Thursday, April 27, 2023

Don't Cry for Me by Daniel Black

A Black father makes amends with his gay son through letters written on his deathbed in this wise and penetrating novel of empathy and forgiveness, for fans of Ta-Nehisi Coates, Robert Jones Jr. and Alice Walker

As Jacob lies dying, he begins to write a letter to his only son, Isaac. They have not met or spoken in many years, and there are things that Isaac must know. Stories about his ancestral legacy in rural Arkansas that extend back to slavery. Secrets from Jacob's tumultuous relationship with Isaac's mother and the shame he carries from the dissolution of their family. Tragedies that informed Jacob's role as a father and his reaction to Isaac's being gay.

But most of all, Jacob must share with Isaac the unspoken truths that reside in his heart. He must give voice to the trauma that Isaac has inherited. And he must create a space for the two to find peace.

With piercing insight and profound empathy, acclaimed author Daniel Black illuminates the lived experiences of Black fathers and queer sons, offering an authentic and ultimately hopeful portrait of reckoning and reconciliation. Spare as it is sweeping, poetic as it is compulsively readable, Don't Cry for Me is a monumental novel about one family grappling with love's hard edges and the unexpected places where hope and healing take flight.

Hardcover, 304 pages
Published February 1, 2022
 by Hanover Square Press
4.5/5 stars

This is my first time reading a Daniel Black book. It was also my March BOTM pick.

This was very much a tell story. Told from the POV of Jacob, a man dying as he pens a letter to his estranged son. He is reflecting on both his past and upbringing to how it affected his relationship with his son Isaac.

This was another combo book and audiobook read. While I enjoyed the book I highly recommend the audiobook. It is read by the author himself making it all the more emotional and personal.

Don’t Cry For Me is a story of father-son relationship. And really I could say more but I won’t. It’s one that needs to be experienced first hand. It is a piece of fiction but very much feels like a memoir. A touching story that spans generations with love and loss, heartache and more. A story that will stay with me.

This book was part of my 2023 Reading Off My Shelf Challenge #32

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center

Margaret Jacobsen has a bright future ahead of her: a fiancé she adores, her dream job, and the promise of a picture-perfect life just around the corner. Then, suddenly, on what should have been one of the happiest days of her life, everything she worked for is taken away in one tumultuous moment.

In the hospital and forced to face the possibility that nothing will ever be the same again, Margaret must figure out how to move forward on her own terms while facing long-held family secrets, devastating heartbreak, and the idea that love might find her in the last place she would ever expect.

Paperback, 368 pages
Published July 9, 2019 
by St. Martin's Griffin
4/5 stars

Another instalment as I go through Katherine Center’s backlist. How to Walk Away was published in 2018.

Margaret Jacobsen has it all, or so it seems. Everything changes when an accident lands her in the hospital.

Without going into too much detail about this story suffice to say Maggie embarks on a journey that takes her to places she never imagined, to revisit relationships and past hurts. It's a story about the dynamics of family and new friends. Maggie’s story is told from her pov, giving this reader a glimpse into her thoughts and feelings. It’s a difficult time to say the least.

While dealing with some serious subject matter Katherine Center has once again written a heartfelt story with wit, nice banter and some laugh out loud scenes. It’s a story of forgiveness, unexpected changes and hope.

I listened to the audiobook, though I did read some from my print copy. Both of which are excellent formats.

This book was part of my 2023 Reading off my shelf challenge with the audiobook obtained via CloudLibrary.

Monday, April 24, 2023

My Sister's Grave Robert Dugoni

The first book in the series that has garnered millions of readers across the globe, from New York Times bestselling author Robert Dugoni.

Tracy Crosswhite has spent twenty years questioning the facts surrounding her sister Sarah’s disappearance and the murder trial that followed. She doesn’t believe that Edmund House—a convicted rapist and the man condemned for Sarah’s murder—is the guilty party. Motivated by the opportunity to obtain real justice, Tracy became a homicide detective with the Seattle PD and dedicated her life to tracking down killers.

When Sarah’s remains are finally discovered near their hometown in the northern Cascade mountains of Washington State, Tracy is determined to get the answers she’s been seeking. As she searches for the real killer, she unearths dark, long-kept secrets that will forever change her relationship to her past—and open the door to deadly danger.

Kindle Edition, 412 pages
Published November 1, 2014
 by Thomas & Mercer

As a relatively new reader of Robert Dugoni's works, I have already delved into his contemporary books and thoroughly enjoyed his latest crime mystery novel, Her Deadly Game (it's a new series!)

Laurie of TheBakingBookworm fame has been raving about the Tracy Crosswhite Series, so what could I do but jump right in. Not only did I read that book but also the 2 novellas that preceded it (see yesterday's post).

My Sister's Grave follows Tracy Crosswhite, a teacher turned homicide detective.  It's been twenty years since the disappearance of her younger sister Sarah.  Despite a murder trail and conviction, even though Sarah's body has never been found, Tracy has a deep sense that justice was not truly served.  It isn't until her remains are found that Tracy's determination intensifies.  But there might be someone out there who wants the past to remain hidden. 

