Reading Fanatic Reviews

Romantic Fantasy

A Drizzle of Murder by Constance Barker

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A Drizzle of Murder*

A Good Start to a New Cozy Mystery Series

After romance, cozy mysteries are my favorite fiction genre to read. Even though I enjoy the more serious police shows on TV, when I read, I prefer a good cozy. This is the first book in a new series by an author I have not read before. This is a culinary mystery, and I always find these to be particularly fun. Luckily, this one was no exception. The murder takes place in a bakery; the man who helped the heroine move into her new bakery space is found dead. They had not gotten along so well during the move, so she is a likely suspect. Luckily, she has a variety of friends who try to help her figure out what actually happened.

I did enjoy the quirky world created by this author. A good cozy needs to be quirky for sure and perhaps even wacky. I think this book fulfilled both requirements. There is a surprisingly large cast of characters in this book, and the heroine has a lot of friends. I will admit this was a little confusing at first, as we are introduced to many characters one after the other. Their speech patterns were not distinct enough to really help characterize them, so sometimes it was a little hard to follow and know who was who. I absolutely adored the older friends of the heroine; we don’t see enough active, older characters in contemporary fiction. The friends actually do have a big role in this novel as they try to help the heroine sort everything out. There were some definite issues with grammar, punctuation, and usage, enough to be distracting. Commas were problematic as were the hyphens needed for compound adjectives. The last may sound a little silly, but if they aren’t used properly, sometimes the meaning of a sentence is not clear, making you have to re-read to get the meaning.

All in all, though, I thought that this was a good start for a new cozy mystery series. At least when I read the next one, I will have a better sense of the large cast of characters, which will be a help. Now, if the author could just get it professionally edited, that would be a big help for me, too!

Italian Short Stories for Beginners and Intermediate Learners by Language Guru

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Interested in another language besides Italian? Check out these other books in the series!

Italian Short Stories for Beginners and Intermediate Learners*

One Tool for Extensive Italian Language Learning

I have read two other books in this series, and I believe these books would be of great help to anyone learning the particular language featured. They are surprisingly similar, as each short story in all the books is essentially the same—the first one about diet, the second about exercise, etc.–with small changes made for cultural differences. For instance, some of the food mentioned in the Italian first story is different than the ones in the Korean book.

Before the short stories, there is a brief introductory section where the author discusses extensive vs. intensive learning (among other topics), stating that this book is meant to be used with extensive learning practices. In case you don’t know the difference, intensive learning is how we often learn a language in school, where we drill and drill on the basics and look up every word we don’t know. Extensive language learning is more volume driven; we are meant to expose ourselves to the language in a variety of ways, not fussing particularly over understanding every word or grammar concept. Both types of learning have their place. I think intensive learning is needed to get a basic grasp of the language, but then extensive learning can help you really get up to speed with fluency if you dedicate yourself to the process. This book does have some elements of intensive learning, as each book does have a vocabulary list as well as a full English translation of the story. But in the how to use this book chapter, the authors state that you can certainly just read the story first, though they do also recommend, alternatively, that you can start with a vocabulary list before reading the story. I’ve tested out both ways, and I find I prefer to read the vocabulary list first. I don’t try to memorize it, though (like I would in intensive learning). Rather, reviewing it just kind of gets me ready to approach the language.

Also in the how to use this book chapter, the author discusses spaced repetition. But they don’t really say how to apply it to the stories. In fact, one of the first things they say in this chapter is that you should just read these stories once and once only. So how does spaced repetition fit in? I wish they had said.

