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My name is Ardis and I am an avid reader and budding writer. I want to share my love of books with others. I work with kids and am interested in finding and creating books that will ignite the reader in everyone. Contact me at: ardis.atkins@gmail.com

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I Owe You One
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Love, Hate & Other Filters
The Wartime Sisters
The Belles
The Gilded Wolves
Hey, Kiddo
Blackberry and Wild Rose
Queen of Air and Darkness
Firestarter
The Retribution of Mara Dyer
The Evolution of Mara Dyer


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Monday, September 13, 2021

ARC Review: The Bookseller's Secret by Michelle Gable



Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this novel from the publisher as part of a blog tour.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.  I had the option to withdraw my participation if I did not enjoy this book.  

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In 1942, London, Nancy Mitford is worried about more than air raids and German spies. Still recovering from a devastating loss, the once sparkling Bright Young Thing is estranged from her husband, her allowance has been cut, and she’s given up her writing career. On top of this, her five beautiful but infamous sisters continue making headlines with their controversial politics.

Eager for distraction and desperate for income, Nancy jumps at the chance to manage the Heywood Hill bookshop while the owner is away at war. Between the shop’s brisk business and the literary salons she hosts for her eccentric friends, Nancy’s life seems on the upswing. But when a mysterious French officer insists that she has a story to tell, Nancy must decide if picking up the pen again and revealing all is worth the price she might be forced to pay.

Eighty years later, Heywood Hill is abuzz with the hunt for a lost wartime manuscript written by Nancy Mitford. For one woman desperately in need of a change, the search will reveal not only a new side to Nancy, but an even more surprising link between the past and present…

Review:

Although I already posted an excerpt from this book as part of a blog tour, I wanted to make sure and post a review as well.  I found The Bookseller's Secret, by Michelle Gable, to be a wonderful mix of historical and contemporary. We learn so much about an author who is becoming popular again, thanks to an recent adaptation of her most famous book, The Pursuit of Love.  Nancy Mitford's life was full of larger than life people, and events.  She and her family were the Kardashians of their day. The six sisters were mostly famous for being beautiful, and for courting controversy.  Several of them wrote books, with the most famous author amongst them being the oldest daughter, Nancy.

I really enjoyed learning about Nancy and her family, as well as the contemporary story of Katie, an American author looking for inspiration, as she looks into letters that Nancy wrote.  The historical details were rich, and the characters were well drawn in both time periods.  Along with the characters, the romances were wonderful.  The only thing I could have liked better, was if the pace was a bit quicker.  But, as author Michelle Gable says at one point, what's important is the journey, not the destination.

What I Liked:

Historical Details:

I really didn't know anything about Nancy Mitford's life, or the so-called Bright Young Things that she and her friends had been referred to in their youth.  Nancy's portion of the novel takes place in her middle years, after all the escapades of her twenties.  Her contemporaries were some of the most celebrated writers of the age, including, Evelyn Waugh, who wrote Brideshead Revisited.

But, aside from all the small details about life in England during WWII, what really caught my attention was how the author captured the attitudes of many of these elites.  I've always thought that, since England was at war with Germany, nearly all British people hated the Nazis.  I've heard rumors about the former King Edward VIII being a Nazi sympathizer.  But he seemed to be an outlier.  Apparently, that was not the case.  Many people of Nancy' social class admired Hitler, and didn't understand why his persecution of the Jews was such a big deal.  I found this quite shocking!  But, I think it rings true.  

Characters:

Nancy is the oldest of seven children, six of whom are female.  In her family, if you wanted to be noticed, you had to do something outrageous.  By the time we meet Nancy in middle age, one sister is in jail for being a fascist, another is an outspoken communist, and still another had been a mistress of Hitler!  While Nancy had written a few books, she hadn't really hit her stride yet as an author.  With such familial chaos, and a world at war, Nancy starts to finally understand that she wants to live life on her own terms.  That means finding love outside of her loveless marriage, and devoting the rest of her energy to writing.  This means bucking social expectations just as much as her infamous sisters do, which is terrifying.

Katie, the American in the modern part of the story, is also in transition.  She is reeling from a broken engagement, and can't find any ideas for her next book.  After one solid hit publication, she is under immense pressure to churn out a sequel.  But she bristles at the idea.  She has always been a fan of Nancy Mitford, so when she has the chance to read her letters, and solve a mystery surrounding her life, Katie jumps at the chance.  While Katie isn't faced with the same rigid social expectations that Nancy had in her day, she still has set the bar pretty high for herself.  And her family is almost as messed up as Nancy's was!  

