Always With a Book

Friday, October 30, 2020

Review: A Frenzy of Sparks by Kristin Fields

Title: A Frenzy of Sparks
Author: Kristin Fields
Published: November 2020, Lake Union Publishing
Format: ARC Paperback, 252 pages
Source: Publisher via Publicist

From the author of A Lily in the Light comes a poignant story of innocence lost and what it means to grow up too fast.

It’s 1965, and thirteen-year-old Gia, along with her older brother and cousins, are desperate to escape their sleepy, tree-lined neighborhood where nothing ever happens. The only thing Gia would miss is the surrounding marsh, where she feels at home among sea birds and salt water.

But when one of Gia’s cousins brings drugs into their neighborhood, it sets off a chain of events that quickly turn dangerous. Everyone will be caught in the ripples, and some may be swept away entirely. Gia is determined to keep herself and her family afloat while the world is turned upside down around her. Can she find a way to hold on to the life she was so eager to leave behind, or will she have to watch it all disappear beneath the marsh forever?

At turns heart-wrenching and hopeful, A Frenzy of Sparks explores a world where survival is the attempt to move forward while leaving pieces of your heart behind.

My thoughts: This is the first book I've read by Kristin Fields and what a beautifully written, yet heart-wrenching story it was. It's a coming of age story that is made all the more captivating because of the fact that it is unfortunately so timely even today.

While this book is set a few years earlier than when I was a kid, I remember the days of innocent summer fun that Gia had, just hanging out with my siblings, longing to be older and be able to "do stuff." That is until all that innocence is shattered when drugs make their way into Gia's neighborhood and nothing is the same.

This book took hold of me and never let go. I think because it is narrated from Gia's perspective, I found it to be extremely captivating. This book takes you on such an emotional journey as you watch first-hand how life turns upside for Gia and her family. Her brother becomes addicted and turns into a completely different person. Gia does her best to keep things normal but will she be able to keep this up?

I've seen how drug addiction can change people and I've seen what it can do to families. This book brought some of that to mind. When one person struggles, it affects the whole family and then some. Kristin Fields does such a phenomenal job portraying that and that is why I stated at the beginning of this review that this book is unfortunately still so timely. A Frenzy of Sparks may be set in 1965, but drug use unfortunately has not come and gone.

I highly recommend this book. It is a powerful, thought-provoking read that will stay with me for quite some time. And I think this will make a great bookclub much to unpack and discuss!


Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Review: When We Were Young and Brave by Hazel Gaynor (audio)


Title: When We Were Young and Brave
Author: Hazel Gaynor
Narrator: Rosie Jones, Imogen Church
Published: October 2020, Harper Audio / William Morrow Paperbacks
Length: 11 hours 32 minutes / 448 pages
Source: Audio via Library / Print via TLC BookTours

Their motto was to be prepared, but nothing could prepare them for war. . .

The New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Came Home sets her unforgettable new novel in China during WWII, inspired by true events surrounding the Japanese Army’s internment of teachers and children from a British-run missionary school.

China, December 1941. Having left an unhappy life in England for a teaching post at a missionary school in northern China, Elspeth Kent is now anxious to return home to help the war effort. But as she prepares to leave China, a terrible twist of fate determines a different path for Elspeth, and those in her charge.

Ten-year-old Nancy Plummer has always felt safe at Chefoo School, protected by her British status. But when Japan declares war on Britain and America, Japanese forces take control of the school and the security and comforts Nancy and her friends are used to are replaced by privation, uncertainty and fear. Now the enemy, and separated from their parents, the children look to their teachers – to Miss Kent and her new Girl Guide patrol especially – to provide a sense of unity and safety.

Faced with the relentless challenges of oppression, the school community must rely on their courage, faith and friendships as they pray for liberation – but worse is to come when they are sent to a distant internment camp where even greater uncertainty and danger await . . .

Inspired by true events, When We Were Young and Brave is an unforgettable novel about impossible choices and unimaginable hardship, and the life-changing bonds formed between a young girl and her teacher in a remote corner of a terrible war.


My thoughts:  I adore Hazel Gaynor's books...I have read every single one of them and fall more in love with her writing with each book. And, I find that they are the perfect books to listen to - her stories just translate so well on audio. My only complaint is that I now have to wait until her next book comes out.

This book was completely captivating right from the start. Even though it takes on such a heavy topic, I still found myself totally engaged in the story. I knew I would enjoy it, but I didn't expect to feel such an emotional connection to the characters as I did. I found that even when I had to put the book down (damn life getting in the way!) I was constantly thinking about the characters and the story and what would happen next. And I couldn't wait to pick it up again but at the same time, I also didn't want to rush through it...this was a book that I did not want to end. 

I loved the way this story was told, alternating between two points of view - Elspeth, a teacher at the school and Nancy, a ten-year-old student. The book is based on the true story of when Japan invaded China during WWII. It shows how the Japanese took over the school and moved the children and teachers around and are eventually taken to an internment camp. This is something I have never read about, despite all the books I've read on WWII.

This book will take you on quite an emotional journey. It was interesting to read this book right now, during our current time, when we are in the middle of a pandemic. It is certainly not the same thing, but it struck me that to some, having to be under restriction is the end of the world. However, I would think if they had to endure what these teachers and students endured they might rethink that.

This book clearly showcases how these girls, at the leadership of their teachers, made it through some very trying times. I loved how they continued to follow the principles of Girl Guides and kept trying to earn badges even while under Japanese control. This kept some normalcy in their life despite the circumstances.

These characters have certainly worked their way into my heart and I won't be forgetting them anytime soon. There is a reason I love Hazel Gaynor's books and this latest one proves it. They are always meticulously researched and beautifully written. This particular one was inspired by the author's own family's story and for that I am so grateful she shared it with us.

Audio thoughts:  This was such a great book to listen to...and Rosie Jones and Imogen Church did such a fantastic job narrating it. The book takes you on an emotional journey, for sure, but both narrators handle the emotions perfectly. Rosie Jones was quite believable as a ten-year-old girl and Imogen Church was great as Elspeth. Their intonations and pacing were spot-on and I found myself mesmerized and completely engaged by this audiobook. 


Review: Bluebird Bluebird by Attica Locke

Title: Bluebird Bluebird
Author: Attica Locke
Series: Highway 59
Published: August 2018, Mulholland Books
Format: Paperback, 320 pages
Source: Personal copy

A powerful thriller about the explosive intersection of love, race, and justice from a writer and producer of the Emmy winning Fox TV show Empire.

When it comes to law and order, East Texas plays by its own rules--a fact that Darren Mathews, a black Texas Ranger, knows all too well. Deeply ambivalent about growing up black in the lone star state, he was the first in his family to get as far away from Texas as he could. Until duty called him home.

When his allegiance to his roots puts his job in jeopardy, he travels up Highway 59 to the small town of Lark, where two murders--a black lawyer from Chicago and a local white woman--have stirred up a hornet's nest of resentment. Darren must solve the crimes--and save himself in the process--before Lark's long-simmering racial fault lines erupt.

A rural noir suffused with the unique music, color, and nuance of East Texas, Bluebird, Bluebird is an exhilarating, timely novel about the collision of race and justice in America.

My thoughts: This is the first book I've read by Attica Locke and I can now see why so many people rave about her writing. I have already ordered the second book in this series and cannot wait to get to it.

I was immediately pulled into this book even though it's more of a slow-burn kind of read. It is totally atmospheric - my favorite kind of read - and character-driven and I found myself taking my time with it, rather than rushing to get it done. I loved how the scene was set and the tension builds ever so slowly. 

Darren Matthews is the kind of character I love. He is battling his own demons and is at a crossroads in his life. He is then asked to do a favor for a friend putting him in a small town where is not welcome and will have a hard time finding anyone to trust him. Yet, nothing will stop him from doing what he deems is the right thing. 

This is a multi-layered, complex story that takes place in a small East Texas town. It's a dark, extremely thought-provoking mystery that kept me flipping the pages. The characters get under your skin and you find yourself totally worked up about the racial injustice that is going on. 

I loved this book and I loved the writing. I will now not only be reading the second book in this series, Heaven, my Home, but also checking out Attica Locke's other books. Have you read anything by her? If so, what do you recommend I read next?


Books in this series:

  1. Bluebird Bluebird
  2. Heaven, My Home 


Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Review: In the Deep by Loreth Anne White

Title: In the Deep
Author: Loreth Anne White
Published: October 2020, Montlake
Format: ARC Paperback, 368 pages
Source: Publisher

I hope you don’t find him. And if you do, I hope he’s dead and that he suffered…

Real-estate mogul Martin Cresswell-Smith is the best thing that has ever happened to Ellie. After her daughter’s devastating death, a divorce, and an emotional breakdown, he’s helped her move as far as possible from the grief, the rage, and the monsters of her past. Ellie imagines her new home with Martin in an Australian coastal town will be like living a fairy tale. But behind closed doors is another story—one that ends in Martin’s brutal murder. And Ellie seems almost relieved…

Naturally, everyone thinks Mrs. Cresswell-Smith is guilty.

Senior Constable Lozza Bianchi has reasonable doubt. She sees evidence of a twisted psychological battle and a couple who seemed to bring out the worst in each other—adultery, abuse, betrayal, and revenge. If anything Ellie says can be believed, that is. As the case takes twist after spiraling twist, Lozza can’t shake the gut instinct that she’s being manipulated. That Ellie is hiding something. That there are secrets yet to surface. Lozza has no idea.

My thoughts:  This is the first book I've read by Loreth Anne White but it certainly will not be the last. I have no idea how I have not read anything by her before...her writing is insanely good! 

This book kept me engaged and glued to the pages from start to finish...I love books like that. And it also had so many little twists and turns that I did not see coming. It was so tense and suspenseful and really kept me guessing as to how things were going to play out. I thought a few times I had things worked out, but nope! Not even close. That's how twisted and clever this author is.

I loved how it was written, alternating between the present at the trial for the murder of Martin Cresswell-Smith and then the past, and using multiple POV's to tell the story. It really keeps you on your toes as you try to figure out just what the heck happened. And the about vivid imagery and an absolute atmospheric read. Most of the book takes place in New South Wales in Australia, somewhere I have never been, but I felt like I was there right along with the characters - that's how descriptive the author was, but never too wordy that it gets bogged down. 

This is a book where you find characters you sympathize with, characters you despise, and characters you aren't sure how to feel about. Do you trust them? Do you believe what they are telling you? You want to, but you aren't sure and that is what makes this such a compelling read. Once you start reading this one, you won't be able to put it down, so make sure you have a block of time free when you pick it up!

I will definitely be checking out Loreth Anne White's backlist now that I've devoured this one...I cannot believe I haven't read anything by her before. Have you? Where do you recommend I start if you have? And definitely pick this one up!



Review: A Beautiful Corpse by Christi Daugherty

Title: A Beautiful Corpse
Author: Christi Daugherty
Series: Harper McClain, #2
Published: March 2019, Minotaur Books
Format: Hardcover, 320 pages
Source: Personal copy

From Christi Daugherty, author of The Echo Killing, comes another pulse-pounding suspenseful thriller featuring crime reporter Harper McClain.

For a woman, being killed by someone who claims to love her is the most ordinary murder of all.

With its antebellum houses and ancient oak trees draped in a veil of Spanish moss, Savannah’s graceful downtown is famous around the world. When a woman is killed in the heart of that affluent district, the shock is felt throughout the city. But for crime reporter Harper McClain, this story is personal. The corpse has a familiar face.

Only twenty-four years old, Naomi Scott was just getting started. A law student, tending bar to make ends meet, she wanted to change the world. Instead, her life ended in the dead of night at the hands of an unseen gunman. There are no witnesses to the crime. The police have three suspects: Scott’s boyfriend, who has a criminal past he claims he’s put behind him, her boss, who stalked another young bartender two years ago, and the district attorney’s son, who Naomi dated until their relationship ended in acrimony. All three men claim to love her. Could one of them be her killer?

With the whole city demanding answers, Harper unravels a tangled story of obsession and jealousy. But the pressures on her go beyond the murder. The newspaper is facing more layoffs. Her boss fears both their jobs are on the line. And Harper begins to realize that someone is watching her every move. Someone familiar and very dangerous.

Someone who told her to run before it’s too late…

My thoughts: This is the second book in Christi Daugherty's Harper McClain series and I am totally hooked. I loved the first book, The Echo Killing and immediately went out and bought the next two books. And this second one is just as good!

I loved how fast-paced and atmospheric this book was. It is a follow-up to the first book, and while it certainly can be read on its own, there are some threads that are continued from the first book that pertain to Harper and her past. If you haven't read that first book yet, you certainly will be itching to after reading this one.

I love Harper McClain. I love how determined she is to get justice for the murdered victim, even when she has little help from the police. She's such a flawed character, yet she's dogged in her search for answers. I wanted answers to this murder as much as she did and found myself trying to figure this one out right alongside her.

I also love how her past continues to be front and center in this series. This is why I love reading series and why I am such a firm believer in reading them in order whenever possible - that continued character development. In this second installment things are still building around what happened to Harper's mother, someone is still watching her and with all this happening to her, the tension grows. Who is it and why are they targeting her? 

I loved this latest installment and I cannot wait to start the next one, especially with this one ending with a bit of a cliffhanger. I'm not sure if book 3 is the end of the series or if there will be more books after that but I cannot recommend this series enough. They are so engaging and addicting!

Books in this series:

  1. The Echo Killing
  2. A Beautiful Corpse
  3. Revolver Road

Monday, October 26, 2020

Review: Every Now and Then by Lesley Kagen


Title: Every Now and Then
Author: Lesley Kagen
Published: October 2020, Alcove Books
Format: ARC E-copy, 296 pages
Source: Netgalley via Publisher

For fans of Where the Crawdads Sing and This Tender Land.

A heartfelt coming-of-age story about three young girls searching for adventure during the summer of 1960 from the New York Times bestselling author of Whistling in the Dark.

The summer of 1960 was the hottest ever for Summit, Wisconsin. For kids seeking relief from the heat, there was a creek to be swum in, sprinklers to run through, and ice cream at Whitcomb's Drugstore. But for Frankie, Viv, and Biz, eleven-year-old best friends, it would forever be remembered as the summer that evil paid a visit to their small town--and took their young lives as they'd known them as a souvenir.

With a to-do list in hand, the girls set forth from their hideout to make their mark on that summer, but when three patients escape from Broadhurst Mental Institution, their idyllic lives take a sinister turn. Determined to uncover long-held secrets, the girls have no idea that what they discover could cost them their lives and the ones they hold dear.

Six decades later, Biz remembers that long ago summer and how it still haunts her and her lifelong friends in Every Now and Then. A story about ties that bind forever, the timelessness of guilt and grief, and the everlasting hope for redemption.

My thoughts: As soon as I read the synopsis for this book, I knew I wanted to read it and I'm glad I did. It was a great coming of age story and I enjoy picking these types of books up every once and again.

This book really kept me engaged from start to finish. It's set in 1960 in a small town and tells the story of three girls who are on the cusp of adolescence when one summer everything changes. I loved the innocence of the three girls and how each girl had such a big personality. While I grew up a couple decades later, this definitely brought me back to my childhood summers, being free to ride bikes around my neighborhood, being outside all day from sun-up to sun-down, and not being tied to any electronic device. 

Of course, I didn't have a mental institution near my house, and that is where things take a dark turn for the girls. Not to mention, this is what drew me to this book. I loved how just as I am fascinated with this, these young girls were equally fascinated and drawn to this place. They make friends with the more gentle patients, but after spending time there, begin to realize something rather sinister is going on with other patients.

This book tackles some rather heavy topics, yet it does so with such a light hand. It was so well-written and quite thought-provoking at the same time. This was my first time reading this author, but it won't be my last. 



Friday, October 23, 2020

Review: Absolution by Regina Buttner

Title: Absolution
Author: Regina Buttner
Published: October 2020, SparkPress
Format: Paperback, 256 pages
Source: Publisher via Publicist

Jeanie thinks she was to blame for the sexual assault she suffered in college—and she’d do anything to keep her old-school Catholic family from finding out about the resulting pregnancy, as well as what she did to conceal it.

Years have passed since the assault, and Jeanie’s husband, Greg, still thinks she’s the seemingly innocent girl he married in a rush to spite his controlling mother. It’s the height of the Seattle dot-com boom, and he’s too busy cashing in his stock options to pay attention to his wife. He isn’t aware of Jeanie’s lingering shame and guilt, or that she married him in the desperate hope that devoting herself to marriage and motherhood would somehow absolve her from the sins in her past.

Their hidden agendas collide when Greg discovers evidence of Jeanie’s long-ago pregnancy. As she confesses the details of that drunken night with her married professor, Greg’s pristine image of her is blown. His shock deepens into violent fury, and Jeanie realizes she needs to leave him—but Greg won’t let her go. He’s up for a big promotion, and he’s not about to let her ruin his reputation by walking out on him. He’ll resort to blackmail if necessary. Or worse.

My thoughts: There are some books that you just know will stay with you long after you have finished reading them and this is definitely one of them. A beautifully written, yet heart-breaking story that grabs hold of you and doesn't let go. 

Once I started reading this, I found myself completely captivated in Jeanne's world, unable to put down the book. Early on in the book, Jeanne finds herself the victim of sexual assault. From there, we become privy to the choices she then goes on to make and while they might not be choices we would have made, it is so hard to walk away from Jeanne until you reach that last page.

While at times, this book is hard to read, the writing itself is stunningly beautiful. It is not so much that it is overly worded, but painted just right, so much so that it is easy to picture yourself or even someone you might know in Jeanne's situation. And have we not all met a Greg? I felt these characters were drawn so realistically, even the secondary characters felt like I could have been reading about family members or people I know. While some characters were so awful that you just wanted to throttle them, they were so realistic and that is what made this book so compelling. 

This book isn't very long, but it sure packs quite a punch and I think it would make a great book club pick. There is so much to unpack here, so many themes to discuss. And as a debut novel, I for sure will be keeping an eye out for what comes next from this author...she sure is a talented writer. 

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