Tag Archives: women’s fiction

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: A Sister in My House – Contemplative Women’s Fiction

A Sister in My House

By Linda Olsson

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.

A Sister in My House on the surface is the story of three sisters. But layer after layer it is actually a study of women’s emotions toward each other and those they encounter. One lost by death, the other two making their way through life in the wake of this event. Separated in age and experiences, the remaining two sisters have grown further apart in their adult years. Surprisingly, Maria invited Emma to come and stay for a visit while the two of them were together for their mother’s funeral.

Two years later Emma calls to take Maria up on the invitation that both of them know was not sincere or necessarily well intended. The resulting week of togetherness forces the sisters to acknowledge their past and think more clearly about their future. Maria has wrapped herself so tightly in her grief and losses that she cannot allow herself to enjoy life. Emma’s husband and children are no longer available for her as they once were. Resigning herself to the fact that those she loves will leave her, just as her beloved sister did early in her life, Emma risks falling into depression as she has done before.

A week is not a long time. Will it be long enough to make headway on the road to discovery for both of them?

Olsson’s literary fiction is powerful in words but not actions. It is the type of book you read, and then think about for a long time after. Small steps in the sister’s lives become giant leaps in their growth. One of my favorite quotes is: “Life intrudes from different directions. And I am no longer resisting I think.”  To me, this shows the growth of the characters and the fact that they still have more healing to complete. Like real life, things cannot be resolved quickly, but any progress is a step in the right direction.

This is the first book I have read by Linda Olsson. This prolific, award-winning author should be on your watch list for literary 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: Little Broken Things – Memorable Characters, Compelling Plot

Little Broken Things

By Nicole Baart

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

Little Broken Things begins with Nora Sanford cutting and dying the hair of a child she obviously loves, but is not hers. There is a sense of danger and impending disaster if she doesn’t change the little girl’s appearance and move her to a safe place before the unknown disaster befalls both of them.

Nora whisks her off and dumps her unceremoniously at her sister Quinn’s home. Without a clue as to who the child is, or why Nora drops her off without any explanation, Quinn is angry at her sister but fearful because Nora begged her not to let the child out of her sight. And more importantly, she was not to let anyone know the child was there. That is more than difficult because Quinn’s artist husband is living in the house with her. Her domineering mother, Liz, owns the house and lives right across the lake from them in the home that Nora, Quinn and their brother JJ grew up in. How can she keep a five year old secret in this little town of gossips? As the plot swirls around the little girl, with eminent danger closing in, there are no straight answers about her or her parents available to those who were given the impossible task of keeping her safe.

Nora has brought this to her family’s doorstep, but this is not the only secret her family has been pretending isn’t there. On the outside they were a solid, happy family but even as young children, the three Sandford kids knew how to keep secrets. Such as the happy family life they portrayed was often far from it. Even after the recent death of her husband, Liz followed the Sandford “rules” put in place by her domineering husband that often affected her children even though they are grown. They must find a way to work together to save this child no matter who she really is, even if it goes against everything they have been taught to do.

Baart brings so many elements in to bring her characters to life I felt as though I knew each of them. There were several things that brought them together. Art plays a huge but subtle part in the storyline. Motherhood also plays a huge role in Little Broken Things.

I really enjoyed Little Broken Things. It is smart, suspenseful, heartbreaking and written so well I was holding my breath praying for the safety of the little girl at the heart of the mystery. When an author can make me care that much for the characters she has created I know she will deeply touch the hearts of all of her readers. This is the first book I have read by Nicole Baart, but it will not be the last.

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

 

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Book Review: The Art of Hiding – Fab Find!

Art of HidingThe Art of Hiding

By Amanda Prowse

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

Nina lives a charmed life. Her husband owns an extremely successful construction company, she has two sons she adores and spends her days as a housewife and mom. Gone are the difficult days of her childhood. She was so young when her mother died that she only remembers a few things about her. Her dad tried his best, but work was scarce so Nina and her older sister Tiggy were raised by their grandmother. She wasn’t the kindest woman. Undoubtedly she was trying, but there was never enough space or food during those years.

Life changed the moment Nina fell for Finn. He swept her off her feet and promised to give her the world. He followed through on that promise. When they moved into their home, The Tynings, they filled it with high end furniture, lovingly picked out together. Nina no longer worried about money; Finn took care of paying all of the bills and making sure their family had everything they needed and wanted.

Nina was at her son’s high school the day her world began to collapse. She receive a call from the hospital, Finn had been in an accident. She was devastated. Her sons, Conner and Declan were shocked by the news and Nina was determined to keep everything together for them. They only had a few days left until a break from the private school they attended, so both boys returned to their routine to keep things as normal as possible.

Then, to make matters worse, the shattering news that Finn had been hiding something slammed into Nina like a runaway train. The results would change the lives of Nina and her sons forever.

This is an amazing novel. The depth of Nina’s pain is profoundly sad, yet hopeful. She loved and trusted her husband, but now his memory is forever tainted with his deeds. Her life has become a struggle again and she doesn’t know how she will be able to go on. If it weren’t for her two sons she might give up.

The growth and change of the characters is one of the best story lines I have read in a long time. Prowse pulls the reader in and takes you with Nina through the good and bad. It makes the reader think about the most important things in life. You can decide if you think money can buy happiness. I also love the way family and friends play a big part in this novel. Can the love of family transcend years of estrangement and hurtful slights that have piled up over years?

The Art of Hiding is the first book I’ve read by Amanda Prowse, but I guarantee it will not be the last. I cannot express how much I loved this book. The characters, the plot, and the emotions it inspires are a roller coaster ride in reading bliss. I cried when Connor gave his speech at the sports award night, I laughed at the sister’s demolition of an offending wall. The end of the book was realistic and satisfying. I suggest getting this book as soon as possible and carving out time to enjoy Prowse’s expert storytelling.

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Book Review: Bookshop at Water’s End – Great Summer Read

The Bookshop at Water’s End

By Patti Callahan Henry

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

Lainey and Bonnie have been best friends since they were children. Bonnie’s parents owned a summer vacation home on a tidal river that surrounds a small town. Lainey’s family spent vacations with Bonnie’s family at the River House . As youngsters, they fancied themselves as a pair of modern day Nancy Drews. During their explorations around the tiny town they made notes in a notebook of unsolved mysteries and clues as to what and why things happened. The thing they never could fully explain was why Lainey’s mother had disappeared one night at the River House, never to return.

Fast forward to adulthood – Bonnie has become a renowned doctor and Lainey is a celebrated artist. They live on opposite sides of the country, but keep in touch. They rarely see one another. When Bonnie’s world comes crashing down around her ears, threatening everything she values, she calls Lainey to join her at the River House.

Lainey, fighting the demons from her past, agrees to come. She is bringing her small children with her. Bonnie is bringing her reluctant daughter Piper along to help her restore the River House for sale. Home from her first year of college Piper does not want to go, or babysit Lainey’s kids, but Bonnie has promised her services.

Ghosts from the past are stirring. They seem to arrive with the tides. When the past collides with the present, will Lainey and Bonnie survive? Will the answers they have searched for since childhood finally become clear?

The bookshop owner Mimi has an integral role in The Bookshop at Water’s End. She supplies the background narrative in many places to add depth and important facts about the past. Expertly spun together, the past and present emerge as one like the tributaries of the tidal river that flows around the town.

The realistic characters had flaws. Not just a little added issue, but real, glaring flaws. That brought them to life. Just like real people that have secrets, bad relationships and make mistakes – big mistakes that could be life changing. I loved that about them, all humans make bad decisions that seemed like a good idea at the time.

The story is deep and rich, without being heavy. It is a perfect summer (or anytime) read. The mystery isn’t the focus of the plot, but is always popping up as it colors the thoughts and actions of the main characters. This is not a cozy, but more of a women’s fiction with a vein of mystery running throughout.

Patti Callahan Henry is a New York Times bestselling author. This is the first book I’ve read of Ms. Henry’s but it will not be the last.

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: The Garden of Small Beginnings – Like Gardens, Relationships Must Be Tended

The Garden of Small Beginnings

By Abbi Waxman

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

Lili is many things, just like most women. She is a mother, sister, friend and an illustrator. But the identifying feature that overshadows everything is the quiet grief she carries with her due to the unexpected loss of her husband. Three years after the accident she is still grieving and little bit mad that he left her, even though she is a logical person and knows it isn’t his fault. She feels alone even when surrounded by people.

Her young daughters, Annabel and Clare, keep her going. She has to get up to get them ready for school and drag herself to work to pay the bills. Unfortunately, even though she loves being an illustrator, her job may be changing drastically or gone altogether very soon.  Like a lot of places in corporate America today, she may be the victim of downsizing and reorganization of the company no matter how talented she is.

Amid all the turmoil, she is called to her boss’ office who makes her an offer she can’t (or really dare not) refuse. She is given the task of illustrating a botanical book. Additionally, she has to attend a gardening class run by the head of the company that commissioned the book.

For moral support she makes her sister Rachel as well as both of her children to the class. The instructor is handsome, but not her type. No one is her type. The rest of the class members are quirky and lovable. The group would never have chosen to be together, but their friendships grew along with the gardens they were planting and tending.

I loved the way Abbi Waxman set up the chapters in this book. Each one starts with a gardening tip that very easily parallels Lili’s life. You must tend your garden as well as your relationships.  If you ignore either one, they may wither and die. And sometimes, no matter how well you tend either of them, something may happen to them, but eventually you need to move on.

It was interesting to see how Lili grew with each class, it wasn’t giant leaps of change in her personality, but subtle, gradual moments that allowed me to believe she was going to be okay after spending three years on autopilot drowning in her grief and guilt.

The Garden of Small Beginnings is Abbi Waxman’s debut novel. It is my hope that she is working right now on another fabulous work of women’s fiction right now. She has a voice that needs to be read.

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Original Cyn – Great Beach Read

12544074-original-cyn-by-sylvia-dickey-smithOriginal Cyn

By Sylvia Dickey Smith

333 pages

Cynthia Carter is a preacher’s wife. She takes care of him and the parsonage home without questioning his demands. He is a man of God; his flock needs a well-fed, well rested man to make decisions regarding their church business. He needs enough time and energy to tend his flock, so Cynthia understands that he is under pressure and tries to do what he asks. But his demands are getting tiresome. One would think a man of the cloth would be more considerate of his wife. He has gone as far as making Cynthia give up her name “Cyn” because it is unbecoming. She hates being called Cynthia, but bows to the head of her household.

Wilburn demands homemade meals on the table three times a day from his obedient wife. She isn’t allowed to spend money without asking him or have a life of her own. Her only joy in life is her son Justice. Now that he is grown and in college, she can’t even look forward to dinner or daily conversations with him.

Much to Wilburn’s chagrin, Cynthia isn’t involved in much at their church. She faithfully sits in the front row every week as he gives his sermons, but feels out of place in many of the committee meetings. The church has many longtime members with their own opinions about everything and everyone – including Cynthia. She is constantly talked about and compared to the previous preacher’s wife. She is a smart woman and willing to help, but they won’t allow her into their fold. Cynthia has one friend, but doesn’t have much spare time to spend with her with all of the responsibilities she has taking care of Wilburn.

But there are secrets in the congregation. Whispers begin and grow to a roar that cannot be contained. Alliances are broken and betrayals are made. Hatred replaces love as fear threatens to consume the voice of reason, changing lives forever.

Original Cyn is not Sylvia Dickey Smith’s first book, but it is the first one I’ve read. The depth and dimension of her characters pulled me into the story immediately. Coming from a Southern Baptist background, I could see people I’ve known with more than one member of the congregation. I sniffled at more than one part because it was not possible to read this book and not become emotionally invested in the characters and story.

If you are a fan of Barbara Delinsky, you will love Smith’s writing style. I highly recommend this work of fiction that pulls your emotions from anger to sorrow to hope. Smith is a masterful storyteller that writes an easy to read novel that makes the reader think about social issues without being “preachy”. I will be seeking out more of her books.

Copyright © 2016 Laura Hartman

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.

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