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Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Vera Wong's Unsolicited Advice For Murderers by Jesse Q. Sutanto

Vera Wong's Unsolicited Advice For Murderers by Jesse Q. Sutanto
Published by Berkley ISBN 9780593549223
Trade paperback, $17, 352 pages

I was in the mood for something lighter, and the cover of Jesse Q. Sutanto's newest mystery Vera Wong's Unsolicited Advice For Murderers beckoned me to pick it up. Am I ever glad I did!

Vera Wong is a 60 year-old widow who begins each day at 4:30am precisely and texts her laywer son "reminding him that he's sleeping his life away and should have been up before her" as he has a "whole world to conquer." Then she dons her sweatpants, Ralph Lauren polo shirt, and visor and heads out for her daily walk around her San Francisco Chinatown neighborhood.

When she returns home, she opens her business "Vera Wang's World Famous Teahouse", which is neither owned by the famous fashion designer Vera Wang nor world famous. Sematics. She waits for her only customer of the day, her neighbor Alex, who comes in to get tea and bring it back to wife who is suffering from Alzheimer's.

Everyday is the same until one morning when Vera comes down from her upstairs apartment to find the dead body of a man in her teahouse. Vera calls the police and is excited because she watches all the CSIs and she knows all the activity that will follow. She begins to brew special teas for the police, teas that will help with concentration and solve the crime.

When only two police officers arrive, they find that Vera drew an outline of the body with a Sharpie marker on the floor. She says she did not touch anything else (do we believe that?) and when the police find little evidence of a murder, Vera is disappointed in the police's lack of investigation.

So of course, Vera begins her own investigation. Other people trickle in- a man who claims to be a reporter, a woman who claims to host a true crime podcast, the man's widow with her young daughter, and the man's brother. These five people band together to try and find the killer, even though Vera has declared that one of the other four are her main suspects.

Vera Wong's Unsolicited Advice For Murderers is a laugh out loud cozy mystery, and Vera is a truly unforgettable character. The things she says, the texts she sends her son, and yet she has a heart of gold beneath her lack of a filter. If you are a fan of the Hulu series Only Murders In The Building, you'll love this book. It has the same sensibility.

My only criticism is that Vera is described several times as "elderly". I am also 60 years old and many of my friends are "of a certain age" and I do not consider myself or them "elderly". It's supposed to be remarkable that Vera is so spry, but we all get around just fine. I hope when they do the TV series of this book they make Vera a little older than 60. I look forward to more of Vera's future escapades.

Thanks to Berkley for providing me with an advanced copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

I Love When You Lie by

I Love It When You Lie by Kristen Bird

Published by MIRA ISBN 9780778333432

Trade paperback, $18.99, 352 pages

Kristen Bird’s intriguing novel I Love It When You Lie begins with Stephanie Williams, wife of the town mayor, answering questions in the sheriff’s office. Her three sisters-in-law- Tara, June and Clementine, along with Stephanie, are thought to be responsible for the disappearance of one of four men: “a preacher, a doctor, a professor and a mayor.” 

The question to be answered is which one has disappeared and why. Tara is the oldest sister, the one who took care of her younger siblings when they spent a short time in foster care after the death of their parents. Their grandmother took the children in and lovingly raised them, and they are preparing for her funeral as the story begins.

Tara’s husband is the the town preacher, who spends most of his time tending to the needs of his parishioners rather than his wife and teenage daughter Lottie, who is rebellious. She is hiding a big secret from her husband and if it comes out, it could destroy their all their lives.

June is a nurse at the local hospital, married to a doctor from Peru. It took time for the townspeople to accept her husband, but he is well-respected now. June has had several miscarriages, and is despondent that they don’t have a baby. A tragedy with a patient becomes compounded when June does something desperate, something that her husband can never support.

Clementine is dating a much older married professor at her college, a man who is accused of sexual misconduct with his students. While she becomes wary of all of the signs that he is not the man she hopes he is, she knows that if she leaves him, he can destroy her career as a writer. When he accompanies her back home to her grandmother’s funeral, secrets are outed. 

