Olivier The Cat Who Saved Christmas by Sheila Norton

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Olivier The Cat Who Saved Christmas by Sheila Norton
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Genre: Contemporary fiction, Holiday
Length: Full Length (315 pgs)
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

A friend who brings light at the darkest of times…

Oliver the cat is a timid little thing, and rarely ventures from his home in the Foresters’ Arms.

Then his life changes dramatically when a fire breaks out in the pub kitchen and he is left homeless and afraid. But, with the kindness of the humans around him, he soon learns to trust again. And, in his own special way, he helps to heal those around him.

However, it isn’t until he meets a little girl in desperate need of a friend that he realises this village needs a Christmas miracle…

Who doesn’t love a story with a main character who’s an animal? In this story, it’s a ginger tabby named Oliver and he’s the narrator of the tale, too. As a cat owner, I was completely won over from page one and things only got better as the story progressed.

This story has something of everything, humor, some sadness, a wonderful setting that compliments the Christmas theme so well, and some down on their luck inhabitants whose lives are to be quickly transformed.

As all Christmas stories should be, this one is about finding joy and miracles when you least expect it. The sick child grows strong; the young couple without enough money to heat their home find dream jobs, and even kittens find perfect homes. All things are possible in this story but it’s not without the help of Oliver who seems to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time.

I loved the way Oliver interacted with his fellow cats and his frustration as he struggled to get humans to understand what he was showing them. I ended up reading this story in two sittings and I think it’s perfect for all ages, young and old. Also, the perfect book to read aloud on Christmas Eve or give as a gift.

Don’t miss this fun Christmas story that will have you believing in miracles.

Second House from the Corner by Sadeqa Johnson

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Second House from the Corner by Sadeqa Johnson
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (290 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Ginger

Second House from the Corner centers on the story of Felicia Lyons, a stay-at-home mother of three drowning in the drudgeries of play dates, lost pacifiers and potty training who occasionally wonders what it would be like to escape the demands of motherhood. But when an unexpected phone call threatens to destroy her life, Felicia is forced to return to her childhood home where she must wrestle with an ex-lover and long buried secrets to save the family and home she loves despite the daily challenges.

Felicia Lyons is a character who mothers can identify with and laugh along with. You can’t help but cheer for her in Johnson’s engaging and well-written novel.

Many readers can probably relate to Felicia Lyons, a stressed out stay at home mom of three. With her husband, Preston taking on many hours at work he is not at home much to help out. Felicia is overwhelmed with motherly duties as well as keeping up with the additional activities her children are involved in in addition to all this she is also trying to get her Dame membership. With her personal mantras being mumbled throughout the day and a hope of freedom from being pulled in so many directions as a mom, Felicia may soon get her wish.

Felicia’s plate is full or so she thought. On what was a normal day, Felicia gets a call from her first love asking to see her and questioning buried secrets that Felicia didn’t think she would ever have to face again. This book started out in ‘mommy mode’ with Felicia struggling three children and longing for her husband’s support but after getting a call from Martin, a man from her past, she is soon on the hunt to find out how he got her home phone number.

This was a quick read that flowed pretty easy. The writing style is enjoyable. The plot is one that had my interest and the characters are well developed. Felicia is one frustrating character in how she handled things. The words she and her husband used during arguing seemed a bit over the top. Martin is a selfish character that knew he could have Felicia as putty in his hands.

Felicia has personal issues that she hasn’t dealt with and now it is starting to affect her marriage and home life. This was an attention grabber for me and kept me reading to see how this all would unfold and play out. Sometimes in marriage we have to take a stand to be transparent or deal with the outcome when we try to cover and hide things. When Felicia forgets to take the phone off the hook in fear that Martin would call, that’s exactly what he does call and her husband is right there to answer the phone. Did this lead to the Lyon’s house being turned upside down?

Felicia returns to her childhood home and must deal with the skeletons she thought she buried. Felicia’s running from secrets and running from hurt in her past. While staying with her Gran Felicia is finally about to stop running. I enjoyed this book. It was something new and fresh to read. It can be sort of relatable; the overwhelming mom part and maybe even the part about carrying secrets into a marriage. I would recommend this to anyone that is looking for a quick interesting read.

The Headmaster’s Wife by Thomas Christopher Greene

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The Headmaster’s Wife by Thomas Christopher Greene
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (277 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Thistledown

Inspired by a personal loss, Greene explores the way that tragedy and time assail one man’s memories of his life and loves. Like his father before him, Arthur Winthrop is the Headmaster of Vermont’s elite Lancaster School. It is the place he feels has given him his life, but is also the site of his undoing as events spiral out of his control. Found wandering naked in Central Park, he begins to tell his story to the police, but his memories collide into one another, and the true nature of things, a narrative of love, of marriage, of family and of a tragedy Arthur does not know how to address emerges. Luminous and atmospheric, bringing to life the tight-knit enclave of a quintessential New England boarding school, the novel is part mystery, part love story and an exploration of the ties of place and family. Beautifully written and compulsively readable, The Headmaster’s Wife stands as a moving elegy to the power of love as an antidote to grief.

We are not the sum of our grief.

Suspense abounds in this mystery of what, when and who. Arthur Winthrop is the headmaster at Lancaster Academy just like his father before him. When he spies the elusive Betsy Pappas, his life is altered forever. He breaks every rule to see her. His career heads south, as does his marriage. When he kills her in a fit of possessive rage, all bets are off and everything about his existance is about to be turned upside down.

Elizabeth is Arthur’s wife. She is dealing with a profound grief, but as you read the book, it is unclear just what that is. To be honest, the first half of the book left me cold. Man with midlife crisis has affair with girl barely of age. Okay. It happens. Man kills girl when girl refuses to play along. Not so common. But when Arthur is found frolicking in the park naked and obviously out of his mind, the story travels down a different path.

The dividing line for this book for me was smack dab in the middle. Sitting in the police station, Arthur is being quizzed about the order of events and then the bombshell is brought out. Nothing you have just read is the way it appears to be. I won’t give details because that would completely ruin the story. Suffice it to say that the things that make us who we are to some degree are about the people we surround ourselves with, love, loss, expectations met and unmet and how we deal with each of those things. Life is messy and it doesn’t follow a script.

Written after the death of his daughter, author Thomas Christopher Greene used this book to channel his grief. It shows. This is not a fluffy book that takes a pass at the hard knocks of life with a feather duster. This book will yank your chain and leave you thinking about it. I read it in one day. To be honest, I hated the first part. Arthur is not a likable person, especially for the female reader. You want to reach into the pages of the book and shake him just like his wife did. ‘Wake up, Arthur!’ Exactly. But can we wake up when the thing we wanted most from life is taken from us over and over again. How much can I take as a human being and still function? That is the question here? Are we the sum of our grief and do we give it mastery over our lives? Our death?

The situations in this book are ones that gave me food for thought. As I hit the middle, there was no stopping. I had to find out what was going on. I suspect if you pick this novel up, you will have the same reaction. It was like having a container of buttered popcorn-the pour over kind. You take a taste and keep on munching. One bite is not enough. I had to know-who was Betsy? Who was Elizabeth? What was Arthur’s deal?

If you want a piece of fiction that challenges your notions about what is important in life then pick this book up. It will not disappoint.

The Orchard by Jeffrey Stepakoff

The Orchard by Jeffrey Stepakoff
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (320 pgs)
Heat Level: sweet
Rating: 4.5 books
Reviewed by Aloe

Grace Lyndon is a rising ingenue in the world of perfumes and flavors; a stiletto-wearing, work-a-holic in Atlanta, she develops aromas and tastes to enthrall the senses. Dylan Jackson is a widowed single father whose heart and hands have been calloused in the fields of his North Georgia apple farm. When Grace happens to taste an apple picked from Dylan’s trees, it changes both their lives forever.

Determined to track down the apple’s origin, Grace sets off in the middle of the night where she finds not only a beautiful mountain orchard in the clouds, but the mysterious man who owns it. In Stepakoff’s heartbreaking eloquence, their sudden yet undeniable attraction is threatened—leaving readers with a momentous finale that proves Jeffrey Stepakoff is a master craftsman of the heart.

She’s in the world of perfumes and flavors and when she tastes an apple that has a unique flavor, she’s on the hunt for the elusive scent…

Mr. Stepakoff creates a very strong female lead character that is afraid of nothing, is a work-a-holic, and a corporate game player. The apple belongs to Dylan, the male lead, who is a widowed single father and whose heart hasn’t mended since his wife’s unfortunate death. Dylan is determined to refuse the big corporation’s request for access to his land and his trees. Grace won’t take no for an answer.

I was surprised to see a man write such an accurate portrayal of the emotional make up of people’s characters. The author does an excellent job of expressing Grace’s desire for the unusual scent and Dylan’s reluctance at finding Grace attractive; he’s still in love with his dead wife.

The really interesting part of this tale is the author’s knowledge of how scents are acquired, how they are mixed, and how to really experience the touch, taste, feel, and smell of good food or good fragrances. He describes a unique meal and gives you enough information you get hungry as you read it. It made me look at food presentation and the style of cooking much differently.

I found the juxtaposition of world of fragrance and the world of an apple orchard grower fascinating. The developing romance goes slowly and the two main characters find their priorities in life changing. The plot is realistic and a pleasure to read. I enjoyed this story enough, I’m going to look for the author’s first book: Fireworks Over Toccoa. I bet that will be good also.

Why not visit this apple orchard yourself and laugh over Grace’s predicaments?