Christmas at Maplemont Manor by Julie Manthey

Christmas at Maplemont Manor is exactly where I want to be every Christmas! Set in a small town, Maplemont Manor is host and donor to many holiday festivities in the town of Maplemont. When its new heir moves to town, he instantly becomes the most eligible bachelor in town. Good thing that bakery owner, Noelle Kringle, doesn’t like or want to be one of his admirers. But this is a holiday romance so, of course, sparks fly when the two of them together and readers will broadly smile as the romance begins to blossom.

Yes, Maplemont Manor is a bit predictable but the characters are wonderful, the story quite magical and the setting is perfection. What more do we really want from a holiday story if not magic?

Thank you to #Netgalley, the #IBPA and #JulieManthey for my copy of #ChristmasatMaplemontManor

Out of Her Mind by T.R.Ragan

T.R. Ragan has officially become my new favorite crime fiction author – I just cannot stop reading her books!

Out of Her Mind is the second book in the Sawyer Brooks series. If you haven’t read the first one, Don’t Make a Sound then stop – drop everything – and go read it right now. It’s fantastic. Sawyer Brooks is a crime beat reporter with a amazingly sordid past. Her past, and that of her sisters, is what drives Brooks to investigate a story without stopping until she discovers the truth. I honestly wish we still had crime reporters like this. The world needs them! When a child’s bones are found and another child goes missing, Brooks begins searching for similarities. With the help of her sister, Aria, they soon discover a string of missing children. Could this be the work of seriel kidnapper/murder? Brooks certainly thinks so.

There is a seperate sub-plot that runs along with this primary one revolving around The Black Wig women. I won’t divulge much about this group but I find their story just as fascinating as Sawyer Brooks.

This series, like others that Ragan writes, is a well done piece of crime fiction. The characters – all of them – are well written and fully fleshed out for the reader. You see their weaknesses as well as their strengths and, beginning in this second book, you also begin to see their growth past their pain and their insecurities. I highly recommend Out of Her Mind as well as the remainder of the series.

Thanks to #Netgalley and #ThomasMercer for my copy of Our of Her Mind.

Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Cafe by Jessica Redland

Starry Skies Over the Chocolate Pot Cafe is a reprinting and updated version of Christmas at The Chocolate Pot Cafe. The author added additional material to the middle and end of the original story giving the updated version a more all around, year through theme while still emphasizing the holidays.

I absolutely adored the book, enjoy Redland’s writing very much and the characters and story plot were perfect especially for this time of year. I have not read the other books in the Whitsborough Bay series and this worked fine as a stand alone. However, I fully intend to back track and read the first six in the series now. Enjoy!

Banned Book Week Day Three – Children’s Books

When I began researching for Banned Book Week I naturally assumed that the majority of the banned or challenged books would those that many adults find “subversive.” You know, Mein Kampf, The Anarchist Cookbook, even some of the existential writings of Satre or Camus. I was so wrong. The MOST OFTEN challenged and banned books in the US are children’s books and the most challenged of all writers is be the beloved Judy Blume. WTH!? I had to read further to understand because clearly I was a “bad” parent. My kids read ALL of the books – LOL! Below are a few of the books that have been banned by certain school libraries in the US:

In 1986, the West Allis Milwaukee School District banned this particular poetry collection because of “drug reference, suicide, death and a disrespect for truth and authority.” Shortly after, a school district in Pennsylvania did the same.
Harriet, it seems, was too smart for her own good. This book was banned because parents were concerned it was teaching kids to “lie, spy, talk back and curse.”  I have news for you – kids are learning to lie, back talk and curse from their parents, peers and president, not from Harriet the Spy
The addition of this book to the list breaks my heart. Have you ever read a more wonderful story or seen more beautifully illustrated pages? A favorite of children all over the world, this book was banned by many southern states for depicting child abuse (the no-go supper for Max), it’s also been challenged for being “too dark” and showing supernatural elements. Hey, I was raised in the south. Going without supper was the least abusive form of child abuse I encountered!

However, the most challenged author of all, including “adult books” is Judy Blume, the author of “Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret.” I’m not sure I would have made it through the tween/early teen years with this book. My parents were of the ultra conservative bordering on cult religion and we did not speak of anything remotely dealing with our bodies. Nope. Books like this were a resource for me more than just enjoyable reading. But let’s look at another of Blume’s banned books: Blubber. Have you or kids read Blubber?

Blubber is about bullying – really serious bullying. It revolves around a group of girls who bully another group, then that group gets more girls together and they torture the original group of girls who re-groups with different girls and torture the second group and on and on and on. You know, real life stuff here. Seriously! The reason the book was banned was because parents didn’t agree with the fact that none of the girls were punished. HELLO!?! Bullies seldom are punished – in our schools, in our neighborhoods, in our politics or in our presidency!! I was 4 foot 11 inches tall. To say that I got bullied is an understatement. Add to that the aforementioned religious aspect and I was tortured. No one ever got punished – EXCEPT FOR ME!! Geesh. Do parents live in some kind or drug induced bubble that they do not realize this!?! (sigh) I could rant on for ages but I think Judy Blume, herself, explains this perfectly:

“When I started to write, it was the ’70s, and throughout that decade, we didn’t have any problems with book challenges or censorship. It all started really in a big way in 1980 … It came with the election, the presidential election of 1980, and the next day, I’ve been told, the censors were crawling out of the woodwork and challenging, like, ‘It’s our turn now, and we’re going to say what we don’t want our children to read.,” Blume says. “”But I think it’s more than that. It’s what we don’t want our children to know, what we don’t want to talk to our children about; and if they read it, they’ll know it, or they’ll question it.”

Well. Isn’t that the purpose behind ALL bannings and censorship: We don’t want you to know because then you’ll know and you will question it.

READ BANNED BOOKS!!! Be the one who knows!

A Heartfelt Christmas Promise @nancynaigle

Rating: 5 out of 5.

It’s beginning to look a lot like…. Too soon!?! There is a cold snap in the air today in the midwest and it has been the perfect time to cozy up with a warm cup of coffee and read; Nancy Naigle’s newest holiday tale was the perfect choice! Happy Pub Day to A Heartfelt Christmas Promise!

I absolutely adore holiday stories and read them throughout the year. There are some that are strictly “holiday themed” but so many others are really wonderful feel-good books that make you happy just reading them. A Heartfelt Christmas Promise, while absolutely revolving around the holidays – it begins with Thanksgiving and goes through Christmas – is, at its roots, a beautiful love story and I LOVED this story!

READ AN EXCERPT HERE

Vanessa is the consummate over achieving business woman who excels at all that she sets her mind to accomplish. She hasn’t made time for friends or romance and rarely has time for family. When a new project in Paris comes up at work, she is positive she will be sent to Paris for the holidays. Her boss, unfortunately has other plans. Vanessa is sent to a small mountain town that makes fruitcake to shut down the company in order to put in a warehouse. Yes, I know this sounds like so many Hallmark Movies and I thought it was going to exactly like that. I was WRONG! I won’t divulge how it is different but, please, believe me when I say that it is. Vanessa is not your sappy woman who gets all emotional upon arrival; she sees a solution and she goes about accomplishing her goals – goals that will benefit everyone. Of course there is a snafu – it wouldn’t be a holiday story without one – but in the end it all works out! Sniffle Sniffle…. yeah, I cried.

There are so many things to love (!) about A Heartfelt Christmas Promise. First and foremost, Vanessa is intelligent and never makes excuses for being a strong, independent woman nor does she shy away from being a caring one! Second, this book includes so many age groups from Buck and Anna who are older, to Vanessa who is younger, to Misty who is a teen. Each of these people were depicted as able, smart, capable adults. It is so rare to read books that don’t make older adults or teens out to be stereotypical and this was very appreciated! Third, there are horses and puppies. Oh, hello!? Naigle did such a great job at depicting the Percheron horses that I swear I could hear their thundering hoofbeats going down my cobblestone street!!

Beautiful, aren’t they?

We have llamas pulling our sleigh here in my hometown so I cannot complain but can you imagine these beauties pulling Santa!? WOW! The horses play an integral part of the story and add so much character to the overall book!

What more can I say!? I LOVED A Heartfelt Christmas Promise! Whether you are an early reader of holiday books or just thinking about later, this one definitely should be on to-read list for the holidays!

Thanks to #Netgalley, #nancynaigle and #StMartinsGriffin for my copy of this marvelous book!

The Boy From the Woods by Harlan Coben

Let me be frank, I’m not an avid reader of Harlan Coben’s work. I didn’t enjoy his series at all but I’ve come to appreciate many of his stand-alone thrillers. That said, The Boy From the Woods was a non-stop read for me.

The boy referenced the title was found decades ago living, surviving, wandering in the woods. He was placed into foster care, later adopted but as an adult he still prefers to live in the woods – naturally – albeit with state of the art “of the grid” conveniences. He had a normal upbringing and even attended West Point – which seems to be a sticking point for many other readers that perplexes me. Now, he works occasionally as a “consultant” to his foster sister’s private security firm. When his god-son’s friend goes missing, they turn to Wilde (the boy, now man) to help them find the missing girl. After all, he has a skill set that makes him uniquely qualified. Soon, another teen goes missing and we realize that there is far more to this story than realized at first.

There are multiple characters in the book despite the title suggesting otherwise. One of the primary personalities is Hester, the mother of the boy who “discovered” Wilde so many years before. Hester is now one of the most famous and successful attorneys in the New York area. I absolutely adored her. Her wit, intelligence, insight was like nothing I’ve read or known in a long time. She would say exactly what I was thinking every single time! She’s seventy years old and still crushing on the local chief of police. I LOVE when there are well written characters in books over the age of twenty!!

The book also has a myriad of plot lines which apparently confused many readers. I thought they were great and tied together very well at the end of the book. Bullying is a strong theme in this book and it is discussed brilliantly. How many times do we have to see nastiness only a daily basis before we become immune to it? Obviously, for Americans, less than four years has been enough. There are discussions about Wilde’s intelligence which I found very insightful. How can a boy who literally raised himself for years turn out to be so brilliant? Hmm, anyone who has ever been around self-educated, unschooled homeschoolers would know the answer to this question. Some of the most remarkable young adults I know were “unschooled.” There are stories of young romance, romance over the age of 60, falling in love after the death of a spouse – so much love and yet so much hate as we deal with the politicians and their puppet masters throughout the book. In a nutshell, reading The Boy From the Woods was quite a bit like living in the year 2020. There was a lot to deal with but Coben deftly handled it all and brought it to terrific, if somewhat, surprising conclusion. I just really REALLY wish that Wilde and Hester were characters in a new series from Coben because I didn’t get nearly enough of them in this book!!

Banned Book Week, Day 2: The oh-so-very obscene “Ulysses” by James Jones

It’s rare that a book is banned before it’s even published, Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller comes to mind, but that is what happened to Ulysses by James Jones. Banned in both England and the US to protect the “delicate sensibilities of women”, publishers took their case to court and won! Seriously, the delicate sensibilities of women!? Aren’t we, as women, all tired of people deciding for us what might offend our sensibilities!?

So what exactly is Ulysses? An amazingly long book, Ulysses tells the story in great detail of one day in the life of Dubliners in the early 20th century. It is a stream of consciousness centering on the life of Leopold Bloom and his friends. Critics have complained for over a century that Joyce’s lack of punctuation, run on sentences, interior monologues, etc., made this one of the worst, not best, pieces of literature. Thankfully, people all over the world disagree.

I first read Ulysses in HIGH SCHOOL – apparently one of my literature teachers was well ahead of her time since I also read Vonnegut, Camus, Sartre and more in her class which is unheard of in today’s high school programs. At the time, Ulysses was enigma to me. I wasn’t mature enough or well read enough to fully comprehend it but I still am appreciative of that early introduction. I re-read it at University and again as a homeschool mother teaching my own kids. Yes, there is profound cursing. Yes, there is masturbation. Oh, hello? Because “delicate sensibilities” don’t curse or hear it daily? Teenagers don’t masturbate – as do adults? Please. If you’re going to do it then you should read it as well! Ulysses was and is a marvelous piece of literature and, hopefully, you have read it. If not, why not? It will take you FOREVER to read but it is worth it!!

So that you know, Ulysses also has been burned in the United States, England, Canada and Ireland. Whew, so glad we are nothing like those Nazis, aren’t you?

The Good Sister by Sally Hepworth

I absolutely loved (!) Sally Hepworth’s first novel, The Mother in Law, so I suspected that I would enjoy reading her second novel, The Good Sister. Holy cow – not only did I enjoy it, I thought it was better than the first! Well done Ms. Hepworth!

We are first introduced to Fern and Rose and it becomes apparent that Fern is somewhere “on the spectrum.” I add quotations because it’s never stated but implied. She leads a very simple life, works very quietly in the library, avoids bright lights, crowds and loud noises and this is before COVID so, you know, she’s a little different. Hmmm, she also sounds a LOT like me. Her sister Rose, on the other hand, is presented as the very responsible twin. We’re not to trust Fern, of course, because of her issues and Rose has to do so much to care for Fern. Their life has been difficult, their mother was, well, also difficult so the two of them are very co-dependent. Rose is unable to have children and Fern gets the bright idea to have a child for Rose if she only can find a sperm donor who will agree. Little did the two sisters realize that Ferns decision to have a baby would turn their lives upside down!

Oh gosh, so many innuendoes, so many twists and subtle hints and still I wasn’t sure until the end how this one was going to turn out! I truly loved this one think you will as well. It’s domestic noir at its finest!! Set to be published in 2021, this is one you will want put on your TBR now.

Because You’re Mine by Rea Frey

Never for one moment did I envision how this book would end – never.

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Because You’re Mine is the intriguing story of the interwoven lives of three people and one charming young boy who is on the spectrum. Mom, Lee, who works her butt off to provide a loving, comfortable and safe home for her son, Mason. His tutor, Noah, for whom Lee has a growing interest but tries to quell it in order not to upset Mason’s routine and Grace, the dutiful and caring friend. The story is told from each of their perspectives and we get glimpses into each of their lives, thoughts and concerns but primarily it all revolves around Lee and Mason. When Grace convinces Lee to get away for a weekend with two other friends, leaving Mason in Noah’s care, it seems that Lee finally will get some much needed time for herself. However, as the weekend progresses, secrets are revealed and only three of the friends come away alive. Sounds familiar, right? Wrong! Because You’re Mine is a unique twist on this theme and it is one that I’m sure you find interesting.

#Netgalley #BecauseYou’reMine

The Familiar Dark #AmyEngel @aengelwrites

Everyone is a suspect.

Everyone has something to hide.

And someone will answer for her daughter’s murder.

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It has been a while since I’ve written about Southern Noir and I’ve missed it especially after reading the perfect book for this collection, The Familiar Dark.

Eve Taggert was raised on the wrong side of the tracks – far, far away from those tracks, in a trailer with a drug using/selling mother. Things didn’t get a lot worse than Eve’s home life. Her family had the reputation of being the worst of the very worst. Now, as adults, Eve has moved into town and has a daughter whom she adores. Her brother is a respectable cop. Eve lives entirely for her daughter, Junie, and is completely devastated when Junie and her best friend is found murdered in the park. In any other town in America, Junie’s death would be considered reprehensible but in this dirty backwoods Ozark town, it’s just another day in America. That is why Eve has vowed to find the killer herself, even if it means reverting to her mother’s brand of vigilante justice.

Let me just write a few WOWs here! WOW! Oh WOW! Seriously WOW!! Because I am stubborn, I didn’t read the first book by Engel, The Roanoke Girls, which was all the buzz a few years ago. That’s because I’m really stupid!! Amy Engel is a southern author to be reckoned with whose flair for noir puts Nordic authors to shame! From the opening lines, which perfectly capture the last horrifying dying moments of the two girls, to the volatile and satisfying ending, there is not one moment of The Familiar Dark that is not brilliantly written. Every.Single.Word. The characters are raw, gritty, dirty, corrupt and corruptible. Even the richest in this town are grimy and you know it, you feel it. Those of us who ever have lived in the Ozarks know towns exactly like this one. We’ve known people like Eve and her family and Engel skillfully brings the town and these people off of the pages and into our reality with a flourish of her pen-stroke.

I’m not going to elaborate on the plot, I’m simply going to say that if you have not read The Familiar Dark yet, I have no idea what you are waiting for. Go. Get it right now and start reading it today and, if you haven’t read The Roanoke Girls, then make sure you get that one as well, because of course I had to go back and read that one too!

The Familiar Dark gets all the stars all the way up to the highest Ozark Mountaintop! WOW!