Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Review: The Summer that Made Us by Robyn Carr (audio)

Title: The Summer That Made Us
Author: Robyn Carr
Narrator: Therese Plummer
Published: September 2017, Recorded Books / Mira Books
Length: 10 hours 21 minutes / 336 pages
Source: Audio - Personal copy via Audible / Print - ARC Paperback via Little Bird Publicity
Mothers and daughters, sisters and cousins--they lived for summers at the lake house until a tragic accident changed everything. The Summer That Made Us is an unforgettable story about a family learning to accept the past, to forgive and to love each other again.  

That was then... For the Hempsteads, two sisters who married two brothers and had three daughters each, summers were idyllic. The women would escape the city the moment school was out to gather at the family house on Lake Waseka. The lake was a magical place, a haven where they were happy and carefree. All of their problems drifted away as the days passed in sun-dappled contentment. Until the summer that changed everything.  

This is now... After an accidental drowning turned the lake house into a site of tragedy and grief, it was closed up. For good. Torn apart, none of the Hempstead women speak of what happened that summer, and relationships between them are uneasy at best to hurtful at worst. But in the face of new challenges, one woman is determined to draw her family together again, and the only way that can happen is to return to the lake and face the truth. 

Robyn Carr has crafted a beautifully woven story about the complexities of family dynamics and the value of strong female relationships.

My thoughts:  I have been a fan of Robyn Carr's books for a while now - both for her series and her stand alones - so of course I jumped at the opportunity to read and review her latest book. This one, a stand alone, is poignant and inspiring yet has it's moments of humor interspersed throughout. 

I think what truly stands out about this book is just how emotional it ended up being. Yes, it had it's funny moments, but at the end of the day, it really has some big highs and some big lows - equally balanced, but still - it has all the feels! This is what women's fiction is. And more importantly, it will have you questioning the relationships you have in your life and if there are any you need to work on.

This book is all about second chances. The Hempstead family is dysfunctional to say the least. There was a tradegy that could be the impetus for some of this dysfunction, but why the grudges have carried on for so long is anyone's guess. Now, almost 30 years later and fighting the fight of her life, Megan has decided enough is enough and her family needs to come together one more time. Can the past be let go off? Is there room in everyone's hearts for forgiveness?

I loved getting to know the characters in this book. As each of the women return to the lake and share their stories, I felt as if I was there, living at the lake with them. The story really comes to life as the stories are told. It's not always a happy tale, as the secrets start coming out, and heartache and grief are brought to the surface, but through tears and sadness, these women find a way to become a family again, especially as they are needed now more than ever. 

This was a great read and this is why I continue to pick up Robyn Carr's books. They are filled with substance rather than just fluff. This one in particular is as heartwarming as it is emotional.

Audio thoughts: I am never disappointed when I see Therese Plummer as a narrator, especially when I see that she's narrating a Robyn Carr book. These two just seem to go together - really well! The characters really come to life in this narration and Therese really does a great job giving each character their own unique voice. Her pacing and tone are spot on and she infused just the right amount of emotion into her voice as needed. This really was a great audio.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Review: Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda

Title: Best Day Ever
Author: Kaira Rouda
Published: September 2017, Graydon House
Format: ARC Paperback, 384 pages
Source: Publisher
I glance at my wife as she climbs into the passenger seat, and I am bursting with confidence. Today will be everything I’ve promised her…and more…

Paul Strom has the perfect life: a glittering career as an advertising executive, a beautiful wife, two healthy boys and a big house in a wealthy suburb. And he’s the perfect husband: breadwinner, protector, provider. That’s why he’s planned a romantic weekend for his wife, Mia, at their lake house, just the two of them. And he's promised today will be the best day ever.

But as Paul and Mia drive out of the city and toward the countryside, a spike of tension begins to wedge itself between them and doubts start to arise. How much do they trust each other? And how perfect is their marriage, or any marriage, really?

Forcing us to ask ourselves just how well we know those who are closest to us, Best Day Ever crackles with dark energy, spinning ever tighter toward its shocking conclusion. In the bestselling, page-turning vein of The Couple Next Door and The Dinner, Kaira Rouda weaves a gripping, tautly suspenseful tale of deception and betrayal dark enough to destroy a marriage…or a life.

My thoughts: I'm a big fan of Kaira Rouda's books and had the absolute pleasure of meeting her in person this past Spring at BookExpo when she was signing early copies of this latest book. I love when I get to meet my favorite authors and she is absolutely delightful - I even got a chance to talk with her after her signing later on that day and loved that. She is so down to earth and I had a great time talking with her.

This is such a creepy, sinister read...and it totally had me captivated from the start. It takes place over a 24-hour period and once you start reading it, you will be hard-pressed to put it down. You are taken down a wildly unbelievable, yet scary ride as you delve into the world that Paul Strom has created for himself...and what a world it is - in his head! He is quite a character - one I won't be forgetting any time soon and not necessarily for good reasons.

What I loved about this book is the over-the-top craziness of it's main character, Paul. He is narcissistic and controlling for sure, yet there is something equally sinister about him that lies just beneath the surface. He is the book's sole narrator and as he drones on and on about the "best day ever" he has planned, he hints ever so vaguely that there is more going on if you just pay attention to what he is not saying. It's creepy and it's addictive because the more you read, the more you need to know what's going to happen and what it is he's really up to!

And what happens when his wife, Mia, questions him? Brings up topics that he'd rather not discuss? Could she possibly know what he's up to? Mia has always done as he's asked - she gave up her job when they started a family, she basically gave up her friends and now all of a sudden she's grown a backbone? Does she know more than she's letting on?

Kaira Rouda has really done a fantastic job of allowing us to get into the mind of a sociopath. It's certainly not a place I expected to be when I picked up this book, but boy was I glued to the pages once I started reading. Just goes to show that you never truly know what goes on behind closed doors. I really enjoyed this book and the cover is just perfect!!!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Review: The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld

Title: The Child Finder
Author: Rene Denfeld
Published: September 2017, Harper
Format: ARC Paperback, 288 pages
Source: Publisher

Three years ago, Madison Culver disappeared when her family was choosing a Christmas tree in Oregon’s Skookum National Forest. She would be eight years old now—if she has survived. Desperate to find their beloved daughter, certain someone took her, the Culvers turn to Naomi, a private investigator with an uncanny talent for locating the lost and missing. Known to the police and a select group of parents as "the Child Finder," Naomi is their last hope.

Naomi’s methodical search takes her deep into the icy, mysterious forest in the Pacific Northwest, and into her own fragmented past. She understands children like Madison because once upon a time, she was a lost girl too.

As Naomi relentlessly pursues and slowly uncovers the truth behind Madison’s disappearance, shards of a dark dream pierce the defenses that have protected her, reminding her of a terrible loss she feels but cannot remember. If she finds Madison, will Naomi ultimately unlock the secrets of her own life?

My thoughts: I was lucky enough to pick up this gem at BookExpo this past Spring and I have to say it was on my list of must-get books. While it is my first book by Rene Denfeld, it certainly will not be my last!

I was captivated by the magical writing of this book from the very first page. Yes, this is a mystery thriller, but the way this book is told, alternating from the eyes of a child to that of the private investigator, just has that hint of magical realism without actually containing any parts of that genre in the book if that makes sense. It's more told through the eyes of a child's imagination than any use of magical realism - that's the beauty of this book, that's what makes this book stand apart from anything I've read before. But, it won't be for everyone.

There is, though, a darkness to this book, even in those chapters told from the child. It's just told in that innocence where the child might not realize what is really happening, but you as the adult do. So, word of caution when reading...this book has triggers for those sensitive to that sort of thing. This is after all about a child who has gone missing and is telling her part of the story. 

Naomi, the private investigator, is such an interesting she came to be in her position - her back story, her motivation to do what she does - is utterly fascinating. And as the story moves forward, and we get to know her bit by bit, I became more and more curious about her. This book is not only about her finding missing children, but it becomes about her finding herself.

