Book Review

Cozy Corner: Agatha Raisin by M.C. Beaton

It’s time again for another installment of Cozy Corner! This time, I am recommending the fabulous Agatha Raisin series by M.C. Beaton. This series is set in the English Cotswolds where retired PR guru Agatha Raisin is struggling to enjoy her retirement and winds up becoming an amateur sleuth and solving lots of village murders.

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This series is one of my favorite guilty pleasures, and I’ve been listening to a lot of the audiobooks recently (read by Penelope Keith who does an amazing job). I love Agatha as a protagonist. She’s endearing but very flawed which makes her both funny and relatable. Agatha can be petty, vain, and jealous, but she also has a big heart and a lot of wit. I love following her and the cast of side characters (especially Bill Wong and Toni Gilmour).

The mysteries themselves are not always the coziest, especially in the later books. While I would absolutely classify this series as a cozy series, there is occasional foul language, reference to sex, and some of the deaths are described in grisly detail. That being said, there’s still a light, whimsical tone in the books and Agatha is an amateur detective. These are two big parts of traditional cozies.

There is a companion television series that recently came out in the US, and it was just as fun as the books! I think I’ve seen every episode three times already, which is kind of insane actually. So far, only one season has aired, but I desperately hope that they make a second season. Agatha is played wonderfully by Ashley Jensen, who was the seamstress sidekick in Ugly Betty.

Some cozy series can be read in any order, but I would highly recommend these being read in the order they were published. While Agatha never seems to age, the drama of her personal life is complicated and will make more sense if the books are read in order. If you’re looking for something British and cozy and funny, I definitely recommend this book series and the TV show!

Book Review

Book Review: Libriomancer 

I’m not a huge science fiction/fantasy fan, but every so often I get in the mood for something other worldly! I decided to pick up Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines because I really enjoyed his Princess Series (a retelling of some classic fairy tales). I was so impressed by this book, and I can’t wait to read more in the series! It was incredibly unique and fast-paced.

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Libriomancer is jam-packed with action and adventure, and it really sucked me in from the very beginning. I would classify this book as magical realism because it takes place in our world, but there are definite elements of magic. I loved the way that magic was set up in this book – certain types of magicians called Libriomancers can literally pull out items from books and use them. (Just think of how cool it would be to pull out the sorcerer’s stone from Harry Potter!) The structure of the magical world in Libriomancer was well-defined and developed: there is a secret society that governs how magic can be used (led by Gutenberg himself – who has gone missing). There are also vampires and nymphs and spiders that emit fire. A LOT happens here, but it all really works and was so entertaining.

The main character, Isaac Vainio, is a disgraced libriomancer who now catalogs  magical tomes as a librarian instead of practicing magic. However, when a band of rogue vampires get him entangled in the mystery of where Gutenberg has gone, he must face his past and rediscover the magic within. He’s a great main character with many complexities. I enjoyed his personal, internal journey as well as the vivid, exciting plot. I would highly recommend this book to someone who loves magical elements and is looking for something plot-driven!

 

Book Review

Book Review: Come Sundown by Nora Roberts

I’ve recently been trying to expand the types of books I read. As part of this experiment, I decided to try some Nora Roberts books. I had always avoided her books because I don’t love books with lots of romance, but I ended up really liking several of her books because there are elements of other genres too. Her latest book, Come Sundown, is a novel of romantic suspense, and I really enjoyed it!

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This novel takes place on a ranch in Montana, where a woman named Alice disappeared years ago. She is assumed to have run away, but when she suddenly shows up in a disheveled state, they realize that she’s been held captive somewhere nearby for all these years. There’s a mystery here as they try to figure out who is responsible, but there’s also a lot of internal conflict as Alice has to try to cope with what has happened to her, and her family has to readjust to her sudden reappearance as well as the fear that this could happen again if they don’t find the man responsible.

I really enjoyed reading this book, although it was hard to read in some parts because of the captivity subject matter. I definitely thought this was one of Nora Robert’s darker books. There are elements of romance for some of the characters, but they definitely take a back seat to Alice’s story and journey. I would definitely recommend this book for anyone who enjoys romantic suspense, and for anyone who enjoyed the book Room by Emma Donoghue (which has similar subject matter).

Personal

My MFA Experience So Far 

Well, my summer break is up! Two more classes start for me tomorrow (a novel chapter workshop and a contemporary poetry class). I’ve made it a quarter past the halfway point, and I’m on track to graduate in March, so I wanted to check in and write about my MFA experience so far.

I’ve been really pleased with my decision of choosing Lindenwood University for my MFA. I can complete the entire thing online, which is so ideal because I have a full time job and other time commitments. The work is still rigorous, but I’ve also loved that this school has been genre-friendly. We’re not just writing literary fiction. All genres are encouraged, as long as we’re writing well. The online format is also really conducive to workshopping. We’re able to critique each other’s writing online really well. I think that the fact that we’re not meeting face-to-face means that everyone is just more honest (and this is helpful because future publishers won’t spare our feelings).

I’ve grown a lot as a writer throughout this program already. Someone once told me that I’ll know I’m no longer an amateur when I start writing characters that are nothing like me. I thought this was silly advice at the time, but I completely understand it now. I feel like I’m finally able to start writing characters who have different personalities and experiences than myself because I am comfortable writing stories other than my own and I no longer need to be my own protagonist.

Throughout the past year, I’ve been struck with so many ideas for future novels (plus the one I’m currently writing for my thesis project). Lindenwood has just been so great at fostering creativity. Sure, like any school, there are pros and cons and professors I love and professors I really don’t like, but I can honestly say that I’ve grown as a writer and learned something about myself during every single class.

