Category Archives: Book Reviews

Wool by Hugh Howey

Sheriff Holston wants to go outside—outside of the underground silo system where people migrated after the world became toxic for humans. His wife went outside three years ago, after winning the lottery to become pregnant and failing to do so. Maybe her decision was based on digital records she discovered of the founders’ secret. In any case, Holston prepares himself to go outside the silo.

Howey depicts dystopia in a brutally honest way, exposing the deepest, darkest emotions of humans trapped like the animals they used to place in cages, with pragmatic regulations culminating in inevitable population control methods. Holston’s inner thoughts once he reaches the outside zig and zag, his emotions sliding low and soaring high, based on his observations and conclusions about why the people leaving always clean the cameras that let the people inside observe the devastated world.

There’s no mention in the story of what apocalyptic event sent them underground, or the infrastructure of the silo system, but only hints of hierarchy (mayor, sheriff, etc.) and attempts to limit reproduction through an annual lottery. Perhaps these are addressed in the following books of the series. This first one is free on Amazon for Kindle.

Something Like Family by Heather Burch

Rave Wayne meets the grandfather he thought was dead, and he comes to appreciate the solidity and sincerity of Tuck Wayne, who does his best to convince Rave to forgive his drug addict mother. While settling into a new life in a small town with his grandfather, disruptions force Rave to grow and learn unconditional love as he plans a war memorial in tribute to his veteran grandfather.

Though a bit repetitive throughout, this is a touching story of complex family relationships, where ties are severed, dynamics shift, and regrets are lived out. Burch’s writing flows like rich hot chocolate, assuring the reader that no matter what the circumstances, warmth will bring the characters home, where they belong. Fans of feel-good, coming-home-to-roost, family-oriented stories, with emphasis on military veterans, will enjoy this book and this author’s work.

I received this heartwarming novel from the author for an honest review.

Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage—pub date July 17, 2018

Suzette is convinced that her 7-year-old daughter Hannah is trying to kill her. The child is non-verbal, talking only through an invisible friend, the last “witch” burned in France, a piece of trivia she researched online. Alex, her husband—Hannah’s father, struggles to believe that anything beyond selective mutism is wrong with his beloved daughter, who adores him as much as she abhors her mother. An incident forces him to confront the truth, and they must take drastic measures to save their daughter from herself.

Alternating perspectives of mother and daughter show exactly where communication is misconstrued, and the mother’s Crohn’s disease is woven into the story well as a contributing factor to her fear of being a bad mother. Though the author represents the main characters well, the father is flat and comes across as whiny and simplistic. A sense of ambiguity as to the child’s true problem and the mother’s true feelings is not achieved; rather, it feels made of conflicting storylines, with vague references left unexplored. The therapist recommended by the pediatrician seems to be poor at her job, crossing ethical lines (specifics here would be spoilers). The last line is killer!

I received a digital ARC of this story from the publisher through NetGalley.

The NeverMind of Brian Hildebrand by Martin Myers—pub date July 17, 2018

Brian Hildebrand becomes conscious a few days after a bizarre car accident involving him and his car after he stepped out of it. However, this conscious state does not equate to him awaking from a coma. Though psychic, his mother cannot reach him, but her mother’s intuition tells her that he’s in there, aware and listening. An unreliable narrator, he enlightens the reader upon his favorite caregiver, a mysterious stranger, ghosts, psychic connections, and the various new and unorthodox treatments to unlock him.

Myers creates a colorful character, haphazard in his sharing, building tension as a man locked in with his constant thoughts, seeking aid everywhere, even psychically and through spirits of the recently and not-so-recently deceased. His supporting cast comes through his tunnel vision—well-developed characters as seen through the lens (literally, as his eyes are open, doubtful in real life) of his limited vision: mom, mysterious stranger, amaaaazing caregiver, and various possible saviors. Having invested oneself in the possibility of recovery for this locked in protagonist, and slogged through the frustrated attempts and helplessness of him and his cheerleaders, the morphing of this story into metafiction disappoints. I was fortunate to receive this fantastic story turned metafiction from the publisher through NetGalley. Maybe it was all a dream after all.

Ana Rocha: Shadows of Justice by Ammar Habib and Detective Glenda Mendoza

Ana believes the only way to move past her sister’s murder is to find her real killer, the powerful figure behind the cartel’s low-level felons who went to prison for it. Feeling invincible, she joins the police force to clean up the streets, with the secret agenda of tracking down the mysterious murderer. In this endeavor, she misleads her family and oversteps her rookie authority with her new partner. Everyone has their own way of working through grief—Ana’s is exceptionally brutal and insular.

Again, the author partners with a field professional to ensure accuracy, so that the larger-than-life Ana stays within the boundaries of a law enforcement role, called on her maverick behavior by her partner and superior. Tension created by Ana’s personality elicits sympathy for her, even as her actions make the reader cringe. It is a bit of a stretch that she takes out three drug cartel criminals on her first day, but when it comes time to take down the leader, her superhero persona takes the reader beyond the realm of pragmatism. The story flows well, with writing sufficient to evoke imagery, but it could have gone another round with a more diligent proofreader. It’s a good read for fans of kickass heroines, and I was fortunate to receive a copy from the author for an honest review.

