Blog tour + Audiobook Review: Tokyo Dreaming by Emiko Jean

Title: Tokyo Dreaming
Author: Emiko Jean
Narrator:  Ali Ahn
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Publication date: May 31, 2022
Print length: 336 pages
Audio length: 9 hours, 12 minutes
Genre: Young adult
Source: Purchased/Review copy via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Return to Tokyo for a royal wedding in Emiko Jean’s Tokyo Dreaming, the sequel to the Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick and New York Times bestseller Tokyo Ever After

When Japanese-American Izumi Tanaka learned her father was the Crown Prince of Japan, she became a princess overnight. Now, she’s overcome conniving cousins, salacious press, and an imperial scandal to finally find a place she belongs. She has a perfect bodyguard turned boyfriend. Her stinky dog, Tamagotchi, is living with her in Tokyo. Her parents have even rekindled their college romance and are engaged. A royal wedding is on the horizon! Izumi’s life is a Tokyo dream come true.

Only…

Her parents’ engagement hits a brick wall. The Imperial Household Council refuses to approve the marriage citing concerns about Izumi and her mother’s lack of pedigree. And on top of it all, her bodyguard turned boyfriend makes a shocking decision about their relationship. At the threat of everything falling apart, Izumi vows to do whatever it takes to help win over the council. Which means upping her newly acquired princess game.

But at what cost? Izumi will do anything to help her parents achieve their happily ever after, but what if playing the perfect princess means sacrificing her own? Will she find a way to forge her own path and follow her heart?

I’m thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour celebrating the release of Tokyo Dreaming by Emiko Jean. Many thanks to Macmillan Books for the chance to participate!

Tokyo Ever After was one of my favorite reads of 2021, and the sequel, Tokyo Dreaming, definitely lives up to expectations!

In Tokyo Ever After, we met Izumi Tanaka, Northern California teenager who suddenly discovers that her long-lost bio dad is the Crown Prince of Japan. Whisked off to reunite with the father she’s never known, Izumi faces a steep learning curve when it comes to fitting in as a member of the Imperial Family, especially with the eyes of all of Japan tracking her every move.

As Tokyo Dreaming begins, Izumi is in a very good place in her life. She’s finished high school, has become more acclimated to life in Japan, has learned how to behave like a real princess, and even has a happy relationship with the boyfriend of her dreams, her former bodyguard Akio. And best of all? Her parents have been reunited and despite their almost twenty years apart, have rekindled their love for one another. A royal wedding is on the horizon!

But Izumi and her mother don’t quite fit the mold of Imperial family members quite perfectly enough, and it’s clear that her parents may not actually get the official approval they’ll need to move forward with getting married. Izumi realizes that she can make a difference: If she polishes up her princess act and starts doing a better job of being perfectly in line with expectations, it’ll help her parents secure the stamp of approval.

But, as Izumi discovers, being a perfect princess may mean pushing aside her own interests and wishes for the sake of appearances, and that doesn’t actually bode well for her long-term happiness.

The plot of Tokyo Dreaming is not super high-stakes — it’s impossible not to expect a happy ending, so even though there are obstacles, I never expected them not to be overcome. The fun of this book is seeing how Izumi manages her life, from befriending her twin cousins — formerly nicknamed The Shining Twins (as in Stephen King, not because they’re glittery) — and discovering that they’re not as evil as she once thought, to gaining acceptance to a prestigious Japanese university, to losing her boyfriend but possibly finding another. Sigh — yes, there’s a love triangle, but it’s handled very well, and the author does a good job of letting us into Izumi’s feelings and showing us why it would be so hard for her to make a choice.

I loved the depiction of Japanese culture (I was practically drooling over all the amazing-sounding food!), as well as the vicarious pleasure of experiencing life as an Imperial Princess, with amazing clothes and experiences and first-class everything!

