Book Review: Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan—and a Giveaway!

Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery
Little Beach Street Bakery Trilogy #3
Jenny Colgan
William Morrow, October 2017
ISBN 978-0-06-266299-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

In the Cornish coastal village of Mount Polbearne, the Christmas season has arrived. It’s a joyous time for family, friends, and feasting, as decorations sparkle along the town’s winding streets and shop windows glow with festive displays. And in Polly’s Little Beach Street Bakery, the aroma of gingerbread cookies and other treats tempts people in from the cold.

Though Polly is busy keeping up with the demands of the season, she still makes time for her beekeeper boyfriend, Huckle. She’s especially happy to be celebrating the holiday this year with him, and can’t wait to cuddle up in front of the fireplace with a cup of eggnog on Christmas Eve.

But holiday bliss soon gives way to panic when a storm cuts the village off from the mainland. Now it will take all of the villagers to work together in order to ensure everyone has a happy holiday.

A wintry setting on a Cornish beach where a young-ish couple live in a lighthouse seemed like the perfect reading getaway from the usual gritty stuff I read and, while it wasn’t exactly perfect, Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery suited me at the time. A little romance, a bit of dysfunction and a village I’d love to visit, not to mention an absolutely adorable puffin named Neil gave me a few hours of pleasure undisturbed by thoughts of murder, paranormal beings or alien invasions. Neil, by the way, does not solve murders nor does he speak to his people.

For the most part, the four main characters—Polly, Huckle, Kerensa and Reuben—are people I’d love to have in my universe but there was a time about halfway through when I could have chucked them all out the window with great cheer. Fortunately, they eventually redeemed themselves and I certainly never lost my adoration for Neil, the puffin who loves to play ping pong football and is quite dashing when he wears a bowtie.

If you’re looking for a charming, whimsical story to give someone for a holiday gift, Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery might be just the thing 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2017.

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Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon
Indiebound // HarperCollins

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About the Author

Jenny Colgan is the New York Times bestselling author of numerous novels, including Little Beach Street Bakery, Christmas at Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop, and Christmas at the Cupcake Café, all international bestsellers. Jenny is married with three children and lives in London and Scotland.

Find out more about Jenny at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Fans of Colgan’s (The Café by the Sea, 2017, etc.) Mount Polbearne stories will delight—and new fans will find an easy, charming entry into the saga—as Polly, Huckle, and Neil (the puffin) return for the Christmas season. — Kirkus Reviews

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Follow the tour:

Friday, October 27th: Books and Bindings

Tuesday, October 10th: BookExpression

Wednesday, October 11th: BookNAround

Thursday, October 12th: A Chick Who Reads

Friday, October 13th: Bibliotica

Monday, October 16th: Buried Under Books

Tuesday, October 17th: A Bookish Way of Life

Wednesday, October 18th: bookchickdi

Thursday, October 19th: Kahakai Kitchen

Friday, October 20th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Friday, October 20th: Reading Reality

Saturday, October 21st: Girl Who Reads

Monday, October 23rd: Into the Hall of Books

Tuesday, October 24th: StephTheBookworm

Wednesday, October 25th: A Bookworm’s World

Friday, October 27th: Jathan & Heather

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I’d love to send somebody my very
gently used print advance reading copy
of Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery.
Leave a comment below and I’ll draw
the winning name on Thursday evening,
October 19th. This drawing is open
to residents of the US & Canada.

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Book Review: Lowcountry Bonfire by Susan M. Boyer—and a Giveaway!

Lowcountry Bonfire
A Liz Talbot Mystery #6
Susan M. Boyer
Henery Press, June 2017
ISBN 978-1-63511-227-6
Trade Paperback
Also available in hardcover

From the publisher—

Private Investigators Liz Talbot and Nate Andrews have worked their share of domestic cases. So when Tammy Sue Lyerly hires them to find out what her husband is hiding, they expect to find something looney but harmless. After all, this is the guy who claims to have been a DEA agent, a champion bull rider, and a NASCAR driver. But when he turns up dead the morning after Liz and Nate deliver the incriminating photos, Tammy is the prime suspect.

Questioning the truth of Zeke Lyerly’s tall-tales, Liz and Nate race to uncover small town scandals, long buried secrets, and the victim’s tumultuous past to keep Tammy Sue out of jail and the case from going up in flames.

Zeke Lyerly was a teller of tall tales, many involving Army Ranger-style exploits, race cars, hot women, guns and the like and no one really believed them although they were certainly entertaining. His latest adventure wasn’t so captivating but was he really killed because of something so mundane as cheating on his wife? Tammy Sue can’t help but be Suspect Number One when Zeke is found in the trunk of his car, the very car she had set on fire with such vim and vigor, but Liz and Nate have serious doubts. Fortunately for all concerned, the police chief, who happens to be Liz’s brother, Blake, has to let them in on the investigation because of a contractual arrangement. Otherwise, they’d have to skulk around to clear their client.

As a group, the recurring characters in this series are among my favorites but none surpass the delightful Colleen who just happens to be a ghost and can be seen and heard by only Liz and Nate. Colleen has been a real help in solving cases because she can go places and see or hear things that Liz can’t and her snarky attitude always adds an element of humor. Unfortunately, Colleen is not around quite as much this time and our two private eyes have to work a little harder because of it.

The mystery of who killed Zeke and stuffed him in his own car is only the beginning of what could be quite a convoluted story but, in the end, all comes together. Liz and Nate, with more than a little help from friends and family, have to answer a lot of questions and connect the dots in their efforts to clear Tammy Sue (who, by the way, is a pistol). Secrets come to light and the ugly face of revenge surprises most of the residents of this tiny island. It just goes to show that living in a small community doesn’t necessarily mean that your neighbors know everything about you 😉

All in all, I enjoyed this sixth entry in the series every bit as much as the earlier books and my affection for these people hasn’t cooled at all. Ms. Boyer is just going to have to get the next one out PDQ!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2017.

An Excerpt from Lowcountry Bonfire

The dead are not much given to hysteria. The morning Tammy Sue Lyerly piled her husband’s clothes into his Raven Black 1969 Mustang convertible and lit a match, my friend Colleen stayed oddly nonchalant. She’d been dead eighteen years and had seen a thing or two.

For her part, Tammy Sue was pitching an F5 hissy fit. She dug all ten fingers into her 1980s pile of long red hair, clutched her head, and bellowed, “Let it burn.”

Four Stella Maris volunteer firemen cast her worried looks but went about the business of hooking up the hose to the fire hydrant.

We stood in a loose huddle a safe distance from the burning car in the Lyerly driveway.

“I asked you what you were doing here,” said Blake.

My brother, Blake, was the Stella Maris Police Chief. My husband, Nate, and I were private investigators, and Blake purely hated it when we meddled in his business.

“I called her,” said Daddy. “I overheard at the flea market that your sister’d done some work for Tammy Sue recently. Thought maybe she’d want to know.” Daddy shrugged, looked innocent.

Mamma and Daddy lived across the street from the Lyerlys, so naturally Daddy was first on the scene. Mamma had come with him. She raised an eyebrow to let him know she had his number. It wasn’t yet eight o’clock. Daddy sipped coffee from a large insulated stainless steel travel mug, all nonchalant like.

“For cryin’ out loud, Dad. We don’t need the whole town out here this morning.” Blake gave his head a shake. He scanned the neighborhood we’d grown up in. Folks gathered in clumps under the shade of massive live oaks in bordering yards. They’d all come out to see the show. The audience was growing fast. It was early on a Tuesday in the middle of June. Some of those folks were missing work. Blake lifted his Red Sox cap, ran a hand through his hair, and resettled the cap.

Tammy Sue grabbed my arm with one hand and clutched her chest dramatically with the other. “Well, I want her here, and you don’t have a single thing to say about it. This is my property.”

“Yours and Zeke’s.” Blake kept his tone easy, casual. “Where did you say Zeke was again?”

“He’s with that cheap hussy, Crystal Chapman.” Tammy’s eyes glowed with crazy. She leaned forward and hurled the words at Blake. “And he’d better by God not come home unless he wants me to light his ass on fire too.”

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To enter the drawing for a print
copy of Lowcountry Bonfire

by Susan M. Boyer, just leave
a comment below. The winning
name will be drawn on Wednesday
night, August 2nd. This drawing is
open
to residents of the US.

