Category Archives: Fiction

Review: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Title: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Length: 528 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.

1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She’s also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie’s parents banish her to Europe to have her “little problem” taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.

1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she’s recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she’s trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the “Queen of Spies”, who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy’s nose.

Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn’t heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth…no matter where it leads.

Review:

Featuring factual information about World War I and World War II, The Alice Network by Kate Quinn is an enthralling novel about the real life network of women spies.

In 1947, nineteen year old Charlotte “Charlie” St. Clair has a “Little Problem” that her mother is taking her to Switzerland to fix. On a stopover in England, Charlie takes a detour to try and locate her cousin, Rose Fournier, who disappeared from Nazi occupied France in 1944. Charlie hopes to enlist the help of Evelyn “Eve” Gardiner but the hard drinking recluse is initially unwilling to aid her on her search. Eve’s interest is piqued once she realizes Rose is connected to a French restaurant owner named René, a name that she recognizes from her distant past.  Accompanied by Eve’s driver, Finn Kilgore, the trio quickly embarks on a journey that will hopefully end in redemption but could possibly result in might end in heartbreak.

Until deciding to search for Rose, Charlie has always gone along with her  parents’ plans for her with only a few minor rebellions. Despite her above average intelligence, she is expected to come back from college with a fiancé not a degree. However, after her family suffers a tragic loss, Charlie falls into a depression which leads to very uncharacteristic behavior, an out of wedlock pregnancy and no husband on the horizon. Her decision to find Rose is, in her mind, her last chance for redemption and Charlie refuses to believe that her search for her cousin might not provide her the answer she is hoping for.

Eve is battling plenty of demons of her own and she wants nothing more than to be left alone to drink her problems away. However, once she hears the name René and his connection to a restuarant, nothing will stop her from finding him and she agrees to use her contacts to help Charlie search for Rose.  Eve has a very good reason to find René but she will have to confront the very heartbreaking memories of her past during their quest.

Effortlessly weaving back and forth in time, The Alice Network is a poignant novel that does not downplay the horrors of war or its aftermath. Kate Quinn’s impeccable research brings both time periods and the various settings vibrantly to life. Historically accurate events and people are seamlessly combined with the fictional elements which results in a richly detailed and engrossing story that is impossible to put down. I absolutely loved and highly recommend this incredibly fascinating and emotionally compelling novel.

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Filed under Fiction, Historical, Historical (40s), Kate Quinn, Rated B+, Review, The Alice Network, William Morrow Paperbacks

Review: The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo

Title: The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: 352 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

The breakout novel from the critically acclaimed author of the short story collections Who I Was Supposed to Be and Why They Run the Way They Do—when a middle school girl is abducted in broad daylight, a fellow student and witness to the crime copes with the tragedy in an unforgettable way.

What happens to the girl left behind?

A masked man with a gun enters a sandwich shop in broad daylight, and Meredith Oliver suddenly finds herself ordered to the filthy floor, where she cowers face to face with her nemesis, Lisa Bellow, the most popular girl in her eighth grade class. The minutes tick inexorably by, and Meredith lurches between comforting the sobbing Lisa and imagining her own impending death. Then the man orders Lisa Bellow to stand and come with him, leaving Meredith the girl left behind.

After Lisa’s abduction, Meredith spends most days in her room. As the community stages vigils and searches, Claire, Meredith’s mother, is torn between relief that her daughter is alive, and helplessness over her inability to protect or even comfort her child. Her daughter is here, but not.

Like Everything I Never Told You and Room, The Fall of Lisa Bellow is edgy and original, a hair-raising exploration of the ripple effects of an unthinkable crime. It is a dark, beautifully rendered, and gripping novel about coping, about coming-of-age, and about forgiveness. It is also a beautiful illustration of how one family, broken by tragedy, finds healing.

Review:

The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo is a family drama that delves into the aftereffects of a traumatic event.

Meredith Oliver and Lisa Bellows are classmates but that is about all they have in common until a fateful day in a local deli.  An armed gunman robs the deli then inexplicably kidnaps Lisa, leaving Meredith to try to understand why she was left behind and try to cope with the lingering  trauma.  This life-altering event  also reverberates throughout the Oliver family and the rest of the community with very different reactions from many of people whose lives are touched by the tragedy.  Lisa’s mom Colleen is lost and desperate for answers about her daughter.  The incident seems to have an adverse effect on Meredith’s mom Claire, who grows increasingly dissatisfied with her life.   Meredith’s older brother Evan finally snaps out of the depression that has plagued him since a baseball accident months earlier irrevocably changed his life.  Meredith is understandably distraught about the events that transpired in the deli and she becomes obsessed with Lisa and what happened to her after the kidnapping.

Until that day in the deli, Meredith is a typical eighth grader who is fairly average in just about every way.  After Lisa’s kidnapping, she gains a certain notoriety at school and quickly becomes part of Lisa’s circle of friends.  Meredith is present in the physical sense, but emotionally, she is just sort of drifting away.  She builds a rather elaborate fantasy about what is happening to Lisa and her imaginings soon take on a life of their own.

Meredith’s mother Claire is not a particularly likable or sympathetic character.  She has sort of coasted into the life she has and her musings do not paint her in a flattering light at all.  She is somewhat self-centered and rather unkind in her reflections about her husband, her chosen career and to some degree, her children.

On the other hand, Meredith’s brother Evan and her father Mark are kind-hearted and quite  likable.  Mark is unceasingly upbeat and cheerful and although he sometimes looks at life through rose-colored glasses, his heart is always in the right place.  Evan has been through a difficult ordeal but he is finally finding his way back.  Despite the four year age difference between them, the siblings are rather close and Evan makes a concerted effort to draw Meredith back into the family’s day to day life.

The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo is a character-driven novel that is somewhat slow paced and very introspective.   The plot is certainly imaginative but a little disjointed with no clear resolutions to many of the story arcs.  All in all, an interesting story that has very little suspense and leaves a lot of unanswered questions.

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Filed under Contemporary, Fiction, Review, Simon & Schuster Inc, Susan Perabo, The Fall of Lisa Bellow

Review: The Weight of This World by David Joy

Title: The Weight of This World by David Joy
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: 270 pages
Book Rating: B

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

Summary:

Critically acclaimed author David Joy, whose debut, Where All Light Tends to Go, was hailed as “a savagely moving novel that will likely become an important addition to the great body of Southern literature” (The Huffington Post), returns to the mountains of North Carolina with a powerful story about the inescapable weight of the past.

A combat veteran returned from war, Thad Broom can’t leave the hardened world of Afghanistan behind, nor can he forgive himself for what he saw there. His mother, April, is haunted by her own demons, a secret trauma she has carried for years. Between them is Aiden McCall, loyal to both but unable to hold them together. Connected by bonds of circumstance and duty, friendship and love, these three lives are blown apart when Aiden and Thad witness the accidental death of their drug dealer and a riot of dope and cash drops in their laps. On a meth-fueled journey to nowhere, they will either find the grit to overcome the darkness or be consumed by it.

Review:

The Weight of This World by David Joy is a gritty and somewhat dark novel about three people who are trying to escape their unhappy lives.

In the poverty-stricken Appalachians, Thad Broom, his mom April Trantham and childhood friend Aiden McCall are attempting to change their lives.  Thad is an Afghanistan veteran who is fed up with the snail’s pace of the VA and unable to forget what happened during his tour, he relies on alcohol and meth to keep his demons at bay.   April is finally free of her abusive husband but she has been unable to move past the damage wrought by the circumstances of Thad’s conception or her parents’ and the townspeople’s reaction to her unwed pregnancy.  Despite his own tragic past, Aiden is trying his best to live an honest life but the downturn in the economy leaves him struggling to find a job. He is also trying to keep Aiden from self-destructing after their drug dealer dies and they make the decision to claim his stash of drugs, cash and weapons. In an ever increasing downward spiral fueled by lack of sleep and too much alcohol and meth, Thad makes a terrible mistake that Aiden desperately tries to fix but can he save his friend from himself?

While at one time Aiden had a loving family, Thad was never that lucky.  April never made any secret that she loathed her son and with her blessing, her husband set him up in his own trailer on their property when he was a child.  After Aiden runs away from foster care, Thad convinces April to make take the necessary steps for him to stay with them and the two boys are thick as thieves even after Thad joins the Army. Aiden remains living on the property and working in construction until the housing market crash puts him out of work.  He is still managing to hold it together even though he is not exactly making an honest living. After he returns from Afghanistan, Thad refuses to get help for his PTSD and instead chooses to self-medicate with alcohol and meth. Following the death of her husband, April is making plans for her future that will impact both Thad and Aiden if they come to fruition.

After the shocking death of their drug dealer, Aiden and Thad make a split second decision to steal his stash but things quickly go downhill when Thad invites a couple of girls to party with them.  Unable to keep Thad under control, Aiden eventually carries through with their original plan to profit off their newfound windfall. However, nothing goes as planned for either men and their situation quickly goes from bad to worse.  Will either of them find a way out from under the crushing weight of their bad choices and abject poverty?

The Weight of This World is a harsh and violent novel that is a heartbreakingly realistic portrait of life in rural America. The characters are difficult to like (even though it is impossible not to feel sympathy for Aiden) and while they are trapped by their own poor choices, they are also victims of circumstances that are out of their control to some degree. David Bell is a gifted writer who exposes the darker side of life but in doing so, he educates readers about how difficult it is to make a living in economically depressed areas in the United States. A very worthwhile read that is quite thought-provoking and very poignant.

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Filed under Contemporary, David Joy, Fiction, GP Putnams Sons, Rated B, Review, The Weight of This World

Review: The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis

Title: The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis
Publisher: Hogarth
Genre: Historical (80s, 90s), Fiction
Length: 368 pages
Book Rating: B

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

Summary:

A richly textured coming-of-age story about fathers and sons, home and family, recalling classics by Thomas Wolfe and William Styron, by a powerful new voice in fiction

Just before Henry Aster’s birth, his father—outsized literary ambition and pregnant wife in tow—reluctantly returns to the small Appalachian town in which he was raised and installs his young family in an immense house of iron and glass perched high on the side of a mountain. There, Henry grows up under the writing desk of this fiercely brilliant man. But when tragedy tips his father toward a fearsome unraveling, what was once a young son’s reverence is poisoned and Henry flees, not to return until years later when he, too, must go home again.

Mythic in its sweep and mesmeric in its prose, THE BARROWFIELDS is a breathtaking debut about the darker side of devotion, the limits of forgiveness, and the reparative power of shared pasts.

Review:

Set in a rural town in the Appalachian Mountains,The Barrowfields is a melancholy yet interesting debut by Phillip Lewis.

After tragedy strikes their family, young Henry Aster reminisces about his father, also named Henry, who managed to leave his rural roots only to return with his pregnant wife, Eleonore, when his mother’s health begins to fail.  Henry Sr is a prodigious reader with dreams of writing of his own novel and works as a lawyer to support his family. After winning a lucrative case, he purchases a rather spooky house that overlooks the town where he works on his novel while drinking heavily.  Following a tragic loss, young Henry eventually follows in his father’s footsteps as he leaves for college only to eventually return to his birthplace where he must finally come to terms with the events that occurred before striking out on his own.

The flashbacks from Henry Jr about his childhood offer a somewhat bleak portrait of his rather dysfunctional family.  Henry Sr spends night after night writing his novel and drinking which leaves Henry Jr. taking on paternal duties with his much younger sister Threnody.  Most of Henry’s reminiscences focus on his dad with only passing mention of his mom, Eleonore, who is apparently quite devoted to her husband.  After Henry’s paternal grandmother passes away, Henry’s family undergoes a few changes that end in tragedy and culminate with Henry Sr.’s continued downward spiral.

The pacing of the novel picks up when Henry Jr goes to college where he also goes on to law school.  He spends a lot of his time drinking and mooning over  Story, the young woman who has stolen his heart.  However, Story has her own drama to contend with but Henry is a willing participant in her quest to attain answers that no one is willing to give.  It is not until Henry returns to face his own past that he figures out the truth she has searching for.  In the process of coming to terms with his family’s history, Henry attempts to repair his long fractured relationship with Threnody.

Although a bit slow paced, The Barrowfields is an imaginative debut novel.  Phillip Lewis brings the setting vibrantly to life and it is quite easy to visualize the rural town and its inhabitants.  The characters are richly developed and life-like with all too human frailties and foibles.  An atmospheric coming of age novel that leaves readers hopeful Henry Jr and Threnody will find a way to avoid repeating the mistakes that took their father down a somewhat dark path.

