Monday, November 28, 2016

Married at Midnight by Gerri Russell

Setting: Washington
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Release Date: December 13, 2016

What happens in Vegas isn't destined to stay in Vegas this time. Ellie Hawthorne knows more than one tequila shot was too much. Waking up with a killer hangover, she quickly finds out that a hangover doesn't come close to comparing to the man in her bed or news that she's married to him. Not only is she married, but the man in her bed is her high school boyfriend and the man who broke her heart many years ago.

Connor Grayson is equally shocked to find he's married to Ellie. He hurt her before and never planned to do so again. When he learns his grandmother's had a massive heart attack back in Washington, he knows Ellie is also the key to getting his grandmother to fight for her life. Viola's always wanted to see Connor settled into a happy marriage, and Ellie is just the woman to convince her that he's finally ready for a wife and family.

Neither Ellie nor Connor has an inkling of what Viola has in store. This sneaky woman is certain the pair are meant to be together, and she and her Vegas pals will do everything it takes to make sure the couple realizes they're right for each other.

Married at Midnight takes a few humorous characters and pairs them against a headstrong couple who are certain that once the emergency situation is over, they can go on their merry way. It's a battle of the cupids in this book and one that was never too deep. It was a charming, fun read that left me in an uplifted mood. It's not a long book, which makes it ideal for post-shopping expeditions and between cooking tasks and household chores.

The romance from Gerri Russell is enjoyable, the characters are memorable, and the story flowed swiftly from beginning to end. I definitely enjoyed this lighthearted romantic tale.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Friday On My Mind by Nicci French

Setting: London, England
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Penguin Books
Release Date: October 4, 2016

A man's body is found in the Thames and he's wearing a bracelet bearing the name Dr. Klein. Inspectors head to the hospital and soon learn that Dr. Klein is a woman and that the body is that of Dr. Frieda Klein's ex-boyfriend. Not only is her ex dead, but she's convinced it's the work of a serial killer whose been targeting her. The problem is that records show the serial killer's dead.

As the police's prime suspect, Frieda hits the roads. She's determined to uncover the truth and save herself from being charged with a crime she did not commit.

This is the first of the Frieda Klein mysteries that I've read. I honestly was never that drawn into the story and ended up wondering if I really should have read the prior books in order to find myself drawn to any of the characters. I didn't really like Frieda and definitely was never passionate about the detective. As I couldn't enjoy the characters, I found it a struggle to read the book.

As I reached the end, once again, I felt that sense of disappointment. I don't want to give a spoiler, but it did seem that I should be excited by the next book, and I lacked that excitement. I've read two other Nicci French novels (Losing You and Beneath the Skin) and loved them, so I was kind of surprised to find myself unimpressed.

Given that, I suggest if you're new to the series as I was, maybe we need to start with the first book in the series. I just never felt that Friday On My Mind clicked with me.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Second First Time by Elise Lorello

Setting: U.S.
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: November 15, 2016

Sage Merriweather and Jonathan Moss, both novelists, never expected to fall head over heels for one another, especially not when they'd barely even met. They may share a publisher and a chance meeting, but their attempt at a relationship seemed to be doomed.

A year later, Sage learns her long-absent father's dead. His new wife opted not to even tell his daughters until days later and her invitation to his memorial is an email rather than anything remotely personal. Reeling from this news, Sage breaks down and contacts Jonathan for the first time in a year. She never expects him to suggest they take the trip they always talked about, and she's equally shocked to find herself agreeing, albeit with a few specific terms added in.

Soon, Sage is on the road heading from Arizona to Washington with Jonathan. It's a trip that has Sage questioning if she's truly made the right decisions during her lifetime, especially where love is concerned.

The Second First Time is a bit unique in that the main characters are older and definitely have their flaws. Both Jonathan and Sage are middle aged and I'll even say slightly immature for the age they are. I get their past disappointments weighed heavily, but given that they were supposed to be around my age, they made choices I couldn't dream of myself or any of my friends making at this age.

I think my lack of interest in the characters ended up shaping my disappointment in the book. I wanted more at some parts. There were other times I wanted them to stop repeating and rehashing things and just get on with it and wake up. In the end, I liked the book, but I never loved it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

In the Blue Hour by Elizabeth Hall

Setting: New Mexico
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: November 1, 2016

After a horrifying dream in which she sees her car slide on ice and go over a cliff, Elise Brooks is disheartened when her husband dies in that exact manner. Since Michael's death, Elise struggles to continue living. After seeing a raven hanging around their mountain home, she becomes convinced Michael is trying to get a message to her from the other side.

