Jul 30, 2015

Throw Back Thursday: My Introduction to Magical Realism

Today I'm continuing my monthly feature of going back in time to 2008, my first year of blogging. It's interesting to see how my blog has changed, along with the books I read and the way I write reviews and other bookish posts.

In the summer of 2008 I was introduced to a new author who's first book had come out the previous year (August 2007). It was a fellow blogger who raved about this book and since it was a new genre for me I wanted to give it a try. The author was Sarah Addison Allen and the book was GARDEN SPELLS! At that time I didn't read any fantasy or paranormal type of books and honestly, I had never heard the term 'magical realism' before. I was so curious! 

Once I began reading I was instantly captivated by the story of the Waverly sisters and their special apple tree and all the family secrets that came out in their 'magical' recipes and concoctions. I flew through that book and so began my first adventures into an intriguing genre of books. 

From that moment on, I was a fan of Sarah Addison Allen. Her latest, FIRST FROST, which came out earlier this year is a sequel to GARDEN SPELLS  and though I haven't read it yet, it is on my list. I've read all of her other books and I've loved them all. 

If you enjoy a lighter touch of  the paranormal and great stories of family and friends you must try Sarah Addison Allen's books if you haven't already. They are charming, entertaining and fun. For my review of GARDEN SPELLS from 2008, click here

Jul 26, 2015

Sleep Tight (DCI Tom Douglas #3) by Rachel Abbott - Kindle Edition

(As with all my reviews, this post contains no spoilers)

Robert Brookes gives a whole new meaning to the term 'controlling'. Olivia Brookes met her husband at a very difficult time in her life and he seemed to be the knight in shining armor she needed at that time. The young single mother had had a couple of difficult years and then she was dealt another devastating blow with the loss of her parents.  She was totally overwhelmed and barely able to function so when Robert stepped in and took control she accepted his help without much resistance. Soon he was indispensable and eventually a romance developed between them. Now, years later, with three small children, Robert is even more oppressive and Olivia basically is watched 24/7.

After arriving home from a two-week business trip, Robert comes home to find Olivia and the children gone. He calls the police who come to investigate and alarm bells go off almost immediately. Tom Douglas, the chief inspector, remembers Olivia from the case he worked years previously when her parents had died. There's something not quite right but Tom can't put his finger on it.

What ensues is a painstakingly difficult investigation into the disappearance of this mother and her children but the police don't quite know if they're investigation a missing person's report or possibly even a murder at the hands of Robert Brookes. Inspector Douglas  must be careful not to tip his hand and make the situation even more dangerous, especially for the children.

My Thoughts:

At first I didn't realize this book was part of a series, Book 3 in fact, but I decided I would read it anyway.  Though there was some back-story with a few of the characters I wasn't privy to, I don't think it took too much away from the story. The book started off strong so it didn't take me long to get into the story. I felt that way through most of the book but a little more than half way I began to sense a redundancy, like the police were a step behind me in figuring things out when I thought they'd already done so. It wasn't real bad but enough to make me wish things would move on quicker.

As with any series there were a few sub-plots, one that involved a complicated relationship Inspector Douglas has with a woman he's been seeing and another incident that centers around his recently deceased brother.  I'm hoping these two story lines will be addressed further in the next book. This story was a bit dark, which doesn't bother me and there was a good amount of mystery. I do intend to continue on with the next installment, called STRANGER CHILD and I'm hoping my connection to the characters will continue to develop.

Since I'd never read anything by this author, I'm glad I now have some sort of reference to her and as I mentioned, I will give the next book a try. I can't say I loved this book but it was a good, fast read (under 300 pages) that held my attention so I'm glad I took the time to read it. The bottom line is it wasn't one of my favorites but certainly worth the time in reading.

