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

Regrets Only, by Kieran Scott

Available tomorrow! January 10, 2023

Where do you go when you want to find pettiness, gossip, mayhem and murder? Look no further than the PBA (Parent Booster Association) in an upscale Connecticut town.

Regrets Only, by Kieran Scott is hilarious. A satirical look at a group of women who represent those committees we’ve pretty much all had to participate in at one time or another. There’s the Type A president, who ruthlessly clutches to her position as though her life depends on it (it does,) who overshadows and overachieves, basking in the glory of her success and leaving baffled and intimidated worker bees in her wake. That is Ainsley Aames Anderson. A triple Type A. Her name says it all.

With someone like Ainsley, you’re either a minion or an enemy. You do not question her. You do not compete with her. You certainly do not defy her. A tough lesson learned by her seemingly faithful entourage, Bee, Dayna, and Lanie. The outliers have a more difficult time. There’s working mother Nina, a successful accountant with more brains than charm, and the town’s prodigal daughter, single mom Paige Lancaster. Paige has returned to her hometown after being let go from a successful job writing crime shows in LA. She’s worldly and strong, the complete opposite of the submissive women who work with, um for, Ainsley. And it doesn’t help that Paige’s first love happens to be Ainsley’s husband.

Things fall apart at the PBA’s annual Parents and Pinot fundraising auction. By the end of the night the PBA president everyone loves to hate is dead. Suspects are everywhere. A surprising amount have access to weapons. Unsurprisingly, the blind adoration of Ainsley’s followers isn’t quite as blind as it once appeared. Using the alternating POVs of Paige, Lanie, Nina, and Dayna, we discover that few things (and people) are what they seem.

I really enjoyed Regrets Only. I’m giving it 9 stars because the ending fell a bit flat, but it’s still worth reading. It’s an honest commentary on suburban society. The seriousness and intensity at which these women view something as basic as a parent organization is extreme, yes, but not entirely untrue. We women can get a lot of things done, but the backroom plotting and politics are as old as time itself.

9/10 Stars

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Series & Collections, Suspense, Thriller

Rich Blood & Rich Waters (Jason Rich Series,) by Robert Bailey

Jason Rich has failed at a lot of things in life: beating his alcohol dependency, relationships with women, and living up to his father’s expectations. Despite that, and thanks to a series of tacky billboards along the highway, Jason has still drummed up his own version of success as an ambulance-chasing personal injury lawyer.

When Jason is forced to defend his sister after she is charged with killing her husband, everything changes. Now he must transition to criminal law, reconnect with his splintered family, and enter the grimy world of drugs, dirty cops, and murder. Not an easy task for a man already on the state bar’s radar. Rich Blood gives us lots of expository information about Jason Rich’s personality, boundaries, background, and courtroom tactics.

In Rich Waters, Jason is blackmailed into defending a fallen local hero accused of killing a cop. His personal life is a mess, but he has his allies. Always on retainer are the three ex-military Tonidandel brothers, former Screaming Eagles who double as security and friends. Plus there is Izzy, his law partner; Harry, his investigator; and Ashley, his AA sponsor. This motley crew help to keep Jason grounded and safe, but are put at risk by a powerful enemy.

Well-written legal thrillers, like this series, are a fun way to break out of my reading comfort zone. There are lots of characters to keep track of, puzzle pieces to assemble, ongoing stories, plot twists, and reveals. I’ve become pretty skilled at pinpointing killers in murder mysteries, but both Jason Rich books kept me guessing until the very end. That’s a good thing. Plus we are treated to a very multi-faceted main character who is always fighting one demon or another, whether personal or professional.

Rich Waters ended with a very sewn-up conclusion, so I don’t know if more books will appear in the series, but I, for one, would like to see others. They are fast-paced, intelligent reads. I recommend both and to read them in order.

9/10 Stars for each book and for the series.

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Fiction

So Long, Chester Wheeler, by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Available tomorrow! December 6, 2022

Author Catherine Ryan Hyde continues to impress me with her unique pairing of old and young characters! This time, however, the younger of the two is also the wiser. A lot wiser.

If you’ve seen the film As Good As it Gets, with Jack Nicholson and Greg Kinnear, you have the ideal casting for the cantankerous Chester Wheeler and his gay neighbor/caretaker, Lewis Madigan.

Chester Wheeler has no social filter and he’s dying. He’s managed to run off every possible person to attend to his needs. Lewis is a twenty-four year old software developer who just lost everything stable in his life. He needs a job and he’s desperate. (It would take someone desperate to put up with Chester.) Fortunately for Lewis, he’s employed by Chester’s daughter, Ellie, who is supportive of any means Lewis uses to get Chester to cooperate. Or yield. Or surrender. Semantics.

As we get to know Chester–despite his terrible moods, passive aggression, and name calling–a profound truth surfaces: Hurt people…hurt people. Does that make his behavior OK? Absolutely not. But knowing the why helps, just as it does in any difficult relationship. And Lewis is great with Chester–he’s patient without allowing himself to be victimized.

When Chester presents Lewis with a dying wish, the real adventure begins. It’s one that brings self-discovery, closure, and hope. This book is the definition of character-driven and you really do care for both of these men, one at the end of his life and one whose life is just beginning. It’s a grand story from start to finish.

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!

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?

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!

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!

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!

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Fiction

The Abandoned Ones…

I’ve been asked: “Aren’t there books that you didn’t like?” The short answer is YES. We’ve all started a book and realized it wasn’t for us, right? This year I’ve read nearly two hundred books, but I’ve also left plenty in the discard pile. I get most frustrated when it is a book that others love, but I can’t help how I feel, so I go on to the next one. It could be because there’s a lack of character development or a really unlikable main character. It could be a plot that doesn’t hold my interest. It could be too much gratuitous swearing. Sometimes it’s all of those things.

The reasons may vary, but there should be no guilt. Reading time is too precious to waste and there are too many great books to discover! So give yourself some grace and move on to something you enjoy.

Here are the “abandoned ones” in my pile lately. Apologies if you see one of your favorites!

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Fiction

We Are The Light, by Matthew Quick

AVAILABLE November 1, 2022

This was a very interesting story. High school counselor Lucas Goodgame is a widower whose wife and sixteen others were killed in a random, violent shooting similar to the one in Aurora, Colorado. Through letters to his former analyst, Lucas describes his life after the tragedy, which includes mentoring the younger brother of the shooter. Eighteen year old Eli Hansen, now perceived as guilty by association, has set up a tent in Lucas’s backyard. Numbed by loss, he cries for days, consumed by a visceral sadness one only achieves when any kind of hope for the future seems impossible.

Over a year we see Lucas, Eli, and others as they try to heal and move forward long after the world has forgotten what happened in their small town. As is common with grief, it comes in waves, it comes unexpectedly, and can be triggered by the smallest (but significant) event. Ever the reluctant hero, Lucas tries to reassemble his life while helping others, convinced that surviving is more than just getting angry, but getting whole. While partnering with Eli on a special project, Lucas has his own team of supporters, ready to pick him up when he needs it the most.

Beautifully written with a hint of magical realism (or perhaps hallucination,) Lucas’s letters touch on everything from the mundane to the profound. His insights show great humanity and emphasize the importance of community after such a shocking event, one which recent history has shown us is, sadly, becoming more and more common.

Author Matthew Quick, who also wrote the powerful Silver Linings Playbook, is no stranger to experiencing or writing about mental illness. His acknowledgments go into detail about how this novel is his first after emerging from a three year writing slump. It is likely that he inserted himself into Lucas, showing the ebb and flow of depression, something to which many of us relate.

8.5/10 Stars

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Fiction, Suspense

Now Is Not The Time To Panic, by Kevin Wilson

AVAILABLE November 8, 2022

I am not exaggerating when I say this is one of the most fascinating books I’ve ever read. Only 50% in, not knowing its conclusion, my mind was bursting with things I wanted to say about it. In fact, most of this review is from notes that flowed out of me before I even knew how it ended.

It is 1996 in Coalfield, Tennessee. Partly out of boredom, with a bit of mischief and a desire to make their marks in a world that was ignoring them, Frankie and Zeke combine their talents and make a poster. Frankie, the writer, creates a cryptic, poetic phrase of which she is very proud. Zeke, the artist, draws a picture to match the phrase.

Next, the two sixteen year olds make hundreds of copies of the poster and start putting them in public places. The rush they get from the town’s initial reaction is exactly the motivation they need to make more…and more…and more. But the more creative they get with the posters’ placement, the more things spiral out of control.

At the risk of spoilers, I’ll say no more about the plot except that it is brilliant. The idea that something as obscure as a poster can escalate into the level of panic that happens is nothing short of genius. Genius that is scary in its truth of the way humans behave. Any kind of extremism throughout history can be traced to an initial idea–or the interpretation of an idea. We’ve seen plenty of that in the last few years.

So is the poster about art? About the interpretation of art? Personal branding? Or is it about people trying to be a part of something bigger than themselves? Politics? Religion? It could be about any, or all, or none of these–making the book as open to discussion as the poster itself.

I highly recommend this book when it becomes available in November. There is some language–these are teenagers, after all–but the concept is so intriguing and the plot so cleverly woven, this really is a book not to be missed.

9.5/10 Stars

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

Two Fun, Witty Reads…

Here are two books I read recently that are extremely enjoyable. Happily, they also have intelligent, witty characters and plots with plenty of depth. A win-win!

THE BOOKISH LIFE OF NINA HILL, by Abbi Waxman–seriously, one of the funniest books I have ever read! Laugh-out-loud-at-crazy-hours-in-the-morning funny. There were times I would try to read a passage aloud to my husband and it was so hilarious that I couldn’t even get the words out because I was laughing so much. So who is Nina Hill? She is an introverted employee of a bookstore–one of a tiny group of women who work there–and a trivia team champion. Her recall for facts is amazing (once you learn about racehorses’ birthdays, you’ll never forget) and all of her time is spent reading for competitions, reading for her weekly book group, and reading for fun (Thursday nights only.) Her life is all about planning and learning as much information as possible. This is all fine and good until some unexpected family secrets come to the surface, upending Nina’s organized existence, but also giving her insight into why she is this way. A delight from start to finish with excellent supporting characters. 9/10 Stars

WHEN IN ROME, by Sarah Adams will be available September 20th. I’d seen fellow readers talk about it and was happy when my request for an advanced copy was quickly approved. A fun companion book to Norah Goes Off Script and The Bodyguard where a celebrity and a “normal” person find their lives intersecting. Pop star Amelia “Rae” Rose idolizes Audrey Hepburn and, taking a cue from Princess Ann in Roman Holiday, decides to escape her chaotic life by driving to Rome–Rome, Kentucky, that is, where she ends up stranded in the front yard of grumpy pie shop owner Noah Walker. In a plot that’s a hybrid of Notting Hill and Sweet Home Alabama, Amelia finally has a chance to breathe and reevaluate her life. Like with the previous book, When in Rome also has wonderful supporting characters, partly because they are actually supportive. Another 9/10 Stars.

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Fiction, Historical Fiction

The Circus Train, by Amita Parikh

AVAILABLE December 6, 2022

Have you ever shelved a book, wondered why you had it in the first place, then finally read the book and thought–Wow! Why did I wait so long to read this?? That is my experience with The Circus Train. I guess I thought it was going to be about a circus and have so many characters I wouldn’t be able to keep track of them all. Who knows? Happily, I was very wrong. Wrong in the best way.

Yes, there’s a circus and, yes, there’s a circus train, but they are only the backdrops for this marvelous story that takes place throughout Europe while tensions are building during World War II.

Over twenty years we follow Theo, a Greek illusionist; his daughter, Lena, who was crippled by Polio as an infant; and Alexandre, a French orphan who Theo finds and mentors. Theo, always honing his craft, sparring with the circus owner, and being overly protective of his daughter. Lena, who longs to go to school and be part of the academic world, her inquisitive mind never at rest. Alexandre, Lena’s closest friend, a keeper of secrets, and the story’s hero as the children become adults.

There is friendship, devotion, betrayal, separation, and a connective thread of love and determination during that separation that cuts through the absurdities and atrocities of the time period.

This is a magnificent book, one I recommend most highly. We’re still a few months away from its release, but keep it on your radar. It is worth the wait.

9.5/10 Stars