A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley

A Desperate Fortune A Desperate Fortune. Finished 7-6-20, 3.75/5 stars, romance, 528 pages, pub. 2015

For nearly 300 years, the mysterious journal of Jacobite exile Mary Dundas has lain unread-its secrets safe from prying eyes. Now, amateur codebreaker Sara Thomas has been hired by a once-famous historian to crack the journal’s cipher.

But when she arrives in Paris, Sara finds herself besieged by complications from all sides: the journal’s reclusive owner, her charming Parisian neighbor, and Mary, whose journal doesn’t hold the secrets Sara expects. As Mary’s tale grows more and more dire, Sara, too, must carefully choose which turning to take… to find the road that will lead her safely home.      from Goodreads

Sara, as explained early on, has Asperger syndrome.  Her best friend is her cousin, who is offering her a chance at a code breaking job in Paris.  A famous writer wants her to decipher an almost 300 year old diary and she accepts since she is between jobs.  She gets put up at a nice home with a cook and with a good looking man who catches her eye as a neighbor.  She begins to uncover Mary’s story, one that could easily be called a thriller, and it’s there that this book finds its heart.

I liked Sara and enjoyed the honest portrayal of a character on the autism spectrum, but it was Mary that had me turning the pages, hoping that she would get her happily ever after.  For a girl abandoned by her family and then used to curry favor, she was easy to love.  In the 1700s a trek from Paris to Italy was fraught with danger, especially when you were caught with a man who recognized the bounty on the head of her travel companions.  I won’t spoil Mary’s end, but I will say that it was fitting.

Kearsley is a master at the dual storylines set in different time periods.  Usually the storylines match up a bit better than they do in this one and there is most often more of a mystical aspect, but I was still happy to be reading.  Her books are most definitely comfort read for me…and very much needed at this time.

Megabat and Fancy Cat by Anna Humphrey

Title: Megabat and Fancy Cat, Author: Anna Humphrey Megabat and Fancy Cat.  Finished 7-25-20, children’s fiction, 171 pages, pub. 2019

Illustrated by Kass Reich

Megabat series #2 (1-Megabat)

Megabat was looking forward to Christmas morning: presents, playing toys, smooshfruit and watching Star Wars. But then Daniel opened his last, most special present.

Daniel thinks this might be the best Christmas present yet: a beautiful cat named Priscilla! He’s always wanted a pet.

Megabat is not sure he likes this cat. She tastes most hairy.

Daniel loves his new cat! She’s fun to play with, and she’s so soft and fluffy.

Megabat is not soft OR fluffy. He’s not purebred and he doesn’t have a big, beautiful swishy tail. What if Daniel loves Priscilla more than Megabat? This is truly a disturbance in the Force. Megabat and Birdgirl must find a way to get rid of this trubble cat once and for all!    from Penguin Random House

Answers by Gage

Why didn’t Megabat and Fancy Cat get along?

Fancy Cat (Priscilla) got all the attention and Megabat didn’t like it.

Your favorite thing about Megabat was…

all of  the the crazy ideas he came up with to get rid of Fancy Cat.

Which one was your favorite idea?

When he painted himself to look fancy like Priscilla.

What’s the lesson in the story?

Don’t be jealous or mean, be welcoming and nice.

Did you like this book?

Thumbs up!

 

The Brave Learner by Julie Bogart

The Brave Learner: Finding Everyday Magic in Homeschool, Learning, and Life The Brave Learner. Finished 7-22-20, 4/5 stars, education, 294 pages, pub. 2019

Parents who are deeply invested in their children’s education can be hard on themselves and their kids. When exhausted parents are living the day-to-day grind, it can seem impossible to muster enough energy to make learning fun or interesting. How do parents nurture a love of learning amid childhood chaos, parental self-doubt, the flu, and state academic standards?

In this book, Julie Bogart distills decades of experience–homeschooling her five now grown children, developing curricula, and training homeschooling families around the world–to show parents how to make education an exciting, even enchanting, experience for their kids, whether they’re in elementary or high school.      from Goodreads

“When parents collaborate, kids learn”  page 65

I checked out a lot of homeschooling books when I made the decision to jump in an do it this year.  This was the first one I read and it was inspirational, to a point.  This mother chose to do a more child-centered homeschool than I would be comfortable with attempting.  The book is full of creative and positive ways that you might approach your day, your kids, and learning, but if you are looking for a nuts and bolts instructional book, this is probably not the one to use.

