The three most important parts of a book are: a well constructed plot, compelling characters, and a satisfying conclusion.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

ON MYSTIC LAKE By Kristin Hannah

Publisher:  Crown
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 334
Release Date:  1999

Book Description:  When her husband announces that he wants a divorce after 20 years of marriage, Anne Colwater retreats to her childhood home in Mystic, Washington, where she rediscovers love, but also emotional hardship.

Wanda's Thoughts:  A strong theme of healing runs throughout as drastic changes come about in the lives of Annie and Nick. Through these life altering events the two of them gain strength from each other. 

The characters are vibrantly drawn and brought to life in this captivating read. I was touched by certain scenes - poignant circumstances that were emotional and intense. The story will certainly touch your heart. My favorite character was Natalie, the daughter who displayed a vivid personality, and had a lot of common sense beyond her years. There were several scenes between Annie and Natalie that just warmed your heart. 

My rating is 4 stars.

About the Author:  Kristin Hannah

Kristin Hannah is the New York Times bestselling author of twenty-one novels, including the blockbuster Firefly Lane and #1 bestsellers Night Road and Home Front. She is a former lawyer turned writer and is the mother of one son. She lives in the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii with her husband.

Friday, April 15, 2016

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️COUNTRY COOKING from a Redneck Kitchen By Francine Bryson

Publisher:  Clarkson Potter
Pages:  240
Release Date:  March 29, 2016
Format:  Paperback

Book Description: 
Few people know that national pie champion Francine Bryson got her start on the cooking contest circuit at age sixteen with a savory stuffed pork loin—that won first place. In Country Cooking from a Redneck Kitchen, Francine invites you into her home to share recipes for everything that graces her Southern table: chicken dinners, savory pies, Sunday suppers to serve the preacher, make-and-take casseroles, dips and other redneck whatnots, backyard barbecue favorites—and, of course, three chapters devoted to her celebrated baked goods, including her most-requested holiday sweets. Feeding people is what Francine loves to do, and here are simple instructions for 125 dishes with 60 color photographs to help you to bring her Southern charm to your table.

Wanda's Thoughts:  I instantly loved this cookbook and I know it is one I will use often. So far I’ve tried just two recipes – Cheeseburger Pie and Meatloaf – and they were both delicious! The Meatloaf is the most flavorful I’ve ever eaten – just superb! I already have most of the recipes marked to try.

Country Cooking is a compilation of scrumptious Southern recipes, and the ultimate in comfort food. The recipes are easy to follow and require ingredients that are easy to obtain, and many that you already have in your food-pantry. Most of the recipes are really simple to make, with clear instructions, and require only a few steps to complete.

I highly recommend this cookbook. You will truly be inspired to try the many mouth-watering recipes. 5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

⭐️⭐️THE JAPANESE LOVER By Isabel Allende

Publisher:  Atria Books
Release Date:  November 2015
Pages:  336
Format:  Hardcover
Genre:  Historical Fiction

About the Book: 
From New York Times and internationally bestselling author Isabel Allende, an exquisitely crafted love story and multigenerational epic that sweeps from San Francisco in the present-day to Poland and the United States during the Second World War.

In 1939, as Poland falls under the shadow of the Nazis, young Alma Belasco's parents send her away to live in safety with an aunt and uncle in their opulent mansion in San Francisco. There, as the rest of the world goes to war, she encounters Ichimei Fukuda, the quiet and gentle son of the family's Japanese gardener. Unnoticed by those around them, a tender love affair begins to blossom. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the two are cruelly pulled apart as Ichimei and his family, like thousands of other Japanese Americans are declared enemies and forcibly relocated to internment camps run by the United States government. Throughout their lifetimes, Alma and Ichimei reunite again and again, but theirs is a love that they are forever forced to hide from the world.

Decades later, Alma is nearing the end of her long and eventful life. Irina Bazili, a care worker struggling to come to terms with her own troubled past, meets the elderly woman and her grandson, Seth, at San Francisco's charmingly eccentric Lark House nursing home. As Irina and Seth forge a friendship, they become intrigued by a series of mysterious gifts and letters sent to Alma, eventually learning about Ichimei and this extraordinary secret passion that has endured for nearly seventy years.

Sweeping through time and spanning generations and continents, The Japanese Lover explores questions of identity, abandonment, redemption, and the unknowable impact of fate on our lives. Written with the same attention to historical detail and keen understanding of her characters that Isabel Allende has been known for since her landmark first novel The House of the Spirits, The Japanese Lover is a profoundly moving tribute to the constancy of the human heart in a world of unceasing change.

Wanda's Thoughts: 
The Japanese Lover is the story of Alma Belasco. In 1939 Alma’s parents send her to San Francisco to live with wealthy relatives. It was there that she met Ichimei Fukuda, the son of their Japanese gardener. Their relationship is formed early on as children and continues through the rest of their lives.

And the story unfolds over a period of many years and Alma is living in Lark House, an elderly care facility. It is there that she meets Irina Bazili. Irina assists the elderly residents with their daily routines. Irina and Alma connect and secrets are slowly revealed.

The premise of this book was a good one, but unfortunately it never came together.

I found the book to be disappointing on multiple levels – the characters were shallow and the dialogue was flat. I found myself caring very little to what happened to both the story and the characters. The tempo of the story line moved at a very slow pace with too many unnecessary details. There were multiple subjects that went nowhere and the story felt disjointed. There was just nothing that swept me away or evoked many emotions.

On a positive note – there was historical information woven into the storyline that I found most interesting about the Japanese Internment during WWII.

My rating is 2.5 stars.

About the Author:Isabel Allende Llona is a Chilean-American novelist. Allende, who writes in the "magic realism" tradition, is considered one of the first successful women novelists in Latin America. She has written novels based in part on her own experiences, often focusing on the experiences of women, weaving myth and realism together. She has lectured and done extensive book tours and has taught literature at several US colleges. She currently resides in California with her husband. Allende adopted U.S. citizenship in 2003.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

⭐️⭐️⭐️MIDNIGHT ASSASSIN: A Murder in America's Heartland By Patricia L Bryan, Thomas Wolf

Publisher:  Algonquin Books
Release Date:  2005
Pages:  278
Genre: Non Fiction/True Crime
Format:  Hardcover

Book Description: 
In 1900, Margaret Hossack, the wife of a prominent Iowa farmer, was arrested for bludgeoning her husband to death with an ax while their children slept upstairs. The community was outraged: How could a woman commit such an act of violence? Firsthand accounts describe the victim, John Hossack, as a cruel and unstable man. Perhaps Margaret Hossack was acting out of fear. Or perhaps the story she told was true—that an intruder broke into the house, killed her husband while she slept soundly beside him, and was still on the loose. Newspapers across the country carried the story, and community sentiment was divided over her guilt. At trial, Margaret was convicted of murder, but later was released on appeal. Ultimately, neither her innocence nor her guilt was ever proved.

Patricia Bryan and Thomas Wolf examine the harsh realities of farm life at the turn of the century and look at the plight of women—legally, socially, and politically—during that period. What also emerges is the story of early feminist Susan Glaspell, who covered the Hossack case as a young reporter and later used it as the basis for her acclaimed work “ A Jury of Her Peers.”

Midnight Assassin expertly renders the American character and experience: our obsession with crime, how justice is achieved, and the powerful influence of the media.

Wanda's Thoughts: 
1900 - Iowa - a gruesome murder of an Iowa farmer takes place - a crime that would never be solved. John Hossack's murder was described as being one of the most awful things to ever happen in the state of Iowa. This was a tragic case, not only for the victim and the accused, but also for the family.

There was a long history of conflict in the Hossack family, with numerous family quarrels. John Hossack was unpredictable and prone to bursts of rage. He was a man filled with deep anger and his bad temper could be easily triggered, especially by his wife. But he was remembered in the community as an honorable man and a good farmer.

Margaret Hossack was not popular in the neighborhood. She was a woman who did not make friends easily. It was a case built on circumstantial evidence. Her children surrounded her with loving support, not believing that their mother was capable of this violent murder. She seemed to be a typical farmwife, and committing such a violent crime seemed to be out of character for her.

What really happened that night? Who was the Midnight Assassin? Was Margaret Hossack's story of an unknown intruder plausible?

The Midnight Assassin is sad, disturbing, and eerie, but very slow paced. Most of the book was informative, but was not a real page turner, not having a good flow. I was tempted at times to put it to the side. On a positive note, the authors did their homework on research, and were able to weave together some interesting facts that were quite relevant to this horrible crime. There was some interesting insight on what it must've been like as a woman back in the early 1900's.

My rating is 3 stars - just lukewarm.

Monday, March 7, 2016

⭐️⭐️FEAR THE DARK (Bishop/Special Crimes Unit) By Kay Hooper

Publisher:  Berkley
Genre:  Fiction/Paranormal
Pages:  272
Release Date:  October 20, 2015
Format:  Hardcover

Book Description: 
In New York Times bestselling author Kay Hooper’s new novel, an SCU team investigates a troubling string of disappearances. But how do you find someone who has vanished without a trace?

Something strange is happening in the small mountain town of Serenity, Tennessee. People going on routine errands never reach their destination. It’s as if they simply disappear. Over the past few weeks, it’s happened to five men and women—and now a child.

The local police chief calls the FBI, and a team from the Special Crimes Unit is immediately sent in. Agents Lucas and Samantha Jordan, partners in work and in life, have very different abilities. Samantha is clairvoyant and Lucas possesses a unique ability to find the lost or abducted. With them are new partners Dante Swann, a medium, and Robbie Hodge, a telepath.

The town is already on the edge of panic, but the mysterious events take a sinister turn when a body unrelated to the missing persons case surfaces and one of the SCU agents vanishes. Now, the team’s hunt for the lost has turned into something very personal…and very dangerous.

Wanda's Review: 
There are strange occurrences in the town of Serenity as people are disappearing without a trace. The FBI Special Crimes Unit is brought in to help with the investigation. They are agents with psychic powers who use their special abilities to find lost people.

Unfortunately I struggled with this book, finding it to be disappointing on multiple levels. There was very little depth to both the story line and the characters. I found myself caring very little to what happened to the characters and skimmed through parts of the book. I have many unanswered questions on certain aspects of the story line, and the ending seemed hurried and contrived. I regretted wasting my time on this book. 2 stars.

About the Author: Kay Hooper was born in California, in an air force base hospital since her father was stationed there at the time. The family moved back to North Carolina shortly afterward, so she was raised and went to school there.
The oldest of three children, Kay has a brother two years younger and a sister seven years younger. Her father and brother are builders who own a highly respected construction company, and her mother worked for many years in personnel management before becoming Kay's personal assistant, a position she held until her untimely death in March 2002. Kay's sister Linda works as her Business Manager, Events Coordinator, and is playing a major role in the creation and operation of The Kay Hooper Foundation.

Kay graduated from East Rutherford High School and attended Isothermal Community College — where she quickly discovered that business classes did not in any way enthrall her. Switching to more involving courses such as history and literature, she also began to concentrate on writing, which had been a longtime interest. Very quickly hooked, she asked for a Christmas typewriter and began seriously working on her first novel. That book, a Regency romance titled Lady Thief, sold to Dell Publishing in 1980. She has since published more than 60 novels and four novellas.

Kay is single and lives in a very small town in North Carolina, not far from her father and siblings. Deigning to live with her are a flock of cats — Bonnie, Ginger, Oscar, Tuffy, Felix, Renny, and Isabel — of various personalities who all like sleeping on manuscripts and whatever research happens to be spread across Kay's desk. And living amongst the many felines are two cheerfully tolerant dogs, a shelter rescue, Bandit, who looks rather like a small sheepdog, and a Sheltie named Lizzie.

Kay Robbins is a pseudonym used by her.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Healthy Fats, Low-Cholesterol Cookbook By American Heart Association

Publisher:  Harmony
Release Date:  12/29/2015
Pages:  384
Genre:  Cookbook
Format:  Paperback

Book Description:  The classic cookbook for achieving heart health and wellbeing through a diet that is low in cholesterol and saturated fat--updated and revised with 200 recipes (including 50 new to this edition)

Lose the bad fats, but not the flavor.

Now in its fifth edition, American Heart Association Healthy Fats, Low-Cholesterol Cookbook provides the most up-to-date information on heart health and nutrition. Good-for-you food should also be satisfying, and the American Heart Association reveals how easy it is to replace the bad fats in your diet with healthier ones. This classic cookbook offers more than 200 tempting dishes, 50 of which are new, including:

·         Fresh Basil and Kalamata Hummus
·         Triple-Pepper and White Bean Soup with Rotini
·         Taco Salad
·         Hearty Fish Chowder
·         Chicken Pot Pie with Mashed Potato Topping
·         Balsamic Braised Beef with Exotic Mushrooms
·         Grilled Pizza with Grilled Vegetables
·         Stovetop Scalloped Tomatoes
·         Puffed Pancake with Apple-Cranberry Sauce
·         Mango Brûlée with Pine Nuts

The perfect companion for today’s healthy cook, this indispensable collection of recipes proves you can eat deliciously and nutritiously.

Wanda's Thoughts:
What a fantastic collection of recipes! 200 delicious recipes, and they are healthy for you without sacrificing flavor. I’ve tried five of the recipes included – Broccoli Cheese Soup, Rustic Tomato Soup, Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Ricotta and Goat Cheese, Macaroni Salad with Ricotta, and Garlic Chicken Fillets in Balsamic Vinegar. They were all delicious, and I have many more marked to try. I love the simplicity of the recipes, and most of the ingredients can be found in my food-pantry. I also appreciated the nutritional analysis included for each recipe. If you are counting calories this is very helpful.

Also included are helpful hints for staying healthy by understanding the fundamentals of good nutrition and how to apply them to your everyday life.

This is a cookbook that has certainly earned a special place in my kitchen. I whole-“heartedly” recommend it with a 5 star rating.

I received a complimentary copy of this cookbook from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, February 22, 2016

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️CRIMSON STAIN By Jim Fisher

Publisher:  CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Release Date:  June 2013
Pages:  410
Genre:  Non-Fiction/True Crime
Format:  Paperback

Book Description: 
CRIMSON STAIN is the shocking true story of murder in an Old-Order Amish community. The ritualistic murder of Katie Gingerich in rural Pennsylvania set into motion a clash of Amish and modern values about mental illness, domestic violence, and criminal justice. CRIMSON STAIN is a window into the private and mysterious world of the Old-Order Amish. This revised and expanded edition of CRIMSON STAIN tells the shocking and tragic story of the Gingerich family up to the present day. REVIEWS OF THE FIRST EDITION: "A truly unique contribution to the true-crime genre." Phoenix Book Review "A fascinating, heart-wrenching, and sobering account of the consequences of an untreated mental illness and its effects on a community that co-exists with modern society but is separate from it." Sunday Patriot News (Harrisburg, PA) "Fisher writes in a clear, highly readable style." Erie Times-News

Wanda's Thoughts:  This was a disturbing story that takes place in an Amish Brownhill community in Pennsylvania. It’s a very violent and depressing story that begins in 1985 when Ed Gingerich and Katie Shetler, an Amish couple, begin their married life.

Ed was a very heartless man, with a cruel streak in him. He hated farm work, was self-possessed, and rather independent. It wasn’t long until Katie was showing the effects of a marriage that had only given her misery. In 1993 the unthinkable happens when a very mentally disturbed Ed Gingerich, destroys his wife, Katie, in front of their children. This was a horrendous and very gruesome crime!

This is also a story of how the lives of that Amish community are changed forever, and how they suffered because of this horrific crime.

This very disturbing book profoundly moved me! This is a book that will make your heart ache, and it’s one you’ll not soon forget. It is not an easy book to read because of the graphic content. The author certainly did his homework with all of the details included. 5 stars.

About the Author:  Jim Fisher is a former FBI agent and professor emeritus of criminal justice at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, where he taught courses in criminal law, criminal investigation, and forensic science. He is the author of nine published works of nonfiction, including books on the Lindbergh kidnapping case, false confessions, scam artists, and forensic science. Two of his books were nominated for Edgar Allan Poe Awards by the Mystery Writers of America. He is the author of the popular Jim Fisher True Crime Blog (