SLEEP TIGHT (DCI Tom Douglas #3) Kindle Edition
Author: Rachel Abbott
Publisher: Black Dot Publishing
Sold By: Amazon Digital
Published:  February 24, 2014
Length: 284 pp
Source: Purchased thru Kindle Daily Deals

Jul 5, 2015

The Sunday Salon: Enjoying the Holiday Weekend

It's been a fairly quiet Fourth of July weekend but I actually like it that way. Yesterday I was at my mom's and we feasted on pulled BBQ pork sandwiches that she made along with potato salad, coleslaw and, at the last minute, deviled eggs, because it's just not a holiday meal in our family without them. For dessert I surprised my mom with a coconut cake. My mom is the most selfless person I know and she's always going out of her way to please others and since not many of us like coconut, she rarely enjoys her favorite cake so I made one for her. Before dinner, we drank a couple wine coolers and munched on spinach dip and crackers while we played a game of Hawaiian Rummy. We started playing this card game this Spring and now we're addicted to it. It's a lot of fun, especially when you want to get away from the TV for awhile and when it's just too hot to be outside. We actually try to play a couple times a week.

Today I get the benefit of one of my favorite parts of a holiday: the leftovers! I even had a deviled egg as part of my breakfast this morning and there'll be BBQ sandwiches for later! No cooking today! Yesterday on BBC America they ran a marathon of Star Trek: The Next Generation so, being the geek I am, I recorded them while I was gone. I started watching them last night and continued on this morning. I'll be watching on and off today. When I'm not watching TNG, I've decided to pick up THE GOLDFINCH and read it today. I began this book about a year ago but it's a chunkster and I only got about 100 pages in before stopping. I hate to leave books unfinished and I really do want to read it so while I'm in between audios and books, I'm going to put a big dent into it. I just finished Rachel Abbot's SLEEP TIGHT on Friday and I am about to start Tim Johnston's DESCENT on audio this week, after finished MR. MERCEDES last week. (Review here).

Along with THE GOLDFINCH I'll probably start another book this week. Either Rachel Abbott's STRANGER CHILD or something else....I haven't really made up my mind yet. I'm trying to read books I already have on my Kindle before buying anymore.

On a personal note, it's been a rough few weeks for me for a couple of reasons. My shoulder, though it is still bothering me, has gotten slightly better. At least I am able to lie down to sleep now. The really hard thing is that a few weeks ago my best friend of more than 25 years moved to Ohio to be near the rest of her family who'd moved up there about 7 years ago. Brenda is a big part of my life and was always very helpful with my vision issues (she was often my chauffeur and my personal shopper). We've been through a lot together and it was so difficult to say good-bye to her. Thankfully, with all the technology today, she doesn't seem that far away but it's taken getting used to not having her right around the corner. The upside is that she's living in my home state and I have a lot of relatives that don't live far from her. It goes without saying I'm really looking forward to going up for a visit!

For now, I'm off to watch one more episode of TNG then I'm sinking my nose into THE GOLDFINCH for at least a few hours before stopping for lunch and more space exploration! Tonight is the NASCAR race over in Daytona but we're supposed to get more severe storms this evening so I don't know if the race will be affected or not. Fingers crossed that it doesn't get rained out.

Hope you all are enjoying this beautiful weekend! Happy Birthday, America!!!

I hope you all are enjoying this wonderful holiday

Jul 2, 2015

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King (Unabridged Audio Version)

OK, so it's been a while since I've read Stephen King. Twenty-one years in fact. That's right - the last King book I read was INSOMNIA way back in 1994 and I really did like it. I don't have an excuse for not reading him after that, only that I started getting into legal thrillers around that time.

MR. MERCEDES begins with a terrible act of violence against innocent people waiting in line at a job fair. King doesn't keep the identity of the assailant a secret, rather he allows the reader to get to know him quite well. His weapon of choice is a classic Mercedes sedan that he had stolen from an unsuspecting older woman. After mowing down and killing several people (this is not a spoiler), he simply drives away, parks the car and slips into the darkness.

Bill Hodges is the detective from the case who is now retired and who has never gotten over the fact that the case remains unsolved. It nags at him daily to the point that he fantasizes about ending his own life. This line of thinking is halted when he receives a taunting letter in the mail presumably from the killer.

My Thoughts:

Admittedly, I am not a reader of horror novels and I don't really know all that much about Stephen King but when I became aware that he had written a detective novel, that intrigued me. Then I learned that it would become a trilogy and I was really interested. I do know that King doesn't normally write detective stories and with my affection for crime novels, I knew I couldn't pass this up.

