Thursday, April 15, 2021

A Castaway in Cornwall by Julie Klassen

 Laura Callaway lives on the coast of Cornwall and loves to take walks looking for items that have washed ashore.  She returns them to their family or lets loved ones know that a family member has perished.  Laura is an orphan and lives with her Uncle and his new wife and stepdaughter.  As her Aunt works to marry off her cousin, Laura often feels like the odd one out.  After a shipwreck, she helps to rescue and care for a mysterious stranger that has survived, Alexander.  As clues wash ashore, Laura has to put them together to determine what happened.  Who exactly is Alexander?

I greatly enjoyed this story.  I love stories set in Cornwall especially about the shipwrecks that occurred and how they were handled.  The time period of this novel was during the Napoleonic War with the French and I found it fascinating.  I listened in to an interview with author Julie Klassen at the Minnesota January JASNA meeting. Her research into this area and time period were fascinating.  I loved the historical details that were included in this novel. I also loved the characters as Klassen is a great character author. 

This is an inspirational novel, and I enjoyed the theme of finding your purpose. 

I think fans of Poldark, Daphne Du Maurier, and of course Klassen herself would enjoy this novel.

Favorite Quotes:

“Life can be hard, and yours has not been easy.  But I can honestly say that serving God and serving others has given me purpose and fills my soul when life is sometimes disappointing.  I would love for you to find that same fulfillment.”

“Tears overflowed, streaking her cheeks and cleansing the final traces of resentment from her heart.”

Overall, A Castaway in Cornwall is a great historical novel set during a fascinating period of time, the Napoleonic Wars, and has many interesting characters.

Book Source:  Review Copy from Netgalley and Bethany House Publishers.  Thank-you!

Monday, April 12, 2021

Band of Sisters by Lauren Willig


Title:  Band of Sisters

Author: Lauren Willig

Read by:  Julia Whelan

Publisher: HarperAudio

Length: Approximately 15 hours and 59 minutes

Source: Review Copy from HarperAudio and Netgalley.  Thank-you! 

 Band of Sisters is the story of nineteen Smith College graduates who go to the front lines in World War I France to help French civilians survive after being ravaged by the Germans.   Emmie Van Alden convinces her best friend Kate Moran to go with her to France after a rousing speech from Smith alumna Betsy Rutherford.  Emmie comes from a life of privilege with a domineering mother, while Kate lived a hardscrabble life and was a scholarship student at Smith.  As the ladies arrive in France, they face many obstacles and the true brutality of war.  Will they be able to make a difference and will they make it home alive?

 I was fascinated by this story.  I had never known about American women social workers in France during World War I and the important work that they completed to help French women and children survive.  I loved their stories and how they worked to ensure that there would be food and education for the people.  I also loved how they were resourceful and made do with what they had, including putting together their vehicles.  They also faced hard and scary situations.  Together the women are able to make their way through it, although like in many situations, there were people who didn’t get along with everyone else.  I loved their bonds that they forged.  I also loved a wonderfully sweet romance that occurs as well. 

 I listened to the audiobook version and it was hard to stop listening to it.  It was excellent.  I especially like the author’s note at the end where she discussed her research and the real story.  She used snippets from the real letters written by the women and real events to create this fictional story. 

 Overall, Band of Sisters is a riveting historical fiction novel about a group of brave women who made a difference in World War I and deserve to be remembered.

Friday, April 9, 2021

The Windsor Knot by SJ Bennett

The Windsor Knot is a delightful, unique mystery where the sleuth is none other than Queen Elizabeth II.  In 2016, Queen Elizabeth hosted a party just ahead of her ninetieth birthday celebrations.  Unfortunately, a Russian pianist ends up dead.  It looks at first like an accidental death, but Queen Elizabeth and MI5 suspect foul play.  Will they be able to solve this mystery?

I liked the unique premise of this book.  Queen Elizabeth has to solve the mysteries from the background without looking like she is solving the mystery.  She has her staff find information for her based on her judge of character and she puts it in the way of the investigators to put them on the path to the correct answer.  I like how she was treated as an elderly woman by some who didn’t realize that even though she is old, she has a sharp mind.  I also enjoyed her relationship with Prince Phillip.  I was saddened to hear of his passing this morning. 

 I think the Windsor Knot would be the perfect book for fans of The Crown, the royal family, cozy mysteries, or Agatha Christie.

 Favorite Quotes:

“Because when you consider them, fairy tales always have dark forces at their heart.  Evil lurks where we most desire it not to be, and evil often wins.”