My Sister's Grave is a well written crime fiction, it's about family relationships, determination, secrets and ultimately the pursuit of justice. What a ride! Definitely an author and series I recommend.

Can I get caught up on this series before book 10 comes out in October?  Time will tell.

This series is available through Kindle Unlimited, which is where I obtained my copy.

The Secret Book of Flora Lea: A Novel by Patti Callahan Henry

From the New York Times bestselling author of Becoming Mrs. Lewis comes a “heartrending, captivating tale of family, first love, and fate” (Kristin Harmel, New York Times bestselling author) about a woman who stumbles across a mysterious children’s book that holds secrets about her missing sister and their childhood spent in the English countryside during World War II.

1939: Fourteen-year-old Hazel and five-year-old Flora evacuate their London home for a rural village to escape the horrors of the Second World War. Living with the Aberdeen family in a charming stone cottage, Hazel distracts her younger sister with a fairy tale about a magical land, a secret place they can escape to that is all their Whisperwood.

But the unthinkable happens when Flora suddenly vanishes after playing near the banks of the River Thames. Shattered, Hazel blames herself for her sister’s disappearance, carrying the guilt into adulthood.

Twenty years later, Hazel is back in London, ready to move on from her job at a cozy rare bookstore for a career at Sotheby’s. With a cherished boyfriend and an upcoming Paris getaway, her future seems set. But her tidy life is turned upside down when she unwraps a package containing a picture book called Whisperwood and the River of Stars . Hazel never told a soul about the storybook world she created just for Flora. Could this book hold the secrets to her beloved sister’s disappearance? Could it be a sign that Flora is still alive after all these years? Or is something sinister at play?

Inspired by the history of the Pied Piper Children, this novel is a poignant reminder of the magical power of stories to draw us together—and ultimately bring us home.

Paperback, 368 pages
Expected publication May 2, 2023
by Simon & Schuster CA
4/5 stars

I try to limit my literary intake of WW2 stories but I could not pass up Patti Callahan Henry’s new book. The cover for The Secret Book of Flora Lea is eye catching along with being one of my top highly anticipated books of 2023.

This is a story of  two sisters sent to the country as part of Operation Pied Piper during WW2. What was deemed for safety seemed fine until Flora Lea disappears without a trace. But 20 years later a secret story shared only between Flora Lea and her older sister Hazel has been published by an American author.  How can that be? Could her sister still be alive because no one else knows this story of a place called Whisperwood.

What follows is a story of hope but it also brings wounds from the past. The Secret Book of Flora Lea is a somewhat magical story of that special sibling relationship, of grief and war. It’s mysterious with fairy tale vibes, slow paced in that it wasn’t a book I rushed through but took my time. I felt for Hazel, her guilt was real as she struggled to let go of the past and embrace life.  Her desire to solve this mystery comes with high stakes and it was great to go along on this journey with Hazel.

Again Patti Callahan Henry has written a thought provoking story that I recommend.

My thanks to Simon and Schuster CA for a print arc in exchange for a honest review.  This book releases on May 2nd.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

The Academy & Third Watch by Robert Dugoni

Tracy Crosswhite #.25

Driven by the disappearance of her sister, Tracy Crosswhite quits her job as a high school science teacher to join the Seattle Police Department. While most of her classmates and instructors at the academy want her to succeed, Detective Johnny Nolasco is hell-bent on keeping the boys’ club intact.

The training sessions offer plenty of opportunities for humiliation, but Tracy’s not the type to give in. Fueled by a confrontation with her in the middle of a class, Nolasco is determined to see Tracy fail. Tracy, harboring memories of the loss of her sister and the disintegration of her family, has too much at stake to let one pigheaded detective stand in her way. With so much to lose, will she make the cut in this competitive world?

43 pages, Kindle Edition
First published September 9, 2014
4/5 stars


Tracy Crosswhite #.50

Tracy Crosswhite’s ordinary night patrolling her Seattle beat becomes front page news when she responds to a domestic disturbance call that turns into a hostage crisis.

In this prequel short story to Robert Dugoni’s #1 Kindle-bestselling novel, My Sister’s Grave, Tracy Crosswhite is a young patrol officer, paying her dues, keeping her head down, and hoping a solid record will get her promoted to detective. While years have passed since the disappearance of Tracy’s sister, the experience has made her one of the city’s most dedicated cops.

Reporter Tevia Kushman is shadowing Tracy on a ride-along seeking to follow-up on a recent (and nasty) exposĂ© about the Seattle PD’s treatment of female cops. Young and ambitious, Tevia is hoping for a juicy scoop on the gender politics of the PD, but may get a much bigger story than she bargained for…

Neither woman expects a routine-sounding call to turn into something dangerous, until Tracy walks into a domestic dispute and finds herself looking down the barrel of a shot-gun. No stranger to high-pressure situations, Tracy must draw on more than just her academy training and lightning-fast shooting skills to find a way to talk down—or take out—the volatile man holding the gun.

48 pages, Kindle Edition
First published August 16, 2015
4/5 stars

Last week I read My Sister's Grave, the first book in Robert Dugoni's Tracy Crosswhite Series. Once I finish that I realized that they were to novellas that were prequels to this book. So I read them, of course. 

The Academy is about Tracy’s entrance into the police academy. I really enjoyed it, seeing her fierce determination not just to be accepted but pass to your the join the force.  Ultimately her goal is to be promoted to Homicide. It was also an introduction to Detective Johnny Nolasco, someone I met in My Sister's Grave.

Third Watch takes place 6 years later.  The blurb gives a good idea of whats going on.  And of course, a lovely scene with Nolasco finishes this novella off nicely.

 Those these books are not necessary when reading My Sister's Grave they are just another glimpse as to Tracy, her past, and how it reflects her career many years later.

Come back tomorrow for my review of  My Sister’s Grave.

Both copies obtained through Kindle Unlimited.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

Margaret shares her secrets and her spirituality in this iconic Judy Blume novel, beloved by millions, that now has a fresh new look.

Margaret Simon, almost twelve, likes long hair, tuna fish, the smell of rain, and things that are pink. She's just moved from New York City to Farbook, New Jersey, and is anxious to fit in with her new friends--Nancy, Gretchen, and Janie. When they form a secret club to talk about private subjects like boys, bras, and getting their first periods, Margaret is happy to belong.

But none of them can believe Margaret doesn't have religion, and that she isn't going to the Y or the Jewish Community Center. What they don't know is Margaret has her own very special relationship with God. She can talk to God about everything--family, friends, even Moose Freed, her secret crush.

Margaret is funny and real, and her thoughts and feelings are oh-so-relatable--you'll feel like she's talking right to you, sharing her secrets with a friend.

Hardcover, 192 pages
Published April 29, 2014
 by Turtleback Books
3.5/5 stars

This book was a quick and easy read, clocking in just under 200 pages. It was also my first time reading a Judy Blume book. The winner of several mini awards, this book was published in 1970 and is a unique blend of middle grade and young adult coming-of-age story.

The protagonist, Margaret Simon, is almost 12 years old and has recently moved from bustling New York City to a smaller town in New Jersey. As she navigates her new school and surroundings, she finds solace in a secret club where she can discuss all things girlish with her new friends.

Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret is a heartwarming tale of friendship, self-discovery, and family. As the title suggests, Margaret is not religious and is curious about the concept of faith, thus exploring different churches.

While I personally found the book to be just okay, I can see how it would be a fun and engaging read for younger readers. 

This book is part of my 2023 Reading Off My Shelf Challenge, #23.

Friday, April 21, 2023

Someone Else's Shoes by Jojo Moyes

A story of mix-ups, mess-ups and making the most of second chances, this is the new novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Jojo Moyes, author of Me Before You and The Giver of Stars.

Who are you when you are forced to walk in someone else’s shoes?

Nisha Cantor lives the globetrotting life of the seriously wealthy, until her husband announces a divorce and cuts her off. Nisha is determined to hang onto her glamorous life. But in the meantime, she must scramble to cope--she doesn’t even have the shoes she was, until a moment ago, standing in.

That’s because Sam Kemp – in the bleakest point of her life – has accidentally taken Nisha’s gym bag. But Sam hardly has time to worry about a lost gym bag--she’s struggling to keep herself and her family afloat. When she tries on Nisha’s six-inch high Christian Louboutin red crocodile shoes, the resulting jolt of confidence that makes her realize something must change—and that thing is herself.

Full of Jojo Moyes’ signature humor, brilliant storytelling, and warmth, Someone Else’s Shoes is a story about how just one little thing can suddenly change everything.

Hardcover, 438 pages
Published February 7, 2023
by Pamela Dorman Books
4.5/5 stars

This was my February BOTM pick, the premise sounded like fun and the cover was eye catchings.  Though I will say that I went in a little cautious, Jojo Moyes has been a hit or miss author for me.

The situation started innocently enough but quickly evolves into a situation that forces these 2 women, Sam and Nisha, to make some serious changes.  And it all started over a pair of shoes.  I will say that I began this book thinking it would be more a comedic read but that part didn't happen till the last third of the book.  And yes 438 pages is a fair sized story but it was enough to really get to know Sam and Nisha.

Sam has so many things on her plate, I won't name everything but suffice to say stress and anxiety are her middle name.  But for some reason these new shoes make her feel different, in a good way.  But is it enough?

Enter Nisha, the snotty, rich pampered wife gets a rude awakening when she not only has Sam's shoes but her life takes a 180 turn in a matter of seconds.

Someone Else's Shoes was a fun and well written story that kept me entertained.  I did both a read and audio-read, both of which I recommend.  Not only was this a journey for these 2 women but for some great characters as well.  The ending was great, I loved it, definitely didn't see that coming.

All in all a thoroughly enjoyable read.

This book was part of my 2023 Reading Off My Shelf Challenge #28

Thursday, April 20, 2023

The Dutch Orphan by Ellen Keith

From the author of The Dutch Wife comes a riveting novel set during World War II about a woman who offers shelter to a Jewish baby, and her sister, who must choose between family loyalty and her own safety.

Amsterdam, 1942. When the Nazis invade Amsterdam, singer Johanna Vos watches in horror as the vibrant music scene she loves is all but erased, her Jewish friends forbidden from performing with her onstage. Alongside her friend Jakob, Johanna creates the Artists’ Resistance, an underground network allowing Jews to perform at houses hosted by their allies. When Johanna hears of a Jewish orphan headed for deportation, she does not think twice. She takes the baby in as her own, hiding the truth from even her own sister, Liesbeth.

Meanwhile, Liesbeth finds herself in a dilemma, as she knows of her sister’s staunch support for the Resistance, but her husband supports the Nazis. When a charming member of the Dutch Fascist Party sets his eyes on her, her predicament only deepens. As secrets continue to grow between the sisters, severing their once-unbreakable bond, they are both forced to make choices that will alter their lives forever.

Kindle Edition, 352 pages
Expected publication April 18, 2023
April 18, 2023 by Park Row
4/5 stars

This was one of my highly anticipated books of 2023. As someone who has read many WW2 books I was drawn to this particlar book because of the location, blurb and that cover.

The story follows two sisters who are newly married and dealing with the war in vastly different ways. One sister joins the resistance, while the other is married to a Nazi sympathizer. This story explores how the war affected those living in the Netherlands, a location that is not often explored in WW2 fiction.

The Dutch Orphan is a story of family, endurance and heartache. Since it spans throughout the whole years of  the war there is also reconciliation. It is a well written story that was authentic and showed what the dutch endured and also their strength and determination, loyalty and courage.

Released just yesterday it’s a book I recommend not just for lovers of HF.

My thanks to Park Row Books (via NetGalley) for a digital arc in exchange for honest review.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

The Firefly Summer by Morgan Matson

The Penderwicks meets The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street in New York Times bestselling author Morgan Matson’s middle grade debut about a young girl who gets to know her mom’s side of the family and hunts for hidden treasure over the course of one chaotic summer.

For as long as Ryanna Stuart can remember, her summers have been spent with her father and his new wife. Just the three of them, structured, planned, and quiet. But this summer is different. This summer, she’s received a letter from her grandparents—grandparents neither she nor her dad have spoken to since her mom’s death—inviting her to stay with them at an old summer camp in the Poconos.

Ryanna accepts. She wants to learn about her mom. She wants to uncover the mystery of why her father hasn’t spoken to her grandparents all these years. She’s even looking forward to a quiet summer by the lake. But what she finds are relatives… so many relatives! Aunts and uncles and cousins upon cousins—a motley, rambunctious crew of kids and eccentric, unconventional adults. People who have memories of her mom from when she was Ryanna’s age, clues to her past like a treasure map. Ryanna even finds an actual, real-life treasure map!

Over the course of one unforgettable summer—filled with s’mores and swimming, adventure and fun, and even a decades-old mystery to solve—Ryanna discovers a whole new side of herself and that, sometimes, the last place you expected to be is the place where you really belong.

Kindle Edition, 399 pages
Expected publication
May 2, 2023
 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
4.5/5 stars

Just from the cover I knew I was in for a fun and entertaining read.

For 11-year-old Ryanna this summer brought with it so much more than she expected.  First off is the family she didn't know existed.  She was determined to not enjoy herself but rather learn about the mother she doesn't remember.  Her mom died when she was just 3 years old, it caused a riff with her dad and the in-laws.  But try as she might her plans were derailed. 

This was such a well written story.  It tugs at the heart strings but also comes with zany adventures in the great outdoors.

The Firefly Summer is a summer adventure story dealing with family, healing and mystery.  Yes there is a good mysterious treasure hunt.  The setting is perfect not just for middle grade readers but for putting adults into summer vacation mode as well.  With swimming, hiking and s'mores the atmosphere shines through.

Releasing in just a couple weeks, The Firefly Summer is a story I recommend to readers of all ages.

My thanks to Simon & Schuster CA for a digital ARC in exchange for a honest review.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Not The Ones Dead By Dana Stabenow

Dana Stabenow

April 11, 2023 by Head of Zeus

The gripping new Kate Shugak novel by New York Times bestselling author Dana Stabenow. What seems a tragic accident soon becomes a murder investigation as Kate is drawn into a case of political intrigue.

A mid-air collision in the Alaskan wilderness between two small aircraft leaves ten people dead. Was it a bird strike, pilot error... or premeditated murder?

Then an eleventh body is found in the wreckage: a man shot gangland style, twice in the chest and once in the head.

In an investigation that reaches to the highest levels of government, justice may not be served, but Kate Shugak is determined that the truth will out, even at the risk of her life and the lives of those she loves most.

About the Author

Dana Stabenow
 was born in Anchorage, Alaska and raised on a 75-foot fishing tender. She knew there was a warmer, drier job out there somewhere and found it in writing. Her first book in the bestselling Kate Shugak series, A Cold Day for Murder, received an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America.

Twitter: @danastabenow

Friday, April 14, 2023

The Metropolitan Affair by Jocelyn Green

For years her explorer father promised Dr. Lauren Westlake she'd accompany him on one of his Egyptian expeditions. But as the empty promises mounted, Lauren determined to earn her own way. Now the assistant curator of Egyptology for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lauren receives two unexpected invitations.

The first is her repentant father's offer to finally bring her to Egypt as his colleague on a new expedition. The second is a chance to enter the world of New York's wealthiest patrons who have been victims of art fraud.

With Egyptomania sweeping the city after the discovery of King Tut's tomb, Detective Joe Caravello is on the hunt for a notorious forger preying on the open wallets of New York's high society. Dr. Westlake is just the expert he needs to help him track the criminal. Together they search for the truth, and the closer Lauren and Joe get to discovering the forger's identity, the more entangled they become in a web of deception and crime.

In this rich 1920s tale, bestselling author Jocelyn Green invites you into one of New York City's most esteemed museums, where a young woman discovers secrets, betrayal, and romance.

Paperback, 384 pages
Published March 14, 2023
 by Bethany House Publishers
4/5 stars

Taking place in the 1920's,  The Metropolitan Affair follows the life of Dr. Lauren Westlake, an Assistant Curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Told from both Lauren's perspective and that of her old friend, Joe, one of New York's finest.

As the first book in Jocelyn Green's On Central Park series, The Metropolitan Affair takes place just after the discovery of King Tut's tomb. The city's elite are scrambling to get their hands on relics from Egypt, but when forgeries start popping up Lauren and Joe team up to track down the culprit.

This book is not just a historical story, but also delves into Lauren's relationship with her father, who has been absent for most of her life, as well as her complicated past with Joe. The story weaves through politics, women in the workforce, police procedures, family, and grief, making for a truly entertaining read.

The Metropolitan Affair even features cameos from historical figures, adding an extra layer of intrigue to the story. With enough Egyptology to satisfy this history buff, this well-written book kept my attention with a mystery that twisted and turned kept me on my toes.

My thanks to Graf-Martin Communication for a print copy in exchange for a honest review.

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Drowning by T.J. Newman

Six minutes after takeoff, Flight 1421 crashes into the Pacific Ocean. During the evacuation, an engine explodes and the plane is flooded. Those still alive are forced to close the doors—but it’s too late. The plane sinks to the bottom with twelve passengers trapped inside.

More than two hundred feet below the surface, engineer Will Kent and his eleven-year-old daughter Shannon are waist-deep in water and fighting for their lives.

Their only chance at survival is an elite rescue team on the surface led by professional diver Chris Kent—Shannon’s mother and Will’s soon-to-be ex-wife—who must work together with Will to find a way to save their daughter and rescue the passengers from the sealed airplane, which is now teetering on the edge of an undersea cliff.

There’s not much time.

There’s even less air.

With devastating emotional power and heart-stopping suspense, Drowning is an unforgettable thriller about a family’s desperate fight to save themselves and the people trapped with them—against impossible odds.

Flight attendant turned New York Times bestselling author T. J. Newman—whose first book Falling was an instant #1 national bestseller and the biggest thriller debut of 2021—returns for her second book, an edge-of-your-seat thriller about a commercial jetliner that crashes into the ocean, and sinks to the bottom with passengers trapped inside, and the extraordinary rescue operation to save them.

Kindle Edition, 300 pages 
Expected publication May 30, 2023 
by Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster
4/5 stars

TJ Newman, a former flight attendant, has captured the attention of readers with her debut novel, Falling, and now follows up with another thrilling aviation story, Drowning.

From the very first page, Drowning takes off with non-stop action that kept this reader on the edge of my seat for almost 300 pages. The story follows the harrowing experience of a flight that crashes into the ocean just minutes after takeoff in Hawaii. A handful of survivors are left stranded on the sinking plane, and a rescue mission ensues. With limited time, patience and oxgyen, the overwhelming anxiety of the situation makes for a fast-paced and emotional read.

But Drowning is not just a story of a rescue mission. It delves into the complexities of family, heartache, and the hope of reunion. The mix of personalities is authentic, and the procedures taken are true to life. Suffice it to say, I devoured this book in a single day.

My thanks to Simon and Schuster Ca (via NetGalley) for providing me with a digital arc in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

The Cuban Heiress by Chanel Cleeton

In 1934, a luxury cruise becomes a fight for survival as two women’s pasts collide on a round-trip voyage from New York to Havana in New York Times bestselling author Chanel Cleeton's page-turning new novel inspired by the true story of the SS Morro Castle.

New York heiress Catherine Dohan seemingly has it all. There’s only one problem. It’s a lie. As soon as the Morro Castle leaves port, Catherine’s past returns with a vengeance and threatens her life. Joining forces with a charismatic jewel thief, Catherine must discover who wants her dead—and why.

Elena Palacio is a dead woman. Or so everyone thinks. After a devastating betrayal left her penniless and on the run, Elena’s journey on the Morro Castle is her last hope. Steeped in secrecy and a burning desire for revenge, her return to Havana is a chance to right the wrong that has been done to her—and her prey is on the ship.

As danger swirls aboard the Morro Castle and their fates intertwine, Elena and Catherine must risk everything to see justice served once and for all.

Kindle edition, 336 pages
Published April 11, 2023
 by Berkley
4/5 stars

On board the SS Morro Castle, a luxurious cruise ship in 1934, I was introduced to two women with mysterious pasts and a jewel thief. The ship was headed to Havana, Cuba, taking place in the midst of the Great Depression this ship was filled with both high society and those from lower classes.

The book opens with a gripping scene and maintains a steady pace throughout. I found myself thoroughly enjoying the mystery with a cast of both likeable and suspicious characters. While there were moments where I had to suspend my disbelief, I was captivated by the story.

I appreciated how the story reflected the historical context of the time. The author's notes, the history lesson, and the distinction between fictional and historical characters is always appreciated in a HF read.  As someone who was not familiar with this particular period in history, I found it all the more fascinating.

Overall, I highly recommend this book. The Cuban Heiress released yesterday.

My thanks to Berkley for a digital arc in exchange for a honest review.

Friday, April 7, 2023

The Lost English Girl by Julia Kelly

The acclaimed author of The Light Over London weaves an epic saga of love, motherhood, and betrayal from World War II to the 1960s.

Liverpool, 1935: Raised in a strict Catholic family, Viv Byrne knows what’s expected of her: marry a Catholic man from her working-class neighborhood and have his children. However, when she finds herself pregnant after a fling with Joshua Levinson, a Jewish man with dreams of becoming a famous Jazz musician, Viv knows that a swift wedding is the only answer. Her only solace is that marrying Joshua will mean escaping her strict mother’s scrutiny. But when Joshua makes a life-changing choice on their wedding day, Viv is forced once again into the arms of her disapproving family.

Five years later and on the eve of World War II, Viv is faced with the impossible choice to evacuate her young daughter, Maggie, to the countryside estate of the affluent Thompson family. In New York City, Joshua gives up his failing musical career to serve in the Royal Air Force, fight for his country, and try to piece together his feelings about the family, wife, and daughter he left behind at eighteen. However, tragedy strikes when Viv learns that the countryside safe haven she sent her daughter to wasn’t immune from the horrors of war. It is only years later, with Joshua’s help, that Viv learns the secrets of their shared past and what it will take to put a family back together again.

Telling the harrowing story of England’s many evacuated children, bestselling author Julia Kelly’s The Lost English Girl explores how one simple choice can change the course of a life, and what we are willing to forgive to find a way back to the ones we love and thought lost.

Kindle Edition, 320 pages
First published March 7, 2023
March 7, 2023 by Gallery Books
4/5 stars

This story begins in 1935 as Viv prepares to get married.  She was raised in a strict Catholic household and has defied her parents' belief by marrying outside of their circle to avoid bringing shame upon the family.  Fast forward 5 years and Viv is a single mom raising her almost 5-year-old daughter Maggie.

Set in Liverpool, a city that is not immune to the war and Operation Pied Piper.  Viv goes against her better judgement and evacuates her daughter to the countryside to live with a well-to-do family.

As the title suggest, The Lost English Girl is a story of separation caused not only by the war but also poor decision making.  Told from Viv's point of view, the emotional impact of her separation from her child, parents and dealing with Maggie's foster mother is explored.  Viv second-guesses her decision all the time, especially as the bombs fall with destructive force. 

 The other perspective is from Joshau, Maggie's father.  Although that was interesting I found myself more connected to Viv's storyline.

The Lost English Girl is a story of family dynamics, religion, and standing up for oneself. This lighter historical fiction read was predictable at times but still entertaining.

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Maame by Jessica George

Maame (ma-meh) has many meanings in Twi but in my case, it means woman.

t’s fair to say that Maddie’s life in London is far from rewarding. With a mother who spends most of her time in Ghana (yet still somehow manages to be overbearing), Maddie is the primary caretaker for her father, who suffers from advanced stage Parkinson’s. At work, her boss is a nightmare and Maddie is tired of always being the only Black person in every meeting.

When her mum returns from her latest trip to Ghana, Maddie leaps at the chance to get out of the family home and finally start living. A self-acknowledged late bloomer, she’s ready to experience some important “firsts”: She finds a flat share, says yes to after-work drinks, pushes for more recognition in her career, and throws herself into the bewildering world of internet dating. But it's not long before tragedy strikes, forcing Maddie to face the true nature of her unconventional family, and the perils—and rewards—of putting her heart on the line.

Smart, funny, and deeply affecting, Jessica George's Maame deals with the themes of our time with humor and poignancy: from familial duty and racism, to female pleasure, the complexity of love, and the life-saving power of friendship. Most important, it explores what it feels like to be torn between two homes and cultures―and it celebrates finally being able to find where you belong.

Paperback, 312 pages
Published January 31, 2023
by St. Martin's Press
3.5/5 stars

I was drawn to this book due to the buzz on social media and its popularity among online reading groups. It also happens to be the author's debut work. I decided to take it with me on a recent vacation and opted for a hybrid reading experience, alternating between the physical book and the audiobook version. The audiobook, read by Heather Agyepong, was just over 10 hours long and she did an excellent job bringing the story to life.

The protagonist, Maddie, is a 25-year-old woman living in London who juggles a full-time job with being the primary caregiver for her father. The emotional toll of her responsibilities at home and the challenges she faces at work take a toll on her. When her mother returns to town, Maddie seizes the opportunity to move out and live independently for the first time in her life. What follows is a journey of self-discovery for Maddie as she navigates her mental health issues, career, dating, and her relationships with her family.

I found the audiobook more enjoyable than the physical book, as the reader's accent reinforced Maddie's Ghanaian roots. The story touches on racial issues, mental health, and family dynamics, all wrapped up in Maddie's personal journey. While I may not give it the five-star rating that many others have, I did find it entertaining and thought-provoking.

This book was part of my 2023 Reading Off My Shelf Challenge, #24.

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

All children mythologize their birth...

So begins the prologue of reclusive author Vida Winter's collection of stories, which are as famous for the mystery of the missing thirteenth tale as they are for the delight and enchantment of the twelve that do exist.

The enigmatic Winter has spent six decades creating various outlandish life histories for herself -- all of them inventions that have brought her fame and fortune but have kept her violent and tragic past a secret. Now old and ailing, she at last wants to tell the truth about her extraordinary life. She summons biographer Margaret Lea, a young woman for whom the secret of her own birth, hidden by those who loved her most, remains an ever-present pain. Struck by a curious parallel between Miss Winter's story and her own, Margaret takes on the commission.

As Vida disinters the life she meant to bury for good, Margaret is mesmerized. It is a tale of gothic strangeness featuring the Angelfield family, including the beautiful and willful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess, a topiary garden and a devastating fire.

Margaret succumbs to the power of Vida's storytelling but remains suspicious of the author's sincerity. She demands the truth from Vida, and together they confront the ghosts that have haunted them while becoming, finally, transformed by the truth themselves.

The Thirteenth Tale is a love letter to reading, a book for the feral reader in all of us, a return to that rich vein of storytelling that our parents loved and that we loved as children. Diane Setterfield will keep you guessing, make you wonder, move you to tears and laughter and, in the end, deposit you breathless yet satisfied back upon the shore of your everyday life.

Hardcover, 406 pages
Published September 12, 2006 
by Atria Books

Audiobook, 15 hours, 38 minutes
Narrated by: Bianco Amato & Jill Tanner
4/5 stars
“All children mythologise their birth. It is a universal trait. You want to know someone? Heart, mind and soul? Ask him to tell you about when he was born. What you get won’t be the truth: it will be a story. And nothing is more telling than a story.”
Ever since I read Once Upon A River I've been a little apprehensive to read another Setterfield book.  I loved it that much.  Ultimately curiosity got the better of me and I dove in.  First with the book, then a couple chapters on audio had me finishing that way.  The 2 readers did an exceptional job.

The Thirteenth Tale is a dark and Gothic mystery that follows Margaret Lea, who works at her father's rare book shop.  Out of the blue she is contacted to write the biography of Vida Winter, a famous author with a mysterious past.  What unfolds is a story that slowly unravels over 400 pages, revealing unsettling twists.  It was a intricately woven plot and one I wasn't able to predict.

Thirteenth is a tale of family, truth and many secrets.  It is well-written and full of surprises.  I highly recommend the audiobook for the unique voices that added depth to Margaret and Vida's stories.

This book was part of my 2023 Reading Off My Challenge, #27.  The audiobook was obtained via Scribd.

Monday, April 3, 2023

The Lioness of Leiden by Robert Loewen

How do you fight the Nazis right under their noses? With cunning and courage.

When the Germans invade the Netherlands, Leiden University student Hetty’s boyfriend goes missing. But she has little time to grieve when she volunteers as a courier for the Dutch resistance, joined by her roommate, the beautiful Mimi, and seventeen-year-old Maria, the daughter of a slain resistance fighter. At great personal risk, the three women carry documents, secret messages, and cash to protect Jews, downed pilots, and others hiding from the Nazis.

During five years of war, Hetty is challenged by a gauntlet of spies and betrayal. She heroically fights back as she and her friends accept increasingly dangerous assignments. All the while, Hetty worries about her family. She tries to forbid her younger brother from volunteering for combat in the resistance and argues with her father about becoming too cozy with the Nazis.

As the Gestapo closes in, can Hetty and her family and friends make it through the war, free to live and love again?

Inspired by true events, Robert Loewen’s debut novel pays tribute to the heroism of his mother-in-law, who served as a courier in the Dutch resistance during World War II.

Kindle, 276 pages
Expected publication April 4, 2023
by Greenleaf Book Group
4/5 stars

I was attracted to this book because of the location, The Hague in the Netherlands, is where my parents grew up and lived during the war.

