Book 65 of 52: A Gentleman in Moscow

The funny thing about A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles is that I’ve had this for almost three years, but avoided reading it because I assumed it would be a heavy book. It’s a Russian novel! But when I saw a friend write online that her blood pressure dropped every time she read it, I gave it a go. I’m glad I did.

It’s about Count Alexander Rostov, who, at age 30, is sentenced to house arrest. The “house” in this case is the Metropol hotel in Moscow in 1922. A Bolshevik tribunal determined he was an unrepentant aristocrat, but spared his life because of a poem he wrote 1913. Instead, he is sent to live out his days in the belfry of this luxury hotel near the Kremlin.

Alexander makes the most of it, living a full, often delightful life inside. My friend was right: I did feel soothed every time I opened the book. It was a warm friend on some of the shortest nights of the year.

I’m pretty sure I bought this on March 14, 2020, when were were told if we stayed home two weeks, the whole COVID-19 thing would blow over (I know the date […]

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Book 63 of 52: Baron by Joanna Shupe

In November, I reviewed a romance anthology for book 55 in this series: How the Dukes Stole Christmas, which included novellas by four different authors. I’d read books by three of the authors. The fourth, Joanna Shupe, was new to me, and I liked her novella enough that I bought Baron, which is part of her Knickerbocker Club series.

The heroine is “Madam Zolikoff,” a medium who pretends to connect with the spirit world. It’s a job Ava Jones undertook because it was the best way to support herself and her three siblings, and to save money for her dream of moving them all out of New York City during the so-called Gilded Age, which left a lot of non-gilded people out in the cold.

One of her clients is a man running for governor. He’s not the hero. Instead, it’s William Sloane, a railroad baron who will become his lieutenant governor if elected. He knows that any whiff of scandal, including his candidate employing a medium, could derail both of their political careers, so Baron sets out to shove Zolikoff out of the picture. Instead, he falls in love with Ava, the real woman under the makeup and wig.

I […]

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Book 61 of 52: The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan

When Inspector Chopra retires, he receives an unusual inheritance: a baby elephant. He can’t figure out why his uncle left him the animal, but he doesn’t have much time to figure it out. Despite the early retirement due to heart problems, he has one final case he can’t shake. What was initially ruled an accidental drowning doesn’t appear to be so, and in tracking down what really happened, Chopra uncovers a much bigger web of trouble running through the city of Mumbai.

That’s the set up for The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan, but this cozy mystery didn’t do it for me. It doesn’t really come together until the last 50 pages. The separate stories of this case, what to do about the elephant, and the strain in Chopra’s marriage all feel like they’re plot lines floating around each other, to the point that I wondered why they were even in the same book.

This is the first book in a series, and maybe it’s because Khan had to do a lot of world building, but there was just too much warming up. It didn’t grab me enough to make me want to read the follow ups.

I finished […]

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Book 60 of 52: Desert Star by Michael Connelly

The most distinct memory I have of reading a Michael Connelly book was in a Candlewood Suites in Grand Junction, Colo. on July 1, 2017. I was about six weeks into my “do you think a depressed person make this?!” trip to see the 18 states I hadn’t been to yet. I’d just driven across Utah while was sick with a head cold that hit me somewhere over the Pacific Ocean on my flight back from Hawaii to Las Vegas. I’d planned to camp on public lands somewhere outside Arches National Park in Moab, but with temperatures still in the 90s at 5 p.m., I decided to skip it (and Arches entirely) and pay Fourth of July weekend hotel rates somewhere in Colorado.

I was tired, physically sick, and homesick even though I didn’t have a home-as-a-structure to go back to. So I cried in the shower, turned up the AC, and sunk myself into the hotel bed, and read Angel’s Flight, Connelly’s sixth novel in the Harry Bosch series.

I even took a picture:



I’d started to work through Connelly’s back catalogue in 2016 at the recommendation of two friends who like these kinds of books. The events that, in […]

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Book 58 of 52: The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan

I’m getting ready to leave on a trip, so this will be a short post — which is apt as The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan is short! It’s a novella about the parents of characters in her The Brothers Sinister series (I’ve read most of these — recommended!) This story is about finding happiness after trauma and abuse. I don’t want to say exactly what happened to our hero and heroine because their stories unfold over the course of the novella, but it’s not a story I’ve often read in regency romance in exactly this way.

Also if you’re coming here and still thinking romance writers and readers are a bunch of head in the cloud dodos, Milan is the pen name of  Heidi Bond, a Chinese-American lawyer who clerked for a Supreme Court Justice. She paved a way for herself in romance via self publishing, and then blew the lid off Romance Writers of America, which needed to confront its internal racism even if the group reacted poorly. And that’s just scratching the surface of why I admire her as a writer and person. I highly recommend her newsletter, which is free.

And now, […]

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Book 57 of 52: Signal Fires by Dani Shapiro

Signal Fires, a new novel by Dani Shapiro, starts with a death. Sarah Wilf, 17, is too drunk to drive, so she asks Theo, her 15-year-old brother, to drive for her. He ends up crashing into a tree in front of their home, which kills their friend Misty, who was a passenger.

Signal Fires is about the after, and how secrets can be an acid that rips someone apart. The story focuses on the Wilfs, and also the Shamkmans, who move into the house across the street once Sarah and Theo have flown the nest. At the accident, Sarah lies and said she was driving, to protect Theo. Their father Ben, a doctor, rushes to the scene. He knows Theo wasn’t driving, but sticks to the story Sarah has made up.

Even though she did it as an act of kindness to keep Theo out of trouble, it plants a corrosive seed, as does a handful of other secrets and lies the characters keep to themselves.

“The words that might have been spoken will instead be swallowed. Unexpressed, they will wind their way through and around each of them like vines choking a stand of untended trees,” Shapiro writes.

It’s not a surprise […]

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Book 56 of 52: Murder, She Wrote: By the Time You Read This I’ll be Gone by Stephanie Kuehn

My exploration of the Murder, She Wrote universe continues! Did you know there’s now a YA branch of the Jessica Fletcher world? I didn’t either By the Time You Read This I’ll be Gone by Stephanie Huehn, the first entry into a series of books about Fletcher’s great great grand niece, dropped last month. It’s an interesting endeavor.

The protagonist here is Beatrice Fletcher, a high school student and anonymous contributor to TrueMaine, a true crime blog. This particular mystery starts when her friend Jackson, who has been struggling with his mental health, disappears. He’s not the only child of Cabot Cove’s upper crust to have gone missing either. Are these disappearances connected? Is the local elite boarding school involved? What about an all powerful homeowner’s association that has advocated for more surveillance to keep their residents “safe”? And is it all possibly tied an old cold case involving a mayor’s daughter, one of the few crimes the town’s world-famous mystery writer/sleuth has not been able to solve?

Unlike the adult Murder, She Wrote novels, this is not a cozy murder mystery. By The Time You Read This I’ll Be Gone addresses issues like child abuse, grief, addiction, economic inequality, the […]

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Book 55 of 52: How the Dukes Stole Christmas by Tessa Dare, Sarah MacLean, Sophie Jordan and Joanna Shupe

The following things have happened to me in the last two weeks:

I was injured during a routine medical procedure. Forget my fall marathon. For the first week, it hurt to drive, type, walk the dog. I’m still having trouble…existing.
When I went for a necessary follow up, I was told that such pain is normal and to not bother seeking further care from my primary care physician because she’d do nothing for me (spoiler alert: I did seek follow up care, and she did do something for me, and I have reported the original provider to the New Jersey Department of Health).
The eczema medication that gave me normal skin for the first time since I was eight years old also shot my cholesterol through the roof, so I had to stop using it. An outbreak immediately bloomed on my hands and face.
My laptop died. Entirely. There goes a budget already strained by the dog needing two surgeries this summer.

And this is on top of all of my fears and anxieties about the mid-term elections, climate change, gun violence, COVID, etc etc.

So, yes, when I picked out what to read next, I dove not just for a romance novel, but a holiday […]

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Book 53 of 52: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

Hello from the shiny new version of Book a Week with Jen! Do you like it? I do. Since I’m going to keep the site going into the new year, it was time to make it look decent (and functional on mobile). I’ve also added a subscription option, so you can get an email the second a new post drops. I hope you sign up!

To celebrate this new look, I come with an old book, but a classic: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. It’s about Claudia and Jamie Kincaid, siblings who run away from their home in Greenwich, Conn. to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. By using their savings (including winnings from card games Jamie cheated on), and doing things like sleeping in one of the museum beds, and bathing in a now gone fountain from inside a museum restaurant, the pair of course have an adventure, and try to solve a mystery: if marble sculpture recently acquired for $225 is a work of Michelangelo.

The book isn’t told from the perspective of either child, or an omnipotent third person narrator. It’s told by Mrs. Basil […]

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When We Were Orphans book cover

Book 52 of 52: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro

Hey hey! Book 52 of 52! Woooooo! Party! I’m done reading for the year, right? Well of course not. I’m not going to just pack away the dozens of books in my “to read” pile because I hit 52 books for the year. The redesign of this website is still in progress, so it would be a waste to give it a jazzy new look and stop updating. I also hope to start writing different kinds of pieces for the website, including author Q&As. Good things ahead (including an email subscription option!)

But anyway onto book Book 52 of 52: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro. It’s a bit of an odd duck: the diary of Christopher Banks, an Englishman who grew up in Shanghai in the early 1900s until his parents “disappeared.” After moving back to England and becoming a famous detective there, he returns to Shanghai at the brink of WW II to figure out what happened to them. It’s sort of a noir, including a mysterious damsel in maybe distress (and also an orphan). I don’t want to give away the ending, but I don’t think he quite lands it. He adds and element of what […]

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