Book Review │Peter Green and the Unliving Academy by Angelina Allsop

“Fourteen-year-old Peter Green woke up knowing only three things: the proper way to put on a tie, that lemon custard was disgusting, and that he was dead.”

Peter has died and he has no memory of it or his life before his untimely death. He has found himself with a ticket to a special school of dead orphans just like himself: Mrs. Battisworth’s Academy and Haven for Unliving Boys and Girls. There he finds many kids just like him– dead and forgetful of their life before. Now, as supernatural beings, all of the children are figuring our what their powers are as is Peter, but Peter can not seem to shake the feeling of having forgotten something extremely important. Is is someone that he loved? Is it someone who was important to him in life? Or, is it something more sinister…like someone that he has forgotten is in serious danger?

The students at Mrs. Battiworth’s won’t be allowed to have their memories back until the graduate, however. Peter’s adventure unfolds with magical creatures, teachers who are snakes and enchanted objects like the chalk…that BITES!Together with his unique group of friends, Pete is off for an adventure through his life in purgatory or is it his death? Either way, this novel is full of magic and adventure.

Even though Pete is 14 years old at his death, the character reads as several years younger than that. The novel does not explore big coming-of-age things or even romance that older middle and younger high schoolers tend to gravitate towards, but rather, it focuses on the friendships and the experiences that Pete and his friends undertake in the afterlife. Peter Green and the Unliving Academy is best suited for early middle school to upper elementary, in this teacher’s opinion.

Be prepared for a large cast of characters and a lot of action throughout the novel. Even the slow parts weren’t all that slow and this made for a nice Friday night read.

Book Information

Peter Green and the Unliving Academy by Angelina Allsop was released on November 18, 2018 by TCK Publishing with ISBN 1631610643. This review corresponds to a paper galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Book Review│The Lights of Sugarberry Cove

As a teacher who has survived virtual school and as a real estate professional who navigated her own buy/sell in this crazy housing market, I can safely say I am tired. I am looking forward to a simple summer with my kids and a very long break from teaching. I am also looking forward to those summery, fun reads that take you to new places that have that coziness to them.

The Lights of Sugarberry Cove takes us to Alabama and to Sugarberry Cove, a lakefront community that holds a yearly lantern festival. It is a lush and magical backdrop of the story that unfolds for us. Sadie Way Scott, a content creator, almost drowned in the lake years ago and has avoided coming home since, but circumstances push her back to Sugarberry Cove. She has spent the last eight years running from her accident and searching for meaning in her life.

It is a stark contrast from her sister, Leala Clare, who is married to her workaholic husband and a mom to her toddler-son, Tucker. She is the antithesis of her own mother, being a stay-at-home mom to her young son who may even slightly air on the side of over protective. She is questioning her own life choices as she finds herself unfilled and unhappy in her marriage.

Susannah Scott, their mother, is the over of the bed and breakfast where Leala almost drowned years ago. She has put her business before her own daughters constantly and it has caused a divide among the women because of it. However, Susannah has also had a recent heart attack which has left her reviewing her own life and perhaps pushing her to a life lesson: the importance of family over business.

All three women are questioning their life choices and what they want to do to move forward as they face the reality of lost dreams, bitterness among family and the burn of old love. This steamy story is set in a cozy, summer spot that grabs you from the moment you start the book. Just picture a southern lake, the mysterious magic of a humid southern summer and a lantern festival where Lady Laurel of the Lake will grant your wishes if you believe.

Step into the shimmering magic of Sugarberry Cove with Heather Webber’s latest novel.

Book Information

The Lights of Sugarberry Cove by Heather Webber will be released on July 20, 2021 from Macmilian/Tor: The Forge Imprint with ISBN 9781250774620. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Book Review│Miss Austen by Gill Hornby

Although a fictional recreation, Miss Austen gives us an explanation as to a question that have puzzled Austen academics for years: why did her younger sister burn all of her letters after her death?

Hornby creates for us a believable adventure that centers around these letters and the life of Jane’s sister, Cassandra. We are taken through the years before and after Jane’s death as Cassandra settles into a life of routine in a rural English cottage. She goes on to visit a family member at a vicarage that is about to be cleared out for its new occupant. The mother of the vicarage has in her possession letters that were written between Jane and Cassandra and they are ones that she prefer not to give to the world.

Cassandra takes possession of the letters and begins to read them as she is drawn back in time to the events and emotions that are present in the letters. Hornby beautifully weaves together the fictional retelling of the letters with events and the loves of both of the Austen girls. While the plot is not outlandish and over the top, Horny has a talent for creating realism in her historical fiction that lifts the family of Austen off of the page, endearing them to the reader.

