Book Review: The Summer House by Lauren K. Denton @LaurenKDenton @ThomasNelson @TLCBookTours

The Summer House
Lauren K. Denton
Thomas Nelson, June 2020
ISBN 978-0-7852-3253-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Sometimes it takes losing everything to find yourself again.

Lily Bishop wakes up one morning to find a good-bye note and divorce papers from her husband on the kitchen counter. Having moved to Alabama for his job only weeks before, Lily is devastated, but a flyer at the grocery store for a hair stylist position in a local retirement community provides a refuge while she contemplates her next steps.

Rose Carrigan built the small retirement village of Safe Harbor years ago—just before her husband ran off with his assistant. Now she runs a tight ship, making sure the residents follow her strict rules. Rose keeps everyone at arm’s length, including her own family. But when Lily shows up asking for a job and a place to live, Rose’s cold exterior begins to thaw.

Lily and Rose form an unlikely friendship, and Lily’s salon soon becomes the place where residents share town gossip, as well as a few secrets. Lily soon finds herself drawn to Rose’s nephew, Rawlins—a single dad and shrimper who’s had some practice at starting over—and one of the residents may be carrying a torch for Rose as well.

Now and then, I feel the need to step back from the world, so to speak, and indulge myself with a book that I know is going to lift my spirits. Lauren K. Denton’s books always fit the bill and The Summer House is no exception. Ms. Denton can take a quite ordinary person and put her in circumstances that are troubling but not very different from what many of us experience and have that character reach a place of contentment without being overly sentimental. In this case, it’s two women, Lily and Rose, who develop a deep friendship based on warmth and trust and thereby move on to a new place in life.

Both of these women are in need of emotional sustenance and, while their difference in age would seem to be a barrier, things don’t work out that way. Each finds the connection that satisfies that need and Lily, in particular, learns that “family” is not always those people that you’re born into or marry into; Rose and the residents of Safe Harbor become her new home and Rose, in turn, begins to feel a softening, a breaking down of her walls.

There’s some romance here but it doesn’t take over the story and is a nice addition to this tale that, when all is said and done, is one of hope and happiness for these two very appealing women. Adding to the story is the ambience of a warm, gentle Southern setting that Ms. Denton always does so well. I can’t recommend this highly enough to anyone looking for a few hours of pure enjoyment.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2020.

Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Books-A-Million
Amazon // Indiebound

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About the Author

Born and raised in Mobile, Alabama, Lauren now lives with her husband and two daughters in Homewood, just outside Birmingham. In addition to her fiction, she writes a monthly newspaper column about life, faith, and how funny (and hard) it is to be a parent. On any given day, she’d rather be at the beach with her family and a stack of books. Her debut novel, THE HIDEAWAY, was a Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Amazon Charts bestseller. Her second novel, HURRICANE SEASON, released in spring of 2018, is a USA Today bestseller. GLORY ROAD was released in March, 2019.

Connect with Lauren:
Website // Facebook // Twitter // Instagram

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Book Review: Miss Julia Knows a Thing or Two by Ann B. Ross—and a Giveaway! @VikingBooks

Miss Julia Knows a Thing or Two
Miss Julia Series #21
Ann B. Ross
Viking, April 2020
ISBN 978-0-525-56051-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Miss Julia has decided to turn over a new leaf. It’s time to stop meddling in other peoples’ lives, she thinks–but her hands are full before long! Her neighbor Mildred is sent into a tizzy when a grandchild she’s never met shows up on her doorstep. And Mildred’s husband keeps forgetting who she is, so she’s all on her own. Meanwhile, Etta Mae is worried about losing her job now that the Handy Home Helpers is up for sale. Luckily, Miss Julia has experience dealing with children dropped on doorsteps, and sweeps in to lend a hand. But there’s something missing in that child’s life, and Miss Julia knows exactly what it is.

