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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The One Man by Andrew Gross

Setting: Chicago/Poland
Genre: Historic Fiction
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Release Date: August 23, 2016



I know the name Andrew Gross from James Patterson books. I liked his work in The One Man so much better.

The novel begins in Chicago where a woman is trying to get her elderly father to talk about his days during WWII. From there, it jumps to Poland, WWII, and Washington D.C.

Two men escape the confines of their concentration camp. Fearing they're about to be caught, they find the opposite when they're saved. They hold information into the truth about the concentration camps and how many men, women, and children are being murdered. Their information makes it to President Roosevelt.

Alfred Mendl, a noted physicist, and his family lose their security in a camp in France. Called out for having forged documents, they're brought to a Nazi concentration camp and separated. Meanwhile, the U.S. government is doing all they can to get Mendl out of there for he is one of two people with a secret that must be protected at all costs.

In Washington D.C., Nathan Blum is asked to do the one thing he hates even thinking of doing. The government wants him to sneak into the concentration camp and help Mendl escape.

That's the general story in The One Man. It's gripping and often sad. As some of it is based on truth, it was a painful read. Mendel wasn't a real character, but there are so many that he could have been. Others in the story were based on fact, along with parts of the plot.

I don't generally like historic fiction, but this one drew me in and held my attention. I loved relationships between characters. I found the story flowed swiftly from event to event. Many times, I wanted to stop reading and go to sleep for the night, but something happened to make me say, "Just one more chapter."

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel



I love a lot about The All Saw a Cat. The narrative's rhythmic flow. The artistic illustrations that completely capture the mysterious feline. The story itself is ideally created to be complete without being too wordy. That was one issue I faced decades ago when picking stories for my kids, many times they got bored because a book was too long.

That's not the case with They All Saw a Cat. At 44 pages, this book is rich in illustrations with only a line or two on each page. Some pages simply have illustrations. As a result I see this being an excellent book for teaching a little one to read. Vocabulary is also perfect for a beginning reader. Sentences are short and simple - "The cat knew them all, and they all knew the cat." It's perfect for bedtime, teaching a child to read, and with the illustrations found on each page, even the pictures give you something to talk about. I really liked this book!

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Darkest Secret by Alex Marwood

Setting: Bournemouth, England
Genre: British Mystery
Publisher: Penguin
Release Date: August 30, 2016



I hated most everyone in The Darkest Secret. The characters in this novel are infuriating. Short of two, I didn't like the majority. It made it tough to read, yet I also couldn't look away.

Sean Jackson invited a number of friends to his lavish Bournemouth estate for his 50th birthday. The goal is to have one weekend of good times, with lots of drinking and even a bit of drug use. His daughters from his first marriage are present, not to his liking, but he doesn't want anything to spoil his weekend. And then one of his three-year-old twin daughters vanishes in the middle of the night.

Skip forward 12 years. Sean Jackson is dead and everyone who gathered at that party are back for his funeral. Mila Jackson, the younger of Sean's daughters from his first marriage, reluctantly agrees to escort Ruby, the other twin and her half-sister, to the funeral. Reuniting at the estate brings the past to light. Long hidden secrets threaten to come bursting to life and reveal the truth about Coco's disappearance.

I liked Mila. Her hatred for her father is very apparent. He deserved every second of it, both in the past and in the present. I liked Ruby, though her memories of that weekend are non-existent. Every other character in this book was incredibly unlikable, however. It made for very tough reading.

The mystery is puzzling. I thought I had it, but it turned out I was wrong. I did like that this mystery kept me guessing until the very end. The writing was excellent. I was drawn into Bournemouth and wanted to be on the beach, smelling the salty air, and feeling the cold water hit my toes. The setting is exquisite. Those characters though. I've never disliked so many characters at once, and that did make for very tough reading. I'll chalk this book up to loved some things, hated others, but couldn't put it down!

Sunrise Crossing by Jodi Thomas

Setting: Crossroads, Texas
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: MIRA
Release Date: August 30, 2016



I have been impatiently waiting for Sunrise Crossing. Yancy is a favorite character, and I was desperately awaiting his chance to find true love.

Yancy Grey has served his time for theft, he's found out the truth about his family, and now he's rebuilding the rundown house his ancestors owned. He never expects to find a mysterious young woman hiding out in his barn. Tori's not afraid of him, she is happy helping him work on his home's repairs, and he finds himself entering new territory - romance.

Parker Lacey fears her knee pain is a sign that she, like her parents, has cancer and won't have long to live. When she finds a young artist, Tori, crying in the airport, Parker offers her home in Texas to this young woman who needs to go into hiding. Eventually, Parker will join her, and that means trusting in the help of the cowboy neighbor she's never met.

Gabe Snow lost the love of his life many, many years ago. He's in Crossroads for his work. In Texas, Gabe learns a little about himself and the past he thought was long forgotten.

What comes into play in Sunrise Crossing is really a collection of stories. I was worried that Yancy's romance would be pushed to the background a bit as other romances build, but thankfully that never happens. I loved Yancy and Tori together. Both had their secrets, and both were new to relationships, so it was foreign territory they had to navigate. Parker and Clint are secondary, but I enjoyed their romance too.

I love the characters and the town that's been created in the Ransom Canyon series. This latest is another excellent addition to this series. Usually, I'd say that you can jump right in, but there's one story line that makes me question that this time.

Gabe is really more of a mystery within the book. If you've been reading the series, you'll be excited to see him appear in this novel. If you're new to it, I really recommend reading Ransom Canyon before Sunrise Crossing.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Sunset in Central Park by Sarah Morgan

Setting: New York City and Maine
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Harlequin
Release Date: August 30, 2016



There's the phrase "when life hands you lemons..." that hits hard on days like today. Yesterday, I got a letter from our credit union that they've decided to move all payment due dates on home equity loans to 15 days earlier. After looking into the legalities, they are a credit union and can do so. When I'm in the middle of a desperate job hunt and competing against thousands statewide, it's hard enough. This was a blow I didn't need. I was very, very down after the mail arrived yesterday. Then, my daughter and I both ended up with food poisoning from a local takeout. Yesterday sucked! I curled up with Sunset in Central Park, and suddenly I found that "lemonade."

Frankie Cole hates weddings. She hates engagement parties. She hates bridal showers. As the florist aspect of her best friends' party planning business, Frankie does what it takes to get the job done, but she doesn't have to be happy for any of these glowing brides and brides-to-be. She watched her father walk out on his family. She's lived under her mother's shadow of being the town floozy for too much of her teen years. She's even had many bad runs at finding love.

Matt Walker's sister has been Frankie's best friend since childhood. He's secretly admired Frankie from afar, but he's kind of tired of waiting. Matt sets out to prove to Frankie that true love does exist, and he's the man she really needs in her life.

I loved Frankie's tough, confused character. Her past explains her beliefs. I also loved Matt. He's patient and truly the fictional knight in shining armor that so many women long for. Together, they made a very memorable couple. There's plenty of sizzle in this book and characters that feel almost like family by the end.

Sunset in Central Park is clearly part of a series. I haven't researched it yet, but I'm pretty sure I missed the first book, but it's equally clear that there is at least one more book in the works, hopefully two if I'm lucky.

If you need something uplifting that brings a few tears to the eye and leaves you feeling warm and cozy, Sarah Morgan's new release is perfect!


Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Confectioner's Tale by Laura Madeleine

Setting: Paris and Cambridge
Genre: Historical Romance/Historical Mystery
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Release Date: September 20, 2016



Oh, how I loved The Confectioner's Tale: A Tale of Paris. If you adored Moulin Rouge, this book is going to impress. Be prepared to get swept up in this star-crossed lovers' tale.

Petra Stevenson, a King's College grad student, just needs to finish her thesis. The problem is she comes across a potential scandal involving her now-deceased grandfather. She adored her grandfather and is furious biographer Simon Hall would dare say her grandfather was responsible for a scandal that rocked Paris. When she finds a photo hidden away with the words "forgive me" scrawled on the back, Petra is determined to find the truth before Simon Hall does.

Skip back to 1909. Guillaume du Frere heads to Paris to take a laborer's job. He needs to earn money to help support his mother. He ends up bumping into a beautiful young woman, and soon learns she is Mademoiselle Jeanne Clermont, daughter of the owner of Patisserie Clermont. Tragic events bring Gui into the Clermont's lives once more, and he's offered a position in the patisserie. Soon, the couple begin a clandestine romance that threatens to destroy them both if caught.

The Confectioner's Tale is part romance, particularly in the past with Gui and Jeanne, and part mystery in the late-1980s where Petra is researching her grandfather's past. Together, the two stories played well off each other, though I will admit it was Gui and Jeanne that were the stars on these pages.

Laura Madeleine brings Paris and the patisserie to life. I could almost smell the overcooked eclairs, taste the sweet chocolate, and feel the vibrancy in the bustling city. I fell in love with this story and expect many other readers will feel the same.



Monday, August 22, 2016

That Darkness by Lisa Black

Setting: Cleveland
Genre: Suspense
Publisher: Kensington
Release Date: April 26, 2016



That Darkness is the first A Gardiner and Renner Novel, and it's a winner. Jack Renner is an officer on a mission to clean the streets of Cleveland. As a vigilante killer, he's determined not to get caught. Maggie Gardiner is a forensic investigator who specializes in fingerprints, and she's looking into the death of a young girl. Her investigation grows when more bodies are found and each seems to have a connection to the girl. She's hunting a killer, and little does she know that her cat and mouse game is going to involve Jack in a very big way.

The suspense angle of That Darkness is based on the investigative skills Maggie has and the steps Jack takes to get away with murder. There's no "who's the killer" angle in this book. That said, watching the pair perform a metaphorical dance while trying to either solve or hide a crime is fascination. It is the part that drew me in.

I liked the characters, especially Jack who was doing "bad" things for great reasons. I liked Maggie's determination. How it plays out is honest and intriguing.



Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko: A Novel by Scott Stambach

Setting: Belarus
Genre: General Fiction
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Release Date: August 9, 2016



I admit that Scott Stambach fooled me. I knew The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko was fictional, but it really does seem like you're reading an orphan's diary. I even looked up the hospital to see if it existed. Every inch of me was heartbroken for these children needed to be adopted and given a chance at a new life outside those walls.

Ivan is a 17-year-old male who has lived in the Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children since birth. He has Connective Tissue Disorder, which means his legs and one arm are nubs. The other arm ends in a hand with only three digits. While his body may not be complete, his mind certainly is. With the help of Nurse Natalya, Ivan reads all he can. He uses his knowledge and the occasional faked catatonic state to outwit the staff at the hospital. Nurse Natalya is the only one who never falls for his ruses.

Ivan is smart, witty, and very likable. He judges those who enter the hospital. He takes on the role of protector to you a toddler who enters, even learning to change a diaper with his one arm and partial hand. When Polina enters, he's thrown off his usual games. Polina is beautiful, a cancer patient. She's as smart as Ivan, and he can't help but become attached to her.

The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko focuses on Ivan's insights, his developing relationships with those around him (even though he tries so hard to avoid them), and his internal conversations with the mother he never knew. This story has moments of brutal honesty, many that tug at the heartstrings, and even more that brought a smile to my face. It's a lovely book and one that makes you stop and think about the ongoing damages Chernobyl has caused.




Sunday, August 14, 2016

We Are Unprepared by Meg Little Reilly

Setting: Northeast Kingdom, Vermont
Genre: General Fiction
Publisher: MIRA
Release Date: August 30, 2016



I'll come right out and say that We Are Unprepared made me pretty uncomfortable while reading it. Vermont is coming off an incredibly warm winter where there was very little snow. We're also dealing with a hot, dry summer. In fact, as of Friday, the Burlington area was more than four inches low in terms of rainfall this spring and summer. Area lakes are clearly showing the lack of rain, especially Lake Arrowhead where I'm seeing far more silt along the shores than ever before. With that were also forecasts of flooding rains for this weekend that were supposed to be devastating, though the rains once again really skipped over my area. That's why the story hit a little closer to home than I wanted. There is a level of "this weather is so unreal" going on.

New Yorker's Ash and Pia escaped city life to live in a remote town in the Northeast Kingdom. They have restored their dream home. They grow their own foods, as much as is possible anyway. Life in general seems perfect. Soon, things are not as peachy.

When the government warns of a superstorm, Ash and Pia respond in different ways. Ash tries to be logical, while Pia joins a group of preppers that believe in doom and gloom. The pressure of their different beliefs is starting to take a toll on their relationship, and that's if the storm doesn't end everything first.

The true heart of We Are Unprepared for me was young August. August is their neighbor, a young boy whose parents are pill popping idiots, for lack of a better description. Ash and August form an incredible bond. I adored that part of the story.

I admit, I never cared for Pia's character. I didn't like her with Ash. Read the book and you'll see what I mean. There are other characters in the book I did enjoy and some even reminded me of my own neighbors.

In the end, there were aspects of We Are Unprepared that seemed a little too realistic and made me cringe a little as I read the book. I couldn't put it down, but I still never felt uplifted while reading it. It ended up being a good but gloomy read for me.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Detached by Christina Kilbourne

Suicide. It's not a topic to ignore and hide, yet I see so many do just that. Detached is a haunting look at one girl's struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts, as well as the impact of her struggles on those who love her most.



Anna is a talented artist. She's popular, has lots of friends, and has a solid family unit who loves her dearly. Since Anna's grandparents died, she's been struggling with depression. Her thoughts turn towards suicide as a means to an end. Jumping off a bridge, hanging herself, drowning... None of those seem right, but then she realizes an overdose on painkillers may be the very best way.

The other two narrators in the story are Anna's best friend and her mother. Both sense a change in Anna, but they can't place it as being more than hormones and typical teen struggles. It's when she attempts suicide that they question everything they may have overlooked.

Detached is Christina Kilbourne's in-depth look at suicide and the effect it has on everyone. I loved the honesty, especially with Anna's best friend. I felt their pain, confusion, and uncertainty. The problem is that I felt this as an adult whose seen years of the aftermath of suicide. I'm not sure a teen would feel the same bond to Anna or her . They definitely wouldn't with her mother in my opinion.


Thursday, August 11, 2016

Missing Pieces by Heather Gudenkauf

Setting: Penny Gate, Iowa
Genre: Mystery/Suspense
Publisher: MIRA
Release Date: August 9, 2016



Missing Pieces is now out in paperback, and like many of Heather Gudenkauf's novels, this one is going to keep you up till the wee hours.

Sarah Quinlan knows her husband Jack has never forgotten his mother's death. Raised by his aunt and uncle, Jack rarely returns to his hometown. He only does so now when he learns his aunt has taken a bad fall. They arrive in Penny Gate and soon get caught up in a mystery. Jack's aunt apparently didn't fall, she was attacked. The aunt soon dies while in the hospital. When Jack's sister is accused of her murder, Sarah begins looking into the aunt's death. The more she learns about the Quinlan family's past, the more she finds that nothing is as she thought it was.

There is a touch of romance in this book, but not enough for me to call it a romantic suspense novel. It is primarily about the aunt's death and the family's history. I won't say the conclusion surprised me, as I'd figured out part of it. Still, there were shocking moments that made this an incredible read.




Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Alienation of Courtney Hoffman by Brady Stefani

Genre: Young Adult, Suspense/Thriller
Publisher: SparkPress
Release Date: June 7, 2016



At 15, Courtney Hoffman should be enjoying her teen years. Instead, she lives in fear. She's seeing aliens, as did her grandfather. There's only one reason she could be seeing aliens and hearing/seeing an imaginary friend, and that's that she's becoming crazy like her grandfather. Her mother and her mother's boyfriend will not tolerate her being mentally ill. Courtney's only option is to try to keep what she sees and hears hidden.

When her mother has enough and has Courtney admitted into a psychiatric hospital, Courtney spies her imaginary friend - real and in the flesh. Agatha claims to have visions, and she certainly has a bond with Courtney. Perhaps with Agatha's help, Courtney can finally unravel the truth and find the peace she longs for.

The Alienation of Courtney Hoffman is at times creepy and very engrossing. I liked Courtney's character, though her mother annoyed me. I found myself rooting for Courtney and eventually Agatha as her role and place in the story becomes apparent. The story's pace moves swiftly, and there are a few situations that put a shiver up my spine.

There's a sequel in the works. I found The Alienation of Courtney Hoffman to wrap up nicely, so it will be interesting to see what happens in a second book.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Explore Vermont in the Pages of Susan Wiggs' New Novel

Setting: Switchback, Vermont
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: William Morrow


Release Date: August 9, 2016


Susan Wiggs is a favorite author of mine. She writers with emotion. I'm pulled into her stories and settings and find myself at home. Given that, Family Tree: A Novel caught my attention as it is set in Vermont. No matter how impartial I try to be, I have to admit that I tend to be more critical of books set in my home state. I know the ins and outs of life here. I know the people. Therefore, I also know how we act, think, and talk. All of that is in my head when I read books set in my state. This review is going to point out exactly what caught my attention. No fears, it's in a very good way!



Annie Harlow seems to have it all. Her culinary-themed television show is a huge success. Her husband, a culinary wizard, is the star of said show. They have a gorgeous Los Angeles home. Best yet, Annie learns she is pregnant. Fate steps in and Annie wakes up from a coma one year later. Nothing of her past life is the same, and now she must start over on her family's maple farm in Vermont.

Back in Vermont, her therapist tells her after a year-long coma, the best thing she can do is start from scratch and become a new Annie. As she reacquaints herself with her family, her friends, and her former love, Annie faces her past and her present to decide exactly who she wants to be in the future.

Here comes my opinion. First, I've liked other Susan Wiggs' novels better, but I still pushed everything aside to indulge in Family Tree in one sitting. I think my biggest issue is that the truth each character needed to see was so blindingly apparent that I often wondered how they could be so ignorant and not see what was right in front of them. That said, it's the only thing I disliked. The book itself really hit me, as it does tour an awful lot of the area I've grown up in. Hearing Milton mentioned more than once was cool, as I live half a mile from Milton's town line.

Now for the tour of Vermont. Switchback is a fictional town. You will not find Switchback on the map. That said, I do recommend visiting Switchback Brewing in Burlington. It's an excellent beer that's been one of the breweries to kick off Vermont's growing beer industry. Connector IPA is a must-try, but don't overlook the flagship beer Switchback Ale. I don't know if that's why Wiggs named her town Switchback, but I like to think that's where it came from.

I couldn't decide exactly what town Switchback was modeled after, but my guess is Jeffersonville. The two towns share a lot of similarities. If you ever come to the state, I would like to recommend two places. First, 158 Main does awesome breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Second, there's usually a crowd, so expect a wait. I also love Brewster River Pub & Brewery, but you will have to head up the mountain towards Smugglers' Notch if you want to visit this brewery.

There is a distillery mentioned within Family Tree that kept catching my attention. I swear the author must have visited Smugglers' Notch Distillery at some point. Even if you don't do a tasting here (and I do highly recommend the tasting), do not leave without buying a bottle of the bourbon-barrel-aged maple syrup.

As for Annie's family's maple farm, there are so many that it's hard to pick just one. Personally, I buy my syrup from a local mechanic who charges just $30 a gallon, so you can't find a better deal. I'm very picky and hate anything other than grade B. The grading system changed a couple years ago, so that's not what it's really called anymore, but old habits die hard.

Two other points. First, there is talk in the book about marijuana being legalized soon. That didn't happen. Those in office voted against it, even though thousands of Vermonters wanted them to vote in favor of the legalization. Second, there is mention of a Burlington, Vermont, restaurant housed in an old ice house. Icehouse Restaurant closed this spring after four decades. Many of us were sad to see it go.



Monday, August 8, 2016

Arrowood: A Novel by Laura McHugh

I've been on a kick of reading books about missing infants or children recently. Arrowood: A Novel is another one.



After her father's death, Arden Arrowood learns the family estate is now hers. She gets both the Iowan estate home that sits on the banks of the Mississippi and a trust fund meant to cover the home's repairs and upkeep. Recent events at her college have Arden reeling for change, so she packs up her belongings and moves back to the estate she left many years ago.

When Arden was a young girl, her twin sisters vanished. Arden had been playing with them outside. She turned her back for just a fraction of a minute and the toddlers disappeared. The only clue police had was that Arden was sure she saw a gold car drive away and that she saw pale blonde hair in the backseat. That clue never helped police find her sisters, however.

Now that she's back, Arden teams up with the owner of an unsolved disappearances website. With his help and the help of her childhood friend, Ben. Arden sets out to uncover what really happened to her sisters. The thing is that in a close town like this, people are very good at ensuring skeletons remain hidden in closets.

I liked Arrowood. It's full of twists. I admit that the ending didn't shock me, but it still kept me guessing until the very end. I liked Arden's character. You get a full picture of who she is through flashbacks and present day actions. Her childhood friend Ben wasn't as likable to me, but a lot of that comes down to Arden's perceptions on them being a solid unit for ever, even when she left to go to college and he's had many years to form new relationships. That said, Josh (website owner and true crime writer) was another favorite character. He does have his own secrets, but that made him all the more appealing as you go to see what made him tick.


Sunday, August 7, 2016

Patrick Griffin's Last Breakfast on Earth by Ned Rust

Genre: Juvenile Fiction, Sci-Fi, Fantasy
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Release Date: August 2, 2016



While sci-fi/fantasy is not my preferred genre, there is something endearing about young Patrick Griffin and the incredible journey he finds himself taking in Patrick Griffin's Last Breakfast on Earth.

Patrick is the middle child of seven children, so he's used to being quiet and keeping out the way. When he gets up to find the entire house empty, it's odd. More disturbing is that the frozen waffles his mother bought the day before are gone. Someone ate his share. With an empty house, there's no one to stop Patrick from making his own. After all, cooking is like chemistry and Patrick loves chemistry!

Once he's eaten his fill, Patrick decides to keep going. He takes just about every household cleaner and personal grooming item he can get his hands on, mix them together, and see what happens. He never expects his weird mixture to produce a vile green gas, a gas that sends him to another dimension. Patrick wakes up on Ith. A land where people have tiny ears and huge eyes. One where cell phones are called binkies and everyone has one and uses it non-stop.

While Patrick is now in Ith, a strange creature has found itself on earth. Mr. BunBun, a rabbit-like creature with the horns of an antelope (a Jackalope), Both are now integral parts in a plot to stop the evil Technocrats from taking over both Ith and Earth. Plus, Patrick needs to find a way to leave Ith and return to his family.

The opening chapter of Patrick Griffin's Last Breakfast on Earth drew me in. I liked Patrick, loved his attitude and curiosity. There were times the story dragged a little, especially when the leader of the Technocrats became the focus. I was too invested in Patrick and Mr. BunBun to really enjoy the switch to the bad guy. I kept reading because I really needed to know if Patrick could get back home to the family who clearly adored him.


Thursday, August 4, 2016

Toby: A Novel by David Johnson

Setting: Tennessee
Genre: Women's Fiction/General Fiction
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: July 26, 2016



The puppy she found as a child has been Symphony Nelson's best friend since she was a preteen. Over a decade later, Symphony works for a local nursing home. She's made bad choices, but she's trying to improve herself and make something of her life. Her father abandoned Symphony when she was young, and since that day, she's been the main caretaker to her mother, a woman suffering from mental illness. It's made things very hard for Symphony.

Soon Symphony learns she has a "guardian angel." Who is he and why is he making his appearance known now? He may be the only person who can keep her safe, however, when she finds herself in over her head.

For the first few chapters of Toby: A Novel, I admit I struggled. The plot seemed bland. Just a woman who worked all day, came home to her dog and mentally ill mother at night. Repeat. It takes a little time before the real plot is dished up. At that point, I liked the pacing, but Symphony's choices became irritating.

Without giving away spoilers, the choices Symphony makes and the situations she finds herself in did not make me sympathetic. By the end, I was a little disturbed honestly. For that reason, this is not a book I'd want to read again. I wanted to love it, but in the end, I really found nothing that makes me think this book is a keeper.




Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Always and Forever by Soraya Lane

Setting: California
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: July 26, 2016



I supposed it had to happen. I have found the first Lake Union Publishing release that didn't wow me. There were moments, but overall, I felt the story fell flat.

It's been a long time coming, but Matt and Lisa are finally expecting their first child. They've been happily married for a number of years. They have a great house, great jobs, and a love that is unfailing. In one extraordinary moment, their world shatters.

Hoping for a fresh start, Matt and Lisa head off on a road trip in a red Cadillac. Matt hopes they'll start anew. Lisa wants to be as positive as Matt, but she seems to be struggling with events more than he does. Can they really find happiness while traveling through California?

I really don't know how to review Always and Forever without giving away a spoiler, so I want to warn that what follows is a partial spoiler. I'm going to try to do this while revealing as little as possible.

-------------------------

I've been in Lisa's shoes. I know the loss she feels. Given that, I found her to be incredible whiny and self-absorbed. I didn't like her character and that led to a lot of my issue with this book. I felt for Matt and that's the reason I kept reading. His character was tough, supportive, and his devotion to Lisa was sweet.

In the end, this wasn't a book that I found memorable or something I'd want to keep. It's not your traditional romance. The romance has ups and downs as the characters work through their issues.




Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Santorini Sunsets by Anita Hughes

Setting: Santorini, Greece
Genre: Contemporary Romance/Women's Fiction
Publisher: St. Martins Press
Release Date:August 2, 2016



With her wedding day quickly approaching, the last thing Brigit Palmer needs is her ex-husband's intrusion. However, she quickly learns that her fiance, a popular movie actor, sold exclusive rights to HELLO! Magazine to help his charity. As fate would have it, her ex-husband is the reporter assigned to the big day.

That's not the only issue at hand. Brigit's ex-husband is bad enough, but she also learns her husband-to-be has been keeping secrets. Brigit isn't sure a marriage built on secrets is what she wants or needs at this stage in her life.

That's the key story in Santorini Sunsets, but there are two other key characters. Brigit's sister is falling for the photographer sent in by HELLO! Magazine. It's her sister's big day and not her time to shine, but can she really turn her back on what feels like true love?

Brigit's mom is also hiding a secret. The arrival of the crew from HELLO! brings it all to light. Can her family forgive her if her secret is revealed?

Santorini Sunsets has three plots going at once. Chapters switch back and forth with ease, but the story is mostly focused on Brigit, her Hollywood groom, and her ex-husband. Here's the issue. I never liked any of them. Brigit is dull. She's so busy worrying about her husband-to-be's secrets, which I really didn't find offensive, that I started to question if she really ever loved him at all. I couldn't buy that she did. Her ex-husband. He's just a jerk. He knows he's messing up the wedding plans, but he thinks only of himself. The husband-to-be is probably the most likable of the bunch.

Brigit's sister... I didn't actually dislike her. I did find her weak, however. She wanted love, yet pushed him away. She wanted a fashion career, but worried more about not having one than really buckling down and fighting for what she wanted. Brigit's mother was the only one I saw as having a genuine problem.

Here was my other problem. I loved the setting and it was portrayed beautifully, but there were times too much detail was given. If I had to read about Santorini tomatoes one more time, I was ready to toss the book. For the first few chapters, it seemed that oral sex was the only kind of sex these woman could have. And, I also got tired of the details involving hair and outfits. There's showing rather than telling, but then there is overkill, and the descriptions in this book sometimes came off as overkill.

As much as I wanted to love Santorini Sunsets given the cover art and description, it fell flat.





Monday, August 1, 2016

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

Genre: Suspense/Mystery
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
Release Date: August 23, 2016

After Gone Baby Gone, I noticed a whole lot of new psychological suspense/mystery novels coming out. Some hit the mark, some didn't. The Couple Next Door hits that mark in a very big way.



At the heart of this story is something I can related to. Anne Conti and her husband Marco have been invited to their neighbor's house for a birthday dinner. When their babysitter cancels at the last minute, they have few choices. They can either bring the baby, cancel for the night, have Anne stay home while Marco goes alone, or leave the baby sleeping in her crib while they bring a monitor and do 30-minute checks. Anne's not 100%, but Marco swears it will be fine. It's not fine. They return home after the dinner party and their six-month-old daughter is missing.

What follows is the police investigation and desperate attempt to unravel the truth. As is true in any missing child case. Suspicion falls on the parents, but the more the police discover, the more twisted a case it really appears to be.

When my son was born, it was pretty common for my husband and I to go next door and sit outside on the patio with our neighbor. We'd have the monitor in hand, check on him every 15 to 20 minutes, and all was fine. His patio was also about 30 feet from our door. For that reason, I could not blame Marco and Anne's decision that kicks everything into gear in The Couple Next Door.

There are a lot of twists in this story. Some I saw coming, but others did shock me. I actually started reading the story with the expectations that I'd just read a chapter and then get back to the other book I was reading. That never happened. From the first paragraph, I was completely hooked.

Shari Lapena's writing is gripping, and the story moves at a fast pace during every chapter. I liked most of the characters and couldn't wait to see what would happen next. It's an awesome debut suspense for the author, and I'm happy she made the move to this genre!