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Book Club: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

About The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommendthereadersofbrokenwheelrecommend

Book Club: June 2017 
Hardcover: 
394 pages
Published: January 2016 by Sourcebooks Landmark
Source: Purchased

Buy it on Amazon

Goodreads Description: Once you let a book into your life, the most unexpected things can happen…

Broken Wheel, Iowa, has never seen anyone like Sara, who traveled all the way from Sweden just to meet her pen pal, Amy. When she arrives, however, she finds that Amy’s funeral has just ended. Luckily, the townspeople are happy to look after their bewildered tourist—even if they don’t understand her peculiar need for books. Marooned in a farm town that’s almost beyond repair, Sara starts a bookstore in honor of her friend’s memory.

All she wants is to share the books she loves with the citizens of Broken Wheel and to convince them that reading is one of the great joys of life. But she makes some unconventional choices that could force a lot of secrets into the open and change things for everyone in town. Reminiscent of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, this is a warm, witty book about friendship, stories, and love.

Why We Picked It

The theme for June was In a Land Far, Far Away. We didn’t really come prepared, so I pulled out my “Book Club Recs” list on Goodreads. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend sounded promising, and since the main character traveled halfway across the world we figured it met the theme.

My Thoughts

Clearly, I have a thing for Swedish authors. By now it’s no secret that I’m a card-carrying member of the Fredrik Backman fan club. I also really loved the Millennium Trilogy (that’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), written by Stieg Larsson, also Swedish. As is Katarina Bivald.

Needless to say, I’m going to look for more Swedish authors, so let’s hear those recommendations.

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend is kind of a love story to books and small towns. Sara is a bit of a wet blanket, but for once in her life has decided to do something bold by traveling halfway around the world to spend two months in a town she’s never heard of with a pen pal she’s never met. Unfortunately, the pen pal dies right before Sara arrives, so she’s stuck in town and knows literally no one. It’s a relatively common theme, but one I almost always enjoy.

There are certainly books that do it better, though. Jenny Colgan’s The Bookshop on the Corner is a far better story. I found The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend to be much too predictable and cliche. And unlike Nina, Sara doesn’t really grow as a character. Her situation changes because the backdrop changes…not because she actually makes changes.

I still enjoyed it, don’t get me wrong – a lot, in fact.

 

Book Club Discussion

This was another super short conversation. For the most part, we all agreed. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend is a light, easy read, but not the best example of the books-about-books genre.

July/August Book Club Theme: Firecracker (Dynamic Characters)

July/August Book Club Book: The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick

Blog Tour: My Glory Was I Had Such Friends by Amy Silverstein

About My Glory Was I Had Such Friendsmyglorywasihadsuchfriends

Hardcover: 352 pages
Published: June 2017 by Harper Wave
Source: Publisher via TLC Book Tours

Goodreads Description: In this moving memoir about the power of friendship and the resilience of the human spirit, Amy Silverstein tells the story of the extraordinary group of women who supported her as she waited on the precipice for a life-saving heart transplant.

Nearly twenty-six years after receiving her first heart transplant, Amy Silverstein’s donor heart plummeted into failure. If she wanted to live, she had to take on the grueling quest for a new heart—immediately.

A shot at survival meant uprooting her life and moving across the country to California. When her friends heard of her plans, there was only one reaction: “I’m there.” Nine remarkable women—Joy, Jill, Leja, Jody, Lauren, Robin, Valerie, Ann, and Jane—put demanding jobs and pressing family obligations on hold to fly across the country and be by Amy’s side. Creating a calendar spreadsheet, the women—some of them strangers to one another—passed the baton of friendship, one to the next, and headed straight and strong into the battle to help save Amy’s life.

Empowered by the kind of empathy that can only grow with age, these women, each knowing Amy from different stages of her life, banded together to provide her with something that medicine alone could not. Sleeping on a cot beside her bed, they rubbed her back and feet when the pain was unbearable, adorned her room with death-distracting decorations, and engaged in their “best talks ever.” They saw the true measure of their friend’s strength, and they each responded in kind.

My Glory Was I Had Such Friends is a tribute to these women and the intense hours they spent together—hours of heightened emotion and self-awareness, where everything was laid bare. Candid and heartrending, this once-in-a-lifetime story of connection and empathy is a powerful reminder of the ultimate importance of “showing up” for those we love.

