Book Review: Rumple Buttercup

I just love this book. The illustrations are adorable, funny, and the message is sweet without being overbearing. It’s a perfect lesson for anyone of any age: you’re weird, I’m weird, and that’s awesome so let’s have a parade.

And there’s a secondary, equally valuable lesson about giving people space to feel comfortable. The townspeople knew all about a Rumple Buttercup without making a big deal about his shyness or invading his personal space, so when he’s finally ready to come out of the storm drain, it’s on his terms. It’s positive without being saccharine.

Let’s not forget that Matthew Gray Gubler illustrated and hand-wrote every word of this piece — even the Library of Congress stuff! It’s just that extra touch that makes Rumple Buttercup such a treasure.

Rumple Buttercup: A Story of Bananas, Belonging, and Being Yourself by Matthew Gray Gubler was published April 2, 2019.

Book Review: Other People’s Children

Gail is desperate to become a mother. After years of trying to adopt, she and her husband Jon finally meet Carli, a rudderless 18 year old with a baby bump and an abusive mother. Ready to be parents at long last, Carli gives birth and Gail and Jon take home their new baby Maya. But Carli’s mother pressures her to reclaim the newborn before the adoption finalizes. Then, chaos. Maya becomes the eye of a hurricane of jealousy, pain, and desperate love.

Other People’s Children wastes no time getting to the real story. The reader does not have to wait long for the baby to arrive and then when she does, the story kicks into high gear. What could have become a drawn-out tale of courtroom tragedy becomes a breakneck thriller as the three mothers demand the family they believe is rightfully theirs: Maya. 

Every mother, from Gail to Carli all the way to Gail’s critical mother and Jon’s Aunt Carol, embodies maternal love — they just have different ways of showing it. I loved that Gail was all show and no substance while Carli was the picture of emotional maturity in the face of adversity. I do wish we could have met Marla before she and Jon had their waiting-room confrontation; I’m sure she could have been as dimensional as the other mother. Even Paige, the social worker, offers a nuanced perspective of what it means to be a parent.

There is plenty of foreshadowing for the story ahead, which makes it fun to watch the story play out in its entirety later on. Frankly, I did not expect this book about the meaning of motherhood to be such a page-turner. Other People’s Children started as a family drama, then turned on a dime into a heart-racing thriller. This debut novel is a whirlwind, to say the least.

CW: abuse

Other People’s Children by R. J. Hoffmann is expected to be published April 6, 2021.

Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Gudetama: Mindfulness for the Lazy

I’ve been reading a lot of heavy books lately and needed a break. When I spied Gudetama: Mindfulness For the Lazy on NetGalley, I snapped it up. It didn’t change my life, but it did make a nice palate cleanser.

Gudetama is adorable. This thicc little egg yolk (?) wants to do nothing more than nap, but his over-enthusiastic friend (?) insists that today is the day to learn about mindfulness. The odd couple floats around town learning and teaching others about self-love, self-respect, and staying in the moment.

Mindfulness For the Lazy discusses cutting out negative influences, staying organized, and empathy. I appreciated that not all of the characters were able to accomplish this! It’s hard sometimes, and it’s important to recognize that. 

This little graphic novel is 0% esoteric. It’s just a speedy PSA about not being a butt. 

Honestly, I thought this graphic novel would be more about mindfulness. There’s a lot about self-care and self-regulating, not so much about how to actually be in the moment. And I can’t quite pin down who the target audience would be. It’s presented in a way that would be easily digestible and even eye-opening for children, but features office drones under mountains of paperwork and adults forgetting to pick up each other from the airport. I don’t think this book was for me, but it was fun.

There are some rays of sunshine in here. From casual non-binary pronoun usage to a character who dunked on someone while using the wrong “your,” it’s the asides that make this story shine. I especially enjoyed the flowchart of how to deal with unpleasant people on social media.

If I were already a fan of Gudetama (and I can imagine it’s very easy to become one!) I’d probably enjoy this little guide more. Gudetama: Mindfulness for the Lazy is perfect for people in a hurry and those who like humor with their self-help.

Gudetama: Mindfulness for the Lazy by Wook-Jin Clark is expected to be published April 6,2021.

Thanks to NetGalley, the author, and the publisher for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. 

Book Review: Killer Triggers

Well my, my, my.

As a fan of Joe Kenda’s television show on Investigation Discovery, I leapt at the chance to listen to him read his memoirs. I was not disappointed.