One Lavender Ribbon by Heather Burch

Adrienne leaves an abusive relationship and divorce in Chicago and buys a fixer-upper in Florida, where she starts her new life of independence on the Gulf. A box of eloquently written letters from a WWII soldier in her attic sets Adrienne on a journey to friendship, potential romance, and matchmaking. She exposes decades-old secrets, changing lives and mending relationships while building strong bonds with her new “family.”

Burch’s novel reads like a Lifetime or Hallmark movie, with the romance of a soldier’s yearning juxtaposing the horror of his experience in war. The story veers away from the trope of the emotionally intelligent woman succumbing to the stubborn man, when Adrienne informs the romantic interest that his controlling behavior isn’t acceptable, a feminist move proving she learned from her previous relationship. Adamant in this assessment, she continues to nurture the friendships of (his) family. Read this novel to discover a treasure chest of secrets and to find out if the romantic interest redeems himself. I was fortunate to receive a copy from the author for an honest review.

Before and Again by Barbara Delinsky

Before—she was Mackenzie Cooper, who had a loving husband and a beautiful daughter; After—she is Maggie Reid, a single woman with a secret past who lives with two cats and a dog and sells confidence through makeup artistry at her job in a resort spa. She can only move forward, away from her family, away from her “crime,” away from her former life…until her ex-husband arrives to manage the resort his business group just purchased, HER resort. At the same time, her friend and co-worker learns that her son hacked into his high school, their spa, and a prominent journalist’s computers, and her friend is terrified that her secret past—a powerful and dangerous man—finds her.

The two storylines, Maggie’s ex troubles and the crime of her friend’s son, seem more discrete than parallel, with Maggie spending considerable time repeatedly pushing and pulling the ex before remembering her friend’s distress. This makes scenes stand out every so often, instead of the story flowing. Though the novel reads well, the plan to bring down the influential man in the friend’s life doesn’t come across as quite credible, and it isn’t shown, but referenced after the fact, with the ending chapter summarizing the climax. Despite this, it is a fun read, and a peek into the different ways people process grief and trauma. I was fortunate to receive a copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin

Lyla Volpe doesn’t expect her life to change after her crush takes a drunken, semi-naked photo of her at a party, because she doesn’t want to do anything about it. Tom, her working-class, single father, astonished by her complacency, cannot let it go. The boy’s mother, Nina, is sick over the incident and also cannot let it go, though her wealthy husband attempts to cover it up. The story whips back and forth on who exactly the culprit may be, but eventually the truth comes out, and Nina finally releases her insidious secret in order to save herself, her son, and his victim. The ending wrapped up quickly in a summarized chapter, disappointing readers who expected more about how the boy redeemed himself.

This novel demonstrates how well women are indoctrinated to be polite and quiet, even in the face of pernicious behavior of men they trust, how women justify such behavior as not so bad, not something they would call rape, or even harassment, certainly not a sex crime. Wealth is no protection, as the boy’s ex-girlfriend proves with her self-destructive actions. Giffin created credible characters who interacted as expected from the reader’s perspective, privy to information and emotional accouterments before it’s shared with other characters, showing the truth in fiction.

Fans of Liane Moriarty and Kate Moretti and Celeste Ng will appreciate Giffin’s style, ability to present complex relationships, and subject matter. I was fortunate to receive a copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

House of Rougeax by Jenny Jaeckel

After a glimpse into her future as a leader of her people, this family saga opens with the childhood of the great Obeah, Meme Abeje, who lives to see the official end of slavery in her homeland of Martinque, and her niece Hetty’s migration to Canada, where she becomes an abolitionist with husband Dax Rougeaux. After a quick (and confusing) foray into the future of the Rougeaux family in the mid-1940s, Hetty’s granddaughter Eleanor brings the story full circle, when she visits Martinique to honor her Obeah great-great aunt at the end of the 19th century.

Jaeckel explores the far-reaching tentacles of slavery affecting the progeny of a slave under a softer yoke of oppression: blame placed on a woman raped, children given away in their best interest, and lack of freedom as free blacks. With a strong sense of family, the Rougeaux are tested with secrets against social mores and pass, as sexual orientation is accepted, as a child is accepted, as his mother is accepted. All are loved, a testament to family ties and sense of self that goes back to Abeje’s mother Iya, who kept her children’s African names even as French masters christened them with western ones that meant nothing to her. Abeje and Eleanor’s stories bookend the novel and stand out from the others in their similarities, a free black just as enslaved by society as her ancestor.

I was fortunate to receive this wonderful book through a Goodreads giveaway.

Bring Me Back by B.A. Paris—pub date June 19, 2018

Finn told police the half-truth about Layla disappearing from a rest stop on their vacation in Fonches, France. More than a dozen years later, strange happenings at home in England make Finn believe that Layla is alive and upset that he is about to marry her sister. Paris leads the reader on a wild adventure, implicating culprits right and left, with Finn alternately dismissing suspicions and accusing friends aggressively. Hints of Layla show up in objects significant to her life and emails with information only she would know, causing Finn dreadful hope. The author brilliantly traverses through the landscape of a troubled mind, then reverts to a trope of spelling out the resolution in a lengthy letter, a bit disappointing after such magnificent writing. The resolution itself may astonish the most clever reader in its unique take on the concept. It’s a definite must read. I was fortunate to receive an ARC of this fantastic thriller from the publisher through NetGalley.