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

About Amy Silverstein

Amy Silverstein is the author of Sick Girl, which won a “Books for a Better Life Award” and was a finalist for the Border’s Original Voices Award. She earned her Juris Doctor at New York University School of Law, has served on the Board of the United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS), and is an active speaker and writer on women’s health issues and patient advocacy. She lives in New York.

Find out more about Amy at her website, and connect with her on Facebook.

My Thoughts

My deepest apologies to TLC book tours for being a serious slacker in actually finishing the books they’ve sent me this month. Or at least, finishing them before my assigned tour date, since I fully intend to finish them both this week. But anyway.

Books like My Glory Was I Had Such Friends are hard to review. Memoirs are life stories, so how do you in essence say, hey that’s a good life story or hey that’s a bad life story? I can’t, anyway. So that leaves technical aspects, which isn’t always easier and can even make you feel like a jerk. Honestly, I’m struggling a little with this one, so bear with me as I try to piece together my thoughts.

As far as subject matter goes, there’s no denying that Amy Silverstein is a remarkable woman – though I suspect that’s the last thing she wants to hear. I’ve learned so much about organ donation that I never knew, and I’m thankful for that. If that’s a cause you’re interested in (or if you just like medical stuff), definitely pick up My Glory Was I Had Such Friends. 

Technically speaking, I’ve really been interested in what I’ve read so far. Silverstein writes well enough, and though the chapters are a bit long, they’re engaging. There is a fair bit of background in the beginning to sift through – I’m only now at the point where I’m starting to read about her hospital stay, and I’m about 150 pages in. That isn’t a fault, as I think the background is critical to setting it up.

I’m anxious to read more, because I’m hopeful there’s quite a bit of growth coming. Not just from Amy, but from each of the women who stay by her side. As someone younger than Amy and her friends, I kinda see My Glory Was I Had Such Friends as an instruction manual for how to be a better friend. I’m not sure if that’s the intent or not. Regardless, all I can say at this point is, how lucky would we all be if we had such women in our lives?

Check out the rest of the Blog Tour stops, and show your fellow readers some love!

 

Thanks to TLC Book Tours and Harper Wave for the chance to participate in this tour! 

Review: Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

About Waking Godswakinggods

• Series: Themis Files (#2)
• Hardcover:
 325 pages
• Audio: 9 hours
• Published: April 2017 by Random House Audio
• Source: Purchased

Buy it on Amazon

Goodreads DescriptionAs a child, Rose Franklin made an astonishing discovery: a giant metallic hand, buried deep within the earth. As an adult, she’s dedicated her brilliant scientific career to solving the mystery that began that fateful day: Why was a titanic robot of unknown origin buried in pieces around the world? Years of investigation have produced intriguing answers—and even more perplexing questions. But the truth is closer than ever before when a second robot, more massive than the first, materializes and lashes out with deadly force.

Now humankind faces a nightmare invasion scenario made real, as more colossal machines touch down across the globe. But Rose and her team at the Earth Defense Corps refuse to surrender. They can turn the tide if they can unlock the last secrets of an advanced alien technology. The greatest weapon humanity wields is knowledge in a do-or-die battle to inherit the Earth . . . and maybe even the stars.

My Review

I knew about halfway through Sleeping Giants that I was going to listen to Waking Gods, even though I had no idea what happened next in the story. Much of what I loved so much about Sleeping Giants is present in Waking Gods. That feeling of suspending belief and imagining a universe where we’re not alone is still very much part of the story.

That said, in Waking Gods we learn a lot more about the background, and we watch how the world deals with the discovery of other life forms. It’s less of an action thriller and more of a political one. That isn’t a bad thing, but it does alter the pacing significantly. I still finished this one quickly, but I didn’t feel compelled like I did with Sleeping Giants. 

For those of you listening to it, I do want to warn you: not all of the narrators are the same between the two books. Kara is different, and though the new narrator is close, it took me a while to get used to her.

I’m also going to semi-spoil it for you and tell you that not everyone survives Waking Gods. And while I understand why Neuvel killed the characters he did, I don’t actually think he had to. I think the story could have progressed much the same way had they lived. I suppose we’ll see for sure in the third book.

