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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: Still Crazy – Debut Fiction

By Judy Prescott Marshall

By Judy Prescott Marshall

Julie Holliday is certain her husband Dan is cheating on her. Again. She is still in love with him, and prays that he will stop his philandering, but time and time again she finds evidence that he is involved with other women. She begins to plan her escape. Heartbroken, she sells her beloved bakery and slowly liquidates her rental properties.

Leaving the man she has loved since they were young is not easy, but she cuts all ties with friends and family so that he cannot find her. Driving without a destination, she comes upon a small town in Rhode Island and soon makes it her home. Using her savings to purchase a large home, she finds a local handyman to help her renovate it. He is like a father to her. The transformation to an inn makes Julie happy, but never brings her peace. She is still in love with the man she left behind.

Still Crazy is a book of hope and rejuvenation. The characters grow and mature throughout the novel. The setting is ideal. The serenity of a small New England town is the perfect backdrop for healing a heartache and building a new life.

This is the first novel by Judy Prescott Marshall. She is the sauthor of a sef-help non-fiction book: Be Strong Enough. Still Crazy is the first book in a series, the second, The Inn in Rhode Island, will be at your local bookstores soon. I recommend Still Crazy to fans of Hallmark movies and books as well as onyone who enjoys a strong woman’s story of survival.

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

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Book Review: Buzz Books 2021: Spring/Summer

By Publisher’s Lunch

Buzz Books 2021 Spring/Summer gives the reader an inside look at the “buzziest books” of spring and summer 2021. The first few chapters are a tantalizing taste of what is to come in buzz worthy books soon available at your library and bookstores.

This literary preview has sections with the reader in mind. First and foremost is fiction, which is broken down to these categories: The Notables, Highly Anticipated, Emerging Voices, Debut and Commercial Fiction. Then we move on to Nonfiction, categorized as follows: Biography & Memoir, Business, Politics, and Current Events, Essays, Criticism & More, History and Crime, Science & Technology and finishes with Social Issues. As you can see there is something for everyone.

Each book has a few chapters available to read. It is like having a bookstore and/or a library with all of the latest books just waiting for you to crack the spine and dive in. Like most bibliophiles, I began reading immediately, keeping a careful list of the books I want to read. My list is lengthy, and full of authors both bestselling and novices.

A few on my list include:

A Perfect Ruin by Shanora Williams – publish date 6/29/21

Eternal by Lisa Scottoline – publish date 3/23/21

The Letter Keeper by Charles Martin – publish date 6/8/21

Morningside Heights by Joshua Henkin – publish date 6/15/21

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz – publish date 5/4/21

Finding Freedom – by Erin French – publish date 4/6/21

Last Call by Elon Green publish date 3/9/11

The Last Fallen Star by Graci Kim – publish date 5/4/21

I highly recommend this book for anyone who loves to read. There is something from everyone’s favorite genre all packaged up neatly together. This smorgasbord of delights is a must read.

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: Somebody Else’s Troubles – Must Read Literary Fiction

Somebody Else’s Troubles

By J. A. English

 

Travers Landeman is not a happy man. He has always done what is right, often at the expense of his own peace of mind and happiness. On the day he decides to disappear he doesn’t hesitate or have regrets about leaving. He does have regrets for some of the choices he made in life. Guilt can be overwhelming and is one of the demons that haunts him. Becoming a man of action instead of reaction was not an easy journey, but he is willing to take the first step. While most of the people in his former life don’t really care that he is gone, there is one man that is determined to find him. If he succeeds, this could ruin the new life that Travers has created.

On the tiny island of Mabuhay, he meets Marguerite. She spent time in the United States going to school and learning how cruel life can be. She does not talk about what happened, but does not trust white men.

Somebody Else’s Troubles is interesting and complicated. Amidst self-loathing and regret, peace is found by forgiveness and love. It is easy to read but hard to forget. J. A. English brings his characters into controversial situations, then shows the consequences of how they deal with them. He makes the reader think about situations they may have encountered or will encounter; he brings a realism into the story that will resonate with readers on a deep level. This is the best work of literary fiction I have read in years, I loved it.

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 © 2020 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Quiet Screams to the Quiet Healer – Fascinating Debut Novel

Quiet Screams to the Quiet Healer

By Nilanjana Haldar

This is the story of Sanjana, told from her point of view. She grows from a frightened school girl listening to her father abuse her mother to a confident young woman. Now a doctor, she becomes part of a secret society formed to heal and help others being abused, as well as those with mental health problems, bolstering them by sharing her strength and experiences.

Her journey begins like many others living with daily abuse, but brings a bright ray of hope that life can and will change if you take steps to do so. She discovers there is forgiveness in cleansing, which changes her life as well as many others.

Her life intertwines with a mysterious man that seems to be available to help whenever she is in need, but disappears from her life as soon as she is safe. Other connections and some mystical events by seemingly ordinary people will intrigue the reader until the very last pages when all is explained.

The novel is set in India and it has a different cadence than most books written in English. But that being said, it is not difficult to read, nor is it confusing. I liken it to speaking to someone who knows English perfectly as a second language and often adds bits of their native tongue into the dialog. I have a dear friend from Pakistan whose voice I heard in my head when some of the characters spoke. I was thoroughly engaged with the plot and characters from start to finish.

Ms. Haldar is a doctor and motivational speaker as well as an author and poet. This is her debut book. The pain both physically and mentally was gripping and unnervingly real for the characters and reader. The underlying story of strength, courage and transformation of the characters to strong, healthy individuals is heartwarming and uplifting. This novel  contains graphic incidences of abuse.

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

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Book Review: What You Wish For – Can Dreams Come True?

What You Wish For

By Katherine Center

School Librarian Samantha Casey is happy in life, but not in love. She adores her job in the small, private school and the children she teaches. Her co-workers are kind, fun and have accepted her into their fold with open arms. The little community on Galveston Island, Texas is just what she is searching for after fleeing her last job. She loved the school she worked in, but after falling for one of the most amazing men she had ever met, his rebuff was too hard to live with. She moved to a small town and immediately felt at home and loved her new job at Kempner School.

After the devastating death of her boss Max, the principle and founder of Kempner School, everything changes in the small community. His replacement is named, and is none other than Duncan Carpenter, the man Sam fell head over heels for at her previous job. Not only will he be her boss, but the fun-loving crazy dressing man she knew is gone. And the new Duncan is sucking all of the joy out of the new school and town she now calls home. He is threatening to change everything she loves with new rules and joyless tactics based upon keeping all of the children safe in the eventuality of violence that he experienced firsthand.

Max’s widow Babette seems to be allowing all of the changes, but she is willing to hatch a scheme with Sam and a few friends to convince Duncan to enjoy, not fear life. In doing so, Sam will have to spend more time with Duncan, which makes her uncomfortable, but she’ll do almost anything to keep Max’s legacy alive.

What You Wish For is a deep, yet fast and easy to read novel.  It deals with love, loss and the devastation of a school shooting (that is presented as a memory of one of the characters). Ms. Center also writes of love, joy and happiness. The kindness of the characters as well as the love the residents of the town have for each other and the school will remain with you long after the last pages are read.

This is the first book I have read by Katherine Center and I absolutely loved it. I will seek out her previous seven books and add them to my list. The message of hope and love is especially important now, I highly recommend this book.

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: Side Trip – Join Joy and Dylan On A Trip You Will Never Forget

Side Trip

By Kerry Lonsdale

Guilt drives Joy to live her sister’s best life instead of her own. All of her choices in life hinge on this question: “What would Judy do, say or wear”. That is how she finds herself on a road trip, marking off the Route 66 Bucket List her dead sister created several years ago.

What Joy or Judy didn’t plan on is a stranger accompanying her on the trip. Against her better judgement, Joy picks up a man in Ludlow, California. Dylan is a musician, desperate for a ride after his car breaks down at a tiny roadside diner. Joy feels sorry for him and agrees to take him to his next stop. Their mutual love of music allows Joy to lower her defenses and agree to take Dylan to the rest of his gigs on Route 66 and drop him off at the airport before meeting her fiancé in New York. The only caveat is he has to accompany her on the side trips along the way that will allow Joy to complete the Bucket List. He agrees and so begins an adventure like no other for both of them.

Both Dylan and Joy have secrets and baggage. They have lives outside of the VW Bug that transports them through the heartland of the United States. As the miles roll by, they become closer. If only Dylan didn’t live his life in California and Joy didn’t have a fiancé, they might act upon their growing attraction. Road trips cannot last forever. Theirs is quickly coming to an end.

Ms. Lonsdale takes the reader along for the ride with her characters. We hear the music in the Bug as well as in the seedy bars Dylan sings in at night. She makes us long for the warm rains that are made for dancing with abandon that the travelers encounter one afternoon.

