Thursday, January 18, 2024

Book Review: The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner


Goodreads Overview:

Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England's finest novelists. Now it's home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen's legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen's home and her legacy. These people—a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others—could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from the recent war, others from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create the Jane Austen Society.

Jacque's Review:

I selected this book because it was a 2020 Goodreads choice nominee for best historical fiction and best debut novel, but primarily because I needed a book that started with J for last year's A-Z reading challenge. I read a couple of Jane Austen's books when I was in high school, but I can't say that I am a huge fan. Not because I didn't enjoy her books, I just haven't read any recently and don't remember much of the content. 

The story takes place in a small town in England where Austen lived and wrote her famous novels. A few locals plus an American actress, who is a huge Jane Austen fan, decide to establish a society and museum to help preserve her home and legacy. I really enjoyed seeing how they bonded over their shared love of Austen's novels. This diverse group of characters were able to help each other through some challenging times. This never would have happened if they hadn't stumbled across each other due to their shared love of Jane Austen. It really shows the importance of connecting with others in some way versus trying to deal with life's struggles on your own. Each was coping ineffectively with their struggles but was able to come out on top thanks to the help of these new friendships. 

There were a number of quotes and references to her works, which I couldn't fully appreciate since it has been so long since I have read her novels. That, however, did not diminish my appreciation of this story. If anything, it encouraged me to read some of her books in the future. I'm sure Jane Austen fans will love this story, but you certainly do not have to be a fan to appreciate the message. There are references to the famous author's life and works, but it is more about survival and overcoming adversity.

Monday, January 15, 2024

Book Review: Mercury by Amy Jo Burns


A roofing family’s bonds of loyalty are tested when they uncover a long-hidden secret at the heart of their blue-collar town―from Amy Jo Burns, author of the critically acclaimed novel Shiner

It’s 1990 and seventeen-year-old Marley West is blazing into the river valley town of Mercury, Pennsylvania. A perpetual loner, she seeks a place at someone’s table and a family of her own. The first thing she sees when she arrives in town is three men standing on a rooftop. Their silhouettes blot out the sun.

The Joseph brothers become Marley’s whole world before she can blink. Soon, she is young wife to one, The One Who Got Away to another, and adopted mother to them all. As their own mother fades away and their roofing business crumbles under the weight of their unwieldy father’s inflated ego, Marley steps in to shepherd these unruly men. Years later, an eerie discovery in the church attic causes old wounds to resurface and suddenly the family’s survival hangs in the balance. With Marley as their light, the Joseph brothers must decide whether they can save the family they’ve always known―or whether together they can build something stronger in its place.

I saw so many people reviewing Amy Jo Burn's Mercury before it came out, so my first instinct was to avoid it. I tend to be disappointed by very hyped books on bookstagram, but when I saw it being offered on Netgalley, and read the synopsis, I found it hard to pass up. Probably one of my favorite genre's, if you can call it that, is a family saga. I love reading about the struggles, and mostly how they seems to always over come them. I find it uplifting, so I will have to admit, I was wrong about Mercury, it was a pleasure to spend my time with the Joseph family.
Main character Marley is married to the oldest Joseph boy, who helps run thee family roofing business. The story basically follows the ups and downs of their life together and with the rest of the family.
Mercury is certainly a character driven story, but I like that about the book, the characters in a story is always important to me. All the characters are relatable and you will find yourself quickly becoming absorbed into their lives and story as a whole. Burns did a wonderful job breathing life into each character she wrote. The writing is clear, Burns does not get wordy or try to over describe a situation. 
This is a book about a family, a beautiful and sometimes messy family. A family that loves deeply, and that you will also come to love, because of the realness of the story and the characters. I found myself caring about them, and caring about what happened to them, and to me that makes for a very successful book.
Pick this one up, you won't regret it. Mercury is out now.


Thursday, January 11, 2024

Book Review: The Heiress by Rachel Hawkins


When Ruby McTavish Callahan Woodward Miller Kenmore dies, she’s not only North Carolina’s richest woman, she’s also its most notorious. The victim of a famous kidnapping as a child and a widow four times over, Ruby ruled the tiny town of Tavistock from Ashby House, her family’s estate high in the Blue Ridge mountains. In the aftermath of her death, that estate—along with a nine-figure fortune and the complicated legacy of being a McTavish—pass to her adopted son, Camden.

But to everyone’s surprise, Cam wants little to do with the house or the money—and even less to do with the surviving McTavishes. Instead, he rejects his inheritance, settling into a normal life as an English teacher in Colorado and marrying Jules, a woman just as eager to escape her own messy past.

