2021 Reading

2021 Reading Challenge

2021 Reading Challenge
Allison has completed her goal of reading 75 books in 2021!
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Title: Miracle Creek
Author: Angie Kim
Length14 hrs and 5 mins / 355 p
Published: April 2019
Book Group: School
Finished: 1/1
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I wasn't so sure about this--but about a third of the way, I couldn't stop listening!  A few times, I knew I would have skimmed some of the slow parts and descriptions but overall this was a solid debut novel.  It's a story about family and secrets.  I learned a lot about parenting special needs children.  The courtroom aspects were nicely done.

From the publisher:
How far will you go to protect your family? Will you keep their secrets? Ignore their lies?

In a small town in Virginia, a group of people know each other because they’re part of a special treatment center, a hyperbaric chamber that may cure a range of conditions from infertility to autism. But then the chamber explodes, two people die, and it’s clear the explosion wasn’t an accident.

A powerful showdown unfolds as the story moves across characters who are all maybe keeping secrets, hiding betrayals. Chapter by chapter, we shift alliances and gather evidence: Was it the careless mother of a patient? Was it the owners, hoping to cash in on a big insurance payment and send their daughter to college? Could it have been a protester, trying to prove the treatment isn’t safe?


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Title: The Duke and I: Bridgerton (Bridgertons #1)
Author: Julia Quinn
Length12 hrs and 9 mins / 464 pp
Published: January 2000
Book Group: no
Finished: 1/2
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 

I wanted to read this before watching the Netflix series.  It was delightful! I forgot how much I enjoy the Regency rules and lifestyle.  And I admit, I was hooked on Regency romances when I was in middle school.

From the publisher:
In the ballrooms and drawing rooms of Regency London, rules abound. From their earliest days, children of aristocrats learn how to address an earl and curtsey before a prince—while other dictates of the ton are unspoken yet universally understood. A proper duke should be imperious and aloof. A young, marriageable lady should be amiable…but not too amiable.

Daphne Bridgerton has always failed at the latter. The fourth of eight siblings in her close-knit family, she has formed friendships with the most eligible young men in London. Everyone likes Daphne for her kindness and wit. But no one truly desires her. She is simply too deuced honest for that, too unwilling to play the romantic games that captivate gentlemen.

Amiability is not a characteristic shared by Simon Basset, Duke of Hastings. Recently returned to England from abroad, he intends to shun both marriage and society—just as his callous father shunned Simon throughout his painful childhood. Yet an encounter with his best friend’s sister offers another option. If Daphne agrees to a fake courtship, Simon can deter the mamas who parade their daughters before him. Daphne, meanwhile, will see her prospects and her reputation soar.

The plan works like a charm—at first. But amid the glittering, gossipy, cut-throat world of London’s elite, there is only one certainty: love ignores every rule...


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Title: The Once and Future Witches
Author: Alix E. Harrow
Length16 hrs and 3 mins / 528 pp
Published: October 2020
Book Group: no
Finished: 1/7
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

 
Not my usual genre, but the buzz about it drew me to it--as did the gorgeous cover!  I liked the relationships between the sisters and that each sister was distinct.  But the book lagged in places and could have been about 200 pages shorter and less repetitive.

From the publisher:
In 1893, there's no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.

But when the Eastwood sisters -- James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna -- join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and ways that might turn the women's movement into the witch's movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote -- and perhaps not even to live -- the sisters will need to delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.

There's no such thing as witches. But there will be.

An homage to the indomitable power and persistence of women, The Once and Future Witches reimagines stories of revolution, sapphic love, motherhood, and women's suffrage--the lost ways are calling.

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TitleThe Viscount Who Loved Me (Bridgertons #2)
Author: Julia Quinn
Length12 hrs and 23 mins / 354 pp
Published: December 2000
Book Group: no
Finished: 1/16
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

This second installment of the Bridgerton series was as much fun as the first.  It's like visiting old friends.

From the publisher:
1814 promises to be another eventful season, but not, this author believes, for Anthony Bridgerton, London's most elusive bachelor, who has shown no indication that he plans to marry.
And in truth, why should he? When it comes to playing the consummate rake, nobody does it better...
—Lady Whistledown's Society Papers, 
April 1814

But this time, the gossip columnists have it wrong. Anthony Bridgerton hasn't just decided to marry—he's even chosen a wife! The only obstacle is his intended's older sister, Kate Sheffield—the most meddlesome woman ever to grace a London ballroom. The spirited schemer is driving Anthony mad with her determination to stop the betrothal, but when he closes his eyes at night, Kate is the woman haunting his increasingly erotic dreams...

Contrary to popular belief, Kate is quite sure that reformed rakes do not make the best husbands—and Anthony Bridgerton is the most wicked rogue of them all. Kate is determined to protect her sister—but she fears her own heart is vulnerable. And when Anthony's lips touch hers, she's suddenly afraid she might not be able to resist the reprehensible rake herself...


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Title: Eliza Starts A Rumor
Author: Jane L. Rosen
Length8 hrs and 50 mins / 320 pp
Published: June 2000
Book Group: no
Finished: 1/18
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

 I didn't expect this book to be so timely and meaty.  I was prepared for a light chick-lit.  There are themes of mental illness, sexual abuse, infidelity, counter-balanced by friendship, family, and finding one's voice.  And it reminded me of my days on AOL's message boards.  Are message boards still a thing??

From the publisher:
It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. When Eliza Hunt created The Hudson Valley Ladies’ Bulletin Board fifteen years ago she was happily entrenched in her picture-perfect suburban life with her husband and twin preschoolers. Now, with an empty nest and a crippling case of agoraphobia, the once-fun hobby has become her lifeline. So when a rival parenting forum threatens the site’s existence, she doesn’t think twice before fabricating a salacious rumor to spark things up a bit.

It doesn’t take long before that spark becomes a flame.

Across town, new mom and site devotee Olivia York is thrown into a tailspin by what she reads on the Bulletin Board. Allison Le is making cyber friends with a woman who isn’t quite who she says she is. And Amanda Cole, Eliza’s childhood friend, may just hold the key to unearthing why Eliza can’t step out of her front door.

In all this chaos, one thing is for sure…Hudson Valley will never be the same.

Funny, romantic, raw, and hopeful, this is a story about being a woman and of the healing power of sisterhood.


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Title: An Offer From A Gentleman (Bridgertons #3)
Author: Julia Quinn
Length12 hrs and 22 mins / 421 pp
Published: July 2001
Book Group: no
Finished: 1/25
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

This installment of the Bridgerton story was lots of fun.  The heroine is relegated to the role of lady's maid by her evil stepmother--so the disparity of their social classes was fun to explore.  Can't wait for more.  There were a couple of times that I chuckled out loud.

From the publisher:
Sophie Beckett never dreamed she'd be able to sneak into Lady Bridgerton's famed masquerade ball—or that "Prince Charming" would be waiting there for her! Though the daughter of an earl, Sophie has been relegated to the role of servant by her disdainful stepmother. But now, spinning in the strong arms of the debonair and devastatingly handsome Benedict Bridgerton, she feels like royalty. Alas, she knows all enchantments must end when the clock strikes midnight.
Who was that extraordinary woman? Ever since that magical night, a radiant vision in silver has blinded Benedict to the attractions of any other—except, perhaps, this alluring and oddly familiar beauty dressed in housemaid's garb whom he feels compelled to rescue from a most disagreeable situation. He has sworn to find and wed his mystery miss, but this breathtaking maid makes him weak with wanting her. Yet, if he offers her his heart, will Benedict sacrifice his only chance for a fairy tale love?

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Title: Anxious People
Author: Fredrik Backman
Length:  9 hrs and 53 mins/ 352 p
Published: September 2020
Book Group: Library
Finished: 1/31
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 I'm going to repost the original review since I wouldn't change a thing about it--other than to add that this time I listened to it and it was quite a different experience.  It amazes me how the story comes to life in my imagination as I am reading it or listening to it--so different! My library book group will be discussing this on Wednesday and I can't wait!

The original review was posted 9/20/2020
 Oh man, I wish one of my friends would read this so I could talk about it with them!  So many wonderfully quicky, fleshed-out characters.  Such a premise.  Lots of quick chapters that made it easy and quick to read.  I couldn't put it down.  I loved it.

The action begins with a bank robbery that isn't really a bank robbery followed by a hostage situation that really isn't one.  It connects the characters in ways that are unexpected.

From the publisher:
Viewing an apartment normally doesn’t turn into a life-or-death situation, but this particular open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes everyone in the apartment hostage. As the pressure mounts, the eight strangers begin slowly opening up to one another and reveal long-hidden truths.

First is Zara, a wealthy bank director who has been too busy to care about anyone else until tragedy changed her life. Now, she’s obsessed with visiting open houses to see how ordinary people live—and, perhaps, to set an old wrong to right. Then there’s Roger and Anna-Lena, an Ikea-addicted retired couple who are on a never-ending hunt for fixer-uppers to hide the fact that they don’t know how to fix their own failing marriage. Julia and Ro are a young lesbian couple and soon-to-be parents who are nervous about their chances for a successful life together since they can’t agree on anything. And there’s Estelle, an eighty-year-old woman who has lived long enough to be unimpressed by a masked bank robber waving a gun in her face. And despite the story she tells them all, Estelle hasn’t really come to the apartment to view it for her daughter, and her husband really isn’t outside parking the car.

As police surround the premises and television channels broadcast the hostage situation live, the tension mounts and even deeper secrets are slowly revealed. Before long, the robber must decide which is the more terrifying prospect: going out to face the police, or staying in the apartment with this group of impossible people.


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Title: Romancing Mr. Bridgerton (Bridgertons #4)
Author: Julia Quinn
Length13 hrs and 17 mins / 370 pp
Published: July 2002
Book Group: no
Finished: 2/05
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

The fourth installment felt like going home--spending time with family and friends.  This is an enchanting couple.  Looking forward to more!

From the publisher:
Everyone knows that Colin Bridgerton is the most charming man in London. Penelope Featherington has secretly adored her best friend's brother for...well, it feels like forever. After half a lifetime of watching Colin Bridgerton from afar, she thinks she knows everything about him, until she stumbles across his deepest secret...and fears she doesn't know him at all.

Colin Bridgerton is tired of being thought nothing but an empty-headed charmer, tired of everyone's preoccupation with the notorious gossip columnist Lady Whistledown, who can't seem to publish an edition without mentioning him in the first paragraph. But when Colin returns to London from a trip abroad he discovers nothing in his life is quite the same - especially Penelope Featherington! The girl haunting his dreams. But when he discovers that Penelope has secrets of her own, this elusive bachelor must decide...is she his biggest threat - or his promise of a happy ending?



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Title: To Sir Phillip, With Love (Bridgertons #5)
Author: Julia Quinn
Length10 hrs and 26 mins / 370 pp
Published: July 2003
Book Group: no
Finished: 2/14
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

 
Although I missed Lady Whistledown, Eloise Bridgerton's prolific letter writing introduces each chapter, giving us a background glimpse of her insights.  This one seemed more serious than the previous books in the series--although, it's still light fare.

From the publisher:
Sir Phillip knew from his correspondence with his dead wife's distant cousin that Eloise Bridgerton was a spinster, and so he'd proposed, figuring that she'd be homely and unassuming, and more than a little desperate for an offer of marriage. Except . . . she wasn't. The beautiful woman on his doorstep was anything but quiet, and when she stopped talking long enough to close her mouth, all he wanted to do was kiss her...

Eloise Bridgerton couldn't marry a man she had never met! But then she started thinking... and wondering... and before she knew it, she was in a hired carriage in the middle of the night, on her way to meet the man she hoped might be her perfect match. Except... he wasn't. Her perfect husband wouldn't be so moody and ill-mannered. And he certainly should have mentioned that he had two young - and decidedly unruly - children, as much in need of a mother as Phillip is in need of a wife.


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Title: Leave The World Behind
Author: Rumaan Alam
Length7 hrs and 26 mins / 241 pp
Published: October 2020
Book Group: no
Finished: 2/15
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

 
A character study during a crisis.  I liked that there are unanswered questions--it was provocative. 

From the publisher:
Amanda and Clay head out to a remote corner of Long Island expecting a vacation: a quiet reprieve from life in New York City, quality time with their teenage son and daughter, and a taste of the good life in the luxurious home they’ve rented for the week. But a late-night knock on the door breaks the spell. Ruth and G. H. are an older black couple—it’s their house, and they’ve arrived in a panic. They bring the news that a sudden blackout has swept the city. But in this rural area—with the TV and internet now down, and no cell phone service—it’s hard to know what to believe.

Should Amanda and Clay trust this couple—and vice versa? What happened back in New York? Is the vacation home, isolated from civilization, a truly safe place for their families? And are they safe from one another? 

Suspenseful and provocative, Rumaan Alam’s third novel is keenly attuned to the complexities of parenthood, race, and class. Leave the World Behind explores how our closest bonds are reshaped—and unexpected new ones are forged—in moments of crisis. 



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Title: Home Front
Author: Kristin Hannah
Length: 15 hrs and 5 mins / 390 pp
Published: January 2012
Book Group: no
Finished: 2/18
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

 
A thoughtful character study of family and friendship, duty and honor, and love.  The characters are flawed and human.

From the publisher:
From a distance, Michael and Joleen Zarkades seem to have it all: a solid marriage, two exciting careers, and children they adore.  But after twelve years together, the couple has lost their way; they are unhappy and edging toward divorce.  Then the Iraq war starts.  An unexpected deployment will tear their already fragile family apart, sending one of them deep into harm’s way and leaving the other at home, waiting for news.   When the worst happens, each must face their darkest fear and fight for the future of their family.  An intimate look at the inner landscape of a disintegrating marriage and a dramatic exploration of the price of war on a single American family, Kristin Hannah's HOME FRONT is a provocative and timely portrait of hope, honor, loss, forgiveness, and the elusive nature of love.





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Title: The Push
Author: Ashley Audrain
Length8 hrs and 38 mins / 320 pp
Published: January 2021
Book Group: no
Finished: 2/19
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

I liked the narrative style of this book--a recounting of the anxiety of new motherhood and the imposter syndrome so many women experience.  The characters' change over time is subtle and realistic.  For a debut novel, it was a thrilling character study that left me wondering how reliable Blythe, the narrator, really is.

From the publisher:
Blythe Connor is determined that she will be the warm, comforting mother to her new baby Violet that she herself never had.

But in the thick of motherhood’s exhausting early days, Blythe becomes convinced that something is wrong with her daughter–she doesn’t behave like most children do.

Or is it all in Blythe’s head? Her husband, Fox, says she’s imagining things. The more Fox dismisses her fears, the more Blythe begins to question her own sanity, and the more we begin to question what Blythe is telling us about her life as well.

Then their son Sam is born–and with him, Blythe has the blissful connection she’d always imagined with her child. Even Violet seems to love her little brother. But when life as they know it is changed in an instant, the devastating fall-out forces Blythe to face the truth.

The Push is a tour de force you will read in a sitting, an utterly immersive novel that will challenge everything you think you know about motherhood, about what we owe our children, and what it feels like when women are not believed.




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Title: Things I Wish I'd Known Before We Got Married
Author: Gary Chapman
Length: 3 hrs and 44 mins / 200 pp
Published: September 2010
Book Group: no
Finished: 2/20
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I'm actually more interested in The Five Love Languages but this was available at the library first so I thought I would give it a read.  It includes some great discussion questions, too bad I don't have a romantic partner to discuss them with!

From the publisher: With more than 35 years of experience counseling couples, Gary has found that most marriages suffer due to a lack of preparation and a failure to learn to work together as intimate teammates.

