Reviews of Titles I Read This Month

As I start this, the next to last review column of the year, I’ve realized that there are very few bad books in this world. There are only books that are wrong for the reader. The book I find tedious may be riveting to someone else, and vice versa.

This is one of the reasons I don’t like giving starred reviews. Too many people look at the ratings as a measure of quality when, in reality, they are a reflection of the readers’ enjoyment. In my world, even a two-star book can have tremendous writing.

On to this month’s reads. Between an uncluttered schedule and a pair of long-distance trips, I had ample time to catch up on my reading. As a result, I’ve got quite the potpourri of titles for you.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I am ashamed to say that I’d never read this book. On a recent drive to Vermont, my husband and I rectified that by listening to the audio version. What can I say? Fitzgerald was brilliant. I should have read it years ago.

Verity by Colleen Hoover. I mentioned last month that my neighbors promised me wine if I read this book and joined them for a book chat. This was my first Colleen Hoover book and most likely will be my last. Unlike my neighbors who love her work, I found Verity to be a twisty, creepy mishmash of Rebecca and Leave Her to Heaven (the latter being a 1945 film noir thriller.)

Verity, the title character, is also the most interesting. Hats off to Hoover for creating a truly unsettling character. The chapters from her point of view truly made my skin crawl.

As for Lowen, the protagonist, and Jeremy, the mysterious husband? I didn’t like them at all.

That said, I have mad respect for Colleen Hoover. She’s been around for years and paid her dues before TikTok discovered her. She’s smart and savvy and deserves her success. Plus, my neighbors can’t put her books down. They finished Verity and ripped through the next five or six titles. Anyone who can get people to read books like that is doing something right.

The Cuban Heiress by Chanel Cleeton: What a treat of a read! I’ve read Chanel Cleeton before and enjoyed her, but none of her books grabbed me like The Cuban Heiress did.

Set in 1934 on a luxury cruise to Cuba, the book tells the stories of two women. One, a Cuban Heiress, is traveling with her fiancé. The other is a stowaway. During the voyage, Catherine, the heiress finds herself tempted by a dashing jewel thief. (That’s right, I said jewel thief). Meanwhile, Elena, the stowaway is hunting the person who betrayed her with murder on her mind. 

I don’t want to spoil the story by telling too much about the plot. Let’s just say that eventually the two stories intersect, and when they do it’s explosive. 

If you like film noir, glamor, and cracking good dialogue, then you must read this book. Cleeton outdoes herself. Reading The Cuban Heiress was like being dropped into a black-and-white movie. I half expected Barbara Stanwyck to appear.

The Beryl Blue Time Cop Trilogy by Janet Raye Stevens. Let me say up front, I don’t binge-read series. It’s not my style. But I found this time travel trilogy so entertaining that I couldn’t put it down.

In Beryl Blue, Time Cop, Beryl is a librarian working in Central Massachusetts when a time traveler appears out of nowhere and insists that Beryl is the only person who can travel to WW2 and save Tom “Sully” Sullivan, a sexy sergeant who’s bound for the European theater before another rogue time traveler kills him and changes history.

Why Beryl? We have no idea, and neither does she, but before she can mount an argument, she’s a passenger in Sully’s Jeep without a clue how to complete her mission. Meanwhile, Sully thinks Beryl’s a spy. The two banter and wise-crack their way to falling in love – a big no-no in the time travel rule book.

But wait, there’s more! Book 1 is merely the gateway to a bigger storyline, an arc reminiscent of the X-Files. There are reasons Beryl was chosen for this mission – big reasons. Why is Beryl so important to Time, Inc? Will she and her soulmate, Sully, ever be together? The answers are doled out in drips and drabs over the next two books, It’s Been a Long, Long Time and Every Time We Say Goodbye.

I haven’t enjoyed a series like this in a long time. It’s quirky and nostalgic. Stevens is one of those rare authors who can both tickle your funny bone and tug on your heartstrings.

The Fiction Writer by Jillian Cantor. I can’t make up my mind about The Fiction Writer. The mystery and gothic atmosphere were wonderfully done. If Cantor was going for a Rebecca-esque tone, she nailed it. There were twists and turns in the story that kept me guessing right up to the end.

On the other hand, even though the mystery caught my attention, the motivation behind the mystery was weak. The entire story spins on Olivia being in Malibu to work as a ghostwriter for a mysterious billionaire with an ever-present dead wife (a la Rebecca) who claims his grandmother was the original writer of Rebecca and plagiarized by Daphne DuMaurier. It’s all very meta and interspersed with snippets from a book by a mystery author entitled “The Wife” which is also very Rebecca-esque. Why is “Ash” Asherwood interested in hiring Olivia for his grandmother’s story? Why is he being evasive when she asks questions? Is he seducing her or distracting her? Why are all the weird things happening?

When I finally found out the answers my reaction was a big old “meh”.

Part of the problem was the main character, Olivia. I didn’t like her. Cantor tries to explain her attraction to Ash by pointing out her weakness for handsome jerks, but that doesn’t explain why a supposed intelligent woman would ignore a million red flags and stay with a man. As for Ash, he too felt underdeveloped. Other than being told he was “the Sexiest Man Alive” multiple times, I failed to see his charisma.

I will add that it doesn’t help that this book reminded me a lot of Verity. Space between books might have given me a better impression.

Cantor is an amazing writer. Like I said, she nailed the gothic feel and tone. Many people have told me that Cantor’s Beautiful Little Fools is brilliant, so I’ll give that book a try. In the meantime, I would give this book 3 stars for keeping me guessing and two stars for character development.

Thank you Netgalley for the advanced read in exchange for this review.

Rome’s Last Noble Palace by Kimberly SullivanRome’s Last Noble Palace is an excellent reminder that women continue to struggle for agency in society.

The book tells the story of two women who live two hundred years apart. There’s Isabelle, who’s being forced into an unwanted arranged marriage, and Sophie whose imposter syndrome and poor self-confidence are holding back her art history career. Both women long for more than they have, but lack the courage to chase their dreams. 

Then, when they finally do find their voice, they suffer unthinkable consequences. The lesson in the story is that despite the advances women have made, misogyny and violence toward women still thrive.

Tying the two stories together is a paranormal subplot that plays out in a surprising way. I didn’t see that twist coming. (Hee – neither did the antagonist.)

Sullivan is an ex-patriot living in Rome, and her love for her adopted city is evident on every page. She does a spectacular job of bringing the city’s architecture and art to life. I felt like I was being given a mini tour in addition to the story.

Thanks Netgalley for the advanced read in exchange for this review.

What I’m Currently Reading

The Paris Housekeeper by Renee Ryan. This looks like another winner from Renee. I can’t wait to dive in.

My Father’s House by Joseph O’Connor. A fictionalized recount of Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, a real-life hero who saved the lives of thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Italy.

On This Day in History (Sports Edition)

December 1, 1924 –The Boston hosted the first NHL game on American soil. Playing their first games were the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Maroons. Boston won 2 -1.

December 1, 1944 – Army defeated Navy 32-13 in the battle between two undefeated teams. It was the time the classic rivalry was televised.

December 1, 1964 – The Houston Colt .45s changed their name to the Astros.

Happy December

No matter what holiday you celebrate this month, may it be safe, healthy, and filled with joy.