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Filed under Fiction, Historical, Historical (80s), Historical (90s), Hogarth, Phillip Lewis, Rated B, Review, The Barrowfields

Review: A Million Little Things by Susan Mallery

Title: A Million Little Things by Susan Mallery
Mischief Bay Series Book Three
Publisher: Harlequin
Imprint: MIRA
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction, Romance
Length: 368 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

From the bestselling author of The Girls of Mischief Bay and The Friends We Keep comes a twisty tale of family dynamics that explores what can go terribly, hysterically wrong when the line between friendship and family blurs… 

Zoe Saldivar is more than just single—she’s ALONE. She recently broke up with her longtime boyfriend, she works from home and her best friend Jen is so obsessed with her baby that she has practically abandoned their friendship. The day Zoe accidentally traps herself in her attic with her hungry-looking cat, she realizes that it’s up to her to stop living in isolation.

Her seemingly empty life takes a sudden turn for the complicated—her first new friend is Jen’s widowed mom, Pam. The only guy to give her butterflies in a very long time is Jen’s brother. And meanwhile, Pam is being very deliberately seduced by Zoe’s own smooth-as-tequila father. Pam’s flustered, Jen’s annoyed and Zoe is beginning to think “alone” doesn’t sound so bad, after all.

Friendship isn’t just one thing—it’s a million little things, and no one writes them with more heart and humor than book club sensation Susan Mallery!

Review:

A Million Little Things is a delightfully engaging and captivating addition to Susan Mallery’s marvelous Mischief Bay series.  Although this latest release is the third installment in the series, it can be read as a standalone but I highly encourage readers to pick up the previous two novels in this wonderful series.

Zoe Saldivar has not noticed how solitary her life has become until she is accidentally locked in her attic.  Vowing to make some changes, she tries to reconnect with her best friend Jen Beldon, but with Jen obsessing over her eighteen month old son, Jack, there seems to be little room for friendship in her life.  She is also friends with Jen’s widowed mother, Pam Eiland, who, after listening to Zoe’s problems, decides to play matchmaker between her young friend and her son, Steven.  Their budding romance is going surprisingly well when Zoe receives very unexpected and life-altering news. This complication has a surprising effect on virtually everyone’s relationships including Pam’s relationship with Zoe’s dad, Miguel Saldivar. Will Pam continue to alienate the people her life? Or will she figure out a way to repair her mistakes before it is too late?

Zoe has recently ended her five year relationship and she is regretting some of the choices she made based on where she thought their romance was headed.  While she misses some aspects of her former career, she is not sure she wants to return to it.  While she mostly enjoys her current job, Zoe is uncertain whether working from home is right for her.  She would like to begin dating again, but she has few opportunities to meet men.  When Steven offers to help her with a home repair, she is surprised by how attractive she finds Jen’s brother.  Their relationship is off to an uneventful beginning when Zoe gets very unexpected news that leaves her very uncertain about her future with Steven especially after Pam’s shocking reaction.

Jen has been a stay at home mom since giving birth to Jack and while she has her son’s best interests at heart, she is extremely over-protective of him.  Although Jack is a happy, healthy and well-adjusted little boy, his failure to reach a certain milestone has Jen desperately searching for answers.  She is also quite worried about her husband, Kirk’s new job with the LAPD and she dislikes everything about his new partner, Lucas.  With her anxieties reaching a new high, Jen resents everyone’s suggestion to relax and not worry so much about everything.  She receives advice from a very unexpected source but will she act on it?

Although Pam has been widowed for two years, she still feels married to her beloved husband.  She has a busy, fulfilled life and she loves to travel.  She has a great relationship with her children, but she is very frustrated with Jen’s obsession over keeping Jack safe from anything that could possibly harm him.  When Zoe receives news that turns her life upside down, Pam’s first concern is for what this information could mean for Steven.  Instead of her loving support, she stuns everyone with the advice she gives to her son.  With several of her relationships on very shaky ground, Pam stands by her opinion, but will she eventually change her mind?

A Million Little Things is a touching novel with three interwoven storylines that are heartwarming and thought-provoking.  All of the characters are well-developed with realistic strengths and weakness that are very easy to relate to.  The story arcs are quite diverse and it is quite fascinating watching the various characters try to overcome the problems they are facing. The romance between Zoe and Steven is very sweet and despite outside conflict and a stunning development, their relationship lacks unnecessary angst or drama. Another outstanding installment in Susan Mallery’s  Mischief Bay series that old and new fans are going to love!

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Filed under A Million Little Things, Contemporary, Fiction, Harlequin, Mira, Mischief Bay Series, Rated B+, Review, Romance, Susan Mallery

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

Summary:

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.

Review:

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