Wednesday, January 4, 2017

2016 Reading in Review

Two and a half weeks ago, my husband accepted an new job and it's very exciting and a very wonderful opportunity. So, it's been a whirlwind of crazy activity in my house. The job is at a small college in a very small town almost two hours from where we currently live. It will require a move for our family. So, we've spent the last weeks trying to celebrate Christmas, get our house ready to sell and find somewhere to live (no luck). Rand starts his new job on Monday and I still can barely wrap my brain around it all. Sigh. I'm tired.

I've barely read a single page of any book in the last two weeks. I didn't recap my reading year. I didn't pick my top ten books. The only thing I've been doing with books lately is packing them since our realtor really didn't like that all the shelves are double stacked with books. And I may be going slightly crazy.

Last night I hosted book club in my house for the last time. Some friends and I started a small neighborhood book club over eight years ago. For almost six of those years, I've hosted it in my home. Every first Tuesday of the month, my friends (sometimes gets to be a large group now) gather to discuss books and talk and talk until the wee hours of morning. I've made such wonderful friendships that have been strengthened by our shared love of books. Over the years, many of my book club friends have moved away and I miss them like crazy but it still feels surreal that I'm moving now. As my friends left last night around 3:30 am, I really felt like there should have been some sappy theme song playing like in the finale of a beloved sitcom. I'm going to miss them.

2016 Reading Recap

I read 63 books. 

  • 8 ebooks
  • 2 audio books (I am so close to finishing a third. This was my first year listening to audio books just for me and not for the kids on a road trip. It was a little adjustment but I like it.)
  • 54 books for review 
  • 60 were fiction--mostly historical fiction, contemporary lit and psychological thrillers
  • 49 were written by women
  • I read 78% of the books I received for review (but didn't write reviews for 4 of them)
  • I started but did not finish 6 books (I'm in the middle of Lonesome Dove and The Underground Railroad and fully intend to finish both of them.)
  • I bought 23 books for myself and countless more for my kids. 

Favorites published in 2016 :

Favorites published prior to 2016 :

Everything You Want Me to Be - Book Review

Growing up in a small Minnesota town, Hattie Hoffman is the charming, talented and beloved girl that everyone expects to go far.  Hattie has high expectations for herself and plans to head to New York City as soon as she graduates. All those dreams and aspirations die when Hattie is found stabbed to death in an old barn near the lake on the opening night of the school play.

Every Thing You Want Me To Be by Mindy Mejia is a psychological thriller told through the alternating eyes of  the local sheriff, the young new English teacher at the high school and Hattie herself as the novel recreates Hattie's last year. Leading a secret life, Hattie was much more than the lead actress, the reliable employee and the girlfriend of the star football player.

With taut prose and a quick pace, Every Thing You Want Me To Be kept me guessing and second guessing the suspicious and the guilty until the very last page. It really was everything you want in a psychological thriller as the characters' private desires and personal weaknesses are exposed. I couldn't put it down and it was the perfect distraction to keep my mind off all the recent personal stress.

I wasn't expecting to be impressed. I'm frankly tired of all the books being compared to Gone Girl. I've been disappointed so many times. But honestly, Every Thing You Want Me To Be surprised me by being so much better than I hoped.

Every Thing You Want Me To Be by Mindy Mejia is published by Atria Books and released on January 3, 2017.

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

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Idaho - Book Review

It's so hard to describe the beauty of Idaho by Emily Ruskovich into words. My words just can't compare with the lyric and intensity and heartbreaking of Ruskovich's words.

Ann and Wade live together on the mountain. They are secluded from nearly everyone. Wade is suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's so Ann is everything to him as his memories slowly fade. He is losing everything, even the painful and crushing memories of the murder of his youngest daughter by his first wife Jenny and the loss of his older daughter who simply vanished into the woods that horrifying day. Is it now up to Ann to bear the memories of this tragedy?

Idaho is as lovely as it is frightening. Her characters are not larger-than-life or stock characters but authentic people changed and affected my moments and actions, thoughtful and impulsive. Ruskovich is a marvelous writer who weaves the lives of her characters together with her words and leaves the reader emotionally conflicted and changed.

The novel doesn't run in chronological order but arranges snippets from time and characters throughout and yet I was completely immersed in the story. This novel is so many wonderful things and is completely unforgettable. I'm sure to be pressuring people to read it for a long time.

Idaho by Emily Ruskovich is published by Random House and released January 3, 2017.

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

Friday, December 9, 2016

Luminaria at Thanksgiving Point

Last week, Lily and I went on a special date night to Luminaria at Thanksgiving Point Gardens. She was very excited to spend some one-on-one time with me since she was terribly disappointed that Thomas got to go with me to see Fabulous Beasts. She's kind of a middle kid and totally keeps track of what she sees as fair or not. Good thing she's absolutely adorable about it.

Anyway, it was her turn to go. It worked out perfectly because earlier in the afternoon she got orthodontic braces. She's nervous, excited and all around "wired" up.

