The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag
by Alan Bradley
The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag is the second Flavia de Luce book. This one was just as enjoyable as the first. I really love Flavia. She is a firecracker and so clever! I love following her train of thought and how she puts all the pieces together. Her sisters still treat her abominably, which is sad, but she does know how to get them back. In this second installment, Flavia meets a traveling puppet master and his assistant. They come to town and put on a masterful show, drawing a huge crowd. When the puppeteer mysteriously drops dead during one of his performances, Flavia sets out to help the constable solve the mystery. Flavia gets around town on her trusty bike putting clues together and ultimately solves the mystery! I’m really enjoying this series and I’m looking forward to the next installment.
Summing it up: this is another great story staring Flavia and I highly recommend it!
The Bear and the Nightingale
by Katherine Arden
This review will be brief because I did not love this book. Initially I was excited about it because it has been on by list for a while and then I saw it at the library. One of the reasons I was looking forward to it is because I love fairy tales and The Bear and the Nightingale is based on Russian folk lore. I was so intrigued and unfortunately I was disappointed. I tried for about half the book to get into it and enjoy it and I couldn’t. I was thrown in part because each character was referred two by at least two different names. The writing was beautiful, but it was too abstract for me. It was very ethereal and as a result it was hard to picture and follow at points. I ended up skimming the second half just to find out what happened to the characters.
Summing it up: while the writing was beautiful in it’s own way, I did not enjoy reading the book and I do not recommend it.
The Shark Club
by Ann Kidd Taylor
I heard about The Shark Club somewhere. At this point, I literally can’t remember where I hear about books. Between friend recommendations, following fellow readers on Instagram and working at the library, I hear about books all the time! So, I heard about The Shark Club somewhere and ended up really enjoying it. I read it in about two sittings and was completely caught up in Maeve’s story. She had this journey that was so compelling and enjoyable to read. In addition, the writing flowed and transported me to another place. I especially enjoyed reading about marine biology and sharks. It’s a subject I know little about, so I found it fascinating to read. My one let down was actually the ending, in a way. The book was leading toward a certain outcome and then that did not happen. It was a nice ending, but a little jarring because it was unexpected to me. I still really liked the book though and keep thinking about it!
Maeve is a marine biologist specializing in sharks. She travels the world doing research and is finishing up her current travel. She’s working with another researcher, Nicholas, and while they have been professional the whole time, there is something more between them and they talk about doing more projects together and being more to each other. Maeve has to return home to compile her research however, and she is in for an unpleasant surprise when she gets there. Growing up, Maeve had her grandmother and her twin brother, Robin, as her parents died in a plane crash when she and Robin were six. They bonded with a neighborhood kid, Daniel and the three of them were inseparable. As young teenager, Maeve was bitten by a shark and Daniel saved her. Since then, Maeve has been obsessed with sharks; learning all about them and now studying them professionally, and trying to save them from shark-finners (people who capture sharks, cut off their fins, and throw them back into the ocean to drown). She and Daniel fell in love and got engaged, only to break it off when Daniel had an affair and got his lover pregnant. It’s been seven years since then and when Maeve returns home, she is met by Daniel who has moved back to town. Maeve has to come to terms with her past with Daniel, which is compounded by the fact that her brother has written a novel based on her and Daniel’s life. Spoilers: Maeve gives Daniel a second chance after she meets his spunky, ocean loving daughter and learns that his lover passed away recently. For a while they get along well, but then old problems emerge and painfully, Maeve realizes that she can’t be with Daniel just because she loves his daughter. It’s very sad because she and the little girl start “the shark club” and bond really well. Maeve also forgives her brother for writing his book and decides to give Nicholas a chance now that she’s not being pulled in another direction. As a side story, there is a shark-finning operation going on and she is able to find the people responsible and bring them to justice.
Summing it up: I literally got swept away by this book and even though I was taken off guard by the ending, I still thoroughly enjoyed this book and definitely recommend it!
The Lost Letter
by Jillian Cantor
Do you know how sometimes a book calls to you for whatever reason? Maybe the title, or the cover, or the synopsis? Sometimes those gut instincts are sometimes waaay off and the book is a dud, but other times, it is right on the money. The Lost Letter was the latter for me. Something about it pulled it into my hands and I read it in a single afternoon. I was enthralled. This book was immensely moving. Parts were inspiring, parts were heartbreaking, but overall it was beautiful. This is a book that oscillates between past (1930s) and present (1980s), which is one of my favorite styles of writing. The chapters were short and the characters were so real. I literally couldn’t put it down. This is a book that will stay with me for a while!
The story follows Kristof, a young orphaned apprentice to a Jewish stamp engraver. He is welcomed by Mr. and Mrs. Faber and their younger daughter, Miriam, but their older daughter, Elena is standoffish. Kristof struggles with learning the trade, but he falls in love with the whole family, their religion, and he slowly gets better at stamp engraving. Flipping to the 1980s, we follow, Katie, a recently divorced woman who is dealing with her father having Alzheimer’s and recently being put in a home. He has given her his vast stamp collection and she decides to get it appraised to see if there is anything valuable. The stamp expert she brings it to, Benjamin, finds one with a hidden edelweiss and he and Katie are determined to learn it’s story. Spoilers: Kristof and Elena fall in love after they are left alone (Miriam is sent to England for safety, her father goes to America and her mother is sent to a concentration camp). After a little while they are separated and Kristof moves to America waiting for Elena to join him someday. She doesn’t and he changes his name, marries, and has a daughter. He also finds out that Elena’s father died shortly after arriving in America. Elena believes that Kristof is dead, so marries a friend and gets trapped behind the Berlin Wall. Eventually, Katie learns that her father is Kristof and she travels to Germany after the Wall is torn down and finds Elena, delivering the letter (with the curious stamp) to her since it was from her father. Elena is hesitant and aloof at first, but later decides to come to America to see Kristof. Even with his Alzheimer’s he recognizes her and they are finally happy together again. Side note, Katie and Benjamin have a sweet love story and end up together as well.
Summing it up: I was smitten with this book from the very first page and I loved it!! I highly recommend it it!
All the best, Abbey
The Mysterious Benedict Society
by Trenton Lee Stewart
The Mysterious Benedict Society was another recommendation from my teenage brother. He consistently gets me hooked on series, and this is yet another start to a series. I was very excited to start this book, but found myself stalling about a third of the way through. It wasn’t boring, but there was nothing super gripping. I kept plugging away and about halfway through there was an amazing twist which got me totally sucked in for the remainder of the book. Surprise, surprise, I’ll be continuing to read the series!
The Mysterious Benedict Society follows the life of young orphan, Reynie. Reynie is quite bright and gets an opportunity to go to a specialized school if he can pass a series of tests. The tests are unusual and seem strangely easy for Reynie, who passes one after another. Two other children pass as well: Sticky and Kate. At the end of the final test, they meet their benefactor: Mr. Benedict, and get some answers. The school he wants to send them to is actually the front for an evil man who is trying to take over the world. Mr. Benedict needs clever children to attend as undercover agents in order to learn the full plot. Reynie, Sticky and Kate will team up with one other remarkably small child, Constance. Spoilers: they successfully infiltrate the school by performing well in their classes and impressing the director, Mr. Curtain. They ultimately determine that Mr. Curtain is Mr. Benedict’s twin and is trying to take over the world through radio signals carrying hidden messages. He has the ability to wipe memories as well and has done so with former agents so that they cannot expose him. Mr. Curtain has a machine that sends all the radio messages out. He sits on one side and thinks his obscure phrases that then a child sitting on the other side repeats (a child’s mind is the only way to get the messages broadcast). They know they need to destroy the machine and figure out how to have the memories returned. In the end, Constance (who is unbelievably stubborn because it turns out she is a toddler) sits in the machine and refuses to comply with Mr. Curtain’s thoughts and thereby breaks the machine. Mr. Curtain escapes, but they have enough evidence to pursue him and convince authorities of the plot. The children also find out that the memories can be coaxed back and Mr. Benedict has figured out how to do that. There is a very happy ending as one of the agents remembers his past and it turns out that he is Kate’s dad who has been missing. Sticky gets reunited with his parents who have been distraught over his disappearance (he left after a misunderstanding). Reynie realizes that their work is far from over (since, Mr. Curtain escaped), but they enjoy a few moments of happiness before this sinks in.
Summing it up: While this took me a little bit to get into, in the end, I really enjoyed the twist, the characters and the book! I definitely recommend it.
