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Tuesday, March 28, 2023

New in Paperback- Her Last Affair by John Searles

Her Last Affair by John Searles

Published by Mariner Books ISBN 9780060779672

Trade paperback, $18, 336 pages

Skyla is a widow who lost her sight shortly after she lost her husband of nearly fifty years in a freak accident. She is looking for a tenant to rent the cottage on her property, right next her own identical cottage on the grounds of the abandoned drive-in theater her husband’s family ran for years.

Brit Teddy Cornwell shows up to rent the cottage, and he and Skyla hit it off immediately. Teddy loves this “brilliant stitch of Americana” and laughs at the only question Skyla asks him - “Have you ever been in love?” She asks nothing about his references or financial situation, just a question about love.

Teddy shares the story of his first love, Linelle, how he loved her more than anyone in his life, even more than his ex-wife. Skyla encourages Teddy to look her up, which he does, tracking Linelle down on Facebook. Linelle is receptive to meeting up with Teddy after all these years since her marriage is unhappy and her life seems to be falling apart.

Jeremy is an unsuccessful writer in New York City, about to be evicted from his apartment when he gets an assignment to write a restaurant review in his hometown of Providence. He returns home and recalls the woman he fell in love with year ago, the woman who broke his heart. Maybe he should look her up.

No one in Her Last Affair is exactly who they seem. Why did Skyla lose her job as a nurse years ago? Why is Teddy hiding out in a cottage on an abandoned drive-in? How Searles weaves the stories of these fascinating, lovelorn characters together is nothing short of brilliant, and I loved his use of movie quotes to open each chapter with insight into what is coming next.

Her Last Affair is a book that builds the suspense with each turn of the page. The twist that Searles throws in will have you gasping as I did. The drive-in setting is perfect, as this is a book that screams to be turned into a movie.

I attended a terrific book discussion for Her Last Affair with John Searles and Amy Ryan and you can read all about it here.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

The Perfumist of Paris by Alka Joshi

The Perfumist of Paris by Alka Joshi
Published by MIRA ISBN 97807783386148
Hardcover, $30, 368 pages

Alka Joshi's utterly captivating Jaipur trilogy began with The Henna Artist, continued with Secret Keeper of Jaipur, and finishing with The Perfumist of Paris kept me rapt with characters I grew to care deeply about.

We met Lakshmi, the henna artist and title character in 1950's Jaipur as she created henna art on some of Jaipur's's most influential women, while also helping one of those women's husbands hide his involvement with mistresses. That relationship leads to Lakshmi's banishment from Jaipur.

In The Secret Keeper of Jaipur, Lakshmi is married and working with her husband Dr. Jay Kumar in a community health clinic in Shimla in the Himalayas, and using her knowledge of medicinal herbs and plants managing the Healing Garden Center. She gets her former assistant, young Malik, an internship in Jaipur with a friend who is managing a huge construction project- a state-of-the-art cinema. When the balcony collapses on opening night and people are injured and killed, Malik suspects foul play and his investigation puts him on the wrong side of powerful people.

Lakshmi's younger sister Radha takes center stage in The Perfumist of Paris. Radha left India to go to Paris, where she is married to a Parisian man, mother to two young daughters, and an assistant chemist at a small perfumery.

Radha loves her work and wants a promotion to perfumist at the company, where her boss is a woman. The company is tasked with creating a fragrance based on great works of art for a client, and she believes her knowledge of the basis of many perfumes that come from India can help her do that and get the promotion over two men who want the promotion.

Lakshmi offers to introduce Radha to the courtesans who took her in when she left home. These women use their knowledge of various plants and herbs to create scents that entice men, just what Radha needs to create the perfect scent to get her the promotion.

Back home in Paris, Radha has to deal with her husband Pierre, who doesn't want his wife's career to take away from their family. Radha's mother-in-law Florence also makes no secret of the fact that she thinks Radha should be home with her girls. Florence happily cares for the girls while Radha is at work, and Radha fears that the girls will become more French and lose any Indian identity they have.

When a person from her past shows up in Paris, Radha has to contend with a secret from her youth that she fears will destroy her family and the life she has built.

The setting is 1970s Paris, and more women are entering the workplace alongside men. Radha's struggle with wanting something of her own, a career she loves and can be proud of, and wanting to be a good mother is one that many women of today can relate to as well. 

I enjoyed learning about the perfume business, especially the fact that many of the French perfumes have their basis in Indian plants. As always, Alka Joshi immerses the reader in the culture and foods of India, and even if you don't like Indian food, you may find your mouth watering at the descriptions. I also loved her evolving relationship with Florence.

Alka Joshi has created a fascinating world in her Jaipur trilogy, and populated it with characters I came to care about, especially Lakshmi. I'm sad to see the trilogy end, but so glad that I got to spend time in India. I highly recommend all three Jaipur books.

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on their Winter 2023 Historical Fiction Blog Tour.

Friday, March 24, 2023

Friday 5ive- March 24, 2023

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly-ish post featuring five things that caught my attention this week. Welcome spring!

1)  While walking around doing my errands, I've seen this twice now- the Urban Arrow bike. They have a cargo version for deliveries and this one is called the Family. You can put three little ones in the front and ride around town. I'm not sure how practical it is for NYC, it seems the Cargo one would be helpful for delivery people, although it is rather large. The Family one would be great for the suburbs or for Batman, he could put Robin in front.

2)  I went home to Auburn last weekend and had a great time. I spent St. Patrick's Day with my family, and my sister made delicious Reuben sandwiches for dinner. This time I managed to make the family group photo! Next up, a lovely bridal shower for my dear friend and former neighbor's daughter. It was great to catch up with friends I haven't seen for awhile. The mother of the bride arranged for a Girls' Night out at a local restaurant and we had yummy Cosmopolitans, delicious pasta, and wonderful conversation. As we were leaving the restaurant, a gust of wind took one of the ladies' leftover bags out of her hand and it flew down the street where a gentleman coming out of the brewery next door promptly stepped on it to stop it. Watch out for flying lasagna!
I also got to meet my 8 month great-niece Abigail Mae. She has such a sweet disposition, smiling and laughing and enjoying all the commotion. It's wonderful to see the new generation of our family beginning.

3) I made a tasty new dessert from my new favorite cookbook- Key Lime Cheesecake "Cupcakes" from Marlene Koch's Eat What You Love. We really like Key Lime Pie from the Publix grocery store but it's got a lot of calories, and this is a tasty substitute and only 140 calories per cupcake. I froze half of them, I'll let you know how that works out.
Photo from marlenekoch.com

4) After reading and loving Taylor Jenkins Reid's novel Daisy Jones and the Six a few years back, I've been patiently awaiting the Amazon Prime Video miniseries. I watched the first six episodes and was entranced by it, and finished the last four episodes yesterday. Each actor looked exactly like the picture I had in my head of their characters! There are a few big differences from the novel, but it so well done. Riley Keough is perfect as Daisy and she and Sam Clavin (Billy Dunne) have a palable chemistry as they push-and-pull towards each other. My favorite character is Camila, Billy's wife, so beautifully played by Camila Marrone. If you're a fan of Fleetwood Mac from the 1970s, you'll want to watch this story of the rise and rapid fall of a rock and roll band. Rumor has it the actors may play a few gigs as Daisy Jones & the Six. (My review of the novel is here.)

5)  I read three historical novels this week. The first one is my Book of the Month selection this month, The Last Russian Doll by Kristen Loesch. It was a reluctant selection for me and it took me about a quarter of the way through the book before I was hooked. Loesch tells her story in three important timelines in Russia's history- the beginning of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, the siege of Leningrad during WWII and the Stalin purges that followed the war, and the Glasnost years of Gorbachev. Rosie lost her father and sister tragically in front of her own eyes as a young girl and moved to London with her mother and her mother's large collection of porcelain dolls. In Rosie's determination to find out what happened to her family, we get the story of Tonya, a woman who married a wealthy businessman but fell in love with a Bolshevik orator during the revolution. I found Tonya's story more interesting than Rosie's, and you got a real feel for life during those historic times in Russia, and there a few times the story took my breath away. I ended up reading it in just two sittings, I couldn't tear myself away. 

Alka Joshi's first novel in her Jaipur series, The Henna Artist was wonderful and I finally got around to reading the second in the series, The Secret Keeper of Jaipur. Set in India in 1969, it continues Lakshmi's story after she was run out of Jaipur by powerful people. She married Dr. Jay Kumar and works with him at the community health center and runs the Healing Garden in Shimla. She got her former assistant Malik a job as an intern working with a construction company that is building a huge cinema in Jaipur. When the cinema balcony collapses on opening night and people are killed and seriously injured Malik finds himself looking for answers as to what happened that puts him in the crosshairs of some wealthy and powerful people with big secrets.  I loved The Secret Keeper of Jaipur, once again Alka Joshi drew me into this world with her interesting characters in fascinating storylines. 

The third book in the trilogy, The Perfumist of Paris, picks up Lakshmi's sister Radha's story in Paris. Radha is now married to a Frenchman and the mother of two young daughters. She has a job as an assistant chemist in a perfumery, with hopes of creating a fragrance that will enable her to get a promotion. Radha's husband and mother-in-law don't understand her desire to work outside the home, and Radha also has to contend with male coworkers who want the promotion. So many women will relate to Radha's drive to be successful and have something of her own, and how she balances that with being a good mother to her daughters and dealing with cultural bias as well from people. I found that interesting in this time in Paris, and I also liked Radha's changing relationship with her mother-in-law. My full review publishes on March 26th. 

Have a safe, healthy week.

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 Kristen Bird

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.