Tuesday, June 26, 2018

All That's Left of Me by Janis Thomas

Release Date - June 12, 2018

If you knew that your wish would come true, what would you wish for? Emma Davies is tired. Caring for a son with cerebral palsy is already tiring, but a full-time job on top of it is hard to take. Her husband is working on his book, so his income is minimal. It's her job that keeps them afloat. The last thing she needs is to hear her neighbor's dog bark at all hours. She wishes the dog away and is stunned to find the dog missing the next day.

Soon, Emma realizes anything she wishes for will come true. She can wish away her daughter's obnoxious boyfriend. She can wish away her boss, a man whose picture should be paired with the definition of sexual harassment, and anything else she wants.

Emma may have the power to change her life, but those changes may come at a cost. As she continues making changes, what is she giving up?

How many times have you thought it would be nice to make all your troubles go away? That's the heart of All That's Left of Me. I wasn't sure what I'd think at first. I loved the premise, but I was struggling with the characters.

The introduction to Emma's boss left me feeling so cold and disgusted. Part of me didn't like her wish in regards to him. I thought it was too easy. I feared the rest of the book would make me feel that it was just too easy. Thankfully, that never happened. As she made her choices, I often agreed and, like her, never thought of the effect that her wishes would have in the long run.

This isn't my usual read, but it was a very satisfying one. It's a great read for a lazy summer day when you just want to be taken away for a few hours.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

The Widow's Watcher by Eliza Maxwell

Release Date: May 29, 2018

After a tragedy rips her husband and children from her, Jenna Shaw is ready to join them. Leaving her dog with neighbors, Jenna sets off from Texas to find the perfect spot to end her life. She finds it at a rural Minnesota lake.

Lars Jorgensen has lived with tragedy and loss for decades. He's never had the resolution he desperately needs. When he spies a woman walking onto the frozen lake near his home, he is not about to let her do what he knows she intends. Much to her annoyance, he stops her. He's also forced to take her into his home when her car won't start.

Jenna wants nothing to do with Lars, but she has no choice. Lars' son has ordered the part needed to fix her car. In the meantime, Lars is the only person with space for a stranger. As she gets to know him, she realizes the gruff man has an incredible heart. He'll ask her for help in a way no one has, and it may be what Jenna needs to move past her grief and give life another try.

The Widow's Watcher frequently had me in tears. The pain that Lars and Jenna both feel is very present throughout the story. As they delve into the past and try to see a future, I was hooked. I felt compelled to read as quickly as possible. I wanted to see them both find the happiness they deserved.

Suicide is the opening theme, but it doesn't last. The story is more about hope, forgiveness, and determination. I loved it. It's no secret that I've come to trust in Lake Union for outstanding releases. This is no different. It was fantastic.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Little Big Love by Katy Regan

Release Date - June 12, 2018

Katy Regan's Little Big Love is part coming of age and part women's fiction. Obesity is one of the themes you'll run into. Bullying, family dysfunction, alcoholism, emotion binge-eating, and parenting in today's world are others. Starting with the setting, which I loved, this story takes place on the North Sea coast in England. The main city is just below Hull, so it's an area I have been to several times as I have family in Bridlington.

Zac Hutchinson is 10 and considered obese. He's reached an age where he really wants to know his father. Mostly, he wants his mother to be happy. One night after a bit of wine, she blurts out that the only man she'll ever love was his father. Zac decides he's going to reunite them, even if his father's name seems to be forbidden.

While Zac and his best friend try to find where Liam is now, his mom and grandfather each take a look back in time to the events that led to Liam walking away. For Zac to find Liam, they'll all have to face painful events from the past. For Juliet, it involves the lies she's told Zac about his father. For Mick, it involves his role and the things none of his family knows.

Little Big Love is told from Zac, Juliet, and Mick's viewpoints. All of the secrets are revealed slowly and definitely impact each character. Everything did get settled, but there were aspects of the story that I feel were settled a little too easily.

Mostly, my heart broke for Zac. That poor kid. His bullies were deplorable little cretins. I was rooting for him the entire time, and I'm glad his coming-of-age story was treated to the ending that takes place. He had me in tears, but it was well worth it.

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.

The Road to Christmas: A Sweet Holiday Romance Novel by Sheila Roberts

Release Date - September 20, 2022  Sit down and explore the holiday season through four sets of eyes in Sheila Roberts' latest holiday...