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Away in a Manger

posted by: December 14, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Away in a MangerRhys Bowen conjures all the ambiance and bustle of New York City at Christmastime in her newest mystery Away in a Manger. Just barely heard above the crowd, a high, sweet voice sings the old Christmas carol. Molly Murphy and her ward Bridie discover the source; a little girl of no more than six, huddling in a doorway, holding a tin cup and hoping the holiday spirit will make people generous. For in 1905, there are no laws or agencies to protect children in need. Deeply touched, Molly and Bridie speak to the girl and soon realize she is intelligent and well-mannered. Both the girl and her older brother have been cast out into the street to make money any way they can by a cruel aunt who barely keeps them alive.

 

Inquisitive Molly cannot keep herself from getting involved. It seems the children’s mother has disappeared and their father has died. All they have left of their old life is an obviously valuable brooch. If the mother had means, why are her children reduced to begging? Do the children have other relatives who would care for them? Molly resolves to unravel their past and provide them with a better future.

 

Away in a Manger is a sweet and simple account of children no one will welcome, paralleling the traditional story of Christmas. Rhys Bowen brings to light the plight of children before principled people took a stand in their defense. While this is the latest in a long running series, this title can be read independently. This lucid and powerful tale reminds us that generosity and goodwill triumph over greed and evil, a thought even more compelling in this day and age.  
 


 
 

It's. Nice. Outside.

posted by: December 10, 2015 - 7:00pm

Cover art for It's. Nice. Outside.Jim Kokoris’ It’s. Nice. Outside. is a road trip novel unlike any other. Fifty-something John Nichols (former college basketball player, high school English teacher and author) is on his way from the Chicago suburbs to his oldest daughter's wedding in South Carolina in a minivan. His companion? His developmentally disabled, autistic 19-year-old son Ethan who is afraid to fly.

 

The family is fraught with issues. Nichols is divorced, due to an affair with a wildly inappropriate woman (he blames it on the stress of parenting a special needs son). Now that woman is repeatedly calling again out of nowhere. Despite this, he still loves his ex-wife and holds out hope of reconciliation. Meanwhile, no one likes his daughter's husband-to-be. His middle daughter, a famous sketch comedian, has been feuding with her older sister and may not show up for the wedding.

 

Nichols makes his way south, using up his frequent stay points at Marriott properties that have pools (swimming calms Ethan) and eating at Cracker Barrels (Ethan likes routine). All the while, he’s trying to sort out what happens next in life for both him and his son. A trio of stuffed bears along for the ride provides Nichols with a cathartic outlet, as he runs them through outrageous comic routines tailored to entertain himself as much as they do Ethan.

 

Kokoris does a great job fleshing out believable, empathetic characters as he portrays the dysfunctional family dynamic. He shows sensitivity in his depiction of Ethan while spotlighting the everyday challenges of parenting a special needs adult. This novel is both laugh out loud funny and poignant, and will appeal to readers who enjoy books by Jonathan Tropper or Jonathan Evison.


 
 

All-New Captain America

posted by: December 9, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for All-New Captain AmericaAttention all Captain America fans, Falcon fans, Marvel fans and fans of superheroes! Just in case you didn’t get the memo, I am pleased to inform you or remind you that there is a new captain in town that is ready and able to lay a smack down on members of Team Hydra with his handy-dandy red, white and blue shield. With that said, I present to you Sam Wilson, also known as Falcon, who was chosen by his trusted friend and colleague Steve Rogers to become the new Captain America. This story can be found in the Marvel Now series, All-New Captain America, Volume 1: Hydra Ascendant with Rick Remender as the writer and Stuart Immonen as the penciler.

