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Book Review: General Fiction

Posted by on Mar 25, 2017 |

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti


General Fiction

This is a unique book—I can’t think of any novels to compare it to. It begins when Loo is twelve years old. She and her father have been on the run her entire life—sometimes staying someplace for six months, other times moving quickly from hotel to hotel in the dead of night. Now, Loo’s father Hawley buys a home in Loo’s dead mother’s hometown in Massachusetts with the idea that they won’t have to move again and Loo can have something resembling a normal life.

The story covers Loo from the age of twelve to seventeen and went back and forth in time to how Hawley met her mother and how he got his twelve gunshot wounds. Some of the writing was really beautiful, but what kept me turning pages was wanting to find out about Hawley’s criminal past and what was going to happen to the two of them.

Unfortunately, I didn’t identify or like any of the characters, so I didn’t love the book.

Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to review this book.


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Book Reviews: Women’s Fiction

Posted by on Mar 20, 2017 |

The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman


Women’s Fiction

I really enjoyed this hilariously funny book.

When the publishing house 34-year-old Lillian works for wants her to illustrate a book on gardening, they send her to a course on how to garden. Her sister, Rachel, and her two daughters join her. There, they meet a good-looking teacher named Edward and a cast of characters that defy initial stereotypes.

I loved the relationship between Lillian and Rachel. They fight occasionally, but mostly they support each other in a way that’s nice to see. The seven-year-old daughter Annabel and the five-year-old Clare are the most adorable characters I’ve read in fiction in a long time.

Though Lillian lost her husband to a car accident almost four years ago, her sister, her daughter, and the cast of characters from her gardening class help Lillian move forward from the grief. The humor keeps the book from being depressing or maudlin.

Highly recommended.

The Distance Home by Orly Konig-Lopez


Women’s Fiction

This is a beautifully written book. The topics it touches on topics that are dark, yet the story itself isn’t depressing but instead its life affirming.

Emma takes a week off from her high-powered job in PR in Chicago to return to Maryland and take care of her father’s things after his death in a car accident. In addition to trying to mend the wounds of dealing with a depressed mother who died when Emma was young—Emma’s father told her that her mother had heart problems and ultimately died of a heart attack—she’s also trying to sort out her feelings for a father who was emotionally absent from her life.

When Emma was eight years old, they moved to this rural area and she discovered Jilli, her neighbor, who was nine at the time, and Jilli’s grandparents, who raised Jilli and ran a horse ranch that gave lessons to kids who wanted to compete and therapeutic services for soldiers with PTSD, kids with behavioral or emotional problems, and folks with a variety of disabilities.

Though for years they were best friends, Emma and Jilli have been estranged since an accident when they were sixteen. After the accident, Emma’s dad shipped her off to boarding school and the lies about that day have haunted her ever since.

Emma finds that though she’d stayed away from horses since the accident, returning to them is good for the soul, even to someone who rode them for ribbons end glory once upon a time. Fixing things with Jilli, Jilli’s grandparents, and her father’s ghost, is not as easy to do as getting back on a horse.

The novel is about finding oneself by looking at the past and reimaging one’s future. I got lost in the story and in the way animals can be great emotional support in difficult times. The characters—including the animals—were well drawn, with complex, believable traits.


Thanks to NetGalley and Forge Books for the opportunity to review this book.  

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Book Reviews: Mystery

Posted by on Mar 17, 2017 |

The Pictures by Guy Bolton



Detective Craine works for the LAPD as a fixer—bailing actors out of jail after a DUI and covering up instances of domestic violence among MGM’s stars. After the death of his wife, who was a minor actress, he wants to get out of the business, but when a producer dies in an apparent suicide, he’s called in to keep the press away as much as possible and spin whatever information does get out: The guy was a junkie and gay and had battled depression is the studio’s go-to story line.

For the first part of the book, it’s difficult to know who to root for. For example, a completely innocent black kid gets blamed for a brutal crime he didn’t commit. He, too, is found dead by apparent suicide.

The wife of the dead producer is Gail Goodwin. Craine realizes that something more is going on that the fact that several folks decided to commit suicide or are gruesomely murdered—he realizes it when he’s shot at a hotel while checking into things. Katherine Hepburn, Mae West, and Groucho have Cameo’s in the book, so if you’re a fine of this period in history of LA, you might like the mystery. For me, it was a little slow.

Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to review this book.


The Child by Fiona Barton



I devoured this book in a single day.

When the bones of a baby are found during an excavation, journalist Kate thinks there is a story there, even if finding who the mother was will be exceedingly difficult. Angela, whose baby was stolen from her years ago, is certain that the baby is hers, and Emma, who battles a mood disorder and has been treated for mental illness, reads everything about the remains obsessively.

Told from multiple points of view, the mystery of who this baby is will keep you turning pages. Kate is the force that keeps digging and unraveling secrets. She’s a tough, likeable protagonist. Jude, Emma’s self-absorbed mother, is well drawn as an odious woman who should never have become a mother.

Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to review this book.

Reservations (A Lola Wicks Mystery) by Gwen Florio



Florio keeps getting better and better. In the latest installment of the Lola Wicks mystery series, Lola, her husband Charlie, their seven-year-old daughter Margaret, and their three-legged dog Bub head to Arizona to spend time with Charlie’s brother’s family.

