Mystery · Romance

Review: The Cracked Spine

The Cracked Spine

Title: The Cracked Spine
Author: Paige Shelton
Pages: 304
Publication: 2017
Series: Scottish Bookshop Mystery #1

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Local LIbrary]

(Other reviews: Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly)

I’ve been on a cozy mystery kick as of late–who am I kidding? I’m always in a mood for cozy mysteries. Set in a foreign local, especially in Scotland, is a cat nip. I was also attracted to this book as the lead is an archivist which is one of my degrees.

There is a lot wrong with the book:

  • The lead answers an ad she finds for this used bookshop in Edinburgh and is hired on the spot. Is there qualified people in Scotland?
  • It took nearly a hundred pages before the murder occured; far too slow
  • She immediately befriends the cabbie who takes her to the bookshop on her first day and he and his wife happen to have a spare cottage for her to move into.
  • Of course she meets a hot Scot who wears a kilt unironically.
  • She’s in Scotland two days and she’s already a detective for people she doesn’t know.
  • The whole puzzle of random torn up sheets of paper scattered around the murdered person’s apartment that Delany happens to find is really implausible.

Overall, it’s just a hodge podge of elements that the author was told would make a great cozy mystery dumped into a cosmopolitan city. The strange this is this is not Shelton’s first time at the rodeo as she has other cozy mystery series under her belt.

I’m not sure what’s going on. I found myself picking up and putting down the book numerous times before settling in to finish it. It’s not that I would not recommend it–it’s got a lot of five star reviews on Goodreads–but I’m not going to continue on with the series.

 

 

 

Paranormal · Romance

Review: Soulless

Title: Soulless
Author: Gail Carriger
Pages: 416
Publication date: October 2009
Series: Parasol Protectorate Book 1

[Amazon | Indie Bound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other reviews: Publisher’s Weekly (starred review), Tor)

Steph and I were talking about books the other day, as one does, and I mentioned I was looking for new genres. Knowing that I also have a taste for most things Victorian/steampunk/gaslamp, she recommended Soulless, the first book in the Parasol Protectorate series.

Now, I read a lot but I also have a habit of starting books and never finishing them. I read by what I’m interested in the moment. I may be going through a cozy mystery period but I could really go for romcom. Or I could really dig into a biography or a book from 100 years ago. My mood changes quickly so the book really has to capture me to keep me going longer than a few chapters.

With all of that being said, Steph knowing this about me, recommended Soulless to me as a fun and funny read. So I checked the ebook out and discover that I’m 31% through already.

INTERESTING!

No idea why I returned it before finishing it because it was fun, witty, a tad bit sexy, and funny. I love Alexia Tarabotti and her Pride and Prejudice barbs with with Conall, Lord Maccon. Lord Akeldama who speaks in emphasis my tulip is a joy to behold. The story of mad scientists gone awry was fun and a bit of a dazzle to follow.

And while it has preternaturals, supernaturals, and people with terrible fashion sense (Ivy!), at its heart, it’s a mystery. Who is kidnapping the werewolfs, vampires, and ghost and what exactly is happening to them and why? Does Alexia’s background have anything to do with this (she’s is not only a ghastly spinster but also an Italian to boot)? Does her dead father figure into this somehow?

Miss Gail has created a delightful world to romp and play in. The language  can get a bit strained at times but quickly recovers. The naming scheme she’s come up with (Ivy Hisselpenny (her best friend) and Loonwilts (her family)) are fabulous with a bit of a fan tip to the nose.

It’s difficult to say anything wrong with this book. I know steampunk/gaslamp books can be a bit heavy handed on the gadgets and gewgaws as well as the underlying sense of trying to be different enough but Miss Gail does it so effortlessly and easily that her writing should be a masterclass.

tl;dr: If you’re in the mood for steampunk romcom mystery with sexy banter and fun word play, Soulless is your book.

Romance

Review: A Certain Appeal

Title: A Certain Appeal
Author: Vanessa King
Page Count: 352
Publication: November 2021

[Amazon | Indie Bound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other reviews: Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly (starred review))

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice  retellings are a crapshoot. They can either be really good or really terrible (hello Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) and you really don’t know until you get into the story.

Read more at Excessively Diverting.

Own Voices · Romance

Review: If the Shoe Fits

Title: If the Shoe Fits
Author: Julie Murphy
Page Count: 304
Publication: August 2021
Series: Meant to Be #1

[Amazon | Indie Bound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other reviews: Publishers Weekly, bookreporter, School Library Journal)

Retellings are a tricky thing. Either you can get it it on point or you can totally screw it up. Retellings are either a bountiful source of material or can be a hack job (I’m looking at you Pride and Prejudice and Zombies).

This is all to say I went in to If the Shoe Fits with zero expectations.

And I’m glad I did or else I wouldn’t have probably found the book so delightful!