Ten years later, Camden is a McTavish in name only, but a summons in the wake of his uncle’s death brings him and Jules back into the family fold at Ashby House. Its views are just as stunning as ever, its rooms just as elegant, but coming home reminds Cam why he was so quick to leave in the first place.

Jules, however, has other ideas, and the more she learns about Cam’s estranged family—and the twisted secrets they keep—the more determined she is for her husband to claim everything Ruby once intended for him to have.

But Ruby’s plans were always more complicated than they appeared. As Ashby House tightens its grip on Jules and Camden, questions about the infamous heiress come to light. Was there any truth to the persistent rumors following her disappearance as a girl? What really happened to those four husbands, who all died under mysterious circumstances? And why did she adopt Cam in the first place? Soon, Jules and Cam realize that an inheritance can entail far more than what’s written in a will—and that the bonds of family stretch far beyond the grave.


I have read most of Rachel Hawkins newest books and by far my favorite is her newest one The Heiress. It is her typical mystery/thriller, but why try something different when you do so well with what you are doing. Her imagination seems fit for thrilling story telling.

North Carolina's notorious rich woman Ruby McTavish Callahan Woodward Miller Kenmore dies, her adopted son Camden inherits her fortune and house, but Camden wants neither. Instead he leaves North Carolina, moves to Colorado, gets married and becomes a teacher.

Fast forward ten years and Camden is back at the McTavish mansion, Ashby House with wife Jules in tow, because his uncle dies. The family drama begins to play out as Jules learns more and more about the McTavish family and the secrets they have hidden for years. They certainly have a few.

The story is easy to read and moves fast. It is highly entertaining, especially if like me, you love a good monied family gone bad type story. The family provides plenty of entertainment with their secrets and back stabbing. There are plenty of morally gray characters in this family.

The Heiress is a great story. The writing is clever, the atmosphere is intense and the ending twists and turns multiple times keeping you turning those pages.

If you haven't already, pick up the Heiress by Rachel Hawkins.

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Book Review: Mr Lullaby by J.H. Markert


The small town of Harrod’s Reach has seen its fair share of the macabre, especially inside the decrepit old train tunnel around which the town was built. After a young boy, Sully Dupree, is injured in the abandoned tunnel and left in a coma, the townspeople are determined to wall it up. Deputy sheriff Beth Gardner is reluctant to buy into the superstitions until she finds two corpses at the tunnel’s entrance, each left with strange calling cards inscribed with old lullabies. Soon after, Sully Dupree briefly awakens from his coma.

Before falling back into his slumber, Sully manages to give his older brother a message. Sully's mind, since the accident, has been imprisoned on the other side of the tunnel in Lalaland, a grotesque and unfamiliar world inhabited by evil mythical creatures of sleep. Sully is trapped there with hundreds of other coma patients, all desperately fighting to keep the evils of the dream world from escaping into the waking world.

Elsewhere, a man troubled by his painful youth has for years been hearing a voice in his head he calls Mr. Lullaby, and he has finally started to act on what that voice is telling him—to kill any coma patient he can find, quickly.

Something is waking up in the tunnel—something is trying to get through. And Mr. Lullaby is coming.

I did not read J.H. Markert's last book ,The Nightmare Man, so I was pleasantly surprised with his latest Mr Lullaby. I have been a bit disappointed in horror recently, it doesn't seem creepy, most strange and weird, or maybe it is the books I have been picking up, but Mr Lullaby was a good small town hour story.

Violence seems to linger in the small town Harrod's Reach. It resides in dark empty tunnels and a place called La La Land that seems coexist in the minds of people in comas.

The story is  creepy, spooky, and strange, but not the crazy insane strange I have been encountering recently. Think early Stephen King strange.

The story started out as a slow burn, building the world you were entering, but it was interesting enough to keep you turning the pages. The writing flowed with the story, but the book was a bit character heavy, which, because I listened to it on audio sometimes got a bit confusing to me. I feel if I could have flipped back between pages, this would have been less of a problem for me. I did have to concentrate on who was who several times.

Even with the heavy POVs and characters, it was a worthy soft horror story, it creeped me out at times, which is what I look for in a horror book naturally. I look forward to going back and trying The Nightmare Man and anything in the future that Markert puts out.

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Book Review: Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin


Goodreads Overview:

Welcome to Elsewhere. It is warm, with a breeze, and the beaches are marvelous. It's quiet and peaceful. You can't get sick or any older. Curious to see new paintings by Picasso? Swing by one of Elsewhere's museums. Need to talk to someone about your problems? Stop by Marilyn Monroe's psychiatric practice.

