October 2022 Picks and Pans


Hello fellow book lovers! For me, October was a month filled with reading variety: historical fiction, contemporary fiction, historical mystery, thriller, Christian fiction (and straight-up-fiction, of course). Most of my books were advance reader copies from publishers, but I enjoyed catch-up books in a couple series. My total isn’t very impressive this month… I started reading Shogun by James Clavell, which comes in at staggering 1,140 pages, but I didn’t finish. It’s a slow read and a definite time suck. Not sure if and when I’ll finish it. I turned on comments for this post… I’d love to hear your thoughts on these books!

I’ll be transitioning to video reviews in January, so don’t forget to follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Goodreads. I might even tackle TikTok


The Ways We Hide
by Kristina McMorris

This wonderful novel maintained my interest from the first sentence. Unlike so many WWII novels I’ve read, The Ways We Hide one isn’t about the British who served as intelligence agents. This is about an American woman’s involvement with MI9 (which I knew nothing about). MI9, the British Directorate of Military Intelligence Section 9, was a highly secret department of the War Office between 1939 and 1945. Their function was two-fold: to help Allied POWs escape Nazi Germany, and help downed airmen evade capture after being shot down.

Fenna Vos grew up on Michigan’s harsh Upper Peninsula. On Christmas Eve, 1913, a party is held at the Italian Hall in Calument for copper miner’s families during their five-month-long labor strike. She experiences the trauma of a lifetime when a stampede down a steep stairwell kills seventy-three people, fifty-nine of them children. Fen narrowly escapes with her life.

Fast forward to WWII. Fenna is making a living as an escape artist in New York City. When a recruiter for MI9 sees her show, he recruits her to use her skills to make escape aids to thwart the Germans.

The author relates haunting experiences, the characters are well developed, and the plot is riveting. The Ways We Hide has elements of mystery, history, and adventure, and it is based on fascinating true events. It was both thrilling and frightening in parts; I even learned a bit about Henry Houdini.

The novel wasn’t perfect, but it deserves 5 stars. Highly recommended.

** Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a complimentary copy. The opinions expressed her are my own.


The Banned Bookshop of Maggie Banks
by Shauna Robinson

I’ve always wanted to own a bookstore, so this novel was inspiring. It was not at all what I expected. I thought it would be a dreary political read about banning “controversial” books, but that wasn’t it at all.

When Maggie Banks arrives in tiny Bell River to run her best friend’s struggling bookstore, Maggie expects to sell bestsellers to her small-town clientele. That’s now how things work, though. The town revolves around the legacy of famed writer Edward Bell, and the Bell River literary society bans her from selling anything written after his death in 1968. So, when a series of mishaps spell disaster for the shop, Maggie must break the rules to survive. She starts an underground book club and runs a series of events celebrating popular bestsellers. But keeping the club on the down-low, selling forbidden books, and dodging the literary society is nearly impossible. Especially when Maggie unearths a town secret that could upend everything.

I loved Maggie’s endearing character, and I could relate to her desire to find a meaningful job that wasn’t really a “job.” Isn’t that what we all want, a reason to get out of bed in the morning?

The Banned Bookshop of Maggie Banks is a charming, upbeat book with a hint of romance and the author penned plenty of clever repartee between Maggie and her love interest, Malcolm. It’s a perfect read after something heavy and thought provoking.

Chick lit normally isn’t my go-to, but this is a charming, clever book. A rom com set in a bookstore… a book about books… now that’s for me! 4 stars.

** Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a review copy. The opinions are my own.


Our Little World
by Karen Winn

I was glued to the pages of the wonderful coming-of-age book set in the mid-80s. I remember being in seventh grade hanging out at the beach with my friends a decade earlier (even more likely at the Brookview Golf Course pool) and it was a time of fun and innocence. Not so much for Bee and Max.

July 1985. It’s a normal, sweltering New Jersey summer for soon-to-be seventh grader Bee Kocsis when her friend Max Baker’s four-year-old sister, Sally, goes missing at Deer Chase Lake. Bee looks on helplessly as people search everywhere for the little girl.

