Audiobook Review, Historical Fiction

The Huntress by Kate Quinn

The HuntressThe Huntress by Kate Quinn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read Kate Quinn’s The Alice Network recently and fell in love with her ability to tell stories about strong women in World War I and II. She has a knack for finding untold stories of brave women during wartime and spinning fictional tales based on true events. In The Alice Network it was the story of a network of female spies. In The Huntress it’s the story of a female pilot who flies for the infamous Night Witches, a group of Soviet women who flew bombing missions in WWII and were feared by Nazi Germany.

In addition to the story line following the Night Witches, there is a story line about a man named Ian who essentially becomes a bounty hunter after WWII. His mission is to track down Nazi war criminals and bring them to justice. His target: The Huntress. A woman who is said to have murdered innocent children during the war.

And finally, the story of a young woman coming of age in 1950 post-WWII. When her father comes home with a new fiance and her daughter she is excited for her family to be complete again. But there is something about her soon-to-be stepmother that makes her a tad uneasy.

So if those feel like three totally different stories, it’s because they are. For a lot of the book, I felt like I was reading three separate and distinct books. I couldn’t see how they related to each other and how they were going to tie together. By the end of the novel, the stories eventually converge and they ended up meshing well. But I will say there was a portion of the middle where I started to lose a little bit of interest. I found that there was somewhat of a lull in the story. That also may have been due to the book’s extensive length which was a tad too long in my opinion.

That being said, I did really enjoy the story overall and very much enjoyed Kate Quinn’s writing and storytelling ability. The characters were vivid and had distinct personalities that I enjoyed. I felt invested in their individual outcomes. And very much appreciate learning stories of WWII that I’ve never heard (in this case about the Night Witches).

I struggled a bit with the audiobook in places because there is a lot of authentic German or Soviet terminology and nomenclature throughout the book. I’m very much a visual learner and would have found it easier to keep the names straight if I had read the print version as opposed to listening to the audiobook despite the narrator being fantastic.

While I enjoyed The Alice Network more, I did like this one as well and think if you’re a fan of Kate Quinn’s previous work you will probably appreciate it as I did. Would highly recommend but would probably recommend that you read in print as opposed to listening to the audio.

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General Fiction (Adult)

The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister

The Scent KeeperThe Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Out May 21st! Pre-order from Amazon here!

Where are all my Crawdad lovers? Chances are if you were a fan of the smash hit Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, you are going to love The Scent Keeper by Eric Bauermeister!

It’s funny because as I was reading the book, I started making the connection, and I was curious if anybody else felt the same. Until I went onto Goodreads and saw so many reviews from readers who drew the same conclusion. The main character, Emmeline, had so many similarities to Kya from Where the Crawdads Sing and I loved it! I would also mention that there were pieces of the story that reminded me of Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone. As Hannah is my favorite author, I’d say that’s quite the compliment.

The Scent Keeper starts with Emmeline and her father, living on a remote island, living off the land, foraging for food (except for the times her father tells her mermaids have dropped off supplies), and surrounded by hundreds of glass bottles. Within the glass bottles? Scent papers that hold precious smells that invoke memories of Emmeline’s past. What follows is Emmeline’s journey from the island, the only place she has ever called home, into the modern world.

This is one of those books where I can’t give a synopsis that is very complete because it will ruin the fun. Just trust me that the story is magnificent.

My favorite part of the book was Emmeline’s warped view of the world and her subsequent enlightenment. The way Erica Bauermeister wove this tale and the way Emmeline’s character evolved as the pages advanced was nothing short of extraordinary.

If I had one complaint it would be that the ending felt somewhat abrupt. It was almost as if it was missing a last chapter or could have benefited from an epilogue, although I can appreciate that the author may have wanted to end on a thought-provoking note. That being said, although the ending was sudden, it didn’t take away from the magnificence of the preceding 300+ pages so I would still give it 5 stars overall.

Prepare to be transported to another time and place. Prepare to have the scents Bauermeister describes jump off the pages and ignite memories of your own past. Prepare to fall in love with The Scent Keeper.

Highly recommended for those who enjoyed Where the Crawdads Sing and The Great Alone.

Be sure to stop by on Saturday, May 18th for my Author Q&A with author Erica Bauermeister where she’ll answer some questions for you about her experience writing the book.

-I received an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to NetGalley, Erica Bauermeister, and St. Martin’s Press for the opportunity to review.-

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Bookish Happenings

The Baby Book Blogger’s Guide to ARCs

The increase in book bloggers in the age of social media and Instagram seems to be exploding!  I consistently see new faces and accounts looking to get involved in reading and reviewing books which is so exciting for our community.  But the one question I see pop up again and again is: “So how do I get my hands on some ARCs?”

Some of you may be wondering… what does ARC even stand for?

An ARC is an “advanced readers copy.”

That means it’s an uncorrected proof of a book that is provided to readers in advance of publication.  They are generally used by authors and publishers to generate buzz for a book prior to publication.

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Before we go any further, let me say this.  ARCs ARE NOT FREE BOOKS!  I mean… yes, they are free in the sense that you don’t have to pay for them.  BUT… the expectation is that you read them, review them, splash photos of their covers on social media, talk about them, and provide some form of chatter for the book.

Being a book blogger can literally be a full time job.  Those of us that have done it for a while know that between the hours of reading and reviewing, staging elaborate Bookstagram photos, organizing our TBRs (to-be-reads) on a spreadsheet to keep track of each book’s publication date, developing questions for Q&A sessions on an author’s book blog tour, replying to publisher emails, and a laundry list of other bookish activities, it’s not as simple as “free books.”

So, if you’re on board for that responsibility and still interested in how to get your hands on one of these puppies, keep reading!

  1. Edelweiss and NetGalley

Galley sites are probably the easiest place to start when it comes to obtaining ARCs.  They offer reviewers an opportunity to request copies directly from publishers electronically by simply creating an account.  Before you ask, these sites primarily provide ebook copies (not physical or audiobook copies).  I’m going to focus on NetGalley because that’s the site I’m most familiar with, but know that Edelweiss is out there as an option too.

NetGalley allows you to search for books based on publisher, genre, most requested, featured, etc.  I would highly recommend that new reviewers check out the “Read Now” section.

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The books in the “Read Now” category are advanced copies of books that are available now to anybody with an account.  They do not require the publisher to approve you for a copy.  This section of the site is a great place to get your feet wet, discover new authors, and begin to build your feedback ratio.  Your feedback ratio is the percentage of books you have read and reviewed of those which you’ve received.  You can see my feedback ratio below is 75% because I’ve reviewed 59 of the 79 books for which I’ve been approved.

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As your feedback ratio grows and your following grows on social media, you will be more likely to receive the books you request.

PROCEED WITH CAUTION: It is super easy to get on NetGalley and request alllllllll the booooookkkkssss.  Make sure you are honest with yourself about your bandwidth to read and review them.  Or you may find yourself with 20 books on your list, a feedback ratio of 0%, and a whole lot of stress and anxiety.

  1. Win Giveaways

Giveaways are one of the best places to get your hands on ARCs and they are everywhere if you know where to look.  For this one, I’ll direct you to my post: Five Best Places to Win Book Giveaways.

I’ll put in a plug here as well for basic book etiquette.  Don’t enter a giveaway for a book you would never read just so you can get it for free.  It’s not cool.  And that’s not really in the spirit of the giveaway.  Again, the intention is to generate buzz for the book, not for it to collect dust on your bookshelf.

  1. Book Reviewer Groups

The book reviewing community is a pretty cool place.  And there are lots of publicity organizations that are looking for bloggers/influencers to spread the word for the books they represent.  Booksharks is one group that I’m a part of that consistently offers reviewers opportunities to take part in blog tours or challenges throughout the year.  Because the community is so large, they do require you to apply for your chance to be an early reviewer and they select those they feel would be the best representatives for the book.  So, growing your following and being an active and engaging reviewer is key!

  1. Developing Relationships with Authors

This is something that takes a little bit more time.  But as you continue to develop relationships with fellow reviewers, authors, and publishers, you may find that authors will reach out to you asking if you will feature their book.  I’ve had several authors contact me directly with requests to review their books.  ONLY SAY YES IF YOU’RE GOING TO FOLLOW THROUGH.  Authors put a lot of time, energy, and passion into writing, editing, and promoting their books, and it’s not cool to get their book for free and not review them in return.

  1. Contacting Publishers Directly

I do not recommend doing this right off the bat!  If you’re new to this whole thing…. see numbers 1 through 3 above.  Those are your best bets.  But, contacting publishers directly is always an option.  I’ll be honest.  I don’t do this very often.  I’ve done it a handful of times and the only advice I can provide is you should at a minimum provide the following information in your request:

  • Social media sites and handles (this includes Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads, Tumblr, Twitter, your personal blog… anywhere you review books)
  • The types of books you typically review
  • Number of followers
  • Why you want to read the book you’re requesting
  • Your shipping address
  1. So… Sometimes ARCs Just Show Up?

Yep, they do.  You’ll find that as you start getting involved, sometimes publishers will start to send you stuff that you didn’t even request.  So what do you do?  Personally, I try my hardest to add them to my lineup, read them, and review them.  But if you either aren’t interested in the book or don’t have the time to squeeze it in, the courteous thing to do would be to feature the cover on your social media accounts at a minimum, even if you don’t formally review it.

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Lastly, if you’re new, welcome to the book reviewing community!  And now that you know where to get them, happy reading (and reviewing)!

Audiobook Review, General Fiction (Adult), Reese Witherspoon's Book Club

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely FineEleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yet another Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick!

Eleanor Oliphant lives a mundane life. Her activities are scheduled. Her food choices are consistent and predictable. She is perfectly put together and proper. Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine. Until she’s not….

That’s it. That’s all the description I can provide without giving away key pieces of the story.

Let me start off by saying that the first half of this book was incredibly boring. It seemed to be done on purpose to illustrate the unremarkable and routine nature of Eleanor Oliphant’s life. And while I appreciate that strategy conceptually, I’ve got to be honest. I probably would not have finishing this book if it hadn’t been a pick from Reese Witherspoon. I likely would have closed the front cover and walked away.

Now before you throw stones at me…. I did finish the book and the second half was extraordinarily better than the first half. The back end of the narrative is where we see everything unravel, getting into the meat of the story, providing some clarity into Eleanor Oliphant’s actions, and seeing her come to terms with events in her life that have led her to where she is today.

Without giving too much away, there is a large focus placed on mental health in this book. And I think that overall it was successful in painting a picture of how crippling and life altering some mental health disorders can be without proper treatment.

From an audiobook perspective, I thought the narrator was spot on in giving Eleanor Oliphant a voice that portrayed her prim and proper nature and I could envision her personality perfectly. I would recommend giving this one a listen, although I’m sure it would be just as good in print.

At the end of the day, I’m glad that I powered through. There were moments when I didn’t think that I would be able to make it, but the conclusion is worth trudging through the slow beginning.

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Thriller

Into the Jungle by Erica Ferencik

Into the JungleInto the Jungle by Erica Ferencik

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was so excited to win this book in a Goodreads giveaway! It is set in the Bolivian Amazon and I have strong personal ties to the Peruvian Amazon. I spent 4 weeks in Peru as a pharmacy student, living in the jungle on a nature preserve learning about healing properties of plants in the rainforest.

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We slept on mats atop wooden floors, bathed in the Amazon River, were woken by the roosters, and rowed ourselves in small canoes to the city of Iquitos for class. The jungle is an incredible but also very dangerous place as Erica Ferencik describes in her book Into the Jungle. Her descriptions of person, place, sound, smell, feeling are all spot on. Her writing transported me back to my time in Peru and I thank her for that.

The book is about a young girl named Lily who is kind of lost in life. In and out of the foster system from a young age, she finds herself taking a job as a teacher at a school in Bolivia. But when she arrives and the job falls through she ends up working at a local hostel, unable to afford a trip back to the United States. As luck would have it, she finds herself in love with a young man named Omar. But when Omar has to return to his local village of Ayachero, Lily will make a decision that will change her life forever: to go into the jungle.

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First thing is first. This book is categorized as a thriller and while I think there are elements that might fall into the thriller category, I would actually categorize this more as “action” or “adventure.” It wasn’t your typical on-the-edge-of-your-seat thriller with a lot of mystery and cliffhangers. It focused more on Lily’s shell shock as she adjusted to living off the land and tried to acclimate to the Amazonian culture. That being said, there was a fast paced and exciting climax that did have me on the edge of my seat and tipped the book over into the thriller genre by the end. There were also some elements of magical realism along the way.

I loved Erica Ferencik’s descriptions of the villagers and the shaman. I was lucky enough to meet with some of the local tribes in the Amazon while I was there, and I felt like her depiction of the native people was completely accurate.

I also spent some time with a shaman while in Peru who taught me about ayahuasca, a substance that is illegal in the US but is used extensively in the Amazon for its ability to induce spiritual awakening and cure the terminally ill. In fact, many people (often those with terminal disease) travel from all over the world to visit shamans in the jungle for their healing properties. There is a shaman in the story that is integral to the narrative and the descriptions of her were extremely authentic. I could envision her living off in the jungle alone and the local villagers having some unease in her presence.

The one thing that was a bit hard for me to stomach was all the death of animals described in the book. I think they were appropriately placed and created a layer of authenticity. People who live in the jungle struggle to hunt for their own food. Sometimes things are brutal. Sometimes we have to remember that in nature there is this little thing called the food chain. I think at times I forget that for some people, that’s their reality, and life is hard. Sitting in my house in Tennessee, its easy to forget that nature is unforgiving. And although difficult to read at times, the author portrayed a reality for the indigenous people.

Overall, this book was written extremely well. There is adventure. There is a love story. There are elements of a thriller and magical realism. It’s kind of got it all. I would highly recommend giving this one a read, particularly if you are looking for something unique and different, or something that will completely transport you to another place.

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