Must Read Monday (83): Adult Fiction from Miriam Toews, A.J. Pearce, Uzma Jalaluddin & more!

Welcome to another edition of Must Read Monday!

This feature is where I spotlight older, recent, or upcoming releases I am looking forward to. The lists will include all genres I like to read, everything from picture books to comics, children’s lit to adult fiction.
 


 
It’s been…a while since the last Must Read Monday, even though I’ve been reading quite a bit and adding too many book to my TBR! But I’m back for this week and have quite a roster of adult fiction titles here. Here’s the rundown: the newest from Canadian award-winner Miriam Toews, entitled Women Talking (which I am ridiculously excited about); Kristen Iskandrian’s contemporary coming-of-age novel Motherest; a Pride and Prejudice retelling called Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin, which sounds splendid and intriguing; the gothic-sounding Women of the Dunes by The House Between Tides author Sarah Maine; the historical fiction novel Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce, which sounds utterly touching and lovely; and last but not least, the mystery novel The Dry (Aaron Falk #1) by Jane Harper, which I’ve heard and read terrific things about.

 

The Dry (Aaron Falk #1) by Jane Harper
Publication: January 10, 2017 by Flatiron Books (first published 2016)
Book Description:

After getting a note demanding his presence, Federal Agent Aaron Falk arrives in his hometown for the first time in decades to attend the funeral of his best friend, Luke. Twenty years ago when Falk was accused of murder, Luke was his alibi. Falk and his father fled under a cloud of suspicion, saved from prosecution only because of Luke’s steadfast claim that the boys had been together at the time of the crime. But now more than one person knows they didn’t tell the truth back then, and Luke is dead.

Amid the worst drought in a century, Falk and the local detective question what really happened to Luke. As Falk reluctantly investigates to see if there’s more to Luke’s death than there seems to be, long-buried mysteries resurface, as do the lies that have haunted them. And Falk will find that small towns have always hidden big secrets.

 

Motherest by Kristen Iskandrian
Publication: August 1, 2017 by Twelve
Book Description:

Marrying the sharp insights of Jenny Offill with the dark humor of Maria Semple, Motherest is an inventive and moving coming-of-age novel that captures the pain of fractured family life, the heat of new love, and the particular magic of the female friendship — all through the lens of a fraying daughter-mother bond.

It’s the early 1990s, and Agnes is running out of people she can count on. A new college student, she is caught between the broken home she leaves behind and the wilderness of campus life. What she needs most is her mother, who has seemingly disappeared, and her brother, who left the family tragically a few years prior.

As Agnes falls into new romance, mines female friendships for intimacy, and struggles to find her footing, she writes letters to her mother, both to conjure a closeness they never had and to try to translate her experiences to herself. When she finds out she is pregnant, Agnes begins to contend with what it means to be a mother and, in some ways, what it means to be your own mother.

 

Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin
Publication: June 12, 2018 by HarperCollins Publishers
Book Description:
Ayesha Shamsi has a lot going on.  Her dreams of being a poet have been set aside for a teaching job so she can pay off her debts to her wealthy uncle. She lives with her boisterous Muslim family and is always being reminded that her flighty younger cousin, Hafsa, is close to rejecting her one hundredth marriage proposal. Though Ayesha is lonely, she doesn’t want an arranged marriage. Then she meets Khalid who is just as smart and handsome as he is conservative and judgmental. She is irritatingly attracted to someone who looks down on her choices and dresses like he belongs in the seventh century.When a surprise engagement between Khalid and Hafsa is announced, Ayesha is torn between how she feels about the straightforward Khalid and his family; and the truth she realizes about herself. But Khalid is also wrestling with what he believes and what he wants. And he just can’t get this beautiful, outspoken woman out of his mind.

 

Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce
Publication: July 3, 2018 by Scribner
Book Description:

London 1940, bombs are falling. Emmy Lake is Doing Her Bit for the war effort, volunteering as a telephone operator with the Auxiliary Fire Services. When Emmy sees an advertisement for a job at the London Evening Chronicle, her dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent seem suddenly achievable. But the job turns out to be typist to the fierce and renowned advice columnist, Henrietta Bird. Emmy is disappointed, but gamely bucks up and buckles down.

Mrs Bird is very clear: Any letters containing Unpleasantness—must go straight in the bin. But when Emmy reads poignant letters from women who are lonely, may have Gone Too Far with the wrong men and found themselves in trouble, or who can’t bear to let their children be evacuated, she is unable to resist responding. As the German planes make their nightly raids, and London picks up the smoldering pieces each morning, Emmy secretly begins to write letters back to the women of all ages who have spilled out their troubles.

Prepare to fall head over heels with Emmy and her best friend, Bunty, who are spirited and gutsy, even in the face of events that bring a terrible blow. As the bombs continue to fall, the irrepressible Emmy keeps writing, and readers are transformed by AJ Pearce’s hilarious, heartwarming, and enormously moving tale of friendship, the kindness of strangers, and ordinary people in extraordinary times.

 

Women of the Dunes by Sarah Maine
Expected publication: July 24, 2018 by Atria Books
Book Description:

From the author of the acclaimed novels The House Between Tides and Beyond the Wild River, a rich, atmospheric tale set on the sea-lashed coast of west Scotland, in which the lives of a ninth-century Norsewoman, a nineteenth-century woman, and a twenty-first-century archeologist weave together after a body is discovered in the dunes.

Libby Snow has always felt the pull of Ullanessm a lush Scottish island enshrouded in myth and deeply important to her family. Her great-great-grandmother Ellen was obsessed with the strange legend of Ulla, a Viking maiden who washed up on shore with the nearly lifeless body of her husband—and who inspired countless epic poems and the island’s name.

