Saturday, January 16, 2021

Audio Review: Firefly Lane (Firefly Lane #1) by Kristin Hannah

From the New York Times bestselling author of On Mystic Lake comes a powerful novel of love, loss, and the magic of friendship. . . .

In the turbulent summer of 1974, Kate Mularkey has accepted her place at the bottom of the eighth-grade social food chain. Then, to her amazement, the “coolest girl in the world” moves in across the street and wants to be her friend. Tully Hart seems to have it all---beauty, brains, ambition. On the surface they are as opposite as two people can be: Kate, doomed to be forever uncool, with a loving family who mortifies her at every turn. Tully, steeped in glamour and mystery, but with a secret that is destroying her. They make a pact to be best friends forever; by summer’s end they’ve become TullyandKate. Inseparable.

So begins Kristin Hannah’s magnificent new novel. Spanning more than three decades and playing out across the ever-changing face of the Pacific Northwest, Firefly Lane is the poignant, powerful story of two women and the friendship that becomes the bulkhead of their lives.

From the beginning, Tully is desperate to prove her worth to the world. Abandoned by her mother at an early age, she longs to be loved unconditionally. In the glittering, big-hair era of the eighties, she looks to men to fill the void in her soul. But in the buttoned-down nineties, it is television news that captivates her. She will follow her own blind ambition to New York and around the globe, finding fame and success . . . and loneliness.

Kate knows early on that her life will be nothing special. Throughout college, she pretends to be driven by a need for success, but all she really wants is to fall in love and have children and live an ordinary life. In her own quiet way, Kate is as driven as Tully. What she doesn’t know is how being a wife and mother will change her . . . how she’ll lose sight of who she once was, and what she once wanted. And how much she’ll envy her famous best friend. . . .

For thirty years, Tully and Kate buoy each other through life, weathering the storms of friendship---jealousy, anger, hurt, resentment. They think they’ve survived it all until a single act of betrayal tears them apart . . . and puts their courage and friendship to the ultimate test.

Firefly Lane is for anyone who ever drank Boone’s Farm apple wine while listening to Abba or Fleetwood Mac. More than a coming-of-age novel, it’s the story of a generation of women who were both blessed and cursed by choices. It’s about promises and secrets and betrayals. And ultimately, about the one person who really, truly knows you---and knows what has the power to hurt you . . . and heal you. Firefly Lane is a story you’ll never forget . . . one you’ll want to pass on to your best friend.

Narrated by: Susan Ericksen
Series: Girls of Firefly Lane, Book 1
Length: 17 hrs and 54 mins
Unabridged Audiobook
Release date: 04-29-08
3/5 stars

I have read some of Kristin Hannah's latest books, The NightingaleThe Great Alone and Winter Garden, her latest Four Winds has already been preordered.  These all are historical which is my favorite genre.  Slowly making my way through her backlist I grabbed Firefly Lane because it comes out next month on Netflix and I took that as opportunity to read the book first, we all know the book is always better, right?

It's 1974 when Kate and Tully are only in grade 8, not friends yet.  The author did a great job with the first part of this book.  I loved getting to know both these girls, learning who they are, where they came from and how they finally become friends.  Personality wise they are opposites but once the friendship is sealed its sealed.  From there the story continued and I liked watching them grow up and develop into strong young women - it wasn't always an easy path.

I loved the era, it's the same time I grew up in.  It was like a walk down memory lane with the music, news events and even books read.  I could relate to what these girls went through in terms of a career vs staying at home, dating and relationships.

I know that I'm going against popular opinion but I struggled about half way through this book. The pace slowed down, personalities changed and things didn't add much to the story. Coming in at almost 500 pages (depending  what format you read), that's a lot of pages and my attention just started to wean.  

Sorry if this a spoiler but the blurb talks about a big betrayal, I kept waiting for it. It ended up coming too late and was predictable. At that point I was not as invested as I should have been.  Maybe if the author took off 100 pages it might have worked better for me.

All in all the book started as a 4 and slowly went downhill, round off to a 3.  There is a sequel to this book, Fly Away.  Given my feelings for some of the main players I'll most likely pass.  Kristin Hannah's new book,  Four Winds releases next month and I am looking forward to reading it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Review: The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner

April 18, 1906: A massive earthquake rocks San Francisco just before daybreak, igniting a devouring inferno. Lives are lost, lives are shattered, but some rise from the ashes forever changed.