The author does not hold back as he describes some of the atrocities the Dutch endured as the Nazis endeavoured to take over. However, this book shows they did not take this invasion lightly and fought back. 

There is a lot of people to keep track of, especially at the beginning, even though I had wished I had kept notes it didn't take long to become absorbed. The Lioness of Leiden is a well researched, raw story centring around Hetty as she worked with the resistance.  She endured terrible losses, heartache, and danger. There are a number of different POVs which gave a vivid picture.   The only thing I found lacking was a timeline to indict the progression of time.

The author notes at the end made this book all the more compelling with a final chapter that was emotional and a fitting end.  Given this book is loosely based on the author's mother-in-law made the story all the more interesting and sad for the things her family lived through.

My thanks to Greenleaf Book Group (via Netgalley) for a digital arc in exchange for a honest review.

Sunday, April 2, 2023

The Coronation Year by Jennifer Robson

The USA Today bestselling author of The Gown returns with another enthralling and royal-adjacent historical novel—as the lives of three very different residents of London’s historic Blue Lion hotel converge in a potentially explosive climax on the day of Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation.

It is Coronation Year, 1953, and a new queen is about to be crowned. The people of London are in a mood to celebrate, none more so than the residents of the Blue Lion hotel.

Edie Howard, owner and operator of the floundering Blue Lion, has found the miracle she needs: on Coronation Day, Queen Elizabeth in her gold coach will pass by the hotel’s front door, allowing Edie to charge a fortune for rooms and, barring disaster, save her beloved home from financial ruin. Edie’s luck might just be turning, all thanks to a young queen about her own age.

Stella Donati, a young Italian photographer and Holocaust survivor, has come to live at the Blue Lion while she takes up a coveted position at Picture Weekly magazine. London in celebration mode feels like a different world to her. As she learns the ins and outs of her new profession, Stella discovers a purpose and direction that honor her past and bring hope for her future.

James Geddes, a war hero and gifted artist, has struggled to make his mark in a world that disdains his Indian ancestry. At the Blue Lion, though, he is made to feel welcome and worthy. Yet even as his friendship with Edie deepens, he begins to suspect that something is badly amiss at his new home.

When anonymous threats focused on Coronation Day, the Blue Lion, and even the queen herself disrupt their mood of happy optimism, Edie and her friends must race to uncover the truth, save their home, and expose those who seek to erase the joy and promise of Coronation Year.

Kindle, 400 pages
Expected publication April 4, 2023
by William Morrow & Company
3/5 stars

Jennifer Robson is an auto read author for me. Her love of all things royal and England is evident in her social media accounts and her writing. She is actually the first author that I attended an author event for.

In her latest novel, The Coronation Year, Robson takes us on a journey through the six months leading up to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Through the eyes of three individuals scarred by the war, we witness their struggles and triumphs as they make their way towards this historic event.

Edie, the owner of the Blue Lion Hotel on the coronation route, faces one trial after another as she prepares for the big day. Stella, a photographer who survived the war in Italy, is in England for a fresh start after losing most of her family in various camps. And James, a Scottish painter with Indian roots, must navigate not only the aftermath of the war, but also racial tensions.

As the new monarchy becomes official, the coronation year is a story of hope for the future, despite the trials and tribulations that these characters face. And of course, there is a touch of romance to round things out nicely.

My thanks to William Morrow (via Netgalley) for a digital arc in exchange for a honest review.

Saturday, April 1, 2023

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

When Claudia decided to run away, she planned very carefully. She would be gone just long enough to teach her parents a lesson in Claudia appreciation. And she would go in comfort - she would live at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She saved her money, and she invited her brother Jamie to go, mostly because he was a miser and would have money.

Claudia was a good organizer and Jamie had some ideas, too; so the two took up residence at the museum right on schedule. But once the fun of settling in was over, Claudia had two unexpected problems: She felt just the same, and she wanted to feel different; and she found a statue at the Museum so beautiful she could not go home until she had discovered its maker, a question that baffled the experts, too.

The former owner of the statue was Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Without her - well, without her, Claudia might never have found a way to go home.

Hardcover, 162 pages
Published March 1, 1967 
by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Several years ago, I embarked on a mission to read all of the John Newbery Honour winners. This prestigious award has been bestowed upon exceptional children's books since 1922. While I still have a long way to go with these middle-grade novels, I manage to read a handful each year. In 1968, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was the recipient of this esteemed award.

The story follows the escapades of siblings Claudia and Jamie, who run away from home to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The tale is narrated from the perspective of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, leaving this reader to ponder her connection to the two children.

Claudia masterminds the runaway plan, enlisting her younger brother Jamie to join her. Jamie's frugality and savings make him the perfect partner for this adventure.  The reason for this adventure is made clear with an unexpected quest added along the way.

From the Mixed Up Files is a story of siblings, adventure and mayhem. Unlike many of the honour winners, this book is a fun and entertaining read, filled with words of wisdom, lessons in frugality, and adventure.

This book was part of my 2023 reading off myself challenge. #26