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review 2017-08-04 18:18
The devil is in the details
The Trouble with Goats and Sheep - Joanna Cannon

It's ironic that after I made the post about not finding enough time to post twice a week I exponentially increased how many books I was reading. This has resulted in a backlog of books which show as 'currently reading' on all of my literary social media sites. This has generally meant that the reviews which have been going up on Fridays are following in the order that I read them but I may have read them as much as two months ago. I'm going to change that up with this post because I'm just so excited to talk about this book that it's jumping the queue. Strap in, guys.

 

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon was brought to my attention by watching this video by one of my favorite BookTubers, Mercedes. It was the cover that initially grabbed my attention (Honestly, are you even surprised anymore?) but it was the quick blurb which she read that truly won me over. (PS The UK and US covers are vastly different and honestly I prefer the cover from the UK.) Cannon's debut novel is set on a small road in England during the summer of 1976 and the winter of 1967. Two seemingly disparate events from these two time periods seem to be converging during what turns out to be one of the hottest summers on record. The reader follows several narrative threads from the inhabitants of this road but the central character is 10-year old Grace. We see her neighbors, family, and friend (Tilly is a delight) through her eyes while also getting to peek behind the shuttered windows and closed doors of their homes where secrets lurk in every corner. It started with a disappearance of a woman...or was it a baby? Maybe it was a fire that started things. It's sometimes difficult to determine just what started a chain of events, isn't it? The Trouble with Goats and Sheep explores that and much more. I don't want this novel to sound distressingly gloomy or dark because that's not accurate. It's difficult for me to convey just what it was that instantly drew me in and had me savoring it like a delicious treat. I think it's that Cannon was able to move seamlessly between the different characters and two time periods and create a story that was both believable and poignant. The people on the avenue felt real and tangible. Their foibles and fears weren't inconceivable or written with a melodramatic air. These were real people who had made mistakes but were too stubborn to admit them. It's a study of humanity and how two little girls tried to reconcile what they were seeing with what they desperately wanted to believe.  I knew within 30 pages that this was a book that this was going to have high re-readability for me and I daresay for many others as well. 10/10 highly recommend.

 

The UK cover:

Source: Waterstones

 

The US cover:

Source: Amazon

 

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2017-07-04 14:03
The Illusionist's Apprentice by Kristy Cambron
The Illusionist's Apprentice - Kristy Cambron

Wren Lockhart, apprentice to master illusionist Harry Houdini, uses life on a vaudeville stage to escape the pain of her past. She continues her career of illusion after her mentor’s death, intent on burying her true identity. But when a rival performer’s act goes tragically wrong, the newly formed FBI calls on Wren to speak the truth—and reveal her real name to the world. She transfers her skills for misdirection from the stage to the back halls of vaudeville, as she finds herself the unlikely partner in the FBI’s investigation. All the while Houdini’s words echo in her mind: Whatever occurs, the crowd must believe it’s what you meant to happen. She knows that if anyone digs too deep, secrets long kept hidden may find their way to the surface—and shatter her carefully controlled world. Set during one of the richest, most vibrant eras in American history, this Jazz Age novel of illusion, suspense, and forgotten pasts is perfect for fans of The Magician’s Lie, challenging all to find the underpinnings of faith on their own life’s stage.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Wren Lockhart rises from street swindler to apprentice to famed escape artist Harry Houdini. This novel opens in the months following Houdini's death in the 1920s. While focusing on the 20s, there are also chapters that periodically flash back to either Wren's childhood or her time working with Houdini (one such chapter involving their attending a seance performed by Margery Crandon, the Witch of Lime Street). 

 

Wren attends a demonstration being performed by a fellow illusionist. It is at this performance that a man dies. The death is investigated and once it's suspected that the deceased might have been murdered, the FBI gets involved. In walks in Agent Elliot Matthews, who approaches Wren in hopes that she might be able to provide valuable information, given her close proximity to the deceased at the time of their death. But Wren fears that the FBI's involvement, Matthews' questioning and prying specifically, could possibly uncover secrets within her own family she very much needs kept buried. Lives of family members are at stake. 

 

"Wren, you once told me you lost someone very dear to you."

She drew in a sharp breath, absorbing his swift change in subject. 

"Yes, I did lose someone once." She avoided revealing emotion with her quiet tone.

"The person you lost, what would you give to speak with them again? If only for a moment?"

"I'd give everything I own without a second thought."

"As would I, Wren."

 

After crafting quite the historical love story within The Ringmaster's Wife, author Kristy Cambron returns to the performance tent with The Illusionist's Apprenticea tale inspired by the true-life story of Dorothy Young, who was, in fact, brought on as an apprentice to Houdini in her teens! . Wren's impressive crowdwork is a delight to read, particularly during one scene when she and Agent Matthews team up on stage. Their banter is adorable and slyly cheeky! 

 

For those picking this up not realizing it falls under Christian fiction, have no fears of uncomfortable reading. The religious elements are actually quite light, not going much beyond light, passing mentions of "God's Light" or "King of Kings", that kind of thing. That and possibly Wren's repeated distinction between magic and illusion. She does not like being labeled a magician because she feels magic touches upon darkness. Illusion meanwhile (she reasons) is merely slight-of-hand work.  

 

Staring through the doorway to the glass house, Wren watched the melody of the birds' flight. Why hadn't they tried to escape? They never did. Not even in her stage show. They flew over balconies. Under theater ceilings. Turning endless circles in cages of glass... But the birds never found freedom. They floated from branch to branch, content in their caged world, when if they'd been brave but once, they could have flown out the next time they door had been opened....Why, when freedom was so close, did they cling to their chains?

 

Wren tore her gaze from the winged creatures, the fight to suppress emotion a losing battle. She let go for a rare moment, allowing herself to weep into her hands.

 

I came to find that I had guessed one of Wren's major secrets in the early chapters of the story, as well as pinning who the main "bad guy" would be at around the halfway point, though it is not actually revealed until pretty close to the end of the novel. So, somewhat of a predictablity factor there for me but still quite a fun read! I got a chuckle near the end, as characters are escaping a major fire, because the way Cambron describes the moment reminded me of the close of the first Die Hard film! 

 

*Bonus: If you're a fan of the Gwen Marcey series by Carrie Stuart Parks, Cambron gives a shout-out to her in the acknowledgements in this book, giving thanks for helping out with the toxicology elements of the plot here.

 

FTC Disclaimer: Thomas Nelson Publishers,via both BookLookBloggers.com and TNZ Fiction Guild, kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book & requested that I check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own.

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review 2017-07-03 10:32
not for me.
The Sand Dweller - Molly Neely
Independent reviewer for Archaeolibrarian, I was gifted my copy of this book. This review will be short, and for that I'm sorry. But I am struggling to word what I need to say about this book. I'm not entirely sure what I think, to be honest, about this book. There is a lot of flipping between the past and present, and while each change is headed, there is much missing from each flip. I felt that more could have been made of the NOW, rather than the past. It's well written from a host of different points of view, and I did like that. I didn't spot any spelling or editing errors. I just....*insert sigh*... don't see what the whole point of the story was. It's been left opened ended, maybe for another book, I don't know, it just....*insert ARGH!!!!!* ....I can't word it. I gave it three stars, because we do get to here from everyone, and I did finish it. 3 stars **same worded review will appear elsewhere**

 

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-06-28 09:06
The Hideaway by Lauren K. Denton
The Hideaway - Lauren K. Denton