When I reviewed Sleeping Giants, I made the comment that I kinda liked the thought of an alien race who’s just as (or more) advanced as we are. Then, I said to ask me if I still felt that way after reading Waking Gods. Answer? Yes, I still think it’s neat, even if the aliens turn out to be (shocker) not so friendly.

No word yet on when we can expect Book 3, but I’ve got my fingers crossed for early 2018. There’s also some buzz that Sony picked up the film rights….dare we hope?!

Missed my review of Sleeping Giants? Look here.

This post contains affiliate links. 

Blog Tour: News of the World by Paulette Jiles

About News of the Worldnewsoftheworld

• Hardcover: 240 pages
• Published: June 2017 by William Morrow (reprint)
• Source: Publisher via TLC Book Tours

Goodreads Description: In the aftermath of the American Civil War, an aging itinerant news reader agrees to transport a young captive of the Kiowa back to her people in this morally complex, multi-layered novel of historical fiction from the author of Enemy Women that explores the boundaries of family, responsibility, honor, and trust.

Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings from newspapers to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his rootless, solitary existence.

In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. Four years earlier, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna’s parents and sister; sparing the little girl, they raised her as one of their own. Recently rescued by the U.S. army, the ten-year-old has once again been torn away from the only home she knows.

Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous. Johanna has forgotten the English language, tries to escape at every opportunity, throws away her shoes, and refuses to act “civilized.” Yet as the miles pass, the two lonely survivors tentatively begin to trust each other, forming a bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land.

Arriving in San Antonio, the reunion is neither happy nor welcome. The captain must hand Johanna over to an aunt and uncle she does not remember—strangers who regard her as an unwanted burden. A respectable man, Captain Kidd is faced with a terrible choice: abandon the girl to her fate or become—in the eyes of the law—a kidnapper himself.

addtogoodreads

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

paulettejiles

Photo by Jill Gann

About Paulette Jiles

Paulette Jiles is a novelist, poet, and memoirist. She is the author of Cousins, a memoir, and the novels Enemy Women, Stormy Weather, The Color of Lightning, Lighthouse Island, and News of the World. She lives on a ranch near San Antonio, TX.

Find out more about Paulette at her website.

My Thoughts

I admit that I’ve only read half of News of the World. I thought I’d have plenty of time with a 200 page book to knock it out over the weekend. I didn’t think about the fact that it was the 4th of July weekend.

News of the World is the kind of story that makes you feel like you’re in it. It’s slow and steady, with almost a rolling cadence to the words. Jiles writes in a way that uses very few words to describe character interactions – but those words are chosen carefully enough to have maximum impact. Reading it, I feel like I’m in the wagon with Captain Kidd and Johanna.

I’m really enjoying the way the Captain and Johanna are learning to get along. Watching Johanna’s experience makes me stop and think about being a stranger in a strange land. I think a lot of the themes are ones that apply today, despite the fact that News of the World is set right after the Civil War.

I don’t want to give this one a rating yet, because I’m not finished with it – but if I had to guess, it’ll be a solid 4 stars. Don’t be fooled by the short length – News of the World has the makings of a great story.

Check out the rest of the Blog Tour stops, and show your fellow readers some love!

 

Thanks to TLC Book Tours and William Morrow for the chance to participate in this tour! 

Review: Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

About Sleeping Giantssleepinggiants

• Series: Themis Files (#1)
• Hardcover:
 304 pages
• Audio: 8 hours
• Published: April 2016 by Random House Audio
• Source: Purchased (Scribd Audiobooks)

Buy it on Amazon

Goodreads Description: A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand.

Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved—its origins, architects, and purpose unknown. Its carbon dating defies belief; military reports are redacted; theories are floated, then rejected.

But some can never stop searching for answers.

Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the provenance of the relic. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unraveling history’s most perplexing discovery—and figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result prove to be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?

An inventive debut in the tradition of World War Z and The Martian, told in interviews, journal entries, transcripts, and news articles, Sleeping Giants is a thriller fueled by a quest for truth—and a fight for control of earthshaking power.

My Review

The prologue of Sleeping Giants ends with a line something to the effect of, “I looked around, and I was sitting in a giant metal hand.”

That’s the line that hooked me.

