What’s Ashley Reading?: Above the Bay of Angels

Above the Bay of Angels by Rhys Bowen

First line: If Helen Barton hadn’t stepped out in front of an omnibus, I might still be sweeping floors and lighting fires at an ostentatious house in St. John’s Wood.

Summary: Bella Waverly was raised by a disinherited member of the aristocracy. She was taught to speak well and have good manners. However, when they fall on hard times she is forced to work as a servant in the home of a wealthy Londoner. Then one day she witnesses the death of a young woman with a letter of introduction to work in the Buckingham Palace kitchens. Taking on a new name she enters a new world and finds that life as a cook is maybe what she has been looking for her whole life.

My Thoughts: I first heard about this book when I went to an author event at Watermark Books in Wichita. My mother is a huge fan of Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness series. When Ms. Bowen started telling us about her new stand-alone book I was immediately interested. I love the PBS show Victoria so this sounded like my cup of tea.

I found the book to be a light and quick read. It was a mixture between historical fiction and mystery. The first 80% were surrounding Bella and her work in the kitchens but then disaster strikes in the royal family and a mystery appears. I loved how the food took center stage though. I was constantly Googling the items to see what they were. I ate a lot while reading this because everything sounded so good.

Then there is the location. I have never been the south of France but it sounds like a magical place. The Hotel Excelsior Regina is still standing but has been converted to apartments. I would love to visit and see the hotel that was built for Queen Victoria.

And the author brings in one of the most intriguing characters from the time period and Queen Victoria’s reign, “the Munshi”, Abdul Karim. He was the Indian servant and advisor to the queen. But he was disliked by many of her family and staff. Very little was known of him until the last 10 years when his journals came to light. If you want to get a more sympathetic and dramatic view into his story then try the movie Victoria and Abdul. I just rewatched it after finishing the book and it was a lovely story.

FYI: This is a perfect summer read. It is light and fun but with a little intrigue.

Anni’s Book Pick: The War That Saved My Life

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Summary: Born with a clubfoot nine-year-old Ada Smith suffers not only the frustration and pain to the physical condition but the sting of her mother’s abuse and shame as well.

This book is about a young girl and her brother who live with their mother. The mother is abusive and ashamed of her daughter due to a club foot. The book starts before the war where we get a glimpse at the horrible life that Ada and Jamie are living. Ada being born with a clubfoot has received her mother’s shame for her whole life sitting at a window to see the world and not allowed to leave the apartment, which is where they live.

As the story goes on Ada and her brother, Jamie, see other young children their age going to the country where they will be safe from bombs. Ada and her brother sneak out one night and go to live in the country. Life in the country was good, almost perfect until their mother arrived.

My Thoughts: I enjoyed this book not only because it was historically accurate, but because it brought the story to real life. When reading this book I felt that I knew Ada and Jamie personally, I think the author did an excellent job relating to the characters in the story. I think this book would be a good book for the whole family because it is friendly and there is no profanity or gruesome scenes.

This story really brought the life of children during the war to life. The story shows the struggles of children and the struggles of parents during these hard times. Ada had to leave her home and even though she really wanted to go out and see the world once she was in the country she really missed being home. Overall this story is a great story for all ages, and it can really help children and parents understand life during World War II.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Scythe

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

First line: We must, by law, keep a record of the innocents we kill.

Summary: Society has finally learned to conquer death. The world is no longer starving, dying from disease or dying in general. However, one small problem remains. Overpopulation. The solution is the Scythedom. Scythes are people who are chosen and trained to take human lives in order to keep the population of Earth to a manageable level.

When Citra and Rowan are chosen by Honorable Scythe Faraday as his apprentices they are less than thrilled. Life as a scythe is one of isolation and loneliness not to mention death. As their training commences they learn that there is more to the Scythedom than they originally knew including some darker secrets at its core.

My Thoughts: I absolutely loved and devoured this book! It was recommended to me by one of the booksellers at Watermark Books. I finally bought myself a copy because I could not wait for the library one to come back in. I am so happy that I did. It was fast, fun and crazy. So many different twists and turns. I loved the characters. The world is fascinating. Shusterman did a great job of creating a real Utopia but also bringing in some very dark themes as well. As soon as I finished it I immediately downloaded the digital copy from Sunflower eLibrary. If you need something to suck you in from the very beginning then this is that book!

FYI: Lots of death and violence but I don’t think it is over the top. It would be hard to avoid this topic in a book all about bringers of death.

