Category Archives: Contemporary

Review: Ashes by Steven Manchester

Title: Ashes by Steven Manchester
Publisher: Story Plant
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: 272 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley


Middle-aged brothers Jason and Tom Prendergast thought they were completely done with each other. Perceived betrayal had burned the bridge between them, tossing them into the icy river of estrangement. But life – and death – has a robust sense of irony, and when they learn that their cruel father has died and made his final request that they travel together across the country to spread his ashes, they have no choice but to spend a long, long car trip in each other’s company. It’s either that or lose out on the contents of the envelope he’s left with his lawyer. The trip will be as gut-wrenching as each expects it to be . . . and revealing in ways neither of them is prepared for.

At turns humorous, biting, poignant, and surprisingly tender, ASHES puts a new spin on family and dysfunction with a story that is at once fresh and timelessly universal.


In Ashes by Steven Manchester, two brothers heal the rift between them on a cross-country road trip to spread their father’s ashes.

Corrections Officer Jason Prendergast and his college professor brother Tom have been estranged for the past fifteen years when they learn their abusive father has died.  In order to fulfill the terms of his will, they must embark on a cross country trip to spread his ashes in Washington state.  While neither of the brothers is overly enthusiastic about the request, they agree to follow through with his wishes. Their journey is fraught with tension as they disagree about everything from the route to take to the restaurants they choose but they also bond over shared memories from their dysfunctional childhood.  Will Tom and Jason make peace with their fractured past by the journey’s end?

Tom and Jason are complete opposites and their differences become even more obvious during their trip.  Tom is controlled with plenty of self-discipline and he is quite health conscious.   Jason, on the hand, is overweight and enjoys nothing more than a grease-laden meal and a couple beers at the end of a long day.  Tom enjoys the finer things in life whereas Jason is more comfortable in a local diner. Despite these differences, both men have similar parenting styles  and they have relatively good relationships with their children.

As they squabble their way across the United States, Jason and Tom are caught up in memories of both the good and bad things from their abusive childhood.  They also catch up on the paths their lives have taken and they are surprised to discover they do have a few things in common.  Both brothers are taken aback when their preconceived perceptions of one another are sometimes proven wrong.  While some of their discussions do not end well, other conversations result in useful observations that are unexpectedly helpful.  By the end of their journey, both Jason and Tom have made life-altering decisions that are a direct result of their time together.  When they part ways, Jason and Tom have achieved a fragile peace between them but will this be the beginning or end of their relationship?

Ashes by Steven Manchester is an interesting journey of healing and forgiveness for both Tom and Jason.  Some their interactions occasionally devolve into immature schoolboy shenanigans, but for the most part, their conversations are deep and meaningful.  All in all, a remarkable story that will resonate with anyone who has experienced a rocky relationship with any of their siblings.

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Filed under Ashes, Contemporary, Fiction, Rated B, Review, Steven Manchester, The Story Plant

Review: Roman by Sawyer Bennett

Title: Roman by Sawyer Bennett
Cold Fury Hockey Series Book Seven
Publisher: Loveswept
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 216 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley


New York Times bestselling author Sawyer Bennett steams up the ice all over again as the Carolina Cold Fury hockey team’s hottest bad boy gets his first taste of something good.

In a league full of troublemakers, Cold Fury defenseman Roman Sýkora stands out—at least when it comes to negative publicity. When he’s not chilling in the penalty box, the sizzling Czech skate demon is racking up tabloid headlines for his scandalous behavior with the ladies. But now Roman’s feeling the burn from management to clean up his act, or else. Luckily he’s got an enticing distraction: a fun-loving barista who plays the ukulele and brings out a side of Roman he didn’t know he had.

Lexi Robertson came to Raleigh, North Carolina, to finally meet her father, Brian Brannon, and her half sister, Gray, both of whom work in the Cold Fury’s front office. That’s where she first meets sexy, intimidating Roman—who’s really a big softie at heart. As one relationship takes off, another begins: Brian seems to be clicking with Lexi’s boss at the coffee shop. But when the friction between Roman and her new family heats up, Lexi wonders whether she’s a pawn in their game. Feeling hurt and foolish, Lexi’s ready to quit while she’s ahead. Trouble is, Roman’s not ready to quit on her.


Roman is the seventh installment in Sawyer Bennett’s Cold Fury Hockey series and features two very sweet romances.  This latest release can be read as a standalone but I recommend the previous books as well.

Roman Sýkora is Cold Fury’s resident bad boy both on and off the ice.  An aggressive defenseman who has racked up an impressive amount of penalties and suspensions, he is not all happy with general manager Gray Brannon’s edict to clean up his act both professionally and personally.  With a reputation as a player, Roman’s love life is often fodder for the gossip pages, so it is no surprise that Gray is not exactly pleased when he begins dating her newly discovered sister Lexi Robertson.

Lexi had no idea who her father was until about ten months ago and she is finally ready to meet Brian Brannon face to face.  Much to her surprise, he welcomes her with open arms but half-sister Gray is a lot more cautious about welcoming her to the family.  Throw in Gray’s antipathy toward Roman and Lexi’s new relationships with both Roman and Gray are somewhat precarious.  Despite being caught in the middle, Lexi continues dating Roman but will her sister and boyfriend’s inability to make peace with each other undermine their romance?

Roman and Lexi are surprisingly well matched despite the fact that they are complete opposites.  Lexi is laidback and carefree but quite family oriented.  Roman is intense and focused with very few close ties to his teammates or his family.  Roman is a no commitment kind of guy and he has no idea how to woo a woman. Fortunately for him, Lexi is low maintenance and easy to please and their romance is off to a strong start with little internal conflict. However, the problems between Roman and Gray are becoming a huge frustration for Lexi and she is fast running out of patience with both of them.

The secondary romance between Brian and Lexi’s boss and close friend Georgia Mack is an enjoyable addition to the storyline.  Brian is long widowed and he has not dated anyone seriously since his wife passed away. He has a few reservations about becoming involved with Georgia but their attraction is so strong they are soon dating.  It is wonderful to see an older couple get the opportunity to fall in love and their relationship is delightfully free from drama or angst.

Roman is a low-key addition to Sawyer Bennett’s Cold Fury Hockey series.  Roman and Lexi are endearing characters that are very easy to like and their romance is sweet yet deliciously sexy.  Fans of the series will be thrilled that Brian unexpectedly finds love with Georgia and of course, it is quite the treat to see more of Gray, Ryker and his always adorable daughters. Another lovely installment in an outstanding series that old and new fans will enjoy.

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Filed under Cold Fury Hockey Series, Contemporary, Loveswept, Rated B, Review, Roman, Romance, Sawyer Bennett

Review: The Drifter by Christine Lennon

Title: The Drifter by Christine Lennon
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: 384 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss


Megan Abbott meets M.O. Walsh in Christine Lennon’s compelling debut novel about a group of friends on the cusp of graduating from college when their lives are irrevocably changed by a brutal act of violence.

Present Day…

For two decades, Elizabeth has tried to escape the ghosts of her past…tried to erase the painful memories…tried to keep out the terrifying nightmares. But twenty years after graduating from the University of Florida, her carefully curated life begins to unravel, forcing her to confront the past she’s tried so hard to forget.

1990s, Gainesville, Florida…

Elizabeth and her two closest friends, Caroline and Ginny, are having the time of their lives in college—binge watching Oprah, flirting for freebies from Taco Bell, and breaking hearts along the way. But without warning, their world is suddenly shattered when a series of horrific acts of violence ravage the campus, changing their lives forever.

Sweeping readers from the exclusive corners of sorority life in the South to the frontlines of the drug-fueled, slacker culture in Manhattan in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, when Elizabeth is forced to acknowledge her role in the death of a friend in order to mend a broken friendship and save her own life, The Drifter is an unforgettable story about the complexities of friendships and the secrets that can ultimately destroy us.


Loosely based on the Danny Rolling’s case, The Drifter by Christine Lennon  is an interesting novel about a woman’s struggles to overcome a tragedy.

In 1990, Betsy Young is looking forward to the start of her final semester in college.  She is still best friends with her former sorority sister Ginny Harrington but her friendship with their other friend, Caroline, is quite rocky.  Betsy is going through a bit of a rebellious stage as she tries to discover who she is and what she wants to be. She is eagerly looking forward to graduating early when her world is rocked by tragedy. 

With her college boyfriend, Gavin Davis by her side, the two hastily relocate to New York, where Betsy’s attempt to reinvent herself as Elizabeth is only partially successful. Following the birth of their child when they are both in their late thirties, Betsy is struggling with her crippling and somewhat irrational fears when she receives an invitation to her former sorority’s reunion.  Will returning to Gainesville help Betsy finally make peace with the unresolved issues from her past?

Although the Betsy, Ginny and Caroline are from very different worlds, they quickly become inseparable as they enjoy all aspects of sorority life. Ginny is incredibly sweet and easily makes friends while Caroline is rather caustic and a bit of a mean girl. Betsy is outspoken and unrepentant as she refuses to conform to anyone’s standards but her own. They are heavy into the party scene and Betsy’s love life is a series of one bad choice after another. Betsy’s friendship with Caroline hits a rough patch but Ginny manages to keep the peace between everyone. Caroline then leaves when the spring semester ends and Betsy and Ginny enjoy a quiet summer together.

