Christian Fiction, Fiction

The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip, by Sara Brunsvold

Clara Kip, a 79 year old widow with a recent cancer diagnosis, is going into hospice. Aidyn Kelley, a 24 year old journalist doomed to work on minor stories, is hoping to have her dreams and potential realized. Two women in different stages of life. Two women with different kinds of journeys ahead whose lives will briefly intersect, affecting them both.

In the oddest of ways, Aidyn’s editor reprimands her for a mishap by assigning her to write Clara Kip’s obituary. An obituary for a woman who hasn’t died, but has certainly lived, although not at all like she initially planned. Over just a few meetings, the women come to mean a great deal to each other. Questions are answered, lessons are learned, heartfelt philosophies are shared. Most importantly–just love and be kind.

Never let it be said that anyone leads a boring life. That is the crux of this book: everyone has a story. Everyone also has gifts to share with others, whether it be finding the right words, companionship, or thinking outside the box.

Also never let it be said that one must be a certain age to have wisdom. Aidyn, although young, has plenty. She and Mrs. Kip make a terrific team, despite their brief time together.

I happened upon this book by accident yesterday (available to borrow on Hoopla) and flew through it, continually uplifted with every visit. Though not a Christmas story, it has a Christian aspect, with themes that feel very appropriate this time of year. I recommend reading it during the holiday rush when you need a quiet moment of heartfelt refreshment.

9/10 Stars

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Autobiography, Christian Fiction, Fiction, Magical Realism, Series & Collections

November Reads 2022

I read ten books in November. Not bad! I did reviews on the ones that had the most impact on me, but here’s a quick summary.

Best Memoir (which is also nominated for a Goodreads award): Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, by Matthew Perry. Both fascinating and heart-breaking. Just be prepared for a lot of F-bombs.

Best Romantic Comedy: Hello Stranger, by Katherine Center. This comes out in July 2023, but keep it on your TBR (to be read) list. It’s a winner! A journey of self-discovery and growth while facing challenges and falling in love.

Best Magical Realism: The Magic of Lemon Drop Pie, by Rachel Linden. Word is out on this wonderful story of second chances and glimpses into the future. Everyone I’ve recommended this book to who has read it, has loved it!

Best Book Duo: All That Really Matters and All That It Takes by Nicole Deese. Even though I rated them differently, they’re both excellent and worth your time. Clean, Christian fiction, full of flawed but decent people who learn the value of faith, embracing differences, and serving others.

In my opinion, these are the best of the bunch. Rachel Linden and Nicole Deese are new authors for me, but I definitely want to read more of their books. Hopefully something catches your eye!

Christian Fiction, Fiction, Romance, Series & Collections, Women's Fiction

All That Really Matters, by Nicole Deese

Social media influencer, Molly McKenzie, is on top of the world. Her channel has attracted hundreds of thousands of followers, she lives a fairy-tale lifestyle, and her talent manager boyfriend has just lined up a new opportunity to expand her reach even further. It’s truly the chance of a lifetime.

There’s just one thing she has to do. Since the makeover show she’s auditioning for is going to nominate underprivileged youth, the producers want her to have some real-life experience working with them. When Molly’s minister brother, Miles, connects her with The Bridge youth program, designed to help kids transition out of foster care, everything seems to be clicking into place.

Of course, Life is full of variables and unknowns, which grow exponentially when we allow more people into our circle. Those unknowns also happen when we allow someone in who is different. No one knows this better than Silas Whittaker, the youth program’s director. He and Molly appear to be opposites in every way. Add twenty two young people who have experienced more than their fair share of physical and emotional trauma and the unknowns multiply.

The good thing is that everyone, including those twenty two residents, has an end goal. The goals vary, as do their range in selflessness, but they keep everyone motivated. And, as time goes by, and Molly and Silas find some common ground and work to set aside their prejudices, they find that faith in God and in each other can go a long way.

