Passing Notes brings me back to my high school days

Passing NotesWho doesn’t remember the first love they had in high school.  The stupid things you did to impress them or to show them how much you love them.  In Passing Notes by D.G. Driver, High School Senior Mark is finally dating Bethany, the girl of his dreams.  He has liked her from a far and now he can call her his girlfriend.  He likes to send her text messages that are cringe worthy like 2gethr 4evr or thnkn of u.

When Mark goes into his British Lit class on the first day of school, the classroom is overcrowded and no desks are available so Mark is placed at an old desk shoved in the back and covered with a bunch of files.  While sitting there, Mark notices a heart carved into the desk with something written in cursive.  Mark sits during class copying the cursive name until it fills his paper.  Once he thinks he has it down, he draws it on his hand not knowing that it says Eileen.

He starts pushing boxes aside to find a little more room on the desk and sees a yellowed note written in cursive.  The note says “What kind of note was that?  Does it even make sense?  You can’t even spell, let alone romance a girl.  Try again.”  Mark feels like the note was directed at him.

Soon, as Mark sends text message after text message to Bethany, he finds a yellowed note telling him to try again because what he is doing is not romantic and will push Bethany away.

For a 61 page novella, Passing Notes reads like a complete book.  It gives the reader a glimpse into the life of Mark and doesn’t make one feel like there is something missing.  D.G. does a great job in just a few pages to introduce the characters to the reader so that the reader is swiftly pulled into the story and take the ride with Mark and Bethany.

There were times I cringed at the text messages that Mark sent.  There were times I laughed at what a dork he was.  It reminded me of being in high school and the stupid things we did to get someone’s attention or for the one we thought we loved.  This was such an enjoyable story that made me smile.

Book description:

Mark has finally gotten the attention of the girl of his dreams.  Only, his lame attempts at romance through texts and emails seem to be turning her off.  When he gets put in the back of the room in an over-full class at school, he begins to discover old notes giving advice about how to write a great love letter.  At first he thinks he’s stumbled on some long-forgotten notes passed in class ages ago, but every time he reads them they seem directed specifically to him.  They also appear at the perfect moment each time he needs more advice. It’s like someone is haunting him.

How do the notes keep appearing?  Who’s writing them?  Why? And if Mark follows the ghostly writer’s advice, will he win Bethany’s love?

Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat

The River Road is a journey into the Deep South with dangerous shadows

The River RoadDebut novel The River Road by Benjamin Boucvalt, is a beautifully written story about the friendship between plantation owner Ory and his slave Will, who were born on the same day and grew up together.  After spending time in the north to attend school, Ory has come just in time for his engagement party.  Ory plans to marry Bernice, the daughter of the neighboring plantation who he has been betrothed to since they were born.

But the night of the engagement party, plantation owner Henri Bertran, who is a mean man who abuses his slaves.  While abusing one of those slaves, Henri is interrupted by Will and is accidentally killed.  On the River Road, when there is a question about how someone dies, there really are no questions and the truth is not sought.

To save Will’s life, Ory convinces Will they must escape or both of them will be strung up in a tree.  So begins the manhunt for these two men as they try to make their way north and to freedom for Will.  They are hunted by the Bertran boys who want to get revenge for the death of their father.  There is also Lezin who is almost not quite human.  Lezin was obsessed with Ory’s mother and so he feels like there is a special connection between himself and Ory.

This is a very well written book.  The first 2-3 chapters did not pull me into the story like I thought it should but once I got pass those chapters, I was soon sucked into the story and into the lives of Ory and Will.  Boucvalt does a great job of making the reader quickly care for the two men and their plight.

Every time Ory and Will were in a close call or fighting for their lives, I found myself almost holding my breath.  I did not want them to be discovered.  I have a lot of respect for the people how risked their lives for perfect strangers trying to get them up north and to freedom. I think if I had lives back then I would have been one of the houses along the railroad smuggling slaves to freedom.

This book was very hard to put down so it is one that could be read in a day.  It will make you experience a lot of different emotions and will break your heart.  Make sure to give The River Road a little bit of your time.  I guarantee you won’t regret it.

Book description:

On the River Road, at a dark bend in the South, a shadow lives.  And at that bend, a man and his slave are pulled together by a mysterious connection.  The master inherits a plantation and plans to marry his love and put aside his past, while the slave lingers at his side, accepting of his place and detached from hope.  But neither man has memories that can easily be forgotten.  When a death forces both of them onto the road, each races toward his own kind of freedom, which can only be earned in a place where neither one of them leads or follows.  All the while, the shadow of the River Road pursues.  It stalks them with steel and lead and perhaps the most dangerous weapon of all — the past.

Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat

The Coincidence of Coconut Cake is a great beach read

Coconut CakeThe Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy E. Reichert opens with Lou, owner of the French restaurant Luella’s and her fiancé Devlin have headed to a dinner with Devlin’s co-workers.  From the start of the book, the reader gets the sense that maybe Devlin and Lou might not be a good fit.

Lou has a spunky personality and is very creative with her recipes, unfortunately they aren’t French recipes.  Lou isn’t quite happy having a French restaurant but that is what Devlin told her she needed to succeed.

On one of the worst days of her life, local food critic A.W. Wodyski visits Luella’s.  Normally he eats at a restaurant three times before he writes a review but after one night of eating angry food from Lou, Wodyski decides he will write a review with just one visit and he is going to obliterate Luella’s with that review.

Al (Wodyski) wants to get away from his family and England so he applies all over the place and lands in Milwaukee because it was the first place to respond and offer him a job.  Al is an angry person.  He thinks there is no restaurant in Milwaukee that will make him happy so none of his reviews are positive ones.

Al and Lou meet by chance and Lou soon bets Al that she could show him that Milwaukee is a great place to live.  She takes him around to try different restaurants and vendors including different food festivals.  Al doesn’t know that Lou is the chef who served him horrible food until they have spent time together.  By then, he isn’t sure if he should tell Lou he was the one that wrote the horrible review that has caused Luella’s to lose business and soon to close.

I really liked Lou and Al together.  They have great chemistry and Lou easily turns Al’s angry demeanor into a happy one as she shows him all the different hidden gems of Milwaukee.  If I was Lou, I don’t know if I would be able to forgive the man who ruined my business no matter how much I cared for him.  I also never really liked Devlin and didn’t understand how he and Lou were engaged.  They didn’t seem to belong together.

I really enjoyed this book and was entertained the entire time.  Reichert easily weaves an entertaining story that pulls the reader right in and makes you cheer for Lou succeeding.  This comes out around July 21 and it one that should be brought to the beach to consume while soaking up the sun.

Book description:

YOU’VE GOT MAIL meets HOW TO EAT A CUPCAKE in this delightful novel about a talented chef and the food critic who brings down her restaurant—whose chance meeting turns into a delectable romance of mistaken identities.

In downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Lou works tirelessly to build her beloved yet struggling French restaurant, Luella’s, into a success. She cheerfully balances her demanding business and even more demanding fiancé…until the morning she discovers him in the buff—with an intern.

Witty yet gruff British transplant Al is keeping himself employed and entertained by writing scathing reviews of local restaurants in the Milwaukee newspaper under a pseudonym. When an anonymous tip sends him to Luella’s, little does he know he’s arrived on the worst day of the chef’s life. The review practically writes itself: underdone fish, scorched sauce, distracted service—he unleashes his worst.

The day that Al’s mean-spirited review of Luella’s runs, the two cross paths in a pub: Lou drowning her sorrows, and Al celebrating his latest publication. As they chat, Al playfully challenges Lou to show him the best of Milwaukee and she’s game—but only if they never discuss work, which Al readily agrees to. As they explore the city’s local delicacies and their mutual attraction, Lou’s restaurant faces closure, while Al’s column gains popularity. It’s only a matter of time before the two fall in love…but when the truth comes out, can Lou overlook the past to chase her future?

Set in the lovely, quirky heart of Wisconsin, THE COINCIDENCE OF COCONUT CAKE is a charming love story of misunderstandings, mistaken identity, and the power of food to bring two people together.

Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat

Origin Season One is a fast-paced mystery that will take you on quite a ride

Origin Season OneThe unbreachable Federal Reserve Bank in New York has been breached and something has been taken.  That is how Origin Season One begins.  This is also the start of the wild ride author Nathaniel Dean James takes the reader as he weaves a suspenseful story that takes his characters around the world.

The book introduces a lot of characters at the beginning, so it’s a good idea to spend a few hours at the beginning of the book to dig your teeth into the story as things start to go wrong very quickly and the story jumps around between several different locations and characters.

Francis Moore thinks he is stealing a computer drive from the CIA when in fact the bank box is owned by someone else who wants the drive back and will stop at nothing to get it.  FBI Special Agent Mike Banner is brought into the case to find out who broke into the Bank.  Soon Banner is mysteriously taken off the case, but that doesn’t stop his FBI analyst Mitch digging into information Mike gave him then told Mitch to forget it.

Soon a small town couple of kids get mixed up with Francis and are literally running for their lives and dead bodies start piling up.  There is a lot going on this book with all the twists and turns and slow reveals that James keeps the reader entertained.

As the story slowly reveals what really is on the disc and why people are willing to kill for it, you start to wonder, are we the only ones in the universe or are there other living beings out there.