So he put together this practical little book, packed with wisdom and tips that will help many develop the loving, supportive, and mutually beneficial marriage they envision, such as:

What the adequate foundation for a successful marriage truly is What to expect about the roles and influence of extended family How to solve disagreements without arguing How to talk through issues like money, sex, chores, and more Why couples must learn how to apologize and forgive

Ideal for newly married couples and those considering marriage, the material lends itself to heart-felt, revealing, and critical conversations for relational success.

Read this book and you’ll be prepared for—not surprised by—the challenges of marriage.



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Title: The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding
Author: Jennifer Robson
Length:  11 hrs and 38 mins/ 388 p
Published: December 2018
Book Group: Library
Finished: 2/23
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 
Historical fiction with a dual timeline narrated by three characters.  The story centers on the fictionalized women who embroidered Queen Elizabeth's wedding gown as she married during the difficult years following World War II.  There is a lot of detail about the struggle to return to normalcy after the war.  And a lot of detail about the work that went into the royal wedding gown.  The other narrative thread is 2016 when the granddaughter of one of the embroiderers is looking into her grandmother's part in the making of the gown.  I loved the friendships.  I loved the excitement of the royal wedding.  

From the publisher: 
From the internationally bestselling author of Somewhere in France comes an enthralling historical novel about one of the most famous wedding dresses of the twentieth century—Queen Elizabeth’s wedding gown—and the fascinating women who made it.

“Millions will welcome this joyous event as a flash of color on the long road we have to travel.”
—Sir Winston Churchill on the news of Princess Elizabeth’s forthcoming wedding

London, 1947: Besieged by the harshest winter in living memory, burdened by onerous shortages and rationing, the people of postwar Britain are enduring lives of quiet desperation despite their nation’s recent victory. Among them are Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin, embroiderers at the famed Mayfair fashion house of Norman Hartnell. Together they forge an unlikely friendship, but their nascent hopes for a brighter future are tested when they are chosen for a once-in-a-lifetime honor: taking part in the creation of Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown.

Toronto, 2016: More than half a century later, Heather Mackenzie seeks to unravel the mystery of a set of embroidered flowers, a legacy from her late grandmother. How did her beloved Nan, a woman who never spoke of her old life in Britain, come to possess the priceless embroideries that so closely resemble the motifs on the stunning gown worn by Queen Elizabeth II at her wedding almost seventy years before? And what was her Nan’s connection to the celebrated textile artist and holocaust survivor Miriam Dassin?

With The Gown, Jennifer Robson takes us inside the workrooms where one of the most famous wedding gowns in history was created. Balancing behind-the-scenes details with a sweeping portrait of a society left reeling by the calamitous costs of victory, she introduces readers to three unforgettable heroines, their points of view alternating and intersecting throughout its pages, whose lives are woven together by the pain of survival, the bonds of friendship, and the redemptive power of love.




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Title: The Four Winds
Author: Kristin Hannah
Length:  15 hrs and 2 mins/ 464 p
Published: February 2021
Book Group: no
Finished: 3/2
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I think this would be a great book group book.  Elsa, the main character is compelling and complex.  And the exploration of the American Dream really made me think.  How is the American Dream evolving in today's world?  The themes and elements of this book stood out for me in the context of the isolation from Covid-19 (and fear of the spread of it), and the focus on immigration and migration, and of feminism, and environmentalism--wow!  I will admit there were sections that dragged on a bit.  But overall this is a book that will stick with me.

From the publisher:
Texas, 1934. Millions are out of work and a drought has broken the Great Plains. Farmers are fighting to keep their land and their livelihoods as the crops are failing, the water is drying up, and dust threatens to bury them all. One of the darkest periods of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl era, has arrived with a vengeance.

In this uncertain and dangerous time, Elsa Martinelli—like so many of her neighbors—must make an agonizing choice: fight for the land she loves or go west, to California, in search of a better life. The Four Winds is an indelible portrait of America and the American Dream, as seen through the eyes of one indomitable woman whose courage and sacrifice will come to define a generation.




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TitleThe Friend Zone
Author: Abby Jimenez
Length: 9 hrs and 32 mins / 384 pp
Published: June 2019
Book Group: no
Finished: 3/10
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Although it seems like a fluffy rom-com, there are several serious themes.  But the Friend Zone is really about all the different friendships and relationships we have.  I'm impressed that it's a debut novel, it's sophisticated and well-written.  I loved the friendships between Kristen and Sloane and Josh with Brandon.  Kristen is a lot of fun when she is sassy and witty.  And I need a Josh in my life.

From the publisher:
Kristen Peterson doesn't do drama, will fight to the death for her friends, and has no room in her life for guys who just don't get her. She's also keeping a big secret: facing a medically necessary procedure that will make it impossible for her to have children.

Planning her best friend's wedding is bittersweet for Kristen -- especially when she meets the best man, Josh Copeland. He's funny, sexy, never offended by her mile-wide streak of sarcasm, and always one chicken enchilada ahead of her hangry. Even her dog, Stuntman Mike, adores him. The only catch: Josh wants a big family someday. Kristen knows he'd be better off with someone else, but as their attraction grows, it's harder and harder to keep him at arm's length.






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Title: The Chicken Sisters
Author: KJ Dell'Antonia
Length12 hrs and 23 mins / 352 pp
Published: December 2020
Book Group: Library
Finished: 3/20
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I am conflicted about this book.  The premise is fun and funny but the book isn't fun and funny.  At least I didn't think it was.  Told from a dual narrative of the sisters, Mae and Amanda, the author does capture the differences in the sisters' lives and characters.  But neither was very likable.  I did enjoy the behind-the-scenes look at reality television.  And I did like the book but I didn't love it.  It seemed repetitive. I liked the ending.

From the publisher:
Three generations. Two chicken shacks. One recipe for disaster.

In tiny Merinac, Kansas, Chicken Mimi's and Chicken Frannie's have spent a century vying to serve up the best fried chicken in the state--and the legendary feud between their respective owners, the Moores and the Pogociellos, has lasted just as long. No one feels the impact more than thirty-five-year-old widow Amanda Moore, who grew up working for her mom at Mimi's before scandalously marrying Frank Pogociello and changing sides to work at Frannie's. Tired of being caught in the middle, Amanda sends an SOS to Food Wars, the reality TV restaurant competition that promises $100,000 to the winner. But in doing so, she launches both families out of the frying pan and directly into the fire. . .

The last thing Brooklyn-based organizational guru Mae Moore, Amanda's sister, wants is to go home to Kansas. But when her career implodes, helping the fading Mimi's look good on Food Wars becomes Mae's best chance to reclaim the limelight--even if doing so pits her against Amanda and Frannie's. Yet when family secrets become public knowledge, the sisters must choose: Will they fight with each other, or for their heritage?




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Title: The Thursday Murder Club
Author: Richard Osman
Length:  12 hrs and 56 mins/ 377 p
Published: September 2020
Book Group: no
Finished: 3/23
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This is the first of a promising new series.  I love books about senior citizens who are lively.  This bunch certainly are!  I can't wait to read more.  The mystery was well-paced with just enough red herrings to keep me guessing.

From the publisher:
Four septuagenarians with a few tricks up their sleeves
A female cop with her first big case
A brutal murder
Welcome to…
THE THURSDAY MURDER CLUB


In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet weekly in the Jigsaw Room to discuss unsolved crimes; together they call themselves The Thursday Murder Club.

When a local developer is found dead with a mysterious photograph left next to the body, the Thursday Murder Club suddenly find themselves in the middle of their first live case.

As the bodies begin to pile up, can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer, before it’s too late?




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Title: My Lovely Wife
Author: Samantha Downing
Length10 hrs and 13 mins / 390 pp
Published: March 2019
Book Group: no
Finished: 3/27
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

What a twisty, creepy book!  I couldn't stop listening to it.  It was a definite binge listen and would have been a binge read.  It's twisty.  Never knowing who the villain is was part of the fun of this book.  The element of how unintended consequences reverberate through the family as well as the larger community was woven throughout.  The unnamed narrator's fascination with his lovely wife, Millicent, makes their relationship almost enviable.

From the publisher:
A couple's fifteen-year marriage has finally gotten too interesting...

Our love story is simple. I met a gorgeous woman. We fell in love. We had kids. We moved to the suburbs. We told each other our biggest dreams, and our darkest secrets. And then we got bored.

We look like a normal couple. We're your neighbors, the parents of your kid's friend, the acquaintances you keep meaning to get dinner with.

We all have secrets to keeping a marriage alive.

Ours just happens to be getting away with murder.

 


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Title: The Bounty (Fox and O'Hare #7)
Author: Janet Evanovich and Steve Hamilton
Length7 hrs and 54 mins / 320 p
Published: March 2021
Book Group: no
Finished: 3/31
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Full of clever dialog but a bit too heavy on the implausible action.  The secondary characters were fun, as usual.

From the publisher:
FBI agent Kate O’Hare and charming con man Nick Fox race against time to uncover a buried train filled with Nazi gold.

Straight as an arrow special agent Kate O’Hare and international con man Nick Fox have brought down some of the biggest criminals out there. But now they face their most dangerous foe yet—a vast, shadowy international organization known only as the Brotherhood.

Directly descended from the Vatican Bank priests who served Hitler during World War II, the Brotherhood is on a frantic search for a lost train loaded with $30 billion in Nazi gold, untouched for over seventy-five years somewhere in the mountains of Eastern Europe.

Kate and Nick know that there is only one man who can find the fortune and bring down the Brotherhood—the same man who taught Nick everything he knows—his father, Quentin. As the stakes get higher, they must also rely on Kate’s own father, Jake, who shares his daughter’s grit and stubbornness. Too bad they can never agree on anything.

From a remote monastery in the Swiss Alps to the lawless desert of the Western Sahara, Kate, Nick, and the two men who made them who they are today must crisscross the world in a desperate scramble to stop their deadliest foe in the biggest adventure of their lives.


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Title: One by One
Author: Ruth Ware
Length: 13 hrs and 8 mins / 384 pp
Published: November 2020
Book Group: no
Finished: 4/4
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This book is a lot like Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None.  It's a locked-door mystery set in a luxury ski chalet in the French Alps.  Locked in are the executive team from a tech start-up music streaming type of service.  The author did a great job of creating a claustrophobic setting.  The narration shifted between characters and I liked the intro to each chapter including the user stats of the app.

From the publisher:
Getting snowed in at a beautiful, rustic mountain chalet doesn’t sound like the worst problem in the world, especially when there’s a breathtaking vista, a cozy fire, and company to keep you warm. But what happens when that company is eight of your coworkers…and you can’t trust any of them?

When an off-site company retreat meant to promote mindfulness and collaboration goes utterly wrong when an avalanche hits, the corporate food chain becomes irrelevant and survival trumps togetherness. Come Monday morning, how many members short will the team be?




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Title: Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat In Difficult Times
Author: Katherine May
Length6 hrs and 54 mins / 255 pp
Published: November 2020
Book Group: no
Finished: 4/091
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
 
I will never be friends with winter.  But I have a new appreciation for the season--what a lovely book.

From the publisher:
Sometimes you slip through the cracks: unforeseen circumstances like an abrupt illness, the death of a loved one, a break up, or a job loss can derail a life. These periods of dislocation can be lonely and unexpected. For May, her husband fell ill, her son stopped attending school, and her own medical issues led her to leave a demanding job. Wintering explores how she not only endured this painful time, but embraced the singular opportunities it offered.

A moving personal narrative shot through with lessons from literature, mythology, and the natural world, May's story offers instruction on the transformative power of rest and retreat. Illumination emerges from many sources: solstice celebrations and dormice hibernation, C.S. Lewis and Sylvia Plath, swimming in icy waters and sailing arctic seas.

Ultimately Wintering invites us to change how we relate to our own fallow times. May models an active acceptance of sadness and finds nourishment in deep retreat, joy in the hushed beauty of winter, and encouragement in understanding life as cyclical, not linear. A secular mystic, May forms a guiding philosophy for transforming the hardships that arise before the ushering in of a new season.


*************************************************
Title: When He Was Wicked (Bridgertons #6)
Author: Julia Quinn
Length11 hrs and 29 mins / 368 pp
Published: June 2004
Book Group: no
Finished: 4/14
My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

The correspondence that introduced each chapter was fun--they are prolific letter writers!  This was more of a bodice ripper than the previous books.  And that got boring if I'm being totally honest.  I wanted more witty dialog!
From the publisher:
In every life there is a turning point.
A moment so tremendous, so sharp and breathtaking, that one knows one's life will never be the same. For Michael Stirling, London's most infamous rake, that moment came the first time he laid eyes on Francesca Bridgerton.
After a lifetime of chasing women, of smiling slyly as they chased him, of allowing himself to be caught but never permitting his heart to become engaged, he took one look at Francesca Bridgerton and fell so fast and hard into love it was a wonder he managed to remain standing. Unfortunately for Michael, however, Francesca's surname was to remain Bridgerton for only a mere thirty-six hours longer -- the occasion of their meeting was, lamentably, a supper celebrating her imminent wedding to his cousin.
But that was then . . . Now Michael is the earl and Francesca is free, but still she thinks of him as nothing other than her dear friend and confidant. Michael dares not speak to her of his love . . . until one dangerous night, when she steps innocently into his arms, and passion proves stronger than even the most wicked of secrets . . . 

*************************************************
Title: The Kill Artist (Gabriel Allon, #1)
Author: Daniel Silva
Length: 11 hrs and  35 mins / 501 pp
Published: April 2006
Book Group: no
Finished: 4/19
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I had high hopes for this one but... meh.  It's the first of a series and I haven't decided if I'll read more.

From the publisher: 
Gabriel Allon had a simple but brutal job: he tracked down and eliminated Israel's terrorist enemies. But when his wife and son fell victim to the danger that accompanied him everywhere, Gabriel quit and devoted himself to the work of art restoration, an occupation that had previously been a cover for his secret assignments. Now Ari Shamron, the head of Israeli intelligence, needs Gabriel's particular kind of experience to thwart a Palestinian plot to destroy the peace negotiations in the Middle East. The architect of this plot, a Palestinian zealot named Tariq, is a lethal part of Gabriel's past, so as the two begin an intercontinental game of hide-and-seek, with life and death as the prizes, the motives are as personal as they are political.
The story features a vivid and fascinating supporting cast, including the magus-like Ari Shamron, a beautiful French Jewish model who is seeking retribution for her family's death in the Holocaust, and a marvelously comic down-at-the-heels London art dealer. Set these colorful and varied characters against a brilliant background of political intrigue and vengeance at the highest levels and a manhunt that covers three continents, and the result is a smart and electrically exciting global thriller.

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Title: The Lions of Fifth Avenue
Author: Fiona Davis
Length10 hrs and 37 mins / 368 pp
Published: August 2020
Book Group: Library
Finished: 4/22
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars


 I love that I have been to this library so I had a real sense of place.  The narrative shifts Laura to her granddaughter Sadie and reflects each other's desires.  I love stories about libraries and books!  There were a few places that dragged, but ultimately this is going to be a good book for a discussion.

From the publisher:
It's 1913, and on the surface, Laura Lyons couldn't ask for more out of life—her husband is the superintendent of the New York Public Library, allowing their family to live in an apartment within the grand building, and they are blessed with two children. But headstrong, passionate Laura wants more, and when she takes a leap of faith and applies to the Columbia Journalism School, her world is cracked wide open. As her studies take her all over the city, she finds herself drawn to Greenwich Village's new bohemia, where she discovers the Heterodoxy Club—a radical, all-female group in which women are encouraged to loudly share their opinions on suffrage, birth control, and women's rights. Soon, Laura finds herself questioning her traditional role as wife and mother. But when valuable books are stolen back at the library, threatening the home and institution she loves, she's forced to confront her shifting priorities head on . . . and may just lose everything in the process.

Eighty years later, in 1993, Sadie Donovan struggles with the legacy of her grandmother, the famous essayist Laura Lyons, especially after she's wrangled her dream job as a curator at the New York Public Library. But the job quickly becomes a nightmare when rare manuscripts, notes, and books for the exhibit Sadie's running begin disappearing from the library's famous Berg Collection. Determined to save both the exhibit and her career, the typically risk-adverse Sadie teams up with a private security expert to uncover the culprit. However, things unexpectedly become personal when the investigation leads Sadie to some unwelcome truths about her own family heritage—truths that shed new light on the biggest tragedy in the library's history.



*************************************************
TitleJane Darrowfield, Professional Busybody
Author: Barbara Ross
Length: 6 hrs  / 266 pp
Published: June 2019
Book Group: no
Finished: 4/24
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars


The first of a new series.  The titular character is just like the senior members of my family--they've got their fingers on the pulse of the community with all the goings-on and gossip.  A fun cozy mystery.

From the publisher:
Jane Darrowfield is a year into her retirement, and she’s already traveled and planted a garden. She’s organized her photos, her recipes, and her spices.  The statistics suggest she has at least a few more decades ahead of her, so she better find something to do . . .
 
JANE DARROWFIELD, PROFESSIONAL BUSYBODY
 
After Jane helps a friend with a sticky personal problem, word starts to spread around her bridge club—and then around all of West Cambridge, Massachusetts—that she’s the go-to girl for situations that need discreet fixing. Soon she has her first paid assignment—the director of a 55-and-over condo community needs her to de-escalate hostilities among the residents. As Jane discovers after moving in for her undercover assignment, the mature set can be as immature as any high schoolers, and war is breaking out between cliques.
 
It seems she might make some progress—until one of the aging “popular kids” is bludgeoned to death with a golf club. And though the automatic sprinklers have washed away much of the evidence, Jane’s on course to find out whodunit . . .


*************************************************
TitleThe Mystery of Mrs. Christie
Author: Marie Benedict
Length: 7 hrs and 22 mins  / 272 pp
Published: December 2020
Book Group: no
Finished: 4/27
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I wanted to love this book.  But I didn't.  Based on the real eleven-day disappearance of Agatha Christie I was hooked by the premise. I can't decide if the portrayal of Agatha Christie as a simpering desperate housewife or her husband Archie, as a self-absorbed narcissist turned me off.  Maybe it was the construction of the novel--the narrative shifts point of view and neither view builds empathy.  I had higher hopes for it.  It makes me want to revisit Christie's novels.

From the publisher:
In December 1926, Agatha Christie goes missing. Investigators find her empty car on the edge of a deep, gloomy pond, the only clues some tire tracks nearby and a fur coat left in the car—strange for a frigid night. Her husband and daughter have no knowledge of her whereabouts, and England unleashes an unprecedented manhunt to find the up-and-coming mystery author. Eleven days later, she reappears, just as mysteriously as she disappeared, claiming amnesia and providing no explanations for her time away.

The puzzle of those missing eleven days has persisted. With her trademark exploration into the shadows of history, acclaimed author Marie Benedict brings us into the world of Agatha Christie, imagining why such a brilliant woman would find herself at the center of such a murky story.

What is real, and what is mystery? What role did her unfaithful husband play, and what was he not telling investigators?

A master storyteller whose clever mind may never be matched, Agatha Christie’s untold history offers perhaps her greatest mystery of all.


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Title: The Lost Apothecary
Author: Sarah Penner
Length: 10 hrs and 18 mins 320 pp
Published: March 2021
Book Group: no
Finished: 5/3
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
 
There were lots of interesting historical pieces in this story.  The characters were stereotypical.  I think the reason I didn't love this book is because of the structure: with a dual narrative from the 1790s and today, it seems like every other historical fiction novel I've read lately has this setup.  And I found it predictable because of that.  Either of the narratives would have kept me reading but twined together it fell flat.  

Having said that--I enjoyed the feminist themes and the exploration of motherhood, womanhood, and the bonds between women.

From the publisher:
A forgotten history. A secret network of women. A legacy of poison and revenge. Welcome to The Lost Apothecary…

Hidden in the depths of eighteenth-century London, a secret apothecary shop caters to an unusual kind of clientele. Women across the city whisper of a mysterious figure named Nella who sells well-disguised poisons to use against the oppressive men in their lives. But the apothecary’s fate is jeopardized when her newest patron, a precocious twelve-year-old, makes a fatal mistake, sparking a string of consequences that echo through the centuries.

Meanwhile in present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, running from her own demons. When she stumbles upon a clue to the unsolved apothecary murders that haunted London two hundred years ago, her life collides with the apothecary’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.

With crackling suspense, unforgettable characters and searing insight, The Lost Apothecary is a subversive and intoxicating debut novel of secrets, vengeance and the remarkable ways women can save each other despite the barrier of time.


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TitleThe Midnight Library
Author: Matt Haig
Length: 8 hrs and 50 mins  / 288 pp
Published: September 2020
Book Group: School
Finished: 5/10
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This is a much-hyped book.  I don't get the hype.  I just didn't connect with it. It needed content/trigger warnings about suicide and mental health issues. It's repetitive and a bit preachy and is a surface-level look at existential questions.  I didn't like Nora, the main character.  And the alternate realities are so far-fetched.  Maybe I'm nit-picking.  The philosophy was interesting but it didn't go anywhere, it was a series of quotes that didn't seem to reflect anything that was going on.  I hate to sound so negative because I like the author and it was clever and I was interested enough to finish.  Maybe it's the wrong time for me to read this book?

From the publisher:
Between life and death there is a library, and within that library, the shelves go on forever. Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived. To see how things would be if you had made other choices . . . Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets?”

A dazzling novel about all the choices that go into a life well lived, from the internationally bestselling author of Reasons to Stay Alive and How To Stop Time.

Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better?

In The Midnight Library, Matt Haig’s enchanting new novel, Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place.







*************************************************
Title: Harbour Street
Author: Ann Cleeves
Length10 hrs and 10 mins / 384 p
Published: December 2015
Book Group: no
Finished: 5/14
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 
This series gets better and better--the layers of this murder were masterful.  Vera Stanhope is complex and I love learning more about her.  This is the first time in a long time that the clues were all there and I didn't put them together.  So many red herrings!

From the publisher:

The shouts and laughter of Christmas revelers break the muffled silence as Detective Joe Ashworth and his daughter Jessie are swept along onto the Metro.

But when the train is stopped due to the bad weather, Jessie notices that one lady hasn't left the train: Margaret Krukowski has been fatally stabbed. Why would anyone want to harm this reserved, elegant lady?

Arriving at the scene, DI Vera Stanhope is relieved to have an excuse to escape the holiday festivities. Soon Vera and Joe are on their way to where Margaret lived to begin their inquiry.

Then, just days later, a second woman is murdered. Vera finds herself searching deep into the hidden past led by clues that keep revolving around one street . . .

Why are the residents of Harbour Street so reluctant to speak?

*************************************************
Title: The Windsor Knot
Author: SJ Bennett
Length8 hrs and 5 mins / 288 p
Published: March 2021
Book Group: no
Finished: 5/17
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Let me start by saying I am a fan of the Royal Family.  I love all things Royal.  So this mystery solved by The Queen had me fangirling.  This cozy mystery, set in 2016, takes place in the inner sanctum of Windsor Castle and is an affectionate peek behind the royal curtain.  I want to believe the Queen is as she is portrayed here: no-nonsense, slightly mischievous, and quick-witted.  I liked her capable Assistant Private Secretary,  Rozie Oshodi, a British Nigerian--a force to reckon with in her own right.  I look forward to more installments!

From the publisher:
It is the early spring of 2016 and Queen Elizabeth is at Windsor Castle in advance of her 90th birthday celebrations. But the preparations are interrupted when a guest is found dead in one of the Castle bedrooms. The scene suggests the young Russian pianist strangled himself, but a badly tied knot leads MI5 to suspect foul play was involved. The Queen leaves the investigation to the professionals—until their suspicions point them in the wrong direction.

Unhappy at the mishandling of the case and concerned for her staff’s morale, the monarch decides to discreetly take matters into her own hands. With help from her Assistant Private Secretary, Rozie Oshodi, a British Nigerian and recent officer in the Royal Horse Artillery, the Queen secretly begins making inquiries. As she carries out her royal duties with her usual aplomb, no one in the Royal Household, the government, or the public knows that the resolute Elizabeth will use her keen eye, quick mind, and steady nerve to bring a murderer to justice.

SJ Bennett captures Queen Elizabeth’s voice with skill, nuance, wit, and genuine charm in this imaginative and engaging mystery that portrays Her Majesty as she’s rarely seen: kind yet worldly, decisive, shrewd, and most importantly a great judge of character.


*************************************************
Title: The Upstairs House
Author: Julia Fine
Length: 7 hrs and 58 mins / 304 pp
Published: February 2021
Book Group: no
Finished: 5/30
My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

This was almost a DNF (did not finish) for me.  I couldn't wait to get done with it.  I suppose because I have never experienced post-partumness, I just couldn't connect with it.  But neither narrative thread engaged me.  

From the publisher:
There’s a madwoman upstairs, and only Megan Weiler can see her.

Ravaged and sore from giving birth to her first child, Megan is mostly raising her newborn alone while her husband travels for work. Physically exhausted and mentally drained, she’s also wracked with guilt over her unfinished dissertation—a thesis on mid-century children’s literature.

Enter a new upstairs neighbor: the ghost of quixotic children’s book writer Margaret Wise Brown—author of the beloved classic Goodnight Moon—whose existence no one else will acknowledge. It seems Margaret has unfinished business with her former lover, the once-famous socialite and actress Michael Strange, and is determined to draw Megan into the fray. As Michael joins the haunting, Megan finds herself caught in the wake of a supernatural power struggle—and until she can find a way to quiet these spirits, she and her newborn daughter are in terrible danger.



*************************************************

Title: The Sanatorium
Author: Sarah Pearse
Length:  11 hrs and 58 mins/ 390 pp
Published: February 2021
Book Group: Library
Finished: 6/1
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

I wanted to love this but it was ok.  The main character didn't connect for me--I had no empathy for her at all.  It was good, just not great.  I did like the ending but I won't spoil it.  I wonder what my book group will make of it?

From the publisher:
An imposing, isolated hotel, high up in the Swiss Alps, is the last place Elin Warner wants to be. But she's taken time off from her job as a detective, so when she receives an invitation out of the blue to celebrate her estranged brother's recent engagement, she has no choice but to accept.

Arriving in the midst of a threatening storm, Elin immediately feels on edge. Though it's beautiful, something about the hotel, recently converted from an abandoned sanatorium, makes her nervous - as does her brother, Isaac.

And when they wake the following morning to discover his fiancée Laure has vanished without a trace, Elin's unease grows. With the storm cutting off access to and from the hotel, the longer Laure stays missing, the more the remaining guests start to panic.

But no-one has realized yet that another woman has gone missing. And she's the only one who could have warned them just how much danger they're all in . . .



*************************************************
Title: The Last Thing He Told Me
Author: Laura Dave
Length8 hrs and 49 mins / 320 pp
Published: May 2021
Book Group: no
Finished: 6/2
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This was a quick read--I couldn't put it down.  It's sort of a mystery but sort of a character study.  The characters are multi-faceted and compelling.  It wasn't a book I tried to figure out, instead, it was a slow burn to the ending.  I want my friends to read it so we can talk about it!

From the publisher:
We all have stories we never tell.
Before Owen Michaels disappears, he manages to smuggle a note to his beloved wife of one year: Protect her.


Despite her confusion and fear, Hannah Hall knows exactly to whom the note refers: Owen’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Bailey. Bailey, who lost her mother tragically as a child. Bailey, who wants absolutely nothing to do with her new stepmother.

As Hannah’s increasingly desperate calls to Owen go unanswered; as the FBI arrests Owen’s boss; as a US Marshal and FBI agents arrive at her Sausalito home unannounced, Hannah quickly realizes her husband isn’t who he said he was. And that Bailey just may hold the key to figuring out Owen’s true identity—and why he really disappeared.

Hannah and Bailey set out to discover the truth, together. But as they start putting together the pieces of Owen’s past, they soon realize they are also building a new future. One neither Hannah nor Bailey could have anticipated.





*************************************************

Title: Sudden Death
Author: David Rosenfelt
Length:  5 hrs and 39 mins/ 336 pp
Published: May 2006
Book Group: no
Finished: 6/6
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I figured it out.

The fourth installment was as entertaining as the previous three and I can't wait to read more!

From the publisher:
First at the crime scene, Andy Carpenter wishes he had never seen the folded torso with the large red stain on its back. The victim is Tony Preston, wide receiver for the New York Jets, and the suspect is Kenny Schilling, the New York Giants' star running back who is clamoring for Andy's services. The upcoming high-profile murder case will be the bench-warming Andy's chance to get back into the legal game. It will also prove a handy distraction from the awful possibility that Laurie Collins - the private investigator and living creature Andy adores most next to Tara, his cherished golden retriever - might leave Paterson and Andy's life forever.

Digging into the case, Andy stumbles onto some of the seamier undercurrents rushing beneath the large-guy camaraderie, big-buck cushiness, and bone-mashing fun that is pro football. And he discovers that Preston's death is similar to a series of other mysterious murders - all seemingly unrelated yet connected by a horrible secret from many years ago. Despite the crushing evidence, Andy begins to believe in his client's innocence. But when danger finds someone close to him, the unperturbed defender knows he's attracted the attention of a powerful enemy - one who will do anything to take Andy permanently off the field.


*************************************************

Title: The Devil In The White City
Author: Erik Larson
Length:  14 hrs and 58 mins/ 447 pp
Published: January 2003
Book Group: no
Finished: 6/13
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

This book has my head spinning.  In one narrative thread, there is the story of the White City which is gripping and compelling as a study of personality, persistence, art, and architecture.  Then the other narrative thread tells the twisted and grotesquely fascinating story of madman H.H. Holmes.  I think I would have preferred two separate books--the story of the fair and the story of the killer.  There is atmospheric detail in the research and plenty of first-person accounts that kept me turning pages.

From the publisher:
Two men, each handsome and unusually adept at his chosen work, embodied an element of the great dynamic that characterized America’s rush toward the twentieth century. The architect was Daniel Hudson Burnham, the fair’s brilliant director of works and the builder of many of the country’s most important structures, including the Flatiron Building in New York and Union Station in Washington, D.C. The murderer was Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor who, in a malign parody of the White City, built his “World’s Fair Hotel” just west of the fairgrounds—a torture palace complete with dissection table, gas chamber, and 3,000-degree crematorium.

Burnham overcame tremendous obstacles and tragedies as he organized the talents of Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles McKim, Louis Sullivan, and others to transform swampy Jackson Park into the White City, while Holmes used the attraction of the great fair and his own satanic charms to lure scores of young women to their deaths. What makes the story all the more chilling is that Holmes really lived, walking the grounds of that dream city by the lake.

The Devil in the White City draws the reader into a time of magic and majesty, made all the more appealing by a supporting cast of real-life characters, including Buffalo Bill, Theodore Dreiser, Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Edison, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, and others. Erik Larson’s gifts as a storyteller are magnificently displayed in this rich narrative of the master builder, the killer, and the great fair that obsessed them both.




*************************************************
Title: It's In His Kiss (Bridgertons #7)
Author: Julia Quinn
Length11 hrs and 11 mins / 384 pp
Published: June 2005
Book Group: no
Finished: 6/15
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Installment 7 is definitely one of my favorites!  This has a lot going on in terms of the plot--not just going to balls or dinners.  Although the familial showdown is anticlimactic, it's an enjoyable story.

From the publisher:
Meet Our Hero . . . Gareth St. Clair is in a bind. His father, who detests him, is determined to beggar the St. Clair estates and ruin his inheritance. Gareth's sole bequest is an old family diary, which may or may not contain the secrets of his past . . . and the key to his future. The problem is—it's written in Italian, of which Gareth speaks not a word. 

Meet Our Heroine . . . All the ton agreed: there was no one quite like Hyacinth Bridgerton. She's fiendishly smart, devilishly in small doses. But there's something about her—something charming and vexing—that grabs him and won't quite let go . . . 

Meet Poor Mr. Mozart . . . Or don't. But rest assured, he's spinning in his grave when Gareth and Hyacinth cross paths at the annual—and annually discordant—Smythe-Smith musicale. To Hyacinth, Gareth's every word seems a dare, and she offers to translate his diary, even though her Italian is slightly less than perfect. But as they delve into the mysterious text, they discover that the answers they seek lie not in the diary, but in each other . . . and that there is nothing as simple—or as complicated—as a single, perfect kiss. 


*************************************************

Title: Standard Deviation
Author: Katherine Heiny
Length:  10 hrs and 16 mins/ 336 pp
Published: May 2017
Book Group: no
Finished: 6/24
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I liked the representation of Aspergers, it was carefully and poignantly a part of Matthew's character.  I don't really know how to describe this book--I kept thinking that the vignettes were like a quirky television show.  It is beautifully written and there are moments that I chuckled from Audra's obliviousness.  Ultimately it's a coming-of-age story from the perspective of a middle-aged man.

From the publisher:
Graham Cavanaugh's second wife, Audra, is everything his first wife was not. Audra is charming and spontaneous and fun, but life with her can be exhausting, constantly interrupted by phone calls, burdened by houseguests, and populated by old men with backpacks full of origami paper. As Graham and Audra struggle to define their marriage and raise a child with Asperger's, they decide to establish a friendship with his first wife, Elspeth. But former spouses are hard to categorize--are they friends, enemies, old flames, or just people who know you really, really well? Graham starts to wonder: How can anyone love two such different women? Did he make the right choice? Is there a right choice?


*************************************************
Title: The Plot
Author: Jean Hanff Korelitz
Length10 hrs and 43 mins / 336 pp
Published: May 2021
Book Group: no
Finished: 6/26
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I have a love/hate relationship with this book.  I love the look at the world of publishing, the book tour, the story within a story, and the writer's retreats.  I didn't love that I figured it out about a third of the way through and some of the middle section moves slowly.  I loved the writing.  I loved the Crime & Punishment feel of the main character's dilemma--albeit a much different "crime".  I liked the descriptions of places:  Vermont, New York, Georgia, Seattle all came alive.  It's well written.  It's a great slow burn.  I wanted to keep reading/listening.  But I figured it out.

From the publisher:
Jacob Finch Bonner was once a promising young novelist with a respectably published first book. Today, he’s teaching in a third-rate MFA program and struggling to maintain what’s left of his self-respect; he hasn’t written—let alone published—anything decent in years. When Evan Parker, his most arrogant student, announces he doesn’t need Jake’s help because the plot of his book in progress is a sure thing, Jake is prepared to dismiss the boast as typical amateur narcissism. But then . . . he hears the plot.

Jake returns to the downward trajectory of his own career and braces himself for the supernova publication of Evan Parker’s first novel: but it never comes. When he discovers that his former student has died, presumably without ever completing his book, Jake does what any self-respecting writer would do with a story like that - a story that absolutely needs to be told.

In a few short years, all of Evan Parker’s predictions have come true, but Jake is the author enjoying the wave. He is wealthy, famous, praised and read all over the world. But at the height of his glorious new life, an e-mail arrives, the first salvo in a terrifying, anonymous campaign: You are a thief, it says.

As Jake struggles to understand his antagonist and hide the truth from his readers and his publishers, he begins to learn more about his late student, and what he discovers both amazes and terrifies him. Who was Evan Parker, and how did he get the idea for his “sure thing” of a novel? What is the real story behind the plot, and who stole it from whom?

 *************************************************

Title: Visible Learning for Social Studies, Grades K-12: Designing Student Learning for Conceptual Understanding
Author: John Hattie, Julie Stern, Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey
Lengthnone / 192 p
Published: May 2020
Book Group: no
Finished: 6/30
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 
Good professional development reading.  Nothing terribly new but I like how it offers plans for learning from a surface level to a transfer level--the deepest comprehensive level.  

From the publisher:
How do social studies teachers maximize instruction to ensure students are prepared for an informed civic life? This book shows how the field is more than simply memorizing dates and facts--it encapsulates the skillful ability to conduct investigations, analyze sources, place events in historical context, and synthesize divergent points of view. Best practices for applying visible learning are presented through:

- A scaffolded approach including surface-level learning, deep learning, and transfer of learning - Examples of strategies, lessons, and activities best suited for each level of learning - Planning tools, rubrics, and templates to guide instruction.



*************************************************

Title: Dead Center
Author: David Rosenfelt
Length:  7 hrs and 20 mins/ 310 pp
Published: May 2006
Book Group: no
Finished: 6/25
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars 

I forgot to write a review of this book--which is #5 in the series.  I have to say the audio narrator, Grover Gardner, is perfect for this series.  He captures Andy's humor and the witty repartee is perfect in his voice.  I am rooting for Andy and Laurie to get back together. Although I figured it out, I still enjoyed it and want to continue with the series!

From the publisher:
In Dead Center, we find our beloved Andy carpenter reentering the dating scene? God Bless him. Surprisingly he's a hot commodity, but that's not necessarily a good thing. His friends are offering up their two cents on his dating life, but of course they know as little about the dating world as Andy. One thing that rings true, whether the ladies he meets are terrific or not, is that the spectra of his longtime love Laurie hangs over his head. Bitter over her departure, he's finding it hard to forgive and forget. She's still the love of his life. Andy's had no contact with her at all, and he can only assume she is back in Findlay, Wisconsin serving in the number two job on the local police force. Then one day he returns to the office to find Laurie waiting for him. She's arrested a young man for murder and though the evidence clearly called for his arrest, she believes he's innocent. He's the son of her oldest friend and she's come to Andy to find him representation. Andy follows Laurie back to Wisconsin where he must explore a secretive religious community that seems to hold the truth about what really happened to the deceased. 


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Title: Malibu Rising
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Length:  11 hrs and 5 mins/ 384 pp
Published: June 2021
Book Group: no
Finished: 6/30
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars 

The Riva siblings are a close-knit group.  A dysfunctional, close-knit family.  I really liked that each of the siblings had a believable subplot and each is a fully developed character.  The book begins with a dual narrative thread--from the young Riva family origins to the mega party ending.  I admit I got a little bored with the party.  It's a fast-paced beachy summer read--a family saga (think soap opera).

From the publisher:
Malibu: August 1983. It’s the day of Nina Riva’s annual end-of-summer party, and anticipation is at a fever pitch. Everyone wants to be around the famous Rivas: Nina, the talented surfer and supermodel; brothers Jay and Hud, one a championship surfer, the other a renowned photographer; and their adored baby sister, Kit. Together the siblings are a source of fascination in Malibu and the world over—especially as the offspring of the legendary singer Mick Riva.
The only person not looking forward to the party of the year is Nina herself, who never wanted to be the center of attention, and who has also just been very publicly abandoned by her pro tennis player husband. Oh, and maybe Hud—because it is long past time for him to confess something to the brother from whom he’s been inseparable since birth.
Jay, on the other hand, is counting the minutes until nightfall, when the girl he can’t stop thinking about promised she’ll be there.
And Kit has a couple secrets of her own—including a guest she invited without consulting anyone.
By midnight the party will be completely out of control. By morning, the Riva mansion will have gone up in flames. But before that first spark in the early hours before dawn, the alcohol will flow, the music will play, and the loves and secrets that shaped this family’s generations will all come rising to the surface. 



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Title: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir
Author: R.A. Dick
Length:  5 hrs and 37 mins/ 192 pp
Published: 1945
Book Group: no
Finished: 7/6
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars 

I've always heard the name--it's both a movie and a TV show, but I haven't seen either.  When The Gal mentioned reading it, I jumped on the bandwagon.  What a fun summer read!  Now I want to hunt down the movie and TV show.

From the publisher:
Burdened by debt after her husband's death, Lucy Muir insists on moving into the very cheap Gull Cottage in the quaint seaside village of Whitecliff, despite multiple warnings that the house is haunted. Upon discovering the rumors to be true, the young widow ends up forming a special companionship with the ghost of handsome former sea captain Daniel Gregg. Through the struggles of supporting her children, seeking out romance from the wrong places, and working to publish the captain's story as a book, Blood and Swash, Lucy finds in her secret relationship with Captain Gregg a comfort and blossoming love she never could have predicted.

Originally published in 1945, made into a movie in 1947, and later adapted into a television sitcom in 1968, this romantic tale explores how love can develop without boundaries, both in this life and beyond.



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Title: The Maidens
Author: Alex Michaelides
Length:  9 hrs and 19 mins/ 352 pp
Published: June 2021
Book Group: no
Finished: 7/7
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars 

I think this is the author's sophomore novel--but no sophomore slump!  A twisty, dark, immersive story that I couldn't put down.  Fueled by obsession and Greek studies, the campus life is authentic.  The aspects of mental health, from depression to therapy, are well developed.  I really liked the academics, the professors with their followers, and the hint of rivalry was interesting.  But seriously--a secret society, a twisty plot, charismatic characters--it's everything a psychological thriller should be.

From the publisher:
Edward Fosca is a murderer. Of this Mariana is certain. But Fosca is untouchable. A handsome and charismatic Greek Tragedy professor at Cambridge University, Fosca is adored by staff and students alike—particularly by the members of a secret society of female students known as The Maidens.

Mariana Andros is a brilliant but troubled group therapist who becomes fixated on The Maidens when one member, a friend of Mariana’s niece Zoe, is found murdered in Cambridge.

Mariana, who was once herself a student at the university, quickly suspects that behind the idyllic beauty of the spires and turrets, and beneath the ancient traditions, lies something sinister. And she becomes convinced that, despite his alibi, Edward Fosca is guilty of the murder. But why would the professor target one of his students? And why does he keep returning to the rites of Persephone, the maiden, and her journey to the underworld?

When another body is found, Mariana’s obsession with proving Fosca’s guilt spirals out of control, threatening to destroy her credibility as well as her closest relationships. But Mariana is determined to stop this killer, even if it costs her everything—including her own life.

 

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Title: The Good Sister
Author: Sally Hepworth
Length:  8 hrs and 19 mins 309 pp
Published: April 2021
Book Group: no
Finished: 7/9
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars 

Wow--this is quite a thrill ride!  I could tell that neither sister was telling the whole story so the fun was how it all unfolds. The character of Fern is a blend of quirk and sensory processing issues.  And the sister dynamics really mold Fern's understanding of how she fits in the world.  So what could have been a stereotypical trope has a few more layers.  And I loved Fern's love stories.  

From the publisher:
There's only been one time that Rose couldn't stop me from doing the wrong thing and that was a mistake that will haunt me for the rest of my life.

Fern Castle works in her local library. She has dinner with her twin sister Rose three nights a week. And she avoids crowds, bright lights and loud noises as much as possible. Fern has a carefully structured life and disrupting her routine can be...dangerous.

When Rose discovers that she cannot get pregnant, Fern sees her chance to pay her sister back for everything Rose has done for her. Fern can have a baby for Rose. She just needs to find a father. Simple.

Fern's mission will shake the foundations of the life she has carefully built for herself and stir up dark secrets from the past, in this quirky, rich and shocking story of what families keep hidden.

 

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Title: People We Meet On Vacation
Author: Emily Henry
Length:  10 hrs and 46 mins/ 364 pp
Published: May 2021
Book Group: no
Finished: 7/15
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars 

There is surprising depth to this chick-lit.  At first, I wasn't sure about the narrative structure of flashbacks alternating with "this summer," but it worked.  The characters are well-developed although sometimes the main character-narrator Poppy annoyed me.  She's self-centered and slightly dishonest, but her character evolves by the end of the book.  I liked the will-they-or-won't-they, opposites attract, friends to lovers tropes.  I especially loved the inside jokes that Poppy and Alex maintain on their travel adventures.  Lots of witty banter.

From the publisher:
Poppy and Alex. Alex and Poppy. They have nothing in common. She’s a wild child; he wears khakis. She has insatiable wanderlust; he prefers to stay home with a book. And somehow, ever since a fateful car share home from college many years ago, they are the very best of friends. For most of the year they live far apart—she’s in New York City, and he’s in their small hometown—but every summer, for a decade, they have taken one glorious week of vacation together.

Until two years ago, when they ruined everything. They haven’t spoken since.

Poppy has everything she should want, but she’s stuck in a rut. When someone asks when she was last truly happy, she knows, without a doubt, it was on that ill-fated, final trip with Alex. And so, she decides to convince her best friend to take one more vacation together—lay everything on the table, make it all right. Miraculously, he agrees.

Now she has a week to fix everything. If only she can get around the one big truth that has always stood quietly in the middle of their seemingly perfect relationship. What could possibly go wrong?


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Title: The Dictionary of Lost Words
Author: Pip Williams
Length: 11 hrs and 11 mins / 376 pp
Published: April 2020
Book Group: no
Finished: 7/17
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

It's lovely storytelling based on actual events.  The celebration of words.

From the publisher:
Esme is born into a world of words. Motherless and irrepressibly curious, she spends her childhood in the "Scriptorium," a garden shed in Oxford where her father and a team of dedicated lexicographers are collecting words for the very first Oxford English Dictionary. Young Esme's place is beneath the sorting table, unseen and unheard. One day a slip of paper containing the word "bondmaid" flutters to the floor. She rescues the slip, and when she learns that the word means slave-girl, she withholds it from the OED and begins to collect other words that have been discarded or neglected by the dictionary men.

As she grows up, Esme realizes that words and meanings relating to women's and common folks' experiences often go unrecorded. And so she begins in earnest to search out words for her own dictionary: The Dictionary of Lost Words. To do so she must leave the sheltered world of the university and venture out to meet the people whose words will fill those pages.

Set during the height of the women's suffrage movement with the Great War looming, The Dictionary of Lost Words reveals a lost narrative, hidden between the lines of a history written by men.

Based on actual events and combed from author Pip Williams's experience delving into the archives of the Oxford English Dictionary, this highly original novel is a delightful, lyrical, and deeply thought-provoking celebration of words and the power of language to shape the world.






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Title: Shucked Apart
Author: Barbara Ross
Length:  5 hrs and 39 mins/ 231 pp
Published: February 2021
Book Group: no
Finished: 7/24
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

The 9th installment was interesting, I learned a lot!  Still a fun cozy addition to the series.  The reader is left with a lingering cliffhanger about Julia's love life.  It was the perfect book to read as I vacationed on the coast of Maine. 😁

From the publisher:
The Snowden Family Clambake Company has a beloved reputation in Busman’s Harbor, Maine. Almost as famous is the sleuthing ability of proprietor Julia Snowden, which is why an oyster farmer seeks her out when she’s in trouble.

