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July 24, 2014 / Leslie

Review – Audiobook: The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair

HarryQuebertThe Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair
by Joël Dicker
Narrated by Pierce Cravens

Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publish Date: May 2014
Format: Audio Download | 18 hours
Audio Listening Level: Intermediate – Difficult
Rating: 4½ of 5

From the Publisher:

The #1 internationally bestselling thriller, and ingenious book within a book, about the disappearance of a 15-year-old New Hampshire girl and, thirty years later, a young American writer’s determination to clear his mentor’s name—and find the inspiration for his next bestseller.

My Thoughts:

In 1975, fifteen-year-old Nola Kellergan disappears. Thirty years later, her body is found buried in famous novelist Harry Quebert’s garden. While he admits he had an illicit affair with the young girl, he denies having anything to do with her death, and claims he has been waiting all these years for her to return. Marcus Goldman, a protégé of Harry’s who is currently suffering from writer’s block and badly in need of inspiration, is determined to solve the mystery of who killed Nola and clear his mentor’s name.

This is a very clever story about two books: The book Marcus is currently writing about Harry and the ongoing murder investigation, and a fictional best-seller Harry wrote 30 years ago that was a thinly disguised version of his secret affair with Nola.

Interestingly, the original novel was written in French by a Swiss author, but is set in the US – in a small town in New Hampshire. While there are a few awkward sentences and odd word choices from the translation, it was not disruptive to the flow of the story. There are lots of short sentences and some choppiness, but it reads fine, like a ‘bestseller’.

The plot is at times convoluted, there are lots of twists and turns, many characters, and an occasionally unreliable narrator, but in the end, a satisfying conclusion. The style of this novel is a little different than what I usually think of in a mystery, but nonetheless, I enjoyed it a lot. Despite the complexity, I had no trouble following the story, which was a concern when I decided to listen to the audiobook.

Audio Production:

The narration was performed by Pierce Cravens. This was my first experience with his narration and I was happy with his performance. With a large cast of characters to keep track of, he was able to create enough variation in voice and tone to keep me alert to changes in who was speaking.

While I found the listening level to be of average difficulty, I rated it intermediate to difficult because of the complexity. I wouldn’t recommend this as a choice for new listeners. Experienced listeners should be able to keep the books, plots and characters clear with a little extra attention.

I listened to much of this book while gardening and trimming hedges. Since gardening is second nature to me, I could devote my full attention to the story. This is the type of book that works well if one can listen in large chunks of time rather than short intervals.

Source: Review copy provided by Penguin Audio.
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July 23, 2014 / Leslie

Wordless Wednesday: The Monarchs Have Arrived

Monarch Butterfly

Almost wordless: Last week there were Monarch Butterflies in my wildflower garden. This one is enjoying the Purple Coneflower. A few of them even landed on the Milkweed, proving that if you plant it, they will come.

More Wordless Wednesday. © 2014 Under My Apple Tree. All rights reserved.
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July 22, 2014 / Leslie

Review: The Beekeeper’s Ball by Susan Wiggs

BeekeepersBallThe Beekeeper’s Ball
by Susan Wiggs

Genre: Women’s Fiction
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Publish Date: June 24, 2014
Format: Hardcover | 368 pages
Rating: 4 of 5

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Isabel Johansen, a celebrated chef who grew up in the sleepy Sonoma town of Archangel, is transforming her childhood home into a destination cooking school—a unique place for other dreamers to come and learn the culinary arts.

But Isabel’s carefully ordered plans begin to go awry when swaggering, war-torn journalist Cormac O’Neill arrives to dig up old history. He’s always been better at exposing the lives of others than showing his own closely-guarded heart, but the pleasures of small-town life and the searing sensuality of Isabel’s kitchen coax him into revealing a few truths of his own.

My Thoughts:

In The Apple Orchard, the first book in this series, we are introduced to Bella Vista, an estate in the Sonoma valley, and the family that owns it. The focus of the story was on Tess’s discovery of the family she never knew existed, and an ensuing romance with her grandfather’s banker, Dominic, whom she met at Bella Vista.

Now we return to Bella Vista where Tess’s sister, Isabel, is in the midst of opening a cooking school, while at the same time learning beekeeping, setting up the hives and planning Tess and Dominic’s wedding. To add to the mounting frenzy, a reporter, Cormac O’Neill, will be staying at Bella Vista to interview her grandfather for a book he is writing. Isabel and Mac’s first encounter doesn’t go very well and things get a little tense when Mac is stung by several bees. Despite the incident, there is an undeniable attraction between the two, and immediately the sparks start to fly.

The Beekeeper’s Ball is Isabel’s story intertwined with flashbacks about her grandfather’s experiences as a member of the Dutch resistance during World War II. He recalls the stories as Mac interviews him for the book he is writing. The novel works well as a standalone. It is not necessary to have read the first book; the story is easy to follow and the author provides the background information needed. (However, if you like this book you will enjoy the first one.)

With its beautiful, lush setting, charming atmosphere and descriptive prose, Beekeeper’s Ball is a pleasant, easy read that is more than just a romance novel. It incorporates a compelling historical element woven seamlessly into the present day, where Isabel is restoring Bella Vista, discovering her own identity and falling in love.

I’m already looking forward to the next book in the Bella Vista Chronicles.

Source: Review copy provided by Harlequin MIRA.
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July 21, 2014 / Leslie

Mailbox Monday ~ July 21st

hummingbird mailboxWelcome to Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia of To Be Continued, a place where readers share the books that came in their mailbox during the last week.

After several years of being on tour with different blogs as the monthly host, the Mailbox Monday Blog is now the permanent home for the meme.

Here’s what arrived last week:

New Arrivals

Books721_IMG_ 008

Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success by Shane Snow – Harper.
Entrepreneur and journalist Shane Snow analyzes the lives of people and companies that do incredible things better and faster than everyone else to reveal how each of us can use “smartcuts,” not merely shortcuts, to achieve success.

The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob from Random House Audio.
Spanning India in the 70s to New Mexico in the 80s to Seattle in the 90s, The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing is a winning, irreverent debut novel about a family wrestling with its future and its past.


New Giveaway

NiceGuiltTripGuilt Trip Giveaway

Win a copy of Have a Nice Guilt Trip plus the previous four books.
Lisa Scottoline and her daughter, Francesca Serritella, have teamed up to bring their hilarious and witty perspective on the everyday life as mother and daughter in their weekly essays which you can find in their latest collection, Have a Nice Guilt Trip, released this week by St. Martin’s Press.

To enter, fill out the form. Continental US addresses only by 8/3.

How was your week?

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July 20, 2014 / Leslie

Sunday in the Garden: The Changing Seasons



By the time March rolls around I’m usually outside cleaning up the garden and getting it ready for early season flowers and vegetables. But this past March, only four short months ago, my yard was still covered with a blanket of snow and I was wondering when anything would start growing again.



A month later the perennials began to emerge and by May the garden even had a few flowers. You can see from the empty flower boxes on the deck railing that I held off on putting in the annuals; the night temperatures were still hovering near freezing.



I’m always amazed at what nature accomplishes. Even after a horribly cold and brutal winter, the worst in 20 years, almost all of my perennials survived and are even thriving.

© 2014 Under My Apple Tree. All rights reserved.
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July 19, 2014 / Leslie

Weekend Birding: Cowbird Fledglings

Once again I have fledgling Cowbirds at my tray feeder waiting for their adoptive parent to feed them. The cowbird is on the right. The Mourning Doves on the left were ignoring him and his sibling, who was out of camera range.

Are you my parents?

Fledgling Cowbird

It wasn’t long before a pair of Northern Cardinals showed up. As soon as the cowbird started begging, the male began to feed him. Why? Because cowbirds are brood parasites. They do not build their own nests or raise their young. The female will sneak into another species nest, drop in an egg or two, and let the other birds do all the work.

Are you my daddy?

Cardinal feeding Cowbird

Cowbirds are not fussy when they choose adoptive parents. Their eggs have been documented in the nests of over 200 species and about 145 of them have successfully raised a cowbird chick.

In my yard, the cardinals seem to be particularly susceptible to cowbird parasitism. This is the third year in a row I have seen cardinals caring for fledgling cowbirds. If this seems a familiar topic, I wrote more about cowbird behavior last year.

Cardinal feeding Cowbird

Unfortunately I have not seen any young cardinals this season. With two cowbirds to feed and care for, it’s doubtful any cardinal eggs from this nest were successful. Cowbirds hatch sooner, grow faster, are larger, hungrier and out-compete the host’s nestlings for food.

There’s my daddy!

Male Cowbird

The adult cowbirds visit my feeders but don’t claim their young until all the hard work is done. That’s the male cowbird in the photo above.

What I find amazing is that these young cowbirds do not imprint on their host. Somehow they know they are cowbirds and will develop their own song, social and breeding behavior. I have observed the male cowbirds rounding up groups of youngsters into the flock after nesting season has ended.

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Melinda of West Metro Mommy. Visit her blog to see more great photos.

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July 18, 2014 / Leslie

Review – Audiobook: Ruin Falls by Jenny Milchman

A Rapid Review

RuinFallsRuin Falls by Jenny Milchman

Publisher: Random House Audio | January 2014
Format: Audio Download | 12 hours | Rating: 3½ stars
Audio Listening Level: Intermediate

In a suspenseful follow-up to her critically acclaimed Cover of Snow, Jenny Milchman ratchets up the tension with this edge-of-your-seat story of a mother determined to find her missing children.

A family vacation turns into a nightmare for Liz Daniels. Her two children have wandered off and are missing. And now her husband is missing too. It soon becomes apparent that he has taken them. But where, and why? At first Liz is puzzled and confused, but determined to get her children back.

For the first half of the book we are like Liz, unsure of what is going on and don’t know who to trust. There are a lot of layers, many secondary characters and the plot tends to wander at times as Liz searches for answers. I didn’t feel a lot of suspense, but did get caught up in the mystery and Liz’s evolution from ‘dazed and confused’ to ‘tiger mom’. Readers who have small children will probably feel a little more of the fear that enveloped Liz than I did.

The loose ends do come together in the end, but the explanation for her husband’s actions was a little unbelievable – or perhaps needed a little more explanation. Apparently Liz didn’t know her husband very well.

Audio production:
I chose the audio because it was narrated by Cassandra Campbell, a favorite of mine. She does a nice job conveying the emotion and suspense. The multiple viewpoints and complex plot require a little extra attention from the listener, but overall an enjoyable production.

Audio Sample:

An Under My Apple Tree Rapid ReviewSource: Review copy provided by Random House Audio.
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