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ARCs Book Reviews Books Educational Featured Nonfiction

Little Free Libraries and Tiny Sheds: 12 Miniature Structures You Can Build to Enhance Your Yard or Neighborhood by Philip Schmidt

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Expand the sharing movement to your community with  Little Free Libraries and Tiny Sheds —your complete source for building tiny sharing structures, including plans for 12 different structures, step-by-step photography and instructions, inspirational examples, and maintenance.

Around the world, a community movement is underway featuring quaint landscape structures mounted on posts in front yards and other green spaces. Some are built for personal use, as miniature sheds for gardeners or as decorative accent pieces. More commonly, though, they are evidence of the growing trend toward neighborhood organization and community outreach.

This movement has been popularized by Wisconsin-based Little Free Library (LFL), whose members currently include 65,000 stewards seeking to build community togetherness and promote reading at the same time by sharing books among neighbors. LFL has inspired builders to use similar structures to share things like CDs, food, garden tools, and seeds in the community.

Produced in cooperation with Little Free Library, Little Free Libraries and Tiny Sheds is the builder’s complete source of inspiration and how-to knowledge. Illustrated throughout with colorful step-by-step photography and a gallery of tiny structures for further inspiration, Little Free Libraries and Tiny Sheds covers every step: planning and design, tools and building techniques, best materials, and 12 complete plans for structuresof varying size and aesthetics. In addition, author and professional carpenter Phil Schmidt includes information on proper installation of small structures and common repairs and maintenance for down the road.

Little Free Libraries and Tiny Sheds even includes information on how to become a steward, getting the word out about your little structure once it’s up and running, and tips for building a lively collection.

Community togetherness has never been so at the fore of our consciousness—or so important. Little Free Libraries and Tiny Sheds is one tool on the road to helping you build community in your neighborhood.

Little Free Libraries and Tiny Sheds: 12 Miniature Structures You Can Build to Enhance Your Yard or NeighborhoodLittle Free Libraries and Tiny Sheds: 12 Miniature Structures You Can Build to Enhance Your Yard or Neighborhood by Philip Schmidt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Cool Springs Press for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

This is an excellent book, perfect for a beginner or advanced craftsman. I’d recommend it to anyone and it would make a great gift and community/school/family project.

I was intrigued by this book after having seen and used a Little Free Library and wondered how to make one. It’s an amazing concept. This book contains clear, easy to follow, step-by-step instruction with plenty of detailed photos. There are many designs and creative variations to choose from. Also included is how to build a tiny shed, which I thought was a nice addition to include in this book, both are perfect for storing garden supplies.

I was really hoping to participate in building one this summer so I can try it out first hand and include it in my review of the book, but will not be able to until further into next year, so be on the look out for more to come in an update!

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ARCs Book Reviews Books Fantasy Featured Fiction Romance

Midnight at the Blackbird Café by Heather Webber

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Heather Webber’s Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe is a captivating blend of magical realism, heartwarming romance, and small-town Southern charm.

Midnight at the Blackbird CaféMidnight at the Blackbird Café by Heather Webber

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Macmillan/Forge Books for providing me with an advance reader copy via Wunderkind PR.

This was a heartwarming read and I’d recommend it to anyone, especially for who enjoy books that you want to take your time with and ponder, those who enjoy a bit of magical realism, a plot taking place around a charming cafe set in the American south, and those who enjoy reads by Sarah Addison Allen.

It would also make an excellent book club read.

If you are drawn to the lovely title, the lovely cover, and are expecting a sweet and meaningful story to match, you won’t be disappointed. This one lingered with me, especially the quote “There were times, like right now, when it felt as though I’d been grieving my whole life long. Probably because I had been.”

I really enjoyed the author, Heather Webber’s writing style as it drew out the beautiful atmosphere and real emotion of the characters. There was great insight into each character’s emotion as they dealt with loss, their life choices, and each other’s outcome.

There was a middle-fourth to fifth of the book where the premise started to be a bit drawn out and being much much more descriptive in style. Not meandering in the sense because the focus remained, but sort of caught up in descriptive details rather than more about the depth of what was to come and sort of double-backed in that which was already established. However it certainly picked up again and soon I was even more intrigued by the level of mystery and connectivity among the characters as events led up to find the truth.

