Tag: family

Book Review: The Nature of Fragile Things, by Susan Meissner

Image belongs to Berkley.

TitleThe Nature of Fragile Things
AuthorSusan Meissner
Genre:  Fiction, historical fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

April 18, 1906: A massive earthquake rocks San Francisco just before daybreak, igniting a devouring inferno. Lives are lost, lives are shattered, but some rise from the ashes forever changed.

Sophie Whalen is a young Irish immigrant so desperate to get out of a New York tenement that she answers a mail-order bride ad and agrees to marry a man she knows nothing about. San Francisco widower Martin Hocking proves to be as aloof as he is mesmerizingly handsome. Sophie quickly develops deep affection for Kat, Martin’s silent five-year-old daughter, but Martin’s odd behavior leaves her with the uneasy feeling that something about her newfound situation isn’t right.

Then one early-spring evening, a stranger at the door sets in motion a transforming chain of events. Sophie discovers hidden ties to two other women. The first, pretty and pregnant, is standing on her doorstep. The second is hundreds of miles away in the American Southwest, grieving the loss of everything she once loved.

The fates of these three women intertwine on the eve of the devastating earthquake, thrusting them onto a perilous journey that will test their resiliency and resolve and, ultimately, their belief that love can overcome fear.

This was a very good read! I know almost nothing about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, so finding out more was very sad. I cannot imagine how terrifying that must have been!

Meissner is superb at sprinkling tiny hints and clues throughout the novel without giving away the truth:  I only had vague ideas about the truth of Sophie’s past and the secrets she was hiding—and I was never sure exactly what happened with Martin. I will say, I loved the ending and thought it very appropriate, tying up all the lose ends at once. Definitely a solid read!

Susan Meissner is a bestselling author. The nature of Fragile Things is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Berkley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: Amelia Unabridged, by Ashley Schumacher

Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

TitleAmelia Unabridged
AuthorAshley Schumacher
Genre:  YA
Rating:  5 out of 5

Eighteen-year-old Amelia Griffin is obsessed with the famous Orman Chronicles, written by the young and reclusive prodigy N. E. Endsley. They’re the books that brought her and her best friend Jenna together after Amelia’s father left and her family imploded. So when Amelia and Jenna get the opportunity to attend a book festival with Endsley in attendance, Amelia is ecstatic. It’s the perfect way to start off their last summer before college.

In a heartbeat, everything goes horribly wrong. When Jenna gets a chance to meet the author and Amelia doesn’t, the two have a blowout fight like they’ve never experienced. And before Amelia has a chance to mend things, Jenna is killed in a freak car accident. Grief-stricken, and without her best friend to guide her, Amelia questions everything she had planned for the future.

When a mysterious, rare edition of the Orman Chronicles arrives, Amelia is convinced that it somehow came from Jenna. Tracking the book to an obscure but enchanting bookstore in Michigan, Amelia is shocked to find herself face-to-face with the enigmatic and handsome N. E. Endsley himself, the reason for Amelia’s and Jenna’s fight and perhaps the clue to what Jenna wanted to tell her all along.

I loved this read! I completely identified with Amelia throughout the entire book. Her friendship with Jenna was fun and so realistic! Her grief over Jenna’s death and her struggle to find sense in a world that suddenly doesn’t contain any was heartrending.

The details of the bookstore and the small-town life were enchanting. I need this bookstore in my life!  The characters are fantastic—all of them—and I loved every single page of this. Go read it!

Ashley Schumacher lives in Dallas. Amelia Unabridged is her debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Vineyard at Painted Moon, by Susan Mallery

Image belongs to Harlequin.

TitleThe Vineyard at Painted Moon
AuthorSusan Mallery
Genre:  Fiction, romance
Rating:  3.0 out of 5

MacKenzie Dienes’s life isn’t perfect, but it’s as close as she could ever hope to get. Her marriage to Rhys, her best friend’s brother, is more friendship than true love. But passion is highly overrated, right? And she loves her job as the winemaker at Bel Apres, her in-laws’ vineyard. So what if it’s a family business and, even after decades of marriage and incredible professional success, she’s still barred from the family business meetings? It’s all enough…until one last night spent together leads to an incredibly honest—and painful—conversation. Rhys suggests that they divorce. They haven’t had a marriage in a long time and, while he wants her to keep her job at Bel Apres, he doesn’t think they should be married any longer. Shocked, MacKenzie reels at the prospect of losing the only family she’s ever really known…even though she knows deep in her heart that Rhys is right.

But when MacKenzie discovers she’s pregnant, walking away to begin a new life isn’t so easy. She never could have anticipated the changes it would bring to the relationships she cherishes most: her relationship with Barbara, her mother-in-law and partner at Bel Apres, Stephanie, her sister-in-law and best friend, and Bel Apres, the company she’s worked so hard to put on the map.

MacKenzie has always dreamed of creating a vineyard of her own, a chance to leave a legacy for her unborn child. So when the opportunity arises, she jumps at it and builds the Vineyard at Painted Moon. But following her dreams will come at a high price—one that MacKenzie isn’t so sure she’s willing to pay…

Susan Mallery is an excellent writer and creates realistic and believable characters. I haven’t read too many of her novels, but I’m familiar with her work. However…I did not like this novel. For one reason:  so many of the characters were awful people. They were believable enough and consistent—no dramatic changes in heart or personality—they were just completely unlikable.

MacKenzie was likable enough and totally sympathetic, and I like Stephanie and Four (another sister-in-law) and Bruno, but Barbara was truly a terrible person, and her third daughter wasn’t far behind. Both of them were spiteful, hateful, vindictive, and petty. And Rhys ended up being not far behind them—which was a bit of a surprise, as he was perfectly nice and reasonable to begin with, then became a jerk when his freedom was threatened. It’s extremely difficult for me to read books about characters like this, so it’s a testament to the writing quality that I even finished it.

Susan Mallery is a NYT-bestselling author. The Vineyard at Painted Moon is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin exchange for an honest review.)

Blog Tour and Book Review: How to Build a Heart, by Maria Padian

Image belongs to Algonquin Young Readers.

TitleHow to Build a Heart
AuthorMaria Padian
Genre:  YA
Rating:  4.0 out of 5

All sixteen-year-old Izzy Crawford wants is to feel like she really belongs somewhere. Her father, a marine, died in Iraq six years ago, and Izzy’s moved to a new town nearly every year since, far from the help of her extended family in North Carolina and Puerto Rico. When Izzy’s hardworking mom moves their small family to Virginia, all her dreams start clicking into place. She likes her new school—even if Izzy is careful to keep her scholarship-student status hidden from her well-to-do classmates and her new athletic and popular boyfriend. And best of all: Izzy’s family has been selected by Habitat for Humanity to build and move into a brand-new house. Izzy is this close to the community and permanence she’s been searching for, until all the secret pieces of her life begin to collide.

I’m pleased to say this was nothing like I expected! I liked Izzy a lot. She struggled in this book:  with grief over her dad, her struggles with his family, her identity, and accepting and embracing who she is. Honestly, I expected a mean-girls scenario, and there was a tiny touch of that, but not much.

Izzy friendship with Roz was well-done, and how the two grew and changed in the novel made this a story well worth reading. It’s not a typical YA/romance, although there is romance, it’s not the focus of the story. There were a few loose ends left when the story was over, so it felt a bit unresolved, but this was a solid, heartwarming read.

Maria Padian was born in New York City. How to Build a Heart is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Algonquin Young Readers in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: Girlhood: Teens around the World in Their Own Voices, by Masuma Ahuja

Image belongs to Algonquin Young Readers.

Title:  Girlhood: Teens around the World in Their Own Voices
Author:  Masuma Ahuja
Genre:  Nonfiction
Rating:  5.0 out of 5

All around the world, girls are going to school, working, creating, living as sisters, daughters, friends. Yet we know so little about their daily lives. We hear about a few exceptional girls who make headlines, and we hear about headline-making struggles and catastrophes. But since the health, education, and success of girls so often determines the future of a community, why don’t we know more about what life is like for the ordinary girls, the ones living outside the headlines? From the Americas to Europe to Africa to Asia to the South Pacific, the thirty-one teens from twenty-nine countries in Girlhood Around the World share their own stories of growing up through diary entries and photographs. They invite us into their day-to-day lives, through their eyes and in their voices, in a full-color, exuberantly designed scrapbook-like volume.

This was a fascinating read! The author gives a brief overview of each girl’s life and cultural/national customs and experiences, asks each girl a few questions, and includes pictures and journal entries written by the girls themselves. Glimpsing each of the girls’ worlds through their own eyes is compelling, as is reading their story—not just the glossy and social media-ready version, but the reality of their day-to-day existence. This book is a powerful experience.

Images belong to the author/publisher. Used with permission for blog tour.

Masuma Ahuja has worked all over the world as a journalist. Girlhood is her new book, chronicling the lives of girls across the globe.

(Galley courtesy of Algonquin Young Readers in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Knockout, by Sajni Patel

Image belongs to Flux.

Title:  The Knockout
Author:  Sajni Patel
Genre:  YA
Rating:  5 out of 5

If seventeen-year-old Kareena Thakkar is going to alienate herself from the entire Indian community, she might as well do it gloriously. She’s landed the chance of a lifetime, an invitation to the US Muay Thai Open, which could lead to a spot on the first-ever Olympic team. If only her sport wasn’t seen as something too rough for girls, something she’s afraid to share with anyone outside of her family. Despite pleasing her parents, exceling at school, and making plans to get her family out of debt, Kareena’s never felt quite Indian enough, and her training is only making it worse.

Which is inconvenient, since she’s starting to fall for Amit Patel, who just might be the world’s most perfect Indian. Admitting her feelings for Amit will cost Kareena more than just her pride–she’ll have to face his parents’ disapproval, battle her own insecurities, and remain focused for the big fight. Kareena’s bid for the Olympics could very well make history–if she has the courage to go for it.

I thoroughly enjoyed this read! Kareena is a fantastic character:  she’s tough, determined, loves her family, and is dealing with problems on all sides with strength and courage. Kareena has always been both a rebel against her community and set on making her parents proud, so this conflict is a theme in the story, as is her finding the courage to trust people with her secrets. This is a well-written book set in a vibrant community and is an excellent read!

Sajni Patel was born in India and grew up in Texas. The Knockout is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Flux in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: What’s Worth Keeping, by Kaya McLaren

Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:  What’s Worth Keeping
Author:  Kaya McLaren
Genre:  Fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

The day her doctor says the one word that no one wants to hear, Amy Bergstrom discovers a secret that her husband of 25 years has been keeping from her. Now that the months of treatment and surgeries are behind her, she escapes her claustrophobic life seeking healing, peace and clarity in an ancient forest in Washington State, a forest that holds memories of her childhood summers.

After dropping off his daughter at Amy’s Aunt Rae’s horse ranch in the mountains of New Mexico, Officer Paul Bergstrom visits the fixer-upper he had bought years ago as a place to retire with his family. Although it appears fine on the outside, the inside is a disaster–just like his marriage. When he finds himself with more off-duty time than he expected, he lovingly repairs his dream home, building the future he so desperately wants.

Witnessing her mother’s health crisis had been terrifying enough, but learning the cause was genetic leaves Carly with the sense that all of her dreams are pointless. With the help of her eccentric great aunt and a Clydesdale named T. Rex, Carly just may find her faith in her future again.

Kayla McLaren has been blessed with gorgeous book covers for her novels, and this is no exception. Her writing brings the beauty and magic of her settings to vibrant life and etches them in the reader’s mind—whether or not they’ve ever visited these places themselves. Each of these three characters are distinct and struggling with their own demons, but their stories twine together in this tale of a family facing their battles alone—and together. A lovely read!

Kayla McLaren is from Washington State. What’s Worth keeping is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Other Mother, by Matthew Dicks

Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:  The Other Mother
Author:  Matthew Dicks
Genre:  Fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

The one he loves most, is the one he knows least.

Thirteen-year-old Michael Parsons is dealing with a lot. His father’s sudden death; his mother’s new husband, Glen, who he loathes; his two younger siblings, who he looks after more and more now that his mother works extra shifts.

And then one day, Michael wakes up and his mother is gone. In her place is an exact, duplicate mother. The ‘other mother’. No one else seems to notice the real version is missing. His brother, his sister, and even Glen act as if everything’s normal. But Michael knows in his heart that this mother is not his. And he begins to panic.

What follows is a big-hearted coming-of-age story of a boy struggling with an unusual disorder that poses unparalleled challenges—but also, as he discovers, offers him unique opportunities.

This wasn’t at all what I expected. I felt so much sympathy for Michael. I cannot even imagine how disorienting and frightening it would be to go through this. Despite his fear and the short time span of the novel—two days—Michael shows a lot of character growth and change. This is a very moving, evocative book about a boy experiencing something truly horrible in the midst of his already-challenging life.

Matthew Dicks is a bestselling author. The Other Mother is his newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Autumn Skies, by Denise Hunter

Image belongs to Thomas Nelson.

Title: Autumn Skies
Author: Denise Hunter
Genre: Romance
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

When a mysterious man turns up at Grace’s family-run inn, it’s instant attraction. But she’s already got a lot on her plate: running the Bluebell Inn, getting Blue Ridge Outfitters off the ground, and coping with a childhood event she’d thought was long past.

A gunshot wound has resurrected the past for secret service agent Wyatt Jennings, and a mandatory leave of absence lands him in Bluebell, North Carolina. There he must try and come to grips with the crisis that altered his life forever.

Grace needs experience for her new outfitters business, so when Wyatt needs a mountain guide, she’s more than happy to step up to the plate. As their journey progresses, Grace soon has an elusive Wyatt opening up, and Wyatt is unwittingly drawn to Grace’s fresh outlook and sense of humor.

There’s no doubt the two have formed a special bond, but will Wyatt’s secrets bring Grace’s world crashing down? Or will those secrets end up healing them both?

I’ve really enjoyed the Bluebell Inn Romance series, and this was no exception. I love the small-town setting, and Grace and her siblings are great characters. It was fun to see more of Molly’s and Levi’s stories, too, after reading their linked standalones.

Grace and Wyatt are a good match:  both struggling with tragedies from their past and trying to figure out where their futures are going. I loved watching these characters grow and change through the story, and I’d love to read more stories set in this small town.

Denis Hunter is a bestselling author. Autumns Skies is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Thomas Nelson in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Christmas Table, by Donna VanLiere

Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title: The Christmas Table
Author:  Donna VanLiere   
Genre: Fiction, women’s fiction
Rating: 4.0 out of 5

In June 1972, John Creighton determines to build his wife Joan a kitchen table. His largest project to date had been picture frames but he promises to have the table ready for Thanksgiving dinner. Inspired to put something delicious on the table, Joan turns to her mother’s recipes she had given to Joan when she and John married.

In June 2012, Lauren Mabrey discovers she’s pregnant. Gloria, Miriam, and the rest of her friends at Glory’s Place begin to pitch in, helping Lauren prepare their home for the baby. On a visit to the local furniture builder, Lauren finds a table that he bought at a garage sale but has recently refinished. Once home, a drawer is discovered under the table which contains a stack of recipe cards. Growing up in one foster home after another, Lauren never learned to cook and is fascinated as she reads through the cards. Personal notes have been written on each one from the mother to her daughter and time and again Lauren wonders where they lived, when they lived, and in a strange way, she feels connected to this mother and her daughter and wants to make the mother proud.

The story continues to from 1972 to 2012 as Joan battles breast cancer and Lauren learns to cook, preparing for the baby’s arrival. As Christmas nears, can Lauren unlock the mystery of the table, and find the peace she’s always longed for?

This was a sweet tale of two women and their families in two separate decades and their stories. It’s also full of descriptions of delicious food!

“Sweet” is really the perfect adjective for this book:  there’s the food of course—not always desserts—but there’s also the journeys Joan and Lauren go on as they attempt to grow, learn, and thrive with the hands they’ve been dealt. Their friends and family truly surround them on their journeys, helping to get then through to their destinations.

Donna VanLiere is a bestselling author. The Christmas Table is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)