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.

Playtime at the Library

Tucked into the back of the Derby Public Library lives the Arlee Killion Children’s Early Literacy Area. It’s easy to tell which of the children entering the building have played there before because the voices of our librarians follow them as they race by, “Walking Feet!”. They know that once they get past the shelves filled with adult books, the train table, and the picture books lies a section just for them.

A wonderland of experiences and activities fill the Early Literacy Area. Everything in the ELA is specifically designed to help children ages 6 and under develop their literacy muscles. A child may look like they are playing dress-up with the capes, until you lean in a little closer and discover they have created an elaborate back-story for the character they are pretending. Another child is off using a truck to move blocks but really they are strengthening their hands to make them ready to hold a pencil. Little do these children know that what seems like play to them is actually equipping them with exactly what they need to thrive at school!

So whether your child is cooking in the play kitchen, putting on a puppet show, or slowly but surely placing the rings back on the yellow holder, they are soaking up early literacy skills. Come catch your breath while your young charges scatter to the various corners of the ELA, safe in the knowledge that they are learning while they play.

Early Literacy Area Hours:

Monday: 9am-6pm Tuesday: 11am-8pm Wednesday: 11am-8pm Thursday: 9am-8pm Friday: 9am-5:30pm Saturday: 9am-4:30pm Sunday: 1pm-4:30pm An adult or teen 13 or older must stay with their children while playing in the ELA.

Our Imagination Station is a Pizzeria this month! This changes every month.
Play area with toys for children ages 2 and under

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Family Upstairs

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell

First line: It would be inaccurate to say that my childhood was normal before they came.

Summary: When Libby Jones turned twenty-five she receives and envelope telling her that she has inherited a house from the estate of her dead parents. She never knew who she was or where she came from but the answers are finally being revealed.

Twenty-four years before the police were summoned to a mansion along the Thames. Inside were the three dead bodies and a baby girl in a crib. It appears to be a suicide pact as part of a cult ritual. But neighbors reported seeing older children in the house but none are found on the night in question. What happened at 16 Cheyne Walk that fateful night?

My Thoughts: I love Lisa Jewell! Every book I have read by her has been a lot of fun. This one is no exception. I really considered giving it a 5 star rating. It flipped between three characters. Libby, the baby, who recently inherited the house. Henry, who is telling the story of what happened in the house. And Lucy, who is struggling to keep her family afloat while living abroad in France.

Henry was by far my favorite chapters because we got to see how life at 16 Cheyne Walk changed over time. His story is told chronologically from the beginning to the end. It fills in the gaps that Libby is trying to uncover. But his narrative is much darker and more sinister than the others.

I struggled to understand that point behind Lucy’s chapters. It seemed like they were filler or a separate story. She lives in France with her children and is trying to find a way to get back to England. It just did not seem to fit with everything else.

But the ending. It literally gave me goosebumps and sent a chill down my spine. What a way to close a book. Great job again Ms. Jewell!

FYI: Perfect for fans of Shari Lapena and Gillian Flynn.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Wolf Wants In

The Wolf Wants In by Laura McHugh

First line: A bitter wind sheared through the darkness, biting into my exposed flesh and lashing my hair across my face.

Summary: Sadie Keller is determined to find out what happened to her brother on the night he died. She does not believe the story told to her by his wife, Crystle. But the police do not believe that there is enough evidence to allow them to look deeper into the events.

Henley is hoping to escape from her small Kansas town. Her family are involved in some dangerous activities and she wants to leave before she is sucked into them.

My Thoughts: I loved the author’s previous book Arrowood. It was thrilling. This was sold to be a thriller but it really fell flat. I was hoping for more but it took almost 60% of the book to get to the more interesting pieces. The beginning was about the town, its people and the life in small town Kansas. This made it easy to connect with at least, as a girl from a small town in Kansas.

I liked the characters but they needed something more. We got glimpses into Sadie’s past with her brother. I would have liked more of that. Henley seemed like a filler character. She did reveal some information that lead to big reveal but her story was blah.

FYI: Read Arrowood!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Turn of the Key

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

First line: Dear Mr. Wrexham, I know you don’t know me but please, please, please you have to help me

Summary: Rowan Caine stumbles upon an advertisement for what appears to be the perfect nanny job. It is for a family with four children, in a big house in Scotland, and a yearly salary of fifty five thousand pounds. When Rowan arrives for her interview she is blown away and a little intimidated by the house. It is a smart house. Everything is connected to apps that can be managed from a cell phone.

After her initial interview she is offered the job which seems like a dream come true. However, she does not realize that appearances can be deceiving. On her very first day she is left alone with the three younger children while the parents are at a weeklong conference. The adjustment for the girls is not going as smoothly as she had hoped but she is trying her best to befriend them.

When strange happenings start to disturb her nights she begins look into the history of the house and what could be causing these strange noises in the attic. With each new night she gets less and less sleep as the mysterious sounds gradually increase. Will she be able to make it through her first week or will she leave in the middle of the night like the other nannies before her?

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed Ruth Ware’s previous novel, The Death of Mrs. Westaway, but I think this one blew it out of the water. I seriously considered giving this 5 stars because it was very hard to put down. There was the perfect mixture of spookiness and suspense.

I love how the house appears to be a big old Victorian but inside it is very modern. I love the idea of a smart house but at the same time it is also a little scary. I completely understand Rowan’s unease with the cameras and app enabled features. And the fact that this house is basically out in the middle of nowhere. Anyone could easily be spooked by any sounds in the night.

I enjoyed the way that the novel was laid out. It is done in a series of entries in a letter from Rowan to a solicitor while she is in prison for the death of a child. She eludes to what happens but we do not get the full details until the end.

This is full of twists and turns. When you think you have had the big reveal another one appears. I loved every minute of reading this. I would highly recommend this to anyone who is looking for something that they cannot put down. Trust me. I had to force myself to sleep instead of reading one more chapter.

FYI: Warning: a child does die in the book.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Recursion

Recursion by Blake Crouch

First line: Barry Sutton pulls into the fire lane at the main entrance of the Poe Building, an Art Deco tower glowing white in the illumination of its exterior sconces.

Summary: Barry Sutton is a New York cop who witnesses the tragic effects of False Memory Syndrome when a woman jumps from the forty first floor of a skyscraper.

Helena Smith is a researcher looking for a way to save and record memories to help Alzheimer patients.

As the world around them begins to unravel because of the mysterious FMS, they must team up to try and learn how to stop the phenomenon from continuing to plague the world. If they cannot not it can lead to the possible end of the world.

My Thoughts: From the very first page this story is off and running. There is no build up or major character development in the first twenty pages like most novels. Crouch puts us immediately into the story. This is by far one of my favorite parts of his writing. It is very easy to lose interest in a book that drags its story out too long.

When we meet Barry we also hear about False Memory Syndrome but it is not really explained. For a while it was difficult to understand what is happening to those that are affected. However, once I understood what the disease entailed it became obvious why it could be terrifying to contract.

There are several time hops which makes it very important to pay attention to the dates at the beginning of each new section.

I love how fast paced his story telling is. I was on the edge of my seat throughout.

I was never very good with science. Give me history or literature any day. Even though Recursion is very much a science fiction thriller it was not bogged down by the technicalities. When I tried reading The Martian by Andy Weir, the science is what killed the book for me. I just did not get it. But Crouch does a great job of having it as part of the story but not making it overwhelming for the everyday reader.

I cannot say enough good things about this book. Just give it a try. It is worth every minute you spend reading it.

FYI: Pick up Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. It is just as thrilling!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Summer Country

The Summer Country by Lauren Willig

First line: “Emily!” Adam shouted.

Summary: Emily Dawson has inherited a plantation on the island of Barbados from her grandfather. When she arrives at Peverills it is far from what she dreamed. After the slave uprising forty years before it has sat in ruins. On the invitation of the Davenant family of Beckles, she and her cousin stay at the neighboring plantation while Emily decides what to do with her inheritance.

Forty years earlier Charles Davenant returns home to run his family plantation, Peverills. The home he knew as a child has changed and so have Charles’ views on life in Barbados. As tensions rise on the island he must decide where he stands.

My Thoughts: This is a what great family sagas are made of. Big family secrets with dark turns around every corner. I loved the intertwining narratives and how closely they connected. The characters are so well done. I went in expecting to like some and hate others but Willig does a great job of proving you wrong on your first impressions. I am not much for a romance novel but this was a beautiful love story in the midst of so many challenges.

And the history is fascinating. I had never read or heard anything based on the island of Barbados so the storyline was completely fresh for me. Lauren brings it to life. The heat, the smells, and the lifestyles come through in her writing.

FYI: I highly recommend Willig’s Pink Carnation series!