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The Party Crasher–a family breakup

The Party Crasher

by Sophie Kinsella

Check them off your list—the elements you anticipate in a Sophie Kinsella novel. You will find them in The Party Crasher.

  1. A wacky, but lovable protagonist: Effie (AKA Euphemia or Ephelant).
  2. Interesting setting: Greenoaks isn’t just any old house. It’s amazing. It has character. It has a turret! It has a stained-glass window. Visitors often call it “eccentric” or quirky” or just exclaim, “Wow!”
  3. Broken romantic relationship: What happened to Joe years ago that he would just drop Effie without an explanation?
  4. Dysfunctional family: Mimi, the beloved stepmother, and Dad have an announcement one Christmas that changes everyone’s life.
  5. Siblings: Bean, the always positive peacemaker, and Gus who is clearly unhappy in his relationship with the domineering Romilly.
  6. Mystery: Where are the missing Russian stacking dolls?
  7. A house-cooling party: Doesn’t everyone have one when they move?
  8. A gold-digger or two: Perhaps the flashy Krista and/or her flirty sister Lacey?
  9. Humor in both situations and characters: Maybe a protagonist dressed in black sneaking through her own house with a little Mission Impossible music thrown in for good measure?

I enjoyed The Party Crasher, and I recommend it for light-hearted fun with a background of serious themes and issues.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 4/5

Category: General Fiction, Women’s Fiction

Notes: Includes some casual swearing

Publication: October 12, 2021—Dial Press (Random House)

Memorable Lines:

For all that I loved him, I never got to the core of Joe. I never reached his innermost Russian doll. He always kept a part of himself locked well away.

I had no idea my brother and sister were so secretive and duplicitous. I’m shocked and I will tell them so, at some point, when I’m not hiding from them under the console table.

She sounds cynical. Her face is tight and jaded. She looks as if her expectations of life have sunk so low, she’s not going to bother having any anymore.

A Bookshop Christmas–recovering from grief

A Bookshop Christmas

by Rachel Burton

Although Christmas is an important part of the setting for A Bookshop Christmas, the story focuses on Megan, a young widow. When she loses her husband Joe to cancer, she retreats back to the bookshop where she grew up. She’s been hanging on emotionally for over three years with support from her mom and two friends, but the bookshop is floundering and her heart is just not in it. Is it time to reenter the world of publishing, to leave behind the security of York and her bookshop?

Xander, a swoon-worthy author, as emotionally damaged as Megan, is scheduled to introduce his newest book at her bookshop. He is rude and arrogant, but maybe those characteristics are just a coverup for his pain and shyness.

One of my favorite characters is Philomena Bloom, Xander’s agent. She is bigger than life and seems to have connections with everyone in the publishing world. My other favorite character is Gus, a dachshund, whose sweetness is woven all through the book.

Megan and Xander have deep, painful secrets that make it difficult for them to open up to others. All is not sweetness and light in this romance. Although you will want a happily ever after for these two, the road is rocky and there is sadness and misunderstanding as they struggle to get over the past and find a hopeful future.

I enjoyed A Bookshop Christmas for the way the characters support each other. They make mistakes but learn to recognize and admit their mistakes and apologize for them. There is humor sprinkled in the book that helps lighten the tough times Megan and Xander go through. It is a thought provoking book and I recommend it.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction

Publication: September 2, 2021—Aria

Memorable Lines:

“Reading is completely subjective and most readers read all kinds of different books. Being a snob about genre is like pretending that reading on e-readers or listening to audiobooks is somehow not proper reading. It’s ridiculous.”

Philomena Bloom burst into the bookshop at exactly three o’clock the next afternoon, leaving a wave of expensive perfume in her wake. The handful of customers browsing the shelves all looked up at the same time like meerkats.

The five stages of grief aren’t linear either—they all seem to exist together in one fiery hell ball of emotion that feels as though it will last forever. People will tell you that time heals but, in my experience, time just takes away the intensity.

The Library–love of reading

The Library

by Bella Osborne

Cross-generational stories hold a certain appeal that is present in Bella Osborne’s The Library. Built around characters who probably would never have met but for a library, this novel involves the reader in their lives. Tom, a lonely young man whose mother died when he was eight, intervenes when a hoodlum snatches Maggie’s purse. Maggie, a widow, lives alone on a small farm and longs for human contact. Both have issues that have isolated them from others: Tom’s father is an alcoholic, and Maggie has lost her son and husband.

There are so many interesting themes and threads woven into the bare bones scenario I have described. As the book progresses you learn to love Maggie, an intelligent, spunky lady with surprising talents and Tom, the object of her generosity of spirit, money, and time. Tom is trying to find his way through adolescence and is dealing simultaneously with poverty, a neglectful and grieving father who is edging toward abuse, a bully, a crush on a girl in his class, and studying for exams that will place him in A levels, the key to going to college. In the midst of all this drama, Tom has to convince his father that his future does not lie in a dog food factory. He and Maggie also have to keep their local library from closing.

I recommend this book for the style of narration, the gradual way the author reveals the inner workings of the characters, and the way she creates empathy in the reader. The events in the plot are well-crafted and the ending is satisfactory without being saccharine.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: General Fiction, Women’s Fiction

Notes: 1. There are a few uses of inappropriate language in American English and a lot of mild expletives in British English. Interestingly, Tom does try to catch himself and avoid swearing when talking to Maggie.
2. Contains lots of Britishisms.

Publication: September 2, 2021—Aria

Memorable Lines:

She’d sought peace at the library, and it had given her exactly that along with multiple worlds to hide herself in. She could disappear into a book and be gone from the harsh reality of the real world for hours.

He was lost in the no man’s land between the child he was and the man he so longed to be.

Maybe nobody was who they seemed. Apart from the animals. Rusty was beautiful inside and out; she was caring and loyal. Colin was literally the devil in sheep’s clothing. But you knew where you were with animals—they weren’t suddenly going to surprise you and tip your world upside down. They didn’t pretend to be something they weren’t and because of that they didn’t let you down. Unlike people who did it all the time.

How to Train Your Dad–the art of dumpster diving

How to Train Your Dad

by Gary Paulsen

Carl is the twelve year old narrator of this middle grade book which has a very conversational style. The vocabulary is somewhat advanced for a twelve year old, but that is because Pooder, Carl’s best friend who helps him write the story, goes through phases of interest (British, Navy seal, etc.). His various fascinations show up in his speech. Pooder admires Carl’s dad who, besides a few odd jobs, lives by bartering. Carl’s dad is very intelligent, mechanically inclined, and very kind. He trades energy (labor) for goods. He considers himself rich as he recycles from dumpsters or his neighbor Oscar’s junk piles. He built a whole truck from discarded spare parts. He prizes function over form; so if an invention works, it doesn’t matter how it looks.

His dad’s philosophy has been fine with Carl until he reaches middle grades and suddenly becomes aware of Peg as “the” girl. His summer goal is to become “lookatable” by the time school starts which is hard to do when your dad barters for XL camo T-shirts and pink bib overalls decorated with words like “juicy.”

The book explores Carl’s efforts to train his father using the methods in a puppy training pamphlet. His efforts are hilarious as are the contraptions his father builds and the objects he brings home. A lot of the dumpster diving food goes to the pigs and chickens. Carl and his dad have a rescue pit bull Carol who is an integral part of their family and, despite her stinky habit of shredding skunks, is allowed to accompany them everywhere.

How to Train Your Dad is a fun story that tweenagers will enjoy. Its casual style and over the top anecdotes are sure to appeal.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Children’s Fiction, Middle Grades

Notes: Contains a very small amount of cussing

Intended ages: 10-14

Publication: October 5, 2021—Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group

Memorable Lines:

She’s in my grade at school and everyone likes her and I have never ever ever seen her be catty or crabby or phony to anyone ever which is something like a miracle in middle school, if you ask me.

Sometimes Pooder jumping from phase to phase without warning can be a little confusing. He might start things off an English lord before suddenly becoming an advertising mogul looking to make some coin and then turn into a Viking biting deep on a tomato-apple so the juice runs down into his beard-if-he-had-one while he’s thinking of pillaging a coast somewhere.

My father loved to barter. To trade, as he thought of it, energies, abilities, knowledge. Trade everything he could so as not to use money. “I have a widget,” he explained to me when I was very small, “and John Doe has an extra electric frying pan he doesn’t need, but he needs a widget and so we trade. We barter. Simple and clean. It’s the very best and purest way to do business.”

The Best is Yet to Come–hope for the hurting

The Best is Yet to Come

by Debbie Macomber

When a hurt is so deep, so intense, that it permeates your very soul; when it causes pain that is both physical and mental, is there any way out? Cade survived a firefight after watching his two best friends die. He has a leg injury, PTSD, and a lot of anger. He lost his parents’ support when he chose not to follow the family tradition of becoming a lawyer.

Shadow is a German Shepherd who was abused and neglected; but even in his malnourished state, he is aggressive toward all in the animal shelter until he meets Hope. Hope is a high school teacher and counselor who is determined to win Shadow over with patience and love. Can she do the same for Cade?

Hope has her own past to get over as her twin brother died in Afghanistan. He was her only remaining family member, and they were very close.

Along the journey Cade makes toward wellness, we meet Harry his VA counselor, the other members of his group counseling sessions, and a lot of supportive people.

The Best is Yet to Come is a book with relevant issues facing many who have served in the military and their loved ones. It is a clean romance with emotional impact. A quick read, it provides lots of opportunities to take breaks, but you won’t want to. The story line includes interactions with some of Hope’s students focusing on their struggles, and it climaxes with an action-packed scene.

The author provides satisfying resolution to all the plot threads, and the book leaves you wanting to read another Debbie Macomber novel. Fortunately, there are many you can choose from.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Women’s Fiction, Romance

Notes: This is #3 in the series Oceanside, but it read like a standalone to me. I was not aware it was part of a series until I began to write the review.

Publication: July 12, 2022—Balantine (Random House)

Memorable Lines:

The memories of that last battle engagement clawed at him like an eagle’s talons, his sleep peppered with nightmares that his mind insisted on tossing at him like a hundred-mile-an-hour hardball pitch. He drank to forget. To sleep. To escape.

“By being loners, we feel like we’re handling life; we’ve built this fortress around ourselves. Involving others, inviting them into our pain, is hard. We resist. We don’t like it. We feel we can handle it on our own. We’re islands unto ourselves, not needing anyone.”

“An attitude of gratitude,” Harry said. “That, young man, will take you far.”

Pride and Prejudice–courtship in the early 1800’s

Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen

In preparation for reading Pride, a modern day version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, with my book club, I decided to reread the original. I knew I could watch a video of the story, but I decided to aim for authenticity and read the actual book. I was glad I did as there is so much to be appreciated in Austen’s words, style, and depiction of characters. In retrospect, I believe my younger self had seen one of the several videos, but had never actually read the novel. I would still like to view one of the movies for an opportunity to better envision the costumes and settings of this period piece, but there is much value to be gained from the reading experience.

Pride and Prejudice is a romance particularly focusing on Jane and Elizabeth Bennet as they navigate the difficult waters of courtship in the early 1800’s in England. Their courses are made more murky by the family’s financial and social status. They are not part of the old monied class that is full of prejudice, but they have standards and they and their suitors are driven at least in part by pride. From a twenty-first century viewpoint, the courtship and rules of engagement seem stilted, but the reader can see in a younger sister’s impetuous disregard for the rules and assumptions of the time, that there are real societal and personal consequences for ignoring the standards of any time period.

I enjoyed the book which is as much about social issues as it is a romance. Pride and prejudice are, of course, themes throughout the book. Most of the characters of the novel grow and develop through the events of the story. Some remain stuck in their ways of thinking, and those continue to be persons the reader won’t like. You may find yourself rereading Pride and Prejudice for love of the characters, the joy of the language, or the journey towards a known ending—happy for some, less so for others.

Rating: 5/5

Notes: Edited by R. W. Chapman. Distributed by Gutenberg Press

Category: General Fiction, Romance

Publication: 1813—T. Egerton Military Library, Whitehall

Memorable Lines:

“Affectation of candor is common enough;—one meets it every where. But to be candid without ostentation or design—to take the good of every body’s character and make it still better, and say nothing of the bad—belongs to you alone.”

Without thinking highly either of men or of matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only honorable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want. This preservative she had now obtained; and at the age of twenty-seven, without having ever been handsome, she felt all the good luck of it.

“You mean to frighten me, Mr. Darcy, by coming in all this state to hear me? But I will not be alarmed though your sister does play so well. There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises with every attempt to intimidate me.”

Striking Range–another winner from Mizushima

Striking Range

by Margaret Mizushima

Striking Range is one of those books that can not be tidily put in a box with a label. It is a police procedural as the reader gets to see law enforcement, federal, state, and local, at work. It is a K-9 mystery, a who-dun-it where Deputy Mattie Cobb shares the limelight with K-9 officer Robo. He is her buddy and she is his handler; they look out for each other. Watching Robo’s skills is fascinating. This book has enough suspenseful action and danger that it is also a thriller.

The plot is quite involved as Mattie is reviving a thirty year old cold case of the murder of her biological father. Was he a dirty cop? There seems to be only one person alive who knows the truth. He is the same evil man who tried to kill Mattie, but in her determination to find justice for her father, she visits him in a Colorado state prison.

Another thread in the plot is the discovery of the body of a young girl. Only the day before, she was pregnant. What happened to the baby? Why would someone kill the baby? How does fentanyl keep tying into this mystery?

Cole, Mattie’s boyfriend, is a veterinarian and is active in the sheriff’s posse. He plays a prominent role in this story, and there are also a number of kids who figure strongly into the plot.

There are many suspects to sort through. Although I had guessed the motive from a number of reasonable possibilities, the identity of the murderer was a surprise. Complications to solving this crime keep adding up and weather conditions in the rural setting don’t help. Author Margaret Mizushima is a talented writer with descriptions that put you at the scene and let you experience the emotions of the characters. This series is my favorite K-9 series. I have happily read all of the published books in the series and am looking forward to the next one.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: 1. #6 in the Timber Creek K-9 Mystery Series. Although the characters continue from one book to the next, it would be excellent as a standalone as the author includes background information as needed.
2. It has a few instances of swearing, but no sex.

Publication: September 7, 2021—Crooked Lane Books

Memorable Lines:

Getting the kids ready for school each morning before he hurried off to work was like lining up horses at the gate before a race—everyone wanted to run off in a different direction, and sometimes someone balked at going anywhere.

Narcan reversed the effects of opiates such as fentanyl, one of the street drugs most dangerous to narcotics detection dogs. It saved the lives of dogs, their handlers, and even addicts after accidental exposure or overdose. Nowadays K-9 officers carried two doses, one for their dog and one for themselves.

Always a sporty dresser, he straightened his bow tie, which was lime green with yellow polka dots, a cheerful addition that conflicted with the lines of fatigue on his face.

Five Belles Too Many–reality TV for a wedding

Five Belles Too Many

by Debra H. Goldstein

I’ll give kudos to Debra H. Goldstein, the author of Five Belles Too Many, for starting off this cozy mystery with an explosive scene. The cast of the Southern Belle Perfect Wedding Competition is staying at Jane’s Place, an inn and restaurant. As the book opens, Jane is clearly upset over what she feels is a rigged show. Our main character Sarah looks on with mixed feelings because Jane is her long-time nemesis. Sarah is involved in this reality show because her mother Maybelle and Mom’s boyfriend George have been selected as finalists. The competing belles are required to have “chaperones” who stay at the inn at night and participate in some of the events.

At first there are just ruffled feathers as the videotaping starts, but then murders begin and there is talk of gambling. Jane is accused of murder because she has threatened it and the crime occurred at her inn. The plot is complicated with the announcement of the method of murder awaiting toxicology results. Many members of the cast and crew dislike the victim. Meanwhile, as taping continues, the contestants have to put their best side forward even while competing with others to have the wedding and honeymoon of their dreams paid for by the producing network. Vendors are also competing to be chosen to supply the cakes, flowers, etc. for the winning couple.

Reviewing this book fairly was difficult for me because I truly dislike “reality TV,” mainly because there is little real about it. To me, the scenarios appear staged, and the outcomes pre-decided when there are competitions. The contests themselves are often absurd, and this was the case in Five Belles Too Many. I also don’t like gambling and don’t want to understand the intricacies of “pushes” and other gambling terms. So, a reality TV and/or gambling aficionado would probably enjoy this book more than I did.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: 1. #5 in the Sarah Blair Mystery Series, but is OK as a standalone. I have only read one other book in the series and I had no problem jumping in with the plot and characters.
2. Recipes are included, but I saw nothing outstanding or with a strong tie-in to the story.

Publication: June 28, 2022—Kensington

Memorable Lines:

As she slipped into the chair next to her mother, she heard Alan loudly observe, “That, my friends, is reality TV.”

Their unselfish pride at each other’s accomplishments was the big factor that made them such a great couple.

The sun was up, which Sarah took as a good sign because she firmly believed light triumphed darkness.

Suspects–dangerous corruption

Suspects

by Danielle Steel

If you want an entertaining romance mixed with some mystery and spies, Suspects is a good choice. It reads quickly and has sympathetic main characters. Theo is a successful business woman in the fashion industry. She is married to an older, extremely wealthy man. They have a relatively happy marriage with one child. Everything changes instantly as Theo’s husband and son are kidnapped, probably by an angry Russian over a business deal that went sour.

Mike is a career CIA agent, promoted up the ladder but still very hands-on. He is married to his job. His path crosses with Theo’’s as he follows up on Pierre de Vaumont, a slimy character who makes his money by matching rich and shady individuals with corrupt individuals who can fulfill their needs. Mike knows about the kidnapping and is immediately drawn to Theo and wants to keep her safe.

Most of the book deals with efforts to find the kidnappers and keep Theo safe. In the process a mostly long distance romance, New York to Paris, develops between Theo and Mike.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Women’s Fiction

Notes: There is steam in this romance as the couple enjoys a “lovefest of tenderness and passion” whenever they are together. Their sexual encounters are closed door, but that part of the story becomes repetitive and does not move the plot forwards.

Publication: June 28, 2022—Delacorte Press (Penguin Random House)

Memorable Lines:

He could feel his good resolutions sliding away, like Jello-O down the drain.

The windows were all tightly closed so tear gas wouldn’t enter the apartment, and they heard the first cannons go off, shooting tear gas into the crowd. Mike was shocked at what was happening, it looked like a war zone in the most civilized city in the world.

“You’re not a normal person. You’re an exceptional, remarkable one that people are jealous of, which makes you a target. And there are dangerous people in the world.”

The Coat–sacrificial giving

The Coat

by Séverine Vidal and Louis Thomas

The Coat is a children’s picture book that tells the story of Elise who waits longingly for the day when her big sister Mia will outgrow her perfect red coat and pass it on to Elise. It also is the story of a homeless child dressed in a few layers of summer clothes sitting with her mother on cardboard on the sidewalk…in the snow. Elise passes her by the first day she wears her new red coat, but after a restless night, she can’t look away again. The second day she is late to school, coatless, and happy.

The Coat is a touching way to teach children about sacrificial giving. The homeless child is not given a name in the story which seems appropriate because there are so many “nameless” children who need help and hope. The pictures are colored line drawings, simple and almost cartoonish with an appeal to the reader to join the story. The snowy scenes and dialogue about “penguin cold” are perfect for this story. It is a book that children will request rereads on, and as they hear it again and again its message will make its way into their hearts.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Children’s Fiction

Notes: Reading age: 3 – 7 years
Grade level: 1 – 2

Publication: October 11, 2022—Flyaway Books

Memorable Lines:

It was bitterly cold. Penguin cold!

But now when Elise thought about the warm, soft, red coat, it hurt a little, kind of like a pinch.

Her thoughts were enough to keep her warm.

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