Category Archives: Kensington

Review: Where the Sweet Bird Sings by Ella Joy Olsen

Title: Where the Sweet Bird Sings by Ella Joy Olsen
Publisher: Kensington
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

In this provocative new novel, the author of Root, Petal, Thorn offers a powerful story of resilience, hope, and the secrets that, no matter how deeply hidden, can shape and ultimately unite a family. What connects us to one another? Is it shared history? Is it ancestry? Is it blood? Or is it love?

People respond to tragedy in different ways. Some try to move on. Some don’t move at all. A year after her young son’s death due to a rare genetic disease, Emma Hazelton is still frozen by grief, unable and unwilling to consider her husband Noah’s suggestion that they try to have another child.

As the future Emma once imagined crumbles, her family’s past comes into sharp relief. Searching for the roots of her son’s disease, Emma tries to fit together the pieces in her genealogical puzzle. Hidden within an old wedding photograph of her great-grandparents is an unusual truth Emma never guessed at–a window into all the ways that love can be surprising, generous, and fiercely brave . . . and a discovery that may help her find her own way forward at last.

Review:

Where the Sweet Bird Sings by Ella Joy Olsen is a very poignant novel healing and reconciliation.

Emma Hazelton is still deeply grieving the loss of her young son Joey who died from a rare genetic disease a year earlier. Now with her beloved Grandpa Joe’s death, she feels quite lost. She is also struggling with her anger at her husband Noah who has come to terms with his grief and is ready to move forward. When her mom asks her to help sort her through her grandpa’s belongings as she prepares to sell his house, Emma is delighted to discover a wedding portrait of her grand-grandparents. However, the identity of a young woman and little boy in the picture is quite puzzling. When her grandfather’s obituary raises perplexing questions about his past, Emma is determined to find out if these two events are somehow related.  Will learning the truth about her heritage provide Emma with a measure of peace and help her regain the sense of self she lost after baby Joey’s death?

Emma and Noah had no problem pulling together after Joey’s devastating diagnosis. Emma devoted herself to caring for her son until his tragic death and in the aftermath of her loss, she finds herself from pulling away from Noah as she struggles to make sense of who she is. Following her grandfather’s death and her subsequent bewildering discoveries about his past, she is even more adrift. Deciding she needs time away from Noah as she tries to put her life back together, Emma temporarily moves in with her mother and starts making plans for her future. However, she is at a loss when attempting to make a decision about her marriage since she and Noah are at an impasse when it comes to having more children.

As Emma tries to decide what to do about her future, she and her brother Ethan try to find answers to their lingering questions from their childhood. Their parents’ divorce was quite acrimonious and their unusual custody arrangements led to very strained relationships between Emma and their father and Ethan and their mother.  Will their efforts to mend the rift between mother and son be successful?

Where the Sweet Bird Sings by Ella Joy Olsen is a very emotional journey of self-discovery, healing and moving on after following a heartrending loss. The characters are richly developed with both positive and negative traits that are sometimes frustrating but very realistic.  Emma’s search for genealogical information about her family is fascinating and quite educational. A deeply affecting novel that will linger in readers’ hearts and minds long after the last page is turned.

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Filed under Contemporary, Ella Joy Olsen, Kensington, Rated B, Where the Sweet Bird Sings, Women's Fiction

Review: Part of the Silence by Debbie Howells

Title: Part of the Silence by Debbie Howells
Publisher: Kensington
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

From the international bestselling author of The Bones of You comes a haunting and heartbreaking new psychological thriller about the distorted nature of reality, the unreliability of memory, and the enduring power of a mother’s love.

A blighted memory. A child who seems never to have existed. A watcher in the shadows.

When they find Evie Sherman, battered and left for dead in a maize field, the young woman has no recollection of who she is. After three days in a hospital bed, the fog in her head begins to lift, and she remembers two names: her own, and that of her three-year-old daughter, Angel. Evie is convinced that Angel is in grave danger. But the police can find no evidence of the girl’s existence.

It’s clear that Evie is having some kind of mental breakdown—or is it? Even in the depths of her amnesiac darkness, Evie knows her daughter’s voice, her chameleon eyes, every precious hair on her head. So how can she be losing her mind?

As Evie’s grasp on reality slips away, she finds herself haunted by the same three-word warning, which she hears over and over: Trust no one. But whom is she being warned against? The police? The doctors and nurses? Or the mysterious figure who’s been watching her, who knows all her secrets, has a hidden agenda—and perhaps their own twisted version of reality.

Review:

A woman with amnesia and her three year old missing daughter are at the center of Debbie Howells’ latest mystery, Part of the Silence.

Badly beaten and left for dead in the middle of a maize field, Evie Sherman has very few memories beyond her name and her daughter, Angel. The only problem? Police cannot find any sign of the young girl and when Charlotte Harrison recognizes Evie as Jen Russell, the case becomes even more confusing. Why would Jen change her name to Evie? Why is there no record of Angel? Who attacked Evie and left her for dead? Is there any connection between Angel’s disappearance and the still unsolved case of another 3 year old girl who went missing fifteen years ago? Local police have very few leads but DC Abbie Rose and DI Jack Bentley are working hard to find answers to these very perplexing questions.

Charlotte is dealing with her own issues when she recognizes Evie as her old classmate Jen. Feeling obligated to contact the police with this information, she very reluctantly agrees to DC Abbie Rose’s requests to keep the very disoriented victim company while the police try to uncover information about Evie. Charlotte is quite compassionate and caring during her visits with Evie and she continues to stay by her side during her recovery. While everyone else doubts that Evie’s daughter Angel exists, Charlotte remains extremely supportive and always believes Evie is telling the truth.

About midway through the investigation, DI Jack Bentley returns from holiday and he becomes involved in the case.  He is extremely compassionate during his interactions with Evie and unlike his fellow detectives, he completely believes her story about her missing daughter. Jack is certain there is a link between the fifteen year old cold case and Angel’s disappearance but will he find the connection? Another body is discovered on the same property where Evie was attacked but does this murder have anything to do with her case?

Interspersed with the unfolding events in the present are flashbacks from Casey Danning, whose sister is the girl who vanished fifteen years earlier. These passages offer an unsettling portrait of a very troubled teenager who eventually matures into a rather disturbed woman.  These contemplative entries become somewhat dark and twisted with Casey leaving a swath of destruction in her wake. Where exactly Casey fits into the current situation is unknown but her narration is quite chilling.

While Part of the Silence is rather atmospheric, the pacing is bit slow for the first half of the novel. The premise is certainly intriguing and Evie is a compelling, if somewhat unreliable, character. The storyline is engaging but it takes a while for the various story arcs to come together. Although astute readers will most likely figure out the major plot twist fairly early this does not lessen the overall enjoyment of the novel. Debbie Howells brings the novel to an abrupt yet satisfying conclusion.

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Filed under Contemporary, Debbie Howells, Kensington, Mystery, Part of the Silence, Rated B, Review, Suspense

Review: In the Shadow of Alabama by Judy Reene Singer

Title: In the Shadow of Alabama by Judy Reene Singer
Publisher: Kensington
Genre: Contemporary, Historical (40s), Literary Fiction
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Judy Reene Singer’s newest novel is a masterful story of the American experience. Between the past and present, between love and war, between the burdens of race and hope, a woman returns home to discover her father and a history she had never known

Rachel Fleischer has good reasons not to be at her father’s deathbed. Foaling season is at hand and her horses are becoming restless and difficult. Her critical mother and grasping sister could certainly handle Marty Fleisher’s resistance better without her. But Malachi, her eighty-something horse manager—more father to her than Marty has ever been—convinces Rachel she will regret it if she doesn’t go.

When a stranger at her father’s funeral delivers an odd gift and an apology, Rachel finds herself drawn into the epic story of her father’s World War II experience, and the friendships, trauma, scandal, and betrayals that would scar the rest of his life—and cast a shadow across the entire family. As she struggles to make sense of his time as a Jewish sergeant in charge of a platoon of black soldiers in 1940s Alabama, she learns more than just his history. She begins to see how his hopes and disappointments mirror her own—and might finally give her the means to free herself of the past and choose a life waiting in the wings.

Review:

Alternating back and forth between the present and the early ’40s, In the Shadow of Alabama by Judy Reene Singer is a heartrending novel of complex and difficult relationships, race relations in the South and the lingering effects of wartime.

Rachel Fleischer’s relationships with her family are fraught with tension and the last place she wants to be is her father’s bedside as he refuses medical treatment for his failing heart.  Marty Fleischer has always been a hypercritical, bitter, angry and deeply dissatisfied man whose hateful words continue to haunt her.  At the urging of her farm manager and friend Malachi Charge, Rachel reluctantly goes to see her father one last time before his death. At his funeral, stranger Rowena Jackson presents them with a puzzling package from her father, Willie Jackson. Intrigued and wanting to understand a shocking allegation against her father, Rachel later goes to Boston to meet Willie where he recounts his tangled history with Marty.

