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Sunday, December 3, 2023

December Read: The Twelve Dogs of Christmas by Susan Wiggs

 

This is a quick, feel-good holiday romance complete with lots of doggies. The cover art is just so stinkin' cute! 

Brenda Malloy does not like Christmas. Not anything about it; especially now that she's found out her husband is cheating on her on Christmas Eve. She used to love Christmas as a child, until a family tragedy one Christmas Eve left her feeling guilty and full of grief. Now she's starting over again, and a volunteer gig with the local animal shelter is going to change her world. 

Brenda volunteers with a dog rescue organization in Houston, Texas. It's been a year since her terrible Christmas Eve, and she's divorced and moved on--kind of. A series of mishaps within the dog rescue organization give Brenda a chance to travel with twelve dogs to their new adoptive homes in Upstate New York--just in time for Christmas. Loading up the van and traveling with her friend Dolly, all seems to be going well until a snowstorm sends the van off the road and Dolly into the hospital. Now Brenda has to coordinate the delivery of all twelve dogs to their forever homes, get the van fixed, and drive home to Houston by herself. 

Enter handsome paramedic Adam Bellamy, who is immediately attracted to Brenda and is also the new owner of Olaf, a big doggie that loves to run, jump, and play. He's divorced, a single father, and ready to take a chance on a new love. If only Brenda wanted to stay in Avalon, and get into the Christmas spirit...

This was just pure fun to read. Lovely characters; the dogs are all sweet and add to the festive atmosphere. The town of Avalon is very Hallmark-ish and there are some bumps in the road to happily ever after, but it's a fun journey. If you want to read a gentle holiday romance, this is your ticket. 

Rating: 4/6 for a quick romantic holiday read chock full of dogs and holiday spirit. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio book. 

Thursday, November 30, 2023

November Read: Inheritance: The Lost Bride Trilogy Book 1 by Nora Roberts

 November has been a hot mess for me reading-wise. I'm working on a bit of a project that is taking up a lot of my reading time and I blinked and tomorrow is December first. 

I have read a few of Nora Robert's trilogies over the years and I always enjoy them, and the fact that they are just a trilogy and not a series. I couldn't wait to read this, her newest trilogy that combines a bit of romance, a bit of history, and a bit of the unexpected in a family curse, an evil witch, and a whole lot of dead brides. 

Sonya MacTavish lives in Boston and has just gotten out of a terrible relationship mere weeks before she was set to be married. It turned her world upside down, but she's moving on and making plans. Her plans are disrupted by a visit from a lawyer from Poole's Bay, Maine. He tells Sonya that she's inherited a majestic home and investments from her unknown until now Uncle Collin Poole. Collin and Sonya's father Drew were twins who were separated at birth; neither knew the other existed until Collin found out as an adult, but too late to meet Drew, who died in an accident. Now Collin is dead, and he's left the family legacy to Sonya. She has to move to Maine and agree to live in the home for three years--all expenses paid. Overnight she's become a wealthy woman. 

With nothing to lose, Sonya moves to Maine and immediately falls head over heels for the home. She sets up her freelance business as a graphic artist and starts settling in, but quickly discovers some unsettling things about the home--it is haunted. Not by just one spirit, but by a whole group. And there is one nasty spirit who is determined to push Sonya out by any means possible. 

So who are the spirits? The family history paints a terrible picture of tragedy after tragedy for generations. Once each generation, a Poole woman dies either on her wedding day, or within the first year of marriage. All manner of deaths--but each is a murder, and those murders are done by a woman who was rejected by the first Poole man for his true love. She's still in the house, and at night Sonya wanders the house, looking into the events leading up to each of the seven brides and their tragic deaths. What do they want with her? And why does the evil witch take the wedding ring off each woman as they lay dying? 

This was just a fun read, and classic Nora Roberts. The house is fascinating; the premise of the family curse is interesting, and I have to say I do love the reaction of Cleo, Sonya's best friend, to the evil witch and her attempts to scare the women. A few "F*** You" quotes fly through the air, and honestly, if I was in Cleo's place, I'd probably say the same thing, too. This witch has had centuries to hang around, but she hasn't met any modern women--and she has met her match. 

Sonya gets involved with Trey Doyle, a lawyer in town who has a family history with the Poole family and grew up and around the house. He's well aware of the history and the hauntings. Sonya's best friend Cleo is also a treat--and I suspect her relationship with Owen Poole, Sonya's cousin, will be the second book in the trilogy. 

This one ends suddenly and boom! Done. Not even a teaser for the next book. I surely hope it comes soon, because it definitely left me hanging. So yes, suspend belief; enjoy the little dog named Yoda, the copious amounts of wine drinking between Sonya and crew, and the glorious home Nora Roberts created for us to enjoy. I can't wait to read more and watch Sonya destroy the family curse so she can live happily ever after and not become the next lost bride. Wrench those stolen wedding rings off that hag's hand, Sonya!

I don't see any dates or anything at all about the second book in the trilogy. Stay tuned. 

Rating: 5/6 for sheer entertainment, a clever story, and characters that are easy to get to know and enjoy. The romance is light and sex is tastefully done and exactly what a modern grown up couple would do and say.  I will be trying to wait patiently for the second book. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 




Wednesday, November 15, 2023

November Read: Bright Lights, Big Christmas by Mary Kay Andrews

 

The cover of this novel was irresistible to me. Well, and the fact that it's Mary Kay Andrews. I knew I was in for a treat. 

I actually read this book way back in October when I had a very short window of opportunity to read it. It's a short novel; around 300 pages, so you can definitely read it in one day. 

Kerry Tolliver is reluctantly agreeing to join her brother in hauling the family mini-trailer to New York City from North Carolina for their annual Christmas tree pop up shop. It's something Kerry's father has been doing for years and years, but this time his ill health prevents him from going, and the operation definitely needs two people. Kerry arrives in New York City with the trailer, waiting on her brother, who is bringing all the trees from their tree farm. She runs into a problem immediately: someone is parked in their spot--the one spot they've always parked the trailer and set up shop. 

Patrick lives just down the street, and once he moves his car, sparks fly between him and Kerry. But she's only there for six weeks, or until all the trees are sold. Is it worth even getting to know him?

Meanwhile, it's brutally cold outside, and the trailer is cold and cramped. The days are long, sitting outside, taking turns with her brother. They operate late into the night. Sales are slow, especially when the competition shows up kitty-corner from their lot, selling inferior trees at cheap prices. If Kerry doesn't sell out of trees, their farm will be in danger. 

There are a lot of characters in this novel, and each one adds to the story in a way that makes it charming and cozy. Queenie is brother Murphy's dog, and she's a character all unto herself. There's the older gentlemen who Kerry meets who seems sad and alone, but doesn't want to share his story. There's the folks who run the Italian restaurant just down the street who welcome Kerry with open arms and plenty of hot soup. It's a charming slice of Manhattan, and I definitely got the holiday vibes. 

This was a great way to kick off my holiday reading (even if I did read it before Halloween!). There's a lot to be said for shorter holiday novels; you get a complete story but aren't overwhelmed with trying to read a huge book. In a busy time of the year, it's a great way to treat yourself in between shopping, baking, and decorating. 

I love Mary Kay Andrews and have been reading her novels for *gasp* decades. I am so thrilled she's turned to short holiday novels.

Rating: 5/6 for a delightful look at the Christmas tree industry; a sweet love story, and a slice of a New York Christmas. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio book. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

November Read: The Christmas Guest by Peter Swanson

 

It's been a bit since I last posted, but I swear I've been very busy reading! I'm in the throes of reading a lot of YA novels for a special project. I snuck this one in tonight for a quick read. 

Yes, I usually don't read any holiday books until after Thanksgiving, but I'll confess this is my second holiday book already. This was a great little novella that I read in one sitting this evening. 

The Christmas Guest is a mere 93 pages and because of that, it was a refreshing read. Okay, it's a murdery kind of book, but it was a switch from my usual cozy and romantic holiday books. The perfect palate cleanser before I dive into all the happy holiday reads. 

Peter Swanson packs a lot into this novella about a young American college student spending Christmas week with a new friend. Ashley Smith is all alone in London; a Californian who has no family and has traveled to London to attend college. Befriended by Emma at school, she's pleased to accept Emma's invite to her family home in the countryside. After all, she was prepared to spend Christmas alone in London, and heck, why not have an authentic English Christmas in the countryside?

Ashley travels to Starvewood Hall, and is instantly smitten with Emma's twin brother, Adam. He's gorgeous and brooding--and also a suspect in the recent murder of a local woman, found dead near the family home. Clearly she was murdered. Adam has an alibi, but it's pretty weak. That doesn't stop Ashley from falling hard and crushing on Adam. 

Ashley spends the week leading up to Christmas hanging out at the family home, witnessing the horrible relationship Emma has with her toxic parents, and walking to and from the village pub, drinking and having fun. She writes it all down in her trusty diary. Until Christmas Eve, and whoa the story takes a sharp turn. 

This novella spans thirty years, from 1989 to present day (give or take a few years). It seems pretty straightforward, until it's not. I loved it--even if it's not the usual sweet tale of holiday celebrations and family love that I enjoy so much.

Rating: 5/6 for a novella that sucked me in pretty quickly! A setting that has all the hallmarks of an idyllic Christmas celebration turns dark and what happens echoes down through the years. If you like short stories and thrillers, this is for you. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 


Sunday, October 29, 2023

October Read: The Stranger Upstairs by Lisa M. Matlin

 

What I expected going into this novel and what it was were very different. I'm still processing. 

It takes place in a small town in Australia. A town where houses are expensive and everything is gorgeous and perfect. Except for Black Wood House. It sits empty since a shocking murder forty years before, when the owner of the home murdered his wife while she lay in bed, and chased his daughter out the door. The daughter survived, but her father returned to the home and killed himself. Susan and Bill were beloved in the neighborhood; the horrible murder/suicide left a stain on the community. They all want Black Wood House to be torn down. 

Enter Sarah Spade and her husband Joey. Sarah has a popular website, a bestselling book about "being your best self", and is eager to turn the Black Wood House into a show-stopping flipper that will sell for millions. 

Except Sarah's not what you'd expect, and wow I did not expect her character or the novel to take the turns it did. For one, Sarah is not likable. Her marriage is on edge, and oh, the secrets she has to keep in order to maintain her perfect image. Only problem is, once she moves into the house, her life starts to fall apart. She can't sleep, she's finding notes around the house, there's someone walking around in the attic, and her husband won't stay at the house. 

As Sarah slowly unravels, as a reader you're kept wondering: is she losing her mind? The possibilities are all over the place: is someone trying to drive her out of the home? Are the neighbors spying on her? Is the house haunted? Or is there something else?

The turns it took were all over the place. The ending leaves you rethinking everything. It's at turns unsettling, suspenseful, and a bit bewildering. It's a whole lot of stuff going on, and I couldn't figure out what the heck was going on at all. If you want to read a novel that will keep you scratching your head and thinking you've got it figured out (you won't), pick this one up!

Rating: 4/6 for a wild ride where no one can be trusted--even the house. At times suspenseful, at times downright spooky, this is a blend of thriller/horror/suspense that will keep you guessing. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Monday, October 16, 2023

October Read: The Ghost Illusion by Kat Martin


 I switched from magic and witches to paranormal. It is October, after all. I love that it's getting darker earlier and I've broken out my fall candle.  Made pumpkin bread. Chili is on the horizon. I've also started watching my ghosty shows on Discovery. I'm all in!

I haven't read Kat Martin before, but in my years of bookselling and librarianship I've seen her name oodles of times and have ordered her books for the library. She's consistently popular and I'd say she's romantic suspense. This book definitely reminded me of Heather Graham and her Krewe of Hunters series. I'd love to see more with this group of ghost hunters. 

Eve St. Clair has recently moved to England to live in a family home she's inherited. She spent many summers there as a child and loves the home. Only problem is she's terrified. Every night there are running footsteps, cold spells, and voices arguing. She reaches out in desperation to Paranormal Investigations, an American group that travel the world helping people with paranormal issues. To her relief, Ran King, owner (and darn good looking, and rich) agrees to bring his team to Sunderland, England to help out Eve. 

