Book Reviews–May 2018

I often post short reviews of books I’ve read in my personal social media pages, as I love to share my passion for books with others.  I’m listing the books I’ve read each month here on this blog, with my thoughts on each as well as whether I’d recommend them to others.  I do have an eclectic taste in books, and will choose books based on my mood, or what’s going on in my life that week.  (Most, if not all, of the books below include links to the Kindle store on Amazon, and the page numbers reflect the number of Kindle pages).  I hope you enjoy this series on my blog!

Book #1: 

The Queen of Hearts

The Queen of Hearts by Kimmery Martin (Length: 348 pages).  I LOVED this book!  So much fun!  I had read that this was the book version of the TV show Gray’s Anatomy, and I’d have to agree . . . if we’re talking about the show’s early seasons with a splash of comedic timing and adding very high-quality writing.  I thought the character development in this novel is excellent, and I enjoyed the “surprise” ending.  The novel is a touch confusing with chapters alternating between the two main characters, as well as alternating between past and present, but after reflection, I think this was a somewhat necessary narrative device.  TWO enthusiastic thumbs up for a fun, well-written beach read!

From the publisher: Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2018 by Southern Living, Elite Daily, and Writer’s Digest

A debut novel set against a background of hospital rounds and life-or-death decisions that pulses with humor and empathy and explores the heart’s capacity for forgiveness…

Zadie Anson and Emma Colley have been best friends since their early twenties, when they first began navigating serious romantic relationships amid the intensity of medical school. Now they’re happily married wives and mothers with successful careers–Zadie as a pediatric cardiologist and Emma as a trauma surgeon. Their lives in Charlotte, North Carolina are chaotic but fulfilling, until the return of a former colleague unearths a secret one of them has been harboring for years.

As chief resident, Nick Xenokostas was the center of Zadie’s life–both professionally and personally–throughout a tragic chain of events in her third year of medical school that she has long since put behind her. Nick’s unexpected reappearance during a time of new professional crisis shocks both women into a deeper look at the difficult choices they made at the beginning of their careers. As it becomes evident that Emma must have known more than she revealed about circumstances that nearly derailed both their lives, Zadie starts to question everything she thought she knew about her closest friend.

Book #2: 

Mastering the art of french eatingMastering the Art of French Eating by Ann Mah (Length: 270 pages).  This book is an interesting memoir of a three-year period in Paris, written from the perspective of a lonely diplomat’s foodie wife.  I’m not a foodie (at all!) but I adore Paris, traveling and history, so this read was definitely worth it in those aspects.   The author is a very strong writer, and I enjoyed reading the many descriptive passages.  This one is a worth checking out from the library.    

From the publisher: 
When journalist Ann Mah’s diplomat husband is given a three-year assignment in Paris, Ann is overjoyed. A lifelong foodie and Francophile, she immediately begins plotting gastronomic adventures à deux. Then her husband is called away to Iraq on a year-long post—alone. Suddenly, Ann’s vision of a romantic sojourn in the City of Light is turned upside down.

So, not unlike another diplomatic wife, Julia Child, Ann must find a life for herself in a new city.  Journeying through Paris and the surrounding regions of France, Ann combats her loneliness by seeking out the perfect pain au chocolat and learning the way the andouillette sausage is really made. She explores the history and taste of everything from boeuf Bourguignon to soupe au pistou to the crispiest of buckwheat crepes. And somewhere between Paris and the south of France, she uncovers a few of life’s truths.

Like Sarah Turnbull’s Almost French and Julie Powell’s New York Times bestseller Julie and Julia, Mastering the Art of French Eating is interwoven with the lively characters Ann meets and the traditional recipes she samples. Both funny and intelligent, this is a story about love—of food, family, and France.

Book #3: 

Bachelor NationBachelor Nation by Amy Kaufman (Length: 320 pages).  This was a guilty pleasure read for me.  The subject matter (the history of The Bachelor TV show franchise) is very cheesy but the writing quality is really good.  The author includes dozens of little factoids about the show and behind the scenes action that I wasn’t aware of previously.  This book is a great look at reality TV overall, and it was worth a library check out.  

