ARC: Muffins and Mourning Tea

Muffins and Mourning Tea is the latest addition to the Oxford Tearoom mystery series. Just as fun as the rest of the series! #spon | NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Cotswolds tearoom owner Gemma Rose is excited to join the May Day celebrations in Oxford… until the beautiful spring morning ends in murder. Now, she’s embroiled in a deadly mystery – with four nosy old ladies determined to help in the sleuthing! Before she knows it, Gemma finds herself stalking a Russian “princess” and keeping up with the Old Biddies in Krav Maga class, while still trying to serve delicious cakes and buttery scones at her quaint English tearoom.
And that’s just the start of her worries: there’s her little tabby cat, Muesli, who is causing havoc at the local nursing home… and what should she do with the creepy plants that her mother keeps buying for her new cottage?

But the mystery that’s really bothering Gemma is her boyfriend’s odd behaviour. Devlin O’Connor has always been enigmatic but recently, the handsome CID detective has been strangely distant and evasive. Could he be lying to her? But why? (Review via Amazon.com)

Muffins and Mourning Tea is the latest installment in the wonderful Oxford Tearoom mystery series (you can see my previous reviews here, here, here, here, and here), and it was just as fun as always.

Gemma finds herself nearby when a murder is committed in the midst of a crowd, and of course, she can’t resist the temptation to investigate. But what with trying to run her tearoom, fending off the Old Biddies, and dealing with her boyfriend’s sudden evasiveness, Gemma has her hands full.

We get to spend time with some favorite characters in this book, including Gemma’s nosy and overbearing mother (who is still trying to give her daughter hideous decorations and setting her up with her former love interest, Lincoln), the Old Biddies (hilarious as always), and Gemma’s detective boyfriend Devlin. I can’t wait for the next book to find out more details about Devlin’s strange behavior in Muffins and Mourning Tea.

Of course, I also learned some new things in this book–like what banoffee pie is (there’s a recipe in the back of the book that I might have to try!) and more fun traditions from Oxford. I love a good British mystery, and the setting of Oxford makes this series different from the proliferation of British cozies I’ve come across.

If you’re looking for a fun and not super cliche cozy mystery series, I strongly recommend these books. They are always enjoyable with fun characters and a great setting, and Muffins and Mourning Tea is yet another example of H.Y. Hanna’s skill in writing satisfying mysteries.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

ARC: Class of ’59

Class of '59 is the latest installment in the American Journey series. #spon | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

When Mary Beth McIntire settles into a vacation house on June 2, 2017, she anticipates a quiet morning with coffee. Then she hears a noise, peers out a window, and spots a man in 1950s attire standing in the backyard.

In the same house on March 21, 1959, Mark Ryan finds a letter. Written by the mansion’s original owner in 1900, the letter describes a basement chamber, mysterious crystals, and a formula for time travel. Driven by curiosity, Mark tests the formula twice.

Within hours, Mary Beth and Mark share their secret with her sister and his brother and begin a journey that takes them from the present day to the age of sock hops, drive-ins, and jukeboxes. In CLASS OF ’59, the fourth book in the American Journey series, four young adults find love, danger, and adventure as they navigate the corridors of time and experience Southern California in its storied prime. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I’ve reviewed several of John Heldt’s books in the past (you can see those reviews here, here, here, and here). This book is the fourth installment in his American Journey series, a time travel/romance series which brings couples together against the backdrop of famous times and places in America’s past.

Unlike earlier books in the series, Class of ’59 opens with the main characters discovering the time-traveling tunnel without the help (or knowledge) of the professor. Mark, a collegiate boy living in the late 50s, discovers an unbelievable story about time travel hidden in a desk in the new house his family moved into. When he tries it out, he finds himself transported to the same house almost sixty years into the future, where he meets Mary Beth and her sister. The two girls make the trip back to 1959 and experience the glory days of southern California, participating in school dances and meeting stars in Hollywood.

Of course, the two girls find themselves falling in love with Mark and his brother. The romances are sweet, if a little rushed. But after a few weeks of bliss, the four new friends find themselves in danger, and they have to quickly make choices that will affect the rest of their lives.

Class of ’59 had a few of the same problems I encountered in the last book, namely the use of descriptors rather than names and some flowery sentiments (how many times do we need to be reminded that Mark views Mary Beth as “stunning” or “beautiful” or “never ceases to amaze” him?). Still, if you can get past those details and enjoy the romance and the historical setting, you might give this book a try. And if you’ve enjoyed the rest of the American Journey series, you’ll definitely enjoy this one.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

ARC: The STEM Club Goes Exploring

In this short, illustrated book, a group of kids explore various STEM careers. #spon | Book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

In The STEM Club GoesExploring, students explore science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers. While interviewing STEM professionals, the students prepare to make career presentations during their school’s Favorites Day.

Join STEM Club members Fran, Sara, Nixie, Winston, Patti, Betik, Jenny, Jesse, and their teacher Mr. Day, as they make field trips to a video game company, a veterinary clinic, a hospital, and even a mine, to learn more about career opportunities for professionals in STEM fields. Author Lois Melbourne, of the My Future Story series, inspires readers to identify their passions, explore them, and shape their own future stories. (Summary via NetGalley.com)

I’m a big fan of encouraging kids to get into STEM fields, especially girls and people of color who are statistically underrepresented in these more technical fields. Because of that, I’m really rooting for the success of this book.

The STEM Club Goes Exploring is a cute exploration of different STEM-related careers, from veterinary science to geology. I love the illustrations, too. My one complaint is that it reads a bit young, but it’s definitely not a picture book–possibly suited for elementary school kids. A fun, quick read to help your young kids get interested in STEM fields.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

ARC: A Decent Woman

A Decent Woman is a fascinating story of two Latina women struggling to live in male-dominated Puerto Rico. #spon | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Ana Belén Opaku, an Afro-Cuban born into slavery, is a proud midwife, the only one in La Playa. After testifying at an infanticide trial, Ana is forced to reveal a dark secret from her past while she continues to hide a more sinister one. Pitted against the parish priest Padre Vicénte and the young Doctór Héctor Rivera, Ana must fight to preserve her twenty-five-year career.

Serafina is a respectable young widow with two small children who marries a wealthy merchant from a distinguished family. When she’s attacked during her pregnancy, she and Ana become allies in an ill-conceived plan to avoid scandal and preserve Serafina’s honor. (Summary via publisher)

I knew very little about this book before I started reading it. To be honest, I knew very little in general about life in Puerto Rico at the turn of the century. So I found this book really interesting and informative as it covered the lives of Latina women in a place and time that was very harsh on them. It was painful to read about how much these women suffered–there is rape, abuse, painful childbirth, cheating husbands, prostitution, and unfair laws to be dealt with.

Despite the culture that these women live in, Ana is a strong, independent woman. A former slave with a dark past, she now spends her days as a midwife, despite the new trend toward taking laboring women to hospitals where male doctors can care for them. Ana overcomes the sexism, racism, and classism that threaten to take away her livelihood, one step at a time.

Serafina has different struggles. Ana delivered her first two babies and kept her abusive husband from doing too much harm. But when Serafina remarries into a wealthy, upper-class family, she soon finds that this new life has challenges and pains of its own.

If you want to read a book that discusses the struggles and triumphs of women in a male-dominated, chauvinistic society, this book is for you. If you want to learn more about the culture of Puerto Rico one hundred years ago, this book is for you too. It’s interesting, painful, and eye-opening.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

ARC: All-Butter ShortDead

All-Butter ShortDead is a fun, short prequel to H.Y. Hanna's Oxford Tearoom mystery series. #spon | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Gemma ditches her high-flying job and returns to Oxford to follow her dream: opening a traditional English tearoom serving warm buttery scones with jam and clotted cream… Only problem is–murder is the first thing on the menu and Gemma is the key suspect! And the only people Gemma can turn to for help are four nosy old ladies from her local Cotswolds village – not to mention a cheeky little tabby cat named Muesli. Who was the mysterious woman Gemma met on the flight back from Australia and why was she murdered? Now Gemma must find the killer, solve the mystery and clear her name if she’s to have her cake–and serve it too. (Summary via Amazon.com)

I’ve enjoyed each of the Oxford Tearoom mysteries (you can read about them here, herehere, and here), so I was thrilled to discover that H.Y. Hanna recently released a short prequel to the rest of the series, detailing how Gemma returned to Oxford, opened a tearoom, and discovered her knack for solving murders.

