Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Cake Therapist by Judith Fertig

It was the cover of Judith Fertig's novel, The Cake Therapist, that first attracted me. When I found out it was a debut by an author who writes cookbooks, I was hooked. And, I wasn't disappointed. Fertig not only writes cookbooks, she creates memorable characters.

Claire "Neely" O'Neil left her marriage and New York City behind to return to Millcreek Valley, a town that made itself a bridal destination. Neely's dream was to open her own bakery, Rainbow Cake. She bought her grandmother's house, opened a bakery with the help of friends, and set out to make her dream come true. And, Neely has something extra to help her with that dream, a gift. She can taste feelings, telling what people need, whether it's a celebration of love, or the opportunity to mourn a loss. She just can't heal herself, and she can't get rid of the bad taste that lingers in her mouth. That's a taste that puzzles her.

While telling Neely's story, Fertig mixes in the story of two sisters, Edie and Olive, called Pickle and Olive, a story from the late thirties and forties. It's an unusual story of the unexpected disappearance of one of the sisters, and a bitter old woman who survives. And, Neely's gift may be part of a healing process.

Fertig's novel isn't the magical story associated with Sarah Addison Allen or Ellery Adams. However, I appreciated Neely, her gift, and her character. She's a woman searching for answers in her own life, but she's kind while she helps others find answers in their own. And, if readers like Neely, they'll appreciate her relationship with her friends and her co-workers. She reaches out to others.

 It's hard to let Neely go on with her life without the reader. I want to know what she's doing with her life, her friends, and her brides. The Cake Therapist is just as satisfying, just as comforting as one of Neely's cakes.

Judith Fertig's website is

The Cake Therapist by Judith Fertig. Berkley Books. 2015. ISBN 9780425277324 (paperback), 304p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I requested a copy of the book from the publisher.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Off to New York City

I'm off today for two weeks in New York City, or, I should say, for the first of two trips there in two weeks. I'm leaving today for Book Expo America, the publishers' showcase of books and authors. I attend the Library Journal Library Day of Dialog, listen to editors and library marketing representatives talk about their favorite forthcoming books, and, of course, go through exhibits to see those books. And, there are breakfasts and lunches featuring authors, along with the chance to catch up with friends who are authors, publishers' reps, and librarians. I love BEA.

I also love Broadway. I'm going to see Les Miserables one more time while Ramin Karimloo plays Jean Valjean. Everyone who knows me well knows that I go to shows every night I can while I'm in New York.

Ramin Karimloo as Jean Valjean

And, then next week, my family heads to New York. We're doing fun tourist stuff. And, we're going to three shows while we're there.

I'm telling you all this to say my blog will be very sporadic while I'm gone. For the first time in ages, I'm not taking my laptop. I'll have a post or two up while I'm gone, a review on Thursday, a giveaway on Friday, but I won't be posting regularly. Instead, I'm going to enjoy every minute of these trips. I'll share when I come home!

Monday, May 25, 2015

A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord

Cynthia Lord's juvenile novel, A Handful of Stars, is a warm, touching story about loneliness and the
gift of friendship. It's a story about opening your eyes to change and differences and imagination. It's a lovely, thoughtful book.

Lily lives in a small town in Maine with her grandparents, living in an apartment above their general store. And, she never would have met Salma Santiago if her dog, Lucky, hadn't run away one day. Lily was scared because Lucky was a "blind, old, black Labrador", but she refused to back down, ignoring the signs saying don't go through the blueberry barrens in order to catch Lucky. But, it was Salma, a migrant worker from Florida who caught Lucky, attracting him with her bag of chips. And, it was Lily's grandmother who pushed Lily back to the migrant camp to give a gift of thanks.

Twelve-year-old Lily seemed to have lost her best friend to a boy, so she was grateful when Salma showed up at the store where Lily was working. Every day, she painted and tried to sell houses for mason bees so she could get an operation for Lucky. But, Salma saw the houses differently, and created imaginative houses of bright colors that sold quickly. Salma saw art as creative, and a talent, and when she decided to run for Downeast Blueberry Queen, that was the talent she picked. But, all along, Lily worried for her friend. Would anyone want a migrant worker for queen?

Cynthia Lord is not heavy-handed with the story. It deals with prejudice, and perception, and people who only see the world one way until someone shows them the world can be different. Lily and Salma and Lucky are all lonely characters. It takes Salma and Lily's grandfather to show Lily and Lily's grandmother another way of looking at the world. But, it's done carefully, as part of the story, and not as part of a pointed lesson.

A Handful of Stars targets the eight to twelve-year-old audience. However, Cynthia Lord's latest book  is a warm, enjoyable story with a message for all of us.

Cynthia Lord's website is

A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord. Scholastic Press. 2015. ISBN 9780545700276 (hardcover), 192p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Carry Her Heart by Holly Jacobs

I don't usually start a review out by addressing the author, but I'm making an exception here. Darn you, Holly Jacobs. I cried throughout the last quarter of Carry Her Heart. Cats climbed into my lap because I was crying. It's all your fault.

Author Piper George lives across the street from an elementary school in Erie, Pennsylvania. Those children are the inspiration for her books, the books she writes for pre-teens and her young adult novels. She reads to the children in kindergarten and first grade, and, eventually helps the older students with writing. And, every child reminds her of the daughter she gave up for adoption when she was a young teen mother. It's the daughter she can't forget, the one she dedicates every book to, and all of her charitable activities.

When Ned Chesterfield moves in next door, she recognizes him immediately as the next character in a book. She doesn't recognize him as a friend who could come to mean more to her. But, Piper has never given away her heart since the day she gave away her daughter.

Holly Jacobs' latest novel is a love story on so many levels. It's a story of a woman learning about love as she learns about herself. It's the story of a the love necessary to be a mother, and what it takes to love a child and be a mother. It's also a story about children who are hungry and needy. Piper George, through her charities, puts a face on all of those children so donors can understand that their gifts do change lives.

I don't mean to make it sound as if Carry Her Heart is a sad story. It isn't. In fact, it's funny at times. Readers of Jacobs' earlier books will recognize Mrs. Salo at the Everything But a Dog adoption event. It's a perfect scene. And, there are often funny exchanges between Ned and Piper, who are drawn together despite Ned's jealous girlfriend and the man Piper dates.

However, Carry Her Heart is a beautiful story of love and friendship. And, Holly Jacobs' message of love is strong and touching. Darn you, Holly.

Holly Jacobs' website is

Carry Her Heart by Holly Jacobs. Montlake Romance. 2015. ISBN 9781477829288 (paperback), 209p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The author sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Mystery Writers of America Presents Manhattan Mayhem

I'm not going to wait until this book comes out in early June to discuss it. Mary Higgins Clark edited a collection of stories written to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of Mystery Writers of America. And, the stories, set all over Manhattan, are intriguing and interesting. But, it's the book itself that is impressive. If you love the part of the city that we tourists think of as New York City, you should pick up a copy of Manhattan Mayhem.

The publishers, Quirk Books, have put together a beautiful book physically. Because each author set their story in a different neighborhood, the covers are maps showing the author's name, and where their story takes place. There's even a legend for this street and transportation map of Manhattan and the Bronx. And, the inside of the book is eye-catching. Each story is labeled with the street map showing where it's set, and set off by the appropriate black-and-white photo. Those photos illustrate the stories perfectly. They're amazing. And, the pages and print match the overall format.

Oh, yes. The stories themselves. Julie Hyzy's "White Rabbit" is set in Central Park, and it's introduced with a photo of the Alice in Wonderland statue. In fact, that's exactly where this story is set, at that statue. It's a story with an unforeseen ending. Jack Reacher faces a surprising Manhattan when he reaches his subway stop at the iconic Flatiron Building in Lee Child's "The Picture of the Lonely Diner." Clark introduces the stories, the background, and the book itself, but she also kicks off the book with a new story set in Union Square.

Some of the biggest names in the mystery field contributed stories; Jeffery Deaver, Margaret Maron, S.J. Rozan. It's an entertaining collection, an excellent tribute to the mystery field, and the organization of writers that started in 1945. And, it's a beautiful tribute to an ever-changing city. Readers will pick up Manhattan Mayhem because of the authors. But, I showed it to a friend who normally doesn't read mysteries. And, I predict some readers, like my friend, will pick it up because Quirk Books did such an amazing job compiling this beautiful book.

Mystery Writers of America Presents Manhattan Mayhem. Quirk Books. 2015. ISBN 9781594747618 (hardcover), 321p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Where Are You Today?

I've started a fascinating book. It's Mystery Writers of America Presents Manhattan Mayhem. It's
edited by Mary Higgins Clark, and it celebrates the seventieth anniversary of the founding of MWA. There are stories by Lee Child, Margaret Maron, Jeffery Deaver, and others. The stories take place all over Manhattan in all kinds of time periods. And, the best part so far? The gorgeous black and white photographs that illustrate the stories. I've seen so many of these landmarks! And, I'm heading to New York next week, so I'll have to watch for others. More about the story collection when I finish it. (Let me just say, though, that I loved Julie Hyzy's "White Rabbit" set in Central Park.)

So, I'm in Manhattan today. Where are you? Where has your book taken you? What book are you reading? Is it giving you the same sense of place that I'm discovering in Manhattan Mayhem? I have all kinds of questions, but they actually come back to one. Where has your book taken you today? I'd love to know!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Winners and a Break

Congratulations to the winners of the last contests. Beach Town by Mary Kay Andrews will go to Bonnie K. from Sacramento, CA. And, I always wonder about serendipity when both books set in New York City are heading to residents of New York state. Margaret Grace's Manhattan in Miniature is going to Judy V. from Orchard Park, NY. Cleo Coyle's Once Upon a Grind will head to Gina B. from Queensbury, NY.

Don't forget there will be a one week break for giveaways while I'm at Book Expo America. However, I have a special one that will kick off next Friday, May 29. Check back then.

When to Rob a Bank by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner

There is no good answer to that question, which is why the subtitle makes a lot of sense. The authors of Freakonomics collected pieces from their blog in the book When to Rob a Bank...and 131 more warped suggestions and well-intended rants. In celebration of the tenth anniversary of Freakonomics,  Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner gathered articles from their blog, a blog they started even though Levitt didn't know what a blog was.

I'm going to admit that some of the articles on economics were beyond me. Even though I play backgammon, I found the piece about the statistics of backgammon to be boring. However, I was intrigued by "If Public Libraries Didn't Exist, Could You Start one Today?" Neither author insists their ideas are correct. They wrote them to be thought-provoking.

There are funny articles that point out how ridiculous our ideas are. One showed a padlock on a diaper-changing station. Then there was the "lie of reputation", used, for instance, when a person says they've read a book when they haven't. They don't want people to think less of them. There's an entire chapter about gambling, and a chapter exploring crime and guns. But, there's one article that will probably hit close to home with a number of readers. It's called "Dental Wisdom", wisdom from Dubner's dentist, Dr. Reiss. I had heard this from a dentist once, and even mentioned it recently in conversation. Dr. Reiss said dental decay is getting worse and worse for people in middle age and above because of the medication we're taking for heart disease, high cholesterol, etc. Because many of these medications produce dry mouth, meaning less saliva which kills bacteria, and that leads to tooth decay.

The saddest article was the one by Levitt's father, a doctor, who watched his daughter die of cancer. Oh, and that article about robbing a bank? The take is the U.S. usually isn't worth it. And, one woman who embezzled money from a family bank was caught because she was afraid to leave work for fear someone would catch what she was doing with the books, so she never took a vacation.

When to Rob a Bank is thought-provoking, funny at times, and even sad. And, there's probably an article or two that readers will find warped. Sometimes, it's too complicated. But, Levitt and Dubner have once again managed to bring economics to the ordinary person.

The website is

When to Rob a Bank...and 131 more warped suggestions and well-intended rants by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner. William Morrow. 2015. ISBN 9780062385321 (hardcover), 387p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book