Category Archives: Book Reviews

Blackbird House by Alice Hoffman

Blackbird House witnesses unusual love stories throughout its lifetime, from the young wife waiting for her husband to return from the sea to the orphaned young woman who had no home coming to live with the disfigured man who believed he would never feel the warmth of a woman. Often the yearning is only fulfilled when it can later refuse to be acknowledged. The townspeople care for the inhabitants of the isolated home.

The characters’ circumstances are nearly as tangible as the people themselves and Hoffman has carefully shown these influences in every interaction. Each resident connects somehow with previous owners of the house, often as a relation, but always in spirit, sharing the strength to live in a harsh environment. The gorgeous prose draws the reader into the stories easily.

Beach Town by Mary Kay Andrews

Greer must find a perfect beach town for her next director to redeem her reputation after the fiasco of her last project. Cypress Key fits the director’s creative dream, complete with abandoned casino for the climax explosion, but Eben, the town’s mayor, seems to be in charge of everything, thwarting her every request to sustain his own vision for community growth rather than commercial development. Greer becomes torn between the townspeople and the movie crew that includes a spoiled star who attempts to scam on the mayor’s daughter. Betwixt unscripted stunts, the town’s resentful socialite, and the contrary agendas, Greer squeaks out with her wits and her sanity, finding more than she expected was possible in a small town.

Mary Kay Andrews’ writing style flows with humor and charm, enticing readers into a delightful tale of worlds clashing, while gracefully representing the complexities of individuals on all sides, so that no one comes across as a villain. She brilliantly presents conflicts with seemingly no possible resolution, yet ties it all up in the end, without losing credibility or character integrity.

At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

Maddie and Ellis are trapped by money—his family’s—while a second world war rages in Europe, as he cannot serve in the war due to a medical condition. When his father kicks them out of his family home for their unseemly behavior, Ellis determines to win back his love by redeeming the family name from his father’s loutish attempt to prove the Loch Ness monster. In Scotland, Maddie is alienated by her husband, whose loyalty is to his best friend and their travel companion Hank. She discovers more about her marriage and their friendship than Ellis does about Nessie, and she begins to question everything about her life, and even her husband’s “medical condition.” As Ellis and Hank display boorish behavior toward the locals, Maddie finds comfort in their compassion for her. She ends up caring for an injured employee of their inn, endearing herself to the innkeeper and his employees.

This story flows well, with characters who retain their integrity, as allies shift and secrets come to light. Gruen represents the complexities of emotions and relationships, with betrayals and revelations as catalysts. Class distinction in all its petty elitism is laid out perfectly, emitting its fear and paranoia. In the end, a love story emerges like a butterfly.

Foretold (Ghost Gifts #2) by Laura Spinella

Aubrey is alone, with only her position as psychic consultant to law enforcement to distract her from the fact that her husband Levi has taken their son away in the hope that he can somehow circumvent the inherited psychic ability unfolding in frightening ways in their only child. As Levi reports on a mysterious murder connected to a crime family, Aubrey reconnects with Zeke, her first love, who visits her unexpectedly, and has always understood her psychic power better than anyone, perhaps even her spouse. Levi suspects her friend is involved in the homicide, but Aubrey knows better, as their jobs lead them to the same crime. Spinella keeps the reader guessing about Zeke’s motives and actions. When their son is kidnapped, Levi questions Aubrey about Zeke, but she maintains focus, and they reunite to save him.

The Ghost Gifts series presents ghosts as an actuality, invisible to all but a few. Complex characters play out complicated dynamics with psychic ability at the core of the conflict. Spinella carefully weaves it into the story as one more thing to deal with in the life of Aubrey and her family. She is considered a paranormal romance writer; however, her stories are fantastic mystery thrillers, as well as unique ghost stories.

Laura Spinella gifted me an autographed copy in a giveaway and I love it!

The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni—pub date April 24, 2018

Ocular albinism defined Sam Hill’s life, earning him the nickname “Devil Boy” in his private catholic school and his mother’s consistent reassurance that it was “God’s will.” He believed God sent his best friends Ernie, the only black child in the school, and Mickey, a girl who chose to not fit into the school. A tragedy lifts him out of his pragmatic life as an ophthalmologist wearing brown contacts into one of atonement in a developing country. He removes the contacts in an epiphany of self-acceptance.

This story lays out the life of a boy who cannot embrace his difference, despite the support of family and friends. It’s clear to the reader that he has better options than the ones he chooses, but often that’s true of anyone. Challenges complicate life, and not everyone rises to the challenge, and that’s okay. Self-acceptance is a struggle for most, and especially for those with a unique appearance and a quiet demeanor. I’m fortunate to have received an ARC through NetGalley of this wonderful story.

