Category Archives: Book Reviews

Trouble Makes a Comeback by Stephanie Tromly

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Trouble Makes a Comeback by Stephanie Tromly

Trouble Makes a Comeback
By Stephanie Tromly

Finally, the wait is over! “Trouble Makes a Comeback” is the next installment of the adventures of Zoe and Digby, which began with the firs book, “Trouble is a Friend of Mine”.

Just like the first book, this one has all of the snarky dialogue and adventure as the first, with the added drama of teenage romance. And just like the first book, I found the second book charming, fun, and an enjoyable quick read.

In this installment of the story – and yes, there will be a third – we finally start to get some answers surrounding the mystery of what happened to Digby’s little sister.  But we don’t get all of the answers, which is fine by me, because getting there is half the fun!

We pick up the story with Zoe leading a fairly normal life now that Digby is gone.  She’s dating the high school jock, and getting ready for the ever looming, but all important college entrance exams.  Life is pretty near normal – and then the other shoe drops.  Digby is back in town.

There are drug dealers and a “borrowed” police car; mean girls/not so mean girls; a cryptic message that Digby is certain was left by his sister Sally; and Digby’s mother herself.  Is she really just a mother grieving for the disappearance of her daughter; or does she know more than she’s letting on?

As all of this comes crashing down on Zoe and Digby, Zoe needs to make a decision.  What was that kiss all about right before Digby disappeared?  Should she follow her heart, or stick with the new boyfriend?  Her mind is a whirlwind of choices and decisions as they get closer and closer to the truth.

I really enjoyed this sequel, but I read it a while ago so I’m not going to trust my memory to go into more detail. What I do know is that I’m excited for the next book, and can’t wait to see how this all plays out.

The Muse by Jessie Burton

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The Muse by Jessie Burton

The Muse
By Jessie Burton
Published by Peebo & Pilgrim Ltd., an imprint of Harper Collins

Anyone that knows me knows that I love books that jump back and forth through time.  Whether telling the story of one person, or multiple individuals, I’m always fascinating by an author’s ability to keep moving through different timelines, keeping everything separate, but then joining it all together in the end.  It’s a great way to tell this story.

England, 1967 – Odelle Bastien leaves her home in Trinidad to move to London. Her dream of becoming a writer is tempered by her dull and mundane job of working in a shoe store.  She’s lonely, having only one friend, her roommate who also emigrated from Trinidad to London.  But her friend is getting married, which means that Odelle will soon be on her own.

Somehow, beyond even her own belief, Odelle lands a new job as a typist at the prestigious Skelton Institute of Art.  At the Skelton, her boss Marjorie Quick takes a liking to Odelle and even encourages her writing.  But there is a mystery surrounding Marjorie, and Odelle is a bit suspicious of why such a glamorous woman would want to be her friend.

At her friend’s wedding Odelle meets Lawrie, a young man who, when hearing that Odelle works at the Skelton tells her about a painting that he inherited from his mother, and wonders if she can help him determine if the painting is worth anything.

What she discovers leads to a mystery involving a gifted painter from Spain, and how the painting wound up with Lawrie’s mother.  Even more mysterious is Marjorie’s reaction when she sees the painting.  In addition, Marjorie seems to be attempting to put a wedge between Odelle and her budding relationship with Lawrie.  Odelle starts to wonder who she can trust.

Spain, 1936 – Olive Schloss is the daughter of a Viennese Jewish art dealer and an English heiress.  Living in a remote village in Spain, her father is hoping to avoid the growing troubles in Europe. What he doesn’t seem to realize, is that Spain is also having troubles of its own.

With her father traveling and her mother in a haze of alcohol, Olive befriends their young housekeeper Teresa, and also becomes involved with Isaac, Teresa’s half-brother. Isaac dreams of being painter, attempting to emulate the fame of his idol Picasso, but he’s also a revolutionary, and gets caught up in the early stages of the civil war threatening Spain.

Olive also has dreams of becoming a painter, but only Teresa knows how talented Olive is.  She’s afraid to mention it to her father, and her mother is living in her own little dream world.  When Isaac is commissioned to paint a portrait of Olive and her mother, something goes horribly wrong, and the two families are drawn together in a strange plot to bring Isaac’s work to prominence.

As the two stories from the different timelines start to blend and come together, a mystery begins to be solved – but it’s not as simple as it may seem.

This book had me guessing throughout, and although I wanted to see how it ended, I was reluctant to finish it.  Burton tells a tale that is so rich in atmosphere and character that I look forward to her next novel.  I was a fan of her first book, “The Miniaturist”, and this one did not disappoint.  In fact, I think I liked this one even more.

Burntown by Jennifer McMahon

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Burntown by Jennifer McMahon

Burntown
By Jennifer McMahon
Published by Doubleday Books

This book starts with a murder! One night, young Miles is having a little bit of fun lurking in the bushes of his backyard, dressed as Robin Hood, plotting to spring up and scare his mother. All in good fun, right…at first. Instead, what he witnesses is a horrific crime that changes his life forever.

The story jumps ahead a little bit, and we learn what happens to Miles and how he grows up, but not a lot of time is spent on this part of the story. It’s just the set-up to a bigger piece of the puzzle which comes later.

We catch up with Miles, who is now married and a father of two, a boy Errol and a girl Eva. He’s a respected professor and author, and a part time inventor. As an inventor, he forms a bond with Eva, who shares his love of the mechanical toys and trinkets that he builds for her. But there is another secret invention sitting in his workshop that Eva knows nothing about – until the night of the storm.

And this is where the mystery begins. As the storm rages, and the river rises, Miles is checking to make sure that his work shop, and the inventions inside, are protected and kept safe. Lily, Miles’ wife is planning on evacuating their home, as Eva follows her father to the workshop. Eva doesn’t remember much after that; she’s suffering from some form of amnesia. What she does know is that her father and brother are dead, and she and her mother are in hiding, fleeing some unknown danger. She’s not sure if the danger is real or just some figment in her mother’s unhinged mind.

Jump ahead again, and Eva is now Necco, living in a station wagon with her boyfriend. But tragedy strikes once again, and Necco is back on the run and accused of murder. As she tries to figure out how to clear her name, she meets some unusual characters – but are they friend or foe? And what has this got to do with her father’s invention?

I just loved this book. It never slowed down, and it kept moving at such a great pace. There are some very interesting characters that at first make you wonder how they all fit – but it all does fit – eventually. Heroes, villains, and a circus? This book is a delight!

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

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Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Crooked Kingdom
By Leigh Bardugo
Published by Henry Holt & Co.

[Spoiler Alert – If you haven’t read the first book, Six of Crows, this will give away a big part of that plot.]

You know the old expression, “you can’t choose your family”? Well sometimes you can. And that’s exactly what this bunch of equally lovable and dysfunctional misfits did.

When we last left the crew at the conclusion of Six of Crows, they had just pulled off one of the greatest jailbreaks & heists of all time.  A one two punch combo that even they thought would end badly.  But instead of celebrating their success, and their new found wealth, they were betrayed – and by one of their own.

Broken, hunted, and missing a member of their crew, Kaz Brekker is not one to curl up in a corner feeling sorry for himself.  Those days are over – now, it’s time for revenge.  Kaz has a plan, and not just for this last betrayal; he wants revenge for all of the other wrongs that were done to him and continue to haunt him. He will get Inej back, he will get his revenge, and if he has to battle the entire Island of Ketterdam, so be it! Pity the fool who thinks Kaz Brekker has been defeated.

At the end of the first book Inej doesn’t make it back with the rest of the crew, and we find out that she’s been kidnapped by the merchant Van Eck.  Sadly, Inej doesn’t believe that Kaz will come after her: after all, there’s no profit in it for him. But what she doesn’t realize is that Kaz cares for her more than she knows; even more than Kaz himself will admit!  But Kaz is not going to let Van Eck get away with double-crossing him, and taking one of his crew.  He concocts an intricate plot of revenge, not trusting anyone and keeping some pretty important details on a “need to know” basis, leaving his crew to wonder if this time he’s gone too far.

