The Garden of Happy Endings by Barbara O’Neal

Title:  The Garden of Happy Endings

Author:  Barbara O’Neal

Genre:  Contemporary Fiction

Published:  April 2012 – Bantam

Paperback – 416 pages

My take:  Reverend Elsa Montgomery is going through a crisis of faith after the brutal murder of a young parishioner. She’s so angry that God would allow such an unspeakable act that she’s not sure she can continue as a minister. She takes a sabbatical from her Seattle church and goes home to Pueblo, Colorado to work through things. When she gets there she finds her sister Tamsin going through a life-changing upheaval of her own. Her missing husband has been charged with running a Ponzi scheme that stole millions. She finds herself homeless, penniless and not sure where to turn.

Elsa and Tamsin wind up living in the small house where they grew up. Elsa reconnects with the parish priest who also happens to be her former boyfriend. He broke off their engagement twenty years earlier when he had a calling to the priesthood. They managed to stay friends and kept in touch over the years. Ultimately he becomes the catalyst to Elsa finding her way back to her faith. Through him she meets many people (wonderful primary and secondary characters) who help her along the way.

Tamsin has lived a life of privilege but is now happy to accept a job in the fabric department at Walmart. She also helps out with a new community garden program at the parish. She learns that she may not have been as happy or content in her old life as she thought. In fact, she realizes how lonely her life had become.

Watching the story unfold as Elsa and Tamsin found their way on such personal journeys made for an emotional reading experience. Barbara O’Neal is a wonderful storyteller. Her characters and story truly resonated with me. I can’t ask for more than that. Recommended.

Disclosure:  I received this book from the publisher. I was not compensated for my review.

Mailbox Monday

November host: Kathy at BermudaOnion

I bought a couple of audiobooks last week:

Publisher’s Summary: Churchill: The Prophetic Statesman reveals the astonishingly accurate predictions of Britain’s most famous prime minister and how his critics’ perceptions of them shaped his political career. Who could have foreseen the start of World War I twenty-five years before the assassination of a Serbian archduke plunged Europe into war? Who could have predicted the rise of al-Qaeda nearly eight decades before anyone had heard of Osama bin Laden? Winston Churchill did. Now for the first time, bestselling author James C. Humes reveals these and other shocking predictions made by this legendary figure. Churchill didn’t need a crystal ball to tell the future. Using his skills as a historian, he studied patterns of the past to make his eerily accurate forecasts, including the rise of European fascism, the fall of the Iron Curtain, and the exact day of his own death as he entered his final years. In fascinating detail, Humes’ astonishing biography documents the spot-on prophecies Churchill foretold and the political consequences he endured for sharing them.

James C. Humes, a former White House speechwriter for five presidents, is a Pulitzer Prize–nominated author of more than thirty books. He is currently a historian at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Goodreads Synopsis: Deirdre Griffin has a great life; it’s just not her own. She’s the around-the-clock personal assistant to her charismatic, high-maintenance, New Age guru brother, Tag. As the family wallflower, her only worth seems to be as gatekeeper to Tag at his New England seaside compound. Then Deirdre’s sometime boyfriend informs her that he is marrying another woman, who just happens to be having the baby he told Deirdre he never wanted. While drowning her sorrows in Tag’s expensive vodka, Deirdre decides to use his massive online following to get herself voted on as a last-minute Dancing with the Stars replacement. It’ll get her back in shape, mentally and physically. It might even get her a life of her own. Deirdre’s fifteen minutes of fame have begun.

What was in your mailbox?

Sunday Post

I thought it was time to check in with a Sunday Post since it’s been a few weeks. Very little reading took place in the past several days.

I posted my take of the fun Christmas novel Merry Ex-Mas by Sheila Roberts. It reminded me how much I enjoy Christmas books so I plan to read many more through the end of the year.

With a whirlwind week behind us I’m waiting a few days to decorate for Christmas inside the house. We had twenty (sitting at three tables) here for Thanksgiving. Not surprisingly, the kids’ table looked like the most fun :). It was a nice day with family and friends but, as usual, I wish I’d had more time to sit and talk with everyone.

For the second year in a row my sister and her family joined my family for a Thanksgiving morning 5K walk/run through the park near our homes. I snapped a pic of the Little Free Library that is located near the pavilion. What a great idea. I did some checking on line and found a map of LFLs around the world. Click here for the website.

That’s it for this edition of the Sunday Post. 

What’s new in your world?