When Andie Greatorex is robbed of two buckets of oyster seed worth $35,000, she wonders if somebody’s trying to mussel her out of business. Could it be a rival oyster farmer, a steamed former employee, or a snooty summer resident who objects to her unsightly oyster cages floating on the beautiful Damariscotta River? There’s also a lobsterman who’s worried the farm’s expanding lease will encroach on his territory and Andie’s ex-partner, who may come to regret their split. Before Julia can make much headway in the investigation, Andie turns up dead, stabbed by a shucking knife. Now it’s up to Julia to set a trap for a cold and clammy killer . . .


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Title: How the Penguins Saved Veronica
Author: Hazel Prior
Length:  10 hrs and 44 mins/ 355 pp
Published: June 2020
Book Group: Library
Finished: 7/31
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I would consider this a type of redemption story.  85-year old Veronica is an unlikeable character--she's stubborn, rude, demanding, and very, very wealthy.  There were parts of the story that reminded me of A Man Called Ove and Where'd You Go, Bernadette, but when the story focuses on Veronica's past hardships, the author creates a fresh look at some old tropes.  The details of the penguins are woven into the story so that it doesn't get bogged down, which I liked.  It's an easy read--not quite a comedy and not quite a drama.

From the publisher:
Eighty-five-year-old Veronica McCreedy is estranged from her family and wants to find a worthwhile cause to leave her fortune to. When she sees a documentary about penguins being studied in Antarctica, she tells the scientists she’s coming to visit—and won’t take no for an answer. Shortly after arriving, she convinces the reluctant team to rescue an orphaned baby penguin. He becomes part of life at the base, and Veronica's closed heart starts to open.

Her grandson, Patrick, comes to Antarctica to make one last attempt to get to know his grandmother. Together, Veronica, Patrick, and even the scientists learn what family, love, and connection are all about.
 



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Title: Auntie Poldi and the Handsome Antonio
Author: by Mario Giordano, J. Maxwell Brownjohn (Translator)
Length:  9 hrs and 41 mins/ 352 pp
Published: May 2020
Book Group: no
Finished: 8/6
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

This is the third installment.  Auntie Poldi is as flamboyant and outrageous as usual.  She's such a fun character.  My complaint is that this story dragged a bit in the middle.  But the shenanigans took over and it had a satisfying ending.  We do get more of Auntie Poldi's very interesting and highly amusing background.

From the publisher:
All the beloved, irascible Auntie Poldi wanted from her Sicilian retirement was time to enjoy the sunshine, a free-flowing supply of wine, and a sultry romance with Chief Inspector Vito Montana. But then her idyll is rudely disrupted by the last person she wants to see on her doorstep: John Owenya, detective inspector with the Tanzanian Ministry of Home Affairs, who is also her estranged lying cheat of a husband.

Not only is John's sudden reappearance putting a kink in Poldi's dreamy love affair with Montana, but his presence also comes with a plea for helpand unwanted clashes with the Mafia.

Where is John's half-brother? What is the ten-million-dollar "it" that John's brother was last seen with, which has both the Sicilian and theTanzanian mobs in a frenzy? With only a postcard that has a phone number and a name, "Handsome Antonio," on the back, Auntie Poldi hops begrudgingly (albeit with a great deal of gumption and panache) back into the saddle (in this case, an immaculate red Maserati Cabrio from the eighties with cream leather upholstery). The faster she finds Handsome Antonio, the sooner she can get John Owenya out of her hair and her love life. But the people Poldi discovers along the way may very well knock her immaculate wig askew.



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Title: The Rooftop Party
Author: Ellen Meister
Length:  9 hrs and 32 mins/ 352 pp
Published: May 2021
Book Group: no
Finished: 8/8
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
 
It wasn't until I was almost through with this book that I realized it's the second of a series--so I will definitely go back to the beginning.  I liked Dana and loved the Shopping Channel action.  It was a fun summer read.  I loved the secondary characters, the pacing, and the plot.

From the publisher:
In this witty and engaging novel, Dana Barry, the Shopping Channel’s star host, stops by the company’s rooftop party to pitch the new CEO her brilliant idea that just might save the flagging business, her job and possibly her love life.

As she chats with the smarmy executive, he backs her into a dark corner. For Dana, it’s a quid pro oh-hell-no. She escapes his lecherous grasp and grabs her drink on her way to the dance floor. Woozy, she blacks out.

When she comes to, the CEO is dead, fallen from the roof. Or was he pushed? And if so, by whom? It’s hard to know, but one thing is certain: Dana was close enough to be suspect.

Sure, she loathed how the creep moved in on her, but she’s no killer. Or is she? Truth is, Dana can’t remember much about those minutes. Now she has to use all her skills to prove her innocence to everyone, including her police detective boyfriend—and herself.


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Title: Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life In Lyrics
Author: Dolly Parton, Robert K. Oermann
Length:  5 hrs and 18 mins / 380 pp
Published: November 2020
Book Group: no
Finished: 8/11
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

 I've always been a Dolly Parton fan.  It was fun to hear her telling the stories behind the songs and different events and relationships that formed her life and career.  She's so interesting!

From the publisher:
Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics is a landmark celebration of the remarkable life and career of a country music and pop culture legend.

As told by Dolly Parton in her own inimitable words, explore the songs that have defined her journey. Illustrated throughout with previously unpublished images from Dolly Parton's personal and business archives.

Mining over 60 years of songwriting, Dolly Parton highlights 175 of her songs and brings readers behind the lyrics.

• Packed with never-before-seen photographs and classic memorabilia
• Explores personal stories, candid insights, and myriad memories behind the songs

Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics reveals the stories and memories that have made Dolly a beloved icon across generations, genders, and social and international boundaries.

Containing rare photos and memorabilia from Parton's archives, this book is a show-stopping must-have for every Dolly Parton fan.


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Title: To Sir, with Love
Author: Lauren Layne
Length:  6 hrs and 37 mins / 288 pp
Published: June 2021
Book Group: no
Finished: 8/12
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Very similar to You've Got Mail (which is a favorite of mine), this is a contemporary take on a fairy tale type story.  The secondary characters were as much fun as the main characters.  I liked how the book was structured, with texts messages introducing the chapters.  A light, fun, summer read.

From the publisher:
Love Is Blind meets You’ve Got Mail in this laugh-out-loud romantic comedy following two thirty-somethings who meet on a blind dating app—only to realize that their online chemistry is nothing compared to their offline rivalry.

Perpetually cheerful and eager to please, Gracie Cooper strives to make the best out of every situation. So when her father dies just five months after a lung cancer diagnosis, she sets aside her dreams of pursuing her passion for art to take over his Midtown Manhattan champagne shop. She soon finds out that the store’s profit margins are being squeezed perilously tight, and complicating matters further, a giant corporation headed by the impossibly handsome, but irritatingly arrogant Sebastian Andrews is proposing a buyout to turn the store into a parking garage. But Gracie can’t bear the thought of throwing away her father’s dream like she did her own.

Overwhelmed and not wanting to admit to her friends or family that she’s having second thoughts about the shop, Gracie seeks advice and solace from someone she’s never met—the faceless “Sir”, with whom she connected on a blind dating app where matches get to know each other through messages and common interests before exchanging real names or photos.

But although Gracie finds herself slowly falling for Sir online, she has no idea she’s already met him in real life…and they can’t stand each other.



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Title: A Sweet Mess
Author: Jayci Lee
Length:  9 hrs and 21 mins / 306 pp
Published: July 2020
Book Group: no
Finished: 8/17
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Not the strongest romance but a fun story.  I loved the food references.  Aubrey was relatable in the first half but not as well-developed in the second half.

From the publisher:
Bake a chance on love.

Aubrey Choi loves living in her small town nestled in the foothills of California, running her highly successful bakery away from the watch of her strict Korean parents. When a cake mix-up and a harsh review threaten all of her hard work and her livelihood, she never thought the jaded food critic would turn out to be her one-night stand. And she sure as hell never thought she’d see her gorgeous Korean unicorn again. But when Landon Kim waltzes into her bakery trying to clean up the mess he had a huge hand in making, Aubrey is torn between throwing and hearing him out.

When she hears his plan to help save her business, Aubrey knows that spending three weeks in California wine country working with Landon is a sure recipe for disaster. Her head is telling her to take the chance to save her bakery while her heart—and her hormones—are at war on whether to give him a second chance. And it just so happens that Landon’s meddling friends want them to spend those three weeks as close as possible...by sharing a villa.

When things start heating up, both in and out of the kitchen, Aubrey will have to make a choice—to stick it out or risk her heart.


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Title: Good Neighbors
Author: Sarah Langan
Length10 hrs and 11 mins / 304 pp
Published: February 2021
Book Group: School
Finished: 8/28
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
 
I'm kind of scratching my head about the genre:  mystery? noir? literary fiction?  It isn't quite any of them.  There are a lot of twisty elements, almost too many.  And the book is full, and I mean FULL, of tropes and stereotypes.  The narrative is told through several points of view and also through newspaper articles, magazines, and books written about the events of that fateful summer on Maple Street--which I thought was interesting.  I had a hard time keeping track of the timeline, especially when the narrative articles were published.  But I think my biggest problem is how mental health issues are handled.  Maybe that's part of the skewering of suburbia and the appearance of perfection.  It's going to provide MUCH fodder for our book group discussion.

From the publisher:
Welcome to Maple Street, a picture-perfect slice of suburban Long Island, its residents bound by their children, their work, and their illusion of safety in a rapidly changing world.

Arlo Wilde, a gruff has-been rock star who’s got nothing to show for his fame but track marks, is always two steps behind the other dads. His wife, beautiful ex-pageant queen Gertie, feels socially ostracized and adrift. Spunky preteen Julie curses like a sailor and her kid brother Larry is called “Robot Boy” by the kids on the block.

Their next-door neighbor and Maple Street’s Queen Bee, Rhea Schroedera lonely community college professor repressing her own dark pastwelcomes Gertie and family into the fold. Then, during one spritzer-fueled summer evening, the new best friends share too much, too soon.

As tensions mount, a sinkhole opens in a nearby park, and Rhea’s daughter Shelly falls inside. The search for Shelly brings a shocking accusation against the Wildes that spins out of control. Suddenly, it is one mom’s word against the other’s in a court of public opinion that can end only in blood.

A riveting and ruthless portrayal of American suburbia, Good Neighbors excavates the perils and betrayals of motherhood and friendships and the dangerous clash between social hierarchy, childhood trauma, and fear.



 

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Title: Auntie Poldi and the Lost Madonna: A Novel
Author: by Mario Giordano, J. Maxwell Brownjohn (Translator)
Length:  10 hrs and 7 mins/ 352 pp
Published: May 2021
Book Group: no
Finished: 8/31
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

In this fourth installment, Auntie Poldi and her shenanigans are so far-fetched and funny!  This is an especially sweet look at the romance between Auntie Poldi and Vito Montana.

From the publisher:
Strange dealings are afoot in the Apostolic Palace—a nun leapt to her death shortly after participating in a seemingly routine exorcism. But when a priest clad in Gammarelli and a Vatican commissario with an almost unholy level of sex appeal turn up at her door, Poldi is shocked to hear that she’s a suspect in their case.
 
Who is the woman being exorcised, and where has she disappeared to? And why in the world does she claim, in perfect Bavarian, to be Poldi, Isolde Oberreiter, of Torre Archirafi? 
 
Poldi will need all the help she can get to clear her name, but her nephew has been distracted by a love affair gone sour, someone in the town has been spraying graffiti death threats on her front door, and her local friends seem to be avoiding her. And even Vito Montana balks when Poldi discovers that the case hinges on a lost Madonna statue, stolen years ago from the pope himself.

Forza, Poldi! With a pair of mysterious twins dogging her every move and a mandate to maintain sobriety, will Poldi be able to unmask her mysterious doppelgĂ€nger, find the lost statue in time, and survive her sixty-first birthday?



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Title: The Madness of Crowds
Author: Louise Penny
Length: 14 hrs and 50 mins / 448 pp
Published: August 2021
Book Group: no
Finished: 9/4
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is masterful storytelling. It's not often that I want to start re-reading a book immediately upon finishing it.  This is that book.  I savored and devoured every word.  How life in a post-pandemic society is recovering from the shared global experience becomes the background to this 17th installment of the Inspector Gamache/Three Pines series.  The characters are human and flawed but not exaggerated or distorted.  

From the publisher:
You're a coward.

Time and again, as the New Year approaches, that charge is leveled against Armand Gamache.

It starts innocently enough.

While the residents of the Québec village of Three Pines take advantage of the deep snow to ski and toboggan, to drink hot chocolate in the bistro and share meals together, the Chief Inspector finds his holiday with his family interrupted by a simple request.

He's asked to provide security for what promises to be a non-event. A visiting Professor of Statistics will be giving a lecture at the nearby university.

While he is perplexed as to why the head of homicide for the Sûreté du Québec would be assigned this task, it sounds easy enough. That is until Gamache starts looking into Professor Abigail Robinson and discovers an agenda so repulsive he begs the university to cancel the lecture.

They refuse, citing academic freedom, and accuse Gamache of censorship and intellectual cowardice. Before long, Professor Robinson's views start seeping into conversations. Spreading and infecting. So that truth and fact, reality and delusion are so confused it's near impossible to tell them apart.

Discussions become debates, debates become arguments, which turn into fights. As sides are declared, a madness takes hold.

Abigail Robinson promises that, if they follow her, Ă§a va bien aller. All will be well. But not, Gamache and his team know, for everyone.

When a murder is committed it falls to Armand Gamache, his second-in-command Jean-Guy Beauvoir, and their team to investigate the crime as well as this extraordinary popular delusion.

And the madness of crowds.


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Title: The Break-Up Book Club
Author: Wendy Wax
Length:  12 hrs and 12 mins / 380 pp
Published: May 2021
Book Group: no
Finished: 9/12
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

A book about books and a book group!  I loved the many characters and how they took turns moving the narrative along.  I loved the world of books and how friendships develop through the book group.  There are four main narrators, each at different points in their lives and they grow and develop throughout the book.  My only complaint is that the book is long for the premise.

From the publisher:
On paper, Jazmine, Judith, Erin and Sara have little in common – they’re very different people leading very different lives. And yet at book club meetings in an historic carriage house turned bookstore, they bond over a shared love of reading (and more than a little wine) as well as the growing realization that their lives are not turning out like they expected.

Former tennis star Jazmine is a top sports agent balancing a career and single motherhood. Judith is an empty nester questioning her marriage and the supporting role she chose. Erin’s high school sweetheart and fiancĂ© develops a bad case of cold feet, and Sara’s husband takes a job out of town saddling Sara with a difficult mother-in-law who believes her son could have done better – not exactly the roommate most women dream of.

With the help of books, laughter, and the joy of ever evolving friendships, Jazmine, Judith, Erin and Sara find the courage to navigate new and surprising chapters of their lives as they seek their own versions of happily-ever-after.



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Title: You Deserve Each Other
Author: Sarah Hogle
Length10 hrs and 45 mins / 368 pp
Published: April 2020
Book Group: no
Finished: 9/17
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This book is funny.  Actually funny.  I chuckled several times.  But Naomi and Nicholas are fun as a couple who fall out of love only to fall back in love.  

From the publisher:
When your nemesis also happens to be your fiancé, happily ever after becomes a lot more complicated in this wickedly funny, lovers-to-enemies-to-lovers romantic comedy debut.

Naomi Westfield has the perfect fiancé: Nicholas Rose holds doors open for her, remembers her restaurant orders, and comes from the kind of upstanding society family any bride would love to be a part of. They never fight. They're preparing for their lavish wedding that's three months away. And she is miserably and utterly sick of him.

