Inside Jobs by Ben H. Winters

IMG_1937

Description:

Inside Jobs by Ben H. Winters

Three offbeat stories of crime and conundrum, set in the present moment, from The New York Times best-selling, Edgar Award-winning author of Underground Airlines and The Last Policeman.

Inside Jobs: Tales from a Time of Quarantine includes:

The Crimson Parrot
It’s not easy masterminding the crime of the century when your whole gang is working from home. A high-stakes tale of larceny, deception, and teleconferencing.

The Cape House
As the world shifts around them, two estranged brothers end up in their childhood home. But it’s the memories they unearth that will change them forever.

Stop Motion
With endless time on her hands, an apartment-bound young woman gets to all the hobbies she’s neglected—martial arts, playing the sax, photography…and solving a murder?

My thoughts

Normally, I’m not drawn to contemporary crime stories, but this collection of short stories is part of May’s free Audible Originals, so I thought I’d give it a listen.

The stories in Inside Jobs are set during the present-day Covid-19 pandemic. The title itself alludes to crime committed by those closest to you. When this nightmare first began, I told myself I would not read fiction about Covid-19. It’s just too soon for me. How could I possibly enjoy it? I mean, I still don’t read fiction about the September 11 terrorist attacks. I doubt I ever will.  But these three stories aren’t about Covid-19. Rather they are three cleverly constructed stories about people stuck at home. The pandemic acts as the reason for everyone being stuck. It worked well and didn’t cause me any stress.

The Crimson Parrot is a comical heist story. Imagine a gang of criminals attempting to commit a crime while stuck at home and via Zoom. There are arguments and misunderstandings. I laughed a lot.

The second story, The Cape House, is sad and intense. Two brothers reunite after the death of their father at their childhood home. Unfortunately one of the brothers is not mentally stable which causes further heartache. It was a depressing, but thought-provoking, story.

Stop Motion is a brilliant tale about a couple towards the end of their relationship. It had me at the edge of my seat because J.J, the ex-girlfriend, thinks she accidentally witnesses a crime. It was a charming story with very likable and relatable characters. The plot borrowed a little from the classic Hitchcock thriller, Rear Window.

What I love

I’m learning that the narrator can make or break an audiobook. Each short story in this collection has its own narrator, all three are fabulous. The voices and accents were spot on. I was never pulled out of the story, rather I was drawn in so much that I forgot about the boiling water on the stovetop.

What I don’t love

I can’t think of anything. I was really happy with this collection of short stories and I’m normally a tough customer.

What are you reading and what’s next on your TBR?

xoxo, Jane

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

IMG_1934

Description:

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

Written by J.K. Rowling. Read by Sally Mortemore, Warwick Davis, Evanna Lynch, Jason Isaacs, Bonnie Wright, Noma Dumezweni and Jude Law.

Performed by talented actors from across the Wizarding World, this is the first ever audiobook edition of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, which was originally written in 2007 by J.K. Rowling and has raised money for her children’s charity Lumos ever since.

As familiar to Hogwarts students as “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty” are to Muggle children, Beedle’s stories are a collection of popular fairy tales written for young witches and wizards. So, if you’re wondering what’s in store in this brand-new audio edition…well, your ears are in for a treat.

Once you’ve checked this fabulous Hogwarts Library book out, you’ll start by hearing the author’s introduction, read by Sally Mortemore (librarian Madam Pince from the Harry Potter films). Then it’s time for the tales to begin….

My thoughts

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a recent convert to audiobooks. I listened to this book because it was a free download. I’m glad I downloaded it because it was wonderful to listen to five magical tales that got my mind off current worries. J.K. Rowling has a brilliant mind, that’s for sure. She not only created an entire set of fairy tales out of thin air, but she wrote this book to benefit the children’s charity she founded, Lumos.

It appears that this book is free for Audible members through January 7, 2021.

What I love

I enjoyed this book very much. It was really wonderful to return to the land of Harry Potter and it reminded me why I should reread the series. This audiobook has it all: sound effects, music, appropriate background clatter and a very animated Jude Law.

Each tale was clever and a few were funny. I met kings, warlocks, witches and entered an enchanted forest.  One story, The Warlock’s Hairy Heart, was particularly good. It tells the story of a young warlock who wants to avoid falling in love and turns to dark magic to make sure it never happens.

I loved listening to Mr. Dumbledore (aka Jude Law) and the other fabulous characters who acted as narrators. Everything was so imaginative and I pictured a young Ron Weasley reading the tales. The book is only 1 hour and 36 minutes long, but I wish it could have kept going.

J.K. Rowling found ways to tie each tale into her Harry Potter novels. I should mention this book was written in 2007. I know, I’m really behind, but as they say: better late than never.

What I don’t love

That it ended.

xoxo, Jane

January, February and March 2020 Wrap-Up Part II

Fragonard,_The_Reader

I hope you and your loved ones are well. I also hope you are keeping very busy with arm-chair traveling to wonderful locations.

I arm-chair traveled to some exotic fictional locations thanks to Harlequin Presents. But I also traveled to Nazi-occupied Paris, viewing historic events through Coco Chanel’s point of view.

I read Sold to the Enemy and The Prince’s Waitress Wife (second link takes you to my review) by Sarah Morgan. Sarah Morgan is such a talented writer. I’ve never read a book by her that didn’t leave me feeling happy.

I very much enjoyed reading The Dress: 100 Iconic Moments In Fashion (link takes you to my review) by Megan Hess. This was a beautifully illustrated book and it’s a nice way to get lost in other worlds.

Continuing my Harlequin Presents adventures, I also read Passion and the Prince by Penny Jordan. Penny Jordan will always have a special place in my heart because the very first romance book I ever read was one of her Mills & Boon books.

cover176007-medium

The last book for today’s list is The Queen of Paris: A Novel of Coco Chanel by Pamela Binnings Ewen. Initially I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy reading a book where the antagonist featured as the protagonist, but the author proved me wrong. The story takes you from Coco Chanel’s humble beginnings and leaves you in Paris, with her successful career and beyond. It was insightful, well-written and a little sad. Highly recommended. Link above will take you to my earlier review.

Find Part I here.

Find Part III here.

Be well, friends!

xoxo, Jane

 

January, February and March 2020 Wrap-Up Part I

Fragonard,_The_Reader

Life is hard right now. We are all worried for our elderly loved ones, we can’t leave the house, the news makes us anxious and stressed and I don’t know about you but I cannot find hand sanitizer anywhere!! So let’s focus on something light-hearted, shall we?

What have I been reading for the first quarter of 2020?

I read and enjoyed Rafe by Rebekah Weatherspoon, a romance novel. The love story centers on a busy single mother/doctor and her male nanny. Loved it!

I also read Words of Silk and Prime Time by Sandra Brown because my obsession with old skool Sandra Brown shall never ever end.

Alexandra Feodorovna: A Life From Beginning to End by Hourly Histories is a biography of the last Tsarina of Russia. It’s concise and very short. I didn’t learn anything new, but that’s not what I was looking for. I just felt like reading something royalty-related without the time commitment needed for a larger volume.

IMG_8369.jpeg

A Scandal in Bohemia is my first Sherlock Holmes story. This is the first story featuring Sherlock Holmes in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, which you can read for free at Gutenberg.

I enjoyed reading it and plan to read the rest of the stories in this volume. I was shocked to learn that Sherlock was a cocaine user. Did I understand that correctly? I also love the fictional royals Arthur Conan Doyle invented for the mystery that Sherlock solves in this story. Which leads me to Irene Adler. I’ve always heard about her and how she is the only female who ever bested Sherlock Holmes. It was a pleasure to meet her and she sounds like my kind of woman. I’d love to have a cup of tea with her. All she ever wanted was to live happily ever after with her guy. Yet modern adaptations turn her into a cunning or sly person who is out to get Sherlock. That’s not the case at all.