Romances:

Both Nancy and Katie find love in unexpected places.  Nancy meets a French military man who, while not attractive in the traditional sense, is immensely charming and full of confidence.  Nancy has never had any qualms about having an affair.  But she finds such a connection with this man, that she realizes that her marriage is intolerable.  She has to fight her husband on getting a divorce, or at least letting her go.  It's a pretty brave struggle at a time when men considered their wives to be practically their property.

Katie, who has been with the same man since they were children, doesn't even know how to rebuild her life.  Given that everyone in her family worshipped her fiancé, it took a lot of guts for her to realize that they weren't really a good match, after all.  Then she meets an Englishman who is as obsessed with Nancy Mitford as she is.  He is trying to find a lost memoir that Nancy allegedly wrote during the war.  But why is he looking for it?  Their romance happens so quickly that Katie doesn't quite know if she can trust her feelings.  Also, if they stand any chance of a long term relationship, she would need to move to England.  How is this going to work?  Love will find a way. 

What I Was Mixed About:

Pacing:

As I said in my introduction, the book moves very slowly, particularly in the WWII portion.  While a lot of time passes over the course of the war, not much happens to Nancy herself.  To be fair, writing a novel is not an exciting, heart-racing endeavor.  It take time to gather ideas, write, and then polish a manuscript.  But, there are many long scenes with dialogue between Nancy and her writer friends, and little else occurring.  I wish there were more about her childhood and her wild sisters, the inspiration behind her most famous novel, The Pursuit of Love.

Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Release Date: August 17th, 2021

Author:  Michelle Gable

Publisher: Graydon House

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Page Length:  400 Pages

Source:  Publisher Blog Tour

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  If you are interested in Nancy Mitford, this book will whet your appetite for reading more about her.  A very enjoyable, but slow, read. 

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Thursday, September 9, 2021

ARC Review: Resistance by Mara Timon



Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this novel from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Three women. One mission. Enemies everywhere.
May 1944. When spy Elisabeth de Mornay, code name Cécile, notices a coded transmission from an agent in the field does not bear his usual signature, she suspects his cover has been blown– something that is happening with increasing frequency. With the situation in Occupied France worsening and growing fears that the Resistance has been compromised, Cécile is ordered behind enemy lines.
Having rendezvoused with her fellow agents, Léonie and Dominique, together they have one mission: help the Resistance destabilise German operations to pave the way for the Normandy landings.
But the life of a spy is never straightforward, and the in-fighting within the Resistance makes knowing who to trust ever more difficult. With their lives on the line, all three women will have to make decisions that could cost them everything - for not all their enemies are German.
 

Review:

I read author Mara Timon's previous novel, City of Spies, last year.  Although it doesn't advertise it as such, Resistance, her latest book, is a sequel to that WWII spy thriller.  And I couldn't be more pleased!  Elisabeth de Mornay's first adventure takes her to Portugal, where she met (and married) a German officer.  She gets sent back to England, leaving her new husband behind.  Now she's back in the thick of the action in France.  Pretending to be a German, she is actually working with the Resistance.  But will someone recognize her from Portugal?  And where has her husband gone to?

This novel was filled with action, and heart-stopping suspense.  The story follows Elisabeth, and two other women who must each pretend to be helping the Germans.  But how far does one go for the cause?  There are no right or wrong answers, but each woman's ethics are constantly challenged.  If you love spy thrillers, you are sure to enjoy this book!

What I Liked:

Historical Details:

All the details about the Resistance, from how the group operated, to what precautions they took to keep themselves from discovery were fascinating.  There were codes used to check each other's identities (how else can a wireless operator authenticate the information they are receiving?), and backstories to fool the Germans and locals alike.  

The author also doesn't shy away from how challenging these situations were.  Just parachuting in to France, Elisabeth nearly breaks her ankle.  She then must devise a plausible explanation for her injury.  There are also wounds that must be dealt with (often without a doctor), diseases to avoid, and the constant lack of food that made performing at one's best difficult.

