What’s Ashley Reading?: Lady in Waiting

Lady in Waiting by Anne Glenconner

First line: One morning at the beginning of 2019, when I was in my London flat, the telephone rang.

Summary: Lady Anne Glenconner, lady in waiting to Princess Margaret, led a spectacular life. She lived through the Second World War, carried the train of Queen Elizabeth at her coronation and married to an eccentric aristocrat. In her memoir she takes us behind the scenes of important events in the British monarchy and her life. She has many ups and downs but stays strong through them all.

My Thoughts: After watching The Crown I have become fascinated by Princess Margaret. I knew very little about her but came to love her wild side and the way she stirred up the monarchy. When I saw Lady Glenconner’s book on Netgalley I immediately had to request it.

The writing is very simple. It is almost like having a conversation with the woman herself. It flows so easily and is a lot of fun to read. You can feel her emotions as you read along. I loved hearing her memories about life with the royal princesses. I was shocked as she discussed her marriage. Her husband sounds like a very difficult man to be around but that she stuck it out shows her devotion and will to commit to her promises.

I loved looking for pictures as I was reading. And I found the pictures at the end delightful. It was nice to put faces to the names. Mustique looks like paradise. I have never visited the Caribbean but this definitely makes me want to take a trip.

The one thing I was missing was more insights into the lives of the Queen and Margaret. They appear and play important parts in her story but I expected more from reading the blurb.

FYI: If you love The Crown then this is a good follow up read.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Return

The Return by Rachel Harrison

First line: “What do you mean she’s missing?”

Summary: When one of their friends goes missing they are all shocked but Elise does not believe that Julie is dead. Even after a year and a funeral she still holds out hope that she will return. Then suddenly after two years she reappears with no memory of what happened to her.

In the hopes of learning what happened and reconnecting the friends decide to get together for a long weekend in a swanky new hotel in the mountains. Upon arrival they notice that something is wrong with Julie. She looks different. She acts different. But no one wants to bring up these changes. As the weekend continues Elise starts noticing strange happenings around the hotel. She cannot decide if it’s her imagination or something truly odd is occurring.

My Thoughts: I do not know how to feel about this book. I like it but something is not sitting well with me too. At the beginning I compared it to The Shining and Pet Sematary but as the story progressed it verged away from this. I liked the little hints of creepiness. I loved the strange hotel. But the ending was just not what I expected. It became more gory than spooky. And the final chapter was just kinda dumb.

The characters were a little bland. I liked Elise. I could relate to her. But I got two of the friends constantly confused and the fact that their names both start with M made it even more confusing.

FYI: A good start for a debut author.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Scavenge the Stars

Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim

First Line: The first thing Silverfish had learned on board the Brackish was how to hold a knife.

Summary: Amaya has spent seven years on a ship working off the debt her parents sold her to cover.  Just a few days before she is due to be released she rescues a man from the sea.  For her kindness he offers her the chance to get revenge on the people who have wronged her. 

As their scheme progresses she becomes entangled with the son of the wealthy merchant they intend to bring down.  The more she learns about him the harder it becomes to follow through with their plans.

My Thoughts: This is a gender swap retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.  It has a stunning cover and a fun plot.  It is always fun to read a retelling especially if it was done well.  I liked Amaya and Cayo’s interactions.  I wish that there was more of it.  Hopefully in the second book there will more.  It ended with a big cliffhanger!  I am looking forward to the sequel coming out next year!

I actually received this as the book from the Owl Crate subscription box. This was my first time participating and I loved the experience. For a fee of $29.99 plus shipping I got a box filled with bookish goodies and a new young adult book. Usually the books are signed by the author, have exclusive covers, and letters from the author. Also inside was an exclusive Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix mug, an enamel pin, The Hobbit banner, a candle, Crooked Kingdom socks, and a tiny mirror pillbox.

It was fun to splurge on something like this. I love to read YA books and I have lots of fandoms. They have new selections every month and several special edition boxes throughout the year. Plus they have added an Owl Crate Jr. edition for younger readers.

FYI: A few trigger warnings are mutilation and violence against children.

* This is my pick for category #9 (A book that features a strong female lead) for the ReadICT challenge.*

What’s Ashley Reading?: Eight Perfect Murders

Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson

First line: The front door opened, and I heard the stamp of the FBI agent’s feet on the doormat.

Summary: On a snowy morning Malcolm Kershaw gets a call from an FBI agent asking about a list of his favorite fictional murders he wrote years ago on his bookstores blog. What does an old blog post have to do with a string of recent murders? According to Gwen, the FBI agent, it appears that someone is using this list to commit their own murders. Malcolm starts doing his own search into the suspects. Who are they and how are they connected to him? Sometimes life can be stranger than fiction.

My Thoughts: While reading this I found myself comparing it to The Woman in the Window. I don’t think it had much to do with the actual mystery but more with the books/movies recommended by the narrator. I even put holds on several of the movies and looked for copies of the mystery novels mentioned.

