Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Review: The Children’s Crusade by Ann Packer


Title: The Children’s Crusade

Author: Ann Packer
(Author Website) (Facebook)

Narrators: Cotter Smith, Frederick Weller, Thomas Sadoski, Marin Ireland and Santino Fontana

Publisher:  Simon & Schuster Audio Unabridged edition (April , 2015)

Length:  12 CDs

Source: Audiobook Jukebox‘s reviewer program

About the Book: (from

From the New York Times bestselling, award-winning author of The Dive From Clausen's Pier, a sweeping, masterful new novel that explores the secrets and desires, the remnant wounds and saving graces of one California family, over the course of five decades.

Bill Blair finds the land by accident, three wooded acres in a rustic community south of San Francisco. The year is 1954, long before anyone will call this area Silicon Valley. Struck by a vision of the family he has yet to create, Bill buys the property on a whim. In Penny Greenway he finds a suitable wife, a woman whose yearning attitude toward life seems compelling and answerable, and they marry and have four children. Yet Penny is a mercurial housewife, at a time when women chafed at the conventions imposed on them. She finds salvation in art, but the cost is high.

Thirty years later, the three oldest Blair children, adults now and still living near the family home, are disrupted by the return of the youngest, whose sudden presence and all-too-familiar troubles force a reckoning with who they are, separately and together, and set off a struggle over the family's future. One by one, the siblings take turns telling the story--Robert, a doctor like their father; Rebecca, a psychiatrist; Ryan, a schoolteacher; and James, the malcontent, the problem child, the only one who hasn't settled down-their narratives interwoven with portraits of the family at crucial points in their history.

About the Author:  (from author website)

Ann Packer

Ann Packer was born in Stanford, California, in 1959, and grew up near Stanford University, where her parents were professors. She attended Yale University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and has received fellowships from the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, the Michener-Copernicus Society, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

She is the acclaimed author of two collections of short fiction, Swim Back to Me and Mendocino and Other Stories, and two bestselling novels, Songs Without Words and The Dive from Clausen’s Pier, which received the Kate Chopin Literary Award, among many other prizes and honors. Her short fiction has appeared in The New Yorker and in the O. Henry Prize Stories anthologies, and her novels have been published around the world.

Ann returned to her native Bay Area in 1995. She lives in San Carlos with her family.

About the Narrators:

Cotter Smith -  is an American actor of stage, film, and television. As an audiobook narrator, he has won two Earphones Awards and was a finalist in 1997 for the prestigious Audie Award. Audiobooks also include:  Millionaire Next Door, Millionaire Mind, Citizen Soldiers and Victors by Stephen E Ambrose.

Frederick Weller - Frederick Weller's films include Four Lane Highway, The Shape of Things, When Will I Be Loved, Coyote Ugly, Basquiat and Armageddon. Television series include In Plain Sight (debut USA), The Jury, Law & Order: SVU & Criminal Intent, Pastor's Wife, and Missing Persons. On Broadway he starred in Seascape, Glengarry Glen Ross, Take Me Out, The Rehearsal, and Six Degrees of Separation. Audiobooks also include: Twisted by Jeffery Deaver, Nocturne by Jeffery Deaver and Blind Fall by Christopher Rice.

Thomas Sadoski - Thomas Sadoski was born on 1st July 1976 in Bethany, Connecticut. In 1980 he moved with his family to College Station, Texas. He has been in numerous plays Off-Broadway, and many regional theatres including the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Made his Broadway debut in 2004 playing Mary-Louise Parker's husband in the critically acclaimed production of "Reckless". Audiobooks also include: Mile 81 by Stephen King.

Marin Ireland - Marin Ireland is an actress, known for
Side Effects (2013), I Am Legend (2007) and Revolutionary Road (2008). Audiobooks also include: XO by Jeffery Deaver

Santino Fontana - Santino Fontana is an actor, known for
Frozen (2013), Frozen Fever (2015) and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014). Audiobooks also include: You by Caroline Kepnes and The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman.

My Review: The Children’s Crusade by Ann Packer is a family drama spanning from 1950 to present day.  Bill Blair is a pediatrician and veteran of war.   Bill  meets Penny and they marry.  Penny has dreams of her family, 3 children would be perfect.  The first child born is Robert than Rebecca and Ryan, the three R’s, perfect.   Later James is born and Penny is unhappy about this, three children was the plan.  James is a rambunctious little boy and just too much for Penny.   She withdraws  from parenting him and the other children and Bill and the older children really parent James.  This really shows the impact that childhood experiences can have on someone into adulthood.  James always feels like the odd man out, not an “R” name. 

Children’s Crusade is really a coming of age story of a family.  A real family drama with complicated relationships.  There is a strong character story of each individual.  You really feel like you understand the characters, except for Penny.  Penny is very self-centered and removed from her family physically and emotionally.   I would have like to know more about her thought process regarding her decisions.  With Penny being the exception I felt like I knew the characters equally, but didn’t like them equally.  

The audio book of Children’s Crusade was performed by a cast of narrators, which allowed for great distinction between the characters.   I really felt the different voices fit the characters well and were easily distinguishable.  The pace of the narration went well this the story and plot.  Listening to Children’s Crusade did not have a huge impact on me…I wasn’t driving around the block to listen to more.  This had more to do with the actual story than the narration. 

My Rating: 3/5 – liked it- Children’s Crusade had me wishing for more throughout the book.  When was something of significance  going to happen??   I struggle with stories that don’t have a real pivotal point in the story.  The family overall, left me wondering how Bill could let this situation continue.  He often said “children need care”, but that was something his children were missing, at least from their mother.  This had a lasting effect on the children, especially James.  Good reminder that our actions as parents stay with our children much longer than we think. 

Children’s Crusade is really a character study of the Blair family.  Children’s Crusade is a family drama which touches on the themes such as healing, hope, innocence and forgiveness.   In all honestly, if this wasn’t a review book, I would have most likely not finished the book. 