Characters:

Elisabeth is a practical person.  She has a mission and will do almost anything to see it through.  But, inside, she is not pleased to be pretending to be a German.  She knows how much she is hated by the local French people.  But she knows that her skills as a wireless operator are invaluable to preparing the Allies to invade France.  I loved how strong she was, but she wasn't a perfect super spy!  She takes a lot of chances that puts the mission in jeopardy when she meets someone from her past.  Her hatred of Germans is also strong enough to cloud her judgement at times.  

Léonie and Dominique, her fellow spies, are also working hard for the Resistance.  Each has strong motivations for hating the Nazis.  And both are even more ruthless than Elisabeth when it comes to getting the job done.  Léone, in particular, is hell bent on revenge.  She is so lost in her hate that she has no plans for the future, other than stopping the war.  When your that driven, you have nothing to lose.

Although this is a female driven novel, this is not a heart-warming story of female friendship.  I believe this is due to each of the women having their own private agendas for being spies.  But what I did like about their interactions was that, like good co-workers should, they kept each other accountable.  They each questioned one another when someone was taking too many risks.

Story:

The story takes place in France just before the Allied invasion in 1944.  As a reader, you know what they don't know:  the invasion will commence soon.  It's critical that the Allies get information on what the Nazis are doing prior to the attack.  I loved the suspense of knowing that time is not on their side. 

Two of the three women (Elisabeth and Léonie) are pretending to be German.  Dominique is posing as a collaborator.  It's fine that they are actually helping the French and English. But who is going to know this when the bullets start flying?  There is a real possibility that the locals, who are unaware of their true allegiances, will kill the women for helping the Nazis.  So while the invasion is wonderful and exciting, it is the most dangerous time for these spies.  


Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Release Date:  September 2nd, 2021

Author:  Mara Timon

Publisher:  Zaffre

Genre:  WWII Historical Fiction/Spy novel

Page Length:  432 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  This book was exciting, fun, and made me stay up very late on a week night because I couldn't put it down.  If spy thrillers are your thing, you are going to love this book. 


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Wednesday, September 8, 2021

ARC Review: Never Saw You Coming by Erin Hahn



Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this novel from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Raised by conservative parents, 18-year-old Meg Hennessey just found out her entire childhood was a lie. Instead of taking a gap year before college to find herself, she ends up traveling north to meet what’s left of the family she never knew existed.

While there, she meets Micah Allen, a former pastor’s kid whose dad ended up in prison, leaving Micah with his own complicated relationship about the church. The clock is ticking on Pastor Allen’s probation hearing and Micah, now 19, feels the pressure to forgive - even when he can’t possibly forget.

As Meg and Micah grow closer, they are confronted with the heavy flutterings of first love and all the complications it brings. Together, they must navigate the sometimes-painful process of cutting ties with childhood beliefs as they build toward something truer and straight from the heart.

In Erin Hahn’s Never Saw You Coming, sometimes it takes a leap of faith to find yourself.

Review:

Erin Hahn is quickly becoming one of my go to authors.  If I see she has written a book, I will immediately make plans to request a review copy and/or buy it.  Why, you may ask?  Because this is one author who knows how teens think and behave.  Her books are honest, and don't settle for a quick resolution in order to make a happy ending.  While still being lots of fun, her novels are realistic about the issues facing young people.

Never Saw You Coming is set in the same universe as Erin Hahn's previous book, More Than Maybe, with a few characters from that book making an appearance in this new one.  This story follows Meg (the best friend of Veda, the main character in More Than Maybe).  Meg has been raised in a very conservative environment.  She has been homeschooled, goes to church often, and tries to dress modestly as her church has taught her.  But when several revelations about Meg's parents surface, she is thrown for a loop, and she begins to question everything she has been taught to believe.

Meg travels to a new town to meet her great-grandmother, and sort out her feelings.  While she's there, she also meets Micah.  Micah is a year older than Meg, and has had a tough time due to his father's illegal behavior.  He had looked up to his dad, and now with his illusions shattered, he feels completely alone.  When Meg and Micah meet, you just know something wonderful will happen.

I loved this book for it's honest look at the transition from teen to adult.  From being spoon-fed your values to deciding them for yourself.  This book shows how important religion is in some teen's lives, and how those beliefs are often re-examined as teen's get older.  With wonderful characters, and an straight-forward look at teen sexuality, this is a very special novel.