Book Review: Onions in the Stew by Betty MacDonald

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Book Review: Practical Sins for Cold Climates by Shelley Costa

practical-sins-for-cold-climatesPractical Sins for Cold Climates
A Val Cameron Mystery #1
Shelley Costa
Henery Press, January 2016
ISBN: 978-1-943390-41-0
Trade paperback

Val Cameron is a senior editor with a NY publisher in a bit of financial trouble. The story opens with Val on her way to Canada to persuade an author to sign a contract they hope will be lucrative. The Canadian island resort she lands in is nothing like she expects, or like her boss, who owns a house there, has indicated. Far from luxurious and barely accessible, she immediately runs into violence at a community meeting she attends, hoping to meeting her author. Everyone on the island has an agenda. Those who want to preserve the land as pristine wilderness. Those who want to exploit the island’s resources. Those who barely eke out a living and want jobs.

And worse, the first thing she discovers is an old, unsolved murder that overshadows everything and everyone to this day. Including the widower with whom Val immediately forms an attraction, and the author she’s been sent to find.

The book is well-written, well-plotted, and quite literary in texture, with plenty of twists and turns. These aren’t characters who immediately endeared themselves to me, but that’s not to say others will have the same reaction. I liked the setting and the ecological aspects of the story. I did wonder why, although the murdered woman was always on Val’s mind, after two years and the death going unsolved, nobody else seemed terribly concerned or anxious.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, September 2016.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Review: Seven Days Dead by John Farrow

Seven Days DeadSeven Days Dead
The Storm Murders #2

John Farrow
Minotaur Books, May 2016
ISBN  978-1-250-05769-3
Hardcover

From the publisher:  During an epic storm in the Gulf of Maine, a lone woman races – – first by car, then by a life-threatening sea crossing – – to the island of Grand Manan.  Her father is dying – – will she make it in time?  Others also venture out into the maelstrom that night, including a mysterious band of men and women who gather on Seven Days Work, the sheer cliff that overlooks the wild sea.  A housekeeper, a pastor, and a strange recluse are also wandering about in the tempest.  Who else risks being out in the turbulent black night?  And how many murder victims will be revealed at the break of dawn?

Emile Cinq-Mars, a retired Montreal detective whose reputation precedes him, is embarking on the first ever summer holiday he and his wife have taken in their long years of marriage.  They have booked a cabin built in the 1920’s, “tidy, clean, and as charming as a fawn nuzzling a doe in a spring meadow.”  When three men are found dead, he is asked to assist Officer Wade Louwagie (who suffers from PTSD) of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police,.  They have absolutely nothing to go on, no leads, and too many suspects.

Early on, we meet 57-year-old Reverend Simon Lescavage, “a pastor who’s lost his faith yet still enjoys, and wants to keep, his job,” who is called – – ordered, really – – to hear the confession of Alfred Orrock, the patriarch of the island with the reputation, well-earned, as a tyrant, and now at death’s door.  The day does not end well for either man.

The area is brought to graphic life in the wonderfully evocative descriptions by this author.  As are the inhabitants:  “For the most part . . . the natural friendliness of islanders surfaces first.  Sometimes disputes are resolved by burning cars, but not a tourist’s car, and rarely even in the summer, because that’s just bad for the island’s reputation.  Even when it comes to arson, a standard of etiquette is followed.  You wrong me, I burn your dinghy.  I wrong you, you burn my shed.”  Towards the end, things take a much more lethal turn, and the writing at times had me breathless, as in literally holding my breath.

There is a wholly unexpected finish to the novel.  I found this book, as its predecessor, The Storm Murders, very enjoyable, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, May 2016.

Book Reviews: The Yid by Paul Goldberg and Burning Down George Orwell’s House by Andrew Ervin

The YidThe Yid
Paul Goldberg
Picador, February 2016
ISBN 978-1-2500-7903-9
Hardcover

A very different novel is this.  Extremely well researched, a flight of fancy, original in form and content.  It chronicles the history of Soviet Russia from World War I to the death of Stalin in three acts starring an odd collection of characters ranging from an elderly Yiddish actor to a Yiddish surgeon and a Black Yiddish-speaking American engineer.  The novel takes place in a week following a late night attempt to arrest the actor, who turns the tables on the three security personnel by killing them.  This was at a time when Stalin was planning a “final solution” to the Jewish “problem,” planning to collect the minority population, pack them in cattle cars and ship them out of the Soviet Union.  It was also the period during which the so-called “doctor’s plot” was in the news: a group of Jewish doctors were arrested and accused of plotting the murder of Soviet officials.

