04 December 2023

You Could Make This Place Beautiful - Book Review

You Could Make This Place Beautiful: A Memoir by Maggie Smith
Publication: April 11, 2023
Pages: 320 pages
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars ☆☆☆☆☆
Sweet Spark: Sure, I could make any place beautiful, but why is is always my responsibility? Maggie Smith takes an honest look at her marriage after it has ended.

I really, really enjoyed this book. While the author is already a very successful poet, this is the first thing I've read from her. As I read it at an event, someone stopped me to comment how much they enjoy her writing. I may just do the same if I saw someone else reading this now. Her descriptions of the emotions she chooses to share, and sometimes even why she chooses to share or not share something, resonated regularly. I've read books before that had one part I found so striking, but in this memoir, it happened again and again.

A book that seem to cover a lot of time surrounding a breakup and divorce could end up being one-sided and confrontational, but in this case, it was about the events, and the author's emotions. She didn't want you to necessarily agree or disagree - or pick winners or losers - but just to bear witness to what she was sharing.

Overall, I loved this book and rated it 5 out of 5 stars. I'd recommend it to women who enjoy family stories, and maybe even someone who isn't used to reading a lot. Each anecdote was really just a page or two, which made it an easy book to pick up and set down repeatedly.

06 November 2023

An Elderly Lady is Up To No Good - Book Review

An Elderly Lady is Up To No Good by Helene Tursten 
Publication: January 1, 2013
Pages: 178 pages
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars ☆☆☆☆☆
Sweet Spark: I'm pretty sure enjoying this book as much as I did may put me on some watch list somewhere - but oh, well!

While I will always admit to loving a lil vigilante justice, 88-year-old Maud takes it to the next level. Who could possibly suspect a little old lady in a family apartment in Sweden of murder? Probably no one, but should they?

She merely eliminates a few people who may need killing, to make her life or even someone else's a bit better. And no one believes she could be so vicious, except a couple female detectives who also aren't taken seriously by their experienced male colleagues. Alrighty then - guess she can just get on with it!

This was seriously such a fun read, and I loved the presentation of the short little interludes of Maud just living her best life. I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to those who enjoy a bit of crime stories (that the original author is apparently known for), or unexpected stories with quirky characters.

Thanks so much to one of my book club besties for recommending - I may not have discovered this one on my own, but she knows me and knew I'd love this book. :)

28 September 2023

The Key to My Heart - Book Review

The Key to My Heart by Lia Louis
Publication: December 6, 2022
Pages: 352 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars ✰✰✰✰
Sweet Spark: Natalie was such an inspirational character. Despite unexpected widowhood while her friends were still getting married and having babies, she's determined to keep on keeping on.

Natalie isn’t really worried about her life since her husband Russ died. She just goes on existing. She has the folks she visits at the coffee shop, and she finds some solace in playing the piano at the train station. Everyone else seems to want her to have more, but it’s not their life, is it? 

Eventually the time comes where she finds herself somehow moving on. A practically required night out with her friends introduces her to Tom, who keeps turning up even though she had never noticed him before, and then a recommended music therapy group has her spending time with Joe, who she does recognize as being around before, but always as part of the background in her predictable life. 

This charming and unique story earned 4 out of 5 stars. As a young widow, Natalie wasn’t the usual young-ish woman searching for love at the bars with her friends. Her friends were having babies and living their full, developing adult lives, and she wasn’t sure where that left her. She didn’t want a new love; she wanted what she already had with her husband, but she now had to move on without him. Her reluctance to accept the life she truly had to deal with now was just part of her appeal. 

The details of the ending were somewhat unexpected in a pleasant way. This is a great and heartwarming book with likable characters who each had their own flaws. The story could be enthusiastically enjoyed by those who enjoy family dramas, starting over, and interesting ideas of where love may be found.

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

21 August 2023

The Keeper of Hidden Books - Book Review

The Keeper of Hidden Books
by Madeline Martin
Publication: August 1, 2023
Pages: 416 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars ☆☆☆☆
Sweet Spark: Librarians truly save the world over and over.

I have to admit, I broke my personal ban on WWII books to read this one. And I might not regret it. Of course it was the books that drew me in, and they always do.

In Warsaw, Poland, the Germans surely can never take such an amazing and powerful city, until they do. As the Germans start dictating what books are allowed to be available for lending, the librarians and library employees bravely start hiding the banned books and declaring them lost before the Germans 'relocate' them, which of course actually means burning them. Even before the occupation, Zofia and her friends have been purposely reading books banned by Hitler, and they try to keep their secret book club going without being noticed by the enemy troops, who are now running their library.

I loved the friendship between the original book club members, and those they add when their common interest is keeping the library materials so they can thrive again once the Germans are gone. Of course Zofia and her best friend Janina will always be best friends, but Zofia knows that she has no concept of the injustices Janina experiences as being relocated and then forced to stay in the Jewish ghetto with her parents. 

This book earned 4 out of 5 stars from me. I loved the different efforts by the close friend group and library employees to keep offering the escape that is reading for the citizens of Poland and even in the Jewish ghetto. The story wasn't just about Zofia and her work with the library, but the secret library branch that stayed open only to those who knew its secret, and Janina trying to share books in the ghetto. I'd recommend this book to not only those who enjoy WWII stories (who must be a lot of people, as it's a very popular genre), but also to those who appreciate the power of books.

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

13 August 2023

It's Not a Cult - Book Review

It's Not a Cult by Lauren Denhof
Publication: August 22, 2023
Pages: 336 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Sweet Spark: Glinda was such an engaging and quirky character, and her family kind of put 'fun' into dysfunctional!

Glinda knows she's selling herself short at her job as a wench at the local renaissance festival. But she's not one to blame anyone else for her problems, so she just keeps on keeping on. Within a short time, her life suffered several devastating blows, and she dropped out of college to just try and exist on a path that would help her exist without getting hurt any more. Living with her mom and younger sister, West, was less than ideal, but the price was right.

No one wants to believe her when she tells them that her mom is being seduced by cult-leader Arlon, or that they're about to lose their family home to the Starlight Pioneers that he leads. She personally knows it's a cult, but she also has some more guilt that it's gone as far as it has.

Finally, her co-worker Troy seems to trust her (and maybe more?) and is willing to get to the bottom of it with her, and even by dragging her older, estranged sister back into the loop. After trying to do nothing for so long, Glinda suddenly has to do something, and get others to help her, quickly!

This amusing read earned 4 out of 5 stars. With the varied characters, it felt like any reader to enjoy at least one. The family drama with a cult was hopefully unique for most, but the underlying relationships and traumas could ring true.

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

02 July 2023

The Shadow Cabinet - Book Review

The Shadow Cabinet (Her Majesty's Royal Coven #2) by Juno Dawson
Publication: June 20, 2023
Pages: 528 pages
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars ☆☆☆☆☆
Sweet Spark: The characters' development in this series is full of surprises!

After the great cliffhanger ending of the first book in the Her Majesty's Royal Coven (HRMC) trilogy (called Her Majesty's Royal Coven), I was super excited to see how it would all develop in book number two! And I was never disappointed.

Without spoiling the ending of the first book (since I would recommend the trilogy be read in order, of course), the main character opening up the second book is an unexpected addition to the character list. She's on her way to becoming the new high priestess, although she's hoping she'll never have such drab responsibilities. She's trying to solver her own quest of how she came to be where she is, and she's luckily got the help of Leonie, albeit not intentionally.

There are several major plot lines. Besides the selection and ceremony for a high priestess, there is also continued clean up and loose ends to resolve from the war which predates even the first book. Theo, the teenager who started living with Niamh in the first book is also still trying to solve the mysteries of what she can't remember of her own past. 

I loved the second book at least as much as the first, and can't wait to read the third next year. The Shadow Cabinet got 5 out of 5 stars from me. I'd recommend this to my fellow witchy-fiction lovers, and also appreciated the representation of the witches, from the BIPOC coven that exists along side HMRC, to the diversity of the witches in HMRC or belonging to no formal coven.

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

11 June 2023

The Circus Train - Book Review

The Circus Train by Amita Parikh
Publication Date: January 12, 2022
Pages: 352 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars ☆☆☆☆
Sweet Spark: Lena, Theo, and Alexandre were definitely soulmates - if not for the events in the story, surely something else would have led them to each other.

The difference in the characters from the beginning of the book to the end was amazing. Life on the circus train was practically its own character. While Lena and Alexandre enter the story as children, their story lines also left them exceptionally vulnerable. Lena barely escaped with her life from Polio as a baby. She spent her childhood on the circus train in a wheelchair and being coddled by Theo, her tutor, and the train's doctor. Alexandre was found as a stowaway on the circus train with just his Jewish passport to identify him. Their relationship truly evolved to save and bring out the best in them both.

Theo was a talented performer, but his true motivation was protecting Lena and presenting the best life possible for her. His plan for this included Lena nearly always being under his direct supervision, so he could limit any risks to her health and safety. 

Theo's dedication to protecting Lena and Alexandre is what causes them to be torn apart. Their lives end up on a vastly different path than any of them initially imagined, and the changes are scary and difficult for all of them. In part, it is again their lasting love and loyalty to each other that lends them the courage to continue through horrifying circumstances and strive to reunite.

Since finishing this book and thinking a little more about it, my rating increased a bit. There's an amazing plot twist presented at the end, and it has me re-thinking a lot of earlier pivotal points in the story. I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars and would recommend it to those who enjoy historical fiction, circus stories, and WWII time stories that don't focus exclusively on the war. 

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