Monday, December 31, 2018

Sweet, Heartfelt YA Novel a Happy Way to End 2018

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

After the Brooklyn restaurant where they both work goes under thanks to its greedy owner, 16-year-old waitress Hope Yancey and her aunt Addie, a short-order cook, are forced to find new jobs.  Not to mention a more affordable home.  A diner owner in Mulhoney, Wisconsin, has offered Addie a job managing his restaurant.  Although Hope doesn't relish moving to a small, backwards town in the middle of nowhere, she can't deny that she and her aunt could really use a new start.

It's not long before Hope is doing a whole lot more than delivering entrees at the Welcome Stairways Diner.  She's also dishing out advice to the waitstaff, helping a cancer patient run for mayor, fighting corruption in Mulhoney, and falling in love for the first time.  As things grow more and more complicated, Hope has to find the courage to believe in the promise of the name she gave herself because what Mulhoney really needs is a big ole helping of Hope.

Someone (Lark?) mentioned Hope Was Here, a Newbery Honor Book by Joan Bauer, as being one of the most positive books they'd ever read.  Ending 2018 on a happy note seemed like a good idea, so I checked the novel out of the library.  Although this is technically a YA novel, it's sweet and upbeat, reading more like a MG book.  The plot meanders around a bit, but overall, this is a solid story that's uplifting and hopeful.  It teaches some powerful lessons about blooming where you're planted and using your unique talents for good.  I didn't love Hope Was Here, but I did enjoy it.

(Readalikes:  Um, nothing is really coming to mind.  Suggestions?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for mild violence

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Despite Excited Buzz, The Library Book Is A Little Disappointing

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The Library Book by journalist Susan Orlean has gotten so much buzz this year that you probably already know exactly what it's about.  Just in case you've been living in a remote cave on the edge of civilization, here's the blurb from the back of the book:

On the morning of April 29, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. As the moments passed, the patrons and staff who had been cleared out of the building realized this was not the usual fire alarm. As one fireman recounted, “Once that first stack got going, it was ‘Goodbye, Charlie.’” The fire was disastrous: it reached 2000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Investigators descended on the scene, but more than thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library—and if so, who?

Weaving her lifelong love of books and reading into an investigation of the fire, award-winning New Yorker reporter and New York Times bestselling author Susan Orlean delivers a mesmerizing and uniquely compelling book that manages to tell the broader story of libraries and librarians in a way that has never been done before.

In The Library Book, Orlean chronicles the LAPL fire and its aftermath to showcase the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives; delves into the evolution of libraries across the country and around the world, from their humble beginnings as a metropolitan charitable initiative to their current status as a cornerstone of national identity; brings each department of the library to vivid life through on-the-ground reporting; studies arson and attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; reflects on her own experiences in libraries; and reexamines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the LAPL more than thirty years ago.

Along the way, Orlean introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters from libraries past and present—from Mary Foy, who in 1880 at eighteen years old was named the head of the Los Angeles Public Library at a time when men still dominated the role, to Dr. C.J.K. Jones, a pastor, citrus farmer, and polymath known as “The Human Encyclopedia” who roamed the library dispensing information; from Charles Lummis, a wildly eccentric journalist and adventurer who was determined to make the L.A. library one of the best in the world, to the current staff, who do heroic work every day to ensure that their institution remains a vital part of the city it serves.

Brimming with her signature wit, insight, compassion, and talent for deep research, The Library Book is Susan Orlean’s thrilling journey through the stacks that reveals how these beloved institutions provide much more than just books—and why they remain an essential part of the heart, mind, and soul of our country. It is also a master journalist’s reminder that, perhaps especially in the digital era, they are more necessary than ever. 

I love libraries and books about libraries and books about books, so naturally I was excited to read this one.  Orleans' examination of the devastating fire and her ruminations about books/reading in general are fascinating, but The Library Book still got dull for me in places.  It made for such slow reading that I actually put the volume down several times.  In the end, I enjoyed the read overall, but I didn't love it like I thought I would.  Bummer.

