“The Invincible Miss Cust” by Penny Haw – Review

By: Tory Tanguay


Must-read historical fiction for fans of Marie Benedict and Tracey Enerson Wood, based on the real-life of Britain and Ireland’s first woman veterinary surgeon.

Goodreads


I have worked in veterinary medicine for almost 20 years, seven years of which I’ve been a veterinarian. With March being Women’s History Month, I found myself wondering about the women who have gone before me in the field. Who were they? What struggles did they have? What oppositions did they face in a field that used to be completely dominated by men? (Veterinary medicine is by far and away a female-dominated field right now.) Then, I came across this book, The Invincible Miss Cust by Penny Haw. I had never heard of Miss Aleen Isabel Cust before but once I read the synopsis, I knew I had to read it.

This historical fiction novel tells the tale of Miss Cust, the first Irish and British female veterinary surgeon, born in Ireland to an aristocratic English family in 1868. I felt a kinship with Aleen because like her, I knew from a young age that I was destined to work with animals. It was my calling in life as it was hers. Her family, however, is strongly opposed to the idea for back then women were only (supposedly) good for getting married, keeping house, and having babies. Her family is absolutely horrified by the idea of her not wanting to marry and wanting to go into the field of veterinary medicine as the only acceptable occupations for women were wife and maybe a nurse or teacher. Even then, a lady of her breeding should not demote herself to something as menial as working. But “haters gonna hate” and Aleen pays them no mind and pursues her dream of becoming a veterinary surgeon.

This is truly a book that took me on an emotional roller coaster. At the risk of sounding cheesy, I laughed, I cried, I got angry, and I celebrated in Aleen’s joy, while reminiscing about my own journey through veterinary medicine (all full of the same emotions). The first half of the book seems to stick decently to research performed by the author, but the second half seems to turn into more of a story of romance with much creative liberties taken. This second part seemed to drift away from the feelings and tone originally established by the author and was a little unexpected. The romance doesn’t really seem to go anywhere and honestly seems to be slightly thrown in as it seems to be a complete deviation from Aleen’s established personality and mindset. Not to say that people don’t fall in love on life’s journey, they absolutely can. It just doesn’t work for me.

I gave this book four out of five stars. I do especially recommend it for those interested in the history of women in veterinary medicine. It most definitely sent me down a rabbit hole of doing my own research on women in the history of vet med as well.


Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

“The Last Lion of Karkov” by Dale Griffin – Review

By: Angie Haddock



Raised in Karkov, a military, male-dominant kingdom, twins Natalia and Jillian know nothing but battle. When Jillian emerges as the dominant twin and apparent heir to the throne, Natalia, the softer and more diplomatic sister, ceases her military training. As Natalia prepares to marry the prince of her father’s favored Western ally, Jillian is set to become the first woman Lion of Karkov. But things don’t go as planned when the older generation of warriors values her womb over her sword. Suddenly, the role Jillian has fought for all her life is slipping through her fingers…and she’s not about to let it go without a fight.

Goodreads


This book is a chonky one, coming in right around 600 pages… but it’s also full of action and moves quickly. So you’ll understand that the blurb at top really only encompasses about the first 100 pages! It does, however, introduce you to our two main characters.

Jillian and Natalia were raised without a mother, and they are literally the only females they’ve ever known. It’s also their society’s tradition to kill off female babies born to the king – known as the Lion – and also any additional siblings, once one is deemed the Heir. So, the fact that either of them live to be teens – let alone BOTH of them – is already “against tradition.” And we meet them as teens here, although we do occasionally hear stories from their earlier years. Their mere existence is revolutionary, and they know this, so they don’t expect to be hemmed in by old traditions now.

But as Jillian learns more about the traditions that have come before her, she becomes convinced that neither her nor Natalia can be a part of them. Natalia is set to leave, anyway, but can Jillian protect her if they’re apart?

Both twins have a fierce loyalty to each other, which is sustained throughout the entire book. It’s one of the few things that doesn’t change!

As I said, this book moves quickly. We see characters move geographically, and visit these other neighboring kingdoms. I should say that all the kingdoms are roughly based on actual places we know, seemingly around the 1700s of our own history. (This estimate is largely based on the technology available to our characters.)

We also see a lot of action. I am not big into war books, or battle strategies, and there is some of that in here. But the story always moves on from it, and it never felt overwhelming.

One thing that caught me off guard a few times is that the characters would often make a plan – or learn of one being crafted by the opposition – and then we’d see that carried out within mere paragraphs! Even in a book this big, not a lot of time is wasted waiting for the next thing to happen.

There are wars, alliances and betrayals, and also a citizen rebellion. That aspect definitely gave me some “Les Mis” vibes. If you’re into European historical stuff, I’m sure you could draw even more parallels.

Another interesting aspect to me is that, with a book this big, there were some characters that I grew to like… and then didn’t see again for a few hundred pages. But honestly, despite the deeply troubling pasts of these countries, there are many likeable characters in here. There are even a few who will surprise you.

Many of our characters converge in the last 100 pages or so, when four of the nations prepare for a battle. Considering there are multiple warriors, military leaders, and royals involved – I was happy to see that the machismo was not too heavy. Sure, some grumbled about their ideas being better than someone else’s, but mostly the men involved all wanted to do what was best, and were willing to work together to make it happen. And I was very happy that the battle was not too long.

This one comes out today, March 14th. I was gifted an advanced copy from Books Forward. The author, Dale Griffin, is donating $2 from every copy sold to Girls, Inc. from now through the end of April. If you’re into fantasy and action, pick this one up today!


Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Online Book Sales with Miss Penny’s Books

By: Angie Haddock


During the lockdown days, I stumbled upon Miss Penny’s Books on Facebook. If you’re in any book buy/sell/trade groups, you’ve probably seen people post pictures of books… mad amounts of books… that aren’t necessarily in order. But if you’re anything like me, you feel compelled to sift through these pics anyway, just to see if there’s anything you’d want.

That’s exactly what shopping from Miss Penny’s is like.

While it may not be for the super-organized or impatient among us, it can be a lot of fun. Books are priced from $1 to $3, and you need a minimum of $5 to order. Shipping is added, per media mail rates. Karolin, who runs this page, is very responsive to messages and will usually have your total to you pretty quickly.

I asked Karolin how this adventure got started:

“Miss Penny” has always been my alter-ego. I’ve always been a deal hunter and one day (maybe a decade ago) came up with the name. “Miss Penny” has had a coupon blog, a youtube channel and now is selling books. Who knows what’s next! For now, Miss Penny Books is here to stay and very happy to be here.

Miss Penny Books started when I saw a friend of mine selling books on Amazon. She would buy books in bulk and throw all the popular fiction books away because they didn’t have a high resell value. When I saw her disposing of things that I would like to read, I stopped and thought, there has to be someone out there who wants to buy these. We have to keep these and find a purpose for them! So, I started selling books on Facebook $1-$3 each plus the cost of shipping and Miss Penny Books was born! 

I visit a few different thrift stores and library sales each week and buy the books that I think my shoppers would like. If I notice a particular author is popular, I try to pick their books up as I find them. New books are added to the Facebook page weekly.

If you like the thrill of the hunt, or finding titles you didn’t know you needed, find Miss Penny’s books in all the following places:

Facebook

Instagram

Pango Books


Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

“Anxious People” by Fredrik Backman – Review

By: Tory Tanguay


From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of “A Man Called Ove” and “writer of astonishing depth” (The Washington Times) comes a poignant comedy about a crime that never took place, a would-be bank robber who disappears into thin air, and eight extremely anxious strangers who find they have more in common than they ever imagined.

Goodreads


I was drawn to this title because I am, in fact, an anxious person. What better book for me to read? This would either be a book I would enjoy or a book that would set me off on an anxiety attack. Luckily, the first was true.

Looking at real estate properties doesn’t usually end up in a life-or-death situation but that is what happens at the beginning of this novel. Backman weaves an intricate tale regarding an eclectic cast of characters that are all involved in a hostage situation. An unintentional hostage situation with the worst hostages ever. Each hostage comes with a history of emotional baggage, past hurts, and secrets that are revealed as the story progresses. In the end, each one finds that they’re not the only person who needs rescuing.

We have two couples, Roger and Anna-Lena and Ro and Julia. The former two are a retired couple looking for their next flip while the latter are looking to purchase a home for their expanding family. Zara, a well-to-do banker just came to this open house to see how the other half lives. Estelle, an elderly woman, may or may not be checking out this apartment for her daughter. Then of course, there’s the bank robber, whose day (and life) is just not going as planned. Throw in a father-son cop duo investigating the whole thing and you have the makings of a plot with twists and turns that will make you laugh, cry, and think.

