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Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Patriots by Sana Krasikov

Setting: U.S., Russia, Siberia
Genre: Historic Fiction
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Release Date: January 24, 2017

The Patriots: A Novel begins with a young boy seeing his mother again for the first time in years after her release from a work camp. Rather than go with a stranger, as he fears, the orphanage where he's been staying asks to keep him. The story then jumps back in time to the decision Florence Fein makes leaving her family in Ohio and emigrating to the Soviet Union. The journey moves back and forth between Julian's experiences with his mother and Florence's experiences in the Soviet Union during Stalin's reign.

Some of the details are hard to take emotionally. It's simply so hard to imagine, yet I know it's true as I've read history books, seen movies and documentaries, and know war stories relatives shared. That doesn't make it any easier while reading this piece of fiction.

Sana Krasikov's The Patriots is a work of intricate, gorgeous writing. So highly detailed, it was easy to imagine yourself right there in the situations Florence and her son, Julian, experienced. I also, at times, struggled to keep up with the time/person in charge of the narrative. I definitely found myself enjoying Florence's story more than Julian's and often found myself walking away because I had to backtrack to find out whose perspective was in place again.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Wrecked by Elle Casey

Setting: Remote Island
Genre: Teen Fiction
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services
Release Date: November 2013

It should be a time of excitement as spoiled twins Kevin and Sarah head off on a family cruise. The issue is that they don't care for the company they're about to keep. Their dad is hoping to wine and dine his way into a business venture with Mr. Buckley, the father to their nerdy classmates Jonathan and Candi.

For Jonathan and Candi, it's not easy to hide the crushes they have on Sarah and Kevin. The problem is that jock Kevin and popular girl Sarah would never be caught dead with them. When the cruise ship encounters issues, the four find themselves stranded on a remote island together. Left alone, it's up to them to not only survive by forming a strong team working together.

That's the general premise in Wrecked. Think of it as the popular Brooke Shield's film Blue Lagoon but with more characters. Here's where the review gets difficult. I always loved Blue Lagoon and it's realistic path. Teens left alone on an island with little to do and survival to maintain are going to find themselves in tricky situations. All of that comes true in Wrecked. Yet, there were sections of the story where the characters were more upset about potentially missing prom and that they needed to hold their own prom that the magic of the story started to get lost. I couldn't sympathize with any of them. In their shoes, I'd be stockpiling foods, making water safe to drink, and planning ahead for a storm.

If you can get past the realities that pop into your head, Wrecked is a decent read. I, unfortunately, wondered how some kids who were clearly smart could be so dense in other ways and that took some of the enjoyment away.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Sleepwalker: A Novel by Chris Bohjalian

Setting: Vermont
Genre: General Fiction/Women's Fiction/Mystery
Publisher: Doubleday
Release Date: January 10, 2017

Late at night while her daughters sleep, Annalee Ahlberg vanishes. The wife and mother is a sleepwalker who's been known to take unusual risks while sleepwalking. Her daughters hope she's alive, but as weeks and months pass, even they start to lose hope that they'll see her again. The only clue is a scrap of her nightshirt found near a local river. No body's been found and there's been no trace of her since she went to bed.

Lianna, the oldest daughter, takes a leave of absence from her college studies to help her father with her younger sister Paige. As their father drifts farther and farther into his work and nightcaps, the girls struggle to come to terms with what happens. Lianna finds herself drawn to the older detective investigating the case. He knew her mother and is just as convinced that Annalee never would have willingly walked away. Lianna is determined to unravel events leading up to the last time anyone saw Annalee and discover the truth.

The Sleepwalker: A Novel takes a close look at sleepwalking. It's written from Lianna's point of view, and readers become privy to information as she learns it. It keeps you involved in the case and dying to know what really happened.

I love books set in Vermont. Chris Bohjalian has been a writer for a long time, so I'm well familiar with his books and the newspaper column he used to do. He captures Vermont perfectly, and it's always fun knowing exactly where he's writing about. That remains true in The Sleepwalker. Trips to Burlington, up to Montreal, it's all common ground to me. I love that and hope other readers understand that he's capturing the locations perfectly.

Sleepwalking is something I'm less familiar with. There's more to simply wandering around while asleep, so I learned a bit as I read this book. Still, it's the characters that will stay with me this time. Lianna was the ideal narrator, as she learned more about sleepwalking, I enjoyed learning along with her.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Stalked by Elizabeth Heiter

Genre: Thriller/Suspense
Publisher: MIRA
Release Date: December 27, 2016

Cheerleader Haley Cook vanished while walking into her high school. No one has seen or heard from her since. That is until her mother finds a journal entry hidden away. This brings the investigation to the attention of Evelyn Baine, an FBI profiler. The more Evelyn digs, the more she discovers that everyone around Haley is a potential suspect. From the things Haley hid from her mother, father, and stepfather to the things people have left out during interviews, it becomes difficult to decide if Haley was simply getting away from everyone in her life or if she is truly in danger.

Stalked is another entry into Elizabeth Heiter's The Profiler series. I've loved the books in the past, but I did find this one took me a little longer to get into. Once I did, the action held my attention until the final page.

Evelyn's tough and determined. I like that. She pairs up with a local detective in Stalked, so there are more characters to get to know and enjoy. The investigative work takes place on multiple levels with the profiling, the interviews, and then the rush to investigate new clues and suspects as they appear throughout the book. It kept me feeling involved in the story.

Usually, I try to solve mysteries before the fictional detectives, but I struggled with this one. There are so many potential bad guys. I did have part of the outcome figured out, but in general, this story kept me guessing until the very end.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Food of Love by Amanda Prowse

Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: December 1, 2016

Almost two decades of having the perfect marriage and two wonderful daughters has Freya Braithwaite feeling incredibly content. Her world isn't as perfect as it seems, however. Soon enough, her youngest daughter, Lexi, proves to be spiraling out of control, hostage to the frightening world of eating disorders.

I remember having a guest speaker in high school who discussed her daughter's struggles with anorexia. Memories of that discussion came back as I read The Food of Love. Freya's pain and uncertainty came through clearly as the chapters progressed. yet, I also wondered why she remained so lenient as the story progressed. I started to find myself annoyed with her and cheering on her husband. I also felt her husband's fear and anger, and the older daughter's frustration. Amanda Prowse did a wonderful job capturing everyone's point of view as they watched Lexi spiral out of control.

The Food of Love was a quick read and one that kept me hooked. I wanted to know if Lexi would overcome her demons before it was too late. As maddening as sections are, I can see this leading to some great book club discussions. I expect other readers will find themselves just as entranced with the Braithwaite family's powerful situation and filled with their own opinions on how they would have handled things.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Lift and Separate: A Novel by Marilyn Simon Rothstein

Genre: Women's Fiction
Pubisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: December 1, 2016

With three grown children, Marcy Hammer and her husband should be enjoying having the house to themselves. Instead, Harvey, the CEO of a lingerie company, is having an affair with a 20-something and moving on with his life. Marcy's world will never be the same.

Soon enough, Marcy faces new challenges, and there's no time for moping in her new life. She's going to do everything she can to face each day with the strength she never knew she had and with friendships she never imagined.

Lift and Separate is part drama and part women's fiction with a bit of humor thrown in. There's clearly little to like with Harvey, though I admit there were times I almost felt bad for the jerk. Keyword there is almost! I liked Marcy, though there were times I wished she'd be a little more forthright with those around her.

There were times I needed Kleenex on hand while reading Marilyn Simon Rothstein's novel. Other times, I found myself snickering. In the end, it was an enjoyable story that left me feeling very happy for the life I have!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

All the Breaking Waves by Kerry Lonsdale

Setting: Pacific Grove, California
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: December 6, 2016

Events from her childhood shaped Molly Brennan's life. Now a single mother, her daughter shares the same visions Molly's mother had. After her visions lead to the young girl being suspended from school, Molly returns to her grandmother's coastal home in hopes of getting Cassie the help she needs to manage her gift.

Returning to her childhood home puts Molly back in reach of the love of her life. She broke his heart and misses him dearly, but secrets from her past keep her from believing they could have something more.

All the Breaking Waves is a solid contemporary romance with a few paranormal leanings thrown in. The romance builds slowly as the story's main focus remains on Molly's quest to rescue her daughter from the visions and dreams that plague her.

I found myself drawn to Molly and Cassie and wondered how Cassie's visions would play out. She's a precocious child and one that I really enjoyed. Molly's romance is secondary, but it's just as enjoyable.

All in all, this is another solid offering from Lake Union Publishing. I enjoyed every page and believe many readers looking for a touch of romance and a touch of the paranormal will agree.

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Marriage Lie by Kimberly Belle

Setting: Georgia
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Publisher: MIRA
Release Date: December 27, 2016

Seven years of marriage have been nothing more than wedded bliss for Iris and Will. With a stunning home, great jobs, and the decision to start a family, Iris cannot imagine anything being better. Her world is shattered when she learns Will lied. He was heading to Orlando, Florida, for a convention, but she gets the call that he was actually on a flight headed for Seattle. That plane crashed and there are no survivors.

In the middle of her grief, Iris wants answers to the myriad of questions that are raised. The deeper she digs, the more Iris realizes that she was married to a stranger and nothing will prepare her what happens next.

Clear a few hours from your schedule. I spent a number of chapters with tears pouring down my face. Just as I started to wonder if the emotional pull of this novel would ease up and let me dry my eyes, the suspense aspect kicks in and kept me hooked. The Marriage Lie is fast-paced, completely absorbing, and full of twists.

As you keep reading The Marriage Lie, you feel for Iris and all the lies she's been told. The novel definitely loses a bit of the romantic edge and turns into a complete edge-of-your-seat suspense novel. I loved that shift and couldn't stop reading. In the end, it led to me heading to bed at 6 p.m. so that I could read the rest of the story without anyone interrupting me. It's that good.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Say Goodbye for Now by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Setting: 1950's Texas
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: December 13, 2016

I have to admit that Say Goodbye For Now infuriated me a little. Catherine Ryan Hyde is a favorite author. I loved Pay It Forward and have continued to enjoy her novels. In this case, the writing is solid, the characters are likable, but the time period and attitudes drive me crazy.

Since her divorce, Dr. Lucy likes the solitude she's created on her rural Texas ranch. She has her dogs, her horses, and little communication with the community. From time to time, she uses her medical license to help others out and that's how she comes into the lives of young Pete Solomon and Calvin and Justin Bell, a single father and his son.

Pete is heading fishing with a friend when he spies an injured dog on the roadway. He gets his wagon and takes it to the local vet, only to have the vet refuse to treat it as it is a wolf. Pete learns of Dr. Lucy and brings the dog there hoping she might help. It's a long walk and he's soon befriended by a young black boy (Justin). Pete lets him tag along and the two form a friendship.

Dr. Lucy isn't thrilled with visitors, but she looks at the wolf hybrid and knows she can save it. She also ends up taking Pete, a boy with an abusive father, under her wing. Pete's friendship with Justin brings the Bells into her life when Pete finds Justin badly beaten and left for dead. Soon she's caring for an entire household and surprises herself when she realizes she likes this makeshift family.

There's a big problem. Laws prohibit interracial relationships and marriages, so her growing feelings with Calvin put them all at risk. The Bells are forced to leave Texas, and Dr. Lucy doesn't know if the world will ever stop being such a hateful, bigoted place that simply allows love to thrive.

I'd like to say we've come so far, but then this election proved otherwise. I know some people with Indian heritage who were born and raised in the U.S. They tell me how they have people come to them on the streets or in stores saying the new president will force them to go home. Hatred and racism is clearly still a prevalent force today and that saddens me.

I loved Say Goodbye for Now, but I also found myself sad that racism and bigotry are alive and well, even if it does take a slightly different form. I suggest reading Say Goodbye for Now and enjoying the characters, the plot, and hoping we'll avoid past mistakes!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Married at Midnight by Gerri Russell

Setting: Washington
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Release Date: December 13, 2016

What happens in Vegas isn't destined to stay in Vegas this time. Ellie Hawthorne knows more than one tequila shot was too much. Waking up with a killer hangover, she quickly finds out that a hangover doesn't come close to comparing to the man in her bed or news that she's married to him. Not only is she married, but the man in her bed is her high school boyfriend and the man who broke her heart many years ago.

Connor Grayson is equally shocked to find he's married to Ellie. He hurt her before and never planned to do so again. When he learns his grandmother's had a massive heart attack back in Washington, he knows Ellie is also the key to getting his grandmother to fight for her life. Viola's always wanted to see Connor settled into a happy marriage, and Ellie is just the woman to convince her that he's finally ready for a wife and family.

Neither Ellie nor Connor has an inkling of what Viola has in store. This sneaky woman is certain the pair are meant to be together, and she and her Vegas pals will do everything it takes to make sure the couple realizes they're right for each other.

Married at Midnight takes a few humorous characters and pairs them against a headstrong couple who are certain that once the emergency situation is over, they can go on their merry way. It's a battle of the cupids in this book and one that was never too deep. It was a charming, fun read that left me in an uplifted mood. It's not a long book, which makes it ideal for post-shopping expeditions and between cooking tasks and household chores.

The romance from Gerri Russell is enjoyable, the characters are memorable, and the story flowed swiftly from beginning to end. I definitely enjoyed this lighthearted romantic tale.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Friday On My Mind by Nicci French

Setting: London, England
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Penguin Books
Release Date: October 4, 2016

A man's body is found in the Thames and he's wearing a bracelet bearing the name Dr. Klein. Inspectors head to the hospital and soon learn that Dr. Klein is a woman and that the body is that of Dr. Frieda Klein's ex-boyfriend. Not only is her ex dead, but she's convinced it's the work of a serial killer whose been targeting her. The problem is that records show the serial killer's dead.

As the police's prime suspect, Frieda hits the roads. She's determined to uncover the truth and save herself from being charged with a crime she did not commit.

This is the first of the Frieda Klein mysteries that I've read. I honestly was never that drawn into the story and ended up wondering if I really should have read the prior books in order to find myself drawn to any of the characters. I didn't really like Frieda and definitely was never passionate about the detective. As I couldn't enjoy the characters, I found it a struggle to read the book.

As I reached the end, once again, I felt that sense of disappointment. I don't want to give a spoiler, but it did seem that I should be excited by the next book, and I lacked that excitement. I've read two other Nicci French novels (Losing You and Beneath the Skin) and loved them, so I was kind of surprised to find myself unimpressed.

Given that, I suggest if you're new to the series as I was, maybe we need to start with the first book in the series. I just never felt that Friday On My Mind clicked with me.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Second First Time by Elise Lorello

Setting: U.S.
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: November 15, 2016

Sage Merriweather and Jonathan Moss, both novelists, never expected to fall head over heels for one another, especially not when they'd barely even met. They may share a publisher and a chance meeting, but their attempt at a relationship seemed to be doomed.

A year later, Sage learns her long-absent father's dead. His new wife opted not to even tell his daughters until days later and her invitation to his memorial is an email rather than anything remotely personal. Reeling from this news, Sage breaks down and contacts Jonathan for the first time in a year. She never expects him to suggest they take the trip they always talked about, and she's equally shocked to find herself agreeing, albeit with a few specific terms added in.

Soon, Sage is on the road heading from Arizona to Washington with Jonathan. It's a trip that has Sage questioning if she's truly made the right decisions during her lifetime, especially where love is concerned.

The Second First Time is a bit unique in that the main characters are older and definitely have their flaws. Both Jonathan and Sage are middle aged and I'll even say slightly immature for the age they are. I get their past disappointments weighed heavily, but given that they were supposed to be around my age, they made choices I couldn't dream of myself or any of my friends making at this age.

I think my lack of interest in the characters ended up shaping my disappointment in the book. I wanted more at some parts. There were other times I wanted them to stop repeating and rehashing things and just get on with it and wake up. In the end, I liked the book, but I never loved it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

In the Blue Hour by Elizabeth Hall

Setting: New Mexico
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: November 1, 2016

After a horrifying dream in which she sees her car slide on ice and go over a cliff, Elise Brooks is disheartened when her husband dies in that exact manner. Since Michael's death, Elise struggles to continue living. After seeing a raven hanging around their mountain home, she becomes convinced Michael is trying to get a message to her from the other side.

In addition to the Native American lessons she's been taught, Elise turns to a local psychic for guidance. There, she becomes part of a group who all have suffered a loss. It's through this group that she meets Tom Dugan, a mystery man who ends up becoming very important when she finds a business card in her husband's jacket. Not knowing why he had this mystery address, she asks Tom to drive her across the country to see what this mysterious address will reveal.

In the Blue Hour was okay, but I think that ended up being my issue. It was simply okay. I never grew attached to the characters, which the possible exception of Elise's friend Monica. Monica was a spitfire and a character I wouldn't mind seeing again. I never found myself totally enamored with Tom and Elise was okay but nothing more than that.

Another issue I had was that the story dragged at times. I struggled with the first part, and by the time I got to the road trip, it picked up, but I was already a little let down and had to push myself to give the novel another chance. It clearly does have its moments, but for me, it simply wasn't a favorite.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Home for Winter by Rebecca Boxall

Setting: England
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: October 18, 2016

Twins Luna and Serena may be identical, but their personalities are nothing alike. Serena grows up knowing that her sister has a very dark side. It's Luna's dark side that ends up driving the sisters apart. Serena doesn't believe she'll ever be able to forgive her sister for the betrayal. That's not the first betrayal Luna pulls, however, and it's this second act that leads to Serena moving far away.

After moving to East Sussex with her significant other, Serena hopes for a fresh start. In the vicarage, Will gets to work within the community while Serena prepares to update the house's interior design. Eventually, they end up with a motley crew who are all seeking a new start after troublesome pasts. Serena hopes she finally can get out from under her sister's shadow, but Luna's not done yet.

In Home for Winter, I have to say I was really kind of bothered by the parents. If I had a child like Luna, I would have had her in therapy long, long ago. I had a hard time respecting them for that reason. I felt for Serena. This woman deserved better cards than she was dealt when it came to family. My dislike of Luna and their parents made the story tough to read at times.

The story also has a touch of a mystery involving an alleged curse on the vicarage. The outcome to this is kind of a letdown, but the story is really more about Serena, so I was able to overlook my issues with that. In the end, this is an enjoyable story that I read in one sitting with ease.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Lost Ones by Ben Cheetham

Setting: Harwood Forest, England
Genre: Mystery/Suspense
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Release Date: October 25, 2016

Nine-year-old Erin Jackson vanishes while out walking the trails in Harwood Forest. There's no trace of the young girl, except for a bloody rock that may or may not be related to the case. For her parents, it's the worst possible nightmare. Erin's father is in the middle of a project that environmentalists protest, so they may have taken the girl to stop the development. There's also the chance that the girl fell, hit her head, and is simply lost in the expansive wooded area.

Erin's older brother has his own thoughts. Decades ago, the Inghams were found slaughtered in their home. Only their daughters survived. Jake's convinced the past murders are related to his sister's disappearance, and he sets out to uncover the truth.

The Lost Ones had the potential to be a gripping mystery. I ended up having mixed feelings. First, I wondered how on earth a teenage boy was able to find significant clues that police for decades missed. That seemed a little unusual to me. I also had a hard time believing that after sneaking out once, then twice, that his parents were still not watching his every move. As a parent, it would take just once and then I'd be insisting my teen stay in the same room as me and not get time alone.

The final outcome also bugged me, but I won't go into that as I don't want to reveal any spoilers. It did take me by surprise a bit, in regards to one big revelation. I really didn't like how that part played out.

Overall, the setting was well portrayed and drew me in, but I never really liked the characters enough to have this become a favorite story. It was okay, but some parts were predictable, some just seemed too much of a stretch, and that made it a little hard for me to take.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Fat Fridays by Judith Keim

Setting: Georgia
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: November 8, 2016

Coming home to find her husband in bed with her Pilates instructor, Sukie retreats into her own form of seclusion. She knows the townspeople in her town talk about her. It's her neighbor and friend who pulls her out of her shell and has her join the Fat Fridays group, a group of women who meet once a week, order whatever they want at the restaurant, and enjoy the chance to vent. Sukie quickly bonds with the women and starts taking steps to move on with her life.

Fat Fridays is the first book in a series. I'm glad it will be a series, as I'm dying to see how things turn out with other members of the group. It's a charming tale filled with plenty of happy moments and a few emotional revelations.

There were times that it seemed certain topics were picked out as a social message. The story has many situations where abuse becomes prevalent, be it verbal or physical abuse. Other issues appear, such as it being socially acceptable for a man to be with a younger woman, while it's not okay for an older woman to hook up with a younger man. Much of the reactions and progressions in the story became predictable to me. I certainly guessed the outcome long before the final page. That's the one issue I had with the book, yet I'm still interested to see where things go from here.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Who We Were Before by Leah Mercer

Setting: Paris
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: October 1, 2016

Two years ago, Zoe couldn't save her son. Her husband's words to her in the hospital have always burned to her core. She should have held harder to her son's hand or run faster to get him out of the road. Anything but live with the pain she's endured since her toddler died.

Zoe's marriage is on the rocks. In one last ditch effort to save their marriage, she and her husband Edward set off to Paris to try to reconnect. There, Zoe's wallet and cell phone are stolen by a pickpocket while her husband goes off to get their baggage. Lost in Paris with no way to contact Edward, Zoe finally has time to reflect on the events and where she wants to go from here.

Much of the discord between Zoe and Edward are based on the secrets they've kept. As the secrets were revealed, I honestly questioned if it was even worth them trying to save their relationship. Some of the secrets were just too much for me. Things that I cannot dream of keeping from my husband, even after the loss of a child. I admit I don't understand Zoe's grief, but I did lose a child in the fourth month of pregnancy, so I have a little bit of an idea.

While the secrets did keep me from liking either character, I found the real winner in this book was the setting. Paris came to life. Richly detailed snippets of the hotel staff, the stores they entered, the streets they wandered. That was so beautifully portrayed and ended up being the reason I kept reading.

Who We Were Before wasn't exactly my  proverbial cup of tea, but it's a book I can see some really enjoying. Give it a chance and see if you agree.

Monday, November 7, 2016

His Kidnapper's Shoes by Maggie James

Setting: England
Genre: Psychological Suspense
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: November 15, 2016

His Kidnapper's Shoes wasn't an easy read. Gripping sure but never easy. My issue is that I could sympathize with both sides and that made it really tough.

It all starts with an arrest. Laura Bateman will not tell police a thing. She is determined to remain silent until her son understands everything. Daniel Bateman is shocked to learn his mother's been hiding a major secret for more than two decades. It's not a secret he's sure he'll ever understand or forgive her for.

The story progresses from there, switching back in forth in time, setting up the truth about Laura and Daniel's relationship and the circumstances that brought them to where they are.

As mentioned early, this wasn't an easy read for me. As Laura's story plays out, I could see why she did what she did. I almost felt for her. As a parent, however, I also know those same actions tore many people's lives apart. That's where I had a hard time connecting with her character.

That aside, the story moves at a decent pace and does keep you involved in the plot. Mainly, I wanted to see Daniel's reactions as secrets were revealed. From his viewpoint, this had to have been a major upheaval, and I enjoyed seeing how honestly it played out.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Finding Heather by Alison Ragsdale

Setting: Isle of Skye
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: October 11, 2016

Following her husband's unexpected death, Heather Forester is faced with the struggle of raising twins by herself. She's an ocean away from her family, which makes it even harder. After a difficult decision, Heather calls her mom and says she's moving back home to Scotland.

Heather's mom is delighted to have her grandchildren close, but she also worries that she'll become attached only to have Heather realize the U.S. is where the kids belong. Heather's brother simply is thrilled to have his sister coming back home.

As Heather struggles to find herself again, the family begins building a strong bond. When the chips are down, is family enough to get through tough situations?

Finding Heather is a touching fictional story regarding regaining your footing through the stages of grief. The setting is vivid and made me want to visit. Virtually all of the characters in this book are Heather's mother, brother, seven-year-old twins, and her brother's best friend. There's very little interaction with anyone else, so you get to know characters on a more intimate scale than some books.

My only complaint is that the book ended. I wasn't ready to leave Skye and the relationships that were just starting to take root and grow. I wouldn't mind seeing Alison Ragsdale return readers to Skye to catch up with Heather, her family, and maybe more members of the community.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Abandon by Blake Crouch

Setting: Colorado
Genre: Historical Mystery, Suspense/Thriller
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Release Date: September 2015

It's 1893 and every inhabitant of a small mining town disappears on Christmas Day. There are no bodies. Fully prepared meals sat untouched on dining room tables. In a matter of hours, a bustling mining town became a ghost town.

Decades later, two paranormal photographers form part of the crew that's heading into the desolate area where this ghost town is found. Their goal is to photograph the ghost town. It's a risky venture as another crew tried it and was never heard from again.

For Abigail, the expedition is a chance to spend time with her absentee father. Little does she know that she may never get out of this ghost town alive.

From the blurb I read, I got the distinct feeling Abandon was going to be a horror story. It's not. It's a mystery with suspense/thriller leanings. The story switches back and forth between present day and the 1800s. The switches back and forth are made very clear, so there's no reason to worry that you'll get lost.

I have to say that while I first thought a horror story was about to unfold, once the modern day crew made it to the old gold mine town, I pegged a lot of what was about to happen. It didn't seem shocking as events unfolded. Therefore, I ended up feeling a little letdown. It's a good story, but not one that ever had me on the edge of my seat.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Worth the Risk by Jamie Beck

Setting: Winhall, Vermont
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Release Date: November 1, 2016

As I'm from Vermont, I enjoy finding books set in my home state. Worth the Risk tackles the romance between a single mom and a recovering alcoholic. Jackson St. James is in Winhall for some R&R. His alcoholism, court troubles, and break-up have been a little too much to handle. Renting an apartment from Gabby Bouchard and her father may not be exactly what he needs, but he can't help but become attached to Gabby and her three-year-old son.

Gabby's been a single mom for long enough to know that her son needs a man in her life. Jackson's temporary presence is the last thing she really needs, even if she can't help but fall for him. It doesn't help that Jackson's presence is also bringing out the territorial side of her son's father.

Gabby and Jackson clearly have an attraction to one another. Is a temporary fling really want they need at this point in their lives?

There were aspects I loved about Worth the Risk and a few I really didn't. Gabby's ex bugged me from the start, as did her absentee mother. There was enough conflict between Jackson's past and Gabby's hesitancy towards addicts that I don't really think the additional issues were all that necessary. Add in Jackson's issues with his family, business, and former girlfriend and the conflict started to overpower the potential romance.

When Gabby and Jackson did decide to give it a chance, their romance started to take center stage and truly warmed my heart. I couldn't wait to see how it would play out.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The British Table: A New Look at the Traditional Cooking of England, Scotland, and Wales by Coleman Andrews

Genre: Cookbook
Publisher: Abrams
Release Date: November 8, 2016

My Mom's English, so I've grown up eating many British dishes. For breakfast, Mom made us Eggs and Soldiers. Getting hold of real bangers in Vermont was challenging, so we'd have bacon with thick slices of toast fried in some of the bacon fat and served with over-easy eggs. In The British Table, Coleman Andrews takes a new look at many of the classic dishes in England, Scotland, and Wales. Many are favorites from my childhood, while others are simply dishes I know of but never bothered to try or never had an interest in.

The cookbook is divided into sections. You have breakfasts, seafood, poultry/rabbit, meats, veggies, sauces, desserts, drinks, crusts, tea items, etc.  Among the many recipes, these really stood out as childhood favorites.

  • Monkfish Curry
  • Mince and Tatties
  • Toad in the Hole
  • Mushy Peas
  • Sticky Toffee Pudding
  • Welsh Rarebit

I have to thank the author for some recipes that go back to the classic way foods were prepared. My grandfather was a North Sea fisherman. He always taught us that to make a proper fish and chip batter, you just needed flour and beer. So many recipes today add egg whites, eggs, or other unnecessary ingredients. Flour and beer are really all you need for a light, flavorful beer batter.

The photography in The British Table is outstanding. Kudos to Christopher Hirsheimer for the photos that capture the prepared recipes, the ingredients, and Britain's scenery.

With more than 150 recipes, dozens of color photos and classic images/posters, and plenty of historic backstories to go along with the recipes, this really is a must-have for your kitchen.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Miracle on 5th Avenue by Sarah Morgan

Setting: New York City
Genre: Holiday Romance
Publisher: Harlequin
Release Date: November 29, 2016

Sarah Morgan's latest romance features the third of three business partners. Frankie, Paige, and Eva run a successful event planning company. While the other two have found true love, Eva's not as lucky. She still misses her grandmother and longs for a man who will at least satisfy one urge. She doesn't harbor fantasies of finding her dream man at this stage.

Her latest job is to housesit and decorate the penthouse home of bestselling author Lucas Blade. His charming grandmother's worked her way into Eva's heart, and Eva's only too happy to take the job his grandmother offers. All she has to do is stay in a lavish home for a few days, fill a fridge and freezer with home-cooked meals, and add some holiday cheer to the otherwise sterile environment. Little does Eva know that Lucas lied to his family and his Vermont getaway never happened. He's actually home when she arrives. He's also not too thrilled to have a surprise guest.

New York City is in the midst of a blizzard, so there's no way Eva can leave. The question is can she handle living in the same home as this grumpy author who has absolutely no holiday cheer in him?

Miracle on 5th Avenue is a fabulous conclusion to the trilogy surrounding the owners of Urban Genie. I liked the instant attraction between Eva and Lucas, even if he was a bit of a Scrooge throughout a good portion of the romance. Eva's hopeful nature kept driving the potential for romance, and I really enjoyed the way in which she stood up to him.

Part of me is sad to see the trilogy come to an end, but the other part of me is happy to have found it. Each story stands alone, but you'll become so involved with the characters that you'll want to read them all. There's a touch of humor, emotional pull, and likable characters that keep you hooked to each book.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Fun Science: A Guide To Life, The Universe And Why Science Is So Awesome by Charlie McDonnell

Genre: Science/Non-Fiction
Publisher: Quadrille Publishing
Release Date: October 18, 2016

I admit I had no idea who Charlie McDonnell was. My college-aged daughter, however, knew immediately and started reading it before I could even look at it. She told me to take some time and read the book because Charlie makes science entertaining. I totally agree.

Fun Science: A Guide to Life, the Universe and Why Science is so Awesome is a riot. It's informative, has humorous snippets that stick in your head, and keeps you hooked. Learn about the universe and the Big Bang Theory, reproduction, anatomy, the elements and so much more.

There are neat little facts that taught me things. I know hair grows regularly, but I never thought about the fact that you grow about 10 miles of hair per year. It's the little facts like that that make Fun Science so entertaining and a must-have for your bookshelf.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

No One Knows by J.T. Ellison

Setting: Nashville, TN
Genre: Suspense
Publisher: Gallery Books
Release Date: November 1, 2016 (Paperback)

Five years ago, Aubrey Hamilton's husband disappeared without a trace. They were at a hotel for his friend's pre-wedding events. While she checked them in, he walked to the bachelor's party and vanished. For five years, Aubrey's been the subject of scrutiny and scorn.

Her mother-in-law pushes to have Josh declared dead at five years. It's right after getting the official court papers that Aubrey spies a man who doesn't look anything like her husband, but the man's mannerisms certainly match Josh's. It's not long before she's falling for this mysterious stranger. There are so many unanswered questions, and Aubrey's determined to get to the bottom of Josh's disappearance and gain the freedom to move on.

No One Knows bounces from Aubrey's point of view to her mother-in-law's to Josh's. The changes are clearly noted and give a complex picture into the lives each party led before Josh's disappearance. As the novel progresses, readers start to see the detailed picture involving Josh, often knowing clues before Aubrey.

This is a suspense along the lines of so many other suspense novels as of late that offer so many twists and turns that you cannot possibly predict the end. I couldn't put this book down. I was hooked. Then I hit the ending. I don't want to give out spoilers, but the ending left me feeling a little disappointed. Had I offered a rating based on the first half of the book, I would have easily said five stars. By the time I reached the ending, I had to drop it to a three.

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Next: A Novel of Love, Revenge, and a Ghost Who Can't Let Go by Stephanie Gangi

Setting: New York City
Genre: Suspense/Thriller/General Fiction/Women's Fiction
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Release Date: October 18, 2016

I'm still not sure how best to classify The Next: A Novel of Love, Revenge, and a Ghost Who Can't Let Go. It is the debut adult novel from Stephanie Gangi, and it's definitely a unique plot.

Joanna DeAngelis never imagined the love of her life would be a much-younger man. She also never imagined he'd walk away. Now that she's dying, all she wants is to get revenge. She's furious that he moved on and found fame with his new girlfriend. As hours pass with her daughters and dog keeping vigil, when she does finally pass, she has her chance to get even before moving into whatever comes next.

I have to say that The Next became a little darker than I first imagined. It transformed from women's fiction to almost horror at times. I still liked it, but it wasn't what I expected and that threw me. I also found myself truly feeling sad for Joanna's daughters, who were struggling in their own rights, especially after she dies.

While the narrative was gripping, it was also depressing at times. This is why I found it so hard to classify exactly what genre I'd call it. It is part women's fiction with a touch of horror and suspense from time to time. It's definitely unique, but now that I'm done, I'm still not sure I loved it. I am dying to hear what other readers think!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Hello Nature: Draw, Color, Make and Grow by Nina Chakrabarti

Genre: Coloring Book
Publisher: Laurence King
Release Date: March 2016

Hello Nature: Draw, Color, Make and Grow is packed with DIY projects, coloring pages, activities and informative guides to nature. It's suitable for all ages, though I will admit my college-aged daughter saw it and raved over the content and activities.

Throughout the 200+ pages, there are things you can color, draw, or do. One of my first was to make the bird feeder towards the back. I also loved the bird food menu, as there were some items I didn't realize birds would eat, such as coconut shavings. I have to say, they still go for peanuts and sunflowers more than I've seen them heading for coconut.

There are things I would have loved to see more in depth. Perhaps for a second book! These included more regional birds and animal track identification pages. Still, I haven't had as much fun with a coloring book in quite some time, so this is definitely a keeper that I highly recommend.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A Whole Latte Murder by Caroline Fardig

Setting: Nashville, TN
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Publisher: Alibi
Release Date: November 8, 2016

Juliet Langley's developed a knack for finding bodies. In A Whole Latte Murder, once again she stumbles her way into a murder. This time, the victim is one of her neighbors. During an attempt to return a customer's scarf, Juliet finds her neighbor in the bathtub with a toaster. Juliet's new beau, Detective Ryder Hamilton, asks her to stay out of it as he's newly promoted to the homicide division and wants to do his job perfectly, but even he can't help but ask Juliet to put her snooping skills to the test and find out a few things.

When one of Juliet's employees disappears, she and her best friend Pete dive in to see what's happening in their community. With her growing concern for Ryder's safety, the fact that he's working long hours, and multiple disappearances or murders, Juliet can't rest until a killer's found.

I've been following the Java Jive Mystery series from the start and love watching the characters grow and change. A Whole Latte Murder finds Juliet facing new challenges. She wants Ryder to be happy, but she also worries about him chasing down murderers for a living. On the other hand, he's just as concerned by her ability to stumble into murders. This creates a new conflict for the couple, and I enjoy the realistic approach to their struggles.

Cozy mysteries are my preferred subgenre, so I'm always thrilled when I find one that I can't put down. That's the experience I get from Caroline Fardig's books. I become engrossed with the plot, characters, and mystery at hand. This one kept me guessing, which made it even better in my opinion.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Colonial Spirts: A Toast to Our Drunken History by Steven Grasse

Genre: Cookbook
Publisher: Abrams
Release Date: September 13, 2016

Buy a copy of Colonial Spirits: A Toast to Our Drunken History and have it in hand for this year's Thanksgiving celebrations. It's a stunning tribute to both the Nation's history and our ancestors.

In Colonial Spirits, Steven Grasse begins by looking at the foundations of alcoholic beverages. He talks about the items used to make liquors, beers, and wines, such as barley, spruce tips, and even a chicken. Yes, I did say chicken, and I admit that's one recipe I don't ever see myself trying.

There are recipes I immediately had to try and absolutely loved. The Orchard Mimosa (OJ and hard cider), Fish House Punch, and non-alcoholic Strawberry Rhubarb Lemonade are three I had to make. Despite my husband's dislike of rhubarb, even he admitted that was an excellent lemonade.

Throughout the book, learn how to make wine, beer, and a variety of punches, cocktails, and hot mulled beverages. There are recipes for flavored syrups, shrubs, barley water, and beverages used to treat illnesses. You'll also find neat recipes for things like Rose Water Toner for the skin. This is a comprehensive book that is going onto my keeper shelf.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Pop Goes the Weasel by M.J. Arlidge

Genre: A Detective Helen Grace Thriller
Publisher: NAL
Release Date: October 2015

My apologies for the gap between reviews. After trying to find a solid replacement for the client who decided to quit the world of SEO and web analytics, I ended up taking a job outside the home. It's been a new experience trying to balance my remaining writing clients, book reviewing, and adjusting to a commute and training.

In Pop Goes the Weasel, Helen Grace is back. This time, she's up against a sadistic killer who literally tears her victim's hearts out and then leaves them for the victim's loved ones to find. It all starts with a happily married family man who's found in an area where prostitutes are known to work. No one can figure out why he was there or why he was killed.

For Helen Grace, it's clear the killer is angry. Until she can figure out why, she'll struggle to find the killer before another victim is found.

Once again, M.J. Arlidge draws you in and holds you captive in a twisted murder case. It's said in the description that the killings are reverse Jack the Ripper, and I'd say that's a fair take on these killings. They are pretty brutal and graphic at times.

Charlie's back after her loss and she and Helen are definitely having issues. This adds a dynamic layer to the personal relationships. I've always been a fan of Charlie's, but I also enjoy Helen, and I was eager to see how it played out.

I do really enjoy the Helen Grace series. It has the gritty detail and brash attitudes that I enjoy in the crime series The Fall that stars Gillian Anderson. If you enjoy that show, you're going to love M.J. Arlidge's series.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Beautiful Maids All in a Row by Jennifer Harlow

Genre: Suspense/Mystery
Publisher: Alibi
Release Date: October 11, 2016

Dr. Iris Ballard gave up her life as a forensic psychologist after tragic events ended her husband's life. When a woman she knows disappears, Iris can't help but let her former partner, FBI Special Agent Luke Hudson, draw her back in. Someone is brutally raping, torturing, and killing woman, and Iris has the skill it's going to take to catch the sadistic madman known as the Woodsman.

Iris is quick to figure out the killer's identity, but catching a powerful man proves difficult, especially when she's still haunted by her own demons. She'll do everything it takes, but he's just as determined to use her past to destroy her.

I did find myself drawn into Iris's story. She hides from her past with a bottle, a house in the middle of nowhere, and her German Shepherd. That she so easily gave them all up when Luke came calling seemed odd, but I moved on from that and let myself get absorbed in the story.

Iris is a smart cookie, but the killer is an equal match. He bugged me, but then he also came off as very convincing. Was it coincidence that the killer was buddies with Donald Trump? Not sure, but it did get me to snicker a few times.

In the end, this is a solid suspense/mystery. I'm curious to see where Iris goes from here, so I definitely got drawn in and want more.

Paris for One and Other Stories by Jojo Moyes

Genre: Short Stories
Publisher: Penguin
Release Date: October 18, 2016

A few years ago, Jojo Moyes skyrocketed on my favorite author list. Paris for One and Other Stories is uniquely different. There are some romance stories, some that feel like she's been spying on me, and a few that simply surprised me with unexpected twists.

1. Paris for One shares the tale of Nell. She and her boyfriend should be in Paris together, but he ditched her. Now this shy traveler must figure a way to get through a trip to Paris on her own.

2. Between the Tweets is a humorous tale of a TV celebrity who finds himself accused of having an affair. The online accusation isn't going away, so he hires an investigator to get to the bottom of it.

3. Love in the Afternoon finds Sara and Doug taking a surprise anniversary trip. After more than a decade of marriage, their marriage has become a little stagnant and Sara isn't sure what to make of her husband's "surprise" getaway.

4. A Bird in the Hand introduces Simon and Beth. They head off to a party that Beth isn't looking forward to. Things get worse when she bumps into an old flame at the party.

5. Crocodile Shoes introduces Sam, a working woman whose husband lost his job. He's been lax at finding a new one, and Sam's tired of it. When someone swaps their gym bag for hers, she never expects the surprise in that bag will change her life.

6. Hold Ups involves a robbery at a jewelry store. Things certainly do not end up as expected.

7. In Last Year's Coat, Evie desperately needs a new winter coat, but layoffs and stagnant salaries make it impossible. She has her eye on a dream coat, but she needs a miracle to happen if she's to afford it.

8. Thirteen Days with John C involves a lost cell phone, some sexy messages, and one bored wife who is about to experience the unexpected.

9. The Christmas List shares Chrissie's tale. Her mother-in-law is coming and Chrissie's husband decided it's up to Chrissie to find the picky things his mom wants.

Paris for One and Other Stories does a great job at mixing up settings, topics, and character ages. I loved many stories and found a few others felt a little too true. When I hit the name "Farnsworth" in one of the stories, I snickered thinking the author definitely tapped into my mind.

Some stories bring a tear to your eye, some make you laugh, and all make me feeling very lucky that I got to read this solid collection.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

It Must Be Christmas by Jennifer Crusie, Mandy Baxter, and Donna Alward

Genre: Holiday Romance Anthology
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks
Release Date: October 4, 2016

There's always a sense of disappointment when you pick up what you believe is a new book and discover it's not new at all. That's the case with It Must Be Christmas, a holiday anthology with three Christmas romances by Jennifer Crusie, Mandy Baxter, and Donna Alward. None of these are new stories. As soon as I started reading Jennifer Crusie's story, I knew exactly how the story went, so I ended up skipping to the next, only to find the exact same situation. All three were released as novellas in the past two years.

Here are 2014 and 2015 reviews of the three novellas:

Jennifer Crusie - Hot Toy

Mandy Baxter - Christmas With the Billionaire Rancher

Donna Alward - Christmas at Seashell Cottage

I definitely enjoyed them all, but I wish I'd caught that they were all reissues. Had I paid full price for stories that I'd already read and remembered well, I would have been disappointed.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Just Fine With Caroline: A Cold River Novel by Annie England Noblin

Setting: Missouri
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: October 11, 2016

Caroline O'Connor definitely deals with a full plate. Her mother has Alzheimer's, so she and her father balance her mother's care. As he's the town's retired, yet still very busy doctor, and Caroline runs her family's bait shop, she barely has time to relax.

Things become incredibly challenging when a handsome stranger takes over the general store across the street. The store's been empty for years, so it's a surprise when a Cranwell returns to town with intentions on opening the store back up. Noah Cranwell is part of the eccentric Cranwell family, but Caroline knows little about him, other than he's definitely caught her eye.

As Caroline gets to know Noah, she learns there's a connection between Noah's grandfather and Caroline's mother. She doesn't know what it is, but she's determined to find out.

Just Fine With Caroline is all about the setting and characters. The Cranwell's are elusive figures in this novel and the mystery surrounding them resolves slowly over the book's pages. Details impress with the picturesque setting and the steamy hot summer that's in place during the majority of the story.

The romance between Caroline and Noah never rushes. It builds at a realistic pace and leaves the reader feeling warm and cozy with each passing day. The mystery involving the O'Connor and Cranwell families isn't shocking, but it definitely adds depth.

My own mom is in the early stages of dementia, so I sympathized with all Caroline and her father faced. I liked that aspect of the story. It's not glossed over. It's a real struggle that the family faces, and one where they cherish each moment of clarity. I really liked that.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Family Sins by Sharon Sala

Genre: Mystery
Publisher: MIRA
Release Date: October 25, 2016

While out in the woods, Stanton Youngblood is shot in the back and left to die. Before he passes, he's able to scratch his killer's identity in the dirt. His widow, Leigh, knows exactly who killed her husband. She's not about to let her family get away with it. When she went against her father's wishes to marry Stanton, he vowed Stanton would die. Leigh's shocked it took decades for it to happen.

With her grown sons by her side, Leigh vows there will be justice for her husband's death. The hard part is finding out who killed him when the Wayne family is very good about hiding behind their money and each other.

Family Sins was part mystery and part romance. Leigh's oldest son is back in town. He left years ago after the love of his life refused his marriage proposal. Now that he's back, the learns the truth behind her refusal. He's determined to see things through this time and won't leave without her.

I never felt the mystery part was that surprising. I had it pegged early into the story and think many other readers will too. That said, the pacing and suspenseful tone never let up. This was a fast-paced read that set the mood. I hated many characters, but I never stopped seeking the same justice Leigh deserved.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Christmas in Eternity Springs by Emily March

Setting: Eternity Springs, Colorado
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks
Release Date: October 4, 2016

Claire Branham, aka Miss Christmas, lost her Christmas spirit many years ago. When her she catches the man of her dreams in a lie, she leaves everything behind and moves to Eternity Springs. There, she opens a year-round Christmas shop in hopes of regaining the joy Christmas once brought.

Military man Jax Lancaster will do whatever it takes to make his son whole again. The boy suffered an unimaginable tragedy. One that left the young boy with many fears. After a summer camp in Eternity Springs seems to bring the boy out of his shell, Jax makes the tough decision to move to Eternity Springs.

Working as a local handyman, Jax soon finds himself enamored with not only the town, but also with Claire. His soon seems to be warming up to the quirky shop owner too. Can this broken trio find true happiness together?

Kicking off the holiday season a little early, Christmas in Eternity Springs is a touching tale of hope renewed. I love Eternity Springs, but I really fell for Jax and his son. Claire was equally enjoyable. Each hides secrets, some that the reader knows, but others are more of a mystery. When they're revealed, it all makes sense.

If you want a heartwarming character-driven story, you can't go wrong with any of the books in Emily March's Eternity Springs novels. Christmas in Eternity Springs is the best yet.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Fractured by Catherine McKenzie

Setting: Mount Adams, Ohio
Genre: Suspense
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: October 4, 2016

Catherine McKenzie and her novel Fractured caught my attention when I saw it in a list of suspense/thriller books you shouldn't miss in the fall of 2016. I picked it up and was hooked.

John Dunbar, his wife Hanna, and their two teens live in a community outside of Cincinnati, Ohio. They're happy enough, but a new neighbor threatens to change everything.

Author Julie Prentice hopes this new town is what she needs to get away from a stalker. Mount Adams seems charming and it's far from her stalker. She soon befriends John and they become jogging partners. That one connection, however, threatens the very privacy Julie craves.

I'll start by saying the tranquil neighborhood creeped me out a bit. I've always imagined that being in a tight community like Mount Adams sounds great, but one of the neighbors in particular, the head of the neighborhood association, really bugged me. I wasn't a fan of John's wife either.

The pace with the story is key. You flip between the past and present. Something's happened, but you don't have a clue as to what. There's Julie's stalker who seems intent on staying in Julie's life. And there's the relationship between nosy people in the neighborhood and the rest of the people who simply want to go about their daily business. It made for a very compelling novel.

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Crown Maple Guide to Maple Syrup: How to Tap and Cook with Nature's Original Sweetener by Robb Turner

Genre: Cooking
Publisher: Abrams
Release Date: October 18, 2016

The Crown Maple Guide to Maple Syrup: How to Tap and Cook with Nature's Original Sweetener by Robb Turner serves as both a very detailed guide into how maple syrup is made and a cookbook.

The details that go into this book make it a must-read for anyone doing a research project on the process used to gather sap, boil it down, and end up with the golden, rich syrup. After that come a number of delicious recipes. First on my list to try were the Glazed Maple-Pecan scones that make this book a keeper.

Find recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner within The Crown Maple Guide to Maple Syrup. Maple Pulled Pork, Spiced Maple Cauliflower Salad, and Maple-Bacon-Bourbon-Peanut-Chocolate Chip Cookies all stand out as recipes you don't want to miss.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Someone Must Die by Sharon Potts

Setting: Miami, Florida
Genre: Suspense/Mystery
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Release Date: June 28, 2016

She barely knows her grandson, but her son finally gives her a chance to spend time with the six-year-old boy. Diana Lynd never expects their time together to go so horribly wrong. Diana takes the boy into a carnival's fun house. Ethan runs ahead of her and vanishes into thin air.

Aubrey Lynd gets the call that her nephew is missing. She rushes to Florida to support her mother. She knows her mother and brother have a tentative relationship, and this will rip apart all the steps they'd taken.

With a detective and FBI agent taking the case, Aubrey hopes the boy will be found quickly. It isn't long, however, before it's clear her mother is hiding something. When Aubrey discovers her mother has a ransom note, she has no idea what will happen next. That note says they cannot go to the authorities or the boy dies. Worse, the only way to get Ethan back is if Diana kills her fiance.

Sharon Potts does an exceptional job at building tension. I kept reading to see what would happen next. The story does bounce back and forth from one character to the next, and it also takes a few visits to the past. Keeping up with the shifts isn't difficult, but it can be a little jarring when the chapter ended with a bit of a cliffhanger.

Someone Must Die is a great suspense novel. It did have moment where I wished the characters would smarten up, but that seems to happen a lot when I'm reading a mystery.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Wrecked by Maria Padian

Genre: Teen/Young Adult Fiction
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Release Date: October 4, 2016

Quick parent moment. Everything within Wrecked captures my biggest fear each time my daughter leaves the house to go to college. The novel scared me, made me angry, and at the same time left me hopeful that teens will read it and realize they can change things. This novel, however, is for the young adult reader, so it will evoke similar, yet I'm sure different, emotions.

Haley's geeky roommate has always been a little different, but since Jenny came home in the wee hours, she's never been the same. After hearing her roommate's been raped at a college party, Haley agrees to be Jenny's support person, even if her parents think Haley needs to back off and let someone else handle it.

Richard knows his friend hooked up with a freshman during a party. When Jordan asks him to hide that he ever said that, Richard agrees to keep silent, but only if authorities don't ask him. Richard's not going to lie to authorities, not even for a friend.

When Haley and Richard meet, neither realizes they are connected through this alleged rape. It's going to tear at their emotions and make them question those around them.

Rape on campus is a very real situation. It's not something any girl or guy for that matter should hide. There's no reason for the rape victim to feel shame, yet so many do. With the absurd sentencing Brock Turner received, it's even more maddening.

I hope teens read Wrecked and take it to heart. There is never a reason to force someone into something. If you are the victim of a rape, don't be afraid to speak up. I enjoyed seeing how things played out, even if I did get frustrated from time to time. It's simply that real.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Promise Kitchen: A Novel by Peggy Lampman

Setting: Georgia
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Lake Union
Release Date: September 27, 2016

Shelby Preston is a single mom and currently living with her mother. She needs a change from the life she's always led in rural Georgia. This isn't the life she wants, so when she sees an ad looking to send one lucky person to culinary school, she jumps at the opportunity.

Mallory Lakes is still mourning breaking up with her boyfriend. Her job as a food writer seems to be on tentative ground. She comes up with an idea that she hopes will boost her career.

That's the main premise of The Promise Kitchen. Characters come to life on the pages, each having her own quirks, weaknesses, and strengths. The settings of Atlanta and rural Georgia also drew me in.

Despite liking the characters and the setting, there's something about the writing style that just never grabbed me. I think it came down to some of the descriptions becoming too wordy. I wanted to experience the characters' lives, not get bogged down in the writing. As a result, I often found it easier to walk away for a bit than try to keep forcing myself to read. It took me far longer to read this novel than is typical, which I found frustrating.

In the end, I liked The Promise Kitchen, but I never loved the story. I wish there had been more focus on the action than on the descriptions.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Life After Coffee by Virginia Franken

Setting: California
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: September 13, 2016

Amy O'Hara's built a career in find the very best coffee beans. Her latest trip is cut short when her boss calls her into the office. She's going to miss her flight, but she goes there and learns she's being laid off.

Her days of tastings and negotiating deals with farmers are over. Instead, she's now the stay-at-home parent while her husband attempts to revitalize his career as a writer. Her kids are not thrilled with her rules, and area moms certainly don't warm up to her quickly.

When a former ex offers to give her husband a chance writing scripts for a new television series, Amy's appreciative, but it looks like her ex has more in mind than simply hiring her husband. He seems to want Amy back in his life, even if they're both married with kids.

I've loved many of the books coming from Lake Union Publishing. Life After Coffee is another engrossing story, but there were points where the story dragged a bit too much for my taste and I wondered if that scene was truly necessary. I didn't love Amy's character as much as I'd hoped to. She is flawed, especially when she's tossed into being an at-home parent. That said, the reappearance of her ex-boyfriend, especially when his intentions become clear, well I didn't like that aspect.

Life After Coffee has humorous moments and some very realistic ones. It's not a bad read. It's just not one I'd put on the keeper shelf.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Girl Number One by Jane Holland

Setting: Cornwall
Genre: Mystery/Suspense
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Release Date: September 27, 2016

When she was just six years old, Eleanor witnessed her mother's murder. She's all grown up and back teaching in her hometown. On the anniversary of her mother'd murder, she takes a jog through the woods where her mother was killed. Her usual route's been shut, so she takes the path that leads right by the site where her mother died. To her shock, she finds the body of a woman with "3" written on her forehead.

Police reach the scene after interviewing Eleanor. There's no body. They suspect Eleanor is imagining things. When Eleanor does find another body, this one with a number 2, it's clear that Eleanor's past is catching up with her.

Girl Number One is pretty creepy. The pacing keeps you hooked, and the characters are likable. The killer's identity didn't stump me. The ending had a few holes that bugged me. If I could see things, I certainly don't get why police were so blind. I had it pegged early on, but there are a number of characters that do keep you questioning your suspicions.

If you like the recent spate of psychological thrillers, you'll enjoy Girl Number One.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A Trio of New Picture Books

Within a two-week span, Chronicle Books has a trio of delightful children's pictures books coming out. The first comes out today, September 20th, and is a whimsical story about Santa delivering presents, but he makes many mistakes along the way.

Presents Through the Window: A Taro Gomi Christmas Book has "windows" that Santa peeks in to determine who lives in each house. To a child's delight, Santa is often wrong. See what happens as you work your way through this book that's geared for ages two to five.

The Wish Tree by Kyo Maclear and Chris Turnham comes out on September 27th and is a charming tale of a boy's quest to find a magic tree that will grant him wishes. This book is also for ages two to five. A young boy heads out to find a magic tree, despite his siblings' disbelief. Alone with his sled, the young boy finds far more than he ever expected.

The final book in this trio is Claudia Rueda's Bunny Slopes, also for ages two to five. In this picture book, children tap, shake, and turn the book to help the bunny make a snowy hillside to ski down. The interaction created to go hand in hand with reading the story is perfect for an energetic little one.

With Christmas quickly approaching, this trio of wintry stories is a neat gift idea. All three are aimed for ages two to five, and I agree with that assessment. They're all perfect for new readers and have stories that draw you in.