Whether or not you’ve read the rest of the series, this is a really cute and fun introduction to Gemma and her life as a tea shop owner. If you have read the other books in the series, you’ll find several nods to future events and characters who will become important in later stories. Speaking of which, the characters are great as usual. Gemma’s spunky best friend Cassie, her infuriating and oh-so-proper mother, and the Old Biddies all make an appearance.

Gemma being suspected as a murderer and not being sure how to start investigating is fun. Because Gemma was the last person to see the victim alive, the police have looked no further for suspects, and Gemma is driven to discover the real murderer and clear her name (with the prodding of the Old Biddies, of course). One aspect of the plot is a bit cliche (I won’t say more for fear of mild spoilers), but the author pulls it off and manages to make it fun rather than groan-inducing (at least for me).

A side note: Just so you know, this book is currently free on Amazon! If you’ve been interested in exploring this series, this is a quick, free way to get started. (I don’t get anything for promoting this, although I am on the author’s review team. All opinions are my own, and I truly think that if you’re into cozy mysteries, you’ll love this series.)

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Review Copy: Death at the Paris Exposition

Death at the Paris Exposition is a great historical fiction mystery filled with gorgeous fashion, socialites, and murder. #spon | NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Amateur sleuth Emily Cabot’s journey once again takes her to a world’s fair–the Paris Exposition of 1900. Chicago socialite Bertha Palmer is named the only female U. S. commissioner to the Exposition and enlists Emily’s services as her secretary. Their visit to the House of Worth for the fitting of a couture gown is interrupted by the theft of Mrs. Palmer’s famous pearl necklace. Before that crime can be solved, several young women meet untimely deaths and a member of the Palmer’s inner circle is accused of the crimes. As Emily races to clear the family name she encounters jealous society ladies, American heiresses seeking titled European husbands, and more luscious gowns and priceless jewels. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

Death at the Paris Exposition is the sixth book in the series, but this was my first experience with Emily and her adventures. If you’re like me and pick this book up out of order, don’t worry–it won’t take away from your enjoyment and understanding of the book.

This story revolves around Bertha Palmer (a real, historic Chicago socialite) and her family’s troubles. Emily, our main character, is Mrs. Palmer’s social secretary, and as such, she and her family have been invited to Paris to see the 1900 Paris exposition. But as these rich and privileged people (and the many lower-class people surrounding them) prepare for the upcoming festivities, their fun is marred by several thefts and a couple of murders.

The author does a fantastic job of exploring Paris at the turn of the century. I loved the descriptions of fashion at the Paris exposition, especially. The characters spend a lot of time at the House of Worth, a couture house in Paris, and each of the women’s dresses are described in vivid detail.

While the setting is well fleshed out, some of the characters are not. Bertha Palmer is an interesting character, but her (fictional) counterparts, like the Johnstones, are often static. An unfortunate side effect of the focus on fashion does portray some of the women as shallow, since they think of little other than the newest gowns and their efforts to snag a high-class European husband. Even Emily’s own husband gets little page time, even though he spends most of his time in the same social circles.

Still, the mystery was engaging, and I was definitely surprised by the ending. This is a fun book for those who want a historical mystery that’s rich in detail and don’t mind if some of the characters fall flat.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

 P.S. Want to know what other mysteries I’ve been enjoying lately? Check out Crashed, The Likeness, and Till Death Do Us Tart.

