Tuesday, February 27, 2024

The Hidden Life of Cecily Larson by Ellen Baker (Bibliolifestyle Book Tour)


Thank you, Partner @bibliolifestyle @marinerbooks for the review copy of The Hidden Life of Cecily Larson by Ellen Baker.

Have you ever been to the circus? I remember watching live broadcasts of circuses as a child, but I have never actually been to a circus. I visited the Circus World Museum in Baraboo Wisconsin which had some live shows. That is the closest I have got!  If you have been to the circus, what is your favorite act?

Cecily Larson is a ninety-four-year-old woman and pillar of the community living in Itasca, Minnesota in 2015. After a fall, she finds herself bed bound and pondering her life. Should she tell her family the secret she has been keeping her entire life? As a four-year-old, Cecily was dropped off at an orphanage by her widowed mother who had a new boyfriend who did not want children.  At age seven, she was bought by a man for a circus act and traveled the Midwest as one of the stars of the show. When she falls for a new roustabout in the circus in her teens, her life is about to change forever. How will her hidden life impact her family and herself?

·       I could not put this book down. It was one that I just wanted to take time off work to finish reading.

·       This book was described as the Orphan Train meets Water for Elephants, both books I greatly enjoyed. I agree with this assessment.

·       I really liked how this was a family drama that goes through time.   There was an overall mystery of Cecily’s life and I wanted to know how it all worked out. There is a lot of loss, heartbreak, and love in this novel.

·       There are many different viewpoints over time. I liked this.  Cecily, her daughter, and granddaughter all have viewpoints. Cecily has a viewpoint both in the past and in 2015.  There is also a mysterious other viewpoint that comes in about halfway through the novel.  I figured it out right away but was not quite sure of the details until I read further into the story.

·       The main theme of this book was really about adoption, losing a child, being given away, babies being stolen, etc.

·       The story really made me think about how DNA results can really change people’s lives and understanding of their own history.

·       The story also made me really think about unwed mothers and how they were so badly treated in the past.

·       I loved learning about Cecily’s time at the circus and how she learned to become an expert horse rider. There was a lot of abuse and a dark side to the circus. I loved how her mentor Isabelle protected her, but I was not prepared for when she turned on her at the end.

·       I loved that the circus wintered in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, which is about forty minutes north of where I live.  The circus made many stops in and around Wisconsin in familiar locations that were fun to read about.

Favorite Quote: “Cecily felt the collapse like it was her own hope – a thing she’d been carrying all these years without even realizing the weight of it.”

Overall, The Hidden Life of Cecily Larson was a riveting family drama and historical fiction novel that focused on adoption.  I agree with the assessment that it is perfect for fans of The Orphan Train and Water for Elephants.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Burma Sahib by Paul Theroux (Bibliolifestyle Book Tour)

Thank you, Partner @bibliolifestyle @marinerbooks for the review copy of Burma Sahib by Paul Theroux.


What literary figures would you like to learn more about?  I always love reading fiction about my favorite authors. I don't know anything about George Orwell except for the fact that he wrote 1984 and it was very disturbing.  This new historical fiction novel looks like a fascinating new look into his life and inspirations.


“Paul Theroux has exploited this biographical lacuna with great shrewdness and gusto… his fictional account of Blair’s life there [Burma] is a valid and entirely credible attempt to add flesh to the skeletal facts we have of this time. […]this novel is one of his finest, in a long and redoubtable oeuvre.” —New York Times Book Review

From the acclaimed author of The Mosquito Coast and The Bad Angel Brothers comes a riveting new novel exploring one of English literature’s most beloved and controversial figures—George Orwell—and the early years as an officer in colonial Burma that transformed him from Eric Blair, the British Raj policeman, into Orwell the anticolonial writer.

At age nineteen, young Eton graduate Eric Blair set sail for India, dreading the assignment ahead. Along with several other young conscripts, he would be trained for three years as a servant of the British Empire, overseeing the local policemen in Burma. Navigating the social, racial, and class politics of his fellow British at the same time as he learned the local languages and struggled to control his men would prove difficult enough. But doing all of this while grappling with his own self-worth, his sense that he was not cut out for this, is soon overwhelming for the young Blair. Eventually, his clashes with his superiors, and the drama that unfolds in this hot, beautiful land, will change him forever.

What do you think?