First of all, I don’t really see the comparison to The Martian, a book I read and absolutely loved. That’s not an issue in the slightest, since I also really enjoyed Sleeping Giants. Just throwing it out there, in case you’re thinking you’re getting a similar story. You’re not.

Second of all, I really really recommend the audio version if you can get your hands on it. Sleeping Giants is told in a series of vignettes – interviews, files, journal entries. In the audio, each character is voiced by a different actor, so you really get a feel for how different each person is. Plus, the narration is stellar.

Sleeping Giants is a little hard to explain, and the book jacket doesn’t really help. Basically, Rose falls into a hole and lands in a giant metal hand when she’s a kid. When she grows up and becomes a physicist, she gets assigned to study the same hand she fell into. Eventually, she realizes the hand is just one of several body parts strewn around the world. She sets out to find them all, convinced they’ll make up a robot left on Earth by aliens, though she has no idea why or what the robot does.

I know. It sounds absurd.

So maybe there’s the comparison to The Martian. A totally ridiculous idea that’s maybe not so ridiculous. And a whole lot of fun to read.

Sci-fi isn’t my genre. I don’t have anything against it, it’s just not usually the type of story that sucks me in. Space and robots and aliens and weird technology tend to fly right over my head. But. I loved Sleeping Giants because it explores the question of whether or not we’re really alone in this universe. And that’s really what sci-fi is supposed to be about – the idea that something is possible. That something fantastic and outrageous and beyond our imagining is…feasible. And while I don’t think it’s likely that there are giant metal robot parts strewn around the globe, I do kinda like the idea that there’s an alien race out there just as (if not more) advanced as we are.

Is that a terrifying thought? Perhaps. Ask me again after I finish Waking Gods, the sequel.

Anyway, Sleeping Giants. Pick it up if you like thrillers, mysteries, and possibilities.

Review: Ella’s Ice-Cream Summer by Sue Watson

About Ella’s Ice-Cream Summerella'sice-creamsummer

Series: Ice-Cream Cafe (#1)
Kindle Edition: 334 pages
Published: May 2017 by Bookouture
Source:
 Netgalley

Goodreads DescriptionElla’s life just hit rock-bottom, but can a summer by the sea mend her broken heart? When life gives you lemons… make ice-cream!

Life hasn’t always been easy for single mum Ella, but she has just hit an all-time low; she’s jobless, loveless, very nearly homeless and, to make matters worse, now the owner of a pocket-sized pooch with a better wardrobe than her.

Packing her bags (and a bigger one for the dog), Ella sets off for the seaside town of Appledore in Devon to re-live the magical summers of her youth and claim her portion of the family ice-cream business: a clapped-out ice-cream van and a complicated mess of secrets.

There she meets gorgeous and free-spirited solicitor, Ben, who sees things differently: with a little bit of TLC he has a plan to get the van – and Ella – back up and running in no time.

Ella’s Ice-Cream Summer is a heart-warming and hilarious romance that will scoop you off your feet and prove it’s never too late for a fresh start. The ideal holiday read for fans of Lucy Diamond, Abby Clements and Debbie Johnson.

My Review

This cover just screams Summer, doesn’t it?! Light and fresh and fun.

Ella is 44-years-old, with two teenagers about to leave the nest, a mother who’s just discovered social media, and an ex-husband affectionately referred to as “The Dick.” She’s in a rut, feeling like she’s lost all sense of adventure and light. When her aunt dies, leaving a portion of the family ice cream business to her, Ella decides once and for all to do something just for her. She packs up, drives south, and begins selling homemade ice cream out of her aunt’s old van Reginaldo.

I loved the idea of Ella’s Ice-Cream Summer. It sounded perfectly summery, a light, airy escape read with heart. And yet, something just didn’t work for me. I gave up after reading about 35% of the book. Ella had JUST gotten to Devon with the van. The story simply didn’t move fast enough. I’d read roughly a third, and wasn’t interested in continuing.

I should remind you, I’m coming off a pretty serious reading slump. So….take this review with a grain of salt. It’s quite possible the issue is me, and not Ella’s Ice-Cream Summer. 

Good things: Ella’s mother cracked me up. I kinda think a book just about Ella dealing with her mom would have been more interesting. And when I finally did get to the ice cream, that was enjoyable too. But I wanted more. Much, much more….even for an escape read.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the ARC!

