Book Review: Bookshop at Water’s End – Great Summer Read

The Bookshop at Water’s End

By Patti Callahan Henry

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

Lainey and Bonnie have been best friends since they were children. Bonnie’s parents owned a summer vacation home on a tidal river that surrounds a small town. Lainey’s family spent vacations with Bonnie’s family at the River House . As youngsters, they fancied themselves as a pair of modern day Nancy Drews. During their explorations around the tiny town they made notes in a notebook of unsolved mysteries and clues as to what and why things happened. The thing they never could fully explain was why Lainey’s mother had disappeared one night at the River House, never to return.

Fast forward to adulthood – Bonnie has become a renowned doctor and Lainey is a celebrated artist. They live on opposite sides of the country, but keep in touch. They rarely see one another. When Bonnie’s world comes crashing down around her ears, threatening everything she values, she calls Lainey to join her at the River House.

Lainey, fighting the demons from her past, agrees to come. She is bringing her small children with her. Bonnie is bringing her reluctant daughter Piper along to help her restore the River House for sale. Home from her first year of college Piper does not want to go, or babysit Lainey’s kids, but Bonnie has promised her services.

Ghosts from the past are stirring. They seem to arrive with the tides. When the past collides with the present, will Lainey and Bonnie survive? Will the answers they have searched for since childhood finally become clear?

The bookshop owner Mimi has an integral role in The Bookshop at Water’s End. She supplies the background narrative in many places to add depth and important facts about the past. Expertly spun together, the past and present emerge as one like the tributaries of the tidal river that flows around the town.

The realistic characters had flaws. Not just a little added issue, but real, glaring flaws. That brought them to life. Just like real people that have secrets, bad relationships and make mistakes – big mistakes that could be life changing. I loved that about them, all humans make bad decisions that seemed like a good idea at the time.

The story is deep and rich, without being heavy. It is a perfect summer (or anytime) read. The mystery isn’t the focus of the plot, but is always popping up as it colors the thoughts and actions of the main characters. This is not a cozy, but more of a women’s fiction with a vein of mystery running throughout.

Patti Callahan Henry is a New York Times bestselling author. This is the first book I’ve read of Ms. Henry’s but it will not be the last.

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: The Garden of Small Beginnings – Like Gardens, Relationships Must Be Tended

The Garden of Small Beginnings

By Abbi Waxman

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

Lili is many things, just like most women. She is a mother, sister, friend and an illustrator. But the identifying feature that overshadows everything is the quiet grief she carries with her due to the unexpected loss of her husband. Three years after the accident she is still grieving and little bit mad that he left her, even though she is a logical person and knows it isn’t his fault. She feels alone even when surrounded by people.

Her young daughters, Annabel and Clare, keep her going. She has to get up to get them ready for school and drag herself to work to pay the bills. Unfortunately, even though she loves being an illustrator, her job may be changing drastically or gone altogether very soon.  Like a lot of places in corporate America today, she may be the victim of downsizing and reorganization of the company no matter how talented she is.

Amid all the turmoil, she is called to her boss’ office who makes her an offer she can’t (or really dare not) refuse. She is given the task of illustrating a botanical book. Additionally, she has to attend a gardening class run by the head of the company that commissioned the book.

For moral support she makes her sister Rachel as well as both of her children to the class. The instructor is handsome, but not her type. No one is her type. The rest of the class members are quirky and lovable. The group would never have chosen to be together, but their friendships grew along with the gardens they were planting and tending.

I loved the way Abbi Waxman set up the chapters in this book. Each one starts with a gardening tip that very easily parallels Lili’s life. You must tend your garden as well as your relationships.  If you ignore either one, they may wither and die. And sometimes, no matter how well you tend either of them, something may happen to them, but eventually you need to move on.

It was interesting to see how Lili grew with each class, it wasn’t giant leaps of change in her personality, but subtle, gradual moments that allowed me to believe she was going to be okay after spending three years on autopilot drowning in her grief and guilt.

The Garden of Small Beginnings is Abbi Waxman’s debut novel. It is my hope that she is working right now on another fabulous work of women’s fiction right now. She has a voice that needs to be read.

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: The Bronx Kill – Revenge Can Be Murder

The Bronx Kill

By Philip Cioffari

It is said you can never go home again. Home is where you should feel safe, even when ghosts from your past attempt to haunt you. Ghosts may give you nightmares, but family members out for revenge can kill you.

The Renegades, a motley crew of five friends from the Bronx, were inseparable five years ago. That was up until the night they decided to do a dangerous stunt that resulted in one death and one missing person. Charlie is the only one in the old gang left in the neighborhood. Johnny left for the Seminary and Danny moved away to try and forget the event that the remaining Renegades swore to never speak of again.

The old gang is reluctantly being reunited in the Bronx because Johnny has left the Seminary to marry his high school sweetheart. Before the pending nuptials arrive, the guys find themselves in a life and death confrontation with someone who cannot leave the past behind. He has been plotting and planning revenge and is in a position to make good on his threats. If he has his way, there will be funerals instead of a wedding.

The Bronx Kill is a mystery wrapped in revenge. I loved trying to guess the details which were delightfully parceled out until the last chapters. If someone was going to die, would it be one or more of the Renegades? Would it be the man who could not let go of the past? At times I wasn’t sure who, if any of them would survive.

The plot alternates between the past and present until it comes crashing together at the end of the book. The action moves quickly, but it always stays true to the story.

The characters are so well developed, that I think I knew some of these kids in high school. The supporting characters have great balance as well. I knew enough about them to understand what made them tick, but not enough to overshadow the main characters. Every time the bouncers showed up, I had to read a little faster to see what those creeps were up to.

Overall this is a great book. I enjoyed the story and characters. It is the first book I’ve read by award winning author Philip Cioffari. Additionally, Coiffari is a Professor, a short story author with publications in magazines and anthologies and a Playwright. He has also directed for Off and On Broadway. I am going to seek out more of this talented author’s work and I suggest you do too, right after you read The Bronx Kill.

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

 

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.

 

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Book Review: Blood Wedding – Superb Psychological Thriller

Blood Wedding

By Pierre LeMaitre (translated from French by Frank Wynne)

Sophie is a woman in conflict. At the very least she is mentally unstable, but she is quite possibly a murderer. Somehow she goes from being a happily married career woman to a fugitive in the blink of an eye and she cannot understand how the whole thing happened to her.

It starts with little things. Missing items, forgetting to do small errands, lost birthday gifts that turn up months later. These lead up to horrible mistakes at work. Soon Sophie begins to lose more than everyday items; she is also missing parts of her day. She finds herself in places and situations and doesn’t have a clue as to how or why she is there. Her husband is losing his patience and she is sure she has lost her mind.

Each slip of memory chips a sliver of her psyche away until she doesn’t know who she is anymore. It isn’t hard to disappear and reinvent herself when it became necessary, she does what she has to do.  What is hard is finding a new husband whose name she can take to solidify her new persona. But she has always known somewhere inside herself there is a strong, smart woman behind the façade she has built to hide behind. But is there enough of that woman left to save her?

Enter Frantz, the shy military man Sophie meets through a dating service. Frantz wants to help Sophie and she is so exhausted all of the time she is relieved to find someone she can trust to take care of her. Even if she doesn’t really love him, she needs him. He just might be her ticket out of the crazy life hers has become – or is she jumping from the frying pan into the fire by making a pact with the devil himself?

A catalyst, unbeknown and barely associated to Sophie, sets off a series of life changing events. The scariest thing is that any or all of the things that happen to her could happen to anyone if they are in the wrong place at the right time. It is terrifying to realize how easily Sophie’s life turned upside down and out of control.

If you look up Suspenseful Thriller Blood Wedding should be at the top of the list. I could not turn the pages fast enough to see what happened next. The plot is so solid I could not find an unanswered question.

The supporting characters have depth and are memorable without overshadowing but always important to the story.  Their interaction with the main characters enhanced and advanced the plot. The main characters are fully developed, multi-dimensional and seem to jump off the page to grab the reader’s attention. Sophie pulls you into her descent into madness, from which I fervently hoped she would be able to claw her way back to the person she used to be.

Nothing or no one is what or who they seem to be as the plot swirls around Sophie and Frantz. LeMaitre expertly grabs the reader, dragging you into the depth of Sophie’s despair and into the plotting mind of Frantz. Then he takes you on a roller coaster ride through a house of mirrors at breakneck speed, making you question the ideas you had when you met Sophie and Frantz. This adventure is one that readers live for. You will not be disappointed.

From the first page to the last the suspense never stops. I love this book. The lightning fast pace, perfect plot and characters that are unerringly realistic are reminiscent of a Hitchcock movie. Each page helps build the tension until the momentum explodes in the final chapters. The ending is satisfying, with no loose ends begging for explanation, which is perfection.

Pierre LeMaitre is an acclaimed, award winning author and screenwriter. His books are written in French, but many have been translated to English. Blood Wedding is the first novel I’ve read by LeMaitre, but it will not be the last.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from the publisher/author in connection with Killer Nashville in return for my review. Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

 

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Book Review: Armstrong & Charlie – Great Middle Grade Novel

Armstrong & Charlie

By Steven B. Frank

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley and the publisher.

Armstrong and Charlie are sixth graders this year. Both of them have reservations about the coming school year for very different reasons.

Armstrong is going to be bussed to a new school that is much better than the one in his neighborhood, so he will be leaving all of his friends. Everyone knows that friends are very important, and Armstrong is worried he won’t fit it.

Charlie will be losing some of his friends. Their parents aren’t as excepting as Charlie’s are about integrating his school. He also has a deeper problem. His brother died not too long ago and once he completes sixth grade, Charlie will be older than his brother ever was.

The school year starts out rocky, but soon the boys begin an awkward kind of friendship. It is shaky at best, and they don’t see each other out of school because Armstrong lives so far away.

Charlie’s mom and dad are not the same as before. The death of his brother has changed their family dynamic. Armstrong has a bustling family that includes four sisters and his parents. His mom is a nurse and his father was injured in the military.

The boy’s personal lives do not mingle – until a weekend trip with their class. The question is – will the boys grow closer or will they make choices that will cause their differences to explode?

This is a great book for kids in middle school. It is a time of changes and sometimes they feel like they are the only ones feeling left out or different. Armstrong & Charlie shows them they are like other kids their age.

I really like where this book ended up. At first it seemed a bit cliché with the racial issue of the white family being from the “better” area of town and the black family being from the “worse” side of town. For a few chapters I almost wished it had been flipped, with Charlie being bussed.

But as the story unfolds, the author squashes all of my doubts. It is an interesting plot with enough surprises to keep me turning the pages to see what happens next. The choices the boys make have consequences, both good and bad. The author isn’t afraid to let the reader know what could and does happen as the boys grow up during the school year.

I highly recommend this book.

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Escape Velocity – Office Intrigue Can Be Deadly

Escape Velocity

By Susan Wolfe

Escape Velocity has been described as being approximately 33 times the speed of sound on earth. That defines the pace of this second novel by Susan Wolfe.

Georgia Griffin is a daddy’s girl. She loved spending time with him at their home in Piney, Arkansas. Taking care of their horses and learning how to read and manipulate people were activities he taught Georgia and her younger sister Katie-Ann. They have his skills, but didn’t use them. But when one if his cons goes bad and sends him to prison, Georgia knows she has to make some drastic changes to survive. Things go from bad to worse after her mama takes up with a real creep. Georgia set a goal and is determined to see it through. Getting a job in Silicon Valley is the first step, and then saving enough money to get her younger sister out of harm’s way is the second. Katie-Ann is only in high school and too much of a temptation for her mom’s latest boyfriend, so Georgia is on a tight timeline to accomplish what may be near impossible with only a paralegal certificate.

