Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Snowflakes & Coffee Cakes - Joanne DeMaio

I can't believe I didn't post this review on here when I read the book back in December.  It was a book club book, and my book club enjoyed my candid review.  :)

Snowflakes and Coffee Cakes

Genre:  Fiction; Christmas; Chick Lit

Pages:  209 pages

Publishing Date:  October 15, 2013

Rating:  1 out of 5 stars on Goodreads

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Reluctant to leave her cherished New England hometown after her sister's winter wedding, former journalist Vera Sterling makes a sudden decision. She takes what's left of her severance pay and invests it in real estate ... in one particular drafty colonial home and old timber barn set upon the pretty banks of Addison Cove. In that rough-hewn barn, she discovers a secret treasure left behind by the previous owner, the proprietor of the long-forgotten Christmas Barn gift shop.
While restoring her run-down, wood-sided home--its creaking floors, broken banister, and neglected widow's walk--that secret slowly unfolds like a bit of snowflake wonder, crystallizing hopes and dreams for many in this small Connecticut town. But mostly for Derek Cooper whose own tragic story has headlined Addison's news. And whom Vera has come to love.

When the first snowstorm hits during Derek's annual Deck the Boats Festival at the cove, residents become stranded. It is then up to Vera to not only bring the town together, but to mend one man's heart she fears she may have lost.
Snowflakes and Coffee Cakes is a heartwarming story, one that reminds us to look to winter's stars. Because snowflakes can grant very special wishes ... if only we believe

My Thoughts:

I loathed this book. I would have quit it was it not a book for book club. I generally don’t finish and review a book that I dislike this much. But, alas, book club. 
I do wonder if my negative reaction to it was based on me being too cynical. Or just the wrong book at the wrong time. Both those things are possible. So perhaps take my review with a grain of salt. 
I was looking forward to this book. I like cozy Christmas tales. Both the title and premise were cute. Unfortunately, it didn’t go past that for me. 
The storyline was disjointed and jumpy throughout. I could get no clear sense of time – how much had passed, one event in relation to previous events, etc. – unless it was specifically stated. Otherwise the timeline was confusing, especially as many section breaks were present when there wasn’t a change of scene or anything. The voice of the whole book just seems off. I kept checking verb tenses to see if that was the issue. I don’t think it was. There was just no consistency or flow. 
I didn’t like any of the main characters. Okay, maybe I could have liked Vera’s sister, Brooke, if she were more developed. They were just all so…I don’t know. Their motivations were beyond me and their musings boring. Was Vera so clueless and unaware of her surroundings that she really needed warnings to see dogs and people that were right in front of her? Could Derek be any more sullen and withdrawn? He blows hot and cold while Vera just hangs on, chasing him around. The characters don’t even talk in real ways. 
Then there is the suspension of disbelief required for so many scenarios. It was presented that Addison was a small town. But no one knows anyone else? And Vera hadn’t ever come home or talked to any of her family in the past 5 years to know what a big deal Deck the Boat is to the whole town? And let’s talk about how Derek has been working on Vera’s house for months yet she doesn’t have his phone number until she goes over to his apartment. How in the world does Vera come across the article on the daughter when searching for Christmas trolley information? There is never indication there is a connection between the two at all. So, it would be weird for that article to show up with Christmas trolley search terms.
Overall, there was too much introspection – of all the characters. Introspection on snowflakes and winter and stars and…everything. The analogies and metaphors were over the top as well – eye roll inducing.
The book stated it was her “red plaid pea coat” EVERY SINGLE TIME Vera put on or had on her coat. Absolutely like nails on a chalkboard for me.
But, hey, a lot of people *really* liked this book. In fact, most in my book club rated it 3 or 4 stars (I would have said -5 but 1 is as low as Goodreads goes). So, don’t take my word for it. Read some more reviews…or just read the book. You might like it even though I didn’t.

Still Alice - Lisa Genova

Still Alice

Genre:  Contemporary Fiction

Pages:  292 pages

Publishing Date:  July 6, 2007

Rating:  5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Alice Howland is proud of the life she worked so hard to build. At fifty years old, she’s a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard and a world-renowned expert in linguistics with a successful husband and three grown children. When she becomes increasingly disoriented and forgetful, a tragic diagnosis changes her life--and her relationship with her family and the world--forever.