After her last remaining family member dies, Sara Jenkins goes home to The Hideaway, her grandmother Mags’s ramshackle B&B in Sweet Bay, Alabama. She intends to quickly tie up loose ends then return to her busy life and thriving antique shop in New Orleans. Instead, she learns Mags has willed The Hideaway to her and charged her with renovating it—no small task considering her grandmother’s best friends, a motley crew of senior citizens, still live there. Rather than hurrying back to New Orleans, Sara stays in Sweet Bay and begins the biggest house-rehabbing project of her career. Amid drywall dust, old memories, and a charming contractor, she discovers that slipping back into life at The Hideaway is easier than she expected. Then she discovers a box Mags left in the attic with clues to a life Sara never imagined for her grandmother. With help from Mags’s friends, Sara begins to piece together the mysterious life of bravery, passion, and choices that changed her grandmother’s destiny in both marvelous and devastating ways. When an opportunistic land developer threatens to seize The Hideaway, Sara is forced to make a choice—stay in Sweet Bay and fight for the house and the people she’s grown to love or leave again and return to her successful but solitary life in New Orleans.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

Sara Jenkins is an antiques dealer living in New Orleans, Louisiana when she gets word that her 72 year old grandmother, "Mags", (the last of Sara's immediate family, after being orphaned at the age of twelve) in Sweet Bay, Alabama has passed away. In addition to this news, Sara is told that she has been left her grandmother's home / business of sorts, The Hideaway Bed & Breakfast. Sara visits the property with the idea to immediately get the house listed so she can make a quick sale and truck it back to New Orleans to carry on with her life. Once on site however, Sara sees that what was affectionately being referred to as a bed & breakfast is actually more of a seniors' community made up of Mags' friends taking up residence in all the rooms. Quickly falling under the charms of these senior citizens, Sara decides to take on all the intensive, desperately needed renovations.

 

Whether she'll sell or stay, she's struggling to decide.... the choice becoming even more complicated once she meets the attractive contractor hired onto the job. While elbows deep in the work, Sara comes upon a box of letters & mementos belonging to Mags, items that tell of an entirely different woman than the one Sara thought she knew. The Mags in the letters is bold and wildly in love, far from the sweet, subdued nature of Sara's grandmother. As Sara tries to make sense of all this, she is simultaneously forced to fend of a greedy land developer interested in snatching up the property for a shopping area / apartment plan in the works. 

 

Told in alternating POVs -- between the story of Mags and that of her granddaughter, Sara -- this novel opens in modern times and spans back to the 1960s, when Mags' letters introduce the reader to her 22 year old newlywed self (albeit then known as Margaret Van Buren), already in a struggling marriage to a wealthy, respected, but emotionally neglectful (not to mention philandering!) man. It's largely through the letters that the reader is given insights into how the woman of status, "Margaret", became the artsy, go-with-the-flow, B & B owning- gypsy soul known as "Mags".

 

 

 

Well, I'll start off by saying that this is absolutely the perfect, easy-breezy, poolside kind of read. Perfect for fans of The Notebook! Not saying the plot is necessarily super-similar, just that the tone / feel one gets from this is similar to that Sparks novel. The Hideaway definitely has Hallmark summertime movie (adaptation, that is) all over it. While the plot itself is not terribly original --- person inheriting property, deciding what to do with it, going on a literal / emotional journey that leads to revelatory information about benefactor being brought to light in the process -- the characters themselves are what make this particular novel a solid good time. Each resident at The Hideaway is endearingly unique and heartwarming in character. 

 

That being said, there were just a few things that bothered me leading me to knock my rating down a bit:

 

*

Mags basically vilifies her philandering husband but kinda walks into a kettle-pot situation when she SO easily takes up with William. 

(spoiler show)

 

* And also this quote by Mags: "At 33, I'm long past the age of letting myself get swept up by a man, no matter how charming or handsome he may be." I just found that line depressing. One needs a lovely moment of getting "swept up" from time to time, regardless of age! 

 

* Sara's assistant in New Orleans, Allyn: I knew going in that this book was published through a Christian publishing house, so I don't know if that plays a role in this, but it bugged me that author Lauren Denton hinted at Allyn being gay in such a heavy-handed way but never actually uses the word. In an age where LGBTQ+ representation in fiction is so strongly requested and sought out, I thought Denton dropped the ball in this respect. 

