Tuesday, December 6, 2016

3 Stars - The Whole Town's Talking by Fannie Flagg

Publisher: Random House
Fiction
Buy: AMZ 


About the Book

From the beloved author of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe comes another unforgettable, laugh-out-loud, and moving novel about what it means to be truly alive.
 
Elmwood Springs, Missouri, is a small town like any other, but something strange is happening out at the cemetery. “Still Meadows,” as it’s called, is anything but still. Funny and profound, this novel in the tradition of Flagg’s Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven and Thornton Wilder’s Our Town deals with universal themes of heaven and earth and everything in between, as Flagg tells a surprising story of life, afterlife, and the mysterious goings-on of ordinary people.

~

I wouldn't describe Fannie Flagg as a novelist; she's more of a storyteller who happens to write novel-length works. Many of her books appeared structured as collections of vignettes bound together by a common setting. That's how I've felt about her past Elmwood Springs books - they are stories about people who are nice to one another, give or take an antagonist who gets his/hers in a spectacularly suitable way in the end.

I read The Whole Town's Talking after having read the other Elmwood Springs books several years ago. My memory's fuzzy on the previous books, so I'm hesitant to comment on continuity, but if you've read her other books you'll find familiar characters here. Talking chronicles the town from settlement through the 21st century, complete with a roster of Scandinavian surnames and a fondness for nostalgia. It's not necessary to have read the other books in this universe first - this one seems written to stand on its own. It's a sweet story, historical mixed with a touch of magic realism.

Received from publisher via NetGalley.



Saturday, November 26, 2016

1 Star - My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Publisher: Europa Editions
Fiction, Family Saga
Buy: AMZ


About the Book

A modern masterpiece from one of Italy’s most acclaimed authors, My Brilliant Friend is a rich, intense, and generous-hearted story about two friends, Elena and Lila. Ferrante’s inimitable style lends itself perfectly to a meticulous portrait of these two women that is also the story of a nation and a touching meditation on the nature of friendship. 

The story begins in the 1950s, in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples. Growing up on these tough streets the two girls learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone or anything else. As they grow, as their paths repeatedly diverge and converge, Elena and Lila remain best friends whose respective destinies are reflected and refracted in the other. They are likewise the embodiments of a nation undergoing momentous change. 

Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighborhood, a city, and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her protagonists, the unforgettable Elena and Lila. Ferrante is the author of three previous works of critically acclaimed fiction: The Days of Abandonment, Troubling Love, and The Lost Daughter. With this novel, the first in a trilogy, she proves herself to be one of Italy’s great storytellers. She has given her readers a masterfully plotted page-turner, abundant and generous in its narrative details and characterizations, that is also a stylish work of literary fiction destined to delight her many fans and win new readers to her fiction.

~

Have to count myself among those who didn't care for this one. The story plods and I couldn't feel for the characters. I likely won't read the rest of the series.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

4 Stars: Twisted Boulevard by Martin Turnbull

Self-Published
Historical Fiction, Saga
Buy: AMZ


About the Book

Have you ever wanted to climb into a time machine and visit Hollywood during its heyday? 

When the Red Scare ends, paranoia lingers. Can Tinseltown recover to take on television? 

After an exile from MGM, ousted screenwriter Marcus Adler is looking for his way back into the biz. When he hatches a plan to start over with a disgraced movie star, a Hollywood censor reminds Marcus that the misdeeds of the past aren’t soon forgotten. 

Hollywood Reporter columnist Kathryn Massey is always looking for a hot tip. She never expected it would come from Lauren Bacall, and point her toward a new career high. But when a trip to the set of Sunset Boulevard reveals a haunting glimpse into her past, Kathryn isn’t sure who to trust, especially when a hot new rival hits town. 

Gwendolyn Brick thought her new store would be a hit, but she never realized it could become a target. Threatened by Los Angeles’ most notorious madam, Gwendolyn will need a Hollywood-style miracle to keep her store alive. 

Twisted Boulevard is the sixth installment in the Hollywood’s Garden of Allah saga. If you like richly woven details, the Golden Age of Hollywood, and characters who come to life, then you’ll love Martin Turnbull’s captivating historical fiction series. 

~

One of the few series of late that I've followed and looked forward to the next installments. I understand this is the last book, and it does have a note of bittersweet to it. This story takes the main trio into the 50s and the changing industry - blacklists, the advent of television, hints of regime changes among celebrities. 

I was under the impression this was to be the last book in the series, but the author messaged me on Goodreads to let me know he's working on more books. I'm very glad to hear it; I look forward to reading more.

Monday, November 7, 2016

4 Stars - A Change of Heart by Sonali Dev

Publisher: Kensington
Contemporary, Suspense
Buy: AMZ


About the Book

Dr. Nikhil 'Nic' Joshi had it all—marriage, career, purpose. Until, while working for Doctors Without Borders in a Mumbai slum, his wife, Jen, discovered a black market organ transplant ring. Before she could expose the truth, Jen was killed.

Two years after the tragedy, Nic is a cruise ship doctor who spends his days treating seasickness and sunburn and his nights in a boozy haze. On one of those blurry evenings on deck, Nic meets a woman who makes a startling claim: she received Jen’s heart in a transplant and has a message for him. Nic wants to discount Jess Koirala’s story as absurd, but there’s something about her reckless desperation that resonates despite his doubts.

Jess has spent years working her way out of a nightmarish life in Calcutta and into a respectable Bollywood dance troupe. Now she faces losing the one thing that matters—her young son, Joy.  She needs to uncover the secrets Jen risked everything for; but the unforeseen bond that results between her and Nic is both a lifeline and a perilous complication.

Delving beyond the surface of modern Indian-American life, acclaimed author Sonali Dev’s page-turning novel is both riveting and emotionally rewarding—an extraordinary story of human connection, bravery, and hope.

~

What I like about Dev is how she handles certain topics/themes in her stories. Her books have romance and conflicts but also deal with heavy and sometimes dark subjects. Divorce, mental illness, and in this book the hero and heroine are working together to find evidence to bring down an organ theft ring. Heavy stuff to weave into a romance, but it's suspenseful and you want to read to see where the story goes.

There are dark moments in this story, and as this book is tied to Dev's The Bollywood Bride I don't want to give too much away. It's about a grieving man who finds a sliver a hope in a stranger who inspires memories, and how they come together in the middle of danger to love each other for who they are. It's a heavy story, but worth it.

ARC received from publisher via NetGalley

Thursday, November 3, 2016

4 Stars - Golden Girls Forever: An Unauthorized Look Behind the Lanai by Jim Colucci

Harper Design
Non-Fiction, Entertainment
Buy: AMZ


About the Book

The complete, first-ever Golden Girls retrospective, packed with hundreds of exclusive interviews, behind-the-scenes and never-before-revealed stories, more than two hundred color and black-and-white photos, commentary, and more.

They were four women of a certain age, living together under one roof in Miami—smart and strong Dorothy, airhead Rose, man-hungry belle Blanche, and smart-mouthed matriarch Sophia. They were the Golden Girls, and for seven seasons, this hilarious quartet enchanted millions of viewers with their witty banter, verve, sass, and love, and reaffirmed the power of friendship and family.

Over thirty years after it first aired, The Golden Girls has become a cult classic, thanks to fan fiction, arts and crafts, podcasts, hundreds of fan blogs and websites, and syndication. Now, Golden Girls Forever pays homage to this wildly popular, acclaimed, and award-winning sitcom. Drawing on interviews with the show’s creators, actors, guest stars, producers, writers, and crew members, Jim Colucci paints a comprehensive portrait of the Girls both in front of the cameras and behind the scenes.

~

Given the choice between trying a new show or watching Golden Girls reruns, I take the latter. GG is one of my go-to TV binges when I'm feeling down, so definitely I picked up this book when I knew the Hallmark Channel planned a hiatus for the show during the winter. I enjoyed reading the story behind its development and the oral histories from people involved in various episodes deconstructed by the author. The one takeaway you get from GG, which the book affirms, is the show's timelessness. I'm reading about the many people who have appeared on the show and realize so many have passed away...yet they don't seem like old people. Then you remember The Golden Girls' original run was 30 years ago. o.O

While I enjoyed the book, I'll take off points for the section where various celebrities talk about their favorite Girls and such. I would rather have seen that space go to more episode analyses. 

Really, though, it's a book for die-hards.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

3 Stars - The Pursuit of Pearls by Jane Thynne

Publisher: Ballantine Books
Historical Fiction
Buy: AMZ


About the Book

Perfect for fans of Jacqueline Winspear, Charles Todd, Robert Harris, and Susan Elia MacNeal, here is the next thrilling historical novel featuring Clara Vine, the British actress and special agent who glides through the upper echelons of Nazi society, covertly gathering key intelligence—and placing herself in mortal peril.

In the spring of 1939, the drums of war beat throughout Europe, but nowhere more ferociously than in Berlin. The film studio where Clara Vine works is churning out movies, but each day that she stays in Germany is more dangerous than the last. Spying on the private life of the Third Reich, passing secrets to contacts in British intelligence, falling into a passionate affair—any of these risky moves could get Clara shot. So she is wholly shaken when someone close to her is murdered instead. The victim is Lottie Franke, an aspiring costume designer and student at the prestigious Faith and Beauty finishing school that trains young women to become the wives of the Nazi elite. While the press considers Lottie’s death in the Grunewald forest the act of a lone madman, Clara uncovers deeper threads, tangled lines that seem to reach into the darkest depths of the Reich—and to a precious discovery that Hitler and his ruthless cohorts would kill for.
 

~

I enjoyed the story, but it took me a while to get into this one as opposed to Thynne's earlier book, The Scent of Secrets. 

Clara Vine, an actress concealing her Jewish identity in Nazi Germany, has been hand-picked by Leni Riefenstahl to star as the personification of the German spirit. One would make much of the choice, but Clara is pre-occupied with other things, namely the murder of a young "Faith and Beauty" woman and her extracurricular spying activities. She pines for her missing beau and dithers over a mission guaranteed to expose her, and after rubbing elbows with numerous Nazi elite manages to learn something that will change Europe, not for the better.

Again, I like the story, and I think I could like this series. I have the next book in possession, which takes the story into the actual war and I look forward to it. I think Scent was a more interesting story mainly because of the interaction between Clara and Eva Braun - I was more interested in Clara insinuating herself directly into danger zone, where here she kind of moved in and out of it.

Friday, October 7, 2016

2.5 Stars - Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Non-Fiction, Entertainment
Buy: AMZ


About the Book

The hilarious behind-the-scenes story of two guys who went out for coffee and dreamed up Seinfeld—the cultural sensation that changed television and bled into the real world, altering the lives of everyone it touched.

Comedians Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld never thought anyone would watch their silly little sitcom about a New York comedian sitting around talking to his friends. NBC executives didn’t think anyone would watch either, but they bought it anyway, hiding it away in the TV dead zone of summer. But against all odds, viewers began to watch, first a few and then many, until nine years later nearly forty million Americans were tuning in weekly.

In Seinfeldia, acclaimed TV historian and entertainment writer Jennifer Keishin Armstrong celebrates the creators and fans of this American television phenomenon, bringing readers behind-the-scenes of the show while it was on the air and into the world of devotees for whom it never stopped being relevant, a world where the Soup Nazi still spends his days saying “No soup for you!”, Joe Davola gets questioned every day about his sanity, Kenny Kramer makes his living giving tours of New York sights from the show, and fans dress up in Jerry’s famous puffy shirt, dance like Elaine, and imagine plotlines for Seinfeld if it were still on TV.
 

~

I enjoyed Armstrong's book on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, more so than this one - I'm thinking it's because I went into that book with less knowledge of MTM than with Seinfeld. I think this had the potential to be a definitive history of the show - Armstrong seems to rely heavily on interviews with writers and outliers (guest stars, people who inspired characters) with zero input from the four principles and Larry David. All through reading this book, I got the feeling we could learn more about the workings of the show. Much of what Armstrong tells here, I got from Fred Stoller's Kindle single, My Seinfeld Year.

It's a decent book, but I wouldn't call it definitive.
 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

3.5 Stars - Cakewalk by Rita Mae Brown

Publisher: Bantam Books
Historical Fiction
Buy: AMZ


About the Book

Continuing in the exuberant tradition of Six of One, Bingo, and Loose Lips, New York Times bestselling author Rita Mae Brown returns to her much-loved fictional hamlet of Runnymede, whose memorable citizens are welcoming both the end of the Great War and the beginning of a new era.

The night a riot breaks out at the Capitol Theater movie house-during a Mary Pickford picture, no less-you can bet that the Hunsenmeir sisters, Louise and Julia, are nearby. Known locally as Wheezie and Juts, the inimitable, irrepressible, distinctly freethinking sisters and their delightful circle of friends are coming of age in a shifting world and are determined to understand their place in it. Across town, the well-to-do Chalfonte siblings are preparing for the upcoming wedding of brother Curtis. But for youngest sister Celeste, the celebration brings about a change she never expected and a lesson about love she ll not soon forget.

Set against the backdrop of America emerging from World War I, Cakewalk is an outrageous and affecting novel about a small town where ideas of sin and virtue, love and sex, men and women, politics and religion, can be as divided as the Mason-Dixon Line that runs right through it and where there's no problem that can't be cured by a good yarn and an even better scotch. With her signature Southern voice, Rita Mae Brown deftly weaves generations of family stories into a spirited patchwork quilt of not-so-simple but joyously rich life.

~

So, if you've never read this series, know they are not written/published in chronological order. If you like a straight timeline, it sort of goes like this:

Six of One (though this one hops back and forth)
Cakewalk
Loose Lips
The Sand Castle
Bingo

I'm giving this 3.5 stars. With this finished I have read all of Brown's Runnymeade stories. I didn't enjoy the last two published, Loose Lips and The Sand Castle, and I thought I had come to the point where I wouldn't read any more. There's something about the time period that drew me in this time, though, and that cover is a delight.

It's been more than a decade since I read Six of One, the original story of Celeste Chalfonte, and Bingo (which is all Juts and Wheezy - sisters who battle constantly - as cantankerous old broads), and I can't rely on memory to note continuity errors. Doesn't matter to me, because I like Cakewalk for what it is - a story within the greater Runnymeade universe that centers on Celeste, who is the strongest character in the series. 

Everything takes place within a months-long span in the early 20s. Wealthy Celeste copes with losing one lover to her brother and gaining a new one, while housekeeper Cora copes with daughters Juts and Wheezy. If you're familiar with the other books, you know what to expect.

I'm almost tempted to revisit Six of One to see how the stories mesh.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

4 Stars - Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

Publisher: Ballantine Books
Historical Fiction
Buy: AMZ

About the Book

Inspired by the life of a real World War II heroine, this powerful debut novel reveals an incredible story of love, redemption, and terrible secrets that were hidden for decades.

New York socialite Caroline Ferriday has her hands full with her post at the French consulate and a new love on the horizon. But Caroline’s world is forever changed when Hitler’s army invades Poland in September 1939—and then sets its sights on France.

An ocean away from Caroline, Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager, senses her carefree youth disappearing as she is drawn deeper into her role as courier for the underground resistance movement. In a tense atmosphere of watchful eyes and suspecting neighbors, one false move can have dire consequences.

For the ambitious young German doctor, Herta Oberheuser, an ad for a government medical position seems her ticket out of a desolate life. Once hired, though, she finds herself trapped in a male-dominated realm of Nazi secrets and power.

The lives of these three women are set on a collision course when the unthinkable happens and Kasia is sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi concentration camp for women. Their stories cross continents—from New York to Paris, Germany, and Poland—as Caroline and Kasia strive to bring justice to those whom history has forgotten.

~

Lilac Girls begins as three parallel threads, each a story about a woman affected differently by the war. American Caroline gives her time and energy to assisting French families and orphans in the US and abroad; Polish Kasia becomes caught up in an underground movement as Nazi forces threaten freedom; and German Herta, a doctor, grows frustrated by sexism in her field as a byproduct of nationalist pride.

Gradually these threads overlap as their stories come together during and after WWII. Kelly writes in the afterword how her book is based upon true stories of the women imprisoned in Ravensbruck and of the real Caroline's effort to see these victims compensated years later. I've been drawn to war fiction lately and a title where women primarily tell the story intrigued. Of the three, though, I found Kasia's story the most compelling - naturally, it's more intense given the setting and circumstances. If you are looking for WWII fiction, it's worth picking up.

ARC received by publisher via NetGalley

Thursday, March 3, 2016

4 Stars - The Time Slip Girl by Elizabeth Andre

Publisher: TulaBella Ruby Press
Historical Fiction, Time Travel
Buy: AMZ

About the Book

What if the woman you loved was more than a century away? Dara, a computer programmer from Chicago, is visiting London when she opens a door in an Edwardian house and slips into Edwardian England. Agnes, a beautiful London shop girl, takes in the bewildered 21st century American lesbian, but, as Dara begins to accept that she is stuck in 1908, she also begins to accept that she has feelings for Agnes that go beyond gratitude. And the longer Dara stays, the harder Agnes finds it to hide her growing love for the accidental time traveller from the future. Will they overcome grief and prejudice to acknowledge their true feelings for one another? Or will Dara be snatched back to the 21st century before they can express their love?

~

I enjoy time travel stories, and this has the added element that nailed it for me - an Edwardian London setting. The romance is sweet and builds up nicely, and there's a good balance of the "fish out of water" trope as Dara adjusts to living in the past.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

3 Stars - Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Publisher: HarperCollins
Fiction
Buy: AMZ

About the Book

From Harper Lee comes a landmark new novel set two decades after her beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch--"Scout"--returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise's homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in a painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past--a journey that can be guided only by one's conscience.

Written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman imparts a fuller, richer understanding and appreciation of Harper Lee. Here is an unforgettable novel of wisdom, humanity, passion, humor and effortless precision--a profoundly affecting work of art that is both wonderfully evocative of another era and relevant to our own times. It not only confirms the enduring brilliance of To Kill a Mockingbird, but also serves as its essential companion, adding depth, context and new meaning to an American classic.

~

I liked To Kill a Mockingbird. It was one of the few required reads in school I enjoyed, and one I read more than once. When I first found out about Go Set A Watchman I was all



and I pre-ordered at first opportunity. Then we all learned about the actual story, then



and then came the thinkpieces. I didn't read any before going into this, and I didn't read reviews despite having the NYT and others spoil certain parts. I wanted to see for myself, and to be honest the book was...okay. It didn't blow my mind, but it didn't infuriate me. It's basically the story of a young woman who comes home for a visit to realize the pedestal on which she viewed her father isn't as high as she once thought. How her family treats her after she confronts them on their prejudices, though, left me rankled.

I thought the strongest parts of the story were the flashbacks with Jem, and I imagine her editor initially thought so, too, and encouraged the story that became TKAM.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

3 Stars - X by Sue Grafton

Publisher: Putnam
Mystery
Buy: AMZ

About The Book

X: The number ten. An unknown quantity. A mistake. A cross. A kiss.

X: The shortest entry in Webster’s Unabridged. Derived from Greek and Latin and commonly found in science, medicine, and religion. The most graphically dramatic letter. Notoriously tricky to pronounce: think xylophone.

X: The twenty-fourth letter in the English alphabet.

Sue Grafton’s X: Perhaps her darkest and most chilling novel, it features a remorseless serial killer who leaves no trace of his crimes. Once again breaking the rules and establishing new paths, Grafton wastes little time identifying this sociopath. The test is whether Kinsey can prove her case against him before she becomes his next victim.

~

Going into X, I had already A through P in the Kinsey Millhone series before I burned out. The premise of X and the knowledge this series would soon end brought me back for a trial period, and I worried at first I might be lost. After a few pages, I returned easily to Santa Teresa as though I'd never left. Maybe I need a refresher on some names referenced, but otherwise I had no trouble.

That said, the book's summary calls X Grafton's darkest and most chilling novel yet in the series. I'm not sure about it. There's no lack of suspense, but it comes slowly and gradually and is interrupted by other things Kinsey has going on at the moment. In this adventure she has no real paying clients and has taken on various tasks:

The suspicious next-door neighbors running a long con on dear Henry Pitts.

The deception of a spurned ex-wife who uses Kinsey for her own gain.

Taking on unfinished business from a dead detective acquaintance.

These threads braid into the story and as I read through to the end I figured out much of the conclusion. No surprises for me, but that doesn't necessarily make X a bad story. I get the impression we might revisit some of this in Y and/or Z, but X reads like things are winding down for the series. If you've enjoyed the series, you might like this one.

ARC received from publisher via NetGalley.

Friday, February 26, 2016

3.5 Stars - The Virgin's Spy by Laura Andersen

Publisher: Ballantine Books
Historical Fiction, Speculative Fiction
Buy: AMZ

About the Book

For those who just can’t get enough of the scandalous Tudors, the author of the popular Boleyn King series offers the second in an enthralling new saga of the royal family, set in Elizabethan England. Perfect for fans of Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir.

This captivating continuation of her award-winning Boleyn King trilogy breathes immerses the reader in the dazzling Tudor court. Realistic period-details, genuine historical figures, and a stunning sense of atmosphere add depth and complexity to the seduction and glamour of the Tudor court in this spellbinding and imaginative sequel to The Virgin’s Daughter.

~

ARC received from publisher via NetGalley.

I've enjoyed this alternative history saga of the later Tudor dynasty. With The Virgin's Spy we are delving later into Elizabeth I's reign and conflicts with Ireland, and the queen's desire to keep Ireland under her control all the while seeking the right marriage for her daughter to keep everybody happy. No small feat, especially when her daughter prefers the son of Minuette, the Queen's childhood friend.

Spy concentrates more on Stephen, Minuette's oldest son and his dealings in Ireland on behalf of the queen. Matters of the heart tempt his loyalties to the crown, and that's just one worry for England seeing as how Philip of Spain has married Mary, Queen of Scots and produced a heir. It seems wagons all over Europe are circling.

There's a lot going on in this book, and that might be why I didn't finish it as quickly as I have the others in the series. The stories are expanded beyond the original trilogy, which I loved, and moving on to supporting players who haven't held my interest as much. Granted, I did like the story but found I could put it down for a day or two before resuming.

Just a minor spoiler, the book ends on a cliffhanger, so we'll see how everything plays out in the next one.

ARC received from publisher via NetGalley.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

4 Stars - Evergreen Springs by RaeAnne Thayne

Publisher: HQN
Contemporary Romance
Buy: AMZ

About the Book

Celebrate the magic of Christmas in Haven Point with New York Times bestselling author RaeAnne Thayne, where hope, home, and happily-ever-after are as close as your holiday stocking...

Christmas is the last thing Cole Barrett is thinking about this year. He's barely hanging on trying to care for his two grieving children since his ex-wife died in a tragic accident. For the reclusive Cole, this is no time for gift-giving and celebration—and certainly not for a sunny-natured optimist to blow into his screwed-up life.

In the years since her cancer treatments, physician Devin Shaw has researched the curative powers of Lake Haven's mineral waters. Unfortunately, the hot springs are on Barrett property, forcing Devin to strike a bargain with the ranch's attractively gruff owner: she'll give Cole's children the magical Christmas they deserve, and Cole will allow her patients access to the springs. But can she work her holiday magic to heal the Barrett family's battered hearts—and her own?

