Contemporary, Fiction, Mystery, romance

Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center

GOODREADS DESCRIPTION

Cassie Hanwell was born for emergencies. As one of the only female firefighters in her Texas firehouse, she’s seen her fair share of them, and she’s excellent at dealing with other people’s tragedies. But when her estranged and ailing mother asks her to uproot her life and move to Boston, it’s an emergency of a kind Cassie never anticipated.

The tough, old-school Boston firehouse is as different from Cassie’s old job as it could possibly be. Hazing, a lack of funding, and poor facilities mean that the firemen aren’t exactly thrilled to have a “lady” on the crew, even one as competent and smart as Cassie. Except for the handsome rookie, who doesn’t seem to mind having Cassie around. But she can’t think about that. Because she doesn’t fall in love. And because of the advice her old captain gave her: don’t date firefighters. Cassie can feel her resolve slipping…but will she jeopardize her place in a career where she’s worked so hard to be taken seriously?

Katherine Center’s Things You Save in a Fire is a heartfelt, affecting novel about life, love, and the true meaning of courage.

MY REVIEW

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I loved this book! I couldn’t put it down. It was a wonderfully moving story about finding one’s self, overcoming life’s challenges and forgiving others and one’s self.

Cassie Hanwell is tough, smart, fit and excellent at her job as a medic and firefighter. Her life in Austin, TX is going well as far as she is concerned. She loves her job and is receiving an award for saving children from a wrecked school bus. Then Cassie receives a phone call from her estranged mother in Rockport, Massachusetts asking her to come live with her for a year to help her with a medical condition. Cassie refuses to help her but when an incident at the awards ceremony puts her career in jeopardy, Cassie agrees to help her mother and moves across the country where a job at the local firehouse is waiting for her.

Cassie leaves a modern, up-to-date firehouse in Austin where women firefighters are not unusual and winds up in an old, out-of-date firehouse where a female firefighter has never graced its premises. Cassie has to prove that she belongs. She is not the only new firefighter at this station. A young rookie starts on the same day as Cassie, but he comes from a family of firefighters in Boston and will present a challenge to Cassie in ways she could never see coming.

What I loved about this book was how a number of characters have “secrets”, and how these secrets affect their relationships with others. It’s how these secrets unfold and bring to light the need for forgiveness in order to heal and move forward in life that was so gripping.

Cassie faces her own demons while also trying to discover who an anonymous bully is at work. They are threatening her to quit the fire department while she tries to navigate her new life in MA, heal her relationship with her mother, and opening herself up to true love.

This was a drama/romance/mystery/ and self-help book all rolled up into one. I loved it!

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Fantasy, Fiction, Historical Fiction, History, Mystery

The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo

GOODREADS DESCRIPTION

A sweeping historical novel about a dancehall girl and an orphan boy whose fates entangle over an old Chinese superstition about men who turn into tigers.

When 11-year-old Ren’s master dies, he makes one last request of his Chinese houseboy: that Ren find his severed finger, lost years ago in an accident, and reunite it with his body. Ren has 49 days, or else his master’s soul will roam the earth, unable to rest in peace.

Ji Lin always wanted to be a doctor, but as a girl in 1930s Malaysia, apprentice dressmaker is a more suitable occupation. Secretly, though, Ji Lin also moonlights as a dancehall girl to help pay off her beloved mother’s Mahjong debts. One night, Ji Lin’s dance partner leaves her with a gruesome souvenir: a severed finger. Convinced the finger is bad luck, Ji Lin enlists the help of her erstwhile stepbrother to return it to its rightful owner.

As the 49 days tick down, and a prowling tiger wreaks havoc on the town, Ji Lin and Ren’s lives intertwine in ways they could never have imagined. Propulsive and lushly written, The Night Tiger explores colonialism and independence, ancient superstition and modern ambition, sibling rivalry and first love. Braided through with Chinese folklore and a tantalizing mystery, this novel is a page-turner of the highest order.

MY REVIEW

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Night Tiger is a beautifully written story of Ren, an eleven year old orphaned Chinese boy who works as a houseboy for an English doctor in 1930s Malaysia and a parallel story of Ji Lin, a young Chinese woman who is trying to find her own way in a world where women are not valued as highly as men.

