Posted in Beach Read, Family Stories, Romance

The Summer Place by Jennifer Weiner

The Summer Place is a quintessential beach read. The summer after COVID lock-down, Ruby announces she’s getting married. She wants the wedding to take place at her family’s beach house on Cape Cod, and she wants it to happen quickly. The whole family knows that when Ruby makes up her mind to do something, she is a very determined young woman.

Most members of the Danhauser family approve of the wedding. Ruby’s fiance, Gabe, has been living with them for the past year during lockdown. He’s a quiet young man, willing to follow in Ruby’s decisive track. But the wedding is sending one family member into complete terror. Due to an indiscretion during his prior marriage, Eli is terrified he might be Gabe’s father. While worrying himself to death over this, he puts his own marriage in jeopardy.

I was swept away into memories of my childhood by this novel. My grandmother owned a house on Cape Cod for about a dozen years. My small, immediate family visited her for a week or two every summer. I have many vivid, pleasant memories of hunting for sand dollars, digging for clams, swimming in the freezing waters, gawking at the sights in Provincetown and eating at Moby Dick’s.

One of the modern technologies mentioned in the book is DNA testing. In addition to Eli’s worries, there are more secrets in the Danhouser family that might come out if testing kits are used. I could really relate to this part of the story. Because of DNA testing, my sister and I recently discovered that we have a fairly close relative that we never knew existed. Obviously, there are deeply hidden secrets even in my own family!

I listened to the audio edition of this book and enjoyed the narration by Sutton Foster.

My Rating 4.5 Stars, Grade B+

Posted in ARC, Audio, Psychological Suspense

The Stepson by Jane Renshaw

Although she hasn’t known him long, Lulu’s husband, Nick, seems to be the man of her dreams. He’s handsome and thoughtful. He anticipates her needs. They share a sense of humor. Lulu just knows she’s found her soulmate. It doesn’t hurt that he’s wealthy, too. Unfortunately, Nick has issues. His family abandoned him when he was sixteen. Lulu, a psychologist, struggles to help him get over his past. But, when Nick begins to control every aspect of her life under the guise of love, Lulu is blind to his true problems.

Twenty-two years earlier, Maggie also married a loving husband, Duncan, and is expecting a child. Maggie had an abusive childhood and was in juvenile detention as a teenager. Although she has no doubts about Duncan, she’s learned not to be completely trusting. And she definitely doesn’t trust Duncan’s sixteen-year-old son, Nick. Nick is verbally torturing Maggie, making up lies about her and trying to make his father think that his wife is crazy and dangerous. He even tries to get her arrested for murder. Maggie realizes that in order to protect her baby, she must make a plan to get away from Nick.

The first two thirds of the book were almost boring. Ho-hum, another book about a sociopath. Nobody sees what he’s doing to them. They all love him completely. But once Maggie takes action, the book kicks into a higher gear and becomes more interesting. The ending made me grade the book up another half notch.

I listened to the audio edition of The Stepson. The narrators, Mhairi Morrison, Katherine Littrell, and Joshua Manning bring the novel to life.

My Rating 3.5 Stars, Grade C+

NOTE: Thank you NetGalley and Dreamscape Media for the opportunity to read and review this prepublication audiobook. Expected publication date is August 9, 2022.

Posted in Contemporary Fiction, Family Stories, Humor, LGBTQIA

The Guncle by Steven Rowley

Nine-year-old Maisie and six-year-old Grant just lost their mother, and their grieving father checks into rehab for three months. Their father leaves them in Palm Springs, California with their Gay Uncle Patrick, or GUP as he is affectionately called. Guncle Patrick (for gay Uncle Patrick), while he absolutely adores his niece and nephew, doesn’t have a clue what to do with them. He treats them like little adults and introduces them to a summer of semi-hedonism.

Patrick is also grieving after the death of his partner four years ago. Patrick became somewhat famous as a television actor, but after his very personal loss he shut himself up behind the walls around his elegant home, hanging out by his swimming pool and drinking martinis.

As Patrick works to help Maisie and Grant face their grief and begin the healing process, they also help him.

The setting was oodles of fun, as I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Palm Springs. I’ve eaten at Lulu’s, which is mentioned in the book, and stayed at several of the small inns and hotels around town. I could clearly picture the mid-century modern architecture and the ride up to the top of Mt. San Jacinto on the tram. The author’s descriptions are spot-on and quite amusing.

The Guncle gets one of my rare Gold Stars, which I’m sure Guncle Patrick would absolutely adore, considering how much he loved his Golden Globe award. Tender, moving and incredibly real, this book had my emotions swinging from laughing out loud to literally sobbing into my pillow. I wholeheartedly recommend this book!

My Rating GOLD STAR AWARD, Grade A+

Posted in Alternative History, Science Fiction, Series

The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal

Lady Astronaut Universe #2

Elma York is getting tired of being a glorified bus driver. Granted, the bus that she’s driving is a shuttle between earth and the moon. Nicknamed “The Lady Astronaut”, she is a very adept calculator and was the first woman in space. But, as always happens, men come first and women get shunted to less glamorous jobs.

Elma is going off a three-month rotation and is on her way back home to her husband on earth as a passenger in one of the shuttles, when it unexpectedly veers off course and crash lands in Kansas. Suddenly, the shuttle is surrounded by armed men making demands. These are Earth Firsters, who believe money should be spent on solving problems on earth rather than space exploration and colonization. A radical, American-only political group, the Earth-Firsters are determined and dangerous.

An investigation into the shuttle crash leads to political finger pointing, especially at the minorities. Bigotry is rampant and there is an unfounded belief that one of the non-white people on the shuttle helped engineer the crash. The political wrangling forces an upcoming voyage to Mars to move ahead a little faster than planned. The International Aerospace Coalition needs to put out media-fueled fires and put a positive spin on the Mars expedition. Elma, the very popular Lady Astronaut, unexpectedly finds herself on the first manned expedition to the red planet.

I can’t believe it took me four years to read this book! I read The Calculating Stars in 2018, just after it was published. The Fated Sky came out shortly thereafter and I put it on my to-read list. There it sat, languishing, as I read other titles, thinking I’d save it for a special occasion. After I read that there is now a fourth book in the series in the works, I figured I’d better catch up on the 2nd and 3rd!

I loved the Calculating Stars and despite the four year gap, I got right back into the alternate time line and the main character. Despite the leaps in rocketry and space travel, the 1960’s time line rings true. I admit to skimming past the trajectories and some of the scientific specifics — those are not my fields of expertise. But, the author consulted experts in mathematics, rocketry and languages, and her advisors made sure those sections were as accurate as possible.

Like the first book, The Fated Sky is hard, speculative science fiction at its best.

My Rating 5 Stars, Grade A

Posted in ARC, Cozy Mystery, Series, Wicca

Hearth & Cauldron by Shawn McGuire

Hearth & Cauldron #1

With her evil sister, Flavia, safely locked away in the nun’s tower, Reeva feels like she can finally live her own life. She now has her own shop, Hearth & Cauldron, in the charming village of Whispering Pines. Reeva sells kitchen supplies and gives cooking lessons and demonstrations. Between locals who want to improve their skills and the flood of seasonal tourists, business is excellent.

Reeva was recently chosen to be the high priestess of the village’s coven by the previous leader. For several reasons, there are some coven members who are angry about this. When Reeva asks the coven to gather at her home for a much needed cleansing/blessing, she becomes aware that some members might not have put their best effort into it.

Food is an essential part of any meaningful gathering. One member brings some absolutely delicious scones. Iris, a frail elderly woman trades scone flavors with Reeva. Later that night, Iris dies. Initially, it appears that Iris died of heart failure. But after several malicious attacks on her property and an ominous note taped to her shop door, Reeva begins to suspect that Iris’s death wasn’t natural.

I adore the village of Whispering Pines. I want to live –or at least visit — there! It is so quaint and cozy. I’d love to walk through the town, visit the shops and meet the residents. Although, there are all those pesky murders… During the pandemic lock down, I binge-read through the Whispering Pines Mystery series. It was so nice to have a place to escape to, even if it was just in a book. When the series came to a conclusion, I felt a bit bereft.

A few weeks ago, Shawn McGuire sent out a note asking for additional Review Squad Members and I leaped at the opportunity. At first, it was a bit of an adjustment looking at Whispering Pines through Reeva’s eyes instead of Jayne’s. But once I got used to the different point of view, everything felt familiar and comforting once again. This first book in a new series set in Whispering Pines is absolutely magical! I don’t need a crystal ball to foresee that the author will have fresh options for further adventures in Whispering Pines. I’m looking forward to all of them!

My Rating 5 Stars, Grade A

NOTE: Thank you, Shawn McGuire, for the opportunity to be on your Review Squad and to read/review this Advanced Reader Copy of Hearth & Cauldron.

Posted in Hard-Boiled Detective, Mystery, Noir

A Gambling Man by David Baldacci

Archer #2

I really wanted to like this book more, but honestly, after the first few chapters, I just got bored.

On the one hand, it is a fun tribute to the hard-boiled detective stories of the ’40’s and ’50’s. All of the elements are present — the gruff detective with ambiguous morals, the female bombshell, crooked politicians, murders, a stunning automobile and lots of money. But on the other hand, my mind kept wandering off for something more interesting to look at and I ultimately didn’t care how the book ended.

I generally like Baldacci’s books, but I think I’ll skip the latest book in this series.

I listened to the audio edition. I give 4.5 Stars, Grade A- to the narration by by Edoardo Ballerini and Brittany Pressley.

My Rating: 2.5 Stars, C-

Posted in Historical Fiction, Victorian

The Girl in His Shadow by Audrey Blake

Nora Beady #1

After he finds her entire family dead from cholera, Dr. Horace Croft wraps a very ill eight year old girl in a nearby curtain and rushes her home to his clinic. With the help of his housekeeper, Mrs Phipps, they nurse the girl back to health. With no surviving relatives, the girl, Nora Beady, becomes the doctor’s ward and grows up in his household.

Dr. Croft is a famous surgeon. He teaches at the local hospital, sees patients at his clinic and does research in his home surgery. Busy and distracted by his cases and research, he leaves Nora primarily to the care of the tireless Mrs. Phipps. While both the doctor and the housekeeper care about the girl, she isn’t showered with affection. However, her unusual home life exposes her to knowledge and ideas thought unseemly for females. She quietly becomes Dr Crofts’ secret assistant. She begins by keeping his surgery pristine, then moves on to creating detailed anatomical drawings, then assisting with surgeries.

One day, shocking both Mrs. Phipps and Nora, young Dr. Daniel Gibson appears at their door: he was hired by Dr. Croft as an assistant. Full of bluster and male confidence, he pretty much dismisses Nora as being unworthy of notice. Nora, determined that she won’t be displaced, begins to make herself even more useful to Dr. Croft. She studies and researches unusual cases as well as conducting a few experiments of her own.

One fateful night, Dr Gibson makes a lovelorn, drunken spectacle of himself at an exclusive men’s club. With the help of another doctor, Nora drags him out, causing shocked ripples through the upper crust community and putting herself in a very regrettable spotlight. This incident kicks off a chain of events that damages more than one medical career and changes the direction of Nora’s life.

This book came to my attention through a newsletter email directed at librarians. It is the featured book for this summer’s Big Library Read. I spend hours browsing various book-related websites and email notices, but hadn’t come across this book promotion previously. The synopsis was appealing, so I downloaded the book and promptly became thoroughly engrossed.

I love historical fiction, especially about strong women. Set a strong woman in the field of Victorian medicine and I’m hooked. Less than two hundred years ago, some brave doctors were finally spurning the theories and practices of humors, bloodletting and trepanation. They had to work much like Dr. Croft, who furtively brought corpses into his surgery in the dark of night to study anatomy and practice surgeries. The real-life versions of curious, talented women like Nora Beady were most likely lost to history.

My Rating 5 Stars, Grade A

Posted in Cozy Mystery, Ireland, Series

Murder at an Irish Wedding by Carlene O’Connor

Irish Village Mystery #2

Siobhán O’Sullivan has her hands full. Her family’s bistro is catering a wedding and she’s investigating a murder. The bride is a spoiled rich girl. The groom is a friend of Macdara’s, the local Garda. The murder victim is the best man.

Just about everyone attending the wedding, plus a few locals, are potential suspects. Macdara’s cap was found under the dead man’s hand, putting the town’s policeman on the suspect list, so he is unable to investigate. Siobhán takes full advantage of the opportunity to be Macdara’s eyes and ears. She zips around on her Vespa, investigating everything. It seems like just about everyone could have a motive, from the boorish father of the bride to one of the local tinkers. The affair is deadly, but most definitely not dull.

In this second installment of the Irish Village Mystery series, it is clear that Siobhán has a talent for investigation. Because she is a layperson, she frequently is ignored by both authorities and her interviewees, but the investigators occasionally recognize her abilities and give her some unexpected responsibilities. Meanwhile, her older brother takes charge at the family’s bistro and her younger siblings pitch in.

I enjoyed reading Murder at an Irish Wedding. There was a colorful cast of characters with distinct personalities. There were enough red herrings to make the mystery interesting, but not confusing. I’m very glad I read the first book immediately prior to this one, otherwise the sheer number of characters would be overwhelming. I’ve checked this one off my to-read list and eagerly added the third in the series, Murder in an Irish Churchyard.

My rating: 4 stars, Grade B

Posted in Cozy Mystery, Ireland, Series

Murder in an Irish Village by Carlene O’Connor

Irish Village Mystery #1

The small Irish village of Kilbane is the setting for this enchanting mystery. A family nicknamed the O’Sullivan Six run Naomi’s bistro. The eldest daughter, Siobhán, took charge of the bistro and her siblings after their parents were killed in a car crash almost a year ago. She has an older brother, James, but he’s been struggling with his own demons, leaving Siobhán with all of the responsibility.

Billy Murphy is in jail for the death of the elder O’Sullivans. He was found drunk at the wheel, unable to remember much of the accident. His brother, Niall, is now trying to extort money from Siobhán, claiming he has evidence that his brother is innocent. When Niall is found dead at Naomi’s Bistro, James is arrested for his murder, based on rather flimsy evidence. Siobhán is determined to discover who the real murderer is and get her brother released from jail. But first, she needs that Vespa she’s had an eye at the local bike cycle shop. A girl has to be able to get around quickly if she’s going to solve a murder!

The story line for the first book in this series is pretty basic. It’s the characters and the writing that elevate this novel into pure Irish charm. I grew up near several Irish-American Catholic families, including my childhood best friend’s. The banter between the siblings and their quirky personalities ring absolutely true. I absolutely adore the youngest boy, Ciarán. His spunky, curious personality is infectious. He has some of the best lines of dialog in the book.

This book was a bit of a slow start for me. I had to get the proper pronunciations of the Irish names in my head (I’m reading, not listening), but once I got that and the various characters straight, reading the book was like smooth sailing. I’ve read enough books set in Ireland that the dialect and vocabulary weren’t an issue.

I’ve had this series on my to-read list for a couple of years. I can’t believe I waited so long to read it! I was prompted to finally pick this up because the author, Carlene O’Connor, is about to start a new series with the upcoming publication of No Strangers Here in October, 2022. She very generously sent me an Advanced Reader Copy of that book. I’m definitely looking forward to it. But in the meantime, I’ve already started the next book in the Irish Village Mystery series, Murder at an Irish Wedding.

My Rating 4 Stars. Grade B

Posted in ARC, Mystery, Thriller

Things We Do in the Dark by Jennifer Hillier

Paris Peralta is found on her bathroom floor with a straight razor in her hand and her celebrity husband dead in the bloody bathtub. After it is revealed that Charles Peralta recently changed his will, making Paris the beneficiary of the major portion of his multi-million dollar estate, Paris is arrested for murder.

Paris is frantic. She didn’t kill her husband, but she does have long-hidden secrets. For one thing, her real name isn’t Paris, it’s Joelle, daughter of the infamous Ice Queen, Ruby Reyes. Ruby was convicted of the murder of her married lover twenty-five years ago and is about to be released from prison. Ruby, who will never win mother of the year awards, knows several of Paris’ secrets and is attempting to blackmail her daughter.

Drew is a true-crime podcaster with over three million followers. At one time, he knew Joelle fairly well and was one of her roommates. After a woman was killed in a fire in the apartment they shared, Drew identified Joelle’s body by a unique tattoo. He’s mourned her senseless death for years. Drew knows that Ruby is being released and begins research on her as a subject for an episode of his podcast. He has no idea what he’s about to discover.

Things We Do in the Dark is a complex, twisted tale of abuse and triumph. I listened to the audio edition, narrated by Carla Vega. I was absolutely riveted – and lost several hours of sleep – listening to it in the middle of the night. She did a fantastic job portraying Ruby’s cruel voice. The author wrote believable characters, even Ruby. There are way too many real people who are that hateful to their children and foster children.

The novel is much more multi-layered than I’ve described, because I don’t want to give too much away. This is not a novel for the faint-of-heart. It is about child abuse, pedophilia and murder. It is also a novel about one woman who did whatever she needed to do to survive.

My Rating 4.5 Stars, A-

NOTE: Thank you NetGalley and Macmillan Audio for the opportunity to read and review this prepublication audiobook. Expected publication date is July 19, 2022.