This was a charming take to read that made for an intriguing take on the famous Austen letters and a plausible reason as to why Cassandra chose to destroy them rather than allow the world to have them. Any Austen fan will love to curl up with this well-written novel as they daydream about bonnets, pinafores and endless English county sides.

Book Information

Miss Austen by Gill Hornby was released on April 7, 2020 from Flatiron Books with ISBN 978-1250252203. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

The Hart Home │It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times…It Was the Stove-less Times

We went through the ringer in getting into our forever home during the insanity of this pandemic and for that, I say a prayer to God every night because it really was through divine intervention that everything fell into place and we got our house. We had crazy buyers for our beach house that just caused all kinds of drama and delays on top of everyone else being so overwhelmed in this market in trying to get our own new house to closing, that by the end I was surprised that I hadn’t drank more wine during the entire ordeal.

Ultimately, we closed on the sale of our house by the ocean on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and moved into our forever house on Black Friday and rented it until we closed the following Tuesday. The house needed work. I wouldn’t say it was anywhere near our beach house when we bought it– no heat or hot water, brown walls everywhere, dirty, gross– on and on I could go about that place, but our new house needs love more than total rehab like our first house did– it needs to be decorated, painted and updated. Unlike our little house by the ocean, I am taking my time with our forever house and picking things I really like and working hard not to take on debt while I do it. In this pandemic life, I fear debt because I saw how quickly our income was impacted by all of this. I lost out on some and my husband lost his job completely. It definitely was an eye-opener on how quickly life could change last March. I started with the kitchen because there were renters in here for awhile and renters don’t clean and care for a house the way an owner would, so I made sure we got a new microwave and refrigerator to start.

Then, on Christmas Day, as I was cooking my family our small feast, the stove decided that it too was ready to be replaced. It takes twice as long to cook anything in the oven and we are down to one burner that too does not heat up completely after the knobs starting popping off in my hand. Since it was a rather cheap electric stove, we have been pretty beat as we waited to get money together to buy a new one and then wait forever for it to be delivered.

This will be my last appliance that I ever buy from Home Depot. Our fridge delivery was stressful, the microwave had to be delivered twice and the guy that put in the one that stayed broke our cabinet. We had a plumber come out to tell us how it would be over $4,000 TO START, to pipe gas into our kitchen. We already have it in the house and I was floored by that because, I was thinking maybe $600? He gave us this elaborate story about how there is not ENOUGH gas to power all of our stuff and then the stove so they would have to re-do it with larger piping, but since we live in the Pine Barrens with very sandy soil, digging could start and then re-start as the trenches gave in. It was very believable.

So, I ordered an electric stove and was really bummed out about it. I love cooking and I love to bake so an electric stove just sucks, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford thousands of dollars to redo gas piping plus lose all of our landscaping only to eventually replace that as well. Home Depot then pushes our delivery out for another three weeks. In the middle of the wait, I was telling one of our friends about our gas saga and he’s looking at me like, that guy was just trying to swindle you out of a lot of money because none of this makes sense and he clearly saw you as a woman who just bought a new house and would go for it. Which annoyed me greatly because he seemed very trustworthy and we had already been through it with moving companies trying to get us to pay thousands of dollars to move, because they all were trying to make money on this crazy housing market too. Can’t anyone just be honest anymore?

He looks at it. We don’t need to re-pipe a gas line and surprise! There was already gas to the kitchen, but it was nubbed off because they moved the stove to the other wall. Awesome. Easy fix! I cancel the electric stove and order the gas stove that I had really wanted. Only that too took two weeks to get my money back for before I could get my order through on the gas stove because “it needed to be sent back to the warehouse.” In the age of Amazon Prime when things are delivered in hours if you order it at the right time, where the hell is that warehouse that it will take that long to get back to? I digress…

We are now 3 months out from the start of all of this. I had to get up an hour early today, excited for the delivery of my new stove. I was working and waiting for the arrival of it between 7AM and 11AM, checking every so often to see where I was in line. It started off with only three ahead of me, then we got to two and we stopped moving. At 11:15, I called to check and was told they were still coming but delayed. 11:30 they call me and tell me some BS story about the truck breaking down which by that point had to be hours ago, so glad I was kept up and waiting around for a stove for four and a half hours. They can’t deliver it until next week.

