ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Fiction, Historical Fiction, Romance, Series & Collections

August Reads & September Faves

Here are the books I read and/or listened to in August! I rated them throughout the month so I could share them with you. Some will still be reviewed on this site (mainly You’ve Reached Sam, which touched me deeply.) If a book has 4 or 5 stars, I really enjoyed it. If it has 3 stars it means it’s good, but flawed. Anything with 2 or 1 star…you’ve been warned! All of these are just my opinion, of course.

Lastly, here are two advanced copies I read a while ago that I enjoyed very much. Both are coming out in September:

Right now I’m rereading Katherine Center’s The Bodyguard because my husband and I plan to listen to the audio book this week. Next I’ll be doing a buddy read of The Art of Racing in the Rain with one of the ladies in my online book club. There’s always something to read!

Cover Reveal, Fiction, Romance, Series & Collections, Women's Fiction

COVER REVEAL: Return to Satterthwaite Court, by Mimi Matthews

AVAILABLE April 11, 2023

Cover reveal! USA Today bestselling author Mimi Matthews’ highly-anticipated RETURN TO SATTERTHWAITE COURT releases April 11, 2023. Available to pre-order at your favourite online retailer now. https://www.mimimatthews.com/books/somerset-stories/return-to-satterthwaite-court/ 

SYNOPSIS:From USA Today bestselling author Mimi Matthews comes the long-awaited sequel to her critically acclaimed novels The Work of Art and Gentleman Jim.

The only son of a famous love match, ex-army lieutenant Charles Heywood is determined to make amends for his past mistakes by giving his mother the impossible—the deed to her long-lost childhood home, Satterthwaite Court. But arranging to purchase the remote west country estate is more difficult than Charles ever imagined. The property is mired in secrets, some of which may prove deadly. If he’s going to unravel them, he’ll need the assistance of someone as daring as he is.

At one and twenty, Lady Katherine Beresford has already earned a reputation to rival that of her infamous parents. As skilled with pistols as she is on horseback, she’s never met an obstacle she can’t surmount—or a man she can’t win. That is, until she encounters the infuriatingly somber Lieutenant Heywood. But Kate refuses to be deterred by the raven-haired soldier’s strong, silent facade. After all, faint heart never won a handsome gentleman.

From the wilds of rural Somersetshire to the glittering ballrooms of early-Victorian London, Charles and Kate embark on a cross-country quest to solve a decades’ old mystery. Will the greatest danger be to their hearts—or to their lives?

*****

Thank you to Mimi Matthews for choosing me to be part of the team to reveal the cover to next year’s book!

Books 1 and 2 of the series are some of my favorites! And now the children of these beloved characters will have a story of their very own in Return to Satterthwaite Court!

If you’re new to the historical romance genre, this series is where you want to start. Plenty of swashbuckling good fun too!

Book 3 releases April 2023!
Author Spotlight, Cozy Mysteries, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Romance, Series & Collections, Women's Fiction

June & July 2022 Reads

I even added stars next to my July favorites!

I guess you could say that I’ve read a lot of books in the last two months! People ask how I do it and this is my answer:

  • I live in a small town where there isn’t much to do.
  • I’m still living the pandemic lifestyle, staying home even more than usual.
  • My husband has had to work lots of overtime lately.
  • We don’t have kids.
  • I sleep terribly.
  • I read fast.
  • My online book group has tons of motivational activities.
  • I upgraded my Kindle from a Basic to a Paperwhite Signature. (I was getting eye strain from the Basic. My poor eyes are so happy now!)

Some books I skim, some I give a great deal of attention to, and there are even some that I start and don’t finish (I don’t list these.) You may recognize some titles from previous posts. There are still a few I plan to acknowledge here, but the ones who had the greatest impact on me have already been reviewed. It’s difficult to get to everything.

I also get asked about authors. Which authors do I recommend? This is a TOUGH question! Everyone’s tastes are different. Please keep in mind that just because I love a book doesn’t mean everyone else will love it. This is why it’s important to read several reviews (unless you’re really brave)–and not just mine–before buying a book. Join Goodreads, read reviews on Amazon, join NetGalley, find a Facebook group for your age and genre preference. Being proactive is the only way to find what YOU enjoy reading.

