Book Review: A Curse So Dark and Lonely

In this retelling of The Beaty & the Beast, tough-but-vulnerable Harper and arrogant-but-defeated Rhen must join forces to save the kingdom—and perhaps fall in love.

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kremmerer

I almost didn’t read this because I was looking for a different book, but I’m glad I did.

Book Description

Harper is determined to help her brother earn money to pay off their mother’s cancer debts, but Jake always underestimates her because of her Cerebral Palsy. She’s relegated to lookout duty, but when she spots someone being kidnapped, she can’t help intervening. She doesn’t realize this kidnapper is heading to another world until he accidentally takes her instead.

Thrust into a fairytale land full of magic and suffering, Harper meets Prince Rhen and learns of his curse. Upon the season’s end, he transforms into a terrifying monster and attacks his own people. After his rampage, time resets, and he must relive his eighteenth year again—until a woman falls in love with him.

Apparently, that woman is supposed to be Harper.

She doubts she could fall for someone so arrogant, but when a neighboring kingdom sends an army over the mountains, Rhen and Harper have bigger things to worry about than breaking a curse.

Characters

Though the book falls into the young adult category, readers of any age can relate to Harper’s desire to prove herself. She is simultaneously tough and vulnerable, determined and doubt-riddled, assured and confused. In other words, she’s human.

Having Cerebral Palsy causes Harper to walk with a limp, but I love that this book isn’t about Harper’s disability. CP is a part of her, but it doesn’t define her character, and rather than focus on Harper fighting discrimination as so many books featuring characters with disabilities do, Kremmerer focuses the story on everything Harper can do, and how she wins the respect of everyone who meets her.

The other characters are similarly well rounded, including the leading man, Rhen. Kremmerer depicts her characters not as “good guys” and “bad guys,” but as deeply flawed humans doing the best they can. Each character harbors regrets about past decisions and agonizes over future ones. Readers may not agree with those decisions, but we can understand them.

Plot

The plot follows a fun twist on the Beauty & the Beast. Rather than focusing on the love story, the invading army gives Rhen and Harper a common goal. Kremmerer does an excellent job escalating both the personal and societal stakes over the course of the plot, forcing the characters to make impossible decisions.

Writing Style

Kremmerer’s prose is just the right mix of description and action. It reads smoothly, with few stylistic obstacles to prevent readers from immersing themselves in the world. She lingers over romantic scenes while driving up the pace during climactic ones, excellent pacing.

Miscellaneous

I wish this were a standalone novel instead of a series. The author needed to leave some loose ends to draw readers forward, but I don’t like where the tale is headed. I’d rather pretend those loose ends were tied up and enjoy the happily ever after in my head.

That said, I feel obligated to admit that I have already downloaded the sequel from the library’s e-book database.

Conclusion

In this refreshing and beautiful retelling of The Beaty & the Beast, tough-but-vulnerable Harper and arrogant-but-defeated Rhen must join forces to save the kingdom—and perhaps fall in love. With deeply human characters and a thrilling plot full of political intrigue and high stakes, A Curse So Dark and Lonely is sure to please even fair-weather fans of fairy tales. I loved this book so much I read it in a weekend. Highly recommend.


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I haven’t written a review on this, but with a nerdy princess and lots of magic/action/romance… let’s just say I loved it. Trust Me.


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Book Review: Magic Hour

Child psychiatrist Dr. Julia Cates’s career is in ruins after a scandal draws national attention. Even during the worst of the media firestorm, she never thinks to seek support from her estranged sister, Ellie. When Ellie contacts her, it’s not to offer support, but to ask for her help.

Magic Hour by Kristin Hannah

During my training to become a speech-language pathologist, my classes discussed the concept of a “critical age” for language acquisition, so this book piqued my interest. The cases Hannah mentions throughout the plot are ones I learned about in graduate school.

Description

Child psychiatrist Dr. Julia Cates’s career is in ruins after a scandal draws national attention. Even during the worst of the media firestorm, she never thinks to seek support from her estranged sister, Ellie. When Ellie contacts her, it’s not to offer support, but to ask for her help. Ellie serves as a police chief in their hometown, near the Olympic National Forest. A six-year-old girl has emerged from the forest. Speechless from trauma, she offers no clues to her identity or her past. With her confidence shaken from months of media mayhem, Julia must find the strength to free the girl from unimaginable fear and isolation.

