• Book Reviews

    Just Jones: Feature & Book Review

    Just Jones by Andy Andrews

    Publish Date: September 8th, 2020

    Publisher: Thomas Nelson

    Pages: 272

    Genre: Literature & Fiction, Magical Realism, Ethics & Philosophy

    Book #3 of The Noticer Series

    From New York Times bestselling author Andy Andrews comes the return of one of our favorite characters: Jones, the Noticer. Jones’ wise stories have comforted and guided millions of readers. In JustJonesnavigate the hope that the impossible can come true.

    Synopsis:

    At 3:29 a.m. on May 22, a telephone rings in Orange Beach, Alabama. Breaking the sleepy silence inside the bedroom of New York Times bestselling author Andy Andrews, a hastily whispered message heralds the news that Andy has been waiting on for seven years: Jones is back in town. Apparently, however, he is also in jail.

    The old man is tight-lipped about the circumstances surrounding his brief incarceration. After arriving to bail him out, Andy is shocked to discover that his trusted friend has already opened an unusual business in one of the resort town’s most high-profile shopping districts. Jones’s Five & Dime seems to always have exactly what visitors are looking for, even as their fate steadily becomes entwined with Jones’s.

    As the town moves from spring to summer, a practical joker is becoming bolder and more inventive with every prank that is pulled. Could Jones be behind some of it? Why? And what will happen if he is? What’s the truth about that four-hundred-pound table in his Five & Dime? What compels certain people to gather around it every morning? And why does it look as if every person Jones meets has a secret they will reveal only to him?

    With rare insight, Andy and Jones take us on a journey that proves the importance of perspective, the power of connection, and the ability we all have to make the impossible come true.

    Just Jones is lightning in a bottle–pure genius on paper. If you can imagine a hilarious mystery filled with useful wisdom that is fresh and new, you’ve just conjured up this book. Andy Andrews is our generation’s Mark Twain. Just Jones is the latest proof.’ –Dave Ramsey, national bestselling author

    Just Jones is a rare accomplishment–a mystery that is at times touching but often so funny that I laughed out loud. When one wraps an awesome story around wisdom with the power to change lives . . . well, how many great books can you name like that? Just Jones is a masterpiece.’ –Michael Hyatt, New York Times bestselling author

    Review:

    Andy Andrews is a longtime favorite author of mine. His writing is full of warmth & wisdom with a dash of wit. Just Jones continues in that same tradition.

    It is the third book of The Noticer series but Andrews does a fantastic job of looping the reader into the story and this can certainly be as a stand-alone.

    The characters are endearing, flaws and all, and the hint of mystery gave these characters an extra layer of depth.

    I am a huge fan of magical realism and having that element included made the book for me. That genre is not always to write and Andrews does a masterful job in this space.

    Without giving too much away, you will laugh, question your own perspective, consider the value of community, and read excellent, well-written book that will stick with you long after you’ve finished it.

    Even if this is your first book, you will quickly see why Andy Andrews is a favorite writer of mine. It’s available now at your favorite local bookseller.

    Purchase Links

    Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Thomas Nelson

    Connect with Andy

    Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

    Thank you to TLC Book Tours, Thomas Nelson, and Andy Andrews for my gifted copy in exchange for my honest review.

     

  • Book Reviews,  mental health,  parenting,  Writing

    Love Her Well: a book review

    About: Love Her Well

    Paperback: 240 Pages

    Publisher: Thomas Nelson (August 18, 2020)

    Moms are eager for tips and wisdom to help them build strong relationships with their daughters, and Kari Kampakis’s Love Her Well gives them ten practical ways to do so, not by changing their daughters but by changing their own thoughts, actions, and mind-set.

    For many women, having a baby girl is a dream come true. Yet as girls grow up, the narrative of innocence and joy changes to gloom and doom as moms are told, “Just wait until she’s a teenager!” and handed a disheartening script that treats a teenage girl’s final years at home as solely a season to survive

    Author and blogger Kari Kampakis suggests it’s time to change the narrative and mind-set that lead moms to parent teen girls with a spirit of defeat, not strength. By improving the foundation, habits, and dynamics of the relationship, mothers can connect with their teen daughters and earn a voice in their lives that allows moms to offer guidance, love, wisdom, and emotional support.

    As a mom of four daughters (three of whom are teenagers), Kari has learned the hard way that as girls grow up, mothers must grow up too. In Love Her Well, Kari shares ten ways that moms can better connect with their daughters in a challenging season, including:

    • choosing their words and timing carefully,
    • listening and empathizing with her teen’s world,
    • seeing the good and loving her for who she is,
    • taking care of themselves and having a support system, and more.

    This book isn’t a guide to help mothers “fix” their daughters or make them behave. Rather, it’s about a mom’s journey, doing the heart work and legwork necessary to love a teenager while still being a strong, steady parent. Kari explores how every relationship consists of two imperfect sinners, and teenagers gain more respect for their parents when they admit (and learn from) their mistakes, apologize, listen, give grace, and try to understand their teens’ point of view. Yes, teenagers need rules and consequences, but without a connected relationship, parents may never gain a significant voice in their lives or be a safe place they long to return to.

    By admitting her personal failures and prideful mistakes that have hurt her relationships with her teenage daughters, Kari gives mothers hope and reminds them all things are possible through God. By leaning on him, mothers gain the wisdom, guidance, protection, and clarity they need to grow strong.

    Review:

    Talk about a timely book.

    Yesterday was the first day of school and it was a start to Chaney’s junior year that I could have never imagined. Never did I think that two of her high school years would be impacted by COVID. On Monday we drove 3 hours round trip to get her driver’s permit. The DMV in Texas is by appointment only after shutting down due to COVID and when I first looked the earliest appointment in our area was in 2021. And to top it all off, her love – theatre – looks drastically different than anything I’ve ever seen.

    This is the current state we are all living in and on top of that, our family is still trying to balance freedom with well-being while realizing that the transition from a teen to an adult is already happening. And this transition, to me at least, feels even more abrupt because so much is out of our control.

    So what can I control? My actions, my thoughts, and my dialogue with my daughter. Easier said than done, I know. But Love Her Well made it a little easier by drawing my attention to certain aspects of my own personality and heart that could use some work.

    This book was an enjoyable read. However, it was not one that I flew through, despite loving every chapter. It’s an interactive book with Q&A at the end of each chapter which made my writing heart delight. I had years of thoughts and feelings bottled up and was able to unwind many of them chapter by chapter, page by page. This book is an experience.

    If you have a teen daughter, this book is a must. It covers everything from friends, to body image, to mental health – something I feel like a lot of these types of books miss. This one is going on the reference shelf because I have a feeling I might need it more than once during these next few years.

    Thanks to Thomas Nelson and TLC Book Tours for my gifted copy in exchange for my honest review.

    This book is available now from your favorite bookseller!

    Amazon | Books-A-Million | Barnes & Noble

    About Kari Kampakis

    Kari Kampakis is a mom of four daughters who writes about everyday events and significant moments that reveal God’s movement in our lives. She loves girls and believes many world problems can be solved by music, dancing, and deep conversations with friends.

    Kari’s work has been featured on The Huffington Post, The TODAY Show, EWTN, Yahoo! News, The Eric Metaxas Show, Proverbs 31 Ministries, Ann Voskamp’s blog, Hands Free Mama, and other national outlets. Her two books for teen girls, 10 ULTIMATE TRUTHS GIRLS SHOULD KNOW and LIKED: WHOSE APPROVAL ARE YOU LIVING FOR?, have been used widely across the U.S. for small group studies.

    Connect with Kari

    Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

     

  • ARC's,  Book Reviews

    Prairie Fever: a review

    Title: Prairie Fever

    Author: Michael Parker

    Publisher: Algonquin Books

    Pages: 311

    Publishing Date: Paperback – June 23, 2020

    Genre: Literary fiction

    Summary

    Set in the hardscrabble landscape of early 1900s Oklahoma, but timeless in its sensibility, Prairie Fever traces the intense dynamic between the Stewart sisters: the pragmatic Lorena and the chimerical Elise. The two are bound together not only by their isolation on the prairie but also by their deep emotional reliance on each other. That connection supersedes all else until the arrival of Gus McQueen.

    When Gus arrives in Lone Wolf, Oklahoma, as a first time teacher, his inexperience is challenged by the wit and ingenuity of the Stewart sisters. Then one impulsive decision and a cataclysmic blizzard trap Elise and her horse on the prairie and forever change the balance of everything between the sisters, and with Gus McQueen. With honesty and poetic intensity and the deadpan humor of Paulette Jiles and Charles Portis, Parker reminds us of the consequences of our choices. Expansive and intimate, this novel tells the story of characters tested as much by life on the prairie as they are by their own churning hearts.

    Writing Impressions

    Simply put, the writing was beautiful. The words had a lyrical way about them and set against the harshness of prairie life, the stood out unlike anything I’ve read. Some books in this wilderness setting use prose so desolate that the book becomes a burden. That is not the case here.

    Characters

    The characters were both enigmatic and easy to connect with once you learned their backstories. I love quirky characters and the emotional connection shared between the two sisters was incredibly well done. At times I felt like a third, silent sibling witnessing something incredibly unique. The other characters, also very well developed, balanced out the intensity with bits of humor and beauty.

    My thoughts

    If you enjoy intense and quirky characters, experimental fiction, and an epistolary twist then this book is for you. The writing is beautiful and sets an atmospheric stage for for a book you will not soon forget.

    Rating

    ✂️✂️✂️✂️✂️/5

    About the author

    MICHAEL PARKER is the author of five novels – Hello Down There, Towns Without Rivers, Virginia Lovers, If You Want Me To Stay, The Watery Part of the World and two collections of stories, The Geographical Cure and Don’t Make Me Stop Now. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in various journals including Five Points, the Georgia Review, The Idaho Review, the Washington Post, the New York Times Magazine, Oxford American, Shenandoah, The Black Warrior Review, Trail Runner and Runner’s World. He has received fellowships in fiction from the North Carolina Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as the Hobson Award for Arts and Letters, and the North Carolina Award for Literature. His work has been anthologized in the Pushcart, New Stories from the South and O. Henry Prize Stories anthologies. A graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill and the University of Virginia, he is a Professor in the MFA Writing Program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

    Visit his website at www.michaelfparker.com

    Thank you to Algonquin Books for a gifted copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

     

     

  • ARC's,  Book Reviews

    Summer Darlings: Review

    𝐑𝐞𝐯𝐢𝐞𝐰: 𝑺𝒖𝒎𝒎𝒆𝒓 𝑫𝒂𝒓𝒍𝒊𝒏𝒈𝒔 𝐛𝐲 𝐁𝐫𝗼𝗼𝐤𝐞 𝐋𝐞𝐚 𝐅𝗼𝐬𝐭𝐞𝐫

    𝐒𝐮𝗺𝗺𝐚𝐫𝐲: Heddy, raised by a single mother in Brooklyn, was on a scholarship at Wellesley when she made a poor decision. Determined to earn some money and work her way into the inner circles of wealth in Martha’s Vineyard, she takes a summer job as a nanny for a wealthy family. She rubs elbows with the rich & famous, meets a guy or two, and sees firsthand that with wealth comes complications.

    𝐖𝐫𝐢𝐭𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐢𝗺𝐩𝐫𝐞𝐬𝐬𝐢𝗼𝐧𝐬: I want a lobster roll! The atmospheric writing perfectly captured 1960’s on the island. And the use of the verbiage of that time period made the book that much more realistic and enjoyable. There were a few slower parts but they did contribute nicely to the build up of something much darker going on than the glitz and glamor of the parties and summer on the beach.

    𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐫𝐚𝐜𝐭𝐞𝐫𝐬: Because this book had a mysterious side, it took awhile to get to know some of the characters. But Heddy was easy to identify with from the start and her relationships with the children and Ruth, the housekeeper, were endearing and made the book for me.

    𝐌𝐲 𝐭𝐡𝗼𝐮𝐠𝐡𝐭𝐬: This is the perfect summer read. Combine that with the backdrop of a slow burning mystery and an air of danger and you have a page-turner. For those who enjoy time period fiction done right, you will love this book. Also, I alternated between the audiobook and the ebook. The narrator, Rebekkah Ross, was handpicked by the author after being 3 to choose from. She’s one of my new favorites narrators! And we all know how important good audiobook narration is.

    𝐑𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐧𝐠: ✂️✂️✂️✂️/5

    𝐎𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐫 𝐰𝗼𝐫𝐤𝐬 𝐛𝐲 𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐬 𝐚𝐮𝐭𝐡𝗼𝐫: This is her first fiction novel. She is also an award winning journalist and has written three nonfiction books as well.

    Thanks to NetGalley and Gallery Books for a free eCopy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

     

  • ARC's,  Book Reviews

    Stranger In The Lake: Review & Author Q&A

    𝑺𝒕𝒓𝒂𝒏𝒈𝒆𝒓 𝒊𝒏 𝑻𝒉𝒆 𝑳𝒂𝒌𝒆

    Author: Kimberly Belle

    Publisher: Park Row

    Publish Date: June 9th, 2020

    Pages: 352

    Genre: Domestic thriller

     

     

    𝐒𝐮𝗺𝗺𝐚𝐫𝐲: When Charlotte married the wealthy widower Paul, it caused a ripple of gossip in their small lakeside town. They have a charmed life together, despite the cruel whispers about her humble past and his first marriage. But everything starts to unravel when she discovers a young woman’s body floating in the exact same spot where Paul’s first wife tragically drowned.

    At first, it seems like a horrific coincidence, but the stranger in the lake is no stranger. Charlotte saw Paul talking to her the day before, even though Paul tells the police he’s never met the woman. His lie exposes cracks in their fragile new marriage, cracks Charlotte is determined to keep from breaking them in two.

    As Charlotte uncovers dark mysteries about the man she married, she doesn’t know what to trust—her heart, which knows Paul to be a good man, or her growing suspicion that there’s something he’s hiding in the water. 

    Review:

    𝐖𝐫𝐢𝐭𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐢𝗺𝐩𝐫𝐞𝐬𝐬𝐢𝗼𝐧𝐬: This book felt more like a mystery than a thriller. It did not have the wild twists and turns thrillers are known for. I still enjoyed it and like the flashes of the former lives of the characters. It added an extra layer to the story which helped the overall plot along. 

    𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐫𝐚𝐜𝐭𝐞𝐫𝐬: Charlotte’s background made her the most relatable character for me and made the story more believable. I enjoyed her growth as the story progressed. Paul felt a bit flat to me – millionaire, with secrets. Nothing new there, really. 

    𝐌𝐲 𝐭𝐡𝗼𝐮𝐠𝐡𝐭𝐬: This was an enjoyable read; perfect for reading this summer by the lake. I figured out the “twist” early on but I wasn’t disappointed by that. There was still plenty to consider and for me this book turned towards Charlotte’s past, her family, and the stark differences between the marginalized and the wealthy in their community.

    Thanks to Park Row Books for my gifted copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

    𝐑𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐧𝐠: ✂️✂️✂️.5/5

    Q&A with Kimberly Belle 

    Q: Please give your elevator pitch for Stranger in the Lake.

    A: Stranger in the Lake is a story about Charlotte, a rags-to-riches newlywed whose shiny new life takes a disastrous turn when a stranger’s body washes up under the dock of her Appalachian lake home—in the exact same spot where her husband’s first wife drowned. 

    Q: Which came first: the characters or plot line?

    A: Plot, always. My stores are very plot driven, and they always begin in my head with a what-if scenario. What if a woman marries way, way up and then her brand new husband is accused of murder? What if it looks like he’s guilty? How much of a role would her newfound wealth—and her fear of losing it—play in her decision to stick by him? That was basically where I began building the plot for Stranger in the Lake. Character came much later, after I’d thought through all the plot points and had them mapped out into an outline. Only at that point in the process do I really start thinking about what kind of person is best dropped into that situation, someone with plenty of blind spots and issues to work through, problems the plot will really shine a spotlight on. For Charlotte, it’s money and everything that comes along with it—security, status in the community, respect. She will have to untangle all these internal issues before her story can be resolved. 

    Q: Why do you love Charlotte and why should readers root for her?

    A: I love Charlotte because she is a survivor. She was born into the worst possible family, an absent father and an emotionally abusive mother who left her home with a baby for long periods of time, but instead of turning bitter or following in their footsteps, she emerged stronger. She figured out a way to grow into a smart and kind and loving and trusting—maybe too trusting–person. She wants so much more out of life than what her parents offered, and she’s not afraid to work for it.  

    Q: What’s the “story behind the story” for Stranger in the Lake?

    A: I’ve wanted to write a lake story for a while now. There’s just something about a big body of water–the dark swirling currents, the beautiful but remote setting… It’s the perfect place to set a suspenseful story because you just know something bad is going to happen there.

    At the same time, I spend a good deal of family time in the Highlands/Cashiers area of North Carolina. It’s a place of stunning beauty, but where there’s a huge gulf between rich and poor. Wealthy outsiders have come in and completely transformed the area, carving out golf courses and building shops and restaurants and million dollar homes on the lake…and then you have the people who have lived there for generations—the ones flipping the burgers and scrubbing the toilets. This polarity makes for some very interesting dynamics, because when there’s money involved, when people have too much or their basic needs aren’t being met, morals can become questionable. This is something I really dug into for this story. 

    Q: Last summer when I interviewed you for Dear Wife, you mentioned a project you were working on, and I believe it was Stranger in the Lake:

    ” I’m currently finishing up a story about a newlywed woman who discovers a woman’s body under their lakeside home dock. The police show up, and in the stress of the moment, she follows her husband’s lead and lies about ever having met the woman. It’s not a big lie, and she doesn’t really think much of it at the time, but soon that one little lie turns into an avalanche. As the police close in on the woman’s killer, she uncovers dangerous truths about her husband and her marriage, as well as dark secrets that have been simmering below the lake’s currents for years. No title yet, but coming sometime in 2020.”

    Thinking back to what you told me then, what was the book like then verse how it turned out? Anything that surprises you or that really changed or that stayed the same that you were sure would stay the same?

    A: I don’t remember how far I was into writing the story when I answered that question, but it must have been far because that’s pretty much exactly what happens in this story…and exactly the core of the original premise for Stranger in the Lake. A wife who lies for her brand new husband in the heat of the moment, then has to figure out if she did it because she loves and trusts and believes in him, or if it’s maybe a little bit because she doesn’t want to let go of the shiny new life he’s given her. Money complicates things. It muddies emotions and blurs moral boundaries. This is the kernel of the idea that began Stranger in the Lake

    Q: The narration of Dear Wife was so unique, what can you say about the narration/structure of Stranger in the Lake that isn’t going to spoil anything?

    A: Stranger in the Lake is told largely through Charlotte’s point of view, with occasional snippets of a story many years in the past. This makes the structure much more straightforward than Dear Wife, and when I began I thought it would be an easier story to tell. Fewer heads for me to crack open for the reader, fewer viewpoints for me to keep string together just so. But once I started writing, I discovered sticking to one point of view made telling the story more difficult. Everything every other character thinks has to be filtered through Charlotte, through her reactions and internalizations. For this and a bunch of other reasons, Stranger in the Lake took me longer to write than Dear Wife. 

    Q: Which character in the novel is most like you and why?

    A: This is a tough one! I’d like to think I have Charlotte’s tough skin and that I share her sense of loyalty, but I’m not sure I could have survived everything she has. My research taught me that far more people follow in their parents’ tragic footsteps than break the cycle like Charlotte did, and I can’t say for certain which side of the equation I would have fallen on. I do also share Paul’s drive, his innate desire to create beautiful things, but I think (hope?) that’s where the similarities between us end. I guess that’s the answer here, that like most authors I put little pieces of myself into every character—the good, the bad, the ugly.  My characters are the best and the worst of me.

    Q: How can everyone find you online during promotional rounds for Stranger in the Lake, since the traditional type of tours won’t be possible?

    A: A little pandemic can’t keep this author down! I have lots of online events planned, chats with bloggers and fellow authors and bookstores I’d planned to visit before this thing hit, and lots more in the works. The most up-to-date list is at www.kimberlybellebooks.com/events—and make sure to check back often. I am adding more every day.

    Q: What was your last 5 star read?

    A: I have a couple recent ones. I tore through the paperback of Heather Gudenkauf’s This Is How I Lied, and I just listened to Kimberly McCreight’s The Good Marriage. Both were absolutely fabulous! And Heather and I will be doing a joint virtual event on my release day, June 9th. Details are on the events page of my website.

    Q: What is one thing about publishing you wish someone would have told you?

    A: Just one? Hmm, I guess if I have to choose, it would be to trust the creative process. Every story is different, from the idea to the structure to the ease with which the words move from my head to my laptop to finished product. With every new story, I have an a-ha moment when I realize all the methodologies and processes I’ve used in the past won’t work with this one. I have to let all those “rules” go and let the story lead the way. Getting to The End is the hardest thing in the world, but also the most satisfying. There is no better feeling than to hold a finished copy of your book in your hand. It makes all those sleepless nights worth it.

    Q: Do you have any specific writing rituals?

    A: When I’m writing, I have a hard time sitting still—kind of strange for a job that requires many hours in a chair with a laptop. But it is a laptop so I move around a lot, floating around the house from my office to the kitchen to the living room to the outdoor patio. I change spots depending on my mood or the way the sun is shining through the window. Sometimes figuring out how to untangle a plot knot is as simple as a change of scenery. 

    Q: What can you tell us about your next project?

    A: I am currently working on a story about a home invasion. It’s a premise that has always terrified me, and it hits awfully close to home as it happens a lot here in Atlanta. I even know a family that survived one. I’ve pulled in a few details of their experience for this story, then mixed in plenty more from my imagination. No title yet, but out sometime in 2021.

    About the Author:

    Kimberly Belle is the USA Today and internationally bestselling author of six novels, including the forthcoming Stranger in the Lake (June 2020). Her third novel, The Marriage Lie, was a semifinalist in the 2017 Goodreads Choice Awards for Best Mystery & Thriller, and a #1 e-book bestseller in the UK and Italy. She’s sold rights to her books in a dozen languages as well as film and television options. A graduate of Agnes Scott College, Belle divides her time between Atlanta and Amsterdam.

    Social Links:

    Author website

    Facebook

    Instagram 

    Goodreads

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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