My Thoughts:
I debated 4 or 5 stars on this book.  Since I’m still thinking about the story and characters several days later, I believe it has earned a 5. 

This book was both fascinating and heart breaking.  I have not had anyone close to me diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  This was a very eye-opening read.

Genova really fleshed out all the characters.  They were human to the fullest extent in emotions and reactions in dealing with Alice’s diagnosis.  I felt for them.  The devastation for Alice to have been ultra-successful and cerebral and learning that everything she had built her career – and to a large part her life – on was going to disappear.  That she wouldn’t remember her education and professional knowledge or even worse, not recognize herself or her family.  I can only imagine it now based on what I’ve read in this book.

Such an amazingly well-written book on an important topic. 

For readers sensitive to things, there is some language.

Writing Desk - Rachel Hauck

The Writing Desk
Genre:  Christian Fiction; Christian Romance; Dual Narrative

Pages:  352 pages

Publishing Date:  July 10, 2017

Rating:  3 out of 5 stars on Goodreads

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Tenley Roth’s first book was a literary and commercial success. Now that her second book is due, she’s locked in fear. Can she repeat her earlier success or is she a fraud who merely found a bit of luck?
With pressure mounting from her publisher, Tenley is weighted with writer’s block. But when her estranged mother calls asking Tenley to help her through chemotherapy, she packs up for Florida where she meets handsome furniture designer Jonas Sullivan and discovers the story her heart’s been missing.

Born during the Gilded Age, Birdie Shehorn is the daughter of the old money Knickerbockers. Yet her life is not her own. Under the strict control of her mother, her every move is decided ahead of time, even whom she’ll marry. But Birdie has dreams of her own. She wants to tell stories, write novels, make an impact on the world. When she discovers her mother has literally destroyed her dreams, she must choose between submission and security or forging a brand new way all on her own.
Tenley and Birdie are from two very different worlds. Yet when Tenley discovers Birdie’s manuscript, their lives intersect. Birdie’s words help Tenley find a way home. Tenley brings Birdie’s writing to the world.
Can two women separated by time help fulfill each other’s destiny?

My Thoughts:
Rachel Hauck is one of the authors I stalk on NetGalley so that I can get first reads on her new books instead of languishing in the hold list at my library.

While this book harkens the Wedding Dress, Wedding Shop, Wedding Chapel series with its item tying a past and a modern story together, I didn’t find this one as engaging and heart-warming.  Not surprisingly, I found the story of Birdie more interesting.  I do have a soft spot for historical fiction.  I also just couldn’t really get attached to Tenley.  I found her to be flighty and a bit dramatic.  Additionally, the development of her relationship with Jonas just seemed too quick and odd to me. 

The unique ties between the characters past and present were interesting, though. 

I did enjoy the tidbits about writing and publishing, both in the Gilded Age and modern times.  The pressure to create no doubt takes some of the creativity out of it. I’ve seen that in many Young Adult trilogies I’ve read in recent years where the first book was great and then the following two not so much (or even rotten).

It was a quick and easy read.  I think fans of Rachel Hauck or of stories with dual timelines would find it worth their time to read.

2.5 out of 5 stars. 

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for an advanced copy.
If you would like to read more of my reviews, please visit

Threads of Suspicion - Dee Henderson (Evie Blackwell Cold Case #2)

Genre:  Christian Fiction, Suspense

Pages:  432 pages

Publishing Date:  May 2, 2017

Rating:  2 out of 5 stars on Goodreads

There was *a lot* going on in this book.  So much so that at times I lost track of cases and characters, and I think the characters lost track of their own thought flows.
Evie Blackwell and the Missing Persons Task Force she's been assigned to is on their first official cases.  Five cases; 5 task force members.  Evie is for some reason paired up with David Marshal even though they are working different cases.  All the other task force team members work solo and only pop up occasionally.
There are task for members, crime suspects, crime victims, witnesses, friends, love interests, famous people, security, hairdressers...just a lot of people and names to keep track of.  And so many story lines:  crimes for the task force, arson for not the task force, romantic ties, friendships, God, music, fan obsession.
I think this book just tried to do too much.  And I think I'm settling into the idea that Dee Henderson writes relationship novels not suspense novels.  As usual, Henderson brings in characters from her other stories and series.  On that note, I think it's time to reread the O'Malley series - her best work, in my opinion.

P.S.  Hate the cover.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

True to You - Becky Wade

True to You by Becky Wade
            (Bradford Sisters Romance #1)

Genre:  Fiction; Chick Lit; Christian Romance

Pages:  368 pages

Publishing Date:  May 2, 2017

Rating:  2.5 out of 5 stars (It was okay.)

Synopsis from Goodreads:
After a devastating heartbreak three years ago, genealogist and historical village owner Nora Bradford has decided that burying her nose in her work and her books is far safer than romance in the here and now.

Unlike Nora, former Navy SEAL and Medal of Honor recipient John Lawson is a modern-day man, usually 100 percent focused on the present. But when he's diagnosed with an inherited condition, he's forced to dig into the secrets of his past and his adoption as an infant, enlisting Nora to help him uncover the identity of his birth mother. 

The more time they spend together, the more this pair of opposites suspects they just might be a perfect match. However, John's already dating someone and Nora's not sure she's ready to trade her crushes on fictional heroes for the risks of a real relationship. Finding the answers they're seeking will test the limits of their identity, their faith, and their devotion to one another.

My Thoughts:

I had read the novella to this book and loved it.  It was written completely in epistolary form giving the background of the Bradford sisters parents.  So when I saw the first book was available as an advanced reader copy from NetGalley, I requested and received a copy.

Nora is the middle Bradford sister.  She runs a historical village and helps people with genealogical research.  That is how she and John become connected.

There are many story lines present:  the genealogical search, Nora’s only transformation, dealing with individual characters’ backgrounds, even the two other Bradford sisters’ potential and past romances. 

The spiritual aspects were well done; presented through the natural character development and thoughts.  This did make it a pretty introspective novel.  Many truths were presented in an understandable way.

Wade tried to keep the epistolary feel of the novella going with having texts or Facebook messages at the end of each chapter.  This seemed a little clunky to me at times.  At other times, they were a great addition.

It was a quick, easy read.  I wouldn’t say it was really absorbing or super engaging though. 

There was a surprise I didn’t expect.  So that really earns it a 2.5 instead of a straight 2.

A lot of the issues I had with the book – the very speedy romance ramp up and the not quite edgy but almost emotions and scenes – made a lot more sense when I read the author info and learned Becky Wade wrote secular romance before turning her pen to Christian romance.  So if you’re a reader who likes secular romances, I think you’d enjoy this book more than I did.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Runion - Fanny Flag

The All-Girl Filling Station's Last ReunionGenre:  Contemporary Fiction; Historical Fiction

Pages:  347 pages

Publishing Date:  November 5, 2013

Rating:  3 out of 5 stars on Goodreads

Goodreads Summary:
Mrs. Sookie Poole of Point Clear, Alabama, has just married off the last of her daughters and is looking forward to relaxing and perhaps traveling with her husband, Earle. The only thing left to contend with is her mother, the formidable Lenore Simmons Krackenberry. Lenore may be a lot of fun for other people, but is, for the most part, an overbearing presence for her daughter. Then one day, quite by accident, Sookie discovers a secret about her mother's past that knocks her for a loop and suddenly calls into question everything she ever thought she knew about herself, her family, and her future.
Sookie begins a search for answers that takes her to California, the Midwest, and back in time, to the 1940s, when an irrepressible woman named Fritzi takes on the job of running her family's filling station. Soon truck drivers are changing their routes to fill up at the All-Girl Filling Station. Then, Fritzi sees an opportunity for an even more groundbreaking adventure. As Sookie learns about the adventures of the girls at the All-Girl Filling Station, she finds herself with new inspiration for her own life.

My Thoughts:

This is a hard book for me to decide on a star rating.  For the first portion of the book, I was thinking one, maybe one and a half, stars.  I just was having a hard time getting into the narrative, seeing the connections, and being invested in the characters.  Especially Sookie, she just annoyed me.  The filling station doesn’t even show up until you’re quite a bit into the novel…much less the “all-girl” part.

But I am glad I stuck with it.  Around the middle the story really picked up.  Plus, I started seeing character growth/change in Sookie that made her character more relatable. 

The narrative jumps back and forth between contemporary and history.  I will say the history storyline was far more intriguing to me.  It has sparked some additional reading that I want to do around that time period on topics that were introduced. 

So I would say, the novel taken as a whole, is probably a solid 3.  I liked it.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Love Story - Karen Kingsbury

Love StoryLove Story by Karen Kingsbury

Genre:  Christian fiction; Christian romance

Pages:  368 pages

Publishing Date:  June 6, 2017

Rating:  3 out of 5 stars on Goodreads – liked it

Synopsis from Goodreads:
From #1 New York Times bestselling author Karen Kingsbury comes a new book featuring fan favorite family the Baxters.
Decades ago, John and Elizabeth Baxter lived a love story that is still playing out in the lives of their adult children and grandchildren. But few of them know the exact details of that love story or the heartbreak that brought the two together.
Now in high school, Ashley Baxter Blake’s oldest son, Cole, must write a family history paper for a freshman English class. He decides to interview his grandfather about that long ago distant love story.
At the same time, Baxter family friend Cody Coleman has asked his girlfriend Andi Ellison to marry him. The planning and upcoming wedding touches the heart of Bailey Flanigan, who once was Cody’s best friend. Bailey has news of her own, but is it right for her and her husband, Brandon, to attend Cody’s wedding?
As school ends, Cole presents his report on the love story between his grandparents John and Elizabeth Baxter. It is a tale that touches the hearts of the entire family, and one that causes Cole to better understand his own beginning.
Whether you’re meeting the Baxter family for the first time or finding them all over again, Love Story will stir your heart and remind you of the power of love and family.

My Thoughts:

I heard about this book and thought, “Finally!  I finally get to learn about John and Elizabeth Baxter’s back story.  How they met, fell in love, and raised this incredible family.”  So I immediately jumped on Net Galley (since the book doesn’t come out until summer) and requested an advanced reader copy.  As soon as my kids were in bed that night, I started reading.

And was somewhat disappointed.

The first quarter of the book didn’t address John & Elizabeth’s story at all.  It focused on the relationship issues between Cody and Andi.  Which I expected to be a part of the overall story based on the synopsis copy.  But it was literally the first 25% - all of it - and then more throughout.  In fact, I would probably say this story was more about them than the Baxters.  Also, while I’m on the subject of the synopsis copy, it’s not accurate.  At the start of the book, Cody and Andi are no longer engaged.  So there is no planning or upcoming wedding for Bailey to have her heart touched by. 

And now that we’re on Bailey, let’s transition there.  First, I love all the Baxter and Flannigan series characters.  I’m invested in them and like to see where they are in their “lives.”  However, Bailey’s character and pregnancy and story line again took away from the story I really wanted:  the love story that began the Baxter family in the first place. 

I love the characters.  I love the stories that Karen Kingsbury tells about her characters.  I love the messages of hope and redemption that infuse her stories.  I guess I just wish her books would return to being more focused.  In the original Baxter series, I became attached to the characters because each book focused mainly on introducing and exploring one character at a time.  The other characters were there but not the focus.  That feel has been missing from her last several Baxter/Flannigan books.  And I miss it.

Like the book, this review hasn’t focused much on John & Elizabeth’s love story.  That’s because I don’t feel like that was really a big part of the story this time.  It was embedded, yes.  It was told, yes.  But it wasn’t explored.  Expounded.  I think I would have preferred a novella just of their story, even if it was still told through the device of their grandson’s school project.

That being said, I still believe it’s worth the read for anyone who has read the Baxter tales in the past.  Just don’t expect too much from John & Elizabeth; the focus is definitely elsewhere.

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for an advanced copy.

If you would like to read more of my reviews, please visit