But the book is really about the stories. Each story section contains multiple parts: the story itself in Italian, a vocabulary list, a quiz in Italian, and the English translation of the story. I did find the vocabulary list helpful, as stated above, to help get me into an Italian language frame of mind as well as a reference. I wish it included some other words, particularly verbs and what the verb form means in terms of tense. And some words included in the vocabulary list are silly, as their English translation was very clear. I actually laughed when I saw the vocabulary list included pizza! Well, I don’t, you know, like to give spoilers for books, but let me state that the translation for the Italian word pizza is pizza! LOL. I hope I didn’t give too much away. 😉

If you already have a solid basis in Italian and want to add to your vocabulary and ease of working with the language with an aim to increase your fluency, you may benefit from reading this book.

I received a free copy of this book, but that did not affect my review.

Hazelhurst by Martha Keyes

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Disappointing Installment

I have read other books in this series, Isabelle and Cecilia, and I have honestly enjoyed this author’s writing style. I believe I said in the reviews of those two books that I thought that this author knew how to write a proper Regency. Unfortunately, this book missed the mark for me. While I could empathize with the heroine after her disastrous annulled marriage, I never truly felt like I got to know her or the hero on the level that I need to enjoy a story. Their marriage of convenience takes place quickly. Even in Regency books that use this trope, we typically get a sense of attraction or feel a chemistry between the hero and heroine, but nothing was like that here. Even though they’re both genial people—neither is unkind toward the other—there’s no spark, and it feels like there is no potential for that for far too long. I felt like I kept waiting for something to happen between them (or even outside them) that would bring them closer. Instead, each seems to be happy to live their own lives separate from each other. To me, that just isn’t a romance. The hero and heroine have to be in at least relative proximity—not him going out to hunt all day every day with a friend and dine with that family—so that the relationship, even if somewhat tortured at first, can start to build. That just didn’t happen here. All this just went on so long that I never really bought them as a couple. How unfortunate, really, as I was really looking forward to this book by this author.

I received a free copy of this book, but that did not affect my review.

How to Self-Publish and Market a Book by Hank Quense

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How to Self-Publish and Market a Book*

Some Solid Information But Some Gaps and Errors

As a freelance editor and published author myself, I am inexorably drawn to any books about writing, self-publishing, or book marketing. I have read a previous book by this author (the one on creating stories). While I appreciated his knowledge and story-crafting expertise, I did have some issues with the book, especially with the grievous amount of grammar and punctuation errors and a somewhat quirky beginning to each chapter. So I was curious about what this book was going to be like.

The editing seems to be marginally better, although there were still issues with proper punctuation. According to the front matter, this book has been professionally edited, yet the required comma between independent clauses of a compound sentence was only sometimes present. There were a few other missing punctuation marks as well scattered throughout. Words are misspelled (Fivver instead of Fiverr… really?). But I won’t harp on this, though it is a particular pet peeve of mine.

Like the other book, I think this one does a good job of showing one man’s way of doing things in the author/self-publishing space. As you would imagine from the title, this book focuses on self-publishing and marketing, which the author insists must be seen as an integrated whole, not two separate parts. I would agree with that assessment. The information given throughout the book is solid, though I could see the limitations; I wanted to add more info from my clients’ experiences (and my own) to each chapter! I thought that some details given were perhaps unnecessary for a newbie author. For some inexpensive but complex tasks, it is just better to hire a professional than to try to do everything yourself.

I did find some errors of fact that I thought were a little disturbing. For instance, when he discusses using/buying software to format your book, he lists Upwork and Fiverr as a resource to buy software! I don’t think you need to be ordering gigs for software development! Instead, you might consider using someone from either of those places to do the formatting for you. Just a strange little thing that seemed odd to me.

The book is well organized, with the bulk of it being essentially a month-by-month publishing and marketing schedule with each step clearly defined. These scheduling chapters are preceded by an introductory chapter which gives the reader the lay of the land for the six-month plan and defines a few terms. In looking over the schedule, it truly is a good one for a self-published author to follow. Lots of nuggets of wisdom here, even if it is imperfect on several levels. I wish the table of contents showed the self-publishing and marketing tasks for each month. It would have been nice to have this “at a glance” so the would-be author could quickly see where everything was heading. This book would be suitable for authors who are considering this route and certainly for any who will definitely be using it.

L’Agent Double by Kit Sergeant

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L'Agent Double*

Breathtaking Book of Real WWI Female Spies

Oh, my gosh! What an utterly fantastic book, a genuinely gripping read! I had read the previous book in the series about the Civil War female spies, but I believe that this book even surpasses that one. This book tells the tales of three female spies during World War I, one who may be perhaps the most notorious female spy ever, Mata Hari. The book follows the chronological order of the conflict, so we experience the war as it unfolds through time through these women’s eyes and experiences. While, of course, the conversations and some scenes are wholly fictionalized, the author has done a tremendous depth and breadth of research into these real female spies of WWI. She made these women come alive on the page; their experiences are no less real. I found it easy to empathize with the two women who were on the right side of history. I particularly resonated with Marthe, as I could completely relate to her struggles through the war as I am a nurse myself. In modern times, the nursing ethical code is drummed into us from the first days of nursing school. Back in the day, women who were drawn to nursing might not have been taught ethics directly, but they would have had a moral code that included a depth of compassion and genuine care for humanity to do such a job as it was back then. I could completely understand her struggle with the different parts of herself, the nurse and the spy. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to feel that pull, wanting to do the best for your country and allies but feeling the pain caused by the horrors you had to necessarily inflict on others. Doing what is right is sometimes a choice between the lesser of evils, and that certainly doesn’t make it any easier to swallow.

The author pulls you right into the story, starting with a prologue that describes Mata Hari’s death by firing squad. Each of these women is richly drawn, with some similarities between them but also some striking differences (as you might imagine). Interestingly, their paths crossed at times during the war. The descriptions of all that went on during this massive, war-to-end-all wars conflict (if only!) are completely captivating, keeping your interest (even if you know how it ends!). I absolutely adore that this author has chosen to honor the unsung female heroes (and a few bad girls) who helped shape history. It is fantastic that their stories are being shared in such a way. I find myself wondering what war and heroines this author will pick next. World War II, I imagine?

Fit After Forty by Jordan Vezina

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Fit After Forty***

Staying Fit in Middle Age if Already There

As the cover might suggest, this book appears to be geared for people who are already fit and are perhaps struggling to maintain that as they get older. (Although, I have to say that I don’t think that either cover model is anywhere near 40!) As someone who is not into fitness beyond walking and using a stationary bike, I found myself confused by some terms in this book, especially in the exercise section. Things were better in the other chapters. I wasn’t familiar with the author before reading this book, so I was surprised at some of the ideas and attitudes expressed in the book. While I have no problem with an author advocating a keto diet, I was surprised at the seemingly random slam at vegan authors of anti-inflammatory diet books.

Many of the ideas in this book are not new to me, like drinking adequate water, but I found the emphasis on breath to be unusual and interesting. Especially in the beginning of the book, I thought that the author talked a little too much about himself. Now, an author doesn’t have to keep himself out of a book completely, but much of the first part felt like it was all about him. The book is rather short and can be read quickly, but if you don’t have much knowledge about exercise fitness, many of the terms and discussions will feel foreign to you, as they did to me. I wish he spent a little more time specifically addressing fitness as one heads into middle age. Much of what was written seemed to be more general.

Christmas Bliss by A. S. Fenischel

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Christmas Bliss*

A Christmas Delight

What a delightful surprise this book was! It seems like lately I have read so many books that have broken what I call to cardinal rules of storytelling that it is a great pleasure to read an author who not only doesn’t flout sensible rules but actually knows how to spin a good yarn and create wonderful, believable characters.

The book is from the dual perspectives of the hero and heroine. I particularly enjoyed those parts of the story told from the hero’s perspective. He is definitely an unreliable narrator, but we learn so much about him as we read his musings and view the world through his eyes. He is very well drawn. The author doesn’t just tell us about his social awkwardness, as we would call it; she shows us vividly where he is stumped and his frustration with himself. He beats himself up about it quite a bit. This is done in a clever and endearing way. You can’t help but love this poor hero who is clearly a decent man—and a powerful one in the House of Lords—but is clearly socially inept with others he doesn’t know, particularly women.

There is definitely an instant love going on here, but he is so adorable that it seems plausible—and you want it to be true for his sake. Novellas in particular seem to fall victim to several cardinal sins, namely data dumps and trying to squeeze in too big a story into the short format. Luckily, this book suffered from neither. We are dropped right into the action of the story, the meet-cute of the hero and heroine, and the backstory of both characters weaves naturally through the opening part of the book. The scope of the book was precisely right for a novella. It also had well-drawn secondary characters as well. I love the Dowager Countess (both her personality and her relationship with the hero) and the heroine’s younger brother whom she is trying so desperately to protect; he is the perfect little gentleman, well trained by his adoring sister. I heartily recommend this quick Christmas read.

Fire & Frost by Kelsie Engen

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Fire & Frost*

Better This Time Around

I will admit that I was not a particular fan of the first book of this series as I found the heroine quite often acted in stupid ways. But I do like to give an author or a series at least a couple of chances to impress me. A book like Fire & Frost is one that makes me glad that I have such a policy. I enjoyed this book so much more than the last one. The details of the struggles of the characters were so vivid that I could easily imagine them, and I am a very visual reader. I had wondered when the Cinderella aspect was going to enter the series, as I knew it had both a Snow White and a Cinderella underpinning to it. We meet Ella here. I loved following the trajectory of the relationships between the main characters. Their inherent personalities lead to natural conflicts and seemed realistic to me. I look forward to the next book in the series.

Secrets of the Heart by Suzan Tisdale

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Secrets of the Heart*

Excellent Beginning and Couple; End Not Wholly Related

I will admit that I am rarely drawn so quickly into a story, but this one pulled me right in and kept my attention when I should have been doing other things. The poor heroine has led a miserable existence because of her drunken thieving father. Others in the clan are quick to tar her with the same brush. She is vulnerable and falls victim to a man who pays her attention and says sweet words. But his only interest in her is carnal, although his lies claim otherwise. A year later, the heroine having giving birth to the man’s child, the hero of the story makes a wish with his grandmother a special well for a loving wife, a child, and peace for his clan. Little does he know that so many things are about to change.

This book really had me up until the halfway point or so. The heroine’s story and her being shunned and maltreated kept my interest. And I absolutely adored the hero, Connor. He is truly a decent and caring man who had gone through his own difficulties in losing his wife and child. He is never anything but kind and understanding toward the heroine, and I just adored that. However, though, things did get a little weird after the middle point in the book, unfortunately. The entire climax of the novel had not been clearly set up earlier. We knew some of Helen’s evil and what a lying jerk Darwud was, but no clue was truly given the extent of what they would go for or what their plans might be. So while I adored the love story of the hero and heroine (and their characters), I did not think that the climax of the story had anything, truly, to do with that. The climax of any novel must flow from the characters and the plot, but this one didn’t. The first part is so enjoyable, though, that I would recommend it even if the last parts of the novel were a disappointment.

Grumpy Old Gods Volume 1 by Various Authors

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Grumpy Old Gods, Volume 1*

Funny Tales of the Discarded Gods

Interestingly, I read Volume 2 before I read Volume 1 of this series. But, of course, it doesn’t really matter as this series is collections of humorous and fun short stories about the old gods. It was a delight to read this first one, a collection of 13 stories by different authors. Some were laugh-out-loud funny. Some authors have been very creative in thinking about how the old gods might interact with humans today or otherwise amuse themselves. These stories are all short, so they can be ready easily when you need to, say, wait at the doctor’s office or are on a break at work. If you love classic mythology, you may very well enjoy this sometimes hilarious spin on it.

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