Of course sparks fly between Ran and Eve. They both fight it, knowing this is just a short term meet and Ran will eventually return to Seattle once the ghost issue is resolved. But the pull is irresistible. 

Meanwhile, the ghostly phenomenon happening in Eve's home ramps up and is putting the team in harm's way. Eve seems to be the only one who can connect with the spirits, especially a young boy named Wally. The evil spirit that's keeping Wally and others trapped is bent on keeping the spirits there forever, and it will destroy anyone who tries to send them to the light. Can Ran and his team stay safe and solve the ghostly happenings? Is there a happy ending for Ran and Eve?

This was what I classify in my mind as a comfort read for me. I'm always up for a ghost story that involves a bit of history and the romance was a nice touch. Nothing surprising at all, and that was just fine with me. There was enough action moving forward that kept me reading and enjoying the plot and the characters. 

I'd read more of Kat Martin and probably will look into her other novels--she has a lot! But I really do hope she writes more involving the Paranormal Investigations team. 

Rating: 4/6 for an interesting ghost story, hot romance, and enough character building that keeps you invested but leaves the door open for *hopefully* more novels with this team. Fans of Heather Graham will enjoy this novel. 

Available in hardcover, ebook and audio book. 



Monday, October 9, 2023

October Read: Starling House by Alex E. Harrow

 

I'm enjoying reading books that are equal parts fairy tale/gothic/slightly spooky/fantasy. It could be this time of year, when the night creeps in earlier, and the air is cool enough at night you just want to huddle on the couch and be cozy.

Starling House fit the bill, and while I wasn't quite sure what to expect, I was willing to take the ride. There's a lot going on here.

Opal lives in Eden, Kentucky-a small town limping along and prone to bad luck. Opal and her teenage brother Jasper live in room twelve of the local hotel. It's the only home they've had for years. Opal struggles to make ends meet and her one desire is to get her brother out of Eden. She'll do anything--lie, steal--to keep him safe and his asthma under control. Their mother died tragically years before in a car accident, where Opal survived, but remains haunted by leaving her mother to die. 

Then there's Starling House, that oh so very strange mansion surrounded by woods and closed off by a big metal gate. Sometimes there's a light in the uppermost window, but no one is ever seen coming and going. Opal walks by the home frequently, and is a bit obsessed with it and the legend of the author who built it- E. Starling. 

One day Opal finds out who lives there, when Arthur makes an appearance at the gate, warning her to leave. He's a disheveled young man who looks like he's battling something ominous. Opal is intrigued. She wants in. Arthur reluctantly offers her a housekeeping position, and Opal can't resist.

Starling House is unlike anything she could have imagined-the house itself is alive. It shifts, it reacts; it is helpful and sometimes it's not. Opal and Arthur get to know each other, but very slowly. Arthur is fighting literal monsters in order to protect the town of Eden.  The house is sitting on a horrible, horrible secret that only Arthur, as the Warden of Starling House, can destroy. Unless it kills him first. 

Ooh, there are layers in this novel. Home is a huge theme--the hunger Opal has for a home of her own-a place to feel safe. Home also means someone to come home to, which Opal and Arthur both desperately need. The town's horrible history of bad luck and tragedy, directly linked to the Gravely family and their coal mining operations and greed. Poisoning the ground for profit. A young girl creating a world that will protect her and punish those who used her. The strength of friendship and a made family. 

I loved the mix of fairy tale and horror. Opal is one tough cookie who never gives up on her desire for a home and a place to keep Jasper safe. When evil arrives in the form of Elizabeth Baine she is torn between protecting Jasper or giving up the secret of Starling House and betraying Arthur. 

I don't want to say anymore because this is a book that needs to be experienced. I'd say there's plenty to discuss in a book club setting. 

Thank you to Tor for an advanced copy to read and review! 

Rating: 4/6 for an intriguing novel about dreams, monsters, home, and a haunted town. The monsters in your dreams can be real! 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio.