WIDOWS-IN LAW by Michele W. Miller


Perfect 10
Blackstone Publishing
ISBN 10: 1-5385-5691-X
ISBN 13: 978-1-5385-5691-7
March 2019
Mystery

New York and Miami – The Present

Lauren is the ex-wife of New York lawyer Brian Silverman. He is making millions of dollars with his law firm partner Steve Cohen. Lauren is also a lawyer, but she practices in the New York family court system. She doesn’t make the money Brian does, so depends on his alimony checks to support herself and their daughter Emily in the expensive city. It killed her to do so, but when she could no longer control Emily and the crowd she was hanging with in high school, she let Brian take over custody of Emily. She didn’t want Emily to end up like herself. In her teens poor choices led her into some unfortunate and dangerous situations. Her parents had both been drug addicts which led Lauren into making some very bad decisions. She overcame her past and desperately wants to protect Emily. Brian owns an expensive house in a better part of the city with his second wife Jessica. It places Emily in a better school system, and Brian can control the rebellious teenager better. Brian had cheated on her with Jessica before the divorce, and it left Lauren feeling inadequate and with low self-esteem. She calls Jessica her ‘wife-in-law,’ a term she learned in family court. Then Brian’s secretary Peggy calls Lauren. Lauren learns Brian was found burned in his bed while on a trip to Miami. She flies to Miami with both Jessica and Emily, but they are too late, Brian died.

While initially Steve told the two widows-in-law everything would be all right, he soon stops taking their calls. Then he claims Brian wasn’t really a partner and they will be getting nothing from his law practice. Lauren thinks this a fabricated story. Brian was the better lawyer and had told her his share of the firm’s contingency fees was worth millions of dollars. She and Jessica work to discover the truth, and from there everything goes downhill. Jessica witnesses the murder of Brian’s friend Jordon Connors, threats are made against Lauren, demands and threats come from criminal enterprises, and Jessica and Emily are arrested. All this leads to some very dangerous situations. Why was Steve being so deceptive, and just what was Brian up to? Carl Cintron, an FBI agent, takes great interest in Brian’s case despite being told to move on since Brian is dead. He already knows he has an even greater interest in Brian’s first wife.

The viewpoint shifts from Lauren to Jessica, to Emily, to Carl, and even to Brian before his death. Everything for everyone is tied up in convoluted circumstances. The story isn’t sorted by chapters but by dates and character viewpoints. It is a gripping read about changing relationships and hidden desires and motives, criminal conduct, and overcoming almost insurmountable odds. A great read with emotional, smart and thoughtful characters caught in unfathomable positions, which makes this a Perfect 10.

Robin Lee

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ALL IN by Shelley Shepard Gray


Bridgeport Social Club – Book 2
Perfect 10
Blackstone Publishing
ISBN: 978-1438440889
February 2019
Romance Women’s Fiction

Bridgeport, Ohio – The Present

An unexpected hit in the back while hiking dropped Meredith Hunt to the ground, and whoever hit her, stole her backpack with all her vital information, car keys, telephone, and money. She didn’t see the person who struck her. A man, who calls her darling, helps her to a sitting position. Then she recognizes a young man with her rescuer. Finn, a sophomore from her friend’s classroom where she volunteers once a week, stands nearby. His father, Ace Vance, and Finn saw the mugger, but stopped to help her. Ace tells Finn to follow down the trail to see if her backpack has been discarded, and Finn does find it. They insist on taking Meredith to urgent care for her bleeding hand, cut on glass shards where she fell. While surprised at their kindness and at the giddy feelings her rescuer inspires, she doesn’t want to be a burden. She felt that often enough while growing up when she never seemed to reach her mother’s expectations or earn her respect. Her father left when she was five to never reenter her life.

Vance has taken over the care of his son from the boy’s mother Liz. Finn has become his priority. His boy needs someone to show they love him and will always be there for him, unlike how his mother treated him. A brief encounter resulted in Finn’s birth, so Ace can’t regret it, except Liz was not a very good or caring mother. He has Finn now, and a few weeks ago they moved from West Virginia to Bridgeport for a fresh start. The difficult part is that Ace is now far from his loving parents and siblings. He works as an auto mechanic working on valuable classic cars. He knows Finn has trouble in his new high school, but the coach is very interested in adding Finn to the varsity football team knowing Finn’s size and talent will help the team.

Finn has trouble relating to anyone as his mother always left him to fend for himself. Allison, a junior girl from his high school, lives next door. But in a brief encounter to look at her dog’s puppies, he realizes her family is the perfect family, and when among them, he doesn’t know how to relate, how to act, or what to say. He finds it difficult to believe anyone wants him for who he is.

The unexpected relationship between these three wonderful characters develops quickly and goes through several distressing events, which allows them to emerge as stronger individuals who want to take a chance in believing they are worth someone’s love. Their mutual support helps them develop in important ways, and they each have supportive friends who add interest to the story. Themes of loneliness, parenting, developing friendships, and finding not only love with someone else, but also self-love, create a moving, emotional story. Yet overcoming doubt and distrust is difficult. Once readers start down this story’s trail, they won’t want to stop, earning it a Perfect 10.

Robin Lee

Stuck in Manistique

By Dennis Cuesta
Celestial Eyes Press
Perfect 10
ISBN: 978-1-7324-1090-9
November 2018
General Fiction

Manistique, Michigan – The Present

Mark (last name never revealed), who lives in Chicago and is a financial advisor, learns his Aunt Vivian has died and left him her estate, a Victorian house in Manistique, Michigan, a small community in the Upper Peninsula near Lake Michigan. His aunt, Dr. Vivian Peregrine, had been a humanitarian doctor who served in the world’s troubled areas for most of her life. He can only remember meeting her once and lost touch with her years ago, but couldn’t locate her. After talking to his aunt’s lawyer in Petoskey, Michigan, he travels to the UP. The problem is he has gephyrophobia, or fear of bridges, and the five mile long Mackinac (pronounced Mack-in-awe) Bridge lays between him and Manistique. Luckily, the bridge personnel are prepared for such occasions and have assistance drivers to help people across the bridge. On his first night in his aunt’s house, which he plans to sell, a woman knocks on the door and asks for a room for the night. It seems his Aunt Vivian operated a B&B.

Dr. Emily Davis was driving north, on her way to Mackinac Island to meet her mentor, another doctor who is married, for a romantic commitment. Suffering doubts, she goes to the Upper Peninsula to catch the ferry to the island, but ultimately takes U.S. Highway 2 west and away from her temptation. Near Manistique a deer leaps into car’s windshield, smashing it to bits. Repair will take at least one day and all the local hotels and motels are filled with an elderly group on a casino tour of the UP. One motel owner gives her the name of the Manistique Victorian, a local B&B.

Mark’s generosity to Emily soon expands to other unexpected guests. From that point unanticipated events continually take place. The newly acquainted characters share quippy talk and camaraderie, which leads to confidences laced with allusions. Trouble abounds. While the story is overall humorous in tone, serious matters underlie the content. The story revolves around personal loss, secrets revealing extraordinary truths, local mysticism, friendship, incipient romance, and family relationships. Yes it earns a Perfect 10, but mostly for those who enjoy quirky people and crazy, surprising events, and because I learned some interesting things about my home state.

WE, THE JURY

Cover for We the JuryBy Robert Rotstein
Perfect 10
Blackstone Publishing
ISBN: 978-1-5384-4090-2
ASIN: B07CNQ2DZS
October 2018
Mystery

Sepulveda, California – The Present

WE THE JURY is told from fourteen viewpoints during a jury’s deliberation of a murder trial. Each chapter tells a viewpoint from the judge, the prosecuting attorney, the husband and paralegal of the defending attorney, the courtroom clerk, the bailiff, a blogger, or from one of the eight members of the jury. This approach is very different but riveting. The reader learns about the defendant, David Sullinger, through varying jury member’s interpretations of court testimony on how and why he murdered his wife. Also exposed are their son Dillon, age 16, and daughter Lacey, age 17, who testify for or against their father. To complicate the issue, David’s wife Amanda was his former high school teacher and the family breadwinner. David’s expensive defense lawyer, Jenna Blaylock, has presented her client as an abused spouse who defended himself. The local prosecuting attorney, Jack Cranston, is shown through these viewpoints as Blaylock’s opposite: unattractive, unfashionable, stumbling over his words, and apparently inept. The jury begins deliberations ready to acquit.

