Always With a Book

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Review: Daughters of the Bride by Susan Mallery (audio)

Title: Daughters of the Bride
Author: Susan Mallery
Narrator: Tanya Eby
Published: July 2016, Harlequin Audio / HQN Books
Length: 12 hours 10 minutes / 416 pages
Source: Audio - Borrowed via Library / Print - Hardcover via Publisher

With Joy, Love and a Little Trepidation, Courtney, Sienna and Rachel Invite You to the Most Emotional Wedding of the Year… Their Mother's  


~ The Misfit ~

As the awkward one, Courtney Watson may not be as together as her sisters, but she excels at one thing—keeping secrets, including her white-hot affair with a sexy music producer. Planning Mom's wedding exposes her startling hidden life, changing her family's view of her—and how she views herself—forever.


~ The Free Spirit ~

When Sienna's boyfriend proposes—in front of her mom and sisters, for crying out loud—he takes her by surprise. She already has two broken engagements under her belt. Should she say "I do" even if she's not sure she does?


~ The Cynic ~

Rachel thought love would last forever…right up until her divorce. As Mom's wedding day draws near and her ex begs for a second chance, she's forced to acknowledge some uncomfortable truths about why her marriage failed, and decide if she'll let pride stand in the way of her own happily-ever-after.

My thoughts: When I pick up a book by Susan Mallery - whether it a book from one of her series or a stand-alone book - I know I am in for some good, fun reading. And that's just what I got with this book.

This story is all about family and how all families are certainly not cookie cutter molds. The family dynamics and the relationships between the sisters are so relatable that this just pulled me into the story even more. I think having two sisters, and four brothers, any time I read a story about sibling relationships I find myself drawn to them. I felt the emotions and tensions between the mother and daughters to be real and drawn in reality. 

This story is a roller-coaster of emotions. It will make you laugh-out-loud at times, but it has it's poignant moments as well. And there are some cringe-worthy moments, too. That's the beauty of this story - it will take you over as you delve into the dynamics of these sisters' relationships as they help their mother plan her wedding. It was fun getting to know them and seeing them come into themselves as they finally shed the past and overcame some of the insecurities that had been tripping them up. 

The characters, as is usual in all Susan Mallerys' books, are well-developed and complex. They are relatable and easy to cheer on. You might not always like a character in the beginning, but by the end they just might end up surprising you. Don't you just love characters like that? 

Audio thoughts: I am a big fan of Tanya Eby and so I was so excited to see she was narrating this book. She does such a great job with the voices, even for the men's voices, giving everyone a distinct and unique voice so that you never have to wonder who is speaking. Her tone and pacing are spot on and she infuses just the right amount of emotion into her voice as necessary. This was a great book to listen to on audio.


Friday, February 16, 2018

Review: The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen

Title: The Tuscan Child
Author: Rhys Bowen
Published: February 2018, Lake Union Publishing
Format: ARC Paperback, 352 pages
Source: Publisher via Little Bird Publicity

From New York Times bestselling author Rhys Bowen comes a haunting novel about a woman who braves her father’s hidden past to discover his secrets…
In 1944, British bomber pilot Hugo Langley parachuted from his stricken plane into the verdant fields of German-occupied Tuscany. Badly wounded, he found refuge in a ruined monastery and in the arms of Sofia Bartoli. But the love that kindled between them was shaken by an irreversible betrayal.

Nearly thirty years later, Hugo’s estranged daughter, Joanna, has returned home to the English countryside to arrange her father’s funeral. Among his personal effects is an unopened letter addressed to Sofia. In it is a startling revelation.

Still dealing with the emotional wounds of her own personal trauma, Joanna embarks on a healing journey to Tuscany to understand her father’s history—and maybe come to understand herself as well. Joanna soon discovers that some would prefer the past be left undisturbed, but she has come too far to let go of her father’s secrets now…

My thoughts: This is the second book I've read by Rhys Bowen and once again I found myself completely captivated and totally immersed in her writing. Last year, I read and absolutely loved, In Farleigh Field, so when I was given the opportunity to read and review Rhys's latest stand-alone book, I jumped at the opportunity.

This story is set in both WWII Italy and the 1970s, and I was equally drawn to both story-lines. There are times when you read a dual-narrative that one story-line is stronger or more appealing than the other, but I did not find that to be the case here. This historical fiction tale has a bit of a mystery to both timelines and the characters and story just come alive on the pages. 

I never once felt that any part of this book fact, I devoured this book in two days. I just couldn't get enough of these characters. There was a complexity to them that made them intriguing without being overly done. And the setting - oh my! I've never been to Italy, but I felt like I could see it through the writing. And while I may not be the best cook around, it is something I am certainly taking a more active interest in, so all the descriptions of the Italian food and how they were preparing them was just music to my ears. I fully admit I was drooling at some parts and had developed quite an appetite! 

