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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The Ex-Husband by Karen Hamilton

The Ex-Husband by Karen Hamilton
Published by Graydon House ISBN 9781525811609
Trade paperback, $16.99, 352 pages

January seems to be the month for domestic thrillers about shady husbands (I read Kimberly Belle's My Darling Husband last week). Karen Hamilton's twisty novel, The Ex-Husband, takes the reader through the relationship between Sam, a charming cruise ship croupier and grifter/con man and Charlotte, the woman who becomes entranced with Sam and his exciting and dangerous lifestyle.

The novel opens up in the present day with Charlotte, now separated from Sam and building an events planning business in Cornwall, England. When she gets word that Sam has disappeared and feared dead, Charlotte thinks it is just another one of Sam's cons.

The story then moves back in time. We see how Sam swept Charlotte off her feet when they both worked on a cruise ship. Charlotte became a willing participant in Sam's cons, believing Sam when he tells her that the people they are stealing from are not victims. Those people have more than enough money, they will never miss what Sam and Charlotte are taking from them. 

At first, it was exciting, and Charlotte enjoyed the gifts Sam lavished on her. But soon, Charlotte sees a darker side to Sam. He cheats on her, and eventually becomes violent when she dares to criticize his plans. When they nearly get caught stealing an expensive necklace, and Sam leaves Charlotte holding the bag, she has finally had enough.

In the present day, Charlotte takes a job as an assistant planner on a luxury yacht sailing to the Caribbean. Things seem fine at first, but then someone leaves threatening notes for Charlotte, telling her that she must pay up or she will die. Charlotte has no money, and when she begins to suffer from "accidents", she believes that Sam is somehow behind all this.  

Fans of Bravo's Below Deck will enjoy the luxury yacht setting, as so much of the story takes place on the yacht with the demanding and wealthy travelers. The "locked room" trope of the story rachets up the suspense as Charlotte is trapped on the yacht with someone who means her harm. The Ex-Husband will appeal to readers of Ruth Ware and Lucy Foley's novels. 

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on Karen Hamilton's book tour.

Monday, January 10, 2022

My Darling Husband by Kimberly Belle

My Darling Husband by Kimberly Belle
Published by Park Row on March 8, 2022 ISBN 9780778311560
Trade paperback, $16.99, 352 pages

In Kimberly Belle's newest thriller My Darling Husband, Jade's life, while hectic, is pretty good. Her husband Cam is one of Atlanta's most celebrated chefs, known as the Steak King of Atlanta. He owns several popular high-end restaurants, and they live in a McMansion in a wealthy neighborhood.

Jade spends her days shuttling her nine year-old daughter Beatrix, a possible violin prodigy, and six year-old son Baxter, a typical energetic little boy, between school and activities. One day they returned home to find a masked man with a gun in their garage.

Frightened, Jade offers to give him her SUV, her wallet, phone, anything, if he will just leave. But that is not what he wants. He moves them all into the house and instructs Jade to call Cam and tell him that if her doesn't bring a very specific large sum of money to him by 7pm, he will kill the family.

Cam is dealing with a disasterous fire in his most profitable restaurant when Jade calls him. Although he tells the man he can't get that much cash in that short a period of time, the man reiterates his threat to Jade and the children.

The masked man knows a lot about Jade's husband, and tells her that her husband isn't the successful, wonderful man she thinks he is. Jade has to use her wits to figure out who this man is and how to keep him from hurting her children. The action moves between Jade in the house and Cam racing to find enough money to save his family.

My Darling Husband is breakneck thriller that gets parents right where they live- the safety of their children's lives. Your heart will pound as you read, and you'll wrack your brain as you try to figure out along with Jade how this man knows so much about Jade and Cam.

This novel has all the makings of a great Lifetime thriller movie, I wouldn't be surprised to see it next year on my television screen. If domestic thrillers are your favorite reads, My Darling Husband should be next up on your list.

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on their Fall 2021 Mystery & Thriller Blog Tour. 