From the publisher:  For fifteen years and thirty-five seasons, the Bachelor franchise has been a mainstay in American TV viewers’ lives. Since it premiered in 2002, the show’s popularity and relevance has only grown–more than eight million viewers tuned in to see the conclusion of the most recent season of The Bachelor.

The iconic reality television show’s reach and influence into the cultural zeitgeist is undeniable. Bestselling writers and famous actors live tweet about it. Die-hard fans–dubbed “Bachelor Nation”–come together every week during each season to participate in fantasy leagues and viewing parties.

Bachelor Nation is the first behind-the-scenes, unauthorized look into the reality television phenomenon. Los Angeles Times journalist Amy Kaufman is a proud member of Bachelor Nation and has a long history with the franchise–ABC even banned her from attending show events after her coverage of the program got a little too real for its liking. She has interviewed dozens of producers, contestants, and celebrity fans to give readers never-before-told details of the show’s inner workings: what it’s like to be trapped in the mansion “bubble”; dark, juicy tales of producer manipulation; and revelations about the alcohol-fueled debauchery that occurs long before the fantasy suite.

Book #4: 

PachinkoPachinko by Min Jin Lee (Length: 496 pages).  I picked up this 2017 National Book Award Finalist to see if I’d like to read it next.  An hour later, I looked up and realized, yep, I want to read this book!  😉  The storyline sucked me in, with its sweeping saga of a Korean family in Japan in the 20th century (from early 1900s to present day).  This book is very lengthy with dozens of characters, but the chapters reminded me of a daisy chain, with one character linking to the next.  This method reduces confusion for the reader, and makes the plot easy to follow.  The writing is excellent (I should hope so!) and this novel is more plot/narrative driven than character driven, but the characters are still fleshed out sufficiently to make the reader care about what happens to them.  I LOVED this book!

From the publisher:


In this gorgeous, page-turning saga, four generations of a poor Korean immigrant family fight to control their destiny in 20th-century Japan, exiled from a home they never knew.

“There could only be a few winners, and a lot of losers. And yet we played on, because we had hope that we might be the lucky ones.”

In the early 1900s, teenaged Sunja, the adored daughter of a crippled fisherman, falls for a wealthy stranger at the seashore near her home in Korea. He promises her the world, but when she discovers she is pregnant–and that her lover is married–she refuses to be bought. Instead, she accepts an offer of marriage from a gentle, sickly minister passing through on his way to Japan. But her decision to abandon her home, and to reject her son’s powerful father, sets off a dramatic saga that will echo down through the generations.

Richly told and profoundly moving, Pachinko is a story of love, sacrifice, ambition, and loyalty. From bustling street markets to the halls of Japan’s finest universities to the pachinko parlors of the criminal underworld, Lee’s complex and passionate characters–strong, stubborn women, devoted sisters and sons, fathers shaken by moral crisis–survive and thrive against the indifferent arc of history.



How to Find a Good Contractor

Good contractors . . . when you find one, you’ve got to hold on and never let go.  Whether you’d like to update your existing home, or you are considering listing your home for sale, and making much needed updates to maximize your ROI (return on investment), you’re probably going to be enlisting the services of a contractor.  Finding a good, reputable contractor out of the thousands out there may seem like a daunting task.  However here are some suggestions on how to find the best person to help you update your home: 

              First, ask your coworkers, friends and family if they’ve used a contractor in the past. A second source of recommendations to consider is your neighbors.  An easy way to crowd-source your neighbors’ recommendations is through the website  This free website is a great resource for anything neighborhood-related, and members are very willing to share their experiences with contractors, good and bad.  A third source of recommendations to consider is your local tile store, flooring store and hardware store.  Chatting with the store manager or employees will often yield several names of reputable contractors in your area. 

              Checking these individuals out, once you’ve got a list of 3-4 names, is critical, to ensure they are reputable and legitimate.   In Arizona, the Registrar of Contractors maintains a list of all registered, licensed contractors in a handy database available to the public:  This database contains an up-to-date record of the status of the contractor’s license, any complaints that have been filed against the contractor, the amount of bond they maintain, as well as how long they’ve maintained a license in this state. 

