Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: A Memoir of Friendship, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book

A book about losing your place, finding your purpose, and immersing yourself in what holds community, and humanity, together—books

Wendy Welch and her husband had always dreamed of owning a bookstore. When the opportunity to escape a toxic work environment and run to a struggling Virginia coal mining town presented itself, they took it. And took the plunge into starting their dream as well. They chose to ignore the “death of the book,” the closing of bookstores across the nation, and the difficult economic environment, and six years later they have carved a bookstore—and a life—out of an Appalachian mountain community.

A story of beating bad odds with grace, ingenuity, good books, and single malt, this memoir chronicles two bibliophiles discovering unlikely ways in which daily living and literature intertwine. Their customers—"Bob the Mad Irishman," "Wee Willie," and "The Lady Who Liked Romances," to name a few—come to the shop looking for the kind of interactive wisdom Kindles don't spark, and they find friendship, community, and the uncommon pleasure of a good book in good company.

The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap will make you want to run to the local bookstore, and curl up in an arm chair with a treasure in bound pages.(from Goodreads)

My Thoughts

This book was good in so many ways it made my head spin. The author has quite a wit and I often laughed out loud (Light Commander, Light Off!). She also brought up many thought provoking topics regarding all things books: e-reader vs paper books; big box book stores vs independent vs used; buy online or shop local. And while she always offered an opinion, the information was presented factually and I never felt like I was being told which option to pick (although I will say I did feel a bit guilty reading a story about a used bookstore on my e-reader.)

This was so well written, I often found myself thinking “the author is such a good story teller”. As it turns out, she actually had a past job telling stories. Her ability to tell a tale translated well onto the written page. I loved how she showed the importance of the store, not just in selling used books, but as being part of the community and providing a gathering place for a variety of local characters.

I can count on one hand the number of used bookstores I have visited. Sadly, anything local is no longer opened. I believe the author and her husband have been blessed that their little bookstore has been accepted by the community of Big Stone Gap. And in kind, the community has been blessed that the couple opened their bookstore in Big Stone Gap. Isn’t it great how life works?

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press and Netgalley for allowing me to read this in exchange for an unbiased review.

Publish date: October 2, 2012

Friday, September 28, 2012

Better Than Chocolate

Sweet Dreams Chocolate Company has been in the Sterling family for generations, ever since Great-Grandma Rose literally dreamed up her first fabulous recipe. But now it looks as if they're about to lose Sweet Dreams to the bank—and that would be a disaster, not only for the family but for the town of Icicle Falls, Washington. Can Samantha, the oldest daughter and new head of the company, come up with a way to save it?After Samantha does some brainstorming with her mother and sisters, inspiration strikes. They'll have a chocolate festival! Time's running out, but the Sterling women are determined and the town's behind them, so everything's bound to go smoothly….

Or not. Events seem to be conspiring against Samantha, and her mother's attempts to help aren't helping. To make matters worse, the fate of her company is in the hands of her archenemy, Blake Preston, the bank manager with the football-hero good looks. It's enough to drive her to chocolate. But Blake's also enough to convince her that there’s something better than chocolate (from Goodreads).

My Thoughts

Well, folks, no one was more surprised than me as to how much I liked this book. I lean more toward dark, twisted, suspense and mystery. Chick-lit is not a genre I seek.

That being said, I enyoyed this story. The characters were believable, so much so there was one I wanted to slap. I liked Samantha and her determined attitude. And yes, there was some romance, but nothing sappy and it didn’t overwhelm the story line.

So, it appears that I’ve learned something. Chick lit can be very likeable when it is written this well. At the end of the book, I discovered that there is another book (Merry Ex-Mas) coming out in November with more tales from Icicle Falls - Yippee!

Thanks to Harlequin and Netgalley for letting me read this for an unbiased review.

Publish date: September 25, 2012

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Forgiven: A Novel

In this stylish, haunting novel, journalist and novelist Lawrence Osborne explores the reverberations of a random accident on the lives of Moroccan Muslims and Western visitors who converge on a luxurious desert villa for a decadent weekend-long party.

