Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Lock the Door by Jane Holland

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Rejected Writers Take the Stage by Suzanne Kelman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Allie and Bea: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 22, 2017

Any Time, Any Place by Jennifer Probst

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 21, 2017

No One But You by Brenda Novak

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Original Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 13, 2017

In This Moment by Karma Brown

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 8, 2017

Any Day Now by Robyn Carr

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Pete With No Pants by Rowboat Watkins

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 1, 2017

Just a Normal Tuesday by Kim Turrisi

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Can Go Your Own Way by Eric Smith

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