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by Donna Huber For the A to Z Challenge, I discussed different book genres/categories. Each day, I gave a few details about the genre/catego...

January 5, 2020

5 Books for the Long Winter Nights

by Susan Roberts

There were so many great books that came out in 2019, you may have found that you missed some of these wonderful titles. Here are 5 books you can enjoy during the long winter nights.

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

The Bookshop on the Shore by Jenny Colgan

The Bookshop on the Shore
June 2019; William Morrow; 978-0062913555
audio, ebook, print (416 pages); women's fiction
"Nina was not a vain person in any way, shape or form but the one thing she did know, the one thing she was sure about, was books.  Books she loved.  Books that changed her.  Books that may not be the best written, but stayed with her.  Books that would leave people cold with fear, or stir the blood or make sad people laugh and forget their troubles just for a little while. She knew books."  (p 98)

Readers can always depend on Jenny Colgan to give them a story with a personal dilemma, a little mystery, a few laughs and a happily ever after ending. This book is Jenny at her best. She says in her introduction that this book isn't really a sequel to The Bookshop on the Corner but has a few of the same characters. After reading both, I think you need to read them in order to understand some of the nuances of the second book.

Zoe is living a dismal life in London with her young son, Hari. She is living hand to mouth and gets no help from Hari's dad other than an occasional visit when he is in London. Hari is almost 4 years old and has never spoken at all which upsets both parents. When Zoe gets the opportunity, she applies for a job in Scotland near Loch Ness, as a nanny for 3 children. At the same time, she agrees to help the local bookmobile owner, Nina, until she has her baby and can get back to work. The only thing that these two women really have in common is their absolute love of books. Their relationship starts off pretty rocky but their love of books helps them get along. The other rocky part of Zoe's life is being the au-pair to the 3 Urquart children. They live in a beautiful castle but the children have been neglected and run wild with no respect for authority. Their mother is gone and their father is a total mess who can't handle the children. However, Hari loves it there and enjoys being around the three kids so Zoe tries to improve life for all of them. Will the fresh air and the beautiful land of Scotland keep Zoe in Scotland or will she give up and return to her pitiful life in London?

Parts of this book are a little hard to believe. Could Zoe really improve life for the 3 children who are currently kicked out of school? Would she be able to make such an easy transition from her previous life to her new one? Could a father really be so clueless to his children's welfare that there is little food in the castle and the kids are wearing clothes that don't fit. This is a book that you need to read for the story and the interaction between the characters and kind of suspend belief that it really could happen this way. I enjoyed the book - it was light and a quick read and I was rooting for Zoe to make a difference for her life and the life of the children. This is a light fun read.

Buy The Bookshop on the Shore at Amazon

The first book in the Scottish Bookshop series in The Bookshop on the Corner (read my review). These books can be read as stand-alones with minimal confusion but it's a lot more fun to read them in order.

The Second Chance Supper Club by Nicole Meier

The Second Chance Supper Club
September 2019; Lake Union Publishing
audio, ebook, print (271 pages); women's fiction
"While her brain tried to fast forward and imagine all the possibilities, she couldn't help but be mesmerized by the fantastical sight below.  It had been too long but the familiar scene now flooded her memory.  Pinks and browns and vivid patches of greens caught her eye, nearly taking her breath away.  The expanse of the desert captivated her."  (loc 640)

I absolutely love to read books about sisters.  I am lucky enough to have two wonderful sisters and unlike the sisters in this book, we have always been very close.  The two sisters in this novel have been estranged for over three years and have to work very hard to re-establish their sister relationship.

Ginny is the oldest sister.  She was on her way to becoming a famous chef in NYC but when their parents died in an accident, she went home to Arizona to clean out and sell the house and decided to stay.  She has started a supper club in her home where she cooks for customers but it needs to remain secret because it isn't totally legal.  She has a daughter who is difficult to deal with and wants to have a life of her own but is also tied to the supper club.  Ginny is stressed to the max with the struggles in her life.

Julia is a broadcast journalist in NYC.  She has a beautiful apartment and a handsome fiance and is becoming well known in her job as a morning show host, until she risks it all with an unfounded question to the mayor of NY.  She is put on leave and decides that its time to go home to Arizona.  She needs some time away from the hustle of the city to figure out what she wants to do with her life.

Julia shows up on Ginny's doorstep without warning after three years of no communication between them and after the initial shock, they try to let go of their anger and become sisters again but it's difficult for both of them to let go of their anger at each other.  Will working to keep the secret supper club running be just what they need to find common ground and a path toward forgiveness, or will the increasing stress push them even further apart? 

This is a well written and wonderful novel about family and love and forgiveness.  Along with the great story, there is also the bonus of reading about wonderful food that is prepared by Ginny and there are beautiful descriptions of Arizona.

Buy The Second Chance Supper Club at Amazon

Takes One to Know One by Susan Isaacs

Takes One to Know One
October 2019; Atlantic Monthly Press;
ebook, print (288 pages); thrillers
"I'm always on guard duty. Always watching, always listening.  People don't realize it but I keep an eye on everyone."  (p 290)

I haven't read a Susan Isaacs book in years and after reading her new book, I realized what I had missed and ordered some of her earlier books. This is suspense book with a twist -- it is presented with a lot of sarcasm and humor, which I just love from a main character. I thought it was a fun book to read as well as having a very suspenseful plot.