In Killer Triggers, retired Lieutenant Joe Kenda recalls several of his most memorable cases while working as a homicide detective in Colorado Springs. He starts each story with the “trigger” for the murder and retells the entire experience of solving the crime — from the time he gets the call until after the killer is locked safely behind bars.

But not every story is like an episode of Homicide Hunter. In this format, Kenda is able to go into much more detail about the investigation, techniques used, his feelings about the case, and even a few amusing asides. There’s a long passage extolling the skills of police dogs and an amusing side story about the time one of them got loose. He later goes in depth about the emotional toll being a homicide detective took on his health and family life, making this a well-balanced true crime memoir.

These stories are true crime, but there is time to talk about the effect of the murders on the surviving family members. This author has no trouble reminding the reader that these are real people who have endured real horrors and he treads the line between sensationalism and compassion.

However, I did find that since Kenda explores his opinions and feelings during each case, his generational bias is showing. He flirts with outdated morals and societal norms which rub this 21st-century reader the wrong way.

I listened to the audiobook version of this book and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m sure it’s a great title on paper, but as a fan of Homicide Hunter, the narration made it that much better. I don’t normally mention profanity in my reviews, but other fans may be startled to hear their favorite detective drop an f-bomb.

I highly recommend the audiobook version of Killer Triggers to any fan of the true crime genre, especially those who recognize the author from his television show. Joe Kenda’s style is direct, deadpan, opinionated, and dripping with gravitas.

Killer Triggers: Murder Comes Down to Sex, Drugs, or Money by Joe Kenda is expected to be published March 9, 2021.

Thanks to NetGalley, the author, and the publisher for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: An Eye for an Eye

DI Kate Young is back on the force, working hard to solve the vicious murder of a prominent businessman, but PTSD is her constant companion. Flashbacks to a horrific mass shooting on a train car plague her every move. Her colleagues notice that she’s become confused, stressed, and is self-medicating. Does DI Kate Young have what it takes to stop a serial killer while battling her own demons?

The main mystery of An Eye for an Eye is intense, twisting, and has a satisfying payoff. The killer is creative and even though the MO remains the same, it’s a heart-pounding story every time they strike. I never could’ve guessed whodunit, but after all the evidence was laid out, it all made perfect sense. There are still so many mysteries, red herrings, and untold stories here that I am very glad that this book is clearly set up to be a series. 

The representation of life with mental illness is a thing of beauty. Too often, characters with mental illnesses are caricatured, diminished, or treated as other. DI Kate Young is still the best detective on the force, but she has unresolved trauma making it hard for her to get through the day. She may want to return to work, but her PTSD insists she take more time. The constant interruptions of her flashbacks (triggered by things as innocuous as ketchup on a french fry) and her inner struggle with addiction to the pills that keep her memories at bay is wonderfully emotional. 

The writing style is immersive and sweeping. Cinematic cut-scenes and flashbacks broke up the main storyline. Some were from Kate’s experience before the book began, some were scenes that were retold by suspects, witnesses, etc. 

This was the first book I’ve read by Carol Wyer, but this absolutely will not be the last. 

Thanks to NetGalley, the author, and the publisher for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Your Turn to Suffer

You ever crave true horror but can’t find a title to scratch the itch? This is the one you’re looking for. 

Physical therapist, Lori, lives a relatively uncomplicated life until the mysterious Cabal appears out of nowhere and demands that she “confess and atone — or suffer.” Bizarre nightmare creatures continually chip away at her safety, her sanity, and everything she loves until she can uncover and atone for her own horrible truth.

Your Turn to Suffer is the most intense book I’ve read in a very long time. This title is dedicated to David Lynch, and that definitely makes sense. The sudden slips between normalcy and the surreal dreamscape are nightmarish to say the least. It’s cryptic, bizarre, horrible, beautiful, and most of it remains just out of reach. Until it doesn’t.

Around the midpoint, there are some short scenes involving minor characters and townspeople when the nightmare hits. This is the turning point where the plot stops being distinctly Lynchian and diverges into something paranormal yet hyperrealistic at the same time. The effect is gutting.

The terms “splatterpunk” and “extreme horror” are sometimes used interchangeably, but this, I feel, is the difference. Yep, there’s a lot of gore, but the story touches on obvious fears as well as psychic horrors that I didn’t even know existed. Some scenes were pure fantasy a la Beetlejuice, while others were way too real. 

About a quarter of the way through, the book reaches a point that would be climactic in the hands of other authors, but Mr. Waggoner turns the heat higher and higher until we’re burning, then turns it up one more time. 