Naomi wants out, but there's a catch: whoever ends the engagement will have to foot the nonrefundable wedding bill. When Naomi discovers that Nicholas, too, has been feigning contentment, the two of them go head-to-head in a battle of pranks, sabotage, and all-out emotional warfare.

But with the countdown looming to the wedding that may or may not come to pass, Naomi finds her resolve slipping. Because now that they have nothing to lose, they're finally being themselves--and having fun with the last person they expect: each other. 


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Title: A Good Girl's Guide to Murder
Author: Holly Jackson
Length10 hrs and 53 mins / 433 pp
Published: May 2019
Book Group: no
Finished: 9/18
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 
This book is like a true-crime podcast. I liked the format and use of multi-media.  I liked that the clues are revealed to the reader as they are uncovered by Pippa and Ravi. I liked that Pip is intelligent and focused and loves her friends and family.  I liked that Ravi is sweet, charming, and kind.  And I liked their platonic relationship, it seemed natural. I liked how the parents are caring and not neglectful dolts.  I didn't like the tremendous amount of detail that makes it a bit draggy.  I'm curious to see where the sequel goes. I listened to the audio and loved the full cast narration.

From the publisher:
The case is closed. Five years ago, schoolgirl Andie Bell was murdered by Sal Singh. The police know he did it. Everyone in town knows he did it.

But having grown up in the same small town that was consumed by the murder, Pippa Fitz-Amobi isn't so sure. When she chooses the case as the topic for her final year project, she starts to uncover secrets that someone in town desperately wants to stay hidden. And if the real killer is still out there, how far will they go to keep Pip from the truth?



There should be a trigger warning: Animal death, mentions of sexual assault, drug dealing, drink spiking, mentions of suicide, kidnapping and imprisonment, racism, mentions of revenge porn, student/teacher relationship, past parental death, past car accident, violence




*************************************************
Title: Finlay Donovan is Killing It
Author: Elle Cosimano
Length9 hrs and 59 mins / 355 pp
Published: February 2021
Book Group: no
Finished: 9/21
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Oh, this book is funny!  Who knew such dark subject matter could be a bumbling farce?  I cannot wait until the next book in the series!  I liked Finlay Donovan even if she is out of her element as a secret assassin.  The secondary characters were every bit as funny as Finlay--her sadsack ex-husband and his new fiance, her nanny/accomplice, her kids.  Ultimately--it's a novel about women helping women hidden in a humorous murder mystery.

From the publisher:
Finlay Donovan is killing it . . . except, she’s really not. She’s a stressed-out single-mom of two and struggling novelist, Finlay’s life is in chaos: the new book she promised her literary agent isn’t written, her ex-husband fired the nanny without telling her, and this morning she had to send her four-year-old to school with hair duct-taped to her head after an incident with scissors.

When Finlay is overheard discussing the plot of her new suspense novel with her agent over lunch, she’s mistaken for a contract killer, and inadvertently accepts an offer to dispose of a problem husband in order to make ends meet . . . Soon, Finlay discovers that crime in real life is a lot more difficult than its fictional counterpart, as she becomes tangled in a real-life murder investigation.

Fast-paced, deliciously witty, and wholeheartedly authentic in depicting the frustrations and triumphs of motherhood in all its messiness, hilarity, and heartfelt moment, Finlay Donovan Is Killing It is the first in a brilliant new series from YA Edgar Award nominee Elle Cosimano.


*************************************************
Title: Early Morning Riser
Author: Katherine Heiny
Length: 10 hrs and 11 mins / 337 pp
Published: April 2021
Book Group: no
Finished: 9/29
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This is a meandering, rich, storytelling type of book.  Not a  lot of action.  A glimpse into the everyday lives of Jane, Duncan, and a rich circle of friends.  Each character is fleshed out.  

From the publisher:
Jane falls in love with Duncan easily. He is charming, good-natured, and handsome but unfortunately, he has also slept with nearly every woman in Boyne City, Michigan. Jane sees Duncan’s old girlfriends everywhere–at restaurants, at the grocery store, even three towns away.

While Jane may be able to come to terms with dating the world’s most prolific seducer of women, she wishes she did not have to share him quite so widely. His ex-wife, Aggie, a woman with shiny hair and pale milkmaid skin, still has Duncan mow her lawn. His coworker, Jimmy, comes and goes from Duncan’s apartment at the most inopportune times. Sometimes Jane wonders if a relationship can even work with three people in it–never mind four. Five if you count Aggie’s eccentric husband, Gary. Not to mention all the other residents of Boyne City, who freely share with Jane their opinions of her choices.

But any notion Jane had of love and marriage changes with one terrible car crash. Soon Jane’s life is permanently intertwined with Duncan’s, Aggie’s, and Jimmy’s, and Jane knows she will never have Duncan to herself. But could it be possible that a deeper kind of happiness is right in front of Jane’s eyes?



*************************************************
Title: Minus Me
Author: Mameve Medwed
Length: 9 hrs and 45 mins / 336 pp
Published: January 2021
Book Group: no
Finished: 9/30
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

A story of love, family, enduring bonds that are tested, and Maine.  It was a quick read.

From the publisher:
Her life turned upside down by a grim diagnosis, a small-town Maine woman sets about writing a "How To" life manual for her handsome yet hapless husband.

Annie and her devoted but comically incompetent childhood sweetheart Sam are the owners and operators of Annie's, a gourmet sandwich shop, home to the legendary Paul Bunyan Special Sandwich--their "nutritionally challenged continual source of income and marital harmony and local fame."

But into their mostly charmed marriage comes the scary medical diagnosis for Annie--and the overwhelming challenge of finding a way to help Sam go on without her. Annie decides to leave Sam step-by-step instructions for a future without her, and considers her own replacement in his heart and their bed.Her best-laid plans grind to a halt with the unexpected appearance of Ursula, Annie's Manhattan diva of a mother, who brings her own brand of chaos and disruption into their lives.

Minus Me is a poignant and hilarious novel about the bonds of marriage, the burdens of maternal love, and the courage to face mortality.


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Title: Rebecca
Author: Daphne du Maurier
Length: 14 hrs and 48 mins / 430 p
Published: August 1938
Book Group: Library
Finished: 10/4
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This is a re-read for my book group the original post was from February 2017.

I kept forgetting this novel was written in the 1930s. The story unfolds gradually but creates tension. There's so much to it--it's a mystery, a gothic horror, a creep-fest, a coming of age story, and a romance--it's a juicy story! I liked the atmosphere. I liked the twists! I liked how the main character developed through the story--really blossoming from shrinking violet to a bold rose. I liked the interplay between the secondary characters. I didn't like the overwrought analysis of the main character--she would play out long imaginary scenarios and conversations. This classic has definitely influenced the genre!

From the publisher:
"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again."

With these words, the reader is ushered into an isolated gray stone mansion on the windswept Cornish coast, as the second Mrs. Maxim de Winter recalls the chilling events that transpired as she began her new life as the young bride of a husband she barely knew. For in every corner of every room were phantoms of a time dead but not forgotten—a past devotedly preserved by the sinister housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers: a suite immaculate and untouched, clothing laid out and ready to be worn, but not by any of the great house's current occupants. With an eerie presentiment of evil tightening her heart, the second Mrs. de Winter walked in the shadow of her mysterious predecessor, determined to uncover the darkest secrets and shattering truths about Maxim's first wife—the late and hauntingly beautiful Rebecca.


*************************************************
Title: The Guilt Trip
Author: Sandie Jones
Length: 8 hrs and 48 mins / 320 pp
Published: August 2021
Book Group: no
Finished: 10/7
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

I have questions that the book didn't answer.  This was a binge-read for me.  I couldn't put it down.  Lots of secrets and lies among the six characters.  Rachel is who I consider the main character--early 40s, mom to Josh, stay-at-home wife to Jack, an aspiring teacher.  Jack is Rachel's husband.  Noah is Rachel's best friend from college; they were inseparable.  Paige is Noah's wife, a vocally feminist lawyer, Rachel's best friend.  Will is Jack's brother, golf buddies with Noah.  Ali is Will's fiance and a former coworker of Jack.  Just when I thought I had a handle on the intricacies and dynamics of the couples, something is revealed and the dynamics shift again.  It's more of a character study than a mystery or thriller.

From the publisher:
Rachel and Noah have been friends since they met at university. While they once thought that they might be something more, now, twenty years later, they are each happily married to other people, Jack and Paige respectively. Jack’s brother Will is getting married, to the dazzling, impulsive Ali, and the group of six travel to Portugal for their destination weekend.

Three couples.
As they arrive at a gorgeous villa perched on a cliff-edge, overlooking towering waves that crash on the famous surfing beaches below at NazarĂ©, they try to settle into a weekend of fun. While Rachel is looking forward to getting to know her future sister-in-law Ali better, Ali can’t help but rub many of the group up the wrong way: Rachel’s best friend Paige thinks Ali is attention-seeking and childish, and while Jack is trying to support his brother Will’s choice of wife, he is also finding plenty to disagree with Noah about.

One fatal misunderstanding . . .
But when Rachel discovers something about Ali that she can hardly believe, everything changes. As the wedding weekend unfolds, the secrets each of them hold begin to spill, and friendships and marriages threaten to unravel. Soon, jumping to conclusions becomes the difference between life and death.


*************************************************
Title: The Year of the Witching
Author: Alexis Henderson
Length11 hrs and 37 mins / 363 pp
Published: July 2020
Book Group: no
Finished: 10/10
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This book is hard to categorize.  Is it historical fiction?  Is it Young Adult?  Is it horror?  Is it supernatural?  I just can't make up my mind. Hard to decide if I liked it.  Parts of world-building are simplistic, too simplistic.  There is an element of intersectionality in the biracial protagonist of the book.  There are creepy elements in the religious rituals and community.  Just as there are creepy elements of the natural world around the isolated community of Bethel.

From the publisher:
A young woman living in a rigid, puritanical society discovers dark powers within herself in this stunning, feminist fantasy debut.

In the lands of Bethel, where the Prophet’s word is law, Immanuelle Moore’s very existence is blasphemy. Her mother’s union with an outsider of a different race cast her once-proud family into disgrace, so Immanuelle does her best to worship the Father, follow Holy Protocol, and lead a life of submission, devotion, and absolute conformity, like all the other women in the settlement.

But a mishap lures her into the forbidden Darkwood surrounding Bethel, where the first prophet once chased and killed four powerful witches. Their spirits are still lurking there, and they bestow a gift on Immanuelle: the journal of her dead mother, who Immanuelle is shocked to learn once sought sanctuary in the wood.

Fascinated by the secrets in the diary, Immanuelle finds herself struggling to understand how her mother could have consorted with the witches. But when she begins to learn grim truths about the Church and its history, she realizes the true threat to Bethel is its own darkness. And she starts to understand that if Bethel is to change, it must begin with her.


*************************************************
Title: Klara and the Sun
Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
Length: 10 hrs and 16 mins / 303 pp
Published: March 2021
Book Group: School
Finished: 10/15
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This is the kind of book that makes me wonder if I missed something.  Was there a deeper meaning than I realize?  That's not to say I didn't like it, because it was good.  I just think I missed something. It's referred to as a fable-like work of speculative fiction, and the world-building was hard for me to grasp.  Essentially, Artificial Friends (AF) like Klara become sibling-like companions to the owners.  Klara narrates the story which explains why there are some gaps in the world-building.  I'm really interested and intrigued to discuss this with my book group.

From the publisher:
From her place in the store, Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, watches carefully the behavior of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass on the street outside. She remains hopeful that a customer will soon choose her, but when the possibility emerges that her circumstances may change forever, Klara is warned not to invest too much in the promises of humans.

In Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguro looks at our rapidly changing modern world through the eyes of an unforgettable narrator to explore a fundamental question: what does it mean to love?



*************************************************

Title: State of Terror
Author: Hillary Rodham Clinton & Louise Penny
Length:  15 hrs and 41 mins/ 512 p
Published: October 2021
Book Group: no
Finished: 10/17
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

I could not put this down.  It's a political thriller that felt so real, so inside.  I love that the main characters are middle-aged women, unapologetically themselves.  There's also humor to break up the tension and a few references to my favorite mystery series that Louise Penny writes.  It's very timely and relevant.  I really enjoyed this book!

From the publisher:
State of Terror follows a novice Secretary of State who has joined the administration of her rival, a president inaugurated after four years of American leadership that shrank from the world stage. A series of terrorist attacks throws the global order into disarray, and the secretary is tasked with assembling a team to unravel the deadly conspiracy, a scheme carefully designed to take advantage of an American government dangerously out of touch and out of power in the places where it counts the most.

This high-stakes thriller of international intrigue features behind-the-scenes global drama informed by details only an insider could know.






*************************************************
Title: The Cottage on Pumpkin and Vine
Author: Kate Angell, Jennifer Dawson, Sharla Lovelace
Length: none / 320 pp
Published: August 2016
Book Group: no
Finished: 10/18
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This was a fun, light-hearted trio of Halloween romances.  There were meet-cutes, old flames, and opposites attract.  All with the whimsy of a Halloween town in Maine.

From the publisher:
Welcome to Moonbright, Maine…Where the scents of donuts and cider waft through the crisp night air…with just a hint of magic.
 
It’s time for the annual Halloween costume party at the cottage on Pumpkin and Vine, the perfect place to celebrate the pleasures of the season. Guests return to the picturesque B & B year after year to snuggle up in its cozy rooms, explore the quiet, tree-lined streets and enjoy all the spooky fun of the holiday. But local legend whispers that it’s also a place where wishes have a strange way of coming true.
 
For three unsuspecting revelers, it’s going to be an enchanted weekend of candy corn kisses and midnight black kittens, along with some real Halloween surprises—the kind that make your heart skip a beat—for many more celebrations to come…



*************************************************
Title: Unsettled Ground
Author: Claire Fuller
Length: 8 hrs and 29 mins / 289 pp
Published: May 2021
Book Group: School
Finished: 10/20
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This book kind of snuck up on me.  It's lovely literary fiction.  The descriptions are vivid and exceptional.  And the story--well, it sucked me in.  It's the story of family, of family stories, of fitting in and not fitting in.  I didn't particularly like the characters but I was invested in what happened to them.  Even though the mother dies in the beginning (not a spoiler), she's a main character--her influence is on every page.

From the publisher:
What if the life you have always known is taken from you in an instant? What would you do to get it back?

Twins Jeanie and Julius have always been different from other people. At 51 years old, they still live with their mother, Dot, in rural isolation and poverty. Their rented cottage is simultaneously their armour against the world and their sanctuary. Inside its walls they make music, in its garden they grow (and sometimes kill) everything they need for sustenance.

But when Dot dies suddenly, threats to their livelihood start raining down. At risk of losing everything, Jeanie and her brother must fight to survive in an increasingly dangerous world as their mother's secrets unfold, putting everything they thought they knew about their lives at stake.

This is a thrilling novel of resilience and hope, of love and survival, that explores with dazzling emotional power how the truths closest to us are often hardest to see.




*************************************************
Title: How Sweet It Is
Author: Dylan Newton
Length: 9 hrs and 20 mins / 352 pp
Published: July 2021
Book Group: no
Finished: 10/23
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

What a fun rom-com.  Kate was not quite the damsel-in-distress, but an organized businesswoman.  Drake was not a robotic hero, but a community-minded philanthropist.  I liked both characters.  I especially related to Drake's tongue-tied writer, not quick with a quip.  And Kate as a master of chaos is relatable.  Drake's brothers deserve their own books--as secondary characters, they were fun.  I needed a lighter read and this was great!

