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Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper: AKA A Widower's Journey Into His Wife's Past

Love, love, love Arthur Pepper. Phaedra Patrick's debut is a story that's making its way to my keeper shelf, and it charmed me for many reasons. I'm going to start with the setting. York was home to my dad's god daughter, it's a city I've been to many times, but it was mention of Bridlington (where many members of my family live) and even talk of Sir Alan Ayckbourn, a playwright/director who I learned of as a child when my uncle wrote a play that ended up on stage at the Scarborough in the Round festival that Sir Alan Ayckbourn was part of. As a result, the setting and some references ended up feeling very real to me.



After four decades of marriage, the death of his wife has left Arthur Pepper reeling. Even one year later, he's maintaining the same routine as they did as a couple, but he's alone. He's hiding from a neighborhood woman, getting up at the exact same hour, and having little interaction with his neighbors and children. When he decides to start clearing out his late wife's belongings, he never expects to find a charm bracelet he'd never seen before.

The first charm to catch his eye is that of an elephant. There's a phone number on it, so he makes the call. He soon learns that each charm captures a time in Miriam's life that she never spoke of. Arthur makes it a priority to uncover pieces of Miriam's life before him by tracking down each charm and what it meant to her. This means getting mauled by a tiger, traveling to other countries, and learning a lot about both Miriam and himself in the process.

I loved this story. It's not your run-of-the-mill tale, it's part adventure, part dealing with grief, and a whole lot of Arthur's own coming of age so to speak. He grows a lot over the course of The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, and I found myself unhappy that the book ended. I wanted more of Arthur, his family, and the people he meets during his journey.

Look for The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper on May 3, 2016. It's a refreshing story from MIRA that I'm so glad I read.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Bright and Colorful: Flora and the Peacocks

Molly Idle's latest Flora book is beautifully crafted with bold colors and a complete story told without words. For children who are in the very early stages of being ready to read, this is an ideal learning tool. There are no words, but the images tell the story perfectly. There are also flip-ups for children to explore what lies beneath. It's due to be released on May 3rd.



Flora loves to dance, and this time her dancing partners are not one but two peacocks. The problem is that the peacocks may not be as willing to share. What will Flora do?

The illustrations, done by Molly Idle, a former DreamWorks Animations artist, are bright and capture the colors of a peacock's feathers. If you're new to Flora, these books stand alone, but they're also a lot of fun, so you may want to pick up the other two books involving flamingos and penguins.

These books are worthy of being on a keeper shelf. Flora and the Flamingo earned a Caldecott Honor. Look for them at Chronicle Kids, online retailers, and your favorite bookstore.


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Fictional Rom-Com: Meternity by Meghann Foye

Imagine a workplace where you, as a single woman with no children, are treated like a servant. Moms are given priority on days off. When they can't finish work, it's assigned to you in rush assignments. That's the life Liz Buckley is living in Meternity. She's tired of writing articles on expensive baby products, ways to shed pregnancy pounds, and other articles targeted to new moms.

Her job as editor at Paddy Cakes magazine has her working incredibly long hours as she covers for the other women in the office. When she's told to cancel her dream trip to Paris, Liz has had enough. Someone suggests she's pregnant after she gets sick (stress), so she runs with it. Suddenly, Liz finds out what it's like to be on the other side, with people pandering to her. Liz realizes that she can make her dreams come true and use her "maternity leave" to travel and try to get her start as a travel writer.



Soon, Liz is wearing fake pregnancy bellies, leaving the office regularly for "prenatal doctor visits" (aka manicures), and getting treated with a new level of respect. The issue is that she has two guys interested in her, so soon her life is a mess of faking a pregnancy at work and trying to hide her fake pregnancy from these guys.

I admit that it took me a while to get into Meternity. It was odd because I liked the romantic angle, the humor was there, but I found Liz to be really fake and not really likable. Without giving away any spoilers, there is an event that starts to bring Liz around. From that point on, I really enjoyed her character and couldn't put the book down. Had the rest of the book been as emotionally engaging as the final half dozen chapters or so, this book would easily get five stars. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Art of Not Breathing - Teen Fiction From Sarah Alexander

The Art of Not Breathing is a new debut novel from Sarah Alexander. Bottom line for me, I liked it, but boy did I not like the parents and that made some sections tough to read.



