Monday, January 4, 2021

Monday Book Review: The Sugar House by Kat Szmit

 

About the Book:

As kids growing up in Walton, New Hampshire, Penny McAllister and Ethan Dunford were nearly inseparable and a childhood friendship blossomed into love. But in 1986, days before prom, an act of unspeakable violence tore the two apart. Decades later, her parents gone, Penny has returned to ready her family homestead for sale, wanting nothing more than to lay the ghosts of the past to rest and get as far away from Walton as possible. But a mysterious visitor to the vacant backyard sugar house sets in motion a new relationship that could have Penny thinking twice about selling, especially after she learns that Ethan is still in town, and single. With a possible, new future laid out before them, can these three people finally find a path to healing among the Walton woods and sugar maples?

 

My Take:

Prior to Christmas, my son and I went to Chatham to grab two specific gifts for my husband. Parking was not as scarce as it is during most holiday seasons - an upside to the pandemic, I guess - but we still had to walk a few blocks to get to the stores we were heading for. Masks on and head down, we were surprised to see an author sitting at a sidewalk table in front of a local bookstore, a pile of books at her side. Even more surprising was that she recognized us from my Instagram posts of my son and our new puppies, despite our masks.

My son had just dyed his hair a brilliant shade of red, which tipped her off.

Cape Cod can be a very small place. Especially in the off season.

We stopped to chat, and talked about her new book. A first novel is a big deal, and I was happy to support her (and happy that the premise sounded interesting.) I purchased a copy, had her sign it and continued on the quest for Christmas gifts. I put the book on my shelf and forgot about it in the semi-chaos of end of quarter at work on top of the holidays...

And then I found it again New Years Day, quickly losing myself in the lyrical narrative.

THE SUGAR HOUSE is a wonderful debut novel from a talented writer. Told in a third person with a literary fiction style, this is a story of emotional discovery, forgiveness, and reconciliation with the past. Moving back and forth in time, the author tells a story of childhood friends with large obstacles to overcome, one of which is three decades of separation.

Each of the three main characters have secrets from the others, some from the past and some from the present. Secrets that keep them apart, keep them from fully knowing and trusting the other. As each secret is revealed, another layer peels away until the truth is all that's left. 

At the start of the story, Penny McAllister returns to her New Hampshire hometown six months after the passing of her father. She left home at 18 under a cloud of whispers, attending college on the opposite coast and never returning for more than a day or two at a time. Now that both of her parents are dead, she's determined to put their house on the market and close the door on that chapter of her life forever. 

Digging through boxes stirs memories, both heartwarming and painful, and she's surprised when the good memories begin to outweigh the bad. Discovering a trespasser in the property's outbuilding - her dad's old sugaring house - changes her plans for a quick turnaround on the property. A tentative friendship blossoms as Penny connects to the young girl through cooking lessons, and for a while the reader is the only one who knows how all three of the characters are connected, or that the girl's father is Penny's childhood friend.

Kat Szmit is a master wordsmith, painting the landscape of a small town, rural community with her words with complete accuracy. She lovingly describes the cooking and baking lessons between Penny and Mickey in such detail the reader can almost smell the freshly baking bread and bubbling tomato sauce. (Should the author consider a second edition, I would humbly recommend adding some of Penny's recipes at the end.)

The author fluctuates between points of view, even dropping in a few omniscient narrator paragraphs once in a while, so if head hopping bugs you as a reader, be forewarned. Other than that, this is a solid debut novel and a thoroughly compelling read. Five sparkling stars for a new-to-me author.

Available at Cape Cod bookstores (like the Yellow Umbrella in Chatham, where I bought mine.)

Also available on AMAZON in Kindle or paperback

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

GHOST IN THE MACHINE wins a Book of the Year award!

 

I'm honored and thrilled to have been awarded a Book of the Year award from N.N. Light's Book Heaven, winning in the paranormal suspense category. The email announcing my win said "Out of the 1,000 books we read and reviewed in 2020, yours is one of the best." 

In a year where so many things have been disappointing (to say the least!) this is one very exciting and very welcome piece of good news!

The book is available in ebook and paperback from Amazon, and hopefully available at local bookstores next summer - you know, when we're able to return to local bookstores once again.

 

Happy Holidays to All!

Monday, November 30, 2020

Monday Book Review: Cold Wicked Lies (Cold Justice: Crossfire, Book 3), by Toni Anderson

 

About the Book:

In an effort to halt an armed standoff, FBI negotiator Charlotte Blood tries to unravel the mystery of a young woman’s death on a remote mountainside. Pity she has to fight her stubborn, sexy, Hostage Rescue Team counterpart every step of the way.

As a highly skilled operative, HRT leader Payne Novak doesn’t have time to play detective or make nice with killers who flout the law. His focus is getting inside the compound and ending the siege as quickly as possible.

Forced to work together, the battle-hardened HRT team leader and the quietly determined negotiator figure out they might have more in common than they anticipated. As the clock ticks, Charlotte discovers there are some dangers she can’t talk her way out of, and the race to unearth long-buried lies becomes a matter of survival for everyone on the mountain.

 

MY TAKE: 

I think I've mentioned before - and recently - that enemies to lovers is not my favorite romance trope. It usually feels forced. But I'm signed up to write one that's due out next year, so I thought I should explore how other authors handle the relationship in real and believable ways. Claire Marti did an excellent job with her recent Christmas story. And this weekend I read Toni Anderson's take on the trope in one of her recent Cold Justice: Crossfire series stories. 

If you haven't read anything by Toni Anderson, what are you waiting for? She is an absolute genius of romantic suspense and FBI thrillers. I've read her entire Cold Justice series, and now the first three books of the Crossfire spinoff series. Gritty, detailed, believable suspense that will have you turning pages faster than you ever thought possible. Anderson drags you along on her wild roller coaster ride, kicking and screaming and eating up every word on the page.

FBI hostage negotiator Charlotte Blood has appeared in several other books, and I was glad to see she finally got her own story. The book takes on he said/she said dueling POVs, with several chapters sprinkled throughout in other character POVs to forward the plot. The instant antagonism between Charlotte and Payne Novak is palpable and feels justified, although their situation commander's solution seems contrived. Making the two pair so tightly wouldn't seem to be the most efficient way for anyone to get their jobs done. It does, however, give the pair insight into each other's motivations and drivers, and help them each see past the external face the other presents to the world.

With a ripped from the headlines plot, this fast-paced story kept me engrossed and engaged, with writing that crackled off the page and characters you wanted to root for. Totally recommend and give 5 shiny stars. Despite the fact that I've read all her books - and recommend all of them - I think this would easily work as a standalone read. Or, be like me and start at the beginning. The first book of the Cold Justice series is perma-free for Kindle, to suck you in. Believe me, you won't regret it.

Grab COLD WICKED LIES on AMAZON

Or, Grab the first book of the original series A COLD DARK PLACE on AMAZON

 

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends and readers... and my readers who are also my friends!

 ~ Stay safe ~ stay healthy ~ be happy ~