Thursday, May 28, 2020

Book Reviews - Thrills and (Base) Steals

Welcome to my long-running series "Books I Read With Absolutely No Common Thread." In today's edition, we have inspirational fiction, sports, and two thrillers. So, here we go again. . .


Her Amish Suitor's Secret by Carrie Lighte was a stop on a recent blog tour here.

Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Life in the Minor Leagues of Baseball by John Feinstein was a book I picked up to read partially because I miss baseball so darn much. And while I've read a lot of baseball books over the years, I appreciated that this one examined a completely different world. This one focused on the minor leagues specifically AAA. The book follows six players, two managers and an umpire through their quest to make it to the majors. Each chapter zones in on one of these men and where they are in their journey to make it to the big leagues. Some of these men have been there before and are making their way back, while others are trying to finally achieve that long-held dream of being a major leaguer. This book really focuses on the reality of what this dream is like, and the reality is y'all, this isn't easy. It's hard to keep hope alive, and it's also hard to let dreams go. I felt a particular connection to this book given some of these men had played for my hometown Kansas City Royals. I could remember them being with us at other parts of their journey, and it was interesting to read these honest and raw experiences. I appreciated that this book covered all aspects of what being a minor leaguer is like, and y'all sometimes that's some really tough stuff. This one was also a timely and helpful read as I think about the realities of current minor leaguers. For every big name star, there are many, many more at the minor league level trying to break through. To truly understand major league baseball, you need to understand this part of the equation, and this book is a fascinating read for that exploration.

Don't Look for Me by Wendy Walker was a legit jawdropping thriller. I mean, y'all, when one of the big twists was revealed, I audibly gasped I was so shocked. This is my third thriller by this author, and what I love is that she writes her twists and turns in such a unique way. One of the ways she does this is by making it so you're just not sure what characters you can trust and/or who's actually telling the truth. It's this plot device that makes those reveals so darn good! This story focuses on Molly Clarke. She is a mother who has mysteriously disappeared. Ther are some things that have happened to her family that make people wonder if she was abducted, or if she just decided to leave on her own accord. This premise of doubt lays the foundation for some kind of ride. This is a thriller told through multiple characters' points of view, and yet again I'll remind you that this type of storytelling is what I love. Storytelling in this way also allows you to get nuggets of each character's personal story, but also gives you clues into those of others, as well as again what might not be true. Y'all, this author can write some kind of thriller. I could not devour this one fast enough because I needed to know what had really happened to Molly Clarke. Thanks to NetGalley for an early look at this one. You can go on this thrill ride when this book is released in September 2020! (In the meantime, if you haven't read The Night Before by the same author, check it out!)

Find Her by Lisa Gardner was a dark thriller, and y'all, I'm going to own that just didn't connect with me. I was intrigued by the initial premise, but as I read, it went down a path that was a lot for me to read. I say that because sometimes a review is more about the reviewer than the book, and that is what this is. This thriller first focuses on Flora. She was kidnapped as a college student five years ago. She was found, but she is still navigating the trauma of that experience. Meanwhile, other women have gone missing. Something goes down with a potential suspect, and it seems Flora may be involved. The question then becomes how Flora is connected, but also what happened to these women. The story alternates between the story of Flora's abduction in the past and what is happening in real-time. In the present day, there is also work being done by a detective to not only figure out how Flora is involved, but where these women are. This one was a pageturner in the very literal sense of the world. It was such a twisty ride throughout. As I said, it's definitely a dark and emotional read given the trauma of the stories, so know that going in as you look to the strong thrills it provides.

Onto the next ones! 

Book Reviews - None Is Like the Other!

Remember when I was good at keeping up with reviews? Yeah, me neither because that doesn't happen ever. These are books I read awhile ago as I do, and also as I do, each of these is from a very different genre!

This Is How I Lied by Heather Gudenkauf was a recent stop on a blog tour here.

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas is the second book in the A Court of Thorn and Roses series, and y'all, this one was some kind of ride. As I mentioned in my review of the first book of the series, fantasy is not my normal jam, but this series so is! The second book picks up where the first left off with the story of Feyre. I don't want to give too much up in this review as much of the excitement of this series comes in the journey. I will say I thought I knew where this one was going early on, and that turned out to be far, far different. I then loved how the story progressed and ultimately ended. Again, this was not what I expected as all. Also, as I say over and over, this is not what I have picked up my own, but now I am so, so drawn into this faerie world! What I love about this series is the way the story is built - The characters and relationships are so compelling. The depth of this part of the story has drawn me in, and y'all I need to know what happens to these people (and/or faeries).  I also love the dynamics of the worlds created in this one, and how this plot builds. Again, I recognize the intentional vagueness of this review is odd, but I'm going to respect others who want (and NEED) to go on this journey! Y'all, I loved the first one in this series, but I LOVED this one, and I now am excited to see what happens next!

I Was Told It Would Get Easier by Abbi Waxman was a book that pleasantly surprised me. The story focuses on a mother and daughter who are on a college tour. Jessica, the mother, is hoping this trip is a chance to bond with her daughter. Emily, the daughter, is unsure about what she wants to do after high school, but hasn't yet fully had that conversation with her mother. The story is narrated in alternating chapters by Jessica and Emily, and y'all, again I'll say how much I love dual narrators. This was especially well done as the alternating narration built depth in the characters. It showed how each of the women was navigating the trip, how they felt about the other woman, and how that had changed and/or was changing. I also really liked how the dialogue flowed so well and had some wit throughout. I was drawn into the relationship and how they navigated things. It was complex at times, but also lighthearted. Again, sometimes you need those light reads, and this was definitely that with the added depth of relationship. Thanks to Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House, for the early look at this June 2020 read. If you're looking for a nice, chill summer read, this is going to be your jam.

A Home for Goddesses and Dogs by Leslie Connor was another one of those middle grade books that had me up in my feels. This book focuses on Lydia. 13 year old Lydia's mother has recently died. Her father left the two of them years prior, so Lydia moves in with her Aunt Brat and her wife Eileen. Lydia is now navigating a new town, grief, and then a dog is added to the mix. Lydia has never really been a dog person, so this is new for her. This one was some real, REAL emotion y'all. Lydia reflects on her time with her mother (including some tough stuff), friendship (again, some hard stuff), and her father leaving (once again, it's tough), and each of these situations show that life isn't easy. Lydia is trying to find her place in this new family while also keeping the memory of her mother alive. I always appreciate a middle grade read that deals with real feels, and this definitely does that. This was an advanced copy (thanks HarperCollins) I've had for awhile, and it's been out since February 2020, but I put it off because I knew it was going to be emotional. That said, this is worth the read for kids and adults. Grief can be messy, moving to a new place can be messy, finding your place in a family can be messy, and each of these messes should be talked about like they are here!

Onto the next ones! 

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Blog Tour - Her Amish Suitor's Secret by Carrie Lighte

Okay, y'all, today is the final stop on by #BlogTourTuesday series for May. And again, I know that today is actually Wednesday. That's just how life goes right now, #amirite. I know I often say I read out of my lane, but this may be the furthest I have ever gone. One of the recent requests I received involved selections from Harlequin's Love Inspired line which is inspirational (aka faith-based) romance. After receiving a few of these requests, I thought to myself, "Why not give this a try?" So, that's how I found my way to Her Amish Suitor's Secret by Carrie Lighte.

This story begins with a non-Amish guy (known as an Englischer in Amish speak) going to the Amish community to help his brother out posing as a groundskeeper. His brother has been accused of theft, and there is a belief that there are secrets hidden away in this community. While in the community, he connects with Rose who runs the grounds for the lakeside cabins. She's been hurt in love before and is hesitant to fall in love again. As you might guess based on that premise, there is a little "something something" brewing between these two. This is definitely one of those books where you know how things are going to end, and that's totally okay. The joy is being on the journey to see just how specifically that plays out. For those who are curious, the way the Amish vibes played in were in some of the language and how the relationship developed and feelings were acted on. It was really just a romance told in a different way. I'm glad I got the chance to dabble in this genre. It was a nice and easy read, and sometimes you just need that predictability.

And in case you also have some curiosity, I have the opportunity to share an excerpt with you!

***
“Isn’t it quiet where you live in Wisconsin?”
“It’s not this quiet. This peaceful. There’s something about being here, where sometimes the loudest sound I hear is water lapping the shore… It makes me feel so calm. I feel like that when I’m working in the fields, too. Probably because when I was young I used to es-cape to the garden when—”
Rose stopped paddling, eager to hear the rest of his sentence. He hardly ever talked about his youth. “When what?” she pressed, looking over her shoulder to get a glimpse of his face.

Over the past couple of weeks while chatting with Rose, Caleb had occasionally forgotten to guard his Englisch identity, but until now, he’d always guarded his emotions, especially those concerning his upbringing. He hadn’t meant to disclose his feelings tonight—he hadn’t even intended to spend any time alone with Rose. But opening up to her seemed to happen naturally, in spite of yesterday’s resolution to put distance between himself and the Amish of Serenity Ridge. So he continued, “My mamm and daed bickered a lot and it helped to go outdoors to get away from them. When I was gardening, I forgot about their troubles. Tending to Gott’s creation made me feel… Well, it made me feel tranquil.” Kind of like how I feel right now.
Caleb had also stopped paddling and mild waves gently rocked the canoe. In the moonlight, he could see Rose’s eyebrows were furrowed and she appeared to be contemplating what he’d just said. After a quiet spell, she questioned, “Does gardening still bring you a sense of tranquility?”
“Jah, it does.” Caleb’s mouth went dry as he anticipated her next question: she was going to ask why he’d become a teacher instead of a farmer, and he couldn’t drum up a credible reply.
Instead, she gave him a fetching smile and, before twisting forward in her seat again, she added, “I’m glad. For our sake, as well as for yours.”
Caleb let his breath out slowly. He dipped his paddle into the water and Rose did, too. As they journeyed he thought about how amazing it felt to confide in her. Maybe he wasn’t being honest about the facts of his life, but tonight he’d been honest about his emotions. And even though Rose’s back was to him as she sat in the bow, there was something so…not necessarily romantic, but so personal about being with her that he’d never felt with his friends or any of the women he’d ever dated. Rose seems to enjoy spending time with me, too, Caleb rationalized. So what’s the harm in continuing to develop friendships here as long as no one finds out I’m Englisch?
When they pulled onto the shore near the trailhead by Paradise Point, Caleb hopped out and dragged the canoe several feet up the embankment so Rose wouldn’t get her shoes wet, and then they headed for the forested path. It was much darker beneath the trees than on the open water, so Rose shone the flashlight on the ground in front of her. Caleb initially tried to follow in her foot-steps but after tripping twice, he decided to accompany her side by side on the narrow path in order to get the benefit of the light.
“I think we should talk so we don’t startle any animals,” Rose announced loudly. “Or we should sing.”
“My singing would frighten the animals,” Caleb jested. 
“In that case, you should have serenaded the skunks on the porch—maybe they would have left.”
“Or they would have sprayed me,” Caleb said. “This probably isn’t the right time to ask, but are there many other kinds of animals in these woods?”
“Serenity Ridge has a family of moose that sometimes make their presence known. The other night when I was coming back from the dining hall, I thought I heard one in the bushes behind me, but then it went quiet.”
Caleb’s ears perked up. “What night was that?”
“I think it was last Monday or Tuesday, but don’t worry, it turned out to be a deer—I saw its tracks on the path. That’s the thing about animals and buwe—they always leave tracks. When my breider were young, my mamm always knew when they’d been exploring down by the swamp instead of doing their chores because of what her kitchen floor looked like. You’d think it would occur to them to take off their shoes before they came inside, but it never did,” Rose said, giggling.
For the rest of their hike Caleb asked questions about her siblings and their families, and he told her a couple anecdotes about Ryan, too. Finally the trees thinned out and Rose announced they were nearing the summit. Caleb was about to remark he wished they’d brought re-freshments when he heard a noise in the distance, almost a metallic sound, or like something scraping against a rock. He came to a halt and tugged Rose’s arm to make her stop, too. With his chin nearly resting on her shoul-der, he whispered into her ear, “What was that?”
“I didn’t hear anything,” she whispered back, and flashed the light into the woods on one side of the path and then the other. Caleb didn’t see anything unusual. He didn’t hear anything unusual, either, other than the thundering of his pulse, which was probably more from standing so close to Rose than from being alarmed. Half a minute passed and nothing stirred in the woods.

He must have imagined it, Caleb thought, merely two seconds before an earsplitting shot reverberated through the night air.

***
About the Book: HER AMISH SUITOR’S SECRET by Carrie Lighte (on-sale May 19, 2020): Sometimes the truth comes at a cost. Can she forgive him when she learns his true identity? Posing as an Amish groundskeeper at Rose Allgyer’s lakeside cabin retreat, Englischer Caleb Miller is determined to clear his brother’s name of theft. But as he’s drawn to Rose’s good nature, the burden of his ruse gets heavier—especially after learning Rose was deceived by her ex-fiancĂ©. Still guarded, will Rose trust Caleb with her heart when she discovers he isn’t who he claims to be?

About Carrie Lighte: Carrie Lighte enjoys traveling to Amish communities across the United States and she hopes to visit a few in Canada soon, too. When she isn't writing, reading or researching, she likes to hike, kayak and spend time at the beach.


Purchase links:

Discover more about uplifting and hopeful Love Inspired novels today: https://www.harlequin.com/shop/pages/love-inspired-landing.html  

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Book Reviews - Laughs and Compelling Characters

Well, well, well, once again we have a variety of reads. Some made me laugh, some made me cry, and in many instances those were the same book. What I really liked about this round was there was some amazing storytelling and some especially incredible characters. Read on to find out more!

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles is a fascinating historical fiction piece focused on the American Library in Paris. I always appreciate a historical piece that exposes me to new pieces of history, and this was definitely that! This is story of how books played a central role in the resistance primarily focused on the story of a young library named Odile. In addition to telling the story of this past experience, this also includes a storyline in 1983. Lily doesn't understand her older neighbor. She seems to be hiding something, and Lily is a curious teenager who just wants to know more. She decides to do a school project on her, so she has to share her story. As you might infer, this neighbor has connections to the library. It's not revealed just what those connections are, so part of the captivating nature of this story is learning more about her through Lily's research. The past and (sort of) present have really emotional and compelling stories. I was so drawn into Odile and Lily's pieces of the story. In the past, it was so incredible to read how the library remained dedicated to sharing knowledge and truth even when it was dangerous. In the present, Lily is navigating so much "stuff" in addition to learning more about her neighbor, and I was so emotionally drawn into her reality. This was just a beautiful read in its characters and storytelling. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at this February 2021 (Whoa, I did not realize publication was so far away!). Way, way in the future, this is a book you'll absolutely want to check out.

We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry was such a unique read y'all, and that was very much a good thing! The story focuses on the 1989 Danvers women's field hockey team based in Salem, Massachusetts. Tired of losing, the members decide it's time to call in some help to win in the form of magic/witchcraft. From there, the season begins to take some unique turns. This book was a delightful blend of late 80s references, humor, dark magic, and just really great storytelling. It's so unlike anything I've read, as well as a bit outside of what I normally read, but y'all, I was so darn captivated from beginning to end as the story is so creative and told masterfully I also loved the depth of story for each member of the team, as well as the diversity of their stories. It's hard to put words to a review for this one because it's so unlike anything I've read (and I know I've said this over and over), but this is one I read in a weekend because I just loved being whisked away to this pop-culture saturated, Emilio Estevez notebook inspired (yes, you read that right) magic world of high school girls!

Best Behavior by Wendy Francis was featured on a recent blog tour stop that you can see here!

The Hilarious World of Depression by John Moe is by the author who runs a podcast of the same name. Admittedly, I've heard of the podcast, but I haven't listened, so in some aspects, I feel like this was seeing a movie before reading a book! However, I also felt like this was a really good set-up for the backstory of the podcast to launch me into listening. Since I'm a non-listener I can only speak for sure from that perspective, however I do feel like regular listeners would also like this collection of stories. The book is really written as a memoir of life with mental health. I really love the way he talks about his experiences as it's a unique blend of humor and raw honesty. There were times I was laughing, as well as times I was teary. I found I could really connect to the way he talked about his mental health, and he gave language to this in a way that was relatable. In addition to being about his own journey and experiences, he also talks about his podcast. He talks about how it came to be, as well as messages from a variety of guests. I appreciated with this how it shows both variance and commonality in the experience of mental health struggles. As I said, I did things a little backwards in reading this first, but I also plan to now check out the podcast because I'm so drawn into the author's perspective and story! Thanks to St. Martin's for the advanced copy via Shelf Awareness!

Onto the next reads!

Blog Tour - This Is How I Lied by Heather Gudenkauf

Today is the third stop on my month o' blog tours. I'm super excited that this week's stop is a thriller with This Is How I Lied by Heather Gudenkauf. I've read this author's thrills a few times previously, and y'all she knows how to bring all the twists and drama!

This Is How I Lied is about Maggie, a cop who has never forgotten her best friend Eve's murder 25 years earlier. The murder is a cold case until the discovery of new evidence prompts a reopening of the case. Maggie takes the lead, and doing so brings up all the things from the past. Eve's sister lives in down and is frustrated she's never had closure in what happened to her sister. Maggie's father once oversaw the case and now has dementia, so he cannot offer Maggie advice and counsel as she works through the case. There are also other residents of the town who are part of Eve's (and Maggie's) story in ways that are revealed throughout!

The story is told in dual timelines which as a reminder/retweet of what I always say is toally my jam as a plot device. There is Maggie investigating the case in 2020, and there is Eve recounting the day of her murder in 1995. Other characters offer perspective as well which adds to the twists and turns throughout. I thought I had the twist of this one figured out, but about halfway through, there was a literal jawdropping reveal that was just so, so good. And like a really good thriller, there were even more twists after that! With each one, I thought I knew where the story was going, but the author writes this in a way that she kept surprising me along the way!

What I loved about this one, too was that there were some ethical dilemmas baked into the story. The story was complicated in both the past and present and when the storylines started to intersect as each character has their own secret(s) and lie(s). This is one that kept me guessing until the last pages. I was so drawn into Maggie's drive to find out the truth about what happened to Eve all those years ago, and I was even more drawn in with all that investigative journey entailed. Y'all, this is just a really good page-turning thriller, and I always need more of those in my life. If you're in for a twisty ride through the past and present where there are all the secrets, this one is so made for you. 

And y'all, as a bonus, I've once again, I've got an excerpt to share!

***

Maggie Kennedy-O'Keefe
Monday, June 15, 2020

As I slide out of my unmarked police car my swollen belly briefly gets wedged against the steering wheel. Sucking in my gut does little good but I manage to move the seat back and squeeze past the wheel. I swing my legs out the open door and glance furtively around the parking lot behind the Grotto Police Department to see if anyone is watching.

Almost eight months pregnant with a girl and not at my most graceful. I'm not crazy about the idea of one of my fellow officers seeing me try to pry myself out of this tin can. The coast appears to be clear so I begin the little ritual of rocking back and forth trying to build up enough momentum to launch myself out of the driver's seat.

Once upright, I pause to catch my breath. The morning dew is already sending up steam from the weeds growing out of the cracked concrete. Sweating, I slowly make my way to the rear entrance of the Old Gray Lady, the nickname for the building we're housed in. Built in the early 1900s, the first floor consists of the lobby, the finger printing and intake center, a community room, interview rooms and the jail. The second floor, which once held the old jail is home to the squad room and offices. The dank, dark basement holds a temperamental boiler and the department archives.

The Grotto Police Department has sixteen sworn officers that includes the chief, two lieutenants, a K-9 patrol officer, nine patrol officers, a school resource officer and two detectives. I'm detective number two.

I grew up in Grotto, a small river town of about ten thousand that sits among a circuitous cave system known as Grotto Caves State Park, the most extensive in Iowa. Besides being a favorite destination spot for families, hikers and spelunkers, Grotto is known for its high number of family owned farms – a dying breed. My husband Shaun and I are part of that breed – we own an apple orchard and tree farm.

 "Pretty soon we're going to have to roll you in," an irritatingly familiar voice calls out from behind me.

I don't bother turning around. "Francis, that wasn't funny the first fifty times you said it and it still isn't," I say as I scan my key card to let us in.

Behind me, Pete Francis, rookie officer and all-around caveman grabs the door handle and in a rare show of chivalry opens it so I can step through. "You know I'm just joking," Francis says giving me the grin that all the young ladies in Grotto seem to find irresistible but just gives me another reason to roll my eyes.

"With the wrong person, those kinds of jokes will land you in sensitivity training," I remind him.

"Yeah, but you're not the wrong person, right?" he says seriously, "You're cool with it?"

I wave to Peg behind the reception desk and stop at the elevator and punch the number two button. The police department only has two levels but I'm in no mood to climb up even one flight of stairs today. "Do I look like I'm okay with it?" I ask him.

Francis scans me up and down. He takes in my brown hair pulled back in a low bun, wayward curls springing out from all directions, my eyes red from lack of sleep, my untucked shirt, the fabric stretched tight against my round stomach, my sturdy shoes that I think are tied, but I can't know for sure because I can't see over my boulder-sized belly.
"Sorry," he says appropriately contrite and wisely decides to take the stairs rather than ride the elevator with me.

"You’re forgiven," I call after him.  As I step on the elevator to head up to my desk, I check my watch. My appointment with the chief is at eight and though he didn't tell me what the exact reason is for this meeting I think I can make a pretty good guess.

It can't be dictated as to when I have to go on light duty, seven months into my pregnancy, but it's probably time. I'm guessing that Chief Digby wants to talk with me about when I want to begin desk duty or take my maternity leave. I get it.

It's time I start to take it easy. I’ve either been the daughter of a cop or a cop my entire life but I’m more than ready to set it aside for a while and give my attention, twenty-four-seven to the little being inhabiting my uterus.

Shaun and I have been trying for a baby for a long, long time. And thousands of dollars and dozens of procedures later, when we finally found out we were pregnant, Shaun started calling her peanut because the only thing I could eat for the first nine weeks without throwing up was peanut butter sandwiches. The name stuck.

This baby is what we want more than anything in the world but I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I'm a little bit scared. I’m used to toting around a sidearm not an infant.

The elevator door opens to a dark paneled hallway lined with ten by sixteen framed photos of all the men who served as police chief of Grotto over the years. I pass by eleven photos before I reach the portrait of my father. Henry William Kennedy, 1995 - 2019, the plaque reads.

While the other chiefs stare out from behind the glass with serious expressions, my dad smiles showing his straight, white teeth. He was so proud when he was named chief of police. We were all proud, except maybe my older brother, Colin. God knows what Colin thought of it. As a teenager he was pretty self-absorbed, but I guess I was too, especially after my best friend died. I went off the rails for a while but here I am now. A Grotto PD detective, following in my dad’s footsteps. I think he’s proud of me too. At least when he remembers.

Last time I brought my dad back here to visit, we walked down this long corridor and paused at his photo. For a minute I thought he might make a joke, say something like, Hey, who's that good looking guy? But he didn't say anything. Finding the right words is hard for him now. Occasionally, his frustration bubbles over and he yells and sometimes even throws things which is hard to watch. My father has always been a very gentle man.
The next portrait in line is our current police chief, Les Digby. No smile on his tough guy mug. He was hired a month ago, taking over for Dexter Stroope who acted as the interim chief after my dad retired. Les is about ten years older than I am, recently widowed with two teenage sons. He previously worked for the Ransom Sheriff’s Office and I'm trying to decide if I like him. Jury's still out.

Excerpted from This is How I Lied by Heather Gudenkauf,
Copyright © 2020 by Heather Gudenkauf 

Published by Park Row Books

***

About the Book: With the eccentricity of Fargo and the intensity of Sadie, THIS IS HOW I LIED by Heather Gudenkauf (Park Row Books; May 12, 2020; $17.99) is a timely and gripping thriller about careless violence we can inflict on those we love, and the lengths we will go to make it right, even 25 years later.

Tough as nails and seven months pregnant, Detective Maggie Kennedy-O’Keefe of Grotto PD, is dreading going on desk duty before having the baby her and her husband so badly want. But when new evidence is found in the 25-year-old cold case of her best friend’s murder that requires the work of a desk jockey, Maggie jumps at the opportunity to be the one who finally puts Eve Knox’s case to rest.


About the Author: Heather Gudenkauf is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of many books, including The Weight of Silence and These Things Hidden. Heather graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in elementary education, has spent her career working with students of all ages. She lives in Iowa with her husband, three children, and a very spoiled German Shorthaired Pointer named Lolo. In her free time, Heather enjoys spending time with her family, reading, hiking, and running. 






Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Book Reviews - Stories with Secrets Revealed

Oh, hey. I read some books. They were full of lots of secrets and stuff. Here they are!


Secrets of Love Story Bridge by Phaedra Patrick is a book I shared for a recent blog tour stop here.

It's Always the Husband by Michelle Campbell is a thriller about how the past is never really gone. This one focuses on three women who met as college roommates. In the present, one woman is pushed to the (literal) edge. Which of these women has gotten to this point, and why? The book treks back through when these women first met to show the complexities of their friendship, as well as other factors, including their romantic relationships. In the present, the story focuses on where the women are now - individually and as a collective. The threading of past and present worked for this one as seeing the outcomes make you wonder how things got to that point. The story was very much a "slow burn" as the pieces started to come together. This one also had a really good reveal to thread all the pieces together, including one last twist in the mix. With me, I often just want/need a good thriller in my life, and this was able to meet that need.

The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester was just a delight of a middle grade read. The story focuses on Piper McCloud. Piper has learned she can fly - literally. However, when she starts using her abilities, people are freaked out and do not respond favorably. Her parents decide to send her off to a school for students with special abilities. While initially this school seems like a great place to be for these kids, it's quickly revealed there may be much, much more happening. This was a wonderful blend of science fiction and mystery and drama. It was a pageturner as the kids tried to figure out the realities of their school as the truth was complicated. I also loved that each of the students had a story which added depth, and I became invested in their journey. I love a middle grade novel that has heart, and this was definitely that. The bonus was the heart came with all the thrills. There were twists I didn't see coming up until the very end. This was a magical little world, and I just devoured the story of these special kids!

Untamed by Glennon Doyle was just phenomenal and wonderful and everything I needed in this life. I listened to the audiobook version which she read and added so much emotion and depth. I "read" as I went on walks, and I found I wanted my walks to go on and on and on, so I could listen. I will say I also want to read this in book form as there were so many passages I wanted to highlight and capture to revisit. This is a beautiful collection of essays that are teeming with honesty. As I listened, I found myself nodding, smiling, crying, and just simply saying, "Yes!" as she hit on all the truths. What I appreciate about her writing is how she takes you on a journey. It isn't just her preaching at you, rather she explains how she arrived at a realization as if she's reflecting with you. She does that by telling you about the "tough stuff," and then she tells you when she had that learning moment where she found that clarity and grace for herself. Y'all, I related to so much of this book. She focuses much of this collection on women and the struggles we endure. She does a masterful job of naming so many emotions and experiences and working through their impact. This one gave me so very much to consider, and I want to return to it again (and again and again) to soak it all up. I needed these words y'all - now and continually!

Onto the next ones!

Blog Tour - Best Behavior by Wendy Francis

For the month of May, I've got a weekly feature called #BlogTourTuesday (I know, I know, it's Wednesday, just ignore that super minor and insignificant detail), and I'm excited for today to be Stop #2 with Best Behavior by Wendy Francis!

Best Behavior is definitely in that "beach read" lane. It focuses on a family who is coming to terms with the end of some chapters and the start of new ones. The center of this season of change is Dawn and Charlie's high school graduation. Their divorced (and now re-partnered) parents are coming into town for the celebration, and everyone is going through some "stuff" during this time.

Much of the story's focus is on Meredith, the twin's mother. She is thrilled her twins are graduating from her alma mater, but also bummed that they've taken jobs that will take them far away, and she's feeling those empty nest feels. She's happy in her new marriage to Joel, but again figuring out her new normal. She's also navigating the feels of seeing her ex-husband and his much younger new partner. Meredith struggles with comparing herself to her in all the ways. Basically, Meredith is dealing with all the things.

The other subplot focuses on the twins. They've always had their lanes and roles as twins, and now things have shifted. I don't want to share too much on this subplot because part of the driver is figuring out what's going on with this one.

For me, this was a nice, light read. It had some drama throughout that kept me engaged throughout. It was interesting to see all the feels that this transition brought, as well as the relationship dynamics. I say this is a complimentary way, but this is just a good story about people. It's how they feel, what they do, and how they react to situations. 

One final thing I do want to note: This is about a graduation. Obviously, the author could never have guessed that we'd be where we are with regard to graduations. However, if this is a topic that hits you particularly hard, you may want to hold on reading this one. I don't know that the mention of this time would be overwhelming, but I also am not personally impacted, and I want to be mindful that everyone is feeling a variety of feels right now.

Finally, I'm excited that I can once again share an excerpt on this stop to draw you in!

***

On Thursday morning, the temperature outside is seventy-one degrees and climbing while Meredith Parker considers which of a thousand recommended places she would like to visit before she dies. Not that she’s anticipating dying anytime soon, but she needs a distraction. She figures she has already seen at least a handful—Yosemite (breathtaking, as advertised), Niagara Falls (overrated in her opinion ‒ and cold), and San Francisco (lovely, with a charming hippie vibe). It’s the exotic locales that have eluded her over the past forty-six years, places like Tahiti or Rome or the Swiss Alps. Although, come to think of it, Meredith doesn’t really care for skiing, so she can probably cross the Alps right off her list. But Rome would be nice—all that history and pasta—and wine! A cheap fare must be available on one of those best-deal websites, if she searches long enough. Yes, she’s fairly certain she can persuade her husband, Joel, that Rome should be their first-ever international destination, the new green pin on their Where Have You Been? map that hangs on the wall in the den. That is, of course, once the kids have settled into their new homes.

