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Monthly Archives: January 2020

Christmas Shopaholic–Becky “needs” it all

Christmas Shopaholic

by Sophie Kinsella

Christmas ShopaholicIf you have enjoyed any other Sophie Kinsella Shopaholic books, then be prepared for a treat with Becky’s antics in Christmas Shopaholic. Becky’s  husband Luke has a profitable business. This is a fortunate circumstance for the couple because Becky, who has a good heart, just really has no sense when it comes to finances. She fights a losing battle with her desires to shop. Her version of economizing is buying things she doesn’t need in order to get free shipping. Another of Becky’s cost-saving strategies is to  buy a lifetime supply of a product because it is on sale.

In Christmas Shopaholic, Becky is asked to take over her extended family’s traditional Christmas Day dinner and activities at her own house. As she tries to make everyone happy, Becky becomes quite stressed and keeps getting distracted from her original shopping goals. To complicate matters, her vegan, organic-loving, eco-friendly half sister is back from Chile with monosyllabic responses to everything. Becky’s parents are experiencing life changes, and Becky has to face up to encounters with an ex-boyfriend who has morphed into an alluring rocker.

Christmas Shopaholic is an all-round fun and funny Christmas read with no tissues required. To add to the humor, Kinsella inserts texts and emails that represent Becky’s personality perfectly.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Random House (Dial Press) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult)

Notes: There are eight other Shopaholic books, but each can be read as a standalone.

Publication:   October 15, 2019— Random House (Dial Press)

Memorable Lines:

I should shop ethically. We all should! So I started a little habit—when I’ve been on a shopping spree I try to buy something ethical too. Like those people who buy trees to make up for flying on planes.

Online ordering isn’t really shopping, it’s “procuring.” You procure stuff online. But you don’t get the buzz of actually stepping into a shop and seeing all the gorgeous stuff, feeling it, stroking it, being seduced by it.

In desperation, I’ve been watching one Christmas movie after another and feeling genuine withdrawal symptoms in between. They’re like Valium—not that I know what Valium is like, but I’m guessing. They make me feel calm and happy and hopeful, because in all of them, without fail, Christmas spirit brings everyone together.

Thanksgiving in Paradise–Serenity doesn’t live up to its name

Thanksgiving in Paradise

by Kathi Daley

Thanksgiving in ParadiseThe gang is all back in the township of Serenity located near Paradise Lake when danger explodes, quite literally, in the town hall. Tj, a P.E teacher who helps her family run a resort, and her wealthy, tech savvy boyfriend, Kyle, team up with Deputy Roy Fisher to get to the bottom of the mystery. Was the explosion aimed at the building or at an individual? How was the bombing achieved? There are certainly more questions than answers as the shady side of quiet Paradise comes to light.

The plot elements are well done, and I enjoyed reading Thanksgiving in Paradise. I had two issues which I was willing to overlook as I do enjoy the series. One problem arises from the ease with which Deputy Roy shares information with Tj and Kyle, who then share it with family and friends. I had to keep reminding myself that they are close friends, it is a small town, and the deputies are shorthanded. Although skeptical, I must admit that the team effort pays off. Another minor irritation is the number of times author Kathi Daley tells the reader that Tj pauses giving herself or the person she is talking to time to gather their thoughts. Otherwise, Thanksgiving in Paradise is a fun read with a complicated plot and a successful resolution.

I would like to extend my thanks to Edelweiss and to Henery Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: Could be read as a standalone, but be advised that it is #10 in the Tj Jensen Mystery Series.

Publication:   October 8, 2019—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

I’m the worst person ever,” I said to Jenna two hours later after we settled in at her kitchen table with cups of coffee. “The worst person ever? Wow, that’s quite a claim. I imagine you have some sort of evidence to back up such a grandiose statement?”

I knew that I was doing what I have a tendency to do, which was to make things a lot more complicated than they needed to be.

It’s rare for the entire staff of a high school to be a fan of the principal, but in Greg’s case I can’t think of a single staff member who doesn’t admire and truly like him.

Trap Lane–confusion in Folly

Trap Lane

by Stella Cameron

Trap LaneI’m disappointed. I was sure that Trap Lane by Stella Cameron would be another puzzling, exciting mystery in the Alex Duggins Series. It was indeed puzzling all the way through. I felt like I was missing the backstory, but that was not the case. In fact the characters, including the investigators and the reader are clueless all the way through. Even at the conclusion of the tale, not all of the ends are tied up; and the status of most of the characters (those who are not dead, of course) is unknown.

