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.

Read-A-Thon to the Rescue

It’s a weird time right now. We’re cancelling plans and trying to stay informed, but we’re all unsure about what the future holds. What we do know is that staying home is one of the safest things we can do to minimize our exposure to this virus. If you’re someone who loves to read or has wanted to get back into reading, this time at home could be an opportunity for you to dive into that stack of stories sitting on your bedside.

But do you want to make it interesting? Perhaps try some reading challenges that could get you metaphorically one step closer to becoming a witch or wizard of the beloved Harry Potter world?

The 3rd Annual OWLS Read-a-thon is here, lasting from April 1st to April 30th. I previously covered this read-a-thon in another blog post that I’ll link here, but in essence, it’s a month-long challenge to read books that would align with Hogwarts school subjects. If you “pass” certain subjects, you’ll be able to work in specified wizarding world professions like an auror, a professor, a curse breaker, or Ministry of Magic member.  

The creator of this read-a-thon, TheBookRoast, has gone above and beyond this year for an even more interesting challenge. She’s added additional workshops and trainings and is also hosting a number of Harry Potter-related activities online.

So what are my professional goals this year as a Hogwarts student? When I saw the new Merpeople Linguistics course, I knew that I would definitely want to work in International Relations with Merpeople. I’ll be focusing on earning both a Magizoologist and a Herbologist career with a possible Ministry of Magic credit if I have time. I was definitely an overachiever in muggle school so of course I’d be Hermione-level studious at Hogwarts.

Here’s my tentative OWLS Exam Schedule:

  • Ancient Runes: Sacred Heart by Liz Suburbia (getting this on Hoopla!)
  • Care of Magical Creatures: My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
  • Herbology: A Monster Like Me by Wendy Swore
  • Potions: Arthur and the Golden Rope by Joe Todd – Stanton
  • Defense Against the Dark Arts: Seafire by Natalie C. Parker
  • Charms: The Crooked House by Agatha Christie (my edition has a white cover)
  • Divination: Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

Since the library will be closing its services until further notice, it may be difficult to find physical books to fit your challenges, but don’t forget that all of our online services including Sunflower E-Library and Hoopla will be available for you to use.

I hope you join in on the OWLS Read-a-thon this year and get to add a little magic to your life!

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.*

Amelia’s Favorites: Monkey & Me

Monkey & Me by Emily Gravett

Summary: This book was especially fun. It’s about a little girl and her monkey saying “Monkey and me, Monkey and me, Monkey and me, we went to see, we went to see…” and each time they see a different animal.

My Thoughts: This book was actually recommended to me by the Beanstack App. Which if you haven’t signed up for you really should. I use the app to log books for the 1000 Books Before Kindergarten program for Amelia. Each week it sends me an email with book recommendations and this week’s was Monkey and Me.

Now, I don’t know if they intended it to be this way, but I made it into a song, and after a few times Amelia was singing along which I couldn’t even take. It was SO CUTE! After we read it a few times through, the rest of the day I would hear her sing it, which it turn made me sing it too, and became somewhat of a learning game. I would sing the phrase, then choose an animal and ask her what noise that animal makes. SO MUCH FUN!

Amelia’s Rating: I think she would give it a solid 5 stars, I foresee us checking this book out several times!

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.*