So somewhere in this fine state, my stove was jostled around to be put on a truck. Left on a broken down truck. Jostled around back to a warehouse to only be pulled out again next week. To add to my petty frustrations, our couches did not fit in our family room so I had to buy a new set. We have not been able to watch TV since we moved in because we have no place to sit other than kid chairs and we did do that on NYE with the kids because we wanted to watch the ball drop on the weirdest ball drop ever. I ordered a set back in December. When are they coming? Mid-April, because there is a furniture shortage.

I am tired, couch-less and stove-less. In the grand scheme of everything we all have lived through, it is also a petty inconvenience, but compiled with everything this year brought from a pregnancy that my husband was shut out of midway through because he couldn’t come to appointments anymore, to laboring in a hospital with a dumb nurse that was more worried about a mask than me, to selling and buying and having people trying to rip you off as you go…it’s just been enough big and petty stuff to last me years.

I don’t know about you all, but I am tired and I would just like to cook a meal for my family in a timely manner on multiple burners while they get to watch TV in our family room on comfortable couches.

Don’t mind me…today, I am just frustrated with petty inconveniences and needed to vent. This year has been hard and we have survived it, but I just miss life when it was easier to get things done and didn’t require masks, and wait times and so much red tape for something as simple as buying a couch or a stove.

Thank you for coming to my TED talk.

Book Review│The French Paradox by Ellen Crosby

This is the 11th book in Crosby’s Wine Country Mystery Series…and my oh my, does this one have it all!

Lucie Montgomery runs the vineyard that we have fallen in love with throughout this series. She is still engaged to Quinn and in this segment, both of her siblings have returned home for the season. Mia takes the front seat in this installment when she becomes suspected of murdering a man found in the Vineyard after he had trashed a local gardener’s methods. Her grandfather is due back to celebrate Cricket’s 90th birthday and with his arrival, the past and present begin to collide.

This all swirls around the intrigue that has been created around a very famous Jackie…that’s right! Let’s say for a minute, that Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, had had a lover before she met JFK and when she had that secret lover, someone had kept a few journals about the affair and now someone had their hands on it! All of this had been set into motion because Jackie, while study abroad years ago and having a fling, also bought small portraits of Marie Antoinette by a little-known 18th century female artist and those paintings were now going to be sold. Then, when Lucie’s grandfather visits from France, he confirms his knowledge of the journal and is also holding onto a huge secret of his own, casting this cozy mystery into the fringes of this sub-genre. A mix of the lore of Camelot and powerful, rich people with secrets that are capable of undoing generations if all goes to plan…

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am eager to pick up the ones that have come before it in this series. This was great as a standalone novel as I had no prior knowledge of the series, but it also made me want to go back and delve into the earlier books. This was a great read on a weekend when I wanted an escape into a world of wine, intrigue and people with a lot of money and too many problems. If you are a fan of the Agatha Raisin series on Acorn TV, you will love this book.

Book Information

The French Paradox by Ellen Crosby will be released on April 6, 2021 from Severn House with ISBN 9780727891013. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

The Hart Home│I Wrote This 13 Years Ago Today

Facebook reminded me of this private note that I wrote myself 13 years ago today. It was my senior year of college. I was accepted into several graduate programs, one that was going to take me abroad for two years. My high school/college boyfriend of 5 years and I had broken up for the last time, it was such a period if change and coming into my own. I sometimes wonder how different my life would be if I had gone, but then I look at my two little boys and my husband and realize my life is really good so how can I ever think about changing it? This reminded me though of that after college life and that promise of all things new and exciting:

***

“Graduate School”

I think back to my Sotheby’s interview (still nothing from them or Christie’s) and I remember walking through the streets of New York and feeling like this was going to become my world be it at Sotheby’s or elsewhere. I just felt it all fitting and making sense to me for the first time since I was at the Louvre in a tiny room with a cute curator who asked me what I wanted from life and art.

I never dreamed then that a year later I would be preparing to move to Paris. After all, I was the girl who loathed French class after freshman year of high school. When I got to college, I wanted nothing to do with it until I found art history and got accepted into Gopin’s class for the summer. It was like finding an old lover that knew me better then anything else I have dared to reach for in my lifetime.

It knew me. It knew me from the moment I stepped off my hellish flight from London and now I’m going back to be a EuroLush for two more years. I can only wonder what this is going to bring me. Will I fall in love? Will I meet the man I’m supposed to marry? Will I meet a best friend? Will I want to live there for the rest of my life? Will I be offered a position at the Wallace Collection or some other swanky auction house? Will I find where my soul lies?

I’m swaggering on the promise of a life about to be reborn away from anyone I have ever dared to love and it does upset me, but at the same time it brings with it such a sweet and lasting freedom. I have always lived in the past, afraid of letting go of old relationships and memories, but I feel as though that fear is slipping away and I am becoming the woman I always dared to be.

And I am doing this in Paris, London, Florence, and Brussels. I am living. I am living more so than I ever thought that I would.

View from my flat in Paris. Summer 2007.

The Hart Home │The One That Ends in A Lot of Dog Shit

Picture it.

It’s 7:30 PM, both kids are in bed snoring. My husband puts on Call the Midwife.

We settle in, tucked underneath our feather quilt and my favorite cat blanket. I am half watching the show and half reading the Reddit I am currently addicted to: WattsOffTopic.

My husband falls asleep. The house is blissfully quiet. I decide to sneak out of bed for some of that alone time I never get. I am envisioning writing, maybe reading a little, perhaps even taking a deep dive off into Reddit. The sky is the limit.

Only, Logan wakes up and it’s 10:00 PM so that means he has to nurse right away and go back to sleep or he’s going to be up.

I am not fast enough. He is up. So, I make him a peanut butter and then a peanut butter and jelly. I fill his water bottle with a little grape juice, he takes his tablet, puts on his songs and we go back upstairs.

Rory has also started baby led weaning, which is important to a later part of this story. Molly, our cane corso, has always enjoyed this age with our kids because it means she gets snack droplets rained upon her if she’s sitting by the high chair. Molly also has a sensitive stomach.

Logan eats most of his food, drinks his juice, wants more boob. He’s settling again. My husband wakes up, and sits playing on his phone. Then…

“Do you smell shit,” he asks, taking the phone away from his face.

“Uh, no. I smell bleach though from cleaning the bathroom.”

“I definitely…I definitely smell shit.” He gets up to investigate, shaking his phone to get the flashlight on. “I smell it to the point of almost tasting it that’s how— OH GOD.”

And there before him lie the beautiful, brown mound. Molly was kind enough to relieve herself on my husband’s sweatpants and then hide under the bed.

“SHE SHIT IN MY SWEATPANTS. IT’S NOWHERE ELSE BUT IN MY SWEATPANTS!!!”

I can now smell it too, and it is overbearing. I start laughing so hard I am crying. Logan, now distracted from his tablet starts coughing and shaking his head. It STINKS! And just when you think it can not get much worse, my husband takes his pants into the bathroom to shower them off before he washes them. The smell only permeates more as the hot water and steam infuse with the l’eau de dog shit. We are all now gagging.

Rory wakes up in the middle of the chaos. My husband is now yelling about the nose burning scent of dog poop and his frustration that the baby is up.

“There is just going to be so much shit,” he’s fuming as he scrubs. “When she gets sick like this it goes on for DAYS.”

I am trying to quiet down both kids and get them back into bed. “Her old cage is in the garage. We can just put her in there until she’s feeling better.”

My husband scoffs, irritated, like I said the dumbest thing. “We CAN’T put her in the garage! SHE WILL DIE!”

Trying to be a better wife and not roll my eyes, I take a slow breath before I explain: “No. I meant the cage is in there and we can get it and put her in the house in the cage so if she goes again it’s a simple hose down of a kennel and not shampooing new carpeting.”

He mumbles and eventually disappears to get the cage. I get the kids settled and take out both dogs.

“If you EVER BRING A DOG HOME AGAIN…”I hear him griping as I let the dogs in.

Fans are all full blast. Both kids have yet to fall back to sleep. Molly is in her kennel. And then I remember that I didn’t put Behr back into his belly band and he has had 20 minutes of bandless free reign as I sat to write this.

And then I hear, “BEHR!!”

He comes back into the office with his belly band several minutes later…

Welcome to the chaos and the night that ended with 5lbs of dog poop in one pair of sweat pants.

The Hart Home │The Fastest Winter of My Life

As our family was sitting down to dinner today, my husband lamented about just jacking the heat up because he was tired of being cold. We bought this gorgeous house with two beautiful fireplaces thinking they would get us through winter, only by the time the chimney sweep came to clean them, we found out both need work before we can use them and gas for heating, is expensive. We have been drafty this winter, but next winter, we have a new game plan and I reminded him that March was already next Monday and we wouldn’t be using the heat that much longer anyway. So, stick on your sweater and your fuzzy socks because spring is almost here!

“Seriously? Wow. This was the fastest winter of my life,” he exclaimed.

And of mine too. We moved into our new house over Thanksgiving weekend and then it was suddenly Christmas, even though that really didn’t feel like Christmas either, I blinked again and here we are.

