Book Reviews

Visions of Sugar Plums: A Stephanie Plum Holiday Novel (Stephanie Plum, #8.5) by Janet Evanovich

Visions of Sugar Plums: A Stephanie Plum Holiday Novel
(Stephanie Plum, #8.5)
By: Janet Evanovich
Narrated by: Lorelai King

Published: March 2003
Published By: MacMillan Audio
Format Read: Audio, Library Book, Libby App
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Series

Rating: 1/5

Synopsis


It’s five days before Christmas and things are not looking merry for Fugitive Apprehension Agent Stephanie Plum. She hasn’t got a tree. She hasn’t bought any presents. The malls are jam-packed with staggering shoppers. There’s not a twinkle light anywhere to be seen in her apartment.
And there’s a strange man in her kitchen.
Sure, this has happened to Stephanie Plum before. Strangers, weirdos, felons, creeps, and lunatics are always finding their way to her front door. But this guy is different. This guy is mysterious, sexy-and he has his own agenda. His name is Diesel and he is a man on a mission. And Diesel is unlike anyone Stephanie has ever met before in her life. The question is, what does he want with her? Can he help her find a little old toy maker who has skipped out on his bail right before Christmas? Can he survive the Plum family holiday dinner? Can he get Stephanie a tree that doesn’t look like it was grown next to a nuclear power plant? These questions and more are keeping Stephanie awake at night. Not to mention the fact that she needs to find a bunch of nasty elves, her sister Valerie has a Christmas “surprise” for the Plums, her niece Mary Alice doesn’t believe in Santa anymore, and Grandma Mazur has a new stud muffin. So bring out the plastic reindeer, strap on your jingle bells, and get ready to celebrate the holidays-Jersey style. “Visions of Sugar Plums”-the world of Plum has never been merrier!

-Goodreads

My Thoughts

Visions of Sugar Plums is the second of the “in between” novels from the Stephanie Plum, series that I have read. And the second one that included a supernatural character by the name of Diesel, who stars in another one of Janet Evanovich series. Unfortunately I do not enjoy these crossovers due to their paranormal element. Even though Stephanie’s shenanigans are often wild, I just don’t think that it fits in with her world. In the future I will skip these crossover novels and stick with the regular series.

This is the first time I have listened to the Stephanie Plum in audio format. For the most part, I enjoyed Lorelai King’s narration with the exception of the voice she used for Lula. I was also curious as to why she didn’t give Stephanie a New Jersey accent, as that is where she was born and raised.

Unfortunately I wouldn’t recommend Visions of Sugar Plums and would suggest that readers stick with the regular series.

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Book Reviews · Recommendations

A Lancaster County Christmas (Lancaster County Secrets) by Suzanne Woods Fisher

10426868

A Lancaster County Christmas
(Lancaster County Secrets)
By: Suzanne Woods Fisher 

Published: October 2011
Published by: Revell 
Format Read: eBook, Kobo
Genre: Amish Fiction, Christian Fiction 

Rating: 3.5/5

Synopsis


Jaime and C. J. Fitzpatrick began their married life as most couples do–in love and looking forward to a bright future together. But four years later they’ve drifted apart and are almost ready to call it quits.

Mattie Riehl was hoping to give her husband Sol the Christmas gift they have both longed for–news that a baby was on the way. But as usual, she is disappointed. The holidays bring an acute awareness to Mattie that her dream of a big family isn’t likely to become a reality.

Then a winter storm raging outside blows the Fitzpatricks into the Riehl home–and into a much slower pace of life. Can these two couples from different worlds help each other understand the true meaning of love this Christmas?

With her trademark plot twists and attention to detail, Suzanne Woods Fisher offers readers a beautiful Christmas story of love, forgiveness, and what truly matters in life.

Goodreads 

My Thoughts 

Over the past couple of years, Amish fiction has become the genre I turn to when I’m in the mood for a warm, inspirational story. Suzanne Woods Fisher has become one of my go-to authors. 


A Lancaster County Christmas follows Mattie and Solomon who are characters from the Lancaster County Secrets series. Set during Christmas, this story explores the differences and similarities between the Amish and English.


I found Matties mental health struggles to be quite relatable. Although it was her young son Danny, who was the true shining star. He was a curious child with a heart of gold. Danny was such an endearing and memorable character. 


Unfortunately at times the story felt rushed and predictable. However it was an enjoyable novel that can be read as a stand-alone. I would recommend it to fans of Amish fiction 

Book Reviews · Recommendations

The Bridge by Karen Kingsbury

13547154

The Bridge 
By: Karen Kingsbury

Published: October, 2012
Published by: Howard Books
Format Read: Hardcover
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Christian Fiction, Inspirational Fiction

Rating: 5/5

Synopsis


Number one New York Times bestselling author Karen Kingsbury delivers an instant classic with this heartwarming Christmas story about a hundred-year flood, lost love, and the beauty of enduring friendships. Molly Allen lives alone in Portland, but she left her heart back in Tennessee with a man she walked away from five years ago. They had a rare sort of love she hasn’t found since.

Ryan Kelly lives in Nashville after a broken engagement and several years on the road touring with a country music duo. He can still hear Molly’s voice encouraging him to follow his dreams; Molly, whose memory stays with him. At least he can visit The Bridge—the oldest bookstore in historic downtown Franklin—and remember the hours he and Molly once spent there.

For thirty years, Charlie and Donna Barton have run The Bridge, providing the people of middle Tennessee with coffee, conversation, and shelves of good books—even through dismal book sales and the rise of digital books. Then in May, the hundred-year flood swept through Franklin and destroyed nearly every book in the store.

Now the bank is pulling the lease on The Bridge. Despondent and without answers, Charlie considers the unthinkable. Then tragedy strikes, and suddenly, everything changes. In the face of desperate brokenness and lost opportunities, could the miracle of a second chance actually unfold?

The Bridge is a love story set against the struggle of the American bookstore, a love story you will never forget.

Goodreads

My Thoughts

Karen Kingsbury’s The Bridge told a story that was as beautiful as its cover. 

Two long lost college friends are reunited when their favourite bookshop is in jeopardy of being shut down. Set during the holiday season, it tells a story of life long dreams, true love and friendship. 

I loved learning about Charlie and Donna’s life together and how they built up the store that meant so much to so many. Oh how I would love to have a special place like that. I couldn’t put down this book with its story that was both heartbreaking and heartwarming. 

I would highly recommend Karen Kingsbury’s The Bridge, to those who enjoy inspirational fiction. I look forward to rereading it again. 

Book Reviews · Recommendations

Her Royal Spyness (Her Royal Spyness Mysteries, #1) by Rhys Bowen

Her Royal Spyness
(Her Royal Spyness Mysteries, #1)
By: Rhys Bowen

Published: July, 2007
Published by: Berkley Publishing Group
Format Read: eBook, Library Book, Libby App
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Rating: 3.5/5
♥♥♥.5 

Synopsis

Georgie, aka Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, cousin of King George V of England, is penniless and trying to survive on her own as an ordinary person in London in 1932.

So far she has managed to light a fire and boil an egg… She’s gate-crashed a wedding… She’s making money by secretly cleaning houses… And she’s been asked to spy for Her Majesty the Queen.

Everything seems to be going swimmingly until she finds a body in her bathtub… and someone is definitely trying to kill her.

My Thoughts

Her Royal Spyness is book one in Rhys Bowen’s mystery series, that follows Georgiana the fictional great granddaughter of Queen Victoria.

Set in the midst of the Great Depression, it tells of how the most elite of British aristocracy saw their fortunes dwindle with the crash of the stock market. The golden age is over and many including Georgiana and her family are forced to fend for themselves in ways they never had to before.

This was also a period of great change in values and moral decorum. It was becoming more common for young unmarried women to be unchaperoned. Our main character takes advantage of this newfound freedom and moves to London, where mystery ensues.

Her Royal Spyness was a quick and entertaining read, with a humorous tone. I enjoyed the time period and the inclusion of the royal family. However the mystery was quite predictable. Still, I look forward to reading the second book in the series.
Book Reviews · Recommendations

Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce

Dear Mrs. Bird
By: A.J. Pearce

Published: July, 2018
Published by: Scribner
Format Read: Trade Paperback, Library Book
Genre: Historical Fiction

Rating: 4/5
♥♥♥♥

 

Synopsis

A charming, irresistible debut novel set in London during World War II about an adventurous young woman who becomes a secret advice columnist—a warm, funny, and enormously moving story for fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Lilac Girls.