This book is equal parts dark and light - it is filled with horrific things, yet there is a sense of hope that shines through. I would so love for this to be the start of a series, as I think there is more to Naomi than we have seen...I guess time will only tell on that front. Either way, I can definitely say I will be keeping an eye out for what comes next from this author.

Review: The Good Widow by Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke (audio)

Title: The Good Widow
Author: Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke
Narrator: Dara Rosenberg
Published: June 2017, Brilliance Audio
Length: 9 hours 35 minutes
Source: Publisher

Bestselling authors Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke make their suspense debut in this twisty, emotional thriller.

Elementary school teacher Jacqueline “Jacks” Morales’s marriage was far from perfect, but even in its ups and downs it was predictable, familiar. Or at least she thought it was…until two police officers showed up at her door with devastating news. Her husband of eight years, the one who should have been on a business trip to Kansas, had suffered a fatal car accident in Hawaii. And he wasn’t alone.

For Jacks, laying her husband to rest was hard. But it was even harder to think that his final moments belonged to another woman—one who had left behind her own grieving and bewildered fiancé. Nick, just as blindsided by the affair, wants answers. So he suggests that he and Jacks search for the truth together, retracing the doomed lovers’ last days in paradise.

Now, following the twisting path of that fateful road, Jacks is learning that nothing is ever as it seems. Not her marriage. Not her husband. And most certainly not his death…

My thoughts: I'm a big fan of the writing duo Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke, so when I heard that they were dipping their toes into the domestic suspense/thriller genre, I was psyched!!! I just knew that based on their previous books, these two would be able to craft one kick-ass, twisted, clever book and boy oh boy did they ever!

This book grabs you from the start and keeps hold of you the entire time. There is that sense that something is definitely not adding up, something isn't quite right and you are just waiting for the shoe to drop. There's the building up of tension, ever so slowly, and then you just can't walk away - you need to keep reading until you reach the end to see how it all plays out.

I loved the way this story was told - unfolding both before the accident and after the accident, allowing us to piece together exactly what was going on. This really helps set the pace and tone of what is to come and allows us to really understand the characters motivations. As we learn about all the players involved, more questions develop with each detail that comes to light. I'm telling you, this book really gets under your skin!

And just when you think you know how things are going to play out, just when you think you have it all worked out, these two clever ladies throw such a twist at you, one that I never saw coming. This book is one of  those stories that slowly pulls you in, letting you into the characters lives, so much so that you almost feel like you're a part of it. You will grieve along with Jacks - they write her in such a way that you feel for her almost as if she were a sister or dear friend. And then...BAM, they pull the rug out from under fact, they do this a few times!  

This is a twisted, crazy ride. I even had chills towards the end, it was such a good story and I cannot wait to see what comes next from this dynamic duo!!!


Audio thoughts: I am a big fan of Dara Rosenberg's narrations, so I was thrilled to see that she was narrating this book. I thought she did a great job with this audio book - she kept me totally engaged throughout and did a great job with the voices. Her pacing was good and I felt she infused just the right amount of emotion and tension into her voice as necessary. This was a great book to listen to on audio.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

#FitReaders: Weekly Check-in September 15

It was a good week. 
One thing I've been really conscious of since coming back from my injury is trying to change things up in regards to my workouts. Since I'm still on a restricted workout regiment, and will be for another week or two, I can't go too crazy, but still I am trying to not do the same old thing day in, day out. As you can see below, even with the little I did do, I switched it up...and it felt good! I'm probably being extra cautious right now, but I have a big trip coming up in a few weeks and I don't want to re-injure myself before that - we're going to Iceland and will be doing a fair amount of walking around :)


Here's how last week went:    
Sep  9:  7,057 steps
Sep 10:  5,921 steps

Sep 11:  14,543 steps (2 Miles on Treadmill)  
Sep 12:  8,670 steps

Sep 13:  10,175 steps (Leslie Sansone - 1 Mile Classic Walk)

Sep 14:  8,824

Sep 15:  14,291
steps (2.5 Miles outside) 

Total Steps: 61,950

Audiobooks listened to last week (since I'm not much of a music fan, I listen to books while I walk):
  • Started The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye by David Lagercrantz, narrated by Simon Vance

How did your week go? You can find this week's link-up here.