Sophie Whalen is a young Irish immigrant so desperate to get out of a New York tenement that she answers a mail-order bride ad and agrees to marry a man she knows nothing about. San Francisco widower Martin Hocking proves to be as aloof as he is mesmerizingly handsome. Sophie quickly develops deep affection for Kat, Martin's silent five-year-old daughter, but Martin's odd behavior leaves her with the uneasy feeling that something about her newfound situation isn't right.

Then one early-spring evening, a stranger at the door sets in motion a transforming chain of events. Sophie discovers hidden ties to two other women. The first, pretty and pregnant, is standing on her doorstep. The second is hundreds of miles away in the American Southwest, grieving the loss of everything she once loved.

The fates of these three women intertwine on the eve of the devastating earthquake, thrusting them onto a perilous journey that will test their resiliency and resolve and, ultimately, their belief that love can overcome fear.

From the acclaimed author of The Last Year of the War and As Bright as Heaven comes a gripping novel about the bonds of friendship and mother love, and the power of female solidarity. 

Kindle Edition
Expected publication: February 2nd 2021
by Berkley Publishing Group
4/5 stars

I love reading historical fiction off the beaten track, and Susan Meissner's new book fits that bill nicely. Though actually one of my first books of this year the earthquake of 1906 played a background roll.  With The Nature of Fragile Things it plays centre stage.

This story begins a few years before the earthquake when Sophie marry s a man she met just hours before the wedding and becomes mother to Kat.  Sounds intriguing right?  Why would she do that, why would he mail order a bride? So many secrets.  

As usual Susan Meissner did not disappoint, though I will say this book had a different tone then others I have read. A gentle introduction and pacing brought the era to life. I knew very little about the magnitude of this earthquake and was shocked by what I read of the destruction that took place. This book was mysterious as both Sophie and Martin kept their past to themselves, even young Kat didn't share much.  It kept me intrigued.

The Nature of Fragile Things is a story of deception, love and friendship. One that drew me in as I connected with the characters and was kept on my toes as the story played out nicely.   Definitely a book and author I recommend.

I was excited when I heard this book was coming and very thankful to the fine folks at Berkley for a digital ARC in exchange for an honest review.  The Nature of Fragile Things releases on Feb. 2, 2021 and available for preorder now.  

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Review: Yellow Wife by Sadeqa Johnson

“Wholly engrossing, exquisitely researched, and so timely. Sadeqa Johnson brings a fresh telling to a story we think we already know, making it beautifully relatable and human. Riveting and suspenseful, I highly recommend this novel.” —Kathleen Grissom New York Times Bestselling author of The Kitchen House

This harrowing story follows an enslaved woman forced to barter love and freedom while living in the most infamous slave jail in Virginia.

Born on a plantation in Charles City Virginia, Pheby Delores Brown has lived a privileged life. Shielded by her mother’s position as the plantation’s medicine woman, and cherished by the Master’s sister, she is set apart from the others on the plantation, belonging to neither world.

Freedom on her eighteenth birthday has been promised to her, but instead of the idyllic life she imagined with her true love, Essex Henry, Pheby is forced to leave the only home she has ever known and unexpectedly finds herself thrust into the bowels of slavery at the infamous “Devil’s Half-Acre,” a jail where the enslaved are broken, tortured, and sold every day in Richmond, Virginia. There Pheby is exposed not just to her Jailor’s cruelty but also to his contradictions. To survive Pheby will have to outwit him but soon faces the ultimate sacrifice.

Paperback, 277 pages
Expected publication: January 12th 2021
 by Simon & Schuster
4/5 stars

New to me author Sadeqa Johnson packs a lot of punch in these 277 pages of Yellow Wife.  This is my first time in what feels like ages to be reading US historical fiction about slavery and what those of color endured.

Just shy of her 18 years, Pheby has been promised her freedom papers but then everything changes and not in a good way.  Pheby told her story beginning with promise, love and hope that changed to despair and heartache.  Needless to say it was a emotional read and honesty given the time period how could it not be.  It was a horrible time in history.

