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Book Review: Eternal – Must Read Historical Fiction

By Lisa Scottoline

Marco, Sandro and Elisabetta’s carefree lives as teenagers is about to change. Still in high school, one dreams of becoming a writer, one dreams of becoming a scholar and the other dreams of becoming more than the cyclist his father wants him to become. The love triangle between the three creates a bit of tension and a lot of playful flirting. But it is 1937, and unbeknownst to them, Italy is on the verge of war. This will dash their dreams and take away everything, even loved ones, in a tragic turn of fate.  

Survival is paramount. It is growing harder to find essentials as the war begins. While Marco and Elizabetta are struggling, things are exponentially harder for Sandro. He and his family are Jewish. When the Nazis arrive, many in their community will lose their jobs, homes and lives. The three friends are thrust apart by the war and by the choices they have made. At the beginning of the novel, the reader knows that at least one of them has survived. But what about the other two? You must read it to find out.

The plot is an engaging mix of true history and fiction. It reads like a novel, fast-paced and very interesting. But the underlying chill of the war, death and devastation is very real both in life and on the page. It is very sobering.

The characters are interesting and not always likeable, but I feel that is the author’s intent. Life doesn’t always have a happily ever after, but the characters growth and changes during the course of the war are realistic. The ending is very satisfying, staying with the reader long after the last pages are read.

Ms. Scottoline has skillfully taken us back into these dark times in Italy. She has carefully researched, bringing the reader into the events that happen with her realistic characters. Be sure to read her author’s note at the end of the book. There she differentiates between fiction and fact in the novel. Most of the characters are fiction. She states: “But much of what transpires in these pages is true to the past”. It is heart wrenching to read about Jewish families being rounded up and sent to Auschwitz like cattle, especially knowing that this is history, not fiction. But it is also a story that must be told so it is never forgotten or repeated.

I am a huge fan of Lisa Scottoline, having read many of her books. She is the best-selling, award winning author of over 30 books, and is known for her fabulous legal thrillers. There is a reason she is the beloved of many. Eternal is different than her other books, but is not to be missed; I highly recommend it.

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 © 2021 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Crime of the Ancient Marinara

By Stephanie Cole

American Nell Valenti is hired to develop a world-class cooking school requiring a move to Cortona, Italy. She is now living and working in a villa owned by renowned Chef Claudio Orlandini. His Cornell-educated son, Pete, as well as a cast of female family members also reside at the villa.

Nell has her work cut out for her. The Orlandini family is quirky and set in their ways. Trying to organize them is like herding turtles, one or more of them frequently wander off to do his or her own thing creating chaos instead of the organization Nell is striving to achieve.

The first class of students in the cooking school is a group of Americans that have arrived excited to learn the recipe for Chef Orlandini’s famous marinara. It is to be the highlight of the final day. Unfortunately, an unruly chef and the murder of one of the Americans waylays any plans that Nell made.

Unsatisfied with the suspect the police have in custody, Nell begins her own investigation with a man she thinks is a private detective – but is he really? Between the lies, secrets and a language barrier Nell is ready to throw in the towel – but can she ever forgive herself if someone gets away with murder?

Quirky characters fill the pages of this mystery. The chef is over the top Italian and his son is a sexy olive pressing hunk. The Orlandini women range from nuns to a talented sous chef. The Americans add an interesting mix along with the elements of surprise. Almost all of the book is set at the villa. I would have liked more adventures away from the villa, to give me more of the taste of Italy. Other than the problems in communication between characters speaking Italian and others speaking English, the setting could have been anywhere. I wanted descriptions of the town, really bringing the reader into the beautiful country of Italy.

Crime of the Ancient Marinara is the second book in this cozy mystery series. I did not read the first book and was a bit lost in the first few chapters as to the relationships between the characters. Overall, this was an enjoyable cozy mystery.

Author Stephanie Cole is also known as Shelley Costa. She has been nominated for both an Edgar and an Agatha Award as Shelley Costa. This is the first book I have read by Ms. Cole or Ms. Costa.

