Tag: fiction

Book Review: Glimmer As You Can, by Danielle Martin

Image belongs to Alcove Press.

Title: Glimmer As You Can
Author: Danielle Martin
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Welcome to the Starlite. Let your true self shine.

1962. In the middle of Brooklyn Heights sits the Starlite: boutique dress shop by day, underground women’s club by night. Started by the shop’s proprietor after her marriage crumbled, Madeline’s social club soon becomes a safe haven for women from all walks of life looking for a respite from their troubled relationships and professional frustrations. These after-hour soirées soon bring two very different women into Madeline’s life–Elaine, a British ex-pat struggling to save her relationship, and Lisa, a young stewardess whose plans for the future are suddenly upended–irrevocably changing all three women’s lives in ways no one could have predicted.

But when Madeline’s ne’er-do-well ex-husband shows up again, the luster of Starlite quickly dampens. As the sisterhood rallies around Madeline, tension begins to eat at the club. When an unspeakable tragedy befalls their sorority, one woman must decide whether to hide the truth from the group or jeopardize her own hopes and dreams.

This is a hard time period to read about:  women’s rights are still a pipe dream and getting married and having a family should be all every woman wants. Except it’s not. The three main characters are very different, yet all three struggle with some of the same issues. The women’s club community was both fun to read about and also seemed a bit random.

I found this book to be disjointed in a lot of places. I can see what the author was trying to do, butthis fell a bit short. I felt disconnected from these characters, and while I cared what happened, my connection to them was erratic enough that I wasn’t deeply invested in the read.

Danielle Martin is a teacher. Glimmer As You Can is her debut novel.

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

Blog Tour and Book Review: The Forgotten Sister, by Nicola Cornick

Image belongs to Harlequin/Graydon House.

Title: The Forgotten Sister
Author: Nicola Cornick
Genre: Historical Fiction/fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5

1560: Amy Robsart is trapped in a loveless marriage to Robert Dudley, a member of the court of Queen Elizabeth I. Surrounded by enemies and with nowhere left to turn, Amy hatches a desperate scheme to escape—one with devastating consequences that will echo through the centuries…

Present Day: When Lizzie Kingdom is forced to withdraw from the public eye in a blaze of scandal, it seems her life is over. But she’s about to encounter a young man, Johnny Robsart, whose fate will interlace with hers in the most unexpected of ways. For Johnny is certain that Lizzie is linked to a terrible secret dating back to Tudor times. If Lizzie is brave enough to go in search of the truth, then what she discovers will change the course of their lives forever.

I initially didn’t like Lizzie at all, but she slowly grew on me a bit—as she showed great character growth and change through the course of the novel. She actually held it together way better than I would have, considering everything she was dealing with and experiencing.

I really enjoyed the Amy timeline. She also grew and changed as a character, and I enjoyed that, although I cannot imagine putting up with all the nonsense she put up with. Excellent writing and clearly the author did a lot of research to bring the historical details—though fictionalized—to life.

Nicola Cornick is a bestselling author. The Forgotten Sister is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: Miss Benson’s Beetle, by Rachel Joyce

Image belongs to Random House.

Title: Miss Benson’s Beetle
Author: Rachel Joyce
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 4.0 out of 5

It is 1950. In a devastating moment of clarity, Margery Benson abandons her dead-end job and advertises for an assistant to accompany her on an expedition. She is going to travel to the other side of the world to search for a beetle that may or may not exist.

Enid Pretty, in her unlikely pink travel suit, is not the companion Margery had in mind. And yet together they will be drawn into an adventure that will exceed every expectation. They will risk everything, break all the rules, and at the top of a red mountain, discover their best selves.

This is a story that is less about what can be found than the belief it might be found; it is an intoxicating adventure story but it is also about what it means to be a woman and a tender exploration of a friendship that defies all boundaries.

This was an interesting read, and not what I expected at all. Margery is clearly a woman who has never felt comfortable or at home in the world, so it was wonderful to see her grow and change through this novel, stepping into who she wanted to be and owning her identity.

Enid was quite entertaining. I enjoyed her growth as well, and she was a perfect foil for Margery and her straightlaced ways. A solid, entertaining read.

Rachel Joyce is a bestselling author. Miss Benson’s Beetle is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: The Garden of Promises and Lies, by Paula Brackston

Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title: The Garden of Promises and Lies
Author: Paula Brackston
Genre: Fiction, historical
Rating: 5.0 out of 5

As the bustle of the winter holidays in the Little Shop of Found Things gives way to spring, Xanthe is left to reflect on the strange events of the past year. While she’s tried to keep her time-traveling talents a secret from those close to her, she is forced to take responsibility for having inadvertently transported the dangerous Benedict Fairfax to her own time. Xanthe comes to see that she must use her skills as a spinner if she and Flora are ever to be safe, and turns to the Spinners book for help.

It is then that a beautiful antique wedding dress sings to her. Realizing the dress and her adversary are connected in some way, she answers the call. She finds herself in Bradford-on-Avon in 1815, as if she has stepped into a Jane Austen story.

Now in Xanthe’s time, Fairfax is threatening Xanthe into helping him with his evil doings, and demonstrates all too clearly how much damage he is capable of causing. With Fairfax growing ever more powerful, Xanthe enlists the help of her boyfriend Liam, taking him back in time with her. It is a decision that might just ensure she prevails over her foe, but only by putting her life—and his—on the line.

I think I’ve read the first book in this series—The Little Shop of Found Things—but I’m not positive, and I know I haven’t read the second book. Honestly, that didn’t detract from reading this at all. Sure, it would have added some depth, but a reader coming into this series at book three would be totally lost and unable to figure out what was going on.

I love the quirky characters—Harley especially—and find the whole basic premise fascinating, twining the past and present together like pieces of a puzzle. Brackston is an excellent writer, bringing both modern day and historical settings to vivid life and I’m now going back to read (or maybe re-read) the first two books in this series.

Paula Brackston lives in Wales. The Garden of Promises and Lies is her newest novel, the third book in the Found Things series.

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

Book Review: Anxious People, by Fredrik Backman

Image belongs to Atria Books.

Title: Anxious People
Author:   Fredrik Backman  
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5

Looking at real estate isn’t usually a life-or-death situation, but an apartment open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes a group of strangers hostage. The captives include a recently retired couple who relentlessly hunt down fixer-uppers to avoid the painful truth that they can’t fix their own marriage. There’s a wealthy bank director who has been too busy to care about anyone else and a young couple who are about to have their first child but can’t seem to agree on anything, from where they want to live to how they met in the first place. Add to the mix an eighty-seven-year-old woman who has lived long enough not to be afraid of someone waving a gun in her face, a flustered but still-ready-to-make-a-deal real estate agent, and a mystery man who has locked himself in the apartment’s only bathroom, and you’ve got the worst group of hostages in the world.

Each of them carries a lifetime of grievances, hurts, secrets, and passions that are ready to boil over. None of them is entirely who they appear to be. And all of them—the bank robber included—desperately crave some sort of rescue. As the authorities and the media surround the premises these reluctant allies will reveal surprising truths about themselves and set in motion a chain of events so unexpected that even they can hardly explain what happens next.

I guess I should say that I’m a big fan of Backman’s voice and style. A BIG fan. I read My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry last month and now it’s in my top five favorite books ever. The voice in this one is phenomenal as well. Examples:

“This story is about a lot of things, but mostly about idiots.” 

“Hand on heart, which of us hasn’t wanted to pull a gun after talking to a twenty-year-old?”

“The policeman clenches his teeth so hard that he looks like he’s trying to breathe through his toenails.”

Lines like that are priceless, am I right? I laughed a lot while reading this—straight through in one sitting, by the way—and I thoroughly enjoyed all the different characters and the vignettes we saw of their lives and personalities. This was not what you’d expect from a novel about a bank robbery and a hostage situation, but it is what you’d expect from Fredrik Backman: pure delight.

Fredrik Backman is a bestselling author. Anxious People is his newest novel.

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

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Orphan of Cemetery Hill, by Hester Fox

Image belongs to Harlequin/Graydon House.

Title: The Orphan of Cemetery Hill
Author:  Hester Fox
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5

Boston, 1844.

Tabby has a peculiar gift: she can communicate with the recently departed. It makes her special, but it also makes her dangerous.

As an orphaned child, she fled with her sister, Alice, from their charlatan aunt Bellefonte, who wanted only to exploit Tabby’s gift so she could profit from the recent craze for seances.

Now a young woman and tragically separated from Alice, Tabby works with her adopted father, Eli, the kind caretaker of a large Boston cemetery. When a series of macabre grave robberies begins to plague the city, Tabby is ensnared in a deadly plot by the perpetrators, known only as the “Resurrection Men.”

In the end, Tabby’s gift will either save both her and the cemetery—or bring about her own destruction.

I really enjoyed this read. It had a little bit of a creepiness factor, some mystery, romance, and great characters to tie it all together. Caleb wasn’t my favorite, but at least he did show a bit of character growth.

Tabby has been through a lot—but she keeps trying to help those around her. I cannot imagine spending the night in a cemetery—as a child, no less—and not totally freaking out over the smallest sound. This is a very atmospheric novel and a solid historical read.

Hester Fox lives outside Boston. The Orphan of Cemetery Hill is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: All Stirred Up, by Brianne Moore

Image belongs to Crooked Lane Books.

Title: All Stirred Up
Author: Brianne Moore    
Genre: Women’s fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5

Susan Napier’s family once lived on the success of the high-end restaurants founded by her late grandfather. But bad luck and worse management has brought the business to the edge of financial ruin. Now it’s up to Susan to save the last remaining restaurant: Elliot’s, the flagship in Edinburgh.

But what awaits Susan in the charming city of Auld Reekie is more than she bargained for. Chris Baker, her grandfather’s former protégé–and her ex-boyfriend–is also heading to the Scottish capital. After finding fame in New York as a chef and judge of a popular TV cooking competition, Chris is returning to his native Scotland to open his own restaurant. Although the storms have cleared after their intense and rocky breakup, Susan and Chris are re-drawn into each other’s orbit–and their simmering attraction inevitably boils over.

As Chris’s restaurant opens to great acclaim and Susan tries to haul Elliot’s back from the brink, the future brims with new promise. But darkness looms as they find themselves in the crosshairs of a gossip blogger eager for a juicy story–and willing to do anything to get it. Can Susan and Chris reclaim their lost love, or will the tangled past ruin their last hope for happiness?

This was a fun read. Susan’s family was awful, though, as was all the obsession with social media/appearances. That did make sense, though, as two characters are actors and a third is a famous chef.

The history between Susan and Chris was pretty bleak—and dark for more than one reason, one of which came totally out of nowhere, so it was a bit less than believable for me. But the chemistry between these two characters—not to mention the food descriptions—made this very enjoyable.

Brianne Moore was born and raised in Pennsylvania but now lives in Scotland. All Stirred Up is her newest novel.

Book Review: The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux, by Samantha Vérant

the secret french recipes
Image belongs to Berkely.

Title: The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux
Author:  Samantha Vérant   
Genre: Women’s fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

A disgraced chef rediscovers her passion for food and her roots in this stunning novel rich in culture and full of delectable recipes.

French-born American chef Sophie Valroux had one dream: to be part of the 1% of female chefs running a Michelin-starred restaurant. From spending summers with her grandmother, who taught her the power of cooking and food, to attending the Culinary Institute of America, Sophie finds herself on the cusp of getting everything she’s dreamed of.

Until her career goes up in flames.

Sabotaged by a fellow chef, Sophie is fired, leaving her reputation ruined and confidence shaken. To add fuel to the fire, Sophie learns that her grandmother has suffered a stroke and takes the red-eye to France. There, Sophie discovers the simple home she remembers from her childhood is now a luxurious château, complete with two restaurants and a vineyard. As Sophie tries to reestablish herself in the kitchen, she comes to understand the lengths people will go to for success and love, and how dreams can change.

First of all, this book made me hungry. The descriptions of the food are to die for! The author really brought the environment of a professional kitchen to life (I assume it’s realistic), and I cannot imagine the stress and pressure these people live with on the daily.

Sophie was a lot of fun. She watches her dreams go up in smoke and wallows in her grief for a while—as we all would—before deciding she’s had enough. Her missteps are believable, and her determination—once she finally finds it—is inspiring. This was an enjoyable read that kind of made me want to visit France.

Samantha Vérant lives in France. The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: A Life Once Dreamed, by Rachel Fordham

a life once dreamed
Image belongs to Revell.

Title: A Life Once Dreamed
Author: Rachel Fordham  
Genre: Historical Fiction, romance
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Six years ago, a shocking secret sent Agnes Pratt running in search of a new start. She found it in Penance, a rugged town of miners and lumberjacks in the Dakota Territory, where she became Miss Aggie, respected schoolteacher and confirmed old maid. But the past has a way of catching up with people.

When childhood friend and former sweetheart James Harris accepts a position as the town doctor, Aggie’s pleasantly predictable days suddenly become anything but. James wants to know why Agnes left behind the life they had dreamed of creating for themselves–but he is the one person who can never know.

In the shadows of the Black Hills, can a healing light be shed on the past? Or will the secret Agnes can’t seem to outrun destroy her chance at happiness?

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel! I liked seeing how Aggie went from the life she had before—just the brief glimpse we had was enough to give an idea of her well-to-do background—to the challenging life on the frontier. I enjoyed the simple small-town life and Aggie’s interactions with the children and the townspeople.

James was a lot of fun, too, as he kept slipping aback into his old teasing ways from childhood, interspersed with his Doctor personality. This was sweet and refreshing, like a drink of sweet iced tea on a summer day.

Rachel Fordham lives in Washington state. A life Once Dreamed is her newest novel.

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

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Last Story of Mina Lee, by Nancy Jooyoun Kim

mina lee
Image belongs to Harlequin/Park Row.

Title: The Last Story of Mina Lee
Author:     Nancy Jooyoun Kim
Genre: Fiction
Rating:4 out of 5

Margot Lee’s mother, Mina, isn’t returning her calls. It’s a mystery to twenty-six-year-old Margot, until she visits her childhood apartment in Koreatown, LA, and finds that her mother has suspiciously died. The discovery sends Margot digging through the past, unraveling the tenuous invisible strings that held together her single mother’s life as a Korean War orphan and an undocumented immigrant, only to realize how little she truly knew about her mother.

Interwoven with Margot’s present-day search is Mina’s story of her first year in Los Angeles as she navigates the promises and perils of the American myth of reinvention. While she’s barely earning a living by stocking shelves at a Korean grocery store, the last thing Mina ever expects is to fall in love. But that love story sets in motion a series of events that have consequences for years to come, leading up to the truth of what happened the night of her death.

The writing and description in this novel were compelling enough to keep me reading, despite the leisurely pace and Margot’s personality, which I didn’t care for at all. She was so hateful to her mother in her memories. Granted, Mina Lee wasn’t the most loving person, but she did manage to provide for her ungrateful daughter.

Being immersed in the culture of Koreatown was fascinating and complex, and I really enjoyed all the details. I felt so sorry for Mina Lee and everything she experienced, but Margot really made me dislike her, so it was hard to feel any sympathy for her.

Nancy Jooyoun Kim is from Los Angeles. The Last Story of Mina Lee is her debut novel.

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