Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center

things you save in a fire

Book Blurb:

“Cassie Hanwell was born for emergencies. As one of the only female firefighters in her Texas firehouse, she’s seen her fair share of them, and she’s excellent at dealing with other people’s tragedies. But when her estranged and ailing mother asks her to uproot her life and move to Boston, it’s an emergency of a kind Cassie never anticipated.

The tough, old-school Boston firehouse is as different from Cassie’s old job as it could possibly be. Hazing, a lack of funding, and poor facilities mean that the firemen aren’t exactly thrilled to have a “lady” on the crew, even one as competent and smart as Cassie. Except for the handsome rookie, who doesn’t seem to mind having Cassie around. But she can’t think about that. Because she doesn’t fall in love. And because of the advice her old captain gave her: don’t date firefighters. Cassie can feel her resolve slipping…but will she jeopardize her place in a career where she’s worked so hard to be taken seriously?”

My Thoughts:

I enjoyed listening to this book. I was thrilled when I started listening and recognized one of my favorite narrators, Therese Plummer. She has a way of just pulling me into the story. I did enjoy the storyline and appreciated the struggles the main character had as a female in an all-male fire station where she faced discrimination. The characters were not particularly unique, but I enjoyed them nevertheless. I enjoyed reading about a strong female character who faced her obstacles positively. This book also had a pretty typical romance formulaic storyline, but I’m OK with that. I actually like knowing that there will be a happy ending. So if you are looking for a fun, easy read with some romance, I’d recommend this one.

My Rating: 4 Stars

Hardcover: 320 pages
Published: August 13, 2019 by St. Martin’s Press

Follow Me by Kathleen Barber

follow me

Book Blurb:

Everyone wants new followers…until they follow you home.

Audrey Miller has an enviable new job at the Smithsonian, a body by reformer Pilates, an apartment door with a broken lock, and hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers to bear witness to it all. Having just moved to Washington, DC, Audrey busies herself impressing her new boss, interacting with her online fan base, and staving off a creepy upstairs neighbor with the help of the only two people she knows in town: an ex-boyfriend she can’t stay away from and a sorority sister with a high-powered job and a mysterious past.

But Audrey’s faulty door may be the least of her security concerns. Unbeknownst to her, her move has brought her within striking distance of someone who’s obsessively followed her social media presence for years—from her first WordPress blog to her most recent Instagram Story. No longer content to simply follow her carefully curated life from a distance, he consults the dark web for advice on how to make Audrey his and his alone. In his quest to win her heart, nothing is off-limits—and nothing is private.

Kathleen Barber’s electrifying new thriller will have you scrambling to cover your webcam and digital footprints.”

My Thoughts:

I was really in the mood for a compelling psychological suspense book, and this one intrigued me because of the social media aspect. Especially now that we are all in stay at home mode and turning to social media even more than ever to stay connected.

I don’t have a lot that I can say about this one. I enjoyed the book, but I didn’t find it as compelling as I had hoped it would be. The “on the edge of your seat” feeling I was hoping for never happened. It did make me think about my social media footprint. For some people, it might be a wake-up call not to over-share. Some other reviewers have found it to be more compelling than I did. I would recommend it as a decent story about social media if someone is looking for something like that to read.

Thank you to Negalley and the publisher for a copy to review.

My Rating: 3 Stars

Hardcover:  336 pages
Published: February 25, 2020 by Gallery Books

Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen


Today I have a new guest blogger – my husband, Bob.  He just finished a book he felt was timely and offered to write up a review about it.

Bob’s Review:

Housebound by the coronavirus, I thought this book by David Quammen was an appropriate book to dig into. David Quammen has written extensively for magazines like Outside and National Geographic. He is also the author of a number of books on nature topics including the brilliant Song of the Dodo (1996) on island biogeography. At his best, Quammen makes scientific research accessible to lay readers and gives the topics an immediacy through interviews and visiting the sites that are the subject of his discussion.

In Spillover:  Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, Quammen provides an outstanding, 520 page densely packed discussion of the history and science of pandemics, particularly those that involve zoonosis. Zoonosis is “an animal infection transmissible to humans.” (p. 14) Included are some of the most feared diseases known to man such as the Marburger virus, Ebola, SARS, and AIDS [and the current coronavirus, COVID-19, which obviously post-dated the book]. Quammen presciently ultimately argues that a zoonosis-based pandemic is predictable. If nothing else, Quammen’s book should serve as an important corrective to those who consider the current pandemic as unforeseeable and should convince any fair-minded reader that Trump’s decision to terminate the pandemic response program in 2018 was irresponsible if not reckless. Consider: “I have asked not just [Robert] Webster but also many other eminent disease scientists, including some of the world’s experts on Ebola, on SARS, on bat-borne viruses generally, on the HIVs, and on viral evolution, the same two-part question: (1) Will a new disease emerge, in the near future, sufficiently virulent and transmissible to cause a pandemic on the scale of AIDS or the 1918 flu killing tens of millions of people? And (2) If so, what does it look like and whence does it come? Their answers to the first part have ranged from Maybe to Probably. Their answers to the second part have focused on RNA viruses…. None of them has disputed the premise, by the way, that if there is a Next Big One it will be zoonotic.”  He quotes a 1997 lecture from Donald S. Burke which concluded: “”Some of these viruses,’ he warned, citing coronaviruses in particular, ‘should be considered as serious threats to human health. These are viruses with high evolvability and proven ability to cause epidemics in animal populations.’” (id. at 512-13; emphasis added). Note that this is a popular science account from 2012.  Check it out.

My assessment:  5 Stars

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri

the beekeeper of aleppo

Book Blurb:

The unforgettable love story of a mother blinded by loss and her husband who insists on their survival as they undertake the Syrian refugee trail to Europe.

Nuri is a beekeeper; his wife, Afra, an artist. They live a simple life, rich in family and friends, in the beautiful Syrian city of Aleppo–until the unthinkable happens. When all they care for is destroyed by war, they are forced to escape. But what Afra has seen is so terrible she has gone blind, and so they must embark on a perilous journey through Turkey and Greece towards an uncertain future in Britain. On the way, Nuri is sustained by the knowledge that waiting for them is Mustafa, his cousin and business partner, who has started an apiary and is teaching fellow refugees in Yorkshire to keep bees.

As Nuri and Afra travel through a broken world, they must confront not only the pain of their own unspeakable loss, but dangers that would overwhelm the bravest of souls. Above all, they must journey to find each other again.”

My Thoughts:

Wow. This one is a must read and so important for learning about the experiences of the immigrants seeking asylum. Lefteri has written an outstanding book bringing into focus what life is like for these refugees without ever being preachy about it. Lefteri has worked with refugees and spent time asking their stories in helping her to write this book and develop this story. One member of my book group has a son who has worked in Cypress with refugees, and she said this book rang true compared to what her son has told her. This beautifully written book had a lot of depth. Lefteri deftly develops the story to reveal information about the characters, and my heart just ached for these terrific characters. As depressing as the book could be, it ended on a note of hope. I highly recommend this book.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of the book for review.

My Rating: 5 Stars

Hardcover: 317 pages
Published: August 27, 2019 by Ballantine Books

The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai

the mountains sing


Book Blurb:

“An epic account of Việt Nam’s painful 20th century history, both vast in scope and intimate in its telling . . . Moving and riveting.” —VIET THANH NGUYEN, author of The Sympathizer, winner of the Pulitzer Prize

With the epic sweep of Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko or Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing and the lyrical beauty of Vaddey Ratner’s In the Shadow of the BanyanThe Mountains Sing tells an enveloping, multigenerational tale of the Trần family, set against the backdrop of the Việt Nam War. Trần Diệu Lan, who was born in 1920, was forced to flee her family farm with her six children during the Land Reform as the Communist government rose in the North. Years later in Hà Nội, her young granddaughter, Hương, comes of age as her parents and uncles head off down the Hồ Chí Minh Trail to fight in a conflict that tore not just her beloved country, but her family apart.

Vivid, gripping, and steeped in the language and traditions of Việt Nam, The Mountains Sing brings to life the human costs of this conflict from the point of view of the Vietnamese people themselves, while showing us the true power of kindness and hope.

The Mountains Sing is celebrated Vietnamese poet Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s first novel in English.”

My Thoughts:

I know a little about the Vietnam War but have never felt I knew as much as I should, so I decided to read this book, hoping to learn more. I had not realized that this book started with the history of Vietnam much earlier than the Vietnam war, which made this book even better. It was enlightening to read about the period of 1930-1950, where the country endured the Japanese invasion, the Great Hunger, and the Land Reform Revolution. The Vietnamese had suffered a lot of horrible things before the Vietnam War ever came along. I appreciated being able to learn all this in the form of an eloquently written fiction novel with such vivid characters and a heartbreaking story. This book would have been utterly depressing, had it not also demonstrated the incredible power of the human spirit. I feel like I understand a lot more about what the people and this country have been through. I highly recommend this book.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for an advanced copy to review.

My Rating: 5 Stars


Call Your Daughter Home by Deb Spera

call your daughter home


Book Blurb:

“A stunning tour de force following three fierce, unforgettable Southern women in the years leading up to the Great Depression

It’s 1924 South Carolina and the region is still recovering from the infamous boll weevil infestation that devastated the land and the economy. Gertrude, a mother of four, must make an unconscionable decision to save her daughters from starvation or die at the hands of an abusive husband. Retta is navigating a harsh world as a first-generation freed slave, still employed by the Coles, influential plantation proprietors who once owned her family. Annie is the matriarch of the Coles family and must come to terms with the terrible truth that has ripped her family apart.These three women seemingly have nothing in common, yet as they unite to stand up to the terrible injustices that have long plagued the small town, they find strength in the bond that ties women together. Told in the pitch-perfect voices of Gertrude, Retta and Annie, Call Your Daughter Home is an audacious, timeless story about the power of family, deep-buried secrets and the ferocity of motherhood.”

Some of my favorite books are set in the South, so this book had been on my radar. Then a patron highly recommended it, so I decided to listen to this on my vacation. It probably has one of the best openings of a book I’ve read in a long time: “It’s easier to kill a man than a gator, but it takes the same kind of wait.” The book continues as a compelling read unveiling the lives of these three women whose lives intersect across class and race. Spera tells the stories in alternating POV between the three female characters. They all share a strength to persevere despite the tragedies thrown their way, and each is a well-developed unique character. Deb Spera excels at capturing the spirit and essence of the South. Hard to believe this was a debut novel. I also enjoyed the narration presented by a cast of several readers.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

Marriage on Madison Avenue by Lauren Layne

marriage on madison avenue



Review from Daniella Bennett:

And just like that, the Central Park Pact series comes to a beautiful end. In some ways, Lauren Layne saved the best for last. Audrey and Clark have been best friends, and only friends, since childhood. After Clark’s mother meddles in his love life once again, Clark decides to settle the issue once and for all by becoming “pretend” engaged to Audrey. And Audrey has been dealing with a cruel internet bully, so she is more than happy to play along. But a game between best friends morphs to something more. As Audrey grapples with her newfound feelings for Clark, Audrey’s best friends, and starts of previous books in the series, Naomi and Claire, are always there to provide moral support.

I was so excited to finally read Audrey and Clark’s book! Through the previous two books, we have gotten to know Audrey and Clark, so I felt invested in their story from the very start. We also saw a more vulnerable side to Audrey, which was refreshing.

This is a perfect winter read: full of New York glam, whimsy, and charm. I love that we were also able to follow Naomi and Claire’s stories as well. Although this is a standalone novel, I would definitely recommend reading the other two books first, so you can fully fall in love with all three strong and independent women. 4.5 stars

Thank you to Netgalley, Gallery Books, and Tasty Book PR for the ARC in exchange for my honest review!

Rating:  4 Stars

Queenie by Candace Carty-Williams


The book blurb for this said, “Bridget Jone’s Diary meets Americannah,” which grabbed my attention. I got the audiobook and was immediately pulled in by the narrator’s delivery, and I loved hearing her accent.

From the Book Blurb:

“Bridget Jones’s Diary meets Americanah in this disarmingly honest, boldly political, and truly inclusive novel that will speak to anyone who has gone looking for love and found something very different in its place.

Queenie Jenkins is a 25-year-old Jamaican British woman living in London, straddling two cultures and slotting neatly into neither. She works at a national newspaper, where she’s constantly forced to compare herself to her white middle class peers. After a messy break up from her long-term white boyfriend, Queenie seeks comfort in all the wrong places…including several hazardous men who do a good job of occupying brain space and a bad job of affirming self-worth.

As Queenie careens from one questionable decision to another, she finds herself wondering, “What are you doing? Why are you doing it? Who do you want to be?”—all of the questions today’s woman must face in a world trying to answer them for her.

With “fresh and honest” (Jojo Moyes) prose, Queenie is a remarkably relatable exploration of what it means to be a modern woman searching for meaning in today’s world.”

 My Thoughts:

I do like books that explore cultural differences, and this one did an excellent job of portraying Queenie’s difficulties in a different culture. It also described struggles many women have with self-confidence and image. The book began humorously to me, which is what I was expecting. Queenie comes off as a charming and witty character, but then the book takes a turn. After her lousy break-up with a white man, Queenie kept making so many bad choices with men and sexual experiences. Be forewarned; her experiences were fairly graphically detailed. Even though her bad choices were the point, I was frustrated with her character’s actions. Queenie just couldn’t see that she was trying to feel a void with her actions. She did eventually get counseling and grew. I was glad that the book portrayed the importance of seeking help for mental health issues. The support she gets from her friends and grandparents rounds out the book. Even though I wouldn’t classify this as a humorous book, the witty comments add brevity to a dark situation.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn

love lettering

My daughter-in-law, Daniella, is also a big reader, and I think she writes good reviews of the books she has read.  I asked her, and she agreed, to let me post her reviews on here from time to time.  This is the first one I will feature of her reviews.  I’m also going to add some comments of my own because we had a bit of a difference on this one.

Daniella’s Review:

An unexpectedly fun and whimsical read from start to finish. I started reading this book in the morning, and stayed up late at night to finish because I was so invested in Meg and Reid’s story.

Meg is a calligrapher who becomes famous for her whimsy and intricate wedding invitations. When she is designing Reid and Avery’s wedding suite, she sees something amiss in their relationship. Following her gut, she leaves a message in their wedding program. And Reid is a straight-laced numbers guy. He analyzes patterns and numbers for a living. A year after the wedding, Reid tracks down Meg to find out why she left the message. And from there …. the sparks start to slowly fly.

I think it’s best to go into this book without knowing much about it. I LOVED the descriptive writing style. The words flew off the pages. It was an incredibly original and well-thought out plot. I could vividly picture Meg and Reid as they learned about each other, and the intricacies of New York. At times, the book felt a little slow and meandered through some side stories, but overall, it was an original, quirky, and charming read. 4.5 stars.

Thank you to Netgalley and Kensington Books for an ARC in exchange for an honest review,

Her Rating:  5 Stars

My Thoughts:

Even though I was fortunate to also get an advanced copy from Netgalley to review, I didn’t get to it before it was published, so I listened to an audiobook.  I have a feeling that part of the reason I didn’t love the book as much as Daniella is because I wasn’t especially fond of the book narrator. For me, the book didn’t come across as well-written as Daniella thought in the beginning. It didn’t draw me in as much as other books have.  I didn’t think the author was clear enough in the beginning in setting up what Meg had done in Reid and Avery’s wedding program, and the whole premise seemed a little too unbelievable for me.  There was nothing that led up to Meg’s attraction for Reid other than her telling us that.  I think the book might have been better if it had started a little earlier when she was working with Avery and Reid, so that the relationship/attraction could have been established better. That being said, by the end of the book I started enjoying it much more.  There were some developments that I felt gave the book more depth which I enjoyed.

My Rating:  3.5 Stars


You Were There, Too by Coleen Oakley

You were there, too

I had the pleasure of hearing Colleen Oakley speak at my library recently, and she was a delight to hear.  I haven’t read any of her other books, but she mentioned she likes to base her books on some “off” topic and do the research on it.  This one was based on an odd occurence of dreams.

Book Blurb:

“Mia Graydon’s life looks picket-fence perfect; she has the house, her loving husband, and dreams of starting a family. But she has other dreams too — unexplained, recurring ones starring the same man. Still, she doesn’t think much of them, until a relocation to small-town Pennsylvania brings her face to face with the stranger she has been dreaming about for years. And this man harbors a jaw-dropping secret of his own—he’s been dreaming of her too.

Determined to understand, Mia and this not-so-stranger search for answers. But when diving into their pasts begins to unravel her life in the present, Mia emerges with a single question—what if?”

I was totally drawn in and my interest piqued by the premise of two people dreaming about each other even though they have never met before. Oakley has created a compelling book with depth and creativity that captivated me.

Thank you to Edelweiss and the publisher for an advanced copy to review.

My Rating:  4 Stars