What’s Ashley Reading?: Daughters of a Dead Empire

Daughters of a Dead Empire by Carolyn Tara O’Neil

First line: I saw the fire first.

Summary: In this alternate history about the Russian Revolution, Anastasia Romanov has escaped the Bolsheviks and is running for her life. She stumbles into a village where she meets a young Bolshevik girl, Evgenia, who grudgingly helps this mysterious aristocratic girl. As the two girls with very different views of the world try to survive they learn that the world is not as black and white as they originally thought.

My Thoughts: Ever since high school I have been fascinated by Anastasia Romanov. The thought that this young girl escaped a tragic death is a mystery that has boggled many for years. Unfortunately, Anastasia did not escape but I still enjoy reading fiction about what her life after escaping death would have been like.

At the beginning I was very annoyed with both of the girls but I think that was what the author was intending. Each of them were stubbornly only believing what they knew rather than considering other points of view. But as the story progressed each one was faced with the realities of the Revolution and destroying the beliefs they held so dear.

I enjoyed the growing relationship between the girls. There was no romance in the book. It centered on friendship and the internal battle between conscience/ideologies and love.

As well as being entertaining it was informative too. I learned about the involvement of Czech soldiers in the Russian Revolution. They had their own battalion and were promised independence for the Czech people if the Imperial Army won the Revolution.

Since this took place during the Russian Revolution there was lots of violence. However, the violence was not always focused on the armies but much of it hurt the peasants they were fighting for. It is easy to forget that many civilian deaths happened alongside soldier deaths. It was hard to read but it was real and needs to be remembered.

FYI: Lots of death, violence and torture.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Nine Lives

Nine Lives by Peter Swanson

First line: Jonathan Grant, unless he let her know ahead of time that he couldn’t make it, always visited on Wednesday evening.

Summary: Nine people have received a letter in the mail with no return postmark and inside is a list of nine names. None of the names seem familiar to the people on the list. Many of them assume that it is some technical error until one of them is found murdered. Coincidence? Maybe. Until another of the people on the list is found shot in the back while out on his morning run. Detective Winslow is also on the list and she is determined to find out what the connection is and who is hunting them.

My Thoughts: I love Peter Swanson’s books. This is my third one but I need to go back and read his older stuff soon too. The way he incorporates classic mysteries into his stories also give me more books to read but adds an extra layer of intrigue into the plot. In this one he uses the similarities with And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.

Each of the chapters were really short and they were organized into how many people are left on the list. As it counted down the suspense continued to build as I waited for the next death or a big reveal. And just before Swanson gave the reader a big hint of who was behind the deaths, I figured it out. It was genius. As a reader, and one that has read a lot of Agatha Christie lately, I can see he enjoys her work and draws inspiration from it too.

But I think my favorite part of Swanson’s newest book was the relationships in it. The characters that lived longer into the story were given interesting storylines that made me want to read just for their interactions. It made their impending doom much more heartbreaking.

FYI: Lots of death.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Fuzz

Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law by Mary Roach

First line: For most of the past century, your odds of being killed by a cougar were about the same as your odds of being killed by a filing cabinet.

Summary: Mary Roach attends an animal attack forensic investigator training, interviews locals about leopard attacks and watched the setup of a laser to keep gulls away from the Vatican’s flower arrangements. In her newest book, Roach takes the reader into the little known world of animals who break the law.

My Thoughts: The minute I saw this I knew I had to read it. It is a concept I never even considered. But what happens when wild animals “break the law”? I have been to Colorado many times where we have seen bears, elk and mountain goats but never having lived there I was not aware of all the rules for residents. Bear proof trash cans. French door handles are a no-no. Leaving food outside is a big draw for animals and can lead to the animal being hurt or killed plus the danger to humans too.

But I was really shocked when reading about the elephants, monkeys and leopards. Going to zoos makes a person not consider that these are animals that can cause lots of harm or mischief. Who knew that there are elephant interventionists? They try to move elephants on when they wander into farmers’ fields or a village. Or that monkeys have learned that stealing from humans gets them food? I think visiting Asia would be fascinating and beautiful but now that I know that elephants could be deadly or monkeys may steal my phone, I’m a little more cautious.

I was constantly telling my mom all the new facts and statistics I was reading. Near the end of the book it dealt more with birds or smaller animals which I did not find as interesting but it was worth the read. I learned a lot!

FYI: If you love to read weird facts then this book is for you!

What’s Ashley Reading?: Never Have I Ever

Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson

First line: The game was Roux’s idea.

Summary: Amy Whey has spent years rebuilding her life after a tragic accident in her teens. She has husband, baby son and a step-daughter who she adores. Everything is going Amy’s way until Roux comes over for book club. In an attempt to unsettle Amy, Roux suggests playing Never Have I Ever, but with a twist. As the game progresses, Amy realizes that Roux knows her darkest secret. The one she has not even told her husband.