The last few pages of this book contained author notes (a must for HF imho) where the author talked of her inspiration and research.  While the characters were fictional they do revolve around a real jail set on 1/2 an acre where the circumstances were drawn from.  Sometimes hard to read the author didn't always hold back it to what took place. The characters were authentic and it wasn't hard to feel for them.

I liked the ending but I did crave for more.  I would have loved for the story to have continued for a little bit longer.  All in all a great read by an author that I will be on the lookout for her backlist.

My thanks to Simon & Schuster Canada for a print ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Audio Review: The Wild Rose (The Tea Rose #3) by Jennifer Donnelly

The third book in the sweeping, multi-generational saga that began with The Tea Rose, The Wild Rose is a "lush story of epic proportions" (Romantic Times Book Review).

The Wild Rose is a part of the sweeping, multi-generational saga that began with The Tea Rose and continued with The Winter Rose. It is London, 1914. World War I looms on the horizon, women are fighting for the right to vote, and explorers are pushing the limits of endurance in the most forbidding corners of the earth. Into this volatile time, Jennifer Donnelly places her vivid and memorable characters: Willa Alden, a passionate mountain climber who lost her leg while summiting Kilimanjaro with Seamus Finnegan, and who will never forgive him for saving her life; Seamus Finnegan, a polar explorer who tries to forget Willa as he marries a beautiful young schoolteacher back home in England; Max von Brandt, a handsome German sophisticate who courts high society women, but has a secret agenda in wartime London.

Many other beloved characters from The Winter Rose continue their adventures in The Wild Rose as well. With myriad twists and turns, thrilling cliffhangers, and fabulous period detail and atmosphere, The Wild Rose provides a highly satisfying conclusion to an unforgettable trilogy.

Paperback, 640 pages
Published September 1st 2009 
Audiobook  24 hours, 33 minutes
by Hachette Books
2.5/5 stars

I really enjoyed the first two books in this The Tea Rose Series. They both had plots and characters that grabbed me but sadly The Wild Rose did not invoke those same feelings. 

I am going to go against the grain here because I really struggled to finish this one.  I'm glad I went the audio route because it would have been a DNF otherwise.  It wasn't the writing, Jennifer Donnelly is a favourite of mine.  Her YA historical fiction books - Revolution, A Northern Light and These Shallow Graves are ones I recommend and loan out of my library often.  Even those not daunted by the size The Tea Rose is a great story to get lost in the pages of - its 675 pages long.

So what happened here?  Right from the beginning Willa just got on my nerves with Seamus quickly following suit - that kinda set the tone.  Now I get not liking characters in books, this was different and I can't quite put my finger on why.

The story was long, with somewhat of a soap opera feel and was just way too long (yea I said that twice).  I will say the author hit the time period spot on, her research and historical knowledge shined through.  Some of the characters/actions just didn't do it for me this time around.

Audiobook from my personal library via Audible.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Review: A Heart So Fierce and Broken (Cursebreakers #2) by Brigid Kemmerer

Find the heir, win the crown.

The curse is finally broken, but Prince Rhen of Emberfall faces darker troubles still. Rumors circulate that he is not the true heir and that forbidden magic has been unleashed in Emberfall. Although Rhen has Harper by his side, his guardsman Grey is missing, leaving more questions than answers.

Win the crown, save the kingdom.

Rumored to be the heir, Grey has been on the run since he destroyed Lilith. He has no desire to challenge Rhen--until Karis Luran once again threatens to take Emberfall by force. Her own daughter Lia Mara sees the flaws in her mother’s violent plan, but can she convince Grey to stand against Rhen, even for the good of Emberfall?

The heart-pounding, compulsively readable saga continues as loyalties are tested and new love blooms in a kingdom on the brink of war.

In the sequel to New York Times bestselling A Curse So Dark and Lonely, Brigid Kemmerer returns to the world of Emberfall in a lush fantasy where friends become foes and love blooms in the darkest of places.

Paperback, 445 pages
Published January 7th 2020 
by Bloomsbury YA
4/5 stars

Following A Curse So Dark & Lonely, this is no. 2 in the Cursebreakers Series - a Beauty & the Beast retelling that I loved.

