Wednesday, May 11, 2022

The Year of the Horses

An honest, resolute memoir that details how a writer suffering an existential crisis found healing and salvation in her passion for horses.

Novelist and writing guru Courtney Maum takes readers on a candid, deeply moving journey that details how she found her way out of a labyrinth of depression by rekindling her passion for horses. 

By her 35th birthday, Maum (Before and After the Book DealCostalegre) was a successful novelist, working on her second book. She was at her happiest--a beloved wife and doting mother of a beautiful baby girl, Nina. She and her equally creative filmmaker husband had moved from Brooklyn, N.Y., into a fixer-upper house they bought in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. But when Nina turned two, something indefinable manifested in Maum--an existential crisis. Maum was deluged with roiling feelings that stalled her writing, plagued her with insomnia and provoked a general feeling of emotional malaise. A non-life-threatening car crash sustained with her husband and daughter "was a match to the depression" that would all-out engulf her. However, the accident proved a necessary jolt that sent Maum on a journey to reassess her life and decipher what might bring her a sense of peace and joy, and restore her equilibrium.

In therapy, Maum mined her past, recognizing how she missed her affinity and fascination for horses, starting when she was a child with a pony, boarded in a barn near her family's Greenwich, Conn., home. Maum's journey of healing and salvation in reconnecting to equine culture is wittily engaging and uncompromisingly forthright. She confronts the past, while also braiding in delightful flourishes regarding the metaphorical meanings of horses and the universal role they have played throughout history and in the arts.

 The Year of the Horses: A Memoir by Courtney Maum

Tin House Books, $27.95 hardcover, 9781953534156, 416 pages

Publication Date: April 19, 2022

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE


NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (May 3, 2022), link HERE


To read the longer form of this review as originally published on Shelf Awareness for the Book Trade (March 22, 2022), link HERE

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Finlay Donovan Knocks 'Em Dead

The second entry in Elle Cosimano's Finlay Donovan series—another bumbling comedy of errors and a hilarious, fast-paced mystery upends the life of a struggling writer and single mother.

Elle Cosimano has crafted in heroine Finlay Donovan a flawed yet enormously lovable and sympathetic character. In the first book in the series, Finlay Donovan Is Killing It, the exhausted single mother of two and struggling suspense novelist was mistaken for a contract killer when she publicly discussed the plot of her work-in-progress novel over lunch at a Panera Bread cafĂ©. This launched Finlay into madcap mayhem that involved the Russian mafia.

In her second misadventure, Finlay Donovan Knocks 'Em Dead, Finlay is still struggling to raise her two young children, meet writing deadlines and juggle the romantic attentions of a handsome law student and a detective in Fairfax County, Va. Her life takes another unexpected detour when, by way of an online mothers' support group, Finlay accidentally learns that someone wants her cheating ex-husband--Steven Donovan, the father of her children--dead. With the help of her reliable nanny sidekick--accounting student Veronica Ruiz, aka Vero--Finlay devises a plan to save Steven's life and flush out who has it in for him. However, Finlay's blundering scheme backfires when she uses public Wi-Fi. She and her plan are outed, embroiling her, yet again, in escalating danger.


Cosimano's plucky heroine continues to shine in a fast-paced, suspenseful mystery with stellar comic timing and wit. Playful snark and revealing secrets make for a roller-coaster plot with so many absurdist twists and turns that readers will be left winded from the excitement--and much laughter.


Finlay Donovan Knocks ‘Em Dead: The Finlay Donovan Series – Book Two by Elle Cosimano

Minotaur (MacMillan Publishers), $26.99 hardcover, 9781250242181, 368 pages

Publication Date: February 2, 2022

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

Monday, April 11, 2022

The Patron Saint of Second Chances

A small, diminishing village in Italy--facing financial ruin; threatened with having the entire water supply cut-off--faces a hilarious revitalization by the prospect of an upcoming film shoot.

Community loyalty and the power of taking pride in one’s hometown--doing anything to save it--is the central theme of the very funny debut novel, The Patron Saint of Second Chances by Christine Simon.

Prometto, Italy (fictional) has 212 occupants, and one resident, Signor Giovannino Speranza, believes he has the power to change things—or at least he hopes so. Speranza is of the old school and traditional values. He is a 62-year-old husband, father and grandfather—a vacuum cleaner salesman-repairman disillusioned with young people always on their phones and social media and eagerly determined to leave town. He regularly turns to the saints to guide him and dispel his disappointments and arguments with God. Having always taken pride in Prometto, he’s become something of the local mayor.

Now that the town, in dire financial straits--the budget doesn’t have enough funds to restore the plumbing system and faces having the water turned off, forcing residents to relocate--desperate Speranza concocts a story about how Dante Rinaldi, a heartthrob movie star, is planning to film his next blockbuster near Prometto. The invented news takes off and injects a hopeful jolt of enthusiasm that rallies the town and beyond, including young people and even the local parish priest, while boosting tourism and local businesses in the process. But what will happen when Dante Rinaldi doesn’t descend on Prometto with a film crew and news gets out about the ruse Speranza has crafted?

Simon’s fun, clever story offers a hilarious literary escape. Readers will smile and laugh out loud at her well-drawn cast of quirky characters, those who long--and will do anything--to be a part of the film and its production. The plot snowballs, twisting in madcap ways with turns as sharp as the narrow roads that wind their way through the lovable charm of Prometto.  

The Patron Saint of Second Chances: A Novel by Christine Simon

Atria Book, $27.00 hardcover, 978-1982188771, 360 pages

Publication Date: April 12, 2022

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE 

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

The Perfect Other: A Memoir of My Sister

A hauntingly reflective memoir details the intricacies of mental illness and the bonds of sisterly love and loyalty in this life--and beyond.

Deep, everlasting love, grief and the mysteries of mental illness are undercurrents that propel The Perfect Other, a chilling, moving memoir by Kyleigh Leddy. A graduate of Boston College now in pursuit of her master's in social work, Leddy grapples with the life and loss of her older sister, Kait, a young woman affected by schizophrenia.


Leddy has spent a large part of her young life grappling with the sudden and unexplained disappearance of her 22-year-old sister, Kait, last seen on a frigid January night in 2014. Security cameras show that her older sister took a taxi to the foot of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia, Pa., ascended to the highest point and then disappeared. It is believed she jumped; however, her body was never recovered. Thus, her whereabouts remains a mystery--one that haunts Leddy and sets her on a course to make sense of the shocking tragedy, both personally and through a more psychologically clinical lens.


Through a sensitively drawn, stream-of-conscious narrative--spurred by a "Modern Love" column Leddy published in the New York Times--she stitches together remembered fragments and pivotal scenes from the life she, her mother and father shared with Kait. After sustaining a head injury, Kait started to exhibit concerning erratic behaviors that took inexplicable, unruly--often violent--turns. Leddy's raw search for understanding, meaning and peace grants readers a rare personal glimpse into the universal mysteries of mental illness and the long-lasting traumatic effects it has on those afflicted, as well as those in its orbit.


The Perfect Other: A Memoir by Kyleigh Leddy

Mariner Books, $28.99 hardcover, 9780358469346, 304 pages

Publication Date: March 8, 2021

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE


NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (March 8, 2022), link HERE

To read the longer form of this review as published on Shelf Awareness for the Book Trade (January 7, 2022), link HERE

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

I Hate You More

A golden retriever sparks a contentious romance between a former beauty queen and a dog show judge in this spunky, sexy rom-com. 

Rom-com fans will laugh out loud while reading I Hate You More by Lucy Gilmore (Ruff and Tumble), a fun opposites-attract story about a former beauty pageant winner who falls for a Type-A, by-the-book dog show judge.

Twenty-eight-year-old Ruby Taylor of Seattle, Wash., is beautiful--inside and out. Crowned a Beauty Queen multiple times as a child and teen, Ruby regularly competed and preened in front of judges, with a little help from her thrice-married mother. When Ruby finally gave up the circuit, she settled into a more fulfilling life as a nurses' aid, helping others at Parkwood Manor, a local retirement community. There, she and Mrs. Orson, a resident, bond over their shared affinity for reading erotic novels. When Mrs. O enlists Ruby's help to qualify Wheezy--a golden retriever, her late husband's pride and joy--for the West Coast Canine Classic dog show, Ruby agrees, not fully realizing what she's in for.


Rotund Wheezy has a little problem with obedience and an even bigger problem with bacon. Matters snowball when cranky veterinarian and dog show judge Spencer Wilson questions Wheezy's purebred status. This leaves Ruby and Wheezy to jump through hoops with training and dieting while waiting for blood work to prove Wheezy's lineage. Along the way, Spencer's identical twin brother, Caleb, steps in to train Wheezy. He's a fun-loving dog-trainer under house arrest--living at Spencer's while on probation for running an illegal gaming website. Meanwhile, the brothers face major territorial issues.