With the attack at the job fair happening at the very beginning, you don't have to wait long to get sucked into the story. I liked that King doesn't hide who the killer is from the reader. Knowing who he is and also that he could be any Joe Blow down the street is actually more frightening than wondering who he is. On the outside he seemed like a normal guy but as more and more of his life and personality were revealed, he became more and more sinister. Although I didn't love the ending of the book, it was easier to accept knowing there are more books to come.  It seems kind of weird to go on about a book with such a disturbing story but Stephen King takes us to a place where we would never go and that's what's so exciting about his work. .

Bill Hodges is a no nonsense type of guy who is wracked with guilt over not being able to solve this case. He's a bit rough around the edges but a very smart and likable man. I developed an affection for him right away. He's flawed but he's a good man and I think he's a great character for the focus of this new trilogy.The supporting characters in this book were diverse and very unique and I look forward to reuniting with them in FINDERS KEEPERS, the second book that was just released last month.

I would rate the story 4 stars but I easily give the audio performance 5 stars. That is due to the incredible job by actor Will Patton. I can say without hesitation he is my very favorite narrator. His interpretations of these characters were so meticulously done. He didn't just read the story, he acted it out with his voice. Simply put, he was amazing. I don't know if he received an Audie for his work or not, but he certainly deserved one. He's the main reason I chose this book in audio form and why I'll be listening to the next two installments as well. So overall, I would rate this book a 4.5 and I would recommend it highly, especially to readers who've never read Stephen King before.

MR. MERCEDES (Unabridged Audio Version)
Author: Stephen King
Narrator: Will Patton
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Published:  June 3, 2014
Length:  14 Hrs 22 Mns
Source: Purchased from Audible

Jun 29, 2015

A Week at the Lake by Wendy Wax

Wendy Wax's latest novel centers around three women who became best friends in their early twenties while living in New York City. Now, Emma, an actress from a well known successful acting family, is a single mother to sixteen year old Zoe. Serena, originally from Charleston, South Carolina, is the star of an popular animated show in which she plays the vivacious and sexy Georgia Goodbody. Mackenzie and her husband, Adam run a theater in a small, family-oriented city in Indiana. For one week every summer the three women would retreat to Emma's family lake house in upstate New York, however the invitations stopped abruptly five years ago without explanation. And now, after five years of no contact, Emma has once again invited them.

The day before they are all to meet in city and make their way together to the lake, Emma is caught in a terrible accident which puts all their plans in a tailspin.  Pushing hurt feelings and all sorts of emotions aside, Mackenzie and Serena, along iwth Emma's daughter Zoe, keep vigil at her bedside. They all have so much to tell each other and it seems that Emma had a reason for bringing them all together. This is a story of old friends, secrets and loyalty with deep emotions and life-long implications.

My Thoughts:

Believe it or not, this was my first Wendy Wax book. I'm familiar with her other novels since so many of my fellow bloggers have read and praised them. This story appealed to me mainlyt because of the long running friendships the three women share. I can relate to that because most of my own close friendships are decades old as well. That is a special bond so naturally it piqued my interest.

Emma, Serena and Mackenzie were each good characters and likable, though I did feel a little distant from Mackenzie who I thought came actross a bit judgmental.  Serena, on the other hand, was the character I liked the most. I enjoyed her free spirit and playfulness, even though some of her choices were not always what was best for her.

A lot of times when I'm reading women's fiction, I get frustrated by the predictability of the story. so it was a pleasant surprise when the beginning didn't start off the way I imagined it would. The accident caught me off guard and took the story in a direction I wasn't expecting. 

Though there was a lot of history between these women that needed to be explained, I felt Ms. Wax kept the story moving without getting bogged down in the details but still painted a clear picture of where each woman had come from and also her present self.  The secondary characters, especially Nadia, the nurse, was a bright spot and I enjoyed her immensely. That was another unexpected element for me. 

So, for me, A WEEK AT THE LAKE was win. I can say now that I was prepared for another predictable story of friendship gone awry, but it turned out to be more than I was expecting.  I'm glad I can now say I've read a Wendy Wax novel and  I did enjoy it.  I will definitely read more from her in the future. This is the perfect book to add to your summer reading list.

Author: Wendy Wax
Publisher: Berkley
Published: June 23, 2015
Length: 432 pp
Source: Joan Schulhafer Publishing & Media Consulting via NetGalley

Jun 25, 2015

Throwback Thursday: June 2008

Welcome to another of my Throwback Thursday posts where I'm revisiting my first year of blogging! Looking back, I see that June was a month of firsts.  I hosted my first giveaway and I also started participating in a weekly meme, which I previously had no idea what that was!

I read and reviewed three books in June of 2008, two of which were fiction and one non-fiction. The one that stands out the most to me was A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS by Khaled Hosseini. (Click on the title to read my review from 2008). I remember losing myself in that book because I'd loved THE KITE RUNNER so much and I was anxious to get that feeling again. Believe it or not, I've had his latest book, AND THE MOUNTAINS ECHOED for some time now but I haven't yet read it! I honestly don't know what I'm waiting for but I do intend to read it before the end of this year.

BOOKING THROUGH THURSDAY was the weekly meme I began participating in that month. Each week the host would pose a book related question for the participants to answer and discuss on our blogs, then posting a link on the original post.  It was interesting to visit the other blogs and get their perspectives. That meme introduced me to so many new bloggers and I realized how quickly the book blogoshpere was growing.  BTT, as it is also known, became a regular feature on my blog and one that I really looked forward to each week. Happily, BTT is still going strong today. In fact, today's meme titled The Other Side, asks: What do your non-reader friends think about your reading habits? I think it's a great question that is bound to spark up a lot of conversation.

What I remember most about my blogging in June of '08 was how busy I was becoming with it and since I was still working a full-time job as an office manager and bookkeeper for a commercial/residential contractor, sometimes I'd find myself staying up really late to get my posts written or books read. Fortunately though, I was loving it so I didn't mind at all. I was meeting some really great people and my small world was opening up to many new things.

Thanks for taking a minute to step back in time with me to reminisce about my first year of blogging. I'll see you in July!

Jun 23, 2015

Temple Secrets by Susan Gabriel (Unabridged Audio Version)

Every family has secrets, but the elite Temple family of Savannah has more than most. To maintain their influence, they've also been documenting the indiscretions of other prestigious southern families, dating as far back as the Civil War. When someone begins leaking these tantalizing tidbits to the newspaper, the entire city of Savannah, Georgia is rocking with secrets. 

The current keeper of the secrets and matriarch of the Temple clan is Iris, a woman of unpredictable gastrointestinal illnesses and an extra streak of meanness that even the ghosts in the Temple mansion avoid. When Iris unexpectedly dies, the consequences are far flung and significant, not only to her family--who get in line to inherit the historic family mansion--but to Savannah itself. 

At the heart of the story is Old Sally, an expert in Gullah folk magic, who some suspect cast a voodoo curse on Iris. At 100 years of age, Old Sally keeps a wise eye over the whole boisterous business of secrets and the settling of Iris's estate. 


This was not my first Susan Gabriel novel.  A few years ago I read and really enjoyed THE SECRET SENSE OF WILDFLOWER, a truly original southern story.  Though I did enjoy TEMPLE SECRETS and getting to know the Temple family members, I wasn't swept away like I'd hoped I would be. I loved the setting of Savannah, the implication of spirits hanging around the old historic Temple home and the deep family history. Gabriel did a great job of making you feel as if you were stepping into the past when entering the home. I did find the characters genuine and most of them likable.  Iris Temple was undoubtedly someone you wouldn't want to cross, therefore most of the other characters tip-toed around her out of fear.  

Though there was a lot of talk about the Book of Secrets, I found myself wondering if any of those secrets would be revealed and how they would affect the story. I was expecting big, earth-shattering secrets but very few ever materialized like I imagined they would. Unfortunately for me, the story never developed into the ghostly secret keeper that I wanted it to. 

The narration was also performed by Susan Gabriel and though she did a great job reading the story, I would have liked to have heard more of a variety of inflections with the characters. 

The bottom line for me is that I liked the charcters and setting but wish the story would have developed further. It's not a long book and I felt that just when it was getting started, it had ended and left me wanting more. 

TEMPLE SECRETS (Unabridged Audio Version)
Author: Susan Gabriel
Publisher: Wild Lily Arts
Published: April 7, 2015
Length: 9 hrs 18 mins
Source: Susan Gabriel, Author