13 April 2021

Show Us Your Books - March 2021

 

Another month in the books! Haha...see what I did there? Anyway...

I definitely feel like I've been overall more productive since I've started working full-time (thankfully, from home, so far). I finished 12 books in March - only finished 10 last year, with all the insane stress that was March 2020. If I had to find something that isn't happening between work and reading, it's probably that I am not as closely able to supervise my kids' virtual schooling. And my Animal Crossing - New Horizons house is suffering (I HATE when I go there and have to kill a roach in my house).

Thanks again to all of you! I love the accountability of posting what I've read each month for Show Us Your Books with Jana Says and Life According to Steph, and I love checking out other book bloggers and seeing your comments on my blog. The news is stressful - hearing what the popular books are and who's enjoying what is way more valuable!

Here's a brief summary of the nine books I read last month. The title links go to Goodreads, and the links to the more in-depth review are either on my site, SweetlyBSquared, or the other site I review on frequently, Books I Think You Should Read. And always, if I've received the book for free from the author, publisher, or whatever, this does not change my review.

Finished Reading:

I Can See Clearly: Rise of a Supernatural Hero by James A. Cousmano -- Sixteen-year-old Luc Ponti is expected to go pro with his mad basketball skills, but instead an injury almost costs him his life. After his near-death experience in the hospital, Luc discovers he has a whole new set of skills - supernatural ones. I especially enjoyed Luc's spiritual exploration with his funky new monk friend. I gave this book 3 out of 5 stars in my full review and recommended it for those who enjoy paranormal or spiritual stories. Also worth noting, I think this is supposed to be the first of a series. ⭐⭐⭐

Good Eggs by Rebecca Hardiman -- This quirky, unique family drama let its setting of Ireland color some of the language and traditions that made up three generations of the Gogarty family. Grandma Millie may be getting a little dotty, but a caretaker can set that right, right? Her granddaughter, Aideen, is feeling left-out of most things, and responds by acting out. In the middle is Kevin, unemployed and currently overseeing the older and younger generations of the family while not sure who he really is, if he's not providing financially for his family. The adventure all this lands them in is interesting. I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars and recommended it for those who enjoy fun, contemporary fiction. Check out my full review here. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Memory Collectors by Kim Neville -- This was a favorite this month. I love a bit of magical realism, and this Vancouver, Canada based book had plenty. Ev has always been able to feel the energy and emotions in objects. It helps her run her little business - selling found items in the Chinatown Night Market. She's only known one other person with this gift, but it turned him evil. When she meets Harriet and discovers she can do the same thing, Ev is reluctant to let someone else in. What if the wrong items make Harriet dangerous too? I enjoyed this book a lot and gave it 5 out of 5 stars in my full review. My biggest 5 star determining factor is if I want to read it again, and I do. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Handmaid's Tale: The Graphic Novel by Renée Nault -- While I've read the original The Handmaid's Tale twice over the years (plus watched the 1990 movie and all of the tv series), I decided to mix it up when it was my book club pick for the month and went with the graphic novel instead. It had been sitting on my shelf and needed to be read. Graphic novels will never be my favorite, but I loved the strong depictions of the emotions for the situations in this book. The colors used for each character or role were easily recognized, and even without retelling the story, the book definitely brought it all to mind, as I stated in my review here. I gave it 3 out of 5 stars. ⭐⭐⭐

Silence is a Sense by Layla AlAmmar -- 'Voiceless' is a Syrian refugee telling her anonymous story in a London online paper. We get to learn about her not only through her column (which her editor wants to have more emotion, but not divisive politics), but as she lives her life. No matter where she lives, no where is truly safe when people look at you as different. She's lost everything when she left her homeland alone, and she's not sure she can withstand losing anymore. I enjoyed this book as a beautiful depiction of a not-so-beautiful life. It was a well-written literary fiction and I gave it 4 out of 5 stars in my full review. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Are We There Yet by Kathleen West -- Alice is used to having a perfect, enviable life. But within one day, she finds out her younger child isn't reading as well as she should, and her older child may be a bully. Suddenly even her closest friends don't look at her the same. While sometimes this book felt almost over-the-top as the epitome of white privilege, it was also a good reminder that no one has it as good as their Facebook profile would like you to believe. I gave it 3 out of 5 stars in my review here. ⭐⭐⭐


They All Fall Down by Rachel Howzell Hall -- This mystery based on Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None (also published as Ten Little Indians) was a disappointment for most of my Yelp book club. I enjoyed it. The story was modernized - each of the seven people on the remote island were lured there for a different reason. What we find out as the story goes along is that each of them has a negative experience in their past that represents one of the seven deadly sins. During his long time suffering before his eventual death from cancer, Philip O (who most of them knew as their attorney) has orchestrated karmic retribution. I do love me some vigilante justice. I gave this book 3 out of 5 stars in my full review. ⭐⭐⭐

Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge -- Libertie Sampson has always been expected to be the doctor's daughter, and grow up to be a doctor herself. If it was up to her, she'd rather live a life that doesn't look first at her dark skin and her gender, and then at who she may really be. Libertie's life and search for her identity were wonderfully told, and her voice was clear and demanding of answers. I reviewed this one here and gave it 3 out of 5 stars. ⭐⭐⭐

Tell No Lies (Quinn & Costa Thriller #2) by Allison Brennan -- This series is such a fun escape for me. Kara Quinn is actually an LAPD detective, but when her undercover operation was blown wide open by at least one FBI agent, her life is at risk in the city she's always known. She now works the job she loves as an undercover officer on-loan to a great FBI agent and his team - the mobile investigations unit. Their second case together is supposed to be about environmental dumping and a murder that may have been committed to cover it up, but partway through the case, they stumble on a child trafficking ring, and Quinn feels a moral obligation to take care of that kind of evil. I enjoyed this book and gave it 4 out of 5 stars in my full review. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Sing Me Forgotten by Jessica S. Olson -- I've never seen The Phantom of the Opera, but this gender-swap tale with a twist of fantasy intrigued me. Isda has grown up always in the opera house, where her only exposure to the world outside is viewing the opera patron's memories with her gift. When she meets Emeric, she's surprised to see another baby with the same deformities as her in his memories. My full 3 out of 5 star review is here. ⭐⭐⭐

Knives and Knightsticks by K. Lew & C.R. Lockhart -- I've got to admit, even the pitch email from these authors was fun. I can only guess that's just the way they are. This was the first book in their series about quirky best friends Sadie and Zoey, who live in Toronto. They don't go looking for trouble, but it seems to be finding them! I gave it 4 out of 5 stars in my complete review, and I'm looking forward to the next book in the series. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Magic Lessons: The Prequel to Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman -- I knew going in I'd love this one and I was so happy when I finally got my turn to borrow it from my local library. I love the original Practical Magic book, the movie, the soundtrack..you get the picture. This book told the story of Maria Owens - the first witch in their lineage. From her childhood after being found as an abandoned orphan in the woods, right up to her building the house the Owens women live in during the movie, and her adventures around the world in between. I loved it, and gave it 5 out of 5 stars in my full review. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


Currently Reading:

I'm a little passed half way in The Kindred Spirits Supper Club by Amy E. Reichert and really enjoying it. The Waterpark Capital of the World, ghosts, and quirky romance make this one lots of fun!


Reading Next:

I'm still hoping to finish up a few more of my March published books this month. I've got The Sweet Taste of Muscadines by Pamela Terry and Meant to Be by Jude Devereaux queued up and ready to go.



Looking forward to summer - longer days and time to sit outside and read!

10 April 2021

Magic Lessons: The Prequel to Practical Magic - Book Review

 

Magic Lessons: The Prequel to Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
Publication date: October 6, 2020
Pages: 384 pages
Genre: Magial realism, historical fiction, series
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars ☆☆☆☆☆
Strengths: Incredible story and detail, beautiful writing
Weaknesses: Lots of detail


I have a hard time writing down weaknesses. Either I really liked the book and can't think of something I didn't like, besides the fact that the book ended, or I at least respect that writing a book is hard and I don't want to say something too nit-picky or damning after someone put in all the work of writing and editing. Anyway, just my random two cents.

I LOVED this book as much as the rest of the series! There are two prequels to the original Practical Magic book (which also has a movie based on it), and a sequel coming this fall (October 2021). I'd be interested to read one of the author's other books to see if I love them as much, or if it's mostly the Owens women I'm so crazy for.

This story follows the beginning of the line of Owens women. A baby is found in the woods, not too far from the cottage of a healer named Hannah Owens. Hannah takes the baby in, raises her, and teaches her everything she knows. But Hannah recognizes that the woman is marked and likely a natural witch as well. 

Eventually Maria has to make her way without Hannah. She finds herself spending a few years in Caraçao before making her way eventually to what we're familiar with as the eastern seaboard of the U.S. Those already familiar with Practical Magic will recognize the area where Aunt Franny and Aunt Jet eventually take in their nieces in the big house where the Owens women live.

Overall, I'd give this book 5 out of 5 stars. I love the story, I love the characters, and I'd love to read it all again.  Looking forward to another modern story later this year.

07 April 2021

Sing Me Forgotten - Book Review

Sing Me Forgotten by Jessica S. Olson
Publication date: March 9, 2021
Pages: 336 pages
Genre: Fantasy, fiction, retelling
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars ☆☆☆
Strengths: Interesting fantasy element
Weaknesses: Mild pacing


When a story is based on a classic, it has lots of naysayers right out of the gate. While I've never seen or read the classic Phantom of the Opera, I was still intrigued to check out this gender-reversing story with a splash of fantasy.