Discussion of life including business, penmanship, southern cooking, gossip, tragedy, building of friendship and family bonds, and just enjoying conversation and each other’s company as well as the precious things in life helped to keep the story grounded, while the birds brought a certain depth and validity to humanistic expression. The quote, for example “We survive on sweet tea and complaining, plain and simple. Mostly the sweet tea, if I’m tellin’ it to you straight.”

There were excerpts to guide the story along as well which I thought was helpful and confirming.

Also the perfect read for this summer!

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ARCs Book Reviews Books Featured Historical Nonfiction Nonfiction

Appeasement: Chamberlain, Hitler, Churchill, and the Road to War by Tim Bouverie

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Appeasement is a groundbreaking history of the disastrous years of indecision, failed diplomacy and parliamentary infighting that enabled Hitler’s domination of Europe. Drawing on deep archival research and sources not previously seen by historians, Tim Bouverie has created an unforgettable portrait of the ministers, dukes and debutantes who, through their actions and inaction, shaped their country’s policy and determined the fate of Europe.

Appeasement: Chamberlain, Hitler, Churchill, and the Road to WarAppeasement: Chamberlain, Hitler, Churchill, and the Road to War by Tim Bouverie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Penguin Random House for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the First to Read program.

This was an excellent book. I’d recommend it to anyone.

I really appreciated the author, Tim Bouverie’s ability to write about what I feel are lesser known or lesser written bodies of work expanding and knack for condensing perspectives about the avoidance of war and the certain rationales behind historical events leading up to and through WWII.

He brought interesting viewpoints and several players into the discussion with support using a writing style that was straightforward, not fussy, and didn’t dance around with the topics themselves, though as far as timeline, it did jump around a bit at the beginning which made it a little harder for me to follow what the references were at first because I was less familiar, but it wasn’t too distracting, and got better throughout the book.

I enjoyed the depth and thoroughness of the subject matter and was glad to have read this book for my own satisfaction to understand the dynamics of British politics and conflict of interest at the time. I would like to see another work from the counterpart, oppositional viewpoints.

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ARCs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Romance

Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim

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Lush and visual, chock-full of delicious recipes, Roselle Lim’s magical debut novel is about food, heritage, and finding family in the most unexpected places.

Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and FortuneNatalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I adored this story. I would recommend it to anyone.

The writing had an allure and honesty about it. I liked the imagery that the author, Roselle Lim, was able to portray. She brought the characters, setting, and plot to life as insights of cultural perspective intertwined with stories of self-discovery, intrigue, grief, sorrow, guilt, shame, happiness, and joy. It was touching and charming. And it included lovely recipes, I’m looking forward to trying them all!

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Penguin Random House for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the First to Read program.

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ARCs Book Reviews Books Featured Historical Nonfiction Nonfiction

A History of Cadbury by Diane Wordsworth

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When John Cadbury came to Birmingham in 1824, he sold tea, coffee and drinking chocolate in a small shop on Bull Street. Drinking chocolate was considered a healthy alternative to alcohol, something Cadbury, a Quaker, was keen to encourage.

In 1879, the Cadburys moved to Bournville and created their ‘factory in a garden’ – an unprecedented move. It is now ironic that today’s Bournville is surrounded by that urban sprawl the Cadburys were so keen to get away from.

This book looks at some of the social impact this company has had since its inception, both on the chocolate and cocoa business in general and on the community at large, both within and without the firm of Cadbury.

In 2024, Cadbury’s will be celebrating 200 years of the first store opening. This is the story of how the company began, how it grew, and how they diversified in order to survive.

A History of CadburyA History of Cadbury by Diane Wordsworth

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Pen and Sword for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

I love chocolate and I love history so it was no surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one! I would recommend it to anyone. Those who are fascinated with historical accounts presenting the inception of companies, the evolution of business practices among the 19th and 20th centuries, confectionary in the age of industrial revolution, and of course, anyone who enjoys chocolate would particularly be enlightened.

The author, Diane Wordsworth, gave great insight into the development of the Cadbury company through a chronological telling of events. I really appreciated the thoroughness of the material covered. Excerpts of article letters, testimonials, and the photos, illustrations, and pictorial designs really enhanced my enjoyment of the book. From the beautiful factory grounds to a woman carefully painting the classic logo on a box of chocolate, I really valued the inclusion of such a gallery of historical images within the book.

I was interested to learn about the historical perception of chocolate itself and the creation of product. From boilers to produce steam, weighing chocolate by hand, moulds, the shaker, transportation, the setting the chocolate on stone slabs in a cellar, the boxing of chocolate, I found myself engrossed in the process of it all.

