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I have not received any compensation for writing this post other than a free digital or galley copy of the book. I have no material connection to the publisher, agent, or author whose book/s I am reviewing. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

How Hard Can It Be? by Allison Pearson

Release Date - June 5, 2018

In so many ways, Kate Reddy is me. There were moments in the book that I didn't know if I should laugh or cry. From writing or editing your teen's English essay to the "crime scene period," I've totally been there.

Kate Reddy is nearing 50. Her husband's packed in a paying career to become a bike-riding, healthy living, therapist who earns little to no money. Her teens are in the state most teens are where life is never fair and social media can be torture. With mounting bills, in-laws who need more help than they're getting, and a needy mother, Kate's trying to balance it all while getting a job outside the home for the first time in years.

The workforce isn't accepting of middle-aged women. Kate soon learns that to land a job, some creative marketing is necessary. She lies about her age and happens to land a job in the same financial firm she left so many years ago. The staff is all new, but it's a job Kate knows how to do, even if she's surrounded by ageist jerks. With the support and guidance of her friends, Kate's convinced she'll make it work.

I seriously did relate to Kate in so many ways. After my kids headed off to college, I went back to work. A 40-something who's been a stay-home-mom for close to two decades is not well received. Even though I've worked from home for 15 years as a virtual assistant, certifications in online marketing, and have references galore, I had men tell me that I had no marketable skills. I was turned away by a grocery store of all ridiculous places because they "weren't sure an older person used to sitting behind a desk could handle eight hours of being on her feet."

People who haven't deal with perimenopause won't get the realism in portions of the narrative. Her conference meeting perimenopausal period. I have been there. In her case, she snuck off. She's lucky. I was serving food samples, felt that Niagara Falls flow, created the crime scene bathroom (so yeah, I get that too), cleaned up, and wadded up as many paper towels as I could fit. I talked to my boss - a very uncomfortable situation - and was told she couldn't let me go home and to get back to work. She went on to say that "black's a good color for that reason, the blood won't show up." I quit shortly after that. I couldn't help but laugh at the descriptions that Allison Pearson created. They were spot on.

Kate faces many situations in this book. My mom has Alzheimer's, so I've been there. Thankfully, my daughter never took "belfies," but she had classmates that did that and worse and went through the same experience as Kate's daughter. I get the longing for the babies that are now far from babies. I related to the character in so many ways that it did at times feel like she was living my life.

There were times I wanted the pace to speed up. I was hooked on Kate's interactions at work, her relationship with her family, and her final decisions on where things would go from here. I was happy to cheer her on.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Imperfect Delight by Andrea de Carlo

Release Date: June 5, 2018

Imperfect Delight is a good I truly get. I don't always agree with the characters' methods, but I get it. The best I description I can muster is: Think Chocolat but edgier.

To Milena, gelato is everything. Tourist season may be over, but her passion for creating unique flavors that speak to the nuances of the ingredients is everything. The end of tourist season doesn't mean she'll shut down or even slow down, despite what her girlfriend believes should happen. Her girlfriend's eyes are on having a baby together. They've met with the doctor and are days from starting treatments. Milena's going along with it, but she's not sure her heart's truly into the arduous process.

Nick Cruickshank, lead singer of the immensely popular rock band the Bebonkers, is preparing for a major show at a nearby airfield. He's also days away from his wedding to Aileen. His estate is a storm of activity. He's playing host to his band members and their significant others, media who get to do a tell-all for the wedding, caterers, and more. He's tired of this lifestyle, but it's also led to him having all he has. He just wishes he had space to himself.

A power outage causes havoc in Nick and Milena's little French town. Their worlds collide when Milena gets a call asking for a huge rush gelato order. She was just in a panic of losing everything to the power outage. She agrees and delivers to the estate where she meets Nick. Sparks fly and the pair finds themselves drawn to one another, no matter how bad the timing.

I loved Chocolat. I loved the romance, the impossibility of having a lasting relationship, and the struggle to figure it all out. On many levels, Imperfect Delight was all of that and more. It had steamy moments, but it was focused more on the characters. There were the simple joys Nick and Milena craved and the more demanding ones of those around them. It complicated things and made it all so clear what you wanted to happen.

I won't say how things played out, but every page led to an ending that both satisfied me and left me wanting more. I would love to return to the town and see what's next for those in it.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier

Release Date: June 12, 2018

I admit the cover art is the reason I stopped to take a closer look at Jar of Hearts. I loved the cover. It's not the cover that got me hooked though.

Georgina "Geo" Shaw's best friend was murdered when they were both 16. Geo should know. She was there. Her role in the events that evening were kept hidden for 14 years. Angela's body is found and the truth starts to come out. Geo receives a plea deal and goes to prison for five years in order to testify against a notorious serial killer, Calvin James, a man Geo once loved.

After prison, Geo is ready to start her life over. She'll never be the power executive she was, but she doesn't feel she deserves it either. The problem is that Geo's ex-boyfriend escaped years ago. He's never been caught. Bodies are piling up and all seem to be sending a message to Geo. Calvin's not going to stop.

I will say that you're going to find a strong theme of abuse in Jar of Hearts. It's hard to imagine ever feeling for Geo, but as you go into the past and experience what she experienced, it becomes clear why she did some of the things she did. Do I agree with her? No, but then I've never been in an abusive relationship. I have had friends who were and it's frightening the lies they will tell themselves.

This book was sad, frightening, and a little too real. I enjoyed every minute of it. Despite a few cringe-worthy moments.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Summer List by Amy Mason Doan

Release Date: June 26, 2018

For many years, Laura and Casey spent every possible hour together. Casey's mom, Alex, was a breath of fresh air to Laura. Laura's own mom was highly religious and believed her daughter needed to be the same way. She and the other church women disapproved of Alex and made it very clear.