Life in the community becomes tense as parents become protective, and children are scared. Things are even more strained at home, most of all with her 11-year-old sister, Audrina, who dazzles wherever she goes.

Remember what middle school was like? I don’t know anyone who liked it. They should pay teachers double to deal with all the hormones. Like I did, Bee struggles with self-esteem issues, anxiety, and her feelings for Max (well, not the Max part). When a shameful secret surfaces, her world is upended again.

Author Karen Winn does a masterful job capturing teenage angst and the complicated relationship between sisters. Told in first-person, it is a haunting work of psychological fiction. Perfect for fans of Celeste Ng and Kristen Bird. 4 stars.

Favorite quote: “A missing child brings together parents and neighbors and search parties and hot casseroles. It’s an ongoing story, with characters and plots and subplots, grief and faith in equal proportions.” ~ Karen Winn, Our Little World.

** Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a review copy. The opinions are my own.


Pardonable Lies
by Jacqueline Winspear

This is my third book in the bestselling Maisie Dobbs series. She is a winning heroine; I love her gumption, especially for the era in which she is a detective, her investigative skills, and the plots of these terrific historical mysteries. In Pardonable Lies, Maisie is embroiled in three cases. First, proving 13-year-old Avril Jarvis innocent of first-degree murder in the death of her uncle. Second, verifying that Sir Cecil Lawton’s pilot son Ralph was killed in a plane crash during the Great War. Third, looking into the circumstances of the death of her college friend Priscilla Evernden Partridge’s brother during the war.

Maisie faces grave danger and emotional upheaval as she returns to France, where she served as a battlefield nurse. The plot of filled with tension, ah hah moments, rich characters, and long held secrets. Winspear’s attention to historical details is always impressive; I always feel like I am walking right beside her. Miss Dobbs isn’t very likeable, though; she’s aloof and cold. I’m hoping the next book in the series makes her more human. I didn’t care for the New Age babble and LGBT storyline. 4 stars.

Favorite quote: “My child, when a mountain appears on the journey, we try to go to the left, then to the right; we try to find the easy way to navigate our way back to the easier path.” He paused. “But the mountain is there to be crossed. It is on that pilgrimage, as we climb higher, that we are forced to shed the layers upon layers we have carried for so long. Then we find that our load is lighter, and we have come to know something of ourselves in the perilous climb.”― Jacqueline Winspear, Pardonable Lies


by James Patterson and Brendan DuBois

James Patterson is hit or miss with me. This one was a hit in my book. Imagine this: the president of the United States is brilliant but has also lost his mind. Farfetched? Clearly not! President Keegan Barrett, the former director of the CIA, has a dangerous skill set.

Six months into his first term, he devises a clandestine power grab to get revenge. He orders Special Agents Liam Grey and Noa Himel to execute his plan, even though the Central Intelligence Agency is forbidden to operate on American soil. As CIA agents, they’ve sworn to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all threats, foreign and domestic. When Barrett threatens to start a cyber war with China, they need to do something.

The chapters are short and punchy, giving this unnerving novel a sense of immediacy. Add some fascinating historical tidbits to this action-packed political thriller and it’s a recipe for a fun read. Some of the sentence structure and dialogue bugged me, but hey, they did not write it to win a Pulitzer.

I’ve got to know… is there actually a button to begin a cyber war that the leader of the free world can push? I hope that’s just fiction. 4 stars.

Favorite quote: “You know what they say: a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting its pants on.” — James Patterson and Brendan DuBois, Blowback

** Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a review copy. The opinions are my own.


Us Against You
by Fredrik Backman, Neil Smith (Translator)

The citizens of Beartown are about to lose their beloved hockey team (introduced in the 2016 bestseller, Beartown) and their rivals in Hed—where many former Beartown players now carry stick—could not be happier. A new coach is appointed, a woman, and teenagers fill out the roster. Amat, the fastest player you’ll ever see; Benji, the intense lone wolf; and Vidar, a born-to-be-bad troublemaker, have heart, but is that enough to win?