I also appreciated the discussion of the foundational company culture and values concerning the welfare of their employees. Fair wages for factory workers, as well as the offering of occupational medicine, apprenticeships, and vocational training through an employment package really helped to define the ethos and build a sense of community which was a unique concept among companies at the time. The exploration of working conditions as they relate to business philosophy was an important issue to cover in this book. With support for the abolition of slave trade and labor in the Portuguese islands of cocoa harvesting, this content would make an interesting volume in and of itself. “In these professedly enlightened days, commercial progress cannot well be considered apart from moral progress; we want to know not only how work is done but who and what they are who do it.”

The company story was told with great context. Significant topics of the time such as women’s suffrage movement and the impact of wartime were mentioned. With employees called to service and in the face of ingredient shortages due to imposed restrictions on the transportation of cocoa, a diversification of the company had also included the manufacturing of dried vegetables, biscuits, and fruit pulp. Other contributions in meeting the needs of the military through craftsmanship included part making for guns and aeroplanes which I found intriguing.

I would be interested to see an extension of this book to include additional details of the changes experienced in the industrial age as it relates to a deeper look into confectionery factory life and the process of chocolate-making. I can only imagine the difficulty in organizing and deciding upon the inclusion or exclusion of content for this or a subsequent piece since the manufacturing of chocolate is so multifaceted. I’d also be curious about additional material with the incorporation of the future of the company in reference to an entrepreneurial endeavor by Cadbury’s great-grandson, James, who has since started a company called Love Cocoa. The characteristics of these products include being natural and free-from palm oil and embraces environmental conservation efforts through a partnership with the Rainforest Foundation.

I think this would make a great gift and coffee table book for your home, office, or business place.

And I thought this was a cute craft: Felt Cadbury Bunny Easter Craft.

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ARCs Biography Book Reviews Books Featured Historical Nonfiction Mystery Nonfiction Thriller

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep

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The stunning story of an Alabama serial killer and the true-crime book that Harper Lee worked on obsessively in the years after To Kill a Mockingbird.

Reverend Willie Maxwell was a rural preacher accused of murdering five of his family members for insurance money in the 1970s. With the help of a savvy lawyer, he escaped justice for years until a relative shot him dead at the funeral of his last victim. Despite hundreds of witnesses, Maxwell’s murderer was acquitted–thanks to the same attorney who had previously defended the Reverend.

Sitting in the audience during the vigilante’s trial was Harper Lee, who had traveled from New York City to her native Alabama with the idea of writing her own In Cold Blood, the true-crime classic she had helped her friend Truman Capote research seventeen years earlier. Lee spent a year in town reporting, and many more working on her own version of the case.

Now Casey Cep brings this story to life, from the shocking murders to the courtroom drama to the racial politics of the Deep South. At the same time, she offers a deeply moving portrait of one of the country’s most beloved writers and her struggle with fame, success, and the mystery of artistic creativity.

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper LeeFurious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Penguin Random House for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the First to Read program.

This book was absolutely fascinating! I would recommend it to anyone. If you have fond memories of reading Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird as a child or are looking to read classics this year, be sure to put this one on your TBR. It’s also a type of story within a story about a story whose final works (those being Harper Lee’s) were never published in which readers of true crime/thrillers will appreciate.

Furious Hours made full circle as it encompassed the published/unpublished works and the personal and literary life of author Harper Lee. As the first chapters unfolded into a compelling story of the accused Reverend Maxwell, I gained incredible insight into the norms of Southern living as well as the cultural and political climate of the times. From the perceptive value of the aesthetic and functional features of the Alabama courthouses to the practice of law itself, the intriguing writing style kept my full attention.

The author, Casey Cep, did an amazing job articulating and organizing the depth and reach of Harper Lee in a way that was captivating. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about influential circumstances and notable people who crossed paths with Harper Lee, including Truman Capote. All these details added so much biographical context to how Harper Lee lived her life, the choices she made, and how it shaped her writing as an author. This is one book you won’t want to put down!

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ARCs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Historical Fiction Mystery Thriller

The Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye

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The new and exciting historial thriller by Lyndsay Faye, author of Edgar-nominated Jane Steele and Gods of Gotham, which follows Alice “Nobody” from Prohibition-era Harlem to Portland’s the Paragon Hotel.

