Tag: fiction

Book Review: Sparrow, by Mary Cecilia Jackson

Image belongs to Tor Teen.

Title:  Sparrow
AuthorMary Cecilia Jackson
Genre:  YA
Rating:  4.5 out of 5

Sparrow—Savannah Darcy Rose—thought she would be safe after her mother died. She thought she could finally stop hiding. She’s a gifted ballerina with a tight-knit circle of friends, she’s starring in a new production, and her future looks bright.

Then she meets Tristan:  handsome, wealthy, the most popular boy in school. Sparrow is in love, but Tristan isn’t quite as perfect as he seems, and soon Sparrow finds herself keeping secrets from everyone. She’s not the kind of girl who tells, but after a brutal assault, she must learn how to open up to those around her.

This wasn’t an easy book to read. You could see the disaster looming…but you were helpless to divert it. Sparrow’s backstory is horrifying, and the emotional scars she bears lead to physical scars in her present. I loved her strength and determination—and the strong friendships made the novel shine.

Mary Cecilia Jackson loves being a Southerner and reading. Sparrow is her debut novel.

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

Book Review: The Rome of Fall, by Chad Alan Gibbs

the rome of fall
Image belongs to Borne Back Books.

Title:  The Rome of Fall
AuthorChad Alan Gibbs
Genre:  Fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

Twenty years ago, Marcus Brinks left Rome, Alabama behind quickly, quietly, and mysteriously. The small town worshiped its football gods—back when Marcus was in high school, that was Deacon Cassburn—and allowed them to get away with anything short of murder, including bullying Marcus and his best friends, Silas and third-string quarterback Jackson. So Marcus and his friends decide to take down Deacon—state championship on the line or not.

Now Marcus is back in Rome to care for his dying mother. Things have changed in Rome…or have they? Marcus is a teacher and former indie rock star and Jackson is the football god/coach, while Deacon and his buddies plot to take him down. Things are ugly in Rome, and Marcus just wants to keep out of the drama and maybe have a bit of romance with his high school crush. But the past has a way of shaping the future, and even in Rome, it will catch up to you.

I’m not a football fan, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying every page of this. I graduated in ’95, so all the references the author made brought that back to life for me. I’m from Texas, so I get the Friday Night Lights hoopla—even though my high school didn’t have football until just a couple of years ago, the basketball coach back then could have gotten away with murder—and it was so vivid and realistic in The Rome of Fall.

Marcus isn’t entirely likable, but he’s relatable. The whole teen angst storyline in the ‘90s was vivid, angry, and full of pain. The present-day storyline was more nostalgic, but also angry and painful. I loved how everything resolved at the end, bringing Marcus full-circle and the reader hoping he finds happiness along with his dreams.

Chad Alan Gibbs is an award-winning author. The Rome of Fall is his newest novel.

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

Book Review: The Deep, by Alma Katsu

Image belongs to Penguin Group/Putnam.

Title:  The Deep
AuthorAlma Katsu
Genre:  Historical, psychological thriller
Rating:  4 out of 5

The Titanic is haunted. Sudden deaths, mysterious disappearances, objects that aren’t where they’re supposed to be, and visions…something is plaguing the ship. Annie Hebley serves on the maiden voyage of the celebrated ship, assigned to care for Mark Fletcher and his family. Early in the voyage, Annie realizes something strange is going on with the Fletchers—but then disaster strikes.

Years later, Annie, having miraculously survived the Titanic’s sinking, finds herself working on its sister ship, The Britannic, a hospital ship during the war. Memories of that other fateful voyage haunt her, then she sees a wounded soldier on the verge of death—Mark Fletcher, whom she thought died years ago in the frigid waters around Titanic. Annie doesn’t know how he survived, and soon comes to believe he didn’t.

Whatever haunted The Titanic is now on board The Britannic. And it wants what it lost.

I found The Deep a little hard to follow, as there was so much disjointedness in both time periods. Annie was an unreliable narrator—but so was everyone else—so knowing what was really going on wasn’t easy. I’ve always been fascinated and saddened by stories of The Titanic, so that was part was wonderful, but some of the secondary characters here—the boxers—seemed…kind of pointless to the storyline.

Alma Katsu lives outside Washington, D.C. The Deep is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Penguin Group/Putnam in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Lost at Sea, by Erica Boyce

lost at sea
Image belongs to Sourcebooks Landmark.

Title:  Lost at Sea
AuthorErica Boyce
Genre:  Fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

When fisherman John Staybrook vanishes one night during a storm, his disappearance raises questions. His daughter, Ella, is convinced he’s still alive and someone in the town is hiding secrets—and the key to his disappearance.

Her friend and former babysitter, Lacey, helps Ella investigate her father’s disappearance. Lacey is struggling with her own demons—her addiction to painkillers after a knee injury, the “beetle” in her brain that makes her question everything around her and that’s only quieted by the pills—and secrets from her own past, but she and the rest of the town also wonder why an experienced fisherman like John was out in that deadly storm.

This novel, like Boyce’s previous novel, The Fifteen Wonders of Daniel Green, has a slow, easy pace that nevertheless keeps the reader intrigued to find out just what’s going on. So many secrets—and so few answers—keep that pace alive. Lacey’s struggle is at the heart of this novel, although Ella’s pain also holds a key place. With secrets from the past spilling over into the present, this novel manages to turn what seem to be random threads into a complex tapestry.

Erica Boyce is a member of the Massachusetts bar and an editor. Lost at Sea is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: The Girl with the Louding Voice, by Abi Daré

the girl with the louding voice
Image belongs to Penguin/Dutton.

Title:  The Girl with the Louding Voice
Author:  Abi Daré
Genre:  Fiction
Rating:  4.2 out of 5

Adunni is a fourteen-year-old Nigerian girl who dreams of finishing her education and becoming a teacher. Before her mother died, she made her father promise Adunni wouldn’t be forced to marry, but her father now disregards that promise and gives her to be the third wife to a local man who demands that she gives him sons—and his first wife terrorizes her.

So Adunni runs away—and finds herself as the house slave to a wealthy couple in the city. The wife forces Adunni to scrub the house with a toothbrush and beats her whenever the whim strikes. The husband is a threat of a different kind, and Adunni realizes if she is ever to have “a louding voice”—the ability to speak and stand up for herself—she will have to act despite her fear. For herself. For the ones who came before her. And for those who will come after.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget how blessed I am, but this book paints it in stark relief in comparison to Adunni’s life. The strength and determination it would take to stand up to centuries of tradition and cultural habits is amazing. Adunni has suffered unspeakable things at the hands of those around her—yet she’s still upbeat and determined to seize her dreams in both hands. An excellent read—but not light and fluffy.

Abi Daré grew up in Nigeria and now lives in the UK. The Girl with the Louding Voice is her debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of Penguin Group/Dutton in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Borgia Confessions, by Alyssa Palombo

the borgia confessions
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:  The Borgia Confessions
Author:  Alyssa Palombo
Genre:  Historical fiction
Rating:  3.5 out of 5

Rome, 1492.

Rodrigo Borgia has risen to pope and is intent on bringing his family with him on his rise in power. His goal is a papal dynasty. His oldest son, Cesare, doesn’t want to enter the church—he wants to be in the military—but he abides by his father’s plans—as his foolish brother is chosen for military greatness. So Cesare learns to keep his thoughts and his emotions a secret.

Maddalena Moretti comes from the countryside. She’s thrilled to have found a place working in the pope’s household and ecstatic to be working for such a holy man. Until Maddalena realizes the Borgia family have feet of clay, and her faith starts to crumble. Soon she finds herself involved in a secret relationship with Cesare and knowing all the Borgia secrets—enough to put her life in danger.

Fantastic writing in this novel. The setting, characters, and cultures all came to vibrant life. But…I didn’t like any of them. The Borgia family is selfish and self-absorbed—at best—caring only for their own ambitions and desires and ignoring those they hurt on the way. I had some sympathy for Maddalena, but she embraced her weakness for Cesare and made excuses for it, and that’s something I cannot fathom. These people were horrible to each other—but the writing was spectacular enough that I was engrossed in a book about people I avidly disliked.

Alyssa Palombo lives and works in Buffalo, New York. The Borgia Confessions is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: A Good Neighborhood, by Therese Anne Fowler

a good neighborhood
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:  A Good Neighborhood
AuthorTherese Anne Fowler
Genre:  Fiction
Rating:  4.0 out of 5

Oak Knoll is a quality neighborhood—a good neighborhood—in North Carolina. The neighbors know each other and support each other, so when a new house is built and a new family moves in, everyone knows it. The Whitmans have money, fame, and a daughter who’s hiding things.

Brad Whitman likes everyone knowing his name—and controlling everyone he can. Julia Whitman escaped her trailer-house-and-poverty-filled life for the safety of marriage, and she knows Brad was her way out and her key to continued wealth. And Juniper is tired of being labeled a good girl and doing what everyone else thinks is best for her—and she’s intrigued by the cute boy who lives in the house behind them.

Valerie Aston-Holt is an ecology professor and a single parent to her talented biracial son, Xavier. She nurtures Xavier’s talents and her trees with the same devotion, and when the Whitman’s new home threatens the ancient oak on her property, she knows she must act. When she discovers Xavier’s love for Juniper, she knows there will be complications. But even Valerie can’t foresee just how bad those complications will be.

This book made me angry. Angry because I believe this could so easily happen in our culture—and does happen frequently in a society that thinks because racism isn’t blatant and overt, it isn’t real. So, yeah, anger was my main response to this book.

I had a little bit of trouble with the point-of-view here, which was a Greek-chorus style narrator, and made the book feel distant to me. I also didn’t find the portrayal of conservative “Christians” (in the book, a Christian is someone who goes to church, and that is not accurate in the least bit) to be anything short of narrow-minded and biased. I have no doubt that some conservatives attend churches like those portrayed in the novel, but not all Christian churches are like that. In the slightest. And the ones that are, are doing people a grave injustice.

The issues the novel is concerned with are real and troubling and horrible, and this portrayal of them brings them to life and makes them personal. Solid writing, intriguing characters (except Brad), and a read I highly recommend, despite its one-sidedness in certain areas.

Therese Anne Fowler is a bestselling author. A Good Neighborhood is her newest novel.

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

Blog Tour and Review: Been There, Married That, by Gigi Levangie

been there
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:  Been There, Married That
Author: Gigi Levangie
Genre:  Fiction
Rating:  2.5 out of 5

Agnes Nash is the perfect Hollywood wife—all the right clothes, all the right friends, all the right hobbies—and even has a job of her own, author, outside of her daughter and her producer husband. Life is good—until the day her credit cards are cancelled, and she comes home to find the locks changed and a guard with a taser. Agnus’s husband is determined she’ll get nothing, but Agnus isn’t giving up without a fight.

Okay, here’s the thing:  I didn’t finish this book. The writing was great:  good characterizations, on point description, cohesive plot…but I only made it about 20% of the way through, because this just wasn’t the right choice for me. The characters were narcissistic and mean, and, frankly, their concerns were so frivolous as to be ridiculous. It would probably have been a hilarious read, but I just can’t connect with such selfish people, making it a no-go for me.

Again:  this is just me and my reaction to the story. It might make a great read for other people, but I just couldn’t turn off my annoyance with the characters and their self-absorbed antics.

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

Book Review: Light Changes Everything, by Nancy E. Turner

light changes everything
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:  Light Changes Everything
Author:  Nancy  E. Turner
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

In the summer of 1907, Mary Pearl enjoys her life in the Arizona Territory, but she longs for something more. Her parents agreed to her studying art at Wheaton College—but when handsome and rich Aubrey Hanna starts courting her, Mary Pearl wonders if college is what she really wants.  Soon enough, she’s learning about life in an eastern town, studying, and writing letters to Aubrey—who soon shows his true colors.

Mary Pearl is learning about more than art. She’s also learning how to act and look like a lady. She’s happy with her new skills, but a trip back to Arizona Territory will change her life—and her family—forever.

I haven’t read any of the author’s other books, but I enjoyed the setting and Mary Pearl’s story immensely. The setting is vibrantly alive, and Mary Pearl and her family are all colorful characters. What happened to Mary Pearl was no surprise, but how she dealt with it was handled with deft hands that showed her strength, and I found this to be an enjoyable historical fiction read.

Nancy E. Turner was born in Texas but now lives in Arizona. Light Changes  Everything is her newest novel.

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

Blog Tour and Book Review: An Everyday Hero, by Laura Trentham

an everyday hero
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:  An Everyday Hero
AuthorLaura Trentham
Genre:  Fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

Greer Hadley’s dreams of being a songwriter in Nashville crashed and burned, sending her back home to Madison, Tennessee. Like living with her parents isn’t bad enough, a spectacularly bad decision—and a drink or two too many—leave her doing community service at a nonprofit organization that helps veterans and their families. She can’t even bring herself to perform anymore—how is she going to help anyone else?

Then Greer meets fifteen-year-old Ally who’s new to town and recently lost her father, and Greer finds herself drawn to the bitter, sarcastic girl. Greer also ends up assigned to Emmett Lawson, a high school hero who came home from the front lines wounded and needing no one. After he tries to run her off with a shotgun, Greer is even more determined to help Emmett realize he needs to let people in—especially when Ally is in crisis and it will take both of them to see her safely through.

An Everyday Hero takes three characters who have been broken down by life and builds them back up through each other. They’ve all hit rock bottom and can’t see any way up—Emmett doesn’t even want to go up—but manage to find their way back to the light. Trust plays a big part in the novel, particularly learning to trust people with the truths of your scars and wounds, and I found this an enjoyable read.

Laura Trentham was born and Raised in Tennessee but now lives in South Carolina. An Everyday Hero is her newest novel.

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