I loved the positive energy and the stories, but wondered about some of the things she recommends, like not having nice things, even going as far as denting your table early on so you don’t have to worry about it staying nice.  Her approach to cleaning the house is another somewhat controversial area (at least given the amount of flak she’s taken about it on GR reviews).  Kids will learn to clean toilets, dishes and floors as they need to as an adult so don’t feel bad about hiring help.  In general, I’m not against help.  When Gage was an infant we hired someone to come every other week for 2 1/2 hours to clean bathrooms and floors.  But, somehow, now that Gage is home I feel like this needs to be part of what he learns to do.  I say that now, I guess, in three months you might hear me admitting to having Henri come help out again 🙂

This is a very kid-centered way of learning and something that every parent could get inspiration from, not just ones choosing to teach at home.  She is a facilitator and mentor, not necessary mom, when school is taking place.  I enjoyed the perspective, creative energy, and vibe of the book.  I would have loved attending her homeschool!

 

A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry Thomas

Title: A Conspiracy in Belgravia (Lady Sherlock Series #2), Author: Sherry Thomas A Conspiracy in Belgravia.  Finished 5-23-20, 4/5 stars, historical mystery, pub. 2017

Unabridged audio. 10 hours, 30 minutes.

Book 2 of the Lady Sherlock series (1- A Study in Scarlet Women)

Lady Ingram, wife of Charlotte’s dear friend and benefactor, wants Sherlock Holmes to find her first love, who failed to show up at their annual rendezvous. Matters of loyalty and discretion aside, the case becomes even more personal for Charlotte as the missing man is none other than Myron Finch, her illegitimate half brother.

In the meanwhile, Charlotte wrestles with a surprising proposal of marriage, a mysterious stranger woos her sister Livia, and an unidentified body surfaces where least expected. Charlotte’s investigative prowess is challenged as never before: Can she find her brother in time—or will he, too, end up as a nameless corpse somewhere in the belly of London?    from Goodreads

In the first book of the series, Charlotte was disgraced and in Victorian England this meant society shunned her and her family would try to hide her away.  Charlotte, ever resourceful, found a way to use her smarts to support herself, but not without the aid of Mrs. Watson, a fellow renegade.  Chaorlotte set up shop on Baker Street offering the services of her bedridden brother “Sherlock”.

Sherlock is approached by Lady Ingram to find a lover she had thrown aside to marry a rich man.  That man just happens to be Charlotte’s close friend, Lord Ingram.  Deciding to take the job and keep it from Ash was risky.  Fielding a second marriage proposal from his brother was another tricky thing to maneuver.  He enticed her with dead bodies and secret codes, wooing her for her mind and offering her a chance to enter society once again.  Charlotte managed both with the analytical thinking that had gotten her that far.

I have loved these first two books.  The mysteries have been top notch and the secondary characters well drawn with complex relationships.  I’m looking forward to spending more time with this fine cast of characters.

 

A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas

Title: A Study in Scarlet Women (Lady Sherlock Series #1), Author: Sherry Thomas A Study in Scarlet Women. Finished 5-3-19, 4/5 stars, mystery, pub.

Unabridged audio

Lady Sherlock #1

With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper class society.  But even she never thought that she would become a social pariah, an outcast fending for herself on the mean streets of London.

When the city is struck by a trio of unexpected deaths and suspicion falls on her sister and her father, Charlotte is desperate to find the true culprits and clear the family name. She’ll have help from friends new and old—a kind-hearted widow, a police inspector, and a man who has long loved her. But in the end, it will be up to Charlotte, under the assumed name Sherlock Holmes, to challenge society’s expectations and match wits against an unseen mastermind.   from Goodreads

What a fun twist on a story everyone already knows.  The iconic Sherlock Holmes, whether from the classic books, movies, or TV shows is one of those rare characters that has thrived in the minds of the public for over 100 years.  After reading this I went back and did a little case study on Sherlock and am interested in reading his first book, A Study in Scarlet.  I’ve only read one of his books and am curious now for more.

Charlotte is a woman who knows her own mind and she’s not going to let her parents ruin the future she wants for herself.  When her father backs out of a deal they had made Charlotte takes matters into her own hands and disgraces herself in the process.  Now, as society shuns her she must find a way to support herself.  Enter Mrs. Watson, a widow in need of a companion, who offers her not only a home, but a business plan. “Sherlock Holmes” sets up shop.  As an old friend acts as her liaison to Scotland Yard, Charlotte wades her way into a series of murders that she tried to connect for the sake of her family.

There were a lot of characters and a lot of storylines happening and it was  a little confusing at times, especially because I was listening and not reading, but it all managed to come together in the end.  I liked the personal stories of Charlotte, her unattainable man, Mr. Ingram, and the various secondary characters that will no doubt show up in the rest of the series.  The mystery ended up being several mysteries and it came together brilliantly, even if disturbing.  I loved the narration so I’ve already downloaded the second book of the series.

