Book Review: Berried Secrets by Peg Cochran (Series, #1)

August 8, 2016 2 comments

Book Review: Berried Secrets by Peg Cochran (Series, #1)Summary:
When Monica Albertson comes to Cranberry Cove—a charming town on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan—to help her half-brother Jeff on his cranberry farm, the last thing she expects to harvest is a dead body.

It seems that Sam Culbert, who ran the farm while Jeff was deployed overseas, had some juicy secrets that soon prove fatal, and Jeff is ripe for the picking as a prime suspect. Forming an uneasy alliance with her high-maintenance stepmother, Monica has her hands full trying to save the farm while searching for a killer. Culbert made plenty of enemies in the quaint small town…but which one was desperate enough to kill?

Review:
So I just had to pick this up for three reasons:
1) I love me a punny title.
2) I had just harvested cranberries with my husband friend and her wife on a farm in MA.
3) It’s set in Michigan where my husband is from.

That’s a lot going for it, and I don’t have too high of a bar with cozies (I just want to be entertained, for the resolution to the mystery to not be painfully obvious, and for the main character to be likeable OR someone you love to hate). This one didn’t meet the bar, though, which was a bit disappointing.

The plot itself was good. I didn’t fully guess it before the end, and I liked the small town secrets aspect of it. But the main character. Yeesh. What a judgmental woman. Sometimes it seemed like all she did was judge people who had never done anything to her. And not even just the people in the small town who she judges and then comes to love by the end of the book. No, no. She’s judgey of everyone. Even people she’s known for years. The one repeated instance of her being judgey that really rubbed me the wrong way was the main character loathes her stepmother, and the only reason I can decipher is because she doesn’t like the way she dresses. And she makes snarky asides about that a lot. The stepmother is actually a very kind woman who goes out of her way to help the main character, which makes the behavior even more inexcusable. This may not bother some readers, but the main character struck me as an uptight “I know what’s best for everyone” snob, and I didn’t get the impression that readers were supposed to feel that way about her. She felt very much like a character we were supposed to admire and identify with. So. That really spoiled the rest of it for me.

I didn’t regret the read, but I won’t be going back for the rest of the series. Honestly, there’s enough other cozies out there that I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to read this one, but if you’re hurting for one currently and just love any and all cozies then you’ll probably find a way to enjoy this one, in spite of the main character.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Book Review: Fever by Mary Beth Keane (Audiobook narrated by Candace Thaxton)

Book Review: Fever by Mary Beth Keane (Audiobook narrated by Candace Thaxton)Summary:
Have you ever heard of Typhoid Mary? The Irish-American cook in the early 1900s who was lambasted for spreading typhoid through her cooking. What many don’t know is that she was an asymptomatic carrier. This was the early ages of germ theory, and most didn’t realize you could pass on an illness without any symptoms. Captured and held against her will on North Brother Island, it’s easy to empathize with her plight. Until she’s released and begins cooking again.

Review:
I grew up hearing the cautionary tale of Typhoid Mary, who was mostly mentioned within hearing range in combination with an admonition to wash your hands. But some people (mainly other children) told tales of her purposefully infecting those she served. These sentences were spoken with a combination of fear and awe. On the one hand, how understandable at a time when worker’s rights were nearly completely absent and to be both a woman and Irish in America was not a good combination. On the other hand, how evil to poison people with such a heinous illness in their food. In any case, when this fictionalized account of Mary Mallon came up, I was immediately intrigued. Who was this woman anyway? It turns out, the mixture of awe and fear reflected in myself and other children was actually fairly accurate.

I’m going to speak first about the actual Mary Mallon and then about the writing of the book. If you’re looking for the perfect example of gray area and no easy answers mixed with unfair treatment based on gender and nation of origin, then hoo boy do you find one with Mary Mallon. The early 1900s was early germ theory, and honestly, when you think about it, germ theory sounds nuts if you don’t grow up with it. You can carry invisible creatures on your skin and in your saliva that can make other people but not yourself sick. Remember, people didn’t grow up knowing about germs. It was an entirely new theory. The status quo was don’t cook while you’re sick, and hygiene was abysmally low…basically everywhere. It’s easy to understand how Mary was accidentally spreading sickness and didn’t know it. It’s also easy to understand why she would have fought at being arrested (she did nothing malicious or wrong and was afraid of the police). Much as we may say now that she should have known enough to wash her hands frequently. Wellll, maybe not so much back then.

Public health officials said that they tried to reason with Mary, and she refused to stop cooking or believe that she was infecting others. This is why they quarantined her on North Brother Island. Some point to others (male, higher social status) who were found to be asymptomatic carriers who were not quarantined. True. But they also acknowledged the risk and agreed to stop doing whatever it was that was spreading the illness. Maybe Mary was more resistant because of the prejudice she was treated with from the beginning. Or maybe she really was too stubborn to be able to understand what a real risk she posed to others. Regardless, it is my opinion that no matter the extraneous social factors (being a laundress is more difficult than being a cook, people were overly harsh with her, etc…) Mary still knowingly cooked and infected people after she was released from North Brother Island. Yes, there were better ways public health officials could have handled the whole situation but that’s still an evil thing to do. So that’s the real story of Mary Mallon. Now, on to the fictional account (and here you’ll see why I bothered discussing the facts first).

At first Keane does a good job humanizing a person who has been extremely demonized in American pop culture. Time and effort is put into establishing Mary’s life and hopes. Effort is made into showing how she may not have noticed typhoid following her wherever she went. She emigrated from Ireland. She, to put it simply, saw a lot of shit. A lot of people got sick and died. That was just life. I also liked how the author showed the ways in which Mallon was contrarian to what was expected of women. She didn’t marry. She was opinionated and sometimes accused of not dressing femininely enough. But, unfortunately, that’s where my appreciation fo the author’s handling of Mallon ends.

The author found it necessary to give Mallon a live-in, alcoholic boyfriend who gets almost as much page time as herself. In a book that should be about Mary, he gets entirely too much time, and that hurts the plot. (There is seriously a whole section about him going to Minnesota that is entirely pointless). A lot of Mary’s decisions are blamed on this boyfriend. While I get it that shitty relationships can cause you to make shitty decisions, at a certain point accountability comes into play. No one held a gun to Mary’s head and made her cook or made her date this man (I couldn’t find any records to support this whole alcoholic boyfriend, btw).

On a similar note, a lot of effort is made into blaming literally everyone but Mary for the situation. It’s society’s fault. It’s culture’s fault. It’s Dr. Soper’s fault. They should have rehabbed her with a new job that was more comparable to cooking than being a laundress. They should have had more empathy. Blah blah blah. Yes. In a perfect world they would have realized how backbreaking being a laundress is and trained her in something else. But, my god, in the early 1900s they released her and found her a job in another career field. That’s a lot for that time period! This is the early days of public health. The fact that anyone even considered finding her a new career is kind of amazing. And while I value and understand the impact society and culture and others have on the individual’s ability to make good and moral decisions, I still believe ultimately the individual is morally responsible. And at some point, Mary, with all of her knowledge of the fact that if she cooked there was a high probability someone would die, decided to go and cook anyway. And she didn’t cook just anywhere. She cooked at a maternity ward in a hospital. So the fact that the book spends a lot of time trying to remove all personal culpability from Mary bothered me a lot.

I’m still glad I read the book, but I sort of wish I’d just read the interesting articles and watched the PBS special about her instead. It would have taken less time and been just as factual.

Source: Audible

3 out of 5 stars

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Book Review: One Salt Sea by Seanan McGuire (Series, #5)

July 22, 2016 1 comment

Book Review: One Salt Sea by Seanan McGuire (Series, #5)Summary:
Someone has kidnapped the sons of the Duchess Dianda Lorden, regent of the Undersea Duchy of Saltmist. To prevent a war between land and sea, Toby must not only find the missing boys, but also prove that the Queen of the Mists was not behind their abduction. She’ll need all her tricks and the help of her allies if she wants to make it through this in one piece.

Review:
I’ll keep this review short and sweet, because if you’ve made it to book 5 in this series, you already know if the writing style works for you or not. So specifically, how did this particular plot work out?

This is the Toby Daye book I’ve liked least so far in the series. Part of that is probably for personal reasons, but part of it is for repetitive plot reasons. Toby just….seems to have to save children an awful lot. Now, I’m not saying that an urban fantasy that basically involves someone solving crimes in a world where there’s a huge taboo on murder of immortals won’t repeat some crimes. I am saying that I think doing abducted children again right after a book that did that theme so incredibly well (Blind Michael is the ultimate in creepy) is just too repetitive. There are actually some sly nods to the reader that the author knows abducted children plots are happening a lot. Toby comments something along the lines of gee she’s sure sick of saving children. If your main character is sick of saving kids, maybe the readers are tired of reading it. Just saying. Beyond that, there were two other things that made me meh about this plot.

