Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery, Series & Collections, Suspense

Theme: Two Unforgettable Women

When was the last time you read a book that was so immersive, you felt numb after turning the last page? What about two books in a row? Numb, reeling, in awe, emotionally exhausted in a good way…that is me right now. What makes it even more unusual is that I never even heard of either of these books until very recently.

Whiskey When We’re Dry, an incredible debut novel by John Larison, and The Child Finder, by Rene Denfeld, need to go on your reading list ASAP. Are they sweet, comfortable reads? No. Both deal with unpleasant subjects. But presentation is everything and even unpleasant subjects can be handled in such a deft way that the power lies within the reader’s imagination. That, my bookish friends, is high quality writing.

Each of these stories centers around a female protagonist. Jess Harney in “Whiskey” and Naomi Cottle in “Child.” Both of them are motherless and isolated, forcing them to figure out on their own what it means to be a woman. Both have been through extreme hardship. Both use that hardship in positive ways to help others. Both sacrifice greatly.

Whiskey When We’re Dry is western historical fiction. Left alone on the family homestead in 1880’s Montana, Jessilyn Harney decides to find her last remaining relative, beloved older brother Noah. Dressed as a man and armed with above average shooting skills, she and her trusty mare, Ingrid, set off on an unimaginable adventure. Along the way, Jess encounters people of every sort, good and evil. She must defend herself, but she also learns from what she sees, tucking away that knowledge for the future. The most fascinating secondary characters are the women who come and go throughout Jess’s odyssey. Because of their limited choices, women did what they had to do to survive whether it was marriage, spinsterhood, masquerading as a man, or selling their bodies. Rich and poor, submissive and rebellious, frontier women and city women, Jess encounters them all. Knowledge and wisdom is exchanged. (The weaker sex? I think not.) The jaw-dropping ending will leave you gasping and Jess’s narrative voice is one of the best I’ve ever read.

9.5/10 Stars

The Child Finder is contemporary suspense. Naomi Cottle is a twenty-nine year old survivor of childhood abduction. She is one of the lucky ones, if you can call not knowing her parents and a deep mistrust of men lucky. But she’s alive and her foster home was a loving one. Now she is the “child finder,” a private investigator who makes it her mission to rescue missing children. She’s been hired to locate Madison Culver, who disappeared at age five from the Oregon forest. It’s been three years, so the chances she is alive are slim. Meanwhile, hidden away in an old cabin, live Mr. B and the Snow Girl. Their language is silent. Their relationship is odd. Snow Girl knows something isn’t right. There is friendship and there is terror, two things that cannot coexist forever. Some missing children are found alive and make something of their futures. Some always remain victims. The brilliance of this book is the way it shows both of these scenarios, as well as the fortitude that lies dormant within all of us until it is needed.

9.5/10 Stars

I recommend both of these books most highly. I found myself transported into other times and other worlds. They are undoubtedly raw, but the writing is magnificent. Both deserve accolades and attention.

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

Riverbend Series, by Denise Hunter

Meet the Robinsons, a blended family with adult children Avery, Cooper, and Gavin. They love each other to a fault, which is lucky because they have their flaws like everyone else. But that love, and the compassion and generosity that go with it, is enough to extend to others who need their help.

Riverbend Gap is Cooper’s story. As a sheriff’s deputy in their small town, he’s always on the alert, but nothing could have prepared him for the situation he finds himself in one day. A car that recently skidded off the road now balances on the edge of a cliff. A terrified young woman sits inside, praying for a miracle. While waiting for emergency services, Cooper talks to her, calms her, and tries to keep the car from falling. This unusual meeting sets off a series of events that involve the entire Robinson family and a new arrival to their town.

Mulberry Hollow is Avery’s story. A young doctor, the only one in their small town, she works her fingers to the bone on a daily basis, tending to the needs of friends, neighbors, and hikers attempting the nearby trail. Her clinic is the only medical facility for miles. So, when she arrives at the clinic one night to find an injured hiker passed out on the doorstep, she must think fast. Who is he? Her protective family is skeptical, but Avery decides to let the stranger stay on while he mends.

Harvest Moon is Gavin’s story. Still nursing his wounds from the death of his child and a painful divorce, Gavin must now face the terrible news that his best friend has been killed in an airplane crash. His wife too. They left behind a little girl who must now deal with the loss of her parents. What will become of her? Surely her mother and father had guardians in mind should such a tragedy befall them. Fortunately, they did. Gavin and his ex-wife.

