Category Archives: Rated A

Review: Only Child by Rhiannon Navin

Title: Only Child by Rhiannon Navin
Publisher: Knopf
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: A

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Penguin’s First to Read Program

Summary:

For fans of Room and the novels of Jodi Picoult, a dazzling, tenderhearted debut about healing, family, and the exquisite wisdom of children, narrated by a six-year-old boy who reminds us that sometimes the littlest bodies hold the biggest hearts, and the quietest voices speak the loudest.

Squeezed into a coat closet with his classmates and teacher, first grader Zach Taylor can hear gunshots ringing through the halls of his school. A gunman has entered the building, taking nineteen lives and irrevocably changing the very fabric of this close-knit community. While Zach’s mother pursues a quest for justice against the shooter’s parents, holding them responsible for their son’s actions, Zach retreats into his super-secret hideout and loses himself in a world of books and art. Armed with his newfound understanding, and with the optimism and stubbornness only a child could have, Zach sets out on a captivating journey towards healing and forgiveness, determined to help the adults in his life rediscover the universal truths of love and compassion needed to pull them through their darkest hours.

Review:

Rhiannon Navin’s debut novel, Only Child, is a poignant, heartrending and emotional story narrated by a six year old boy who survives a school shooting.

First grader Zach Taylor, his teacher Miss Russell and his classmates are among the survivors of a school shooting that takes the lives of nineteen classmates and educators.  Zach is a very bright and observant young boy whose parents’ marriage is already a somewhat stressed before the shooting and in the aftermath, they leave him to cope with the tragedy on his own. His questions are heartbreaking as he tries to make sense of what happened especially when he learns the identity of the shooter. Zach is embarrassed when he regresses to what he considers to be “baby” behavior and he takes comfort in the hideout he has created for himself. He is also confused by the changes in his mother but his father is surprisingly understanding of what Zach is experiencing. Finding solace in a set of children’s books, Zach tries to apply the insights he gleans from the stories to restore happiness to his family.

Although quite smart, Zach’s worldview is simple and lacking pretense. He is quite honest about his perceptions of the shooting and its impact on his family. His little world is shattered and he cannot understand why his mom’s reaction is so different than his and his father’s. Although he was quite close to his mom before this life altering event, he is stunned by how drastically his sweet and caring mom’s behavior becomes in the days, weeks and months following the shooting. Zach loves his dad, but his father’s long commute and work schedule leave little time for them to spend together. However after the tragic incident, his dad’s presence reassuring.

Zach’s astute observations, conclusions and decisions are age appropriate. While some of what he observes goes over his head, readers will definitely understand the implications.  Quickly picking up on the tension between his parents, he breaks down their behavior into something only he can understand and he is quick to pick up on the subtle nuances of impending trouble.  Zach’s parents are so consumed by their own struggles to cope, he is left to navigate the morass of his emotions on his own. His coping mechanisms are heartbreaking yet effective and his explanations are guaranteed to make even the most stoic reader shed a few tears (especially his scenes with his dad in his hideout). As Zach continues to watch his family fall apart, he decides on a course of action to heal the people he loves.

Only Child is an absolutely brilliant novel that is unique, deeply affecting and quite thought-provoking. Zach’s narration is incredibly compelling and viewing the world through his young eyes is often quite perceptive. Rhiannon Navin is an immensely gifted storyteller who evokes empathy and deep emotion in this sorrowful yet ultimately uplifting story.

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Filed under Contemporary, Knopf, Only Child, Rated A, Review, Rhiannon Navin, Women's Fiction

Review: Now That You Mention It by Kristan Higgins

Title: Now That You Mention It by Kristan Higgins
Publisher: HQN Books
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 416 pages
Book Rating: A

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

New York Times bestselling author Kristan Higgins welcomes you home in this witty, emotionally charged novel about the complications of life, love and family

One step forward. Two steps back. The Tufts scholarship that put Nora Stuart on the path to becoming a Boston medical specialist was a step forward. Being hit by a car and then overhearing her boyfriend hit on another doctor when she thought she was dying? Two major steps back.

Injured in more ways than one, Nora feels her carefully built life cracking at the edges. There’s only one place to land: home. But the tiny Maine community she left fifteen years ago doesn’t necessarily want her. At every turn, someone holds the prodigal daughter of Scupper Island responsible for small-town drama and big-time disappointments.

With a tough islander mother who’s always been distant, a wild-child sister in jail and a withdrawn teenage niece as eager to ditch the island as Nora once was, Nora has her work cut out for her if she’s going to take what might be her last chance to mend the family. Balancing loss and opportunity, dark events from her past with hope for the future, Nora will discover that tackling old pain makes room for promise…and the chance to begin again.

Review:

Now That You Mention It by Kristan Higgins is a laugh out loud, tear inducing journey of healing and redemption.

Needing a place to recover after an accident, Dr. Nora Stuart heads back to Scupper Island, Maine where she hopes to salvage her distant relationship with her mother, Sharon and niece, Poe.  Since she left the island fifteen years earlier under a cloud of controversy, not many of the residents are happy to see her. Even worse, many of them do not even know who she is since apparently her mom talks only mentions her younger sister, Lily. Once she is well enough to live on her own, Nora moves onto a beautiful houseboat which puts in her close proximity to Sullivan “Sully” Fletcher, his lovely teenage daughter Audrey and Sully’s twin brother Luke, who is still holding onto a long term resentment towards Nora. With her return to Boston fast approaching, will Nora remain on the island where she has unexpectedly found peace, healing and possibly love?

Nora and Lily were never quite the same after their father unexpectedly abandoned them when they were kids. Lily turned her back on her sister and became a part of the popular crowd where she turned into a mean girl who ran wild. Nora comforted herself with food and after becoming an overweight social outcast, she concentrated on academic achievements in hopes of receiving a coveted scholarship.

Reinventing herself after entering college, Nora has rarely returned to Scupper Island over the intervening years which results in a distant and unemotional relationship with her pragmatic Maine mother. She also mourns the lack of any connection with Lily but Nora refuses to give up trying to reach salvage their fractured relationship.  She is determined to forge a bond with her niece Poe but Poe is not exactly willing to forgive and forget her aunt’s protracted absence from her life.

Nora is a wonderful protagonist who has endured more than her fair share of tragedy and adversity yet she remains upbeat and positive. She has not fully resolved her guilt from winning the scholarship that changed her life but she is proud of her successes. Nora is a survivor who does not let life defeat her and she is tenacious as she tries to repair her familial relationships. She has a snarky sense of humor and her zingy one-lines and inner monologue are often laugh out loud funny.

With several memorable scenes that are absolutely hilarious, a heartwarming yet understated romance and a sweet reconnection with Nora’s estranged family,  Now That You Mention It is a truly captivating story of healing and reconciliation. Kristan Higgins brings the characters and settings vibrantly to life through descriptive prose and an incredibly engaging storyline.  Readers will savor every word of this humorous and poignant novel.

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Filed under Contemporary, Harlequin, HQN Books, Kristan Higgins, Now That You Mention It, Rated A, Review, Romance

Review: Something Like Happy by Eva Woods

Title: Something Like Happy by Eva Woods
Publisher: Graydon House
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: 432 pages
Book Rating: A

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

With wry wit and boundless heart, Eva Woods delivers an unforgettable tale of celebrating triumphs great and small, seizing the day, and always remembering to live in the moment.

“It’s simple, really. You’re just meant to do one thing every day that makes you happy. Could be little things. Could be big. In fact, we’re doing one right now…”

Annie Hebden is stuck. Stuck in her boring job, with her irritating roommate, in a life no thirty-five-year-old would want. But deep down, Annie is still mourning the terrible loss that tore a hole through the perfect existence she’d once taken for granted—and hiding away is safer than remembering what used to be. Until she meets the eccentric Polly Leonard.

Bright, bubbly, intrusive Polly is everything Annie doesn’t want in a friend. But Polly is determined to finally wake Annie up to life. Because if recent events have taught Polly anything, it’s that your time is too short to waste a single day—which is why she wants Annie to join her on a mission…

One hundred days. One hundred new ways to be happy. Annie’s convinced it’s impossible, but so is saying no to Polly. And on an unforgettable journey that will force her to open herself to new experiences—and perhaps even new love with the unlikeliest of men—Annie will slowly begin to realize that maybe, just maybe, there’s still joy to be found in the world. But then it becomes clear that Polly’s about to need her new friend more than ever…and Annie will have to decide once and for all whether letting others in is a risk worth taking.

Review:

Something Like Happy by Eva Woods is an emotionally compelling, poignant yet uplifting novel that is quite memorable.

Thirty-five year old Annie Hebden has suffered tremendous loss and heartache in recent years. Unable to move past her sorrow or forgive those who have hurt her, she is absolutely miserable and wallowing in grief and self-pity. The only child of a single mom who has recently been diagnosed with early on-set dementia, Annie is bewildered by the sudden attention of Polly Leonard.  With a quirky style and an effervescent personality, Polly has every reason to be unhappy yet she is instead a shining star whom everyone loves.  She is determined to live life to the fullest and Polly decides Annie is the perfect companion to join her as she embarks on a one hundred happy days challenge.

