Smoke. Catherine McKenzie

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Catherine Mckenzie
Published: Lake Union
Date: October 2015
Format: e-ARC
Pages: 351
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
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After a decade-long career combating wildfires, Elizabeth has traded in for a quieter life with her husband. Now she works as the local arson investigator in a beautiful, quaint town in the Rockies. But that tranquil life vanishes when she and her husband agree to divorce, and when a fire started in nearby Cooper Basin begins to spread rapidly. For Elizabeth, containing a raging wildfire is easier than accepting that her marriage has failed.

For Elizabeth’s ex-friend Mindy, who feels disconnected from her husband and teenage children, the fire represents a chance to find a new purpose: helping a man who lost his home to the blaze. But her faith is shattered by a shocking accusation.

As the encroaching inferno threatens the town’s residents, Elizabeth and Mindy must discover what will be lost in the fire, and what will be saved.

My thoughts banner
Smoke by Catherine McKenzie was a riveting read, that contained mystery, family and friendship drama and the terrifying experience of an out of control fire surrounding a town.
When we meet Elizabeth she is at odds with her husband Ben. They are about to begin pursuing a divorce, although what has caused the rift is not revealed at the beginning. It takes time to gather up all the facts and miscommunications and break down in trust.  One of the heartbreaks that they have had is up until now their inability to have children.
Mindy was Elizabeth’s very good friend up until about a year ago when there was a distinct break to their friendship. The hurt thrust them apart and has never mended. Mindy is the mother of two, Carrie and Angus. In the last year Angus has been more distant in his relationships with his family and Mindy worries about him.
A fire has burned down John Phillip’s house, it has grown and swept into the surrounding hills and bush. Who started the fire? About half way through I’d picked my person – but I was wrong!
Tension in the relationships, along with the mystery of the fire and the emotions of the characters kept me reading on. Can there be any hope for these people or will distrust and hurt and being unable to forgive win?
This was my first book by Catherine McKenzie but it won’t be my last!
4.5 stars

The Last Time I Was Me. Cathy Lamb

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The Last Time I Was Me
Cathy Lamb
Published: Kensington
Date: 2008
Format: Paperback
Pages: 404
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Source: Own book
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I wrapped up my grandmother’s tea cup collection and my mother’s china, then grabbed a violin I’d hidden way back in my closet that made me cry, a gold necklace with a dolphin that my father gave me two weeks before he died of a heart attack when I was twelve and, at midnight, with that moon as bright as the blazes, I left Chicago. When Jeanne Stewart stops at The Opera Man’s Cafe in Weltana, Oregon, to eat pancakes for the first time in twelve years, she has no idea she’s also about to order up a whole new future. It’s been barely a week since she succumbed to a spectacularly public nervous breakdown in front of hundreds of the nation’s most important advertising and PR people. Jeanne certainly had her reasons–her mother’s recent death, the discovery that her boyfriend had been sleeping with a dozen other women, and the assault charges that resulted when Jeanne retaliated in a creative way against him, involving condoms and peanut oil.

Now, en route to her brother’s house in Portland, Jeanne impulsively decides to spend some time in picturesque Weltana. Staying at a B&B run by the eccentric, endearing Rosvita, she meets a circle of quirky new friends at her court-ordered Anger Management classes. Like Jeanne, all of them are trying to become better, braver versions of themselves. Yet the most surprising discoveries are still to come–a good man who steadily makes his way into her heart and a dilapidated house that with love and care might be transformed into something wholly her own, just like the new life she is slowly building, piece by piece.

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The Last Time I Was Me by Cathy Lamb was not quite what I was expecting, however I loved it and read it any chance I had.  This book covers a large number of important issues, but with such humour the reader does not ( or I didn’t) become burdened by everything that has happened. I am not going to list all those issues, because to do so may give away some of the plot. There are a number of secrets, and by the end of the book I wasn’t sure if we’d found them all out or not!  Jeanne is a real character, Brigid Jones on steroids and then double it.
The story is revealed step by step, when we meet Jeanne she is moving to Oregon after having delivered a very impressive speech to her advertising colleagues and having also dealt to her cheating boyfriend.  The treatment to the boyfriend  has led to a pending civil court case, that is hanging over her.  The speech has led to no longer having a job in advertising! While she relies on drinking to drown her sorrows, she is still a straight talking woman that I just had to take sides with the whole way through. 
She has been told by the court she has to take an anger management course which she does when she settles down in Weltana.  The facilitator is Emmaline and she takes quite an interesting approach to the group.  In the group are two men and another woman, and their meetings and activities take a significant part of the story.  As the book moved along I really came to care for these characters. They have all lost an important part of themselves and this group works towards helping them come back to their true selves.  As they do this I had the feeling they were forming bonds of friendship that would last a long time.
Jeanne is a very intelligent, capable person and thanks to her brother Charlie she becomes the communications person on the Oregon Governor’s team as they build their case for re-election.  She handles all the speeches and press no problem, also the pest member of the team very ably.  If you don’t like her already, then her delight in wearing the right pair of shoes for the occasion might do it. As well there is a little romance thrown in that becomes a delightful addition.
Loved all most of the characters – so courageous, great writing, loads of funny dialogue, and some serious issues explored.  In combination this made for  compulsive reading.
4.5 stars
March 2015 Take Control of Your TBR Pile

Jubilee’s Journey Bette Lee Davis

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Jubilee’s Journey
Bette Lee Crosby
Published: Bent Pine Publishing
Date: October 2013
Format: Kindle ebook
Pages: 300
Genre: Fiction
Source: from the author.
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When tragedy strikes a West Virginia coal mining family, two children start out on a trek that they hope will lead them to a new life. Before a day passes, the children are separated and the boy is caught up in a robbery not of his making. If his sister can find him, she may be able to save him. The problem is she’s only seven years old, and who’s going to believe a kid?

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Jubilee’s Journey is the second book in the Wyattsville series by Bette Lee Davis.  When I had finished Spare Change (#1) I thought that I had seen the last of Olivia and Ethan Allen and that outstanding Detective Jack Mahoney.  Not so, while this book is not totally about them, it does include them and that in itself immediately hooked me in.
This story really belongs to Jubilee and her big brother Paul.  They come from a small mining town where they have lost both parents.  Paul is like a mother and father and whole family to Jubilee, no one has had a better bigger brother. They arrive in Wyattsville seeking their Aunt – Anita their mother’s sister.  Before they can begin their search Jubilee and Paul are separated and Paul finds himself in the clutches of the police.  He just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and with nobody to vouch for him.
Fortunately for Jubilee she is found by Ethan Allen and eventually lands home with him and Olivia.  Ethan soon takes over the role of big brother much to his grandma Olivia’s delight. Olivia drags Jack Mahoney into the whole mess and there is no one better.  If there was ever a true, caring go beyond duty cop it’s Jack.  However his efforts are thwarted by the policeman on the case – Detective Gomez who isn’t all that scrupulous.  However Jack Mahoney uses psychology when needed and manages to negotiate his way through.
There is a whole cast of characters who have their hearts in the right place.  Olivia’s friends in the apartment complex Clara and Seth and others rally to the cause.  Aunt Anita shows up and perhaps she is the one to take Jubilee and Paul in although Olivia has already fallen in love with them and is thinking maybe she could keep them.  As well there is Sidney Klaussner and his wife Carmella, happily married for thirty years and now faced with a life and death situation that sends Carmella off onto a judgemental path of creating havoc.  I was a bit annoyed with her until I owned my own occasional judgmental rants often totally lacking back up facts!
This story – told from a variety of viewpoints, celebrates people with large hearts, family, kindness and love.  It celebrates the truth and all that is good in people.  It celebrates the courage of the human spirit and the fight for what is right.  In short – a beautiful story.
4 stars