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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Time Travel: Once Was a Time - Leila Sales



With an April 5th release date from Chronicle Kids, Leila Sales' Once Was a Time is almost in stores. This is a time travel novel geared towards the 10 to 13 year old. I found it completely engaging and hard to put down.

Lottie Bromley's dad is a scientist with conviction that time travel exists. He just cannot prove his theory. Lottie's best friend Kitty is fascinated by the idea and spends a lot of time at their house listening to his talks about time travel. It's his research that lands everyone in trouble, as Kitty and Lottie are kidnapped and the kidnappers want him to prove time travel exists. When a wormhole appears in her holding room, Lottie finds herself traveling to a new time and place, but a time where there is no Kitty. She knows she left Kitty in danger and also knows she must do the unthinkable and find a way back.

One of the things I loved most with Once Was a Time is that Lottie and Kitty were in WWII England, and Lottie finds herself alone in modern day Wisconsin. There's so much that Lottie has missed, and she needs to learn it all - computers, internet, fashions, and even culture. I love how that became a large part of the story and also gave her the tools she needed to adjust. It's also going to give U.S.-based readers a look into language differences between the U.S. (sneakers) and England (plimsolls.)

This is not a difficult read for an adult, which means it will be a little harder for the intended age, but not extremely difficult. It's one I would have happily read and discussed with my own children.


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Paperback Release of In a Dark, Dark Wood - Ruth Ware

Imagine getting an invitation to a former friend's bachelorette getaway. It's been 10 years since you've seen this person. You can't imagine why you've even been invited. However, a very pushy bridesmaid insists that the bride-to-be needs you there. That's the scenario Nora, an author, finds herself in. She agrees with another friend that she'll go if that friend goes. Neither are prepared for what is about to happen.



Upon arriving at the English country home where the bachelorette getaway is to take place, it's clear this won't be an easy weekend. There's no cell service, there's only one landline, and the home is very remote. When mysterious footprints are found in the snow, terror ensues.

Told from Nora's point of view, readers will find the story bounces between past, more recent past, and present. The story begins with Nora in the hospital with little recollection of the events that led to a death. She cannot remember who is dead or why. As the story progresses, the reader is swept up in the story of both events at the country home and events that led to Nora and the bride-to-be going their separate ways a decade earlier.

I had a hard time putting In a Dark, Dark Wood down. It's definitely a gripping psychological suspense, as promised, and one that while I figured it out, I still had to read every page to see how things ended. At this time, it looks like Ruth Ware's book will become a movie. Reese Witherspoon is slated to produce the film.


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A Touching Look at Huntington's Disease - Inside the O'Briens

Lisa Genova released her touching novel last year and in January 2016, Inside the O'Briens came out in paperback. The story follows Charlestown/Boston's O'Brien family as they cope with the recent diagnosis that patriarch Joe, a dedicated police officer, has Huntington's Disease. Given 10 to 20 years left to live, Joe is shattered, but he also feels he must remain strong for his wife, daughters, and sons.



The main plot of the story delves far beyond Joe. It goes into each child who has a 50/50 shot of having the gene that causes Huntington's. There's no so much more at stake. Do they get tested and know or avoid it and wait to see if the symptoms ever arrive. The decision is painful for all, especially for Katie, a 21 year old with dreams of owning her own yoga studio and a new romance that she wants to last.

Inside the O'Briens is not an easy read. The emotions you encounter for each character will have you laughing, crying, and crossing your fingers. The setting is very familiar to me. My husband is also a Red Sox fan, so Joe's passion for the team felt like home to me. The Boston-area setting was equally familiar. My only issue is that the book ended. I won't go into detail, but I'd love a follow up to their story because without one, I do feel a little let down.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Jacqueline Diamond's The Case of the Questionable Quadruplet

Congratulations to Jacqueline Diamond on the release of her 101st book. While many know her as a romance author, she's taking her readers back to Safe Harbor for this latest release. The Case of the Questionable Quadruplet, however, is not a Safe Harbor Medical Romance, this one is a cozy mystery.



Dr. Eric Darcy's patient offers him a bit of a surprise. She claims that many years ago, she gave birth to four babies, not three as records show. She's convinced during her delivery that there was a fourth infant that was stolen from her. Her proof is that she's just seen that infant, now a grown woman. She wants Eric to uncover the truth. Before he can even begin to investigate, someone breaks into his home office. Worse, his client is found dead.

While he's first concerned that his client may be delusional with her advancing age, her death and a missing medical file convince him there may be truth to her claim. As he begins investigating with the help of his late wife's sister, a private investigator, it's clear that someone doesn't want the truth revealed. Uncovering the truth could prove to be deadly for Dr. Darcy.

I've read every book in the Safe Harbor Medical Romance series, so the characters, medical facility, and town are all like family and friends. I'm a big fan of cozy mysteries, so I've been excited for the release of The Case of the Questionable Quadruplet. Starting with the characters, I like the pairing of Dr. Darcy and his sister-in-law. The familiarity and chemistry between the two make for enjoyable reading. If you're a long-time fan of the Safe Harbor series, you'll recognize some names and there's definitely a connection to the medical practice.

The mystery kept me on my toes. There are plenty of characters you will believe could be behind the murders. It was a change of pace from the romances and involved a bit of adjustment because I was so used to this setting as being one where people fall in love, but it worked. It's an enjoyable cozy mystery and definitely a series to watch.

Look for The Case of the Questionable Quadruplet on April 5th.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Heartwarming Romance from Jill Steeples

Another freebie for you Kindle, Warm Winter Kisses is a pretty satisfying romance and well worth every second. This is a December 2015 release from Joffe Books.



Beth Brown never expects her long-time boyfriend to come home, take her out to dinner, and announce he's leaving her. It's a shock and part of the reason she accepts a temporary position as the personal assistant to one temperamental celebrity chef.

Rocco di Castri is nothing like Beth expected, though his supermodel girlfriend is unfortunately just as the tabloids make her out to be. The more Beth spends working for Rocco, the more she finds herself falling for him. She realizes she wasn't in love with her boyfriend, but how can she fall in love with a man who is taken?

Set in the British countryside, the setting, characters, and writer's sense of humor make this book a winner. I was engaged from the start and ended up reading it from first to last page in the matter of a few hours. I simply loved it.




Friday, March 25, 2016

Newport by Jill Morrow



Softcover, Release July 2015
William Morrow

Reviewed by Bob Walch

The Great War is over and Prohibition is a reality, but that has had little effect on the wealthy enclave of Newport where the rich descend each summer to enjoy their oceanfront “cottages” and the best things money can buy.

Attorney Adrian de la Noye knows Newport well, having grown up there, but he has avoided returning to the community until now. A wealthy client, Bennett Chapman, has called Adrian to his home to revise his will. His client plans to add his soon to be, much younger wife to the document and drop his adult children. What’s even more disturbing to the family is that Chapman is reputedly acting on the advice of his departed wife (and the children’s mother) who, via a séance, has urged her husband to remarry.

If this isn’t enough of a mess for Adrian with family passions running high, Adrian quickly discovers that Chapman’s fiancée is a woman the lawyer knew quite well in his youth.

Uncovering the secrets of his client’s family along with discovering where his former friend has been will keep Adrian busy and also expose some of his own history.

A novel filled with social satire, dark humor and some interesting characters, Newport offers an ending you won’t soon forget.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Romance Reader Freebie: Lillian Darcy's The Sweetest Thing

Anyone with a Kindle or the Kindle app can download Lilian Darcy's The Sweetest Thing without paying a dime. This is the second book in the Montana Riverbend series, though I hadn't read the first and didn't feel like I was missing anything.



It's been many years since Tully Morgan's been in Marietta. She fled on prom night after learning some stunning news. In the process of leaving, she also abandoned her prom date, Ren Fletcher. Tully's never told anyone that prom night happened to be the night she learned her older sister was really her mother. Now she's back to care for her mother who is battling cancer.

Ren has never understood why Tully disappeared. He moved on and married, though he and his wife are not happy. He's contemplating what to do next when Tully's older sister, Sugar, enters his law practice asking him for help. This throws him into Tully's life again, but he's married now and he's not sure if he should risk everything for a woman who walked away once before.

There are aspects to The Sweetest Thing that I enjoyed, and there are other times where things felt way too rushed for me. While Tully and Ren are standout characters, it's Sugar, a woman trying desperately to make up for her past as a drug addict, who I found myself really enjoying. She makes no excuses. She knows she's screwed up and all she wants is to right past wrongs.

The romance between Tully and Ren doesn't progress as fast as it would in a typical romance novel, but this is largely due to Ren's marital status. How it plays out, you'll have to read for yourself, but I appreciated that it was handled with honesty.

In the end, for a free e-book, I enjoyed Lilian Darcy's novel. I'm not sure it inspired me to rush out and buy the others, which is likely the hope when offering a book for free, but it was an enjoyable read that other romance fans should try. What surprised me is that I've reviewed The Long Walk Home, book 5 in this series, and based on that story, I never would have guessed the books were together in a series. They definitely stand alone.

Tule Publishing released this novel in 2014. You'll find it at Amazon.com and it is free (for now anyway) if you select the Kindle version.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Jenny Colgan Returns With Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery

I'm new to Jenny Colgan's Little Beach Street Bakery books. That said, March 22nd's release of Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery caught my eye. While I enjoyed the story, I have to give one huge compliment to the author. Thanks so much for using metric measurements in your recipes!



Things are really looking up for Polly Waterford. Her American boyfriend is sharing her happily ever after in her newly purchased home, a lighthouse, and the orphaned puffin she's befriended is part of their family. The bakery she runs is thriving, and everything is looking up.

Of course, nothing good lasts forever. Suddenly, Polly's world crumbles as a newcomer to town threatens to destroy the bakery she's helped restore and turn into a success. This is only the start of the bad times heading Polly's way. In order to start anew, she's going to have to think outside the box and really evaluate what she and her loved ones need most.

At first, I envied Polly's life. I'd love nothing more than to live on a small island off the British coast, have a pet puffin, and run a thriving bakery. Even when the bad news started hitting, I found myself rooting for her. I ended up reading the novel in one sitting because I just had to know how everything turned out.

At the end of Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery are recipes, and as I love baking, recipes are always welcome. Over the years, I have learned that when it comes to making bread, metric measurements are the only way to go. It's one of the reasons my Cordon Bleu baking textbook (Professional Baking) is the most tattered cookbook in my house. I cherish that yard sale find! As Jenny Colgan also gives metric measurements, I am excited to dive in later today and make some homemade bread using her recipe.

I'm glad I stumbled across this series and plan to read the other books as one adventure with Polly just wasn't enough.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Jesse Andrews Returns With The Haters

If you know Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, you know Jesse Andrews work. I was eager to read The Haters and now that I have. I'm still trying to decide what to think.



Music-centric, that's the first thing that pops to mind about The Haters. There's a bit of a band geek gone wrong aspect. Wes and Corey, best friends for a long time, come from completely different backgrounds. Corey's parents are protective, perhaps overly so. Wes's parents are so focused in themselves that they barely notice he exists. The pair apply and are accepted into a jazz camp, despite their questioning if they're truly good enough.

It's at this camp that they meet Ash, the only girl in the camp. Ash hates being told how to play. She, Wes, and Corey end up jamming and think they're pretty good. In fact, Ash suggests they take their act on the road and travel across the U.S. playing in any establishment that will let them.

That's the plot in a nutshell, and here come the issues I had. Overall, I liked the characters. Some of, especially in the beginning, the discussion of music bored me. Don't get me wrong, I love music, but I don't feel that it needed to be mentioned at every moment. I wanted to get into the kids' minds and see what really made them tick. Eventually that does happen but not as quickly as I wanted.

There are some mildly sexual scenes, all appropriate for the age of the characters, especially in this coming of age tale. I do have friends who would be shocked if they knew their child was reading about masturbation, etc., so I'm throwing the warning out there, even though I reiterate that at this age, that does happen and ignoring it gets you nowhere.

The Haters is available for sale on April 5, 2016. Look for this release from Amulet Books at online and brick and mortar booksellers.


Thursday, March 17, 2016

Second Book in the Texas Trails Series

Back in 2011, I was sent a book that I never had time to fit in. The thing is, no matter how many books I receive and struggle to fit in, I always tuck some away in case I have a moment in the future. That's the case with Susan Page Davis's Captive Trail. I'm sorry I missed this back when it was released.



Susan Page Davis introduces a young woman, Taabe Waipu who flees her captors, the Comanches. She can barely remember her family as she was stolen as a child, but she dreams of being reunited with them. Ned Bright, a driver for the Butterfield Overland Mail Company, finds an exhausted woman collapsed on his route. He brings her to a mission where nuns agree to help her recover and try to find out who she is. As Taabe speaks no English, this is going to be quite a challenge. Meanwhile, something about this woman draws Ned to her, and he's just as determined to find her identity and keep her safe from the tribe who seems to really want her back.

Captive Trail is a Christian novel. That said, it's not overly preachy, so I think any reader with an interest in historical romances will thoroughly enjoy the novel. I did find parts of the book felt a little rushed, but overall, I had a hard time putting it down.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

D is for Dress-Up: The ABC's of What We Wear - An April 2016 Children's Picture Book



Chronicle Kids has a new picture book coming out that's perfect for beginning readers. Not only can children practice their ABCs, but the book also discusses pieces of clothing. D is for Dress-Up is by Maria Carluccio, an award-winning illustrator.

Each page includes illustrations and one letter. With the letter are types of clothing, patterns, or fabrics. You'll learn that A is for "apron" and B is for a "bow and bow tie." Illustrations capture exactly what is being introduced, making it an excellent choice for beginning readers.

Look for D is for Dress-Up on April 5th.  It's a nice way to teach both the alphabet, colors, and the clothing children wear every day.

A March 2016 Release: The Kite Family




ONE OF HONG KONG’S MOST IMPORTANT CHINESE-LANGUAGE AUTHORS
ARRIVES STATESIDE WITH A MASTERFUL COLLECTION OF STORIES
THAT STRETCH THE LIMITS OF THE IMAGINATION

The Kite Family showcases the work of Hon Lai-chu, a wildly creative Hong Kong writer.  The stories, elegantly translated by Andrea Lingenfelter, range from torn-from-the-headlines dystopian anxieties of Notes on an Epidemic to the more surrealistic Forrest Wood Chair, which takes themes from Kafka’s Metamorphosis in an engagingly novel direction.”—Jeffrey Wasserstrom, author of China in the 21st Century

“Evocatively written and expertly translated, these Hong Kong stories will draw you into Hon Lai-chu’s surreal yet recognizable world.”—Howard Goldblatt, translator of Mo Yan

From one of Hong Kong’s most outstanding young authors comes THE KITE FAMILY, a collection of stories by Hon Lai-chu that pulls us into strange worlds that lie beneath the surface of our own. With an imagination to match Aimee Bender and Haruki Murakami, Hon Lai-chu, who writes in spare, elegant prose, takes us deep into a surrealistic world that is a skewed reflection of our own, at once recognizable and off-kilter. 

The absurdity of life is Hon’s primary subject, and while her characters might appear to live outside politics, where economic survival is paramount and modernization and its discontents are the biggest problems, politics is a constant presence, a threat that lurks offstage.  Her characters are not always directly ensnared by bureaucracy but its illogicality and arbitrariness dog their every step. 

As readers navigate their way through the threads of surrealism, they will find themselves hand-in-hand with characters who are filled with spiritual unease and live in a world where no one is responsible, yet everyone suffers.

  • “Forrest Woods, Chair” compels us to ask whether it’s possible for us to maintain our humanity in an era of diminishing opportunities, when market forces threaten to dehumanize us all.

  • “Spoiled Brains” and “Front Teeth” delve into the commodification of human beings, issues of migration and xenophobia, deformity, family dysfunction and thoughtless cruelty.

  • “Notes on an Epidemic” calls to mind the SARS, H5N1, and Ebola outbreaks in recent years, but in this case the contagion becomes an excuse for the authorities—faceless and unaccountable—to engage in social engineering 

Themes of family, individualism, self-actualization, societal pressure, and global capitalism are heavy forces in this collection. Hon Lai-chu calls into question what parts of our lives are worth sacrificing and which are not.

