People who read books need to Wander with Virgil in this Leif Enger book

You know that moment when you finish a book, when you close it and all is right in the world? Except for a fear of the next book you pick up because, honestly, how could anything be as good as this one was?

That is Virgil Wander for me. I’m afraid of my next book because the story Leif Enger created is too good, too perfect, too hard to leave.

(I do now plan to read anything else Leif Enger has written, including his grocery list if I can get it!)

Virgil Wander, you see, is a man of never defined age who wanders, there are some fantastic themes running through this novel, through life until he splurges and buys a failing old movie theater called the Empress in a tiny, seemingly failing town on Lake Superior. And then, in a storm, he drives off the road and into icy water. The novel is not so much about his survival as it is about the life he lived compared to the life he could life compared to the life he wants to live. It is about the community he lives in, and how he is a part of it.

The characters Enger creates in this novel, from Virgil himself on down to ones who died before the story behinds, are so incredibly vivid and unique. Even the scenes in story that might seem small and insignificant are packed with deeper meaning. The underlying meaning and message of the novel seems to be that community is family, even if you don’t realize it in the moment. Virgil, for example, knew he lived in Greenstone and had a few close friends. After he survives the accident, he begins to find out just how much he meant to the people in town.

It’s heartwarming. It’s heartwarming because we all need this. We need to know what we mean to the people around us. We need to tell them what they mean to us.

And we all need to read this book, because I don’t want to be the only one dreaming of bike riding with Virgil, fishing for giant sturgeon with Galen, snowplowing with Lily, and flying fantastic kites with Rune.

Please, people, read this book. I know I will read it again. And again.

I received an uncorrected proof of Virgil Wander through BookishFirst in exchange for an honest, original review.

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My (let’s say) 7 1/2 Days of Confusion (and happiness) with Evelyn Hardcastle

Right. So. I’m giving this book five stars.

This is a surprise.

To me.

Because I’m not entirely sure what I just read but… apparently I loved it? *shrugs*

My experience reading this… gotta be honest, I’m not even sure how how to classify this book so let’s say… this book by Stuart Turton went something like this…

*while reading*

me: ooh, historical fiction murder mystery, I like
me: huh?
me: oh that makes…
me: no, that doesn’t make sense at all
me: now it’s starting to make sense
me: no, it’s really not… is this dude (is he Sebastian or Aiden?!?! like, originally) inhabiting other people’s bodies?! wtf?!
me: this is such a… weird way to tell this story
me: these people take a lot of naps
me: huh?
me: and also, huh???
me: why I am emotionally invested in Evelyn Hardcastle and who murdered (or didn’t… and also keeps murdering) her?
me: I accept my emotional investment in these people, how many ever of them are in one body at the same damn time
me: still a little bit huh?
me: omg, I did not expect that!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
me: that was a ridiculous and perfect ending! it should not be the same ending with those two words
me: I’ve gotta read this again
me: also, Stuart Turton, sir? are you writing a prequel? a sequel? a series? more to explain the twist? I’d totally read them! I have no idea why, but I will!

(Many thanks to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Landmark for the ARC copy of this book, which I reviewed in happy confusion, or tried to, with all honesty.)

“Bunburry – Murder at the Mousetrap” by Helena Marchmont

“A pessimist is never disappointed.”

I like that line in Helena Marchmont’s Bunburry – Murder at the Mousetrap. It’s very relatable to my philosophy in life, whether accidentally or on purpose. It is, however, not the only line in Marchmont’s book that I like because…

I like them all!

I’ve only read a pair of cozy mysteries, that I remember, and they and I did not get along well. Things are definitely looking up now that I’ve read this. I adore this, absolutely adore it! I could not love it more!

(I should say here, before you think “hmm, that seems a little extra… they must be paying her to say that”… no, I am not being paid to say this. I honestly mean every word. Though I did receive an advance copy through NetGalley and Bastei Entertainment in exchange for an honest review, and this is my honest review.)