The other item that was difficult for me was the ending of Children’s Crusade by Ann Packer, I was very disappointed in the ending.  It didn’t feel like much of an ending, I felt that as a reader I was left wishing for more once again. 

This was not the first book I have read by Ann Packer. My book group read The Dive from Clausen’s Pier which I enjoyed.  So don’t let this review discourage your from giving Ann Packer a try.

My Rating Scale: 1 – didn’t like it; 2 – it was ok; 3 – liked it; 4 – really liked it; 5 – it was amazing

Children’s Crusade by Ann Packer was also reviewed on the following blogs:  BookChatterWest Metro Mommy Reads, and Adventures with Words.

**Disclosure – Children’s Crusade by Ann Packer was received from Audiobook Jukebox’s reviewer program and Simon & Schuster Audio in exchange for a fair review.

Posted by Jen C at 7:45 AM 0 comments

Monday, August 3, 2015

Review: Liar’s Bench by Kim Michele Richardson

liars bench

Title: Liar’s Bench

Author: Kim Michele Richardson
(Author Website) (Facebook)

Narrator: Jorjeana Marie

Publisher:  Blackstone Audio, Inc.; Unabridged edition (April 28, 2015)

Length:  8 hours 59 minutes

Source: Audiobook Jukebox‘s reviewer program

About the Book: (from

In 1972, on Mudas Summers' seventeenth birthday, her beloved Mama, Ella, is found hanging from the rafters of their home. Most people in Peckinpaw, Kentucky, assume that Ella's no-good husband did the deed. Others think Ella grew tired of his abuse and did it herself. Muddy is determined to find out for sure either way, especially once she finds strange papers hidden amongst her mama's possessions.

But Peckinpaw keeps its secrets buried deep. Muddy's almost-more-than-friend, Bobby Marshall, knows that better than most. Though he passes for white, one of his ancestors was Frannie Crow, a slave hanged a century ago on nearby Hark Hill Plantation. Adorning the town square is a seat built from Frannie's gallows. A tribute, a relic--and a caution--it's known as Liar's Bench. Now, the answers Muddy seeks soon lead back to Hark Hill, to hatred and corruption that have echoed through the years--and lies she must be brave enough to confront at last.

Kim Michele Richardson's lush, beautifully written debut is set against a Southern backdrop passing uneasily from bigotry and brutality to hope. With its compelling mystery and complex yet relatable heroine, Liar's Bench is a story of first love, raw courage, and truths that won't be denied

About the Author:  (from author website)

Kim RichardsonKim Michele Richardson resides in the rolling hills of Kentucky where she is a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity and an advocate for the prevention of child abuse and domestic violence. She is also the author of the bestselling memoir The Unbreakable Child. Liar’s Bench is her first novel. She is a contributor to the Huffington Post and is busy working on her next novel, God Pretty in the Tobacco Field.

About the Narrator:

jojeana marie

   Jorjeana Marie is a quirky comedienne, actress, voice over actress and narrator for a number of large publishers.   She is very talented in portraying voices of children, monsters, creatures and animal characterizations.   

My Review: Liar’s Bench, a debut novel by Kim Michelle Richardson, is set in the south in the early 1970’s. A time of change that is slow to happen in some parts of the south, such as Peckinpaw, Kentucky..  Mudas  “Muddy” Summers parents are divorced due to her father’s infidelity. Mudas lives with her father who is the town prosecutor.   Muddy’s mom, Ella is married to Tommy.  On Muddy’s 17th birthday, her mother is found hung from the rafters of the home she shares with Tommy.  

Mudas does not believe her mother committed suicide.  She sets off with her friend, Bobby Marshall, who happens to be Afro-American,  to find out what really happened to her mother, Ella.  Sadly, the town is not ready for a mix race friendship and this cause problems for Bobby and Mudas.  Ella worked for Mr McGee, who is a bit of a unsavory character.  He is a racist and corrupt on many levels. Mudas thinks he might have something to due with her mother’s death as she was his bookkeeper. 

The other story line in Liar’s Bench is set in the past about 100 years is about a slave,Frannie Crow who was unjustly hung by her master at the nearby planation.  Bobby Marshall is a descendent of Frannie Crow. Liar’s Bench, which is in the center of town and is important to the  story, was built from the Frannie’s gallows.

The audiobook of Liar’s Bench was narrated by Jorjeana Marie.  This is the first time I have listened to this particular narrator. I think Jorjeana Marie is a new favorite!   She does an amazing portrayal of characters who are children.  I had to actually research to she if she was an adult.  Love her voice!  I have since  selected two more audiobooks based on her being the narrator.  She does a nice job of differentiating the voices and the differences in gender.  I particularly was  drawn to the voice of Muddy.   Jorjeana Marie does an excellent job in portraying the more suspenseful parts of the story.   You can really feel the suspense. 

Kim Michelle Richardson delivers a very good debut novel with Liar’s Bench.  There was one point in the story where Muddy and Bobby are being chased by McGee and his men, that really bugged me.   They are being chased and they all of a sudden think, they can just stop and investigate a graveyard.   While, the graveyard was important to the plot, it  seemed unrealistic to me to stop running at that particular point in the story.    If someone is chasing me….I am going to run and run until I find help!

My Rating: 4/5 –really liked it-  Liar’s Bench by Kim  Michele Richardson is a debut novel that is well worth the read/listen.  I would really  recommend listening to the audiobook narrated by Jorjeana Marie.  She is a very talented and interesting narrator, which really added to the Liar’s Bench experience.   I found myself needing to walk an extra mile just to hear a bit more of Liar’s Bench, a very enjoyable story and narration.   Even with her initial indecision, I really liked Muddy as a character.  By the end of the story she redeems herself in my eyes.  The ending was sufficiently suspenseful and satisfying.

Liar’s Bench is a mystery, but also a coming of age story.  Other themes in Liar’s Bench include racism, racial tension, secrets, corruption and racial and gender inequality.  The tension is palpable at times in regards to the racial bigotry and brutality of that sad time in history. 

Check out Audio of Liar’s Bench by Kim Michele Richardson, unabridged version released April, 2015 by Blackstone Audio, I think you will really enjoy the it! 

My Rating Scale: 1 – didn’t like it; 2 – it was ok; 3 – liked it; 4 – really liked it; 5 – it was amazing

Liar’s Bench was also reviewed on the following blogs:  Southern Literary Review, Beth’s Book Nook Blog, Historical Novel SocietySally’s Creative CornerBibliophile by the Sea,

**Disclosure – Liar’s Bench was received from Audiobook Jukebox’s reviewer program and Blackstone Audio in exchange for a fair review.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Review: Speaking in Bones by Kathy Reichs



Title: Speaking in Bones

Author: Kathy Reichs
(Author Website) (Facebook)

Genre: Fiction: Thriller & Suspense

Publisher:  Random House Publishing Group– Bantam Dell – 7/21/15

Length:  320 pages

Source: Net Galley

About the Book: (from

For every case Temperance Brennan has solved, there remain innumerable unidentified bodies in her lab. Information on some of these is available online, where amateur sleuths sometimes take a stab at solving cases. One day, Tempe gets a call from Hazel “Lucky” Strike, a web sleuth who believes she’s successfully connected a body in Tempe’s lab to a missing persons report on an eighteen-year-old named Cora Teague. Since the bones in her lab do seem to match Cora’s medical records, Tempe looks into the case, returning to the spot where the bones were originally found. What seems at first to be an isolated tragedy takes on a more sinister cast as Tempe uncovers two more sets of bones nearby. When she then learns that the area is known as a viewing point for a famous unexplained light phenomenon with significance for a local cult, Tempe’s suspicious turn to murder by ritual sacrifice—a theory thrown into question when Hazel herself turns up dead. Still reeling from her mother’s diagnosis and the shock of Andrew Ryan’s potentially life-change proposal, Tempe races to solve the murders before the body count climbs further.

About the Author:  (from author website)

From teaching FBI agents how to detect and recover human remains, to separating and identifying commingled body parts in her Montreal lab, as a forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs has brought her own dramatic work experience to her mesmerizing forensic thrillers. For years she consulted to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in North Carolina, and continues to do so for the Laboratoire de Sciences Judiciaires et de Médecine Légale for the province of Québec. Dr. Reichs has travelled to Rwanda to testify at the UN Tribunal on Genocide, and helped exhume a mass grave in Guatemala. As part of her work at JPAC (Formerly CILHI) she aided in the identification of war dead from World War II, Korea, and Southeast Asia. Dr. Reichs also assisted with identifying remains found at ground zero of the World Trade Center following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Dr. Reichs is one of only eighty-two forensic anthropologists ever certified by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology. She served on the Board of Directors and as Vice President of both the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and the American Board of Forensic Anthropology, and is currently a member of the National Police Services Advisory Council in Canada. She is a Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.

Dr. Reichs is a native of Chicago, where she received her Ph.D. at Northwestern. She now divides her time between Charlotte, NC and Montreal, Québec.

My Review: Speaking in Bones by Kathy Reichs is one book in the Temperance Brennan series by Kathy Reich.  Kathy Reich is a new author to me.  Though Speaking in Bones is part for the Temperance Brennan  series, I read it as a stand alone book and found it very intriguing. There might have been some small connections between characters I may have missed due to not reading previous books, but they were not obvious to me.  So definitely can be read as a stand alone book.   Speaking in Bones is a forensic thriller, which is very well researched.  Considering the author is a forensic anthropologist, it is no surprise how well researched the books is.

The characters in Speaking with Bones are very compelling.  I am actually wanting to read previous books so I can get to know Temperance Brennan better.  She is an interesting character. Being the main character in all the books, there are many details about her that may have added to my reading of Speaking in Bones.  Another character that was interesting is Hazel “Lucky” Strike.  Who knew there is a community of amateur sleuths online that spend their time researching missing people and unidentified remains in hopes of finding a match and bringing the remains home to their family.  Hazel believe the remains she has found are that of Cora Teague an missing persons who disappeared at the age of 18.  Cora comes from a very religious community, almost zealots of sorts, they never reported her as missing. They said she ran away with a man…such wicked ways in their minds. 

My Rating: 4/5 –really liked it- I read Speaking Bones in a little over a day while camping in the middle of a State Park in Minnesota.  An ideal setting to read a psychological thriller, when you have to walk to the satellite toilet alone in the middle of the night.  I was very intrigued by the story and found it hard to put down.   The pace of the story was very good and kept you on the edge of your seats.   Temperance tends to make some bad decisions in the story, which puts her in dangerous situations and heights the intensity of the story.   I found myself liking the determination and character of Temperance very early in the story.  Temperance and I definitely need to get to know each other better.  

In Speaking in Bones, Kathy Reich tells a story of religious zealous, obsession and murder with a bit of psychological twist. 

My Rating Scale: 1 – didn’t like it; 2 – it was ok; 3 – liked it; 4 – really liked it; 5 – it was amazing

Speaking in Bones was also reviewed on the following blogs: A Thrill A Week, The Bookbag, and So, I Read This Book Today.

**Disclosure – Speaking in Bones by Kathy Reichs was received from and Random House Publishing Group– Bantam Dell in exchange for a fair review.

Review: Black Dog Summer by Miranda Sherry

BlackDog Summer

Title: Black Dog Summer

Author: Miranda Sherry
Author Website) (Facebook)

Genre: Fiction: Thriller & Suspense

Narrator: Jilly Bond 

Publisher:  Highbridge Audio. 2/18/15

Length:  9.5 hrs • 8 CDs

Source: Audiobook Jukebox‘s reviewer program

About the Book: (from

In this extraordinary debut novel reminiscent of The Lovely Bones and Little Bee, a mother watches from the afterlife as her teenage daughter recovers amidst the startling dysfunction of her extended family.

A small, bright thread of a story weaves out from the moment of my passing and seems to tether me to this place. Perhaps this is why I have not left yet. Perhaps I have no choice but to follow the story to its end.

Compulsively readable and stylistically stunning, Black Dog Summer begins with a murder, a farmstead massacre, in the South African bush. Thirty-eight-year-old Sally is but one of the victims. Her life brutally cut short, she narrates from her vantage point in the afterlife and watches as her sister, Adele, her brother-in-law and unrequited love Liam, her niece Bryony, and her teenage daughter, Gigi, begin to make sense of the tragedy.

A suspenseful drama focusing on marriage and fidelity, sisterhood, and the fractious bond between mothers and daughters, Black Dog Summer asks: In the wake of tragedy, where does all that dark energy linger? The youngest characters, Bryony and Gigi, cousins who are now brought together after Sally’s murder, are forced into sharing a bedroom. Bryony becomes confused and frightened by the violent energy stirred up and awakened by the massacre, while Gigi is unable to see beyond her deep grief and guilt. But they are not the only ones aware of the lurking darkness. Next door lives Lesedi, a reluctant witchdoctor who hides her mystical connection with the dead behind the facade of their affluent Johannesburg suburb.

As Gigi finally begins to emerge from her grief, the fragile healing process is derailed when she receives some shattering news, and in a mistaken effort to protect her cousin, puts Bryony’s life in imminent danger. Now Sally must find a way to prevent her daughter from making a mistake that could destroy the lives of all who are left behind.

Gorgeously written, with a pace that will leave readers breathless, Black Dog Summer introduces a brilliant new voice in fiction.

About the Author:  (from author website)


Miranda Sherry was seven when she began writing stories. A few decades, numerous strange jobs (including puppeteer, bartender and musician), and many manuscripts later, her latest work, Black Dog Summer, is being published by Head of Zeus.
Her first novel, Days Like Glass, was shortlisted for the EU Literary Award in South Africa in 2005.
Miranda currently lives in Johannesburg with her sort-of-husband and two weird cats.

About the Narrator: 


Jilly Bond studied English & Drama at Bristol University and graduated with a 2:1. After four years working in production for BBC Television,she trained as an actor at Drama Studio London.
She has performed in theatres all over the British Isles & Germany, in plays by Shakespeare, Shaw, Wilde, Coward, as well as Ayckbourn, Pinter, Willy Russell, Neil Simon and numerous new writers. Jilly Bond  worked extensively on radio (including the role of Bridget in The Archers) and recorded hundreds of unabridged audiobooks (some award-winning); appearing on television in series such as Doctors, Judge John Deed, Alistair McGowan's Big Impression, Comedy Nation & Channel 4's cult hit As If. 

My Review: 
Black Dog Summer by Miranda Sherry is a riveting story told from the point of view of Sally, who was violently killed on a farm South Africa.   The farm was an peaceful animal sanctuary.  Sally and her daughter Gigi lived on the farm with others.   Sally, her sister Adele and Adele’s husband, Liam have a complicated past that has significantly effect their relationship.  Sally and Adele have been estranged for a number of years.    Gigi, Sally’s daughter survives the attack which take her mother’s life.   Gigi is understandably traumatized.  After being released from the hospital, she goes to like with her Aunt and Uncle, Adele and LIam, and their children.

Sally is stuck between the here and now, and the afterlife. She is able to see threads and if she follows them she is able to connect with various family members connect to each thread.    She is able to see what is going on in her daughter’s life.   Adele and Liam’s neighbor, Lesedi is a South African Sangoma.   The only person Sally is consistently able to interact with is Lesedi. 

Part of the story is told from the point of view of Bryony.  I found Bryony to be a very intuitive girl for her age. 

My Rating: 4/5 –really liked it-  Jilly Bond’s narration of the story, Black Dog Summer by Miranda Sherry is riveting.   You are immediately drawn into the story and care for the characters.  Jilly is very good at building suspense with the pace of her narration.   There is a scene between Gigi and her younger cousin, Bryony toward the end of the story that had a real effect on me.   I actually  had chills and found myself holding my breathe listening to this scene, something that has never happened to me before.   That is some great narration to be able to evoke such a physical reaction from the reader.

I enjoyed the point of view from which the book was written.  I enjoyed being able to hear the story through Sally’s voice and observations.  I really felt her frustration as she was only able to watch and not change the course of events in a meaningful way.  I loved the idea of the brightly colored thread connected to each person.  The threads represent the complexities of family relationships and how our stories are interwoven.  Black Dog Summer is about the complexities of family and our relationship and how a death can affect those relationships. 

Black Dog Summer, a debut novel by Miranda Sherry is a very emotional book.   If you enjoy family drama, complex relationships with a hint of supernatural, you will love Black Dog Summer by Miranda Sherry. 

My Rating Scale: 1 – didn’t like it; 2 – it was ok; 3 – liked it; 4 – really liked it; 5 – it was amazing


Black Dog Summer was also reviewed on the following blogs: Literary TreatsWorn Pages and InkThe Bookbag, My Dog-eared Purpose and Not Now Darling. 


**Disclosure – Black Dog Summer by  Miranda Sherry was received from Audiobook Jukebox’s reviewer program and HighBridge Audio in exchange for a fair review.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Review: Other Side of Midnight – Simone St James


Title: Other Side Of  Midnight

Author: Simone St. James
(Author Website) (Facebook)

Genre: Fiction/Historical

Narrator: Mary Jane Wells 

Publisher:  Blackstone Audio, 04/07/15

Length:  10.0 hrs • 8 CDs

Source: Audiobook Jukebox‘s reviewer program

About the Book: (from

London, 1925. Glamorous medium Gloria Sutter made her fortune helping the bereaved contact loved ones killed during the Great War. Now she's been murdered at one of her own séances, after leaving a message requesting the help of her former friend and sole rival, Ellie Winter.

Ellie doesn't contact the dead—at least, not anymore. She specializes in miraculously finding lost items. Still, she can't refuse the final request of the only other true psychic she has known. Now Ellie must delve into Gloria's secrets and plunge back into the world of hucksters, lowlifes, and fakes. Worse, she cannot shake the attentions of handsome James Hawley, a damaged war veteran who has dedicated himself to debunking psychics.

As Ellie and James uncover the sinister mysteries of Gloria's life and death, Ellie is tormented by nightmarish visions that herald the grisly murders of those in Gloria's circle. And as Ellie’s uneasy partnership with James turns dangerously intimate, an insidious evil force begins to undermine their quest for clues, a force determined to bury the truth, and whoever seeks to expose it...

About the Author:  (from author website)

StJamesForweb400-200x300Simone St. James is a lifelong reader of ghost stories and other spooky reads, but it wasn’t until she was an adult that she discovered two wonderful genres: romances and old, classic gothics.

Wishing she could read something that combined the three, with a 1920’s setting thrown in as well (and having written two full novels that were rightfully rejected everywhere and will forever live under the bed), she wrote THE HAUNTING OF MADDY CLARE, which was the book she really wished to read. An agent’s representation and a publishing contract soon followed, and she has been happily writing in her chosen, made-up genre ever since. THE HAUNTING OF MADDY CLARE won two of Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA® awards, as well as Crime Writers of Canada’s Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Book.

Simone spent twenty years behind the scenes in the television business before leaving to become a full-time writer. She lives just outside Toronto with her husband and an elderly cat who is probably sleeping as we speak. When not writing, Simone can be found traveling, cooking, staying active and healthy, gardening badly, and reading, reading, reading. Among her favorite authors (besides the geeky history and research books she loves) are Mary Stewart, Daphne duMaurier, Deanna Raybourn, Susanna Kearsley, Jacqueline Winspear, Victoria Holt, Kate Morton, George R. R. Martin, and Stephen King. How’s that for a mix? She is also rather addicted to Sherlock on the BBC.

About the Narrator: 

MJW-8Mary Jane Wells, British actress, writer and voiceover artist.

She trained at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and then did theatre for 12 years in the UK and Europe. She first came to the US with French classic, The Red Balloon at the Mark Taper some years ago. She returned later that year with a solo show, Martha for the Annenberg Centre, toured to the Kennedy centre and the New Victory on Broadway, and the International showcase in Philidelphia where she won the Victor Award.

She lives in LA and have been shooting, writing and voiceovering in London and Los Angeles. She is the voice of the TV commercial campaigns for Puma Mobium, Jet 2, Sunny Finance, LinkedIn and Eharmony, and the audiobooks which have been sourced as the inspiration behind Downton Abbey.



My Review:  From the get go, Other Side of Midnight by Simone St James  had me with the engaging story line and the wonderful narration by Mary Jane Wells.   I do not believe I have listened to a book narrated by Mary Jane Wells, but glad I have discovered her.  A very engaging narrator who really performs with great emotion!

Other Side of Midnight is set in 1925 in London following World War I.   Gloria Sutter and Ellie Winter are women with true psychic powers. After the War there were plenty of charlatans playing on peoples desperate need to communicate with their lost loved ones.     Psychics, séances and spirit communication were common as death and grieve were plentiful after WWI; too many, sons, husbands and lovers lost to the war.

Gloria Sutter is murdered during one of her séances.  She left a message to be delivered to Ellie Winter, to “Find Her”, in the spirit world.  Communication with the dead was not something Ellie did anymore, she found lost things for people. Ellie investigates the under belly of the psychic world to find clues to Gloria’s murder.   She is accompanied by James Hawley an investigator wishing to debunk the psychics. 

All characters were very well developed. I was especially impressed by the development of the secondary characters.  I felt I had a good understanding of each very unique character.  They each added to the story line in their own way. I also really like the details put into the description of Ellie’s psychic powers and what it must have felt to be her.  

My Rating: 4/5 –really liked it-  If you are a huge fan of historical fiction as I am, you will enjoy Other Side of Midnight by Simone St James.  Set in 1925, in London, following WWI is such a emotionally charged time in history.    Add to that the mystery,suspense and romance,  you have one very engaging story!  I mostly listen to audio books while walking and I can tell you I got some extra miles in at the end of this book!  The twists a the end were very suspenseful.  I found the end convenient, but very satisfying.

If you are in the mood for a eerie historical mystery with a hint of romance and suspense, checkout Other Side of Midnight by Simone St James.  If you love an engaging and emotional narrative,check out the audio book narrated by Mary Jane Wells. 


My Rating Scale: 1 – didn’t like it; 2 – it was ok; 3 – liked it; 4 – really liked it; 5 – it was amazing

Other Side of Midnight was also reviewed on the following blogs: Smart Bitches, Trashy BooksThe Literary Hoarders; Bookarahma; and Miss Bates Reads Romances.   


**Disclosure – Other side of Midnight by Simone St James was received from Audiobook Jukebox’s reviewer program and Blackstone Audio in exchange for a fair review.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Review: A Fortress Defiled by Connie Johnson

Fortress Defiled

Title: A Fortress Defiled

Author: Connie Johnosn  (Author Website) (Facebook)

Genre: Mystery

Publisher:  Publish Green (May 28, 2015)

Length:  231 pages


About the Book: (from

Jillian Jax is an agent in the Special Homicide Unit, an elite division within the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. ‘Special’ in Jillian’s world, indicates murder that is excessively brutal or bizarre. Serial killings are under the purview of Special Homicide, as are mass murders. Ritual slaughter, as practice by certain cults, is also a part of their jurisdiction. There are two major theories regarding serial killings and other murderous atrocities. The first is that violence of this nature is on the increase. The second is that there has been no increase, but improved technology gives society coordinated information to a dark side of humanity that has always existed. Jillian embraces the dark side theory, as well she should.

As Jillian embarks upon each investigation, troublesome past life experiences, shared with the killers, are revealed. The murderers of today are malevolent manifestations, ghoulish beings echoing down through the ages. Jillian has shared previous existences with them, and has been victimized and abused by their heinous actions. It is now her job, both personal and professional, to break the links that have chained her to them in previous existences. She must reclaim her stolen power, and bring them to justice. Apprehension mounts as Jillian realizes the enormity of the past life involvement. She turns to Sondra, a friend from childhood, who is able to read and interpret the reincarnational past.

In A Fortress Defiled, Jillian confronts a blood-thirsty thug who is kidnapping and murdering St. Paul’s promising young men and women. The present day killer is a mirror image of his former self, a prince who preyed upon the youth of the Carpathian Mountains. Four hundred years ago, he ruled his domain with absolute authority. He was an arrogant and brutal man, who wished to maintain his vigor long past his allotted time. When his vitality began to wane, he turned to the youth in the villages, capturing and killing them so that he could consume their life force. Now, in the current time, he is repeating his past cruel actions.
Jillian knew him in the distant past. She must discover him in the present, bring justice to society, and redemption to herself.

About the Author & Narrator:  (from Author’s website

ConnieConnie Johnson has long been a student of human behavior.  Her interest in what motivates people’s thoughts, feelings, and actions led to a lifetime career as a Social Worker.  She studied at the University of Minnesota, earning her Social Welfare degree during a time when community activism and personal empowerment were emphasized. In her extensive career as a Social Worker, Connie has worked with people who have experienced abuse and oppression, as well as those who seek to abuse and oppress.

In an effort to discover where ‘God’, or the ‘Cosmic Mind’ or ‘Universal Source Energy’ fit into the picture, she also became a student of both traditional religions, and non-traditional spiritual expressions and practices. During the course of her spiritual studies, she developed a special interest in reincarnation, karma, and past life issues.

Connie lives in St. Paul with her little dog and a good cup of coffee, happily surrounded by family and friends.

My Review: I love reading debut novels and A Fortress Defiled, A Jillian Jax Mystery by Connie Johnson is no exception.  A Fortress Defiled is set in St Paul, MN which added to my enjoyment of this book.  It is always enjoyable to read a story set in an area you are very familiar with.   A Fortress Defiled had me hooked by about 30% through the book.  I knew right there and then that I would be awake until I finished!  The story moves at a good pace and keeps the reader on edge to the very end.  

The main character, Jillian is a strong and talented agent with a special sense.  Without giving away too much, I want to say that I really found the premise of this special sense possessed by Jillian to be very unique and intriguing story element.  Jillian has many strong relationships in her life such as her family and her friend, Sondra that play an integral part in her life.    These relationships are very touching and very well developed by the author.  

I found the ending of A Fortress Defiled very satisfying.  It is evident throughout A Fortress Defiled that Connie Johnson put a lot of research into this book regarding Minnesota and Law Enforcement procedures.  The author describes herself as  a student of human behavior.  Her knowledge in this area is evident in her insightful psychological look into the thought process and actions of the characters.

My Rating: 4 – Yep, this book had me losing a bit of sleep.  I had to finish!  I will be looking forward to the next book in the Jillian Jax Mystery series.  I look forward to learning more about the key characters and their stories.  Considering, Connie Johnson’s initial development of these characters,  I don’t think I will be disappointed in future novels. 

The characters in A Fortress Defile learn first hand,  that the past always shapes our lives more than we realize.    If you are looking for a unique mystery with just the right amount of creepy, A Fortress Defiled by Connie Johnson will deliver.  

My Rating Scale: 1 – didn’t like it; 2 – it was ok; 3 – liked it; 4 – really liked it; 5 – it was amazing


Monday, May 25, 2015

Review: Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work and Never Get Stuck–Jon Acuff


Title: Do Over

Author: Jon Acuff
(Author Website) (Facebook)

Genre: Nonfiction/Business & Economics

Narrator: Jon Acuff

Publisher:  Blackstone Audio, 04/07/15

Length:  8.5 hrs • 7 CDs• 1 MP3 CD • Unabridged

About the Book: (from

New York Times bestselling author Jon Acuff has drawn millions of online fans who love his refreshing mix of humor, honesty, and wisdom about the world of work. Now he offers his most important book yet, a guide to making big career changes—by choice or necessity—and escaping the horrible feeling of being trapped in the wrong job.

Acuff finds it amazing that people spend more than eighteen years studying and preparing for college, but little or no time honing their careers between graduation and retirement. He offers an empowering tool he calls the Career Savings Account, which will change the way readers think about their skills, relationships, character, and work ethic. He also shows that if you’re on the wrong track, you already have what you need to change it—even if your family and mortgage mean you can’t simply pick up and move for a new opportunity.

Throughout the book, Acuff features inspiring and funny true stories—not merely his own, but those of friends who restarted their careers after a layoff, an extended maternity leave, or simply the realization that they were suffering fifty weeks a year just to pay the bills and enjoy two weeks of vacation. Everyone can benefit from Do Over, from new graduates to fiftysomethings and beyond.

About the Author & Narrator: 

jon-acuff-headshotJon Acuff is the New York Times Bestselling author of five books including his most recent, Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work and Never Get Stuck.

For 16 years he’s helped some of the biggest brands in the world tell their story, including The Home Depot, Bose, Staples, and the Dave Ramsey Team. Most recently he’s spoken to hundreds of thousands of people at conferences, colleges, companies and churches. Featured regularly on national media, Jon has been seen on CNN, Fox News, Good Day LA and several other key outlets.

In addition, Jon is also a big proponent of social media with blogs that have been read by 4 million people and more than 230,000 twitter followers. In 2010 he used his influence with his tribe to build two kindergartens in Vietnam. Jon lives with his wife Jenny and two daughters in Franklin, TN.

My Review:  Jon uses his signature wit and humor to provide advice on how to survive a career “Do Over” either due to either a voluntary or involuntary reason.  Voluntary Do Overs being, Career Ceiling or Career Jump.   Involuntary “Do Overs” being Career Bump or Career Opportunity.  Jon introduces the reader to the concept of a “Career Savings Account” (CSA).   A CSA is filled with your relationships, skills, character and work ethic.  Personally, I am currently in a bit of a strange season in my career.   I  found the tasks in the book  very helpful to put Jon’s theory into practice in my career.   I especially liked the information on how to have character in the workplace, which I strive to do each day.   I know which areas of my CSA need to be strengthened and I now have steps to improve my Career Savings Account. 

