Sunday, March 29, 2020


Does November 13, 2018 mean anything to you?  No?  Well, that was when I published Fiction for the Non-Fiction Reader, XI!  Wait, you don't remember?  It was only 16.5 months ago!  Regardless, it's time for FFTNFR, XII.  I will give you 10 on this list and am half-way to XIII (if you can't wait to know what those 5 are, feel free to contact me).  Don't forget that all of these books are either 3.75/4 or 4/4.  And, as an added bonus, 3 of them (Dugoni, Eisler, and Wiseman - What She Left Behind) just made my 3rd top 12 all-time list!

What She Left Behind - Ellen Marie Wiseman.  Izzy is 17 and lives with foster parents because her mother killed her father and is currently in prison.  The foster parents work in a museum and have asked Izzy to help them do some cataloguing.  While that is going on, she discovers some interesting info about her grandmother and an insane asylum!

The Life She Was Given - Ellen Marie Wiseman.  You've got a young girl in 1931, a 19-year old in the 1950's, a circus, and a whole bunch of secrets. I'll read anything Wiseman writes.

The Winemaker's Wife - Kristin Harmel.  Kristin has written 5 books.  3 of them are in FFTNFR XI. 4 and 5 are on this list.  That's how good she is. TWW takes place during WWII in France.  It basically centers on a winery in the countryside outside of Paris and how it is aiding the Allied cause.

The Great Alone - Kristin Hannah.  The author of The Nightingale strikes again.  The year is 1974.  A former POW moves his family to Alaska.  This is about the mom, dad, and 13-year old daughter.  Hannah can flat-out tell a story.

Swimming for Sunlight - Allie Larkin.  An aspiring costume designer gives up everything in a divorce just to keep her dog.  She decides to go stay with her grandmother in Florida.  Once there, she discovers that her grandmother was a performing mermaid in her youth.  This leads to a whole interesting storyline.  And there just might be an old boyfriend in the mix...possibly...could be.

The Girl He Used to Know - Tracey Garvis Graves.  A young man and woman fall in love...and then out of love.  Ten years later they run into each other again.  Will they rekindle their formerly mutual affection?  Or will they succumb to the circumstances that broke them up a decade earlier?  Read it and find out.

The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell (audiobook) - Robert Dugoni.  This one is a gem.  It's the story of a young boy with red eyes.  The premise may not seem that interesting.  But let me assure you that I have been scoring some major brownie points because of this recommendation!  I kid you not.

Mending Fences - Suzanne Woods Fisher.  This one comes under the genre of Religious Fiction.  I don't have many of these on my lists.  But this one really resonated.  It's about 2 young adults with difficult childhoods who end up in an Amish community.  It's redemptive without being saccharine.

When We Meet Again - Kristin Harmel.  I just read the blurb on this one because it's been a while.  I got chills.  That's happened before, but not often.  WWMA features a young woman with a tough family dynamic. She comes across a painting that sets her on a path of discovering some very interesting facts about German POWs in the U.S. during WWII.  And how it relates to her grandmother, who recently passed away.  If your next 5 books were all by Kristin Harmel, you would be a happy camper.

All the Devils - Barry Eisler.  In FFTNFR, X, I've got Livia Lone, by Barry, on the list.  That was #1 of a series about a female detective in Seattle.  You learn about her extremely rough childhood, and how it leads her to do the things she does.  All the Devils is #3.  Gripping.

Friday, March 27, 2020

darling ROSE GOLD, by Stephanie Wrobel

It's not that common for me to get unsolicited books from publishers.  It recently happened with The Sun Down Motel.  And now it has happened with darling ROSE GOLD.  Not only is it unusual.  But both books are actually hardcover finished copies.  Go figure.  dRG is a good book.  It gets the same rating that TSDM gets - 3.25/4 (4/5 for you Goodreads/Amazon people).  I"m sure you want to know what the book is about:  

FOR THE FIRST EIGHTEEN YEARS of her life, Rose Gold Watts believed she was seriously ill.  She was allergic to everything, used a wheelchair, and practically lived at the hospital.  Neighbors did all they could, holding fund-raisers and offering shoulders to cry on, but despite all of the doctors, tests, and surgeries, no one could figure out what was wrong with Rose Gold.
Turns our her mom, Patty Watts, was just a really good liar.
After serving five years in prison, Patty gets out with nowhere to go and begs her daughter to take her in.  The entire community is shocked when Rose Gold says yes.
Patty insists all she wants is to reconcile their differences.  She says she has forgiven Rose Gold for turning her in and testifying against her.  But Rose Gold knows her mother.  Patty Watts always settles a score.
Unfortunately for Patty, Rose Gold is no longer her weak little darling....
And she has waited such a long time for her mother to come home.

This one, like so many others, goes back and forth between the 2 protagonists.  Rose obviously had a lousy childhood.  Did Patty actually create the medical situations that made Rose so dependent on her? According to the courts, she did.  That's why she spent 5 years in jail. But maybe there are 2 sides to this story...or maybe not.  I liked that in Rose's chapters, we see what she did in the 5 years that Patty was "away."  It sets the stage well for what happens when Patty is released.

This is a well-written book that kept me interested throughout.  I wasn't blown away, but 3.25/4 (4/5) is nothing to sneeze at.  It's definitely worth a read.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The 3rd Top-12 All-Time

Back on March 21, 2013, I posted my top 12 books of all-time.  Then, on April 24, 2014, I posted my 2nd set of top books (13 because it's a baker's dozen).  And now (drum roll, please), I've got another 13 (yep, another BD).  Some (many?) of these books you have probably heard of. And, of course, you can go to a variety of places to get synopses of the ones you don't know.  Your other alternative (as a last resort) is to ask me for a rundown and recommendation based on what kind of genres you like.  Bottom line is that these are all some mighty fine books.

Baldacci, David - Wish You Well
Clavell, James - Shogun
Conroy, Pat - My Losing Season (non-fiction)
Conroy, Pat - South of Broad
Diffenbaugh, Vanessa - The Language of Flowers
Follett, Ken - Pillars of the Earth
Follett, Ken - Winter of the World
Haley, Alex - Roots
King, Steven - 11/22/63
McMurtry, Larry - Lonesome Dove
Michener, James - The Source
Walls, Jeanette - The Glass Castle (non-fiction)

Conroy, Pat - Beach Music
Follett, Ken - Edge of Eternity
Follett, Ken - Fall of Giants 
Follett, Ken - World without End
Franklin-Willis, Amy - The Lost Saints of Tennessee
Hart, John - Iron House
Hart, John - The Last Child
Hoffman, Beth - Saving CeeCee Honeycutt
Ludlum, Robert - The Matarese Circle
Patterson, Richard North - Exile
Picoult, Jodi - The Storyteller
Uris, Leon - Exodus
Wallace, Irving - The Plot

Chamberlain, Diane - The Dream Daughter
Dugoni, Robert - The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell
Eisler, Barry - All the Devils
Eisler, Barry - The God's Eye View
Harmel, Kristin - The Life Intended
Harmel, Kristin - The Sweetness of Forgetting
Rachael Herron - Splinters of Light
Jio, Sarah - Goodnight June
Kline, Christina Baker - Orchard Train
Oakley, Colleen - Close Enough to Touch
Towles, Amor - A Gentleman in Moscow
Waters, Rayme - The Angels' Share
Wiseman, Ellen Marie - What She Left Behind

Monday, March 23, 2020

The Sun Down Motel - Simone St. James

The Sun Down Motel, by Simone St. James, came to me unsolicited from Danielle Keir at Penguin Random House.  And it's even in a ready-to-go hardcover!  When that happens, which is not very often, I feel obligated to read the book.  As the French say, it's a comme si, comme sa situation.  But, fortunately, I liked it.  Voila (get it?...more French?) the synopsis:

Upstate New York, 1982.  Viv Delaney wants to move to New York City, and to help pay for it she takes a job as the night clerk at the Sun Down Motel in Fell, New York.  But something isn't right at the motel, something haunting and scary.

Upstate New York, 2017.  Carly Kirk has never been able to let go of the story of her Aunt Viv, who mysteriously disappeared from the Sun Down before she was born.  Carly decides to move to Fell and visit the motel, where she quickly learns that nothing has changed since 1982.  And she finds herself ensnared in the same mysteries that claimed her aunt.

I believe I just went through this with you all in my last review.  Once again we are going back and forth between 2 different timeframes.  In this case, it's only 35 years vs. almost 80 in BIG LIES IN A SMALL TOWN. And I have to say that I didn't connect with the 2 protagonists quite the same way in Sun Down as I did in BLIAST.  But it's still a good read.  This is Simone's 7th book and my 1st.  Considering I've been a blogger for 9+ years, and a lifelong (which, reversed, is an accurate description of my age!) reader, I'm amazed at how many writers I don't know.  Well that's not the case with Simone St. James any more.  And I will be waiting for her next one.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Diane Chamberlain Does It Again!

Diane Chamberlain has written 27 books, and I just finished my 3rd.  It's hopeless!  But at least I can read any new one that comes out.  And that's just what I did.  The 1st 2, The Dream Daughter and The Stolen Marriage, were terrific.  So how's her latest, BIG LIES IN A SMALL TOWN, you ask?  In a word...excellent!  Let me blurb it for you:

North Carolina, 2018
Morgan Christopher's life has been derailed.  When she takes the fall for a crime she did not commit, her dream of a career in art is put on hold - until a mysterious visitor makes her an offer that will get her released from prison immediately.  Her assignment:  Restore an old post office mural in a sleepy Southern town.  Morgan knows nothing about art restoration but, desperate to be free, she accepts.  What she finds under the layers of grime is a painting that tells the story of madness, violence, and a conspiracy of small-town secrets.

North Carolina, 1940
Anna Dale, an artist from New Jersey, wins a national contest to paint a mural for the post office in Edenton, North Carolina.  Alone in the world and in great need of work, she accepts.  but what she doesn't expect is to find herself immersed in a town where prejudices run deep, where people are hiding secrets behind closed doors, and where the price of being different might just end in murder.
What happened to Anna Dale?  Are the clues hidden in the decrepit mural?  Can Morgan overcome her own demons to discover what exists beneath the layers of lies?

I happen to be a fan of stories that skip back and forth in time.  This one obviously does that.  But it only works if you care about the protagonist(s) in each period of time.  And I certainly did.  I'm not an artist (ask me someday about how I let my partner down in a spirited game of Pictionary!), but I appreciated learning about the process.  And who can forget the most famous fictional art restorer of all time?  That would be Gabriel Allon, Daniel Silva's longstanding series about a renowned art restorer who also happens to lead Israel's intelligence services.  But unlike Silva, Diane actually tells us about the process.  And it's important to the storyline.

If I didn't have hundreds (at least several dozens) of books in my TBR pile, not counting the ones I will be buying along the way, I would binge-read Diane's books.  Alas, that is not practical.  I will just have to content myself with every new book that she writes.  It could be worse.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Cara Black Writes a NON-Aimee Leduc Novel!

Everybody knows Cara Black and her Aimee Leduc protagonist.  I mean, after all, she has written 19 books in that series!  She has enabled all of us to learn a lot about Paris while giving us state of the art mysteries. Now, she's written a standalone novel, THREE HOURS IN PARIS, that takes place in 1940.  It's a fact that in June of that year Hitler spent a total of 3 hours in Paris.  Cara has taken that fact and reimagined history with (per the book cover) "One American Riflewoman. One Impossible Spy Mission. One Shot at Changing the Course of History."  How clever is this?  It's good to see that Cara hasn't gotten so buried in her Leduc series that she can't write anything else.  Well I'm here to tell you that she certainly can!  I'm not going to post the back cover blurb because the front cover tells us what we need to know.

Is the book any good?  How about a Goodreads rating of 4.30/5 with 76 people weighing in.  Why are there so few?  Good question.  It's because the book is not even out yet.  It doesn't hit bookstores  (or ebooks or audiobooks) for another 3 weeks.  By this time in April, you are probably going to see ratings in the thousands.  And I would be very surprised if that 4.30 did any dipping.  In fact, it could very easily climb.  For those who don't know what 4.30/5 means, let me assure you that it is a VERY high rating.  Even the highly touted Where the Crawdad Sings and The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell are only a couple of percentage points above Cara's THIP .

We all know big-name authors who write very successful series.  When they have the guts to venture out into a standalone (and, believe me, it does take guts), they don't always fare so well.  Cara does NOT fall into that category.  She has gone outside her comfort zone and has become firmly ensconced in a new one.  She will undoubtedly return to Aimee Leduc, and we will welcome that.  But I think we'll all be waiting for that next standalone.  To borrow from the sports world, Cara Black's got game!

Sunday, March 8, 2020

A Bunch of Mini-Mini Reviews

I have read a lot of very good books lately.  But I don't seem to have/make time to give them their proper due with reviews.  So I will do the next best thing (is it really?) and list them with just a few sentences. And, by the way, these are all 3.5/4 or higher.  So here I/we go, in no particular order:

1.  Harlan Coben's latest, The Boy from the Woods, is his typical top-notch tale.  Nobody consistently tells a mystery/thriller/suspense story any better than he does.

2.  It's Not PMS, It's You is the new romantic comedy from Rich Amooi. If you want to laugh out loud...a lot, then I highly recommend Rich's books.  This one is a crack-up.  But let me be clear, he still creates an emotional connection with the protagonists.

3.  The Things We Cannot Say is my 1st Kelly Rimmer book.  It's her 7th and latest. It's historical fiction and takes place in Poland during WWII. Pan Jenoff, one of my favorite authors, writes on the cover:  "Fans of The Nightingale and Lilac Girls will adore The Things We Cannot Say...a poetic and unforgettable tale."  Enough said.

4.  Back in December (Christmas Day, to be exact), I reviewed Windy City Blues by Renee Rosen.  I liked it a whole lot.  Well, it didn't take me long to read another one of her books.  I liked Park Avenue Summer almost as much as WCB.  This one is about Helen Gurley Brown when she became the editor of Cosmopolitan in 1965.  Rosen mixes real-life people with fictional characters (historical fiction, anybody?) incredibly well.  2 Rosen's down and 4 to go!

5.  Barry Eisler's latest, All the Devils, is the 3rd in the Livia Lone series. Everything Barry writes is enjoyable.  AND he is coming to the RBC on June 17 to talk about Devils.  Great news for local RBC members and potential hangers-on.

6.  Everybody knows how much I loved The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell, by Robert Dugoni.  I've got news for you...The Eighth Sister is no slouch.  It's about a former CIA case officer who has his own security consulting business and finds himself looking for a Russian agent undercover in Moscow.  Lots of intrigue.

7.  I have long been a big fan of a romantic series called the Maverick Billionaires, by Jennifer Skully and Bella Andre.  They are all good.  But the latest, #6, Captivating in Love, is one of my favorites.  For those of you who think you are above reading romance, try this series.  You might be surprised.

8.  And finally (for today), I've got an actual history book for you.  It's called Last Train out of Shanghai, by Helen Zia.  It focuses on 4 real children during the years that Japan controlled China up through WWII, during the Communist takeover by Mao in 1949, and beyond.  Very good, and in the epilogue we get a big happy surprise (you'll have to read it to find out).  Helen came to our RBC meeting this past Wednesday, and 9 out 9 people who read the book rated it 3.5 or higher! All history books should be so engaging.