The actor, Solomon Levinson, is soon joined by the surgeon, engineer and others, and conceives a plot to prevent Stalin’s massive pogrom by assassinating him, cutting off the head of the serpent.  In the intervening days the group debates, remembers the past, trades banter on a variety of subjects, from Shakespeare and Pushkin to anti-Semitism and racism and the broken promises of Socialism.  The novel is strewn with Yiddish phrases and poetry (conveniently translated).

For a debut novel, The Yid is most original, a flight of fancy based on reality, filled with excellent dialogue and innovative characters.  It has to be read to be appreciated, and it is hoped this suggestion is well taken.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2016.

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Burning Down George Orwell's HouseBurning Down George Orwell’s House
Andrew Ervin
Soho Press, April 2016
ISBN 97-1-6169-5652–6
Trade Paperback

This introspective debut novel chronicles the ups and downs in the life of Ray Welter, a farm boy who rose to the top of his profession until his inner self caught up with him.  Then he tossed it all away in effort to escape everything he had left behind in Chicago: a high-paying advertising job, a wife, and a way of life with which he had increasingly become disenchanted.  He takes off to the Scottish Isle of Jura.  And rents, for six months (with the last of his funds which he hopes to spend before his wife grabs the money in the divorce settlement), the cottage where George Orwell wrote and finished the satirical novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The inhabitants of Jura are an eccentric bunch, protective of each other and their way of life, especially disdainful of outsiders, tourists and the like.  Ray’s intrusion sets up many amusing situations.  That Inner Hebrides island is known for its single malt scotch, and Ray consumes a prodigious amount in an effort to either lose or find himself.  In the meantime, not only does he have to cope with his own troubles but also deal with the foibles and problems arising from the various characters in the community.

The author uses comedy to mask the seriousness of the novel, which deeply probes Ray’s thinking, seeking to define the good and bad of his life as he knows it and distilling the results until Ray can reach an inner peace.  It is quite an achievement, rarely seen in a first effort.  Can Ray reach his nirvana?  Read and enjoy the book, which is highly recommended, and find out.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2016.

Book Review: The House on Stone’s Throw Island by Dan Poblocki

The House on Stone's Throw IslandThe House on Stone’s Throw Island
Dan Poblocki
Scholastic Press, September 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-64556-0
Hardcover

Dealing with an older sibling’s wedding, especially when the participants seem to have outgrown you, is no picnic. Add in the fact that it’s a big production on a remote island where you’re expected to be dressed up, play nice and let adults embarrass you, and you know how Eli Barker feels. Things get more uncomfortable when the adults try to jokingly pair him off with Josie Sandoval whose brother Bruno is marrying Eli’s sister Aimee.

Fair weather is predicted for the wedding weekend, but inside Eli’s head, the weather is gloomy and stormy, made worse when he thinks Josie is trying to embarrass him in front of the adults. As a threatening storm front moves in from the open ocean, Eli decides to become scarce and heads for the decrepit brick building on a small peninsula he spotted from his bedroom. The closer he gets, the more uneasy he feels, but he’s unable to stop. Josie, feeling bad about how she treated Eli, sees him sneaking off from her upstairs window and decides to follow.

They hear a disembodied voice asking for help in German and after gathering their courage, the two explore what appears to be a dungeon below the old building where they find and soon lose an old button with a swastika on it.

No one believes them about the voices, but Josie’s become a true believer in the possibility that there are ghosts on the island because she saw a disheveled girl a couple years older than she is, dash into her room and then hide in her closet, but when she looked, the girl was gone. Eli witnesses a repeat performance while in her room. Convinced that there’s something very strange and scary going on as the freak storm intensifies, they become partners as they try to solve the mystery.

Meanwhile communication with the outside world has stopped, the ocean is so rough the ferry that brought them to the island is unable to bring the wedding feast or more guests and the strange happenings become more frequent. Solving the island’s mystery involves ghosts, a secret from World War Two, a diary written by a girl in 1942 and a connection between her and one of the people involved in the wedding.

I was initially put off by foreshadowing at the beginning of the book, but once the story took off, I was hooked. Be warned that there’s violence in the book, but that’s no deal breaker. Younger teens who crave mystery and supernatural twists will like this one a lot.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, January 2016.