My Rating: 4 – I found Do Over by Jon Acuff an enjoyable read.  I simply love Jon’s sense of humor.   I loved him as a narrator. He is a very expressive narrator with just a hint of sarcasm.   He made me laugh out loud more than once.   I have been fan of Jon Acuff for years.  We lead Financial Peace University and he does make an appearance in Week #5 I believe it is. 

I am motivated to invest in myself and my career Savings Account after listening to Do Over by Jon Acuff.  The tag line on the cover reads, “Rescue Monday, Reinvent Work and Never Get Stuck!”  This is exactly what I needed to hear during this changing time in my career.   I would recommend Do Over by Jon Acuff to anyone who is feeling the need to change up their career a little bit or have been faced with an involuntary “Do Over”.  Jon Acuff provides very sage advice in a very enjoyable format.  I will certainly be listening to more of his books as I enjoyed him as a narrator very much.  Honestly, I usually do not enjoy author/narrators very much, but Jon Acuff is very enjoyable to listen to. 

My Rating Scale: 1 – didn’t like it; 2 – it was ok; 3 – liked it; 4 – really liked it; 5 – it was amazing

Do Over was also reviewed on the following blogs: Long Wait for IsabellaMission to Save, and Saving Dollars and Sense


**Disclosure – Do Over by Jon Acuff  was received from Audiobook Jukebox’s reviewer program and Blackstone Audio in exchange for a fair review.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Review: The Silent Sister–Diane Chamberlain

silent sister

About the Book: (from

In The Silent Sister, Riley MacPherson has spent her entire life believing that her older sister Lisa committed suicide as a teenager.  Now, over twenty years later, her father has passed away and she's in New Bern, North Carolina cleaning out his house when she finds evidence to the contrary.  Lisa is alive.  Alive and living under a new identity.  But why exactly was she on the run all those years ago, and what secrets are being kept now?  As Riley works to uncover the truth, her discoveries will put into question everything she thought she knew about her family.  Riley must decide what the past means for her present, and what she will do with her newfound reality, in this engrossing mystery from international bestselling author Diane Chamberlain.

About the Author:

Diane Chamberlain grew up in Plainfield, New Jersey and spent her summers at the Jersey Shore, two settings that have found their way into her novels. She attended Glassboro State College in New Jersey before moving to San Diego, where she received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work from San Diego State University. After graduating, she worked in a couple of youth counseling agencies and then focused on medical social work, which she adored. She worked in hospitals in San Diego and Washington, D.C. before opening a private psychotherapy practice in Alexandria, Virginia, specializing in adolescents. She closed her practice to write. 

Diane Chamberlain lives and writes in North Carolina. She lives with her significant other, John, a photographer, and two sweet Shetland Sheepdogs, Keeper and Cole. She has three grown stepdaughters, a couple of sons-in-law and four grandbabies.

My Review:   Riley MacPherson is a social worker, unsure where her life will lead as she ends of a long term relationship.  She returns home after her Dad dies to take care of his affairs.  Her only living family member is her brother, Danny who is dealing with PTSD after being in Iraq and is not much help to her.  As she begins to go through her father’s things, she slowly discovers family secrets surrounding the suicide of her sister, Lisa.  Riley begins to wonder if she really knew her father.  Danny and Riley were raised by parents that were living any parents worst nightmare, the loss of a child.  Danny is bitter about how his parents were after Lisa’s suicide.  He blamed Lisa and Lisa’s suicide for many of the things that went wrong in his life. 

The character development was very good. You really care about the characters.  I really connected  with Riles, being a social worker myself. I understood her need to fix things.   I loved Riley and wanted the best for her.  I was drawn to the characters and their emotional state of their lives.  The pace of the story builds to the end, making the end of The Silent Sister a real page turner. 

I found the book predictable as I had figured out how the story would unfold, well before it did.  I did not find this a distraction to my enjoyment of the story.   I still wanted to finish to understand the details, emotions and thought process of the characters.   The Silent Sister is told in parallel  story lines, the past and the present in which Riley is slow unearthing the secrets of the past. This was a very  effect style of writing for this story.   This is a very emotional read, so don’t do what I did and listen to it at work, very embarrassing.

My Rating:  4/5 – though very predictable, I really enjoyed The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain.  I was listening to it at work and even had to go to the bathroom once as I was going to cry!  Definitely an emotional read, which I felt was worth the listen.   Silent Sister is an easy, enjoyable read that becomes a bit of page turner towards the end.  Even as I write this review I think of the characters and wonder  what will happen in their lives next. 

My Rating Scale: 1 – didn’t like it; 2 – it was ok; 3 – liked it; 4 – really liked it; 5 – it was amazing

The Silent Sister was also reviewed on the following blogs: Novelicious, Chit Lit Plus, That’s What She Read and 

Happy Reading!

**Disclosure – The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain was received from Audiobook Jukebox’s reviewer program and Macmillan Audio in exchange for a fair review.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Review: We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas



Title: We Are Not Ourselves

Author: Matthew Thomas

Narrator: Mare Winningham

Unabridged Length: 20 h, 51 m

Published by Simon & Schuster Audio, 2014

Genres: Adult Fiction, Literary

Source: Audiobook Jukebox‘s reviewer program


About the Book: (from

Born in 1941, Eileen Tumulty is raised by her Irish immigrant parents in Woodside, Queens, in an apartment where the mood swings between heartbreak and hilarity, depending on whether guests are over and how much alcohol has been consumed.

When Eileen meets Ed Leary, a scientist whose bearing is nothing like those of the men she grew up with, she thinks she’s found the perfect partner to deliver her to the cosmopolitan world she longs to inhabit. They marry, and Eileen quickly discovers Ed doesn’t aspire to the same, ever bigger, stakes in the American Dream.
Eileen encourages her husband to want more: a better job, better friends, a better house, but as years pass it becomes clear that his growing reluctance is part of a deeper psychological shift. An inescapable darkness enters their lives, and Eileen and Ed and their son Connell try desperately to hold together a semblance of the reality they have known, and to preserve, against long odds, an idea they have cherished of the future.

Through the Learys, novelist Matthew Thomas charts the story of the American Century, particularly the promise of domestic bliss and economic prosperity that captured hearts and minds after WWII. The result is a riveting and affecting work of art; one that reminds us that life is more than a tally of victories and defeats, that we live to love and be loved, and that we should tell each other so before the moment slips away.

Epic in scope, heroic in character, masterful in prose, We Are Not Ourselves heralds the arrival of a major new talent in contemporary fiction.

Related Media:

Matt Thomas About Author: Matthew Thomas was born in the Bronx and grew up in Queens. A graduate of the University of Chicago, he has an MA from the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University and an MFA from the University of California, Irvine. His New York Times-bestselling novel WE ARE NOT OURSELVES has been shortlisted for the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize from the Center for Fiction and longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award. He lives with his wife and twin children in New Jersey.


About Narrator:   Mary Megan "Mare" Winningham is an American actress and singer-songwriter. She is an Academy Award, Tony Award and eight-time Emmy Award nominee, winning Emmys in 1980 and 1998. Winningham began her acting career in the late 1970s on television.

My Review:   We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas is the story of Eileen and Ed a married couple and parents of Connell.  Eileen and  Ed seem like a typical couple, with their ups and down and hopes for a better future.   As Eileen begins to look at homes in a new neighborhood in pursuit of the American Dream, the family is tested.  Though I questioned Eileen’s feelings for Ed initially, once their relationship was tested, Eileen  was there for Ed.  Her life changes as it become evident that Ed’s condition will progress  and not improve.   Ed’s condition certainly tested their love for each other as well as his relationship with his son, Connell.   The family is forces to learn what really matters most in life.  I was  touched by Eileen’s choices regarding Ed’s care and to maintain his dignity as long as possible. 

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas in Audio Version is 18 CD’s long.  In all honesty, the plot is doled out very slowly, which I struggled with.   Had this not been a review book, I am not sure I would have finished We Are Not Ourselves.    I was not initially invested in Eileen and Ed’s relationship, which makes it hard to continue a initially slow read.    In retrospect,  I am glad I finished the book as I really enjoyed the last half of the book.  


My Rating: 3/5 – Having experienced the loss of a loved one to the same condition, many of the emotions in We Are Not Ourselves resonated with me.  The decline of the person is a slow process that you try to tell yourself is not really happening.  I think Matthew Thomas portrayed the feelings of loss, grief, guilty and love very well in the later half of the book.  We Are Not Ourselves gives readers a good look into the life of a caregiver and how life can change in a moment. 

My Rating Scale: 1 – didn’t like it; 2 – it was ok; 3 – liked it; 4 – really liked it; 5 – it was amazing

We Are Not Ourselves was also reviewed on the following blogs:  Books and Movies, That’s What She Read, Booking MamaPopcorn Reads, and Lit Lovers.

Happy Reading!


**Disclosure – We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas was received from Simon and Schuster in exchange for a fair review.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

REVIEW: Gooseberry Island by Steven Manchester


Title: Gooseberry Island

Author:  Steven Manchester (author website)

Publisher: Story Plant, The; Reprint edition (January 6, 2015)

Pages: 300 pages

Source: From Author

About the Book: (from

They met at the worst possible moment...or maybe it was just in time. David McClain was about to go to war and Lindsey Wood was there at his going-away party, capturing his heart when falling for a woman was the last thing on his mind. While David was serving his country, he stayed in close contact with Lindsey. But war changes a person, and when he came home very little had the same meaning that it had before – including the romance that had sustained him. Was love truly unconquerable, or would it prove to be just another battlefield casualty?

Gooseberry Island is the most nuanced, dramatic, and romantic novel yet from a writer whose ability to plumb the depths of human emotion knows few peers.

My Review: Gooseberry Island is set on Gooseberry Island and in Afghanistan.  The authors description of  Gooseberry Island is so relaxed and small town, a great place for a vacation.  The authors description of Afghanistan is very emotional, detailed and stressful.  I think he conveys the feel of both of the environments very well.  They are as different as night and day.

David is an Army  Ranger and getting ready to leave for Afghanistan when he meets Lindsey just before his going away party.  A romance is sparked, which sustains David through his time in Afghanistan.  In the beginning both characters are very relatable.  David and Lindsey keep up a long distance relationship.  While David witnesses the horrors and loss of war. 

The real meat of the story takes place in Afghanistan.  You realize very quickly that war changes people and the price of war.  There is a price for war for the soldiers as well as the family left at home.  I got very swept up in the authors detailed description in regards to David’s time in Afghanistan.   The scene that stayed with me was of David on the rooftop in Afghanistan.  As a reader I felt the tense emotions of the scene and felt like I was on the rooftop with David.

Being a social worker, I was most interested in the authors portrayal of David’s journey through PTSD when returning from his time in Afghanistan.  So many times our soldiers are not treated for those invisible wounds.  As David did, many soldiers self medicate to get through life.  David had a very hard time adjusting upon his return.  Here is where Lindsey became un-relatable to me.  Her reaction to David after they see each other the first time when David returns really disturbed me. 

My Rating: 4 – The emotions of Gooseberry Island will stay with you long after you read the last page.  Gooseberry  Island gives the reader insight into the lives of returned serviceman and struggles they face each day.  Steven Manchester is a new author for me.  Steven has a way with capturing emotions.   I am not a fan of romances, but Gooseberry Island is so much more than a romance.  I definitely will be checking out a few more books by Steven Manchester.

My Rating Scale: 1 – didn’t like it; 2 – it was ok; 3 – liked it; 4 – really liked it; 5 – it was amazing

Gooseberry Island was also reviewed on the following blogs: Turner’s Antics, Advicesbooks, My Book Retreat and Read, Run, Ramble.

Happy Reading!

Jen C

**Disclosure – Gooseberry Island by Steven Manchester  was received from the author in exchange for a fair review.