While all three of the Riverbend books have Christian aspects and happy endings, it’s the journey to those endings that make them worth reading. I have really enjoyed Denise Hunter’s books lately and have quickly added her as a go-to author. Without being too saccharine, the stories are uplifting and hopeful, with realistic characters. I’ve also read her book called The Wishing Season and am currently listening to Falling Like Snowflakes. They all deal with found family, new beginnings, and a community rallying together. If you like books with heart, you’ll want to read these.

9/10 Stars for the series

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Series & Collections, Suspense, Thriller

Rich Blood & Rich Waters (Jason Rich Series,) by Robert Bailey

Jason Rich has failed at a lot of things in life: beating his alcohol dependency, relationships with women, and living up to his father’s expectations. Despite that, and thanks to a series of tacky billboards along the highway, Jason has still drummed up his own version of success as an ambulance-chasing personal injury lawyer.

When Jason is forced to defend his sister after she is charged with killing her husband, everything changes. Now he must transition to criminal law, reconnect with his splintered family, and enter the grimy world of drugs, dirty cops, and murder. Not an easy task for a man already on the state bar’s radar. Rich Blood gives us lots of expository information about Jason Rich’s personality, boundaries, background, and courtroom tactics.

In Rich Waters, Jason is blackmailed into defending a fallen local hero accused of killing a cop. His personal life is a mess, but he has his allies. Always on retainer are the three ex-military Tonidandel brothers, former Screaming Eagles who double as security and friends. Plus there is Izzy, his law partner; Harry, his investigator; and Ashley, his AA sponsor. This motley crew help to keep Jason grounded and safe, but are put at risk by a powerful enemy.

Well-written legal thrillers, like this series, are a fun way to break out of my reading comfort zone. There are lots of characters to keep track of, puzzle pieces to assemble, ongoing stories, plot twists, and reveals. I’ve become pretty skilled at pinpointing killers in murder mysteries, but both Jason Rich books kept me guessing until the very end. That’s a good thing. Plus we are treated to a very multi-faceted main character who is always fighting one demon or another, whether personal or professional.

Rich Waters ended with a very sewn-up conclusion, so I don’t know if more books will appear in the series, but I, for one, would like to see others. They are fast-paced, intelligent reads. I recommend both and to read them in order.

9/10 Stars for each book and for the series.

Cozy Mysteries, Mystery, Series & Collections

Theme: Strong Women in Mysteries

I admit it. I LOVE books and shows with highly intelligent, strong, capable women. I especially love it when those women stay true to their femininity, acting as worthy representatives of girly girls everywhere. Girls (ahem, WOMEN) with the hearts of a lioness.

This got me thinking about books I’ve read recently. Little by little I’ve been making my way through The Country Club Murder series, by Julie Mulhern. This series, and its heroine, Ellison Russell, have shot (pun intended) to the top of my list of favorite mystery series. (Just barely edging out the Her Royal Spyness series by Rhys Bowen. Also great!)

It’s the 1970s. Ellison Russell is a Kansas City artist, socialite, mother, trophy wife…and widow. Cars are sleeker, women are drooling over James Garner in The Rockford Files, and the world continues to modernize. Kansas City, a place that dwells in most of our blind spots, is home to a very elite crowd of men and women. A crowd who holds fiercely to their traditions. They run charities, attend large social functions, golf, play bridge and still manage to have a hierarchy within the hierarchy. They also have their own set of rules. Ellison plays by these rules. She is, after all, the wife of a prominent banker and daughter of a very wealthy couple. But she is also observant to the plights of the underprivileged. And…she has the unfortunate penchant for finding dead bodies. Her mother is not amused.

Ellison is the beating heart of these books (16 in total, I’ve read 8.) She is classy, sharp, unwavering, and very compassionate. She holds her own with her teenage daughter, Grace. She remains unruffled to her mother’s toxic barbs and stoic in the face of stubborn male misogyny. And, at her side throughout these adventures is a dashing homicide detective–the unconventionally named Anarchy Jones. This series is a prickly joy and never boring. We get so invested in Ellison as she juggles one murder after another, along with motherhood, society’s expectations, her mercurial parents, and a budding relationship with Anarchy. It’s superb!

9.5/10 Stars for the series (So far, #7–Shadow Dancing— is my favorite. But it’s best to read them in order.)

  1. The Deep End
  2. Guaranteed to Bleed
  3. Clouds in My Coffee (Yes, Ellison has a special love for the steady male in her life–her Mr. Coffee)
  4. Send in the Clowns
  5. Watching the Detectives
  6. Cold As Ice
  7. Shadow Dancing
  8. Back Stabbers (hereby ending the ones I’ve read so far at the time I write this review)
  9. Telephone Line (finished on 12/30/22)
  10. Stayin’ Alive
  11. Killer Queen (I love this title. Queen fans represented!)
  12. Night Moves
  13. Lyin’ Eyes
  14. Evil Woman
  15. Big Shot
  16. Fire and Rain (out in April 2023)

So, if I’ve only read half of the Country Club Murder series, WHY am I comparing it to Killers of a Certain Age?

Because Killers was a bummer of a certain book. But it took some thinking for me to figure out why I disliked it so much. Highly intelligent, strong, capable women? Check. Adventure? Check. Multiple things happening at once? Check.

Again, it is the 1970’s. Billie, Helen, Natalie, and Mary Alice are all plucked from obscurity to be part of an elect group of highly-trained assassins. Evolving from WWII Nazi hunters, Resistance members, and Monuments Men, this organization is so secret that its name is never mentioned. And these four women will be its first all-female team. It’s quite an honor. Even assembling them took years. They are multi-lingual, quick thinking, highly physical, and seductive. And, because they are women, they are always underestimated.

Fast forward forty years. The quartet has aged into their sixties and are approaching retirement. Only now, instead of being the hunters, they are the hunted. They need to find out who and why.

It’s a great premise. I had been looking forward to reading this book. It was a Book of the Month selection and a Goodreads awards nominee. But after spending so much time with Ellison Russell in the Country Club series, I had become accustomed to a heroine who had both class and sass. These four lacked class in a big way, hammering continual dents into their likability. They are vulgar and arrogant. They are also interchangeable carbon copies of each other. I didn’t care about any of them. And if I don’t care about any of the main characters, the plot–no matter how clever–becomes superfluous. A huge disappointment.

5/10 Stars

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Autobiography, Christian Fiction, Fiction, Magical Realism, Series & Collections

November Reads 2022

I read ten books in November. Not bad! I did reviews on the ones that had the most impact on me, but here’s a quick summary.

Best Memoir (which is also nominated for a Goodreads award): Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, by Matthew Perry. Both fascinating and heart-breaking. Just be prepared for a lot of F-bombs.

Best Romantic Comedy: Hello Stranger, by Katherine Center. This comes out in July 2023, but keep it on your TBR (to be read) list. It’s a winner! A journey of self-discovery and growth while facing challenges and falling in love.

Best Magical Realism: The Magic of Lemon Drop Pie, by Rachel Linden. Word is out on this wonderful story of second chances and glimpses into the future. Everyone I’ve recommended this book to who has read it, has loved it!

Best Book Duo: All That Really Matters and All That It Takes by Nicole Deese. Even though I rated them differently, they’re both excellent and worth your time. Clean, Christian fiction, full of flawed but decent people who learn the value of faith, embracing differences, and serving others.

In my opinion, these are the best of the bunch. Rachel Linden and Nicole Deese are new authors for me, but I definitely want to read more of their books. Hopefully something catches your eye!

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

All That Really Matters, by Nicole Deese

Social media influencer, Molly McKenzie, is on top of the world. Her channel has attracted hundreds of thousands of followers, she lives a fairy-tale lifestyle, and her talent manager boyfriend has just lined up a new opportunity to expand her reach even further. It’s truly the chance of a lifetime.

There’s just one thing she has to do. Since the makeover show she’s auditioning for is going to nominate underprivileged youth, the producers want her to have some real-life experience working with them. When Molly’s minister brother, Miles, connects her with The Bridge youth program, designed to help kids transition out of foster care, everything seems to be clicking into place.

Of course, Life is full of variables and unknowns, which grow exponentially when we allow more people into our circle. Those unknowns also happen when we allow someone in who is different. No one knows this better than Silas Whittaker, the youth program’s director. He and Molly appear to be opposites in every way. Add twenty two young people who have experienced more than their fair share of physical and emotional trauma and the unknowns multiply.

The good thing is that everyone, including those twenty two residents, has an end goal. The goals vary, as do their range in selflessness, but they keep everyone motivated. And, as time goes by, and Molly and Silas find some common ground and work to set aside their prejudices, they find that faith in God and in each other can go a long way.

This is a story about growth. Growth, change, and, especially grace–the grace we hope to receive and the grace we need to extend. If you can look past Molly’s initial superficial exterior, you will be happily surprised at the miracles–big and small–that happen in everyone’s lives.

9/10 Stars

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