              The next step will be to contact the contractor and to interview them (by phone or email).  Some questions to ask include:  Do they take on projects of your size? Can they give you a list of previous clients?  How many other projects would they have going at the same time?  How long have they worked with their subcontractors?  Would they be personally supervising the project?   The next step would be a face to face meeting, in which they can see the project you’ve got in mind, and so you can ascertain their personality and see if it’s a good fit.  Follow up this in person meeting with phone calls to 2 or 3 of their references.  Ask how their remodels went, and ask if you can see photos of the final product. 

              The final step is to collect bids (always ask for itemized bids in writing) as well as payment schedules.  Typically, with larger remodeling projects, contractors require 10% at the time of signing the contract, with 3 payments of 25% evenly spaced throughout, and then the final 15% once the remodel has been completed.   Then, it’s off to the races with a remodel that’s sure to increase the value of your home, or of your continued enjoyment of your home.  

As always, I’d be happy to share with you who I have had success working with on home remodels, as well as to conduct a walk-through of your home to discuss what I recommend updating when getting your home ready for sale, or alternatively, where to spend your money in your new home, to increase ROI for selling your home in the future.    


Book Reviews–April 2018

I often post short reviews of books I’ve read in my personal social media pages, as I love to share my passion for books with others.  I’m listing the books I’ve read each month here on this blog, with my thoughts on each as well as whether I’d recommend them to others.  I do have an eclectic taste in books, and will choose books based on my mood, or what’s going on in my life that week.  (Most, if not all, of the books below include links to the Kindle store on Amazon, and the page numbers reflect the number of Kindle pages).  I hope you enjoy this series on my blog!

Book #1: 

Agatha Christie Book ClubThe Agatha Christie Book Club by C.A. Larmer (Length: 283 pages).  This mystery series is based on such an interesting premise–each book is focused on one particular Agatha Christie novel–and I’m a HUGE AC fan, so I was very excited about this series.  However, I was pretty disappointed with this first book.  The mystery in this particular novel is not well-plotted, nor are the characters well-developed.  Furthermore, the quality of writing is sub-par, with entirely too may grammatical and spelling errors.  Perhaps this book’s editor suffered from narcolepsy?!  

From the publisher:  
When Alicia Finlay walks out on her boring old book club and decides to start a new one—one devoted to her favorite mystery writer Agatha Christie—little does she know her new club is about to stumble into a mystery of their own. It’s a mystery so baffling it would leave even the Queen of Crime scratching her head…

After gathering seven crime buffs together—including young librarian Missy (as ditzy as Miss Marple and as sharp), fashionista Claire, paleontologist Perry (both stylish and fastidious like Poirot), dashing Dr Anders, a poisons expert, and socialite Barbara Parlour—Alicia grows suspicious when one of them fails to show for the next book club.
Barbara has disappeared from the face of the earth and her arrogant husband, Arthur, seems coldly unconcerned. The group suspects him of foul play until he suddenly shows up dead. With two baffling mysteries and time fast running out, the book club decides to do as the meddling Miss Marple would do and investigate!
C.A. Larmer, author of the popular Ghostwriter Mystery novels, shines again in this exciting new series that is fun and easy to read with eclectic characters and a plot you simply can’t put down.


Book #2: 

I am watching youI am Watching You by Teresa Driscoll (Length: 302 pages).  In this psychological thriller, the protagonist (Ella) sees 2 teen girls on a train in England being chatted up by 2 suspicious young men.  The encounter bothers her but she ultimately chooses to do nothing, and 1 girl ends up dead.  One year later after an appeal on the anniversary of the girl’s death, things start happening.  This book is very well-written, with strong characters.  I couldn’t guess who the killer was, which is always nice.  There are a few plot holes (ie, WHY was the killer the way he was) but overall, I’d highly recommend this.  Great beach or vacation read!

From the publisher:  

An Amazon Charts bestseller.

What would it take to make you intervene?