Merry Ex-Mas by Sheila Roberts

Title:  Merry Ex-Mas (Icicle Falls #2)

Author:  Sheila Roberts

Genre:  Contemporary Fiction (Light Romance); Christmas

Published:  October 2012 – Harlequin MIRA

Synopsis: (publisher) Christmas in Icicle Falls…

Cass Wilkes, owner of the Gingerbread Haus bakery, was looking forward to her daughter Danielle’s wedding…until Dani announced that she wants her father, Cass’s ex, to walk her down the aisle. Seriously? And, since every B and B is full, it looks as if he, his trophy wife and their yappy little dog will be staying with Cass.

Her friend Charlene Albach arrives at their weekly chick-flick night in shock. She’s just seen the ghost of Christmas past: her ex-husband, Richard, who left her a year ago. He ran off with the hostess from her restaurant, Zelda’s, to start a new life (and restaurant) in Seattle. Now the hostess is history and he wants to kiss and make up. Hide the mistletoe!

And bring out the hot buttered rum, because the holidays aren’t so easy for Ella O’Brien, either. Ella, who’s newly divorced, is still sharing the house with her ex while they wait for the place to sell, and they’re still fighting over all the things they fought over when they were married. The love is gone. Isn’t it?

But Christmas has a way of working its magic. One of these women is about to rediscover love, another is going to remember what’s important in life and the third will find new dreams in the new year. Merry Ex-mas, ladies!

My take:  Sheila Roberts takes us back to Icicle Falls, the picturesque Washington mountain town (and the setting of Better Than Chocolate), home to what I found to be completely relatable characters in relatable circumstances. 

In this book, we find secondary characters from Better Than Chocolate in the lead roles:

Cass, owner of the local bakery, is surprised by her daughter’s post-Thanksgiving engagement announcement and even more surprised that the wedding will take place before Christmas! She’s flabbergasted that her home is the only place with a vacancy for her ex-husband and his much younger second wife. Oh my goodness.

Charley is now the sole owner of a popular local restaurant after her ex ran off with their hostess. She’s surprised to see him back in town. Without the hostess. What is that all about?

Ella runs an upscale boutique (which is owned by her mother) and is newly divorced. How she ever fell for that no-good country singer wannabe is beyond her mother. Ella and Jake are still living under the same roof because, until they sell their house, they can’t afford to live elsewhere. Jake’s mother-in-law did everything in her power to break them up and she won. Or did she? Be careful, mama, or your ex son-in-law may dedicate a song to you! (see video below ;))

This is a Contemporary Christmas novel so if you imagine the ending will be predictable, you’re right! What isn’t predictable is how the ending is reached. Merry Ex-Mas is filled with typical Sheila Roberts humor and entertaining characters. I found it to be a perfectly fun seasonal read.

Recommended to fans of Sheila Roberts, Contemporary Light Romance, and Christmas novels.

Disclosure:  Review copy from the publisher. I was not compensated for my review.

  ♦  ♦  ♦

About the author:

Sheila Roberts is married and has three children. She lives on a lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her novels have
appeared in Reader’s Digest Condensed Books and have been published in several languages. Her book Angel Lane was an Amazon Top Ten Romance pick for 2009 and her holiday perennial On Strike for Christmas was made into a movie for the Lifetime Movie Network. When she’s not hanging out with her girlfriends or hitting the dance floor with her husband, she can be found writing about those things dear to women’s hearts: family, friends and chocolate.


Mailbox Monday

November host: Kathy at BermudaOnion

After seeing numerous tweets and blog reviews about The Art Forger I bought the audiobook.

Goodreads synopsis: On March 18, 1990, thirteen works of art today worth over $500 million were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. It remains the largest unsolved art heist in history, and Claire Roth, a struggling young artist, is about to discover that there’s more to this crime than meets the eye. Making a living reproducing famous artworks for a popular online retailer and desperate to improve her situation, Claire is lured into a Faustian bargain with Aiden Markel, a powerful gallery owner. She agrees to forge a painting–a Degas masterpiece stolen from the Gardner Museum–in exchange for a one-woman show in his renowned gallery. But when that very same long-missing Degas painting is delivered to Claire’s studio, she begins to suspect that it may itself be a forgery. Her desperate search for the truth leads Claire into a labyrinth of deceit where secrets hidden since the late nineteenth century may be the only evidence that can now save her life.

Goodreads synopsis: Fans of Jennifer Weiner and Emily Giffin are sure to fall in love with Katherine Center’s most heartwarming and engaging novel yet-about how even losing the most important thing in your life can help you find yourself again.