The one thing that I loved about this novel is that everyone and everything is connected in some way. The reader is left with the idea that choices that we make in this world in some way affect someone or something else in this world, sometimes without us even realizing it. And indeed, we all could use a little rescuing. The saying “no man is an island” kept popping up in my head over and over because whether we want to be or not, we’re all connected with the rest of humanity.

Beware, however, fellow reader, that although this book may be laugh-out-loud funny at times, it is also a heavy book with heavy themes. Content warnings include suicide and suicidal thoughts/ ideation plus lots of deep emotions. If you’re uncomfortable with these types of themes, then this book may not be for you.


Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

“Badass Stories: Grit, Growth, Hope, and Healing in the Shitshow” by Jodie Eckleberry-Hunt – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Badass Stories” is all about the grit of survival in tough times, the growth that comes from pain, the hope for something better, and the healing that happens along the way. It is a compilation of short stories that illustrate some of the most important lessons I’ve learned about life from the real people in my life and my psychology practice.

Goodreads


This is the third new book I’ve reviewed from this author, and I actually read this one months ahead of its release so I could offer her publisher a “blurb.” This is the one I submitted:

“Badass Stories” is Jodie Eckleberry-Hunt’s most personal book yet – and it also manages to be the most universal. There is (at least) one story inside that will resonate with every reader.

And I hold to that opinion!

The author breaks the book up into four parts, with chapters focusing on grit, growth, hope, and healing. These are stories from her years studying and then working in psychology. The stories feature many patients with different backgrounds and stories, obviously… but what I found more interesting is that, often, it is Eckleberry-Hunt who learns a lesson in these chapters.

Some of these may seem like they are tied to her role as a therapist, but I believe they can be useful for many of us. Lessons like sticking to boundaries, or not being able to will someone else to change, are probably ones we have all had experience with. How she goes about being able to help her clients – or NOT help them, in some cases – are the parts that I found both personal (to her) and universal.

The clients’ stories themselves are at turns heartbreaking, frustrating, and triumphant. Please note: these people are dealing with heavy things. Veterans with PTSD, parents who have lost a child, domestic abuse, substance abuse, and more are represented here. If these sorts of topics are too triggering for you, consider this your warning.

Because there are so many different topics, though, I found myself drawn into each story for different reasons. Sure, some may have reminded me of myself… but just as many brought to mind friends, family members, etc. I kept thinking of the many people I could pass my copy on to, because so many of us will find something within the pages that comes close to some aspect of our own stories.

This one comes out on February 14th, and is available for pre-order now. I was given an early copy from the author and her publisher, Turner Publishing.

Related Reviews:

Getting to Good Riddance

Move On Motherf*cker


Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

“The Plot” by Jean Hanff Korelitz – Review

By: Angie Haddock


a psychologically suspenseful novel about a story too good not to steal, and the writer who steals it.

Goodreads


The basic idea of this one is that an author – Jacob Finch Bonner – hears an idea for a novel from one of his writing students. Years later, he finds out that the student died without ever writing the novel. So, Bonner writes it. It becomes wildly popular – on Oprah’s list, being made into a movie, etc.

But then, Bonner starts getting anonymous threats. Someone out there knows he stole the idea. They are threatening to expose him, but will that be as ruinous as he fears? He did write the whole book, so is it plagiarism if it was just the plot he stole? And more importantly, who else knew the plot? The dead student was very stand-offish, and most of his family is also dead, so who did he tell?

All of this sounds fine, but this book was all the rage in the summer of 2021! It made several lists, and was a Goodreads Choice nominee for Mystery/Thriller.

I will say, a lot of this book struck me as something that would specifically appeal to writers, publishers, and people who work with them. So much of it takes place in that world, and I wondered if that appeal is why people who write about writing/books were crazy for it.

Not that it was bad, by any means. But it was a bit slow. Things progress with Bonner’s online stalker, a bit at a time, over the course of months. In the meantime, Bonner travels around on a book tour, meets a woman who eventually moves in with him, and works on his next novel. A decent story thus far, but nothing revolutionary.

All the punch of this book comes in the last 25% of it! There are about three big revelations, by my estimate, and they definitely increase in craziness. But of course, why would I give away the ending?! If this book sounds at all interesting to you, you’re going to have to slog through it like the rest of us and find that epic ending for yourself!


Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

“Woman, Captain, Rebel” by Margaret Willson – Review

By: Angie Haddock


A daring and magnificent account of Iceland’s most famous female sea captain who constantly fought for women’s rights and equality—and who also solved one of the country’s most notorious robberies.

Goodreads


Last year, I read a handful of non-fiction books about badass females… albeit, some better written than others. One was even written by the first lady of Iceland! So the reasons this book appealed to me should be obvious.

This is the story of Thurídur Einarsdóttir, who was born on the Southwest shores of Iceland in the late 1700s. She lived a long life, from 1777 to 1863, and spent all of it in roughly the same region. (Although she did take to traveling in her later years, it was all still within Iceland).

Thurídur was born to a poor family, and while she was very young, the area suffered from a volcanic ash-induced famine. Her dad refused a lodger, as they had no food in the house to offer him, but this was a cardinal sin in their culture. The lodger supposedly cursed his family for nine generations.

And here our story begins.

Despite the curse, Thurídur did fairly well for herself. She learned to fish as a young teen, and developed a knack for being able to read the coming weather. As her fishing skills grew, she became highly sought after as a deckhand, and even outearned many men on her boats. She was eventually hired to captain other people’s boats, even, and was trusted among the boat owners and the fishermen (and women) under her care. In fact, in 52 years of fishing, it is said that she never lost a crew member.

While she did not have much trouble getting her crew to respect her knowledge of the sea, she still did face some discrimination in life. She was known to wear trousers everywhere except to church, and later she added a top hat to her ensemble (just because she liked it!). She also did a lot of farming when it was the season for it, and could scythe hay with the strongest of men. So of course, some were put off by her way of living.

She was married a few times, and had one daughter who died in childhood. She later adopted her sister’s daughter, who was disabled. In her later years, she spent all of her money trying to make sure her niece would be taken care of after her own death… and that niece did live to be 89 years old!

We spend a lot of time in her home village getting to know all the townspeople, as she does interact with them constantly – both on land and at sea. So by the time a very brazen robbery happens, we have established that Thurídur knows everyone. A county commissioner is sent to town to investigate, and – not knowing the townspeople himself – immediately pushes her for her thoughts on it. (This set-up definitely made me think of the BBC’s “Broadchurch.” Anyone else?) She doesn’t want to implicate her friends, but starts pointing out clues the commissioner missed. This leads to confessions, and four area men being sent to prison in Denmark (which ruled over Iceland at the time).

After the convictions, Thurídur has a tougher time with her neighbors. Several make threats, and someone even goes so far as to set fire to a boat in her care. She still has many allies, also, and they try to help her. Eventually, she is forced to move to a bigger city nearby, where she starts out working in a shop. She also starts acting as a tour guide, leading travelers through the nearby mountains to other villages and cities. She remains lively and sharp into old age, but ultimately ends up destitute anyway (because she spends all her money on her niece).

This is a great story, and well written. There is drama, action, and politics.

When I first got this as an advanced reader’s copy, it was set to publish on January 31st of this year… but the date moved, and this book has already come out! We’ll still call it a new release, though. I read it thanks to Netgalley and the publisher, Sourcebooks.


Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

“Daughters of the New Year” by E.M. Tran – Review

By: Angie Haddock


In present day New Orleans, Xuan Trung, former beauty queen turned refugee after the Fall of Saigon, is obsessed with divining her daughters’ fates through their Vietnamese zodiac signs. But Trac, Nhi and Trieu diverge completely from their immigrant parents’ expectations. Successful lawyer Trac hides her sexuality from her family; Nhi competes as the only woman of color on a Bachelor-esque reality TV show; and Trieu, a budding writer, is determined to learn more about her familial and cultural past.

Goodreads


This one intrigued me for several reasons – firstly, the family in the book ends up in New Orleans. Secondly, astrology is fun. Thirdly, I tend to read a lot of books about characters from other places.

The story starts with all three daughter characters as adults, and we’ll call this the “present.” As we go through the chapters, we learn more about all of the daughters and their mom. The story is also moving backwards through time, though. We progress through their teenage years, see how the family fared during Hurricane Katrina, and move onward to their childhoods. The daughters all have their personal struggles, obviously, but they collectively deal with the pressures of being first generation Americans – like having parents who eat, shop, and speak differently than those of many of their classmates.

The chapters move around between perspectives, too, so we’re also consistently seeing things from the mom’s point of view. And eventually, we get to the parts of Xuan’s life from before she had her daughters – how she met her husband, how she left Vietnam, and the real story behind that beauty pageant trophy she prizes.

