REVIEW: CARDINAL CABIN, BY JOANNE DEMAIO

 

Frank Lombardo’s never been spontaneous. The closest he’s come was accepting a side job chopping firewood for a lakeside community of rustic cabins. But with another lonely holiday season imminent, Frank’s sister urges him to be spontaneous because, seriously, who does he ever expect to meet out in the woods?

With a suitcase in hand and a bit of reluctance, too, Penny Hart arrives at Cardinal Cabin on Snowflake Lake. It’s only for a brief stay, though nobody knows where she is. Not her boss, not her friends…

Only Frank Lombardo. As the two unexpectedly meet at Addison’s hidden hideaway, a spontaneous kiss sets everything amiss. But can the magic of this quaint New England town keep these snowy sweethearts together?

My Thoughts: Winter in New England comes alive in Cardinal Cabin, as the author paints gorgeous word pictures of the snowy setting and gifts us with images of the interiors. I could see the little cabin that Penny Hart has rented, from the outside cardinal door knocker to the milk can holding sprigs of pine needles…and can sense how she might feel as though she has stepped into a Christmas card. We follow her as she immerses herself in her surroundings.

And then there is Frank Lombardo, the man who is not spontaneous, suddenly captivated by Penny with the copper hair. He is chopping wood when he hears her cry out; she has slipped and fallen. Picking her up leads to an unexpected and spontaneous connection.

Familiar characters reappear in Addison, where I’ve enjoyed visits in previous books. I like how the old favorite characters return, and then we meet some new ones. And along the way, we get to visit places like the Snowflakes & Coffee Cakes and Whole Latte shops.

The romance between Frank and Penny grows unexpectedly. Meanwhile, Penny settles in to her vacation, snapping photos to email to her office: she is a travel agent at Suitcase Escapes, and a contest is going on at the agency. Contestants must guess where Penny has gone for her getaway. She doesn’t like to travel, so her clever destination choice keeps her close to what she loves.

Near misses, some hilarious disguises, and a bad storm follow. Will the new pairing survive the New England winter and the hiding out required by the contest? Can a misunderstanding derail what they have begun? A beautifully wrought tale that made me want to spend Christmas in Addison, along with the characters. 5 stars.

 ***
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REVIEW: THE RULES OF MAGIC, BY ALICE HOFFMAN

 

For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man.

Hundreds of years later, in New York City at the cusp of the sixties, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood red hair, shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people’s thoughts, and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk.

From the start Susanna sets down rules for her children: No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse.

The Owens children cannot escape love even if they try, just as they cannot escape the pains of the human heart. The two beautiful sisters will grow up to be the revered, and sometimes feared, aunts in Practical Magic, while Vincent, their beloved brother, will leave an unexpected legacy. Thrilling and exquisite, real and fantastical, The Rules of Magic is a story about the power of love reminding us that the only remedy for being human is to be true to yourself.

My Thoughts: In the early part of The Rules of Magic, when Franny, Jet, and Vincent were children, I struggled to stay interested. I only connected with the story when the characters grew into adulthood. The magic, curses, and potions were the least interesting aspects for me. I did enjoy the setting and the era: Manhattan in the 1960s, with a short summer visit to Aunt Isabelle’s home in Boston. Massachusetts was a dreaded place, according to their parents, who clung to the old stories of witches being burned at the stake there.

The children, however, loved the relative freedom of Aunt Isabelle’s home. Her rules were simple: 1) Do as you will, but harm no one; 2) What you give will be returned to you threefold; 3) Fall in love whenever you can.

As we follow the adventures of the siblings, we learn a bit more about the ways they strive to avoid love…and how they each fail at it in some way or another. Tragic things do happen around love, but is it because they allowed love into their lives, or because they are human?

Would they find their own answers? Would they finally come to terms with the love issue? How does this prequel set things up for Practical Magic, the story that follows? 4 stars.

***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

FRIDAY TIME TRAVEL…

Going back in time (not Time Travel, but checking out my Archives) led me to this post from October 17, 2015.

It was a Weekly Updates post, but I want to share this bit about my carpet cleaning prep:

My week was spent mostly reading ONE book, although I then went on to finish another.  The book I spent so much time on was more than 500 pages and awesome (The Lake House), but I was distracted by other things.  Like prepping for carpet cleaning next week.  Who knew prepping could be so time-consuming?  Here is the preliminary Graveyard of my Stuff in the garage (below)….there will be more.

I also caught up on some TV shows returning from hiatus:  The Leftovers, The Affair, and How to Get Away with Murder.  (Did anyone read Tom Perrotta’s book The Leftovers?)  I loved it!

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA***

What I feel as I look at the stuff gathered in my garage…is RELIEF that I am not going through this now.

Instead…I hope to spend the day finishing The Rules of Magic, which is okay…but so far I’m not loving it.

I do love the cover, though.

What has captured your interest on this Friday?

