Book Review: The Secret, Book & Scone Society by Ellery Adams

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The Secret, Book & Scone Society
The Secret, Book & Scone Society, Book 1
Ellery Adams
Kensington Books, November 2017
ISBN 978-1-4967-1237-0
Hardcover
From the publisher—

Miracle Springs, North Carolina, is a place of healing. Strangers flock here hoping the natural hot springs, five-star cuisine, and renowned spa can cure their ills. If none of that works, they often find their way to Miracle Books, where, over a fresh-baked “comfort” scone from the Gingerbread House bakery, they exchange their stories with owner Nora Pennington in return for a carefully chosen book. That’s Nora’s special talent—prescribing the perfect novel to ease a person’s deepest pain and lighten their heaviest burden.

When a visiting businessman reaches out to Nora for guidance, she knows exactly which novels will help. But before he can keep their appointment at Miracle Books, he’s found dead on the train tracks.

Stunned, Nora forms the Secret, Book, and Scone Society, a group of damaged souls yearning to gain trust and earn redemption by helping others. To join the society, members must divulge their darkest secret—the terrible truth that brought each of them to Miracle Springs in the first place.

Determined to uncover the truth behind the businessman’s demise, the women meet in Nora’s cramped and cozy bookstore to share stories and trade support. And as they untangle a web of corruption, they also discover their own courage, purpose, and a sisterhood that will carry them through every challenge—proving it’s never too late to turn the page and start over . . .

Ellery Adams has to work really hard to write a book I don’t like and that’s not me blowing smoke. I don’t think all of her work is 100% on point but I do find something to like about every single book. Disclaimer: I’ve known the author for years from back when I had my bookstore and she lived in Richmond and, although I haven’t seen or talked to her on far too long, I think of her fondly. Having said that, I truly think Ellery Adams is one of the best cozy writers around.

One of the best things this author does is come up with settings and/or concepts that are a little out of the norm and she’s done it again with this series debut. I quite simply adore a mystery set in or around a bookstore  (how could I not, considering my background?) but to put that store in a spa town is just terrific. Better yet, the club Nora puts together is near genius, not only to solve murders and the like but to bond these women together in such a unique fashion. Bibliotherapy at its best.

Nora’s idea is that there are few problems that can’t be remedied by reading the right book—a premise I can truly buy into—and the women she has recruited for the club all need that connection to other people with a common love for books. When you get right down to it, don’t all face-to-face book clubs thrive on reading but, perhaps more importantly, on those personal relationships? And then the icing on the cake here is the chance to be sleuths 😉

Nora, Hester, June and even Estella are unique individuals, all smart women who’ve been damaged in some way but they’re open to healing and they grow to like each other in a perfect evocation of the bonds that women form when they’re very, very lucky. Along the way, they put their heads together to figure out why this man, a visitor in town, has been murdered and why the local law is kind of ignoring it. Before everything comes to a head, these women unearth a corruption they had no idea existed.

Added to the fun of sleuthing, we’re treated, literally, to scrumptious food and beverage, enough so I was really hungry while I was reading! I’m pumped by this series debut and will definitely follow it; in the meantime, it goes on my list of favorite books read in 2017.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

An Excerpt from
The Secret, Book & Scone Society

Still scanning the park square, Nora wondered where the trolley passengers had gone. The lodge’s green trolley was parked in its usual place, but no lodge guests strolled the sidewalks or meandered from the row of quaint shops on Bath Street to the Pink Lady Grill or the Gingerbread House.

Just then, a flash of red caught Nora’s eye and she groaned inwardly as a tall, shapely woman passed in front of the bookshop window. The woman yanked the door open, ignoring the riotous clanging of the sleigh bells, and settled into the closest chair like a queen awaiting the adulation of her subjects. Her pouty lips curved into a cat-with-the-cream grin. “Consider your next bibliotherapy session canceled.”

“Hello to you too, Estella.” Nora picked up the stray paperbacks a customer had left on the table next to Estella’s chair. “I assume you’re referring to the man I met on the park bench. Why isn’t he coming? Did you scare him off?”