Characters

Julia dedicated her entire life to her career, so when her career went sideways, she had nothing left. I like how Hannah balanced Julia’s genuine desire to help the girl with the temptation to use her for professional redemption. The characters each had personal stakes in the girl’s progress, not all of them altruistic. My only criticism is that I struggled to believe that Ellie really was that blind, but I suppose even thirty-nine-year-olds miss what’s right in front of them.

Plot

The plot moves at a decent pace. The tension slows around the 2/3 mark, but it quickly rises again. Ellie’s subplot wrapped up too quickly at the end. I would’ve preferred it if she caught onto things sooner so that she could transform more gradually.

I disliked the main plot’s ending as well. To avoid spoiling anything, I’ll just say a character changes their mind when I don’t think they would, at least not so quickly.

Writing Style

Hannah’s prose is beautiful as always. She has hundreds of different ways to say, “it was raining again,” which I suppose is necessary when you live in the Pacific Northwest.

Miscellaneous

I was impressed by how much research the author did. Her description of Alice’s language development was close to on point. Her description of Alice’s articulation was less accurate, but not everyone would notice that.

Conclusion

 Kristin Hannah often writes about middle-aged women hitting their mid-life crises. While Magic Hour follows many of her common themes, the premise of a girl emerging from the woods after years of isolation sparks interest into an otherwise common theme. The characters’ personal stakes and emotions keep the tension high, and the ending, while rushed and overly convenient, is satisfying.


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Book Review: Night Road

When you open a Kristin Hannah book, you know exactly what kind of story you’re going to read. Knight Road is no exception.

Night Road by Kristin Hannah

This was another loan from the esteemed Library of Grandma. When you open a Kristin Hannah book, you know exactly what kind of story you’re going to read. Night Road is no exception.

Description

Jude Farraday will readily admit she’s a helicopter mom, but better to be overprotective than aloof, like her own mother. Her precious twins are seniors in high school, a final year filled with opportunities and temptations. As a mother, balancing her desire for her children to enjoy high school with her fear of alcohol and parties is a challenge. When Lexi, a former foster child with a dark past, befriends her kids, she becomes part of the family. The three seemed bound by concrete, but one poor decision may tear them all apart.

Characters

Jude Farraday is a typical middle-aged Kristin Hannah character—anxiety, Mommy issues, successful but not fulfilled. While this borders on cliché, it also gives Jude wide appeal. Pretty much any mother can relate to Jude’s love for her kids. Lexi, likewise, resembles other Hannah down-and-out youths—a good kid dealt a bad hand. Though repetitive when considering her other books, all of Hannah’s characters, including the minor ones, are three-dimensional and well developed.

Plot

The plot jumps through time as the kids grow in friendship, grieve through tragedy, and heal. Hannah pushes the accident’s legal repercussions to the edge of believability, but anyone who has dealt with well-to-do parents will know such a harsh reaction is plausible.

Writing Style

Kristin Hannah is a master at capturing and eliciting emotion with words. Her descriptions not only transport the reader into the story world, but they ring beautifully, almost like music. I particularly enjoy how she captures the sentiment that small things are big things, like when the lawyer loans Lexi a bicycle. If I’m being nit-picky, I’d say Hannah must enjoy clothes shopping, because she describes every character’s outfit, which I found unnecessary but not too annoying.

Miscellaneous

This book is a typical Kristin Hannah book. It repeats her common themes and includes many elements found in her other books—grief-driven pettiness, the power of motherhood, legal technicalities, and children with psychological quirks caused by the adults’ drama.

Though the book doesn’t stand out from her other works in any significant way, such consistency isn’t necessarily bad. Readers know exactly what to expect when picking up one of her books. If you’re in the mood for an emotional journey through grief and heartbreak, Kristin Hannah always delivers.

Personally, I needed a break from this book halfway through because it got too depressing. Again, that’s not the book’s fault. I just wasn’t in the right headspace for it.

Conclusion

Night Road is an emotional journey through grief and forgiveness with wide appeal. While it’s nothing special when compared to her other works, if you’re in the mood for this type of story, Night Road is a great read.


