Neighbors

January 5, 2021

 


Neighbors
By: Danielle Steel

Summary:
When an 8.2 earthquake rocks San Francisco, the residents of one particular street come together. Lives are forever changed- in both good and bad ways. Mostly, people who once were strangers come to form a little family.

I LOVED this book!! Danielle Steel has tended to be a little hit and miss for me over the last several years. This one I read in a matter of 2 days. I loved all the characters she meant for the reader to love, and the same with the characters she wanted you to dislike. Instead of going light on the whatever subject she wrote about at the time, I felt like Danielle really did justice to the characters and the plot she wove with them.

Meredith is the former movie star who turned her back on the outside world after enduring several heartbreaks in a close period of time. No  longer drawn to movies, she spent the next 15 years within the walls of her property- which is no small piece of real estate. Her only confidantes are the married couple she employs, Jack and Debbie Speck, to help protect her from the world and manage her estate. What she doesn't know is that they never had genuine intentions when it came to her. Although, they genuinely loved the perks of their jobs and the money. Not to mention the valuables they were quietly sneak into their apartment.

Andrew Johnson is a prominent Orthopedic surgeon. His wife was once an OR nurse, but left her career to raise the 2 children they have. He's all about appearance and letting her know how lucky she is. 

Peter Stern is a writer with dreams of publishing his novel. During the day he works in advertising, but writes at night. He had a stroke of luck when Arthur Harriman, a famous concert pianist who is blind, asks Peter to live with him and be a sometime caretaker during the evening hours. 

Joel Fine is a multimillionaire from several start ups he founded. He's local playboy who loves a good time with little, to no strings attached. His current It girl is Ava who was a tradeshow model. She's starting to see beyond the fun of the moment and wanting a future for herself, but she knows it won't include Joel.

Everyone comes together one night when the earthquake hits. Meredith opens rarely used gates and offers everyone to stay with her until their own homes are safe to move back into. Within the month everyone is under her roof, secrets become uncovered and lives begin to change. Not everyone who entered Meredith's house together leaves together. 

**** TRIGGER WARNING!!! ****
There are domestic violence scenes in this book. If that is something you would rather not read , or will be an issue, you may not want to read this book. While they don't occur from start to finish, they do play throughout the majority of the book- especially he last 1/2 of the book.

Like I said, I enjoyed this book. I was gripped from the start. I loved watching the different storylines unfold. Some things weren't surprising, while others were. This was a great book to just curl up with and have a cozy time with. It wasn't fluffy, but nor was it overly heavy. I felt Danielle did a great job of growing her characters after a traumatic experience. You did feel removed from the complete earthquake experience simply because everyone stays at Meredith's mansion. However, as the story progresses, your experience to the event is widened. 


Christmas Books of 2020!!

January 1, 2021

 Merry Christmas Book Reading For 2020!!!

One of my favorite things about the Christmas season are the books! The festive stories of old that I reread annually and the new ones I discover with each new year. Once December1st arrives, I'm a nonstop Christmas reading machine. Any, and every, book I pick up will be Christmas themed until the 31st comes. I get excited to curl up with a comfy blanket and a mug of hot chocolate. I can't wait to discover a new story, or revisit one I've loved for years. I have some favorites that I read every year. It's just a magical time of year for me reading wise. 

However, let's be real. Some books are better than others. Some are amazing. Some are awful. It happens. This year's batch of books wasn't a year where I loved everything. In fact, this year won't go down as the best seasonal reads year. Still, I thought I'd share what I read this December with you. You're going to meet my annual reads and ones I read for the first time. Here we go.....


The Christmas Box
By: Richard Paul Evans

This is a book I pretty much read every year. I has all the feels. The story centers around a married couple who moves into a huge house, with their daughter, to help care for an elderly woman. I'm trying not to give much away, but this book never gets old for me. I still shed a tear at a few places in the story- even though I know they're coming. I'm still touched as I learn about the elderly woman's story. My heart still breaks in the same places it did when I first read it. And, it still overflows with love and joy in other places. Through the course of the story (which is short at less than 200 pages) these strangers form a bond that is unforgettable. This woman blesses the little family just as much as they bless her. Despite having read this book yearly for almost 5 years, the wonder is never lost on me.


The Christmas Sisters
By: Sarah Morgan

I've had this book on my shelf for a year,  or two. I wanted to read it last year, but never did. For some reason, I had a feeling this book was going to be one I read, but wasn't touched by. That proved to be the case. It wasn't a bad book. It just wasn't one that I think I would ever reread. 
This story centers around 3 sisters. You learn fairly early in the book that the people who they call Mom and Dad aren't the biological parents. As the story unfolds, you learn why and how they were connected. Each sister is at a different place in their lives- and at different stages in dealing with the aftermath of a childhood trauma. While the parents live in Scotland full time, only one of the sisters stayed there. All three sisters are going to be spending Christmas in Scotland- and one of them is really dreading it. Each brings their troubles and rocky relationship to the holiday. As the pages turn, walls slowly come down and healing finally begins.


A Christmas Carol
By: Charles Dickens

This is another annual read for me. I look forward to curling up and spending the day with Scrooge and his ghosts. Some of the lines have becomes favorites and I smile as I come to them. I love the ghostly visits and seeing how they melt Scrooge's cold heart. I never tire of the story. We all know how it ends, but I love it. It's like watching your favorite movies. You know the story well, but the magic is still never lost on you. My favorite parts are still leading up to the ghosts and Scrooge's transformation. I eagerly wait in wonder as the journey ensues. My smile is never missing when Scrooge wakes up Christmas morning a changed man. Christmas magic!!


The Nutcracker of Nuremberg
By: Alexander Dumas

This year was the first time I'd read this. I was immediately intrigued when I read that Tchaikovsky's ballet was based on this book. I was hoping I would love it more than I did. This book focus's on the back story between the nutcracker and the mouse king. You learn why they're at odds with one another and everything that led up to the famous battle in the battle. 
It was fascinating to read, but I don't know that I'd read it every year. 





Booked For Christmas
By: Lily Menon

This was a novella I found on Amazon. She's a writer who's works is constantly being trashed by one reviewer. The tension gets thick quickly when said reviewer shows up at her cabin. 

Being snowed in forces them to interact and see each other outside of their usual dynamic. It's a holiday themed hate-love romance trope. It was a cute story that moved quickly. It was overly memorable, but that could just be because it's hard to effectively tell a romantic story the reader can invest in with 89 pages. 


Christmas In Evergreen: Letters to Santa
By: Nancy Naigle

This your Hallmark movie in book form. I'm not sure which came first: the book or the movie, but both are available. The female lead comes back to the town she loved (and moved away from) as a child. She learns that the general store that was a prominent part of the town has closed down and fallen into disrepair. She also learns that it's for sale. She puts her design talent to good use to help get it more enticeable for perspective buyers. The mission gets some of the town's locals involved and a labor of love is begun. Romance comes to more than one of the characters. Everything is wrapped up with a lovely bow at the end, as only Hallmark can do.

This was an enjoyable story to read. I know it's a series of movies, and books. I'd be interested in reading more of the books. The story was fun. The characters were enjoyable. You were routing for the happy ending and weren't disappointed when it came. And even though you knew everything was going to end well, you still loved every minute of the story.

Christmas In Paris
By: Anita Hughes

Okay, as a reviewer, I'm good at finding the positive in pretty much everything I read. I may not like a book, but it rarely doesn't have some redeeming factors. I've got 2 things for this book: the cover (gorgeous) and I finished it (not an easy feet).

There is not enough space for me to tell you all the issues I had with this book. The plot was unbelievable and unlikely- at best. Two people are nursing broken hearts when their weddings are both cancelled days before the events. They find themselves at the same luxury Paris hotel. A meeting with a fortune teller has our female lead convinced she's going to meet her future husband while she's there. So, our wayward female lead sets out on a mission to meet, fall in love and marry her future husband. All within a week. A week right after cancelling her wedding!

This particular book infuriated me to no end. I didn't like the characters. I couldn't relate to them- any of them. I wanted to scream at all of them. The plot was ridiculous and I couldn't get invested in it. It made no sense- at all. I'm amazed I finished the book. I was relieved I didn't have to review this novel. But, like I said, gorgeous cover.


The Christmas Collection
By: Victoria Connelly

This is a grouping of her three Christmas themed novellas: Christmas at the Cove, Christmas at the Castle & Christmas at the Cottage. Three separate stories of characters beginning their romances amidst a wintery backdrop. They were cute and fun, but nothing that really grabbed you and gripped ahold of your heart. They were fun, cozy reads that I read over the course of a rainy day. I loved the description of winter in each of them. Where I live, I don't get snow, so that was a favorite aspect that I loved. It was fun to meet each of the characters, but I didn't get invested in any of the couples. 



The Christmas Candle
By: Max Lucado

This my first year of reading this book, but it won't be my last. I LOVED this book. From start to finish, I devoured this story. I was gripped. I couldn't put it down. Once I started, there was no stopping until I read the last word. 

In this story, a candle maker and his wife are visited by a fiery Angel. The one candle the Angel touches goes on to bless the person it's given to. A tradition, and legend is born. The Angel visits the candle maker every 25 years- always touching one candle that goes on to bless and answer the prayers of it's receiver. One year, the batch of candles are disrupted and spilled. The candle maker and his wife have no idea which one the Angel touches. But that doesn't stop the blessings from happening. 

I'm not doing this book justice in my description, but it was nothing short of phenomenal. I loved every minute of the book! It was the highlight of my Christmas reading and made it to my annual reading list. 

There you have it! My hits, and misses, from this year's batch of Christmas book reads. I hope you read wonderful stories this year. I hope they blessed you, in some way. A lot of this list has been on my TBR for a year, or more. I'm glad I was finally able to read them. I'm already forming my list for next year. See ya this time next year with my new findings.

It's Never Too Late

December 1, 2020

 

It's Never Too Late
By: Kathie Lee Gifford
224 Pages

Summary:
Former Today show host Kathie Lee Gifford draws on stories from her remarkable life to weave together a beautiful reminder that whatever circumstances we face, God is still dreaming big for our years ahead.

When Kathie Lee Gifford stepped down as cohost of the fourth hour of the Today show with Hoda Kotb, you might have thought her best days were behind her. It turns out, she was just getting started. As Kathie Lee says, “I’m not retiring; I’m refiring!”

Taking us from her Chesapeake Bay childhood when she first heard God’s calling, to her skyrocketing fame with Regis, to her decision to leave television for Nashville, Kathie Lee inspires us to pursue what really matters. Because it’s never too late to forgive, to dance the cha-cha, or to make a difference in the world. --bn.com


This book felt like Kathie Lee was sitting down with you and going through photo albums and briefly chatting about each memory. It was fun to read. She was honest and lighthearted. She was vulnerable and humble. She was open about her faith and the times her faith was tested. While she didn't do a bare her sole type of giving you information, she gave you everything you needed to connect with that particular memory. 

I've always admired her strength. I may not have followed her life and career very closely, but I was aware of enough to know the woman has seen her share of rough times. I remember her being accused to knowingly running sweatshops. I was also there to see how she responded to the charge. I was aware of it when her husband's adultery, and the plot surrounding it. I was also aware enough to see how she tackled it. Within this book, she walks you through all of this and more. You see how her faith in God helped her keep her course- even when that course was more difficult to stick to than walk away from. You see how she conducted herself behind the scenes, where it truly counted. 

It was a pleasure to read this book. I respected her in the days these events happened, and I respect her all the more now. I respect that she was open about the good, bad, heartbreaking, and anger inducing. The truth is, none of us are guaranteed to escape some of the things Kathie Lee faced. Her dignity, poise, and focus on what really matters is something we can all learn from. 

Premeditated Mortar

 


Premeditated Mortar
By: Kate Carlisle
304 pages

Summary:
Shannon Hammer is about to embark on one of the biggest projects of her career. Her best friend Jane Hennessey has purchased one wing of the Gables, formerly the old state insane asylum, located on a bucolic hillside two miles northeast of Lighthouse Cove. Jane plans to turn her section into a small luxury hotel complete with twenty ocean-view rooms, a spa, and a restaurant.

Shannon is raring to get started on the enormous project and is shocked when a group of unruly protesters shows up at the groundbreaking ceremony and wreaks havoc. She’s even more freaked-out when someone pushes her into a pit of bricks in a closed-off room of the asylum. Despite her close call, Shannon wants nothing more than to get back to work . . . until she finds a body not far from where she was pushed. Now Shannon is determined to get to the bottom of the goings-on at the Gables even if it kills her. . . . --bn.com

I have to admit that it's been several books since I've read this series. I meant to keep up with it, but life being life, it didn't happen. I left the series off at book 2, and here we are with book 8. If you're new to the series, have no concern. As I read this book, I never felt holes or gaps from previous installments in the series. The author keeps you in the loop of anything you may have learned in the books leading up to it. 

Shannon's best friend, Jane, has very personal reasons for renovating her wing of the mental institution: her mother was a patient within the same wing. So she's determined to turn a sad and dark location into one that is loving and welcoming. However, the protestors have different feelings. They'd much rather see in no longer exist at all. As the story unfolds, you learn why they feel the way they do. You also learn the protestors are connected to the asylum and how. You learn how the asylum began as a great place, but a change of hands changed all of that. You get to know several of the protestors and their stories. You discover the dark side of the person who took over and her approach to treating mental illness. Not to mention the scars it leaves behind on those who endured it, or watched it unfold. I felt Kate Carlisle did a great job of telling this dark and twisted story, but in a way that wasn't overwhelming or approaching thriller level. I was definitely gripped to the plot and seeing how it unfold further. 

I have to say that cozy mysteries usually don't tackle these types of subjects. While this book focused more on the characters and their lives, I did enjoy the mental health storyline. In fact, I wish Kate Carlisle went a little more into that part of the story than the characters. I enjoyed the book and revisiting these characters. I plan to read the books in between where I left off and this one in the new year. 

Finding Quiet

November 9, 2020

 


Finding Quiet
By: Jamie Grace
224 Pages
Summary:
Jamie Grace has lived in the middle of noise for most of her life. Many know her as a singer with radio hits who has spent the last decade on stages and in front of the camera, but behind the scenes, she has struggled with Tourette Syndrome, ADHD, and an anxiety disorder for most of her life. But in the middle of both inner and outer noise, Jamie has learned how to manage the negative effects of her diagnoses, make the most of her strengths, and lean into the journey God has led her on. --bn.com

Jamie Grace has  become a familiar person to me. Not because of her music, but because of the show I watch she's been on: Better Together. On this show, she briefly opened up at her medical diagnoses. As I was listening to her tell how she deals with life I kept thinking that I'd love to hear her story more in depth. I was excited for this book because that's what it's supposed to be. I just knew inspiration was going to be found within these pages.

I wasn't wrong.  Jamie gave a deeper look at her life with Tourette Syndrome. Not being very familiar with this condition, I was appreciative for this. I had no idea how dangerous the ticks are. Not to mention the side effects that some with fighting them. I loved getting more educated about Tourette's from someone living it. The strength she had to not just give up on her dreams was an inspiration. She also gave you a front row seat in her mind for how her anxiety plays out in her life. As you read the words she wrote, you see the battle her anxiety wages. She lays it bare for you. 

To see the things Jamie has gone on to accomplish despite having these medical issues is inspiring to the reader. From a young age, she has been doing what few her age did. Seeing how she relies on God through it all- on a daily basis- reminds you how powerful a relationship with Him is. How impactful it can be. The courage Jamie showed in giving you a look into her life, and all it's complications, is what many people in this world need. Sometimes we need to be reminded that we can still pursue, and achieve, our dreams even if the road to them is difficult. Jamie, I thank you for sharing your story. I pray it blesses every reader.

The Noel Letters

October 28, 2020

 


The Noel Letters
By: Richard Paul Evans

Summary:
After nearly two decades, Noel Post, an editor for a major New York publishing house, returns to her childhood home in Salt Lake City to see her estranged, dying father. What she believed would be a brief visit turns into something more as she inherits the bookstore her father fought to keep alive. Reeling from loneliness, a recent divorce, and unanticipated upheavals in her world, Noel begins receiving letters from an anonymous source, each one containing thoughts and lessons about her life and her future. She begins to reacquaint herself with the bookstore and the people she left behind, and in doing so, starts to unravel the reality of her painful childhood and the truth about her family. As the holidays draw near, she receives a Christmastime revelation that changes not only how she sees the past but also how she views her future.
        --Amazon.com


I've had a long standing tradition of reading each Christmas book Richard Paul Evans puts out. I eagerly await its release so I can get (usually) get lost in a story I don't want to put down. Some books have been better than others, and some have left a more lasting impression, but I still look forward to this Christmas tradition every year. 

This year's release, The Noel Letters, was no exception. The plot sounded right up my alley. And while I think it's a good book, it wasn't as good as I was hoping. Usually, Mr. Evans' books encompass more of the Christmas spirit in terms of the emotions they bring out. This one didn't do that. The Noel Letters was about the long term effects of harboring a grudge. You can see why Noel distanced herself from her father. You can easily see why she felt the way she did. You can relate to the confusion she encounters when she arrives home to everyone singing his praises. How was this man the same man at the root of her pain? There is a heaviness of the heart as you read the pages of this book. How was it able to get as bad as it did? How was the distance and misunderstandings able to last as long as they did?

The letters Noel begins receiving weren't as impactful as I thought they would be. Rather, they were random nuggets of advice that you later learn are connected. Not to say the words written weren't wise, but you didn't always see the connection between them and Noel. Finding out who was behind them and involved with them was more impactful. Once you have this background information on the letters, you see them in a different light. 

The supporting characters were both fascinating and confusing. Grace, I loved and wanted to learn more about. I loved her character. You just knew there was more to her involvement than just a friend of Noel's Dad. Your heart breaks to learn of her story, then it overflows with amazement when you see what she does with the circumstances. You aren't surprised to learn they were close friends, but shocked to see how the friendship came to be. I have to say, she was my favorite of the characters. I could just sit with her all day and gleam life lessons and wisdom from her.

Wendy, the coworker with her father in his bookstore, was a character I couldn't make sense of. You knew they were connected as she worked side by side, for years, with him. She was his righthand man in the business operations, as well as some of his personal life. Both she and Grace were the ones to care for him all the years Noel wasn't there- especially during his illness and death. There was a mourning with a touch of bitterness you meet right away, but can't quite figure out. I have to say the revelation of Noel's Father and Wendy was a surprise I didn't see coming. It was one I couldn't really understand. You aren't there to watch it unfold, so it's hard to imagine.

Overall, I'm glad I read the book. It was a story that tackles a darker set of feelings and emotions that can exist during the holidays. Grudges can bring damage that takes years to heal, if you let them. This book is a reminder of there always being two sides to every story, but being willing to learn both sides is key. Forgiveness was the center point of the story. Forgiveness from both sides. I felt much of the emotions Noel felt within the pages. I understood them. I cried a few tears and points. It's a good read, but not one that I think I would read again. 

Christmas Ever After

September 29, 2020

 


Christmas Ever After
by: Karen Schaler
396 Pages

Summary:
Author Riley Reynolds is desperate to salvage her career. Her last book didn't do well and, if things don't change, she's looking at being dropped by her publisher. So, the woman who has sworn off Christmas for most of her life has been told to write a Christmas book. Her publicist uses questionable tactics to make this happen. So, the girl who doesn't do Christmas is going to host a Christmas Camp. Since her publicist tells everyone listening that she's Miss Christmas, it makes perfect sense. Things get off on the wrong foot and she must do what she can to salvage not just her career but the Camp. She can play along for a few days with her fans, right? But.... what are her ex-boyfriends doing there?

Karen Schafer has quickly become part of my Christmas reading traditions. She releases a new book themed around Christmas each year, and I devour it. This one, I felt, fell a little flat. Rather than making the days at the camp, and it's Christmas-themed activities, the book spends most of it's pages on prepping for the camp. I'm used to the Camp time being the focus of the book, with everything else being a supporting story line. This time around, it's flipped.

This particular Christmas Camp isn't like the others in previous books. This Camp centers around Riley. The attendees are fans who paid to be there- with the focus on Riley's Christmas traditions. No one- not even Luke- knows she doesn't do Christmas anymore. Things get a little hairy when, amongst the guest list, are blasts from her past with intentions on becoming her future. Misunderstandings run rampant in this book- mostly at the hands of her near-do-well publicist, Mike. 

You learn why, as a child, Riley loved Christmas and why those days abruptly ended. You get an up close look at her life and how it became the way it currently is. You see her slowly open her heart and mind to the possibility of letting Christmas back into her life. You see her focus shift from just saving her career, but making sure others involved get what they want, as well. 

Riley and Luke, the manager of the Inn, get off on the wrong foot. He's left scrambling to clean up a mess she made when she storms out of an interview about the Christmas Camp. Riley and Luke both have reasons for needing the Christmas Camp to be successful, so they have to work together to make it happen. The road isn't always smooth, but they tread the path, nonetheless. It doesn't take long before she's having to think fast to live up to false expectations her publicist promises. 

While Christmas Ever After isn't my favorite book in this series, it was still a good read. I connected with Riley, Luke and several of the other characters. Despite being a slower read than it's predecessors, it was still a cozy read to get get lost in. No one will find the basics of the story unpredictable, but you don't buy it thinking they will. Karen Schafer gives you what you are expecting: a heart-warming story around Christmas. She delivers another book showing the magic and wonder of the Christmas spirit. 

 

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