After the sudden loss of her husband in a car crash, Libby Moran falls on hard times-so hard, in fact, that she’s forced to move in with her hyper-critical mother. There, sleeping on the pull-out sofa so her two children can share the guest room, she can’t stop longing for the life she had. So when a letter arrives from Libby’s estranged aunt offering her a job and a place to live on her goat farm, Libby jumps at the opportunity. But starting over is never easy. With an aunt who is nothing like she imagined, a shaggy farm manager with a tragic past, a psychic at the feed store who claims to be able to contact the dead, and a bully at her daughter’s school, country life isn’t at all what Libby expected. But it also offers her what no other place can: A chance to define the good life for herself. A chance to piece together the mysteries of her own past. A chance, even, at love. And, finally, a chance to bring herself, and her family, back to life.

Goodreads synopsis: At Madeline’s Tea Salon, the cozy hub of the Avalon community, local residents scrapbook their memories and make new ones. But across town, other Avalonians are struggling to free themselves of the past: Isabel Kidd is fixing up her ramshackle house while sorting through the complications of her late husband’s affair. Ava Catalina is mourning the love of her life and helping her young son grow up without his father. Local plumber Yvonne Tate is smart, beautiful, and new to Avalon, but finds that despite a decade of living life on her own terms, the past has a way of catching up—no matter where she goes. And Frances Latham, mother to a boisterous brood of boys, eagerly anticipates the arrival of a little girl from China—unprepared for the emotional roller coaster of foreign adoption.

Enter Bettie Shelton, the irascible founder of the Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society. Under Bettie’s guidance, even the most reluctant of Avalon’s residents come to terms with their past and make bold decisions about their future. But when the group receives unexpected news about their steadfast leader, they must pull together to create something truly memorable.

What was in your mailbox?

My Kind of Christmas by Robyn Carr

Title:  My Kind of Christmas (Virgin River #20)

Author:  Robyn Carr

Genre:  Contemporary Romance series

Published:  October 2012 – Harlequin/MIRA

My take:  Angie LaCroix cannot spend another minute under her parents’ roof. She’s grateful that her mother took care of her after a terrible car crash several months earlier but she can’t take the micromanaging where her future is concerned. She decides to get out of town for a few weeks and heads to Virgin River where her uncle Jack and other relatives live.

Patrick Riordan landed in Virgin River to take some time and figure out if he wants to remain in the Navy or take his life in a new direction. He’s staying at the cabin of one of his brothers – he has four and most live in the area. Patrick is dealing with PTSD after his best friend (and wingman) was shot down in the middle East. He feels responsible and has pledged to look after his friend’s wife and child – maybe even marry her.

What Angie and Patrick don’t count on is meeting each other. It’s an instant attraction that can’t be ignored – even if they tell each other it can’t be permanent.

Well, this is a romance. A Robyn Carr Virgin River romance. You can guess where this story will go and Robyn Carr doesn’t disappoint. It was hard not to smile while watching the love story unfold. It was fun to see appearances of characters from earlier books in the series – most of them relatives of Angie and Patrick who provided a lot of comic relief. There’s also a heart-warming subplot within the love story. It allowed Angie to shine and find a bit of herself she thought was gone.

If you’re a fan of the series I think you’ll enjoy My Kind of Christmas as much as I did. If you like Contemporary Romance but haven’t read a Virgin River book I recommend starting with book one and enjoy getting to know the people of the small California mountain town. It’s my favorite CR series.

Disclosure:  I received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley. I was not compensated for my review.

Mailbox Monday

November host: Kathy at BermudaOnion

Only one book in my mailbox last week:

Goodreads synopsis: A Woman who is Superstitious to the Core…

A Boy who claims his Parents are Dead…

A Murderer who wants to Silence the Truth of What Happened.

Olivia Westerly knows what she knows—opals mean disaster, eleven is the unluckiest number on earth and children weigh a woman down like a pocketful of stones. That’s why she’s avoided marriage for almost forty years. But when Charlie Doyle happened along, he was simply too wonderful to resist. Now she’s a widow with an eleven-year-old boy claiming to be her grandson.

Spare Change is a quirky mix of Southern flair, serious thoughts about the important things in life, the madcap adventures of a young boy and a late change of heart that makes all the difference in an unusually independent woman. 