When Ella Longfield overhears two attractive young men flirting with teenage girls on a train, she thinks nothing of it—until she realises they are fresh out of prison and her maternal instinct is put on high alert. But just as she’s decided to call for help, something stops her. The next day, she wakes up to the news that one of the girls—beautiful, green-eyed Anna Ballard—has disappeared.

A year later, Anna is still missing. Ella is wracked with guilt over what she failed to do, and she’s not the only one who can’t forget. Someone is sending her threatening letters—letters that make her fear for her life.

Then an anniversary appeal reveals that Anna’s friends and family might have something to hide. Anna’s best friend, Sarah, hasn’t been telling the whole truth about what really happened that night—and her parents have been keeping secrets of their own.

Someone knows where Anna is—and they’re not telling. But they are watching Ella.

Book #3: 

I Liked my LIfeI Liked my Life by Teresa Driscoll (Length: 273 pages).  This novel centers around a mother’s suicide, and is written from 4 perspectives: the teen daughter, the widowed husband, the deceased (in purgatory?) and the woman the deceased decides would be a good replacement for her.  This is VERY well-written, with an excellent and satisfying plot resolution.  The topics raised here are thought-provoking and covered in a realistic, yet empathetic, manner.  Two thumbs up!

From the publisher: 

“An absolutely stunning book…remarkable.” —RT Book Reviews, 4 1/2 stars, Top Pick   A story from debut author Abby Fabiaschi that is “as absorbing as it is illuminating, and as witty as it is heartbreaking.”

Maddy is a devoted stay-at-home wife and mother, host of excellent parties, giver of thoughtful gifts, and bestower of a searingly perceptive piece of advice or two. She is the cornerstone of her family, a true matriarch…until she commits suicide, leaving her husband Brady and teenage daughter Eve heartbroken and reeling, wondering what happened. How could the exuberant, exacting woman they loved disappear so abruptly, seemingly without reason, from their lives? How they can possibly continue without her? As they sift through details of her last days, trying to understand the woman they thought they knew, Brady and Eve are forced to come to terms with unsettling truths.

Maddy, however, isn’t ready to leave her family forever. Watching from beyond, she tries to find the perfect replacement for herself. Along comes Rory: pretty, caring, and spontaneous, with just the right bit of edge…but who also harbors a tragedy of her own. Will the mystery of Maddy ever come to rest? And can her family make peace with their history and begin to heal?

Book #4: 

When We Were the KennedysWhen We Were the Kennedys by Monica Wood(Length: 258 pages).  This is a memoir written by a woman who grew up in a large family in Mexico, Maine.  The time frame is mostly focused on a year after the father died, just before JFK was assassinated, and is written from the author’s 9 year old’s perspective.   This memoir is VERY well-written, and is more literary than a fluffy beach read.  I enjoyed the author’s examination of religion/Catholicism and labor disputes in this paper mill town.  Highly recommend this book, and I am going to check out others this author has written.  

From the publisher:  


Winner of the 2012 Sarton Memoir Award

“Every few years, a memoir comes along that revitalizes the form…With generous, precise, and unsentimental prose, Monica Wood brilliantly achieves this . . . When We Were the Kennedys is a deeply moving gem!”—Andre Dubus III, author of House of Sand and Fog and Townie

Mexico, Maine, 1963: The Wood family is much like its close, Catholic, immigrant neighbors, all dependent on the fathers’ wages from the Oxford Paper Company. But when Dad suddenly dies on his way to work, Mum and the four deeply connected Wood girls are set adrift. When We Were the Kennedys is the story of how a family, a town, and then a nation mourns and finds the strength to move on.