Stephanie catches her cheating husband during his grandmother’s funeral wake and decides she has had enough. Besides, she is the one who should be mayor of this small town, she has the brains and the drive to do it better than her husband.

The sisterly relationships are the core of this story. They protect each other, even if they are not always in agreement with the decisions each one makes.  I liked the Alabama setting, and learning about the small town rituals, especially Decoration Day, when everyone gathers to honor those they lost with shared food, songs, and psalms. 

So who disappears and who made him disappear? You’ll have to read to find out.

If you are a fan of the fantastic Apple TV+ series Bad Sisters, (as I am), put I Love It When You Lie on your TBR list.

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on their Winter 2023 Mystery/Thrillers Blog Tours.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Friday 5ive- March 10, 2023

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly(ish) post featuring five things that caught my attention during the week.

1)  I attended a book launch party event for Andrea Dunlop's novel, Women Are The Fiercest Creatures. The book is about three women all connected to a tech CEO- his ex-wife, current younger wife, and his ex-girlfriend who helped him create his company and now wants justice that he is taking his company public. It sounds like a great timely read, and after hearing Andrea and publisher Zibby Owens talk about the origins of the novel, I definitely want to read it. 
The book launch was well attended, and Zibby recognized many of the authors in the audience who stood and introduced themselves. I was excited to see Jeanine Cummins (American Dirt), Bess Kalb (Nobody Will Tell You This But Me), and Christina Baker Kline (The Orphan Train) as I really enjoyed all their books.
Attendees were asked to write down the name of fierce woman they know, and I wrote down Dorothy Reiss, one of the founders of the Book Cellar, the used bookstore where I volunteer. Dorothy runs circles around all of the younger volunteers, and everyone in the neighborhood who comes into the shop loves to talk to her. 
Firece women

Author Andrea Dunlop

Publisher Zibby Owens

2)  Speaking of Dorothy, the Book Cellar is celebrating its 19th anniversary this month. I have been lucky enough to have volunteered there since 2014, and things just keep getting better. We're located in the basement of the Webster Library branch of the New York Public Library, and the staff there is such a joy to work with. They are exceedingly kind to all of their patrons. Our volunteer staff are amazing, they all love books and are so knowledgeable, our customers are so impressed. They are kind too, each customer that comes into the shop gets a smile and a warm greeting. Our neighborhood has become home to more and more younger people, and we have seen people from all over NYC and the world walk into our shop. On Thursday, we had a young couple from Germany, an Irish man who used to live in New York and now lives in France, and a grandfather from India who always stops into our shop when he comes to visit his granddaughter in the neighborhood. Here's to 19 more years at the Book Cellar!

3)  In our quest to eat healthier, I'm finding that desserts have been the most challenging. I did make this Strawberry Pie and added some blueberries to it. It turned out really well, but it was a little too big for just the two of us. After a few days, it started to get a little wet so I will save this recipe for a time when more people are around to enjoy. The recipe is from my favorite, Marlene Koch.

4)  We are watching the second season of Your Honor on Showtime. We liked the first season, and after the end of season one, we weren't sure where it could go. Season two is really riveting, as Bryan Cranston's fantastic portrayal of disgraced judge Michael Desiato finds himself caught between a federal agent, brilliantly played by Rosie Perez, and the mobster family she is trying to take down. Hope Davis as the mobster mama is menancing. The New Orleans setting is good too. 

5)  March is Irish Heritage Month and I'm reading books set in Ireland written by Irish authors. First up is Trespasses by Louise Kennedy. Set in a small Northern Ireland town during the Troubles, Cushla lives with her mother, teaches at a Catholic school, and works at the family's bar. They are a Catholic family, and many of their patrons are Protestants, including soldiers who'd rather be back home. When Cushla meets a Protestant barrister who represents people accused of being IRA terrorists, she falls hard for him. The fact that he is married and his friends think many Catholics are terrorists causes friction between them. The story is so atmospheric, it brings the reader right into this time and place that isn't that far away. There are some parallels to things that happen here in the United States, particularly interactions between minority populations and police.  Two pivotal scenes had me torn up and audibly crying "No!" I highly recommend Trespasses