With a foul mouth, dark secrets and heavily guarded emotions, Ethan Allen Doyle is not an easy child to like. He was counting on the grandpa he’d never met for a place to hide, but now that plan is shot to blazes because the grandpa’s dead too. He’s got seven dollars and twenty-six cents, his mama’s will for staying alive, and Dog. But none of those things are gonna help if Scooter Cobb finds him.

What was in your mailbox?

‘Twas the Night After Christmas by Sabrina Jeffries

Title:  ‘Twas the Night After Christmas

#6 Hellions of Halstead Hall (works fine as a stand alone)

Author:  Sabrina Jeffries

Genre:  Historical Romance – Christmas

Published:  October 2012 – Gallery Books

Synopsis:  Pierce Waverly, the Earl of Devonmont, has been estranged from his mother for most of his life. When his mother’s new companion, Mrs. Camilla Stuart, writes to tell him that his mother is seriously ill, he goes home. But when he learns that the lovely widow tricked him in order to effect a holiday reconciliation, he refuses to stay—unless she meets his “terms.” Somewhere between trying to seduce the beautiful Camilla and struggling with the cruel memories of his childhood Christmases, Pierce discovers that not only does forgiveness go two ways, but that love can blossom even in the coldest of winters.

My take:  ‘Twas the Night After Christmas is Sabrina Jeffries’ newest addition to the Hellions of Halstead Hall series. I have the first book but haven’t read it yet. As it turns out, I don’t think one needs to have read the previous five books to enjoy this book.

I think what I liked most about this novel is the theme of forgiveness and that it helps the person who forgives even more than the one forgiven. Pierce Waverly has no intention of forgiving his mother. She turned her back on him when he was a young boy which made him the man he has become: someone who refuses to commit to any woman lest she leave him too. He will maintain control in any situation. That all goes out the window when he meets his mother’s companion, Mrs. Camilla Stuart. Because of her own childhood and circumstances since – she’s a widow with a young son, Camilla understands him in a way no other person has before. But she also understands how a mother would do anything to protect her child.

I enjoyed the humor and energy Jeffries’ characters shared. It made the pages fly as I had to see how it would all turn out. It was also fun to see how the poem The Night Before Christmas worked into the novel.

Near the end there’s a new character introduced that I subsequently learned will be in an upcoming series. I’m looking forward to The Duke’s Men.

I recommend ‘Twas the Night After Christmas to fans of Historical Romance and HR with a Christmas theme.

Disclosure:  I received my copy from the publisher. I was not compensated for my review.

Whole Latte Life by Joanne DeMaio

Title:  Whole Latte Life

Author:  Joanne DeMaio

Genre:  Contemporary Fiction

Published:  March 2012 – CreateSpace

Formats:  Paperback – 336 pages; eBook

ISBN:   9781466427501

Synopsis:  Would you leave everything behind to know who you are?

Sara Beth Riley never dreamt she’d walk straight out of her life. Actually she’d never dreamt a lot of things that had happened this year … From being kidnapped by her own best friend, to throwing her wedding rings into the Hudson River, to calling an old love in France, to getting inked with said best friend, painting the passionate constellation of these choices into permanence. But mostly, she could never have dreamt what started it all. How could it be that her mother’s unexpected death, and the grief which lingered painfully long, turned her into the woman she was finally meant to become?

Sara Beth’s escape begins a summer of change – of herself, of marriage, of the lives of those around her. In a story that moves from Manhattan to the sea to a quaint New England town, Whole Latte Life looks at friends we never forget, at decisions we linger with, at our attempts to live the lives we love.

My take:  When Sara Beth’s mother died she lost her biggest cheerleader. They were so close and with her unexpected passing Sara Beth is devastated. Her children and husband seem to take her for granted and she feels life just keeps going in spite of the immense grief she’s experiencing. She needs time to regroup and figure things out – things her friend Rachel thought they could do on their girls’ birthday weekend in New York. However, Sara Beth decides to go it alone instead of meeting her friend for a prearranged lunch. The note she has a waiter  deliver to Rachel says not to worry, she’ll meet her at the hotel in two days.

Rachel is frantic that something terrible will happen to Sara Beth. She stops a mounted police officer, Michael, who ends up helping Rachel try to track her friend down. Michael. What a great character! Loved him, flaws and all.

Events transpire, time passes, friends come together, family members make an effort to understand. It all came together for a very satisfying novel – especially for this female reader of a certain age. I loved the grown up women who seemed like people in my life. These are women who are willing to take a chance instead of sit quietly on the sidelines of life. Sometimes chances are taken after great encouragement and support from friends and family – that rang true for me.

With so many discussion possibilities, Whole Latte Life would be a great book club choice for my friends – women past the age of 40. I enjoyed it very much and look forward to Joanne DeMaio’s next novel. Recommended.

Disclosure:  I purchased my copy and was subsequently invited to participate in a blog tour. I was not compensated for my review.

About the author:

Joanne DeMaio is an award-winning author of contemporary fiction.  Her bestselling novel Whole Latte Life won First Place in the 2012 Discovery Awards and was selected by Kirkus Reviews as a Critics’ Pick.  It has been featured in USA Today, The Huffington Post, Barnes & Noble’s blog and other outlets.  In addition, her music essays have appeared in literary journals, celebrating her passion for song.  Joanne lives with her family in Connecticut, where the coffee and stories are always brewing.

For more information about Joanne DeMaio and her books visit her website.

Mailbox Monday

November host: BermudaOnion

I bought:

Goodreads synopsis: Enter the world of Homer’s ancient Greece with the enhanced e-book edition of The Song of Achilles. This edition lets you further engage with this compelling story through video interviews with Madeline Miller and Gregory Maguire, bestselling author of the Wicked series, clips from the audio book at the start of each chapter, an illustrated map, and a pop-up gallery featuring over 40 images and descriptions of the characters, armor, and ships found in the book.

The legend begins…

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia to be raised in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles. “The best of all the Greeks”—strong, beautiful, and the child of a goddess—Achilles is everything the shamed Patroclus is not. Yet despite their differences, the boys become steadfast companions. Their bond deepens as they grow into young men and become skilled in the arts of war and medicine—much to the displeasure and the fury of Achilles’ mother, Thetis, a cruel sea goddess with a hatred of mortals.

When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men of Greece, bound by blood and oath, must lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice.

Built on the groundwork of the Iliad, Madeline Miller’s page-turning, profoundly moving, and blisteringly paced retelling of the epic Trojan War marks the launch of a dazzling career.

What was in your mailbox?

Sunday Post

What a week! My thoughts and prayers have been with all who were affected by Sandy. Here’s a pic I took with my phone on Tuesday as she (he?) reached the Lake Michigan shore at Milwaukee:

I posted two reviews last week.

The Shortest Way Home by Juliette Fay

Further Confessions of a Slightly Neurotic Hitwoman by JB Lynn

I’ve started reading Christmas novels – can you believe it’s that time already? I’m ok with that as long as I don’t have to shovel snow yet.

Have a great week!

Further Confessions of a Slightly Neurotic Hitwoman by JB Lynn

Title:  Further Confessions of a Slightly Neurotic Hitwoman

Author:  JB Lynn

Genre:  Romantic Suspense

Published:  October 2012 – Avon Impulse

Synopsis:  Take three wacky aunts, two talking animals, one nervous bride, and an upcoming hit, and you’ve got the follow-up to JB Lynn’s wickedly funny Confessions of a Slightly Neurotic Hitwoman.
Knocking off a drug kingpin was the last thing on Maggie Lee’s to-do list, but when a tragic accident leaves her beloved niece orphaned and in the hospital, Maggie will go to desperate lengths to land the money needed for her care.

But the drug kingpin is the least of her worries. Maggie’s aunts are driving her crazy, her best friend’s turned into a bridezilla …and a knock on the head has given Maggie Dr. Dolittle abilities—she can talk to animals. Unfortunately, they talk back. It’s just another day in the life of this neurotic hitwoman.

My take:  When I finished reading Confessions of a Slightly Neurotic Hitwoman my wish was that it would be the first of a series. Well, my wish was granted with Further Confessions of a Slightly Neurotic Hitwoman! Once again JB Lynn had me laughing as I read about the adventures of Maggie and her two animal sidekicks: an Anole lizard, God (short for Godzilla) and a Doberman, DeeDee (aka Doomsday).

Maggie needs to hire a lawyer quickly when someone threatens to sue for custody of her niece, Katie. To hire a lawyer Maggie needs fast cash. That means she needs to agree to the latest hit request from the mob boss who got her into the hitwoman business to begin with.

JB Lynn throws plenty in Maggie’s way as she deals with family, possible love interests, and those wacky pets. As I read I was impressed with how Lynn nuanced the story and characters just enough to evoke unexpected emotion a time or two.

Recommended to fans of comedic suspense with light romance. I also recommend reading the books in order – you’ll understand the story and characters much more. Because of how this novel ends I look forward to book three in the Slightly Neurotic Hitwoman series.

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher. I was not compensated for my review.