First, we’re clearly supposed to sympathize with Toby in the whole “whyyy does everyone think I’m a terrible mother” plot, but honestly I don’t sympathize with her, and I do think she’s a terrible mother. So. There’s that. But I fully admit to having some of my own mom issues, so it might be harder for me to see this with a neutral viewpoint. Other readers may have a different experience. But be prepared to possibly like Toby less.

Second, you know how most romances have various love interests and you’re on a certain team? Well, I am 100% #TeamTybalt, and I was not pleased by all the Connor scenes. I just find him dull and drab and I am massively creeped out by the webs between his fingers that never go away. Plus…male selkies….eh. This book could easily be called the #TeamConnor book so readers who like him….enjoy. For the rest of us, you might find yourself rolling your eyes a bit.

I know that sounds like a lot of negatives but it is the book I’ve liked least in the series so far, in spite of really enjoying the series, so it seemed apt to discuss at length why it didn’t work so well for me. All of that said, I read it quickly, and I fairly soon picked up the next book in the series, so I certainly didn’t hate it. A lot about the series works really well for me, there are just certain aspects of this book and plot that I think might make it less enjoyable for certain readers compared to the rest of the series.

Source: Library

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Previous Books in Series:
Rosemary and Rue, review
A Local Habitation, review
An Artificial Night, review
Late Eclipses, review

Book Review: The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella

July 11, 2016 1 comment

Book Review: The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie KinsellaSummary:
Workaholic attorney Samantha Sweeting has just done the unthinkable. She’s made a mistake so huge, it’ll wreck any chance of a partnership.

Going into utter meltdown, she walks out of her London office, gets on a train, and ends up in the middle of nowhere. Asking for directions at a big, beautiful house, she’s mistaken for an interviewee and finds herself being offered a job as housekeeper. Her employers have no idea they’ve hired a lawyer–and Samantha has no idea how to work the oven. She can’t sew on a button, bake a potato, or get the #@%# ironing board to open. How she takes a deep breath and begins to cope–and finds love–is a story as delicious as the bread she learns to bake.

But will her old life ever catch up with her? And if it does…will she want it back?

Review:
Long-time readers of this blog will know that I’m a Sophie Kinsella fan, so it should come as no surprise that I liked this book. But let me say I love love loved this book. It’s my favorite Kinsella book I’ve read so far. It was funny but also a beautiful love story and also great commentary on life and priorities. It gave me the warm fuzzies, you guys.

I think one of the things I like best about Kinsella books is how they present all of women’s life options as totally valid ones, even if the heroine herself doesn’t realize that at first. What matters most is the heroine doing what makes her happy, and often the drama comes from the heroine forcing herself to be something she’s not or align herself with life values she doesn’t have. In any case, this book walks a great line of neither demonizing career women nor women who stay at home. It also doesn’t present doing a high-powered, high-education track as better than doing a traditionally blue collar job like housekeeping or cooking. Yes, at first Samantha thinks one of them is better and looks down on the other, but ultimately she realizes the pluses and minuses of both types of jobs, and I really like seeing that in chick lit. A lot.  I also really enjoyed seeing the struggle Samantha has between part of herself wanting the high-powered career and part wanting the quiet life at home. I think that’s a feeling many modern women can relate to.

The romance is also quite sweet. The early on playing between Samantha and her man and how that progresses made me feel like I was cozied up in a just the right temperature bath. But I also really liked that the book shows that compromise in a relationship is necessary. Both of them have to adjust their perceptions to fit the new reality of each other and both are willing to make compromises and meet in the middle.

Of course it’s also funny. What’s not funny about a lawyer trying to keep house when she doesn’t know anything about cleaning or cooking? At some point though the humor transitions into scenes that I can only describe as warm and glowing. That focus in on what really matters in life.

I was entertained. My life goals and ambitions were strengthened and validated. And I (maybe) (ok, definitely) cried happy-ever-after tears at the end of the book. I suppose if you’re a reader who doesn’t understand people who want to work a job they at least moderately enjoy and live life at a reasonable pace with lots of time with those they love then you might not enjoy this book. But I’d also say you need to read it and take a hard look at Samantha’s life before and after her lessons.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Book Review: It Ain’t Me, Babe by Tillie Cole (Series, #1)

Book Review: It Ain't Me Babe by Tillie Cole (Series, #1)Summary:
River “Styx” Nash was born into the Hades Hangmen motorcycle club. He always knew he was set to inherit running it, in spite of his speech impediment, but he never expected to be running it at the young age of twenty-six. When a young woman shows up at their doorstep, bleeding and unconscious, he’s reminded of a girl he met at a fence in the woods when he was a boy….a girl who has haunted him ever since.

Salome grew up under Prophet David’s rule in the commune that’s the only home she’s ever known. When her sister dies, she finds the strength to run and somehow ends up in the arms of the man who was once a boy she met at the fence of the commune.

Review:
I’m being a bit charitable with my rating of this read because the juxtaposition of commune and motorcycle club (gang) is one I haven’t seen before, and I do think it’s interesting. Additionally, I do realize that these types of romances are basically fantasy so I try to cut them some leeway. That said, this book is not executed as well as it could have been for its genre. There are some jarring elements that take the reader out of the read, thus leading it to be less enjoyable.

First, it’s poorly edited. There are many clear mistakes such as saying things like “gotta to.” It reads like a first copy, not a final draft. Better editing would have really helped this book.

Second, you have to imagine that the reader who might pick up a romance featuring motorcycles might know a thing or two about them. While everything else surrounding the motorcycles can be pure fantasy, the motorcycles themselves should function like the real world (unless it’s scifi). Motorcycles, though, are treated in the book as basically cars with two wheels, and anyone who’s ridden one can tell you that’s not so, and a motorcycle gang definitely would know better than to treat them that way. One glaring instance of being unrealistic about bikes is when Salome first rides on one. The book sets it up that she has no idea what a motorcycle is. She’s never seen one before, she has zero idea how they work. In spite of this, the only riding instruction she’s given is to “hold on.” Even someone giving the most bare of instructions to a new passenger will tell them to follow the lead of the rider — to lean when they lean and not to counter-lean against the rider. This is basic safety and even a motorcycle gang would give those basic instructions because a passenger who is startled could easily cause the bike to crash and riders love their bikes. Similarly, in spite of Salome not knowing anything about motorcycles, she puts on the helmet with zero instructions. I have never seen anyone who’s never worn a motorcycle helmet before be able to put it on with zero instructions. The strap is complicated and almost always takes guidance. Additionally, we are to believe Salome is riding with someone who cares about her, yet he doesn’t check on her helmet at all. This is not something a rider who cares about his passenger would ever do.

The final thing I found jarring was descriptions of the abuse in the cult. I fully expected there to be cult abuse, but there are repeated flashbacks to the rape of 8 year olds whose legs are being held apart by bear traps. I personally find it extremely difficult to get into a romance that repeatedly flashes back to the graphic underage and violent rape of the main character. It made the book feel like it was at war with itself. Did it want to be a contemporary book about the horrors of cults or did it want to be a romance? You can be both, but that is a difficult book to write, and it’s important to either put all of the abuse in one area of the book (usually where the heroine informs the hero about it) or to make the abuse more minimal (ie maybe the heroine grew up in a cult that restricted her knowledge and movement but that didn’t rape her physically).

Ultimately, while I appreciate the interesting combination of main characters (leader of a motorcycle club and escapee from a cult), I found the execution to not live up to the unique premise. Primarily recommended to those interested in the fantasy of motorcycles with little personal knowledge of them. They will be more able to get fully into the fantasy.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Book Review: The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashada

June 24, 2016 2 comments

Book Review: The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki HigashadaSummary:
Born in 1992 and diagnosed with Autism at the age of 5, Naoki uses an alphabet board to painstakingly write. In this book, he addresses answers to common questions neurotypicals have about people with Autism, such as “Why do you line up your toy cars and blocks?” and “Why don’t you make eye contact when you’re talking?” Mixed in with answers to these questions are short stories that Naoki has written, squashing the myth that those with Autism lack imagination.

Review:
I read this for Katie of Doing Dewey’s Nonfiction Book Club back in April, which was also Autism Awareness Month. I don’t often have the time to do group reads, but this book appealed to me and was short, would count for the Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge I host, and I was able to get a digital copy from the Boston Public Library. I read this in one day in just my morning and evening commutes. It’s a short but mind-opening work.

For those who don’t know, Autism is a spectrum disorder. This basically means that Autism can severely or minorly impact how a person with it functions with the world (and everything in-between). Someone who is high functioning may mostly just strike others as a bit odd, whereas those most severely impacted are unable to communicate at all. You may read more about Autism here.

