Category Archives: Book Reviews

Sisterly by Jorja DuPont Oliva

Janie returns to her hometown to make things right with her sister, and her ex-boyfriend who married her sister, by revealing her secret to them. She stays in the yellow house run by Mrs. Francis, where the otherworldly seems to creep in, everything is too connected for reality, and Mrs. Francis forbids her to enter the mysterious, yet beckoning, backyard. Though the dialogue is stiff—no contractions are used, and can sound unrealistic—Mrs. Francis’ dialect is over the top, the characters’ interactions with each other and Janie’s “episodes” are vivid. When Janie’s missing time and chaotic, dreamlike events are explained in the final scenes, the brilliance of Oliva’s storytelling skills burst forth like fireworks. Though hints are sprinkled like candy throughout the story, the reveal is surprising, and the reader can only be impressed by the descriptive details and timeliness of those “episodes.” References to the inciting incidents are well placed in the story, with emphasis in the reveal for a satisfying ending.

The author offered this novel gratis in March and I was fortunate to pick it up and read it, posting a review for the book gift and for my delight in the story. Thank you, Jorja!

The Little French Bistro by Nina George

Finding Femininity and Feminism in France

Does love have to be earned through suffering?”

Marianne determines that the Seine is preferable to one more minute of accommodating her husband’s controlling condescension. She walks away from the tour group during dinner to dive into the river, and her husband does not even notice her leaving. A homeless man “steals her death” by pulling her from the water. In the hospital, her husband expresses his concern that her attempt affects him adversely. She again walks away, bent on reaching Kerduc, the seaside town depicted in the nurse’s placemat tile, a town in which she invests her romantic notions of a larger death than her life has been. Circumstances lead her there as if by magic, pulling her into a setting amongst colorful, complicated characters that could have been created by Maeve Binchy. She falls into employment at Ar Mor restaurant, fitting seamlessly into the rhythms of the kitchen. At 60, Marianne begins a new life, of wonder, of real love, of authenticity. Toward the end, the novel gets a bit over the top (with the young waitress Laurine inexplicably removing all her clothing to rescue Jean-Remy’s love letter boats from the water, but maybe that one’s a French thing), yet maintains the integrity of its characters and Breton setting. A woman blooming into a fully realized individual after decades of being an extension of her spouse evokes feminism, when she can see herself as an equal to her lover.

Brittany, France, stands proud as a character in this story, new friends emphasizing Breton identity and sharing Breton folklore. Marieanne’s mysterious introduction to the community as “the woman who came from the sea” invokes the legend of Ys, the city swallowed by the sea, and her new love takes her to the magical forest of Broceliande. Although German, Marianne feels at home amongst her new friend, from the little touches, such as her return to playing the accordion, a long-stored instrument given to her by a Breton reluctant to fall for her charms based on memories of the war. She discovers that there are various ways to thwart love and defy romance. In another nod to Maeve Binchy, the ending provides closure without complete resolution, as in real life. There is death, rekindled romance, illness, love rescued, dementia, and new life, with all their complex and tangled emotions.

International bestselling author Nina George, after “The Little Paris Bookshop” (translated into 35 languages), again lays out beautiful, complicated relationships in seemingly impossible situations and offers readers wildly emotional connections and absolution as human beings in “The Little French Bistro,” on its way to multiple translations.

I was fortunate to receive a copy of this wonderful book through NetGalley.

Nina George’s gorgeous website

Our Little Secret by Roz Nay—pub date April 17, 2018

This story opens in an interrogation room, with Angela prepared to tell her story to police, if they will only listen. Finally, Detective Novak allows her to share everything that she feels is relevant, beginning with her meeting H.P. in high school, where he changed her life. They became best friends who fell in love, or as Angela tells the story, soul mates. She leads Detective Novak through their complicated relationship, hampered by her lack of a healthy role model and his small town contentment, and further strained by Angela attending Oxford, where she’s befriended by Freddy, who dotes on her against her will. Detective Novak perks up at the entrance of Saskia, the missing wife, the reason for Angela’s interrogation, during H.P.’s visit to England. Misunderstandings ensue, emotions tangle, and new pathways are formed. Angela blames losing her first love on everyone else, spending her life from that point on waiting for him to do the right thing. When her mother moves in uninvited after leaving her father, she pursues an unhealthy friendship with H.P. as their houseguest and babysitter, which culminates in Saskia’s disappearance. Detective Novak pieces together the evidence through the long night of storytelling by Angela, who is either also an innocent victim or a truly unreliable narrator.