In addition to the Native American lessons she's been taught, Elise turns to a local psychic for guidance. There, she becomes part of a group who all have suffered a loss. It's through this group that she meets Tom Dugan, a mystery man who ends up becoming very important when she finds a business card in her husband's jacket. Not knowing why he had this mystery address, she asks Tom to drive her across the country to see what this mysterious address will reveal.

In the Blue Hour was okay, but I think that ended up being my issue. It was simply okay. I never grew attached to the characters, which the possible exception of Elise's friend Monica. Monica was a spitfire and a character I wouldn't mind seeing again. I never found myself totally enamored with Tom and Elise was okay but nothing more than that.

Another issue I had was that the story dragged at times. I struggled with the first part, and by the time I got to the road trip, it picked up, but I was already a little let down and had to push myself to give the novel another chance. It clearly does have its moments, but for me, it simply wasn't a favorite.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Home for Winter by Rebecca Boxall

Setting: England
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: October 18, 2016

Twins Luna and Serena may be identical, but their personalities are nothing alike. Serena grows up knowing that her sister has a very dark side. It's Luna's dark side that ends up driving the sisters apart. Serena doesn't believe she'll ever be able to forgive her sister for the betrayal. That's not the first betrayal Luna pulls, however, and it's this second act that leads to Serena moving far away.

After moving to East Sussex with her significant other, Serena hopes for a fresh start. In the vicarage, Will gets to work within the community while Serena prepares to update the house's interior design. Eventually, they end up with a motley crew who are all seeking a new start after troublesome pasts. Serena hopes she finally can get out from under her sister's shadow, but Luna's not done yet.

In Home for Winter, I have to say I was really kind of bothered by the parents. If I had a child like Luna, I would have had her in therapy long, long ago. I had a hard time respecting them for that reason. I felt for Serena. This woman deserved better cards than she was dealt when it came to family. My dislike of Luna and their parents made the story tough to read at times.

The story also has a touch of a mystery involving an alleged curse on the vicarage. The outcome to this is kind of a letdown, but the story is really more about Serena, so I was able to overlook my issues with that. In the end, this is an enjoyable story that I read in one sitting with ease.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Lost Ones by Ben Cheetham

Setting: Harwood Forest, England
Genre: Mystery/Suspense
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Release Date: October 25, 2016

Nine-year-old Erin Jackson vanishes while out walking the trails in Harwood Forest. There's no trace of the young girl, except for a bloody rock that may or may not be related to the case. For her parents, it's the worst possible nightmare. Erin's father is in the middle of a project that environmentalists protest, so they may have taken the girl to stop the development. There's also the chance that the girl fell, hit her head, and is simply lost in the expansive wooded area.

Erin's older brother has his own thoughts. Decades ago, the Inghams were found slaughtered in their home. Only their daughters survived. Jake's convinced the past murders are related to his sister's disappearance, and he sets out to uncover the truth.

The Lost Ones had the potential to be a gripping mystery. I ended up having mixed feelings. First, I wondered how on earth a teenage boy was able to find significant clues that police for decades missed. That seemed a little unusual to me. I also had a hard time believing that after sneaking out once, then twice, that his parents were still not watching his every move. As a parent, it would take just once and then I'd be insisting my teen stay in the same room as me and not get time alone.

The final outcome also bugged me, but I won't go into that as I don't want to reveal any spoilers. It did take me by surprise a bit, in regards to one big revelation. I really didn't like how that part played out.

Overall, the setting was well portrayed and drew me in, but I never really liked the characters enough to have this become a favorite story. It was okay, but some parts were predictable, some just seemed too much of a stretch, and that made it a little hard for me to take.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Fat Fridays by Judith Keim

Setting: Georgia
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: November 8, 2016

Coming home to find her husband in bed with her Pilates instructor, Sukie retreats into her own form of seclusion. She knows the townspeople in her town talk about her. It's her neighbor and friend who pulls her out of her shell and has her join the Fat Fridays group, a group of women who meet once a week, order whatever they want at the restaurant, and enjoy the chance to vent. Sukie quickly bonds with the women and starts taking steps to move on with her life.

