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Book Review: Shake Down – 5th Book in an Entertaining Cozy Series

Shake Down

The Elliott Lisbon Mystery Series #5

By Kendel Lynn

Daphne is missing. She never arrived at her best friend and roommate Juliette’s wedding shower and she is the maid of honor. Everyone is worried that something bad has happened to Daphne, but she has previously disappeared for a few days when she wanted clear her head. As the hours turn to days, the worry machine ramps up.

Enter Elliott Lisbon, PI-in-training and the director of the Ballantyne Big House. In addition to the private quarters, the Ballantyne is known for the charitable events it hosts. Now Elliot – known to her friends as Elli, has a huge event to orchestrate, Juliette’s wedding the following day and a new case – she has to find the missing maid of honor.

There is an interesting twist in the case involving Juliette, Daphne and Tucker, the groom-to-be. They are former contestants on a reality show, Down the Isle. That is where the trio met and Juliette “won” when Tucker chose her from all of the eligible young ladies on the show to marry. What are the odds of a TV reality show creating a happily ever after for two people who didn’t know each other before filming starts? Some of the relationships may work out, but others could turn deadly.

Sea Pine Island, South Carolina is the perfect setting for this cozy mystery. The small island feel as well as the nod to the preservation of sea turtle nests added depth to this cozy mystery. The twists and turns in the case were neatly wrapped up by the end of the book, which I really like even when it is part of a series.

As the fifth one in The Elliott series, the plot was easily a read-alone mystery. I was confused in the first few chapters because I couldn’t figure out if Elliott was a man or a woman. And her best friend Sid also confused me gender wise until I came upon the pronouns identifying them both as female. I can only assume other avid readers get a picture in their heads of the characters which is not easily done if you don’t know if they are men or women.

I am a true fan of cozy mysteries and Shake Down ticks all the boxes. The characters, setting and plot are engaging and interesting. I didn’t see the twist at the very end, so kudos to Ms. Lynn for her plotting expertise; delivering an “aha!” moment for her readers. This is the first book in the series and the first book written by Ms. Lynn that I have read.

 DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Edelweiss in exchange for a fair and honest review. https://www.edelweiss.plus/#sku=1635115876&g=4400&page=1

Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Fortunate Son – Memoir That Reads Like a Novel

Fortunate Son

The story of baby boy Francis

By Brooks Eason

Pregnant girls were hidden in the 1950’s, most of them giving up their children at birth or shortly thereafter. This is the story of one such child. Paul Brooks Eason was born in New Orleans to a college student, and came to live with his adoptive parents and sister (also adopted).

Fast forward to 2004, Tupelo, Mississippi. Brooks’ father, now 82, receives a phone call from a lawyer in New Orleans who is looking for a man named Paul Eason, age 46. Apparently, there has been a nationwide search for the man that was adopted because he is potentially the heir to a fortune.

So begins Brooks’ journey to find out about his birth mother, and the wealthy family he was born into. He dropped his first name and is known by Brooks to friends, family and the clients who retain his services as a lawyer. He has done quite well for himself and is happy with his life both as a child in a loving family and as a grown man with a family of his own. He is intrigued by his newfound connection with his birth family.

Life has a way of repeating itself, and this family is no different. But the way they react is absolutely opposite from the way Ann Lowrey (Eason’s birth mother) and his daughter Ann Lowrey’s pregnancy was approached. His mother honestly had no choice but to give up her child. His daughter, made the choice to continue going to school, bring her daughter into the world and raise her as a single mother with the full support and love of her family.

The author takes us through a first hand account of history through the eyes of his adoptive family as well as the family he was born into. It is fascinating to hear details from 1886 to the present through the filter of someone who lived them and passed family stories down to each generation that follows. Honestly, it is like sitting down to dinner with my dad, listening about his childhood. Adding a human touch and warmth to experiences we’ve read about in history books is exactly what Eason has done to pull the reader in and hold you until the last pages of Fortunate Son.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy from publicist Maryglenn McCombs in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2020 Laura Hartman

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Bookreview: Please See Us – Must Read Debut Novel

Please See Us

By Caitlin Mullen

Women are dead and hidden in plain sight, but no one sees them. Atlantic City isn’t the bustling place it used to be. Casinos have closed and shops are boarded up. The darkened streets breed vermin that walk on four legs and two. Women walk the streets turning tricks and dreaming of a different life, like the dead women once did – who will be next?

Teenage Clara dreams of leaving the life of stealing and scamming and finding her mother who she hasn’t seen in years. Living with her aunt, she reads palms and Tarot cards for the tourists and locals. She isn’t a total scam. Visions come to her about people, mostly unbidden, but it helps reel them in for a reading.

Lily returns home to Atlantic City after heartbreak in New York. She needs to get away from her cheating boyfriend but that comes with a price. Her rising career as a Soho gallery girl comes to a screeching halt and she finds an awful job at a drowning spa. When her path intersects with Clara they begin an unusual partnership that leans toward an awkward friendship. They may be the only two people concerned enough about the missing women.

Please See Us is a brilliantly layered thriller. The indifference and absence of the police throughout the novel works extremely well. Most crime novels have a huge police presence, but Mullen skillfully keeps them in the wings throughout most of the story. Lily is running away from her life, yet a part of her wants to go back and forgive and forget. Clara can’t escape, yet longs for it with all of her being. Luis, a young deaf mute whose life intertwines with Lily and Clara, also weaves his story into the fabric of the novel in unexpected ways.

This is Caitlin Mullen’s debut novel. Her attention to detail creates a setting and characters that come alive on the pages. The characters are complex and interesting and relatable even though most readers hopefully have not experienced the traumas they have endured. She wowed me with the depth of the plot that moved so quickly I found myself reading it late into the night to see what happened next.

I highly recommend Please See Us to anyone who likes psychological thrillers, mysteries and novels featuring strong, unforgettable characters. If you like Gillian Flynn or Paula Hawkins Girl on a Train, you will love Please See Us.

 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 © 2020 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: The Oldest Student – How Mary Walker Learned to Read

The Oldest Student,

How Mary Walker Learned to Read

By Rita Lorraine Hubbard

Illustrations by Oge Mora

Mary Walker was born into slavery in 1848 and always dreamed to be free. At fifteen, she and her family were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. As fabulous as freedom was, she still worked long hard days for very little money.

She really wanted to learn how to read, but there was no time for that. She received a Bible that she cherished but could not read. The time she would have spent learning to read was taken up with working and raising her family. She still longed to make sense of the squiggles she saw in books.

At age 114, she was living in a retirement home. A new reading class was announced in her building and Mary was determined to follow her dream of learning to read. She studied long and hard and finally the scribbles turned into words. She could read her beloved Bible. The US Department of Education proclaimed she was officially the nation’s oldest student.

The Oldest Student shares the true-life story of an amazing American, Mary Walker. The easy to read story is perfect for children ages 5 to 9, but not limited to this age group. It will spark inspiration to children who may be having trouble with reading or learning to do something else they are struggling with and inspire them to never give up just like Ms. Walker.

Award winning author Rita Lorraine Hubbard is also the author of several other books. One of which, Hammering for Freedom, I have read and enjoyed.

Copyright © 2020 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Too Close To Home – Intriguing Mystery Series

Too Close To Home

By Andrew Grant

Working at the New York County Courthouse as a janitor, Paul McGrath is invisible to almost everyone he encounters. That is how he likes it. While doing his job, he is also on a personal mission. Formerly Military Intelligence, he is looking for justice for his father and along the way he cannot help but step in where he sees injustice, all the while focusing on his goal. Alex Pardew is walking the streets a free man. A file of key information went missing during his trial so Pardew, the man responsible for his father’s untimely death, has been released. Righting this wrong will allow McGrath to move on.

Hooking up with a former MI veteran John Robson was a good decision. They live together in the huge old brownstone left to McGrath by his father. This allows them to work the case day and night until they find the missing evidence that will provide them with the truth in his father’s case as well as a few others. But these cases are not simple. There is an underlying conspiracy that will have to be shattered before justice will prevail.

McGrath is a complex character. At first, I thought he was a vigilante, but he is so much more then the surface look provides. He and Robson get things done in unusual ways, oftentimes with a wink and a nod to laws. These modern-day Robin Hoods stand up for those who cannot speak for themselves and get the job done.

Too Close to Home is a fast-paced page turner. The mystery of McGrath’s father’s death is only one surprise for the reader. The plot is intriguing and is laced with beautiful bits of description, such as: “…we paused at the cross streets and then were pulled back into motion as if by the city’s own heartbeat”. Along with enjoying this solid story, take time to savor the words Grant has written.

This is the second book in the Paul McGrath series, but the first one I have read. It works perfectly as a stand-alone novel, as a matter of fact, I didn’t even know it was a series until I looked it up. Fans of Michael Connelly will love this book.

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 © 2020 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Knitting Notions – Adult Coloring Book for Knitters

Knitting Notions

Adult Coloring Book

By: Jessica Mazurkiewicz

The fun but stressful season of parties, presents and perpetual motion is over for another year. It is the perfect time to take a deep breath and relax. There is no better way to relax than grabbing some colored pencils, crayons or markers and lose yourself in the Knitting Notions Coloring Book.

 Anyone can use the complexly patterned pages to relax, especially knitters. Each page has yarn and yarn related images. It is the perfect way to play with color before casting on your New Year’s knitting projects. Mixing colors in knitting is part of the joy and individualism of a project. But knitters know there is nothing more frustrating than completing a project that has taken hours to create and find out the colors just don’t work. Experimenting with color on the pages of this coloring book just makes sense. And is really fun.

I highly recommend Knitting Notions Coloring Book. The images are fun I guarantee they will stimulate the colorist inside of you to branch out and try new combinations and color palettes.

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: You’re Not Listening – When Was Your Last Real Conversation?

You’re Not Listening

By Kate Murphy

When was the last time you really listened to someone? Not just nodding while someone talks, but by putting down electronic devices, turning off the television or radio and actually listen to the person sitting across from you or on your phone. Ms. Murphy contends for most of us it has been a long time since we have really listened and participated in a conversation. This has reached crisis levels for both the listener as well as the person talking.

Humans crave interaction with others. Sadly, we are now interacting more with texts, emails and snapchats instead of talking with each other. Murphy reminds us that when we have conversations, we see the expressions on the speaker’s face as well as the inflection and emotion behind the words. Your phone or computer cannot give you the meanings behind the words. Emojis will never replace true human emotions. Her research shows as much as 38% of feelings and attitudes are conveyed by tone of voice and non-verbal cues make up for “more than half of the emotional content of the message…”. Just thinking about what we are missing by glancing at our phone or reading our email while talking to friends and family.

You’re Not Listening is profound in a gentle way. Behind all of the facts and research is the most interesting non-fiction book I have read in years. The tender nudging for all of us to become better listeners is the persistent message throughout the pages.

Instead of arguing a point during a conversation, actually listen to the speaker’s points of view. Per Murphy: “To listen does not mean, or even imply, that you agree with someone. It simply means you accept the legitimacy of the other’s person’s point of view and that you might have something to learn from it”. To learn is to grow, and how can we learn if we aren’t listening?

This book is interesting, easy and quick to read. But the information imparted to me is priceless. I find myself thinking of the listening recommendations and actually taking time to really talk to others, both people I know and perfect strangers and then actually listening to them.

If you only read one non-fiction book this year, choose You’re Not Listening. It will take you back to a gentler time when we actually spoke and listened to others. Humans by nature want and need to communicate. Start listening, really listening to others and you will not only enrich their lives, but you will greatly improve yours.

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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