Central to the mystery is an ornate chalice and Libby, an archaeologist, finally has permission to excavate the site where Ulla is believed to have lived. But what Libby finds in the ancient dunes is a body from the Victorian era, clearly murdered…and potentially connected to Ellen.

What unfolds is an epic story that spans centuries, with Libby mining Ellen and Ulla’s stories for clues about the body, and in doing so, discovering the darker threads that bind all three women together across history.

 

Women Talking: A Novel by Miriam Toews
Expected publication: August 21, 2018 by Knopf Canada
Book Description:

Based on actual events that happened between 2005 and 2009 in a remote Mennonite community where more than 100 girls and women were drugged unconscious and assaulted in the night by what they were told (by the men of the colony) were “ghosts” or “demons,” Miriam Toews’ bold and affecting novel Women Talking is an imagined response to these real events.

The novel takes place over forty-eight hours, as eight women gather in secret in a neighbour’s barn while the men are in a nearby town posting bail for the attackers. They have come together to debate, on behalf of all the women and children in the community, whether to stay or leave before the men return. Taking minutes is the one man trusted and invited by the women to witness the conversation–a former outcast whose own surprising story is revealed as the women speak.

By turns poignant, witty, acerbic, bitter, tender, devastating, and heartbreaking, the voices in this extraordinary novel are unforgettable. Toews has chosen to focus the novel tightly on a particular time and place, and yet it contains within its 48 hours and setting inside a hayloft an entire vast universe of thinking and feeling about the experience of women (and therefore men, too) in our contemporary world. In a word: astonishing.

 

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Blog Tour Stop & Giveaway: Maddie Dawson’s Matchmaking for Beginners!

Welcome to one of stops on the Thomas Allen & Son blog tour for Maddie Dawson’s latest adult fiction release, Matchmaking for Beginners! Read on for my thoughts on the novel as well as giveaway information!

Matchmaking for Beginners by Maddie Dawson
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Thomas Allen & Son. Thank you!
Publication: June 1, 2018
 by Lake Union Publishing (imprint of Amazon/Brilliance)
Book Description:

Marnie MacGraw wants an ordinary life—a husband, kids, and a minivan in the suburbs. Now that she’s marrying the man of her dreams, she’s sure this is the life she’ll get. Then Marnie meets Blix Holliday, her fiancé’s irascible matchmaking great-aunt who’s dying, and everything changes—just as Blix told her it would. When her marriage ends after two miserable weeks, Marnie is understandably shocked. She’s even more astonished to find that she’s inherited Blix’s Brooklyn brownstone along with all of Blix’s unfinished “projects”: the heartbroken, oddball friends and neighbors running from happiness. Marnie doesn’t believe she’s anything special, but Blix somehow knew she was the perfect person to follow in her matchmaker footsteps. And Blix was also right about some things Marnie must learn the hard way: love is hard to recognize, and the ones who push love away often are the ones who need it most.

But no. It’s true. Marnie MacGraw is just like the old, glorious me, standing there, facing this onslaught of Southern gentility, and I see her both young and old, and feel my own heart pounding like it used to.

Come over here, sweetheart, I beam toward her.

So this- this- is why I’m here. It wasn’t to give some closure to years of family strife. It wasn’t to drink these absurd cocktails or even to revisit my roots.

I was meant to meet Marnie MacGraw.

Author Maddie Dawson’s latest adult fiction novel, Matchmaking for Beginners, takes readers deep into the lives of two women at very different junctures in their lives, Blix Holliday and Marnie MacGraw. A meant-to-be meeting between Blix and Marnie sparks off an incontestable and extraordinary bond and friendship of souls that comes to transform each of their lives.

Told in rotating first-person narratives for the first half of the novel, readers get to meet both Marnie and Blix in quick succession. Marnie is on her way to meet her soon-to-be-husband’s family. Noah Spinnaker, Marnie’s extremely handsome fiancé, has quite a family, but there is one relative in particular that captures Marnie’s thoughts and attention: his great-aunt Blix, estranged fro the family, living in Brooklyn, and considered to be a loose-cannon…and possibly a spell-making witch (Which…well, the marvelous Blix kind of is!…). From Blix’s vantage point, readers dive into Blix’s uncensored thoughts about her great-nephew Noah, her immediately felt, inextricable connection to Marnie, her belief in genuine kinds of magic…and perhaps most pressing, Blix’s firm comprehension (her innate and not-of-this-world matchmaking sense has never been wrong) that Noah and Marnie are absolutely not meant to be together and will not make it as a married couple. As is outlined briefly in the book’s description, readers are aware of the fact that Blix is nearing the end of her life. Up to her final moments, Blix remains firm in her conviction that Marnie is a kind of soulmate: that Marnie will end up living a happy and full, always surprising life Brooklyn and finally meet the man that is really and truly worthy of her and meant for her.

Losing touch with Blix after her and Noah’s flop of wedding, and even more disastrous honeymoon that ends in a split, Marnie is completely shocked to find that life has thrown her yet another curveball: Blix has left her entire Brooklyn brownstone to Marnie in her will. Reeling from that news- and in a tentative new relationship in her Floridian hometown- Marnie makes the decision to travel to Brooklyn in an attempt to sell the brownstone. We follow Marnie’s often messy journey in Brooklyn: she runs into headaches with Noah’s family (who want the brownstone for themselves) and Noah himself (who shows himself to be a truly unappealing, insincere person). Noah drama aside, she slowly folds herself into Blix’s pretty incredible, animated world, immediately making warm, new friends with Blix’s old neighbors and her closest friends- even beginning a lovely friendship with the secluded downstairs neighbor that Blix had predicted to be Marnie’s perfect match. Dawson keeps a solid pace with novel, enticing the reader from the get-go, deftly working and weaving multiple levels and storylines to both Marnie’s and Blix’s stories. Marnie’s narrative takes full focus about halfway through the novel, and Dawson further shapes and fills Marnie’s story with even more vibrancy, missteps, heartbreak, and hope. Matchmaking for Beginners builds its way to a beautiful climax of endings (and beginnings!) for Marnie and the core cast of characters we come to know and enjoy during our reading. Unabashedly hopeful, cozy, and romantic, showing how terribly messy yet wonderfully fated life can be, Dawson’s latest is a thoroughly enjoyable read that caught my happy attention from beginning to end.

Overall, Matchmaking for Beginners is a warm, unexpected and well-written novel about the possibilities of meaningful, life-changing love, deep friendship, and how richly lives can change for the better with a little (or a lot of!) trust in magic and fate. For readers who enjoy contemporary, romantically-oriented reads with vivid protagonists- and a dash of enchantment- or those who enjoy the work of authors such as Laura Dave, Sophie Kinsella, Sally Thorne, Beth Harbison, or Jasmine Guillory, might especially enjoy this heartening treat of a novel.

 

About Maddie Dawson:

Maddie Dawson grew up in the South, born into a family of outrageous storytellers. Her various careers as a substitute English teacher, department-store clerk, medical-records typist, waitress, cat sitter, wedding-invitation-company receptionist, nanny, day care worker, electrocardiogram technician, and Taco Bell taco maker were made bearable by thinking up stories as she worked. Today she lives in Guilford, Connecticut, with her husband. She’s the bestselling author of five previous novels: The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness, The Opposite of Maybe, The Stuff That Never Happened, Kissing Games of the World, and A Piece of Normal.

 

Follow Maddie:

Website: http://www.maddiedawson.com/
Twitter: @maddiedawson1
Facebook
Goodreads

 

Get Your Copy of Matchmaking for Beginners:

Indigo

Amazon.ca

Amazon.com

Available in Canada through Thomas Allen & Son

Add to your Goodreads!

 

Tour-wide Giveaway:

The winner will receive 1 (one) copy of Matchmaking for Beginners (HC) by Maddie Dawson! Giveaway details:

  • Canada Only (full rules found in the T&C on Rafflecopter)
  • Giveaway ends on July 13th at 11:59 pm EST
  • Winner will be drawn randomly through Rafflecopter, contacted via email & will have 48 hours to claim their prize.

Good luck, everyone!

Direct link to giveaway!

 

 

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Thomas Allen & Son in exchange for an honest review and for the purposes of this blog tour. All opinions and comments regarding Matchmaking for Beginners are my own. Giveaway fulfilled by Thomas Allen & Son.

Must Read Monday (82): Titles from Emily Carpenter, Tayari Jones, Matt Haig, Rumaan Alam & more!

Welcome to another edition of Must Read Monday!

This feature is where I spotlight older, recent, or upcoming releases I am looking forward to. The lists will include all genres I like to read, everything from picture books to comics, children’s lit to adult fiction! You may have noticed that these Must Read Monday posts are less frequent; it’s been a bit of a gong show keeping up with my to-read list and constant changes with my reading list depending on my reviewing schedule (and life, in general!), so I’ll be aiming for around once a month (maybe twice). Any recommended titles, especially with regard to picture books, I’ll do my best to add to ‘Recently Read’ posts so you can see what’s been on my radar!

Preamble over, let’s get to some new must-read titles! For this edition, I’m turning to adult fiction and mysteries which have not been featured in some time! My (awesome) tower of must-read children’s titles has meant that adult fiction takes a bit of a backseat. However! There are a number of adult fiction titles that I am clamouring to read: the recent Pulitzer Prize winning Less by Andrew Sean Greer which a friend and library colleague gave top rating to; the fantastically reviewed An American Marriage by Tayari Jones; Matt Haig’s fascinating-sounding How to Stop Time; Celeste Ng’s bestselling and strongly received sophomore title Little Fires Everywhere, a title I can’t believe I haven’t read yet (!!); That Kind of Mother, by critically acclaimed writer Rumaan Alam; the twisty thriller The Weight of Lies by Emily Carpenter, which sounds right up my alley; and last but not least, the terrifically described mystery The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. Let’s take a closer look:

 

The Weight of Lies by Emily Carpenter
Publication: June 6, 2017 by Lake Union Publishing
Book Description:

Reformed party girl Meg Ashley leads a life of a privilege, thanks to a bestselling horror novel her mother wrote decades ago. But Meg knows that the glow of their very public life hides a darker reality of lies, manipulation, and the heartbreak of her own solitary childhood. Desperate to break free of her mother, Meg accepts a proposal to write a scandalous, tell-all memoir.

Digging into the past—and her mother’s cult classic—draws Meg to Bonny Island, Georgia and an unusual woman said to be the inspiration for the book. At first, island life seems idyllic, but as Meg starts to ask tough questions, disturbing revelations come to light…including some about her mother.

Soon, Meg’s search leads her to question the facts of a decades-old murder. She’s warned to leave it alone, but as the lies pile up, Meg knows she’s getting close to finding a murderer. When her own life is threatened, Meg realizes the darkness found in her mother’s book is nothing compared to the chilling truth that lurks off the page.

