Saturday, July 30, 2016

Keeping Sam by Joanne Phillips

Setting: England
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Mirrorball Books
Release Date: November 23, 2015

I picked up a copy of Keeping Sam as a free book through Bookbub. The story is a little maddening, yet I also had to read every page to see if anyone, other than the social worker, would ever smarten up.

Kate's been in a coma for a year. Now that she's recovering, all she wants is to get her toddler son back. She learns her mother and father have been caring for the boy for the past year, and they're not happy to have to give him back. In fact, they applied for guardianship and they're prepared to fight.

The resulting story is really a battle between two women who desperately want to keep the boy they love. It's often emotionally painful to read, irked me at times, but kept me hooked. It's not hard to dislike some of the characters in this novel.

For the price, Keeping Sam is a solid read. While it's no longer free, it is a huge bargain and definitely a story that draws you in, even if it makes you angry.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Shore House Slumming by Carli Palmer

Setting: Coastal (West Coast and East Coast)
Genre: Chick Lit
Publisher: Createspace
Release Date: June 23, 2016

After learning her job has been cut, Dana Kline really has little choice but to take the job her boss has lined up for her. The problem is that she will have to move from Seattle to Florida. She's not at all thrilled with the change of location. Worse, her roommate informs her that she misunderstood when the lease ends, so Dana has no where to live for the next couple of months.

With all of that looming above her, Dana packs up and starts a journey of staying in various homes across the country. Some she's simply staying as a guest and others she is a temporary house sitter. With each of them, Dana learns a little something more about herself and the people in her life.

I wanted to love Shore House Slumming. It was touted as a chick lit, one of my very favorite genres, but in each house, I found myself really not liking Dana. Hard to love a book when you despise the main character.

Things start on the Pacific coast where Dana and her best friend enjoy a coastal getaway together. Dana's next jaunt leads her to Cape Cod, where she house sits. She meets a neighbor's sister and agrees to join that sister on Fire Island. The pattern continues from there.

My problem with Dana became clear from the start. She's a whiner. She whined about losing her job, all while her boss found her another job with better pay at that. When she's in Cape Cod, she wrecks her hostess's jet ski, whines incessantly about getting food poisoning, and then winds up being offered the chance to tag along on a house sitting job in Fire Island. There, she whines non-stop about having to live with a fitness enthusiast and having to eat healthy foods.

She moves on to her best friend's aunt's house, where she's offered the chance to join a group on a diving expedition. She has no responsibilities other than to enjoy the sun and scenery from the yacht. Even there, she does as she pleases and, without going into a spoiler, really changes things for the group.

The more I read of Dana, the less I liked her. The settings were gorgeous. The description of the homes made me feel like I was there. Even the pacing rocked! Unfortunately, I just never liked the main character enough to really get into the story.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Broken Pieces by Kathleen Long

Setting: Paris, New Jersey
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: July 19, 2016

Her mother died when she was 10, and her dad walked away from her around the same time. For 20 years, he's built up an acting career in New York City. Meanwhile, Destiny Jones has grown up and owns her own refinishing/remodeling company in New Jersey. When her dad reappears on her door step and claims he wants to become part of her life, Destiny doesn't believe a word he has to say.

No matter how hard she tries to push him away, he pushes back harder. He has a secret, and when he reveals it, Destiny's life will be forever changed.

The one thing with reviewing is that sometimes it's really hard to review without giving away a potential spoiler. Other reviewers have broached the secret in their review of Broken Pieces, but I don't want to do that. Let's just say that I was struggling with this book until the secret came out. From that moment on, the story is rich with emotion and the characters warmed my heart.

I thought I'd found the first Lake Union Publishing release that wouldn't wow me, but I was wrong. This book has the same emotional pull that the other releases have had. It made me laugh, cry, and feel like part of the fictional family when it was over.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Once Upon a Wine by Beth Kendrick

Cammie Breyer's boyfriend left, leaving her with no choice but to shut down the Californian restaurant they owned. Her rent is late. Her job as a waitress isn't paying the bills. When she gets a call to return home and help her aunt, she decides to go.

Back in Black Dog Bay, Delaware, Cammie learns her aunt bought a vineyard. Cammie, her cousin, and her aunt know nothing of growing grapes or making wine. Turning this situation around may be far more than Cammie, her cousin Kat, or her aunt Ginger can handle. Even if she has the help of the man she left behind when she went to California.

Once Upon a Wine is a charming romance. I loved the clear passion between Kat, Cammie, and even Ginger and the men in their lives. As the relationships developed, I rooted for them all. Having reached the end of the story, I wasn't ready. I wanted more. I am thrilled to see there are other novels in this series, as I want to read them all now.

