Book Reviews · Reading the World

Exiles: A Novel by Jane Harper (Aaron Falk #3)

My Interest

First, thanks to #NetGalley for a free audio version of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Jane Harper has become a “must-listen” author. I like her books on audio to hear them in an Australian accent appropriate to the story. I have enjoyed each of her books. I have dear friends in Australia, so I love getting my hands on books set anywhere even close to where they live. Silly, when you think how big the country is, but I mean well.

Note: I don’t usually review series books–too hard to avoid spoilers. This one, though, came to me via NetGalley, so I am happy to give my review.

The Story

“You see what you expect to see.”

Federal Police agent Aaron Falk is involved with another suspicious death. A new mother leaves her new baby in the stroller in a stroller corral at a festival ride. Her shoe is found later. Her teenage daughter from her first relationship isn’t satisfied with the police outcome. And, what about the boy whose father died in a mysterious way in the same area?

A small town with a typical high school rite of passage–a big boozy party out in the boondocks–just like those held in my hometown or here in my kids adopted hometown. (They went, I couldn’t be bothered). A group of friends, booze, a girl has too much. Fast forward to today and it’s the teenage daughter of the missing mom who is going to party.

The small town also has an annual festival–a big money-maker for small towns the world over I guess. This town, being near vineyards and wineries, gets tourists from all over the country. Did anyone see that mom park her stroller? Or leave the festival? Or be helped to leave…. “You see what you expect to see” Falk reasons with another cop.

What’s the truth? You know my rule–no spoilers here!

But the ending had an element of surprise in addition to the “who-done-it-reveal.” That intrigues me. I want to know what Harper has in mind for this in the future.

My Thoughts

I liked having Aaron back. This was a good mystery for folks like me who don’t read a lot of them or a lot of police procedurals. I’m never good at guessing the outcome of this type book and did not guess this one’s ending.

My Verdict

3.5

Exiles: A Novel by Jane Harper releases on January 31, but is available for pre-order on Amazon.

Note: I do not make any money off this blog. The links to Amazon are just for your convenience.

My Reviews of Previous Jane Harper Books:

Book Reviews

Some of my Favorite Fiction and Non-fiction Books Read in 2022

2022

Yesterday I posted my favorite Historical Fiction reads of the year. (Click the link to go to that post).

Today, I’m looking at the rest of my reading–or to be honest, my LISTENING. Audio books are my go-to. Since the COVID lock-down I’ve really struggled with reading print/Kindle books. Audio is my thing these days.

Note: Historical fiction is not included here. See this post for my favorites in historical fiction this year.

Biggest Surprise

A book about an aging closeted gay mailman? Ok….right up my alley. But wait! It was pretty much wonderful. Ok, there were preachy parts, but I didn’t really care. Read this–it’s good! The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle. Somewhere this year–Enchanted April [haven’t finished this one yet] or maybe Illyrian Spring– I encountered another Entwistle. Funny how books do that too you!

Best Mystery or Thriller

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I loved finding the Youtube videos the author obviously used for some of his research! The Sixteen Trees of the Somme by Lars Mytting.

Favorite Rom-Com-ish Book

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The Bodyguard was just plain fun!

Most Out Of My Comfort Zone Book That I Loved

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So sweet and fun–and a new genre for me, too. I never imagined I’d like this style of book known as manga. A Man & His Cat.

Favorite Nonfiction Book or Memoir

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Winston and Clementine’s youngest child–born after the death (while they were away) of their daughter, Marigold, Mary Churchill went on to be wife of an MP & Ambassador, mother of an MP, and the author of an excellent biography of her parents. Her life at 18 was interesting. There were not yet any “teenagers” in the world! The word wasn’t yet in use. There were, however, debutantes and debs delights in her world, though. Mary Churchill’s War.

Worst Book I Finished

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I suspect the NY Times raved about it because it was horrible. Portrait of an Unknown Lady. Ugh.