Edge of Obsession and Edge of Temptation by Megan Crane are my first dystopian romance novel reads. They are a little bit on the darker side, but they have a satisfying happily ever after.

The Navy SEAL Affair by Carol Ericson is a free online read on Harlequin’s website. It’s very short, but the story line is pretty solid.

x298

To Sin with a Viking by Michelle Willingham is my first time reading a Viking-era romance novel. It is a well-researched and well-written historical romance. I loved, loved, loved it. The link above will take you to my review.

I’m still reading! Stay tuned for Part II and Part III later in March and early April.

Make sure you read lots and lots of fun books and articles to get through these trying times. Be well!

xoxo, Jane

 

The Queen of Paris by Pamela Binnings Ewen

cover176007-medium.png

 

The Dress: 100 Iconic Moments in Fashion by Megan Hess

IMG_0573.jpeg

My recent finished read is a fashion illustration book. Megan Hess illustrated (with permission) 100 of the most iconic dresses in fashion history in her book, The Dress. The book is organized in six sections: Designers, Icons, Weddings, Music, Film and Oscars.

It’s more than just a book filled with nice illustrations. Every dress Megan Hess illustrates comes complete with historical tidbits or background about the history of the dress. Page after page, gorgeous dresses jump out at you. It’s truly a delight to pour through this book.

IMG_0569.jpeg

One of my favorite dresses is this gown worn by Grace Kelly at the Oscars. I admit that I rewatch Grace Kelly movies (especially To Catch a Thief) over and over again simply for Grace Kelly’s sumptuous wardrobe.

IMG_0565.jpeg

I adore this dress by Carolina Herrera. The floral ballgown was created in 2013 and Actress Lucy Liu wore it to the 2013 Golden Globes.

I also think the most touching part of the book is the author’s dedication: “For Gwyn. All the dresses I’ve drawn, and all the dresses I own, will one day be yours.”

Now on to the criticism. While each dress gets a double page feature (as shown above), I wish there was additional content devoted to each dress. The information was skimpy at best and could have used much more historical detail.

If you like the combination of history, fashion and illustrations, then this book might be for you. Now if only I can figure out how to make the dresses jump out of the book and into my wardrobe…

xoxo, Jane

 

The Prince’s Waitress Wife by Sarah Morgan

9780373127986_p0_v1_s260x420.jpgDescription:

Bedded for the prince’s pleasure

When waitress Holly is thrown into the playboy prince’s arms, he lives up to his wicked reputation by bedding her—then casting her aside!

Expecting the prince’s love-child

Holly is pregnant! Casper is furious; Holly’s just a scheming gold digger, but royal protocol demands he make her his bride!

Wedded by royal command

Innocent Holly has the wedding of her dreams—and Casper knows her first duty as his convenient wife will be on their wedding night….

The Prince’s Waitress Wife by Sarah Morgan is a Harlequin Presents story that puts a new twist on the age-old Cinderella trope. It’s a fast-paced, romantic novel set in a fictional European kingdom.

Holly is at a sports event (rugby) where she works as a waitress in the VIP box. The day before, her fiancé broke up with her and now she is just trying to get through the day without crying. Enter Prince Casper. They meet and feel a connection with each other which leads to an interlude, which leads to a pregnancy, which leads to a marriage. I do love this trope.

What I love

Holly is a very kind heroine. She doesn’t play dating games and is honest and open with everyone she meets. Before her marriage to Casper, she lived in a world where honesty and good behavior is the norm (except for the ex-fiancé who is a major jerk). She feels befuddled by Casper’s cynicism, who believes she got pregnant on purpose. Holly doesn’t understand that in the past women used Casper for his title and wealth. I love that her kindness and open heart eventually break down Casper’s barriers.

I love the witty, sparkling dialogue between Holly and Casper. I truly enjoy reading any novel by Sarah Morgan. I love that love conquers all.

What I don’t love

There were so many misunderstandings between Casper and Holly that a simple heart-to-heart could have cleared up any misconceptions. But I suppose then we wouldn’t have an angsty and emotional love story.

xoxo, Jane

To Sin with a Viking by Michelle Willingham

x298.jpg

Description:

To Sin with a Viking
by Michelle Willingham

Caragh Ó Brannon defended herself bravely when the enemy landed—only, now she finds herself alone with one very angry Viking….

Styr Hardrata sailed to Ireland intending to trade, never expecting to find himself held captive in chains by a beautiful Irish maiden.

The fiercely handsome warrior both terrifies and allures Caragh, but he is forbidden territory. He is the enemy…and he is married. Yet Styr harbors a secret that just might set them both free….

What I love

To Sin with a Viking by Michelle Willingham is a historical romance set in Viking-era Ireland. This book is the first audiobook I’ve ever listened to and I’m so glad I started with this one. To Sin with a Viking is also my first Viking romance novel. I don’t know much about the Viking-era, but this story felt very authentic and I think the author did a lot of research to get the facts right.

The best part of this book was the narrator, Deirdre O’Connell. She has a lyrical voice and was lovely to listen to. She was appropriately animated and energetic when the scenes called for it. She did such a great job portraying the various characters that I felt as if the narrator wanted to be nowhere else in the world except right there in the studio recording this book.

The heroine, Caragh, has to be one of the nicest, kindest, most thoughtful heroines I’ve ever read. Even when she is starving, she gives what little food she has to her younger brother. She also shares food with Styr, even though he is her captive. She is warm and kind without ever being a doormat. And that was nice to read.

The premise of the story is that they are all living through a famine, so Caragh’s brothers leave for a raid which ends up being a mistake, since they interfere with Styr’s group and end up taking him hostage. Caragh has to keep Styr captive while her brothers are out doing the raiding. Caragh is never completely comfortable with any of this, especially the part about keeping Styr captive and keeping him away from his wife, Elena. Elena was taken captive by another group and Styr’s mission is to find her.

The conflict in this story is that Styr and Caragh begin to fall in love. It’s begrudgingly on Styr’s part since he feels duty-bound to stay with Elena, even though it’s clear early on in the story they are not in a happy marriage.

I let myself fall in love with a man I can’t have. – Caragh

What I don’t love

Sometimes the internal monologues were too long. But that’s the only teeny tiny criticism I have because I loved reading (listening) this story. I plan to read (or listen) to the sequel, To Tempt a Viking, which explores Elena’s story.

Are you reading anything right now, Viking or otherwise?

xoxo, Jane

October, November & December 2019 Wrap-Up Part II

Fragonard,_The_Reader

Happy New Year! Happy 2020!

My obsession with old skool Sandra Brown hasn’t ended. I read (and loved) Above and Beyond, Hawk O’Toole’s Hostage, The Devil’s Own (the plot for The Devil’s Own was really unbelievable and crazy because the heroine kidnapped the hero so she could force him to help her smuggle orphans out of a war-ravaged country. Yes, human trafficking was the premise here!!), Send No FlowersFat Tuesday and Seduction by Design.

IMG_6268.jpeg

Just in time for Christmas, I read Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory. The heroine is a single mother in her early 50s who travels to London with her daughter for Christmas. There she meets and falls in love with the Queen’s private secretary. I love that the main characters were in their 50s, divorced, and had a backstory. But my favorite part about the story was that London was a character and not just background for the setting. I was zipping along for the ride, paying visits to important London landmarks. It’s a cute story with a very happy ending.

IMG_0030.jpeg

My final read of the previous decade was The Tea House Detective by Baroness Orczy. Baroness Orczy also wrote The Scarlet Pimpernel series. This book is composed of short detective stories. Each story ties in to the next story and should be read in order. The main character, Polly Burton, spends most of her time sitting in a cafe listening to an old man solve mysteries that even the police could not solve. This perplexes Polly, but it’s not until the very last story that we find out how each story is a piece of the puzzle. Polly also figures out that each crime was committed by the same person. I don’t want to give away who it is because this would be a major plot spoiler, but the unexpected twist left me floored. Crime fiction at its best!

