2012 is not over yet! Review of “The Secret Keeper” by Kate Morton

Several weeks ago I was ordering everyone books from Amazon for Christmas and I saw this title under recommendations. It looked so intriguing that I bought it for myself for Christmas! “The Secret Keeper” starts with British teenager Laurel hiding from her younger sisters in her treehouse, when a stranger comes to their home and she witnesses her mother stab the man to death. The police rule that the homicide was self-defense, and the man is thought to be a local criminal, and so Laurel moves on and seems to forget that day.

Fifty years later, Laurel’s mother, Dorothy, is turning eighty, and close to death. She begins to tell Laurel that she has some regrets and that all is not as it seems. However, Dorothy is losing her faculties as well, and Laurel can’t get the whole story from her, so she seeks to solve the mystery herself. Just who was the man her mother killed that day, and why did he seem to know her mother? Added to these questions are some items Laurel finds hidden away: a book with an inscription, a thank you note, a picture of her mother and her friend Vivien, a small doll and an old fur coat. Will she figure out the past before Dorothy passes on?

This story is told in various voices: Laurel as a teen, Laurel in the present, Dorothy as a young girl, Dorothy as a young adult, Vivien as a child, Vivien as a young adult, etc. We move from the present to the fifties in England, to London during the Blitz, to Australia pre-WWII. I loved this style and the way the story unfolded slowly and step by step. I did not guess the ending, but once it was revealed I saw that all the clues were right before me the whole time. I really enjoyed Morton’s writing style and will look for other books by her.

Recommended for those lovers of historical fiction – WWII era – with a dash of mystery and romance thrown in. Definitely one of my fave reads of the year!

I’m excited to review: “The Good Life for Less” by Amy Allen Clark with Jana Murphy- in stores 1/2/13

I usually try to keep these posts short and to the point: what did I read, what is it about, and did I like it? I figured most folks are pressed for time and are looking for an opinion or a book suggestion. However – today I just MUST take more time and get chatty and talk about my dear friend Amy Clark’s new book: “The Good Life for Less – Giving your Family Great Meals, Good Times, and a Happy Home on a Budget”. Amy sent me a copy hot off the press so I could review it, and she wrote the most touching note to me on the inside – I will cherish it along with my memories of our friendship!

First some back story (if you aren’t interested in our back story, please skip this paragraph). I met Amy through community theater over ten years ago, here in Massachusetts. Amy, originally from Indiana, was a young newlywed and she and I hit it off right away. We had a lot of shared interests and had similar personalities, and we enjoyed our “girlfriend moments” together. I was going through a period in my life when I really needed a good friend and I had recently moved to a condo which just happened to be right across the street from Amy and her husband Ryan, so we saw a lot of each other and they were definitely there for me when I needed support. Amy became pregnant, which was very exciting, and I knew she looked forward to being home with their baby. Then one day Amy called me to say that Ryan had been laid off unexpectedly from his job. This was a huge blow and understandably threw them into financial crisis. Amy was pregnant and working to try to support them and worrying about the baby coming. I was dealing with my own personal crisis and trying to be a good friend to them. I remember one specific day I took Amy out to lunch and we talked about how sometimes you think you know God’s plan for you, but apparently he had something in mind for both of us that we were still discovering! In time Amy and Ryan moved back to Indiana where Ryan was offered a new job. Of course I missed her terribly but we stayed in touch and one day Amy told me she had started a “blog” for at home moms, using her experiences, focusing on budgeting, house ideas, and recipes. I had no idea what a blog was. I remember saying, “You mean a listserve or a “web log”?” (People – this was a long time ago!). She asked me to sign up for it and I was proud to be number 12 on the roster. Little did I know that this was the beginning of big times for Amy! Her site – “Mom Advice” www.momadvice.com – became huge and she has become a major blogging force. She is a spokesperson for several companies (places you’ve heard of – like Wal-Mart!) and her happy face often appears in the women’s magazines I read. Now, she has her first book, which compiles a lot of her advice from her website. I was thrilled to be able to read and post about it here on my blog (my web log – just kidding!).

At just over 200 pages, “The Good Life for Less” is not too long and gets right to the point. The chapters include making a budget, the frugal kitchen, recipes, holiday/special occasion ideas, and keeping your house clean and organized (when my nine-year-old saw that chapter she said, “hey, now there’s something we need!”). Amy shares her experience, her opinions, and her resources throughout, from how to establish and keep to a budget to her recipe for pumpkin waffles to how to make times special without blowing your bank account. This book is written in Amy’s voice and I felt like I could hear her talking to me throughout — with that touch of a midwestern twang to it! The book also has short inserts of the best tips or specific ideas that are highlighted. All in all, this was a great read and a good resource to have on hand.  This is the type of book I wish I had when I was in my twenties. It’s a great gift for a newlywed and/or young parent, too. I look forward to Amy’s next book (there is a next one, right, Amy?)

Review: “Mistress to the Crown” by Isolde Martyn

Another Net Galley find — “Mistress to the Crown” is the story of King Edward the IV’s mistress, Elizabeth Lambard, in the 1400’s.

Elizabeth starts off as the lonely and very young wife of an impotent shop owner in London. She works to procure her divorce from him and falls in love with Lord Hastings. Hastings, though, relinquishes her to King Edward and Elizabeth enjoys several years (until his death) as his beloved mistress. She’s a smart girl, though, and works to build a business of silk women, saves money, and purchases property. When Edward dies, Elizabeth (known as “Mistress Jane Shore”) runs the risk of being imprisoned and blamed for his death.

I always love reading about old England and the intricacies and shenanigans of court life. How anyone lived a long life in those days, while being at court and part of a king or queen’s retinue, and kept their heads – well, it’s beyond me. Elizabeth is a likable and intelligent character and is a strong role model in terms of her striving for independence. The “adult situations” in this book were peppered throughout (she was the king’s mistress after all!), but not overly explicit. I’d recommend this book to those who like historical fiction of the royal genre. I enjoyed Martyn’s writing and will look for her other works.

Not sure if this book will be available in the US or only in Australia in 2013 — ? If another reader knows, please post in comments. Thanks for my copy, Net Galley and Harlequin MIRA!

Quick Review: A Miracle Under the Christmas Tree by Jennifer Basye Sander

Another Net Galley find, this collection of true short stories focuses on the meaning of Christmas. Some of these stories were quite touching and inspiring. Some were better written than others. Each could be read in a short space of time. It was the perfect “quick read before I nod off” choice for this time of year!

Thanks, Net Galley and Harlequin Non-fiction, for my copy!

My 2012 Favorites – Updated!

Each holiday season, friends ask me to suggest books for gifts. Of the books I read this year, I would suggest the following as ones I really, REALLY enjoyed:

Cascade by Maryanne O’Hara (my review: https://drbethnolan.wordpress.com/2012/09/20/review-cascade-by-maryanne-ohara/ )

I can’t say enough about how much I loved this story and could not put it down!

The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D by Nichole Bernier (my review: https://drbethnolan.wordpress.com/2012/03/01/review-the-unfinished-work-of-elizabeth-d-by-nichole-bernier/ )

Another great work of fiction that stayed with me and kept me thinking about the characters and storyline.

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt – A Novel in Pictures by Caroline Preston (my review: https://drbethnolan.wordpress.com/2012/06/26/review-the-scrapbook-of-frankie-pratt-a-novel-in-pictures-by-caroline-preston-5/

I just loved this unique story idea and beautiful visuals!

I have two biographies I’m reading now that I’m really enjoying (that I got on Amazon and at Orchard House) –

The Lives of Margaret Fuller: A Biography by John Matteson

Marmee and Louisa: the Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and her Mother by Eve La Plante

Wish I could say I had a serious mystery or historical mystery I found uber-compelling, but nothing comes to mind. I have purchased my husband the latest Ken Follett book though, and will undoubtedly read it. I’ll have to think more about my cozies…

I also have to think more about historical fiction…

UPDATE: While I read this book in 2011 as a pre-release, it came out in January and I highly recommend it to lovers of historical fiction, WWII genre: “The Baker’s Daughter” by Sarah McCoy – Review here: https://drbethnolan.wordpress.com/2011/12/26/review-the-bakers-daughter-by-sarah-mccoy-coming-out-in-january/

As for YA, the most wonderful YA book I read this year isn’t out yet for you regular folks. It’s my friend Cal Armistead’s “Being Henry David”. But you can pre-order it on Amazon! Here’s my review: https://drbethnolan.wordpress.com/2012/11/13/ya-review-being-henry-david-by-cal-armistead-releasing-march-2013/

What’s on your giving list this year?

Quick Review: “Masked Ball at Broxley Manor” by Rhys Bowen

Lady Georgiana is at it again, in this prequel to one of my favorite historical cozy mystery series! Georgie is invited to a masked Halloween ball at a posh manor house and discovers it is planned for her to meet an intended suitor that her family has selected. Instead she meets the elusive and charming Darcy O’Mara, Georgie’s love interest in future books, and gets involved in adventure.

This book – more of a novella – is short — about 50 pages! It reads quickly and will give you an idea if you want to read more of the series. If you are like me and have read the series, it provides more back story and character development.
I got mine via kindle for $2.99.