Sunday, February 5, 2017

Tough Justice: Countdown (Book Review and Giveaway)

Title: Tough Justice: Countdown (part 1 of 8, currently priced at $.99 each)
Author: Carla Cassidy
Publication: Harlequin Intrigue, ebook, February 2017
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Giveaway: I can give away one digital copy of Book 1 - see below
Plot: Tick. Tock. BOOM.

FBI Special Agent Lara Grant had thought that she’d put her past behind her—finally—with her last case. But now a serial bomber is targeting Manhattan’s elite power players, offering them a choice between saving hundreds of lives or seeing their darkest secrets exposed. Lara is working with the Crisis Management Unit to stop the bomber, but how will she react when she’s the one who has to choose between truth…or death?

Part 1 of 8: an explosive new installment in the thrilling FBI serial from New York Times bestselling author Carla Cassidy and Tyler Anne Snell, Emmy Curtis, and Janie Crouch.  Note that it looks like the first installment's title was originally Exposed and is now Countdown.

Audience: Fans of romantic suspense. You can *meet* the authors here.

My Impressions: This is a fast paced story told in eight installments of about 85 pages told by several of Harlequin’s popular authors. Lara is an intense, attractive, and flawed FBI agent who, in a previous case, went undercover to infiltrate the Moretti crime ring. As the story continues, we learn that Lara made some serious mistakes on that investigation and actually had a child with the notorious drug lord. To keep the child safe, Lara gave her up for adoption but this decision has caused her enormous grief. It is unclear how long ago that was (or if there are books about Lara’s previous case) but since then Lara has continued to throw herself into her work and has a passionate on again/off again relationship with her partner, Nick Delano. As this story begins, Lara and her team are tasked with investigating a killer who is using homemade bombs to terrorize New York. This is just the first installment but Lara comes across as superwoman tough yet vulnerable. As yet it is hard to distinguish between the other characters and their personalities but I look forward to learning more about her complicated back story and the interrelationships with other members of this elite FBI team.
About the Series: Harlequin launched a serialization publication with the debut of this Tough Justice mystery-suspense series. The eight-part digital-first serial is a multi-author endeavor that sees all the episodes in the series published simultaneously and are available as ebooks and as audiobooks. Each installment is currently priced at $.99.   Click here for purchase links and here for more info about the series.

I have one digital copy to give away.   If you are interested, please leave a comment below and I will pick one at the end of February.

Source: I was provided a pre-publication copy of the first installment of this book by the publisher for review purposes. Thank you to TLC Book Tours and Harlequin for including me in the launch of this series.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Law and Disorder (Book Review and Giveaway)

Title: Law and Disorder, Book 1, The Finnegan Connection
Author: Heather Graham
Publication: Harlequin Intrigue, paperback, January 2017
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Plot: Kidnapped while visiting her family home in Florida, Dakota “Kody” Cameron has no one to turn to – except the unexpectedly attractive man holding a gun. Outnumbered and trapped in the deadly Everglades, she has little recourse, but something in this captor’s eyes make her believe he is not as evil as the other men threatening her. Does she dare trust him?

Undercover agent Nick Connolly met Kody briefly in NYC where they both work and is afraid if she recognizes him the bad guys will kill them both. Though determined to maintain his cover, he can’t let Kody die. And his decision to change his own ruls of law and order are about to cause all hell to break loose. . .

Audience: Fans of romantic suspense; readers who like Jayne Ann Krentz, Nora Roberts, and Kay Hooper.

My Impressions: This fast paced and, at times, humorous story begins on a historic estate in Florida, once owned by a 20th century mobster named Anthony Green. Kody, an aspiring actress in New York, is home briefly visiting her family, who nominally own the Crystal Manor, when she is kidnapped by a group of thugs dressed up as historic gangsters. Their leader, going by the name Dillinger, believes Kody can find lost treasure, reputed to have been hidden by Green years ago. He threatens to kill Kody and the staff managing the estate if Kody, who has always been fascinated by the history of her home, cannot locate the treasure.

Kody is a very resourceful heroine who doesn’t back down to thugs, but perhaps it’s a little over the top – given that people have been searching for 80+ years – how quickly she deciphers Green’s papers to deduce where the treasure is buried in the Everglades. Personally, I think having a gun being pointed at me while I researched lost treasure might inhibit my creativity! Add the fun of a kidnapper whose “deep, dark, blue and intense” eyes engender trust and make Kody yearn to get to know him better, even when he seems to be threatening her and her friends. While the reader assumes Kody will be rescued or save herself, this is a romp of a book that reveals Heather Graham’s love of history and her home state. So long as Heather doesn’t make me stumble about in the Everglades hunting for treasure amongst snakes, alligators, and goodness knows what else, I will continue to enjoy her books from the safety of an armchair.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

About the Author: New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Heather Graham has written more than a hundred novels. She’s a winner of the RWA’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Thriller Writers’ Silver Bullet. She is an active member of International Thriller Writers and Mystery Writers of America. For more information, check out her websites:,, and You can also find Heather on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Source: I was provided a pre-publication copy of this book by the publisher for review purposes.
Please join Heather Graham, author of Love and Disorder as she travels with TLC Book Tours.
Tuesday, January 17th: The Sassy Bookster – excerpt
Wednesday, January 18th: A Holland Reads
Thursday, January 19th: Bewitched Bookworms
Friday, January 20th: A Chick Who Reads
Monday, January 23rd: Patricia’s Wisdom
Tuesday, January 24th: Mama Vicky Says
Wednesday, January 25th: Books a la Mode – excerpt
Friday, January 27th: Books and Spoons
Monday, January 30th: A Bookaholic Swede – excerpt
Tuesday, January 31stSnowdrop Dreams of Books
Wednesday, February 1stStranded in Chaos 
Monday, February 6thBook Reviews and More by Kathy – excerpt 
Monday, February 6thFrom the TBR Pile 
Wednesday, February 8thDog Eared Daydreams 
Friday, February 10thNot in Jersey 
Monday, February 13thBecky on Books 
Wednesday, February 15thReading Reality

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Plaid and Plagiarism (Book Review)

Title: Plaid and Plagiarism: Book 1 in the Highland Bookshop Mystery Series
Author: Molly MacRae
Publication: Pegasus, Hardcover, 2016
Genre: Mystery
Description: Janet, a middle-aged librarian from Illinois, her friend Christine, Janet’s daughter Tallie, and Tallie’s friend Summer, have moved to Inversgail in Scotland to run a bookstore, Ye Bonnie Books. Janet and her evil ex had bought a vacation home in Inversgail (which she got to keep after the divorce), and when the ladies go to check on the house, they find a dead body in the garden shed. As they settle into their new village, this intrepid foursome tries to help the local police solve the crime, in this first of a new series.

Audience: Fans of cozy mysteries, those who like books about books, and those yearning to go manage a bookstore in the Highlands (or anywhere else).

My Impression: I read a great review of this book and wanted to love it because I am definitely one of those people who romanticizes moving to a small village to run a bookshop (and with my luck, there would definitely be a dead body in my garden shed). However, having worked in publishing for 17 years, I also know that even one person can barely make a living owning/managing a bookstore so in addition to wondering how these characters (one is Scottish by birth so perhaps retained her citizenship while in the US) obtained work permits to move to Scotland, I wondered how they were going to pay for the mouthwatering scones they enjoy, not to mention everything else – Janet’s alimony was described as generous but it seemed unlikely her academic ex-husband had very much to spare.

Logistical quibbles aside, I would have liked more of a sense of place. The premise was fun but the delivery was weak.  These characters could really have been anywhere, not a quaint town in Scotland, and a few mentions of plaid and haggis were insufficient to set the scene, although there were quirky characters galore. Other than Janet being headstrong and bitter about her ex-husband and several mentions of the careers each had abandoned for Inversgail, there wasn’t enough about the four women to really distinguish them from each other. As a result, I did not care much what happened to them. The mystery itself was secondary to the women’s eagerness to help solve it. There were many red herrings (to go with a number of peculiar individuals whose behavior was never fully explained) – I am not sure if I fell for one or conjured it up on my own, but I certainly did not figure out who the killer was or guess why the murder had occurred.