I’m a huge fan of Fredrik Backman. A Man Called Ove garnered 5 stars. Anxious People did too. I only gave Beartown 4 stars because of its bleakness. With Us Against You, the author continues down a dark path. People fight about hockey, politics, and jobs. They go at it on the ice, in the woods, and in bars. So much anger. So much violence. So much emphasis on sexuality.

As always, his characterization is spectacular. Us Against You features a complicated cast of characters—too many—and I grew to love them despite their flaws. They are enthusiastic, passionate, and loyal, but also violent and cruel. Each of Backman’s books is a study in human nature and he is a brilliant writer. This book showed the importance of a team, whether as a sports team, a family, a gang, or a circle of friends.

I appreciate how he tells a story without getting caught up in lyrical sentences and an overabundance of adjectives. He gets 5 stars for writing this one, but only 3 for the disturbing plot. I’ll read the next book in the series, but it will be awhile.


The Unlocked Path
by Janis Robinson Daly

The Unlocked Path is a historical novel about a “New Woman” of the early twentieth century: educated, career-minded, independent. In 1897 Philadelphia, after experiencing her aunt’s suicide, Eliza Edwards vows to help and heal. In her social circle, a young woman’s chief goal was to debut in society, but Eliza isn’t interested in such a traditional role. Instead, she enters medical college when only five percent of doctors are female. With the support of a team of women and driven by a determination to conquer curriculum demands, battle sexism, and overcome doubts, Eliza charts her life’s trajectory.

Author Janis Robinson Daly was inspired to write her debut novel after conducting a genealogical search on her great-great-grandfather, William S. Peirce, who played an active role in founding the Woman’s Medical College in Philadelphia. Ancestry websites are great, aren’t they?

I was born in an age during which the world was my oyster. The main character in this novel, Eliza, didn’t have that luxury. Her moxie and ambition to follow her dreams impressed me. To be a woman of medicine during the early 1900s would have been challenging. For example, Eliza’s hospital supervisor said: “I will schedule separate female doctors or residents from the same shift. I’ve heard how too much time together can stimulate an alignment of womanly cycles. I won’t have an entire shift of practicing doctors and nurses incapacitated on the same days each month.” Yikes.

Daly did a fabulous job drawing her characters, particularly Eliza, who was surprisingly relatable—the sight of blood makes me weak in the knees. I liked her. I wanted her to be happy. I wanted her to succeed. Her word pictures made me feel like I was walking the streets of Philadelphia.

The first half of the book was especially interesting as I got to know the characters and become immersed in the era. Daly’s historical details are wonderful; it’s rare for me to learn so much while reading a novel. She did a stunning amount of research and included many real historical people in the story. The second half was tedious, though, and the overly descriptive prose impeded a great plot. Still, I see great promise in Janis Robinson Daly as a fresh voice in historical fiction. 3.5 stars rounded up to 4.

** Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a review copy. The opinions are my own.


Rising Danger
by Jerusha Agen

An environmental terrorist is planting explosives on dams in the Twin Cities, and Bristol Bachmann and her bomb-sniffing dog must hurry to find them before everything ends up underwater. That means teaming up with the dams’ supervisor—an ex-boyfriend she never thought she’d see again. When the bomber sets his sights on Bristol and her K-9, it becomes a lethal game of cat and mouse.

I appreciated that Rising Danger is set in the Twin Cities where I have lived my whole life. Reading about familiar places is always fun. The author did a good job setting the stage, and she certainly knows a thing or two about dogs! The plot of this work of Christian romantic suspense was good, the pace was fast and explosive, and I enjoyed the faith elements she used to tell the story, but if overt Christian messages make you feel uncomfortable, this one might not be for you. As I was reading, it felt like I was watching a Hallmark movie, however, which is something I avoid. Bristol’s constant worrying about falling for Remington (these types of names are always used in romance novels) became tiresome. I still enjoyed reading it, but it only earned 3 stars from me.

** Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a review copy of this book. The opinions expressed are my own.




Posted in Blog, Book Reviews, Literature, Reading and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .