Sunday, January 14, 2018

Book Review: Springtime at the Cider Kitchen (Little Somerby #2) by Fay Keenan

Springtime at the Cider Kitchen

(Little Somerby #2)
by Fay Keenan 

Moving, funny, thoughtful and romantic. Bring on the next one!' JENNY KANE.

Caroline Hemingway can't help but feel a little strange watching her ex-sister-in-law marrying the owner of Carter's Cider Farm, but she's delighted Anna's found happiness after the death of her late husband, and Caroline's brother, James. If only Caroline could find her own love story...

Desperate to escape the rat race, Caroline decides to take the plunge and move to the idyllic village of Little Somerby, where she is given the task of opening and running a restaurant in one of the forgotten barns on the Cider Farm.

Opening and running The Cider Kitchen is no easy task, and there are many challenges on the way, but slowly Caroline feels she's being accepted into the local community and starts to believe she may have found her forever home. But secrets from her past seem destined to haunt her, and not even the attentions of the very dishy Jonathan Carter can distract her from all she's left behind...

My Rating:

Favorite Quotes:


You really don’t read anything except women’s phone numbers, do you?

…I stopped being a child, and started realising that not everyone is a hero and not everyone is a bad guy. We’re all shades of both and everything in between.

I’ve never liked having my space invaded, and you’re like wood smoke; I can smell you even when you’re not there, I’m aware of your presence hours after you’ve left.


My Review:

While it was not necessary to read the first book in the series prior to picking this one up, it would most likely endear you more toward the additional characters.  The main characters of this book were struggling with their identities and careers and combative with each other, hence, book two definitely had a heavier emotional tone and a much higher level of tension and angst than the previous book, which left me feeling less engaged as angst is not among my favorite things. The plot was slow to develop and the characters were difficult for me to embrace and/or appreciate, as many of their difficulties and issues were generally self-inflicted, although I was far more sympathetic towards them as I neared the book’s conclusion.  I greatly enjoyed and looked forward to the chapters including or featuring the ongoing story threads of Anna and Matthew which carried over from the first book, as I adored them both.  

Caroline had a prickly and difficult personality, she was a redhead with the temper to match and the cocky Jonathan appeared to spark it all too easily.  Jonathan won me over with the touching and thoughtful eulogy he presented at his father’s funeral, it squeezed my cold heart.  I happily gleaned some additions for my Brit Word List with the new entries of twee – which Mr. Google told me meant excessively or affectedly quaint or pretty; and kitted out – which Americans would probably say as outfitted with.   It is always a pleasing thought to be able to say I've learned something new for the day, even when reading fiction.  

Empress DJ

About the Author

Website   Twitter

Goodreads   Amazon

Fay Keenan was born in Surrey and raised in Hampshire, before finally settling in the West Country. When Fay is not chasing her children around or writing, she teaches English at a local secondary school. She lives with her husband of fourteen years, two daughters, a cat, two chickens and a Weimaraner called Bertie in a village in Somerset, which may or may not have provided the inspiration for Little Somerby.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Book Review: The Second Chance Tea Shop (Little Somerby #1) by Fay Keenan

The Second Chance Tea Shop

 (Little Somerby #1)

by Fay Keenan 


Second chances, new loves and scrumptious cakes, in this heart-warming novel. Perfect for all fans of Fern Britton, Katie Fforde, and Cathy Bramley.

Following the tragic death of her beloved husband, Anna Hemingway decides it's time for a fresh start. So Anna and her three-year-old daughter Ellie move to a picture-perfect cottage in the beautiful village of Little Somerby, and when she takes over the running of the village tea shop, Ellie and Anna start to find happiness again.

But things get complicated when Matthew Carter, the owner of the local cider farm, enters their lives. Throughout a whirlwind year of village fetes and ancient wassails, love, laughter, apple pie and new memories, life slowly blossoms again. But when tragedy strikes and history seems to be repeating itself, Anna must find the strength to hold onto the new life she has built.

This beautiful, life-affirming debut novel marks the beginning of the Little Somerby series, and promises to make you smile, cry, reach for a cream tea, and long for a life in the perfect English countryside.

My Rating:

Favorite Quotes:

That place is hotter than David Beckham’s boxers!… I’m so not joking – mere mortals like me would have to sell the family silver, if we hadn’t already, to get a table there. It’s worth going out with him just for the grub!

We’re not teenagers, Matthew –we both come with rather a lot of history… Like a second-hand car…

Christ, if it was me, I’d be sticking pins in a Chanel-dressed voodoo doll by now!

My Review:

I’m all about the indie’s and even more so when it is a first-time author, although sometimes it can be a gamble and I find myself holding my breath the book will be readable.  Thankfully that was not a concern for this debut performance and the first offering of a planned series featuring a small English village, although the author did have a head start advantage being an English teacher and all.  This was a sweet and gentle tale with a slowly building romance and side orders of humor, delicious sounding treats, and family drama until it took a turn for heavy angst and got a bit mired there a bit longer than I wished before those sweet scenes come back into focus.  The frequent food mentions seemed to spark copious snacking during reading, that is my current excuse anyway.  The premise was entertaining; the characters were endearing and appealing; and the writing was easy to follow, insightful, emotive, and relevant.  I already have the second book in this series loaded on my Kindle and ready for immediate perusal. 

I learned a few new Brit words and phrases, always a plus score for my day when I can add to my Brit word list – with the top new entries being “doorstep toast” which would be what Americans call Texas toast, and berk, which the Urban Dictionary tells me is the equivalent of an idiot, although the original slang origin was far more… earthy, and rhymes with hunt.  So of course, I immediately had to add it to the top of my list ;) 

Empress DJ

About the Author

Website   Twitter

Goodreads   Amazon

Fay Keenan was born in Surrey and raised in Hampshire, before finally settling in the West Country. When Fay is not chasing her children around or writing, she teaches English at a local secondary school. She lives with her husband of fourteen years, two daughters, a cat, two chickens and a Weimaraner called Bertie in a village in Somerset, which may or may not have provided the inspiration for Little Somerby.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Book Review: JUST BETWEEN US by Rebecca Drake


by Rebecca Drake

Four suburban mothers conspire to cover up a deadly crime in Just Between Us, a heart-stopping novel of suspense by Rebecca Drake.

Alison, Julie, Sarah, Heather. Four friends living the suburban ideal. Their jobs are steady, their kids are healthy. They’re as beautiful as their houses. But each of them has a dirty little secret, and hidden behind the veneer of their perfect lives is a crime and a mystery that will consume them all.

Everything starts to unravel when Alison spots a nasty bruise on Heather’s wrist. She shares her suspicions with Julie and Sarah, compelling all three to investigate what looks like an increasingly violent marriage. As mysterious injuries and erratic behavior mount, Heather can no longer deny the abuse, but she refuses to leave her husband. Desperate to save her, Alison and the others dread the phone call telling them that she’s been killed. But when that call finally comes, it’s not Heather who’s dead. In a moment they’ll come to regret, the women must decide what lengths they’ll go to in order to help a friend.

Just Between Us is a thrilling glimpse into the underbelly of suburbia, where not all neighbors can be trusted, and even the closest friends keep dangerous secrets. You never really know what goes on in another person’s mind, or in their marriage.

My Rating:

Favorite Quotes:

The strange thing about a secret is it longs to be told. Someone can confide personal news —a terminal illness, having lied on a job application, even an indiscretion with a stranger— and you might simply focus on the story itself, the details and the implications, but if they add that caveat—“ don’t tell”— then suddenly that’s all you can think about doing.

…her small, probably fixed, ferrety nose sniffing the air while she darted beady-eyed looks about the room. I doubted she’d ever been in Heather’s house before—she was an acquaintance rather than a friend, one of those women who believed that personal power came from the collection, and distribution, of gossip.

The coffin was a huge, satin-padded mahogany box, Viktor tucked into its folds like a piece of expensive mail-order fruit that got delayed somewhere in transit, polished and presentable, hiding a rotting core.

It was the sort of death he might have appreciated, high-intensity and cinematic, crashing through a guardrail and plunging thirty feet into the river. A swift end to a short life, but people like that seem destined to die young.

My Review:

I seem to have been on a suspense junket lately, and I’ve surprised myself with how much I’ve enjoyed them, but it has also cost me greatly as I am now sleep deprived.  My lack of somnolence came not only from being enthralled and unable to put my Kindle down but from also ruminating about the characters and storylines once I finally closed my eyes.  Just Between Us presented such a conundrum.  It was well plotted, full of creative and unimagined twists and turns, and terribly hard to put down.  The primary and as well as many secondary characters were well fleshed out and knowable, but not all at once, as shocking surprises were in store from each household.  

The four women were uniquely unsuited to be friends.  This wily author presented them in a cunning and intriguing manner, tantalizing me with unpredictable and questionable behaviors and thoughts, as well as making them annoyingly realistic and significantly flawed once the layers of civility were removed.  Not a one of them were as I had expected or as they had presented themselves, to anyone.  Each had dark and shameful secrets hidden in their histories, which were compounded by the new clandestine activities they had been caught up with.  They had pulled together with the united purpose of assisting one of their own then became ensnared and saw no choice but to press forward with riskier and outright illicit behaviors.  It is so true to form that when in the midst of a crisis options appear limited or nonexistent, but a day or so later all the alternatives of should have and could have, will flood the mind.  The storylines heated up and boiled over as the four ladies began to unravel from the guilt and stress with panic attacks, paranoia, resentments, distrust, and destructive bad habits that frayed and fractures their ties. But I never saw this ending coming, it was cleverly devised and craftily enacted, yet oddly disquieting as well.  

Empress DJ

Rebecca Drake is the author of the novels Don’t Be Afraid, The Next Killing, The Dead Place, which was an IMBA bestseller, and Only Ever You, as well as the short story “Loaded,” which was featured in Pittsburgh Noir. A graduate of Penn State University and former journalist, she is currently an instructor in Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular Fiction M.F.A. program. Rebecca lives in Pittsburgh, PA, with her husband and two children.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Book Review: The Chalk Man by C. J. Tudor

The Chalk Man

by C. J. Tudor

Amazon | Books-A-Million | Barnes & Noble

Hardcover: 288 pages

Publisher: Crown (January 9, 2018)

The must-read thriller of 2018, this riveting and relentlessly compelling psychological suspense debut weaves a mystery about a childhood game gone dangerously awry that will keep readers guessing right up to the shocking ending

In 1986, Eddie and his friends are just kids on the verge of adolescence. They spend their days biking around their sleepy little English village and looking for any taste of excitement they can get. The chalk men are their secret code; little chalk stick figures they leave for one another as messages only they can understand. But then a mysterious chalk man leads them right to a dismembered body, and nothing is ever the same.

In 2016, Eddie is fully grown, and thinks he’s put his past behind him. But then he gets a letter in the mail, containing a single chalk stick figure. When it turns out that his friends got the same message, they think it could be a prank . . . until one of them turns up dead.

That’s when Eddie realizes that saving himself means finally figuring out what really happened all those years ago.

Expertly alternating between flashbacks and the present day, The Chalk Man is the very best kind of suspense novel, one where every character is wonderfully fleshed out and compelling, where every mystery has a satisfying payoff, and where the twists will shock even the savviest reader.

“Readers will undoubtedly be reminded of the kids of Stand by Me and even IT…[the] first-person narration alternates between past and present, taking full advantage of chapter-ending cliffhangers. A swift, cleverly plotted debut novel that ably captures the insular, slightly sinister feel of a small village. Children of the 1980s will enjoy the nostalgia.”—Kirkus

“I haven’t had a sleepless night due to a book for a long time. The Chalk Man changed that.” —Fiona Barton, New York Times bestselling author of The Widow

My Rating:

Favorite Quotes:

My hair is still thick and mostly dark, but my laughter lines lost their sense of humour some time ago.

Many of the kids I teach at Anderbury Academy are what we call “challenging.”  In my day, they would have been called “a bunch of little shits.”  Some days, I need to mentally prepare myself to deal with them. Other days, the only preparation that helps is a shot of vodka in my morning coffee.

I knew she didn’t really like Fat Gav’s mum and dad. I heard her once tell Dad that they were “often-contagious.” When I got older, I realized she’d actually said “ostentatious,” but for years I thought she meant that they harboured some strange disease.

None of it was true, but rumors are like germs. They spread and multiply almost in a breath and, before you know it, everyone is contaminated.

BEING AN ADULT is only an illusion. When it comes down to it I’m not sure any of us ever really grow up. We simply grow taller and hairier. Sometimes, I still feel amazed that I am allowed to drive a car, or that I have not been found out for drinking in the pub.

No one ever found any answers at the bottom of a bottle. Not the point, of course. The point of reaching the bottom of the bottle is generally to forget the questions.

My Review:

The Chalk Man was a brilliantly paced and multi-layered tale with gripping storylines dripping with intrigue, and a riveting plot packed with odd and compelling characters.  What more could you ask for?  Not a damn thing says my stunned and addled brain.  I was quickly sucked into the vortex of this enthralling story and had an extremely difficult time putting my Kindle down.  Peculiar and distressing incidents, gruesome nightmares, and mysterious events were observed and cataloged by a sticky-fingered pre-teen which continued to haunt the forty-two-year-old man thirty years later.  I devised theories I hoped would be incorrect as it would have hurt my heart, but I never saw this ending coming.  I am awestruck with the knowledge this ingeniously crafted and insightfully written book was the author’s first.  She must be an evil genius and her family should be advised to count the empties, sleep with one eye open, and always remain in her good graces.     

Empress DJ

About C. J. Tudor

C. J. TUDOR lives in Nottingham, England, with her partner and three-year-old daughter. Over the years she has worked as a copywriter, television presenter, voice-over, and dog walker. She is now thrilled to be able to write full-time and doesn’t miss chasing wet dogs through muddy fields all that much. The Chalk Man is her first novel.


Connect with C. J.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Book Review: A Little Bit of Grace by Phoebe Fox

A Little Bit of Grace

by Phoebe Fox

Releasing January 23, 2018

Family is everything—Grace McAdams’s mom must have said it to her a thousand times before she died. Before Grace’s dad ran off with an aspiring actress half his age. Before only-child Grace found out she was unable to have children of her own. Before Brian—her childhood best friend, business partner, and finally her husband—dropped a “bombshell” on her in the form of her stunning new replacement.

Which means Grace now has…nothing.

Until a letter from a woman claiming to be a relative Grace never knew she had sends her on a journey—from the childhood home she had to move back into (three doors down from the happy couple) to a tropical paradise island to meet a total stranger who claims to be family. And Grace starts to uncover answers about the eccentric woman her family never mentioned: an octogenarian who writes a viral relationship-advice blog, a compulsive (and highly successful) matchmaker…and the keeper of an unimaginable family secret held for more than fifty years.

A heartfelt, funny story about family and forgiveness, starting over when the happy ending ends, and handling it all with a little bit of grace.

My Rating:

Favorite Quotes:

‘Because I told Mandy she could have Grandmother’s chair over my dead body, and I’m nothing if not a woman of my word.’  Mrs. Fielding had taken that vow to the extreme, I reflected, breathing through my mouth as I looked at where her body sat slumped in that same chair, thinking that new upholstery might not be enough to get the smell of her decomposing body out of the antique for Ms. Yeager.

I wish I understood young people’s obsession with their own genitalia and capturing it for posterity… Honey, there’s not one thing you can do about a man who lacks any class and the sense God gave him and insists on foisting his frank and beans onto your phone screen.

Gracie, you’re a beautiful young woman… But you’re a peacock dressing like a pigeon.

“First time stripping the taco? … The lady portal. The bizniz. Sweeping the stairway to heaven.”  I stared. “Come on, you know—waxing Madame Bovary. First time you got the full monty?”  She made a diamond of her hands around her groin area.

Sugar, when the day comes that someone has to live here with me and wipe my helpless bottom, I assure you he will be far younger, well-muscled, and more macho than you are.

“Don’t you know our state mottoes?  ‘Florida: home of the newly wed and nearly dead.’ ‘Death’s doorstep.’  ‘Where America goes to die.’ There is a lot of fertile ground here for estate planning.”

My Review:

I tumbled right into this engaging, cleverly written, and delightful tale that was packed with all the feels. I reveled in Ms. Fox’s witty descriptions and clever use of humor while navigating the painfully insightful inner musings of the endearing and lovable character of Grace. Grace was struggling to come to grips with a series of devastating losses and unpleasant surprises. The final straw that proved too much for the normally mild and placid woman to withstand had her boiling over with a level of emotion that shocked her, as much as her impulsive yet clever act of retribution had appalled and dismayed her – she quickly fled town under the cover of darkness for a much needed vacation. 

 Phoebe Fox has a smooth and sneaky way of implanting me behind her characters’ eyes. I was right there feeling all of Grace’s feels, my chest was tight when she was devastated, I fist pumped when she finally got mad, and my eyes burned and lower lip quivered as she sweetly detailed incidents of her childhood with her mother to her long lost aunt. I think I may have even walked funny after Grace had her first waxing experience. Most of us have known a Grace at some point during our sojourn on earth; Grace was the ultimate small-town “good girl,” sweet, kind, considerate, trustworthy, admirable, unassuming, smart, overlooked, plainly dressed, prepared, making do, and patiently waiting. Full disclosure - I have never been a Grace.

The storyline was superbly crafted and unfailingly entertaining while the writing was witty and wryly amusing yet also thoughtful, emotive, poignant, and keenly insightful. The narrative was vividly detailed with humorous and colorful observations that often had me smirking. I adore Ms. Fox’s endearingly flawed, lovable, and relatable characters; even her secondary characters continually enticed and plucked at my curiosity and had me wanting to know more about them. I adored the ebullient and feisty Aunt Millie, whose inner beauty and indefatigable kindness despite her family’s long-standing history of rejection stung my eyes and made my heart hurt. Literally ;)

Empress DJ

About Phoebe Fox

Twitter  / Amazon

Phoebe Fox has been a contributor and regular columnist for a number of national, regional, and local publications--currently for the Huffington Post as a relationship writer. She's been a movie, theater, and book reviewer; a screenwriter; and has even been known to help with homework revisions for nieces and nephews. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and two excellent dogs.

Book Review: Conrad by Anne L. Parks

by Anne L. Parks

Army Ranger K-9 handler Conrad Matthews (and his dog, Georgie) are the first responders into perilous operations—until a terrorist’s bullet shatters his entire world. His career destroyed, his dog lost, and the beautiful doctor who saved his life out of reach, Conrad vows to reclaim the life he’s lost. First on his agenda: locating his four-legged best friend.

Julie “Doc” Sutton returns from her deployment in Syria as an Army Reserve physician, determined to rebuild her medical practice, her life, and her broken heart. Looking to fill a solitary void, she adopts a retired military service dog.

When Conrad learns Georgie is being fostered by the Brotherhood Protectors, he travels to Eagle Rock, Montana—and comes face to face with the woman he left in Syria who still owns his heart. But Doc’s world is in chaos from threats against her life. With her would-be assassin closer than ever, Conrad vows to protect her—even if it means sacrificing himself to save her.

My Rating:

Favorite Quotes:

“Hot date with Rosie, sir?” Bart asked, raising his hand and spreading out his fingers.

… she didn’t need the reminder that her husband wanted a woman who was basically the town bicycle—most men in the area had ridden her at one time or another.

How she had ever thought that man was her lifelong partner was a mystery to her. She chalked it up to youth and stupidity.

You saved a lost, wandering soul, Dr. Sutton. And released him in a way that was honorable.

My Review:

Conrad was a quick, action-packed, and eventful read that started in the heat of Syria and ended in a small town in Montana.  I enjoyed the premise, characters, and easy to follow storyline that included a bit of everything - heartbreak, humor, steam, a sweet dog, betrayal, danger, and suspense.  

Empress DJ

About the Author   

Born and raised in the Rocky Mountains, Anne L. Parks has spent the last 25 years moving all over the United States. Married to the Navy - well a Commander in the Navy - Parks has lived in various locales throughout the United States. She currently resides in the Washington D.C area and is loving every minute. When not writing, she spends her time reading, doing yoga, mountain biking, and keeping track of four kids. And drinking wine.


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Book Review: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

The Immortalists
by Chloe Benjamin 

A dazzling family love story reminiscent of Everything I Never Told You from a novelist heralded by Lorrie Moore as a “great new talent.”

If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life?

It's 1969 in New York City's Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

The prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in '80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.

A sweeping novel of remarkable ambition and depth, The Immortalists probes the line between destiny and choice, reality and illusion, this world and the next. It is a deeply moving testament to the power of story, the nature of belief, and the unrelenting pull of familial bonds.

My Rating:

Favorite Quotes:

There is no air-conditioning in the apartment, and this year— the summer of 1969— it seems something is happening to everyone but them. People are getting wasted at Woodstock and singing “Pinball Wizard” and watching Midnight Cowboy, which none of the Gold children are allowed to see.

Gertie has always believed in superstition more than any God. She spits three times when a funeral goes by, throws salt if the shaker falls over, and never passed a cemetery while pregnant, which required the family to endure constant rerouting between 1956 and 1962. Each Friday, she observes the Sabbath with effortful patience, as if the Sabbath is a guest she can’t wait to get rid of.

What if the woman on Hester Street is right, and the next few years are his last? The mere thought turns his life a different color; it makes everything feel urgent, glittering, precious.

He’s angry with the disease. He rages at the disease. For so long, he hated the woman, too. How, he wondered, could she give such a terrible fortune to a child? But now he thinks of her differently, like a second mother or a god, she who showed him the door and said: Go.

I know they’re your family… But if they weren’t, you wouldn’t like them, either.

They began together: before any of them were people, they were eggs, four out of their mother’s millions. Astonishing, that they could diverge so dramatically in their temperaments, their fatal flaws— like strangers caught for seconds in the same elevator.

My Review:

The Immortalists was one of those prickly heartbreaking books that tend to keep me on edge and in conflict while reading.  It was also stunningly observant, painfully insightful, carefully paced, and hard to leave alone.  The premise, plot, and subplots of this epic tale were ingeniously creative, multifaceted, complex, and inexplicably intriguing.  Each of the main and many of the secondary characters were deeply flawed, in possession of questionable mental health, fractured, prone to self-loathing yet selfish, full of secrets, and living in their heads.  They were uniquely fascinating and exquisitely baffling and peculiar, while also periodically frustratingly inconsistent and irrational, or disappointingly irresponsible. In other words – they were real.  

The writing was top-shelf, although there were a few times where the story felt bogged down by an influx of medical and research minutia and/or complicated details that appeared unnecessary, although I also found myself absorbing many interesting facts about nature and magic tricks.  This will undoubtedly be one of those books that will forever remain in my memory banks and sense that I will be living with these unique characters rattling around in my headspace for quite some time, as I am rather reluctant to let them go.   

Empress DJ

About the Author

Chloe Benjamin is the author of THE ANATOMY OF DREAMS (Atria, 2014), which received the Edna Ferber Fiction Book Award and was longlisted for the 2014 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize. Her second novel, THE IMMORTALISTS, is forthcoming from Putnam. A graduate of Vassar College and the M.F.A. in fiction at the University of Wisconsin, Chloe lives with her husband in Madison, WI.