Ren’s master, Doctor MacFarlane is dying and sends Ren on a quest to find his amputated finger so he can be buried whole. Ji Lin is working two jobs to help pay off her mother’s mahjong debts. One evening at her job as a dance hall girl a gentleman client drops a vial with an amputated finger in it during a scuffle with her. Right then you know Ren and Ji Lin will eventually cross paths.

There are also a series of deaths that are attributed to a “night tiger”. The bodies are disembodied and paw prints are found nearby. Some of the people believe it is a weretiger, a human who turns into a tiger. Could this weretiger be Dr. MacFarlane who can’t rest in peace until he is reunited with his lost finger? And how will Ji Lin know to give the finger to Ren? The way their lives intertwine is so moving. I was rooting for both of them through all of their trials and tribulations.

I was hooked from the very beginning by the authors exquisite writing. It is so atmospheric and transported me to the 1930s world of Malaysia. I could feel the humidity and visualize the tropical surroundings. I loved how she described the Asian culture and beliefs like how someone’s name can be lucky or not and can that really effect someone’s life. As I read it I could feel the love the author has for this culture. The main characters are truly likable and the supernatural aspect of the story added to the beauty and mystique of the book.

Contemporary, Fiction

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

GOODREADS DESCRIPTION

The bride ‧ The plus one ‧ The best man ‧ The wedding planner ‧ The bridesmaid ‧ The body

On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom: handsome and charming, a rising television star. The bride: smart and ambitious, a magazine publisher. It’s a wedding for a magazine, or for a celebrity: the designer dress, the remote location, the luxe party favors, the boutique whiskey. The cell phone service may be spotty and the waves may be rough, but every detail has been expertly planned and will be expertly executed.

But perfection is for plans, and people are all too human. As the champagne is popped and the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes. The groomsmen begin the drinking game from their school days. The bridesmaid not-so-accidentally ruins her dress. The bride’s oldest (male) friend gives an uncomfortably caring toast.

And then someone turns up dead. Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why? 

MY REVIEW

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This is one of those books that picks up in the second half. It is told from multiple points of views. Every chapter is narrated by a different character who is involved in a wedding party taking place on a remote island in Ireland. The bride and groom are successful and good looking but are lacking in likeability. Most of the characters are unlikeable and seem either unredeemable or broken. A lot of time is spent building up these characters by having them remember past events in their lives that are “secrets”. These secrets are revealed slowly and come to a climax on the wedding day.

I thought it was cleverly built up and the way the lives of several of the characters were revealed was surprising. This story starts off like a soap opera and turns into a murder mystery. I liked the ending but it still left me wanting just a little more.

TBR

MY FEBRUARY TBR

I don’t normally do a TBR, but I’ve decided that I need some accountability to push myself to read more. I have so many books and love reading, but life gets in the way and sometimes I lose focus. I am hoping that if I create a TBR list each month I will be able to get through all these books. At leas 4 books per month is my goal. Following are the books I’ve chosen for February.

SHADOW OF NIGHT BY DEBORAH HARKNESS

This is the second book in the All Souls Trilogy. I loved the first book, A Discovery of Witches and have enjoyed the tv show based on the books. I decided it was time to read this since the second season of the tv show has begun. I love the storyline of a witch and vampire who defy the natural order of their world and fall in love while having to defend themselves against daemons, and other witches and vampires. Wonderfully detailed and a book series that you can really sink your teeth into.

MASTER AND APPRENTICE BY CLAUDIA GRAY

I recently binge-watched The Mandalorian and am now a super fan! The Star Wars franchise has been around for decades but it took this show to really draw me in to the Star Wars universe. My son is already a fan and a walking encyclopedia of Star Wars knowledge. I know I have a lot of catching up to do. In addition to re-watching all the movies I’ve decided to also read the books and am starting with this one, the first canon Star Wars novel that takes place before The Phantom Menace.

THE GUEST LIST BY LUCY FOLEY

A murder mystery at a wedding in Ireland. I bought this book when it was on sale as an e-book for the Kindle. I couldn’t pass it up. I’ve seen this book talked about in my Facebook book groups and it seemed like my kind of book. We shall see.

