Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Two Thrillers - Book Reviews

*Thanks to Berkley and Dutton publishers for providing two thrillers this week.


Gemma owns a real estate business and is a wife and mother. It's taken years of hard work to build her life and she's very happy. After a weekend away at a business conference, Gemma is receiving disturbing messages--pictures and videos that could destroy her family. She remembers drinking more than usual at dinner and visiting with a client but beyond that her memory is hazy or completely gone. On her own, Gemma must fight for her everything she loves.

The Girl I Used to Be by Mary Torjussen started building the suspense right away but it never really ramped up to an intense level that left me breathless. The plot is revealed too early and I had a hard time pushing myself to finish. I didn't particularly care for the characters. The ending is exciting but overall this wasn't as gripping and frantic as I like my psychological thrillers.

The Girl I Used to Be by Mary Torjussen is published by Berkley and released April 24, 2018.



Detective Chief Superintendent Frankie Sheehan has just gotten back on duty after a frightening brush with a killer, when she is assigned to a suicide. The woman has hanged herself but something doesn't feel right and evidence from the autopsy, shows that Eleanor Costello has been murdered. The most like suspect, Eleanor's husband is missing. Then a girl from Frankie's hometown is murdered and there are connections to the Costello case. Frankie is willing to take all the risks to solve this case before someone else is killed.

Too Close to Breathe by Olivia Kiernan kept me up late into the night reading each frantic page as Frankie Sheehan chased down the killer. Every now and then I love a thrilling police procedural and Too Close to Breathe delivered the intensity I desired. There are plenty of twists and turns as the police uncover evidence that leads them closer to the killer and his disturbed group on the Dark Web. Not only is this fast paced and riveting, but the characters are well crafted. Frankie is smart and determined but also vulnerable and troubled. This is Kiernan's first novel and I hope it won't be her last.

Too Close to Breathe by Olivia Kiernan is published by Dutton and released on April 3, 2018.

**I received complimentary copies of the books. The reviews reflect my honest opinions. No compensation was received.*

Monday, April 16, 2018

Go Ask Fannie - Book Review


Thanks for the free book, Putnam!

The Blairs should be renamed the Bickersons. Even after they've grown up and moved away from each other, Ruth, George and Lizzie cannot stop fighting with each other. Their father, Murray, has requested that they all spend a weekend together at his New Hampshire farm and they're already at each other's throats. It's going to be a long weekend. Murray wants his older to kids to help dissuade Lizzie from dating her much older and married boyfriend. Ruth wants to convince her father to moving into a rest home. They all have a different agenda but they are united in their anger when Lizzie's boorish boyfriend ruins their mother's cookbook--the cookbook with all her written notes. It is their prized possession.

This family of four used to be a family of six. The death of their mother and brother Daniel years earlier rocked this family's core. The pain and heartbreak of that loss still lingers and effects each one of the Blairs. Perhaps this weekend, the kids can finally come to know their mother's story.

Go Ask Fannie by Elisabeth Hyde is an inviting and engaging family drama. I love the cover. After a few dark reads, this cover called to me. I loved the setting of New Hampshire since it brought back memories of our time living in the Granite State. The characters are strong and flawed and changed from the trauma of their mother's death. Even now, they are influenced by the loss of their mother in the individual choices that they make. The siblings' constant picking at each other did become tiresome. Ultimately, I found the sections focused on Lillian, the mother, the strongest and most captivating.

Hyde is a strong writer with an easy style that flows. She's serious. She's light and humorous. She captures the mundane and the delightful aspects of a family that is real and absolutely believable. It's easy to just keep turning the pages.

Go Ask Fannie by Elisabeth Hyde is published by Putnam and released on April 10, 2018.

**I received a complimentary copy of the book. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**




Friday, April 13, 2018

Books, Books and More Great Books


I listened to two audio books in the last week and a half. Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan and The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck were both excellent books and I talked about them constantly with my family. I would highly recommend both books.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan is based on the true story of Pino Lella. A bright teenager in Italy who loves to ski and hang out with his friends, he wants nothing to do with the Nazi who occupy his country. He's a trustworthy kid and soon he's enlisted to help the resistance. He will give up nearly all that he loves to fight against the Nazis. It's a moving and powerful book. There are a few issues with the writing style in the beginning but the books improves as it goes a long and it is definitely a valuable story from the Italian front of World War II.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan was published by Lake Union in May 2017.

I knew absolutely nothing about The Women in the Castle before I started listening to it. I honestly thought it was a ghost story or a thriller. I was pleased to discover that it is historical fiction regarding three widows who live together in a Bavarian castle following World War II. Marianne von Lingenfels is the wife of a resister. Her husband and her closest friend were executed for their roles in an assassination attempt on Hitler. After the war, Marianne sets to find a rescue her friend's wife and son and the wives of the other men involved in the failed plot. Marianne, Benita and Ania and their children make their home in Marianne's castle while Germany tries to recover from the war.