Friday, January 7, 2022

Friday 5ive- January 7, 2022

Welcome back to the Friday 5ive, a weekly(ish) blog post about five things that caught me attention this week. It's been awhile since I posted a Friday 5ive, the holidays and work kept me very busy, but now that it's 2022, it's time to get back on track.

1) Like everyone else in the world, I was saddened to hear of the death of Betty White. I know that most people associate her with The Golden Girls, but for my money her best performance was as the Happy Homemaker Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. I have been watching reruns of that show on my Echo show in my kitchen while  making dinner at night and I'm up to seasons 6 and 7, when Sue Ann had some great storylines. (Season 6, episode 15- What Do You Want To Do When You Produce?, Season 6, episode 23- Sue Ann Falls in Love, Season 7, episode 3- Sue Ann's Sister are standouts.) You can find it on Hulu. 

2) We had family visit us for Christmas, and my rusty coooking skills got a workout. Two breakfast recipes were so popular, I made the each twice. The first is Berry Croissant Bake, a recipe I found on Kara Creates on Pinterest. You make it with already baked croissants from the bakery, top with fresh or frozen berries and a cream cheese, eggs and milk mixture. It was so good, there were nearly fistfights over the leftovers. The recipe is here, and the photo is from Kara Creates webpage. 

The second recipe is for Baked Western Omelet is from The Seasoned Mom, and is one I have made in years past. It's an easy casserole with eggs, milk, cheddar cheese, diced peppers and onions and ham (I also made a smaller dish without ham for our vegetarian fans). This recipe makes a great lunch or light dinner too. The recipe is here. The photo is from The Seasoned Mom. 

3)  Last night I listened to a fascinating Zoom conversation with author John Searles in discussion with Laura Lippman celebrating 25 years as an author  (20 novels, 2 essay collections, and 2 short story collections) and her current book of short stories, Seasonal Work (which is terrific, especially the title story.) I like both of these authors and their discussion ranged from Lippman's pandemic closet remodel and her daily posting of her outfits she bought on ThredUp on Twitter (she is marvelous on Twitter!) to her channeling of the voices of her characters in Seasonal Work. Lippman has always been interested in female characters, particularly young women and girls, and that comes through in this amazing collection set mostly in her beloved Baltimore. Searles' upcoming novel, Her Last Affair, out in March, is also a great read, especially if you like creepy psychological suspense stories, and the setting of an abandoned drive-in is genius. The Ivy Bookshop in Baltimore hosted the event. 

4)  I watched the movie Being The Ricardos on Amazon Prime this week. Nicole Kidman's astonishing transformation into Lucille Ball really impressed me, especially in light of all the criticism she took on prior to the filming. Javier Bardem is great as Desi Arnaz, and although the movie focuses on one week in the life of Lucy when she was accused of being a Communist during the filming of season two of I Love Lucy, we get flashbacks to their early relationship. The rest of the cast is fantastic, including JK Simmons (as William Frawley aka Fred Mertz), Nina Arianda (as Vivian Vance aka Ethel Mertz) and Tony Hale as executive producer Jess Oppenheimer. Aaron Sorkin wrote and directed the movie, and it's a must-see for anyone (aka everyone in America) who grew up watching reruns of I Love Lucy. 

5)  After a brief hiatus from reading, I managed to get four books read over the Christmas break. Dana Spiotta's critically acclaimed novel Wayward is set in Syracuse. Spiotta is a professor at Syracuse University and her novel is centered around Sam, an upper class woman in her 50s who, after the 2016 election, has a midlife crisis and decides to leave her husband and buy a dipidated home in a troubled neighborhood in Syracuse. She has a good relationship with her mother, but her relationship with her seventeen year-old daughter is fraying at the seams. Sam is trying to connect with the people in her neighborhood, and when she witnesses a police officer shooting a young black man, she grapples with how to deal with that.  There is also a lot of architectural history about Syracuse (I grew up in nearby Auburn) in this deeply moving story that I found so interesting, it makes me want to research it more thoroughly. 

