Tag Archives: family

Book Review: The Essence of Nathan Biddle – Must Read Debut Novel

By J. William Lewis

The Essence of Nathan Biddle is a literary coming of age novel that is destine to be a best seller. It begins with Nathan mourning the death of his cousin on the first anniversary of the event. Seemingly inconceivable to everyone, especially Nathan, that the boy he’d grown up with has been slain. So begins Nathan’s journey through the last of his teenage years, trying to make sense of this senseless act as well as how to move on from the stigma that shrouds his family because of it.

Life goes on no matter what personal problems Nathan is dealing with. He has fallen in love with a girl that once reciprocated his affections, but now she is moving on. He is obsessed with her which begins to color every decision he makes, both good and bad. Once a scholar, his junior year of high school was a disaster. If he doesn’t start working to his potential, college will be questionable at best. He was a track star until he stopped going to practices, prompting the coach to threaten to cut him from the team if he doesn’t get his head straight soon. When tragedy strikes again, Nathan will have to sink or swim in the life he has instead of the life he wants.

It is hard to believe that The Essence of Nathan Biddle is J. William Lewis’ debut novel. It is a beautiful work of fiction with characters that come alive on the pages. From the first pages, the reader is invested in the characters and enthralled with the plot. This is one of those books that keeps you thinking of it long after the last pages are read. I highly recommend it and cannot wait to read the next book written by this author.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy from publicist Maryglenn McCombs in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2021 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: The Good Sister – One of the Best Books I’ve Read this Year

The Good Sister by Sally Hepworth

Fern and Rose are twins. But they are as different as night and day. Rose is plump, married and has a job that demands a large portion of her life. Fern on the other hand, is tall, slender and has sensory issues, bordering on autism. She lives on her own, but depends on Rose when life becomes too overwhelming to handle or when she forgets to close the front door when she leaves the house. Fern works at the local library, loving the routine that is essential to her well-being. She meets an interesting man whom she instantly calls Wally due to his hat that resembles the one that is worn by a character in a children’s book. They soon begin a relationship of sorts.

The reader learns from the journal Rose keeps that the girls have a dark past. She writes of the way her substance abusing mother treated the girls. The trauma of the mother who changed moods like her shoes and mistreatment of Fern and Rose is well outlined. She can no longer hurt them, but what’s done is done and it has deeply changed both of the girls forever. But Rose is determined to keep Fern out of trouble by taking charge as if Fern is her daughter, not her twin.

Watching one sister thrive and the other spiraling downward is interestingly portrayed by the author. The characters ebb and flow with and against each other throughout the pages. The anguish is palpable and further deepens an already complex plot. Conversely, the story is easy to read. It is perfection. There is a twist at the end that I did not anticipate, elevating this book to another level. As someone who reads many books, this one will stand out in my mind for a long time.

This is the first book I’ve read by Ms. Hepworth, but will not be the last. Based in Melbourne, Australia, she has written four previous books. The Secrets of Midwives, in 2015 is her best-selling novel. I daresay The Good Sister is destined to become a best-seller as well.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2021 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Morningside Heights by Joshua Henkin

Spence and Pru live a quiet life. He is an accomplished Shakespeare professor at Columbia in New York. She once aspired to become a lawyer, but after meeting Spence, she forfeited that life for becoming the professor’s wife and the mother of his daughter. Pru was also an orthodox Jew, that lapsed when she left home.

Spence has a son, Arlo, from a previous relationship. Arlo visited a few times each year, but never lived with them longer than a week or two. Living a nomadic life with his mother, he had recently been living in a commune in Delaware. His mother’s greatest aspiration was to poop in every state. At fifteen, Arlo chose to live with his father and Pru. Life was different from the nomadic life he lived with his mother, most notably schooling, or lack thereof. That was about to change, even if Arlo had learning disabilities – it did not matter if he liked it or not.

As time goes on, Pru realizes Spence is becoming forgetful. The Alzheimer’s diagnosis is not unexpected. It is devastating nonetheless. Everyone’s life changed along with Spence as he deteriorated. The question is, will Pru and this children, Sarah and Arlo be able to hold on to the fragile family structure they have built or will it collapse?

Morningside Heights is interesting and true to life. Having had members of my family stricken with Alzheimer’s Disease, I understand the tumultuous path the characters must travel. The characters are interesting and I love the way Henkin allows Arlo to grow and change over the course of the book.