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck is so emotional and so amazing. As it discusses morality, guilt, love and redemption, it is a powerful novel that I will not soon forget. The audio version was fabulous. Cassandra Campbell delivered a wonderful performance that gave the book the right atmosphere.

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck was published by William Morrow in January 2018.


Why Kill the Innocent by C.S. Harris is the newest mystery in the Sebastian St. Cyr series. I jumped into this without reading any of the previous novels. It was fine as a stand-alone. There's a lot of intrigue and twists in the story. Any number of individuals may have killed Jane Ambrose, the musician and piano teacher to the young Princess Charlotte. My favorite part was learning more of the history of Princess Charlotte and her intense parents--the Prince Regent and his despised wife Princess Caroline.

It's always a chance to read a book late in a series and not surprisingly I missed out on much of the characterization of the St. Cyr and his wife Hero that surely has happened in previous books. However, the mystery was fun and well plotted and learning more of the history was worth it.

Why Kill the Innocent by C.S. Harris is published by Berkley Publishing and released on April 3, 2018.

**I received a complimentary copy of the book. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**




Yesterday, I drove up to the Salt Lake Public Library for the semi annual used book sale. It's like Christmas for me. I went with a list of books that I wanted to buy (mostly books I listened to on audio or read on my kindle and loved enough to buy hard copies) and I only found one book from my list. However, I found lots of other books to enjoy. Now that I'm looking closely at the stack, I may actually own at least one of these books already. The book sale continues through this weekend.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Peculiar Savage Beauty - GIVEAWAY!



Peculiar Savage Beauty is the story of a headstrong and fiercely independent young woman who charges into the heart of the wind- and drought-ravaged Great Plains in the 1930s, intent on battling the dust and healing the land. As a geologist working for the U.S. government, Rosa Jean “RJ” Evans must find her place in a small farming town that welcomes neither a woman in authority nor changes to their way of life. Inspired by actual historical events during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl environmental disaster, Peculiar Savage Beauty is a parable about man’s quest to dominate the land and nature’s refusal to be conquered, about unlikely alliances and unexpected love. The novel will be available in hardback and e-book on April 17, 2018 wherever books are sold.  

Jessica McCann worked for more than 25 years as a professional freelance journalist and corporate writer. Her articles have appeared in Business WeekThe WriterRaising Arizona KidsPhoenix and dozens of other magazines. McCann’s debut novel, All Different Kinds of Free, won the Freedom in Fiction Prize and was published by Bell Bridge Books. Her second novel, Peculiar Savage Beauty, will be available in hardcopy and ebook April 17, 2018. She lives with her family in Phoenix, Arizona.


I am hosting a give away of a copy of Peculiar Savage Beauty by Jessica McCann on my Instagram account. Be sure to enter there to win a copy of this exciting historical fiction novel set during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. The book releases on April 17, 2018 and is published by Perspective Books.


Connect with Jessica online at:



Monday, April 2, 2018

Girls Burn Brighter - Book Review


Poornima's father hires Savitha to weave cloth to make saris and the two girls become dear friends. Even though they brighten each other's dark days, life is not easy for the girls. They are poor and they are girls in a society that does not value them as individuals. Poornima has long grown up knowing that her father wished she had been a boy or that she had drowned as a child. Circumstances beyond their control have separated and broken the girls but Poornima is determined to find her friend.

It took me weeks to read Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao. I found myself reading a few chapters at a time and then setting it aside to read something else. I finally finished it and have been contemplating how I feel about it ever since. I've read many books that take place in India. I've read many books about girls in unfortunate situations in other countries and even in the US. I've read many books about the horrific sex trade. They are hard books to read and similarly, Girls Burn Brighter was a difficult read. We read these kinds of books to be enlightened. Hopefully, this enlightenment inspires us to fight for changes, to understand others and at the very least be aware of our own privilege. But at the heart of every novel, we want and crave a glimmer of hope for these girls. As readers we need to feel like their lives can somehow improve and that there is a way out of the suffering and pain.

The characters in Girls Burn Brighter are sympathetic and easy to care about. They are fighters. In spite of being in situations with little choice and freedom, Poornima and Savitha have a fire to find something better. Poornima's greatest desire is to find Savitha. She will travel to America to find her.  Unfortunately, Poornima was not in a position to actually free either of them if they found each other. She didn't have a plan beyond reuniting with her friend and in not truly considering whether this was a good idea, may have actually enslaved Savitha longer. I needed more than just their reunion. I really wanted them to succeed and escape from their captive lives. This hope kept me reading. The ending was so disappointing. Happy or sad, I'm almost always satisfied with the ending if it matches the theme and plot. But, I read the last eighteen pages of the book three times to see if I was missing any clues. It was vague. It was incomplete. It left me feeling frustrated and overly dissatisfied with the novel. Perhaps that was the point.