Charlie and his brother Edgar have had a strained relationship for years. Charlie still lives in Montana working as a cop outside the Blackfeet reservation. Edgar married a Navajo woman, and his wife Naomi persuaded him to take a job in the mines that employ much of the Navajo people in the area. Naomi repeatedly tells Lola that even though they have Ivy League educations, they returned to work for the Indians. She insinuates that they could be making more money elsewhere, but they seem to be doing pretty well for themselves, particularly compared to the other folks on the reservation.

The mines have rendered the drinking water useless and the air not much better. When the bombings begin, it’s unclear if it’s an environmental group or a member of the Navajo nation or just a rogue environmentalist. Lola’s investigative journalist’s instincts go on high alert, as do Charlie’s cop instincts.

I adore all the members of Lola’s immediate family, but I particularly adore Lola. It’s like Florio is writing about me—Lola has an aversion (and lack of ability) for anything domestic, she wears clothes that are comfortable and functional rather than fashionable, and she is terrified of heights.

The mystery that unfolds is extremely well done. I’m generally not a huge mystery fan, but I love Florio’s work because of the high literary quality.

Highly recommended.

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Book Reviews: General Fiction

Posted by on Mar 2, 2017 |

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel


General Fiction > Women’s Fiction > Mystery

Lane originally went to live with her grandparents on Roanoke farm in Kansas when she was fifteen years old after her mother’s suicide. There she met her cousin, Allegra. The two looked like sisters, not cousins. After a tumultuous summer, Lane took off for California.

Now, almost eleven years later, she’s called back to the farm when Allegra goes missing.

The novel alternates between past and present and, while told from Lane’s point of view, we read brief detours into the short lives of all the Roanoke girls and women.

The subject matter is serious, and yet dealt with in a such a casual, matter-of-fact way that it’s disarming.

There are two mysteries going on simultaneously—the mystery of what happened to Allegra and the mystery of the exact details of the Roanoke women—of which Allegra and Lane are now the last.

Lane is a likeable enough screw-up considering her messed-up childhood with a mother incapable of loving her—or herself. There were a few points in the book where I asked myself “Am I really reading what I think I’m reading?” The answer was yes. This is a unique story that might not be for everyone.

Where the Sweet Bird Sings by Ella Joy Olsen


General Fiction > Women’s Fiction

Emma is reeling from the death of her son a year earlier and the death of her beloved grandfather at the beginning of this story.

Grieving a child would obviously devastate anyone, but it’s worse for Emma because she and her husband carry a gene that means they’d have a one in four chance of having another child with the same mind-and-body crippling disease Joey had. To move forward, Emma looks back, trying to figure out her family’s history. As she does so, she unravels numerous family secrets in her efforts to figure out who she is today.

In her search, the questions remain: Should she let her husband go so he can be with a woman who can assure him biological children? Can she forgive him? Herself? Her own flawed biological relatives?

This is a beautifully told story of loss and digging deep within to find a way forward.

Thanks to NetGalley for an opportunity to review an advance copy of this book.

The Assistants by Camille Perri


General Fiction > Women’s Fiction > Humor

“This was not a lifestyle that suited me. I am in no way an adrenaline-seeker. I’m much more of an irritable bowel syndrome kind of gal, really.”

In The Assistants, Tina Fontana works for the CEO of a mega media conglomerate—nine satellite TV networks, 175 cable channels, forty book imprints, forty TV stations, and a movie studio. Her boss, billionaire Robert, expenses everything and pays for nothing, while 30-year-old Tina is drowning in a student loan debt. When she pays with her own credit card to buy out the entire first class of an airplane for Robert, who has to deign to fly commercial instead of his normal mode of flying on a private jet, the expense is comped but she gets a check for the total—almost the exact amount she owes on her student debt. When she decides to cash the check and gets away with it, but is later found out by Emily in accounts, another assistant swamped in student loans, she’s blackmailed into helping Emily to cover her own butt. This spirals out of control, to hilarious effect.

Author Camille Perri could have made Robert a one-sided villain and Tina a snarky and embittered underpaid worker, but she didn’t. It’s a statement about the haves and have nots—the wealthy pay nothing—including taxes—while the poor are dinged for every penny. All the main characters are well-rounded—flawed but likeable.

The novel is funny and fast-paced and fun.

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Book Review: Historical Fiction

Posted by on Mar 1, 2017 |

The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown


Historical Fiction

I’ve been fascinated with “witches” being burned or hanged as a way to control women for whatever reason for a long time, so I was excited to read this historical novel by Beth Underdown. It’s told from the point of view of the sister of the embittered Mathew Hopkins, who found a legal way to murder women.

Hopkins was a real man, but much else of the story was conjecture or fabrication on the part of Underdown because there was so little documentation to go on. Still, it makes for a fascinating story of the horrors of the way this claim of “witch” was to get rid of “drunken women, women who had inconvenient babies or bawled insults in the streets.”

Set in 1645, sister Alice Hopkins comes home widowed and pregnant and doesn’t want to believe her brother is spearheading this effort, but when he drags her along to find proof of these witches, she tries her best to thwart his efforts, but she has no power.

When a woman miscarried, a woman that she or her husband might have had a resentment toward might be accused of being a witch. To prove this, the women would be tortured for hours by being put in uncomfortable positions without sleep until they “confessed.” Similarly, bad crop yields could be blamed on someone the farmer didn’t like.

I found this an intriguing glimpse into the horrors of this time in our history.

Thanks to NetGalley for an opportunity to review this novel.

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