The year is 1921, and “Nobody” Alice James is on a cross-country train, carrying a bullet wound and fleeing for her life following an illicit drug and liquor deal gone horribly wrong. Desperate to get as far away as possible from New York City and those who want her dead, she has her sights set on Oregon: a distant frontier that seems the end of the line.

The Paragon HotelThe Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Penguin Random House for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the First to Read program.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book! I would recommend it to those who enjoy history within the time periods of the 1920s and 1930s and within the setting of the U.S. It really takes you back in time to the days of the prohibition era.

The writing style was excellent. Though I was definitely absorbed into the story from the beginning, I did have a slight bit of difficulty following at first, but ultimately really appreciated the detailed descriptions and changing POV, as well as the dialogue, which was well written to reflect deep emotion and the social climate of the time. The characters were rich as well as the plot, which made for very interesting revelations. There were so many intriguing layers within the plot, including cultural and social dynamics that added incredible dimension to the mystery of the story and brought an interesting perspective to well known events that I hadn’t realized before.

I would really like to listen to this via audiobook as I think it would be a great one.

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ARCs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Romance

All I Want for Christmas is a Cowboy by Jessica Clare

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Christmas arrives early when a fateful encounter leads two strangers to unexpected love in this holiday romance from New York Times bestselling author Jessica Clare. Perfect for fans of Harper Sloan, Kelly Elliott, Diana Palmer, Jennifer Ryan and Maisey Yates.

All I Want for Christmas is a CowboyAll I Want for Christmas is a Cowboy by Jessica Clare

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Penguin Random House for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the First to Read program. All opinions are my own. Not sponsored.

The title really says it all. It was a cute holiday cowboy romance story and I enjoyed reading it. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys this sort of genre and anyone looking for a sweet and short romantic holiday read.

I liked the author, Jessica Clare’s, writing style. I felt the characters were interesting and had enough depth to keep the story alive and moving. I loved the setting! It defined the perfect cozy, grab your blanket and hot drink of choice, and sit by the fire place type of winter holiday read!

I felt it had tones of role idealization and repressed middle aged sexual fantasy with the plot being put together as an after thought. As a result, some parts read a bit silly since the plot itself was less than realistic much of the time. But I suppose this may be what this type of genre and appeal is about. This aspect wasn’t overly distracting for me, but others may enjoy it more than I did, particularly if you’re into romance books and looking for the sorts of reads that end up having more story around the appeal of the sex scenes than just extensive further character and plot development.

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ARCs Book Reviews Books Fantasy Featured Fiction Historical Fiction Horror

Dracul by J.D. Barker, Dacre Stoker

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The prequel to Dracula, inspired by notes and texts left behind by the author of the classic novel, Dracul is a riveting novel of gothic suspense that reveals not only Dracula’s true origins but Bram Stoker’s — and the tale of the enigmatic woman who connects them.

DraculDracul by J.D. Barker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Penguin Random House for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the First to Read program. All opinions are my own. Not sponsored.

Loved this! The writing was beautiful. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, suspense, supernatural thrillers, gothic literature, or horror genres and also to anyone interested in the backstory of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Stoker’s early life, and his inspiration for authorship.

The authors, Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker, did an amazing job with the preservation of the characteristic epistolary relationship to the narrative and changing of multiple points of view, dialogues, voices, tenses, settings, and time. The original thought was upheld and intention of the story and presentation was well executed in a way that I think brought proud justice to the works of Bram Stoker, as well as his writing process and personal life.

The tone was one of discovery and intrigue as it depicted feats beyond human strength within an allegorical context. This included revelations of Bram Stoker in life and story, which was further explained in the authors’ note and was fascinating to read. The language, syntax, and decision-making within the plot, though written in a retrospective manner, this being a prequel, maintained authenticity of the time it was written and complimented the original novel and original journal entries and letters perfectly. I loved the language, expression, and descriptions used, being from the 19th century timeframe, which showcased both the talents of the authors as writers and the essence of classic gothic literature. The characters, both protagonists and antagonists alike, had individual qualities with depth, passion, and a moral code to each their own that shed light into the driving theme of vampirism and offered an understanding of all its attributes and rationales.

As far as the plot itself, it was a real page-turner and I thoroughly enjoyed the way it was organized chronologically as it unfolded into a deeper interconnection of subplots. The shaping of the story was compelling as was the climax and epilogue. It followed a gripping timeline of events that captured the themes, imagination, drama, and emotion of the original Dracula novel, in addition to having a complete set of characteristics for a stand alone novel in its own right as well.

MY FAVORITE LINES: To be revealed upon final publication.

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ARCs Biography Book Reviews Books Featured Historical Nonfiction Nonfiction

Founding Martyr: The Life and Death of Dr. Joseph Warren, the American Revolution’s Lost Hero by Christian Di Spigna

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A rich and illuminating biography of America’s forgotten Founding Father, the patriot physician and major general who fomented rebellion and died heroically at the battle of Bunker Hill on the brink of revolution

Founding Martyr: The Life and Death of Dr. Joseph Warren, the American Revolution's Lost HeroFounding Martyr: The Life and Death of Dr. Joseph Warren, the American Revolution’s Lost Hero by Christian Di Spigna

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Penguin Random House for providing me with an uncorrected proof via access to the galley for free through the First to Read program. All opinions are my own. Not sponsored.

I enjoyed this book! I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading biographies and non-fiction wartime, as well those interested in learning what life was like during the 18th century. More specifically, those who would like to know about events surrounding the American Revolutionary War/American War of Independence and the life of Dr. Joseph Warren.

The author, Christian Di Spigna, did a wonderful job presenting the story of Dr. Joseph Warren who held multiple titles and roles as a well-respected physician and key political activist during the early days of the American Revolution. It’s presented in a well-constructed, well-organized, semi-chronological timeline that preserves several historical dates of interest. This was balanced with excerpts from Dr. Warren’s personal life, excellent scene descriptions, and insight into the fascinating social norms of the time, which made for a pleasurable read that wasn’t overwritten or boring. As someone who is familiar with Dr. Joseph Warren, I appreciated the level of detail that was contained in this historical account. The beginning chapter did contain a few long-winded bits, but the sentences made for case in point and weren’t overly distracting.

The author was able to cleverly depict interesting differences in the knowledge and culture of the time to a more common worldview of today without interjecting loads of personal bias/opinions or unnecessary embellishment to the storyline. I enjoyed the careful placement of 18th century prose by use of direct quotes along with the occasional summarization. I also really liked the inclusion of words that were used for certain items at the time instead of substituting them with overly descriptive imagery and explanations. Though I had to reach for my dictionary a couple times, I found it refreshing to learn the names of objects that are not common in today’s daily life and language.

As far as the storyline is concerned, people familiar and unfamiliar with it will find it intriguing and the writing compelling. It would make a great addition to anyone’s historical or medical biography literary collection.

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ARCs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Mystery

Hitting the Books by Jenn McKinlay

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It’s murder by the book in the latest hit Library Lover’s mystery from the New York Times bestselling author of Death in the Stacks.

When a stack of library materials is found at the scene of a hit and run, library director Lindsey Norris finds herself dragged into the investigation as the police try to link the driver of the stolen car to the person who borrowed the books. Before Lindsey can delve into the library’s records, the victim of the hit and run, Theresa Houston, suffers another “accident” and the investigation shifts from driver negligence to attempted homicide.

A clue surfaces in the confiscated library materials that could crack open the case and it is up to Lindsey to piece it all together. But things are not as they seem in the sleepy town of Briar Creek and when the driver of the stolen car turns up dead, Lindsey, her staff and her library friends have to hit the books before the murderer gets the last word…

Hitting the Books (Library Lover's Mystery, #9)Hitting the Books by Jenn McKinlay

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Penguin Random House for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the First to Read program.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book! Though this was the first one I have read in the series, I didn’t find it too difficult to get to know the characters or to jump into the story. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys the cozy mystery genre.

The author, Jenn McKinlay, wrote the characters with charm and relational traits which made it easy for me to join the series. I appreciated the point of view being both prospective and limited third-person omnipresence for purposes of character and plot development.

As far as the plot is concerned, I enjoyed the pace of the unveiling and the story itself. It unfolded in sort of in a Scooby-Doo-esque type fashion in that it read a bit fanciful at times along with a “those meddling kids” type quality to it which was fun and ultimately ended with a creative plot twist that kept it somewhat grounded in reality. There was this charismatic attribute of the protagonist and setting of a small town which allows for such casual interactions to take place and I wouldn’t have minded to have read even more town gossip and even more imaginative and speculative construct support from that perspective. All the library thematics made for a fun and engaging read.

And of course, recipes and a craft project, such pleasant surprises as well!

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