London 1940, bombs are falling. Emmy Lake is Doing Her Bit for the war effort, volunteering as a telephone operator with the Auxiliary Fire Services. When Emmy sees an advertisement for a job at the London Evening Chronicle, her dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent seem suddenly achievable. But the job turns out to be typist to the fierce and renowned advice columnist, Henrietta Bird. Emmy is disappointed, but gamely bucks up and buckles down.

Mrs Bird is very clear: Any letters containing Unpleasantness—must go straight in the bin. But when Emmy reads poignant letters from women who are lonely, may have Gone Too Far with the wrong men and found themselves in trouble, or who can’t bear to let their children be evacuated, she is unable to resist responding. As the German planes make their nightly raids, and London picks up the smoldering pieces each morning, Emmy secretly begins to write letters back to the women of all ages who have spilled out their troubles.

Prepare to fall head over heels with Emmy and her best friend, Bunty, who are spirited and gutsy, even in the face of events that bring a terrible blow. As the bombs continue to fall, the irrepressible Emmy keeps writing, and readers are transformed by AJ Pearce’s hilarious, heartwarming, and enormously moving tale of friendship, the kindness of strangers, and ordinary people in extraordinary times.

 

My Thoughts

AJ Pearce’s debut novel Dear Mrs. Bird is a world war II historical fiction set during the London blitz. Although it does focus on the terrors of living in a city at war, it is written with typical British humor that is rare for this genre. I immediately took to Pearce’s style of writing and was reminded of more contemporary authors.

Dear Mrs. Bird was an entertaining read with a main character bursting with optimism. Along with such themes as friendship, morals and dreams it also brought gems of wisdom courtesy of Emmy’s mother. Some of my favorite quotes include:

“My mother always said that a lot of men think that having bosoms means you’re a nitwit. She said the cleverest thing is to let them assume you’re an idiot, so you can crack on and prove them all wrong.”
“Mother always said it wasn’t just about keeping going, but about standing up for what you believed in as well.”
I would highly recommend Dear Mrs. Bird and hope to read more from this author in the future.
Book Reviews

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

A Spool of Blue Thread
By Anne Tyler

Published: February 2015
Published By: Bond Street Books
Format Read: eBook, Kobo, 
Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary, Fiction

Rating: 2.5/5
♥♥.5 

 

Synopsis

A freshly observed, joyful and wrenching, funny and true new novel from Anne Tyler

“It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon.” This is how Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she fell in love with Red that day in July 1959. The Whitshanks are one of those families that radiate togetherness: an indefinable, enviable kind of specialness. But they are also like all families, in that the stories they tell themselves reveal only part of the picture. Abby and Red and their four grown children have accumulated not only tender moments, laughter, and celebrations, but also jealousies, disappointments, and carefully guarded secrets. from Red’s father and mother, newly-arrived in Baltimore in the 1920s, to Abby and Red’s grandchildren carrying the family legacy boisterously into the twenty-first century, here are four generations of Whitshanks, their lives unfolding in and around the sprawling, lovingly worn Baltimore house that has always been their anchor.

Brimming with all the insight, humour, and generosity of spirit that are the hallmarks of Anne Tyler’s work, A Spool of Blue Thread tells a poignant yet unsentimental story in praise of family in all its emotional complexity. It is a novel to cherish.

My Thoughts

Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread was one of my most anticipated books of 2015, so I began the novel with very high expectations. Unfortunately I wasn’t as intrigued by the plot as I was upon initially reading the synopsis.

I wasn’t able to connect to any of the characters and found their family dynamic more frustrating than not. The arrangement of how the story was told jumped from one time period to another randomly which was quite odd.

There was one quote from A Spool of Blue Thread that perfectly summed up my thoughts…
‘Maybe it was just further proof that the Whitshanks were not remarkable in any way whatsoever.’
Although I wouldn’t recommend this book, I would suggest readers try other titles by this author.
Book Reviews · Charlie's Corner · Recommendations

Charlie’s Corner: Book Review: Deadly Voyage

Welcome to Charlie’s Corner, named after my little boy. Here I will share baby/children’s product and book reviews.