Look for Beth Kendrick's book on July 26th from NAL.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Five Roses by Alice Zorn

An infant is stolen from her mother in a Montreal commune. More than two decades later, that infant, Rose, is now back in Montreal, having grown up in a small cabin in the woods north of the city. Rose has many questions about her father and her parentage.

Maddy was part of that commune and has never forgotten the infant daughter who vanished one fateful day. She lives in the same area where her daughter was taken from her. Fara and her husband buy a home where a suicide occurred. While that suicide has driven many potential buyers away, Fara's past compels her to purchase the home that's next to Maddy's.

All three of these women make their homes in a rundown neighborhood near Montreal. As they come to terms with their pasts and their futures, revelations come to light. Through it all, Pointe St. Charles shines as the setting for their slow-moving stories.

I live about two hours south of Montreal. The city has its charm and that comes through in Five Roses. The characters are equally well developed, but the stumbling block for me was the pacing. This story moves so very slowly. It became far too easy to put the story down and walk away from it. I lost interest and had to force myself to keep reading. For that reason, it simply didn't become a novel I would put on my keeper shelf. It's good but nothing I'm going to remember weeks from now I fear.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Little Girl Gone: An Afton Tangler Thriller by Gerry Schmitt

Setting: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Genre: Mystery/Suspense
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: July 5, 2016

This is the introduction to Afton Tangler, a family liaison specialist who works with the Minneapolis Police Department. For those who know the works of Laura Childs, Gerry Schmitt is her pseudonym. This book is dark, emotional, and gripping. I liked it far more than any of her cozy mysteries. I think that's because I found Afton to be incredibly likable and very tenacious in a story that seemed ripped from the headlines.

An infant girl goes missing in the middle of the evening. Her babysitter is battered and remembers very little of the man who attacked her. Parents of the infant are desperate. With that, the investigation gets underway.

Afton is called in to help the police department with the infant's parents. Both are incredibly upset and want their daughter back. As she and her fellow officers dive into what few clues exist, Afton begins to suspect that this isn't the first time. When the body of an infant is found, the case really heats up and Afton finds herself taking a deeper role in solving these crimes.

The thing you need to know right from the start is that it's no mystery as to who took the infant. The mother and son kidnapping team are identified in the opening. That said, it's the "why" that becomes compelling. When I did find out, I admit to feeling a little let down. I think it's because I've seen police drama shows take that route too many times. Despite that complaint, I was drawn in from the start.

I do have high hopes for this series. I want to see Afton grow as she works on more cases. I really want to see more from Max, the detective she works with. I'd love to seem him take on more focus and have them be equal players in future novels.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Falling by Jane Green

It's been a few years since I've read one of Jane Green's novels, but I've loved her past work. Falling is a tough, really tough, book to review. I was on board, enjoying the love-at-first-sight style romance and then wham! I feel like I ran into a brick wall, and I'm not sure what to think. Without giving spoilers, all I can say is that I really don't know what to make of this book.

Emma Montague left England for the U.S. after it becomes clear that she's just not into the man she's been involved with, aka the man her mother wants desperately for her to marry. Social status means nothing to Emma, but it's all her mother can think about. In the U.S., Emma makes friends, has a great job as a banker, but she wants more. Once she has a decent savings built up, Emma leaves banking behind and rents a small beach cottage in Connecticut. Her eye and talents have turned to interior design, and she sees huge potential in this cottage and her talents in decorating on a dime.

Her landlord, Dominic, quickly becomes an object of interest. He's sexy, nothing like the guys she's dated in the past, and Emma can't help but become enamored by both the single dad and his precocious six year old. As Emma settles into the role of "mom" to a young boy whose own mother abandoned him as an infant, she realizes the best things in life are nothing like she would have expected. There are still hurdles left to face, however, and some of them may be too much for Emma to handle.

The romance between Emma and Dominic moves fast, and there are times things fell into place just a little too easily. I didn't really care, however, I just wanted Emma and Dominic to have their happily ever after. Jane Green's writing is always passionate and taps into the reader's emotions, but I really did (without going into detail) feel so let down. I've never enjoyed a book so much and then wished I'd never read it, but that's exactly how I'm feeling this time. Rating this one for Netgalley is tough. I'd say it was a 4-star read for 90% of the novel, but the unexpected twist at the ending left me feeling very cold.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Watermark by Elise Schiller

Quick Breakdown of Watermark

Setting: Philadelphia, Present Day
Genre: Teen Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Publisher: Createspace

Eighteen-year-old Angel Ferente practically raises her younger sisters for her drug addict mother and cruel stepfather. At the same time, Angel tries to make it to every swim practice and meet and keep her job at a local laundromat. Things start to escalate as Angel's mother becomes more absent and uncaring. When Angel disappears, her swim team friend, Alex, and her younger sister, Jeannine, narrate the events before and after the disappearance.

