Thursday, January 18, 2024

Virgins by Diana Gabaldon

A young Jamie Fraser learns what it really means to become a man in this Outlander prequel novella. 

Mourning the death of his father and gravely injured at the hands of the English, Jamie Fraser finds himself running with a band of mercenaries in the French countryside, where he reconnects with his old friend Ian Murray. 

Both are nursing wounds; both have good reason to stay out of Scotland; and both are still virgins, despite several opportunities to remedy that deplorable situation with ladies of easy virtue. But Jamie’s love life becomes infinitely more complicated—and dangerous—when fate brings the young men into the service of Dr. Hasdi, a Jewish gentleman who hires them to escort two priceless treasures to Paris. One is an old Torah; the other is the doctor’s beautiful daughter, Rebekah, destined for an arranged marriage. 

Both Jamie and Ian are instantly drawn to the bride-to-be—but they might be more cautious if they had any idea who they’re truly dealing with.

Kindle Edition, 86 pages
Published April 8, 2016 
by Dell
3/5 stars

I am attempting in 2024 to get caught up with the Outlander series - it's a big task that will involve some rereading and delving into some novellas.  Which is where I catch up with Jamie and Ian in Virgins, #.5 in this series.  In a time before Clare enters the picture.

Taking place just after Jamie has been brutally lashed by Captain Jack Randall and the death of Jamie’s father. He escapes to France where he meets up with Ian Murray.

A quick read coming in at approx. 86 pages (depends which edition you read or listen to).  It was an interesting story as Ian and Jamie work to protect and deliver a bride to her future husband. While it didn’t mesh with the Outlander story it does signify the bond between Jamie and Ian and highlighted reasons why Jamie was on the run.

As true to Diana fashion it might have been a little longer then necessary, not sure I would have continued with the series if this was my introduction though.

Friday, January 12, 2024

Spotlight: Maude Horton's Glorious Revenge by Lizzie Pook

An Arctic expedition. A mysterious death. And the lengths to which one woman will go to avenge her sister

When Maude Horton receives a letter from the British Admiralty informing her of her younger sister’s death, her world is shattered. Bold and daring, Constance had run away from her life in Victorian London two years prior, disguising herself as a boy to board the Makepeace, an expedition vessel bound for the Arctic’s unexplored Northwest Passage. The admiralty claims Constance’s death was a tragic accident, but Maude knows when she is being deceived.

Armed with Constance’s diary from her time at sea and a fiery desire for justice, Maude sets her sights on the Makepeace’s former scientist, Edison Stowe, a greedy and manipulative man whom she suspects had a hand in her sister’s death. When she learns he has a new venture, a travel company that escorts spectators across the country to witness popular public hangings, she decides to join the latest tour, determined to extract the truth from Stowe and avenge her sister—no matter the risk to herself.

From the stark beauty of the Arctic to the teeming streets of Victorian London, Maude Horton’s Glorious Revenge is a mysterious, transportive tale about the unbreakable bond of sisterhood and the things we are driven to do by both love and greed.

Paperback, 336 pages
Expected publication
January 16, 2024
 by Simon & Schuster

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Through the Snow Globe by Annie Rains

It’s a Wonderful Life meets Groundhog Day, as a woman dangerously close to losing it all receives an unexpected Christmas gift that prompts a surprising journey of self-discovery... and another chance at happiness.

What if you could have one more day with someone you lost?

Diana Merriman, a physical therapist, is probably the only person in the small town of Snow Haven, North Carolina, who isn’t looking forward to Christmas. It’s been three weeks since her fiancé Linus was critically injured when a car hit him as he biked home from the toy store he owns and manages. Watching him open his eyes is the only gift she wants, but she can’t help losing a little more hope every day.

But an unexpected visit from a friendly neighbor and finding a snow globe of Snow Haven—a gift Linus had hidden in the closet—the night before Christmas Eve changes things in ways Diana never would have imagined. Because on Christmas Eve Diana wakes up to find that it’s not—Christmas Eve, that is. Instead, it’s somehow December 4 all over again, the day Linus got hurt, and as mystified as Diana is, she immediately starts a plan to save her partner from his fate.

Nothing is that simple, of course. Instead of a single repeat of that day, Diana finds herself in an endless loop of December 4, experiencing every possible variation of events. Along the way, she uncovers startling truths about herself, her relationship, and even her career that illustrate the ways she’s retreated from her life—and in the face of life’s slights and outright blows, from her deepest feelings. Suddenly hope is second only to joy as Diana opens her heart to the people she loves in every way she can.

Hardcover, 304 pages
Published August 22, 2023
 by Kensington
4/5 stars

This year I vow to read more Christmas stories. In fact, this was my fourth for 2023, which is a record.

Through the Snow Globe is a groundhog day story that packs a punch. It asks the important question -. what if you could have one more day with someone you lost.  Which is what Diana tries to do. But it isn’t just that she wants one more day, she wants to change the past so that they have a lifetime together.

This book would make a great Hallmark Christmas movie. As each time loop progresses Diana continues on a journey self discovery as her fiancé continues to languish in a coma.

Although I am not a huge fan of Groundhog Day type stories, mostly because of the repetitiveness, but because of the season this one worked for me. 

Annie Rains is a new to me author, one I hope to read more of.

This book was part of my 2023 reading off my shelf challenged. 
My copy was obtained through a Once Upon a BookClub book box.

Monday, January 8, 2024

The Grace of Wild Things by Heather Fawcett

An inventive and fantastical reimagining of Anne of Green Gables—with magic and witches!—that explores found family, loss, and the power of a girl's imagination, from the acclaimed author of The Language of Ghosts and The School Between Winter and Fairyland.

Grace has never been good at anything except magic—not that anyone believes her. While other children are adopted from the orphanage, nobody wants Grace. So she decides to make a home for herself by running away and offering herself as an apprentice to the witch in the nearby woods. After all, who better to teach Grace to use her magic? Surely the witch can’t be that bad.

But the witch is that bad—she steals souls for spells and gobbles up hearts. So Grace offers a deal: If she can learn all 100½ spells in the witch’s grimoire, the witch will make Grace her apprentice. But if Grace fails, the witch can take her magic. The witch agrees, and soon an unexpected bond develops between them. But the spells are much harder than Grace expected, and when a monster from the witch’s past threatens the home Grace has built, she may have to sacrifice more than her magic to save it.

Inspired by Anne of Green Gables, this is a magical story of found family, loss, and the power of a girl’s imagination.

Hardcover, 368 pages
Published February 14, 2023
 by Balzer + Bray
4.5/5 stars

I first stumbled upon this book on Instagram, it was the cover that totally caught my eye.   Also I love a good retellings or reimagining of stories.  So, when I found out that it was a magical twist on Anne of Green Gables, I just couldn't resist! 

From the very beginning, this book had me hooked with its whimsical and enchanting vibe. Grace, a runaway from an orphanage, ends up seeking refuge with a witch who lives in a cabin deep in the woods.  She not only manages to convince the witch to let her stay, but they even strike a deal where Grace might just become her apprentice. Of course the road to achieve this is filled with adventure.

What follows over the next nine months is a story of friendship, imagination and family. A fun and entertaining read.

This book was part of my 2024 reading off my shelf challenge. It is also part of my 52 bookclub challenge and prompt number 23 of 52.


Thursday, January 4, 2024

The Frozen River by Ariel Lawhon

From the New York Times bestselling author of I Was Anastasia and Code Name Hélène comes a gripping historical mystery inspired by the life and diary of Martha Ballard, a renowned 18th-century midwife who defied the legal system and wrote herself into American history.

Maine, 1789: When the Kennebec River freezes, entombing a man in the ice, Martha Ballard is summoned to examine the body and determine cause of death. As a midwife and healer, she is privy to much of what goes on behind closed doors in Hallowell. Her diary is a record of every birth and death, crime and debacle that unfolds in the close-knit community. Months earlier, Martha documented the details of an alleged rape committed by two of the town’s most respected gentlemen—one of whom has now been found dead in the ice. But when a local physician undermines her conclusion, declaring the death to be an accident, Martha is forced to investigate the shocking murder on her own.

Over the course of one winter, as the trial nears, and whispers and prejudices mount, Martha doggedly pursues the truth. Her diary soon lands at the center of the scandal, implicating those she loves, and compelling Martha to decide where her own loyalties lie.

Clever, layered, and subversive, Ariel Lawhon’s newest offering introduces an unsung heroine who refused to accept anything less than justice at a time when women were considered best seen and not heard. The Frozen River is a thrilling, tense, and tender story about a remarkable woman who left an unparalleled legacy yet remains nearly forgotten to this day.

Hardcover, 432 pages
Published December 5, 2023
 by Doubleday
4.5/5 stars

The Frozen River was my final read of 2023. Ariel Lawhon is one of my go to authors because of her unique storylines and how she takes pieces of history weaving together an authentic story.

Beginning in 1789 The Frozen River is the story of Martha Ballard and told from her point of view. While there is drama playing out with the murder of a man once accused of rape, this is ultimately Martha’s story. Taking place over the winter months this captivating read was atmospheric as the author described the elements, the treatment/violence and inequality against women. Martha was a woman ahead of her time. There were many interesting characters, and as Martha went back in time with her memories it wasn't hard to really get to know her and the family.

I loved the extensive author notes at the end where the author reflected on what was fact verse fiction and her motivation to tell Martha's story.

There were parts that felt a bit slow and drawn out but ultimately this was a great book to end the year with.

The Frozen River is a story of family, compassion, injustice, and righting wrongs.

This book was part of my 2023 reading off my shelf challenge.

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

The Lost Boys of Barlowe Theater by Jaime Jo Wright

Barlowe Theater stole the life of Greta Mercy's brother during its construction. Now in 1915, the completed theater appears every bit as deadly. When Greta's younger brother goes missing after breaking into the building, Greta engages the assistance of a local police officer to help her uncover the already ghostly secrets of the theater. But when help comes from an unlikely source, Greta decides that to save her family she must put the threat of the phantoms to rest.

Decades later, Kit Boyd's best friend vanishes during a ghost walk at the Barlowe Theater, and old stories of mysterious disappearances and ghoulish happenings are revived. When television ghost-hunting host and skeptic Evan Fisher engages Kit in the quest to identify the truth behind the theater's history, Kit reluctantly agrees to work with him in hopes of also finding out what happened to her friend. As the theater's curse begins to unravel Kit's own life, she sets out not only to save the historical building and her friend, but to end the pattern of evil that has marked their hometown for a century.

In this atmospheric dual-time tale, two women--separated by a century yet bound by the ghosts of the past--pursue light in the face of darkness.

Paperback, 352 pages
Published October 10, 2023 
by Bethany House Publishers
4/5 stars

Jaime Jo Wright is one of my go to authors (yea I know I do have a lot of them).  Known for dual time period stories loosely based on history she has once again delivered a mysterious suspenseful read.

Beginning in 1915 with strange happenings taking place in the Barlowe Theater and ultimately the disappearance of 3 boys.  Fast forward to present day where it feels like history is repeating itself.

This book had everything I love, the gothic vibe, authentic characters and a well written multi layered story.  Known for including themes relevant to most Wright always delivers a strong message in her books.

The Lost Boys of Barlowe Theater is a story of family, friendships and trust.  It is Christian fiction at it's finest.

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