June and July 2019 Book Reviews

I am nearly to my 60-book reading goal for the entire year! Here are my favorite 17 (yes 17) from the past two months.



The Wishtree by Katherine Applegate - A 5-star reviewThe Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

Purchase HERE.

This is a delightful book narrated by the neighborhood’s 200-year-old oak, an special tree where people leave their wishes tied to its branches. When a young Muslim girl moves in next door to the tree, she writes her own wish that she’d like a friend, but not everyone is welcoming in their new home. The sweet storytelling and cast of characters, which includes many animals, will keep you turning the page to find out if everything turns out okay.


Trees can't tell jokes, but they can certainly tell stories. . . .

Red is an oak tree who is many rings old. Red is the neighborhood "wishtree"—people write their wishes on pieces of cloth and tie them to Red's branches. Along with a crow named


Bongo and other animals who seek refuge in Red's hollows, this wishtree watches over the neighborhood.


You might say Red has seen it all.


Until a new family moves in. Not everyone is welcoming, and Red's experience as a wishtree is more important than ever.


All Is Revealed In Russia - Agnes Kelly Mystery #3 - 5-star reviewAll is Revealed in Russia by Christine Keleny

Purchase HERE.

The third and final installment in the Agnes Kelly Mystery Adventure series is a fast-paced conclusion to Agnes’ adventures that began in Intrigue in Istanbul and continued in Narrow Escape in Norway. Set in the 1960s during the Cold War, this is a great page-turning spy novel with the most unlikely characters—Agnes a far from typical 12-year-old and her grandmother equally unusual. Together as sleuths they are frequently in (and out) of danger throughout the whole book until a surprising but most satisfying conclusion. I have loved Keleny’s cast of characters and wonderful suspense writing from the first chapter of the first book. These would be popular additions to any middle grade bookshelf and a fun companion to mid 20th Century history.


Has Grandma Agee gone off the deep end with her new plan?! 

Will Grandma and Agnes get to meet with Russian's supreme leader, Nikita Khrushchev, in the Kremlin? Is CIA Officer Miller or Mr. Borge of EI4 (the Norwegian Intelligence Service) going to catch up to them and force them to go home like they were supposed to?

And what do lemons have to do with all this?

Book III in the Agnes Kelly Mystery Adventure Series is full of more surprises, takes you on another exciting ride, (this time through the heart of Russia) and Reveals All! even some things that you would never expect!


CATCH UP WITH BOOK ONE AND TWO! (Read my reviews of these earlier books.)

BOOK TWO - Agnes Kelly Mystery Adventure - Middle-grade reads - Intrigue in Istanbul

NARROW ESCAPE IN NORWAY - Agnes Kelly Mystery Adventure Book #2










Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery Series by Patricia Skalka

I love sinking into these murder mysteries set in one of my favorite places in Wisconsin. Skalka has created a rich set of characters in each of these novels that is supplemented by new faces (sometimes innocent/sometimes very, very guilty). The story arc of the returning characters is well-established as we root for them in both their personal and professional lives. But even better are the intricately detailed scenes that delve into the murder in each book, taking you along on the twists and turns so you feel like you’re right there with Sheriff Cubiak as motivations are discovered and the perpetrator is brought to justice. These books are immensely satisfying reads—even for the most picky mystery fans.

Dave Cubiak Door County Murder Mysteries #5 - Five-star reviewDeath by the Bay is a 2019 release. You can purchase it here. 


On a chilly Monday in late spring, Sheriff Dave Cubiak is at the Green Arbor Lodge for lunch when a scream from a nearby medical conference disrupts the scene. Leaping into action, he finds the ninety-three-year-old director of the prestigious Institute for Progressive Medicine collapsed on the floor, dead of a suspected heart attack. As Cubiak interrogates the witnesses, he’s struck by the inconsistencies in their stories. Some evade questions while others offer contradictory statements. Then suddenly another scream pierces the air. . . . Past and present merge as long-buried secrets rise to the surface. The resourceful sheriff must rely on his skills and wits, along with the advice and memories of friends and family, to uncover the dark truth behind the Institute for Progressive Medicine. Dedicated and new fans alike will find themselves captivated by this intelligently plotted story as Cubiak untangles the twisted threads of this intricate mystery.


Catch up with the other four in the series:

Death Stalks Door County - Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery #1 Death at Gills Rock - Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery #2Death in Cold Water - Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery #3Death Rides the Ferry - Dave Cubiak Door County Myster #4








Saving Arcadia - A story of conservation and community - 5-star reviewSaving Arcadia by Heather Shumaker

Purchase HERE.

This a surprisingly suspenseful nonfiction book about preserving a beautiful section of Lake Michigan coastline. I say surprisingly because I didn’t expect that a nonfiction account would have me hurriedly turning pages to find out whether the team met their fundraising goals or what legal shenanigans they would be up against next. Shumaker is a first-rate writer who is also an integral part of the story. Her ability to detail both the people who were part of this effort along with the more in-depth description on the structure of land preservation brought this story to life. When I finished it, I immediately wanted to book my Manitowoc to Ludington ferry trip to see Arcadia for myself!  


Saving Arcadia: A Story of Conservation and Community in the Great Lakes is a suspenseful and intimate land conservation adventure story set in the Great Lakes heartland. The story spans more than forty years, following the fate of a magnificent sand dune on Lake Michigan and the people who care about it. Author and narrator Heather Shumaker shares the remarkable untold stories behind protecting land and creating new nature preserves. Written in a compelling narrative style, the book is intended in part as a case study for landscape-level conservation and documents the challenges of integrating economic livelihoods into conservation and what it really means to “preserve” land over time. This is the story of a small band of determined townspeople and how far they went to save beloved land and endangered species from the grip of a powerful corporation. Saving Arcadia is a narrative with roots as deep as the trees the community is trying to save; something set in motion before the author was even born. And yet, Shumaker gives a human face to the changing nature of land conservation in the twenty-first century. Throughout this chronicle we meet people like Elaine, a nineteen-year-old farm wife; Dori, a lakeside innkeeper; and Glen, the director of the local land trust. Together with hundreds of others they cross cultural barriers and learn to help one another in an effort to win back the six-thousand-acre landscape taken over by Consumers Power that is now facing grave devastation. The result is a triumph of community that includes working farms, local businesses, summer visitors, year-round residents, and a network of land stewards. 


Better Than This by Beth Flynn - 5-star reviewBetter Than This by Beth Flynn

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Yay! Beth Flynn is back with a gorgeous love story set inside a decades-old mystery. If you loved her Nine Minutes Trilogy and the spin-offs from that series, you’ll love this one, too.


Time doesn’t heal all wounds. Sometimes they just scab over. Haunted by memories of a failed marriage, trauma surgeon Barbie Anderson escapes to her hometown for a fresh start. But the quaint community of Pumpkin Rest has memories and failures of its own that should stay buried. 

When Barbie runs into ex-con biker Jake Chambers, he stirs up anger and resentment in her that she doesn’t want to face. He reminds her of the one man she’s never gotten over and dredges up decades-old heartache. With his rugged criminal exterior and gentlemanly demeanor, the silver fox may have the other women in Pumpkin Rest falling at his feet, but not Barbie. 

She refuses to let her guard down and have her heart broken again. When a series of revelations come tumbling forth, Barbie is forced to confront her past and trust Pumpkin Rest’s most sought-after bachelor where she’ll soon learn that love wears many faces.

Will secrets from the past destroy their future or will old wounds finally heal, allowing her to love again?


Trust Me by Hank Philippi Ryan - 5-star reviewTrust Me by Hank Philippi Ryan

Purchase HERE.

As always, Ryan delivers a hard-to-put-down book with a story line that makes it hard to know who to trust, a perfect mystery! No wonder this book has won a huge list of awards!


An accused killer insists she's innocent of a heinous murder.

A grieving journalist surfaces from the wreckage of her shattered life. 
Their unlikely alliance leads to a dangerous cat and mouse game that will leave you breathless.

Who can you trust when you can't trust yourself? Trust Me is the chilling standalone novel of psychological suspense and manipulation that award-winning author and renowned investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan was born to write.



Other best-selling books I either listened to read in the past two months that I highly recommend:

5-star review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely FineEleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Purchase HERE.

I nearly stopped listening to this book on Audible as I felt the pace was maddeningly slow at the beginning. (I even stepped the reading speed up a bit.) But after reading others’ encouragement that it’d be worth it to keep going, I did just that and was pleased with the ending.


Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy. 


But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.


Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty - 5-star reviewNine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Purchase HERE.

I listened to this on audiobook and found the Australian accent to be quite fun in helping to set the scene of the book. I could never have anticipated the plot twist in this story. You’re going to live it!



Nine people gather at a remote health resort. Some are here to lose weight, some are here to get a reboot on life, some are here for reasons they can’t even admit to themselves. Amidst all of the luxury and pampering, the mindfulness and meditation, they know these ten days might involve some real work. But none of them could imagine just how challenging the next ten days are going to be. 


Frances Welty, the formerly best-selling romantic novelist, arrives at Tranquillum House nursing a bad back, a broken heart, and an exquisitely painful paper cut. She’s immediately intrigued by her fellow guests. Most of them don’t look to be in need of a health resort at all. But the person that intrigues her most is the strange and charismatic owner/director of Tranquillum House. Could this person really have the answers Frances didn’t even know she was seeking? Should Frances put aside her doubts and immerse herself in everything Tranquillum House has to offer – or should she run while she still can?


It’s not long before every guest at Tranquillum House is asking exactly the same question.


Under Currents by Nora Roberts - 5-star reviewUnder Currents by Nora Roberts

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I never met a Nora Roberts book I didn’t like. This one is particularly good with a decades-spanning story that starts in the main character’s teen years as he fights back to take control of his life.


Zane Bigelow grew up in a beautiful, perfectly kept house in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Strangers and even Zane’s own aunt across the lake see his parents as a successful surgeon and his stylish wife, making appearances at their children’s ballet recitals and baseball games. Only Zane and his sister know the truth, until one brutal night finally reveals cracks in the facade, and Zane escapes for college without a thought of looking back... 

Years later, Zane returns to his hometown determined to reconnect with the place and people that mean so much to him, despite the painful memories. As he resumes life in the colorful town, he meets a gifted landscape artist named Darby, who is on the run from ghosts of her own. Together they will have to teach each other what it means to face the past, and stand up for the ones they love.



The Virtue of Sin - YA debut novel - 5-star reviewThe Virtue of Sin by Shannon Schuren

Purchase HERE.

I learned about this June release while at the Midwest conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators where I had the pleasure of meeting the author. I was immediately intrigued by the premise of the story as both a fan of the themes explored in Handmaid’s Tale and the memoir Educated.  

Schuren has skillfully created a well-developed cast of characters in a believable (yet unique) setting where no one questions the word of their leader and his interpretation of God’s will, that is until they DO! After a disastrous marriage ceremony where the young girls are chosen by one of the young men without any say, Miriam is devastated when her name is called by someone she doesn’t expect. The unraveling of their tightly wound world comes with each scene as the story unfolds in unexpected ways. The plot structure of this debut novel is particularly strong and well-written. The greater coming-of-age theme of trusting one’s own instincts and standing up for yourself even with potentially dangerous or even deadly repercussions is thought provoking.


A compelling novel about speaking out, standing up, and breaking free -- perfect for fans of The Handmaid's Tale and Tara Westover's Educated.


Miriam lives in New Jerusalem, a haven in the desert far away from the sins and depravity of the outside world. Within the gates of New Jerusalem, and under the eye of its founder and leader, Daniel, Miriam knows she is safe. Cared for. Even if she's forced, as a girl, to quiet her tongue when she has thoughts she wants to share, Miriam knows that New Jerusalem is a far better life than any alternative. So when God calls for a Matrimony, she's thrilled; she knows that Caleb, the boy she loves, will choose her to be his wife and they can finally start their life together. 


But when the ceremony goes wrong and Miriam winds up with someone else, she can no longer keep quiet. For the first time, Miriam begins to question not only the rules that Daniel has set in place, but also what it is she believes in, and where she truly belongs. Alongside unexpected allies, Miriam fights to learn--and challenge--the truth behind the only way of life she's ever known, even if it means straying from the path of Righteousness.


Life As We Knew It - by Susan Beth Pfeffer (4 book series) book reviewLife as We Knew It (Four-book series) by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Purchase Here.

This is a solid dystopian series that begins when an asteroid hits the moon, pushing it closer to earth and causing tons of destructive tidal waves, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions. The first book introduces us to Miranda and her family as they struggle to survive. Book two switches locations and characters and introduces us to Alex and his struggles to save his siblings in New York City. Eventually, the two casts of characters come together in book three. Book four pulls us along a few years into the future where society has reorganized and in some cases not in good ways.


I guess I always felt even if the world came to an end, McDonald’s still would be open. 


High school sophomore Miranda’s disbelief turns to fear in a split second when an asteroid knocks the moon closer to Earth, like "one marble hits another." The result is catastrophic. How can her family prepare for the future when worldwide tsunamis are wiping out the coasts, earthquakes are rocking the continents, and volcanic ash is blocking out the sun? As August turns dark and wintery in northeastern Pennsylvania, Miranda, her two brothers, and their mother retreat to the unexpected safe haven of their sunroom, where they subsist on stockpiled food and limited water in the warmth of a wood-burning stove. 


Told in a year’s worth of journal entries, this heart-pounding story chronicles Miranda’s struggle to hold on to the most important resource of all—hope—in an increasingly desperate and unfamiliar world. An extraordinary series debut!


Read the others in the series:

The Dead & The Gone -- Life As We Knew It #2 - Book Review

Life As We Knew It #3 - The World We Live In - Book Review

Life As We Knew It #4 - The Shade of the Moon Book Review









Have you read any of these? Did you like them or not? I'd love to hear what you think and don't hesitate to tell me what your favorites have been lately!

Happy Reading, Valerie

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