Kimberly Belle's My Darling Husband would make a terrific Lifetime movie. The story centers around Jade, a woman married to Cam, a celebrated chef and restauranteur in Atlanta. They live in a McMansion with their two young children and all is well until a man follows Jade home and holds her and the two children hostage. He demands that Cam bring him a very specific large sum of money by 7pm or he will kill the family. Cam has been hiding things from Jade, and she must use all her skills to figure out who this intruder really is and how to keep her children safe. My full review posts January 10th. It's a pulse pounding read. 

If you remember watching the sitcom Roseanne, Jenny Pentland's memoir This Will be Funny Later is one you will want to read. Pentland is Roseanne Barr's daughter, and she, her older sister Jessica, and younger brother Jake were youngsters when their mother rocketed to fame as a standup comic and then sitcom superstar. The family lived in Denver and eventually moved to Los Angeles when the sitcom took off.  The family came apart when Roseanne divorced their father Bill and became involved with Tom Arnold. Jessica and Jenny were both sent away to various facilities over the years to deal with their behavorial, psychological and drug problems, and Jenny's descriptions of the places she lived in are harrowing at times. The price of fame for the Pentland family was way too much, and if you ever dreamed of what it would be like to be rich and famous, this book will disabuse of any notion you have. 

And finally, as mentioned above, I read Laura Lippman's brilliant short story crime fiction collection Seasonal Work. Lippman excels in creating full-bodied characters in these short stories that many novelists would not be able to do in a full novel. The first story, Seasonal Work, is the strongest one about a down-on-their-luck family whose car is broken into on Christmas Eve and all their presents are stolen. Tess Monaghan, the star of many of Lippman's twenty novels, makes a welcome appearance in this story and another for true Lippman fans. The other stories, including the hilarious Snowflake Time, with its Bill O'Reilly-type main character, draw the reader in immediately. Many of these stories have been seen in other collections, but the new one, Just One More, combines Lippman's love of the TV show Columbo with a bored couple during the pandemic. If your attention span suffered during the pandemic, Seasonal Work is a great cure. 

I hope you all had a happy holiday season, and that you stayed safe and healthy. Until next time.

Monday, December 27, 2021

The Good Son by Jacquelyn Mitchard

The Good Son by Jacquelyn Mitchard
Published by MIRA, ISBN 9780369717559
Hardcover, $27.99, 352 pages

Author Ann Patchett said that if a book doesn't grab her from the first sentence or page, she will stop reading it. The first sentence of Jacquelyn Mitchard's novel, The Good Son, grabs the reader hard.
"I was picking up my son at the prison gates when I spotted the mother of the girl he murdered."

How can you not read on after that?

Thea was at the prison to pick up Stefan, her twenty year-old son who had just served nearly three years in prison for killing his girlfriend in a drug-induced haze. He was so out of it, he didn't remember what he had done.

As the story progresses, we discover that Stefan was obsessed with his high school girlfriend Belinda, and was distraught when she went away to college. They continued to see each other, and Stefan was planning on going to the same college when she was killed. 

Thea and her husband Jep saw that Stefan was obsessed, but didn't know what to do. For the past three years, Thea has visited Stefan in prison every chance she could, but her and Jep's life settled into a routine; Jep is a well-respected college football coach, Thea a professor. Other than the young women (organized by Belinda's devout and distraught mother) who protested about domestic violence outside of their home on a daily basis, life went on.

But things changed when Stefan came home. He had to adjust to life outside prison, and plan for a new life. No one would hire him. He was depressed, and Thea and Jep feared that he might harm himself. Stefan needed to find a purpose for his life or he was doomed.

There were repercussions for Stefan coming home. His release made people in the community uncomfortable, including the people at Thea's college. Now that people were face-to-face with Stefan and his crime, reactions to the family were different than when he was away in prison.

They were used to getting phone calls about Stefan's crime while he was in prison, but now a young woman keeps calling Thea saying that they don't know the truth about what happened the night Stefan killed Belinda. There is also a man who keeps showing up wherever Thea and Stefan are, trying to run them off the road, and even breaking into their home.

I liked the premise of the book- what if your child did something so horrible, it was unforgiveable? How do you live with that as a parent, and still love and support your son? Do you question what you did or didn't do as a parent? Mitchard does an wonderful job putting the reader in Thea's shoes.

There is the question of redemption, can Stefan redeem himself in his own eyes and the eyes of the community? And what does he owe the mother of the woman he killed?

Without giving away the ending of the book, I will say that I found the end disappointing. Up until the end, I liked where Mitchard had taken us with this book, but the resolution took it in a different direction. I really liked Mitchard's The Deep End of the Ocean, she knows how to write family drama that gets you right in the heart, and The Good Son does the same. I recommend it for that reason.

Thanks to Harlequin Books for putting me on Jacquelyn Mitchard's tour.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

The Most Compelling Books of 2021

Reprinted from auburnpub.com:

It’s that time of year for a list of the Most Compelling Books I read this year. It was difficult to whittle the list down to only ten because I read so many great books in 2021. These are the books I still think about, some long after I read them.

Lauren Willig’s Band of Sisters tells the fictionalized story of the all-female Smith College alumni who traveled to France during WWI to aid villagers displaced by war. Willig based her novel on letters written by the real women who risked their lives to help others, and it is a riveting tale of bravery and friendship. (My full review here)

Nancy Johnson’s debut novel, The Kindest Lie, is set just after the 2008 election of Barack Obama. Ruth Tuttle, a Yale-educated Black engineer in Chicago, returns to her small hometown to discover what happened to the baby she secretly gave birth to the summer before she went away to college. It’s a poignant tale of race, family, secrets, and class. (My full review here

Patry Francis’ novel All The Children Are Home begins in 1959, and centers on Louie and Dahlia and the foster children they take in and adopt. Dahlia is an unforgettable character, and this story of what it means to be a family is heartwarming, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful. (My full review here

Julietta Henderson’s The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman is a road trip tale about 12 year-old Norman’s quest to perform standup comedy at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to honor his best friend Jax who died. Norman and his mom Sadie set out on a journey and meet some kind people who help them along the way. This lovely story will restore your faith in humanity. (My full review here

Amor Towles’ The Lincoln Highway is also a road trip story. Set in 1954, Emmett returns home to Nebraska to his eight year-old brother after a stay in a juvenile facility. He wants to move to California but is waylaid after two young men escape from the facility and convince him to drive them to New York. It’s an epic tale filled with many fascinating characters. (More on the book here

Damhnait Monaghan’s delightful debut novel, New Girl in Little Cove takes place in a small town in Newfoundland after Rachel leaves Toronto to teach there. The characters in this town take her in and make her feel like one of their own. If you like a good small town story, this one will make you smile. (My full review here) 

Another wonderful small town story is Katherine Heiny’s Early Morning Riser. When young second grade teacher Jane locks herself out of her house, she meets and falls in love with Duncan, the locksmith who comes to her rescue. Jane becomes involved with Duncan’s formidable ex-wife Aggie, Aggie’s quirky new husband Gary, and Jimmy, a young man who works for Duncan. The story moves from 2002-2018 as we see how a tragedy brings all these people together as a family. It’s such a lovely story. (More on the book here) 

Louise Erdrich’s new novel, The Sentence is about Tookie, an Indigenous woman who finds a job in an independent bookstore after her release from prison. Tookie is being haunted at the bookstore by Flora, a customer who died on All Souls Day. The story is set in Minneapolis from 2019-2020 and also deals with the pandemic and the fallout of George Floyd’s murder, which took place nearby. It is a thought-provoking, elegantly written story that will appeal to book lovers. 

There are two nonfiction books on my list this year.  Eleanor Henderson’s Everything I Have Is Yours shares the story of her marriage to a man who suffers from a severely painful chronic condition that may or may not be psychological in nature. Henderson holds down a full-time job, cares for her two young sons and her husband, and maneuvers the maze that is healthcare in this country. This brilliantly written book illuminates what it means to be committed to your marriage and love so deeply. 

Amber and Lacey Ruffin’s You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey describes the many situations that Lacey deals with on a daily basis as a Black woman in Omaha. I shook my head in disbelief as they share with humor and dismay the things people say and do to Lacey, not realizing or perhaps not caring how hurtful or harmful it can be. It’s an eye-opener of a book. (More on the book here

I hope you read many great books this year as well. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Holiday Short Stories

The holiday season has begun and with so many things on our to-do list, sometimes reading entire books doesn't make the cut. This year, Amazon has short stories from four popular authors that will give you  snack-sized treats for the holiday season, stocking stuffers if you will. These charming stories are free for Amazon Prime and Kindle Unlimited subscribers and perfect for a quick read to wind down at the end of the day.

J. Courtney Sullivan's Model Home is one for fans of all of the HGTV home remodeling shows. Katie and Damien are the queen and king of home remodeling shows, delighting America with their snappy reparte√© and style. But Damien has told the Katie and the network that he wants out- of the show and his marriage- after this last holiday remodel special. 

Can Katie convince Damien to change his mind? The network is willing to renegotiate their huge contract, but Damien is adamant that he wants out. Their two young daughters are unhappy, feeling neglected by their busy parents, raised by the family assistant and social media. Katie is not willing to make a change in her lavish lifestyle just because Damien and the girls are unhappy. 

I really liked the clever twist at the end, one I did not see coming. I've always enjoyed J. Courtney Sullivan's novels (Saints For All Occasions is a favorite), and if you have never read any of her books, start here and you'll be hooked.

Rainbow Rowell (Eleanor & Park) tackles the pandemic in her holiday story If The Fates Allow. Reagan has quarantined herself for two weeks and followed all COVID protocols so that she can spend Christmas with her grandfather, who lost recently his wife. Reagan's family has not followed COVID protocol, they don't believe in it, even though with their health issues they should.

Reagan's grandfather's neighbor's adult son Mason has returned home to Nebraska from Washington DC to ride out the pandemic. He and Reagan went to high school together, and the loneliness of being cooped up inside has brought them together, even though Mason thought Reagan was a mean girl in high shcool.

Rowell does a terrific job with her characters, she fleshes them out so well in such a short time; Reagan, Mason, and Grandpa grew on me in just a few pages. "Reagan was the person you called when you wanted someone to talk you into leaving your husband. Or when you needed someone to call the bank to straighten out your overdraft fees." That is great descriptive language there. 

In Suzanne Redfearn's (Hadley & Grace) story The Marriage Test, Ava has agreed to marry Justin after dating him for just a few months. Before they can marry, though, they have to pass the Marriage Test, which requires Justin to procure a frigate bird's egg from the Everglades to bake into their wedding cake. Only then can they be sure their marriage will last. 

Justin is up to the crazy task, and he, Ava, and Ava's business partner (and Justin's ex-best friend) Walton travel to the Everglades to retrieve the delicate egg from the bird's nest in the marsh. Why are Justin and Walton no longer best friends and does Ava really believe in this family superstition? You'll have to read the story to find out the answer to those burning questions.

The last story is Chandler Baker's Oh. What. Fun., about a family's traditional Christmas celebration. Claire is a retired schoolteacher who stays in constant contact with her two adult sons and adult daughter. She frequently texts them, mostly about the morning talk show host she adores. 

When it comes to Christmas, Claire does everything. She buys the groceries, cooks their favorite meals, babysits her two beautiful granddaughters, decorates the house, and buys gifts for all the neighbors. Her children love her, but Claire can be a little too much sometimes. And something seems a little off with Claire this Christmas. 

One of Claire's sons narrates this story, a story that any mom will shake her head in recognition of all the things Claire has to do to make Christmas run smoothly, and how Claire is treated for it. When Claire buys the entire family tickets to see Disney On Ice, all the fun the family has disappears when something unbelievable happens.

Oh.What.Fun. is the best story of the four. I found myself laughing and simultaneously feeling sad for Claire. I think every mom of adult children should read this story to her kids after she reads them The Night Before Christmas. 

Happy Holidays to all!

Monday, November 29, 2021

Book Make Great GIfts Guide 2021

Reprinted from auburnpub.com

It’s time for my annual Books Are Great Gifts Guide for everyone on your holiday list. Books are easy to wrap, and never the wrong color or size- they’re the perfect gift! 

With people traveling again, National Geographic’s fantastic coffee books are perfect for the adventurer or armchair traveler on your list. Their 100 Perfect Weekends and Ultimate Journeys For Two fit the bill. History fans will enjoy The 21st Century-Photographs From The Image Collection and birders must have Complete Birds of North America. 

There are many wonderful biographies out now. For your well-informed aunt, Cokie, a biography of groundbreaking newsperson Cokie Roberts by her husband Steve V. Roberts or Katie Couric’s memoir Going There would be appreciated. The TVLand and MeTV fan will enjoy Ron and Clint Howard’s memoir The Boys, a love letter to their parents. 

Qian Julie Wang’s moving memoir  Beautiful Country about growing up as an undocumented immigrant in Queens was a Read With Jenna pick. Your uncle will get a kick out of John “Chick” Donohue & J.T. Molloy’s The Greatest Beer Run Ever a true story about a New York City bartender who travels to Vietnam during the middle of the war to deliver beer to his regular customers. 

The tennis aficionado will relish Billie Jean King’s enlightening memoir All In. For your son-in-law the baseball fanatic, Joe Posnanski’s The Baseball 100 is an all-encompassing review of the top 100 players ever. For the Syracuse basketball lover, Carmelo Anthony’s memoir Where Tomorrows Aren’t Promised shares his story of growing up in the tough housing projects of Red Hook and Baltimore. 

For your cousin who spent last year binge-watching TV, Mike Roe’s The 30 Rock Book takes a deep dive into every episode of the comedy.  Welcome to Dunder Mifflin by Brian Baumgartner and Ben Silverman is for the uber-“Office" fan. If your Dad binged “The Sopranos”, he’ll love Woke Up This Morning by cast members Micheal Imperioli and Steven Schrippa. 

For your neighbor whose TV is always tuned to the Food Network, Trisha’s Kitchen by country star and Food Network host Trisha Yearwood is filled with tasty recipes. Pair it with a pretty tea towel and a Trisha Yearwood CD for a special touch. If you know someone who loved Stanley Tucci’s Italian travel and food show on CNN, his memoir Taste is perfect. 

Your best girlfriend will love Helen Ellis’s funny and touching essay collection Bring Your Baggage and Don't Pack Light. For your Peloton-riding friend who loves to laugh, Laurie Gelman’s novel Yoga Pant Nation will keep her in stitches. 

Your sister who enjoys good glass of ros√© wine will like Jamie Brenner’s Blush, a novel about a family who owns a Long Island winery. Beck Dorey-Stein’s novel Rock the Boat is good for your pal who is missing her summer vacation at the Jersey Shore right about now.

Many people enjoy historical fiction, and there’s lots of good ones to go around. Lauren Willig’s Band of Sisters builds her fascinating story around the real women of Smith College who went to France during WWI to help villagers displaced by war. Susan Elia MacNeal’s The Hollywood Spy takes her London-based heroine Maggie Hope to Hollywood during WWII to investigate a woman’s drowning. She finds a big KKK presence and a Nazi connection that complicate her investigation.

Naomi Hirahara’s novel Clark and Division shares the story of a first generation Japanese American woman who wants to find out why her sister died after their family’s time spent in a California internment camp during WWII. Beatriz William’s Our Woman in Moscow is set during the Cold War with a woman looking for information about her sister who disappeared after the sister’s husband was outed as a Russian spy.

For the kiddies, the children's book concierge from the Book Cellar in NYC had suggestions. For the littlest ones, One, Two, Grandma Loves You by Shelly Becker and Dan Yaccarino counts down all the fun things they will do with Grandma. Fans of the Wimpy Kid and Dog Man series have a new one to try- Ben Yokahama and The Cookie Chronicles from Matt Swanson and Robbi Behr. Young adults who devoured Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen series should start her new series Realm Breaker. 

Happy shopping to all, and don't forget to support your local independent bookstore.