The Book That Broke One of My Rules

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I listened to a James Patterson-franchise book, but only for Dolly! Dolly Parton gives kids books. That’s good enough for me! Run, Rose, Run, is about a dumb as it’s title, but I love Dolly and gave my Audible Credit for this!

Favorite Book in Translation

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A tale all Americans should read, but won’t. Maybe if it’s made into a Netflix series? Ugh. I loved this. The Ardent Swarm. Why is it that the free World Book Day (I think that’s right) books from Amazon are good, but the Kindle First Read Book are a death sentence to a book?

Favorite Christmas Book

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The Christmas Bookshop by Jenny Colgan

Favorite NetGalley Book***

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Oh my!! I have to pick a favorite? ***Several of the books mentioned here (The Bodyguard, Mary Churchill’s War, Secret Life of Albert Entwistle, Sixteen Trees of the Somme, were from Netgalley. How about Thank you to NetGalley for many great reads and here is one I didn’t name as a favorite, but still really loved Meredith, Alone by Claire Alexander.

The “Hidden Gem” Book

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Paying Tribute to Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, My Mrs. Brown by William Norwich is a GEM! Read it, read Mrs Harris and go see the new Mrs Harris move–see the bottom of this post for the trailer.

Favorite Book by a Favorite Author (not historical fiction)

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French Braid by the great Anne Tyler

My Favorite Book of the Year

Tune in tomorrow!

What about you? Did you do a “Favorites” post for 2022? Leave me a link or just give me a comment with some of your favorite books read this year!

Book Reviews

It Happened One Christmas Eve by Jenn McKinlay

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My Interest

I was in the mood for a “put your brains under the seat and don’t ask too many questions” sort of Christmas book. [That quote, by the way, originated long ago with a Bond movie–The Spy Who Loved Me, iirc].

The Story

Heiress and museum director, Claire MacIntosh (fyi, I’ve never met a woman named Claire–nor Tess…most popular names in novels) plays Runaway Bride by seizing Santa’s “sleigh” and making a run for it when her society husband-to-be plans a cheesy Pinterest/Instagram-worthy proposal. Trey may have money and be an up-and-coming partner in her father’s environmental law firm, but he’s not at all what Claire dreams of. Her society mother Hildy pushes Trey at her like an exceptional hors d’oeuvres. Claire sees him as wheat grass. Happily, Santa’s sleigh has been hijacked by Sam, a well known investigative journalist.  Yep, you guessed it…..[No spoilers here].

My Verdict

This little book was just what I needed. I laughed, I “awed-d” and I just plain had a fun time listening to it.

3.0

It Happened One Christmas Eve by Jenn McKinlay

I don’t have the page total but it was only 3 hours and 22 minutes on audio

Book Reviews

Review: Meredith Alone by Claire Alexander

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First, thank you to Netgalley.com for a free copy of this audio book in exchange for a fair review.

My Interest

Home is my favorite place on Earth. I leave it willingly, but I COVID showed I could just stay home. I’d still love to find a job I could do at home, too. And, ironically, Meredith in this story does one job I tried very hard to find.

The Story

At the start of the story we know that Claire hasn’t left her home in more than 1,000 days. She lives in a neat home she owns (pays a mortgage on) with her beloved cat, Fred. She has a sister and mother, and a best friend, Sadie. She is not a true recluse. She has online friends, texts friends, and calls friends. But why?

One day a representative of a caring organization arrives and Tom becomes her friend and we begin to learn how her past makes her present more understandable.

My Thoughts

This book has all the makings of an Oprah book, and you all know my thoughts on those! In spite of that, it was wonderful. Yes, some bad things happened. No, the reader wasn’t made to suffer every horrible detail. Claire is all of us–if such and such had come our way. Thankfully, she had enough support to make it through. I liked Claire–the sort of person I’d love as a friend. I liked her buddy Saddie, too. I felt for her sister. I didn’t feel anything but cold and disgust for ….. [No Spoilers]

 

My Verdict

3.75

Meredith Alone by Claire Alexander

I listened to the audio version.