But to answer the author question, here are some favorites–all fiction. You can find all of them in the “author” section of this site.

I hope this gives you a little glimpse into authors to research and whose works to pursue. For the devoted reader there is truly something for everyone. ❤️

Email subscribers: Visit readwithkristie.com to see the site in its entirety.

HAPPY READING!

Christian Fiction, Fiction, Romance, Series & Collections

The Rocky Mountain Series, by Pamela Nissen

The Rocky Mountain series, by Pamela Nissen, is a set of sweet Christian romances I recently discovered. It is light reading and very clean. Set in Boulder, Colorado in the late 1800s, it tells the story of the five Drake brothers. Ben, Joseph, Aaron, and Zach are all honorable men. Max is the black sheep of the family, barely making an appearance, but with an important influence in the second book.

The plots are predictable in that each one brings a brother together with his future wife, but they are very enjoyable nonetheless. All of the characters are struggling with something, not unlike real life, and it is just a matter of finding the person who is the right fit to help with those challenges. (Again, not unlike real life.)The brothers are kind, noble, hard-working, and chivalrous. The women are smart, independent and nurturing. They deal with the expected trials of nineteenth century frontier living–weather, predators, thieves, etc.–learning about themselves and each other through it all.

Don’t be misled by the book covers. This series is better than you would expect.

Book 1: Rocky Mountain Match (Joseph) 9/10 Stars

Book 2: Rocky Mountain Redemption (Ben) 8/10 Stars

Book 3: Rocky Mountain Proposal (Aaron) 8.5/10 Stars

Book 4: Rocky Mountain Homecoming (Zach) 8.5/10 Stars

Historical Fiction, Romance, Series & Collections, Women's Fiction

Genre Spotlight: Romance

I wandered into the Romance genre recently. Here are some quick reviews. There are Victorian and Regency romances, some are parts of a series, a few have wounded veterans. Most are pretty clean, which I prefer.

The Lost Letter, by Mimi Matthews tells of Sylvia Stafford and the Earl of Radcliffe. She’s a governess and he’s brooding and distant, like Rochester from Jane Eyre. There is a series of misunderstandings and meddling servants. If only everyone communicated better, those misunderstandings would be resolved quicker. A pleasant, but often frustrating story. Very clean. 7/10

The Work of Art, by Mimi Matthews is a book I enjoyed very much. Phyllida Satterthwait is living with relatives she barely knows. Her unusual eyes (one blue, one green) bring her to the attention of a man known as “The Collector.” Meanwhile, she befriends Captain Arthur Heywood, a kind neighbor, recently wounded in battle. The relationship between Phyllida and Heywood is very sweet, with the overall theme of two people rescuing each other. 8.5/10

Heartsight and Heartfelt, by Kay Springsteen are quick reads. Trish is cleaning out her late grandmother’s North Carolina house. She’s recently divorced with daughter, Bella, who has Down’s Syndrome. Their neighbor is Dan Conrad, to whom Bella takes to very quickly. Dan is adjusting, not easily, to life out of the military. A friendship develops between the single mother and the veteran. Both books are fairly clean, maybe a mild PG rating.

Heartsight is the kind of book I could see adapted into a made-for-TV movie. Trish and Dan are great characters with excellent chemistry. There is some suspense and action, but it mostly focuses on these two getting to know each other. 8.5/10

Heartfelt is a mess. A very chaotic plot, frenzied pace, too many new characters, and Bella needed to be written better. It is disappointing. 5/10

See Me, by Autumn Macarthur is part of the Chapel Cove series. It reads like a Hallmark movie, but Jake and Bronte are so likable that I didn’t care. Both are entering new chapters in their lives and necessity brings them together. This is a Christian romance, so there are religious discussions. I found it very endearing. 8.5/10