That said, I do think there are too many things going on in this world. The Cabal is made up of such diverse, um, entities that it’s hard to know what’s scary and what’s just weird. Some of the scenes are so “out there” that it’s just too much. There are no rules whatsoever.

It’s hard to summarize this story and do it justice. Basically, if you like your horror with a side of mindf*ck, you should just read this. This one pulls out all the stops. I can’t imagine any reader would be unaffected by this brutal book.

CW: strong horror elements including animal abuse and a disturbing scene with child victims.

Your Turn to Suffer by Tim Waggoner is expected to be published March 23, 2021.

Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Murder Most Pemberley

Eliza Darcy (yes, she’s related to THAT Darcy) visits some relatives in the sprawling estate of Pemberley. Before long, she finds herself entangled in a murder mystery that promises to be much more complicated than a simple whodunit. With her literature-based sleuthing skills and the dashing Heath at her side, she finds herself deeper and deeper in danger the closer she comes to unmasking the killer.

There’s a lot going on in this book! A gorgeous setting, sweet romance, a great sense of humor, and a gripping mystery — what’s not to love? It’s easy to root for our nosy heroine, and the dotty old aunt Iris and party-girl Joy are icing on the cake. I was surprised how intense the story became towards the end; it ramped up to be a bit darker than most cozies, so sensitive readers, brace yourselves.

The flirting between Eliza and Heath is swoon-worthy, let’s say. I imagine anyone with a thing for English blokes would have a massive crush on Heath by the end of this book. It’s a clean, sweet romance that feels genuine. The match doesn’t seem too improbable and the couple had such great banter, it’s a joy to see them on the page together. 

For the first third of the book, I was afraid Murder Most Pemberley wasn’t for me. I love a good mystery, especially a cozy, but I’m not a huge Jane Austen fan — I’m more of a Dickens person, to be honest. I don’t have a working knowledge of Pride and Prejudice. The word “Pemberley” meant nothing to me before I picked up this book, so I’m sure I missed tons of great lines, asides, and meaningful scenes. But even without a love of Austen, the story held water.

By the time the Agatha Christie influence reared its head, I was already sucked in. The central mystery is scandalous, twisty, and branched. Eliza doesn’t trip over many clues; she goes out and finds them. She’s very snoopy and whoa does she sniff out some dirt! There’s so much going on in this book, I have no doubt this is just the first installment in a long, long series. 

I can’t wait to read the next installment and even as a non-Austen fan, I gave this an easy 5 stars. I suspect a reader with a crush on the original Mr. Darcy would give it 6.

Murder Most Pemberley by Jessica Berg is expected to be published May 8th, 2021.

Thanks to BookSirens, the author, and the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Detecting Fear

In this addictive little collection, we jump straight into the world of Detective Shaw — a no frills, down to earth investigator with an eye for details — and take a peek inside six of his most memorable cases. 

The short stories in Detecting Fear are quick, satisfying, and varied. Some were intensely serious, one had a generous splash of humor, and one offered a deeper peek into Shaw’s life and backstory. Every story employed plenty of foreshadowing, allowing an astute reader to solve the crime alongside or ahead of Detective Shaw. 

Detecting Fear

This gripping suspense story drops the reader right into the chair opposite an ice-cold murderer. The things left unsaid are the most telling in this spine-tingling race against the clock.

It’s All About the Cat

And now for something completely different! This humorous piece features a fabulous whodunit perfect for the short story format. 

Dying Print

Shaw is far cleverer than the suspect in this “I knew she was trouble when she walked in” style noir.

A Little Bit of Murderer 

This one feels like a vignette. It is short, has a surprising twist, but seemed a bit topheavy.

It’s In the Bag

For thriller fans, this piece is great adventure. Full of surprising twists and outstanding foreshadowing, It’s In The Bag is my favorite. I think Gilligan needs his own spinoff.

Searching for Sunshine

To wrap things up, Shaw teams up with a grieving daughter to uncover the truth about her little sister’s death.

This is a slim collection of previously-published short stories all featuring Detective Shaw. Because they are in the original format, some pieces are in present tense, others in past tense, and one in first person, making for bumpy reading. Some stories felt like they were part of a larger piece, but all were self-contained and readable as standalone pieces. 

After enjoying these slivers of Shaw, the reader is left hungry for more clues about the intrepid detective. Whether he appears in other short stories or in a longer format, any mystery involving Detective Shaw is well worth the read.