What I Liked:

Characters:

While Meg's situation is extreme, the influence of most parents starts to diminish after their kids graduate from high school.  Young people begin to think for themselves and they may not see eye to eye with their parents values.  That is what much of this book is about.  Meg must find a way to balance how she's been raised with how to live her religious beliefs as an adult.

As she begins to fall for Micah, Meg wonders how she can be "pure" while also being attracted to her boyfriend, and this causes lots of guilt. She also starts to notice how girls are shamed in her church.  Why are girls taught to be modest?  So boys won't be tempted.  She starts to understand how this kind of teaching removes a boy's responsibility for their own behavior, and puts the onus, and blame, solely on girls.

Micah, the other main character, also is dealing with looking at his parents realistically.  His dad, a pastor, is in prison for a number of crimes, and his family has been ostracized by the community.  Aside from the betrayal of his father, he also feels betrayed by his church.  But he still has a strong faith.  Can he forgive his father?  More importantly, should he forgive his father?  

Meg's uncle James is a youth leader in his church. They don't know each other very well.  But as Meg gets to know him, she finds him to be very supportive of Meg and Micah.  But he is still a pastor.  When someone accuses Meg of having sex, James shames her instead of hearing her side of the story.  James is a man in his thirties, and dates women, staying out late himself.  Hypocrisy much?

Teen Sexuality:

While most religions teach that sex is only okay inside a marriage, the author takes an honest look at a teen's emerging sexual feelings.  This is not a book that is trying to show that sex is either good or bad.  It is just another aspect of a person's life.  Meg, having been taught that sexual feelings are sinful, feels very conflicted about her feelings.  But I wouldn't say that the moment she gets a boyfriend that she abandons her beliefs.  She needs to come to terms that her feelings are normal, and not to feel guilty about it.

Story:

I enjoyed how Meg becomes her own person throughout the book.  From making the decision to reach out to her newly found relatives, to getting a job and a place to live, Meg is a person who gets things done!  Micah is also blazing his own path, training to be a search and rescue worker (along with his awesome dog!).  Seeing how these two people find each other, and support each other was really fun and romantic!

Religion:

Religion plays a key role in this book.  And while the book points out much of what is wrong with religion (shaming girls, using guilt to control others), it balances this with the many positives that Meg and Micah feel.  They each find great comfort in prayer, and church music.  And while the community can be very judgemental, it also can provide support.  


Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Release Date:  September 7th, 2021

Author:  Erin Hahn

Publisher:  Wednesday Books

Genre:  YA Contemporary

Page Length: 320 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  I loved this book so much for its honesty about teen sexuality and how it can clash with a religious upbringing.  I highly recommend this book. 

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Tuesday, September 7, 2021

ARC Review: The Living and the Lost by Ellen Feldman



Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this novel from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Millie Mosbach and her brother David escaped to the United States just before Kristallnacht, leaving their parents and little sister in Berlin. Now they are both back in their former hometown, haunted by ghosts and hoping against hope to find their family. Millie works in the office responsible for rooting out the most dedicated Nazis from publishing. Like most of their German-born American colleagues, the siblings suffer from rage at Germany and guilt at their own good fortune. Only Millie’s boss, Major Harry Sutton, seems strangely eager to be fair to the Germans.

Living and working in bombed-out Berlin, a latter day Wild West where the desperate prey on the unsuspecting; spies ply their trade; black markets thrive, and forbidden fraternization is rampant, Millie must come to terms with a past decision made in a moment of crisis, and with the enigmatic sometimes infuriating Major Sutton who is mysteriously understanding of her demons. Atmospheric and page-turning, The Living and the Lost is a story of survival, love, and forgiveness, of others and of self.

Review:

I think one of the things that draws me to WWII historical fiction is that there are so many different perspectives that an author can write from.  I've read WWII books about soldiers, civilians, female spies, families, the LGBTQ+ community, and more.  But, as with her previous novel, Paris Never Leaves You, author Ellen Feldman focuses on those who escaped Nazi Germany to start a new life in America.  I wasn't overly fond of Paris Never Leaves You because (to be honest) the protagonist was a German woman who pretended to be Jewish in order to immigrate to the U.S.  I found it hard to have empathy for her.

The Living and the Lost is a tale of a woman learning empathy for everyone affected by the war.   I found the characters complex and the story to be haunting.  The book did not make me feel sorry for Nazis.  But it did show the protagonist, Millie (as well as me), that no one was untouched by the war.  Some scars are obvious, while many more are psychological.  And each person shows their trauma in a different way.  As one character tells Millie, "Don't be so quick to judge others".  Clearly I need that reminder, as well.