“She set her face grimly to the drizzle and prepared to be patronized.”

Overall, I greatly enjoyed The Windsor Knot.  It had a great mystery, characters and premise.  I look forward to the next book in this great new series.

Book Source:  Review Copy from William Morrow. Thank-you!

Thursday, April 8, 2021

A Solitude of Wolverines by Alice Henderson

What is the last book you read that kept you up too late?

Alex Carter is a wildlife biologist.  After a shooting at a wildlife dedication, Alex decides it is time to go back out to the wilderness.  She takes a job studying wolverines at the Land Trust for Wildlife Conservation in Montana.  Once she arrives onsite, she discovers she is staying in a remote, abandoned ski chalet that has a dark history of its own.  Alex finds the elusive wolverines, but she also uncovers another mystery.  Will Alex be able to solve who is engaging in the illegal activity on the conservation, and even more importantly, will she be able to survive as she becomes the hunted?

I could not put a Solitude of Wolverines down.  Much to my husband’s dismay, I couldn’t stop reading this book, giving a gasp, and then updating him on the action that was taking place.  This suspense novel had a unique premise and plot and I enjoyed it.  I really liked the description of the wildlife and Alex’s work.  I also enjoyed that the plot kept moving and was very intriguing.  Alex does become more of a movie action hero at the end, but I enjoyed it.  There was an overall mystery that was hinted at and not tied up.  I hope this is the first in a new series as I can’t wait to read the next one!

As an environmental engineer, I really liked a side story in the novel about ethics.  Alex had to do an environmental impact survey and her boss wanted her to violate her ethics and hide the fact that she had found threatened snowy plovers.   Of course, Alex stuck with her ethics, but she lost her job and boyfriend.  This was a great, unfortunately, real world situation.

Favorite Quote:

“The wetlands dedication ceremony was a resounding success until the gunman showed up.” – This was quite the opener for this book and immediately drew me in.

Overall, A Solitude of Wolverines is a great new thriller set in the wilderness.  I loved it and highly recommend it.

Book Source:  Review Copy from William Morrow.  Thank-you!

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Let Us Dream by Pope Francis


Title:  Let Us Dream

Author: Pope Francis

Read by:  Arthur Morey

Publisher: Simon Audio

Length: Approximately 4 hours and 5 minutes

Source: Review Copy from Simon Audio.  Thank-you! 

Let Us Dream was the perfect book to listen to during Holy Week and is a perfect read for our troubled times.   Pope Francis has a call to Catholics to apply their faith to help out with modern problems including COVID, racism, and the environment.

The book is divided into three parts; a time to see, to choose, and to act.  Pope Francis talks through what was currently happening last year including COVID, George Floyd, the destruction of statues, populism, etc. and puts them into a faith perspective.  He overall talked about his experiences and Biblical passages to put everything into perspective.  His overall message was that we need to put aside our differences and start caring for people as individuals. 

I found this audiobook to be uplifting and thoughtful.   Arthur Morey was a great narrator, and I enjoyed the afterword where it was discussed how conversations with the Pope were the driving force on putting this book together.

Favorite Quote: 

“We need a movement of people who know we need each other, who have a sense of responsibility to others and to the world. We need to proclaim that being kind, having faith, and working for the common good are great life goals that need courage and vigor, while glib superficiality and the mockery of ethics have done us no good. The modern era, which has developed equality and liberty with such determination, now needs to focus on fraternity with the same drive and tenacity to confront the challenges ahead. Fraternity will enable freedom and equality to take its rightful place in the symphony.”

Overall, Let Us Dream is an inspirational book perfect for today.  I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

 Kristin Hannah’s historical fiction novels have become a “must read” for me as they come out.  I was very excited to read The Four Winds as part of the Brenda Novak Book Club – 2021 Reading Challenge.  She had a wonderful interview with Kristin Hannah last Thursday the 25th that is available on Facebook.  It provides great insight into Hannah’s writing process and how she came up with the Four Winds.  I loved it!

 Elsa is a plain, unhappy, unloved, and unmarried daughter of a prosperous family in Texas in the 1920s.  One day she makes herself a red flapper dress, bobs her hair, and meets her husband.  Handsome Rafe has many dreams but settles down to raise a family with Elsa.   As the depression and then the Dust Bowl hit, the Martinelli family is hit with many difficult choices.  What will they do to survive?

 I loved the vivid portrait that Hannah painted of the Dust Bowl and the depression.  The very hard choices that people had to make for their family survival were devastating.  The ecological destruction wrought by the Dust Bowl helped to bring in new conservation practices that are still used to this day.  The travel from the shattered plains to California to then be treated like dirt was also heartbreaking.  People that proudly had their own farms or owned their own businesses were treated like trash and forced to live in tent cities.  The novel really humanized the situation.

 I LOVED the characters in this novel.  Elsa is a woman who had difficulty in self-confidence, but through the love of her children, she was able to work her hardest to survive.  I in particular loved her relationship with her in-laws and how they became her real parents.  I also loved the often-angry relationship she had with her 13-year-old daughter Loreda.  It rang as a true mother daughter relationship.  I loved that Elsa was doing her best, even when Loreda didn’t see it.

 I don’t want to ruin this book experience for others so I will not get further into the plot.  Like Hannah’s past few novels, I flew through this one and couldn’t put it down.  Tears were shed and emotions were felt.  I loved this novel.

 Favorite Quotes:

“Hope is a coin I carry:  an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love.”

 “Passion is a thunderstorm, there and gone.”

 “Elsa hadn’t known until right then how much difference a friend could make.  How one person could lift your spirit just enough to keep you upright.”

 “Poverty was a soul-crushing thing.  A cave that tightened around you, its pinprick of light closing a little more at the end of each desperate, unchanged day.”

 “Life went on, even in the hardest of times.”

 Overall, The Four Winds is a gripping story that vividly paints the devastation caused by the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.

Book Source:  Purchased from

Monday, March 29, 2021

What Happens in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand

 What Happens in Paradise in #2 in the Paradise Trilogy and picks up just after the first book, Winter in Paradise concluded.  We read Winter in Paradise in January for the Kewaunee Library Book Club.  I was excited to read book number two, and I read it very quickly on my Kindle!

Irene Steele is still looking into the mystery of what life her late husband, Russell, was living in the Caribbean.  The FBI is now involved and has taken over her beloved Iowa home.  Irene and her sons return to the island of St. John to try to figure out what exactly happened to Russell and to maybe start new lives of their own. 

We also get some answers into how Russell’s relationship started with Rosie, through her friend Ayers.  Ayers helped to clean out Rosie’s old room and has discovered her diary.  She reads through it and the reader makes discoveries.  I’ll admit though, I’m still dubious on Russell and Rosie’s relationship.  Russell was described a mid-forties, pudgy, married man on the island for work.  Rosie was described as a sexy 23-year-old.  I didn’t quite buy that this would work as I really don’t see what Rosie sees in Russell.  When I was 23, my Dad was in my mid-forties and I was not checking out his friends. 

I read this book really fast and stayed up too late reading it on my Kindle at night.  It ended with another cliffhanger, so I am waiting for the third novel from the library.  It’s an entertaining read.  I want to know why Russell and Rosie ended up dead and what bad business Russ found himself in.  I also want their family and friends to have a happy ending.  I enjoy the characters and the plot!

Favorite Quotes:

“She’s a civil engineer.  She builds bridges in the Bay Area, the kind of bridges that can withstand earthquakes.”  - This was about a very minor character, but I am always on the look out for engineers in books!

“Life gave me another chance to be happy.  Only an idiot would say no to that out of fear.”

“Did two good people do something they knew was wrong because there was some kind of magical chemistry involved?  Or was it plain old human fallibility, weakness in the face of temptation?”

“It was so important to stay vigilant where your heart was concerned.  Why didn’t they teach you that in school?”

“Because if you don’t write down what happens in a day, you forget – and that day becomes a blur and that blur becomes your life.”

“But if she did believe it, she might understand that everyone has her baggage and her sad stories.  What differentiates people is how they choose to deal with them.”

“Love is messy, complicated, and unfair.”

Overall, What Happens in Paradise was an entertaining, fast read.  I would recommend reading this after you have already read the first book in the series, Winter in Paradise.

Book Source:  E-book copy from the Kewaunee Public Library

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Good Eggs by Rebecca Hardiman


Title:  Good Eggs

Author: Rebecca Hardiman

Read by:  Alana Kerr Collins, Gary Furlong, and Siobhan Waring

Publisher: Simon & Shuster Audio

Length: Approximately 10 hours and 17 minutes

Source: Review Copy from Simon & Shuster Audio.  Thank-you! 

 Good Eggs is the story of the three generational Irish Gogarty family.  Eighty-three-year-old Millie likes to shop lift and is beginning to show signs of dementia.  Her son, Kevin, decides to get a home aide, Sylvia, to help her out.  Kevin has lost his job, and is trying to deal with his mother, and his daughters.  When one sixteen-year-old daughter, Aideen, causes trouble, Kevin ships her off to boarding school where she promptly integrates herself with the number one troublemaker in the school.  When the family finds themselves in a crisis, how will they recoup?

Good Eggs was a mixed read for me.  On the positive, I loved that audiobook was set up with three narrators to tell the story as told through the three different viewpoints in the book.  Their Irish accents and narration were excellent.  It was a great audiobook experience.  I also really loved the character of Millie.  She cracked me up and was a fun character.  I wanted the story just to be about her!  On the negative side, I really didn’t like the character of Kevin.  He complains about his wife not spending time with him when she is working hard to support their family while he is out of a job.  Instead of working harder to find a new job and alleviate her workload, he instead decides to try to embark on an affair.  I was not pleased and could not sympathize with him at all.  It really brought the book down for me.  The book was advertised as being very funny.  I did like the humor, but it wasn’t laugh out loud funny and had a lot of down moments in it.

Overall, Good Eggs is an interesting book about a multi-generational Irish family.  The audiobook experience is excellent, but the story was so-so for me.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Irish Princess by Elizabeth Chadwick

In twelfth century, Ireland, Aoife grows up as the daughter of the King of Leinster, Diarmait MacMurchada.  After he is forced from his Kingdom, the family seeks help from King Henry II of England.  This leads the family to Richard de Clare, an Earl who seeks to improve his standing with King Henry II.  Richard and Diarmait hatch a plan to retake Ireland, which includes Richard marrying Aoife as one of the key elements.  Will their plan work to retake Ireland?  Will Richard regain Henry II’s favor?  Will Richard and Aoife find love?

I couldn’t put this book down.  Elizabeth Chadwick is one of my favorite historical fiction authors.  She is able to weave a compelling tale that makes you feel like you are in the twelfth century court of Henry II.  I loved the intrigue and politics that took place to make everything happen.  I also didn’t realize until mostly through the book that this tale is related to my favorite novel of Chadwick’s, The Greatest Knight.  Aoife is his mother-in-law!  I was very intrigued by this and of course the real history in the author’s note at the end of the novel. 

This novel made me realize again, that Game of Thrones is not far fetched when you look at the real history of the Middle Ages.  People were ruthless and it was hard times to live through.   I loved Aoife’s cunning and her love for her family.  I’ll admit, I was sad by the end of the book, but also intrigued at how Aoife was able to hold her world together.

I love reading about history that I previously knew nothing about.  Especially when you have a master craft author like Elizabeth Chadwick writing the tale.

Favorite Quotes:

“Bold deeds are far better sung than experienced.”

“One wrong decision, one moment of dropped guard, made the difference between having everything and having nothing.  Between being alive and being dead.”

Overall, The Irish Princess is historical fiction at its finest and is a riveting tale set in twelfth century Ireland.

Book Source:  Christmas Present from my Best Friend Jenn.  Thank-you!

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Dangerous Magic (A Pride and Prejudice Variation) by Monica Fairview

What is your favorite retelling of a classic tale?

In an alternate Regency era, England is in a war with France and losing.  In order to project England, Elizabeth Bennet is plucked from her family at their country estate at Longbourn and brought to the Guild Hall in London.  Once there she is expected to marry and bond with the powerful Royal Mage, Fitzwilliam Darcy.  She has always hoped to marry for love and is unhappy over this forced union.  Will Darcy and Elizabeth fall in love?  Will they be able to bond and protect England?

 I enjoyed this new spin on a classic tale.  Monica Fairview understands and perfectly writes the characters from Pride and Prejudice.  It’s amazing reading how true they are to their original characters, but in this new magical setting.  The story was unique, but familiar and I really enjoyed it.  I was just sad it ended but was pleased to see that this is the first in a series and there will be a Book 2 of Jane Austen’s Mages.  I look forward to it. 

I also loved the reimaging of some of the side characters, in particular Caroline Bingley.  I thought it was interesting that the book focused on “bloodlines” and how many people were obsessed on being of noble pure blood in order to be the best Mage.  It seems like Mr. Darcy would think along these lines, but he is friends with the Bingleys.  I liked this and how Elizabeth in turn defies everyone’s expectations of her.

Overall, Dangerous Magic is a fun magical reimagining of Pride and Prejudice.  I loved the story and the characters!

Book Source:  Review Copy from author Monica Fairview.  Thank-you!