Monthly Archives: July 2019

Book Review: The Whisper Man – Haunting Thriller

The Whisper Man

By Alex North

Neil Spencer has a less than ideal life. The six-year-old has two alcoholic parents and he is left on his own devices all too often. When his father decides to let him walk back to his mother’s house alone, it is the last time he was seen. He is not the first missing child Detective Inspector Pete Willis has searched for and won’t be his last.

The small town had a serial killer targeting children years ago, but Frank Carter, aka The Whisper Man, had been caught and was in prison. But Neil’s disappearance was eerily similar to the Whisper Man cases. Some of the children’s bodies have not been found and continue to haunt DI Willis. He is determined to find Neil before he became another unsolved mystery.

Meanwhile, another family in this small town is troubled. Tom lives with his young son, Jake, in the home in which Tom’s wife/Jake’s mother tragically died. Jake is understandably troubled. He has an imaginary friend that he talked to all the time. The small family decides to find a new home so that they can move on. After the move, he tells his father that a man is whispering to him telling him to unlock the door of the new house and let him in.

Understandably Tom was distraught. He contacts the local police, who at first don’t really believe anything is amiss, especially because Jake is known to have imaginary friends. Once DI Willis hears about the whispers, he immediately knows it has to be The Whispering Man’s accomplice. Would he be able to keep young Jake safe? Would they finally locate the other missing boys’ remains?

The Whisper Man is a haunting thriller that skillfully pulls the reader into the story from the first pages. At times I couldn’t stop reading, and was holding my breath as the plot unfolded. North created characters that came alive on the pages. When I read lines such as “…grief is a stew with a thousand ingredients, and not all of them are palatable…” they stick in my mind long after the last page. This was so much more than a mystery, reminiscent of Dean Koontz, thought provoking descriptions and beautiful turns of phrase keep readers slowing down to enjoy the journey of the fast paced plot.

If you are a fan of mysteries, thrillers and heart stopping plot twists, this is the book for you. Alex North is a pen name, so I’m not sure if I’ve ever read anything else that was written by him. If anything else he’s written is as intensely engaging as The Whisper Man, I will be the first to get a copy.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: The Arrangement – Desperate Times Call for … Murder?

The Arrangement

By Robyn Harding

Small town girl Natalie is out of her element. It is her choice, but life is harder and more expensive in New York City than she could have imagined. Loving the freedom and following her dream of art school is the best part of her life. Unfortunately money is a big problem. She lives with two roommates but is way behind on her portion of the rent. She loses the job that is barely keeping her head above water and turning the alcohol isn’t helping.

One of her friends at school offers Nat a solution to her situation. Ava has a posh apartment, stylish clothes, makeup and hair. When she reveals to Nat that she is a sugar baby, Ava tells Natalie that she dates men for money. Quickly explaining to Nat that sugar babies can just date older men, no sex has to be involved – unless it is her choice. At first Nat is repelled by the idea of dating men for money, but the amount of cash the sugar daddy pays for a dinner date could catch her up on the money she owes her roommates. After much deliberation, she decides that she will go on a date or two, get the cash and get out. The only problem is she really likes Gabe, her sugar daddy.

Falling for Gabe was easy for Nat; he is gorgeous, smart and rich. She starts to depend on the lifestyle and wants more than dinner and going to the theater. Things quickly begin to unravel. Soon she finds out he has secrets. Just how far will Nat go to have Gabe to herself? She is convinced they love each other and are destined to be together. But his family may not agree.

In the prologue of this fast paced novel, Natalie is calling her estranged father from the police station stating she has killed someone and needs his help. So the reader knows from the beginning that someone dies. It is a delicious bit of information that was always in the back of my mind. Who will die and why? While this isn’t a mystery, the element of the unknown is a fabulous addition to the complex plot.

The Arrangement is the perfect glimpse into a life most of us will never see – or want to ever be a part of. Ms. Harding explains in Acknowledgments the depth of research she did before writing The Arrangement. Doing her homework on the subject is what brought this book alive, and made the characters real. It is the first book I’ve read from this author and I highly recommend it.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: The Body in the Gravel – Sexy Cozy Mystery

The Body in the Gravel

A Jazzi Zanders Mystery

By Judi Lynn

Cousins Jazzi and Jerod, along with Jazzi’s fiancé Ansel are house flippers. They do most of the work themselves. They depend on others for things that are not in their wheelhouse, such as delivery of gravel and concrete as well as furnace replacement. Luckily they have a close friend, Thane that happens to be living with Jazzi’s sister Olivia, who is a whiz when it comes to heating and AC. But when Thane and Darby, the cranky old buzzard that delivers their gravel meet up at the reno house, Ansel and Jazzi discover a long lasting feud between the two men. They didn’t know that Thane’s best friend, Walker is Darby’s son. Walker and his mother fled from the abusive Darby two years ago without a trace. Thane thinks Darby killed them.

When Darby ends up dead in a load of gravel dumped at the house Ansel and Jazzi are working on, Thane is at the top of the list. But soon the list of suspects is broadened to the guys that worked for him, family members and all of his friends – who are more like enemies due to Darby’s volatile nature. When another person connected to Darby is found dead, and a presumed dead person is found alive the case becomes even more complicated.

Jazzie is determined to help Detective Gaff find the murderer. He is more than willing to have her input, as they have worked several cases together in the past. But she has more than a murderer to worry about. She and Ansel are getting married in a few weeks and she doesn’t even have her wedding dress yet!

I love cozy mysteries. Of course they are not War and Peace, but no one wants them to be. They are fun, fast reads with interesting elements. The house flipping factor is fun, especially if you are a fan of HGTV like I am. Another element that I love is the delicious foods Jazzi and Ansel cook and bake. They are a couple of foodies, sharing their love of food with us. As a bonus to the readers, a few of their recipes are included.

The other element that was a bit different from most cozy mysteries is the romance between Jazzi and Ansel. Most cozies have the on again/off again boyfriends that never seem to be resolved. The sexy but never explicit interactions between the main characters was not frustrating or irritating to me like the traditional cozy plot lines of never committing in the relationship. Kudos to Ms. Lynn for having her characters have a happily ever after – with a side of murder.

This is the third book in the Jazzi Zanders cozy mystery series and the first one I have read. It works well as a stand-alone novel. The only time I was confused was the first few chapters as there are several characters that are introduced from the previous novels. But I soon knew who everyone was and the role they played in the plot.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Girls of Pearl Harbor – Page Turning Historical Fiction

The Girls of Pearl Harbor

By Soraya M. Lane

 

Sisters April and Grace, along with their best friend Poppy are on an adventure. At least for now that is what it feels like. The girls have been close for years, and when April decided to follow her dream to become a nurse in the military, Poppy and Grace went along. They were far from dedicated in the beginning; Grace couldn’t even stand the sight of blood. But all of them made it through nursing school and enlisted. Their assignment was in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. It was 1941 and they seemed to spend more time on the beach than nursing, which was working out fine for Grace.

Then tragedy struck. Pearl Harbor was attacked. Life as they had grown accustom to was forever changed. People very close to them died that day and the wounded needed the nurse’s care more than ever before.

After the initial tragic days, it was evident the girls might not be staying in Pearl Harbor because they needed to be closer to the action to help our wounded soldiers. When April decided to go to Africa, her sister insisted on going also. They were needed there, but the living conditions were poor and the injuries were much worse than they encountered in Hawaii.

Their personal lives were in turmoil as well. Grace trying to be her own person and April always trying to mother her didn’t help. The girls love and depend upon each other, but even sisters have secrets they don’t want to share.

The Girls of Pearl Harbor allows the reader to enter an historical event from an angle different than most. All Americans as well as most of the world have heard about the attack that brought the United States into the war, but the characters bringing the reality to readers from each of their different perspectives was very interesting.