What I liked:

Setting:

The majority of the book takes place in post-war Berlin.  Millie, a German-Jew who escaped to America in 1938, returns to her hometown to help with the rebuilding efforts.  She left Germany during the oppression of Jews, but before the war.  So she can hardly recognize the city.  Many of the buildings are destroyed, and the once proud German people are starving, fighting over anything to eat, or to sell on the black market.  But how do you figure out who are the civilians and who are the Nazis?  Who is deserving of sympathy and who should be put on trial for war crimes?

Characters:

Most of the American characters in Germany are German-born Jews who fled to the U.S. years earlier.  But all have lost family members who couldn't get out in time.  They have a lot of survivors guilt, and anger with the German people.  Each person has their own reasons for returning.  Some are looking for lost relatives, while others want revenge for what happened to their family.  Some genuinely want to reclaim Germany and show that Jews could not be eliminated.  For most, it's a mixture of each.

Millie and her brother left Germany and were hopeful that her parents and youngest sister would join them.  But they never did.  David, Millie's brother became a soldier so he could fight in the war, and kill some Nazis.  That is how he begins to deal with the guilt.  But Millie doesn't have that option.  Instead, she goes to college and, when the war is over, returns to Germany as a translator.  She is part of a team of investigators who interview Germans seeking to work in the media.  The United States doesn't want former Nazis in these highly coveted positions, so her mission is to weed them out.

Even though Millie wasn't in a concentration camp, she still is traumatized by the what lead to her leaving her family behind.  And she can't forgive herself for surviving when her parents and sister did not.  This comes out in several ways.  Even though the city has changed, Millie still has panic attacks in places like the main train station.  She looks at children and swears she sees her sister.  And she has immense anger towards Germans.

Other characters, like her brother David, and her boss Harry, feel they need to do as many good deeds as possible to justify their survival.  Other characters are so filled with rage that they will beat up Germans at the slightest provocation.  What I was really surprised about was the rage that the German civilians felt.  These people were not Nazis, but they also didn't exactly jump in to defend their Jewish neighbors either.  Nevertheless, these were people who also lost loved ones, who were terrorized by nightly bombings, who were brutally raped by Russian soldiers.  And they knew that no matter what they suffered, they were not allowed to receive sympathy.  The world was holding every German accountable for the atrocities done to the Jews.  For Millie, as well as other Jewish characters in the book, finding a way to, while perhaps not sympathize, but at least empathize with these Germans was a challenge.

Story:

The story follows Millie and her fellow German-Jews, on a path of survival, and then the guilt that follows.  Each character must face the fact they they made it through, but most of their family did not.  What a horrible feeling to lose everyone you love to war.  

With such complex characters, it was so helpful to have the many flashbacks to their different experiences getting to America, and dealing with being German (and Jewish) during the war.   At times, other Americans treated them as dirty Jews, not letting them into restaurants and hotels.  Other times, they were treated as German spies who couldn't bee trusted.  It was a no win situation.  But Millie and her brother know that no matter how hard they have it, the Jews left in Germany had it worse.

I think that is the big takeaway I had from the book.  Anyone who has been through trauma can remember that someone, somewhere else, has had worse things happen to them.  But, that doesn't mean that their suffering is any less.  People tend to compare suffering, but we shouldn't.  


Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Release Date:  September 7th, 2021

Author:  Ellen Feldman

Publisher:  St. Martin's Griffin

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Page Length:  352 pages

Source:   NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  A complex novel of survivorship, this is an historical fiction that you will remember for a long time.  Highly recommended.

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Monday, September 6, 2021

ARC Review: The Heron's Cry by Ann Cleeves



Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this novel from the publisher and NetGalley in Exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

North Devon is enjoying a rare hot summer with tourists flocking to its coastline. Detective Matthew Venn is called out to a rural crime scene at the home of a group of artists. What he finds is an elaborately staged murder--Dr Nigel Yeo has been fatally stabbed with a shard of one of his glassblower daughter's broken vases.

Dr Yeo seems an unlikely murder victim. He's a good man, a public servant, beloved by his daughter. Matthew is unnerved, though, to find that she is a close friend of Jonathan, his husband.

Then another body is found--killed in a similar way. Matthew soon finds himself treading carefully through the lies that fester at the heart of his community and a case that is dangerously close to home.

DI Matthew Venn returns in The Heron's Cry, in Ann Cleeves powerful next novel, proving once again that she is a master of her craft.

Review:

The first Ann Cleeves novel I ever read was The Long Call (book 1 in this series).  But most people will know the author from her very popular crime novels that have been made into hit British television series such as Vera.  I enjoyed The Long Call, but I think I like this next book, The Heron's Cry, even more.  Much like Louise Penny (author of the Inspector Gamache series), Ann Cleeves creates a whole town full of characters and relationships that become richer with each successive novel.  With it's small seaside town setting, wonderful characters, and a mystery that is compelling, this was a winning reading experience.

What I Liked:

Setting:

North Devon is a seaside community that get's lots of tourists each summer.  With beaches and smart cafes, it's a popular destination. But for the locals, there is also lots of traffic, and busy restaurants to contend with.  While the characters make their irritations clear, they have also created places that are more for the townspeople.  There is the Woodyard, a community center where people can meet for a coffee, or a yoga class in the daytime, and then see a theatre production there at night.  There's also a thriving arts community.  With a mix of lifelong locals, and London transplants, this is certainly a town I would want to live in.  But even an Idyllic town has its share of crime,,,

Characters:

The author not only has a great cast of characters who are police detectives, but also a wonderful mix of spouses, as well.  Matthew Venn, the lead detective at the local police force, is a quiet, serious person who is married to Jonathan, who is more of a free spirit.  Considering how important Matthew's job is (catching killers), it's no wonder that Matthew is so controlled with his emotions.  Jonathan has no such constraints.  He is more impulsive and more open with his emotions than Matthew.  They are usually a good balance for each other, but not always.  They often miscommunicate.

Jen, another police officer in the group, is a single mom with two teenage kids.  She is often overworked and stressed.  This leads her to make some poor choices in her off hours, when she just wants to relax.  But the demands of the job make this understandable.

Ross is the third person on the team.  I found him harder to like, as he is more of a traditional male.  He thinks he is better than Jen, and always wants to be praised for his work.  But, I understood him too.  He is married, but seems to struggle with understanding his wife.  I think he really wishes this were the 1950's, where he could be the "breadwinner" and his wife would stay at home and cater just to him.  But you can see that this is how he was raised.  He knows that times have changed, and he is (mostly) willing to have more of a partnership with his wife.

Story:

The story centers around a murder at a farm where an eccentric rich man has surrounded himself with artists, and artisans.  Like every small town, there are a lot of people who are related to each other, and this complicates Matthew's investigation.  

I enjoyed reading about how the detective and his team went about piecing everything together.  There were some interesting twists and turns, such as a previous suicide and a possible connection with the murder.  This leads to a look at how stretched the National Health Service is, especially in regards to dealing with mental health issues.  This is an issue in the U.S., as well. 

Trigger Warning for Suicide

Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Release Date:  September 7th, 2021

Author:  Ann Cleeves

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Genre:  Murder Mystery

Page Length:  400 pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  I really enjoyed this book.  But start with the first in the series, The Long Call, to get the whole scope of the town and characters.  I can't wait for the next installment of the series. 

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Sunday, August 29, 2021

ARC Review: Cazadora by Romina Garber


Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this novel from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In Cazadora, Romina Garber weaves together Argentine folklore and what it means to be illegal in a timely, intimate, and emotionally powerful narrative.

Werewolves. Witches. Romance. Resistance.

Enter a world straight out of Argentine folklore...

Following the events of Lobizona, Manu and her friends cross the mystical border into Kerana--a cursed realm in Argentina--searching for allies and a hiding place. As they chase down leads about the Coven--a mythical resistance manada that might not even exist--the Cazadores chase down leads about Manu, setting up traps to capture and arrest her.

Just as it seems the Cazadores have Manu and her friends cornered, the Coven answers their call for help. As Manu catches her breath among these non-conforming Septimus, she discovers they need a revolution as much as she does.

But is she the right one to lead them? After all, hybrids aren't just outlawed. They're feared and reviled. What happens when the Coven learns of Manu's dual heritage? Will they still protect her? Or will they betray her?

And after running this far, for this long--how much farther can Manu go before her feet get tired, and she stops to take a stand?

