Sep 29, 2013

The Sunday Salon: A Preview of New Releases Headed My Way

Thankfully, Mother Nature has not let me down. We are finally enjoying some fall-like weather down here in Florida. Now, that's not to say it won't get hot again before it's all over, but I'll take what I can get. Fall is my absolute favorite time of year. I love having the windows open and giving my air conditioner a break but the best part is getting up early, grabbing a cup of coffee and a book and enjoying the cool morning air on the porch. Soon, the heat from the sun won't run me off as quickly and I can stay out there as long as I like.

Along with the promise of cooler weather, is the anticipation of some great new books coming out in the next few months. I've been really lucky lately with the books that have found their way to my mailbox and inbox. Here are some of the new books that will be arriving very soon. These are courtesy of St. Martin's Press. Click on the titles for more information and cover image.

The publisher is touting this as a 'thrilling contemporary  ghost story with both horror and heart'. And Stephen King has raved about it as well, so it didn't take me long to add this to my list of choices.

  • LOST LAKE by Sarah Addison Allen (February 2014)
Since I am a huge fan of Ms. Allen's, I jumped at the chance to get my hands on an advanced copy of her latest! It was a no-brainer for me.

There is a lot of talk about this debut novel becoming a huge bestseller. This moving saga tells the story of four Wisconsin-born friends who grow up together. One of them never left their small town but the other three moved on to bigger lives. Now, years later, they are all back home but secrets, old hurts and differing memories arise that change all their lives. I haven't really explained it well, but I'm really looking forward to this one.

This is a biography of one of my favorite rock bands ever, the Allman Brothers Band. I'm a huge southern rock girl and I was even lucky enough to meet Greg Allman many, many years ago at a friend's house right here in Ocala. This is sure to be an enlightening history of this legendary band.

This novel has been described as 'haunting' and 'moving', so naturally I was in right away. It focuses on one couple, at their best and at their worst. When I saw that Richard Russo, who is the king of great sagas, raved about his book, I knew I couldn't miss it.

A funny Christmas tale featuring two of my favorite MKA's characters, Weezie and her best friend Bebe. I am so happy to be able to read this for the holiday season. I'm sure these two crazy Savannah girls will provide me with many laughs and adventures. Wouldn't miss this for anything!


Those are just a few of the books I'll be featuring here on my blog in the coming months. I hope you'll check 'em out. Thanks to St. Martin's Press and Jessica Hatch for the generous opportunity to have first crack at these new releases.. 

Now I'm off to make my first batch of chili for this new season and do some reading. Enjoy your Sunday and hopefully some terrific Fall weather! 

Sep 24, 2013

Review: Best Staged Plans by Claire Cook

Sandy Sullivan is a professional home stager, living in Boston with her tennis-loving husband and college graduate son who has moved into their basement and rarely comes out. Though she stages homes for a living she can't seem to get her own family on board when she wants to 'clean up' their family home so it can be put up for sale. After constant prodding, begging and bitching to no avail, Sandy is at her wits end. So when her best friend mentions that her new boyfriend just bought a hotel in Atlanta in desperate need of some updating, Sandy takes the job. Her family is stunned and can't believe she's actually going to Atlanta, even her newly married daughter who lives in Atlanta is shocked. Sandy's plan to stay with her daughter and son-in-law during this process is derailed when her daughter tells her she's headed back to Boston for some training for her job, leaving Sandy to stay there alone with Chance, her very southern son-in-law she barely knows.

Her motive for this plan was to force her family into action and that by the time she returned home, the house would be ready to put on the market. But she didn't plan on missing her family so much and feeling so disconnected from her own life, not to mention being in a city that is so different from Boston. To add to the stress, she thinks her best friend's boyfriend is cheating on her, which puts her in a very uncomfortable situation. The time she spends away from her loved ones and her experiences in Atlanta gives Sandy a fresh outlook on life and the people around her.