Corie was 35 years old and a special agent for the FBI on the Counter-Terrorism Force, when she met a handsome and sexy lawyer and fell in love. She married Josh and became a mother to his 14-year-old daughter. She still worked on some cases for the FBI on a free-lance basis. One day at a meeting with a group of business people, her FBI sense perceived that there was something not quite right with one of the other members of the group. Pete seems to be quiet and unassuming but he had a few quirks that make her wonder about him. At first, she thinks that she is mistaken and just looking to create some excitement in her new life but her intuition makes her start to investigate him. As her look into Pete's life continues, will she make mistakes that jeopardize her life and the lives of her family? Is Pete hiding a secret life or is Corie totally wrong? This book kept me turning pages to see how Corie would handle this look into something based solely on her FBI intuition.

I liked the main character of Corie -- she was humorous and sarcastic along with being very detailed in her investigation. I thought it was very interesting the way that she worked to get information - from neighbors, group members, and others and then traced her information to the next level. I must admit that the book bogged down for me during some of her investigation - there was simply too much detail and too many conversations that went on for too long. I think that the investigation part of the novel (the middle third) could have been greatly condensed and it would have made this a better book. The last third of the book makes up for it and it's full of action with a lot of twists and turns. I enjoyed Corie and the adventure that she went on. I'd like to read another book about her and her FBI investigations.

"My specialty was people - figuring out what they needed emotionally, financially and culturally.  How could I - as a special agent - fulfill those needs in order to get the subject to cooperate with an investigation."  (p 157)

Buy Takes One to Know One at Amazon

Life on Loan by Ashley Farley

Life on Loan
October 2019; Lake Union Publishing
audio, ebook, print (301 pages); women's fiction
"But you said repeatedly that you're happier now that you've been in years.  I interpret that to mean you're making decisions that are right for you now, whereas decisions you made in the past didn't turn out as you'd hoped.  My advice would be for you to trust your gut.  If something feels right, go for it." (loc 4187)

Have you ever had a day that you just wanted to walk out of your life and start over? Be honest now, you know you have -- I sure have. In this fantastic new book by Ashley Farley, that's just what happens - two women walk out on their lives, away from their problems without plans of exactly what they need to do to make changes. Luckily, they recognized each other at the airport - they had been college friends who lost touch over the years. After telling each other what they were escaping from, they decided to exchange houses for a month so that they could re-discover themselves. Lena has walked out on her husband and daughter and goes to Charleston to stay in her friend's condo. Olivia wants to get away from memories of her divorce and from some toxic friends and she goes to Lena's river cottage in the Northern Neck of Virginia. Will this change in locations help each woman or do your problems stay the same no matter where you live?

Ashley isn't advocating for women to run away from their lives. Instead, she is reminding women that they need to take better care of themselves and not get lost in being caretakers for family and friends.  Both Lena and Olivia had forgotten to take care of themselves.  When Lena got to Charleston, she realized that she wanted to spend time taking pictures - something that she had done when she was young but had lost time for while she was taking care of her family.  Ashley needed to prove her usefulness after her husband told her out of the blue that he was in love with another woman.  Olivia and Lena both learned that it's never too late to happiness and fulfillment in life!

I loved reading about both of these women. It took a lot of courage for them to walk out on their lives but they have to work hard to convince themselves that they are strong. They both question if they did the right thing and it takes time for each of them to realize how strong they really are. For me, it was an extra bonus that both of these characters were in their 50s. It's great to read books with older characters. If you want a book that will take you away from your life (without really leaving), this is the book for you!

Buy Life on Loan at Amazon

The Paris Orphan by Natasha Lester

The Paris Orphan
September 2019; Forever; 978-1538764893
audio, ebook, print (480 pages); historical fiction
"She knew the moment she caught it that it was the image that would show America what war had become.  Not a gallant and heroic jousting for glory but a savage and bestial destruction of humankind."

The Paris Orphan is another well written dual timeline book about WWII. It gives us a look at how women photo-journalists were treated during the war. They were not allowed anywhere near the front and were kept from learning about the war or filing their stories in a timely manner. The author has based her main character on Lee Miller, a photojournalist during the war. Be sure to read the Author's notes at the end of the book to learn more about Lee Miller and the places the author visited to do research for this novel.

1942: Jessica May is a former model who is known all over the world. After being humiliated by her live-in boyfriend, she isn't sure what she wants to do with her life. Before she modeled, she loved to take pictures and tries to find a job in that field. She is hired by Vogue to be a photographer to cover the fighting in Europe and after many interviews and stalling maneuvers, she gets her approval from the government. The soldiers, especially the officers are determined to make her life difficult and to put her in her place. She receives encouragement from Martha Gelhorn, Dan who is an officer on the front lines and who helps her to get some of her great stories. She is also helped by a young orphan named Victorine who loves her unconditionally. After the war is over she disappears from the public eye and is basically forgotten.

2005: D'Arcy, an Australian art curator, arrives in France to help choose and crate wartime photographs from a reclusive artist. The longer she is there, the more information that she uncovers about her mother and about the reclusive artist and their wartime relationship with each other. Everything that she learns only creates new questions and the answers may change her life.

This book is well written and well researched with main characters that I won't soon forget. Along with the main characters, she writes of the horrors of the war and the importance of some of the unsung heroes - the nurses and doctors at the field hospitals as well as the soldiers on the ground - many of them young kids and away from home for the first time. This book is amazing and is in my top 10 of World War II books.

"The war was marching on without them. Their male counterparts were the only ones reporting anything worth reading."

Buy The Paris Orphan at Amazon

For another look at Paris during World War II read The Paris Seamstress by Natasha Lester (read my review).

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 Susan on FacebookGoodreads, or Twitter.

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