Miss Violet and the Great War by Leanna Renee Hieber

Genre: historical
Secondary genre: paranormal/war
Format read: audiobook
CW: violence
Rep: mental health

Leanna’s books are so hard for me to review, because I know her personally. We attend the same con, work on the same panels, chat over Twitter, and exchange the occasional letter or email. I love her personality, her vibrancy, and the messages she includes in her work.

That being said, we have vastly different storytelling styles, and while I like the broad strokes she paints, the line-by-line details aren’t really my cup of tea, mostly because I keep thinking about how I would edit the book differently (this is a hazard of being an author; it’s hard to read for pleasure without thinking about how you would change a book).

Set on the eve of the WWI, Violet represents the third generation in the Hieberverse. Her parents fought evil and won. Time for the happily ever after, right?

But since childhood Violet has been plagued by horrible nightmares of men in pits, explosions, and gunfire. It’s not until war breaks out between England and Germany, however, that she realizes these dreams are her calling: to stop the evil her parents defeated from leaking back into the land of the living, she must travel to France and the epicenter of the fighting and attempt to put it to rest once and for all.

Filled with a host of characters readers will recognize from her earlier novels, Miss Violet and the Great War is a part stand alone and part sequel. There’s no need to read the previous books, but you will get more out of this one if you are familiar with the Percy Parker series.

My biggest complaint when reading this was the winding path it took. I’m more action oriented in my books, so I thought, being a war book, this would be a lot punchier from the start. If action isn’t your thing, though, you’ll enjoy the emotional arc of this story as it works through Percy’s childhood, up through the war.

No Idle Hands by Anne L MacDonald

Genre: nonfiction
Secondary genre: social history
Format: ebook
Rating: planchet-5

This is easily one of my favorite books I’ve read this year (Yeah, I know, it’s a short list. Don’t judge).

MacDonald looks at the history of knitting in America, starting with the colonial period. It was educational and entertaining, and while ebooks are my least favorite format, I devoured this book, highlighted all over it, and then ordered a physical copy so I could transfer my notes to post-its and add them in.

There were so many interesting stories, from women knitting for soldiers during the American Revolution, to WWI prison inmates who were supposed to be knitting for soldiers making themselves a rope out of Red Cross yarn and escaping.

I’m half tempted to re-read it already.

Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin

Genre: nonfiction
Secondary genre: personal finance
Format: audio
Rating: planchet

This book let me down. The only reason I even finished it was because it was so short, I think only about 3 hours on audio and far less with my accelerated listening speed.

I’ve been poor most of my adult life. Up until about two years ago, we still got food almost weekly from my parents because our household income fell into the black hole between the official poverty line (i.e. what the government says you need to make in order to deserve help in the form of food stamps, etc) and what would actually cover our bills. At one point I even applied for food stamps. I made $18 a year too much to qualify.

The first half of this book is mostly rambling. The second half of the book is really only useful if you have a large income and end up wasting it on junk. It completely fails to take into consideration the working poor, wage stagnation, and all the little things hourly workers frequently have to do without–such as health care, transport, child care, sick leave, etc. If you are in possession of common sense, skip this book the next time you’re at the library and pick up something on web design instead. It’ll be more useful if you’re looking for some extra cash.

Osgood as Gone by Cooper S. Beckett

Genre: mystery
Secondary genre: paranormal
Series: The Spectral Inspector vol 1
Format read: ebook
Content warnings: alcohol and RX abuse
Positive rep: LGBTQIA, polyamory, POC (SE Asian)
Rating: planchet-3

I received an ARC of this book in exchanged for an honest review.

Prudence Osgood has had it rough. A car accident left her with chronic back pain and debilitating headaches. Her ambition and willingness to please her old boss destroyed her hopes of having her own ghost-hunting television show–not to mention her relationship with her co-host and then girlfriend. To top it off, her polyamorous relationship with a married couple has hit a wall, leaving her shut out.