My first read of 2020 is a Sherlock Holmes story, my first one ever. What about your first read?

xoxo, Jane

 

Christmas Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

IMG_5862.jpeg

Time for another book review. I’d classify Christmas Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella as a romantic comedy. It’s actually part of a larger series featuring Becky Brandon (née Bloomwood). All of the books are laugh-out-loud funny and this story was no exception. I recommend this series if you need an escape and a good laugh.

Description:

’Tis the season for change and Becky Brandon (née Bloomwood) is embracing it, returning from the States to live in the charming village of Letherby and working with her best friend, Suze, in the gift shop of Suze’s stately home. Life is good, especially now that Becky takes time every day for mindfulness—even if that only means listening to a meditation tape while hunting down online bargains.

But Becky still adores the traditions of Christmas: Her parents hosting, carols playing on repeat, her mother pretending she made the Christmas pudding, and the neighbors coming ’round for sherry in their terrible holiday sweaters. Things are looking cheerier than ever, until Becky’s parents announce they’re moving to ultra-trendy Shoreditch—unable to resist the draw of craft beer and smashed avocados—and ask Becky if she’ll host this year. What could possibly go wrong?

Becky’s sister demands a vegan turkey, her husband insists that he just wants aftershave (again), and little Minnie needs a very specific picnic hamper: Surely Becky can manage all this, as well as the surprise appearance of an old boyfriend–turned–rock star and his pushy new girlfriend, whose motives are far from clear. But as the countdown to Christmas begins and her bighearted plans take an unexpected turn toward disaster, Becky wonders if chaos will ensue, or if she’ll manage to bring comfort and joy to Christmas after all.

What I love

I could not pass up Christmas Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella. I’ve read every Becky Brandon (née Bloomwood) book since Book 1. Becky is charming and sweet and nice and means really well. Even when she gets herself in a ton of trouble.

This was a feel-good story set during the lead-up to Christmas. Becky’s husband, Luke, is such a charmer and crazy about Becky. He just can’t get mad at her. It must be true love.

As usual, Becky is up to her normal hijinks and can’t seem to keep herself out of trouble, whether it’s attempting to join an exclusive male-only club (those scenes were laugh-out-loud funny) just to enter a raffle to hunting for a tofu turkey for Christmas dinner in a village that doesn’t sell them. Everything that can possibly go wrong goes wrong.

I was at the edge of my seat from curiosity wondering how Becky was going to manage to fix her one million problems. Don’t worry, the book ends in a very satisfactory way. I actually got a bit teary-eyed. If you read it you’ll know why.

What I don’t love

I’m a bit fatigued by her antics…

Have you read this book or any of the Shopaholic books?

xoxo, Jane

Fat Tuesday by Sandra Brown

IMG_5981.jpeg

Description:

Fat Tuesday by Sandra Brown

Burke Basile is a cop with nothing left to lose. Haunted by his partner’s death, the end of his marriage, and the destruction of his career, he targets his nemesis, a flamboyant attorney who helps killers evade justice. Burke’s shocking revenge centers around kidnapping Remy, the lawyer’s trophy wife.

But Burke hasn’t planned on the scorching desire he’ll feel for this desperate woman, who rose from the slums of New Orleans to marry a man she can never love. Nor can he predict the fierce duel that will explode as the clock ticks toward midnight on Fat Tuesday when all masks will be stripped away — and Burke will be forced to confront his own terrifying secret.

I’ve been on a Sandra Brown kick lately. When I borrowed Fat Tuesday from my library I thought it was a romance novel. But it’s more of a noir police procedural set in New Orleans. By the time I finished a few chapters, three characters had died gruesome, brutal deaths. Also, the book is called Fat Tuesday because the events lead up to one big showdown during the Mardi Gras season.