Review Copy: Drifting in the Push

Drifting in the Push is a funny, fascinating memoir of a boy's growing up and eventual move to Alaska. #spon | Book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Drifting in the Push is a fast-paced, comical romp that takes the reader on a journey through the unintentional adventures of one man’s reality. From the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, from Mexico to Alaska, missteps, stubborn obstacles, and fate are his constant companions, along with an offbeat assortment of entertaining characters. From time to time, his escapades include his two childhood friends—Bryan, who follows him to the unforgiving Arctic, and Shane, who steers him down an unpleasant alley or two. Amid this craziness, he picks up another friend—Hank, his devoted dog. This chronological series of interdependent short stories will take you from fear to love, amusement to surprise, and it just might occasionally leave a tear in your eye. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This memoir is a collection of funny, sometimes kind of insane stories. As Dan grows up, he faces danger, theft, and cross-country moves. His traumatic experiences make for good entertainment, although he probably didn’t see them that way at the time!

My favorite stories in Drifting in the Push feature Dan’s adventures in Alaska. After moving to Alaska without a place to live, a job, or any friends except his dog Hank, Dan ends up living in some truly awful homes–the stories he tells of fixing up the old trailer he lived in at one point are horrifying and hilarious. Whether he’s trekking through swampland or nearly freezing to death on the floor, Dan’s adventures are always interesting and sometimes impressive, too.

I’m definitely interested in learning more about the sequel to see how the author changed his life plans (the end of this book reveals that he no longer lives in Alaska but in a much warmer place!). If you’re turned off by a bit of salty language and sexual content, you might want to skip this one; otherwise, it’s a pretty interesting read.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

ARC: Till Death Do Us Tart

Till Death Do Us Tart is a fun addition to the Oxford Tearoom series. If you like cozy mysteries, check it out! #spon | Book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

“When Oxfordshire tearoom owner, Gemma Rose, enters her little tabby, Muesli, in the cat show at the local village fair, the last thing she expects is to stumble across a murder. And when her meddling mother and the nosy Old Biddies decide to start their own investigation, Gemma has no choice but to join in the sleuthing. She soon finds there’s something much more sinister sandwiched between the home-made Victoria sponge cakes and luscious jam tarts … But murder isn’t the only thing on Gemma’s mind: there’s the desperate house-hunting that’s going nowhere, the freaky kitchen explosions at her quaint English tearoom and an offer from her handsome detective boyfriend that she can’t refuse! With things about to reach boiling point, can Gemma solve the mystery before the killer strikes again?” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

Till Death Do Us Tart is the fourth addition to the Oxford Tearoom series (you can see my previous reviews here, here, and here), and it was such a fun addition. When a hateful woman dies suddenly at the local fair, everyone thinks it’s a heart attack–except Gemma and the Old Biddies. They have to work hard to convince Gemma’s boyfriend, police detective Devlin, and the rest of the police force to take them seriously, so Gemma decides to do a little investigating of her own.

As always, Gemma and her friends are great characters to follow. Gemma’s exasperating mother, overworked boyfriend, and mischievous cat Muesli all play important parts in this mystery. Though they don’t take up as much page time as in previous books, we also get to see glimpses of Gemma’s love life and her work in the tea shop in Oxford, which I always find enjoyable.

I really enjoyed this mystery, and as always, I’m looking forward to the next book in the series. If you’re looking for a fun, fresh, well written cozy mystery with great characters and a surprising ending, I bet you’d like this book too.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Review Copy: Warlock Holmes

Warlock Holmes is a funny, paranormal twist on the classic Sherlock Holmes stories. #spon | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

“Sherlock Holmes is an unparalleled genius who uses the gift of deduction and reason to solve the most vexing of crimes.

Warlock Holmes, however, is an idiot. A good man, perhaps; a font of arcane power, certainly. But he’s brilliantly dim. Frankly, he couldn’t deduce his way out of a paper bag. The only thing he has really got going for him are the might of a thousand demons and his stalwart flatmate. Thankfully, Dr. Watson is always there to aid him through the treacherous shoals of Victorian propriety… and save him from a gruesome death every now and again.