As we progress further, we start to see things from the perspectives of Xuan’s mom as well… and then her mom, and even further back. Most of these earlier generations are really only represented in the last quarter of the book, though. Here we learn about how their family was rich and respected in Saigon, and how they got that way.

I enjoyed this story, in both the New Orleans and Saigon parts. I also found the mom’s obsession with her daughters’ signs fun. (I should point out that she uses astrology based on the Lunar year, and not the Western kind many of us might think of first.) I did kind of wish that we knew more about what happens to the characters when we first meet them, though. For example, one is a contestant on a “Bachelor“-like program… but then we move back in time, and never know what happens to her on the show. It’s such a small thing, though, amid a very rich story.

This book came out in October, 2022. I read it through NetGalley, albeit after its release date, thanks to the publisher (Harlequin Trade Publishing) and BookClubbish.

Happy Lunar New Year, and Happy Year of the Rabbit!


Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

“The Sisters We Were” by Wendy Willis Baldwin – Review

By: Angie Haddock


The weight of their family secrets could not have shaped Pearl and Ruby Crenshaw any differently. Ruby’s a runner, living in Dallas and only reluctantly talking to their mother, Birdie, when she calls from prison. Pearl is still living in her mother’s fixer-upper and finds herself facing a line in the sand: her weight is threatening to kill her. She’s hundreds of pounds beyond the point where she can celebrate her curves or benefit from the body positivity movement, and unless she takes drastic action, the future looks dire.

Goodreads


I find that I get roped into reading more contemporary fiction than I intend to, but sometimes it pays off… and this is one of those times!

While this story is fiction, it’s based on some real experiences of the author and her sister. More on that later.

The sisters in the book are Pearl and Ruby. When I first read the description, I assumed Pearl’s weight was just a part of the setting, but it really is the main driver of the whole book. Pearl struggles at first to commit to bariatric surgery, but she knows she has to do something before she gets any bigger than her 531 pounds. She is obsessed with Chip & Joanna Gaines, and tries to view herself as a “fixer-upper” project.

She and Ruby don’t really talk anymore, and their mom is in jail. So reaching out to Ruby to ask her to come and help during her recovery is another hurdle Pearl has to jump to make this surgery possible. That’s on top of the cost, the idea of not bingeing Taco Bell anymore, and of course… seeing herself as “worth” all the work and money this transformation will need from her.

The book includes some notes from both the author and her sister, who really did weigh in at 531 lbs at one point. In the author’s notes, she mentions that other publishers turned down this story because they found a protagonist that size “distasteful.” Obviously, this is just plain sad. For starters, I’m sure some people that size are readers, and would love to see themselves represented! But also…

The first half of the book is pre-surgery, so the struggles to make the decision and go through with it are really as much of the book as the actual weight loss. And I think that’s what makes it universal. As much as it does deal with transformation, it also deals with finding the motivation to take those first steps. And isn’t that something most of us struggle with? (Especially this time of year!)

The book also delves into the reasons these sisters are dealing with the struggles they’re dealing with. Content Warning: one of these that is not revealed until very late in the story has to do with sexual molestation.

I, for one, applaud Sourcebooks Landmark for publishing this book! It is the debut novel from Wendy Willis Baldwin, and a topic that I have not previously read a lot about. This look at obesity – and a real human suffering its effects – was at times poignant, funny, triumphant, and informative (for someone who hasn’t gone through such a surgery).

This one comes out today, January 17th. I was able to read an advanced reader copy through NetGalley and the publisher.


Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Meet Tory, Our Newest Reviewer!

By: Angie Haddock


What better way to enter a shiny new year than by welcoming a new reviewer to Reading Our Shelves! Tory has been a friend of mine for over a decade, and you can see her official bio here.

Look for some reviews by her in the coming months… but for now, let’s learn a little about what she loves to read!

Favorite classic: “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott


Favorite author you’ve discovered in the past 3 years?: Gail Carriger and Alison Weir


An upcoming release you’re excited about: “Loathe to Love You” by Ali Hazelwood and “The House with the Golden Door” by Elodie Harper


Favorite time of day to read: Evening/ before bed


A book you find yourself recommending often: “Lamb, the Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal” by Christopher Moore and “The 7-1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle” by Stuart Turton


A book you’ve read more than once: “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott, and “Wicked” by Gregory Maguire


Processing…
Success! You're on the list.