Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley

Title: Bellewether, Author: Susanna KearsleyBellewether.  Finished 1-13-19, rating 4/5, historical fiction, 422 pages, pub. 2018

It’s 1759 and the world is at war, pulling the North American colonies of Britain and France into the conflict. The times are complicated, as are the loyalties of many New York merchants who have secretly been trading with the French for years, defying Britain’s colonial laws in a game growing ever more treacherous.

When captured French officers are brought to Long Island to be billeted in private homes on their parole of honour, it upends the lives of the Wilde family—deeply involved in the treasonous trade and already divided by war.

Lydia Wilde, struggling to keep the peace in her fracturing family following her mother’s death, has little time or kindness to spare for her unwanted guests. French-Canadian lieutenant Jean-Philippe de Sabran has little desire to be there. But by the war’s end they’ll both learn love, honour, and duty can form tangled bonds that are not broken easily.

Their doomed romance becomes a local legend, told and re-told through the years until the present day, when conflict of a different kind brings Charley Van Hoek to Long Island to be the new curator of the Wilde House Museum.     from Goodreads

This was my first book of the year and it took me a while to become invested in the three characters whose stories make up Bellewether.  Charley who moved to the area so that she could live with her niece after the untimely death of her brother, took a job as museum director of the under construction Wilde House.  There she encountered maybe my favorite character of the book, the ghost.  There was also a cute contractor and some animosity toward the grandmother she’d never met who lived nearby.

As for the 1700’s storyline, we move between Lydia and Jean-Philippe’s perspective as the former tries to come to grips with unwanted houseguests and brothers with problems of their own.  Jean-Philippe only spoke French, so for much of the book he didn’t communicate freely.

I liked getting a deeper understanding of the war and what was happening in the region.  Some of these characters were based on real people or compilations which made the story richer, but maybe not quite as fanciful as I’d hoped.  There was romance, sure, but most of Kearsley’s books feel magical and this one didn’t quite get there for me.  It’s still good and I really enjoyed the multitude of characters and history.  My favorite ghost saved the day and the end was excellent and worth reading 400+ pages.

Season of Storms by Susanna Kearsley

Title: Season of Storms, Author: Susanna KearsleySeason of Storms. Finished 10-7-18, 4/5 stars, romance, pub. 2001

First published in 2001, this lush novel of romantic suspense from Kearsley (The Splendour Falls) intertwines contemporary and historical narratives in northern Italy. In 1921, actress Celia Sands disappears for good just before opening night of the play written for her by her famous lover, Galeazzo D’Ascanio. Some 50 years later, the writer’s wealthy grandson, Alessandro D’Ascanio, decides to produce the play in the same setting: the theater his grandfather built on the family estate, Il Piacere. He invites a struggling young British actress also named Celia Sands, in homage to the earlier performer, to play the lead. Celia arrives at Il Piacere to find that two of its servants have gone missing, her predecessor’s ghost walks, and many of those around the estate—including D’Ascanio, to whom she’s strongly attracted—conceal dark secrets. The rich historical mystery and brooding atmosphere more than compensate for the improbable, overly elaborate premise. Agent: Shawna McCarthy, Shawna McCarthy Agency.

Any book that takes me to Italy starts as a winner and when Kearsley does it, well, don’t talk to me until I’ve turned the last page.  This one felt different than all of her others, there was a gothic atmosphere that I always like.  As much as I liked the setting and the dark nature of it, I do agree with the agent who wrote the summary above, it may have been overly done.  Still Italy and Kearsley will always save a bad day and I’m glad I read it.

I know these ‘reviews’ are very short and not really helpful to you but I’m trying to get them all done before the end of the year when I start to do summaries and favorites lists. This is the last one I’ve finished this year although I’m guessing I’ll finish one, maybe two, more.  How many do you think you’ll finish in the next week?

 

 

In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende

Title: In the Midst of Winter, Author: Isabel AllendeIn the Midst of Winter. Finished audio 12-12-18, rating 3.75/5, fiction, pub. 2017

Unabridged audio read by Dennis Boutsikaris, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Alma Cuervo.