In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills by Jennifer Haupt—pub date April 1, 2018

This is not the first child Rachel Shepherd has lost, but it’s the one that stayed with her the longest, becoming a stillborn baby with a name rather than a miscarriage. She is heartbroken and feeling adrift after losing this baby, her mother recently, and possibly her marriage. She longs for family, for her roots, and so begins searching for her long-lost, journalist father, following the trail to a mysterious woman from his past, an American who raises orphans in Rwanda. Her father’s history is complicated, with her birth being the catalyst for the seemingly wrong turn in his youth. Ambiguous feelings arise with each new discovery, the hurt surfacing to be dealt with and move toward healing. Rachel’s need for family dredges up old wounds in Lillian, the inscrutable, second wife of her father, who does her best to stay above the quagmire of these ancient pains. Things have changed, and everyone finds something they didn’t know they were looking for, and didn’t know they needed.

This book digs down deep into the complexities of decisions affecting relationships of spouses, parent and child, and chosen family. It also portrays the genocide of Rwanda at an individual level, delving into the politics and showing the impossibility of the situation for former friends and neighbors.

I was fortunate to receive a digital ARC through NetGalley of this wonderful novel.

The Zanna Function by Daniel Wheatley—pub date March 20, 2018

Zanna is accepted into the St. Pommeroy’s School for Gifted Children, where she learns that she is a Scientist, who can bend the rules of physics. A mysterious woman attempts to prevent her from attending the school, and Zanna must draw upon her new abilities, resources, and friends to fight her. The secret she discovers about the woman must be setting Zanna’s story up for a series.

This story sets up the conflict immediately with the mystery woman thwarting Zanna’s attendance at the school through scientific “magic,” carefully detailed by Wheatley. The capabilities taught in the school intrigue Zanna, and the reader needn’t be a scientist to follow along.

I was fortunate to receive a digital ARC through NetGally of this delightful story.

The Heart Between Us by Lindsay Harrel—pub date March 13, 2018

Megan’s health changes drastically with a heart transplant, yet she still feels unable to challenge herself. When she meets the donor’s parents, who share their daughter’s diary, she decides to fulfill the girl’s bucket list of traveling desires. Her mother is horrified, her father supportive, and her twin sister Crystal asking to go with her to resolve their estrangement and remove herself from her own problems. The destinations exceed Megan’s expectations and the journey allows the sister to open up to each other, enabling Crystal to fully become her own person, not merely part of her sick sister’s support system.

This is a lovely story of a family in a years-long limbo waiting for a gift from a stranger, the situation stifling the organic evolution of a sibling relationship. Complicated emotions build tensions to a breaking point, and a growing friendship between heart transplant recipients is presented well.

I received a digital ARC through NetGalley. Note that this is a Christian novel (I missed that tag).

The Book of Pearl by Timothee de Fombelle, translated by Sarah Ardizzone and Sam Gordon—pub date February 13, 2018

A fairy falls in love with a king’s son doomed to die by the hand of his older brother in the land of stories. A troll sends him to the land of humans in banishment rather than kill him, allowing the fairy to follow with the caveat of never contacting him. She watches him age as she maintains the appearance of a teenager. He spends his entire human life trying to return to the land of stories. The fairy monitors his transition to the son of a kindly couple who own a marshmallow shop in order to enter the military. In his old age, he is encountered by a young boy who meets him again as a young man when he is fighting again for his life. The fairy elicits the young man to record their tale for proof.

The outsider witness is rarely, if ever, done well, and is a bit distracting from this complex and heartwrenching love story. The ending is left open for the reader to speculate a reunion.

I was fortunate to receive a digital ARC through NetGally of this complicated fairytale.

A Change of Heart by Sonali Dev

Dr. Nikhil Johsi has spent the last two years drowning his grief in gin and bourbon, barely maintaining his position as cruise ship doctor, graciously offered him by an old friend, and a lifetime away from Doctors Without Borders. Then he spies his dead wife on the ship. The mystery deepens when he learns who it really is and why she’s taunting him. Dr. Nic comes back to life to resolve this further mystery and finally aid in finding his wife’s true killer. The language in this novel is surprisingly a bit rough—a well-educated doctor using the term “crapper.” The love interest is a complicated, emotionally repressed, chorus dancer who is a single mom, a vulnerable woman caught up in an impossible situation, and she steals the story. Dr. Nic’s wife Jen inserts her own voice at the beginning of each chapter, which brilliantly sets her apart, yet maintains her space in the crux of the tale.

Though the novel is essentially a romance, the storyline exposes an ugly underground network of murder for organ theft. Dev conveniently leaves the case open enough for the reader to desire the next book, A Distant Heart, where she continues the investigation and shares another romance, with characters from this book, familiar to the reader, who is already invested in them. Kudos, Sonali!

Thank you, Sonali Dev, for this book gift as a giveaway in a Facebook group.