Star-Crossed by Minnie Darke

Do you read your star signs? Do you follow what your stars tell you? I’ll admit I sometimes check my star sign (Gemini over here), but it’s not something I do every day. None of my friends really live by their astrological signs either, so when I read Minnie Darke’s debut novel, Star-Crossed, I was pleased to see that I was going to be learning more about horoscopes throughout this novel.

Star-Crossed by Minnie Darke tells the story of childhood sweethearts Justine and Nick. Justine is a major skeptic and a Sagittarius, while Nick is an Aquarius  and an astrological devotee. Specifically Nick is a true believer and follower of the horoscopes by his favorite astrologer in a local magazine. After bumping into each other, Justine realizes that Nick’s favorite astrologer works for the same paper that she works for! Moving up as a coffee runner, Justine finds herself with more responsibilities at the newspaper. One of those responsibilities: inputting in the horoscopes for each issue.

Justine and Nick continuously run into each other, leading Justine to believe that the two will eventually fall in love with each other. Nick’s actions continuously prove otherwise. He IS NOT falling in love with Justine. Feeling torn up about this, Justine decides to tweak his horoscope in order to lean Nick more towards her loving arms. By changing Aquarius, Justine is changing fate. What Justine fails to realize is that Nick is not the only astrological devotee of her newspaper. Other Aquarius are making very important life decisions and changes based on Justine’s new horoscopes.

This novel takes fate and destiny and turns them upside down by charting Justine’s meddling throughout months of the newspaper’s horoscopes. By discussing horoscopes, Darke shows readers how going through life on your own is overwhelming, so finding friendship and help through the stars helps people make choices that are hard to figure out when it feels like you are alone.


This book is also available in the following formats:

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

Tiffy needs a place to live, now, but her low-paying editorial assistant job doesn’t exactly allow for posh digs. Or anyplace that’s habitable really. So, against the advice of friends, she takes a flatshare. It’s a nice apartment in a great location in central London and she can actually afford the rent, what’s not to like? Ok, her new flatmate is a guy and there’s, um, only one bed but! He works nights as a pallative care nurse and spends the weekends at his girlfriends’ place so they’ll never see each other. Right? Great! Problem solved!

Leon needs some extra cash. He loves his job but it takes most of his energy and time so a second job isn’t the answer. He’s almost never at his flat except to sleep during the day so why not share the space? It’s a great plan! Leon’s girlfriend shows the potential roomie the flat and assures Leon that Tiffy is dull and unattractive. Perfect! Leon doesn’t even have to meet the flatmate, it’s all tidy and anonymous and great! Except, Tiffy brings some of her things to the flat – which, ok, to be expected – but they’re bright and girly and the opposite of dull. Huh.

Then the post-it notes begin. At first it’s formal and impersonal – “Help yourself to the leftover cookies!” – but pretty soon their notes become friendlier and bits of their personalities shine through. Tiffy is bright and funny and optimistic and Leon is kind and patient. Of course, inevitably, they run into each other, in the flesh. Literally. Sparks fly. Tiffy is not dull and unattractive. Leon has recently broken up with his girlfriend. Can Tiffy and Leon move from flatmates to friends to something more?

The Flatshare is a fun romance. The final outcome is pretty much inevitable but the path these two take is interesting and adds a lot to the story. There is the shadow of domestic abuse (NOT between Tiffy and Leon) and the long term damage it causes, staying loyal to someone when everyone else has doubts, taking a risk and walking through that door, opening yourself up to love again. Leon and Tiffy are great characters that you’ll root for, and their supporting cast are fun and interesting. Plus, it’s set in London. Blimey! What’s not to like?

I Know Who You Are by Alice Feeney

Have you ever recognized someone on the street or in a picture online, but you just can’t place where they’re from? Alice Feeney uses that as a piece of her main character’s development in her latest novel, I Know Who You Are.

I Know Who You Are by Alice Feeney is twisty thriller following an actress working to make a name for herself. Aimee Sinclair has the face of someone that most people recognize, but they can’t remember where she is from. Even Aimee has trouble keeping her past life and present life separate. You see, Aimee has a past that she has never shared with anyone and with that past comes a devastating secret that, if uncovered, would have the power to destroy the life she has carefully crafted for herself. There is just one problem: Someone knows Aimee very well. They know her past, what she did, and who she really is.

Aimee seems to have everything going for her, but bubbling just under the surface of her life, things are preparing to destroy everything. Coming home one night, Aimee finds her husband missing. She is at a loss of what to do since his cell phone and wallet are still sitting on the dining room table alongside a giant bouquet of apology flowers. While she is worried, she isn’t in a full-on panic because the night before they had gotten into a heated argument where they both exchanged words that they did not mean and he did things that she will never be able to forget.

Thinking that he will eventually come home, Aimee gets up the next morning for a run and a trip to her favorite coffee shop, only to discover her card has been denied. Calling the bank, Aimee finds out her account has been emptied, theoretically by her. This unnerves her. After reporting her husband missing, detectives show up at her door to question her. Telling them what happened, detectives begin to believe that she is hiding something. They aren’t wrong. Unwilling to divulge everything she knows, Aimee unwillingly sends the police in the wrong direction while the police work to prove that Aimee is behind her husband’s disappearance. Actions come to a head when both sides come up against a wall regarding Aimee’s husband’s disappearance. Aimee’s past has finally come back to haunt her and demands acknowledgment in such a dangerous way that has the power to destroy everything around her.

This novel takes everything that we think we know about ourselves, actors and actresses, the police, and disappearance cases and turns it all on its head. I’ll admit that I thought I had the plot twist figured out pretty early on, but the ending of this book quickly caught me off guard. Check out this book and let me know what you think in the comments below!


This book is also available in the following formats:

Racing to the Finish by Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Racing to the Finish by Dale Earnhardt Jr. isn’t just about racing, it is about learning when it is time to quit. Wanting to go out on your own terms is something that every competitor in every sport discipline can identify with. After years of physical punishment and concussions, it was time for Jr. to retire from his #88 ride at the end of his 2017 season, in this book, Dale explains why.

Concussions have long been a specter in motorsports, no amount of safer barriers and HANS devices can fully cushion the blow of an impact when you smack into the wall at 200+ mph. Dale goes over how his injuries have affected him throughout his racing career, experiencing concussion symptoms after a wreck, then shrugging them off to get into the car the next week. Concussions and the lack of understanding around them affect sports of all shapes and sizes and Dale Jr. does a phenomenal job of going over how the concussions presented themselves from within the car and in his personal life.

Dale also goes over the recovery process after his final concussion at Michigan International Speedway in 2016 and how he decided after that crash that, if he recovered, he would only race one more season in NASCAR. This story not only goes over Jr’s history of concussions but also goes over his drive to recover in those months leading up to his final season. A great insight into a legendary driver with a very personable voice. The narration feels like Dale is right there talking to you about his struggles. It truly is an insightful book that I recommend to anyone that is a fan of motorsports or sports in general. This book does a great job of bringing attention to the problem of concussions in sports and how little they are talked about or understood.

 

One Day in December by Josie Silver

This book caught my eye when it popped up as a Reese Witherspoon x Hello Sunshine Book Club Pick. Seeing that there was a wait list, I decided to hold out and wait until it came out on OverDrive. Just this last week, I stumbled upon this title again as available. I hurriedly checked it out and started reading. I devoured this title in less than two days!

One Day in December by Josie Silver may be in the fiction section, but it definitely is full of romance as two of the main characters feel the constant push and pull of attraction throughout their lives over a ten year history.

Laurie is on her way home when she spots a mysterious man at a bus stop. Through the foggy and misty window on the blustery snowy December day, Laurie is floored by the instant attraction that courses through her. When he lifts his head up and their eyes meet, something jolts through her body and she knows that he is the one for her. Stymied by indecision, Laurie is at a loss of what to do. Just as she’s gathering her courage, her bus drives away.