Murder plots, explosions, a tiny bit romance, and ninja fighting on a high wire – this book has it all! Told by the various points of view of the crew members, each chapter fluctuates back and forth between them, so you see the adventure from different perspectives.  This nonlinear way of storytelling can at times make you feel like you’re losing continuity, but Bardugo does a great job at keeping it from getting disjointed, and fills in the gaps and back stories of the characters.  We learn so much more about the characters and how they came to settle in Ketterdam; what brought them together and how their friendships were forged. Bardugo skimmed the surface in the first book, so I was happy to see that she continued to round out the back stories of each of the characters.  And although the plot for revenge and the action make this book a fast paced and exciting read, it’s the camaraderie that makes this book shine.

With so many “series” books being part of a trilogy, I was surprised to find out that the second book would end the series, but Bardugo does a great job of finishing up the adventure in just the two books.  By doing this, she has eliminated the dreaded middle book syndrome, where so much of a story can drag and make me lose interest.

If you liked the first book, make sure to pick this one up.  It’s full of adventure, twists and turns, great back stories and character development – and the extra added bonus of the big reveal behind the series catchphrase, “No Mourners, No Funerals”. But no hints, you need to read the book for that.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

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The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

The Essex Serpent
By Sarah Perry
Published by Serpent’s Tail

This book is beautiful! From the gorgeous cover and end papers, to the way the story is written, it’s just a beautiful book.

I want to thank Simon Savidge, from the Savidge Reads blog and The Readers podcast. He’s mentioned this book a few times, and spoke so highly of it that I had to read it. As of this review it’s not yet available in the U.S., so I had to order it from the UK – and it was worth the wait.

So let’s dive in.

In the opening chapters of the book we learn that Michael Seaborne is dying of cancer, and that he is being attended to by his dutiful wife Cora who, although seems to be taking very good care of him, does not seem to be emotionally distraught over the fact that he’s so ill and close to death. In fact, we learn that Michael is an abusive husband, and Cora is beginning to realize that soon she will be free of him, and he will be leaving her a very wealthy woman.

Also attending to Michael is his doctor, Luke Garrett, who seems to have quite a crush on Cora. When Michael makes it clear that he doesn’t want any treatment that will prolong his life, Dr. Garrett is all to happy to comply. With Cora, though, it’s not immediately clear how she feels about Dr. Garrett. She’s fond of him and relies on his company, but more than anything she wants to be an independent woman and considers herself an equal to men – not very common in the Victorian era.

Rounding out the Seaborne household is Cora and Michael’s son Francis, and Martha, the one time nanny who now also acts as a companion to Cora. Francis, or Frankie as his mother calls him, is an odd, quiet child that likes to collect trinkets – a feather, a shell, anything that catches his eye that he finds interesting and wants to study. Martha is devoted to Cora and Francis, but as a very committed Socialist she has some issues with their wealth and privilege.

After Michael’s death, Cora decides that she needs to get away from the home she shared with her cruel and abusive husband. She packs up Frankie and Martha and leaves London, taking up residence in the town of Colchester. It’s there that she happens upon Charles and Katherine Ambrose, old friends who are traveling in the area. From them she learns of the legend of the Essex serpent. It seems there have been some strange occurrences in a nearby town, and the locals believe that the serpent is back and creating these events. Cora is so intrigued, that when Charles Ambrose offers to write an introduction letter to his good friend, the Reverend Will Ransome, Cora at once agrees to travel to Aldwinter to meet the Reverend and his family – with the hope that she’ll get a glimpse of the Essex Serpent.

All seems to go very well for a while; Frankie and Martha have settled in and have made friends with the Ransome family, and Cora delights in the thought that she soon may see this mysterious serpent. But things take an interesting twist as Cora and the Reverend, who have as many things in common as they do differences, become very fast friends – much to the dismay of Dr. Luke Garrett, who is quite jealous; and Martha, who is worried that what’s happening between Cora and Will is quite inappropriate.

While Cora and Will continue their friendship, which entails frequent long walks and copious letter writing, the people of the town are beginning to believe in the curse of the Essex serpent. Children are no longer playing out doors, and the church congregation is growing as people turn to God, and to Will, for comfort in their fear.

Along the way we meet other characters whose lives are entwined with Cora, but the author manages to separate their stories so that there are sub-plots throughout. She does this by adding vignettes to the various sections of the book, which walk you through the passage of time, but always keeps her eye on the ball of the main plot – the serpent. It’s an interesting way to tell a very full story, and it makes the book move along at a very nice pace. This is also used to great advantage in beautifully descriptive passages, such as how the seasons change, how the air smells, and how the fog rolls in. It can go from seemingly so beautiful one minute, then all at once become dark and a bit gothic.

I could go on and on, but I’d be afraid of spoiling this wonderful story – let’s just say that toward the end of the book things start to happen very quickly, and I found myself racing to get to the end. Once I got there, however, I was sad that it was over – I didn’t want the story to end, and I didn’t want to say goodbye to the characters, or to the Essex landscape that was described with such beauty. This is a book that I could see myself re-reading some day – it’s that good!

If you’ve read The Essex Serpent, I’d love to hear your thoughts. As always, please feel free to comment below.

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye

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Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
Published by Penguin Publishing Group

One of the most iconic literary tag lines from the Charlotte Bronte novel Jane Eyre is, “Reader, I married him”. When I heard the tag line from Jane Steele – “Reader, I killed him” – I knew I had to read this book.

I read Jane Eyre the summer before I started eighth grade, and have re-read it numerous times since then. So why mention Jane Eyre, a book published in 1847, in a post about Jane Steele? Because this book does a great job at paying homage to the Bronte classic, and in fact our heroine, Jane Steele, even compares herself to the “fictional” Eyre. It’s done very well, and is really interesting to read Jane Steele’s inner thoughts about Eyre, and how she seems to mock Miss Eyre for being labeled wicked when she hasn’t done anything wrong. Steele, however, believes herself truly wicked, and seems to take offense. It’s almost like she’s telling the reader, “You think she’s wicked? Wait until you hear what I’ve done!” And you can’t wait – the build-up is fantastic.

At the start of the book, Jane and her mother are living in a cottage on her Aunt’s estate. There is some contention that Jane is the true heir to the estate, but circumstances have kept her and her mother living off the charity of her Aunt Patience. That’s never good, and it’s obvious from the start that her Aunt resents the fact that she’s obligated to house them. Add to that Jane’s cousin Edwin, who can’t seem to make up his mind if he wants to torment Jane, or do naughty things to her. Ugh, so creepy!

Then a couple of tragic events take place and Jane finds herself sent off to boarding school. Now, rather than narrate her life in a painstakingly long narrative, Jane tells the reader that she’s going to summarize her life there, as she skips ahead to various times at school. It’s very clever, and you don’t feel like you missed anything – she’s basically saying that some time goes by, and only a small number of events are worth mentioning – so we time jump a couple of years – but not before we learn how horrid her time was there, and how cruelly the girls were treated; and in true Jane Steele fashion she escapes to London – but not alone, Jane’s friend from school comes along as a faithful companion.

After a few years living in a squalid boarding house, with a drunken landlord who also doubles as a business partner, Jane finds herself a sort of “journalist” writing stories about the lurid crimes committed in and around London. But once again, a tragic event occurs, and Jane finds herself trying to reconcile what she’s done; and what she needs to do. Heartbroken, she finds herself alone and in a bad way.

At this point in the story we get a glimpse of Jane living a sort of comfortable life, if not a bit seedy, but we don’t know exactly how she comes to be here as Jane swiftly narrates her way through that part of her life. It’s here that Jane soon reads an advertisement in the paper for a governess in none other than her old home. She learns that her aunt Patience has died and Highgate House has been inherited by a distant relative of her aunt. Jane decides to answer the advertisement, and begins to plot the downfall of the new owner, Charles Thornfield.

Jane easily falls into her routine as governess, and as she begins to learn a little about the quirky inhabitants of the household she finds herself having genuine affection for them. And it’s not before too long that she realizes she’s actually falling in love with Charles Thornfield.