From the publisher:
Kate Sweet is famous for creating the perfect happily-ever-after moment for her clients' dream weddings. So how is it that her best friend has roped her into planning a bestselling horror writer's book launch?

Drake Matthews is tired of the spotlight, tired of his reputation as the King of Nightmares. He's really a nice guy! More than anything, the next book he wants to write is a romance based on his grandparents. But to get that chance, this event has to be successful. And the reticent writer will have to work with the adorably bubbly Kate Sweet.

But just as the two are learning to trust each other, secrets come out that could take down the launch, their relationship, and both their careers. Can Kate find a way to save their jobs and their chance at true love?


*************************************************
Title: The Layover
Author: Lacie Waldon
Length: 9 hrs and 28 mins / 320 pp
Published: June 2021
Book Group: no
Finished: 10/26
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I do enjoy an enemies-to-lovers trope.  And the parts about flying were fun.  But it got a little old for Ava to keep being so mean to Jack.  The secondary characters were great.  It was predictable fun.

From the publisher:
An unexpected tropical layover with her nemesis turns a flight attendant's life upside down in this witty, breezy debut romantic comedy about life--and love--30,000 feet above the ground.

After ten years as a flight attendant, Ava Greene is poised to hang up her wings and finally put down roots. She's got one round trip left before she bids her old life farewell, and she plans to enjoy every second of it. But then she discovers that former pilot Jack Stone--the absurdly gorgeous, ridiculously cocky man she's held a secret grudge against for years--is on her flight. And he has the nerve to flirt with her, as if he doesn't remember the role he played in the most humiliating night of her life. Good thing she never has to see him again after they land...



*************************************************
Title: Coffee Shop Girl
Author: Katie Cross
Length: 8 hrs and 29 mins / 298 pp
Published: October 2020
Book Group: no
Finished: 10/26
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

The characters are well-connected in this first of a series.  Bethany is realistic.  Mav is the conquering hero, but he's a good guy.  I loved the dual family stories--and loved the sisters! I wouldn't call this a rom-com but definitely chick lit.

From the publisher:
Bethany:

This coffee shop is going to kill me.

Sure, it's my dad's dream. If he hadn't died eight months ago, I wouldn't be here, a college drop out, trying not to drown in debt.

Nor would I be staring into the muddy eyes of a viking-sized man that's telling me everything I'm doing wrong-as if he knows so much about business in a small mountain town.

Except he does.

And when the biggest, most unexpected surprise of all falls in my lap, I'll have no choice but to ask for his help.

Time for some power lipstick.


Maverick:

This girl is drowning.

She might have eyes like glacier pools and hair so black it's glossy, but that doesn't mean she knows how to run a coffee shop. She's drowning in more than debt, interest, and credit card payments.

She'll never make it.

But I kind of want her to.

Because underneath that bright lipstick and those sun dresses is a woman that I have an uncomfortable feeling is about to rock. my. world.



*************************************************
Title: The House In The Cerulean Sea
Author: T.J. Klune
Length: 12 hrs and 12 mins / 394 pp
Published: March 2020
Book Group: no
Finished: 10/30
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I've mentioned that I'm not a fantasy fiction fan--and there were times when I wondered if I would continue with this book--but I'm glad I did.  Its story is sweet and the fantasy elements aren't the driving narrative forces.  One thing I couldn't figure out is when the book is set, but that didn't detract from it. If it's a series, I'll read more.  There is some question about it being YA and I think it could be, even though there are some gender fluid elements, they are just bit parts.

From the publisher:
A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he's given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.

But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.

An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours.


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Title: Matrix
Author: Lauren Groff
Length8 hrs and 51 mins 260 pp
Published: September 2021
Book Group: no
Finished: 11/4
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars


This novel has no males in it.  But the influence of men is felt. It's a compelling and complex look at the inner lives of women, how women rise to roles.  The writing is elegant--truly lovely.  I didn't connect with the characters.  

From the publisher:
Cast out of the royal court by Eleanor of Aquitaine, deemed too coarse and rough-hewn for marriage or courtly life, seventeen-year-old Marie de France is sent to England to be the new prioress of an impoverished abbey, its nuns on the brink of starvation and beset by disease.

At first taken aback by the severity of her new life, Marie finds focus and love in collective life with her singular and mercurial sisters. In this crucible, Marie steadily supplants her desire for family, for her homeland, for the passions of her youth with something new to her: devotion to her sisters, and a conviction in her own divine visions. Marie, born the last in a long line of women warriors and crusaders, is determined to chart a bold new course for the women she now leads and protects. But in a world that is shifting and corroding in frightening ways, one that can never reconcile itself with her existence, will the sheer force of Marie’s vision be bulwark enough?

Equally alive to the sacred and the profane, Matrix gathers currents of violence, sensuality, and religious ecstasy in a mesmerizing portrait of consuming passion, aberrant faith, and a woman that history moves both through and around. Lauren Groff’s new novel, her first since Fates and Furies, is a defiant and timely exploration of the raw power of female creativity in a corrupted world.



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Title: The Man Who Died Twice
Author: Richard Osman
Length:  11 hrs and 49 mins/ 368 p
Published: September 2021
Book Group: no
Finished: 11/7
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This is the second in this crazy series.  Again, the septuagenarians are full of wit, wisdom, and action!  There are parts that had me chuckling.  I like the friendships and bonds among Ron, Ibrahim, Joyce, and Elizabeth.  The secondary characters are a hoot, too.  It's a fast-paced mystery with lots of layers.

From the publisher:
It's the following Thursday.

Elizabeth has received a letter from an old colleague, a man with whom she has a long history. He's made a big mistake, and he needs her help. His story involves stolen diamonds, a violent mobster, and a very real threat to his life.

As bodies start piling up, Elizabeth enlists Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron in the hunt for a ruthless murderer. And if they find the diamonds too? Well, wouldn't that be a bonus?

But this time they are up against an enemy who wouldn't bat an eyelid at knocking off four septuagenarians. Can The Thursday Murder Club find the killer (and the diamonds) before the killer finds them?




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Title: Seven Days Of Us
Author: Francesca Hornak
Length:  9 hrs and 34 mins/ 358 p
Published: October 2017
Book Group: no
Finished: 11/11
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 
This might count as my first holiday book of the season, although it's less about the holiday and more convenient for timing.  The story is about the dysfunctional Birch family--who all seem to take each other for granted.  They have to spend 7 days quarantined because the eldest daughter, Olivia, has been volunteering in an epidemic-riddled Liberia.  Matriarch Emma is a formidable martyr mother.  Her sacrifices for the family cause her to make poor choices to protect the holiday she envisions.  Andrew is the hero figure father, known for his sardonic restaurant reviews.  And Pheobe is indulged, privileged, and self-involved in a loveable way.

There is wit in this book although I wouldn't call it a comedy.  Without spoiling it, I will say the ending took me by surprise but showed the character arcs.

From the publisher:
A warm, wry, sharply observed debut novel about what happens when a family is forced to spend a week together in quarantine over the holidays...

It’s Christmas, and for the first time in years the entire Birch family will be under one roof. Even Emma and Andrew’s elder daughter—who is usually off saving the world—will be joining them at Weyfield Hall, their aging country estate. But Olivia, a doctor, is only coming home because she has to. Having just returned from treating an epidemic abroad, she’s been told she must stay in quarantine for a week…and so too should her family.
 
For the next seven days, the Birches are locked down, cut off from the rest of humanity—and even decent Wi-Fi—and forced into each other’s orbits. Younger, unabashedly frivolous daughter Phoebe is fixated on her upcoming wedding, while Olivia deals with the culture shock of being immersed in first-world problems.
 
As Andrew sequesters himself in his study writing scathing restaurant reviews and remembering his glory days as a war correspondent, Emma hides a secret that will turn the whole family upside down.  
 
In close proximity, not much can stay hidden for long, and as revelations and long-held tensions come to light, nothing is more shocking than the unexpected guest who’s about to arrive…





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TitleThe Reading List
Author: Sara Nisha Adams
Length: 12 hrs and 47 mins  / 384 pp
Published: August 2021
Book Group: School
Finished: 11/19
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

I love books about books.  And I love books about people finding themselves in books.  This story is about how a community comes together around a reading list.  It's amusing, tender, poignant, sad, and funny.

From the publisher:
An unforgettable and heartwarming debut about how a chance encounter and a list of library books helps forge an unlikely friendship between two very different people—a lonely London widower and a troubled teenager.

Widower Mukesh lives a quiet life in the London Borough of Ealing after losing his beloved wife. He shops every Wednesday, goes to Temple, and worries about his granddaughter, Priya, who hides in her room reading while he spends his evenings watching nature documentaries.

Aleisha is a bright but anxious teenager working at the local library for the summer when she discovers a crumpled-up piece of paper in the back of To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s a list of novels that she’s never heard of before. Intrigued, and a little bored with her slow job at the checkout desk, she impulsively decides to read every book on the list, one after the other. As each story gives up its magic, the books transport Aleisha from the painful realities she’s facing at home.

When Mukesh arrives at the library, desperate to forge a connection with his bookworm granddaughter, Aleisha passes along the reading list…hoping that it will be a lifeline for him too. Slowly, the shared books create a connection between two lonely souls, as fiction helps them escape their grief and everyday troubles and find joy again.


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Title: Skipping Christmas
Author: John Grisham
Length3 hrs and 42 mins / 177 p
Published: November 2001
Book Group: Library
Finished: 11/19
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

A fun, quick read.  Very different from John Grisham's usual fare.

From the publisher:
Imagine a year without Christmas. No crowded malls, no corny office parties, no fruitcakes, no unwanted presents. That’s just what Luther and Nora Krank have in mind when they decide that, just this once, they’ll skip the holiday altogether. Theirs will be the only house on Hemlock Street without a rooftop Frosty; they won’t be hosting their annual Christmas Eve bash; they aren’t even going to have a tree. They won’t need one, because come December 25 they’re setting sail on a Caribbean cruise. But, as this weary couple is about to discover, skipping Christmas brings enormous consequences–and isn’t half as easy as they’d imagined.

A classic tale for modern times, Skipping Christmas offers a hilarious look at the chaos and frenzy that have become part of our holiday tradition.


*************************************************
TitleApples Never Fall
Author: Liane Moriarty
Length18 hrs and 3 mins / 467 pp
Published: September 2021
Book Group: no
Finished: 11/21
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

A fast-paced family drama mystery.  The twisty bits were a great surprise.  Overall the book is a bit long, a little drawn out.  I enjoyed the family dynamics and the element of competition throughout the relationships.

From the publisher:
The Delaney family love one another dearly—it’s just that sometimes they want to murder each other . . .

If your mother was missing, would you tell the police? Even if the most obvious suspect was your father?

This is the dilemma facing the four grown Delaney siblings.

The Delaneys are fixtures in their community. The parents, Stan and Joy, are the envy of all of their friends. They’re killers on the tennis court, and off it their chemistry is palpable. But after fifty years of marriage, they’ve finally sold their famed tennis academy and are ready to start what should be the golden years of their lives. So why are Stan and Joy so miserable?

The four Delaney children—Amy, Logan, Troy, and Brooke—were tennis stars in their own right, yet as their father will tell you, none of them had what it took to go all the way. But that’s okay, now that they’re all successful grown-ups and there is the wonderful possibility of grandchildren on the horizon.

One night a stranger named Savannah knocks on Stan and Joy’s door, bleeding after a fight with her boyfriend. The Delaneys are more than happy to give her the small kindness she sorely needs. If only that was all she wanted.

Later, when Joy goes missing, and Savannah is nowhere to be found, the police question the one person who remains: Stan. But for someone who claims to be innocent, he, like many spouses, seems to have a lot to hide. Two of the Delaney children think their father is innocent, two are not so sure—but as the two sides square off against each other in perhaps their biggest match ever, all of the Delaneys will start to reexamine their shared family history in a very new light.
 




*************************************************

Title: Fool Me Twice At Christmas
Author: Camilla Isley
Length:  5 hrs and 24 mins / 200 p
Published: September 2021
Book Group: no
Finished: 11/26
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This book is so much fun!  The dual narrative perspectives work perfectly in telling Chuck and Kate's take on the events and each other.  There are some funny moments--especially the getaway at the end!  There are some eye-rolling moments, too--especially how pushy the parents are.  But it's a fun, fast story.  A classic rom-com with holiday flair.  

From the publisher:
There are two types of relationships: fake and real.

Chuck and Kate’s used to be real, oh-so-real. But after she broke his heart four months ago, leaving him, it became all just pretense for the sake of their entwined families.

With parents who are best friends and business partners, it’s not easy for Chuck and Kate to announce they’ve split up. But with the holidays looming over them, they can no longer keep pretending.

They head home for Christmas, determined to tell the truth—and end up accidentally engaged instead. The more they try to pull apart, the more the Universe seems to push them back together, shortening the road to the altar. And when just-for-show kisses stir up forgotten feelings, things get even more complicated.

Now, with the midnight hour approaching, will Chuck and Kate’s relationship turn out to be fake or real?



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TitleMake My Wish Come True
Author: Fiona Harper
Lengthnone / 384 pp
Published: November 2014
Book Group: no
Finished: 12/1
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

This holiday story is about complicated family dynamics and assumptions siblings make.  I could relate to that.  I enjoyed it.  I liked Juliet's over-the-top efforts to maintain the perfect holiday for her kids, to make up for her own childhood chaos.  I liked Gemma's efforts to live up to Juliet's perfection in her own way.  And I loved the island setting of the sister life swap.

From the publisher:
Family-oriented Juliet is a Christmas-dinner cook extraordinaire and is trying to keep it together in the wake of her marriage breakdown two Christmases ago, but the cracks are beginning to show.
Her bright and vivacious sister Gemma was always the favorite daughter. Gemma has no qualms about escaping the festive madness and the pressures of her glamorous job by jetting off somewhere warm and leaving Christmas in Juliet's capable hands.
When Gemma shirks responsibility one too many times and announces she's off to the Caribbean (again!), Juliet finally snaps. Gemma offers her sister the perfect solution—to swap Christmases. She'll stay home and cook the turkey (how hard can it be?) and Juliet can fly off into the sun and have a restorative break.
In the midst of all the chaos, there's Will, Juliet's dishy neighbor who's far too nice to float Gemma's boat and may secretly harbor feelings for her sister; and Marco, the suave Italian in the villa next door who has his own ideas about the best way to help Juliet unwind.
Will the sisters abandon caution and make this a Christmas swap to remember?

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TitleCalling Mrs Christmas
Author: Carole Matthews
Length12 hrs and 53 mins / 464 pp
Published: August 2013
Book Group: no
Finished: 12/4
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

There's a lot going on in this story: adventure, social commentary, family dynamics, poverty and excessive wealth, love, and second chances.  And Jim might just be my new literary crush.  I absolutely loved the details of the business Calling Mrs. Christmas! because it's a job I would love.  The main character, Cassie, is sort of shallow and that turns her head away from Jim, my literary crush.  I'm satisfied with the ending, though.  This book needs a sequel!

From the publisher:
Cassie Smith has been out of work for a while but she has an idea. Drawing on her love of Christmas, she begins charging for small things: wrapping presents; writing cards; tree-decorating. She's soon in huge demand and Cassie's business, Calling Mrs Christmas, is born.

Carter Randall wants to make Christmas special for his children so he enlists Cassie's help, and his lavish requests start taking up all her time. Thank goodness she can rely on her partner Jim to handle the rest of her clients.

When Carter asks Cassie to join them on a trip to Lapland, she knows she shouldn't go. As much as tries, Cassie can't deny how drawn she is to Carter and everything he has to offer, but she still loves her warm-hearted Jim. Suddenly Cassie finds herself facing a heart-breaking choice that could change her entire life.