What a charming book! Isda has never known a life outside of the opera house, other than what she's watched in peoples' memories. Cyril rescued her from a well where her mother had her thrown to die, since that was the fate for those born who were obviously monsters. The risk of them stealing all the memories and destroying the world was too great. 

Eventually Isda meets Emeric, a janitor at the opera house with a beautiful voice. She offers to train him and pretends for them both that he has no idea what she really is. He recognizes her talent and knows she may be the one to help him achieve his dream of being on stage.

The end of the story for Isda and Emeric wrapped up quite neatly, and not entirely as I expected. I loved the fantasy element of the memory elixir and its moral and economical implications. The value of memories as liquid gold also feels quite fitting. 

Overall, I'd give this book 3 out of 5 stars and recommend it for those who enjoy re-spun classics, and fantasies that wrap up rather nicely. So many fantasies I see lately are ongoing series, but this was a succinct story with a finite end.


Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my electronic copy of this book. Receiving the book for free did not influence my review.

02 April 2021

Five Things for Friday

Made it through another week! I've now been working full-time again for TWO MONTHS (since I started February 1). This is the magic month when my friend will get his referral bonus (once I have 90 days in) - I wish I could give it to him myself since I'm so grateful for his advice and recommendation! Skiing season is over and racing season has begun for the man who runs my house. He also started a new job this week. So much chaos, but all  of it good :)

  1. Hubs and I are both scheduled for our first Fauci Ouchie (not my phrase, swiped it from a friend in New Jersey)! He's getting his today, and I'm scheduled for this coming Tuesday. I was annoyed with all the sites and info, but a friend who's been a vaccine angel for lots and lots of people sheduled them both for us earlier this week. Thank you, vaccine angel!
  2. I signed up for some more Home Chef meals since hubby is home more evenings during race season (easy to say, he leaves today for a test day at the track tomorrow! LOL). But at least he's usually just as far away as the garage, so I can start cooking again. Between the kids and I, we never eat enough to make cooking a full meal worth it. I was clicking through the other meal boxes today, but Home Chef was the first one to say, "Hey! We missed you! Here's some discounts!" :D
  3. I can't go a WHOLE post without talking about books! First: If you're Canadian, especially, watch Books I Think You Should Read next week for the Knives and Knightsticks review and giveaway. Super fun book, and since the authors based the story in Toronto, they want to give a copy specifically to a Canadian, plus a couple U.S. giveaways too! While I've seen comparisons to other authors, this book really reminded me of Abby Jimenez's The Friend Zone and Happy Ever After Playlist - a spunky, fun vibe about friends, with some adventure and romance tossed in.
  4. Can I tell you how excited I am to sleep in tomorrow?!? I was gonna be able to sleep in a bit this morning, since hubby doesn't have to work so I could wait til the last minute instead of getting ready and out of his way earlier, but then I woke up AN HOUR EARLY. Just because. And when you're not going back to sleep, you just know, amiright? Tomorrow I need to make up for that.
  5. And I'm thrilled that the weather looks like it finally may stay warm and get warmer! Yesterday's snow (I'm in Michigan) was a little rude, honestly. 
Hope you're staying happy and healthy :)

31 March 2021

They All Fall Down - Book Review

 

They All Fall Down by Rachel Howzell Hall
Publication date: April 9, 2019
Pages: 320 pages
Genre: Thriller
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars ☆☆☆
Strengths: Intricate plot, karmic retribution
Weaknesses: Loose ends, easy to confuse characters


This was inspired by Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, which I have not read. But now I kind of wish I had. Interestingly, the reviews of the original also sound like it was kind of confusing with many characters dying off to quickly to keep track.

I read this one with my Yelp book club. Since everything possible has switched to zoom, I was able to join a second book club in Rochester, New York. Heck, even my local book club has only met a couple times in person during the last year. Thank goodness for zoom!

Our narrator is Miriam, who has been invited to go to a secluded island and participate in a reality tv show for a potentially huge cash prize. After getting divorced, sued, and losing her job, she really can't say no. On her way to the island she spots a few other of the probable contestants, and is feeling good about her chances of winning.

If only it were all that easy. In reality, Miriam and six others have been lured to the island due to their relationship with their attorney. They were given different reasons, to ensure they all showed up to participate in the reading of his will and a memorial service. But once they're all there, the true reasons he invited them start coming out. Everyone has secrets. Their histories and secrets are why they were brought to the island, but it isn't for a prize. The seven deadly sins were never meant to be rewarded.

I'd give this book 3 out of 5 stars and recommend it for friends who enjoy thrillers. The overall story was interesting, but left a lot of loose ends. I enjoyed the especially short chapters that made it a fun weekend read for me.

28 March 2021

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!

Every time I read, "Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!" I hear it in the old Monster Jam truck show voice. I should go find that on YouTube so I can prove I'm not nuts. Until then, maybe you'll just think I am. Whatever. 

This Sunday I'm joining in with Deb at Readerbuzz for The Sunday Salon, and Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer for Sunday Post. It's my attempt to pretend I post something other than book reviews, except I still mostly talk about books. 

Bookish:

Last three reads:

Tell No Lies by Allison Brennan (reviewed here)

Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge (reviewing soon at BooksIThinkYouShouldRead)

They All Fall Down by Rachel Howzell Hall (reviewing soon at SweetlyBSquared)

Reading now:

Sing Me Forgotten by Jessica S. Olson

Next three (probable) reads:

Knives and Knightsticks by K. Lew & C.R. Lockhart

The Sweet Taste of Muscadines by Pamela Terry

At the End of the World, Turn Left by Zhanna Slor



Non-Bookish:

Three things I've done besides read this week:

  1. Watched some Netflix - The Wrong MissyThe Do-Over, and The Last Blockbuster
  2. Re-potted the mini rosebush that hubs gave me for Valentine's Day.
  3. Finally returned the school library books that Jack's teacher gave him at Christmas time. The school library is only open after my work hours on Wednesdays, and we are usually at baton practice on Wednesdays. So having everyone gone meant I was free to do something else on Wednesday - return library books (luckily they don't track how late they may have been!).

Three good things:

  1. My family comes home today! I've missed them. They all took the week off before hubs starts his new job tomorrow. I'm still new-ish at my job, so I stayed home and worked all week. It was peaceful, but I'm ready for some hugs and snuggles.
  2. All of my work computer stuff is finally here! I've got quite the set-up, but it's way easier to learn/do my job with enough monitor space to keep it all straight.
  3. Spring is definitely coming! We had a couple nice days last week, and although it's chilly and rainy now, there are more good days in the forecast.

Three things to-do this week:

  1. Finish working on Jack's room. I was lucky enough to get a free dresser that fits in his walk-in closet. Now I'm emptying out the wire drawers he's been using in there (repurposing them to the basement?), getting rid of too-small clothes (just bagging them and putting them in storage while Purple Heart isn't picking up), and putting the good stuff where he can easily access it and maintain the organization.
  2. It's spring break for the kids! Hopefully find stuff for them to do that will keep them out of my hair. Hahaha... Hubs and I are both working from home (at least I am, I think he is?), so I suppose my to-do is to work hours without being overcome with jealousy that my kids have free time all week.
  3. Get family groceries and cook a couple dinners. No, really, it's a goal. Ski season is finally over, so I think we'll all be home for dinner. This hasn't happened in months! 

Three things I wish for:

  1. Warm spring weather.
  2. A meeting with our landscaping guy to get it all on track for spring (weed the front garden area, plant something in the shady spot, start on a property line plan on the east side of the back yard).
  3. Convenient vaccine appointments for hubs and I.


Hope you all have a great week, and hope you always picture Olaf in Frozen whenever you read 'good things.'

27 March 2021

Tell No Lies - Book Review

 

Tell No Lies by Allison Brennan
Publication date: March 30, 2021
Pages: 432 pages
Genre: Thriller
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars ☆☆☆☆
Strengths: Characters, plot, series
Weaknesses: Fluff/brain candy


This book was Quinn & Costa Thriller #2 and I enjoyed it every bit as much as the first one. That being said, it would also read just fine as a stand-alone book.

The story starts with Kara Quinn, and LAPD detective undercover with the FBI's mobile investigation unit, headed up by Matt Costa. In the first book, she was off-duty when she stumbled across a serial killer's victim and couldn't resist helping the FBI solve the crime. This time, she's actaully working with them as a bartender in a small town's local watering hole, trying to listen in and observe when the suspects and other locals have their guard down.

A couple months earlier, a university student and environmentalist is murdered while out hiking with her boyfriend and investigating for the cause of some dead birds she's found in the area. The authorities think she may have been onto something. Were the birds dead because of improperly disposed of copper slag? But the local copper plant is the small town's lifeblood, so they don't want anyone to know what they're looking at unless they have proof. Enter the FBI's mobile investigation unit.

The FBI has Kara and a couple others placed in town as undercover agents, and a local man feeding them some information that he hopes will place the guilt in the right place and exonerate his family from the charges. In the midst of their investigation, it's discovered that a human trafficking ring may be walking straight through their case. Is it all connected, or is this just another angle to stress out and distract them, that they'll certainly deal with, but right now, what about the case???

Kara doesn't believe in coincidences, especially when she's undercover and having to trust her gut. The suspense and twists and turns in this story were great. I'd give it 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for those who enjoy thrillers and police procedurals. I can't wait for the next Quinn & Costa thriller!



Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my advance copy of this book. Receiving my ecopy free of charge did not influence my review.