David and Jo Henniger, a doctor and children's book author, in search of an escape from their less than happy lives in London, accept the invitation of their old friends Richard and Dally to attend their annual bacchanal at their home deep in the Moroccan desert – a ksar they have acquired and renovated into a luxurious retreat. On the way, the Hennigers stop for lunch, and the bad-tempered David can't resist consuming most of a bottle of wine. Back on the road, darkness has descended, David is groggy, and the directions to the ksar are vague. Suddenly, two young men spring from the roadside, apparently attempting to interest passing drivers in the fossils they have for sale. Panicked, David swerves toward the two, leaving one dead on the road and the other running into the hills.

At the ksar, the festivities have begun: Richard and Dally’s international friends sit down to a lavish dinner prepared and served by a large staff of Moroccans. As the night progresses and the debauchery escalates, the Moroccans increasingly view the revelers as the godless "infidels" they are. When David and Jo show up late with the dead body of the young man in their car, word spreads among the locals that David has committed an unforgivable act (from Goodreads)

My Thoughts

This was very good. Not fast paced, but a slow simmering suspense. I’m going to share one extra tidbit to make this even more enticing. The father of the young man that David struck and killed shows up at the ksar. He wants David, and ONLY David to come back to their village to attend his son’s burial and as such, atone for what he did.

Oh really? A bereaved Muslim father wants an unbeliever, an infidel, to come alone to their distant village. What happens to David? And in David’s absence, what’s his wife up to? The Muslim servants at the party find out very early about the “accident”. This, along with the hedonistic activities that are taking place, also creates an undercurrent of tension. Does anyone come out of this unscathed?

Well written. Heart Pounding. Descriptive. Sizzling.

Bravo Mr. Osborne.

Thank you Crown Publishing and Netgalley for allowing me to read this in exchange for an unbiased review.

Publish date: September 25, 2012

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Meet Harold Fry, recently retired. He lives in a small English village with his wife, Maureen, who seems irritated by almost everything he does, even down to how he butters his toast. Little differentiates one day from the next. Then one morning the mail arrives, and within the stack of quotidian minutiae is a letter addressed to Harold in a shaky scrawl from a woman he hasn’t seen or heard from in twenty years. Queenie Hennessy is in hospice and is writing to say goodbye.

Harold pens a quick reply and, leaving Maureen to her chores, heads to the corner mailbox. But then, as happens in the very best works of fiction, Harold has a chance encounter, one that convinces him that he absolutely must deliver his message to Queenie in person. And thus begins the unlikely pilgrimage at the heart of Rachel Joyce’s remarkable debut. Harold Fry is determined to walk six hundred miles from Kingsbridge to the hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed because, he believes, as long as he walks, Queenie Hennessey will live.

Still in his yachting shoes and light coat, Harold embarks on his urgent quest across the countryside. Along the way he meets one fascinating character after another, each of whom unlocks his long-dormant spirit and sense of promise. Memories of his first dance with Maureen, his wedding day, his joy in fatherhood, come rushing back to him—allowing him to also reconcile the losses and the regrets. As for Maureen, she finds herself missing Harold for the first time in years.

And then there is the unfinished business with Queenie Hennessy. (from Goodreads)

My Thoughts

Little did I know when I started this book how much I was going to enjoy it. Who couldn’t help but fall in love with Harold Fry? He starts his journey with such a simple intent, not yet knowing what this path would help him discover. The author tells a fine tale of the people he meets along the way, his wife Maureen back at home, and finally at the end of the road, Queenie. I laughed, I cried, I cheered for both Harold and Maureen.

This book certainly stands out as one of the best I have read this year and a new all time favorite. I love the message of hope, redemption, dreams and perseverance. This is our first novel from Ms. Joyce and all I can says is Wow! I am looking forward to more from this very talented author.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Low Pressure

Bellamy Lyston Price was only 12 years old when her older sister Susan was killed on a stormy Memorial Day. Bellamy's fear of storms is a legacy of the tornado that destroyed the crime scene as well as her memory of one vital fact that still eludes her...

Now, 18 years later, Bellamy has written a novel based on Susan's murder. It's her first book, and it's an instant sensation. But because the novel is based on the most traumatic event of her life, she's published it under a pseudonym to protect herself and her family.

But when a sleazy reporter for a tabloid newspaper discovers that the book is based on a real crime, Bellamy's identity - and dark family secrets -- are exposed. Suddenly, she finds herself embroiled in a personal conflict and at the mercy of her sister's killer, who for almost two decades has gotten away with murder...and will stop at nothing to keep it that way (from Goodreads)

My Thoughts

This was a fun roller coaster of a read. Full of unexpected surprises and a boatload of characters who are possible suspects. A good mystery with a mix of romance. The plot moves along quickly and really held my interest.

You can tell Ms. Brown is a seasoned writer. I have enjoyed a few of her other books because they are so well written and this one did not disappoint.

Thanks to Grand Central Publishing and Netgalley for allowing me to read this in exchange for an unbiased review.

Publish date: September 18. 2012

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Those We Love Most

A bright June day. A split-second distraction. A family forever changed.

Life is good for Maura Corrigan. Married to her college sweetheart, Pete, raising three young kids with her parents nearby in her peaceful Chicago suburb, her world is secure. Then one day, in a single turn of fate, that entire world comes crashing down and everything that she thought she knew changes.

Maura must learn to move forward with the weight of grief and the crushing guilt of an unforgivable secret. Pete senses a gap growing between him and his wife but finds it easier to escape to the bar with his friends than face the flaws in his marriage.

Meanwhile, Maura's parents are dealing with the fault lines in their own marriage. Charismatic Roger, who at sixty-five, is still chasing the next business deal and Margaret, a pragmatic and proud homemaker, have been married for four decades, seemingly happily. But the truth is more complicated. Like Maura, Roger has secrets of his own and when his deceptions and weaknesses are exposed, Margaret's love and loyalty face the ultimate test.

My Thoughts

The author did a excellent job of writing a story about loss, grief, love and family. I liked the way we get to know the four main characters in depth. Not only do they have to deal with a tragic event, but each has private issues to overcome. While the basis of the story involves sadness, ultimately it is about faith and perseverance.

Ms. Woodruff’s writing style is detailed and eloquent. While I have not read any of her non-fiction books, I thought this was a good first endeavor into the world of literary fiction.

Thank you to Hyperion and Netgalley for allowing me to read this in exchange for an unbiased review.

Publish date: September 11, 2012

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Empty Glass

In the early-morning hours of August 5, 1962, Los Angeles County deputy coroner Ben Fitzgerald arrives at the home of the world's most famous movie star, now lying dead in her bedroom, naked and still clutching a telephone. There he discovers The Book of Secrets - Marilyn Monroe's diary - revealing a doomed love affair with a man she refers to only as "The General." In the following days, Ben unravels a wide-ranging cover-up and some heartbreaking truths about the fragile, luminous woman behind the celebrity. Soon the sinister and surreal accounts in The Book of Secrets bleed into Ben's own life, and he finds himself, like Monroe, trapped in a deepening paranoid conspiracy. The Empty Glass is an unforgettable combination of the riveting facts and legendary theories that have dogged Monroe, the Kennedy's, the Mafia, and even the CIA for decades. It is an exciting debut from a remarkable new thriller writer. (from Goodreads)

My Thoughts

Well, well, well - this was pretty darn interesting. I was too young in 1962 to remember the death of Marilyn Monroe, but have certainly heard all the stories surrounding the mystery of her last few years and her supposed suicide. I’ll be honest with you, I wasn’t so sure the topic would interest me, but boy, was I wrong. This book pulls the different theories surrounding Marilyn’s death together in a very readable, entertaining and fast paced mystery.

This is a debut from Mr. Baker. All I can say is - Bravo! This author is definitely on my list as someone to watch for his next book. What story will you tell us next?

Thank you to Penguin Group/Blue Rider Press and Netgalley for allowing me to read this in exchange for an unbiased review.

Publish date: July 19, 2012

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Vanishing Point

One of the finest crime writers we have, Val McDermid’s heart-stopping thrillers have won her international renown and a devoted following of readers worldwide. In The Vanishing Point, she kicks off a terrifying thriller with a nightmare scenario: a parent who loses her child in a bustling international airport.

Young Jimmy Higgins is snatched from an airport security checkpoint while his guardian watches helplessly from the glass inspection box. But this is no ordinary abduction, as Jimmy is no ordinary child. His mother was Scarlett, a reality TV star who, dying of cancer and alienated from her unreliable family, entrusted the boy to the person she believed best able to give him a happy, stable life: her ghost writer, Stephanie Harker. Assisting the FBI in their attempt to recover the missing boy, Stephanie reaches into the past to uncover the motive for the abduction. Has Jimmy been taken by his own relatives? Is Stephanie’s obsessive ex-lover trying to teach her a lesson? Has one of Scarlett’s stalkers come back to haunt them all? (from Goodreads)


My Thoughts

This was very good. I wouldn’t call it fast paced, because the author spends a large amount of time helping us understand how Stephanie and Scarlett’s relationship went from business to close friends. This is integral to the whole story line, and through the process, I grew to really like both women.

There’s a twist close to the end that caught me off guard but was very well thought out. Initially, I did not like the very, very end. Once I let the story settle and gave the ending more thought, I decided maybe there was just no other way for this tale to close.

I am very excited, as this was my first Val McDermid book. I’m looking forward to reading more from this very talented author.

Thank you to Grove/Atlantic, Inc. (Atlantic Monthly Press) and Netgalley for allowing me to read this ARC in exchange for an unbiased review.

Publish date: September 4, 2012.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden--from 9/11 to Abbottabad

From the author of the New York Times bestselling Holy War, Inc., this is the definitive account of the decade-long manhunt that killed the world’s most wanted man, Osama bin Laden.
Al Qaeda expert and CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen paints a multidimensional picture of the hunt for bin Laden over the past decade, including the operation that killed him. Other key elements of the book will include:

A careful account of Obama’s decision-making process as the raid was planned

The fascinating story of a group of CIA analysts—largely women—who never gave up assembling the tiniest clues about OBL’s whereabouts

The untold and action-packed history of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and the SEALs

An analysis of what the death of OBL means for al Qaeda, and for Obama’s legacy.
Just as Too Big to Fail captured, in riveting detail, the anatomy of this decade’s financial disaster, so too is Manhunt one of the key stories of this decade: the authoritative, immersive account of the operation that killed the man who organized the largest mass murder in American history (from Goodreads)

My Thoughts

We know the beginning of this story - the horror of 9/11. We know the middle - the ongoing search for bin Laden, the reported sightings (described as - “Where’s Waldo”) and the occasional released propaganda video confirming bin Laden’s continued existence. We know the end - bin Laden is killed. So I have to ask myself - why read this book?

Here’s the answer. The author has written a very well researched, extremely readable story of all the steps along the way. The most fascinating part was the decision making process involved once it was determined there was a high likelihood Osama bin Laden had been found. Even up to the very end - this was not a 100% certainty. What were the different options along with the pros and cons of each? I have to say, reading the last few chapters - my heart was pounding! Remember the famous photo of the President Obama, Vice-President Biden, Secretary of State Clinton and several high ranking military and cabinet members sitting around a small table intently watching as the action was taking place? At this point, I was so invested in the story, I felt like I was right there.

If you think that have even a fleeting interest in this topic, here is the book to read! Highly informative and entertaining.

Publish date: May 1, 2012