Giveaway – BotM: The Woman in Cabin 10

Happy Monday, everyone!! Mondays are not my thing at all (are they anyone’s?), but today I’m super excited because I finally got my shit together and am ready to post another giveaway! I love giveaways. Winning them is great, of course, but I love being able to give stuff away and put some surprise happiness in another bookworm’s life.

I got a Book of the Month subscription box for August, and somehow their system goofed and sent me TWO identical boxes! When I contacted them about the error, they said to keep it or give it away. Since obviously I don’t need TWO of everything (except maybe 50 million copies of Outlander, but that’s besides the point) and wanted to pass the love along to my lovely blog readers. I appreciate every one of you that takes time to read, like, and comment – it truly makes my day! 🙂

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The box includes not only a hardcover edition of The Woman in Cabin 10 – yours will be wrapped, I substituted my copy for this pic so you could see the cover – but also a very sturdy, roomy canvas tote and a hilarious wine coozy thing. Due to outrageous international shipping costs, I’m sorry to have to make this giveaway US only. I’ll try to have another international one soon! It’s open from now until next Tuesday at midnight (Seoul time). Enter using the Rafflecopter linked below and share, share, share! Good luck!

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Book Review: Royal Blood

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Royal Blood is the 4th in Rhys Bowen’s Her Royal Spyness series, a string of historical cozy mysteries set between World War I and World War II that don’t take themselves too seriously. I guess cozy mysteries usually don’t, at least not anymore. I’m still a bit confused as to why Agatha Christie is so often classed as a cozy mystery author, as I definitely get chill bumps from more than a few of her books! Anyway. These are typically well researched regarding historical accuracy, which is a large part of their charm.

I like the time period of these little novels, and the fact that they’re set in England. Georgie is an amusing, endearing heroine and the rest of the cast of characters surrounding her is original and quirky enough to keep me reading. I like that the family storyline moves along just a little in each book so far, not hitting you with it all of once. It continues the line of being very tame with lots of dropped hints and some innuendo, but nothing your 13 year old couldn’t read. It’s definitely written for adults, it’s just very mild and nothing at all racy even though there are repeated allusions to people’s sexual activity or preferences. I felt like Georgia’s relationship with Darcy progressed a little in this book, and more than just the heart-fluttering romance of it – I feel like they are getting closer as people, not just as a crush or an obsession.

This one moved slower than the other 3 that I’ve read. The actual crime event didn’t take place until page 142 (out of 305). The mystery part was, I thought, very far-fetched. The ending was rushed and contrived, just way too convenient. I did some serious eye-rolling. I did like the way all the creepy, “Transylvania” vibes everyone was so jumpy about, were explained logically. Given the setting, I was a little afraid that this one was going to descend into the paranormal. Nothing wrong with paranormal, but in a historical mystery…please spare me. So yay, that was good.

Overall, 3/5 stars. It needed more mystery, less build-up. Also a more satisfactory ending rather than just a sudden explanation, which was what it felt like. I’m definitely going to continue on with the series, but that’s because of how much I enjoyed the previous books, not this one.

Looking Forwards and Back #2 – August/September

Yes, yes, I know. The first week of September is nearly gone. I had a rough end to August/start to September, so this is super late. But as always, better late than never.

Here’s what actually ended up happening for August:

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Only 8 this month (just one book over HALF of what I read in July…yikes). And below are all the covers! I love looking at them all together. Especially since between the library books and ebooks I don’t get to see them all together in person. Haha. Yes, I am shallow. 😛 Just like before, each cover is linked to my review on GoodReads, and the titles are linked to Book Depository.

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The Vanishing Throne
The Hatching
Alice
Love & Gelato
Labyrinth Lost
Sabriel
The Secret Place
Imprudence

This is my list for this month…no less grandiose, for all my failure at getting anywhere CLOSE to finishing my list last month. Haha.

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Believe it or not, I’ve actually already made progress! I’ve finished or started these:

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Most excited about (yes, Dream Thieves is a repeat, somehow I didn’t get to it last month!):

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I guess we’ll see how I do! I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone else is reading this month. I know there is a TON of shiny new releases coming out in September, none of which are in my hot little hands as of yet. 😦 So I will just have to live vicariously, I guess!

Book Review: The Secret Place

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Find it on GoodReads
Get your own copy – I love the cover on the UK version!

I don’t usually get all the feels when reading a murder mystery. For me mysteries are generally all about the who/what/where/when/why and how the detective figure puts all that together into a solution. But Tana French’s 5th Dublin Murder Squad book, The Secret Place, gave me the feels.

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Somehow, she manages to intrigue me in every single book, even though the POV character changes each time. Unlike most mystery series (at least in my experience), while there are familiar characters in each one, usually we just see a very brief appearance of the people from the last book in the current one. After there first book, the subsequent book’s main character has also been seen briefly in the previous one. I love this foreshadowing, even if I was completely and totally distraught when I started the second book and realized we weren’t going to see Rob again. Still not over it. Still begging to know what happens to him. Ms. French, are you listening?

I love beautiful; always have. I never saw why I should hate what I wish I had. Love it harder. Work your way closer. Clasp your hands around it tighter. Till you find a way to make it yours.

The Secret Place delves into the world of priviledged upper class high school girls, a very slender sliver of the population and as full of vitriol and poison as Henry VIII’s court ever was. I was skeptical going in…how accurate could it be? I was really afraid that it might end up one of those books that sounds like the author is trying desperately to be young again and only succeeds in dating herself by her generation’s slang. But no. Without compromising her usually sparkling prose in the slightest, Ms. French absorbs us into this cut-a-bitch world. God, I’m so glad I didn’t go to this kind of school. Scary AF. Remember little Holly Mackey, from Faithful Place? Well, she’s back and almost-all-grown-up. Still just as smart and sassy, with a slight tinge of…

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Holly’s holding her own in this den of lions, along with a very tight group of her friends. They’re having some growing pains, but they’re mostly of the first-world variety. Despite that, they’re actually quite compelling. Much more than I was expecting. I hope Holly appears again. Maybe she’ll eventually join the murder squad herself? Oooo. Now there’s a thought. But I’m getting sidetracked.

My body my mind the way I dress the way I walk…mine all mine.

This book was a lot about the politics and emotions of being a teenager. Yes, teenagers have what I would term politics. In what was a bit of a departure from the previous books (for me) – I guessed the murderer somewhere between page 62 and 101. I kept expecting some huge plot twist and I did doubt myself A LOT, but still. Also, Detective Moran was probably the most…unoriginal narrator she’s had yet. That was helped by the alternating viewpoints – yes, Moran was in the 1st person, but that alternated with chapters in 3rd person from the girls’ POV. Moran is likable but just kind of…there. Now Antoinette Conway, the female detective Moran thrown in with for this case? There’s a bitch I’d like to have at my back, and I mean that in the best possible way. I am SO EXCITED that she’s coming back for The Trespasser!

Also, this is the first time French has had anything but the strictly statistically or scientifically provable events/actions in her books. Trying not to spoil here, but I was really nonplussed by a particular set of occurrences that is never fully explained. I guess that really does happen in real life sometimes, but I have a really hard time extending my reality this far. She actually addressed this in a Q&A on GoodReads (link but DEFINITE SPOILERS here!!), and that made me feel a little better but I still think it should have been clarified better in the book itself.

They can’t tell you what it’s going to be like…in the reek of ragwort and the milk of broken dandelion stems.

Yes, I’m glad I didn’t go to this kind of school. Pretty sure the sensitive, insecure girl I was in high school would have been flayed alive. At the same time, I’m really sad I didn’t have the kind of experiences Holly and her friends have – and the friends. Despite all their issues…these girls will remember each other, always. 20 years down the road, just thinking of the others will bring back not only memories of things seen but things touched, things tasted, heartache and hope.

4/5 stars.I always find mysteries hard to review without giving spoilers. Also I was a BAD BOOK REVIEWER and returned the library book BEFORE COPYING THE QUOTES I WANTED. Ack!!! Hence the short quotes/lack of quotes.

Looking Forwards and Back #1 – July/August

Everyone seems to be doing a monthly recap and projection type deal, so here is mine! I keep my lists in my traveler’s notebook bullet journal. It goes with me everywhere. I love using stamps for it as I think my print handwriting looks horrible.

The arrows are titles I moved to August.

Here is what July looked like at month’s end! Now I did read I think 2 books that aren’t on that list…it felt like cheating to add them on at the end, so I didn’t. Haha. I’m anal retentive, what can I say. Below is the list in picture form! Each cover is linked to my review on GoodReads, and the titles are linked to Book Depository. Which brings me to this small announcement: I’ve become a Book Depository affiliate! This just means that if you use a link from my site to buy a book, I’ll receive a small commission. I’d really like to switch my servers but that costs money! So I’m hoping to offset the cost a little…but even if it doesn’t, I’ll probably switch soon anyway…just because I love writing about this stuff and want my site to be a little more user friendly.

Oh! And before you get entirely bored reading my list – remember to enter the A Court of Thorns and Roses giveaway I have running right now! Have I mentioned how much I love this series yet? Yes? Let me reiterate. If you have even a shred of interest in fantasy, you need to go read them now. And don’t let some of the eye-rolling moments or unlikeable characters in the first one throw you off. It gets better. MUCH better. The second one gets an unreserved 5 stars from me. Anywho.

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July Books Read and Reviewed – I’m kind of impressed that I managed 14 books this month! That’s a lot for me. A few of them didn’t get reviews, but that’s ok. Not every book is meant to be reviewed! 😀

Wild
A Killing in the Hills
The Falconer
The Graces
Jackaby
A Court of Thorns and Roses
A Court of Mist and Fury
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
The Cuckoo’s Calling
My Lady Jane
Vinegar Girl
When You Reach Me
Diary of a Wimpy Kid
The Blind Astronomer’s Daughter


Aaaaaaand – August! This is my projected list for this month. I think I’m probably attempting to overextend myself again (as it’s now August 4 and I have yet to finish a book), but oh well. If I didn’t have to sleep, this would be my list. We’ll see what falls off in the course of the month. All covers link to GoodReads.

So far I have started (yes, my monogamous book-reading ways seem to have fallen by the wayside this summer):

I am most excited about these right at the moment:

These are older, backlist books that have been recommended by different friends that I managed to find at my library:

I have ARCs of (I’m so excited about these! I haven’t had too many early review copies yet so even Netgalley copies are all still shiny and new to me):

The few that aren’t pictured are series continuations that I’ve slowly been working my way through. Also I’m tired of linking. 😛 So many books, so little time! I’ve really enjoyed seeing what the book blogging community has been up to and is looking forward to – hope you enjoyed my rundown!

Book Review: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Publisher’s BlurbIt is the summer of 1950–and at the once-grand mansion of Buckshaw, young Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison, is intrigued by a series of inexplicable events: A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Then, hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath.

For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw. “I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.”

Unplanned mini review! This came in the mail unexpectedly on Friday, and after my immense book hangover (still recovering) from ACOMAF it seemed different enough to maybe help. It was lovely. On a completely different plane than ACOMAF, but that was what I needed and I enjoyed it so much I had to write a review. Even if I’m missing my usual notebook photo because I, er, didn’t actually take notes. 😛

This book was an immensely enjoyable read. It’s well written, witty, and overall well researched and put together. The characters are believable and fleshed out. Believable? With an 11-year-old chemist for a protagonist? Yes. Yes, indeed. I was surprised, because I when I read the premise I thought it would be a rare writer that could pull it off. Bradley manages it. Here’s why.

As someone who was – not meaning to toot my own horn here – a very precocious child myself, with interests far outside of most of my peers, and very, very lonely until I gave up on the idea of having real friends and devoted myself to books until people grew up enough (yes, I distinctly remember having thoughts, at about Flavia’s age, that no one except a rare adult or two understood me at all but maybe when my “friends” grew up they might) – I found her to be not only believable but immensely charming. There, was that sentence long enough? I wish I had known someone like Flavia as a child. I’m sure my parents are grateful I didn’t. I didn’t ever have the brazenness she exhibits, probably because my parents were not eccentric explorers or gentry like hers. Also she was growing up in the 50s, when it was generally much safer than the 90s to allow your children to run all over town and not worry about them until dinner. I would also have been much better off if I had been able to come to her conclusion about the rest of the world at an earlier age, but, c’est la vie.

I was me. I was Flavia. And I loved myself, even if no one else did.

Flavia is an astute observer and is without many of the filters that an adult narrator would have. While the mystery itself is nothing very deep, it’s the setting and the characters that populate the story that made me love it so much (and immediately set about procuring the next one!). Flavia’s inner commentary is by turns shrewd and naive – something else Bradley managed to strike just the right balance on to maintain the believability of her 11 years.

It’s a fact of life that a girl can tell in a flash if another girl likes her…With a boy you can never know whether he’s smitten or gagging, but with a girl you can tell in the first three seconds.

Then there are all the delightful references to literature and culture thrown in, which just added to the charm. I love meeting people who’ve read the same books I have!

“I was hardly surprised to read that he (Flavia’s father) had named his first two offspring after a Shakespearean hysteric and a Greek pincushion.”

In short, I just want to go visit and meet all these people, because I feel like despite their eccentricities I would like them very much. I really hope that Bradley lets us get to know them and their histories better. Especially Dogger. Dogger is just so sweet and yet so broken…I want to know more about what made him that way. Also I definitely want to see Flavia grow up! She reminds me, slightly, of Anne of Green Gables, only with a scientific bent instead of literary.

5/5 stars. It maybe should have been 4/5, due to what was, in hindsight, a rather shallow mystery aspect…but I enjoyed the reading of it so much I can’t help myself. 5 stars it is!

Book Review: A Killing in the Hills

Dun-dun-dun-dun. Isn’t that just such a foreboding title? The title alone was actually what made me first notice this book (unfortunately I don’t remember if it was on a blog post or my random wanderings through the long halls of GoodReads). Then, oh hey! It’s set in West Virginia – which has a real soft spot in my heart, due to my absolute favorite childhood place being my great-grandparents’ farm there.

Unfortunately, I was ultimately disappointed with A Killing in the Hills, which was author Julia Keller‘s debut novel (2012). I’m torn between 2.5 and 3 stars out of 5. The issues I had with it were several and overarching and I was in a near-constant state of annoyance.

First. What the everlasting fuck does this author have against teenagers? Carla, the teenage daughter of Bell Elkins, is quite truthfully the flattest character I’ve encountered in a long time. It honestly feels like the author has a personal vendetta against teenagers and took it all out in her writing of Carla. It nearly made me DNF the book, it’s THAT bad. All the way down to her “flying thumbs” on her cell phone. Trust me, we’ve had quite enough of the cell phone cracks. Maybe she just doesn’t have experience with young adults and needed a stock list of characteristics. Sullen? Check. Irresponsible? Check. Drug experimentation? Check. Constantly on the phone? Check. Throwing snarky comments at Mom? Check. Ugh.

Second, I don’t see what the switching of POV to the killer (every few chapters) did for the story. To me you could have left out all those chapters and nothing would have changed. It was just…irritating. Jarring. Trying too hard to be scary.

Speaking of jarring…third problem. Bell’s back story, which is told in flashbacks, felt so familiar. Leftover. Used. Been there done that. The entire story is pretty darn predictable, but especially this part. It felt like the author was trying to be sensational or thriller-like, and in the process just borrowed pieces from popular books in the genre. Sigh.

So, why did I even finish it? I’m not someone who feels bad about tossing a book onto my DNF stack. Life is too short to waste on books that make me want to pull my hair out or have me rolling my eyes every 30 seconds.

The one thing Julia Keller is good at (and maybe I should have seen this coming, since her Pulitzer was for journalism) – is describing her setting. I could have sworn I was walking right down the main drag in my grandparents’ town, Backwoods, WV. Which also happened to be the county seat, just like this one. In fact, there were enough similarities to make me suspect she used their town as the model! Her similes are rather drawn out and overly wordy (see what I did there?), but in her place descriptions they are mostly bearable.

It was a shabby afterthought of a town tucked in the notch between two peaks of the Appalachian Mountains, like the last letter stuck in a mail slot after the post office has closed down for keeps. 

Then there were some spot-on characterizations of the locals accompanied by lines here and there that did genuinely make my heart ache. But, sadly those moments were short-lived and few, and often accompanied by much telling as opposed to showing.

A lot of the people in Raythune County felt invisible. They felt marginalized, forgotten….Being on television, even if it was only to say, Yessir, we’re all pretty darned scared ’round here after that awful shooting’, no question ’bout it, might be the high point of their lives.

Overall…I can’t recommend this one, sadly. Not even in hopes of a sequel. I don’t have enough time to read as it is, and while I’m mildly curious as to what will happen to a couple of the characters in this book, I highly doubt that mild curiosity will ever overcome my massive TBR enough to bump the second of this series to the top. Which, somehow, has accumulated five books. I honestly don’t know how.

I’m taking the time to write this because I wasn’t just “meh” about it, I was massively disappointed. West Virginia and it’s people, with all the problems of drugs, unemployment, and violence, is very close to my heart and I feel it could have been given so much better treatment. Not to gloss anything over, but not to throw worn out sermons (re: drug use) at the reader either. Keller tried to convey the beauty and the pain of the place but ultimately I think the unoriginality of her plot and characters will be what stands out to most readers. IMG_3433

Book Review: The Cuckoo’s Calling

Public Service Announcement: Robert Galbraith = J.K. Rowling, of Harry Potter fame and the almost-singlehanded ensurer of the continuation of the love of reading in the Millennial Generation. Pretty sure most people know that already but just in case, I wanted to put it out there. Knowing that really affected my expectations of this book – whether that’s good, bad, or indifferent I’m really not sure.

The Cuckoo’s Calling (1st in the Cormoran Strike series, 2013) is Rowling’s attempt at a detective novel aimed at fans of hard-boiled crime. I had such ridiculously high hopes for this book! Which, I am happy to report – I found mostly met and justified. Overall I think “hard-boiled” is a bit overstated, as Rowling (I can not refer to her as Galbraith, so help me) seems to shy away from anything particularly descriptive as far as violence or sex, though the language is colorful at times.

We’re first introduced to the secondary main character, Robin – I can’t think of her in anything but that term, because while yes, there are technically TWO main characters, Robin and Strike, Robin is decidedly in the background.

Robin might be a pretty girl, but she could not hold a candle to the woman he had just left.

Oh, but our down-and-out, recently single detective, Cormoran Strike, is so impressed by her efficiency and intelligence, despite her “lack” of physical charms. Which is ironic, given the manner of their first meeting (but I’ll leave that for you to discover yourself). Strike’s ex, Charlotte, while in the background for most of this story, is left not completely tied up. I’m thinking her story is far from finished.

From Charlotte he had learned that the kind of money he had never known could coexist with unhappiness and savagery.

I was a little worried in the beginning that this was going to dive off into the realm of detective love story, seeing as a good portion of the first 75 pages was dedicated to the “whose-fucking-who” of the book…but to my great relief it was left alone for the vast majority of the pages after. The love life of the protagonists is set, but definitely in the background. Phew. Much applause.

The writing is no less than I would expect from someone of Rowing’s caliber. Smooth, flowing, and she manages to weave the threads of so many different stories together so deftly that I found myself interested in them all and yet not getting lost in them (unlike my disastrous attempt at reading Game of Thrones…by the time I was at something like chapter 5 I was so lost in the incest and many different narrators I didn’t know which way was up). There is of course, the murder mystery…which involves both the victim, supermodel Lula Landry, and several members of her family with their own stories. Strike, with his shady and rather convoluted past. Robin, perhaps the most straightforward character of them all but also with the most relatable story for many of us that were spared an abnormal childhood. Lula’s story is convoluted and part of the fun for me was watching Strike weave in and out and around the maze around her.

Rowling is her usual stellar self when it comes to description, entertaining both my brain and my inner ear with her prose. Her style works very well for me…none of the odd turns of punctuation, phrasing, or editing that seem to plague authors sometimes.

When her mouth puckered into hard little lines around the cigarette, it looked like a cat’s anus.

Oh dear god, help me. Did she pluck that ungenerous thought right out of my head? Obviously I am not, as I previously assumed, the only one to be so uncharitable.

“I usually, like, ricochet off the bouncers and they have to push me in.”

I love the way different characters have their own distinctive voices. It isn’t as easy as we might think, to write dialogue in such a way as for the reader to recognize the speaker by reading their lines alone. And she does it pretty consistently.

Strike is also not painted as the dashing hero – and I like that. I like that he is unlikeable, at least in the beginning. Of course by the end I had rather a soft spot for him, but he’s still uncouth and raw and stubborn as hell. He does however, have a keen sense of observation – and one that is believable not only due to what we learn of his background but to little things he says or does throughout the book. To me that is a very important aspect of any mystery novel, because if I can’t believe in the abilities of the detective…well. No. Go.

Overall, I gave this book 4/5 stars on initial reading (which was almost 2 weeks ago). Writing this now, maybe I should have said 3.5/5…but when I finished it, 4/5 was really how I felt. I enjoyed the writing, I liked the characters and I’m really looking forward to the next book because I want to know what happens in their lives. The mystery itself, while finessed and characterized well, wasn’t particularly ingenious but it wasn’t one I guessed within the first hundred pages, either. My feelings on the series could probably go either way, depending on what happens in the next book.

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