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Book Review: The Running Dream

I was searching for a different book when I stumbled upon this one, and I’m glad I did.

The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen

I was searching for a different book when I stumbled upon this one, and I’m glad I did.

Book Description

Jessica awakens from a morphine-induced haze to pain in her leg, or what used to be her leg. After surviving an accident that killed one of her teammates, doctors had to amputate her leg below the knee to save her life. She’s alive, but she may never again do what makes her feel most alive: run.

As Jessica adapts to life as an amputee, she clings to the dream that she may walk—and even run—again, but an insurance conflict hampers the family finances. While her track teammates try to make her impossible dream a reality, a new friend, Rosa, helps her with another impossibility—catching up in math.

Rosa’s life with Cerebral Palsy gives Jessica a new perspective on her disability, on feeling simultaneously in the spotlight and invisible. As Jessica continues her rehab, she decides crossing the finish line is no longer enough. This time, she wants to take Rosa with her.

Characters

The first-person narration allows readers to experience Jessica’s ups and downs as she recovers. Her initial dejection is understandable, and her insecurities are relatable. The strength and determination she eventually finds propel the story.

While Jessica is three-dimensional and relatable, the remaining cast members are underdeveloped. The story hinges on her relationship with Rosa, but other than learning she is good at math, we learn little about her.

Rosa wants to be seen as more than her disability, but we never learn about her hopes and dreams for the future. Unlike Jessica, we don’t experience her ups and downs. She is never discouraged. She never has a bad day or throws a tantrum or makes a mistake. Instead, she serves as a constant source of support and inspiration, more like a shining light seen from a distance than a real person.

In the author’s defense, all the characters are slimly developed, but Rosa is especially disappointing, because Rosa supposedly changes Jessica’s outlook on life. I would have liked their friendship to have been more developed.

Plot

The author sacrificed character development in favor of sticking to a concise, quick-paced plot. I read the entire book in an afternoon, and while I found the storyline moving, I didn’t connect with the characters enough for it to matter.

The plot follows Jessica’s initial adjustment to becoming an amputee, her recovery and adaptation to using a prosthetic, and her inspiration from Rosa. In the beginning, even mundane tasks are huge barriers, but after her initial recovery, things flow smoothly. Too smoothly for my tastes. Her track teammates and classmates are super supportive, and she doesn’t encounter much resistance from any of her teachers either. Everyone is eager to help, which I suppose makes sense, but it gives the cast a kumbaya feel.

Writing Style

In keeping with the tight plot and fast pacing, the author writes in short but effective sentences. Seems fitting for a novel about a track star.

Conclusion

I love that this book emphasizes the power of friendship rather than focusing on disability. Yes, Jessica completes an incredible journey, but the real power of the story is how her friends, teammates, and townsfolk inspire and support one another. I wish the characters had been more developed so that I could truly enjoy their victories, but overall, I loved the book.

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Dreams of Significant Girls

This book made so many recommendation lists that I added it to my Christmas list. I love the concept of three very different girls supporting each other as they come of age, but…

Book Review: Dreams of Significant Girls by Cristina García

This book made so many recommendation lists that I added it to my Christmas list, but reading it proved less than satisfying.

Description

1970s. In a prestigious summer camp in Switzerland, three girls from different backgrounds must come together as roommates to navigate first loves and heartbreaks. Eager Vivien, who loves to cook, hails from the United States and treasures her Cuban heritage. Shirin, the prickly “Iranian princess,” prefers mathematics textbooks and horses to people. Ingrid, the rebellious Canadian artist, will do anything but the expected. Together, they find their differences don’t matter if they support each other.

Characters

The characters are the shining strength of the book. Each is distinct enough that dialogue tags are unnecessary for knowing who is speaking. They behave in the emotionally driven way of teenagers, consistent with their individual personalities. I enjoyed getting to know them, which made everything else a disappointment.

The friendship between the girls was rushed. On one page, they’re enemies, and by the next chapter, best friends? The book claims to focus on friendship, but little support made it onto the page. In fact, there were several serious trials that the girls kept secret from one another. If anything, the friends complicated each others’ troubles rather than alleviate them.