I definitely won't soon forget Girls Burn Brighter.

Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao is published by Flatiron Books and was released on March 6, 2018.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Broken Girls - Book Review



Thank you to Berkley for providing a free copy of The Broken Girls.

Twenty years ago, Fiona's sister was found dead on the grounds of the abandoned girls school and Fiona has never been sure that the right person went to jail for the murder. Now, journalist Fiona is writing about the restoration of Idlewild Hall and she's on site when the body of another girl is found in the well. Fiona's story is now about much more than the restoration of a few old spooky buildings as she searches for the girl's identity, history and killer. Perhaps as she investigates, she will also find what really happened to her sister.

In 1950, four misfit girls at Idlewild Hall were put together as roommates. They've heard the rumors that the school is haunted but become more convinced as they each have experiences to confirm the presence of a ghost. They resolve to protect one another until the day one of the girls disappears.

It was fun to read another ghost story so soon. I read The Broken Girls by Simone St. James late a night after the house was quiet and the kids had gone to bed. The blend of an eerie ghost story with a contemporary crime drama was one that really did appeal at the end of the day and I felt like it worked well in this novel. St. James pulls the reader right in with freaky prologue. The setting of Idlewild Hall draws on the very unsettling nature of boarding schools and their long established function in literature as a scary place. Make that boarding school abandoned, and it's that much more spooky. St. James uses the setting and the haunting to keep her characters and the reader off balance and it works well.

The Broken Girls goes back and forth between Fiona's investigation and the girls at Idlewild. It does so seamlessly and keeps the plot lines going at a steady and dramatic pace. There is a constant threat of looming danger and it is successful for a thriller. I really enjoyed The Broken Girls. It's a quick read that I didn't want to put down once I started.

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James is published by Berkley and released on March 20, 2018.


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Let Me Lie - Book Review



Though he had shown no signs of depression, Clare's father jumped to his death at Beachy Head. Seven months later, overwhelmed with grief, Clare's mother copied his suicide to a T and jumped from the same point. Now, a year later Clare is struggling to understand how her parents would choose to leave her in such a traumatic way. It doesn't feel right so when a Happy Anniversary card arrives through the mail slot on the first anniversary of her mother's death with only the cryptic message "Suicide? Think Again." Clare becomes convinced that her parents were murdered. She takes the card to the police where she meets Murray, a retired detective who works the desk as a civilian now. Murray is sure the detectives won't give the card much consideration but is moved with compassion toward Clare and decides to look into the case of the double suicides himself.

It becomes clear that someone doesn't want Clare looking into the suicides. It's too dangerous. Though she loved them dearly, Clare had no idea the secrets her parents were keeping.

Let Me Lie by Clare Mackintosh is a thriller that kept me up late at night. It's one of those books where I would tell Rand "just let me finish this chapter" but then I couldn't help but start the next one and soon he was snoring. Mackintosh keeps the action flowing while creating intriguing characters. She's skilled at throwing suspicion on everyone and throwing plot twists just at the moment I thought I'd figured it out. It's ominous and scary without being gruesome or horrific.

Mackintosh combines her experience on the police force with her skills as a storyteller to create a gripping thriller that is actually plausible. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Let Me Lie by Clare Mackintosh is published by Berkley Books and released March 13, 2018.

**I received a complimentary copy. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Silent Companions - Book Review



Elsie's new husband went ahead to prepare his neglected family estate for her arrival. He wanted it to be perfect for her and their expected baby. But Rupert died suddenly and now Elsie and Rupert's cousin Sarah must travel to the estate for the funeral instead of the grand welcome. The house is crumbling and there are disturbing noises coming from the locked garret. When they finally get into the garret to try to clean out the rodents surely making a nest, Elsie and Sarah discover a painted wooden figure, so life-like it gave them a fright. Sarah also finds a diary that belonged to an ancestor. Sure, that the wooden figure is also representing an ancestor, Sarah insists on moving it out of the garret.

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell is reminiscent of the ghostly gothic novels that I adore. There's just nothing more creepy than a dilapidated and isolated estate with an unfriendly staff and a nervous community that whispers the rumors of hauntings and death. Purcell works in all the elements in this homage to the period. While it's not flawless in delivery, I found it to be spooky fun. It maybe crosses the line into just plain creepy by the end but I couldn't stop reading late into the night.