The Luminaria light display replaces the former light show at Thanksgiving Point where you stayed in your car to drive through the kitschy displays (I can see that in my neighborhood). I successfully avoided that particular show for years. Seeing the long lines of cars from the freeway was a complete deterrent for this holiday bah humbug.

Lily and I arrived for the event one minute before the time on our ticket and we weren't allowed into the building until the time on our ticket. The staff was very friendly and literally anxious for us to see the displays that have obviously taken a lot of time, preparation and passion.

We started in the Poinsettia House where we enjoyed the relative warmth for a bit as we waited for it to get just a little darker. It was a chilly night but thankfully dry, so we bundled up to enjoy the peaceful walk. It had snowed the day before and the layer of white stuff added to the winter beauty. We really lucked out.

I don't know how they will manage the crowds throughout December, but being able to just ramble through the gardens at our own pace and without crowds of people to push us through was delightful.

The use of lights and the natural environments of the garden were so impressive. It was so beautiful. Different areas had various themes with music piped in to match. There were fun areas, peaceful areas and places to contemplate the holiday and the meaning of Christmas. My personal favorite was definitely the Light of the World exhibit that focused on the Savior.

My family has enjoyed the I Am the Light of the World Sculpture exhibit at Ashton Gardens during the spring and summer but it was magically and impressively transformed with lights. It was a wonderful place to feel the peace and talk with Lily about our Savior and His life and ministry.

There are several places throughout the garden to buy treats and warm up with your family and friends. Lily was a little rushed throughout the entire walk. She had this "hurry up" attitude. Whether she was cold or just wasn't as impressed as I was, I'm not sure.

The Luminaria light display was my favorite "pay-to-see" Christmas event that I've ever been to. I'd love to take my entire family. But here's the thing, it's costly. And at this time of year when I'm trying desperately to stick to a budget to buy gifts for my family and help the needy, it's hard to justify the cost to take my big family. 

It would make a fabulous date night and I'm tempted to take Rand back because I desperately want to see it again this season. It really is quite incredible.

Tickets are now on sale for
The display runs through the end of December. Dates and times are limited so it's best to buy tickets in advance.

**Lily and I were guests of Thanksgiving Point and received complimentary tickets. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Ramblers - Book Review

The Ramblers follows three college friends--roommates Clio and Smith and their friend Tate, years after graduation as they are still trying and fumbling to make their way through life in New York City. Clio is an ornithologist at the American Museum of Natural History. She's grieving the loss of her mother and dating a fascinating older man. Is she ready to commit? Smith is still mourning the demise of her engagement to the man of her dreams and now has to prepare for her younger sister's wedding. Tate stumbles back into their lives after his marriage to his college sweetheart dissolves in infidelity and divorce.

I missed The Ramblers by Aidan Donnelley Rowley last year so I was thrilled to get a copy of it's paperback release this fall. I heard many good things about it even though the subject didn't seem to be my thing. Initially, I wasn't sure how I felt about these floundering characters but it wasn't long before they wormed their way into my heart with their vulnerability and sensitivity. Rowley gets right to their aching breaking hearts and explores where they have halted in their progression towards adulthood, their dreams and feeling confident with their choices. They each have their own internal demons to face and occasionally, they're even really annoying. I rather enjoyed reading this character-driven novel last week while I nursed a head cold and hid from the world.

The writing is lovely and at times powerful. I like that the novel is divided into parts and each part is from the perspective of a single character rather than just focusing on one or shifting perspective too frequently. It allowed for more introspection into each character. There's quite a bit of swearing from some of the characters and the occasional sexts are distracting from the plot and the emotions going on between the people.

The Ramblers by Aidan Donnelley Rowley is a novel that insists that you stay up late reading because the characters are so entrancing in their personal crises that I just couldn't put it down. If you missed this novel earlier, be sure to pick up this captivating paperback.

The Ramblers by Aidan Donnelley Rowley is published by William Morrow and the paperback released in October 2016.

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

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Winter Sky - Book Review

A young man has spent World War II as a resistance fighter with the "Devil's Rebels" in Poland. Now, a brain injury has left him with amnesia and alone in a small mostly destroyed village caught between two enemies--the advancing Russian army and the retreating German army. The Germans are still seeking to punish the rebels who fought so fiercely against their army. The only possession he has is a torn photograph and the hope offered by a young mysterious woman.

I read Chris Stewart's spare novel Winter Sky in a single afternoon. It's a beautiful story of faith and promise even in the ugly conclusion of an ugly war. The young man's journey is fraught with peril and those around him, would-be helpers and traitors, are not unaffected by hate, love and sacrifice that come in his wake. The writing captures the intensity of emotion as the reader roots for the sympathetic young man. There are twists and turns and surprises within this inspiring and poignant story.

I love brevity, but in this particular case, Winter Sky would have been better served with more time to get to know the characters. I didn't have time to care deeply enough about the young man and the others he meets, so that the gripping ending isn't as heartrending as it could have been.