I admit I’m not a fan of romance novels, and I fully expected to part ways with the book at this point because the story does start to take a bit of a romantic twist. But, happily, this is where the book really begins to shine. It’s not overly romantic, and in fact is the best part of the book. The characters are really bright, and Lyndsay Faye does a marvelous job at writing some of the wittiest and smartest dialogue at this juncture. The interaction between Jane and Charles has so much spark and humor that I found myself chuckling quite a bit.

Add to this a mystery about missing jewels, family secrets and tragedies, and a murderess for a governess; what’s not to like? This book is very entertaining, and although there were many points where it could have gotten bogged down, it never did. It was very well paced and the author kept it moving right to the very end. I really enjoyed it!

One last note – there was a recent announcement that Chris Columbus’ 1492 Pictures has acquired the movie rights, so I’ll be sure to keep my eye out for that. I’m curious to see who they cast for the main characters.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, please feel free to leave a comment below. And if you’ve already read Jane Steele and are excited about the movie, who do you think they should cast as Jane and Charles, as well as the other characters.

Wildflower by Drew Barrymore

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Wildflower by Drew Barrymore

Wildflower by Drew Barrymore
Published by Penguin Publishing Group
Audio narrated by Drew Barrymore

I don’t listen to a lot of audio books; I find it difficult to follow an intricate plot while working or driving.  But there are some books that I prefer in audio – and this is definitely one of them.

I actually have a signed hardcover edition; but I like to keep my signed copies in pristine condition, so when I saw that it was out on audio, and narrated by the author herself, it was a no-brainer.

This is the first half of the story of a young woman, who you may think had the world on a silver platter, but that was very far from the truth.  She really didn’t have the fairy tale life that might be assumed based on her famous name, and her early successful career in movies.  Her story is much more complicated, heartbreaking, and eventually joyful. As Drew Barrymore tells the story of her life thus far, she’s brutally honest about her own mistakes – and she tells it with so must honesty and humor that you can’t help but be charmed by her.

She talks about being raised by a single mother – her father, from the famed Barrymore family, not involved in her early years at all; and how, at only 14 years old, she went to court to become emancipated from her mother.  I love her stories of how unprepared she was for some of the most basic things that she never learned to do – like laundry, grocery shopping, and cooking. And how she had to find a “real” job when she couldn’t get an acting gig, and having absolutely no other skills. You can hear the wonder in her voice as she herself seems surprised that she was able to survive.

And that’s what  I love about the audio.  Listening to her voice break as she talks about  connecting with her father, and then being with him through his illness and eventual death.  The admiration and love in her voice when she talks about Steven Spielberg, who she thinks of as a father; even after he sent her a blanket and a note to “cover up” in response to her posing in Playboy! And the absolute joy and happiness in her voice when she talks about her children. She narrates her way through her life like she’s sitting right next to you, having a cup of coffee and a chat, and it’s lovely to feel like a trusted friend that she’s confiding in.

Drew Barrymore is only 41 years old, and you might think it’s too early in her life to write a memoir – but I don’t think of it that way. This is just the first half, and she wanted to tell the beginning part of her life, maybe set the record straight in some instances, but one thing I do know – she’s a fascinating and talented woman with a lot of heart and courage.  I look forward to her someday completing her memoir of the second half of her life.

If you’re not familiar with Drew Barrymore I highly recommend listening to the audio, you’ll feel like you’ve gotten to know her pretty well in no time.

Update – There was something that I wanted to put in this post, but I actually forgot until a commenter reminded me – thanks Night Train Books!  I was not a big Drew Barrymore fan when she was younger. I saw the tabloid headlines, and saw some of her antics on TV, so she didn’t really impress me.  It wasn’t until I saw her in the movie “Ever After” that I started to watch her movies.  She explains in her book how she comes to the realization that she needed to grow up, and how she felt embarrassed by some of the things that she did to gain attention. It’s at this point in her life that she decides to make more wholesome, family friendly movies.

Because of that change in her life, I believe that she’s made some really nice movies, so I thought I’d share my favorites:

  • Ever After: A Cinderalla Story
  • Never Been Kissed
  • 50 First Dates
  • Music and Lyrics (my favorite of the bunch)
  • Big Miracle
  • Blended (my second favorite)

If you’ve read the book, or listened to the audio, I’d like to hear your thoughts.  Please leave a comment below.