I Remember You: A Ghost Story {Review}

 

Book cover for I Remember You: A Ghost Story

My favorite thing about reading a novel in translation is that not all words are translatable and you have to stumble through them the best you can. I don’t speak Icelandic so it was fun to look up pronunciations for names of towns and people. Don’t ask me to say them out loud, though, because I will fail.

I really liked this book. It’s not really a thriller but it’s a steadily unfolding story that has twists and turns and is pretty engaging. Even if you guess one (or some) of the twists, it’s still an interesting story. The only issue I had was that one of the twists was telegraphed pretty early on, but the reveal was solid, so it was fine. It’s fun to read a novel where being religious isn’t the norm, but isn’t completely weird either.

I would say this is a solid October read if you’re looking for something to make you uneasy but not terrified. The location is awesome – part of the novel takes place in an abandoned community in northern Iceland. The language is vivid, even though it’s a translation.

A warning, though: there’s violence against children mentioned. Nothing graphic at all, and most of the novel isn’t graphic, but it’s mentioned.

-Sarah-

 

Blogoween · Reading · Reviews

The Darkling Bride {Review}

darkling.jpg A solid 4 stars.

This book refuses you to miss the connections with Jane Eyre. It’s a quality book, though. Eerie vibes throughout the novel help set the stage and unexplained references to a main character’s shady past help to set the mood for most of the novel.

There’s a lot going on in here, by the way. There’s the thread of the Darkling Bride going through everything as well as a ton of story lines. There’s a mystery in the 1800s involving an author and his ‘mad’ wife, a 1990s murder/suicide mystery which involve several people from the current day shenanigans. Current day, the Lord of the Manor Castle is trying to sell his family’s home to the Heritage Trust which brings everyone back to the Castle. Oh, that’s right, there’s a creepy 700 (800?) year old castle in rural Ireland  with a monastic city’s ruins nearby. And a super creepy tower. Carragh is an American hired to catalog the family’s library and has A Very Dark Past that she references a bit until It All Comes Out later on. There’s also a brand new Detective Inspector from Dublin down to investigate the unsolved murder of Aidan’s parents. She has her own story line as well. The other characters have stories, obviously, but they aren’t given their own chapters/portions of chapters.

Overall, I really liked this book. My only issues were that the lurve story (of course there’s a love story) goes from 0 to 100 suddenly, Aidan’s kind of a dick & his redemption isn’t super redemption-like, and there wasn’t enough ghost stuff. There’s some ghost stuff, but not enough. I wanted haunting. I think I’d have added a part of a star if the author had included the ‘real’ story of the Darkling Bride instead of leaving us with bits and pieces.

-S-

Reading · Reviews

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate {Review}

Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents—but they quickly realize the dark truth. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together in a world of danger and uncertainty.

Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions and compels her to take a journey through her family’s long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation or to redemption.

I’d say a 3.5 out of 5 stars.

I knew about Georgia Tann (thanks Unsolved Mysteries!!), but this book really drives the awfulness home. It also had tidbits that I didn’t know, so that was interesting. The only issue I had with her section was that it was unrelenting horror. Which was the point, so I guess that’s a good thing.

To be honest, it really doesn’t carry that sense of loss and pain into Rill’s adult life. A second book following her into adulthood and her search for family would be great. The book seemed to close up with a rush and left a lot to wonder about. I just really wish we had more information about everything. This is so hard to write without spoliers!

The other main character, Avery, is a bit annoying but her story is okay. I would have liked to spend more time on her search instead of her worrying about if she wants to be a politician. Also, her obsession with people knowing her last name and treating her differently made me laugh. Your daddy may be a senator but did he play football, Avery? It’s a real thing, sure, but her attitude about it struck me as funny.

This novel covers a very important (and hushed up) time in history. Joan Crawford adopted her children from Georgia Tann. People should read it, then read more about the whole shenanigan, and then give past US authorities some serious side eye.

Before We Were Yours has some weaknesses. Avery is a snoozefest and I was left dying for information about what happened when the ‘orphans’ became adults. And why did Big Trent hate his dad so much? Why is Jonah given such a weird backstory? But its strengths greatly outweigh the weaknesses. Wingate hits every awful thing that could have happened to a Tann child and I don’t think I’ll ever forget reading Rill’s story. Read it.

-Sarah-

Reading · Reviews

(The First) Kingfountain Trilogy

The Queen’s Poisoner synopsis from Goodreads:

King Severn Argentine’s fearsome reputation precedes him: usurper of the throne, killer of rightful heirs, ruthless punisher of traitors. Attempting to depose him, the Duke of Kiskaddon gambles…and loses. Now the duke must atone by handing over his young son, Owen, as the king’s hostage. And should his loyalty falter again, the boy will pay with his life.

Seeking allies and eluding Severn’s spies, Owen learns to survive in the court of Kingfountain. But when new evidence of his father’s betrayal threatens to seal his fate, Owen must win the vengeful king’s favor by proving his worth—through extraordinary means. And only one person can aid his desperate cause: a mysterious woman, dwelling in secrecy, who truly wields power over life, death, and destiny.

I’ve never been a huge fan of audiobooks, but for awhile I was doing hours and hours of driving. So much driving. When I noticed that there are some Kindle Unlimited books that are accompanied by “audio narration” I decided to go for it. I had The Queen’s Poisoner in my Kindle for awhile and the narration was available, so I went ahead and chose that. I really liked the ability to listen to the audio and then read the ebook when I got wherever I was going. Anyway, on to the trilogy!

So, this Owen kid is 8 and gets sent to live with the King because his dad’s a traitor and the King threw Owen’s brother over a waterfall. All three books are more strategy, intrigue, and quiet shenanigans rather than high adventure which is a lot more entertaining than you’d think. Jeff Wheeler is really good at writing a scared little kid’s perspective. I’ll admit that by the third book I was a bit over Owen, but I really enjoyed most of the other characters – even the bad guys were interesting. The politics were actually fairly true-to-life (as far as I know, I’m not really big in the politics scene) and were much more interesting when listened than reading on a page. I guess the narrator makes all the difference?

Listening to these books while driving or laying in the hotel room or on the couch in an empty apartment helped me get a little lost in this fantasy world of magic from fountains, little boys and their fill-in dominoes, first loves and true loves, spies and secret passages, and creepy men with limps. It was escape reading of the highest order and I very much enjoyed it. I had taken a(n unintentional) break from fantasy for quite a bit, but reading these has made me a bit excited to get back into it.

These three books make up the first trilogy that is followed by another trilogy following related, but different, characters. There are also a few books that are tangentially related that the author suggests reading between the two. Maybe another trilogy? I’m not sure – I’m suddenly buried under eARCs to read, so I’ll be reading those over the next while, but than will probably get back to these.