The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner (2021) Review

Sisterhood of the travelling jar

Why I picked up the book:

The Lost Apothecary follows three heroines in two timelines as their lives are woven together by a secret apothecary and what it represents – an underground network of women who use Nella’s potions to exact revenge on the men who wronged them. It’s a book about women empowering themselves and others!

The book through my criteria lens:

The Lost Apothecary was a strong debut with a terrific, fresh, and promising plot. The execution of the idea left me wanting more, though. Not to say Penner didn’t do a good job, I think I just went into it with the wrong expectations – I wanted more fantasy, more magic.

This book is told in a dual timeline – present days and the 1700’s. Unfortunately, the current narrative was not as tight as the past narrative. If this book had taken place only in the 1700’s it would have been a 5-star read. Nella and Eliza were terrific characters; the “past” plot was tight, the flow and pace were impeccable. It was gripping, compelling, and emotional. I was invested in those women and honestly felt conflicted about cheering for them to poison men, but I believed they believed they were doing the right thing. They were “neutral good.” Their choice was just and right according to their moral compass. Amazing! The present narrative just fell flat, and I didn’t particularly relate or like Caroline. 

My personal feelings:

 The one thing Penner did well was to send out the message that we have the power to break away from abusive relationships and can rely on others to do so. 

The overall female empowerment was fantastic. I just wish that Caroline’s story was as powerful as Nella and Eliza’s. If Gaynor had actually been a keeper of the lost apothecary and part of a hidden and secret society of women who have survived the centuries and had recruited Caroline. That would have made this book a masterpiece. 

Caroline’s husband was a joke, and a sorry excuse for a man, even all the men from the 1700s were more interesting and fleshed out. I will not give spoilers, but those were men who deserved punishment; what they did was atrocious. Do I condone poisoning? No. But if you consider poison an analogy for women taking their power back, those men got their dues!

On a more positive note, I absolutely adored Eliza. She is a fantastic character. Her relationship with Nella was so beautiful. It was tender and loving, and you could see how much Nella cared for her, like a daughter. And all of her actions reflected that. 

There are a lot of things to love about the Lost Apothecary. And I highly recommend it. I just wish both narratives had been consistent. 

Enjoyability     8

Characters       7

Ambience        5

Fairness          10

Plot                  10

Execution        6

My total rating: 3.83

BOOK SNAPSHOT:

Until next book, be the hummingbird!

Later by Stephen King (2021) Snapshot

Ghosts don’t lie

We meet James, a single mother’s child who has the unnatural ability to see ghosts as they died and spirits don’t lie. His mother is aware of his power and urges him to keep it a secret. But when it can benefit her, she has no problems killing his innocence by using him to communicate with “mature” people. 

As the book progresses, James will find out the actual cost of his ability when he helps the police pursue a dead killer.

 I prefer shorter King novels, and I was pleasantly surprised at how short Later is. I appreciated the economy and the focus on a great plot! Some characters were stereotypical, and King could have played a bit more fairly, but overall, this was a superb novel let down by the end. All the issues I had with Later had to do with how King chose to finish the book. If you read it, you know what I mean. I was hoping this would be a 5 star read, but 4.58 is still great. 

I have a love and hate relationship with King. I love his ideas, but I wouldn’t say I like his execution. His narrative is too prolix, and I don’t need five pages to tell me the sky is blue! Another problem I have with his style is that he is very much a product of the ’70s and ’80s, and some of his characters are incredibly misogynistic, racist, ableist, sexist, well – all the “ists” – To the point of causing discomfort in me as I cannot honestly tell if this is an author who has those views and is using fiction as an outlet, or if he is using specific characters to point out the atrocities of hate speech in the hope to get people to check their privilege. The jury is still out for me because, in this day and age, he is still using questionable language, harmful stereotypes, and using taboo topics as plot devices…

**Minor/Major Spoilers below** (click on the arrow)
    Okay, was the incest really necessary?!?!? It added NOTHING to the plot and ruined a perfectly great novel! This man makes me so angry at times – I was so impressed up to that point at how he had managed to edit himself not only in word count but in plot devices used solely for shock. Why? End of rant

Will I get King on my radar again? Quite honestly, no. But I will be less hesitant to pick up a future novel if it interests me. Later had very little of King’s choices that I dislike. I love his plot ideas. I really do. It’s his style that usually doesn’t mesh with me. I’m pretty sure that Later is a novel that will please King fans and those of us who aren’t!

Enjoyability     9

Characters       9

Ambience        10

Fairness          9

Plot                  10

Execution        8

My total rating: 4.58

BOOK SNAPSHOT:

Website: https://stephenking.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/StephenKing

Instagram: Not found

Until next book, be the hummingbird!

