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Book Review: Ashes by Steven Manchester

Ashes by Steven Manchester

Goodreads Summary: Middle-aged brothers Jason and Tom Prendergast thought they were completely done with each other. Perceived betrayal had burned the bridge between them, tossing them into the icy river of estrangement. But life and death has a robust sense of irony, and when they learn that their cruel father has died and made his final request that they travel together across the country to spread his ashes, they have no choice but to spend a long, long car trip in each other s company. It s either that or lose out on the contents of the envelope he s left with his lawyer. The trip will be as gut-wrenching as each expects it to be . . . and revealing in ways neither of them is prepared for.”
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This summary sounded intriguing to me, but I was not as thrilled by the result. I found this book to be very slow-moving. I found myself putting down the book and coming back determined to finish, only to repeat. It does speed up towards the end, but, in my opinion, this is a little too late.

We follow estranged brothers who are fighting the nightmares of the past. However, it takes a while to reveal the stories of the past in order for the reader to fully understand the nightmares of the past. The motivations for their actions are there I promise – you just need to be patient. Manchester strives to find the hope in family tragedy. I did like how the author throws in comedic moments to lighten the mood and ultimately the resolution.

3 stars for me.

**I received my copy via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. Thank you to the author and publisher for this opportunity.**

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Book Review: The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan


Goodreads Summary: ” “Just because the men have gone to war, why do we have to close the choir? And precisely when we need it most!” 


As England enters World War II’s dark early days, spirited music professor Primrose Trent, recently arrived to the village of Chilbury, emboldens the women of the town to defy the Vicar’s stuffy edict to shutter the church’s choir in the absence of men and instead ‘carry on singing’. Resurrecting themselves as “The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir”, the women of this small village soon use their joint song to lift up themselves, and the community, as the war tears through their lives. 

Told through letters and journals, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir moves seamlessly from budding romances to village intrigues to heartbreaking matters of life and death. As we come to know the struggles of the charismatic members of this unforgettable outfit — a timid widow worried over her son at the front; the town beauty drawn to a rakish artist; her younger sister nursing an impossible crush and dabbling in politics she doesn’t understand; a young Jewish refugee hiding secrets about her family, and a conniving midwife plotting to outrun her seedy past — we come to see how the strength each finds in the choir’s collective voice reverberates in her individual life. 

In turns funny, charming and heart-wrenching, this lovingly executed ensemble novel will charm and inspire, illuminating the true spirit of the women on the home front, in a village of indomitable spirit, at the dawn of a most terrible conflict.”

As a choir singer myself, I am already of the belief that music can bring people together and… I spent a lovely weekend rediscovering that feeling in the quaint town of Chilbury. Jennifer Ryan’s novel creatively captures the way music can lead us all through the hard times. What propels this tale is the characterization – as the women of Chilbury face the perils of wartime, Ryan so aptly develops her characters – even the minor ones that you feel immersed in the town. I truly felt that I was a fly on the wall – learning the gossip, the love stories, the family drama, and the tragedies of the women in this town.

I was particularly struck by the way that Ryan was able to demonstrate the women coming into their own – a feminist movement of sorts. The women of this town learn how to gain confidence in themselves first as a women-only choir, then in their own lives. It is still a poignant reminder during our own tumultuous times of the strength of women and how they should not be discounted.

4 stars from me!

**I received my copy via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. Thank you to the author and publisher for this opportunity.**
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Book Review: The Mistletoe Murder: And Other Stories by P.D.James

The Mistletoe Murder: And Other Stories by P.D. James

Goodreads Summary: “Four previously uncollected stories from one of the great mystery writers of our time–swift, cunning murder mysteries (two of which feature the young Adam Dalgliesh) that together, to borrow the author’s own word, add up to a delightful “entertainment.” 

The newly appointed Sgt. Dalgliesh is drawn into a case that is “pure Agatha Christie.” . . . A “pedantic, respectable, censorious” clerk’s secret taste for pornography is only the first reason he finds for not coming forward as a witness to a murder . . . A best-selling crime novelist describes the crime she herself was involved in fifty years earlier . . . Dalgliesh’s godfather implores him to reinvestigate a notorious murder that might ease the godfather’s mind about an inheritance, but which will reveal a truth that even the supremely upstanding Adam Dalgliesh will keep to himself. Each of these stories is as playful as it is ingeniously plotted, the author’s sly humor as evident as her hallmark narrative elegance and shrewd understanding of some of the most complex–not to say the most damning–aspects of human nature. A treat for P. D. James’s legions of fans and anyone who enjoys the pleasures of a masterfully wrought whodunit.”