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (1 F-bomb, plus milder expletives), violence, and references to sex and illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of The Library Book from Barnes & Noble with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Loosey-Goosey Structure Makes New Thriller Not So Thrilling

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When her fiancé's private plane crashes in the Colorado Rockies, 31-year-old Allison Carpenter is left alone on a remote mountaintop.  With little food, no shelter, and no way to communicate with the outside world, she must figure out how to survive.  It's not just the elements that are plotting against her—she's harboring an explosive secret that powerful men would kill to keep under wraps.  

Maggie Carpenter hasn't seen or talked to her only child in two years.  When she receives the news that Allison is presumed dead after a plane crash, the widow is filled with sorrow and remorse.  Also a niggling hope.  Allison's remains have not been recovered.  Although everyone urges her to accept the fact that her daughter is dead, Maggie refuses to give up.  After finding some disturbing information about the life Allison's been leading in the years since Maggie saw her, Maggie starts digging into her daughter's secret past.  What she discovers convinces Maggie that her daughter's "death" was no accident.  

In a desperate race to save themselves and each other, both women will have to use all their strength and tenacity to get to the bottom of a disturbing conspiracy that its perpetrators will do anything to keep quiet.

Told from dual perspectives, Freefall by Jessica Barry (available January 8, 2019) is an adrenaline-fueled page turner that kept me riveted despite the novel's loosey-goosey construction.  The plot gets cliché and melodramatic while not making a lot of logical sense.  I saw its big twists coming from too far away.  Allison is difficult to relate to—her cash-centric decisions make little sense and leave her looking like a greedy, self-centered gold digger.  Although I did want to know how this novel ended, overall it didn't feel like a very satisfying read.  I wanted a tighter, more sensical plot; better developed characters; and some surprising twists to keep the story fresh.  Maybe next time.

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't really think of anything.  You?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, blood/gore, sexual content, depictions of illegal drug use, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Freefall from the generous folks at HarperCollins.  Thank you!

Appalachian Midwife Novel Interesting, But Sluggish

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Although Patience Murphy hardly feels qualified to call herself a midwife, she's been delivering babies in Hope River, West Virginia, ever since her mentor died two years ago.  With the Great Depression raging across the country, hitting Appalachia especially hard, Patience receives much thanks for her services, but little payment.  Still, she can't deny a woman in need.  As times worsen, with no money available for fuel or food, Patience fears she will slowly freeze or starve to death.  In the meantime, she helps as many new mothers as she can, assists her handsome neighbor with his veterinarian practice, and protects her black roommate, Bitsy, from hateful Klan members.  It's a difficult life Patience leads, but a satisfying one.  As long as she keeps her real identity hidden, it's also a relatively safe one ...

It's evident from The Midwife of Hope River, Patricia Harman's first novel, that she has plenty of experience with midwifery, but not a lot with fiction writing.  The tale Harman tells here is interesting and authentic, true; it's also slow, episodic, and plotless.  It reads more like a doctor's journal than a story with a defined beginning, middle, and end, which makes sense since Harman's previous two books are both memoirs.  I'm not saying I didn't enjoy The Midwife of Hope River—all in all, I did—it was just a very slow read for me.  Intriguing, but sluggish.  Considering how long it took me to get through the novel, I'm not sure I'll bother reading the book's sequels.  Harman's memoirs, though?  I'll definitely give them a chance because it's obvious from The Midwife of Hope River that the author has had some fascinating experiences delivering babies in poor, rural communities.  I definitely want to read more about that.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of the BBC television show Call the Midwife, which is based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a couple of F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, blood/gore, and mild sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of The Midwife of Hope River from Barnes & Noble with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Second Installment As Enjoyable As First in Diverting Cozy Series

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for The Pint of No Return, it may inadvertently spoil plot surprises from its predecessor, Death on Tap.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

There's nothing quite like Oktoberfest in the small, German-themed town of Leavenworth, Washington.  Crowds of beer lovers swarm the streets, bringing enthusiasm, money, and chaos to the otherwise quiet village.  Sloan Krause, the manager of a start-up brewery, is excited for the opportunity to bring attention to the new bar while showcasing the brilliant Cherrywizen she and Nitro's owner, Garrett Strong, have been cooking up.  When she learns that a film crew is in town to make a documentary about beer, she's thrilled with the publicity it could bring for Nitro.  The fact that its "talent" is a spoiled child star who offends everyone he meets is an annoyance, but one she's too busy to dwell on.