In the Midst of Winter begins with a minor traffic accident—which becomes the catalyst for an unexpected and moving love story between two people who thought they were deep into the winter of their lives. Richard Bowmaster—a 60-year-old human rights scholar—hits the car of Evelyn Ortega—a young, undocumented immigrant from Guatemala—in the middle of a snowstorm in Brooklyn. What at first seems just a small inconvenience takes an unforeseen and far more serious turn when Evelyn turns up at the professor’s house seeking help. At a loss, the professor asks his tenant Lucia Maraz—a 62-year-old lecturer from Chile—for her advice. These three very different people are brought together in a mesmerizing story that moves from present-day Brooklyn to Guatemala in the recent past to 1970s Chile and Brazil, sparking the beginning of a long overdue love story between Richard and Lucia.    from Goodreads

I love Allende’s writing.  It’s always so rich and beautiful and this was no exception.  There were a few things said at the beginning that really connected me to Lucia and that was a good thing, because for me, the story was a little disappointing.  The car accident that got them all together in a pot brownie haze and the decisions made after were crazy.  But, the story that each of them told about Guatamala, Chile, and Brazil were eye opening, especially Evelyn’s considering the focus on the immigrant caravans these days.  Timely and well written, but the common narrative forcing them all together, while compelling in spots, missed the mark for me.

 

 

Named of the Dragon by Susanna Kearsley

Title: Named of the Dragon, Author: Susanna Kearsley  Named of the Dragon. Finished 9-12-18, 4/5 stars, fiction, 295 pages, pub. 1998

Tormented by horrific nightmares since the death of her baby five years before, literary agent Lyn Ravenshaw agrees to accompany an author to Wales, where she encounters an eccentric young widow desperately afraid for her own infant’s safety and a reclusive playwright who could be her only salvation.    from Goodreads

Susanna Kearsley is a perfect escape for me.  I fall into a different world, both geographically and historically, get a little romance (never too much), and close the book with a smile on my face a little smarter than when I started. This book took me to a small village in Wales, where literary agent, Lyn, is accompanying one of her clients to her boyfriend’s home for Christmas.  He happens to be a successful author and Lyn hopes she can land him as a client.  He also has a cute brother, but the real thrill is when she discovers one time flavor of the month writer, Gareth, hiding himself from the literary crowd.

I have to pace myself in reading Kearsley. I’ve read two this year and that leaves four of hers unread.  Maybe in 2019 I’ll read two again or maybe life will get crazier than it already is and I’ll need to gobble them all up in a week’s time.  Either way, it’s nice knowing that they’re there waiting for me 🙂

 

 

6 mini-reviews from my 30 day challenge

Title: The Truth Matters: A Citizen's Guide to Separating Facts from Lies and Stopping Fake News in Its Tracks, Author: Bruce BartlettThe Truth Matters by Bruce Bartlett. Finished 9-2-18, 4/5 stars, current affairs/reference, pub. 2017.

It’s only 136 pages and reads fast.  I assumed by the title that this was about Trump and his loose grasp of the truth so I was surprised when I realized it was written by a Republican who had worked for both Reagan and the first Bush.  This is a nonpartisan book and it was good.  He touches on many things…why the traditional media no longer serves our needs, differences between primary and secondary sources, trusting academic sources, using your local libraries, numbers must be put into context, polling, using Wikipedia, fake news, and more.

“President Trump has used the term (fake news) as an accusation against news organizations reporting accurate news that he doesn’t like.” (emphasis mine)  The book isn’t about Trump, but he is mentioned when talking about his obsession with what he calls fake news.  Bartlett gives a list of credible sources and gives you tips on how to not fall for the lies.

“In the end, the best defenses against fake news are critical thinking; taking in news from a variety of sources, including those that don’t confirm your own biases; being skeptical about information that sounds too good (or bad) to be true; and other self-defenses.” page 126

I think everyone should read this book.  It’s short enough and provides great historical context and sources.  If in doubt, go to your library.  They can show you what resources they have to help you.


Title: ScandiKitchen: The Essence of Hygge, Author: Bronte AurellScandikitchen:The Essence of Hygge by Bronte Aurell. Finished 9-3-18, 4/5 stars, culture, pub. 2017

I chose this as I was browsing library books for short books (this one clocks in at 160) and saw that it was about something that I was completely clueless about.  It’s a Scandinavian term that suddenly hit the mainstream in the past few years. It’s all about being present in the moment, a perfect companion to my love of mindfulness.  It included great quotes from the likes of Gandhi, Epicurus, and Julia Child.  It is beautifully done with quality paper and gorgeous photographs.  The recipes she included look so yummy I’m to try a few (gluten & dairy free adapted, of course).  The small square size makes it a perfect book to give as a gift – maybe even to yourself!  I have at least one person in mind who will be getting it for Christmas 🙂 It’s about something real and important and inspiring.