And with the thought of her children’s imminent departure, Meredith’s throat tightens. What’s the use? she thinks. No number of mental hijinks will make her forget the real purpose of today’s trip. She, Joel, and her mother, Carol, are tracing the familiar route up from New Haven to Boston, as they have dozens of times before, the trees beyond the window zipping by in a curtain of emerald green.

But this weekend will be different.

Because this weekend marks the twins’ college graduation, an event that seemed impossibly far away only a few years ago, even a few months ago. Tomorrow her babies, the ones she used to cradle in each arm, will accept their hard-earned diplomas and officially step out into the great wide beyond, otherwise known as Adult Life.
Last night, when she’d gone to her neighborhood book club, the room had been abuzz with excitement over the upcoming weekend. “You must be bursting with pride!” her friend Lauren exclaimed. “I can’t believe that Cody and Dawn are already graduating. It’s so exciting.” And Meredith had nodded, as if she, too, were in a state of shock over this improbable fact.

It’s true that she couldn’t be prouder of the twins, but the moment is bittersweet. Soon, Cody will be off to Bismarck, North Dakota, to teach high school history, and Dawn is headed to Chicago to work at an advertising firm. Her kids will be so far away, they might as well be moving to Bangkok. Even though she knows it’s irrational, Meredith is racked by the feeling that after this summer she might never see her children again.

Admittedly, she is at a corner, or more specifically, at a crossroads in her life. Images of a two-year-old, chubby Cody racing into her arms or of a young Dawn asking for “one more good-night tuck-in” swim through her mind. She can still feel those small arms wrapped tightly around her, the love so palpable she used to think her heart would leap from her chest to theirs. How is it possible that her babies are graduating from college this weekend?

With Lauren’s comment, Meredith had cast her gaze around the book group (who, truth be told, rarely ever discussed the book at hand) and realized with a start that the difference between her own life and that of her friends’ suddenly stretched before her like a giant yawning chasm: Meredith was about to say goodbye to her kids once and for all, while her neighbors still had years of child-raising ahead of them.

Lauren had offered her an affectionate pat on the shoulder, as if she could read Meredith’s thoughts, and handed over a generous pour of chardonnay, which Meredith accepted gratefully. Maybe, she allowed herself to consider, Lauren was right. Maybe the graduation weekend would be exciting, as pleasing as a perfectly folded fitted sheet. Tuck this person into that corner, that person over there, smooth it, smooth it, and everyone would get along swimmingly.

Given her patched-together, hybrid family, though, Meredith sincerely doubts it. Her ex-husband, Roger, will be bringing Lily, his new wife of six months. And as fine as Meredith is with the idea of Roger’s remarrying after all these years, his new marriage somehow feels forced, as if he has just purchased a new set of golf clubs that he’s eager to show off to the rest of the family.

“I know. It’s crazy, right?” Meredith had managed to get out after swallowing her wine. “The twins are officially all grown up.”

Lauren, a corporate attorney, has two young girls, six and eight, whom Meredith adores and dreams of kidnapping one day (she tells herself it wouldn’t really be kidnapping, though, since they’re all neighbors, and obviously she would do Lauren the courtesy of asking before moving the girls into her own home.). As it is, she helps out with the girls whenever she can, usually after school when Lauren works late and Meredith is already back from her shift in the NICU. The girls have her pegged for a softy and know full well that she will buy them ice cream, bake chocolate chip cookies on a whim, and watch every terrible mermaid movie that’s available for streaming. They call her “Auntie,” which makes her heart swell and break simultaneously.

Some days she wishes she and Joel had tried for their own children way back when, even though the timing was off—they didn’t meet till Meredith was in her late thirties—and there would have been a considerable age gap, more than a decade, between a new baby and the twins. But at least she would still hear young voices in the house, would have someone to ferry to ballet practice or help with a book report. As exhausting as it could be some days (that Taj Mahal built out of marshmallows for fifth grade nearly killed her), she misses the maternal responsibilities she was once counted on for, feels the lack like an unfamiliar brittleness settling into her bones.

Theoretically, she understands that the twins flew the coop four years ago when they left for college. But that was different. The kids continued to call every Sunday night, and she and Joel could drop by on the odd weekend. Luckily, both children had decided on the same college in Boston, making spur-of-the-moment visits ridiculously convenient. But traveling so far away for jobs where she might see them only once or twice a year for Thanksgiving and Christmas? She honestly doesn’t know how—or if—she can handle it.

Thankfully, no matter what faults she and her ex-husband, Roger, might have had as a couple, their kids have turned out all right—better than all right—and Meredith lets herself relax slightly with this thought now. Dawn, hands down her most difficult child during the teenage years, has blossomed into a bright young woman. Gone are the days when Meredith’s every comment would prompt an eye roll from her daughter. And despite an unfortunate hiccup with the Administrative Board last year, Dawn has managed to pull off graduating with honors. Meanwhile, Cody (Meredith’s lips part into a smile when she imagines him striding across the stage in his gown) is graduating Phi Beta Kappa. Not only that, but he set the school record for all-time rushing yards this fall, leading his football team to their best season in fifteen years. Cody has become a rock star on his small New England campus, and as his mother, Meredith can’t help but feel a bit smug. After all, she was the one who whipped up protein shake after protein shake and lugged him to hundreds of high school practices. She was the one who allowed her lovely den to be transformed into a weight room filled with smelly sneakers and barbells for four years.


If she knows one thing deep in her bones, it’s that she is a good mom, one who has raised hardworking, resilient children. She imagines holding her breath as they parade across Bolton’s commencement stage, much as she did when they took their first ungainly steps across the kitchen floor, Cody wheeling ahead in wide, determined strides and Dawn following a few paces behind, her tongue twisted into a tight coil of determination. Meredith is enormously proud of them, and, quite honestly, of herself. She didn’t abandon her kids like Roger did, when he’d seen fit to put his penis where it didn’t belong. But that was nearly ten years ago, water under the bridge—more of a tepid stream wandering through her mind these days than a charging river.

