Friday, December 13, 2019

Despite Rich Subject Material, Historical Orphan Novel a Long, Preachy Slog

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

In turn-of-the-century London, many families are struggling to make ends meet.  After the death of their main breadwinner, the McAlisters are only a few thin coins away from the poorhouse.  To help provide for her mother and three younger siblings, 21-year-old Laura McAlister works as a lady's maid at a posh estate an hour away from the city.  When she learns her mother has been hospitalized with a grave illness, she resigns her position and hurries home—only to find that her brother and sisters have already been turned out of their home and taken to an orphanage.  Desperate to rescue her siblings, Laura makes every attempt to free them, only to find they won't be released unless she can pay a large amount of money.  Knowing hundreds of orphaned British children are regularly being shipped off to Canada, whether they're truly parentless or not, Laura is frantic with worry.  With no way to make the kind of cash she needs, she makes the drastic choice to join the staff of the orphanage using a false identity in the hopes of sneaking her siblings away in the night. 

When Andrew Frasier, the son of Laura's former employer, discovers Laura's ruse, she's terrified the gig is up.  Surprisingly, he joins her in her quest to not just find her brother and sisters, but also to save children like them from being shipped overseas against their will.  Can the duo find Laura's siblings in time?  Or will her deceit be brought to light, cutting off her last chance to save them? 

I've read plenty of books about orphanages, orphan trains, and early versions of foster care in the United States, but I had no idea that England sent more than 100,000 poor and abandoned children to Canada between the years 1869 and 1939.  Those who received them, be it as adopted children or household servants, were assured the kids had been orphaned.  Was that true in every case?  Undoubtedly not.  

As a way to explore this question and bring light to the plight of the children who were sent to Canada, where many were overworked and abused, Carrie Turansky penned No Ocean Too Wide.  Although the McAlister Family is fictional, the made-up characters represent the real kids who endured mistreatment at the hands of the adults who exploited them.  Turansky handles the horrors of the situation gently, but the book's based-on-true-events background is heartbreaking nonetheless.  With such a rich subject to draw on, it's unfortunate that No Ocean Too Wide features blah, underdeveloped characters and a very slow-moving plot.  Written as a Christian novel, it's also quite heavy-handed in the religion department.  All of these things made the book feel like a long, preachy slog.  While I found the subject of the novel fascinating, I had a hard time getting through it.  Needless to say, I'm not going to bother with its forthcoming sequels. 


Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of No Ocean Too Wide from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Standalone Thriller Not Armstrong's Best Work, But Still Compelling

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Keeping devastating secrets from her past away from her safe little life in a Chicago suburb has taken a toll on 30-year-old Bree Finch.  A former stay-at-home mom, she's now separated from her husband, working a part-time job, and seeing her young daughter only on the weekends.  She knows these changes make her look unstable, can see the judgmental looks in the eyes of the other moms, but Bree has to do what she has to do to keep Paul and Charlotte safe.

While at the park alone one day, Bree witnesses a shocking crime.  A child is kidnapped.  Although no one else sees the incident and no parent at the park is missing their kid, Bree knows what she saw, even if the police think she's making up a story to get attention.  If the authorities won't take the disappearance seriously, she will have to investigate on her own.  When the corpse of a young woman is subsequently found in the park, Bree is surer than ever that something horrible has happened.  Soon, she's fully embroiled in a situation that's spinning out of her control.  Who is the dead woman?  And what really happened to the boy Bree saw being taken?  Did her eyes deceive her?  Or is the child even now in grave danger?  

I'm a big fan of Kelley Armstrong's Rockton series, so I'm always up for a new book by her.  A standalone, Wherever She Goes is not as unique or riveting as other of the author's crime thrillers, but it is compelling.  The characters and plotline might be cliché, but I still burned through the pages of Wherever She Goes because I cared about Bree and had to know what was going to happen to her.  In spite of that, this one ended up being another like-it-didn't-love-it read.  It's not Armstrong's best work, but I'm still a fan.  Her mystery novels are always engrossing, even if some are better than others.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of lots of other mystery/thrillers, but no specific title is coming to mind.  You?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs), violence, innuendo, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Second Nichelle Clarke Mystery Almost as Entertaining as First

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Buried Leads, it may inadvertently spoil plot surprises from its predecessor, Front Page Fatality.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

With aspirations of reporting for The Washington Post, 28-year-old journalist Nichelle Clarke is always on the hunt for career-making news stories.  When a corpse wearing an Armani suit is discovered in the woods, Nichelle is the first on the scene.  The dead man's identity as a high-profile lawyer and tobacco lobbyist turns the story into an even juicier tale than Nichelle first imagined.  As she digs into his shady dealings, she uncovers a trail of dirty deeds.  Then, another body with connections to the first is found in a dumpster.  Who is offing people and why?