“Me?” Estella pretended to be affronted, but Nora wasn’t falling for the act. “I didn’t even get a chance to meet him. I was up at the lodge wasting my time on a man I thought had some potential, but he’s already making payments to an ex-wife and needs to send three kids to college. There’d be nothing left for me.” She waved a manicured hand in dismissal.

Nora was itching to reshelve the books and check on the coffee. Though she didn’t dislike Estella, she was rarely at ease in her company.

Recalling the strange sensation she’d experienced as the second train whistle blew, Nora felt an inexplicable prickle of dread. She jerked a thumb toward the window. “Where is everyone?”

Estella’s grin returned. “At the train station. They’ve been drawn there like flies to sugar. The sheriff rolled in a few seconds ago, and since he and I have never gotten along, I made myself scarce.”

Nora, who made it a point not to look people directly in the eye, forgot her rule and gave Estella an impatient stare. “What happened? Just spit it out.”

Crossing her arms in disappointment, Estella murmured something about no one being any fun, but eventually complied with Nora’s request. “When your man on the bench placed an order for one of Hester’s comfort scones, he asked her to box it because he was heading over here to see you. He left the bakery, box in hand, but he never made it to Miracle Books.” Estella leaned back in the chair and smoothed the skirt of her white sundress. “I’m sure he’d rather be sitting in this comfy chair than where he is now.”

Nora knew she wasn’t going to like the answer to her question, but it had to be asked. “Which is?”

“On the tracks,” Estella declared breathlessly. “Someone pushed him in front of the three o’clock train.”

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Book Review: Miss Julia Weathers the Storm by Ann B. Ross

Miss Julia Weathers the Storm
Miss Julia Series #19
Ann B. Ross
Viking, April 2017
ISBN 978-0-7352-2047-8
Hardcover

Miss Julia, a Southern gentlewoman of a certain age, is happily remarried to a loving and generous retired lawyer, Sam Murdoch. Her husband is certainly a contrast to her late husband Wesley Lloyd Springer, who was quick to criticize and tightfisted to boot. It wasn’t until after she buried him that a young woman turned up on her doorstep with a boy in hand—her late husband’s son, as it turned out.

But Miss Julia befriended Hazel Marie and young Lloyd, who is now part of her family. Hazel Marie  married a private detective, Mr. Pickens, who Miss Julia has never warmed to,  and now has twin toddlers.

When her husband suggests renting a beach house on an island and inviting Hazel Marie and her family along, Miss Julia balks. Not because of any dislike of Hazel Marie, but because Miss Julia really doesn’t care to travel. But her husband is so excited about the idea, she relents. Who else to invite? There’s their lawyer friend, Binkie, and her husband Coleman, a sergeant in the local sheriff’s department, and their young daughter Gracie. Then there’s the housekeeper Lillian, and her six year old great granddaughter Latisha. Rounding out the group is Miss Julia’s friend, LuAnne Conover, who suspects her husband is cheating on her, and Etta Mae Wiggins, a home health aid, who manages a mobile home park, and could use a vacation.

Latisha spends her time at the beach looking for sea shells, but on one of the days a lot more than sand dollars washes up on the shore. Hundred dollar bills, suspected to be dumped overboard by drug smugglers, have vacationers scrambling for the money. Three strangers  are overly interested in Latisha’s finds, and later show up in Abbotsville, after Miss Julia and her entourage have all returned home. Is the little girl in danger?

An entertaining addition to this long-running series. Fans of “Steel Magnolias” or Fannie Flagg’s novels will enjoy this slice of southern life, with characters that will keep you wanting more. It’s the nineteenth book in the series.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, July 2017.

Book Review: The Beautician’s Notebook by Anne Clinard Barnhill

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Title: The Beautician’s Notebook
Author: Anne Clinard Barnhill
Publisher: Moonshine Cove Publishing
Publication Date: April 12, 2017
Genres: Mystery, Romance

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Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Amazon // Chapters // Indiebound

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The Beautician’s Notebook
Anne Clinard Barnhill
Moonshine Cove Publishing, April 2017
ISBN 978-1-945181-11-5
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

When Willa Jo Temple is found stabbed through the heart on the floor of her beauty shop, the good folk of Summerset, NC are sent into a tizzy.

It’s up to her ex-husband, Sheriff Tal Hicks, to investigate. Evidence points to four possible suspects: Willa Jo’s business partner; a town socialite; a preacher’s wife; and Willa Jo’s live-in lover.

Willa Jo kept a notebook containing all the secrets she’s learned while doing hair. Rumor has it Willa Jo is going to write a book, exposing everything. But now, Willa Jo is dead and the incriminating notebook is missing, leaving the sheriff with very little to go on. As he interrogates the suspects, he finds himself attracted to newcomer, Clarissa Myers. He delves into her past only to discover she has deeper ties to Summerset than anyone imagined. Before the sheriff can complete his interrogations, however, another suspect, Avenelle Young, confesses.

The sheriff is skeptical about Avenelle Young’s guilt because she refuses to discuss what happened with Willa Jo. Her statement is a terse declaration of guilt, with neither motive nor method explained. The sheriff has no choice but to incarcerate Mrs. Young.

During the investigations, as the secrets of Summerset are slowly revealed, each family touched by Willa Jo’s death must come to terms with the new information being unearthed. The repercussions are far-reaching, and forgiveness hard to come by. However, at the heart of the book is the possibility of reconciliation among the town folk as they learn the real ‘truth’ about one another.

Nobody collects secrets quite like a beautician and Willa Jo might have been planning to spill those secrets so, when she’s found dead, there are plenty of reasons and suspects if, in fact, she was murdered. This is not going to be an easy one for Sheriff Tal Hicks, investigating the death of the ex-wife he never stopped loving, but the real story is how the townsfolk come to terms with those secrets and with life and death in a small town.

Tal’s investigation is important, of course, and there are a lot of red herrings here but I really got much more pleasure out of getting to know all these weird, wonderful, sometimes goofy characters. Summerset is a lovely little town, made more so by its citizens; there are inevitable reminders of Steel Magnolias (without the deep drama) and they’re not out of place but The Beautician’s Notebook stands on its own quite nicely. It’s the perfect book to wind up the summer.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

About the Author

Anne Clinard Barnhill is an award-winning, internationally published writer who has published two historical novels (AT THE MERCY OF THE QUEEN and QUEEN ELIZABETH’S DAUGHTER), a short story collection (WHAT YOU LONG FOR), a memoir (AT HOME IN THE LAND OF OZ: Autism, My Sister and Me) and a poetry chapbook (COAL, BABY). She has also written hundreds of articles, features, book reviews and essays published in a variety of newspapers, magazines and blogs. Ms. Barnhill has received four regional artist grants, one writer’s residency and has taught writing and creativity workshops in various places across North Carolina, West Virginia, South Carolina and Mississippi. She has three grown sons and lives on the NC coast with her husband and a very energetic dog.

For more information please visit Anne’s website. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads.

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Book Review: If the Creek Don’t Rise by Leah Weiss

If the Creek Don’t Rise
Leah Weiss
Sourcebooks Landmark, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-4926-4745-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

He’s gonna be sorry he ever messed with me and Loretta Lynn

Sadie Blue has been a wife for fifteen days. That’s long enough to know she should have never hitched herself to Roy Tupkin, even with the baby.

Sadie is desperate to make her own mark on the world, but in remote Appalachia, a ticket out of town is hard to come by, and hope often gets stomped out.  When a stranger sweeps into Baines Creek and knocks things off kilter, Sadie finds herself with an unexpected lifeline…if she can just figure out how to use it.

This intimate insight into a fiercely proud, tenacious community unfolds through the voices of the forgotten folks of Baines Creek. With a colorful cast of characters that each contribute a new perspective, IF THE CREEK DON’T RISE is a debut novel bursting with heart, honesty, and homegrown grit.

