Feel-Good Fiction: Books to Read in Difficult Times

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You’d have to be living under a rock to not be at least a little stressed-out lately. With everything that’s going on, I’ve been thinking of the books I read when things are difficult. I tend to reread books I like (I wrote a post about it, which you can find here). Here are a few that I go to when I need a little literary cheering up:

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien: There’s something so calming about following a hobbit on his journey. Smaug is fantastic, of course, and those dwarfs are a delight to read.

The Amelia Peabody mysteries by Elizabeth Peters: I know that “cadaver” and “comfort” aren’t usually associated with each other, but these mysteries are so much fun! Amelia Peabody is a spunky, indomitable heroine, and the setting (Egypt in the late 1800s – early 1900s) allows for some incredibly entertaining mysteries.

Redwall by Brian Jaques: This book is charming. I love reading about little mice and squirrel warriors fighting against an evil army full of stoats and rats.

The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman: This trilogy was my jumping-off point into adult fantasy. I credit my ongoing love of fantasy, my dragon collection, and my enjoyment of D&D to these.

One for the Money by Janet Evanovich: Another mystery (weird), this series follows an accidental bounty-hunter (she just needed a job) named Stephanie Plum. She is such a disaster, it’s like watching a train wreck: you can’t look away. All the characters in this series are quirky and funny. This series always succeeds in distracting me from stress.

Have you read any of these? What books are your go-to comfort reads?

The Haunted Lady by Mary Roberts Rinehart

The Haunted Lady (Hilda Adams): Mary Roberts Rinehart, Otto ...

Someone’s trying to kill the head of the Fairbanks estate, and only her nurse can protect her.

The arsenic in her sugar bowl was wealthy widow Eliza Fairbanks’ first clue that somebody wanted her dead. The nightly plagues of bats, birds, and rats unleashed in her bedroom were the second indication, an obvious attempt to scare the life out of the delicate dowager. So instead of calling the exterminator, Eliza calls the cops, who send Hilda Adams ― “Miss Pinkerton” to the folks at the bureau ― to go undercover and investigate.

Hilda Adams is a nurse, not a detective ― at least, not technically speaking. But then, nurses do have the opportunity to see things that the police can’t, and to witness the inner workings of a household when the authorities aren’t around. From the moment Adams arrives at the Fairbanks mansion, confronted by a swarm of shady and oddball relatives, many of whom seem desperate for their inheritance, it’s clear that something unseemly is at work in the estate. But not even she is prepared for the web of intrigue that awaits her therein. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

To my chagrin, I have to admit that I hadn’t read any of Mary Roberts Rinehart’s writing before this year. The author’s name sounded vaguely familiar, but it was only recently that I heard her being called the “American Agatha Christie.” Of course, that little phrase made me curious.

Hilda Adams is a nurse with a sharp eye and good problem-solving skills. In this particular book, she’s asked by the police- who she’s worked well with previously- to stay nights with the wealthy, older Mrs. Fairbanks, who is convinced that someone is trying to kill her. Hilda reluctantly agrees, expecting nothing more than the paranoia of a lonely woman. Instead, she finds herself in the middle of a who dunnit, one that takes place within a locked room. I truly love locked room mysteries!

I thought the mystery itself was clever, and the author planted the clues along the way, so that- were I smart enough- I might have solved it on my own. Alas, I am not. Thankfully, Hilda was also on the case! The cast of suspects felt a little flat to me, however. I was hoping for more from them, as far as personality goes. I struggled to feel the sense of excitement or tension that I often find in Agatha Christie’s books. Hilda herself was fun to read, though. She was a no-nonsense sort, but she was also far from impervious to nerves.

I enjoyed the book, but I didn’t love it. It was a fun read, and a good way to pass some time, but I wasn’t blown away.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

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One bright spring morning in London, Diana Cowper – the wealthy mother of a famous actor – enters a funeral parlor. She is there to plan her own service.

Six hours later she is found dead, strangled with a curtain cord in her own home.

Enter disgraced police detective Daniel Hawthorne, a brilliant, eccentric investigator who’s as quick with an insult as he is to crack a case. Hawthorne needs a ghost writer to document his life; a Watson to his Holmes. He chooses Anthony Horowitz.

Drawn in against his will, Horowitz soon finds himself a the center of a story he cannot control. Hawthorne is brusque, temperamental and annoying but even so his latest case with its many twists and turns proves irresistible. The writer and the detective form an unusual partnership. At the same time, it soon becomes clear that Hawthorne is hiding some dark secrets of his own.(taken from Amazon)

Murder, and suspects, and mayhem- oh my! Have you every started a book or movie and thought, “This is so great, I love it,” only to have the ending dim everything? That’s what happened to me.

It started so well. Author Anthony Horowitz wrote himself into this mystery, and it was brilliant. It made for some funny scenes, and allowed the author to explain things without condescending to the reader. Anthony was almost a Watson character. I found it highly enjoyable.

The mystery itself was an interesting one. I thought I’d called whodunnit, but I was wrong. Unfortunately, I was wrong because the culprit came out of left field. I like mysteries where- if you go back through the book after everything has been revealed- you can see the clues cleverly hidden in the writing. This didn’t happen, and it was very disappointing.

Another issue I had was the whole “why I did it” monologue. Because the culprit made so little sense, there was almost half a chapter of exposition. Blah. See why the ending fell flat for me?

If you’re the sort of reader who can ignore a rather lousy ending if the rest of the book is enjoyable, then you might like this one. The characters are interesting, the narrative very well done. The meta aspect added an extra level of enjoyment. However, it wasn’t enough to make up for the ending in my mind. Bummer, man.

Blood of the Fae by Tom Mohan

Image result for blood of the fae by tom mohan                                Liza McCarthy has never known the love she so desperately craves. The illegitimate child of a broken marriage, the identity of her father and her heritage are a well-kept secret. When she receives a call from a mysterious woman claiming her life is in danger, she manages to flee just before two men break into her home.

She soon finds herself in the tiny midwestern town of Halden’s Mill. There she is taken in by the Finns, a mysterious family who claim to guard the entrance to the fabled land of the faerie.

Liza is slowly drawn into a world of monsters, dark magic and a host of peculiar townsfolk. Now she must rethink everything she’s ever known and seek her destiny before two worlds collide with a force that could mean the end of the human race. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.

I’m rather apathetic about this book, to be honest. The description immediately interested me: weird doings in a weird town? Talk of the fae? I’m down. However, the book didn’t really go anywhere.

I spent this first third of the book really confused. Things seemed very choppy to me. I couldn’t connect with Liza at all. For example: at the beginning she gets a call to an unplugged landline phone where a stranger predicts a break-in and leads her out of the house safely. It’s all very Matrix. But Liza spends much less time being completely weirded out than I could believe. Another thing that felt odd, is that there didn’t seem to be a sense of urgency at all. I couldn’t bring myself to care about any of the characters or what happened to them.

That’s not to say the book didn’t have its strengths. I liked the darker tones throughout the book, and it seemed that the storyline was always on the verge of going somewhere really cool. Unfortunately, it just didn’t seem to get there.

Ultimately, this book wasn’t for me.

The Woman in the Mirror by Rebecca James- ARC Review

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For more than two centuries, Winterbourne Hall has stood atop a bluff overseeing the English countryside of Cornwall and the sea beyond.

In 1947, Londoner Alice Miller accepts a post as governess at Winterbourne, looking after Captain Jonathan de Grey’s twin children. Falling under the de Greys’ spell, Alice believes the family will heal her own past sorrows. But then the twins’ adoration becomes deceitful and taunting. Their father, ever distant, turns spiteful and cruel. The manor itself seems to lash out. Alice finds her surroundings subtly altered, her air slightly chilled. Something malicious resents her presence, something clouding her senses and threatening her very sanity.

In present day New York, art gallery curator Rachel Wright has learned she is a descendant of the de Greys and heir to Winterbourne. Adopted as an infant, she never knew her birth parents or her lineage. At long last, Rachel will find answers to questions about her identity that have haunted her entire life. But what she finds in Cornwall is a devastating tragic legacy that has afflicted generations of de Greys. A legacy borne from greed and deceit, twisted by madness, and suffused with unrequited love and unequivocal rage. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available on March 17th, 2020.