Plot

The plot reads like a bundle of periodicals, with few threads carrying through the entire narrative. Most of the unfortunate episodes end negatively and are never processed or resolved. I don’t mind reading about bad decisions and tragedy, but these girls failed to learn anything from their mistakes, or the mistakes of the surrounding adults.

The publishers could re-title this book Fourteen-Year-Old Girls Discover Sex because most of the story revolved around sex. The girls experienced everything from digital rape (explicitly described) to masturbation to a full sexual relationship with a much older adult man.

Sex is common in young adult literature (though I question Simon & Schuster’s Age 14 and up rating), but the sex in this book served no real purpose to the overall story.

The girls stumble blindly into their relationships, which I suppose is typical for teens, but they don’t gain any insights from their exploits. Shirin’s experience, which triggers her mental breakdown, goes unaddressed for the rest of the book. I don’t consider myself prudish, but the relationship with an older man receives a much too positive a portrayal for even my tastes. The book supposedly focuses on friendship, but aside from a kissing lesson from Ingrid (during which she has the others practice on her), the girls navigate the joys and perils of their relationships alone.

The author included some family drama, but most of it takes place outside the girls’ control and participation. Divorce and remarriage, dark family secrets, religious tradition faced with modern culture—the author had more than enough, perhaps too much, material to work into a telling story. Instead, that drama is communicated via the occasional lunch date with a visiting relative. The girls practically don’t take part in their own families’ lives. They show little interest in doing so, preoccupied as they are with sex.  

I finished this random collection of sexual exploits and family drama and thought, “What was the point?” The author injected no meaning or growth into the narrative, which left me feeling like I’d paid for an expensive dinner and received a plate of cold potatoes.

Writing Style

The author does a fantastic job creating a distinct voice for each character. Her prose is clean and pretty. However, most of the story is summarized in diary-style entries rather than dramatized, making it hard for readers to experience the story vicariously.

Miscellaneous

* Spoilers Begin *

Shirin’s subplot was so mishandled that I feel the need to spoil it. After she is raped at the ball and has a mental breakdown, she requests her new best friends meet her back at boarding school. Vivien and Ingrid don’t consider her a friend yet and wonder why the heck she invited them, but even after they do become close, Shirin never mentions her rape. I understand why she would keep silent, but even when she moves on to a consensual relationship, she doesn’t process her trauma. It magically resolves, which strikes me as unrealistic, even for someone who suppresses the memory.

Her friends, even without knowing the root of her issues, could have helped her work through them. Instead, Ingrid gives her a kissing lesson, her new boyfriend manually stimulates her such that she has an orgasm riding her horse, and everything is hunky-dory.

Later, after her consensual relationship leaves her pregnant, Shirin takes an herbal abortifacient and experiences serious hemorrhaging. She confesses to Vivien that her periods are now black and sickly and coming twice as often. The subplot ends there. Shirin is having serious health complications, but the reader is left to assume they magically resolve along with her trauma. Only the fact that Shirin later has a daughter reveals that she recovered. Furthermore, Shirin never tells Ingrid of her experience, which seems a grave oversight in a book about the power of friendship.

* Spoilers End *

Conclusion

I wanted to like this book. I love the concept of three very different girls supporting each other as they come of age. The author does a fantastic job crafting interesting characters and giving them unique voices, but Dreams of Significant Girls felt more like Sexual Exploits of Confused Girls. Neither inspiring nor impactful, the story derives no meaning from the girls’ experiences, and much of the significant family drama occurs without their participation.

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I Must Betray You

In this stunning novel, Ruta Sepetys shines a light on an oft-overlooked period of history.

Book Review: I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know I’m a huge Ruta Sepetys fan. I knew my library would purchase this book, but I still had to sit on my hands to keep from buying it on release day. As soon as my library had it available, I snapped it up.

Description

Romania, 1989. Seventeen-year-old Cristian Florescu keeps his dreams and thoughts hidden in a secret notebook he hides beneath the floorboards in his family’s tiny, State-owned apartment. In Nicolae Ceaușescu’s tyrannical communist dictatorship, Romanians aren’t free to dream, and such a notebook is a death sentence, if discovered.

Amidst the growing isolation and fear, the secret police offer Cristian two choices: become an informer and gain much-needed medicine for his sick grandfather, or face the consequences of his crime—possessing foreign currency. Cristian carves out a third option: use his position to undermine the most evil dictator in Eastern Europe.

Cristian risks everything to expose his country’s torment to the world, but he’s not the only informer in Romania. He’s not even the only informer in his own family.

Characters

Cristian describes himself as sarcastic and sharp, but in the totalitarian environment he lives in, that sarcasm rarely leaves his mouth. It hides on the pages of his notebook and in the depths of his thoughts. I wouldn’t label it sarcasm so much as poignant truths. His distaste for the government’s strictures creates tension with his need to protect his family—and the pretty girl in a neighboring building.

The other characters encompass a wide variety of reactions to tyranny—rebels, cowards, black market entrepreneurs, and the defeated, who live with no spark left in their eyes.

Plot

The plot moves at a heart-racing pace, following Cristian as he simultaneously informs on the American diplomat’s son while trying to communicate with the diplomat himself. The more he uncovers the truth, however, the more danger he is in. When revolution finally hits, Cristian learns the true cost of freedom.

Writing Style

 After reading a lot of sub-par free fantasy, this gem was a refreshing change. Ruta Sepetys is a master of mood and metaphor. The characters’ fear and tension come across in every word, and her prose is the perfect balance between efficient and artistic.

Conclusion

In this stunning novel, Ruta Sepetys shines a light on an oft-overlooked period of history. It’s easy to look at the tyrannies of the past and dismiss them as far-off tragedies, but these events happened relatively recently—a poignant reminder that evil has no expiration date. With varied and deeply human characters and a plot packed with intrigue, I Must Betray You is a must-read.


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Book Review: A Gentleman in Moscow

This was a book club pick, and as I hadn’t finished the last four books we read (oops), I was determined to finish this one.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

This was a book club pick, and as I hadn’t finished the last four books we read (oops), I was determined to finish this one.

Description (from Amazon)

“In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery.”

Character

The Count, as he’s often referred to, is the kind of man everyone wants to befriend, but nobody would want to parent. One can tell that his youth was filled with mischief, and not even gray hair and joints that no longer like the Metropol stairs can dampen that spirit. What I liked most about him was that, though formerly an aristocrat, he treats everyone the same—from the barber to the seamstress to the hotel’s waiters, whose ranks he eventually joins. Seeing the Count adapt to his ever-changing circumstances was inspiring.

Plot

The plot meanders through many seemingly pointless side trips as the tumultuous events in the outside world impact the microcosm of the hotel. Eventually, the author tied these things together, giving them purpose within the broader storyline, but it demanded patience from the reader. I must confess that I almost didn’t finish. The plot is not well suited for the modern attention span, and the points it made were too subtle for a distracted reader.

Writing Style

The author’s writing style is really the only reason I kept reading. His prose is gorgeous, with creative descriptions that bring the story to life. The reader truly gets a feel for life in the Metropol.

Miscellaneous

Another strength of this book was the myriad of philosophical reflections sprinkled throughout the story. However, I was often too bogged down by the seemingly pointless side stories to appreciate them. Many of the more dramatic implications of the oppressive Russian regime were so subtly depicted that I nearly missed them.

Conclusion

If I were a generation older, I think I may have enjoyed this book more. As is, the subtle philosophy and meandering plot are not well suited to readers accustomed to the instant gratification offered by modern technology. This book is beautifully written, and it tells an inspiring story of resilience and resistance. I really want to love this book, but the best I can say is that I don’t regret finishing it, even if it took a bout of insomnia binge-reading to do it.


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Book Review: The Things We Do for Love

As heart-warming as a Hallmark Christmas movie but emotionally deep enough to leave a lasting impression, The Things We Do for Love is a satisfying read. Highly recommend for reading by a cozy fire.

The Things We Do for Love by Kristin Hannah

I had started this book earlier, but had to return it to the city library before I finished. Luckily, the Library of Grandma had a copy I could keep for longer.

Description

Infertility has broken Angie DeSaria’s heart, her marriage, and her self-confidence. To regroup, she moves back to her small Pacific Northwest hometown and takes over management of her family’s failing restaurant. After realizing waitressing doesn’t come as easily as her career in advertising, Angie hires Lauren Ribido. She forms a deep bond with the troubled seventeen-year-old. When the girl’s mother abandons her, Angie offers her a place to stay, but neither the woman who longs for a child nor the girl who longs for a mother’s love could predict the repercussions of that act of kindness.

Characters

Angie comes across a little pathetic at first, but as she grows in self-awareness, she becomes more relatable. She fits into her chaotic-but-loving family, whose support propels her toward healing. Her open heart gets her into trouble, but it rings authentic and inspiring.

I related a lot to Lauren—her drive to succeed, her insecurity, and her devastation after making one simple, but catastrophic, mistake. Adult problems mixed with tumultuous teenage hormones made her compelling. I often look for role models within characters, and I admire Lauren, even if she is fictional. She fits well with the DeSarias.

Plot

The plot is predictable, but I didn’t care. I wanted an emotionally moving story, and I got one. After being so disappointed with The Four Winds, I appreciated The Things We Do for Love’s completion. The ending was obvious to me, and the characters took forever to reach the same conclusion, but even that is realistic. Solutions are harder to find when you are inside the problem.

Writing Style

I love Kristin Hannah’s writing style. Her prose is rich with detail and emotional reflection. I needed a break after binging her books while road tripping, but I know I’ll be back for more.

Conclusion

As heart-warming as a Hallmark Christmas movie but emotionally deep enough to leave a lasting impression, The Things We Do for Love is a satisfying read. It captures the real-life pain of infertility and relational strife while championing the enduring power of family and friendship. Though I wouldn’t recommend this book for fans of cerebral thrillers, the predictable plot delivers on all its promises. Highly recommend for reading by a cozy fire.


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Book Review: Shockwave

When my hubby and I planned a road trip with a friend, I recommended we listen to the audio version of this one. It made the twelve-hour drive fly by.

Shockwave by Lindsay Buroker

My newsletter subscribers have already heard the saga behind how I discovered Lindsay Buroker’s books. I hadn’t read sci-fi and fantasy for a long time, and after reading Star Nomad, I promptly binge read several of her other series. When my hubby and I planned a road trip with a friend, I recommended we listen to the audio version of this one. It made the twelve-hour drive fly by.

Summary

When Casmir Dabrowski was young, he built a robot to defend him from bullies. Now a robotics professor, his smarts have earned him the respect of his peers. Life is good—until one of his former robotic creations comes to assassinate him.

Forced to flee his conservative home world of Oden, Casmir and his brilliant-but-socially awkward roommate, Kim, hop aboard the first ship leaving orbit, but Casmir’s troubles don’t end in space. As if his seizures and motion sickness weren’t bad enough, Casmir finds himself entangled with bounty hunters, pirates, and the most feared criminal in the Star Kingdom: Captain Tenebris Rache.

Rache’s reputation doesn’t garner trust, but the mercenary captain may be the only one with the answers to Casmir’s most pressing questions.

Who wants to kill him, and why?

Characters

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you could have guessed that I’d go for a robotics engineer protagonist. Casmir is so delightful that I will forego my usual complaint about smart characters being portrayed as physically deficient even though, statistically, higher IQ correlates with better health. His health quirks impact the larger plot, so I’ll let Buroker get away with it, especially since several of her other books feature intelligent and physically capable characters, including this one (Kim kicks butt).

Quirky and charismatic, Casmir’s love of comic books and fizz-op either earn people’s undying loyalty or make them want to kill him. Personally, I enjoyed this refreshingly geeky change from the usual badass space opera hero. Kim, the socially awkward microbiologist, balances his quirks with her standfast adherence to logic. You might say she is the Spock to Casmir’s Kirk.

The other characters complete what I expect from a Buroker ensemble—a mix of sophistication and snark that engenders snappy dialogue and fantastic conflict. Each character brings their own skill set, including Kim’s microbiology expertise, which provides yet another refreshing change from the genre’s usual “let’s blow it up” strategy.

Plot

Accustomed to listening to long-winded fantasy tales on road trips, my husband complained this book was too action-packed. When he got distracted by changing lanes or other driving tasks, he missed whole fight scenes. I’ll let you decide whether that’s a positive or a negative, but I will say that this book prevented me from falling asleep at the wheel.

Writing Style

Buroker has a genuine talent for snarky dialogue, but she sometimes takes the innuendo a little too far for my tastes. Her prose is professional and polished, pleasant to read but not swoon-worthy, likely because she writes so fast.

Miscellaneous

As I mentioned, I listened to the audiobook omnibus of the first three books while driving. Buroker couldn’t have chosen a better narrator to voice Casmir. Fred Berman captures Casmir’s quirks perfectly, and he does an admirable job making distinct voices for each character. I listened to a few of Buroker’s other books while we had a free trial of audible, but Fred Berman was my favorite narrator by far.

Conclusion

Shockwave provides a refreshingly geeky twist on the usual space opera hero without sacrificing the action-packed space battles you know and love. With snappy dialogue and an intriguing cast of characters, Buroker creates a world worth travelling to. My hubby and I bought the entire series in audio, so we’ll have enough to last many happy road trips.


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The Baker’s Secret

The cover’s description is deceiving, but the incredible sensory details, realistic characters, and unique interactions between the villagers and between the villagers and the occupying soldiers keep the story engaging. I enjoyed this book, and not just because it’s about a baker.

Book Review: The Baker’s Secret by Stephen P. Kiernan

My friend handed me this book, knowing I’m obsessed with anything bread related. I’m also a huge WWII fiction fan, so this book couldn’t be more perfect for me.

Cover Description

June 5, 1944, on the Normandy coast of France

“In the dark days since the Germans invaded her country…Emma has silently, stealthily fought back. Each day, she receives an extra ration of flour to bake a dozen baguettes for the occupying troops. And each day, she mixes that precious flour with ground straw to create enough dough for two extra loaves, contraband bread that she shares with the hungry villagers. Under the cold, watchful eyes of armed soldiers, she builds a clandestine network of barter and trade that she and the villagers use to thwart their occupiers. But her gift to the village is more than these few crusty loaves. Emma gives the people a taste of hope—and the faith that one day the Allies will arrive to save them.”

Character

The cover’s description misleads the reader into thinking Emma is a rebel agent bent on destroying the enemy, striving for freedom. In reality, she is no rebel, and she certainly isn’t hopeful. She scoffs at God and insists the Allies will never come. Despite her pessimism, she is a captivating character, a survivor, driven by the need to take care of her grandmother, and by extension, the entire village. Without planning or even volunteering, she becomes the lifeline of the village. Toward the end, she remarks, “If you want to know your worth in this world, make a list of the people who will starve when you die.” (pg. 242). I appreciated her stalwart determination to keep going, a brilliant demonstration of the strength it takes just to get through another day of war.

The other characters are expected for a small town: fishermen, farmers, clergy men, etc. The author describes each character with great realism. Each develops his or her own attitude towards the war—from acclimation to outright rebellion. Even the occupying soldiers encompass a variety of personalities and behaviors.

Plot

The plot encompasses a short time period. It reminds me a bit of the show 24, where every hour-long episode was a literal hour in the character’s life. Emma gradually assumes more responsibility as the pressures of war starves her village. You can feel the weight of the occupation, how it slows every second to a grind. The interactions between the villagers, their different strategies for survival, and the constant threat of the occupying soldiers keep the tension strong despite the slower pace.

Writing Style

This is, above all else, a sensual book. The smells, tastes, sounds, and textures are so vividly described, I could practically taste the sawdust and hear the machine gun fire. The prose is detailed, but flowing, styled such that the reader empathizes with Emma’s pessimism.

The story stems mostly from Emma’s perspective, but the author slips into the other villagers’ heads often, and he doesn’t always signal the shift well. If I had one criticism, it would be that.

Conclusion

The cover’s description is deceiving. Emma’s perspective is one of consistent pessimism, and the plot moves at a slow grind that reflects the experience of the occupation. However, the incredible sensory details, realistic characters, and unique interactions between the villagers and between the villagers and the occupying soldiers keep the story engaging. Despite Emma’s pessimism, the book ends with hope, though it doesn’t downplay the horrors of war. I enjoyed this book, and not just because it’s about a baker.


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