The strong characters are engaging, interesting and could be someone you know. The road trip itself is much more than a setting, coming alive on the pages as we travel along on Route 66. The plot has some twists and turns I did not expect, but absolutely loved.

This is the second book I have read by Kerry Lonsdale, and so far, my favorite. I really enjoyed her previous book, Last Summer, but I could not put Side Trip down, I loved the entire ride of reading this book; the characters, setting and plot. It has a hint of romance, a bit of mystery and ticks all the boxes for woman’s fiction and it is the perfect summer read. I highly recommend Side Trip; you won’t want to miss it. If you are a fan of Jodi Picoult, you will love Kerry Lonsdale’s books.

In addition to Side Trip, Ms. Lonsdale is an Amazon, Wallstreet Journal, and Washington Post bestselling author of the Everything series (Everything We Keep, Everything We left Behind and Everything We Give) as well as her standalone novels Last Summer and All the Breaking Waves.

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: 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: The Rising Place – Emotionally Charged Debut Novel

The Rising Place

By David Armstrong

David, a young lawyer in Hamilton, Mississippi met Emily Hodge when she was 75. He did not know much about Miss Emily, but wondered why someone born and bred in Hamilton was not surrounded by family and friends from the long life she led when her days become numbered. She shared a picture of her late teenage years with David and he was startled to see she was beautiful and full of life.

After her funeral, he gathered up the picture and some letters he found in the drawer next to her bed. Therein lies the history and heartache of Miss Emily. Never married, she fell in love with a man that was one quarter African American. Harry is a pilot and took her flying in his plane. They were intimate just once, right before he left for the war. As fate would have it, she was pregnant. So began the ostracizing of Miss Emily. The 1940’s in Mississippi were intolerant of mixed marriages and no compassion was given to unwed mothers.

Heartbroken and lonely, she began writing Harry about her love for him, the progress of her pregnancy and the racial tensions in Hamilton. Headstrong and defiant, Miss Emily refused to stop seeing her best friend Wilma who is an African American. This is just not done in Mississippi in the 1940s.

The Rising Place is an interesting, emotionally charged glimpse at life in the 1940s south. While it is a work of fiction, there are many parallels to the events that actually occurred during that timeframe. The war, racial tension and the societal rules for women are clearly outlined, yet challenged by Miss Emily no matter the high cost of spending most of her adult life alone.

This fast and fascinating book is David Armstrong’s debut novel. Previously made into a film, The Rising Place is available on DVD. As always, I suggest reading the book first – it is always better, even if the film is fabulous. He has previously published collections of his short works and screenplays.

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 © 2020 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Logging Off – Hilarious Digital Detoxing

Logging Off

By Nick Spalding

Andy Bellows is so addicted to his electronic devices he has become physically ill. His physician diagnoses his symptoms and recommends a complete detoxification of any and all electronic devices for two months. Andy doesn’t think he can do it, but is grudgingly willing to give it a go.

Fergus, Andy’s best friend, is a columnist for the local newspaper. He jumps on the story, persuading Andy to let him chronical the detox for his readers. Thinking it may be a good way to stay on track, Andy agrees, but soon regrets his decision as he quickly becomes a local icon and reluctant hero for logging off all electronics except using his computer for work.

Almost immediately, Andy realizes he cannot navigate with a paper map, cannot order dinner and must learn to cook and shop at an actual store to survive. Not to mention he has to become part of society again by interacting with people via phone and in person. All of this causes anxiety and worry for him, but he is sleeping better, has actually started to talk to real, live people again and his work has improved because he has logged off. But in the end, he discovers that electronics aren’t all bad, perhaps moderation is the key– but is that possible?

This fast-paced funny romp with Bellows and his detox troubles hit close to home for many readers. His reliance on his cell phone is the norm these days. Who doesn’t use GPS, look up restaurants, shop and play a bit of solitaire or not to mention social media like Facebook and Twitter? The detox recommended is extreme, but most of us could easily stop glancing at our phones every two minutes and panicking when we’ve left it at home while out on a walk.

I loved this book and the laugh out loud humor Spalding delivers. It is the first book I’ve read by him, but certainly not the first he has written. This bestselling author has fifteen novels, two novellas and not one, but two memoirs. You can be sure I’m going to add Nick Spalding’s other work to the top of 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 © 2020 Laura Hartman

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