Pursing this degree has been one of the best decisions I’ve made. I grow in confidence every day, and I’m ready to finally finish a novel that’s good enough for other people to read. Each day is a new step in my journey towards becoming a novelist, and if you’re reading this post, I just want to thank you for coming along for the ride and supporting me.

Thanks for reading,

Tiffany

Book Review

Book Review: The Storyteller

Every so often, I read a book that pulls me in so much that I obsess over it until I’m finished and then I still think about it for a long time and annoy all my friends by persistently recommending they read it until someone does. I have just had another experience like that with a book I read for a book club next month: The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult.

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Now, I think I’ve been pretty outspoken about how tired I am of historical fiction that deals with World War II. There’s just so much of it on the market. But this narrative was so emotional and personal that I was drawn in and blown away. Picoult introduces a pretty large cast of characters that have their own narration time, but it really works here. We have the main character Sage who is dealing with her own grief and insecurities in the modern day when she meets Josef, a gentle and kind old man who tells her that he was actually a Nazi fifty years ago. She then teams up with Leo, a Department of Justice Agent, to try to verify his story. We also get a lot of narration from Sage’s grandmother, a holocaust survivor.

I don’t want to go into much detail about the plot because I don’t want to give anything away (there’s a signature Picoult plot twist, of course, to look forward to!) but the structure of the narration was intricate and balanced so that I felt the pace never dragged. I felt a connection with the main character Sage, and I appreciated that Picoult allowed her to, at times, be very flawed. She seemed like a realistic human being that I could understand and relate to.

The information about the holocaust was devastating and emotionally powerful. A lot of books manufacture emotion by mentioning innately sad things (I’m looking at you, Nicholas Sparks), but this book really earned my emotion. It wasn’t trying to just make me sad because the holocaust was a topic – it really made me feel attached to the specific characters so that I cared what they were going through.

Overall, I think that everyone should read this book. I think it will definitely appeal to people who like World War II history or general historical fiction, but it will also appeal to people who like domestic fiction that analyzes characters’ relationships.

 

Book Review

Book Review: Where They Found Her 

It’s rare that I come across a mystery novel where I feel more engrossed by the lives of the living characters than I do the circumstances surrounding the dead characters. Usually, I’m flipping pages as quickly as I can read them to race to the end to find out if I’m right about who did it and why. Recently, I read a different kind of mystery, one that I read so slowly in order to fully absorb the complicated lives of all the many characters: Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight.

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Now, there definitely is some tough subject matter in this book. The overall premise is that the dead body of a baby is found in a small college town, and as the facts about what happened come to light, a whole lot of other secrets come to the surface. This book is told from several different perspectives, which I think has become quite the trend in fiction. It really worked in this novel, and the multiple narrators helped me to really get to know and understand where the characters who coming from.

If I had to pick a main character, I would probably pick Molly – a young mom and journalist who recently suffered a miscarriage. Throughout this book, Molly’s sections explore motherhood and the many ways that guilt can arise for mothers. I found her to be flawed in a great, believable way. She seemed like a real person suffering from grief and loss and trying to figure out how to survive and move on. She doesn’t always make the right choices, but she is very endearing and she learns a lot about the world and herself throughout the novel.

One of my other favorite perspectives was Barbara. I felt like I learned so much about her as the book progressed. She might have been one of the least likable characters, especially at first, but I felt like I really understood her by the end. That’s not to say that she transformed into a more likable character. Rather, I understood why she did the things that made her seemed unlikable, and that enabled me to have more compassion for her and real people that I know who are kind of like her. It’s easy to judge people who come across as very intense and controlling, but this behavior often stems from deep insecurities or learned patterns of behavior from parents or other figures present in childhood.

I know I say this in almost every book review, but I don’t want to give too much away about the plot. While I was surprised by the revelations at the end, and I felt like they didn’t all quite seem believable, I found the ending to provide a very satisfying conclusion. I was actually quite sad when the book was over because I was so enjoying the reading experience. I guess this means that I should definitely pick up another book by this author (and I plan too!)

Book Review

Cozy Corner: White House Chef Mysteries 

While I review all genres of books on this blog, one type that is near and dear to my heart is the cozy mystery genre. These mysteries are characterized by amateur sleuths (often librarians, bakers, retired women, etc) and they have little to no violence, sexual content, or profanity. The murders always take place off scene, and the setting is often idyllic (despite the fact that a murder has occurred). I think that one of the reasons I’m so drawn to these books is because I know they’ll have a happy ending. Life is hard and sometimes I just need a guaranteed happy ending in my life. I’ve mentioned some cozies here among my other reviews, but I thought I’d start having a regular, expected “Cozy Corner” segment. The first series I want to review is the White House Chef Series by Julie Hyzy.

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The first book in this series is State of the Onion. I love the pun-ny titles! (I think my favorite title is either Buffalo West Wing or Eggsecutive Orders). The series follows Olivia Paras, a chef in the White House who has an uncanny knack for stumbling upon murders. One highlight of the series is that it’s a bit more action-packed than other cozies. I liked the fast-pace and the fact that there were some moments where I genuinely worried about the character even though I was certain that everything would work out in the end – it is a cozy after all.

Olivia is a great protagonist. She is career- minded and has to have some introspection as to whether or not she has time for romance in her life. She is a hard worker and is very competitive in the cooking arena, but she still has a soft side and cares deeply for her friends. This is not only a protagonist that you can root for, but she is also someone with a lot of potential for growth over the course of the series. While some characters in cozies (ahem – Stephanie Plum) never seem to grow as people, Olivia is one who seems to learn something about herself in every book.

I think that cozy lovers will naturally love this series, but this one could also appeal to people who like action/adventure with their mysteries. The White House is also a really cool setting, and I feel like I learned some interesting details about how it is structured and some details about the traditional role of the First Lady. Overall, I’m happy to recommend this to anyone looking for a quick escape from reality!