Treadmill Reads: The Housewife Assassin’s Handbook by Josie Brown

beautiful young woman isolated on white

Synopsis (Goodreads):  Every desperate housewife would love an alias. Donna Stone has one, and it’s government sanctioned. Oh sure, you need to be ruthless to take on Russian mafia bosses, rogue dictators, and terrorists set on destroying the world. But it takes real killer instincts to survive suburbia. Try juggling the fifth grade phone tree during a shootout with skinhead arms dealers, or driving carpool while being chased by Chinese double agents.

Donna’s life wasn’t always this complicated. Five years earlier she was just another woman with two preschoolers, a baby bump, and an adoring husband, Carl, with whom she lived happily ever after in a McMansion in the Orange County, California community of Hilldale. But Donna’s life was changed forever the night she delivered her baby: 

Carl’s car blew up on the way to the hospital.

Turns out Carl was a “hard man” – an assassin – for the black ops organization known as Acme Corporation. The hit on Alex was carried out by the Quorum, a terrorist cell he was tracking. The Quorum’s motto: “Show me the money.” Governments and corporations do as they’re told-or suffer bloody consequences.

Carl left something behind that the Quorum wants badly. To protect herself and avenge Carl’s death, Donna joined Acme. Whereas her hostessing skills rival Martha Stewart’s, her marksmanship is second to none.

A good thing, too, because the Quorum has planted a sleeper cell in Hilldale. For Donna, that’s too close for comfort. Will she be able to save her family before the Quorum blows up Los Angeles?

Acme’s way of flushing out the Quorum is by “bringing Carl back from the dead.” But terrorism makes strange bedfellows. Jack Craig, the wild card Acme operative paired with Donna brings, new meaning to that old adage “Honey, I’m home…”

My take:  So this was fun! Think Desperate Housewives meets a more savvy Stephanie Plum* – but Donna is a reluctant spy/hitwoman for Acme, a Black Ops organization. She wants to avenge her husband’s death so she takes every assignment given to her and is quite successful. Her most challenging assignment walks into her life in the form of her husband – now being played by Jack Craig, a cocky and incredibly handsome Acme operative. Can Donna make her kids and neighbors believe Carl is really  himself and home to stay? Will she hang on to her sanity and see the assignment through? You’ll just have to read to find out!

Brown had me laughing out loud as I walked my 45 minutes on the treadmill each morning. She gets huge kudos because I actually looked forward to exercise. Really! I loved that the main character has the same name as Donna Reed’s perfect housewife character in The Donna Reed show – a tv sitcom from the 50s and 60s. 

The Housewife Assassin’s Handbook is entertaining, over the top and maybe even predictable – and I liked it that way! Any book that makes me want to exercise is a winner. I can’t wait to see what predicament sassy Donna and sexy Jack find themselves in next.

* I gave up on Stephanie after book 8 because nothing ever changed and didn’t look like it would. I’m cautiously optimistic about Donna.

  • Title:  The Housewife Assassin’s Handbook (Housewife Assassin #1)
  • Author:  Josie Brown
  • Genre:  Romantic Suspense; Humor
  • Published:  May 2011 – Signal Press
  • Source:  I bought it.

The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society by Darien Gee

avalon ladies scrapbooking society

Title:  The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society
Author:  Darien Gee
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Published: (expected) January 29, 2012 – Ballantine Books
Source:  Publisher via Edelweiss

Synopsis (publisher): Welcome to Avalon, Illinois, Pop. 4,243

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.

My take:  Darien Gee’s novel is filled with interesting characters dealing with heartache, loss, and regrets – yet they keep going. That’s due in part to encouragement from friends and acquaintances. The main characters have some tough issues to work through. I thought Gee handled all of the story lines in an even and believable way.

It’s hard for me to name one character as my favorite but, if pressed, I’d say it was Bettie. She was so “in your face”  and unapologetic that it made me laugh more than once. There are reasons for her behavior that made her even more endearing to me. I loved that she was the owner of the scrapbooking business – the person encouraging everyone to preserve their memories.

My only quibble with the novel is that I thought there were too many story lines. I enjoyed each story but thought there were enough for two books.  That issue aside, I really liked the book and it’s message that things are not important. What matters most are the people in our lives and the times shared with them. 

Fans of novels with recipes won’t be disappointed. There are several at the end of the book.

Sunday Post

Book Arrivals:

and then I found you

Books reviewed last week:

Books I’m in the middle of:

  • Arc:   A Bride by Moonlight by Liz Carlyle
  • Audio:   The Richest Season by Maryann McFadden
  • Treadmill book:   Waking up Married by Mira Lyn Kelly

67ae430467cf11e2bf6922000a9f1404_6Our granddaughter Grace – bundled up to go out in the cold

 

Happy reading!

 

The Next Always (audio) by Nora Roberts

The Next Always

 

My take:  The Next Always is the first book in the Inn BoonsBoro trilogy. Nora Roberts’ descriptions of the inn left me wanting to make a reservation asap! The three Montgomery brothers are making their mother’s dream a reality – turning the vacant old hotel on the town square into a beautiful inn. Beckett is the architect, Owen is the accountant/expediter (I think), and Ryder is in charge of construction.

This is Beckett’s story. He’s a great character. Growing up he had a huge crush on Clare. She ended up marrying one of his good friends and they moved away because he was in the military. Years later, after her husband was killed in war, she moved back home with her young sons. A single mother, Clare has her hands full with parenting as well as running the bookstore. She barely has time to breathe much less date and Beckett has his hands full with overseeing the inn project. Timing and circumstances eventually present Clare and Beckett with a chance to get reacquainted and for Beckett to get to know her boys. That’s enough for one book but there’s some drama too (no spoilers here). Oh, the inn appears to be haunted!

I liked The Next Always. It’s a romance filled with good characters, humor, and I loved the setting of the small town inn. I’m sure I’ll read the second book at some point.

Narrator:  MacLeod Andrews did a great job voicing the male characters. I thought he did ok with the female voices but I wasn’t a fan of the little boys’ voices. It must be hard for men to do children’s voices. I’ve listened to a couple of books with child characters but they were narrated by women – and I wasn’t bothered by those performances. But, since the main characters of the series are the Montgomery brothers, I can see why the Inn BoonsBoro books are narrated by a man.

  • Title:  The Next Always (Inn BoonsBoro trilogy, Book 1)
  • Author:  Nora Roberts
  • Genre:  Romance
  • Narrator:  MacLeod Andrews
  • Published:  2011 – Brilliance Audio

Source:  I bought it

The Underside of Joy (audio) by Seré Prince Halverson

the underside of joy

Synopsis (publisher): To Ella Beene, happiness means living in the Northern California river town of Elbow with her husband, Joe, and his two young children. Yet one summer day, Joe breaks his own rule – never turn your back on the ocean – and a sleeper wave strikes him down, drowning not only the man but his many secrets.

For three years, Ella has been the only mother the kids have known and has believed that their biological mother, Paige, abandoned them. But when Paige shows up at the funeral, intent on reclaiming the children, Ella soon realizes there may be more to Paige and Joe’s story. “Ella’s the best thing that’s happened to this family,” say her close-knit Italian-American in-laws, for generations the proprietors of a local market. But their devotion quickly falters when the custody fight between mother and stepmother urgently and powerfully collides with Ella’s quest for truth.

The Underside of Joy is not a fairy-tale version of stepmotherhood pitting good Ella against evil Paige, but an exploration of the complex relationship of two mothers. Their conflict uncovers a map of scars-both physical and emotional-to the families’ deeply buried tragedies, including Italian internment camps during World War II and postpartum psychosis.

Weaving a rich fictional tapestry abundantly alive with the glorious natural beauty of the novel’s setting, Halverson is a captivating guide through the flora and fauna of human emotion-grief and anger, shame and forgiveness, happiness and its shadow complement . . . the underside of joy.

My take:  I listened to The Underside of Joy in three days. Halverson’s characters, story, and setting pulled me in and kept me listening for long stretches of time. I knit while I listen and I’m much further along on my current project than I expected to be because of this book!

The story is told from Ella’s point of view so it was easy to understand her perspective. What I didn’t expect was to be able to sympathize with Paige. Halverson reveals backstory of the two women (as well as supporting characters) throughout the novel. Little by little I realized my impressions of several characters had shifted. I don’t want to risk a spoiler so I won’t say more – except that I ended up wondering if I could resolve things as Ella and Paige had. For that reason I think this would be a good book club selection.

I really enjoyed Halverson’s descriptions of the various locations in and around the small California town. I could easily visualize the forest of towering Redwoods, for example, and wished I could experience it in person. I thought her writing was beautiful and look forward to her next book.

Geneva Carr did a fine job with the narration. Honestly, along with the compelling story, she’s one of the reasons I found it so difficult to stop listening. She became Ella. I’ll be looking for more of her audiobooks.

  • Title:  The Underside of Joy
  • Author:  Seré Prince Halverson
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Published:  January 2012 – Penguin Audio – 9hrs. 29min.
  • Narrator:  Geneva Carr

Source:  I bought it.

Sunday Post

Book arrivals:

the wanderer (robyn carr)  lost art of mixing  what she wants  the fault in our stars

Books reviewed last week:

Books I’m reading this week:

  • Audio: The Next Always by Nora Roberts
  • Book:  The Housewife Assassin’s Handbook by Josie Brown

Happy Reading

Audio Briefs

wallflower in bloomSynopsis (publisher):  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.

My take:  This was an entertaining novel about a rather odd family. The parents are former Dead-heads.  The only son is as described in the synopsis: a New Age guru. He’s the family moneymaker. There are assorted other family members who only make Deirdre feel move inadequate. In fact, Deirdre’s entire family makes her feel that way. 

When the proverbial straw appears in the form of her loser boyfriend’s announcement Deirdre gets drunk and the rest, as they say, is history. One must suspend belief at this point because, as an occasional viewer of Dancing With the Stars, I don’t think this scenario would ever happen. That said, Claire Cook delivers a story that made me laugh. The point is obvious but that’s ok.

I liked the audiobook. Cassandra Campbell’s performance was enjoyable.

art forgerSynopsis (publisher):  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.

My take:  I’m an art lover in the most basic sense. Art Appreciation 101 aside, I have no formal art education or talent – just an eye for what I like. I remember hearing about the Gardener Museum heist when it occurred but quickly forgot about it – I was up to my ears in raising three young children at the time. I liked that it was the basis for Shapiro’s novel.

Claire Roth has a notorious reputation in the art world and has tried to live under the radar for the past few years as a legitimate reproduction artist. When given the chance to reproduce one of the stolen Degas paintings she just can’t say no. She makes her deal with the devil for the chance to show her own work.

I figured out the mystery early on so it’s safe to say most readers will (I’m not a mystery fan). Still, I had my doubts about who was behind it – who in Claire’s world knew what, etc.

I liked the descriptions of the Degas paintings –  I googled a few times to see them.

Xe Sands did a fine job with the narration. Her performance definitely increased my overall enjoyment of the book.

Source:  I bought both audiobooks.