Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Book Review: Happy People Read and Drink Coffee, by Agnes Martin-Lugand

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

One last time, I snuggled up against Colin’s side of the bed, my head buried in his pillow, and cuddled Clara’s favorite soft toy; my tears made them damp. The alarm clock went off and I got out of bed, like a robot.

Reading Happy People Read and Drink Coffee wasn’t exactly the carefree pool read I’d been planning on, but I definitely wanted to know how everything ended for Diane and the others in her life. Maybe there can be a rule against saying ‘happy’ in the title, and then having a lot of the book be sad?

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Happy People Read and Drink Coffee, by Agnes Martin-Lugand
Diane seems to have the perfect life. She is a wife, mother, and the owner of Happy People Read and Drink Coffee, a cozy literary café in Paris. But when she suddenly loses her husband and daughter in a car accident, the world as she knows it disappears.

One year later, Diane moves to a small town on the Irish coast, determined to heal by rebuilding her life alone-until she meets Edward, a handsome and moody photographer, and falls into a surprising and tumultuous romance.

But will it last when Diane leaves Ireland for good? At once heartbreaking and uplifting, Diane's story is deeply felt, reminding us that love remembered is love enduring.

I was originally expecting a hipster, coffee-shop, feel good book when I started reading this on the plane to Vegas, but I learned better in a hurry. As I was flying away from my children and husband for almost a week, I got to read about Diane losing her family and the crushing effect it had on her.

Luckily, she finally chooses to move on (thanks for not giving us a lot of the depressing year or so in the apartment!) and relocates. Who hasn’t had that dream of running away before?

In Ireland, the shadows of Paris slowly lift, and she finds her way through a totally different normal. Learning her way around a whole new world is exciting an terrifying all at once. The romance that develops is reasonably predictable, but after the tragedies in the beginning, I was happy for the change of pace. The ending admittedly threw me for a loop, and I still haven’t decided if that was good or bad.

Overall, the descriptions and characters make this book worth the read. It was also a nice length for a flight, layover, and waiting around between conference meetings. I could read a few pages and not end up confused, which is perfect for a book I just had along for extra entertainment.

I’d give it 3 out of 5 stars.
{Click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley loves hearing her children giggle, oatmeal scotchies, and baby sloth videos. She’s been blogging in SE Michigan since March 2002 at www.sweetlybsquared.com.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Without Merit, by Colleen Hoover {ends 10/30}

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Without Merit, by Colleen Hoover

My father is an atheist, although that isn't at all why he chose to purchase the foreclosed house of worship and rip it from the hands of the people. No, God had no say in that matter.

He bought the church and closed the doors simply because he absolutely, vehemently, without doubt, hated Pastor Brian's dog, and subsequently, Pastor Brian. 

Funny story about this book: I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I actually had forgotten that I had signed up for the book tour (thanks, past self ...) and almost didn't review it. Without Merit is definitely a book that you cannot skip.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Without Merit, by Colleen Hoover
The Voss family is anything but normal. They live in a repurposed church, newly baptized Dollar Voss. The once cancer-stricken mother lives in the basement, the father is married to the mother’s former nurse, the little half-brother isn’t allowed to do or eat anything fun, and the eldest siblings are irritatingly perfect. Then, there’s Merit.

Merit Voss collects trophies she hasn’t earned and secrets her family forces her to keep. While browsing the local antiques shop for her next trophy, she finds Sagan. His wit and unapologetic idealism disarm and spark renewed life into her—until she discovers that he’s completely unavailable. Merit retreats deeper into herself, watching her family from the sidelines, when she learns a secret that no trophy in the world can fix.

Fed up with the lies, Merit decides to shatter the happy family illusion that she’s never been a part of before leaving them behind for good. When her escape plan fails, Merit is forced to deal with the staggering consequences of telling the truth and losing the one boy she loves.

Poignant and powerful,
Without Merit explores the layers of lies that tie a family together and the power of love and truth.

This novel reminded me a bit of the Running with Scissors family combined with elements of David Sedaris's books. Merit is a twin, but isn't close with her sister, Honor. They live with their brother, Utah; half-brother, Moby (named after Moby-Dick, not the singer); father, Barnaby; step-mother, Victoria; and biological mother, also named Victoria, who lives in the basement. On top of all of that, they live in a church that their father bought from foreclosure just to spite the local pastor. 

