Review: Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

Maisie Dobbs

My book club this month read Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear. I listened to the audiobook on Hoopla, and–full disclosure–I suck at retaining audible information. I’m very much a visual learner, but I’m so busy that I don’t get to read just for fun anymore unless it’s while I’m shuttling children around town or cooking dinner or going for a jog (walk, really…). Anyway, my point in sharing this is that I don’t focus very well when I listen to audiobooks, but I still loved this story. I couldn’t tell you all the finer points of the plot, but Maisie Dobbs is a kicka** private detective just oozing with coolness.

I loved this book for a few reasons. First, Maisie is a good role model. She’s smart, resourceful, brave, intuitive in her work, and lives with integrity. Second, this book covers a period of time which I’m not as familiar with as others. Maisie goes off to serve as a nurse during World War I. I’ve read many books about WWII, but not as many about WWI, and it was nice to experience this period through a new perspective. Third, it provided a great blend of cozy murder mystery, plot, history, and a touch of love story. The ending was heartbreaking and unexpected, but somehow fit the book and mood perfectly.

The only thing I didn’t like was the transitions to the many flashbacks. I didn’t mind the flashbacks themselves or jumps in the story, but there was no indication that the scene or time had changed, which made it especially hard for me to keep track of things in the audiobook. A note of the year at the beginning of each flashback would have been helpful.

I’ve learned that there is a whole series of Maisie Dobbs adventures and I hope to read some more someday! I definitely recommend this one!

4.5 stars out of 5

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Book Review: Topaz Reign by Teresa Richards

Topaz Reign.jpgCalling all fairy tale fans: here is a book for you! Book one of this series—Emerald Bound—gives us an interpretation of the princess and the pea. Topaz Reign continues this tale and introduces the story of Thumbelina.

Lindy—the princess who slept on an enchanted emerald, or “pea”—is back in her native land and time. As she tries to learn how to lead her country, a topaz that grants its wearer unmatched beauty and power threatens to overthrow her family, country, and even the world. With help from friends and family, Lindy must figure out the secret of the topaz and destroy it, before it destroys everyone she loves.

Lindy is my favorite character from Emerald Bound, so I was very excited to see her grow into a confident, powerhouse woman in this book. Maggie and Garon are also significant players in this story, and Tanner has a more important role in helping take down the wearer of the topaz.

I loved trying to figure out which character was Thumbelina, because it’s not obvious at first! Thumbelina is another fairy tale that, like the princess and the pea, is not one that I’ve heard many times. I feel like Hollywood and mainstream books redo the same fairy tales over and over—Cinderella, Snow White, the “classic” princesses—and I love the author’s ability to bring lesser-known fairy tales to the limelight and give them a twist.

Like Emerald Bound, Topaz Reign is so much fun, full of action, and sure to keep you turning pages!

5 out of 5 stars

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Book Review: Dead by Morning

dead-by-morningI know I haven’t reviewed much (read: any) horror on this blog, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t read much of the genre. While it’s not my primary genre of choice, a good dark read can be a fun break from the happy stories I typically choose. Dead By Morning by Kayla Krantz is a young adult horror story with psychological thriller elements and was recommended to me by a friend. 

Synopsis

Luna is a social outcast at her high school. She doesn’t mind; it’s her senior year and she’s looking forward to bigger and better things, like college. Her only problem is that super-popular Chance, whom she despises, won’t leave her alone. What starts as a seemingly ordinary story of a high school romance quickly turns dark when Luna discovers Chance is a Satanist full of deadly secrets. To make matters worse, someone–or something–begins to haunt her dreams, giving nightmares that soon become reality. Luna must figure out how to survive her dreams and convince everyone that pretty-boy Chance is not as innocent as he seems.

Strengths

This book hooked me right at the beginning and kept me reading through the end! The writing style is clear and easy to follow, but still provides adequate imagery so the reader can become fully immersed in the story. The author did a good job in creating conflict in her story; poor Luna is dealing with problem after problem from page one until the end! The pacing is great–the story moves along quickly and kept me interested throughout.

Weaknesses

There were a few issues I had with the overall story. It was really frustrating to watch Luna let herself be bullied by Chance. A normal person would have gotten help from the authorities–police, teachers, parents, ANYone. Her parents and best friend are so stupid and totally ignore the HUGE red flags about this guy. Normal parents would be more concerned about the safety and well-being of their daughter than pleasing some random kid from school. Her dad doesn’t seem excessively negligent, so I have to assume he’s oblivious to his daughter’s mental state. All of this behavior is a little hard for me to believe because it’s just not consistent with normal, healthy individuals.

Luna is constantly surprised at the horrible things Chance does. Don’t want to give away any spoilers, but she KNOWS he killed someone, yet is horrified when she sees an additional piece of physical evidence. That behavior is inconsistent.

The supernatural elements in the story are not fully explained and leave loose ends. There’s a character named Max who helps Luna deal with Chance. Max shows up with inexplicable knowledge of the whys and hows of her dreams. How does he know this stuff? It’s odd that Luna never questions how he knows what he does. Perhaps she didn’t wonder, but as a reader, I certainly did! Other supernatural stuff–like Luna’s vague ability to know the future, how Chance’s Satanism connects with the dream world stuff, and how Chance gained his abilities–are never really explained. 