Getting off to a slow start it didn't take long for the adventures to begin.  Grey was one of my favourites, I was looking forward to hearing his story.  Rhen and Harper aren't central here, well they are because the story revolves around them but this is Grey's story.  A few new characters are introduced that just added that little bit extra that this story needed.  It's been a year since I read A Curse and this picked up right where it left off.  A few memory refreshers and away it went.  

As for the story, like I said a little slow on the up take but once things started it kept a nice pace.  I really didn't have an idea what was going to happen, especially given the history between Rhen and Grey.  With Karis Luran in the picture anything can happen.  A few nasty scenes that showed what Grey was up against has me intrigued as to what happens next.

The fitting conclusion has left the door open for book 3, A Vow So Bold & Deadly which releases in a couple weeks.

This book was part of my 2020 Reading off my Shelf Challenge (book 49)

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Review: Sled Dog School by Terry Lynn Johnson

Eleven-year-old Matthew Misco just wants to fly—or should we say sled—under the radar. Things are hard enough at school with kids making fun of him for his parents' off-the-grid life-style, but life gets much worse when he is assigned a long-term math project: to start his own business. He has to ace this assignment to save his failing grade. But what is he even good at? The only thing he truly loves doing is running his team of dogs.

Funny, heartwarming, and full of the joy of dogs, Sled Dog School is about overcoming adversity, finding your strengths, and your friends, and following your passions.

Hardcover, 208 pages
Published October 3rd 2017 
by HMH Books for Young Readers
4/5 stars

Terry Lynn Johnson is one of my go to authors for outdoor adventure stories for kids (I'm a big kid).  Her books are fun, educational (learning about dogs and sledding) and ones that I wish were around when my boys were younger - but great for the grand kids.

Dog Sled School is about kids that aren't perfect, kids that struggle academically and socially.  When Matt is assigned a school project it forces his hand in a direction he wants to steer clear of. It's an adventure story about friendship, family and learning it's okay to ask for help.  I loved watching the changes in Matt, whether his attitude towards family or friends.

It's a perfect winter read as the snow flies outside while bundled up inside.

The author's website, is a great place to visit.

This book was part of my 2020 Reading of my Shelf Challenge

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Review: The Lost and Found Bookshop (Bella Vista Chronicles ) by Susan Wiggs

In this thought-provoking, wise and emotionally rich novel, New York Times bestselling author Susan Wiggs explores the meaning of happiness, trust, and faith in oneself as she asks the question, "If you had to start over, what would you do and who would you be?"

There is a book for everything . . .

Somewhere in the vast Library of the Universe, as Natalie thought of it, there was a book that embodied exactly the things she was worrying about.

In the wake of a shocking tragedy, Natalie Harper inherits her mother’s charming but financially strapped bookshop in San Francisco. She also becomes caretaker for her ailing grandfather Andrew, her only living relative—not counting her scoundrel father.

But the gruff, deeply kind Andrew has begun displaying signs of decline. Natalie thinks it’s best to move him to an assisted living facility to ensure the care he needs. To pay for it, she plans to close the bookstore and sell the derelict but valuable building on historic Perdita Street, which is in need of constant fixing. There’s only one problem–Grandpa Andrew owns the building and refuses to sell. Natalie adores her grandfather; she’ll do whatever it takes to make his final years happy. Besides, she loves the store and its books provide welcome solace for her overwhelming grief.

After she moves into the small studio apartment above the shop, Natalie carries out her grandfather’s request and hires contractor Peach Gallagher to do the necessary and ongoing repairs. His young daughter, Dorothy, also becomes a regular at the store, and she and Natalie begin reading together while Peach works.

To Natalie’s surprise, her sorrow begins to dissipate as her life becomes an unexpected journey of new connections, discoveries and revelations, from unearthing artifacts hidden in the bookshop’s walls, to discovering the truth about her family, her future, and her own heart.

Paperback, 355 pages
Published September 17th 2020
by Harper Collins
4/5 stars

  This book wasn't the rom/com I anticipated, to be honest I didn't even reread the blurb from when it arrived in my mailbox - it was on my shelf and that means I want to read it, right?  I think it was the title that drew me to this purchase - anything bookish usually does.