This is a story about growth. Growth, change, and, especially grace–the grace we hope to receive and the grace we need to extend. If you can look past Molly’s initial superficial exterior, you will be happily surprised at the miracles–big and small–that happen in everyone’s lives.

9/10 Stars

Young Adult

Favorite Young Adult Books

Yesterday someone in my online book group asked for recommendations of Young Adult books. I have discovered some fantastic selections this year, mostly with the help of others. If this is a genre you want to try, I highly recommend all of these titles. And if I had to choose my favorites from this group, they are definitely the four in the middle row. The Young Adult genre is for teens 13-18 years of age. Some contain language. All are stellar reads!

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Fiction, Women's Fiction

Hello Stranger, by Katherine Center

Available July 11, 2023!

I had a nice surprise a couple of days ago! I’m still expecting a hardback copy of Hello Stranger to arrive in the mail next month, but I didn’t expect to be gifted an advanced digital copy too!

I stayed up half the night finishing this book. I think it’s Katherine Center’s most brilliant novel yet. It’s also super frustrating. Why? Because (1) it deals with the condition called “face blindness,” which is extremely hard to understand, and (2) it addresses the consequences of face blindness, mainly “confirmation bias,” which means that if you think something is true, you are selective about the available facts to convince yourself of that truth. (Think of those perpetual hot button topics like politics and religion, the ultimate examples.)

A teeny tiny percentage of people will ever experience face blindness. BUT 100% of us yield to confirmation bias. We do it constantly. And THIS is the brilliant part. Katherine Center does to the reader what face blindness does to her main character, Sadie—essentially creating a puzzle, purposefully leaving out information, forcing us to use our confirmation bias crutch (without realizing we’re doing it,) then offering those missing puzzle pieces we didn’t know we needed in her best ending EVER of any of her books. (I’m playing my CB card here and calling it a fact.) 😁

I’ve done so much thinking about HELLO STRANGER since finishing it early this morning. It is a book you really have to read twice—once without all the puzzle pieces and then again with the complete picture. And yes, I’m leaving out a plot summary on purpose because making these discoveries is part of the experience. Just know that if you still want to punch the wall after reading half of it, keep going! It’s SO worth it.

And don’t worry! Along the way you’re still wittily treated to Sadie’s journey of self-discovery, an annoyingly cute neighbor, a dashing vet, an adorable dog, a looming work deadline, an evil stepsister, and the karmic satisfaction of being helpful and compassionate despite immense challenges.

9/10 Stars

***I felt a little lost when I began this book because the concept of face blindness is so foreign to me. So I did some research and came across this article by Sadie Dingfelder called My Life With Face Blindness. Sadie and Sadie. Coincidence? Nope. It turns out that journalist Sadie was an information source and the inspiration for the name of Katherine Center’s character. Isn’t life funny that way?

Uncategorized

Goodreads Nominees I Recommend

Goodreads is currently asking members to vote on the top rated books of 2022! Happily, I’ve read several. These are the Goodreads finalists I liked the most. I added stars to my favorites of the bunch.

Happy Reading!

(Please do your research on content you find sensitive: language, sex scenes, abuse triggers, etc. It is the responsibility of each individual reader.)☺️

Fantasy, Fiction, Magical Realism, Women's Fiction

The Magic of Lemon Drop Pie, by Rachel Linden

Oh, those pesky “what-ifs” that we all carry around! “What if I chose that career?” “What if I married that person?” “What if I lived in that place?” “What if I had done/not done that particular thing?”

If only there was a way to know how things would’ve turned out if we’d taken a different path. And if there was a way…would you try it?

Lolly Blanchard is one month away from turning thirty three. She helps her father run their failing family diner in Seattle. It’s been ten years since her mother’s death. Her younger sister, Daphne, is sprouting wings to find her own way. But most of all, Lolly carries the memory of her time with Rory Shaw, the boy who got away. Now, as she reevaluates her life, Lolly comes to the frustrating realization that she has not accomplished anything she wanted to do. So many hopes. So many dreams.

If only.

This is a purposefully short review because I don’t want to get near anything that resembles a spoiler. I will just say that this lovely story touches on regrets and questions which enter every person’s life at some point. No matter how content and grateful we are, we still wonder. Unless…

What a wonderful, unique, redemptive book! I definitely want to read more by this author.

9.5/10 Stars

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Author Spotlight

Follow That Author!

In this age of social media, there are great benefits to following your favorite authors! You might get an exciting email like the one I just received from Katherine Center! (I’m trying and failing to tone down my excitement at the prospect of receiving her next book seven months before its official release.)

Marketing their work is not easy for a writer, many of whom tend to be quiet and cerebral. In fact, just this morning, Wade Rouse (pen name Viola Shipman) did a post on how difficult it is to promote fiction because it is so personal and subjective. But if you follow authors on Facebook, Instagram, and Goodreads (some even accept friend requests) you support the writer and you get news about book releases, tours, and giveaways. It’s a win-win!

Here are authors I follow. Most are very gracious about interacting with their readers:

  • Katherine Center (Facebook, Goodreads)
  • Boo Walker (Facebook, Goodreads)
  • Wade Rouse (Viola Shipman)–he has pages on Facebook using both names
  • Mimi Matthews (Facebook)
  • Rhys Bowen (Facebook)
  • Fredrik Backman (Facebook, Goodreads)
  • Mary Balogh (Facebook)
  • Lynda Cohen Loigman (Facebook, Goodreads)
  • Becky Monson (Facebook)
  • Jennifer Peel (Facebook)
  • Catherine Ryan Hyde (Facebook)
  • Khaled Hosseini (Goodreads)
  • Karen McQuestion (Goodreads)
  • Kristin Harmel (Facebook)
  • Jennifer L. Wright (Goodreads)
  • Michael Finkel (Goodreads)
  • Jillian Cantor (Goodreads)
  • Julie Berry (Facebook, Goodreads)

You can also keep up with authors by following them on Amazon. There isn’t the personal interaction, but you will receive an email when new books are released.

So, a fun tidbit on getting the scoops and fun surprises like the one I had today! One important thing I’ve learned is that authors appreciate our help very much.

Happy Reading!

Autobiography, Memoir, Nonfiction

Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, by Matthew Perry

It’s 1995, FRIENDS has been on the air for a year. (As soon as I saw a promo for it in 1994, I knew I wanted to watch this series. And I did–every episode of every season for ten seasons. I still kick myself that I never attended a taping.) Now I’m at Disneyland with my mom, aunt, and cousin, Laura. My aunt had recently been hired at Disney Imagineering and was able to get us into the park for free. It was a blast.

Halfway through the day we’re in New Orleans Square (my favorite section) and Laura says to me, “Hey, isn’t that Matthew Perry?” Yes, it was. Celebrity sightings–one of the perks of growing up in Southern California. There was Matthew Perry, aka Chandler Bing, wearing (I’ll never forget) a white leather letterman’s-style jacket, holding court in the middle of an entourage of 6-8 friends, with a glow and a swagger that showed he was on top of the world. The guy oozed charisma.

We headed over to the Haunted Mansion. Matthew and group probably entered through some VIP back door without waiting in line because suddenly, we were all in the “stretching room”–our group, his group, and a few other people who probably didn’t love the show FRIENDS as much as I did. I can only assume.

Yes, I stared. This was a big deal. I have a faint memory of catching his eye and a hopeful, selective memory that there was a small grin returned only for me, but it could just be my imagination. I don’t care. It was dang cool. After the ride we only saw the backs of him and his group. Moment over, but not forgotten.

Some shows are just a part of us. FRIENDS is one of those shows for me. It started right as I earned my college degree, saw me through getting my first apartment, my first “real job,” and all of those milestones that make you feel grown up (except getting married, that came later.)