Just as classes are about to resume after summer break, Gainesville is rocked by a series of murders but Betsy, Ginny and Caroline are soon back to their regular life of barhopping and parties. With Ginny and Caroline busy with upcoming rush week, Betsy is at loose ends when she begins hanging out with Gavin. Their relationship is barely beginning when tragedy strikes and in the aftermath, Betsy begins her long habit of running away from her problems. Easily convincing Gavin to move to New York, they each manage to find successful careers even though Betsy continues to avoid her problems with alcohol and drugs.

Beginning with an intriguing prologue in the present, The Drifter then flashes back to August of 1990 in the days preceding the series the murders in Gainesville. The novel continues to follow Betsy’s life with Gavin and her inability to cope with the events that occurred in before she moved to New York. While interesting, the story is occasionally bogged down in superfluous details that contribute little to the plot.  Despite these unnecessary passages, the novel is relatively fast-paced as Betsy continues to struggle to work through the ghosts of her past.  Christine Lennon  brings the novel to a satisfying conclusion that has a few unexpected twists and turns during sorority reunion.  A well-written debut that fans of the genre will enjoy.

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Filed under Christine Lennon, Contemporary, Rated B, Review, The Drifter, Women's Fiction

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


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.


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: I See You by Clare Mackintosh

Title: I See You by Clare Mackintosh
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 382 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley


The author of the New York Times bestseller I Let You Go propels readers into a dark and claustrophobic thriller, in which a normal, everyday woman becomes trapped in the confines of her normal, everyday world…

Every morning and evening, Zoe Walker takes the same route to the train station, waits at a certain place on the platform, finds her favorite spot in the car, never suspecting that someone is watching her…

It all starts with a classified ad. During her commute home one night, while glancing through her local paper, Zoe sees her own face staring back at her; a grainy photo along with a phone number and a listing for a website called

Other women begin appearing in the same ad, a different one every day, and Zoe realizes they’ve become the victims of increasingly violent crimes—including murder. With the help of a determined cop, she uncovers the ad’s twisted purpose…A discovery that turns her paranoia into full-blown panic. Zoe is sure that someone close to her has set her up as the next target.

And now that man on the train—the one smiling at Zoe from across the car—could be more than just a friendly stranger. He could be someone who has deliberately chosen her and is ready to make his next move…


Fast-paced with a very unique premise, I See You by Clare Mackintosh is a chilling mystery that is suspense-laden and downright creepy.

Zoe Walker is like many Londoners who rely on public transportation to go to and from work every day.  Her daily routine is quite predictable and she rarely varies her route or where she sits on her daily commute.  Passing time on her ride home one day, Zoe is stunned to find a picture of herself along with a phone number and web address in the classified section of the newspaper.  Despite her family and friends’ assurances she is not the person in the photo, she is curious enough to continue checking the classified section.  Zoe soon makes a stunning connection between some of the women in the advertisements and recent victims of increasingly violent crimes.  She reports her suspicions to British Transport Police Detective Constable Kelly Swift who in turn manages to get assigned to the Murder Investigation Team (MIT).  Working closely with Detective Inspector Nick Rampello, she and the other members of the MIT make a horrifying discovery: someone is stalking daily commuters and putting their information up for sale on a secret website.  Quickly realizing two women who were recently murdered  and a rape victim were featured in the adverts, Kelly and Nick are under pressure to uncover the identity of the person running the site before someone else is attacked.  The stakes are even higher for Zoe who is growing increasingly worried about her safety.

Zoe is a divorced mum of two adult children, nineteen year old Katie, an aspiring actress and twenty-two year old Justin, who has finally turned his life around after a couple of brushes with the law when he was younger.  She and her two children live with her significant other, Simon, who dotes on her but cannot seem to quell his jealousy over her ex-husband Matt, who drives a taxi for a living.  Zoe commutes to her job in London where she works at a real estate office that specializes in commercial properties.  Close friends with her neighbors, Melissa and Neil, Zoe is mostly happy with her life although she frets over her children’s futures.

DC Kelly Swift  is an excellent investigator but after she got into some trouble during a case a few years earlier, her career has stalled.  After Zoe calls her with her suspicions about recent cases being linked to the classified adverts, she convinces an old boss of hers to let her work with the MIT.  Kelly is instrumental in finding the first big break in their investigation but their first solid lead quickly run into a dead end.  Realizing time is not on their side, Nick puts someone from cyber crimes on the case and while they uncover valuable information, will it be enough to identify the person who is running the website?

Once Zoe has a better idea of what is going on with the adverts, she becomes more and more worried about her security. She uncovers shocking information about Simon but her biggest concern is Katie’s new boyfriend.  However, it is an innocuous discovery that sets a horrifying plan into action that threatens those she holds most dear.  Will Kelly and Nick find the evidence they need to catch the person behind the website before it is too late?

I See You by Clare Mackintosh is a spellbinding police procedural that has many unexpected twists and turns.  A vast pool of suspects and a series of misdirects and red herrings will keep readers guessing the perpetrator’s identity right up until the novel’s stunning conclusion.  Although the final plot twist is not completely unexpected, it is still a stunning revelation that leaves a few loose ends dangling.  I highly recommend this intricately plotted and devilishly clever mystery to fans of the genre.

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Filed under Berkley, Clare Mackintosh, Contemporary, I See You, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, Suspense

Review: The Weight of Him by Ethel Rohan

Title: The Weight of Him by Ethel Rohan
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: 336 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley


In The Weight of Him Billy Brennan undergoes an unforgettable journey in a startling attempt to resurrect his family and reignite hearts, his own most of all.

At four hundred pounds, Billy Brennan can always count on food. From his earliest memories, he has loved food’s colors, textures and tastes. The way flavors go off in his mouth. How food keeps his mind still and his bad feelings quiet. Food has always made everything better, until the day Billy’s beloved son Michael takes his own life.

Billy determines to make a difference in Michael’s memory and undertakes a public weight-loss campaign, to raise money for suicide prevention―his first step in an ambitious plan to save himself, and to save others. However, Billy’s dramatic crusade appalls his family, who want to simply try to go on, quietly, privately.

Despite his crushing detractors, Billy gains welcome allies: his community-at-large; a co-worker who lost his father to suicide; a filmmaker with his own dubious agenda; and a secret, miniature kingdom that Billy populates with the sub-quality dolls and soldiers he saves from disposal at the toy factory where he works. But it is only if Billy can confront the truth of the suffering and brokenness within and around him that he and others will be able to realize the recovery they need.

Told against the picturesque yet haunting backdrop of rural, contemporary Ireland, The Weight of Him is a big-hearted novel about loss and reliance that moves from tragedy to recrimination to what can be achieved when we take the stand of our lives.


The Weight of Him by Ethel Rohan is a heartbreaking, poignant and uplifting novel of healing.

Following his oldest son Michael’s inexplicable suicide, Billy Brennan wants to make his son’s life and death matter.  Billy’s plan to raise money and public awareness about suicide is not well received by his family yet he does not let their lack of support stop him.  Publicly vowing to lose 200 pounds, he  puts up flyers and pledge sheets around town and embarks on his weight loss campaign.  Despite a few initial setbacks, Billy comes up with a diet and exercise plan that he sometimes struggles to stick to but with his new friend Denis Morrissey’s help, he begins shedding pounds.  While his ambitious undertaking takes a toll on his relationship with his family, Billy remains fully committed to his cause.  Will his efforts to raise money and public awareness for suicide prevention pay off?  Can he meet his weight loss goal?  Will Billy and his family heal from their terrible loss?

In the aftermath of Michael’s suicide, Billy and his wife Tricia are both trying to understand why their son took his own life.  Tricia just wants their life to return to some semblance of normal and she does not understand why Billy would do anything to bring more attention to their family.  Their children are, of course, struggling just as much as Billy and Tricia.  Fifteen year old John is angry and Billy is often a target of his furious outbursts.  Twelve year old Anna tries to play peacemaker as her parents’ relationship continues to deteriorate.  Nine year old Ivor is a lot like his father and harboring numerous regrets over his self perceived failings, Billy tries to help his youngest son make healthier choices.

Billy’s struggles with weight began during childhood and over the years, he has lost weight only to gain it back time and again.  Having finally given up on diets a few years ago, his weight continues to climb as he binges on his favorite foods in secret.  His relationship with food is complicated and at times, turning away from the comfort he derives from it is almost a herculean task  for Billy. The passages that detail Billy’s shame and low self-esteem from his excess weight are absolutely heartwrenching to read but they provide readers with a discerning glimpse into the struggles he is experiencing.

Equally devastating are effects that Michael’s suicide have on Billy and his family.  Everyone processes their grief differently but they are all grappling to understand why Michael took his own life.  No one is able to pinpoint anything in his behavior that should have been a red flag which makes it very difficult for them to move forward in the grieving process.  Trying to articulate their feelings for their loss is virtually impossible and Billy is helpless to bridge the growing distance between him and his family.  Even more bewildering to him is their lack of understanding for his need to raise public awareness in an effort to prevent another family from losing a loved one to suicide.

The Weight of Him is an emotionally compelling novel that is fast paced and engaging. Ethel Rohan handles very difficult subject matter with sensitivity and provides readers with an insightful perspective about the importance of eliminating the social stigma that surrounds both suicide and obesity.  An absolutely breathtaking journey of healing that is sad yet ends on a hopeful note.

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Filed under Contemporary, Ethel Rohan, Fiction, Rated B+, Review, St Martin's Press, The Weight of Him