Title: Wishful Drinking, Author: Carrie FisherWishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher. Finished 9-5-18, 5/5 stars, memoir, 163 pages, pub. 2008

What a hoot!  I loved her snark and stories and our shared love of Cary Grant.  This is a memoir, complete with pictures of her life growing up with famous parents (she calls them the Brad Pitt/Jennifer Aniston of their day).  Considering that she also married someone famous, expect lots of people you know.  I won’t say name dropping, because this just felt like her life and it all seemed relevant.  I know she also wrote novels and I may have to add them to my reading list because I enjoy her writing and sense of humor so much.


Title: The Joy of Cookies: Cookie Monster's Guide to Life, Author: Cookie MonsterCookie Monster’s Guide to Life. Finished 9-5-18, 2/5 stars, humor, pub. 2018

Today after school Gage and I read a book together. I found Cookie Monster’s Guide to Life The Joy of Cookies in the 818 section of the library.  Really?  The high ratings on Goodreads make me think I missed something, but as I page back through the 160 pages of Cookie Monster screaming about cookies, I think maybe they got it wrong.  Well, anyway, G laughed a lot when I did the Cookie Monster voice and he even tried it out himself when he read, but he’s a kid.  This book was in the adult section.  I don’t get it.


Title: God: 48 Famous and Fascinating Minds Talk About God, Author: Jennifer BerneGod: 48 Famous and Fascinating Minds Talk About God by Jennifer Berne. Finished 9-10-18, 3/5 stars, pub. 2017

Quite a mix of believers in math and science mixed in with those who embrace the unknowable.  I returned the book to the library this morning or I’d offer a few quotes.  Illustrations for every quote.


Cleveland A to Z: Historical Essentials for Newcomers and Residents in Northeastern OhioCleveland A-Z by John J Grabowski. Finished 9-7-18, 5/5 stars, local history, pub.2017

Perfect for new Clevelanders and old.  A fun pictorial history lesson for the storied city of Cleveland.

 

 

Three great graphic novels – The Alchemist, The Good Earth, The Kite Runner

Title: The Alchemist: A Graphic Novel, Author: Paulo CoelhoThe Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Finished 9-21-18, rating 4/5, graphic novel, 208 pages, pub. 1996

Graphic novel adapted by Derek Ruiz and illustrated by Daniel Sampere.

Paulo Coelho’s masterpiece tells the magical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of a worldly treasure as extravagant as any ever found.

The story of the treasures Santiago finds along the way teaches us, as only a few stories can, about the essential wisdom of listening to our hearts, learning to read the omens strewn along life’s path, and, above all, following our dreams.  from Goodreads

I’ve always wanted to read The Alchemist and decided to give the graphic novel a try first. I was concerned when I saw the depictions of women in the first few pages.

Some questionably sexual panels from The Alchemist graphic novel

But I soldiered on and luckily the illustrator’s dream girls didn’t last past a few pages.  Still…  Anyway, I liked this parable adventure story and enjoyed it for what it was.  It didn’t change my life or world-view, but it was a quick enjoyable story of a boy who was told that dreams can become reality if you believe.  I probably won’t read the original, but am glad I know the story of this modern classic.


The Good EarthThe Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. Finished 9-27-18, 4/5 stars, graphic novel, 144 pages, pub. 2017

Graphic novel adapted and illustrated by Nick Bertozzi

Pearl Buck’s 1931 Pulitzer Prize–winning classic about the rise and fall of Chinese villagers before World War I comes to life in this graphic novel by Nick Bertozzi.

In The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck paints an indelible portrait of China in the 1920s, when the last emperor reigned and the vast political and social upheavals of the twentieth century were but distant rumblings. This story of the honest farmer Wang Lung and his selfless wife O-Lan is must reading to fully appreciate the sweeping changes that have occurred in the lives of the Chinese people during the last century.  from Goodreads

I was never all that interested in reading the classic novel, but I’m so glad I gave this a chance because I really enjoyed it.  The monochromatic illustrations (pinks and blues with the occasional red) worked and set a mood.  I liked Wang Lung, until I didn’t and then I really didn’t.  His tireless wife, O-Lan, one of the more sympathetic characters I’ve come across in a while.  My biggest complaint was that nowhere did it say that this was part one of a trilogy, so there was no ending. I will most likely pick up the next book to see what happens.


