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Book Review: Livin’ by Frankie Hogan – Explore! Travel! Enjoy Life! Follow Your Dreams!

Livin’ – From the Amsterdam Red Light District to the African Bush

By Frankie Hogan

Livin’ is a travel log chronically the adventures of Hollywood screenwriter Frankie Hogan. By spending his free time traveling he is livin’ his dream by going on crazy fun adventures all over the globe. Like most people when it comes to travel, Hogan was so busy with his everyday life he let that get in the way of his travel dreams. Then one day he decided to actually go to the places that he always wanted to see and do things he wanted to do. After researching, he discovered that travel can be affordable and off he went to start livin’ large.

Traveling to amazing exotic destinations can be dangerous. Hogan tells of his desire to go to Egypt back in 2011. Just “days before” pulling the trigger on the trip in 2011 when the country found itself in the middle of a revolution. So he put the trip off for several years. He doesn’t have a death wish, but on the same token he doesn’t want to live his life in fear. So he took the leap of faith that he would be okay traveling to one of the places he had been dreaming of seeing. Lucky for the readers, he takes us along for the crazy ride.

Being a man who likes to explore on his own and find hidden treasures wherever he goes, Hogan is not a man that wanted to book a tour with a group of others. After he found a deal he could not pass up, he discovered group tours could be part of his travel adventures. Hogan always managed to find time to spend on his own when traveling with a group, opting out of some activities to explore local cuisine is one way he used to march to the beat of his own drum.

There are so many interesting stories in Livin‘ it is hard for me to single out a few to highlight, but I will give you a taste of adventures that were my favorites. The safari in Africa is something I have always wanted to do, so the images and experiences he shared took me into that Jeep along with the group of excited travelers. He taught me how to cross the street in Vietnam – no guts, no glory, just do it without zigzagging or stopping. All a person needs is a steady pace and nerves of steel. And because Alaska is on my bucket list, his trip to see the Northern Lights in Alaska really sounded like fun. Until it became harrowing due to an Arctic storm that blew in, threatening even the seasoned tour guide and pushing them all to their limits – I think I’ll skip that part of the adventure when I go.

Hogan’s writing puts the reader on the trains, buses, boats, canoes and rickshaws with him. You are hearing what he hears and seeing the amazing sites of each country he visits. If I was really with him, I would have skipped the bars he enjoyed and avoided the ladies of the evening he encountered.

If you are sensitive about bawdy language, this may not be the book for you. But I seriously feel even if you are, you might be able to overlook some of the salty words and enjoy the beautiful experiences Hogan shares in this book. I was more than concerned about his health at a few points (he tells the reader he put in all of his experiences, both good and bad).

Frankie Hogan isn’t a fearless or reckless man from what I could tell, unless we are talking about the amount of alcohol he was enjoying on some of his trips. He is the first to admit he is afraid of snakes and heights, yet he faced both of those fears because he is not letting them get in the way of the adventures he tells us about and those he plans in the future.

In the epilogue he explains his innermost thoughts and the reasons that previously enabled him to be a dreamer instead of a traveler and why that isn’t going to happen anymore. He ends it with a few sentences that will call to the adventurous souls reading his book including me. “I thought I’d made the excuse of life getting in the way of travel. I hadn’t. I made the excuse of necessity getting in the way of livin’. And I won’t do it again.”

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: Deep Freeze by John Sandford – Needs More Than 5 Stars!

Book Review: Deep Freeze

By John Sandford

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.

BCA Agent Virgil Flowers is back in the tenth book in the #1 New York Times best-selling series. Flowers would rather be photographing wild life as a freelance photographer instead of solving a murder. But unfortunately his much needed vacation has been cut short by a call asking him to investigate a murder in the tiny town of Trippton, Minnesota.

Not only does this put an abrupt halt to his much needed rest and relaxation, it also pulls him away from his girlfriend and his dog. The prospect of going back to Trippton in the middle of winter isn’t very appealing, even though he has friends there since he previously solved a case there.

After a Class Reunion meeting held at the home of the richest woman in town, she turns up dead. The murder happened minutes after the meeting, so one would assume the killer is one of her classmates. Unfortunately, almost everyone in the small town disliked the victim and more than a few had a solid motive. Virgil knows how catting people can be; especially those with a history.

The townspeople mostly like Virgil, for an outsider that is. He has a few true friends in the snow covered town, Johnson Johnson being at the top of that list.  Johnson is happy to see him and more than willing to help him get information that Virgil may have trouble getting on his own.

Then, as if Virgil needed more irritation, enter Margaret Griffin. She has been sent by a major toy manufacturer to serve cease and desist orders to someone in Trippton because they are making “modified” dolls of an x-rated nature. Someone in high places within the state wants the little homegrown shop closed, so Virgil is also asked to give Griffin a hand. Unfortunately for him, that results in more problems than the murder investigation.

When an attempt is made on Virgil’s life, he isn’t sure if it is the people in the town that depend upon the illicit income from the modified dolls or the murderer feeling the heat.

I loved everything about this book. The humor, the twists and turns, the characters and interestingly entertaining plot add up to another best seller. As a longtime fan of Sandford’s writing, I was not disappointed.

The engaging plot had me reading “just one more chapter” late into the night. Sandford skillfully pulls the reader into the story and holds you there in the bitter cold of Minnesota right there with his characters.

Virgil is an interesting man. He seems laid back, but looks can be deceiving. His mind is always turning and moving towards the goal of finishing up the cases and getting back home. The reader can tell he is smart, savvy and more than a little compassionate for the plight of those who need help, even if they are on the wrong side of the law.

There is a reason Sandford is a best-selling author. His books are interesting, funny and easy to read. Don’t confuse “easy” with simple. Deep Freeze is a complex story told in a laid back manner that keeps readers turning the pages.

I am sorry to say I have not read one of Sandford’s books for several years. Conversely, I am excited to have rediscovered his masterful prose and will be catching up with some of the previous adventures of Virgil I have missed. I highly recommend this book to thriller fans as well as anyone who loves a well written book with a fabulously entertaining plot.

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

 

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Book Review: The Art of Hiding – Fab Find!

Art of HidingThe Art of Hiding

By Amanda Prowse

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

Nina lives a charmed life. Her husband owns an extremely successful construction company, she has two sons she adores and spends her days as a housewife and mom. Gone are the difficult days of her childhood. She was so young when her mother died that she only remembers a few things about her. Her dad tried his best, but work was scarce so Nina and her older sister Tiggy were raised by their grandmother. She wasn’t the kindest woman. Undoubtedly she was trying, but there was never enough space or food during those years.

Life changed the moment Nina fell for Finn. He swept her off her feet and promised to give her the world. He followed through on that promise. When they moved into their home, The Tynings, they filled it with high end furniture, lovingly picked out together. Nina no longer worried about money; Finn took care of paying all of the bills and making sure their family had everything they needed and wanted.

Nina was at her son’s high school the day her world began to collapse. She receive a call from the hospital, Finn had been in an accident. She was devastated. Her sons, Conner and Declan were shocked by the news and Nina was determined to keep everything together for them. They only had a few days left until a break from the private school they attended, so both boys returned to their routine to keep things as normal as possible.

Then, to make matters worse, the shattering news that Finn had been hiding something slammed into Nina like a runaway train. The results would change the lives of Nina and her sons forever.

This is an amazing novel. The depth of Nina’s pain is profoundly sad, yet hopeful. She loved and trusted her husband, but now his memory is forever tainted with his deeds. Her life has become a struggle again and she doesn’t know how she will be able to go on. If it weren’t for her two sons she might give up.

The growth and change of the characters is one of the best story lines I have read in a long time. Prowse pulls the reader in and takes you with Nina through the good and bad. It makes the reader think about the most important things in life. You can decide if you think money can buy happiness. I also love the way family and friends play a big part in this novel. Can the love of family transcend years of estrangement and hurtful slights that have piled up over years?

The Art of Hiding is the first book I’ve read by Amanda Prowse, but I guarantee it will not be the last. I cannot express how much I loved this book. The characters, the plot, and the emotions it inspires are a roller coaster ride in reading bliss. I cried when Connor gave his speech at the sports award night, I laughed at the sister’s demolition of an offending wall. The end of the book was realistic and satisfying. I suggest getting this book as soon as possible and carving out time to enjoy Prowse’s expert storytelling.

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Book Review: The Prom Dress Killer – The Latest Detective Al Warner Suspense


The Prom Dress Killer

By George A Bernstein

Miami is home to a lot of people. Most of them are good, hardworking people just trying to make their way through life. Unfortunately there are a few bad apples and these are the few that Homicide Detective Al Warner has to deal with on a daily basis. Keeping the people of Miami safe and the bad guys behind bars is his mission in life.

Unfortunately for Warner and his city, there is a new serial killer on the loose. He has been dubbed the Prom Dress Killer because after he murders the young women, he dresses them up in fancy vintage prom dresses and leaves them in a place where they will be found. Warner pulls the case because he has the reputation of finding this elusive breed of murderer, bringing them to justice and in the process bringing closure to the families of the victims.

Warner is hot on the trail of the maniac that seems to be targeting young, attractive redheads. He is pulling out all of the stops to catch him before another woman is murdered. Unfortunately for Warner, the Prom Dress Killer is always one step – and one body – ahead of the cop that desperately wants to stop the killings.

The reader is reminded several times in the book just how good Warner is at his job. Almost to the point of me wanting to say “I got it!”. I understood that Warner is a hard-boiled, old fashioned cop that has solved multiple serial killings and put the bad guys where they belong. I really didn’t need that many reminders. Warner’s dialog was great, in the moment and moved the story forward. But I got really tired of every word ending in “ing” was written as “in’ ”. A few would have been ok, but to me it got in the way of the story.

The serial killer himself is well written. Everything is not as it seems to be, so kudos to Bernstein for crafting the character and situations that are downright page turning. I held my breath a few times wanting to tell the red haired women that are in the story not to be so stupid, but just like good horror movies, they didn’t listen.

Bernstein’s plot was solid. There were a few red herrings, which were really great plot twists. But sometimes the way in which the story was told actually got in the way of the plot. Sometimes overuse of a word or two can put the reader off. When I read “akimbo” at least three times in the first 100 pages, I wanted to suggest a thesaurus.

If you are a fan of Philip Marlow, there are shadows of this kind of PI in The Prom Dress Killer, you might enjoy this series. This is the third book in the Detective Al Warner suspense novels and the first one I’ve read. Bernstein had a top 100 novel on Amazon with his first book Trapped (not part of the Warner series).

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: Beautiful Mess – Must Read Novel

Beautiful Mess

By John Herrick

Del Corwyn has been in the movie business since the 1950s. When he was 18 years old he was a lowly errand boy. But he was kind and compassionate even then, and caught the attention of one of the biggest stars of the era – Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn was a troubled woman. Many around her were merely attempting to ride along on her coat tails of success. Del was different; he cared about her as a person. She grew to love him as a trusted friend. He knew her secrets and was not about to share them. Right before her death, she shared a script with him that she had written. She wanted him to keep it safe in case something happened to her. He carefully stored it, and then promptly forgot it existed.

He went on to work steady as an actor. In fact, he eventually became as star. He was nominated for an Oscar for best actor and he was ready to take Hollywood by storm. Scripts rolled in and he was invited to every party. Sadly, he did not win the golden statue. His plummet from the limelight was almost as fast as his ascent. It only took a few bad roles in films that didn’t really go anywhere for new scripts to dry up.

Del still kept up the hope for the next big role that would bring him back to the status he once held. He continued to live in his home that had a spectacular view, went to places to be seen by others in the business and exercised dilegently. It was hard to believe he was a 78 year old man still waiting for the studio to call him.

While spending time at one of his favorite haunts, Del meets Nora Jumelle. She is the newest A-list actress to come along. Her movies can be seen everywhere. The unlikely couple became close, but Del is worried. Nora seems to be on the same path as Marilyn. Will history repeat itself?

But Del has more than Nora to worry about. He has spent most of his fortune and with no work, he may lose everything. That is until he remembers the script Marilyn gave him. Could she be his salvation?

I loved everything about this book. The faded star still holding onto his dreams, the parallel of Marilyn and Nora and the personal growth of the characters, especially Del. To see him changing and choosing what path his life will take was emotional and powerful.

The setting of Hollywood was interesting and well done. It was like looking into the window of fabulous parties and restaurants I could never afford to go to. Herrick liberally sprinkles stars about to give the real feel of Del’s former fame. It was fun to rub elbows with them via the story.

John Herrick is the author of several works of fiction as well as a non-fiction book. This is the first book I’ve read by him, but I don’t think it will be the last. There is nothing better than reading a book of fiction that can take you places you have never been, yet you feel like you are right there with the characters. Herrick does this masterfully.

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: The 5 Manners of Death – Which One Will Be Next?

The 5 Manners of Death

By Darden North

There are said to be 5 manners of death. North’s characters explore each of them in his latest novel of the same name. They are as follows:

  1. Natural Death – due to disease or old age
  2. Accidental Death – most often by an accident or mishap, sometimes by overdoses or allergic reactions
  3. Suicide – intentionally taking one’s own life
  4. Homicide – murder
  5. Undetermined – could be any of the above, but the information isn’t clear enough to be definitive

As a surgeon, Dr. Diana Bratton often sees dead bodies. But when they start showing up in her personal life, she begins to get spooked. The victims are not especially close to Diana, but somehow she feels as though they are linked to her. She talks to her friend Key Martin, who happens to be the Chief of Police in their town. Diana helped him solve crimes before when he was a detective and she hopes to get his thoughts about the recent deaths she either witnessed or heard about after she crossed paths with the deceased.

Martin is more than willing to get any extra information from her, and will share a bit of his findings with her. As the story progresses, they find more pieces of the puzzle due to their collaboration. Unfortunately, the clues are leading them closer to people she cares about or cared about at one time.

Diana is determined to get to the bottom of the situation before it comes home to roost. After all, she has a teenage daughter to worry about as well as her Aunt Phoebe, the only two people she loves and cares about. There is a doctor that she fancies, but her involvement with the police does not sit well with him.

While the plot I just described may sound like a cozy mystery, rest assured The 5 Manners of Death is not. This fast paced crime novel alternates between 1965 and present day.  The events that occurred in 1965 come crashing to a halt on the doorstep of a present day murderer who will do anything to remain unidentified.

North expertly crafts the characters and settings to pull the reader into the story and holds you until the last pages bring the novel to a spectacular end. It is no surprise that Darden North is an award winning author. He paints landscapes and parlors with his words, filling every scene with lifelike characters that could be the people next door. Of course you might not want some of them as neighbors.

This is the first book by North that I have read, but I am looking forward to reading his previous books, House Call, Points of Origin, Fresh Frozen and Wiggle Room. I highly recommend The 5 Manners of Death to anyone that enjoys a great mystery with complex characters.

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: The Spring Cleaning Murders – #8 in Dorothy Cannell’s Cozy Series

The Spring Cleaning Murders

By Dorothy Cannell

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.

Ellie Haskell has discovered a book about cleaning, including recipes for DYI cleaning products  in her attic. It was written by one of her ancestors, and she is so excited about the find she decides to do a thorough spring cleaning. Now she is in a pickle. Ellie’s cleaning lady, Mrs. Malloy, quit because her newborn granddaughter needs a nanny. Mrs. Malloy hasn’t always been the most efficient employee, and now the situation has become awkward because Ellie’s cousin Vanessa married Mrs. Malloy’s son. Being related wasn’t the most comfortable situation, but Ellie really counted on the extra help around the house. The replacement cleaning lady is not exactly what Ellie was hoping for, especially after she turns up dead.

Was the death an accident or was it murder? Ellie has a feeling it was foul play, and she sets out to prove it.  Unfortunately, there are lots of obstacles along the way. First of all her husband has been a bit distracted because some activists have targeted his restaurant. Her gardener/handyman is not feeling well, and she is concerned that his age is finally slowing him down. Her twins are in a half day play school, but afternoons can be a hectic with them home, no help in the house and quite possibly a murderer on the loose.

The Spring Cleaning Murders is a cute cozy mystery.  Ellie and her family have been the stars of this and twelve others in the series. It has all the elements of a perfect cozy. The quirky characters are endearing, the group of cleaning ladies is eclectic and interesting and the list of possible suspects includes almost everyone Ellie encounters.  Will she be able to find out who the killer is before anyone else dies?

I loved the characters in this book. It was fun to try and figure out “who done it” with Ellie and her sidekicks. The bits of cleaning tips at the beginning of each chapter were a throwback to the past and fun to read. The end was cute with an unexpected twist.

There are thirteen books in the Ellie Haskell Mystery Series. this book is #8.

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

 

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