Setting, mood, and dialogue are all well executed, but the characters fumble around trying to protect each other from various unknown dangers. Secrets obviously abound, but they are vague enough to be uncompelling. The characters don’t seem to understand “obstruction of justice” to the point that they obfuscate the many murder investigations with the end result being more harm than good to those they are trying to protect.

The main characters, Alex and Tony, are likable, but I wished I could alternately shake them into reality or plop them in a new setting. The elderly sisters who run a tea shop have the potential to be interesting characters, but serve more as background. Annie, who is supposed to garner sympathy, is never fully explained and appears a wimp. I like her even less than the stereotyped villainess Neve. Even the thread of the forensic pathologist could have been developed to be interesting. Instead, her potential problems and relationships are mentioned and dropped. 

Although disappointed, I will continue to read the Alex Duggins Series, hopeful that the next book will restore my confidence in this series.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Severn House for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 3/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #6 in the Alex Duggins Series

Publication:   October 1, 2019—Severn House

Memorable Lines:

Accepting that there was nothing she could do to change whatever inner battles he was fighting did nothing to soothe her jumpiness.

So true that love and hate are close neighbors.

What Alex felt for him wasn’t pity, it was closer to grief for the loss of his youthful optimism.

The Christmas Calendar Girls–an advent calendar that helps others

The Christmas Calendar Girls

by Samantha Tonge

The Christmas Calendar GirlsFern, Davina, and Cara bond over children who attend the same school in Birchwood Estate. With different personalities and strengths they value each other rather than hold jealousies. In The Christmas Calendar Girls by Samantha Tonge, the ladies work together to save the food bank that is a lifeline for so many in the community, from the addict to the unemployed parent struggling to provide.

It’s the busy Christmas season and late to begin a project to raise money, but Fern has an idea to save the food bank and engender community spirit and good will. Her friends jump on board to help.

All is not smooth sailing, however, with the project and its changing deadlines or in the “calendar girls’ ” personal lives. Fern is a widowed journalist trying to find a new normal for herself and her daughter Lily. Perhaps she is ready to have a relationship again. Kit, a former client of the food bank, stirs her heart, but is he ready for romance? Davina has always been close to her twin boys, but the more sensitive of the two begins pulling away and the pair get into a fight at school. Cara is fantastic with food, very creative, and a doting, stay-at-home mom. Suddenly she seems to have lost it all as she burns foods, uses the wrong ingredients, and  forgets school notices and weather appropriate clothing for her kids. She fears the onset of early dementia.

Watching these characters grow as they lean on each other and gradually reveal their secrets and rooting for them as they try to help those less fortunate, makes for a gentle, interesting, and inspiring story. Birchwood Estate will never be the same.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Aria for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction

Publication:   October 3, 2019—Aria

Memorable Lines:

That’s what Cara’s homely place was like…If it was a person it would have been a welcoming aunt, who always had your favorite biscuits in and never forgot to send birthday money.

“Bringing everyone together, friends and family, over food and drink, with the purpose of helping people facing difficult times…your idea really does encapsulate everything that the festive season should be about.”

Sometimes I worried I’d never meet another man. I didn’t need one to look after myself and Lily. But I wanted the company. The closeness. I missed that.

The Snow Bear–the old ways are disappearing

The Snow Bear

by Holly Webb

Illustrated by Artful Doodlers

The Snow BearDo you want to share information about the Arctic with the children in your life in an engaging way? The Snow Bear by Holly Webb is a great way to do it. Sara goes to visit her grandfather who lives on a cliffside in Canada. As it snows, he talks with Sara about going to the Arctic when he was a boy with his father to record the life and customs of the Inuits living in the Arctic as Sara’s great-grandfather could already see the old ways disappearing.

When Sara goes to bed that night, she dreams herself into the stories Grandpa told her and has her own experiences which bring the Arctic to life for her. She rescues a cub, falls into a crevasse, and shares a warming Inuit soup.

The Snow Bear is a chapter book. I think children would benefit from reading this with an adult as they look at a map of the Arctic and discuss the terms used. An Internet search of corresponding images for items such as “Arctic tern” and “quilliq” would be helpful too. Although the story is fictional, there is much information included.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Myrick Books/Tiger Tales for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating:  5/5

Category: Children’s Fiction

Notes:  1. The illustrations did not show up well in my Advanced Reader Copy, but the sample line drawings shown on Amazon were perfect for this story.

  2. This is the first book I have read by Holly Webb, but I discovered she is a prolific children’s author with books suitable for all the various ages. 

  3. I also learned that Artful Doodlers is responsible for many of the illustrations that children’s book lovers cherish.

  4. This book is part of a Wintry Tales Series.

Publication:   October 1, 2019— Myrick Books/Tiger Tales

Memorable Lines:

“That’s why we went. We wanted to record it all, before it changed forever.”

…the nearest dog, who was curled up in the snow, with his tail wrapped tightly around his nose and his paws. Sara had never seen a dog curl up so small—he looked almost like a cat. “They can sleep through a blizzard like that. And they have to stay out—they’re our guard dogs, too. They let us know if there’s a polar bear around.”

“We always share what we have,” Alignak said, sounding almost surprised. “Food belongs to everyone who needs it.”

Murder on the Chopping Block–movie set turns violent

Murder on the Chopping Block

by Shawn Reilly Simmons

Murder on the Chopping BlockThe Red Carpet Catering Mystery Series is always open to new adventures because the main character, Penelope Sutherland, is the owner of a catering company that provides meals and snacks for movie productions. So, Penelope and her crew have to travel to wherever the setting for a film is. In Murder on the Chopping Block, they are in Salacia Beach, California, near Monterey. 

Author Shawn Reilly Simmons really knows how to move a cozy mystery along. She uses fairly short chapters, but they end up making you want to jump into the next one. This book has just the right amount of character focus, intrigue, and action combined with a little romance and settings that range from cliffs along the Pacific to beautiful homes of the wealthy. A fun character in this cozy is Mirabella, a cat with an important role.

When a shot rings out on the movie set, the blood is not fake, and Penelope jumps into action. She also overhears a domestic incident that later leads to violence. She picks up on  a lot of clues that others might miss by being observant when she is in the right place at the right time. When others notice her perceptiveness, however, things get dangerous for her.

I would like to extend my thanks to Edelweiss and to Henery Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #7 in the Red Carpet Catering Mystery Series, but works well as a standalone as this plot is not dependent on understanding an extensive character background.

Publication:   September 17, 2019—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

“Come on, sweetie,” Penelope said in a soft voice. Mirabella stared at her, acting like she wasn’t going to follow, then rose up on stiff legs and strutted toward the gate as if it was her idea in the first place.

“I never even thought about what happens to animals after…” “The unexpected happens,” Brice finished her thought. “You know how it is. A lot of people have pets. Even criminals have pets. When stuff goes down, these guys are impacted too. Kids and animals, they suffer the most, if you ask me.”

“Forgiveness is its own reward,” Joey said. “It’s easier and healthier to forgive than it is to carry around a grudge forever.”

Lassoed by the Would-Be Rancher–capturing a cowgirl’s heart

Lassoed by the Would-Be Rancher

by Melinda Curtis

Lassoed by the Would-Be rancherShane Monroe wants so badly to save the little town of Second Chance for both selfish and unselfish personal reasons. He wants to put his expertise in business to work with creative ideas to attract tourists to the area. Shane encounters local resistance; and while he works to smooth things over, he meets Franny, a widow with three children who owns the Bucking Bull Ranch. Franny and Shane share an attraction and admire each other’s skill sets, but are sure that a relationship would have no future.

This romance is packed with danger in the form of massive, feral bulls. It has likable characters who struggle with parent/adult child relationship issues. There is somewhat of a mystery too as Shane tries to establish a basis for historical significance for the town. Is the tale of Merciless Mike Moody a myth? Is there really gold buried in the mountain?

Franny’s children are typical video-game loving boys, but they have learned early, from living on a ranch, that country living requires taking on a lot of responsibility from an early age. We meet several more of the diverse group of Monroe cousins in Lassoed by the Would-Be Rancher.

I had a great time reading this book and learned a lot about bulls and rodeo. The ending is very sweet but don’t skip ahead or it won’t make sense. “Good things come to those who wait.” That is good advice for me as I anticipate the next book in the Mountain Monroes Series.

I would like to extend my thanks to Melinda Curtis for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance (Clean)

Notes: #4 in the Mountain Monroes Series but works as a standalone. There is a chart showing the family relations and the author provides any background from previous books that is needed.

Publication:   January 1, 2020—Harlequin Heartwarming

Memorable Lines:

Her eyes…They were a soft gray. The gray of baby rabbits, chubby ponies and funeral melancholy.

On Grandpa Harlan’s road trips, they’d stopped to help more strangers than Shane could count. Flat tires. Engine trouble. People caught short, asking for gas money to get to the next town. Grandpa Harlan didn’t discriminate or judge. He treated everyone as if they were trusted equals.

The wind rattled the windowpanes. His gaze rattled her.

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