My One and Only by Kristan Higgins

Title: My One and Only, Author: Kristan Higgins My One and Only. Finished 4-25-20, 4/5 stars, romance, 379 pages, pub. 2011

Divorce attorney Harper James can’t catch a break. Bad enough that she runs into her ex-hubby, Nick, at her sister’s destination wedding, but now, by a cruel twist of fate, she’s being forced to make a cross-country road trip with him. And her almost-fiancé back at home is not likely to be sympathetic.

Harper can’t help that Nick has come blazing back into her life in all of his frustratingly appealing, gorgeous architect glory. But in Nick’s eyes, Harper’s always been the one. If they can only get it right this time, forever might be waiting—just around the bend.     from Goodreads

Harper has a hunky boyfriend, a coveted house overlooking the beach, and a successful career as a divorce attorney.  Just as she’s trying to propose to hunky boyfriend her step sister calls with the news that she’s marrying Harper’s ex-husband’s brother.  Hunky boyfriend comes in handy in these situations as they head to Montana for the wedding that Harper hopes doesn’t take place.

This is not your normal romance.  Yes, there’s first love never forgotten,  regret and steamy scenes, but there is also heartbreak, divorce, strange family ties and a hero and heroine not quite like the others.  I didn’t care for Harper for awhile and my issues with ex-hubby Nick remained, BUT the book had its charm and the last few chapters were top-notch.  I like the way that Higgins dealt with the parents and their issues in this book.  For me, that where the heart was.

Higgins, as always, entertains while touching your heart.

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

Title: American Dirt (Oprah's Book Club), Author: Jeanine Cummins American Dirt. Finished 4-11-20, 4/5 stars, fiction, pub 2019

Lydia Quixano Pérez lives in the Mexican city of Acapulco. She runs a bookstore. She has a son, Luca, the love of her life, and a wonderful husband who is a journalist. And while there are cracks beginning to show in Acapulco because of the drug cartels, her life is, by and large, fairly comfortable.

Even though she knows they’ll never sell, Lydia stocks some of her all-time favorite books in her store. And then one day a man enters the shop to browse and comes up to the register with a few books he would like to buy—two of them her favorites. Javier is erudite. He is charming. And, unbeknownst to Lydia, he is the jefe of the newest drug cartel that has gruesomely taken over the city. When Lydia’s husband’s tell-all profile of Javier is published, none of their lives will ever be the same.

Forced to flee, Lydia and eight-year-old Luca soon find themselves miles and worlds away from their comfortable middle-class existence. Instantly transformed into migrants, Lydia and Luca ride la bestia—trains that make their way north toward the United States, which is the only place Javier’s reach doesn’t extend. As they join the countless people trying to reach el norte, Lydia soon sees that everyone is running from something. But what exactly are they running to?    from Goodreads

So, I read about the controversy before my book group picked it for this month.  I understood that it was coming from a sincere place.  I won’t go into it much here, but you can always do a search if you’re interested, there are lots of articles.  I read the first shocking and heartbreaking chapter and understood the hook.  I was drawn in right from the get go.

The story begins with the violent murders of Lydia’s family, fourteen in total, by the cartel in Acapulco.  Forced to flee with her son, this middle class bookstore owner has more means and motive than the average migrant heading north.  The two are literally running for their lives.  Luca is only a year younger than Gage and I would love to own a bookstore so I was perhaps extra invested in their plight.  The complexity of escaping the cartel and the stories of the people they met along the was eye opening.

I liked the way that the story was told with live action interspersed with significant flashbacks to give the story heft.  There was a humanizing of all of the characters that you don’t often find.  It’s a timely and important story with a perspective not many of us understand and for that reason alone it should be read.

My book group of ten all liked the book to varying degrees, except for the one who only made it to the 82% mark.  I found it hard to read about such a heartbreaking topic when I was so stressed and I do think that tempered my enjoyment of it.  I’m still glad that I read it.

Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson

Title: Before I Go to Sleep, Author: S. J. Watson Before I Go To Sleep.  Finished 3-25-20, 4.25/5 stars, thriller, pub. 2011

Christine wakes up every morning in an unfamiliar bed with an unfamiliar man. She looks in the mirror and sees an unfamiliar, middle-aged face. And every morning, the man she has woken up with must explain that he is Ben, he is her husband, she is forty-seven years old, and a terrible accident two decades earlier decimated her ability to form new memories.