Conclusion

Dead By Morning was definitely an entertaining read, especially if you enjoy the horror genre. The writing is strong and mechanically-sound; Krantz has a lot of talent as a writer. There were some loose ends and other issues with the overall story, and I think the supernatural element of the book needed some developing. But overall it was a fun, quick read that horror fans will enjoy. For those who haven’t read horror and want to try it out, I think this would be a good starting book. It’s not overtly gory or unnecessarily gross, but prepare yourself for unexpected character deaths! 

3.5 stars

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Book Review: The Bug Boys by Stewart Hoffman

I’ve just finished The Bug Boys and, oh, what a delightful read! This good tale can be found on Book Club Reading List.bug-boys

Synopsis

Alex and Ian are two ordinary middle-schoolers growing up in an ordinary small town in England. One afternoon they ate a lunch that made them feel peculiar. Little did they know, that peanut butter sandwich and apple were saturated in an ancient alien life form that turned their bodies into portals to a distant planet. They first discovered something was amiss when, after being forced to swallow a ladybug by the school bully, Alex grew 4 extra arms, acquired super-strength, and could understand the language of bugs–but only for about 20 minutes. With their newfound superpowers, Alex and Ian felt unstoppable. What better way was there to use their new abilities than to fight crime and become superheroes? After dealing with the local school bully, Alex and Ian find themselves tangled up in a corporate conspiracy far out of their league and soon long for the days before their problems became so complicated.

Strengths

This book is SO funny! I love the storytelling style and the humor that is woven so effortlessly throughout. The author has referenced his love of Terry Pratchett and I can see his influence in book’s sense of humor. I love the lighthearted, fresh twist on a superhero story, and I love that the main characters–Alex and Ian–behave exactly how you would expect pre-teen boys with superpowers to behave. They are absolutely believable and genuine characters that are so easy to love. While The Bug Boys is an entertaining read for anyone, if you have a son who might struggle with finding interesting books to read, you MUST give them this one! They will love it! Maybe I’m biased because I’m a girl (and therefore exposed to a plethora of interesting-to-girls literature), but I don’t think there are enough books geared toward middle school boys. The Bug Boys would be a fantastic addition to any young reader’s bookshelf.

Weaknesses

There were a few chapters where the action slowed down a bit, examining the story from a different point of view. While it was nice to get a different perspective, the change in pace during these chapters was a little slower than I preferred. But these chapters were generally brief before connecting back to Alex and Ian’s adventures.

Conclusion

This is a book you don’t want to miss. It has broad audience appeal, thanks to the easy humor and fun writing style, and will be enjoyed by readers of any age. I would especially recommend to middle school age boys, but again, everyone can enjoy this read. Go get yourself a copy and enjoy your next good tale!

5 stars

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Book review: The House of Baric Part One: Shields Down

Shields Down Digital Front-smallerI have finally finished The House of Baric Part One: Shields Down! This historical fiction novel by Jillian Bald can be found on Book Club Reading List. Now, I say “finally” because I have been diligently working on it for the better part of a month. It is quite long, but very entertaining!

Synopsis

Resi is a girl from Greece whose father arranges her marriage to a Croatian baron’s son to keep the peace after a trading deal goes awry. Betrothed from a young age, Resi is unsure of her future. She doesn’t want to marry a stranger and live far from her family in a foreign land. When she is finally sent for to fulfill the marriage contract, she moves to Croatia with her best friend Ruby to keep her company. Her new husband, Baron Mauro Baric, is not what she expected. The House of Baric: Shields Down explores their first two years of marriage, getting to know each other and discovering they might actually like each other. The reader gets to know a colorful cast of characters and becomes immersed in 17th-century life in Croatia.

Strengths

If you love historical fiction, this book is for you! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Historical fiction is my favorite way to learn history. I cannot get through dry history books; I literally fall asleep every time. But historical fiction? Sign me up! I love learning about the past, what life was like, how things were different from the world I live in today, and historical fiction teaches history by immersing the reader in that period. The House of Baric did a great job at fully depicting its world, 17th-century Croatia, a time and place I have never learned much about. Bravo to Jillian Bald for the sheer amount of research I’m sure she did to accurately write in such a setting.

The writing is very strong, descriptive and sophisticated. It was long, but easy to read.

I very much enjoyed the characters and getting in each of their heads. I loved Resi and thought she was very brave in accepting the terms of her marriage and making the best of it. She is a very intelligent woman with a strong spine who isn’t afraid to stand up for herself or others she thinks are being mistreated.