I love how the author calls out how so many thrillers are trying to follow the unreliable narrator like in Gone Girl. It has become a mystery trope but not one that is truly new. However, we still continue to read them because they are just so much fun. I think Malcolm though is not an unreliable narrator. He is very upfront about things but he omits some stuff as well until the end.

This was a fun fast paced journey through snowy Boston. I kept trying to figure out the twist. I can honestly say I did not consider how it would end. But he even leaves us wondering if the conclusion is 100% true. This is my first Peter Swanson novel and I think I will read more in the future.

FYI: Be prepared to add old mystery novels to your TBR list.

*This is my pick for category #1 (A book with a number in the title) for the ReadICT challenge.*

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Shadows Between Us

The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

First line: They’ve never found the body of the first and only boy who broke my heart.

Summary: Alessandra is the youngest daughter of an earl. She has spent her life sequestered from the world until her sister marries but she has a plan to gain ultimate power for herself. First she is going to get the attention of the Shadow King. Second she will make him fall in love with her and marry her. And finally she is going to kill the king and take over his kingdom.

My Thoughts: Ever since reading Tricia Levenseller’s first book, Daughter of the Pirate King, I have been hooked. It was a fast read and lots of fun! Each book since has been the same. I highly anticipate each new release. When I saw that Netgalley had an ARC of The Shadows Between Us I requested it immediately.

This is my favorite book of her so far. This is being called a Slytherin romance and that 100% describes it. I loved each of the main characters. They were both not good people but they are unashamed of it too. They know it and do not apologize for their faults. From the very first page the story takes off. Alessandra is wickedly charming and cunning. Kallias is dark, moody and brutal. But there are characters with lighter sides that add a little fluff which is refreshing too.

I loved the whole premise of the Shadow King. The magic and the way it works is brilliant. This author has a wonderful imagination and can bring her worlds to life. I could easily picture Kallias and his shadows. The details of the outfits were stunning. I wish I could read this again for the first time. I am so sad I have to wait another year for a new book by Levenseller.

FYI: This is a standalone young adult novel.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Borgia Confessions

The Borgia Confessions by Alyssa Palombo

First line: The day I learned of my father’s plans for me, I was but nine years old.

Summary: In the summer of 1492 in Rome Cesare Borgia sees his father rise to the become the newest pope. Cesare has been forced to follow his father into the church but he knows that he is destined for something more. He has a strong military mind and passion to rule. However, his father is blinded by his ambitions to consider what Cesare wants.

Maddalena Moretti has come from the country to work in the Vatican. As a servant she sees into the world of powerful men who rule Europe. When she catches the eye of the handsome cardinal, Cesare Borgia, their lives become entwined as Rome and the rest of Italy fight the changes that are coming for them all.

My Thoughts: I love Alyssa Palombo. She is such a talented writer. She brings her stories to life and makes the characters believable. Even though many of the characters in this story are not likeable she does a fantastic job of getting the reader to at least understand them. I have been fascinated by the Borgia’s since picking up The Borgia Bride by Jeanne Kalogridis. I was very excited when I saw that Alyssa Palombo’s newest book would be centered on this notorious family.

I love the intrigue and drama of the Borgia family. They were people who schemed for everything they got but were at the center of religious power in Europe. I am very familiar with their story so there was not much that surprised me in the narrative but I loved the naughty bits which were more prominent in this novel compared to her other ones. I liked seeing the world from the eyes of a servant. At the end the author discussed how she wanted to look at the events from someone of power and someone without power. I agree it makes it much more interesting to see both sides.

FYI: Perfect for fans of Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Sun Down Motel

The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

First line: The night it all ended, Vivian was alone.

Summary: In 1982 Viv Delaney is hitchhiking through New York when she is dropped off at the Sun Down Motel. That night she is offered the job of the night clerk for the motel. On her first nights she learns that not everything is as it seems at the Sun Down. The strong smell of cigarettes, doors opening and closing on their own and ghostly voices around every corner. Then one night in November Viv disappears without a trace.

Flash forward to 2017, Carly Kirk travels to the town of Fell, New York to find out what really happened to her aunt who disappeared from the Sun Down Motel in 1982.

My Thoughts: This was so much fun!! I read it in just 2 days. I loved the old motel, the people and the mystery. I always drive by old motels and wonder who actually stops there. This answered it for me. St. James’ descriptions of the place are just eerie. It is a place stuck in a time bubble. I can easily imagine the smell of the old smoke, the dirty carpets and the old bedspreads. Add to the creepy hotel a few ghosts and you have the recipe for a perfect story. The first time that Viv sees the woman it gave me chills.

FYI: If you love a good ghost story than this is for you!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

First line: How easy it was to disappear.

Summary: It is 1893. Chicago is hosting the World’s Fair. All eyes are on America. Told through intertwining narratives following the dreamers and architects of one of the largest expositions ever and the serial killer who used to fair to attract his victims.

