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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Hello, Sunshine by Laura Dave

Setting: Long Island and NYC
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: July 11, 2017

Sunshine Mackenzie is riding at the crest of a wave. She's a successful cookbook author, vlogger, and about to get her very own culinary show. That wave of success comes crashing down in horrid fashion when someone hacks into her account and exposes her for what she really is - a woman from Long Island who can barely cook.

That's just the start of the revelations. Soon, the secrets that come out have Sunshine's husband, friends, and associates turning their backs on her. She flees to her hometown in Long Island to lick her wounds and come up with a way to climb out of the ashes.

Is it okay to admit that even though Sunshine's faults were of her own doing that I wanted to climb into the book and smack her hacker around? I was so mad for her, which was odd considering it was her lies that got her into the mess. Hello, Sunshine was so engaging and gripping that I simply couldn't turn my eyes away from the pages.

The thing I really liked is that this book did not fall for the typical heroine-goes-home-licks-her-wounds-and-everything-is-peachy plot. Sunshine is forced to learn from her mistakes, take her lumps, and learn, along with the reader, what happens next. I loved that that book was far from predictable.

Both lighthearted and painstakingly emotional, Hello, Sunshine proves to be one of my favorite stories this year. Sunshine is quirky, definitely in the wrong, and yet wronged herself. It's hard not to find her character to be truly likable. I'm ready to dive into other books by this author, as this one really hit all of my marks.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Race Against Time by Sharon Sala

Setting: Las Vegas
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Publisher: MIRA
Release Date: June 27, 2017

Sharon Sala's Race Against Time does have suspenseful moments, but I think the focus is far more on relationships and the will to survive. I have read many of Sala's books over the years, and this one, while good, didn't grab me as much as her other novels.

Quinn O'Meara's had a rough upbringing in foster care. The only saving grace was a boy named Nick. As an adult, Quinn keeps to herself. She never expects to come across a toddler at the scene of a fiery wreck, nor does she expect to have someone shooting at her as she grabs the baby and races off into the night.

At the police station, Nick Saldano is shocked when a woman comes in with a young child tucked safely into her jacket. Even more surprisingly, that woman is "Queenie," the one person he truly cared about during his years in foster care.

Quinn's unknowingly put herself in the middle of a human trafficking case. The toddler's father wants his child back and will go to any extremes to get that child and take out any witnesses in the process. It's up to Nick to keep Quinn safe.

There's another story within Race Against Time. As a teen, Star is kidnapped and sold to the very ruthless Anton Baba, leader of a major human trafficking ring. Star keeps herself alive by having Anton's child. A good portion of the story also focuses on Star's life and mission to get her son back and stay safe doing so.

The pacing in Sala's romantic suspense novel is handled well. Shifts between Star and Quinn help break up some tension, but not so much that you lose interest. While I did question many of the moves one character in particular makes, I still enjoyed spending time engrossed in the story.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Black Tie Optional (Wild Wedding Series) by Ann Marie Walker

Setting: Chicago
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Swerve
Release Date: May 30, 2017

Part of the Wild Wedding Series, Black Tie Optional is a steamy romance involving a playboy millionaire and a woman desperate to get him to help fund her charity. The pair doesn't get along at all.

Olivia Ramsey needs money to help save the bats. She'd do anything to secure a donation from Coleman Grant III. One night in Vegas leads to a very impromptu one night stand that turns into an unusual proposal. Cole needs to marry someone if he's going to keep control of the family business. If Olivia agrees to marry him and remain his wife for three months, he'll happily give her the money she needs.

Marrying your enemy is hard. Falling for the enemy is harder.

I admit that I didn't like Cole's character at first. He was a womanizer with no redeeming qualities. It was funny that by the end of the book I adored him. He turned into a character I didn't want to leave behind when the story ended. I also liked Olivia and loved one restaurant scene where she tells a certain character off. That section of the story had me laughing.

Black Tie Optional ended up being one of the better romances I've recently read. It had me laughing, sighing, and definitely ended up improving my mood.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Take It to the Grave by Zoe Carter

Genre: Mystery/Psychological Thriller
Publisher: HQN
Release Date: June 1, 2017

I have such mixed feelings about Zoe Carter's book. The setting was fine. Pace and writing were solid. I hated the characters though. While I felt compelled to keep going, the more I read the novella, the more I hated them.

Sarah married into an uber-wealthy Hamptons family. Since having a child, she's not trim enough for her husband or his parents. Her in-laws are also not happy that they've never met her family. With her son's christening coming up, they insist that she invite her family.

That sets the stage for Sarah's discontentment with the family she's married into. It's clear she's hiding something, but who knows what. It all culminates with a cryptic email that reveals someone knows what she's hiding and that person is ready to share it with the world.

Take it to the Grave drove me nuts. I found myself bored with Sarah's sister's chapters. I couldn't make sense of the opening. I really, really couldn't understand why she stayed in that marriage. Her in-laws were bad enough, but her husband was creepy. It kept me from finding the book as enjoyable as I thought it would be.

This is a serial novella, so everything is open-ended. I suppose with future novellas, some things may start making sense. At this point, however, I have too many questions to enjoy what I'd read. That in itself is compelling me to keep reading.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Serenity Harbor by RaeAnne Thayne

Setting: Haven Point
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: HQN Books
Release Date: June 27, 2017

Katrina Bailey's back in town for her sister's wedding. Once the wedding is over, she's leaving for South America once more. She's determined to adopt the young orphaned girl down who's become Kat's pride and joy. Money is the one thing that's making the adoption harder than Kat imagined.

After his mother dies, Bowie Callahan becomes his younger brother's guardian. He didn't know he even had a brother, and this wealthy computer mogul has absolutely experience being a "dad," let alone being a "dad" to an autistic young child. When his brother bonds with Kat during a shopping trip, Bowie offers her thousands of dollars if she'll help care for him while she's in town. It's an offer she can't refuse.

It isn't long before Bowie and Kat fall for each other. The romance is doomed, however. Kat's not in Haven Point with any intention to stay.

I'm such a sucker for single dad story lines. Bowie's awesome, but his little brother stole the show. I feel for that charming little kid. There's clearly the romance taking up the story, but it's woven with Bowie and Kat's first forays into what it's really like to be responsible for a child with autism.

There were some characters I wasn't fond of, but they were minor characters and not prominent to the story. I could brush my irritation with them off easily enough. What was clear is that I found a fictional town that felt like home and characters that felt like friends. What a win!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Every Last Lie by Mary Kubica

Genre: Suspense
Publisher: Park Row Books
Release Date: June 27, 2017

I love Mary Kubica's novels. They always hook me into the story and hold me entranced until the final word. Every Last Lie was no different, until the ending anyway. I'm still trying to really decide how I feel about the ending.

