BOOK REVIEWS - December & January Favorites

I treated myself to a number of reading days over the holidays (and beyond). Bookstore gift cards helped me assuage the guilt of spending too much money! (Although, I likely should have been working on other projects!)

I always love a good holiday romance and Nora Roberts didn’t disappoint with A Will and A Way. This is a fun story with some excellent twists and turns . . . and it all begins with a will that lays down some interesting terms. This is one Roberts' older titles that has been revived for re-release. 

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Pandora McVie’s life is tied up in knots. In order to respect her uncle Jolley’s last wishes, she’s stuck spending Christmas isolated in the Catskills with Michael Donahue, the cobeneficiary of her uncle’s will. Jolley was a matchmaker to the end—and apparently for some time beyond. The infuriating Michael is hard to live with…but what’s harder still is not falling in love with her nemesis.

I might as well jump right over to Nora Roberts’ alter ego JD Robb. The latest in this futuristic police detective based murder mystery series was a stand out. This is the 46th book in this series and, as you can imagine, some aren’t as good as the others. This one is particularly well done.

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It was a stab in the dark. On a chilly February night, during a screening of Psycho in midtown, someone sunk an ice pick into the back of Chanel Rylan’s neck, then disappeared quietly into the crowds of drunks and tourists in Times Square. To Chanel’s best friend, who had just slipped out of the theater for a moment to take a call, it felt as unreal as the ancient black-and-white movie up on the screen. But Chanel’s blood ran red, and her death was anything but fictional.

Then, as Eve Dallas puzzles over a homicide that seems carefully planned and yet oddly personal, she receives a tip from an unexpected source: an author of police thrillers who recognizes the crime―from the pages of her own book. Dallas doesn’t think it’s coincidence, since a recent strangulation of a sex worker resembles a scene from her writing as well. Cops look for patterns of behavior: similar weapons, similar MOs. But this killer seems to find inspiration in someone else’s imagination, and if the theory holds, this may be only the second of a long-running series.

The good news is that Eve and her billionaire husband Roarke have an excuse to curl up in front of the fireplace with their cat, Galahad, reading mystery stories for research. The bad news is that time is running out before the next victim plays an unwitting role in a murderer’s deranged private drama―and only Eve can put a stop to a creative impulse gone horribly, destructively wrong.


Kristin A. Oakley pens an incredibly interesting suspense novel that has you guessing who is behind all the shenanigans shaking up the unsuspecting town of Carpe Diem, Illinois. The characters are well-developed with layers that she expertly peels back as the story unfolds.

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For decades, the small town of Carpe Diem, Illinois has quietly unschooled its children, eschewing tests and classrooms for real-life experiences. Now, long-smoldering political feuds and deep personal secrets threaten to explode. When her mother is hospitalized in Carpe Diem after an auto accident, teenager Tali Shaw, the daughter of a powerful state senator, finds herself at the heart of a vicious conspiracy to bring Carpe Diem down. Can prize-winning Chicago Examiner reporter Leo Townsend overcome his own demons and expose those behind the scheme before it's too late? And when the truth is finally revealed, can Carpe Diem ever be the same?

Carpe Diem, Illinois is the winner of the 2014 Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year Award for non-traditionally published fiction, a finalist in the Independent Author Network 2015 Book of the Year Awards, and a runner-up in the 2016 Shelf Unbound Best Indie/Self-Published Book Competition.


I’m a HUUUUGE fan of Cate DiCamillo and her middle-grade novel Rayme Nightingale is another in a long line of treasures from this author. I highly recommend this book for adults as well as kids . . . or maybe you could read it together, just for fun!!

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Raymie Clarke has come to realize that everything, absolutely everything, depends on her. And she has a plan. If Raymie can win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, then her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, will see Raymie's picture in the paper and (maybe) come home. To win, not only does Raymie have to do good deeds and learn how to twirl a baton; she also has to contend with the wispy, frequently fainting Louisiana Elefante, who has a show-business background, and the fiery, stubborn Beverly Tapinski, who’s determined to sabotage the contest. But as the competition approaches, loneliness, loss, and unanswerable questions draw the three girls into an unlikely friendship — and challenge each of them to come to the rescue in unexpected ways.


This book was recommended to me years ago by another author (thank you Liz Czukas). I can’t believe it took me this long to get to it. What a wonderful look into the women that served in resistance and combat support during WWII. This story is as harsh as you’d expect a war story to be, especially when the main character is captured behind enemy lines. Masterfully told . . . get your Kleenexes ready. Wein does not suffer from the need to pen a completely happily-ever-after ending, which makes this all the more of a heart wrenching tale.