Title: The Kite Runner Graphic Novel, Author: Khaled HosseiniThe Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Finished 9-26-18, 4/5, graphic novel, 132 pages, pub. 2011

Illustrated by Fabio Celoni and Mirka Andolfo. Adapted by Tommaso Valsecchi

Amir is the son of a wealthy Kabul merchant, a member of the ruling caste of Pashtuns. Hassan, his servant and constant companion, is a Hazara, a despised and impoverished caste. Their uncommon bond is torn by Amir’s choice to abandon his friend amidst the increasing ethnic, religious, and political tensions of the dying years of the Afghan monarchy, wrenching them far apart. But so strong is the bond between the two boys that Amir journeys back to a distant world, to try to right past wrongs against the only true friend he ever had.   from Goodreads

This book was heartbreaking and I can only imagine that the novel is so much more so.  I don’t think I could willingly bring that much pain into my life right now, so I’m glad that I read the graphic novel. Children exposed to horrors they can’t understand.  Ultimately, it is a story friendship with the lesson of not waiting to mend your fences.

 

 

 

The Night Bookmobile, Night Shift, Herding Cats – 3 graphic books worth reading

Title: The Night Bookmobile, Author: Audrey NiffeneggerThe Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger. Finished 9-28-18, rating 4/5, graphic short story, 40 pages, pub. 2010

First serialised in the Guardian, The Night Bookmobile tells the story of a young woman who one night encounters a mysterious disappearing mobile library that happens to stock every book she has ever read. Seeing her history and her most intimate self in this library, she embarks on a search for the bookmobile. Over time, her search turns into an obsession as she longs to be reunited with her own collection and her memories.  from Goodreads

I loved this sad, odd little tale of a woman who loves her books.  One night she discovers a bookmobile on a darkened street and walks in to discover everything she’s ever read in her life.  Dazzled and amazed she dedicates her life to reading more books to fill the bookmobile and searching for the magical library on wheels.  What a fun concept!  It was too short and the illustrations were just okay, but I loved it.  Just the right mix of fairy tale and cautionary tale.


Title: Night Shift, Author: Debi GlioriNight Shift by Debi Gliori. Finished 9-28-18, rating 4.5/5, graphic book about depression, 32 pages, pub. 2017

With stunning black and white illustration and deceptively simple text, author and illustrator Debi Gliori examines how depression affects one’s whole outlook upon life, and shows that there can be an escape – it may not be easy to find, but it is there. Drawn from Debi’s own experiences and with a moving testimony at the end of the book explaining how depression has affected her and how she continues to cope, Debi hopes that by sharing her own experience she can help others who suffer from depression, and to find that subtle shift that will show the way out.    from Goodreads

I was so moved by this powerful book about depression.  In only 32 pages of images I felt the crushing weight of depression.  I understood it in a new way.  This is a must read for anyone who loves someone who is suffering or for those who feel alone and don’t know where to turn.


Title: Herding Cats: A Sarah's Scribbles Collection, Author: Sarah AndersenHerding Cats by Sarah Anderson. Finished 9-28-18, 4/5 stars, graphic nonfiction, 108 pages, pub. 2018

With characteristic wit and charm, Sarah Andersen’s third collection of comics and illustrated personal essays offers a survival guide for frantic modern life: from the importance of avoiding morning people, to Internet troll defense 101, to the not-so-life-changing futility of tidying up. But when all else fails and the world around you is collapsing, make a hot chocolate, count the days until Halloween, and snuggle up next to your furry beacon of hope.    from Goodreads

This the third collection, but I’m not familiar with the author or the first two and this book was so quirky and fresh that I had a smile on my face the whole time.  Lots of the reviews on Goodreads include some of the panels and you should definitely take a look.  I plan on checking out her earlier books.

Last Words by Michael Koryta

Title: Last Words (Mark Novak Series #1), Author: Michael KorytaLast Words. Finished 5-30-18, 4/5 stars, thriller, pub. 2015

Unabridged audio read by Robert Petkoff

Mark Novac book 1

Still mourning the death of his wife, private investigator Mark Novak accepts a case that may be his undoing. On the same day his wife died, the body of a teenage girl was pulled from the extensive and perilous cave system beneath Southern Indiana. Now the man who rescued the girl, who was believed to be her killer, begs Novak to uncover what really happened.