I have to say I was looking forward to this release of short stories by P.D.James, but I found them a bit lackluster. The most fascinating part of the book was the foreword by James herself describing the art of writing a short story. The first short gives us insight into this famous author and perhaps what was the catalyst for her works. The second story was creepy, but the twist seemed almost too sudden and underdeveloped to me…I was left wanting. The third story recognizes the “carnivorous world” that faces are children and had some good characterization. The last story was my favorite and reminded me of a Miss Marple type deduction. This one was a perfect read for holidays.

Overall, I was underwhelmed after anticipating these stories. 3 stars for me.

Happy Reading!

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Book Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
 
Goodreads Summary: Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.
So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos.
A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.”
This was a good read, but be warned is devastatingly sad. 
Ng so magnificently crafts characters – family members each harboring their own secrets so well that they are oblivious to each other’s thoughts. Each family member battles with their own desire to fulfill a role – to fit in, facing both racism and sexism. Ng asks the question – what is more important, the desire to ‘fit-in,’ the desire to please, or the desire to exceed expectations? Or are they all the same thing? These questions allow Ng to capture how one seemingly insignificant act of a parent can scar a child forever:
“Before she hadn’t realized how fragile happiness was, how if you were careless, you could knock it over and shatter it.”
It takes the catalyst of one child’s death, Lydia, for the remaining family members to realize that they actually have failed to truly talk to each other.
I am particularly impressed with the title of this book – When I originally picked up the book, I thought the title would refer to things Lydia didn’t say before she died. But it actually could apply to all characters. “Everything I Never Told You” Who is the I? Who is the you?
I was also impressed by the time period in which Ng chose to place her story. I think by choosing the 70’s the racism and sexism faced by characters is more prominent and the reader is less likely to blow them off. Although, this story could easily be placed in today’s time period, the characterization is strengthened by Ng’s choice.
This book is a great reminder of the importance of talking to our children and how to manage expectations. 4 stars from me. Give it a try, what do you think?

Happy Reading!
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Waiting on Wednesday: The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan

It’s Waiting on Wednesday! This is a weekly event hosted by Breaking the Spine where everyone can discuss the upcoming books that they are eagerly awaiting…
The book I am waiting on is…
The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan
Goodreads Summary: ” “Just because the men have gone to war, why do we have to close the choir? And precisely when we need it most!” 
As England enters World War II’s dark early days, spirited music professor Primrose Trent, recently arrived to the village of Chilbury, emboldens the women of the town to defy the Vicar’s stuffy edict to shutter the church’s choir in the absence of men and instead ‘carry on singing’. Resurrecting themselves as “The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir”, the women of this small village soon use their joint song to lift up themselves, and the community, as the war tears through their lives. 
Told through letters and journals, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir moves seamlessly from budding romances to village intrigues to heartbreaking matters of life and death. As we come to know the struggles of the charismatic members of this unforgettable outfit — a timid widow worried over her son at the front; the town beauty drawn to a rakish artist; her younger sister nursing an impossible crush and dabbling in politics she doesn’t understand; a young Jewish refugee hiding secrets about her family, and a conniving midwife plotting to outrun her seedy past — we come to see how the strength each finds in the choir’s collective voice reverberates in her individual life. 
In turns funny, charming and heart-wrenching, this lovingly executed ensemble novel will charm and inspire, illuminating the true spirit of the women on the home front, in a village of indomitable spirit, at the dawn of a most terrible conflict.”
Why am I waiting?
 A little know fact about me is that I am a choir nerd from a very young age I have performed in various choirs. So naturally, a book about a ladies’ choir peeked my interest. And to top it off, the book seems to be focused on a group of women in WWII that empower themselves in a time of crisis and the choir appears to be a conduit for this. Women’s rights and a choir – sounds like my cup of tea! I will be sure to pick up a copy of this one. Will you?

Happy Reading!