Though the story is told from both Natalie and Andrew the bulk is Natalie.  There were times that the story jumped back in time as both reminisced where I was caught off guard and I had to do a double take but it didn't take long to became so absorbed in the story where that wasn't an issue at all.  
The Lost and Found Bookshop was my introduction to Susan Wiggs and I loved the setting.  A bookstore with lots of charm, history and a roaming cat.  It was an authentic journey of grief and loss, secrets and revelations. With an interesting cast of characters, lots of name/book dropping and a bookshop housed in a building with lots of history that just didn't want to stay hidden. A unique story that flowed nicely and not heavy in the romance department.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and imagine my surprise when I found out this is actually book 3 in the Bella Vista Chronicles - so definitely works as a standalone. That being said I already have the previous books in my TBR pile for 2021.

This book was part of my 2020 Reading off my Shelf Challenge. 

Monday, December 28, 2020

Audio Review: The Answer Is…: Reflections on My Life by Alex Trebek

Longtime Jeopardy! host and television icon Alex Trebek reflects on his life and career.

Since debuting as the host of Jeopardy! in 1984, Alex Trebek has been something like a family member to millions of television viewers, bringing entertainment and education into their homes five nights a week. Last year, he made the stunning announcement that he had been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. What followed was an incredible outpouring of love and kindness. Social media was flooded with messages of support, and the Jeopardy! studio received boxes of cards and letters offering guidance, encouragement, and prayers.

For over three decades, Trebek had resisted countless appeals to write a book about his life. Yet he was moved so much by all the goodwill, he felt compelled to finally share his story. “I want people to know a little more about the person they have been cheering on for the past year,” he writes in The Answer Is…: Reflections on My Life.

The book combines illuminating personal anecdotes with Trebek’s thoughts on a range of topics, including marriage, parenthood, education, success, spirituality, and philanthropy. Trebek also addresses the questions he gets asked most often by Jeopardy! fans, such as what prompted him to shave his signature mustache, his insights on legendary players like Ken Jennings and James Holzhauer, and his opinion of Will Ferrell’s Saturday Night Live impersonation. The book uses a novel structure inspired by Jeopardy!, with each chapter title in the form of a question, and features dozens of never-before-seen photos that candidly capture Trebek over the years.

This wise, charming, and inspiring book is further evidence why Trebek has long been considered one of the most beloved and respected figures in entertainment. 

Audiobook, 4 hours 35 minutes
Alex Trebek (Author/Narrator), 
Ken Jennings (Narrator)
Published July 21st 2020 
by Simon & Schuster Audio
3.5/5 stars

I put the audio of this on hold at the library as soon as it was released, took about 5 months but finally got it - I guess that's a sign at how popular it is.

Like so many others who love Jeopardy I was saddened to hear of a cancer diagnosis and passing of fellow Canadian Alex Trebek.  Written by Trebek the audio is read by former contestant and friend Ken Jennings with some chapters voiced by Alex himself.

The Answer Is is a memoir of his life beginning in Sudbury, Ontario.  It was a true reflection of his insights into his thoughts, standards and where he shared some words of wisdom.  The chapters are short, as is the audio - 4 & 1/2 hours long.

I enjoyed listening to this one and actually glad I went though that route, though I imagine the print copy would included photos. Trebek had an interesting life on his way to Jeopardy, there wasn't anything earth shattering here just a nice reflection of his life, family and interests. 

I think fans of all ages will enjoy this one.

My copy was obtained from the public library via Libby.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Review: In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren

One Christmas wish, two brothers, and a lifetime of hope are on the line for hapless Maelyn Jones in In a Holidaze, the quintessential holiday romantic novel by Christina Lauren, the New York Times bestselling author of The Unhoneymooners..

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…but not for Maelyn Jones. She’s living with her parents, hates her going-nowhere job, and has just made a romantic error of epic proportions.

But perhaps worst of all, this is the last Christmas Mae will be at her favorite place in the world—the snowy Utah cabin where she and her family have spent every holiday since she was born, along with two other beloved families. Mentally melting down as she drives away from the cabin for the final time, Mae throws out what she thinks is a simple plea to the universe: Please. Show me what will make me happy.