~

This is the second Haven Point story I've read. Evergreen Springs's heroine is a lady doctor and the sister of the previous story's leading lady. When Devin Shaw becomes the de facto physician for an old friend in her third trimester, she ends up linked to the extended family. This includes the handsome yet trouble horse trainer and his two children. Each has troubles in the past to overcome in order to make a Merry Christmas with each other.

Evergreen Springs is a lovely, sweet romance with many elements I likes in a small town romance - smart leads, solid backdrop of community, and a believable build up in the romance. If you like the small town romance you could like this series.

ARC received from publisher via NetGalley.

Monday, February 22, 2016

3.5 Stars - A Winter Wedding by Brenda Novak


Publisher: MIRA
Contemporary Romance
Buy: AMZ

About the Book

One Christmas can change your life...

Kyle Houseman believes he'll never find anyone he could love as much as Olivia Arnold, who's now married to his stepbrother. Not only did he lose her, he's been through one divorce and has no desire to go through another. He's determined to be extra careful about the next woman he gets involved with—which is why he fights his attraction to the beautiful stranger who rents his farmhouse for the Christmas holiday.

Lourdes Bennett is a country music artist. She's only planning to stay in Whiskey Creek long enough to write the songs for her next album—the album that's going to put her back on top. Her dreams don't include settling in a town even smaller than the one she escaped. But as she comes to know Kyle, she begins to wonder if she'd be making a terrible mistake to leave him behind.

~

I'm giving this 3.5 stars, as it falls in between the better installments of the Whiskey Creek series I have enjoyed and the ones I didn't like.

We got Kyle's backstory in When We Touch, and throughout the series we've been reminded of the indiscretion that largely labeled him the most lovelorn man in town. It's taken nine books, but we're finally back with him. We learn all this time he's played reluctant hero (read: checkbook) to his ex-wife Noelle, who clearly hasn't matured since the first story. Something's always broken, rent is always due, she is always short on cash and convinced Kyle will realize he made a big mistake in leaving her. This cycle of whining and appeasement has worn on Kyle, and he's ready to sever it.

Since Whiskey Creek is short on single, eligible women (save for Noelle), country singer Lourdes Bennett moves in temporarily to regroup after a few career setbacks. Landlord Kyle comes through when the home she rents loses heat, and gradually they come to generate their own at his place. Their romance, of course, doesn't sit well with this ex, but I'll leave that drama for you to discover.

A few spoilerish side notes: the situation from the earlier books I didn't enjoy isn't mentioned in this book. I expect it will be addressed eventually - it's not something you can just drop. Also, much is made of Baxter's return to Whiskey Creek, something I hope parlays into a future book with him as the focus. Even if Novak self-publishes it.

Overall, though, I've enjoyed the holiday WC books and I'd rate A Winter Wedding among the WC stories I liked.

ARC received from publisher via NetGalley

Saturday, February 20, 2016

3 Stars - The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev

Publisher: Kensington Books
Contemporary Romance
Buy: AMZ

About the Book

Ria Parkar is Bollywood's favorite Ice Princess--beautiful, poised, and scandal-proof--until one impulsive act threatens to expose her destructive past. Traveling home to Chicago for her cousin's wedding offers a chance to diffuse the coming media storm and find solace in family, food, and outsized celebrations that are like one of her vibrant movies come to life. But it also means confronting Vikram Jathar.

Ria and Vikram spent childhood summers together, a world away from Ria's exclusive boarding school in Mumbai. Their friendship grew seamlessly into love--until Ria made a shattering decision. As far as Vikram is concerned, Ria sold her soul for stardom and it's taken him years to rebuild his life. But beneath his pent-up anger, their bond remains unchanged. And now, among those who know her best, Ria may find the courage to face the secrets she's been guarding for everyone else's benefit--and a chance to stop acting and start living.

Rich with details of modern Indian-American life, here is a warm, sexy, and witty story of love, family, and the difficult choices that arise in the name of both.

~

Dev's A BOLLYWOOD AFFAIR was one of my favorite reads last year. If you look around, you'll find many readers felt the same way. AFFAIR was a delight - light and romantic and strengthened by familial ties and humor. It reminded me a bit of Moonstruck made into a Bollywood love story.

You'll see similarities in theme in A BOLLYWOOD BRIDE, though the story carries a somewhat darker thread woven into the story. Ria Parkar suffered trauma in her early childhood and discovered normalcy in Chicago summers growing up with her cousin and his friend, Vickham (Viky). What promises to blossom into a childhood sweetheart romance wilts with the interference of Viky's mother.

Now adults, Ria and Viky angst their way through the cousin's wedding preparations, with Ria trying to maintain the icy persona for which she is known. Gradually all the barriers break down because, of course, there's too much between them to ignore.

I looked forward to reading BRIDE because I loved AFFAIR so much. And...I liked this book. It's lacks the lightness of Dev's debut, but it tackles issues of mental illness and family tensions. It's a challenge to bring something heavy into a romance story, and Dev does it well. Where I nearly devoured AFFAIR in one sitting, though, I had to set BRIDE down on occasion and pace myself.

I did enjoy this book, however. I look forward to what Dev has for us in the future.


ARC provided by publisher via NetGalley

Thursday, February 18, 2016

4 Stars - Silence and Circumstance by Roy Dimond

Publisher: Untreed Reads
Historical Fiction, Mystery
Buy: AMZ

About the Book

Agatha Christie, pawn or puppet-master?

For eleven days in December 1926, that was the question all of England was asking. Was she kidnapped, or possibly a pawn trapped in an international mystery? Or could she actually be the puppet-master, secretly manipulating an entire nation from behind her typewriter?

Did one of the most disciplined writing minds the world has ever known really just “black out,” only to somehow reappear eleven days later, feeble and disorientated at a spa hotel? And what really was written in her missing diary regarding those eleven mysterious days?

Through a weaving of facts and fiction, the adventure unfolds through the perspective of her governess, Charlotte “Carlo” Fisher. Having accepted the role of confidante to the great writer, and ignited by the receipt of a mysterious letter, Charlotte embarks on a sinister and harrowing quest.

In her exploits, Charlotte is aided by many of the famous and elite of the twentieth century. While Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his protégé, Ian Fleming, speed towards Istanbul on the Orient Express in search of Agatha’s diary, Charlotte discovers clues that dispatch her to Berlin where she stumbles into a world gone mad.

Mysterious societies emerge from the shadows, and it appears something dark is rising...

~

I've read Christie for years, but never a novel based on Christie's life. Of course her disappearance remains a great mystery of our time. This is an entertaining scenario that brings together many names of the era with a cloak and dagger slant. There's more activity with these players than with Christie, but its nonetheless a fun caper.

Friday, February 5, 2016

3 Stars - I Heard a Rumor by Cheris Hodges

Publisher: Dafina Books
Contemporary Romance
Buy: AMZ

About the Book

Chante Britt is nobody’s fool—and she’s definitely not standing by her cheating ex-fiancé and current mayoral candidate, Robert Montgomery. Too bad he chose to tell the media otherwise. To escape an onslaught of prying reporters, Chante flees to her grandmother’s South Carolina beach house. But when she meets Zach Harrington, she may be out of the frying pan and into the fire. The man is arrogant, way too forward—and way too sexy…

Newly divorced and dealing with a scandal of his own, Zach should stay clear of all women. Yet something about Chante draws him in—maybe it’s the drink she throws in his face after his
too-hot-to-handle surprise kiss. Still, Zach firmly believes they can help each other take the edge off. And once he gets her to agree, what could have been a fling promises to be much more—until their personal and public dramas catch up with them. Will past wrongs keep them from finally having the love that’s right?

~

Chante can't escape scandal and innuendo. She escapes to Charleston when an ex embroils her in a scheme to win public approval for his mayoral campaign, and meets a man with his own ex problems. Their first encounter ignites fireworks, but not the romantic kind, but it's not long before Chante and Zach are playing pretend couple to appease her marriage-minded mother.

Throughout the story, they dodge the media (who want to know about her "involvement" with the cheating Robert and his ex-wife, the "Harlem Madame") and succumb to passion at the B&B where they met, on the beach...all over the place. :) Their romance takes them through moments of personal and professional growth and finally away from the obstacles threatening their relationship.

This is a fun read - funny in parts and dramatic in others. I had not read the first book in this series, and I think that would help to become familiar with the entire story.

ARC received by publisher via NetGalley

Friday, January 29, 2016

4 Stars - Reds in the Beds by Martin Turnbull

Publisher: Self-Published
Historical Fiction
Buy: AMZ

About the Book

Hollywood history is more than just colorful. It's dripping with red.

As World War II ends, a new boogieman emerges: the Red Menace. When a scandal accuses Tinseltown of being riddled with Communists, MGM writing department head Marcus Adler needs to keep his reputation beyond reproach. Unfortunately in Hollywood, nobody's past is spotless.

While the House un-American Activities Committee prepares to grill the brightest stars in town, gossip columnist Kathryn Massey is doing everything she can to shed the FBI informer mantle she carried during the war. Desperate to avoid tangling with a notorious mobster, Massey may have to take on J. Edgar Hoover himself to secure her freedom.

The war killed Gwendolyn Brick's dream of opening her own store, but valuable secrets can creep into the strangest of places. From behind the perfume counter at Bullocks Wilshire, Brick makes a shocking discovery that could revive her dream and change multiple lives for good.

~

As the title implies, the Allah series slips seamlessly from WWII into the Hollywood Red Scare era. It seems the trio of friends - Marcus, Kathryn, Gwen - still can't get out of trouble but their stories make for engaging reading. This series has remained strong and I enjoyed it.

Friday, January 22, 2016

5 Stars - Troublemaker by Leah Remini

Publisher: Random House
Autobiography
Buy: AMZ

About the Book

Leah Remini has never been the type to hold her tongue. That willingness to speak her mind, stand her ground, and rattle the occasional cage has enabled this tough-talking girl from Brooklyn to forge an enduring and successful career in Hollywood. But being a troublemaker has come at a cost.

That was never more evident than in 2013, when Remini loudly and publicly broke with the Church of Scientology. Now, in this frank, funny, poignant memoir, the former King of Queens star opens up about that experience for the first time, revealing the in-depth details of her painful split with the church and its controversial practices.

Indoctrinated into the church as a child while living with her mother and sister in New York, Remini eventually moved to Los Angeles, where her dreams of becoming an actress and advancing Scientology's causes grew increasingly intertwined. As an adult, she found the success she'd worked so hard for, and with it a prominent place in the hierarchy of celebrity Scientologists alongside people such as Tom Cruise, Scientology's most high-profile adherent. Remini spent time directly with Cruise and was included among the guests at his 2006 wedding to Katie Holmes.

But when she began to raise questions about some of the church's actions, she found herself a target. In the end, she was declared by the church to be a threat to their organization and therefore a "Suppressive Person," and as a result, all of her fellow parishioners—including members of her own family—were told to disconnect from her. Forever.

~

I read Going Clear and saw the documentary. Both are chilling in terms of their frankness and you learn so much about Scientology from people who gave most of their lives to it. You get peripheral information on the big names involved, though, which is why I wanted to read Leah's book. She came into the "church" via her mother, who went in via her second husband. What you get in Troublemaker is not an involved Hollywood memoir that delves deep into Leah's career - she talks about it, but her acting is the backdrop. This is an account of Scientology told from a celebrity POV, somebody this organization would normally revere for their status (and money), and it left me with my mouth open in a WTF right to the end.

I watched Leah on "The King of Queens" and I remember hearing she was a Scientologist and asking myself, "Wha? How'd she get roped into that?" Reading her book helped me to understand how Scientology appealed to her in her youth, and how it drained her of money for decades and did her few favors. It took four simple words out her mouth ("Where is Shelly Miscavige?") to destroy her standing and consequently crush her faith. Leah prides herself on being a troublemaker, a big mouth, and a badass, and it's interesting that one moment where she showed concern for a friend got her into big trouble.

I enjoyed this book - it's blunt and engaging and emotional. You're going to read things here that will piss you off. I leave it with the hope that Leah will find closure by finding out the truth about Shelly.

Friday, January 1, 2016

4 Stars - A Girl's Guide to Moving On by Debbie Macomber

Publisher: Ballantine Books
Fiction / Family Saga
Buy: AMZ

About the Book

In this powerful and uplifting novel from #1 New York Timesbestselling author Debbie Macomber, a mother and her daughter-in-law bravely leave their troubled marriages and face the challenge of starting over. Leaning on each other, Nichole and Leanne discover that their inner strength and capacity for love are greater than they ever imagined.

When Nichole discovers that her husband, Jake, has been unfaithful, the illusion of her perfect life is indelibly shattered. While juggling her young son, a new job, and volunteer work, Nichole meets Rocco, who is the opposite of Jake in nearly every way. Though blunt-spoken and rough around the edges, Rocco proves to be a dedicated father and thoughtful friend. But just as their relationship begins to blossom, Jake wagers everything on winning Nichole back—including their son Owen’s happiness. Somehow, Nichole must find the courage to defy her fears and follow her heart, with far-reaching consequences for them all.

Leanne has quietly ignored her husband’s cheating for decades, but is jolted into action by the echo of Nichole’s all-too-familiar crisis. While volunteering as a teacher of English as a second language, Leanne meets Nikolai, a charming, talented baker from Ukraine. Resolved to avoid the heartache and complications of romantic entanglements, Leanne nonetheless finds it difficult to resist Nikolai’s effusive overtures—until an unexpected tragedy tests the very fabric of her commitments.

An inspiring novel of friendship, reinvention, and hope, A Girl’s Guide to Moving On affirms the ability of every woman to forge a new path, believe in love, and fearlessly find happiness.
~

This is my first Debbie Macomber book. I'm surprised it's taken me this long to pick up a title, but the premise of this one grabbed me. The story reminded me a bit of Kristan Higgins' "If You Only Knew," but the two aren't exactly the same. Here, the two women starting over are an older woman and her daughter-in-law, both divorcing their respective cheating spouses.

It's nice to read a story with romantic elements featuring an older heroine like Leanne. Her story, with Nichole's, is told in tandem and flows nicely in the first person POV. It's a sweet story you can finish over a weekend.

ARC received from publisher via NetGalley.