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: The Book of Two Ways – Another Masterpiece from Jodi Picoult

The Book of Two Ways

By Jodi Picoult

Dawn Edelstein is content with her life. She loves her husband, Brian, and their teenage daughter. Dawn is a death doula, helping others move from life to death with care and respect. A part of her misses the life she had in Egypt before her mother died. As she goes about her life, a part of her heart is still amid the ancient burial sites and Wyatt, the man she left behind.

Everything changes in a split second when Dawn survives a deadly plane crash. She is given the choice to fly anyplace in the world. Will she go home to her family, or go back to Egypt to find the life and man she loved so deeply. Dawn does not know if Wyatt is still in Egypt, but she feels the pull of her earlier life. Conversely, her daughter is everything to her so she cannot imagine life without her. Either way she must make a choice that will hurt someone she loves.

The ancient Book of Two Ways is estimated to be 400,000 years old. Per the Smithsonian website, archaeologists found the illustrated stories in Egypt on a fairly recently unearthed sarcophagus dating back to 2010 BC. It illustrates two ways for the dead to make their way to the afterlife by land or by sea. Life is full of choices; we make them every day. Much like the ancient Egyptians, Dawn must choose a path that may or may not be the life she wants in the end. Life holds no guarantees.

I loved this book. The relationships of the characters and situations they find themselves in are multilayered and interesting. Each chapter pulls the reader further into the lives of Dawn, Brian, Wyatt and the choices all of them make. As with all of Jodi Picoult books, the end was not what I expected, but was perfect and satisfying.

Picoult is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, and for good reason. This prolific author creates characters and stories like no other I have read. The depth and diverse topics she tackles are informative and often spark my interest to find out more about the subject matter discussed.

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: Logging Off – Hilarious Digital Detoxing

Logging Off

By Nick Spalding

Andy Bellows is so addicted to his electronic devices he has become physically ill. His physician diagnoses his symptoms and recommends a complete detoxification of any and all electronic devices for two months. Andy doesn’t think he can do it, but is grudgingly willing to give it a go.

Fergus, Andy’s best friend, is a columnist for the local newspaper. He jumps on the story, persuading Andy to let him chronical the detox for his readers. Thinking it may be a good way to stay on track, Andy agrees, but soon regrets his decision as he quickly becomes a local icon and reluctant hero for logging off all electronics except using his computer for work.

Almost immediately, Andy realizes he cannot navigate with a paper map, cannot order dinner and must learn to cook and shop at an actual store to survive. Not to mention he has to become part of society again by interacting with people via phone and in person. All of this causes anxiety and worry for him, but he is sleeping better, has actually started to talk to real, live people again and his work has improved because he has logged off. But in the end, he discovers that electronics aren’t all bad, perhaps moderation is the key– but is that possible?

This fast-paced funny romp with Bellows and his detox troubles hit close to home for many readers. His reliance on his cell phone is the norm these days. Who doesn’t use GPS, look up restaurants, shop and play a bit of solitaire or not to mention social media like Facebook and Twitter? The detox recommended is extreme, but most of us could easily stop glancing at our phones every two minutes and panicking when we’ve left it at home while out on a walk.

I loved this book and the laugh out loud humor Spalding delivers. It is the first book I’ve read by him, but certainly not the first he has written. This bestselling author has fifteen novels, two novellas and not one, but two memoirs. You can be sure I’m going to add Nick Spalding’s other work to the top of my reading list.

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: Southern Harm – Murder Too Close to Home in this Cozy

Southern Harm

A Southern B & B Mystery

By Caroline Fardig

Finding the perfect Christmas gift for her boyfriend Tucker’s Aunt Lela perplexed Quinn. When Tucker come up with the idea of making an outdoor firepit for his aunt to enjoy during the colder days in Savanna, Quinn knew it would be perfect. They started right away, even though a hot spell was blanketing the area. The sweltering heat had them sweating in Lela’s back yard, but when human bones were dug up as the work began things really heated up.

