This section is for books that don’t seem to fit anywhere else. 🙂
ARBORVIEW by Karen Guzman
Fiction, Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Blurb: Ellen Cahill’s financial future rides on the success of her new pastry shop. A bruising divorce has drained her bank account, along with her spirit. A man enters her life promising love, but Ellen, haunted by the past, questions whether she can pull off this new beginning. College student Rosa Escamilla has her own culinary dreams—and a difficult mother who’s dead set against them. Rosa won’t be deterred. She scrapes up the money to enroll at a prestigious culinary school, setting out to prove everyone wrong. When hidden betrayals by the people they love most surface for both Ellen and Rosa, can they overcome the blows they never saw coming on the road to where they want to go?
Thoughts: Wow. I don’t read a lot of “women’s fiction” types of books, but if they are like this, I may have to look more. Or definitely for this author. I have become a definite fan. The story focuses on two women – Ellen, who’s older (late 40’s) and Rosa, who’s younger (late teens/early 20s) and their lives.
Ellen Cahill has gone through a rough divorce and is trying to figure out what’s next. How to start over after twenty years of marriage. Her two kids are off in college and she’s left alone to ramble around her big house. But she’s not ready to give up the place she’s spent her entire adult life. But with a mortgage hanging over her head, she need to figure out how to get the money to keep it. Her best friend, Alice, aims her toward a local junior college where she gets a job teaching a class on baking and pastry. She also meets William there and falls for him. Meanwhile, Rosa is working multiple jobs to earn money to go to culinary college even though her mother doesn’t approve. But she is determined to find her way and Ellen encourages her.
I loved that Ellen had a special place—Arborview—which was her kids treehouse. She spends a lot of time there figuring out what to do with her life. And it becomes the focus of her anger when things go horribly wrong.
This is a story about perseverance and believing in yourself. The author pulls all the emotions out—joy, sadness, fear, anger, and satisfaction. It’s a great story to curl up with. To read how Ellen and Rosa face what’s going on in their lives, and how they pull through. The only question I had – and it’s a very small one – but Ellen could barely figure out where to get the money to pay her mortgage, so where did she get the money for the bakery? But again, a very minor “huh?”
Recommendation: Pick this book up! I don’t care if you’ve never read “women’s fiction” before, get it. It’s an amazing story and you will not be sorry.
Disclosure of Material: I received a final and/or advanced reader copy of this book with the hope that I will leave my unbiased opinion. I was not required to leave a review, positive or otherwise, and my opinions are just that… My Opinions. I am posting this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”
BERNIE & BERTIE by Michael Owens
Fiction, Dark humor
Blurb: They looked alike, dressed alike, shared the same food preferences, finished one another’s sentences. What were the chances that in a world where opposites attract and likes repel, two people so similar in every way, including their successful careers as serial killers would meet, fall in love and form one of the deadliest duos ever? Bernie and Bertie did just that, and this is their story. There was a lot of smoke in that old VW bus, the one with all the psychedelic swirls painted on the sides, the one where Bernie Mitchell’s hippie parents would perish. Part of the smoke came from the newly-rolled highly-potent reefer his parents were sharing, but most of it came from the fire that Bernie set using gasoline-soaked rags. Not his fault, though, he had to do it. A guy could only take so much. Many years and many killings later, when he discovered his doppelganger, Bertie, a successful serial killer in her own right, it was like meeting the female version of himself. Their methods and motivations were slightly different, but they were so alike they instantly knew more about each other than most couples do after years together. There was no need to share their personal histories of murders and mayhem; it was all understood from the start. Well, misunderstood, rather, because they were blameless. “We’re like a little Justice League,” Bertie said after they’d dropped another body into the ravine. “We do what has to be done.” But bliss is a fleeting thing, isn’t it? After a couple of cozy years and several more killings, the ties that bound them frayed a bit, and their paths began to diverge. Bernie launched into a new venture of organic farming which led to an alliance with a church group which led to feelings that maybe he wasn’t such a freak after all, just a regular guy doing regular things.
