Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple-a 4/5 Star Review!

Eleanor Flood is a distracted mother who moved from the bustling New York City to Seattle with her husband, Joe, ten years ago and is itching for a change. Her son, Timby, named after an autocorrect mistake, has a recurring stomachache that interrupts the poetry lesson that she has weekly. One day she takes him to the doctor for it and this is the day that a majority of the book is centered around. This is the day of misunderstandings, random adventures with former employees, and a day of reckoning her pain from the fall out with her sister, Ivy.

This is my second book that I have read by Maria Semple and I will be looking for her other books to read as well. I was very happy to read that she was (is? Season 5 announced!) a writer for Arrested Development, one of my all-time favorite tv shows. Much like the characters in that show, the main character in this book, Eleanor Flood, was self-centered, aloof, sometimes deep, and yet hilarious. This is also like the main character in Where’d You Go, Bernadette? Where she is not the stereotypically warm and overly coddling mother, quite the opposite. An example of this is when she leaves her son, Timby, with a stranger just so she can run off to solve a misunderstanding. Another example is when she leaves her dog, Yo-Yo, in a Costco parking lot for hours. I can see where some readers may not enjoy this consistency of personality, however, I appreciate it. I also liked the unique career that she has of an animator of The Flood Girls, as well as how that comes into play with her relationship with her sister, Ivy. Lastly, I enjoyed the unexpected turn that the book went in towards the resolution. I actually listened to this on AudioCD, read by Kathleen Wilhoite, who was simply fantastic. She gave distinctive voices to each character and at one point even sang beautifully. I do hope to be able to listen to more audiobooks narrated by her as she made them more interesting and unique.

I did not give the full 5 stars because the storyline was choppy. Some scenes ended abruptly and unapologetically that it was just assumed that the reader could figure out the rest on their own. I would not recommend this book for readers who do not enjoy foul language, atheism, family drama, or marital distress.

However, I would recommend this book for fans of Arrested Development and her other book Where’d You Go, Bernadette? I would also recommend this book for those who love Seattle as there is a lot of mention of it as well as it is where the book is set.

The Lost Letter by Jillian Cantor-a 5/5 Star Review!

Kristoff has found a home, finally. Having been abandoned as a young child, finding his way as an adult has proved difficult. He finds refuge as an apprentice in the home of well-known stamp engraver, Frederick Faber. Frederick and his family, a wife and two daughters, are Jewish and living in Austria. However, as winter begins to invade, so do the Nazis, tearing Kristoff’s new family apart.

In another time and place, (California, 1989 to be precise) another family is tearing at the seams. Kate is struggling at work because her co-worker is her soon to be ex-husband. He filed the papers, she just needs to sign them. She is also juggling that with her father, Ted, a formerly avid stamp collector who has Alzheimer’s. She meets Benjamin, a philatelist, to get her father’s stamp collection appraised and one stamp in particular sends them on an adventure.

Although the plot jumped between the two stories, I thought it was done seamlessly. There were some chapters, however, where I wish it had not jumped because I was too eager to find out what happens next in one setting. It had several twists and turns, as well as several times where my heart ached for the characters. Although romance stories from World War II have been done quite often, this one stands out as unique. It brings elements of stamp engraving as well as collecting that I have yet to read elsewhere. Furthermore, the romance is a subtle build that is often cast aside in the urgency of the war period timeframe. The characters are not begging for attention nor are they overdramatic in responses. This is true for the stories in both time periods.

I do recommend this book for those who enjoy historical fiction, a bit of adventure, and romance. I read through it quickly as I found it to be gripping at times and heart-wrenching at other times.

For those who may be offended: there was kidnapping, guns, and sexually suggestive scenarios.

Please note: an electronic copy of this book was generously provided for free from Penguin’s First To Read program in exchange for an honest review.

Discerning the Voice of God Workbook: How to Recognize When God Speaks by Priscilla Shirer- a 5/5 Star Review!

I picked up this workbook because a friend invited me to join a Women’s Bible Study group at our church. I am very glad she did! It was a 6 week course that we did and it was brief yet deep. It is not a study to just scratch the surface of Christian fluff, this is very interactive. This workbook was also easy to keep up with daily as the “homework” was only a couple of pages per day.

Priscilla Shirer gives stories that relate to the study as well as stories that are easy to relate to. I did not expect to learn so much from this study and I look forward to reading her other books. She has a way of teaching biblical principles by showing where they come from as well as making them applicable to modern day life. I would recommend this book for any Christian looking to dig a little deeper into their faith. I would also recommend this for any non-Christian who may be curious about Christianity.

Christmas Bliss by A.S. Fenichel-a 4/5 Star Review!