I read this book on my phone mainly at lunch and I found myself wanting to sneak in a little bit more reading when I was at my desk, but I resisted.  Mr. James is a great writer and I’m sure I would enjoy anything he writes.  If you like twists and turns, lots of action and intrigue, pick this up.  You will definitely be entertained.  Then once you are done, pick up Season Two, which was published in April.

Book description:

What could an assassination program begun by the Nixon administration and a malfunctioning camera on board NASA’s Voyager II space probe possibly have in common?  To Francis Moore, finding the answer is about to become a matter of life and death.

Uprooted by a chance encounter from a promising career in the Marine Corps and thrust onto the front line of the country’s clandestine “war on terror,” Francis has few illusions left about the world and how it works. In an attempt to atone for his complicity in one of the more egregious of the CIA’s covert operations, he resolves to expose the program, only to find his efforts thwarted at the last minute by the intervention of a highly determined “third party,” whose motives he neither suspects nor understands.

Caught suddenly in a rising tempest of murder, deceit and betrayal, Francis has no choice but to turn his talents to identifying his new assailants before it is too late.  From the streets of Manhattan and the country lanes of rural New England to the wilderness of Canada and far beyond, he reluctantly finds himself dragged into the depths of a mystery that is as frightening as it is incredible, a journey that will open his eyes to the existence of something few could imagine, and fewer still would believe possible. A secret with the power to both resurrect the fortunes of a world edging ever closer to the brink of disaster, or tip it over once and for all.

Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat

Intrusion is a great cyber mystery

IntrusionI always like a good espionage novel.  One that keeps me guessing what is going to happen.  One that has all kinds of twists.  One that makes the reader change their mind on who the bad guy is.  Intrusion by Reece Hirsch delivers on all my requirements.  This is the second Hirsch book I’ve read and this one does not disappoint.

Hirsch does a great job using his experience as a privacy and data security attorney to weave a plot that keeps the reader entertained and sitting on the edge of their seat.  Chris Bruen is the lawyer for Zapper, the world’s most popular search engine.  Zoey Doucet is the head of his firm’s forensics lab.  Together they try to prove that the Chinese government has stolen the search algorithms from Zapper.

There are people after Chris and Zoey, trying to stop them from finding out exactly who is behind the breach, going so far as trying to kill them.  This book shows how vulnerable the internet can be and that even the big companies aren’t safe from being hacked.

Hirsch is a great writer and has quickly become one of my favorite mystery writers.  He writes in a way that you quickly learn about the characters and you immediately care for them.  I will read anything he writes as he never disappoints and he always takes me on a wild ride that I do not want to get off of.

Book description:

When a powerful client summons him for a midnight meeting, lawyer Chris Bruen knows something is very wrong.  Zapper, the world’s most popular search engine, has been compromised and its most valuable asset – search algorithms – stolen.  The company suspects that this most recent instance in a wave of high-tech crimes originated in China, and that the government itself is behind the systematic theft of US intellectual property.

Chris travels to China to search for evidence that will link the intrusion to the People’s Liberation Army.  With remote assistance from Zoey Doucet, the head of his firm’s computer forensics lab and his maybe-girlfriend, Chris uncovers information that takes him even deeper into the shadowy world of cybercrime.  Now he is trapped in a foreign land with a hard drive containing information that puts his life in jeopardy.  In this secretive world of Big Data, Chris will risk everything to fight an elusive enemy as far-reaching as the Internet itself.

Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat

This Side of the Street is a wonderful coming of age story

This Side of the StreetCover artwork has a huge influence on whether I will read a book or not. The second influence is the description and if it’s well written, I can overlook the cover.  And of course the third influence is recommendations.  So when I received This Side of the Street by Ofer Aronskind in the mail, I wasn’t too keen on reading it due to the cover photo, so the book sat on my bedside table for several months before I picked it up.

This book taught me that you really can’t judge a book by its cover.  This is a beautifully written coming of age story that starts the summer of ’73.  Sam Tolpin and his Mom move to school districts she feels are the best for education.  When they can no longer live in the district, she finds another one.  Education is important to Mrs. Tolpin and she feels Sam is going to do great things.

When Sam is 12-years-old, they move into the second story apartment of a house in Queens where a group of boys help them move in.  A group who’s leader, Eddie Drucker, lives downstairs from Sam.  Sam is a loner and Eddie’s group is a bunch of little delinquents who don’t think twice about committing petty crime.

Sam is bullied by Eddie’s friends because he is skinny and a longer.  Then one day when he accidentally head butts the school bully on the school bus taking him down, Sam’s accepted into the group.  Eddie’s Mom is never around so Eddie and his little brother fend for themselves. His brother soon moves to New Jersey to live with relatives and Eddie is left on his own.  He soon starts living with Sam and his Mom to the point that he is considered a brother from another mother.  Eddie and Sam become best friends and Sam quickly becomes involved with the group’s crimes.