I started reading When in Rome by Liam Callanhan on my Kindle thinking I was reading When in Rome, a light rom-com by Sarah Adams. Liam's book is about a 52 year-old commerical realtor named Claire who specializes in helping religious communities sell their properties. She travels to Rome to help an order of nuns get the best price for their convent, set in the ruins of Rome. Claire becomes involved with the four nuns, whose order will disband them unless they can find another apostolate to join the order or get a buyer who will let them stay. When Claire was in college, she had intentions of joining a different order of nuns, but life intervened otherwise. Now Claire is in a midlife crisis and she has to decide what she truly wants out of life. I'm always intrigued when a male author writes a female protagonist, it's unique. If you are thinking about visiting Rome, this one should be on your list, it's another atmospheric novel. 

Stay safe, Happy St. Patrick's Day.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Johanna Porter Is Not Sorry by Sara Read

Johanna Porter Is Not Sorry by Sara Read
Published by Graydon House ISBN 9781525899980
Trade paperback, $18.99, 320 pages

In Sara Read's new novel Johanna Porter Is Not Sorry,  Johanna Porter, divorced soccer mom and part-time high school art teacher, receives an invitation to a gallery showing of her former lover and mentor Nestor Pinedo's works,  which she promptly tosses in the trash. She wants nothing to do with Nestor or his business manager/daughter Pilar, who ruined her reputation as an artist years ago. We know things ended badly, but we don't yet know why.

Mel, Johanna's 17 year-old superstar soccer playing daughter, convinces her that she should get all dressed up and go, to show them she is doing great. Reluctantly Johanna goes to the gallery and sees a painting Nestor did of her years ago- and she steals it.

La Rosa Blanca is the famous painting and we later learn why Johanna is so upset to see it hanging in the gallery. She feels like that is a part of her hanging on the wall, when she was "fearless and fierce", and that part belongs to only her, not to Nestor or the world. 

The theft becomes national news, and Johanna leaves town with the painting to hide out in her father's remote cabin. Seeing the painting and Nestor makes her realize everything she gave up twenty years ago, and she decides to stay at the cabin and rededicate herself to her art. 

Pilar is hot on the trail of the stolen painting, and Johanna fears she will be discovered as the thief. Johanna's new neighbor is a handsome surgeon who is recovering from a severe hand injury that has left him unable to work. They slowly circle around each other, working towards a romantic relationship with some steamy scenes.

Johanna throws herself into her work, feeling alive again. Mel helps her mother by posting her works on Instagram and Johanna begins to build a following. But what will happen if she is outed as the thief?

This is the second book I have read that featured addiction as a storyline (the other is Susan Mallery's excellent The Sister Effect) and I found that part interesting. Johanna's story is one that may resonate with many women, and I liked her relationship with her daughter. Mel is a character that I recognize and admire in many young women today- strong, confident and independent. Pilar also turned out to be an intriguing character as well.

Johanna Porter Is Not Sorry is a good book for someone who is looking for a story about following your dreams, no matter how long ago you first had them. 

Thanks to Harlequin Books for putting me on Sara Read's blog tour. 

Monday, March 6, 2023

The Sister Effect by Susan Mallery

The Sister Effect by Susan Mallery
Published by HQN ISBN 9781335448640
Hardcover, $28.99, 416 pages

Susan Mallery always writes characters that the reader cares about, and the characters in her latest novel, The Sister Effect, just might be her most compelling ones yet.

Finley works installing plumbing in new homes and is the legal guardian to her sister Sloane's eight year-old daughter Aubrey after Sloane was unable to care for her daughter. Finley and Sloane know what it's like to be abandoned; their mom Molly frequently left the girls in the care of her father Lester while she chased dreams of an acting career that never panned out.

Sloane and Finley loved their grandfather but when he petitoned for full custody of his granddaughters and lost, he disappeared from their lives for twenty years. Now Lester is back, elderly and infirm, and asks to move in his daughter Molly, Finley, and Aubrey. Finley is adamantly opposed, still hurt and angry after his disappearance all those years ago, but Molly insists on taking her father in. 