***

About Best Behavior: Meredith Parker and her husband Joel have been dreading the weekend of their twins’ college graduation. Not only does it mean that Dawn and Cody are flying out of Meredith’s nest to live in Chicago and North Dakota, but it also means Meredith will have to deal with her insufferable ex-husband, Roger, his pompous parents and his new wife Lily, so young she could be the twins’ sister! But Meredith is willing to be the Jackie O. of college graduations. She can handle that for three days, can’t she?

Meanwhile, Dawn, who has spent a lifetime cleaning up after her ‘golden boy’ brother, discovers a mess even she may not be able to get Cody out of. He’s been acting weird last the few weeks of school; picking up smoking, breaking up with his girlfriend, but this... this is definitely a problem. She needs to figure out what’s going on with her twin before he really ruins his life. 


About Wendy Francis: Wendy Francis is a former book editor and the author of three novels: The Summer Sail, The Summer of Good Intentions, and Three Good Things. Her essays have appeared in Good Housekeeping, The Washington Post, Yahoo Parenting, The Huffington Post, and WBUR's Cognoscenti. Born and raised in the Midwest, she now lives outside of Boston with her husband and son.







Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Blog Tour - The Secrets of Love Story Bridge by Phaedra Patrick

For the next four weeks, I'm excited to be spending each Tuesday with you as a stop on a blog tour. I'm especially excited this begins with The Secrets of Love Story Bridge by Phaedra Patrick as this is a book that absolutely captivated me.

The story focuses on Mitchell. Mitchell's job is cutting off all the locks that couples leave on a bridge to profess their love for one another. This became a thing after a boy band filmed their "Lock Me Up With Your Love" music video there. This is a job he enjoys as he has soured on love. Mitchell is a single father to his young daughter Poppy and together they are grieving the loss of Poppy's mother/Mitchell's partner.

One day while Mitchell is going about his business, a woman falls off the bridge. Mitchell springs into action and rescues her. He is catapulted to instant hero fame, a status he definitely does not want. It also turns out this woman's family has been looking for her for the last year. He is connected with this woman's sister Liza as she wants to know what Mitchell knows and where her sister is. This includes finding and deciphering a message she left via a lock on the bridge. Mitchell just wants to step out of the story, but Liza asks for his help in the process, and things go from there.

Much of this story is driven by Mitchell. He is initially characterized as a grumpy man who hates love. What is slowly revealed is that Mitchell's story, actions, and feelings are far more complicated. This is slowly revealed as the story goes. So much of what drew me into this book was Mitchell. I wanted to know more, and I also found myself rooting for him! The beauty of Mitchell's story really comes in the way it is revealed. He writes letters to his partner Anita, as he reflects on their time as a couple and where he is now. I loved getting to see this side of him in this way.

In general, I was so captivated by the whole cast of characters. Poppy, the sisters, co-workers, and other folks add such depth and dynamics to the story. This was one of those books I couldn't read fast enough because I was so drawn in by the people! It was just beautifully written. I love when people drive plot, and this was so much that. This was such an unexpected and wonderful read. I was intrigued when I first read the summary of this one, and y'all, I just loved it. Again, this is one of those where I could rave 50 different ways, but I want you to stop reading this review, so you can find your way to this book!

Also, the best news for y'all is this is out TODAY, so you can (and should!) check this out out now.

***
Oh, and as a bonus, I'm excited to share an excerpt to further draw you in!


The Lilac Envelope


The night before


As he did often, over the past three years, Mitchell Fisher wrote a letter he would never send. 
He sat up in bed at midnight and kicked off his sheets. Even though all the internal doors in his apartment were open, the sticky July heat still felt like a shroud clinging to his body. His nine-year-old daughter Poppy thrashed restlessly in her sleep, in the bedroom opposite. 
Mitchell turned on his bedside lamp, squinting against the yellow light, and took out a pad of Basildon Bond notepaper from underneath his bed. He always used a fountain pen to write—old-fashioned he supposed, but he was a man who valued things that were well-constructed and long-lasting. 
Mitchell tapped the pen against his bottom lip. He knew what he wanted to say, but by the time his words of sorrow and regret travelled from his brain to his fingertips, they were only fragments of what he longed to express. 
As he started to write, the sound of the metal nib scratching against paper helped him block out the city street noise that hummed below his apartment.


Dearest Anita


Another letter from me. Everything here is fine, ticking along. Poppy is doing well. The school holidays start soon and I thought she’d be more excited. It’s probably because you’re not here to enjoy them with us. 


I’ve taken two weeks off work to spend with her, and have a full itinerary planned for us—badminton, tennis, library visits, cooking, walking, the park, swimming, museums, cooking, a tour of the city bridges, and more. It will keep us busy. Keep our minds off you. 


You’ll be amazed how much she’s grown, must be almost your height by now. I tell her how proud I am of her, but it always means more coming from you.


Mitchell paused, resting his hand against the pad of paper. He had to tell her how he felt.


Every time I look at our daughter, I think of you. I wish I could hold you again, and tell you I’m truly sorry.


Yours, always


Mitchell x


He read his words, always dissatisfied with them, never able to convey the magnitude of grief and guilt he felt. After folding the piece of paper once, he sealed it into a crisp, cream envelope, then squeezed it into the almost-full drawer of his nightstand, amongst all the other letters he’d written. His eyes fell upon the slim lilac envelope he kept on top, the one addressed to him from Anita, that he’d not yet been able to bring himself to open. 
Taking that envelope out, he held it under his nose and inhaled. There was still a slight scent of her on the paper, he thought, of violet soap. His finger followed the angle of the gummed flap and then stopped. He closed his eyes and willed himself to open the letter, but his fingernails dented crescents into the paper.
Once more, he placed it back into his drawer. 
Mitchell lay down and hugged himself, imagining Anita’s arms were wrapped around him. But, when he closed his eyes, the words from all the letters weighed down upon him like a bulldozer. As he turned and tried to sleep, he pulled the pillow over his head to force them away.

A Locked Heart


The lovers who attached their padlocks to the bridges of Upchester might see it as a fun or romantic gesture but, to Mitchell, it was an act of vandalism.
It was the hottest year on record in the city and the morning sun was already beating down on the back of his neck. His biceps flexed as he methodically opened and squeezed his bolt cutters shut, cutting the padlocks off the cast-iron filigree panels of the old Victorian bridge, one by one.  
Since local boyband Word Up filmed the video for their international smash hit “Lock Me Up with Your Love” on this bridge, thousands of people were flocking to the small city in the North West of England. They brought and attached locks marked with initials, names, messages, to demonstrate their love for the band and each other, on the city’s five bridges.  
Large red and white signs that read no padlocks studded the pavement. But as far as Mitchell could see, the locks still hung on the railings like bees swarming across frames of honeycomb. The constant reminder of love surrounding him, other people’s, made him feel like he was fighting for breath. 
As he cut off the locks, he wanted to yell, ‘Why can’t you just keep your feelings to yourselves?’ 
After several hours of hard work, Mitchell’s trail of broken locks glinted on the pavement like a metal snake. He stopped for a moment and narrowed his eyes as a young couple strolled toward him. The woman glided in a white floaty dress and tan cowboy boots. The man wore shorts and had the physique of an American football player. With his experience of carrying out maintenance across the city’s public areas, Mitchell instinctively knew they were up to something. 
After breaking away from his girlfriend, the man walked to the side of the bridge while nonchalantly pulling out a large silver padlock from his pocket.
Mitchell tightened his grip on his cutters. He was once so easy and in love with Anita, but rules were rules. ‘Excuse me,’ he called out. ‘You can’t hang that lock.’
The man frowned and crossed his bulging arms. ‘Oh yeah? And who’s going to stop me?’
Mitchell had the sinewy physique of a sprinter. He was angular all over with dark hair and eyes, and a handsome dorsal hump on his nose. ‘I am,’ he said and put his cutters down on the pavement. He held out his hand for the lock. ‘It’s my job to clear the bridges. You could get a fine.’ 
Anger flashed across the blond man’s face and he batted Mitchell’s hand away, swiping off his work glove. Mitchell watched as it tumbled down into the river below. Sometimes the water flowed prettily, but today it gushed and gurgled, a bruise-grey hue. A young man had drowned here in a strong current last summer. 
The man’s girlfriend wrapped her arms around her boyfriend’s waist and tugged him away. ‘Come on. Leave him alone.’ She cast Mitchell an apologetic smile. ‘Sorry, but we’re so in love. It took us two hours and three buses to get here. We’ll be working miles away from each other soon.  Please let us do this.’
The man looked into her eyes and softened. ‘Yeah, um, sorry, mate,’ he said sheepishly. ‘The heat got the better of me. All we want to do is fasten our lock.’
Mitchell gestured at the sign again. ‘Just think about what you’re doing, guys,’ he said with a weary sigh. ‘Padlocks are just cheap chunks of metal and they’re weighing down the bridges. Can’t you get a nice ring or tattoo instead? Or write letters to each other? There are better ways to say I lov– Well, you know. . .’
The man and the woman shared an incredulous look.
‘Whatever,’ the man glowered, and he shoved his padlock back into the pocket of his shorts. ‘We’ll go to another bridge instead.’ 
‘I work on those too . . .’ 
The couple laughed at him and sauntered away.
Mitchell rubbed his nose. He knew his job wasn’t a glamorous one. It wasn’t the one in architecture he’d studied hard and trained for. However, it meant he could pay the rent on his apartment and buy Poppy hot lunch at school each day. Whatever daily hassle he put up with, he needed the work.
His workmate Barry had watched the incident from the other side of the road. Sweat circled under his arms and his forehead shone like a mirror as he crossed over. ‘The padlocks keep multiplying,’ he groaned. 
‘We need to keep on going.’
‘But it’s too damn hot.’ Barry undid a button on his polo shirt, showing off unruly chest curls that matched the ones on his head. ‘It’s a violation of our human rights, and no one can tell if we cut off twenty or two hundred.’
Mitchell held his hand up against the glare of the sun. ‘We can tell, and Russ wants the bridges cleared in time for the city centenary celebrations.’
Barry rolled his eyes. ‘There’s only three weeks to go until then. Our boss should come down here and get his hands dirty, too. At least join me for a pint after work.’
Mitchell’s mouth felt parched, and he suddenly longed for an ice-cold beer. A vision of peeling off his polo-shirt and socks and relaxing in a beer garden appeared like a dreamy mirage in his head. 
However, he had to pick Poppy up from the after-school club to take her for a guitar lesson, an additional one to her music class in school. Her headteacher, Miss Heathcliff, was a stickler for the school closing promptly at 5.30pm, and it was a rush to get there on time. He lowered his eyes and said, ‘I’d love to, but I have to dash.’
Then he selected his next padlock to attack. 


Excerpted from The Secrets of Love Story Bridge by Phaedra Patrick,

***

About The Secrets of Love Story Bridge: Single father Mitchell Fisher hates all things romance. He enjoys his job removing padlocks fastened to the famous "love lock" bridges of Upchester city. Only his young daughter, Poppy, knows that behind his disciplined veneer, Mitchell grieves the loss of her mother, Anita.

 One fateful day, working on the bridge, Mitchell courageously rescues a woman who falls into the river. He’s surprised to feel a connection to her, but the woman disappears before he learns her name. To Mitchell’s shock, a video of the rescue goes viral, hailing him as "The Hero on the Bridge." He’s soon notified by the mysterious woman’s sister, Liza, that she has been missing for over a year. However, the only clue to where the woman could have gone is the engraved padlock she left on the bridge.

Mitchell finds himself swept up in Liza’s quest to find her lost sister. Along the way, with help from a sparkling cast of characters, Mitchell’s heart gradually unlocks, and he discovers new beginnings can be found in the unlikeliest places...

About Phaedra Patrick: Phaedra Patrick is the author of The Library of Lost and Found, Rise and Shine, Benedict Stone and The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, which has been published in over twenty countries around the world. She studied art and marketing, and has worked as a stained-glass artist, film festival organizer and communications manager. An award-winning short story writer, she now writes full-time. She lives in Saddleworth, UK, with her husband and son.