Review:

In the first book of the series, Lobizona, author Romina Garber introduces the reader to a world not unlike Harry Potter.  There are witches, werewolves, and even a school of magic.  But that is where the similarities end.  This series really explores Latin American culture, and addresses issues of gender, and gender roles, that is gaining in importance.  Hispanics (and I myself am one) have been raised to believe in two genders with very rigid roles for each.  Those beliefs and roles are being challenged now, and the author cleverly uses the YA fantasy genre to explore what this means.  

I loved Cazadora.  Besides the very important themes, the world-building is creative and whimsical, and the characters and story had me completely hooked.  I can't wait for the conclusion in this trilogy.

What I Liked:

Themes:

In the world of this novel, all magical people are wither men, who are werewolves (lobizones), or women, who are witches (brujas).  There are no grey areas .  Each role, male or female, has a rigid set of roles in the society.  When Manu arrives in this world (after being in hiding in the human world), she shows that she is a female werewolf.  How can this be?  Her existence is illegal and challenges the whole society's social order.

Although Manu does not identify as LGBTQ+, the parallels are obvious.  There are also female characters who do identify as lesbians, and must hide themselves.  Since there are so few of the brujas and lobizones, there is intense pressure for women to have children.  One reason that the society doesn't tolerate homosexuality.  But this pressure to reproduce is also very troubling for anyone who doesn't wish to become a parent.

Manu meets several characters who see an opportunity to change long-held norms when it comes to gender, and gender roles. It's an uphill battle, as this is so ingrained in this culture.  As with Spanish, where there is no gender neutral word for a person, there is no word for a female werewolf, so Manu is known as a Lobizona.  What will it take to make such profound changes in this culture?

World-Building:

We learn much more in Cazadora about this world's society and it's gender roles.  Brujas take on tranditional roles of healing and caretaking, while werewolves have leadership roles such as in the military and the police.   We also learn of other ways in which the society functions.  There are public confessions, as well as public mourning when someone dies.  It's a society that is strongly rooted in the traditional family.  This can be great, if that is what you want.  But for anyone who wants to walk a different path, there is no support.

The various places where the action takes place are really inventive and whimsical.  The Coven is actually an underwater sea vessel, and looks like a giant seashell.  It reminded me of a magical submarine.  The different places each have a magical twist that creates a dreamlike feel to the book, complete with creative flora and fauna.

Characters:

Manu continues to take risks in order to fight for her right to exist.  She runs away from the magic school, along with several other students, to try and find a way to get the government to recognize her as not being illegal.  While she is really brave, she also begins to understand the sacrifices that others are making for her.  Can she live with herself when her friends may possibly be throwing away their futures?  It's a constant tug of war, between wanting to assert herself, and not being selfish.

Manu's friends, Cata and Sasya are a same sex couple who must hide who they are.  Homosexuality is not just frowned upon, it's not even acknowledged in this culture.  They have learned to hide who they are by pretending to like boys, and by trying to be perfect daughters.  It has mostly works, but they are constantly threatened with exposure.  This puts a huge strain on their relationship, with Sasya wanting to be more open about showing the world who they are, and Cata trying desperately to keep her parents approval.  Basically, one is ready to come out, while the other isn't.  This plays out with Sasya (who is a witch who can manipulate plants and life forces) becoming more and more aggressive.  When she nearly kills someone with her anger, she and Cata have to reach some kind of peace with their situation.

Story:

I appreciated the story's many layers.  Besides the fast-paced action, Manu begins to understand that several different factions want to use her notoriety for their own means.  Th only female Cazadora (police woman), wants to trap her so she will gain fame and credibility.  Her female friends hope that she can change things enough to allow them more choice over lives.  And the Coven (a group of revolutionaries) wants her to overthrow the government!  Manu really has a lot to navigate.  She needs to decide who she can trust, and what it is that she really wants.  

There are plenty of people who are neither good or bad.  They simply have their own agenda and wish to use Manu to further it.  But Manu can't be the only person sticking her neck out to enact change.  This is something that's going to take many people, and several years, to do.  

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Release Date:  August 17th, 2021

Author:  Romina Garber

Publisher:  Wednesday Books

Genre:  YA Fantasy

Page Length:  400 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  A solid second book in a wonderful series.  This book explores themes of gender and traditional gender roles that are thought-provoking, as well as entertaining.  I highly recommend this book.