All of the characters created here are very unique, which is why I liked the novel so much. Merit likes to collect trophies—but not trophies she personally has won, but rather, trophies that she finds in thrift stores. Her sister, Honor, likes to pursue relationships with teen guys who are on the brink of dying; her first boyfriend died during their relationship, and for some reason that stuck with her. Another relative gets thrown into the mix later on, too, which shakes up the family dynamic, and there are also secrets revealed by Merit in the latter half of the novel which threaten to break up the family.

My only complaint about this book is that the last few chapters take a while to wrap up—all of the plot points had mostly been finished, but the novel continued on for a few more chapters.

Other than that, I really enjoyed this book, and I'll have to check out more novels by Colleen Hoover in the future.

4.5 stars out of 5.
{click here to purchase}


Enter to win below. This is a group giveaway that the other blog tour participants and I are hosting on our blogs.

Five lucky winners will receive a signed hardcover copy of Without Merit!

Giveaway will end on Monday, October 30th.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Book Review: Where We Fall, by Rochelle B. Weinstein

Guest review by: Erin Krajenke

There were times as a child and young adolescent—before I could give words to my fears and inner thoughts—that I actually wished for calamity. If only that Rottweiler had taken a bite out of my leg, an area that healed quickly and didn't leave any long-term bruises. If only I could actually faint, instead of always feeling faint. If only something truly terrible would happen to me, then maybe my parents would have dragged me to a doctor and experts would have studied me to find out exactly what was wrong. Because I was sure there was something really broken in me.

… I have held Ryan back for as long as I can remember. What started as a mistake has grown progressively worse. Sometimes the guilt consumes me. I wish I could be a better wife, a better mother, though my handicaps prevent me from doing normal things that most women take for granted.

…"Baby, this doesn't have to be a bad thing. It’s been hard, for you, for us, but you mostly, for a long time."  "You're being kind."  "Heck, I've suffered. We've all suffered." "Are you giving up on me?" I cry out, feeling the separation wedge a space between us. "I'm fighting for you, Abs. Even if it means we fight. If this gets you better, I'll do whatever it takes." A montage of Ryan playing the hero reminds me of all the reasons I must go. He is picking me up from the mall because I can't catch my breath, and I'm having what I believe is the third heart attack of the week. He is hugging me in our bed while waves of panic ripple through me. He thinks he can push the waves back to sea, though I know he can’t. But he tries. He is looking me in the eyes when I am in the throes of a depressive episode, and he is telling me how beautiful I amnot just outside but insideand how he wishes I could see in myself a fraction of what he sees. And then there's the time we were flying to Dallas for the weekend and the turbulence got so badI was sure we were going down. The vodkas weren't the best decision. He had to carry me off the plane.

This story involves the aftermath (and kind of still continuation) of a love triangle amongst three friends, one of whom is suffering from a mental illness.  This book is told from multiple points of view (Ryan, Abby, Lauren, and Juliana) which I always enjoy in a novel. Sometimes I feel like just telling a story from multiple perspectives can create even more turmoil in a story due to the reader being privy to personal thoughts and information.

Official synopsis:
By all accounts, Abby Holden has it all.  She's the mother of a beautiful teenager and the wife of a beloved high school football coach. And all it took to achieve her charmed life was her greatest act of betrayal.

Coach Ryan can coax his team to victory, but he can't seem to make his wife, Abby, happy. Her struggles with depression have marred their marriage and taken a toll on their daughter, Juliana. Although this isn't the life he's dreamed of, he's determined to heal the rifts in his family.

Chasing waterfalls and documenting their beauty has led photographer Lauren Sheppard all around the world.  Now it has brought her back home to the mountains of North Carolina - back to the scene of her devastating heartbreak.

For the first time in seventeen years, a trio of once-inseparable friends find themselves confronting past loves, hurts, and the rapid rush of a current that still pulls them together.

I have read a lot of books with characters dealing with mental illnesses recently and I like that the books have been told from their perspective as well as others to give you an idea of what someone with mental health issues is dealing with. I really enjoyed the chapters where Abby is getting the help she needs and is actually getting better, being happy, and loving herself and life.