My Thoughts:

BEST STAGED PLANS is my first Claire Cook book and it is all that I thought it would be. Claire's characters seem like real people to me. They are certainly anything but perfect but they are good people. I liked Sandy Sullivan right away, especially her sense of humor. In fact, I know some people who are very similar to her in a lot of ways. I really enjoyed the friendship with her best friend. That is a special relationship for any woman and it came across very sincere and honest. The interaction with Chance was so realistic and comical at times. I really enjoyed those parts as well.

Throughout the book, Cook offers up simple anecdotes about friendship, marriage and tips for clearing up clutter in your own home and even how to properly pack a suitcase. These tips took me by surprise but I found myself making mental notes and I bookmarked each one.

I'm glad I finally took the time to read one of Claire's books. It was exactly what I was looking for at the time. It made me laugh and it made me think. I don't read a lot of chic lit but I plan to be entertained by Claire Cook again.

 BEST STAGED PLANS (Kindle Edition)
Author: Claire Cook
Publisher: Hyperion
Published: June 2011
Length: 256pp
Source: Purchased

Sep 19, 2013

Review: The Violets of March by Sarah Jio

THE VIOLETS OF MARCH is my second Sarah Jio novel, although it was actually her debut. The first one I read, BLACKBERRY WINTER, completely won me over so it wasn't a hard decision to read this one next.

About the Book:

After having a such a successful life in her twenties, both professionally and personally, now in her thirties Emily has found herself in a much different place.  Her career as a best-selling author seems to be at a standstill and her marriage to Jake, the seemingly perfect husband, is now over. Her best friend is worried about her so when Emily's elder great-aunt Bea invites her to Bainbridge Island for a long overdue visit, she encourages Emily to go hoping it will give her some clarity and closure and help her to move forward with her life.

Once she arrives at the Island, many old memories rush to her of summers spent there as a child. She doesn't know why her family stopped going there when she was a teenager and she is met only with silence and evasiveness when she tries to find out.

When she discovers a red velvet diary in the room she is staying in at Bea's house, she is at first reluctant to read it for fear of intruding on someone's privacy, but her curiosity gets the better of her and she begins to read. The diary is dated 1943 and although the names are different, the people are amazingly familiar to her. It is impossible for her to stop reading, especially when the person who left it for her urges her to read it completely.

Emily settles into life on the island and runs into people from her past life that she hasn't seen in years. Though she feels excited and surprised, it is also a bit overwhelming. When she meets Jack, the grandson of a neighbor who lives down the beach, Emily is overcome with confusion. Why does she feel she is betraying a marriage that is already broken?

Eventually, the diary takes on a life of its own and the lines between Emily's life and the diary are blurred and impossible to separate.  The secrets of her family's past, and the story written in the diary are heading right into Emily's life and she rushes to figure it all out so that she can make the decisions for her own future.

My Thoughts:

There are a couple things right off the bat that I liked about this book even before I read it: The beautiful cover! The story within a story concept and the location of Bainbridge Island, near Seattle. As a Seattlean, Jio incorporates so much of the city into her books that it actually becomes a its own character.  She is turning me into a Seattle-lover! I would love to visit there one day to see for myself how beautiful it is.

As for the book, I really liked Emily right away. All of the characters were original and very believable to me. Bea was a prickly character but I liked her and it was obvious she only wanted the best for Emily. In my opinion, the story-telling in this debut was done well and kept moving at a good pace that kept my attention and even had me guessing.  The diary story was fascinating and I liked the way Jio weaved it into the present. It felt like I was in the room with Emily as she read it. I love stories taking place during that era so its easy for me to tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed THE VIOLETS OF MARCH. My only problem is to figure out which Sarah Jio book to read next.

Author: Sarah Jio
Publisher: Plume
Published:  April 2011
Length: 304 pp
Source: Purchased

Sep 15, 2013

[TSS] Review: Opal Fire by Barbra Annino (Stacy Justice Mystery #1)

I am always on the lookout for a new mystery series and I was particularly happy to find this one because its a paranormal mystery. Since I enjoyed Sookie Stackhouse so much I was on the lookout for something along those lines. Well, I believe I've found it with Stacy Justice. 

Stacy lives in Amethyst, Illinois, where she works as a journalist for the local paper. Her grandmother, Birdie, and two great-aunts run a bed and breakfast there and another aunt owns the bakery. Her best friend and cousin, Cinnamon, runs one of the local bars called The Black Opal.  

Amethyst is a close-knit town but the residents tend to raise their eyebrows at Stacy's family for their strange beliefs. You see, they are witches. They don't flaunt their actions but they have been known to hold odd ceremonies with their capes, chanting strange verses from time to time. Though Stacy isn't sure she believes all the witch stuff, she loves her family dearly, so she listens with an open mind, albeit a skeptical one. She hasn't fully accepted the fact that her elders believe she has powers of her own. 

Being the investigative reporter she is, when The Black Opal mysteriously catches fire and almost burns down, Stacy does everything she can to find out what happened. Things get complicated when a body is discovered in the cellar of the bar and Stacy begins to experience some not-so-natural episodes. The closer she gets to the truth, the more dangerous it becomes for her and her family. 

My Thoughts:

This book turned out to be exactly what I thought it would be: A fun story with a good mystery, entertaining characters and a little magic thrown in. Its not over-the-top with the paranormal element, which I like. Its a quick read that has a lot of humor throughout.  I laughed out loud many times. The dynamic between Stacy and her cousin, Cinnamon, is loving and well-worn. By that I mean, its obvious these two have been close for a long time and they know everything about each other, the way best friends do. 

Along with the mystery of the fire and the dead body in the basement, the end of the book sets up what will surely be a big part of future installments. I enjoyed reading this first book and I'm sure I will continue with the series. There are four books so far, with the most current being released this past July. Amazon is offering these books at the Kindle Store at a great price. I took advantage of that and downloaded them all.. 

If you're looking a fun, paranormal series, this would make a great choice. Sometimes I need something light and quick as a change of pace. With the Halloween season fast approaching, this would be the perfect time to get started.

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Published: December 18,  2012
Length: 289 pp
How I Found Out About This Book: Kindle Daily Deals

Sep 11, 2013

Audio Review: Best Kept Secret by Jeffrey Archer (Clifton Chronicles 3)

This is the third book in Jeffrey Archer's acclaimed Clifton Chronicles and it is one of my favorite series, especially as an audio.

About the Book:
(No Spoilers)

This installment picks up right where the second left off with Giles Barrington and Harry Clifton waiting to find out who will be the successor to the late Hugo Barrington for the family corporation. The result of the vote is revealed and all seems well until Giles marries. Unfortunately, Giles is the only one smitten with Lady Virginia and that point becomes quite clear when the late Lady Elizabeth Barrington's will is read.  Giles is devastated but Lady Virginia is enraged. As the years go by, the story begins to focus more on Harry's son, Sebastian as he grows up and attends university. The story also introduces the daughter Harry and Emma have adopted, whose young life is already filled with secrets, even though she, herself, is not yet aware. 

Time usually heals wounds, but Lady Virginia's wounds are still fresh so she enlists the help of an old nemesis from Giles's past to help her gain control of Barrington Industries. Unfortunately, Sebastian ends up getting caught up in her web of deceit and he is unknowingly falling right into a trap. It is up to Giles and Harry to figure out what is really going on and who is behind this betrayal before its too late.  

My Thoughts:

One thing I really like about this series is the pace at which things happen. There is no lull or stalling of the plot between books. With some books, they may feel rushed or maybe that would cause a disconnect for the reader, but Jeffrey Archer is such a master storyteller that it is completely seamless.

I loved the addition of the new characters in Sebastian's life and how they fit into the story and though Sebastian does inhabit much of the book, Harry, Emma and Giles are still front and center as well.  Just when I thought we'd heard the last of Captain Fisher, he resurfaces to cause more trouble for the family.

I'm sure I would still like this series if I were reading the print version, but I am so glad I listen to these books. The narrator, Alex Jennings, is absolutely perfect. I love listening to his voice as he reads the pages to me. His smooth British accent is both calming and enjoyable to listen to. His inflections for the different characters are subtle yet distinctive. He is one of my favorite parts of this audio series.