Lumina Software could be her big break. She has interviewed with several companies, but nothing has panned out so far. But this interview is different. She is so convinced it might be the thrust she needs to begin her escape velocity, she is willing to put just a little of what her daddy taught her into play to give herself an edge. She immediately clicks with her potential boss, and finally getting the break she has been looking for; the job is hers.

The pay is great, her boss is even better than she first imagined, but some of the others in the company seemed to have personal agendas. The deeper she becomes involved; the more Georgia feels she needs to channel her daddy to make sure the company is a success. After all, if the company has problems, she might lose her job, then how would she get her little sister out of the mess of a life she has in Arkansas? Georgia is good at finding things out and using them to her advantage. If she pulls one small con to help the company, how could that be wrong? First she needs to find a vulnerable spot or two in a few obnoxious execs, then play them just like daddy would. But could she find out something that might put her in more danger than the business losing a bit of money? Certainly these boardroom bullies wouldn’t go as far as to kill someone – or are the stakes higher than Georgia imagined?

I love the mind games the characters play with each other. After working in an office for over twenty years, I could picture a few of my former unsavory co-workers taking things a step further than they should and then over the line. Fortunately in my life that never happened, but the realistic settings, events and characters in Wolfe’s book bring the schemers and scammers to life. I love hating the bad guys in this book and kept turning the pages to find out if and how they get what they deserved.

Anyone who likes twists, turns and intrigue will love this book. It was fun trying to figure out just who was bad and who was good until the very end. There is nothing better for a mystery reader than not knowing all of the answers until they are revealed in the final chapter, and then realizing the clues were there all along.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from the publisher/author in connection with Killer Nashville in return for my review. Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

 

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Book Review: Little Girl Gone – Fabulous Find!

Little Girl Gone

By Margaret Fenton

Birmingham’s Child Welfare Services are busier than usual, and it is no surprise Claire Conover has a full caseload. As a social worker for the department she has seen her share of kids in bad situations. It appears that today will be no different.

She is assigned the case of a young teen that was found sleeping behind a dumpster. The girl refuses to give Claire any information except that her name is Sandy, which is most likely not her real name. The girl seems too clean and well-fed to be homeless. Claire has no choice but to place her in foster care, which lasts less than 24 hours. By slipping away from one of the best foster homes available, Sandy appears to be on the run from someone or something.

Claire is determined to find out who Sandy really is and who or what she is running away from. An unexpected turn of events surrounding the murder of Sandy’s mother, hands the social worker her true identity. Claire steps up her interviews with friends, teachers and her newly released from prison birth father, in a frantic race to get to the missing girl before someone else does.

The case is getting more complicated then Claire ever imagined. The police are helping as much as possible, but they have limited resources to deal with runaways. Claire teams up with an investigative journalist because he has more sources than she has access to, but that is a double edge sword. She has a boyfriend, whom she admittedly hasn’t had much time for lately with both of their work schedules and Kirk, the journalist has made it clear he would love being more than friends and/or co-workers with Claire.

Little Girl Gone is a fast-paced intriguing novel. The plot is solid and so interesting I literally read this book in less than 48 hours because I could not put it down. I loved the mystery of who Sandy really was, and which one of her friends or relatives she was running away from. And could Claire find her in time to save her from her unknown demons and a very real murderer?

The characters in Little Girl Gone are expertly portrayed. Fenton gives the reader enough information to create full dimensional characters in easy to digest bites. I felt as though I knew each of the main characters well enough to compare them to real life people I have known. Some of them I’d love to have coffee with and chat –

others I would cross the street to avoid. That’s ok, because I am pretty sure that was the author’s intent.

This is the second book featuring Clare Conover; it is the sequel to Little Lamb Lost. I have not read the previous book, but never felt like I was missing information or background by reading Little Girl Lost first. I plan to read the first in this series soon and will be looking for the third in the series that will feature one of the characters introduced in this one.

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.

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