 

Near the end of this novel, some of the "reveal" bits of the story, where issues are magically explained into sense, reminded me somewhat of some of the big plot reveals used in Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis De Bernieres. Personally, I wasn't entirely happy with the fate Denton wrote for The Hideaway property, as far as the specifics of how things were resolved. Still, I quite enjoyed the underlying inspiring theme of people finding a true sense of family and community with people who accept them just as they are... oh my, went a bit Bridget Jones' Diary there for a moment! 

 

Also, bonus points for throwing my own town into the mix of places used in this book! 

 

For those who might want to use this for a possible book group selection, a discussion questions guide is included in the back of the paperback edition. 

 

FTC Disclaimer: BookLookBloggers.com and Thomas Nelson Publishers kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book & requested that I check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own.

 

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review 2017-06-14 05:10
Living through footnotes...
Queen of Martyrs - Samantha Wilcoxson

Bloody Mary... First Queen of England... Daughter of Henry VIII... Disinherited... Unloved and Alone.. These are just a few of the thoughts that come to mind when one thinks of Mary Tudor..

 

Mary Tudor has long been vilified in the eyes of history. Condemned for her harsh treatment of perceived heretics in her kingdom, the first queen of England was hiding the longing that was inside of her.
As a child, she was the apple of her father's eye, loved and cherished. Then came the nasty business of the "other woman" and the loss of Mary's mother. With queen Catherine removed from court, and the process of a divorce moving forward, Mary became lost in limbo. Losing her status as princess, and forced to serve in the household of her new half-sister, she throws herself deeper into her faith. All she wanted was her fathers affection, but that was only given sparingly. As she matured into adulthood, she began to hope for love and a family of her own. Her hopes her dashed as time keeps moving forward and no move is made to procure a marriage for her. When her father finally dies, and her brother comes to the throne, she does her best to be there for him, but the changing climate in religion forces her to move away from court.
Throughout her brothers reign, the warnings about her faith are given, but she continues regardless of what they say. But when her brother finally puts his food down, she realizes that he is growing up, and will soon be his own counselor. But the foundation of her faith is the only thing that keeps her going. Her house continues to practice Catholicism, regardless of the tenor from the courts. But after her brothers death and the young Lady Jane is proclaimed queen, Mary moves forward with her own claim for the throne. With the country behind her, she is swept into London, and proclaimed queen. Her countrymen have become her children, and she pours her love into her kingdom. With marriage coming into the picture, she can hope for happiness, but again she is disappointed. Philip fulfills what he must for the marriage, but no more. Mary pours herself into her marriage, only to have her heart broken continually. With the support of her cousin, the Cardinal Pole, she pushes forward with her reforms and her punishments, but slowly she is losing the love of her land. With no heir, she is forced to name her sister, who has not converted to the Catholic faith.
With the death of Mary comes the death of the hopes of returning England to the fold of the church of Rome, and ushers in a new era.

The story of Mary is one that is both heartbreaking and horrifying. All she wanted was love, the love of a father figure who was never there for her. The upheavals of her life must have seriously marked the young lady. Six queens, six mother figures, only two that were ever really there for her. Friendships which were lost through deaths, and the sad life of a woman who only wanted someone to confide in. With her husband not really caring for her and anxiously looking for any reason to leave, the queen is left with no one to really turn to for support. Her loyal ladies and the few supporters she has, are not ones that can be trusted with the pains of her heart.
I loved this story, and the breath of fresh air that has turned a history deemed monster back into a human being. Mary Tudor has become one of the most underrated and misunderstood women in royal England. The sad life of this woman has been summed up in very few books, very little has been kind to her. In a life that was never bright to a wearied woman, history was not compassionate in remembering her either. I do not think she was innocent in everything, I regard her as responsible for the deaths of those who were burned for their faith, but I also believe that she was zealous in her beliefs, and could not understand why everyone else could not entrench themselves in their religion as she did. Samantha Wilcoxson has done a wonderful job of bringing this sad queen back from the depths of history, and pushing her once more into the limelight. This books brings some well deserved justice for the queen who only wanted prosperity and happiness for her realm, not dejection and rejection at every turn in life.

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