Every day, Christine must begin again the reconstruction of her past. And the closer she gets to the truth, the more unbelievable it seems.    fromGoodreads

I still remember the hype when this came out all those years ago, back in the days when you got together with friends and gave hugs hello and goodbye.  Christine has a condition where she wakes up every morning with no memories.  Think of the movie 50 First Dates with Drew Barrymore.  She has no memory of her middle aged body or face or the man in bed with her every morning.  Each day she says goodbye to her husband as he goes off to work and she stays home doing…well, it’s hard to say exactly.  Somehow she started seeing a doctor without her husband’s knowledge and he convinces her to start a journal and then calls most mornings to reminder where to find it.  It’s through this journal that random memories start to stick.  And it’s this journal that makes the book.

I liked this one quite a bit.  It was a mystery and thriller wrapped in a slow paced amnesiac journal.  That sounds fun, right?  Well, it worked for me.  Anything that can hold my attention right now aside from what’s going on in the world is a winner and this did just that for me.  And, yes, there is a twist that makes it memorable.

Has anyone seen the movie?

 

Nothing to Lose by Lee Child

Title: Nothing to Lose (Jack Reacher Series #12), Author: Lee Child Nothing to Lose. Finished 2-17-20, 4/5 stars, thriller, 531 pages, pub. 2008

#12 of the Jack Reacher series (1-Killing Floor2- Die Trying, 3 – Tripwire, 4 – Running Blind5 – Echo Burning6 – Without Fail, 7 – Persuador, 8 – The Enemy, 9 – One Shot, 10 – Hard Way, 11-Bad Luck and Trouble)

It wasn’t the welcome Reacher expected. He was just passing through, minding his own business. But within minutes of his arrival a deputy is in the hospital and Reacher is back in Hope, setting up a base of operations against Despair, where a huge, seething walled-off industrial site does something nobody is supposed to see . . . where a small plane takes off every night and returns seven hours later . . . where a garrison of well-trained and well-armed military cops—the kind of soldiers Reacher once commanded—waits and watches . . . where above all two young men have disappeared and two frightened young women wait and hope for their return.

Joining forces with a beautiful cop who runs Hope with a cool hand, Reacher goes up against Despair—against the deputies who try to break him and the rich man who tries to scare him—and starts to crack open the secrets, starts to expose the terrifying connection to a distant war that’s killing Americans by the thousand.   from Goodreads

This is how I described Reacher in the second book, “Jack Reacher is a man’s man, but one that women are drawn to because of his sheer masculinity and unavailability.  He is who he is, take him or leave him and that confidence and physical presence makes him a force to be reckoned with.” This is still accurate all these books later although I would add loner to the mix.  The books are long, but read fast and should be enjoyed by starting at one and working your way through.

As Reacher is making his way diagonally across the country, from Maine to south of San Diego he walk from Hope to Despair in Colorado and all hell breaks loose.  He is beat up, locked up and thrown out of the town told never to return all because he walked into the diner and ordered a cup of coffee.  Reacher is not one who likes to be told what to do and sneaks back in more than once.  When all is said and done he has uncovered an Armageddon type plot and added another notch to his bedpost.  Not bad for a week’s work.

This was not my favorite, but anytime with Reacher is time well spent.

 

Starry Night by Debbie Macomber

Title: Starry Night: A Christmas Novel, Author: Debbie Macomber Starry Night. Finished 2-9-20, 4/5 stars, romance, 231 pages, pub. 2013

Carrie Slayton, a big-city society-page columnist, longs to write more serious news stories. So her editor hands her a challenge: She can cover any topic she wants, but only if she first scores the paper an interview with Finn Dalton, the notoriously reclusive author.

Living in the remote Alaskan wilderness, Finn has written a megabestselling memoir about surviving in the wild. But he stubbornly declines to speak to anyone in the press, and no one even knows exactly where he lives.

Digging deep into Finn’s past, Carrie develops a theory on his whereabouts. It is the holidays, but her career is at stake, so she forsakes her family celebrations and flies out to snowy Alaska. When she finally finds Finn, she discovers a man both more charismatic and more stubborn than she even expected. And soon she is torn between pursuing the story of a lifetime and following her heart.    from Goodreads

Sweet, implausible, and just what I needed.  This Christmas romance came at the perfect time, after a few heavy reads and winter firmly settling in.  Finn is a man’s man and Carrie a girly girl and when the two first met it was not love at first sight.  But somehow in the span of a few short days the recluse from Alaska and the reporter from Chicago fell madly in love.  The characters were good and the tension was perfect enough to carry the story and leave me in a happy place.

Happy Valentine’s Day 🙂