Rachel’s dysfunctional childhood left an indelible mark on her and even as an adult, she cannot escape the legacy of her father’s painful words and lack of love. The owner of a horse farm, she lives with her longtime partner, David, and Malachi. Emotionally closed off and protective of her heart, Rachel is unable to fully commit to David and she soon becomes aware there are deep fractures in their relationship. Reluctant to discuss her fears and concerns with him, she ignores the growing distance between them and instead makes the decision to go to Boston to meet Willie.

Rachel knows absolutely nothing of Marty’s experiences in World War II and she is quite shocked to learn that he was in charge of a colored squadron in Alabama.  Neither man lived in the South prior to their assignment at Gunter Field so they are ill prepared for the reality of segregation and the animosity directed towards Jews.   Although both men are college educated, they are assigned to a squadron that cleans aircraft engines.  Marty is a benevolent leader who looks out for the men serving under him although his efforts are not at all appreciated by the white soldiers on the base. Despite Willie’s best efforts to remain under the radar, he and Marty form a friendship of sorts that comes to an abrupt end following Marty’s well intentioned but misguided efforts to treat his men as equals. The two men eventually go back to their regular lives but neither of them are able to escape the tragedies of their shared history.

Based on the real life experiences of Judy Reene Singer and her father, In the Shadow of Alabama is a deeply affecting and rather poignant novel of reconciliation and healing.  After learning of the events that shaped her father into the haunted man who raised her, Rachel has a better understanding of herself, her mother and her sister. With newfound awareness of the negative effects of her behavior, Rachel tries to repair her tattered relationships, but is it too late to salvage the one that means the most to her?

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Filed under Contemporary, Historical, Historical (40s), In the Shadow of Alabama, Judy Reene Singer, Kensington, Literary Fiction, Rated B+, Review

Review: The Girl Who Was Taken by Charlie Donlea

Title: The Girl Who Was Taken by Charlie Donlea
Publisher: Kensington
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Charlie Donlea, one of the most original new voices in suspense, returns with a haunting novel, laden with twists and high tension, about two abducted girls—one who returns, one who doesn’t—and the forensics expert searching for answers.

Nicole Cutty and Megan McDonald are both high school seniors in the small town of Emerson Bay, North Carolina. When they disappear from a beach party one warm summer night, police launch a massive search. No clues are found, and hope is almost lost until Megan miraculously surfaces after escaping from a bunker deep in the woods.

A year later, the bestselling account of her ordeal has turned Megan from local hero to national celebrity. It’s a triumphant, inspiring story, except for one inconvenient detail: Nicole is still missing. Nicole’s older sister Livia, a fellow in forensic pathology, expects that one day soon Nicole’s body will be found, and it will be up to someone like Livia to analyze the evidence and finally determine her sister’s fate. Instead, the first clue to Nicole’s disappearance comes from another body that shows up in Livia’s morgue—that of a young man connected to Nicole’s past. Livia reaches out to Megan for help, hoping to learn more about the night the two were taken. Other girls have gone missing too, and Livia is increasingly certain the cases are connected.

But Megan knows more than she revealed in her blockbuster book. Flashes of memory are coming together, pointing to something darker and more monstrous than her chilling memoir describes. And the deeper she and Livia dig, the more they realize that sometimes true terror lies in finding exactly what you’ve been looking for.

Review:

The Girl Who Was Taken by Charlie Donlea is a fast-paced and engrossing mystery about two young women who were kidnapped the same night.  Megan McDonald managed to escape from her captor two weeks after she went missing. A year later, Nicole Cutty is still missing and the discovery of her secret boyfriend Casey Delevan’s corpse raises many intriguing questions for her sister, Dr. Livia Cutty, the forensic pathologist who performed his autopsy.

Megan has made a lot of progress recovering from her harrowing ordeal but she is still struggling to reclaim her fragmented memories of the time she spent in captivity. She has been unable to move forward with her plans to go to college and hoping to calm her mother’s concern, she reluctantly agreed to write the tell all book about her experience. With Nicole still missing, Megan continues therapy to try to remember what happened during the two weeks she was imprisoned by the kidnapper and while she is making progress, it is an slow process retrieving those lost details.

Livia is determined to understand the connection  between Nicole and Casey but her investigation is strictly off the books. She uncovers some very disturbing cases that might be linked to Megan and Nicole’s disappearances but since they occurred out of state, she is not completely certain they are connected. Livia does reach out to Megan in hopes of learning new information about the night the girls were abducted and while Megan is eager to assist, will she be able provide new details that will help Livia discover what happened to Nicole?

The storyline weaves back and forth in time and provides readers with insight into Nicole’s activities in the weeks before the abduction. As Livia soon discovers, Nicole’s behavior had dramatically transformed in the weeks leading up to her disappearance, but trying to find the reason for this change is elusive.  Equally puzzling is her relationship with the much older Casey but Livia cannot seem to discover how the two met or what drew them to one another.  The answers to these questions are quite shocking as is their horrifying obsession and how Casey and Nicole satisfy their unhealthy curiosity.

The Girl Who Was Taken is a spellbinding mystery with an unusual storyline and strong female characters. Charlie Donlea employs several red herrings, clever misdirects and offers a viable pool of suspects in an effort to keep the perpetrator’s identity hidden.  Despite these rather ingenious attempts to conceal the kidnapper’s identity, astute readers will most likely figure out who is behind the crimes well before the novel’s conclusion.  Despite accurately solving the mystery about halfway through the novel, Livia’s investigation and Megan’s continued efforts to retrieve her memories surrounding her traumatic kidnapping are quite interesting and easily kept me engaged in the unfolding story.  All in all, a very intriguing mystery that fans of the genre do not want to miss!

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Filed under Charlie Donlea, Contemporary, Kensington, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, The Girl Who Was Taken

Review: The Promise Girls by Marie Bostwick

Title: The Promise Girls by Marie Bostwick
Publisher: Kensington
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: 352 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

In an emotionally rich and captivating new novel, New York Times bestselling author Marie Bostwick reunites three sisters whose deep bond is rooted in an unconventional past.

Every child prodigy grows up eventually. For the Promise sisters, escaping their mother’s narcissism and the notoriety that came with her bestselling book hasn’t been easy. Minerva Promise claimed that her three “test tube” daughters—gifted pianist Joanie, artistic Meg, and storyteller Avery—were engineered and molded to be geniuses. In adulthood, their modest lives fall far short of her grand ambitions. But now, twenty years after the book’s release, she hopes to redeem herself by taking part in a new documentary.

Meg, who hasn’t picked up a paintbrush in years, adamantly refuses to participate, until a car accident leaves her with crushing medical bills. While she recuperates in Seattle, the three sisters reluctantly meet with filmmaker Hal Seeger, another former prodigy. Like them, he’s familiar with the weight of failed potential. But as he digs deeper, he uncovers secrets they’ve hidden from each other—and a revelation that will challenge their beliefs, even as it spurs them to forge their own extraordinary lives at last.

Review:

The Promise Girls by Marie Bostwick is an uplifting book of healing and forgiveness.

The Promise girls are three daughters of a domineering mother, Minerva, who pushed the girls to reach-and exceed-their artist potential.  Oldest daughter Joanie was a piano playing child prodigy who deliberately sabotaged Minerva’s publicity tour during their appearance on a talk show.  Now twenty years later, the sisters are closer than ever but other than youngest sister, Avery, they remain estranged from their mom.

Joanie is  a never married single mom to sixteen year old Walt and works from home.  Middle sister Meg is happily married to Asher and mother of a teenage daughter, sixteen year old Trina.  Meg eventually gave up painting to help run Asher’s construction business but she is not exactly happy when she is involved in a serious car accident which leaves her with amnesia. Twenty-five year old Avery flits from one job to another and is happiest when she dons her mermaid persona for children’s parties.  After discovering how much money Meg owes for her hospital bills, the three girls reluctantly agree to star in Hal Seeger’s upcoming documentary.  Will the documentary help Joanie, Meg and Avery come to terms with their painful past?  Or will the shocking revelations destroy their family?

Throughout the course of the novel, the sisters are forced to confront their unresolved issues from their dysfunctional childhood. Joanie has not touched a piano in years and her lucrative sewing career fulfills her creative outlet.  Up until recently, Meg has been deliriously happy but in the weeks leading up to her accident, she has become emotionally and physically distant from Asher and her relationship with Trina is also a bit troubled.  Avery comes across as somewhat flighty but there is much more to her than meets the eye.  Of the three sisters, she undergoes the biggest transformation since she has struggling to fit her niche.

