Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo

Sworn to Silence (Kate Burkholder, #1)Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Synopsis by Goodreads:

A killer is preying on sacred ground….

In the sleepy rural town of Painters Mill, Ohio, the Amish and “English” residents have lived side by side for two centuries. But sixteen years ago, a series of brutal murders shattered the peaceful farming community. In the aftermath of the violence, the town was left with a sense of fragility, a loss of innocence. Kate Burkholder, a young Amish girl, survived the terror of the Slaughterhouse Killer but came away from its brutality with the realization that she no longer belonged with the Amish.

Now, a wealth of experience later, Kate has been asked to return to Painters Mill as Chief of Police. Her Amish roots and big city law enforcement background make her the perfect candidate. She’s certain she’s come to terms with her past—until the first body is discovered in a snowy field. Kate vows to stop the killer before he strikes again. But to do so, she must betray both her family and her Amish past—and expose a dark secret that could destroy her.

My thoughts:

I loved this book and can’t wait to read the rest in the series (this was the first). Linda Castillo knows how to write suspense. I will mention that her descriptions of the death scenes are exceptionally gruesome and won’t be for the faint of heart. They are very graphic.  I liked Kate tremendously because she isn’t a perfect character. None of us are perfect so I enjoy reading books when the main characters are flawed themselves. Makes her feel a little more real.

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The Hallowed Ones by Laura Bickle

The Hallowed Ones (The Hallowed Ones, #1)The Hallowed Ones by Laura Bickle

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Synopsis by Goodreads:

Katie is on the verge of her Rumspringa, the time in Amish life when teenagers can get a taste of the real world. But the real world comes to her in this dystopian tale with a philosophical bent. Rumors of massive unrest on the “Outside” abound. Something murderous is out there. Amish elders make a rule: No one goes outside, and no outsiders come in. But when Katie finds a gravely injured young man, she can’t leave him to die. She smuggles him into her family’s barn—at what cost to her community.

My thoughts:

Amish & vampires? Say what now? I don’t remember how I stumbled across the book but I couldn’t put it down! This book is classified as Young Adult but I’m not sure why as it reads as adult fiction/horror. How the author came up with this idea I have no clue but it was genius. Can’t wait for the next in the series to see how it proceeds.  Totally not liking that I have to wait until September.  I’ll be doing a pre-order on this one.

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Pampered to Death by Laura Levine

Pampered to Death (A Jaine Austen Mystery, #10)Pampered to Death by Laura Levine

Synopsis from Amazon:

When freelance writer Jaine Austen is surprised with an uber-luxe spa getaway, she and her feline pal Prozac are eager to hit the road and bask in a week of pampering and pedicures. But what she gets is a California fat farm in disguise, complete with celery-juice cocktails, humiliating weigh-ins, and a zero-tolerance position on carbs. Among her bulge-battling companions is Mallory Francis, a B-list movie star with a knack for making frenemies. When she’s found strangled during a seaweed wrap gone awry, Jaine is hard-pressed to think of anyone who couldn’t have done it. While the suspects mount faster than her hunger pangs, Jaine’s search for truth, justice and contraband calories leads her straight to a cold-blooded killer – where murder may be on the menu once again…

My thoughts:

When I want something light and funny to read, I know I can always count on this series.  There is only one left for me to read and I’ve purposely not sped through the series because I always wanted one waiting for me.  I’ve enjoyed every book in this series. There is nothing worse to me in a cozy mystery when the main character is boring and without a sense of humor.  Jaine is such a nut!  She and I could so be buddies if she where a real life character. Her antics are lol funny.

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Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

Fall of GiantsFall of Giants by Ken Follett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Synopsis from Goodreads:

A thirteen-year-old Welsh boy enters a man’s world in the mining pits; an American law student rejected by love finds a surprising new career in Woodrow Wilson’s White House; a housekeeper for the aristocratic Fitzherberts takes a fateful step above her station, while Lady Maud Fitzherbert herself crosses deep into forbidden territory when she falls in love with a German spy; and two orphaned Russian brothers embark on radically different paths when their plan to emigrate to America falls afoul of war, conscription, and revolution.

From the dirt and danger of a coal mine to the glittering chandeliers of a palace, from the corridors of power to the bedrooms of the mighty, Fall of Giants takes readers into the inextricably entangled fates of five families-and into a century that we thought we knew, but that now will never seem the same again.

My thoughts:

The only thing keeping this book from a 5 star rating by me is about 300 pages. For me it was about 300 pages too long. Far too many pages where we were separated by the core characters with long meanderings about war and/or politics. I know many historical fiction readers probably loved this, but it lost my interest often. Only when we would get back to the families did I become engaged again. Will certainly read book 2 but may need a breather in between.

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The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

The Art of Racing in the RainThe Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Synopsis by Goodreads:

Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver.

Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he sees that life, like racing, isn’t simply about going fast. Using the techniques needed on the race track, one can successfully navigate all of life’s ordeals.

On the eve of his death, Enzo takes stock of his life, recalling all that he and his family have been through: the sacrifices Denny has made to succeed professionally; the unexpected loss of Eve, Denny’s wife; the three-year battle over their daughter, Zoë, whose maternal grandparents pull every string to gain custody. In the end, despite what he sees as his own limitations, Enzo comes through heroically to preserve the Swift family, holding in his heart the dream that Denny will become a racing champion with Zoë at his side. Having learned what it takes to be a compassionate and successful person, the wise canine can barely wait until his next lifetime, when he is sure he will return as a man.

My thoughts:

I think I always avoided this book because I have zero interest in car racing. What I discovered that while this has elements of the main character’s love of racing, this is more a story about love between a dog and his family and their love for him. I loved it.

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Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Beautiful RuinsBeautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Synopsis by Goodreads:

The story begins in 1962. On a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline, a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks out over the incandescent waters of the Ligurian Sea and spies an apparition: a tall, thin woman, a vision in white, approaching him on a boat. She is an actress, he soon learns, an American starlet, and she is dying.

And the story begins again today, half a world away, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio’s back lot–searching for the mysterious woman he last saw at his hotel decades earlier.

What unfolds is a dazzling, yet deeply human, roller coaster of a novel, spanning fifty years and nearly as many lives. From the lavish set of “Cleopatra” to the shabby revelry of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Walter introduces us to the tangled lives of a dozen unforgettable characters: the starstruck Italian innkeeper and his long-lost love; the heroically preserved producer who once brought them together and his idealistic young assistant; the army veteran turned fledgling novelist and the rakish Richard Burton himself, whose appetites set the whole story in motion–along with the husbands and wives, lovers and dreamers, superstars and losers, who populate their world in the decades that follow.

My thoughts:

As usual I’m in the minority of the glowing reviews on this. I’m having a serious problem with rating this book. For starters, I read it all in one day so I was engaged in the story. I didn’t even mind so much the back and forth between time as it was necessary to the storyline. But I do take issue with writers who feel the need to fill pages up with unnecessary writing.

Examples – Alvis, the wanna-be-writer that goes to the hotel each year to write more of his book. Leaves behind what he has written so far and then we have to read the entire thing within the book? Shane, the wanna-be-screenwriter who along with reading in detail the “pitch” for the screenplay, we have to actually read the entire pages of the pitch also. This kind of fluff irritates me greatly in books. A writer needs to keep the story tight and not meander off because that is how you lose a reader. It is usually at this point where disengaged readers chuck the book to the bedside never to be picked up again. I found myself skimming through all that as I heard the voices of the parents on Charlie Brown in the back of my head saying “wok, wok, wok, wok, wok…”

But when all this wasn’t going on, I did enjoy the book. So I’m giving it a solid 3 which by Goodreads standards means “I liked it”. In my mind though, it could have been a 4 or 5 if we weren’t dragged through unnecessary details.  Those parts were just painful to me.

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The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Johnathan Evison

The Revised Fundamentals of CaregivingThe Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Synopsis from Barnes & Noble:

Benjamin Benjamin has lost virtually everything—his wife, his family, his home, his livelihood. With few options, Ben enrolls in a night class called The Fundamentals of Caregiving taught in the basement of a local church. There Ben is instructed in the art of inserting catheters and avoiding liability, about professionalism, and how to keep physical and emotional distance between client and provider. But when Ben is assigned to nineteen-year-old Trev, who is in the advanced stages of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, he discovers that the endless mnemonics and service plan checklists have done little to prepare him for the reality of caring for a fiercely stubborn, sexually frustrated adolescent. As they embark on a wild road trip across the American West to visit Trev’s ailing father, a new camaraderie replaces the traditional boundary between patient and caregiver.

My thoughts:

I wanted to like this more but the characters felt a little one dimensional to me until the last quarter of the book. If the first 3/4 would have had the same emotional punch as the remainder, I would have given it 4 stars.  I had trouble connecting with Ben until more of his past was let out.

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Julia’s Chocolates by Cathy Lamb

Julia's ChocolatesJulia’s Chocolates by Cathy Lamb

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Synopsis by Goodreads:

“I left my wedding dress hanging in a tree somewhere in North Dakota. I don’t know why that particular tree appealed to me. Perhaps it was because it looked as if it had given up and died years ago and was still standing because it didn’t know what else to do…”

In her deliciously funny, heartfelt, and moving debut, Cathy Lamb introduces some of the most wonderfully eccentric women since The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and The Secret Life of Bees, as she explores the many ways we find the road home.

 

From the moment Julia Bennett leaves her abusive Boston fiancé at the altar and her ugly wedding dress hanging from a tree in South Dakota, she knows she’s driving away from the old Julia, but what she’s driving toward is as messy and undefined as her own wounded soul. The old Julia dug her way out of a tortured, trailer park childhood with a monster of a mother. The new Julia will be found at her Aunt Lydia’s rambling, hundred-year-old farmhouse outside Golden, Oregon.

There, among uppity chickens and toilet bowl planters, Julia is welcomed by an eccentric, warm, and often wise clan of women, including a psychic, a minister’s unhappy wife, an abused mother of four, and Aunt Lydia herself–a woman who is as fierce and independent as they come. Meeting once a week for drinks and the baring of souls, it becomes clear that every woman holds secrets that keep her from happiness. But what will it take for them to brave becoming their true selves? For Julia, it’s chocolate. All her life, baking has been her therapy and her refuge, a way to heal wounds and make friends. Nobody anywhere makes chocolates as good as Julia’s, and now, chocolate just might change her life–and bring her love when she least expects it. But it can’t keep her safe. As Julia gradually opens her heart to new life, new friendships, and a new man, the past is catching up to her. And this time, she will not be able to run but will have to face it head on.

Filled with warmth, love, and truth, Julia’s Chocolates is an unforgettable novel of hope and healing that explores the hurts we keep deep in our hearts, the love that liberates us, the courage that defines us, and the chocolate that just might take us there.

My thoughts:

This is the first I’ve read by this author and it certainly won’t be my last. A couple of the weekly meetings got a little goofy, but what speaks to me so loudly is the power of female friendship. The bond between women can be so strong and gripping. We have many friends in our lives, many come and go, but true and deep friendships are few…and those are the ones that last forever and weather any storm.

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