Roux tells Amy that if she doesn’t pay her the money she is asking for, she will go to the police and tell them about Amy’s past. In order to save the life she has built, Amy will dig back into her past to figure out how to outwit Roux.

My Thoughts: This book was twisted. There were so many different ways I thought the story would go but then the author took the reader on a completely different path. I literally gasped several times when a new twist was revealed. I really enjoyed the book but all the main characters were not great people. Amy was the best of the bunch but as you learn more about her and what she has done and what is happening in her head, I liked her less and less. Roux is the character that you love to hate. She is the opposite of Amy. She is not ashamed of who she is.

But the ending was nuts! I was really shocked by the ending. I don’t want to spoil anything but I never, ever would have guessed that ending.

FYI: Sexual content, language and death.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Gilded

Gilded by Marissa Meyer

First line: All right. I will tell you the tale, how it happened in truth.

Summary: Years ago a miller wished to marry a beautiful maiden. He asked the old gods to grant him this wish. When it was granted they also bestowed a gift on the couple’s child. She would be able to tell stories so fantastical that fascinated and awed her audiences. But they were also not true.

Years later, Serilda, the child of the miller catches the attention of the feared Erlking and his wild hunt. She tells a story of her ability to spin straw into gold thread. Fascinated by her the king kidnaps her on the full moon and makes her spin or lose her life. Unfortunately, Serilda cannot actually spin straw into gold but as she worries for her life a ghost appears to her in the castle who claims he can do the task but for a price.

As the months progress, Serilda is sure that the king will find out. However, an unexpected twist happens when Serilda starts to fall in love with her mysterious helper but she knows that not everything in the enchanted castle is as it appears.

My Thoughts: I was really excited to see that Marissa Meyer was once again doing a fairy tale retelling. I loved her Cinder series. The premise, the cover and the setting all appealed to me. I knew that this would be a book I would love. I wish I was right. I did like it and most likely will read the next one but the middle was just too long. I loved the beginning. And the end was very dark and twisty. But the middle stretched out for far too long. It seemed rather repetitive.

I enjoyed Serilda’s character. Her stories were interesting. I would read just a bunch of her short stories. But when she starts to fall for Gild I felt that it was a little forced. I did not really feel the chemistry between them until near the end as some of the pieces started falling into place for the lead up to the sequel.

The ending was really dark. Much more so than Meyer’s other books. But this may be a homage to the original authors of the story of Rumpelstiltskin by the Brothers Grimm. I will be interested to see where Meyer goes in the next book with Serilda’s story.

FYI: Trigger warning: death of children.

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.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Not a Happy Family

Not a Happy Family by Shari Lapena

First line: There are many expensive houses here in Brecken Hill, an enclave on the edge of Aylesford, in the Hudson Valley.

Summary: In the rich neighborhood of Brecken Hill live the Mercer’s. They have lived here for years where they raised their family, grown a business and been the envy of all. But one Easter weekend after a family dinner the Mercer parents are found brutally murdered in their home. It appears to be a robbery but with all the secrets in the Mercer family the police are sure that one of the adult children has something to do with it. As they dig deeper they find that there are more secrets than anyone originally thought.

My Thoughts: This was a solid book. Lots of suspense. Red herrings around every corner. Lots of backstabbing, threats and secrets. I finished it in just a few days. It kept me interested throughout but I feel like it has been done before like so many thrillers lately. All the characters were awful people. Not one was likeable. There were some loose ends that I felt were not dealt with and characters that seemed a little nonessential. But did I have fun reading it? Yes. Will I recommend it? Yes. It was fun for a quick summer read.

FYI: Perfect for fans of B. A. Paris and J. P. Delaney.

Grace’s Book Review: Yorick and Bones

Yorick and Bones by Jeremy Tankard and Hermione Tankard

First Line: “Grumble, grumble. So tired.” Spoken by a man, pushing a hotdog cart. 

Summary: This graphic novel tells the classic story of a skeleton and his dog. Accidentally awakened by a witch’s potion, our hero, Yorick, finds a world that is a little different than the one he knew four hundred years ago. The main difference being that people run from him in fear. One individual will stick by his side, though—a dog he affectionately calls Bones.  

My Thoughts: This book has it all—Shakespeare references, dogs, jokes about death, a skeleton going through an existential crisis—truly, what more can you want from a book? 

Despite the fact that this book is written to an 8–12-year-old audience, the humor is extremely enjoyable no matter how old you are. I read it and am in my twenties and loved it, and I recommended it to multiple friends who also enjoyed it (forsooth, I cannot begin to shut up about it, a mere inquiry of my coworkers would show you that). Of course, it is a very quick read if you are above the intended audience, but it’s hilarious.  

If you think a book written in slight Elizabethan English sounds fun, if you know (or are) a kid who likes dog books, if you are looking for something different, or if you just want an easy feel-good read, Yorick and Bones is the one for you!