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Oct. 11th, 1943-A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it's barely begun. When "Verity" is arrested by the Gestapo, she's sure she doesn't stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she's living a spy's worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution. As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage, failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy? 

On the lighter side of reading, I treated myself to some romance. 

The first two books in the Trappers, Traders, and Tinker series by R.E. Stevens were both delightful on the romance front and historically fascinating. I love a story that doesn’t scrimp on the historical details just to get to the romantic bits. I feel like I know a little bit more about western pioneer life when I read stories from this author.

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Fell Madsen lost the woman he’d planned to marry to another man. Quiet, surly and a bit taciturn by nature, Fell is known for his smith work and his size and has no intention of letting himself be fooled with another woman’s promise. Helen Parrier was abandoned by her husband and managed her three little boys and the traps all winter alone. When spring arrives, everyone descends onto the prairie to trade, barter, and reconnect. Helen knows she has to trade her pelts to have a chance at survival. 

When Fell and Helen meet, the attraction is blinding. But Fell is still trapped by memories of his former betrothed and Helen’s experiences leave her to believe she’s always the woman left behind. In the middle of painful revelations and horrifying loss, Fell and Helen struggle to find a way to one another before the ways of the wilderness rips them apart. 

The spring rendezvous in 1827 on the prairies of the west is about to be a battle for love and life itself. 

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Jenny Upton has always been unlucky in finding her heart’s desire, looking in all the wrong places. When her betrothed sends her home with no prospects, Jenny must make her way back without a soul in the world left to her. Redmond O’Reilly promised to deliver Jenny home safely, but he didn’t expect her to be tossed into danger along the way. Now it’s up to him to make sure they survive the prairie, though it’s a battle against time and illness the whole way. Neither Redmond nor Jenny expect to find more than hardship in the tall grasses. Just as their hearts explode with hope, they’re separated by the wildness of the land and misunderstandings so terrifying, they may never find their way back to one another.

I then picked up the Inn at Sunset Harbor Series by Sophie Love. (Book One was free and sucked me into this little town on Maine coast.) I have a hard time with some of the details in this series, but overall the characters are likeable and well-developed. The majority of the subplots are believable and interesting, and the overall suspense of each novel kept me reading. However, there’s something that I just can’t get over . . . how do you not know that the house you’re living in has a ballroom?? Okay, let me back up. The main character, Emily Mitchell, hasn’t been back to the summer home she shared with her family for 20 years since her dad disappeared from her life. She now takes refuge in this big rambling, falling down house and eventually sets out to fix it up and turn it into a bed and breakfast. Along the way, she keeps discovering rooms that she didn’t know the house had. Now, I can understand missing a hidden staircase or a small room somewhere, but when a ballroom is large enough to hold an entire wedding reception and also has a beautiful stained-glass window you can see from the exterior of the house, it is a little hard to go along with the writers’ assertion that the main character had no idea it was there. By the way, she is not vision impaired. However, I kept reading because the rest of the series is that good . . . and by the way . . . this house keeps revealing its mysterious rooms over and over. LOL

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Emily Mitchell, 35, living and working in New York City, has struggled through a string of failed relationships. When her boyfriend of 7 years takes her out for their long-awaited anniversary dinner, Emily is sure that this time will be different, that this time she will finally get the ring. When he gives her a small bottle of perfume instead, Emily knows the time has come to break up with him—and for her entire life to have a fresh start.

Reeling from her unsatisfying, high-pressure life, Emily decides she needs a change. She decides on a whim to drive to her father’s abandoned home on the coast of Maine, a sprawling, historic house where she’d spent magical summers as a child. But the house, long-neglected, is in dire need of repair, and the winter is no time to be in Maine. Emily hasn’t been there in 20 years, when a tragic accident changed her sister’s life and shattered her family. Her parents divorced, her father disappeared, and Emily was never able to bring herself to step foot in that house again.

Now, for some reason, with her life reeling, Emily feels drawn to the only childhood place she ever knew. She plans on going just for a weekend, to clear her head. But something about the house, its numerous secrets, its memories of her father, its oceanfront allure, its small-town setting—and most of all, its gorgeous, mysterious caretaker—doesn’t want to let her leave. Can she find the answers she’s been looking for here, in the most unexpected place of all?
Can a weekend become a lifetime?

What have you been reading so far this year? Send the recommendations my way, I'm always happy to add to the stack that is waiting for me. 


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