Of course, Bertie had something to say about that. “We’re not regular people, Bernie, never have been, never will be.” Meanwhile she’d begun writing a novel based on their lives including detailed descriptions of their homicidal misdeeds. “I always wanted to be famous,” she said. “You know, go out with a bang, like Bonnie and Clyde.” Bernie objected. He had no desire to go out at all, banging or otherwise. The characters on the cover of Bertie’s book had blonde hair instead of the greasy black mops that topped off both Bernie and Bertie, but the disguise seemed flimsy, and it wouldn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to eventually follow the bloody path to their door. Bernie saw only one possible outcome; his partner had to go. Unfortunately, Bertie had reached the same conclusion.
Thoughts: The summary (blurb) for the book pretty much says it all – and I mean everything, including the ending. It would have been better had this been cut in half, to tease the reader in, not give them a synopsis. This is a dark, mildly humorous book that is about two serial killers who find each other and fall in love. It’s interesting how the author gives us peeks into their psyches and comes up with almost plausible excuses for what they do. And the bodies keep piling up. Then Bernie finds religion and Bertie writes a tell-all book. And things change. What I didn’t like: I didn’t particularly care for the “depression” angle of everything. Not all serial killers have depression, and not all people suffering from depression are serial killers. Pushing that reason forward does a disservice to those with mental health issues. But overall, it was a unique story, something I’ve never read before and for that reason alone, it was…interesting. Okay, being honest here, I didn’t like the story that much. No, that’s not right. It is a well-crafted story with interesting characters and a (sort of) satisfying ending. It’s just not *my* kind of story.
Recommendations: Do I recommend this book? If you are a fan of dark humor, nasty characters, but mostly decent writing, yes, I do recommend it. Would I read it again? No. But I have friends who would like this book. And it is for that kind of reader that I recommend it.
Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in hopes of an honest review. All opinions are my own.
These Nameless Things by Shawn Smucker
Publisher’s Blurb: Dan escapes captivity from the mountain long ago, but believes his brother is still there and waits each day in a nearby town for his escape. What Dan doesn’t realize is that the rest of the townspeople are also waiting — but for reasons he never imagined.
Review: I went into this book having read Shawn’s previous YA novels and expecting a bit of fantasy. This was very different, definitely geared for a more mature audience, grappling with difficult concepts of grace and redemption. It started a bit slower but picked up momentum quickly with the introduction of memories long forgotten by our characters, and drawing inspiration from mythology and classic literature.
What worked for me: Shawn’s reimagining of settings and characters icons from classic literature and mythology.
What didn’t work for me: I feel like the first two or three chapters were a little slow and repetitive, but hang in there, the rest of the book works!
Recommendation: I highly recommend this book. Be prepared to do some of your own souls searching as you read. You may come face to face with a few of your own “nameless things” as the characters discover their own. But like the characters, the journey in this book can take you on a path of self-reflection and forgiveness if you allow it to.
THE BOOK OF CAROLSUE by Lynne Hugo
Fiction, women’s fiction
Blurb: CarolSue and her sister, Louisa, are best friends, but haven’t had much in common since CarolSue married Charlie, moved to Atlanta, and swapped shoes covered with Indiana farm dust for pedicures and afternoon bridge. Louisa, meanwhile, loves her farm and animals as deeply as she’d loved Harold, her late husband of forty years. Charlie’s sudden death leaves CarolSue so adrift that she surrenders to Louisa’s plan for her to move back home. But canning vegetables and feeding chickens are alien to CarolSue, and she resolves to return to Atlanta–until Louisa’s son, Reverend Gary, arrives with an abandoned infant and a dubious story. He begs the women to look after the baby while he locates the mother–a young immigrant who fears deportation. Keeping his own secrets, Gary enlists the aid of the sheriff, Gus, in the search. But CarolSue’s bond with the baby is undeniable, and she forms an unconventional secret plan of her own. How many mistakes can be redeemed?
Thoughts: I thought the book was slow and hard to get into for me, but it’s not a bad book—it’s just the author’s style. It’s kind of like someone you know who’s telling you a story and rambles on about a lot of things in general. Actually, now that I think about it, it’s a lot like reading a play. There are four characters: CarolSue is the main character. Then there’s her sister Louise, Louise’s son Gary, and Louise’s boyfriend, Sheriff Gus. The story is told from all four points of view with CarolSue being in first person and the rest in third person. It’s a story about death and life, loss, and grief, and family. It’s also about religion and immigration. It’s a story about living and what we do when we’re faced with challenges. When CarolSue’s husband dies unexpectedly of a heart attack, her sister Louse swoops in and takes charge, moving CarolSue from her posh home in Atlanta to a farm in Indiana. CarolSue wants nothing to do with farming, but it’s all she has until Gary comes home with a baby—and CarolSue takes over her care. Even though the story is about CarolSue, it takes the entire book for Louise to come to terms with the death of her own husband Harold.
What I liked: It’s an interesting book full of poignant moments and the challenges of families. There are arguments and non-arguments, sarcasm, and moments of humor throughout. I loved the “special” tea the sisters rely on to get them through some things. “Wild Turkey” certainly makes tea special. I also liked the references to Louise and Gus “napping” throughout.
What I didn’t like: I had trouble getting into the multiple POVs at first – though I am thankful that the author delineated each POV with who it was at that particular time. I also thought the book a little slow – for me.
Recommendation: If you’re a fan of women’s fiction about families, I’d pick this one up as well as the first one (about Louise and Harold). You don’t have to have read the first one to know exactly what’s goin on in this one – I didn’t and had no trouble picking the story line up.Thanks to the publisher for gifting this book to me. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by anyone.
TWENTY by Debra Landwehr Engle
Publisher blurb: At age fifty-five, Meg’s life is too filled with loss for her to remember what magic feels like. All she has left is a yard brimming with plants that are wilting in the scorching Iowa summer—and a bone-deep feeling that she’s through with living. Meg has something else too: a bottle of mysterious pills, given to her years ago by an empathetic doctor. He promised that they would offer her dying mother a quick, painless end in exactly twenty days. Though her mother never needed them, Meg does. But a strange thing happens after Meg swallows the little green pearls . . . Now that she’s decided to leave this world, Meg is rediscovering the joy in it. She sheds everything she no longer needs—possessions, regrets, guilt—and reconnects with those she cares for. Finally confronting the depth of her grief, she’s learning that love runs deeper still. But is it too late to choose to stay?
Review: This was a very well-written book. The chapters are short, as is the book. All that being said, that doesn’t mean it’s an easy book to read, because it’s not. And maybe that’s because of my personal situation. As I was reading, I’d get through a chapter and have to put it down because it is such a difficult book to read—and no, I’m not talking vocabulary. The subject is death—and life. There is a lot of poignancy to the story as well as imagery that goes with the subject. It is a strong book. A good book. But not an easy book.
What I liked: the character of Meg. I know her. All too well. Also, I found it interesting that there is a discussion section at the back for book clubs and others to question and discuss this book.
What I didn’t like: I’m not sure I liked the ending. The not knowing. And yet… if I’m truthful, I will admit that the ending is perfect for the book. The author did the story justice in ending it the way she did.