The next thing she knows, tires screech and metal collides, everything goes black. But when Mae gasps awake…she’s on an airplane bound for Utah, where she begins the same holiday all over again. With one hilarious disaster after another sending her back to the plane, Mae must figure out how to break free of the strange time loop—and finally get her true love under the mistletoe.

Jam-packed with yuletide cheer, an unforgettable cast of characters, and Christina Lauren’s trademark “downright hilarious” (Helen Hoang, author of The Bride Test) hijinks, this swoon-worthy romantic read will make you believe in the power of wishes and the magic of the holidays.

Paperback, 307 pages
Published October 6th 2020
 by Gallery Books
4/5 stars

2020 has been a year and a half, to put it mildly.  I've found my reading habits have changed somewhat.  Where I was strictly historical fiction I am turning to suspense thrillers and recently rom/com, with this holiday season trying my hand at Christmas stories.  While I'm slowly getting back to HF I hope to continue the rom/coms and so far I've loved those read this year.

In a Holidaze has been making the rounds over social media and finally the day before Christmas I made an impulse purchase - Merry Christmas to me.

I was grabbed right away with this story.  What's not to love about a group of friends who get together to celebrate not just the holidays but their friendship as well.  Told from Mae's pov as she goes through some weird time loop thing, it's Christmastime where magic is in the air.

When I say magic I don't wan to imply that's the total make up of this book.  Yea there is a touch but this book offers much more.  It's a cry for help from Mae as she sets out to discover what her life is really about and what she wants.  It's funny, full of yuletide cheer and the realisation that your family doesn't necessarily mean connected by blood. 

Steeped in tradition In a Holidaze was a fun, feel good read that was perfect for the season.

This book was part of my 2020 Reading off my Shelf Challenge.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Review: Shiver by Allie Reynolds

In this propulsive locked-room thriller debut, a reunion weekend in the French Alps turns deadly when five friends discover that someone has deliberately stranded them at their remote mountaintop resort during a snowstorm.

When Milla accepts an off-season invitation to Le Rocher, a cozy ski resort in the French Alps, she's expecting an intimate weekend of catching up with four old friends. It might have been a decade since she saw them last, but she's never forgotten the bond they forged on this very mountain during a winter spent fiercely training for an elite snowboarding competition.

Yet no sooner do Milla and the others arrive for the reunion than they realize something is horribly wrong. The resort is deserted. The cable cars that delivered them to the mountaintop have stopped working. Their cell phones--missing. And inside the hotel, detailed instructions await them: an icebreaker game, designed to draw out their secrets. A game meant to remind them of Saskia, the enigmatic sixth member of their group, who vanished the morning of the competition years before and has long been presumed dead.

Stranded in the resort, Milla's not sure what's worse: the increasingly sinister things happening around her or the looming snowstorm that's making escape even more impossible. All she knows is that there's no one on the mountain she can trust. Because someone has gathered them there to find out the truth about Saskia...someone who will stop at nothing to get answers. And if Milla's not careful, she could be the next to disappear...

Kindle Edition
Expected publication: January 28th 2021 
by Penguin Group (GP Putnam's Sons)
4/5 stars

A chilly debut that put me right there in this cold winter setting.  Told in dual time period via Milla both current day and in the past.  So what happened ten years ago exactly?  That's the question and slowly (maybe a tad slowly at times) the events of that winter are revealed.

 I don't read a lot of books with that lock-down setting and I'll admit that part of me thinks is it even possible to have a book with both depth of character and a story that doesn't drag when covering a shorter period of time.  I'm happy to report that it worked out nicely here.

Shiver is a chilly suspense that kept me guessing until it didn't (pretty darn close to the end I might add).  With any mystery there is always twists and turns, my mind trying to decipher the clues. Both time periods are full of secrets but its the current day where they get darker and deadlier.  Set high up in the mountains there is no way to escape or communicate with the outside world. 

There is lots of talk about snowboarding, but that's okay - its who these people are and central to the plot. It actually gave me a new appreciation for the work involved with that sport.

Shiver has an interesting cast of characters, all suspect, flawed and unreliable - what better group is there to be stranded with, right?  Shiver releases in a months time and available now for preorder.  It's a book I recommend to those that love a slow burn suspense to go with the chilly months ahead.

My thanks to Penguin Group (via Netgalley) for an advanced e-arc in exchange for a honest review.