Tag: fiction

Book Review: Anxious People, by Fredrik Backman

Image belongs to Atria Books.

Title: Anxious People
Author:   Fredrik Backman  
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5

Looking at real estate isn’t usually a life-or-death situation, but an apartment open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes a group of strangers hostage. The captives include a recently retired couple who relentlessly hunt down fixer-uppers to avoid the painful truth that they can’t fix their own marriage. There’s a wealthy bank director who has been too busy to care about anyone else and a young couple who are about to have their first child but can’t seem to agree on anything, from where they want to live to how they met in the first place. Add to the mix an eighty-seven-year-old woman who has lived long enough not to be afraid of someone waving a gun in her face, a flustered but still-ready-to-make-a-deal real estate agent, and a mystery man who has locked himself in the apartment’s only bathroom, and you’ve got the worst group of hostages in the world.

Each of them carries a lifetime of grievances, hurts, secrets, and passions that are ready to boil over. None of them is entirely who they appear to be. And all of them—the bank robber included—desperately crave some sort of rescue. As the authorities and the media surround the premises these reluctant allies will reveal surprising truths about themselves and set in motion a chain of events so unexpected that even they can hardly explain what happens next.

I guess I should say that I’m a big fan of Backman’s voice and style. A BIG fan. I read My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry last month and now it’s in my top five favorite books ever. The voice in this one is phenomenal as well. Examples:

“This story is about a lot of things, but mostly about idiots.” 

“Hand on heart, which of us hasn’t wanted to pull a gun after talking to a twenty-year-old?”

“The policeman clenches his teeth so hard that he looks like he’s trying to breathe through his toenails.”

Lines like that are priceless, am I right? I laughed a lot while reading this—straight through in one sitting, by the way—and I thoroughly enjoyed all the different characters and the vignettes we saw of their lives and personalities. This was not what you’d expect from a novel about a bank robbery and a hostage situation, but it is what you’d expect from Fredrik Backman: pure delight.

Fredrik Backman is a bestselling author. Anxious People is his newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Atria Books in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Orphan of Cemetery Hill, by Hester Fox

Image belongs to Harlequin/Graydon House.

Title: The Orphan of Cemetery Hill
Author:  Hester Fox
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5

Boston, 1844.

Tabby has a peculiar gift: she can communicate with the recently departed. It makes her special, but it also makes her dangerous.

As an orphaned child, she fled with her sister, Alice, from their charlatan aunt Bellefonte, who wanted only to exploit Tabby’s gift so she could profit from the recent craze for seances.

Now a young woman and tragically separated from Alice, Tabby works with her adopted father, Eli, the kind caretaker of a large Boston cemetery. When a series of macabre grave robberies begins to plague the city, Tabby is ensnared in a deadly plot by the perpetrators, known only as the “Resurrection Men.”

In the end, Tabby’s gift will either save both her and the cemetery—or bring about her own destruction.

I really enjoyed this read. It had a little bit of a creepiness factor, some mystery, romance, and great characters to tie it all together. Caleb wasn’t my favorite, but at least he did show a bit of character growth.

Tabby has been through a lot—but she keeps trying to help those around her. I cannot imagine spending the night in a cemetery—as a child, no less—and not totally freaking out over the smallest sound. This is a very atmospheric novel and a solid historical read.

Hester Fox lives outside Boston. The Orphan of Cemetery Hill is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/Graydon House in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: All Stirred Up, by Brianne Moore

Image belongs to Crooked Lane Books.

Title: All Stirred Up
Author: Brianne Moore    
Genre: Women’s fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5

Susan Napier’s family once lived on the success of the high-end restaurants founded by her late grandfather. But bad luck and worse management has brought the business to the edge of financial ruin. Now it’s up to Susan to save the last remaining restaurant: Elliot’s, the flagship in Edinburgh.

But what awaits Susan in the charming city of Auld Reekie is more than she bargained for. Chris Baker, her grandfather’s former protégé–and her ex-boyfriend–is also heading to the Scottish capital. After finding fame in New York as a chef and judge of a popular TV cooking competition, Chris is returning to his native Scotland to open his own restaurant. Although the storms have cleared after their intense and rocky breakup, Susan and Chris are re-drawn into each other’s orbit–and their simmering attraction inevitably boils over.

As Chris’s restaurant opens to great acclaim and Susan tries to haul Elliot’s back from the brink, the future brims with new promise. But darkness looms as they find themselves in the crosshairs of a gossip blogger eager for a juicy story–and willing to do anything to get it. Can Susan and Chris reclaim their lost love, or will the tangled past ruin their last hope for happiness?

This was a fun read. Susan’s family was awful, though, as was all the obsession with social media/appearances. That did make sense, though, as two characters are actors and a third is a famous chef.

The history between Susan and Chris was pretty bleak—and dark for more than one reason, one of which came totally out of nowhere, so it was a bit less than believable for me. But the chemistry between these two characters—not to mention the food descriptions—made this very enjoyable.

Brianne Moore was born and raised in Pennsylvania but now lives in Scotland. All Stirred Up is her newest novel.

Book Review: The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux, by Samantha Vérant

the secret french recipes
Image belongs to Berkely.

Title: The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux
Author:  Samantha Vérant   
Genre: Women’s fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

A disgraced chef rediscovers her passion for food and her roots in this stunning novel rich in culture and full of delectable recipes.

French-born American chef Sophie Valroux had one dream: to be part of the 1% of female chefs running a Michelin-starred restaurant. From spending summers with her grandmother, who taught her the power of cooking and food, to attending the Culinary Institute of America, Sophie finds herself on the cusp of getting everything she’s dreamed of.

Until her career goes up in flames.

Sabotaged by a fellow chef, Sophie is fired, leaving her reputation ruined and confidence shaken. To add fuel to the fire, Sophie learns that her grandmother has suffered a stroke and takes the red-eye to France. There, Sophie discovers the simple home she remembers from her childhood is now a luxurious château, complete with two restaurants and a vineyard. As Sophie tries to reestablish herself in the kitchen, she comes to understand the lengths people will go to for success and love, and how dreams can change.

First of all, this book made me hungry. The descriptions of the food are to die for! The author really brought the environment of a professional kitchen to life (I assume it’s realistic), and I cannot imagine the stress and pressure these people live with on the daily.

Sophie was a lot of fun. She watches her dreams go up in smoke and wallows in her grief for a while—as we all would—before deciding she’s had enough. Her missteps are believable, and her determination—once she finally finds it—is inspiring. This was an enjoyable read that kind of made me want to visit France.

Samantha Vérant lives in France. The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Berkely in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: A Life Once Dreamed, by Rachel Fordham

a life once dreamed
Image belongs to Revell.

Title: A Life Once Dreamed
Author: Rachel Fordham  
Genre: Historical Fiction, romance
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Six years ago, a shocking secret sent Agnes Pratt running in search of a new start. She found it in Penance, a rugged town of miners and lumberjacks in the Dakota Territory, where she became Miss Aggie, respected schoolteacher and confirmed old maid. But the past has a way of catching up with people.

When childhood friend and former sweetheart James Harris accepts a position as the town doctor, Aggie’s pleasantly predictable days suddenly become anything but. James wants to know why Agnes left behind the life they had dreamed of creating for themselves–but he is the one person who can never know.

In the shadows of the Black Hills, can a healing light be shed on the past? Or will the secret Agnes can’t seem to outrun destroy her chance at happiness?

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel! I liked seeing how Aggie went from the life she had before—just the brief glimpse we had was enough to give an idea of her well-to-do background—to the challenging life on the frontier. I enjoyed the simple small-town life and Aggie’s interactions with the children and the townspeople.

James was a lot of fun, too, as he kept slipping aback into his old teasing ways from childhood, interspersed with his Doctor personality. This was sweet and refreshing, like a drink of sweet iced tea on a summer day.

Rachel Fordham lives in Washington state. A life Once Dreamed is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Revell in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Last Story of Mina Lee, by Nancy Jooyoun Kim

mina lee
Image belongs to Harlequin/Park Row.

Title: The Last Story of Mina Lee
Author:     Nancy Jooyoun Kim
Genre: Fiction
Rating:4 out of 5

Margot Lee’s mother, Mina, isn’t returning her calls. It’s a mystery to twenty-six-year-old Margot, until she visits her childhood apartment in Koreatown, LA, and finds that her mother has suspiciously died. The discovery sends Margot digging through the past, unraveling the tenuous invisible strings that held together her single mother’s life as a Korean War orphan and an undocumented immigrant, only to realize how little she truly knew about her mother.

Interwoven with Margot’s present-day search is Mina’s story of her first year in Los Angeles as she navigates the promises and perils of the American myth of reinvention. While she’s barely earning a living by stocking shelves at a Korean grocery store, the last thing Mina ever expects is to fall in love. But that love story sets in motion a series of events that have consequences for years to come, leading up to the truth of what happened the night of her death.

The writing and description in this novel were compelling enough to keep me reading, despite the leisurely pace and Margot’s personality, which I didn’t care for at all. She was so hateful to her mother in her memories. Granted, Mina Lee wasn’t the most loving person, but she did manage to provide for her ungrateful daughter.

Being immersed in the culture of Koreatown was fascinating and complex, and I really enjoyed all the details. I felt so sorry for Mina Lee and everything she experienced, but Margot really made me dislike her, so it was hard to feel any sympathy for her.

Nancy Jooyoun Kim is from Los Angeles. The Last Story of Mina Lee is her debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/Park Row in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Paris Never Leaves You, by Ellen Feldman

paris never leaves you
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title: Paris Never Leaves You
Author:  Ellen Feldman   
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.0 out of 5

Moving between wartime Paris crushed under the boot of the Nazi Occupation and 1950s Manhattan giddy with postwar abundance and optimism, Paris Never Leaves You is the story of one woman’s struggle to save her infant daughter and herself.

Running a bookshop in occupied Paris, a city darkened by blackouts, curfews, and constant fear; gripped by hunger, cold, and sudden roundups and deportations, Charlotte Foret walks a fine line between protecting her daughter and staying true to herself and her country; between her hatred for the enemy and her unwanted sympathy for a Wehrmacht physician tortured by his own lethal secret.

Charlotte endures and her daughter ultimately thrives, but the compromises she has made shadow her new life in postwar New York, where she works in a publishing house presided over with wry irreverence by a man haunted by his own war history. Their fates and that of the Wehrmacht physician who has fled to South America prove that though the war is over, the past is never past.

I have to admit, this book traumatized me a bit…and I’m not completely sure why. Yes, the basic setting and time period in history was awful, so that was part of it. And, Charlotte’s worry over her daughter and her struggle to keep her well and safe was terrible to imagine, but that wasn’t all of it either. Just the horrifying experiences of Charlotte and the doctor and everyone…

Honestly, I didn’t connect too well with Charlotte. The guilt she inflicted on herself was a lot, and I found it hard to relate to her. Her actions in the present weren’t that likable, either, but even the secondary characters weren’t terribly likable (Except the doctor. I liked him.). I just found this book more emotional than I was comfortable with at the time I was reading.

Ellen Hampton lives in New York. Paris Never Leaves You is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Dazzling Truth, by Helen Cullen

the dazzling truth
Image belongs to Harlequin/Graydon House.

Title: The Dazzling Truth
Author: Helen Cullen   
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5

In the courtyards of Trinity College, Dublin, in 1978, aspiring actress Maeve meets pottery student Murtagh Moone. As their relationship progresses, marriage and motherhood come in quick succession, but for Maeve, with the joy of children also comes the struggle to hold on to the truest parts of herself.

Decades later, on a small Irish island, the Moone family are poised for celebration but instead are struck by tragedy. Each family member must find solace in their own separate way, until one dazzling truth brings them back together. But as the Moone family confront the past, they also journey toward a future that none of them could have predicted. Except perhaps Maeve herself.

This book…is slow, atmospheric, and yes, dazzling. It’s a small family/personal story, yet it draws the reader into Maeve’s and Murtagh’s lives from the very beginning and keeps them entranced by the simple island life and experiences of the Moone family. The characters are vivid and so realistic I feel like I knew them personally. The story is engrossing, sad, magical…all at the same time, and I definitely recommend reading it.

Helen Cullen is from Ireland and lives in London. The Dazzling Truth is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/Graydon House in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Friendship List, by Susan Mallery

the friendship list
Image belongs to Harlequin/HQN.

Title: The Friendship List
Author:  Susan Mallery   
Genre: Fiction, romance
Rating: 4 out of 5

Ellen and Unity have been best friends basically since birth, but they couldn’t be more different. Unity married her childhood sweetheart just after high school and became an Army wife, moving from base to base…until her husband’s shocking death in the line of duty leaves her a widow. Grief-stricken, it’s time for Unity to come back home to Ellen—the only person she can trust to help her rebuild her life. But Ellen has troubles of her own. Boys never seemed to notice Ellen…until one got her pregnant in high school and disappeared. Her son is now 17 and she’s wondering what to do with herself now that he’s heading off to college and he’s literally her entire world.

But now that Ellen and Unity are reunited, they’re done with their stale lives. It’s time to shake things up and start living again, knowing that they’ll always have one another to lean on. So they create a list of challenges they have to accomplish–everything from getting a tattoo to skydiving to staying out all night. And whoever completes the most challenges is the winner. But with new adventures and love just around the corner, there’s no such thing as losing…

The friendship between Ellen and Unity was so much fun to read—even when they fought. And I loved the fact that we got to see what the guys were thinking, too. That made everything much more interesting. Unity’s hanging out with all the older adults made the story charming, although her refusal to face reality was slightly annoying. This was a cute, fun read and I enjoyed seeing the characters grow and change.

Susan Mallery is a bestselling author. The Friendship List is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/HQN in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Woman Before Wallis, by Bryn Turnbull

red sky over hawaii blog tour

 

the woman before wallis
Image belongs to Harlequin/MIRA.

Title:   The Woman Before Wallis
Author:   Bryn Turnbull
Genre: Historical fiction
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

In the summer of 1926, when Thelma Morgan marries Viscount Duke Furness after a whirlwind romance, she’s immersed in a gilded world of extraordinary wealth and privilege. For Thelma, the daughter of an American diplomat, her new life as a member of the British aristocracy is like a fairy tale—even more so when her husband introduces her to Edward, Prince of Wales.

 In a twist of fate, her marriage to Duke leads her to fall headlong into a love affair with Edward. But happiness is fleeting, and their love is threatened when Thelma’s sister, Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, becomes embroiled in a scandal with far-reaching implications. As Thelma sails to New York to support Gloria, she leaves Edward in the hands of her trusted friend Wallis, never imagining the consequences that will follow.

This was such an excellent read! I was engrossed from the very first page and couldn’t stop reading! Thelma was an incredible character, and if I’ve ever known anything about the facts this novel is based on, I’ve totally forgotten them, so everything was fresh and new.

The life of wealth and privilege Thelma marries into is a bit mind-blowing—as are her wealthy new friends’ morals, but I enjoyed reading about the glitz and the glamour—and the royalty, even though the prince was a bit disappointing (His behavior, I mean. Not very princely when he dropped Thelma for Wallis.)

Bryn Turnbull lives in Toronto. The Woman Before Wallis is her debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/MIRA in exchange for an honest review.)