What I love

Well, once I got over my initial disappointment that this book is not a romance, I enjoyed reading it because:

  1. It isn’t boring.
  2. It’s a fast paced thriller.
  3. The POV changes frequently between the good guys and the bad guys, which makes the story flow nicely.
  4. The heroine, Remy, is sweet and likable. She is stuck in an awful marriage for a very important reason. (Hint: women always suffer and put themselves last to help out their loved ones.)
  5. The hero, Burke, is flawed but kind and sexy.
  6. It’s interesting to get inside the mind of Burke. He is complex and initially not easy to understand.
  7. The bad guys are so bad that it’s entertaining. They are really, really bad.

What I don’t love

I have a lot of thoughts. Here is what I didn’t like:

  1. This book is totally a product of its time, the 1990s. There are a number of stereotypes and gross generalization about gay people and sex workers.
  2. The male characters (the bad ones) overuse certain words that have derogatory meanings for women and sex workers. I thought it was overkill.
  3. I didn’t like it that Remy kept referring to Burke by his last name. That’s so unromantic. I don’t go around calling my husband by his last name, but maybe I should. 
  4. I know I need to get over it, but this story is more thriller than romance. I think this might have been the time period that Sandra Brown switched from writing romance to writing thriller fiction.

Would I read another police procedural type book? Probably not. But I love to immerse myself in different worlds and Fat Tuesday did the trick.

Thanks for stopping by.

xoxo, Jane

July, August & September 2019 Wrap-Up Part II

Fragonard,_The_Reader
Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard

I didn’t realize that the majority of my reading for this last quarter were romance novels until I reviewed this list. Sometimes I feel like I need to read something else on purpose, but the truth is that I love romance novels the bestest.

Rachel Lee made a career out of writing a book series set in fictional Conard County, Wyoming and the series is addictive. Rugged country, rugged men, sweet heroines, good neighbors… and she always, always writes these really dreamy heroes who make you swoon. Who doesn’t like swooning when reading romance novels?

But Rachel Lee’s Conard County series became so formulaic that you know exactly what to expect: woman in grave danger, abusive ex-husband, special forces hero who kills or puts ex-husband behind bars. And this was exactly the premise for Her Hero in Hiding but I truly did enjoy reading it. I wrote about it here.

Another Rachel Lee book I read was What She Saw. I didn’t enjoy reading this one at all. It was almost as if someone else wrote it. Rachel Lee’s novels are usually packed with emotion and action. The action scenes seemed to be written in a stilted manner and there was zero chemistry between the hero and heroine, Buck and Haley. It took everything I had to keep reading this book.

A Conard County Homecoming by Rachel Lee contains two stories, Miss Emmaline and the Archangel and Ironheart. I enjoyed reading them both very much. They were written in the early days of Rachel Lee’s writing career and it’s these early stories that made me fall in love with her Conard County series.

th_6b35432aea7a08928823d342568d4f49_SOY2_300.jpg

Then I read a bunch of early books (from the 1980s) by Sandra Brown. Shadows of Yesterday is one of my favorites from the bunch. The hero, Chad Dillon, was super nice and romantic and practically perfect. In other words, he was not even one tiny bit a jerk (because they usually are in the 80s romance novels). But the story is not realistic at all. The premise is that Chad finds Leigh, the heroine, stranded on the highway, about to give birth to her child. So he delivers her baby, then they fall in love and then they marry. It’s pure fantasy, although that’s not a bad thing. We all pick up a book to escape reality.

th_6b35432aea7a08928823d342568d4f49_Honor-Bound_300dpi-500.jpg

The other two books I read by Sandra Brown are Honor Bound and Led Astray. Really romantic and well-written. I think Sandra Brown doesn’t write romance anymore. She is strictly thrillers/suspense now, but I love those earlier novels best of all.

And this wraps up my third quarter reading. Feel free to share what you’ve been reading too. 🙂

xoxo, Jane

{Also, July, August & September 2019 Wrap-Up Part I}