Weaknesses

The main problem I had with this book is that I didn’t feel like as much was accomplished during the story as should have been, given how long it was. It is definitely a slow-moving, descriptive book, which is fine, but there were events that I kept expecting to get to only to have the plot derailed by something else. For example, we learn early on that Resi has been communicating with her favorite brother, a mercenary who has not gotten along well with Mauro in past years. Her brother will be in the area and wants to come for a visit. Naturally, I expected this highly anticipated event would cover at least a portion of the rest of the book. Instead, unexpected visitors show up at the Baric household, then Mauro’s ship is confiscated by the government, there’s a ball and a camp out on the beach… All entertaining parts of the book, but then Part One ends just as Resi’s brother shows up. I guess that’s meant to be motivation to read the next book in the series, but I’m a little annoyed that I was waiting for the confrontation with the brother for so long and didn’t even get to read it.

Conclusion

This is definitely a book for all historical fiction lovers! I wish I could go on a Mediterranean cruise or something now. Lounge on the beach, gaze into crystal clear waters, and curl up with a good book. Doesn’t that sound amazing? This book put me in that mood! It is a little on the long side and definitely has passages that could be trimmed down, but The House of Baric Part One: Shields Down is a quality, worthwhile read. Be prepared to take your time to savor all it has to offer.

4 out of 5 stars

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Book Review: Waterwight by Laurel McHargue

waterwightI’ve finished Laurel McHargue’s Waterwight. What a fun read!! I found this gem on Book Club Reading List.

Synopsis

After a catastrophe only known as “the Event”, Celeste escapes from a home for orphans with little to no memory of what happened to her parents. Determined to learn the truth, Celeste embarks on an adventure to save what’s left of the world from an ever-growing ocean of toxic ooze. Guided by a mountain spirit and befriended by a giant, flying frog, Celeste must learn how to live in this changed world devoid of adults where children have started getting supernatural powers. Hunted by a murderous shape-shifter, will Celeste uncover the mystery behind the ooze before the rest of the world is overcome?

Strengths

I thought this was such a creative take on a post-apocalyptic world. I’m not sure I’ve ever read one where the children were the only survivors. Throw in supernatural powers and you’ve got a really interesting story. I think the characters were well-developed; my favorite is Orville, the French, flying frog. Who knew a frog could be so overwhelmingly charming?? I am dying to know how his story continues in the next book!

The supernatural powers that start manifesting in the children are so cool and varied. Mind reading, flying, invisibility, time-stopping, visions, super-strength…I could go on.

A huge strength to this book is the driving mystery. Where did this ooze come from? What exactly happened during the Event and what caused it? There’s a dreamlike quality throughout that makes the book feel very magical.

Weaknesses

There were times when the traveling of various characters got a bit tedious. Celeste has to fly across the ocean a couple of times and I think those parts could have been sped up or condensed further. But otherwise there weren’t many weaknesses!

Conclusion

This is a definite must read! Especially for the YA or middle school audience. Fun characters with superpowers and fast-moving, interesting plot, this is a book you won’t want to miss!

5 stars

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Laurel loves to hear from her readers! Contact her on Book Club Reading List or on Facebook

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Book Review: Four Ways to Pharaoh Khufu

Four ways to pharaoh KhufuJust finished Four Ways to Pharaoh Khufu! This adventure tale is by Alexander Marmer and can be found on Book Club Reading List.

Synopsis

Michael has dreamed of visiting the Egyptian pyramids since he was a child. On his first day in the country touring the Great Pyramid, he meets a dying German engineer who claims to have been poisoned. After giving Michael a business card for his daughter and a small notebook, his last words are “find four ways.” Michael begins an adventure beyond his wildest dreams, attempting to recover a stolen ancient stele, decode the dying man’s final words, and find the final resting place of the great Pharaoh Khufu. He is accompanied by the German’s daughter, Anna, and together they try to unravel the mystery surrounding her father’s death.

Strengths

This was a very well-written (and well-edited) book. That’s not to say I didn’t find a few typos, but obvious care went into the writing and research of this book. There is SO much fascinating history about Egypt and the pyramids included in this story! I learned more than I thought I’d ever know about Egypt in a single read.

The story line was exciting and full of action. I liked the main characters, Michael and Anna, and enjoyed going on the adventure with them.

Weaknesses

The main weakness for me–which may not be seen as a weakness by someone else–was simply the length of this book. Clocking in at 363 pages, I feel like the same story could be told at two-thirds the length. There were times when I simply couldn’t keep up with the complicated theories the characters uncovered about the pyramids. You almost need a larger base of knowledge about Egypt before starting the book to fully appreciate everything. The extent of my knowledge about Egypt comes from middle and high school history classes, so I’d say it’s pretty limited. By having such complicated and intricate sub-plots, the audience can become bored or feel alienated for not understanding.

Conclusion

It’s obvious an incredible amount of time and thought went into researching for this book. The characters go on a great adventure, survive car chases and murder attempts, recover an ancient artifact, and discover long-held secrets. I love the journey Michael goes on–he’s definitely my favorite character. My girly side wished there was a little more romance to the story; it’s totally set up for Michael and Anna to fall in love, but nothing really happens except mention that they steal glances at each other. And I wish the story was condensed a bit, more focused. I think this is a book that fans of crime fiction or books like The DaVinci Code would love. If that sounds like you go check this one out!!

4 out of 5 stars

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