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Book Review: To Be Where You Are – The Latest Book in the Mitford Series

To Be Where You Are

By Jan Karon

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

Mitford is a small town tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains. The locals know everyone and everything that goes on in the town. Information spreads faster than the cool mountain breeze of autumn when something good or bad happens to any of the inhabitants.

Like any small town, there are interesting stories of citizens that have been there for generations. They are kind to the new residents, whom they welcome with open arms. Karon shares many of them with her readers.

To Be Where You Are chronicles the lives of several of the families and individuals living in Mitford. One of them is an adorable little girl named Grace Murphy. She is writing and illustrating a book. Not an easy thing for a little girl who is six, but almost seven.

The local vet, Dooley Kavanagh and his wife Lace are up to their eyeballs in happiness and troubles. Like most young couples they are devoted to each other and have less money and time to relax than older couples often do. But they are happy, especially now that they are parents. Lace cannot have children of her own, but they are adopting a four year old boy who needs parents more than anything. Jack will be the son they have prayed for and Dooley and Lace are happier than they ever imagined with him in their lives.

There is a grumpy old man, Avis, who owns the local store. He is gruff on the outside but does everything that he can to help the local farmers. He does this quietly and gracefully, most people not knowing of his good deeds.

Karon writes spiritual books, To Be Where You Are does not deviate from the writing path she has chosen. She also writes books about real people, in real situations that most of us can identify with. That is one of the charming aspects of this series. There are no less than three priests in this book. One is retired, one is currently serving the parish and one has just felt the calling from God to become a man of the cloth. My favorite was the retired one, he seemed to do more work than the other two combined. His on the spot marriage counseling was spot on.

There is more than a smattering of animals that play a big part in the cast of characters. How can you not love a huge bull named Choo Choo? Several dogs and a few cats were additional bright spots I enjoyed.

This was an interesting book. It jumps from character to character, so the first few chapters were a bit confusing for me. Just as I was getting to know a character and situation, they would not show up for several chapters. The names were difficult to remember because the character list is so long. While by the end I had them figured out, the middle was muddled because I had to go back to see who was who.

I loved the ending. It wrapped up all of the story lines with satisfying endings. I anticipated the big surprise (which I will not reveal here – you will have to read the book!) it was not unexpected, but made me happy nonetheless.

I recommend this book to anyone that likes spiritual fiction as well as books that have a large cast of characters. It is heartwarming and charming.

Karon is a best-selling author of many books, including the Mitford Series. This is the fourteenth book in series, highlighting the third generation of Kavanaghs. It is the first one I have read, but I didn’t feel as there were any backstories that I didn’t know. It worked well as a standalone book.

 

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

 

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Book Review: A Measure of Murder – Cute Culinary Cozy

A Measure of Murder

By Leslie Karst

Sally Solari has more on her plate than the delicious meals she is serving at Gauguin, the restaurant she recently inherited. Her schedule is full with the management of Gauguin. She is also helping her father at Solari’s, the restaurant her family has owned for years. Sally is slowly trying to find a replacement for herself so she can focus more on Gauguin, but her father is resisting her efforts. He is sure no one can take his daughter’s place in their family’s Italian restaurant.

Even though Sally loves the restaurant business, she decides to carve out a bit of her precious free time to do something for herself. Deciding she will spend some of the precious few hours of her free time by joining a local chorus that needs members.

Like any social group, the choir has personality conflicts, but overall they are a great bunch of dedicated vocalists that enjoy each other and their craft. The director has found fame with the discovery of some sheet music by a famous composer making the pull to be a part of the choir more desirable. Unfortunately their first rehearsal ends in tragedy. One of the tenors falls to his death. His girlfriend seeks out Sally and asks her to investigate the accident because she is sure it was murder.

The police have closed the case, but Sally agrees to switch her chef’s hat for a deerstalker a la Sherlock Holmes because she doesn’t think the evidence adds up to an accident. That means that one of the members of her choir could be a murderer. Let’s all hope Sally isn’t the next victim.

Karst writes a meaty cozy mystery. Her characters are strong, multi-faceted and interesting. Sally juggles her career and personal life just as most of us. She loves the restaurant business, her family and friends. It is refreshing to read a cozy mystery without the main character being a bit ditzy. Her father and grandmother enforce the family values she believes in as well as adding humor to the story.

The plot is interesting and solid. There are several suspects, all of them likely killers. As Sally quietly works the case in her spare time, the motives are varied and believable I was convinced I knew who the killer was until a new theory was introduced that was as likely as the previous one making me change my mind in an instant.

A Measure of Murder is the second Sally Solari Mystery by Leslie Karst. It is the first one I have read, but it worked well as a stand-alone novel. That being said, I enjoyed it so much I plan to read the first in this series, Dying for a Taste. It was really a sweet treat to get to the end of the book and see that some of the delicious recipes discussed in the novel were in the final pages. All of them look delectable. I can’t wait to try the Grilled Salmon with Papaya and Avocado Pico de Gallo.

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. Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Reincarnation Blues – Perfection is Elusive … I Loved This Book!

Reincarnation Blues

By Michael Poore

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

Milo only has a few more chances to get it right. He should be good at this living thing, since he has had almost 10,000 tries to live a life worthy of not having to come back and try it again. Unfortunately, he seems to mess it up one way or another every single time, leaving him to be reincarnated to try again. The problem is, his advisors in death tell him they won’t know what will happen to his soul if he doesn’t get it right by the 10,000 try – no one has taken this many lives to get to the perfection it takes to cross into the golden light.

He learns things in each life he lives, but unfortunately, he has not lived up to the standards required to cross over. So he is born again and again and again. Each time Milo dies, he wakes up in water, and death is there to greet him. Death is not one entity, he or she in Milo’s case – is many deferent beings. Milo’s death person is Suzie, he gave her the name several thousand lives ago since her real name is too hard to pronounce. Therein lies another problem. Milo and Suzie have fallen in love with each other. Maybe a part of Milo doesn’t want to become perfect because how could life – or death as it were – be perfection without the woman he loves?

This is the most interesting, quirky, funny book I have read in a long time. The lives of Milo are vastly different and read like short stories in the middle of the story that is part of the whole story. The beauty of it is, Poore’s masterful prose links all of the events so perfectly together, it reads like the novel that it is at the same time and isn’t confusing at all. Milo transcends time and space to live in the future, past and present. Sometimes he is rich, then he will be poor, then he has to be a bug or a slug or a fish if he does something really stupid or bad in a previous life. Each life and death is so entertaining I could not put this book down.

Milo is one of the most complex characters I have ever encountered. Because he is many people: old, young, brave, scared, cranky – you name it Milo has done it. One of his lives brought out almost any emotion or reaction a human could have, but all of them were distinctly Milo. His essence was always inside and managed to peek out when I least expected it. He is kind, smart and helpful even if sometimes he resents having to try and live up to the perfection level that seemed so elusive. He is often endearing like the grumpy old man that has a soft heart for the neighbor kids.

This is Michael Poore’s second novel. It is the first novel or short story of his that I have read. If you are a Christopher Moore fan, you will love Michael Poore’s writing. I love the wit and wisdom that Poore brings to life through his characters and the complexity of Reincarnation Blues. He packs a lot of punch into this novel, but it is packaged into an easy to read page turner. I loved Poore’s style and have ordered his first book, Up Jumps the Devil and cannot wait for it to arrive.

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: The Best Kind of People – Add to your list now!!

The Best Kind of People

By Zoe Whittall

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

Sadie, a senior in high school, is on the fast track to the college of her choice and has a boyfriend that she adores. Her life has not been perfect, but the trauma of a childhood event that could have ended in her life is now a memory, like a bad dream. But it really happened, and her father became the hero, saving her life and undoubtedly many others in the process.

She has a great family. Her mom, Joan, is an ER nurse. Her dad, George, is a beloved teacher at the school she attends. Her brother, Andrew, is older, has moved away from their hometown and is in the process of finding happiness away from the ghosts of his past. Unfortunately, the entire family’s almost perfect life is about to come unraveled at the seams.

George and Joan Woodbury have a nice home in a gated community. Unfortunately, the fences are not high enough to keep the lions from the gates once George is arrested. He tells his wife there is a group of girls lying about him. They say he sexually assaulted them on a field trip. When the police unexpectedly arrive at their doorstep, handcuff George and execute a search warrant on their home, his family is devastated. He assures them it is only a formality and he will be home as soon as his lawyer clears up this misunderstanding. Unfortunately for George, he is seen as a flight risk due to his family’s money and bail is denied.

Joan is trying hard to hold things together. The press won’t leave them alone and almost all of her friends have abandoned her. Her sister is there to support her and her son Andrew is coming back on weekends to do what he can. But sometimes you need someone you are not related to in order to share what you are thinking and how you really feel. So even before the trial, she decides she needs to go to a support group for families of people who commit crimes like those George has been accused of.

Sadie can’t go to school because of the comments, stares and numbness inside of her. All of the sudden her life is no longer what she ever imagined and honestly is having trouble coping. Is her father guilty? Are the girls lying or telling the truth? Either way, will her family survive intact?

This novel is so real it is frightening. Sometimes monsters are ordinary people living ordinary lives. Lies are told, crimes are committed and they could be the next door neighbor that you invite over for a BBQ – until their secrets are exposed. Whittall’s characters come alive on the pages through little things that made them seem like people you work with, live by or live with. Conversations subtly demonstrated the growth and pain of each, drawing the reader into their thoughts and confusion.

This is the first novel I have read my Zoe .53Whittall; it will not be my last. She is the author of Bottle Rocket Hearts and Holding Still for as Long as Possible. It is no surprise that Ms. Whittall is a national bestselling author in Canada or that The Best Kind of People was a finalist for the 2016 Giller Prize. If you are a fan of Jodi Picoult – you will love The Best Kind of People.

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

 

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Book Review: Two Nights – Page Turning Gem


Two Nights

By Kathy Reichs

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

Sunday Night just wants to be left alone. Recluse by choice, she prefers Bob the squirrel to most humans she encounters. So when she is asked to find a missing girl who is most likely dead, she is hesitant to say the least. It takes some convincing, but something about Stella, the missing teen seems to be calling her.

Night intuitively believes Stella is still alive. She worries that the kidnappers are going to kill her or do irreparable damage if someone doesn’t find her soon. Unfortunately, that would mean she would have to take the case. Stella’s grandmother is willing to pay her a boatload of cash to find the kidnappers. Grandma isn’t the snuggly type. She is the rich, entitled crusty old woman who wants revenge for her daughter and grandson’s murders that happened when Stella was abducted. It is assumed they are the same people holding the teen.

Against her better judgement, Night takes the case, in part due to a dark time in her past. Once she is on the hunt, she will stop at nothing until she finds the girl. The fact the abductors will pull out all stops to keep Night from stopping them doesn’t sway her from her mission. Working outside of the law she is in a race against time to find the group of people that have Stella and may be planning something much bigger. If they have their way hundreds, possibly thousands of people will die.

Reichs pulls the reader into the story immediately. Done in first person, the reader knows everything that Sunday Night is thinking. Her stream of thoughts gives you the feel of who she is immediately. Not always a likeable person, Night really tries to respond how she should when someone annoys her, not how she wants to. While this novel is not a comedy, I smiled and chuckled more than once over Night’s unfiltered thoughts.

In addition to unforgettable characters, the places they travel to and visit are described so vividly you are right there with the characters. I especially loved it when they were in Chicago. I recognized exactly where Night was because I have been there many times. Reichs paints the landscape with her words, such as “…hatted heads like dots in a Seurat landscape” and “…a barrier of scraggly crepe myrtles doing their best”. The reader immediately has the scene the characters moving through in their minds.

Kathy Reichs is an amazing story teller. It is no surprise that she has been winning awards for her books since the first one she penned in 1997.  Two Nights is a stand-alone novel but I selfishly want to read more books with Sunday Night as the main character. I hope Ms. Night is still whispering in Ms. Reichs’ ear so another novel featuring her will be coming soon.  I read this book in just over 24 hours because I could not put it down.

 

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

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Book Review – Ten Dead Comedians – The Perfect Locked-Room Mystery


Ten Dead Comedians

By Fred Van Lente

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

Van Lente has crafted the perfect locked-room mystery.  His stunning debut novel begins with nine comedians receiving invitations to come to an island retreat in the Caribbean. It is the home of renowned comedian Dustin Walker, who is beyond famous. Each guest hopes that Walker can do something to jump start their floundering careers. They were the next best thing at one time, but for most of them it was a flash in the pan. They plummeted from the spotlight as fast as they ascended, but with Walker’s help they all figure they will be back in demand again.

The only problem is, once they arrive on the island via boat with Walker’s assistant Meredith Ladipo, they find themselves stranded. Walker is nowhere to be found, the boat is gone, there is no WIFI and the caretaker is mysteriously absent. Ladipo assures them everything will be fine. They were uneasy, but were willing to wait it out due to the rewards Walker promised them. That was all good and well until the first murder occurred.

This brilliant mystery has the perfect setting for the crazy characters Van Lente created. Where else but a comedian’s island paradise house could hold such a cast? Each character has issues. One of them is an alcoholic; one is trying to be way younger than she really is with the use of cosmetic surgery and yet another did something in his career that will come back to haunt him.

Then there is the killer. Who is it? Since the island appears deserted, it must be one of the guests that came expecting to meet with Walker. Perhaps there is someone hiding on the property. Maybe it is an elaborate joke. How many will have to die before they are either rescued or find out who is behind all of this?

This book is the mystery lover’s dream come true. If you are a fan of stand-up comedians it is nirvana. I loved the plot, the surprises at the end as well as the characters in this book.

Between chapters, Van Lente has inserted stand-up bits from the characters. You can tell immediately which comic is performing before you see their name at the end of the bit because you will come to know each character intimately. Some of the bits are cutting, others bawdy and one is very sad. The author does a perfect job of pulling emotions out of the reader via his true-to-life characters and the perfect plot.

Ten Dead Comedians is a must read for mystery fans. I highly recommend it.

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

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Book Review – Isolation – A Captivating Mystery

Isolation

By Mary Anna Evans

Mary Anna Evans’ ninth Faye Longchamp Mystery begins on a somber note. Not only is one of her best friends murdered, but Faye is mourning another loss. Late in her pregnancy, she lost the baby girl she was carrying and will never be able to have another.

Faye is distracted and absent even when in the same house as her family. She has isolated herself from her work, her husband Joe and even her toddler son Michael. As often happens, the loss of her loved one rekindled the desire to learn more about her ancestors. In Faye’s case, she is becoming obsessed with Cally Stanton, the former slave that was her great-great grandmother. Every morning Faye leaves her home to randomly dig holes around Joysuse, the private island that her family has lived on for decades. Cally actually lived in Joe and Faye’s home and Faye is convinced she can find more evidence of her ancestor’s slave days if she just keeps digging, both figuratively and literally.

Faye doesn’t notice much of the world around her until one of her friends ends up dead. Her visiting father-in-law, now out of jail, is looking pretty suspicious. Joe is highly distrustful of the man who left his family years ago, but Faye isn’t really convinced he could have brought harm to the people she cares about.

When Joe realizes Faye may be the next target of the murderer, he has to take action. Both to convince the Sheriff of the threat to his wife and to protect the woman he loves. Joysuse is the perfect place to isolate yourself from the world and your pain, but it can become a trap with a killer on the loose.

This series is as fresh as an island breeze and the plot is as turbulent as stormy seas – the perfect balance for an outstanding mystery. The suspect list is not long, but each of them has reasons that are absolutely believable to have done the crimes. Each time I was convinced I figured it out; the next chapter made me question my deductions. The end was perfect for a mystery lover like me. It was full of breakneck action-filled suspense until the moment the killer was revealed.

Faye Longchamp-Mantooth is one of my favorite fictional characters. She reacts like a real person would given the situations she finds herself in. Joe is her perfect mate; he is patient, loving and willing to give Faye the space she needs even though he is in mourning for his loss too. He is terrified he will lose Faye to the demons inside her or the killer.

Evans is a master at showing the feelings of her characters. More than once I sniffled at the kindness and patience Joe exhibited towards Faye. When he cooked dinner for his wife, after she had not been eating for way too long was one of the sweetest interactions I have ever read.

This is the second Faye Longchamp Mysteries I have read. I found both of them to be smart, engaging and captivating. It was easy to immerse myself in the story and lives of the characters. It is no surprise that Ms. Evans is an award winning author. She has multiple degrees, is a professor and musician. Lucky for me and all mystery buffs, she combines all of her research and knowledge to create fabulous works of fiction for us to enjoy.

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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