Ultimately, Stewart is successful at telling a dark story of war without getting oppressively desolate. It's meaningful and hopeful and encouraging even in the midst of hate and carnage of war. Winter Sky is a powerful story that I won't soon forget. 

Winter Sky by Christ Stewart was published by Shadow Mountain and released in September 2016.

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

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Victoria - Book Review

Victoria is just eighteen years old when her uncle king dies and leaves her the throne of England. She's young, naive and sheltered but with the guidance of her Prime Minister Melbourne and her headstrong determination, Queen Victoria will lead on her own. She will stumble and fall but pick herself up to become one of the most revered leaders of her kingdom's history.

Victoria by Daisy Goodwin is a fictionalized account, drawing on research and Victoria's own diaries, to bring the young monarch to life. The strength lies primarily in the characterization. Goodwin allows the reader's to see the insecurity and deeper feelings of the characters. They become real people placed in grand situations. There is intrigue and danger but it is an undercurrent to the main story of Victoria's rise. The novel is very chaste. Anyone looking for a Philippa Gregory telling will be disappointed.

I am overly fascinated by stories of the British crown. I like the books, the movies and the television series. I enjoyed Victoria by Daisy Goodwin. I am looking forward to the series that Goodwin has created for television. It will be a Masterpiece Presentation on PBS starting in January 2017. I will be watching it.

I did have a few issues with the novel. First, it focused mainly on Victoria being young, foolish and occasionally vindictive. We only briefly see glimpses of the strong and capable leader she will become. Second, the novel ends just as the new blossoming relationship between Victoria and Albert begins. This relationship is entirely secondary in the novel and I would have liked to see their future explored more.

I was entertained by the novel and when I was finished was left wanting to know more about Victoria. It ended so abruptly that I wondered if there were plans for additional volumes. Certainly, Queen Victoria did more worth writing about than pine after Prime Minister Melbourne. Victoria by Daisy Goodwin is not perfect but it is enchanting and a new look at the young queen.

Victoria by Daisy Goodwin is published by St. Martin's Press and released on November 22, 2016.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Fractured - Book Review

After writing a best selling novel, Julie Prentice becomes the victim of stalking. Scared to death and wanting to find a peaceful place, Julie and her family move across the country to Cincinnati with the hopes of starting over. Their new house is in an adorable neighborhood filled with families who regularly get together at neighborhood parties and barbecues. But as hard as she tries, Julie is just not fitting in. She seems to get off on the wrong foot with everyone she meets. With the exception of John Dunbar from across the street. They make a connection the first time they meet and quickly become friends. Unfortunately, after several scary incidents, Julie is afraid that her stalker has discovered where she lives or someone in her new neighborhood has started to harass her. Either scenario, has Julie and her family frightened.

Fractured by Catherine McKenzie is compelling. She keeps the tension high and the plot moving along at a pace that I'd read a hundred pages before I even realizing it.  McKenzie accurately portrays the variety of personalities in a close-knit neighborhood and how if the self-proclaimed leader chooses not to accept you it can be nearly impossible to change the others' minds and ultimately "fit in". There are consequences and reactions even from the smallest choices and the slightest misunderstandings. McKenzie writes a fascinating psychological thriller.

The tension was building and I was anxious to finish Fractured last night. Unfortunately, the ending didn't quite match the level of intensity. It felt forced. McKenzie takes the reader on this incredible and thrilling ride with interesting characters, tension and swirling mystery that falls flat. The picture of the knocked over lawn chair is completely appropriate--the forecasters are predicting a huge destructive storm but we just get a little wind.

I really enjoyed reading Fractured and I hate to dismiss it because I was ultimately disappointed with the ending. McKenzie definitely kept my attention the entire time. The characters were very believable and fully developed. Every situation, every interaction felt uncomfortably real. There are twists and surprises and I suspected nearly every character which is of course what we're looking for in a psychological thriller.

Fractured by Catherine McKenzie is published by Lake Union Publishing and released in October 2016.

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

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Slow Waltz of Turtles - Book Review

I wasn't aware that The Slow Waltz of Turtles by Katherine Pancol is essentially a sequel to her earlier and popular novel The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles. I didn't read the first novel and while it probably would have been helpful especially in the early chapters, The Slow Waltz of Turtles can stand on it's own. Josephine and her daughters are trying to settle into their new lives after all the drama that I can only assume happens in the first novel. Josephine uses her new wealth from the success of her book to buy an apartment in Paris. Her daughter Hortense is in school in London. Josephine has strong feelings for the exact right person for her and yet she cannot pursue the forbidden relationship. Her sister Iris keeps Josephine entangled in her messy life. Then, people around Josephine are brutally stabbed to death. Josephine must keep it all together while the police start looking into her connection to the deceased.

The Slow Waltz of Turtles by Katherine Pancol is filled with a cast of quirky, fun characters. I honestly wish I had read The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles first because while the plot line can stand alone, I think that much of that early characterization and events would have helped me appreciate their reactions and relationships. Even so, I adored Josephine. She just keeps trudging forward even with all the absolute chaos swirling around her, though she herself creates so little of it and shies away from drama.

There's a lot happening in this novel. So much, that it leaves my head spinning a bit. While the ending is certainly satisfactory, much is left unresolved which I suppose will allow Pancol to possibly revisit her characters in another novel. Which I will read because her style is amusing. Her characters are unforgettable and the mystery was perfectly plotted to build the surprise and suspense without being overly scary. The Slow Waltz of Turtles will make a delightful, cozy read this winter as soon as you read The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles first.

The Slow Waltz of Turtles by Katherine Pancol was published in the US by Penguin and released on November 1, 2016.

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

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Shores of Tripoli - Book Review

Following the Revolutionary War and in the independence of the United States, the Tripoli is one of the first to recognize the new sovereign nation. They recognize the the bribes paid by the British to protect their ships from the pirates no longer cover the merchant ships from the US. The Barbary Pirates are pillaging the US merchant ships and the newly built-up navy is sent to put an end to it.

Bliven Putnam is a very young man when he enlists and first sees action against the pirates, but his boldness, loyalty and his sharp intelligence impress his commanders and he soon finds himself rising in the ranks. The Shores of Tripoli by James L. Haley brings life to the exciting story of Lieutenant Putnam and his adventures at sea.

The novel covers an absolutely fascinating time period and I enjoyed learning more about the history. Liven Putnam turns out to be a great character to follow. He's young and sees the war as an adventure but is also wise enough to be fearful for his own life. He offers fresh, not yet jaded eyes. He's curious about the North African enemy but also wary. He employs cunning stratagem to win the battles and is frustrated by the backroom politics. Over the years, Putnam matures and earns more commissions and responsibilities.

The writing in The Shores of Tripoli is solid and Haley excels at bringing the at-sea battles to life. There are times during the political discussions and wrangling between officers and ambassadors that it gets a little long winded. Overall, it was thrilling to read about a US Navy war hero on the sea and through the desert. I will definitely pick up the next books in this exciting series.

The Shores of Tripoli : Lieutenant Putnam and the Barbary Pirates by James L. Haley is published by Putnam and released on November 1, 2016.

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

Monday, October 17, 2016

Truly Madly Guilty - Audio Book Review

Six adults and three children gather on a chilly afternoon for an impromptu weekend barbecue. A few months later, these people can't move past what happened at the barbecue and they sincerely wish they hadn't gone at all.

Written in a style that allows perspective from all the major characters, Liane Moriarty's newest novel takes the reader into a study of relationships. Marriages and friendships are not always what they seem. Moriarty builds on the suspense as the story and events of the barbecue are disclosed.

Until now, my experience with audio books has been listening in the car to either biographies or children's books. Truly Madly Guilty is the first novel that I have listened to as an audio book. I turned it on when I was folding laundry or processing photography or driving in the car on my own errands. It took me a couple of months to actually finish the book. I'm sure had I been reading it, I would have finished in a few days. I think taking time actually allowed me to appreciate the cast of characters and the mystery more than if I was reading it.

The narrator, Caroline Lee did an excellent job of distinguishing between the characters. Even though I only listened to short sections at a time, I was able to quickly decipher which character was speaking in each chapter. I loved Lee's voice and started to really look forward to the opportunity to fold laundry.

Though it's not my favorite novel from Moriarty, I really enjoyed Truly Madly Guilty. I appreciated the eccentric cast of characters and the dissection of their relationships with one another. Moriarty excels at the character drama. Though the plot was not as thrilling as other novels, it felt very possible and very life changing. I found Truly Madly Guilty to be believable, thoughtful and thoroughly entertaining.

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty was published by Flatiron Books in July 2016.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Fall Reads

Liddy James is a divorce attorney in New York City who is also well known for her divorced parenting books. The woman is classy, powerful and formidable. Liddy's ex-husband's partner Rose is scared and in awe of the woman who "broke her husband's heart". Liddy has it all and she let's nothing stand in her way. Until it does. Rose is on bed-rest with a risky pregnancy. Her teenage son is surly. Her nanny quits. And suddenly, Liddy has to juggle more roles and find her true self, yet again.

The Real Liddy James by Anne-Marie Casey is witty and fun and I enjoy it more than I expected to. I got a kick out of the characters who are flawed and full of inner worries that they desperately try to hide behind their outer shiny, veneer of perfection. It's hard to be a woman and keep up with all the demands and expectation from ourselves and from others. Liddy James does her best to be the woman she has always wanted to be. I enjoyed watching her struggles, her triumphs and her metamorphosis.

The Real Liddy James by Anne-Marie Casey is published by Putnam and released on September 20, 2016.