Another thing I appreciate about Jeffrey Archer's writing is his ability to leave such a wonderful cliff-hanger at the end of each book.  I thoroughly enjoy his writing and I'm always completely satisfied with where the story takes me. I will continue to read The Clifton Chronicles for as long as Mr. Archer comes up with new adventures.

BEST KEPT SECRET (Unabridged Audio Version)
Author: Jeffrey Archer
Publisher: St. Macmillan Audio
Published: April
Length: 11 Hrs 15 Min

Sep 10, 2013

Review: The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

I am especially excited to talk about THE HUSBAND'S SECRET by Liane Moriarty because it was such a surprise to me. I didn't really know what to expect and I suppose I was prepared for your run-of-the-mill womens fiction. WELL!! That is not at all what it turned out to be and I couldn't be happier! But before I get more into what I thought about this new release, here's a bit about the book. (No Spoilers)

What would you do if you discovered your husband of many years had been keeping a secret? Not just a little secret but a life-altering, devastating secret that affected many people? That is exactly what happened when Cecelia Fitzpatrick found a letter addressed to her by her husband written some 12 years earlier with the instructions 'To Be Opened Only In The Event of My Death. With her husband on a business trip to the US and Cecelia at home with their three daughters in Australia, she promises him she won't open it. But when John-Paul cuts short his trip and returns home to Australia immediately after she told him that she found the letter, she is even more suspicious and worried about the contents. 

Tess is a happily married mother of one who has a fulfilling job in the ad agency she started with her husband and cousin. She is happy in both her personal and professional life and lives each day with not too much worry of what lies ahead. That all changed in an instant and leaves Tess asking herself how she could've not seen it coming. 

Rachel is an older woman who is still suffering the loss of her teenage daughter some twenty-eight years ago and has never really recovered.  Janie was seventeen when she became missing and was found dead in a park hours later. Though Rachel had another child, a son, she was never able to get over Janie's death or to show Rob the love he needed. 

These three women are connected in different ways and secrets play a big part in those connections. As the truths are revealed, new revelations are discovered that still have the power to change lives forever. Even the most innocent people are forever affected. 

My Thoughts:

I couldn't have been more delighted with this book. It turned out to be much more than I was expecting and it had me riveted. The characters are terrific, even though I didn't really like one of them. OK, it's Rachel. I thought she was a hard woman who didn't think much of people. Granted, its understandable considering what she's gone through in her life, but she was a bit prickly. That being said, I also believe that is what made her such a great character. Cecelia was seemingly so perfect that you didn't want to like her but you couldn't help it. And Tess, well, I felt sorry for Tess - for awhile anyway. 

Aside form the great characters, the story was written very well, laying the story out bit by bit.  I also liked the way the author introduced the connections of the characters in a slow manner, allowing all of the history between them to be revealed and absorbed in a natural way.  This made the story all the more realistic and natural.  Deep inside this story is a mystery that is so powerful and life-changing.  That's the part I wasn't expecting. It made this novel and stand-out for me. One of my favorite parts was actually the epilogue. It was very revealing and I enjoyed that very much. After reading it, I felt like I was the one who held the secrets. It was great!! 

I realized I was really into this book when I found myself thinking of these women throughout my day when I wasn't reading. I'd be making the bed and Cecelia would pop into my mind and I'd start trying to put myself into their situations and wonder what I would do. In my opinion, when a book stays in your mind even after you've finished it, that's a good book!

If you are in a book club this would make a terrific selection. There is definitely a lot to discuss and questions to be asked.  I have to thank my book club She Reads Book Club for choosing this thought-provoking book. I am looking forward to our discussion later in the month! 

Just one last note: My friend Kathy and my Aunt Nancy, who both live in Ohio but do not know each other, saw on my Facebook page that I was reading this book and they told me they were both reading it at the same time I was! I never discussed this book with them and that is what made it so random! They both loved it, in fact, Kathy told me the epilogue was also one of her favorite parts and the book is one of her favorites of the year! I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who just plain loves a great story! 

Author: Liane Moriarty
 Publisher: Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam  
Published: July 30, 2013
Length: 416 pp
Source: Publisher