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January 16, 2021

End of the Year Reviews

by Susan Roberts

Today I'm posting my last reviews of 2020.  There are reviews of one women's fiction, one cozy mystery, one memoir, one romance, one book of short stories, and one family fiction about brothers. I hope that this gives you a few new books to add to your list for 2021.

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

Photos of You by Tammy Robinson

Photos of You
February 2020; Forever; 978-1538700365
audio, ebook, print (352 pages); women's ficion
"If you have something you want to do, make sure you do it."
(p 10)

”Love has no past, and no future. Love just is.”

Life, in general, has been kind of depressing lately with all of the holiday restrictions to help keep us all from catching COVID so I'm not sure why I picked a book that I knew would make me cry.  It did make me cry but it helped put all of my other problem issues in perspective.  Yes, there's a lot going on but at least we are alive to complain about it!

On the day that Ava Green celebrated her 28th birthday with her friends and family, she found out that this would be her last birthday.  She had breast cancer several years earlier and was in remission when her doctor told her that the cancer had metastasized to her bones and that her prognosis is very poor.  Much to the surprise of her supportive parents and two best friends, she decides that she wants to fulfill one of her lifelong dreams and have a wedding before she dies.  It won't be a normal wedding because there isn't a groom but it will be a party to celebrate her life with her friends and family.  As plans move forward, one of her friends decides to put the plans on Facebook.  It goes viral and she is swamped with well wishes and offers of a wedding dress, a venue and anything else it takes for a successful wedding.  It gains the attention of a magazine and they want to follow her journey preparing for her wedding.  Will she be able to have a successful wedding without a groom or will she find out that it's never too late to find love?

I had a problem identifying with Ava and her friends but I did identify with her parent who was devastated by the news but wanted to make their daughter's dreams come true.  This book is a definite tear-jerker but there are also a lot of good messages about living our lives to the fullest that we all need to remember. 

”When you are face to face with your own mortality, you don’t want to be thinking, if only I’d been braver. Be brave now. Take chances. What have you got to lose?”

Buy Photos of You at Amazon

Grounds for Murder by Tara Lush

Grounds for Murder
Dec 2020; Crooked Lane Books; 978-1643856186
audio, ebook, print (320 pages); cozy mystery
"There was a time, not too long ago, that I was a hotshot journalist pursuing a Pulitzer prize in Miami and married to a handsome network news anchor.  Now, I was an aspiring latte artist on the island of Devil's Beach, the princess of Perkatory, ... That's the name of my family's coffee shop and it's the coziest cafe on Florida's Gulf Coast."
(p 2)

Lana Lewis's life hasn't been going too well but after losing her job as a reporter and her husband to a younger woman, she's making the best of life at her family's coffee shop.  She still has the instincts of a reporter but now her goal is to win the Sunshine State Barista Championship.  Her coffee shop is mainly run by her and Fab, her flirting Italian employee.  He seems to chase every available female, no matter what her age.  When he is found dead in an alley, the local police don't have any clues but Lana begins to look at the mystery through her reporter's eyes and starts investigating.  The local police chief, who is also very handsome and seems kind of interested in her, asks her not to get involved but she just has to keep pursuing it.  There are lots of potential murderers in town - from a spurned pregnant girlfriend to a local fisherman with ties to the mob and even though the police seem to think that it was suicide, Lana knows better and puts her life in danger to find out the truth.

Along with Lana as a likable main character, there are several fun secondary characters -   her stoned, hippie dad, a Shih Tzu named Stanley, and a new, curious barista who looks like a punk rocker and becomes an important friend.  Plus there is the handsome and interesting chief of police who may become more than a friend.  

I know that a lot of people enjoy cozy mysteries but I haven't read any until Grounds for Murder.  I admit that I thoroughly enjoyed it and can't wait to read book 2 in the series.

Buy Grounds for Murder at Amazon

Jingle All the Way by Debbie Macomber

Jingle All the Way
October 2020; Ballantine Books; 978-1984818751
audio, ebook, print (272 pages); romance
"Jack straightened and pointed a finger at her: 'I want you to take the entire month of December off.'" 
(p 10)

When the December rush stresses you out in a normal year, it was really tough in 2020 when most holiday plans had to be canceled.  A good, light, fluffy book always helps to calm my nerves and there is always a new Debbie Macomber Christmas book to pick up.  This year it was Jingle All the Way - a predictable book with a happily ever after ending that helped my mood tremendously.

Daisy is a top real estate broker in Chicago where she owns a popular company with her best friend Jack.  She seems to be taking on all of the work involved in the company, while Jack relaxes and lets her handle the problems.  When she wants to fire his inept niece as her secretary, he decides that she is too stressed and orders her to take a cruise that his niece arranges.  When Daisy decides that a warm-weather cruise might be helpful, she packs her summer clothes and heads to the airport.  When she finds out that she has been booked on an educational Amazon river cruise instead of a leisurely Caribbean cruise, she attempts to get off the boat but has to make the best of it and continue the cruise.  After several days of being sick from a spider bite, she decides to make the best of the cruise and starts to meet the people.  When she meets Asher Adams, the ship's charming naturalist, there are instant sparks between them.  As the cruise is ending, they have to make a decision whether a long-distance relationship is the best for them or if they should just say goodbye.

There were several things about the book that I didn't like 
  • If Daisy (known as Everly in her Chicago life) and Jack co-owned the company - why was she doing all of the work?
  • It's a bit difficult to believe that two such different people with totally different life plans would fall in love so quickly.
  • The whole name change was difficult to follow at times -- was she Daisy or was she Everly?

But if you totally read this book as a romance and ignored some of the inconsistencies,  this was a fun book to read and who doesn't like a happily ever after ending?

Buy Jingle all the Way at Amazon

The Smallest Objective by Sharon Kirsch

The Smallest Objective
May 2020; New Star Books; 978-1554201556
ebook, print (272 pages); memoir
SYNOPSIS:  Having moved her elderly mother into a care home, the author of The Smallest Objective must now empty the family home of half a century, discovering as she does so a series of small objects that unlock her family's past: a lantern slide, a faded recipe book, a postcard from Mexico, a nugget of fool's gold.

With the object of staving off grief while attending to her mother's final days, Sharon embarks on a quest to retrieve the origin and circumstances surrounding each of these articles. Along the way, she uncovers the stories of several early- to mid-century Montreal Jewish personalities — a Runyonesque hustler, a Lithuanian botanist, and a self-made young woman — as well as the extent to which they were punctured and shaped by the muffled anti-Semitism of the time.

The Smallest Objective examines the minutiae of lives lived, our concern for senior members of our family, the time we need to sift, take stock, and filter out the important things, and the consolation offered by staying close to loved ones even when we can't reach them.

MY COMMENTS:  When we clean out our parents' house after they leave for the last time, we find lots of little objects that were saved and that had a story behind them but now there is no one to ask who knew the story.

That is what Sharon Kirsch runs into cleaning out her mother's house after she goes into assisted living due to Alzheimer's.  Sharon wants to know the stories behind the treasures and researches each object while she tries to learn more.  In her research, she learns more about the history of her parents and various relatives.  Her research helps her deal with the grief of losing her mother to this disease.  It's a well written and beautifully told story about an only child trying to connect with the past.

On Traigh Lar Beach by Dianne Ebertt Beeaff 

On Traigh Lar Beach
October 2020; She Writes Press; 978-1631527715
ebook, print (248 pages); short stories
Standing on Triagh Lar Beach, you can hardly feel more solitary, more lulled by its stark beauty and breathtaking peace. 
(p 1)

Erica is a young writer who can't seem to get an idea for her next book after the success of her first book.  On vacation in Scotland, she discovers thirteen items on an isolated beach. The items are random and there is no connection between them.  Erica writes a short story about 12 of the items and a novella about item 13 based on where the items could have come from. The items range from an empty ketchup holder to a child's bucket and a jar of pickled onions.  Each item results in a highly emotional story that makes the reader want to mull over each story before they go to the next. 13 unrelated items become part of a cohesive collection of stories.  I don't read a lot of short story collections but this is a book that may change my mind - I definitely recommend it.

Buy On Traigh Lar Beach at Amazon

Fishing for Something by Andrew Scott Bassett

Fishing for Something
August 2020; Luminare Press; 978-1643884592
ebook, print (388 pages); family life
"Life is kind of like fishing....You cast your line out into the great unknown, like you do yourself.  You patiently wait to see what happens and you hope it's something good...You hope you catch something really big."
(p 387)

 John and Audie Barrett have been estranged for years.  After their father left them at a young age, John became a hard worker and Audie became a wanderer.  John spent so much time trying to provide for his family that his wife has asked him to leave because he doesn't spend enough time with them.  Out of the blue, the brothers get a letter from a lawyer telling them that their father has died and asking them to visit several of his friends around the country to tell them he's died and also requests that the brothers go fishing with each of the people that they visit in their trip. John is reluctant to fulfill his dad's wishes because of the bitterness that he holds against his father but when he finds out that there will be a large amount of money for each of them at the end, he decides to go with Audie to visit his dad's friends.  The brothers meet colorful characters on their trip around the country and at each stop, they learn more about their father.  Bad luck seems to be following them and they have some terrifying adventures along the way - like being shot at by the cartel - but surprisingly they find that they are building a brotherly relationship with each other.  There are surprises galore on their trip with an ending that I didn't see coming that fit in perfectly with the theme of the book.

This novel is more than just a book about fishing.  It's a book about family, love, brotherhood, and forgiveness.  It's full of life lessons along with lots of action along the way.  This is a debut for Andrew Scott Bassett and I look forward to his future books.

Buy Fishing for Something at Amazon

Susan Roberts lives in North Carolina with her husband of over 50 years.  She grew up in Michigan but now calls North Carolina home. Since her travel plans had to be canceled for this year, she is starting to make plans for travel in 2021. 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 historical fiction. Susan is a top 1% Goodreads Reviewer. You can connect with Susan on FacebookGoodreads, or Twitter.

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