Living in small towns such as Abbotsville, NC, tends to make people a little busybody-ish and Miss Julia has recognized in herself an inclination towards being overly critical and obdurate so she’s decided to make an effort to be more open to other ideas, more sensitive and less prideful, especially after what’s been going on with her friend and next door neighbor, Mildred Allen. Poor Mildred really has a lot on her plate right now.

Mildred is coping, not very well, with her husband, Horace’s, growing cognitive impairment while her son, Tony, has recently become estranged, following his transition to daughter, Tonya. Then, out of the blue, a previously unknown grandchild shows up practically on Mildred’s doorstep. What is the beleagured woman supposed to do? Well, quite naturally, she seeks out advice from her friend and it doesn’t take long for Miss Julia to realize that things are more than a little suspicious and her tendency towards snoopiness aka sleuthing rises to this new challenge.

While Mildred’s problems are absorbing much of Miss Julia’s time and effort, she’s also concerned about Etta Mae Wiggins who may be about to lose her Handy Home Helper job for dubious reasons. Miss Julia’s determined to ferret out some truths so her good intentions of becoming more conscious of how she can rub people the wrong way just might have to wait. On top of all this, the Christmas holidays and all that entails are fast approaching and demanding her attention.

The mystery elements are lightweight here but that’s not really what the Miss Julia stories are all about—enjoy this for the appealing characters and setting as well as the warm-hearted, enjoyable read.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2020.

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Giveaway

To enter the drawing for an advance reading
copy of Miss Julia Knows a Thing or Two,

leave a comment below. The
winning name will be drawn on
Monday evening, April 20th.
Open to residents of the US and Canada.

Book Review: Surviving Doodahville by Ashley Fontainne and Lillian Hansen

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Title: Surviving Doodahville
Authors: Ashley Fontainne and Lillian Hansen
Narrator: Rebecca Roberts
Publication Date: May 24, 2019
Genres: Contemporary, Southern Fiction, Romance

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Purchase Links:
Audible // iTunes

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Surviving Doodahville
Ashley Fontainne and Lillian Hansen
Narrated by Rebecca Roberts
RMSW Press, May 2019
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the authors—

The summer of 1983 – the era of big debt, big hair, and big dreams. Seventeen-year-old Kassandra Lawson is excited about starting her senior year of high school. She has a crush on a local hunk, and her best friend, valley girl extraordinaire Liz Hendricks, insists on helping her snag the hot guy – for sure!

July starts out uneventful for Kee and her parents. Her father, Kevin, is a partner at a CPA firm, and her mother, Gail, works as a secretary at the police department. The small family lives an idyllic life in sunny Hacienda Heights, California.

1983 also brings upheaval and strife for the Lawson clan. A death in the family forces Kevin and Gail to make the painful decision to pack up and move to Kevin’s hometown of Daltville, Arkansas.

Each faces daunting challenges adapting to their new life. Gail and Kee aren’t quite sure they can handle the culture shock. They encounter social and racial issues they never faced on the West Coast, strange food, weird dialects, odd customs, and wicked secrets that have the potential to destroy their family.

More than just a coming-of-age story, Surviving Doodahville explores family bonds, racial barriers, and just how much a person is willing to sacrifice for others. The tale is full of humor, action and a touch of mystery, making it a fun romp into the past.

Well, dagnabbit. I made it all the way to the last chapter with nary a sniffle and then I turned into a near-sobbing wretch 😉

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Rising high school senior Kee and her parents are living the California dream so when circumstances lead Gail and Kevin to decide to move to Daltville, Arkansas, she’s devastated and pretty sure life is over. Then again, fate has a way of making one take a second look and Kee soon thinks her parents’ betrayal doesn’t hold a candle to another pair of betrayals.

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Off they go to what can only be called a stereotypical Southern backwoods town complete with racism, secrets, years-long feuds, overblown morality…and a tremendous amount of charm and possibilities. Kee soon finds that high school in this redneck town isn’t entirely terrible and her small family can help bring about some major changes.

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Romance and friendships blossom in Surviving Doodahville but, at times, I couldn’t help feeling a kind of superiority that these Californians exhibited towards their new neighbors. It was a bit like Kee, Gail and Kevin were the shining examples for goodness and light and that Daltville could only be lifted from its darkness by these more enlightened transplants. Still, a number of the townspeople were good solid citizens and very likeable indeed so I didn’t think the “preaching” was overdone. Truthfully, back in the early 80’s, a lot of what is wrong in Daltville was also wrong elsewhere and still exists today. Now, as in those days, good people matter and can make a difference.
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Side note: The cover is very appealing but I’m puzzled by the sign that reads “DooDah Ville”. Which is correct, DooDah Ville or Doodahville?
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Rebecca Roberts is new to me as a narrator and I was impressed by her performance. Ms. Roberts has a very pleasing tone and does accents/dialect really well. Most of all, she’s believable as a teenaged girl and she added a great deal to my enjoyment of this book.
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Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2019.

About the Authors

Award-winning and International bestselling author, Ashley Fontainne, is an avid reader, becoming a fan of the written word in her youth, starting with the Nancy Drew mystery series. Stories that immerse the reader deep into the human psyche and the monsters lurking within us are her favorite reads.

Her muse for penning the Eviscerating the Snake series was The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. Ashley’s love for this book is what sparked her desire to write her debut novel, Accountable to None, the first book in the trilogy. With a modern setting to the tale, Ashley delves into just what lengths a person is willing to go to when seeking personal justice for heinous acts perpetrated against them. The second novel in the series, Zero Balance, focuses on the cost and reciprocal cycle that obtaining revenge has on the seeker. Once the cycle starts, where does it end? How far will the tendrils of revenge expand? Adjusting Journal Entries answers that question—far and wide.

The short thriller entitled Number Seventy-Five touches upon the dangerous world of online dating. Number Seventy-Five took home the BRONZE medal in fiction/suspense at the 2013 Readers’ Favorite International Book Awards.

The paranormal thriller entitled The Lie won the GOLD medal in the 2013 Illumination Book Awards for fiction/suspense. A movie based on this book, entitled Foreseen, is currently a feature film available on video-on-demand from Amazon.

Ashley delved into the paranormal with a Southern Gothic horror/suspense novel, Growl, which released in January of 2015. The suspenseful mystery Empty Shell released in September of 2014. Ashley teamed up with Lillian Hansen (Ashley calls her Mom!) and penned a three-part murder mystery/suspense series entitled The Magnolia Series. The first book, Blood Ties, released in 2015 and was voted one of the Top 50 Self-Published Books You Should Be Reading in 2015 at http://www.readfree.ly.

WebsiteTwitterFacebookGoodreads

Lillian Hansen is the proud mother of Ashley Fontainne and a grateful daughter of parents who raised her to love and respect the principles upon which America was founded. Lillian is the granddaughter of a brave young woman who immigrated to the United States from Denmark at the age of 18 without speaking any English, who built a career, a family, and became a proud U.S. Citizen.

Lillian values the diverse, life-enriching experiences squirreled away in her memory banks and is fond of all four-legged critters, especially cats. Lillian lives in Arkansas and Surviving Doodahville is her third novel.

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About the Narrator

After a career in finance, Rebecca Roberts became inspired to pursue her childhood dream of becoming an actress. Her ingenuity and ardent desire brought her to voice-acting which has rapidly grown into her thriving audiobook narration and production company, Atlantis Audio Productions. She has narrated and produced over seventy audiobooks for indie authors and major publishing houses. Rebecca delivers her stories with a mature and intelligent style characterized by a believable tone, and versatility in creating memorable and individual characters with her various accents and vocal qualities. In short, she narrates with her whole heart. Rebecca is a native Floridian, proud mother to three sparkling children, and wife to the man of her dreams.

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Follow the tour here.

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Giveaway

Surviving Doodahville Ebook
Runs July 21st to 28th⎮Open internationally

Enter here.

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Book Review: Deadly Southern Charm ed. by Mary Burton and Mary Miley

Deadly Southern Charm
A Lethal Ladies Mystery Anthology
Edited by Mary Burton and Mary Miley
Wildside Press, March 2019
ISBN 978-1-4794-4839-5
Trade Paperback

The Sisters in Crime – Central Virginia Chapter has been releasing anthologies for quite some time and, for this latest volume, a few “friends of the family” have joined in on the fun.

The stories included here all have two things in common—they revolve around a mystery in some way and they’re set in the South. I’m not generally a fan of short stories unless they’re by an author whose work I already like a lot but I’m a pushover for Southern fiction so reading Deadly Southern Charm was a no-brainer.

As you might expect, I didn’t unreservedly love every single story but each one did have something I appreciated and I had some favorites. Country Song Gone Wrong by Sherry Harris had some surprising moments and Frances Aylor’s The Girl in the Airport tickled my fancy while Deadly Devonshire by Samantha McGraw reminded me of a cozy series I’m fond of. On the grittier side, Burn by K.L. Murphy satisfied my need for a little darkness and Ronald Sterling’s Just Like Jiminy Cricket was creepy enough to set my Spidey sense on high alert.

All in all, Deadly Southern Charm is an entertaining compendium of stories that whiled away a couple of rainy days for me, a most satisfying read that I can wholeheartedly recommend.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2019.

Contributors—Frances Aylor, Mollie Cox Bryan, Lynn Cahoon, Judy Chalkley, Stacie Giles, Barb Goffman, Libby Hall, Bradley Harper, Sherry Harris, Maggie King, Kristin Kisska, Samantha McGraw, K.L. Murphy, Genille Swope Parente, Deb Rolfe, Ronald Sterling, S.A. Warwick, and Heather Weidner.

P.S. Disclaimer: Until January of this year, I was a non-author member of the chapter, only giving it up when I moved from Richmond, VA, to St. Augustine, FL. I do admit to a certain predilection for the organization and its members but I’ve done my best not to let that creep into my reading/reviewing of Deadly Southern Charm 😉

Book Review: Mourning Dove by Claire Fullerton

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Title: Mourning Dove
Author: Claire Fullerton
Narrator: Claire Fullerton
Publisher: Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas
Publication Date: June 25, 2018

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Purchase Links:
Audible // iTunes // Amazon

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Mourning Dove
Claire Fullerton
Narrated by Claire Fullerton
Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, June 2018
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the publisher—

The heart has a home when it has an ally. If Millie Crossan doesn’t know anything else, she knows this one truth simply because her brother Finley grew up beside her. Charismatic Finley, 18 months her senior, becomes Millie’s guide when their mother Posey leaves their father and moves her children from Minnesota to Memphis shortly after Millie’s 10th birthday.

Memphis is a world foreign to Millie and Finley. This is the 1970s Memphis, the genteel world of their mother’s upbringing and vastly different from anything they’ve ever known. Here they are the outsiders. Here, they only have each other. And here, as the years fold over themselves, they mature in a manicured Southern culture where they learn firsthand that much of what glitters isn’t gold.

Nuance, tradition, and Southern eccentrics flavor Millie and Finley’s world, as they find their way to belonging. But what hidden variables take their shared history to leave both brother and sister at such disparate ends?

Mourning Dove is a compelling Southern family tale that, by turns, had me smile, tear up, laugh out loud, even get irritated with certain characters’ inflexibility, especially Posey and her husband, the Colonel, step-father to Millie and Finley. If things didn’t go exactly the way they expected, there would be hell to pay and life was frequently uncomfortable for the children.

As Millie and Finley grew up, they learned not only how to live with the rules of the household but also found their own way. The two are devoted to each other whether together or apart and they truly depend on each other through all the joys and despair of life. Still, family and friends are caught very much by surprise when a terrible thing happens even though they knew a darkness was brewing.

A couple of things pulled me out of the story occasionally. I’m a born and bred Southerner and some of the author’s pronunciations were different from mine; for instance, she would say “in-TRIC-a-cies” while I say “IN-tric-a-cies” and “de-COR-ous” while I say “DEC-or-ous”. Also, as a Mary Baldwin alumna, I know that it did not change its designation to University from College until 2016, many years after the time period of this story. I also have never heard of the bride’s family being responsible for hosting the wedding rehearsal dinner, especially back then. All that aside, I really did enjoy hearing about places, mannerisms and Southern culture so similar to my own upbringing. Although I managed to talk my parents out of doing the whole debutante thing, I did spend several years in cotillion 😉

I don’t always think an author narrating her own book is a good idea but Ms. Fullerton does bring the characters and the ambience to life, especially because Millie is telling the story. This is a deeply thoughtful look at the South of the 70’s and 80’s and is a true evocation of a time and place that was quite unique. Well done!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2018.

About the Author/Narrator

Claire Fullerton grew up in Memphis, TN and now lives in Malibu, CA. She is the author of contemporary fiction, Dancing to an Irish Reel, set in Connemara, Ireland, where she once lived. Dancing to an Irish Reel is a finalist in the 2016 Kindle Book Review Awards, and a 2016 Readers’ Favorite. Claire is the author of A Portal in Time, a paranormal mystery that unfolds in two time periods, set on California’s hauntingly beautiful Monterey Peninsula, in a village called Carmel-by-the-Sea. Both of Claire’s novels are published by Vinspire Publishing. Her third novel, Mourning Dove, is a Southern family saga, published in June, 2018 by Firefly Southern Fiction. She is one of four contributors to the book, Southern Seasons, with her novella, “Through an Autumn Window”, to be published in November 2018 by Firefly Southern Fiction. Claire is represented by Julie Gwinn, of The Seymour Literary Agency, and can be found on WordPress, Twitter (cfullerton3) Goodreads, Instagram ( cffullerton) as well as the website under her name.

WebsiteTwitterFacebookInstagram

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Play an excerpt here.

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Book Review: The Darling Dahlias and the Unlucky Clover by Susan Wittig Albert—and a Giveaway!

The Darling Dahlias and the Unlucky Clover
The Darling Dahlias #7
Susan Wittig Albert
Persevero Press, March 2018
ISBN 978-0-9969040-3-2
Hardcover

From the publisher—

It looks like the music has ended for Darling’s favorite barbershop quartet, the Lucky Four Clovers—just days before the Dixie Regional Barbershop Competition. Another unlucky break: a serious foul-up in Darling’s telephone system—and not a penny for repairs. And while liquor is legal again, moonshine isn’t. Sheriff Buddy Norris needs a little luck when he goes into Briar Swamp to confront Cypress County’s most notorious bootlegger. What he finds upends his sense of justice.

Once again, Susan Wittig Albert has told a charming story filled with richly human characters who face the Great Depression with courage and grace. She reminds us that friends offer the best of themselves to each other, community is what holds us together, and luck is what you make it.

Darling, Alabama, is home during the Great Depression to the Dahlias Garden Club, ladies who solve local crimes almost as much as they garden and socialize. The latest town problem is that the telephone system is suffering from equipment failures because half-owner Whitney Whitforth won’t pony up to fix it and then the Lucky Four Clovers barbershop quartet go into crisis mode when one of the members is killed before the Regional Barbershop Competition.

Was it an accident or murder? Sheriff Buddy Norris is determined to figure it out, with a little help from Ophelia Snow, Elizabeth Lacy and the other Dahlias, and they soon find a possible link to the local bootlegger, Bodeen Pyle. When Whitney goes missing, the plot thickens but the Dahlias are up for the challenge.

Added touches such as Liz Lacy’s Garden Gate newspaper column, town gossip and a look into how people managed when money was hard to get, along with a good puzzle help make this return to a charming series a welcome treat. A taste of class distinctions and the place women held in the Depression-era South make it even better and, best of all, a cast of garden club characters is included, and there are recipes. What more could any cozy mystery reader want?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2018.

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I’d love to send somebody my very
gently used print advance reading copy of
The Darling Dahlias and the Unlucky Clover.
Leave a comment below and I’ll draw
the winning name on Saturday evening,
August 4th. This drawing is open
to residents of the US & Canada.

A Trio of Teeny Reviews

Ain’t She a Peach
Southern Eclectic #4
Molly Harper
Gallery Books, June 2018
ISBN 978-1-5011-5133-0
Trade Paperback

Once again, the McCready family of Lake Sackett, Georgia, is back in fine fettle with their McCready Family Funeral Home and Bait Shop and, also once again, they’ve captured my heart. This time the focus is on Frankie, the youngish coroner/embalmer who considers herself well past the age of independence but her parents don’t know how to even begin to think of letting their precious only child spread her wings, so to speak. Sure, she sneaks off to Atlanta occasionally for a night of satisfying rowdiness but she can’t make herself move out (although she has disabled the location service they use to track her). There are very good reasons for this helicopter parenting but, really, she needs to grow a pair!

There’s a new Sheriff in town, Erik Linden, and while Frankie has a few, or a lot, of philosophical differences with Erik, including his queasiness around her dead customers, she’s finding it very hard to resist the man. Meanwhile, the rest of the McCready bunch are around and about and the town’s Halloween Trunk-R-Treat festival is coming up while a teenaged desperado has it in for Frankie for some reason.

The whole rambunctious McCready clan is a family I’d love to be part of and this fourth book in Molly Harper‘s series is just as much fun as all the others. Oh, I do hope there will be more!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

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Jurassic, Florida
Hunter Shea: One Size Eats All #1
Hunter Shea
Lyrical Press/Kensington, June 2018
ISBN 978-1-5161-0793-3
Ebook

LOL, I’m still chuckling over this book and I have only myself to blame for not having indulged in Hunter Shea‘s work before. Polo Springs, Florida, is a quiet little place but people are starting to notice that the lizard population, specifically small iguanas, seems to be popping up everywhere. Not just popping up—slithering and scampering and the little beasts apparently have lost all fear. Not so the humans in this town, folks like Frank who’s running from the mob and Ann Hickok, the very unlikely mayor who’s only 18 years old. Everyone in Polo Springs has stepped into their own Godzilla movie and the future’s looking very, very dim.

Polo Springs is about to get a rude awakening and they’ll wish they had those little iguanas back. In scenes that are alternately grisly and scream-inducing but also high camp, we learn the answer to the question: can anyone save this town from the invasion of giant people-eating critters?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

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In His Kiss
Neil Plakcy
Featherweight Publishing, March 2018
ISBN 978-1-64122-112-2
Trade Paperback

There’s nothing easy about high school, as most of us know, but senior Michael has it worse than some. First of all, he’s gay. No big secret there but he’s almost painfully shy and definitely insecure when it comes to actually finding “the right one” or even one who will do for right now. He’s also saddled with his younger brother, Robbie, aka the Big Mistake and family life pretty much revolves around Robbie with his multitudes of allergies and other issues. On the positive side, he has an awesome best friend, Brie, and she makes life in Stewart’s Crossing, Pennsylvania, tolerable although Michael is way past ready to get out of Dodge.

And then along comes Daniel Florez and life for Michael will never be the same again. Luckily for him, Daniel has a little more self-confidence—really, he’s almost oblivious to what’s not supposed to work or maybe his home life has just given him a thicker skin so he’s not quite as vulnerable. Whatever it is, Daniel is not afraid to make the first move and the second and the third… Suddenly, things are looking up for these two really nice kids and the future might be bright but there are some side effects, including resentment from Brie, but why are strange things happening to Michael, like awesome SAT scores? And, minor detail, why is the FBI hanging around spying on Daniel?

With a bit of fantasy and a lot of high school angst, not to mention lots of humor and love of all sorts, Neil Plakcy has created a story that had me smiling a lot and cringing just a little (in a good way) and I definitely want to know what Michael and Daniel are going to be up to next 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.