Elsewhere is where fifteen-year-old Liz Hall ends up, after she has died. It is a place so like Earth, yet completely different. Here Liz will age backward from the day of her death until she becomes a baby again and returns to Earth. But Liz wants to turn sixteen, not fourteen again. She wants to get her driver's license. She wants to graduate from high school and go to college. And now that she's dead, Liz is being forced to live a life she doesn't want with a grandmother she has only just met. And it is not going well. How can Liz let go of the only life she has ever known and embrace a new one? Is it possible that a life lived in reverse is no different from a life lived forward?

Jacque's Review:

I bought this book back in 2012 when Gabrielle Zevin came to my library to speak. I really enjoyed listening to her talk about this book, but I didn't actually read it until after I read her more recent book Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow. I think what took me so long is the fact that it is about death. I thought it would be like one of those Nicholas Sparks tearjerker books, but it absolutely was not. 

I found the book to be very original, creative, and inspiring. Liz is the victim of a hit and run and ends up in Elsewhere, which is a sort of heaven, but operates like a regular city. People have jobs, but not necessarily the job they had on earth. Someone who was a surgeon on Earth could be a fisherman in Elsewhere. It is more about what you want to do vs. what you have to do to make ends meet. The other major difference is that people age backwards while in Elsewhere until they reach zero and return to Earth to start a new life again. 

Elizabeth goes to live with her grandmother, who she never met, but has aged back to 34 and is now younger than her mother. She has a difficult time adjusting to her new situation and acts out. She spends a considerable amount of time at the "observation deck" which is like those viewing stations you can use at various attractions. If you put a coin in the machine, you get a limited amount of time using the binoculars. In this case, the binoculars give you a view of life on Earth. She can see what her friends and family are doing now that she is gone and how they are coping. She even tries to make contact with them, which is strictly forbidden. 

She discovers that she has the unique ability to communicate with dogs, so she gets a job working to place dogs who arrive in Elsewhere with new owners. Her friend Owen has a dog named Jen, but he doesn't speak canine, so she helps him out with the dog. She also adopts a dog named Sadie her first day on the job. Some of the conversations with the dogs are laugh out loud funny.

Once she settles into life in Elsewhere, she tells her Grandma Betty "Happiness is a choice. There is no difference in quality between a life lived forward and a live lived backward." That is what I took away from this book as the overall message. You can choose to hold a grudge or fixate on the negative aspects of your life, or you can look at all of the positives and make the most of each and every day that you have. 

I have only read the two books mentioned by Garielle Zevin and would highly recommend both of them. The topics may not sound like something you are interested in, but they are not at all what they seem. They are more about life, friendship, and making your way in an imperfect world. There are great messages and take aways in both of these books.

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Book Review: Yes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli & Aisha Saeed


Goodreads Overview:

Jamie Goldberg is cool with volunteering for his local state senate candidate—as long as he’s behind the scenes. When it comes to speaking to strangers (or, let’s face it, speaking at all to almost anyone), Jamie’s a choke artist. There’s no way he’d ever knock on doors to ask people for their votes…until he meets Maya.

Maya Rehman’s having the worst Ramadan ever. Her best friend is too busy to hang out, her summer trip is canceled, and now her parents are separating. Why her mother thinks the solution to her problems is political canvassing—with some awkward dude she hardly knows—is beyond her.

Going door to door isn’t exactly glamorous, but maybe it’s not the worst thing in the world. After all, the polls are getting closer—and so are Maya and Jamie. Mastering local activism is one thing. Navigating the cross-cultural romance of the century is another thing entirely.

Jacque's Review:

Jamie Goldberg and Maya Rehman were friends when they were very small. Their parents had them in the same play group, but they drifted apart once they were older. Jamie is very smart and passionate about politics, but he is happy remaining behind the scenes. He has had a series of unfortunate events over the years that have affected his confidence and ambition to become a politician himself someday. 

Maya is struggling now that her best friend is leaving for college and her parents have decided to separate. Her mom talks her into helping out with the campaign, but she doesn't really want to be there. Jamie and Maya begin canvasing, but are merely going through the motions to meet their daily quota. When they discover a bill that is being proposed to prevent the wearing of head/face coverings, that clearly is intended to discriminate against Muslims, they decide to take action. 

They become a media sensation thanks to the help of Jamie's grandma's Instagram account. His grandmother is helping with the social media for the campaign and posts some content with Jamie and Maya that goes viral. Everyone assumes they are a couple, but Maya insists she can't date due to her religious and parents' beliefs. They become close friends over the course of the campaign and begin to consider the option of dating when something happens that could jeopardize even their friendship.

This was a very thought provoking and entertaining book. It explores the effects of religious discrimination, and the impact political activism can have towards achieving equality. Jamie and Maya begin the story thinking they are nothing more than two lowly constituents who aren't even old enough to vote, but the impact they have on the campaign and their community is enormous. I would highly recommend this book to high school teachers looking for "choice reading" to recommend to their students.