The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans

The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday, Fiction
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

So begins The Christmas Box, the touching story of a widow and the young family who moves in with her. Rick, Keri, and their 4-year-old daughter, Jenna, are hired as caretakers and are welcomed into the Victorian home of Mary Parkins, an elderly widow, just before the holiday season. As the relationship between Mary and the family develops we learn that Mary’s past sorrows are compelling her to share an important message with Richard. But will he understand her message in time? A heartwarming story of parental love, healing, and Christmas.

There is more to this story than meets the eye. In The Christmas Box, we meet Mary, a widow who makes her home in a Victorian mansion. A young married couple and their little girl move in to care for her, but there is a problem.
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Richard is driven to succeed in his career and spends a lot of time at work, away from his family. During this time, Mary brings Christmas magic into the little girl’s world. Many sense details bring the season to life. The fairy-tale mood is created.

Meanwhile, something happens at work, and Richard is hit hard with reality. What he hears is heart-breaking, and the incident is sure to tug at the emotions of readers.

An important lesson is learned, but the tale is enchanting and memorable. Love is an underlying theme that brings the story home.

The Christmas Box is well worth reading and I highly recommend it.

Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise by Scott Eyman

Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise by Scott Eyman
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Biography, Non-Fiction
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Born Archibald Leach in 1904, he came to America as a teenaged acrobat to find fame and fortune, but he was always haunted by his past. His father was a feckless alcoholic, and his mother was committed to an asylum when Archie was eleven years old. He believed her to be dead until he was informed she was alive when he was thirty-one years old. Because of this experience Grant would have difficulty forming close attachments throughout his life. He married five times and had numerous affairs.

Despite a remarkable degree of success, Grant remained deeply conflicted about his past, his present, his basic identity, and even the public that worshipped him in movies such as Gunga Din, Notorious, and North by Northwest.
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Drawing on Grant’s own papers, extensive archival research, and interviews with family and friends, this is the definitive portrait of a movie immortal.

If there’s ever been a book written about Cary Grant, it only scratches the surface compared to this one.

I thought I knew a bit about Archie Leach, aka Cary Grant. He’s aloof, he’s sensual, but he’s also very GQ. Right? That’s him? I had no idea how much he struggled with his self-esteem, only to end up being rather full of himself. He could be quite generous, but also off-putting in his stinginess. He loved his friends dearly, but only had a few friends. He was the ultimate romantic, trying to find the right one…all while not being entirely sure what he wanted in that right one.

He’s a complicated man, but what really stuck with me about Cary Grant was him trying so hard to impress his mother, the woman who left him to be raised by his father. He wanted nothing more than to make her happy. Bought her houses, cars, made sure someone took care of her, but he never quite measured up to what she wanted and what he thought she wanted of him. Honestly, it was the most relatable thing in the book. I can understand not measuring up to what my mother thinks I should be and how I try only to fail quite a bit–like he did.

If you’re looking for a book that’s unflinching in it’s honesty and covers almost all of Grant’s life, then this might be the book you’re looking for. Be prepared–it’s a long book, so buckle in for the wild ride.

Crisis by Felix Francis

Crisis by Felix Francis
Publisher: Simon & Shuster UK
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Harrison Foster, a crisis manager for a London firm, is summoned to Newmarket after a fire in the Chadwick Stables kills six very valuable horses, including the short-priced favorite for the Derby. There is far more to the “simple” fire than initially meets the eye…for a start, human remains are found among the equestrian ones in the burnt-out shell. All the stable staff are accounted for, so who is the mystery victim?

Harry knows very little about horses, indeed he positively dislikes them, but he is thrust unwillingly into the world of thoroughbred racing, where the standard of care of the equine stars is far higher than that of the humans who attend to them.

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Harry represents the Middle Eastern owner of the Derby favourite and, as he delves deeper into the unanswered questions surrounding the horse’s demise, he ignites a fuse that blows the volcano sky-high. Can Harry solve the riddle before he is bumped off by the fallout?

Harrison Foster knows practically nothing about horseracing, but as a Crisis Manager, when he’s sent to oversee the burning of a stables and the subsequent death of a half dozen horses he realizes that the racing world isn’t as simple as he expected. When the case turns into a murder inquiry Harry realizes he needs to keep ahead of the pack or things might spiral out of control.