I’m not sure how I heard about this book (probably social media somehow) and Julie Murphy was not a name known to me (she’s also the author of the young adult book Dumplin’ which was turned into a Netflix movie). But here we are!

There are several things that appealed to me about If the Shoe Fits:

  • The heroine is plus sized
  • The heroine is confident in herself
  • The ending was delightful with a HEA
  • It tapped into my love for trashy reality TV

The book was also well plotted and the interactions between the heroine and hero felt natural and very, very sexy. There was no fetishization of Cindy just because she was fat which is always a relief. I think that because Murphy herself is zaftig and writes with such authenticity about the dating world. This is not my first book with a fat heroine who is on point and I’m thrilled by this. There needs to be more like this.

This is the first book in the Meant to Be series, which I’m assuming will be written by Murphy. I cannot wait to see what else she writes.

tl;dr A delightful retelling of Cinderella with a plus size heroine set in the trashy reality TV world. Cindy follows her dream AND gets the man. Five stars.

(P.S. Dumplin’ is available free to read via Amazon Prime.)

General Non-Fiction

Review: Jane Austen and Shelley in the Garden

Jane Austen and Shelley in the GardenTitle: Jane Austen and Shelley in the Garden
Author: Janet Todd
Page Count: 304
Publication: September 2021

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other reviews: Washington Post, The Scotland Herald)

Academics should not write fiction. Well, not all academics but most should not even attempt to write fiction even if it is a topic they know and love. (Umberto Eco is a fine example. He was a leading academic and his fiction is superb.)

In this case, Todd, an expert on Austen and a fan of Shelley, made a book, dare I say, snoozeable.

I was sorely disappointed by this book. I was so desperate to love it for I too love Austen and Shelley and the idea of Austen whispering in the ear of the main character and finding Shelley later on seemed beyond delightful. Any reimagined Austen is catnip to my brain.

But alas, despite the glowing review in WaPo and the weeks long hold at my local library, I found this book to be dull and rambling. After the perfunctory “It’s a truth universally acknowledged…” a few paragraphs later finds us the following:Intro to Jane Austen and Shelley

I read that numerous times after I read the first chapter to see how it tied into the book. It doesn’t, not really. I still don’t get it.

The writing is extraneous and someone needed a new editor. The story meandered and seemed to hold at some points, confused on where to go next. The pictures looked like they were taken by an amateur (and who thought this was a good idea in the first place?) and were particularly fuzzy on my Kindle.

Books can be anything and everything. They can make you think, cry, love, and travel. Difficult topics do not have to be written obtusely nor should fiction. I often think of Salman Rushdie’s quip when he was told that some people find his books difficult to read. His response was that perhaps the person doing the reading wasn’t smart enough to understand his work. I call bullshit on this. I often find that when hoity toity authors come out with works that are deemed difficult what they really are are meditations on their own intelligence bookended by their over extensive vocabulary.

I meander.

Todd’s other works have been praised by people like Hilary Mantel, Emma Donoghue, and Phillipa Gregory so she’s got to be doing something right. But was is it that she’s doing?

This book is more like a 2 stars over 1 as I was so disappointed and confused by what I was reading but somewhere out there people are going to love it. So as long as it is them, and not me.

(P.S. Todd wrote about Aphra Behn, the seventeenth ­century writer of erotic, poetry, and plays; political propagandist, and spy. I desperately want to read that book but I’m afeared that I will come away disappointed.)

Biography and Memoirs · General Non-Fiction

Review: Stranger Here

Stranger HereTitle: Stranger Here
Author: Jen Larsen
Page Count: 267
Publication: February 2013

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other reviews: Kirkus)

When I started thinking about getting weight loss surgery (WLS), I went to a close friend of mine who had it a few years prior. She was more than happy to answer my questions and recommended I read Stranger Here, Jen Larsen’s memoir on her experiences before, during, and after getting the surgery, to get a perspective and help guide me towards a a decision.

After reading The Big Reveal (which I LOVED), also by Larsen, I was torn. On one hand I wanted to be like Addie: Confident and inspirational. A person who loves their body and accepts themselves for themselves.

But I’m not Addie and while she’s everything every girl should be, it’s a struggle to accept myself and I’m old enough to be Addie’s mom. If an 18 year old can do it, why can’t I?

Reading Stranger Here was like reading my very own private diary that I had no idea that I had written or needed to read. Larsen writes a very poignant story about being fat is more than just weight. Spurned on by society and lack of doctor’s willing to use evidence medicine, it tortures our self-perception of ourselves, nearly destroying in the end and how we play into it all.

Near the end of the book, Larsen writes that she does not regret getting WLS but she regrets the years of her life she wasted on not loving herself. The comment is a mere few paragraphs, and Larsen doesn’t really expound on it much – the ending and the wrap up of the book was quite quick from Larsen’s rhythm, so I wonder how she got there and what she meant.

What does it mean to love yourself? Is it merely a trend about boundaries, self-care, being a spoonie, and self-love? What does it all mean? Why do so many seem to figure it out while people like Larsen and I tend to flounder and wobble as we find ourselves? Are we somehow figuring things out how society has wrecked us not only for our body shape but also for our own mental and emotional health? While trend seems to be a big word to use here, maybe it’s time we’re taking back control.

Maybe control is the answer. Maybe taking control of our own lives is what begins the self-love healing and acceptance with ourselves. We make choices and live by those choices but being fat is more than about eating too much as so much goes into it like genetics, medicines, and existing conditions. Being fat is not a choice no matter what society tells us.

As I navigate the process of getting WLS from reading studies, other perspectives, and the many dear friends who have had success at it, Larsen’s book sticks with me the most. It’s a comfort to know I’m not alone and also a comfort to know maybe things are going to be okay. And maybe, just maybe, as I discover more about my own needs and wants, I’ll find that I love myself after all no matter what I weigh.

Romance

Review: Meet Me in the Margins

Meet Me in the Margins Title: Meet Me in the Margins
Author: Melissa Ferguson
Page Count: 320
Publication: February 2022

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other reviews: Publisher’s Weekly)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

I picked this book up the other night as I wanted something to read that didn’t require a lot of thought process. Meet Me in the Margins fits the bill.

(Dear TK, I hope you were able to get the editing requests done before final publication.)

The book was fun and a delight to read. A fast book, one that I’m always fond of, I started it before bed the other night and finished it the following day. Some odd bits were the stress on Savannah’s shortness and her propensity to wear tall heels when that didn’t get picked up again later in the story so the mentioning of her shortness, at barely five feet, seemed a bit odd, however, it helped propel her meet cute with Will.

I wish there was more development between Will and Sav which seems to have started out as a slow burn and not enough fire to keep it going. The ending just kind of happened. Sav’s relationship with her ex-boyfriend now potential brother in law was too close for comfort. I know the family motto was loyalty for family and to buck up and keep your chin up but there should have been more angst and pain rather than “Oh, he brought me flowers. How kind.” situation going on. Her sister, Olivia, is a nightmare and I’m glad she got taken down a peg or two.

The mix-up with Sam and his lady friend was sweet. While I was not so crazy about how Ferguson treated Sav with her family, I did love the loyalty she had for her friend Layla the soon to be country music queen and the lengths she would go to support her. Also, Layla sounds like good fun. More of her please.

tl;dr I feel like this is not an original story but I can’t quite place why. I feel like the setup is not new but I do like Ferguson’s version of the story quite a bit. The book was well written and except for a few nit picks, the execution was good. There is enough here to investigate reading more of Ferguson’s works. Would recommend.

 

Mystery

Review: Pride, Prejudice, and Peril

Title: Pride, Prejudice, and Peril
Author: Katie Oliver
Page Count: 320
Publication: December 2021
Series: Jane Austen Tea Shop Mystery #1

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other reviews: )

tl;dr Overall the book was a fast read and was sturdy in its compensation. Nothing too obvious seemed to be off and the ends of mystery tied up a bit nicely. The writing was competent. Austen fans who happen to be cozy mystery fans will love this and the series is worth exploring.

Read the complete review over at Excessively Diverting.

Romance

Review: One Way or Another

One Way or AnotherTitle: One Way or Another
Author: Portia Macintosh
Page Count: eBook
Publication: February 2014
Series: Nicole Wild .5

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other reviews: )

Well. This was…interesting.

I was so enthralled with No Ex Before Marriage that I went looking for Macintosh’s other books. Because her books are released mainly digital, libraries are less likely to buy them, especially when they are platform dependent (Amazon and BN in this case). I coughed up the .99 cents and bought this, Will They Won’t They?, and checked out Life’s a Beach on Prime.

Another insomnia purchase, I was really looking forward to this quick novella.

Well. I was disappointed. The writing was choppy and sometimes incoherent. Macintosh’s well developed writing skills and  humour in No Ex Before Marriage lead me to believe her other books would be as thought out and as well written.

I was sorely wrong.

The plot is thin on the ground and kind of laughable. A 23 year old rock star journalist (this is the believable part; I’ve read works by rock star journalists younger than this) whose best friend is the lead singer of a band and who happens to be the drug taking lothario whose wild night escapades leads him from a hotel to a tattoo parlor and comes across a few sex workers on the way. Nicole Wilde (of course) also meets a true love whom she shags that she has time to shag while chasing Dylan around town.

This is the precursor to other Nicole Wilde books and hoo boy, I don’t think I’ll be running out any time soon to read these.

BUT! The book was released seven years ago, I’ll read her later work for sure.

tl;dr Only read this if you have read the other Nicole Wilde books and want to read a precursor but if not, skip it. Read Macintosh’s later books.