Naoki’s Autism is more severe. He is mostly unable to speak but he has learned how to communicate by pointing to an alphabet board with an assistant who writes down what he points at. Since Autism is so individualized, bare in mind when reading this book that his answers might not necessarily apply to everyone with Autism. That said, Naoki generally answers the questions with the word we, not I. My suspicion is this may be due to cultural reasons. Naoki is Japanese, which is generally a less individualized culture than our own. Additionally, his words have been filtered through a translator. It’s important, I believe, for a reader to keep all of these things in mind when reading this book.

This is a short book and an easy read, so I won’t say too much beyond the two biggest takeaways I had. First, I think in general people often wonder if people with Autism are similar to neurotypicals inside or are completely foreign. I think Naoki’s book smashes that question with a sledgehammer. It left me with the distinct impression that people with Autism are extremely similar to neurotypicals, but their signals from their bodies interfere with their ability to interact with the world. But Naoki puts this better than me.

It’s as if we’re remote-controlling a faulty robot. (page 16)

My second takeaway was that we should never make assumptions about anyone with Autism. The biggest example of this is that it is generally assumed people with Autism do not have an imagination. (I’ve even seen having an imagination being used as a way to rule out some people as having high functioning Autism). But Naoki, who very clearly has Autism, also very clearly has a bright imagination. His own short stories are inter-mixed throughout the book. They struck me as things any 13-year-old might write. That may sound simple, but that’s a big deal for a person who others might assume is “abnormal” for 13 with “no imagination.”

I do wish that the person interviewing Naoki had asked a wider variety of questions. Some of the questions can get a bit repetitive, and I wondered why they didn’t ask something deeper. Instead of continually asking things like why do you do this or why do you do that ask more about what he enjoys. What his hopes and dreams are. Does he think there’s a god. Things like that.

Overall, though, I highly recommend this book to anyone who is curious about what it’s like to have Autism, as well as to those who do or may come into contact with someone with Autism.

 

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Counts For:
Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge

Book Review: Rymellan 3: The Triad by Sarah Ettritch (Series, #3)

Book Review: Rymellan 3: The Triad by Sarah Ettritch (Series, #3)Summary:
Lesley and Mo’s relationship is tested when Mo develops feelings for Jayne and the arrangement the triad struck in Rymellan 2 comes to an end. The three women know they must adapt to the inevitable changes for the triad to thrive, but the triad’s shifting dynamics would challenge the strongest of Rymellans—and does.

Review:
The second book in this series ended on such a cliffhanger that I picked up the third right away. At the time, I wasn’t sure if there would be more in the series or if this would be it. Since then, I discovered another book that has published but I don’t think I’ll be picking it up. The third book left me feeling a bit strung along with questions and no answers for too long for me to keep going.

So Lesley and Mo who we the readers presumed to be soul mates from book one find out in book two that the all-powerful government matchmakers have determined that they actually have a third soul mate and will be formed into a triad. This whole book strikes me as very similar to a real world monogamous couple where one of them falls in love with a third and them trying to make the move into polyamory. Say what you will about the government matchmaking them but their arrangement was to essentially be a couple with a live-in friend and roommate who they consult on household things. The plan was never for anyone to fall in love. But of course (because they’re Chosens) first one then eventually the other does fall in love with Jane. Thus, in spite of the government aspect, it still is essentially the same as a real world couple making the move to polyamory.

Why am I bothering to explain this? Because a lot of the book is dealing with the angst of a couple deciding to become poly. That is a plot point that will either work or not work for a lot of readers. I’m not sure how I feel about a series that starts out as being so strongly a romance between two moving into a poly romance. I’m sure many poly readers would say that’s how they themselves discovered polyamory and enjoyed it. But for me I was expecting one style of story which I really enjoy (lovers having to overcome many things to be together) and instead I got another that I feel very meh about personally (a couple choosing to open things up to polyamory). I guess what I’m saying is I think it might be difficult for the audience for this series to find it because the poly aspect is a surprising plot twist.

The other big change in this book over the others in the series was that the sinisterness of where the society they live in really hangs over this book, and what makes it extra eerie is they don’t seem to realize just how sinister it is. In a book with romance at the center, it’s an odd feeling to have.

While I’m glad to have seen where Lesley and Mo end up, this read to me as a bit of a lukewarm tragedy that didn’t realize it is one. I’d have preferred an obvious happy ever after or a truly dramatic tragedy. However, readers simply looking for a couple that turns into a romantic trio in a scifi backdrop that’s not explained will eat up this series, and I do recommend it to those readers.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Previous Books in Series:
Rymellan 1: Disobedience Means Death, review
Rymellan 2: Shattered Lives, review