All this to say that most of her time is spent laying on the floor in varying states of not-sober, while her podcast, the Spectral Inspector, languishes in the bowels of the internet.

That all changes with a mysterious text message. After enlisting her tech-expert best friend, she tries to track down the unknown sender and decipher the cryptic message.

What she finds sends her on a mythical quest into ’90s rock music, a series of missing persons cases, and a reunion with Catherine Frost, her former co-host and ex. They’ll have to put aside their differences if they want to bring the missing home–including Catherine’s sister. Or stop the end of the world.

This book starts out as a hard-boiled detective novel, then delves into 90s nostalgia, music fandom, and finally takes a sharp left into Cthullhu-esque mythos.

I enjoyed all aspects of this book, though I do wish the supernatural had been sprinkled throughout the book, rather than just exploding at the end. It’s hinted at through Osgood’s dreams, but when I picked up the book I was expecting more of a ghost story than an end-of-the-world, old gods bent on destruction kind of story.

Still, I really loved the layering of the clues though music and hidden messages, and the chemistry and tension between the characters. If you’re looking for an indie book in the vein of Meddling Kids, then this is a good one to pick up.

The Shining by Stephen King

Genre: Horror
Format read: ebook
Content warnings: alcohol abuse, violence, emotional abuse, gaslighting
Rating: planchet-3

**This review contains spoilers**

Jack Torrance has not had a good year, but that’s about to change. After a year “on the wagon,” he finally has a new job. It’s not as good as his old one, teaching English at a prestigious prep school, but it’s enough to keep his family afloat, and give his old bosses time to cool off. By the time his contract is up in May, they’ll be begging him to come back.

Or so he hopes, as he loads his wife, Wendy, and their 5-year-old son, Danny, into their failing Beetle for the drive to the secluded Overlook Hotel in the Colorado mountains. It’s just a few months. Just a few months of easy work as caretaker for the hotel during the office season, when it’s closed to the public. It will do them all good to get away for a while.

But there’s something lurking in the hotel, and it wants Jack–badly. Optimism turns to desperation and resentment. His curiosity about the hotel’s storied past of murder, sudden death, mysterious events, and gangland ties turns into an obsession as the spirit of the hotel claws deeper into his brain.

But it may not be Jack it wants, after all.

I don’t want to dive too deep into the summary of this book since it is pretty famous. You can read about it here, on Goodreads. 

That being said, I went into it knowing nothing except it was about a haunted hotel (Yes, please!) and it’s Stephen King, The Master of Horror. I’d never seen the movie. In fact, I’d never read any Stephen King at all, or seen any movies based on his work. So I figured it was time to change that.

I honestly didn’t care for most of this book. I hated Jack with a passion. I found his family situation triggering due to the emotional abuse he puts his family through and the alcoholism.

Also, apparently a trait of King’s writing is to introduce the story, then do several chapters of backstory, and then get back to the current timeline. I thought the backstory was very slow and it did not endear me to any of the characters except Danny.

His wife, Wendy, came across whiny and annoying for the first 2/3 of the book, and for a woman in her situation, that should not be the case.

Once I got to the last 30% or so of the book, things got really intense and I enjoyed it more, but I can’t tell you how thrilled I was when Jack died. He’s the first literary character I have actively wanted to die.

Part of me wants to say that this book had good rep for POC, because Dick Halloran, a black man, is arguably the hero of the piece, who comes to rescue Danny and Wendy when thinks look particularly grim. He’s a total badass, and I loved him from the first page he appeared on. However, there are also racial slurs thrown about in the second half of the book in particular, so I’m not comfortable calling it “good rep” as a white woman–I think a person of color would have to be the one to make that call.

All in all, it was a decent book, but I feel like I’ve met my King Quota. From what I’ve heard from other reviewers, the issues I had with this book (the triggering aspects, the pacing, and the racial language) are all hallmarks of Stephen King. If you think I’m wrong, leave a comment and tell me which one of his books I should read to change my mind!