THE NIGHT TIGER BY YANGSZE CHOO

Based on other reviews this book is suspenseful and addicting. No one can put it down! I hope I can’t either.

Fantasy, Fiction, Mystery

Unnatural Magic by C.M. Waggoner

GOODREADS DESCRIPTION

Onna can write the parameters of a spell faster than any of the young men in her village school. But despite her incredible abilities, she’s denied a place at the nation’s premier arcane academy. Undaunted, she sails to the bustling city-state of Hexos, hoping to find a place at a university where they don’t think there’s anything untoward about providing a woman with a magical education. But as soon as Onna arrives, she’s drawn into the mysterious murder of four trolls.

Tsira is a troll who never quite fit into her clan, despite being the leader’s daughter. She decides to strike out on her own and look for work in a human city, but on her way she stumbles upon the body of a half-dead human soldier in the snow. As she slowly nurses him back to health, an unlikely bond forms between them, one that is tested when an unknown mage makes an attempt on Tsira’s life. Soon, unbeknownst to each other, Onna and Tsira both begin devoting their considerable talents to finding out who is targeting trolls, before their homeland is torn apart… 

MY REVIEW

Rating: 2 out of 5.

I am always eager to read a book whose premise is about magic. I love fantasy and this book appeared to fit that bill: magic schools for wizards, trolls, and a murder mystery. The description was way more interesting than the book turned out to be.

Onna, a young female wizard is unable to gain entrance to her local wizarding school by the very fact that she is female. It doesn’t matter that she is the brightest wizard and can write a spell faster than anyone. That also bugged me. In order to cast a spell you have to create parameters for the specific spell. Yes, you have to write out the spell for it to work. A spell can be 10, 50 200 pages, etc. The more pages the more effective the spell. How boring! Give me a one-word spell and a Harry Potter flick-of-the-wand any day.

There is a parallel storyline with 2 other main characters. Tsira, a troll, and Jeckran who is human. They form a bond and try to solve the mystery of a series of troll murders.

I enjoyed the book for the first one hundred pages or so, but it just got so boring and dry after that. I had to push myself to get through it. By page 221 I finally came to my senses and decided to not finish this book. I have hundreds of books on my TBR list and I would rather spend my time reading one of them. This book should have been titled “Unmagical”.

Contemporary, Fantasy, Fiction, romance

The Awakening: The Dragon Heart Legacy, Book One by Nora Roberts

GOODREADS DESCRIPTION

In the realm of Talamh, a teenage warrior named Keegan emerges from a lake holding a sword—representing both power and the terrifying responsibility to protect the Fey. In another realm known as Philadelphia, a young woman has just discovered she possesses a treasure of her own…

When Breen Kelly was a girl, her father would tell her stories of magical places. Now she’s an anxious twentysomething mired in student debt and working a job she hates. But one day she stumbles upon a shocking discovery: her mother has been hiding an investment account in her name. It has been funded by her long-lost father—and it’s worth nearly four million dollars.

This newfound fortune would be life-changing for anyone. But little does Breen know that when she uses some of the money to journey to Ireland, it will unlock mysteries she couldn’t have imagined. Here, she will begin to understand why she kept seeing that silver-haired, elusive man, why she imagined his voice in her head saying Come home, Breen Siobhan. It’s time you came home. Why she dreamed of dragons. And where her true destiny lies—through a portal in Galway that takes her to a land of faeries and mermaids, to a man named Keegan, and to the courage in her own heart that will guide her through a powerful, dangerous destiny… 

MY REVIEW

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I LOVED this book! It was soooooo goooood! What a great beginning to a new series. If you like books that are about fae, magic, epic battles, friendship, romance, magical worlds, heroines and heroes, this is the book for you.

Breen Kelly is a school teacher in Philadelphia whose mother has made it clear that she should play it safe with her life choices. Her father left for Ireland (where he was from) when Breen was a child and never returned. Her best friend is Marco, a musician, who works at a music store by day and a drag queen club by night as a bartender. I loved the way their friendship is portrayed. I want Marco as my best friend! There is nothing remarkable about Breen’s life until she discovers her mother has been keeping secrets from her; big earth shattering secrets. When these secrets are exposed, Breen’s life will change in ways she could never have imagined.