My Thoughts: I was very excited to start this. I just read about the victims of Jack the Ripper so obviously it was time to read up on H. H. Holmes, America’s first serial killer. And I had heard great things about Erik Larson’s books. However, I was a little disappointed. I loved the chapters about Holmes and his “Murder Castle” but they were too short. More time and pages were devoted to the World’s Fair. I get that it was a very important piece of American history but it was very dry. I slugged through about two thirds of the book before I decided to skip each of these chapters and just focus on Holmes.

Herman Webster Mudgett aka
H. H. Holmes

I was astounded at how long Holmes was able to go undetected while committing his crimes. He spent years avoiding notice. Even though murder is his most notorious crime he was a mastermind at other ways to deceive. Larson always pointed out his striking blue eyes and charming demeanor. It is easy to imagine him swindling his unsuspecting victims. He used his charms to avoid debt collectors, create alias and marry several women. With these skills he was a very “successful” man. He accumulated wealth and many people liked him. It is hard to imagine that someone like that could be as cold-blooded as he was.

I have to point out that even though I gave up on the fair chapters that they were very detailed and well researched. This would be a perfect book for lovers of Chicago history and architectural history. I loved looking at pictures from the fair. It looks stunning. Truly a wonder of the modern world. Even though they had many setbacks and struggles during the construction they pulled off an amazing feat.

FYI: A great young adult historical fiction set in Holmes’ Chicago is Capturing the Devil by Kerri Maniscalco. It is the 4th book in the series and I highly recommend them all!

*This is my pick for category #12 (A book by an author slated to visit Kansas in 2020) for the ReadICT challenge.*

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Little Book of Hygge

The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking

First line: Hooga? Hhyooguh? Heurgh? It is not important how you choose to pronounce or even spell hygge. To paraphrase one of the greatest philosophers of our time—Winnie-the-Pooh—when asked how to spell a certain emotion, “You don’t spell it, you feel it.”

Summary: Meik Wiking is the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark. In this small book he delves into the Danish word, hygge (pronounced hoo-ga). It is a lifestyle of comfy blankets, delicious food and lots of candles.

My Thoughts: It is that dark and dreary time of year. It is cold outside. Nothing sounds better than a warm blanket and a cup of tea. This is where hygge comes in. All I want to do is hygge now. And I have been trying to achieve it since finishing this book. Each evening I snuggle with my dog and a blanket while watching a favorite TV show or reading a good book.

I love how the author breaks down what hygge is and how to do it. Even though many Danes have different ideas about what is essential to hygge they all agree that it is comfort. The illustrations were pleasant and beautiful. If you are looking for something to help you get through the cold winter months than pick this up! And let us know how you hygge.

FYI: This is the first of several books by Wiking about how to find happiness like the Danes.

*This is my pick for category #2 (A fix-it, how-to, or self-help book) for the ReadICT challenge.*

What’s Ashley Reading?: When Women Ruled the World

When Women Ruled the World by Kara Cooney

The cover image is the famous bust of Nefertiti.

First line: In the fifth century B.C., thousands of years after her lifetime, the Greek historian Herodotus wrote about a certain Nitocris, a queen whose husband-brother had been murdered by conspirators.

Summary: Egyptologist Kara Cooney takes us back to Ancient Egypt and the rule of six remarkable female kings. In a time where men ruled everything these women were able to rise to the highest position in the ancient world using their own cunning. Using years of research and her own deductions we look at their rise to power, their reign and their eventual fall from grace.

My Thoughts: Before starting this book I had only heard of three of these female pharaohs: Hatshepsut, Nefertiti and Cleopatra. I was really excited to delve deeper into each of their lives and reigns but I got the extra bonus of learning about three other incredible women from Ancient Egypt. Each of them came to power in different ways. Some through marriage, others religion, and by default as well. Cooney does a fantastic job giving the background of each pharaoh’s dynasty and the events leading up to their reign.

The fact that we know so much about events from 5,000 years ago is astounding to me. The Egyptians left lots of details about the reigns of their monarchs either on monuments, temples or tombs. We are very lucky to have these records. And hopefully over time we will discover more as the search continues for more tombs. I really hope that one day we will find the tomb of Nefertiti!

It has been a dream of mine to visit Egypt and see the pyramids. The thought of walking where these god-kings once did would be awe-inspiring. I have long followed the work of Zahi Hawass, a world renowned Egyptologist, but I think I will keep an eye on Kara Cooney as well. She has another book all about Hatshesput which I hope to read soon.

My one critique is the fact that the author tried to compare current events to Egyptian culture. It did not flow well and it takes you out of the mindset of the facts. I skipped those paragraphs. Luckily they were few and far between.

FYI: If you want a historical fiction book similar to this then try Nefertiti by Michelle Moran.

*This is my pick for #8 (A book by an author who is new to you) in the ReadICT reading challenge.*