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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.