 

Less: A Novel by Andrew Sean Greer
Publication: July 18, 2017 by Lee Boudreaux Books
Book Description:

Who says you can’t run away from your problems? You are a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrives in the mail: your boyfriend of the past nine years is engaged to someone else. You can’t say yes–it would be too awkward–and you can’t say no–it would look like defeat. On your desk are a series of invitations to half-baked literary events around the world.

QUESTION: How do you arrange to skip town?

ANSWER: You accept them all.

What would possibly go wrong? Arthur Less will almost fall in love in Paris, almost fall to his death in Berlin, barely escape to a Moroccan ski chalet from a Saharan sandstorm, accidentally book himself as the (only) writer-in-residence at a Christian Retreat Center in Southern India, and encounter, on a desert island in the Arabian Sea, the last person on Earth he wants to face. Somewhere in there: he will turn fifty. Through it all, there is his first love. And there is his last.

Because, despite all these mishaps, missteps, misunderstandings and mistakes, Less is, above all, a love story.

 

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Published September 12, 2017 by Penguin Press
Book Description:

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is meticulously planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colours of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than just tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the alluring mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past, and a disregard for the rules that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When the Richardsons’ friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town and puts Mia and Mrs. Richardson on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Mrs. Richardson becomes determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs to her own family – and Mia’s.

Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of long-held secrets and the ferocious pull of motherhood-and the danger of believing that planning and following the rules can avert disaster, or heartbreak.

 

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
Published February 6, 2018 by Viking (first published July 6, 2017)
Book Description:

Tom Hazard has a dangerous secret. He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he’s been alive for centuries. Tom has lived history–performing with Shakespeare, exploring the high seas with Captain Cook, and sharing cocktails with Fitzgerald. Now, he just wants an ordinary life.

So Tom moves back to London, his old home, to become a high school history teacher–the perfect job for someone who has witnessed the city’s history first hand. Better yet, a captivating French teacher at his school seems fascinated by him. But the Albatross Society, the secretive group which protects people like Tom, has one rule: never fall in love. As painful memories of his past and the erratic behavior of the Society’s watchful leader threaten to derail his new life and romance, the one thing he can’t have just happens to be the one thing that might save him. Tom will have to decide once and for all whether to remain stuck in the past, or finally begin living in the present.

How to Stop Time is a bighearted, wildly original novel about losing and finding yourself, the inevitability of change, and how with enough time to learn, we just might find happiness.

 

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Publication: February 6, 2018 by Algonquin Books
Book Description:

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.

 

 
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
Publication: February 8, 2018 by Raven Books
Book Description:

At a gala party thrown by her parents, Evelyn Hardcastle will be killed–again. She’s been murdered hundreds of times, and each day, Aiden Bishop is too late to save her. Doomed to repeat the same day over and over, Aiden’s only escape is to solve Evelyn Hardcastle’s murder and conquer the shadows of an enemy he struggles to even comprehend–but nothing and no one are quite what they seem.

Deeply atmospheric and ingeniously plotted, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a highly original debut that will appeal to fans of Kate Atkinson and Agatha Christie.

 

That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam
Publication: May 8, 2018 by Ecco
Book Description:

Like many first-time mothers, Rebecca Stone finds herself both deeply in love with her newborn son and deeply overwhelmed. Struggling to juggle the demands of motherhood with her own aspirations and feeling utterly alone in the process, she reaches out to the only person at the hospital who offers her any real help—Priscilla Johnson—and begs her to come home with them as her son’s nanny.

Priscilla’s presence quickly does as much to shake up Rebecca’s perception of the world as it does to stabilize her life. Rebecca is white, and Priscilla is black, and through their relationship, Rebecca finds herself confronting, for the first time, the blind spots of her own privilege. She feels profoundly connected to the woman who essentially taught her what it means to be a mother. When Priscilla dies unexpectedly in childbirth, Rebecca steps forward to adopt the baby. But she is unprepared for what it means to be a white mother with a black son. As she soon learns, navigating motherhood for her is a matter of learning how to raise two children whom she loves with equal ferocity, but whom the world is determined to treat differently.

 

Recently Read: A Murder for the Books (A Blue Ridge Library Mystery #1) by Victoria Gilbert

Review: A Murder for the Books (A Blue Ridge Library Mystery #1) by Victoria Gilbert
Source: ARC courtesy of Crooked Lane Books. Thank you!
Publication: December 12, 2017 by Crooked Lane Books
Book Description:

Fleeing a disastrous love affair, university librarian Amy Webber moves in with her aunt in a quiet, historic mountain town in Virginia. She quickly busies herself with managing a charming public library that requires all her attention with its severe lack of funds and overabundance of eccentric patrons. The last thing she needs is a new, available neighbor whose charm lures her into trouble.

Dancer-turned-teacher and choreographer Richard Muir inherited the farmhouse next door from his great-uncle, Paul Dassin. But town folklore claims the house’s original owner was poisoned by his wife, who was an outsider. It quickly became water under the bridge, until she vanished after her sensational 1925 murder trial. Determined to clear the name of the woman his great-uncle loved, Richard implores Amy to help him investigate the case. Amy is skeptical until their research raises questions about the culpability of the town’s leading families… including her own.

When inexplicable murders plunge the quiet town into chaos, Amy and Richard must crack open the books to reveal a cruel conspiracy and lay a turbulent past to rest in A Murder for the Books, the first installment of Victoria Gilbert’s Blue Ridge Library mysteries.