Everyone in the neighborhood and at the school loves Eddie.  Eddie loves Sam’s Mom and gives her the utmost respect.  In fact, the entire group has total respect for “Mrs. T” as they call her and will go to bat for her whether it’s raising money when she loses her job so she and Sam don’t have to move, to standing up to a rude customer at her second job as a waitress in a diner.

This book made me smile, made me want to smack Eddie and the boys on the back of the head and made me cry.  This book is about coming of age, friendship, loyalty and being a better person.    Aronskind does a great job of pulling the reader into the story and cheer for this group of misfits.  He makes you care for them and hope they straighten out and don’t end up in jail.  It also can take you back to your childhood.  Back to a time when life is about innocence and getting away with a lot.  I’m so glad I was able to read this book.  It is one that will stay with me for a long time.

Book Description:

Sam Tolpin is a quiet loner whose mother has moved him into a new town one too many times. Eddie Drucker, Sam’s new downstairs neighbor, is the undisputed neighborhood leader with the charismatic personality and the criminal mind. The two boys could not be more different but as they come-of-age on the tough streets of their Queens neighborhood, their differences pale against the close friendship they have forged. And as the two friends navigate the obstacle-filled path from childhood to young adults, the bonds of their brotherhood will be tested time and again. “This Side of the Street” is a universal coming-of-age tale that will engage the imagination of any reader who was once a kid and capture the heart of anyone that ever grew up with a best friend.

Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat

The Unexpected Waltz is an unexpected pleasure

The Unexpected WaltzIn The Unexpected Waltz by Kim Wright is about Kelly Wilder, a 52-year-old widow who is trying to survive after her husband’s death.  Her husband was super rich and has left her plenty of money so she won’t need anything.  She lives in a big house that is way too big for one person and she has no job to occupy her time.  Kelly has been barely surviving emotionally for a year, just going along aimlessly with no purpose.

When leaving the grocery store, Kelly walks out with an apple in her hand that she forgot to pay for.  She plans to head back into the grocery store but ends up in the dance studio next door that is owned and operated by three Russians.

A couple is in the studio dancing, which mesmerizes Kelly so much that she signs up for a free dance lesson.  Then another and then another.  Soon she is sucked into the world of dancing and she can’t get enough.  Dancing gives Kelly purpose.  It gives her a new family.  Dancing helps Kelly heal.

Kelly’s dance partner is Nik is one of the Russian instructors in his early 20s.  They dance well together.  He is a fantastic teacher and dancer.  He also has a secret that Kelly finds out and keeps for him.

Kelly is also a hospice volunteer.  She is assigned one hospice patient at a time and helps them with the final stages of life.  The hospice waits a year after her husband has passed before they assign a new patient to Kelly. This time she gets Carolina, who is a firecracker.  Kelly introduces Carolina to old movies sharing laughs with her.

As Kelly gets more involved with the dance studio, she starts to meet other people taking lessons.  She joins one of the dance groups where everyone has a story to tell.  It’s a group that outside of the studio wouldn’t give each other the time of day but because of the studio they have built a special bond that cements them as a family.

I really liked the different characters in the book and how even though they are all from different backgrounds and personalities, they really became friends and a family.  This book is wonderfully written and I enjoyed it a lot.  It was nice to see Kelly evolve and figure out what is next for her life.  She figures out what the next chapter to her story should be.  What the next act will look like.  She learns how to heal and go forward with her life.  This book gives the reader some laughs, tears and a few smiles.  It’s a book that pulls the reader into the story and makes them care for the characters.

Book description:

From the author of the critically acclaimed debut “Love in Mid Air” comes this moving novel about a middle-aged widow who finds her feet by embracing a new hobby: ballroom dancing.

Kelly Wilder becomes recently widowed from a much older wealthy man with whom she spent her married life doing charity work, building a lovely home, and, as she says, “pretending to be a whole lot more conservative and stupid and nicer than I really am.”

Now, with too much time and money on her hands, Kelly has absolutely no idea what happens next. So on a whim she signs up for a ballroom dancing class, and slowly, step by high-heeled step, begins to rebuild her life with the help of friends old and new: Nik, a young Russian dance teacher who sees the artistic potential she left behind; Carolina, a woman in hospice, anxious to experience a whole lifetime in a few months; and Elyse, Kelly’s girlhood best friend who knows all of her past secrets–including the truth about the man who long ago broke Kelly’s heart.

In the vein of Jennifer Weiner’s novels, “Unexpected Waltz” is a deeply felt story about moving on after loss and finding a new walk–or dance–of life through the power of second chances.

Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat.