Captivating novel about friendship

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The French Girl by Lexie Elliott

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Do we ever know our friends?  Kate Channing isn’t sure.  A decade ago, she had spent a week with her friends in a French farmhouse.  Severine is a French girl who lives next door.  The case of her disappearance remains unsolved.  But now the case has been reopened because Severine’s body has been found in the well at the farmhouse.  Kate and her friends are pulled back into the memories of what happened in France and the deceptions that have been kept secret since then.

Kate Channing isn’t the usual “girl in distress” type that predominates today’s suspense novels.  She’s a smart lady who is doing her best to go it on her own as head of her legal recruitment company.  I liked and admired her and emphasized with her stress of dredging up past memories with all its accusations and questioning of her friends.  Could one of them have killed Severine?  Why would they have wanted to?  There are no great twists or surprises here, just good narration and fleshing out of characters.   I found the book to be addictive and kept wanting to read just a little more.  If I had had the time to just sit down for a few hours, I would have flown through this one.

A captivating novel about friendship.  Recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

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Perfection

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Self-Portrait with Boy by Rachel Lyon

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Oh how Lu Rile longs to make her mark in the photography world.  She has struggled so hard and her art means everything to her.  During a series of self-portraits, she inadvertently captures the fatal fall of a young boy past her window.  The resulting photograph is her masterpiece, the work that her artistic life has centered on achieving.  But there’s a problem.  She’s become friends with, possibly even has fallen a bit in love with, the young boy’s mother, Kate, and she can’t bring herself to tell Kate about this photo.  And another problem has arisen – the young boy, Max, is haunting Lu, appearing outside of the window that he fell past on his way to his death.

I’m finding it difficult to believe that this is a debut novel by this author.  I think she may have been a student of Joyce Carol Oates, one of my favorite authors, since she went to Princeton where Ms. Oates teaches and Ms. Oates wrote a glowing blurb for the book.  That blurb is what drew me to this book.  This novel had everything I could ask for.  I didn’t just read this book – I lived this book.  I lived in the dilapidated warehouse along with Lu and the other illegal tenants.  I walked the Brooklyn streets with Lu as she took her photos and went to her three jobs.  I stayed with her and her father when he underwent eye surgery.  And I sweated over her dilemma of what to do with her controversial photo right along with her.  I could hardly bear to read the last pages of this book.  I was so invested in the story that it felt personal.

I won’t tell any more about the plot of this book than the publisher has chosen to.  I leave it to the author to tell her story, which she does to perfection.

Most, most highly recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

 

For a more ambitious cook than I am

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Simply Vibrant by Anya Kassoff

Book Review:  3 out of 5 star rating

As a vegetarian, I’m always on the lookout for new recipes.  This is a gorgeous cookbook but I think it’s for a more ambitious cook than I am.  I’m at the point in my life when I’m looking for easy, quick, healthy recipes.  Most of these are a bit too complicated for me, with several different steps, such as sauces and bases.  I kept getting hung up on ingredients I have no familiarity with, such as seeds from 5 cardamon pods, dried mung beans, kombu and lemongrass stalks.  I can’t see myself tackling anything in the breakfast section, way too early in the day to try these, though I may take another look to see if anything is appropriate for a light lunch or dinner.

There are some delicious salad ideas that I plan on trying.  Love the Spring Bowl with asparagus, peas, baby radishes and young greens. Then there’s The Naked Taco Bowl minus the jalapeno.

As for dinner, I want to make the spring cabbage rolls with mushrooms, lentils, rice and tomato sauce this St. Patrick’s Day.  It looks delicious.  I may also try the Spring Vegetable Chowder, Borscht, Leek & Mushroom Barley Risotto and Spaghetti Squash Noodles with Eggplant-Lentil Meatballs.

I know there are cooks out there who would absolutely love this cookbook.  Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll be reaching for it often myself.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

A necessity for all animal Reiki practitioners

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Healing Virtues by Kathleen Prasad

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Kathleen Prasad is the president and co-founder of the Shelter Animal Reiki Association (SARA).  That Reiki association is the only one of its kind and is dedicated to rescued animals and their caretakers.  I’ve read her book “Reiki for Dogs”, so I knew the basics of her Animal Reiki Practitioner Code of Ethics but wanted to know more.  This book more than satisfied that desire.

I’ve been practicing Reiki for several months and it’s been quite a spiritual journey.  My Reiki teacher is Bill Stevens, who is a past student of Kathleen Prasad’s.  Kathleen put this code together ten years ago and Bill uses it in his teaching of Reiki.  He teaches his students about asking the animal for permission when offering Reiki, which is something I’ve been doing but didn’t have a complete understanding of it as most of the classes I took were devoted to working with humans.  Kathleen does a beautiful in-depth job of explaining the difference between offering Reiki to humans and offering it to animals.  With humans we use our hands to transfer the energy.  With animals, it’s more of a deeper heart to heart connection.  She also reinforced Bill’s teaching that we shouldn’t approach Reiki with the idea that we have to fix something that’s wrong with the animal or heal it but rather just “Be” Reiki and share the Reiki space with the animal.  Simply trust Reiki to do what’s needed.