CW: child victims

Detecting Fear: A Collection of Mystery, Suspense, and Intrigue by Shannon Hollinger is expected to be released March 15, 2021.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Greek Mythology – The Gods, Goddesses, and Heroes Handbook

Do you know Demeter from Dionysus? Arachne from Ariadne? This snappy little handbook flies through all the major players in Greek mythology and delivers a working knowledge for casual readers. Basically, this is a fun reference book. Never thought I could write that sentence, but here we are.

Greek Mythology: The Gods, Goddesses, and Heroes Handbook is full of amusing short stories and character summaries that get straight to the point. Somehow, this reference book is an addictive read! The stories are short with lots of asides and teasers for other character histories. It can be read through or used as an encyclopedia — a very funny encyclopedia.

By their very nature, these stories are COMPLICATED. Thankfully, this handbook clears a lot of things up and explores tons of characters and their histories. It discusses major gods that everyone knows (Zeus, Poseidon, Athena, etc) but doesn’t cut corners with the lesser-known characters (Phaethon, Io, Tantalus, and more). Some popular stories didn’t make it into the book, but there’s enough insight into the gods/goddeses/heroes to inspire further research. There’s a great section at the end with titles that go deeper in depth.

Albert writes with a modern voice and a sense of humor while recognizing just how rotten the gods could be. This book is very well balanced and doesn’t harp on the negative or soften the stories for modern sensitivities. The cards are on the table, so to speak.

There are a lot of references to representations of Greek mythology in pop culture, like Disney’s Hercules, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Circe, and more. The author does a fine job of identifying the gods/heroes recognized in pop culture and explaining what’s the same and what’s different. The author makes no presumptions of the reader’s knowledge of Ancient Greek mythology.

If you’re a fan of Overly Sarcastic Productions on Youtube, you’ll feel right at home. I actually had to check to make sure this wasn’t the same writer (it’s not). You won’t be able to get a full profile of each deity, but you’ll have enough knowledge to follow along with other books and media that reference Greek myths. 

This digestible little handbook probably won’t offer any new insights for scholars, but for the general public who wants to understand a pop culture reference, glean insight into the linguistic origins of modern vocabulary, or get the real story about Pandora, this is a must-have.

Greek Mythology: The Gods, Goddesses, and Heroes Handbook by Liv Albert is expected to be published May 5th, 2021.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. 

Book Review: The Lost Apothecary

In the 1790s, bitter Nella runs a secret apothecary shop where she dispenses poisons to women who wish to rid themselves of cruel men. Young Eliza, a precocious 12 year old maid, picks up just such a prescription on behalf of her mistress and shoehorns herself into the inner workings of Nella’s shop. 200+ years later, Caroline, taking an anniversary trip minus one unfaithful husband, finds a mysterious blue vial half buried in the riverbed. Through diligent (and distracting) research, Caroline peels back the years to uncover the mystery of the murderous apothecary lost to time.

And I just loved it. Yes, this is a story about a super-sneaky serial killer, but it is not dark at all. This is a story about womanhood and what it means to be strong. These budding feminists, all at different points in their lives and with very different stories to tell, shake off societal expectations and reject the patriarchy in their own ways.

The Lost Apothecary is a totally satisfying double timeline story — a rarity! Both timelines are given equal love and all three perspectives are fully engaging. It’s especially worth noting that the breaking points between chapters are well-timed. There are no cliffhangers, but the reader is left with enough big questions that the story pushes forward. Too often multiple-perspective stories break at the wrong places and frustrate the reader. Not this one. The writing style/voices changed appropriately with the time periods as well. No modern slang in the 1700s and nobody wears a corset in the 2020s. There’s a fantastic sense of continuity, parallel, and adherence to the original stories without mixing.

I listened to the audiobook version and had mixed feelings about the narration. One character grew a little flat as the book went on and one was much louder than the other two. I found myself adjusting the volume and speed between chapters.

Eliza’s obsession with Nella and the apothecary shop seemed a bit unlikely, to be honest, even with her desperation to find a potion to rid herself of a vengeful ghost. I was afraid that this book would become a fantasy with real magic and witches’ brews, but that’s not the case at all. Yes there’s a bit of magic, but not THAT kind of magic. More like what people in the 1700s actually believed with a little twist of “well… maybe.”

The Lost Apothecary is a balm. It’s equal parts escapist fiction and inspiration. Three women with vastly different life experiences decide to dictate their own lives, even if that means the lives they expected to lead are lost to history.

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner (Narrated by Lorna Bennett, Lauren Anthony, and Lauren Irwin) is expected to be released March 2nd, 2021.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.