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November 25, 2017

Review: Swan Song by Charlotte Wilson

by MK French

Ava has come to London to participate in the tribute to her mother, the iconic ballerina Beatrice Duvall, who had died when she was a baby. It's painful for her because she won't dance after leaving the Royal Ballet School and all that had defined her. Returning to London for the tribute will allow her to learn more about the mother she never knew, as well as herself along the way.

November 24, 2017

Book Suggestions for the Readers on Your List

by Susan Roberts


Christmas is right around the corner and it's time to make your list (and check it twice). Lots of avid readers would prefer to unwrap a book on Christmas morning more than anything else (ok, maybe diamond earrings would be better but we have to be realistic here.) I have listed some of my favorite books of 2017 below.

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For the reader who enjoys books about food

The Welcome Home Diner by Peggy Lampman (read my review)
The
Betting on the city of Detroit’s eventual comeback, cousins Addie and Samantha decide to risk it all on an affordable new house and a culinary career that starts with renovating a vintage diner in a depressed area of town. There’s just one little snag in their vision.

Angus, a weary, beloved local, is strongly opposed to his neighborhood’s gentrification—and his concerns reflect the suspicion of the community. Shocked by their reception, Addie and Samantha begin to have second thoughts.

As the long hours, problematic love interests, and underhanded pressures mount, the two women find themselves increasingly at odds, and soon their problems threaten everything they’ve worked for. If they are going to realize their dreams, Addie and Samantha must focus on rebuilding their relationship. But will the neighborhood open their hearts to welcome them home?

Buy The Welcome Home Diner at Amazon


Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan (read my review)
Christmas at Little Beach Streat Bakery
It's Christmas in the Cornish coastal village of Mount Polbearne - a time for family, friends and feasting.

Polly Waterford loves running the Little Beach Street Bakery. She's at her happiest when she's creating delicious treats and the festive season always inspires her to bake and knead something extra special for the village residents. In fact, the only thing she loves more than her bakery is curling up with her gorgeous boyfriend, Huckle. She's determined that this Christmas is going to be their best one yet, but life doesn't always work out as planned...

When Polly's best friend Kerensa turns up with a secret that threatens the life Polly and Huckle have built together, the future begins to look uncertain. And then a face from Polly's past reappears and things become even more complicated. Polly can usually find solace in baking but she has a feeling that's not going to be enough this time. Can she get things back on track so that everyone has a merry Christmas?

Buy Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery at Amazon

For the reader who enjoys books about music

Jimmy Buffett: A Good Life All the Way by Ryan White
Jimmy Buffeet
A candid, compelling, and rollicking portrait of the pirate captain of Margaritaville—Jimmy Buffett.

In Jimmy Buffett: A Good Life All the Way, acclaimed music critic Ryan White has crafted the first definitive account of Buffett’s rise from singing songs for beer to his emergence as a tropical icon and CEO behind the Margaritaville industrial complex, a vast network of merchandise, chain restaurants, resorts, and lifestyle products all inspired by his sunny but disillusioned hit “Margaritaville.”

Filled with interviews from friends, musicians, Coral Reefer Band members past and present, and business partners who were there, this book is a top-down joyride with plenty of side trips and meanderings from Mobile and Pascagoula to New Orleans, Key West, down into the islands aboard the Euphoria and the Euphoria II, and into the studios and onto the stages where the foundation of Buffett’s reputation was laid.

Buffett wasn’t always the pied piper of beaches, bars, and laid-back living. Born on the Gulf Coast, the son of a son of a sailing ship captain, Buffett scuffed around New Orleans in the late sixties, flunked out of Nashville (and a marriage) in 1971, and found refuge among the artists, dopers, shrimpers, and genuine characters who’d collected at the end of the road in Key West. And it was there, in those waning outlaw days at the last American exit, where Buffett, like Hemingway before him, found his voice and eventually brought to life the song that would launch Parrot Head nation.

And just where is Margaritaville? It’s wherever it’s five o’clock; it’s wherever there’s a breeze and salt in the air; and it’s wherever Buffett sets his bare feet, smiles, and sings his songs.

Buy A Good Life All the Way at Amazon


The Summer Springsteen's Songs Saved Me by Barbara Quinn (read my review)
The Summer Springsteen's Songs Save Me
Coming home to catch her husband with his face between the long, silky legs of another woman is the last thing Sofia expects—and on today of all days. But, after scratching an expletive into his Porsche and setting the cheating bastard’s clothes on fire, she cranks up her beloved Bruce and flees, vowing to never look back.

Finding solace in the peaceful beachside town of Bradley Beach, NJ, Sof is determined to start over. And, with the help of best friends, new acquaintances, a sexy neighbor, and the powerful songs of Springsteen, this may be the place where her wounds can heal. But, as if she hasn’t faced her share of life’s challenges, a final flurry of obstacles awaits.

In order to head courageously toward the future, Sofia must first let go of her past, find freedom, and mend her broken soul.

Buy The Summer Springsteen's Songs Saved Me at Amazon

For the reader who enjoys fiction books about WWII

The Baker's Secret by Stephen P. Kiernan (read my review)
The Baker's Secret
From the critically acclaimed author of The Hummingbird and The Curiosity comes a dazzling novel of World War II—a shimmering tale of courage, determination, optimism, and the resilience of the human spirit, set in a small Normandy village on the eve of D-Day

On June 5, 1944, as dawn rises over a small town on the Normandy coast of France, Emmanuelle is making the bread that has sustained her fellow villagers in the dark days since the Germans invaded her country.

Only twenty-two, Emma learned to bake at the side of a master, Ezra Kuchen, the village baker since before she was born. Apprenticed to Ezra at thirteen, Emma watched with shame and anger as her kind mentor was forced to wear the six-pointed yellow star on his clothing. She was likewise powerless to help when they pulled Ezra from his shop at gunpoint, the first of many villagers stolen away and never seen again.

But in the years that her sleepy coastal village has suffered under the enemy, Emma has silently, stealthily fought back. Each day, she receives an extra ration of flour to bake a dozen baguettes for the occupying troops. And each day, she mixes that precious flour with ground straw to create enough dough for two extra loaves—contraband bread she shares with the hungry villagers. Under the cold, watchful eyes of armed soldiers, she builds a clandestine network of barter and trade that she and the villagers use to thwart their occupiers.

But her gift to the village is more than these few crusty loaves. Emma gives the people a taste of hope—the faith that one day the Allies will arrive to save them.

Buy The Baker's Secret at Amazon


The Boat Runner by Devin Murphy (read my review)
The Boat Runner
A DUTCH SEAFARER, TURNED SMUGGLER.

In the tradition of All The Light We Cannot See and The Nightingale comes an incandescent debut novel about a young Dutch man who comes of age during the perilousness of World War II.

Beginning in the summer of 1939, fourteen-year-old Jacob Koopman and his older brother, Edwin, enjoy lives of prosperity and quiet contentment. Many of the residents in their small Dutch town have some connection to the Koopman lightbulb factory, and the locals hold the family in high esteem.

On days when they aren’t playing with friends, Jacob and Edwin help their Uncle Martin on his fishing boat in the North Sea, where German ships have become a common sight. But conflict still seems unthinkable, even as the boys’ father naively sends his sons to a Hitler Youth Camp in an effort to secure German business for the factory.

When war breaks out, Jacob’s world is thrown into chaos. The Boat Runner follows Jacob over the course of four years, through the forests of France, the stormy beaches of England, and deep within the secret missions of the German Navy, where he is confronted with the moral dilemma that will change his life—and his life’s mission—forever.

Epic in scope and featuring a thrilling narrative with precise, elegant language, The Boat Runner tells the little-known story of the young Dutch boys who were thrown into the Nazi campaign, as well as the brave boatmen who risked everything to give Jewish refugees safe passage to land abroad. Through one boy’s harrowing tale of personal redemption, here is a novel about the power of people’s stories and voices to shine light through our darkest days, until only love prevails.

Buy The Boat Runner at Amazon


The Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer Ryan (read my review)
The Chilbury Ladies' Choir
"Just because the men have gone to war, why do we have to close the choir? And precisely when we need it most!"

As England enters World War II's dark early days, spirited music professor Primrose Trent, recently arrived to the village of Chilbury, emboldens the women of the town to defy the Vicar's stuffy edict to shutter the church's choir in the absence of men and instead 'carry on singing'. Resurrecting themselves as "The Chilbury Ladies' Choir", the women of this small village soon use their joint song to lift up themselves, and the community, as the war tears through their lives.

Told through letters and journals, The Chilbury Ladies' Choir moves seamlessly from budding romances to village intrigues to heartbreaking matters of life and death. As we come to know the struggles of the charismatic members of this unforgettable outfit -- a timid widow worried over her son at the front; the town beauty drawn to a rakish artist; her younger sister nursing an impossible crush and dabbling in politics she doesn't understand; a young Jewish refugee hiding secrets about her family, and a conniving midwife plotting to outrun her seedy past -- we come to see how the strength each finds in the choir's collective voice reverberates in her individual life.

In turns funny, charming and heart-wrenching, this lovingly executed ensemble novel will charm and inspire, illuminating the true spirit of the women on the home front, in a village of indomitable spirit, at the dawn of a most terrible conflict.

Buy The Chilbury Ladies Choir at Amazon

For the reader who enjoys southern fiction

Slightly South of Simple by Kristy Woodson Harvey (read my review)
Slightly South of Simple
Caroline Murphy swore she’d never set foot back in the small Southern town of Peachtree Bluff; she was a New York girl born and bred and the worst day of her life was when, in the wake of her father’s death, her mother selfishly forced her to move—during her senior year of high school, no less—back to that hick-infested rat trap where she'd spent her childhood summers. But now that her marriage to a New York high society heir has fallen apart in a very public, very embarrassing fashion, a pregnant Caroline decides to escape the gossipmongers with her nine-year-old daughter and head home to her mother, Ansley.

Ansley has always put her three daughters first, especially when she found out that her late husband, despite what he had always promised, left her with next to nothing. Now the proud owner of a charming waterfront design business and finally standing on her own two feet, Ansley welcomes Caroline and her brood back with open arms. But when her second daughter Sloane, whose military husband is overseas, and youngest daughter and successful actress Emerson join the fray, Ansley begins to feel like the piece of herself she had finally found might be slipping from her grasp. Even more discomfiting, when someone from her past reappears in Ansley's life, the secret she’s harbored from her daughters their entire lives might finally be forced into the open.

Exploring the powerful bonds between sisters and mothers and daughters, this engaging novel is filled with Southern charm, emotional drama, and plenty of heart.

Buy Slightly South of Simple at Amazon


The Bookshop at Water's End by Patti Callahan Henry (read my review)
The Bookshop at Water's End
The women who spent their childhood summers in a small southern town discover it harbors secrets as lush as the marshes that surround it...

Bonny Blankenship's most treasured memories are of idyllic summers spent in Watersend, South Carolina, with her best friend, Lainey McKay. Amid the sand dunes and oak trees draped with Spanish moss, they swam and wished for happy-ever-afters, then escaped to the local bookshop to read and whisper in the glorious cool silence. Until the night that changed everything, the night that Lainey's mother disappeared.

Now, in her early fifties, Bonny is desperate to clear her head after a tragic mistake threatens her career as an emergency room doctor, and her marriage crumbles around her. With her troubled teenage daughter, Piper, in tow, she goes back to the beloved river house, where she is soon joined by Lainey and her two young children. During lazy summer days and magical nights, they reunite with bookshop owner Mimi, who is tangled with the past and its mysteries. As the three women cling to a fragile peace, buried secrets and long ago loves return like the tide.

Buy The Bookshop at Water's End at Amazon

Three of My Favorite Books of 2017

The Stolen Marriage by Diane Chamberlain (read my review)
The Stolen Marriage
In 1944, twenty-three-year-old Tess DeMello abruptly ends her engagement to the love of her life when she marries a mysterious stranger and moves to Hickory, North Carolina, a small town struggling with racial tension and the hardships imposed by World War II. Tess’s new husband, Henry Kraft, is a secretive man who often stays out all night, hides money from his new wife, and shows no interest in making love. Tess quickly realizes she’s trapped in a strange and loveless marriage with no way out.

The people of Hickory love and respect Henry and see Tess as an outsider, treating her with suspicion and disdain, especially after one of the town’s prominent citizens dies in a terrible accident and Tess is blamed. Tess suspects people are talking about her, plotting behind her back, and following her as she walks around town. What does everyone know about Henry that she does not? Feeling alone and adrift, Tess turns to the one person who seems to understand her, a local medium who gives her hope but seems to know more than he’s letting on.

When a sudden polio epidemic strikes the town, the townspeople band together to build a polio hospital. Tess, who has a nursing degree, bucks Henry’s wishes and begins to work at the hospital, finding meaning in nursing the young victims. Yet at home, Henry’s actions grow more alarming by the day. As Tess works to save the lives of her patients, can she untangle her husband’s mysterious behavior and save her own life?

Buy The Stolen Marriage at Amazon


The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash (read my review)
The Last Ballad
The author of the celebrated bestseller A Land More Kind Than Home returns with this eagerly awaited new novel, set in the Appalachian foothills of North Carolina in 1929 and inspired by actual events, that chronicles an ordinary woman’s struggle for dignity and her rights in a textile mill, a moving tale of courage in the face of oppression and injustice, with the emotional power of Ron Rash’s Serena, Dennis Lehane’s The Given Day, and the unforgettable films Norma Rae and Silkwood

Twelve times a week, twenty-eight-year old Ella May Wiggins makes the two-mile trek to and from her job on the night shift at American Mill No. 2 in Bessemer City, North Carolina. The insular community considers the mill’s owners—the newly arrived Goldberg brothers—white but not American and expects them to pay Ella May and others workers less because they toil alongside African Americans like Violet, Ella May’s best friend. While the dirty, hazardous job at the mill earns Ella May a paltry nine dollars for seventy-two hours of work each week, it’s the only opportunity she has. Her no-good husband John has run off again, and she must keep her four young children alive with whatever she can find.

When the union leaflets first come through the mill, Ella May has a taste of hope, a yearning for the better life the organizers promise. But the mill owners, backed by other nefarious forces, claim the union is nothing but a front for the Bolshevik menace sweeping across Europe. To maintain their control, the owners will use every means in their power, including lies, threats, and bloodshed, to prevent workers from banding together. On the night of the county’s biggest rally, Ella May, weighing the costs of her choice, makes up her mind to join the movement—a decision that will have lasting consequences for her children, her friends, her town—indeed all that she loves.

Seventy-five years later, Ella May’s daughter Lilly, now an elderly woman, tells her nephew about his grandmother and the events that transformed their family. Illuminating the most painful corners of their history, she reveals, for the first time, the whole story of what happened to Ella May after that fateful union meeting in 1929.

Intertwining myriad voices, Wiley Cash brings to life the heartbreak and bravery of the now forgotten struggle of the labor movement in early Twentieth Century America—and pays tribute to the thousands of heroic women and men who risked their lives to win basic rights for all workers. Lyrical, heartbreaking, and haunting, this eloquent new novel confirms Wiley Cash’s place among our nation’s finest writers.

Buy The Last Ballad at Amazon


A Catalog of Birds by Laura Harrington (read my review)
A Catalog of Birds
Laura Harrington's new novel is a portrait of a family in the midst of recovery, the mysterious disappearance of a young woman, and of a brother and sister whose love of the natural world just might save their lives.

Set in 1970, a watershed moment in American History, A Catalog of Birds tells the story of the Flynn family and the devastating impact of the Vietnam War. At the heart of the novel is the relationship between siblings Nell and Billy Flynn. Nell excels academically and is headed to college and a career in science. Billy, a passionate artist, enlists as a pilot to fulfill his lifelong dream of flying. He is the only survivor when his helicopter is shot down. When he returns home his wounds limit his ability to sketch or even hold a pencil. As Billy struggles to regain the life he once had, Nell and their family will have to do all that's possible to save him.

Lyrical and affecting, Laura Harrington has written an artful family drama about innocence lost and wounds that may never be healed. This is a tale of forgiveness: of ourselves, of those we love best. Illuminated by grief and desire, the novel is full of spirit, wonder and the possibilities of the future.

Buy A Catalog of Birds at Amazon


HAPPY SHOPPING!!!!

P.S. If you need more recommendations, check out Donna's 15 Books for the Reader in Your Life.

Susan Roberts lives in North Carolina when she isn't traveling.  She and her husband enjoy traveling, gardening and spending time with their family and friends.  She reads almost anything (and the piles of books in her house prove that) but her favorite genres are Southern fiction, women's fiction, and thrillers. Susan is a top 1% Goodreads Reviewer. You can connect with her on Facebook, Goodreads or Twitter.



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15 Books for the Reader in Your Life

by Donna Huber


It can be difficult deciding what to buy for the reader in your life or maybe you are the reader trying to make out your Christmas list. Either way, I have a round up of 15 of my favorite books that I read this year.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. 


Literary Fiction

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
The Water Knife
I joined a book club this year and this was our October book I absolutely loved it.  The first chapter didn't really grab me (even though it started with a bang), but by the second chapter, I was hooked. It's a great thriller.

In the American Southwest, Nevada, Arizona, and California skirmish for dwindling shares of the Colorado River. Into the fray steps Angel Velasquez, leg-breaker, assassin, and spy. A Las Vegas water knife, Angel "cuts" water for his boss, Catherine Case, ensuring that her luxurious developments can bloom in the desert, so the rich can stay wet while the poor get dust. When rumors of a game-changing water source surface in drought-ravaged Phoenix, it seems California is making a play to monopolize the life-giving flow of the river, and Angel is sent to investigate. There, he encounters Lucy Monroe, a drought-hardened journalist, and Maria Villarosa, a young refugee who survives by her wits in a city that despises everything she represents. For Angel, Lucy, and Maria, time is running out and their only hope for survival rests in each other’s hands. But when water is more valuable than gold, alliances shift like sand, and the only thing for certain is that someone will have to bleed if anyone hopes to drink.

Buy The Water Knife at Amazon


The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall
The Best kind of People
I didn't want to put this book down. It deals with a difficult topic so I'm not sure how I feel about how it turned out but I liked that it focused on the family and how they dealt with it. Read both MK French's and my reviews.

George Woodbury, a celebrated teacher, is arrested for sexual impropriety at a prestigious prep school. His wife, Joan, vaults between denial and rage as the community she loved turns on her. Their daughter, Sadie, a popular over-achieving high school senior, becomes a social pariah. Their son, Andrew, assists in his father’s defense, while grappling with his own unhappy memories of his teen years. A local author tries to exploit their story, while an unlikely men’s rights activist attempts to get Sadie onside their cause. With George locked up, how do the members of his family pick up the pieces and keep on with their lives? How do they defend someone they love while wrestling with the possibility of his guilt?

Buy The Best Kind of People at Amazon


East of Eden by John Steinbeck
East of Eden
The classics are usually a good bet for avid readers and book lovers in general. If you think they have already read it, then go for a special edition or pretty binding. Steinbeck is one of my favorite authors and when I think "Great American Novel" his are always at the top of the list.

In his journal, John Steinbeck called East of Eden "the first book," and indeed it has the primordial power and simplicity of myth. Set in the rich farmland of California's Salinas Valley, this sprawling and often brutal novel follows the intertwined destinies of two families--the Trasks and the Hamiltons--whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel.

Adam Trask came to California from the East to farm and raise his family on the new, rich land. But the birth of his twins, Cal and Aron, brings his wife to the brink of madness, and Adam is left alone to raise his boys to manhood. One boy thrives, nurtured by the love of all those around him; the other grows up in loneliness, enveloped by a mysterious darkness.

First published in 1952, East of Eden is the work in which Steinbeck created his most mesmerizing characters and explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity, the inexplicability of love, and the murderous consequences of love's absence. A masterpiece of Steinbeck's later years, East of Eden is a powerful and vastly ambitious novel that is at once a family saga and a modern retelling of the Book of Genesis.

Buy East of Eden at Amazon

Memoir

Beautiful Hero by Jennifer Lau
Beautiful Hero
Wow. what a story of survival. This wasn't something I studied in history class so it was very eye-opening. Well written and while I knew the author survived I still couldn't put the book down. Read my full review.

With only half a canteen of water and one baby bottle, a family of eight fought for their lives in the killing fields and land mines of Cambodia.

Heroes emerge in the most unlikely places, under the most dangerous conditions. They are often the most ordinary of people facing extraordinary times. Surrounded by unimaginable adverse forces, one strong woman would ultimately lead her entire family to survive. Beautiful Hero is an autobiographical narrative told from a daughter’s perspective. The story centers around Meiyeng, the eponymous Beautiful Hero, and her innate ability to sustain everyone in her family.

Meiyeng’s acumen in solving problems under extreme circumstances is thought-provoking and awe-inspiring. She shepherded her entire family through starvation, diseases, slavery and massacres in war-torn Cambodia to forge a new life in America.

Over two million people—a third of the country’s population—fell victim to a devastating genocide in Cambodia. The rise of the Khmer Rouge posed not merely a single challenge to survival, but rather a series of nightmarish obstacles that required constant circumvention, outmaneuvering, and exceptional fortitude from those few who would survive the regime intact. The story suspensefully unravels the layers of atrocity and evil unleashed upon the people, providing a clear view of this horrific and violent time of the Cambodian revolution.

The book highlights the most basic impulses of man: good vs. evil, individual vs. group, democracy vs. tyranny, and life vs. death. It is the ultimate story of love, sacrifice, survival, and redemption—and lives pushed to the limits. It reaffirms the good in humanity by showing how one family lived and survived with grace and dignity.

Buy Beautiful Hero at Amazon

The Glass Castle
The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls
I listened to this book on audio and I was so drawn into the story that I had trouble concentrating on anything else.

The second child of a scholarly, alcoholic father and an eccentric artist mother discusses her family's nomadic upbringing from the Arizona desert, to Las Vegas, to an Appalachian mining town, during which her siblings and she fended for themselves while their parents outmaneuvered bill collectors and the authorities.

Buy The Glass Castle at Amazon

Historical

Victoria by Daisy Goodwin
Victoria
I loved the PBS series and the book provided a few details that I had either missed or were left out of the show. I listened to it on audiobook, and it was excellent.

Early one morning, less than a month after her eighteenth birthday, Alexandrina Victoria is roused from bed with the news that her uncle William IV has died and she is now Queen of England. The men who run the country have doubts about whether this sheltered young woman, who stands less than five feet tall, can rule the greatest nation in the world. Surely she must rely on her mother and her venal advisor, Sir John Conroy, or her uncle, the Duke of Cumberland, who are all too eager to relieve her of the burdens of power.

The young queen is no puppet, however. She has very definite ideas about the kind of queen she wants to be, and the first thing is to choose her name.

Everyone keeps saying she is destined to marry her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, but Victoria found him dull and priggish when they met three years ago. She is quite happy being queen with the help of her prime minister, Lord Melbourne, who may be old enough to be her father but is the first person to take her seriously.

Drawing on Victoria's own diaries, which she first started reading when she was a student at Cambridge University, Daisy Goodwin brings us the brilliantly imagined life of a young woman about to make her mark on her nation - and the world.

Buy Victoria at Amazon


The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck
The Women in the Castle
Such a lovely book. I see myself re-reading it many times to dig deeper into its depths. I can't praise this book enough. Read my review.

Set at the end of World War II, in a crumbling Bavarian castle that once played host to all of German high society, a powerful and propulsive story of three widows whose lives and fates become intertwined.

Amid the ashes of Nazi Germany’s defeat, Marianne von Lingenfels returns to the once grand castle of her husband’s ancestors, an imposing stone fortress now fallen into ruin following years of war. The widow of a resistor murdered in the failed July, 20, 1944, plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Marianne plans to uphold the promise she made to her husband’s brave conspirators: to find and protect their wives, her fellow resistance widows.

First, Marianne rescues six-year-old Martin, the son of her dearest childhood friend, from a Nazi reeducation home. Together, they make their way across the smoldering wreckage of their homeland to Berlin, where Martin’s mother, the beautiful and na├»ve Benita, has fallen into the hands of occupying Red Army soldiers. Then she locates Ania, another resistor’s wife, and her two boys, now refugees languishing in one of the many camps that house the millions displaced by the war.

As Marianne assembles this makeshift family from the ruins of her husband’s resistance movement, she is certain their shared pain and circumstances will hold them together. But she quickly discovers that the black-and-white, highly principled world of her privileged past has become infinitely more complicated, filled with secrets and dark passions that threaten to tear them apart. Eventually, all three women must come to terms with the choices that have defined their lives before, during, and after the war—each with their own unique share of challenges.

Buy The Women in the Castle at Amazon

Mystery

Written in Blood by Layton Green
Written in Blood
I'm a big Layton Green fan. I've loved all his books. I enjoyed the literary references. I hope there will be more books featuring this detective. Read my review.

Detective Joe "Preach" Everson, a prison chaplain turned police officer, is coming home. After a decade tracking down killers in Atlanta, and with a reputation as one of the finest homicide detectives in the city, his career derailed when he suffered a mental breakdown during the investigation of a serial killer who was targeting children.

No sooner does Preach arrive at home in Creekville, North Carolina--a bohemian community near Chapel Hill--than a local bookstore owner is brutally killed, the first murder in a decade. The only officer with homicide experience, Preach is assigned to the case and makes a shocking discovery: the bookstore owner has been murdered in exactly the same manner as the pawnbroker in Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment.

With the help of Ariana Hale, a law student and bibliophile who knew the victim, Preach investigates the local writer's community. As their questions increase, a second body is found, this time eerily resembling the crime scene in a famous Edgar Allan Poe novella. Preach and Ariana realize that their adversary is an intelligent, literate killer with a mind as devious as it is disturbed--and one or both of them may be his next target.

Buy Written in Blood at Amazon


Fatal Masquerade by Vivian Conroy
Fatal Masquerade
This was a pretty cute book. It is the first book I've read by Vivian Conroy, but it won't be my last. If the reader on your list enjoys cozy mysteries there are 4 books so far in this series. Are you giving an eReader as a gift? At 99 cents this is a great one to pre-load. Read my review.

Lady Alkmene and Jake Dubois are back in a gripping new adventure facing dangerous opponents at a masked ball in the countryside.

Masked danger…
Lady Alkmene Callender has always loved grand parties, but when she receives an invitation to a masked ball thrown by Franklin Hargrove – oil magnate, aviation enthusiast and father of her best friend, Denise – she’s never seen such luxury. The estate is lit up with Chinese lanterns in the gardens, boats operated by footmen float across the pond and the guest list features the distinguished, rich and powerful!

But below the glamour, evil is lurking. When a dead body is discovered, it forces Lady Alkmene to throw off her mask and attempt to find the true killer before Denise’s family are accused. If only her partner, Jake Dubois, weren’t hiding something from her…

This case might just be more dangerous than either of them could have imagined.

Buy Fatal Masquerade at Amazon


Southern Spirits by Angie Fox
Southern Spirits
This was a fun and fast read, plus the ebook is FREE  - so another awesome ebook to pre-load on that eReader you are giving. It is a great cozy mystery. It's a little like the television show Ghost Whisperer.

When out of work graphic designer Verity Long accidentally traps a ghost on her property, she’s saddled with more than a supernatural sidekick—she gains the ability see spirits. It leads to an offer she can’t refuse from the town’s bad boy, the brother of her ex and the last man she should ever partner with.

Ellis Wyatt is in possession of a stunning historic property haunted by some of Sugarland Tennessee’s finest former citizens. Only some of them are growing restless—and destructive. He hires Verity put an end to the disturbances. But soon Verity learns there’s more to the mysterious estate than floating specters, secret passageways, and hidden rooms.

There’s a modern day mystery afoot, one that hinges on a decades-old murder. Verity isn't above questioning the living, or the dead. But can she discover the truth before the killer finds her?

Buy Southern Spirits at Amazon


On Her Majesty's Frightfully Secret Service by Rhy Bowen
On Her Majesty's Frightfully Secret Service
I really enjoyed this book. Though I haven't read any of the other books in the series, I didn't feel too lost. I have a few questions about Georgie's family that is presumably answered in earlier books. Read my review

There are more important things than being thirty-fifth in line for the British crown, and Lady Georgiana Rannoch knows her true love, Darcy O’Mara, is one of them. Luckily, the Queen agrees, but she has a little mission for Georgie before she can say “I do!”