Aunt Lela is promptly arrested after the bones are identified as her teenage neighbor that went missing years ago. Apparently, Lela thought her ex-husband had a fling with the young girl and went so far as torching her car to keep her away from him. That gave the police motive and opportunity for the arrest.

Tucker is devastated, but reluctantly agrees to let Quinn and her sister, Delilah do some amateur sleuthing to see if they can turn up any evidence that his aunt is not guilty. Even though he is uncomfortable with the situation, the girls convince him to let them dig into the dead girl’s past. This ruffles the feathers of more than one of Savannah’s elites, including his parents.

The further the investigation progresses, the closer it gets to home. Two more people are arrested in conjunction to the murder, making it more personal to the girls than before. They will not stop digging into the past, no matter how dangerous it is, until the truth is revealed.

This fast-paced cozy mystery is full of red herrings and plot twists. Each of the suspects have motive and opportunity. Like all cozies, the main characters only solve mysterious murders in their spare time. Quinn and Delilah are the owners of a B&B along with their grandfather. True to life, they have to make the guests breakfast and work the check-in desk, making them well rounded and interesting.

Fardig is a prolific writer and her expertise as a cozy mystery author shines in this series as well as the others she has written. I have read several books in her Java Jive series and thoroughly enjoyed them. Southern Harm is the second book in the series, but read well as a stand-alone cozy. I highly recommend this book as well as this author.

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: Takes One To Know One – Nail Biting Thriller

Takes One to Know One

By Susan Isaacs

Corie Geller never imagined the turn her life would take. As an FBI Special Agent, she has done things most people believe only happens in spy novels and blockbuster movies. Now her life revolves around her husband, Federal Judge Josh Geller and her young step-daughter, Eliza. Corie, fluent in Arabic, is now a freelancer for several publishers. She reads Arabic novels and makes recommendations as to which would translate and sell in English. She does the occasional job for the FBI, but keeps that life separate from her personal life as much as possible to keep her husband and step-daughter safe.

On a whim, she joins a group of suburban self-employed people that meet once a week for lunch. Thinking it would be stimulating, Corie soon learns that she does not really fit in well, but can’t really figure out how to leave the group. Then she starts noticing one of the members, Pete Delaney acting extremely strange. He is nondescript, but there is something about him that Corie senses is off. Is he an agent like her? Or is there something illegal going on?

She begins taking more notice of him. After finding out from another in the group that he has been seen acting oddly aggressive outside of the group, she quietly begins investigating him. She shares her thoughts with her father, a retired NYPD detective who agrees there is something going on.

Is he a drug runner? Is he an illegal arms dealer? Perhaps a kidnapper or killer – or just a boring guy who has anger issues? Corie is bound and determined to find out.

Acclaimed author Susan Isaacs has done it again. This page turner has mystery, intrigue and believable characters. The heart pounding action will not allow you to put it down. I particularly like the fact that the final confrontation was not the end of the book. Oftentimes books end with only a page or two of closure, but Isaacs gives readers a thorough ending that ties up loose ends. I really like that I am not left wondering what happened.

I highly recommend Takes One to Know One to all mystery and thriller lovers. Isaac’s never disappoints, she once again has written a fabulously intriguing book and with interesting characters.

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: Tin Badges – Fast Paced Page Turner

Tin Badges

By Lorenzo Carcaterra

New York City detectives Tank Rizzo and Pearl Monroe carried a gold badge up until the fateful day when both of them lost their jobs. But Pearl lost so much more. Now both of them hold a tin badge, one that has few privileges of their former life, but it does open some doors. The duo works cold cases that the NYPD doesn’t have time to investigate thanks to the Chief of Police that has a soft spot for both of them.

When the case involving a couple of young women, who are beaten and sexually abused is tossed their way, it is so cold they might need gloves to hold it. No one has worked it for a while because the ladies are most likely hookers and no one really seems to care. Tank and Pearl dig into the case with the help of their brilliant, yet ragtag group. They discover the assault is just the tip of the iceberg. One that is full of drugs, murders and gangs that the two with tin badges are determined to bring to justice.

As if Tank doesn’t have enough on his plate, the brother that he hasn’t spoken with in years dies in an icy car accident along with his wife. This leaves his now orphaned teenage nephew, Chris, living with him in his NY brownstone. Chris is smart, mad at the world and crushed that his parents are gone; leaving him with the only family he has but doesn’t know. Tank loved his brother and willingly takes in Chris. Now he has to keep his nephew safe while working the case, which isn’t going to be easy. Chris is a crime buff and wants to be part of the team that takes the bad guys down and the good news/bad news is he is an expert at finding information that Tank and his team needs.

This fasted paced novel has page-turning action and is filled with the passion the characters have for their jobs, families and friends. Tank is the perfect leading man in the group of brilliant but ragtag crime solvers. His connections to the NYPD and old mobsters create a cast that entertains readers from the first page to the last. His love of NY City is evident as the story unfolds and the secret he holds close to his heart kept me guessing throughout the story.

Carcaterra is a Native New Yorker. A writer for over twenty years, he is a NY Times number one bestselling author. The prolific author has written several books, one of which, Sleepers, was adapted as a film in 1996 of the same name. I can’t wait to read some of his other books. Hopefully there will be a sequel to Tin Badges or better yet, a series with these interesting, complex characters. If you are a fan of Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme or Patterson’s Alex Cross, you will love Tin Badges.

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 Reviews: Chronicles of a Radical Hag – How Well Do We Really Know Anyone?

Chronicles of a Radical Hag

by  Lorna Ladvik

Haze Evans, columnist for the Granite Creek Gazette suffers a massive stroke at the beginning of Chronicles of a Radical Hag but the book is filled with her words and opinions on life. Haze has been writing columns for as long as anyone can remember. Sometimes her columns are lighthearted in nature, but most often with her strong opinions about social issues of the day. She takes on topics that others might shy away from, and gives her own personal take on everything from abortion to assassinations while making each topic even more personal by sharing her life stories bits and pieces at a time.

Susan, the editor of the paper decides to run Haze’s columns while her favorite columnist is hospitalized. Susan’s high school age son Sam is enlisted to work for his mom by reading through Haze’s columns to see which ones would be appropriate to run as well as the responses Haze received on the topics. He is an introverted teen with a lot on his mind, mainly the recent affair his father has had which lead to his parents separation.

Sam soon becomes engrossed in Haze’s columns, advice and the people who love and hate her opinions. The Gazette readers are finding a new side of their favorite columnist by reading Haze’s opinions from years ago. This interest has encouraged the local high school kids to really discuss issues in their English class instead of the usual disinterest in the meaning of text. Some of the kids have even begun writing – pen to paper – writing down their opinions and thoughts.

While Haze seems to have opened her life to her readers, Sam uncovers some things that she has never shared. The further he digs he realizes that one of the secrets could have an impact on his family. But honestly, we cannot know everything about a person, each of us has something we don’t share with others that might surprise even the best of friends.

Ms. Ladvik creates a town of engaging characters, old and young. As the reader gets to know each of them, it is easy to see why they behave like they do. Watching them grow and learn is a gift to the reader. It gives us hope for the change that true dialog with others whether written or conversing can initiate.

This is the first book that I have read by Ms. Ladvik, but not the first she has written. When I popped over to her website, I found that this is her 15th book. How I could have missed her engaging writing style reminiscent of Fanny Flagg is beyond me. I will be adding the other 14 to my reading list.

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: The Mystery of Ruby’s Mistletoe – Delightful Historical Cozy Mystery

The Mystery of Ruby’s Mistletoe

By Rose Donovan

Spending the holidays with the aunt that disowned her after her father’s death was definitely not on Fina’s list of things to do. But when the constable showed up at Oxford looking for her best friend Ruby, the girls need to get away from the college before one or both of them spend the holidays in jail even though neither of them has committed a crime.

Fina used to love her Aunt Millicent, known to most as Lady Shillington. But after Fina’s brother was wrongfully hanged for the murder of Fina’s father. Lady Shillington cut all ties with Fina and her mum after the trial, so it came as a surprise that she would invite Fina for the holidays.

Because Fina knows her brother was innocent, she and Ruby decide to find the real killer when visiting the village for the holiday. Unbeknownst to them, Lady Shillington has invited all of the people involved with the untimely deaths to celebrate the holidays at her home.

Fina, Ruby and their friend Pixley are locked in a snowbound mansion with the person or persons that are undoubtedly the murderer or murderers. Will someone else die before Christmas dinner is served? Fina and her friends must find the killer but who can they trust to help trap the guilty person or persons?

This historical cozy mystery set in the 1930s it is full of red herrings, twists and turns. Like all cozies, the murder is not graphic and the gumshoes are college students not police inspectors. But do not discount the detailed hunt for the killer using the only tools available to solve crime in the early 1900s, which pretty much amounts to good old brain power.

Reading Ms. Donovan’s book is reminiscent to one of my favorite authors, Dame Agatha Christie. Setting up the suspects in a snowbound house, asking them to meet in the drawing room and the cleverly satisfying conclusion was extremely satisfying. I can picture Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot nodding at Ms. Donovan saying “Well done!”

This is the sixth book in the Ruby Dove Mystery Series. It is the first one I have read. It works fine as a standalone novel, but there were some references to previous cases that escaped me. That is okay, because the reader in me will seek out the five previous books so that I can be privy to the inside jokes between Ruby and Fina as well as learn about their previous cases that were referenced in The Mystery of Ruby’s Mistletoe.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received an Advanced Review Copy (or ARC) on Reedsy Discovery in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Plotting for Murder – Book #1 in New Cozy Series

Plotting for Murder

By Tamra Baumann

Moving back to Sunset Cove was never part of Sawyer Davis’ plan. She is a chef, not a bookstore owner. Unfortunately, the death of her mother brought her back home, at least until she can figure out how to access the monies from her mom’s trust fund that are tightly held by her conniving uncle. The only thing her mother’s brother wants is the other half of the family’s money instead of  just the half he deserves. Her mom left some clues as to how Sawyer can use her inheritance to buy her own restaurant, but will she ever be happy in the small town she escaped from when her fiancé left her at the alter?

She is overwhelmed with the trust fund restrictions, the crumbling home she now lives in, running the bookstore that was her mother’s passion. Oh, and trying to figure out just where her life is going. Her mother has been lovingly meddling from the grave. She leaves a riddle for Sawyer to solve that promises funding for the restaurant she longs to open. Her mom has arranged for a puppy to be delivered, and to top it off, she has arranged for two men to become necessary in Sawyer’s life, one new and one from Sawyer’s past.

Gage, the lawyer in town assigned to help her is handsome, kind and doesn’t hide his attraction to Sawyer. To make matters worse, the sheriff is Dylan, the gorgeous guy who got cold feet and ran out on her. Sparks begin to fly but Sawyer does not have time for romance with either of them. Unfortunately, her life and livelihood depends upon working with these two men. And just when she thought life could not get more complicated, someone is murdered during book club at her store. Sawyer isn’t about to hide in a corner waiting for something to happen. She begins her own investigation much to Dylan’s chagrin. Lucky for her, there are plenty of locals that love to gossip, so she enlists her book club buddies to help catch the killer. Who can she trust? Will the killer strike again and will Sawyer be the target?

Plotting for Murder has all the essential elements of a great cozy. The setting is interesting, small town America is a treasure trove of small shops full of quirky characters and adorable men vying for her attention, Sawyer is surrounded by a rich cast. It is fun to meet them and see the connections they have to Sawyer’s past.  I am looking forward to seeing how they will grow and evolve during the series. One of my personal favorites is Cooper, the puppy. He is a gift from Sawyer’s mom from beyond the grave and hopefully will play a part in solving the mysteries to come.

This is the first in the Cozy Mystery Bookshop Series by award winning author Tamra Baumann. It is also the first book of Ms. Baumann’s I have read. It is no secret that I love cozy mysteries and to find a new series is like Christmas morning for this bibliophile. I’ll be watching for the next one in this series as well as checking out the other cozy series written by Ms. Baumann.

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

Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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