Virtual 5K /10K Tally:
     January:                               May:                             September:   
           5K  -  4                                  5K  -  5                                5K  -  0
         10K  -  7                                10K  -  6                               10K  - 0
     February:                             June:                            October:

           5K  -  4                                  5K  -  10                               5K  - 
         10K  -  9                                10K  -  2                              10K  -   
     March:                                  July:                             November:
           5K  -  3                                  5K  -  15                                5K  - 
         10K  -  7                                10K  -  3                               10K  - 
     April:                                    August:                        December:
           5K  -  9                                  5K  -  1                                 5K  - 
         10K  -  1                                 10K  - 0                                10K  -

Friday, September 15, 2017

Cover Reveal & Book Spotlight: The Secret to Southern Charm by Kristy Woodson Harvey

I am so excited to help Kristy Woodsen Harvey spread the news today about her newest book - and share the cover!!! I have adored Kristy's previous books and will be anxiously waiting until I can get my hands on this next one...Kristy writes from the heart and that definitely comes across in her writing!

This is the second book in her Peachtree Bluff series, and let me just tell you, this series got off to a great start! I adored the first book, Slightly South of Simple, which came out earlier this year, and have been anxiously waiting for the next book...I fell in love with these characters, and wanted more of them!

Title: The Secret to Southern Charm
Author: Kristy Woodson Harvey
Series: Peachtree Bluff, #2
Published: April 3, 2018, Gallery Books
Format: Paperback, 384 pages

Leaving fans “practically [begging] for a sequel” (Bookpage), critically-acclaimed author Kristy Woodson Harvey returns with the second novel in her beloved Peachtree Bluff series, featuring a trio of sisters and their mother who discover a truth that will change not only the way they see themselves, but also how they fit together as a family.

After finding out her military husband is missing in action, middle sister Sloane’s world crumbles as her worst nightmare comes true. She can barely climb out of bed, much less summon the strength to be the parent her children deserve.

Her mother, Ansley, provides a much-needed respite as she puts her personal life on hold to help Sloane and her grandchildren wade through their new grief-stricken lives. But between caring for her own aging mother, her daughters, and her grandchildren, Ansley’s private worry is that secrets from her past will come to light.

But when Sloane’s sisters, Caroline and Emerson, remind Sloane that no matter what, she promised her husband she would carry on for their young sons, Sloane finds the support and courage she needs to chase her biggest dreams—and face her deepest fears. Taking a cue from her middle daughter, Ansley takes her own leap of faith and realizes that, after all this time, she might finally be able to have it all.

Harvey’s signature warmth and wit make this is a charming and poignant story of first loves, missed opportunities, and second chances that proves why she is the next major voice in Southern fiction” (Elin Hilderbrand, New York Times bestselling author).

Isn't that an amazing cover? Kristy always has the best covers, but this one might be the best one yet!!! I think it's going to be a long wait until Spring...but luckily, Kristy has an amazing giveaway happening over at her sure to head over there to enter!

Books in this series:
  1. Slightly South of Simple
  2. The Secret to Southern Charm

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Review: The Scarred Woman by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Title: The Scarred Woman
Author: Jussi Adler-Olsen
Series: Department Q, #7
Published: September 2017, Dutton Books
Format: ARC Paperback, 486 pages
Source: Publisher
The New York Times and #1 internationally bestselling author of The Keeper of Lost Causes delivers his most captivating and suspenseful Department Q novel yet—perfect for fans of Stieg Larsson.
Detective Carl Mørck of Department Q, Copenhagen's cold cases division, meets his toughest challenge yet when the dark, troubled past of one of his own team members collides with a sinister unsolved murder.

In a Copenhagen park the body of an elderly woman is discovered. The case bears a striking resemblance to another unsolved homicide investigation from over a decade ago, but the connection between the two victims confounds the police. Across town a group of young women are being hunted. The attacks seem random, but could these brutal acts of violence be related? Detective Carl Mørck of Department Q is charged with solving the mystery.