Garrison is much like any place in America, proud and fortified against outsiders. For Mark to delve beneath the town’s surface, he must match wits with the man who knows the caverns better than anyone. A man who seemed to have lost his mind. A man who seems to know Mark Novak all too well.    from Goodreads

 

Mark Novac works for the Innocence Foundation, due in great part to his deceased wife, who was following a lead when she was murdered.  Fast forward a few years and Mark is not coping with her unsolved murder as well as his bosses would like so they send him to Indiana on a wild goose chase.  Only it turns into something more for Mark as his life is threatened and he begins to care again.

I liked this thriller and recommend it to fans on the genre.  There was a lot of caving details in it and I appreciated learning about something new that wasn’t boring because the story fit the setting perfectly. I like Mark and see that there’s a second book so I’ll have to get that soon.

 

Devil in Spring by Lisa Kleypas

Title: Devil in Spring: The Ravenels, Book 3, Author: Lisa KleypasDevil in Spring. Finished 4-29-18, romance, pub. 2017

Unabridged audio performed by Mary Jane Wells.

The Ravenels book 3 (1-Cold-Hearted Rake) (2-Marrying Winterborne)

Most debutantes dream of finding a husband. Lady Pandora Ravenel has different plans. The ambitious young beauty would much rather stay at home and plot out her new board game business than take part in the London Season. But one night at a glittering society ball, she’s ensnared in a scandal with a wickedly handsome stranger. 

After years of evading marital traps with ease, Gabriel, Lord St. Vincent, has finally been caught-by a rebellious girl who couldn’t be less suitable. In fact, she wants nothing to do with him. But Gabriel finds the high-spirited Pandora irresistible. He’ll do whatever it takes to possess her, even if their marriage of convenience turns out to be the devil’s own bargain.     from Goodreads

I  was happy to be back with the Ravenel family!  Pandora was not one of my favorite characters in the first two books, but she grew on me in this one.  I was so impressed that she wanted to be a creative businesswoman and didn’t want any man to take her accomplishments away from her.  She was a woman ahead of her time.

Gabriel was fine. I think he appeared in a different series at some point so there were probably more positive feelings to be had for him by those who knew him before.  The two of them had me for most of the book, although the last bit dragged for me.

I’m already looking forward to the next in the series.  I think these are best read in order.

 

 

 

 

Golden Prey by John Sandford

Title: Golden Prey (Lucas Davenport Series #27), Author: John SandfordGolden Prey. Finished 5-6-18, rating 4/5, thriller, 393 pages, pub. 2017

Lucas Davenport series #27 (1- Rules of Prey, 2- Shadow Prey, 3- Eyes of Prey, 4- Silent Prey, 5- Winter Prey, 6- Night Prey, 7- Mind Prey, 8- Sudden Prey, 9- Secret Prey, 10- Certain Prey, 11-Easy Prey, 12- Chosen Prey, 13- Mortal Prey, 14- Naken Prey, 15- Hidden Prey, 16- Broken Prey, 17- Invisible Prey, 18- Phantom Prey, 19- Wicked Prey, 20– Storm Prey, 21- Buried Prey, 22-Stolen Prey, 23-Silken Prey, 24-Field of Prey, 25-Gathering Prey, 26-Extreme Prey)

Thanks to some very influential people whose lives he saved, Lucas is no longer working for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, but for the U.S. Marshals Service, and with unusual scope. He gets to pick his own cases, whatever they are, wherever they lead him.
And where they’ve led him this time is into real trouble. A Biloxi, Mississippi, drug-cartel counting house gets robbed, and suitcases full of cash disappear, leaving behind five bodies, including that of a six-year-old girl. Davenport takes the case, which quickly spirals out of control, as cartel assassins, including a torturer known as the “Queen of home-improvement tools” compete with Davenport to find the Dixie Hicks shooters who knocked over the counting house. Things get ugly real fast, and neither the cartel killers nor the holdup men give a damn about whose lives Davenport might have saved; to them, he’s just another large target.   from Goodreads

The Lucas Davenport series is one that continues to hold up well, not just because of the writing and well executed chase stories, but because Lucas ages and evolves.  Too many long running series seem to recycle the same stories and characters over and over.

Lucas is no longer stuck in Minnesota, so the country is his playground and it takes him south to track an old favorite on the FBIs most wanted list that’s never been caught.  There are a multitude of very scary bad guys and they are equal opportunity killers since the women may be even more scary than the men.

I missed some of Lucas’s old friends in Minnesota, but he has two new marshal pals that I’m sure we’ll see again.  This was another solid thriller in the series, perfect for plane rides or vacations because it reads so fast.  These do not have to be read in order to enjoy the series.