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Wednesday, August 25, 2021

ARC Review: Paper & Blood by Kevin Hearne



Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

There’s only one Al MacBharrais: Though other Scotsmen may have dramatic mustaches and a taste for fancy cocktails, Al also has a unique talent. He’s a master of ink and sigil magic. In his gifted hands, paper and pen can work wondrous spells.

But Al isn’t quite alone: He is part of a global network of sigil agents who use their powers to protect the world from mischievous gods and strange monsters. So when a fellow agent disappears under sinister circumstances in Australia, Al leaves behind the cozy pubs and cafes of Glasgow and travels to the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria to solve the mystery.

The trail to his colleague begins to pile up with bodies at alarming speed, so Al is grateful his friends have come to help—especially Nadia, his accountant who moonlights as a pit fighter. Together with a whisky-loving hobgoblin known as Buck Foi and the ancient Druid Atticus O’Sullivan, along with his dogs, Oberon and Starbuck, Al and Nadia will face down the wildest wonders Australia—and the supernatural world—can throw at them, and confront a legendary monster not seen in centuries.

Review:
I first became aware of author Kevin Hearne from the Iron Druid novels.  I've read them all, so I was really happy that Hearne decided to keep the party going by starting a whole new series set in the same universe.  Ink & Sigil introduced us to Al MacBharrais, a Sigil Agent .  Since there's only one Druid left on Earth, a Sigil agent does some of the work the druids used to do.  

Although this is definitely still Al's story, Atticus (along with his dogs Oberon and Starbuck) is also in this novel.  Besides this, we learn much more about Al, his hobgoblin sidekick Buck Foi, and several other characters.  This was a a fun novel with plenty of action and humor.  I loved it.

What I Liked:

Cross Over with The Iron Druid:
I really enjoyed The Iron Druid series, so it was a real treat to have Atticus (and his dogs) back in a novel.  We learn much more about how Atticus is doing since losing his arm.  As usual, Atticus does something that has unintended consequences, which the Sigil Agents must deal with.  I liked that Al and Atticus see each other as equals, with each one having their own strengths.  There is also another character from The Iron Druid who makes an appearance.  I won't spoil it for you, but it's really cool to see this person again.

Characters:
We learn much more about Al and his life prior to becoming a Sigil Agent.  Al has had one tragedy after another, and he struggles not to be bitter about all that he has lost.  This all stems from someone putting a curse on Al, years ago.  He doesn't know who did this, or why.  But he's been told the only way to break the curse is to work out whatever problem lead to it, or to kill whoever cursed him.  On the one hand, he doesn't like the idea of killing anyone.  But can he live with himself if he loses Buck to the curse, as well?

We also get a deeper understanding of Atticus, or Conner as he is now knows as.  In the Iron Druid series, Atticus/Conner is very much a one with Nature sort of fellow.  His main job as a Druid is to keep the Earth in balance.  But he often winds up fighting and killing others.  When he loses his arm, he firmly believes that there must be a way to get it back.  After all, what's the use of having all that magical power if he can't magically regain a lost limb?  This story has him rethinking that plan.

We also learn more about some supporting characters who I can see will play bigger roles in upcoming books.  There's Nadia, who seems to have a lot of power for someone who's an accountant, and Gladys who's-seen-some-shite, Al's receptionist. Why does everyone know who Gladys is?  And why are they being so differential to her?  I know once you learn more about these people you will be eager to have them featured prominently in the next novel.

Story:
There are several Sigil Agents strewn about the world.  When several of them go missing, it's up to Al and Buck to discover what happened and put things to right again.  And where do the pari go to fix this mess?  Australia!  It's a really smart move for the author to change the scenery a bit with this next book.  There's plenty about Australia, with its vast landscapes and wonderful people, to make this a great setting for an adventure.  


Al and Buck must discover what has killed several hikers in a National Park, and if it will lead them to the other missing Sigil Agents.  This almost becomes something of a video game, where the group must avoid obstacles and traps, as they encounter a variety of monsters.  The traps become more elaborate as the story continues.  All of which will lead to a final showdown with a "Big Boss" type of villain at the end.


Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Release Date:  August 10th, 2021

Author:  Kevin Hearne

Publisher: Del Rey Books

Genre:  Contemporary Fantasy

Page Length:  304 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  This was an adventure with many fantastic creatures.  Lots of laughs along the way ensures the story doesn't take itself too seriously.  
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