What emerges is a ‘is he guilty or innocent?’ debate, but through a very convoluted set of narratives. Each juror bases their interpretation of facts on their own thoughts and beliefs about what they saw or heard, or remembered or not, in court. The eight jurors come from different social experiences and mindsets with accompanying prejudices. They sort truth, misconception, deliberate deception, and lies based on the testimony and evidence presented to deliver the verdict. Some jurors have personal motivations behind their convictions. The jury’s diversity emerges from the epithets given: the Foreperson, the Architect, the Housewife, the Grandmother, the Student, and the Jury Consultant, all women; and the two men jurors, the Clergyman and the Express Messenger/Actor. Each viewpoint gives a very different assessment of what is happening in the deliberation process. Outside the courthouse, a very determined, quasi-journalist/blogger is presenting her own agenda about the defendant and trial.

In the meantime, a reader becomes aware of the two attorneys and their mindsets about truth, lies, and justice. The presiding judge has just lost her beloved husband and leaves the reader wondering if this has impaired her judgement. The dedicated and concerned courtroom clerk and bailiff help keep the judge in order and the process moving, but have concerns.

All of this shows how society and courtrooms blend in determining guilt or innocence. The author, who has a law degree, also plays the reader very effectively, taking them on a bumpy journey of belief/disbelief about innocence and guilt, but he also gives a complex view of how the justice system works, and how it also can be played. Few readers will foresee the very unexpected ending.

Robin Lee

BUZZ: The Nature and Necessity of Bees

BUZZBy author Thor Hanson
From publisher Basic Books
ISBN-10: 0465052614
ISBN-13: 978-0465052615
Publish date: July, 2018

BUZZ is more than a title because a ‘buzz’ of interest kept me reading. The information on the evolution of bees from wasps, changing from carnivores to vegetarians during the age of dinosaurs, was fascinating, as was learning how long man has been harvesting and treasuring honey. It shows cave paintings of this activity! As a gardener, I also found the number of bee species astounding and their effects on how flowers developed through the millennia interesting. Only recently I learned Michigan has over 300 variety of bees, but had no idea on how many species there are in the world. All the information Mr. Hanson gives on the many types of bees in BUZZ is thought-provoking, and goes far beyond the scope of honey bees and their decline.

BUZZ is a well written personal narrative telling of the author’s own interest and journey of discovery on the topic of bees. Author Thor Hanson writes in easy to understand language rather than in the jargon of science, but he provides quick definitions when words of a scientific nature are used and gives supporting evidence on his information from many experts in the field. BUZZ also holds a message that humans need to become more aware of their relationship to the creatures and plants that surround us and makes living possible.

THE ARTISAN HEART

By Dean Mayes
Perfect 10
Central Avenue Publishing
ISBN: 978-1-77168-142-1 (Paperback)
ISBN: 978-1-77168-143-8 (E-book)
September 2018
Contemporary Romance

Adelaide and Walhalla, Australia

Doctor Hayden Luschcombe is an emergency paediatrician in the city of Adelaide in the South Australia territory and married to event planner Bernadette Magnion. As he is about to leave the hospital for one of her events, for which he has promised he would arrive on time, an emergency calls him. It is not the first time Bernadette had found him wanting, but when he comes home and finds her in bed with another man, he leaves his house. Then another emergency has Hayden fending off the attack of a father whose daughter Hayden suspects suffers not from an accidental failure to test the bath’s water temperature, as claimed by the mother, but a purposeful scalding of the little girl’s lower body. The hospital releases him from duty until the case can be sorted out. Escaping his life, Hayden travels to the village of Walhalla in the mountains of New South Wales. Here is the cottage where his parents lived, where he grew up, and which he closed up three years ago when his father died.

While working on the cottage’s leaking roof, a small girl, this one deaf, attacks Hayden. He knows sign language because his mother was deaf. He learns her name is Genevieve, and he recognizes her mother, Isabelle Sampi, who as a young girl taunted and tormented the young, shy child Hayden. She is a baker now, trying to reestablish a bakery in an old and dilapidated nineteenth century building. What neither Hayden nor Isabelle know is how much they share, including love for the mischievous but kind and intelligent Genevieve.

The Artisan Heart is a riveting romance whose protagonists have troubled pasts but find the courage to start again in the small, close-knit community of Walhalla. Serious danger comes from Isabelle’s past, and certainly Bernadette has an agenda to encourage Hayden to remain in their marriage, which creates some great drama. Author Dean Mayes, who lives in Adelaide, wonderfully presents the Australian setting. While many romances share some plot points, Hayden’s perspective made this story different and unique. All the characters in THE ARTISAN HEART read as real people, another wonderful aspect of this story that earns it a Perfect 10.

FRESH FROM THE GARDEN: An Organic Guide to Growing Vegetables, Berries, and Herbs in Cold Climates

By John Whitman
University of Minnesota Press
ISBN 978-0-8166-9839-4
February 2017|
Non-Fiction; Gardening

FRESH FROM THE GARDEN is a marvelous book. It is a large and comprehensive volume for growing edible food plants only, but discusses edible flower garden plants and other unusual and unexpected edible plants. This book is for gardening in cold areas like mine, and as a long-time gardener, I know this can be difficult.

Part I is devoted to the basics of gardening and growing crops organically. It explains a variety of approaches from growing in containers to creating many types of land gardens. Soil and compost is explained along with how to water and fertilize. Directions for planting seeds is provided, but it also includes other methods of propagation. It explains how to grow crops and how to weed and harvest them. The information goes further to include culinary terms, food storage, and even gives reasons why some people love or hate a particular vegetable. All the tools and products necessary for gardening are listed along with safety tips. Great photos and many easy-to-understand charts supplement the text.

One thing among the many I learned was that pH means potential hydrogen. I’ve known what a pH reading was and how it applies to plants, but not what the acronym meant. It’s not only the solid information but also the good advice provided, such as the myth the gardener controls their garden, and that there is not just one but many ways to achieve a bountiful harvest. Author John Whitman encourages gardeners to use whatever method works best for them.

The most wonderful part of FRESH FROM THE GARDEN is Part II– an extensive listing of all the vegetables, berries and herbs that can be grown in the food garden. Many I have grown, but even more I haven’t. From asparagus to zucchini, every crop is described. The information includes when and where to plant, the plant’s nutritional facts, the varieties available, how to grow it, problems and pests that can occur, and how to harvest and store the crop.

While FRESH FROM THE GARDEN is invaluable for gardeners in cold areas, defined in the book as anywhere the temperature can dip below -20° Fahrenheit, the basic information is relevant anywhere. The extensive list and discussion of crop foods makes this garden book one every gardener will seek out repeatedly, not only when choosing plants to grow for the upcoming season, but also whenever problems or questions occur during the growing or harvesting of those crops. For beginning gardeners or experienced gardeners, FRESH FROM THE GARDEN offers effective gardening know-how.

THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH

Book CoverAmanda Quick
Berkley
ISBN: 978-0-399-174447-6
May 2017
Mystery

Burning Cove, California, 1930s

Anna Harris, personal secretary to socialite Helen Spencer, finds her very generous boss murdered in her luxurious bedroom. Helen left a message in her blood on the wall: ‘RUN.’ Anna quickly packs, and pulls out money she has saved from a shoebox in her bedroom closet. More is inside the box than should be there: more money, a small black leather notebook with indecipherable information, and a letter from Helen. The letter again warns Anna to run and never look back. It also instructs her to never give the notebook to anyone, including the FBI. It is her insurance. Anna flees New York. Once she can think straight, she heads for the other side of the country. Four months later she is Irene Glasson, a gossip reporter. At the exclusive Burning Cove Hotel, Irene finds Gloria Maitland, rumored lover of the up-and-coming movie star Nick Tremayne, dead at the bottom of the lap pool in the hotel’s spa. Irene hears someone walking toward her, and fearing for her life, escapes to a more public place. After the police leave, hotel owner Oliver Ward questions her. Irene tells him Gloria chose the time and place to meet, luring Irene with a hot scoop for the gossip rag where Irene works. Irene thinks the scoop might have something to do with Nick Tremayne, and she suspects he murdered Gloria to keep her quiet.

A dangerous trick ended magician-performer Oliver Ward’s career, nearly killing him onstage. To survive, he sank every cent he had into buying the Burning Cove Hotel, a place now known for its luxury, privacy, and security, a place where movie stars and other high-profile guests love to stay. As a magician he learned how to redirect people’s attention and how to read their expressions. He is very good at both talents, but Irene Glasson gives little away. This intrigues him, because he knows she hides secrets.

There are many intriguing characters involved in this mystery. Graham Enright, owner of a New York law firm, tells his son Julian to retrieve the invaluable black notebook no matter what it takes. Julian is as handsome and as charismatic as any movie star, including Nick Tremayne. Nick’s assistant Claudia Picton, Oliver’s uncle Chester, and his friend Luther Pell, also have important roles in the story. Irene is resolute about her investigation because a similar murder killed a fellow reporter, which also seems tied to Nick Tremayne. Soon she is involved in yet another murder, but is the murderer after Anna Harris or Irene Glasson?

This well-done mystery takes the reader back to the period of black-and-white movies, the wild life styles of the famous and rich, and a time with few of today’s instantaneous electronics. It involves one person with two different identities, each persona tied to different murder mysteries. Both Irene and Oliver have dark secrets, both have had to reinvent themselves, and both of them have a general distrust of others. It is an interesting era to visit, with fascinating characters caught in a murderous conundrum, earning THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH a Romance Reviews Today Perfect 10.

Yes, I received an ARC (Advance Review Copy) of this book from
Romance Reviews Today where this review will also be published. I post it here because it is an excellent book, personable characters with past histories and present problems, good mystery and suspense, and romance.

Flock Together: A Love Affair with Extinct Birds

flock-together

By B. J. Hollars
University of Nebraska Press
ISBN 10: 0-803-29642-8
ISBN 13: 978-0-803-29642-8)
January 2017

FLOCK TOGETHER is a narrative journey of the author, B. J. Hollars, to become a birder, but also to present a warning to humanity. It starts with the presumed extinction of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, last seen in 1972, but then claimed to have been seen in 2005. (I have to insert here that I believe I saw two at Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri in 1982? 83? – They were huge, had the red top knot and I distinctly remember the white on the wings since I was looking the strange looking woodpecker up in a bird book. Our local DNR said I was mistaken. Maybe, only remember what I thought I saw.) Hollars also went to a Passenger Pigeon Symposium, which led him to a monument for the bird with the following wording on its base: “The species became extinct through the avarice and thoughtlessness of man.” Who knew mankind could kill billions of pigeons in 40 years? The monument is right, what an ignoble exploit. He talks about many other birders who spend time recording bird sightings and their viewpoints, and spends much effort in searching out museums about birds and their legacies. He claims the dwindling numbers of North American birds are due to loss of habitat, cats (Oh, God, I’m guilty), and windows. I am glad to say I could list more names of birds than he claimed the average American could list, but then you have to consider my name, Robin. I do agree, also, with his statement that the in the Bible, God gave man dominion over animals for care giving rather than consumption. So true, after all, He gave no guarantee of a second world if we screw this one up. Bird watching is not quite what most people think it is. Yes it is searching for different birds and keeping a bragging list, but it is also about caring for the environment and all the creatures living on Earth. Throughout his narrative, Hollars gives us warning to be aware of the many warnings we’ve already had, and to become the concerned caregivers we should have been all along.

100 PLANTS TO FEED THE BEES: Provide a Healthy Habitat to Help Pollinators Thrive

100 Plants to Feed the Bees
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
Published December 2016 by Storey Publishing, LLC
ISBN-10: 1612-12701-0
ISBN-13: 978-1612-12701-9

While this book is a handbook of plants insects need, it is an important book for every gardener. The book begins with a very interesting short version of the multi-million year history of how plants and insects evolved into essential partnerships. For those who have ignored environmental problems, bees have been disappearing, and bees and humans also have an essential partnership. The DNR claims bees pollinate approximately roughly 75% of the vegetables, fruits, and nuts we eat. Personally, I love those plant products and want to keep bees around to do what they do best. Unfortunately, I’ve also noticed a distinct decline in the number of honeybees visiting my plants.

100 PLANTS TO FEED THE BEES offers an extensive list of plants whose flowers provide nectar and pollen for bees, and not only honey bees but native bees and other pollinators such as moths, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Each plant section contains a photo of the plant, the plant’s botanical name, and some basic information on the plant, plus a map of where it grows. Interesting information and sometimes warnings about the plant are also included. An example of a warning is mustard, which is considered a noxious weed in some locations, and illegal to grow.

Included in the 100 plants are native wildflowers and non-native or introduced wildflowers (weeds), garden plants, herbs, trees and shrubs, and even pasture plants. I was glad to see many of the plants I’ve recognized growing in my area, and my garden holds many other recommended selections. I was surprised to see Tilia Americana or the common basswood tree, until I remembered standing under my trees when in bloom and hearing myriad bees busy in the tree’s unseen upper stories. I appreciated the list of insects each plant attracts far beyond bees, too. I looked over an online version of the book, and then pre-order a volume. I recommend all gardeners purchase a copy of 100 PLANTS TO FEED THE BEES, and a big thanks to Xerces Society authors Eric Lee-Mäder, Jarrod Fowler, Jillian Vento, and Jennifer Hopwood for this work.