This book has a little bit of everything - it's got richly developed, complex characters, long-buried secrets, a bit of romance, and includes a murder mystery, with some twists and turns that are sure to shock you. It certainly didn't end up going where I thought it would and I appreciate that. It's a beautifully written story that will engage you and captivate you. This is just good reading and at the end of the day, isn't that what we look forward to?


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Review: The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris by Jenny Colgan (audio)

Title: The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris
Author: Jenny Colgan
Narrator: Beverly A. Crick
Published: Audio - January 2018, Tantor Audio / Print - February 2014, Sourcebooks Landmark
Length: 10 hours 49 minutes / 384 pages
Source: Audio - Borrowed via Library / Print - ARC E-copy via Netgalley

Inside Paris's premiere chocolate shop, sometimes dreams really can come true.
It's true that Anna Trent is a supervisor in a chocolate factory...but that doesn't necessarily mean she knows how to make chocolate. And when a fateful accident gives her the opportunity to work at Paris's elite chocolatier Le Chapeau Chocolat, Anna expects to be outed as a fraud. After all, there is a world of difference between chalky, mass-produced English chocolate and the gourmet confections Anna's new boss creates. But with a bit of luck and a lot of patience, Anna might learn that the sweetest things in life are always worth working for.

Hopeful, laugh-out-loud funny, and irresistibly addictive, The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris is a novel worth savoring.

My thoughts: This is the first book I've read by Jenny Colgan and it certainly won't be the last. I fully admit I was drawn to this book because of the title alone - Chocolate and Paris - completely sold...and luckily, the story was charming and had just enough substance to keep me entertained.

I adored the characters in this book. They were charming and quirky and kept the story from becoming too predictable. I loved how Anna and her high school French teacher, Claire, are thrown together in quite an unusual circumstance and strike up a unique friendship. I think that is what they both needed at the time and it gives Anna just the push and some direction in her life that she needed at just the right time.

Having the story move back and forth in time from the present to the past was a bit confusing at first, but then when I finally figured it all out - the past is Claire's story of when she used to live in Paris as a young girl - it all made sense. I did like how it all comes together at the end - and as I mentioned above, this story does have substance. It has some feels to it, and it has chocolate. It had me craving chocolate while I was reading it like there was no tomorrow! 

I definitely enjoyed this book and will certainly be looking into Jenny Colgan's other books, especially if she combines food and a fun story like this one. If you've read her other books, do you have a favorite one to recommend?

Audio thoughts: This was the first time I've listened to this narrator and I thought she did a good job. I had no problems with her differentiating the voices and thought her pacing and tones were spot on. This was a fun book to listen to and if I do pick up another book by Jenny Colgan, I would definitely consider listening to one.


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Review: Mister Tender's Girl by Carter Wilson

Title: Mister Tender's Girl
Author: Carter Wilson
Published: February 2018, Sourcebooks Landmark
Format: ARC Paperback, 400 pages
Source: Publisher

How far are you willing to go for Mister Tender?

At fourteen, Alice Hill was viciously attacked by two of her classmates and left to die. The teens claim she was a sacrifice for a man called Mister Tender, but that could never be true: Mister Tender doesn’t exist. His sinister character is pop-culture fiction, created by Alice’s own father in a series of popular graphic novels.

Over a decade later, Alice has changed her name and is trying to heal. But someone is watching her. They know more about Alice than any stranger could: her scars, her fears, and the secrets she keeps locked away. She can try to escape her past, but Mister Tender is never far behind. He will come with a smile that seduces, and a dark whisper in her ear…

Inspired by a true story, this gripping thriller plunges you into a world of haunting memories and unseen threats, leaving you guessing until the harrowing end.

My thoughts: This is another book I picked up at BookExpo last Spring that I have been so excited to read...and let me just tell you - it was so worth the wait!!! This book was everything I had hoped it would be and more...but - word of with the lights on! It's definitely a dark, creepy book that had me not wanting to read it before bedtime and I don't usually find that with all the thrillers I read.

As soon as I started reading this, I felt the dark undertones coming through - and I loved it! I became totally immersed in the book and found myself addicted to it. Short of not being able to read it at night, I basically binge read this book. I don't remember the case that this book is actually based on - the Slender Man Case, though I do want to now go watch the documentary made about it because I am so curious about it. 

This is the type of book that while I was so desperate to know who was behind the taunting of Alice as an adult, years after she had been attacked as a young girl, I also didn't want the book to end. I was completely engaged in this book, so invested in the characters, despite the fact that it was creepy as heck and I had to read it in the daylight hours. I loved that I questioned every character that Alice came in contact with - even her own family member...that's how good this story is crafted. The suspense is woven into the story from the very beginning and just gets more intense as the story goes on. And with that, there were quite a few times I was actually holding my breath to see what would happen next, especially towards the end.

I loved that as the pieces start to come together - who is really stalking Alice and why, we get the full story of how Mister Tender came to exist in the first place. This really is such a clever and well executed thriller that just pulls you in from the beginning and never really lets up. It's twisted, dark and intense. You don't want to miss this one!


Monday, February 12, 2018

#WRC2018 Book Spotlight: She Regrets Nothing by Andrea Dunlop

Title: She Regrets Nothing
Author: Andrea Dunlop
Published: February 2018, Washington Square Press
Format: Paperback, 400 pages

In the tradition of The Emperor’s Children and The House of Mirth, the forgotten granddaughter of one of New York’s wealthiest men is reunited with her family just as she comes of age—and once she’s had a glimpse of their glittering world, she refuses to let it go without a fight.

When Laila Lawrence becomes an orphan at twenty-three, the sudden loss unexpectedly introduces her to three glamorous cousins from New York who show up unannounced at her mother’s funeral. The three siblings are scions of the wealthy family from which Laila’s father had been estranged long before his own untimely demise ten years before.

Two years later, Laila has left behind her quiet life in Grosse Point, Michigan to move to New York City, landing her smack in the middle of her cousins’ decadent world. As the truth about why Laila’s parents became estranged from the family patriarch becomes clear, Laila grows ever more resolved to claim what’s rightfully hers. Caught between longing for the love of her family and her relentless pursuit of the lifestyle she feels she was unfairly denied, Laila finds herself reawakening a long dead family scandal—not to mention setting off several new ones—as she becomes further enmeshed in the lives and love affairs of her cousins. But will Laila ever, truly, belong in their world? Sly and sexy, She Regrets Nothing is a sharply observed and utterly seductive tale about family, fortune, and fate—and the dark side of wealth.

What readers are saying: 

“A sharp, glittering story of wealth, family, and fate and one’s woman search to find her place in it all.”--Buzzfeed

"She Regrets Nothing is the love child of Gossip Girl and Crazy Rich Asians, plus the social climbing of a Gatsby party."

“This deliciously entertaining novel is a spellbinding story about the dark side of wealth.”--Bustle

“A seductive tale about family, fortune, and the forgotten granddaughter of one of New York’s wealthiest men.”--Redbook

“An addicting story about family, greed, blackmail, New York, you name it. Oh, and the drama. There’s plenty of drama.”--HelloGiggles

"Readers who follow New York trends will enjoy the stories of fashion, clubs, and restaurants Dunlop builds to a gripping climax while delving into questions of family, loyalty, lust, wealth, power, and betrayal."--Library Journal

“Like a Gossip Girl for grownups, Dunlop’s latest looks at Manhattan society from the outsider’s perspective and is replete with fashion, sex, and glitzy locations…Laila is a compellingly conniving character.”--Booklist

"She Regrets Nothing made me feel like I'm back in high school, staying up late to finish that special book, the one that's part enriching classic family saga novel assigned by the teacher, part salacious, nasty page-turner about impossible rich kids. Andrea Dunlop infuses this story with insight into family dynamics, which makes She Regrets Nothing especially rich and multifaceted, engrossing. Fans of Becky Sharp and Brenda Walsh, this is your lucky day."--Caroline Kepnes, author of Hidden Bodies

"Laila Laurence and her family are people I am thrilled not to know personally and was equally thrilled to spend a few hours following around New York City in all the best clothes and shoes to all the best clubs and parties. She Regrets Nothing is addictive, dark, and twisty and, like its characters, delightfully conniving."--Laurie Frankel, author of This is How it Always Is

"Get ready to drop everything and lose yourself in how the other half lives. Andrea Dunlop's deliciously addictive new novel has it all: old money, big secrets, a privileged family, and a ruthless social climber trying desperately to shed her arriviste status and become one of them. A spot on social critique with perfectly executed plot twists, She Regrets Nothing is modern day Edith Wharton meets Gossip Girl. Blair Waldorf would certainly approve."--Karin Tanabe, author of The Gilded Years 


She Regrets Nothing  by Andrea Dunlop is one of  BookSparks "Winter Reads" reading selection picks.  

 Follow the #WRC2018 hashtag on twitter to read reviews on this book as well as reviews on the other winter books! Also, be sure to check out the BookSparks Facebook page for the #WRC2018  and other fun links.

Review: Cemetery Girl by David Bell

Title: Cemetery Girl
Author: David Bell
Published: February 2018, Berkley Books (First Published 2011)
Format: Paperback, 448 pages
Source: Publisher

A missing child is every parent's nightmare. What comes next is even worse in this riveting thriller from the bestselling and award-winning author of Bring Her Home. 
Tom and Abby Stuart had everything: a perfect marriage, successful careers, and a beautiful twelve-year-old daughter, Caitlin. Then one day Caitlin vanished without a trace. For a while they grasped at every false hope and followed every empty lead, but the tragedy ended up changing their lives, overwhelming them with guilt and dread, and shattering their marriage.

Four years later, Caitlin is found alive but won't discuss where she was or what happened. And when the police arrest a suspect connected to her disappearance, she refuses to testify. Taking matters into his own hands, Tom tries to uncover the truth--and finds that nothing that has happened yet can prepare him for what he is about to discover.

My thoughts: This is the third book I've read by David Bell and I can honestly say, I am a huge fan of his books. I have enjoyed each one I've read, falling more and more in love with his writing style and his characters. I find myself completely captivated by the story and the intensity of what is going on that I have a hard time putting the down.

What I love about these books is that as much as they are really good psychological suspense novels, they have such raw emotion written in as well. David Bell explores topics that lend to this in such a natural way, in this case, exploring a father's pain of losing and then finding his daughter but not quite understanding what really happened to her and definitely not understanding why she stayed away so long. Bell is really able to delve into the psychological aspect of the father's psyche during all this - how it affects his marriage, how he comes to terms with his daughter returning and how, quite naturally, he wants the man to pay for what he has done to her.

This book is quite gripping and addicting, but what makes it so is the voice. It's the way the story is told, all from Tom's point of view and while most of it is told in the present day, there are snippets that go back in time to Tom's childhood. These are quite telling and give a hint that Tom did not have the best of childhoods and now is starting to unravel at what has happened to his daughter.

This is David Bell's debut novel, and while I am reading it now, years after it has been released, after I have already read two books he has written after this one, I am astonished at the quality of the writing of this book. Clearly, David Bell has staying power if this was his first novel and he continues to put out amazing books. So far, I'm three for three with this powerhouse of a writer and I cannot wait to read his backlist while I wait for his next novel, Somebody's Daughter, due out this summer!

***So, a note about the I mentioned, this was his debut novel originally published in 2011, and was just recently re-released as a mass-market paperback in 2018 with a brand new cover. The cover above is the new cover and the cover below was the original. 


Thursday, February 08, 2018

Review: The Undertaker's Daughter by Sara Blaedel

Title: The Undertaker's Daughter
Author: Sara Blaedel
Series: Ilka, #1
Published: February 2018, Grand Central Publishing
Format: ARC Paperback, 320 pages
Source: Publisher

Already widowed by the age of forty, Ilka Nichols Jensen, a school portrait photographer, leads a modest, regimented, and uneventful life in Copenhagen. Until unexpected news rocks her quiet existence: Her father–who walked out suddenly and inexplicably on the family more than three decades ago–has died. And he’s left her something in his will: his funeral home. In Racine, Wisconsin.

Clinging to this last shred of communication from the father she hasn’t heard from since childhood, Ilka makes an uncharacteristically rash decision and jumps on a plane to Wisconsin. Desperate for a connection to the parent she never really knew, she plans to visit the funeral home and go through her father’s things–hoping for some insight into his new life in America–before preparing the business for a quick sale.

But when she stumbles on an unsolved murder, and a killer who seems to still be very much alive, the undertaker’s daughter realizes she might be in over her head . .

My thoughts: This was one of my most anticipated books I picked up last Spring at BookExpo...and I was so excited that not only did I get it, but I got to see and chat with the lovely Sara Blaedel for a few minutes while getting this book signed. I just love her...she is so down-to-earth and friendly. 

This is the first book in a new series that Sara Blaedel is writing, a series that is set here in the United States and features a brand new set of characters. Ilka Jensen suddenly finds herself the owner of a funeral home after the death of her father, who she has not seen in more than three decades. She knows nothing about the funeral home business, nor does she know much about her father either, most importantly why he walked out on her and her mother so many years ago.

What I loved about this series is that, while there is still a mystery to be solved, it's a bit more character-driven than Blaedel's Louise Rick series, which is one of my favorite series. But that's ok...I really liked this first book and I liked that there is a lot of information in this book that we find out - especially about the differences between funerals in Denmark and the US...this was quite fascinating. The mystery, on the other hand, was a bit more quiet than we are used to with Blaedel's books. It was still intriguing and kept me interested, but was definitely not the focal point of this book.

As a first book in a new series, we are introduced to a whole host of new characters, some of which I imagine will stick around, and some that are just part of this first book. But boy oh boy, were there some interesting characters, and some that I think will be sticking around are quite mysterious and I look forward to delving deeper into their backgrounds. I really liked Ilka and found that her constant internal struggles throughout this book were real and relatable. This was a major upheaval for her and I could only imagine how I would react if I were ever to be in her situation.

I am really looking forward to reading the next book in this series...first, because I am curious as to where the series as a whole will go, and second, because this first book ends with a bit of a cliffhanger and I can't wait to see how it gets resolved! I sure hope book 2 comes out soon!!! 

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