If you love a sinister, ghost story, The Silent Companions will hit the spot. Stoke up the fire, stay clear of the deer head mounted on the wall and curl up with this eerie novel.

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell is published by Penguin Books and released March 6, 2018.

**I received a complimentary copy of the book. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**


Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Winter Sisters - Book Review




Signs of spring are in the air and the people of Albany, New York are caught completely by surprise when a blizzard descends on the East Coast. Four feet of snow fell in Albany and nearly 400 people along the North East Coast were killed by the storm, including Bonnie and David O'Donnell. Three days later when the snow stopped falling, the teachers at the local school sent the hungry and nearly poisoned children home. Emma and Claire O'Donnell, ten and seven years old, struggle in the snow to find their way home and are lost.

Dr. Mary Sutter Stipps thinks of Bonnie O'Donnell as a sister and is devastated by her death. She and her family are determined to find the missing girls though she will have to wade through the ugly underbelly of her town. The perverse truth slowly unfolds through the pages of the compelling novel.

Winter Sisters by Robin Oliveira begins with the excitement and terror of the big storm. It gets bogged down for a bit as it reintroduces the reader to characters from Oliveira's novel My Name is Mary Sutter. It is, however, not necessary to read the earlier novel in order to enjoy Winter Sisters (I didn't read the first). Eventually, the novel settles into a steady pace as it focuses on the missing girls and the Stipps family's search to find them.

Winter Sisters is a thriller and a mystery but set in 1879, it takes a less frenetic pace than many contemporary thrillers. There is time to be more thoughtful and considerate; time to examine aspects of the culture that are still pervasive today. It took me a little while to really feel the novel and connect with the characters, but once I did, I was spellbound by the mystery and Mary's desire and mission to not only solve it but to save the girls--physically and mentally.

Winter Sisters by Robin Oliveira is published by Viking and released February 27, 2018.

**I received a complimentary copy of the book. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The French Girl - Book Review



Kate is working hard to land a big client that will give her new business the boost it needs to remain solvent and attract more business, when she gets a call from Tom that sends her back ten years. Ten years earlier, Kate and her friend Lara accompanied her boyfriend Seb and three of his friends on a lazy, idyllic vacation to a French Farmhouse.

"They found her. Her body." Tom says when he calls. Severine. The French girl who lived next door to the farmhouse. Who spent the week hanging out with them around the pool. Who disappeared at the end of the weekend. But she had been seen getting on the bus to Paris. The police had questioned the six vacationers back then. They knew nothing. Now, her bones have been found in the well at the farmhouse. Severine never left. And they are the suspects.

As the friends regroup and are being questioned, Kate doesn't know who to believe. Does she really know any of her friends from that summer? As suspicion mounts against her, it could destroy her business and her future.

The French Girl by Lexie Elliott is a fun, suspenseful psychological thriller. I was thoroughly engaged and intrigued by Kate's plight as her memories shift and her relationships with her friends are questioned. Are they telling her the truth? Do they have her best interests in mind or are they setting her up? Kate is a great character. She's sympathetic but also untrustworthy as her memories are fluid. It's basically the perfect combination for a psychological thriller. There are a few times when Kate seems to repeat herself unnecessarily but overall the pace is good for a thriller.

The French Girl is a debut novel from Lexie Elliott. This is a solid, good novel with plenty of twists to keep the reader as on edge as Kate. I look forward to more thrillers from Elliott.

The French Girl by Lexie Elliott is published by Berkley and released February 20, 2018.

**I received a complimentary copy of The French Girl from the publisher. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Winter Reading - Book Reviews


I'm a little late to the Louise Penny party. Still Life is the first time I've read one of the mysteries from the prolific and beloved writer. Chief Inspector Gamache and his team make their debut in Still Life when they are assigned to investigate the suspicious death of an older woman in a quiet hamlet of Three Pines. It at first appears to be a hunting accident, but Gamache isn't so sure and soon it becomes clear that Jane Neal has been murdered.

Though this isn't my regular fare, I enjoyed Still Life. It's a lot slower paced than most of the mysteries and psychological thrillers that I usually read when I want a mystery. However, it was thoughtful and overall I liked it. I even marked a few things to talk about at our next book club meeting.

Still Life by Louise Penny was published by Minotaur Books in 2008. 



I started reading A Kind of Freedom by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton months ago and only got a few chapters in before other reading projects jumped in front. I was anxious to reduce the stack of books on my nightstand before it toppled over, so I picked it back up last week. Once I resumed reading it, I couldn't put it down.

A Kind of Freedom is short for a novel focusing on three generations of the same family, but I found it emotionally moving and impressive. There's a quiet anger that simmers just below the surface but actually has significant impact. Telling the story of three generations of African Americans in New Orleans, A Kind of Freedom is beautiful and powerful and heartbreaking. I really liked this book and couldn't stop telling Rand about it. It's an important story that speaks to a devastating truth that must be realized and changed.

A Kind of Freedom by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton is published by Counterpoint and released in August 2017.

**I received a complimentary copy of this book. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**




I had trouble with Good Neighbors by J.D. Serling right away. There was something distracting about the writing style. Perhaps it was all the exclamation points! I almost didn't finish reading it because I didn't like the characters or the writing. But it seemed an interesting premise so I persevered.

Nicole and her family moved to their house when their children were very small and quickly became friends with the other three families on the street who also had small children. They spend weekends together. Their children play to together. They have barbecues and holidays. They're supposed to be a close as family. But when Paige and Glenn adopt a little girl from Russia their friendships are tested. Paige withdraws and her interactions with the little girl are suspect. The neighbors don't know what to do. Can they sit by while their neighbor and friend appears to abuse a child?

I recently moved from a neighborhood where we became very close with our neighbors. Much of Good Neighbors rings true. When you live close together, it's easy to observe situations and jump to conclusions without knowing the whole truth. As the plot unfolds, it becomes clear that this situation is not very unlike a situation that happened in my own neighborhood. However, I hope we were better friends than the characters in this book.

Though haphazard and awkward, Good Neighbors addresses an important topic. The ending is too abrupt and it missed an opportunity to really educate. These neighbors meant well but they are really terrible friends.

Good Neighbors by J.D. Serling is published by Twelve and released on February 6, 2018.

**I received a complimentary copy of the novel. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**



I listened to the audio version of Island of The Lost : Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World by Joan Druett. I love true adventure narratives and this one was absolutely riveting and amazing. I kept my family constantly updated as Captain Thomas Musgrave and the men on his crew struggled for survival after being shipwrecked on the desolate Aukland Island, south of New Zealand. Their story of bravery, ingenuity, and determination to survive was incredible. I recommended it to my brother and I'll recommend it to anyone else who likes a great man vs. nature story.

Island of the Lost : Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World by Joan Druett is published by Algonquin books and released in 2007.



Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Back Talk - Book Review


I often find myself watching people--in the doctor's office waiting room, at the grocery store, as I drive around town. Now and then, I can't help wondering about their lives and what brought them to that particular moment. In that kindly voyeuristic way, Back Talk by Danielle Lazarin is a collection of short stories that feature women and girls. Marriage, friendship, motherhood and other family relationships are explored in thoughtful and compelling prose.

I enjoyed reading Back Talk but as I go through the stories again to write my review, I find that I'm struggling to find the right words to explain how I feel about it. I mentioned it to a friend who suggested that the book might just be that--an enjoyable read and nothing more. But I don't think so. It's desperately trying to be more.

Most of the women in the stories feel like they are just barely hanging on. They date. They care for their children. They visit their parents. No one is angry or vindictive or mean. They're all just quietly resigned to lost friendships and marriages breaking up and not finding the right partner. And it's very sad and lonely. A quiet resignation. And while I didn't exactly find myself within any of the stories, I recognized the emotion.

Anyway, I think what I'm trying to say is that I did and do like Back Talk by Danielle Lazarin. It's a meaningful collection of stories that remind us that we're all struggling. We're all trying to find love and understanding and a place to fit in this world. Perhaps if we remember that, we can all be a little more kind and thoughtful to those around us.

Back Talk by Danielle Lazarin is published by Penguin and released February 6, 2018.

**I received a complimentary copy. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**


Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Still Me - Book Review



Me Before You by Jojo Moyes is an unforgettable book. Whether you agreed with Will's choice or not, it forced the reader to think about topics through the experiences of sympathetic and human faces that made the reader ache and cry and feel. It harnessed the power of fiction to start a conversation that is important and turned Louisa Clark from just an eccentric character in a novel into a beloved character that we couldn't forget.

I wasn't sure Louisa Clark needed sequels. Initially, I was okay with just assuming that Louise would pick herself up and move on. It's what I liked about her--she was vulnerable but strong. But I couldn't resist After You and it was a given that I'd read Still Me. I'm still not fully convinced that the sequels are necessary. They lack the overall intensity of emotion of Me Before You. Ultimately, that's a good thing for Louisa. What the sequels do well is show how an emotionally fragile and broken girl can continue to live her life. It might not be easy and life may throw more curve balls but she can take it. She can continue to grow stronger and maybe even love again.

Turns out, Still Me was exactly the kind of book I needed last week. I needed a feel-good, hopeful novel with a character as adorable as Louisa. She doesn't always know the right thing to say. She's often unsure of herself. But she's kind and honest and trustworthy and all the things I would want in a friend. And that's what Louisa feels like now--a friend. Reading Still Me allowed me to root for my friend and so I loved it.

You can enter to win a free copy of Still Me on my Instagram Account @UtahMomsLife

Still Me by Jojo Moyes is published by Pamela Dorman Books and released on January 30, 2018.

**I received a complimentary copy. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Everything is Beautiful Here - Book Review


Lucia is a young, brilliant woman. She learns languages quickly and loves traveling the world. People are drawn to her fun and vibrant personality and she's stunningly beautiful. She's in college the first time she hears the voices. After a manic episode, her sister Miranda swoops in to make sure Lucia is well cared for. Overprotective and vigilant, Miranda cannot keep Lucia from her beautiful life and Lucia continues to love and live. But the episodes that leave Lucia out of control and uncertain what is real are increasing in frequency and Miranda struggles to convince her sister to keep taking the pills.

Everything Here is Beautiful is the debut novel from Mira T. Lee and it is stunning in it's quiet and tender reflections on family and mental illness. Lucia and Miranda are lovingly and gently portrayed in this novel that shows the human side of a misunderstood illness, while being a compelling novel that moved me to tears and laughter.

Lucia is at once spontaneous and witty. Her heart is huge and she loves fiercely. She lives a large and colorful life. In contrast, Miranda is careful, loyal and devoted. Their story is important and heartbreaking. Mira T. Lee writes a masterpiece.

Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee is published by Pamela Dorman Books and released on January 16, 2018.

**I received a complimentary copy of Everything Here is Beautiful. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A Treacherous Curse - Book Review


Deanna Raybourn introduced the world to Veronica Speedwell in A Curious Beginnings (read my review *here*). A scientist who travels around the world to study butterflies, Veronica finds herself mixed up in a mystery and with the brutish but daring Stoker. A Treacherous Curse is the third novel in the series and Veronica and Stoker are involved in yet another dangerous intrigue.

Stoker's ex-wife's husband has vanished along with a valuable diadem from the Egyptian archaeological dig where he was working as a photographer. Could it be just another example of the Egyptian curse that has plagued the entire dig? The archeologist's are determined to have the diadem returned before their exhibition and a nosy journalist is already implying that Stoker was involved in the disappearance of de Morgan. Veronica is determined to clear Stoker's name and solve the mystery.

I fell for the spunky and witty Veronica Speedwell in her first novel. I did buy the second copy but I didn't get the chance to read it before the third novel arrived. I think it is important to read the first one to get to know the characters before reading A Treacherous Curse but I didn't find it necessary to have read A Perilous Undertaking (I do plan to read it soon). Veronica and her partner Stoker are definitely the best part of these mysteries. Raybourn creates characters that are delightful and fun. The chemistry between the two is palpable yet leaves the reader hungry for more.

The plot moves along at a steady pace though there are extensive interviews with people who were actually at the dig in Egypt. But Veronica and Stoker have several near scrapes as they discover that their own lives are in danger. The mystery keeps the reader guessing while extorting the occasional chuckle from Veronica's jocular observations and responses.

A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn is a wonderful addition to the Veronica Speedwell mysteries. I'm definitely a fan.

A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn is published by Berkley and released on January 16, 2018. 

**I received a complimentary copy of the book. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**


Monday, December 18, 2017

2017 : The Year of Audio Books


I could rightfully refer to 2017 by a lot of different names--not all very complimentary. But for my purposes here I will dub it the Year of the Audio Books. I recently became a huge fan of listening to audio books. They saved my sanity as I did way more than usual driving alone and then spent hours alone. I like to have something on in the background as I work and I discovered that audio books have become the perfect companion. Listening to audio books also gave me the opportunity to read books that I missed when they came out or that have been on my list for years. I've starred a few of the books that were my favorite.



***** I missed reading Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng when it came out but I didn't miss all the rave reviews and so I immediately added it to my to-read list. It was great on audio. The narrator captured the pain and anguish the family felt when their beloved daughter goes missing. It's a meaningful novel about how little we often understand about the people we love the most.

It's on all the lists of "Books You Should Read" and so when it was offered as an Audible Daily Deal, I bought it and listened to Brave New World. I'm glad I finally became acquainted with the story but I must admit it wasn't necessarily my favorite.


Ever since Devil in the White City, I'm going to get my hands on and read everything Erik Larson writes. I read a horribly boring book about Lusitania a few years ago and I was anxious to get a better take on the tragedy. Erik Larson delivered with  Dead Wake. He focuses on the events and people on Lusiania but also the history and psychology of the German men in the UBoat.


I was never going to read Go Set A Watchman after following all the controversy surrounding it's publication. However, I very much enjoyed Reese Witherspoon's narration and found myself appreciating a different view of Scout and the others in Maycomb, Alabama.


***** I listened to The Lake House by Kate Morton while I did the final cleaning of my former house. Rand was at work. The kids were in school. The house was essentially empty and The Lake House kept me company. Kate Morton's atmospheric and long mysteries are some of my favorites and I was delighted to find that I enjoyed listening to them as much.


***** Lisa See is another favorite author and I was enraptured from the very first paragraph of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane. I very much enjoyed learning more about the Akha in the remote Yunnan village. The novel is thrilling and sentimental as a mother and daughter search for each other across continents and cultures.


Almost two years ago, I bought a physical copy of Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow but Rand wanted to read it with me. After reading the first chapter aloud on a road trip, I bought the audio version. We listened to six hours on that trip and then we put it aside. We never had time for both of us to listen. Finally this year, I finished it by myself and filled Rand in on the highlights. My kids and I are huge fans of the musical and the kids wanted to know what parts were "true" and what was made up. I could finally answer all their questions.


Faithful Jane Eyre enthusiasts might not love the liberties Curtis Sittenfeld takes with the beloved classic Pride and Prejudice but I rather enjoyed her modern adaptation. Filled with spunky characters, humorous entanglements and some surprises, Eligible was an enjoyable update.


The coolest thing about Girl is Disguise is that it is based on a true story of the first lady Pinkerton detective. Sometimes, it seems more like a biography than a story but I really enjoyed learning more about the fascinating life of Kate Warne from author Greer Macallister.


***** I love Kate Morton mysteries. They lend themselves well to audio too and even though they're long, they're just so good. I listened to The Secret Keeper this summer while on a long road trip with just me and my kids. I just couldn't do a "kid" book and stay awake as the sole driver. My fourteen year old daughter loved it. It's clean enough that I didn't really have to worry the kids would be exposed to anything.


Amy. Amy. Amy. I'm a fan of Amy Tan. But The Valley of Amazement missed it big. Maybe it was that the audio made it even more stark, but the sex details were way too much.


***** The Stand was my first real experience with Stephen King's books (I've seen several of the movies based on his books). The audio version was 48 hours long. I was completely entertained and freaked out by the entire novel. King is brilliant.


I was totally immersed in the characters of Kavalier and Clay and their foray into comic books. The character development is fabulous. It kind of got slow for awhile in the middle and I may have fallen asleep a time or two, but overall I really liked this book.


***** The narrator's accent added so much to the bleak Icelandic atmosphere and desolation of Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. I really loved this melancholy and thoughtful novel.


***** Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng tells the stories behind the windows in the boring suburban neighborhood. The family appears perfect but their individual lives are a mess of lies and troubles. I've definitely become a fan of Celeste Ng's storytelling.


***** I've had the book on my shelf for a few years and had every intention of reading it. Now, that the movie is coming out, I wanted to read Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express even more. Of course, my copy is in a box in storage. So I listened to one of the many audio versions of the famous mystery. It was really entertaining and Dan Stevens was a wonderful narrator.


I've had a copy of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon on my shelf for so many years. Now, it's packed away in a box. So when it was the Audible Daily Deal, I bought it. The narration was wonderful and I really enjoyed this story of an autistic boy and the mystery surrounding the dead dog. Christopher is an unforgettable literary character.


I knew A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara was going to be depressing but I had no idea just how depressing it really was. It's over 32 hours of depressing. But I couldn't stop listening. Couldn't stop hoping that somehow his life would get better.



***** 11/22/63 by Stephen King was absolutely fascinating. I'm a sucker for a good time travel story. Overall, I enjoyed the audio version. However, the narrator is so bad at accents and especially bad at voicing women. About half way through the audio, I bought a physical copy of the book. I ended up finishing with audio but I might read the ending again.


***** It's possible that I loved My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier as much as love Rebecca. Atmospheric and mysterious, the narration is fabulous. The main character is so dumb sometimes but you can't help cheering for him.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Winner of the Anne of Green Gables Giveaway



The Winner of the Anne of Green Gables giveaway is...

Wendy Daniels


Congratulations! Please contact me by Monday, December 11th with your information.



Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Paris for One - Book Review


Nell has been so anxious for her weekend to Paris with her boyfriend Pete. She's never been to Paris before. She even gave up her annual girls weekend for this mini-vacation. When her boyfriend fails to show up she can either cancel her plans or go ahead by herself. Can she handle being alone in the City of Love? Maybe she'll surprise herself with her own tenacity and maybe she'll fall in love.