There are only a few authors I’ve come across that write fiction about Appalachia with authority and with a strong sense of understanding, compassion and respect. Catherine Marshall and Sharyn McCrumb come to mind and I’ve now added Leah Weiss to my shortlist. This may be a debut but Ms. Weiss has created a story that, to me, represents the way I personally feel about the Appalachian people and their way of life.

Those of us who live in more traditional, perhaps more “sophisticated” environs get a good taste of Sadie’s insular, self-contained world and, while we think her pregnancy and marriage at such a young age are appalling enough, it’s much harder to comprehend the way of life that would lead her Granny to treat Sadie so harshly. As Sadie says, “Granny don’t do my heart any good” but Granny is what Appalachian mores and society are all about. It all makes thoughts of murder a little more forgiveable.

My heart was immediately taken by Sadie and I was energized by her hopes of escaping this crushing poverty and illiteracy but, truly, nearly all these people, Granny and the abusive Roy included, tugged at me for one reason or another. Some of my reaction is because of my own familiarity with the Appalachian world from regular family trips to the Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee areas when I was growing up and my fondness for fiction set there as well as nonfiction. Ms. Weiss is responsible for drawing me in this time and I truly hope to see more of Sadie and the people of Baines Creek. In the meantime, If the Creek Don’t Rise has a place on my list of best books read in 2017.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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Purchase Links:

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An Indie Next, Okra Pick, and LibraryReads 

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About the Author

Leah Weiss is a Southern writer and novelist born in North Carolina and raised in the foothills of Virginia. Her debut novel, If the Creek Don’t Rise, will be released in August of 2017. Her short stories have been published in The Simple Life magazine, Every Day Fiction and Deep South Magazine. She retired in 2015 from a 24-year career as Executive Assistant to the Headmaster at Virginia Episcopal School. She now pursues writing full time.

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“Weiss’ debut novel reveals the best and worst of human nature…
The author’s masterful use of language, including dialect unique
to the area, builds another layer of connection between these
characters while she develops a greater sense of inner isolation
and distance from those outside the community. Weiss’ novel is a
great suggestion for fans of the Big Stone Gap books, by Adriana Trigiani,
and Mitford series, by Jan Karon.” – Booklist, STARRED review

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Book Review: Heavy Weather by Normandie Fischer

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Title: Heavy Weather
Series: A Carolina Coast Novel #2

Author: Normandie Fischer
Narrator: Laura Jennings
Publication Date: January 30, 2017

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Heavy Weather
A Carolina Coast Novel #2
Normandie Fischer
Normandie Fischer, January 2017
Narrated by Laura Jennings
Downloaded Unabridged Audio Book

From the author—

Death, life, family, domestic abuse–Heavy Weather explores all these themes in a memorable and compelling narrative. When Annie Mac’s life explodes like a storm at sea, she is helpless to fight back. Left for dead, her two children targeted by her abuser, her life appears to be over. The people who help her show her how to weather a storm that she cannot control.

It takes a town to save a child. That town is Beaufort, North Carolina.

Annie Mac’s estranged husband vows that nothing will stop him from getting his baby girl. Not Annie Mac and certainly not that boy of hers.

Only four blocks away, Hannah Morgan lives in comfort with her husband and dog, making pottery and waiting for her best friend to come home. When she discovers the two children cowering in the bushes and their mama left for dead, it doesn’t take her long to set her coterie of do-gooders to some extra-strength do-gooding. Add in Clay, a lonely police lieutenant yanked out of his comfort zone and into the heart of this small family, and who knows what will happen?

A couple of things struck me about this novel as I was reading it or, rather, listening to it. One is that, while it was longer than my usual preference, I didn’t mind this time because I got to know the characters so well. The second point is how much more emotional this story seemed than other domestic abuse novels I’ve read. Certainly, the latter has to do with the quality of the author’s storytelling but it’s also because the narrator has a way of telling the story that truly involves the listener.

Those two things combined led me to form a real attachment to a number of the characters for different reasons. Hannah has a kind of sad happiness about her, meaning her essential joy with her husband and her life have an underlying reason that this is not complete.  Annie Mac, primary victim of the domestic abuse, is to be felt for but only because of her injuries and her fear for her children. She’s a strong woman, determined not to let Roy get the best of her or to live in fear. Her son, Ty, is the manliest little boy you’ll ever want to see but for such a wretched reason and Rita is a woman of incredible strength. Clay resents the intrusion of Annie Mac and her kids into his comfortable but solitary life but soon finds his world changing for the better and other people are just as memorable and as appealing, all in their own ways.

It’s a little difficult to call this a mystery but it’s certainly crime fiction and there are mystery elements. There’s something of a burgeoning love story and it’s in some ways the story of a small town. At its heart, though, Heavy Weather is a tale of abuse and the effect it can have on so many, even those who aren’t directly involved.

Laura Jennings is a particularly good narrator with clarity in her voice and an appealing tone. She does the women’s and children’s parts very well and some of the men although I had a bit of difficulty distinguishing a couple of them. I also want to note that she handles the southern and racial accents especially nicely without being the least bit overboard and, as a Southerner, I appreciated that.

All in all, Ms. Fischer’s engaging story coupled with Ms. Jennings’ narration make for a listening experience I’m glad I had the chance to enjoy and I’ll be looking for more from both.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2017.

About the Author

Normandie Fischer studied sculpture in Italy before receiving a BA, summa cum laude with special honors in English. Her books, which have garnered numerous awards, include her Carolina Coast stories: Becalmed, Heavy Weather, Twilight Christmas, and Sailing out of Darkness. From Fire into Fire and Two from Isaac’s Housea Romantic Times Top Pick—form the beginning of her Isaac’s House series. A lifelong sailor, Normandie and her husband spent a number of years on board their 50-foot ketch, Sea Venture, in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico, sailing home to North Carolina in 2011 to take care of her mother. They have four children, two grandchildren, and an aussiedoodle named Rhion.

WebsiteTwitterFacebookPinterestAmazon

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About the Narrator

Having graduated with a Masters Degree in Fine Arts in Creative Writing, Laura Jennings has an intrinsic
 appreciation of the mechanisms and techniques that comprise the art of the tale. She’s able to
 analyze the underlying moods and currents of a book and bring these into her interpretation of 
the author’s work. She believes her place as narrator is to be the facilitator for all the nuances of 
the spoken word and the written word between the author and the listener. Her naturally clear 
and fresh voice as narrator contributes that extra dimension of enjoyment.

Laura works full time as a professional narrator and voice-over artist. She has narrated titles for Tantor Media, Audible Studios, Dreamscape Media, Insatiable Press and Cherry Hill Publishing.

She enjoys a quiet lifestyle in the Pacific Northwest with her loving husband and aged beagle, Dottie. Her days are filled with narrating, yoga, hiking and, of course, always reading.

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Play an excerpt here.

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Follow the tour:

Jun. 7th: CGB Blog Tours

Jun. 8th: A Book and A Latte

Jun. 9th: Read Day and Night

Jun. 10th: Lilly’s Book World

Jun. 11th: Buried Under Books

Jun. 12th: Ronelle Antoinette

Jun. 13th: Lomeraniel

Jun. 14th: Wall-to-Wall Books

Jun. 15th: Blogger Nicole

Jun. 16th: The Book Addict’s Reviews

Jun. 17th: Simply Kelina

Jun. 18th: Avid Book Collector

Jun. 19th: Christian Chick’s Thoughts

Jun. 20th: Spunky-n-Sassy

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Book Review: Cold Heart by Karen Pullen—and a Giveaway!

cold-heartCold Heart
A Stella Lavender Mystery #2
Karen Pullen
Five Star, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-4328-3257-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Motivated by her mother’s long-ago unsolved abduction, Stella Lavender has joined the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation only to be severely challenged by her first assignment: undercover drug agent. Stella works nights, buying drugs from paranoid drug dealers, gathering evidence to send them to prison or turn them into informants. She’s great at the job because, as her boss says, “you don’t look like a cop.” But the physical danger and the necessary betrayals are getting to her. When she sees a chance to work homicide, she’ll always take it.

One afternoon Stella gives a hitchhiking teenager a ride to her babysitting job in a wealthy neighborhood. Horror awaits them–the father lies dead in a pool of blood, and his toddler is missing. Stella joins the murder investigation as the puzzle quickly grows. Most importantly, where is the toddler? A dizzying array of plausible suspects provides more questions than answers.

At the same time, Stella’s personal life offers plenty of distractions. Her grandmother Fern, a free-spirited artist with male admirers wrapped around every one of her paint-stained fingers, needs Stella’s help with expensive house repairs. And Stella’s attraction to three very different men means her romantic life is, well, complicated.

Cold Heart draws the reader into a darkly delightful page-turner as Stella rummages through every strata of society in her relentless and sometimes unconventional pursuit of a cold-hearted murderer who won’t stop at just one victim.

If you’re not careful, sometimes what you wish for turns out to be much more than you think it’s going to be. Stella Lavender is good at what she does, working Narcotics, but she really wants to get into the Homicide division. When she picks up a hitchhiker, she has no idea that she’s about to walk smack into a murder case but she’s more or less prepared for that. What surprises her are the connections she discovers she has to the case, kind of a six degrees of separation thing.

The fact that Stella made a drug buy just the night before from the man who’s now lying dead is just one of those links and she soon finds that her personal life isn’t as separated from work as she’d like it to be. For instance, could one of the many men who orbit around her charismatic grandmother be somehow involved and is Fern hiding things from Stella? Are other people being attacked because Stella herself is really the target and, if so, why? Most importantly, what has happened to the dead man’s toddler daughter, Paige?

There are a few too many coincidences in the plot but a plethora of leads and suspects kept me guessing for quite a while and the characters, particularly Stella, are interesting. I liked her very much and appreciated her determination and even her occasional rule-bending. Stella Lavender is a cop I could be friends with 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.

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Just by leaving two comments,
you’ll have a chance to win a
print copy of the first book in
the series, Cold Feet. Leave
one comment today and one
on yesterday’s guest blog by
Karen Pullen. The winning name
will be drawn Thursday evening,
January 26th. This drawing is
open to residents of the US.

Book Review: Brooklyn on Fire by Lawrence H. Levy

Brooklyn on FireBrooklyn on Fire
A Mary Handley Mystery #2
Lawrence H. Levy
Broadway Books, January 2016
ISBN:978-0-553-41894-1
Trade Paperback

Mary Handley, a not-so-proper Victorian miss, has set up as a consulting detective. Her good friend, Mr. Lazlo, has provided her with not only a job until her consulting pays-off, but provided her with office space in a corner of his bookstore. Little does he know his store will be burned down as a result of this association, but that comes later in the story. The story opens with Mary’s first client.

Mary earned a bit of fame by cracking a highly reported earlier case. This previous success draws a woman named Emily Worsham to her office, stating her uncle has been murdered.The catch? It’s a very cold case. The uncle has been dead and buried for at least ten years⏤or has he? And is Emily Worsham actually a relative, or is she simply an actress hired to point a finger at one of the wealthy movers and shakers in the Brooklyn district? The plot thickens when Emily is murdered on stage, and it turns out she wasn’t Emily Worsham at all.

The story is fast-paced. Not only Mary herself is at risk, but her entire family and of course, poor Mr. Lazlo. Even Mary’s romantic interest, none other than George Vanderbilt, comes under the gun. Nothing is as it first appears and seeing Mary solve this convoluted puzzle is a joy.

An intricate plot will keep the reader guessing. The writing is good, the setting interesting (historical mysteries are my fave whether set in New York or the Pacific Northwest) and the characterization spot on. I can recommend this one.

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