Sunday, February 25, 2024

King: A Life by Jonathan Eig


Title:  King:  A Life

Author:  Jonathan Eig

Narrated by:  Dion Graham

Publisher: Macmillan Audio

Length: Approximately 20 hours and 45 minutes

Source: Review Copy from NetGalley


Have you ever read a biography about Martin Luther King Jr.?  I realized when this new biography of Martin Luther King Jr. came out last year that I’ve only read biographies of him written for children and it was more than time for me to read a biography of him written for adults.

King:  A Life is the first major new biography about Martin Luther King Jr in over forty years.   As it states in the introduction, this book is the biography of the real man, not of a saint.  He was a man with sins, doubts, and depression, but he also had a great vision for mankind and was a loving father.    It was a comprehensive biography that included interviews with a lot of different people in King’s life, his father’s unpublished biography, other biographies of those in his life (like his wife), and the FBI files that have been released.  It was a great overall look at King the man and the work that he did with his life.  My main takeaways were:

·       King suffered from what is now thought to be depression and anxiety.  He had anxiety attacks when he talked about how he may be killed.

·       People were trying to kill him all the time.  He was stabbed in the chest a book signing.  A bomb was place at this family home, but luckily didn’t go off.  He was constantly under threat.

·       It seemed strange that so many people wanted to use violence against a man who promoted non-violence.

·       White people thought that King was radical, while black people thought he was too conservative.

·       King cheated on Coretta Scott King from the moment they were dating and all through their married life.  I had a really hard time with this.  I know that other powerful men at the time such as JFK did the same thing, but King was a pastor.  The flagrant flouting of the ten commandments really bothered me. 

·       Speaking of Coretta Scott King, I want to read more about her.  She was a strong and smart woman on her own right that had to put her ambitions aside to become Martin Luther King Jr.’s wife.

·       The FBI and President Johnson were obsessed with King’s extramarital affairs and bringing him down.   

·       King’s children found out about his death on TV which I thought was heartbreaking.

·       King tried to make a social change.  Even though he used nonviolent methods, it caused strife, riots, burnings, personal persecution, and assassination.

·       The amount that Martin Luther King Jr. accomplished before dying at age 39 is amazing.

·       I loved the narrator of this audiobook, Dion Graham.  He had a deep soothing voice that was wonderful for narration.  He was also able to capture King’s cadence when he read quotes by him.

Overall, King:  A Life by Jonathan Eig was a fascinating and deep look into the man behind the martyr.  I am glad that I read this book.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Chasing the Horizon by Mary Connealy (Austenprose PR Tour)


Did you ever play the game, Oregon Trail?  I loved playing it on computers when I was in middle school, even though I always seemed to die of dysentery on the way.  Maybe this is why I became an environmental engineer concerned with water quality.  We have a card game version that my kids like to play.

Beth Rutledge has worked for years putting together a plan to rescue her mother, Ginny, from the insane asylum.  Her father committed her mother to get rid of her since she did not follow his commands or allow him access to her and her daughter’s trust funds.  Beth spirits her mother away from Chicago and onto the Orgon Trail.  On the trail, guide Jake is attracted to Beth and wonders why she is running.  Will Beth and Ginny be able to escape?  Will love find Jake and Beth on the trail?

What I enjoyed in this novel:

·       It was action packed right from the first chapter and the suspense continued throughout the novel as Beth’s father continued his pursuit.

·       The characters were all well drawn and interesting.

·       It is a very good look at how dangerous and hard it was for pioneers as they made their way west.  There is a horrifying accident that results in the loss of life.

·       I also like how it showed the melting pot that America was at the time with various immigrants joining American raised pioneers heading west looking for a better life.

·       This novel was also a good look into how few rights women had at the time.  Men could just declare a woman insane for any reason and have her locked up. 

·       I loved how Beth’s father had Pinkerton agents after her and he slowly figures out how she has been working for years to learn the skills required for her escape.  I loved her very detailed plan.

·       The romance in this novel was sweet and included one of my favorite tropes, a marriage of convenience.

·       It was a clean read, and it was faith based.  There was a prayer and service after the wagon accident and other discussions of faith.  “The morning service was full of Bible services about strength and hope and loss.  God’s love was woven generously through it all.”

·       I also love how Beth was able to put together so many people to be a “family” to help with the escape and to settle together in Idaho.

·       This is Book 1 of the new A Western Light book series.  The story will continue in book two which will be out this summer.  The first chapter was included at the end of this book, and I am ready to read it!  The ending of Chasing the Horizon did not feel complete, and I am ready to read more about these characters.

