Tag Archives: fiction

Book Review: Other People’s Houses – The Perfect Summer Read

Other People’s Houses

By Abbi Waxman

 

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.

Neighbors can be ignored, acquaintances or befriended on levels from chit chats over fences to confidants. In Frances’s neighborhood, she has some of each of the above. As a stay home mom, she is the designated car pool to school kind of neighbor, so she knows anyone with small children pretty well. At least she thought so.

The day started out like any other day. Frances picks up her charges and heads to school with them. Kids are dropped off, piling out of the minivan like a clown car. That is until six-year-old Katie realizes she forgot her toilet paper rolls for her project. The last thing Frances wants to do is to drive back to Katie’s house, get the missing TP rolls and drive back to school again. But looking at Katie’s desperate little face she knows she will have to go back for them.

Getting back to the child’s house, Frances knocked, but when there was no answer, she figured Anne, Kate’s mom, had gone back to bed or was busy and didn’t hear the knock. She opened the door and saw the bag of toilet paper rolls right inside so she grabbed it and turned to make her return trip to school. That is when she saw Anne laying on the floor.

Frances immediately turned to her asking if she was okay, but suddenly it dawned on her Anne was not alone. And the person she was with was not her husband. Frances isn’t the type of person to blab all over the neighborhood. But even if she doesn’t tell anyone about Anne’s indiscretion, the wheels are in motion to change the dynamics of the neighborhood and their relationships with their families and each other.

Behind closed doors relationships thrive or wither, life changing decisions are made or sometimes made for you. As we learn about all of the neighbors no one may truly be the person they seem to be to the neighbors, even those close to each other. But when two of the children go missing, they will all have to rally together to find them.

Other People’s Houses is a very interesting, often funny book about people who would not necessarily be connected in any way other than buying a house in the same neighborhood. Abbi Waxman gives the reader little gems of character studies throughout the story. Her insight to human nature brings the neighbors to life on her pages. One of my favorites is when one of the kids was thinking about his mom, “His mom never seemed to worry, she was the trellis his little vines twined around.”

Grab a cup of coffee or tea and spend some time with Frances, her family and neighbors. This is the perfect summer read.

This is the first book I have read by Abbi Waxman. It is a gem, so I can’t wait to read her first book, Garden of Small Beginnings next!

Copyright © 2018 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Lady Be Good – Fantastic Fiction

Lady Be Good

By Amber Brock

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

The year is 1953, the place is New York. Kitty Tessler is rich, carefree and conniving. Kitty has everything except what she really wants – to be accepted into the fold of the social elite of the day. By her calculations, she is snubbed because her family is part of the new money generation. She longs to marry into an old money family so she can claim her spot in the social circles that talk about her behind her back.

But time is running out for her plan. Her father owns posh hotels and has given her an ultimatum. If she doesn’t stop partying and settle down, he will cut off her funds and insist she start working for the hotel. As if that isn’t bad enough, she will start at the bottom. Becoming a maid will boot her out of the edge of society she is clinging to, so something has to be done, and soon. To make matters even worse, her father has come up with a prospective groom that will thwart her plan to marry into a well-heeled family.

This is when Kitty begins to hatch an elaborate plan. She has to work quickly and carefully manipulating, planning and lying to those closest to her. What she doesn’t bargain on is falling for the wrong guy and losing someone she dearly loves.

Lady Be Good is light enough to be a beach read, but has an underlying current of a much deeper novel. The plot is interesting, and the real beauty of the story lies in the characters. The main characters are flawed, much like any and every one you may know. No one is perfect, especially Kitty. She is not always likeable, often abrasive and occasionally schemes and plots at other’s expense. The beauty of her and the other characters is the growth they experience as the novel progresses. One of my favorite quotes is, “Sometimes a part of you must die to begin living again.”  This resonates with me as an integral part of emotional growth on many levels.

This is the first novel I have read by Amber Brock. Her critically acclaimed debut book, A Fine Imitation is also available.  Both books are historical novels. Brock brilliantly takes readers back in time with relevant historical facts woven into her fictional character’s lives. I recommend stepping back in time with Kitty and enjoy the ride in vintage style.

  Copyright © 2018 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: The Subway Girls – Things Have Changed – Or Have They?

The Subway Girls

By Susie Orman Schnall

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.

Charlotte is clever, bright and educated. She longs to work in Marketing. Even though she is about to graduate from college, she can’t get a job at any of the firms she has applied to. It isn’t that she wants to start at the top; as a matter of fact she is willing to start in the typing pool and work her way up. This is a long shot for a young woman in 1949. To add more misery to her world, her father’s hardware store isn’t doing well, so he wants her to work for him instead of getting a job that actually pays so he can fire his last employee.

Her age is another deterrent. No one wants to hire someone as old as twenty-one. It is almost a certainty that she is just waiting to get engaged, married and immediately after resign to take care of her husband, home and however many children they have in quick succession. Charlotte wants more from life, including a career at a marketing firm.

Olivia lives in a world where women can hold almost any job that a man can. They may not get equal pay, but in 2018 women are much more likely to be taken seriously. It appears to be true, but when Olivia’s job becomes a contest between the other manager at her marketing firm and her, only one of them will still be employed when all is said and done. It doesn’t seem to matter that she has brilliant ideas; the “good old boy” network is alive and well. Unfortunately, her competition will do anything to have the best campaign for the New York Subway system. To boost their ridership, the NY Subway needs something new with a twist of retro and even though Olivia comes up with great ideas, will she be heard?

Meantime, back in 1949, Charlotte has personal and professional issues. She wins a contest to be a Subway Girl that she entered on a whim. They are New York gals that are smart and pretty. Charlotte cleverly thinks if she can mention her father’s store during the campaign it will be on all of the subway cars, therefore free marketing so she won’t have to work in the family business and can further pursue her dream.

Olivia reads about the Subway Girls and feels it is a great idea that would stand up today. It will be retro with a new spin, landing right where the client wants it to be. After doing her research, she even locates a few of the gals who posed for the Subway Girl posters fifty years ago.

Susie Orman Schnall does a marvelous job melding 1949 with 2018. So much is different, and yet, so much is the same. She cleverly alternates chapters between Charlotte and Olivia, taking the reader seamlessly from one story to the other until they blend beautifully in the last few chapters. The struggles each girl experiences in her personal and professional life are universal through time.

The Subway Girls is a fast paced, interesting novel. The characters are well developed and the plot line is interesting and complex. Often times women’s fiction has too much romance and whining involved for me, which is definitely not the case with this fantastic book. There was a subplot of romance, but not to the extent of overtaking the story. This novel is just the right amount of everything. I loved it.

Copyright © 2018 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Murder on Union Square – A Gaslight Mystery

Murder on Union Square

By Victoria Thompson

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

Frank Malloy and his wife Sarah are looking for a killer in the latest Gaslight Mystery by award winning author Victoria Thompson. When Malloy is found with bloody hands over the body of a dead man, the local police figure they have an open and shut case. Malloy, former cop turned PI is not a favorite of the precinct which just adds more fuel to the fire. And if that isn’t enough to get him in hot water, the dead man needed to sign custody papers so that Sarah and Malloy could adopt the victim’s daughter, which according to the police, gives Malloy the perfect motive.

Sarah quickly bails Malloy out and rounds up Gino (Malloy’s partner) and Maeve (Sarah’s right-hand gal) to start investigating the murder to clear her husband’s name. The problem is there is an unreliable witness that claims Malloy is the killer. It doesn’t help that it happened in a theater full of actors, all of which seemed to have an ax to grind with the victim and his girlfriend. Everyone seems to be lying or hiding something from each other and the investigators, who must pull out all stops to find the truth, clear Malloy’s name and put the real killer behind bars.

This is the twenty-first book in Thompson’s Gaslight Mystery Series. It is the first one that I have read, and it works as a stand-alone novel. There were a few times I was fuzzy on who a specific character was for a page or two but Thompson skillfully gave enough information to put them in context before the end of the chapter. It is no surprise that she is a #1 Best Selling New York Times author as well as Edgar and Agatha nominee.

Murder on Union Square is tantalizingly engaging. I love the depth of characters as well as the twists and turns of the storyline. There is something cozy and comforting about historical novels that draw me in immediately. While I am thankful for cell phones and modern forensics, it is refreshing to have mysteries that are solved with shoe leather and wit.

Somehow I’ve missed out on Thompson’s series before now, but cannot wait to put the other twenty on my wish list. Anyone who is a fan of captivating historical mysteries and realistic characters should do that same.

Copyright © 2018 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Twenty-one Days – Stellar Work of Historical History

Twenty-one Days – A Daniel Pitt Novel

By Anne Perry

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.

Set in 1910, Twenty-one Days opens with young barrister Daniel Pitt defending a wealthy man of dubious reputation. Murder is the charge and Pitt’s father is associated with the former police officer standing trial. While the young lawyer is smart and clever, he is worried that he is in over his head. To make matters worse, there is another man on trial for killing his wife in a most brutal way and Pitt is needed the next day to take the place of an injured co-worker so he must wrap up the trial the next morning or the accused will then have to start over with a new defense attorney. Good or bad, Pitt had to finish and be in court at the Old Bailey – the most famous court in the British Empire.

He makes it to court, albeit late.  Kitterage is the lawyer in charge; Pitt will be doing as told. Unfortunately things go south in a hurry. The distasteful accused claimed innocence but it seemed unlikely anyone else could have brutally murdered his wife. Not only was she murdered, but horribly disfigured by burning her face and upper torso after death. This trial does not go the way Kitterage and Pitt planned. Their client was quickly found guilty and set to hang in twenty-one days. He was not a pleasant man, as a matter of fact he was most distasteful. But he was entitled to every effort of his two attorneys to win an appeal to keep him from the hangman’s noose.

To further complicate Kitterage and Pitt’s job even further, the accused has countless enemies due to a controversial manuscript he intends to publish. At best it includes damning information of several highly recognizable and influential citizens. Unfortunately, it borders on treason at the highest level, which is alienating him from the men hired to keep him from hanging. Pitt finds himself working day and night to help the man that just might “rip the masks off of people we regard as heroes” – twenty-one days to do the impossible.

This is the first book in award winning author Anne Perry’s new series starring Daniel Pitt, but it is the 33rd book in the Pitt series. It is the first one I’ve read, but I did not feel confused or that I was missing something in the story for not having started with the entire Pitt series. It is easy to see why Perry is an internationally renowned historical novelist. Her intriguing plot, engaging prose and multidimensional characters are skillfully woven into a page turning book that will delight mystery lovers worldwide.  Ms. Perry is second to none when writing historical fiction.

Copyright © 2018 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: The Last Chance Matinee – Compelling Women’s Fiction

The Last Chance Matinee

By Mariah Stewart

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley and the publisher.

Cara is devastated to hear her father has passed away. She is shocked  and confused that her father’s close friend and attorney has followed her father’s odd, yet explicit wishes. Her father traveled often, and unbeknownst to her was diagnosed with terminal cancer, succumbed to the disease and then cremated without her knowledge.

She understands that her father’s attorney, known to her as Uncle Pete, was only doing her father’s bidding. Still reeling from her mother’s death, Cara feels utterly alone and honestly a bit confused. She is given instructions to come to meet with Uncle Pete regarding her father’s will.

When she arrives, she meets Allie and Des. Apparently her father has an entirely different life than the one he shared with Cara – these two strangers are her sisters.He simply had two wives, one on the east coast and one on the west coast that he managed to keep separate until his death.

The only way any of them will inherit his sizeable estate is to follow his directions explicitly. It specifies all of them must live and work together in his hometown in Pennsylvania to restore the theater that has been in their family for generations. Each of them is harboring secrets from the others but they all could really use the money – one far more than the others. So they begin the rocky road to restoration on the aging building as well as themselves.

I love the diversity of the characters and settings in this novel. The women are so different from one another, the two sisters raised together don’t even really like each other. It is easy to empathize with them for the odd situation they are thrust into.

Stewart wisely highlights her characters that bring her story to life making it a page turning gem. Every chapter had me reading “just one more” deep into the night. There is only one complaint I have. The loose ends are not tied up. This is the first book in a planned trilogy so I am anxiously awaiting the second and third books, and I don’t mind a cliff hanger or two, but none of my questions were answered by the end of the book. I need more closure to be satisfied with the ending of a book I adored.

Copyright © 2018 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: The Immortalists – Add to your Must Read List 2018

The Immortalists

By Chloe Benjamin

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley and the publisher.

How would you live your life if, as a young child, you were given the day on which you would die? That is the struggle thirteen-year-old Varay and three siblings face in the pages of Benjamin’s powerful novel.

Children of Jewish immigrants, they are taught to work hard, obey their parents and follow the ways of their ancestors. Amidst the traditions and expectations of the family, each of the children has talents and desires of their own. The oldest son, Daniel, is expected to take over his father’s dressmaking business, but he is determined to become a physician. Varay wants to go to University instead of staying home to raise children and the youngest two siblings have far grander dreams of how they will live out the days the fortune teller allotted them that steamy July day in 1969.

Benjamin’s magnificent work of literary fiction is magical and down to earth, heartbreaking and inspiring all at once. Within a few moments the lives of four siblings changed forever or were their paths set in stone? Benjamin gives the reader all of the information, but the interpretation is up to the individual reader.

I literally walked around with my Kindle, sneaking stolen glances at the pages while doing other things because I could not put this story down. Reading late into the night, I cried for the fate of Simon – or was it the path he had chosen? Either way, the characters came alive for me in the first few pages and I wanted them to all live forever if only on the pages. But true to life, love and loss go hand in hand.

This is the first book I’ve read by award winning author Chloe Benjamin. Her first novel, The Anatomy of Dreams, won the Edna Ferber Fiction Book Award. I cannot wait to read it and following novels by this talented writer.

Copyright © 2018 Laura Hartman

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