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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.

Summer in the Scottish Highlands–finding what’s important

Summer in the Scottish Highlands

by Donna Ashcroft

Paige Dougall was raised in the small Scottish town of Lockton, but left it behind when Carl, an event planner, swept her off her feet with his charming good looks. They eloped and moved to London where she also worked events and gave birth to an adorable daughter Grace. Unfortunately, Carl spread his charisma around London with little time for Paige whom he criticized constantly and no time at all for his daughter. Everything fell apart for Paige when she and Carl were in a car accident and he died. When Summer in the Scottish Highlands begins, Paige has spent the last year struggling to establish her career and make a home for Grace. Experiencing stress to succeed has made her work long hours, turn to pills, lose her appetite and cut drastically into time with her darling daughter.

John, a very successful chef who owned his own restaurant in New York, has moved to Lockton to escape his own high stress career. He is currently working as a chef at his twin brother Davey’s pub. John has certainly dropped his standards by serving basic pub food and canned soup. His brother encourages him to up his game saying, “I know you’re trying to keep your life stress-free, John, but there’s a difference between being relaxed and imitating the dead—I think you might have strayed too far in the wrong direction.”

Paige’s employer gives her time to destress while waiting for her house sale to go through. Paige and John establish a tentative relationship and work together to fix up the beloved Book Barn where she used to work. John is encouraged to cook again to get Davey’s pub listed in the yearly book Best Pubs. The two help and encourage each other in their respective projects drawing closer despite knowing Paige will be leaving.

John is drawn to little Grace who is nearly four years old almost as much as he is to her mother. He calls her “princess” and she calls him “prince.” Paige’s mum and da are delighted to have Paige and Grace in Lockton. Their relationship had been strained as they did not approve of Carl.

There are two minor but charming romances and an interesting group of women who welcome and support Paige as she realizes she actually had no friends in the “life” she thinks she has established in London. It’s not hard to predict the conclusion but the pleasure is in watching the relationships unfold and blossom. An added bonus is The Book Barn where Paige follows in her mentor’s footsteps with a gift for finding just the right book for each patron.

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: There is one passage with a little steam, but no graphic descriptions.

Publication: June 4, 2021—Bookouture

Memorable Lines:

Coming home—let’s just say it was the equivalent of taking a can opener to the emotions she worked so hard to contain.

There wasn’t a person alive who the librarian could’t find the perfect book for—she’d often said the right choice had the power to change someone’s life.

“I think it’s one of the things kids are so good at—living in the moment, understanding what’s important. Finding pleasure isn’t about being good or bad at something, it’s about taking time to experience it.”

Texas Homecoming–not too late to try again

Texas Homecoming

by Carolyn Brown

He broke her heart and moved away. He had good intentions and spent the next twenty years becoming Dr. Cody Ryan, and serving patients in distant, war-torn countries of poverty. A few years younger, she picked up the broken pieces of her heart to achieve success as Dr. Stevie O’Dell, veterinarian. When both move back to Honey Grove to help aging and ailing parents, Stevie avoids Cody until they find themselves trapped together for four days in the tack room of a barn by a snowstorm. At that point, they have to work together to survive, but Stevie won’t let her guard down.

Of course, being a romance, you know the attraction is going to re-emerge, but it is fun to watch their relationship develop. Both are spunky characters; no longer teenagers, they learn to tease and flirt with each other on an adult level. Both have past and present hurts they have to deal with. Just as things begin to move smoothly, there are several major plot twists; you wonder just how much more Stevie can endure. Some readers might think there are too many difficulties to be realistic, but I find that a series of calamities in life is not unusual. In this case, the challenges, good and bad, draw them together.

Cody’s family takes Stevie under their collective wing, always willing to help, but careful not to smother or judge. They make it clear that they are not perfect, but they know how to stay the course and work things through.

Carolyn Brown’s Texas Homecoming is a romance, not intended to be great literature. I found it to be a quick read, and one that I enjoyed.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Forever (Grand Central Publishing) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Romance

Notes: 1. #2 in The Ryan Family Series. It could be read as a standalone, but I’ve already put a copy of #1 (Second Chance at Sunflower Ranch) on hold at my library so I can get the backstory of some of the Ryan family members.
2. Clean romance, but does use “d—n” frequently as a slang expression

Publication: January 25, 2022—Forever

Memorable Lines:

“I would never get in between a woman and her chocolate.”

Stevie remembered coming home crying because some little girl had made fun of her height or of her curly red hair, and her mother telling her that the important thing was to be beautiful on the inside. The kids who were mean to you are ugly on the inside. You are pretty and smart, and they’re jealous, Ruth had said.

“…marriage is not another word for sex. Marriage is a sacred agreement between two people to live together and love each other through good times and bad and through poverty or riches. It’s about sticking together side by side even when you want to shoot him and throw his sorry carcass out for the coyotes’ supper.”

In Case You Get Hit by a Bus: How to Organize Your Life Now for When You’re Not Around Later

In Case You Get Hit by a Bus: How to Organize Your Life Now for When You’re Not Around Later

by Abby Schneiderman and Adam Seifer

As a senior citizen, I realize I am each day closer to death than the day before and that no one, regardless of their age, knows when their time on earth will be over. With those things in mind, I agreed to review an advance copy of <i>In Case You Get Hit by a Bus: How to Organize Your Life Now for When You’re Not Around Later</i>. The first thing I noticed is that the digital copy provided was rather jumbled and therefore difficult to read. I am sure the final published copy will not have those issues. I plowed ahead, reading the Introduction, skimming the body of the text, and particularly noting the organization of the book.

This book provides timely advice and draws the reader’s attention to the multitude of decisions that should be made to help those responsible for end of life care and for the distribution of the estate. There are many decisions that, due to “advances” in technology, our ancestors would not have had to deal with (passwords, life support, etc.). This book both advertises and dovetails into their online planning system. In all fairness, though, they do refer readers to other companies besides their own, and by itself the book would be a good guide.

The authors differentiate between the critical issues that need to be done immediately (Plan of Attack), those items of lower priority, and other things that you might want to consider (Side Mission). They really do cover all the bases, for me anyway, and they recognize that even considering this project is difficult for many people in so many ways. Even as I write this review, my anxiety level has risen, but the idea is that if you make a plan you will not just feel, but actually be in control of, some aspects of your future and help those you care about during their time of grief.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Workman Publishing Co. for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Self Help, Relationships, Grief

Publication: December 22, 2020—Workman Publishing Co.

Memorable Lines:

In order to really make a difference for people at their time of greatest need, you had to help people get a plan in place ahead of time.

We all love instant gratification, but this type of planning forces you to look beyond your own personal gain and know your family has a well-lit path forward if you’re not around.

Out, Mouse!–cute Irish tale

Out, Mouse!

written by Valerie L. Egar

audio narration by Paul Collins

Finn, an elderly Irish man, has unwelcome visitors as a mice family makes themselves at home in his cottage. Finn takes advice from Professor Dunderbutt’s book and writes a series of kind letters to Mr. and Mrs. Mouse making suggestions of places they would probably prefer to live. Unfortunately for Finn, they always find something unsuitable about the places he suggests. I won’t spoil the ending, but I’ll say that it did make me smile.

I was referred to this book by blogging book reviewer Carla at Carla Loves to Read. She mentions in her review that she listened to the audio version while reading the printed text. I have been wanting to dip into the many audio versions of books currently offered. With an actor reading this with an Irish accent, this book seemed like the perfect one to begin my listening adventure. Although I will probably continue to prefer the written word, I did enjoy listening to this narration which was very well performed.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Whistle Oak for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Children’s Fiction, Humor, Multicultural

Notes: 1. Publisher Recommended Ages: 6-9 years
2. Includes a section that encourages students to create pictures of what they imagined as they read the story.

Publication: April 6, 2021—Whistle Oak

Memorable Lines:

Finn knew something was wrong as soon as he opened the door to his cottage. Something or someone, had made a mess of the breakfast he’d placed on the table before taking his morning walk.

If the mice don’t like your first idea, keep writing letters. Sooner or later, one of your letters will work and they will move. This method NEVER fails.

He found a scrap of red cloth and tied it around his neck. A tiny brass nail became a make-believe sword. He held it tightly in his hand, waving it back and forth.

At Home in Mitford–welcome to Mitford

At Home in Mitford

by Jan Karon

You’ll want to start the Mitford Years series at the beginning with At Home in Mitford. This character-driven novel introduces you to the fictional, small,  North Carolina town of Mitford inhabited by people you will want to know—flaws and all. Father Tim is a devoted and hard working bachelor rector whom everyone loves. He is caring and lives out his Christian faith in his interactions with others from Barnabas, the huge dog that adopts him, settling down only at the quotation of Scripture, to Dooley, a young boy who has had a hard life and needs stability and love.

If you are tired of the endless news cycle, reading At Home in Mitford will give you the break you need. It is a peaceful story spiked with humorous characters and situations, gentle romance, some mysterious happenings, and a little action. Although it has a definite Christian bent, this novel is never “preachy.”  One of the themes of the book is found on the first page as Father Tim stops at his office door to pray: “Father, make me a blessing to someone today, through Christ our Lord. Amen.” Overall, you will enjoy the time you spend in Mitford and look forward to returning for another visit.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Fiction, Christian

Notes: This is the first of 14 books, which may seem like a daunting number, but I encourage you to give it a try. Even if you don’t plan on reading the whole series, I think you will enjoy At Home in Mitford. I have read the series, some as a group when I discovered this author and many others as they were published over the years. I just reread this first novel with my book club, and I enjoyed it thoroughly all over again.

Publication:  1994—Penguin Books

Memorable Lines:

“You don’t ramble at all, you get right to the point, and it’s always God’s point, as far as I can see. But, do you know what I appreciate more than your sermons?”  “What’s that?”  “The fact that you love us. Yes, that’s enough for me, that you love us.”

Good heavens, thought the rector. No wonder he had never felt the need to devour mystery and suspense stories. Nearly every day he encountered mysteries and suspense galore.

How could he have considered taking Monday off? Monday was the diving board poised over the rest of the week. One walked out on the board, reviewed the situation, planned one’s strategy, bounced a few times to get the feel of things, and then made a clean dive. Without Monday, one simply bombed into the water, belly first, and hoped for the best.

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