Deadly Voyage: RMS Titanic, Jamie Laidlaw, April 14, 1912 (I am Canada)
By: Hugh Brewster

Published: September, 2011
Published by: Scholastic Canada
Format Read: Hardcover
Genre: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction, Canadian Fiction

Rating: 4/5
♥♥♥♥

Synopsis

Fourteen-year-old Jamie Laidlaw is returning to Canada from England aboard the Titanic. In his four days on board, he busies himself with new friends, finding ways to explore the ship’s forbidden areas, and generally landing himself in trouble.
When disaster strikes and the horrifying scramble for survival ensues, Jamie is on the front lines — struggling to help free the lifeboats and get people on board them. When a huge wave washes over the ship’s sloping deck, it’s time for Jamie to take action — and take his fate into his own hands. With hundreds of others, he dives into the sea, hoping he will find a way to survive.
Since its launch in Fall 2010, the I Am Canada series has been praised for its accurate and energetic exploration of fascinating moments in Canadian history, through the eyes of young men who lived through them. In Deadly Voyage, awardwinning
author and noted Titanic historian Hugh Brewster draws from his vast knowledge of that fateful journey to create an enthralling tale of historical fiction — the ultimate adventure, whose terrifying end we know all too well.

My Thoughts

For young readers who are interested in learning more about historical events and time periods, there are several different series that offer fictional retellings from the perspective of children their age. In Hugh Brewster’s Deadly Voyage, which is apart of the I am Canada series, he tackles the sinking of the Titanic.

Readers follow a young Canadian boy named Jamie Laidlaw as he embarks upon the maiden voyage of the ship. It felt as if we were being taken on a private tour along with the man whose photos of the Titanic would become famous; Father Frank Browne. Some of these photos are included in the back of the book, among other bonus material. Jamie would also encounter other characters based on real people including; the Astor’s and the Molson’s.

The foreshadowing and superstitions many passengers had was interesting and eerie. As someone who has had a longtime fascination with the sinking of the Titanic, I appreciated the coverage of the events that occurred after the tragedy, including being rescued by the Carpathia and resulting inquiries.

I would highly recommend Deadly Voyage to middle grade readers and Titanic enthusiasts. I hope to have the opportunity to read more from the I Am Canada series.
Book Reviews

Baby Proof by Emily Giffin

Baby Proof
By: Emily Giffin

 

Published: June 2006
Published By: St. Martin’s Press
Format Read: Trade Paperback
Genre: Women’s Fiction, Contemporary

Rating: 3.5/5
♥♥♥.5

Synopsis

From the author of the smash hits Something Borrowed and Something Blue comes a novel that explores the question: is there ever a deal-breaker when it comes to true love?

First comes love. Then comes marriage. Then comes . . . a baby carriage? Isn’t that what all women want?

Not so for Claudia Parr. And just as she gives up on finding a man who feels the same way, she meets warm, wonderful Ben. Things seem too good to be true when they fall in love and agree to buck tradition with a satisfying, child-free marriage. Then the unexpected occurs: one of them has a change of heart. One of them wants children after all.

This is the witty, heartfelt story about what happens to the perfect couple when they suddenly want different things. It’s about feeling that your life is set and then realizing that nothing is as you thought it was—and that there is no possible compromise. It’s about deciding what is most important in life, and taking chances to get it. But most of all, it’s about the things we will do—and won’t do—for love.

My Thoughts

Emily Giffin’s Baby Proof follows Claudia a successful, intelligent woman who has decided that she doesn’t want to have any children. It explores the expectations of society and the pressure that is put on women over a certain age to reproduce. This book also delves into relationships (marriage specifically) and how they evolve over time.

Unfortunately it took quite a while for me to get into this book. While I respect Claudia’s opinion and understood her reasoning behind not wanting children, I found her very hard to relate to. In fact her cynicism and lack of compassion made for an unlikable character.

Although Baby Proof wasn’t the most enjoyable book for me personally, Claudia’s reflections on society and its expectations were thought provoking. I think it would make for a good book club selection, as it would lead to some interesting discussions.
Book Reviews · Recommendations

Maisie Dobbs (Maisie Dobbs, #1) by Jacqueline Winspear

Maisie Dobbs
(Maisie Dobbs, #1)
By: Jacqueline Winspear
Narrated by: Rita Barrington

Published: March 2005
Published by: Sound Library
Format Read: Audio book, Libby, Library book
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Rating: 4/5
♥♥♥♥

 

Synopsis

Hailed by NPR’s ‘Fresh Air’ as part ‘Testament of Youth’, part Dorothy Sayers, and part ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’, this astonishing debut has already won fans from coast to coast and is poised to add Maisie Dobbs to the ranks of literature’s favorite sleuths.

Maisie Dobbs isn’t just any young housemaid. Through her own natural intelligence — and the patronage of her benevolent employers — she works her way into college at Cambridge.

When World War I breaks out, Maisie goes to the front as a nurse. It is there that she learns that coincidences are meaningful and the truth elusive. After the War, Maisie sets up on her own as a private investigator. But her very first assignment, seemingly an ordinary infidelity case, soon reveals a much deeper, darker web of secrets, which will force Maisie to revisit the horrors of the Great War and the love she left behind.

My Thoughts

The first book in the Maisie Dobbs mystery series has been one of my most anticipated reads and it definitely lived up to my expectations.

Set after the first World War, it explores the lasting effects trauma had on the survivors, including the soldiers who fought and (in the case of Maisie Dobbs) the medics who saved their lives. Many of these heroes returned home with devastating injuries, both physically and mentally. This is the first time I have read about how their experiences at war have changed their opinions about society and their countries. I didn’t expect for this mystery novel to touch on a topic I would find so thought provoking.

I did find it odd when the main story was put on hold, as the author went into a very detailed section about Maisie Dobbs youth. Although her backstory was interesting and pertained to the main plot, it was oddly arranged.
Rita Barrington’s narrative of the novel was spot on and I enjoyed her interpretation of the different accents.

In closing Maisie Dobbs is a solid thought provoking, historical mystery that I would highly recommend. I look forward to reading book two soon.
Book Reviews · Recommendations

An Amish Kitchen by Beth Wiseman, Amy Clipston & Kelly Long

An Amish Kitchen
By: Beth Wiseman, Amy Clipston & Kelly Long
Narrated by: Heather Henderson

 

Published: December. 2012
Published by: Oasis Audio
Format Read: Audio Book, Library Book, Libby App.
Genre: Amish Fiction, Christian Fiction, Romance

Rating: 4/5
♥♥♥♥

 

Synopsis

The Amish kitchen is the heart of the home – and the ideal setting for stories of love and hope.  Fall in Paradise, Pennsylvania, always brings a brisk change in the weather. This season also ushers in unexpected visitors, new love, and renewed hope for three women. Fern has a green thumb for growing healing herbs, but longs for love to bloom in her life. Then the next-door neighbor’s oldest son, Abram, comes running into Fern’s kitchen seeking help for his little sister. The crisis soon leads to a promise of romance — until mistrust threatens to end their growing attraction. Nearby, Hannah runs her parents’ bed and breakfast, Paradise Inn — but her life feels nothing like Paradise. She longs for a man of integrity to enter her life, but never expected him to knock on the front door looking for a room. Will she be able trust Stephen with her future once she discovers his mysterious past? When a storm blows a tree onto Eve’s farmhouse, she has little choice but to temporarily move her family into her parents’ home. Outside of cooking together in the kitchen, Eve and her mother can’t agree on anything. But this may be just the recipe for hope in healing old wounds. Three Amish stories — each celebrating love, family, and faith — all taking place in a tight-knit community where the kitchen truly is the heart of the home.

My Thoughts

An Amish Kitchen is a collection of three stories that highlights the fact that the heart of a family home is found in the kitchen. This is a important point in many different cultures including the Amish and one I can definitely relate to.

The first story A Taste of Faith was interesting in that it followed a young woman who takes care of the minor medical needs of her community using herbs and natural remedies. Unfortunately I couldn’t quite warm up to the male lead.

The characters in the second story (A Spoonful of Love) were wonderful with detailed backgrounds. Romance was depicted more passionately than I expected for an Amish novel. This was a pleasant surprise and added some spice to the book.

The final story (A Recipe for Hope) focused on the importance of sharing family recipes and passing down the memories attached to each one.

I thought the narrator Heather Henderson did a great job throughout. She was enjoyable and engaging to listen to. This is the first Amish fiction I have listened to on audio, so it was nice to hear the correct pronunciations of certain words that I had previously read in other novels from this genre.

An Amish Kitchen was a wonderful collection of stories that I would highly recommend to fans of Amish romance novels and family tales.