Gilmore's sexy, snarky rom-com takes the crown, humorously showcasing winning dynamics of dysfunctional families and quirky romantic relationships.

I Hate You More by Lucy Gilmore

Sourcebooks Casablanca, $14.99 Paperback, 9781728226002, 288 pages

Publication Date: November 2, 2021

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (November 5, 2021), link HERE


Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Truth and Other Lies

A provocative, fast-paced novel about a down on her luck reporter who returns home only to face startling, dangerous truths that upend her life.

In Truth and Other Lies, debut author Maggie Smith has written a provocative, fast-paced novel of Women’s Fiction about Megan Barnes, a lovelorn, financially broke 25-year-old investigative journalist who is forced to return home to Chicago, where she moves in with her mother, Helen. Intent on regrouping and strategizing the next chapter of her life, Megan’s plans are short-lived when she learns that her pro-life mother--once a housewife--has surprisingly decided to run for U.S. Congress. As conservative mother and liberal-leaning daughter lock horns, not seeing the world and issues in it in the same light, Megan is offered a PR job to help launch a new memoir by Jocelyn Jones, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer whom Megan has always looked up to. Jones dangles a carrot in front of Megan: if Megan can make her book launch a success, Jones will use her connections and get Megan a job at the prestigious Chicago Tribune. However, in the midst of the book launch, dark secrets--with tentacles--about Jones emerge on social media, which ultimately ensnare Megan and test her mettle. She is forced to question herself, the meaning of truth and her loyalties.


Smith’s propulsive, enthralling first novel is tightly plotted with political intrigue and features three, disparate female characters who each face thought-provoking, hot-button contemporary issues that will entice readers with ratcheting romance and suspense--and a heart-racing conclusion.


Truth and Lies: A Novel by Maggie Smith

Ten16Press, $18.99 paperback, 9781645382624, 360 pages

Publication Date: March 8, 2021

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Grave Reservations


An energetic cozy mystery follows a travel agent as she puts her psychic tendencies to work on a police cold case.

Cherie Priest (The TollThe Inexplicables) is a prolific author who has published across genres, including steampunk, horror and sci-fi. In Grave Reservations, a smart and sassy first cozy mystery, she dips into the paranormal, telling the story of a fledgling travel agent with often erratic psychic tendencies. 

Leda Foley of Seattle owns and operates her own travel agency--Foley's Far-Fetched Flights of Fancy--and is struggling to get it off the ground. Leda also experiences very "strong feelings" and vibes about things. For fun, she practices her supernatural skills at a local bar, where she clairvoyantly selects karaoke for customers. When Leda books a flight heading out of Orlando, Fla., for Seattle Police detective Grady Merritt, a widowed father of a 17-year-old daughter, she gets a flash of insight that he should not board the plane. It leads her to proactively change his flight plans, redirecting him into Atlanta.

Leda's hasty decision upsets Grady. However, when Leda's hunch spares the detective from a fatal plane accident, it creates a bond. When grateful Grady returns to Seattle, the two begin a secret partnership, where the detective enlists Leda's psychic ability to help solve a cold case. In the process, demons from Leda's and Grady's pasts resurface, forcing them both to tie up loose threads and reconcile respective losses.

Polished prose, steady pacing and quirky characters, including Leda's lovable and loyal, long-term best friend--along with a cast of eccentric bar patrons--add levity and wit to this suspenseful story that unravels darker themes.

Grave Reservations: Booking Agents Book One by Cherie Priest

Atria Books (Simon and Schuster), $26.00 Hardcover, 9781982168896, 304 pages

Publication Date: October 26, 2021

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (October 29, 2021), link HERE

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

The Secret of Snow

A tender story about a Southern California meteorologist whose forced retreat to the winter deep-freeze of Michigan melts her hardened heart.

Well-researched stories about Michiganders and the sensitive complexities of family legacies have built Viola Shipman's (pen name of Wade Rouse) successful, comforting brand.