“On her own terms, wry and empathetic, Wood locates the melodies in the aftershock of sudden loss.”—Boston Globe


Tips on Choosing a Moving Company

Moving is often said to be one of the top five most stressful life events.  And for good reason.  Assuming you’re not going to move your belongings yourself, hiring a good, responsible moving company is a large part of the stress of moving.  To that end, here are some tips to consider when making that decision:  

1)      Pick three moving companies to call for an estimate, and research them.  There are two different schools of thought here.   Some people like to use national moving companies, because there may be more of a track record or reputation with one of these companies.  Other people may want to use local companies as there may be more accountability with the company being headquartered in the same city.  Whichever direction you decide to go, be sure to research the companies you choose to call.  Easy ways to do this are researching them online via, social media (Facebook and Twitter) and of course via the Better Business Bureau ( 


2)      Reputable companies will always come to your home to give you an estimate of costs to move your belongings.  In preparation of this estimate, be sure to make decisions regarding what you will be paying to move.  If you know you won’t be moving items, donate or sell them prior to the estimate, or tag them so the moving company won’t include these items in the quote.  ALWAYS get this quote in writing.  And, be sure to let them know who else you are getting quotes from.  This may prompt the moving company to let you in on any special promotions or discounts of which you weren’t aware. 


3)      Be sure that you ask the following questions about your quote:

a.       What is the total cost of the move, inclusive of tax?

b.       What is included in the move and what isn’t?  (For example, are you required to remove headboards from beds, detach TVs from the wall, disconnect appliances?)

c.       How can the price change if the items in the quote decrease or increase in number or weight?

d.       What are the cancellation fees, if any?

e.       What is the deposit?  Is it refundable?

f.        Timeline of move?  When can you expect your property to be delivered?


The more information the better.  These tips should be a good starting point for you in your search for a moving company.  Feel free to contact me if you’d like any specific recommendations of companies that I’ve worked with in the past. 

Book Reviews–March 2018

I often post short reviews of books I’ve read in my personal social media pages, as I love to share my passion for books with others.  I’m listing the books I’ve read each month here on this blog, with my thoughts on each as well as whether I’d recommend them to others.  I do have an eclectic taste in books, and will choose books based on my mood, or what’s going on in my life that week.  (Most, if not all, of the books below include links to the Kindle store on Amazon, and the page numbers reflect the number of Kindle pages).  I hope you enjoy this series on my blog!

Book #1: 

The Book of the Unnamed MidwifeThe Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison (Length: 300 pages).  This is a dystopian, almost sci-fi novel with VERY disturbing plot elements (ie, rape/violence against women).  However, I will say the addition of these elements are NOT gratuitous, and do advance the novel’s plot.  Thanks to this book’s vivid imagery and strong character development, along with its imaginative plot, I could not put this book down (causing me to live on 4 hours total sleep the next day).  It’s that good!  I will definitely remember this book for years to come.  

From the publisher:  

A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2016 and Philip K. Dick Award Winner

When she fell asleep, the world was doomed. When she awoke, it was dead. In the wake of a fever that decimated the earth’s population—killing women and children and making childbirth deadly for the mother and infant—the midwife must pick her way through the bones of the world she once knew to find her place in this dangerous new one. Gone are the pillars of civilization. All that remains is power—and the strong who possess it.

A few women like her survived, though they are scarce. Even fewer are safe from the clans of men, who, driven by fear, seek to control those remaining. To preserve her freedom, she dons men’s clothing, goes by false names, and avoids as many people as possible. But as the world continues to grapple with its terrible circumstances, she’ll discover a role greater than chasing a pale imitation of independence.  After all, if humanity is to be reborn, someone must be its guide.

Book #2: 

The Wife Between UsThe Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen (Length: 342 pages).  I’m not sure why this one popped up on my TBR (to be read) list but it did.  This book is yet another psychological suspense novel a la the Gone Girl/Girl on a Train genre.  When I first began this novel I recognized a few plot twists that are suspiciously similar to The Last Mrs. Parrish (previously reviewed here).  This book is heavy on plot development (which I typically enjoy as I get bored easily) but not enough on character development (which is the sign of a skilled writer, in my humble opinion).  For example, why is the protagonist really scared/too weak to act in some situations, but not others?  I’d classify this book as a fun mind-candy, beach read, but it’s not satisfying in the long run.  Unlike the book I reviewed above, I won’t remember this one in (even) a month.  

From the publisher:  

“Jaw dropping. Unforgettable. Shocking.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
When you read this book, you will make many assumptions.
You will assume you are reading about a jealous ex-wife.
You will assume she is obsessed with her replacement – a beautiful, younger woman who is about to marry the man they both love.
You will assume you know the anatomy of this tangled love triangle.
Assume nothing.  Read between the lies.