Turn to Me, by Becky Wade will be available May 3, 2022. It is part of the Misty Rose Romance series and also a clean Christian romance. I wanted to like this one more. Luke and Finley are great characters, along with Finley’s coworkers and Luke’s family. He is an ex-con who promised Finley’s father he would protect her. She’s mourning her fiancee who was killed in a car accident. The main plot is great, but there is a lot of fluff–including a detracting side romance that I all but skipped. This could be a winner with better editing. 7/10

In Front of Me, by Dana LeCheminant is part of the Simple Love Story series. There are recurring characters in the series, but this one focuses on Lissa Montgomery, Brennan, and his roomate, Steve. There’s a bit of a love triangle, but not really. Like See Me, this is about two people who need each other. Most of it is from Lissa’s point of view and readers can easily identify with her. Fairly clean. 8/10

Isabelle and Alexander, by Rebecca Anderson is barely worth a mention. This book had so much potential, but poor pacing made it fall short. Clean romance. 6/10

Falling for the Guarded Duke, by Sally Forbes also could’ve been better. I liked the main characters, Olivia and Alexander, very much as well as the basic plot. Alexander’s younger brother is terrible, with motives that do not make much sense. There are some errors that should’ve been caught before the book went to print and the word “giggled” is used to excess. Clean romance. 7.5/10

The Arrangement and The Escape, by Mary Balogh are part of The Survivor’s Club series. It’s a unique premise. Six men and one woman have suffering a variety of injuries in the Napoleonic War. Some wounds are physical, some are emotional. After three years convalescing together, the friends reunite annually to update and support each other. The writing is actually very good. However, this series has some steamy scenes. (Think Titanic steamy–with description.) Personally, I found those scenes unnecessary and a bit “blush-worthy.” I would give 7.5/10 to The Arrangement and 8.5 to The Escape.

Thoughts: Like any genre, Romance can be done well or not. I prefer reading about the relationships and dialogue between characters more than private moments and torrid affairs. Mimi Matthews is an author whose books I’ll keep pursuing. Most others in the genre will be Advanced Reader Copies from NetGalley.

Cozy Mysteries, Fiction, Mystery, Series & Collections

Her Royal Spyness Series, by Rhys Bowen

I have spent the last month devouring this series. It is, perhaps, the most delightful, entertaining series I’ve ever read. If you like cozy mysteries with a bit of Phryne Fisher and Downtown Abbey tossed into the mix, these books are for you.

Set in the 1930’s with the effects of World War 1 still felt and and the shadow of World War 2 looming in the future, our heroine is Lady Georgiana Rannoch. She is the great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, granddaughter of the Duke of Rannoch on one side and a retired policeman on the other. At the beginning of the series she is living in Scotland in the drafty family castle, Castle Rannoch, with her half-brother and his unpleasant wife. Her prospects seem bleak.

But Georgie has an ace up her sleeve. Despite being a minor royal (34th in line for the throne,) she is well-liked by Queen Mary (grandmother to the current monarch, Elizabeth II.) Between minor assignments from the queen to keep an eye on “that American woman” trying to seduce her son, David (the future Edward VIII,) running into her flamboyant mother who ran out on her; sassy best friend, Belinda Warburton-Stoke; her hopeless maid, Queenie; and the mysterious but handsome Darcy O’Mara, each book brings a new adventure. We journey with Georgie from Scotland to England, France, Bulgaria, Italy, Ireland, and even Kenya.

I recommend this series highly and suggest reading the books in order. There are ongoing subplots that necessitate it. The first is available with an Amazon Kindle Unlimited subscription, while others may be in your online library. Of course, they’re available to purchase too.

There are many aspects that make this series fun, but, if you know a bit of British history, you’ll enjoy constant run-ins with the royal family and Mrs. Wallis Simpson (who enjoys a healthy social competition with Georgie’s mother, Claire.)

All in all a wonderful group of characters to cozy up with during the winter months.

9.5/10 Stars

P.S. There is also a short prequel “book 0.5” called Masked Ball at Broxley Manor. It’s only 40 pages and not essential to the story, but still enjoyable.

Biography, History, Nonfiction, Series & Collections

Alan Turing, by Hourly Histories

After watching The Imitation Game again, I felt like it was time to learn more about Alan Turing, one of those essential people in history whose story was suppressed for decades after his death. In doing so I happened upon the Hourly Histories series.

These books, which focus mostly on war and film figures of the 1940s are truly excellent. In about 80 pages they describe much about the subject, getting to the heart of what made them who they were and the importance of their contributions. I’ve read a few others and was equally impressed.

Like many geniuses, Turing was a brilliant man with a tragic life, but as the father of the modern computer–upon which we all rely–his name needs to be known and recognized.

Hourly Histories books will interest a variety of readers of different ages. They would make great additions to a classroom or home library and digital versions are available to borrow if you have a Kindle Unlimited subscription.

8.5/10 Stars

Fiction, Romance, Series & Collections, Women's Fiction

Westcott Bay Series (Books 1-3,) by Amelia Addler

Continuing my journey into light mysteries and clean romances is the Westcott Bay series by Amelia Addler. Although it took me a while to get into the lives of the characters, by the time I finished the third book, they had become familiar friends.

Following the formula of so many similar books, this series begins with newly divorced Margie Clifton, who is starting over on the San Juan islands in Washington State. (A place I still need to visit, considering that I have lived in Washington for ten years.) Margie takes over her brother, Mike’s, property, which includes a huge barn just right for an event center.

Along the way we meet Chief Deputy Hank Kowalkski (newly widowed, so you have one guess what’s going to happen) and Morgan Allen, who is on the island to piece together the puzzle of her mother’s death in a hit-and-run accident. Margie’s daughter, Jade, also visits and, later on, her older sister, Tiffany. Each bring their own subplots.

Over the course of three books (Book 4 will be released in December 2020,) we follow each of the women on their individual adventures of self-discovery and renewal. Morgan is the focus of Book 2, Jade in Book 3, and I’m guessing Tiffany will be spotlighted in the upcoming Book 4.

Aside from an unusual tactic the author uses to describe what several characters are doing at the exact same time, the plots are a bit bland. Margie’s and Hank’s characters feel like sitcom parents after Book 1 and the entire family is just a little too perfect. Morgan, along with newcomers Luke and Matthew, add the most spice to an otherwise bland series. There is potential for these characters, though. Let’s hope the author finds it as the series progresses.

Book 1: Saltwater Cove

Book 2: Saltwater Studios

Book 3: Saltwater Secrets

A lukewarm 8/10 stars.

Fiction, Series & Collections

My Name is Asher Lev, by Chaim Potok

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“To touch a person’s heart, you must see a person’s face…”

Last week I was listening to a podcast where actor Tom Hanks was being interviewed. The interviewer asked him to name the first book he ever read that he felt was “transformative.” Tom answered My Name is Asher Lev. I was between books at the time and, having already read and enjoyed The Chosen, by Chaim Potok, I decided to try another.

Honestly, I found myself plodding through this book as if metaphorically walking through mud. I knew it would be about the Orthodox Jew culture. I knew it would be heavy. But it was heavy in a way I did not expect. It was emotionally heavy. Heavy and frustrating.

Now, I suppose that as far as “transformative,” I could see where Tom Hanks is coming from. If you are an artist and you believe that nothing comes before your art then, yes, My Name is Asher Lev could be considered transformative. But for the rest of us, I’m not so sure.

This is where interpretation of literature becomes a gray area.

As far as writing style, yes, Chaim Potok is an excellent writer. His style is minimal, yet profound. There is an indescribable power within it that propels the reader to carry on and keep reading. The plot, however…

Simply put, My Name is Asher Lev does not do any favors for the Orthodox Jews. It follows a young, friendless boy into adulthood who, more than anything else, wants to be an artist. The more his father tells him to stop wasting his time on drawing, the more he rebels. Over the years he continues to pursue his vocation at the risk of alienating everyone he cares about, his parents, his rabbi, his community.