I have to admit: when I saw that the protagonist in A Murder for the Books is a librarian, I was very curious! Representations of librarians in literature (from children’s book to adult fiction, comic strips, etc.) are…varied. Putting it mildly, sometimes librarians are not so accurately (or kindly!) represented. Author Victoria Gilbert, as I learned, is herself a librarian, so I felt like my reading experience would be in better hands…and it was! A Murder for the Books– featuring intelligent, accomplished yet self-effacing librarian Amy Webber- is a well-written, absorbing, intriguingly plotted mystery.

Gilbert has done a terrific job with this debut in laying out a strong foundation of characters (both primary and secondary), and in establishing the town of Blue Ridge. Through the first-person narrative of Amy, readers are taken into the small community of Blue Ridge, Virginia and its inhabitants. Amy, now living with her aunt Lydia in her beautiful stately home, hopes to live a more quiet life (free of relationship messes) as the new manager of the town public library. As we know from the book description, however, Amy’s life does not stay quiet for long. When elderly community member Doris is found dead- from a bullet wound- in the library archives, the supposed tranquility of Blue Ridge upends. Along with their new neighbor Richard- a talented dancer/choreographer who is exploring his own complicated family history in Blue Ridge- Amy takes research into her hands to investigate who could’ve murdered Doris- and why. As Amy unearths one piece of the town’s shadier history after another- some shocking and sad, some that surprisingly involve her own family as well as Richard’s- things slowly fall into place to make for some weighty and fascinating reveals. Gilbert balances the mix of murder mystery, detailed backstory, as well as the fairly crackling spark between Amy and Richard very well, giving attention to each facet as needed to propel the story (which is, at times, quite involved) along at a good pace.

Overall, A Murder for the Books is a very solid series start; a well-done mystery that will likely appeal to readers who are interested in more intricate amateur sleuth mysteries. In the last few months, I have had the opportunity to read some delightful cozy mysteries– if you’ve had a chance to enjoy any of those titles, or enjoy the work of authors such as Margaret Mizushima, Jenn McKinlay, Joanne Fluke, or Janet Evanovich, you might especially like A Murder for the Books. There is a second book in the series, Shelved Under Murder, coming out this summer, so readers can look forward to more of Amy and Richard!

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Crooked Lane Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Review: A Grave Issue (A Funeral Parlor Mystery #1) by Lillian Bell

A Grave Issue (A Funeral Parlor Mystery #1) by Lillian Bell
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Crooked Lane Books. Thank you!
Publication: February 13, 2018 by Crooked Lane Books
Book Description:

After an on-air gaffe goes viral and jeopardizes her career, journalist Desiree Turner retreats home to Verbena, California for some peace and quiet. She begins working one of the quietest jobs around: presiding over funerals for her great-grandfather’s funeral parlor. But the action seems to follow her as a fistfight breaks out between neighbors Rosemarie Brewer and Lola Hansen at one of the first funerals she’s in charge of running. It exposes a nasty dispute and Rosemarie’s husband, Alan, is found murdered shortly after.

Lola’s husband, Kyle, is immediately arrested. Desiree, whose own father’s death was devastating, has always viewed Kyle as a second father. Determined to clear his name, Desiree jumps head first into the investigation and quickly discovers that Alan had several unsavory habits at his job and in his personal life, including putting assets into his mistress’s account to hide them from Rosemarie. People murder for money and love all the time, and there’s no telling who he offended just enough to push them over the edge.

A Grave Issue is the charming and supremely enjoyable Funeral Parlor Mystery series debut from Lillian Bell. The novel centers around Desiree Turner, a now-scandalized journalist who returns to her hometown where her family has long-operated the town’s funeral parlor. A cozy mystery, A Grave Issue mixes family and personal drama, potential romantic entanglements, as well as a few deadly incidents.

Readers follow the first-person narrative of journalist-turned-assistant-funeral-director Desiree as she finds herself in a number of odd predicaments upon her return home. Back in her hometown of Verbena, California, Desiree is unwittingly thrust into the local spotlight (and local newspaper) when a bizarre outburst occurs during funeral events at her family-owned funeral parlor. That incident seeminglyleads to the murder of a rather unpleasant man named Alan Brewer, with the man held for his murder being other than the Turner family’s closest friend- and Alan’s neighbor- Kyle Hansen. Bell weaves a solid, engaging and funny story from beginning to end here, led by the droll and witty narrative from the character of Desiree. While the crux of A Grave Issue focuses upon Desiree’s probe into Alan’s murder and why her family friend seems to have been framed for it, there are a few other crises at play. Bell dives into a few matters: what drove Desiree’s escape from her path toward being an investigative journalist; Desiree’s steps to strengthen the trust and bond between her and her sister Donna; the possible relationships to develop between Desiree and two potential suitors; and perhaps, most intriguingly, a major bombshell regarding Desiree’s and Donna’s presumed-to-be-deceased father- who had gone missing but whose body had never been recovered- drops.

Overall, what a thoroughly entertaining and fun read! I have recently been getting into the cozy mystery genre, and found much to enjoy and appreciate with Bell’s series debut. You have a self-deprecating and clever protagonist facing a puzzling murder mystery, a slightly zany, close knit small town with intriguing characters, and some major personal and familial drama that promises to be further explored in series entries to come. If you are a cozy mystery reader or enjoy armchair/amateur detective series with good doses of humour, then I would recommend giving this series debut a whirl. It looks as though the second entry into the series, If the Coffin Fits is due out in the fall of 2018!

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Crooked Lane Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Review: No One Can Know (A Stillwater General Mystery #2) by Lucy Kerr

No One Can Know (A Stillwater General Mystery #2)Review: No One Can Know (A Stillwater General Mystery #2) by Lucy Kerr
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Crooked Lane Books. Thank you!
Expected publication: February 13, 2018 by Crooked Lane Books
Book Description:

When a pregnant car crash victim arrives at Stillwater General, ER nurse Frankie Stapleton and the team must work swiftly to deliver the baby safely. After hours of grueling effort, they finally save the baby, but the mother dies. The staff is already rattled, but then they learn that the accidental car crash was actually deliberate.

Just when they thought the hard work was over, suspects begin rearing their heads one by one and no one is safe. There’s no shortage of motives. The victim was a social worker, and someone may have been seeking revenge. Or perhaps someone was trying to intimidate her up-and-coming politician husband. Then the baby goes missing.

Now Frankie must race to uncover the truth in time to catch a killer and save a child in Lucy Kerr’s riveting second Stillwater General Mystery, No One Can Know.

No One Can Know is the second entry in Lucy Kerr’s thoroughly entertaining and thrilling Stillwater General Mystery series. The debut, Time of Death, introduced readers to our protagonist: emergency room nurse Frankie Stapleton and her rather complicated return to her small hometown of Stillwater. In my review of Time of Death, I noted that I was captivated early on with Frankie’s voice and the series’ intriguing premise of combining suspense and murder investigation with medical emergencies and family drama. In No One Can Know, Kerr continues to excel with a tightly written mystery that manages to entertain, engage and keep the reader guessing all at once.

Still experiencing the aftereffects of her involvement in investigating the death of Stillwater community member Clem Jensen, Frankie finds herself at the centre of another highly suspicious, horrendous tragedy. When Frankie and her ER colleagues try and save the life of a highly pregnant women involved in a car wreck, the case ends up being larger than anything Frankie or her colleagues could have imagined. As Frankie learns more about the mother who lost her life and the deceased’s husband- who has high political aspirations- she finds herself deeply involved in the case and unable to let go- much to the frustration of the Stillwater police officer heading the case (who happens to be her former fiance Noah). Frankie continues her own sleuthing into the increasingly tangled murder investigation and as the media frenzy surrounding the politician’s wife’s death grows, she discovers that Noah might need her help and support more than ever. As with Time of Death, Kerr does a great job here in combining relationship drama (both family and romantic) with elements of suspense and genuine twists. The ending of No One Can Know is one of quiet surprise and reveal, leaving a lot of room open for darker and bigger directions the series could take!

Overall, a strong, more than worthy second entry in a solid mystery series that looks to have many more exciting and riveting stories in it. Though not absolutely essential to have read book one, I do recommend starting with Time of Death as it offers a lot of background and character introduction to Frankie, her family, and more details into her long history with Noah. Readers who enjoy amateur sleuth mysteries, medical dramas, or slightly darker cozy mysteries with a strong protagonist might do very well to check Lucy Kerr’s series out.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Crooked Lane Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Best of 2017, Part 1: Children’s Lit, Young Adult, Adult Fiction & more!

Hope everyone is having a wonderful, safe and lovely holiday season, whatever your celebrations may be!

I am rather late in posting this, but I wanted to get in my 2017 reading highlights before the end of the year. In no particular order, here are my book selections for part one, hope you enjoy!

 

Children’s Fiction/Middle Grade:
The Goat by Anne Fleming
Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes by Mary E. Lambert
The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser
Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling
Greetings From Witness Protection by Jake Burt
Karma Khullar’s Mustache by Kristi Wientge
Greenglass House (Greenglass House #1) by Kate Milford
Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand
Howard Wallace, P.I. by Casey Lyall
Shadow of a Pug (Howard Wallace, P.I #2) by Casey Lyall
Ghost (Track #1) by Jason Reynolds
The Cat Stole My Pants (Timmy Failure #6) by Stephan Pastis
Royal Crush (From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess #3) by Meg Cabot
Roll by Darcy Miller
The World’s Greatest Detective by Caroline Carlson
Jolly Foul Play (Murder Most Unladylike #4) by Robin Stevens
Mary Anning’s Curiosity by Monica Kulling
The Swallow: A Ghost Story by Charis Cotter
Olga and the Smelly Thing from Nowhere (Olga #1) by Elise Gravel
Catstronauts series by Drew Brockington (graphic novel)
Wallace the Brave by Will Henry (graphic novel)
Lint Boy by Aileen Leijten (graphic novel)
Bird and Squirrel on Fire (Bird & Squirrel #4) by James Burks
Real Friends by Shannon Hale, illus. LeUyen Pham, color by Jane Poole (graphic novel)
Phoebe and Her Unicorn in the Magic Storm (Heavenly Nostrils, #6) by Dana Simpson (graphic novel)
Grandfather and the Moon by Stéphanie Lapointe, illus. Rogé, translated by Shelley Tanaka

 

Young Adult:
The Agony of Bun O’Keefe by Heather Smith
The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby
Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen
Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined by Danielle Younge-Ullman
Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig
Short for Chameleon by Vicki Grant
Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson
The Other F-Word by Natasha Friend
You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour & David Levithan
Well, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail (YA/MG crossover)
The Dead Inside by Cyndy Etler (YA non-fiction)

 

Adult Fiction & Mysteries:
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Nine Lessons (Josephine Tey Mystery #9) by Nicola Upson
Hunting Hour (Timber Creek K-9 Mystery #3) by Margaret Mizushima
Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia
On Turpentine Lane by Eleanor Lipman
Forgotten City (A Claire Codella Mystery #2) by Carrie Smith
The Boy is Back (Boy #4) by Meg Cabot

 

Adult Non-Fiction, Humour and Other:

Big Mushy Happy Lump (Sarah’s Scribbles #2) by Sarah Anderson
It’s All Absolutely Fine by Ruby Elliot
I Hate Everyone Except You by Clinton Kelly
Texts From Dog II: The Dog Delusion by October Jones
Fowl Language: Welcome to Parenting by Brian Gordon
Onward and Downward: The Twenty-Second Sherman’s Lagoon Collection by Jim Toomey

 

Note: Some titles appearing on this list may have been published in previous years; titles on this list are ones that I read in 2017. Some titles appearing on this list may also have been provided by publishers in exchange for honest reviews; this has no bearing on making this list. These are my personal selections.

Review: Nine Lessons by Nicola Upson

Review: Nine Lessons (A Josephine Tey Mystery #7) by Nicola Upson
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Crooked Lane Books. Thank you!
Publication: October 10, 2017 by Crooked Lane Books
Book Description:

Called to the peaceful wooded churchyard of St-John’s-at-Hampstead, Detective Chief Inspector Archie Penrose faces one of the most audacious and unusual murders of his career. The body of the church’s organist is found in an opened grave, together with a photograph of a manor house and a cryptic note. The image leads Archie to Cambridge, where the crisp autumn air has brought with it bustling life to the ancient university and town.

Both Josephine Tey and Archie’s lover Bridget have recently settled in Cambridge, though both women are not equally happy to see him. One has concealed an important secret from Archie which now threatens to come to light. Meanwhile, the change of seasons has also brought with it a series of vicious attacks against women in town, spreading fear and suspicion through the community.

Soon, another body is revealed, and in the shadow of King’s College Chapel, Archie uncovers a connection twenty-five years old which haunted both victims—as well as some of their living companions. As Archie and Josephine each grapple with savage malefactors intent on making their victims pay, they must race to stop another attack in this beautifully written, intricately plotted mystery.

 

Curling up with a compelling, detailed and surprising historical mystery is one of my great reading pleasures, so imagine my delight to have been introduced to a new, terrifically written historical mystery series! Nicola Upson’s well-reviewed Nine Lessons is the seventh entry in the critically acclaimed Josephine Tey Mystery 1930s-set series, though the first one I have had the pleasure of reading. Beautifully, elegantly written with a subtle darker edge at its core and rounded out by terrific, engrossing characters, I found Nine Lessons to be quite a standout historical mystery title.

Nine Lessons begins in a churchyard with the discovery of a body in an open grave. Detective Chief Inspector Archie Penrose, as readers can surmise, has seen his fair share of crime scenes and death; but this, the finding of the church organist’s body is something…different. Penrose, with the aid of his police colleagues, finds out almost incomprehensibly disturbing details about how the deceased, former Cambridge student Dr. Stephen Laxborough, might have been killed. As Penrose begins piecing together strange and frustratingly vague clues left on the deceased person, more murders- all linked, somehow, to Dr. Laxborough and a group of Cambridge classmates- occur. While Penrose focuses most of his time and attention on the Laxborough murder and connected crimes in and around Cambridge, a string of heinous, violent sexual crimes against women are happening in the same city. As the two crime threads intersect at intervals, readers are introduced (or re-introduced) to Penrose’s friend, mystery author and amateur sleuth Josephine Tey (a character Upson has based on the highly-regarded Scottish author). As Tey finds herself exploring in both crime threads to aid Penrose and women in the Cambridge area, readers are proffered glimpses into Tey and Penrose’s somewhat delicate history and how they have come to be with their current romantic partners. How the crime threads are investigated and culminate is pretty terrific- meticulously plotted and presented. Moreover, there is another related piece to Nine Lessons that I want to bring up: just how much substance and critical weight to the subject matter Upson covers in Nine Lessons. Everything from police and public response to sexual assault, victim (female) blaming and shaming after rape, historical and public conceptions and intolerance regarding same-sex partnerships, and more. You might be wondering, with such an incredible scope, just how does everything tie together and wrap itself up by the end of 300 pages? Lest you worry, I can say that Upson does a superb job with making Nine Lessons read cohesively- never overwhelming or burdening the reader.

Overall, an excellent, complicated mystery that leaves the reader satisfied: polished, interesting and compelling from start to finish with tremendous depth. I was so intrigued by the main characters of Archie and Josephine- and their clearly complex history- during my reading, that I have now made it a goal to go back and read the series from the beginning. While I don’t think any curious readers diving into the series at this entry point will have any issues following along, my interest has definitely been piqued and I am aiming to go back and gain more insight into Archie and Josephine’s separate and joint histories. For any readers who adore this sub-genre of mystery/suspense, I highly recommend this title and series; if you’re not yet convinced, Nine Lessons has made Publisher’s Weekly Best Books of 2017 in the mystery/thriller category!

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Crooked Lane Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Review: Unholy City (A Claire Codella Mystery #3) by Carrie Smith

Review: Unholy City (A Claire Codella Mystery #3) by Carrie Smith
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Crooked Lane Books. Thank you!
Expected publication: November 7, 2017 by Crooked Lane Books
Book Description:

Despite their rocky history, Detective Claire Codella and Precinct Detective Brian Haggerty come together when senior churchwarden Philip Graves’s bloody body is found lying in the herb garden of historic St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Manhattan’s Upper West Side just two days before Good Friday. Upon first glance, it looks like a random act of big city violence, but it soon becomes clear churchwarden Philip’s death was the result of a meticulously calculated ploy by someone who knew him.

There are five vestry members and a choir director in addition to the ten homeless men asleep in the church basement. Any one of them could have done it, but what did Philip Graves do to warrant such a merciless death? Struggling to share the case and salvage their personal relationship, Claire, Brian and trusted Detective Eduardo Muñoz work around the clock to uncloak the desires, secrets, and resentments that find home through the iron gates and into the hidden beauty of one historic Romanesque church in Unholy City, the haunting third installment in Carrie Smith’s Claire Codella mysteries.

Unholy City is the third entry into Carrie Smith’s Claire Codella Mystery series, behind the debut Silent City and sophomore entry Forgotten City. As with the previous two series entries, Unholy City is a sharply written, highly engaging mystery with another unique criminal investigation at its core.

The focus in Unholy City is somewhat of a departure from the homicide investigations that occurred over the course of books one and two. While the crime itself is no less shocking in terms violence, there is an altogether unusual, perplexing mystery that meets Claire and fellow Detectives Brian Haggerty and Eduardo Muñoz. Their investigation into the death of a churchwarden at an Upper West Side church explodes into an exceedingly thorny examination into the supposedly quieter lives of multiple vestry members and their increasingly convoluted recollections of their time and relationship with the deceased. Unlike the first two Claire Codella novels, it seems as though Unholy City is more primarily focused on the crime and scene at hand; slightly less time is given to Claire and her partnership (professional and now personal) with Detective Haggerty in favour of concentration and detail on the strangely hushed, almost locked-room nature of the church homicide. Smith is meticulous in how the particular details of the major crime(s) committed are studied, examined and played out; more so than the previous series entries, Unholy City‘s major investigation is a case that involves logistics, deductive reasoning, and exhaustive suspect interviews. The third-person narrative also continues to rotate between that of Claire and her team’s work, to that of parties involved on the other side of the police investigation. This alternating viewpoint structure really works in this series to sustain reader’s attention and in this entry especially, works so well in layering and adding surprising character reveals, as well as in smoothly propelling the story toward the climax and reveal.

Overall, another very strong, well-written, well-plotted and well-paced entry into what has become a favourite new mystery/crime series. Now three books into Carrie Smith’s Claire Codella Mystery series and I continue to be hooked: not only by the titular protagonist who continues to engage and evolve, but also by the changing nature and scope of the investigations at the heart of the novels. I have likely mentioned this about the series, but will say it again: I do hope to read and explore many further titles in Carrie Smith’s terrific crime series.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Crooked Lane Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Review: Hunting Hour (A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery #3) by Margaret Mizushima

Review: Hunting Hour (A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery #3) by Margaret Mizushima
Source: ARC courtesy of Crooked Lane Books. Thank you!
Publication: August 8, 2017 by Crooked Lane Books
Book Description:

Deputy Mattie Cobb is in a dark place and has withdrawn from Cole Walker and his family to work on issues from her past. When she and her K-9 partner Robo get called to track a missing junior high student, they find the girl dead on Smoker’s Hill behind the high school, and Mattie must head to the Walker home to break the bad news. But that’s only the start of trouble in Timber Creek, because soon another girl goes missing—and this time it’s one of Cole’s daughters.

Knowing that each hour a child remains missing lessens the probability of finding her alive, Mattie and Robo lead the hunt while Cole and community volunteers join in to search everywhere. To no avail. It seems that someone has snatched all trace of the Walker girl from their midst, including her scent. Grasping at straws, Mattie and Robo follow a phoned-in tip into the dense forest, where they hope to find a trace of the girl’s scent and to rescue her alive. But when Robo does catch her scent, it leads them to information that challenges everything they thought they knew about the case.

Mattie and Robo must rush to hunt down the kidnapper before they’re too late in Hunting Hour, the third installment in critically acclaimed author Margaret Mizushima’s exhilarating mystery series.

Author Margaret Mizushima’s Timber Creek K-9 Mystery series has fast become a mystery series that I adore. Pairing formidable deputy Mattie Cobb and her incredible police dog Robo, the Timber Creek series blends elements of suspense, police procedural work, with explorations of interpersonal relationships to terrific effect. In Hunting Hour, the third in the series, Deputy Cobb and her team face an intense, almost impossible-to-solve situation when the heartbreaking discovery of a dead body leads to a terrifying hunt that hits much too close to home.

As per the book’s description, readers are taken on an intense journey with Mattie and Robo as Timber Creek is struck- again- with news about the death of a young girl. With tensions and suspicions running high, and Mattie facing her own biases when searching for possible homicide suspects, the town of Timber Creek is on high alert. As with the two previous Timber Creek entries, there are two perspectives (in third person narratives) running parallel to one another. While Mattie is undoubtedly the lead protagonist, the series also features veterinarian Cole Walker as the alternating perspective. Cole and Mattie have become close friends- with undercurrents of romantic friction- over the course of the novels, and Hunting Hour really explores more of their increasing feelings towards one another. As the case intensifies beyond belief- when Cole’s youngest daughter goes missing- and Mattie’s personal stake in solving the case goes beyond fierce, the alternating perspectives of Mattie and Cole reach extreme peaks and realizations.

As ever, I hope to read more of Mattie and Robo in Timber Creek series entries to come. While not a cozy mystery series, there is something comforting in reading about Mattie and Robo’s phenomenal relationship- and in how the duo approach increasingly tenacious situations with hope. Mizushima has also crafted Timber Creek so well over the last three novels, welcoming new and returning readers to a well-established, wild, and magnetic (and crime-prone!) community. Hunting Hour is the strongest of the series yet, with more examination into Mattie’s personal history and psychological trauma, as well as further exploration into the intensifying relationship between Mattie and Cole Walker. Readers interested in trying a well-written mystery series featuring an unusual and unforgettable duo might do well to try Mizushima’s Timber Creek K-9 novels out!

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Crooked Lane Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.