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Book Review: Belgravia by Julian Fellowes

Belgravia by Julian Fellowes
Goodreads Summary: Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia is the story of a secret. A secret that unravels behind the porticoed doors of London’s grandest postcode.
Set in the 1840s when the upper echelons of society began to rub shoulders with the emerging industrial nouveau riche, Belgravia is peopled by a rich cast of characters. But the story begins on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
At the Duchess of Richmond’s new legendary ball, one family’s life will change forever.
This was my Christmas Eve gift from my sister as she knew all too well that I would plan on reading during the holidays. I was excited to start another story by Julian Fellowes – particularly one advertised as a remedy for those missing Downton Abbey (that would include me).
Downton Abbey certainly sets the bar high, but Fellowes rises to the challenge. This novel packs it all in – intrigue and secrets; social status and familial expectations; upstairs/downstairs relationships. Sound familiar?
The characters in this book strive to hold up their house of cards intricately built around one secret from their past. It narrates a tale of the importance of keeping secrets for social advancement and how easily it could all come falling down.  This game of secret-keeping created such an interesting suspense, that I was hooked. I particularly loved the way it was not only what the characters were saying, but what they were not saying that propelled the plot along – it was almost a game of reading between the lines.
My only regret is that I didn’t pick this book up sooner. 4 stars!

Happy Reading!
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Book Review: Feminist Fight Club: An Office Survival Manual for a Sexist Workplace

Feminist Fight Club: An Office Survival Manual for a Sexist Workplace by Jessica Bennett
Goodreads Summary: Part manual, part manifesto, a humorous yet incisive guide to navigating subtle sexism at work—a pocketbook Lean In for the Buzzfeed generation that provides real-life career advice and humorous reinforcement for a new generation of professional women.
It was a fight club—but without the fighting and without the men. Every month, the women would huddle in a friend’s apartment to share sexist job frustrations and trade tips for how best to tackle them. Once upon a time, you might have called them a consciousness-raising group. But the problems of today’s working world are more subtle, less pronounced, harder to identify—and, if Ellen Pao is any indication, harder to prove—than those of their foremothers. These women weren’t just there to vent. They needed battle tactics. And so the fight club was born.
Hard-hitting and entertaining, Feminist Fight Club blends personal stories with research, statistics, infographics, and no-bullsh*t expert advice. Bennett offers a new vocabulary for the sexist workplace archetypes women encounter everyday—such as the Manterrupter who talks over female colleagues in meetings or the Himitator who appropriates their ideas—and provides practical hacks for navigating other gender landmines in today’s working world. With original illustrations, Feminist Mad Libs, a Negotiation Cheat Sheet, as well as fascinating historical research and a kit for “How to Start Your Own Club,” Feminist Fight Club tackles both the external (sexist) and internal (self-sabotaging) behaviors that plague today’s women—as well as the system that perpetuates them.”
To start of the New Year, I picked up this book. And yes, I know it’s not fiction – It is a step outside my comfort zone, but I had heard such rave reviews that I simply couldn’t resist this one…. And it did not disappoint!
I can truly say this book gives great perspectives on the female struggle in the workplace. It walks you through barriers that women face by explaining, and fondly naming, the typical male behavior types women might see and then identifying the various behaviors of females in the workplace. I particularly loved that Bennett references other successful businesswomen and their tales of woes.  Her book is not just based on her own experience, but on other prominent women and facts. For example, I was intrigued about the amount of women that feel as if they are a fraud; Bennett explained that even Sheryl Sandberg felt as if “one day soon the jig would be up.” I honestly think every woman, if not our male colleagues too, will find some character type they will recognize as “that man” in the workplace. Maybe they will even identify their own behaviors. Are you “The Herfectionist” over-preparing for meetings? Are you trying to balance between being “The Nag” and being a pushover? Don’t worry there are tips for you here!
The book doesn’t stop there – it also offers comprehensive advice on how to negotiate for a raise and how to react if you are act to take the meeting minutes. Above all, it emphasizes the importance of women supporting other women rather than letting our catty side impede female progress.

I promise you will finish this book still thinking – are you caring too much? Are you apologizing too much? Is your posture conveying confidence? Are you using “active, authoritative words?” I could see myself returning to this book even as I progress in my career for new advice that didn’t stick out to me on my first read.  A great book for the New Year! Go run and get your copy now! 5 Stars! 
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Waiting on Wednesday: Ragdoll by Daniel Cole

It is Waiting on Wednesday! This is a weekly event hosted by Breaking the Spine where everyone can discuss the upcoming books that they are eagerly awaiting…
The book I am waiting on is…
Ragdollby Daniel Cole
Goodreads Summary:“William Fawkes, a controversial detective known as The Wolf, has just been reinstated to his post after he was suspended for assaulting a vindicated suspect. Still under psychological evaluation, Fawkes returns to the force eager for a big case. When his former partner and friend, Detective Emily Baxter, calls him to a crime scene, he’s sure this is it: the body is made of the dismembered parts of six victims, sewn together like a puppet—a corpse that becomes known as “The Ragdoll.”
Fawkes is tasked with identifying the six victims, but that gets dicey when his reporter ex-wife anonymously receives photographs from the crime scene, along with a list of six names, and the dates on which the Ragdoll Killer plans to murder them.
The final name on the list is Fawkes.
Baxter and her trainee partner, Alex Edmunds, hone in on figuring out what links the victims together before the killer strikes again. But for Fawkes, seeing his name on the list sparks a dark memory, and he fears that the catalyst for these killings has more to do with him—and his past—than anyone realizes.
With a breakneck pace, a twisty plot, and a wicked sense of humor, Ragdoll announces the arrival of the hottest new brand in crime fiction.
Why I am waiting: To start the new year, I wanted to make sure I had a new thriller in mind and this one definitely caught my attention. This is a debut novel for Daniel Cole and is already getting rave reviews. I always love giving new authors a try. Cole was also previously a paramedic so you can only imagine the unique perspective that he might be able to bring to a thriller. Make sure this one is on your TBR list readers!
Expected publication date: April 4, 2017

Happy Reading!
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Happy New Year

Happy 2017!! I want to thank all of the fellow readers and bloggers as well as all the wonderful authors who made 2016 a great year to start a book blog. I wish everyone all the best for this New Year.

This New Year I am embracing the “starting fresh” mood that comes in January. For me this means a brand new planner and new lists. And for those of you who don’t know, I am a huge fan of lists and stickies to put those lists on… So, what does that mean for the blog?

Well, of course, I made another list. I thought about what I want to accomplish with my reading this year and determined that I want to keep open to new pieces of literature and try to (every once in a while) step outside my comfort zone. For me that does mean, among other things, to branch into nonfiction and challenge myself. I also wanted to make sure I kept the fun in my reading.

So, here are my goals for 2017:

  • Read and review 52 books
  • Read a memoir
  • Read a book with a one-word title
  • Read a book of poetry
  • Read a book I own, but haven’t read
  • Read a debut novel
  • Read a book set somewhere I would like to visit
  • Read a banned book
  • Read a book I can finish in a day
  • Read a book I pick based on its cover
  • Read a book nominated for an award in 2017
  • Read a nonfiction book
  • Read a book set around a holiday that is not Christmas
  • Read a book that a friend recommends
  • Read a book of short stories
  • Read a book with a number in the title
  • Read a book by a female author

What are your literary goals this year? Let me know below and Happy Reading!

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Book Review: Christmas at the Comfort Food Cafe by Debbie Johnson

“The Comfort Food Cafe is perched on a windswept clifftop at what feels like the edge of the world, serving up the most delicious cream teas; beautifully baked breads, and carefully crafted cupcakes. For tourists and locals alike, the ramshackle cafe overlooking the beach is a beacon of laughter, companionship, and security – a place like no other; a place that offers friendship as a daily special, and where a hearty welcome is always on the menu.” Goodreads Summary

In light of the holiday season, it is the perfect time to recommend a holiday read. This book is everything you desire from a quick holiday read. I picked this one up without having read the previous story in the series. I quickly fell in love with the protagonist, Lauren. She is aware of her own flaws and struggles to confront the holiday season. As we journey through the holiday with her, we grow to love not only Lauren but her family and the cast of characters at the Comfort Food Café. Lauren’s journey of healing is helped along by each character she befriends, allowing Johnson to fully explore and successfully capture the sense of community in a small English village, especially during the holidays. This feel good holiday novel is sure to put a smile on your face. Four Christmas Puddings from me!