The biggest question would have to be “Is it worth it?” Never having been in that situation, I cannot say. I did, however, think of my Uncle Ruben, an extremely talented artist who struggled for years against the wishes of my grandparents to turn his vocation into a career, eventually becoming successful and convincing them and everyone else.

Our protagonist, Asher Lev, had a larger task. He was battling against pervasive religious traditions that affected everything in his life. He was also battling against a close-knit religious community whose stronghold on those traditions was becoming more and more desperate as the world crumbled around them. Lastly, as the only son of a respected man who worked to help the persecuted, he was battling against his father, whom he loved.

Those who are fighting that uphill battle to just be who they are at the risk of all they love and hold dear will, perhaps, find Asher Lev’s story more relatable. There is an audience for his struggles. Unfortunately, I am not that audience.

8/10 Stars

 

 

 

Children, Fiction, Series & Collections, Young Adult

Daddy-Long-Legs, by Jean Webster

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I suppose that in today’s world, a story where a rich, older man anonymously sponsors an orphaned girl’s schooling while also orchestrating in-person meetings would seem, well, creepy. And if you watch the movie with Fred Astaire as Jervis Pendleton and Leslie Caron as little Judy there is a great age gap–about 30 years– between them, cute as the movie may be. But, as expected, the book is different.

First of all, it is all set in America, not France. Second of all, in the book it is easier to imagine about a 10-15 year age gap between them. This is more acceptable. The film immediately reveals that Daddy-Long-Legs and Jervis Pendleton are one and the same. The book does not, but it’s fairly obvious to the perceptive reader. It’s a spoiler that does not really spoil, although one does wonder how this man who is so sweet to young Judy in person can let her toil and wonder why her sponsor never writes back, allowing her to wallow in confusion for 3 years. That is a bit more unacceptable.

It’s an odd story, one that could only be told at a time when the role of women was to be demure and subservient. The book is comprised entirely of Judy’s letters to her sponsor, always a risky tactic, but here it seems to work. The letters are detailed enough to help the reader forget that they are only reading letters. We see a range of emotions from the young orphan, plus cute little sketches, and even some back-pedaling as she feels one thing one day (usually frustration with the one-sided relationship) and retracts it with regret the next.

The part I find most perplexing is the reader demographic for this story, which I can only assume is a teenage girl, an age peer of Judy’s, at the time it was written in 1912. Again, a very different time for women, still eight years away from the 19th Amendment. At one point Judy asks “are women even citizens?” (Jean Webster, the author, was a great supporter of women’s suffrage.)

So, if you keep in mind the context of the time period this book was published, it is easier not to judge it too harshly and see it as just a sweet, unusual story.

8/10 Stars

Aside from the full-length 1955 American movie, there are many Japanese anime versions of Daddy-Long-Legs. You can find them on YouTube. I came across this short, 12-min bedtime story version, which actually helped me enjoy the book more. Available HERE on Amazon Prime.

Christian Fiction, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Series & Collections

Muddy: Where Faith and Polygamy Collide, River: Where Faith and Consecration Converge, by Dean Hughes

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I’m going to combine the first two novels in Dean Hughes’ newest series:

MUDDY: Where Faith and Polygamy Collide

If you’ve ever wondered what it was like to be a polygamist family in the early days of the Utah pioneers, look no further. Muddy, and the books following it in the series, will give you a fly-on-the-wall view.

Morgan Davis, a faithful young man in his 20’s from Farmington, Utah, has been asked to marry and settle in Southern Utah. Over time, despite his great hesitancy to participate in polygamy, he is asked to marry again.

But there is more to the story–much, much more. There is the setting up in a new place, the adjustment to being a husband and father, and the challenges that accompany hard living while farming and having to provide everything for your family in a place with no resources or commerce.

When Morgan is asked to marry his second wife, Ruth–a quiet young widow–he and his first wife, Angeline, must navigate this new dynamic in their family. What are the logistics when there are two wives? We are privy to all of this, and it’s fascinating.

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RIVER: Where Faith and Consecration Converge

Just when Morgan thinks his life is on track, he is thrown more curve balls. River begins with a grasshopper plague swarming into the community. Dean Hughes describes it in such detail, you feel yourself swatting the insects away.

