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review 2018-10-03 00:40
The Darling Dahlias and the Unlucky Clover
The Darling Dahlias and the Unlucky Clover - Susan Wittig Albert

Opie is a female reporter earning extra money to help her family through the depression era. She and the other women of the Dahlias grow vegetables and fruits in the gardens of their "clubhouse" and give to the people who need and earn money by selling to give to people who need. At the same time, there is a mystery of what happened to the husband of a woman in their community.


This book is set in 1934 and FDR is president and Huey Long is running against him. What I enjoyed about this story was all the historical information that was provided in this story. After I got far enough I realized what a goldmine it was and hunted down an audio version so I could have my kids listen. We talked about coming out of the depression, putting people to work as they wanted to work not be given handouts. We talked about party line phones and so many other things brought up in this story. I will definitely be looking at the other books by this author to see what else she brings up that will be interesting to my girls for history. 

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review 2018-08-15 15:55
The Fairy Tales Sounded More Interesting Than the Main Book
The Hazel Wood - Melissa Albert

I know that some people mentioned reading this book for Halloween Bingo 2018. It is definitely going to hit some bingo squares if you all are interested in reading this. You got "A Grim Tale," "Supernatural," "New Release", and I would argue "Suspense." Will have to check out the Goodreads tag on that later.


"The Hazel Wood" just didn't know what it wanted to be honestly. I think that the idea behind it sounded great. We have a teen girl (Alice) and her mother (Ella) constantly on the move. Bad luck seems to follow the two of them. Alice loves her mother, but often feels upset that her mother is estranged from Alice's grandmother, Althea Proserpine, a very famous and reclusive author. Althea wrote a dark fairy tale collection called "Tales from the Hinterland" that has gained a huge cult following with many fans trying to decipher the meaning behind Althea's tales.  Althea is now in hiding in her home called the Hazel Wood.  When Ella finally marries an awful man named Harold, she and Alice finally stay in one place in New York. When Alice starts to realize that all signs point to bad luck finding them again, she finds her mother kidnapped. Alice's stepsister tells her that her mother told her to stay away from the Hazel Wood. Of course Alice has no intention of doing that and goes on a quest to find and save her mother. 

Sounds interesting right? Not really. The characters do not draw you in at all. Everyone feels rather flat and you can see plot points coming a mile away. We also get information dumps (I loathe that) and just some parts of this book that reminded me a bit of Neil Gaiman's "American Gods" (regarding certain characters--no spoilers) which left me with the feeling that nothing about this was fresh at all. Just felt like very familiar territory that had a lot of overwrought writing going on even when we get to the end of the book. And then Melissa Albert includes a scene involving Alice another character who is black and a police officer and I just don't know what in the world she was thinking there. I wanted to kick the crap out of Alice and she's a fictional character. She may have grown up poor, but that was some white privilege nonsense going on there that took me completely out of the book.  


Alice is 17 when the story starts with the story going around in fits and starts. Instead of being a straight forward story, we hear about Alice and her mother Ella and them moving. Then we come to find out that Alice's mother has married. Then we find out she has a stepsister. Melissa Albert doesn't provide this information in a logical way. It just arrives a sentence, paragraph, or chapter after you start reading about something else. I can see why a lot of readers complained about the start of this book, because I had a hard time getting into it. Things don't get smooth until we have Ella kidnapped and Alice off to slay dragons (joking) with her classmate Ellery Finch. Some readers may argue that Albert includes a reason (you find out much later) why Alice may be hard to like and is so offputting to others. I just didn't care at that point and felt like it was too easy to handwave her being self involved for a good majority of this story.

Ellery Finch was actually more interesting to me though I didn't like this character either. Finch as Alice calls him for most of the story is the son of a rich man. His father is fairly absent and his stepmother wishes him gone. His mother was a famous model and loved Finch and then she died (suicide) when she realized that Finch's father had betrayed her. At least that is what I assume happened. Albert dances around things too much with this character. The main reason why Finch is important to Alice is that he has read Alice's grandmother book and she thinks that him knowing about the tales can give her insight into who kidnapped her mother and how to find the Hazel Wood. 


There are other characters in this book, but they feel like footnotes. Alice's mother Ella is interesting, and what we hear about her it made me want to read more about her. Same with Althea. We just get some scenes here and there with Alice describing her mother and we hear how important her mother is to her. Althea sounds like an opportunistic person, but once again, we just know that based on what people tell Alice. I wanted to delve in more deeply with these characters.


The writing was too much at times. Not quite purple prose, but just had enough of it here and there that it turned me off. Also the main story with Alice is beyond boring. The only time I perked up is when we heard the tales. And we never hear all of them! We only hear about two tales, "Alice-Three-Times" and "The Door That Wasn't There." 


The dialogue between Alice and Finch is just exhausting at times.


“No, my mom did. I’ll go first, so I can teach you.” He cleared his throat. “Okay, the first item in my memory palace is a … map of Amsterdam. Because Amsterdam is where I lost my, um, my virginity in a public park.”

He laughed self-consciously, like he was already rethinking his brag.

“So, A is for Amsterdam. Now you say mine, then do a B, with a memory attached.”


Why would you tell anyone this that you literally just started to even talk to a day or two ago?


He said it lightly, without emphasis, but I knew what he wanted. “You remember I’ve never met her, right?” I asked hotly. “Like, ever? Althea figures not at all into my life, and my mom hasn’t talked to her in sixteen years.” “What about when you were little? Where you grew up? What do you remember about that?”


I loathe Finch. No matter what Alice says he is so focused on Althea he isn't even listening to her saying nope never met her.


“Some bitch? She was my girlfriend for eight months. It’s so ugly when girls call each other that word.”

“Oh, my god, Finch, go get a liberal arts degree.”


This is the only time I laughed while reading this book. Finch is insufferable, but so is Alice.


And then of course we get into the car incident with Alice, the cop, and Finch and Alice just acted like a straight up ass. 


“Car looks okay,” I said. “Was anyone hurt?”

“Sweetheart, I’m gonna need you to turn around now.”


The cop chewed on something, gum or the inside of his cheek.

“Son, please tell your girlfriend to turn her lights back on and turn the car around, before I write her up.” His voice was mechanical, the metallic eyes of his shades pointed toward Finch. The feeling started in my cheeks, like it always did, and flooded my skin with cold fire.

“You can talk to me,” I said. “I’m right here. Or were you under the impression that a woman can’t follow a simple command?“Just because we’re in whatever shitstain town is under your jurisdiction, it doesn’t mean you get to act like I’m a baby. How dare you treat me like a fuckin’ housewife!"


Cue fight between Finch and Alice and Alice acting like she's not privileged cause she's not rich. You wonder why Finch even puts up with Alice after this, but that all becomes clear later. 


The book includes some drawings of things fairy tale-esque and also connects to the book, that was cool to look at. I know some readers mentioned the hard copy cover of this book was awesome. If I actually liked this book I would buy it just for the drawings and cover.

The setting of "The Hazel Wood" tries so hard to be dark and it just doesn't work. I don't want to get into spoiler territory here, but the world building in this book makes zero sense after a while and you just go with it. 

The ending was a letdown. Honestly if you are going to do a dark fairy tale, this could/should have ended on a darker note. Albert backs off and throws something in the mix that made zero sense to get this book towards a conclusion. I don't like books that end in cliffhangers, but I do think the way this book ended just seemed like a cop-out for a sequel. Albert could have ended it a different way and then just had the next book follow up with Ella, Finch, etc. Or heck even someone totally new. 

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review 2018-08-13 05:47
The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
The Hazel Wood - Melissa Albert

A dark-tinged fantasy reminiscent of Neil Gaiman, the bleaker stories of Diana Wynne Jones, and John Connelly. I'm going to read that every time, but even better, this one is good, too!

'The Hazel Wood' feels fresh as its plot spirals its characters in what could have been well-charted territory in less-capable hands. This is being pegged as a teen novel, but I see opportunities with adult readers as well.


Alice has spent most of her life on the road with her mother. She remembers the books she read better than the towns and apartments they've left behind. When her mother finally decides to settle down, shortly after they hear of the death of her mother's mother, Alice's mysterious grandmother who is a reclusive author, it seems like Alice can start living a normal life.


That doesn't happen. The book goes through some strange territory and there's a twist or two that knocks some points off of the top, but this was solid and entertaining.


A longer review of this got lost somewhere in my transition to this site, oh well.

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review 2018-07-31 11:00
Conrad Monk and the Great Heathen Army
Conrad Monk and the Great Heathen Army - Edoardo Albert

by Eduardo Albert


Historical fiction with humour, what's not to love? This drew me in right away with all the tension of a Viking raid on a monastery and a protagonist who never wanted to be a monk. Conrad is funny in his totally mercenary reaction to the situation and consistently along his further adventures. I do love an intelligent character with a good sense of survival.


It's set against a fairly accurate backdrop of history of the Viking invasions of England. Exactly what's based on fact is explained well in a note after the story and holds some real surprises as some details that seemed unlikely turned out to be based on archaeological finds! I may have a couple of locations to visit on my travels.


The story keeps a good pace and despite his perpetual self-interest, Conrad is actually a likeable character. How he came to be a monk gets explained in the curse of the story and it's easy to sympathise with him on that particular downturn of his constantly changing fortunes.


Best of all, the story puts believable faces to groups of people from history. Personalities among the Danes as well as historical figures bring the setting alive and I did laugh out loud at a few all too human foibles along the way.


I highly recommend this story for anyone who likes a Pratchett-like laugh, even if they don't normally read Historical Fiction. My only complaint is the overt way in which the author lets us know there will be a series. I will be interested in the next book despite my usual disinterest series that use this tactic.

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review 2018-07-19 05:40
The Lion and the Lamb - Charles Causey


Charles Causey

paperback, 288 pages

Published November 17th 2016 by WestBow Press

ISBN: 1512761095 (ISBN13: 9781512761092)

also available in Hardcover and Kindle




I had read Corrie Ten Boom's a while ago, so seeing her story side by side one of Hitler's top aides, was an interesting choice. Causey writes this as a novel, but his research on the historical detail is amazing. He alternates chapters between Ten Boom and Albert Speer. Both deal with betrayal, both starting off as innocent or naive. Who is the lamb? Who is the lion? Something for each reader to discern on their own. It took me a while to read this novel. Not because I didn't like it. I did like it. The subject matter, and seeing part of WWll Germany from Speer's side, was difficult at times.

****This book was received from the author, Charles Causey, through a Goodreads giveaway. ****


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