Children Literature: He’s My Mom! by Sarah Savage (2021) Review

Beautiful story about a boy and his mom, David!

Why I picked up the book:

He’s My Mom! Is a child’s book that introduces trans identities, transitioning, pronouns and misgendering concepts in an age-appropriate way.

The book through my criteria lens:

I felt that Sarah Savage did a wonderful job creating a book about trans identities in a way that was age appropriate, respectful and concise. Joules Garcia illustrations were clean, inclusive and complemented the book perfectly. I feel that both story and illustration were representative, diverse and inclusive. He’s My Mom! Will definitely find its spot in my bookshelves.

My personal feelings:

I remembered when my child was in first grade, a classmate of his changed their name to represent the gender they identified with. The school tried to be inclusive, and the adults did a very good job embracing and respecting this change, but they did fail in making children understand the change.

I loved the language in the book, it’s simple, accurate and child friendly. As an educator, I really appreciated the reading guide at the end. It has great conversation starters to further discuss the topics with children. My favourite part was the way it was mentioned that people can make gendering mistakes, but it’s important to learn to pay attention because being misgendered is hurtful.

I am looking forward to other books in the series (I hope they exist) especially about a child who identifies with a different gender than the one they were born as. If anything, I wish this book featured a couple. I do not feel that there’s anything wrong with being a single parent, but I will make sure children don’t think Bambi’s mom is single because he transitioned.

Representation 10

Story 9

Illustration 10

My total rating: 4.83

BOOK SNAPSHOT:

Disclaimer: I first read it as an ARC. In exchange for an honest review, I am thankful to Jessica Kingsley Publishers, NetGalley and Sarah Savage for providing me with a copy of He’s My Mom!

#FrostaWingsIt #FrostaHeat #SarahSavage #JessicaKingsleyPublishers #He’sMyMom #ChildrenLiterature #Inclusivity #NetGalley #advancedreadercopy #ARC #Kindle #Booksofinstagram #readersofinstagram #bookstagram  #bookworm #booklover #bookstagrammer #bookaholic #bookreview #bookreviewer

His & Hers by Alice Feeney (2020) Snapshot

There is always more than one side to the truth

Just like the adage says, there are always two sides to any story, and the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Alice Feeney tells the story through Jack’s and Anna’s POVs. Anna is a BBC news reporter who reluctantly covers the suspicious murder of a woman in her hometown. Jack is the DCI in charge of the case. And, at some point, both will become suspects. Someone is lying. Someone knows more than they are letting on. But who is it?

I couldn’t put this book down until I have finished it. It was fast-paced, enthralling, thrilling, tense, and satisfying. Alice Feeney is a master of creating multidimensional, exciting, and fleshed-out women. Anna was no different; even as an unreliable narrator, I was rooting for her! I also loved the third, genderless perspective; it added soooo much tension! I unsuccessfully looked for clues to try to guess who it could be, and Feeney kept me thinking and flip-flopping all the way through.

Having this third narrator was a gamble that paid off. Feeney’s plot was tight and executed to perfection. The way she tied everything in was one of the most satisfying ends I have read in a long time! His & Hers is a book to own and read many times over!

 I LOVED this book so much! It is my favourite Alice Feeney so far. We have two narrators who are potential suspects, one of them is covering the news of the case, the other is investigating it! Wait, there’s more – they used to be married!

I loved reading from the perspective of Anna – she is far from perfect and doesn’t hide it. It’s so empowering to see a woman who owns who she is. Believe it or not, I have also loved reading from Jack’s perspective. He was a complex and nuanced character. You know an author wrote a masterpiece when you care for both unreliable narrators and hope that somehow they both get a happy ending!

All the twists came at organic times, the flow of the narrative was seamless, and all three narrations were enticing and distinguishable! His & Hers is a masterpiece!

Enjoyability     10

Characters       10

Ambience        10

Fairness          10

Plot                  10

Execution        10

My total rating: 5

BOOK SNAPSHOT:

Until next book, be the hummingbird!

For Your Own Good by Samantha Downing (2021) Review

There’s no excellence without sacrifice

Why I picked up the book:

Teddy Crutcher is Belmont Academy’s teacher of the year. His wife couldn’t be prouder, or so he says, as no one has seen or heard from her in a while. 

Focused and driven to keep the school’s reputation by pushing the students to achieve excellence, he is dismissive of the student who seems to take a particular interest in his personal life and couldn’t care less that the death of another student’s parent looks a lot like murder. 

Teddy wants nothing more than to be left alone to do his thing. No matter the cost.

