Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

Title: Winter Garden: A Novel, Author: Kristin Hannah Winter Garden. Finished 10-10-19, 4.5/5 stars, fiction, pub. 2010

Meredith and Nina Whitson are as different as sisters can be. One stayed at home to raise her children and manage the family apple orchard; the other followed a dream and traveled the world to become a famous photojournalist. But when their beloved father falls ill, Meredith and Nina find themselves together again, standing alongside their cold, disapproving mother, Anya, who even now, offers no comfort to her daughters. As children, the only connection between them was the Russian fairy tale Anya sometimes told the girls at night. On his deathbed, their father extracts a promise from the women in his life: the fairy tale will be told one last time—and all the way to the end. Thus begins an unexpected journey into the truth of Anya’s life in war-torn Leningrad, more than five decades ago. Alternating between the past and present, Meredith and Nina will finally hear the singular, harrowing story of their mother’s life, and what they learn is a secret so terrible and terrifying that it will shake the very foundation of their family and change who they believe they are.    from Goodreads

The story starts with bickering sisters Meredith and Nina, nothing too different than other stories I’ve read, but then their father takes ill and it’s important they’re all together.  This is also when we start hearing about the cold mom, Anya, who seemed to dislike both girls growing up.  As the three women must help each other, the story of Anya’s life in Russia takes center stage.  Her story drew me in and kept me turning the pages as fast as I could.  It was that good.  The sisters faded into the background for me as I read in horror the things that Anya faced.

I loved Anya’s story.  The sisters were a nice sideshow and the end was a bit too much, but the gut punch of war torn Leningrad was the star here.  There will be scenes that will stick with me for quite some time.  I’ve seen that some people who are Hannah fans were disappointed with one after so many great ones.  I can’t speak to that since I’ve only ever read one of her earlier romance books, but I’m guessing this will make my favorite list at the end of the year.



The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon

Title: The Crying of Lot 49, Author: Thomas Pynchon The Crying of Lot 49. Finished 9-24-19, 3.25/5, classic fiction, 152 pages, pub. 1966

Suffused with rich satire, chaotic brilliance, verbal turbulence and wild humor, The Crying of Lot 49 opens as Oedipa Maas discovers that she has been made executrix of a former lover’s estate. The performance of her duties sets her on a strange trail of detection, in which bizarre characters crowd in to help or confuse her. But gradually, death, drugs, madness and marriage combine to leave Oedipa in isolation on the threshold of revelation, awaiting the Crying of Lot 49.  from Goodreads

Bizarre.  Paranoia and insanity abound in this short novel.  There were many moments, especially at the beginning where I cared and thought I “got it” but no.  Sadly, it turns out I did not “get it” at all. It had some light moments that made me laugh, but once the crazy got on a roll it didn’t really stop.  I am obviously not cool enough to appreciate Pynchon and I’m okay with that.

So, who is a fan of Pynchon?  What attracts you?

This is   my 32nd selection for the Classics Club challenge.  I have until January 1, 2020 to get to 50 (lol).

The Second Life of Nick Mason by Steve Hamilton

Title: The Second Life of Nick Mason, Author: Steve Hamilton The Second Life of Nick Mason. Finished 12-4-19, 4.25/5, thriller, pub. 2016

Unabridged audio read by Ray Porter.

Nick Mason has already spent five years inside a maximum security prison when an offer comes that will grant his release twenty years early.  He accepts — but the deal comes with a terrible price.

Now, back on the streets, Nick Mason has a new house, a new car, money to burn, and a beautiful roommate.  He’s returned to society, but he’s still a prisoner.  Whenever his cell phone rings, day or night, Nick must answer it and follow whatever order he is given.  It’s the deal he made with Darius Cole, a criminal mastermind serving a double-life term who runs an empire from his prison cell.

Forced to commit increasingly more dangerous crimes, hunted by the relentless detective who put him behind bars, and desperate to go straight and rebuild his life with his daughter and ex-wife, Nick will ultimately have to risk everything—his family, his sanity, and even his life—to finally break free.  from Goodreads

When we first meet Nick he’s serving time in Terre Haute, then we get flashbacks to his younger years stealing cars in Chicago, until a deal made with the devil gets him out of prison and back on the streets.  Only this time he’s having to do someone else’s bidding and his daughter and ex-wife are in danger.

I loved the way Nick’s story unfolded.  Low level crimes became bigger ones until finally prison made him into someone he didn’t think he was capable of becoming.  I could feel his reasons and justifications and understood that he was just trying to survive another day, whatever the cost.  The story is fast-paced and had a satifying, but not all-wrapped-up-in-a-bow ending.

Nick has a second book and a third one in the works and I’m excited to see what happens next.


Ohio Presidents: A Whig and Seven Republicans by Dale Thomas

Title: Ohio Presidents: A Whig and Seven Republicans, Author: Dale Thomas Ohio Presidents. Finished 9-17-19. rating 4/5, history, 128 pages, pub. 2019

Eight presidents have roots in Ohio, where today these communities take pride in their heritage. William Henry Harrison, a Whig, served the shortest period of time as any president, but his legacy is the campaign strategy of 1840. Northern Whigs formed the Republican Party in 1854. After the Civil War, Ohio became a swing state for the party in presidential elections.

Ulysses S. Grant’s exceptional leadership in the Civil War contrasted with his problems as president. Rutherford B. Hayes ended Reconstruction policies but could not protect the civil rights of African Americans in the South. James A. Garfield died from a gunshot fired by a disappointed office seeker. His death led to the first civil service laws. Benjamin Harrison’s administration included policies to improve the Navy and economy, but he failed to win re-election. William McKinley won election to the White House, campaigning for conservative policies. He led the nation into the Spanish American War. An anarchist assassinated him, and Theodore Roosevelt became president. Serving two terms, Roosevelt wanted William H. Taft to succeed him as president. He soon criticized Taft for being too conservative. In spite of scandals in his administration, Warren G. Harding had important accomplishments in foreign and domestic affairs.   from Goodreads

Ohio is second only to Virginia with number of Presidents it’s produced.  Interestingly, only eight U.S. Presidents have died in office and four of them were from Ohio.  The shortest tenure of any President was William Henry Harrison who fell ill three weeks after inauguration and was dead by day 32.  He was the oldest person to hold the office at 68 years until Ronald Reagan, 1841-1980 is a pretty big gap.  James A. Garfield was assassinated and died at only 6 1/2 months in office.  William McKinley was shot six months into his second term and is considered Ohio’s most successful President.  Warren G. Harding made it two years before dying of a heart attack.

We live within a hour of three presidential libraries and this year I’ve taken Gage and my mother to two.  We’ve visited the memorial of a third, but not his library yet.  The log house he grew up in is less than 10 minutes down the road from us.  Look at that run of three Ohio Presidents in a row!

9- William Henry Harrison 1841

18- Ulysses S. Grant 1869-1977

19- Rutherford B Hayes 1877-1881

20- James A Garfield 1881

25- William McKinley 1897-1901

27- William H Taft 1908-1913

29- Warren G Harding 1921-1923

This book was full of lots of great photos and relevant information put together in a very visually appealing way.  It’s amazing what he packed into this 128 page book.  I loved it.  I actually picked it up at the McKinley Presidential Library this summer.  Fun for those interested in presidential or Ohio history.

Some photos of our recent trips…

IMG_5563This is a replica of Garfield’s childhood home where it stood in Moreland Hills.  We drive by it all the time, but stopped for a pic in March.

The McKinley Museum in Canton is huge and by far the most kid friendly.  We spent all day there in July.

The Hayes Museum and Home in Fremont was wonderful.  It sits on 25 beautifully planned and maintained acres.  The museum is full of artifacts and the house (where he lived after his term in office) tour is interesting and educational.  I wish we’d had more time during our November visit.


Sundays with Gage – A new Book Advent Tree with a reluctant reader

ODVY2746 Last month I went to parent teacher conferences perplexed and left with the same questions I started with.  In second grade Gage was in a lower reading group (there were four and he was in the third one) and this year he’s in the top reading group and she only wants him reading 4th grade books.  Although she acknowledged that he had no interest in reading chapter books.  How many 4th grade picture books can you find? I guess it’s good she thinks he smart?  Anyhoo, we’re trying, but it’s going so slow.  For years I’ve been worried about a reading disability, but have been assured that isn’t the case, and now I’m wondering if it’s an attention problem.  They call him the wanderer since he likes to walk around the classroom when his work is done (and sometimes when it isn’t!) 🙂

All of this to say that choosing his books for his yearly advent tree took longer than normal as I tried to find the books she wanted him reading with something that might possibly keep him interested.  Also this year, I bought some like new used books as I sorted donations at the library so I was able to do this year way cheaper than in years past.  Today’s book is a Scooby Doo book and we’re halfway through (5 chapters) and he’s liking it better than most.

On the shelf below is the Lego advent calendar that is a treat for all the books he’s going to be reading, lol.

November movies

What did you see this month that you’d recommend?  I admit that I’ve watched way too many Hallmark movies already 🙂

You know the drill, add your 5 words (or less!) to mine in a comment and earn $1 for charity. Once we get to $100 the person with the most reviews will choose the charity. Click here to see the past winners, the charities they chose and the other reviews you can add to. Anyone is welcome to join in at any time.

We’re at $19 right now.  Your charity could be next 

Ford v. Ferrari (2019 film poster).png Ford v Ferrari, 2019 (Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Jon Bernthal, Caitriona Balfe, Tracy Letts, Josh Lucas, Noah Jupe, Ray McKinnon)    Grade A

Great performances by actors & cars.

Creed II poster.png Creed II, 2018 (Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Sylvester Stallone, Wood Harris, Phylicia Rashad, Dolph Lundgren, Florian Munteanu)   Grade B+

Baby Creed becomes a man.

Motherless Brooklyn (film).jpg Motherless Brooklyn, 2019 (Edward Norton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Bobby Cannavale, Willem Defoe, Alec Baldwin, Bruce Willis, Cherry Jones)   Grade B

Tourette syndrome takes center stage.

Case 39 poster.jpgCase 39, 2009 (Renee Zellweger, Jodelle Ferland, Ian McShane, Bradley Cooper)    Grade B-

Caring social worker pays price.

In the Shadow of the Moon poster.jpgIn the Shadow of the Moon, 2019 (Boyd Holbrook, Cleopatra Coleman, Michael C. Hall, Bokeem Woodbine)   Grade B-

Interesting time travel, light details.

Lucas Davenport #28 & #29

I love John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport series.  I’ve read them all, in order.  1- Rules of Prey, 2- Shadow Prey, 3- Eyes of Prey, 4- Silent Prey, 5- Winter Prey, 6- Night Prey, 7- Mind Prey, 8- Sudden Prey, 9- Secret Prey, 10- Certain Prey, 11-Easy Prey, 12- Chosen Prey, 13- Mortal Prey, 14- Naken Prey, 15- Hidden Prey, 16- Broken Prey, 17- Invisible Prey, 18- Phantom Prey, 19- Wicked Prey, 20– Storm Prey, 21- Buried Prey, 22-Stolen Prey, 23-Silken Prey, 24-Field of Prey, 25-Gathering Prey, 26-Extreme Prey  27-Golden Prey

Lucas Daveport has evolved over the years.  Since we first met him as a Minneapolis detective he has climbed the career ladder to federal marshal and happily married man and father.  An he’s still a badass.  There was a TV movie that had Mark Harmon playing Lucas and while I love Harmon I’m not sure he quite fits the character.  I’ll have to think on it.

Title: Twisted Prey (Lucas Davenport Series #28), Author: John Sandford Twisted Prey. Finished 9-18-19, thriller. 4.5/5 stars, pub. 2018

Lucas Davenport had crossed paths with her before.

A rich psychopath, Taryn Grant had run successfully for the U.S. Senate, where Lucas had predicted she’d fit right in. He was also convinced that she’d been responsible for three murders, though he’d never been able to prove it. Once a psychopath had gotten that kind of rush, though, he or she often needed another fix, so he figured he might be seeing her again.

He was right. A federal marshal now, with a very wide scope of investigation, he’s heard rumors that Grant has found her seat on the Senate intelligence committee, and the contacts she’s made from it, to be very…useful. Pinning those rumors down was likely to be just as difficult as before, and considerably more dangerous.   from Goodreads

Oh, how I loved a new tangle with a great foe in Taryn Grant.  The woman is diabolical and Lucas has his work cut out for him.  I also loved the two fellow Marshals Rae and Bob who have shown up before.  This was a good one!

Title: Neon Prey (Lucas Davenport Series #29), Author: John Sandford Neon Prey. Finished 11-22-19, thriller, 4/5 stars, pub. 2019

It was a relatively minor criminal matter, all things considered, but enough that the US Marshals obtained a warrant to enter the home. They didn’t expect to unearth trophies from a score of killings.

Now Davenport is on the trail of a serial murderer, one who was able to operate for years without notice or suspicion. But there’s even more to this killer than meets the eye…   from Goodreads

This was another solid Davenport story.  Feds Rae and Bob showed up again and Lucas get shot.  There’s a cannibal who grills his victims on the loose and he’s got himself a posse.  Good stuff 🙂

If you like police procedurals you should be reading this series.  Great insight and writing.



The Bungalow by Sarah Jio

Title: The Bungalow: A Novel, Author: Sarah Jio The Bungalow. Finished 11-3-19, 3.5/5 stars, fiction, pub. 2011

In the summer of 1942, twenty-one-year-old Anne Calloway, newly engaged, sets off to serve in the Army Nurse Corps on the Pacific island of Bora-Bora. More exhilarated by the adventure of a lifetime than she ever was by her predictable fiancé, she is drawn to a mysterious soldier named Westry, and their friendship soon blossoms into hues as deep as the hibiscus flowers native to the island. Under the thatched roof of an abandoned beach bungalow, the two share a private world-until they witness a gruesome crime, Westry is suddenly redeployed, and the idyll vanishes into the winds of war.    from Goodreads

Bora Bora housed our men and women in uniform during WWII and Anne, following her best friend, is stationed there in the Nurse Corps.  While some of the other women seem to be searching for men in uniform, Anne is recently engaged and only interested in serving and finding her purpose before she goes home to marry.  She meets Westry and the two have a connection and find a way for private time together in a half hidden bungalow on the beach.  But this relationship comes at the expense of her friendship with Kitty, who becomes distant.

There is a war going on and although Bora Bora is beautiful, the bloody war finds a way on to the island.  Not all of the men we meet will survive and other lives will be born and lost during Anne’s stay and when it is time to go home she can only think of Westry who has signed on for another tour, this time in Europe.  What will happen to them and the magic they found in the bungalow?

There is another storyline.  One that involves Anne at around 90 sharing this story with her granddaughter.  There is a mystery or two to be solved and lives will change.  I liked this one, but did think it had a few too many crazy things happen with the current story.  But for my issues with the modern tale, I was drawn into the wartime drama.

I always like Jio’s stories and this one is no exception.

The Cutting Edge by Jeffery Deaver and Lincoln Rhyme coming to the small screen

Title: The Cutting Edge (Lincoln Rhyme Series #14), Author: Jeffery Deaver The Cutting Edge. Finished 8-30-19, 4/5 stars, thriller, pub. 2018

Book 14 of the Lincoln Rhyme series (1st-The Bone Collector, 2nd- The Coffin Dancer, 3rd- The Empty Chair, 4th- The Stone Monkey, 5th- The Vanished Man, 6th- The Twelfth Card, 7th- The Cold Moon, 8th- The Broken Window 9th- The Burning Wire, 10th-The Kill Room 11-The Skin Collector, 12-The Steel Kiss, 13-The Burial Hour)

In the early hours of a quiet, weekend morning in Manhattan’s Diamond District, a brutal triple murder shocks the city. Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs quickly take the case. Curiously, the killer has left behind a half-million dollars’ worth of gems at the murder scene, a jewelry store on 47th street. As more crimes follow, it becomes clear that the killer’s target is not gems, but engaged couples themselves.

Soon the Promiser makes a dangerous mistake: leaving behind an innocent witness, Vimal Lahori, a talented young diamond cutter, who can help Rhyme and Sachs blow the lid off the case. They must track down Vimal before the killer can correct his fatal error.         from Goodreads

Lincoln Rhyme was a brilliant criminologist for the NYPD until he was injured in the line of duty.  He became a quadriplegic, but thanks to his skills the NYPD still goes to him for high profile cases.  And sometimes when they don’t he seeks them out himself which is how he found himself using a backdoor to get on the Promiser case.

I really liked this latest addition to the series.  It was set in New York’s diamond district so I learned about a new area of the city and diamond cutting.  There was more than one mystery going on and it looked like they were never going to intersect, but of course they did (not gonna tell you how!)

I saw The Bone Collector movie with Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie before I started this series and this is what I said after reading the first book.

My only other issue is that I have a copy of the book with Denzel on the front, so that’s how I’m picturing Rhyme, but it is clear in the book that Rhyme is not black.  I think Sachs said at one point that he looked like Robert DeNiro.  I like picturing Rhyme as Denzel (who wouldn’t?),  but when repeated references were made to his white skin it threw my mental picture off.  (here)

I have learned to ignore references to his whiteness and continue picturing him as Denzel and I guess that’s what the casting director went with in the new Lincoln Rhyme series coming out in January.  Take a look.

So, what do you think?  I’ll probably give it a try.   What about you?

Continuing with two romance series

I love a good romance.  In my younger years they were often the bulk of what I read outside of school.  My tastes have evolved to include more genres (okay, okay, pretty much all genres) but I still partake in a good romance to clean my reading palette.

Title: Anything for You (Blue Heron Series #5), Author: Kristan Higgins Anything For You. Finished 9-16-19, 3.5/5 stars, romance, 408 pages, pub. 2015

This is the 5th and I think final book in the Blue Heron series.  1-The Best Man, 2- The Perfect Match, 3-Waiting on You, 4-In Your Dreams

For ten years, Connor O’Rourke has been waiting for Jessica Dunn to take their on-again, off-again relationship public, and he thinks the time has come. His restaurant is thriving, she’s got her dream job at Blue Heron Vineyard—it’s the perfect time to get married.

When he pops the question, however, her answer is a fond but firm no. If it ain’t broke, why fix it? Jess has her hands full with her younger brother, who’s now living with her full-time, and a great career after years of waitressing. 

But this time, Connor says it’s all or nothing. If she doesn’t want to marry him, he’ll find someone who does.  from Goodreads

I loved this series so much and was a little disappointed in this finale.  We know Connor and Jessica because they show up in all of the other Manningsport books, but somehow I never really fell in love with either of them.  I really liked the depiction of Jessica’s life as she took over care of her adult brother with autism, so maybe there was just a touch too much reality in it for me?  I liked it okay, just not as much as the rest of the series.  I’m sad to say goodbye to the Blue Heron Winery.

Title: Devil's Daughter: The Ravenels meet The Wallflowers, Author: Lisa Kleypas Devil’s Daughter. Finished 9-12-19, 4/5 stars, historical romance, pub. 2019

Unabridged audio read by Mary Jane Wells, 9  hours.

The newest book in the Ravenels series.  1-Cold-Hearted Rake, 2-Marrying Winterborne, 3-Devil in Spring, 4-Hello Stranger

Although beautiful young widow Phoebe, Lady Clare, has never met West Ravenel, she knows one thing for certain: he’s a mean, rotten bully. Back in boarding school, he made her late husband’s life a misery, and she’ll never forgive him for it. But when Phoebe attends a family wedding, she encounters a dashing and impossibly charming stranger who sends a fire-and-ice jolt of attraction through her. And then he introduces himself…as none other than West Ravenel.   from Goodreads

First, let’s admire the cover.  The covers for this series are all so beautiful.  I want all of the dresses, even if they just hang in my closet to admire.  Okay, on to the nice surprise, the books are just as good!  I love this series about the Ravenel family.  Well, I did have issues with the last one so I was even more excited to see that this one was back on track.  I’ve been hoping for a nice match for West since day one and it’s nice to see him finally fall for someone and a widow with small children at that.

This is a Wildflowers book too, but I haven’t read that series.  It wasn’t really necessary to enjoy this one.  Although you could this series out of order I wouldn’t.  Start with Cold-Hearted Rake if you enjoy 19th century English romances.