Clara Lawson is taken from her home by armed men and held in a barren room where is she is questioned repeatedly. As she was being forcibly removed from her husband and daughters, her husband shouted not to tell them anything and Clara is determined to keep her mouth shut. But the longer she is held, Clara begins to think about her past and wonder if anything she knew was the truth.

The Girl Before by Rena Olsen was very compelling and terribly disturbing. It might be one of the most distressing novels I've read in a long while. Though not exactly mysterious, The Girl Before takes the reader inside the mind of a woman who is a victim but not exactly innocent. I couldn't put it down but I read the entire novel with that sick knot in my stomach. It will make you think and make you shudder as Olsen exposes the horrors of human trafficking.

The Girl Before by Rena Olsen is published by Putnam and released on August 9, 2016.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Ashes - Book Review

Fans of Laurie Halse Anderson's Chains and Forge have been anxiously and maybe not so patiently waiting for the final installment of The Seeds of America Trilogy. I must confess that I have not read the first two books. I bought them for my children who loved them. With trepidation, I decided to read Ashes without reading the first two. I am almost positive that I would have enjoyed it even more if I was already familiar with Isabel, Curzon and Ruth and their struggles. However, I must say that I loved Ashes and would like to go back and read the earlier novels in the series.

Isabel and Curzon are on a dangerous mission south to find Isabel's younger sister Ruth. Besides, the constant fear of being discovered and sold back into slavery, they find themselves in the midst of the final days of the American Revolution. Unsure of what side to join to maintain their freedom, Isabel and Curzon are faced with heartrending and potentially very dangerous decisions.

Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson is a brilliantly written novel aimed at a middle grade audience. I appreciate that she doesn't talk down to the readers but allows them to see the hypocrisy and danger that faced young African Americans in the early days of our country. I felt that there was a good balance portrayed between the inspired brilliance of the Declaration of the Independence and the fight for freedom as a nation and the duplicity in the personal lives of the Founding Fathers. The writing is beautiful and using vocabulary to push the readers.

The research is good and I loved to be right in the middle of the action as Washington's troops lay siege to Cornwallis at Yorktown. Though just getting to know them, I cared about the characters and their constant plight. They are inspiring in their strength and hopes for a better future. I can't wait to pass Ashes on to my kids to see how they enjoy the final chapter of this lauded trilogy.

Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson is the final book in The Seeds of America Trilogy. It is published by Antheneum and released on October 4, 2016.

**I received a complimentary copy of the book. All opinions are my own. No compensation was received.**

News of the World - Book Review

Since the Civil War has ended, Army Captain Kidd has earned his dimes by reading the world's newspapers in small towns all over North Texas. He is offered fifty dollars to deliver a recently rescued girl to her relatives in San Antonio. Johanna has been with the Kiowa tribe since raiders killed her family and kidnapped her when she was just six years old. She's completely forgotten the English language and her birth family and wants desperately to return to the Kiowas who have "raised" her.

Captain Kidd has taken on a load of troubles with his ten year old package and runs into danger along the rugged trail to San Antonio. He is determined to keep the girl safe and return her even if it means losing his own life.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles is a slim adventure tale that completely captivated me by the story and her lovely style. There's never an extra word. Every single word counts. And I love that. The setting of North Texas and the characters are so real that I felt like I was riding along on the rickety carriage.

Witty and wise, Captain Kidd is an entrancing character. I understand he plays a major role in one of Jiles's earlier novels and I am now curious to read her other books. News of the World is a fascinating tale that one reads and is absolutely convinced it must be a real story. I loved it.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles is published by William Morrow and will be released on October 4, 2016.

**I received a complimentary copy of News of the World. All opinions are my own. No compensation was received.**

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Sheriffs of Savage Wells - Book Review

Cade O'Brien has already made a name for himself as a lawman, so he figures he should be the obvious choice as sheriff in the quiet and quirky town of Savage Wells. But he didn't count on fierce competition from the pretty and feisty Paisley Bell. She's been acting as sheriff for a few month since the former sheriff became distracted. She knows the town, she knows the people and she knows how to sling a gun.

The Sheriffs of Savage Wells is the newest Proper Romance from Sarah M. Eden and Shadow Mountain. Eden has made a name for herself in the world of sweet romances. She excels at building the romantic tension between her characters and delivering fun and quirky plots. The Sheriffs of Savage Wells follows her typical formula.

There are some times in the middle of a crappy, stressful week when the very best thing is to escape into a fun, quick read. Last week, The Sheriffs of Savage Wells perfectly filled this need. The banter between the characters was clever and snarky. Paisley was ahead of her time as a law woman but some of her arguments are still timely. Paisley is a tough yet vulnerable leading character who is trying to juggle all her roles.

As is typical with most Proper Romances, The Sheriffs of Savage Wells is predictable and sometimes silly but overall it's a fun journey.

The Sheriffs of Savage Wells by Sarah M. Eden was published by Shadow Mountain and released on September 27, 2016.

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

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Penguin Problems - Book Review

Last Monday was a rough day. It was stressful enough that for the rest of the week, other things took precedence over the normal events and to-do lists. So, I've ignored the stack of books waiting patiently (books are so patient) for me to write reviews about them. But in the midst of the stack was an adorable book that made me giggle. And I really needed to giggle.

Penguin Problems by Jory John and Lane Smith was the perfect book this week. It's sarcastic and snarky and all around funny. Man, I wish I just had some penguin problems.

With cute as can be illustrations and clever prose, this little penguin laments his unfortunate and miserable existence. Everything bugs him. Everything is just the worst. He hates the snow. The sun shines too bright in his eyes.

As the book goes on, the little penguin gets a reminder of that even when life gets tough, he still has so much to brighten his day. If he lets it.

Penguin Problems is just what I needed, guys. It gets a 7 thumbs up rating from all the people in my house. And that's pretty serious.

Penguin Problems by Jory John and Lane Smith is published by Random House Books for Young Readers and released on September 27, 2016.

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Fifth Avenue Artists Society - Book Review

Aspiring author, Virginia Loftin and the rest of her artistic family have the connections and family name to enjoy entry into the finest homes but they are living in near poverty. When the boy next door breaks Virginia's heart to marry for money, Virginia's brother encourages her to attend meetings of The Fifth Avenue Artists Society to help improve her craft and heal her heart.

In her grief, Virginia finds that writing comes more easily and she pours her emotions into a novel. John Hopper, the host of the Artists Society and her brother's friend, finds promise in her writing and in her. Before long, the handsome and wealthy man has declared his love for her. But not all is as it seems and Virginia's friends and family might be wrapped up in a deeper deception that could ruin them all.

The Fifth Avenue Artists Society by Joy Callaway begins as a lovely novel about an artistic family. Filled with heartbreak and issues between class and money, this novel set in the Gilded Age immediately captured my attention. The language is romantic and the characters were fun. Though not a regular reader of love stories, I enjoyed the tension between Virginia and John and her childhood friend Charlie. Virginia could be irritating and repetitive at times but I would have been satisfied with this story.

In the later part of the book, it becomes more about the mystery and criminal behaviors. This seemed a strange shift in the plot line. I wasn't thrilled where it was heading but was intrigued. Reading later that the story was based on real people from the author's genealogy actually made me appreciate the ending more.

I really enjoyed The Fifth Avenue Artists Society. It surprised my initial presumptions about the plot line but was a delightfully refreshing story.

The Fifth Avenue Artists Society by Joy Callaway is published by Harper and released on May 31, 2016. It's also a SheReads Summer Selection.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Fifth Avenue Artists Society through the SheReads program. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Ballroom - Book Review

I fell in love with Anna Hope's debut novel Wake (read my review *here*) so when I saw that she had a new novel coming out this year, I knew immediately that I wanted to read it. Hope just has the most lovely way of writing.

There is a beautiful ballroom in the center of the asylum in the English countryside. Though the men and women patients are generally kept separated, once a week they have a dance and meet in the ballroom. It is in the ballroom that Ella and John foster their forbidden relationship that blossoms through exchanged letters and tender words.

Though convinced that music can help his patients, Dr. Charles Fuller becomes obsessed with the idea of and ethics behind eugenics. In the middle of the intense heatwave of 1911 and in a world of madness, the line of sanity becomes blurred.

Usually books or movies set in asylums have the undertones of horror and fear. While I occasionally enjoy that genre, I was pleased that The Ballroom by Anna Hope focused more on the hopes and dreams of the patients. Instead of being a fantastical thriller, the undertones of evil and ill intent in The Ballroom are realistic and therefore horrifying that some of these ideas and theories still exist.

I love how Hope gets into the heads of her characters, allowing the readers to experience their disillusionment and their realities. They are unique and dynamic and absolutely fascinating. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel even as found parts of it very disturbing. Though The Ballroom is set over a hundred years ago, it offers much to think about as we consider how we treat those with mental illness today.

The Ballroom by Anna Hope is published by Random House and released on September 6, 2016.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Ballroom. All opinions are my own. No compensation was received.**

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Shattered Tree - Book Review

The soldier is brought to the nurse's station after he's found clinging to the shattered tree. He's suffering from exposure, loss of blood and his bare feet are in terrible condition after he's walked so far without boots. Bess Crawford, an English nurse, is surprised that the soldier is French but when he awakens suddenly he shouts in German. Bess is intrigued by this enigma.

Needing to recover from her own injuries, Bess is sent to convalesce in Paris where she sees the soldier again. She's determined to find out more about him. Her digging puts her right in the middle of a potentially dangerous mystery.

Set towards the end of World War I, The Shattered Tree uses the intrigue and fighting between the nations to set up this mystery. Was the soldier from Alsace-Lorraine--the border area that was constantly shifting between German and France? Could he be a spy?

Though The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd is part of the Bess Crawford Mysteries, I have not read any of the earlier mysteries. The Shattered Tree is capable of standing alone. There were a few characters that had clearly been previously introduced in earlier novels and so the relationships between them and Bess were not as clear as they might have been if I had already read the others. Other wise, I was able to enjoy this novel without previously reading the others.

In some ways, Bess Crawford reminded me of a spunky Maisie Dobbs. In Bess's case she is able to use her father's connections to get her to help with her digging and discovering of information though she does not do it any official capacity.

The novel is well written and kept my attention. I read it quickly over two days. As with many mysteries, the coincidences are sometimes hard to swallow. There is a large cast of characters and some surprising twists but it felt like it was all over the place. Overall, The Shattered Tree was enjoyable but I'm not going to be rushing out to get the next Bess Crawford mystery.

The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd is published by William Morrow and released on August 30, 2016.

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

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Watching Edie - Book Review

When Heather shows up on Edie's doorstep, Edie is not exactly happy to see her high school friend. It's been so many years and she's tried to put all of the dark and painful memories behind her when she moved away. But Edie can feel Heather lurking and watching and waiting.

When Edie sinks into serious postpartum depression after the birth of her baby, she has no one to turn to. But Heather is there. Heather can help her pick up the pieces. Heather will take care of everything.

I was immediately freaked out by the atmosphere of danger and paranoia in Watching Edie by Camilla Way. Way does a fabulous job of building the tension and fear as Heather's obsession with Edie becomes apparent. It's dark and beautiful with surprising twists and turns that kept me constantly on edge.

Watching Edie was the kind of psychological thriller that I really enjoy. I love that I was surprised by the ending but that once I knew it, I could see the truth though the entire plot. It's dark and twisted and raw with human emotion, frailty, and obsession.

There is some foul language and some sexual content.

Watching Edie by Camilla Way is published by New American Library and released on August 2, 2016.

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

Friday, August 26, 2016

With Love From the Inside - Book Review

Grace has been on death row for over 17 years, sentenced for the murder of her baby son William. The new governor has declared a hard line on criminals and the date of her execution has been set. Grace has always maintained her innocence. She didn't murder William. She loved him deeply. Her last wish is to reconnect with her daughter Sophia and let her know just how much Grace has always loved her.

Sophia has tried to put the awful history of her family behind her. After her father died of a heart attack, Sophia left for college and stopped visiting her mother in prison. Now, Sophia is married to a handsome and successful doctor from an upper class family and her story cannot include this tainted history. On the first date, she told him that her parents were dead. But now, her mother's attorney has found her.

With Love From the Inside by Angela Pisel is a tender and emotionally rich novel about the love a mother feels for her child and how that love can sustain someone even in the most horrible of circumstances. This novel looks behind the stereotypes of women in prison and shows Grace as a strong and compassionate woman in spite of a system that is trying to break her. She is nearly powerless and yet she does what she can to maintain her personal goodness. It's so fantastic and different from our typical perceptions, that at times it was hard to believe. After reading the novel, I found myself in an online rabbit hole of reading of the women on death row and their convictions.

The writing in With Love From the Inside is taut and passionate, immediately engaging. The characters were sympathetic and I felt their pain, suffering and the powerful feeling of love that binds them together. For her debut novel, Angela Pisel offers an impressive novel.

With Love From the Inside by Angela Pisel is published by Putnam and released on August 9, 2016.

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

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Couple Next Door - Book Review

Every day these last few weeks has been exhausting. Getting kids ready to go back to school; cramming in the last summer activities and fighting the heat has left me so ready for bed. The other night I finished reading a book at exactly 12:15 and thought for sure the second I closed my eyes I'd be out cold. But I tossed and turned for an hour. I tried to read an ebook on my phone under the covers but only a few pages in I knew it wasn't for me. I tossed and turned some more. Finally, at three in the morning, I completely gave up on sleeping. I didn't want to wake Randy so in the dark I grabbed a random book from the shelf in my bedroom and headed downstairs to read. I happened to grab The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena. Within an hour, I was engrossed in the story. I finished the book the next day and was surprised that even without sleep, I managed to read without falling asleep during the day.

The babysitter called to cancel at the last minute. It's just next door, they reason. We will check on her regularly. We'll have the monitor. She'll be fine. Anne and Marco leave their baby sleeping in her crib and go to the dinner party next door. But their worst nightmare is just beginning when they come home to an open front door and an empty crib. Their baby is missing. The police don't seem to be doing enough to help and the parents are the top suspects. Anne is simply in shock. Who would want to take her baby?

The writing in The Couple Next Door is pretty basic. Initially, I was not impressed and thought it a bit juvenile. However, the story is so gripping that I excused the lack of writing skill and quickly became engaged in the twisting tale of intrigue. Lapena takes the reader on a roller coaster ride of intensity that keeps the reader guessing.

The Couple Next Door is fun and thrilling and a quick read. It's a perfect read for the doctor's waiting room or an airplane flight because the writing is simple enough that a few distractions won't leave you too confused. Overall, I rather enjoyed the novel. It was nice to just get lost in it for a day.