Reimagining six stories, this riotous mash-up is a glorious new take on the ever-popular Sherlock Holmes myth, featuring the vampire Inspector Vladislav Lestrade, the ogre Inspector Torg Grogsson, and Dr. Watson, the true detective at 221b.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

Warlock Holmes is a funny paranormal adaptation of the original Sherlock Holmes mysteries. And when I say funny, I mean I actually laughed out loud on several occasions.

Fans of the original Sherlock Holmes stories, as well as those who enjoy tv and movie adaptations like BBC’s Sherlock, will enjoy this retelling. It takes the original stories and gives them that paranormal twist. The characters themselves contribute to this, as familiar characters like Holmes and Lestrade are rewritten as warlocks or vampires. But despite the Victorian setting and the paranormal twist, there are references to the modern day also which will make readers laugh.

If you are a Sherlock Holmes fan (and don’t mind a little twisting of your favorite stories), you’ll definitely enjoy this book. Check it out!

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

ARCs: YA Fiction

These two new books from YA fiction are interesting, but my favorite was definitely "Freedom's Just Another Word." #spon | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received these books free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Summaries are via NetGalley.com.

I’ve not been reading as much YA fiction as I usually do, and both of these ARCs were pretty lackluster. (Hopefully I’ll have more luck with YA fiction again soon–until then, I have a stack of adult fiction to keep me busy!)

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett

“Hawthorn wasn’t trying to insert herself into a missing person’s investigation. Or maybe she was. But that’s only because Lizzie Lovett’s disappearance is the one fascinating mystery their sleepy town has ever had. Bad things don’t happen to popular girls like Lizzie Lovett, and Hawthorn is convinced she’ll turn up at any moment—which means the time for speculation is now.

So Hawthorn comes up with her own theory for Lizzie’s disappearance. A theory way too absurd to take seriously…at first. The more Hawthorn talks, the more she believes. And what better way to collect evidence than to immerse herself in Lizzie’s life? Like getting a job at the diner where Lizzie worked and hanging out with Lizzie’s boyfriend. After all, it’s not as if he killed her—or did he?

Told with a unique voice that is both hilarious and heart-wrenching, Hawthorn’s quest for proof may uncover the greatest truth is within herself.”

I thought this book was all right. I found Hawthorn very irritating, especially at the beginning: She’s self-centered, whiny, and jealous, and while cynics might say, “That’s just how teenagers are,” I have to think that most teenagers reading the book would be put off by Hawthorn. The plot itself was nothing special. I was expecting something a little more thriller-y, and this definitely wasn’t. I did like Hawthorn’s family (though, of course, she loathed her mom’s quirkiness and hated her brother’s “interference” in her life). Maybe look elsewhere if you’re looking for either a mystery/thriller or a coming-of-age story.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Freedom’s Just Another Word

“The year Louisiana – Easy for short – meets Janis Joplin is the year everything changes. Easy is a car mechanic in her dad’s shop, but she can sing the blues like someone twice her age. So when she hears that Janis Joplin is passing through her small town of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Easy is there with her heart – and her voice – in hand. It’s 1970 and Janis Joplin is an electrifying blues-rock singer at the height of her fame – and of her addictions. Yet she recognizes Easy’s talent and asks her to meet her in Texas to sing. So Easy begins an unusual journey that will change everything.”

This book was pretty interesting, if a little sad. Easy is an African-American girl growing up in the 1970s, and her one dream is to become a blues singer. So when Easy meets Janis Joplin and gets invited to sing with her in Texas, Easy jumps at the chance–even though it means road-tripping with a couple of nuns to get there.

During the course of the story, the author discusses racism, being judgmental, and drug and alcohol abuse. There’s nothing too heavy, but it’s not a lighthearted book, either. The one thing I disliked about Freedom’s Just Another Word is that some parts felt disjointed, and certain plot threads were wrapped up too quickly. Still, this book is worth a look if you’re interested in getting a glimpse of early 1970s American culture.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

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