John is a very serious Earl of Compton, who tirelessly spends his days arguing in the House of Lords.   Women seem to only be after his status and fortune rather than his intelligence and determination.  Until he meets Emma.

Emma is on the run from her abusive uncle, Drake, who is hell-bent on taking away her much younger brother Oliver’s inheritance.  Protective of her young brother, she runs away with him while he is sleeping yet only makes it across the street to the Earl of Compton’s residence before she is struggling to carry her brother’s sleeping body.  That short distance is enough to change both of their entire lives.

Where I live, we have been fortunate to have a fairly warm winter.  Then we hit a cold snap around the same time that I had just finished Foolish Bride, also by A. S. Fenichel.  I loved Foolish Bride and was aching to read another one of A.S. Fenichel’s books.  It so happened that I came across Christmas Bliss and, despite it being mid-March, it was a fun book to curl up with on a cold night.  The holiday is only briefly mentioned a time or two and I found myself wishing there was more of the holiday spirit.

The story is brief in length yet deep in complexity.  Both John and Emma have spent their days fighting others.  John arguing in the House of Lords and Emma fighting her uncle to protect her brother.  Both John and Emma had missed out on seasons in the ton and even each other.  They were practically strangers to each other despite living across the street.

Very quickly, John and Emma are taken with one another yet hesitant to go all in.  John proposes a solution to Emma’s situation of protecting her brother and his inheritance from her greedy uncle: marriage.  What I enjoyed most was the focus on the trepidation before deciding to go forward with the engagement.  It helped the brief romance because both of their doubts were explained thoroughly.

Little Oliver was my favorite character.  He was enthusiastic, well-mannered, and optimistic for one who has endured so much in his youth.  I liked that the villain was very present rather than a concept that loomed around.  I also liked how selfless John became when it came to Emma and Oliver.

I would recommend this book for readers who enjoy romance and brief engagements.  However, I would not recommend this book for readers uncomfortable with graphic violence.  I do not recall reading any foul language.  The romantic interactions are not sexually explicit, in my opinion.

Uglies (The Uglies #1) by Scott Westerfeld- a 5/5 Star Review!

Tally Youngblood is Ugly and the worst part is that her best friend, Peris, just turned Pretty. Therefore, they have to cut off all communication and Peris has to start a new life among the Pretties. It is a fun transition as the newly minted Pretties party nonstop while the Uglies sit in purgatory waiting their turn. She decides one night to sneak out and surprise Peris by dropping in to say hi, even though the consequences may be severe.

But Peris is completely different, not just physically. The disappointing trek back to Uglytown has her crossing paths with Shay, a fellow Ugly sneaking to see her friends who had just transitioned. The two of them form a friendship that has them both testing their beliefs and their newfound friendship.

I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed this book! I was introduced to it by the Young Adult Book Club that I joined recently and was able to pick it up at my local library. It was easy to breeze through and once the setup is described in detail, then the action really picks up. I have already recommended this book to a 13 year old that I babysit as I think it is geared more towards his age group. Also because the use of hoverboards made for an exciting adventure. Despite not being in that age group anymore, I still found myself connecting with these characters. I remember being swayed by new friends when I had other plans in place. I remember the naïveté of that age where you believe that adults can be trusted and the world is a certain way for a good reason. I also remember the sharp pain that comes when your crush is crushing on someone else, or the pull when your friend’s crush is crushing on you.

Another point that I really liked about this book is how Tally’s potential and anger builds slowly. She initially did not want to be part of the “Smoke” but was forced to be in order to be allowed to turn into a Pretty. The experience leaves her so jaded and rightfully so!

I would recommend this book for those in the early teens or older who can understand a bit better.

I would not recommend this book for those who may be offended by malicious acts, manipulation, espionage, plastic surgery, rule-breaking, and murder. I did not notice anything sexual in nature nor any foul language or graphic violence.

Please note: This book does end on a cliffhanger!

Trouble by Samantha Towle (AudioCD)-a 3/5 Star Review!

Mia has only known pain from men. Her father, Oliver, was a successful surgeon as well as a vicious child abuser behind closed doors. Her boyfriend, Forbes, is also abusive and a successful lawyer. Forbes takes his heartless dominance to a point where Mia finally flees Boston, finally leaving her abusive past behind.

Jordan is immature and has sworn off love after seeing his dad fall apart twice from a broken heart. He sleeps with women but never stays long enough for feelings to develop. He has been careless with gambling and alcohol just as he has been careless with women. His best friend, Beth, is the only woman he trusts and is committed to, and she’s into women, so romance is perfectly impossible between them. Taking over his father’s hotel while he’s out of town, Beth sends a tourist his way. A tourist that may not ever leave.

This was my first audiobook experience and it had it’s ups and downs. On the one hand, I did like the narrator for Jordan, but on the other hand I did not care for the narrator for Mia. I did like that they had alternating narrations, but I did not like that it repeated the same events in some chapters. I liked how deep and dark this book got but I did not like how Jordan’s immature and shallow personality was redundantly beat into the reader’s head. I apologize for being cryptic but I do not want to give the spoiler away; I am not sure how I feel about the plot twist. I did not see it coming, however, I am not sure how to feel about it. It just seems a bit of a stretch, in my opinion.

I got this AudioCD in 2014 from Goodreads Giveaways. I admit, at first, I was a bit disappointed. I expected it to be a physical book, not an AudioCD. I had not read the details completely and since my CD player in my car did not work, I had set it aside and moved on. I went back to it and downloaded it to play on my phone while driving around, but I ended up preferring music rather than an audiobook.

Fortunately, I recently got a newer car with a working CD player. I also recently joined a book club and a lot of my fellow members were raving about listening to audiobooks while driving around. My first thought was to fish this audioCD out of the drawer I had stuffed it in and give it another try. Third time was the charm.

To those who may be offended or triggered, there were the following in this book: foul language, explicit sexual scenarios, graphic violence, physical abuse, bulimia, parental abandonment, divorce, death, and sexual assault.

Please note: An AudioCD of this book was provided for free by Goodreads Giveaways. I apologize that it has taken me over 3 years to finally listen through it. I do sincerely appreciate this as it has helped me learn that I DO actually enjoy audiobooks! I have since started another one and I am confident that I will keep checking them out.

New York, Actually (From Manhattan With Love #4) by Sarah Morgan- a 4/5 Star Review!

Molly has been settling into New York City over the last couple of years since fleeing public humiliation in London. She has lost her friends and her pride. Since moving to New York, she only trusts her dalmatian, Valentine, and her friends and neighbors, Mark and Gabe. She stays busy by taking various classes such as salsa and spinning, and has a successful online blog as a relationship expert offering advice for those who ask.

This advice is usually the opposite of the advice that Daniel Knight gives his clients. As a successful divorce attorney, and as a witness to his parents’ tumultuous marriage, he has sworn off marriage and relationships in general. He does not have time for dogs, or women for that matter, but on his morning runs he has been crossing paths with a beautiful woman and her dalmatian. His sisters, twins Fliss and Harry, are the Bark Rangers who offer pet services. His decision to borrow a stubborn Brutus to help him talk to the woman in the park gets him far deeper than he could have ever expected.

My favorite characters in this book were the dogs. I loved how their interactions contributed to the story as well as how well they got along. I am not normally into book series, however, each book in this series reads as a standalone. I enjoyed that Eva and Lucas were characters in this one as they were the main characters in the previous book. Furthermore, I enjoyed that Daniel is the bridge from the Urban Genie trio of friends to the Bark Ranger sisters. I found it easy to figure out that the next few books will (hopefully) be about twins Fliss and Harry, Daniel’s sisters.

There are four reasons why I only gave this book 4 stars:
1. Molly being originally from England was not very apparent unless it was briefly mentioned in conversation that she had an “accent”. This “accent” did not come through to me, especially not in the chapters that were in her perspective.
2. Molly was supposed to be a psychologist yet she clearly had not moved on from a situation in her past that caused her to flee to New York. Furthermore, she was unable to figure out her feelings as well as was quick to become irrational in certain situations. For example: she finds out that Daniel borrowed a dog to try to find a way to talk to her and she is very angry and seeks revenge.
3. I am used to Sarah Morgan’s characters fighting their feelings for each other before they reach the point that they are in love. But in this story, once they had moved past that point, it seemed extremely rushed to reach the next steps in their relationship.
4. I may be biased, however, I could not help but compare Molly and Daniel to the main characters in the previous books ( See reviews: Here , here , here,  and this bonus one ). Despite being able to relate to parts of their backstories, I just could not feel strongly for either of them. I was more interested in both Fliss’ potential story as well as Mark and Gabe’s history.

Despite these minor setbacks, I did still really enjoy this book. As can be expected when I read a book by Sarah Morgan, I did look forward to reading it as well as mini-squealed whenever a character from a previous book was mentioned. Sarah Morgan is extremely talented and her books take me to a happy place. It truly feels as if one is part of this growing group of friends and family and I find myself missing the characters when the book is over. These books are the kind that stay with you after each conclusion. I would recommend this book for readers who enjoy romance and, most especially, dogs.

For readers who may be triggered or offended: there were mentions of divorce, animal abandonment, scenarios sexual in nature, and brief foul language.

Please note: An electronic copy of this book was generously provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.