 

 

Book Reviews

Nonfiction November Review: The Women of Rothschild by Natalie Livingstone

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My Interest

The name “Rothschild” conjures up for me images of unimaginable wealth. Aristocratic families are a big interest of mine, so when I saw this on NetGalley I requested it and somehow got both a print and an audio copy. I listened to the audio.

The Story

Starting in the 18th century in “Jewish ghetto” and ending in the late 1990s, this biography purports to tell the real story of the women behind the Rothschild men. We are promised that the women were more than mere wives and mothers. What did these women do as the wives and daughters of one of the world’s best known Jewish families? That is what the biography sets out to tell us. The family is compared to a royal family because they all hate each other but close ranks and form a united front in public–I loved that, even if I couldn’t stop and write out the exact quote. (NetGalley’s reading app doesn’t have any features and I forgot and downloaded to it and not Kindle, so it wasn’t easy to find it).

In the early years the women were more involved with the family business, but as time went on they fell into the normal society lady type charitable works. There is nothing unusual about a great “lady” helping with encouragement and money to improve the education of poor children, nor is there really anything unusual about them working to improve health conditions. It was unusual for anyone to take up the cause of Jewish “women of the night,” but as others were doing it for non-Jewish women of that profession I don’t really see it as that unique.

Fast-forward to the 20th Century. While various men of the family involved themselves in the late 19th Century with the Prince of Wales “Marlborough House” set, there was little remarkable about that, either. They had pots and pots of money. The Prince often needed it. Sir Ernest Cassel (Grandfather of Edwina Mountbatten) was another Jewish financier in the Marlborough House set.

Finally, somewhere around World War II or just after we get to some slightly more interesting activities. A Rothchild woman contributed to a report hoping to de-criminalize h o _ – se-u _; ! ty. Good thing, since at least one of the men had such proclivities. Miriam became an expert on fleas and other parasites. She was finally even welcomed by “professionals” for her extensive knowledge. Veronica, aka “Nica’ gets the lion’s share of the coverage–or rather her famous male associates to. Thelonious Monk and Charlie “Bird” Parker. The hose she built for jazz sessions was called “The Cat House.” And, she observed first hand a Jim Crow-era beating in New Castle, Delaware (a Civil War border state) that Monk endured.

Finally, another end-of-the-book Rothschild,  discovers that motherhood isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. Being rich and having discovered this, she got to write about it. Wow. I think Betty Friedan beat you to it, Sweetie, but …. Goodness knows it must be way harder to be a Mom with a ton of money in the 1990’s than in the stifling suburbia and low pay of the early 1950s!

Miriam, of flea fame, also did contribute in a very humanitarian way to the founding of Israel and the Zionist movement as led by the nation’s first President, Chaim Weizmann. That was very commendable and I would like to have heard more about that.

My Thoughts

I’m being a bit snarky for a reason. There is so much MORE material in here (as there often is in such biographies of pre-21th Century women) about the men. And the man with the most coverage wasn’t even a Rothschild! He was Theolnious Monk, a great jazz musician. I love his music, his talent, but I came to read about how different the Rothschild women were. Instead I found out they did exactly the same sort of charity work as most other titled ladies of the era until about the time of World War II. Helping decriminalize you-know-what is very noteworthy. Also, Miriam certainly deserves praise for sticking to her studies and taking her naturalist studies to the professional level. (I loved that she included her son in her research)/

This is not a bad biography. I learned a lot. The prose is well written. It just didn’t profile enough about the women that was “exceptional.” I also found it very weird that they married cousins and it was even possible for an uncle to marry a niece–though not the very bold uncle whose announcement of such a marriage was one of the stories in the book. Too weird for words. Liberty Rothschild, the hidden “Rosemary Kennedy” of the family, deserved more attention, but alas, the records about her treatment were mostly burnt. I also like the appearance at the very, very end of Lady Bird Johnson and her “beautification” schemes with wildflowers. That was wonderful. She gave the world a gift–nice to see someone outside America, and with influence, admiring her work.

My Verdict

3.5

The Women of Rothschild by Natalie Livingstone

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Book Reviews

Review: When We Had Wings by Ariel Lawhon, Kristina McMorris and Susan Meissner

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Co-authoring novels seems to be a “thing” right now–this year’s The Lost Summers of Newport is a good, recent example of one. I’ve read books by two of the three–the best being Ariel Lawhon’s Flight of Dreams. [For others, see the end of this post.] So, right away this book peaked my interest. But wait? Didn’t I just read a novel on this very same story? Yep–another “book twin” as I call two books on the same story appearing at around the same time. Earlier this year I read and reviewed

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Angels of the Pacific by Elise Hooper. Both books are about military nurses (Army and Navy) surviving the Japanese invasion and take over of the Philippines in World War II. I’m curious why this phenomenon of what I term “Book Twins” keeps happening. I want to be published so I am reluctant to say anything that would damn me, but I do wonder if rival books are now encourage to boost sales? (Marketing Departments already think we are too stupid to tell one book from another with a very similar cover–why not similar stories, right?).

The Story

Three nurses, Minnesotan Eleanor Lindstrom (U.S. Navy), Texan Penny Franklin (U.S. Army) and Filpino nurse Lita Capel meet and forge a friendship as the two military nurses arrive in Manila. They endure all that the Japanese throw at the Island. They watch MacArthur run to the safety of Australia with his much-younger wife and late-in-life born son, and endure the rule of the Japanese in prison camp or in Manila. Along the way they develop life sustaining friendships, care for the sick and injured with whatever is available and see themselves tested by the hottest of refining fires of the soul.

My Thoughts

This was a believable story of courage and even heroism. I liked each of the women and the other characters. I thought their responses and reactions were true-to-life. Their emotions were genuine. If I’d had to go through what they went through, I’d have survived a bit easier (a teeensy tiny bit) with them at my side. They were real women.

Sadly, there are two whopping historical errors that I hope, since this book is from Net Galley, the publisher has identified and fixed. 1) A soldier speaks of the G.I. Bill before it was even announced. And, most ridiculous, 2) One of the three spends her first post-war days in a hotel in San Francisco in March 1945 watching TELEVISION for two days. Yes, television. Not only was it barely a thing, all manufacture of sets was canceled during the war. She also marvels at commercials. Really? Radio had them? So weird. (This occurs in chapter 41). [Even sadder, one of these three authors has a history of whopping errors or problems within her stories].

Another oddity was one of the ladies mentions “Daddy-daughter dances at school.” I’m not saying that never happened but it just really doesn’t fit the times. There were a few other little things like that.

Then there was the blatant overuse of the word “tasked”–several times in the first few chapters and again later in the book. I dislike the word, but hearing it that many times made me want to scream. Try a thesaurus, please!

My Verdict

3.5

I took off for the ridiculous t.v. thing. The story was very good and well told, but that and the G.I. Bill reference was just sloppy fact-checking. A Google search would have taken care of it.

When We had Wings publishes tomorrow, October 18. You can pre-order it by clicking on the linked title.

For a Nonfiction book on the nurses in the Philippines see:

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We Band of Angels by Elizabeth M. Norman

My reviews of other books by Susan Meissner:

As Bright As Heaven

The Last Year of the War

 

Book Reviews

Review: Haven by Emma Donoghue UPDATED

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Thank you to NetGalley for a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

My Interest

I read Donoghue’s book Akin and liked it. My kids read Room in school, but I have not read it. This book sounded interesting so I requested it and was happy to get it.

The Story

“It seems to him that nature is God’s holiest language.”

 

“That’s the problem with the vow of obedience; it tends to make sheep of men.”

Three monks set out to start a monastery where no one else lives, away from worldly temptations. They find an island off Ireland and settle there. Artt, the leader, and Cormac, the second monk, are men of faith. Trian (I constantly read this as “train”) is young. He was given by his parents to the monastery. Once they find their island, they begin to test their ability to obey Artt and to trust God to provide all that they need beyond the minuscule cache of supplies they brought with them in their boat.

My Thoughts

SPOILERS ABOUND HERE–YOU ARE WARNED

I should have known this book was being too nice to religion! There was the “duh, duh, de dum” moment of music when someone mentioned that the young monk had to squat to pass water. “Ugh,” my brain screamed! “Please not another stupid woman pretending to be a man book.” I wanted to quit, but I’m mostly glad I did not.

When, later in the story, young Trian is ill, the monk caring for him finally sees the young man with out his underpants on and gets an eyeful. Annoyingly, like with the mental illness diagnosis in Sorrow and Bliss (unless my eyes rolled too hard and too long and missed it), we are not told exactly what type or combination of genitalia Trian has but the word “androgyni” is bandied about.

“He’s never seen one of these botches that Pliny calls androgyni. Not a true male, made in God’s image, nor a true female, shaped to bear young.”

Did I mention this monk was left-handed? Never any issues in history with that. [For the unenlightened, the left hand was not allowed to be the dominate hand for centuries. Even well into the 20th Century people forced children to change from left- to right-handed.

So, naturally, once the secret is out it disrupts everyone. The Red State GOP monk, Artt, is horrified and can’t cope. The Blue State Democrat monk, Cormac sides with Trian and they simply must leave the Red State Island. So much for serving a higher purpose. The Catholic Church was founded on the idea that you must “pee like Jesus to be like Jesus,” so I’m guessing old Artt missed the way Trian peed? Could have saved themselves a lot of heart ache if he’d just paid attention before or during that boat ride.

Holy-hit-us-over-the-head-with-a-sledgehammer-Batman! So modern! I found it truly difficult to imagine how Trian had lived? With all the superstition abounding back in that day, you’d think he/she/they would have been left out to die. And, in a Catholic Church that required the Pope to prove he had two you-know-whats and one dangly thing (I don’t want spam) you’d think they’d have checked Trian out when he arrived at that first monastery–wouldn’t you?? Apparently not. Just like in those woman passing as a man books I’ve thrown across the room.

It is not news that there have always been a very few children born with different combinations of genitalia or with deformed genitals. That has happened throughout history. Even today most parents would be shocked to be told of such an outcome for their baby. Today, it can be dealt with through surgery and testing to identify the child’s true gender/sex. Back in 7th Century Ireland, he might have been allowed to live hidden away, but that’s a pretty big “might”. I just did not buy that this young monk would have been alive to go on this journey and that ruined the book for me.

In spite of my strong feelings on the ending, this was another well-written story by the author. It more than kept my attention throughout. I would caution very sensitive readers who love birds and animals–there are some rough spots in this book. Remember, it is a deserted island (no other humans) and the monks did what they had to do to survive.

One more comment: I do not like what I call the “verbing” of nouns. Here is the example from this book: “…he griddles oatcakes.” “To griddle” is now  a verb? (Eye roll). Donoghue is a better writer than this.

My Verdict

4.0

This is based on the writing, not on whether I agreed with the (to me) far-fetched idea that Trian would have been welcomed into a monetary in 7th Century Ireland.

Haven by Emma Donoghue

Book Reviews

Review: The Hotel Portofino by J.P. O’Connell UPDATED

Thank you to NetGalley for a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

My Interest

If I watch tv (on my laptop–I don’t own a t.v. and don’t subscribe to any streaming service except the pretty lamentable Amazon Prime [no extra channels]) I watch PBS. Masterpiece is a favorite though I don’t watch every show–less and less of them appeal to me these days. I found this book on Netgalley (it was still available even though it was already published) and learned that it was on PBS (I’ve linked below to the trailer). I haven’t looked into whether this is a “real” novel or the “script” novel from the t.v. show. No matter–I loved the script novels of the original Upstairs, Downstairs (I still have them) and of The Duchess of Duke Street (ditto). If it tells a good story, I’m for it.

The Story

How do you cure a tired marriage being lived in a tired country? Move. What to do with an over-age son lingering in the house? Arrange a marriage for him. Bella Ainsworth, husband Cecil and “shell-shocked” son, Lucien, have upped sticks and moved to the Italian Rivera to open a seasonal hotel aimed mostly at British tourists. They’ve brought their servant and her teen-aged son to help them. Along the way, affairs are started, Mussolini’s thugs threaten, art is dubiously sold and much, much, more! And all on the gorgeous Italian Riviera just outside Portofino.

My Thoughts

I listened to the audio and it was a great story! No Dowager Countess, but otherwise fans of Downton Abbey really will like this one. This was a fun addition to my summer and I look forward to bingeing the show! And, apparently the show is going to have a season two–so stay tuned. 

My Verdict

3.5

Hotel Portofino by J,P. O’Connell

Did you watch Hotel Portofino? Have you read this book? Leave me a comment or a link to your own post.

Historical Fiction

20-books

Book Reviews

Review: The Bodyguard by Katherine Center

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Thank you to #NetGalley for giving me a free copy of the audio version of this book in exchange for a fair review.

My Interest

This sounded fun and a little Stephanie Plum-ish so I requested it. Happily, I was right.

The Story

Hannah Brooks works as what is usually called a bodyguard (executive protection agent). Jack Stapleton is a Hollywood mega-star–the object of many fantasies for his rugged good looks and his role in blockbusters like The Destroyer. When Jack’s mother is diagnosed with cancer he goes home to Texas to be with her and, you guessed it, Hannah is assigned to be his bodyguard. When visiting with his family they must fake a dating relationship to keep from worrying his mom about him needing security. 

Meanwhile, a Hollywood bombshell with a personality similar to that one royal’s American wife, whose surgically enhanced looks are called “weaponized beauty,” is known to be Jack’s girlfriend. And then there’s the Corgi breeder-stalker. Yeah, who’d have thought someone who loves adorable Corgis would be a stalker? 

But after the first few days are Hannah and Jack faking it or are they really falling for each other?

My Thoughts

This is a fun, clean book. No “ick” anywhere! I think it has what they call a “trope”–right? Faking a relationship is a “trope, right?” Cool. There is nothing to dislike in this book though I thought the ending and epilogue could have been a tad less preachy in tone and a little shorter but it isn’t really a big deal because it wasn’t political preaching. I loved Hannah and Jack and adored Jack’s parents. I really, really liked Clipper. But Bobby (he prefers Robby)–keep him, ok? This is the perfect beach or pool rom-com for Summer 2022.

The Bodyguard by Katherine Center releases on July 19, but is available for pre-order.

Book Reviews

A Great Start to My Net Galley Year

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This year has been a very successful one for me in terms of NetGalley books awarded, read, and reviewed.  10 books so far either read or enjoyed on audio! And 2 books I did not review because I DNF-ed them.

Net Galley Books Read and Reviewed in the First Half of 2022

My Reviews

After the Romanovs by Helen Rappaport

Bloomsbury Girls: A Novel by Natalie Jenner

Book Woman’s Daughter by Kim Michele Richardson

Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Seamus O’Reilly

Little Souls by Sandra Dallas

Mary Churchill’s War by Mary Churchill [Soames]

Sixteen Trees of the Somme by Lars Mytting

Under the Golden Sun by Jenny Ashcroft

Before June ends I should also finish I may finish one more book from Net Galley.

What about you? Do you request and review books from Net Galley? Do you have a post like this? Leave me a link. Or, just leave me a comment.