As her newborn son is not in the mood for an outing, Clara Solberg stays behind with him while her four-year-old daughter, Maisie, and her husband, Nick, go off to Maisie's dance class. The last words Clara says to him are "get Chinese." He's killed in a crash on the way home.

Clara is not convinced the police are right, however, when they blame Nick's speed for causing the crash. Maisie is having horrible nightmares about a bad man and is suddenly terrified of black sedans. Could Nick have been forced off the road?

With the police not investigating as Clara wants, she decides to start asking questions on her own. Who is this "bad man" and how did Nick really die?

Like all Mary Kubica novels, Every Last Lie takes many twists. I thought I had it figured out, but it's not what you'd expect. I was fooled. Kudos to the author for keeping me guessing. I also wish that there had been more closure. I'm not sure I was done spending time with Clara and her family.

The fast pace and well-developed characters keep you intrigued. The story is told from both Nick and Clara's viewpoints, and it bounces between the past and present. Usually that annoys me, but in this case, it really works. It gives an in-depth look into both characters and the events leading up to the crash. While it's not my favorite Kubica novel, it's still an excellent summer read.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The End of Temperance Dare by Wendy Webb

Genre: Horror/Gothic
Publisher: Lake Union
Release Date: June 6, 2017

Part gothic and very much a horror story, The End of Temperance Dare is rich in atmosphere and setting. I had a few things figured out early into the story. Some of it was a complete surprise. This is a slightly creepy story that won't make you want to keep the lights on, but it does a stellar job at making you want to keep reading.

Eleanor "Norrie" Harper is at a turning point. Her career as a reporter ends, and she's ready for a change. She applies for the job of director at a local artist's retreat and never expects she'll get the job. Somehow, she does and heads to the former sanatorium to get situated before the next batch of artists arrive.

On Norrie's very first day, the matriarch of Cliffside Manor commits suicide. She leaves Norrie a mysterious note saying it's up to Norrie to solve the mystery. This brings out her investigative reporter side. With the help of some of the staff and participants in the retreat, can Norrie figure out the secrets of Cliffside Manor?

I loved the lakeside and wooded setting. I felt drawn to the foggy shoreline, the roaring fire meant to warm up the guests in the old, drafty manor, and the dinners where I could almost taste the wine they all shared. The writing drew me in.

The setting in The End of Temperance Dare keeps it from being a true gothic. Almost everything takes place in the modern day. There are snippets of past situations, but they don't last too long. That's why I'd say this is more horror than gothic, but there's also romance and mystery wound into the mix. It's a great read and another excellent addition to Lake Union's already impressive library.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Light in Summer by Mary McNear

Setting: Butternut Lake
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: HarperCollins
Release Date: June 20, 2017

After years building a company in Seattle, Cal Cooper is back in Butternut Lake. His sister is overjoyed. Cal moves into the family cabin and settles in to deal with the aftermath of his divorce. He never expects to fall for another woman so quickly.

Billy Harper is doing all she can to keep her family apart. Her son is falling in with a bad crowd now that his grandfather is dead, and the single mom is having a rough time getting through to him. What Luke wants is to know his father. Billy has no idea how to make that happen. Luke's father vanished before she could tell him she was pregnant. It was her parents that have helped her for so many years.

After meeting Cal, Billy realizes that she may be falling head over heels. It's not the right time to start a relationship, but can she really turn her back on what could be the second best thing to come into her life?

The Light in Summer is a light, cozy romance. I found myself falling for the town and many of the townspeople. I'd love to be one of the area residents spending time in the local restaurant or public library. I could visualize heading out to the tranquility of the lake. The atmosphere drew me in.

What I think I really loved most is that while there is a bit of conflict, it was real. So many romances seem to create unnecessary conflicts to keep a couple apart. Everything here seemed realistic and helped only to solidify the couple's feelings rather than push them apart for silly reasons. I loved that poignant honesty and am eager to read more by Mary McNear for that reason.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Lockdown by Laurie R. King

Setting: California
Genre: Suspense
Publisher: Bantam
Release Date: June 13, 2017

Just a year ago, Linda McDonald agreed to become the principal at Guadalupe Middle School, a school plagued by students who struggle with gang violence, dysfunctional home lives, truancy, and most recently the disappearance of a young girl. Linda decides a career day that brings the community, teachers, and students together is a great way to turn a new leaf.

What Linda never expects is for many secrets to come to light on one tragic day. Not only is Linda hiding things, but her husband's past threatens to unravel. The prodigy basketball player has a secret addiction. A friend of the missing girl is convinced he can learn the truth regarding her disappearance. Even the janitor is hiding something. Before the career day is over, lives will be changed forever.

I found Lockdown: A Novel of Suspense to be a bit of a struggle. I liked the characters, but there were so many of them. You have the basketball player and his dad, the gangster wannabe, the principal, her husband, the officer, the janitor, two girls, the missing girl, the missing girl's friend, and those are just the key players. There are others, and I ended up needing to keep notes for a third of the book or so, especially when the timeline change would bounce from recent past, to 30 years ago, to present.

Once I had the characters down, I found myself far more intrigued with the plot. I still found some of the jumps in time to be a little jarring, but I needed to know what happened at the school on career day. I didn't stop reading until I knew. For that, Laurie R. King did a great job at building interest and keeping me engaged.

Monday, June 12, 2017

I Wrote You a Note by Lizi Boyd

Genre: Children's Picture Book
Publisher: Chronicle for Kids
Release Date: June 13, 2017

I Wrote You a Note is a cleverly written story that finds a note traveling from animal to animal before reaching its destination. As the story opens, a young girl is saying, "I wrote you a note. Did you find it?" Readers then see the picture of the back of the note as it goes on its adventure.

Along the way, the spider finds a rather handy use for the note, as does the turtle, mouse, dragonfly, and many other creatures. Will the note make it to the intended recipient? What's in the note?

The illustrations are cheery and include bursts of color with more calming blues and grays. The story is easy to read and engaging. I can see children repeating the key phrase of "I wrote you a note." It's a story that offers up new ideas and repetition that makes it perfect for beginning readers.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Welcome to My House by Gaia Stella

Genre: Children's Picture Book
Publisher: Chronicle for Kids
Release Date: June 6, 2017

Teach your children a large selection of important words relating to things you see within a house. In Welcome to My House, children meet Olga. She lives on the second floor of a pale green apartment complex. When you follow her inside, you'll tour the different categories of items and rooms in her house while learning about the different objects. There are things you rest on, things in the kitchen, and items used for hobbies. You'll come across items that get lost in the house and those that are used for cleaning.

In Olga's house, she has a wardrobe. She has a ladle in the kitchen. Head outside and there's an inflatable pool. Each item is shown in a picture with the word below. It's a great resource for teaching a child to identify what a word looks like and how it's spelled.

