What’s Ashley Reading?: Once Upon a Broken Heart

Once Upon a Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber

First line: The bell hanging outside the curiosity shop knew the human was trouble from the way he moved through the door.

Summary: Evangeline Fox believes she has found her true love until the day she discovers that he is going to be married to someone else. In the hopes of stopping the wedding, Evangeline makes a dangerous deal with the Prince of Hearts. All he asks of her is three kisses to be given at a time of his choosing. But Evangeline learns quickly that making a deal with a Fate is not as easy as it seems. The Prince of Hearts appears to have a plan for Evangeline that could lead her to her happy ending or her doom.

My Thoughts: From the cover to the description to the world of Caraval, this book was excellent! I was desperately awaiting its release. I loved Stephanie Garber’s first trilogy. And when I learned that this new one is set in the same universe I knew it was going to be just as wonderful.

The story feels like a fairy tale. It has beautiful characters, magic and dark twists. You do not have to have read the Caraval series to understand this book but I highly recommend it. Several characters and references are made to the other trilogy. One of my favorite parts of Garber’s writing is how descriptive and beautiful it is. There are lots of colors, patterns and imagination. It is not like anything else I have read.

I love her characters as well. She always has a strong female lead. But best of all, as a reader you can never tell who to trust and what they are going to do next. Some characters, such as the Prince of Hearts, may appear to be bad but what if he’s not? Or is he? In the world of Caraval not everything is as it seems.

FYI: First book in a new series by Stephanie Garber.

What’s Ashley Reading?: 1922

1922 by Stephen King

First line: TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN: My name is Wilfred Leland James, and this is my confession.

Summary: In a short story by Stephen King we get a dark tale of murder on the Nebraska plains. Wilfred James lives on a farm in Nebraska with this wife and son. When his wife suggests that they sell the 100 acres she owns but it angers Wilfred. He does not want the land to be used as a pig farm. As his anger with her grows he starts to conceive of a plan to make his wife disappear.

My Thoughts: 1922 was the perfect start to my October TBR and Dia de los Muertos read-a-thon list. It was spooky and quick. I have driven many times through the farmland of Nebraska. The old farmhouses with acres of land as far as the eye can see. I could easily imagine Wilfred living on his farm, killing his wife and burying her in the well. And no one else around to even notice. Especially in 1922.

But then his wife begins to haunt him with her decaying body and the rats that are slowly eating away at her. Rats are terrifying on their own but imagining them eating a human body is a nightmare come to life. King does a great job bringing the eeriness to the story without out making it outlandish. The visions, smells and memories just add to the suspense.

Then mixed in with the terror that Wilfred is experiencing is the guilt and changes happening to his son. I was surprised with the way his story changed from the beginning till the end. It was heartbreaking to see but it definitely added another level to this short story.

FYI: This is originally part of Full Dark, No Stars, a collection of King’s short stories. It has also been made into a Netflix movie which I plan to watch real soon!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Night She Disappeared

The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell

First line: The baby is starting to grumble.

Summary: 2017: Tallulah Murray, a nineteen year old mother, goes out with her boyfriend to the neighborhood pub for dinner. The next morning her mother, Kim, finds that neither one of them have come home. Kim knows that Tallulah would never abandon her baby son. As she talks with Tallulah’s friends she find out that they were last seen at a party at Dark Place, a manor house outside the small village.

2018: Sophie Beck has just moved into a little cottage on the grounds of a private boarding school. Her partner is the new head teacher while Sophie is a mystery novelist. As Sophie explores her new home she finds a sign in their garden with the words, “DIG HERE”, written on it. As she digs she uncovers a missing link in the mystery of the disappearance of Tallulah Murray.

My Thoughts: I enjoyed this book from the beginning until the end. Normally the time jumps can be confusing but since each time had a different narrator that made it easier to follow. The end was excellent. I was on the edge of my seat, trying to finish it as fast as I could. And of course, that’s when my dog decided he needed to go outside!

I liked the characters of Tallulah and her mother Kim. Sophie felt like more of a filler character to help solve the mystery. She was the like her characters in her book which the comparison is drawn in the books as well. Her part felt more cozy. But I think Jewell did a great job of bringing Kim’s pain and Tallulah’s struggles out. They were relatable and I could sympathize with them as their lives changed through the story. After Jewell’s last book I was hoping that this one would be much more entertaining. Thank goodness it was!

FYI: Audio book was read by Joanne Froggat (Anna Bates from Downton Abbey).

Terese’s Thoughts: People Like Them

People Like Them by Samira Sedira, translated by Lara Vergnaud

First Line: There’s no cemetery in Carmac.

Summary: The story is told from the perspective of Anna, who lives with her husband and children in the quaint Alpine village of Carmac. Life seems to follow a comfortable pattern for those who live there. Everyone lovingly tolerates the two old men who spend their days at the pub, they know the bartender and his past relationships, and they all celebrate together at the wedding of a young couple in town. This is a close-knit community unused to interlopers, aside from the mild annoyance of seasonal tourists. But of course, that all changes once a new family begins building a house next door to Anna and her husband. The Langloises seem to have wealth. Their house is large and they drive expensive cars. Bakary, the husband and father of the family, is black. This is all in contrast to the other villagers. But despite their differences, Anna’s husband becomes close to Bakary and Anna even works as the Langloises part-time cleaner. However, it isn’t long before tensions build to a shocking end.

My Thoughts: This is a small book to begin with, but it is also a page-turner. I finished it in one night. The writing is lovely, and it’s the description of the later hours of an outdoor wedding that might be my favorite part of the whole book:

“I didn’t know where you were, but I wasn’t worried. I imagined you were chatting under a lime tree or along the river, amid a cacophony of frogs… I raised my head toward the sky; it was pure, without complication. The moment struck me as so delectable that I closed my eyes. I went inside myself with as much delight as if I was slipping into a warm bath. I reached a primitive state of serenity, rocked by the music and the whispers around the table.”

If you haven’t felt this way in the wee hours of a summer night at some point in your life, are you really even human? But the other thing the author does so well is demonstrate how subtle racism can be–how we might ignore a questionable comment from a community member, assuming they meant no harm, or thinking perhaps we misheard them, or in the interest of avoiding conflict—and she does so with a light touch, without judgment. She merely shows us where prejudice can hide, how everyday it can be, and how tragic the consequences might be.

FYI: This book was based on real events that occurred in France in 2003, which I didn’t even realize when I first read it!

What’s Ashley Reading?: Rizzio

Rizzio by Denise Mina

First line: Lord Ruthven wanted him killed during this tennis match but Darnley said no.

Summary: On the night of March 9, 1566, the personal secretary of Mary, Queen of Scots was murdered by assassins in the Queen’s apartments at Holyrood Palace. David Rizzio was dragged out and stabbed fifty six times while the pregnant queen was restrained by her husband, Lord Darnley.

My Thoughts: I remember the first time I learned about David Rizzio. It was a in a book by Jane Yolen, The Queen’s Own Fool, that I stumbled upon in a book sale. It seems like such a fantastical story but it is actually history. Mina’s book is a quick story about these events, the people involved and the reasons behind them.

Even though I liked the story I found the writing style strange. I didn’t feel like it flowed well. This was my first book by Denise Mina, so maybe this is her normal style but it’s not one that I found appealing.

Mary had such a tragic life. But I think that is why so many people, including myself, find her interesting. She was a woman with power in an age when many women had no power. And she is constantly being compared to her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. If you have never heard about this event in Mary’s life or need a short book (118 pages) to complete your reading challenge then I would recommend picking this one up!

FYI: Very bloody. He was stabbed 56 times!

What’s Ashley Reading?: A Slow Fire Burning

A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins

First line: Blood-sodden, the girl staggers into the black.

Summary: A young man is found murdered in his houseboat in Regent’s Canal. As the police look into what happened they focus on three women. The young woman with whom he had a one night stand, the grief stricken aunt and the nosy neighbor. Each one has their own dark pasts with lots of mistakes. And their own reasons to kill.

My Thoughts: This book started great! It felt like it was going to be an exciting story with lots of twists. And it was fun but so much of it seemed to not matter to the whole storyline. Miriam especially seemed like she was just an addition to get the book to a certain page count. Plus there was lots of characters at the beginning. Keeping track of them while listening to the audio version made it hard to keep track of the plot.

I did enjoy the relationship between Irene and Laura. Seeing two women who are lonely and very different be friends and support each other is heartwarming in a murder mystery. I felt bad for both of them throughout the book because of the prejudices against them by society.

I was not surprised by who the killer was. It seemed rather obvious from the beginning as we learn the women’s backstories. With each one we see the connections and can figure out how the story will play out. Especially if you have read other thrillers. But I will say I still had fun reading it and would recommend it.

FYI: From the author of The Girl on the Train.

What’s Ashley Reading?: For Your Own Good

For Your Own Good by Samantha Downing

First line: Entitlement has a particular stench.

Summary: Belmont Academy is the best school in town. It churns out smart and well connected students to Ivy League universities. Teddy Crutcher, an English teacher, has just won Teacher of the Year. It is a high honor, especially for someone who did not attend Belmont as a student. And as a teacher he has high hopes for his students. He wants the ones who deserve to do well to achieve great things but he must teach the students who are entitled to learn a lesson. For their own good of course. When a parent dies at a school function the Belmont community is thrown into chaos. But then another murder happens. What is going on in this prestigious school?

My Thoughts: This is fine. I liked it. The characters were mostly terrible people. They each had such strong opinions about everyone else around them and were not afraid to act on their urges. Teddy was definitely scary in a calm methodical way. He could always justify his actions. But he also seemed to make sense in some of the things he thought which is even scarier.

I felt like the book was aimed more for young adult readers. And this may be because several of the main characters were teenagers. It felt like it was missing something that her other novels had which led me to give them a higher rating.

There were plenty of little twists but the reader knows from the very beginning who is killing. It was fun to read. And the ending was satisfying. Perfect for the story and the characters involved.

FYI: Death.

Terese’s Thoughts: I Couldn’t Love You More

I Couldn’t Love You More by Esther Freud

First Line: I met you at a dance in Ilford.

Summary: No surprise given the title, this is a love story. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say, it’s a story about love. The book follows the lives of three women, Aoife, Rosaleen, and Kate. Their stories span decades and take us from Ireland to England, back and forth in time and place. We see how their lives are linked and how the choices they make have consequences inherited by the next generation. Pages are devoted to showing the daily, tender scenes of mother-daughter bonds. But we also see how these women make seemingly small decisions to keep the peace with their husbands and lose their daughters as a result, suffering in silence. Or in another case, how women unwittingly lose their daughters, pushed by impossible situations and lacking options. Although it can be a tearful read, there is enough redemption in the final pages that you don’t feel you or the characters suffered in vain.

My thoughts: I’ve read a lot of reviews that describe this book as quiet and tender, which it is. Although a lot happens, it is not dramatic. Freud does such a good job of writing it the way real life feels—how we don’t know we’re making a decision that will change the course of our lives and the lives of the ones we love; we’re just doing what seems best in the moment. I like books that feel true to life such as this one, and I was also attracted to it because of its setting in Ireland. There’s just something about that place. My mother was raised in a large, Irish-Catholic family and experienced something similar to one of the women in this book. It isn’t something we speak about, so it was a way for me to try and understand what led her to make the choices she did and imagine how she felt.

What’s Ashley Reading?: More Than a Woman

More Than a Woman by Caitlin Moran

First line: I am in the spare room, which doubles as my office, and I have just finished my day’s work.

Summary: Caitlin Moran, the humorist feminist writer, is back with a new book that takes a look at life for a middle aged woman. She delves into questions like; can a feminist get Botox? And why isn’t there a thing called “Mum Bod”? She gets real with her life and shows us that it is okay be fine with our bodies but still have fun.

My Thoughts: I laughed so hard when reading her first book, How To Be a Woman. I laughed while reading this one as well. Even though this one had humor it also delved into some very serious subjects. I love reading her insight into important topics like eating disorders, body image and men’s rights. She brings up topics I have never considered but now it is something I am very aware of. Her voice is very much her own. She has been compared to Tina Fey and Chelsea Handler. I feel this is accurate but she does so much more. I would highly recommend that anyone who wants a strong feminist icon with a great sense of humor pick up Moran’s books.

FYI: Some language and naughty bits but lots of fun and thought provoking!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Woman They Could Not Silence

The Woman They Could Not Silence by Kate Moore

First line: This is not a book about mental health, but about how it can be used as a weapon.

Summary: Elizabeth Packard, a wife and mother of six, has displeased her husband with her differing views on religion and politics. According to the laws of the land he is within his rights to commit her to an insane asylum. And this is exactly what he does. However, Elizabeth will not go quietly. For three years she lives inside the walls of the institution, writing her story and about the abuses of the staff and the superintendent. Finally, when she is released her problems are not over. There is still a battle to be won and no one is going to silence her until it is finished.

My Thoughts: If you are looking for a non-fiction book that reads like fiction then this is it. The story is very easy to follow, the flow is consistent throughout and the plot is compelling. Elizabeth’s story is probably more common than anybody realizes. A husband, father, or brother has become disgruntled with a woman and sends them away. It is sad and fascinating all at the same time.

I listened and read this at the same time. Both were very enjoyable ways to consume this book. The reader did a great job and kept my attention while I was doing other things as I listened.

I did get a little frustrated at times with Elizabeth. Even though she knew that certain men were the ones that put her in the asylum she continued to try and persuade them to change their minds. I liked to see that she was smart enough to manipulate the situations she was in or make the best of her times in the asylum. She kept her wits about her which many other women would not be able to do.

With her limited resources she improved the lives of many of the women trapped in the asylum with her. And when she left she did not forget the ones that were still imprisoned. She was an intelligent woman who knew how to get her points heard. Because of her campaigning she brought about changes for married women and patients in the asylums.

FYI: From the author of Radium Girls.