When Darcy runs off on another secret assignment, I am left to figure out how to travel to Italy sans maid and chaperone to help my dear friend Belinda, as she awaits the birth of her baby alone. An opportunity presents itself in a most unexpected way— my cousin the queen is in need of a spy to attend a house party in the Italian lake country. The Prince of Wales and the dreadful Mrs. Simpson have been invited, and Her Majesty is anxious to thwart a possible secret wedding.

What luck!  A chance to see Belinda and please the queen as I seek her permission to relinquish my claim to the throne so I can marry Darcy. Only that’s as far as my  good fortune takes me. I soon discover that Mummy is attending the villa party and she has her own secret task for me  Then, Darcy shows up and tells me that the fate of a world on the brink of war could very well depend on what I overhear at dinner! I shouldn’t be all that surprised when of one my fellow guests is murdered and my Italian holiday becomes a nightmare.

Buy On Her Majesty's Frightfully Secret Service at Amazon


The Hitwoman Takes a Road Trip by JB Lynn
The Hitwoman Takes a Road Triip
I've been following this series from the beginning and love every new book. They are quick, fun reads so it won't take long to catch up. Read my review.

Some people just can’t outrun trouble.

Overwhelmed hitwoman Maggie Lee thinks she’s leaving her family worries behind when she’s convinced to take a road trip with her buddy, Armani.

But pretty soon an old friend, a pesky relative, and even her pet, are asking for her help.

Loyal to a fault, Maggie soon finds herself tangled in a dangerous theft involving a crime family; confronting the abusive previous owner of her cat, Piss; and dealing with family revelations that rock her world.

With the assistance of psychic predictions, talking animals and unexpected allies, Maggie takes on her troubles head-on.

But if she’s not careful, this “vacation” could literally be the death of her.

Buy The Hitwoman Take a Road Trip at Amazon


The Cinderella Murder by Mary Higgin Clark
The Cinderella Murder
It's been a while since I read a Mary Higgins Clark novel and I really enjoyed this one. Though it is the second book in the series, it can be read as a stand-alone just fine. The audiobook was well done.

Television producer Laurie Moran is delighted when the pilot for her reality drama, Under Suspicion, is a success. Even more, the program—a cold case series that revisits unsolved crimes by recreating them with those affected—is off to a fantastic start when it helps solve an infamous murder in the very first episode.

Now Laurie has the ideal case to feature in the next episode ofUnder Suspicion: the Cinderella Murder. When Susan Dempsey, a beautiful and multi-talented UCLA student, was found dead, her murder raised numerous questions. Why was her car parked miles from her body? Had she ever shown up for the acting audition she was due to attend at the home of an up-and-coming director? Why does Susan’s boyfriend want to avoid questions about their relationship? Was her disappearance connected to a controversial church that was active on campus? Was she close to her computer science professor because of her technological brilliance, or something more? And why was Susan missing one of her shoes when her body was discovered?

With the help of lawyer and Under Suspicion host Alex Buckley, Laurie knows the case will attract great ratings, especially when the former suspects include Hollywood’s elite and tech billionaires. The suspense and drama are perfect for the silver screen—but is Cinderella’s murderer ready for a close-up?

Buy The Cinderella Murder at Amazon

Romance

A Sudden Gust of Gravity by Laurie Boris
A Sudden Gust of Gravity
This was fun and cute and kept me up well past my bedtime. Another awesome ebook for just 99 cents! Read my review.

Christina Davenport, waitressing to pay the bills, has given up on becoming a magician—until she meets the mesmerizing Reynaldo the Magnificent. He offers her a job as his assistant in his magic and juggling show. She takes it, hoping she can revive her dream without cutting his giant ego in half.

Devon Park, a surgical resident escaping his own problems, visits the street performers in downtown Boston. But the young doctor worries that the bruises beneath Christina’s makeup go deeper than the training accident she professes.

Suspecting the doctor’s interest is more than clinical, the mercurial magician attempts to tighten his grip on Christina. Now she needs to decide—is the opportunity Reynaldo offers worth the price of admission?

Buy A Sudden Gust of Gravity at Amazon


Links by Lisa Becker
Links
One of the best romantic chases I have read. Read my review.

Charlotte Windham, a nerdy high school prodigy who tutored classmates to earn money for college, escapes her geeky past to become a celebrated novelist. During a chance encounter at a Los Angeles restaurant 15 years after high school, she reconnects with her secret crush, Garrett Stephens, the popular star athlete and teen heartbreaker. Garrett, still leaving broken hearts in his wake, is now a successful professional golfer who recently suffered a possible career-ending shoulder injury. As he and Charlotte spend time together, developing a friendship based on mutual respect and comfortable companionship, can Charlotte forgive the past and can Garrett reform his lothario ways for a chance at love?

Buy Links at Amazon


Of course, nothing goes better with a great book, than a wonderful cup of tea and Tea Forte has awesome tea. Use this link to get 20% off your first order.
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If you need more book recommendations, see Susan's Book Suggestions for the Reader on Your List.
Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

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November 23, 2017

Review: Death at the Paris Exposition by Frances McNamara

by Donna Huber

I don't typically read books set at the turn of the century, but recently I've read several set at the end of the 1800s, early 1900s. And you know what, I've really enjoyed them. Death at the Paris Exposition is set in 1900 and I was thoroughly invested in the story.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. This book was won during Armchair BEA.

Death at the Paris Exposition
August 2016; Allium Press of Chicago
978-0996755832; ebook, print (276 pages)
historical, mystery
This is my first Emily Cabot mystery and while there is some backstory I'm missing, it didn't impact my enjoyability. I really looked forward to getting back to the story each night.

While fashion isn't really my thing (and the detailed descriptions became a bit tedious, especially when it pulled me away from the mystery), I still liked the glamorous feel it gave the book. I've been watching The Collection on PBS and though it is set after WWII, it provided a great visual for what Parisian fashion was like in 1900.

Then there is the excitement of a World Fair - at a time when electricity and moving sidewalks were still novelties. There are great descriptions of the venue and various pavilions. It was definitely a great setting.

I loved the characters. Emily is a definitely a progressive woman - she teaches at a university in Chicago. I'm not sure exactly her field but it has to do with forensics or criminology as she often works with a detective in the city. In Paris, she is surrounded by some real historical figures and they all come off the page. The personalities of each character play well off the others. You really couldn't ask for a better cast of characters.

Now, the mystery was awesome. I had my suspicions of who was involved but didn't guess fully the motivations. And there were enough twists that had me questioning my guess every few pages.

If you enjoy the mysteries of Rhys Bowen and Vivian Conroy, then you definitely need to put Frances McNamara on your reading list. I know this won't be my last Emily Cabot novel.

Buy Death at the Paris Exposition at Amazon

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour

Get even more book news in your inbox, sign up today!. Girl Who Reads is an Amazon advertising affiliate; a small commission is earned when purchases are made at Amazon using any Amazon links on this site. Thank you for supporting Girl Who Reads.

November 22, 2017

2 Books About Teenage Daughters

by Susan Roberts



Anyone who has ever had a teenager, knows a teenager or WAS a teenager, knows how difficult they can be.  I have two November books for you today that center on teenage daughters. One is fiction and set in the 1960s about a daughter who dropped out of college to become a social worker in a poor area of Georgia. The other is the true story set in modern times when a daughter makes plans to move to another country to meet the 'love of her life' that she's only known on social media.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. Free books were provided for an honest review.


When Nighttime Shadows Fall by Dianne Michael Cantor

When Nighttime Shadows Fall
November 2017; University of South Carolina Press
978-1611178326; ebook, print (192 pages)
family life
This novel takes place in a poverty-stricken area of Georgia in the early 70s. The main character dropped out of college and left her upscale home in Atlanta, to be a social worker on a new project for pregnant women who needed help during their pregnancies - both monetary and educational. Her parents were very unhappy with her decision but she was determined to be part of this new government program.  At first, the women in the area were very distrustful of the new agency and the people who worked there. The local high school refused to post information about the agency at their school because 'none of their students ever get into that kind of trouble'. So Laura had to overcome the prejudice from many of the people in the area while she tried to help the young women who needed help. We meet a young girl who is dominated by her mother, a young woman and her husband who don't want to take charity and a preacher's daughter among others. This is a very well done and enlightening novel about bringing prenatal health care to the poor of Appalachia during a time that there was little help for them.

I highly recommend this book to people who enjoy historical fiction to get a glimpse of a time in history that is usually ignored.

Buy When Nighttime Shadows Fall at Amazon

Almost Gone: Twenty-Five Days and One Chance to Save Our Daughter by John Baldwin, Mackenzie Baldwin

Almost Gone
November 2017; Howard Books; 978-1501179044
audio, ebook, print (240 pages); true crime
This is a true story about a loving Christian family who almost lost their 18-year-old daughter to a man she met on the internet. The story is told in alternating chapters by the father, John, and his daughter Mackenzie.

The Baldwin family had always been a strong Christian family who spent a lot of time together. As her senior year in high school was starting, Mackenzie started to pull away from the rest of the family and questioning her faith as she wanted to learn more about Islam. Her parents had no idea what was going on with her and by the time they found out, it was almost too late to save her. She had started talking to a young man, Adam who despite telling her at first that he lived in NYC, actually lived in Kosovo. He encouraged her to learn more about Islam and as time went on became very controlling of her life. She was planning to run away from home and meet him in Kosovo because she couldn't imagine life without him. When her parents found out from several of her girlfriends, they had less than a month to save their daughter from leaving the country to marry someone she had never met.

This book is about their struggle and is a real warning for parents whose children spend time on social media. Everyone is not who they pretend to be on the internet and parents need to be vigilant about what their children are doing on social media. This was a scary story but one that I'm afraid happens way too often.

Buy Almost Gone at Amazon


Susan Roberts lives in North Carolina when she isn't traveling.  She and her husband enjoy traveling, gardening and spending time with their family and friends.  She reads almost anything (and the piles of books in her house prove that) but her favorite genres are Southern fiction, women's fiction, and thrillers. Susan is a top 1% Goodreads Reviewer. You can connect with her on Facebook, Goodreads or Twitter.



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November 21, 2017

Review: Renegades by Marissa Meyer

by MK French



The Renegades are a group of powered individuals that had helped bring the city out of chaos from the Age of Anarchy. They're hailed as heroes and are working to rebuild everything that had been destroyed in the riots and loss of administration and government. Nova has as much reason to hate them as the other villains they had conquered, but they have no idea who she is. As a result, an elaborate scheme is hatched to discover the best way to take the Renegades out from the inside, if she can follow through with it.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

Renegades
November 2017; Feiwel & Friends
978-1250044662; audio, ebook, print (576 pages)
fantasy
This book takes place in an alternate world where there are people who can develop superpowers of various types. These prodigies were once hunted down and killed out of fear. That all changed with the Age of Anarchy, and we get a very vivid look into the lives of the villains that the Renegades keep watch over. They're a little bit off of center but also humanized for the reader before we get to see the Renegades themselves. There's a large cast of characters, most with multiple names and identities as a result of most of them being a superhero. At the same time, we see a lot of the behind the scenes work that goes into superhero recruiting, training, outfitting and the rivalries between heroes. It's always fun to peek behind the curtain, so to speak, but here it takes on a bit more of a sinister undertone because of Nova's mission.

I really liked Nova and the different feelings and loyalties that she held throughout the course of the story. Adrian was fun to get to know, as well as the rest of the team that Nova had initially fought. It doubled back in places and ended in such a surprising way, I hope this is the start to a series! I have questions regarding the ending and how it really changes the way you see the rest of the plot. If this is the start of a series, I eagerly await the next ones!

Buy Renegades at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and golden retriever.

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Donna Migliaccio: Searching for Inspiration

“I have learned, and been happy.” – T.H. White, The Once and Future King

There have been so many authors whose work has inspired my own, especially fantasy authors. I love Neil Gaiman, Ursula K. LeGuin, J.R.R. Tolkien and Terry Pratchett. But it's T.H. White's The Once and Future King that really spoke to me and made me want to write in the genre.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site.

Fiskur
November 2017; Fiery Seas Publishing
978-1946143341; ebook, print; epic fantasy
For the uninitiated, The Once and Future King is a retelling of the Arthurian legend, published by White in 1958 and made up of four earlier, shorter and substantially revised novels: The Sword in The Stone, The Queen of Air and Darkness, The Ill-Made Knight and The Candle in the Wind. (There's a fifth book, The Book of Merlyn, which was published after White's death.)

Like many people my age, I came to the book by way of the Disney cartoon The Sword in the Stone – a film I loved as a child – and the Broadway musical Camelot, which was inspired by the third and fourth parts of the book. I discovered that the original work was so much more whimsical and wistful than the movie, and far more stirring and melancholy than the musical. White's prose is elegant, but it's the characterizations that really make the story come alive. Arthur progresses from an innocent boy to a young warrior, to the idealistic king of Camelot, and finally, to a man beaten down by betrayal and the woes of the world. The wizard Merlyn lives backward through time, and he prepares Arthur for the trials he knows are coming by changing him into various animals so Arthur can experience their lives and use those experiences to shape his own rule when he becomes king. (My own main character, Kristan Gemeta, has a similar struggle throughout The Gemeta Stone books to find a balance between power and compassion - although there's no helpful magic-worker to show him the way.)

My copy of The Once and Future King is somewhat battered, and its pages are yellowed and dog-eared. One of those dog-ears marks my favorite quote in the book – the one that starts this blog. I love it so much that I use it as my signature in emails, and I'd like to have it as my epitaph when the time comes. I can't think of any better way to live one's life than to spend it always learning.

Buy Fiskur at Amazon


About the Author:

Donna Migliaccio is a professional stage actress with credits that include Broadway, National Tours and prominent regional theatres.  She is based in the Washington, DC Metro area, where she co-founded Tony award-winning Signature Theatre and is in demand as an entertainer, teacher and public speaker.  Her award-winning short story, "Yaa & The Coffins," was featured in Thinkerbeat's 2015 anthology The Art of Losing.
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November 20, 2017

Review: The Paris Secret by Karen Swan #MondayBlogs #TLCBookTours #TheParisSecret

by Susan Roberts


I have to admit that if a book has the word PARIS in the title, I am going to read it. Sometimes I get a good book and sometimes not. This time I was thrilled because this is a fantastic book. I have never read anything else by Karen Swan but I plan to read her previous books.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

The Paris Secret
November 2017; William Morrow;
978-0062672827; audio, ebook, print (416 pages)
women's fiction
This book had all of the hallmarks of a fantastic book
  • wonderful settings - not just Paris but also Vienna, England and the south of France
  • interesting characters - the main character Flora as well as all of the supporting characters.  I especially enjoyed Flora's best friend Ines. 
  • romance - an interesting relationship between Flora and Xavier 
  • mystery - how and why were all of those paintings hidden in an apartment in Paris for over 50 years.
Flora is a high powered fine art agent and is thrilled to be asked to look at a recently discovered abandoned apartment in Paris. Underneath all of the dust and debris and hundreds of paintings and sculptures, Flora found a missing Renoir that had been lost for years. While trying to trace the painting's past purchasers, she found out information that could ruin the lives of the glamorous heirs of the apartment. What she does with that information makes this a thrilling and interesting book.

This book is so much fun to read. It's full of the beauty of Paris, the beautiful clothes and a whole group of very interesting characters. Parts of the book take place during WWII but the main focus is on the modern day mystery of the Renoir painting.

I found this a book that was impossible to put down once I started reading it.

Buy The Paris Secret at Amazon

Also available at HarperCollins and Barnes & Noble

Author Links: Facebook and Twitter


Susan Roberts lives in North Carolina when she isn't traveling.  She and her husband enjoy traveling, gardening and spending time with their family and friends.  She reads almost anything (and the piles of books in her house prove that) but her favorite genres are Southern fiction, women's fiction, and thrillers. Susan is a top 1% Goodreads Reviewer. You can connect with her on Facebook, Goodreads or Twitter.




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November 19, 2017

Review: Living the Good Death by Scott Baron

by MK French

A young girl that thinks she is Death stumbles through life as an ordinary human, and her attempts to return to the realm of death send her to the psychiatric ward. She makes a friend there and soon discovers that life can indeed be worth living.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

Living the Good Death
November 2017; 978-1945996146
ebook, print (294 pages); fantasy
I thought the idea of an incarnate Death would be a fun one, especially with the cover art of Death taking a selfie. However, the psychiatrist was the "bad guy" of the piece, and the psychiatric ward was painted in the worst light possible. Even ECT was used as a weapon, and this is already a treatment that scares people. This soured me somewhat on the book, and the awkward way the girl was continually referred to as "the girl that thought she was Death" was really awkward to read.

The plot was fairly predictable, and the brightest parts of the book were seeing how Death/Dorothy interacted with others. There were some questions that were never really answered (Was that really Pestilence? What's the deal with Curtis?) that I would have liked to see more about.

Buy Living the Good Death at Amazon


Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and golden retriever. 


Get even more book news in your inbox, sign up today! Girl Who Reads is an Amazon advertising affiliate; a small commission is earned when purchases are made at Amazon using any Amazon links on this site. Thank you for supporting Girl Who Reads.

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