Annie is mired in negativity as she goes to a job she hates and bemoans her fate living in a dingy flat with a much younger flatmate, Costas. She has let all of her friendships wither and she refuses to join her co-workers in any after-hours activities.  In the aftermath of her mother’s diagnosis, Annie finds herself even more overwhelmed and unhappy than before. She is initially not at all receptive to Polly’s overtures but Polly is not one to take no for answer and Annie suddenly finds herself firmly back in the land of the living.

Despite her circumstances, Polly is relentlessly upbeat and positive, larger than life and determined to live on her own terms. What begins as a begrudging friendship soon turns much deeper as Annie finds herself reluctantly confiding in Polly.  When Polly finds herself at a low point, will Annie be strong enough to offer her friend the support she needs as she faces the truth about her future?

With a wonderfully diverse cast of characters and a clever storyline, Something Like Happy is a heartfelt novel of friendship and healing. Eva Woods deftly blends sorrow and joy in this inspiring story that will linger in readers’ hearts and minds long after the last page is turned. I absolutely loved and highly recommend this enchanting novel.

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Filed under Contemporary, Eva Woods, Graydon House, Rated A, Review, Something Like Happy, Women's Fiction

Review: Among the Lesser Gods by Margo Catts

Title: Among the Lesser Gods by Margo Catts
Publisher: Arcade Publishing
Genre: Historical (70s), Women’s Fiction
Length: 336 pages
Book Rating: A

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

For fans of authors like Barbara Kingsolver and Leif Enger, a stunning new voice in contemporary literary fiction.

“Tragedy and blessing. Leave them alone long enough, and it gets real hard to tell them apart.”

Elena Alvarez is living a cursed life. From the deadly fire she accidentally set as a child, to her mother’s abandonment, and now to an unwanted pregnancy, she knows better than most that small actions can have terrible consequences. Driven to the high mountains surrounding Leadville, Colorado by her latest bad decision, she’s intent on putting off the future. Perhaps there she can just hide in her grandmother’s isolated cabin and wait for something—anything—to make her next choice for her.

Instead, she is confronted by reflections of her own troubles wherever she turns—the recent widower and his two children adrift in a changed world, Elena’s own mysterious family history, and the interwoven lives within the town itself. Bit by bit, Elena begins to question her understanding of cause and effect, reexamining the tragedies she’s held on to and the wounds she’s refused to let heal.

But when the children go missing, Elena’s fragile new peace is shattered. It’s only at the prospect of fresh loss and blame that she will discover the truth of the terrible burdens we take upon ourselves, the way tragedy and redemption are inevitably intertwined—and how curses can sometimes lead to blessings, however disguised.

Review:

Among the Lesser Gods by Margo Catts is an emotional novel of self-discovery, self forgiveness and redemption.

Twenty-two year old Elena Alvarez is no stranger to making mistakes that culminate with life-altering consequences. On the brink of graduating from college, she is unsure what comes next for her when her beloved grandmother offers her a safe refuge in Leadville, CO. Trying to outrun her past while planning for her future, Elena wonders if she is the best person to take care of two grieving children while their father is out on the road. Unexpectedly connecting with her charges, eleven year old Kevin and five year old Sarah, Elena’s attempts to help them heal from their loss have a surprising effect on the wounds she carries from her own somewhat tragic past.

Having never been given the opportunity to deal with the defining moment of her life, Elena self-sabotages herself at every juncture. Always trying to outrun her missteps without examining the reason she makes such ill-fated decisions, Elena’s latest error in judgment results in an unexpected pregnancy. She is only planning to remain in CO temporarily as she tries to decide whether or not she wants to keep her baby or give it up for adoption. While neither option feels quite right, Elena does not think she has what it takes to raise a child but will she change her mind by summer’s end?

Elena is initially out of her element as she begins caring for Kevin and Sarah.  Armed with advice from her grandmother, she manages to make surprisingly sound decisions about how she and the kids spend their days. However, she feels like she is well of her depth when it comes to the messy emotions and small dramas that crop up with the children. As Elena offers helpful advice to Kevin and Sarah, she is quite shocked to discover these life lessons also apply to her. These shifts in her perception and the meaningful discussions with her grandmother are rather eye opening and prove to be quite healing. With this newfound awareness, Elena arrives at startling conclusions about some of the motivation for the choices she has made throughout her life. Armed with a fresh outlook and finally forgiving herself for the mistakes of her past, will Elena decide to keep her baby? Will she remain in Leadville?

Among the Lesser Gods is a poignant yet heartwarming novel that is quite captivating. The storyline is well-written and quite thought-provoking. The characters are richly developed and multi-faceted with relatable strengths and weaknesses. Elena is easy to relate to and it is an absolute joy watching her forgive herself for past mistakes and begin making plans for her future. The setting is absolutely perfect and Margo Catts brings both the town and its residents vibrantly to life. An utterly marvelous debut that is deeply affecting and will linger in readers’ hearts and minds long after the last page is turned.

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Filed under Among the Lesser Gods, Arcade Publishing, Historical, Historical (70s), Margo Catts, Rated A, Review

Review: The Mother’s Promise by Sally Hepworth

Title: The Mother’s Promise by Sally Hepworth
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: 384 pages
Book Rating: A

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

All their lives, Alice Stanhope and her daughter Zoe have been a family of two, living quietly in northern California. Zoe has always struggled with crippling social anxiety and her mother has been her constant and fierce protector. With no family to speak of, and the identity of Zoe’s father shrouded in mystery, their team of two works—until it doesn’t. Until Alice gets sick and needs to fight for her life.

Desperate to find stability for Zoe, Alice reaches out to two women who are practically strangers, but who are her only hope: Kate, a nurse, and Sonja, a social worker. As the four of them come together, a chain of events is set into motion and all four of them must confront their sharpest fears and secrets—secrets about abandonment, abuse, estrangement, and the deepest longing for family. Imbued with heart and humor in even the darkest moments, The Mother’s Promise is an unforgettable novel about the unbreakable bonds between mothers and daughters, and the new ways in which families are forged.

Review:

The Mother’s Promise by Sally Hepworth is a bittersweet novel about a single mother who discovers she has cancer.  Alice Stanhope is a devoted mom whose worry over her teenage daughter Zoe initially eclipses her concern about her health but she is soon forced to face the implications of her diagnosis.

At the age of forty, Alice has had a few health scares, so she is at first unconcerned about her doctor’s recommendation for surgery.  Reality quickly sets in and despite her claim she does not need any help, nurse Kate Littleton and hospital social worker Sonja step in to lend assistance.  Zoe’s severe social anxiety is difficult to manage when things are normal, so Alice is less than forthcoming with her daughter (and herself) about her diagnosis.  Although things are tense with her husband, David, Kate is more than happy to help out with Zoe but Alice is having a difficult time accepting Kate’s support for her daughter. Sonja is also trying her best to be there for both Alice and Zoe but she is struggling to cope with her psychologist husband’s increasingly rough treatment of her.  Alice’s alcoholic brother Paul is surprisingly helpful but maintaining his sobriety is an impossible endeavor.  In the aftermath of her surgery, Alice remains positive about her prognosis but is she deluding herself?  And if she is, what will happen to Zoe?

Alice and Zoe have lived a very insular life from the time Zoe was about two years old.  Alice founded a business that enabled her to keep her daughter out of daycare and until kindergarten, Zoe was a happy, well-adjusted little girl.  Zoe’s debilitating social anxiety and panic attacks began when she entered school and despite treatment, she has found little success in finding ways to cope with her disorder. Since Zoe only has one close friend, Alice and Zoe spend the most of their time together and Alice is fiercely protective of her daughter.

Kate is happily married with two teenage stepchildren whom she adores.  She loves her job and her affection for the patients in her care is genuine. When Zoe needs a place to stay while Alice is undergoing surgery and chemo, Kate is quick to welcome her into their home.   Although she has a full and happy life, Kate and David are at an impasse in their marriage and with each of them on opposite sides of an issue, the bond between them is becoming quite fragile.

Sonja is shocked by the changes in her husband George and she is not ready to admit his rough treatment of her might be crossing the line into abuse.  After all, a social worker would be the first person to recognize the signs of domestic violence, wouldn’t she?  For the first time in her career, Sonja is beginning to understand why the women she has tried to help continue to stay with their boyfriends and husbands.  Although Sonja remains uncertain about the future of their relationship, she is taking steps to protect herself when circumstances force her to take a stand.

The Mother’s Promise is a captivating novel that is heartwarming and deeply affecting.  Sally Hepworth broaches difficult topics such as social anxiety, cancer, alcoholism, abuse, Crohns Disease  and more with a great deal sensitivity. This deft handling  provides readers with  insightful and educational  information about topics that are rarely discussed. The various situations each of the women are facing intertwine into a meaningful storyline that is heartfelt and emotional. An incredibly moving novel that I absolutely loved and highly recommend.

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Filed under Contemporary, Rated A, Review, Sally Hepworth, St Martin's Press, The Mother's Promise, Women's Fiction

Review: On Second Thought by Kristan Higgins

Title: On Second Thought by Kristan Higgins
Publisher: HQN Books
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: 448 pages
Book Rating: A

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Following in the footsteps of her critically acclaimed novel If You Only Knew, multi-bestselling author Kristan Higgins returns with a pitch-perfect look at the affection—and the acrimony—that binds sisters together

Ainsley O’Leary is so ready to get married—she’s even found the engagement ring her boyfriend has stashed away. What she doesn’t anticipate is for Eric to blindside her with a tactless breakup he chronicles in a blog…which (of course) goes viral. Devastated and humiliated, Ainsley turns to her half sister, Kate, who’s already struggling after the sudden loss of her new husband.

Kate has always been so poised, so self-assured, but Nathan’s death shatters everything she thought she knew—including her husband—and she learns that sometimes the people who step up aren’t the ones you expect. With seven years and a murky blended-family dynamic between them, Ainsley and Kate have never been overly close, but their shared sorrow dovetails their faltering worlds into one.

Despite the lifetime of history between them, the sisters must learn to put their differences aside and open their hearts to the inevitable imperfection of family—and the possibility of one day finding love again.

Review:

On Second Thought by Kristan Higgins is a sad but witty, heartbreaking yet uplifting novel about two sisters whose bond is strengthened after they experience life altering events.

At thirty-nine, Kate O’Leary has finally come to terms with her single status so she is somewhat bemused and wary when Nathan Coburn asks for her phone number. Convinced she’ll never hear from the handsome architect, she is pleasantly surprised to find herself in a whirlwind relationship. Married just a few months after they begin dating, Kate is barely used to being a wife when she is widowed after a tragic accident.

Unlike Kate, her thirty-three year old half-sister, Ainsley has been with her boyfriend, Eric Fisher, since college.  Ainsley has been anxiously awaiting for Eric to pop the question and after discovering an engagement ring, she is chomping at the bit for his proposal now that he is fully recovered from testicular cancer. So imagine her surprise, when Eric asks unceremoniously dumps her then publicly humiliates her  on his blog.  With no place to go, Ainsley temporarily moves in with Kate which turns out to be a huge blessing in disguise for both women.

Kate’s struggle to grieve Nathan’s loss is surprisingly complicated since they were only together such a short time.  She treasures her precious few memories of them as a couple but she cannot help but wonder if she would have been better off never marrying him since he died so soon after their life together begins.  After hearing other people’s memories of the man she is just realizing she barely knows, Kate begins questioning their entire relationship.  It certainly does not help that Kate’s friends from her single days are not exactly supportive although she is pleasantly surprised by the one person who does make an effort to be there for her.

Ainsley first comes across as an empty-headed ninny but behind her unfailingly cheerful and positive facade, she is unexpectedly intuitive and insightful.  She certainly has blinders on about her self-absorbed, selfish boyfriend and even after Eric uses their break up to find his fifteen minutes of fame, she still wants to reconcile with him. Which is why  Ainsley is a little confused when she begins to notice her uptight, seemingly emotionless boss is an attractive man with a surprising amount of depth.

Between their age difference and their complicated family dynamics, Kate and Ainsley were never overly close even though they genuinely care about one another.  Kate is quite shocked at how much she appreciates Ainsley once she moves in with her.  Although some of their interactions are somewhat awkward due to Ainsely’s uncanny ability to put her foot in her month, Kate appreciates her sister’s emotional support.  Equally surprising is Ainsley’s no nonsense advice as she gently coerces Kate to return to “normal” life.  Both sisters discover new and surprising things about one another and to the delight of both women, they finally close the gap in their once distant relationship.

On Second Thought is an emotional novel of love, loss and new beginnings.  The characters are beautifully developed with relatable flaws and true to life issues to overcome. The touching storyline will resonate with anyone who has experienced a break up or loss of someone they love. Kristan Higgins deftly balances the more sorrowful elements of the plot with wry humor, witty banter and laugh out loud scenes. Fans of contemporary women’s fiction are going to laugh, cry and ultimately rejoice as Ainsley and Kate forge a close bond while helping one another recover from their personal tragedies. A poignant, yet heartwarming novel that will touch reader’s hearts and linger in their minds long after the last page is turned.

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Filed under Contemporary, Harlequin, HQN Books, Kristan Higgins, On Second Thought, Rated A, Review, Women's Fiction