Book #3: 

Caroline Little House RevisitedCaroline: Little House, Revisited by Sarah Miller (Length: 385 pages).  I was SO excited to read this book, as the Little House series is the reason I became an ardent book lover as a child.  (My mom was inspired by that series’ author in naming me, so there’s also that).   I found this novel to be interesting in that it was written from the perspective of Laura Ingalls’ mother regarding the year they lived in the little house on the prairie in Kansas.  I found the novel a bit melodramatic in terms of the protagonist’s internal thoughts (ie, self-flagellation if she felt envy, for example), but I can chalk that up to being period-specific.  I did thoroughly enjoy reading about frontier life from the perspective of a mother, however.  If you, too, grew up with the Little House series, I’d recommend this to you, for an enjoyable walk down memory lane.  

From the publisher:  

In this novel authorized by Little House Heritage Trust, Sarah Miller vividly recreates the beauty, hardship, and joys of the frontier in a dazzling work of historical fiction, a captivating story that illuminates one courageous, resilient, and loving pioneer woman as never before–Caroline Ingalls, “Ma” in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s beloved Little House books.
In the frigid days of February, 1870, Caroline Ingalls and her family leave the familiar comforts of the Big Woods of Wisconsin and the warm bosom of her family, for a new life in Kansas Indian Territory. Packing what they can carry in their wagon, Caroline, her husband Charles, and their little girls, Mary and Laura, head west to settle in a beautiful, unpredictable land full of promise and peril.
The pioneer life is a hard one, especially for a pregnant woman with no friends or kin to turn to for comfort or help. The burden of work must be shouldered alone, sickness tended without the aid of doctors, and babies birthed without the accustomed hands of mothers or sisters. But Caroline’s new world is also full of tender joys. In adapting to this strange new place and transforming a rough log house built by Charles’ hands into a home, Caroline must draw on untapped wells of strength she does not know she possesses.

Book #4: 

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold FryThe Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (Length: 338 pages).  I really enjoyed this sweet book, which was reminiscent of A Man Called Ove.   I must admit I was overly distracted by the urge of wanting the protagonist to buy a pair of proper walking shoes, etc but then realized it’s really about the journey, itself, and not outside distractions.  I did find the ending to be a bit anti-climactic (again, perhaps the universe’s way of telling me to be present and enjoy the journey?) but overall, it was satisfying.  I recommend this one!  

From the publisher:  

Meet Harold Fry, recently retired. He lives in a small English village with his wife, Maureen, who seems irritated by almost everything he does, even down to how he butters his toast. Little differentiates one day from the next. Then one morning the mail arrives, and within the stack of quotidian minutiae is a letter addressed to Harold in a shaky scrawl from a woman he hasn’t seen or heard from in twenty years. Queenie Hennessy is in hospice and is writing to say goodbye.

And thus begins the unlikely pilgrimage at the heart of Rachel Joyce’s remarkable debut. Harold Fry is determined to walk six hundred miles from Kingsbridge to the hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed because, he believes, as long as he walks, Queenie Hennessey will live.

Book #5:

The NightingaleThe Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (Length: 593 pages).  This is one of those books I could have sworn I had read already, namely because I’ve read other Kristin Hannah novels, but I must have confused this with other World War II era novels (such as All the Light We Cannot See).  I enjoyed this read, and thought it was pretty good, especially in terms of the plot arc.  Hannah absolutely excels at drawing detailed characters whom the reader will care about.  I found this to be a bit stressful to read (as any book that’s related to or even tangentially related to the Holocaust can be ) but the ending is satisfactory and wraps up a lot of the moving parts.  I’m glad I took the time to finally read this novel, and would absolutely recommend!  

From the publisher:  

A #1 New York Times bestseller, Wall Street Journal Best Book of the Year, and soon to be a major motion picture, this unforgettable novel of love and strength in the face of war has enthralled a generation.

With courage, grace, and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures the epic panorama of World War II and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France—a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.

Goodreads Best Historical Novel of the Year • People’s Choice Favorite Fiction Winner • #1 Indie Next Selection • A Buzzfeed and The Week Best Book of the Year

What is PMI? A mortgage term explained.

Navigating the home-buying process can be akin to traveling in a foreign country where one isn’t familiar with the language.  There is a lot of vocabulary that isn’t familiar to non-real estate professionals.  One such term is PMI.  PMI, or private mortgage insurance, is insurance for lenders.  Homebuyers who have at least 20% of the sales price as their down payment on their new home must pay PMI.  Lenders require PMI in these situations because they’re assuming more risk when they are investing more in the home than you are.

The actual rate and monthly cost of PMI varies from homebuyer to homebuyer.  The rate and cost depend on several factors such as the value of your new home, the type of loan you’re signing and your credit score.

The good news is that if you make timely payments on your mortgage every month, your PMI will disappear when you reach 20% of the equity of your home.  This varies from lender to lender, however, as some lenders will stop PIM when you reach a 78% loan-to-value ratio.   While this ratio may occur naturally as you make payments, it may also increase due to your home’s value increasing.

If this is the case, you can request that the lender remove your PMI payment.  This typically occurs when you present the lender with an independent appraisal to prove your home’s value has appreciated to the 78% loan-to-value ratio.  This is at the discretion of the lender, however.  Be sure to ask what your particular lender’s policies are in this regard, before you sign the loan documents.

Another way to remove the PMI is by refinancing your home loan.  For example, if there is a reduction in mortgage rates and you decide to refinance, you may also be able to ask your lender to remove the PMI.  Finally, there are “no PMI” loan programs out there.  However, these programs typically feature a higher interest rate or higher fees in lieu of the monthly PMI amount.  Be sure you have ALL of the information regarding your loan, regardless of the type of loan you decide to refinance.

Book Reviews–February 2018

I often post short reviews of books I’ve read in my personal social media pages, as I love to share my passion for books with others.  I’m listing the books I’ve read each month here on this blog, with my thoughts on each as well as whether I’d recommend them to others.  I do have an eclectic taste in books, and will choose books based on my mood, or what’s going on in my life that week.  (Most, if not all, of the books below include links to the Kindle store on Amazon, and the page numbers reflect the number of Kindle pages).  I hope you enjoy this series on my blog!

Book #1: 


comfort-and-joyComfort and Joy by Kristin Hannah (Length: 256 pages).  This is a romance novel with a twist, focusing on a plane crash survivor’s adventures at a decrepit summer resort in Washington state.  I’m not a big romance novel reader, and I found the first half of this novel to be a bit cheesy and annoying.  But then there was a major plot twist that kept me reading.  Ultimately I’m not thrilled with how the plot resolved as it’s a bit unbelievable, so I’d have to say this is not one of my favorite Kristin Hannah novels.  

From the publisher:  

Joy Candellaro once loved Christmas more than any other time of the year. Now, as the holiday approaches, she is at a crossroads in her life; recently divorced and alone, she can’t summon the old enthusiasm for celebrating. So without telling anyone, she buys a ticket and boards a plane bound for the beautiful Pacific Northwest. When an unexpected detour takes her deep into the woods of the Olympic rainforest, Joy makes a bold decision to leave her ordinary life behind—to just walk away—and thus begins an adventure unlike any she could have imagined.

In the small town of Rain Valley, six-year-old Bobby O’Shea is facing his first Christmas without a mother. Unable to handle the loss, Bobby has closed himself off from the world, talking only to his invisible best friend. His father Daniel is beside himself, desperate to help his son cope. Yet when the little boy meets Joy, these two unlikely souls form a deep and powerful bond. In helping Bobby and Daniel heal, Joy finds herself again.

But not everything is as it seems in quiet Rain Valley, and in an instant, Joy’s world is ripped apart, and her heart is broken. On a magical Christmas Eve, a night of impossible dreams and unexpected chances, Joy must find the courage to believe in a love—and a family—that can’t possibly exist, and go in search of what she wants . . . and the new life only she can find.

Book #2: 

the girl with seven namesThe Girl With Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee (Length: 320 pages).  This memoir of a teen’s escape from North Korea was a page turner.  Her writing is strong, and she narrates a fascinating account of her daily life in North Korea pre-escape, and then details several years of her life in China and then South Korea post-escape.  Her journey was truly harrowing, and I enjoyed reading her descriptions of the landscape as well as the cultural differences among all three countries.  (This is a $2.99 Kindle special–definitely pick this up!)

From the publisher:  

An extraordinary insight into life under one of the world’s most ruthless and secretive dictatorships – and the story of one woman’s terrifying struggle to avoid capture/repatriation and guide her family to freedom.

As a child growing up in North Korea, Hyeonseo Lee was one of millions trapped by a secretive and brutal communist regime. Her home on the border with China gave her some exposure to the world beyond the confines of the Hermit Kingdom and, as the famine of the 1990s struck, she began to wonder, question and to realise that she had been brainwashed her entire life. Given the repression, poverty and starvation she witnessed surely her country could not be, as she had been told “the best on the planet”?

Aged seventeen, she decided to escape North Korea. She could not have imagined that it would be twelve years before she was reunited with her family.

Book #3:

The great aloneThe Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (Length: 435 pages).  I LOVED this book!!!  I’ve read this is going to be THE book of 2018, and I have to say this may be a very accurate prediction.  Hannah details a family’s journey to the Alaska wilderness in the 1970s, specifically the relationship among an only child and her two parents, one of whom is a Vietnam vet suffering from PTSD.  Hannah does a fantastic job of describing the gorgeous scenery, and this vivid sense of place is enhanced with her signature strong character development.  The plot at the end develops into a nail biter, and I stayed up way too late to finish this beautiful book.    

From the publisher:  

Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if means following him into the unknown.

At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.

But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.

In this unforgettable portrait of human frailty and resilience, Kristin Hannah reveals the indomitable character of the modern American pioneer and the spirit of a vanishing Alaska—a place of incomparable beauty and danger. The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature.

Book #4:  

News of the WorldNews of the World by Paulette Jiles (Length: 229 pages).  Another favorite book of mine.  I’d have to put this in my top 10 books of all time.  This National Book Award finalist captured my attention from page one, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it when I wasn’t reading it.  This is a historical Western novel set in 1870 in north Texas about a young girl who was kidnapped by the Kiowa tribe and released after five years.  An older man in his early 70s accepts the job of transporting her back to her extended family, and learns to communicate with her as she doesn’t remember much English (or German).   I absolutely ADORED the dialogue in this charming book (ie, she calls the man “Kep-Dun” as she’s relearning English phonetically.)  Jiles creates amazingly vivid action scenes and her character development is top-notch.  I’ll always remember the relationship between Kep-Dun and Joanna.  

From the publisher:  

In the wake of the Civil War, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings from newspapers to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his rootless, solitary existence.

In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. Four years earlier, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna’s parents and sister; sparing the little girl, they raised her as one of their own. Recently rescued by the U.S. army, the ten-year-old has once again been torn away from the only home she knows.

Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous. Johanna has forgotten the English language, tries to escape at every opportunity, throws away her shoes, and refuses to act “civilized.” Yet as the miles pass, the two lonely survivors tentatively begin to trust each other, forming a bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land.

Arriving in San Antonio, the reunion is neither happy nor welcome. The captain must hand Johanna over to an aunt and uncle she does not remember—strangers who regard her as an unwanted burden. A respectable man, Captain Kidd is faced with a terrible choice: abandon the girl to her fate or become—in the eyes of the law—a kidnapper himself.

Book #5:

Little Fires EverywhereLittle Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (Length: 348 pages).  I was interested to read this popular book since it’s set in Shaker Heights, OH, and I was born in neighboring Lyndhurst, OH.  I really loved reading this book!  While the first 100 pages dragged a bit with overly detailed character development of a few minor characters in the novel, I thoroughly enjoyed the writing style of this author throughout the entire book.  Definitely worth checking out.  

From the publisher:  

From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture-perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives.

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town–and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides.  Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood – and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster.