Finished Books: A Murder of Magpies

A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders

22240071

  • Published: February 2015
  • Pages: 277

Summary from Goodreads

A whip-smart, impeccably crafted debut mystery, A Murder of Magpies takes readers on a whirlwind tour of London and Paris with an unforgettably original new heroine

It’s just another day at the office for London book editor Samantha “Sam” Clair. Checking jacket copy for howlers, wondering how to break it to her star novelist that her latest effort is utterly unpublishable, lunch scheduled with gossipy author Kit Lowell, whose new book will dish the juicy dirt on a recent fashion industry scandal. Little does she know the trouble Kit’s book will cause-before it even goes to print. When police Inspector Field turns up at the venerable offices of Timmins & Ross, asking questions about a package addressed to Sam, she knows something is wrong. Now Sam’s nine-to-five life is turned upside down as she finds herself propelled into a criminal investigation. Someone doesn’t want Kit’s manuscript published and unless Sam can put the pieces together in time, they’ll do anything to stop it.

With this deliciously funny debut novel, acclaimed author Judith Flanders introduces readers to an enormously enjoyable, too-clever-for-her-own-good new amateur sleuth, as well Sam’s Goth assistant, her effortlessly glamorous mother, and the handsome Inspector Field. A tremendously entertaining read, this page-turning novel from a bright new crime fiction talent is impossible to put down.”

This humorous book was easy to pick up at the end of the day to cleanse my palate after work.  From the first page, Sam’s sarcasm drew me in.  Plus, she would rather stay at home reading a book than go to a party filled with people with whom she didn’t want to interact.  Clearly she is a woman after my own heart.  She struggles with work issues and neighbors and mothers just like the rest of us.  And, unfortunately, she has to deal with them in much the same way the rest of us do: just put up with it and keep going.

In addition to finding her friend, Kit, perhaps it is a bit of ennui that sparks Sam’s interest in pursuing an investigation that Inspector Jake Field explicitly discourages her from exploring, primarily because it puts her in danger.  Her tenacity and curiosity demonstrates a rebellious (or stubborn) side that may not have had much opportunity to emerge thus far in her life.

Readers who enjoy amateur detective stories with smart, sarcastic female characters will enjoy this book.  It is not violently graphic, nor is there much cursing (although a few swear words are thrown in occasionally).  There is a budding romance that is not addressed much and whose intimate details are left primarily to the imagination of the reader.  I’ll be interested to see where this series goes.

Rating: 3 stars

Finished Books: Say Yes to the Marquess

Say Yes to the Marquess by Tessa Dare

20605274

  • Published: 2014
  • Pages: 374

Summary from Goodreads

“Your presence is requested at romantic Twill Castle for the wedding of Miss Clio Whitmore and . . . and . . . ?

After eight years of waiting for Piers Brandon, the wandering Marquess of Granville, to set a wedding date, Clio Whitmore has had enough. She’s inherited a castle, scraped together some pride, and made plans to break her engagement.

Not if Rafe Brandon can help it. A ruthless prizefighter and notorious rake, Rafe is determined that Clio will marry his brother—even if he has to plan the dratted wedding himself.

So how does a hardened fighter cure a reluctant bride’s cold feet?

  • He starts with flowers. A wedding can’t have too many flowers. Or harps. Or cakes.
  • He lets her know she’ll make a beautiful, desirable bride—and tries not to picture her as his.
  • He doesn’t kiss her.
  • If he kisses her, he definitely doesn’t kiss her again.
  • When all else fails, he puts her in a stunning gown. And vows not to be nearby when the gown comes off.
  • And no matter what—he doesn’t fall in disastrous, hopeless love with the one woman he can never call his own.”

Clio Whitmore had made up her mind that she wanted to break off her engagement of eight years and open a brewery in the castle she inherited.  So why was everyone trying to stop her from fulfilling her dreams?  

Readers will relate to Clio’s well-meaning but meddlesome family members.  The middle sister who is constantly undermining her opinion; the eccentric youngest sister who doesn’t catch the social cues; the obnoxious brother-in-law who thinks he’s clever but is really just trite.

These characters play quite a minor role in the book, though.  The majority of the scenes involve Clio and Rafe as Rafe tries to convince himself he’s not in love with Clio and that she should marry his brother.  All while Clio tries to convince everyone that she is making the correct decision about breaking off her engagement.  The witty banter between Clio and Rafe is built on their friendship from playing together as children.  This makes their flirting seem more believable, particularly since they are both made out to be fairly intelligent people.  

As far as steaminess, this book is not one where the sex happens behind closed doors and the reader just knows it happens.  Readers who prefer a more PG level might not enjoy this book.  If they can skip past the sex scenes, however, they would find a delightful romance with entertaining characters.

Rating: 4 stars

Finished Books: Queen of the Tearling

Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

18669174

  • Published: 2014
  • Pages: 343

Summary from Goodreads:

“An untested young princess must claim her throne, learn to become a queen, and combat a malevolent sorceress in an epic battle between light and darkness in this spectacular debut—the first novel in a trilogy.

Young Kelsea Raleigh was raised in hiding after the death of her mother, Queen Elyssa, far from the intrigues of the royal Keep and in the care of two devoted servants who pledged their lives to protect her. Growing up in a cottage deep in the woods, Kelsea knows little of her kingdom’s haunted past . . . or that its fate will soon rest in her hands.

Long ago, Kelsea’s forefathers sailed away from a decaying world to establish a new land free of modern technology. Three hundred years later, this feudal society has divided into three fearful nations who pay duties to a fourth: the powerful Mortmesne, ruled by the cunning Red Queen. Now, on Kelsea’s nineteenth birthday, the tattered remnants of the Queen’s Guard—loyal soldiers who protect the throne—have appeared to escort the princess on a perilous journey to the capital to ascend to her rightful place as the new Queen of the Tearling.

Though born of royal blood and in possession of the Tear sapphire, a jewel of immense power and magic, Kelsea has never felt more uncertain of her ability to rule. But the shocking evil she discovers in the heart of her realm will precipitate an act of immense daring, throwing the entire kingdom into turmoil—and unleashing the Red Queen’s vengeance. A cabal of enemies with an array of deadly weapons, from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic, plots to destroy her. But Kelsea is growing in strength and stealth, her steely resolve earning her loyal allies, including the Queen’s Guard, led by the enigmatic Lazarus, and the intriguing outlaw known simply as “the Fetch.”

Kelsea’s quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny has only just begun. Riddled with mysteries, betrayals, and treacherous battles, Kelsea’s journey is a trial by fire that will either forge a legend . . . or destroy her.”

  • Rape & pedophilia
  • Library!  Books!
  • Magic jewels
  • Dishonest surrounding individuals
  • Could die any time

These were the notes I wrote to remind myself of some of the important plot aspects.  They are all informative snippets about what this story holds.  But there is much more to this book as it unfolds.

Erika Johansen created a future world that has lost most forms of technology, has returned to medieval ways, and has magic.  We don’t find out the depths of the magic in this book, but I’m sure the author will delve into that in the later segments of this trilogy.  Lush descriptions of the environment and events bring the story to life.

The reader meets Kelsea as she is spending her last moments in the area where she grew up before the Queen’s Guards take her away.  At nineteen, she is now queen and might be murdered before she gets to the Keep.  She has been educated and raised by a couple (not her parents) that volunteered to keep her safe as long as they could in an isolated home.  As a young, inexperienced queen, she must make decisions on how to rule the entire country based on the knowledge bestowed to her from two individuals.  And those two individuals refused to tell her everything.  So does her current Queen’s Guard.

Kelsea grows as a queen, rationalizing decisions and questioning her judgment at times.  She must figure out who is trustworthy and fast.  Her life depends on it.  From the moment she was born, she created enemies, and now that she is queen, they want her dead.  From a kidnapping on the way to the Keep and a murder attempt at her coronation, Kelsea must constantly keep her wits about her.  

The story is compelling, although there are holes in the world-building that will hopefully be filled in later.  I’m interested to see where this story goes next.  I’ve heard good things, so I’ll likely give the next book chance and go from there.

Rating: 3 stars

Finished Books: The Boy Next Door

The Boy Next Door by Meg Cabot

  • Published: October 2002
  • Pages: 374

227464Summary from Goodreads:
“To: You (you)
From: Human Resources (human.resources@thenyjournal.com)
Subject: This Book

Dear Reader,

This is an automated message from the Human Resources Division of the New York Journal, New York City’s leading photo-newspaper. Please be aware that according to our records you have not yet read this book. What exactly are you waiting for? This book has it all:

*Humor
*Romance
*Cooking tips
*Great Danes
*Heroine in peril
*Dolphin-shaped driftwood sculptures

If you wish to read about any of the above, please do not hesitate to head to the checkout counter, where you will be paired with a sales associate who will work to help you buy this book.

We here at the New York Journal are a team. We win as a team, and lose as one as well. Don’t you want to be on the winning team?

Sincerely,

Human Resources Division
New York Journal

Please note that failure to read this book may result in suspension or dismissal from this store.

*********This e-mail is confidential and should not be used by anyone who is not the original intended recipient. If you have received this e-mail in error please inform the sender and delete it from your mailbox or any other storage mechanism.*********”

Another brain-candy book was pretty much all I could handle while I was sick earlier this week. No knitting, no TV, no podcasts, just something light and fluffy.

The Boy Next Door is told entirely through emails. I liked the idea of this method of storytelling, but I found it entertaining at first, but cumbersome for an entire novel, and other readers might also. Reading the “To:” and “From:” in each email was irritating. Necessary, but irritating. Especially since I would rather know the “From” first. But that could just be me. I struggled with the absence of date and time in the email header. Particularly in emails that could either have been a late-night confession to her best friend or an early morning just-got-in-the-office-and-had-to-tell-you email. The passage of time (apparently months) was also hard to gauge without the date. These are nitpicky things that didn’t really affect the overall story.

Cabot did a good job of creating a different voice for each character’s emails without being too varied. The characters were certainly flawed (who would agree to be someone else and then not tell the girl he falls for very quickly?), but overall fairly relatable. The number of personal emails going through work email addresses, though, and the extreme lack of professionalism in the entire office seems unbelievable, but may actually exist out there. Perhaps my work environments have just had more restraints than this fictitious newspaper.

Overall, an enjoyable read that kept me entertained. Another book that would be good for fans of early Jane Green and Bridget Jones books. Readers who liked that the character was a journalist might like the Shopaholic books by Sophie Kinsella.

Rating: 3 stars

Finished Books: The Two Lives of Miss Charlotte Merryweather

The Two Lives of Miss Charlotte Merryweather by Alexandra Potter

7146880

  • Published: March 2010
  • Pages: 400

Summary from Goodreads: From the “fantastically funny” (Elle), “sharp” (Salon) author of the international bestseller Me and Mr. Darcy, an enchanting drive down the road not taken, in the most surprising company.

At age thirty-one, American Charlotte Merryweather has spent ten years in London pursuing personal and professional perfection. Yet her present-day success- heading her own PR company, owning a gorgeous apartment, planning a future with her devoted boyfriend- only heightens the shock of a visit from the past.

“Lottie,” Charlotte’s twenty-one-year-old self, drives onto the scene at the wheel of a rusty, orange Volkswagen Beetle identical to Charlotte’s first UK ride. Charlotte pursues a friendship aimed to bestow upon Lottie a decade of wisdom. Yet Charlotte’s prosperous polish proves a pale substitute for Lottie’s innate, youthful graces- openness, passion, and kindness. Will the student become the teacher in this witty turnabout?

The clever plotting and winning characterization that made Me and Mr. Darcy a bestseller are on full display in these pages.”

I’m not always in the mood to read a thought-provoking book.  After Delicious Foods, I just needed brain-candy.  This book fit the bill perfectly.  It was light-hearted and amusing, though not as well-developed as I may have wanted.

Charlotte has established herself in the PR world in London, which may appeal to people who want to read about PR or who enjoy a London setting.  A lot of the book focuses on various aspects of how busy she is and one of her recent clients.

When she sees her old VW Beetle going down a street she used to drive all the time, Charlotte takes a trip down memory lane and ends up back in 1997.  She encounters her younger self at a local pub and decides she needs to change everything about herself, including her hair, her wardrobe, and with whom she sleeps.  This should, perhaps, be a clue that she’s not actually happy with who she’s become, including her successful career, her successful (if boring) boyfriend, and barely being able to spend time with her friends or family.

Obviously the reader must accept a bit of magical realism to believe that she can continually go back and spend time with herself from the past.  It did bug me that she dropped a call almost every time she went back in time and never figured out why (cell phone towers were not as prevalent in 1997!).

This book would be good for fans of Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary for the London setting.  Both books also have a sense of self-exploration and discovering oneself.  Also good for fans of early Jane Green novels such as Bookends, Mr. Maybe, and Babyville.  All are light-hearted and amusing depictions of twenty- or thirty-somethings figuring out who they are and finding love.  And, if I remember correctly, they’re all set in London as well.

Finished Books: Delicious Foods

So, you might have to bear with me for awhile as I find my voice when reviewing books.  I want my reviews to be helpful for other librarians when providing suggestions to their patrons.  However, I also want the review to indicate my feelings on the book, too.  It will take time to reach a happy medium.  I also haven’t done much writing recently, so everything might be a little clunky while I search for the right words to describe my thoughts (and the books).

Delicious Foods by James Hannaham

22444789

  • Published: March 2015
  • Pages: 384

Summary from Goodreads: “Darlene, a young widow and mother devastated by the death of her husband, turns to drugs to erase the trauma. In this fog of grief, she is lured with the promise of a great job to a mysterious farm run by a shady company, with disastrous consequences for both her and her eleven-year-old son, Eddie–left behind in a panic-stricken search for her.

Delicious Foods tells the gripping story of three unforgettable characters: a mother, her son, and the drug that threatens to destroy them. In Darlene’s haunted struggle to reunite with Eddie, and in the efforts of both to triumph over those who would enslave them, Hannaham’s daring and shape-shifting prose not only infuses their desperate circumstances with grace and humor, but also wrestles with timeless questions of love and freedom.”

Winner of the Pen Faulkner award in 2015, Delicious Foods by James Hannaham is a dark, gritty book that is not ideal for a gentle reader.  The book opens with young Eddie escaping to Minnesota with recently amputated hands in a car the reader soon learns is not his.  Some readers might give up on the book at this point.  But if one forges ahead past the prologue, one will experience a beautiful and compelling story.

Toward the beginning of the book, the timeline shifts between times in Darlene’s past in college and early adulthood to times during Eddie’s childhood.  Most of the story comes when Eddie is 11 years old and Darlene disappears.  Readers will empathize with Eddie as he relentlessly searches for his mother, relying on school food and a concerned local baker to avoid starvation.  Darlene, whose experience with racism and grief drove her to drugs and prostitution, makes choices that has even “Scotty,” her drug of choice and narrator of her story, questioning her actions at times.  The relationship of these two characters is continually tested over the course of the book, but they don’t give up.  Although at times belated, they do everything they can to remain a family.

Life on the farm is not easy for anyone and Hannaham’s depictions of modern-day slavery will leave readers wondering if there are still places that operate like the “Delicious Foods” corporation.  The struggles of the characters in this book are brought to life with lyrical prose that elicits vivid images of the characters and their environment.  Some scenes in the book are quite violent, where people are being beaten for insubordination or disobedience or just because the foreman wants to beat someone.  Sometimes the character doing the beating seems to enjoy it perhaps a bit too much.

While there are definitely dark aspects to this book, there are points that are rather amusing, as well.  Charley the rat, whose fur is missing in places from too much scratching, comes to mind.  As does the couple of times when Scotty realizes that if he thinks something is a bad idea, it can’t be good.

The ending of the story bring hope for the characters.  It feels like a happy ending despite everything they have been through and the changes to their lives.  Things aren’t perfect, but they are looking up.

Rating: 3 stars

[A note about my ratings: I take the Goodreads suggestions for each of their stars at their word.  I liked this book, so it gets 3 stars.  I also rarely give 5-star ratings because I very infrequently love a book so very much that I would consider it “amazing.”  Plus, I typically only consider books 5 stars if I am willing to reread it.  If I don’t like a book, I probably won’t finish it, so there won’t be too many 1-star ratings, either.  Unless it was for book club.  Sometimes that will happen.]

Reading Resolutions for 2017

After three years, I believe it is time to return to this blog and perhaps change it up a bit. This will turn into a place for me to record my reviews of books I read. I might continue to discuss library programming ideas. It might occasionally devolve into discussion about knitting. I mean, llamas (and their cousins, alpacas), make lovely fiber and yarn. I’m just staying true to my name.

books

Stacked book picture from Wikimedia Commons

What better way to return to a blog that left off on resolutions than to state new resolutions? By revisiting my previous goals, I find that I still have a lot to learn. Many of my goals for this year, which I made before deciding to revive this blog, will be similar to those from three years ago. Apparently.

  1. Goodreads Challenge = 60 books. This number is significantly lower than the number of books I read in the past couple of years (80 and 77). I listened to a fair number of audiobooks during those years, but I don’t have as much time to do that as I used to. I’m listening to significantly more podcasts and doing other activities which do not allow me to read with my ears. The lower number also reflects my desire to write more reviews and annotations on the books I read, which will take away from my reading time, too.
  2. Each month, read an author from the ARRT Popular Fiction list. As NoveList puts it, this list is “a straightforward and enjoyable way to evaluate and broaden anyone’s reading experience.” Since becoming a librarian, I have had the opportunity to expand my reading horizons, but I still have gaps to fill in.
  3. Each month, read a book that fits into the Iowa Readers’ Advisory Roundtable genre. For 2017, the Iowa RART has chosen Narrative Nonfiction for reviews. I did not participate last year, but, in an effort to continually grow and expand my reading horizons, I need to make an effort to read and review for this group. It is a good opportunity to practice my review skills with a group that can give me critiques on the quality of my reviews.
  4. Write a review for each book I read. Self-explanatory. The more I write, the better I will get. The more I evaluate the books I read, the better I will be able to discuss books with library patrons.
  5. Don’t freak out. I probably won’t be able to do all of the above all of the time. It’s okay. Every little bit helps.

There you have it.  Some changes to the blog.  Some changes to my reading habits.  Some changes to my review-writing abilities.