Monday, October 21, 2019

Total Bravery (True Heroes, #4) by Piper J. Drake

Title: Total Bravery (True Heroes Book 4)
Classification: Adult Fiction
Genre: Romantic Suspense/Contemporary Romance
Series: True Heroes (Book 4)
Format: Paperback; 304 pages
Publisher: Forever (April 24, 2018)
ISBN-10: 1538759535
ISBN-13: 978-1538759530
Author's website:
Notes: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. This in no way affected by rating or review.

Raul Sa' is just starting a job with Search and Protect when he gets a call from his best friend's younger sister:

"There's someone--several people--chasing me."

Mali Siri and her research team were out doing field work when her PI, Principle Investigator, was approached by men in dark suits. At first no one was alarmed thinking they were probably just government officials checking up on their research. The heated conversation that ensued quickly suggested otherwise. When her PI sounded the alarm that the team should disperse, they did, scattering in different directions. Not knowing what happened to the rest of her team and being pursued herself, she tries to contact the one person she knows can help her, her sister. The only thing is the person who answers is not her sister. Apparently, her sister forwarded her calls. Mali will need the help of Raul and the Search and Protect team to get to the bottom of what happened to her team and, if they're still alive, rescue them.
This was the fourth book in the True Heroes series, and the first book of the series I've read. I didn't feel lost, so it can definitely be read as a standalone novel. The novel is fast paced and grabs your attention from the get go. It deals with some very heavy subject matter--human trafficking--and brings to light how close to home the horrific trade truly is. Even if you think it's only a third world country problem, it's not. Human trafficking is pretty much happening right in our own backyards.

Mali Siri is a strong, smart, resourceful, and quick thinking young woman who is trying to make a difference. Her work, and the work of her team, could do a world of difference in changing laws to help the victims of human trafficking from being victimized a second time by the laws that presently exist. Most of the women in the sex trade work out of fear for themselves or their loved ones, not because it's their profession of choice. This book just scratches the surface of human trafficking and the dangers associated with it. When Mari's team is taken, she acts without thinking knowing they were in over their heads. She calls the one person who has always managed to get her out of a jam, her sister.

Raul is a good man with a lot of emotional scars caused by guilt, shame, and self-reproach. In the past, his job made him do things that he's not proud of, but were necessary. He was the person they sent in to extract answers from people, and he was very good at it. Against his better judgment, he gives into the attraction that starts to stir between him and Mali knowing Arin, Mali's sister, will not be happy.

I loved how Raul was strong and vulnerable at the same time. He was afraid Mali wouldn't be able to come to terms with his past, but, in the end, he's the one who needed to come to term with it. I really wish the author would have delved into this a little deeper. It would have bumped this story from a really good story to a truly great one. 

The defining quote of the book which held multiple significance (even though Raul, ironically, didn't seem to realize it also applied to himself) was:

“Whether a person is good or bad can’t be identified by their job title. People aren’t that easy to categorize.”

Overall, I gave this one 4 1/2 out of 5 roses. I loved the dynamics of the relationship, and how Raul let Mali take the lead. I liked how he did not try to shelter Mali or act like she was too fragile to assist in the extrication of her team. He made sure she was included in all the planning and implementation of the rescue attempt. I loved how these two were together. I do wish, however, that the author had delved a little deeper into Raul's past and let him come to terms with it. I believe it would have added another layer to this already wonderful story. Additionally, if Mali had been the one to help him do it, that would have been the icing on the cake for this tale. On the Lisarenee Romance Rating Scale, this one earned a STEAM rating--too hot for a fan, but you still have a handle on things. You should use extreme caution when reading a book with this rating in public. People may inquire as to why you looked flustered and flushed. I definitely recommend this one. Now I need to figure out how to fit the rest of the series into my reading lineup.

Order of the True Heroes series:

Monday, October 14, 2019

Early Review of Hello, Cookie Dough: 110 Doughlicious Confections to Eat, Bake & Share by Kristen Tomlan

Title: Hello, Cookie Dough: 110 Doughlicious Confections to Eat, Bake & Share
Classification: Nonfiction
Genre: Cookbook
Format: Hardcover; 304 pages
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (October 15, 2019)
ISBN-10: 1538748886
ISBN-13: 978-1538748886
Author's website:
Notes: I received a copy of the book from the publisher for review purposes. This in no way affected my rating or review.

Kristen Tomlan has always loved baking, but cookies, especially chocolate chip cookies, have always held a special place in her heart. In 2012 while baking cookies with her friends Kristen asked if they'd like to skip the baking and just split the bowl of dough. They all agreed to, and that was when the spark of an idea entered Kristen's head about creating and selling edible cookie dough. If she and her friends loved it so much it only reasoned others would too. While many think DŌ sprang up overnight (or close too it), Kristen developed these recipes over many years. She also had been running her business online out of her apartment for over a year before renting some commercial space to expand her business. That was when DŌ became more than just a business that sold it's product online. People started showing up on her store's doorstep in hopes of buying some of their doughy goodness. Now Kristen is sharing her recipes, some of which she uses in her store, with everyone in her first, but hopefully not last, cookbook.
When a publisher listed this book as one of the ones I could review, I was like, "You so had me at Hello, Cookie Dough." I had no idea it was written by Kristen or that she was the owner of DŌ. I'd heard about her store on the Today Show and was bummed the store was in New York City and not Tampa. I have always had a weakness for cookie dough, but since warnings started circulating about eating raw cookie dough I've shied away from it. In fact, my kids asked me more than once if it was truly okay for them to eat the raw dough when I asked them to sample some Kristen's wares. Even I had to remind myself it was okay to eat. Ms. Tomlan writes in her book how to make cookie dough safe for consumption. In fact, you can use the procedures she lists to make any family cookie, brownie, cake, or other recipe you may have lying around safe to eat raw too. Please excuse me while I do a little happy dance. I wish she'd published this book years ago. I would have loved to make these recipes with my kids when they were younger. She even includes a recipe for edible play dough. How cool is that? Mark my words, this will be the cookbook to get or give this holiday season. It's just that good.

So I've made seven of the recipes--the signature chocolate chip, peanut butter cookies, cake batter cookies, brookies, brownie cookies, sugar cookies, and Blondies--listed in the book, and have loved them all. There are still many many more I want to make and taste, but I'm trying to pace myself so I don't end up gaining a hundred pounds. In fact, the first question my daughter asked after looking over the types of recipes was, "Is the author a rather large person?" Strangely enough she's not.

The book has six signature flavors and the author gives suggestions for what you can mix in with them. She also has several desserts that use cookie dough in their recipes like cinnamon rolls, cheesecake, pecan pie, pancakes, and many more. The only recipes that have nothing to do with cookie dough are the ones the author uses to mix in to her cookie dough like caramel sauce and caramel corn. Yum!

I'd like to take a moment to thank the author for listing the brands of the ingredients she prefers to use in her store. Thank You! I cannot tell you how frustrating it is when a cook, chef, or baker on a TV show or in a book says to use something as vague as a 'good chocolate' that melts at a certain temperature without adding 'like this brand...'  Grrrr.... Are we talking Belgium, French, German or is Nestle okay? Hey, I think Nestle is good, but I don't know what temperature it or other chocolates melt at. I'm not a chef, a cook, or a baker. Kristen tells you her go to brands and lists alternatives for the pricier ones or, when possible, a recipe that you can use if you'd rather make your own.

I couldn't help but give this one 5 out of 5 roses. Kristen Tomlan has truly created something special. She includes tips throughout the book and encourages you to play with flavors to make the recipes reflect your own personal tastes. The variety of recipes is wonderful and if you'd prefer to have cookies instead of the dough, you can always follow her instructions on how to cook them. The author even includes a recipe for Doggie Dough, and almost all of the recipes can be altered to be Gluten Free--which is something I will utilize for my husband. Additionally, she includes a recipe to make a wheat flour alternative. I have yet to try it, but will definitely make good use of it in the future. I HIGHLY recommend this one. It was well thought out and is full of recipes made up of doughy goodness that taste wonderful. What more could you want in a cookie dough cookbook? I loved this one and have no doubt it will be one of my more used cookbooks in the future.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

The Paris Orphan by Natasha Lester

Title: The Paris Orphan
Classification: Adult Fiction
Genre: Historical Fiction
Format: Paperback; 480 pages
Publisher: Forever (September 3, 2019)
ISBN-10: 153876489X
ISBN-13: 978-1538764893
Author's Website:
Notes: I received a copy of the book for review purposes. This in no way affected my review or rating. Be forewarned, this book tackles some harsh subjects that are associated with WW II. Rape and other horrors of the war are discussed, so if those types of  subjects don't appeal, you may want to skip this one.

War has a way of bringing out the best or worst in people, and never was it more apparent than during World War II. People died in horrific ways at the hands of other people. Friend turned on friend, family members turned upon other family members. Those who were supposed to be heroes didn't always act heroic. Under the cloak of war people do things they normally wouldn't when the brunt of society is watching. Death seemed to lurk at every turn and in every corner. If you managed to escape the grim reaper it was more out of dumb luck than through brawn or skill. Hell, it seemed, had unleashed its fury upon the earth and decided to stay for a while as it basked in the wake of the chaos and destruction it wrought.

It was during this time that women stepped up to the plate, taking on the jobs their male counterparts would have done if they hadn't been sent to the battlefront. Among those women, a small handful were allowed to go to Europe and report on the war, but they weren't given the access their fellow male war correspondents were. Women, it was thought, were too delicate in nature to be able to handle all the gore and horror that came with being at the battlefront. It was a place they didn't belong and so they were delegated to less dangerous places such as field hospitals and towns that the allied soldiers occupied.

In the midst of all the havoc war wreaked a good luck charm emerged in the form of a young orphan girl. The US soldiers believed a kiss or a hug from the young girl before they left on a mission would bring them luck. Strangely enough, those who didn't get a kiss or a hug tended to be the ones who didn't come back while those who did always seemed to. 'Victorine, who was a small sun bringing light and warmth to a place otherwise bereft of those things.' Victorine became the subject of one of the stories that Jessica May, a model who became a photographer and war corespondent, reported about in Vogue magazine. It is the photograph she took of Victorine that sixty years later will be the key to uncovering a secret that would otherwise never have been revealed.

"To find beauty in war photographs seems heartless. But the landscape of devastation is still a landscape. There is beauty in ruins." ~ Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others
This is a standalone novel that I thoroughly enjoyed. The story is written in third person narrative from four different perspectives and spans four different time periods over sixty years. The main character, Jessica 'Jess' May, is loosely based off of a real life person named Lee Miller. Bits and pieces of events that happen in the book actually happened to Lee. I had no clue there were female reporters or photographers during WW II and this book brings to light those forgotten women and the remarkable work they did. Ms. Lester opens up the novel with a quote by David E. Scherman of Life Magazine whom Lee Miller teamed up with during WW II--"It is almost impossible today, almost fifty years later, to conceive how difficult it was for a woman correspondent to get beyond a rear-echelon military position, in other words to the front, where the action was." While it's now been over 70 years since WW II, this story makes me want to learn more about Lee Miller. She sounds like an amazing woman that people should know about. 

Jess May is a successful model whose career is abruptly cut short due to an unfortunate incident created by her soon to be ex-boyfriend. The situation created immediately makes her persona non grata in the modeling world. Over the years she has dabbled in photography and, at a friend's suggestion, she decides to put those skills to use by becoming a war correspondent. With limited access to the front lines, Jess decides early on to make it her mission to find stories about women who, through the occupation, have done remarkable things. The majority of this book is about Jess' journey during that time period.

Dan Hallworth is a Major in the Army. He and Jess meet when she's unexpectedly driven out into a war zone that was thought to be the location of a field hospital. He is one of those rare men who "couldn't care less if you were a woman or a flamingo". Many men of the time would love to see her fail, but he helps Jess throughout the war when he can, not because he's hoping for something in return but because he's an overall nice guy. He cares about others--especially the men under his command--and does all he can to try to keep them safe and feels it personally when something happens to one. He's one of the men that war brings out the best in. He's also easy on the eyes and the women he encounters tend to swoon over him. In the midst of all the chaos, Jess and Dan form an unlikely friendship.

D'Arcy is hired sixty years after the war ended to handle a collection of World War II photographs taken by a photographer whom nobody knows the identity of.  The photographer, known only as I. Durant, was up for a Pulitzer but is rumored to have not won because some thought he or she might have been a woman. As D'Arcy goes through an old box of photos in the Photographer's attic, she discovers a photo she knows all too well--a picture that was highly publicized taken by Jessica May of a young girl during the war. When she turns the photo over she makes a startling discovery--the name on the back of the photo is that of her mother, Victorine Hallworth, and the man in the photo with her is revealed to be Dan Hallworth. Could there be a connection between her, her mother, Jessica May, and Dan Hallworth? D'Arcy has no idea but, as she learns more and more, she is determined to find out.

Victorine is the common link that will cause a carefully stacked house of cards, i.e. a carefully constructed set of lies, omissions, and secrets, to collapse. This is a story about love, loss, selfishness, secrets, lies, and the choices we make. It shows how one singular event can change the direction of more than one individual. It's also a cautionary tale about how actions have 'consequences that nobody could ever imagine or will ever know.' Plus, there's a nice lesson to the story which, ironically, Victorine taught her daughter: "It's my mother's fault I'm not shy," she said. "She taught me to question everything, to say what I thought because sometimes, if you didn't, people died." (...) "She believed holding back was a dangerous thing that could end in sadness."

I couldn't help but give this one 4 1/2 out of 5 roses. This is a novel about "a beautiful young woman who's at the age when she has the whole world ahead of her, when the decisions she makes will  either be the best or hardest to live with in the years to come." It's a story that brings up subjects that were swept under the rug and never properly dealt with. It contains subject matter that is highly relevant in today's #MeTooMovement era, and illustrates just how far women in our society have truly come. It also delves into the extreme ugliness of war. As Jess states in the novel about the concentration camps, "That's why I think people say it can't be true. Because they can't imagine there are worse things. But every time we think that, we find evidence of something worse than the worst possible thing." I loved how the author used the literary device called a foil. It's when an author includes contrasting characters which highlight the character of another character. In this case she used two, one for Jess and one for Dan.  See if you can spot them. The only thing that kept me from giving this a 5 rose rating is because of something that happens at the end that I wish would have been written slightly different. Once you read the book you'll probably have no problem identifying what it is. This was an emotional roller coaster ride of a read that kept my attention from start to finish. It was well written, engaging, had characters which were easy to relate to, and made me feel like I'd taken a step back in time. While there is a romance in this one, I'm forgoing my romance rating because romance isn't the center of this story. I definitely recommend this one, and think that this story and/or the real life story of Lee Miller would make for a great movie. Hollywood should take note of this one.
Notes to keep you in the know:
If this Lee Miller and other female WW II war correspondents intrigue you as much as they do me, you may want to check out the following books:

You may also want to check out The Lee Miller Archives where you can view some of her photos:

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