As time went on, Laura and Casey spent summers with their peers doing Alex's next treasure hunt. Those treasure hunts would change the girls and also lead to the end of a friendship.

It's been 17 years. Laura gets a note from Casey asking her to return for one more adventure. Laura's hesitant, but something pulls her back to her hometown. Now as women, Laura and Casey will be forced to look back at their past and towards an uncertain future.

The Summer List is a coming of age and women's fiction in one. The story switches back and forth between past and present. Pay attention to the dates at the beginning of the chapter and it's easy to keep up with the changes.

This is the type of light, breezy story I love for a summer's day. I curled up on the back deck and read the book in one sitting. A lot goes on, but it was engaging and kept me hooked. I didn't find the big revelation to be too shocking. I had it pegged early and think most readers will. It didn't distract from the story at any point.

I really enjoyed the setting and characters. While I didn't ever feel the secrets were that shocking, they definitely impacted the characters and outcome. It was a warm, satisfying read that would be ideal for the beach.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Bring Me Back by B. A. Paris

Release Date: June 19, 2018

B. A. Paris is back with another excellent suspense/mystery. Bring Me Back kept me guessing and doubting myself.

On the return from a ski trip, Finn and his girlfriend Layla stop for a bathroom break. Finn is startled when he returns from the men's room to find Layla missing. She's nowhere to be found. What police don't know is that he didn't tell them the entire story.

Years have passed. Layla's never returned. Finn is now engaged to her sister, Ellen. Layla's disappearance drew them together. It's all about to go horribly wrong.

It starts with a phone call from one of the detectives Finn knows. One of Finn and Layla's former neighbors are certain he saw Layla. Before Finn and Ellen know what's happening, additional clues that Layla's alive are popping up.

Items from Ellen and Layla's childhood are popping up everywhere. Finn's getting emails that raise suspicions. Finn doesn't know who to trust. One thing is certain, he needs to get to the bottom of things if he wants to keep Ellen.

Here's the thing with Bring Me Back, it's so hard to guess what's going on. I thought I had solved the mystery, but one more chapter in and I'd question my deduction. I'd read another chapter and think I had it again, only to find myself thinking I was wrong again. I've never had a book take me on such a twisted journey. In the end, my initial gut feeling was right, and I really loved the journey the author took me on.

I could see this being a stunning movie. I kind of hope someone does pick it up. I'd love to see it play out on the big screen.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Release Date: June 12, 2018

Since childhood, Keiko Furukura has been different. She thinks differently. She can be blunt. It's what causes her parents to worry that she'll never fit in with the normal world. When she takes a job at a convenience store while in college, they're happy enough. They're not as happy that she's now in her 30s and still working for that store.

Keiko is actually quite happy. She has a routine. There's a precise order to the things she must do each day. When a new employee comes in and starts to question why things must be so precise, he starts to make Keiko wonder if she's really where she should be.

I wasn't sure what I'd think of Convenience Store Woman. It was addicting. I was instantly drawn into Keiko's world. I loved the descriptions of her job and her life. She may not be your average person, but that's what made her so much fun.

The convenience store itself was appealing. What I wouldn't give to be able to get so many Japanese foods in my convenience store. I found my mouth watering with some of the descriptions. Others, like chocolate and mango together, not so much. I could easily envision all of these goodies, however. The narrative was so descriptive and engaging.

Convenience Store Woman is a real treat. I'm glad I read it. It's not very long, but it keeps you reading until you find out what Keiko will decide.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Dreams of Falling by Karen White

Release Date: June 5, 2018

Karen White's Dreams of Falling spans several decades. It starts back in the 1950s with three best friends who get to travel to Myrtle Beach after graduating high school. Things lead to a secret that two of the three have kept hidden for decades.

Skip forward in time. Larkin left South Carolina after a horrible act of betrayal shattered her world. She's a talented copywriter in New York City with no plans to ever return to her hometown.

When her grandmother calls her, she's torn. She never wanted to return, but her mother, Ivy, is missing. Larkin makes the trip back to the place she swore she'd never see again. It's there that Larkin starts to uncover the truth about her grandmother, her mother, and herself.

Dreams of Falling wasn't a horribly fast-paced novel. It meanders back and forth between the 1950s and the 2000s. It details the experiences of Larkin's grandmother and her best friends, the secrets they hide, and skips back to Ivy and what led to her disappearance. It also slowly unravels Larkin's experience that caused her to leave. It doesn't move fast, but it keeps your attention on the different generations and fragile bonds between different people.

I found myself struggling to put the book down. I ended up going to bed early just to have time to finish it. I'm glad I did. The setting, the story, and the characters will stay with me for a long time. 

Monday, June 4, 2018

Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe by Preston Norton

Release Date: June 5, 2018

Wow! Just wow. If there is one book that I urge parents and teens to read, it's Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe. This book is fantastic. It's snarky, fun, endearing, and so, so powerful.

"Neanderthal" is really Cliff Hubbard. At 6' 6" and 250 pounds, his classmates would rather call him Neanderthal and make his life miserable. It only seemed to get worse after his older brother killed himself. Cliff is simply trying to make it through each and every day without the support of friends or even his parents, who have only gotten worse since his brother died.

After getting suspended for beating up one of the popular jocks who never stopped teasing Cliff, he returns to school ready to get right back into it. Only that jock isn't in school. It turns out he was in an accident. When he returns, he approaches Cliff. He had a near-death experience and God told him he needed to complete a list of tasks that he must complete with Cliff. It's essential that Cliff join him in order to make their high school a better place.

Cliff isn't about to help his nemesis, but for some reason, he says yes. The pair set off to change the school, one task at a time. It means going up against drug dealers, irritated teachers, and the school's ultra-aggressive religious club that seems to be anything but Christian. No matter what they face, they're determined to check off each task.

I loved this book. If it doesn't get picked up for a movie, I'll be sad. In a world where movies and TV shows are almost always a remake, Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe could be that breath of fresh air I've been craving.

Each character was complex and had my heart breaking for them. So many times I wanted to hug Cliff and Tegan as they coped with the rougher parts of life. I had a little less sympathy for Aaron, but even he got to me after a while. The story though is totally Cliff's. He's a bit of a loner at first, so the coming-of-age aspect as he grows into himself and develops real relationships for the first time had me tearing up from time to time.

Definitely read this one. Sure, there may be sex and drugs mentioned, but that's all stuff teens encounter. It's real and it was handled perfectly.

Monday, May 28, 2018

The Good Twin by Marti Green

Release Date: May 15, 2018

Twin sisters separated at birth. One grew up in a life of privilege. One grew up in poverty. A chilling request could change the poverty-stricken sister's life.

Mallory Holcolm grew up in poverty with her mother. She currently makes ends meet by waitressing and living in a boardinghouse, but she's never enjoyed that struggle. When she learns she has a twin sister named Charly, she's stunned.

While Mallory has struggled to keep food on the table and a roof over her head, Charly's had it very easy and doesn't appreciate all she has. Her husband, Ben, is tired of Charly and her ability to keep him from doing what he wants. When Mallory meets Ben, he offers her everything she could dream of. All she has to do is study Charly and be ready to step into Charly's world. Ben will take care of everything else.

When everything starts to play out, Mallory has her own ideas. She could easily turn the tables and change Ben's game in a heartbeat. If she does, what happens then?

The Good Twin leaves me a little confused. Ben's a jerk. That's clear from the start. Mallory is supposedly a nice person, but the decisions she makes baffled me. It seemed very out of character. Charly is the only character I truly liked and even that changed as the story progressed.

The story starts from Mallory's point of view. It switches to Charly's and eventually winds up back with Mallory. You get to see things from all angles. The story moves swiftly, but I kept coming back to how out of character it was for Mallory to agree to Ben's plan.

In the end, I never liked the characters enough to really enjoy the ending. They were all people I simply cannot like.

Friday, May 25, 2018

The Case of the Desperate Doctor by Jacqueline Diamond

Release Date: May 15, 2018

Dr. Eric Darcy returns and this time the case is very personal. When an obstetrician he knows is found dead, he finds himself drawn, almost unwillingly, into the case by his nemesis, Dr. Jeremiah Schwartz. Eric is tired of this doctor copying everything he does until he learns a mental health issue causes the doctor to emulate him. With a new perspective, he can't help but get involved in the supposed suicide of Dr. Alison Abrams.

Dr. Abrams car is found outside the home of a radio talk show host/psychologist that Eric's never liked. When he learns his late wife had seen Dr. Abrams before she died, he's stunned. Something seems off about two women dying in such a short time. That one of them was his wife is most concerning. Eric dives in to uncover the truth about why his wife was seeing this doctor and what it all means.

The Case of the Desperate Doctor is the third book in the Safe Harbor Medical Mystery Series. I found myself hooked for a reason that others may not get. My husband and I have been binge watching a TV show called Royal Pains. In that show, one of the doctors that joins the concierge medical team after a few seasons is very much like Dr. Jeremiah Schwartz. I really liked this Jeremiah for that reason.

The mystery progresses at a swift speed and keeps you engaged with likable characters. If you're looking for a cozy mystery for the beach or a rainy day inside, I definitely recommend The Case of the Desperate Doctor.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Retreat by Mark Edwards

Release Date: May 10, 2018

Hoping to get inspiration for his next novel, horror writer Lucas heads to the town where he lived as a young child. He books a stay at a writer's retreat at a creepy home in the woods. He has no idea what he's about to experience.

Julia's daughter vanished two years ago. Her stuffed cat was found floating in the river, so her husband dove in to find the girl, but he drowned. Julia lost her entire family in one tragic afternoon. While everyone says her daughter died, her gut instinct is that the girl is still alive. No one believes her.

Lucas hears Julia's story and starts to wonder what really happened. The more he looks into the case, the weirder things get. He and other writers start hearing voices. They hear people moving around in rooms that are empty. Some even see ghosts wandering in the woods. Lucas and Julia are determined to unravel the mysteries going on in this small town, but someone or something is equally determined to stop them.

The atmosphere created in The Retreat is chilling. I could smell the dampness of the earth and feel the cool air of the woods. The story is equally gripping. For a change, I didn't have the mystery pegged. It was creepy, but not to the point it will keep me up at night.

The writing flows well. It hooked me and never stopped till the last page. And speaking of that ending, I loved it! This is my first novel from Mark Edwards. He reminded me a bit of a local author, Joe Citro, and I'm thrilled to have discovered this book. I'll be finding his other novels soon.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Kick Off Summer Beach Reading With Your Very Own Copy of Landslide

Warmer weather may be slowly getting to some of us in the northern states, but it really is coming. Now's the perfect time to start your search for summer beach reads. You know those books you bring to the beach and just can't put down. I've got a great book for you. Best of all, you can win a copy of your very own!

Melissa Leet's Landslide is the story of besties growing up in a secluded mountain community. From the publisher (Antrim House):

Landslide is the story of Jill and her lifelong friend, Susie, who grow up in a remote mountain garden. The Garden's realm has many rooms, each a showcase of designs by Jill's mother. When tragedy strikes in the Garden, how does a child find the resilience to go on? Alternating between Jill's childhood and adult life, Landslide depicts the adventure that happens when life is lived full out, regardless of consequences. As the girls come of age, mature, and find love, the Garden is a constant, reverberating through their psyches and in their hearts. Teeming with poignancy, humor, and love, Landslide is a resplendent exploration of resurgence, and the truth that even death can reveal paths as wondrous as those created by life.

Do you want to read the first chapter of Landslide by Melissa Leet? Here you go.

To enter, go to the Roundtable Reviews Facebook page and like or comment. Contest is open to U.S. residents only. You can also enter by emailing roundtablereviews (at) gmail (dot) com.

Good luck!

First Chapter of Landslide by Melissa Leet for Book Giveaway

Chapter 1 - Landslide

Jill,” Mom called. “Breakfast!”
I stepped into the chilly air, carrying Lionel. When I was four, Jay had given Lionel to me to look after me while he was away. When we were little, I would push Lionel in carriages, and dress him in baby clothes. Now that we were ten, Lionel was my equal, and he stood guard when he was needed. Mom said whoever loved me must also love Lionel, as he would be getting a twofer when he got married. I didn’t want to get married. If I could, I’d stay here in our garden forever.
When I found Mom, she was by the Scented Beds. Her long auburn hair shined copper where it was free from her hat’s darkening shadow. On the nearby mosaic table, my favourite French toast waited warm. Mom had cookie-cut the toast into lion shapes decorated with brown and yellow icing manes, iced blue eyes, and brown, sprinkled sugar noses. Our glass house strawberries ringed the plate like a frame. In a mug, mini marshmallows floated atop steaming chocolate.
Happy birthday dear Jill, happy birthday to you.” I blew on the chocolate’s top while Mom sang, pooling the marshmallows. Then I caught them up, frog-like with my tongue.
Mom eyed me with disapproval. She was strict about manners. ““If it weren’t your birthday….”
But it is!” I shot back happily.
Are you intending to eat like a savage at your party?”
I was thinking more green space alien.”
Mom laughed. “Give me strength.”
What about me?”
You could use a fork and a knife,” indicating the French toast in my fingers.
What fun is that?” I asked, leaning in close to nestle. She smelt of mint, dirt and vanilla lotion.
What are you snuffling at?” she asked.
You smell like mint.”
The mint has jumped the bed again,” Mom admonished. “It’s such a weed!”
I laughed. Mint was so not a weed.
I thought we could use the clippings to make jugs of mint lemonade for your party.”
Yes!” Mint lemonade was my favourite.
But first we have to finish your cake.”
For my birthday, we always made cakes - lady birds, horses, pirate ships – this year it was a lion. We had lion napkins and plates. Toys and sweets filled a lion piƱata. Helium balloons waited to be changed to floating lion balloons with streamer legs and tissue paper faces. After the balloon lions were made, we would play who could pop theirs first, throwing real darts from behind a masking-taped line. The best party game, though, would be Hide and Seek! Our garden was great for hiding!
Our garden was in the foothills of the mountains. From its edge we could see far out into the rocky scrub that Jay said was caused by the mountain’s rain shadow. Our garden would have been dry as well, but high mountain springs fell through it in wandering brooks.
We should close the fabrics,” Mom said, pushing back her hat. “It’s going to be hot.”
The fabrics were our awnings. Mom used them to cover the flower beds most vulnerable to fierce sun. Mom had collected the cloth traveling with Jay when they were first married. Her first textiles were from Morocco. She had bought them back when she was still at school, and didn’t have money. Mom was bargaining for the cloths, when Jay cut in, speaking in Arabic. Mom was about to get cross at him, when Jay turned to tell her that the stall seller would sell Mom all five fabrics for the money she had been offering. At tea after, Mom said talking with Jay was like she had known Jay all her life even though they had just met. After that first tea, they were together every day until Mom had to return to England to school.
Mom, how did Jay learn Arabic?” It was a new question.
Arabic?” Mom asked, helping herself to lion French toast.
When you met Jay in Morocco.”
Oh,” Mom said, smiling. “Dad has a way with languages. Dad can go to a country, and just pick them up.”
Kind of how you picked up Spanish by listening to Maria and Fernando talk.” Fernando and Maria helped Mom with her garden business, and were part of our family now.
Perfect,” Mom said, standing back to look at our cake. “He’s real enough to roar. Let’s take a picture to add him to our Hall of Fame Cake Book.”
I think he’s our best cake yet,” I told her, pleased.
You might be right,” Mom allowed.
After the Polaroid, Mom gave me my birthday present. She had made a sky blue, beaded dress that was soft and slippery in my hands.
Mom was known for her beadings, and Mom beaded the way grandmas knit. Mom could make anything -- wall art, bed spreads, Halloween costumes. Some of her beads were so small that when strung, they blended like carpets, where a hundred thousand knots became a single design. Mom kept many of her very first necklaces in an ancient mariner’s chest Jay had brought us from Chile. I loved playing with these necklaces, and not just for dress up. I made them into snakes and eels, stepping stones and paths. At Christmas, they strung across our tree, glistening like jewelled ropes.
Mom always beaded in front of the fire. On those nights that were too warm, we were in the garden and her box stayed shut. Mom could string almost without looking. She would bead like the winter rain that falls all day long without stopping once. Sometimes I would try too, but I always got tired. Mom said she could keep on and on because she had dancing hands. I had wished for dancing hands too, but Mom said no. “My hands are beautiful,” Mom said, “because they are still.
So do you like your dress?”
Oh yes,” I breathed. Its soft weight felt nice on my shoulders. “And listen!” I swayed. The dress swirled around my knees. “It chinkles!”
Mom laughed. “Cow principle.”
I paused. “What do you mean?”
In Switzerland, they tie bells around the cows so they can hear them wander. This way, during Hide and Seek…”
She laughed, her green almond eyes glinting.
No one will find me, beads or not, except maybe Susie.” Susie lived down Mountain from us, and had been my best friend since I was three. She was half-American Indian. As if on cue, the doorbell sounded. I knew it was Susie even before I started for the door.
Wow!” Susie exclaimed at my sky blue bead dress. Mom came up beside us.
That must have taken forever,” Susie said to Mom.
It took a while,” Mom agreed.
Come see my lion cake,” I said, pulling her inside.
Can I try it after the party?” Susie asked, skipping along with me. Although Susie was almost two years older, we were close in size.
While in the kitchen, the doorbell rang again. “I bet that’s Chad,” said Susie. “He said he would come early.” We rushed down the hall together, my beads tink-tinkling as we raced.
Throw!” I screamed at Susie. The party was in full swing. Now our girls team raced to pop our lion balloons before the boys. We had three lions to the boys’ two. We had all thrown wildly, quickly, but Susie was not being rushed. She spread her feet, aimed with one eye. Chad was opposite. Pop! Chad now had one lion balloon left.
Throw!” we cried.
Susie flung the dart. Pop! Then rapid-fast her next! Pop! Chad looked over as they both lined up their last shot. Susie smiled, and her black eyes had that look. Chad’s dart bounced off his red balloon, but ours went Pop! We shrieked! Susie grinned at Chad who was not pleased.
Cake time!” Mom called.
We’ll win next game,” I heard Chad say to Susie as we made our way to the picnic table.
Next game is Hide and Seek,” Susie told him. “You don’t stand a chance.”
That night, I opened my presents before a crackling fire. Susie had given me a silver and turquoise bracelet. On her card, she said she had one too, and that once on, we must never take them off. Maria and Fernando had given me a pink present with a big pink bow. Inside, were more Maria-made animal clothes. Lionel might be grown up, but Michael Marmot, Red Rabbit, Daisy Deer, Harry Hedgehog, Squirrel, and Rascal Racoon were all still young.
My last presents were from Jay. Two were books - Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure and Buddhism for Children. He also gave me a rectangular moving machine. It tilted side to side. Blue, black, white and green liquid sand swirled inside like crashing waves. Each crash created a new shade of blue, a different colour of green. I wondered about Jay in Antarctica where the wind screamed instead of blew. Was he thinking about me?
What’s Jay doing right now?”
Mom set down her beads. Her mouth turned down, but she caught herself, and her voice stayed light. “If I know Dad, he’s probably out there taking pictures of penguins.”
Or icebergs.”
Mom smiled. “Or icebergs.”
Jay’s photos covered the walls on each side of our fireplace. In one, Jay was on Everest; in another, he was kayaking down the Amazon. Amongst these and his pictures of deserts, seas and trees were photos of monasteries. Jay collected monasteries like Mom gathered mint. There was also a snap of Mom taken the day they had first met. She was wearing a yellow sun dress and a large, flappy straw hat.
How come you don’t still travel with Jay?”
Jay was famous for his photos the way Mom was famous for her gardens. When they first married, Mom had gone everywhere with Jay. They had even been to Varanasi together, where holy cows wandered ancient streets, and pilgrims bathed in the Ganges at breaking dawn.
Mom said what made Jay such a good photographer was that he was exceptionally patient. When he sensed a shot, he waited, sometimes for days. Mom said she couldn’t count how many times she had watched with him while the clouds came and went, while morning turned to night. Just when she had been looking at the same tree or village or road for so long that there was nothing left to see, the sun would come or go, or the clouds would shift just right. That was when Jay took his shots.
I had you for one,” Mom said, starting to bead again. She was making another wall art. On one wall in our living room she displayed these hangings, changing them out as mood took. I also had a place in my room where I could put them up. I could choose any one I liked, and swap them as often as I wished.
We could travel together,” I offered. I had often tried to imagine how it would be to travel faraway.
Most of the places Dad goes are no place for a child,” she answered, her voice hardening like it did when she was firm.
Like the war in Rwanda.”
Like Rwanda,” Mom agreed.
But couldn’t Jay photograph things that weren’t so dangerous?”
Mom smiled gently. “I also have my garden.”
But Fernando could look after it,” I persisted.
And my clients?” she reminded.
He could look after them too.”
Mom’s eyes smiled. She cascaded another vial of black into her beading bowl. “Poor Fernando. Can you imagine him alone to tackle Mrs Lewis?” Mrs Lewis always changed her mind. “Or Mr Hawk?” His name wasn’t really Mr Hawk, but he rescued hurt birds, so we called him that.
I bet he could handle it.”
I know he could too,” Mom agreed. “But that’s not the point. Following Jay wasn’t right.” Her eyes flickered, narrowed. She had said more than she had meant.
What do you mean?” I asked. I still wanted to know.
In her eyes I could see Mom gather her thoughts. After a bit she said, “It was hard for me to do nothing for myself when I travelled with Jay. Always, Jay would find places to just sit and watch, and the more he watched, the more it seemed he had always been wherever we happened to be. Within no time, he would be getting by in the local language, slipping into their habits. It made me feel left out, even though I would try to stay busy.”
I had never thought about how hard it would have been for Mom to wait while Jay took pictures. Everyone knew that Mom was busy like bees.
Beading helped. It gave my hands something to do so the rest of me could be steady,” she said, searching Jay’s photos. Still, when I finally found our garden, it felt like I had finally found the place where I really belonged.” Her eyes came back to me. “Gardens are what I love.”
But I thought you loved Jay.”
I do love Jay, and he loves us.”
Then why is gone so much?”
One of the fire’s logs burnt in half, falling forward. Mom picked up the old piece of wrought iron fence that was our poker and pushed the wood back. She stayed squatting a moment, while firelight danced on her face. Mom had quick emotions that could alight like flint. She was practiced at being still until her emotions quieted. “His work makes Jay feel right,” she said finally, turning toward me.
I nodded slowly, trying to understand. “Like you feel in our garden.”
That’s right.”
Doesn’t he get lonely?” Jay often went where there was no one at all.
Growing up with Grandpop in Montana got him used to looking after himself,” she told me.
Do you think he missed his Mom?”
Mom came close to me on the couch, taking back up her beading. “It’s hard to miss someone you never knew.”
Oh, but I’d miss you,” I told her with certainty. “Even if you left the day I was born.”
Mom’s smile was warm.
Still,” I said, “I don’t see why that means he has to be gone now.”
Jay can seem quiet,” she told me, swirling her fingers through her beads as she talked, “but underneath he has powerful feelings. One way he finds peace is to go to places that accommodate these feelings.”
I looked at him on top of Everest.
We let him be happy, and he loves us more because we allow him to be free.”
Like the rabbit.”
That’s right. When his leg was better, we let him go.”
Because he was wild.”
Is Jay wild?”
Mom laughed. “In part, I guess he is.”
Do you miss him when he’s gone?”
Do you?” Mom asked.
I hesitated, watching the flames jump. “Not all the time,” I admitted. “Is that bad?”
Mom touched her foot with mine. “No.”
I get used to not seeing him, I mean, when he is gone a long time,” I confessed.
Mom’s eyes softened. “You see my beads?” Mom spread out the half-completed hanging on her lap so I could see it better. “After you are in bed, I try to imagine what Jay’s doing, and all this imagining goes into my beads.”
It’s like the Antarctic!” I said, really noticing the blue, white, grey, yellow design for the very first time.
And the green one, of the forest? Where was Dad?”
In the Congo! You’re following him with your beads!”
Mom laughed, but then her face quieted. “I don’t miss him all the time either,” she told me.
You don’t?”
Most of the time, I’m just too busy. Between you, the garden, work -- the day just flies.”
It was true. Time went fast a lot. I thought some more. “But don’t you get mad that he’s gone away?”
Mom’s smile was like a puzzle. “No one is without flaws, Sweet Pea,” Mom said gently. “Jay has fewer than almost anyone I know except maybe Maria and Fernando.”
I thought about how when Jay was last here, our school was about to tear down the big kids’ playground, because it was unsafe, and there was no money to fix it. Jay organized a drive, and saved the playground.
I’m sorry he missed your birthday.”
On the coffee table, I watched the coloured waves mix black with white which swirled with green.
But we had fun, didn’t we?”
I nodded.
Did you really like it?”
So much!” I breathed
Her green eyes glinted elf-like. “Me too,” she agreed.

Copyright 2018 Melissa Leet

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

A Literary Tea Party by Alison Walsh

Release Date: June 5, 2018

Think about your favorite book. Now that you're thinking of that, think about the character's life. How many of your favorite character's indulge in a food that has your mouth watering? How many times have you become hungry as you read about a character enjoying a snack, meal, or beverage?

Maybe you find yourself wanting to know about the frequently mentioned Lane Cake in To Kill a Mockingbird. Perhaps you love the thought of Butterbeer from Harry Potter. If you think about food while you read, this is a book you can't skip as that's what A Literary Tea Party is all about.

In this book, you'll whip up tasty snacks that are inspired by a select number of books. For example, there's a recipe for Blood Orange Scones that are inspired by Sherlock Holmes. Serve those with some London Fog Lattes at a Sherlock Holmes book group.

Fans of Agatha Christie can hold a book reading group and serve tasty snacks like "Pocket Full of Rye" finger sandwiches and Delicious Death Chocolate Cake. Fans of Brian Jacques The Rogue Crew: A Tale of Redwall may recognize the Deeper 'n Ever Turnip 'n Tater n' Beet-root Pie. I admit, the very first recipe I tried was for the Dark Chocolate Earl Grey Lavender Truffles inspired by Sherlock Holmes. Oh, my!

Recipes in A Literary Tea Party include photos, quotes from the books, and ideas for beverage pairings. If you like to read and love to cook, this cookbook is a must!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

What Lies Below by Barbara Taylor Sissell

Release Date: May 15, 2018

Gilly O'Connell left her home to start anew. She "saw" her husband's murder before it happened, but even when she sees something in a dream, people don't always listen. After losing him and their unborn child, she spiraled out of control.

She's clean again and ready to start over. Her move to a small town is the first step. She takes a job as a waitress where she quickly grows fond of a Wednesday regular and his three-year-old daughter. Their pancake breakfasts always lead to Gilly telling the young girl a story. That connection could be her downfall, however, when she spaces out and sees the young girl's kidnapping. When she learns it is true, she hasn't seen enough to pinpoint exactly who stole the girl, but her knowledge makes her a suspect.

With the father's pleas to help him find her, Gilly agrees to see if she's able to harness her dreams and figure out who did it and where the girl is. It's not that easy, however. Her husband's killer is still out there and hot on her trail.