Of course we knew that, of all the cast members, Matthew Perry was the one struggling the most. We just didn’t know how much. Fast forward 20+ years to last Monday, when my husband and I watched his interview with Diane Sawyer. He’s uber famous, uber wealthy, starred in one of the most beloved shows of all time, and my first thought was, “He seems like a really lonely guy.” The swagger and smirk I saw in 1995 was replaced with a man slightly older than me, but wearing decades of trauma on his face.

I had to read the book. What a life. What an exhausting, sad, tortured, lonely life. I’ve never really understood addiction, but this is probably the closest I’ll ever get. His memoir is that raw. And it is heartbreaking. As a highly sensitive empath, I absorb other people’s pain more than most, and I felt like I was right there with every relapse of drinking and pills and their accompanying horrific consequences. This book is both fascinating and painful. Never once does he play the victim.

If you’ve been on the FRIENDS journey at all since its inception, read about Matthew’s journey and see what he went through. It’s a miracle he’s even still alive. And it’s a lesson of where fulfillment can truly be found. Hint: it isn’t fame and fortune. 9/10 Stars

Cover Reveal, Fiction, Women's Fiction

Hello Stranger Cover Reveal!

Katherine Center, who you know I just love, has revealed the cover and plot summary for her next book! HELLO STRANGER is available for preorder now!

You can also follow Katherine on Facebook and sign up for her newsletter at katherine@katherinecenter.com.

Check out her other books too!

  • HAPPINESS FOR BEGINNERS (my favorite)
  • THE BODYGUARD (my other favorite)
  • THINGS YOU SAVE IN A FIRE (my backup favorite)
  • HOW TO WALK AWAY (yes, love this one too)
  • WHAT YOU WISH FOR
  • THE LOST HUSBAND

Her books bring so much joy!

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Cozy Mysteries, History, Mystery, Romance, Suspense, Women's Fiction, Young Adult

October Reads 2022

OK, this turned out a bit blurry! Sorry about that…

The facts are these: sometimes I’m in a reading mood, sometimes I’m in a blogging mood. Lately I’ve been in a reading mood! A lot. I will highlight a few from this month’s literary adventures.

Best Thriller: Daisy Darker, by Alice Feeney. Yes, this extremely popular book lives up to the hype, even though it was nothing like what I expected. In true Agatha Christie fashion, a group of dysfunctional relatives gather at Grandma’s house for a weekend. Many go in, but few go out. All seen through the eyes of 13 year old Daisy. Great writing with a surprise ending. Recommended! (Some language.) 4.5/5 Stars on Goodreads

Best Classic: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, by R.A. Dick. I only recently discovered that one of my favorite classic films was first a book. And it was great! There are definitely some differences, as to be expected, but I really enjoyed this as original source material. It was fun to watch the movie again after reading it. 4/5 Stars on Goodreads

Best Cozy Mysteries: Send in the Clowns/Watching the Detectives/Cold as Ice, by Julie Mulhern. These are books 4-6 in the Country Club Murders series and they are just as fun as the ones preceding them. If you’re looking for a smart, escapist series, this is a great one! The writing is terrific and you’ll love the main characters, the headstrong Ellison and Detective Anarchy Jones. 4/5 Stars on Goodreads

Best Romantic Comedies: Pumpkin Spice and Not So Nice AND The Accidental Text, both by Becky Monson. They’re clean, there’s depth, and they tug at your heart. Pumpkin Spice and Not So Nice is a companion book to Jennifer Peel’s The Pumpkin and the Patch (which I read last month and loved.) The Accidental Text is about a twenty-something young woman who has recently lost her mother. She texts her mother’s phone number, pouring her heart out, as a way to deal with her grief. What she doesn’t know is that the number has already been given to someone else. I really loved this one. I recommend both books for a combination of clean, light romance with a splash of emotion. 4/5 Stars on Goodreads

Best Clean Romance: Mulberry Hollow, by Denise Hunter. This is an author whose work I want to pursue more. I just finished this book yesterday morning. It’s proof that you can have a romance with attraction, emotion, tension, and a satisfying story without steamy scenes. It could be marketed as a “Christian Romance,” but the Christian aspect is pretty minimal. The main characters, Avery and Wes, felt so real. I loved the privilege of looking into their lives. 4/5 Stars on Goodreads

Best Steamy Romance: Yours Until Dawn, by Teresa Medeiros. To be clear, I don’t go looking for steamy books. Sometimes, like in this case, the steam shows up halfway through the story. But, despite the blush-worthy scenes (which just about hit my steam limit) this is a fantastic historical romance. A young woman is employed to care for a recently blinded soldier. He’s cantankerous, demanding, and stubborn. She is undaunted, but also a bit mysterious. Then there’s a shocking twist I never saw coming (and I’m usually pretty good at predicting twists.) Again, there are some R-rated steamy scenes. I really wish there was a sanitized version because this is one of the best stories I’ve ever read. 5/5 Stars on Goodreads

Best Young Adult: Not If I See You First, by Eric Lindstrom. Another blind protagonist, high school junior Parker Grant is snarky, a runner, and bluntly honest. She’s high maintenance and she knows it. She also has a fierce love for those who stood by her in her darkest hours (literally) when she lost her sight at age seven. Navigating a new normal after she is orphaned, Parker must deal with her relatives, the drama of high school, and her own heart. The author does an amazing job writing the character of this complex girl. I was completely immersed in her world. (Some language.) 4/5 Stars on Goodreads

Best Fiction: Take Me With You, by Catherine Ryan Hyde. I love books that pair unlikely adults and kids together. Catherine Ryan Hyde is a master at this kind of story. Here we have a divorced science teacher who goes on a cross-country road trip, grieving for a son who recently died. While getting his RV serviced, he strikes up a conversation with the surly mechanic, a single father of two boys. When the mechanic reveals that he’s off to serve a prison sentence, he pleads with the man to take his sons on the road. It’s unusual, heartfelt, and keeps your attention. I recommend it. 4/5 Stars on Goodreads

The other 4 Star books are also worth your time, but these are the ones that affected me the most. Now, what will November bring? I have a few reads mapped out, but only time will tell!

Fiction, Romance, Suspense, Women's Fiction, Young Adult

September Reads!

Since it is unlikely that I will finish another book by tomorrow, here are the books I read this month! Any of the ones with 4 or 5 stars are worth your time. Some quick thoughts:

Thank You For Listening: This unique book, written by a woman who narrates audio books, is about people who narrate audio books! The main characters are great, a lot of their communication is through emails and texts, and the big reveal is very sweet. (Some steaminess.)

Rich Blood: This is a legal thriller with twists and turns aplenty! Jason Rich is a billboard-ambulance-chasing lawyer who must now defend his sister accused of murdering her husband. It keeps you guessing until the very end. I definitely want to read more by this author!

That Fine Line/Double or Nothing: These Cindy Steel books are fantastic, with a lot more going on than the covers would lead you to believe. They are clean romances with tons of hilarity, heart, and homespun characters that you will love. They are the first and second of a four-book series that I plan to continue. Extremely enjoyable!

A Pumpkin and a Patch/How to Get Over Your Ex in Ninety Days: Jennifer Peel is another author I was thrilled to discover this month! Her characters are smart, sensitive, and constantly learning from their mistakes. These clean romances are winners! Highly recommended!

The Deep End/Guaranteed to Bleed/Clouds in My Coffee: These are the first three books in a multi-book cozy mystery series. They are very entertaining, set in the 1970s among the Kansas City country club elite. Money might buy some nice things, but it can’t stop some people from being murdered…*cue sinister laugh* I plan to continue with this clever series!

The Bodyguard/What You Wish For/How to Walk Away: Books by Katherine Center, need I say more? You know I absolutely adore this woman. Hubby and I listened to all three of these in September, sometimes for hours. And guess what? We’re having a tough time finding other audio books we enjoy as much.

I hope you find something you love from this list! Happy Reading!!

One more thing,” as Detective Colombo would say… The “Most Messed Up Book Award” for September goes to Verity, by Colleen Hoover. If you’ve read anything by the popular and divisive “CoHo” then I can tell you that Verity is not within her “normal” style. Some people love it, some people despise it. I just wanted to vacuum that story out of my brain. It. Is. Twisted. And I know I’m not alone in that opinion. You’ve been warned!

Fiction, Young Adult

Letters to the Lost, by Brigid Kemmerer

Twenty days! It’s been twenty days since my last review. I guess I lost my mojo for a few weeks, despite reading some great books. I knew it would take one very special story to get the words flowing again, and this is it.

Letters to the Lost, by Brigid Kemmerer. I’m still experiencing a book hangover, having finished reading it at 6:30am. It is marketed as a YA (Young Adult) book, but the underlining theme is for everyone.

Incorrect assumptions.

We’ve all done it. I can think of some very specific times when I assumed something about someone based on their weight, or education level, or tattoos, or job, or just a less-than-put-together appearance.

And guess what? I was wrong. Very wrong. Extremely wrong.

And did I learn my lesson? Nope. It’s part of being human. Part of being flawed humans. Which brings me to this magnificent book that anyone reading this review should find and devour.

Some “trigger warnings.” (I really hate that phrase.) It does deal with losing a parent, losing a sibling, divorce, suicidal tendencies, and child abuse. But it is so redemptive and all of those subjects are handled with such tender care that I still say, no matter what your personal history may be–read it.

Our two main characters: Juliet Young is mourning her mother, Zoe, a famous war photographer. Her grief is all-consuming. She stops by the cemetery every morning on the way to school. Her mother was gone a lot on assignment, leaving Juliet to idealize her and get into the habit of writing her letters. She still does this, leaving letters behind on her mother’s grave. They are her last link. She’s lost interest in everything else.

Declan Murphy is mourning his entire life. Everything he knew is gone and, while it was far from perfect, it was a lot better than the way things are now. So much so that, in a moment of despair he downed some Jack Daniels, got into his dad’s truck, and plowed it into a building. Now he’s performing community service by mowing grass at the local cemetery…where, on a newer grave, he finds a letter from a girl to her mother.

I will say no more about the plot except to entreat you once again, to read this book. Symbolically, the idea of photography and snapshots figure prominently in the theme of assumptions we make. Are we defined by a moment? Do we do that to others? Do we do it to ourselves?

Like any great story, Letters to the Lost has many layers. As many layers as the reader is willing to uncover. I hope you do.

10/10 Stars

Some libraries use an alternate book cover, so it could look like this. Don’t make assumptions about this design. (See what I did there?) This book is a treasure.

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Fiction, Magical Realism, Romance, Short Stories

Five Goodreads Reviews

In an effort to not get too far behind, I’m going to do some copy/pasting from Goodreads.

The best of the bunch, in my opinion, is the Young Adult novel, You’ve Reached Sam. It is about a teenage boy who is killed in a car accident and, when his girlfriend calls his number just to hear his voicemail message…he answers. That’s right. He answers. It’s as tender and goosebump-inducing as it sounds. I loved it.

Available January 17, 2023
Available April 11, 2023
ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Fiction, Historical Fiction, Romance, Series & Collections

August Reads & September Faves

Here are the books I read and/or listened to in August! I rated them throughout the month so I could share them with you. Some will still be reviewed on this site (mainly You’ve Reached Sam, which touched me deeply.) If a book has 4 or 5 stars, I really enjoyed it. If it has 3 stars it means it’s good, but flawed. Anything with 2 or 1 star…you’ve been warned! All of these are just my opinion, of course.

Lastly, here are two advanced copies I read a while ago that I enjoyed very much. Both are coming out in September:

Right now I’m rereading Katherine Center’s The Bodyguard because my husband and I plan to listen to the audio book this week. Next I’ll be doing a buddy read of The Art of Racing in the Rain with one of the ladies in my online book club. There’s always something to read!