Tag: fiction

Book Review: We Run the Tides, by Vendela Vida

Image belongs to Ecco.

TitleWe Run the Tides
Author: Vendela Vida
Genre:  Fiction
Rating:  3 out of 5

Teenage Eulabee and her magnetic best friend, Maria Fabiola, own the streets of Sea Cliff, their foggy oceanside San Francisco neighborhood. They know Sea Cliff’s homes and beaches, its hidden corners and eccentric characters—as well as the upscale all-girls’ school they attend. One day, walking to school with friends, they witness a horrible act—or do they? Eulabee and Maria Fabiola vehemently disagree on what happened, and their rupture is followed by Maria Fabiola’s sudden disappearance—a potential kidnapping that shakes the quiet community and threatens to expose unspoken truths.    

This clearly wasn’t a good fit for me. Solid writing, but I found it on the edge of boring. I know it’s about young teenage girls, but it veered between over-the-top dramatic and bland and I just didn’t care about the characters. At all. The author did a wonderful job of bringing the setting—ritzy neighborhood, private school—to life, but I found it almost impossible to relate to the characters.

Vendela Vida is an award-winning author. We Run the Tides is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: Dearest Josephine, by Caroline George

Image belongs to Thomas Nelson.

Title: Dearest Josephine
AuthorCaroline George
Genre:  Fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

2020: Chocolate and Earl Grey tea can’t fix Josie De Clare’s horrible year. She mourned the death of her father and suffered a teen-life crisis, which delayed her university plans. But when her father’s will reveals a family-owned property in Northern England, Josie leaves London to find clarity at the secluded manor house. While exploring the estate, she discovers two-hundred-year-old love letters written by an elusive novelist, all addressed to someone named Josephine. And then she discovers a novel in which it seems like she’s the heroine…

1820: Novelist Elias Roch loves a woman he can never be with. Born the bastard son to a nobleman and cast out from society, Elias seeks refuge in his mind with the quirky heroine who draws him into a fantasy world of scandal, betrayal, and unconditional love. Convinced she’s his soulmate, Elias writes letters to her, all of which divulge the tragedy and trials of his personal life.

As fiction blurs into reality, Josie and Elias must decide: How does one live if love can’t wait? Separated by two hundred years, they fight against time to find each other in a story of her, him, and the novel written by the man who loves her.

I’m honestly not sure what to say about this novel. I enjoyed it and the writing was excellent, but to me there was a major question left unanswered. The author tells the story creatively, using emails, texts, letters, a manuscript…There are three storylines—2020, Elias’ letters, and Elias’ manuscript—and I had difficulty telling the two Elias wrote apart, as they were partially very alike.

It seems, for all intents and purposes, that somehow Elias met Josephine in the past, but that “How?” question is never answered. That’s the biggest mystery of the story, and the reader never gets an answer. I loved how the 2020 storyline wrapped up, and Elias’ novel, too, but Elias’ own story was a bit disappointing to me, mainly because of the lack of resolution. Nevertheless, this was a solid read.

Caroline George is an award-winning author. Dearest Josephine is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Thomas Nelson 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: The Girl from the Channel Islands, by Jenny Lecoat

Image belongs to Harlequin/Graydon House.

Title:  The Girl from the Channel Islands
Author: Jenny Lecoat
Genre:  Historical fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

The year is 1940, and the world is torn apart by war. In June of that year, Hitler’s army captures the Channel Islands—the only part of Great Britain occupied by German forces. Abandoned by Mr. Churchill, forgotten by the Allies and cut off from all help, the Islands’ situation is increasingly desperate.

Hedy Bercu is a young Jewish girl who fled Vienna for the island of Jersey two years earlier during the Anschluss, only to find herself trapped by the Nazis once more—this time with no escape. Her only hope is to make herself invaluable to the Germans by working as a translator, hiding in plain sight with the help of her friends and community—and a sympathetic German officer. But as the war intensifies, rations dwindle and neighbors are increasingly suspicious of one another. Hedy’s life is in greater danger every day. It will take a definitive, daring act to save her from certain deportation to the concentration camps.

I don’t think I’ve read anything about World War II in the Channel Islands, so this was something new for me, as was the German officer who wasn’t a Nazi (most of the historical fiction set during this time that I’ve read just portrays all German soldiers as monsters).

This time period is so hard to read about. The atrocities Hedy went through and witnessed are terrible, but she comes through with her hope and her spirits intact. I found this to be an excellent read.

Jenny Lecoat was born in the Channel Islands. The Girl from the Channel Islands is her new novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/Graydon House in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: At the Edge of the Haight, by Katherine Seligman

Image belongs to Algonquin Books.

Title:  At the Edge of the Haight
Author:  Katherine Seligman
Genre:  Fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

Maddy Donaldo, homeless at twenty, has made a family of sorts in the dangerous spaces of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. She knows whom to trust, where to eat, when to move locations, and how to take care of her dog. It’s the only home she has. When she unwittingly witnesses the murder of a young homeless boy and is seen by the perpetrator, her relatively stable life is upended. Suddenly, everyone from the police to the dead boys’ parents want to talk to Maddy about what she saw. As adults pressure her to give up her secrets and reunite with her own family before she meets a similar fate, Maddy must decide whether she wants to stay lost or be found. Against the backdrop of a radically changing San Francisco, a city which embraces a booming tech economy while struggling to maintain its culture of tolerance, At the Edge of the Haight follows the lives of those who depend on makeshift homes and communities.

Things I wish I’d known before reading this (as I might have chosen to not read it): the murder victim is not a “young” homeless boy, but a guy around Maddy’s age; and the main plot of this story is Maddy herself, not her struggle to stay safe from the perpetrator (because that’s an aside at best). This is also a new adult book, not a young adult book, as I’ve seen it called in some reviews.

Maddy herself is a fascinating character and the reader is very much involved in her life. However, this is a very slow read without a lot of character growth. Some of Maddy’s friends are homeless by choice—they have families and places to go but choose not to—some are not, and their family unit struggles together. This isn’t a fun or uplifting read, so if that’s what you’re expecting, it’s probably best to give this a pass.

Katherine Seligman is a journalist and author. At the Edge of the Haight is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Algonquin Books 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 Lost Manuscript, by Cathy Bonidan

Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:  The Lost Manuscript
Author:  Cathy Bonidan
Genre:  Fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

When Anne-Lise Briard books a room at the Beau Rivage Hotel for her vacation on the Brittany coast, she has no idea this trip will start her on the path to unearthing a mystery. In search of something to read, she opens up her bedside table drawer in her hotel room, and inside she finds an abandoned manuscript. Halfway through the pages, an address is written. She sends pages to the address, in hopes of potentially hearing a response from the unknown author. But not before she reads the story and falls in love with it. The response, which she receives a few days later, astonishes her…

Not only does the author write back, but he confesses that he lost the manuscript 30 years prior on a flight to Montreal. And then he reveals something even more shocking—that he was not the author of the second half of the book.

Anne-Lise can’t rest until she discovers who this second mystery author is, and in doing so tracks down every person who has held this manuscript in their hands. Through the letters exchanged by the people whose lives the manuscript has touched, she discovers long-lost love stories and intimate secrets. Romances blossom and new friends are made. Everyone’s lives are made better by this book—and isn’t that the point of reading? And finally, with a plot twist you don’t see coming, she uncovers the astonishing identity of the author who finished the story.

I really enjoyed this read! It’s told in a series of letters between the various characters, and at first, I had a little trouble keeping everyone straight, but that soon resolved. There are a lot of storylines woven together, past and present, but they make a seamless and engrossing tapestry, with vivid characters full of quirks and little adventures that draw the reader fully into the story. Definitely a recommended read.

Cathy Bonidan is a teacher. The Lost Manuscript is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: Minus Me, by Mameve Medwed

Image belongs to Alcove Press.

Title:  Minus Me
Author:  Mameve Medwed
Genre:  Fiction
Rating:  3.5 out of 5

Annie and her devoted but comically incompetent childhood sweetheart Sam are the owners and operators of Annie’s, a gourmet sandwich shop, home to the legendary Paul Bunyan Special Sandwich–their “nutritionally challenged continual source of income and marital harmony and local fame.”

But into their mostly charmed marriage comes the scary medical diagnosis for Annie–and the overwhelming challenge of finding a way to help Sam go on without her. Annie decides to leave Sam step-by-step instructions for a future without her, and considers her own replacement in his heart and their bed. Her best-laid plans grind to a halt with the unexpected appearance of Ursula, Annie’s Manhattan diva of a mother, who brings her own brand of chaos and disruption into their lives.

I didn’t really care for these characters, and that made it hard to enjoy this book. Solid writing, so this is clearly just a “me” issue, but the characters just didn’t work for me. Sam was so incompetent as to be almost a farce and Annie was over-the-top take charge and let him be incompetent, which was frustrating to read. Their complete lack of communication was also irritating. So much pain could have been avoided if either of them had had the tiniest bit of bravery.

Mameve Medwed is from Bangor, Maine. Minus Me is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Alcove 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 and Blog Tour: Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder, by T.A. Willberg

Image belongs to Harlequin/Park Row.

Title:  Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder
Author:  T.A. Willberg
Genre:  Fiction
Rating:  3.5 out of 5

Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder plunges readers into the heart of London, to the secret tunnels that exist far beneath the city streets. There, a mysterious group of detectives recruited for Miss Brickett’s Investigations & Inquiries use their cunning and gadgets to solve crimes that have stumped Scotland Yard.

Late one night in April 1958, a filing assistant for Miss Brickett’s named Michelle White receives a letter warning her that a heinous act is about to occur. She goes to investigate but finds the room empty. At the stroke of midnight, she is murdered by a killer she can’t see—her death the only sign she wasn’t alone. It becomes chillingly clear that the person responsible must also work for Miss Brickett’s, making everyone a suspect.

Almost unwillingly, Marion Lane, a first-year Inquirer-in-training, finds herself being drawn ever deeper into the investigation. When her friend and mentor is framed for the crime, to clear his name she must sort through the hidden alliances at Miss Brickett’s and secrets dating back to WWII.

The premise of this novel was very intriguing—a mysterious group of hidden detectives? And they have a secret headquarters, like the wizards in Harry Potter? That sounded very cool and definitely caught my attention.

I found the execution to be slow and languid, and not equal to the promise of the story idea. Reading about a murder investigation in a secret organization of detectives, I expected a certain level of tension and intrigue, but that isn’t what I got. There was a lot of gossiping, secrets, a fair amount of drinking, and really no curiosity about who the murderer was—or why Michelle White was even killed.

T.A. Willberg is from South Africa. Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder is her debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/Park Row in exchange for an honest review.)