The book through my criteria lens:

 “Entitlement has a particular stench. Pungent, bitter. Almost brutal.”

From that first sentence, my attention was grabbed; Teddy starts as a compelling character with whom you can’t help but agree. Even though the way he reacts might be different from yours. One thing is certain; his balls are huge! And his moral compass is one of the most devious, dubious, and quite frankly, a literary goldmine. Actually, all the adults were multidimensional, unique, fresh, and hilariously self-centered. Had I met ANY of them in real life, they would be people I avoid, but they are pure adamantium in a book.

Downing’s narrative is addictive; I couldn’t get enough of the subtle sarcasm, satire, and dark humour. Also, the mystery was masterfully plotted and crafted, the twists made sense, and the clues were all within the text – all things that I love in a thriller. I know that navigating the fine line between comedy and tension while still building an atmosphere of suspense is hard, but oh, boy, did Downing deliver the perfect balance?

My personal feelings:

Do you know that moment you clear your calendar for the next 24hs after reading a book’s first paragraph? That’s what I did when I started For Your Own Good. I don’t usually quote books, but that opener was so genius, intriguing, and promising! I swear to you that it set the tone for the whole narrative, and it never let down.

This is the first book in a long time that I read in a single sitting, not in a day, in a freaking sitting. The pages kept flipping, and I could not put it down; dinner wasn’t cooked that day, and I was out of commission for the whole afternoon and early evening. The short chapters and batshit crazy adults helped me be immersed in the book and enjoy my experience. Reading For Your Own Good was, to me, like eating a bag of chips – You open the bag and keep telling yourself “just one more,” and before you know it, you ate the whole thing and had zero regrets. Utterly satisfying. 

In my humble opinion, Keurig should market the “Teddy roast” and offer Downing a deal. The mention of coffee is so clever and subliminal that I kept craving coffee as I read it! Word of advice, though, do yourself a favour and have a cup ready before you start reading to avoid having to put the book down. You WILL crave a cuppa!

For Your Own Good is the first book I have read that mentions our world’s current pandemic. It made me wonder what the future generations will think when reading this book, and it was so interesting to see how different the restrictions were from where I live. That being said, Downing’s mention of Corona was used for context, but in no way did it take away from the narrative. I appreciated that choice as I enjoy books as an escape.

Now what made me really happy was to hear that For Your Own Good has been optioned for HBO Max by Greg Berlanti and Robert Downey Jr. If Robert plays Teddy, I will literally die! I hope they do make this book into a series, mini series or movie! It will be so good!

Overall, I am so impressed and happy with my reading experience, I will read Downing’s backlist really soon, and she has become an auto-buy author for me!

Enjoyability     10

Characters       10

Ambience        10

Fairness          10

Plot                  10

Execution        10

My total rating: 5

I mention this book in this video: https://youtu.be/a1RBS7Gvk94

BOOK SNAPSHOT:

Until next book, be the hummingbird!

The Perfect Ruin by Shanora Williams (2021) Snapshot

Recipe for revenge

Ivy Hill hides a dark secret, and she waited over a decade to exact revenge on the woman who destroyed her life. The time is right, and she is now on a mission to infiltrate Lola’s elite circle. Earn her trust and make her pay for what she has done. 

I read The Perfect Ruin as an audiobook narrated by Chante Ellison and Nola Vance, and they did such a fantastic job bringing this story to life. I could easily follow the story and distinguish the characters. Their narration brought the characters to life, had an excellent flow, and was very pleasant to listen to.

Before reading The Perfect Ruin, I didn’t know that this is Williams’s debut thriller, nor has she written over 30 romances before. I wouldn’t say I like romance novels, but I need to say that the romantic subplot was well done, and it didn’t compete for the thriller limelight. I have to give Williams props for that. It is not easy to make that transition. She has the talent to continue to write a thriller, and I wish she continues!

This book has a tight plot, organic twists, and well-developed characters, and Williams was not afraid to experiment and make her protagonists own their questionable choices. The women in The Perfect Ruin and FIERCE and calculating. I don’t believe there was a single person that wasn’t grey. It was hard to root for any of them, even when it was hard NOT to root for some! This is definitely a book that I will carry with me for a long time. 

On a last and important note, I love the representation in this book; the main characters are all women of colour as is the author. Overall I enjoyed Williams’s writing style, and I recommend you check The Perfect Ruin out if you can handle some romance in your stories. And if you’re a romance fan, you should check her over 30 books backlist too!

Enjoyability     8

Characters       10

Ambience        10

Fairness          8

Plot                  10

Execution        9

My total rating: 4.58

BOOK SNAPSHOT:

Until next book, be the hummingbird!

The Devil Makes Three by Tori Bovalino (2021) Snapshot

1 is too lonely, 2 is perfect, three is overkill

Tess would love nothing more than to be left alone to practice her cello and make sure her sister is happy. But Tess’s summer is anything but what she wants – stuck at her boarding school’s library and a local pub, she is constantly annoyed by insufferable patrons. The worst being entitled fellow pupil, Eliot Birch. Eliot seems to be on a mission to find a specific grimoire he believes is part of the school’s forbidden collection.

With their carelessness and arrogance, these unlikely bedfellows unleash a demon because life wasn’t already complicated enough! But wait… There is more. The demon doesn’t want to be trapped again and is dead set on using Tess to accomplish her goal, and he will stop at nothing to get his way. 

Bovalino DELIVERED!! Tess and Eliot are fantastic characters, and I loved the evolution of their relationship. They couldn’t be more unlike the other on the surface. But inside, they both had traumatic events that shaped them, secrets that trapped them, and a resilience that kept them going. When their world collapsed, and a demon was thrown in the mix, I was hooked!

The Devil Makes Three is a YA book in which characters act their age, and adults are involved. Gore and creepiness are very much part of the plot – and they do come out to play. The demon in this book is fascinatingly seductive, magnetic even. I almost ruled for him, almost. Bovalino knocked the atmosphere off the park: this book is suspenseful, intense, enthralling, and dark. 

This book reads like a standalone, but there is a glimmer of hope that it might become a series. It’s probably wishful thinking, but I need more of whatever magic was in this book because I enjoyed it. 

I first read it as an audiobook produced by RB Media and narrated by Suzy Jackson and John Keating, and let me tell you. They made the experience even better. I loved how their chemistry was over the charts and their pacing impeccable. As Tess is American and Eliot, British, listening to the story enhanced the atmosphere and made the reading experience more immersive. I highly recommend the audiobook as a reading companion or by itself.

Enjoyability     10

Characters       9

Ambience        10

Fairness          10

Plot                  10

Execution        9

My total rating: 4.83

BOOK SNAPSHOT:

Disclaimer: I first read it as an ARC. In exchange for an honest review, I am thankful to Tori Bovalino, RB Media, Recorded Books, and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of The Devil Makes Three

Until next book, be the hummingbird!

Gone for Good by Joanna Schaffhausen (2021) Snapshot

Let sleeping killers lie

Detective Annalisa Vega #1

At the center of this story, we have the Lovelorn Killer – who, twenty years ago, murdered seven women by ritually binding them and leaving them for dead and then sending gruesome love letters to them in the local papers. After killing his seventh victim, he goes dormant.

In the present, we meet Grace – who’s part of an amateur sleuth group and is determined to figure out the identity of the Lovelorn Killer. She believes he is still alive and lives locally. 

We also have our protagonist, Detective Vega, who lost someone she loved to the killer. She is called to a crime scene and has the shock of her life when she sees Grace’s body bound and surrounded by clues pointing to the infamous killer. 

When I read the synopsis for Gone for Good, I knew I would like it. What I didn’t expect was to love Detective Vega this much. I enjoyed her as a character and felt that Schaffhausen set her up for a fantastic development arc through the series. She is multidimensional, talented, empathetic, and insightful. Despite her demons, her moral compass always points North, and she seems to want to see the best in people.  I loved her approach to crime-solving, and the plot in this book was exciting and tight! I will say that all the clues were laid out masterfully, which pleased me to no end.

I am still on the fence about the ending, though. I understand how important something was for Vega’s character development. But it felt like it was bordering on too much, too soon for me. In the overall context of my reading enjoyment, that was a minor issue. I cannot wait for the second book in the series.

Disclaimer: I first read it as an ARC. In exchange for an honest review, I am thankful to Joanna Schaffhausen, St. Martin’s Press, and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of Gone for Good

Enjoyability     10

Characters       9

Ambience        8

Fairness          10

Plot                  10

Execution        8

My total rating: 4.58

BOOK SNAPSHOT:

Disclaimer: I first read it as an ARC. In exchange for an honest review, I am thankful to Joanna Schaffhausen, St. Martin’s Press, and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of Gone for Good

Until next book, be the hummingbird!

Bones of Hilo by Eric Redman (2021) Snapshot

Trouble in paradise

When Ralph Fortunato, an unpopular and controversial Mainland developer, is murdered with an ancient Hawaiian spear driven in a golf course, new detective Kawika Wong finds his chance to prove himself. 

I read Bones of Hilo as an audiobook produced by Dreamscape Media and narrated by Kurt Kanazawa. His narration was terrific. He kept a good pace, and I appreciate learning the pronunciation of words I did not know. It helped with the imagery, and it drew me in. I usually prefer two narrators or more, but Kurt brought it in, and I was satisfied with the way the story was told.

Bones of Hilo is a great thriller that feels fresh, compelling, and original. I have never read a book that had murders based on Hawaiian folklore. This book didn’t shy away from grittiness at times, and it didn’t try to sugarcoat acts of violence, prejudice, and racism that happen off-page. At the same time, Redman brought in a work of fiction that is fast-paced and filled with fleshed-out, multidimensional characters. I loved Kawika’s ARC. He is a half Chinese, half Hawaiian man who spent most of his life in the mainland. Even though his dad has never left the islands and Kawika is familiar with parts of the culture, there is a lot he doesn’t know. Being an outsider policeman in Hawaii means he has a lot to learn and a lot to prove. The author did a great job using his journey to organically explain concepts and parts of the culture to the reader that are relevant to the mystery.

The mystery itself was entertaining. To me, it felt like a cross between Law and Order Criminal Intent and Death in Paradise. The crime is gruesome, but the characters were so likable. There is an inviting lightness to them, especially Kawika, his parents, and girlfriends. 

I hope Redman continues to write because I would love to continue to follow Kawika in his Hawaiian journey.

Enjoyability     8

Characters       8

Ambience        8

Fairness          10

Plot             10    

Execution        8

My total rating: 4.33

Website: https://ericredmanwriting.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ricredman

Instagram: Not Found

Disclaimer: I first read it as an ARC. In exchange for an honest review, I am thankful to NetGalley, Eric Redman, and Dreamscape Media for providing me with a copy of Bones of Hilo.

Until next book, be the hummingbird!

The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould (2021) Review

Sapphic love & ghosts. Need I say more?

Why I picked up the book:

 We follow Logan and her dads, TV ghost hunters Brandon and Alejo, as they arrive in the couple’s hometown of Snakebite. They soon realize that there’s something wrong going on as teenagers mysteriously disappear, some even turning up dead. Then we meet Ashley, a local teenager whose boyfriend’s ghost has been following her since he went missing. Looking for answers and hoping to end the disappearances, Logan and Ashley team up to investigate whatever is haunting the town. 

The book through my criteria lens:

Macmillan Audio has done it again! And Soneela Nankani’s narration was everything this book deserved. Her pace was fantastic; she brought the characters to life and made it easy for me to follow along. I was never confused as to what was going on.

The highlight of The Dead and the Dark for me was the enthralling plot and the engrossing character work. I could honestly close my eyes and imagine each character as a real person (for better or worse). The use of horror as a proxy to social commentary was really well done. I finished the book reflecting on how scary real life can be!

The execution was solid, in my opinion, but I wish the atmosphere had been just slightly scarier. Maybe because I was so consumed with the characters, I wasn’t scared, and I wish I had been. I still think this is a beautiful novel, though, and I am delighted I read it. I’ll carry Brandon with me for a long time.

My personal feelings:

Pain – this summons the book up to me. This book is dark and scary. Although the horror fan in me was delighted with the supernatural undertones of The Dead and the Dark, the most frightening thing about this book is how well it represents real life in the issues dealt with, such as queerness, prejudice, grief, loss. I don’t know how to talk about this book without spoiling it, as its fluidity and the order we are introduced to incidents were such a big part of my experience. I will say this: how much I related to Brandon was borderline unhealthy. His arc was the best thing about the novel to me.

I lie; there are many things I loved in this novel, and arrrghhhh it’s hard to talk about it without spoilers, but hear me out and bear with my vagueness. The Dark was used as an analogy and what it represents, HOW it represents it, was so beautiful and enthralling. Snakebite, unfortunately, is not just a fictional town with made-up people – it’s a petri dish that under the microscope exposes the worst in humankind and the world. I wish I could say I don’t see people like that more often than I’d like. The queer relationships in this book are everything. For one, Brandon and Alejo have a healthier and stronger relationship with each other than most hetero couples I know. They are also excellent parents. The last thing I will mention in the “reasons to love this book” list is that Gould’s story is organic and reads naturally. She didn’t hesitate (or maybe she did?) to make difficult choices. The result paid off, in my opinion.

Enjoyability     8

Characters       10

Ambience        8

Fairness          8

Plot                  10

Execution        8

My total rating: 4.33

Review for this book is mentioned in this video: https://youtu.be/3Q2kNdkr-hQ

BOOK SNAPSHOT:

Until next book, be the hummingbird!