Nay leads the reader through a maze of Angela’s fears, internal struggles, unrealistic desires, and inevitable disappointments. Angela is brilliantly depicted as a minor character in her own life, for which she can then lay guilt at whoever she allowed to make the decisions for her, as she waits in vain for things to go her way without taking action herself. Failure to communicate is a key element in the derailment of Angela’s life, and Nay relays every misstep taken by those underestimating her. The ending is not as well captured as the entire novel leading up to it, subtlety left behind in the previous chapter.

I was fortunate to receive an early copy from the publisher through a giveaway.

Memories of My Future by Ammar Habib and Anil Sinha

Surgeon Avinash Singh loses a child during surgery to heart failure caused by a new virus. Having accepted always being the best at everything he does, this harsh reality devastates him. His nurse Martha, a second mother in his adopted country, tells him to find a way to deal with it and get back to work. He seeks resolution in the journal of his ancestry given to him by his grandfather. He reads of Khau, the Lion of Bihar, a 13th-century warrior ancestor, who must find a way to save Bihar from the Mongols. Those barbarians destroy everything in their path, because they are unbeatable archers on horseback. Khau determines their weakness and defeats them. The inspirational story motivates Avinash to develop a cure. From this breakthrough, Avinash receives two offers: a position at a coveted medical center in NYC and a chance to offer his skills to a humanitarian effort. He returns to the journal to learn about Veeresh, the leader of his people who did not break under torture by the East India Company’s best “negotiator.” From this lesson, Avi knows he must follow his heart. On this path, he finds true love and faces a challenge that calls out to his warrior blood.

This historical fiction carries more than one lesson within it’s dual timeline. It reads like folklore with a moral to the story. Told alternately through the contemporary life of a brilliant surgeon and a journal of his ancestry, it weaves from one to the other seamlessly. The authors repeatedly mention the diversity of religions in the stories of Avi and his ancestors, and they use the different religious lingo interchangeably to emphasize tolerance. The main takeaway seems to be, however, that you should be yourself and keep moving forward in service to others, using your god-given talents without fear.

I received a digital copy of this wonderful story from one of the authors.

After Anna by Lisa Scottoline—pub date April 10, 2018

Dr. Noah Alderman is on trial for his life, accused of murdering his stepdaughter. Her father fought ruthlessly for custody of baby Anna as a power play after Maggie suffered the relatively unknown, but common, postpartum psychosis. With his recent death, Anna reaches out to the mother she wants to know. She enters the family, which includes Noah’s 10-year-old son Caleb, with a fortune from her father and an attitude of entitlement. Her accusations of molestation against Noah rend Maggie’s heart. Though circumstantial evidence points to Noah as Anna’s killer, Maggie retains a sliver of hope, not quite able to believe he is capable of such an atrocity. A phone call with shocking news sets Maggie on an investigation that may possibly free Noah and return him to her.

Told in alternating timelines, moving back in time through Noah’s trial, while Maggie’s story moves forward from the initial contact with Anna, the stories come together after the trial, with the reader learning information along with the characters. In true Scottoline fashion, the reader is kept guessing who did what until the perspective-shifting bombshell, and the action fast forwards. Un-put-down-able!

I received a digital ARC through NetGalley of this fantastic novel from one of my favorite authors.

Hour Glass by Michelle Rene

The pa of the Glass children, Jimmy and Flower, dies of smallpox in a pestilent tent hospital in Deadwood, South Dakota. They had pulled him into town from their shack on his gold claim, proving their mettle. Madame Dora DuFran takes charge, and Calamity Jane, who’d followed Wild Bill Hickok to Deadwood, works in the pest tent, caring for their pa, watching him slowly fade. Jimmy and Flower, who goes by Hour, sleep in DuFran’s storage room, which previously housed Jane, who prefers to sleep off her routine drunks outside under the stars, anyway. Hour’s mom, a Lakota, visits Jimmy in his dreams to offer wisdom as he confronts challenges (one of which is first love) in their few weeks at DuFran’s brothel, until their pa passes. Jane holds a fundraiser for her “daughter” Hour’s education, receiving enough to send both children to a convent school, giving them a good start in life. Jimmy channels Jane in a life of constant travel, but Hour marries and raises a family in Kansas City. While working as a storyteller in the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show, Jane meets up with Jimmy and they catch each other up on their lives. Jimmy sees her only once more, in a small town where she was put off the train, at a hotel on her deathbed. The happily ever after comes to Jimmy when his first love finally leaves prostitution for marriage.

This is an interesting view of Calamity Jane’s life, from the perspective of a child she and Dora DuFran rescued. Rene kept the integrity of a pre-teen boy’s point of view, while filling the cast of characters with real life colleagues of Jane: Wild Bill, Dora DuFran, Charlie Utter, and a passing reference to Buffalo Bill. A fictionalized account of Calamity Jane is likely more appropriate than a biography, as her tall tales live on. Rene gave a noble account of the fundraiser given for Jane’s “daughter,” interspersed her best tall tales throughout the story, and followed the chronology of Jane’s life that is accepted as true, or the truest. It’s a raucous story, such as Jane’s own life.

I was fortunate to receive a digital copy through NetGalley.

Coffin Scarcely Used by Colin Watson

Councillor Harold Carobleat has died, having succumbed to a lingering illness. Soon after, his neighbor and solicitor are found dead under mysterious circumstances. As both are colleagues of Carobleat, and one suspected to be intimate with Carobleat’s wife, Inspector Purbright investigates Harold’s passing as a possible murder as well, eventually connecting it all to a shady business deal.

Often throughout the story, complicated sentences obstruct meaning just as characters obstruct justice in their attempts to thwart Inspector Purbright. It’s worth it in the end, though. The last line is killer!

I received this delightful cozy mystery through NetGalley.

White Houses by Amy Bloom

The times were not conducive for a lesbian love affair. In this fictional version of Eleanor Roosevelt’s lifelong love affair with journalist Lorena Hickok, President Roosevelt is “in on the joke” and takes advantage with his blatant womanizing. Told from the perspective of Hickok, it’s a softly rendered portrait of Eleanor, all the loveliness of her and the imperfections softened. Readers also get a peek into Bloom’s perspective of the Roosevelt clan, with snarky remarks on cousins from Hickok, Eleanor, and FDR. Throughout the story, Hickok announces character flaws and strengths of the powerful people surrounding her, ever aware of her precarious position. Readers follow her career choices, through various relationships and friendships, and her ins and outs with Eleanor, who always chooses her as an add-on to her public, political life, even after her husband’s death.

This is a nicely written story of a highly speculative affair of a First Lady, politically powerful for her time, representing her with dignity and compassion, while displaying her passions, political and personal. With satirical leanings, it’s an interesting place to start an exploration of Eleanor Roosevelt, as well as learning about her “other half,” Lorena Hickok. Telling the story from the lesser known partner brilliantly brings her to life. It’s a little history lesson in a big love story.

I was fortunate to receive a digital copy through NetGalley.

Something’s Not Right With Lucy by Dawn Taylor

Lucy lives a hard life of a 7-year-old as the punching bag of her mother and living toy of her pedophile grandfather. All she wants is a kitten and peaceful playtime with little sister Daisy. Her father loves her, but struggles in his marriage and financially. School and Social Services fail Lucy.

Taylor does an excellent job showing how each person who could have assisted this little girl had an agenda they prioritized—mom, grandpa, teacher, principal, social worker, and foster parents. She, however, doesn’t fully explore the alternate personality of Violet, who does her best to protect Lucy and can inexplicably access memories of baby Lucy. The timeline is a bit confusing, as the reader sees Lucy being molested by her grandfather at age 7 as though it’s the first incident, but Violet witnesses memories of earlier sexual abuse. There’s also no real explanation for Lucy seeing the dead whom she calls “wonders.”

The mother Doreen is one-dimensional, actively seeking ways to terrorize her children, while taunting her husband, with no redeemable qualities, merely a couple references as the child of an alcoholic who ended up in foster care as a play for sympathy. The father Dan is more complex, with conflicting emotions driving his behavior, and a sense of desperation with the loss of control over his own family.

Lucy’s story comes across as a worst case scenario, showing every step of the way how every adult who could have improved her life chose instead to focus on their own selfish needs.

I was fortunate to receive this copy from the author in a giveaway.

How to Window Box: Small-Space Plants to Grow Indoors or Out by Chantal Aida Gordon and Ryan Benoit

This gorgeous, little book begins with a basic introduction to container gardening: aesthetics, placement, sunlight, tools, soil / topping, plant selection, watering, and maintenance. It’s then divided into16 chapters with succinct, descriptive headings, such as Herb Garden, Edible Petals, Southern Belle, and Rain Forest. Each chapter begins with a photo of the finished product and a quick review box of logistics: location, light, window direction, ease of care, soil / topping, water, and feed. Following is a spread of the individual plants with Latin and layman names. Step-by-step instructions have corresponding pictures. At the end, there’s a short chapter on customizing a box and another listing resources.

For a hobby gardener, anyone who lives in an apartment, or someone who cannot have plants inside due to pets, this book is perfect for a weekend project to make a beautiful arrangement for a window, balcony, or out of pet’s reach inside. Information is laid out for quick and easy understanding. Take it along to the nursery to choose the plants—it’s small enough to throw in a purse or cargo pants pocket.

I was fortunate to receive this wonderful book through Blogging for Books for an honest review. I plan to make the Detox Box to clean the air in my home—the authors shared a bit of trivia that “snake plants were shown in a NASA Clean Air Study to remove benzene, formaldehyde, toluene, and other toxins from their surroundings.”