Category Archives: Book Reviews

I Like You Just Fine When You’re Not Around (2016 Gallery Books) by Ann Garvin

Tig Monahan just put her mother into a home, lost a boyfriend to Hawaii, and gained a newborn from a runaway sister. After leaving her job for the boyfriend who leaves her, Tig falls into the position of radio psychology host, where she blossoms, but also learns a harsh lesson about the limitations of radio. She must find herself to put her life back in order, and let go of trying to control everything and everyone. When she finally opens up, her family relations, romance, and friendships fuel her rather than burden her.

I love how Garvin sucks the reader into the chaos that is Tig’s life, investing the reader in Tig’s welfare as she comes to realize that she doesn’t have to do everything and she doesn’t have to please everyone. As Tig learns to accept others as they are, as well as herself, things naturally settle down.

Readers who like to see stubborn characters grow and evolve into better versions of themselves will love this book. Garvin brings the reader to an unexpected and promising ending.

What Alice Forget (2010 PanMacMillan Australia) by Liane Moriarty

Alice wakes from a daydream of the beach to a painful head in an unfamiliar gym, with a colleague peering down at her. She fell off her bike in spin class and misplaced the last decade in her brain. Current events are not so current, and Alice learns some astonishing facts about the world and popular culture. Over the following week, she discovers some harsh truths about that decade from family, friends, and neighbors. As she slowly gains insight into her own life and troubled relations with her loved ones, the soul searching begins. When the memories hit all at once, Alice is stunned and reasserts herself as she merges her 29-year-old self with her 39-year old self.

Now this is how you open a novel! Moriarty begins the story with Alice floating in a pool, listening to a man playing Marco Polo with kids, knowing that the someone next to her with toenails painted different colors like her own is a person she loves. As the dreamlike sequence morphs into a painfully realistic nightmare of Alice’s confusion at finding herself in a gym, where she would never expect to be, the reader is pulled into the confusion and learns the truths as Alice learns them. Brilliant! Along with the facts presented to the memory-challenged Alice, secrets are unveiled, strengthening relationships and urging everyone forward toward positive opportunities.

Readers who wish to be invested deeply in the main character’s life will love this book. If you are fond of secrets, humorous references to current (and not so current) events, and gut-wrenching situations, this book is for you. Moriarty will have you laughing and crying out loud!

White Chrysanthemums (pub date January 30, 2018 G.P. Putnam’s Sons) by Mary Lynn Bracht

16-year-old Hana dives with her mother as Jeju’s female sea divers “haenyeo” during the Japanese occupation of Korea. One day, she is taken by a Japanese soldier, sacrificing herself to protect her little sister, and ends up as a “comfort woman” for Japanese soldiers in Manchuria. Paralleling her story is her younger sister’s story as a grandma, recounting her life after Hana’s kidnapping, always expecting a reunion with her sister one day.

Bracht’s matter of fact description of the treatment of Korean girls comes across as the brutality it had to be, and it’s a hard, but necessary, read. I had heard of comfort women, but she brings the concept down to an individual level for better understanding. History is woven into the story seamlessly, and characters remain true to themselves while becoming part of that history. Hana is left stronger in a situation that prevents her from returning home, but Bracht gives her a bittersweet ending without romanticizing it (maybe a little bit).

Readers who appreciate historical fiction that paints a less pretty and more realistic portrait of atrocities perpetrated on the most vulnerable of society will like this story that brings it down to a personal level for clarity and emotional response. If you love complex characters in impossible situations, read this story.

I was fortunate to receive this ARC through a Goodreads giveaway.

The Stolen Marriage (2017 St. Martin’s Press) by Diane Chamberlain

Tess DeMello abruptly leaves Baltimore’s LIttle Italy and expectations of wedded bliss with a man she grew to love throughout her childhood to marry a man from a small southern town, cutting off the future of his expected marriage to a local girl. She has trapped herself in a loveless marriage, alienated by her husband’s family, their friends, and the townfolk. She slowly learns about the enigmatic man she married as she attempts to find her way back to herself against all obstacles, including him. A polio epidemic changes the town, all hearts and minds focused on treating its victims, and Tess DeMello Kraft becomes a highly respected nurse.

Diane Chamberlain has upped the ante with her historical fiction, weaving her imaginative tale throughout a real event in Hickory, NC, where a polio hospital was built and staffed over two days. Tess becomes a nurse against her wealthy husband’s wishes, and ends up working in this hospital with a doctor who is her childhood true love. I love when an author sets fictional characters into fascinating historical events, so that history comes alive, and I remember details and dates, which often elude me. Chamberlain throws the reader through loop-de-loops and draws everything credibly toward a credible, heartening end.

Readers who love historical fiction based on real events, not necessarily historical figures, will appreciate this novel, with its complicated race relations and laws of the times, and its complex characters true to themselves and to the time. If you fall in love with timeless, relatable characters, read Diane Chamberlain.

Mining for Justice (2017 Midnight Ink) by Kathleen Ernst

Chloe finds lots of trouble when she visits her fellow curator Claudia in Mineral Springs, where the historical site that her friend works for is at risk of closing due to monies being directed toward Chloe’s worksite Old World Wisconsin. While Chloe researches the mystery of the ancient skeleton found in another friend’s basement, she nearly succumbs to contemporary murderers. The house with the potential murder victim was built by the Pascoe family, whom we follow in a parallel tale on their immigration from Cornwall, England to mineral mining pioneering in Wisconsin.

