Tag Archives: fiction

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: Bookshop at Water’s End – Great Summer Read

The Bookshop at Water’s End

By Patti Callahan Henry

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.

Lainey and Bonnie have been best friends since they were children. Bonnie’s parents owned a summer vacation home on a tidal river that surrounds a small town. Lainey’s family spent vacations with Bonnie’s family at the River House . As youngsters, they fancied themselves as a pair of modern day Nancy Drews. During their explorations around the tiny town they made notes in a notebook of unsolved mysteries and clues as to what and why things happened. The thing they never could fully explain was why Lainey’s mother had disappeared one night at the River House, never to return.

Fast forward to adulthood – Bonnie has become a renowned doctor and Lainey is a celebrated artist. They live on opposite sides of the country, but keep in touch. They rarely see one another. When Bonnie’s world comes crashing down around her ears, threatening everything she values, she calls Lainey to join her at the River House.

Lainey, fighting the demons from her past, agrees to come. She is bringing her small children with her. Bonnie is bringing her reluctant daughter Piper along to help her restore the River House for sale. Home from her first year of college Piper does not want to go, or babysit Lainey’s kids, but Bonnie has promised her services.

Ghosts from the past are stirring. They seem to arrive with the tides. When the past collides with the present, will Lainey and Bonnie survive? Will the answers they have searched for since childhood finally become clear?

The bookshop owner Mimi has an integral role in The Bookshop at Water’s End. She supplies the background narrative in many places to add depth and important facts about the past. Expertly spun together, the past and present emerge as one like the tributaries of the tidal river that flows around the town.

The realistic characters had flaws. Not just a little added issue, but real, glaring flaws. That brought them to life. Just like real people that have secrets, bad relationships and make mistakes – big mistakes that could be life changing. I loved that about them, all humans make bad decisions that seemed like a good idea at the time.

The story is deep and rich, without being heavy. It is a perfect summer (or anytime) read. The mystery isn’t the focus of the plot, but is always popping up as it colors the thoughts and actions of the main characters. This is not a cozy, but more of a women’s fiction with a vein of mystery running throughout.

Patti Callahan Henry is a New York Times bestselling author. This is the first book I’ve read of Ms. Henry’s but it will not be the last.

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: The Garden of Small Beginnings – Like Gardens, Relationships Must Be Tended

The Garden of Small Beginnings

By Abbi Waxman

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.

Lili is many things, just like most women. She is a mother, sister, friend and an illustrator. But the identifying feature that overshadows everything is the quiet grief she carries with her due to the unexpected loss of her husband. Three years after the accident she is still grieving and little bit mad that he left her, even though she is a logical person and knows it isn’t his fault. She feels alone even when surrounded by people.

Her young daughters, Annabel and Clare, keep her going. She has to get up to get them ready for school and drag herself to work to pay the bills. Unfortunately, even though she loves being an illustrator, her job may be changing drastically or gone altogether very soon.  Like a lot of places in corporate America today, she may be the victim of downsizing and reorganization of the company no matter how talented she is.

Amid all the turmoil, she is called to her boss’ office who makes her an offer she can’t (or really dare not) refuse. She is given the task of illustrating a botanical book. Additionally, she has to attend a gardening class run by the head of the company that commissioned the book.

For moral support she makes her sister Rachel as well as both of her children to the class. The instructor is handsome, but not her type. No one is her type. The rest of the class members are quirky and lovable. The group would never have chosen to be together, but their friendships grew along with the gardens they were planting and tending.

I loved the way Abbi Waxman set up the chapters in this book. Each one starts with a gardening tip that very easily parallels Lili’s life. You must tend your garden as well as your relationships.  If you ignore either one, they may wither and die. And sometimes, no matter how well you tend either of them, something may happen to them, but eventually you need to move on.

It was interesting to see how Lili grew with each class, it wasn’t giant leaps of change in her personality, but subtle, gradual moments that allowed me to believe she was going to be okay after spending three years on autopilot drowning in her grief and guilt.

The Garden of Small Beginnings is Abbi Waxman’s debut novel. It is my hope that she is working right now on another fabulous work of women’s fiction right now. She has a voice that needs to be read.

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Escape Velocity – Office Intrigue Can Be Deadly

Escape Velocity

By Susan Wolfe

Escape Velocity has been described as being approximately 33 times the speed of sound on earth. That defines the pace of this second novel by Susan Wolfe.

Georgia Griffin is a daddy’s girl. She loved spending time with him at their home in Piney, Arkansas. Taking care of their horses and learning how to read and manipulate people were activities he taught Georgia and her younger sister Katie-Ann. They have his skills, but didn’t use them. But when one if his cons goes bad and sends him to prison, Georgia knows she has to make some drastic changes to survive. Things go from bad to worse after her mama takes up with a real creep. Georgia set a goal and is determined to see it through. Getting a job in Silicon Valley is the first step, and then saving enough money to get her younger sister out of harm’s way is the second. Katie-Ann is only in high school and too much of a temptation for her mom’s latest boyfriend, so Georgia is on a tight timeline to accomplish what may be near impossible with only a paralegal certificate.

Lumina Software could be her big break. She has interviewed with several companies, but nothing has panned out so far. But this interview is different. She is so convinced it might be the thrust she needs to begin her escape velocity, she is willing to put just a little of what her daddy taught her into play to give herself an edge. She immediately clicks with her potential boss, and finally getting the break she has been looking for; the job is hers.

The pay is great, her boss is even better than she first imagined, but some of the others in the company seemed to have personal agendas. The deeper she becomes involved; the more Georgia feels she needs to channel her daddy to make sure the company is a success. After all, if the company has problems, she might lose her job, then how would she get her little sister out of the mess of a life she has in Arkansas? Georgia is good at finding things out and using them to her advantage. If she pulls one small con to help the company, how could that be wrong? First she needs to find a vulnerable spot or two in a few obnoxious execs, then play them just like daddy would. But could she find out something that might put her in more danger than the business losing a bit of money? Certainly these boardroom bullies wouldn’t go as far as to kill someone – or are the stakes higher than Georgia imagined?

I love the mind games the characters play with each other. After working in an office for over twenty years, I could picture a few of my former unsavory co-workers taking things a step further than they should and then over the line. Fortunately in my life that never happened, but the realistic settings, events and characters in Wolfe’s book bring the schemers and scammers to life. I love hating the bad guys in this book and kept turning the pages to find out if and how they get what they deserved.

Anyone who likes twists, turns and intrigue will love this book. It was fun trying to figure out just who was bad and who was good until the very end. There is nothing better for a mystery reader than not knowing all of the answers until they are revealed in the final chapter, and then realizing the clues were there all along.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from the publisher/author in connection with Killer Nashville in return for my review. Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

 

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Book Review: Little Girl Gone – Fabulous Find!

Little Girl Gone

By Margaret Fenton

Birmingham’s Child Welfare Services are busier than usual, and it is no surprise Claire Conover has a full caseload. As a social worker for the department she has seen her share of kids in bad situations. It appears that today will be no different.

She is assigned the case of a young teen that was found sleeping behind a dumpster. The girl refuses to give Claire any information except that her name is Sandy, which is most likely not her real name. The girl seems too clean and well-fed to be homeless. Claire has no choice but to place her in foster care, which lasts less than 24 hours. By slipping away from one of the best foster homes available, Sandy appears to be on the run from someone or something.

Claire is determined to find out who Sandy really is and who or what she is running away from. An unexpected turn of events surrounding the murder of Sandy’s mother, hands the social worker her true identity. Claire steps up her interviews with friends, teachers and her newly released from prison birth father, in a frantic race to get to the missing girl before someone else does.

The case is getting more complicated then Claire ever imagined. The police are helping as much as possible, but they have limited resources to deal with runaways. Claire teams up with an investigative journalist because he has more sources than she has access to, but that is a double edge sword. She has a boyfriend, whom she admittedly hasn’t had much time for lately with both of their work schedules and Kirk, the journalist has made it clear he would love being more than friends and/or co-workers with Claire.

Little Girl Gone is a fast-paced intriguing novel. The plot is solid and so interesting I literally read this book in less than 48 hours because I could not put it down. I loved the mystery of who Sandy really was, and which one of her friends or relatives she was running away from. And could Claire find her in time to save her from her unknown demons and a very real murderer?

The characters in Little Girl Gone are expertly portrayed. Fenton gives the reader enough information to create full dimensional characters in easy to digest bites. I felt as though I knew each of the main characters well enough to compare them to real life people I have known. Some of them I’d love to have coffee with and chat –

others I would cross the street to avoid. That’s ok, because I am pretty sure that was the author’s intent.

This is the second book featuring Clare Conover; it is the sequel to Little Lamb Lost. I have not read the previous book, but never felt like I was missing information or background by reading Little Girl Lost first. I plan to read the first in this series soon and will be looking for the third in the series that will feature one of the characters introduced in this one.

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: Joe Peas – Delightful Character Driven Novel

joe-peasThe little boy, nothing but skin and bones with scorched hair and tattered clothes, was discovered by the American soldiers in 1944. He didn’t know much English, but could say Joe (as in G.I. Joe) so that is what he called himself. The when pressed for his last name, he looked around the mess hall and saw his favorite food – black-eyed peas and responded “Peas”. As a child, he lived through war and re-invented himself.

Fast forward many years. Joe Peas finds himself in a small American town extolling the pleasure of correctly painting houses. He schools the patrons of a local diner with his method of treating a house right to bring it back to a thing of beauty.

That morning, one of the locals enjoying Joe’s antics was Dr. James King. He is a doctor in this small town of King’s Mill. He is as dedicated to healing and helping his town as Joe is dedicated to beautifying it one house at a time.

Both men go on with their lives, Joe painting houses, Dr. King taking care of his family, the staff at his clinic and his patients. He runs a rehabilitation clinic that is barely making ends meet, but he loves what he is doing even though he is living life on the edge financially. Then there is the HOA in the community he lives in. The tyrant that heads the association delights in making sure the grass isn’t too long, the shutters are all painted the same color and the kids in the neighborhood don’t leave anything that resembles a toy within his sight. He “enforces” the rules by levying fines on the residents that have the audacity to not toe the line. His main focus seems to be on Dr. King – whom he assumes has deep pockets.

Fate steps in to push Joe and the doctor together again. Joe lands in the rehab center just when Dr. King is about at his lowest point with both personal and professional difficulties. The man that grew from that tiny ragged child had seen and done many things in his life, and was determined to help his new friend and doctor. The problem is, Joe has secrets that he wants to keep and helping may expose things in his life he wants to keep hidden secret.

Sam Newsome’s second novel, Joe Peas is a delightful tale of friendship, determination and the celebration of individuality. It was a light and quick book to read, but the characters had depth and emotions that pulled me in and kept me turning the pages.  The bit of mystery surrounding the years between Joe’s childhood and when he showed up in the second chapter as a man of “advanced age” with “animated speech and gestures suggested he was very active” kept me guessing. The end was exceedingly satisfying.

Joe Peas is the first book I’ve read by this award winning author. Newsome’s first book, Jackie won the Garcia Memorial Book Award in 2015. I expect many more awards and hope for many more books by this talented new voice.

 

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Book Review: Everything We Keep – I just found my new favorite author!!!

lonsdale-everythingwekeep-final-150-360x570Everything We Keep

By Kerry Lonsdale

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

Aimee is living her worst nightmare. What should have been her wedding day was now the day all of her loved ones and friends gathered to say goodbye to James, her fiancé. On a routine business trip something went horribly wrong and he became the victim of a boating accident.

As the days drag on, Aimee feels as though she is just going through the motions of living without any emotion. Then a mysterious stranger tells her James is not dead. Of course the woman is crazy; her fiancé was buried after his body was brought back from Mexico. But Aimee can’t shake the feeling something is off. It is keeping her from moving on.

James is still all around her, at least in spirit. His paintings cover her walls, his clothes are in her closet and every happy memory Aimee has is filled with her life with him. He was her best friend, and then became her fiancé.

Now she had to make some tough decisions. What was she going to do with her life? Somehow the dream she and James had for her future, opening an upscale coffee shop didn’t seem like it would ever happen now that he was gone.

Enter Ian, a fabulous photographer that is smart, funny and wants to get to know Aimee after meeting her in at a gallery event. She feels it is too soon to have another man in her life. They become friends, but will he stand by and let her go off on a wild goose chase to get answers that may upend her world turning her reconstructed life into chaos.

The fast paced story and unexpected twists and turns made me fly through this book to see what happened next. The unexpected twist at the end is one of the best endings I have ever read. It was amazing and I am still talking about this book to my book loving friends.

Everything We Keep is Ms. Lonsdale’s first book. It is a stunning debut novel, with richly developed characters. I cannot wait for her next book All the Breaking Waves which will be out in December 2016 per her website.  Finding a new favorite author to add to my list is one of life’s small pleasures.

 

Copyright © 2016 Laura Hartman

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