Thoroughly believing that she and bus boy are fated to find each other again, Laurie and her best friend Sarah spend the next year scouring every conceivable place in London looking for him. She becomes even more obsessed thinking that she sees him in crowds, in cafes, at different bus stops, anywhere and everywhere. Her journey to find bus boy comes to a screeching halt at their annual Christmas party when Sarah finally brings her new boyfriend to show off for Laurie. As they are introduced, Laurie feels that jolt pass through her again. The man that Sarah has been gushing about for months is Jack. Jack is bus boy. Laurie is understandably devastated.

Not wanting to destroy Sarah’s happiness, Laurie and Jack enter into an unspeaking pact to never tell Sarah that the two have met before. As a result, Laurie, Sarah, and Jack live the next ten years somewhat normally. They go through heartbreaks, intense friendships, new romances, family troubles, and new careers, all while fate works behind the scenes to guide them where they need to be.

Told through snippets of different days throughout the ten years that pass after Laurie first saw Jack, One Day in December tells the story of how love changes and morphs as we grow older. While Laurie may not believe in love at first sight, this novel works to prove that fate has a hand in every decision that we make and ultimately will lead us towards happiness in many different forms.


This book is also available in the following format:

Online Reading Challenge – August

Hello Readers! It’s August 1 and that means it’s time for our newest Online Reading Challenge topic! Hurrah! This month we’re reading about – Art!

There is no shortage of interesting books about art and artists. I also include architects, craftsmen (and women), musicians and writers. That’s a pretty wide range of subjects! Here are some suggestions to get you started.

The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean. This slim volume really packs a punch. It takes place during the siege of Leningrad of World War II, a grim time when literally thousands of people starve to death. Marina is a docent at the Hermitage Museum and assists with the protection and hiding of the museum’s priceless art while struggling to survive. Fascinating and heartbreaking.

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. As measured and reserved as a Dutch Masters painting, this book imagines the life of one of Vermeer’s most famous models, a young girl working as a maid in his household. Gorgeous imagery and a fascinating look at life in 1600s Delft.

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Wow. This book is so good! Like, can’t-put-down good. Combine the volatile world of rock-and-rock, sudden celebrity brought on by record-breaking music and complicated relationships (think Fleetwood Mac) and put it in the hands of a talented writer and you get this gem. (Be sure to read Stephanie’s review in yesterday’s blog post!)

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. This Pulitzer Prize winning book (soon to be released as a movie) is a literary gem. Theo is 13 when he survives a bombing that kills his mother; abandoned by his father, he is raised by wealthy friends. Now, as an adult, he moves easily between the world of the rich and the dark underground of the art world.

That’s just a tiny sample. Be sure to stop by any of the Davenport Library locations for displays with lots more suggestions.

As for me, I’m going to read Stolen Beauty by Laurie Lico Albanese which is a novelization about one of Gustav Klimt’s most famous paintings, “The Woman in Gold” and what happened to it during and after World War II. It should be a great combination of history and art.

Now it’s your turn – what you be reading in August?

Online Reading Challenge – July Wrap-Up

Hello Fans of Reading!

How did July treat you, reading-wise? What book about crime did you read? Or was this month a miss for you?

July was almost a miss for me –  I rarely pick up books that are mostly about crime, whether they’re mysteries or true crime. So it was a bit of a struggle finding something that grabbed my interest this month. I did find a good book though and, while it isn’t my favorite book ever, it was quite interesting and I’m glad I picked it up.

Two years ago, emergency room nurse Amelia Winn was seriously injured when she’s hit by a car near the hospital she worked at, resulting in her becoming profoundly deaf. Deeply depressed, she began drinking heavily and loses nearly everything – her career, her husband and her friends. Struggling to get back on her feet, Amelia works hard to not slip back into depression and drinking while looking for meaningful work and purpose. She lives in the country with her hearing assistance dog, Stitch, isolated from neighbors and the nearby town.

One day, in the woods behind her cabin, Amelia makes a terrible discovery – the body of Gwen, a former friend and colleague, who has been murdered. It soon becomes apparent that the police have no leads on who the murderer might be – Gwen was well-known and well-liked. Amelia, feeling that she had let her friend down, now takes on the task of bringing her justice. But Amelia is impulsive and sometimes makes rash decisions – will her inquires get her into trouble, the same trouble that killed Gwen?

Not a Sound has several interesting components that make it a compelling read: the main character is deaf (as is author Heather Gudenkauf) – seeing Amelia struggle to survive and participate in a hearing world is fascinating and eye-opening; Amelia’s relationship with her hearing assistance dog Stitch is also fascinating and sometimes humorous (and critical to the story); and the setting. Although the specific location and town is fictional, Not a Sound takes place in northeast Iowa, somewhere to the west of Dubuque (where the author lives). I really appreciated the realistic and evocative descriptions of Iowa landscape (we’re not all cornfields!) and weather and the casual (but accurate) references to uniquely Iowa characteristics (such as watching the Hawkeyes on tv). The book feels “midwestern” without being a cartoon. Nice! While I found the red herrings to be a bit obvious and I wanted to shake Amelia a few times for her stubbornness and questionable choices, the ending is tense and exciting. Overall, a great read.

Now it’s your turn – what did you read for the July Challenge?

Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

What are your feelings about fiction that reads like a documentary or a piece of nonfiction? I wasn’t sure how I felt about this until I picked up Taylor Jenkins Reid’s latest book, Daisy Jones & the Six.

I had previously read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by the same author, so when I saw that Jenkins Reid was putting out a new book, I was excited. While I was waiting for my hold to come in, I carefully looked at reviews while avoiding the spoilers. What I read mentioned that if you have the chance, listen to this book on audiobook first. I took this advice and I’m glad I did! Doing so added a level of closeness to each character and depth to their lives that I felt like I would have missed if I had read the print book only. To each their own though! I will tell you that this audiobook is read by a cast of 21 different narrators, so telling each character apart was fairly easy and very entertaining.

Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid tells the story of the iconic 1970s rock band, Daisy Jones & the Six. This book will grab you by the heart(and ears) while keeping you invested in the rise and fall of Daisy Jones & the Six. Told as an oral history of this band’s journey, readers are privy to behind-the-scenes insiders knowledge as to the reason behind their split when the band was at the height of their popularity.

The Six and Daisy were initially two separate groups. The Six is a rock band of their own accord, led by Billy Dunne. While the group is getting ready for their first tour, the habits that Billy has picked up over the years start to come to a head when his girlfriend Camila tells him that she is pregnant. Reeling from this news, Billy goes even more off the rails, leading different members of the band to deal with his actions.

Daisy is a club girl growing up and coming of age in LA in the late sixties. With parents who take a hands-off approach to parenting, Daisy leaves their house to pursue her dream of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. She begins sneaking into clubs, sleeping with rock stars, and getting high off of all the drugs, alcohol, and sex she can get her hands on. While she loves the party scene, nothing holds a candle to her love of rock and roll. By the time Daisy hits twenty, Daisy’s intriguing voice is pulling in attention from people all over the city and her beauty begins to make her even more alluring.

When a music producer who works with and knows both Billy and Daisy begins toying with the idea of having them work together, he quickly realizes that he is on to something. While they are famous in their own right without each other, he begins to see that combining Daisy Jones & the Six has the ability to raise their stardom to unspeakable new heights.

Merging the two groups together proves messy, disheartening, challenging, and immensely rewarding as both Daisy and Billy have egos that refuse to be ignored. Taylor Jenkins Reid follows the group as they work on merging together, creating hits that rocket them to the top of the charts, and ultimately breaking apart at the peak of their popularity.


This book is available in the following formats:

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Richardson

In 1936 Cussy Mary Carter is the “Book Woman”, working as a librarian with the Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project. She brings books, friendship and news of the outside world to isolated families in remote parts of the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Kentucky. Cussy is also one of the last of the blue people of Kentucky, people who’s skin appears blue, a trait that makes her stand out when she wants to blend in.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Richardson follows Cussy as she makes her way through a difficult life. It is books and the love of reading that keeps her going and bringing books to her patrons that makes her happy. Her work with the Kentucky Pack Horse Library brings her a lot of satisfaction, but it is a difficult and often dangerous job, especially for a woman alone in the wilderness. The trails are rough and often unpassable, many of the country people distrust anything to do with the government and actively discourage her or turn her away. Some refuse to talk to her because of her color (having her leave their books on the porch). The Pack Library has to make-do with cast-offs from other libraries with sadly worn and out-dated material. Yet Cussy treats everyone with kindness and compassion and slowly (some) people begin to accept her.

Now, if you read “people with blue skin” and thought “science fiction” or “Avatar” and think this book isn’t for you, think again! The blue-skinned people of Kentucky are real, their skin color caused by a very rare genetic condition called methemoglobinemia that causes their skin to appear blue. They are descended from a man who moved to the Troublesome Creek area of Kentucky in 1820. Because of the remoteness and isolation, the people often intermarried, passing the blue color on to their children. Today it is easy to mask the blue skin color (they are perfectly healthy otherwise) but in 1936, superstition against anyone with blue skin causes them to isolate themselves. They are considered “coloreds” and in some ways face even worse discrimination than the African Americans. Some believe that the blue is an indication that they are possessed by the devil and try to “baptize” them (that is, drown them in the creek) to save them. Others are afraid to touch or be touched by a blue-skinned person, thinking that they will turn blue too.

There’s a lot going on in this book – the Pack Horse Library, the devastation that the Great Depression is causing, the local mine and its iron hold on its workers and the plight of the blue-skinned people of Kentucky, all based on fact. There’s almost too much going on toward the end which feels a little rushed, but that is a minor quibble. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a treasure trove of nearly forgotten historical facts, the power of books and friendship and the beauty of these wild, remote mountains. Highly recommended.

The Grand Dark by Richard Kadrey

The Grand Dark by Richard Kadrey is a standalone dark fantasy novel that takes place in the dystopian eastern-European inspired steampunk city of Proszawa.  This novel follows the escapades of Largo, a drug-addicted bike messenger from the slums of Lower Proszawa as he tries to ascend out of the slums and into the ranks of the elite of Upper Proszawa. Kadrey is a master at worldbuilding, with every delivery and errand that Largo goes on, the reader is given clues and information about the world of Proszawa. As Largo attempts to ascend the socioeconomic ranks of his world, he begins to discover a plot that could unravel the very fabric of the city and plunge his world into another Great War.

The city of Proszawa is dark and gritty. Drugs, sex and hedonism run rampant. The city parties as robots called Mara take the jobs of the working class. The world is one that is recovering from the effects of a massive industrialized Great War. This setting seems one that is vaguely reminiscent of the German Weimar Republic after the First World War except with Stempunk Androids and genetically engineered creatures littering the streets. The plot is an engaging one but my opinion is the strength of this novel is the world that Kadrey builds. Proszawa has a lot of the trappings that we have come to expect from Urban Dark Fantasy but it is utterly unique in execution. The discovery of the world is almost just as important as the progression of the plot.

Another huge strength of this story is the romance between Largo and the actress Remy.  Remy is an actress for the Grand Dark, a theater in Lower Proszawa that serves as the home for Remy and Largo. The Grand Dark theater is also  where the mysterious antagonist of the book Una Herzog is a regular patron who plays a key role in unraveling the fabric of Proszawa and laying the groundwork for war. Kadrey’s excellent world building can be seen in the portrayal of the Grand Dark theater as well. The pacing of this novel is a slow burn, this serves another level to the character development and world building. We as the reader get to experience Largo’s world through his eyes.

This story is one that gives a very particular view of a dystopian society, starting from Largo’s street-level perspective and eventually elevating it so that we get glimpses of the entire city. Kadrey does a fantastic job of having the reader experience his world through the eyes of his protagonist and I highly recommend The Grand Dark for any reader looking for a dark fantasy world to plunge in to.  Though the pacing of this book can be slow, especially in the first third of the novel, I would argue that this pacing adds to the story, and doesn’t take away from it.