Bunburry is a tiny, fictional town in the Cotswolds of England (where I want to go) which is famous for it’s fudge. The fudge, to be fair, plays a minor role in the story. Far bigger is the AA. Not Alcoholic’s Anonymous, as main character Alfie McAlister thinks first, but Agatha’s Amateurs. Every year, for charity, a small, unique band of Bunburrians (idk, maybe that’s what they’d be called?) puts on a production of Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap.” This year, as Alfie arrives, having inherited his Aunt Augusta’s cottage, there has been a death… a death which adorable busybodies Liz and Marge quickly decide is murder.

Murder!

But, as they say, whodunit?!

You’ll have to read the book to find out. And you really should read the book to find out. Really. Just go read the book, it’s on sale tomorrow (September 1, 2018) so you really don’t have any excuses, do you? No.

Now that I’ve given you a plot summary, here are the reasons I love this book and think you should read it too…

This is the first book in a series (yay!) so a portion of it is world-building of sorts. But what a good world it is! The village of Bunburry is idyllic, one with lots of secrets and unique characters. I want to live there, murdered amateur directors aside. There is a mix of young and old, the characters ranging from hard-working young married couples with some marital problems to the very elderly with some medical problems. The plot is typical but not so much that it’s tired. It keeps the story moving and helps introduce the cast of characters I want to spend time with. It’s a quick read, as cozy mysteries seem to be, so saying to much risks giving something away and, as I said, I really need everyone to read this book with me!

One last thing I’d like to say is this… are male leads a thing in cozy mysteries? Because it struck me as unique that Alfie McAlister, a man, is the lead in this story. Unique in a good way, for sure. Alfie is the perfect character to get me interested and there are so many questions about his story that are unanswered that I will, without a doubt, read more of the Bunburry series!

Thanks to the author, Bastei Entertainment, and NetGalley for introducing me to this world!

“Riding into Battle: Canadian Cyclists in the Great War” by Ted Glenn

The Great War, the War to End All Wars, World War I… whatever you like to call it (especially since it was ‘great, definitely did not prevent any future wars at all, and was followed by another world war not a full quarter century later) often seems ignored compared to World War II. You can watch Hitler and the Nazis for days on pretty much any television channel that deals a bit with history. It seems to take a special event to get attention for the First World War to get it’s due.

I do realize this may have something to do with far less film footage being available but… still.

In any case, I developed an addiction to World War I fiction a few years ago (Birdsong, A Farewell to Arms, The Cartographer of No Man’s Land – all recommended absolutely) but I’ve never been brave enough to try a history of battle, despite all the histories I’ve read of World War II. So seeing Ted Glenn’s Riding into Battle: Canadian Cyclists in the Great War available for request, I jumped at the chance. After all, I had no idea that cyclists were used in battle in war so it seemed as good a place as any to start.

And I was lucky enough to be granted a copy. And I only have one regret.*

I learned so much from this history of a very specific part of the First World War. It was quick, it was engrossing, and made me very much want to move on to more non-fiction accounts of that war.

Anybody got any suggestions?

*and that is that I have an e-ARC and maps would be soooooo much easier to see and follow in a physical copy so, should the kind people at Dundurn or Mr. Glenn want to allow me to read it again, but better, I’d happily accept a physical copy. I am not to proud to humbly beg!

I received a copy of Riding into Battle: Canadian Cyclists in the Great War through NetGalley via Dundurn in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts are my own.

“Better Than This” by Cathy Zane

This book was a roller coaster ride, and not always in the most thrilling of ways.

It is the story of a screwed up marriage, between Sarah and Robert (he’s old enough to be her father) who share a six year old daughter.

The marriage is screwed up ostensibly because of the age difference, because Sarah is a poor, small town girl with a sketchy family while Robert is a rich, successful businessman from one of the richest families in Seattle.

None of this is entirely true. Not really, because Sarah’s friends are torn between thinking Robert is a narcissistic gaslighter and fantastic guy. All while Sarah’s changing herself completely to fit with the vision of a wife he wants.

Which is fine. It seemed like a good, important story about the dynamics of marriage and how it can go bad so very quickly. But then… then we went totally off the rails and the deeper message of Sarah’s struggle for independence was almost entirely negated by how things are ‘resolved.’

******spoilers beyond this point*****

Sarah’s independence is not tied to her breaking free of Robert’s controlling and abusive behavior. Sarah gets her independence when Robert comes out of the closet and she feels somehow finally free because he has claimed the freedom to be who he wants.

It feels like a disservice is done to women and to the LGBT community.

But I’ll give it two stars because I did finish it. It only deserves one because that ending.

Better Than This is on sale August 28, 2018.

(I received a copy of Better Than This through NetGalley and She Writes Press in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts are my own.)

“Auschwitz Lullaby” by Mario Escobar

The trouble with fictionalized memoirs and biographies of people who actually existed is, can be that fiction can risk trivializing reality, risk making something real seem so different from what it was that the meaning is changed. In the case of Mario Escobar’s Auschwitz Lullaby, it risks making the Nazi ‘Angel of Death’ Josef Mengele seem almost sympathetic at times. Escobar took the risk and defeated it.

He balances every sign of hope, from Mengele, and counters it with the bleak desperation that pervaded every moment of every day at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The true hope is provided in the form of the semi-fictionalized Helene Hanneman. A woman named Helene, German and ‘Aryan’, did find herself interned at Auschwitz because she married a Romani Gypsy man and their children were going to be deported so she went with them. As she was a German woman, Josef Mengele chose her, in reality and in this story, to run a nursery school he set up for Gypsy children and twins. If you know history, you know of Mengele’s twin studies and experiments. If you know of that, you know that there is nothing good in what Josef Mengele did.

Escobar makes it clear that Helene knew that. She knows that for everything he gives, there is something that he takes. It’s a balance that’s worth doing because it means a moment of hope.

That she used him as much as he used her, at least in terms of this book, is truly impressive and a light of hope in the darkness.

It’s hard to say more, given what is widely known and what might spoil the message of this book. Suffice it to say, I didn’t know as much about the Gypsy existence at Auschwitz as I thought I did, and I am happy to learn more now, and I cannot recommend this book enough.

(I received a copy of Auschwitz Lullaby from NetGalley and Thomas Nelson in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts are my own.)

“Brave Enough” by Kati Gardner

As a kid, I had a thing for Lurlene McDaniel books. Do you remember them? Girl gets terrible disease, girl falls in love with boy, girl usually dies, tragedy and heartbreak abound. That was the definite, general theme. And I got them out of my elementary school library every chance kind Mrs. Wisinski would let me. Then my sister honed in on my book love and suddenly loved them even more. Which was both annoying and fine, because they were basically the only things she read by choice until Harry Potter happened and I have book love for all the books.

I digress.

Kati Gardner’s Brave Enough is like Lurlene McDaniel’s books, and I wonder if Gardner read them too. Not they’re copies or too similar and not unique. Brave Enough is rather fantastic all on it’s own.

It starts with what is typical for contemporary YA novels – a talented girl has dreams beyond the place where her life currently is, a boy is a little damaged and trying hard to be good, the girl meets the boy, the girl is determined not to like the boy…

There are things in the story that sometimes seem a little extreme, a little forced. Cason, the talented ballerina with dreams of dancing in New York City, gets a very extreme cancer and Davis, the damaged boy who dealt and took a lot of drugs after surviving cancer, are a little, I apologize for using the word again, extreme. But these things happen.

Also, I have never been addicted to drugs nor have I dealt them. I have not survived cancer and I don’t know anyone who was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma as Cason is. Those things being said, I have to let Gardner be my guide on what is right and appropriate for Cason and Davis. Even when things get a bit repetitive, I trust in Gardner that the struggle she describes is real.

Cason’s mother, Natalie, undergoes the most profound evolution in the story, She goes from being the micromanager of the Atlanta Ballet Company and a ‘momager’ who would give Kris Jenner a run for her money to someone who learns that she is a mother first and that no mother can endure the burden of a sick child alone.

While Cason and Davis, with their budding and inevitable romance, are fine, it really is the cast of supporting characters that make Brave Enough work. Heather, Dr. Henderson, Mari, Jase, Noah, eventually Natalie… they come together to make sure that Cason and Davis have the support system they need to survive and endure. Maybe that’s the most important lesson to take away from the book – be brave enough to both rely on your friends and to let your friends rely on you. It’s the only way we might get from this day to the next.

(I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own.)