View of one of the lakes in our town. Courtesy of Google Images.

I am still virtually teaching and being a mom at the same time. I view this year at home as a blessing in that I got a whole year home with Logan and I have been home with Rory since he was born. I wouldn’t trade this time for anything, even on the difficult days where Logan is losing his mind and Rory is too. It’s hard to only ever be home with two little boys that want to explore and run and play.

I enrolled Logan in a toddler gymnastics class which he seems to just love, I wish we were able to go more than once a week. He loves getting to run around and play with other kids. Rory has entered the all about mom stage. He has to be with me at all times or the world is ending. It is the most flattering “I love you so much,” but also can be hard when I just want 20 minutes to myself to shower, or to read or blog or even just change the cat box.

I am supposed to be going back to in-person teaching in May and the thought actually makes me sick. I can not imagine the stress and the tears of having to adjust 8th graders, who are graduating in a month at that point, to being in school with masks on all day in a building with no AC after having been out of the physical building for more than a year. Oooof…is all I got. Compile that all with the thought of leaving my babies for the first time in over a year too, I don’t know. Part of me wishes I could just teach online until my kids are in school so I don’t miss anything, but I know that’s wishful thinking.

Recently, I have been focused on fixing up our new house. I started with the kitchen. As I get money together, I have been upgrading appliances, painted the cabinets and updated the knobs and have been slowly pealing off the popcorn ceiling. And for the record, we have it in EVERY. SINGLE. ROOM. Why was this such a fad? Now it’s old, crumbly and tacky looking in every room. It’s easy enough to get off, but I am limited to only working when both kids are napping so what would have taken me an afternoon when it was just Phil and I can now take me up to a week to get done, but I will get it done! I am determined to finish the kitchen this year. This summer, I know I will have to paint the outside of our house and if I have any energy left, maybe I will be able to scrape the popcorn off in our dining room and living room and paint in there. It would be cool to have an entirely spruced up outside and downstairs by next fall. Hopefully, the kids cooperate.

Other things I am looking forward to with the warmer weather: taking the kids down to the lake, taking the kids to the zoo, having dirty martinis on out screened porch with my husband, watching Logan getting to play with his favorite sprinkler in his backyard, planning our kids’ birthdays, enjoying Easter and spending more time with friends and family

Book Review│Contempt by Michael Cordell

Thane Banning is a former real estate attorney who has spent the last five years of his life in prison, some of it on death row over a murder he claims he did not commit. Released on a technicality, Banning is determined to clear his name and prove that he did not murder Assistant District Attorney Lauren McCoy, that they are claiming he did. However, life on the outside is proving just as hard as it was for him on the inside. The victim’s father wants him dead and everyone he comes into contact with are either scared of him or want him to pay for his crime since he was released on a technicality and not because he cleared his name. Banning is up against a lot as he tries to navigate his life after prison and prove his innocence.

Then, he gets a call from his old jail friend and fellow ex-inmate, Skunk. He has been charged with the murder of retired police Detective Ted Gruber who also happens to be the officer that arrested Thane on the night that he was charged with the murder of Lauren McCoy. Despite having no experience in trying murder cases as an attorney, Banning decides to take on Skunk’s case which is where this legal thriller really takes off.

Not only does the powers shift with Banning’s taking on of Skunk’s case, but the DA that put Banning away for McCoy’s murder is not only trying Skunk’s case, but is also up for re-election. District Attorney Stone’s re-election, however, is not looking too promising as he won his first election on the back of winning Banning’s murder trial years before. Stone becomes obsessed with winning Skunk’s murder conviction to win public favor and thus, his re-election as district attorney.

Alongside the murder trial, there is also the personal life of Thane Banning. He is trying to put prison behind him, clear his name as well as navigate his relationship with his wife that he hasn’t seen in three years because he wanted her to move on from him. All of which is extremely difficult to do when you have the general public believing that you got away with murder and have the victim’s father out to ruin you because he wants justice for the loss of his daughter. All spun together, this makes for a well-paced legal thriller that will keep you turning the page.

Cordell is a trained screenwriter and it shows throughout the novel. He is also a playwright and novelist, and has sold three screenplays to Hollywood including “Beeper,” which became an action-thriller starting Harvey Keitel. He has an extraordinary ability is casting a scene that yo can easily visualize as you read. Contempt does not disappoint!

Book Information

Contempt by Michael Cordell was released on July 27, 2020 by TCK Publishing with ISBN 1631610805. This review corresponds to an advanced paper galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.