Paris for One is a new novella from beloved author Jojo Moyes. Included in the edition are a number of short stories focusing on relationships. In Paris for One the reader is introduced to Nell, a cautious yet optimistic character that quickly warms the heart. In typical Moyes fashion, Nell is quirky and lovable. Her story is a bit predictable but like those Hallmark movies we all like to watch at Christmas time, it's also soothing and cozy. Overall, I enjoyed reading of Nell's adventures in the city and being brave on her own.

The collection of stories offer momentary glimpses into relationships after the "happily ever after" when lovers become parents and partners. Bills get in the way. The monotony of life gets in the way. A flirtation. Age. Exhaustion. Is there still hope for the old married couple to rediscover love? Moyes explores this question and others in her collection of short stories. I rarely read short stories since I've been out of school but I appreciated these concise and thoughtful stories where one decision can make a big difference.

Paris for One and Other Stories is a feel good read and sometimes we need that. We crave that. As winter sets in and the dark nights call us to our beds early, Paris for One is perfect. Cuddle under your favorite blanket; grab a warm drink and enjoy this lovely collection.

Paris for One and Other Stories by Jojo Moyes is published by Penguin Books and released in October 2017.

**Watch for the newest novel from Jojo Moyes Still Me featuring beloved Louisa Clark from Me Before You and After You. Coming out it in January 2018!**


**I received a complimentary copy of Paris for One. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Mother's Milk & One Hundred Birds Taught Me To Fly - Book Review



Being frequently alone and recovering from multiples surgeries have given me the gift of time. Time to be reflective. Time to be introspective. Time to think about things. Political. Spiritual. Personal. At the same time, I was blessed to have two small but thoughtful books to discover and relish. To love. To need.

Rachel Hunt Steenblik researched Heavenly Mother full-time for the BYU Studies article "A Mother There: A Survey of Historical Teachings About Mother in Heaven". Using that research, she turned much of what she discovered and learned into tender and thoughtful poetry. Mother's Milk is a collection of her poetry, inspiring and lovely. I first read it months ago when I bought her book as an ebook. I read it quickly. Devouring her words in the middle of a sleepless night. In the morning I read some of my favorites to Rand. They are poems filled with love--filled with the love for and of a Heavenly Mother. I recently bought myself a physical copy of the book. It needed to be on my shelf. Off my shelf. On my nightstand. In my hands.  In my children's hands.

The Bearer

The Mother carried
our souls
I asked Her,
Were they heavy?


What the Mother Taught Me

Creation is 
more than
procreation.
It is snow, birds, 
trees, moon,
and song.



Ashley Mae Hoiland not only illustrated Mother's Milk but she recently published her own book of essays, poetry and art. I've read One Hundred Birds Taught Me To Fly very slowly, savoring the gracious and beautiful introspections as Hoiland's faith grows and she is filled with love and understanding. I've marked passages. I've woken a snoring Rand to read him sections that especially resonate. Hoiland is an artist and a poet. Part memoir, part poetry, One Hundred Birds Taught Me to Fly is an important book. For those who are doubting. For those whose faith is strong. For those who want to love more deeply and better see God in the details of our lives and surroundings.

"I am looking to love better, and I believe there is a mother's heart eager to teach me."

Mother's Milk by Rachel Hunt Steenblik and illustrated by Ashley Mae Hoiland is published by BCC Press and released in July 2017.

One Hundred Birds Taught Me to Fly by Ashley Mae Hoiland is published by Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship and released in November 2016. 

**I received a complimentary copy of One Hundred Birds Taught Me to Fly. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**





Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Anne of Green Gables - Book Review and Giveaway


I've always been a reader. The book that defined my childhood reading was Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery and the other books in the Anne series. I loved them. I read them over and over. I still have my original set, even though in 9th grade my dog ate the first chapter of the first novel. Since then, I have purchased additional copies of Anne of Green Gables. I've encouraged my children to enjoy Anne's story of resilience, intelligence and love. I was fortunate to marry a man who also loved Anne and is always willing to read another chapter to the kids each night or watch the marathon movies inspired by the novel.

If it's time for you to update your own Anne collection or if you're simply new to this masterpiece classic which still resonates with all, be sure to see the newest edition of Anne of Green Gables from Penguin Classics. Featuring a foreword by J. Courtney Sullivan and beautiful cover art from Siobhan Gallagher, this edition of Anne of Green Gables is absolutely lovely. There's definitely someone on your Christmas list (maybe even you) that needs this book under the tree on Christmas morning.

Giveaway!

Enter to win your own copy of Anne of Green Gables by leaving a comment on this post. The post will be open to entries until Sunday, December 3rd at 11:59 pm MST. The winner will be chosen randomly from the comments and announced on Monday, December 4th. US only.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery is published in this new addition by Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition and released November 14, 2017.

**I received a complimentary copy of this book and the giveaway is sponsored by Penguin Classics. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**