Fat Fridays is the first book in a series. I'm glad it will be a series, as I'm dying to see how things turn out with other members of the group. It's a charming tale filled with plenty of happy moments and a few emotional revelations.

There were times that it seemed certain topics were picked out as a social message. The story has many situations where abuse becomes prevalent, be it verbal or physical abuse. Other issues appear, such as it being socially acceptable for a man to be with a younger woman, while it's not okay for an older woman to hook up with a younger man. Much of the reactions and progressions in the story became predictable to me. I certainly guessed the outcome long before the final page. That's the one issue I had with the book, yet I'm still interested to see where things go from here.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Who We Were Before by Leah Mercer

Setting: Paris
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: October 1, 2016

Two years ago, Zoe couldn't save her son. Her husband's words to her in the hospital have always burned to her core. She should have held harder to her son's hand or run faster to get him out of the road. Anything but live with the pain she's endured since her toddler died.

Zoe's marriage is on the rocks. In one last ditch effort to save their marriage, she and her husband Edward set off to Paris to try to reconnect. There, Zoe's wallet and cell phone are stolen by a pickpocket while her husband goes off to get their baggage. Lost in Paris with no way to contact Edward, Zoe finally has time to reflect on the events and where she wants to go from here.

Much of the discord between Zoe and Edward are based on the secrets they've kept. As the secrets were revealed, I honestly questioned if it was even worth them trying to save their relationship. Some of the secrets were just too much for me. Things that I cannot dream of keeping from my husband, even after the loss of a child. I admit I don't understand Zoe's grief, but I did lose a child in the fourth month of pregnancy, so I have a little bit of an idea.

While the secrets did keep me from liking either character, I found the real winner in this book was the setting. Paris came to life. Richly detailed snippets of the hotel staff, the stores they entered, the streets they wandered. That was so beautifully portrayed and ended up being the reason I kept reading.

Who We Were Before wasn't exactly my  proverbial cup of tea, but it's a book I can see some really enjoying. Give it a chance and see if you agree.

Monday, November 7, 2016

His Kidnapper's Shoes by Maggie James

Setting: England
Genre: Psychological Suspense
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: November 15, 2016

His Kidnapper's Shoes wasn't an easy read. Gripping sure but never easy. My issue is that I could sympathize with both sides and that made it really tough.

It all starts with an arrest. Laura Bateman will not tell police a thing. She is determined to remain silent until her son understands everything. Daniel Bateman is shocked to learn his mother's been hiding a major secret for more than two decades. It's not a secret he's sure he'll ever understand or forgive her for.

The story progresses from there, switching back in forth in time, setting up the truth about Laura and Daniel's relationship and the circumstances that brought them to where they are.

As mentioned early, this wasn't an easy read for me. As Laura's story plays out, I could see why she did what she did. I almost felt for her. As a parent, however, I also know those same actions tore many people's lives apart. That's where I had a hard time connecting with her character.

That aside, the story moves at a decent pace and does keep you involved in the plot. Mainly, I wanted to see Daniel's reactions as secrets were revealed. From his viewpoint, this had to have been a major upheaval, and I enjoyed seeing how honestly it played out.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Finding Heather by Alison Ragsdale

Setting: Isle of Skye
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: October 11, 2016

Following her husband's unexpected death, Heather Forester is faced with the struggle of raising twins by herself. She's an ocean away from her family, which makes it even harder. After a difficult decision, Heather calls her mom and says she's moving back home to Scotland.

Heather's mom is delighted to have her grandchildren close, but she also worries that she'll become attached only to have Heather realize the U.S. is where the kids belong. Heather's brother simply is thrilled to have his sister coming back home.

As Heather struggles to find herself again, the family begins building a strong bond. When the chips are down, is family enough to get through tough situations?

Finding Heather is a touching fictional story regarding regaining your footing through the stages of grief. The setting is vivid and made me want to visit. Virtually all of the characters in this book are Heather's mother, brother, seven-year-old twins, and her brother's best friend. There's very little interaction with anyone else, so you get to know characters on a more intimate scale than some books.

