The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

Book – Mia is the “good girl” in this page turning novel of psychological suspense.  She is an art teacher at an alternative high school and somewhat of a disappointment to her high profile Chicago judge father, since his other daughter and Mia’s sister is an attorney and following in his footsteps.  Her family connection results in Mia being kidnapped.  The man who abducts her, Colin, is being paid off to lure her on the pretense of a one night stand and deliver her to another party that will demand a ransom.  But for some reason Colin decides not to turn her over and hides out with Mia in a remote cabin in Minnesota.  Eventually Mia is saved, but is suffering from amnesia, having blocked the incident from her mind.  There is a lot going on in this story.  It is told from the perspective of 4 characters: Mia, Colin, Mia’s mother – Eve, and Gabe – the detective assigned to the case. It also jumps back and forth in time chronicling events during the incident and the aftermath. But readers will not be disappointed while trying to find out what really did happen and why, which is not revealed until the very end.

This book would probably appeal to fans of Gone Girl, but is less violent and graphic. 

The Surrogate by Judith Henry Wall

Book – The Surrogate, by Judith Henry Wall is a fantastically thrilling drama.  Twenty-year old Jamie Long is completely broke..  Then she discovers something that will pay a pretty penny, becoming a surrogate.  Thinking she’s hit the jackpot, Jamie immediately agrees to take the job for the Hartmanns, a famously powerful evangelical family.  When she is forced to sign a contract that demands complete secrecy of the surrogacy, Jamie begins to wonder if she’s made a mistake.  While Jamie initially thinks she is merely helping a couple to conceive, she soon discovers the family’s hidden secrets that leave her fearing for her life.

When I think of the word surrogacy,  I remember Phoebe carrying triplets for her brother on Friends, (the tv series), or the comedic perfection of Amy Poehler and Tina Fey in Baby Mama. The Surrogate takes a much darker turn, creating a suspense-ridden thriller.  Throughout the story, I was a bit frustrated at the naivety of the main character, Jamie.  She is so overly trusting of this family of strangers, and not at all concerned that the contract demands she move into their home for the pregnancy.  However, all in all I really enjoyed the novel.

Moral of the story?  You can’t trust anyone.  Especially secretive strangers.  Who are extremely wealthy.  And sketchy as heck.

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

Book – What would you do if you accidentally came upon a letter from your spouse, addressed to you, but with the instructions that it only be opened in the event of his death? This is the Pandora’s box that Cecelia has to deal with. She is the envy of all the mothers at school for her superb organizational skills and being able to juggle her involvement at school with her thriving Tupperware business. Could the contents of this letter affect her perfect suburban life – married to the perfect man, with whom she has three perfect daughters? She is one of three women from different walks of life who are brought together by sheer coincidence at a Catholic elementary school in Sydney.  The story will keep you turning the pages to find out how their lives are intertwined by a common thread.  The second woman Tess, is shaken by a confession from her husband along with her best friend/cousin Felicity, that they’ve fallen in love with each other. Tess leaves taking her 6 year old son to live with her mother in Sydney, while she sorts things out. And finally we have Rachel, who is older than the other women and is the school secretary, where Cecelia and Tess have their children enrolled. Rachel is consumed by grief and tries to hide her hatred for the P.E. teacher Connor, who is an old flame of Tess.  It turns out that everyone has secrets and readers will be fascinated as the fate of these women unfolds.

If you enjoy this book, you should check out these other titles by Moriarty – Big Little Lies, The Hypnotist’s Love Story, The Last Anniversary, Three Wishes, and What Alice Forgot.

Nothing Like the Holidays (2009)

Movie – I would like to start by confessing: I have never seen It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle of 34th Street, or White Christmas. I know many are wondering how this is possible. Sure I’ve caught bits a pieces here and there throughout my life, but I have never sat down to watch any of these three Christmas movies. That being said, I still feel there are great holiday movies other than these three classics. Some of my more recent holiday classic staples include: Elf, Love Actually, The Family Stone, and Nothing Like the Holidays. The first three are more known than the latter.

Nothing Like the Holidays is set in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood and tells the story of a normal dysfunctional family going through tough times all around. There are the parents, Anna and Edy who seem to be drifting apart; one son, Jesse who just finished a tour of military service and does not want to take over the family business; a daughter, Roxanna scared to tell her family she is not a Hollywood star; and a another son, Mauricio who is having marital issues. All of them are coming together for the holidays and bringing their problems with them to share.

As I mentioned before, the movie was filmed in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood. It does a good job of showcasing some of the neighborhood and some of Chicago’s landmarks. The story is a little cheesy and at times tries too hard to convey emotion. It does a good job of keeping you entertained with the supporting characters and small family issues like the removing of a tree after drinking. Don’t try using power tools while intoxicated kids! Nothing Like the Holidays is a great movie for those looking to change up their holiday movie experience and see another side of Christmas in Chicago.

The Father Christmas Letters by J.R.R. Tolkien

Book – Although his epic trilogy gave rise to the modern fantasy genre, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote dozens of stories simply for the entertainment of his children, John, Michael, Christopher, and Priscilla. (The spiders in The Hobbit were reportedly there specifically to scare Michael.) Between 1920, when John was three, and 1942, when Priscilla was 13, he wrote letters from Father Christmas to the children (presumably in answer to their own letters). They arrived in envelopes with stamps and a North Pole postage mark, fully illustrated, and told of all the adventures of Father Christmas, his elves and the North Polar Bear. (In 1939, at the outbreak of the Second World War, Father Christmas writes that they have been battling goblins.)

While nothing like Lord of the Rings, The Father Christmas Letters (and the second edition, Letters from Father Christmas, with slightly different content) are charming stories, and a wonderful addition to your seasonal celebrations. And maybe they’ll inspire a Christmas tradition for your own family. After all, what could be better than writing a letter to Santa and actually getting one in reply?

The Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan

Book –  For a delectable romantic comedy, check out The Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan.

Meet Polly Waterford, a distraught young woman who is reeling from a toxic break-up.  When she is forced to move out of her boyfriend’s apartment, she has nowhere to go.  And that’s how she finds her escape, on the seaside of Cornwall in a tiny little house in the middle of nowhere.  All alone and far from home, Polly is overcome with loneliness.  She does the only thing she can do, she bakes.  Soon, what was only a comforting hobby turns into much more as the locals discover Polly’s mouth-watering baked goods.

However, the town baker has taken an instant dislike to Polly who has stolen all of her customers.  Can Polly ever escape a life of drama? What will she do when her toxic ex-boyfriend shows up in Cornwall?  This charming tale is full of drama, humor and romance–and of course visions of fresh baked bread.  Enjoy this sweet story that will keep you cozy in the chilly months ahead.

As a sappy romantic, I adore a good love story.  I particularly love romances that take place in a bakery, or food service setting.  If you liked The Little Beach Street Bakery, try The Lost Recipe for Happiness by Barbara O’Neal, and Since You’ve Been Gone by Anouska Knight.

 

 

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson

Book – Imagine waking up in the morning thinking you had a one night stand, because the man next to you is a stranger and when you look in the mirror you are shocked to see a woman in her late 40’s, since you think you are 20 something. And the man, Ben, tells you that he has been your husband for 22 years.  This is what happens to Christine every morning in the gripping story Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson.  She has a type of amnesia, supposedly from an accident she had over 20 years ago and each night when she goes to sleep her memories from the previous day are erased.

Every day after Ben leaves for work, Christine receives a phone call from neurologist, Dr. Nash who is trying to treat her condition, reminding her to write in her journal. As she secretly continues writing in her journal and meeting with the doctor, memories slowly start forming.  But instead of relief, Christine becomes fearful and confused, because she finds the words, “don’t trust Ben” written in her journal and she suspects that Ben and Dr. Nash are lying to her.  She is beginning to remember and they are both giving conflicting information about her life.  Are they trying to protect her or harm her?

A heart pounding psychological thriller with a surprise ending. This book has received many starred reviews.  It was also made into a movie by the same title.  Readers who liked Girl on the Train would probably enjoy this novel!

Unfinished Business (2015)

Movie – The best way to describe Unfinished Business is as a raunchy comedy with family life lessons. Vaughn is a businessman that has just quit his job and ventured out to start his own business to rival his old company. The only way to do that is by landing a big client and beating out his former company.

Throughout the adventure he is joined by the fresh out of water Mike Pancake (Dave Franco) and an old school businessman Timothy McWinters (Tom Wilkinson). Both characters, along with other well-known actors (mainly Nick Frost), lend some laughs and make the movie enjoyable. There is family drama back at home Vaughn is dealing with in his character’s way, which gives the movie that family life lesson feel. This is intermixed with some over the top raunchy comedic scenes not suitable for all ages.

I feel I was taken in two very different directions. On the one hand I found the raunchiness funny. Franco and Wilkinson characters were well played and made the movie funny. But then the family drama put the lead character into perspective and displays him as a family man trying to provide for his family by any means needed. This movie is not for everyone. Fans of Vaughn from Swingers and Made will not enjoy this. However someone looking for those “guy humor” laughs mixed with a warm your heart feeling may want to see this.

Sycamore Row by John Grisham

Book – It’s been a while since I’ve picked up a John Grisham novel and I’m very glad that I read the legal thriller Sycamore Row.  Attorney Jake Brigance from A Time to Kill resurfaces to protect the interests of his client multi-millionaire Seth Hubbard who is battling terminal cancer.  Seth has handwritten  a new will rescinding the one he had previously drawn up at another law firm.  The following day he hangs himself from a tree. The new will cuts out his children, grandchildren, and ex-wives and leaves the bulk of his fortune to his African-American  housekeeper Lettie.

This is Ford County Mississippi, where racial tensions still run high as Jake battles the Hubbard family and an army of lawyers disputing the validity of the new will bestowing an excess of $20 million. Was Seth unduly influenced by Lettie, were his medications and pain clouding his judgement? This is a mystery that tries to get solved in this fast paced, suspenseful legal procedural.  Well written with great character development, this book is a must read!

The All You Can Dream Buffet by Barbara O’Neal

Book – The All You Can Dream Buffet by Barbara O’Neal is a warm and cozy book that proves it is never too late for a do-over.  Complete with actual recipes throughout the story, this novel is a great feel-good read.

Lavender Brown is a popular food blogger and the dedicated owner of the serene Lavender Honey Farms.  She has dedicated everything she has to her life’s work, and she’s proud of all she’s accomplished.  At the same time, Lavender knows she isn’t getting any younger, and she’s concerned that her business will fall into the profit driven hands of her relatives.  Lavender decides to invite her three close food blogger friends to the farm, in hopes that one of them will be a perfect match.

Ginny has been made famous by her scrumptious recipes and photos as a food blogger.  But her success has turned everyone in town against her, especially her husband.  Stuck in a place with no friends and an unfulfilling marriage, Ginny sets off on a whirlwind adventure with endless hope and possibilities.

Ruby is struggling to come to turns with a miserable break-up with her ex-boyfriend.  Pregnant with his child, Ruby prays that this trip to Lavenders farm will be her saving grace.

Val has recently lost her husband and two daughters to a tragic accident.  She is struggling to hold on to her remaining daughter, and hopes that Lavender’s paradise can help bring them back together.

A cute story, stock full of friendship, drama, romance, and a hint of spice.