Shipman (The Charm BraceletThe Recipe Box) begins The Secret of Snow in Palm Springs, Calif., around Christmastime, where Sonny Dunes, a single, 50-year-old national TV meteorologist, has a meltdown on air after she learns that her job is being threatened by a robot. Destroying her career in a terminal way, unemployed and downtrodden Sonny returns to her hometown of Traverse City, Mich., where she moves in with her widowed, 75-year-old mother and is offered a job at the local TV station by a former college rival. Sonny develops weather-centric feature stories in a segment billed as "Sonny in Winter," where she presents the history, legends and fun deep-freeze traditions of the Lake Michigan area. As Sonny comes to appreciate the hometown she fled 30 years before, complications ensue when the current weather gal at the station fears that Sonny is after her job.


Along the way, Sonny is befriended by the underappreciated "Guy Friday" at the station and by a widowed local politician, both of whom carry heavy burdens in their hearts. While the weather outside grows frightful, Sonny battles interior personal storms as painful memories come to light. Can she part the emotional dark clouds of her past and look toward a sunny future?

Smart comedic plotting and gentle romance kindle Shipman's beautifully descriptive, fluid prose in an absorbing, moving story that will warm the hearts of readers.  

The Secret of Snow by Viola Shipman

Graydon House Books, $26.00 hardcover, 9781525899812, 320 pages

Publication Date: October 26, 2021

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (October 26, 2021), link HERE

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

The Ex-Husband

A cruise ship event planner is haunted by her past in this grippingly evocative, psychological thriller.

It’s not all smooth sailing in The Ex-Husband, a heart-pounding crime thriller by Karen Hamilton set mostly aboard the Cleobella, a private luxury cruise ship traveling from Cornwall to the Caribbean.

Charlotte works as an event planner on the ship. She’s determined to leave her sordid past behind. She married and later divorced, Sam, a charming swindler--a cruise-ship card dealer--who roped Charlotte into cons that once usurped wealthy passengers out of their fortunes. But that was then. Charlotte is determined to get her life back on track now that Sam--and their tricks--are behind them. But with Sam missing and Charlotte suddenly receiving anonymous messages regarding her once criminal behavior, the past and its haunting sends her into panic. Who’s behind the black-mailing mind games that could do Charlotte in?

As in The Perfect Girlfriend and The Last Wife, Hamilton presents deeply flawed characters readers can root for. A well-researched setting enhances the suspense that unspools through exotic ports of call from the Bahamas to Tobago. Dark, psychological undercurrents of deceit and lies--how the past braids in with the present--create surprising shifts amid the course of this turbulent, juicy story.


The Ex-Husband by Karen Hamilton

Graydon House, $16.99 paperback, 9780369717030, 352 pages

Publication Date: January 18, 2021

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE


Wednesday, January 12, 2022

It Started With a Dog

In the second installment of a cheerful romcom series, love percolates amidst the competition of two Austin, Texas coffee shops.

Julia London’s second installment of her cheerful romcom series is set in Austin, Tx., during the Christmas season. She cleverly brings together two 30something dog lovers with personalities and agendas as different as caffeinated versus decaffeinated coffee.


Aeronautical Engineer, Jonah Rogers, leaves his job to help out at the ‘Lucky Star,’ a charmingly humble--however lagging--coffee shop run by his parents, his aunt and uncle. With his father ill, Jonah--reliable and devoted, sacrificing and loyal--steps in to assist the long-standing family business that offers no frills, old-school coffee and desserts. Matters are complicated when he accidentally swaps his phone with Chicagoan, Harper Thompson, in town to launch ‘Deja Brew’—a trendy, two-story coffee house accented with gleaming chrome coffee makers, which serves upscale coffee and vegan food choices. The driven, only-child overachiever is up for a promotion riding on the success of ‘Deja Brew.’ However, can she contend with ‘Lucky Star,’ a local fixture in town, and a ‘Starbucks’ situated in the very same neighborhood?


Along the way, Jonah and Harper and their swapped phones lead them to romance as they discover they are business rivals. The ante is upped when a local dog competition, “King Mutt,” pits the couple--the lovable three-legged Dachshund mascot of ‘Lucky Star’ versus Harper’s mean old bulldog--against each other, as well.


A perfect blend of coffee, dogs and romance permeates London’s (You Lucky Dog, Charmer in Chaps) frothy romcom that will leave readers thirsty for a third helping in this sweet, enjoyable series.


It Started with a Dog (Book 2: Lucky Dog series) by Julia London

Berkley (Penguin Books), $16.00 paperback, 9780593100400, 320 pages

Publication Date: September 28, 2021

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (October 2, 2021), link HERE