Category Archives: Rated C

Review: Brass by Xhenet Aliu

Title: Brass by Xhenet Aliu
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Contemporary/Historical, Fiction
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: C

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“A fierce, big-hearted, unflinching debut”* novel about mothers and daughters, haves and have-nots, and the stark realities behind the American Dream

A waitress at the Betsy Ross Diner, Elsie hopes her nickel-and-dime tips will add up to a new life. Then she meets Bashkim, who is at once both worldly and naïve, a married man who left Albania to chase his dreams—and wound up working as a line cook in Waterbury, Connecticut. Back when the brass mills were still open, this bustling factory town drew one wave of immigrants after another. Now it’s the place they can’t seem to leave. Elsie, herself the granddaughter of Lithuanian immigrants, falls in love quickly, but when she learns that she’s pregnant, Elsie can’t help wondering where Bashkim’s heart really lies, and what he’ll do about the wife he left behind.

Seventeen years later, headstrong and independent Luljeta receives a rejection letter from NYU and her first-ever suspension from school on the same day. Instead of striking out on her own in Manhattan, she’s stuck in Connecticut with her mother, Elsie—a fate she refuses to accept. Wondering if the key to her future is unlocking the secrets of the past, Lulu decides to find out what exactly her mother has been hiding about the father she never knew. As she soon discovers, the truth is closer than she ever imagined.

Told in equally gripping parallel narratives with biting wit and grace, Brass announces a fearless new voice with a timely, tender, and quintessentially American story.


Brass by Xhenet Aliu explores the relationship of a mother and daughter who both dream of escaping their economically depressed town.

In 1996, Elsie Kuzavinas is working as a waitress at a diner owned by Alabanian immigrants. She has big dreams of earning enough money to purchase a car and leave behind both her dead-end job and hometown.  Entering into an affair with Bashkim, whose wife, Agnes did not accompany him to America, an unplanned pregnancy threatens to derail her plans. With promises to help raise their baby, Bashkim convinces her to continue the pregnancy but he leaves before she gives birth. Now following in the path of her own mother (but hopefully minus the drinking problem),  Elsie barely ekes out a living for herself and her daughter Luljeta “Lulu”.

Fast forward seventeen years and Lulu also dreams of leaving Waterbury for New York where she plans to attend college.  A bit of a social outcast, she is a painfully shy young woman who always follows the rules.  When she receives a college rejection letter, she ends up suspended from school following an altercation with the school bully. Lulu decides it is time to learn the truth about the father she has never met.

The storyline weaves back and forth in time so readers get to see both mother and daughter at the same age as they each attempt to reach the same goal: leave their bleak hometown with hopes of a brighter future.  Elsie and Bashkim are both a little naive about finances but once Elsie gets pregnant, reality strikes rather quickly. Life with Bashkim is not easy and she is planning a way out when he betrays her. Lulu wants to avoid the same fate as her mother and she has worked hard to ensure she makes it into college, but the rejection letter hits her hard and she becomes a little cynical.

Brass is an unflinchingly honest portrayal of life in a financially depressed town.  Xhenet Aliu paints a rather hopeless and depressing future for both Elsie and Lulu as they fail to realize their dreams of escaping the same fate as the previous generations. While the storyline is interesting, the pacing of the story is rather slow. Elsie’s chapters are much easier to read than Lulu’s which are written in second person.  The novel comes to a bit of an unexpected conclusion that is a little heartrending.

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Filed under Brass, Contemporary, Fiction, Historical, Historical (90s), Random House, Rated C, Review, Xhenet Aliu

Review: Cowboy Stole My Heart by Soraya Lane

Title: Cowboy Stole My Heart by Soraya Lane
River Ranch Series Book One
Publisher: St. Martin’s Paperbacks
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley


It takes true grit to build a billion-dollar dynasty like the Ford family ranch. But when it comes to finding love, all it takes is one handsome cowboy to steal a woman’s heart in Cowboy Stole My Heart by Soraya Lane.

As one of the heirs to the River Ranch fortune, Mia Ford is practically Texas royalty. But that doesn’t mean she’s some pampered princess. She can saddle up and ride a horse as well as any man, even a hard-working cowboy like Sam Mendes. For years, she’s harbored a crush on the strong, silent horseman. But how can she make a move when she’s his boss?

Sam Mendes is through with love—or so he thought. Still recovering from a breakup, he’s doing everything in his power to resist Mia Ford. It’s bad enough she’s the kind of beauty who drives men wild with desire. It’s even worse she’s got him so worked up, aching to kiss her lips, when he’s supposed to be working her ranch. Is this lovestruck cowboy willing to risk losing his job—and breaking his heart—to win the girl of his dreams?


Cowboy Stole My Heart is a cute first installment Soraya Lane’s River Ranch series.

Sam Mendes is a well-renowned horseman with an incredible reputation for being able to help even the most troubled horses overcome their problems. He is ready to take a break from the constant touring to promote his unique abilities when wealthy ranch owner Walter Ford wants to hire him to see if he can help his daughter Mia’s out of control and dangerous stallion, Tex. Sam is carrying a lot of emotional baggage from his dysfunctional childhood and an acrimonious break up. He has sworn off relationships and despite his attraction to Mia, his first meeting with his new client gets off to a very rocky beginning.

Mia is used to being under estimated by everyone she meets but she immediately bristles when she senses Sam has the wrong impression of her. She has quietly built a career without relying on anything except her skills and prize money. Fiercely independent with a strong emotional attachment to Tex, Mia is determined to save the horse even if it means dealing with Sam.

The relationship between Sam and Mia begins with misconceptions on both sides. Their first few interactions are tense as they somehow manage to keep antagonizing one another.  Sam is the epitome of the strong silent type and he is most comfortable working with horses. Mia is not used to showing her vulnerabilities so she is less than forthcoming with information about Tex.  When they finally work through their differences,  their sizzling attraction becomes too strong to ignore. Agreeing to a no strings fling, will Sam and Mia keep their casual relationship free from any emotional entanglements?

While Sam and Mia’s relationships with family members and friends are quite enjoyable, the romance between them is a little superficial.  They spend nearly half the novel leaping to erroneous conclusions about one another and there is a serious lack of communication between them which leads to even more misunderstandings between them.  While Mia does reveal some very personal details about herself, Sam is not one to discuss his past. With no real foundation for anything other than a casual fling, there does not seem to be much of a future for them once their relationship hits a rough patch.

Cowboy Stole My Heart is a well-written novel but the storyline is rather predictable. Mia and Sam are great characters individually but they never quite seem to mesh as a couple. Their romance feels contrived with a bit of an insta-love vibe that never feels natural or believable. The secondary characters are absolutely fantastic and these relationships feel much better developed than the romance between Mia and Sam.  The novel’s conclusion is sweet but a little rushed. The next installment in Soraya Lane’s River Ranch series looks promising since it stars Mia’s bull riding brother, Tanner.

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Filed under Contemporary, Cowboy Stole My Heart, Rated C, Review, River Ranch Series, Romance, St Martin's Paperbacks

Review: The Inside Out Man by Fred Strydom

Title: The Inside Out Man by Fred Strydom
Publisher: Talos
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense, Horror
Length: 296 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss


A young musician receives an unusual offer from a wealthy stranger in this haunting story of psychological horror.

Bent is a jazz pianist living gig-to-gig in a dark city of dead-ends. With no family, and no friends, he has resigned himself to a life of quiet desolation. That is, until the night he meets the enigmatic Leonard Fry.

After accepting an invitation to his countryside mansion, where Leonard resides on his own, Bent is offered a deal of Faustian proportions.

“There is a room in this house. There’s only one way in and one way out . . . There’s one lock on the door, and only one key to that lock. Now, what I’m going to ask may seem strange to you. I don’t necessarily need you to understand, but what I do need is for you to agree to help me.”

Disillusioned with his life of excess, Leonard has decided to explore the final frontier of his existence, the margins of his mind, by locking himself in a small room in his mansion for a year. In exchange for Bent’s assistance, everything Leonard owns will be Bent’s for the duration of his self-imposed imprisonment.

But there are two sides to every locked door. As the days go by, and Leonard’s true intentions become clear, Bent will find himself venturing beyond the one terrifying boundary from which he can’t be sure he’ll ever return . . . the boundary of his own sanity.


The Inside Out Man by Fred Strydom is an unusual novel with an intriguing but rather convoluted storyline.

Raised by a single mother who died when he was a teenager, Bentley “Bent” Croud is a talented jazz pianist who plays in local bars a few times a week and lives in a rundown apartment he has dubbed the “Crack Radisson”.  Learning of his barely recalled father’s death, he receives a bit of a puzzling inheritance.  Not long after hearing this news, he is offered a hefty sum to perform at weekend party on Leonard Fry’s large estate.   After the weekend is over, Fry has another proposal for Bent which is rather bizarre. In exchange for access to all of his possessions for the next year, Bent agrees to serve Fry three meals a day after he locks himself in a room in his mansion.  At first enjoying his luxurious accommodations, things take a rather odd turn after Bent meets Leonard’s friend, Jolene.

Bent is an interesting character who does not seem overly unhappy with his life when he first meets Fry. He has a passing acquaintance with his neighbors  and although the bars where he plays piano are not high end, he is comfortable with the bartenders and patrons. Bent agonizes over his decisions to Leonard’s two very different proposals, but in the end, he is curious enough to agree to his benefactor’s somewhat peculiar propositions.

The Inside Out Man is well-written and at first the storyline is engaging and interesting. However, the novel quickly takes a very strange and dark turn and readers will have a difficult time knowing whether or not Bent’s experiences are real.  Fred Strydom brings the confusing novel to a twist-filled conclusion that is somewhat ambiguous and rather unsatisfying.

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Filed under Contemporary, Fred Strydom, Horror, Rated C, Review, Suspense, Talos, The Inside Out Man

Review: The It Girls by Karen Harper

Title: The It Girls by Karen Harper
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Length: 384 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss


From New York Times bestselling author Karen Harper comes a novel based on the lives of two amazing sisters . . .

One sailed the Titanic and started a fashion empire . . .

The other overtook Hollywood and scandalized the world . . .

Together, they were unstoppable.

They rose from genteel poverty, two beautiful sisters, ambitious, witty, seductive. Elinor and Lucy Sutherland are at once each other’s fiercest supporters and most vicious critics.

Lucy transformed herself into Lucile, the daring fashion designer who revolutionized the industry with her flirtatious gowns and brazen self-promotion. And when she married Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon her life seemed to be a fairy tale. But success came at many costs—to her marriage and to her children . . . and then came the fateful night of April 14, 1912 and the scandal that followed.

Elinor’s novels titillate readers, and it’s even asked in polite drawing rooms if you would like to “sin with Elinor Glyn?” Her work pushes the boundaries of what’s acceptable; her foray into the glittering new world of Hollywood turns her into a world-wide phenomenon. But although she writes of passion, the true love she longs for eludes her.

But despite quarrels and misunderstandings, distance and destiny, there is no bond stronger than that of the two sisters—confidants, friends, rivals and the two “It Girls” of their day.


Beginning in 1875 and spanning several decades, The It Girls by Karen Harper is a fictionalized novel about real life sisters, Lucy (Lucile) & Elinor (Nellie) Sutherland.

Rising from humble beginnings, Lucy and Elinor’s professional lives took divergent paths, but their personal lives bear startling similarities. Both women are rather impetuous and neither of them make the best decisions regarding the men in their lives. Each of their marriages are somewhat disastrous and they both embark on somewhat scandalous love affairs. Lucy’s love of fashion results in a lucrative career as a designer while Elinor goes on to enjoy success as an author even though her books are rather risqué.  Lucy survives the sinking of the Titantic and later goes on to face a few legal challenges regarding her fashion designs.  In addition to her novels, Elinor pens a few screenplays and mingles with some the famous actors of the silent film era.

Despite the sisters’  fascinating accomplishments, The It Girls is rather slow moving and a little choppy since the novel covers several decades of their lives. The characterization of the women is a little superficial and despite their very different interests, they lack individuality on paper.  While the story is not without flaws, Karen Harper effectively brings attention to two successful women who were very much ahead their time.

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Filed under Fiction, Historical, Karen Harper, Rated C, Review, The It Girls, William Morrow Paperbacks

Review: We All Fall Down by Natalie D. Richards

Title: We All Fall Down by Natalie D. Richards
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 368 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley


A new romantic thriller—with a dash of horror—from the author of One Was Lost and Six Months Later

Theo’s always been impulsive. But telling Paige how he feels? He’s obsessed over that decision. And it’s time. Tonight. At the party on the riverbank, under the old walking bridge, site of so many tales of love and death.

Paige has had a crush on Theo since they first met, but she knows her feelings are one-sided. She’s trying to move on, to flirt. A party at the river is just what she needs. Except a fight breaks out, and when Paige tries to intervene—Theo’s fist lands in her face.

All Theo and Paige want to do is forget that fateful night. But strange events keep drawing them back to the bridge. Someone, something is determined to make them remember…and pay for what they each did.


We All Fall Down by Natalie D. Richards is a suspenseful young adult novel with a few supernatural elements.

Theo Quinn and Paige Vinton-Young are best friends who rely heavily on each other to help deal with their respective mental health issues. Theo is struggling with a fairly severe problem with ADHD and he has gone through a host of medications to try to help manage his disorder. Paige has been plagued with rather intense anxiety from a young age.  Just as Paige is ready to move on from her unrequited crush for Theo, he realizes he has feelings for her.  Attending a party together one night, Theo jealously lashes out at the guy she is interested in and when Paige attempts to stop him, things go horribly wrong.  Six months later, they are estranged but when both of them begin experiencing eerie occurrences that are connected to that fateful night, will Paige and Theo reunite in order to discover the truth about what is happening to them?

Paige’s parents are extremely overprotective and due to their strong influence over her after the events with Theo, she cannot trust her instincts about him.  Trying to respect their wishes, she has cut Theo completely out of her life.  When she begins finding objects associated with the night things went so drastically wrong between them, Paige wants to give Theo the benefit of the doubt, but she is having difficulty deciding whether to trust Theo or listen to her parents.

Theo is spending the summer with his uncle Denny who understands all too well some of the problems his nephew is going through. Theo is committed to adhering to his new medication regimen and when he begins experiencing unexplained phenomena, he cannot figure out whether it is side effects from the meds or something more sinister. He accidentally runs into Paige one day which sets the stage for a possible reunion, but Paige’s trust issues remain a source of conflict between them.

We All Fall Down by Natalie D. Richards is a rather slow moving novel with likable characters that seem defined by their respective mental health issues. The storyline is initially intriguing but it becomes a little repetitive as Theo tries to make sense of what is happening to him. Paige’s parents’ interference in her life is also extremely exasperating due to their lack of faith in her ability to manage her anxiety and day to day life. The supernatural element falls a little flat as does the explanation for Paige’s discoveries.   The conclusion is a little rushed but all of the loose ends are nicely tied up.

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Filed under Contemporary, Mystery, Natalie D Richards, Rated C, Review, Sourcebooks Fire, Suspense, We All Fall Down, Young Adult

Review: The Visitors by Catherine Burns

Title: The Visitors by Catherine Burns
Publisher: Gallery/Scout Press
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley


With the smart suspense of Emma Donoghue’s Room and the atmospheric claustrophobia of Grey Gardens, Catherine Burns’s debut novel explores the complex truths we are able to keep hidden from ourselves and the twisted realities that can lurk beneath even the most serene of surfaces.

Marion Zetland lives with her domineering older brother John in a crumbling mansion on the edge of a northern seaside resort. A timid spinster in her fifties who still sleeps with teddy bears, Marion does her best to live by John’s rules, even if it means turning a blind eye to the noises she hears coming from behind the cellar door…and turning a blind eye to the women’s laundry in the hamper that isn’t hers. For years, she’s buried the signs of John’s devastating secret into the deep recesses of her mind—until the day John is crippled by a heart attack, and Marion becomes the only one whose shoulders are fit to bear his secret. Forced to go down to the cellar and face what her brother has kept hidden, Marion discovers more about herself than she ever thought possible. As the truth is slowly unraveled, we finally begin to understand: maybe John isn’t the only one with a dark side….


The Visitors by Catherine Burns is a rather dark character study featuring a middle aged woman who lives in the family home with her brother who harbors a chilling secret.

Marion Zetland is in her mid fifties and she has never moved out of her family home. Now residing with her brother, John, she escapes her somewhat dreary existence with her elaborate daydreams about people she meets, watching TV and binge eating. Marion also lives in fear of disappointing John who has a quick temper and a dark secret. After John falls ill, Marion has no choice but to face what her brother has been doing all these years in their cellar.

Life in the Zetland household has always been dysfunctional. The youngest of the siblings, Marion was never anywhere close to being John’s intellectual equal and she struggled to pass any of her classes. Plagued with social awkwardness, she endured painful bullying from her classmates but Marion could always count on John to make her feel better about herself. Their parents had extremely high expectations for John’s future, but Marion always fell short of the mark and as a result, she does not feel worthy of anyone’s love or respect. Her loyalty to John is absolute and she will do anything to make him happy.  Even if that means turning a blind eye to his activities and never questioning what he is doing in their cellar.

The pacing of the story is quite slow since the main focus is the minutiae of  Marion’s day to day life.  These chapters are boring and repetitive since she does little beyond watching the TV while soothing herself by overeating.  She has a rich fantasy life in which she  lapses into elaborate daydreams about her imaginary relationships with people from her real life.  There are also long passages that flashback to her childhood and while these chapters offer insight into what shaped her into the woman she is today, they are overly detailed and excessively long.  Marion is occasionally worried about the strange noises emanating from the cellar but she easily pushes her concerns aside.

The Visitors has an unusual premise but readers might be a little frustrated due to the lack of suspense surrounding John’s cellar activities and a rambling storyline. It is not very difficult to deduce who the visitors are or what John is doing with them. Marion is initially a sympathetic character but it is easy to become impatient with her complacency. With a few not completely unexpected revelations, Catherine Burns brings the novel to a twist-filled conclusion.

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Filed under Catherine Burns, Contemporary, Gallery/Scout Press, Mystery, Rated C, Review, Suspense, The Visitors