Review: Beartown by Fredrik Backman

About Beartownbeartown

Hardcover: 432 pages
Published: April 2017 by Atria
Source:
 Purchased

Goodreads DescriptionThe #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove returns with a dazzling, profound novel about a small town with a big dream—and the price required to make it come true.

People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.

Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.

Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.

My Review

I’ll come right out and say it…..there’s way too much talk about hockey Beartown. Both the book and the town, frankly. If Beartown had been written by anyone other than Fredrik Backman, I’d have given up about 25 pages in. There’s THAT MUCH HOCKEY. And too much repetition. But it’s Backman, and I’m a Backman fangirl, so I kept at it. (For evidence of just how much I love Backman, check out my previous reviews of A Man Called Ove, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, and And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer.)

Beartown tells the story of a small town’s dreams of being hockey champions. Those dreams rest on the shoulders of the boys’ junior team as they enter the semifinals. Then tragedy occurs, and the town has to deal with the fallout.

I apologize for the spoiler here, though I imagine it’s not too much of a giveaway if you read the book jacket. This book deals with rape.  You can’t read Beartown and not think about the way society responds to rape victims. Whether that was his intent or not, the book has some pretty hefty options for discussion. It’d be a great book club book.

Beartown’s cast of characters is a motley crew of misfits, miserable adults, and misguided teenagers. For me, there’s just something about the way Backman writes his characters. They’re real. They’re awful and they’re beautiful. They’re human. Perhaps that’s it – they represent the many pieces of all of us. No other writer makes me care so much about what happens to his or her characters. Reading a Backman novel is an emotional experience – it’s like meeting someone, falling in love, having your heart broken, and then finding out you really were soulmates and forgiving each other.

In short, it’s a Backman novel through and through. If you’ve read and loved his others, you’ll love Beartown. Likewise, if you hated his others, steer clear….unless you’re mad for hockey. If you’ve never read Backman….start with A Man Called Ove.

Review: The River of Kings by Taylor Brown

About The River of Kingstheriverofkings

Hardcover: 336 pages
Published: March 2017 by St. Martin’s Press
Source:
 Netgalley

Goodreads DescriptionTwo brothers travel a storied river’s past and present in search of the truth about their father’s death in the second novel by the acclaimed author of Fallen Land.

The Altamaha River, Georgia’s “Little Amazon,” has been named one of the 75 “Last Great Places in the World.” Crossed by roads only five times in its 137-mile length, the blackwater river is home to thousand-year-old virgin cypress, descendants of 18th-century Highland warriors, and a motley cast of rare and endangered species. The Altamaha has even been rumored to harbor its own river monster, as well as traces of the most ancient European fort in North America.

Brothers Hunter and Lawton Loggins set off to kayak the river, bearing their father’s ashes toward the sea. Hunter is a college student, Lawton a Navy SEAL on leave; both young men were raised by an angry, enigmatic shrimper who loved the river, and whose death remains a mystery that his sons hope to resolve. As the brothers proceed downriver, their story is interwoven with that of Jacques Le Moyne, an artist who accompanied the 1564 expedition to found a French settlement at the river’s mouth, which began as a search for riches and ended in a bloody confrontation with Spanish conquistadors and native tribes, leaving the fort in ruins and a few survivors fleeing for their lives.

In The River of Kings, SIBA-bestselling author Taylor Brown artfully weaves three narrative strands—the brothers’ journey, their father’s past, and the dramatic history of the river’s earliest people—to evoke a legendary place and its powerful hold on the human imagination.

My Review

The River of Kings is a story about family. About love, about triumph, and about truth. It’s a beautiful story, or rather, set of stories – the book covers three time periods. If you’ve ever read Michener, Brown’s writing reminds me quite a bit of his.

I read this one slowly, only a couple of chapters at a time. The writing is lyrical, but dense. I wanted to read because I enjoyed the style, but had a hard time staying engaged with the story. As often happens with books where the timeline shifts, I’d get engrossed in one story only to be moved to the next. And so on. It wasn’t frustrating, exactly, but made it that much easier to put the book down.

Because of that, or perhaps because of my mood, I ended up listing this one as abandoned. I simply don’t have the dedication to offer The River of Kings at the moment. Maybe I’ll pick it up again. It’s a great book, just not at the right time for me.

