Category Archives: William Morrow

Review: Start Without Me by Joshua Max Feldman

Title: Start Without Me by Joshua Max Feldman
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: 288 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

The author of the critically acclaimed The Book of Jonah explores questions of love and choice, disappointment and hope in the lives of two strangers who meet by chance in this mesmerizing tale that unfolds over one Thanksgiving Day.

Adam is a former musician and recovering alcoholic who is home for Thanksgiving for the first time in many years. Surrounded by his parents and siblings, nieces and nephews—all who have seen him at his worst—he can’t shake the feeling that no matter how hard he tries, he’ll always be the one who can’t get it right.

Marissa is a flight attendant whose marriage is strained by simmering tensions over race, class, and ambition. Heading to her in-laws for their picture-perfect holiday family dinner, her anxiety is intensified by the knowledge she is pregnant from an impulsive one-night-stand.

In an airport restaurant on Thanksgiving morning, Adam and Marissa meet. Over the course of this day fraught with emotion and expectation, these two strangers will form an unlikely bond as they reckon with their family ties, their pasts, and the choices that will determine their way forward.

Joshua Max Feldman focuses his knowing eye on one of the last bastions of classical American idealism, the Thanksgiving family gathering, as he explores our struggles to know—and to be—our best selves. Hilarious and heartrending, Start Without Me is a thoughtful and entertaining page-turner that will leave its indelible mark on your heart.

Review:

Start Without Me by Joshua Max Feldman is an interesting character study that will resonate with readers who have complicated family relationships.

Recovering alcoholic Adam Warshaw is spending the first Thanksgiving with his family in years and he has barely arrived before he runs away. Planning to fly back to San Francisco, he is passing time at a hotel restaurant where he meets flight attendant Marissa who is also not looking forward to spending the day with her husband, Robbie and his family.  After changing his mind about leaving town, he and Marissa are uneasy traveling partners when she agrees to drop Adam off at his parents’ on her way to her in-laws. Unlikely allies, they are often unable to find answers for their own problems  yet  Marissa and Adam offer one another some rather insightful advice about the troubles they are grappling with. As their time together is coming to an end, both Marissa and Adam are facing monumental decisions about their respective futures.

With each of them dealing with very different issues, Adam and Marissa are incredibly world weary.  Adam’s latest stint in rehab seems to have finally made a difference and although he is not exactly loving his life, he is committed to his sobriety. And yet, for all the progress he has made, Adam is rather daunted at the prospect of dealing with his family without the numbing effects of alcohol. Already overwhelmed, Adam runs when he makes the tiniest mistake.

Marissa is conflicted over the seemingly insurmountable reality of her unplanned pregnancy from her out of character one night stand. Her once happy marriage has been strained for quite some time and she is slowly realizing that she and Robbie see their future quite differently. She is also dreading spending the day with her in-laws who have always made her feel like an unwanted outsider. The events that transpire over Thanksgiving coupled with Robbie’s reaction to her news leave her very uncertain about what choice she will make about her marriage and her pregnancy.

Start Without Me is an engaging novel with well-developed characters who are dealing with realistic problems.  Despite his new self-awareness, Adam remains mired in negative thinking and a defeatist outlook. Marissa is clinging to her marriage in spite of the fact that she and Robbie are no longer on the same page.  Joshua Max Feldman brings this contemplative and thought-provoking journey of self-discovery to a satisfying conclusion.

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Filed under Contemporary, Fiction, Joshua Max Feldman, Rated B, Review, Start Without Me, William Morrow

Review: The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash

Title: The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Historical, Literary Fiction
Length: 384 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

The New York Times bestselling author of the celebrated A Land More Kind Than Home and This Dark Road to Mercy returns with this eagerly awaited new novel, set in the Appalachian foothills of North Carolina in 1929 and inspired by actual events. The chronicle of an ordinary woman’s struggle for dignity and her rights in a textile mill, The Last Ballad is a moving tale of courage in the face of oppression and injustice, with the emotional power of Ron Rash’s Serena, Dennis Lehane’s The Given Day, and the unforgettable films Norma Rae and Silkwood.

Twelve times a week, twenty-eight-year-old Ella May Wiggins makes the two-mile trek to and from her job on the night shift at American Mill No. 2 in Bessemer City, North Carolina. The insular community considers the mill’s owners—the newly arrived Goldberg brothers—white but not American and expects them to pay Ella May and other workers less because they toil alongside African Americans like Violet, Ella May’s best friend. While the dirty, hazardous job at the mill earns Ella May a paltry nine dollars for seventy-two hours of work each week, it’s the only opportunity she has. Her no-good husband, John, has run off again, and she must keep her four young children alive with whatever work she can find.

When the union leaflets begin circulating, Ella May has a taste of hope, a yearning for the better life the organizers promise. But the mill owners, backed by other nefarious forces, claim the union is nothing but a front for the Bolshevik menace sweeping across Europe. To maintain their control, the owners will use every means in their power, including bloodshed, to prevent workers from banding together. On the night of the county’s biggest rally, Ella May, weighing the costs of her choice, makes up her mind to join the movement—a decision that will have lasting consequences for her children, her friends, her town—indeed all that she loves.

Seventy-five years later, Ella May’s daughter Lilly, now an elderly woman, tells her nephew about his grandmother and the events that transformed their family. Illuminating the most painful corners of their history, she reveals, for the first time, the tragedy that befell Ella May after that fateful union meeting in 1929.

Intertwining myriad voices, Wiley Cash brings to life the heartbreak and bravery of the now forgotten struggle of the labor movement in early twentieth-century America—and pays tribute to the thousands of heroic women and men who risked their lives to win basic rights for all workers. Lyrical, heartbreaking, and haunting, this eloquent novel confirms Wiley Cash’s place among our nation’s finest writers.

Review:

Rich with historical details and based on real life events, The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash shines a much needed light on the  National Textile Workers Union attempt to secure better wages and working conditions for textile workers in the south.

In 1929, single mother Ella May Wiggins works twelve hours a day, six days a week at American Mill No. 2. Although she relies on the kindness of her neighbors in Stumpton to help watch over her four children while she is working, her $9 a week paycheck barely covers rent and food for her and her family. After attending a union rally in nearby Gastonia where workers at the Loray Mill are being evicted from their homes after going on strike, Ella becomes an unlikely spokeswoman for the union when she wins over the crowd with her moving life story and recently penned ballad, The Mill Mother’s Lament.  Over the next several months, Ella and union organizer Sophia Blevin continue their efforts to integrate Ella’s African-American neighbors and co-workers into the National Textile Workers Union. In the deeply segregated South where minorities and women have no voice or rights, Ella’s work with the union is dangerous and her attempts to include African-Americans in the fight for better wages culminates in heartbreak.

Growing up in poverty in the NC mountains,  Ella marries young and follows her husband, John, from one mill town to another. After the death of their young son, John abandons her and their children and Ella cannot find work anywhere except American Mill No. 2 where whites and African Americans work alongside one another. After coming close to losing her job when she stays home to care for her sick baby, Ella is drawn to the union rally in hopes of improving pay and working conditions for herself and her fellow workers. She is pragmatic and deals with every hardship that comes her way with stoicism yet Ella’s love for her children is fierce.

While Ella is the central figure in the unfolding story, the chapters alternate between various points of view.  Daughter Lilly’s perspective takes place in the present as she shares memories of those long ago days with her nephew, Edwin.  Verchel Park’s acquaintance with Ella’s former husband John has unintended consequences that he only realizes long after their occurrence. The wife of a wealthy mill owner from a neighboring town, Katherine McAdam is drawn to Ella through a shared loss and their unlikely friendship proves to be life saving. African-American train porter Hampton Haywood’s family fled Mississippi in fear for their lives and although he now lives in New York, he cannot resist the call to help the union organizers in the South.  Disgraced police officer Albert Roach is instrumental in setting in motion the final confrontation that ends with a devastating loss.

The Last Ballad is a meticulously researched novel with a thought-provoking and poignant storyline. Based on factual events,  Wiley Cash brings the characters, setting and time period in this compelling story vibrantly to life.  Ella May Wiggins’ struggles to provide for her family are positively gut wrenching and her impressive efforts to improve working conditions and higher wages are captivating.  I absolutely loved and highly recommend this extraordinary novel that highlights a mostly forgotten yet vastly important time in the history of the labor movement.

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Filed under Historical, Historical (20s), Literary Fiction, Rated B+, Review, The Last Ballad, Wiley Cash, William Morrow

Review: Keep Her Safe by Sophie Hannah

Title: Keep Her Safe by Sophie Hannah
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 352 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

She’s the most famous murder victim in America. What if she’s not dead?

Pushed to the breaking point, Cara Burrows flees her home and family and escapes to a five-star spa resort she can’t afford. Late at night, exhausted and desperate, she lets herself into her hotel room and is shocked to find it already occupied — by a man and a teenage girl.

A simple mistake at the front desk… but soon Cara realizes that the girl she saw alive and well in the hotel room is someone she can’t possibly have seen: the most famous murder victim in the country, Melody Chapa, whose parents are serving natural life sentences for her murder.

Cara doesn’t know what to trust — everything she’s read and heard about the case, or the evidence of her own eyes. Did she really see Melody? And is she prepared to ask herself that question and answer it honestly if it means risking her own life?

Review:

In Keep Her Safe by Sophie Hannah, a British woman escaping from her family problems stumbles onto a mystery at an upscale resort in Arizona.

Overwhelmed and angry about her family’s response to an unexpected life-changing event, Cara Burrows books herself a two week vacation at a posh Arizona spa. Exhausted after the long flight, she arrives at the Swallowtail Resort and Spa in the middle of night where she is inadvertently assigned to a room that is already occupied by a man and a teenage girl. The next day, she overhears another guest report her sighting of Melody Chapa, a young girl whose parents have been convicted of her murder despite the fact her body has never been found.

Trying to avoid thinking about her own troubles, Cara googles the infamous case and she is stunned by the realization that Melody Chapa bears an uncanny resemblance to the teenager she briefly saw the previous night. With the help of fellow guests, outspoken florist Tarin Fry and her beleaguered daughter Zellie, the trio have barely scratched the surface of this intriguing case when Cara and the resort’s front desk clerk Riyonna Briggs inexplicably vanish. Tarin pressures local detective Orwin Priddey and his erstwhile partner Bryce Sanders to take Cara’s disappearance seriously after  former prosecutor turned abrasive talk show host Bonnie Juno suggests Cara left of her own volition. Is Cara’s unexplained departure connected to Riyonna’s disappearance? More importantly, is there a link between the missing women and Cara’s sighting of Melody Chapa?

Cara is a rather unlikable and unsympathetic character.  She is impatient with everyone and intolerant of Americans whom she judge to be excessively friendly and guilty of hyperbolic overstatement (all of which begs the question: why go to America if you disapprove of Americans???).  It is also a little hard to forgive her somewhat callous attitude towards her family and her reason for the trip is rather selfish and completely avoidable. While Cara’s reason for immersing herself in researching the circumstances of Melody’s disappearance and her parents’ murder conviction is self-serving, Cara is eventually truly concerned about the case.

The first part of the novel focuses on prickly Cara, her family situation and her internet research into the Chapa case.  The information about Melody’s case is revealed through on line articles, YouTube clips and a handful of segments from Bonnie Juno’s television show. The second part of the story concentrates on Tarin’s efforts to keep the investigators motivated to search for Cara. Detective Priddey plays his cards close to his chest as he quietly questions witnesses and follows leads. Bonnie Juno inserts herself into the investigation and loudly (and frequently) proclaims the Chapas’ are guilty as sin and behind bars where they belong.

Keep Her Safe is a rather engrossing mystery despite a disagreeable lead protagonist and the slow moving storyline.  An intriguing and creative premise make it easy to overlook some of the more improbable elements of the plot. Sophie Hannah throws in some brilliant twists and turns at the novel’s conclusion that are absolutely stunning.  All in all, an entertaining, twist-filled mystery that fans of the genre will enjoy.

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Filed under Contemporary, Keep Her Safe, Mystery, Rated B, Review, Sophie Hannah, Suspense, William Morrow

Review: Sleeping in the Ground by Peter Robinson

Title: Sleeping in the Ground by Peter Robinson
Inspector Banks Series Book 24
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 336 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

MICHAEL CONNELLY calls Peter Robinson “an author with amazing empathy, a snare-trap ear for dialogue, and a clear eye for the telling detail.”

See why in Sleeping in the Ground, the gripping new novel starring Alan Banks  featuring an opening scene you’ll never forget, and a finale you won’t see coming.

At the doors of a charming country church, an unspeakable act destroys a wedding party. A huge manhunt ensues. The culprit is captured. The story is over.

Except it isn’t. For Alan Banks, still struggling with a tragic loss of his own, there’s something wrong about this case — something unresolved. Reteaming with profiler Jenny Fuller, the relentless detective deeper into the crime… deep enough to unearth long-buried secrets that reshape everything Banks thought he knew about the events outside that chapel.

And when at last the shocking truth becomes clear, it’s almost too late.

Packed with twists and turns, heart and soul, this is another triumph from an author “at the top of his game” (LOUISE PENNY).

Review:

Featuring a ripped from the headlines style mass killing, Sleeping in the Ground is an engrossing police procedural which takes place in the British countryside. This latest release from Peter Robinson stars venerable Detective Superintendent Alan Banks and although it is the 24th installment in the Inspector Banks series, it can easily be read as a standalone.

The novel opens with a mass shooting by an unknown assailant at a wedding that leaves bride Laura Tindall and two people dead and groom Benjamin Kemp and five others wounded.  With little evidence to go on, the investigation does not take long to uncover the probable identity of the shooter. With the murderer dead by his own hand, the case is quickly wrapped up, but a few details bother Detective Superintendent Banks.  After pathologist Dr. Glendenning mentions a few anomalies in the killer’s post-mortem that don’t add up, Banks, DI Annie Cabbot and DC Geraldine “Gerry” Masterson dig deeper into the victims’ pasts.

Banks is rather introspective throughout the investigation as he mourns the recent loss of his first serious girlfriend. Despite his preoccupation with his memories and an unexpected reunion with psychologist Dr. Jenny Fuller, his years of experience and keen instincts are sharper than ever and he quickly zeros in on a possible reason for the shooting spree but the ensuing investigation does not have an overabundance of clues for the investigators to follow.  Instead, subtle pieces of information combined with a few facts and logical conclusions prove Banks and his team are on the right track.  Gerry is instrumental in finding the evidence that provides them with a viable suspect. Days of torrential rain have resulted in area flooding, but with another person’s life hanging in the balance, Gerry disregards her personal safety once she is certain she knows what the killer is planning next.

Sleeping in the Ground is a fantastic mystery that old and new fans of the Inspector Banks series will enjoy.  The characters are brilliantly developed with true to life foibles and frailties that are incredibly relatable. The investigation relies on old fashioned detective work to solve a very modern crime and the storyline unfolds at steady pace. Peter Robinson brings the search for the shooter to an exciting conclusion that completely wraps up the investigation.

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Filed under Contemporary, Inspector Banks Series, Mystery, Peter Robinson, Rated B, Review, Sleeping in the Ground, Suspense, William Morrow

Review: The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter

Title: The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 528 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

The stunning new novel from the international #1 bestselling author  a searing, spellbinding blend of cold-case thriller and psychological suspense.

Two girls are forced into the woods at gunpoint. One runs for her life. One is left behind…

Twenty-eight years ago, Charlotte and Samantha Quinn’s happy small-town family life was torn apart by a terrifying attack on their family home. It left their mother dead. It left their father — Pikeville’s notorious defense attorney — devastated. And it left the family fractured beyond repair, consumed by secrets from that terrible night.

Twenty-eight years later, and Charlie has followed in her father’s footsteps to become a lawyer herself — the ideal good daughter. But when violence comes to Pikeville again — and a shocking tragedy leaves the whole town traumatized — Charlie is plunged into a nightmare. Not only is she the first witness on the scene, but it’s a case that unleashes the terrible memories she’s spent so long trying to suppress. Because the shocking truth about the crime that destroyed her family nearly thirty years ago won’t stay buried forever…

Packed with twists and turns, brimming with emotion and heart, The Good Daughter is fiction at its most thrilling.

Review:

The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter is an utterly spellbinding mystery that is also quite heartrending.

Twenty-eight years ago, thirteen year old Charlotte (Charlie) Quinn, her fifteen year old sister Samantha (Sam) and their mother Gamma are brutally attacked in their home by two masked gunman. The perpetrators were searching for patriarch Rusty, a reviled criminal defense attorney whose client list features such lowlifes as rapists, killers and drug dealers. In the present, Rusty’s clientele is much the same and Charlie is a criminal defense attorney who is currently separated from her husband, ADA Ben Bernard. Following a one night stand with a stranger, Charlie discovers she and her hook-up have inadvertently switched cell phones. Going to the local middle school to exchange phones, Charlie finds herself in the middle of a school shooting that stirs up all of the unresolved trauma from her past. In the aftermath of the devastating shooting, two people are dead and Rusty quickly agrees to represent the alleged shooter, Kelly Wilson, and Charlie is forced to confront the demons that have haunted her for the last twenty-eight years.

Charlie is not one to mince words and she might have a tough outer shell, but she is still clearly traumatized by the attack that forever altered her family’s lives. At one time blissfully happy with Ben, her caustic tongue and endless haranguing in recent years have finally driven him to leave her. Making no progress in fixing her tattered marriage, Charlie’s one night stand with a stranger is completely out of character and she is deeply ashamed of this decision. Now a witness in the case against Kelly, Charlie is stunned to realize she harbors doubts about Kelly’s guilt despite the fact the teenager was literally caught red-handed at the scene of the crime.

As events play out after the shooting, Charlie must finally deal with the trauma from the childhood attack. Although she shares office space with Rusty, she is NOT his legal partner and they manage to put aside their ideological differences. Their exchanges are playful but their discussions lack depth or much substance. While Ben knows about what happened to Charlie, her past is clearly still affecting her behavior and decisions, yet she refuses to discuss it with him or anyone else.

The Good Daughter is a dark and gritty mystery but there are surprisingly humorous, laugh out loud passages that lighten the storyline. The characters are brilliantly developed, deeply flawed yet personable and even some of the “bad” guys manage to elicit sympathy. The two story arcs seamlessly flow together and it is impossible to say which storyline is more compelling. Karin Slaughter brings the novel to a jaw-dropping, twist-filled conclusion that wraps up all of the loose ends. An absolutely enthralling mystery that fans of the genre do NOT want to miss.

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Filed under Contemporary, Karin Slaughter, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, Suspense, The Good Daughter, William Morrow

Review: Map of the Heart by Susan Wiggs

Title: Map of the Heart by Susan Wiggs
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Contemporary, Historical (WWII), Romance, Women’s Fiction
Length: 368 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

Love and family. War and secrets. Betrayal and redemption.

#1 New York Times bestselling author Susan Wiggs returns with a deeply emotional and atmospheric story that spans oceans and decades, from the present-day Delaware shore to the battlefields of WWII France.

Widowed by an unspeakable tragedy, Camille Palmer has made her peace with the past and settled into the quiet safety of life with her teenage daughter Julie in a sleepy coastal town. Then the arrival of a mysterious package breaks open the door to her family’s secret past. In uncovering a hidden history, Camille has no idea that she’s embarking on an adventure that will utterly transform her.

Camille, Julie, and Camille’s father return to the French town of his youth, sparking  unexpected memories — recollections that will lead them back to the dark days of the Second World War. And it is in the stunning Provençal countryside that they will uncover their family’s surprising history.

While Provence offers answers about the past, it also holds the key to Camille’s future. Along the way, she meets a former naval officer who stirs a passion deep within her — a feeling that she thought she’d never experience again.

Review:

Map of the Heart by Susan Wiggs is a beautifully rendered, poignant novel that mainly takes place in the present but also flips back in time to World War II in order to solve an intriguing family secret.

Camille Palmer Adams was at one time fearless and adventuresome as she embraced love and life without reservation. However, five years ago, in a heart-stopping instant, a tragic loss changed her into a woman who now refuses to take risks and rarely steps out of the sedate, safe life she has created with her fifteen year old daughter Julie. After experiencing another life-altering moment, Camille becomes aware that she has somehow overlooked some important changes in her daughter.  Will this stunning realization allow her to see past her own fears in order to allow Julie the freedom to spread her wings and enjoy life to the fullest? Or will Camille continue to let her past to shape her future?

Camille is quite close with her father, Henri Palmer, who left his small town in the French countryside to emigrate to America. As an American who romanticizes and idealizes the French, I immediately turned to my husband and asked, “why would a Frenchman abandon an idyllic life in FRANCE to permanently move to the United States?” The answer to that question stretches back to World War II and the beautiful, brave woman who refused to allow the Germans to defeat her after they invade her small country village.

In Map of the Heart, Susan Wiggs seamlessly weaves these two seemingly disparate story arcs into a heartwarming novel of healing and love. The novel’s picturesque settings spring vibrantly to life and readers will have no difficulty visualizing the coastal town of Bethany Bay or the bucolic French countryside.  The characters are multi-dimensional with true to life human frailties and foibles that make them easy to relate to as they attempt to make peace with their respective pasts.  I absolutely adored and highly recommend this captivating novel to fans of the genre.

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Filed under Contemporary, Historical, Historical (40s), Map of the Heart, Rated B+, Romance, Susan Wiggs, William Morrow, Women's Fiction