Goblins of Bellwater by Molly Ringle

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goblinHow could I resist a book inspired by one of my all-time favorite pieces of writing, Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market? Molly Ringle’s reimagined Market takes place in the forests of present day Washington State, where we are introduced to Kit Sylvain, a young man bound by a family curse to take care of a tribe of goblins. By “take care of” I mean provide them with gold or whatever else they want to prevent them from messing around with the nearby humans. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, since goblins are wily, deceitful creatures.

While Kit is tending to the goblins, sisters Skye and Livy Darwen have grown up in the small town of Bellwater, and spend hours exploring the forest, where they imagine “teeny-tinies” call to them. One day, Skye follows a path that wasn’t there before, drawn by the call of the “teeny-tinies,” which turn out to be goblins who ensnare her into their world. Kit, Livy, and Grady (Kit’s cousin who is unwittingly drawn into Skye’s drama) eventually come to understand that Skye has been cursed and join forces to keep her from becoming a goblin.

The story is fresh and engaging, and the characters well-written. Ringle skillfully develops four likable characters and weaves their stories together to an exciting, nerve-jangling ending. The story moves along at a rapid pace, with the current dilemma of Skye’s curse being nicely woven into the older story of how the goblins became attached to Kit’s family. I especially liked the fact that all four of our heroes were essentially saved by the first goblin “victim” who was snared so long ago. There’s an extraordinary amount of sex here, more than I expected, but it fits with the darker side of fairytales that few dare to tell, and creates a sizzling romantic side to an otherwise folklore/fantasy-heavy story.

I give Ringle props for taking an old story and hanging new skin on it. This will appeal to fantasy fans, for sure and would make an awesome graphic novel. Highly recommended.

Ghost on the Case by Carolyn Hart


IMG_0160Here’s another series that I dropped down into without having read the earlier entries. I requested this one from NetGalley because I used to read Carolyn Hart all the time. I was especially fond of the Death on Demand series, until it became so formulaic and annoying I gave it up. I could not stand to read one more description of Max as “Joe Hardy, all grown up and sexy as hell.” Even so, I still enjoy Hart’s breezy, casual, tongue-in-cheek style of writing which is certainly evident in Ghost on the Case.

Bailey Ruth is a ghost. She died and went to heaven when her cabin cruiser sunk in the Gulf. Bailey seems to enjoy being a ghost because she can change her outfit at will, and appears as though she’s 27 (which was a very good year!). In Hart’s Heaven, ghosts are assigned to various “departments.” Bailey is assigned to the Department of Good Intentions, which means she gets sent back to Earth occasionally to help right a wrong which seems to involve investigating a crime. Here we find Bailey sent to her hometown in Oklahoma to help a woman who is forced into committing a crime in order to rescue her little sister, who is being held captive. Hi-jinks ensue, and through Bailey’s assistance, the bad guy is caught.

This is a perfect beach read – fast paced, clever, and fun. It doesn’t make you think too much, but certainly provided me with a couple hours of uninterrupted, enjoyable reading time. Is it a classic? No. But if you enjoy cozy mysteries with a sassy protagonist, give Bailey Ruth a shot. I’ll be going back to check out some of the earlier entries in the series.

Shadow Weaver by Marcykate Connolly


IMG_0159Marcykate Connolly has begun a wonderful new series with Shadow Weaver, which tells the story of Emmeline, a child blessed with talent bestowed by a comet that passed overhead when she was born. Emmeline’s talent is, as the title suggests, the ability to control shadows. However, Emmeline’s parent consider her talent more of a curse than a blessing, and have kept her hidden away on their estate for years. Emmeline is an outcast in her own home, reviled and avoided by family and servants alike, with no friends other than her shadow, Dar. When Emmeline’s parents invite strangers into their home who claim they can cure her of her talent, Emmeline and Dar run. Emmeline is running from the very real danger posed by the strangers, emissaries of the much-feared Lady Aisling, while Dar is running for a very different reason. As Emmeline encounters others with talents and begins to understand that she is not alone, Dar becomes increasingly cantankerous and sly, urging Emmeline to help her escape the shadowland and become flesh once more.