Determined to track down the murderer, Nichelle puts herself in the sights of a brutal killer.  Despite warnings from her sexy Mafia informant and a handsome old friend, she won't stop until she uncovers the truth.  Even if hers is the next designer-clad corpse to turn up in a shallow grave.

Buried Leads is the second installment in LynDee Walker's enjoyable mystery series starring the intrepid, shoe-obsessed Nichelle Clarke.  I didn't like it quite as much as the first book, but this one is still fun, exciting, and engrossing.  Nichelle is an entertaining narrator who's likable and funny.  The fact that she always has guys swooning over her gets annoying, especially since none of them has much personality.  Still, I'm enjoying this series and will definitely continue reading it.

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Nichelle Clarke series, including Front Page Fatality; Small Town Spin; Devil in the Deadline; Cover Shot; Lethal Lifestyles; Deadly Politics; and Hidden Victims)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a handful of F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, and sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Buried Leads with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Wise Novel About Life After Divorce at Times Raw, Funny, and Beautiful

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When Samantha Morrow's husband, David, asks for a divorce, she doesn't quite know what to do.  A Tiffany's shopping spree at his expense only fills so much of the hole in her heart.  Samantha's mother starts pushing eligible bachelors at the 42-year-old, but what Samantha really needs is money to support herself and her young son.  Renting out the extra rooms in her home seems like an easy way to bring in some needed income.  Although not all of Samantha's renters turn out to be keepers, others become not just company for the lonely woman, but dear friends.  Through her interactions with them, Samantha begins the painful but necessary process of rediscovering herself and reconstructing her shattered life.

Open House by Elizabeth Berg is a wise, but approachable book about transformation and second chances.  Both sad and hopeful, the story moves along quickly enough to keep the reader's interest despite being a take-your-time literary novel.  The characters are a little cliché; they're also likable and relatable.  Prose-wise, Open House is, in turn, raw, funny, and beautiful.  I didn't love the book, but I did like it.

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a handful of F-bombs, plus milder expletives) and sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

"Windy" Murder Mystery Gets a "Meh" From Me

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

A Bataan death march survivor, 43-year-old Pete Banning has been home in Clanton, Mississippi for a year.  As a war hero, a cotton farm owner, a husband, a father, and a quiet, serious man, he's respected among the townsfolk.  It comes as a complete surprise, then, when Pete walks calmly into the Clanton Methodist Church and shoots Dexter Bell, its popular pastor.  When asked why he murdered the 39-year-old minister, Pete simply replies, "I have nothing to say."  Everyone is baffled by the crime, which has them all asking, "What makes one good man kill another good man?"

This simple, but intriguing premise is at the heart of John Grisham's 2018 novel, The Reckoning.  The story recalls Pete's life and military service, all en route to explaining his role in Dexter's death.  Although the novel rambles on for far too many pages, its compelling premise kept me reading.  In spite of the wordiness (or "windiness" as Grisham likes to say), I definitely wanted to know why Pete did what he did.  I can't say I felt a lot of attachment to the characters in this one, though.  Nor did I find its finale satisfying.  Overall, The Reckoning is a sad, depressing read that's well-written, but boring and not very memorable or enjoyable.  My conclusion?  Meh.  

(Readalikes:  the war chapters reminded me of Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand)

Grade:

   
If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs), violence, blood/gore, and mild sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

TTT: I've Been So Good This Year, Santa Came Early!

Believe it or not, Christmas is only two weeks away.  Yikes!  Are you ready?  I'm not even ready for tomorrow, so ... yeah.  I have, however, bought myself a number of gifts already.  Nothing for anyone else yet, but I can say with a surety that Santa is taking good care of me this year!  Since a lot of my purchases were books and this week's topic for Top Ten Tuesday is a holiday freebie, I'll show off the goods below.  Then, I better get going on Christmas shopping for the fam ... 

If you've never played along with TTT before, you really should.  It's a fun weekly event that helps book bloggers spread the love across our fabulous online community.  I love dropping in on favorite blogs, discovering new ones, and, of course, adding great-sounding reading recommendations to my TBR list pile mountain mountain chain.  It's a good time, I promise!  All you have to do is click on over to That Artsy Reader Girl, read a few instructions, create your own list, and start hopping around the Web.  Easy peasy.

Here we go with the Top Ten Books Santa Already Put Under My Tree (metaphorically speaking—they're actually on my festive red book cart):

*I should mention that I brought this haul home from my favorite local indie, Changing Hands Bookstore.  One of my favorite things about the place is that they offer their customers a yearly birthday discount.  They also let you trade in your old books in exchange for a generous store credit.  Since I have a December birthday, I made a trip to Changing Hands the other day.  I traded in some books and used both store credit and my birthday discount to get a whole stack of goodies.  If you live near me or are just visiting the Phoenix area, you should definitely visit one of their two locations.  I prefer the Tempe store (it's funky, fun, and has a lovely staff), but the Phoenix one is a treat as well.*


1.  The Line Between by Tosca Lee—In this post-apocalyptic novel, an eradicated disease reemerges from the melting permafrost in Alaska, causing its victims to go insane.  An escapee from a doomsday cult finds herself trying to navigate her way in a strange, new world while also learning the disturbing truth about the emergent virus.  Post-apocalypse + cults?  Count me in.

2.  The Women of the Copper Country by Mary Doria Russell—I haven't read anything by this author, but this historical novel, about a woman who defies convention to stand up for the rights of miners in turn-of-the-century Michigan, sounds intriguing.

3.  The Life and Death Parade by Eliza Wass—I realized after buying this book that it has pretty ho-hum ratings on book sites.  Oh well.  It sounds interesting.  The novel concerns a boy who visited a psychic who told him he had no future.  Now, he's dead.  His girlfriend vows to find out what really happened to him.

4.  My Bookstore by Ronald Rice—This gem was in the clearance section for super cheap, so I snatched it up.  It's a collection of essays by authors like John Grisham, Fannie Flagg, Ann Patchett, Carrie Ryan, etc. talking about their favorite bookstores.  Sounds fun!

5.  A Noël Killing by M.L. Longworth—After talking about holiday books I wanted to read in last week's TTT, I was immediately drawn to a display table full of just that.  I bought several titles I mentioned in that post, plus this one.  It's actually the 8th book in a mystery series set in France.  Maybe I'll be able to read the first seven before next Christmas.

6.  Before and After by Lisa Wingate—If you've read Before We Were Yours, Wingate's based-on-a-true novel about the horrifying Tennessee Children's Home Society orphanage, you might be interested in this one.  It's a collection of real-life experiences from people who lived at the orphanage.  Sounds fascinating.

7.  The Black Hour by Lori Rader-Day—I've enjoyed several novels by Rader-Day.  This one, about a college professor who's disabled after being shot by a student trying to come to grips with what happened to her and the graduate student who's obsessed with the event, sounds compelling.

8.  The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny—I'm a rabid Penny fan, but I'm purposely reading her Armand Gamache series slowly so I can savor it.  This is the 11th installment and I'm sure I'll love it just as much as I have all the others.

I picked up these two at Deseret Book a few weeks ago:

9.  This Road We Traveled by Jane Kirkpatrick—I enjoy pioneer novels and this one, about a woman's journey across the Oregon Trail, sounds like a good one.

10.  Wildly Optimistic by Al Fox Carraway—Carraway, a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints who calls herself "The Tattooed Mormon" is a popular speaker, writer, and online personality.  Her books are fun and inspiring.  I'm excited for this one, her newest. 

There you have it, ten books "Santa" already delivered.  Have you read any of them?  What did you think?  Have you been so good this year that Santa's already gifted you some fun books?  What intriguing titles are you hoping to find under the Christmas tree this year?  I'd truly love to know.  Leave a comment on this post and I will gladly return the favor on your blog.

Happy TTT!

Monday, December 09, 2019

Mystery Series Debut a Pleasant Surprise

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Journalist Nichelle Clark has one dream—to work as an investigative reporter for The Washington Post.  In order to earn such a coveted job, the 28-year-old first has to prove herself capable, which means she needs a major story, the kind that will grab the attention of the bigwigs at the Post.  With more seasoned reporters gunning for every lead, Nichelle has to fight for every crumb she can get.  When her "cops and courts" beat at the struggling Richmond Telegraph finally lands her a prime story, she can't wait to dive in.  As the deadly police boat collision she's investigating turns from accident to suspected homicide, Nichelle knows she's stumbled on a story that could make her whole career.

The deeper Nichelle digs, however, the more dangerous her life becomes.  Suddenly, she's dealing with missing evidence, drug dealers, and a sexy Mafia man whose sudden appearances at her home make her heart race—in more ways than one.  Add to that a bitter rivalry with the office bimbo and a handsome new colleague whose intentions she can't quite figure out and Nichelle's got a lot on her shoulders.  Can her designer stilettos hold up under the pressure?  Will Nichelle live long enough to sort her business and nab the story of a lifetime?  Or will the examination of Nichelle's murdered body be the next item on the coroner's to-do list? 
I downloaded Front Page Fatality, the first installment in LynDee Walker's Nichelle Clarke mystery series, because it was cheap on Kindle (right now it's only $3.99).  If I had seen its original cover (above right), I would have kept my distance, but the new art plus a compelling plot summary made me want to give this one a chance.  I have to say, I'm glad I did.  The book turned out to be a very pleasant surprise.  I enjoyed the newsroom setting, which felt very authentic thanks to Walker's extensive experience as an investigative reporter.  Despite Nichelle's sometimes annoying fashion and shoe fetishes, I found her to be an appealing heroine.  She's confident, funny, tough, and determined.  Plotwise, Front Page Fatality doesn't offer anything outstanding or original; still, it's compelling.  I definitely wanted to know what was going to happen next.  It's not my favorite mystery series debut or anything, but I've already bought the next two books in the series, so that says a lot about how much I enjoyed Front Page Fatality.

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Nichelle Clarke series by LynDee Walker)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language, violence, and innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Front Page Fatality with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Friday, December 06, 2019

Another Page-Turner from a Psychological Thriller Master

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

As a child, Jocelyn "Jo" Holt's world revolved around one person—her beloved nanny, Hannah Burgess.  When Hannah disappeared from luxurious Lake Hall without a trace, it shattered young Jo.  Her parents appeared unfazed by the woman's sudden departure, insisting Hannah had simply moved on.  Jo couldn't believe she would go without saying goodbye.  Something awful had to have happened to remove Hannah so suddenly, so callously, from Jo's life.  Did someone hurt Hannah?  Or did she really just take another position without informing the charge she claimed to love?

Thirty years later, Jo is back at Lake Hall, her 10-year-old daughter, Ruby, in tow.  A recent widow, she has been left temporarily without a home or funds.  Although she detests her cold, aristocratic mother, Jo has no choice but to move in with Virginia Holt.  At least for the time being.  

When human remains are discovered on the Holts' property, old questions surface.  Do the bones belong to Hannah?  Or are they much older, as Virginia claims?  As the police begin a probing investigation, Jo is forced to ask some disturbing questions:  Who was Hannah Burgess, really?  Why did she disappear?  And what, if anything, did Jo's parents have to do with her vanishment?  

I'm a fan of Gilly Macmillan's twisty psychological thrillers.  The Nanny might not be my favorite of hers, but it's still a taut, compelling page-turner.  Jo and her cohorts aren't a super likable bunch and yet, I cared what happened to them.  Plotwise, The Nanny is exciting and surprising, which definitely kept me racing through the pages.  Like all the psychological thrillers I've been reading lately, this one is sad and depressing.  And yet, I enjoyed it, all in all.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other books by Gilly Macmillan)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language, violence, sexual content, and depictions of illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of The Nanny from the generous folks at William Morrow (an imprint of HarperCollins) in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Newest Not My Favorite Kelly Novel, But Still An Engrossing Page-Turner

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Sometimes reinventing the wheel by writing my own plot summaries for the books I review doesn't make any sense, especially when a novel's back cover copy describes it in a way that's both succinct and brilliant.  Such is the case with Stone Mothers, the newest thriller from British crime writer Erin Kelly.  Check it out:

You can't keep the secret.

You can't tell the truth.

You can't escape the past...

Marianne was seventeen when she fled her home in Nusstead – leaving behind her family, her boyfriend, Jesse, and the body they buried. Now, thirty years later, forced to return to in order to help care for her sick mother, she can feel the past closing around her. And Jesse, who never forgave her for leaving in the first place, is finally threatening to expose the truth.

Marianne will do anything to protect the life she's built, the husband and daughter who must never know what happened all those years ago. Even if it means turning to her worst enemy for help... But Marianne may not know the whole story – and she isn't the only one with secrets they'd kill to keep.

I find books about the early treatment of mental illness both fascinating and horrifying.  Even if I hadn't already been a fan of Kelly's, then, I would have been eager to read Stone Mothers.  Turns out, this isn't my favorite of the author's books.  Still, as with all of Kelly's work, this one kept me burning through pages to see what would happen next.  The characters are complex and intriguing, the plot is fast-paced but contemplative, and the vibe is gothic and eerie.  With plenty of twists to keep things interesting, Stone Mothers is definitely an engrossing page-turner.  It's also sad, depressing, and not my favorite Kelly novel.  Overall, though, I enjoyed it.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of The Other Mother by Carol Goodman; Woman 99 by Greer MacAllister; and a little of The Bright Unknown by Elizabeth Byler Younts)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language, violence, sexual innuendo/content, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Sweet, Entertaining Story Urges Kids to Be Themselves (Even If They're a Little Different From Others)

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"It's a powerful thing to rescue something.  It changes both of you."

Emma's nerves are running rampant on the night before she's to start public school after years of being taught at home.  Needing a distraction, she goes with her game warden father on a call about a wild rabbit.  Surprised to find a pet bunny, not a feral animal, Emma begs her dad to let her bring it home.  Reluctantly, he agrees.  But only until the shelter opens the next morning.

Delighted by her foster pet, Emma nonetheless longs to find a real best friend.  She's never had one before and she desperately wants to know what it's like.  When her efforts yield only a strange boy with special needs, she doesn't know what to do.  Her bunny, Lapi, provides emotional support, but when his presence at her home is threatened, Emma fears she'll lose the only friend she has.  Can she figure out how to keep Lapi and find a human BFF?  Or is she stuck with no pet and only the weird kid for company at school?

I've enjoyed all of Cynthia Lord's middle-grade novels.  Her newest, Because of the Rabbit, is no exception.  It's not my favorite of the author's books, but it's still a sweet, upbeat story about being yourself (even if you're a little different from other people), telling the truth, and being a good friend.  Because of the Rabbit is an easy, entertaining read that will appeal to animal lovers as well as kids who might be having trouble with their own friendships.  I enjoyed it.

(Readalikes:  A little like Rules by Cynthia Lord)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


To the FTC, with love:  Another library find fine

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

TTT: I'll Get to Them One of These Christmases ...


Don't you love the festive Top Ten Tuesday image above?  It's a perfect complement to today's topic:  Top Ten Christmas Books I Hope to Read in December 2019.  If you don't celebrate Christmas or you want to highlight non-holiday books, that's okay too.  Personally, I love to read holiday books to get me in the Christmas spirit.  This year, however, I'm a Round 1 judge for the Cybils Awards, so I'm busy, busy, busy reading books that have been nominated for an award in the YA fiction category.  Our shortlist is due on December 29, so the rest of my reading year will basically be taken up with that.  Since I'm not sure exactly what I am and am not allowed to say about the process, I'm going to focus on the Top Ten Christmas Books I Would Have Liked to Read in December 2019.

Before we get to that, though, I want to encourage you to join in the TTT fun.  It's a great way to spread the love around our great book blogging community.  You can revisit favorite blogs, find new ones to enjoy, and of course, gather awesome reading recommendations to add to your TBR pile.  What's not to love?  Joining in is super easy—just hop on over to That Artsy Reader Girl, read a few quick instructions, create your own TTT list, and get clicking.

Alright, here we go with the Top Ten Christmas Books I Would Have Liked to Read in December 2019:

I'm not much for re-reading, but I make exceptions for the following three books:


1.  A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens—I try to read this classic novella every December.  It's a quick read and one that never fails to put a smile on my face.  There are so many powerful lessons in this deceptively simple story!  It always reminds me that generosity trumps greed, people's hearts can change and that Christmas is a time for forgiveness, unselfishness, and love. 


2.  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling—Rowling's descriptions of Christmas at Hogwarts are just ... magical.


3.  Little Women by Louisa May Alcott—Always a fun read, this is one of my favorite classic novels.

I haven't read any of the following yet.  Maybe next Christmas?


4.  Christmas novels by Jenny Colgan—The Scottish author has penned a number of holiday novels.  I'll probably start with Christmas at the Cupcake Café and go from there.


5.  Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva—As I mentioned above, I love Mr. Dickens' famous carol.  This novel, about the author and how his most loved work came to be, sounds excellent.


6.  A Christmas by the Sea by Melody Carlson—Wendy Harper and her son travel to Seaside, Maine, in order to fix up the cottage Wendy inherits when her grandfather dies.  Although she has every intention of selling the place ASAP, her son insists it's their new home.  Does he know something his mother doesn't?  Sounds like a sweet holiday story!


7.  Christmas Bells by Jennifer Chiaverini—I've read a little bit about the sad story behind Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," which was set to music and became a beloved holiday carol.  This novel goes into more depth.  One of these Christmases, I really need to read it.


8.  Dear Santa by Nancy Naigle—A woman who is clamoring to save the small store her family has owned for generations pens a desperate letter to Santa asking for help.  Little does she know, the person reading her letters is the handsome owner of the chain megastore that she holds directly responsible for putting her store out of business ... A fun holiday rom-com?  Yes, please!


9.  The Bridge by Karen Kingsbury—Another romance, this one revolves around a bookstore that has brought people together for decades.  When a devastating flood threatens to close it forever, its customers (including an estranged couple who made many happy memories at the bookstore) must rally together to save it. 



10.  Sentimental Journey by Holly Schindler—This lovely author has had a special place in my heart ever since she told me she posted my glowing review of her first novel, A Blue So Dark, on her fridge because she was so proud of it!  LOL.  Schindler writes in a variety of genres, but her holiday story collection is particularly fun.  The novellas all center around Ruby's Place, a rundown restaurant and bar that was once the sparkling center of life in little Sullivan, Missouri.  Although it appears deserted, there are some delightful spirits who inhabit the place and are eager to help return it to its former glory.  I've read the first two installments in the series, but haven't yet gotten to this third one.

There you go, ten books I'd like to read in December 2019.  Even though I will likely not get to them next month, I hope to someday.  Have you read any of these?  What are your favorite Christmas reads?  What will you be reading during the holiday season?  I'd love to know your answers.  Leave me a comment on this post and I will gladly return the favor on yours.

Happy TTT!

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Warm and Sweet, Bookshop Rom-Com Makes for Fun Reading

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Just when it seems nothing else can go wrong for Zoe O'Connell—a single mom struggling to keep up with her expensive, stressful life in London—something does.  A "reappraisal" on her crummy flat is the proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back.  Knowing she'll get no help from her absent mum nor her charming, but always penniless ex, Zoe's at her wit's end.  She wants something better for her non-verbal 4-year-old, Hari, but how can she improve their situation when she has no money, no support system, and no hope that things will ever get better?

Enter Surinder, Hari's aunt.  A friend of Nina Redmond (heroine of The Bookshop on the Corner), who's looking for help with her bookmobile business, Surinder sets Zoe up with two jobs in a tiny town in the Scottish Highlands.  Zoe will help Nina out while also working as a nanny at the local "big house."  Desperate, Zoe has little choice but to accept.  Soon, she's doing her best to keep her three rowdy charges in line, help their father engage with his children, and keep a pregnant Nina from overworking herself.  Hari seems content in Kirrinfief, so Zoe's determined to make it work despite all the challenges she's facing.  Can she make a home for herself and her son out of a backward Scottish village?  When push comes to shove, will she stay or go?

Jenny Colgan is a new find for me.  I read The Bookshop on the Corner in 2017 and loved it, so I was eager to pick up its companion novel, The Bookshop on the Shore.  While the latter is not a sequel per se, it does feature the same town as well as some of the same characters from the former.  I loved dropping in on these old friends and being introduced to new ones.  Like its predecessor, The Bookshop on the Shore is warm, sweet, and funny.  I adored everything about it, from the setting to the writing to the characters, both new and familiar.  As much as I enjoyed The Bookshop on the Corner, I liked this one even better as it has more depth to it.  Colgan writes such fun books.  I definitely plan to keep exploring her backlist while eagerly awaiting her newest offerings.


Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a half dozen or so F-bombs, plus milder expletives) and innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of The Bookshop on the Corner with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Another Compelling, But Totally Depressing Domestic Drama? Ugh.

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Neither Nora Holliday nor Josh Landon is happy in their long-term marriages, but that doesn't mean either one of them is the type to start an illicit affair.  But that's just what happens when they run into each other at a hotel in a different city.  A one-time mistake blossoms into something more as they continue to see each other secretly after returning to their small hometown.  Despite the risks to their reputations, their marriages, and their families, Nora and Josh find that their relationship provides the affection and fulfillment they haven't felt with their spouses in years.

When Abby Landon—a college junior who's home recovering from a shattering breakup—sees her father kissing a woman who's not her mother, she vows to get revenge on the pretty homewrecker.  As she plots against her father and his lover, Abby unknowingly sets into motion a plan that will end in the brutal murder of her mother.  Gwen Landon had plenty of enemies, but who actually killed her?

The Last Affair by Margot Hunt is another compelling, but depressing psychological thriller.  It's engrossing, even though it's populated with a cast of selfish, immature people with whom it's very hard to sympathize.  I felt sorry for the kids caught in the middle of their parents' drama, but that's about it.  The Last Affair is enough of a page-turner that I kept reading to the end; overall, though, I didn't find it a very enjoyable or satisfying read.  Mostly, it's just a big downer.  It convinced me that it's time to give this genre a break for a while ...

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a little of Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language, sexual content, violence, and blood/gore

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of The Last Affair from the generous folks at Harlequin.  Thank you!

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Intriguing Premise Leads to Twisty, Compelling Psychological Thriller

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

After years of struggling with infertility, both 38-year-old Lana Stone and her boyfriend, Tyler Jones, are at their wit's end.  The difference is Lana's willing to continue, while her faithful partner is done—with Lana's baby obsession, with all the stress and financial burden it places on them, and with their whole relationship, which has become tense and angry.  When Tyler moves out, Lana's stung.  Then, she gets miraculous news—she's finally pregnant.  Tyler might be out of the picture, but Lana's determined to have their baby anyway.  

A chance encounter on a New York City subway brings Lana face-to-face with a woman she's never met, but with whom she shares an intimate connection.  Katya Dimitrova is the 21-year-old college student whose donated eggs are making Lana's dreams of motherhood a reality.  Lana knows she should not, under any circumstances, follow Katya off the subway, but she does it anyway, an impulsive action that leads to an unlikely friendship between the two women.  It's not long, however, before fun-loving Katya disappears under suspicious circumstances.  Suddenly, Lana finds herself the prime suspect in a missing persons investigation.  In a desperate attempt to exonerate herself, she digs into Katya's past, which brings some very disturbing information to light ...

Her Daughter's Mother, a debut novel by Daniela Petrova, is a compelling psychological thriller built on an intriguing premise.  The characters are complex and authentic, although not very likable.  Still, the propulsive plot kept me reading, needing to know what was going to happen next.  Although the novel is depressing and I didn't end up loving it, it definitely kept me turning pages.  I liked it enough that I'll keep an eye out for Petrova's sophomore attempt.   

(Readalikes:  Hm, nothing's coming to mind.  Help!)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language, violence, sexual content, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find
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