My only complaint is that the book ended. I wasn't ready to leave Skye and the relationships that were just starting to take root and grow. I wouldn't mind seeing Alison Ragsdale return readers to Skye to catch up with Heather, her family, and maybe more members of the community.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Abandon by Blake Crouch

Setting: Colorado
Genre: Historical Mystery, Suspense/Thriller
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Release Date: September 2015

It's 1893 and every inhabitant of a small mining town disappears on Christmas Day. There are no bodies. Fully prepared meals sat untouched on dining room tables. In a matter of hours, a bustling mining town became a ghost town.

Decades later, two paranormal photographers form part of the crew that's heading into the desolate area where this ghost town is found. Their goal is to photograph the ghost town. It's a risky venture as another crew tried it and was never heard from again.

For Abigail, the expedition is a chance to spend time with her absentee father. Little does she know that she may never get out of this ghost town alive.

From the blurb I read, I got the distinct feeling Abandon was going to be a horror story. It's not. It's a mystery with suspense/thriller leanings. The story switches back and forth between present day and the 1800s. The switches back and forth are made very clear, so there's no reason to worry that you'll get lost.

I have to say that while I first thought a horror story was about to unfold, once the modern day crew made it to the old gold mine town, I pegged a lot of what was about to happen. It didn't seem shocking as events unfolded. Therefore, I ended up feeling a little letdown. It's a good story, but not one that ever had me on the edge of my seat.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Worth the Risk by Jamie Beck

Setting: Winhall, Vermont
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Release Date: November 1, 2016

As I'm from Vermont, I enjoy finding books set in my home state. Worth the Risk tackles the romance between a single mom and a recovering alcoholic. Jackson St. James is in Winhall for some R&R. His alcoholism, court troubles, and break-up have been a little too much to handle. Renting an apartment from Gabby Bouchard and her father may not be exactly what he needs, but he can't help but become attached to Gabby and her three-year-old son.

Gabby's been a single mom for long enough to know that her son needs a man in her life. Jackson's temporary presence is the last thing she really needs, even if she can't help but fall for him. It doesn't help that Jackson's presence is also bringing out the territorial side of her son's father.

Gabby and Jackson clearly have an attraction to one another. Is a temporary fling really want they need at this point in their lives?

There were aspects I loved about Worth the Risk and a few I really didn't. Gabby's ex bugged me from the start, as did her absentee mother. There was enough conflict between Jackson's past and Gabby's hesitancy towards addicts that I don't really think the additional issues were all that necessary. Add in Jackson's issues with his family, business, and former girlfriend and the conflict started to overpower the potential romance.

When Gabby and Jackson did decide to give it a chance, their romance started to take center stage and truly warmed my heart. I couldn't wait to see how it would play out.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The British Table: A New Look at the Traditional Cooking of England, Scotland, and Wales by Coleman Andrews

Genre: Cookbook
Publisher: Abrams
Release Date: November 8, 2016

My Mom's English, so I've grown up eating many British dishes. For breakfast, Mom made us Eggs and Soldiers. Getting hold of real bangers in Vermont was challenging, so we'd have bacon with thick slices of toast fried in some of the bacon fat and served with over-easy eggs. In The British Table, Coleman Andrews takes a new look at many of the classic dishes in England, Scotland, and Wales. Many are favorites from my childhood, while others are simply dishes I know of but never bothered to try or never had an interest in.

The cookbook is divided into sections. You have breakfasts, seafood, poultry/rabbit, meats, veggies, sauces, desserts, drinks, crusts, tea items, etc.  Among the many recipes, these really stood out as childhood favorites.

  • Monkfish Curry
  • Mince and Tatties
  • Toad in the Hole
  • Mushy Peas
  • Sticky Toffee Pudding
  • Welsh Rarebit

I have to thank the author for some recipes that go back to the classic way foods were prepared. My grandfather was a North Sea fisherman. He always taught us that to make a proper fish and chip batter, you just needed flour and beer. So many recipes today add egg whites, eggs, or other unnecessary ingredients. Flour and beer are really all you need for a light, flavorful beer batter.

The photography in The British Table is outstanding. Kudos to Christopher Hirsheimer for the photos that capture the prepared recipes, the ingredients, and Britain's scenery.

With more than 150 recipes, dozens of color photos and classic images/posters, and plenty of historic backstories to go along with the recipes, this really is a must-have for your kitchen.

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