However, that was about the only part of the book I enjoyed. The love triangle just didn’t do it for me…mostly because it happened 17 years ago and they are still wallowing in it…get over it and move on already. Each character is pointing the blame when in fact, I feel they were all to blame for at least part of the problem…and it happened 17 years ago. As I said, get over it. I guess I just had a hard time really caring about the characters or their love triangle. But I did like the light it shed on mental illness, how hard it is for the individual and their loved ones, how hard getting help might be, and then seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

…I know there's no finish line; that this never ends. I'm learning how to fall, dust myself off, and take the next step. I'm also weeks into a really good antidepressant and a mild anti-anxiety medication. They definitely help. I will probably remain on these drugs for the rest of my life. ‘Stigma’ is a terrible word in the world of quiet sufferers....when a patient presents with symptoms of diabetes or heart disease, and the treatment is lifelong, the general population accepts the diagnosis as a matter of physical health. Unfortunately, diseases of the brain are classified and perceived differently than diseases of the body. Your brain forms your personality. Your behavior is the result of the disease, of the brain misfiring. It's easier to separate blame and fault from an impaired kidney or a damaged aorta than from an obsessive, compulsive, phobic person.

Start rating: 3 out 5 …but a low 3.
{Click here to purchase}

Erin Krajenke is a chatty Virgo. She always has coffee when watching radar (and she hopes someone gets this Spaceballs reference).

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Borrowed Souls, by Chelsea Mueller {ends 10/20}

Callie Delgado needed a soul.

Her brother had been kidnapped, his captors were blackmailing her, and here she was, outside one of the most unusual pawn shops in all of GEm City, about to rent one. She just needed to force herself to walk the twenty steps to the Soul Charmer's front door. The one wedged in a dirty, rundown building on a dirty, rundown street in the dirty, rundown part of town. It was the last place she wanted to be, but the one place she had to go.

Fate was kind of a dick like that. 

Borrowed Souls had been sitting in my TBR pile for a few months now, but the concept of the novel had always intrigued me. I finally had a chance to read it this week when traveling (airplane time = no interruptions reading time!), and if you like dystopian and/or fantasy novels, you will like this one.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Borrowed Souls, by Chelsea Mueller
Callie Delgado always puts family first, and unfortunately her brother knows it. She’s emptied her savings, lost work, and spilled countless tears trying to keep him out of trouble, but now he’s in deeper than ever, and his debt is on Callie’s head. She’s given a choice: do some dirty work for the mob, or have her brother returned to her in tiny pieces.

Renting souls is big business for the religious population of Gem City. Those looking to take part in immoral—or even illegal—activity can borrow someone else’s soul, for a price, and sin without consequence.

To save her brother, Callie needs a borrowed soul, but she doesn’t have anywhere near the money to pay for it. The slimy Soul Charmer is willing to barter, but accepting his offer will force Callie into a dangerous world of magic she isn’t ready for.

With the help of the guarded but undeniably attractive Derek—whose allegiance to the Charmer wavers as his connection to Callie grows—she’ll have to walk a tight line, avoid pissing off the bad guys, all while struggling to determine what her loyalty to her family’s really worth.

Losing her brother isn’t an option. Losing her soul? Maybe.

This is actually "Soul Charmer #1," and the ending definitely leaves things open for a sequel, although there isn't one listed on Goodreads as of this writing.

Callie is trying to save her brother from some mobsters, so to speak, and so she goes into a sort of "indentured servitude" agreement with the Soul Charmer, a slimy guy who rents out souls. By the end of the novel, though, things are still not finished with him, which sets things up for the next book in the series.

Dystopian novels are usually some of my favorite to read. I found the idea of "renting souls" to be fascinating, especially when they talk about how the second soul co-exists (or tries to ...) with the owner's original soul. I don't believe they say what year it is, in the novel, but it's implied that it's sometime within the near future.

There's a bit of a romance angle with Derek and Callie, too, which integrated nicely into the book—it didn't overtake the main story, which was Callie trying to get her older brother out of trouble, but was a side plot.

3.5 stars out of 5.
{Click here to purchase}


One of my lucky readers will win a paperback copy of Borrowed Souls!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Friday, October 20th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be notified the next day via email and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. and Canadian residents only, please.

Good luck!

Borrowed Souls paperback copy

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Book Review: The Outliers, by Kimberly McCreight

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“Give me your arm,” I say to Jasper without looking at him. He hesitates, then holds a bicep out toward me. I wrap a couple of fingers around his bare elbow, which was supposed to feel less weird than actually holding his muscular arm. But does not. “I just need you to walk me to your car. Don’t ask why, please. I’m not going to tell you anyway.”

And then I close my eyes. Because pretending I’m not actually doing this couldn’t hurt either.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: The Outliers, by Kimberly McCreight
It all starts with a text: Please, Wylie, I need your help. Wylie hasn’t heard from Cassie in over a week, not since their last fight. But that doesn’t matter. Cassie’s in trouble, so Wylie decides to do what she has done so many times before: save her best friend from herself.

This time it’s different, though. Instead of telling Wylie where she is, Cassie sends cryptic clues. And instead of having Wylie come by herself, Jasper shows up saying Cassie sent him to help. Trusting the guy who sent Cassie off the rails doesn’t feel right, but Wylie has no choice but to ignore her gut instinct and go with him.

But figuring out where Cassie is goes from difficult to dangerous, fast. As Wylie and Jasper head farther and farther north into the dense woods of Maine, Wylie struggles to control her growing sense that something is really wrong. What isn’t Cassie telling them? And could finding her be only the beginning?

I knew nothing about The Outliers when I picked it up, and wasn’t sure quite what it would be about at the beginning. It was a marvelous psychological thriller, not only with mind games, suspense, and deceit, but even with the basis of the story dealing with psychological research. By a few pages in, some of the back story fell quickly into place.

This was definitely a page-turner, and I can’t wait to read the next book! Not gonna lie, it did take me a few pages to figure out, and then remember, that Wylie was a girl (named after her grandfather, as it turned out). I did end up intrigued by several of the characters, and it sounds like they’ll be back in the next book.

I can’t think of much I didn’t like about this book, and I’m in a hurry to get to the next one. While most of the reading I do is just for my own entertainment and enjoyment, I feel like a 5 star should give me something more than just escaping from a few hours of my life. I’d give this a solid 4 out of 5 stars.

Becki Bayley loves fuzzy slippers, artichokes with butter, and the feeling of contentment that comes from seeing her children safe at home. She’s been blogging in SE Michigan since March 2002 at www.sweetlybsquared.com.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Her Every Fear, by Peter Swanson {ends 10/17}

Guest review by: Erin Krajenke

Her stomach folded again, starting to cramp. When did I last go to the toilet, she thought, and her panic ratcheted up a notch. It was such a familiar feeling: heart speeding up, limbs turning cold, the world sharpening before her eyes. But she knew what to do. Her therapist's voice was in her head. It's just a panic attack, an accidental surge of adrenaline. It can't hurt you, or kill you, and no one will notice it. Just let it happen. Float with it. Ride it out.

But this one's different, Kate told herself. The danger felt real. And suddenly she was back at the cottage in Windermere, crouched and cowering in the locked closet, her nightgown wet with urine, George Daniels on the other side of the door. She felt almost like she'd felt then, cold hands inside of her, twisting her stomach like it was a damp dish towel. There'd been the gunshot blast, then the terrible silence that lasted for hours and hours. When she'd finally been pulled from the closet, her joints stiff and her vocal cords raw from screaming, she didn't know how she was still alive, how the fear hadn't killed her.

I am not typically a fan of suspense/mystery novels, but I enjoyed this book. It took me about 20% of the way to get into this book but once I got into it, I could not put it down!

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Her Every Fear, by Peter Swanson
Growing up, Kate Priddy was always a bit neurotic, experiencing momentary bouts of anxiety that exploded into full-blown panic attacks after an ex-boyfriend kidnapped her and nearly ended her life. When Corbin Dell, a distant cousin in Boston, suggests the two temporarily swap apartments, Kate, an art student in London, agrees, hoping that time away in a new place will help her overcome the recent wreckage of her life.

Soon after her arrival at Corbin's grand apartment on Beacon Hill, Kate makes a shocking discovery: his next-door neighbor, a young woman named Audrey Marshall, has been murdered. When the police question her about Corbin, a shaken Kate has few answers, and many questions of her own-curiosity that intensifies when she meets Alan Cherney, a handsome, quiet tenant who lives across the courtyard, in the apartment facing Audrey's. Alan saw Corbin surreptitiously come and go from Audrey's place, yet he's denied knowing her. Then, Kate runs into a tearful man claiming to be the dead woman's old boyfriend, who insists Corbin did the deed the night that he left for London.

When she reaches out to her cousin, he proclaims his innocence and calms her nerves--until she comes across disturbing objects hidden in the apartment and accidentally learns that Corbin is not where he says he is. Could Corbin be a killer? What about Alan? Kate finds herself drawn to this appealing man who seems so sincere, yet she isn't sure. Jet-lagged and emotionally unstable, her imagination full of dark images caused by the terror of her past, Kate can barely trust herself, so how could she take the chance on a stranger she's just met?

As I said, I am not typically a fan of suspense/mystery novels (my nerves cannot take it!), but I enjoyed this book. This novel was probably not as suspenseful as most books in this genre, but it held my interest the entire way through which seems to be a rarity for me these days. The book was told through multiple points of view which I always enjoy in a book since it gives you a different perspective or understanding of the various characters.

With that said, I still feel like Kate was the main character and I really enjoyed her, which I think helped me enjoy the book. There were not as many twists and turns as I expected, but I guess that helped to keep the story more realistic. This book was a nice easy read that I might put on par with The Girl on the Train, but better.

To quote Liz: 3.5 stars out of 5, so I will round up to 4.
{Click here to purchase}

Erin Krajenke is a chatty Virgo. She also likes eating, reading, and petting all the doggos.


Three of my lucky readers will win a copy of Her Every Fear!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, October 17th, at 11:59pm EST, and winners will be notified the next day via email, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner(s) will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Her Every Fear book

Monday, October 2, 2017

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Feast of Sorrow, by Crystal King {ends 10/10}

Guest review by: Karen Doerr

“You are wondering why I’m chopping vegetables with you.” It wasn’t a question.

“The thought had crossed my mind, Dominus.”

He pushed the chopped carrot to the side and took up the parsnips. “When I am in the kitchen, making food, it is as though the gods are with me.”

“What do you mean, Dominus?” I was not accustomed to asking my master questions, but Apicius seemed to be inviting conversation.

“I feel a sense of calmness, of true competence, infusing me. The same energy fills me when I am chopping and stirring, or when I discover a new wine vintage. Such culinary experiences bring me great pleasure.”

As a foodie and history buff, I was excited to start Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King. I thought that it would combine my two greatest loves into a story of political ambition with a hint of tragedy. What I got instead was an overly long, complicated and quite frankly, dull story. Such a shame for a concept that had amazing potential!

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Feast of Sorrow, by Crystal King
Set amongst the scandal, wealth, and upstairs-downstairs politics of a Roman family, Crystal King’s seminal debut features the man who inspired the world’s oldest cookbook and the ambition that led to his destruction.

On a blistering day in the twenty-sixth year of Augustus Caesar’s reign, a young chef, Thrasius, is acquired for the exorbitant price of twenty thousand denarii. His purchaser is the infamous gourmet Marcus Gavius Apicius, wealthy beyond measure, obsessed with a taste for fine meals from exotic places, and a singular ambition: to serve as culinary advisor to Caesar, an honor that will cement his legacy as Rome's leading epicure.

Apicius rightfully believes that Thrasius is the key to his culinary success, and with Thrasius’s help he soon becomes known for his lavish parties and fantastic meals. Thrasius finds a family in Apicius’s household, his daughter Apicata, his wife Aelia, and her handmaiden, Passia, with whom Thrasius quickly falls in love. But as Apicius draws closer to his ultimate goal, his reckless disregard for any who might get in his way takes a dangerous turn that threatens his young family and places his entire household at the mercy of the most powerful forces in Rome.

As strange as it sounds, I’ve had a keen interest in the dietary habits of Ancient Rome for quite a while. I have to believe that when your god of wine doubles as the god of ritual madness, you know how to have a good time. I admired Lucilius’ mentality and have occasionally referred to solitary meals as dining with myself. It saddens me that Rome has turned away from dormice and garum, as much as I do love modern Italian cuisine. I was hoping that this novel would expound on my knowledge. While the author had clearly done her research on the topic, I think her factoids would be better appreciated by someone with a little less background on the topic.

We discover at the end of the story that one of the main characters was a true historical figure. I think it would have been better to present this at the beginning to give some perspective. It at least would have explained the title. The over-arching story depends on the reader becoming emotionally invested in the main characters. This took much longer to build than I would have thought as so many characters are initially presented. It doesn’t help that the naming traditions leave many key figures with similar sounding names. One also needs to keep in mind that one character may be called many different things depending on who is speaking. It took me a while to sort it all out. It would have been helpful to have a character guide of some sort.

My biggest complaint about the book was how quickly conflict seemed to be resolved. The author would present something that left me wondering how it would be handled, only to have it wrapped up in a neat package two paragraphs later. I doubt that I would have finished the book if I had just picked it up from the library.

2 stars out of 5.
{Click here to purchase}

Karen K. Doerr is a self-proclaimed glutton with a habit of watching food documentaries while eating take out. She can usually be heard complaining that her jeans shrunk in the wash. 


Enter via the widget below to win a hardcover copy of Feast of Sorrow.

Giveaway will end on Tuesday, October 10th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be notified the next day via email, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Feast of Sorrow hardcover book

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