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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“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!

“The Sisters of Blue Mountain” by Karen Katchur

I expected this book to be more… intense. It kind of fizzled thanks to the bulk of the motivating factors (i.e. random dead animals) being unrelated to the actual plot of the story. The plot itself was relatable, in that I have a sister and we don’t always communicate well but we love each other more deeply than can be defined with words, but these sisters had questionable morals and ethics and a shared secret that threatens to pull them apart.

I received a copy of The Sisters of Blue Mountain through NetGalley and Thomas Dunne Books in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own.

Coming of age in 1970s Alaska… you don’t want to miss this book…

As a reader, I’ve seen Kristin Hannah books everywhere. I’ve never bought one. Perhaps this was a mistake. Perhaps it was fate, because I was meant to read this Kristin Hannah book.

Either way, requesting an ARC, being ever so kindly granted an ARC, and reading THE GREAT ALONE over the holidays was the perfect way to end a year and start a new one.

This book is long, 450 pages, but I could not put it down and I read it in five days between Christmas and New Year’s. It’s one of those books you rush through because you can’t stop and then it’s over and you’re sad… until you realize you can read it again, almost like new because you read it so fast, and all is well again.
I’m not the only one who feels that way about books, am I?

Anyway, I started reading this tale of wild, untamed Alaska at what might seem like an inopportune moment because I live in Erie and for Christmas Erie got… sixty-some inches of snow in the two days before I started this book. I mean, who wants to read about Arctic weather while you are living it?

Me. Apparently.

I knew this for a fact when I started the book and got to 12% without looking up long enough to realize it had snowed another two inches. This after days of being a little weather-obsessed.

Hannah has created a masterpiece for me with this story. The backdrop of remote, unpredictable Alaska being combined with the struggles of a Vietnam POW and a coming of age story for a teenage girl is immediately haunting and magical.

Ernt Allbright is listless and tormented in regular life after surviving years as a POW during the Vietnam War. He loves his wife, Cora, and his thirteen year old daughter, Leni, but he doesn’t know how to… he doesn’t know how to be. So when a man named Earl Harlan writes to tell him that his son Bo, who died in Vietnam, would want Ernt to have his land in Alaska, the Allbrights leave Seattle for Alaska.

Earl, as it turns out, is more commonly known as Mad Earl and spends his days with his family in a compound that’s part survivalist, part doomsday prepper, and part anarchist. Mad Earl brings Ernt into the fold and they feed off each other, creating a powder keg that’s always ready to spark. More so for Ernt and the demons he battles from the war.

Leni makes friends in Alaska, despite it all, even developing a crush on a boy. The boy is the son of the man Ernt thinks has eyes for Cora, which doesn’t help anything. The tiny town rallies around Cora and Leni as Ernt begins to beat his wife. The tragedy is that Cora doesn’t think there’s any way out, that as long as Ernt doesn’t hit Leni, that he still loves her…

Her constant refrain to her daughter is that “I wish you remembered him before…” and that becomes a sort of theme for the novel. Everyone has a Before and sometimes it’s all you can do to hold tight and fast to that fleeting memory.

As I said, rural Alaska provides a deadly backdrop for the topics and threads that Hannah weaves seamlessly together. Domestic abuse, coming of age, race relations in the 1970s, mental health care for veterans, political beliefs, the wealthy versus the poor, how the law treats women and how it treats men…

There are parts of THE GREAT ALONE that could seem a little forced, a little too perfect. I think they work. They’re forgivable because of everything else that this book is. I can’t go into too much detail because they’re spoilers and I very much need for you to read this book asap.

Seriously. I know this makes for a terrible review but, let’s face it, if you’re following me, reading my reviews… we have similar tastes in books so there’s a strong you’ll love this book as much as I did. Do. Definitely still love this book.

The rest of the books I’m going to read in 2018, be warned. The bar has been set HIGH.

(Also, if you’re seeing this on the book page on Goodreads or something… just get it. You already want to. You won’t regret it.)

(I received a copy of THE GREAT ALONE from NetGalley & the publisher in exchange for an honest & original review. All thoughts are my own.)

Russia, Russia, Russia… this time in fiction, probably

Russia, Russia, Russia.

No, this isn’t a current events article on the state of things in the world. It could be (and that’s kind of frightening) but it’s not.

This is a review of Karen Cleveland’s spy thriller NEED TO KNOW.

The synopsis as posted on NetGalley, who were kind enough to grant me an ARC of the book, kind of, sort of seems to give away the game in that I knew when I thought ‘yes! I want to read that!’ that a CIA analyst’s husband works as a Russian sleeper agent. That’s why I hit ‘request’ on the page, because it sounded good. And yet the reveal scene, where Vivian finds out that Matt is not actually Matt at all, is really intense. When it shouldn’t be… because I knew he was going to be a Russian agent. So kudos for that reveal!

The theme of the book, even more than Russian sleeper agents everywhere!, seems to be the question of just what would you do if, say, you were a CIA analyst (specializing in Russia, of course) and you found out your husband (and the father of your four children) had been a Russian agent for two decades, give or take. What would you do if, say, he said “no, I never told them anything about you or your work” and “you have to turn me in” in the same breath? Do you believe him? Do you still believe him as more and more lies drip out? Do you find that you still love him despite the lies and despite the fact that you’re now stuck in a giant hole whose walls are about to collapse?

Vivian errs on the side of what seems to be self-preservation. That’s understandable. It’s also questionable. It makes her look pretty terrible at her job, when she’s supposed to be this expert at uncovering handlers and ringleaders, so that the CIA can find the agents. Vivian tells the story of dealing with the revelation about Matt (Alexander) in the present tense, which does make for very intense, dramatic storytelling. She flashes back to earlier moments in their relationship in the past tense, which makes for not the most compelling portrait of her intelligence gathering skills.

Can love really make a person so blind that, as a new mother in a new marriage, you’re not like “I don’t know, honey, I like working the Africa desk… why do you think it’s so important I move to the Russia section? And, you know, not stay home with the kids?”

I don’t know. I’m not a CIA agent (thanks to those who are, I could never be one), but Karen Cleveland was in the CIA so I’ll take her word for it, despite my questions. And maybe those questions, maybe Vivian not being super great at her job, at least as it relates to her personal life, are what makes it such a compelling story, one that I could not put down.

There is an ‘80s Cold War vibe to NEED TO KNOW, which is fun and intense. It doesn’t seem out of place either, since there’s a ‘80s Cold War vibe to the present day, which is less fun and more intense.

It’s a quick read. It’s an intense read. It’d make a great tv show. It’s fun! If you like thrillers and espionage, with a touch of romance, please be getting this book!

P.S. I feel like there could be a sequel, given the reveals that end the book. I would definitely read a sequel!

3.75/5 stars

(I received a copy of NEED TO KNOW through NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own. My review is posted on Goodreads, NetGalley, and my blog.)

spoiler alert: The Founding Fathers hated each other…

So… “Hamilton” is a thing. You can’t get much more all-American than George Washington. Jefferson created the basis for the laws we still follow today. And there are a handful of other Founding Fathers we learn about in elementary school, and then probably forget unless somebody asks us “who is on the $1 bill?” or their birthday means we get a day off from work or school.

But do you know what we don’t learn about the Founding Fathers in elementary school?

That they kinda hated each other with an awesome sort of passion.

I sort of knew this, especially since Alexander Hamilton was the sort of guy who would duel and be killed by Aaron Burr, the Vice President!

There is so much more to the feuds of the Founding Fathers, though. So very much more. And Paul Aron lays it all out brilliantly in FOUNDING FEUDS.

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If you ever need a good, old-timey insult to fling at somebody during a political debate (and who doesn’t need an insult in a political debate?), look no further than the Founding Fathers. After all, Aron cites William Cobbett saying of Thomas Paine (English and European, but also greatly influencing the creation of America was we know it):

How Tom gets a living now, or what brothel he inhabits, I know not. Whether his carcass is at last to be suffered to rot on the earth, or to be dried in the air, is of very little consequence… Like Judas he will be remembered by posterity; men will learn to express all that is base, malignant, treacherous, unnatural and blasphemous, by the singly monosyllable, Paine.

And they were friends! (Sometimes.)

But that’s just a taste.

It’s really not surprising that they showed and shared such a deep-rooted dislike for and distrust of one another. Their egos and senses of self had to be huge to think they could start a revolution and found a country. No way they could all peacefully co-exist without proverbial, and sometimes literal, bloodshed.

So if you need a break from the political bickering that’s currently and always ongoing, I could not recommend something more than I can recommend this book. The vaunted Founding Fathers argued in a much classier way, and they weren’t afraid to mince their words. It’s great!

(I received a copy of FOUNDING FEUDS through NetGalley and SOURCEBOOKS in exchange for an honest & original review. All thoughts are my own.)

“A Want of Kindness” by Joanne Limburg

33271065If I have a weakness when it comes to books, a fail-safe fallback genre, it is historical fiction. Specifically historical fiction based on queens and kings. Specifically based on queens and kings of England. Show me a queen on a cover or in a blurb and I will read that book.

It is not, therefore, at all surprising that I was excited to read Joanne Limburg’s A WANT OF KINDNESS.

To make it even more appealing, her story is centered on Queen Anne of England. Queen Anne, if you don’t know, is not like either Queen Elizabeth, Queen Victoria, Queen Mary, or the wives of Henry VIII who were queens who did not rule. Queen for only five years, her reign was neither glamorous nor marked by controversy nor long enough to qualify for Hollywood films. She was the second oldest daughter of King James II and she succeeded the William III, who had ruled jointly with her sister, Mary. She was the last monarch from the House of Stuart, as she died childless. Childless despite at least seventeen pregnancies and only one child, a son, surviving as far as age 11. She was married from 1677 until her husband’s death in 1708. So her story is one of tragedy, on the whole, and yet the beauty of a reportedly loving marriage despite so much tragedy.

This, perhaps not surprisingly, does not make the sort of thing Hollywood believes it can make money on. And, to be honest, it probably can’t.

It’s really too bad.

I first learned about Queen Anne in my college English history class, and even the professor talked about seventeen pregnancies and no children. And then we moved quickly on, because Queen Victoria was coming after some Georges. I have thought about her sometimes since, wanting to know more but never wanting it badly enough to search out a biography. I’m a terrible history buff sometimes!

But this book, this fictionalized account of Queen Anne’s life from her childhood to her ascension, is really quite incredible. Possibly because, despite not having the glitz, glamour, intrigue, and longevity of the more famous queens, she lived in an incredible time. She was at the center of religious upheaval. She had seen her father, her uncle, and her grandfather struggle in their reigns. She witnessed wars with France and Spain and the Netherlands.

So Limburg’s fictionalized account Anne’s life is not what can usually be read about queens and kings. The intrigue is not romantic. She never had affairs, though it could be argued from her letters – actual things Anne wrote that Limburg uses to illustrate the story – that she had something bordering on romantic love for Sarah Churchill. She tried to do good, for herself and her family, for her country, and for all. And she succeeded, most of the time, even if it never really seems like it. And the reason it never really seems like it is because she never gets her happy ending. Never gets the things she wants more than any other.

Queen Anne deserves more recognition as an important part of British history. She truly is one of the most tragic, yet interesting rulers of England I have read about. And Limburg’s portrayal makes her all the more fascinating and charismatic.

If you have a weakness for this genre, and don’t mind a distinct lack of bursting corsets and illicit rendezvous in shadowy corners, this book is a definite Must Read.

(I received a copy of A WANT OF KINDNESS through NetGalley and Pegasus Books in exchange for an honest & original review. All thoughts are my own.)