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Book Review: Still Crazy – Debut Fiction

By Judy Prescott Marshall

By Judy Prescott Marshall

Julie Holliday is certain her husband Dan is cheating on her. Again. She is still in love with him, and prays that he will stop his philandering, but time and time again she finds evidence that he is involved with other women. She begins to plan her escape. Heartbroken, she sells her beloved bakery and slowly liquidates her rental properties.

Leaving the man she has loved since they were young is not easy, but she cuts all ties with friends and family so that he cannot find her. Driving without a destination, she comes upon a small town in Rhode Island and soon makes it her home. Using her savings to purchase a large home, she finds a local handyman to help her renovate it. He is like a father to her. The transformation to an inn makes Julie happy, but never brings her peace. She is still in love with the man she left behind.

Still Crazy is a book of hope and rejuvenation. The characters grow and mature throughout the novel. The setting is ideal. The serenity of a small New England town is the perfect backdrop for healing a heartache and building a new life.

This is the first novel by Judy Prescott Marshall. She is the sauthor of a sef-help non-fiction book: Be Strong Enough. Still Crazy is the first book in a series, the second, The Inn in Rhode Island, will be at your local bookstores soon. I recommend Still Crazy to fans of Hallmark movies and books as well as onyone who enjoys a strong woman’s story of survival.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received an ARC for free from Bookish and the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2021 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Morningside Heights by Joshua Henkin

Spence and Pru live a quiet life. He is an accomplished Shakespeare professor at Columbia in New York. She once aspired to become a lawyer, but after meeting Spence, she forfeited that life for becoming the professor’s wife and the mother of his daughter. Pru was also an orthodox Jew, that lapsed when she left home.

Spence has a son, Arlo, from a previous relationship. Arlo visited a few times each year, but never lived with them longer than a week or two. Living a nomadic life with his mother, he had recently been living in a commune in Delaware. His mother’s greatest aspiration was to poop in every state. At fifteen, Arlo chose to live with his father and Pru. Life was different from the nomadic life he lived with his mother, most notably schooling, or lack thereof. That was about to change, even if Arlo had learning disabilities – it did not matter if he liked it or not.

As time goes on, Pru realizes Spence is becoming forgetful. The Alzheimer’s diagnosis is not unexpected. It is devastating nonetheless. Everyone’s life changed along with Spence as he deteriorated. The question is, will Pru and this children, Sarah and Arlo be able to hold on to the fragile family structure they have built or will it collapse?

Morningside Heights is interesting and true to life. Having had members of my family stricken with Alzheimer’s Disease, I understand the tumultuous path the characters must travel. The characters are interesting and I love the way Henkin allows Arlo to grow and change over the course of the book.

This is the first book I have read by Joshua Henkin. He is the author of multiple short stories as well as several novels. One of which, The World Without You, is the 2012 winner of the Edward Lewis Wallant Award for American Jewish Fiction.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley and the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2021 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: In A Holidaze – Funny, Sexy and Heartwarming – I loved this book

In A Holidaze

By Christina Lauren

For as long as she could remember, Maelyn Jones has celebrated Christmas with her family and close family friends in a snowy mountain cabin in Salt Lake. Many things have changed over the years, but the constant in Mae’s life is the week with everyone together each December – that is until this year. The devastating news that the cabin is going to be sold is bad enough, but on the way to the airport, Mae and her family are in a serious car crash – but did it really happen?

Waking up on the plane after the car crash, Mea is confused. Her family tells her that they are on the way to Salt Lake, not on the way home and there was no accident. Mea knows better – she knows the details of the week, including a hookup with one of the guys she now regrets. Just like the funny movie Groundhog Day, she has to redo the week – this time hopefully getting it right. Everyone thinks there is something wrong with her except Benny, a college friend of her parents. He believes Mea but tells her she has to figure it out herself in order to stop the time traveling loop she seems to be caught in.

In A Holidaze is cute, funny, sexy and has a satisfying end. All of the characters are developed with interesting backstories binding them all together since the parents of Mae and her contemporaries met in college. Marriages, divorce and children have not stopped them from celebrating the holidays together each year. They are perfectly suited for a Christmas story. Mae is at a crossroad in her life and the author allows her to flounder as she learns the important lesson of growth and stepping out of the shadow of others to become the person she wants to be.

I love all things Christmas. I could picture this as a blockbuster Christmas movie – but be sure to read the book first, the book is ALWAYS better! This is the first book I have read by the dynamic duo of Lauren Billings and Christina Hobbs – who write under the pseudonym Christina Lauren. These best-selling authors have a long list of books just waiting for you to discover.

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: Quiet Screams to the Quiet Healer – Fascinating Debut Novel

Quiet Screams to the Quiet Healer

By Nilanjana Haldar

This is the story of Sanjana, told from her point of view. She grows from a frightened school girl listening to her father abuse her mother to a confident young woman. Now a doctor, she becomes part of a secret society formed to heal and help others being abused, as well as those with mental health problems, bolstering them by sharing her strength and experiences.

Her journey begins like many others living with daily abuse, but brings a bright ray of hope that life can and will change if you take steps to do so. She discovers there is forgiveness in cleansing, which changes her life as well as many others.

Her life intertwines with a mysterious man that seems to be available to help whenever she is in need, but disappears from her life as soon as she is safe. Other connections and some mystical events by seemingly ordinary people will intrigue the reader until the very last pages when all is explained.

The novel is set in India and it has a different cadence than most books written in English. But that being said, it is not difficult to read, nor is it confusing. I liken it to speaking to someone who knows English perfectly as a second language and often adds bits of their native tongue into the dialog. I have a dear friend from Pakistan whose voice I heard in my head when some of the characters spoke. I was thoroughly engaged with the plot and characters from start to finish.

Ms. Haldar is a doctor and motivational speaker as well as an author and poet. This is her debut book. The pain both physically and mentally was gripping and unnervingly real for the characters and reader. The underlying story of strength, courage and transformation of the characters to strong, healthy individuals is heartwarming and uplifting. This novel  contains graphic incidences of abuse.

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

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Book Review: Dash Away All – Christmas in July Leads to Murder

Dash Away All

Merry and Bright Handcrafted Mystery Series Book #3

By Christina Freeburn

 Merry is as excited as a kid on Christmas morning. She has been hired to work on a movie that features Luna Carmichael, the grand dame of television Christmas movies. Supplying the set with handcrafted Christmas items is Merry’s dream come true – until people start dying.

Arriving in her Christmas themed RV and Ebenezer, a very vocal and opinionated guinea pig, Merry is ready to get crafting. Anxious to meet the woman she idolizes, she is surprised to find Luna demanding, self-centered and downright mean to some of those working for her. Keeping a low profile is the best defense, but Merry finds it difficult to keep her curiosity at bay. She is soon knee deep in a murder investigation to the chagrin of the local authorities. Sticking to the crafting she is hired to do and keeping away from the investigation is in her best interest. The amateur sleuth could become a target if she doesn’t stop snooping.

Anytime of the year it is fun to read a Christmas themed cozy mystery. Especially if it is set in July, which makes it interesting and opens up more possibilities than the usual holiday books offer. Ms. Freeburn expertly weaves the different types of crafts Merry creates with an intriguing plot. The whodunit unfolds perfectly in the pages, encouraging the reader to read one more chapter to see what happens next.

The characters are interesting and most of them appear to be hiding something. I enjoyed finding out things about the characters throughout the book. This helped me start putting the pieces of the puzzle together, but kept me wondering who the murderer was until the final pages.

Cozy mysteries are interesting, easy to read and are about everyday people you might know. Dash Away All ticks all of those boxes and more. This is the first book I have read by Ms. Freeburn, but it will not be the last. While it is the third book in The Merry and Bright Handcrafted Mystery Series, I was not confused or lost at any time. It works well as a standalone novel. Like me, you will probably seek out the previous two books, Not a Creature Was Stirring and Better Watch Out as well as her other series of six books; The Faith Hunter Scrap This Series.

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. Copyright © 2020 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Grow Kind – The World Needs More Kindness

Grow Kind

By Jon Lasser and Sage Foster-Lasser

Illustrations by Christopher Lyles

Kiko loves to work in her garden. She shares the veggies, flowers and fruit she harvests with her friends and neighbors. She even shares with the grumpy man that shouted at her dog.

She also shares with others she does not know. The homeless person Kiko and her mom encounters on the way to school is very happy to receive the kindness of fresh produce. On show and tell day, Kiko brings fresh snacks to everyone in her class. Sharing her harvest makes everyone happy.

The message of this story is sweet and kind and the illustrations are adorable. I am a bit confused when trying to put it in the one of the usual “boxes” for children’s books. It has more words that illustrations so I hesitate to label it as a picture book. Some of the words are too difficult for an early reader. I do like the message and the question at the very end for children; “How do you grow kind?”. This emphasizes the heart of the message and gives caregivers a springboard to open the conversation with young children to think about others. I feel that the author wants the important people in the child’s life to read Grow Kind with and to them. In this egocentric world, it is refreshing to see a book that gently reminds children and their caregivers just how much a simple act of kindness can impact the giver and the recipient. We need more kindness.

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: We Came Here to Shine – Historical Fiction Takes Readers to the 1939 World’s Fair

We Came Here to Shine

By Susie Orman Schnall

Vivi Holden and Maxine (Max) Roth are two different women on very different paths in life. Little did they know that they would become best friends amidst the awe and wonder of the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City.

Max is a fledgling writer trying to make her way in a man’s world. The summer internship she covets is working for the New York Times. Her reality is being assigned to write the daily newspaper for the World’s Fair by her professor at NYU. Unfortunately, she is not the only one assigned to the Fair. Charlie, a fellow classmate will be working along side of Max. Charlie is assigned all of the coveted articles only because the boss feels women are better at organizing rather than actually being good writers.

Vivi is an actress that has been sent to NY from LA to become the lead swimmer in the Aquacade production. With an impossibly short time to learn the routine and the fact that she has not been in a pool since high school, she is up a creek without a paddle. To make matters worse, the person assigned to teaching her the difficult routines has been filling the role Vivi is taking. The only reason she has agreed to the part is because her manager has promised her the lead in a film as soon as the Fair closes.

Max and Vivi meet after listening to feminist Elizabeth Dorchester’s speech at the Democracity exhibit at the Fair. They quickly bond as both are inspired by the message of equality for women. Soon they are sharing their hopes, dreams and frustrations with each other. Vivi’s manager holds her life and career in his hands and Max’s editor holds her fate as a serious reporter in his. Both women will need to struggle and claim the path in life they want and need to take. Unfortunately, most women in 1939 are at the mercy of the men that employ them. Unbeknownst to them, both girls will become part of the movement to change the mindset of men and women alike as they fight for their personal rights to be heard.

We Came Here to Shine is like stepping into the past on a guided tour with friends. The characters are realistic and interesting. I enjoy the depth of each of the girls. They are dealing with not only equality issues, but deep personal issues as well. The World’s Fair looms bigger than life for the characters as well as the readers. The innovations that are detailed in this fascinating book are fun to experience with the characters. What is now outdated or taken for granted is all brand new for Vivi and Max as well as those who attend the 1939 World’s Fair.

This is the second book I’ve read by Susie Orman Schnall. I love the nod to the other book I read, The Subway Girls, that Ms. Orman Schnall weaves seamlessly into We Come Here to Shine. Her knowledge and research paint a beautiful background for her characters in both novels. I highly recommend both of these books. Both of them have solid, interesting plots that take

the reader back in time. Actual events in history are combined with interesting fictional people creating two of the best historical fiction novels I have ever read. I highly recommend them.

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: Remembering Ethan – Beautiful Book that Helps Children Work Through Grief

Remembering Ethan

By Leslea Newman

Illustrated by Tracy Nishimura Bishop

Sarah’s big brother Ethan died. She thinks about him and misses him all of the time. Her Mommy and Daddy won’t talk about him, so she thinks they do not miss him. Buttons, her cat, is the only one that seems to understand how sad she is.

One day she is so lonely and frustrated, she goes into Ethan’s room and sits down at his desk. She writes his name all over a paper and then draws a picture of Ethan giving Buttons and her a double piggy-back ride. But when she puts the picture on the fridge, her mommy and daddy get really upset.

Later, Mommy and Daddy are sitting on the couch and have placed the picture she drew on the wall over the fireplace. Daddy explained that they were very sad, but her picture helps them remember Ethan. Then they looked at pictures of their whole family, especially Ethan and remember how much they love him.

This touching picture book is heartbreakingly beautiful. The feelings that Sarah has as well as her parents are gently there for the reader to think about, especially if they have lost a loved one. Telling the story from Sarah’s point of view gives a voice to the feelings children may have after losing a sibling or other special person.

After the story is a section for parents or caregivers about dealing with and processing the grief of a child after the loss of a sibling. I sincerely hope you don’t have to deal with this reality in your life, but if you do, this book will help.

I highly recommend this book for all children and parents. Unfortunately, death touches all people and coping can be especially difficult. Be it the loss of a pet, a grandparent, neighbor or someone else your child is connected to, Remembering Ethan will help you help them and you cope with the loss.

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: Murder, She Encountered – Fun and Informative Historical Cozy Mystery

12.25.19Murder, She Encountered

By Peg Cochran

Elizabeth Adams, is a woman before her time. She is a crime photographer at the Daily Trumpet in New York City and works closely with veteran crime reporter Ralph Kaminsky. Today no one would blink an eye at a woman photographer, but in 1939 that is virtually unheard of. She is a career woman when almost all women married and stayed home to raise children.

The reporter and his photographer are on the way to the World’s Fair, where a robbery has just been committed. But when they arrive to get the details for a story, a dead body is found. Is this crime connected to the robbery or is it unrelated? Both Biz (as Kaminsky calls Elizabeth) and Kaminsky are on the trail. The story takes them in and around the World’s Fair as well as New York City.

While working the clues to the crimes at the World’s Fair, Kaminsky has a health scare. Unlike other women of the day, Elizabeth jumps right into the investigation, much to everyone else’s dismay. They might just be right when she puts herself in danger. Hopefully the reporter and his favorite photographer will live to write another story.

All of the details Cochran adds to this historical cozy mystery are fascinating. From the nickel and dime subway rides to the high heels Elizabeth wears to crime scenes, the reader is pulled into the past. The setting of this novel is brilliant. Bodies among the new inventions that we now consider relics of our past really pulls the reader into the past and the story. I love learning new facts about the World’s Fair that Cochran tucks in this perfect cozy mystery.

This is the third book in the Murder She Encountered Series. It is the first book I have read in the series, and I found it fun and interesting. I was not confused or lost by jumping in the middle of the series. It is also the first book I have read by the prolific cozy author, Peg Cochran. She is the author of several cozy mystery series. I am excited to read the others in this series.

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: 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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