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena is published by Pamela Dorman Books and released on August 23, 2016.

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

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Swear on This Life - Book Review

Emiline is struggling to write and fulfill her dream to be a published author. Her long-time relationship with her college boyfriend is dull. Uninspired and depressed, her roommate hands her the latest literary sensation. As soon as Emiline starts reading the novel by J. Colby she recognizes her own story within the pages.

Emiline has been haunted by her tragic childhood for years but now she's confronted with it in the pages of a best-selling novel. Her childhood best friend has published a book with her story. Devastated, she knows she must see him and face the past she has been trying to forget.

Swear on This Life by Renée Carlino is the story of a young woman reconciling her past and finding peace and hope in forgiveness all while discovering a true love. It's a sweet story. Initially, I had trouble getting into it and stalled about a quarter of the way into the novel. After a few weeks when I wondered if I would completely abandon it, I decided to give it another chance. I read the remainder in a matter of hours.

It's a cute story. I wasn't blown away by the writing or the predictable plot or flat characters. However, for an easy, feel-good read, I found Swear on This Life rather enjoyable.

There is quite a bit of swearing and a few scenes that get a little steamy.

Swear on This Life by Renée Carlino is published by Atria Books and released on August 9, 2016.

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

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Decades of Doubt - Book Review

In 1969, 15 year old John McCabe didn't come after the dance. His parents drove around searching for him. The next morning two young boys found John's body, tied up and abandoned in an empty field. The investigation would stretch over forty years before two men were finally charged with his murder.

Decades of Doubt by Eric Wilson and John Turner focuses on the investigation of John McCabe's murder and the defense of those charged with the crime.

It's not often that I read true crime books but Decades of Doubt was immediately intriguing. The details of the horrific crime that shocked a small Massachusetts community and kept the detectives guessing for so many years were equally gripping and appalling. Just like everyone else in the community, I wanted to know who killed John McCabe. The first part of the book is an easy read, comfortable style and it wasn't long before I was completely immersed in the mystery.

The second portion of the book covers the trial of one of the men eventually arrested for the murder. In this portion, the defense attorney (Eric Wilson) inserts his own first person chapters and perspective of the trial. I actually found these sections awkward and disruptive to the flow of the book. I found them completely unnecessary.

It was interesting how the defense poked holes in all the evidence. The book became a study on the justice system. However, by the end, as a reader, I was completely unsatisfied. It felt like a very one- sided defense of the defense and I wasn't convinced.

Overall, the book started out with promise. It was a fascinating mystery with fairly solid writing that kept my interest. The book lost it's way with the loss of objectivity and it's new focus on the defense and the defense attorney's ego.

Decades of Doubt by Eric Wilson and John Turner is published by Waldorf Publishing and releases on August 15, 2016.

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

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Reading in July

July was one of those crazy months where we were so busy having fun that I didn't have time to do anything else. Since I didn't have as much time to read, I'm so glad that I was able to enjoy fabulous books with that precious time.

Champion of the World by Chad Dundas follows a cast of rich and fabulously larger-than-life characters through the fascinating world of wrestling during the 1920's. I couldn't get enough of this epic novel that showed the underbelly and mob involvement of the professional sport.

Pepper Van Dean and his wife have been making their living in the traveling circus since his humiliating loss as the former lightweight champion. Each night, he performs the dangerous hangman's drop and then wrestles the locals. Pepper is bored and anxious for an opportunity back into the sport he loves. When he is offered a chance to train the African-American heavyweight wrestler for a chance at the Heavyweight title, Pepper can't resist the lure of the wrestling world.

The plot and characters were thrilling enough to keep me reading late at night when the excitement of our busy days finally settled down. Dundas expertly captured the era in this fascinating historical fiction. It quickly made it to the top of my favorites of 2016 list.

Champion of the World by Chad Dundas is published by Putnam and released on July 12, 2016.

In a completely different shift, The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan took my breath away.  In language that is stunning and powerful, Flanagan tells the story of Australian POWs forced to built the railroad through the jungle during World War II. It is a brutal story that details the suffering and torment of individuals at the hands of other men caught up in the horrific war.

Flanagan's characters are not necessarily likable and are bent to their very breaking points. I couldn't stop reading and I can't stop thinking about the stupidity of war. I finished the novel late last night and I can't even fully articulate my thoughts. I'm not sure I'll be able to ever put my reactions into clear and concise thoughts. It's so overwhelming to realize what people went through. Even when their bodies survived, their souls were so damaged. Yet, there was always hope.

I loved Flanagan's writing--it was beautiful and sometimes I had to read a passage over to try to glean the full and rich meaning. It was compelling and thought-provoking and exhausting. The Narrow Road to the Deep North was absolutely unforgettable.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan was published by Vintage and released in April 2015.

**I received complimentary copies of both books. These reviews reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**