The sisters are very close but this does not mean they are not harboring secrets from one another.  Joanie and Meg are quite older than Avery so their mother’s influence on their individual “genius” talents was much more in depth.  They also more scarred by their childhoods but Joanie in particular is haunted by the events that her actions set in motion.  All three sisters agree that Minerva is toxic, but Avery is much more forgiving of her mother’s mistakes and missteps than Meg and Joanie.  Will they feel betrayed when Avery reveals the depth of her relationship with their mother?  Or will Meg and Joanie understand why she feels compelled to maintain contact with her?  And will the sisters be able to forgive each other when long held secrets are finally uncovered?  And what will happen when Minerva confesses the truth about the past?

The Promise Girls is an incredibly heartwarming novel about a family who unexpectedly gets the opportunity to make peace with their pasts.  The growth of the characters is phenomenal and occurs at a realistic pace.  The novel’s conclusion is a little rushed and the resolution of Minerva’s part of the storyline does not ring true.  Despite the somewhat unsatisfactory ending, readers of contemporary women’s fiction will enjoy this newest release from Marie Bostwick.

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Filed under Contemporary, Kensington, Marie Bostwick, Rated B, Review, The Promise Girls, Women's Fiction

Review: The Form of Things Unknown by Robin Bridges

Title: The Form of Things Unknown by Robin Bridges
Publisher: Kensington
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult, Romance
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Natalie Roman isn’t much for the spotlight. But performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a stately old theatre in Savannah, Georgia, beats sitting alone replaying mistakes made in Athens. Fairy queens and magic on stage, maybe a few scary stories backstage. And no one in the cast knows her backstory.

Except for Lucas—he was in the psych ward, too. He won’t even meet her eye. But Nat doesn’t need him. She’s making friends with girls, girls who like horror movies and Ouija boards, who can hide their liquor in Coke bottles and laugh at the theater’s ghosts. Natalie can keep up. She can adapt. And if she skips her meds once or twice so they don’t interfere with her partying, it won’t be a problem. She just needs to keep her wits about her.

Honest, nuanced, and bittersweet, The Form of Things Unknown explores the shadows that haunt even the truest hearts . . . and the sparks that set them free.

Review:

The Form of Things Unknown by Robin Bridges is a credible depiction of a teenager’s struggles to be “normal” despite her diagnosis of schizophrenia.  This young adult novel also has a bit of a mystery element along with a hint of romance.

Natalie Roman and her family have recently relocated to Savannah to take care of her grandmother who also suffers from schizophrenia.  Grateful for the new beginning, Natalie lets her brother David talk her into trying out for the summer production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. However, she is quickly dismayed when she recognizes one of the cast members Lucas Grant.  She and Lucas were both recently receiving treatment at the same metal health facility and she would rather keep this information to herself for the time being.  Her worries appear to be unfounded when Lucas continues to ignore her and Natalie is befriended by cast members Raine and Starla.  Amid rumors the theater is haunted, the three girls delight in exploring the theater for spirits but after a few ghostly encounters, Natalie wonders if what she is seeing is real or delusions caused by her schizophrenia.

In many ways, Natalie is a typical teen who makes questionable decisions due to her immaturity.  She does not want to cause any problems for her parents who are struggling to care for her grandmother and the stress from their recent move.  She does have an excellent relationship with David and their interactions are a wonderful blend of teasing and concern for each other’s well being.  Natalie’s desire to keep schizophrenia under wraps is understandable, but in an effort to fit in with her new friends, she makes some very unwise decisions that could lead to a worsening of her symptoms.  When these choices lead to trouble, her parents remain supportive but still manage to emphasize the importance of managing her health responsibly.

The secondary story arcs with Natalie’s new friends, the ghost stories and an unexpected romance with Lucas are skillfully interwoven into the main plot.  Raine and Starla are also normal teens but their budding friendship is full of peer pressure that leads to Natalie making some stupid decisions that jeopardize her health.  The mystery surrounding the ghostly manifestations at the theater is interesting and it is impossible to tell if these sightings are real or part of Natalie’s delusions.  There is also a slight romantic element which involves Natalie and Lucas and although their romance is not the main focus of the story, it does play a pivotal role in a major plotline.

The Form of Things Unknown by Robin Bridges is a fast-paced and engaging young adult novel.  The characters are multi-faceted with true to life frailties that are realistically portryaed and easy to relate to.  The teenagers’ thoughts and actions mimic real life and although they make questionable decisions with predictable outcomes, they are sympathetic and likable.  The overall plot is compelling and the various storylines are fully resolved by the novel’s conclusion.  All in all, it is a wonderful novel that readers of all ages are sure to enjoy.

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Filed under Contemporary, Kensington, Rated B, Review, Robin Bridges, Romance, The Form of Things Unkown, Young Adult