When Mitchell Morgan's dead body is discovered behind a beer tent, Sloan is as shocked as the rest of her community.  Certainly, the "star" had made his share of enemies, but who hated him enough to kill him?  Suspects are plentiful and include some of Sloan's nearest and dearest.  To clear their names, Sloan once again turns amateur detective, sticking her nose into places it doesn't belong.  The closer she gets to the truth, the more dangerous her little investigation becomes.  Can she solve the case before it's too late?  Or will Sloan's be the next body on the coroner's table?

I'm not generally big on cozy mysteries, but I've become a fan of Ellie Alexander's books.  I especially enjoy this series featuring brewmaster Sloan Kraus.  The Pint of No Return, the second installment, is a light, fun mystery featuring likable characters set against a charming, colorful backdrop.  Alexander peppers the story with details about beer-making, which is interesting, even to someone like me who knows nothing at all about the industry.  Plotwise, there's nothing too original or surprising here, but the tale kept me engaged.  I enjoyed The Pint of No Return and will definitely keep reading this diverting series.

(Readalikes:  Death on Tap by Ellie Alexander)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs) and violence

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Twisty Psychological Thriller Is Thoroughly Engaging

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

One year ago, a 15-story office building in downtown Chicago exploded killing 513 people and injuring more than 2000.  Among all of the lives changed that day are those of three very different women:
  • A newspaper photo of Cecily Grayson, whose husband died in the explosion, became almost instantly the iconic image marking the day's horror.  The subsequent scrutiny changed her life, thrusting every detail about her and her family into a spotlight she doesn't want.  What if Teo Jackson, a filmographer who's making a documentary about the event, uncovers the guilty secrets Cecily keeps about that day?
  • Kate Lynch used the explosion to escape her restrictive life as a wife and mother.  Now a nanny in Montreal, she lives in fear of being recognized.  What if someone discovers her true identity?  Kate can't go back, but neither is she really moving forward ...
  • 24-year-old Franny Maycombe was adopted as a baby and is obsessed with finding her birth mother.  As she watched news coverage of the explosion she knew that her last chance to know her bio mom was going down in flames.  Now she's an activist who's passionate about making sure the victims get their due compensation, but does she really have a right to the position?   
As the one-year anniversary events commence in Chicago, the three women guard their individual secrets closely.  But, as Teo interviews Cecily and Franny for his film and as the trio's lives become more intertwined, new revelations will come forth.  Who is "the good liar"?  And what will happen when their secrets are finally out in the open?

The Good Liar, the newest psychological thriller by Canadian author Catherine McKenzie, is a taut, twisty novel that's as engrossing as it is thought-provoking.  Not all of its story people are likable, but they're all complex and interesting.  Although I saw a lot of the novel's plot "surprises" coming, I still flew through its pages anxious to see what would happen next.  While I didn't end up loving this addictive page turner, it still kept me thoroughly engaged.  The Good Liar is the first book I've read by Catherine McKenzie, but I'll definitely be reading more in future.  

(Readalikes:  Hm, nothing is coming to mind.  You?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, disturbing subject matter, and references to underage drinking and illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Sweet, Wholesome Heart Land An Enjoyable Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Grace Klaren has always been a small town girl with a big city dream.  

Just when it seems she's finally getting somewhere in the New York City fashion world after six years of grunt work, Grace finds herself jobless and unable to afford the exorbitant rent on her apartment in the city.  With little other choice, she returns to the tiny farming town where she grew up to wallow in the arms of Gigi, the loving grandmother who raised her.  Silver Creek, Iowa, might be her home, but it's still the boring, backwards place it's always been; as soon as Grace can save up enough money, she'll flee it once again.

In the meantime, Grace spends her days trying to help Gigi sell hopelessly unfashionable clothing at a flea market stall.  It's here that inspiration strikes.  When Grace sells a dress she remakes using her own designs for $200 online, she realizes that—despite what some snooty designer in New York City might say—she can make money creating her own clothing.  Soon, the enterprise has turned into a booming business, one that turns heads in The Big Apple.  An old colleague calls with a lucrative offer of his own and suddenly, Grace faces a surprisingly difficult choice—New York City or Silver Creek, Iowa?  

Heart Land by Kimberly Stuart is a warm, wholesome novel about one woman's quest to find her place in the world.  Sweet and clean, it focuses on the power of family, friendship, and faith.  Although Heart Land is technically a Christian novel, it treads lightly in the God department.  The subject shows up enough that we know religion is important to several of the book's characters, but not so much that it feels fake or cheesy.  Grace comes off as a little flaky, but she's a likable heroine, even if she's not all that well developed.  This description fits most of the book's cast, in fact.  Although not everything in the novel rings true (Silver Creek is economically depressed, but people can still afford new construction and expensive dresses?), but overall, it's a light, enjoyable read that reminds the reader of what's most important in life.  I liked it and am definitely up for reading more from Kimberly Stuart.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of a million other down-on-her-luck-woman-retreats-to-the-small-town-to-which-she-swore-she'd-never-return-only-to-discover-she-never-wants-to-leave novels, although no specific title is coming to mind.)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for mild innuendo

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

Moriarty's Newest Another Disappointing Non-Charmer

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

The benefits reaped from a visit to Tranquillium House, a remote boutique health and wellness resort, are touted far and wide.  It's a place designed for anyone in need of healing, whether from a toxic diet, a stressful job, or an emotional upset.  Although its methodology is kept quite hush-hush, Tranquillium House has a reputation for being a revolutionary, life-changing facility.  

One week, nine strangers come to the resort for varying reasons.  Some need a health makeover, others a marital one, and still others a chance to reboot and refocus.  As the guests get to know each other, they begin to discover each other's secrets.  But it's the owner of the resort that is the most intriguing.  When the resort goers start to wonder about Masha Dmitrichenko's unconventional methods, they begin asking themselves the most important question—just who is this woman?  With things at Tranquillium House becoming more disturbing by the day, the guests must ask themselves whether they should trust in the process or run while they still can ...

I love Liane Moriarty's books, so I get excited every time a new one comes out.  Since I didn't care much for the author's last one, I've been hoping her newest would charm me the way novels like What Alice Forgot and Big Little Lies did.  Did I get my wish with Nine Perfect Strangers?  Not exactly.  I didn't despise it the way a lot of readers and reviewers did, but I didn't love it nearly as much as I wanted to.  Like all of Moriarty's novels, Nine Perfect Strangers is sharp and funny, with some astute and thought-provoking observations about human nature.  The characters are complex and interesting enough, without being overly original.  As far as plot ... there's not a lot.  There's suspense, of course, as the guests try to figure out what, if anything, is really going on at the resort, but that's kind of it.  I kept waiting for an And Then There Were None kind of situation, but in that I was disappointed.  The story definitely picks up toward the end, but a lot of readers may not last that long.  In the end, then, I liked Nine Perfect Strangers well enough to finish it, although I certainly did not love it.  Like other Moriarty fans, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that her next book will hearken back to the good old days when the author produced sharp, funny novels that were also charming, moving, engrossing, and satisfying.  Here's hoping ...

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a little of Under a Dark Sky by Lori Rader-Day and Every Single Secret by Emily Carpenter)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, sexual innuendo, and depictions of illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Nine Perfect Strangers from Barnes & Noble with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Despite Predictability, Small-Town Murder Mystery Is an Unputdownable Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Like the seedy, 1-star motel where she works, Juliet Townsend is "halfway to anywhere that mattered, stuck" (15).  Although she had grand dreams of leaving her hometown of Midway, Indiana, she's still there ten years after graduating high school.  Working as a hotel housekeeper, living with her mother, and seeing the same faces every day makes for a dreary, banal existence.  

Then, Madeline Bell walks into the Mid-Night Inn.  Wearing beautifully tailored clothes and a gleaming diamond on her finger, Juliet's old friend and rival looks like a movie star. What she's doing at a rundown hotel like the Mid-Night, Juliet can't fathom.  She doesn't get a chance to find out, either, as Madeline's dead body is found the next morning hanging from a railing.  Why would a beautiful, wealthy woman like that commit suicide?  When evidence of murder comes to light, Juliet finds herself a suspect in the killing of the woman to whom she's always played second fiddle.  In order to clear her name, the housekeeper will have to find out who really killed Madeline Bell before her own body is found swinging from the rafters.

Little Pretty Things, a murder mystery by Lori Rader-Day, tells a taut, unputdownable story about two very different women tied to the same dead-end town.  While the tale is depressing as all get-out, it's also an engrossing mystery that I couldn't stop reading.  That's saying something since I saw where the plot was heading almost from the start.  Even though it's predictable, the novel is a fast-paced page turner that will resonate with anyone who, like Juliet, feels stuck in a life she never saw herself living.  Despite some disturbing subject matter, I enjoyed this one.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other novels by Lori Rader-Day, including Under a Dark Sky and The Day I Died)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  Another fine find

Handwriting Analysis Mystery a Meh Kind of Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Handwriting analyst Anna Winger has only been in Parks, Indiana, for a few months when a shocking crime rocks the small community.  The body of a 24-year-old nanny has been discovered in a park restroom, her young charge missing.  It's assumed that the toddler was taken by his mother, perhaps to get him away from an abusive father.  To help determine what actually happened, Anna is called in to consult with local sheriff Russ Keller.  The single mother knows a lot about running away to protect a child from a violent parent—if the missing woman is running from an abusive ex, more power to her.

It's not long, however, before Anna's own son disappears.  Joshua has been unhappy in Parks.  Has he run back to their old town?  Or has something more sinister happened?  With two boys missing from town, the latter looks more likely.  Can Anna use her unique skill to help the police root out a murder and find the children?  What really happened to the kids?  Desperate to find Joshua, Anna will do anything she can to locate him, even reveal the secrets that could get her and her son killed.

After really enjoying Lori Rader-Day's newest novel, I found The Day I Died—the author's third—a bit of a disappointment.  While I enjoyed reading about the science of handwriting analysis, that wasn't enough to save this one from a meandering plot, unlikable characters, and a number of contrived story twists.  I finished the book because I definitely wanted to know what was going to happen, but in the end, I felt very meh about The Day I Died.  Bummer.

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a few F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, and sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Taut, Tense Game Warden Mystery Launches Intriguing Series

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Mike Bowditch is a 24-year-old game warden who likes solitude and avoiding unnecessary complications.  His father, Jack, is a definite complication.  A poacher and trapper, Jack is a "saloon-brawling logger with a rap sheet of misdemeanors and the public persona of a Tasmanian devil" (53) who finds himself in constant trouble with the law.  Still, Mike can't contain his shock when he's informed that his father is the prime suspect in the murder of a beloved police officer.  No one understands Jack's volatile nature better than his son, but Mike still can't believe his father is capable of murder.  In order to clear his name, Mike will have to find the real killer.  

Putting his job and his reputation on the line, Mike travels deep into the Maine wilderness in search of his missing father.  With only a retired warden pilot on his side, he feels almost helpless.  Determined to find the truth, Mike soldiers on, risking more and more as the investigation goes on.  Can he prove his father innocent?  Or will he just destroy everything he's worked so hard for in the pursuit of an impossible outcome?

The Poacher's Son, a debut novel by Paul Doiron and the first in a series, is a taut, atmospheric thriller featuring a brave, likable hero.  Taut and compelling, the plot twists and turns, keeping the reader constantly on edge.  Although it's a grim tale, The Poacher's Son is engrossing enough to make me want to read more in this intriguing series.  

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of the Glacier Mystery series by Christine Carbo [The Wild Inside; Mortal Fall; and The Weight of Night] as well as books by C.J. Box and Nevada Barr)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, blood/gore, sexual content, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Intriguing Dark Park Mystery a Thrilling Page Turner

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

It's been nine months since Eden Wallace's husband died and yet, she can't move on.  The 35-year-old widow has become so paralyzed with grief and anxiety that she barely leaves the house.  She's given up on her photography, her job, and any kind of social life.  Her fear of the dark has become debilitating.  Even Eden has grown tired of her grief, so when she discovers that her husband pre-paid for a week-long couple's retreat at a dark sky park near Lake Michigan for their tenth wedding anniversary, she decides to go on her own.  It's time to put her fears to rest so she can finally start living again.

When she arrives at the retreat, however, she's dismayed to discover that the cottage reserved by her husband is not a private suite.  Six college friends have also booked the place for the week.  Although reluctant to stay, Eden is reassured by the group's charismatic leader that they're happy to share their accommodations—at least for the night.  Knowing she can't drive home in the rapidly-approaching darkness, she stays.

Hours later, one of the college friends is dead and everyone is a suspect, including Eden.  Required by police not to leave town, Eden has little to do other than investigate her roommates.  Each had motive and opportunity, but who harbored enough hate to kill?  As suspicion falls more heavily on Eden, she has to ask herself a most disturbing question—could she, in her desperate, sleep-deprived state, have committed murder?  If she can't even trust herself, who can she rely on?  What really happened that fatal night?  Who is the true murderer?

The premise of Under a Dark Sky by Lori Rader-Day intrigued me from the beginning.  I'd never heard of a dark sky park, but it certainly makes for an irresistible murder mystery setting.  The novel's characters are likewise intriguing, each a complex, flawed human capable of killing.  With its twisty, engrossing plot, this book makes for a fast, furious read.  I couldn't look away until I got to the ending, which wrapped everything up with a tight, satisfying bow.  This is my first read by Lori Rader-Day, but it for sure won't be my last.  I loved this thrilling page turner.

(Readalikes:  In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a handful of F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, and blood/gore

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Looking for a Light, Diverting Romance? Look No Further.

(Image from Becca Wilhite's blog)

After writing eleven book reviews today, I'm too tired to come up with another plot summary, so here's the official one for Wedding Belles by Melanie Jacobson, Jenny Proctor, Becca Wilhite, and Brittany Larsen:

Harper is an event planner with dreams of taking over the Charleston wedding scene . . . until she meets the biggest Bridezilla of her career. She needs the job, but the only way to keep it is to hire a temperamental chef with big dreams of his own.

Janie is a classical cellist booked to play a posh Charleston wedding. She’s excited to have the lucrative gig until the groom’s brother, Emmett, shows up and asks her to help him play a song he wrote for the happy couple. The only trouble? Emmett is her unrequited high school crush.

Lily has been Dahlia's best friend, partner-in-crime, and now her maid of honor . . . until suddenly there's no wedding, and she's left to clean up Dahlia's biggest mess of all. She's been friends with Deacon, the jilted groom, for just as long, and it's up to her to rescue him after Hurricane Dahlia blows through.


Sutton is a photographer running from her past. Only the pleas from her best friend to photograph her wedding could bring Sutton back to Charleston. Her plan is to get in and get out before her ex knows she and their daughter are in town. At least it’s the plan until she meets Max, who turns out to be the safe place she didn’t know she was looking for. 

I don't usually dig short stories, but I'm becoming a fan of romance novels centering around one main event that are told in parts.  Wedding Belles is no exception.  It offers a series of funny, upbeat stories written by some of my favorite Latter-Day Saint romance novelists.  Although the book has nothing to do with the Church, it is mostly clean (there are a few mild swear words) and completely sweet.  Naturally, I liked some of the stories more than others (the first and final are my favorites), but all of them are fun, warm, and engaging.  If you're looking for a light, diverting read, definitely pick up this swoony romance.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other romance novels by Melanie Jacobson, Jenny Proctor, Becca Wilhite, and Brittany Larsen)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs)

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of Wedding Belles from the generous authors.  Thank you!

Mystery Opener A Little Disappointing Despite Positive Buzz

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

After being wounded in Afghanistan a year ago, retired U.S. Army Corporal Mercy Carr is back home in Vermont to recover.  She's also mourning her fiancé, who was killed in action.  The 29-year-old is not alone in her sorrow—she's adopted Martinez's bomb-sniffing dog, a PTSD-laden Belgian shepherd named Elvis.  Together, the pair spend their days hiking off their grief in the Green Mountains.  Their peace is interrupted one day when they find a crying infant alone in the wilderness, perched not far from where Elvis alerts to the presence of both explosives and human remains.  Shocked by the discovery, Mercy calls the authorities.

Troy Warner, a U.S. game warden, is called to the scene.  Immediately intrigued by both the situation and the beautiful corporal, he enlists Mercy's unofficial help with the investigation.  Along with his patrol dog, Susie Bear, the four make a powerful team.  Together, they uncover an intriguing mystery featuring a missing mother, an endangered infant, and a possibly explosive situation at the town's Fourth of July celebration.  It's up to the four of them to get to the bottom of the situation before it gets horribly—fatally—out of hand.

Despite the positive buzz I've heard about A Borrowing of Bones, a debut novel by Paula Munier and the start of a series, I actually found the book to be a bit of a disappointment.  Although it stars a quartet of appealing characters, the humans are not very well developed.  The minor cast members suffer from the same problem, so much so that I had a hard time keeping track of who was who.  The plot is interesting enough, but it's bogged down by detail-heavy overwriting.  I did enjoy the small-town setting, as well as the fact that A Borrowing of Bones is unusually clean for a crime novel.  Overall, then, I liked the book enough to pick up the next volume in the series, but I'm not exactly chomping at the bit.  

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for mild language (no F-bombs), violence, and innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Engrossing Irish Crime Novel an Intriguing Debut

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Cormac Reilly, now a detective sergeant, has never forgotten the call he took as a rookie twenty years ago that led him to a dead mother in County Mayo.  There, he discovered the body of Hilaria Blake, a bed-bound alcoholic with advanced-stage liver disease, dead of an apparent drug overdose.  In the freezing, dilapidated house, he encountered Hilaria's two children—Jack and Maude—both bruised and starving, reeking of neglect.  Cormac took them to the hospital and never saw them again, although their pathetic situation never quite left his mind.

Two decades later, Cormac is back in Galway after a stint in Dublin.  Despite his work experience, he's handed cold cases to keep him busy, a not-so-subtle insult.  When a body is discovered in the river Corrib, Cormac is shocked to be called in on the case.  To his dismay, the deceased is Jack Blake, a 25-year-old civil engineer who Cormac once carried out of a ramshackle home in which lay his dead mother.  While the death is a suspected suicide, Maude—newly arrived in Ireland from her home in Australia—insists her brother did not kill himself.  While Jack's girlfriend, Aisling Conroy, isn't sure what to think, Maude tries to convince her and Cormac to look more closely at what she insists is a murder.  Cormac reluctantly does so, even though he's being pressured to arrest Maud.  When a colleague finds shocking new evidence, however, he starts to suspect Maud may be right, but can he prove it?  The case raises disturbing questions about the local police department.  Is Cormac being deliberately misled?  If so, why?  It's up to him to find out the truth before someone puts a stop to his questioning—for good.

The Ruin, a debut novel by Irish lawyer Dervla McTiernan, is the first in a new detective series featuring the likable Cormac Reilly.  It's a compelling, well-plotted mystery featuring a set of complex, intriguing story people.  The action isn't heart-pounding, but it's steady and engrossing.  I definitely had trouble putting the book down.  With an interesting setting, sympathetic characters, and a storyline that kept me guessing, The Ruin made for a very satisfying read.  I'll definitely be reading the next book in the series, The Scholar, when it comes out in March.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of crime novels by Tana French and Jane Casey

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Absorbing Lusitania Mystery An Engaging Gem

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

2013—Sarah Blake knows she's never supposed to open the trunk that belonged to her great-grandfather, an Irish steward who died when the RMS Lusitania sunk in 1915.  Unfortunately for her integrity, the writer is desperate for the money it takes to keep her mother in a reputable care home, which means she needs to publish a new book.  And fast.  Frantically searching for a unique subject, she turns to the trunk.  What she finds inside could lead to an explosive, best-selling story, not to mention a rewriting of history.

1915—Caroline Telfair Hochstetter, a Southern belle, can't quite figure out what her husband's up to.  His actions have become increasingly suspicious of late, putting a strain in their new marriage.  Hoping to reconnect while enjoying lavish accommodations on Lusitania, Caroline's dismayed to find a tempting old flame on board.  What secret is her husband keeping?  Could it—or a rekindling of old feelings—end her floundering marriage?  

1915—Tennessee Schaff can blend in anywhere.  That's what makes her so good at the long con, including her specialty—forging valuable art.  Tired of the dishonesty, Tennessee wants out.  Her partner promises to free her after they make their fortune on one last scam while aboard Lusitania.  The last thing the forger needs is a distraction like Robert Langdon, especially when she starts to realize this con is much more than it seems ...

As Sarah digs into the lives of her ancestor and the people he associated with on Lusitania, she makes some startling discoveries.  With the help of an arresting Englishman, she'll find her story and much, much more.

The Glass Ocean by Beatriz Williams, Karen White, and Lauren Willig is an absorbing novel featuring fascinating historical details, a cast of intriguing characters, and an engrossing, twisty plot.  I loved learning about Lusitania, a doomed ship I knew little about.  That, plus the novel's other appealing characteristics makes The Glass Ocean a thoroughly engaging read that I very much enjoyed.  While I've read many books by White, I've never read anything by the other two authors—now, I very much want to.  The W's make for a winning combination of writers and I hope they continue to collaborate.  If you love historical fiction, definitely check this one out.


Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of The Glass Ocean at Barnes & Noble with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Far-Fetched Front Desk Still An Appealing, Empowering Story for Kids

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When 10-year-old Mia Tang arrives in Anaheim, California, her head is filled with the same visions as any other kid—screaming happily on a roller coaster at Disneyland, splashing in the cool water of a hotel pool, and basking in the brilliant sunshine, warm and content.  That's not exactly what she gets when she lands at the Calivista Hotel.  For starters, she's not a guest.  She's living there because the room comes with her parents' housekeeping/hotel management jobs.  Also, the mean owner has banned employees from using the pool.  As for Anaheim being a happy, joyous place?  Apparently, that doesn't apply to Chinese immigrants whose English needs a little help.  Anaheim might be the setting for other people's dream vacations, but it's not turning out so dreamy for Mia.

Then, Mia starts working the front desk when her parents are too busy to manage that and room cleaning.  Suddenly, she has a purpose.  As she organizes the office, takes care of guests, and gets to know the hotel's permanent residents, Mia's gloom starts to dissipate.  She still has to deal with the greedy, dishonest hotel owner and his snooty son; worry over her parents' secret hiding of illegal immigrants; and deal with demanding guests; but at least she has a purpose.  Will her growing skills be enough to help her family survive in a hostile new environment?  Will she be able to keep the Calivista Hotel running?  Or will the Tangs be forced to start over once again or, worse, turned over to the authorities?  

Inspired by her own experience working at a California hotel with her immigrant parents, Kelly Yang's Front Desk is a bright, engaging book about using your talents to help people.  It's got plenty going on to keep readers engaged and wondering how everything is going to turn out.  While I enjoyed the story overall, I had trouble believing a 10-year-old would be giving as much responsibility as Mia had or that adult guests would trust a child with handling money, fielding complaints, and dealing with check-in/check-out.  I realize that Yang was an exceptionally bright 10-year-old (she entered college at 13, started Harvard Law School at 17, and graduated at 20), but still ... Mia talked and acted like no 10-year-old I've ever known.  That major suspension of disbelief tainted the book for me.  Still, Front Desk is an appealing story that young readers will find entertaining and empowering.  I didn't love it, but that's okay.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other MG books about immigrant families trying to find their way in America, although no specific titles are coming to mind.)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  I borrowed a copy of Front Desk from the library at my child's elementary school.
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