I’m delighted to discover that this book is part of a series. Unfortunately, I’ve just read the latest, which is actually fine, because it’s self-contained. The author is an excellent storyteller. She takes the reader through the past and present tales, linking them through artifacts, ancestry, and setting. I’m frustrated that clues for Chloe’s epiphanies are not always revealed to the reader, but secrets are released in a timely manner. My questions as I read were all answered by the end, not necessarily where I would have placed them, but satisfying, nonetheless. The history woven throughout made me want to visit the historical sites. She even included photographs and a glossary of Cornish terms.

Readers who love a good mystery and / or well-wrought historical fiction will like this series. I received an ARC through NetGalley.com and the launch date is October 8.

The Essex Serpent (2017 Custom House) by Sarah Perry

Victorian Brit Cora Seaborne tries to hide her relief at her wealthy tyrant husband’s death. She engages fully with the world now without fear, traveling to a small town on the coast in search of the mythological Essex serpent, who becomes a full-fledged, never seen character in its own right. She and the married parson of the town find themselves in a love-hate relationship, fueled by their intellect, curious natures, and singular predicaments. Side characters portray medicinal and surgical protocols and revelations of the time period interwoven through the story.

The characters are delightfully complex, with evolving relationships and growth spurts that are relatable to readers. I loved how the author kept the dreaded serpent always in the background of the story, factoring it into many of the various story lines, while feeding the idealogical argument about it between the main character and the parson. She did a brilliant job of weaving the history of surgery throughout the story as well, which fascinated me. There was also a bit of politics of the times regarding the treatment of poor Londoners based on a morality spectrum.

Readers who love historical fiction that counters advancements with their resistance from the old and established will like this story. Readers who like complicated love stories that aren’t wrapped up neatly in the end, but offer opportunity for reader speculation, will also like this novel.

Edinburgh Twilight (2017 Thomas & Mercer) by Carol Lawrence

Detective Inspector Ian Hamilton seeks a serial killer in Edinburgh. DI Hamilton is a quick study of character, clever, and compassionate towards those considered “dregs of society.” A tragedy and unanswered questions spur him toward justice.

Lawrence carefully weaves backstory into the contemporary tale. I wish she had done the same with side characters, instead of introducing each one as they were needed to move the story forward, which makes those chapters feel cleaved from the main story even as they contribute information. All of her characters have distinctive traits, many of them delightfully quirky.

Readers who love mysteries, parallel storylines, complex family characters, and / or 19th century Scotland will like this book.

I appreciate receiving an advanced digital copy from Net Galley at netgalley.com.

Seven Days of Us (2017 Berkley) by Francesca Hornak

A young doctor assisting in the Haag virus epidemic in Liberia brings home to her British nuclear family (mom, dad, sister) a week quarantine in their country home for Christmas. Secrets burst forth in the form of quarantine gatecrashers, long repressed feelings, and past indiscretions, transforming alliances and long-held opinions. Ultimately, they are closer after a life-changing event in the home.

I was thrilled to receive this book through a Read It Forward giveaway, because I otherwise might not have read this wonderful story. This is a superbly written novel, with the only niggle being the chapter headings of intimately specific locations within the house and times given to the minute, which caused me a few times to return to the front of the chapter just to re-read the heading.

I appreciate the well-roundedness of the author’s points of views in developing true-to-life characters who interacted in the gray areas of class and social mores in order to relate to each other and grow as individuals to better understand each other on a deeper level. Hornak shows the evolution of all the characters, from the seemingly selfless doctor working in a developing country, who shows contempt for her family, to her younger sister, who is forced to see her own selfishness in order to grow. She also brings us a lovely vision of a blended family, which is one secret I shan’t spoil.

Readers who love complex characters who evoke emotional responses, and storylines that reach deeper into concepts that challenge us, will likely fall in love with this novel as I did. The first person to share my review on Twitter or Facebook and tag me will get my copy! After reading, please give it away again. Thank you!

Left to Chance (2017 St. Martin’s Griffin) by Amy Sue Nathan

I was, and still am, honestly, delighted to win this giveaway from my favorite publisher St. Martin’s Press by a Tall Poppy author. If you don’t know Tall Poppies, search for their group on Facebook. It’s called Bloom.

The story was a bit slow for me at first, as the MC Teddi finds a brick wall of friends upon her return to her hometown. It picked up pace tremendously and completely sucked me in when Teddi learned that information was being kept from her about a family she had considered herself a part of still despite her disappearance. Seems everyone has a hidden agenda for this prodigal daughter come home at the request of her late friend’s daughter to photograph her father’s wedding, and this includes the late friend’s daughter.

Nathan elicits emotion from dear reader, offering evidence for empathizing with each character, all of whom are well developed, credible, and complex. The secrets are breathtaking, lovely twists to the tale. There are no absolutes in this story, refreshing especially for the complicated romances.

Readers who appreciate an intricately braided storyline and heartening relationships will likely be pleased with this novel. The first person to share this review on Facebook or Twitter and tag me will receive my copy of this book.