 

So, how exactly does Sam fare as the new red, white and blue hero? Pretty good. Sam is on a mission to save the world. Steve Rogers, who no longer looks youthful after being restored to his natural old age, sends Sam off to stop Hydra, an international subversive organization, from carrying out a terrorist attack. Hydra’s current goal is to make the world secure for themselves by preventing overpopulation by any means necessary. They hope to accomplish this task by spreading across the U.S. a child’s blood that contains a pervasive toxin capable of making people infertile. This is a personal problem for Sam because not only does he wants to make the world a safe place, but he also wants to start his own family. While Sam battles his foes, he also battles what people think of him and what his parents would think of him if they were alive. In the All-New Captain America, Volume 1: Hydra Ascendant, Sam contests against members of the New Hydra: Sin, the daughter of Red Skull; Zemo; Batroc; Crossbones and Baron Blood. However, Sam does not fight solo. Fighting by his side are: his partner Redwing; sidekick Nomad, who happens to be Steve Rogers’ adopted son, and Misty Knight, who claims to work for S.H.I.E.L.D.

 

Does Sam complete his mission? Does Hydra succeed? Does Sam get sterilized by the toxin to prevent him from having his own family? Read the All-New Captain America, Volume 1: Hydra Ascendant to find out what happens. There is a bit of a cliffhanger at the end. Therefore, if you want to know what happens next, you’ll have to stay tuned for more of the All-New Captain America. Visit Marvel.com to check out the latest news on your favorite characters, comics and graphic novels.
 


 
 

Pretty Baby

posted by: December 7, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Pretty BabyBe wary of the kind stranger that invites you into their home because they just might try to hurt you. This is one of the many lessons that you will learn from Mary Kubica's novel, Pretty Baby.

 

On a cold, rainy day in Chicago, Heidi Wood stands on a train platform awaiting the arrival of the Brown Line to take her home. While waiting, she notices a mysterious, frazzled teenage girl drenched in rain and feels sorry for her.  The girl calls herself “Willow” and, although she is without an umbrella, a decent coat or a place to call home, she is not alone. Willow has Ruby, her baby girl, tucked inside her coat to keep her warm and protect her from the rain. After Heidi spots Willow and Ruby at the train station a few more times, she realizes that they are in desperate need of help. She invites them into her home without the approval of her husband, Chris, and her 12-year-old daughter, Zoe. By inviting the strangers into her home, the charitable Heidi slowly reveals her dark side. Furthermore, Heidi accidentally opens up her old wounds that never healed properly and she manages to damage her marriage to Chris and her relationship with her daughter.

 

Pretty Baby touches on many topics, such as foster care, adoption, homelessness, teenage parenting, abortion, cancer, infidelity, post-traumatic stress disorder, bereavement, child abuse, rape and murder. Although Pretty Baby has a slow start, it picks up the pace as it goes. Kubica kept my interest to the very end and raised tons of questions — such as “Just who is Willow?”  I liken Pretty Baby to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl because it also has a husband and wife point of view.

 

Author Mary Kubica is the author of the New York Times and USA Today bestseller The Good Girl. Pretty Baby is her second novel. To learn more about the author, visit her website.


 
 

Murder on Amsterdam Avenue

posted by: December 7, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Murder on Amsterdam AvenueYoung and wealthy Charles Fairfax dies suddenly of what appears to be an acute gastric illness. In late 19th century New York City, such an event is fairly common even among the higher echelon of society. However, Charles’ death seems too unexpected to the young man’s father. He calls on a friend, Frank Malloy — once a NYC Police Detective Sergeant and now a private investigator — to look into his son’s death. As Malloy quickly learns, this death is more than questionable. It is Murder on Amsterdam Avenue. With the help of his fiancée, Sarah Brandt, Malloy is able to navigate through the New York aristocracy to uncover some shocking secrets in the Fairfax family history. This book marks the 17th in Victoria Thompson’s Gaslight Mystery series, and whether or not you’ve read any of the previous titles, Thompson has set up a delightful romp.

 

One of the best elements in the story is the relationship between Frank Malloy and Sarah Brandt. Both are widowed with young children and the way that they care about each other while solving the mystery is touching yet realistic. Thanks to Thompson’s eye for detail, you will feel as if you are stepping back in time to late 19th century America. For fans of Anne Perry’s Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series or Charles Todd’s Inspector Ian Rutledge mysteries, the Gaslight Mystery series is definitely worth a read. However, you may want to start with the first book in this series, Murder on Astor Place, to get more of the back stories for these characters.


 
 

Sit! Stay! Speak!

posted by: December 3, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Sit! Stay! Speak!A wounded young woman picks up the pieces of her shattered future to start a new life in a small Southern town in Sit! Stay! Speak! by Annie England Noblin. Adelaide owns an antique furniture business with her fiancé, Jonah, and is busily planning the final details of their wedding when tragedy strikes. While rushing to an appointment, Jonah is killed on the interstate. For two years, she drifts in a daze, until her aunt dies and bequeaths Addie her home in the tiny town of Eunice, Arkansas.  

 

Reminiscing about blissful summers spent with her aunt, Addie decides to take a walk down to the levee. She is shocked to find that the lovely picnic spot on the Mississippi River has become neglected and strewn with garbage. Even more surprising is that the garbage moves of its own accord. An investigation of a discarded garbage bag reveals a pit bull puppy beaten, shot, and struggling to survive. Addie rushes to the local vet hoping to save the dog’s life, and in the end, finds the secret of saving her own.  

 

This debut novel is a promising start for animal rescuer and author Annie Noblin. The characters are quirky, entertaining and unforgettable. Noblin manages to convey Addie’s heartache without excessive sentimentality. The author subtly explores how the simplest decisions can have major ramifications for ourselves and those around us. As Addie rebuilds her house, she also rebuilds her life, and uncovers some surprises along the way. Whether or not you are a dog lover, if you enjoy romance, small town life or just a great story, Sit! Stay! Speak! is a sure winner. 


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Ann Tenna

posted by: December 1, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Ann TennaIn Ann Tenna, Marisa Marchetto (author of the autobiography, Cancer Vixen) offers a meditation on how people shape their own realities — and are shaped by them — and disguises it as a graphic novel about a gossip columnist who finally receives a heaping dish of her own karmic garbage.

 

Ann is a gossip columnist to the nth power. She is a horrible person to everyone she knows — other than her best friend, Miu, her boyfriend, Zim, and her father, girl-product peddler extraordinaire A. M. Tenna. Because she has been a terrible individual in every other lifetime she has been granted, Super-Ann (Ann at her very best self) has super-kicked regular Ann back to Earth for her final “incarceration” — her very last chance to be a kind human and a positive force in the world. Good luck with that, Ann.

 

She starts as a breech birth, and events in her personal life only go downhill. Fast-forward three decades, and Ann is fixing to get her humanitarian award — until she is publically humiliated. And then she dies. Almost. When her consciousness wakes in a whole new plane, Super-Ann (in her magical, sparkly, impossible platform shoes) takes the elbow-length gloves off and forces regular, snotty Ann to become the broadcaster the Universe intended her to be. Unless regular Ann can stop her.

 


 
 

The Murder Road

posted by: November 30, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Murder RoadInspector Ben Cooper must wade through old grudges to solve a baffling murder in The Murder Road by Stephen Booth.

 

There’s only one road providing access to the tiny hamlet of Shawhead, and Mac Kelsey’s abandoned truck is blocking the route. As outraged villagers demand action, Inspector Cooper must locate Mac the missing driver. There’s blood on the driver’s manifest, and a pool of blood on the cab’s floor. Evidence shows someone jumped from the bridge onto the roof of the truck cab. Unearthing Mac’s fate becomes a trek over fields and moors and memories of bygone days. Struggling with demons from his own past, Cooper faces some tough decisions about his future.  

 

This is the 15th book in the Barry Award-winning Cooper and Fry mysteries, but this work is a great introduction to a consistently quality series. Booth weaves a tale as enigmatic and murky as the moors themselves. Inspector Cooper is a relentless pursuer of details, and it is Booth’s careful weaving of suspicion, pursuit, suspense and evidence that produces such a gripping mystery. Fans of Peter Robinson and Elizabeth George will sure to be pleased with this original police procedural.

 


 
 

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