This is the first book I have read by Joshua Henkin. He is the author of multiple short stories as well as several novels. One of which, The World Without You, is the 2012 winner of the Edward Lewis Wallant Award for American Jewish Fiction.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley and the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2021 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: The Second Home – Page Turning Beach Read

The Second Home

By Christina Clancy

Wellfleet on the shore of Cape Cod houses the heart and second home of the Gordon family. It also is the place of the explosive event that rips the family apart. Based upon lies, pain and heartache, it seems as though the rift is insurmountable. Eventually the grown children, Poppy, Ann and Michael must confront the past in order to see the possibilities of the future.

Ann is the oldest, most logical and on the path she has walked since she was a child. She is a good student with lots of friends and activities to keep her busy and happy. Poppy lives in Ann’s shadow, but she adores her. Things begin to unravel for her during her teens as she finds a new group of friends that are into drugs and the carefree lives of the surf scene. Michael came to the family when he was in high school. He is a close friend of Ann’s, and when his mother dies, Ann’s family adopts him. Bright and ambitious, it is just the leg up he needs to go to college. Until that fated day in Wellfleet when his world began to crumble.

Brilliantly written in first person, alternating between Ann, Poppy and Michael, the reader is pulled into the thoughts and actions of the characters. Misunderstandings and lack of communication between the main characters creates tension and conflict but they must come together after tragedy hits the family.

I love this fast-paced novel. The plot is intricate, yet easy to read. The characters are fully developed and interesting. The setting in Wellfleet makes me long to visit the shore.

It is hard to believe that The Second Home is Christina Clancy’s debut novel. The richness of the text and the depth of the story will have readers clamoring for more. Hopefully she will favor us with another novel in the near future.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2020 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Remembering Ethan – Beautiful Book that Helps Children Work Through Grief

Remembering Ethan

By Leslea Newman

Illustrated by Tracy Nishimura Bishop

Sarah’s big brother Ethan died. She thinks about him and misses him all of the time. Her Mommy and Daddy won’t talk about him, so she thinks they do not miss him. Buttons, her cat, is the only one that seems to understand how sad she is.

One day she is so lonely and frustrated, she goes into Ethan’s room and sits down at his desk. She writes his name all over a paper and then draws a picture of Ethan giving Buttons and her a double piggy-back ride. But when she puts the picture on the fridge, her mommy and daddy get really upset.

Later, Mommy and Daddy are sitting on the couch and have placed the picture she drew on the wall over the fireplace. Daddy explained that they were very sad, but her picture helps them remember Ethan. Then they looked at pictures of their whole family, especially Ethan and remember how much they love him.

This touching picture book is heartbreakingly beautiful. The feelings that Sarah has as well as her parents are gently there for the reader to think about, especially if they have lost a loved one. Telling the story from Sarah’s point of view gives a voice to the feelings children may have after losing a sibling or other special person.

After the story is a section for parents or caregivers about dealing with and processing the grief of a child after the loss of a sibling. I sincerely hope you don’t have to deal with this reality in your life, but if you do, this book will help.

I highly recommend this book for all children and parents. Unfortunately, death touches all people and coping can be especially difficult. Be it the loss of a pet, a grandparent, neighbor or someone else your child is connected to, Remembering Ethan will help you help them and you cope with the loss.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2020 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Coming Home for Christmas – Heartwarming Story of Love and Redemption

Coming Home for Christmas

By RaeAnne Thayne

Luke Hamilton is going to jail unless he can prove he did not murder his missing wife. Ironically, he has recently found her. The good news is she is alive and well so he cannot be arrested. The bad news is the woman he has loved for years chose to leave him and her two young children behind seven years ago without a word. A private investigator confirmed that Elizabeth is alive and Luke was going to leave her alone until he realized he had to bring her home long enough to prove she is not dead and he is not a murderer.

Elizabeth understands, but is terrified. Many things have changed in her life since she walked out on her family. She has another life, but has secretly caught glimpses of her family during the last few years. She would love nothing more than spending time with her children, but understands Luke’s protectiveness because of the pain she has caused by leaving them.

Luke is determined to get the entire situation taken care of in a few days. Unfortunately, Christmas is just around the corner and the feelings that he has for his wife have never really changed. Yes, he is angry, but he loves her. It will take a Christmas miracle to bring this broken family back together after all they have been through.

Coming Home for Christmas is a heartwarming story of love and redemption. The holiday setting enhances the sense of magic in the air. The underlying mystery of where and why Elizabeth has been for the last seven years is woven throughout the pages until the reader finally gets the last pieces of the puzzle in the final chapters. The mystery of her disappearance adds another layer to an already interesting plot that I thoroughly enjoyed.

This is the first book I’ve read by Ms. Thayne, who is a prolific romance writer. She has written several different romance series, including the Haven Point series, of which Coming Home for Christmas is #10. Even though I had not read the previous books in the series, I was never confused or lost. It works well as a stand-alone novel. I really enjoyed this Christmas romance with a bit of mystery. If you are a fan of Debbie Macomber, you will love this book and author.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: No Fences in Alaska – Finding Redemption in Alaska

No Fences in Alaska

By Glen Sobey

Harper is a troubled sixteen-year-old. She is going down a path that her parents never thought a daughter of theirs would travel. Deeply religious, her father is the head of a Christian School. Harper has been expelled from the school and is dabbling in sex and drugs. Searching for herself in the cocoon of religious righteousness has not been easy. She feels as though her family has chosen religion over the love for her they once had.

When Harper finds herself over her head and can’t see a way out of the trouble she is in, she turns to the grandfather she hasn’t seen in years. He lives in Alaska, far away from the family that turned their backs on him many years ago. Her grandpa, Cooper, welcomes her without judgement or conditions. Little does Harper know that he is hiding a secret that will soon affect all of their lives.

Even though Harper knows what she wants to do, she so soon realizes that even the best laid plans are subject to change. As she grows closer to Cooper and the lifestyle in Alaska, she begins to change. Cooper encourages her to focus on her love of music again. Her outlook on life changes drastically, but will it be too late to repair the relationship with her father? Is he willing to give her the chance she needs to become herself instead of the perfect person he has tried to create?

Cooper and Harper are the perfect pair. The characters are both deeply flawed, much like most human beings. It is not the flaws that we should judge by, it is how obstacles are overcome and challenges are met. Sobey does a magnificent job of bringing real issues to the forefront and meeting them head on. That is not to say the characters always choose the best or easiest options, but realistically, who does?

Classified as a YA Novel, adults will also find that No Fences in Alaska is a heartwarming tale of redemption, love and change. The setting of Alaska is perfect. Bears, moose and the cold all play roles in the book. The beauty and serenity of the Alaskan wilderness allows more introspect than any state in the lower 48 could possibly offer.

This is the first book I’ve read by Glen Sobey. His previous book, The War Blog was also set in Alaska. Both of his novels are standalone, but both seem to have the same common thread of love, coming of age and the sharp truths some teens have to live with.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from  Reedsy Discovery in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Murder from Scratch – Delicious Culinary Cozy

Murder from Scratch

By Leslie Karst

Restaurant owner, chef and part-time amateur sleuth Sally Solari is back and things are heating up both in and out of the kitchen. First of all, one of her cooks has an attitude. Brian has been on edge, and it is affecting his co-workers in a less than desirable way. Maybe he is worried about Sally going into joint ownership of Gauguin, the restaurant she inherited from her aunt, with Javier her head chef. And secondly, her father calls with an unusual request. Apparently a relative by marriage has been found dead by her twenty-year-old blind daughter Evelyn. Italian family ties are strong, even if you have not seen a relative in years, you still help them. So Sally’s dad brought Evelyn to his house because she has nowhere else to go. She is more than welcome, but her service dog has made Sally’s dad’s allergies kick into high gear. Of course Sally welcomes Evelyn and her dog into her home. She is looking forward to getting to know her better.

When Evelyn begins to tell Sally about her mother’s death ruled a suicide, the girls soon realize foul play is most likely what happened. Apparently Evelyn’s mom was a gifted chef and had recently struck out on her own, leaving a disgruntled boss behind.  Then there are the suspicious co-workers that might be hiding something. Before long the suspect list becomes longer than the specials menu at Gauguin and Sally is determined to prove her aunt’s death was not an accident or suicide, but a well-planned murder.

Detective Vargas warns Sally to stay away from her list of suspects, knowing it is futile. He just wants her out of harm’s way. When he asks her to call him by his first name, Sally wonders if he may want to have a more personal relationship. Speaking of personal relationships, her ex-boyfriend Max is apparently seeing someone. She has mixed feelings about the whole thing. They are just friends, right? Then why is she upset about him seeing another woman?

This is the fourth book in this series, but the third I have read. Somehow I missed the first one, but have added it to my reading list. There are references to the previous books, but reads fine as a stand-alone novel if you have not read the previous books.

If you read my reviews, you know by now I am a fan of cozy mysteries. I know they are not War and Peace, but no one ever intended them to be. Karst delivers an intriguing plot with lots of suspects, characters that come to life in the pages and a satisfying end to the story. It is all a reader can ask for and more. I learned many things in Murder from Scratch about how blind people navigate through their lives as well as what it is like to work in and run a restaurant. And as a bonus, there are recipes at the end of the book for some of the dishes discussed in the novel.

I highly recommend this series if you are a mystery lover, crazy for cozies or just love a good plot without the blood and gore. You will not be disappointed.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Reviews: Chronicles of a Radical Hag – How Well Do We Really Know Anyone?

Chronicles of a Radical Hag

by  Lorna Ladvik

Haze Evans, columnist for the Granite Creek Gazette suffers a massive stroke at the beginning of Chronicles of a Radical Hag but the book is filled with her words and opinions on life. Haze has been writing columns for as long as anyone can remember. Sometimes her columns are lighthearted in nature, but most often with her strong opinions about social issues of the day. She takes on topics that others might shy away from, and gives her own personal take on everything from abortion to assassinations while making each topic even more personal by sharing her life stories bits and pieces at a time.

Susan, the editor of the paper decides to run Haze’s columns while her favorite columnist is hospitalized. Susan’s high school age son Sam is enlisted to work for his mom by reading through Haze’s columns to see which ones would be appropriate to run as well as the responses Haze received on the topics. He is an introverted teen with a lot on his mind, mainly the recent affair his father has had which lead to his parents separation.

Sam soon becomes engrossed in Haze’s columns, advice and the people who love and hate her opinions. The Gazette readers are finding a new side of their favorite columnist by reading Haze’s opinions from years ago. This interest has encouraged the local high school kids to really discuss issues in their English class instead of the usual disinterest in the meaning of text. Some of the kids have even begun writing – pen to paper – writing down their opinions and thoughts.

While Haze seems to have opened her life to her readers, Sam uncovers some things that she has never shared. The further he digs he realizes that one of the secrets could have an impact on his family. But honestly, we cannot know everything about a person, each of us has something we don’t share with others that might surprise even the best of friends.

Ms. Ladvik creates a town of engaging characters, old and young. As the reader gets to know each of them, it is easy to see why they behave like they do. Watching them grow and learn is a gift to the reader. It gives us hope for the change that true dialog with others whether written or conversing can initiate.

This is the first book that I have read by Ms. Ladvik, but not the first she has written. When I popped over to her website, I found that this is her 15th book. How I could have missed her engaging writing style reminiscent of Fanny Flagg is beyond me. I will be adding the other 14 to my reading list.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

 

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Book Review: The Drowned Girl – Thought Provoking Mystery

The Drowned Girl (previously published as Only One Life)

By Sara Blaedel

Officer Louise Rick travels an hour out of Copenhagen to a small town to help the Unit One Mobile Task Force investigate the horrific murder of a young girl. She was found submerged in the bay by a local fisherman. Suicide is out of the question as she was tethered to a concrete block. Was this an act of random violence? Was she killed by someone she knew? Or was this an honor killing?

The dead teen is Muslim. Her parents live by the rules of their religion, which makes the investigation much more difficult due to their lack of cooperation due to fear and tradition. Unfortunately, information comes to light that may point to a private side of the young victim. Her parents may have found out about her secret which could have brought dishonor to their family.

Enter crime reporter Camilla, close friend of Louise. She jumps into the story and latches onto the honor killing theory. Her editor wants more of this angle, but the deeper Camilla dives into the lives of the Muslim families, the more she wants to help them by finding the truth. But her articles are stirring up a hornet’s nest of preconceived notions that will result in a bigger divide between Danish and Muslims. Will this lead to more violence?

Not only is this a solid mystery, but the thread of prejudice that affects the different groups of people is woven throughout the plot. This multilayered story makes the reader pause to think about listening more and learning more about others they may fear or dislike without foundation.

Some books that are translated from a different language are difficult to read. The Drowned Girl is not one of those books. The flow and read was perfect. Even though this is the first novel I’ve read by Blaedel, it is not the first mystery featuring Louise Rick, but I never felt as though I didn’t know enough about the characters to fully understand the story. Actually, it was quite the opposite. Not only were the main characters shown doing their jobs, but personal lives, hopes and dreams are woven throughout to bring them to life and enrich the story.

This intriguing mystery is entertaining and thought provoking. The plot kept me guessing until the last chapters. Just when I thought I knew who the killer was, my theory would be debunked in the next chapter. This is a perfect multilayered book. If you like depth of characters and the tough topics in Jodi Picoult books, you will love Blaedel’s writing style.

Sara Blaedel is a prolific Danish author, who now resides in New York. She is the recipient of several awards including the Golden Laurel, Denmark’s most prestigious literary award.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from the publisher/author in connection with Killer Nashville in return for my review. Copyright © 2018 Laura Hartman

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