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TitleThe Matzah Ball
Author: Jean Meltzer
Length10 hrs and 12 mins / 400 pp
Published: September 2021
Book Group: no
Finished: 12/7
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

I don't really know where to start--I enjoyed this holiday book! I love a holiday rom-com! I learned about Judaism and Myalgic encephalomyelitis (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome).  Lots of snappy dialogue, funny secondary characters, and some nearly slapstick elements keep the story moving.  I liked that the adolescent misunderstandings were tackled head-on and that confrontation wasn't necessarily a bad thing.  

From the publisher:
Oy! to the world

Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt is a nice Jewish girl with a shameful secret: she loves Christmas. For a decade she’s hidden her career as a Christmas romance novelist from her family. Her talent has made her a bestseller even as her chronic illness has always kept the kind of love she writes about out of reach.

But when her diversity-conscious publisher insists she write a Hanukkah romance, her well of inspiration suddenly runs dry. Hanukkah’s not magical. It’s not merry. It’s not Christmas. Desperate not to lose her contract, Rachel’s determined to find her muse at the Matzah Ball, a Jewish music celebration on the last night of Hanukkah, even if it means working with her summer camp archenemy—Jacob Greenberg.

Though Rachel and Jacob haven’t seen each other since they were kids, their grudge still glows brighter than a menorah. But as they spend more time together, Rachel finds herself drawn to Hanukkah—and Jacob—in a way she never expected. Maybe this holiday of lights will be the spark she needed to set her heart ablaze.



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TitleFlora's Travelling Christmas Shop
Author: Rebecca Raisin
Length7 hrs and 55 mins / 315 pp
Published: October 2021
Book Group: no
Finished: 12/9
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Flora's a true lover of all things Christmas.  I liked her quirky personality.  Flora's life is chaotic--she's lost her job, her boyfriend, and her best friend is moving to Los Angeles, leaving her without a roommate.  She decides to embark on a whole new life and live her life like a Hallmark movie, the fun ramps up.  The author pokes fun at the traditional Hallmark stories and includes all those typical tropes in this story.

From the publisher:
Tis the season for mulled wine, mince pies, and magic under the mistletoe…
Flora loves Christmas more than anything else in the world, so she’s gutted when her Scrooge-alike boss fires her from Deck the Halls Christmas emporium. But now she finally has a chance to follow her dreams – and what better place to start than the home of Christmas?

Before she can say ‘sleigh bells’, Flora’s on her way to Lapland in a campervan-cum-Christmas-shop. She can’t wait to spend her days drinking hot chocolate and taking reindeer-drawn carriage rides, but something Flora didn’t expect was meeting Connor, a Norse god of a man who makes her heart flutter and snowflakes swirl in her stomach. There’s just one problem: Connor hates Christmas.

Can Flora convince Connor of the joys of Christmas – and will she find a festive romance along the way?


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TitleThe Holiday Switch
Author: Tif Marcelo
Length7 hrs and 46 mins / 272 pp
Published: October 2021
Book Group: no
Finished: 12/15
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This YA Christmas story is fun.  I really enjoyed Lila Santros' secret blog identity and would love to read the made-up books!  There are some fun modern touches.  I liked the whole fandom environment.  Teddy could have been better fleshed out.

From the publisher:
Lila Santos is ready for her last winter break of high school. The snow in her small town of Holly, New York, is plentiful, the mood is as cozy as a fuzzy Christmas sweater, and she's earning extra cash working at the local inn—AKA the setting of the greatest film of all time, Holiday by the Lake—while moonlighting as an anonymous book blogger.

But her perfect holiday plans crash to a halt when her boss's frustratingly cute nephew, Teddy Rivera, becomes her coworker. Lila is type A; Teddy is type “Anything but Lila’s Way,” and the two of them can’t stop butting heads over tangled icicle lights and messy gift shop merch. But when they accidentally switch phones one afternoon, they realize they've both been hiding things from each other. Will their secrets—and an unexpected snowstorm—bring these rivals together?
 


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Title: The Christmas Tree
AuthorJulie Salamon
Length: none / 118 p
Published: October 1996
Book Group: School
Finished: 12/16
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I love this story about a little girl and her friend, Tree.  What a tribute to friendship.

From the publisher:
The Christmas Tree is the tale of a little girl named Anna, who is orphaned and sent to live in a convent. The lonely girl befriends, as only a child can, a tiny fir tree. Anna and Tree, as she calls him, grow up together, unlocking the secrets of friendship and sharing the wonders of nature. It is this same profound appreciation and love of nature that the grown-up Anna, now Sister Anthony, passes on to her students.
When Tree is threatened by a winter storm, Sister Anthony, by now an old woman, decides to give up her dearest friend, allowing him to become the most enjoyed and famous tree of all: the tree at Rockefeller Center in New York City.

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Title: Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy
AuthorGholdy Muhammad
Length: none / 176 p
Published: December 2019
Book Group: no
Finished: 12/16
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This is a fantastic framework to help reach marginalized and underserved students. 

From the publisher:
In Cultivating Genius, Dr. Gholdy E. Muhammad presents a four-layered equity framework—one that is grounded in history and restores excellence in literacy education. This framework, which she names, Historically Responsive Literacy, was derived from the study of literacy development within 19th-century Black literacy societies. The framework is essential and universal for all students, especially youth of color, who traditionally have been marginalized in learning standards, school policies, and classroom practices. The equity framework will help educators teach and lead toward the following learning goals or pursuits:
 
Identity Development—Helping youth to make sense of themselves and others
Skill Development— Developing proficiencies across the academic disciplines
Intellectual Development—Gaining knowledge and becoming smarter
Criticality—Learning and developing the ability to read texts (including print and social contexts) to understand power, equity, and anti-oppression
 
 When these four learning pursuits are taught together—through the Historically Responsive Literacy Framework, all students receive profound opportunities for personal, intellectual, and academic success. Muhammad provides probing, self-reflective questions for teachers, leaders, and teacher educators as well as sample culturally and historically responsive sample plans and text sets across grades and content areas. In this book, Muhammad presents practical approaches to cultivate the genius in students and within teachers.



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Title: Nick and Noel's Christmas Playlist
Author: Codi Hall
Length: 10 hrs and 7 mins / 394 pp
Published: October 2021
Book Group: no
Finished: 12/19
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

I loved the friends-to-lovers trope and how it was inevitable the characters would fall in love.  Their backstory was sweet.  The way music, particularly playlists, featured made me think back to my own prowess at creating perfect playlists.  I related more to Nick than Noel.  Nick's family made me want to be part of it.  This open-door Christmas rom-com was spicier than my usual read.  My only complaint was not enough holiday focus.

From the publisher:
Nick Winter is just out of the military, and his Christmas homecoming is not going as planned. What was supposed to be a memorable holiday with his long-time girlfriend goes sour when he learns she cheated on him while he was stationed overseas. At least Nick can rely on his usual shift at the family Christmas tree farm with his best friend, Noel Carter, and her endless supply of Christmas tunes to lift his spirits. A night of fun together is just what he needs to forget about his ex.

But then they kiss. And it feels...so right.

If Noel can turn Nick’s Blue Christmas merry and bright, this might be the last Christmas Nick spends with a broken heart. This year, they’ll be Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree as a couple―as long as Nick’s ex doesn’t go standing under any mistletoe.



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Title: I Wish it Could Be Christmas Every Day
Author: Milly Johnson
Length: 10 hrs and 22 mins / 416 pp
Published: October 2020
Book Group: no
Finished: 12/22
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This is the story of six people stranded in a freak snowstorm.  Although the majority of it takes place over a few snowy days, the relationships that are built are lifelong.  Each character has trials and tribulations, which make them human and relatable.  But they come together in such fun and interesting ways.  There's humor and light-heartedness along with poignant moments.  I loved the location and would definitely have it as a vacation destination--if only it existed outside these pages!  The food and the festivities put me in a holiday mood.

From the publisher:
It’s nearly Christmas and it’s snowing, hard. Deep in the Yorkshire Moors nestles a tiny hamlet, with a pub at its heart. As the snow falls, the inn will become an unexpected haven for six people forced to seek shelter there…

Mary has been trying to get her boss Jack to notice her for four years, but he can only see the efficient PA she is at work. Will being holed up with him finally give her the chance she has been waiting for?

Bridge and Luke were meeting for five minutes to set their divorce in motion. But will getting trapped with each other reignite too many fond memories – and love?

Charlie and Robin were on their way to a luxury hotel in Scotland for a very special Christmas. But will the inn give them everything they were hoping to find – and much more besides?

A story of knowing when to hold on and when to let go, of pushing limits and acceptance, of friendship, love, laughter, mince pies and the magic of Christmas.


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Title: There's Something About Merry
Author: Codi Hall
Length: 10 hrs and 43 mins / none
Published: November 2021
Book Group: no
Finished: 12/23
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

The second in the Mistletoe Romance series, focusing on Merry--Nick's sister. Merry's love interest is a single dad and the interplay with his son is delightful.  I want to be part of Merry's family!  It's a sexy open-door romance.  There wasn't enough Christmas.

From the publisher:
Merry Winters has the holiday blues. She's spent the last year learning to love herself, and now she's ready to find the right guy. But the pickings are slim in Mistletoe, Idaho, and it’s just her luck that the man who catches her eye is the stoic new foreman at her family’s Christmas tree farm. Too bad he wants to keep a 39-and-a-half-foot pole between them.

Single dad Clark Griffin isn't looking for romance, but he wouldn't mind a friend to snuggle with on a cold winter's night. When he signs up for online dating, he doesn't expect to connect with the sassy, crafty Knottygirl25 and get wrapped up in every message she writes.

But when Merry turns out to be his blind internet date, his surprise causes him to miss his chance under the mistletoe. Can a little Christmas magic give these two a second chance at a first impression?


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TitleThe Santa Suit
Author: Mary Kay Andrews
Length5 hrs and 21 mins / 224pp
Published: September 2021
Book Group: no
Finished: 12/24
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I enjoyed the small-town setting because it reminded me of my hometown.  And the touch of magic was fun.  Is it because of the Santa suit?

From the publisher:
When newly-divorced Ivy Perkins buys an old farmhouse sight unseen, she is definitely looking for a change in her life. The Four Roses, as the farmhouse is called, is a labor of love—but Ivy didn't bargain on just how much labor. The previous family left so much furniture and so much junk, that it's a full-time job sorting through all of it.

At the top of a closet, Ivy finds an old Santa suit—beautifully made and decades old. In the pocket of a suit she finds a note written in a childish hand: it's from a little girl who has one Christmas wish, and that is for her father to return home from the war. This discovery sets Ivy off on a mission. Who wrote the note? Did the man ever come home? What mysteries did the Rose family hold?

Ivy's quest brings her into the community, at a time when all she wanted to do was be left alone and nurse her wounds. But the magic of Christmas makes miracles happen, and Ivy just might find more than she ever thought possible: a welcoming town, a family reunited, a mystery solved, and a second chance at love.


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Title: Girl Waits With Gun
Author: Amy Stewart
Length: 10 hrs and 54 mins / 408 pp
Published: September 2015
Book Group: Library
Finished: 12/28
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This was a fun book and I think my book group will have lots to talk about.  I don't think I'd read more in the series, but the characters were well-developed.  I am surprised that there wasn't a touch of romance in it.  I liked the historical references and the actual newspaper headlines.

From the publisher:
A novel based on the forgotten true story of one of the nation’s first female deputy sheriffs.

Constance Kopp doesn’t quite fit the mold. She towers over most men, has no interest in marriage or domestic affairs, and has been isolated from the world since a family secret sent her and her sisters into hiding fifteen years ago. One day a belligerent and powerful silk factory owner runs down their buggy, and a dispute over damages turns into a war of bricks, bullets, and threats as he unleashes his gang on their family farm. When the sheriff enlists her help in convicting the men, Constance is forced to confront her past and defend her family — and she does it in a way that few women of 1914 would have dared. 


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Title: The Best Worst Christmas
Author: Kate Forster
Length: 4 hrs and 29 mins / none
Published: December 2021
Book Group: no
Finished: 12/29
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

I couldn't resist this quick listen from Audible.  There are some funny moments in this story, especially the parents.

From the publisher:
Lily is back from Australia for the first time in seven years to spend Christmas at her mum’s house in a small, gossipy English village. To her surprise, she returns to find that her mother is dating the man next door, who also happens to be the father of her ex-boyfriend Tom. Tom, who broke Lily’s heart all those years ago. Tom, the real reason Lily fled to the other side of the world and stayed there. Tom, who is also home for Christmas and right there, next door.

In what is shaping up to be the worst Christmas ever, somehow Lily and Tom have to try to get along and play happy families, but living with the man who she is clearly not over is proving to be difficult, and tensions are high. Add in some drunken caroling, a reindeer bite, a potent Christmas pudding and some meddling parents and Lily’s trip home will turn her entire life upside down.



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Title: All I Want For Christmas
Author: Michelle Stimpson
Length: 3 hrs and 16 mins / none
Published: December 2021
Book Group: no
Finished: 12/29
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This contemporary romance is set in a hospital and the characters are against type--she is the doctor and he is the nurse.  I liked the current event references.  I wish it was a full-length book!

From the publisher:
When a doctor and nurse with very different views on Christmas are thrown together on a decorating committee and bond over a special patient, they each learn the most important Christmas lesson: all they want for Christmas is each other.

Dr. Allison Hall is staring down the prospect of her first Christmas in a new town and her first without her son, who is spending the holiday with her ex. As the new doc on the block, she's on duty for the Christmas shift and glad of it. When one of her favorite patients lands back in the hospital, and it looks like this might be his last Christmas, she hopes she can help connect him to his estranged daughter.

Dante Price thinks Allison should mind her own business. He's a nurse—and admittedly a bit of a Christmas Scrooge. But when he gets put on a decorating committee with Christmas-loving Dr. Allison, he starts to see the holiday in a new light.

Soon the two are working together to deck the halls with boughs of holly—but can they pull off a Christmas miracle and reunite a father and daughter?


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TitleNobody, Somebody, Anybody
Author: Kelly McClorey
Length8 hrs and 6 mins / 304 pp
Published: July 2021
Book Group: no
Finished: 12/31
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

What an unusual, quirky book.  The protagonist, Amy, is a complex, compelling, yet completely unlikeable character.  Amy has isolated herself in a delusional world and it's hard to look away from the hot mess of her life.  It's well-written.

From the publisher:
Amy Hanley has a job as a maid for the summer, but on August 25, she will take the exam to become an EMT (third time’s the charm!) and finally move on with her life. In the meantime, she doesn’t mind scrubbing toilets immaculately clean or tucking the sheet corners just so. In fact, she tells herself that her work is a noble act of service to the rich guests at the yacht club.

Amy’s profound isolation colors everything: her job, her aspirations, even her interactions with the woman at the deli counter. And as the date for the EMT exam comes closer, Amy’s anxiety ratchets up in a way that is both familiar and troubling. In desperation, she concocts a “placebo” program—a self-prescribed regimen for her confidence, devised to trick herself into succeeding.

When her landlord, Gary, starts to invite her over for dinner—to practice his cooking skills as he awaits approval of his Ukrainian fiancĂ©’s visa—Amy makes her first friend since her mother’s passing. Alongside this unexpected connection comes a surge of hopeful obsession that Amy knows she must reckon with before the summer’s end.

Tender and laugh-out-loud funny, Nobody, Somebody, Anybody explores the shadowy corners of a young woman’s inner world of grief, delusion, and self-loathing, revealing the creeping loneliness of modern life and our endless search for connection.