I’ve been a fan of Dick Francis’ books since my teenage years and while at first I was dubious when his son, Felix, clearly was going to take over I’m really pleased to say for the most part I find Felix Francis’ books as enjoyable as I always have found Dick’s. I think this is helped in large part by the fact these books aren’t a series. They are almost all British mysteries, and all in some way revolve around the world of horse racing – but as a person who knows very little (and cares even less) about either horses or races I still almost always find these books enjoyable.

I really enjoyed how there were quite a number of main characters thoroughly and consistently portrayed throughout the story (around a dozen or so) and I was pleased that – as usual – they were all complicated and interesting. The various webs surrounding different sections of the main family was engrossing to me and I really enjoyed the slow but steady reveals as Harry dug more into the different elements and pieced things together. I’m also not usually a fan of legal stories – but while Harry is a lawyer he’s not the usual “showing up to court” type of lawyer. Indeed, his work usually boils down to making judgment calls, giving advice and trying to sort out exactly what’s going on in tumultuous situations, so seeing him off-kilter in the racing world and trying to solve a murder was extraordinarily fun.

Readers who enjoy a strong mystery with numerous complicated characters should find this an excellent book. Despite there being dozens of stories by Dick and Felix Francis for the most part they are all individual books and so it’s never a hassle picking any of them up to read as they’re not linked in any way. I’ve been auto-buying the Francis books for years and this was yet another winner I am really pleased with.

Love Life by Rob Lowe

Love Life by Rob Lowe
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Genre: Biography, Non-Fiction
Length: Full Length (272 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

After the incredible response to his acclaimed bestseller, Stories I Only Tell My Friends, Rob Lowe was convinced to mine his experiences for even more stories. The result is Love Life, a memoir about men and women, actors and producers, art and commerce, fathers and sons, movies and TV, addiction and recovery, sex and love. Among the adventures he describes in these pages are:

· His visit, as a young man, to Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion, where the naïve actor made a surprising discovery in the hot tub.
· The time, as a boy growing up in Malibu, he discovered a vibrator belonging to his best friend’s mother.
· What it’s like to be the star and producer of a flop TV show.
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· His hilarious account of coaching a kid’s basketball team dominated by helicopter parents.
· How his great, great, great, great, great grandfather may have inspired everything from his love of The West Wing to his taste in classic American architecture.
· His first visit to college, with his son, who is going to receive the education his father never got.
· The time a major movie star stole his girlfriend.

Like talking to a friend.

I’m a fan of Rob Lowe. I liked him even during the Snow White debacle. So when I was given the chance to read the second, continuation, autobiography he wrote, I jumped at it.

The writing flows well. It’s like talking to a friend. Really. He writes the way he speaks and I could almost hear the lilt in his voice as he told the stories. I was drawn in right away and couldn’t put this book down. He talks about the highs and lows of Hollywood, addiction and raising children. I liked that he sprinkled in stories about his kids. It made me feel like I got to know him better because I saw how he felt less than cool trying to be a dad in Hollywood. I also liked that he didn’t mince words. Maybe these stories aren’t exactly how these things happened, but he told them in a way that made me think he was telling the truth.

If you want an autobiography that’s got some dish and a lot of heart, then this might be the book for you.

Harriet Gets Carried Away by Jessie Sima

Harriet Gets Carried Away by Jessie Sima
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (48 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

From the author and illustrator of the bestselling Not Quite Narwhal comes a sweet and funny story about remembering where you belong, no matter how far you roam, or what you’re wearing when you get there.

Harriet loves costumes. She wears them to the dentist, to the supermarket, and most importantly, to her super-special dress-up birthday party. Her dads have decorated everything for the party and Harriet has her most favorite costume all picked out for the big day. There’s just one thing missing—party hats!
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But when Harriet dons her special penguin errand-running costume and sets out to find the perfect ones, she finds something else instead—real penguins! Harriet gets carried away with the flock. She may look like a penguin, but she’s not so sure she belongs in the arctic. Can Harriet manage her way back to her dads (and the party hats!) in time for her special day?

It’s not every day that a kid gets kidnapped by penguins!

The plot twists were creative and adorable. I especially loved the fact that the penguins knew how to speak and had so many strong opinions about what Harriet should do after she realized she missed her dads and wanted to go back to them. This is the sort of thing I’d happily read to the young children in my life over and over again because of how fun it was to discover all of the twists and turns in this character’s adventures after the penguins took her to their icy, faraway home.

I would have liked to see a little more exploring Harriet’s attempts to go home to her parents again. The illustrations did help to flesh out the hints in the words themselves, but there was a lot more the narrator could have done with these sections while still keeping them appropriate for such a young age group. Had these scenes been given more time to shine, I would have gone with a full five-star review as everything else about this book was wonderful.

One of the other things I loved about this tale was how much genuine kindness and empathy was expressed by many of the characters. Harriet was feeling nervous and sad about being separated from her fathers. The fact that her feelings were acknowledged was lovely, especially after she decided to try everything she could to be reunited with them.

Harriet Gets Carried Away was a heartwarming story that I’d recommend to anyone who has ever had to deal with uncomfortable emotions.

Glory Over Everything by Kathleen Grissom

Glory Over Everything: Beyond The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Historical, Action/Adventure, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (384 pgs)
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Ginger

Jamie Pyke, son of both a slave and master of Tall Oakes, has a deadly secret that compels him to take a treacherous journey through the Underground Railroad.

Published in 2010, The Kitchen House became a grassroots bestseller. Fans connected so deeply to the book’s characters that the author, Kathleen Grissom, found herself being asked over and over “what happens next?” The wait is finally over.

This new, stand-alone novel opens in 1830, and Jamie, who fled from the Virginian plantation he once called home, is passing in Philadelphia society as a wealthy white silversmith. After many years of striving, Jamie has achieved acclaim and security, only to discover that his aristocratic lover Caroline is pregnant. Before he can reveal his real identity to her, he learns that his beloved servant Pan has been captured and sold into slavery in the South. Pan’s father, to whom Jamie owes a great debt, pleads for Jamie’s help, and Jamie agrees, knowing the journey will take him perilously close to Tall Oakes and the ruthless slave hunter who is still searching for him. Meanwhile, Caroline’s father learns and exposes Jamie’s secret, and Jamie loses his home, his business, and finally Caroline.
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Heartbroken and with nothing to lose, Jamie embarks on a trip to a North Carolina plantation where Pan is being held with a former Tall Oakes slave named Sukey, who is intent on getting Pan to the Underground Railroad. Soon the three of them are running through the Great Dismal Swamp, the notoriously deadly hiding place for escaped slaves. Though they have help from those in the Underground Railroad, not all of them will make it out alive.

This book felt like a gift to me. I was so eager to see what happened after The Kitchen House and excited that the characters from The Kitchen House characters had a connection to the characters in this book. I was not disappointed. In fact, this book was so many things. Entertaining, realistic, had a brilliant use of language, vivid characters, numerous sudden and unexpected plot twist and was definitely a book that was hard to put down.

James Burton’s life is told in a story that is gripping and engaging from the first page. The fast moving narrative is superbly written. Ms. Grissom is truly a talented storyteller. The plot is well planned out. In the beginning while the foundation of the story was being laid out it did get a little confusing on the time line of events, but the author easily smoothed it over by keeping the plot and storyline moving.

Jamie Pyke and Henry find themselves both together under circumstances that cause them both to be in hiding. From this relationship forms a lasting bond that carried these two men into years later that shows sometimes favors may need to be returned. Pan, the young son of Henry, is left with James Burton because Henry can’t bring his son to his job. Pan is taught to read and write, speak proper English and how a man should dress. Feeling grateful to Mr. Burton’s kindness, Pan sets out on a mission to get a gift for Mr. Burton, but in doing so he disobeys his father and heads towards the shipyard. Pan gets kidnapped and sold into slavery. Then James Burton finds himself running from secrets that have been uncovered and with a promise to find Pan James uses this time to leave Philadelphia.

I can’t summarize all that happened, I can only say this is a story that is well worth reading. The character’s lives and details are so real. The story is a mixture of heartbreak with smiles of joy and love. The story was so real I was there with the characters and the story was painted with such a visual skill a reader can see the story unfolding. The anticipation of how James would be able to live after he has been exposed was amazing. And the even deeper suspense as to how Pan would be rescued and would lives be lost during their escape kept me enthralled.

This story is wonderful all around. Glory Over Everything lives up to its title by the payoff at the novel’s end. The plot, character, the writing were incredible. I am not sure if I had tears of happiness for Jamie’s ending or sadness because the story was ending. I see another story happening on the life of Adelaide. Her spirit is so bright I can’t see the author not letting it shine.

In addition to The Kitchen House being on the list of my favorite books, I’ll be adding the sequel to that list as well. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy a superb written storyline that’s guaranteed to keep your attention.

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Genre: Contemporary, Horror, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Full Length (436 pgs)
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

In the frigid pre-dawn hours, in a distressed Midwestern city, hundreds of desperate unemployed folks are lined up for a spot at a job fair. Without warning, a lone driver plows through the crowd in a stolen Mercedes, running over the innocent, backing up, and charging again. Eight people are killed; fifteen are wounded. The killer escapes.

In another part of town, months later, a retired cop named Bill Hodges is still haunted by the unsolved crime. When he gets a crazed letter from someone who self-identifies as the “perk” and threatens an even more diabolical attack, Hodges wakes up from his depressed and vacant retirement, hell-bent on preventing another tragedy.

Brady Hartfield lives with his alcoholic mother in the house where he was born. He loved the feel of death under the wheels of the Mercedes, and he wants that rush again.
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Only Bill Hodges, with a couple of highly unlikely allies, can apprehend the killer before he strikes again. And they have no time to lose, because Brady’s next mission, if it succeeds, will kill or maim thousands.

Mr. Mercedes is a war between good and evil, from the master of suspense whose insight into the mind of this obsessed, insane killer is chilling and unforgettable.

There aren’t many books that have scared the crap out of me, but this book is right at the top of this list.

I’ve only read a few books that didn’t just stay with me, but haunted me. Mr. Mercedes is one of them. The scene with the car running into the crowd of people isn’t just freaking scary…it’s scary because it really could happen. In this day an age, this is something you can see on television and experience in your own town. This really hit home for me because I’ve been in large crowd situations. What if one of those situations ended with a Mercedes being driven into the crowd?

Stephen King always writes books with a twist. There are so many in this book, it was hard to keep up. I’m not complaining, though. I liked being kept on the edge of my seat. Every time I thought, okay, this will happen…it didn’t. That’s one of the marks of a great book.

Although he’s not a typical hero character, I liked Hodges. He’s a former detective and hard-boiled for sure, but he’s worth rooting for. Jerome was my other favorite. I loved his savvy. I think the one I liked the best was Holly. She seems like she’d be a completely secondary character. You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens, but I guarantee its worth it. I couldn’t put the book down and when I got to the end, I read as fast as possible.

If you want a book that’s scary, life-like and spooky, then this is the book you’re looking for. Recommended.

The Perfect Gift by Dani-Lyn Alexander


The Perfect Gift by Dani-Lyn Alexander
Publisher: Pocket Star Books (Simon & Schuster)
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday
Length: Short Story (68 pgs)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Hawthorn

It’s the season of second chances in this heartwarming, contemporary holiday romance where two single parents find each other—and another chance at love—in the most unexpected of places!

’Tis the night before Christmas…and businessman and single father Jason is scrambling to find the dollhouse of the season for his seven-year-old daughter Emily. But when he finally strikes gold at an obscure toy store, he’s met with resistance—literally, as a beautiful woman named Leah is grabbing onto the dollhouse box from the other side of the aisle, determined to get the same Christmas present for her own daughter.
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Desperate not to let the other win, Jason and Leah forge a pact: stay together until they find the same dollhouse at a different toy store. It sounds simple, but ten stores and many hours later, they still come up empty. They might not be finding another dollhouse, but they sure are finding a lot to talk about and, as their mutual…

Last minute shopping and a fight over the last toy of its kind don’t sound like a promising start, but in The Perfect Gift they lead to a budding romance and some adorable moments.

The unlikely premise of the story made it harder for the author to convince me of the attraction between the main characters, but Ms. Alexander managed to do it just fine. The relationship develops perhaps a tiny bit too fast at the beginning, but the short format doesn’t allow for any dawdling. As Leah and Jason get to know each other, the pull they feel towards each other begins to make more sense. Their acquaintance quickly evolves into friendship, and over the shared stories of single-parenting and of their kids’ awesomeness it grows into a lot more in the span of a single day.

By the time they ended up wrapping gifts at her place, I was very invested in their relationship and I was rooting for Jason not to sleep on the couch. But of course, the author’s version made so much more sense as it depicted Jason as an utter gentleman.

The girls and their instant friendship felt a bit too simplified and too quick, but again, that was probably due to the short format and to show the true spirit of Christmas. Jason’s solution after not finding the second doll house was sweet and very telling of the sort of a father he was.

The flurry of snowflakes outside, Leah’s freezing fingers and Jason’s kindness as he tries to warm them, and the cozy scene when they have dinner were so scrumptious I wished this were a longer piece so I could get to know Jason and Leah better. As it was, I got a sweet tidbit that got me thoroughly in the mood for the holidays.

The Perfect Gift was indeed a sweet surprise.

Black Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick

Black Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Action/Adventure, Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (392 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 2.5 stars
Reviewed by Lupine

Sometimes danger is hard to see… until it’s too late.

Britt Pfeiffer has trained to backpack the Teton Range, but she isn’t prepared when her ex-boyfriend, who still haunts her every thought, wants to join her. Before Britt can explore her feelings for Calvin, an unexpected blizzard forces her to seek shelter in a remote cabin, accepting the hospitality of its two very handsome occupants—but these men are fugitives, and they take her hostage.

In exchange for her life, Britt agrees to guide the men off the mountain. As they set off, Britt knows she must stay alive long enough for Calvin to find her. The task is made even more complicated when Britt finds chilling evidence of a series of murders that have taken place there… and in uncovering this, she may become the killer’s next target.

But nothing is as it seems in the mountains, and everyone is keeping secrets, including Mason, one of her kidnappers. His kindness is confusing Britt. Is he an enemy? Or an ally?

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​I struggled with the back and forth ​​with the friend​​ship between Korbie and Britt. It didn’t seem genuine nor did it seem deep, as Korbie is one of the most self-centered, bratty girls I’ve ever read about, and Britt is an “independent” spoiled, (and frequently stupid) rich girl who can’t seem to get over her douche bag ex-boyfriend. ​

​Then you have their trip up into the mountains, where they end up getting stranded because Britt didn’t want to pump more gas into the car and then the idea of staying in their fully stocked car with extra food/sleeping bags/gear was less attractive than stumbling around in a massive snowstorm just to maybe find some sort of help in a huge, unknown area of a mountain range.

I think the author wanted the readers to find the two men they find attractive, but I found them creepy.   I really hated the Stockholm syndrome going on…though I liked that relationship than the lost one Britt continues to pine over.  Still, it was disturbing.

Speaking of pining, Britt constantly is thinking about old “cute” memories of her and Calvin together, which distracts from the whole plot line and is annoying. Though it’s not much of a love triangle per se, it just wasn’t necessary. There was plenty of conflict without it and it got to the point where I just wanted to shake her and scream: PICK ONE.

Before you think I hated the book … I didn’t. There was enough action and excitement to keep me needing to find out what happened.  And the
epilogue made everything worthwhile.  It had more character development and true friendship than happened in the entire book.

I’m in the targeted age group for this book, so am writing from that point of view, and I wouldn’t give it to anyone under 13 because of the lusting, and (rather creepy) thoughts and actions with both of the men that Britt LOVES to DEATH and the gory details that describe dead bodies found along with a little language.

Honestly, Black Ice was painfully, horribly interesting. ​

Revealing Us by Lisa Renee Jones

Revealing Us by Lisa Renee Jones
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (320 pgs)
Other: M/F, BDSM
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Gardenia

You’ve discovered Rebecca’s secrets. You’ve discovered Sara’s secrets. Now Sara will discover “his” deepest, darkest secrets…but will those secrets bind them together–or tear them apart?

This amazing third full novel in this series left me wanting more information about the other characters but satisfied that Chris and Sara’s story had reached a great end.

Would you follow the man you love no matter where he went in order to discover his secrets? Our hero Sara says YES! I love that our heroine has survived and grown regardless of all the tragedies in this series. She has become an independent woman willing to take risks for a chance at happiness. I enjoy reading stories about characters that grow, mature and become stronger.
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There is no doubt now that Chris is in love with Sara. He is such a tortured soul. It is obvious he is seeking redemption and just has not found the right person to give it to him. I love how the author depicts his reactions. It shows a soul in turmoil and confusion, which serves the story well.

Their search for insight into each other takes them back to Paris, France. This part of the story is very interesting because it provides insight into the type of life Chris has lived in order to survive his guilt. Pain and liquor have been his temporary reprieves. The characters introduced in this part of the story are well developed and further the story, elucidating the depths of pain Chris has subjected himself in order to survive.

The mystery and suspense in this story continue as to the fate of Rebecca and Ella. The issues introduced here ensure we will see more compelling installments to this series. As a “who-done-it” mystery, this series has been gripping and nail biting.

In summary, if you have been following this series, you will not be disappointed. We have been given enough information to continue hoping Rebecca may still be alive, while hoping Ella will be found. Chris and Sara’s love evolves to an all-encompassing level. I would read this book over and over again. There is so much going on; I am still hoping to discover additional clues as to the fate of these characters.