When you reach the end of the story, you soon learn that Olga may not be who you think she is. I loved that little twist and think many children will too.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Once Upon a Spine by Kate Carlisle

Setting: San Francisco
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: June 6, 2017

Once Upon a Spine is clearly not the first in the series, so I did it again. I am glad that despite this late introduction to all the characters, I never felt like I'd missed pertinent details. I am intrigued and want to read other books in the series, however.

Brooklyn's future in-laws and parents are all coming for a visit at the same time. It's hard enough preparing for what could be a very stressful week of visitors, but there's also the squabble between the brothers at Brother's Bookstore over what could be a very rare copy of Alice's Adventure in Wonderland. On top of that, the local shoe repair guy is killed in what first appears to be a tragic accident but is actually another murder.

With a killer on the loose, Brooklyn and her fiance, Derek, start investigating the neighborhood's shop owners. They need to figure out who wanted the shoe repair guy dead and why. When all four parents arrive, Brooklyn soon learns that her crime solving stories intrigue all four parents, and they really want to join in for this latest caper.

I found Once Upon a Spine to be completely delightful. The characters are quirky, the descriptions of foods and businesses made me want to be there, and the mystery was engaging. I found myself wanting to join Brooklyn on her investigations.

I've been a fan of cozy mysteries for years. I'm always looking for another well written, humorous series to enjoy, and with Kate Carlisle's series, I've found myself eager to catch up.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Find Me by J.S. Monroe

Setting: England
Genre: Mystery/Suspense
Publisher: MIRA
Release Date: March 21, 2017

Five years have passed since Jar's girlfriend killed herself. The problem is her body was never found, and he's convinced he just saw her in a train station. Jar soon is being followed. When Rosa's aunt finds an encrypted file on her hard drive that she thinks may be Rosa's diary, she gives it to Jar. Police also want that hard drive, so Jar really must be careful as he tries to unravel the truth. Is Rosa really alive or is it simply his subconscious refusing to let her go?

Find Me leads the reader on some decent twists. I bounced between thinking Jar was losing his grip on reality to wondering if Rosa really could be alive and then back again. The more the story advances, the harder it is to decide what's real and what could be all a hallucination. I hate to use the word, but the book was a bit of a trip. When the truth is revealed, I started thinking back to things I'd missed or chose to ignore. I truly love that J.S. Monroe kept me guessing.

The writing does have a tendency to lag a bit. This is mainly due to the different perspectives. You have Jar, Rosa's diary entries, and then segments from the past and from other characters like Rosa's aunt and uncle. Despite that, I kept up and kept reading until I'd learned the truth.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Secrets of Southern Girls by Haley Harrigan

Setting: New York and Lawrence Mill, Mississippi
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Release Date: June 6, 2017

Haley Harrigan caught my attention with Secrets of Southern Girls and launched her way onto my "Authors to Watch" list. This book is a gripping mix of romance, mystery, and women's fiction. I felt drawn to the characters and their lives in the sleepy town of Lawrence Mill.

Julie Portland may have left Lawrence Mill far behind, but the memories surrounding her best friend, Reba's, death still haunt her. Especially the secret that she's kept hidden from those closest to her, and that's her role in Reba's supposed suicide.

Ten years have passed and Julie has her own daughter and life in New York City. When August, Reba's former boyfriend, appears and asks Julie to return to Lawrence Mill and help him find Reba's diary. The last thing Julie wants to do is go back and face the secrets she keeps hidden, but she never knew there was a diary. She's just as eager to get her hands on it.

The writing style in Secrets of Southern Girls is so addicting. It does bounce between narrators and decades, but the changes were seamless. Julie/Jules bounces between the past and the present giving her insight, but there are also chapters told from Reba's point of view and diary entries. I had to know the truth and couldn't stop until I reached the end.

Not every character is likable, though some definitely found me changing my opinion as I got to know them. There are also racial tensions and a lot of bigotry playing a part of the story, and I guess it's my location, but I simply couldn't see things that happened in this book happening back in the late-1990s.

The conclusion was just as fascinating as the rest of the story had been. I was definitely drawn to August, Julie, and Reba in this story and am so glad I joined their world for a few hours.

Friday, June 2, 2017

The Confusion of Languages by Siobhan Fallon

Setting: Jordan
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Penguin/GP Putnam
Release Date: June 27, 2017

Military wives Cassie and Margaret are in Jordan after their husbands receive assignments bringing them to the Middle Eastern country. Cassie knows the drill and understands the rules. As she has more experience, she's asked to help Margaret learn safe behaviors in the country. Margaret sees her move to Jordan as being a way to explore a new country and experience everything there is to experience.

The story starts with a car crash. As a woman driver, Margaret is blamed as the cause. She must go pay the fine. She asks Cassie to watch her toddler while she takes care of it. Cassie is shocked when Margaret never returns.

As the women's husbands are currently in Italy, it's up to Cassie to care for the young boy while also trying to figure out what happened to Margaret. A hidden diary may offer all the clues Cassie needs to discover that Margaret was not who she appeared to be.

I immediately got the sense that a lot of research went into this novel. The Confusion of Languages pulled me in and opened my eyes. The characters have a lot of depth. I may not always like what they said or what they did, but I do feel that naivety played a part and was very realistic, especially in Margaret's case.

The ending surprised me, and I appreciated that. There was nothing predictable here. While this wasn't a book I normally would pick to read, I am so glad I did. It was fascinating.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Essential Oils by Susan Curtis and Fran Johnson

Genre: Non-Fiction/Health and Beauty
Publisher: DK/Random House
Release Date: October 11, 2016

Essential Oils: All-Natural Recipes for Your Mind, Body, and Home is a must-have book for your cookbook/self-help shelf. I have already found this book so helpful in dozens of situations that I am buying myself a permanent copy.

The book starts by discussing the benefits of essential oils and how they're made. It goes on to explain the different uses, such as aromatherapy or a topical serum. From there, you learn about the different essential oils that you'll find in stores and the benefits to each. You'll learn about lavender oil's healing properties and lemon oil's mood-lifting ability.

Recipes come next. Learn how to make a soothing massage oil to help you relax and unwind after a stressful day. Make your own batch of homemade bath bombs or a hair conditioner that uses lavender, lemon, cypress, and coconut oil.

As I've mentioned in another blog, I have a skin condition called rosacea. The recipe for the calming facial spritz is on my list to make as soon as I have all the ingredients. All it takes is mineral water, aloe vera juice, rose water, glycerine, and rose essential oil.

Buy a copy of Essential Oils: All-Natural Recipes for Your Mind, Body, and Home today and enjoy the benefits for yourself and your home. From room fresheners to facial masks, this book has a great mix of recipes and many pages of useful information.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Lock the Door by Jane Holland

Setting: Truro, England
Genre: Suspense/Mystery
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Release Date: January 2017

Meghan and Jon's world is torn apart when their newborn is diagnosed with a rare condition. Meghan fiercely protects the infant from the things that could end his life. One night the couple is hosting a dinner party in their back yard while seven-month-old Harry sleeps upstairs in the locked house. As the dinner party winds down, they discover their son is missing. He's disappeared into the night.

With her world shattered, Meghan does everything she can to find her son. Detectives may be busy looking into the disappearance of a number of babies in the area, but Meghan refuses to sit around waiting. She starts delving into those closest to them, which may bring things to light that Meghan will never be able to forget.

Lock the Door is a pretty gripping suspense novel. I was a little hesitant as there's another recent release, The Couple Next Door, that shares similarities. I feared I'd be reading the same general story. Thankfully, they are different enough that my fears were never substantiated.

My bigger issue is that I found the police work to be a little sloppy on the part of the investigators. I'm no detective, but I was surprised by how quickly they wrote off certain characters. The story does build quickly and keep you guessing. I wish I'd felt a stronger bond with the characters, but that wasn't to be. As a result, I liked Lock the Door, but I never loved it.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Rejected Writers Take the Stage by Suzanne Kelman

Setting: Southlea Bay, Washington
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: June 6, 2017

I did it to myself again. Rejected Writers Take the Stage is the second book in a series by Suzanne Kelman. I need to pay closer attention so that's on me. With some books, however, you really don't need to have read the previous books in a series to follow along. In this case, I think you should.

Janet's working at the library when she spies the bossy leader of the Rejected Writers Club approaching. Opting to hide, Janet fails miserably and ends up getting roped into another club project that she really doesn't want to be part of.

Club member Annie owes $20,000 to the bank is about to lose her home and dog kennel. Annie's despondent over the thought, but the Rejected Writers Club decide to help out. They'll put on a musical and raise the necessary funds. Janet's dragged into the fundraiser and must learn really quickly how to direct a musical. This is only the first part of the problem. They also need a stage, actors, and a musical that will draw interest.

Janet has no time for this as her daughter is expecting twins and due soon. Janet also has her own job and life to lead. The problem is that even when Janet tries to say no, she fails. It's up to Janet and the club members to tap into talents they don't even have if they're going to save Annie's house.

I clearly missed a lot of backstory with this group. That's why I suggest reading the books in order. I wish I had. I just never really meshed with the characters as I was spending too much time figuring out their place within Southlea Bay and the community. Plus, I found a lot of the talk about certain characters to come off as rather juvenile and high school-like. If you find a person that obnoxious, simply don't associate with them.

Given that, I really struggled with Rejected Writers Take the Stage. I liked the premise, but it just never clicked for me. There was just too much whining, conflicts that were too predictable, and then an ending that for me seemed to rushed.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Allie and Bea: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Setting: California
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Lake Union
Release Date: May 23, 2017

Allie and Bea: A Novel is as different as you'll get from Catherine Ryan Hyde's bestseller Pay It Forward. Yet, I found this novel to be just as powerful as that introduction to Hyde's writing. 

Bea is a widower who gets sucked into one of those obnoxious IRS phone scams. She'd barely been getting by after her husband died, but now with scammers taking every penny she owns, she has nothing left. Checks that were written to cover bills are bouncing, she can't afford groceries let alone the rent, and she has nothing left. Fleeing with her cat, Bea gets into her husband's old work van and starts driving up the coast. Her only goal is to live in a world where $700ish in Social Security payments is enough to get by. Bea's angry with the world and situation and wants to take back what she feels she is owed.

Allie's world is torn out from under her. Her parents are arrested, she's whisked away from her affluent coastal home, and put in a group home where her roommate is either busy stealing her stuff or threatening her. At 15, Allie is not used to having nothing. Desperate to stay alive, she trusts another girl and winds up in a human trafficking ring. She manages to escape, but she has nothing but the clothes on her back.

Bea comes across Allie as Allie is escaping her captor. Bea is convinced the girl is trying to carjack her but soon realizes Allie is not a threat. She agrees to drive Allie to the next town but soon ends up with a companion on a trip that will change Bea's life in ways she never dreamed possible.

I really liked Bea. She's a bit of a curmudgeon, but I get it. She'd been married for decades, isolated from many people, and was scammed in the worst possible way. I got her desire to be left alone, just her and her cat seeking a place of refuge where no electricity bills, water bills, rent, etc. were hanging over her head. I also got her sense of desperation to steal and lie her way into money.

Allie is a little naive, but she's also 15 and has lived a very pampered life. I got that and really loved watching her innocence and stubborn side start to change Bea. I loved seeing the teen be the one to teach the older adult that her methods for getting what she needed were just plain wrong. For that reason, I found myself thinking of Trevor (Pay It Forward) from time to time. 

My problem with Allie and Bea is that it ended. Honestly, I wanted more. I wasn't ready to say goodbye to this pairing. They made me laugh, cry, and simply enjoy all that life has given me, even when I've taken my own blows in the past few months. For that, I thank the author.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Any Time, Any Place by Jennifer Probst

Setting: Connecticut
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Gallery
Release Date: January 21, 2017

Any Time, Any Place is the second book in the Billionaire Builders series. It's a story of hidden secrets, a determined heroine, and an equally determined hero.

Raven is happy owning her bustling restaurant and bar called My Place. She'll never get past her father's death, however. He died in a car crash running away with Diana Pierce, the heiress to Pierce Construction.

Dalton Pierce has never gotten past his mother's death. How could a woman so loving with her children abandon them all to run away? While he and his brothers are at a local bar, he spies Raven and admits he falls pretty hard with both her and her antique mahogany bar.

When Raven's asked to be in a magazine, she can't refuse the publicity. At the same time, she needs the bar refinished and Dalton is the right man for the job. She cannot fraternize with the enemy, so how's she supposed to fighting her attraction. As sparks fly, the truth about her past may end everything she's starting to feel makes her whole.

Jennifer Probst's novel caught my interest from the start. I really liked Dalton, and even Raven was an enjoyable character. She's a bit of a spitfire, yet she also has an emotional side that makes her seem genuine. My issue is that the secret about their connection dragged on and on. I couldn't figure out why not just tell him. It's not like she was behind the wheel.

Despite that little niggle, and it's really nothing that hasn't been used as a conflict in romance before, I loved this book. I loved the characters, setting, and wish I could be at the bar. I also would love to return and see more about the kitchen staff. The chef at My Place warmed my heart.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

No One But You by Brenda Novak

Setting: Silver Springs, California.
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: MIRA
Release Date: May 30, 2017

After escaping an abusive marriage to a police officer, Sadie Harris works as many hours as she can at a local diner, but it's not enough. She stumbles across an ad looking for an assistant. The job pays far more than Sadie currently makes. The problem is Dawson Reed, a man recently released from prison for murdering his parents, is the person in need of help. Sadie's just gotten out of one cruel relationship, she's very nervous about working for a man who was charged with murder.