***

REVIEW: I’LL HAVE WHAT SHE’S HAVING, BY ERIN CARLSON

 

In I’ll Have What She’s Having entertainment journalist Erin Carlson tells the story of the real Nora Ephron and how she reinvented the rom-com through her trio of instant classics. With a cast of famous faces including Rob Reiner, Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, and Billy Crystal, Carlson takes readers on a rollicking, revelatory trip to Ephron’s New York City, where reality took a backseat to romance and Ephron–who always knew what she wanted and how she wanted it–ruled the set with an attention to detail that made her actors feel safe but sometimes exasperated crew members.

Along the way, Carlson examines how Ephron explored in the cinema answers to the questions that plagued her own romantic life and how she regained faith in love after one broken engagement and two failed marriages. Carlson also explores countless other questions Ephron’s fans have wondered about: What sparked Reiner to snap out of his bachelor blues during the making of When Harry Met Sally? Why was Ryan, a gifted comedian trapped in the body of a fairytale princess, not the first choice for the role? After she and Hanks each separately balked at playing Mail’s Kathleen Kelly and Sleepless’ Sam Baldwin, what changed their minds? And perhaps most importantly: What was Dave Chappelle doing … in a turtleneck? An intimate portrait of a one of America’s most iconic filmmakers and a look behind the scenes of her crowning achievements, I’ll Have What She’s Having is a vivid account of the days and nights when Ephron, along with assorted cynical collaborators, learned to show her heart on the screen.

My Thoughts: As a fan of Nora Ephron’s writing, and also of how she brought her unique vision to some of my favorite movies, I couldn’t wait to plunge into I’ll Have What She’s Having.

Who knew the tedious details that go into a movie, not to mention the conflicts along the way with various actors, crew members, and the production companies involved?

Watching as the stories and movies came to life was an interesting aspect to this book.

Visualizing how the sets were created was another fun part for me. I love movies and the sets are oftentimes my favorite parts, as the characters lead their lives in their various apartments and homes, not to mention the restaurants and bookstores.

Throughout the book, we learn about Nora Ephron’s other books and movies, and how, even as she fought the illness that would take her life too soon, she kept working and striving. An iconic woman who inspires others. 5 stars.***

 

REVIEW: OUR SOULS AT NIGHT, BY KENT HARUF

 

In the familiar setting of Holt, Colorado, home to all of Kent Haruf’s inimitable fiction, Addie Moore pays an unexpected visit to a neighbor, Louis Waters. Her husband died years ago, as did his wife, and in such a small town they naturally have known of each other for decades; in fact, Addie was quite fond of Louis’s wife. His daughter lives hours away, her son even farther, and Addie and Louis have long been living alone in empty houses, the nights so terribly lonely, especially with no one to talk with. But maybe that could change? As Addie and Louis come to know each other better–their pleasures and their difficulties–a beautiful story of second chances unfolds, making Our Souls at Night the perfect final installment to this beloved writer’s enduring contribution to American literature.

My Thoughts: In this short, yet sweet novel, we meet an unusual pair of senior citizens. They offer an opportunity for the reader to look beneath the surface and see them as more than two people near the ends of their lives. They felt like real people, more than a stereotypical elderly pair. They are no longer just two people we might have overlooked due to their ages. But when they begin their experiment to spend their nights together, Addie and Louis become fodder for town gossip. Small town folks have definite opinions about what they think Addie and Louis are doing…but others find their get-togethers inspiring.

Growing older does not mean one has to go on a shelf, although Addie’s son Gene is outraged enough that he steps in. His take on their friendship is dark and not just judgmental. He makes a threat that will change everything for the two of them.

But can he create a permanent wedge between them? Or will they find another way?

I loved Our Souls at Night, which I downloaded after recommendations from others…and because the movie based on the book is coming soon. Now I can’t wait! 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: A STRANGER IN THE HOUSE, BY SHARI LAPENA

Karen and Tom Krupp are happy—they’ve got a lovely home in upstate New York, they’re practically newlyweds, and they have no kids to interrupt their comfortable life together. But one day, Tom returns home to find Karen has vanished—her car’s gone and it seems she left in a rush. She even left her purse—complete with phone and ID—behind.

There’s a knock on the door—the police are there to take Tom to the hospital where his wife has been admitted. She had a car accident, and lost control as she sped through the worst part of town.

The accident has left Karen with a concussion and a few scrapes.  Still, she’s mostly okay—except that she can’t remember what she was doing or where she was when she crashed. The cops think her memory loss is highly convenient, and they suspect she was up to no good. 

Karen returns home with Tom, determined to heal and move on with her life. Then she realizes something’s been moved. Something’s not quite right. Someone’s been in her house. And the police won’t stop asking questions.

Because in this house, everyone’s a stranger. Everyone has something they’d rather keep hidden. Something they might even kill to keep quiet.

My Thoughts: A story that wrapped itself around me from the first page, A Stranger in the House takes us into the world of Karen and Tom, living in upstate New York in a lovely neighborhood. But then, one night, everything changed.

Karen’s accident in a sketchy neighborhood left her with amnesia, but also with detectives appearing on her doorstep regularly, asking questions, looking at her as if they don’t believe her. They even turn their skepticism on Tom. Because now it is not just an investigation into an accident, but something more happened that night, and Karen and Tom are both looking like suspects.

Across the street, Brigid is watching, too. Supposedly Karen’s best friend, she has secrets…and reasons to keep them. Why is she obsessed with Tom and Karen?

Besides the cops and the investigation, there is more. Who is skulking around in Karen’s house, moving things, messing things up just enough that she will know it?

I am one of those people who always knows when someone has moved my things, just a bit. It drives me mad! Karen cleverly has started taking photos before she leaves the house. What will she discover?

A captivating story that held me in its grip until the very end, not knowing who to trust and who might be the stranger in the house. Then came a stunning twist I did not expect. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: HEARTBREAK HOTEL, BY JONATHAN KELLERMAN

 

At nearly one hundred years old, Thalia Mars is a far cry from the patients that child psychologist Alex Delaware normally treats. But the charming, witty woman convinces Alex to meet with her in a suite at the Aventura, a luxury hotel with a checkered history.

What Thalia wants from Alex are answers to unsettling questions—about guilt, patterns of criminal behavior, victim selection. When Alex asks the reason for her morbid fascination, Thalia promises to tell all during their next session. But when he shows up the following morning, he is met with silence: Thalia is dead in her room.

When questions arise about how Thalia perished, Alex and homicide detective Milo Sturgis must peel back the layers of a fascinating but elusive woman’s life and embark on one of the most baffling investigations either of them has ever experienced. For Thalia Mars is a victim like no other, an enigma who harbored nearly a century of secrets and whose life and death draw those around her into a vortex of violence.

My Thoughts: Heartbreak Hotel begins with an apparently straightforward meeting between Alex Delaware and an almost one-hundred-year-old woman, and then veers off into a series of murders, all seemingly connected to her in some way.

How did Thalia become so wealthy, when her career as a CPA seemed to suggest a more modest financial portfolio? Who are the seemingly nefarious people surrounding her through the years, and what, if anything, does a certain mobster have to do with her wealth? And with her death? Could an unsolved jewel heist in Beverly Hills bring in more possible suspects?

I always enjoy watching Alex and Milo work their cases, seemingly finding connections when others cannot. The author also shows us a peek into their personal lives, like Alex’s longstanding relationship with Robin, and their gorgeous house in Beverly Glen, and Milo Sturgis’s long term relationship with Rick, a doctor.

Sometimes I believe that Alex and Milo have nothing else to do but work on whatever case has taken over a particular book…but then we see them juggling other cases, too, forming a somewhat realistic picture of their days.

I started to get a little dizzy from all the possibilities in this book, but then as we began checking off the red herrings, I was almost ready to guess what person or persons in the past had come back to haunt poor Thalia. Almost. But there were some final surprises in this enjoyable book that earned 4 stars.

***

REVIEW: AFTER SHE FELL, BY MARY-JANE RILEY

Catriona needs help. Her seventeen-year-old daughter Elena was found dead at the bottom of a cliff near her boarding school. The death has been ruled a suicide, but Catriona isn’t convinced.

When her old friend, journalist Alex Devlin, arrives in Hallow’s Edge to investigate, she quickly finds that life at private boarding school The Drift isn’t as idyllic as the bucolic setting might suggest.

Amidst a culture of drug-taking, bullying and tension between school and village, no one is quite who they seem to be, and there are several people who might have wanted Elena to fall…

My Thoughts: I was immediately caught up in Alex’s quest to find answers. Soon after she settles into the cottage provided by Catriona Devonshire, she is threatened, hassled, and even beaten up.

I liked Alex Devlin, and enjoyed a previous book in which she dealt with the aftermath of a family tragedy.

Set near London, After She Fell was a story that had me rooting for the main characters. I liked how Alex persisted in her attempt to find out the truth, and how she managed to keep going despite the efforts of the people of Hallow’s Edge to block her.

What, if anything, does Elena’s stepfather Mark have to do with events? How are the teen druggies involved? Are the posh girls somehow connected to how things play out? What responsibility did the school head play in what happened?

Our first person primary narrator was Alex, but we alternately see Elena’s perspective providing us with clues, just weeks before she died. As we follow the bread crumbs, we finally realize the truth in the story that kept me engaged throughout. The pace was a bit slow at times, but the characters intrigued me. 4 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF EVELYN HUGO, BY TAYLOR JENKINS REID

 

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

My Thoughts: For all those who love iconic celebrities, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo might just be the most addictive read ever.

I was quickly drawn into Evelyn’s story, as told to young writer Monique Grant, and although the dual narratives and timelines could have been challenging, they were seamless and captivating. As if the two women, decades apart and so different in life experiences, had suddenly developed one voice, Evelyn’s story flowed, and when there was a pause, we had the opportunity to peek into Monique’s Manhattan life as a newly single woman going through a divorce.

The stunning reveal at the end was one I truly did not see coming. It answered questions I had, however, about why Monique was singled out to write Evelyn’s memoir.

By the end, I did not want to say goodbye to either character, as I was caught up in the lives of both women. 5 stars.

***