Dec 23, 2015

Christmas Bliss by Mary Kay Andrews (Unabridged Audio Version)

It's been a few years since fans of Mary Kay Andrews' partners in crime pals Weezie Foley and Bebe Loudermilk have been heard from. In fact, the last time was in 2006 with her previous Christmas tale, BLUE CHRISTMAS. Readers were first introduced to the duo way back in 2002 in her smash hit SAVANNAH BLUES.

CHRISTMAS BLISS was released in 2013 and picks up with Weezie mere days away from her wedding to chef Daniel and Bebe very pregnant with her first child with beau, Harry, the deep-sea fishing captain. Both women seem to be charting near perfect lives but rough waters are soon on the horizon. As Weezie is making final preparations for her second, and hopefully, last wedding, her fiance is in New York City working as a guest chef in one of the city's premier establishments. As the days go by and the wedding gets closer, Daniel is almost impossible to reach. To make matters worse, newspaper clippings of photos with him and the beautiful owner of the restaurant cause Weezie's insecurities to surface. At the same time, Bebe gets a visit from a mysterious woman indicating that Bebe's divorce from her previous husband and con-man, Richard was never finalized, which means she is still married to him and could legally, according to the laws of the state of Georgia, could be considered her baby's legal father!

While Weezie jets off to NYC to find out what's going on with her fiance and his sexy boss, Bebe is determined to locate Richard and get divorce papers re-filed before Harry finds out she's still married before the baby comes.


Although I always love when MKA brings these two fun characters back, I was a bit disappointed there wasn't a little more substance to the story. I hate even saying that as it is a Christmas-themed book and it was charming in that regard. In the past, Weezie and Bebe have been through some crazy fun adventures and compared to those, this was a bit tame. That being said, I was glad to see both of their relationships moving forward, especially since it's been forever since we've heard form them. The story had all the charm as in previous books with the same fun characters and it was a cute story to read for Christmas time. However, I do hope that MKA won't wait so long to bring them back and maybe with more of an adventurous storyline.


When this book first came out in 2013, I received a hard copy from the publisher. Unfortunately, I only made it a third of the way through and had to set it aside because it was too difficult for me to read the print in the book. (My eyes had started getting worse at that time). I was very sad I couldn't finish the book then and felt terrible about it.  So earlier this month I used one of my credits at Audible and purchased the audio version so I could listen to it for this Christmas season. Better late then never, I say!

Kathleen McInerney did a good job of bringing these two lovable characters to life and her Southern accent was spot on without going overboard. Though I will say, later on in the book, it started to be a little syruppy for me. I know I'm just being picky and maybe I was a bit frustrated by the lack of adventure in the story, but I have to be honest. I think if there is to be a Weezie and Bebe Mystery Number 5, I will read it reather than listen.

The bottom line is this is a cute, quick Christmas-themed book that I don't regret reading at all. The characters are beloved and I will never give up on them. This book would make a great Christmas present and is perfect for reading on a Christmas break either from school or work.

CHRISTMAS BLISS (Unabridged Audio Version)
Series: Weezie and Bebe Mystery
Author: Mary Kay Andrews
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Published:     October 2013
Length: 7 Hrs 39 Mins
Source: Purchased

Dec 19, 2015

Non-Fiction Saturday: A Common Struggle by Patrick Kennedy & Stephen Fried

It's Saturday and that means another great non-fiction book recommendation and review from Emerson Clauss for Non-Fiction Saturday. The book, A COMMON STRUGGLE deals with the sensitive, but very current topic of mental health.

A COMMON STRUGGLE by Patrick J. Kennedy and Stephen Fried is a book highlighting the courage and sacrifice to share a personal story of one person’s shortcomings and “demons”.  Kennedy shares his personal tribulations dealing with mental health challenges, so as to enlighten us and show us there are solutions to these problems.  The book is not a “tell all”, like the many we have seen about the Kennedy clan.  Only when it helps tell his story, does Patrick include the influence of his immediate family, then the more encompassing, Kennedy extended Family.  Obviously, his immediate family, including his most famous and notable father Ted, are in his story.
With the topic of mental health so much in the news today, but rarely talked about in depth or with solutions and treatment in mind, Kennedy pierces that veil.  He speaks openly of his battles, sometimes daily, to function in the real world.  He is brutal in his honesty and shares how his family and congressional staff, after election to public office, help him function daily and sometimes cover for his dis-function.
Probably most of us cannot imagine the pressure “A Kennedy” grows up under; that alone is probably overwhelming.  Add to that, personality traits that are genetic as well as destructive habits totally ingrained in your familial culture; the fact he or any Kennedy child survives this gauntlet is amazing.  
Patrick chronicles his battles, while in school, onto college and into public life.  This is an insider’s account of what a young adult, from a prominent family does, as he moves from the protected world of private schools and colleges, into adult life; with all that he implores to try to be functioning ‘as expected’.  
His coping mechanisms include prescribed medications, others drugs used not from prescriptions, alcohol abuse, and how quickly all of this can get out of control.  For someone who is already struggling with very complex issues before any medication/alcohol abuse; this is a big challenge.
In following with so many of his family’s decisions to enter public life, Kennedy chooses the same.  He starts small, than runs for the US Congress; winning a seat in Rhode Island.  He uses this platform to start in earnest, his fight for Mental Health parity, for inclusion in insurance offerings and covered health issues, and for de-stigmatizing the diagnosis itself.  He expends much of his time and political capitol on this most personal issue; he has (had) some big successes we still benefit from today
The only thing I had to keep fighting to keep out of my head while reading this book, is that Patrick chronicles what and how a person of privilege is able to afford help, hire folks to assist, and always have his family’s wealth to count and fall back on for assistance; something most us would never be able to afford; a safety net we do not have.  
If this story could get lost in this privileged reality, Patrick does well to bring it back down to earth.  He shares how important certain people become; the ones who understand the illness and those who will support your recovery, every minute of every day.  This book is full of personal insight and raw feelings; it is compelling.
At the time Patrick was in Congress, he made Mental Health his obsession.  He has since made its awareness, discussion and availability of treatment, his life’s work through his foundation and ongoing efforts today.  

For anyone who has struggled with mental illness and available treatment, this is an important book. For anyone who has tried to help someone with mental health issues, whether successful or not; this book is helpful.  For anyone who wants to make a difference in our society in reference to mental health and how it affects us all; this book is a must read.

I** If you'd like to discuss this book or other non-fiction with Emerson, he can be reached at

Authors: Patrick Kennedy & Stephen Fried
Publisher: Blue Rider Press
Published: October 5, 2015
Length: 425pp

Dec 5, 2015

Non Fiction Saturday: Red Notice by Bill Browder

As regular readers of SGR blog know, I don't spend a lot of time reading Non Fiction. My long-time, RL friend, Emerson Clauss, has been a guest review several times and I've decided to make him a permanent contributor so he can share what he discovers in that genre with my readers.  He keeps me tuned in to so many great non-fiction books and his enthusiasm is contagious. I'll be sharing his book on what I will be calling Non-Fiction Saturday! The book he is spot-lighting today is one I have every intention of reading.

RED NOTICE by Bill Browder is a fantastic tale of intrigue, high finance, spies, big investments with surprises at every turn.  What makes this book an amazing read, is that it is not only a true story, it will pull every heart-string you have, will leave you hoping for the best in our modern world and how the "world" in Russia works; today with Putin at the helm.
Browder starts his story of financial wizardry with his struggle to make a name for himself in the world of high finance and big deals; the dreams of Wall Street.  He makes early inroads into the business the old fashioned way; with a good education, good instinct and plenty of hard work and gutsy moves.  
Bill finds himself looking for a way to differentiate himself in a pool full of sharks, and finds a niche in Russia.  Along the way, he gives us mere mortals a view into the world of high finance and big investing.  He weaves a great story of relationships, educated gambles and how the investment world works.
Russia creates a challenge for Bill and his new company, his associates and most importantly, his well healed investors.  It is a challenge with huge rewards, for what he has stumbled into and uncovered.  As Russia is trying to enter the new era of open borders and inviting outsiders into their economy, Browder finds some market and valuation anomalies that make the risk worth pursuing.  And pursuing he does.
With his new company, Bill assembles a team to research and vet all sorts of obtuse information about particular Russian companies and the folks who run them.  At each turn he is more surprised and astounded; how could these fantastic deals not have been found by anyone else...
Browder and his company spend years developing their business and investments in Russia, through some monumental changing times for Russia and the "Federation".  Russia is undergoing a lot of ups and downs, economically, socially and in the business world.  However, the realities of doing business in Russia soon comes home to roost.
This true story starts sounding like an exciting Bond movie, except the players are real, have real lives and families.  It does keep you on the edge of your seat. After a while, I was unable to put the book down, and had to know what happened next.  And, when Bill's story started intersecting with current international news and the circumstances surrounding these events, it became that much more intriguing.
For all of the players in this real life drama, the stakes get higher at every turn, and they find that the old ways of Russia, with government being controlled by the infamous oligarchs; is alive and well.  Possibly, the old ways of Russia have never gone away, and have never gotten better, despite the face the Kremlin tries to put on.  
Bill and his comrades become more aware of this, when the attacks begin on them, their investments and people who represent and do business with them.  And as most American are aware, the government in Russia is scary at best, sinister at its worst.  
The clandestine meetings, phone calls and face to face visits will keep you riveted to every turn of this tale.  The courage of the people working for Bill and with him to salvage the best of a worsening situation is inspiring.  Unfortunately this courage taunts the Russian government to unleash its wrath, to the demise of one of Bills associates, Sergei Magnitsky, soon to be killed in prison after his arrest.

What is so heartening about this drama, playing out in real time for Bill and his associates, is how many people stayed courageous to help each other to safety under some extreme risk and stress, to extricate a few of them from Russia, and to eventually avenge Sergei's death in a most unique way.  Bill puts his business life on hold in the late stages of this dilemma and sets his site on safeguarding his associates and pursuing justice for Sergei.
He puts his intelligence, strenuous work ethic and earnest efforts (and I'm sure considerable money) to extracting some justice from the folks in Russia responsible for his friends death and for his own persecution.  This brings him squarely into the middle of some heavy world politics, where the stakes are high; but his personal risks are still bigger.  After all, he has angered the Russian Government, one where Vladimir Putin, former KGB officer is now President.  Putin does not like to lose or be shown up... we have all heard the stories, rumors of his detractors disappearing.
Browder lays much of the workings of Putin's Russia right on the table; and survives to tell this story.  And it is a riveting story, one that will bring a tear to your eyes more than once; after you are pulled successfully into this drama.  And there is much to learn about this story in the archives of recent history in news accounts.  I know I will be digging further into this; it's too intriguing not to.
To say this story is "told", would put it into the past.  Two things about that:  some of the story is still in the news and the players are still involved; one is a pissed off President Putin.  And yes, we have all heard  stories of assassinations traced back to Putin or his cronies...  
Bill closes his book with one thing I would like to quote him talking about countermeasures to safeguard himself and his family: "...this book.  If I'm killed, you {the reader} will know who did it.  When my enemies read this book, they will know that you know... That simple act will keep the spirit of Sergei Magnitsky alive and go further than any army of bodyguards in keeping me safe."   
This book is an exceptional read, hard to put down, even for Thanksgiving Dinner.  Bill Browder has the courage to share his story, the story of his friend, Sergei Magnitsky and that of enduring courage, the strength of the human spirit at its best.   If this book fails to pull you in and hold your attention and heart... you may want to check for a pulse.

Author: Bill Browder
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Published: Reprint Edition October 2015
Length: 416 pp