Since her twin brother disappeared five years ago, Elsie Main struggles with blame and a family that's falling apart. She cannot remember everything that happened, but she knows even though her brother's body was never recovered, it's believed he drowned. Since that day, Elsie's parents seem unable to function and her older brother is no better.

After spending another birthday with her parents grieving her twin and practically ignoring her, Elsie winds up at the harbor where she meets a mysterious teen boy, Tay. Her private refuge within the boathouse has been discovered, but her friendship with Tay seems worth it, especially since he's offered to teacher her the art of freediving. Freediving seems like Elsie's best chance to get back into the water and find out what really happened to Eddie.

So many characters in this book didn't seem to have a clue. I get the parents were grieving, but the fact that they turned a blind eye to their two living children seriously ticked me off. Every time the story cut back to the family dysfunction, I became more and more annoyed. Sarah Alexander definitely created fully developed characters that made you feel something, even if it was hatred.

Along the way, the characters continue through their stages of grief, delving into first relationships, and then there's the mystery of what really happened to Eddie on that fateful day. It ends up being an intriguing story with real emotional issues tackled during what is essentially a pretty poignant coming-of-age story.

The Art of Not Breathing is due out until April 26th from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Color of Water in July: An Emotional Trip Back for One Likable Heroine

Nora Carroll, aka Elizabeth Letts, takes reader to a lakeside community where old secrets changed many lives. The Color of Water in July is an emotional story that brings one family's history to light.



It's been close to two decades since Jess Carpenter's seen her grandmother's summer home on Pine Lake in Michigan. Now that she's inherited the property, she's back to go through the items within the home and get it ready to sell. Little does Jess know, her past is about to come to light.

When she was 17, Jess fell madly in love with a boy her grandmother didn't approve of. Events happened that changed relationships and Jess's life goals. Now all these years later, Jess uncovers some letters that uncover a more startling truth. one that has the power to make Jess reconsider everything she's known and the path her life ended up taking.

The setting is one of the things that drew me into The Color of Water in July. That lakeside community came to life. I could almost hear the birds, feel the cool water, and feel the sun on my face. Nora Carroll created such vivid imagery. When you add in the characters - Jess, a young, inexperienced teen vs. the Jess of today; the grandmother who felt she was doing the right thing, but was wrong in so many ways; Jess's current boyfriend who simply has his eye on the prize; and Jess's boyfriend of the past - all of them pull you in emotionally.

Lake Union Publishing, a division of Amazon, has been impressing me with the warmth, emotional stories they publish. This is another winner and another reason to give the publisher a try.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

Head to Australia With Helen Brown's New Novel

Due out on April 26th, Helen Brown's Tumbledown Manor takes the reader to Australia. This work of women's fiction introduces Lisa Trumperton as she starts a new life far, far from her old one.



Writer Lisa Trumperton is happy to have have her family and friends around for her birthday, but she never expects to learn in front of them all that her "loving" husband is a lying, cheating jerk. During her party, flowers are delivered. Those flowers turn out to be a mistake the florist made. They mixed up an order her husband placed for his mistress. With her world shattered, Lisa leaves New York City and returns to Australia where she purchases her family's ancestral home, a run-down estate called Trumperton Manor. With the help of her son, his friends, a group of retired locals known as the Gray Army, and a very handsome landscaper, Lisa soon finds herself far more than a home in this Australian town.

I often will spot cover art that entices me to read a book. That's exactly the case with Tumbledown Manor. The cozy drawing of the estate home drew me in. The characters and setting kept me hooked. In the end, Helen Brown had me hooked in a story that I read in one sitting. I enjoyed Lisa's spunk, loved the guys in the Gray Army, and snickered at the antics of the stray cat and injured cockatoo that embed themselves in Lisa's life. Her sister is a little less likable, I found her to be a bit of a pain in the backside, but even she came to life on the pages. Lisa's ex and his girlfriend are the only characters in the book that I never cared for and wished would go away!






Saturday, April 23, 2016

Move Over Stephanie Plum, Margie Peterson's Here to Make Readers Laugh

Fans of Stephanie Plum need to give the Margie Peterson Mystery Series a shot. Without the romantic triangle that Plum is caught up in (something I got tired of around the 9th book), Margie is new to being an assistant P.I., and she certainly finds herself in uproarious situations in Mother Knows Best.



Margie's life is in shambles. Her husband was caught with a drag queen, though he claims it was a one-time thing and is going to a retreat that should "cure" him. Her daughter is acting like a dog and about to start at a new private school her grandparents are paying for. Worse, Margie's boss calls her to a crime scene where they move a body to help a young prostitute. Turns out the victim is the headmaster at the school Margie's daughter is about to attend. While moving the body, Margie accidentally drops her best friend's business card, putting her friend to the top of the suspect list.

Like any cozy mystery, there are situations that seem too absurd to be real, yet the more I read, the more I became hooked. Margie's tough, but the situations thrown her way would have anyone ready to pull out their hair. Her boss is a hoot, especially during one interrogation (and that's putting it lightly). There's a second case Margie's working in Mother Knows Best. She's been hired to find a pregnant teacup pig that was stolen by the owner's ex. When Margie finds the pig, prepare to snicker at everything that happens in that case.

This is the second book in the series by Karen MacInerney, though I never felt like I was missing important parts of Margie's background. I did like this book enough to want to get the first and see exactly how Margie got her start as Peaches' assistant. I've been looking for a humorous cozy mystery series to get hooked on, and this definitely did it!

Friday, April 22, 2016

What Remains of Me: New Novel From Alison Gaylin



Hardcover
William Morrow. 9780062369857
Reviewed by Bob Walch

Set in Hollywood, this beguiling thriller has some interesting and surprising twists that will make even the most sophisticated reader shake his or her head in wonder.
Kelly Michelle Lund becomes a media sensation when she shoots an Oscar-nominated director at a party in his posh Hollywood Hills home. During her trial the teenager refuses to explain her motive for the crime.

Now three decades after her conviction, Kelly is out of prison but she’s now in trouble e again after her father-in-law has been killed. Because he was a friend of the man Kelly was convicted of killing and a movie legend in his own right, the woman heads the suspect list for this latest crime.

Questions abound about this mysterious woman who some believe was not responsible for the first death or this latest one. These people may want to help her clear her name, but you may wonder if Kelly isn’t manipulating them for her own ends.


Set in two periods of time, Alison Gaylin uses these two crimes to also offer a fascinating look at the entertainment industry. The novel’s protagonist is one you won’t soon forget and the story’s clever plot will also linger with you long after you have finished What Remains of Me.  

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Paula Treick DeBoard - The Drowning Girls

MIRA is releasing Paula Treick DeBoard's The Drowning Girls on April 26th. This book is guaranteed to frustrated sensible readers. I don't know exactly how I'd classify it. It's marketed as a suspense novel, which is partly true, but realistically, it's more like a life situation of a train wreck that you can see happening but are helpless to stop it.



It's a dream come true. When Liz McGinnis's husband is offered a job at a pricey gated community, they find themselves with a gigantic new home, new friends, and a whole new lifestyle. Liz, a school counselor, is equally surprised when one of the neighborhood's popular girls takes Danielle, Liz's quiet, geeky daughter, under her wing and Danielle blossoms. It all just seems too good to be true.

Soon, Liz finds her world crumbling around her. Danielle's becoming secretive, as is Liz's husband, Phil. Strange things are happening within the community that are leaving lasting marks on Phil's work within The Palms. Even worse, Liz is finding that the most innocent neighbor may be as evil as one can be.

I've read another novel by Paula Treick DeBoard prior to this novel and loved it, but this book is different. It's plot was something I've seen in movies. This is where it gets tricky. I don't want to give away spoilers, but to really discuss my issues with the book, I have to go there, which I won't do.

Bottom line for me is that the writing is solid. The story is fast paced and characters are well developed, but those same characters, one in particular, make really, really stupid decisions. I understand that had they been smart, the story would have ended quickly, but as an adult I really found myself questioning why so many bad choices were made.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

How Well Do You Really Want to Know The Girl From Home?

Adam Mitzner's The Girl From Home is a touch of suspense, a bit of a mystery, and part of a legal thriller rolled into one. Here's the issue, I didn't like any of the characters.



Jonathan Caine has it all. He's a Wall Street guru. He has a younger, desirable wife. He has his penthouse condo in Manhattan and is looking into a summer home in Long Island. He even has his cherished Bentley. Jonathan also takes some risks and it's those risks that land him in a lot of hot water.

Suddenly, Jonathan has no job, no home, and no money. His dad's health is declining, so he heads to his childhood home to spend time with his father while he has the chance. While in town, he attends his 25th high school reunion. There, he chats with Jackie, the girl who had it all, and soon the pair are on the brink of more than friendship, something Jackie's abusive husband will not approve of.

Jonathan is as unlikable as they come. Early in the story, he's handed a $15 million yearly bonus, on top of his $500,000 a year salary. When he starts complaining about that $15 million bonus, I lost any interest in his character.

Jackie is a little better, though she's still lacking any common sense. She married the football quarterback and has put up with his abuse for years. She came off as a smart woman, but she really makes some foolish mistakes that also made me really not care much for her.

The book does start in the present, go back in time, and then move forward again. When readers first meet Jonathan, he's in a cell uncertain of what is going to happen. Will the woman he loves turn on him or not? That's probably the biggest part of the suspense - what will happen to him. I can't give away spoilers, but I'll be curious to see what others think of the ending. Feel free to head to the comments to discuss it.

From there, The Girl From Home bounces back to his job, his wife, his lifestyle and then the events that lead to all of the pieces of his perfect life crumbling to dust. I have to admit that the cynical side of me was happy to see him get knocked down. For that Adam Mitzner has kudos coming, for as much as I hated Jonathan's character, I couldn't stop reading.




Will You Won't You Want Me?: Lighthearted Romance/Women's Fiction

St. Martin's Griffin has a very lighthearted, sometimes poignant romance/women's fiction novel coming out on April 19th. Will You Won't You Want Me? is the latest novel from Nora Zelevansky. I'd say this is a pretty good mix of women's fiction, chick lit, and romance. It's a book I found myself uncertain if I'd like the main character, and then realizing that in a lot of ways, she embodies many women I know. I soon came to admire her.



For Marjorie Plum - Madgesty to some  - high school is something she never was truly prepared to leave behind. She ruled the roost. Fast-forward a decade and she's not really sure what her life should be. Her job's okay, but nothing more than okay, and her boss is pure evil. Her friends have moved on to permanent relationships or raising families. Her goal is still to rule the roost, but the rug gets pulled out from under her, and suddenly she's not so sure who she really is or what her life needs to be to make her happy.

Marjorie's existence hits a wall when she's fired from her job, and shortly after learns that her best friend is moving in with beau and Marjorie only has just a few days to find somewhere else to live. With no where to turn, Marjorie returns to her parents' home, only to find out they are renovating her bedroom and cannot let her move back home. Marjorie finds herself moving to (gasp) Brooklyn to share an apartment with a whimsical young woman, who even helps Marjorie out by letting her take on one of her new tutoring client, an 11-year-old girl whose is wise beyond her years. This transition may have shaken Marjorie to the core, but it may also be exactly what she needed to find herself.

Belinda is adorable. She may be young, but she's a wise little spitfire and I really enjoyed the parts of the book where she came into play. I loved her interactions with Marjorie. I also grew very fond of Marjorie and enjoyed seeing her finally get it. You'll find there are splashes of romance with not one but two men. It's fun getting to see Marjorie struggle to decide if romance was really in her cards or not.

There's a lot to love with Will You Won't You Want Me?, and it ended up being a book that I couldn't put down. I had to know what Marjorie would decide and where her adventures would take her.


Friday, April 8, 2016

Writing Contest: How Good a Poet Are You?

I know that you love to read, but how are you at writing? Author Howard Eisenberg has a new contest for anyone interested in writing a poem. Entering is so easy. Write a review in poetic fashion about the book once you've read it, and post that poem/review on Howard Eisenberg's Amazon page, and email the link to howard@howardeisenbergauthor.com.

The winner of this fun contest wins a copy of Howard's latest children's book, Adorable Scoundrels.



Howard Eisenberg's contest runs from April 1st to April 30th.

Heart Like Mine: Likable Characters In a Vermont Setting

Having been born and raised in Vermont, I always love finding books that are set in Vermont. My assumption is that Heart Like Mine is set down towards Rutland. There is an Echo Lake down that way, and many references within the book put the location as two hours south of Burlington, so Rutland area fits. Judging from a blog I found, Maggie McGinnis must live in Vermont, which is why so many details are spot on. It's a change of pace from one Vermont-based romance I read long ago where the author had every character saying "ay-up" constantly. Something that I only hear on a rare occasion in the Northeast Kingdom.



Delaney Blair is saddened when she's handed the task of deeply trimming the budget of Mercy Hospital's pediatric department. The department already runs on a skeleton crew and limited supplies, so any cuts will be unbearable. Dr. Josh Mackenzie cannot lose more money from his department. He sees Delaney's first proposal and asks her to spend a week in the department before making any final decisions.

It isn't long before Delaney is falling for Josh, and this is not a good thing. She can't have any bias affecting her business decisions, but her past and time spent with Josh and his patients is definitely clouding her vision. If she can't get the job done, her job is on the line. For Delaney, the task soon seems to be to impossible to bear.

The setting is only part of this romance novels appeal. I really liked Delaney and Josh together, but some of the kids within the hospital became favorites. I found myself eager to get back to sections where they would make an appearance.

This is my introduction to the Echo Lake series. It's a nice mix of romance, humor, and even a little bit of suspense. St. Martin's Press released Heart Like Mine on April 5th, so you'll find it in some bookstores and online.






Saturday, April 2, 2016

Sonja Yoerg - The Middle of Somewhere

Here's a story that I loved and hated all at the same time. Is this inherently bad? I don't think so. It means the author did a great job building suspense and characters I cared about, but I definitely questioned their decisions!



In Sonja Yoerg's The Middle of Somewhere, a September 2015 paperback release from NAL, Liz Kroft plans to hike from Yosemite Valley and complete the John Muir Trail. She's a widow with hidden secrets and needs some time to clear her head. She isn't thrilled when her boyfriend decides to join her, but she can't tell him now.

On the trail, they encounter a number of people. There's an older couple and an actor studying for his next role, but it's a couple brothers who have Liz feeling very uneasy. Suddenly her quest to clear her mind becomes one that might be one of survival.

The setting comes to life through Sonja Yoerg's words. Despite her flaws, lies, and other issues, I even found myself liking Liz, and I definitely felt for her very confused boyfriend who isn't sure if he's about to lose the woman he loves to her secrets. Then the brothers are introduced, and the aspect of the book I hated comes into play. I can't understand why Liz made choices she does regarding her trek. I don't want to give any spoilers, but if you read it, I'm really curious to see if you felt the same way.

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Obsession - Nora Roberts

It's been a couple years since I picked up a Nora Roberts book. Definitely is my bad. Reading The Obsession made me realize how much I miss her writing.



On a hot, humid night, young Naomi Bowes spied her father heading into the woods. She followed thinking he was going for a late night swim. What Naomi really sees changes her life. Her father is holding a young woman captive in an abandoned root cellar. Naomi rescues the woman and brings her to the police. With her father in jail, Naomi's life starts anew in the care of her shocked mother and an uncle she barely knows.

Years pass. Naomi is now a talented photographer and owner of one house on the west coast. She cannot imagine what led her to purchase the former inn, but she has a vision for what this home could be that she cannot ignore. The community of Sunrise Cove takes her in, and she can't help but feel a growing attraction to the local mechanic, one Xander Keaton.

As much as Naomi would love to think she can finally put her past behind her, the past rears its ugly head. Naomi is forced to reconsider the choices she's made.

I'm all for romantic suspense, and The Obsession is very fitting. There's a nice mix of romance and mystery tossed into a setting that has me wanting to move there. That said, there were times I thought I had it figured out and was not happy with where things looked like they were heading. Leave it to Nora Roberts to shake things up just as I was becoming complacent on my predictions as an arm chair sleuth. I always like to try to solve the crime before it's revealed by the author, but this time I simply failed at my mission. Kudos to Ms. Roberts for fooling me!

The Obsession is scheduled to be released by Berkley on April 12, 2016. It's an excellent suspense from Nora Roberts and kept me guessing until the end.