Breen quits her job and heads to Ireland looking for answers that her mother refuses to give. She hopes to find her father and reconnect with him. What she finds is life changing and opens up a world to her that will forever change her life.

Breen needs to make some serious, life altering decisions. The end of the book made my jaw drop. It drew me in even more. I loved the characters and plot. It is now one of my favorite books and I can’t wait for the second book to be released later this year.

Contemporary, Fiction

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

GOODREADS DESCRIPTION

No one’s ever told Eleanor that life should be better than fine

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: she struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding unnecessary human contact, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen, the three rescue one another from the lives of isolation that they had been living. Ultimately, it is Raymond’s big heart that will help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one. If she does, she’ll learn that she, too, is capable of finding friendship—and even love—after all.

Smart, warm, uplifting, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes. . .

the only way to survive is to open your heart.

MY REVIEW

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I was slow to warm up to this book. It took about 100 pages for me to really get into it. I started reading it and thinking it was worthy of 3 stars, but ended up giving it 4 stars for the second half of the book. I know this is a popular book but it is not “incredibly funny” as the Reese Witherspoon quote on the front of my copy of the book says. I found the majority of this book to be quite sad and depressing.

It is told in the first person. Eleanor Oliphant is a socially challenged character with a very heart breaking childhood. She is very rigid in her daily routines and is seen as an odd person wherever she goes: work, beauty salon, supermarket, etc. She has no friends and leads a solitary life. This changes when she and a coworker, Raymond, witness an elderly man collapse on the street. They come to his aide and this sets off more events that bring Eleanor and Raymond together and a friendship grows.

Upon finishing the book I felt so much compassion for Eleanor and all that she had lived through. Her suffering left scars both physically and psychologically. This story was a testament to the fragility and strength of the human spirit and the importance of kindness, friendship and opening oneself to loving others and self-love.

Contemporary, Fiction, Mystery

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

GOODREADS DESCRIPTION

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned–from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren–an enigmatic artist and single mother–who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town–and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood–and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster.

MY REVIEW

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I was very eager to read this book. I am aware of the Hulu miniseries and wanted to read the book first. When I finished the book I was torn, not sure how I felt about it. I was disappointed and bored by the first half of the book. I kept waiting for it to pick up and get what all they hype was about. I kept thinking I should put it down and read a different book. Another problem for me was that the book was so “wordy”, too much describing things and not enough dialogue to move the story along. For example, I like watching crafty Youtubers to learn how to make crafts but I hate when the Youtuber spends five minutes shaking their hands in front of the camera and holding the project before finally showing the viewer how to make it. I think, “This person likes hearing themselves talk.” That’s how I felt about this book. Celeste Ng likes hearing herself talk! Too much description instead of moving the story along.

My mixed feelings come into play with the second half of the book because that is when the book finally picks up. My low rating is because no reader should have to wait until the second half of a book for the story to finally get moving. Even then, as the characters’ backstories finally come to a climax, it was a little deflating because some of it just didn’t make sense to me. Finally finding out how the house of one of the main characters goes up in flames, which is how the book begins, just did not ring true. I could see how some people would like the book, but it did not grab me early on and the author missed her window to do so.

Contemporary, Fiction, Thriller

Elsewhere by Dean Koontz

GOODREADS DESCRIPTION

The fate of the world is in the hands of a father and daughter in an epic novel of wonder and terror by Dean Koontz, the #1 New York Times bestselling master of suspense.

Since his wife, Michelle, left seven years ago, Jeffy Coltrane has worked to maintain a normal life for himself and his eleven-year-old daughter, Amity, in Suavidad Beach. It’s a quiet life, until a local eccentric known as Spooky Ed shows up on their doorstep.

Ed entrusts Jeffy with hiding a strange and dangerous object—something he calls “the key to everything”—and tells Jeffy that he must never use the device. But after a visit from a group of ominous men, Jeffy and Amity find themselves accidentally activating the key and discovering an extraordinary truth. The device allows them to jump between parallel planes at once familiar and bizarre, wondrous and terrifying. And Jeffy and Amity can’t help but wonder, could Michelle be just a click away?

Jeffy and Amity aren’t the only ones interested in the device. A man with a dark purpose is in pursuit, determined to use its grand potential for profound evil. Unless Amity and Jeffy can outwit him, the place they call home may never be safe again. 

MY REVIEW

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I was so excited to win this book from a Goodreads contest, although it can currently be read for free on Kindle Unlimited. I love Dean Koontz but haven’t read one of his books in a long time.

Elsewhere is suspenseful and has a very high “creepy” factor. Jeffy Coltrane is raising his eleven year old daughter Amity by himself after his wife Michelle leaves them when Amity is young and has never been heard from again. Life is normal until a local homeless man, Ed Harkenbach, shows up on their porch and in a panic gives Jeffy a package and asks him to keep it for a year and if Ed doesn’t return, Jeffy is to hide the device in a barrel, fill it with concrete and dump it in the ocean. Until then he is never to open the box or touch it. Ed then disappears and the following day Federal agents show up at Jeffy’s house looking for this mysterious package.

I enjoyed the whirlwind events that take place from here on, putting Jeffy and Amity in danger, coming in contact with pure evil, but also finding strength in their love for one another. I liked the mix of dread and hope. It felt like a roller coaster ride and the ending was satisfying.

Contemporary, Fiction, Mystery, romance

Chance Of A Lifetime by Jude Deveraux and Tara Sheets

GOODREADS DESCRIPTION

In 1844 Ireland, Liam O’Connor, a rogue and a thief, fell madly in love with a squire’s daughter and unwittingly altered the future. Shy and naive Cora McLeod thought Liam was the answer to her prayers. But the angels disagreed and they’ve been waiting for the right moment in time to step in.

Now Liam finds himself reunited with his beloved Cora in Providence Falls, North Carolina. The angels have given Liam a task. He must make sure Cora falls in love with another man—the one she was supposed to marry before Liam interfered. But this Cora is very different from the innocent girl who fell for Liam in the past. She’s a cop and has a confidence and independence he wasn’t expecting. She doesn’t remember Liam or their past lives, nor is she impressed with his attempts to guide her in any way.

Liam wants Cora for himself, but with his soul hanging in the balance, he must choose between a stolen moment in time or an eternity of damnation. 

MY REVIEW

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This is the first book in The Providence Falls series. It is not a stand alone book and ends with a cliffhanger. I wish I knew this before I started reading the book because I really did like it but was disappointed that I now have to wait to see what happens in the next book that has not yet been published. The first romance book I ever read was by Jude Deveraux and I have loved the romance genre ever since. Time travel romances are my favorite and this book falls into that category but not in the traditional way. No one finds themselves thrown into another time period and has to try to find their way back to their own time or has to decide if they want to stay with their true love in a new place. Instead, someone has to correct a wrong from a previous life in order to make the current life a success.

Liam O’Connor falls in love with Cora McLeod in 1844 Ireland. She comes from a wealthy family and his family struggles to survive. Cora is promised to another man so their love thwarts the life Cora was intended to have and as a result Liam is barred from entering Heaven until he corrects this and makes Cora fall in love with her intended. Liam tries and fails over a course of lifetimes and is given one last chance in present day America where modern Cora lives. Liam keeps failing because he still loves Cora and has a difficult time trying to make her fall in love with someone else. Two angels are on his case and won’t be happy until Liam succeeds in this mission. Every lifetime that Liam fails to make Cora fall in love with another man Cora ends up dying young. She will meet the same fate in this lifetime as well and Liam will be doomed to damnation.

The book goes back and forth in time so we can see how their love unfolds in 1844. I was disappointed when there was a murder investigation thrown in and then the book suddenly ended as a cliffhanger and the second book has yet to be released. Who is the murderer? Do Liam and Cora get to be together after all? Will Liam go to heaven or get to stay on earth with Cora? Questions abound! Despite this disappointment I did enjoy this book. It was light and fun and fast reading. It did not have the feel of past Jude Deveraux books so maybe it is more heavily written by Tara Sheets. I would recommend waiting for the other books in the series to come out so that you can binge read them without interruption.