Jerico owns the construction business building the homes that Finley is working on. His marriage ended when his wife declared that she was in love with his brother Gil and wanted a divorce. Jerico was stung by this betrayal and wants nothing to do with either of them, though his mother pushes him to reconcile with his brother.

Jerico and Finely are drawn to each other, sharing their family drama and traumas. They listen to each other's problems and debate what they owe to family members who have disappointed and betrayed them.

Mallery really draws the reader into these characters's complicated family lives, and she handles Sloane's addiction issues with such realism and empathy. Everyone here is trying to do the best they can within their limitations.

I really felt for Finley, the responsible one who always tries to do the right thing and feels that it gets her nowhere. Finley's love and care for her niece is so moving. I also adored Antonio, Jerico's interior designer and best friend since high school. His loyalty to Jerico is touching.

I've read many of Susan Mallery books and The Sister Effect is one of her best books yet. She drew me in right away with characters that are relateable, and a story that engages you from beginning to end. I highly recommend The Sister Effect.

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on Susan Mallery's Blog Tour.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Friday 5ive- February 24, 2023

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly(ish) post featuring five things that caught my attention. I know that February is the shortest month of the year, but how is it that this is the last Friday in February?

1) I took one entire afternoon to reorganize my extensive book collection. There are three sections to the built-in bookcase my husband had built for me, and it took me over six hours to pull every book out, decide what should stay, what should sent to friends and family, and what will be donated to the Book Cellar, the used bookstore in my local Webster branch of the NYPL where I volunteer. (I have four big bags to bring to work.) I had a cheering section of two who gave me encouragement as the day went on. They also asked for a count, and the final count was 662. The first photo is section one after I pulled out all those books ( I had to stand on a stepstool to get all the books in the photo), the second one the "After" photo. 

The finished product

2) I completed my 2000th class ride on my Peloton this week. Hannah Corbin was the instructor and although I had hoped to get a shout-out from her, I had to settle for getting a Personal Best output, which surprised and made me very happy. I did not realize I was heading for a PR until I was nearly done with the 30 minute ride. I hit my 2000th exercise minute for 2023 today, so maybe I should play 2000 on the daily lottery numbers today.

3) I absolutely loved the February Read With Jenna pick, Jessica George's amazing novel Maame. Jenna hosted a virtual event with Jessica on Tuesday that I was able to join in. Jessica George took many of the scenes directly from the diary she kept at a time in her life when she was caring for her father who had Parkinson's Disease. After hearing that, it made sense to me. Her novel is a coming-of-adult story and her voice is so authentic and jumps right off the page at the reader. The discussion was wonderful, and Jessica is a captivating person. 

Maame tells the story of Maddie, a  25 year-old Ghanian woman living in London, working as an assistant for a difficult boss (who has mental health issues) and caring for her father who has Parkinson's. Her mother spends most of her time running a hostel back in Ghana, left to her by her family. Maddie's older brother James works for an entertainer and is constantly traveling so that gives him an excuse as to why he can't help out more.

Maddie has a lot of family responsibilty on her shoulders, and has little time for a social life. She wants to be like all of her friends, hang out, and find a boyfriend. At work she is often the only Black face, which is exhausting as well.

When her mother returns home, Maddie moves into an apartment with two women she doesn't know. She lands a new job as an assistant at a small publishing company, which excites her as she wants to be a writer. She also begins to date, something in which she lacks experience.

I'm much older than Maddie, but Jessica George has created a character that brought me right back to that time in life when you are searching for yourself. Maddie is beginning to confront her resentment at always being the responsible one in her family, but she feels stuck when a tragedy strikes that completely upends her. 

Jessica George has created an utterly unforgetable character in Maddie, and her voice comes through loud and clear in Maame. I highly recommend Maame, and I'm looking forward to George's next book and the TV series that will be made out of Maame, coming soon from Jenna Bush Hager's new production company.  

4)  I'm watching the first season of Poker Face on Peacock. Natasha Lyonne stars (and executive produces) as Charlie, a woman who is a human lie detector. She can tell whenever anyone is lying and she used that talent to make a lot of money at the poker tables, which ran her afoul of a casino owner. She gives up poker, but ends up waitressing at the casino where she was caught. 

When she witnesses a murder at the casino she ends up on the run, and each week she is in a different town hiding out. Of course, a murder happens in each town and Charlie has to solve to the case. Poker Face is a terrific old-school crime show in the tradition of Columbo and Murder, She Wrote. The opening title sequence is even an homage to Columbo

Natasha Lyonne once again is fabulous (as she was in Russian Doll and Orange Is The New Black) and I love the guest stars in each episode. Chloe Sevigny in Episode 4- Rest in Metal, Judith Light and S. Epatha Merkerson in Episode 5- Time of the Monkey, and Ellen Barkin in Episode 6- Exit Stage Left are the standouts for me. This is one to add to your Must-Watch List. 

5) I read two wonderful nonfiction books this week. Rob Delaney's A Heart That Works is the heartbreaking story of the life and death of his two year-old son Henry. Rob, his two young sons, and  wife (pregnant with Henry) move from the United States to London for Rob's Amazon TV's comedy series Catastrophe. When Henry is one years old, he is diagnosed with a brain tumor. A Heart That Works chronicles their journey through various hospitalizations with all its painful procedures, the stress of dealing with it, trying to have as normal a life for their other two young boys, and Henry's death two years later. Delaney writes with honesty, anger, sadness, love, and yes, even humor, about every parent's fear. He describes Henry with such care that the reader feels how special this little boy was, how he lived  his short life on earth to the fullest. While you may think that this book is too sad to read, it somehow feels more like a tribute to Henry and the resilience of people who have to deal with the unimaginable. Rob Delaney leaves it all on the page. 

Going in a different tonal direction, Helen Ellis's upcoming book (June) of humorous essays, Kiss Me in the Coral Lounge: Intimate Confessions of a Happy Marriage continues her streak of making me laugh so hard my stomach hurts. (American Housewife, Southern Lady Code, and Bring Your Baggage and Don't Pack Light also my stomach hurt.) 

In this book, Ellis shares essays about her happy marriage to her husband Lars, which survived the pandemic, where they binge-watched Dynasty in their "lounge" room painted bright coral. Helen and Lars are now middle-aged, but he still makes her heart "go pitter-patter" when he walks into a room.
Of course when all her middle-aged friends get together, they talk about their husbands and their loud and incessant "snoring, and skin tags and prostates and knees". (A Bear Walks Into...) She shares that her grandparents had separate bedrooms her grandmother's bedside with "a hardback like The Shell Seekers", and a 1970s brass princess phone as heavy as an anvil". Granddaddy's bedroom "smelled like Old Spice, and next to his bed was a pack of cigarettes and a police scanner." 

"An Email to our Cat Sitter" will be recognizable to anyone who has left their beloved, older, persnickety cats with another human who needs to understand all the intricate details of how to feed and care for the delightful beings. It is pages long, much longer than the notes I used to leave for people who babysat my young children.

In Two Days Before My Wedding, Ellis shares everything that went wrong on her wedding day, including that the Greek restaurant where the reception was to be held burned down two before the wedding. She says that weddings are memorable for what went wrong, like while viewing a friend's wedding video where "his stepmother appears without panties as he says "doing the splits standing up" or as my friend in Florida would say, "showing everyone her fine china."

There are countless essays that I highlighted including We Are Not That Couple (who runs marathons or signs up for dance lessons) and "May I Hold Your Grudge For You?" (about how its not appropriate to hold grudges for yourself buy perfectly acceptable to hold them on behalf of friends.)

Kiss Me in the Coral Lounge will make you laugh and remind you of why you still love your spouse. I'm laughing now just remembering all these essays. If you have a June or later anniversary, buy this and share it with your spouse. 

Stay and healthy everyone, until next time.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

It's One of Us by J.T. Ellison

It's One of Us by J.T. Ellison
Published by MIRA ISBN 9780778311768
Hardcover, $27.99, 400 pages

I've read two novels recently that had unique premises- the first was Kylie Scott's romance End of Story (my review here) and the second is J.T. Ellison 's twisty suspense novel It's One of Us. 

Interior designer to the wealthy Olivia and her husband Park have been trying for a long time to have a baby. Their IVF treatments have led to pregnancies, but Olivia has miscarried several times. On the day of her most recent miscarriage, the police come to their door saying that Park's DNA has been found on the body of a local woman who was found murdered at the bottom of a lake.

The police tell Park and Olivia that they believe Park is the father of the person who killed the woman. Since she and Park have no children, Olivia believes there has been a mistake. Park then tells Olivia that while in college he donated to a sperm bank, which shocks and upsets Olivia.

Although Park was told his sperm would be only used ten times, there is a Facebook group of 28 young people who have all used an ancestry website to discover that Park is their father. One of these people could be the killer. As the police investigate, a man harasses Olivia at one of her job sites. Will she be the killer's next victim?

There are a lot of secrets being kept from everyone in this twisty story. Olivia is keeping a secret about Park's twin brother from Park. When the police discover that Park's college girlfriend was found dead at the bottom of a lake years ago, the press become relentless, staking out Park and Olivia's home.

A careful reader might be able to guess at the identity of the killer, but there are many red herrings in the novel that take the reader in different directions. The few twists at the end seem to come out of left field, and the final twist I found too unbelievable. 

It's One of Us has a fascinating premise, and people who enjoy shows like Dateline and suspense movies on Lifetime will definitely want to read this one.

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on their Winter 2023 Mystery/Thriller Blog Tours.

Friday, February 17, 2023

Friday 5ive- February 17, 2023

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly(ish) post featuring five things that caught my attention this week. Since last week I was traveling, this post covers two weeks worth of fun. It's curently 60 degrees in NYC but it will be 28 degrees Saturday morning when I am heading to work. This weather is crazy.

1) My sister-in-law Brigette and I love Ina Garten's cookbooks, and we started a tradition of buying her new cookbook and choosing a three-course meal to cook with each other long distance over Facetime. This year from her Go-To Dinners cookbook we chose French Bistro Salad, Roast Chicken with Spring Vegetables, and Pannetone Bread Pudding for our menu. We began with the bread pudding, toasting the bread in the oven and then letting it sit the refrigerator all afternoon to soak up the custard. 

The toasted pannetone

The French Bistro Salad has sliced radicchio and endive (I subbed Boston lettuce for the endive), roquefort cheese, carmelized walnuts, matchsticked Granny Smith apples and a simple vinaigrette made with champagne vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt, pepper and olive oil. I loved this simple salad and will be making it often. 

The chicken was roasted alongside heirloom baby carrots, yellow onions, Yukon potatoes, and asparagus. Again, it was easy to prepare and so delicious, the best roast chicken I have ever made.

The Pannetone Bread Pudding was the calorie-buster of the meal with lots of eggs and half-and-half, but it was so worth it. I cut the leftovers into squares and froze for future treats. 

Brigette and I spent the prep time catching up and when it came for dinner, we placed our IPad on our dining table and shared our meal with our spouses. We both said we must do this more often. 

Diiner is served!

2)  There is a construction site near us that has been up for a few years now, and the ugly fencing around it has a new covering. A local politician got some money and had a local middle school work on art project. The students created scenes reflecting NYC and those drawings were screened onto fencing covering the site. It makes such a big difference! It used to feel so desolate walking by there and now it is bright and cheery. Great job!

3) Our friends took us to dinner to celebrate my husband's birthday and then to see A Beautiful Noise, the Broadway musical about the life of Neil Diamond. It was fantastic! If you've seen Jersey Boys, the show is in that similar vein. It tells the story of Neil Diamond through his iconic music. There was a lot I didn't know about Neil Diamond, and the performances, especially Mark Jacoby (playing Neil- Now) and Robyn Hurder as Neil's second wife Marcia were wonderful. We were there on a Wednesday night so we saw the alternate, Nick Fradiani, playing Neil-Then, and he was really great. At first I was disappointed that Will Swenson, who plays Neil-Then for seven performances a week wasn't on, but Nick was fabulous. The audience could not hold back, singing along with some songs, and then joining in for the encore of Sweet Caroline. If you like Neil Diamond and/or Broadway, go see this one.

4)  I finished watching all 11 seasons of Frasier on my Echo Show in my kitchen while preparing dinners, and I've moved onto NewsRadio, the 1990's NBC sitcom starring Dave Foley, Stephen Root, Maura Tierney (pre-ER), and the brilliant Phil Hartman on Amazon Prime video. Set in a NYC news radio station, it has me laughing out loud. Phil Hartman's blustery, bloviating newsman Bill McNeil is just perfection as he plays a more self-aware Ted Baxter-like character. The cast is top-notch, even if some of them are now better known for other more outrageous things today (Andy Dick and Joe Rogan), and the death of Phil Hartman after season four was so tragic. 

5)  I read a book I've been looking forward to for a long time now. Ayóbámi Adébáyo’s debut novel, Stay With Me was the most compelling book I read in 2017 and her second novel, A Spell of Good Things is just as powerful. Set in Nigeria, we meet two families, one wealthy and one in poverty, whose worlds collide.

Eniola is a young teen whose family is plunged into poverty when his father is one of 6000 teachers who lost their job. His father comes deeply depressed and he, his mother, and sister are forced into begging family and strangers for money for food, rent, and school tuition.

Wuraola is a doctor from a wealthy family who becomes engaged to longtime family friend. She begins to question her future when her betrothed’s behavior becomes intolerable, knowing that her family will be angry if she calls the wedding off.

Eniola’s involvement with a local group of young men with ties to a powerful politician at first seems to be the answer to his family’s money problems, but soon turns dangerous.

Adébáyo brings the reader directly into this Nigerian setting, with the dichotomy of the poverty of Eniola and the wealth of Wurola’s circle jumping off the page at you. The customs, the food, the education, political, and medical systems provide an eye-opening experience for the reader.

Once again, Adébáyo’s story is heartbreaking and you ache for these characters that you will not soon forget.


Stay safe and healthy, until next time my friends.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

End of Story by Kylie Scott

End of Story by Kylie Scott
Published by Graydon House ISBN 9781525804793
Trade paperback, $17.99, 320 pages

With so many books out there, it can be difficult to find one with a unique concept. Kylie Scott manages to come up with a fun and new storyline in her romantic novel End of Story.

When Susie inherits her Aunt Susan's Seattle home, she realizes that it needs a lot of work, beginning with repairing some water damage. The contractor who arrives to take a look ends up being Lars, her ex-boyfriend's best friend. Susie and her ex had a bad breakup, and she hasn't seen Lars since then.

Lars is "your basic urban Viking marauder, as his name suggested, with longish blond hair, white skin, blue eyes, short beard, tall and built". He had a succession of girlfriends as Susie recalled; apparently commitment wasn't something Lars and his friends were into.

Digging into the drywall, Lars finds a piece of paper hidden in the wall. He pulls it out only to find that it is a divorce decree dated ten years in the future, and the names on the paper are Lars and Susie. Both Susie and Lars are incensed, each believing the other person placed the paper inside the wall, as what, a joke? And why would either one of them do that?

Susie decides that she needs the work done and Lars is the best contractor for the job. (And he isn't bad to look at.) They put aside the "divorce decree" and begin spending time together. Susie attempts to find out how the paper got there, consulting with a psychic, a tarot card reader, and a forensic document examiner. No one could come up with any answers as to how authentic the decree was, what it means, or how it got there.

Lars and Susie are a reluctant cute couple. Lars has always liked Susie, but he hid it well. I loved that they had a habit of ordering food at a restaurant and switching entrees halfway the meal; it's a sweet touch. But if they get together, will they divorce in ten years?

Susie also has to deal with her brother who insists that he is owed half of the house and wants Susie to sell it. Add in the return of Susie's odious ex, and complications ensue.

The premise of End of Story is intriguing and Kylie Scott keeps the reader invested in Lars and Susie's story, wondering what will happen in ten years. To find out, you'll have to read the book, which I recommend. It's a sweet, fun, sexy read. And if you are a HGTV fan, you'll enjoy the renovation storyline.

Thanks to Harlequin Books for putting me on their 2023 Winter Rom-Com Blog Tour.

Friday, February 3, 2023

Friday 5ive- February 3, 2022

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly post featuring five things that caught my attention this week. The cold weather finally hit NYC today, it was bitter outside while running errands.

1) I love getting book mail and today I received my Stories & Suspects Mystery Box from Bantam Publishing. This one has some terrific books, including Parini Shroff's The Bandit Queens, a book everyone has been buzzing about. It's a debut novel about a young woman in India who is falsely rumored to have killed her husband. But soon other women come to her asking for her help and she has a new side hustle.  Liv Constantine's upcoming The Senator's Wife is a suspense novel about a DC philathropist whose employee appears to be plotting to steal her life. Heather Darwent's literary suspense The Things We Do To Our Friends, is another debut set in at a university that looks like it will appeal to Donna Tart's The Secret History fans (like me). You know I like a cozy mystery set in a bookshop, so Ann Claire's Dead and Gondola will be at the top of my TBR list. C.J. Tudor's The Drift about three people fighting to survive in a snowstorm where something deadly is occuring is a timely read for this frigid weekend. I read Lisa Lutz's The Accomplice last year and loved the story of two friends-Owen and Luna- who met in college and became best friends. Owen's college girlfriend dies in an accident casting doubt on him and then 20 years later his wife (and Luna's friend) is murdered. What secrets are Owen and Luna keeping from each other and everyone else? They also included a container of Republic of Tea Earl Greyer blend, which will come in handy over the next few days.

2) Speaking of tea, we visited The Spice & Tea Exchange in St. Armand's Circle in Sarasota and I picked up a new blend- Cranberry Apple Tart. It was delicious and warmed me right up after running errands in 20 degree weather today. 

3) We found a new restaurant called 1592 Wood Fired Kitchen & Cocktails located on Main Street in Sarasota last week. It's got a Mediterranean menu and a really cool looking interior. They hung old doors to separate the bar area high top tables from the dining area and the lighting was visually appealing too. I ordered Zucchini Beignets, friend zucchini in the shape of beignets (donuts found in New Orleans) served over a tzatiki sauce that was very tasty. We will return. 

4) I love a good comedy special and Amazon Prime Video has a new Nate Bargatze special -Hello, World. Nate is a very funny comedian, hailing from Tennessee. I laughed from beginning to end at this one, with jokes about growing up in a conservative Christian family, getting older, and golfing with his wife among his best. He is a clean comic, and if you like Jim Gaffigan, give Nate Bargatze a try.  

5)  I read two good books to start off Black History Month. Sadeqa Johnson's immersive historical novel The House of Eve  is set in 1950's Philadelphia. When 15 year-old Ruby Pearsall falls in love with a Jewish boy whose family owns a local coffee shop, her dreams of being the first person in her family to go to college are in peril. In Washington DC, Eleanor Quarles finds herself far from her small-town Ohio roots when she attends Howard University, where she falls in love and marries William, the son of a well-to-do Black family. They are a loving couple who want to have a baby, only to be disappointed. Ruby and Eleanor both have challenges that keep them from achieving their goals, and Sadeqa Johnson writes characters that are three-dimensional and realistic (I liked that the men in their lives are loving and supportive). You get a true feeling for the hardships that women at that time faced. The ending is particularly pleasing, it made me smile. 

Goldie Taylor's memoir The Love You Save is for fans of Tara Westover's Educated and Sarah M. Broom's The Yellow House. Taylor shares her story of growing up in a tough East St. Louis neighborhood in the 1970's. Her mother leaves a young Goldie at her Aunt Gerald and Uncle Ross' house, where there are several other relatives living at any one time. Goldie's saving grace is her thirst for an education and her talent for speech that earns the attention of a few good teachers who encourage Goldie. The memoir shares the resilency of the human spirit and how it can overcome obstacles. I truly loved this, and my full review can be found here. 

Stay warm and safe until next time.