Overall, I enjoyed this pioneer suspense and adventure on the Oregon Trail.  I loved the characters and can’t wait to read more about them. 

Book Source:  Review copy from author Bethany House Publishing as part of the Austenprose PR Book Tour. Thank-you!  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.


·       Title: Chasing the Horizon

·       Series: A Western Light (Book 1)

·       Author: Mary Connealy

·       Genre: Historical Fiction, Historical Romance, Western & Frontier Romance

·       Publisher: Bethany House Publishers (February 13, 2024)

·       Length: (304) pages

·       Format: Hardcover, Trade Paperback, eBook, & Audiobook 

·       ISBN: ‎ 978-0764242656

·       Tour Dates: February 12 – 26, 2024


Her only chance at freedom waits across the horizon

Upon uncovering her tyrannical father's malevolent plot to commit her to an asylum, Beth Rutledge fabricates a plan of her own. She will rescue her mother, who had already been sent to the asylum, and escape together on a wagon train heading west. Posing as sisters, Beth and her mother travel with the pioneers in hopes of making it to Idaho before the others start asking too many questions.

Wagon-train scout Jake Holt senses that the mysterious women in his caravan are running from something. When rumors begin to spread of Pinkerton agents searching relentlessly for wanted criminals who match the description of those on his wagon train, including Beth, she begins to open up to him, and he learns something more sinister is at hand. Can they risk trusting each other with their lives--and their hearts--when danger threatens their every step?




  • "Mary Connealy’s Inspirational Western Romances have long been on my radar to try, but the new Western Lights series opener, Chasing the Horizon, was my first opportunity. Imagine my chagrin when I started reading and didn’t want to stop. Oh yes, dear friends, I’d waited too long to discover a gem of a writer."— Sophia Rose, The Reading Frenzy
  • 5 STARS "What an incredible book! It kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time I read it.” — Camille Dayton, Fostering Literacy
  • 5 STARS “Loved this story! I was intrigued right from the beginning.”— Melissa Goss, Christian Books and Coffee




Mary Connealy writes romantic comedies with cowboys. She is independently publishing a contemporary romantic suspense series called Garrison’s Law, book one is Loving the Texas Lawman. Her new historical series, High Sierra Sweethearts begins with The Accidental Guardian. She is also the author of these series: Kincaid Brides, Trouble in Texas, Wild at Heart, Cimarron Legacy, Lassoed in Texas, Montana Marriages, and Sophie's daughters, and has many other books.


She is a two-time Carol Award winner and has been a finalist for the Rita and Christy Awards. She’s a lifelong Nebraskan and lives with her very own romantic cowboy hero. She’s got four grown daughters and four spectacular grandchildren.



Thursday, February 22, 2024

To Swoon and to Spar by Martha Waters


Title: To Swoon and to Spar (The Regency Vows novel)

Author:  Martha Waters

Narrated by:  Anais Inara Chase and Joel Froomkin

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio

Length: Approximately 9 hours and 15 minutes

Source: Review Copy from Simon & Schuster Audio.  Thank you @simonandschuster @BookClubFavorites #BookClubFavorites for the free books!


What's your favorite book series?

To Swoon and to Spar by Martha Waters is the fourth novel in the Regency Vows series.  The fifth book, To Woo and to Wed just came out this month.  This is a great regency romance series and I have fun reading a new novel in it every year.

Viscount Penvale has been working and saving for five years to buy back his family estate, Trethwick Abbey, from his Uncle.  He is excited when his Uncle finally agrees to sell . . . if Penvale will marry his ward, Jane.  Jane is socially awkward and seems to have a waspish tongue.  Penvale seems to Jane to be a useless aristocrat.  Once they move to Trethwick Abbey, it seems that the estate is haunted.  Will these two make their relationship work and is the house really haunted?

What I liked about this novel:

·       I loved the enemies to lovers story.  It reminded me of Ten Things I Hate About You or Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew in ways.

·       I loved how Jane is a reader and there is much discussion of books, especially Jane Austen.

·       The haunting of the house reminded me of Northanger Abbey and other Gothic tales.  It was a lot of fun.  I especially loved the set-up of the haunting in the prologue.

·       I enjoyed seeing the couples I fell in love with in the past books show up again.  This book does work as a standalone if you have not read the other books in the series.

·       The humor is fun in this book, especially as it relates to the haunting.

·       The romance in this novel was a slow burn that became steamy.  I thought it was hilarious that Jane had discovered a stash of steamy books in the library left by some previous owner that she read to educate herself.

·       I loved the narrators of this audiobook.  The two narrators were the two different viewpoints in this book, Jane and Penvale.  I especially loved narrator Joel Froomkin’s accent.

Overall, this was exactly the fun, light romantic read I needed right now.  The haunting elements brought even more fun to this regency romance.  I highly recommend this book and this series.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

The Fury by Alex Michaelides


Do you like stories with unreliable narrators?  I do with two of my favorites being The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

Lana Farrar is a famous ex-movie star.  She has invited her friends to her private Greek island for a holiday.  When a murder occurs who is the culprit?

My thoughts on this thriller:

·       Elliot Chase, Lana’s best friend, is the first-person narrator.  He is unreliable and a mystery himself.

·       Elliot has a hard time sticking to the story.  He has one surprise in him, but when he gets to a second surprise, it was too much for me. 

·       Elliot addresses the audience, breaking the fourth wall, which I liked, but he also seemed to know things that he wouldn’t have known as he wasn’t in the room or with those certain characters.  He says at the beginning of the book that maybe he is making up scenes.  I wasn’t sure how to feel about this.

·       This story moves between being a love story or a story of obsession.

·       Nothing or no one is as it seems in this book.

·       I enjoyed the exotic Greek setting, especially when reading this during a Wisconsin winter.

·       I was reading this novel quickly as it was an engaging thriller, but it lost steam by the end for me.

·       I listened to an interview with author Alex Michaelides and he stated that he meticulously plotted his first two books, but went with the flow on this one.  You could tell.  I loved one of his previous books, The Silent Patient, which was tightly plotted.

·       I didn’t really like any of the characters.  It was more the style of the story that kept me engaged.  I liked that fury became a character itself.

Overall, while The Fury didn’t keep me engaged through the entire book, I did enjoy reading it and being a part of the fury.

Book Source:  Review copy from NetGalley and Celadon Books.  Thank-you!

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

The Storm We Made by Vanessa Chan


Title: The Storm We Made

Author:  Vanessa Chan

Narrated by:  Samantha Tan

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio

Length: Approximately 10 hours and 52 minutes

Source: Review Copy from Simon & Schuster Audio.  Thank you @simonandschuster #BookClubFavorites for the free books!

Do you like storms or do they make you nervous?  I have always loved rainstorms, which is probably why I became a water resources engineer.  I once had a professor say that you needed to lay in the grass in the rain to see how the water travels across the land to truly be a water resources engineer.

The Storm We Made by Vanessa Chan is a deep look into how World War II impacted the Malaysian people through the lens of one family mostly set in waning days of the war in 1945. This is told through four points of view from one family:

·       Cecily, the mother, tells her story ten years in the past.  In the present she lives under the guilt that in the past, she helped a Japanese spy to gather data from her husband.  Her husband worked for the public works department and his work provided targets to for the Japanese to hit to take over Malaysia.  She is excited by her work as a spy and the thought of getting rid of the British to have a free Malaysia.

·       Abel is Cecily’s only son.  He does not show up at home on his fifteenth birthday.  The country was experiencing the disappearance of many young men who were conscripted to build a railroad for the Japanese.  Abel faces unspeakable abuse.

·       Jujube is Cecily’s oldest daughter.  She works for a tea house and befriends a Japanese teacher who think she reminds him of his daughter back in Japan.  He is distressed about how the barbarian Americans targeted the innocents in the war with their atomic bombs, not realizing the hypocrisy on how the Japanese are abusing the Malaysian civilians.

·       Jasmin in the very young daughter, about seven years old in 1945.  She is innocent and spends much of her time locked in the basement so she will not be kidnapped for a Japanese comfort station.  She meets a new friend, and her life will never be the same.

What I liked about this book:

·       This book had me deeply ponder the horrors of World War II on the Malaysian people.  I did not previously know about how WWII impacted Malaysia. I will be thinking about this book for a long time.

·       The main characters were well developed, and I cared about them.  The secondary characters were also three dimensional, such as Bingley/Fujiwara (the Japanese spy), Mr. Takahashi (Jujube’s Japanese customer) Freddie (Abel’s best friend), and Yuki (Jasmin’s friend).

·       The storylines all combined at the end for a stunning conclusion.

·       I liked the map and brief Malaysia historical timeline at the beginning of the book.

·       The forward is very personal and lays the background for the novel.  “In Malaysia, our grandparents love us by not speaking.  More specifically, they do not speak about their lives from 1940-1945, the period when the Japanese Imperial Army invaded Malaya (what Malaysia was called before independence), toss ed the British colonizers out, and turned a quiet nation into one that was at war with itself.”

·       The narrator of this audiobook, Samantha Tan, was great and brought a different voice to the different characters.

Favorite Quotes:

“She relives the crack of pain that incapacitated her when she realized the price of this war was innocence, and the girls had paid, without knowing why.”

“Teenage boys had begun to disappear.” – Great first line.

Overall, The Storm We Made by Vanessa Chan is a World War II novel that shows the horror of the war in Malaysia, and I will be thinking about this one for a long time.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier


Title:  Rebecca

Author:  Daphne Du Maurier

Narrated by:  Anna Massey

Publisher: Hachette Audio

Length: Approximately 14 hours and 30 minutes

Source: Checked out with Hoopla through the Kewaunee Public Library.  Thank-you!


What is your favorite book to movie adaptation?  The 1940 film Rebecca directed by Alfred Hitchcock based on the book Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier is one of my very favorite adaptations.  I was first introduced to it by my friend Stephanie when I was fourteen and have loved it since then. My high school English teacher, Mrs. Smith, furthered my love for all things Daphne Du Maurier.

In the novel Rebecca, a young woman falls in love with an older man in Monte Carlo.  They marry and return to his estate, Manderley, in Cornwall.  There she feels she is always in the shadow of Maxim’s first wife, Rebecca.  Will she be able to move forward out of her shadow and become her own person?

My thoughts on rereading this classic novel again:

·       I love this book every time I reread it.  It is a beautifully written romantic suspense novel.  The language is just beautiful to read, and the plot is perfectly put together.  The first and last lines of this novel are famous for a good reason.

·       I did not like how harsh Maxim talked to the narrator at times.  I could really see their age difference in this reread.  I wanted someone to treat the narrator with the kindness and love that she craved.

·       The narrator starts the novel so awkward, and I felt embarrassed for her often.  I liked her character development and how she becomes a stronger person by the end.

·       When I first read this as a teenager, I got all the way to the end before I realized that I never knew the narrator’s name.  This was a brilliant way to write the novel as narrated by a woman who feels she is not good enough.

·       The mystery is wonderfully put together and the reveal at the end is perfect.

·       This is a book I will reread my entire life and still find it to be engaging.

·       Manderley is a character itself, beautiful, yet creepy.

·       Is there any other book where a dead person looms so large in a story in which she never actually appears?

·       I always felt like this story was a modern update of the Jane Eyre story. Does anyone else feel the same way?

·       I loved the small details about even the minor characters such as the detestable Mrs. Van Hopper when she puts her cigarettes out in her cold cream.  This for some reason really bothered me about this character.

·       Mrs. Danvers is one of the great villains of literature.  I would love to read a book on the back story of Mrs. Danvers.

·       This was the first time I read this book on audiobook.  Anna Massey was a great narrator, and it was a very engaging audiobook experience.

I read this book in January for my Back to the Classics Book Club at the Kewaunee Public Library.  Unfortunately, we had to reschedule the meeting to this month due to too many people being unable to attend the meeting.  We’ll be discussing the book next Monday night and watching the movie at our meeting in March.

Favorite Quotes:

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” – First Line

“And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea.” – Last Line

Sunday, February 18, 2024

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig


What book has your book club read that prompted the most discussion?  The Midnight Library by Matt Haig prompted great discussion in January at our Rogue Book club meeting.

Nora Seed has many regrets in her life.  She tries to commit suicide and finds herself at the Midnight Library.  The library exists between life and death.  Nora’s beloved childhood librarian is there and shows Nora her book of regrets.  Nora can pick a regret and see how her life would be if she took another path.  Nora discovers these life lessons:

-        Some of what you beat yourself up about is not really your fault.

-        Sometimes the one that got away, got away for a good reason.

-        Great success comes at a cost.

Author Matt Haig had tried to commit suicide himself and has struggled through mental health issues including depression in his life.  These experiences are really shown in this novel.  It started off very bleak but had a good ending.

This book reminded me of one of my favorite all time movies, It’s a Wonderful Life.   I have always loved to watch and read “what if” type scenarios probably from watching It’s a Wonderful Life and from watching “The City on the Edge of Forever” classic original Star Trek series episode.    Do you like thinking about these types of scenarios?

Favorite Quote:

“You don't have to understand life. You just have to live it.”

Book Source:  Purchased from Amazon.com.