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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: 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: 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: 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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