Izumi herself is a wonderful character, adapting to royal life but still the down-to-earth American girl she’s always been at heart. I love her relationship with her parents, and it’s lovely to see how her bond with her father has built after their years of not knowing each other. And the twins absolutely grew on me too!

The audiobook is a treat. Narrator Ali Ahn is amazing at portraying Izumi, her friends, her family members, the stiffly formal household staff members, even giving voice to the tabloid press! Plus, it’s fun to hear so many words and phrases in Japanese (and there’s enough context and/or translation to ensure that nothing is lost for those who don’t understand Japanese).

Together, Tokyo Ever After and Tokyo Dreaming are immersive, warm-hearted, fun-spirited books with terrific characters and a great plot progression. Tokyo Dreaming’s ending seems to tie up all the plot points, so I’m assuming the story is done at this point… but I’d be totally okay (i.e., jumping up and down happy) if another book in the series came along.

I highly recommend checking out both of these books this summer!

About the author:

When Emiko Jean isn’t writing, she is reading. Before she became a writer, she was an entomologist, a candlemaker, a florist, and most recently, a teacher. She lives in Washington with her husband and children (unruly twins). She is also the author of Empress of all Seasons and We’ll Never Be Apart.

Find out more at https://www.emikojean.com/

Getting ready for another Classics Club Spin!

It’s time for another Classics Club Spin, and I can’t wait!

Hosted by The Classics Club blog, the Classics Club Spin is a reading adventure where participants come up with a list of classics they’d like to read, number them 1 to 20, and then read the book that correponds to the “spin” number that comes up. This will be my 2nd time participating — although for The Classics Club, it’s spin #30!

Here are the dates and guidelines from the host blog:

On Sunday 12th, June, we’ll post a number from 1 through 20. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List by the 7th August, 2022.

We’ll check in here on Sunday the 7th August, 2022 to see who made it the whole way and finished their spin book!

What’s Next?

Go to your blog.

Pick twenty books that you’ve got left to read from your Classics Club List.

Post that list, numbered 1-20, on your blog before Sunday, 12th June.

We’ll announce a number from 1-20. 

Read that book by 7th August, 2022.

I had so much fun with my first CCSpin — my book was The Black Moth by Georgette Heyer — that I can’t wait to do it again! I’m going back to my list from last time, and besides replacing the book I already read, I’m swapping out a few of my previous picks to replace them with books that have a bit more appeal for me right now.

And now for the good stuff…

Here’s my list of 20 classics for my 2nd Classics Club Spin:

  1. Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne DuMaurier
  2. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain
  3. An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott
  4. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  5. Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
  6. O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
  7. Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
  8. Howards End by E. M. Forster
  9. The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
  10. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
  11. Foundation by Isaac Asimov
  12. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  13. Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  14. The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
  15. Passing by Nella Larsen
  16. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  17. The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima
  18. Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay
  19. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
  20. Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Porter

I think I’d be happy to read any of these! I’m mostly going for shorter books, trying not to be too ambitious given how many other books I already have lined up for this summer.

Wish me luck! I’ll post again on Sunday once the spin results are announced!

Shelf Control #322: The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse
Author: Louise Erdrich
Published: 2001
Length: 384 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

For more than a half century, Father Damien Modeste has served his beloved Native American tribe, the Ojibwe, on the remote reservation of Little No Horse. Now, nearing the end of his life, Father Damien dreads the discovery of his physical identity, for he is a woman who has lived as a man. To further complicate his quiet existence, a troubled colleague comes to the reservation to investigate the life of the perplexing, possibly false saint Sister Leopolda. Father Damien alone knows the strange truth of Leopolda’s piety, but these facts are bound up in his own secret. He is faced with the most difficult decision: Should he tell all and risk everything . . . or manufacture a protective history for Leopolda, though he believes her wonder-working is motivated solely by evil?

In a masterwork that both deepens and enlarges the world of her previous novels set on the same reservation, Louise Erdrich captures the essence of a time and the spirit of a woman who felt compelled by her beliefs to serve her people as a priest. The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse is a work of an avid heart, a writer’s writer, and a storytelling genius. 

How and when I got it:

I have no idea! I’ve had a paperback edition on my shelf for well over 10 years.

Why I want to read it:

I’ve read several of Louise Erdrich’s books — but not nearly enough. I’m always impressed by her gorgeous writing, and even had the pleasure of attending a book talk of hers several years ago, where she was so incredibly impressive and passionate and inspiring.

I’ve missed out on her early novels so far, and should probably start by going back to Love Medicine (published 1984). Goodreads lists The Last Report as the 6th book in the Love Medicine series, but my impression (and I could be wrong) is that these books aren’t so much a series as they are novels set in the same place/same world. In any case, of the books listed as part of the series, this is the one I actually own, so it’s the one I’m most likely to read!

As for The Last Report itself, I think the synopsis sounds fascinating. I really don’t remember buying this book, but I’m guessing that I stumbled across it at a book sale, read the back, and wanted to know more!

My book group will be reading Louise Erdrich’s most recent novel, The Sentence, this fall, and the reality is that I’m unlikely to get to The Last Report between now and then. But who knows — maybe after The Sentence, I’ll be inspired to go back and read her early books as well.

If you’ve read this book (or other books connected to Love Medicine), I’d love to know if you think they need to be read in order — or if not, where you recommend starting.

And if you haven’t read this…

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Top Ten Tuesday: Books With a Unit of Time In the Title

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Books With a Unit of Time In the Title (seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, eternity, etc.) . Fun… and not too much work to put together — always a plus!

My 10 books:

  1. My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki — the author’s first novel; so powerful!
  2. Six Months, Three Days, Five Others by Charlie Jane Anders — I haven’t read this one yet, but I like the author, so I do want to get to it.
  3. A Journey to the End of the Millennium by A. B. Yehoshua — one of my favorite Israeli authors, but I haven’t read this particular book (yet)
  4. Eight Perfect Hours by Lia Louis — read last year! (review)
  5. The First Four Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder — so many happy memories of reading this series with my daughter
  6. Dava Shastri’s Last Day by Kirthana Ramisetti — loved this book! (review)
  7. How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? by N. K. Jemisin — on my TBR (but I really don’t tend to read short story collections)
  8. 180 Seconds by Jessica Park — I think this is a very under-the-radar book, but I enjoyed it. (review)
  9. 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill — I read one story in this collection, and it terrified me so much that I never read the rest. Maybe someday, when I’m feeling exceptionally brave…
  10. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez — I have tried this book at least twice, and neither time have made it past the midpoint. Someone convince me to give it another try!

What books are on your list this week?

Share your links, and I’ll come check out your top 10!

The Monday Check-In ~ 6/6/2022

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My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life.

I’ve been playing catch-up all week, but finally got time over the weekend to pause, take a deep breath, and even relax a bit!

What did I read during the last week?

Two of these are books I finished last week — but now I’ve found time to write reviews, so I’m including them again:

A Rip Through Time by Kelley Armstrong: A time-traveling detective! I liked this book a lot — my review is here.

The House on Tradd Street by Karen White: This ghost story/mystery was my book group’s May book. Just an okay read, in my opinion. My review is here.

Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall: A spur-of-the-moment borrow from the library — such adorable fun! My review is here.

Tokyo Dreaming by Emiko Jean: Such a happy follow-up to Tokyo Ever After (which I loved). I’ll be posting a review later this week as part of the blog tour for this book’s release — stay tuned!

Pop culture & TV:

My son and I finished Moon Knight , which was consistently fun but also consistently confusing. I finally got around to watching the final batch of Grace & Frankie episodes. It’s been a fun show to watch, but it felt like it was time for it to end.

And, oh boy, The Boys is back, crazy and out-of-line as ever.

Puzzle of the week:

It’s another fun “world of” puzzle from Laurence King Publishing:

This one is The World of Charles Dickens — as with the other puzzles in the series, it has a ton of tiny details, including people and places from his novels. There’s a poster included that identifies who’s who, which is super helpful to refer to once the puzzle is done. This one was a bit more challenging than some of the others. All those roofs and windows!!

In case you’re interested, here’s the product image and purchase link:

Fresh Catch:

This hardcover (which I preordered ages ago) arrived this week:

(Yes, I already finished the audiobook… but I really needed a hard copy too!)

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle by Jenny Ryan: I’d planned to start this a week ago… better late than never!

Now playing via audiobook:

A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow: The second Fractured Fables book (A Mirror Mended) will be out mid-June, so this felt like the right time for a re-read of book #1. I read the print edition when it was released last year, and I’m enjoying the audiobook so far!

Ongoing reads:

These books will be on my plate for months to come:

  • Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone by Diana Gabaldon: Over at Outlander Book Club, we’ve started our group read of BEES, reading and discussing two chapters per week. If anyone wants to join us, just ask me how! All are welcome.
  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare: My book group’s current classic read. We’re reading one scene per week — now in the middle of Act III.

So many books, so little time…

boy1

Book Review: Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

Title: Boyfriend Material
Author: Alexis Hall
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Publication date: July 7, 2020
Length: 427 pages
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Wanted:

One (fake) boyfriend

Practically perfect in every way

Luc O’Donnell is tangentially–and reluctantly–famous. His rock star parents split when he was young, and the father he’s never met spent the next twenty years cruising in and out of rehab. Now that his dad’s making a comeback, Luc’s back in the public eye, and one compromising photo is enough to ruin everything.

To clean up his image, Luc has to find a nice, normal relationship…and Oliver Blackwood is as nice and normal as they come. He’s a barrister, an ethical vegetarian, and he’s never inspired a moment of scandal in his life. In other words: perfect boyfriend material. Unfortunately apart from being gay, single, and really, really in need of a date for a big event, Luc and Oliver have nothing in common. So they strike a deal to be publicity-friendly (fake) boyfriends until the dust has settled. Then they can go their separate ways and pretend it never happened.

But the thing about fake-dating is that it can feel a lot like real-dating. And that’s when you get used to someone. Start falling for them. Don’t ever want to let them go. 

Sometimes, mood is everything. Several months ago, I borrowed the audiobook of Boyfriend Material from the library, and couldn’t get past the first chapter. Too self-absorbed, too focused on partying, too desperate to be adorable… or so I thought.

Here I am, months later, to tell you that I was wrong, wrong, WRONG about Boyfriend Material. My friends, this book is a delight!

On a whim, I borrowed the e-book from the library, incredibly in need of a light, engaging story — and that’s exactly what I found here, plus heart-warming squishy love and oodles of giggles.

Our main character is Luc, the son of a famous rockstar who walked out of his life as a child. After a terrible betrayal by an ex-boyfriend years earlier, Luc lives fast and free, and has developed a tabloid relationship of being yet another spoiled, misbehaving brat of a has-been celebrity. When Luc’s latest exposure in the tabloids (honestly, he just tripped! he only looks like he was passed out in a gutter!) threatens his job in fundraising, he knows some serious reputation repair is needed.

Enter Oliver, an uptight lawyer whom Luc once propositioned years earlier (unsuccessfully). Through a mutual friend, Luc and Oliver are reintroduced and agree to the ultimate romantic trope, the fake-dating scheme. Oliver is posh and presentable, someone who will give off “good gay” vibes for the donors Luc needs to charm, and Luc will make a fine companion for Oliver at an obligation-and-guilt-filled upcoming family event.

He gave me the type of look you give someone when you’re mentally shifting them from the box that says “attractive” to the box that says “weird.”

Initially like water and oil, Luc and Oliver eventually find that they complement each other in all the best ways. Trust, friendship, support, and (obviously) feelings soon follow. Their fake relationship turns into something real, but they’ll need to each get out of their own heads and put their unproductive inner dialogues aside if they’re going to make it work.

Oh, my, is this fun! First of all, while Luc is definitely a fiction type — the messy, unreliable, flighty guy with a heart of gold, who just needs someone he can count on — he’s also a total sweetheart, and outright hilarious. He’s silly and snarky, and I love him to pieces. Oliver is a little harder to love, since he comes across as stiff and serious, but hey, despite being a total neat-freak, he makes a mean French toast and is sweet and protective when it counts.

The plot zips along and hits the major plot points you’d expect, but the journey is just so adorably entertaining that I loved every minute.

The writing is consistently funny, and managed to catch me by surprise with its silliness and cleverness the whole way through. A few choice bits:

Peeping through my eyelashes like a small child braving an episode of Doctor Who from behind the sofa cushions, I checked my notifications.

We went on a couple of dates and I thought it was going really well, so I introduced him to Bridget, and she fucking stole him from me. Well, she didn’t steal him. He just liked her more. And I don’t resent it at all. I mean, I do. But I don’t. Except when I do.

“I’m sure we can negotiate matters as they arise. And you’re still welcome to stay. If you’d like. If you have no other engagements.”

Engagements? Oh, Oliver. “There was this tea dance I was meant to go to in 1953, but I can probably skip it.”

“You”—I gave a thwarted sigh—“are a terrible fake boyfriend.”

“I’m building fake anticipation.”

“You’d better be fake worth it.”

I stood at the sink and did that thing people do in movies where they brace themselves on the counter and stare meaningfully at their reflection. Turns out, it didn’t help. It was just a dick, looking at a dick, asking why he was always such a dick.

… Really, what do you have to lose?”

“Pride? Dignity? Self-respect?”

“Luc, you and I both know you have none of those things.”

You get the picture. Boyfriend Material is a book you’ll want to hug. There are emotional moments and people confronting past hurts and obstacles, but overall, it’s sweet and upbeat and just cute and romantic as hell.

A follow-up book comes out this August, and I absolutely cannot wait!

Release date: August 2, 2022

Book Review: The House on Tradd Street by Karen White

Title: The House on Tradd Street
Author: Karen White
Narrator: Aimée Bruneau
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: 2008
Print length: 329 pages
Audio length: 13 hours, 10 minute
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Practical Melanie Middleton hates to admit she can see ghosts. But she’s going to have to accept it. An old man she recently met has died, leaving her his historic Tradd Street home, complete with housekeeper, dog, and a family of ghosts anxious to tell her their secrets.

Enter Jack Trenholm, a gorgeous writer obsessed with unsolved mysteries. He has reason to believe that diamonds from the Confederate Treasury are hidden in the house. So he turns the charm on with Melanie, only to discover he’s the smitten one…

It turns out Jack’s search has caught the attention of a malevolent ghost. Now, Jack and Melanie must unravel a mystery of passion, heartbreak, and even murder.

This contemporary novel might not have been an obvious choice for me, but since it was my book group’s pick for May, I felt compelled to give it a try. And while it held my attention, there were a few too many eye-rolling moments for me to feel that it was anything more than just an okay read.

In The House on Tradd Street, main character Melanie is a realtor who specializes in Charleston’s historical homes, although she secretly hates them with a passion. She may tell herself it’s because they’re all money pits, but in reality, as a woman who’s spent her whole life seeing and hearing ghosts, these old homes are just too fraught with supernatural encounters for her to ever be able to appreciate them.

As the book opens, a man she thinks is a potential seller ends up leaving her his beautiful but utterly decrepit home, as well a letter imploring her to find out the truth about his mother’s disappearance over 70 years earlier. The local gossip would have it that she ran off with another man, but her son never believed the story, and his dying wish is for his mother’s reputation to be cleared.

To complicate matters, a bestselling author who specializes in historical mysteries asks to partner with Melanie, offering to assist with the house restoration project in exchange for access to the house’s attic and stashes of old records. Stuck with an unwanted house and ghosts who don’t want to leave her alone, Melanie reluctantly agrees.

There are multiple mysteries to solve — what really happened to Louisa Vanderhorst? Are there really diamonds hidden somewhere in the house? What does the menacing spirit that haunts the house want from Melanie? And who will she choose in the evolving love triangle?

Sorry, that one’s not actually a mystery… it’s obvious from the start which way the love story piece of the plot is going. As is so much else of the novel, unfortunately.

The answer to Louisa’s disappearance is pretty clear from the get-go, with only the details needing to be spelled out. The writing makes it fairly obvious early on that the commonly accepted explanation isn’t the true answer. It’s amazing to me that anyone buys it, and it certainly takes Melanie long enough to clue into the truth.

I was caught up enough in the story to just go with it most of the time, and the investigation into the house’s mysteries includes some clever clues and interesting answers. Overall, though, the plot is on the hokey/cheesy side, and the book — written in 2008 — hasn’t aged particularly well.

Some of the datedness probably can’t be helped. If an author is going to include references to technology in a novel, chances are that it’ll feel out of date within a few years. Here, between mentioning her IPod and Blackberry and hanging up a call by “closing” her cell phone, as well as the office secretary handing Melanie a stack of message slips, it’s clear that the characters are not living in the same tech world as we are. Again, that’s not usually a problem for me, but maybe because these kind of things happen a lot in this book, it was distracting.

More problematic are some of the social/interpersonal descriptions that are not only dated, but also highly cringe-worthy. Jack, the main love interest, is such an alpha male, asserting his dominance in all sorts of irritating ways, including insisting on using a nickname for Melanie despite being asked repeatedly not too. I think his arrogance is supposed to make him sexy and roguish, but to me, he just comes off as an ass.

There’s also an awful moment where the main character mentions that she’s going to donate some of the proceeds of her inheritance to the Daughters of the Confederacy (because — spoiler!! — the diamonds were originally from Jefferson Davis, and his intent was apparently to use them to support war widows and orphans). I’m sorry, but I don’t care what the intent was… supporting anything connected to the Confederacy just is not a good look. Ick.

On top of this, Melanie is a bad friend. Her best friend is a historical preservation professor at the College of Charleston (convenient!), but in every single scene with her, Melanie thinks about how terribly she dresses or disparages her in other ways. It’s awful. Ick again.

As I said, this was mostly a quick read, and it held my attention — but the annoying and/or problematic and/or predictable aspects of the story keep this from being a great reading experience. There are more books in the series (presumably more stories about haunted houses), but I don’t intend to continue.

Shelf Control #321: Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: Before You Know Kindness
Author: Chris Bohjalian
Published: 2005
Length: 448 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

For ten summers, the Seton family—all three generations—met at their country home in New England to spend a week together playing tennis, badminton, and golf, and savoring gin and tonics on the wraparound porch to celebrate the end of the season. In the eleventh summer, everything changed. A hunting rifle with a single cartridge left in the chamber wound up in exactly the wrong hands at exactly the wrong time, and led to a nightmarish accident that put to the test the values that unite the family—and the convictions that just may pull it apart.

Before You Know Kindness is a family saga that is timely in its examination of some of the most important issues of our era, and timeless in its exploration of the strange and unexpected places where we find love.

As he did with his earlier masterpiece, Midwives, Chris Bohjalian has written a novel that is rich with unforgettable characters—and absolutely riveting in its page-turning intensity.

How and when I got it:

I have a paperback edition on my shelf — but it’s been enough years that I don’t remember where or when I actually got it.

Why I want to read it:

At this point, Chris Bojhalian’s new book releases are always a cause for celebration. I just checked my reading records — it turns out that I’ve read all of his past nine new books! I’ve read a couple of older ones too, but there are still some I haven’t gotten to, and Before You Know Kindness is one of those.

This author never fails to surprise and provoke — whether it’s historical fiction or a family drama, set in WWII or modern New York or Puritan-era Boston, his books always deliver compelling plots, multi-layered characters, and knotty dilemmas.

Before You Know Kindness sounds fascinating, telling the story of a family destroyed (or maybe not? hard to tell from the synopsis) by a violent accident. I’m very curious to find out more — what exactly happened, who was involved, what were the repercussions?

It’s always exciting to know that a favorite author has more books in their backlist to explore. I’m looking forward to reading this one, as well as a few others by Chris Bohjalian that I haven’t quite managed to get to yet.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Book Review: A Rip Through Time by Kelley Armstrong

Title: A Rip Through Time
Author: Kelley Armstrong
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication date: May 31, 2022
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Historical fiction/mystery
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via Netgalley
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

In this series debut from New York Times bestselling author Kelley Armstrong, a modern-day homicide detective finds herself in Victorian Scotland—in an unfamiliar body—with a killer on the loose.

May 20, 2019: Homicide detective Mallory is in Edinburgh to be with her dying grandmother. While out on a jog one evening, Mallory hears a woman in distress. She’s drawn to an alley, where she is attacked and loses consciousness.

May 20, 1869: Housemaid Catriona Mitchell had been enjoying a half-day off, only to be discovered that night in a lane, where she’d been strangled and left for dead . . . exactly one-hundred-and-fifty years before Mallory was strangled in the same spot.

When Mallory wakes up in Catriona’s body in 1869, she must put aside her shock and adjust quickly to the reality: life as a housemaid to an undertaker in Victorian Scotland. She soon discovers that her boss, Dr. Gray, also moonlights as a medical examiner and has just taken on an intriguing case, the strangulation of a young man, similar to the attack on herself. Her only hope is that catching the murderer can lead her back to her modern life . . . before it’s too late.

Outlander meets The Alienist in Kelley Armstrong’s A Rip Through Time, the first book in this utterly compelling series, mixing romance, mystery, and fantasy with thrilling results. 

In this engrossing start to a new series, Canadian detective Mallory is visiting her dying grandmother in Edinburgh when she stops to investigate a woman’s cries down a dark alley. As Mallory is attacked, she sees a strange optical illusion, but quickly passes out as the unknown assailant strangles her.

When she wakes up, she’s in a strange house, in strange clothing, including — of all things — a corset. Weirdly true despite being hard to believe, it would appear that Mallory has been transported into the body of a housemaid named Catriona, who was attacked and strangled in the same alley as Mallory — but 150 years earlier.

Quick-thinking Mallory figures out the truth of her situation fairly quickly, and uses her head injury as an explanation for her severe memory loss and marked change in personality. The housemaid who’d claimed illiteracy previously can suddenly read and write, and what’s more, takes an interest in her master’s forensic work that’s decidedly new and different.

As Mallory spends more time as Catriona, she realizes that while she doesn’t have an obvious way back to her own life, she can make a contribution where she is by applying her knowledge of 21st century police procedures to help solve the case of a potential serial killer haunting Edinburgh. Unfortunately for Mallory, she also discovers that Catriona was not a sweet, innocent 19-year-old, but a young woman with a gift for thievery, deceit, and no moral compass. As Mallory struggles to make sense of her new life, she also is confronted by the mistrust and dislike earned by the person who’s body she inhabits.

Can’t say I’ve ever read a plot like this one before!

A Rip Through Time is fascinating and utterly immersive, exploring a fish-out-of-water situation through the eyes of a strong, accomplished woman forced into a life where she has none of the “womanly” qualities deemed necessary to fit in. Mallory is a terrific character, confronting her bizarre circumstances with intelligence and determination, applying her years of experience as a detective to both help her employer solve the mysteries he sees in his line of work as well as to solve the huge unknowns about her own case.

Not only is Mallory in the wrong century in the wrong body, but she’s been targeted at least once by a killer, and as her time in Edinburgh of the 1860s continues, she learns that she/Catriona is still in danger. There’s a mystery to solve and a killer to catch, and the action is fast-paced and totally fun to unpack and follow along.

This may all sound like an unbelievable set-up for a story, and I suppose in a less-skilled writer’s hands, that might make it unreadable — but here, Kelley Armstrong confidently weaves a story about crime, women’s roles, time travel, connections, independence, and family, and makes it all work.

It’s really fun to see Mallory’s takes on her life in this new time and place:

If I had to cast him in a period drama, it’d be somewhere between “mad scientist” and “brooding lord with his wife locked in the attic”.

I love how she compares everything she encounters to the way the era is portrayed in film and fiction:

I’m trying to pass back through time by returning to the place where I crossed over. My brain says that makes logical sense, but I am well aware that it only makes sense because I’ve seen it in movies and read it in books. […] I am basing my entire theory on the imagination of fiction writers. Not scientists, because there is no science. People can’t travel through time. Therefore, writers don’t need to worry about “getting it right.” They make up whatever they want.

{…]

If so many writers used that particular trope, maybe there was a kernel of truth to it. It’s like meeting a vampire while holding a vial of holy water and not throwing it at him.”

The writing throughout is fresh and fun, and while there is plenty of danger and some more serious moments, Mallory’s 21st-century voice keeps the story from feeling like a stodgy historical piece.

I was a little bit hesitant at first when I learned that A Rip Through Time is the first in a series, rather than a stand-alone. However, now that I’ve finished, I’m delighted that there will be more! I can’t say much about the ending or what I might expect from book #2 without entering spoiler territory… but let’s just say that I found the ending of this book very satisfying, and yet with plenty more to explore in future books. I can’t wait to see what’s next!

The Monday Check-In ~ 5/30/2022

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My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life.

It’s been a busy, jam-packed week. I did not finish reading a single book!! But I’m not complaining, since it’s also been pretty fun.

My family attended two different weddings this weekend — in both cases, the brides are the daughters of old friends, and had originally planned weddings for over a year ago before COVID changed everything. The brides both grew up with my daughter, and she came to town for the long weekend so she could attend, so that was an extra bonus for me!

What did I read during the last week?

So yeah, no books finished this past week! Too much going on, not enough time to read or go for walks (which is when I do most of my audiobook listening). So… I’m *this close* to finishing both of these (one e-book, one audiobook) — I hope to finish today or tomorrow.

Pop culture & TV:

An excellent wrap-up to This Is Us. I’m going to miss spending time with those characters!

Beyond that, my son and I have been watching Moon Knight — it’s fun, but confusing. And having now watched two episodes of The Time Traveler’s Wife, I’m mostly liking it. It’s not nearly as bad as some of the reviews have described it, but the fact that I loved the book and can already accept the weirder elements probably helps.

Fresh Catch:

No new books this week!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

(These are my next-up books… haven’t started yet!)

Currently in my hands:

The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle by Jenny Ryan: This book releases tomorrow, and I’m excited to start it! Jenny Ryan’s books are always terrific.

Now playing via audiobook:

Tokyo Dreaming by Emiko Jean: I’m excited for this audiobook too! This is the sequel to Tokyo Ever After, which I loved.

Ongoing reads:

These books will be on my plate for months to come:

  • Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone by Diana Gabaldon: Over at Outlander Book Club, we’ve started our group read of BEES, reading and discussing two chapters per week. If anyone wants to join us, just ask me how! All are welcome.
  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare: My book group’s current classic read. We’re reading one scene per week — now in the middle of Act III.

So many books, so little time…

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