Kathleen also includes many detailed, step-by-step Reiki meditations that are just beautiful and that I’m looking forward to incorporating in my practice.  I know I’m going to refer to this book again and again as a I strive to learn how to integrate the Reiki principles into my everyday life, not just when I’m practicing Reiki.

Most highly recommended for all animal Reiki practitioners.

This book was given to me by the author in return for an honest review.

 

 

Entertaining mystery

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The Bad Daughter by Joy Fielding

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Robin hasn’t heard from her sister, Melanie, in years so when she received a phone message from her, she knew it couldn’t be good.  Robin gets panic attacks fairly often and the news that her estranged best friend, Tara, had been shot and killed and that Tara’s 12-year-old daughter, Cassidy, and Robin’s father had also been shot and were in the hospital in critical condition sends Robin into a tail spin.  Though Robin has no love for her father, she returns home.  There she tries to piece together what actually had happened.  Was this a home invasion or was this personal?  Was her brother Alec involved somehow?  After all, Alec and Tara had been engaged at one time and Alec and Robin’s father had stolen her affections away from his son and married Tara himself.  Quite a good motive, wouldn’t you say?  But that had happened years ago so why would Alec suddenly seek revenge?

Joy Fielding has been writing psychological suspense since the early ‘70s.  I was quite a big fan of hers back then but somehow I got away from her work.  When I saw this book being offered to book reviewers, I thought it was about time I tried one of her books again.   And I’m glad I did!

Ms. Fielding knows how to weave together a good story and how to keep those pages turning for her readers.  The main character, Robin, is down to earth and likeable.  I also really liked Melanie, as obnoxious as she was.  Her witty barbs were entertaining, though not to those they were directed to.  And the ending was quite a surprise to me though I should have seen it coming.  I remember thinking at several points, hmm, that’s odd, but I never took the thought any further.  Even after I learned the big reveal, I didn’t quite believe it.  Very surprising ending indeed!  I think this may be more of a mystery rather than suspense book as I didn’t personally find it suspenseful.  And it’s not the kind of book that I’ll long remember.  But I definitely had to keep reading to find out what had really happened and found it enjoyable.  I think I’m going to have to go back and read those books of this author’s that I’ve missed.

Recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

 

The devastating effects of a rape accusation

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Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

James has it all.  He’s married to lovely Sophie, he has two beautiful children and he’s a successful member of parliament.  He’s handsome and could have any woman he wants, even if Sophie weren’t the love of his life, which she is, so why would he commit rape?  Yet he stands accused and faces a trial that could destroy his family, reputation and career.

Kate is the lawyer who is prosecuting the case against James.  She’s sure that he’s guilty and she’s determined to prove it to the jury.  But this case is turning into one that she may not be strong enough to endure as it has dredged up old memories that still haunt her.

At the beginning of this book, I thought, OK, here’s another book about a possibly philandering husband, same old, same old.  But it turned into something much deeper.  The author did an excellent job in describing how hard it was for the woman accusing James of rape to testify at the trial – or is she just a woman scorned? – and the difficulty of finding justice in such a case.  How can a jury decide who is telling the truth when it’s really one person’s word against the other’s?  Is it really all down to how well either attorney presents his/her case?

The author also presented Sophie’s situation very well.  She loves her husband and wants desperately to believe him.  But hearing the testimony at trial and reading the papers where their marriage and life together is being scrutinized just tears her apart and causes confusion and distance in their marriage.  Even the strongest marriages could be strained to the breaking point under such an accusation.

A well-thought-out, heartfelt novel which I recommend.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

Out of the mouths of children

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Only Child by Rhiannon Navin

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

6-year-old Zach Taylor is hiding in the closet with his teacher and other classmates.  They cringe in terror as they listen to the sounds of “pop”, “pop”, “pop” in the hallway of their school.  A gunman is loose in the school and they have no idea which room he’ll enter next.  After the police come, Zach goes to the hospital with his mother, where they learn that Zach’s 10-year-old brother Andy is one of the 19 victims of the shooting.  In the days following Andy’s death, Zach’s mother holds the shooter’s parents responsible and goes on a crusade for justice.  She becomes someone Zach doesn’t know.  He finds refuge in Andy’s closet where Zach reads books to Andy and feels a connection to his lost brother.  He tries to sort through his feelings on his own by drawing pictures of his feelings and giving each feeling a color.

This is a very sensitive, beautifully written book about a young boy and his family trying to find their way after the tragic loss of a brother and son.  I thought the author did a wonderful job in finding the perfect pitch for this young boy’s voice.  The character of Zach is very believable and his experiences and reactions are appropriate for his age.  The way he struggles to work out his feelings on his own, as his parents deal with their own grief and aren’t always there for him, just broke my heart.  His brother, Andy, suffered from oppositional defiant disorder and was often cruel to Zach.  Zach wonders if things might be better without Andy but of course then he has much guilt about those feelings.

The books that Zach read to his brother Andy in the hopes that Andy might hear him in heaven were the Magic Treehouse series.  I’ve read several of those books to my grandson and knew the stories that Zach was reading.  That connection made it impossible for me to distance myself from the sadness of this book.  It was just as though one of my little grandson’s friends was telling this story and made the book’s heartache even more potent.

Out of the mouths of children comes wisdom.  Zach’s discovery of compassion and how healing must be done is truly wondrous to read and a lesson that the adults in this book desperately needed.

Highly recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

A heart-warming book full of charm

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The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

The street where Frank Adair’s music shop is located has seen better days.  The mortar is falling off the buildings and teens are decorating its stores with graffiti.  But some of these shops have been here for many years, including Frank’s music shop, which only deals in vinyl records.  He refuses to carry CDs, which makes him quite unpopular with the record suppliers.  But Frank’s shop is special.  He has a knack for finding just the right song his customers need.  He manages to heal broken hearts and marriages and his store is a popular one with the community.  Frank has made a nice life for himself until one day a woman faints outside of his shop and sets his world on end.

This book is peopled with such unique, quirky characters – Frank’s assistant, Kit, who struggles to control his exuberance; Maud, the tattoo artist, Father Anthony who now runs a religious shop, the Williams Brothers, the funeral directors; and the baker, Mr. Novak.  And then there’s Ilse Brauchmann, who is such a mystery, with her gloved hands and her utter lack of knowledge about music.

My favorite part of the book was when the author takes a look back at the lessons Frank’s mother gave him about music and the music lessons he in turn gives to Ilse.  Frank’s mother taught him to hear the silence between the music notes and to look beyond the music to hear the composer’s heart and soul.  Ms. Joyce obviously has a great passion for music and how music can impact a person’s life is the thrust of her newest novel.

I do wish the author had wrapped up the story a bit earlier than she did.  I felt the book dragged for a while at the end.  But all in all, it was a very enjoyable book and brought a lot of smiles to my heart.

Recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

Complex, clever thriller

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The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

All is not what it seems in this complex and clever thriller.  Nellie, a New York preschool teacher, is happy with her work and her lifestyle.  When she meets Richard, she’s swept off her feet into quite a different world of affluence.  There are hints galore about “something” that happened to Nellie in her past that has made her a very “nervous Nellie”.  Her telling of the story fluctuates with the telling of the story by Vanessa, Richard’s ex-wife.  She now lives with her Aunt Charlotte and drinks too much like her mother did before her.

The unreliable narrator has become a very popular form of literature these days.  This is one that I felt was quite well plotted and hard to crack before the author “tells”.  There’s a twist halfway through the book that had me sit up thinking “Whaaaat??” and had me questioning everything I had just read.  When you think all the twists have been revealed, there’s still one more that I never saw coming.

Quite an enjoyable read and kept me on my toes.  Recommended.  This book is being published on January 9, 2018 and can be pre-ordered through the publisher:

https://us.macmillan.com/static/smp/wife-between-us/

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

A fun, fast read

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The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor

Book review:  3 out of 5 star rating

12 year olds and summer – what a perfect combination.  Eddie and his friends, Fat Gav, Metal Mickey, Hobbo and the only girl in the gang, Nicky, are enjoying every minute of it.  They like to leave each other messages with little chalk stick men drawings.  They’re having a great time of it until they’re led to a dismembered body.  And what has led them to this body?  Little chalk men drawings.  Now they’re grown up and each have received mysterious letters with a chalk stick man.  That’s when they realize that the past isn’t over after all.

The book fluctuates between 1986 and 2016.  I loved the atmosphere that this author created and was pulled right back to the 80’s.  Such fun running all over this English village with these kids, seeing what excitement there is to find on those hot summer days.  This book is reminiscent of Stephen King’s novella, “The Body”, which was made into the film, “Stand By Me”, and is impressive for a debut.  To me, King’s novella is a classic and Ms. Tudor has a way to go before her work can truly be compared to King’s but it did remind me of it but without the deep sadness that King’s book invoked.  It has a spooky feel without anything supernatural going on and I liked that the author didn’t feel the need to include gory details to make her book suspenseful.  Unfortunately, the end didn’t come as a surprise to me and I’m not that quick to pick up on clues.  These clues seemed to be a bit too obvious.  I almost felt like I was a step ahead of the author throughout the book and knew what was coming.  But the book is very addictive, the characters are likeable (at least when they’re children) and it was a fun read.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.