Category Archives: Book Reviews

The Secret Ingredient of Wishes by Susan Bishop Crispell

Rachel wished her brother would get lost. And he did. So lost that their parents forgot him and explained him away as Rachel’s imagination, and then as her illness. Having repressed her wish-giving ability through to adulthood, Rachel runs away from her life when the wish-granting bursts forth to affect her best friend’s family. She ends up in Nowhere, NC, where she discovers others’ magic and how to control her own. Crispell’s talented in creating complex characters, with their roller coaster emotions and love-hate relationships with their talents. Like Sarah Addison Allan, the magic is a part of everyday life, including emotional trees and sometimes challenging townspeople. Readers who daydream of having magical capabilities can live out their fantasies through Crispell’s stories. Check out her website http://www.susanbishopcrispell.com/ to learn more about her and purchase her books.

The Truth Waits by Susanna Beard

Anna finds a teenage girl’s body on the beach in Lithuania while on a business trip to her textile factory. Prevented from leaving by a natural disaster, she meets a journalist named Will, who moves into her carefully constructed life. He and her friends warn her against pursuing the girl’s murder, but her own past urges her on, until she finds herself in danger, and Will is incommunicado. Beard portrays a workaholic with repressed emotions and memories vividly, though Anna seems to throw up a lot and has quite a few anxiety attacks, not to mention the breakdown from grief. The story seems as self-oriented as Anna, focusing on her distress throughout, when it could have explored the horrors of sex trafficking further. Even as Anna is justified in her wavering faith in Will, his character is not developed enough for the reader to make a judgment call either way. Though the story is a good one, it could have given a little more weight toward other characters, and even considered location a main character in its cultural presence, but Anna simply comes across as too neurotic to notice anything else. I was graciously given a digital copy by the publisher through NetGalley.

Hunting Annabelle by Wendy Heard—pub date December 18

After leaving a California psychiatric prison, Sean Suh relocates to Austin, Texas, where he spends his days drawing people and their auras at a local Disneyland knockoff. A girl with a copper aura tempts him despite his understanding that he need protect her from himself. He witnesses her kidnapping, but no one believes him based on his mental health and conviction record, and suspicion falls more heavily on him as he conducts his own investigation. He learns interesting things about this girl he has immediately fallen for, but he could not have foreseen who did it. Heard brilliantly leads the reader through Sean’s emotional turmoil at each new piece of information; this could well be a manual for becoming a serial killer. Flashbacks from Annabelle’s point of view would have given her more depth. Being privy to Sean’s thoughts exposed his internal struggle, a fascinating insight that almost (but not quite) invokes compassion. Fans of Liane Moriarty and Gillian Flynn will appreciate this novel. I was fortunate to receive a digital copy of this fantastic thriller from the publisher through NetGalley.

Born to Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey by Mark Dery

The heartbreak of a good biography is finding out that the artist whose work sings to you is not the person of your imagination. It’s almost like a friendship breaking up over irreconcilable differences. The joy of a great biography is reveling in all the nooks and crannies of the artist whose work speaks to you. Mark Dery’s representation of Edward Gorey’s life is well-researched—including interviews with friends, family, and colleagues—and often feels too intimate, probing as deeply as possible into an ultra private man whose public persona was a purposeful put-on. The brilliant title and chapter headings are Gorey-esque: A Suspiciously Normal Childhood, Sacred Monsters, Epater le Bourgeois, Nursery Crimes, etc. Dery has sectioned Gorey’s life into childhood, education, career moves, and his various obsessions, the main ones being literature high and low, silent movies, and the ballet choreography of George Balanchine, with their corresponding closely-knit fan groups. Any Gorey fan can learn something new in this biography, for the man was quite complex, and he apparently needed little sleep, working on something every moment possible, from his little books sold successfully at Gotham Book Mart, through his book cover art and collaborations, to his work in theater and television. Though far from an open book, Gorey’s career flowed easily through profound and lasting friendships, Dery presenting the development and arc of such friendships with a light touch. Themes running throughout the biography are Gorey’s complex parental relationships, his tendency to keep himself to himself while handing out sardonic opinions like candy, and speculation upon his sexual orientation. Though he’d answered the question of his sexual orientation, speculation continued, with “evidence” pointed out in his work and life. Though Dery may reference the evidence and speculation a bit much, he offers a comprehensive gathering of Gorey’s work and a well-thought-out timeline of his life, with a wonderful takeaway that Gorey made his art to please himself. It’s a must-read biography of a man as interesting and mysterious as his little books of Victorian / Edwardian children suffering unusual demises. Little, Brown & Company graciously sent me an ARC of this fantabulous biography for an honest review.

Time and Regret by M.K. Tod

In a post-divorce cleansing, Grace Hansen finds a tackle box her grandpa asked her to keep. Inside she finds mementos from his WWI experience and a letter with a puzzle for her to solve for his redemption. She travels to France to walk through the same towns he did according to the diaries he kept during the war. Her life is in danger as she is stalked and burgled, deepening her grandpa’s mystery, fervently urging her toward resolution. Of course there is a French love interest, an unlikely but not impossible coincidence making the world smaller. Tod’s writing flows so well it seems the reader is walking with Grace through small French towns in her grandpa’s shoes. Fans of Tatiana de Rosnay and Diane Chamberlain, and lovers of history, art, and culture will appreciate this novel. Follow Tod’s forays into her own grandfather’s war experience on her blog https://awriterofhistory.com//.

Love In Catalina Cove by Brenda Jackson—pub date October 30

Vashti Alcindor inherits her aunt’s B&B in Catalina Cove, where she grew up, and where she ran away from over a decade ago. She wants to sell the business and put her hometown behind her for good. Enter the sexy, widowed sheriff. Then secrets come flying out of the past, changing Vashti in ways she would never have expected. The secrets are not so surprising, and some are a bit too coincidental, but in the end, a good story is hidden among the unnecessary repetition by multiple characters of Vashtis’ background and overly emoted revelations.  A good beach read, a nice weekend romance read, Catalina Cove also shares a bit of Creole history, as it’s set on the coast of Louisiana, with a creole main character. I was graciously given an early copy by Harlequin through NetGalley.

Tell Me No Lies by Alex Sinclair—pub date October 25

Grace Dalton watched her husband die after being struck in a hit and run accident. After a brief period of submerging herself in the grief, she begins to move on, speaking with his lawyer to learn of a secret bank account and life insurance. Then she sees her husband, sending her best friend into conniptions for some reason, and she ends up in several bizarre emergency sessions with her psychiatrist. Much of this story, once you get past the repetition (and the repetition continues throughout the book), lacks credibility, such as Grace’s phone sessions with her psychiatrist, and then her best friend dragging her to so many emergency sessions instead of listening to Grace. Her best friend comes across as more like a mean sister, making the ending even less likely. This story had such potential, and then Grace ended up being more crotchety than the damsel in distress. The reader does not need reminding in every chapter that Grace wallowed in her grief for six weeks. The story is in there if you want to earn it! I was graciously given an early copy by Bookouture through NetGalley.

Three Souls by Janie Chang

Leiyin learns she has three souls upon her death, souls who explain they are trapped with her ghost until she atones for some egregious transgression in her mortal life. They witness her, through memories, rebel against the patriarchal traditions of her father, suffer the consequences, and live with regrets for her naivety. In the early 20th century, Leiyin controls little about her life, and this during a civil war and Japanese aggression. Epiphanies hit her hard and fast reliving her memories. She must communicate with mortals to appease the gods by rescuing the fates of her loved ones in order to ascend to the afterlife with her souls. Chang’s blending and bending of Chinese culture and history create a compelling narrative of inadvertent espionage and acceptance of one’s place in society. The speculative elements placing Leiyin outside her own story fascinate the reader as they astonish Leiyin. Chang’s novels are educational in many ways, to the anticipated appreciation of readers of historical fiction, speculative fiction, and fans of Tatiana de Rosnay and Laura Spinella.

Fromage a Trois by Victoria Brownlee—pub date October 9

After eight years in a monogamous relationship, Ella expected a proposal at their favorite restaurant. That’s not what she got. So she runs away to Paris to rediscover herself as the adventurer she was before the relationship. Yearning for the most Parisian experience, she falls into a bet to taste all 365 varietals of French cheese, becoming an Instagram sensation. However, she still chooses glamour over substance in men; though the romance is inevitable, it’s still fun to watch Ella grow and evolve. Brownlee creates a character as enchanting and quirky as Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic Becky. But she goes beyond Ella’s endearing personality to educate readers on French cheeses, with delectable descriptions and fascinating anecdotes and history, even referencing Napoleon. Fans of Kinsella, foodies, Francophiles, and romantics will appreciate this lovely story that I was fortunate to receive from Amberjack Publishing through NetGalley.

Valeria Vose by Alice Bingham Gorman—pub date October 2

As Mallie’s marriage crumbles, she searches for her identity through religion. She falls in love with an unscrupulous priest counseling her, but bounces back and continues her journey of self-discovery. Her friend Jenny introduces her to spiritual retreats and workshops. The story nearly becomes a Christian self-help book multiple times, as it spends much time expounding upon the wisdom of the retreats and workshops. Nevertheless, it’s an excellent portrayal of a woman set loose from what she considered a solid foundation as a wife and mother in the late 70s. Having come unmoored, she must find a way to anchor herself without a partner to lean on and no job skills. The ending is credible, hopeful, and maybe a bit feminist. Gorman does a great job of showing Mallie’s emotions ricocheting around in her head, and how hard she tries to connect with the world around her. Though a bit insular, based on the Christian themes, this book tells a story of women who buy into the Mrs. degree, and how one breaks free after a crash and burn, definitely a worthwhile read. I was fortunate to receive this e-book from She Writes Press through NetGalley.