Book review: Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I was really looking forward to reading this memoir, and it did not disappoint. Michelle Zauner isn’t perhaps the most likeable person, especially as she relates her childhood, but she is bluntly honest about herself, her relationship with her mother, and her life. A lot of her experiences resonated personally with me, but even if you aren’t the child of immigrants or of mixed race, the themes she writes about–love, family relationships, grief–are universal. The author and her family expressed much of their love through food, and the author’s descriptions of cooking her way through grief were especially poignant.
It’s a straightforward read, and anyone who has dealt with the death of a loved one, especially a parent, will find much to relate to in this breathtakingly honest and heartbreakingly honest memoir. I highly recommend it.



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Book review: Cinderella Must Die by W.R. Gingell

Cinderella Must Die by W.R. Gingell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A re-telling of the Cinderella fairy tale that turns everything you know on its head. In this version, the evil stepsisters are good, and Cinderella is bad. Now the stepsisters are accused of escaping from prison, killing Cinderella, and are on the run. (Just for the record, the statements are true, false, and true.)
The re-telling is creative, imaginative, and fun. The story is irreverent, humorous, and a sly dig about confirmation bias. The romance is a bit deliberately topsy-turvy and quite fitting given the topsy-turvy nature of the story. The book is an enjoyable read and makes you think about all of those traditional fairy tales and how they could be turned upon their heads in a re-telling.
I’ve greatly enjoyed all of this author’s fantasy stories. (I haven’t yet embarked on her urban fantasy series yet.) And I look forward to reading more of her work!



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Book review: The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels by India Holton

The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels by India Holton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


A lighthearted frothy fantasy/romance. The book ostensibly takes place during the Victorian period and has many of the components of a Regency romance (I use “Regency romance” broadly and not at all accurately when it comes to time periods). The author then added elements of magic, several cups of irreverence, and a dash of humor, stirred it, and turned it into a fun, quick, and enjoyable read. It’s a great spring break/summer vacation beach read (or something to read while taking a break from studying).
No great secrets of life imparted–just an easy read if you want to give your mind some rest and relaxation and escape.




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Book review: The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Erik Larson is fast becoming one of my favorite non-fiction authors. Who else could take 2 years from World War II and turn it into compelling reading about Winston Churchill and the war between Britain and Germany?
Quoting from diaries and letters by the main protagonists and their families (and others), the author paints a picture of Winston Churchill and his family, Churchill’s friends, allies, colleagues, and enemies, and the efforts of the British government to meet the German threat and cajole FDR and the Americans into joining the war. It’s all fascinating reading–from the London Blitz to the fancy parties given by the upper crust in defiance of the war, to Hitler’s mischaracterization of Britain to attempts by various Germans to defeat Britain/negotiate peace with Britain. It is an amazing series of events to have been crammed into twenty-four months.
The one weakness of this book is that because the author chose to focus on a two year period, he needed to include a lengthy epilogue to wind up the various story lines of the various characters. It is necessary and well-written and interesting, but it does somewhat detract from the narrative arc of the book. (If I may be so bold, it’s somewhat like the five endings Peter Jackson put into “The Return of the King.”) It makes for an anti-climactic ending.
That being said, if you are interested in history and World War II European theatre history, this is a must read.



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Book review: Death in the Off-Season by Francine Mathews

Death in the Off-Season by Francine Mathews

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


First in a mystery series. (Because, of course, why finish any of the many other series I’ve started? I am beginning to think I have commitment issues.)
This was a fun and good read, with interesting characters and a well-constructed plot. It helps if you’ve been to Nantucket, not because the mystery is lessened at all, but because it’s fun to identify the various types of people and the landmarks that are mentioned throughout the book. The tension between the locals and the off-islanders is real and accurately portrayed with nuance and complexity.
The author also writes as Stephanie Barron with a Jane Austen mystery series, which I will have to re-start. But this contemporary mystery is intelligently written and the literary skill of the author adds to the enjoyment of the book itself.
Note: the first few books of the series came out many years ago, but the author has revised and updated them as part of re-launching the series and adding to it.






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Book review: Christmas at Copper Mountain by Jane Porter

Christmas at Copper Mountain by Jane Porter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I am generally not a fan of contemporary romances, preferring historical ones. I picked this one up because (i) it was a Christmas romance (and I am a sucker for those); (ii) it’s a novella so I knew I could get through it quickly; and (iii) the author is the wife of the owner of the surfing school we use when we visit Hawaii (no joke).
I was quite pleasantly surprised by the book. Novellas are difficult because you don’t have the page length to fully develop the characters. But the characters were all likeable, the author has a deft touch for setting and a gift for depicting a scenario that fleshes out minor characters and gives insight into the main characters, and the Christmas setting gave off warm and fuzzy holiday vibes.
I will definitely pick out another one of her books when I am in the mood for a contemporary romance. The author has a lovely writing style that is warm, gracious, and friendly.



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Book review: Singapore Sapphire by A.M. Stuart

Singapore Sapphire by A.M. Stuart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is the first in a series (because, of course, I have finished reading all the other books in all the other series I have started). This book caught my attention because it takes place in Singapore in 1910 during British colonial rule, and it’s a period I know very little about.
I really enjoyed the debut novel to this series. The heroine is strong-willed but flawed, and the portrayal of the constraints of her position as a woman as well as the privileges of her position as a British white woman are both realistically described with little fanfare. The plot is interesting and well-paced. Even though you know the heroine survives (because, a series), the anticipation towards the climax is well done. And the author does an excellent job of portraying Singapore as it was with all its warts without either being preachy and with a deft touch, as the best historical mystery authors can do.
I have already bought the second book in the series and look forward to learning more about the main characters and Singapore during this time period!




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Book review: Priority Target by Ethan Jones

Priority Target by Ethan Jones

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


I don’t generally post reviews of books that I didn’t particularly like (mostly because books are a deeply personal thing, and authors work hard at their craft, regardless of whether I liked the book or not), but this book irked me in ways that I felt the need to express.
I started reading it because I like action/adventure/thriller books, but the main protagonist in these types of books is almost always male. In this case, the author made a deliberate choice to have a female protagonist, and I was intrigued.
Unfortunately, the book was a disappointment. The plot was quite interesting and was well-paced, so that was a plus. But if you are going to write a female protagonist, you’re going to have to do better at differentiating the protagonist than throwaway lines like “I put on mascara and lipstick” or “I brushed my hair and put it in a ponytail.” There are differences between a male and a female protagonist that go beyond hair, makeup, and clothing. Not exploring those differences shows a lamentable lack of imagination by the author.
So I’m passing on this series. If you are interested in female protagonists in thrillers, I highly recommend Greg Rucka’s Queen and Country series. At least the female protagonist in his books is not messing with her lipstick.



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Book review: Ghost Recon by Tom Clancy and David Michaels

Ghost Recon by David Michaels

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I love Tom Clancy’s novels, and I took a chance on this one, which is a spinoff of his by another author. The plot was interesting, and the action fast-paced. Maybe it was the mood I was in, but despite those factors, the book just did not grab me. The characters were flat (which is a common problem in a military thriller, even Clancy’s), and there wasn’t enough oomph to make up for it. There was an attempt at dealing with mental health issues, but it was done in such a cursory way that it felt unauthentic.
It was an easy and fast read and entertaining enough, but it certainly didn’t make me rush out to buy the next installment.



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Book review: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Only an author as talented as Erik Larson could seamlessly weave together stories about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and a serial killer during that same time period and make both suspenseful and compelling. It is such a highly readable book that I had to double-check that it was non-fiction rather than historical fiction.
There are connections, not the least being that the vast influx of people into Chicago to work and view the World’s Fair made a few missing young women here and there difficult to trace back to a single killer.
The fact that the author makes the World’s Fair (which almost didn’t happen) almost as suspenseful as the serial killer is further testament to his writing skill. His ability to effortlessly weave facts and portrayals of the main players together and combining two disparate plots is uncanny. The book shouldn’t work in its format (alternating chapters of alternating plots) but, somehow, it does, and the result is an excellent and very compelling book.
I highly recommend it!



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