I also liked that choice of the girls going to Africa instead of the South Pacific as was expected. I didn’t realize that much fighting during the war was based there, as well as the brave nurses and other medical personnel that were needed to care for the wounded.

The characters were interesting and multidimensional. The growth in the nurses, as well as the way each of them handled their job as well as their personal losses, was an integral part of the plot and well done. The only thing that didn’t ring true was the amount of time they spent holding each other’s hands, grasping hands, clutching hands…it seemed as though they could not walk anywhere without all of them holding hands like toddlers. I even asked my aunt who lived on the base at Pearl Harbor while her husband was stationed there in the late 1940s if women held hands all the time. She answered no, they did not. I understand once in a while when someone is upset, but it got to be too frequent for me, taking away from the story.

Overall, The Girls of Pearl Harbor was very interesting and the characters likeable. I recommend it to fans of historical fiction and women’s fiction.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: One Stitch Baby Knits – Must Have for All Knitters

One Stitch Baby Knits

By Val Pierce

So you’ve learned how to knit a basic knit stitch. You’ve mastered casting on and hopefully checking your gauge. Perhaps you’ve made a few washcloths and maybe a scarf, but you want to branch out.

One Stitch Baby Knits is just the book for you. Ms. Pierce has compiled a collection of 22 baby patterns that range from beginner to experienced level. Each of them has simple, easy to follow instructions as well as beautiful color pictures of the finished project.

The first pages are important if you are a new knitter. There is a section on choosing your materials, which sometimes is difficult for newbies. Personally, I only use washable acrylic yarn for baby gifts. No new mom wants to hand wash and block her baby’s wool sweater every time the baby spits up on it. The instructional pages regarding knitting are detailed and have color pictures to help you along. The most important thing is your gauge – every knitter I know hates to do a gauge swatch, but it is very important to make one to ensure the proper fit of hats and other garments. You don’t want to spend weeks making a sweater that ends up too big or too small.

I know several beginning knitters that will argue that they are not ready to make a blanket or sweater. But the easy instructions and construction of One Stitch Baby Knits will quickly change your mind. If you can knit a washcloth, you can make the Geometric Blanket. It is the very first beginner pattern and the beauty of the pattern is the simplicity. I have been knitting for over 50 years and can’t wait to make this blanket for the next baby in our family.

My favorite pattern is for the Sleepy Cow Hat. It is adorable and will be perfect to use up some yarn in my stash. My least favorite patterns are the booties. But it isn’t just this pattern book, I am not a fan of the boxy shape of most booties, but don’t let my preferences influence your knitting.

No matter what level you are as a knitter, sometimes you want quick easy patterns to choose from. One Stitch Baby Knits is the perfect solution.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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Book Review: Entangled Forest and Tranquility Adult Coloring Books

Entangled Forest Coloring Book

By: Angela Porter

And

Tranquility Coloring Book

By: Diane Pearl

Entangled Forest brings you thirty-one pages of designs centered in nature and the forest will relax you and help you unwind by coloring the flowers, birds, trees and animals like you have never seen before. By using crayons, colored pencils, paint or markers each page will come to life with your unique spin and style.

Tranquility has been created for the “sophisticated colorist”. Featuring thirty-one perforated designs that are a little less detailed than Entangled Forest, but complex enough to become individual works of art on every page. They allow your creativity to shine, all the while giving you time to relax and recharge.

I looked up adult coloring on the internet and list upon list of links were available. Clicking on several, both news sites such as Huffpost and private sites like Bebrainfit.com are all touting the benefits of stress relief and relaxation. If you have children or grandchildren, you might be coloring with them in kid’s coloring books. It is fun and the perfect way to have some quiet time with them, but I highly recommend adult coloring books due to the complexity of the design for you to try. These two books are perfect examples of books that appeal to adult level creativity.

Both of these books have a place in your life. I suspect your children have several different coloring books and choose the one they feel like coloring any particular day. Adults also have days they want to color smaller designs and days larger, quicker designs are best. I also suggest giving them for gifts to stressed out friends and relatives. But don’t let that limit you – I also gift coloring books for Christmas and birthdays with a colorful collection of pens and pencils just for fun.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy from Dover Publications in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review – Cut & Assemble Haunted House – Must Have for Halloween

Cut and Assemble Haunted House

By: Matt Bergstrom

Who wants a detailed three story Haunted House for Halloween this year? Matt Bergstrom and Dover have teamed up to create a paper masterpiece for your home. With scissors, glue and a craft knife, adults or teens can create an entire Victorian Mansion complete with furnishings, fences and a dinner table laden with food.

There are ghoulish guests and creepy cooks to add to the fun. Monsters and bats are sprinkled throughout to amuse and entertain everyone that creates it and enjoys the finished product. Be sure to read the detailed instructions to ensure the success of your project. Pay special attention to the “Avoid bloodshed” section – it outlines safety as well as gives tips on how to embellish your Haunted House with spooky extras like spider webs and dead plants.

Even though the thermometer is 90 in the Midwest, all too soon it will be time for sweatshirts, crunching through autumn leaves and trick or treaters. According to www.statista.com/, Americans spent just over 9 billion dollars on Halloween in 2018 and 2.9 billion of those dollars were on decorations. My advice is to pick up your very reasonably priced copy of Cut and Assemble Haunted House now so that you have time to get yours ready in time for the festivities. I can almost hear the oohs and ahhs from all of your friends and trick or treaters now!

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy from Dover Publications in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Make in a Day Crafts For Kids – Fun Projects

Crafts For Kids

By: Cintia Gonzalez-Pell

Kids love crafts. Every kid I’ve encountered, including my own sons and grandsons love to make things out of paper, string, paint, glue…pick any medium and they have probably used it. So I was very excited to see a book of 15 fast and fun projects.

Definitely written with older children in mind, these crafts include Painted Animal Gift Boxes, Colorful Yarn Dreamcatchers and Decorated Wooden Bangles. Each project will require adult supervision as well as a list of supplies.

Younger kids could probably make some of the crafts, but will need more than a little bit of help. I would say the easiest is the Artist Abstract Painted Canvas. For this you will need a small stretched canvas, acrylic paint, removable stickers, painter’s tape and of course brushes, water and something to protect the table you are working on. Your child will begin by painting a colorful abstract background. When it dries, apply the stickers and painter’s tape. Then paint over the entire surface with white acrylic paint. When dry, remove the tape and stickers and your child will have a really cool abstract work of art to hang or their wall or give to a loved one as a gift.

Older children might like to create Fruity Plant Pots. Using paint markers, they can create these one of a kind works of art. If they don’t want to use the designs in the book, they can create whatever makes them happy to keep for themselves or give as gifts. Younger children could create these with a bit of help as well.

If you want to make something for the youngsters in your life, the Painted Animal Gift Boxes are adorable. This craft requires sketching the faces, painting the background, and then adding details like pompoms, felt ears and googly eyes. As previously stated, an older child may be able to create these, but younger kids might be frustrated with the various steps and fine motor skills needed.

Over all, there are some great ideas in Crafts For Kids. Kids and adults will love making gifts and decorations for their homes.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy from Dover Publications in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe – What Will Your Legacy Be?

Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe

By Heather Webber

Anna Kate arrives in her tiny hometown of Wicklow, Alabama for the first time since she was a child. She is there to lay her beloved grandmother, Zee, to rest. She has to stay for a couple of months according to her grandma’s will. Anna Kate has to run her grandma’s Blackbird Café and then sell it before she can begin medical school in the fall.

She hasn’t been back to Wicklow since she was a child. At her grandmother’s knee she learned to make the famous pies for the Blackbird Café. It is rumored that if you ate a piece of the pie, your deceased relatives would send you messages at night. No one could or wanted to explain it, but most everyone in town believed it.

