Always With a Book

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Blog Tour & Review: The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah


Title: The Lost Vintage
Author: Ann Mah
Published: August 2019, William Morrow Paperbacks (Reprint - Paperback Release)
Format: Paperback, 400 pages
Source: Publisher via TLC Book Tours


Summary: 
“If you enjoyed Sarah’s Key and Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale, then this wonderful book by Ann Mah is for you.”   -- Tatiana de Rosnay

Sweetbitter meets The Nightingale in this page-turning novel about a woman who returns to her family’s ancestral vineyard in Burgundy and unexpectedly uncovers a lost diary, an unknown relative, and a secret her family has been keeping since World War II.

To become one of only a few hundred certified wine experts in the world, Kate must pass the notoriously difficult Master of Wine examination. She’s failed twice before; her third attempt will be her last chance. Suddenly finding herself without a job and with the test a few months away, she travels to Burgundy to spend the fall at the vineyard estate that has belonged to her family for generations. There she can bolster her shaky knowledge of Burgundian vintages and reconnect with her cousin Nico and his wife, Heather, who now oversee day-to-day management of the grapes. The one person Kate hopes to avoid is Jean-Luc, a talented young winemaker and her first love.

At the vineyard house, Kate is eager to help her cousin clean out the enormous basement that is filled with generations of discarded and forgotten belongings. Deep inside the cellar, behind a large armoire, she discovers a hidden room containing a cot, some Resistance pamphlets, and an enormous cache of valuable wine. Piqued by the secret space, Kate begins to dig into her family’s history—a search that takes her back to the dark days of World War II and introduces her to a relative she never knew existed, a great–half aunt who was a teenager during the Nazi occupation.

As she learns more about her family, the line between resistance and collaboration blurs, driving Kate to find the answers to two crucial questions: Who, exactly, did her family aid during the difficult years of the war? And what happened to six valuable bottles of wine that seem to be missing from the cellar’s collection?



My thoughts: This is the first book I've read by Ann Mah and I found myself completely captivated by her writing. This historical fiction novel is told in a dual-narrative format and I was drawn to both timelines, which is not always the case. 

Kate returns to her family's home in Burgundy to study for the upcoming Master of Wine exam - an exam she has already failed twice. She needs to spend time learning the Burgundy wines and what better place to do so than in Burgundy? While there, she is helping her cousins clean out the cellar when she discovers a hidden room that is filled with thousands of bottles of wine that were hidden before the Nazi occupation. There are also some pamphlets that seem questionable. Needing to know why this is all there, she begins digging into the past and discovers a journal.

I loved how this story was told in alternating points of view from the present day to the diary entries of the past. This just made the flow between the two stories seem more seamless and allowed the author to really portray the horrors and heartbreak of that devastating time of the war so effectively...I could feel the emotions come out in those words Helene was pouring into her diary. I also felt for Kate who struggled with wanting to know more about this long-lost aunt of hers, but knowing that it went against what her family wanted. 

This book is the perfect blend of historical fiction, the hint of a mystery and the added blossom of a romance. It was written just so that you were enticed to keep wanting more. The historical aspect of the French Resistance during the war was quite compelling and the mystery involving just who Helene was kept me quite intrigued. And then there is the romance between Kate and Jean-Luc - they were lovers once and despite their rocky past, he agrees to step up and help her when she needs it the most. As a reader of romance back in the day, it's easy where that will end up, but it's fun to watch the journey nevertheless!

As a wine lover myself, I found the information about the wine and the wine-making to be quite fascinating. I have yet to visit Napa Valley or France but after reading this book, those places are definitely high on my list of destinations to go.  I cannot recommend this book enough and I certainly will be checking out Ann Mah's other books - I really enjoyed her writing!



About the author:  Ann Mah is a food and travel writer based in Paris and Washington DC. She is the author of the food memoir Mastering the Art of French Eating, and a novel, Kitchen Chinese. She regularly contributes to the New York Times’ Travel section and she has written for Condé Nast Traveler, Vogue.com, BonAppetit.com, Washingtonian
magazine, and other media outlets.

Authors Links:  Website   |   Twitter   |   Facebook    |   Instagram  |   Pinterest
 
Purchase Links:   HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Be sure to check out all the other stops on the blog tour and follow the tour on Twitter (hashtags:  #TLCBookTours & #thelostvintage).


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Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Review: The Whisper Man by Alex North


Title: The Whisper Man
Author: Alex North
Published: August 2019, Celadon Books
Format: ARC Paperback, 368 pages
Source: Publisher

Summary: 
In this dark, suspenseful thriller, Alex North weaves a multi-generational tale of a father and son caught in the crosshairs of an investigation to catch a serial killer preying on a small town.

After the sudden death of his wife, Tom Kennedy believes a fresh start will help him and his young son Jake heal. A new beginning, a new house, a new town. Featherbank.

But the town has a dark past. Twenty years ago, a serial killer abducted and murdered five residents. Until Frank Carter was finally caught, he was nicknamed "The Whisper Man," for he would lure his victims out by whispering at their windows at night.

Just as Tom and Jake settle into their new home, a young boy vanishes. His disappearance bears an unnerving resemblance to Frank Carter's crimes, reigniting old rumors that he preyed with an accomplice. Now, detectives Amanda Beck and Pete Willis must find the boy before it is too late, even if that means Pete has to revisit his great foe in prison: The Whisper Man.

And then Jake begins acting strangely. He hears a whispering at his window...



My thoughts:  It's no surprise that I was drawn to this book. I love dark, creepy books and as soon as I heard about this book, I knew I wanted to read it. I was lucky to snag a copy while I was at BookExpo this past Spring and have been waiting for the perfect opportunity to read it. 

Let me just say...this is probably not the best book to read just before bed. While it's not outright scary, it does having it's chilling, creepy moments and to me, that is almost more intense sometimes - that's what gets more under my skin.

This book is brilliantly plotted and it's really hard to write this review without giving anything away, so forgive me for being vague, but I certainly do not want to ruin anyone's reading experience at all. I loved how this was not only a mystery to solve, but the book takes a hard look at the challenging relationships that occur between fathers and sons, and also at the grieving process and how it is different for everyone. This book is not only creepy and haunting at times, but will play on your emotions! The characters are so richly developed that you will end up having feelings about them - good or bad, you will feel something about them. 

I loved that the book is told from multiple points of view. I love when we get into different characters' heads, especially the killer - these are always the most chilling chapters and this time was no exception. What is exceptional about this book is that there is no indication at the beginning of each chapter to let you know who is going to be narrating it, but you quickly realize who it is...this is just brilliant and it is so mind-boggling how distinctive each of the different voices we are privy to. 

There is a lot of hype about this book and all I can say is that I think it definitely lives up to it. Go into the book with your own expectations, but know that it's a fantastically creepy yet emotional read with just the right amount of suspense and tension to keep you hooked from start to finish.  I can't recommend this book enough and know that I will definitely be pushing this on all my thriller-loving friends!


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Monday, August 19, 2019

Review: The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal


Title: The Doll Factory
Author: Elizabeth Macneal
Published: August 2019, Atria/Emily Bestler Books
Format: ARC Paperback, 368 pages
Source: Publisher

Summary: 
Obsession is an art.

In this “sharp, scary, gorgeously evocative tale of love, art, and obsession” (Paula Hawkins, bestselling author of The Girl on the Train), a beautiful young woman aspires to be an artist, while a man’s dark obsession may destroy her world forever.

In 1850s London, the Great Exhibition is being erected in Hyde Park and, among the crowd watching the dazzling spectacle, two people meet by happenstance. For Iris, an arrestingly attractive aspiring artist, it is a brief and forgettable moment but for Silas, a curiosity collector enchanted by all things strange and beautiful, the meeting marks a new beginning.

When Iris is asked to model for Pre-Raphaelite artist Louis Frost, she agrees on the condition that he will also teach her to paint. Suddenly, her world begins to expand beyond her wildest dreams—but she has no idea that evil is waiting in the shadows. Silas has only thought of one thing since that chance meeting, and his obsession is darkening by the day.

“A page-turning psychological thriller” (Essie Fox, author of The Somnambulist) that will haunt you long after you finish it, The Doll Factory is perfect for fans of The Alienist, Drood, and The Historian.



My thoughts:  I was ecstatic to be able to pick up this gem at BookExpo this past Spring. As soon as I saw that this was going to be a galley drop, it was added to my list of must-get books and I couldn't wait to get my hands on it...part historical fiction, part gothic thriller - that sounds right up my alley!

Can we just take a moment to admire this cover? I have to say this is what originally drew me to this book and then I read the synopsis, I knew I had to read it. I love books set in Victorian London and I felt that the author really does a great job with the sense of place and time. Having watched the most recent season of Victoria, I am quite familiar with all the excitement that The Great Exhibition garnered and I could appreciate that in this book. 

I loved the darkness and creepiness of this book. Obsession can take many forms and we see it go horribly wrong in the way Silas takes to Iris. Their meeting is incredibly brief yet has completely different results for the two of them - Iris will completely forget about the meeting and yet for Silas, it is the beginning of his obsession with her. He is determined to have her and will go to great lengths to make that happen. It was downright creepy just how delusional he becomes in this obsession.

I loved the slow burn of this book. The tension and the suspense gradually build and it is so rich in atmosphere that you can't help but be swept up in the story. Yes, it is dark and disturbing at times, but it is such a deliciously wicked and intriguing story of obsession and art and I felt the streets of Victorian London really come alive. The cast of characters are wonderfully developed and all add to the richness of the story.

I absolutely loved this book - from start to finish I was completely captivated and entranced. This was a remarkable debut novel and I cannot wait to see what Elizabeth Macneal writes next!


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Sunday, August 18, 2019

Short & Sweet Review: Haunted by James Patterson


Title: Haunted
Author: James Patterson
Series: Michael Bennett, #10
Published: September 2017, Little, Brown & Company
Format: Hardcover, 317 pages
Source: Personal copy

Summary: 
You can take Michael Bennett out of New York City, but you can't take the cop out of Michael Bennett.

Detective Michael Bennett is ready for a vacation after a series of crises push him, and his family, to the brink. He settles on an idyllic, small town in the beautiful Maine woods, a recommendation from a former colleague. But just when Bennett thinks he can relax, he gets pulled into a case that has shocked the tight-knit community. Kids are disappearing left and right with no explanation-until several bodies turn up in the woods. As Bennett investigates, he discovers that the seemingly perfect town is reeling from a deadly addiction, and the violence is about to reach a fever pitch. Far from the city streets he knows so well, Bennett faces off against a horrific evil next door that threatens a town, the law, and the family that Bennett loves above all else.



***Short & Sweet Reviews are short, quick reviews. These will mainly be used for series books where I have already done full reviews on some of the earlier books or for books that I feel will suffice with a quick review. These will not be used for review requests or blog tours.


My thoughts: I am a big fan of James Patterson's Michael Bennett series and I am happy to say that I enjoyed this one much more than the last one...and I realize that with a series there are bound to be hits and missed with the books and I'm ok with that. Not every single book is going to be my favorite, but I'm glad this one was a hit!

This latest installment finds the Bennett family dealing with the fallout from the older son's dealings with the drug dealer. Needing a break, the family heads out of town, but just because Detective Bennett is out of NYC doesn't mean he is not going to be working...oh no! It just so happens that the house they are renting belongs to his old partner and she runs the local police department and can use his help on a case that is baffling the locals.

I loved that we see much more of the family in this book. As much as I love the police work of this series, I do love the personal relationships that have developed, particularly the one brewing between Detective Bennett and Mary Catherine and I was very happy to see that one take a big step forward. Maybe having his old partner around, who was a former fling, was just the push they needed!

As usual, this was a quick read and the short chapters give you that "just one more chapter" mentality. The pace at times was quite frantic, but then it would slow down a bit only to ratchet up again. All this to build up the suspense as the book comes to quite the thrilling ending. I am eager to pick up the next book and hope to do so soon!




Books in this series:
     1.  Step on a Crack
     2.  Run For Your Life
     3.  Worst Case
     4.  Tick Tock
     5.  I, Michael Bennett
     6.  Gone
     7.  Burn
     8.  Alert 
     9.  Bullseye 
     9.5  Chase 
     10.  Haunted
     10.5  Manhunt
     11.  Ambush  
     12.  Blindside - due out Feb 2020
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Saturday, August 17, 2019

Review: Montauk by Nicola Harrison


Title: Montauk
Author: Nicola Harrison
Published: June 2019, St. Martin's Press
Format: ARC E-copy, 394 pages
Source: Netgalley via Publisher

Summary:
An epic and cinematic novel by debut author Nicola Harrison, Montauk captures the glamour and extravagance of a summer by the sea with the story of a woman torn between the life she chose and the life she desires.

Montauk, Long Island, 1938.


For three months, this humble fishing village will serve as the playground for New York City’s wealthy elite. Beatrice Bordeaux was looking forward to a summer of reigniting the passion between her and her husband, Harry. Instead, tasked with furthering his investment interest in Montauk as a resort destination, she learns she’ll be spending twelve weeks sequestered with the high society wives at The Montauk Manor—a two-hundred room seaside hotel—while Harry pursues other interests in the city.

College educated, but raised a modest country girl in Pennsylvania, Bea has never felt fully comfortable among these privileged women, whose days are devoted not to their children but to leisure activities and charities that seemingly benefit no one but themselves. She longs to be a mother herself, as well as a loving wife, but after five years of marriage she remains childless while Harry is increasingly remote and distracted. Despite lavish parties at the Manor and the Yacht Club, Bea is lost and lonely and befriends the manor’s laundress whose work ethic and family life stir memories of who she once was.

As she drifts further from the society women and their preoccupations and closer toward Montauk’s natural beauty and community spirit, Bea finds herself drawn to a man nothing like her husband –stoic, plain spoken and enigmatic. Inspiring a strength and courage she had almost forgotten, his presence forces her to face a haunting tragedy of her past and question her future.

Desperate to embrace moments of happiness, no matter how fleeting, she soon discovers that such moments may be all she has, when fates conspire to tear her world apart…



My thoughts: Having grown up on Long Island and recently moved back,  I always love when I find books set in towns here. So of course, I was excited to have been sent this debut novel by Nicola Harrison...and let's just take a moment to admire this beautiful cover...isn't it so striking? I'm such a fan of a good cover and this one is so stunning, yet so simple!

I loved that this whole novel was set in 1938. Yes, I've really come to enjoy dual narratives, but it was so refreshing to have a historical novel all told in one timeframe, from one point of view. It really has such a great sense of time and place - Montauk in the late 1930s really comes alive as a fishing village and you really felt the divide of class between the haves and the have-nots. 

This is such a great character study of a woman who is really struggling to find her place. I loved the main character, Beatrice. She is such a strong woman who is held back by the standards of her time. She is supposed to be a "good wife" and do as she is told, which according to her husband, Harry, is to hang out with the high society women at the manor, while he is spending his time in NYC, drinking and cavorting with other women. As Beatrice feels she doesn't fit in with these women, she ends up making friends with the locals. 

I really enjoyed this book. I enjoyed seeing Montauk as it was in 1938 and am desperate to find local history books to see just how it looked back then. And of course, I will definitely be heading out there to visit one day soon - it's been ages since I last took a trip to Montauk! I definitely recommend picking this book up - the writing is beautiful and you will find yourself completely immersed in the story. I will certainly be keeping an eye out for what comes next from this author for sure!



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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Review: The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang


Title: The Kiss Quotient
Author: Helen Hoang
Series: The Kiss Quotient, #1
Published: June 2018, Berkley
Format: Paperback, 336 pages
Source: Library

Summary: 
A heartwarming and refreshing debut novel that proves one thing: there's not enough data in the world to predict what will make your heart tick.

Stella Lane thinks math is the only thing that unites the universe. She comes up with algorithms to predict customer purchases--a job that has given her more money than she knows what to do with, and way less experience in the dating department than the average thirty-year-old.

It doesn't help that Stella has Asperger's and French kissing reminds her of a shark getting its teeth cleaned by pilot fish. Her conclusion: she needs lots of practice--with a professional. Which is why she hires escort Michael Phan. The Vietnamese and Swedish stunner can't afford to turn down Stella's offer, and agrees to help her check off all the boxes on her lesson plan--from foreplay to more-than-missionary position...

Before long, Stella not only learns to appreciate his kisses, but crave all of the other things he's making her feel. Their no-nonsense partnership starts making a strange kind of sense. And the pattern that emerges will convince Stella that love is the best kind of logic...



My thoughts:  It's been a while since I've read a romance book, but let me tell you...I absolutely loved this one and I certainly will be adding this genre to my reading repertoire. With so many books out there and my love for thrillers and psychological suspense novels, it's so easy to fall down the rabbit hole and get caught up in one genre, but then I forget that there are all these other books out there. I realized that with historical fiction earlier this year, and now thanks to #notyomamasbookclub for selecting this as it's August pick, I have found my love of romcoms again!

This book is so sweet and tender, yet it sure has it's steamy parts! I found it contained the most endearing characters, ones that I will not be forgetting anytime soon. But even more than that, this book is filled with substance - it's not just a light, fluffy chick read.

I loved Stella. She is what made this book for me. She is an econometrician and has Autism and so she doesn't do well in social situations. She's gone out with a few guys in the past but the guys have been jerks. She is convinced she needs lessons in order to have a successful relationship, so she hires Michael, an escort to teach her. As soon as these two meet, I could feel the sparks fly and while I knew how things would ultimately end...it is a romance novel after all...I loved watching their journey. To me, that is what these books are all about and this one was one of the best ones I've read in a long time.

One of the most striking themes that came across in this book when it came to relationships and the sex was consent. I loved that...it was so refreshing to see that being taken so seriously, that nothing was taken for granted just because Stella had hired an escort or because of her autism. But a word of caution...this book is plenty steamy when it comes to those sex scenes, so if that is something you aren't a fan of, be forewarned...and let me just say, these scenes come on rather quickly...like chapter 3!

I loved having the book alternate from Stella and Michael's points of view, though I will say I looked forward to Stella's chapters sections more. Her voice was very unique and Helen Hoang did a fantastic job capturing the vulnerability and uniqueness of Stella. I think in part this is because Helen herself was diagnosed with Autism and she used what she knew to write this character. 

This is the first book in this series and I definitely plan on reading this series for however long it lasts. I loved the writing and knowing what I know about Helen Hoang, I can only imagine that these next books will feature smart, endearing characters as well.


Books in this series:
  1. The Kiss Quotient
  2. The Bride Test
  3. The Heart Principle


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Short & Sweet Review: 16th Seduction by James Patterson


Title: 16th Seduction
Author: James Patterson
Series: Women's Murder Club, #16
Published: May 2017, Little, Brown & Company
Format: Hardcover, 350 pages
Source: Personal copy

Summary: 
Fifteen months ago, Detective Lindsay Boxer's life was perfect--she had a beautiful child and a doting husband, Joe, who helped her catch a criminal who'd brazenly detonated a bomb in downtown San Francisco, killing twenty-five people. But Joe wasn't everything that Lindsay thought he was, and she's still reeling from his betrayal as a wave of mysterious, and possibly unnatural, heart attacks claims seemingly unrelated victims across San Francisco. As if that weren't enough, the bomber she and Joe captured is about to go on trial, and his defense raises damning questions about Lindsay and Joe's investigation. Not knowing whom to trust, and struggling to accept the truth about the man she thought she knew, Lindsay must connect the dots of a deadly conspiracy before a brilliant criminal puts her on trial.



***Short & Sweet Reviews are short, quick reviews. These will mainly be used for series books where I have already done full reviews on some of the earlier books or for books that I feel will suffice with a quick review. These will not be used for review requests or blog tours.


My thoughts: The Women's Murder Club is one of my favorite series to read because I love the four main characters so much. This series is a fun, thrilling, addicting series to read, one that I've kept up with mainly because of the characters and also because they are mindless reads. I love the fact that we have four independent women from different aspects of the community - a detective, a medical examiner, an attorney, and a reporter - and that they all work together to not only solve cases, but keep each other's lives running smoothly.

I liked that all four women were involved in that cases this time around. Sometimes I feel that the books tend to focus on some of the women more than others, but this time around, all four seemed to have equal page time. The cases they were involved in were equally interesting, but at this point of the game, I have to say, I'm a little more interested in the character development than the actual cases. That is what is keeping me hooked on this series.

I will say, though, that I do feel bad for Lindsay and Joe's daughter...and you can totally see that Lindsay has a hard time juggling work and life. That little girl is left in the hands of the babysitter more times than you can count. Of course, with Lindsay and Joe's marriage on rocky ground and then him getting hurt in the explosion and her always working, it's a good thing they have their neighbor around all the time!
 


Books in this series:

    
1.   1st to Die                                    13.   Unlucky 13
     2.   2nd Chance                               14.   14th Deadly Sin
     3.   3rd Degree                                15.    15th Affair
     4.   4th of July                                 15.5   The Trial
     5.   The 5th Horseman                   16.    16th Seduction
     6.   The 6th Target                          16.5   The Medical Examiner
     7.   7th Heaven                                 17.    The 17th Suspect   
     8.   The 8th Confession                  18.   The 18th Abduction
     9.   The 9th Judgment               19.   The 19th Christmas - due out Oct 2019
    10.  10th Anniversary
    11.   11th Hour
    12.   12th of Never       


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