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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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Book Review: The House on Maple Street – Spectacular New Author

The House on Maple Street

By Heidi Slowinski

Student Hillary Altman procrastinated until two weeks before school started to find housing. Fueled by waning options and a tight budget, she was excited to see two signs as she cruised around the small town. “Maple Street Boarding House” read the sign by the curb and a hastily written “room for rent” in the window made her stop. The creepy landlord almost made her change her mind, but the charm of the home overrode her anxiety.

Settling in with the other boarders came easily, but she avoided Keith, the landlord. Evelyn, an older woman that actually worked at the college Hillary was to attend, is diving into the layers of the history of the Maple Street home and shares the fascinating facts with the other boarders. Dr. Immerman also works at the college as head of the history department. Then there was Robert. Hillary met him on the day she moved in and became infatuated with the handsome man who seemed rather shy. He doesn’t join them for dinner in the evening and, as a matter of fact, none of the other tenants have seen or talked to him. In addition to the boarders, Beatrice takes care of the home. She cooks and cleans for them and is related to Keith, the landlord.

Shortly after moving in, Hillary encounters a woman and her young son in the home. Apparently, Keith has a family. Sadly, Hillary overhears the fights and sounds of abuse from Keith’s rooms. No one else seems to know anything about it but she is determined to help, even if it puts her in danger.

The House on Maple Street on the surface is a well-done mystery. As the pages unfold, the reader is pulled into a story that is multi-layered with a delightfully surprising ending. Just when I thought I had it all figured out, I was surprised to find out I was totally wrong even though all the clues were there for me to see. Kudos to Ms. Slowinski for creating an unexpectedly spectacular twist in the final chapter.

This is the first book written by Ms. Slowinski. It is exciting to find a new author that jumps out of the gate to lead the pack. I highly recommend The House on Maple Street. This fast-paced book engages the reader immediately and is  must read for anyone who loves a mystery.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Reedsy Discovery in exchange for a fair and honest review. https://reedsy.com/discovery  Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: She’s Out – Is a Felon Ever Truly Free?

She’s Out

By Linda La Plante

You can let a person out of jail, but can said person ever truly be free? Dolly Rawlins was a model prisoner that stuck to herself. Imprisoned for murdering her husband, she paid her debt to society and had lofty dreams of opening a home for orphans. She knew it would not be easy, but having worked with young mothers while in prison and watching the system take away their babies, she knew she wanted to turn her life around by giving back to those who needed her the most.

A group of former inmates have a different plan. Dolly is rumored to have a cache of diamonds hidden from a heist that she was suspected of stashing before her arrest and they wanted a piece of that haul. Hiding their motive by generously offering Dolly a place to stay while she gets back on her feet, each of women dreamed of wealth. Dolly is a smart cookie, realizing the women are plotting something. She is cunning enough to know she needs a place to stay under the radar. When one of the women offers to sell her the old Victorian Grange Manor House, Dolly jumps at the chance. On the surface, it seems perfect to spruce up and turn into a home for children. Unfortunately, the authorities are not on board with a house that used to be a brothel used to house children. Coupled with Dolly’s past, they dashed her dreams.

Dolly still has the diamonds, kept safe by an old acquaintance – or so she thinks. When she begins to make inquiries, Dolly finds out she has been double crossed. Then she comes to the realization that society will never forget her past or allow her to move on. A heist of monumental proportions is the only thing that will set her free.

She’s Out is an intriguingly intricate tale of women that each have their own agenda. They agree they don’t necessarily like each other, but need each other. The story pulled me in immediately, and by the end of the novel, the page-turning plot was impossible to put down until the last words were read. Some novels keep popping up in my mind long after the last pages – this is one of them.

The last book in a trilogy, She’s Out reads perfectly as a stand-alone novel. I have not read the previous two books, but did not feel lost or confused at any point in the book. Ms. La Plante is an acclaimed writer, screenwriter, actress and producer. Her books have been adapted to movies as well as television series.  Bibliophiles who love fabulously written fast-paced thrillers and have not read her works should dive into one of her books. If you are already a fan, She’s Out is a must read. I cannot wait to read her new book, Buried, which is coming in March 2020.

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

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Book Review: My First Knitting Book – Great How-To Knitting Instructions

My First Knitting Book

Easy to Follow Instructions and More than 15 Projects

By: Hilegarde Deuzo

My mom taught me how to knit when I was eight years old. But not everyone has someone who can teach them, but still would like to know how to create their own knitted items. My First Knitting Book is the perfect solution.

With colorful illustrations and easy to follow instructions you will soon be casting on (getting the yarn on the needles to start) and knitting your first few rows. The instructions will also teach you how to purl. You will need to practice making each of these stitches. The “Tips” section will show you how to change colors as well as bind off (which is removing your knit item off of the needles properly).

The combinations of knit and purl stitches are used in most patterns. The seed stitch, basket weave stitch and the moss stitch are introduced. They are combinations of the basic knit and purl stitches. It is fun to see the different patterns emerge as you follow the directions for each of these.

Finally you are ready to create something for yourself or loved one. Bracelets, scarves and hat patterns are included. If you want to make something small and quick there are patterns for coin purses and mug cozies. Knit in festive colors, they’d make great gifts for those on your holiday list.

Maybe you know someone who wants to learn to knit. If so, a copy of My First Knitting Book along with some needles (size 4 to 8) and yarn (worsted in a light color – not fuzzy) would be the perfect gift.

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: Christmas Color by Number – Brings Out the Artist in You

Christmas Color by Number

By: George Toufexis

Say Merry Christmas with this beautiful color by number adult coloring book. Each of the forty-six designs are best done with color pencils of your choosing due to the small spaces that might be difficult to color with markers or crayons. But if you want to use a different media than pencils, each page is blank on the back as well as perforated so no other images will be rendered useless due to bleeding of such things as markers.

Be sure to read the intro page that also included tips and techniques. Of course you know how to color, but the hints on shading, letting colors “bleed” together and directional pencil strokes will come on handy.

Twenty-four colors are used in each of the color by number pages. There are thumbnails of the completed pictures on the inside of the front and back covers. Additionally, there is a list of the colors used and their corresponding numbers. But don’t feel you have to use the numbers. This is your picture and if you want to make a purple dog or an orange Christmas tree – go for it. Personally, I like color by number. My method is coloring all of the small areas first. I also do all one color, then the next color, etc. until the finished picture emerges. Maybe you think I’m crazy and you prefer to do a section at a time. However you enjoy these pages is totally up to you.

My favorite page is the puppy sleeping under the Christmas tree. More than one of our dogs and certainly our cat declared the tree skirt “theirs” for the holiday season. Be sure to pick up Christmas Color By Number before the snow flies so that you can create your holiday masterpiece before Christmas. And pick up a few for friends and relatives – it is an affordable, fun and creative way to welcome in the holiday season.

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: Toxic Octopus – Interestingly Informative Novel Wrapped in Fun

Toxic Octopus

By Lisa Haneberg

Xena Cali is a private investigator. She also owns Paradise Lost Spy Shop on Galveston Island.  Conveniently, she employs Sparky and Dora, the other members of her team. When a member of a local privately funded non-profit organization BARL is murdered Xena and her team are called in after the police determine Fred, a male octopus killed Dr. Jane Moore. Ari, the manager of the cephalopod lab, is sure Fred is not guilty and Xena agrees with him, especially after meeting Fred.

So begins the bizarre investigation including spy cams, Segway Personal Transporters and more danger than Xena could imagine when she agreed to take the case. Soon there is an additional murder that is linked to the case. She will have to use every trick in the book and several of the items she sells in her Spy Shop to catch the real killer and keep herself from being the third victim.

Toxic Octopus is an interestingly informative novel wrapped in fun. I learned more about octopuses than I could have imagined. Yes, the plural of octopus is really octopuses. I also found out that sadly, after mating, the male octopus dies and after laying her eggs the female octopus dies. I also learned all about freerunning, which is also called parkour. Xena practices this art of efficient movement adding ninja like fun to some very dangerous situations.

The plot moves along quickly, building tension until the killer is revealed. One of vehicles carrying the book is the characters’ quick wit and humor. Haneberg made me laugh out loud more than once, especially when Xena gives everyone she meets a different reason for the fashion choice she wears to a gala. There are times when Xena talks directly to the reader, much like the characters in the TV series Scrubs, and it absolutely works.

If you are a fan of Christopher Moore, you will love Toxic Octopus. Haneberg’s style is fun and informative – perfectly balanced with a solid plot and intriguing whodunit. This is the first book in the Spy Shop Mystery Series. The second book, Dead Pelican is available now. I cannot wait to read it.

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

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