But the biggest new challenge, aside from the grasshoppers, is that Morgan Davis is asked to move with his family to a new settlement and begin living the United Order’s Law of Consecration. If we thought the logistics of plural marriage were challenging, living this law is even more difficult. Many hands might make light work, but they also bring different viewpoints, personalities, and interpretations of rules.

Meanwhile, Washington DC is starting to pursue polygamist families. Morgan, his wives, and children must prepare and decide what to do should he be hauled away by the deputies.

River is a very “meaty” book, with a lot more intensity and personality clashes than its predecessor, Muddy. A terrific second book in the series.

My Observations

Dean Hughes is a very gifted writer. He has a way of showing us the thoughts and feelings of different characters that is both realistic and detailed. He explores an impressive array of human emotion. During the multiple talks to set up the Law of Consecration in the community, Hughes touches on nearly every kind of concern that people would have when asked to live such a lifestyle. It takes an enormous amount of faith and selflessness, things that are difficult for even the best of people.

But I think the thing that impresses me most about Hughes’ writing style is the way he writes women. He seems to know how women tick, their worries and fears, their jealousies and concerns. I am constantly amazed at how well the female characters’ innermost thoughts are described.

This is historical fiction at its best, with realistic fictional characters living and interacting with actual figures from history. I find myself often in moments of self-reflection wondering how I would react to the hardships these people faced and the things that were asked of them by their church leaders.

9.5/10 Stars

Children, Historical Fiction, Nonfiction, Series & Collections, Young Adult

Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

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As a child I was given the entire Little House on the Prairie book series. It was, after all, the late 70’s, and the TV show was a local favorite. I read a few of the books, some of them several times, but Farmer Boy always stayed in my blind spot. In some ways I’m glad it did. I’m a big believer that books come into our lives at the right time when we can fully appreciate them and, apparently, Farmer Boy needed to be appreciated in my late 40’s.

This is a stand-alone book from the rest of the Little House series, one that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about one significant year in the life of her beloved husband, Almanzo Wilder. Almanzo has just turned nine years old. He has an older brother and older sisters. Poor Almanzo feels what so many children feel when they’re the youngest, always left behind and never given the responsibilities that the older ones are given.

The book is both entertaining and poignant. The way the siblings handle their freedom when their parents leave them alone for a week is hilarious. But the majority of the book is from Almanzo’s point of view as he observes his father work around the farm and train horses, a particular talent his son greatly admires. And, like the Sarah, Plain and Tall series, the reader sees how children were put to work at a young age, never in an abuse manner, but given chores appropriate for their age. Everyone needed to pitch to keep a farm running and most children of farmers grew up to be farmers themselves.

There is a wonderful documentary on Amazon Prime Video called Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura. It was this documentary that prompted me to read the book, despite not being in the age group of its target audience. I recommend both the documentary and the book.

9.5/10 Stars

Children, Series & Collections, Young Adult

Sarah, Plain and Tall Series, by Patricia MacLachlan

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If you’re a fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, then you will be just as charmed by Sarah, Plain and Tall, Skylark, Caleb’s Story, More Perfect Than the Moon, and Grandfather’s Dance.

And, if you know about President Abraham Lincoln’s early childhood, the premise of these books will sound familiar too: a widowed man with two children marries again, the new wife becomes a beloved member of the family and positively influences them for years to come. (In fact, Lincoln’s sister, stepmother, and stepsister were all named Sarah.)

All five of these books are short, but very enjoyable. I was amazed that they weren’t all one multi-chaptered book. But I reveled in their descriptions of a simpler time when families spent so much time together making their farms a success and just enjoying each other’s company. Children learned the value of work much earlier than today and parents were parents. Less focus was placed on material possessions. The days and months had a rhythm to them that followed the harvests and seasons. Hardships, usually due to inclement weather, were plentiful, and families had to adapt in different ways.

This series is both pleasant and powerful in its capturing of the time period.

9/10 Stars

 

Fiction, Mystery, Series & Collections, Young Adult

Truly Devious, by Maureen Johnson

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What you lack in any investigation is time. With every passing hour, evidence slips away. Crime scenes are compromised by people and the elements. Things are moved, altered, smeared, shifted. Organisms rot. Wind blows dusts and contaminants. Memories change and fade. As you move away from the event, you move away from the solution.  –Truly Devious

This book was recommended by “The Clockwork Reader” Booktube channel. Hannah, the channel’s creator, was so passionate about how good it was that I decided to give it a try. She reads a lot of fiction and comments on a great variety within the genre. That, plus her soothing voice, are making me a return watcher of her channel. Plus, I desperately needed something to balance out my two previous reads.

Advertised as a YA mystery novel, the story in Truly Devious is so slick and the characters so well crafted, that adults would love it too. So, yes, my first Booktube recommendation was a complete success.

Set at Ellingham Academy, a distant cousin to Hogwarts minus the magic, the school is as unique as its students. Built in the 1930’s by newspaper tycoon Albert Ellingham, the school earned unwanted notoriety when the founder’s wife and daughter were kidnapped shortly after its completion. A few years later an overly-curious student is murdered, presumably by the same person, a teasing riddler using the pseudonym of “Truly Devious.”

Fast forward another few decades. The crimes remain unsolved, making them the prime focus and school project of new student, Stevie. She, like all other Ellingham scholars, was chosen as part of an elite program. Plucked from high schools around the country, those admitted are allowed to pursue their own educational paths. Each has a talent, a project, and a goal. The academy’s job is to help them reach those goals.

Stevie is all about solving mysteries, listening to true crime podcasts, and reading the classics by Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Dorothy L. Sayers. Her instincts are sharp and her perception is honed. The Ellingham crimes are the perfect cold case.

Truly Devious is masterful storytelling. The author, Maureen Johnson, creates an automatic challenge by having so many smart characters, and she meets that challenge with both grace and gusto. The story tick tocks between time periods. There are the days after the initial kidnappings in 1936 and modern day with Stevie and her classmates.   Each time period has a very specific style and it is almost like you’re reading two books at the same time. I also loved some of the poetic rhythms in Stevie’s thoughts and the subtle creativity the author uses in students’ names, especially “Hayes” and “Ellie.” If you read it, you’ll understand.

But be warned, the reader is toyed with almost as much as the characters. The end of the book is not the end of the story. Some questions are answered, some are not, and new ones appear. In any other circumstance that would be maddening. Not here. The next book in the series, The Vanishing Stair, will be released in January and it’s already in my calendar.

9.5/10 Stars

 

Christian Fiction, Fiction, Romance, Series & Collections

Let Them Eat Cake, by Sandra Byrd

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Like so many new college graduates, Lexi Stuart is at a crossroads. She has to choose between her passions and jobs that are lucrative, and she is floundering. Others in her life seem to be reaching new milestones and she is not. It’s a position in which lots of young people find themselves.

In the meantime, Lexi, a self-proclaimed “Francophile,” has found work at a cute French bakery and cafe. She’s living with her parents, not dating but open to possibilities, and reexamining her relationship with God.

As expected, Lexi has a lot of choices to make. New situations are constantly spiraling toward her that require reactions and decisions. Through it all the reader is in her head as she navigates the road of Life over several months.

Sandra Byrd, the author, as created a character who is quite realistic. Lexi is a level-headed girl from a solid family, but she isn’t perfect. She’s young enough to still experience plenty of uncertainty, but grounded enough to know her ultimate goals. The problems are the where, the when, and with who.

This could be classified as “light” Christian fiction. It is enjoyable without being heavy-handed. Characters are likable, personable, and very human in their challenges and actions. And, despite her challenges, Lexi is never over-dramatic or narcissistic.

Let Them Eat Cake is Book 1 of 3 in Sandra Byrd’s French Twist Series. I feel invested enough in Lexi Stuart to root for her happiness and curious enough to see what happens next in her life.

8.5/10 Stars

Book 2: Bon Appétit

Book 3: Pièce de Résistance