Posted in 20th Century, Best Sellers, General Fiction, Historical Fiction, Southern Fiction

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Publishing Info: Published June 6, 2017. I listened to the audio edition by Random House Audio through my subscription. Other editions available. Check with your favorite bookseller.

Summary: in 1939, five children live with their loving parents on a Mississippi river boat. Their mother goes into labor with twins. Unlike the other easy births, Queenie’s life is in danger. Her husband takes her to the hospital, where they are told their twins were born dead.

Meanwhile, a local boy helps look after the five other children, the oldest of whom is twelve year old Rill Foss. But he is helpless when the children are stolen and taken to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage. The children are now under the ruthless care of Georgia Tann. Georgia’s intent is to sell poor children to wealthy people at a great profit for herself. The children are fed minimum rations. They are punished by being tied up in small dark spaces. Pedophiles work at the orphanage. The only time a child is “spiffed up” is when a potential parent comes to visit. Georgia lies about their parentage and splits up families without blinking.

Growing up on the Mississippi river, Rill knows a thing or two about surviving. As the oldest, she feels responsible for her brother and sisters. But she is helpless when one of her sisters vanishes after being punished and two others are adopted away from her.

Meanwhile, Avery Stafford, a wealthy, privileged attorney, is trying to solve a family mystery. She comes across a photo of four women who all look very much alike — one of whom is her grandmother. As she digs deeper into this mystery, it changes the focus and foundation of her life and identity.

Comments: I’m very glad I finally got around to reading this book, which was on the best seller list for about two years. I’d never heard of Georgia Tann. When I looked her up after reading the novel, I realized that the author didn’t exaggerate anything in Before We Were Yours. In fact, she probably downplayed some of the horrors that the real children faced at the Tennessee Children’s Home Society.

I loved the characters of Rill Foss and Avery Stafford. Their voices, as narrated by Emily Rankin and Catherine Tabor rang true. I enjoy listening to some genres, because it forces me to slow down my reading speed and really get into the story. This was definitely a book that benefited from really getting into the characters and rich atmosphere.

Very highly recommended for readers of General Fiction, Historical Fiction and stories about adoption.

My Rating: 5 STARS

Posted in Beach Read, Best Sellers, suspense, Thrillers

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

Publication Info: I read the Book of the Month Club edition published in 2020 by HarperFiction. Other editions available.

Summary: Jules Keegan wants the perfect wedding. As a style and home magazine publisher, she has a few connections. When one wedding planner offered a deep discount in exchange for a magazine promotion, Jules snatched up the opportunity.

Jules is marrying Will Slater, a gorgeous, hunky TV reality show star. The couple haven’t known each other long, but on the surface they seem as well matched as a wedding cake topper. Family and friends are invited to gather on a small, remote island off the coast of Ireland for a night of celebration.

But when the alcohol flows and the guests mingle, they start sharing some dark secrets. Jules’ fantasy wedding becomes the most memorable night of her life, for all the wrong reasons.

Comments: The Guest List has a whiz-bang finale, parts of which I definitely did not see coming! I loved the format the author used. The book is composed of mini chapters that use foreshadowing as a very effective suspense-building technique.

Reading this book was like riding a roller coaster. It starts out interesting, slows down a bit in the middle, then takes off like a rocket, whipping you along screaming every second of the thrilling ride. Bravo, Lucy Foley!

The Guest List was just chosen to be one of two books on Reece Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine Book Club this month.

Highly recommended for readers of Suspense and Thrillers, although maybe not if you’re in the middle of planning a wedding!

My Rating: 5 STARS

Posted in Asian, Best Sellers, Contemporary Fiction, Cultural, Fiction

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Publication Info: Published September 12, 2017 by Penguin Press. I read the Book of the Month Club hardcover edition. Other editions available.

Summary: Elena Richardson’s guiding life principle is that everything will be just fine if you live by the rules. She grew up in Shaker Heights, a well-ordered town, went away to college briefly, and came right back with a new husband in tow. Of Elena’s four children, three of them more or less adhered to her guidelines for life, but the youngest, Izzy, rebelled from birth.

The Richardsons live in a large house in the most prosperous part of town, but they also own a rental duplex. Elena likes to make herself feel like she’s doing a good deed by renting it to people who seem like they need a boost in life. The bottom floor is occupied by a quiet school bus driver. The top floor is rented to an artist/photographer named Mia and her teenage daughter, Pearl. Elena thought they seemed like nice quiet people, but Elena would come to regret her choice of upstairs occupants.

Mia and Pearl lived an itinerant lifestyle until moving to Shaker Heights. Mia wandered the country, looking for artistic inspiration (as well as running from a deep secret in her past), dragging her daughter along with her. In Shaker Hights, Mia feels that her secret is far enough in the past to allow Pearl to make friends and live a semi-normal life.

But when Elena, who is a reporter for the local paper, gets on her high horse about events that are none of her business, it sets off a chain of events that change several families’ lives forever.

Comments: I’m not sure why I didn’t pick this book up when it first came out, but I’m very glad I finally did. Two things prompted me to take a closer look at Little Fires Everywhere. The first is that it is now a TV show on Hulu and I wanted to read the book before seeing the show. The second is that I had a free credit to use on my Book of the Month club subscription and this title was one of the options.

I have to say that the book exceeded my expectations. I was impressed with the depth and insight into the realistic characters. The issues of cultural identity were dealt with deftly, teaching me something about my own thinking in the process.

Highly recommended for readers of General Fiction and Multi-Cultural fiction.

My Rating: 5 STARS

Posted in Best Sellers, Contemporary Fiction, General Fiction, Literary Fiction, Mid-Atlantic, USA, Murder Mystery, Realistic Fiction

Long Bright River by Liz Moore

Publication Info: Published January 27 by Riverhead Books. I read the hardback edition through my Book of the Month membership. Other editions available.

Summary: Two sisters, Mickey and Kacey, live in a distressed neighborhood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They were raised by their over-extended and emotionally distant grandmother after their mother died from drugs and their father vanished. As young children, the siblings were very close, sharing a single bed and whispered secrets. But as they grew up, they grew apart and those secrets turned into silences that came between them.

Mickey rose out of the depths of her childhood experiences to become a cop and a single mother. She worked in her neighborhood and knew its dark corners all too well. Kensington was the place to go if you wanted opioids and heroin. Kacey turned to drugs and the streets, working as a prostitute to feed her habit. Mickey knew where Kacey’s corner was and kept an eye on her, although they didn’t speak to each other.

After discovering the body of a woman, Kacey realized the deceased wasn’t just another overdose. The woman had been strangled. She tried to get more information from her department head, but kept getting the brush off. She began to worry about her sister, as she hadn’t seen her in over a month. When more women turned up murdered, Kacey risked her career to find her sister and discover the identity of the murderer.

Comments: I know it’s only February, but Long Bright River is already on my top 10 list of most memorable books for 2020. This vivid, poignant novel of how drugs impact one family affected me deeply. The author created realistic and complex characters.

I have a family member who was hooked on opioids and heroin, so have first hand experience with the tragedy that ravages through communities and families throughout the country. From this painful knowledge, I can attest to the realistic depiction of addiction in Liz Moore’s novel.

Very highly recommended for readers of Literary Fiction, General Fiction and those who like novels with deep, authentic characters. The novel also has elements of a murder mystery, but while that drives the plot, the novel transcends that genre.

My Rating: 5 STARS +

Posted in Best Sellers, Cultural, Jamaica, Literary Fiction, Magical Realism

These Ghosts are Family by Maisy Card

Publication Info: Expected publication date March 3, 2020 by Simon & Schuster. I read the Kindle edition, courtesy of NetGalley. Other editions will be available at time of publication.

Summary: When the novel opens, we meet Stanford Solomon, a man living in Jamaica near the end of his life. Stanford’s guilt over something he did in his past is catching up with him. With his wife recently deceased, Stanford decides to confess a huge secret to his partially estranged family: he is not Stanford Solomon. Long ago, he seized an opportunity to change his life by abandoning his real identity, his much hated job, and his first family, when the real Stanford Solomon was killed.

As the stories of Solomon and his family unfold, we learn that he’s not the only one with secrets. This is a family of flawed people, who are just trying to survive. One daughter is a heroin addict and the other works in New York as home health care worker, struggling to raise two kids alone. His first wife had an affair and an abortion.

Meanwhile, another woman is about to get a shock. After signing up for a DNA website, Debbie’s father gives her his her great-great-great-great grandfather’s journal. Harold Fowler owned a plantation in Jamaica in the 1800’s. Her ancestors once owned the ancestors of of people she’s never met — Stanford Solomon (aka Able Paisley) and his family. She also realizes that they are distant cousins. She finds the emotionally detached and violent information in Harold’s journal to be very disturbing. She can’t get the images out of her head.

In a non-linear style, the author continues to reveal more about the history of both families, drawing the reader deeper into the Jamaican culture and the ongoing effects of slavery.

Comments: This was not an fast and easy book to read. Aside from the dialect (which I would have loved to hear in an audio format), the book jumps between various voices and timelines. I had to slow down my usual reading speed, or risk missing things.

These Ghosts are Family shook me out of my white, urban comfort zone and gave me a emotionally complex glimpse into Jamaican history and culture.

Recommended for book clubs and discussion groups, readers of Literary Fiction and those interested in Jamaican history, culture and slavery.

My Rating: 4 STARS

Posted in Apocalyptic Fiction, Best Sellers, Fantasy

Year One by Nora Roberts (Chronicles of The One, #1)

Publication Info: Published December 5, 2017 by St. Martin’s Press. I read the hardback edition, purchased from a local used book store, 2nd & Charles. Other editions available.

Summary: A man vacationing with his family in Scotland shoots a pheasant. It falls into the center of a stone circle, spilling blood and awakening ancient magicks. Shortly afterward, a virus dubbed The Doom, begins to spread, infecting others as the family members fly back home. This virus is virulent and there is no cure. Within months the world’s population is decimated, governments collapse and anarchy arises.

There are some survivors, many of whom have latent talents from old bloodlines. Some people with faerie blood grow wings. Practicing witches find their minimal skills are now exceptional. There are sorcerers, elves and dryads. But not all of the supernaturals follow the good and the light. There are those who have turned to the dark and wish to destroy everything that is good. The few regular humans who survived the plague, are caught in the crossfire and must choose sides.

The story centers on a few of the supernatural and human survivors, most of whom are good. They try to pick up the pieces of society and rebuild a community. When they are savagely attacked, one woman in their group must be protected at all costs, for she bears the savior.

Comments: I am not generally a Nora Roberts fan. I’ve tried several of her books over the decades and they just didn’t do anything for me. They were… meh. But when I read about this apocalyptic fantasy series, I decided to give it a try.

At 419 pages, it took me three days to read, but I actually looked forward to picking it up again. That alone scored a few points. It’s not amazing literature by any means, but the story moves along and the characters are interesting enough. She does know how to write a readable story, even if it’s not particularly deep or insightful. The author has hit the New York Times best seller list 69 times to date, so she’s obviously hitting a chord with many readers. If not a full chord, Year One finally hit at least an intriguing note with me. I definitely plan on reading the next book in the series, Of Blood and Bone.

Recommended for readers of Apocalyptic Fiction, Best Sellers, and books dealing with magic and light fantasy.

My rating: 3.5 STARS

Posted in Best Sellers, Dystopian Fiction

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (Handmaid’s Tale #2)

Publication Info: Published Sept 10, 2019 by Random House Audio. I listened to the audio edition through my membership. Other editions available.

Summary: Told in alternating chapters and voices, we learn more about the background of Gilead, as well as some less-featured characters in the Handmaid’s Tale. One of the main speakers is Aunt Lydia. In the first book, she appeared as a formidable woman, completely toeing the Gilead party line. In The Testaments, the author explains more of Lydia’s motivations. We also hear from Offred’s two daughters, who lived very different lives.

I’m not going to give away more of the story than this. First of all, there are a lot of reviews and summaries. Secondly, there were enough surprises in this book for me to not want to give away too many hints.

Comments: I liked The Testaments, but be sure to read The Handmaid’s Tale first. This is definitely a sequel that requires the background of the first novel. I really enjoyed the audio version because the part of Aunt Lydia was read by Ann Dowd, who plays her in the TV show, adding a dose of “realism” to her story.

The Testaments is more filler than original material, but it does address several unanswered questions.

Recommended for readers of The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s books, Dystopian Fiction, and Best Sellers.

My Rating: 4 STARS

Posted in Best Sellers, Family Saga, General Fiction, Literary Fiction

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

Publication Info: Published Sept 24, 2019 by Harper. Hardback edition courtesy of my local library. Other editions available.

Summary: Two siblings, Maeve and Danny live with their father in a monstrosity of a house in a town outside of Philadelphia. The time is shortly after the end of the Second World War. Their mother disappeared when Danny was a toddler. Maeve remembers her, but Danny doesn’t.

Their father, Cyril Conroy, is a lost soul. He takes care of his children’s physical needs via his household help, the cook and housekeeper. While they are both kind and attentive, it is no substitute for a parent. Maeve grows up too quickly, taking on the parenting role for her younger brother.

Into this house of gaudily expressed wealth and brooding portraits of past owners, walks a woman who is what Cyril’s wife wasn’t— appreciative of him and his albatross of a house. Over time she worms her way into their lives as his new wife, dragging her two daughters with her. Cyril’s son and daughter are slowly pushed out of the house until suddenly, the door is slammed against them after their father’s unexpected demise.

Adrift, they cling to each other in ways that are necessary for their survival, as they are now nearly penniless. As they struggle to overcome their drastic change of circumstances, they learn lessons about what it means to love and forgive.

Comments: The Dutch House is engrossing and accessible Literary Fiction. The writing seems effortless — and yet I know it had to be anything but — and draws the reader in as thoroughly as a nail-biting thriller.

As I read this book, something kept feeling familiar. I initially put it down to my childhood tours and fantasies of the mansions in Newport, RI. It wasn’t until I started writing this review that I realized what made this book seem so personal. My own mother was raised in much the same way as the children in this book. While their house was on a much smaller scale and lacked the gaudy touches, she was raised by a housekeeper while her parents were busy being self-indulgent. Her older sister provided some of the love she craved. My mother’s childhood scarred her for the rest of her life, ultimately damaging her relationship with me.

So, while The Dutch House may be a work of fiction, it is not fantasy by any means. It is an intimate portrait of a dysfunctional family — that was to me — all too real.

Highly recommended for readers of Literary Fiction, Family Sagas/Stories, Best Sellers and General Fiction.

My Rating: 5 STARS.

Posted in Apocalyptic Fiction, Beach Read, Best Sellers, Contemporary Fiction, Popular Fiction, Science Fiction

The Warehouse by Rob Hart

Publication Info: Published August 20, 2019 by Crown. Kindle pre-pub edition courtesy of NetGalley.

Summary: In the near future, global warming has turned much of the country into permanent desert conditions. Small towns are nearly abandoned and cities are hot and overcrowded. After the Black Friday Massacre, when thousands of people were shot while doing their holiday shopping, people are afraid to leave their homes for even routine errands. Most brick and mortar stores have gone out of business except for the very largest ones and a few determined mom-and-pop stores.

One man, Gibson Wells, is behind the solution. He created mega centers where people live and work. Deliveries to homes outside of Cloud are made with a well-designed drone system. When people work for MotherCloud aka Cloud, they have everything they need right on the climate controlled property, which is described as much like an oversized airport terminal.

As the story begins, Gibson Wells is dying from cancer. He is taking his last year to visit his MotherCloud centers and greet workers personally. He has yet to choose his successor.

At one of the centers, two new employees have different agendas. Paxton has an axe to grind with Gibson Wells. Paxton invented a device that cooked a perfect hard-boiled egg. Cloud purchased the product and then undercut the prices time after time, putting Paxton out of business. He wants to meet Gibson Wells and give him a piece of his mind. Zinnia is a corporate spy, sent to discover weaknesses and deceit in Cloud’s power systems.

Paxton and Zinna find themselves unexpectedly sucked into the Cloud mentality. It seems to not be quite as bad as they thought. But slowly, they discover things that put their very lives in danger.

Comments: This is a whiz-bang, first-rate page turner! I romped through it in a single day. The author has created a very believable world, in which things that actually exist today are just taken to the next horrific step. The characters are all very relatable and the alternating chapters in their voices gives the reader a well-rounded perspective.

A bit of an amusing personal aside on current delivery systems, I’m currently waiting for a package delivery. The package was apparently farmed out to an individual who does deliveries after work. The building I’m living in locks the doors at 5 pm. This package is going round and round trying to get here. I’ve tried to resolve this problem, but haven’t been able to yet. It definitely would be nice if a drone could drop it on my balcony!

Very highly recommended for readers of General Fiction, Science Fiction, Apocolyptic and Dystopian Fiction, and Contemporary Fiction. It would also make a great Beach or Travel read and I’d love to see it hit the best-seller lists.

Director Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment has already opted to adapt The Warehouse into a movie. I don’t watch many movies, but I’m already looking forward to this one!

My rating: 5 STARS

Posted in Beach Read, Best Sellers, British, Contemporary Fiction, Psychological Suspense, suspense, Thrillers, Women's Fiction

Twenty-Nine Seconds by T.M. Logan

Publication Info: Expected publication date Sept 10, 2019 by St. Martin’s Press. Pre-pub Kindle edition courtesy of NetGalley. Previously published in the U.K.: other editions available.

Summary: Dr. Sarah Haywood works hard at her job at the University. She really needs a promotion to a permanent position, as she is currently single mother. Her husband ran off with another woman to “find himself”, leaving her with two young children. Sarah works hard, keeps on top of her busy teaching schedule and even comes up with an idea for additional funding.

But all of this is threatened by one man, Professor Alan Hawthorne. Alan won’t let her — or any woman — get ahead unless they agree to his terms. At the university, Alan is untouchable. He has an impeccable public reputation on his BBC show. If a woman complains about his sexual harassment, she is disgraced and dismissed. When he steals Sarah’s ideas, she feels completely overwhelmed.

One fateful day, Sarah inadvertently does a good deed for a stranger. That stranger offers to make one person, any person, in her life disappear forever. Sarah must decide if the risks outweigh the consequences.

Comments: I couldn’t put this book down. I read until late in the evening, fell asleep, woke up and finished it. It absolutely had me gripping my Kindle until the very last few pages.

This is a very timely story of one man’s abuse of power and the fear he instills in others to keep his secrets. I know there are women out there who will relate to the situation, if not the solution.

Highly recommended for readers of Psychological Suspense and Thrillers. It would also make a terrific Beach Read and I’d love to see it on the best seller lists.

My Goodreads rating is 5 stars.