Recommendation: As I said, this is a very strong book and well-written, but it is a book with a very sensitive subject—suicide. Euthanasia. Life. But mostly, death. Be forewarned about that. I do recommend it, but you need to be aware of that.Thanks to the publisher for providing this book.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~THE PIT AND THE PASSION: MURDER AT THE GHOST HOTEL by M.S. Spencer
Fiction, Mystery with Romantic overtones
I’m not sure whether to call this a mystery or a romance because it’s both. There’s a decent cozy mystery going on throughout the book—actually several mysteries that the author deftly ties together by the end. And a rather hot romance—so beware. If you don’t like it graphic, there are a few areas where it’s a little intense.And that’s my only real issue with this story. I was looking for a nice cozy mystery, not a hot romance. I wasn’t prepared for the bedroom scenes. Though the author did tone things down a bit in several areas, there was still a bit more in the sex department than I was prepared for. Please, don’t get me wrong. I like a good hot romance as much as the next person. Heck, I used to be an editor for an erotic publisher so I’ve seen it all. And I don’t mind romance in a cozy mystery—it happens often that the sleuth eventually has a partner. What I didn’t like was being in the bedroom with them. Cozies don’t usually get this warm in the romance department.
The relationships between the sleuth and the “love interest” evolve slowly—sometimes very slowly—over several books.Still… the mystery was a good one with lots of red herrings and possible suspects. The sleuth—Charity—is a reporter for a local newspaper on a Florida Key. Her partner—Rancor—is a famous thriller writer. He comes across as a user—always begging money, using other people. He doesn’t seem to have any redeeming qualities and I’m not sure why Charity ended up with him other than he was a good lover. But he is central to the story as his family is deeply ingrained in part of the mystery.Charity and Rancor travel all over—from Florida to Paris to London and back to Florida in their pursuit of truth. The mystery itself is almost a hundred years old and deals with two skeletons found in an abandoned hole of an unfinished hotel.
The author did her research and it shows—though she did diverge a little on a lot of the details in order to fit the mystery in. It was a little disconcerting as she’s working with famous names but not with all the truth. Okay, it’s a fiction book, but if you’re going to use famous names, you can’t change their known history (which the author did). It is still a good read, though.
So… recommendations? If you don’t mind hot romance with your cozy mysteries, go ahead and pick this up. Or maybe a satisfying cozy mystery with your hot romance? Either way, it was a quirky, fun read so pick your poison.
TOMORROW’S BREAD by ANNA JEAN MAYHEW
3 ½ Sparklers
This is a charming book that’s a relatively quick read if you don’t mind first person/present tense interwoven with third person/past tense (varies by chapter and character). In this book, the author weaves a story of Black families in a 1950s-60s neighborhood called Brooklyn—part of Charlotte, N.C. In the story, the good white people of Charlotte are determined to “improve” parts of their town through Urban Renewal. To do so, they displace families and businesses with no care for the inhabitants—where they’re going to go and how they’re going to live.
The story is told through the perspective of three main characters. Loraylee Hawkins is a single mother who is the sole supporter of herself, her son, her uncle, and her grandmother—all of whom live together. She’s in love with the father of her son, but he’s a white man and there’s no way they can be together.Ebenezer (Eben) Polk is the minister of the local church. He’s a widower who becomes the “father” to his sixteen year old nephew Noah when Noah’s father (Eben’s brother) is killed. Eben’s church and the accompanying cemetery will be destroyed when the Renewal comes through. He needs to deal with that, with the death of his wife and brother, with all the changes hitting him late in his life.
Persy (Persephone) is the wife of the greedy white man who’s pushing to get the Renewal through. Her point of view is a direct contrast to the people who live in Brooklyn, and yet she’s a sympathetic character.
The setting is believable and the characters well drawn, but it seems a little superficial. I’d have liked a little more depth to them. Also, I had trouble getting into the story—the language is true to the society and time, but that can make it a little hard to get past sometimes, which makes it slow to start. But once you get into the story, you forget about the language and just “listen” to their stories.Would I read this again? Probably not. That’s not saying it’s not a good book. It is. It’s just not *my* kind of story. Would I recommend it? To people who like this kind of historical fiction, yes. They would probably enjoy it much more than I did.Vicky B