There's a lot of mystery and suspense to this book, but there's also a touch of romance. The characters are enjoyable, but they never overshadow the real draw to this story. You want to know who took the little girl, why they did it, and where she is.

What Lies Below is a very satisfying suspense/mystery. I had the "who" figured out long before the characters, but it took a bit longer to catch the why. I certainly wasn't disappointed. Sure, I had questions, but I was still intent on reading every page. This is another great story from Barbara Taylor Sissell.

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Orphan Daughter by Cari Noga

Release Date - May 8, 2018

Cari Noga's The Orphan Daughter seems incredibly timely. As some in our current government have crowds riled up thinking Mexican's are all illegals and need to be shipped back over the border, this presents a more honest take. I live in an area where migrants work on farms. They do the jobs few others will do for what seems like a criminally low rate of pay. Farm workers are often up and working by 3 a.m. and must be outside for hours in the sun and humidity.

Jane McCardle has overcome loss. Her stillborn daughter was the first of many heartbreaks. Since her son joined the military and her husband left her for another woman, Jane's been an empty nester. She's turned things around and operates an organic farm in Michigan. Another curve is thrown her way when she learns she's the guardian of her newly orphaned pre-teen niece, Lucy.

Lucy is a city girl. Her life in New York with an au pair and two loving parents is everything to her. She's shocked when her parents are killed in a tragic accident. Moving to Michigan with an aunt she barely knows is just not acceptable when she's already suffering a tremendous loss.

Once in Michigan, Lucy is not happy. She does meet a local boy, but she dreams of moving to Mexico to live with her father's sister. She wants to be surrounded by her Mexican heritage. Living on a farm with a woman who is devoted to all things farming is not enjoyable.

Jane isn't sure how to handle her niece. She's lost one daughter. She never thought she'd have a second chance. Now that she does, she doesn't seem to be able to do anything right. Is there a way for these two lonely souls to form a bond and see a new family form from the ashes of pain and loss?

Lucy is definitely immature, but she's also young. She doesn't quite realize that Mexico is not a safe, warm, welcoming place to all. As she gets to know the Mexicans living in Jane's farm community, it's nice to see Lucy change and mature.

There were times I disliked Jane's reactions, but I suppose being lonely for so long will cause struggles dealing with tricky situations. I loved the setting. I loved the descriptions of the farm. I enjoyed watching them build a relationship at a very realistic speed.

Lake Union Publishing has released another strong read with The Orphan Daughter. I do love this publisher's women's fiction novels. They're always packed with emotion and thorougly enjoyable.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson

Release Date: May 8, 2018

I only got to read a snippet of Undead Girl Gang. I really wish I'd had the whole book in front of me. It's snarky, fun, and hooks you from the start.

At the heart of the story is Mila Flores. She doesn't fit in and she doesn't care. All that matters to her is her best friend Riley, a fellow believer in witchcraft. When Riley is found dead in a local creek, Mila refuses to buy it's a suicide. Riley was her BFF. They'd been together just moments before Riley died. There's no way Riley would kill herself, and Mila is willing to cast a spell that brings Riley back to life if it means solving Riley's murder.

That's what is revealed in the few chapters I received via Netgalley. In reading the blurb, there's more. Once she revives Riley and two other teens who recently died, they can't remember how they died. The spell only lasts for seven days, so Mila needs to work fast to find the murderer.

Mila is snarky and that made me love her. She had me laughing often in this short preview. It hooked me. I wanted to keep reading and was upset when the sampler came to an end. It's definitely a book I'll be buying if my library doesn't have it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware

Release Date: May 29, 2018
Genre: Psychological Suspense

Ruth Ware is one of my author's to watch. Her books never fail to draw me in and hold me essentially captive until I'm done the last page. The Death of Mrs. Westaway is another solid, very suspenseful read. I thought I had it figured out, but I was partially wrong. I always love being kept guessing.

Since her mom's death, Hal's been struggling. She struggles to draw enough business and debt is piling up. When one of her lenders announces that she has a week to pay up or else, Hal's in a state of panic. There's no way she can come up with that money, but the thought of "or else" is equally terrifying.

Things take an unusual turn when she receives a mysterious letter stating her grandmother has died. She's been asked to attend the funeral and the inheritance she's due. There's a problem, however, Hal's grandmother died a very long time ago.

While she's convinced this letter is a mistake, she's desperate. She has skills as a tarot reader, plus her research skills are really good. She's sure she can use them to fool the family and claim the money. What she never expects is to learn there's a lot more to this family's story than anyone realizes.

The setting is downright creepy. It's an estate home that's dark, dreary, and seems to feed off its past. The estate itself added to the chills. Then there are the family members. What a dysfunctional bunch that I'd never want to get to know. It's no wonder Hal finds herself questioning why she's even thinking about pulling off the ruse. The housekeeper just adds to the discomfort you feel as you get to know the main characters.

The story flows quickly from start to finish. I started it while enjoying a quiet Mother's Day lounging on the back deck and couldn't stop. It had me hooked from the first page.

Herons Landing by Joann Ross

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Harlequin
Release Date: May 22, 2018

All it takes is one very rude, very unreasonable client for Brianna Mannion to decide it's time to go home. She's had a very profitable career working in the hotel industry. She's ready to return to her hometown and figure out what to do next. It isn't long before she decides to buy an old Victorian home she's loved since childhood. Her plan is to turn it into a bed and breakfast.

Brianna's headstrong and knows she can make it work. Even if it means working with the best local contractor in town. A man she's been in love with since they were both teens. Seth Harper married Brianna's best friend. He's a widower now, but she needs to keep this completely professional if she's going to turn the bed and breakfast into a thriving business.