At Zee’s funeral, not only were the townspeople in attendance, the blackbirds were also there, which is unusual since the townspeople know they only come out at midnight, sing for an hour then leave. When word got out about the blackbirds unusual behavior, bird lovers began to flock to Wicklow.

Anna Kate is determined to leave, but every passing day she falls more in love with the town and it’s residents. Her heart is opening up to the people and the blackbirds. What will happen if she leaves now? The only people she wants to get away from are her father’s family. She blames them for pushing her mother out of the town and their lives. They blame her mother for her father’s death.

From the very first pages the characters jump off the pages into the reader’s heart. Anna Kate is torn between her feelings and a promise she made to her dying mother. She has to choose between what her heart says is right and her responsibility. But each passing day she begins to see more clearly what and who the results of her decision will affect. What will her legacy be?

So many of the townspeople are memorable, it is hard to pick one or two to highlight, but I’ll give it my best shot. The head birder is a hoot. The town busybody made me chuckle. Natalie, Anna Kate’s aunt (who she first meets at the café) is a broken woman after her young husband’s death but is determined to be a great mom to her adorable daughter Ollie. Mr. Cat seems to know things no one else does and has a great sense of direction.

Heather Webber (also writes as Heather Blake) is a prolific writer of over twenty-five novels. I have read and enjoyed several of her cozy mysteries. Midnight at the Blackbird Café has an element of mystery about Anna Kate’s parents, but it is an absolutely fabulous work of women’s fiction. I could not put it down and now that I finished it, I keep thinking of the town that has something special for the residents as well as the readers. Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe needs to be on your summer reading list.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Bookish First in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: The Book Charmer – Sweet as Southern Tea Infused With Magic

The Book Charmer

By Karen Hawkins

Dove Pond, North Carolina is a dying town. Businesses have moved out taking many of the residents with them. Sarah, a member of one of the founding families is desperate to save her town. When she finds out a new family is moving into a house on her block, she is absolutely certain that Grace, one of the newcomers, is going to be Dove Pond’s salvation. She doesn’t know how or why, but Sarah is certain and is willing to do anything to help.

Sarah and her sisters are known for their ability to see, hear and feel things other people cannot. As the librarian in town, Sarah hears books. They quietly let her know who in town needs to read them. Not everyone believes her, but even after arguing that they don’t want or need the book, they always end up reading and benefiting from the knowledge or help they receive. Grace will be no exception.

Grace has moved to the town because her beloved foster mother, Mama G is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and her doctor felt going back to the town she grew up in would help slow down the progression of the disease. Giving up a great paying job, she packs up Mama G and her niece Daisy and moves into a rental home in the tiny town. Grace is determined to stay one year, and then go back to her old life. The problem is, Grace’s sister, recently died, leaving her daughter in Grace’s care – so now she is the mother of an angry child instead of a doting aunt.

Working for the mayor, Grace is expected to be in charge of a huge festival that the cash strapped Dove Pond does not have the resources to pull off. Can she actually save a town she doesn’t plan to stay in longer than a year? Grace needs the support of the longtime residents, and be able to work with them, especially Sarah. Grace is overloaded to say the least, and totally unsure of herself. She is a caregiver, an aunt turned parent and working for a mayor who cares more about fishing than his city. To add to her troubles, she is uncomfortably attracted to her new neighbor, Travis. Grace has way too much on her plate, and to top it off, Mama G has made several mysterious predictions about ghosts and Grace’s future.

 The Book Charmer is tale as sweet as southern tea and infused with a sprinkling of magic. The serious thread of Mama G battling Alzheimer’s is very true to life. The advice from the kindly town doctor and Travis, who even while fighting his own demons, takes time to be kind and help Mama G is heartwarming. This is a beautiful work of women’s fiction that brought tears to my eyes more than once.

Karen Hawkins is a New York Times and USA Today best-selling author. She has published several books before The Book Charmer, but this is the first one I have read. I am delighted to find out it is the second one in the series, and can’t wait to read the first novel as well as anxiously anticipate the next one in the series.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Bookish First in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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