Snow by John Banville

Not realizing that John Banville was actually one of my favorite authors who used a pen name, I wanted to read Snow, literally, due to the title. We were under a blizzard warning and it seemed quite a appropriate. Imagine my surprise when I discovered I was reading the famed Booker prize winning author whom I’ve always love but by a different name!

Snow is a very traditional piece of crime fiction. St. John Strafford is sent out on a murder inquiry in a small town in Ireland. The year is 1957 and the Catholic church is well in control of everything. As St. John carries out his duty, Banville provides us with a critique of the Catholic church at the time, and the present because not much has changed, the Irish “troubles,” and does so while beautifully using the Snow as a character all unto itself. At times the Snow is beautiful; at times it is oppressing but always it is present as Strafford works to uncover the killer.

Banville has a style of writing that is slow, methodical, atmospheric and brilliant. I’ve grown a bit weary of “fast paced thrillers” and their formulaic gimmicks, so I truly appreciated the writing that Banfield provided in Snow.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradel

Kitchens of the Great Midwest is such a lovely tapestry of a tale. From beginning to end, the story of Eva envelops you whole and does not let you go long after you’ve turned the last page.

I have an ever growing love for midwestern authors especially since moving to this beautiful region of the US. The writing style of the authors in this area is distinctly different from their counterparts in the rest of the country and has a flavor all its own. When that style is combined with metaphors of food, cooking and love then the result is nothing short of brilliance and that is exactly what happens within Kitchens of the Great Midwest. It is difficult to describe the plot because, while the story intricately revolves around Eva as she grows and matures into both a gorgeous, kind young woman as well as a talented chef, there are stories of so many others in Eva’s life, each of whom made a difference to her, her path, her ultimate success. Their stories are just as important as hers even though they are secondary. It is the whole, the complete when combined that makes this book so delicious – not unlike the perfect menu.

I highly recommend Kitchens of the Great Midwest and sincerely hope that you enjoy it as much as I have.

The Virus by Janelle Diller

I’m not entirely sure that early 2021 was the best time to read The Virus especially as the various vaccines are being rolled out across the world and all are being thrust upon the population and lauded as “safe” and “effective.” Nevertheless, I did read it for the PopSugar Challenge and it was eye opening.

The Virus begins with the death of one person, a middle easterner, from Smallpox. Soon there are unconfirmed cases popping up all over the US and deaths are reported in every region of the country. Smallpox is a virus that has been tackled before so the government quickly ushered out a vaccine before the economy could suffer too badly and before too much hysteria set in. In order to travel, attend school, etc., you had to have the vaccine. 🙂 Sounds a little familiar already, doesn’t it? The itty bitty problem is that there is no “vaccine.” What it actually does do is for you to find out by reading this fast paced, wonderfully written thriller.

After reading other reviews I would like to post that this is not an anti-vaxxer book. It is a government conspiracy book not unlike so many others out there. That is what fiction writing is about – asking the what if’s, how about’s, could it be’s…. To read something other than what it actually is into this book shows that reviewer’s own prejudices. This was a great thriller and I highly recommend it – even now.

Shadow Falls by #WendyDranfield

Finally! A seriously great crime fiction novel that does not sugar coat the US legal system. Thank you Wendy Dranfield!!!

I first read about Shadow Falls, the first in the Madison Harper series, on Zooloo’s Book Diary blog. It sounded so intriguing and different from the norm that I had to give it a try. I am SO glad that I did. Madison Harper is a former detective who is on early parole for manslaughter of a fellow cop. She insists that she was set up and is determined to prove her innocence. To help her, she enlists the aide of Nate, also a recently released prisoner who was wrongfully convicted of murder and was on death row in Texas -three months out from his death sentence. Now this is a great combination right here. Seriously! When writers come up with flawed characters this is not the norm but they are so, well, I won’t say perfect together but they are great. However, their perspectives are so incredibly spot-on for what we are experiencing in today’s US society that I was shocked with its accuracy. All politics aside, though, the real mystery in this first book is a missing child that Nate has been hired to find. Madison’s answers have to wait until this child is found and what a crazy, mixed up world this poor child has fallen into. Don’t ever send your child to summer camp!!!

To say that I loved this book is an understatement. Not only did I read it in one sitting, I immediately downloaded book two and read it!! Now what!? I want MORE!!!!! Thank you Zoe for another terrific review and putting me onto another great read and author!!

Valentine’s Day with Snowman Paul by Yossi Lapid

Sooooo, it’s nearly Valentine’s Day. Are you ready? Do you celebrate with hearts and roses or, perhaps, you do the “galentine” thing with your friends? Me? Nothing. For nearly 50 years I have despised this day, this month, like a curse on my existence. Name something horrific that can happen to someone and I can assure you that it has happened to me on this day. HOWEVER – that is a really huge HOWEVER – this year a dear author and someone I’ve come to call friend sent me a book all about this day that I despise and it has changed my entire week, my month and, dare I say, outlook? Valentine’s Day with Snowman Paul is a simple and yet profound look at the true meaning of love. What is love asks a snowman who believes he has no feelings…. As Paul discovers, love is so many different things to each and every one of us. It can be family, it can be someone special, it can our love of SNOW, most importantly it can be our friends who come along just when we need them the most.

This is, as always, a marvelously written children’s story and the children in my life (including myself) loved it. We have read and reread it multiple times. Joanna Pasek has created beautiful illustrations that capture the imagination of all who look upon them and lend so much enrichment to the book. I simply cannot recommend this book highly enough to any and all who have young children or to those who may need a bit of a lift this holiday.

Yossi, thank you for your gift of friendship. Your love continues to make this world a better place for us all.

The Plus One by #SarahArcher

Part Sci-Fi, part RomCom, The Plus One is a fun, funny and endearing story about what may possibly be our near future.

I actually hesitated even calling this “sci-fi” because the reality is that AI is far to close to the reality portrayed in The Plus One. Kelly is a robotics engineer who is a genius but also a bit socially inept. When she needs a date to a wedding and cannot find one, she builds him instead. Meet Ethan, the perfect “man” for Kelly. But that is the problem, he IS the perfect man for her. She knows she cannot “keep” him, he isn’t a pet, but she has developed real feeling for her AI creation. The story of Kelly and Ethan is as endearing as it is funny. I loved them BOTH and love the perfect ending even more.

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.

Caste: The Origins of Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson

Caste, by Pulitzer Prize winning author Isable Wilkerson, is by far one of the most intriguing, well told non-fiction books that I’ve read in ages.

As a member of a group of Americans who supports and and is activist for the Kashmiri people in India, I have long been shocked at the caste system of India. I could not fathom how one group of people could institutionally stigmatize another. Imagine my dismay when I read how engrained America’s own caste system is within nearly every instituion in our society. As Wilkerson examines systemic caste systems here in the US, in India and Nazi Germany, she lays out an argument that castes have always been part of society – but they do not have to be.

The Germans under Hitler studied the caste system in order to learn how to out-cast the Jewish people. From the very inception the founders of the colonies in the “new world” used these same ideas to marginalize the indigenous people as well as the African slaves they brought with them. FROM ITS INCEPTION the US has used this system to denigrate one group or another – from the slaves, to the Irish to the Italians and, today, the Latino immigrants and Muslims. It is through this marginalization that the “middle” and upper class maintain their power and stroke their egos.

Through rigurous documentation and research, as well as personal antedotes, Wilkerson does a marvelous job of stating her case. She then gives us hope for ways to tear down the caste system for a better, more equal future. My one drawback, as I have done in this review, Wilkerson has a tendency to set aside her objectiveness and her personal feeling come through. This made the book more readable, but it also can call into question as person’s facts. The facts in this book can and should stand for themselves.

I highly recommend, and have done so to everyone I know, Caste:The Origins of Our Discontents to all readers particularly those who want to invest in better, fairer future.

Thankfully in Love: A Thanksgiving Anthology

What a delight to find a book that features my favorite holiday: Thanksgiving! Not just one but FOUR short stories that center around Thanksgiving, families and love. Lest you think this is only for Americans, one of the stories takes place over the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday!

Written by four well known and well loved authors, each of the stories described below accentuate family, love and gratitude which we all need in abundance in this crazy Covid year!

No Place Like Home by Anna J Stewart is very family centric with a whole lot of romance thrown in for good measure

Second Chance by Kayla Perrin is about, yep, second chances at love. This one, with its wonderful repartee, was my favorite of the four

Dog Gone Holiday by Melinda Curtis tells the story of a couple who is struggling during the holiday but find hope in one another.

Love Guides the Way by Cari Lynn Webb is your typical romance about two people brought together but who doubt the sincerity of one another.

While the anthology started out strong, the last story was not a favorite of mine. However, that is likely due to the fact that I’m not a big romance fan. I like them light and sweet and only during the holidays. Never-the-less, as a whole, I absolutely recommend Thankfully in Love to start off your holiday season with a grategul, thankful heart.

Thanks to each of the authors mentioned above, @Netgalley for my copy of this warm and entertaining book.