Seth has no plans to ever remarry. Something about Brianna, however, just feels right. While his brain is happy saying no, his heart isn't quite as agreeable.

This is a pleasing start to the new Honeymoon Harbor series. The town is small and quaint with characters you enjoy getting to know. I loved the chemistry between Brianna and Seth. I also loved how both of them had the same vision of how the Victorian should look when all was said and done.

There are a couple of other smaller plots in the book. One involves Seth's parents who are on a trial separation, essentially. I liked their characters, but I didn't like how it would jump in and take me from Seth and Brianna's romance. The other is Brianna's other best high school friend and her upcoming marriage. That could have been its own novella and not part of Herons Landing.

It will be interesting to see what happens next in this series. I'm eagerly awaiting the next novel.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo

Setting: Los Angeles
Genre: Teen Romance
Publisher: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux
Author: Maurene Goo
Release Date: May 8, 2018

Her mom travels regularly. It's her dad that's raised her. Clara Shin has been raised to think for herself, not back down, and be independent. Those same traits cause Clara to push boundaries and generally annoy certain others. One of those "certain others" is a classmate and enemy named Rose Carver.

Rose is a snob. She's stuck up and generally unpleasant. When Clara is jokingly nominated for prom queen, Rose demands Clara back out. This makes Clara work harder than ever to win. She does and her resulting "joke" winds up backfiring in glorious fashion. As punishment, both Clara and Rose are forced to spend the summer working together on Clara's dad's food truck.

This experience is more than Clara bargains for. She finds herself actually enjoying working with Rose. She meets a guy and starts experiencing the joy of romance. Is Clara really going to let one summer turn her into a completely different person?

This is a lively, enjoyable teen romance. Clara is a bit of a rebel, but she's a likable rebel. She learns a lot and experiences incredible growth. It's not a book that forces you to think, but it's packed with romance, great characters, and descriptions of food that make the mouth water. Read The Way You Make Me Feel. It's worth it!

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Paris Ever After by K.S.R. Burns

Setting: Paris
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Velvet Morning Press
Author: K.S.R. Burns
Release Date: May 1, 2018

After her best friend died, Amy left for Paris without informing anyone. Her husband may not have understood, but Amy needed to regroup. It's been several months of embracing a relaxed, yet unsettled lifestyle in France. The problem is Amy is pregnant, and she's yet to tell her husband, who is half a world away.

When Amy learns her husband is back in Paris to find her, she becomes panicked. How will she explain what she's been keeping from him? That's just the start of her problems. Someone else returns to town and is determined to force Amy into leaving the circle of friends she's come to love.

Paris Ever After is a sequel. I found myself longing to be in Paris based on the author's descriptions. I've never had any urge to go to Paris before, so that impressed me. Amy's character isn't my favorite. I do think she needed to be honest from the start. Her dilemmas are situations she put herself in, so it seemed unfair when she tries to blame others.

I did enjoy the story, even though I hadn't read the first book. What Paris Ever After has convinced me of is that I need to read the first book. I'd love to know more about Amy's first days in Paris and her introductions to her new circle of friends.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Cake and Punishment by Maymee Bell

Setting: Rumford, KY
Genre: A Southern Cake Baker Mystery
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Release Date: May 8, 2018

After finding the love of her life in a compromising position, Sophia Cummings flees for her hometown. A bit of a break from New York City is in the cards right now. She'll take a few days for herself and then return to a new job in the city.

At home, Sophia finds herself in the middle of a mystery. A long-time friend's upcoming wedding runs into a big glitch when the baker backs out. As a pastry chef, Sophia offers to create a dream cake. That's just the start. A local chef winds up murdered. Sophia also agrees to help an old boss run the kitchen until a replacement is found.

Now that she's thoroughly involved in her old community's culinary world, Sophia can't help but wonder who killed the chef. Her former boss is the key suspect, and Sophia knows there is no way. With the local detective honed in on her boss, Sophia decides to do her own sleuthing, and that may well put her in the killer's path.

I've been a fan of cozy mysteries for years. Ever since picking up a Diane Mott Davidson book about two decades ago, I've been hooked. Cake and Punishment covers all the reasons I love cozy mysteries. You have the potential romance with Sophia and the detective. There's a town full of interesting characters. There are plenty of recipes that sound amazing.

I am eager to see where this series goes from here. It's off to a good start.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Marlon Bundo with Jill Twiss

Genre: Children's Picture Book
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Release Date: March 2018

My kids are way beyond picture books. That didn't stop us from all wanting A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo. I'll buy it for any future grandchildren, even if they could be 10 years down the road. The book is necessary and supports two fantastic non-profits: AIDS United and The Trevor Project.

Marlon lives in a big house with his owners the Pence family. Marlon finds life within the house pretty boring. He also finds the vice president's schedule and discussions to be boring. Things change when he goes outside to explore the garden. He makes a friend.

With Wesley by his side, Marlon sees life differently. He feels amazing. He knows what it is like to love someone. He wants to get married, but the big Stink Bug says no. The Stink Bug says that marriage between two people of the same gender is wrong. It's unnatural and cannot happen he spouts. Wesley and Marlon and their friends set out to make a change.

I love the message in this book. Basically, intolerance of another human is not acceptable. It doesn't matter where your preferences are. In matters of the heart, what matters most is love. I'm thrilled to have supported two very deserving charities again through the purchase of a book we can pass down through generations. Hopefully, by the time I do have grandkids, the world will be a friendlier place for all.

To learn more about the charities this book supports, visit these sites.