Saturday, February 24, 2018

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Truly Devious, by Maureen Johnson {ends 3/4}

The critical scene of the mystery is when the detective enters. The action shifts to Sherlock's sitting room. The little Belgian man with the waxed moustache appears in the lobby of the grand hotel. The gentle old woman with the bag of knitting comes to visit her niece when the poison pen letters start going around the village. The private detective comes back to the office after a night of drinking and finds the woman with the cigarette and the veiled hat. This is when things will change.

The detective had arrived at Ellingham Academy.

I've been a big fan of Maureen Johnson's books for a while now—her previous books were very witty, and although this is more of a mystery, it still has her signature wit throughout. This is the first book in the Truly Devious trilogy, and it leaves us with a whopper of a cliffhanger at the end of it.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Truly Devious, by Maureen Johnson
Author Maureen Johnson weaves a tale of murder and mystery in the first book of a new series.

Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists. It was founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth century tycoon, who wanted to make a wonderful place full of riddles, twisting pathways, and gardens. "A place" he said, "where learning is a game."

Shortly after the school opened, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. The only real clue was a mocking riddle listing methods of murder, signed with the frightening pseudonym, Truly Devious. It became one of the great unsolved crimes of American history.

True-crime aficionado Stevie Bell is set to begin her first year at Ellingham Academy, and she has an ambitious plan: She will solve this cold case. That is, she will solve the case when she gets a grip on her demanding new school life and her housemates: the inventor, the novelist, the actor, the artist, and the jokester. But something strange is happening. Truly Devious makes a surprise return, and death revisits Ellingham Academy. The past has crawled out of its grave. Someone has gotten away with murder.

Stevie comes to Ellington Academy only because it's prestigious and it's free—those are her parents reasons for her going, anyways. In reality, she's been obsessed with the Ellingham murder and disappearance, from 1936, for a while now, and she's come to the school both to be educated, and also to hopefully solve the case: Albert Ellingham's wife, Iris, was murdered, and his daughter, Alice, was never found.

This book was like Harry Potter meets a true crime novel, and I really enjoyed it. I also forgot it was a trilogy, until the book ended on a major cliffhanger (nooooo!), and Goodreads says that the next book in the series, entitled The Vanishing Stair, will be out in 2019, so unfortunately I'm going to have to wait a year or more to read it.

All of the characters in the novel were quite believable, too, and we later find out that many of them are harboring secrets ... secrets that result with yet another murder later on in the book.

{and no, that's not a spoiler, because it's right in the synopsis, ha ...}

Overall, I can't wait until the next Truly Devious book, and I may need to console myself with more Maureen Johnson books in the meantime.

4.5 stars out of 5.
{click here to purchase}

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Truly Devious!

Enter to win via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Sunday, March 4th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be notified via email the next day and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Hardcover copy of Truly Devious, by Maureen Johnson

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Buns, by Alice Clayton {ends 2/25}

The Bryants had owned this property for almost one hundred and fifty years. And like so many other family-run hotels, they'd relied too much on "but this is how it's always been done," which simply doesn't work anymore in this modern age. With Yelp and TripAdvisor helping everyone make their vacation plans, reviews could make or break a place. And they'd had their share of bad reviews in the last few years. Couple that with the recent economic crisis and belt-tightening across the board for vacationers, and they were in danger of losing their beautiful hotel.

Unless ... 

... they had me. Which they did. I rolled my neck, cracked my shoulders a bit, and settled in for the final leg.

I had a hotel to save.

Buns is the third book in Alice Clayton's Hudson Valley series, all of which can be read as standalone novels. I already did reviews on Nuts and Cream of the Crop, so I was looking forward to Buns. The characters from the other books play supporting roles in Buns, as well, and it's fun to see where they're at in their lives.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Buns, by Alice Clayton
Clara Morgan is living the dream, if you can call rebranding hotels that are desperate for a new life and running any kind of marathon a dream. Which she does. But the career she loves and the endurance races that keep her adrenaline pumping have kept her too busy to put down any roots. Growing up in foster care, she’s never been able to establish traditions of her own, which may be why she’s fascinated by the rituals that generations-old family resorts are known for. She’s especially interested in the Bryant Mountain House, and not just for their secret recipe for the yummy, gooey, can’t-get-enough-of Hot Cross Buns….

Archie Bryant, the man with the Buns, is fifth generation and one-day-owner of the charming yet run-down Bryant Mountain House in Bailey Falls, New York. He’s determined to save his family’s legacy from the wrecking ball the old-fashioned way—by gritting his teeth and doing what needs to be done. There’s no way Archie will be influenced by the new hotel branding expert his father brought in to turn one hundred and fifty years of tradition on its head just to attract a faster, younger, slicker crowd. But when some of Clara’s ideas start bringing in new, paying customers, Archie can’t deny that she may have just given him a shot at keeping his resort open.

It’s sticky, it’s messy, it’s sweet, it’s
Buns.
Although I related most to the main heroine of the second book in the series, Cream of the Crop, Clara and Archie's story was definitely fun to read. Clara is a "hotel fixer": her job is to visit hotels, find out what could make them better/more profitable, and suggest fixes to management. When she meets Archie Bryant, however, whose father owns the Bryant Mountain House hotel, she starts falling for him ... and it's probably not the best idea to get involved with the boss's son!

(they do, anyways, of course!)

Archie comes with his own baggage: his wife passed away a few years ago, and was only 32 years old. He hasn't dated anyone since then, but he finds himself falling for Clara as well.

This was a very cute read, as are most of Alice Clayton's books. I really liked that the characters from Nuts and Cream of the Crop—Roxie and Leo, and Natalie and Oscar, as well as some of their friends, too—make cameos in this book, as they all live in Bailey Falls, where the hotel is located. This gives readers of the other novels in the series the chance to "check in" on them and see what they are up to. The book mentions that the main heroine here, Clara, has known Roxie and Natalie for a while, as well.

I'd recommend this novel for anyone who likes a quick and easy read, and/or for people who like romance stories. You don't need to have read the other two in the series to read this one, as they are all standalone novels, for the most part, but they're helpful in knowing things about the secondary characters from the other books that show up here.

4 stars out of 5.

The Hudson Valley series, by Alice Clayton:
#1: Nuts (my review, purchase)
#2: Cream of the Crop (my review, purchase)
#3: Buns (purchase)

*Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own. All Amazon links are affiliate links which means I receive a portion of any sales.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a paperback copy of Buns!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Sunday, February 25th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be contacted via email the next day, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Paperback copy of Buns, by Alice Clayton

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Gatekeepers, by Jen Lancaster {ends 2/18}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“We breed excellence here at North Shore High School.”

I nod instead of saying anything, because how do I even respond to a statement like that?

I also nodded when Vice Principal Torres said the same thing as he welcomed me to the school. He clasped my hand and nearly crushed it in a crippling shake. Then my guidance counselor, Mr. Gorton, went for the conversational trifecta. WTF? Are they all working from the same script?

And how does one breed excellence here, anyway?

In a lab? In a test tube? Or is it more like in a barn?


This book was a heavy read, but that’s what the author intended. The Gatekeepers by Jen Lancaster (usually a humor writer) is her examination of 2012 in Lake Forest, Illinois, by recreating some of the community’s experiences in a fiction world. That year, three high school students ended their lives by stepping in front of commuter trains. The Gatekeepers puts us in the hearts and minds of who the students at the high school could have been, and how they were each affected by the multiple teen suicides in their community.

Official synopsis: 

Book Review: The Gatekeepers, by Jen Lancaster
"How could we know that forever could end at seventeen?"

Anyone passing through North Shore, Illinois, would think it was the most picture-perfect place ever, with all the lakefront mansions and manicured hedges and iron gates. No one talks about the fact that the brilliant, talented kids in town have a terrible history of throwing themselves in front of commuter trains.

Meet Simone, the bohemian transfer student from London, who is thrust into the strange new reality of an American high school; Mallory, the hypercompetitive queen bee; and Stephen, the first-generation genius who struggles with crippling self-doubt. Each one is shocked when a popular classmate takes his own life…except not too shocked. It's happened before. With so many students facing their own demons, can they find a way to save each other—as well as themselves?


Admittedly, this was a hard book for me to read. Having lost a few people to suicide in my life, I definitely recognized some of the teen’s emotions and responses, and they weren’t fun. I feel the author’s depiction of these situations as real in her fiction were very believable.

The characters became very likable. Mallory started out a little tiring, but as you heard more of her thoughts and reactions, she grew to be a strong, positive friend to many in the school. Kids who weren’t as well-liked in the school were eventually endearing as their inner insecurities and reasoning for how they behaved became clear.

Overall, this is a hard book to recommend to a stranger. I loved the author’s style, and would probably enjoy her memoirs or humor for which she is popular. The Gatekeepers is a highly emotional and well told book of a very difficult subject. I’d give it 4.5 stars out of 5, but it’s not for everyone.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a survivor living in a house full of snacks because she grocery shops when hungry. She’s been blogging in and around SE Michigan since March 2002 at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a hardcover copy of The Gatekeepers!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Sunday, February 18th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be notified via email the next day, and have 24 hours to respond, otherwise an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Hardcover copy of The Gatekeepers

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Book Review: She Regrets Nothing, by Andrea Dunlop

She'd felt it with a rush upon seeing her cousins. She'd never had a sibling, never had the experience of looking into someone's face and seeing a shadow of her own. It could not be a coincidence that they'd shown up now, she decided. That they'd come for her. And she felt it even more deeply that morning at the condo, with its cigarette funk that hung in the air, the stained beige carpet, the fussy, fat church ladies bustling around industriously; New York was coming slowly into view, an unanticipated escape hatch. As she headed for the door, she felt a wild fantasy well up: a desire to break every dish and piece of glassware in the place, to set fire to the curtains and leave them blazing in her wake.

She would never set food in here again. Her mother was dead. At last.

This book definitely reminded me of The House of Mirth, and its official synopsis below even mentions it. It's also been compared to TV's Gossip Girl.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: She Regrets Nothing, by Andrea Dunlop
In the tradition of The Emperor’s Children and The House of Mirth, the forgotten granddaughter of one of New York’s wealthiest men is reunited with her family just as she comes of age—and once she’s had a glimpse of their glittering world, she refuses to let it go without a fight.

When Laila Lawrence becomes an orphan at twenty-three, the sudden loss unexpectedly introduces her to three glamorous cousins from New York who show up unannounced at her mother’s funeral. The three siblings are scions of the wealthy family from which Laila’s father had been estranged long before his own untimely demise ten years before.

Two years later, Laila has left behind her quiet life in Grosse Pointe, Michigan to move to New York City, landing her smack in the middle of her cousins’ decadent world. As the truth about why Laila’s parents became estranged from the family patriarch becomes clear, Laila grows ever more resolved to claim what’s rightfully hers. Caught between longing for the love of her family and her relentless pursuit of the lifestyle she feels she was unfairly denied, Laila finds herself reawakening a long dead family scandal—not to mention setting off several new ones—as she becomes further enmeshed in the lives and love affairs of her cousins. But will Laila ever, truly, belong in their world? Sly and sexy,
She Regrets Nothing is a sharply observed and utterly seductive tale about family, fortune, and fate—and the dark side of wealth.

I loved all of the Michigan references in this book—they were so specific that I tweeted at the author to see if she was from Michigan, since her bio says the Seattle area, and she said she is not, but she has friends that live here. (at one point, Leila mentions Twelve Oaks Mall, which was funny—I live about 30 minutes from there)

Leila, the main character, is from Grosse Pointe, which does have some "rich" areas, but Leila and her mother are not well off at all. At her mother's funeral, Leila's NYC cousins show up, to introduce themselves to her, and we later find out that Leila's father and their grandfather had a falling out, after which Leila's parents moved them to Michigan.

I was a big fan of Gossip Girl when it was on TV, and this book definitely reminded me of that. Leila is a bit of a gold-digger, in that she wants to live the NYC lifestyle that her cousins do but she doesn't have money to do so; therefore, she dates around, and also mooches off them a bit. There are also affairs throughout the novel and later, another death, which affects everyone.

I'd definitely recommend this book, especially to my Michigan readers. It's a fun read and almost like reading gossip from a friend—a little malicious, but definitely intriguing.

4.5 stars out of 5.
{click here to purchase}

*Disclosure: I received an e-copy of this book for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

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