3 stars

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the ARC. All opinions are my own.

Review: Assault and Pepper by Leslie Budewitz

About Assault and Pepperassaultandpepper

Series: A Spice Shop Mystery (#1)
Kindle Edition: 304 pages
Published: March 2015 by Berkley
Source:
 Purchased

Goodreads DescriptionThe Agatha Award-winning author of Crime Rib is proud to introduce Pepper Reece, the owner of the Seattle Spice Shop who thinks she can handle any kind of salty customer—until a murderer ends up in the mix…

After leaving a dicey marriage and losing a beloved job in a corporate crash, Pepper Reece has found a new zest for life running a busy spice and tea shop in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. Her aromatic creations are the talk of the town, and everyone stops by for a cup of her refreshing spice tea, even other shopkeepers and Market regulars. But when a panhandler named Doc shows up dead on the store’s doorstep, a Seattle Spice Shop cup in his hand, the local gossip gets too hot for Pepper to handle—especially after the police arrest one of Pepper’s staffers, Tory Finch, for murder.

Tory seems to know why she’s a suspect, but she refuses to do anything to curry favor with the cops. Convinced her reticent employee is innocent, Pepper takes it on herself to sniff out some clues. Only, if she’s not careful, Pepper’s nosy ways might make her next on the killer’s list…

My Review

Assault and Pepper is the first book in Leslie Budewitz’s Spice Shop Mystery series. Pepper has recently lost her job, divorced her detective husband, and purchased the Seattle Spice Shop. She’s just starting to get the hang of being a small business owner in downtown Seattle, when one of the area’s local panhandlers dies outside her store. The police quickly deem it murder, and soon arrest one of Pepper’s employees.

If you’re like me and sometimes skip straight to the rating (it’s fine, we all do it), you’ll see this wasn’t a hit for me. For one thing, I felt like I didn’t know Pepper – or any of the other characters – any better at the end of the story than at the beginning. There just wasn’t enough character development. Because of that, I truly didn’t care what happened.

I also didn’t really care about the mystery, because to me the killer was painstakingly obvious. Part of it was the fact that the person was mentioned and then more or less ignored. If you read enough cozies (which I do), that’s a sure sign that’s whodunit. The other part was the method – poisoning requires certain knowledge, and there’s a small number of likely candidates. If you read Assault and Pepper, come back and tell me how long it took you to guess the murderer.

What I did enjoy, though, were all the descriptions of spices. Which is funny, because a lot of reviewers seem to think there was too much spice talk! For me, the lack of character and plot development made the spices the only interesting part of the book.

I ended up skimming the last third or so of Assault and Pepper, but I don’t regret reading it. Cozies are generally quick and light. If you’re a fan of the genre, this one might be worth keeping for a rainy day.

Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

About The Bear and the Nightingalethebearandthenightingale

Hardcover: 322 pages
Audio: 11 hours
Published: January 2017 by Random House Audio
Source: Purchased (Scribd Audiobooks)

Goodreads DescriptionAt the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

My Review

It took me nearly two months to read this, mostly because I didn’t do a whole lot of driving. That said, though, I wasn’t super engrossed in The Bear and the Nightingale, much to my dismay. I was super excited when it came out, and I’ve seen a lot of great reviews for it. More on that in a minute.

The Bear and the Nightingale is more or less a fairytale set in the Russian wilderness. Vasilisa is a young girl who loves the woods – and who can see and interact with the house spirits. Either of those things alone would make her different, but both together make her feared and misunderstood. As the story progresses and the demons come closer, Vasilisa’s gifts become her strengths.

It’s actually a bit difficult for me to describe the story, because truthfully, there’s not much of it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Where The Bear and the Nightingale shines is in the world-building. Arden brings the Russian wilderness to life in a way few other writers can. Listening to this, I could easily picture the setting, even though I’ve never been to Russia and have certainly never been to Russia in the wilderness in whatever time period this book was set. (I couldn’t figure it out, but assumed it was sometime in the 1600s.)

The Bear and the Nightingale is the kind of book I’m glad I read, simply for it’s beauty and style. The best part of the book was the last hour or so (not sure what that translates to in pages, sorry!). Is it one I’d heartily recommend? Perhaps, if you’re looking for something graceful and atmospheric. If you’re looking for something gripping and thrilling – no.