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Book Review: Little Broken Things – Memorable Characters, Compelling Plot

Little Broken Things

By Nicole Baart

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

Little Broken Things begins with Nora Sanford cutting and dying the hair of a child she obviously loves, but is not hers. There is a sense of danger and impending disaster if she doesn’t change the little girl’s appearance and move her to a safe place before the unknown disaster befalls both of them.

Nora whisks her off and dumps her unceremoniously at her sister Quinn’s home. Without a clue as to who the child is, or why Nora drops her off without any explanation, Quinn is angry at her sister but fearful because Nora begged her not to let the child out of her sight. And more importantly, she was not to let anyone know the child was there. That is more than difficult because Quinn’s artist husband is living in the house with her. Her domineering mother, Liz, owns the house and lives right across the lake from them in the home that Nora, Quinn and their brother JJ grew up in. How can she keep a five year old secret in this little town of gossips? As the plot swirls around the little girl, with eminent danger closing in, there are no straight answers about her or her parents available to those who were given the impossible task of keeping her safe.

Nora has brought this to her family’s doorstep, but this is not the only secret her family has been pretending isn’t there. On the outside they were a solid, happy family but even as young children, the three Sandford kids knew how to keep secrets. Such as the happy family life they portrayed was often far from it. Even after the recent death of her husband, Liz followed the Sandford “rules” put in place by her domineering husband that often affected her children even though they are grown. They must find a way to work together to save this child no matter who she really is, even if it goes against everything they have been taught to do.

Baart brings so many elements in to bring her characters to life I felt as though I knew each of them. There were several things that brought them together. Art plays a huge but subtle part in the storyline. Motherhood also plays a huge role in Little Broken Things.

I really enjoyed Little Broken Things. It is smart, suspenseful, heartbreaking and written so well I was holding my breath praying for the safety of the little girl at the heart of the mystery. When an author can make me care that much for the characters she has created I know she will deeply touch the hearts of all of her readers. This is the first book I have read by Nicole Baart, but it will not be the last.

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

 

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Book Review: The Whispering Room – Nail Biting Thriller

The Whispering Room

By Dean Koontz

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.

The Whispering Room is the second novel featuring Jane Hawk, ex FBI agent who is now the most wanted woman in the United States. She is wanted for murder and various other charges that seem to pop up every day. Jane has been wrongly accused of most of the crimes and only kills someone if it is necessary.

The force she is fighting is more than one person. A group called Techno Arcadians wants to make the world a perfect place by creating peace through mind control. They have created a technology that will enable an elite group of people absolute power over anyone that has been injected with a nano-machine implant that will live in their brains. If the person is told to kill someone, they will do it. If they are told to kill themselves they will do it. There are unimaginable horrors that can and will take place if the few in power are not stopped. Jane is the unrelenting force that is pursuing them.

She has lost the people she loves one by death and another by separation due to the Archadians.

Tough as nails and willing to die if she has to, Jane uses all of her skills, those she was born with and those taught to her by the United States government when she worked for them, to complete her self-imposed mission. She has made many friends and made alliances during her career. She will call in those chits as needed through her ordeal as well as create a few unlikely alliances. But will it be enough?

There is a reason Dean Koontz is a best-selling author. The story is full of plot twists and surprises. He paints the scenes so vividly with his words the reader is drawn in immediately and stays with Jane for the duration of her ordeal. There are so many beautiful bits of description and subtle humor Koontz books are a joy to read. One of the best in this book in this book is when one of the characters loves his truck a little less than his wife, but more than his cat. I know a few men that feel the same way.

The supporting characters have a depth that pleases readers without even realizing the richness it adds to the novel. It appears effortless, but I am sure it cannot be. Therefore we can only attribute it to the talented Mr. Koontz. A couple of my favorites were Jolie, a very strong, smart young woman, Dr. Walkins one of the kindest characters in the book as well as Bernie Riggowitz. I hope I see more of all of them in the next book. And a brief personal note: thank you Mr. Koontz for not killing Dixie.

I have read many of Dean Koontz books and he has never disappointed me. I thoroughly enjoyed The Whispering Room. It is smart, well-written and entertaining. It is the first book in the Jane Hawk series that I’ve read, but I plan to pick up the first book, The Silent Corner.

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: The Best Kind of People – Add to your list now!!

The Best Kind of People

By Zoe Whittall

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.

Sadie, a senior in high school, is on the fast track to the college of her choice and has a boyfriend that she adores. Her life has not been perfect, but the trauma of a childhood event that could have ended in her life is now a memory, like a bad dream. But it really happened, and her father became the hero, saving her life and undoubtedly many others in the process.

She has a great family. Her mom, Joan, is an ER nurse. Her dad, George, is a beloved teacher at the school she attends. Her brother, Andrew, is older, has moved away from their hometown and is in the process of finding happiness away from the ghosts of his past. Unfortunately, the entire family’s almost perfect life is about to come unraveled at the seams.

George and Joan Woodbury have a nice home in a gated community. Unfortunately, the fences are not high enough to keep the lions from the gates once George is arrested. He tells his wife there is a group of girls lying about him. They say he sexually assaulted them on a field trip. When the police unexpectedly arrive at their doorstep, handcuff George and execute a search warrant on their home, his family is devastated. He assures them it is only a formality and he will be home as soon as his lawyer clears up this misunderstanding. Unfortunately for George, he is seen as a flight risk due to his family’s money and bail is denied.

Joan is trying hard to hold things together. The press won’t leave them alone and almost all of her friends have abandoned her. Her sister is there to support her and her son Andrew is coming back on weekends to do what he can. But sometimes you need someone you are not related to in order to share what you are thinking and how you really feel. So even before the trial, she decides she needs to go to a support group for families of people who commit crimes like those George has been accused of.

Sadie can’t go to school because of the comments, stares and numbness inside of her. All of the sudden her life is no longer what she ever imagined and honestly is having trouble coping. Is her father guilty? Are the girls lying or telling the truth? Either way, will her family survive intact?

This novel is so real it is frightening. Sometimes monsters are ordinary people living ordinary lives. Lies are told, crimes are committed and they could be the next door neighbor that you invite over for a BBQ – until their secrets are exposed. Whittall’s characters come alive on the pages through little things that made them seem like people you work with, live by or live with. Conversations subtly demonstrated the growth and pain of each, drawing the reader into their thoughts and confusion.

This is the first novel I have read my Zoe .53Whittall; it will not be my last. She is the author of Bottle Rocket Hearts and Holding Still for as Long as Possible. It is no surprise that Ms. Whittall is a national bestselling author in Canada or that The Best Kind of People was a finalist for the 2016 Giller Prize. If you are a fan of Jodi Picoult – you will love The Best Kind of People.

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

 

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Book Review: Two Nights – Page Turning Gem


Two Nights

By Kathy Reichs

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

Sunday Night just wants to be left alone. Recluse by choice, she prefers Bob the squirrel to most humans she encounters. So when she is asked to find a missing girl who is most likely dead, she is hesitant to say the least. It takes some convincing, but something about Stella, the missing teen seems to be calling her.

Night intuitively believes Stella is still alive. She worries that the kidnappers are going to kill her or do irreparable damage if someone doesn’t find her soon. Unfortunately, that would mean she would have to take the case. Stella’s grandmother is willing to pay her a boatload of cash to find the kidnappers. Grandma isn’t the snuggly type. She is the rich, entitled crusty old woman who wants revenge for her daughter and grandson’s murders that happened when Stella was abducted. It is assumed they are the same people holding the teen.

Against her better judgement, Night takes the case, in part due to a dark time in her past. Once she is on the hunt, she will stop at nothing until she finds the girl. The fact the abductors will pull out all stops to keep Night from stopping them doesn’t sway her from her mission. Working outside of the law she is in a race against time to find the group of people that have Stella and may be planning something much bigger. If they have their way hundreds, possibly thousands of people will die.

Reichs pulls the reader into the story immediately. Done in first person, the reader knows everything that Sunday Night is thinking. Her stream of thoughts gives you the feel of who she is immediately. Not always a likeable person, Night really tries to respond how she should when someone annoys her, not how she wants to. While this novel is not a comedy, I smiled and chuckled more than once over Night’s unfiltered thoughts.

In addition to unforgettable characters, the places they travel to and visit are described so vividly you are right there with the characters. I especially loved it when they were in Chicago. I recognized exactly where Night was because I have been there many times. Reichs paints the landscape with her words, such as “…hatted heads like dots in a Seurat landscape” and “…a barrier of scraggly crepe myrtles doing their best”. The reader immediately has the scene the characters moving through in their minds.

Kathy Reichs is an amazing story teller. It is no surprise that she has been winning awards for her books since the first one she penned in 1997.  Two Nights is a stand-alone novel but I selfishly want to read more books with Sunday Night as the main character. I hope Ms. Night is still whispering in Ms. Reichs’ ear so another novel featuring her will be coming soon.  I read this book in just over 24 hours because I could not put it down.

 

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Armstrong & Charlie – Great Middle Grade Novel

Armstrong & Charlie

By Steven B. Frank

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

Armstrong and Charlie are sixth graders this year. Both of them have reservations about the coming school year for very different reasons.

Armstrong is going to be bussed to a new school that is much better than the one in his neighborhood, so he will be leaving all of his friends. Everyone knows that friends are very important, and Armstrong is worried he won’t fit it.

Charlie will be losing some of his friends. Their parents aren’t as excepting as Charlie’s are about integrating his school. He also has a deeper problem. His brother died not too long ago and once he completes sixth grade, Charlie will be older than his brother ever was.

The school year starts out rocky, but soon the boys begin an awkward kind of friendship. It is shaky at best, and they don’t see each other out of school because Armstrong lives so far away.

Charlie’s mom and dad are not the same as before. The death of his brother has changed their family dynamic. Armstrong has a bustling family that includes four sisters and his parents. His mom is a nurse and his father was injured in the military.

The boy’s personal lives do not mingle – until a weekend trip with their class. The question is – will the boys grow closer or will they make choices that will cause their differences to explode?

This is a great book for kids in middle school. It is a time of changes and sometimes they feel like they are the only ones feeling left out or different. Armstrong & Charlie shows them they are like other kids their age.

I really like where this book ended up. At first it seemed a bit cliché with the racial issue of the white family being from the “better” area of town and the black family being from the “worse” side of town. For a few chapters I almost wished it had been flipped, with Charlie being bussed.

But as the story unfolds, the author squashes all of my doubts. It is an interesting plot with enough surprises to keep me turning the pages to see what happens next. The choices the boys make have consequences, both good and bad. The author isn’t afraid to let the reader know what could and does happen as the boys grow up during the school year.

I highly recommend this book.

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Every Trick in the Rook (A Birds of a Feather Mystery)

every-trick-in-the-rookEvery Trick in the Rook

A Birds of a Feather Mystery

By Marty Wingate

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

Julia Lanchester is juggling work and her personal life just like many of us do. She is excited to get away from the tourist bureau for a weekend with her boyfriend Michael. Things have been busy for her, planning events in and around the Fotheringill estate, the most popular place to visit in the village.

She and Michael head out and disconnect from everything for a wonderful few days. They spot unusual birds and enjoy each other until the hotel notifies her of an urgent phone call

The news opens the cage on crazy – turning a relaxing weekend into an abrupt return to reality. Julia’s ex-husband has been found murdered. Even worse, he was on the Fotheringill property. Why has he returned to a place he didn’t like from the isolated island he retreated to when they divorced?

The local constable has questions for Michael and Julia, surely they are not suspects! They are questioned and released, but Julia is warned to keep her nose out of the investigation. She has good intentions, but just can’t seem to let the questions about her ex-husband’s arrival and murder go. Will this put her in the crosshairs of the killer?

Wingate spins a great cozy mystery. It has all the elements that keep loyal cozy readers interested and turning pages. This series is exceedingly interesting to nature and bird lovers. One of my favorite characters is avian – a super smart rook named Alfie. He flies in and out of the plot at the most interesting times. The little girl he lives with is also very interesting. Her name, Tennyson, is as complex and fascinating as the child. I hope both of them show up in later books.

This is the third book in The Birds of a Feather Mystery series. It works perfectly well as a stand-alone mystery as I have not read the previous two books in the series. I did read one of Wingate’s Potting Shed Mysteries and thoroughly enjoyed it. If you are a fan of cozy mysteries or mysteries in general, I highly recommend checking out one or both of Marty Wingate’s series. I am willing to bet you will come back for more.

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