Now that Dawson is out of prison, he's determined to find who really killed his parents. He also needs to get his sister out of the facility where she was placed and bring her back home. To do that, he needs someone who can be his sister's caregiver. Sadie is the perfect woman for the job.

As Sadie and Dawson get to know each other, the chemistry is obvious. However, Sadie's soon-to-be ex-husband is not about to let her go. Especially not when the person she's working with is a criminal. Sadie and Dawson may be trying to escape their pasts, but their pasts don't want to let them forget so easily.

I've always loved Brenda Novak's romances. The settings are charming. Characters come to life and make you wish they were friends. In No One But You, there's also the touch of mystery that you do want to see how it plays out.

Dawson and Sadie are a great couple. There's definitely chemistry that sizzles, but the added involvement of her pain in the behind ex does make you want to reach into the book. I hated him and couldn't wait to see him get some kind of comeuppance. I wasn't disappointed at all with Brenda Novak's latest.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Original Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig

Genre: General Fiction
Publisher: Park Row
Release Date: May 2, 2017

Ginny Moon is not your typical 14-year-old girl. She's autistic. Five years ago, she was pulled from her abusive mother's home and hospitalized for malnutrition and broken bones. In those five years, she's bounced from foster home to foster home, but she's currently living with the man and woman who could be her "forever dad" and "forever mom."

Ginny's "forever mom" is pregnant and concerned about Ginny's behavior. Ginny is too obsessed with the "Baby Doll" she was forced to leave behind when she was taken from her mom's house to think about her actions. Ginny will do whatever it takes to get her "Baby Doll" back, even if it means running away, being kidnapped, or upsetting her foster parents.

My initial thoughts on The Original Ginny Moon were clear and immediate. I felt horrible for Ginny, all she'd been through, and the complete ignorance of the adults in her life. I hated the foster mom, felt the social worker assigned to Ginny need a new career, and the teachers and teacher's aides were no better.

It drove me nuts that none of them seemed really prepared to help this autistic girl. No one stopped and listened to what she was saying. They were too concerned with themselves and their own perceptions. It aggravated me.

Despite this aggravation, I couldn't stop reading. I wanted Ginny to get an "I told you so" moment. I wanted her to get. If I was rating this story totally on Ginny, it would have a 5 out of 5. I can't go that high, however, because I found the foster mother to be almost as bad as Ginny's birth mother. For that reason, it kind of ruined sections of the story.

The author does a great job creating an autistic heroine. I just wish that the rest of the characters in the book had been a little more prepared at how to parent or counsel someone in Ginny's shoes.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman

Setting: California
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: May 2, 2017

After the tragic death of her husband, Lillian's balanced her time between mourning his loss, bringing in the sole household income, and raising her two young daughters. Her days are spent illustrating textbooks, and her nights are all about breaking up arguments and getting them to bed on time.

A new client needs Lillian to illustrate plants found in the garden. Her boss enrolls her for a Saturday morning garden class that happens to be run by the new client's son of all things. Lillian never expects that this one class will change her life.

Suddenly, Lillian finds herself developing romantic feelings for another man. She's making new friends, finding her sister's role in their lives changing, and trying to come to terms with the fact that her brash, overbearing mother will never change. In one garden setting, Lillian finds herself facing a renewal she never thought possible or is even sure she's ready to handle.

Lillian and her sister are engaging characters, but the little girls. They had me laughing so many times. Their blunt interruptions brought this story to life. The Garden of Small Beginnings has so much going for it. There's romance, comedy, and some moments where you can't help but feel your eyes tearing up.

In between the chapters you'll find gardening tips. I've had a garden for as long as I've lived at this address. I read, reread, and always rely on the information in The Moosewood Restaurant Kitchen Garden. Despite that, I still learned a few things. I loved that I was learning new gardening tips while also enjoying time spent with truly enjoyable characters. Abbi Waxman gained a new fan thanks to Lillian and her family!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

In This Moment by Karma Brown

Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Harlequin
Release Date: May 31, 2017

Karma Brown's In This Moment ended up being a very addicting read. The main character is Meg Pepper. Meg's a mom, a wife, a successful realtor, and a woman tormented by her past. After picking up her daughter, she's at an intersection and stops to allow a teen boy to cross. What Meg never notices is that there's a driver down the road who's using a cell phone. That driver runs a stop sign and plows into the boy leaving him critically injured.

Meg and her daughter know the boy. Their families are friends. Worse, this one even brings Meg's past back to the forefront of her mind and she's struggling with the memories. As time goes on, it's clear that she has to decide what's more important: her family or events of the past.

I loved In This Moment. The characters were well developed and, though they had flaws, I could understand where they were coming from. The writing also flowed smoothly from start to finish and kept me hooked. I don't know if you could say there were easy answers in this book, and I'm glad that it was portrayed with that level of realism. I actually knew a person who hit and killed a young boy who ran out in front of her. Decades later, she still struggled with the events that day and always did the "what if..." While Meg's situation was different, the overall emotional tug-of-war is the same.

With summer, hopefully, on its way. I can see Karma Brown's novel begin a great choice for the beach or your backyard lounge chair.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Any Day Now by Robyn Carr

Setting: Colorado
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Harlequin
Release Date: April 2017

Generally, I adore Robyn Carr's writing. Any Day Now: A Novel is the latest in Carr's Sullivan's Crossing series. I wanted to love it. The description made it sound like a book I'd really enjoy. In the end, I liked it but not enough to even consider it as a keeper. It also didn't compel me to read the first book in the series. I simply never felt that strong a bond with any of the characters.

Sierra Jones moved to Sullivan's Crossing to be closer to her brother. She's a woman with secrets, and she's ready for a fresh start. She wants to put her past behind her and start anew. She never imagines she'll find herself falling for the small town and the people within it.

It's Sully, the owner of the campground where Sierra finds a home, that first really bonds wth Sierra. He's the father figure she needs at this point in her life. Between Sully, Sierra's brother Cal, and his wife Maggie, Sierra finds herself at peace. The problem is her past is never truly that far behind her.

While Sierra struggles with her past, there's also a lot of possibility in the future. She befriends and starts falling for a local firefighter, Conrad aka "Connie." Sierra has a bad history choosing men, and she can't believe she's found Mr. Right. Yet, the more time she spends with Connie, the more she wonders if her bad luck with men may finally be a thing of the past.

The main story drew me in and kept my interest. The problem is that there is so much more to Any Day Now. There is another story involving the man helping build Cal and Maggie's home and a worker at the diner where Sierra takes a job. There's also a stranger thrown in later in the book that I didn't find necessary to the plot. In the end, I found those extras to be more of a distraction than helpful at propelling Sierra and Connie's story forward.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Pete With No Pants by Rowboat Watkins

Genre: Children's Picture Book
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Release Date: May 2, 2017

Pete is big and gray and pantless. Is he a boulder? A squirrel? A rain cloud? Pick up Pete With No Pants and find out what Pete really is.

Rowboat Watkins' story takes a charming young elephant and tells a humorous tale of Pete's adventures and he runs around his property without any pants on. Humor grows as his mother tries to get pants back on him. I'm a mom and definitely understand that struggle!

Ideal for the beginning reader, the vocabulary is never challenging. Illustrations are colorful and capture exactly what Pete is up to throughout the day. This book is a win!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Just a Normal Tuesday by Kim Turrisi

Setting: Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Release Date: May 2, 2017

It all starts on a Tuesday that feels more like a Monday to 16-year-old Kai Sheehan. After a pop quiz and other daily woes, she goes home to find a letter from her older sister. It's a suicide note. Kai's sister is her rock, and the suicide note threatens to destroy all that Kai knows. What follows is Kai's dealings with grief, rage, and sadness. It's a path that leads her parents to send her to a camp for teens dealing with the same issues Kai faces -- a grief camp called the Tree House.

Here's the main thing I have to say about Just a Normal Tuesday. Be ready for waterworks. Reading that story with dry eyes became impossible. The author literally sucks you into the Sheehan's world and crying became the norm. This book tugs at the emotions, and you feel every ounce of Kai's grief in the first few chapters. I quickly ran through our half-empty box of Kleenex.

The more I read, the easier I thought it would become. That doesn't really happen. I still kept tearing up with each page read. Kim Turrisi nails the emotional aspect of grief. It reminded me a lot of the "what ifs" or "why couldn't I stop hers" that I experienced after a family member died from cirrhosis just months after swearing to me that she'd stopped drinking. It broke my heart, much as Kai's heart is broken when her sister commits suicide.

The characters at the camp - Graham, Jack, Ben, and Cass - also become fleshed out and like family. I can't say any character is more likable than the other. I loved them equally and wanted to see them heal. I couldn't stop reading until that happened.

Just a Normal Tuesday is a powerful, very touching story. It's sad and happy rolled into one big package that captures the pain, anger, and hope that hits you after the loss of a loved one.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Simplicity of Cider by Amy E. Reichart

Setting: Wisconsin
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Gallery Books
Release Date: May 16, 2017

Sanna Lund lives and breathes apples and cider. Like others in her family, she has the ability to see the juice of her apples in terms of color. Her handcrafted ciders are great, but they've yet to catch on. Her family's apple orchard is losing money, so her brother wants to sell to a developer. Sanna and her father are adamantly against the idea.

Isaac Banks hasn't figured out how to tell his son that his mother died. Isaac is now a single dad and the cross-country trip they're taking together is the only way Isaac can process his ex-wife's death. He knows he needs to tell Bass that his mom died, but he just can't figure out how and hopes inspiration will come to him during their trip.

Isaac and Bass find themselves at Sanna's orchard. The pair will spend the summer helping out. For Isaac, it's money while Bass enjoys a summer being a kid. It grows into more, however, when sparks start to fly between Sanna and Isaac.

The Simplicity of Cider is such a (trying to come up with the best words) gentle, flowing romance. It didn't rush along like so many romances. Instead, it flowed naturally from moment to moment, situation to situation. I loved the pacing and descriptive writing. I felt like the story involved me rather than got tossed out there. I felt like part of the Lund family and could taste the ciders Sanna made. The writing was just that absorbing. Hopefully, that made some sense.

I do love when a book keeps me absorbed and not feeling like I must rush to find out what happens. For that reason, I'm recommending Amy E. Reichart's latest as one of my picks for beach reads not to miss!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Someone Else's Summer by Rachel Bateman

Setting: Iowa to North Carolina
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Publisher: Running Press
Release Date: May 9, 2017

Anna and her sister Storm were as close as could be. When Storm is killed in a car accident shortly after graduation, Anna's world implodes. She's lost without Storm. Finding Storm's bucket list, Anna decides to enlist the help of their neighbor, Cameron, who also happens to be a long-time family friend. Together, Cameron and Anna head off on a road trip to the coast to live out everything Storm wanted to do.

Someone Else's Summer caught me from two angles. One, the parent in me shakes to think of a teen heading off halfway across the country. There were times I cringed. Two, the dreamer in me that fell for the characters and their goals. I loved the book for that.

The emotional pull in this book came off as so real. Anna's grief was so realistic, and her disillusion with her parents' protectiveness struck me as true. There are parts of her parents within me, and I've heard my kids say some of the same things. I also remember wishing my own parents in my teen years would loosen restrictions, so I got Anna's viewpoint.

Rachel Bateman has a great beach read here. I definitely am glad I picked it up.

I Found You by Lisa Jewell

Setting: England
Genre: Women's Fiction/Mystery
Publisher: Atria
Release Date: April 25, 2017

Lily Monrose should be having the time of her life. She's newly married to the man of her dreams. However, he never arrives home one night. She knows something is horribly wrong, but police don't seem as concerned. When they finally do investigate, she learns an awful truth. Her husband never existed. Everything he told her was a lie.

Alice Lake's never had great taste in men. The single mom does her best to raise her kids in their quiet seaside cottage. Finding a man on the beach isn't what she'd planned, especially when that man has no idea who he is or how he got there.

Travel back more than two decades to a popular vacation spot. Teenagers Gray and Kirsty enjoy their family summers at the beach, but this year is taking a dark turn. A local teen has taken a shine to 15-year-old Kirsty. Gray's gut feeling is that nothing good is going to come of this infatuation the teen seems to have, but Gray's having a hard time convincing others that something's wrong.

Separated by time and location, these four people's lives are more connected than they could ever imagine. It's up to the reader to learn how a man who never existed, an amnesia victim, and two teenagers could end up so entwined.

I Found You takes more turns than you might imagine. I thought the mysteries would be incredibly predictable, but they're not. I found myself hooked as the clues paint a full picture of a story that goes from obsession, to romance, and back again multiple times. Discover the truth in this very addicting and very detailed novel.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Sunbaked by Junie Coffey

Setting: Pineapple Cay
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: May 9, 2017

After finding her husband in bed with another woman, Nina Spark does the unexpected. She ditches her NYC apartment and buys a cottage in Pineapple Cay. She's trading dreary NY winters for sun, sand, and surf.

As she settles in Pineapple Cay, Nina quickly makes some friends, and perhaps an enemy or two. A greedy developer planned to buy the cottage she just bought, and he's not happy about it. He's determined to focus his attentions on driving her out, even pushing aside any worries when his trophy wife disappears. Nina has her suspicions and soon starts snooping with the help of her friends. Proving he murdered his wife would be one way to get the developer off the island and out of her life.

I've loved many Lake Union Publishing novels. It always surprises me when I like rather than love one of them. However, I found myself only liking this novel.

Sunbaked was a bit predictable, and I think that's my biggest issue with it. The characters were certainly colorful, but I'd solved the mystery just after it started. There was no huge surprise reveal for me. It almost came off as cliched. Had the author focused more on the romantic interest than on turning it into a mystery, I am certain I would have really enjoyed it. As was, it was okay but nothing special.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

RTR News: As I Catch Up

I want to apologize to readers and publishers/agents waiting for more reviews. I'll try to be short, but my life's taken a turn and it's been a process.

My dad used to review books for me and handle the website updates. He was also a very passionate genealogy guru, and he devoted countless hours to helping organizations within Vermont update their records and cemetery information.

We happened to share the same birthday. I was born on the day he turned 36. This year we made our plans for our usually get together on the weekend with the entire family and have a pint together. A couple days before that event, he had a seizure. The med center ran tests, found nothing alarming, and sent him home. We still had our gathering, but it was different. He was seeing things that weren't there. He had a hard time staying awake, even falling asleep at dinner. We were told it would take his body a few days to recover from the seizure and not to be worried about his excessive sleepiness.

Our actual birthday arrived, and I had a day off from my work at Costco and expected to have a quiet day of reading. Instead, I got a call that my dad had a stroke. He was found unresponsive on the bathroom floor. We all rushed to the hospital where it was determined he had a stroke and that his entire left side wasn't functioning. Despite this, his first worry was for his older sister who'd also had a stroke weeks earlier and found she had breast cancer that had spread past the point of being able to offer any treatment. We took that as a good sign, but it was shortlived.

Additional testing found my dad had a glioblastoma. This brain tumor was already the size of a grapefruit and there was nothing that could be done. They couldn't even think of treating the tumor until he could breathe on his own and swallow properly, but the stroke and tumor left him unable to do either. He was moved to a local respite house where he passed away.

My mom was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment a few years ago. I've since learned that it's progressed to Alzheimer's disease, but my dad never shared that information or didn't hear the doctor say it. Dad was her caregiver. His death left a huge gap emotionally and physically. Life's become a jumble of being there for her, attending more appointments than ever before, trying to work the hours I'm scheduled, keeping up with writing work, and trying to fit in time for reading. I can't do it all.

Until everything settles down, I don't expect to post reviews daily. I barely can find time to read. I do appreciate messages I've gotten from those who know the situation. Having supportive friends and acquaintances has been a huge help. Thank you for that.

Brew or Die by Caroline Fardig

Setting: Nashville, TN
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Publisher: Alibi
Release Date: April 25, 2017

The fourth book in Caroline Fardig's Java Jive Mystery series is almost out. Once again, Juliet Langley finds herself mixed up in a baffling mystery. This time, however, Juliet has her investigator license, so her sleuthing is perfectly legal.

Juliet's friend and boss, Pete Bennett, isn't thrilled with her new part-time career, but Pete ends up being incredibly thankful when a Java Jive's employee's girlfriend dies. Shane knows his girlfriend wouldn't have overdosed. He's convinced she was murdered and needs Juliet and Pete's help to prove it.

As the investigation kicks off, Juliet balances her new job investigating a local warehouse with Shane's case. Juliet's in for some huge surprises as things pick up the pace and leave her questioning those closest to her.

I've read each book in this series as soon as I could, and I've yet to be disappointed. I like some of the realism that appears. Main characters get hurt. Life isn't always sunny for them, and there isn't always a happily ever after. Despite this, they always seem to brush themselves off and never wallow like I've seen other series characters do. I also love that the characters learn from each of these situations and carry their experiences with them as life goes on.

Brew or Die is another great entry in this series that's had me hooked from the start. I do admit that there's a bit of a shake-up I didn't see coming. It's left me wanting to know a lot more right now. Waiting for the next book in this series is going to be sheer torture!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Curious Constructions by Michael Hearst and Matt Johnstone (Illustrator)

Genre: Children's Nonfiction
Publisher: Chronicle Kids
Release Date: April 25, 2017

In Curious Constructions, children get to explore different structures from around the world. These are not your typical buildings and structures, they're all very unique for different reasons. There are 50 in all, and each includes details into the structure and illustrations to show what it looks like.

Within Curious Constructions are things like:

  • Biosphere 2 in Arizona
  • The Cathedral Termite Mounds in Australia
  • The Gateway Arch in Missouri
  • The International Space Station
  • Jantar Mantar in India
  • The Longaberger Building in Ohio
  • Ryugyong Hotel in North Korea
  • Stonehenge in England

There are many more to learn about, too! The terminology is a little more complex than in many picture books, so it's going to appeal to advancing readers and others who have help with some of the harder words.

This is an excellent book for any child interested in architecture or buildings and structures from around the world.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Mine! by Jeff Mack

Genre: Children's Picture Book
Publisher: Chronicle Kids
Release Date: May 9, 2017

Mine! shares the story of two mice who each want the same thing. As they battle for ownership, they learn a very important lesson in a very unexpected way.

Jeff Mack's Mine! isn't a long story. It also is told using just the word "mine," so vocabulary is very simple. That said, the illustrations tell the story in a very bold and complete manner. There's never a question as to what is going on. Children will learn a lot from this book.

Monday, April 10, 2017

This is How We Do It by Matt Lamothe

Genre: Children's Picture Book
Publisher: Chronicle Kids
Release Date: May 2, 2017

This is How We Do It is a book I can completely get behind and offer high praise. In a culture where diversity should be everything, but some spin it in negative ways, I hope many parents will add Matt Lamothe's book to their children's shelves.

The book is very complex, yet never hard to read. It takes seven children from different areas of the world and introduces you to their life. You learn about their family life, the clothes they wear, what school is like, what they typically eat, and many more unique tidbits. At the end, the book delves into the real families the book is based on. You get to see real photos. That's followed by a glossary of terms for things children may not be as familiar with, such as foreign words like "abwooli."

I loved This is How We Do It. It's not an overly long book, but it does give a complete picture into a typical day in the life of children from India, Iran, Italy, Japan, Peru, Russia, and Uganda.

On Second Thought by Kristan Higgins

Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: HQN
Release Date: March 24, 2017

Kate has it all. Her new husband dotes on her, and they're trying hard to have a child together. When he dies suddenly at her sister's party, Kate is shocked. Now a grieving widow, Kate isn't sure how to pick up the pieces.

Ainsley is thrilled to know her boyfriend is finally going to propose. She won't admit she knows it because she found the engagement ring he'd stashed. She's certain it's bound to happen at their party to celebrate his beating testicular cancer. Instead, she finds he's dumping her and he's going to blog about her and his "new life" as a single man and cancer survivor.

Ainsley and Kate were never close, but Ainsley moves into Kate's huge house while she regains her footing. Together, they explore their own family dynamics and support each other as they move on in their own life journeys.

On Second Thought started a bit slow for me. It was filled with depressing moments, some that even irritated me. As it picked up, however, and moved into the women restarting their lives, I was hooked. It was a gorgeous story filled with a touch of romance, some real soul searching, and stories that tugged at the heart. I loved it.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Daddy Dreams and Mommy Snuggles by Anne Gutman

Genre: Toddler Board Books
Publisher: Chronicle Kids
Release Date: April 4, 2017, and May 9, 2017

Daddy Dreams is the first of two board books by Anne Gutman that go very well together. One each set of pages, toddlers learn how different animals go to sleep. For the horse, it's standing on his feet. But, how do animals like the bat, flamingo, and porcupine go to sleep? Daddy Dreams comes out on May 9th.

Mommy Snuggles comes out on April 4th. This toddler's board book shows how different animals snuggle their young. A tiger holds her baby in her mouth, while a penguin has her baby stand on her feet while she waddles. What about others like the kangaroo, koala, or otter?

Both of these books have illustrations by Georg Hallensleben that look like paintings that you could hang on your wall. The sentences are easy for a beginning reader to master, and it's a bit of a learning experience seeing how each animal differs.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley

Setting: New Jersey
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Gallery Books
Release Date: March 7, 2017

Diagnosed with an extremely rare allergy to human contact, Jubilee Jenkins lives a very solitary life. When a kiss from a boy almost killed her, Jubilee left school, sequestered herself in her home, and hasn't set foot outside in nine years. News that her mother is dead and support checks will not longer be coming in forces Jubilee to go out into the world.

Jubilee's first contact is with a former high school classmate. Through her, Jubilee is able to get a job at the local library. It's that job that brings her into the world of Eric Keegan, a single dad who Jubilee can't help but want to get to know. However, Jubilee knows that her allergy will prevent her from every being able to get close to anyone. Can a relationship be worth it when those involved can never touch?

Close Enough to Touch creates a fictional allergy and spins a very poignant story. It's impossible not to route for Jubilee and Eric, though there really is no way for them to ever do more than talk. That leads the reader to wonder what can truly become of this friendship and possible romance.

I'm torn on the ending. Not that I can really say much without giving any spoilers, but it would have been challenging as an author to finish what the book started. There's the allergy that prevents any physical contact, the cravings Jubilee has always had to feel love or even just a hug from another person, and then Eric's bewilderment at the allergy and how anything could ever work out. With those key issues, I was hooked and wanted to know how it could possibly end for everyone.

My emotional attachment to Jubilee, Eric, Eric's adopted son, and even Jubilee's former classmate was strong. Now that it's over, I'm not sure I was ready for it to end. I'm left wanting more, a lot more!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

You and Me, Me and You by Miguel Tanco

Genre: Children's Picture Book
Publisher: Chronicle Kids
Release Date: April 11, 2017

A father and child fill the pages of this easy-to-read children's book. You and Me, Me and You offers a simple story about all the things a child and father do together, what they learn from one another, and how connected they are.

The illustrations were one of the first things to catch my attention. Colors are the ones recommended to parents of infants, with nothing more than shades of black, white, and yellow used throughout. The narrative is simple for beginning readers and includes lines like, "I show you how to talk to strangers..."

Overall, this is a very eye-catching and pleasing children's picture book. It's short, sends a clear message, and captures the essence of a loving relationship.

Friday, March 31, 2017

My Little Cities... by Jennifer Adams

Genre: Toddler Board Books
Publisher: Chronicle Kids
Release Date: April 11, 2017

There are two books in the My Little Cities... board book collection that reached my desk and both are wonderful. My Little Cities London and My Little Cities New York take youngsters to two of the most popular cities for tourists.

First, head overseas to London where you'll visit the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus and more. The book is easy to read with lines like, "Building Old. Building New." At the end of the book, however, is an in-depth look at each attraction that's more challenging for a new reader.

Second, you'll visit New York City with your toddler. Again, lines are simple, but the breakdown of the attractions at the end is harder to read. This is a cute set of books, and I hope other cities will follow in the footsteps of these travel guides of sorts for the very young crowd.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Mists of the Serengeti by Leylah Attar

Setting: Africa
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Pitch73 Publishing
Release Date: January 29, 2017

Wow.  I wish I could give it more stars.  6 STARS!  I'm not the only one who thinks this should be made into a movie.  I can totally see it already and what a movie it would be!  Two broken people, bound by a tragic event, come together to help save a group of albino Tanzanian children and in the process save each other.

Jack and Rodel are two characters you won't soon forget.  Set in the Tanzanian countryside, you can see Mount Kilimanjaro in the background, feel the hot air on your face and feel the African wind in your hair.  Jack has lost his precious daughter in a bomb blast in town.  Helpless to save her, he has retreated to his coffee farm where he exists only to visit her grave in the midst of storms.  Rodel has lost her sister in the same blast, but she never got to say goodbye, only hearing her sister's desperate last voicemail to tell her it would be alright somehow.  Rodel travels to Tanzania to take care of her sister's things, and there she discovers what her sister was doing.  She was helping to get albino children to a safe house, and there were three left on the list.  So, Rodel takes on the list for her sister.  The only person that can help her is Jack Warden.  Yet, not only Jack is unwilling to help, he is bitter and full of anger.  It will take everything they have to get through the hurt and heartbreak to save these children. 

Oh, and there is romance, too.  But while it simmers at the beginning, their attraction is consuming and becomes a bright flame that surpasses the void in their lives.  It transforms them, illuminates them and leads them into the future.  Rodel has a life back in England, and she plans on returning there as soon as this mission is complete.  They must say goodbye at the end of this journey.  This isn't your average everyday romance.  No, it's a love story.  And by love story, I don't mean just Jack and Rodel, I mean love between a father and daughter, a mother and son, between sisters, and love that happens when you let go and just let your heart lead the way.   

*Big Sigh*  This story will stay with you long after you read the last page.  You can visualize it in your head, it's that powerful.  The story is based on true events of albino children being abducted for their body parts and being sold to witchdoctors.  It's a real thing.  So if that is something that bothers you, be warned.  I actually felt all sorts of emotions reading this book, and that in itself is something extraordinary.  But it's oh, so so so good!  It's the best book I have read in a long while! 

Rating: 5 Stars
Jennifer Jones