Eerie and compelling, this is a perfect rainy day read. I had a hard time putting this book down; I was so completely immersed in the odd, spooky story of the Winterbourne women.

This book took place in two separate times, with the narrative switching easily back and forth. Alice went to the Winterbourne estate in 1947 to become a governess (why is it always a governess in spooky stories?), the previous governess having vacated the position abruptly. Alice immediately falls in love with everything about Winterbourne, from the two children she nannies to the widower who also lives there. However, all is not idyllic. Something is off, and things start to spiral out of control.

In many ways, this made me think of The Turn of the Screw. At times, I wasn’t sure whether Alice was the most trustworthy of narrators. As she descended into madness (or did she?), it became more and more difficult to discern what was really happening. The changeable nature of both the book and Alice were fascinating.

The other part of the narrative took place in present day and followed a woman named Rachel. She learns that she’s inherited Winterbourne, as well as a host of unanswered questions about who her relatives were. I didn’t connect with her character at all; in fact, she really annoyed me for a good chunk of time. I didn’t like that she was so wishy-washy. The parts with her in it were less interesting to me than the parts about Alice.

The atmosphere of the book was excellent. There was something about the way it was written that conveyed tension and a sense of wrongness, without ever overdoing it. Each word was placed with care and used to great effect.

My big quibble with the book is that the female characters had terrible taste in guys, every last one of them. I really couldn’t understand what the draw was to the widower, in particular. He was a world-class jerk. However, the rest of the book was excellent.

I highly recommend this one.

Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau- ARC Review

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The year is 1911 when twenty-year-old heiress Peggy Batternberg is invited to spend the summer in America’s Playground.

The invitation to Coney Island is unwelcome. Despite hailing from one of America’s richest families, Peggy would much rather spend the summer working at the Moonrise Bookstore than keeping up appearances with New York City socialites and her snobbish, controlling family.

But soon it transpires that the hedonism of Coney Island affords Peggy the freedom she has been yearning for, and it’s not long before she finds herself in love with a troubled pier-side artist of humble means, whom the Batternberg patriarchs would surely disapprove of.

Disapprove they may, but hidden behind their pomposity lurks a web of deceit, betrayal and deadly secrets. And as bodies begin to mount up amidst the sweltering clamour of Coney Island, it seems the powerful Batternbergs can get away with anything…even murder. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available to purchase on January 16th, 2020.

I was first drawn to this book because of the cover. It spoke of danger and thrills. I can say with certainty that this book delivered.

Peggy Batternberg is part of a wealthy, snobbish family. They throw their money around and thinks it exempts them from the same treatment as the working class. Unfortunately, in many cases they are correct. Peggy herself hates the way her family acts. When the book opens, she’s working in a bookstore. Not for the money, which she doesn’t need, but for a sense of freedom. She’s pulled away to spend the summer on Coney Island with her family, and her sister’s fiance, who is an absolute jerk.

While in Coney Island, Peggy falls for an artist, but when women are found murdered, he’s the main suspect. Peggy has to prove he’s innocent- provided he actually is. Her efforts show the disparity between how the wealthy and working class are treated. The more Peggy pries, the more dangerous things become.

Peggy herself annoyed the living snot out of me at first. She looked down on her family’s privilege, but was perfectly okay with enjoying them herself. Her hypocrisy really bugged me. However, as the story went on, she began to change and mature. I liked her much more by the end of the book.

The story itself was really good. I liked the wealth of detail the author provided, and the pictures she painted with her words. I was able to picture every part of Coney Island, and it made the book incredibly enjoyable.

While I could see the ending from a mile away, it didn’t dull my enjoyment of the book in the slightest. This is one of the better mysteries I’ve read this year, and I’ll happily read more of Nancy Bilyeau’s books.

 

The Manor House Murder by Faith Martin

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Monica Noble and her husband Graham, the local vicar, are invited to participate in a high-flying church conference being held at a swanky manor house hotel in their village.

At the Saturday night dinner, the ambitious female cleric Celia Gordon tragically dies, seemingly of a peanut allergy.

But when Chief Superintendent Jason Dury arrives on the scene he quickly discovers that it’s a case of murder.

AND MONICA’S HUSBAND IS THE PRIME SUSPECT

Other suspects include an eminent bishop, an archdeacon viciously opposed to female clergy, and his wife, the curator of a local museum, who is definitely up to something.

But if Monica is to find out who killed Celia, and free her husband from suspicion, she must grapple with a very ruthless — and increasingly desperate — killer, putting herself and those around her in mortal danger. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This is available to purchase now.

Disclaimer: I haven’t read the first two books in this series. I was able to pick up on things very easily, however.

This is one of those fun and cozy mysteries that are good to pull out on a rainy day. A simple read, it held my attention and made me smile. The characters aren’t all that developed, and I called the ‘who dunnit’ before the reveal, but it didn’t dim my enjoyment of the book. In a story like this, the fun is how you get to the end.

I didn’t love the setup: the multiple uses of the words “whore” and “prissy bitch” in the prologue grated on me. I do understand that the whole purpose was to point out how bad the baddie was. It still irked me, though. It didn’t jive with the feel of the rest of the story.

It’s a small complaint, and the rest of the book was highly enjoyable. I kind of loved the glossary of English terms that was added for us Americans. I found it helpful and a ton of fun to see the differences in language.

Have you read this? What did you think?

The Fantastic Phantasmic Detective Agency and the Case of the Missing Ghost by D.L. Dugger- ARC Review

The Fantastic Phantasmic Detective Agency: And the case of the missing ghost by [Dugger, D.L.]
When a ghost disappears from a local house he was haunting, his sister in the OtherWorld spirit realm hires the Fantastic Phantasmic Detective Agency to find him. Eager to locate the missing ghost, the youthful sleuths, Abby, Toby and Billy, and their grumpy Medium Arthur Monsento jump right into the investigation. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available to purchase on November 11th.

What first drew me to this book was the old-school kids’ detective agency idea. I loved that sort of story when I was young, and this seemed a fresh take on an old favorite. There was a Scooby-Doo vibe, except that the ghosties happen to be actual ghosts.

This is the third installment in the Fantastic Phantasmic Detective Agency series, but it was easy to understand what was happening, thanks to explanations given throughout the book. The explanations didn’t necessarily fit into the storyline nicely; rather, they just sort of popped up. However, it was good to have them. I don’t think they are long enough to bore repeat readers, which is also a plus.

The premise of this particular mystery is the search for a missing ghost. He’s no longer haunting the house he normally appears at, and his recently deceased sister is concerned about him. I laughed pretty hard at that idea.

The detective agency consists of three kids (Abby, Billy, and Toby), and a cranky old medium. They follow clues of an unusual kind to attempt to find the missing ghost. I don’t want to give too many details away, since half the fun of a mystery is following the twists and turns.

This book is a lot of fun. It’s a new take on the usual trope and I quite enjoyed it. If you’re looking for a quick, entertaining read, this is a good one to check out. I’ll know I’ll be going back and reading the first two in this series.

How to Become a Hipster Reader (books to read before they’re on TV)


Admission: whenever possible, I read a book before I watch the show or movie it’s based on. It doesn’t always happen nowadays, what with homeschooling, toddler chasing, and taking college classes, but I do my level best.

In order to join the Book Hipster Collective, read the book first (unless you’re capable of growing a man bun. Then…go for it, I guess). Here are some book suggestions for a jumping off point.

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett: If you haven’t seen the wonderfully done show, you need to get on that. If you haven’t read the book: what on earth, in heaven, or in hell, are you waiting for?

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According to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (the world’s only completely accurate book of prophecies, written in 1655, before she exploded), the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just before dinner.

So the armies of Good and Evil are amassing, Atlantis is rising, frogs are falling, tempers are flaring. Everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan. Except a somewhat fussy angel and a fast-living demon—both of whom have lived amongst Earth’s mortals since The Beginning and have grown rather fond of the lifestyle—are not actually looking forward to the coming Rapture.

And someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist . . .(taken from Amazon)

The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice: According to imdb, a Vampire Chronicles series is in the works. If or when this will actually come to fruition, I really can’t say. However, it’s absolutely worth reading the first few books in the Vampire Chronicles anyway, since they’re bloody (pun intended) brilliant.

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Follows the three-century life of Lestat, from his boyhood in eighteenth-century France to 1992 Miami where the immortal vampire finds himself alone, yearning to regain his soul and to once again experience the joys and anguish of being human. (taken from Amazon)

Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan (the last few were continued by Brandon Sanderson) : You’ve got some time before the series releases (sometime in 2021), which is great because this is quite the undertaking. However, if you’re a fantasy fan at all, these books need to be on your “to read asap” pile.

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The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth returns again. In the Third Age, an Age of Prophecy, the World and Time themselves hang in the balance. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow.

When The Two Rivers is attacked by Trollocs—a savage tribe of half-men, half-beasts— five villagers flee that night into a world they barely imagined, with new dangers waiting in the shadows and in the light. (taken from Amazon)

The Stand by Stephen King: With a new star studded mini-series in the works, make sure to read the book before watching. I think I’ve read this book before but, since I’m not entirely positive, I think I need to read it again before watching the show.

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A patient escapes from a biological testing facility, unknowingly carrying a deadly weapon: a mutated strain of super-flu that will wipe out 99 percent of the world’s population within a few weeks. Those who remain are scared, bewildered, and in need of a leader. Two emerge—Mother Abagail, the benevolent 108-year-old woman who urges them to build a peaceful community in Boulder, Colorado; and Randall Flagg, the nefarious “Dark Man,” who delights in chaos and violence. As the dark man and the peaceful woman gather power, the survivors will have to choose between them—and ultimately decide the fate of all humanity. (taken from Amazon)

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss: The first book in an epic fantasy series (only the first two books in the chronicles are out right now), the show actually doesn’t follow the novel, instead focusing on the world. I’m hesitant to watch the show because of that, but The Name of the Wind is excellent. The first paragraph of the book alone is incredible.

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My name is Kvothe.
 
I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.
 
You may have heard of me.
 
So begins a tale unequaled in fantasy literature—the story of a hero told in his own voice. It is a tale of sorrow, a tale of survival, a tale of one man’s search for meaning in his universe, and how that search, and the indomitable will that drove it, gave birth to a legend.  (taken from Amazon)

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie: Agatha Christie is the preeminent voice in mystery literature. If you haven’t read this book, you definitely need to. The fact that a movie adaptation will be released next year, well…it gives you a bit of a deadline.

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Beloved detective Hercule Poirot embarks on a journey to Egypt in one of Agatha Christie’s most famous mysteries, Death on the Nile.

The tranquility of a cruise along the Nile was shattered by the discovery that Linnet Ridgeway had been shot through the head. She was young, stylish, and beautiful. A girl who had everything . . . until she lost her life.

Hercule Poirot recalled an earlier outburst by a fellow passenger: “I’d like to put my dear little pistol against her head and just press the trigger.” Yet in this exotic setting nothing is ever quite what it seems. (taken from Amazon)

Are you excited for any of these adaptations? What am I missing? Are you a book hipster like me, or does it depend on the book?

 

Markus by David Odle- ARC Review

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Markus Blue is one of the most powerful men alive. Fire from his hands can destroy armies and his battles are legendary. He is one of a rare breed called the warlock, one of the last of his kind and he is dying. But he must face one more battle, one more challenge or it will mean the end of the world as we know it. (taken from Amazon)

                     Thank you Netgalley for providing me with this book, in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.

When I read the description for this book, I thought it would be a fantasy adventure, the sort that pits one against many. Instead, this book is a modern story that just so happens to also include vampires, werewolves, and a crotchety once-powerful old man. It was a blast.

The premise was simple: a big, bad vampire rampaging around, causing no end of trouble. Battles ensue. I loved it. It was so much fun! I enjoyed the daylight out of myself. This book pairs well with 90’s nostalgia and popcorn.

There wasn’t a lot of character depth, but with a book like this, there doesn’t need to be. It sounds like I’m just listing negative traits, but what would normally be considered a negative is actually a very good thing in this story. Markus was a fun character with a tough exterior, experience and power to back up his ego, and a hidden soft heart.

Every now and again I have one of those days where the only solution is to watch a movie like Blade. One that’s not heavy on the plot, it’s easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys, and there are cool sunglasses. Markus didn’t have the sunglasses, but in every other aspect it felt like a simple, fun vampire flick. Check it out!