All the best, Abbey
Library of Souls
by Ransom Riggs
I finally finished the Miss Peregrine series!! I’m so excited. While I started out loving the first book, the other two have been more of a drag. I wasn’t terribly interested in finishing, except that I was hooked on Jacob and Emma’s story (what can I say, I love a good love story). So, I picked up the third book and muscled through it. Very similar to the second book, it took a lot of effort to read, but was redeemed by the ending. I LOVED the ending. It made the forced aspect of the books worth it . . . thank goodness! Honestly, that’s my biggest complaint. The story line feels so forced with the pictures and the climatic parts where the bad guys keep getting ahead. It’s too much. That being said, I really loved Jacob and Emma’s story and I was very satisfied in the end. Spoilers: Jacob and Emma set off to find their captured friends. After meeting lots of strange people they find them. The ‘bad guy’ is Miss Peregrine’s brother, Caul, who has been trying to find the Library of souls (the souls of past ymbrynes) in order to harvest them and become all powerful. After fighting countless wights, partially by Jacob controlling dozens of hollowgasts, they succeed in shutting down Caul, destroying his work and wights (and hollowgasts), and returning peculiardom to peace. Sadly, Jacob decides to return to his parents, leaving his friends and Emma behind. Before long, Jacob’s parents commit him for being ‘crazy.’ But all is not lost. Miss Peregrine and the children figure out how to return themselves to their correct age and allow them to age normally and not need to be in a loop. Once they figure this out, they come to Jacob’s rescue and Jacob and Emma can be together, while Miss Peregrine promises to help Jacob’s parents come around and accept peculiardom! It’s a very sweet, very happy ending!
Summing it up: I really struggled with this one and it was hard to push through (I totally skimmed). The ending was satisfying, but I don’t know that I can really recommend it. Maybe if you’re like me, you’ll want to finish for the sake of finishing, but if you haven’t started the series, I’m not sure it’s worth it.
All the best, Abbey
A Mother Like Mine
by Kate Hewitt
Hewitt came out with a third Hartley-by-the-Sea book! I was so excited to read it since I loved the first two. Happily, Hewitt did not disappoint. She once again wove a moving story about two hurting individuals who heal their relationship after much time and effort. It’s beautiful. Hewitt writes in a compelling, realistic way that really makes her storyline believable. It’s one of my favorite things about her writing. I also love her characters. They are people you can absolutely picture and imagine meeting. Hartely-by-the-Sea is the perfect back drop as well. I really think Hewitt is just brilliant. I love her writing, her characters, and the heart she puts into each one of her stories.
This time, the focus is on Abby, a single mom raising her young son, Noah and helping her grandmother run a cafe. Abby was abandoned by her mother when she was two and her grandmother raised her. Abby left for vet school, making it three years before getting pregnant. Noah’s father was not happy, but before he could really accept it, he died in a motorcycle accident. Abby returned to Hartely-by-the-Sea and her grandmother to raise her son. Fast forward five years and Abby is settled into her routine. That is until her mother, Laura, comes back into her life. There is deep pain between Abby and Laura so things are rocky, to say the least. Spoilers: in a tragic turn of events, Abby’s grandmother dies, leaving Abby and Laura to sort out their issues alone. As only Hewitt can write, Abby and Laura slowly forge a relationship, starting with owning the cafe together and revamping it. Through many arguments and heart to hearts, they begin to forgive. Laura softens and learns to put aside some of her selfishness to be a grandmother to Noah and a mother to Abby. Abby lets go of a lot of her hurt and begins to trust that her mother will stay around and not leave her again. Laura goes so far as to get Abby and Noah their own place so they can stop being cramped in the apartment next to the cafe. In the end, Laura’s past comes to light when she explains to Abby that she had an affair with a married man in town (Claire West’s father) and then got pregnant. He wanted an abortion, she did not. He threatened her for a while, until finally, Laura left Abby in the care of her grandmother and left to start a new life. Laura was just 16, young and scared, and even though it was easy in a way to not have a baby to care for, she regretted leaving and missing all of Abby’s life. However, just as things are falling into place, the cafe burns down due to an electric fire. Thankfully, no one is hurt and Laura and Abby get plenty of money to rebuild the cafe. Abby’s father waltzes into Laura’s life for a min to make amends in the form of a huge check that Abby uses to go back to vet school. Abby and Laura form a true mother/daughter bond and the book ends quite happily.
Summing it up: I loved this book so much and I highly recommend it!
All the best, Abbey