Last year I read about a bookstore in Wigtown, Scotland where one can have a working holiday by renting a week at a bookstore through Airbnb.  Of course, I yearn to go to the Open Book and keep shop - what a combination of Maida's Little Shop and the bookstore dreams I am too practical to have.   Wigtown has been officially designated Scotland's National Book Town so I suppose it would be fun to visit even without getting to live above a bookstore - the waiting list for the Open Book appears to go through 2018, alas!

Source: I requested this book from the Boston Public Library after reading about it in Publishers Weekly.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Favorite Reads from 2016

According to Goodreads, I read 142 books in 2016 (this does not include rereads, however - my own calculations indicate that I read 149 books, not to mention that reading four Game of Thrones books is like reading a dozen ordinary books!).  Here are my favorites:


The Dead House, Fiona Griffiths, #5 – Harry Bingham
This is the most compelling suspense series you haven’t heard of and I insist you go back and start with the first book in the series, Talking to the Dead. Set in Wales, this one is set against the backdrop of a mysterious monastery. Fiona is an extremely odd but endearing detective whose commitment to victims she is assigned to investigate (and those she is not) takes precedence over everything else in her life. She is also desperate to decipher the secrets of her birth, and it seems likely these two story lines will stay connected as the series continues.
I Let You Go – Clare Mackintosh
The despair of Jenna Gray, the main character in this novel of suspense is almost too much to bear and requires occasional application of Kleenex. The story begins with a fatal car crash, then follows Jenna, as she tries to escape from her past in a remote cottage in Wales, while back in Bristol, two detectives are trying to track her down. I liked the detectives and hope the author will return to them in a future book.


Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty
I really enjoyed this story about three very different women, which begins when their children attend a kindergarten orientation. Told in flashbacks, with hilarious comments from the other parents incorporated, it leads up to an over the top (but very convincing) school fundraiser, where all previous conflict comes to a head. Moriarty, sister of Jaclyn Moriarty who wrote another fave, The Year of Secret Assignments, blends humor and serious topics effectively, and I couldn't stop reading until I finished at 2:30 am. I think I subconsciously noticed that HBO is doing a miniseries in February and decided I wanted to read the book first, but the trailer shows it is perfectly cast: Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, and Shailene Woodley as the shy newcomer to town.

The Hating Game – Sally Thorne
This book, which I reviewed for TLC Book Tours in August, was a delightful read about two work enemies, thrown together when their publishing companies merge, who inevitably fall in love, but as I noted then, it shouldn’t be dismissed as chick lit.

Historical Fiction
The Summer Before the War – Helen Simonson
Some of you will remember the charming Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, which came out in 2010 and was a popular book group read, including with my Radcliffe Reading Group. This book was delightful in a different way: it is about a plucky young woman (a penniless orphan, naturally!) who becomes the Latin teacher at a village school in 1914, just before WWI breaks out, and how she interacts with the locals, including the handsome medical student visiting for the summer. This is one of my favorite time periods, and in particular, I like reading about how war transformed the people in small villages like this one.  It's not as funny as Major Pettigrew

Historical Fiction/Fantasy

Game of Thrones, #1 – George R.R. Martin
I am late to the party on this legendary series, and others have described it more eloquently than I but, once I started, I devoured the first four books. It helped that I had brought the first book with me to the Emergency Room when I accompanied my father to the hospital in August. Something made me watch the first episode of the first season (once the Summer Olympics were over, I suppose I needed a new distraction) and I was mildly intrigued but not addicted. It took another episode to start figuring out who everyone was and start caring about them. For me, it worked very well to watch the HBO series while more or less simultaneously reading the books. This helped me keep track of the many characters a little better (there are way too many and it wasn’t until I finished the book that I found a useful list of characters broken down by kingdom/family). His greatest skill, in addition to his world building is making the reader care about unlikeable characters by writing from their point of view. It is somewhat amusing to me that Martin kills off readers’ favorite characters so ruthlessly – most writers are so in love with their creations, they can’t do it – but it can be very disconcerting. My friend Kimberly told me there is a bumper sticker that says, “Guns don’t kill people, George R. R. Martin kills people.”

Best Reread Elizabeth Cadell
I am grateful for those who fight to bring beloved authors back into print and now Cadell has a fan club.  Cadell's charming series about the irrepressible Wayne family is a must read for those who enjoy light English fiction set in a village where everyone knows everything about everyone else and makes it up if they don’t. The Lark Shall Sing, The Blue Sky of Spring (I think I missed this one when I first read this author in my 20s), and Six Impossible Things should be read in order and are newly available in paperback and as eBooks. The only thing I don’t like is that the bossy oldest sister is criticized for trying to organize her siblings into doing what’s best for them – what’s wrong with that, I ask? There should be a support group for misunderstood oldest sisters.


Jess Tennant books - Jane Casey
Exciting news! There is a new Maeve Kerrigan book in Casey’s adult crime series coming in March (as one cannot wait for the U.S. publication in July) but if you can’t be patient until then, it’s time to try her YA books about Jess Tennant, who moves from London with her mother to tiny town on the English seaside where her mother grew up and constantly finds herself in the midst of controversy (this requires some suspension of disbelief when the heroine is a teen whose only connection with law enforcement is her on again off again boyfriend’s menacing father) but Casey makes it work. Jess’s only flaw (but perhaps I am just jealous) is her effortless appeal (everyone falls for her or wants to be her friend – except when they want to kill her) and her somewhat annoying habit of recklessly putting herself into danger, although one could argue this behavior is somewhat necessary when investigating criminal activity.  Start with How to Fall, which is followed by Bet Your Life and Hide and Seek. There is a strong resemblance between Maeve’s annoying colleague Josh Derwent and Jess’s boyfriend’s father which is very disconcerting! It is unclear to me if this series has ended – maybe Casey herself has not decided.
The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You – Lily Anderson
I loved this witty and hilarious version of Much Ado About Nothing involving two super-competitive teens whose friends tire of their bickering and come up with a plot to make them more than tolerate each other. Full of pop culture references and humor, this is a story about all the people you wish you’d known in high school. This was one of the few 5 star reviews I gave this year.

Winner’s Trilogy – Marie Rutkoski
I came across the dazzling Winner’s series when I attended a joint event she did with Kristin Cashore in Cambridge. As I already owned all of Cashore’s books (and because my friend Barb recommended it), I bought The Winner’s Curse for my sister. A gift is doubly successful if you have time to read and enjoy a book before you wrap and give it to someone, as was the case with this fantasy about a general’s daughter who buys a slave to save his life, and then recognizes he is more of a soul mate than the young man she is supposed to marry.  The author manages to transcend a lot of the cliches too prevalent in fantasy, asking many questions about who the winners actually are.  Unusually, I think the third book in the series was the strongest, although the first was also excellent.


Book Scavenger – Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
I reviewed this in March before giving it to a nephew for his birthday. Inspired by a classic, The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, Book Scavenger launches a series perfect for the fourth or fifth grader in your life who loves books and puzzles. It involves a game where participants all over the country hide books and leave clues online for the first person to figure it out. The heroine, Emily, has just moved to San Francisco and is looking forward to paying Book Scavenger in a new city, not knowing she is about to be plunged into a mystery involving Edgar Allan Poe. I look forward to more adventures of Emily and her friend James, coming with book 2 in July.

Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White – Melissa Sweet
I recently reviewed this biography of the author of Charlotte’s Web, which is told in text, pictures, and replicas of items that were important to Andy White, as he evolved from child who loved the country to young writer for the New York to acclaimed essayist who moved to Maine and tried his hand at a children’s book.


Patricia Wentworth backlist
What wonderful news that a small publisher, Dean Street Press, has brought every Patricia Wentworth back into print!  Wentworth is one of the grandes dames of the Golden Age of British crime fiction.  I am a huge fan, not only of her Miss Silver books, but of the more obscure titles, some of which are so rare I had to photocopy them to own a copy. While she is best known for her creation of Miss Silver, an elderly spinster sleuth like Miss Marple, Wentworth’s talent is blending suspense, humor, and depiction of how ordinary people cope with stressful situations. My Christmas gift to myself – a long anticipated title, The Dower House Mystery, which so far is just as good as anticipated.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Skating Shoes (Book Review)

Title: Skating Shoes (UK title: White Boots)
Author: Noel Streatfeild
IllustratorRichard Floethe
Publication: Random House, Hardcover, 1951 (currently available in pb)
Genre: Juvenile fiction Setting: London
Description: Harriet Johnson has been ill and her doctor is concerned about her slow recovery so recommends ice skating. The Johnson family is delightful but impoverished: father George makes an inadequate living running a London shop in which he sells random produce etc. sent up from the country by his brother, mother Olivia manages meals for six out of the merchandise no one will purchase, and Harriet’s brothers immediately come up with a plan to subsidize her skating. Once at the rink, Harriet is befriended by talented Lalla Moore, who literally pulls her onto the ice when she is in awe at just glimpsing a rink for the first time. Raised by an affluent aunt, Lalla has been groomed since age 3 to become an ice skating champion. Their unexpected friendship will change the lives of both families.

Audience: Readers about 8-11 and adults who love Streatfeild.
My Impression: One of my all time favorite books, and a top three Streatfield, along with Ballet Shoes and Dancing Shoes. Although perhaps best known for her young characters who aspire to performing arts careers, Streatfeild is also gifted at portraying normal family life: Lalla, who was quick, soon picked up Casino and found it the most exciting game….Certainly she had never seen a family card game with everybody trying to do down the rest of the family, and roaring with laughter when they succeeded. Streatfield also makes it clear that frugal tea with the Johnsons is more fun than the cake with pink sugar and chocolate biscuits served in lonely splendor at Lalla’s home. On the other hand, part of the appeal of this book is learning what it takes to become a skating champion and witnessing Harriet’s skating development.

The supporting characters, as in all Streatfeild books, are warm and appealing, from Lalla’s Nana who does not approve of “making a show” of Lalla and encourages the friendship with Harriet and her family; the governess, Miss Goldthorpe, who invites Harriet to join Lalla’s lessons; and Max, the moody skating instructor, who is frustrated by Lalla’s lack of attention to the compulsory figures then required of skaters. Most vivid of all are the descriptions of George Johnson’s shop. His brother eats “the best of everything he grew, caught, or shot” and sends up to London dozens of near-rotten eggs, hundreds of cabbages, and possibly edible toadstools that are difficult to sell. Unlike many poor but honest families in English fiction, the Johnsons really are scraping the bottom of the barrel. No loyal retainer manages the kitchen, and they don’t have two shillings to spare for renting skates (Toby, the quantitative brother, immediately wonders how much skates would cost to buy and whether that would be more economical). 

I always think about this beloved book on Boxing Day because that is how I learned about this British holiday. Harriet’s brother Alec gets a paper route with Pulton’s News Agents to pay for her skate rental. It pays 14 shillings a week (sigh for the long lost days of a morning and evening newspaper delivery) and when he gets paid Mr. Pulton says, “Twelve shillings for your sister’s skates, and two shillings for your dreams.” Alec is invited to stop by Mr. Pulton’s flat, above the newspaper shop on the day after Christmas, which American readers learn is Boxing Day, and offered plum cake and ginger-wine (I assume this is the ginger beer also drunk by the Swallows and Amazons). Mr. Pulton listens to Alec’s ambitions for a market garden and gives him a leather cash box for his savings. His quiet support keeps Alec determined to save even when he is tempted to buy other necessities. Unlike some books where there is comeuppance for a talented but conceited character and success for the underdog, both Lalla and Harriet are likeable in different ways. Lalla is spoiled and lacks Harriet’s consistent work ethic but despite her upbringing she is generous (except in chapter 13) and capable of real friendship. Harriet’s improvement as a skater is fun for the reader, whether a skating fan or not.
About the Author: Noel Streatfeild was the daughter of an English minister and her book, A Vicarage Family, is the first of three that are more or less autobiographical.   She attended the Academy of Dramatic Art in London and acted professionally for several years before beginning to write.  Ballet Shoes was the beginning of the "career novel" for children, and in the US many of her later books were retitled with "Shoes" to increase sales.   White Boots became Skating Shoes, which makes much more sense than Family Shoes (The Bell Family) and Party Shoes (Party Frock).

Source: For years I checked this out of the Newton Library with the original US cover shown above. I now own a hardcover and the Puffin paperback also displayed.  Highly recommended and Happy Boxing Day!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White (Book Review)

Title: Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White
Author: Melissa Sweet with Afterword by Martha White
Publication: 2016, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Hardcover
Genre: Juvenile Nonfiction
Description: This is an illustrated biography of the beloved author of Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan, created by a gifted artist of mixed media. It starts with his childhood and provides a vivid depiction of young Elwyn’s, later called Andy, childhood in NYC and first exposure to Maine. His love of country life in Maine gave him deep pleasure and enabled him to craft stories about anthropomorphic characters that have entertained generations of children.

Audience: The book is written with simplicity that makes it suitable for middle schoolers researching an author but with enough dimension to appeal to adults interested in E. B. White.

My Impressions: I don’t recall what review inspired me to put this book on reserve at the library but when I picked it up and saw it was a juvenile biography, I almost didn’t bother to read it. That would have been a big mistake, as it was one of the most charming books I have read in some time. I was not previously familiar with Melissa Sweet who is a well known picture book illustrator and Caldecott honoree, but I was entranced by her multimedia approach – taking actual memorabilia from E. B.’s life and creating replicas of other pivotal moments in his life, while using quotes from E.B’s own writing throughout. It clearly made White’s surviving family members happy to have a biographer who loves Maine and nature as much as E.B. himself.
This is a gem of a book which reveals E. B.’s humor and modesty, love of his family (the letter he wrote when he learned his wife was pregnant is especially poignant), and the development of his career. Established as a writer for adults, E. B. wrote an essay on children’s books that caught the eye of Dr. Seuss himself, resulting in the encouragement E. B. needed to begin work on Charlotte’s Web, which became his first bestseller (and my favorite). Sweet includes a picture of a manual typewriter and information for young readers who only know computers, understanding that most people interested in an author want to envision him or her in the process of writing. I especially enjoyed learning about the early days of the New Yorker, which would not have interested me as a child, and Ursula Nordstrom’s inspired choice of Garth Williams to illustrate Charlotte’s Web as his first children’s book (coincidentally, a biography of Williams also was published in 2016).

After I finished this review, I found an interview with Sweet on NPR's All Things Considered.

Source: I got this book from the Boston Public Library. Highly recommended. Some book!

Images copyright to HMH, 2016

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Home Dec In-a-Sec...Not

About 18 months ago, I suddenly realized my dining room did not have curtains, only tired shades the previous owners had left behind.  I shopped for some time but it was impossible to find anything that seemed right.  Although I had not done much sewing recently, I found a pattern for valences that seemed simple and estimated two hours.   I chose the style in the bottom left:
The pattern was much more complicated than I expected.   I brought it with me to two of my favorite fabric stores for help figuring out how much fabric I needed and even these experts were perplexed!  I also emailed McCall's customer service for assistance and they explained which instructions to use (they also said the two hours applied to sewing time, not cutting, layout, or agonizing over the instructions).  As my brother would say, "Learning a lot about McCall's..."
I am sure I had spent at least 10 hours reading the pattern before I even found blue paisley I liked.  I bought the entire length of fabric because I knew that matching the paisley would be difficult (and it was).  Every time I was developing momentum, someone would come to visit and I would remove everything from the dining room table - the only surface big enough for all the fabric!   And then there was the day I reached page 8 and read:

Using a hack saw, cut metal bar to Width Between Brackets measurements minus 1"

Don't you think it's just a little passive aggressive to lure me into a deux heures pattern and just assume I own a hacksaw?   For the record, I do not, and I think there should have been a hacksaw warning on the package.   Reading that instruction still makes me laugh.  It took several months to find a plausible metal bar and to get someone to cut it, then to choose new curtain rods (when the first set were not sturdy enough) which the same guy mounted for me.  Try explaining to men in a hardware store what a valence is and why you need a specially cut metal bar!  And by now we are up to dozens of hours.  The windows are slightly different sizes which added to the complexity and the feeling I was doing everything twice and not making progress. But that scallopy look was tricky...
Still, all's well that ends well!  I added the last blue ties tonight and both valences were done, about a year after I bought the pattern!
What do you think?