Hon Lai-chu’s first full-length book in English, THE KITE FAMILY brings a striking and distinctive voice to contemporary literature. Renowned translator Andrea Lingenfelter (known for her translation of Lillian Lee’s famous Notes from a Concubine) has brought another masterpiece to extraordinary life, preserving the care and imagination of Hon Lai-chu’s writing while seamlessly incorporating the utilities of the English language. Deeply infused with vibrant imagery and subtle wit, Hon Lai-chu’s stunning stories create the atmosphere of a lucid dream that is simultaneously absurd and poignant.

 ABOUT HON LAI-CHU

Critics have called Hon Lai-Chu “the most outstanding young author in Hong Kong." She has authored eight books and won numerous awards, including the Hong Kong Biennial Award for Chinese Literature for fiction, Taiwan's Unitas New Writer's Novella first prize, and the Hong Kong Book Prize. Her books have been twice named to the list of Top Ten Chinese Novels Worldwide, in 2008 and 2009.  Her 2006 story “The Kite Family” won the New Writer’s Novella first prize from Taiwan’s Unitas Literary Association; the extended version was named one of 2008’s Best Books of the Year by Taiwan’s China Times. The Kite Family, as well as her next work, Gray Flower, were selected as Top 10 Chinese Novels Worldwide by Taiwan’s China Times. A Dictionary of Two Cities, which she co-authored with Dorothy Tse, was published in 2013, and earned the Hong Kong Book Prize. Hon, 36 years of age, was born in Hong Kong in 1978. She was a 2010 resident at the University of Iowa International Writing Program.  

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

A Mother's Reckoning - Tough Read With Great Insight

The Columbine shootings and murders will no doubt be one of the worst school shootings people can remember. With all of the author proceeds going to charitable mental health organizations, Sue Klebold sets out to share insights into the son she loved and had to come to terms with the horrible acts of murder he took part in. I'll break here and mention that it would be nice if all proceeds, not just the author's proceeds, were being donated.



This isn't an easy read, and I agree with her at times but also saw signs of what she missed at others. There's one episode where she talked about being so mad with him that she pinned him against the wall until he told her to move away or his anger would overtake him. That was a big cry for help. I'm a mom of two and I've dealt with anxiety in different forms with both of them, with my mother, with myself, with my aunt, and the list goes on. Maybe I'm a little more in tune with the signs of anxiety, mood disorders, depression, etc. than some, but reading the book I could see some of what she missed. Would it have made a difference? Who knows. Teens can be very stubborn and once on a path, it can be hard to stop them.

No doubt A Mother's Reckoning has to have been a very painful book for her to write, but it was likely cathartic too. Much of the book is spent covering mental illness and the warning signs that are often overlooked. Depression and suicidal thoughts are key focuses. If anyone takes anything from this book, it will be to seek help sooner than later. More importantly, I think it's really important to know that not every counselor will be of use. It can take trial and error to find the right person for you. Bottom line is that mental health issues cannot be ignored. We've gone far too long making having a mental illness a bad thing and something to hide. It shouldn't be that way.

Sue Klebold's A Mother's Reckoning came out on February 15, 2015. It's a Crown book and available in many stores, including places like Amazon.com.


Thursday, March 3, 2016

Detective Helen Grace Returns in A Doll's House

Fans of British mysteries will thoroughly enjoy Detective Inspector Helen Grace. She's back in A Doll's House facing off against a serial abductor/killer.



Detective Helen Grace has just solved one serial killer case that hit a little too close to home. Things don't slow down, however, when a body is found at the beach shortly after a young woman goes missing. When that body turns out not to be the missing woman but instead of a woman who disappeared years ago, Helen is baffled when the family admits they'd had regular texts from the woman and never suspected she was dead. As Helen begins digging, she finds more women who vanished under similar circumstances and more bodies turn up. Helen realizes there is a serial killer on the loose and that killer has had years to perfect the craft.

The atmosphere of the Detective Helen Grace thrillers pulls you in. The details are often dark and creepy with characters you root for and killers that put a shiver up your spine. Like the last book, the killer kept me guessing. I had a hard time picking out who it could be and why. Meanwhile, the missing woman Ruby is a smart, tough character who I really wanted to see freed from her captor. The story switches back from Helen's detective work to her associate Charlie who is nearing the birth of her child and Helen's supervisor's own issues to Ruby's situation. It paints a complex picture of a twisted case.

M.J. Arlidge's A Doll's House came out in February 2016. It's an NAL release you won't want to miss.