Back at headquarters, Carl and his team are under pressure to deliver results: failure to meet his superiors’ expectations will mean the end of Department Q. Solving the case, however, is not their only concern. After an earlier breakdown, their colleague Rose is still struggling to deal with the reemergence of her past—a past in which a terrible crime may have been committed. It is up to Carl, Assad, and Gordon to uncover the dark and violent truth at the heart of Rose’s childhood before it is too late.

My thoughts: This is the first book I've read by Jussi Adler-Olsen and while I am jumping into his Department Q series midway, I was told it would be a good place to start. I've been trying to broaden the scope of Scandinavian crime authors that I read and when I saw that this author was being compared to the likes of Stieg Larsson, who in fact got me hooked in this genre, I figured this would be a good fit...and I loved it!!!

While I was a bit apprehensive jumping into an already established series - this is book 7 after all - I found that I was able to pretty quickly figure out who was who and determine the relationships between the main characters with relative ease. The only drawback, if you will, is that there are some things that are referenced from earlier cases that I probably would have better understood had I read the earlier books - but I definitely plan to as soon as I get the chance as I really did like the dynamics of this team and would love to read more about them!

While the size of the book itself is quite daunting, coming in at just under 500 pages, believe me when I say, it moves quick. There is so much going on that you find yourself completely consumed. And maybe because I was coming in fresh and not having read the prior books, I found myself paying extra close attention to every little detail so as to not miss anything! At one point the team, made up of just Carl, Assad and Gordon due to Rose being out of commission, is juggling 5 different cases and trying to figure out if any of them are remotely connected! 

I really felt for Carl, Assad and Gordon as they rallied around Rose, who appeared to be having yet another (apparently the first happened in a prior book!) mental breakdown. I really got the sense that this team is like a big family. The fact that they have been told if they do not start pulling their weight and producing results, their unit may be shut down, is not helping matters. There is the urgency to solve their many cases, yet they also want to help their colleague, who they know is struggling.

This book is so tightly structured that once one piece comes unraveled, all the other pieces start falling into place. It's brilliantly written and really kept my attention held throughout. And what I loved is the little bits of humor thrown in throughout. There are some really heavy topics dealt with - the mental breakdown of a colleague, benefit fraud, prostitution - and yet it is counterbalanced with these little parts where you just have to laugh out loud. Not overly done, yet it just breaks the heaviness. 

I can tell this is a series that I am going to really enjoy - now I just have to go back and get my hands on the earlier books and find the time to read them!!! I'm glad I gave this one a chance - it was a really good read and gave me a good sense of how this series is.

Books in this series:
  1. The Keeper of Lost Causes
  2. The Absent One
  3. A Conspiracy of Faith
  4. The Purity of Vengeance
  5. The Marco Effect
  6. The Hanging Girl
  7. The Scarred Woman

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Review: Mrs. Saint and the Defectives by Julie Lawson Timmer (audio)

Title: Mrs. Saint and the Defectives
Author: Julie Lawson Timmer
Narrator: Elizabeth Wiley
Published: August 2017, Brilliance Audio / Lake Union Publishing
Length: 10 hours 31 minutes / 366 pages
Source: Audio - Personal copy via Audible / Print - Paperback via Publisher

Critically acclaimed author Julie Lawson Timmer returns with a tale of how community can heal the brokenness in all of us.

Markie, a fortysomething divorcée who has suffered a humiliating and very public fall from marital, financial, and professional grace, moves, along with her teenage son, Jesse, to a new town, hoping to lick her wounds in private. But Markie and Jesse are unable to escape the attention of their new neighbor Mrs. Saint, an irascible, elderly New European woman who takes it upon herself, along with her ragtag group of “defectives,” to identify and fix the flaws in those around her, whether they want her to or not.

What Markie doesn’t realize is that Mrs. Saint has big plans for the divorcée’s broken spirit. Soon, the quirky yet endearing woman recruits Markie to join her eccentric community, a world where both hidden truths and hope unite them. But when Mrs. Saint’s own secrets threaten to unravel their fragile web of healing, it’s up to Markie to mend these wounds and usher in a new era for the “defectives”—one full of second chances and happiness.

My thoughts: I have to admit that not only did the cover pull me into this book, but the title did as's just so quirky, which is just perfect for the book. But, make no mistake, this book is definitely not all fluff and light-hearted fun...oh no, this book will get to you and pull on your heart-strings in a way that you will most definitely not see coming!

I absolutely adored the quirky characters in this story. And believe me when I say, they most definitely are quirky! Mrs. Saint would definitely have put me off had she been my neighbor, however, as overbearing as she was, there was just something about here that you had to love, and once you finally get her story, you absolutely will. All the characters in this book are so well-developed and you end up wanting them to live next door to you - you will want these people in your life!

I think what came across in reading this book is that many times we think that we don't need anyone in our lives but the people we select, but it's the people who often just show up, many times at inopportune times that we end up really needing the most. Mrs. Saint certainly shows just how big a heart she has, though she is often quite closed-lipped about her own circumstances. And Markie, oh how I wanted to shake her at times...did she not see the good of the people next store? Even her son was blossoming under their care and attention, much to her dismay!

This book is such a good read, at times humorous and fun, but it does have its poignant and tenderhearted moments. There is that underlying message of second chances and opening up to those around us that we may not necessarily at first be willing to see. Julie Lawson Timmer has such a knack for delivering solid stories about complex relationships...this is the second book I've read of hers and the second one I've loved. Can't wait to read more!!!

Audio thoughts: This is the first time I've listened to Elizabeth Wiley and I thought she did a great job with this audio book. There are quite a few characters in this book and Elizabeth was able to give each one a unique voice and characterization - these characters came alive with her narration. Her accent seemed good and her pacing and intonation seemed spot on. I really enjoyed this audio book and will definitely be looking into what else she has narrated. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Review: Undertow by Elizabeth Heathcote

Title: Undertow
Author: Elizabeth Heathcote
Published: June 2017, Park Row Books
Format: ARC E-copy, 320 pages
Source: Netgalley 

An exhilarating debut novel that follows one woman's hunt for the truth when she realizes she might have married a killer

They said her death was a tragic accident. And I believed them…until now.

Carmen is happily married to Tom, although she knows she'll always live in the shadow of another woman—the mistress who ended his first marriage: Zena. Mercurial, mesmerizing, manipulative Zena—a woman who, Carmen begins to discover, had the potential to incite the darkest of emotions. Zena, who drowned in the sea late one night.

Zena seems ever-more present, even in death, and when Carmen unknowingly stumbles on evidence that her husband has not been telling her the whole truth, she can't shake her unease. As she uncovers documents and photographs, a very different tale than the one Tom has led her to believe begins to unfold, and she finds herself increasingly isolated and paranoid. As the twisted events of that night begin to come to light, Carmen must ask herself if it's really a truth worth knowing…even if it destroys her and the lives of the people she loves most.

My thoughts: This is one of those books that I have to admit, the cover totally drew me in...isn't it just mesmerizing? Luckily, the story itself was gripping and addicting and kept my interest - I would have been quite bummed if it didn't work out!

I do have to say, I had a hard time connecting to the main character, Carmen, but once I got a little further into the book, I got over that. I found myself totally engaged. I wanted to know as much as Carmen did about what really happened and found myself just as suspicious of Tom as Carmen soon became. 

All the characters in this novel were so real - they may not always be likeable, but they were true to life. They had their flaws and their relationships felt real and complicated - isn't that what family life is all about in the real world? This added such a true ring to the story, giving it that true-to-life feeling. After all, this is a complicated family system we are following here, so having the family dynamics to mirror that really added to the already heavy tension.

This is much more a character-driven story than action-driven and with all the twists and turns it takes as Carmen makes her discoveries, it has that chilling, disturbing quality to it. It really gets under your skin so that you become as desperate as Carmen is to get to the bottom of what really happened to Zena.

I ended up really enjoying this book and found myself guessing as to what was going to happen all the way until the very end. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for what comes next from this author - as a debut novel, this one was quite good! 


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