Watermark bounces between the past and present, going into Angel and her sister's time as they are removed from their grandmother's care and forced to live with their mother and her new husband. It's quickly clear how rough these girls have it, especially as their family unit grows. With each new addition, Angel's responsibilities also increase. She's soon trying to balance school, raising her younger sisters, and keeping up with her responsibilities at work and with her swim team. It's often painful to read about just how much this teen has to do.

I know there is a lot of truth to this story. I've seen things like this play out in the news. It's no less heartbreaking, however, to watch the mother's spiral and Angel's issues with having to become the mother figure to three girls, all while also trying to be a teenager.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

Setting: Hull, UK, North Sea, and Norway - Present Day
Genre: Mystery, Suspense
Publisher: Gallery/Scout Press
Release Date: July 19, 2016

Writer Laura "Lo" Blacklock wakes up to an intruder in her home. This is just the start of events that are about to tear her world apart. With very little time before she's set to go on a maiden voyage from Hull, England, to Norway, she rushes to report the crime to police, get prepared for her work trip, and deal with her boyfriend's announcement that he bypassed a job in the U.S. to remain with her. It's a little too much.

Lo must focus on her job writing about a new luxury cruise that runs from England to Norway. It's a small, intimate luxury ship. Never does she expect to see a woman thrown overboard and then have no one believe her. It's made more difficult when despite what she knows she saw, everyone on the passenger and crew list have been accounted for. When she's given an ominous message to "stop digging," Lo realizes that despite it all, she did see something, and she's determined to uncover the truth.

The Woman in Cabin 10 is told through two perspectives. First, there is Lo. She has a history of anxiety and takes medications for it, so that alters other characters' perceptions of her and what she claims to have seen. Periodically, there are also emails or texts sent by her boyfriend who becomes frustrated that she's not responding to his messages. It is this latter viewpoint that really starts to get the reader involved in what's really happening on that cruise and creates an ample amount of tension and suspense.

I've read Ruth Ware's books before and really loved In a Dark, Dark Wood last year. With The Woman in Cabin 10, I found that the blurbs I'd been sent were pretty true. There was a touch of an Agatha Christie feel to this novel. I admit, it didn't go where I thought it would. I won't give a spoiler, but I thought something completely different was at play as the mystery starts taking shape. I was kept guessing and when it all played out, I was certainly not disappointed.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Karma Brown - The Choices We Make

Your best friend cannot carry a baby to term. Multiple miscarriages, months of heartbreak, and expensive fertility treatments have not led to a successful pregnancy. What do you do? In The Choices We Make, Kate makes a decision that changes lives.

Kate and Hannah have been friends since childhood. They've remained close and now married, they're still inseparable. Kate's happily married with two daughters. Hannah's happily married and desperate to enjoy motherhood. When another fertility round leads to a negative positive test and Hannah is told by her doctor that it's probably best to give up, Kate makes a very personal decision. She'll become a surrogate for Hannah.

It isn't long before Kate is pregnant and Hannah and her husband Ben are overjoyed. Kate is equally pleased at doing something for the friend she's loved for decades. Just when everything looks perfect, something happens that tests the bonds of friendship and maternal instinct.

Karma Brown makes the reader really stop and think with this story. It's easy to sympathize with both points of view, but to make the decisions the characters have to make is just heartbreaking. I can't imagine, yet I've seen similar stories in the news and know it happens.

This is Karma Brown's second novel, and I'm now eager to read her first. This is a tough story that involved a bunch of Kleenex, but it's also a book I see as being a hit with book discussion groups. The writing grabbed me, and the characters felt like family.

Look for this Harlequin release on July 12, 2016.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Baby Doll by Hollie Overton

After the popularity of books like Gone Girl or A Girl on the Train, there does seem to be a lot of focus on suspense novels with plenty of edge-of-your-chair moments. In fact, the Netgalley email I received mentioned this book as being great for fans of those two books.Here's my main thought on Baby Doll. It had many similarities to Room, so I found myself engrossed, but there were also many "this seems familiar" moments.

Hollie Overton wrote episodes for one of my favorite television series: Cold Case. I was definitely intrigued in Baby Doll based on that tidbit alone. In this novel, Lily was kidnapped as a teenager and held captive in a remote cabin. For the past eight years, she's been victim to the madman that took her, eventually having his child. Her daughter, Sky, is the one thing she lives for. She adores Sky and cannot imagine life without her. At the same time, she dreams of getting Sky out of captivity and the clutches of her abuser.

Things escalate one day when Lily doesn't hear the deadbolt latch after he leaves. She cannot believe he'd forget that one critical thing, but he has. She grabs Sky and runs, soon learning this cabin was only a handful of miles from her family home.

Now back with her twin sister and her mother, Lily must acclimate to the world around her and help Sky do the same. All while telling police who kidnapped her and helping build a case to ensure he can never touch them again.

Clearly, the premise with Baby Doll is very similar to that of Room. That's the thing I had the biggest issue with. I loved Room, so I was hoping for something different that would make Baby Doll stand apart. The relationship between Lily and her twin sister tends to be that one different thing. Eight years has only fractured their very tight bond, but it hasn't ruined it. Watching them become close again was realistic and emotional. I have to say that the manipulative captor, though an evil jerk, also was incredibly well developed. Without going into spoilers, there's one part of the plot that reminded me a lot of a case last year involving a local prison escape. This also stood out for me as being very true based on accounts of that prison's operations.

In the end, I liked Baby Doll. It was entertaining and kept me hooked. If you haven't read or seen Room, you'll love it. If you have, Baby Doll will seem familiar at times.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Ink and Bone by Lisa Unger

Lisa Unger's Ink and Bone grabbed my attention from the start. Finley Montgomery has her grandmother's gift. It's a gift Finley's mother never wanted Finley to develop, but back in The Hollows, Finley is ready to learn all she can. This 20-year-old college student struggles with her gifts, but she also cannot help but become involved in the disappearance of a young girl. To help, however, she'll need to live with her grandmother and learn all she can about her psychic abilities. If she can harness her abilities to harness her dreams and interact with those in her visions, she could uncover what happened to this missing girl.

Finley is a complex heroine. She's a bit of a rebel, but she has an emotional side too. I liked when she showed her tender side with characters like her grandmother, just as much as I liked Finley's connection to her love interest, a tattoo artist who follows Finley to The Hollows. These differing sides of Finley create a complex character that I couldn't get enough of. I hope there are more Finley novels due out soon. I think her character and The Hollows will become a great series. Finley's grandmother, Eloise, appeared in three stories that formed The Whispering Hollows. It's a good book to read before you delve into Ink and Bone.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

All is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker

Fairview, Connecticut, is a small town deeply affected by one tragic event. Up until the night Jenny Kramer was brutally raped, the residents enjoyed their country club gatherings, sporting events, and other activities that brought people together. When Jenny is raped in the woods during a party, the entire town is shattered, but it's Jenny, her father, and her mother facing the toughest decisions they've had to make.

Jenny's mom and dad are having dinner at the country club when they get the call that their daughter was brought to the hospital. They imagine she drank too much and are prepared to punish her, but they arrive to find police officers and shocking news that Jenny was raped, sodomized, and carved by an unknown assailant. The only possible good news is that there is a drug Jenny can take that will help her forget the events of that night. Should she take this drug, it will make it impossible for her to testify against her rapist if he's caught.

Jenny's mother wants her daughter to have no memory of the rape, so the drug is given. However, no one else can forget. Jenny's father wants to find and kill the man that brutalized his daughter. Jenny's mother wants to pretend it never happened, more importantly, she wants the community to forget.Others within the community find their own lives deeply affected by Jenny's rape and find themselves struggling with thoughts of who the rapist is.

All is Not Forgotten starts with an unknown narrator telling the story. Eventually, you learn who this narrator is and why he's connected to Jenny, her family, and the rest of the town. I'll leave it out of my review as it is something I appreciated contemplating as the story progressed.

The pacing of the story moves quickly, but there were times I wished the story would focus more on Jenny and the snippets of memory she begins to regain under the guidance of a professional. I wanted to know who the rapist was as quickly as possible, and there really is nothing quick about this revelation. Wendy Walker builds the suspense and keeps you hooked until the final page. It's not surprising this book caught the eye of Reese Witherspoon and Warner Brothers.

Davide Cali's The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer...

The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer... by Davide Cali reminded me a little of the Dr. Seuss book To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street. The story is told by author/illustrator Davide Cali, and the artwork by Benjamin Chaud complements it perfectly.

The story begins with an adult asking a young boy what he did over the summer. He spins into a fantastic tale about a message in a bottle and a treasure hunt that took him all over the world. His story seems too fantastic to be true, and the reader is left wondering - what could possibly happen next?

The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer is packed with humorous situations involving everything from time travel to soaring through the sky while wearing a jet pack. The vocabulary isn't too hard for beginning readers, and the story is engaging and will get both parent and child talking about what could really have happened.

You Can Go Your Own Way by Eric Smith

 Release Date - October 25, 2022 After his dad's death, Adam Stillwater and his mom do everything in their power to keep the family...