Connolly has begun building a compelling but familiar world, where people with special talents are hunted by those who wish to use them to achieve power. It’s a familiar construct, but Connolly has done an excellent job of introducing readers to a new world populated by likable characters. There is potential here for this to grow into a well-loved series, with many possible storylines for Connolly to explore. Here, we meet a shadow weaver, a light bender, a wind whistler, and a shape shifter; and we hear about a fire breather and a magic eater. I look forward to seeing what other talents Connolly creates!

The story moves at a fast pace, with enough nail-biting action to keep even a reluctant reader engaged. Character development is good, with Emmeline receiving the most attention. We watch her grow from a sheltered, easily led child into a caring young woman who is becoming self-aware, loyal, and brave. I hope that Dar’s story is developed more in the next entry; I would love to read about how she and her sister fell out and Dar became a shadow. Overall, this is a winner and one I would recommend to readers in grade 6 and up. Well done!

An Echo of Murder by Anne Perry


IMG_0157Murder mysteries that take place in 19th and early 20th century England are some of my favorites, so when I saw this one available on NetGalley, I thought I’d give it a shot. I didn’t realize it is #23 in the William Monk series by Anne Perry, although I do recall having read one or two of the earlier entries, and have read Perry’s Thomas Pitt series.

There are Readers out there who, for a number of reasons, will absolutely not read a series out of order.

I am not one of them.

For me, a *good* series is successful often because of the meticulous world-building the author performs, but a *great* series is written in a way that you can dip in and out of the author’s world. That is what I found here, with Commander William Monk, his wife Hester, and “son” Will. Perry provides just enough detail about past history of the characters as is necessary for *this* story. She doesn’t give away plot lines of earlier stories, so I can go back and read those without knowing how they end. The plot is the key, the characters’ past is incidental.

Perry offers an interesting plot in Echo of Murder. Monk is called to investigate an horrific crime committed against a member of the Hungarian community. It is violent, the product of extreme rage. At the same time, Will (also known as Scuff), meets an old friend of Hester’s, a surgeon with whom she served in the Crimean War and who is now suffering from what today we would call a severe case of PTSD. As Monk conducts his investigation into the murder and moves deep into the Hungarian community, his path crosses with Will’s and Fitz, the Crimean surgeon, neatly braiding their stories together into a clever and neat climax.

Perry’s writing is top notch, as always. I did feel as though she used the xenophobia directed at the Hungarians as a bit of a soapbox regarding immigration, and I found the end to be rushed, but otherwise this is a solid entry into a much loved series that makes me want to go back and read the earlier Monk books. Recommended.

Choices by J.E. Laufer


IMG_0137The plight of refugees is all over the news these days, so Judit Laufer’s tale of her family’s escape from Communist Hungary is particularly relevant. Laufer, an accomplished author of children’s books, has done a remarkable job of taking the bones of a story she has heard her whole life, a story she lived as a very young child, and layering on flesh to create a suspenseful, emotional story of courage and compassion.

In 1956, Laufer’s mother Kati Krausz Egett was the lever that pried her family loose from the early days of Communist rule in Hungary. Shortly after the failed Hungarian Revolution, when hundreds of thousands fled, or were imprisoned or executed, the Egett family realized their only chance for keeping themselves and their children safe was to flee the country. The decision was particularly poignant because the Egett’s were Jewish. Kati survived Hitler’s concentration camps, while her entire family, and Adolf’s sister, perished in the gas chambers. The unimaginable tension and stress of the Communist takeover happening so soon after the end of WWII is palpable in the whispered conversation between Kati and Adolf early in the book, when Kati asks “What if our parents had left when the rumors started twelve years ago?”

Laufer recounts the family’s secret journey from their home to the Austrian border, where they were met by the Red Cross. They managed to get to Vienna, where they were taken in by the Just family. Eventually, the Egett’s made their way to Canada where they built a prosperous life for themselves and their children.

I get the sense that writing this story was something of a catharsis for Judit Egett Laufer, and she has done a fine job of conveying the fear and emotion that drove her parents’ decision to leave Hungary. The fear and uncertainty were overwhelmed by the need and desire to have a better life – a free life – for their children. Laufer’s story strikes a chord today, given the numbers of refugees fleeing oppressive regimes, and it reminds us that those refugees are people first. They have hopes and dreams, and a fierce desire for a better life.

In telling her own story, Laufer has given us a poignant, powerful reminder that human kindness and compassion is always the way. I’d highly recommend this for a high school social studies class, as well as for general reading.

The Library of Light & Shadow by MJ Rose


IMG_0110MJ Rose continues the La Lune series begun in Witch of Painted Sorrows with this story of Delphine Duplessi and her gift of painting people’s secrets. The pattern is familar to fans of the La Lune series – a passionate love affair gone wrong, a young artist struggling with her gift, and people who want to use her and her gift in nefarious ways.

We first meet Delphine in New York City, where she is engaged to a wealthy young man and is the current cause celebre at all the fabulous parties where she performs her “party trick” of drawing people’s secrets while blindfolded. That, you see, is her talent. Having been blinded at age 8, then her vision miraculously restored by her witch of a mother, she can see all the things people want to keep secret when she puts on a blindfold, or when she looks in a mirror. Her talent is a form of scrying and makes her constantly in demand at parties, until one night when the “party trick” reveals a dangerous secret that results in tragedy.

Shocked and numb, questioning her art and her purpose, Delphine slides into a deep depression, rescued only when her twin, Sebastien, arrives to take her home to France. Once there, Delphine continues to struggle with her art, refusing to put on the blindfold again in fear of creating more tragedy. At the same time, Sebastien, who is also Delphine’s manager, pushes her to put the blindfold back on and resume her work, specifically for Madame Calve, who wants Delphine to draw the secrets of her castle in order to find a valuable book hidden there for centuries. Underpinning all this is a failed and painful love affair, which is what initially sent Delphine to NYC. We learn about her passionate affair with Mathieu through entries in Delphine’s diary, all leading up to the two meeting face to face at Madame Calve’s.

Rose layers on more fascinating detail to the world of the Duplessi’s with each entry in this series, while still keeping some key elements common to each story. In addition, there are connections to and mentions of characters from Rose’s earlier books worked in throughout, which add a great deal to the world-building going on here.

My only issue is the pace of the storytelling, which is super slow for the first half, then very rushed at the end. For me, the best part of the story is what happens once Delphine and Sebastien get to Madame Calve’s, which doesn’t happen until halfway through the book. All the angst and self-pity Delphine experiences in the first half just bored me, as did her diary entries about Mathieu. Rose is known for incorporating some pretty steamy sex in her books, and that remains true here in the diary entries; however, I find it is getting repetitive and not adding much to the story. I wish there had been less of the first half and more of the second half of this book. I found the ending to be very rushed and would have liked to see a resolution between Delphine and Sebastien, given the surprising revelation that occurs near the end.

All that said, I continue to be fascinated with the world of the Duplessi’s and all who inhabit it. The story is, as always with Rose’s work, captivating. I expect the final entry in the La Lune series will focus on youngest sister, Jadine, who can read people’s tears. I look forward to it!

Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald


IMG_0117The concept of this book strongly appealed to me: a young woman visits a dying midwestern town and revives it by opening a bookstore. To anyone other than a complete and utter Book Fool, this sounds….improbable-dull-ridiculous? To me, it sounds like love.

Sara Lindquist sets out from her home in Sweden (yes, that’s right. Sweden. The Country.)  to visit Amy Harris, a woman in Iowa with whom she has corresponded for a while. The two bonded over books, and Sara feels she knows Amy’s hometown of Broken Wheel, Iowa through Amy’s descriptions of the people and places there. For Sara, this is a huge step forward out of a quiet, unremarkable life as a bookstore employee. Sara’s anticipation of an entertaining visit talking with Amy about books is deflated upon her arrival when she discovers Amy has died. But then a remarkable thing happens. The town takes her in as Amy’s guest, just as though Amy were still alive. Sara comes to really know all the people Amy wrote about, and their stories, blended with the quiet desperation of a dying town, change course as they merge with Sara’s own story.

Truth be told, I nearly gave up on this book after the 100 pages. There wasn’t much happening and it just seemed incredibly sad. However, all the positive reviews this was getting kept me pushing through, and I am glad I persevered. The pace of the story remained slow through much of the book, but it accurately matched the pace of life in a town slowly fading away…until the last quarter of the book, that is, when everyone’s story seems to speed up and change.

The author uses Sara as a catalyst for change in this little town. Her arrival sets in motion a whole pattern of events that dramatically change the lives of several Broken Wheel residents. It’s as though Sara is Amy Harris’ parting gift to the people she loved, and that Broken Wheel is her gift to Sara.

This is a gentle, homey type of story that will appeal to book clubs, especially those in small towns. Bivald has captured some of the sadness and helplessness felt in Small Town America, but tempered that with the message that things can always change.

The Rattled Bones by S.M.Parker


IMG_0101I love a good ghost story, and this one has some pretty creepy, shivery moments. Combine those spine-tingling scenes with an interesting backstory and you’ve got a solid, satisfying read.

We meet our protagonist, Rilla Brae, as she’s still reeling from the sudden death of her father and coping with the life changes that accompany tragedy. Rilla, born and raised on the ocean helping her father fish for lobster off the coast of Maine, feels obligated to take on the family fishing grounds, which means giving up an academic scholarship to Brown University and staying in Maine. At the same time, she’s struggling with a changing relationship with her boyfriend and an absent, mentally ill mother. It’s a lot for anyone to handle, but Rilla meets the challenges head-on, with help from her Gram.

One day while out on the ocean, Rilla sees a young woman on a deserted island and hears an eerie song that calls to her. Haunted by her mother’s illness, where she claimed to hear and speak to the Water People, Rilla worries that she’s going mad. In an attempt to make her “girl” real, she explores the island where she first spotted the girl. There she meets Sam, a college student conducting an archaeological dig on the island looking for a lost community. Sam and the story of the island community help focus Rilla’s experiences as the ghost girl becomes more and more a part of Rilla’s life.

That period of time between high school and college is a time of change for most people. Rilla’s typical experiences are magnified by her father’s death, her sudden visual and auditory “hallucinations” of the girl, and a shocking revelation about an ugly period in the history of her community and family. Parker does a good job conveying the fear, excitement, guilt, and eagerness new high school graduates feel as they prepare to move on to new lives and new friends as they begin college. She successfully takes that universal story of growing up and pairs it with both a truly creepy ghost story and an interesting piece of history. Some of the ghostly parts were scary enough that I had to stop reading for a bit, especially after the scene where the ghost shows up in Rilla’s bed. The historical side to this story piqued my interest and prompted me to research the early island communities of the eastern seaboard. Fascinating stuff!

All in all, a satisfying story. Take this along on your summer vacation. You’ll thank me.

Little French Bistro by Nina George


Everything was more sacred than yourself, and your own longings were the least sacred thing of all.

IMG_0100This single sentence beautifully conveys the spirit of this gem of a story about a 60 year old woman who suddenly finds her life unbearable. When we first meet Marianne, she is readying herself to take a final plunge into the Seine in a desperate attempt to end her boring, insignificant life. Then we witness the first of many times Marianne’s life is saved, literally and figuratively, throughout the story.

That first “save” launches Marianne on a journey across France which begins as a quest to drown herself in the sea and ends with her figurative rebirth as a woman. Along the way, an incredible sequence of events, initiated by a painted tile of a seaside village, draws her closer and closer to Kerdruc, the lush and magical Breton village depicted on the tile. As Marianne journeys across France with nothing but a bit of cash and the clothes on her back, she reflects on the loveless marriage and cold-hearted, indifferent husband she’s running from, and begins to remember the girl she was before she was a wife.

When she reaches Kerdruc and finds the sea, she lands in the middle of a quaint village full of colorful, kind-hearted people who accept her at face-value. Their kindness and friendship begin to change her and reverse her wish to die. It is the sea, however, that gives her the strength to reject the old Marianne and let the real Marianne come forth and embrace her own magic and, ultimately, find love.

Nina George has once again created a world full of magical, quirky, witty, and human characters who live and love enthusiastically. There’s all sorts of love here – unrequited, rejected, deep and old, hidden, and raw. George’s Marianne is the catalyst that brings multiple love stories to their apex, while at the same time, creating a new story all her own. Marianne’s story is all too familiar – the middle-aged woman who suddenly realizes most of her life is gone and she has nothing to show for it. She has become a maid for her husband, invisible except when he wants something, unable to assert herself and fulfill her own needs, essentially voiceless. Under George’s care, Marianne comes alive in the pages of this story, and ultimately sees herself as other see her, through an artist’s eyes. I was reminded a bit of a book I read years ago – Praisesong for the Widow by Paule Marshall – as I accompanied Marianne on her journey. Like Avey, the protagonist of that book, Marianne connects with the land and people of Brittany, and especially with the sea, just as Avey connects with her African ancestors. Their journeys were similar and powerful, sending a message about how women sacrifice their lives for others, often living their lives through their families, and how there is always time to rediscover the young woman who once dreamed of a very different life.

Sometimes stories like this one leave me sad and unsatisfied. The Little French Bistro left me feeling joyful and hopeful, something we all need a bit more of these days. This would make an excellent book for a group discussion. Highly Recommended.

Swiss Vendetta by Tracee de Hahn


swizz vendettaYou know the old adage “Never judge a book by its cover?” Well, it was far from top of mind when I spotted this beauty buried in the Mystery section at Barnes & Noble a few weeks ago. Hadn’t heard of the author. Wasn’t discounted. Set in Switzerland. But the cover! It called to me. So, I bought it.

What I found was a first-in-a-series, gently meandering but totally clever whodunit featuring the completely likable Inspector Agnes Luthi, charming aristocrat Julien Vallotton, and a cast of memorable characters.

We meet Agnes as she negotiates rapidly deteriorating roads, attempting to reach the grand Chateau Vallotton in the middle of the worst snow & ice storm Lausanne, Switzerland has seen in decades. The body of a young woman has been found outside the chateau, and Agnes is called to investigate her first case in the Violent Crimes Unit of the Lausanne Police Department. She manages to reach the chateau, where she finds herself snowed in with two fellow detectives, members of the Vallotton family, and assorted other characters, one of whom is most definitely a murderer. Even while she is neck deep in the murder, we find that Agnes is also wrestling with some personal tragedy. Her investigation becomes her own catharsis, leading to a very satisfying ending.

The author manages to weave Agnes’ personal tragedy into the story, so that the reader begins to know Agnes at the same time Agnes begins to know her suspects. Agnes herself is a welcome female protagonist, a professional woman who is also a mother trying to do the best she can and not always succeeding. This is one of those unusual mysteries that ride the rails between “cozy” and “hardboiled” detective fiction, which is a niche in which I will happily hide. In some ways, Agnes reminded me a bit of Martha Grimes’ Richard Jury, if that character had been female. I was delighted to find out that this is, indeed, the first in a series. The second in the series, A Well-Timed Murder, is scheduled for release in February 2018. Here’s hoping to finding an advanced reading copy!

Highly recommended.